By Karla Hilliard

I love a good, practical instructional protocol — a framework that is simple, easy to implement, and effective.

As part of our What Does It Mean to Be Appalachian? unit, my students have been watching the West Virginia episode of Anthony Bourdain’s Parts Unknown. If you haven’t seen it, it is worth watching. It is moving and compelling and informative. It complicates stereotypes and is humane in its storytelling. It captures the honesty and integrity of so many West Virginia folks who simply tell their truths. The music is good, the food looks good, and it depicts West Virginia and its people in all their beauty and contradiction as…good.

Here’s where I tell you I needed my students to do something with this documentary.

I wanted students to enjoy viewing but also to think deeply, to have a place to capture their thinking, and to share this thinking with their tablemates and the class as a whole.   

So I gave them a simple “during viewing” protocol:




As students watched this episode of Parts Unknown, I asked them to track…

  • New knowledge or information they discover
  • Information or ideas they wonder about, find interesting, and in which they are genuinely curious
  • Questions they might ask to guide great classroom discussion or further discovery

In the commercial breaks (this worked out pretty well for us), I’d ask students to pause, turn and talk, and share a discover, wonder, or ask they’d captured during their viewing. Then, as we always do, we took a few moments to share out highlights with the whole class.

Here are some of the things my students discovered, wondered, and asked about Parts Unknown: West Virginia.

They discovered…

  • Some areas in West Virginia lack reliable cell and Internet service
  • Many West Virginians come from generations of coal miners 
  • Welch, WV was once known as “little New York” 
  • West Virginia has been exploited in mineral and human resources  
  • Some West Virginians believed Trump could bring change

They wondered about and found interesting that…

  • Faith appears to be very important
  • How many people are extremely proud of being from West Virginia 
  • There were close ups of old men in West Virginia hats
  • Even though working in the mines is dangerous, many West Virginians still choose that job over others.
  • People support each other in the community. 
  • How much food matters

They asked…

  • Why are so many stereotypes present?
  • How is the Eastern Panhandle similar and different from this community?
  • Why is traditional Appalachian food considered “poor”?
  • How much longer can mining be sustained?
  • Did the War on Poverty help or harm West Virginia?

Here’s what I like about Discover/Wonder/Ask…It encourages engagement. It’s simple and easy and requires nothing fancy to accomplish it. No chart paper, no markers, no fights with the copy machine. It avoids the pitfalls of the right/wrong “got-cha” questions. And it can be used with any text — both print and non print and can be easily adapted for different needs and goals. 

I call that a win.

WVCTE is wondering…

What instructional protocols work with your students? We’d love to find out (& share them!)

Leave us a comment, connect with us on Facebook, Tweet us @WVCTE!

If you’d like to contribute a guest post, go here! Hurry…go now! Share your genius.

Cheers! – Karla

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