Peer Read-Alouds: A Feedback Model

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My juniors giving “readerly feedback” through a partner read-aloud.

Grading student papers and giving feedback: it’s the bane of the writing teacher’s life, but it tends to occupy a lot of our time. Particularly now, as the school year comes to an end and our inboxes fill up with piles of final papers.

It’s such a source of consternation and frustration that there are a number of professional books out there on how to make the process faster, easier, and less painless. In one of these books, aptly titled Papers, Papers, Papers: An English Teacher’s Survival Guide, legendary English teacher Carol Jago underscores the importance of our work and concludes, “We owe it to our students not to let the paper load defeat us.”

Given the research on the importance of feedback on students’ writing (Hattie & Timperley, 2007–see link), we must continue to engage with students’ papers. So how do we stay strong and avoid defeat, as Jago argues we must? There’s a way to increase the valuable feedback students receive without adding to our own workloads. The answer lies in peer response. Continue reading

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Take a Mental Health Break!

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Image from Pixabay – Used with permission

“Can we take a mindfulness break?”

I had just outlined for my junior AP English language and composition students the remaining weeks of the school year, which included two essays, a final exam, an AP exam, and a short transitional unit into AP literature concepts. A few were visibly daunted by the ideas of dwindling time and high-pressure assessments, so I wasn’t too surprised when one girl sitting near the front of the classroom made this request.

“Can we take a mindfulness break?”

It’s a question that I encourage the kids in all three of my courses – English 2, AP English, and IB literature HL – to ask when they are feeling stressed, anxious, overwhelmed, or tense. Continue reading

A First-Day-of-School Priority

school-1575835_960_720Summer is winding down (or is already over for many of us), and, since your time is limited, I will be brief.

I want to talk to you today about the first day of school. More specifically, what you have planned for your students’ first day this year.

Teachers have a variety of go-to activities and routines on the first day of school. Some play name games or ice breakers with their students. Some stick to a traditional route and go over the syllabus, while others dive right into a content-rich lesson. Still others begin with an exam, particularly if they assigned summer homework for their incoming class.

I’m entering my sixth year of teaching this year, and I’ve done most of the above. Through trial and error, I’ve realized that many first-day approaches can work. Regardless of what your first day plans entail, though, I want to suggest to you that no first-day-of-school plan is complete without one essential ingredient. Continue reading

The Theatricality of Teaching

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Teaching and acting have a great deal in common. (image via Wikimedia Commons)

Students walk into a dim classroom.

“Thank you for being here today,” the teacher intones to the first student who arrives.

“Your presence here this morning would have meant a great deal to him,” he remarks somberly to the next student.

“I know this is a tough morning for you; he considered you a great friend,” he assures a third.

As students take their seats, bewildered, they notice the podium is draped in black, fake vines and a rose hanging from the top, flickering tea light candles arranged across the top of the lectern. Behind the podium, a drawing of a long-haired boy next to a soberingly terse epitaph helps the students make sense of this bizarre start to their second-period English class:

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c. 1944-1954

This is the dramatic scene that greeted my sophomore students this week the day after I assigned them to read chapter nine of Lord of the Flies, the chapter in which the stranded boys of the novel, driven savage in their isolation from “civilized” society, “do in” ten-year-old Simon in a frenzy of mob violence.

Continue reading

Planning for the First Day of School

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As a teacher, there’s a lot of pressure to have the perfect first day of school. After all, this is the day you make your first impressions on your new students, and it’s the day you set the tone for the rest of the year. If you’re like me, the first day of school also the only specific day of the year you have nightmares about.

It’s no wonder that one of the best-selling teacher books of all time is called The First Days of School (co-written by Harry and Rosemary Wong, the book is now in its fourth edition and has sold nearly 4 million copies).

I spend more time planning my first day of school every year than any other day because I know what’s at stake and because I know how anxious I will inevitably be on that day each time a new group of 25-40 students walks through my door for the first time that school year. As a student teacher four years ago, I was lucky enough to observe five different teachers’ first day lessons and found the experience invaluable in planning my eventual first first day of school. So, in today’s blog post, I want to offer you a glimpse into my first-day routine and the way I approach planning for the big day. Continue reading

Bringing Shakespeare to Life: Performance in the Classroom

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In a previous blog post, I described my dramatic redesign of a unit built around Shakespeare’s The Tragedy of Julius Caesar. In that post, I mentioned that breaking the pattern of four rhetorical analyses of speeches from the play would be a couple of class periods devoted instead to studying and performing Caesar’s assassination scene from act three, scene one.

It has become an almost unquestioned cliche of teaching Shakespeare that the Bard’s work is meant to be seen and heard, not read. While reading Shakespeare’s plays still has a role of obvious importance in the study of Shakespeare, I think students certainly should get to see and hear his plays, too. There are a number of ways, all with their own advantages and disadvantages, that teachers around the world teach Shakespeare with at least some success: performing key scenes, watching the movie first (or while reading or after reading), reading the script at home and discussing in class, reading aloud in class, reading along with professional recordings, and so on and so forth.

You may recall from my previous post about my Julius Caesar unit, however, that my primary learning goals for these five weeks revolved around the appreciation and practical application of rhetoric and argumentation. Acting out a scene or two from each act, therefore, would not necessarily be the best way to get my students from point A to my desired point B. It seems a sin to me, though, to teach Shakespeare without any classroom performance. Continue reading