Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Writing Workshop

This is my third year teaching and I thought it was time that I step up my writing instruction. I didn't want the writing to be forced so I borrowed some ideas from Nancie Atwell in the structure and function of the workshop. So I began the workshop with two of my classes so far and it is going slow. I knew it would. So what am I doing and how am I assessing it?

Students are expected to 'publish' once every quarter (9 weeks) and write every time workshop meets. Grades are given for participation per workshop.

Writing Topics: Students get to choose, however, multiple writing topics are introduced via a daily journal throughout the week and mini-lesson on workshop day. Students can write just about anything they wish.

Grading: Students get a workshop grade (I circle the room and confer w/ students.) All students keep a record of work and leave drafts in writing folder. I can pull a folder at any time and see work and leave input. They also receive a grade for final draft of writing that is submitted to be published.

Publishing: is a source for publication. Students create a publishing worthy product for this magazine and must submit it. The local newspaper is a great source as well. Alterantively students can 'publish' to scholarships that require writing. I make sure to post details about these scholarships and incorporate mini-lessons that will help students write for these contests. My honors classes are required to 'publish' two times per quarter.

Mini-lessons: I borrow ideas for these from Nancie Atwell and use the OWL as a resource as well.

Conducting Workshop: FIRST: 5-10 minutes are for mini-lesson SECOND: 30 minutes are for silent writing (during this time instructor will meet with at least 10 students and read and counsel over writing) THIRD: 5 - 10 minutes Revising and/or editing

So far so good but this requires a lot of organization on the part of the instructor. I'll post a follow-up blog next week.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Summer Goal

At a teacher in TN 11th grade year includes a writing exam. There is a lot of emphasis on this exam as results are used to determine if English teachers are effective in efforts to instruct students. The test is scored 1-6; a score of 4 or higher is a passing score while 3 and below fail.

I spent a solid month focused completely on TCAP preparation prior to the exam in addition to prior writing lessons. I was happy with the preparation work we accomplished as the majority of my students were scoring 3 and 4+ on practice essays. The class read several sets of scored essays- worked in pairs rewriting low scoring essays into higher scores. My students practiced each part of the writing process. I made sure everyone knew without a doubt how much time to spend on prewriting, writing , and to allow a short time for revision. And made sure each student knew 2+ methods for every step of the writing process and that each selected one method and practiced that method 3 and 4 times during that month so they could write to his or her best potential.

I am happy with the results for most of my students. Most of my kids that scored a 3 simply cannot write well without multiple drafts and assistance. A few simply were not informed on the topic (prompt) and so could not come up with enough supporting evidence to make an essay. Others- despite repeated urging, the promise of a grade, the insistence that the exam reflected on me as much as it reflects on them simply didn’t try or care to try.

I feel after I reviewed my results that the problem isn’t that the kids don’t understand the process but they don’t execute the process with mastery. They simply do not feel confidant as writers. Despite efforts to make writing relevant students do not engage deeply enough in the writing process. Not one understands why writing is important or how it reflects on them.

My goal this year is to find more and frequent opportunities to make writing authentic and writing for an audience that will lead to publication. If a student believes his words will have an impact they just might care about what those words say.

With that in mind- I am on the look-out for authentic writing lesson plans, contests, opportunities, and ideas. Please forward me any authentic or publication possibilities my way.

Watch for comments on this thread... I will post resources I find.

Friday, June 13, 2008

Poetry Unit that Works

I can't tell you how much students groan when an English teacher mentions the word 'poetry.' It is like that simple word is enough to drive even the most calm and confident students into cold sweats and make their palms sweaty. When did creativity become scary and the imagination taboo? I'm not sure when it happened but there are people and organizations out there trying to inspire creativity into our youth again. One such organization is Poetry Foundation sponsored by the National Endowment for the Arts they hold an annual Poetry Recitation Contest and provide free lesson plans and resources on the internet for students and teachers. I've adapted one of the lessons to my style of teaching to great success. Poems Put To use is a great lesson as it asks students to find relevance and relate to classic poetry as it applies to real life. To see my assignment click on this link -> then download PoetryBook Assignment.

My students love this assignment a ton. The more classroom time you allow the better the assignment results but make that time structured with deadlines. Several students took the freedom of this assignment to dedicate the book to a family member or girlfriend or boyfriend. Others used it like a memory book and selected poems that related to events in their own life during the past year or their time in high school. This assignment is good for all grade levels although I increase or decrease the length and difficulty depending on student level and ability.

So what is it?... I ask my students to find three poems that can be put to real use in real life. Such as Langston Hughes poem "Dream Deferred" which can be used to inspire people at graduations or other occasions then this must be explained in terms of the way the poem would be used and why in no less than 100 words. The next step is for them to find a poem that reflects who they are. I call it a mirror poem. They explain how the poem reflects them. Finally- I ask the students to create four unique figurative language examples that represent who they are.

The students truly enjoyed the assignment and took them all back- the students who usually let me have their projects had to keep this one. If that isn't a sign of a good assignment I don't know what is.

Saturday, April 5, 2008

Engaging Students with Novels

Miracle of miracles happened this week... my students looked at me and said, 'this is the first book I've enjoyed in an English class since middle school.' The book is Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury and I'd say about 90% of my students are enjoying the book. I asked for a show of hands and nearly all stuck a hand and sometimes two into the air.

We began the novel by simulating the future. I told my students they had transported 50 years into the future by time machine and were stranded as the machine was now broken (think Planet of the Apes). The only direction I gave was shaping the assignment and requiring a daily journal entry about what happens each day in this future world. (I only allowed the assignment to run two days.)

Just as expected most of the classes experienced some form of disagreement. They discovered that leading is difficult and that little was accomplished. The point of the exercise was to practice assimilating new details that would be foreign and activate creative thinking before we began reading. The students were very creative in imagining the world 50 years from now. I had everything from the Russians ruling the world to something like Futurama . More importantly, students were so enthused a few continued the project on their own time for extra credit.

I had my department purchase an audio reading of the book which turned out to be very poorly read. So I've been reading the book aloud to them myself. I read with expression and have tried using voices to express the characters. I'm not very good at coming up with different male voices so when Captain Beatty and Montag speak to each other sometimes it is hard to tell who is who. The students are putting up with it though. I've had several speak to me privately about the excitement they have about what will happen next and reading ahead outside of class.

I think the recipe for success isn't that Fahrenheit 451 is a fantastic engaging book (although I think it is) but that I have a passion for it as I read it and my students pick up on that. I'm reminded of a conversation I had once... someone reflecting on how despite the English teacher's love of a novel they could never love it too despite trying to like it out of the respect they had for the teacher; despite the enthusiasm the teacher had the student never felt the same way. I think it boils down to enthusiasm modeled by the teacher helps to enthuse his or her students. Excitement and energy can be contagious! Enthusiasm doesn't work 100% of the time but it sure helps.