Film in the Classroom: A Means to Develop Analysis

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Why use precious class time to watch clips when we are supposed to be reading? Doesn’t film dumb students down when teachers should be raising rigor? These are common objections to using film in the classroom; however, there’s a huge difference between popping a movie in to catch up on grading and skillfully using film to instruct. Film can be a great lead-in for complex texts providing a common shared experience in the classroom. With film being a student-friendly medium, barriers to teaching critical thinking skills are often removed building student confidence in analysis. … 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

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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The Power of Highlighting Essays

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The highlighter is a common tool in annotating. Literary texts are coded with different colors making grouping of ideas easy for students. Teachers and students, however, tend to put the highlighters down when it comes to essays and miss the opportunity to improve writing through visual learning. Taking time to mark essays slows the students down in their reading and studying of writing and gives them a visual of the construction of an essay. Highlighting or coding essays can be used in several ways. … 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

Close Reading: Let’s Make an Ordeal

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For many of us, the word “ordeal” connotes negativity, and we’re all trying to keep that out of our classrooms. I have used of one of my favorite college reads, Wuther Crue’s 1932 Vanity Fair phenomenon “Ordeal by Cheque,” to put a positive spin on the word and teach the art of close reading. I remember having to review each check and come up with “the story” when I was in college and  I love it. Here are a few reasons why it works just as well today. … KEEP READING

Top Ten Reminders for Timed Writings

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Here are 10 reminders to give your students for timed-writing assignments:

1. Write in literary present tense. The text is alive and speaking to readers today, not just when it was written.

2. Create a thesis that not only addresses the prompt but offers an opinion that the essay can defend.

3. Maintain focus by checking that every sentence directly relates to the thesis. If a thought or sentence does not tie to the thesis, mark it out and continue. KEEP READING

Developing Self-Assessment with the Dual-Entry Rubric and Author’s Memo

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If you don’t score essays with rubrics, you probably have good reason. Maybe you don’t accept that all the qualities of an essay can be reduced to metrics, or resist the pressure to standardize students’ performances, or feel that rubrics are an overly legalistic means to cover yourself when students or parents protest a grade, or balk at the notion that evaluating essays is objective.

If you do score essays with rubrics, you probably have good reason. Maybe you want to make essay evaluation more transparent to students, or feel that itemizing an essay’s strengths and weaknesses benefits writers, or believe in making essay scoring as objective as possible. … 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

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