A colleague who’s new to the building is, above all, hilarious. I’m so glad he’s at our school and has the experience he does. We don’t get to chat as often as I’d like, as I’m teaching six out of six classes this year, and we don’t have common planning time. We do get to share ideas via social media, so before testing, I shared this image:
Those purple things are repurposed CD vinyl holders; in my cupboards, nearly a full box of various colors waited patiently for CDs/DVDs that would never be made again. Our new laptops don’t have DVD players in them, and now the staff scrambles for the external CD player. (Technology is weird that way.) During testing, we’re not allowed to hold cell phones in a shoebox with sticky notes on them, as we’ve done in years past, due to the new admin’s rules. They don’t want to be liable for any cell phones that may be lost or damaged during testing. Makes sense, and just because losing or damaging a cell phone has never happened in our building doesn’t mean it can’t or won’t. Not a ‘hill I want to die on,” so to speak. But if students didn’t put their cell phones in their lockers, they must turn them off and place them face down on the desks/tables in front of them. Seeing how students’ addiction to their phones causes them subconscious touching and turning over of phones, I needed to have a means to thwart them just a bit more, hence the plastic sleeves.
He asked me if I felt some sense of grand vindication that my teacher-hoarding had paid off!?
All year I felt like I was standing on a treasure trove of accessible and important curriculum/instructional ideas that were just out of reach, this nagging feeling that the time and year were too fragmented or…something. I could never put my finger on it. (Maybe because I have mountains of data in Google Drives, OneDrives, Dropboxes, and external hard drives.) Where did the time go? Nailing down multiple approaches to student learning is like hanging an octopus on the wall. No one agrees where it should go, and doesn’t make the room look any better.
This year because of other instructional directions I didn’t spend as much time on thesis and argumentative writing as I should have. I needed help and support: help in terms of not how to teach it, but in terms of our whole PLC working on it.
But here are some links and goodies. They are based on information that is open to the public. Use if you want, change, alter, etc., feel free. Email me with questions. Right now I just need to focus on getting through the end of the year with students and make them feel like they’re reading for high school because I can tell many do not. I’m going to listen to my instincts about that one. I know how they’re feeling now: scared, anxious, excited, and ready to move on. What is in the past will only inform the future, but the present needs my focus.
Last year one of my students had one of those lightbulb moments, that eureka shake up, awesome anagnorisis, where she completely understood what I meant by the concept of the difference between topic and theme.
This is a biggie. It’s important because it means I can do it. Because teaching theme…teaching it well that is..isn’t easy.
So on Thematic Thursdays, there is intentional time to do just that, however the strategy, whatever the current unit of study.
I am a lifelong devoted scholar of the study of themes, and yet, it is as painful to teach for me as doing my own dentistry sometimes. I need to just get over myself. Some teachers know how to simplify teaching theme, distill it to its most essential elements. This anchor chart isn’t a bad place to start, but it’s that last sentence starter that doesn’t hold up for me. Is theme a formula–if x then y? I don’t think it is. And I am also not sure if the author is always in control of one lesson in a work, be it a novel, poem, dance, art, or music. The danger is telling students there is only one answer. Theme is not a main or central idea. The central ideas help create the possible themes.
However, I approach teaching and discussing themes more like an alchemist. So what happens on Theme Thursdays? Again, any number of things. An exploration of a current unit, question, time to bird walk and discuss, muse, or laser focus on symbolism and motif? Creation of personal themes, missions, pledges, for one’s own narrative. We can look at art, read a poem, or perhaps prepare for Film Fridays.
Tim Shanahan has a pretty good post about this: http://www.shanahanonliteracy.com. I invite anyone who has something to add to this discussion to please do so: how do you ‘teach theme’ — is it by definition and then exploration, or the other way around?
This post is getting messy. Filled with bits of type and text, like overcooked alphabet soup. Consider it a link festival, full of rabbit holes and mad hatter tea parties. The question presented is now that CCSS is established in many states, what have we lost or gained?
Reminder to read and understand how to move forward with CCSS in ELA/SS:
First, I am wondering if we even have a sense of what is ‘teaching writing?’ It doesn’t seem to exist. There is the editorial/grammatical end to the whole language approach of ‘any mark is a good mark on the page’.
Most of these fear seem to be the opposite outcome from Common Core. I’m not quite sure what the rumors were, or where the fears came from. But the testing part does seem to have some merit at first glance. Later this weekend I’ll be completing a Prezi that contains the brief write rubrics for Common Core writing assessments, and they are valuable for any content area.
Some of these fears are truly odd: since when have standards given students specific topics? And since when have standards ‘taught teachers how to teach writing?’
And on what metric is creativity? I’m not sure. I’m still a bit baffled.
New Dorp’s Writing Revolution, which placed an intense focus, across nearly every academic subject, on teaching the skills that underlie good analytical writing, was a dramatic departure from what most American students—especially low performers—are taught in high school. The program challenged long-held assumptions about the students and bitterly divided the staff. It also yielded extraordinary results. By the time they were sophomores, the students who had begun receiving the writing instruction as freshmen were already scoring higher on exams than any previous New Dorp class. Pass rates for the English Regents, for example, bounced from 67 percent in June 2009 to 89 percent in 2011; for the global-history exam, pass rates rose from 64 to 75 percent. The school reduced its Regents-repeater classes—cram courses designed to help struggling students collect a graduation requirement—from five classes of 35 students to two classes of 20 students.
The critical difference between pre-CCSS and emerging CCSS is writing argumentative and explanatory pieces.
In the coming months, the conversation about the importance of formal writing instruction and its place in a public-school curriculum—the conversation that was central to changing the culture at New Dorp—will spread throughout the nation. Over the next two school years, 46 states will align themselves with the Common Core State Standards. For the first time, elementary-school students—who today mostly learn writing by constructing personal narratives, memoirs, and small works of fiction—will be required to write informative and persuasive essays. By high school, students will be expected to produce mature and thoughtful essays, not just in English class but in history and science classes as well.
The NCTE provides their take, which correlates to the analytical approach, and appears more inclusive instruction.
Writing is not just one practice or activity. A note to a cousin is not like a business report, which is different again from a poem. The processes and ways of thinking that lead to these varied kinds of texts can also vary widely, from the quick email to a friend to the careful drafting and redrafting of a legal contract. The different purposes and genres both grow out of and create varied relationships between the writers and the readers, and existing relationships are reflected in degrees of formality in language, as well as assumptions about what knowledge and experience are already shared, and what needs to be explained. Writing with certain purposes in mind, the writer focuses attention on what the audience is thinking or believing; other times, the writer focuses more on the information she or he is organizing, or on her or his own emergent thoughts and feelings. Therefore, the thinking, procedures, and physical format in writing are shaped in accord with the author’s purpose(s), the needs of the audience, and the conventions of the genre.
And the NWP weighs in with their suggestions for ‘teaching writing.’ I’ve labeled each suggestion to make sense of what skill it may be adressing.
Evolving from the fears of the CCSS writing standards to the present, what changes do you think have been most effective, and where are some areas educators are still confused? What is most beneficial to students, or is an understanding that writing is complex, and approach with patience and grace the most important thing?
Scholarly articles if you’re really bored this summer: