Thursday, April 21, 2016

Students and Social Media

This is why I use social media with my students: a research essay is due at midnight tonight.  I just spent 20 minutes in a direct message helping a student organize her main points so she could work past some writer's block.

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Grading the Writing Process

My department team was planning our standard alignment plans - basically figuring out what standards from the Common Core we'd cover each year and each semester a student is in high school.  The rest of my department (which is filled with brilliant educators who are ten times better at their job than I am, so this isn't a jab at them, just a disagreement) felt that the writing process (CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.W.9-10.5) isn't a standard that should be graded, but discussed frequently with students.

And I'm all for discussing.  And showing them examples of my own writing that went through 10 drafts.  And showing them examples of great published writers who went through 20 drafts.  And probably doing some other stuff that showcases the awesomeness of the writing process.

But I'm also for grading it.  And I don't think it's a hard thing to do.

As it stands now (as this isn't refined or anything), a student who turns in an essay needs to do four things when they turn in their final paper in order to get a passing grade:

  1. Turn in their prewriting, in whatever form it was, with their final draft.
  2. Turn in their "zero draft," their initial attempt at starting/outlining their rough draft, with their final draft.
  3. Turn in their rough draft with the final draft.  The rough draft must be a complete draft - no first-half-of-the-paper rough draft.
  4. On their final draft, highlight all the changes between their rough and final.  (I stole this idea from Linda Christensen.)  Revisions must be significant - this isn't editing for spelling and grammar, it's revising.
On number four I "help" them out some (they would say "make them do extra work") - I make them write three different kinds of hooks and three different types of conclusions, then choose the best one.  Next year, I imagine I could do it with all sorts of different things.  Rewrite your thesis.  Reorder your introductory paragraph, trying the thesis statement at the beginning and the end.  Reorder your paragraphs in another logical way.

To exceed on this standard, students have to schedule a meeting with one of our peer writing tutors and show the changes they made after meeting with them.

I also let student revise their essays, often multiple times, which could be a grading nightmare, except for two things students need to do before I will grade their revisions:
  1. Turn in your original graded rubric returned to you (I scan my stack of graded rubrics and save the final, because about half of the students will lose their graded one).
  2. Highlight all the changes you've made between your final and the revised paper to be graded.  Turn in everything you turned in before.
Then I just look at what they added and determine if it addresses the concerns recorded on the original rubric.

But maybe this is foolish and silly.  Please correct me in the comments.

Sunday, January 18, 2015

A Case for Balancing the High School Literature Curriculum - Part I

I went into college with grandiose plans of taking a separate class each for Chaucer, Milton, and Shakespeare.  I was going to be a English major and then become a teacher.  Because, after all, "Teaching is just presenting information enthusiastically," my pompous, arrogant, college freshmen self thought.  So I plugged along, taking not one but two classes on Shakespeare (fun!), two very bad Survey of American Literature courses (ugh), American Novels 1945-Present (okay) where I struggled to read a novel a week, and immediately dropped some course on early English novels that were written as a series of letters to avoid being scandalous (barf).

My first semester as a junior, I realized that in addition to presenting information enthusiastically, I would also need a teaching license, and apparently my enthusiasm alone wouldn't get me one of those.  So I reluctantly began taking education courses.  Schooling in the United States.  Boring.  Literacy and the Learner.  Could be interesting, but the adjunct professor just preached about multiple intelligence theory most of the time.  Really, both classes could have been better if they weren't one evening a week for three hours.

And then there was Adolescent Literature.

That is where I learned what teaching really is.  That there is a science to it.  That there were strategies that taught students best.  It was in this class that I fell in love with book clubs.  And where I read all the literature that I had never read as an adolescent.  Monster.  Son of the Mob.  Feed.  Speak.  The House on Mango Street.  Out of the Dust.  My middle and high school years would have been so much brighter with books that I could relate to.

The only book that qualified as young adult literature I read in middle or high school for a language arts class was Are You There God, It's Me, Margret.  Never read it?  Go read the synopsis.  Right now.  Really.  I'll wait.

What adolescent boy would want to read that book1?

I finished my English degree with a double concentration in education and literature.  It seemed silly not to finish the literature concentration after spending two years in literature courses.  But taking those classes in conjunction with Adolescent Literature and my own personal life experience embedded in me a dislike of the canon, especially teaching it.  Why teach that when there was so much good literature that spoke to my adolescent self?  What great books I missed out on.  What great books my students would be missing out on.

I started this post because I'm in the second week of my Action Research Proposal class, working to finish up my masters.  I thought I was going to do my research on using young adult literature in book clubs to connect with the canon.  And as I was freewriting on that I found myself asking again, why is it so important to teach the canon?  How will I explain to my students why they should care?

The next day, I asked my colleagues at school.  And they had some pretty good answers, which I'll paraphrase below as I understand them, because it's Sunday and I want to ask before quoting their e-mails:
  • The canon, better than anything else, addresses the issues that are at the heart of the human condition.  What other text on the same themes can equal To Kill a Mockingbird?  None that I know of. 
  • Cultural relevancy and the ability to understand allusions to greater works isn't just good for cocktail parties.  It actually makes you smarter because you're able to understand so much more.
  • Without reading enough of the canon, you cannot understand most of Western Civilization and how those in power remain in power.  Instead of being an agent of change against the status quo, you are a cog in their machine.  The Republic by Plato was used as an example text.
I realize now, after writing this, that "Why teach the canon?" isn't the question.  And it isn't "How do I use multiple forms of media to help students engage with the canon," though I'll be working on that this next semester as well.

The purpose of my action research is to determine ways to integrate young adult literature into the high school language arts classroom.  

Adolescents need stories about characters like them.  It increases the chances that they will become lifelong readers and increases chances they will continue to read other works, including the canon, after they are done with school.  Reading the canon is important.  Reading the canon in school is important.  But not to the point of excluding other texts that can change students' lives.

1. But I did read it, and liked the parts about struggling to choose a religion.  In fact, that's all my book report focused on.  Props to Judy Blume for publishing a book on the topic in the 1970s - it was banned all over the place.  Go back.