Student Feedback : The Writing Conference

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This past week my PLN has been discussing feedback on Voxer forcing me to rethink feedback in general, its effectiveness, and what it looks like in the classroom. My beliefs and practices concerning feedback have drastically changed in the last few years and will most likely continue to change as I grow. While there are multiple avenues for feedback, this post will focus on the writing conference, the tool that has changed my feedback most drastically in the past couple of years. 

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Using Children’s Books as Mentor Texts

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One of the best professional decisions I have made was applying to become a fellow with the National Writing Project. Because of my interaction with colleagues across the spectrum from K-12, my teaching has expanded and I see possibility everywhere. One of my favorite techniques for assessing students both for formative and summative purposes that has come out of these connections has been through the use of children’s books. Here are three of my favorites:KEEP READING

Creating a Canon: Project Based Learning for Literature

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In an attempt to introduce project-based learning into our sophomore American literature classrooms, my colleagues and I, created the American Literary Canon project. What began as a way to try and get students engaged in the literature of America, and move beyond reading a bunch of dead white guys (and, in all honesty, a way to make our end of year assessing less strenuous), has now evolved into an assignment that allows students to explore literature that is meaningful to them, as well as, the opportunity for students to create personal artifacts of their learning. 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

Five Observations from an AP Reader

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The following observations are from Matt Brown, a longtime AP Lit reader:

Last year nearly 340,000 students took the AP Literature exam. That meant that the teachers who gathered in Louisville, KY in June had over 1 MILLION essays to score! Read…score…read…score…all day long for seven straight days. What becomes obvious in this process is that most of these essays are painfully average.

When I first started reading for the exam ten years ago, I was horrified to realize that most of my students fell into this zone of averageness. We are programmed to produce excellence in AP. But, teaching excellence in literary analysis is not equal to teaching towards excellence on the test.

If students can embrace that most of them are going to be average (at least statistically) on an AP exam, then they may have a better chance at succeeding. There is a range of passing scores and students need to be OK with where they fall within that range, honing in on what they can already do well.

Here is my top five when it comes to the advice I give students as they head into the exam: … KEEP READING

Tone Hunt

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To switch things up and get kids out of their seats, I like to do a “tone hunt.” Too often I find myself reading their essays and seeing the same generic five words to describe tone and none of them really captures the nuance intended. Though they have lists and I push them to use them in class discussion, their lack of familiarity with the context of the word prevents them from using it in their writing. … 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

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

Why I Do Not Teach Classical Literature

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There are many reasons why I do not teach Classic literature, so why bother talking about them? There is no point in discussing the enhanced vocabulary of someone who reads Cicero and Shakespeare. Likewise, there is little purpose in pointing out the countless references that even contemporary literature and culture make to the foundational stories of the Greeks and Romans. For the same reason, I will not talk about turns of a phrase that have passed into our vernacular from the giants of British literature and the value of understanding them in their original contexts. I am certainly not going to comment on the fact that the previous three sentences form a tricolon crescens, a grouping of three ideas, each of which is expressed with greater complexity. There is also the fact that this entire paragraph is an example of praeteritio, a device by which an author draws attention to something by claiming to do no such thing, despite that both devices have their origins in the literature of Classical antiquity and continue to be powerful literary and rhetorical tools today. I do, however, teach Classic, specifically Classical, literature, and if these benefits and their like are not the reasons, then what is? … KEEP READING

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

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