Five Books to Jump Start 2017

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With so many books and so little time to read, our AP Lit Help team offers reviews of their favorite professional reads from last year. Happy reading and learning in 2017!

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Writing with Mentors – How to Reach Every Writer in the Room, Using Current, Engaging Mentor Texts by Allison Marchetti and Rebekah O’Dell                                                                                                                                                   Review by Jori Krulder

Writing with Mentors is one of those books with ideas so straightforward and obviously useful that you ask yourself “Why didn’t I think of this years ago?” It is based on the simple premise that the best way to create engaged and independent writers is by teaching them to find and use current texts as models for writing. Students read and analyze the text and use what they learn to write their own texts. In addition to providing step-by-step ways to build units of study tailored to the needs of your students, this book offers several resources for finding the real world texts that will help students to see the possibilities out there when it comes to writing. Once I learn the process for finding a mentor text to fit the needs and interests in my classroom and using it to guide students in creating their own writing, I was given limitless possibilities for instruction. And once students learn the process, they’re also able to apply it to future writing endeavors. This book empowers both students and teachers with one of the most important gifts of learning: independence.

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Who’s Doing the Work? By Jan Burkins                                                                                                                                       Review by Elizabeth Metheny

I read Jan Burkins and Kim Yaris’ new book, Who’s Doing the Work?, at the start of this school year. It was a perfect shot-in-the-arm to help me reflect upon my role in student learning. I’ve taught high school English for ten years and have worked with all skill levels from struggling freshmen to Advanced Placement seniors. As I read through the book I saw myself in many of their examples. When students struggle, teachers often feel responsible to do more. Check! When teachers define, scaffold, or summarize for students, the student becomes dependent upon the teacher. Check! When students are assigned a complex text, they rarely use the strategies teachers have taught them. Check!  Burkins and Yaris argue that reading and English Language Arts teachers must take a step back and allow their students to grapple with material. Additionally, they explain how teachers can make easy adjustments to facilitate authentic learning and how those adjustments can help students become more independent and capable of transferring their learning.

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Visible Learning for Teachers: Maximizing Impact on Learning by John Hattie                                                       Review by Roy F. Smith

What started out as required reading for a professional development session, John Hattie’s book Visible Learning for Teachers: Maximizing Impact on Learning turned out to be an essential addition to my professional library.  Hattie’s work is grounded in data and effectively argues for a visible “practice of teaching.”  While most teachers work to assist their students in becoming more knowledgeable, Hattie focuses on those teachers who are “expert teachers” in their disciplines.  Hattie argues that these expert teachers are not only content experts, but they are also “passionate and inspired teachers.” Visible Learning leads teachers and administrators to an understanding of the strategies and techniques these knowledgeable and passionate teachers practice every day.  Hattie’s work is not a “theory only” lecture. The heart of his book develops the key stages of the expert teacher’s daily lessons. He delineates a framework that includes chapters on preparing lessons, starting lessons, the flow of lessons, feedback, and the end of the lesson.  Evaluating expert teachers’ strategies to make learning “visible” for all students, and putting these strategies under rigorous scientific measures, helps all teachers practice these strategies in their own classrooms.  Hattie sums up his book’s goal when he claims that “My point is that teachers’ beliefs and commitments are the greatest influence on student achievement over which we have some control – and this book outlines those beliefs and commitments.”      

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In the Best Interest of Students: Staying True to What Works in the ELA Classroom by Kelly Gallagher                         Review by Susan Barber

Seeing Kelly Gallagher’s name with “the best interest of students” on a book left me no choice but to buy, and this book did not disappoint. Gallagher honestly reviews Common Core standards and argues that teachers need to stay true to teaching reading and writing rather than a set of standards. This book provides practical and theoretical content, old and new ideas, and teacher and student insight. In a world where many educators seem to either be highly outspoken against the standards or all in with them, Gallagher walks the line between the two putting best practices and students at the forefront of the book rather than engaging in an argument about standards, the current state of education, or the despair of literacy in today’s society. Some of the book is common sense which in my opinion is what is missing from many of today’s classrooms. Other parts of the book fights for student choice and engagement pushing educators to stay current with research and continue to grow as an educator.  My copy is already earmarked and worn from use already, and I have no doubt yours will be as well.

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The Art of X-Ray Reading by Roy Peter Clark                                                                                                                       Review by Susan Barber             

I read a lot. I grade a lot. I confer a lot. So when I find a book with lessons ready to roll out in my classes, I have found a gem. The Art of X-Ray Reading is a gem. From Fitzgerald to Shakespeare to Homer to Joyce to Morrison, Clark provides a lesson for a section of a text focusing on close reading. Do not confuse the term “close reading” here with a fad of filling out a worksheet on a passage but rather a serious study of a section. Students wade through syntax, determine diction and connotation, and tie the small to the big picture of the work. Clark turns the texts into mentor texts for writing and labs for teaching reading skills. His lessons are meaty, thorough, and engaging. Though only providing lessons for twenty-five works, teachers apply the principles of these lessons to any and every work taught in their classrooms. 

Best Lesson Series (Concept 1e)

I would be amiss if I failed to remind you of the Talks with Teachers book The Best Lesson Series: Literature written by teachers for teachers. If you have not read this, you are missing out!

What was the best professional book you read last year?

Curriculum and Course Considerations

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Even with my books, electronic resources, coffee, and beagle nearby to listen to me talk through ideas, choosing and planning curriculum for a new school year can be a daunting task. Whether new or experienced, planning for a new school year causes one to question. Am I offering a good mix of novels? Am I providing the right amount of poetry? Have I taught enough older literature? Too much modern?

These are the questions that plague my mind and often cause me to second guess myself. I’m already one week into school but here are some things to keep in mind when planning or evaluating plans throughout the year for AP Lit – or English classes in general: … 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

The Poetry Service Project

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Let’s party, English teachers! This is our month. Let’s break out the form and meter and read the night away! But before this gets any verse (couldn’t resist), here’s how my AP students and I celebrated National Poetry Month.

Earlier in the semester I received an email from a teacher asking if I’d like to do some classroom collaboration. She happens to be one outstanding educator and the mother of one of my very talented students, and I was thrilled to begin thinking about what she’d proposed. KEEP READING

Literary Criticism for the Student’s Soul

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One of the biggest challenges of the high school English teacher is teaching literary criticism. It can be such a subjective mystery for so many students, even the brightest. I have found over the past few years that having students take ownership and responsibility for not only their learning but the learning of their classmates pushes them to a level of understanding and communication that is far more engaging and often easier to grasp than my method of presentation. … 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

Start the New Year with a Mid-Year Evaluation

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Take a deep breath. This may be the last time you have to do this until May because we all know that once school starts back after break, the pace only accelerates until graduation. The new year is the perfect time for personal reflection and goal setting and the new year offers teachers a late Christmas gift – a chance to make mid-year classroom adjustments. This only happens with intentionality and reflection.KEEP READING

Fishbowl Discussion – Taking Class Discussions to the Next Level

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Let’s face it; many students do not come into the classroom proficient in having a productive conversation. There are many reasons for this, not the least of which are media that often value the loudest, most quotable sound bite over the thoughtful listener, but because good discussion is so crucial to what I seek to accomplish in my classroom as well as what I hope for my students to accomplish in life, I had to devise a way to scaffold these skills. The fishbowl technique was the perfect solution. It gave my reticent students a forum to share their ideas, my garrulous students practice in the fine art of listening, and everybody a language to discuss how to be a better communicator.  Give it a try – it’s had a huge impact on my classroom. Here’s how I do it:KEEP READING

Community in the Classroom

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Membership has its privileges. American Express recognizes the power of community and has used this pitch to sell their credit card to 102 million people over the last three decades. People want to be a member, not just a credit card holder.

The same is true with teaching. Teachers have the choice to either conduct a class or create a learning community. I choose the latter because I believe that the more my students experience community, the more willing they are to give of themselves to the group and to my instruction. … KEEP READING

Annotation for Smarties – 5 Tips for Teaching Students Active Reading and Critical Thinking

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“How many of you have ever gotten to the end of a page of assigned reading, and realized you have no idea what you just read?”

Every year, I pose this question to my English classes, and every year, just about every hand goes up, including mine. I share with my students that there have been several times, even recently, that I’ve realized I have absorbed absolutely nothing of what I thought I just read, this, despite 16 years of teaching and a lifetime of being an avid reader. It’s the discovery of why this happens that led me to one of the most successful strategies I use to help my students become close readers: annotation.

KEEP READING

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