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 »
More than HALLOWEEN
Learning about and celebrating the cultures of others is a wonderful reason to write. And, October is a great time to start. For many, October is time for Harvest Festivals, an ancient celebration revived in many church and community groups as an alternative to Halloween; or All Saints or All Hallows Day, celebrated in many Catholic and some Protestant communities, and then there’s Halloween. Do your students know how this holiday began? See videos on how that started. Choose one that fits your school setting. Of course, you could have your students write Halloween Acrostic Poems to describe a person, place or event in a piece of text you’re studying together, an observation or personal experience. Or, you could introduce to them unfamiliar with it, the celebration of Day of the Dead.
In some cultures, October is a time to honor family members who have died by remembering them on Dia de los Muertos. I learned the Day of the Dead when teaching in Southern California where many students are of Mexican heritage.. Rather than a scary time, it is a time for recalling and talking about fond memories of our ancestors, especially those recently deceased. I especially appreciated this celebration of remembrance the year my beloved grandmother died. Learning and writing about the recently departed may prove to be a worthwhile , even healing writing activity for you students, too.
Invite students to write about someone they know or about a character in a current or recently read literary work. (Note how these sentence stems guide students to writing a personal essay/memoir, a persuasive paragraph or essay à la CCSS?)
Close reading is a strategy to enhance comprehension by looking closely at brief passages of text and noticing ways authors use language, structure, and style to convey their messages and reveal their attitude (tone) towards the topic of the writing. Teaching middle and high school students to pay attention to language can lead to more efficient reading and more effective writing. Here’s are a couple of on-line sources for short articles.
Four approaches to grading revolutionized my planning and grading for teaching middle, high school and college students.
The first occurred after I a summer studying and then implementing National Writing Project strategies that include process writing and rubrics, which I customized for individual assignments. See samples here And planning time for in-class peer feedback on process assignments. See sample organization guidelines here.
The second is designing and including a grading sheet with each big assignment and allotting time for students to self-check before submitting assignments for grading.
The third is beginning each course sharing and then sticking to general grading guidelines. See sample here.
The fourth is gradually increasing the weight of big assignments. At the start of the year, big assignments (processed papers and projects on which students have time to plan, get peer feedback and revise) were not weighted heavily enough to “klll” a report card grade. Similar high standards can be given for each assignment, but students have time to see the standards, get feedback on their performance, and seldom are so discouraged that they stop trying. I generally plan about 500 points per marking period. Daily work completed on time earns full credit. Regular check-up quizzes graded in class by students, worth 10-50 points. Both serve as practice for them and formative assessments for me.
- First quarter: Processed papers/projects/presentations = 30 points
- Second quarter: Processed papers/projects/presentations= 50 points
- Third quarter: Processed papers/projects/presentations= 75 points
- Fourth quarter: Processed papers/projects/presentations= 100 points
As a speech coach, I understand the value of planning and presenting speeches as a means getting students to think about audience, and probably are comfortable evaluating oral presentations. I encourage you to include oral presentations as often as they are an authentic way for students to practice what you’re teaching and for you to measure what they’re learning. They are a terrific way for students to learn from one another while developing a skill they’ll need for a lifetime. Here’s link to sample speech feedback form.
#1 – What’s a Mystery Novel?
First of all, there has to be a detective who is set apart from everybody else (including the reader) for eccentric habits/appearance (or by contrast total blandness), exceptional intelligence, the practice of making obscure statements instead of just revealing deductions and revelations as they occur. The detective is MEANT to frustrate you!
The official police (or if the detective is a policeman, his compatriates) must be bumblers – even when they discover useful evidence, they should always miss the point. It helps when your detective has a smart rival — cop, district attorney, etc. — who is also clever, but not as clever — to come up with alternate solutions. That increases tension and plot development, also amusement to the degree that that sub-detective usually ends up with the same solution the reader would have come up with.
Clues must be presented to the reader, even if they are cleverly disguised or phrased ambiguously. And the villain MUST be some character who has appeared or been mentioned fairly plainly in the story under some circumstance before the revelation. (Otherwise, how could that person ever be suspected? That would be cheating under these rules.)
The author must not tell a lie, either in the third person or through the mouth of a character who is pronounced unequivocally to be trustworthy or has no ulterior motive to lie. You can say something couldn’t have happened, but not that it DID NOT then say it did after all. Do not aver it was pitch dark, then reveal later: ‘except there was a full moon, forgot to mention that’. [i]
What about mystery sub-genres?
Mystery sub-genres have their own conventions, though writers are taking greater freedom and feeling less restricted these days by “rules” of the genres and sub-genres. Some of the more common mystery sub-genres are cozies (small town or confined settings, genteel in style);
hard-boiled (tough, sexy, gritty, violent); police procedural (with specific details of police detection the main feature);
- didactic (“academic” or “teaching” mysteries that educate the reader, such as archaeological mysteries loaded with facts and findings from that world); private eye (licensed private investigator as the main sleuth);
- forensic; amateur (the sleuth is not a professional investigator but is from another field, such as law, journalism, or psychiatry); and
- historical (the mystery is set during a specific period in history). Again, these sometimes overlap or become hybridized.[ii]
[i] From “What Is a Classic Mystery Story?” (4-20-08) http://www.mysterylist.com/whatis.htm
[ii] From “Tips on the Craft of Mystery Writing”(4-20-08) http://www.johnmorganwilson.com/writingcraft.htm
Click here for handout. What’s a Mystery?
National Day of Writing – October 20
Composing or Summarizing Briefly
I thought you’d be interested in an in-class activity to get students to think about the power of a few words as well as the structure of a story. I can see this an effective way to practice vocabulary, grammar and punctuation, too.
One could even assign this for students to practice summary writing by having them summarize a story, play, or book they’ve just studied together as a class or finished as independent reading.
You could project a picture/photo and invite students to write a story about that picture in 25 words or less. In science, math, or history, select an image that fits your discipline. This can be a useful, authentic, and revealing formative assessment, especially if students also are asked to include recently taught vocabulary!
Edit and then post the short shorts to class website. Parents probably would enjoy reading what the students are reading and writing.
Other resources at National Council of Teachers of English website.