Friday, January 16, 2015

#YouTubeAsksObama: Teachers, Be Heard

YouTube creators, Hank Green, Bethany Mota and Glo Zell are seeking questions for their interview of President Obama. We have an opportunity. We have an opportunity to ask the questions that plague us in schools, in districts and in states. We have an opportunity to ask questions about high-stakes standardized testing and Common Core Standards.
Hank Green does valuable work as a creative educator through the Crash Course series on YouTube. Educator to educator, I have some questions I'd like him to ask the president. I wonder about education's future in our country. I wonder about my students' futures. 
Do you wonder if President Obama supports virtual delivery of course content over face to face more constructivists methods? I do. Do you wonder if students across our country will be given equal access to technology and broadband in order to meet demands of the 21st century and legislation that calls for digital delivery of content? I do. Do you wonder why public school students this country must pass high-stakes tests to earn diplomas, but public school students in Department of Defense Schools must not pass high-stakes tests to earn diplomas? I do. Can schools allow students to opt-out of tests and still get funding from the federal government? I wonder. 
We have a unique opportunity. Let's share our questions. Let YouTube creators hear a thunder clap of educators' voices on Tuesday so that they have time to weave our words into what they will ask our nation's leader. Tag your questions with ‪#‎YouTubeAsksObama‬. Share your questions on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram--stream them, tweet them, like them, favorite them and remix them.
We have an opportunity.
Raise your voice, teachers. 
Be heard.
Start questioning and stay tuned for Thunderclap details

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Evidence Shows

Slice of Life is hosted by the talented team at Two Writing Teachers--thanks
Tara, Stacey, Betsy, Dana, Anna and BethClick over to the Two Writing Teachers comment stream for seconds or to serve up your slice. 

As I wrote in part three of last week's slice, my students are writing analysis essays about their independent reading. They are practicing analysis with texts they chose arounds topics I created for them or that they have created for themselves. Not many (so far) have written their own writing prompts or questions. A few have, bit most students loved their topics. When I handed prompts/questions out last week I heard lots of:

"I LOVE my question!"
"I can SO write about this."
"Cool! My question is about ___, Let me see yours!"

Even less effusive students were heard to whisper, "I got this."  They were ready to rock the independent reading essay. 

The day after several students came to class with initial plans and lists of evidence. Yasmina talked at length about her process and thinking as she showed me the textual evidence she collected to kick start her planning. Codes positive and negative she'd gone back to her books in search of figurative language and imagery to connect to author' tone toward ___.

Page one of evidence gathered from the text.

Page two of evidence gathered from the text.
What does it mean? I see a lot in Yasmina's preparation for writing. She is beginning to understand figurative language across texts. She is in tenth grade. I see her beginning to organize her thinking about authors' craft. She starts with simple plus and minus labels of quotations. She is fifteen. The labels indicate her interpretation of positive or critical attitudes towards loss. I see her organizing her thinking in a way  that she can discuss as we confer. She is an IB student. She is beginning to make connections between books and ideas, to connect authors' choices to tone. I see her reading a range of books. Pictured on image one: The Glass Castle by Walls, Dime by Frank, Go Ask Alice by Sparks, Lay that Trumpet in Our Hands by McCarthy.

At ALAN, Donalyn Miller talked about forming a book committee in class to preview and discuss books for use in the classroom library. I got right on that and Yasmina volunteered for the committee. Her reading of Dime by E.R. Frank came out of that extracurricular committee work. Thanks for the idea, Donalyn.

Yasmina has chosen Dime and several books from her "books I've read" list  to focus on in her analysis (pictured on the note card and listed in her Reading Record).

Yasmina demonstrates quite a range in her reading choices. She will write her essay tomorrow during third period's extended time period.

 It is exam week. This year "exam" is a euphemism for "state mandated, locally constructed end of course tests (EOCs)." Locally constructed EOCs are tests written by committee for all credit and half-credits courses offered in high schools not included in the revised state-wide assessment schedule. My colleague Beth wrote about the fear of such tests for her elementary-aged daughter here.

 Classroom teachers are not allowed to create and give an exam. We can give a test or another assessment. We can even use the scheduled "exam" time (a one-hundred minutes) for enrichment or project-based  lessons that don't fit our regular forty-seven minute periods.

I gave another assessment. It is the "exam" that I usually give at this time of year. It is the only essay I ask students to write about their independent reading all year; they can choose to write others but they are not assigned.  I can't wait to see what Yasmina has to say about loss and the books she has read this semester.

Want to see more questions? Check out this sampler of students' prompts/questions which includes the rubric on each page.  

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Slice of Life in Three Parts

Today's slice comes to you in three parts. Part one, happy dancing. It is January. In my classroom, January (and February) are magical months. Kids start eating books. They binge read. They forage for sequels. Meet Mohammed. Yesterday, Mohammed checked out The Living by Matt de la Peña.

Today Mohammed says to me as I walk the room conferring with readers about their reading journal entries, "Tell me you HAVE the sequel!"

A boy at his table said, "What? You finished it? In ONE day?"

He said, "I tried to put it down. After a half an hour I was like, let me see how this plays out. I had to finish it. " Mohammed proceeded to tell us why the novel is so good, fast paced and action-packed.

I thought about breaking into my happy dance and fist pumping around the room, but I didn't want to embarrass the kids too much. Instead I asked Mohammed if I could tell the author. He said yes, so I tweeted. And Matt de la Peña answered us right back.

Mohammed  was like...

Score! His table had such a good conversation about the books they were and have been reading that one of the boys convinced Mohammed to try Sandersons' Steelheart next. I preordered the The Hunted

Part two, appreciation. Last week Donalyn Miller tweet a link to a post I'd written this time last year about creating individualized essay questions to assess students' independent reading.

I appreciate the tweet.  Blogging is one way I process and share classroom instruction that is working (or not working).  Writing helps me make sense of what I am doing in the classroom. Connecting to a wider audience of teachers and educators is a perk of the practice.  Even better was how her reminder got me thinking about the questions I am writing for students this year. AND even better (and might be my OLW for this year)  it made me wonder why I don't teach students how to create their own independent reading essay questions.

 I mulled that over. 

Part three, get cooking. I emailed the eleventh and twelfth grade IB English teachers at a couple of schools in our district. They shared theme lists they use in the Literature for IB. I went through some curriculum materials and sample IB assessments. Then I gathered verbs from standards and AP prompts. I experimented with ingredients. I got my mis en place in order.  Then I cooked up a sample chart organized by task, convention, effect, theme or tone to try in class.  The directions at the top come from the paper two assessment given by the IB.

I modeled how I created a prompt or question by choosing one task word, one or two convention words, one effect word and one theme or one tone word.  I wrote an example prompt: Show how the author's manipulation of time and use of detail conveys the idea that life can be reconstructed after tragedy. I showed students how to turn the prompt into a question by using how does at the sentence's start instead of show how.  Then, I used my example question to write about Darnielle's Wolf in White Van in my reading journal. Modeling the process went well.

As we worked today, I added a few words to the conventions and effect columns, so the idea is simmering. Still, students played with creating prompts using the chart. I loved listening to them discuss books as they played with language and thought through ideas. 

This year, they will have a "create your own" option when they sit down to write an essay on that synthesizes their independent reading. Later this week, when I hand out their individual essay questions there will be a space where students can write in their own questions. I can't wait to see what they come up with.