Congratulations to Anna J. Small Roseboro, the California Association of Teachers of English 2009 Distinguished Service Award winner. In our profession, so much is required in order to be everything our students deserve. The demands are great; this is no career for the uncommitted. Teaching well takes diligence, knowledge, passion, energy, flexibility, and skill. More »
A Thrilling and Chilling Ride
Anna J. Small Roseboro, National Board Certified Teacher
Past President of the
California Association of Teachers of English*
Education policy is on a roller coaster ride that is both thrilling and chilling. Those of us who teach the English/language arts were excited about the research of National Commission on Writing in America’s Schools and Colleges who reported that “writing today is not a frill for the few, but an essential skill for the many.” Their document , The Neglected “R”- The Need for a Writing Revolution! (2003) was testimony to the general public of what we classroom teachers recognize to be true about one of our areas of expertise. It is chilling, however, that other curricular demands and financial shortages make it difficult to teach writing that maximizes the strategies that other research, such as that conducted in past years by the National Writing Project, shows are more effective.
It is exciting to see a broad array of resources, both print and non-print, that is available to expand and supplement our teaching of the Common Core ELA State Standards (2011) and the English/language standards that many of us helped our states to develop. It is daunting, however, to see how little time we have to bring our students up to these standards, and even more heartrending to find that so much of what is good, worthwhile, and interesting to teach is not assessed on the tests our students are required to take.
Still, we persevere. We teachers really are joy riders. Like so many of our students who line up in anticipation of the adrenaline bursts on the world famous roller coasters – the twists and turns on the corkscrew of the Python in Busch Gardens; the throat in the mouth feelings of the floorless coaster, the Kraken at Sea World; and blood-rush to the head of the inverted one, the Boomerang, at Knott’s Berry Farm – we teachers return to our school sites and campuses day after day, achieving the impossible, defying the gravity of difficulty that would drag us down.
Yes, drag us down; cause us to plummet into the depths of despair, if we didn’t have the uplifting articles from our professional journals, those kind words and exhortations from sympathetic friends, and the thrill of seeing our students soar when a lesson goes well. We continue to believe that what we’re doing is so important, so valuable, and so essential to the young men and women we teach in our diverse classrooms that the roller coaster rides of education policies will not frighten us into leaving the park – leaving the profession. Instead, we continue to seek ways to increase our knowledge and to sharpen our skills. We save and spend our own monies to travel to professionally enriching conventions and conferences; we enroll in workshops and courses at local colleges and universities; we give up our summers to attend seminars and to pursue graduate degrees just so we can meet the challenges of being the best for the best – our students. We look forward to the formal and informal gatherings of our local, state and national conferences and convention, and eagerly drive, fly, and take trains to the annual conventions because we know we’ll be revived and ready to return to the reality of our avocation thrilled by its exhilarating highs, and only chilled by its debilitating lows.
So, when you’re swooping on the downhill plunge, throw your hands up and yell like the kids on the coasters! Throw your hands up and volunteer to serve on those committees and help to articulate our cause to local, state and national decision makers. Yell – in writing to your legislators or school board members. But, stay on the ride. We on who serve on the boards and committees are working to find ways to keep us on track. We understand the thrill of practicing the most exciting profession in the world – developing lessons and opportunities so that students across the spectrum of ability and interest can explore significant works, forms, and traditions in American, British and World literature and thereby learn to read critically and imaginatively and develop an appreciation for the written word and visual media.
We recognize that English/language arts teachers thrive when developing curriculum that allows students to write regularly in a variety of forms and a variety of platforms, so thereby develop the skills to express themselves articulately, concisely and precisely, exemplifying knowledge of Standard English grammar and comfort in their home languages. We know the satisfaction of nurturing classroom environments where students are free to discuss literature and life in order to develop skills in listening critically to the opinions of others and in expressing their own ideas in a clear, confident, and compelling manner.
Plan now to attend National Council of Teachers of English 2014 in National Harbor, MD (DC area), when NCTE convenes around the theme, “Story as the Landscape of Knowing” under the leadership of Program Chair Kathy Short who, along with her top notch committees, is hard at work planning an exhilarating experience for each of you. You’ll see and hear how and why so many English/language arts teachers stay on the ride – enjoying the thrills of the ups, learning ways to minimize the chills of the downs. At the workshops, exhibits, social and meal functions, you’ll find us sharing ideas, seeing new resources, encouraging one another, sipping beverages, and, in the African-American tradition, swapping tales of “how we got over”.
If you’re a department chair, formal or informal literacy leader in your school or community, you’ll find the Conference on English Leadership is designed just for you. Rebecca Sipe, Program Chair for CEL 2011 is gathering top quality speakers and presenters for this “Leading in a Collaborative World” conference, November 20-22 at the Hilton Hotel in downtown Chicago. Extend your stay and attend this vital professional enriching experience.
Everyone! Hold on tight.
The ride’s not over yet.
*Adapted from a “President’s Perspective” published in
California English, February, 2004
Teaching Ninth Graders (Freshmen)
New teachers of ninth grade or freshmen students often are surprised at how literal their students are at the beginning of the school year. Some are disappointed that these high school students don’t seem very mature; so few are able to see the subtleties in literature and seem inept at writing clever imagery. The fact is few young adolescents are mentally ready for this kind of thinking. No need to despair. Give them time. In the interim, help the see the goals for the course and then design lessons to help them reach those goals as their brains mature.
One way to help your ninth graders buy into the idea of increasingly more sophisticated thinking is to have them do a self-analysis. With one of the Bloom’s Taxonomy charts adapted by the Six-Traits of the Northwest Regional Educational Laboratories, you can show your Freshmen where we, educators, expect them to be by the time they graduate from high school. Yes, at the top of the chart. Help them understand the language, first. (See this link). Then, ask them to rank themselves on a scale of 1-5 on how well do they do on assignments that ask them to do the tasks for each level. Be aware that this academic language may be new to your freshmen. That may be a one of the problems you may be helping them to solve. Understanding “teacher talk”.
This completed check sheet can be stored in the portfolios (folders) kept in class to hold their graded assignments (writing, rubrics from oral presentations, answers to tests, but not tests themselves.) Or, if you have a secure website, you can store the information electronically. If your students will be be using a class website, you may keep the HOTS/LOTS chart in full view so students can see it on the page you post assignments.
During the first semester, it’s helpful to inform students of what thinking skill different assignments seek to develop and ,on assessments, which of the skills are being measured. It’s important for students to see the purpose for both. Then, at the end of the first semester, you can look at those charts again and ask the students to write a reflection on what they’re doing better now than at the beginning of the school year, and a projection on what kinds of things they’ll be working on for the second semester.
Recommendation: When you prep students for a test, you could review the language you plan to use on the test and point out how your questions measure their thinking. For example, “The first section of the test will be objective questions to test your recall of facts and ability to interpret quotations, however, the second part will be short answer where you’ll be expected to show you can analyze and new passage, and then apply what you’re learning about writing an expository paragraph.”
As an experienced teacher of ninth grade/freshmen, you probably are aware of the leap in development of the brain’s frontal cortex that occurs in early teens. Usually at the beginning of the school year, Freshmen still are pretty literal ,thinking in concrete terms, but as the year progresses and their frontal lobes mature, these youngsters more consistently are able to look at literature and life more abstractly, able to recognize and use more subtle metaphors in their speech and writing. Here’s one of several reports on research about adolescent brain development by National Institute for Mental Health (NIMH) that you may find useful as you design lessons and assessments for these delightfully young people.
A colleague on social network for teachers posted this query. Because many of you are considering similar issues as you plan for the school year, I decided to include my response as a blog.
What themes do you think would resonate with 8 graders that might incorporate
all 3 genres of writing- narrative, informational and argumentative?
Please elaborate if you have ideas!
Consider “Who am I? Who Are We?”. By 8th grade young adolescents are beginning to pull away from parents in an attempt to establish their own identities. This is a propitious time to have them read, write, and talk about themselves, others their age and the challenges of determining and living lives of integrity. Three assignments that evoke this kind of cogetation include a journalism piece on “What award will I earn in 25 years?” It is written as a human interest article that requires students to consider their current skills and interests, what education and experience will be required to achieve their goals and how their behavior, performance or products benefits society in ways that qualify the student for the local, national or international recognition. Here’s the link to the first assignment, the “Human Interest Story”
The second assignment invites the students to respond to ”Who Am I?” as it relates to their family and community, culture or nationality. It’s called “What’s in a Name?” and is a variation on one frequently assigned after reading the chapter “My Name” in Sandra Cisnero’s coming of age novel, House on Mango Street. The complete assignment is found in Chapter 11 of Teaching Writing in the Middle School: Common Core and More (November, 2013), and calls for students to conduct different kinds of research to answer and then write, in the mode of their choice, about questions relating to their names. Some write narratives, some write informational essay, some choose to combine the two.
- Use a dictionary and/or online resources to find out what each of your own names means.
- Interview a family member to learn the sources of your name(s). If you have equipment, audio or videotape the interview. Who named you and why? Are you named for a friend or family member? Someone else?
- Determine the kind of surname or last name you have. Is it a place name, like Al-Fassi, Hall or Rivera; an occupation, like Chandler, Smith or Taylor; a descriptive, Braun or Strong, or a patronymic or version of a father’s name, like Ben-Yehuda, McNeil or Von Wilhelm, etc.?
- Describe incidents you have experienced because of your name, including mispronunciations, misspellings, and misunderstandings.
- Write about nicknames and related embarrassing or humorous experiences.
- Identify challenges you feel because of the name(s) you carry.
The third assignment asks students to consider what they value and how that influences their behavior. We look at fiction and non-fiction to see how people, real and imagined, are motivated by what they believe. We look at the conflict that arises because of differing beliefs, and then students write and deliver persuasive speeches that use as counter-arguments opposing beliefs about topics of interest to the students and may arise from issues they
experience or observe in literature and in life. Here’s a link to that values assignment.
The key to the success of these assignments is creating and nurturing a safe environment in which students learn how to listen respectfully and respond courteously to their classmates. For this reason, I recommend beginning with the names assignment, move on to the award, and then the assignment on values.
The first assignment is primarily personal and students get to know one another during peer feedback time, reading and commenting on the way peers write rather than challenging the veracity of what they say.
The second, again, is personal, requires some research, but projects into the future encouraging students to consider ways the choices they make today influence the opportunities they have in the future.
The third, also is personal, but because it raises issues relating to religion, politics, and morals, can be delicate if students do not feel safe being vulnerable and expressing preferences for values that may be very different from those of their peers.
All in all, however, each of the assignments flows from the questions: “Who Am I?” and “Who Are We?” and elicit the three kinds of writing you mention in your posting: narrative, informational, and argumentative.
Still time to register and attend!
July 17-19, 2014
The unique format of the Institute will rely on collaborative teams working toward common goals within the strands of formative/summative classroom assessments, teacher evaluation, and assessment of curricular programs. In addition to group work, we will hear from experts in the field, including Beverly Chin,Scott Filkins, Tamara Maxwell, and others. Teacher-leaders with technology expertise will provide minilessons, and the team spirit will continue into the evening events.
The Institute takes place July 17-19, at Elmhurst College, in Elmhurst, Illinois.
I hope to see you at Elmhurst College.
Assessment, Evaluation, Assessment
Need time to expand your understanding of options for teacher evaluation, student evaluation and curriculum design evaluation? Come to Conference on English Leadership’s Summer Institute on Critical Issues. This year the feature is ASSESSMENT and we’ll be meeting July 17-19 on Elmhurst College campus, (near Chicago) to explore all three areas of assessment. http://www.ncte.org/cel/institute
Come as a team, come collaborate with other solo attendees, come work on project you’ve planned for the summer. In addition to a fine line-up of keynote speakers, there will be representatives from PARCC and Smarter Balanced at the Institute.
This can be a fine opportunity to work and learn on the critical issue of assessment, my hope is that we can convince more of our colleagues to try to find a way to participate as we address assessment issues – from student performance issues and curricular assessment issues to teacher performance and evaluation issues.
I look forward to meeting you there.