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

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Writing About Literature in the Age of Common Core

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By now, most English language arts teachers at the secondary level are aware that literature has not been eliminated or even drastically reduced by the Common Core State Standards (CCSS). By now, most ELA teachers understand that the 70/30 ratio of nonfiction-to-fiction reading prescribed by the CCSS refers to the “sum of student reading” across all disciplines, including science, mathematics, history and social sciences, health, physical education, foreign languages, arts, and technical subjects, leaving plenty of literature to be read in English class (see the footnotes on page 5 of the ELA and literacy standards).

In fact, the CCSS’s “Key Shifts in ELA” document states that literature remains “the core of the work of [grade] 6-12 ELA teachers,” and the introduction to the ELA and literacy standards notes that “[b]ecause the ELA classroom must focus on literature (stories, drama, and poetry) as well as literary nonfiction, a great deal of informational reading in grades 6–12 must take place in other classes if the NAEP assessment framework is to be matched instructionally.

But what still leaves many educators scratching their heads is where to find literary analysis in the CCSS. I know this because I was recently searching for it as my colleagues and I tried to figure out where it fit in the CCSS for ELA and Literacy’s three writing “types”: arguments, informative/explanatory texts, and narratives. 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