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 »
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.
Summer Reading – Expand Lists
Have you seen the READING BINGO challenges posted by Random House? Using the cards may be just what will inspire students to broaden their independent reading choices. Could offer a modest prize…enough to entice to read, but not to cheat. First are two Bingo Cards for 2014 and one at the end is from 2013. Click here for book report options: Alternatives or Poetic
Here’s Random House’s Reading Bingo Card for readers of Young Adult titles.
A second, for high school students or adults.
Here’s the Random House Reading Bingo Card from 2013.