Engaging with a Text: Spotlight Reading

Spotlight Reading

I avoided reading Vladimir Nabokov’s Lolita for years because of the book’s content.  With so many amazing works of literature to spend time with, why read a novel that explores the mind of a disturbed pedophile? I finally decided to pick up Nabokov’s classic after reading Roy Peter Clark’s book The Art of X-Ray Reading: How the secrets of 25 Great Works of Literature Will Improve Your Writing. Clark’s study of Lolita’s opening sentences convinced me that content aside, anyone who crafts sentences with such skill and beauty, is an author that I had to read.

“Lolita, light of my life, fire of my loins. My sin, my soul. Lo-lee-ta: the tip of the tongue taking a trip of three steps down the palate to tap, at three, on the teeth. Lo. Lee. Ta.”KEEP READING

The Jock, The Academic, and The Boy in the Back of the Room

Creating Lasting Relationships that Work

On the first day of every school year the bell rings and students, in my case seniors, walk in, shake my hand, sit where they will, and wait to see what kind of teacher I will be.  I go through the same process with them.  Each student requires something different from me, so I need to understand students individually if I am going to help them grow into critical readers, writers, and thinkers.  I refuse to listen to past teachers’ reports on my new students’ personalities or proclivities.  I refuse to prejudge my students.  To be effective, I must know my students and I must know them well based on my experiences. KEEP READING

2017 Synthesis Essay Reflection

It’s far more important for an AP reader to see the student behind each essay than to only see the teacher.

Editor’s note: Since AP Lit and AP Lang have a close relationship, I thought it would be helpful to provide feedback from this year’s AP Lang reading. Thanks to Roy Smith for sharing his thoughts on the synthesis essay. If you were an AP Lang reader and read for a different question, I would love to share your thoughts on those questions. Please contact Susan Barber for more information. 

The 2017 AP Language synthesis essay invites students to weigh in on the future viability of public libraries. The question asks students to consider the Internet’s impact on public libraries and their continuing relevance in the digital age.  The specific task reads as follows: “Then synthesize material from at least three of the sources and incorporate it into a coherent, well-written essay in which you develop a position on the role, if any, that public libraries should serve in the future.”  Six sources are provided for students to consider when developing their position. I read approximately 1200 essays over the course of the seven day reading.  I am always amazed by the hard work and dedication AP students and their teachers commit to during their school-year preparation, and it is with their collective commitment to excellence that I offer my reflections from this year’s reading.KEEP READING

Reading and Exploring Outside the Classroom

Texas teensmeetShelley's -Skylark-

Winters in Texas often resemble spring in other parts of the country. These beautiful winter days offer great opportunities to take learning outside. Every year I wait for the temperature to reach a comfortable range and out we go to experience the natural world the Romantic poets extol in their poetry.  The following lesson is easily replicated with a different poem, but I turn to Percy Bysshe Shelley’s “To a Skylark.” … KEEP READING

In Praise of the Pregnant Pause

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I sat before my AP Literature class and asked a question about the poem we had just read. It wasn’t a tough question: “What is the first thing you notice?”  I want students to react to a poem as an opening move. I don’t want to get weighed down in devices or the “deeper meaning” before we simply discuss what we notice first. I want them to consider their initial reactions before we dig deeper.

“What is the first thing you notice?” I asked, again.

My thirty students responded with collective silence. Some kids looked at me, some looked at their shoes, and some pretended to search for meaning on the ceiling.  

Silence. KEEP READING

The Pride of a Hard-fought Two

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Students are not the only ones who get nervous when their AP scores are published in July. Teachers also feel the same nerves when they login into their College Board accounts to review their students’ scores. Theses scores represent the hard work of both students and teachers during the school year.

I am no different. I still feel the butterflies dancing around in my stomach as I scroll through the scores my students earned on the AP Literature exam. For the most part, students earn about what I thought they would earn. Sure, there are surprises on the upside and a few on the downside, but most scores are what I anticipated they would be based on their work throughout the year. … KEEP READING

Another Year in the Bag

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Another year is in the bag. My students have negotiated the AP Literature exam and senior year with grace and dignity (for the most part). It is always a melancholy day when I say goodbye to these kids I’ve come to know so well. But, I know they are prepared for college and the world that awaits them in the fall. Now it is my turn to reflect on the journey we took together and begin my plans for the new crop of students heading my way in the fall. 

Like most teachers, my reflections fall first on what I will do differently next year. I carefully consider what worked well and want failed to live up to expectations, but I also consider what was missing. First, what went well?

Students read deeply and widely. As a class we read and analyzed the following works: Madame Bovary, The Importance of Being Earnest, Hamlet, Frankenstein, and Song of Solomon. Students also read four self-selected novels or plays. Their readings included: The Road, Sula, Beloved, The Hunchback of Notre Dame, Mudbound, and many others. There was a sense of literary excellence and challenge in the class, and I am proud of this classroom culture.

Students learned to read specific passages and poems closely and analytically. They learned to make arguments. I worked to focus students on the craft of writing and the skillful arrangement of language authors use to create meaning. We looked at specific sentences through warm-ups I call “Spotlight Reading.” I saw growth in insight and analytical writing.

What failed to live up to expectations? 

I try to do too much. I want kids to read everything. What happens? I rush through works that deserve a slower, more methodical pace. Quality literature requires attention. I need to curb my inclination to do too much. In the end, the kids are short-changed, and I feel frustrated.

KEEP READING

Second Chance Education

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I am the first to admit that I was not a stellar high school student. Actually, I was what I would call a “bottom third” kind of kid. I was smart enough, certainly smart enough to earn decent grades, but I was chronically lazy.  I was the type of student teachers would hope their peers had the pleasure of teaching.  Yes, I would not want myself in my own class!   Now, I watch current day versions of my high school self walking down the hall every day, and some take their seat (generally in the back) of my classroom. It seems as though the universe is having fun with me. I am teaching my high school self disguised as a fresh, new version of the lazy, disgruntled wiseacre.KEEP READING

The Art of Classroom Questioning

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If we want our students to think critically in our classrooms, we need to help them discover their innate abilities to use their brains as active tools and not passive receptacles of information to be spewed forth on test day. In other words, we need to ask students thoughtful, appropriate questions that lead them to the discovery of critical content knowledge. We want our students to think for themselves; we want our students to assess and synthesize information in critically appropriate manners; and, we want our students to be successful citizens in a complicated, ever-changing world. Let’s ask questions. Let’s stimulate their curiosity and help them start thinking for themselves. What follows is a simple, bare-bones model for starting, or improving, the questioning strategies we use with our students every day.           … KEEP READING

Without a Mission, a Teacher Perishes

swings

 

Any corporation that is serious about its long-term success has a mission statement. Companies need a guiding vision to keep focused during challenging times, as well as the good times. Most schools also have mission statements. Administrators and teachers spend long hours honing each word for appropriateness and precision. Schools set lofty goals guaranteeing results beyond even the most wild-eyed optimist’s dreams. Schools and school districts are committed to creating clear visions that will lead to all students’ success. Educators understand the power associated with a well-crafted mission statement.  As Solomon claims “Where there is no vision, the people perish.” But all too often these well-meaning mission statements are lost or buried on the school’s website, or better yet, abandoned to a notebook locked in a supply closet.  And while the process of writing a mission statement is beneficial; a mission statement is ultimately only as effective as those who read it and buy into its vision.  If teachers really want to take advantage of the power of a clear mission/vision, I suggest teachers write and act upon their personal mission statements daily.KEEP READING