Friday, August 26, 2016


One of the biggest challenges faced by teachers in the new world of teaching is modeling assignments for their students. I'm not referring to using prior students' papers, rather using our own work to help clarify our expectations. I think there are a few reasons for this:

1. Are we providing too many answers and too much support? (Coddling)

2. Is showing our work demonstrating an unfair expectation given that we are at a different stage in our lives and education? 

3. What if the students don't think it's good? Will I lose credibility in the classroom? 

I think all three reasons are credible excuses, but usually the benefits of modeling outweigh the negatives. Perhaps the only time I wouldn't provide a model is for a creative assignment, as creativity is more subjective, and I actually think students can exceed their teachers creative abilities if given the opportunity. Maybe I will change my mind about that. We will see. 

Here is an assignment that I recently modeled for my students. 

Read the following article and included excerpt.

Assignment: Fareed Zakaria wants to publish an update to his book “The Post American World” He makes many claims in the first chapter of his book and in the NPR article. Choose one claim and recommend to the author what changes or additions should be made to provide an accurate depiction in 2016. This is an independent assignment and should be completed individually. If you need help, please seek out the instructor (me!).

Paragraph 1: State the original claim in your own words.

Paragraph 2: Update Mr. Zakaria on whether his claim has stayed the same or is different. Use and reference (talk about) three sources that support your update.

Paragraph 3: Conclude with your recommendation on what the text should say.

Here is my model! I hope I get a good grade....

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Modeling the Annotation of Literature

Every year I tell my students that they can use their novels on tests and every year several students come with novels that are not annotated. Their reasons range from the fact that they didn't read much of the novel to they don't believe in taking notes to they don't know how to annotate.

I can't completely control the first two, but I can help with the last issue. Even though I know students have been taught how to annotate in prior classes, I review with them on the first day of the novel.

I posted part of the first chapter on the board and demonstrated how and what I would annotate. Then I asked them to do the same thing on their own with a paragraph. We put on the board what and how they annotated.

I hope that this modeling provided them with some guidance and explicit expectations. We will see how it goes.

Monday, August 22, 2016

The Fate of Chronicle of A Death Foretold

I am trying to decide whether or not to continue to teach Chronicle of a Death Foretold by Gabriel Garcia Marquez during the next school year (2017-18). The novel is on the proverbial chopping block because I find that very few kids like or love it. What I can't decide is whether or not they need to like or love it. That's for another conversation. Even though I'm considering inserting a different book into the curriculum, I still want to try to perhaps teach the novel differently or better or with more guidance to help them to see the value.

This year I a starting off reading the first 10 pages as a class to help them scaffold the characters and model annotation.

In addition, I am previewing the novel for the first time with this scenario:

Preview of the Novel

Scenario: When you were in high school, one of your best friends was murdered downtown in broad daylight. You learn that most people at the school knew that the murder was going to occur, but did nothing to prevent it. Twenty-seven years later (How old will you be in 27 years? you return to the school where it occurred to find out what happened. Many of the staff and teachers are still there, although they are very old. Many of your old classmates are still there too, working at the school either as teachers, administrators, or staff. What 10 questions would you have for them?

We will then list the questions and examine whether or not they are answered in this novel.

LOTOL: Reading Levels

The 10th Grade at my school is not leveled in English or History. This can pose challenges when assigning reading. Also, I don't receive great data on each student's reading level when they enter the course.

For one of the first in-class activities, I ask them to indicate on a sticky note if they are a slow, slow medium, medium, fast, or fast reader.  Based on that self identification I hand out a four page article, a six page article, or both articles. (These articles were about Gabriel Garcia Marquez.)

After they finish the articles, I ask them if they found them to be hard, medium, or easy. This provides me with a tremendous amount of data. Although I know reading speed doesn't equal reading level, it still helps me plan my classes and homework assignments. (If everyone answered slow, I would have to adjust how much reading I assign per night and help them develop strategies to read faster.)  If they say the articles were easy to medium, I know I am assigning the right kinds of materials for in-class non-fiction reading (vs. novels or short stories).

After the students have finished their readings, they work in groups to create an identity chart based on their readings and an 8-minute video from class. This democratizes the group process and facilitates universal participation.

Thursday, August 18, 2016

Welcome Back To School

It's been a while since I've written. Last year my contract was 60 percent English and 20 percent designing the school's web site. This year, I have a 100 percent contract, 90 percent teaching. It is a whole new ball game with two small children, one of which is attending the school this year. However, I wanted to write about what I want to write about so that I don't forget. This is my tenure year, and this blog will serve as my portfolio. I need to make time for this along with everything else. It's also nice to reflect and such.

Summer Conference

This summer I attended the "WLU Literacies for All" Institute in St. Louis. The sessions were great. My three biggest takeaways from the conference were 1. Different methods to give student feedback
2. Using creative responses vs. writing standard essays and 3. A huge list of books that I want to read!

I was also impressed by the teacher activism going on in urban areas, specifically Ferguson, Missouri. It gave me a lot of food for thought on what is the role of the teacher in the classroom.

Connecting with Kids on the First Day

On the first day of school with my 10th Grade English class I am very strict and explain the policies and guidelines. However, I don't want to create a total authoritarian atmosphere. The next class I ask them to email me answers to questions about themselves and questions or concerns that they might have about the class. (I also do this in my Social Studies courses). I've added a number 6: "Ask me (almost) any question about myself. The students usually ask, "Why did you become a teacher?" but there are other questions about favorite t.v. shows, what do you like to do for fun, what do you like about being a mom, and others. I think it humanizes me for the students, but in a safe way, one to one on email.

Another thing I tried for the first time is showing the students feedback I received from last year's class at the end of the year. The category that I shared was "advice for next year's class." I kept is as they wrote it with grammar mistakes and all so that they would know it was really from their peers.


A weakness of mine is decorating the classroom (and my home for that matter). This year, inspired by another colleague, I put up a poster with my favorite quotes. It's already been a hit with the kids.  I prefer posting student work, but they really seemed to get a lot out of it.  A challenge is that I teach three subjects, share a room with two other teachers, and there are only a few bulletin board. However, I think I will find a way to add more without ruining the walls!

Seizing the Day: Fractured Lands: How the Arab World Came Apart

The weekend before school began, I read an amazing article called Fractured Lands: How the Arab World Came Apart by Scott Anderson. Although it will add to my work load, I can't not include it in my Middle East History course. However, it is a very long article and not linear, so it requires a lot of scaffolding. There are great lesson plans on the site, and I will use some of them, but I need to weave the article into the curriculum in a meaningful and authentic way.

What's exciting is that I contact the lesson plan designer who wrote me back write away. Fareed Mosoufi wrote the lessons and Mark Schulte is the head of the Pulitzer Center. While of course I'm familiar with the Pulitzer Prize, I didn't know of that they had an educational wing.  We have already corresponded eleven times. They want to know how I'm using the article and would like feedback. We also are going to try to schedule the author to speak to my class and my colleague's class.

One of the first suggestions that I made is that they have the author record an audio version of the article to make it more accessible to students with learning disabilities. We will see what they say!

This is not my first time using long form journalism in a class. At my last school I used The Girl whose Mother Lives in the Sky by Pulitzer Prize winning journalist Tom French to teach about immigration.  He then spoke to the class and they loved it!

I hope my students will share my enthusiasm. We will see!