Tag Archives: best_practice

Teaching Metaphors and Similes: Make a Game of It

14 Dec

For students, learning about metaphors and similes can sometimes feel like doing taxes on April 14. Or taking your daily dose of cod liver oil poured over bran flakes. Or picking blueberries under a sweltering summer sun while wearing a corduroy three piece suit. Admit it. We English teachers can sometimes beat the joy right out of the most wonderful, playful topics.

I am 99.9% certain that at some point, in every English classroom around the globe, the definitions of metaphors and similes get taught in some fashion. Certainly, no reader can effectively glean understanding from texts without having at least an intuitive sense for the different functions of literal and figurative language. Learning to appreciate and evaluate language of comparison is a key part of any reader’s journey. Why, then, do so many students struggle to move beyond the most cursory understanding of these particular aspects of language? I think we must shoulder a hefty load of culpability here. Too often we teach these concepts in a basic manner, only assessing students’ ability to define and identify figurative devices.

One way I move beyond simple definitions of these terms is by playing a game that helps students understand the power of comparison and why using it well adds such style, life, and efficiency to our writing.

The game is a simple one. Pair students and give them two random nouns to compare. They have five minutes to list as many similarities as they can. After the five minutes, we share the results, and I award prizes for clever or copious responses.

Continue reading

Putting It Out There: Take the Time to Publish

5 Dec

commaJust a short anecdote from an English 9 class that gives me a boost and reminds me why it is worth our time to make the extra effort to publish online. I have written before about how I use macros and AutoText to save time when giving feedback on writing. In a recent essay, one of my students was making a chronic comma error, one that I dub The Most Common Comma Error in the World. My AutoText comment to her was, “Remember our quick lesson on the most common comma error in the world? You make it time and time again, but it’s easy to fix.  Hint: the comma in that last sentence is a clue as to what mistake you’re making.” One problem. I never taught her class anything about this topic. Obviously, I thought I had.

Yet, it was not really a problem. She just Googled the phrase “The Most Common Comma Error in the World” and watched the video I had posted on this same topic years earlier. She viewed the video and made her changes.

It was a microscopic moment of flipped teaching, but it was one that reminds why I take the extra effort to share my work online: Continue reading

Teacher Stress: My Management Techniques

23 Nov

stressRecently, a speaker during one of my school’s professional development days stated that 95% of the stress we feel is self-inflicted. That feels right.

I am a lucky. I rarely feel much stress about anything outside of the classroom. But, I am also unlucky; I regularly wink awake in the middle of the night, mind racing with “work stuff.”

Luckily, I have made some progress with nurturing a healthy, relaxed state of mind. Of course, my success is relative. Depending on the week (or even the day) my stress level fluctuates. Honestly, the week in which I’ve written this post has been particularly jam-packed, and I felt more stress than usual.

Regardless of my daily state-of-mind, however, some things consistently help me navigate the ebb and flow of stress that comes with being a classroom teacher:

Continue reading

Quizlet: Crowdsourcing Vocabulary

7 Nov

quizletI am jealous of my computer; it never feels stress. I do…way too often. And, way too often my stress is related to my inefficiency at providing timely, specific feedback to my students. Don’t get me wrong, I know I give meaningful feedback, but I wish it was all I ever did.

I am excited, then, when technology can help me out. When teachers outsource instantaneous feedback to a computer, the effect can be powerful, especially in areas like vocabulary acquisition. Language teachers understand that vocabulary expansion can be a grand equalizer, helping students rapidly improve other skills. Wide-ranging, free choice reading is my favorite way to help students acquire new vocabulary, but I also use some excellent web tools.

I am currently enamored with Membean (an online vocabulary system.) This post, however, is about an older love: Quizlet.

Both systems are effective ways to let technology offer timely and plentiful feedback. Each system also allows for students to engage in individualized and constructivist learning while freeing the teacher to offer differentiated, data-driven support. Continue reading

Meaningful, Effective Peer Revision

28 Sep

working togetherPeer revision is a gamble. At its best, students offer rich feedback and revision becomes an incredibly rich learning experience for all involved. At its worse, peer responses can be a bit like turning over the cockpit controls to a thirteen year old who is still years away from having even a driver’s permit.

I am always, then, looking for ways to make peer revision more meaningful. Here are a few ideas that have worked for me:

Three Chip Revision: Break out some poker chips. To begin, give every student three chips (or any number of chips you decide). Then, hand them a piece of writing from one of their peers and ask them to spot the mistakes. Each error they find, however, has to be checked by the teacher. If they have found a legitimate error, they get two more chips. If they are mistaken and no error exists, take a chip. The goal is to end the revision period with the most chips.

Continue reading

An Alternative to Traditional Summer Reading

5 Jun

Our Head of School hates summer reading. He has banned it.

Before you think ill of him, he’s a former English teacher who cares deeply about engendering a love of reading in all students. His position? Assigned summer reading does more harm than good.

Our students, then, are required to read the equivalent to at least three novels over the summer. They decide what they read. They can even read magazines, blogs, or other genres as long as this reading approximates the length of three books.

We want our students to read habitually, and we want them use summer reading time to explore their passions. When they return from summer break, we spend some time talking about their summer reading (and I have them write about it). We do not, however, quiz them or assign major projects. The program is largely run on an honor system.

Now, I KNOW some students fail to complete any summer reading. Yet, far fewer students slack off than one would think. The majority of the students choose appropriate, engaging work, and as a result, many more students enjoy summer reading.

It’s important to note, too, that the majority of the students I teach do NOT consider themselves natural readers or writers. Many of my students have language-based learning issues that require some form of accommodation. A choice-based system, especially for this population of reluctant readers, makes even more sense.

Over the three years we have used this summer reading policy, I consistently receive feedback from struggling readers about how it has helped them. I have also found that all students are more likely to continue to have a positive attitude toward our choice reading throughout the school year because they have been given the chance to develop their own reading habits.

Betty writes: “At the end of every school year, there’s only one thing I actually dread that’s upcoming in the summer, and that’s summer reading. Some of the books that I’ve had to read in middle school were absolutely dire, probably the most uninteresting stories I’ve ever had to sit through. The fact that I’m not an avid reader and that I don’t enjoy it in general makes it all the worse. The Beaver summer reading policy helped me as a reader in many ways, mostly by letting me be engaged in the texts that I got to choose on my own.”

Jackson writes, “In most cases when I read an assigned book over the summer, I only read it because I have to. I tend not to be very engaged and just read to finish the book. In addition, I usually take the lazy way out while reading an assigned book. I might end up skipping parts of the book, which does not happen if I am reading a book that interests me. When I read a good book, tt usually makes me want to read more books and expand my knowledge. I think this goes for a lot of kids out there that are in the same boat as me.”

Carl writes, “I have never liked to read very much, but the summer reading policy allowed me to be interested and actually like what I was reading. Beyond that, it also made me want to read…I read the book American Fencer, and I was very interested in this book because he was going through a process of international and Olympic fencing, which I would like to do someday.  I think that I am the only one in the class that would be interested in the book, so it would not get assigned by any teacher.  Because I was able to read a book that I was interested in, there were times during the summer that I wanted to pick up a book and read instead of doing something like play video games.  If we were assigned books I would have tried to procrastinate and avoid reading as much as possible.”

These three students (changed their names, of course) grew so much this year, and they are representative of the type of student I love to teach…an interesting, independent student who just doesn’t really “get” English class without some help. While each of them is still not likely to consider himself or herself a “reader,” each approaches reading with far less dread than one year ago. I know that my work in the classroom has helped shaped their improved attitude toward reading, and I’m happy that our summer reading policy nurtures this enthusiasm instead of squashing it.

It really is impossible to choose the perfect summer reading book to assign every student, so I think we should stop trying. Instead, set a total book (or page) goal, and let the students choose their own texts. We can tackle the dense stuff during the school year. Such an approach will do more to engender a love of reading that lasts well beyond our time with each individual student.

Alternative Classroom Discussion Formats

25 May

I’m closing in on my sixteenth year in an English classroom, and as any veteran teacher will admit, falling into ruts can be fairly easy. I will freely acknowledge that I can sometimes slip into default mode, especially when it comes to class discussions. I know how to foster a well-paced, inclusive discussion that avoids the Select Few dominating the discourse. I don’t, then, feel particularly impelled to change the format. But, boy, I’m glad that I still do.

My colleague in sophomore English is a gregarious, inventive, and reflective teacher just finishing his second year. He has some really good ideas on how to flip modes of discussion to play to various students’ strengths. In this post, I’m just going to rip off his ideas (and some ideas from others), giving full credit, of course.

The Experts Panel:

My colleague came up with this idea. At my school, students taking English for honors credit and those receiving standard credit are in the same section. We have to differentiate in some creative ways. One thing honors students must do is read an extra book and participate in extra discussions outside of class. This term students read Swamplandia! by Karen Russell.

As the students read the book, we constructed a series of Fishbowl Discussions to monitor their understanding of the text. (More on the Fishbowl technique below.) For the final discussion, however, we devised an alternative format using Google Hangouts. Unfortunately, we hit a snag. Users under 18 years of age cannot record Google Hangouts. Scrambling for an alternative, my colleague came up with the Experts Panel format.

We determined general categories of discussion topics beforehand and asked each student to prepare a few discussion questions from each category, emphasizing that the quality of their questions would help us gauge their understanding of the novel.

On the day of the discussion, we randomly chose three to four students to sit at the front as our expert panel. Then, using wheeldecide.com to make a spinner, we randomly chose the topic. In addition to the categories listed in the assignment description, we added Teacher’s Choice and random prizes.

Once the category was chosen, the audience asked questions and the panelists provided answers. When a topic was exhausted, we rotated panelists, with every student getting a chance to be an expert. Of course, the teachers asked questions and sat on a panel, but we were largely observers.

The rapid fire Q&A format led to one of the best literary discussions of my teaching career. Students on the experts panel really worked to provide erudite and original answers, while a healthy competition arose in the audience to ask the most intelligent question.

This Experts Panel format would work for any subject area. Of course, if used too often any format becomes tedious, but the students truly responded to this approach.

Fishbowl Discussion:


This video at Edutopia does a better job than I could explaining the format. As my honors students read Swamplandia! we scheduled a few fishbowl discussions so I could monitor their understanding and guide their analysis. Students also took notes on a shared Google Doc as they discussed so they could reference these notes later on. Due to numbers, I was the only one on the outside of the fishbowl, but I’ve used this format often. Giving students the chance to observe discussion can greatly improve their contributions when they are active participants.

Structured Academic Conversation as Debate Alternative

 

Tweet the Debate

 

Alternative Discussion Formats: Dr. Cavanaugh

 

50 Alternatives to Lecture

Writing Rubric Reboot: 6plus1

30 Apr

red penIn my second year of teaching, I made a grievous, but memorable, error. I was always the type of student who was motivated by tough love. My favorite teachers were the ones with the highest expectations, and a scribbled, gruff marginal note like, “You’re a better writer than this. Try again” was often enough to send me under the hood of the text. Of course, I am not every student. Wanting to motivate a student I knew could do much better, I returned her essay with this brief message scrawled across the top, “This is the worst essay I have ever read. Try again.”

Looking back, I don’t recognize the young teacher who would be so callous with a not-much-younger student. Of course, my comment only did harm. It gave my student no hope, no information about what to do next. The only saving grace about this regrettable action? I was allowing her to revise. That, and I learned to never do something like this again.

Thankfully, this student and I worked past this incident. I apologized; she forgave. A year later, she moved to another school, but during a return visit, she visited me and shared the 6plus1 Writing Traits rubric her new English teacher was using. Not surprisingly, it was helping her, and I instantly adopted the practice in my own classes.

Over the years, for whatever reason, I have drifted away from the 6plus1 terminology, but this trimester I decided to bring it back. The shift only required slight alterations to the scoring guides I already used:

Timed Essay Scoring Guide w/ 6+1

The Six Plus One traits have existed since the mid-80s, and these descriptors of good writing are an attempt to quantify what makes writing work. Using them—especially when they are used across grade levels and disciplines—can demystify writing feedback for students and help them recognize what they do well and target what they need to improve.

Continue reading

Wikis as Textbooks

7 Apr

Is it just me? Every time I hear WIKIS I think about wookies.

Is it just me? Every time I hear WIKIS I think about wookies.

Let’s be honest. Wikis are ugly. At least the wikis I make are not sleek and arresting in a visual sense. Yet, I use wikis in a variety of ways that I find elegant and interesting. Think of them as a ten-year-old Toyota Corolla. They usually won’t turn heads, but they run beautifully and always do what they should.

Wikis as Textbooks

This past fall, I taught a brand spankin’ new public speaking course based on TED talks. I had never taught public speaking, so in preparation, I searched for the perfect textbook. I have never used a textbook in any class, but my own insecurities where sending me looking for some solid backup. Well, I didn’t find the perfect textbook (because they don’t exist). Instead, I decided to have the students create their own textbook using a class wiki:

Public Speaking Class Textbook

The experience reinforced my belief in constructivism. While far from perfect, our self-constructed textbook served our purposes perfectly. After giving their first speeches, I asked the students, “O.K. Now that you’ve given one speech, what do you think you need to learn?” Their answers became our chapters.

Continue reading

Interactive Video (Part Two): Mozilla’s Popcorn Maker

16 Mar

Mozilla Popcorn MakerTo my shock and horror, my students claimed to have never seen a PopUp Video. They were vaguely aware of VH1 and suspected that some old people still watch it? If it even exists?

We were brainstorming uses of Mozilla’s Popcorn Maker, and I was sharing that a colleague had a great idea of using the free online tool to make a PopUp video of a presidential debate. As candidates make their claims, viewers could fact-check or point out rhetorical techniques, completely changing the viewer’s experience. A quick search and fifteen seconds of the Ghostbusters’ Theme Popup had them back on track. (They actually knew what I was talking about after all.)

Recently, I have been exploring how to make online videos more interactive for the viewer. In Interactive Video (Part One), I reviewed TED-ed’s Flipped Video Interface. In this post I will examine Mozilla’s Popcorn Maker, an easy way to take most anything that exists on the Internet and “lay it” over a video or audio track.

For my first experiment, I took the same video I flipped at TED-ed and used it to explore Mozilla’s Popcorn Maker. I have about two hours invested in this current version, and after a colleague gave me some time saving tips, I found the interface to be simple and intuitive. I suggested the tool to some students, as well, and they picked it up without any instruction on my part. In addition, some of my colleagues and I brainstormed uses for Popcorn Maker during a recent  in-house professional development session. Feel free to add your own ideas to this list! As I collect examples of the various ways we use the tool, I will share them.

Continue reading

MAKE THEM MASTER IT

CONNECTING TEACHERS TO INTENSIFY OUR IMPACT

carlabramowitz

Explore with Curiosity. Create with Love

TeacherToolkit

Most Influential UK Education Blog

Robin Neal

a teacher energized by innovation and collaboration

Popsicles for Dinner

The adventures of Liza and Felix

couponbomb

A year long quest of doing stuff...

Lehrer Werkstatt

Reflections on Living and Teaching in Germany

Student Observation

every day observations from a student's perspective

Empathic Teacher

The Mindful High School Classroom

Expat Educator

Leadership and Educational Practice from Around the World

Ideas Out There

THINK. LEARN. DO. REPEAT...

So, will this be graded?

Stories from a middle school English teacher turned high school English teacher.

History Tech

History, technology, and probably some other stuff

I'm Teaching English

And trying to get better each day. Thanks for your comments!

thefreshmanexperience

Life's lessons learned from students at school...

TED Blog

The TED Blog shares interesting news about TED, TED Talks video, the TED Prize and more.

The WordPress.com Blog

The latest news on WordPress.com and the WordPress community.

analyfe

the subjective perspective of an analytical optimist