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

Multiple Choice Monday

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Each Monday my students do multiple choice practice. My non-AP classes work on SAT reading comprehension questions while my AP students focus on AP exam type questions. Tests vary in length each week from 10 questions to a full AP practice exam of 55 questions. Multiple-choice practice can often suck the life out of a class, yet practice is necessary in order to increase reading comprehension skills and prepare for the exam.

I have started using Socrative in all of my classes for several reasons. Students benefit from Socrative because it provides a game-based feel for an ordinarily mundane activity and gives immediate feedback on questions. Teachers benefit from Socrative because valuable class time is not wasted on questions the entire class answered correctly, and data can be saved from each practice test in order to tailor future lessons to class weaknesses. … 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

Gimme More Rules So I Can Be Free!

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“The more constraints one imposes, the more one frees oneself of the chains that shackle the spirit… the arbitrariness of the constraint only serves to obtain precision of execution.” — Igor Stravinsky

Students often want to know why an author did not say something in a more straightforward way. Why didn’t Shakespeare just say the girl was hot? Why did he have to get all “shall I compare thee to a summer’s day” about it? Yet when we turn the question around and ask our students to write descriptively about, well, anything, they often hit the blank white paper wall. … KEEP READING

Advertising Fallacies: Snowboarding Cars and Other Fine Things

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If there ever is a perfect time to teach visual analysis, appeals, and SOAPSTone, now is the time. You can’t look anywhere without being bombarded by pressure—to be the best, to have the best. The message everywhere is BUY.

In today’s media-driven society, teens are immersed in advertising. In most cases, because it is so ubiquitous, they don’t even notice. They tune out the bar on the Facebook Wall, the popups in their favorite phone games, and can even fast-forward through commercials with their DVR. This, however, doesn’t mean that they are immune to the subtle effects. Now, more than ever, we need to teach them to read these things for what they are—ploys to make money. … KEEP READING

5 Things You May Not Know About Hamlet

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Hamlet: a rite of passage for most high schoolers. The play, and the madness surrounding it, has become a phenomenon in the high school classroom. As a British literature teacher and a lover of all things Shakespeare, I look forward to teaching Hamlet every single semester, and I find myself disappointed if someone has already taught it to my  seniors. As Shakespeare’s longest play, it lends itself to deep complexities and interesting historical elements, many that are easily passed over or just mentioned in passing for the sake of time. Since time is irrelevant in the world of trivial information, here are five things you may (or may not) know about Hamlet.

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5 Reasons to Teach Watchmen

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Widely considered the Citizen Kane of graphic novels, Alan Moore & Dave Gibbon’s mid-80’s masterwork Watchmen offers tremendous value to the AP Lit classroom.  Yes, there are superheroes and costumes.  Yes, there are panels and word balloons.  Yes, the violence is plentiful and the themes adult.  And yes, the color pallette feels dated. (It was the 1980s — forgive them.)  Beyond the aesthetics, one finds a deeply complex, multilayered narrative thick with allusions, symbolism, archetype and an exploration of the same themes found in more traditional texts.  Here are five reasons to consider adopting Watchmen into your AP Lit reading lists.

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3 Reasons for Poetry Fridays

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Every Friday, we start my English class by playing around with a poem.

The study of poetry in English class is often devoted to seriously pursuing theme, searching for literary devices, and supporting ideas with textual evidence: all worthy endeavors, but not conducive to experiencing the enjoyment so many of us get from reading a poem that truly touches us. This is equivalent to being forced to write an essay on every single book you read for fun; it misses the point of why we read in the first place. I want my students to have the opportunity to enjoy poetry the way I do.

Here are three reasons Poetry Fridays can change the way your students feel about poetry: … KEEP READING

Cracking the Code: Language and The Awakening

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We dive into language with a unit called “Breaking Free”, which focuses on feminist literature. Because high school students are saturated in the literature of “dead white guys”, this unit is meant to immerse them in the feminine perspective. Before The Awakening, we study The Story of an Hour and Desiree’s Baby. In addition, we read The Cult of Domesticity and True Womanhood, which drives an entire class period of discussion. Students become outraged and mock the text. It is always one of the most lively discussions of the year and I just ask them what they think.

Because a student’s entire understanding of the novella hinges on his or her reading of the first chapter and all of the clues that Chopin embeds , I read the first chapter in class and ask students to mark up the text as I read. Much of the time, this just becomes circled names and actions. Next, I ask them to go back and look at it through the lens of How to Read Literature Like a Professor by Thomas Forster, which they read over the summer. They get a little closer to the text and pick up on Chopin’s nuances– a primary symbol, characterization, and colors. … KEEP READING

Shakespearean Musical Chairs

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My AP students enter my class having read Romeo and Juliet in ninth grade… and that’s it. No Othello in 10th. No Julius Caesar. No Hamlet. It’s the hand I’m dealt and rather than lament this, I have to get to work building skill as quickly as I can. This isn’t an easy task because Shakespeare’s language can be difficult for experienced readers, let alone ones that lack exposure.

I knew I had to develop a way to reduce their inhibitions, build their close-reading skills, front load information about the play, and make it fun and inviting at the same time. That’s when I came up with Shakespearean Musical Chairs. Here’s what I do: … KEEP READING

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