Pique Student Interest with Banned Books


It’s true that many teens are notoriously rebellious and can be difficult to teach at times. However, a strategic teacher can tap into their desire to question authority and pique their interest in reading by using challenged books. These books capitalize on their desire to learn about controversial topics. This is especially true when motivating students to read classics and books from the cannon.

For instance, when I use literature circles in my classroom, I often tease students to read a novel, The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger. I tell them that it has often been banned in schools for vulgar language and mature topics. I also tell them that the protagonist, Holden Caufield, has a defiant attitude and immediately gets expelled from school at the start of the novel. This usually grabs their attention, and they often choose Salinger’s book for their group's reading.

Banned Books Week, from September 24 - 30, is an

excellent time to introduce some ofthese commonly challenged books. There are myriad resources to help you excite teens in their reading of these books. Best of all, taking advantage of the contestable content of these books is an excellent motivator at the beginning of a novel unit.

Do you want to get your students engaged in Banned Book Week? Here are some activities that you may be interested in:

Rebel Readers on Twitter
During Banned Books Week 2017, the American Library Association (ALA) is hosting a contest for people to tweet against censorship. They will be awarding prizes each day throughout the week.

Stand for the Banned
In another promotion from the ALA, readers create YouTube videos and read excerpts from challenged books to declare their support for freedom of speech.

Make a Display
Have your students create displays that educate their classmates about banned books. You can find ideas at the link above.




Collaborate with Your Media Center
Recently, I asked my media center specialist to introduce my students to banned books.  She created an engaging activity in which students walked around the room looking at books that had been challenged over the years.  First, they counted how many of these books they had read, and next they chose two to research.  They searched for information on why the selected books had been challenged.  Finally, they shared their results and were amazed.  All of them were shocked that the Harry Potter series was on the list!




Should This Book Be Banned?

Here is a quick and easy activity your students can do to connect argument writing to their reading of a challenged book. This argument writing prompt teaches students to brainstorm evidence, counterarguments, and refutation for a claim about a banned book. 

You can extend their learning with this book rationale activity, too.  First, students research why their banned books have
been challenged, and then they search for text examples showing the books' educational value.  For fun, they can make bookmarks after they write their rationales.

Want more information for teaching about censorship? You may want to check out the resources below:
Freedom to Read Foundation
The Comic Book Legal Defense Fund
NCTE Intellectual Freedom Center

Gather more ideas from these other teacher bloggers here:

Ways to Incorporate Lessons on Banned Books

What do you do with banned books in your classroom? Please share in the comments below.


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Classroom Transformation

This week we start school (many of you  returned weeks ago) and I’m going to meet my new students. In preparation, I’ve tried to make my classroom inviting to them (but also conducive to learning). In fact, inspired by Pinterest (sometimes a curse) I started transforming my classroom  a few days early because I have a large classroom to set up.

I’m certainly not complaining, though, because it took nine years for me to get my amazing classroom. For many years, I was on a cart and “floated” into other teachers’ classrooms. Fortunately, as I set up my room, I had help from my niece and teacher intern. However, two challenges remained, including decorating on a teacher-friendly budget and making it appropriate for high school students. But with hard work and creativity, my classroom is now ready to go!


Here's what my classroom looked like when I first returned. (We pack everything at the end of the year so the custodians could clean the floors.)

And here's my classroom transformation!

This wall includes fun displays, part of my classroom library, and the crates where I collect student assignments.

Here I've taken book covers and laminated them to make a hanging banner in the corner of my classroom.


For my seating arrangement, I have students facing towards the front in small diagonal and vertical rows.  This facilitates discussion.

This bulletin board was inspired by a picture that I found on Pinterest.  With the help of my teacher intern, we added inspirational quotes so students will be empowered to achieve success.

Above my book shelves, I display students projects that I've kept over the years.  I'm proud of them and love displaying their hard work!

What do you do to make your classroom an inviting environment?  Please share your ideas in the comments below!


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Back to School Stress? 5 Ways to Take Care of Yourself!




It’s that time of year again.

Teachers and students are headed back to school after a relaxing summer, which can cause their stress levels to sky-rocket. During the summer, you may have enjoyed waking up without an alarm clock, drinking your morning coffee at a leisurely pace, and spending quality time with friends and family.

It can be difficult to transition to the hectic pace of the school year, so it’s more important than ever to take care of yourself as you head back to school. Here are a few suggestions for self-care and some ways that I try to shift back into the school routine calmly.

Stay Active

1. During the summer, I am much better at getting exercise and going to the gym than during the school year. I’ve been taking spin and yoga classes throughout this summer. However, once the school year starts and I can’t exercise in the morning, it’s much harder for me to get to the gym. So, I find that just getting outdoors after school and taking long walks to the end of my road refreshes me and helps me burn some calories.

Other options include taking a bike ride, kayaking, or paddle boarding (if you live near the water). Not only do these activities help improve your energy, but there is the added benefit of getting vitamin D from the sunshine. 


Here's the view at the end of my street.
TLC

2. When teachers and students return to school, it’s easy to get consumed with work. For me, I work long days and I often have evening events at school during the first months back. It makes it hard to relax, so in the past I would neglect myself. That only made me grumpy and my work more tedious – not good qualities for a teacher.

Consequently, now I try to treat myself to a few indulgences. I may get a pedicure, read a book for pleasure, or enjoy a delicious dessert. These gifts to myself help cheer me up when I’m sad that summer is over. Make sure you pamper yourself, too!

Get Sleep

3. When switching from my summer schedule back to a school routine, it’s important to make sure I get enough sleep. In the summer when the days are longer, I go to bed later at night. But with the early mornings of the school year, I have to make sure I go to bed earlier, so I start winding down after dinner. This may mean that I need to turn off my cell phone or walk away from the television. Without those distractions, I can often go to bed by ten on a school night and get my full eight hours of sleep.

You should try to do the same. Don’t grade papers in bed or bring your laptop into the bedroom. And make sure to give yourself time to listen to some soothing music or take a bath before you go to sleep.

Continue Summer Hobbies

4. In the summer, I tend a small garden of tomatoes, peppers, and herbs. I make sure to water and prune the plants, and I enjoy the reward of fresh vegetables. Unfortunately, with my busy school schedule I often forget to do these things. As a result, I need to make a conscious effort to check my garden in the early autumn. That in turn, reminds me to cook and eat healthy. If you have summer hobbies, hopefully you can continue to enjoy them also.

Say "No"

5.  This is probably the most important thing I’ve learned in my 20 years of teaching. Of course, it’s still hard to say “no” to the many requests made of me by administrators, students, and other teachers during the school year. Whether it’s attending the talent show, chaperoning a dance, or teaching an after-school program, there is always more that people want me to do!
No doubt, I enjoy attending some of these events, but if I don’t say “no” I won’t have any time left over to take care of myself. New teachers especially need to heed this advice because they will often be inundated with requests for help. Please stand up for yourself and set some boundaries!

Teachers are so generous with their time that they are often inattentive to their own physical and mental health. But the truth is that by sacrificing your health, you end up being able to give less of yourself. Overtired and burnt-out teachers are irritable, lethargic, and frequently ill. They certainly can’t help their students when they’re in this condition. So by helping yourself, you’re helping others.

I’ve shared some ways that I care for myself. What do you do for yourself? Please share in the comments below.



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Tips and Tricks for Digital Learning



This year my students will finally have laptops, and I’m going to incorporate more digital learning in my instruction. Since I’m new to the 1:1 classroom, I asked other teachers for help on how to manage technology so that it will be meaningful for my students. I’ve shared their advice (and one tip of my own) with you, too!

Google Classroom
Google Classroom has become a game changer in my class! This platform has made managing and organizing my assignments a MUCH easier process. Google Classroom is a part of Google Apps for Education and can be used by anyone with a personal Google account. One of the things I love most... students can use from any location that has internet access, AND each assignment that they complete automatically saves to the student's Google Drive! This means no more missing or lost assignments! The same goes for the teacher, as well!

With each class that is created, a folder is also created in your Google Drive. This is where you will find every single assignment that you have assigned your students through Google Classroom. You’ll have endless access to their work, with no chance of losing it! I like to get my students

acquainted with Google Classroom right off the bat, so during the first couple days of school I show them a short video I made called, "Google Classroom Tutorial for Students." The video shows students how to access and use the program. Feel free to use it to introduce Google Classroom to your students! Lit with Lyns

Speech-to-Text
Just a few years ago, I couldn’t find easy to use and affordable speech-to-text software for a student who was physically unable to type her research paper. I contacted that same student two years later just before she began a college English course to tell her about the FREE Voice Typing feature that had been added to Google docs. We were both thrilled about this feature that makes typing as simple as talking to a friend. 


Before beginning, make sure that the microphone is on and working. Then, look for “Voice Typing…” about halfway down the Tools menu at the top of a Google docs page. You’ll see the black microphone image indicating that the microphone is not recording, but when recording starts, it turns to the red image. I've found that the microphone built into most
computers is adequate, but if it has a noisy internal fan or if the student is working in an area with a lot of talking or noise, you may wish to use an inexpensive external plug-in microphone. One distinct bonus about Voice Typing is that this feature allows students to use the keyboard while speaking or if they stop talking to think, making it easy to jump from talking to typing and back again without having to stop the microphone. Students can learn to use their voices to make a quick deletion, go to the next line, make the font bold, add a period or comma, or do a myriad of formatting and editing tasks--or they can just move the cursor to the desired spot and make changes with their keyboard or mouse as they usually would. Click here to access a list of Voice Typing commands.

Another plus is that students can download the free Google Docs apps to their cell phones (Android or Apple). Since phone microphones were designed to easily pick up voices and interpret them correctly, speaking into a phone produces very accurate results. Google Docs is cloud based, allowing

students to move seamlessly between computers, laptops, and cell phones, and all of their work is stored safely on one document. In addition to those students who have physical challenges that make typing on a traditional keyboard difficult or impossible, I've also found this feature to be incredibly helpful for students who have dysgraphia or those who struggle with idea generation, staring at a blank page, stuck, unable to come up with a single word. Many students who can't figure out what to write or how to begin, find that speaking their ideas is much easier and far less intimidating than writing on paper. Maryann from Secondary Strategies

Revision History
When I began Google Classroom, I quickly found that I could check group work participation. Group work haunts me because I dislike assigning grades to students who do not earn that grade, and perhaps underscoring a student who deserves more. I ask students their experience with group work and even have students complete an evaluation on their partners. Parents and administrators normally want more than other students' ideas, and I'm not entirely confident deciding grades on this component.

Now when I assign group work, students must sign in on their own computer - in their own Google account. When students complete a Google presentation (for example), I can see in

the revision history - which student modified what.

This stipulation is clearly listed in my syllabus and on group work assignments. This encourages all students to participate, and I can fairly grade the projects. Parents and administrators know that this is a requirement, and I have this component on my rubrics as well. 
Lauralee from Language Arts Classroom


Flipped Classroom
One of the biggest mistakes I made when I began flipping my classroom was to assume my students would know how to “read” an instructional video. Sure, they are surrounded by technology both at home and at school, but they typically approach those visual texts from a different angle -- one that is based on an entertainment factor, not a analytical or retention one. I quickly learned that in order to help my students succeed with this innovative approach to learning, I

needed to provide some scaffolding for academic-style visual texts. Whether teachers are creating flipped lessons or simply asking students to independently watch video clips to supplement existing instruction, we must give them the tools they need to succeed. Teaching visual literacy is critical, especially with the increased emphasis on digitally-oriented classrooms. Providing best-practice tips and modeling through think-alouds are the most beneficial ways to manage this issue. You can read more about how I approach visual literacy instruction and the specific lesson format I use on my blog. Melissa from Reading and Writing Haven

Virtual Open House
It’s the start of another school year. Your classroom looks perfect. Your bulletin boards look amazing. The desks are clean and your textbooks are all neatly stacked where they belong. You love your students this school year and are so excited to meet their parents and families, especially for them to see your classroom! This is the time to try a virtual open house. Back to School Night finally comes and unfortunately, you only see five, maybe six families show up (I've experienced this). You are left feeling disappointed and sad. Your feelings are not about you. Your feelings of disappointment are a result of knowing your students' families missed out on what you had planned. Here is a solution. Teachers can easily create a Virtual Back to School Night - or virtual open house - to send to the families that were unable to attend.

Back to School Night is usually held towards the end of the first month of school. You will want to create your virtual open house video before the actual open house- maybe closer to the beginning of school. Why? Your classroom will still look

perfectly put together and in place within the first few weeks.
You don’t need any fancy recording device. Your phone or tablet’s video app works perfectly. If you want a different app, iMovie™ works well too. Find a friend or colleague who is willing to record you. Or if you feel uncomfortable about being watched and wish to record yourself, you can set up a tripod or even use one of those crazy selfie-sticks! Weird, yes, but effective.
Now that you have your classroom set up, your outfit picked out and your video recorder set up perfectly, it's time to record! Here is a quick checklist of items you’ll want to cover in your virtual open house: 1. Introduction (about you and how to contact you) 2. The specifics of your syllabus 3. Grading policy 4. Classroom management procedures 5. Tour of the classroom (seating, where absent work can be found, classroom library, bulletin boards, student work, etc.)

Want to learn more helpful tips on how to pull this off? This can be done in ten minutes. I have the answers for teachers in an easy-to-follow visual tutorial and step-by-step video loaded with reminders, pictures, and ways you can reach the families of your students. Your school community's engagements and connections will go to the next level if you explore the use of video as a way of communicating with families. I hope you give it a try! Your virtual open house will be a hit. Danielle from Study All Knight

Blended Classroom
In my 1:1 classroom, we use many useful apps, add-ons, and extensions. I talked about some great ones for productivity

and differentiation here. I don’t waste any time introducing these tools to students--we practice using them all right away. During the first week of school, I have students complete an activity that enables them to become familiar with tech tools and with one another. They complete a series of small tasks about themselves and their summer vacations using apps, add-ons, and extensions. They share the final product with the class in Google Classroom, and then the class completes a scavenger hunt with the final product. You can preview the activity here. It’s a fun way to knock out all types of introduction. Leah Cleary

Socrative
Need instant feedback on whether your students understand
the concepts you’re teaching? Use the Socrative app for formative assessment. Typically, I use the multiple choice and exit ticket options, but there are other choices such as true/false, short answer and a game called “space race”, too. The app is free and the teacher makes her account and quizzes, which can be used multiple times. Since these are for formative assessment, I limit my multiple questions to five. This year I made several Socrative quizzes after my students read and analyzed Lyndon B. Johnson’s “Speech on Voting Rights Act of 1965.

Teachers are given options as to whether they want students to use their names or to be anonymous. Often, I project the results live while the students are responding to the questions. After everyone has finished with the quiz, I can simply look at the results and provide further instruction on any questions that a significant percentage of students responded to incorrectly. I can also download the reports. Best of all, it’s easy to use from a smart phone or iPad, too, if your students don’t have access to computers. OCBeachTeacher


Do you have tricks or tips for digital learning in your classroom?  Please share them in the comments below!




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Emotional Learning - Tips for Teaching Teens


When I was in high school, I remember sobbing in my guidance counselor’s office on several occasions. One time, it was because I had gotten into trouble in my chemistry class. Looking back on these experiences as an adult, I feel silly. But the truth is that as a teen, I didn’t have enough life experience or the skills to manage my emotions.

Sometimes, as a teacher of high school students, I forget the intensity of those feelings. I’m so intent on delivering course content that I may not notice a student’s exhilaration because it’s her 16th birthday, or I may neglect her distraught look after a fight with her boyfriend. This is a mistake.

We teachers cannot ignore the importance of emotion when instructing teenagers. At a recent TpT Conference, University of Southern California Associate Professor Mary Helen Immordino-Yang said, “emotions are a critical piece of learning.” In fact, she noted that when our brains are feeling deep emotions, we are “literally more alive.” Her neuroscience research shows that social and emotional factors affect students’ academic success.

But how can teachers use emotional learning to improve academic success? Twenty years of classroom experience helps me surmise some ways.

At the beginning of the school year, it’s important to use icebreakers and team builders to create a positive classroom culture. On the first day of school, students will likely experience myriad emotions- excitement to see friends, anxiety over class expectations, and perhaps, mourning for the end of summer. (I know I do.) Even though teachers may want to dive into curriculum, it’s vital to create a positive classroom atmosphere where students know their feelings will be respected. This facilitates student participation in class discussion and meaningful cooperative learning.

In English class, teachers can capitalize on the emotional responses texts provoke in readers. Poems and books make us laugh, cry, or even react with anger. Consequently, we

need to be sensitive to our students’ emotional needs when we teach controversial literature. For instance, a book such as To Kill a Mockingbird may require thorough preparation and discussion before reading even begins. When I read To Kill a Mockingbird in high school, I remember being devastated that Tom Robinson was unfairly convicted by a prejudiced jury. Many teens haven’t personally experienced such unfairness in their lives yet, so teaching literature that focuses on injustice in the world may be a good strategy for helping them develop more empathy.

In addition to feeling strongly about literature, English class provides students with opportunities to express their feelings through writing. Students should have time to write informally and personally. Journals, poems, and narratives can be incorporated into class on a regular basis. These assignments also help students develop their voices.

Sometimes, when there is a crisis in the school or community, teachers must put a planned activity or lesson on hold while we acknowledge the emotional impact of the event. By doing this, teachers respect students’ feelings and accept the reality of their worlds. This also helps to form deeper bonds and relationships with students.

Lastly, it’s important to be aware that life milestones for teens– getting a driver's license, working a first job, attending prom, applying to college- will impact their moods. Teachers can nurture students and

improve learning by planning lessons that connect to these developmental events. Furthermore, it benefits both students and teachers when teachers accept the excitement and distraction that accompany spirit weeks, class elections, and other extracurricular activities.

No doubt, some teachers will worry that facilitating emotional learning in the classroom will require them to sacrifice academic rigor, but this does not have to be the case. It simply requires balance between content and understanding. Ultimately, emotional learning helps strengthen student motivation, problem-solving skills, and social intelligence, guiding them toward leading healthy, productive lives.


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TED Talks for American Literature


Do you want to enhance your teaching of American Literature? Then use TED talks to teach valuable listening skills and make connections to relevant topics and themes. Of course, it can be time-consuming to select the best TED talks to use with your students, so I’ve selected a few that will engage your students and make meaningful connections to American Literature.

For each talk below, I’ve included recommended literature connections, but I'm certain there are innumerable texts that may apply to each talk. Be sure to add your suggestions in the comments below. Also, keep in mind that you can print transcripts of the talks to prepare for technology glitches or if you want students to take a closer look at the texts of these speeches.

1. Does Money Make You Mean? By Paul Piff
Date Given: 2013
Length: 16:35
Summary: This talk argues that the more entitled and privileged one is, the less likely a person will demonstrate empathy. Piff also discusses the detrimental impacts of the growing economic inequality in America. He uses interesting, relatable scientific experiments to provide evidence for his ideas.
Relevant connections: The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald and “The Devil and Tom Walker” by Washington Irving

2. America’s Forgotten Working Class by J.D. Vance
Date Given: 2016
Length: 14:41
Summary: The author of the popular novel, Hillbilly Elegy, starts by saying that upward mobility is at the heart of the American Dream; unfortunately, many lower-class Americans face obstacles such as substance abuse, family dysfunction, and a lack of “social capital.” Furthermore, they develop a sense of hopelessness that contributes to their beliefs in conspiracy theories and prevents them from taking advantage of educational opportunities.
Relevant connections: “I Hear America Singing” by Walt Whitman and The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls

3. Why I Love the Country That Once Betrayed Me by George Takei
Date Given: 2014
Length: 15: 58
Summary: The popular activist and former Star Trek actor tells his story of imprisonment in an internment camp after the bombing of Pearl Harbor. In vivid detail, he describes the painful time for his family and explains how his experience was influenced by his youth. Despite being discriminated against and treated unfairly, he says that he learned that “democracy can be as great as the people can be, but it is also as fallible as people are.” Ultimately, he retains hope for the American Dream and works to ensure our government is a better democracy.
Relevant connections: Snow Falling on Cedars by David Guterson, Farewell to Manzanar by Jane Wakatsuki Hudson and James D. Hudson, Hiroshima by John Hershey, and “I, Too” by Langston Hughes



4. The New American Dream by Courtney Martin
Date Given: 2016
Length: 15:32
Summary: According to Martin, our country needs to redefine the American Dream and consider what makes it great. She argues that community and creativity are what contribute most to a person’s happiness, not the pursuit of wealth. In this thoughtful talk, she claims that “the biggest danger is not failing to achieve the American Dream. The biggest danger is achieving a dream that you don't actually believe in.”
Relevant connections: A Raisin in the Sun by Lorraine Hansberry, The Glass Menagerie by Tennessee Williams, and Brighton Beach Memoirs by Neil Simon

5. Can a Divided America Heal? By Jonathan Haidt
Date Given: 2016
Length: 20:14
Summary:  This talk deals with the vitriol and partisanship that has occurred in the most recent presidential election, and Haidt suggests that this behavior is reflective of our tribal natures. Taking a psychological approach, he suggests that to end some of the division, America needs to improve its capacity for empathy.
Relevant connections: To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee, “The Gettysburg Address” by Abraham Lincoln, and "Let America be America Again" by Langston Hughes

6. Meet the Women Fighting on the Front Lines of an American War by Gayle Tzemach Lemmon


Date Given: 2015
Length: 11:25
Summary: In this powerful talk, Lemmon reveals that a band of female soldiers was recruited and trained by special operations to assist male soldiers in the war on Afghanistan. Even though they were officially banned from combat, these women fought on the front lines. Lemon shows how the women celebrated their strength and femininity and earned the respect of their male counterparts, ultimately paving the way for future girls and women.
Relevant Connections: “Ain’t I a Woman?” by Sojourner Truth and The Things They Carried by Tim O’Brien

7. Less Stuff, More Happiness by Graham Hill
Date Given: 2011
Length: 6:14
Summary:  Do we need material things to be happy? In this short talk, Hill claims that we need to edit our lives, freeing ourselves from stuff. He gives three rules for accomplishing this task and shows how he has simplified his life with his unique apartment design.
Relevant Connections: Walden Pond  and other transcendentalist essays by Henry David Thoreau, selected Native American myths, and The Great Gatsby

8. A Passionate, Personal Case for Education by Michele Obama
Date Given: 2009
Length: 12:29
Summary:  Obama makes the case that hard work and education help people to succeed, particularly women. Furthermore, women have a vital role in creating thriving communities and they must teach important
 values such as compassion and integrity. Obama uses herself as a role model and explains that education leads to control of one’s destiny.
Relevant connections: Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, An American Slave by himself, A Raisin in the Sun, “The Story of an Hour” or The Awakening by Kate Chopin

Happy teaching, and don't forget to add other texts and recommended TED Talks in the links below!


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Writing with Students


The classic American author Flannery O’Connor once said, “I write because I don’t know what I think until I read what I say.” I relate to the sentiment in this quote and think many of my high school students can understand it, too. However, I’ve often found that they expect words to come easily to great writers. Of course, successful writers will often tell their readers that, in fact, writing is a challenging process that takes time, effort, and revision.

One way teachers can help students understand the process is to write with them and model their own writing. In his article “Becoming Your Own Expert- Teachers as Writers,” Tim Gillespie from the National Writing Project reinforces this saying, “When teachers write, we provide a positive model

for our students. Our example says we value writing and find it useful, more so than when we sit and correct papers while the students write.” No doubt, this is easier said than done. When my students are busy writing, I’m often distracted with other responsibilities.

Additionally, I feel anxious showing my writing to my students because I have my own insecurities, especially when I’m working with my Advanced Placement English Literature and 
Composition students. And as I’ve often told my students, I am more of a “rewriter” than writer, which makes timed writing especially challenging for me.  Nevertheless, I write with them and show them my writing, flaws and all. 


Here are two recent lessons where I modeled my writing:
Speed Carousel Writing
In preparation for the AP Literature Exam, I created timed carousel activities with several Q3 prompts from this College Board website. This activity was inspired by the speed dating activity described by Jori Krulder during #APLitTwitterchat.



I posted these prompts around the classroom to encourage students to get out of their seats. As they rotated around the room in six-minute timed sessions, I asked my students to plan a response for each prompt, including writing their thesis statements. In addition to exposing them to AP Literature Exam retired prompts, this exercise gave them practice with quick thinking. Furthermore, it emphasized the importance of taking several minutes to plan their ideas before plunging into their essay writing.  This was reinforced in the APLitHelp.com Reminders from AP Readers blog post.  With five prompts, this activity took just over 30 minutes. And by participating with them, I know firsthand how challenging the task was to complete.

Next, I collected the students’ papers, and because I have a small class, I copied all of our responses, including my own. The following day I handed these packets to students and we sat in a circle to give one another feedback. To keep our peer review simple and effective, I borrowed a strategy from Susan Barber that uses “one glow, grow, and question” comment for each response. I encouraged them to remark on my writing, too. Afterwards, students said this was one of the best writing lessons they had completed during the semester.

I modeled my my messy writing for the timed prompt.
Using Google Drive
For an end of the year project, my students wrote argumentative letters to advocate for accelerated English classes in our school. After having taken mainstreamed English courses for their earlier high school requirements, my AP Literature students always remark that they are surprised by the rigor and pace when they enter my class. While our teachers certainly try to meet all of our students’ needs in the heterogenous English classes, sometimes our ablest students get “left behind.” Certainly, they lack the background reading that would put them in the best position for success in AP Literature.

When I gave the letter writing assignment, I wrongly assumed that they would know how to write a business letter with the purpose of making an argument. Although we had worked intensely on literary analysis writing, they had limited experience with the different format and purpose of a letter. Consequently, I decided to model my own process as I wrote a letter to our Assistant Superintendent and posted my writing in Google Drive.

They watched me research evidence from scholarly articles, brainstorm with a bulleted list, and continually revise my writing until I had my final paragraphs. They also uploaded their letters to Google Drive and when I asked them to complete peer review with each other’s letters, I invited them to make comments on my letter.
Here is an example of our peer review process on Google Drive.
With my modeling, I saw their letter writing improve drastically. Originally, their letters made frequent generalizations and vague statements about their past experiences in English classes. As they revised and gave one another feedback, they began to develop specific anecdotes and they improve the tone and word choice in their writing. By the end of the process, we had written six polished letters that we mailed to assorted school officials.

No doubt, effective English teachers know that teaching writing is different than simply assigning writing. Modeling is important – whether it’s with our own writing, student anchor essays, or writing from professional writers. Do you model your writing in class? If so, what strategies do you use?

Please share in the comments below.




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Teacher Appreciation



Teachers make indelible impressions on our lives- sometimes in ways we don’t even know. I was fortunate enough to have wonderful teachers who provided me with the skills and confidence needed for future success. Now that I’m a high school English teacher, I recognize this more than ever before. Teacher Appreciation Week is an opportunity to thank them publicly, wherever they may be. Another way I hope to pay them back is by showing my appreciation to current teachers- I'm offering a back to school icebreaker activity as a freebie for this week (check for it at the bottom of the post).

Miss Manley

I remember that I was enamored with her in second grade. My best friend had earned straight “O’s” and I wanted to do the same. She encouraged to pursue my goal and when I achieved all outstanding grades, I learned that I could be a successful student.



This is my third grade class with Mrs. Ronald.
Easy to note that this was the 70's.
Mrs. Ronald
She is the teacher who started my passion for writing. In third grade, we had to write poems about colors. Mine was silly, comparing the color gold to monkeys, but she read it aloud as an example for the class. Her praise made me feel like an outstanding writer.

Mrs. McClure

I wasn’t fond of reading until fifth grade when Mrs. McClure introduced me to the book, Taran the Wanderer, and to The Chronicles of Prydian by Lloyd Alexander. I enjoyed the first book so much that I read the entire series.

Mr. Parker

Mr. Parker was an imposing African American teacher who intimidated some students but not me. When I was only in sixth grade, he encouraged me to create a school newspaper. He also served as a role model and taught me to be an open-minded person.

Mr. Livingood

Sometimes we don't appreciate a teacher until long after we’ve left his class; this was true with Mr. Livingood. In high school English, he required me to rewrite an essay to correct run-on sentences. In my corrected essay, I made new errors, writing fragments. He asked me to fix the essay again and rewrite it a third time. Needless to say, he taught me an important lesson.

Mrs. Fellows

Our journalism advisor Mrs. Fellows encouraged me to write on the school newspaper and promoted me to the feature editor. She also chaperoned me and other students at several school newspaper conferences including one at Columbia University in New York City and The National High School Journalism Convention in Chicago. I especially appreciate the personal time she sacrificed to take us on these trips.

Mr. Stallone

He was my biology teacher but also sponsored the school ski club. Back in the eighties (I doubt that we could even have a ski club now for liability reasons), he took groups of high school students across the country to ski resorts in Colorado and Utah. Bless him! I can’t even imagine how nervous I would be to chaperone students on trips like this today. These trips were some of my favorite memories from high school.

Monsieur Rummings

He also exposed me to one of my all-time
 favorite books, Le Petit Prince.
I started studying French in middle school and Mr. Rummings taught me in high school through level six. French wasn’t the easiest subject for me, but he always encouraged and challenged me to persevere. During the summer between junior and senior years of high school, I participated in a student exchange, living in France for six weeks. Upon my return, he asked me to make a presentation to the class and admired my improved accent.

Of course, there have been other admired teachers over the years, but these are a few who I recall easily. In the future, I hope that I can be remembered as fondly by some of my students. Which teachers would you thank if you could talk with them now? Please share your stories in the comments below.







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Poetry Online

Poetry- people seem to adore it or to abominate it.

Like many of my current students, I didn’t enjoy reading poetry in high school because I often didn’t understand the poems we were reading in class. But when I studied literature to become an English teacher, I was challenged to read more poetry and develop engaging poetry lessons. The more I read, the more I appreciated the poems I studied.

As a result of my own experience, I try to make poetry accessible and pleasurable for my students. With the internet, this is more possible than ever before. I find audio versions of class poems and many videos to accompany them. Here are resources and tips to make teaching poetry wonderful (and don’t forget to get my free lesson for introducing poetry at the bottom of this post)!

Hook students with these poems and talks:



Use this video from popular teen author John Green, who gives an entertaining talk about the classic poem “The Road Not Taken.”

Another way to hook students on poetry is to use humor. Here’s performer Taylor Mali’s funny and relatable poem, “On Girls Lending Pens.”

You can amaze your students with this reversible poem, “Lost Generation” by Jonathan Reed; it always engages them with its clever wording and format. 

And here’s an inspiring commencement poem by Harvard graduate Donovan Livingston. He encourages the audience to participate in this spoken word poem by snapping, clapping, and rejoicing. This poem also challenges its listeners to consider his compelling message about education and society.


Want a modern poem to share with your students? Juan Felipe Herrera reads his poem “You Can’t Put Muhammad Ali in a Poem” as part of Dear Poet, the Academy of American Poets' educational project for National Poetry Month 2017. In fact, you can find a playlist with numerous poets from the Dear Poet project here.

Poetry also provides an emotional outlet for students with teen angst and anxiety. Here’s a popular poem they may enjoy.

Instructional Resources for Teachers:

Poetry Out Loud, a National Recitation Contest, created by the National Endowment for the Arts and the Poetry Foundation, provides $50,000 in awards and school stipends for the winders of the competition. More importantly, the Poetry Out Loud activities help students build confidence and speaking skills. At the site, you can find more information about the contest, lessons for teaching recitation, and videos of winning performances.

Go directly to the source of National Poetry Month with the Academy of American Poets. You can sign up for a free poster and find innumerable teaching resources.

Use TED Talks. There are myriad topics and speakers related to poetry including these poems about dogs  from Billy Collins, and this rationale for poetry’s importance from literary critic Stephen Burt.

I hope you find some of these links useful. You can also download my free lesson to introduce poetry
It uses inquiry to make reading poetry fun and meaningful.

You can also find poetry bell ringers, poetry paired passages, and poetry writing lessons in my TpT store.

There are just so many helpful resources online for poetry that I’m sure you have some suggestions which I haven’t included. Why don’t you share in the comments below?





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