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 »
The first month of school is a great time to introduce or review with students ways to think about the way they learn. One is to have them take one of the on-line evaluations that show them how they learn best. See “What’s Your Learning Style?” Once students recognize that they process new information and demonstrate what they know in different ways, they are less likely to compare themselves to their peers. Instead, each student can be encouraged to maximize their learning strengths.
The information from these kinds of quizzes can help you, the teacher, better design lessons that help more students learn more quickly and deeply. When preparing to introduce new information, consider telling, showing, and doing. Present a mini-lesson that includes visuals and demonstrations. Then, before moving on to next new concept, allot time for students to practice what you’ve just taught.
This can be something as simple as retelling to a partner what they’ve now understand. It could be writing a summary sentence or two, putting into words what you’ve just taught. It could be writing an admit slip, acknowledging that there are portions of the mini-lesson the student does not yet comprehend.
REMEMBER, teaching is not complete until students learn. Otherwise, it’s just telling.
Living with a Name
After reading Ralph Ellison’s Essay
“Hidden Name and Complex Fate”
and “My Name” by Sandra Cisneros,
consider and write about what it’s like to live with your names.
Learning about Your Names
1. Use a dictionary and/or online resources to find out what each of your own names mean.
2. 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?
3. Determine the kind of surname you have. Is it a place name, occupation, descriptive, etc.?
4. Describe problems you have experienced because of your name, including any mispronunciations, misspellings, and misunderstandings.
5. Describe nicknames and related embarrassing or humorous experiences.
6. Identify challenges you feel because of the name(s) you carry.
Additional readings for unit on “Living With a Name”
See complete assignment with sample student responses in
Chapter 11 “Celebrating Names: A Unit a Community and Identity”
in Teaching Writing in Middle School: Common Core and More (2013)
Consider thematic units that may be drawn from Essential Questions. Once you decide on themes or essential questions for the first quarter or semester, you could ask the students to choose the themes/questions for the subsequent ones. Almost any piece of fiction/non-fiction can be adapted to address the general questions you’re likely to choose.
Next,, begin the year building on the skills you know the students generally are taught in the previous year paying special attention to the academic language they may have forgotten but will need to know very well be be successful this year and those to come as long as they are formal or informal students.
Decide on general grading guidelines and share them with students within the first week, not necessarily the first day. Instead, post on your website or include in syllabus packet. See ideas here.
Video clips to consider. Non-Fiction Rap (Although done by younger students, the video is worth sharing even with high school students. When I show it, I just tease my older students with something like, “I imagine you know this already, but let’s take a moment to review the terms before moving on to applying this skill on the anthology/book/text you have in front of you. This way no one is embarrassed about not knowing or having forgotten terms.)
Another little clip is on evaluating websites in on this link. These are British sites and American students may chuckle at the accents, but should the videos informative enough. Sometimes the chuckling is just enough to get to them pay attention when you show it the second time. These work well in a lesson that includes an assignment for students to conduct on-line research.
Check out other sample lessons on the RANGE OF RESOURCES: COMMON CORE AIDS. Feel free to adapt as needed to fit your teaching situation.
As your new students get to know you and understand that you know where they’ve been and where they’re going, they’ll learn to trust and cooperate with the range of assignments you’ll design to build on what they knowledge and skills learned last year and what they’ll need to know and be able to do next year.
Looking for ways to get to know your students while having them
do authentic writing that build on works you’ve read?
Here are three to consider that can serve as a beginning of the year formative assessments of reading and writing. No need to grade for anything other than completing on time with required minimum contents. You can determine which Common Core State Standards for ELA this year’s students already meet and then immediately use that information design lessons based on what they already know and are able to do.
Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner?– After reading a couple of short stories, invite students to write about a character from one story, or one from each, as though they were guests for dinner. Could be used as summer reading check-up with any grade 6-12.
What Award Will you Receive? – A great way to get students to think about the value of education, experience, and reputation is to invite them to write about an award they will receive in 25 years. Works really well with 8th and 10th graders.
Living with a Name? – An engaging assignment that invites students to read a couple of literary works about names and then to write about their own. If you have strong readers or time to read the essay with them, I recommend Ralph W. Ellison’s essay along with the very popular “My Name” from Sandra Cisneros’ memoir House on Mango Street. One of my favorites for starting the year with Freshmen. Can be an effective prep for writing college application personal statements,too.
Create customized rubrics that address just one trait that you will have taught, then free the students to write on one of the topics you’ve adapted. Keep the weight of the assignment low so students are not afraid to do their own work.
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