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.


On Embracing Discourse



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

Tone Hunt


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



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

Load more...