The Poisonwood Bible


For the past few years, The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver has been my summer reading, and I suspect it will remain that way for a while. This book, along with Frankenstein, are the two books that will probably never move off my reading list. TPB chronicles a story of an evangelical missionary family moving from Bethlehem, GA to the Belgian Congo in 1959. The story of the mother and daughters striving to gain independence and freedom from the tyrannical father parallel the struggle within Africa. Having over 500 pages, I assign this book for summer work along with How to Read Literature Like a Professor by Foster. Here are some of the reasons I love teaching The Poisonwood Bible:


Without a Mission, a Teacher Perishes



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

Do You See What I See?



Study the image. What do you see? More on that in a minute.

AP Literature. The mention of this class causes some people to shudder and recall their high school English class with memories of diagramming sentences or reading classic novels followed with a difficult exam. AP Lit is really not as intimidating as it initially appears. Consider this activity that I do with my students on the first day.

Instruct students to look at the black and white picture above and ask how many know what the image is and indicate if they know by show of hands. Only one or two will probably be able to identify the image without help. Now have students ask their neighbor what the image is and poll the class to see now how many can identify the image. (It’s a cow’s head if you’re still having trouble). If several are still having trouble seeing the cow’s head, point to the area of the head and ask them to focus their attention this area. Now almost all should see a cow and raise their hand. If someone still doesn’t see it, have them ask someone else to tell them what it is. … KEEP READING

What the Class of 2015 Taught the Teacher



Grades often inhibit learning. My conversations over a year about grades outweigh my conversations about learning at least 5:1; this signals a problem for me. Driven by the desire to get in good schools, students and parents have become obsessed with grades. Students are afraid to take risks in writing because they are too concerned about what it will do to their grade; this also signals a problem for me. My goal this summer is to read everything I can get my hands on about the movement of removing grades and put a plan into place for the fall where the emphasis is on learning and not grades. A number does not necessarily represent learning. There has to be a better way, and while I may not find “the solution,” grades will not be the focus of my class next year. … KEEP READING

Gimme Five – What the Teacher Learned

Amy's Class


Did you know that Since 2002, the third Thursday of April is recognized as National High Five Day? Well, I’ll be honest, I had no clue. So, to make up for the oversight, I’d like to give you all a HIGH FIVE! Here are five ways that I have grown, changed, or transformed in the past year.

Not everything needs to be graded. This year I have allowed myself to take a step back from grading. That doesn’t mean the students are doing less or that there isn’t value in what the students are doing, it just means that not everything needs to be graded. Students need to time to practice and fail and in that same mindset shouldn’t be punished with a low grade because they tried something and it didn’t work, or they weren’t successful. For a long time I have held the belief that more grades in the grade book would quantify the end grade. I found myself debating over half points to assure students were given the appropriate credit for what they had completed. This was exhausting and it perpetuated the mindset that it was the grade or the score that seemed to matter more than the learning. Students had little room for error in practice and homework. I still expect students to complete the practice or homework, but the “score” in the gradebook shows completion, not correctness. And, that’s ok.


After the Exam


With the AP exam now officially behind us, we are left with the challenge of what to do with the rest of our class time. We strive to make our class meaningful and purposeful for our students but have pushed hard and want to relax and enjoy the last few days or weeks. Some teachers have several weeks of school providing time to teach a novel while others, like myself, finish before Memorial Day.

Here are a few ideas to maintain an academic focus while enjoying a more low-pressured learning environment.


Five Observations from an AP Reader



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

Community in the Classroom

8 & 9 essays

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

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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