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

Active Reading

“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.

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On Embracing Discourse

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When I took on the challenge of becoming a National Board Certified teacher in 2000, I videotaped myself for the “Whole Class Discussion” portfolio entry.

It was a dismal affair.  It featured a teacher pitching vague questions that went nowhere, followed by some that were enthusiastically answered by the two or three extroverts in the room. The rest of the students busied themselves picking lint off their clothing.

Luckily, board certification is primarily reflective.  My reflection indicated that this was an area where I needed help—fast.

That was 16 years ago, but correcting this one problem lead to a continual search for strategies that let students lead their own learning. It has been well worth the journey. … KEEP READING

Writing the Group Essay

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About three years ago, we were coming up on the end of the semester. There was so much to do between finishing up Romeo and Juliet with my 9th graders and grading. I wanted to finish the unit with something meaningful, but I also needed to be practical in terms of evaluating and inputting grades and closing out the semester. On my drive home, it occurred to me that I could have the students work in groups to write an essay in response to Shakespeare’s play. I went home and thought very carefully about how to structure the assignment so the students would be successful and so the essays would hang together and make some kind of sense.

As I walked around the next day listening to the student conversation around the play, themes, characters, and how to put their ideas all together, I realized that I had accidentally stumbled upon something very powerful. … KEEP READING

Why Impromptu Speeches Work

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I have a confession to make.

Up until this year, I’ve avoided public speaking activities in my classroom like the plague. It’s not that I don’t think students need it – apart from playing a pivotal role in the Common Core Speaking and Listening strand — being able to express ideas in a clear and concise way is a crucial skill for success in the adult world. It’s not that I never have students speak in front of the class. We have a few projects throughout the year in which groups get up and present a PowerPoint and discussion plays an essential part of instruction in my daily lessons.

But it is a very rare occasion that I have students stand up and autonomously give a speech to the class and that is for one reason and one reason only: they fight it tooth and nail. Sure, there are one or two hams that love to get up and bask in the spotlight, but they are few and far between, and until now, this wasn’t a hill I was willing to die on.  … KEEP READING

Engaging Students with Editorials

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Relevancy. Rigor. Authenticity.  These are buzzwords in education.  Pundits overuse these terms, which makes teachers ignore their meanings.  We may avoid confronting these terms because we know, deep down, that these concepts are difficult to achieve in the classroom.

It’s difficult to make a curriculum relevant to the lives of 25 teenagers,  meeting all of their needs and wants.

It’s difficult to scaffold lessons, pushing students to the edge of their zones of proximal development.

It’s difficult to create a classroom  where students read and write authentically, not just “playing school” for extrinsic rewards. … KEEP READING

Student Accessible: A Promise to My Students

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All too often, teachers get the reputation of being unavailable after they leave campus. Granted, there are many teachers who do not leave campus before 6:00 pm or later; but after that, their students are on their own. On the first day of each semester, I make a promise to my students:

If you have a question or a concern, you have two main outlets through which you can reach me (Twitter and email), and I will always respond to you within thirty minutes up to 10:30 pm. If you haven’t heard from me within thirty minutes, check the email address to be sure you typed it correctly, and email me again. Technology willing, you will get a timely response from me.

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It Is OK to Doodle

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Let me start with a little secret … I cannot draw.

I tell my students this and try to show them that they don’t have to be great artists to create art that helps them think critically about texts. This is even more important now that I work at a high school where one of the four pillars of our plan is an arts-infused curriculum. One of the educators who helped to write the plan, and who is now our principal, explained to me that arts-infused means thinking through art. We’re not trying to be a Fame school, but rather we’re trying to use the arts as a way of thinking across disciplines.

The idea of an arts-infused curriculum was a huge draw for me as a teacher. I have always incorporated art into my teaching of English. I have asked kids to storyboard and create other types of artistic interpretations of text, often using symbols to represent their thinking. I know that some teachers subtly put down this type of work. They argue that it just isn’t rigorous. Despite the deep thinking I see when students use drawing or art, I had trouble articulating how it helped my students think through text.

Luckily, a couple of things have happened recently that have helped me understand why incorporating art is worth it. … KEEP READING

The Freedom to Respond: Q3 on the AP Exam

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The one question on the AP exam that produces the most anxiety is the free response question, Q3. I have had students tell me they become overwhelmed with the choices listed and cannot decide which book best fits the question. Or, they go in with a novel in mind that they know well, and the question doesn’t match their selected novel, and they scramble to make a suitable choice.

I wanted to find out which books provided the most versatility for the AP exam and which books students were expected to have read or have knowledge of in college courses. … KEEP READING

Shakespeare Comes Alive

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Think back to your experiences learning Shakespeare when you were in high school. Rather than simply reading the play, the teacher probably told you that you would be performing it in class. While this sounds like it might be fun, it probably devolved into a few apathetic students standing at the front of the room reading in monotone voices.

Students learn Shakespeare when they perform Shakespeare. They understand his words when they can truly interact with them. Unfortunately, most of our students aren’t actors, and they really aren’t comfortable performing in front of their classmates. How can we get our students to engage with Hamlet & Macbeth in ways that won’t bore or embarrass them? … KEEP READING

Episode 1 of The Test

THE PERKS OFOWNING A CAT

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Could they read and could they write? That’s what they wanted to know. Of course they could do it, but how well could they do it? So they worked in silence for three hours, reading and writing. That’s all it took — three hours. A year’s worth of work, and it was done in three hours. And then, they awaited judgement.

Issac and Annie are two of the nearly 400,000 students globally that took the AP Literature and Composition exam last year. It is a rigorous exam. Typically, the best and brightest students in a school take AP exams, at least that’s the way it was when I was in school.  The multiple choice section lasts an hour. Then in the next two hours students write three essays, back to back to back. Its exhausting. Few do well on it.

How tough is it? Well only 8% scored a 5 last year. 18% scored a 4. If you do the math, and bear with me I’m an English teacher, nearly 75% failed to score a four or a five. 75% of the smart kids. That’s a tough exam. But when you want to award college credit for high school students, this isn’t the in-house soccer program, not everyone gets a trophy.

But Is it fair? Can a test, especially a high-stakes one, reveal what you know?

This is a podcast about one TEST. I want to know what those two students did to succeed? What did their teachers teach? Did they teach to the test? Did they ignore it? But once you start asking those questions, your magnifying glass picks up clues that lead down a much bigger rabbit hole. It leads you to wonder, what should a test do? Are we testing too much? How do you help a struggling reader?  Can you assess a student, a school, and entire educational initiative if you don’t test what they know and how they’ve progressed? And what about the students? What impact is all this having on them? Over the next few weeks, I’m going to talk to students, teachers, test makers, advocates and critics. I’m going to ask questions of them all to better understand where we are, what’s working and what isn’t, and the impact its having.

Welcome to THE TEST

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