Monday, October 27, 2014

Shakespeare: Digital Resources for Teaching / Learning

Friday, October 24, 2014

A writing lesson: poetry of many voices

I taught a class Wednesday that I can't stop thinking about. I typed up the lesson and reflected on it here. I hope other teachers find it as student-generated, powerful, fun, and thought-provoking as we did.

Context: students have already read our core text (The First Part Last by Angela Johnson) and last night's reading was a chapter from Writing to Change the World on 'Poetic Inquiry.'

Remediation & Meaning: Composing Activity

  • Get in small groups, 3-4 I'd say is good, though one was 6 and that was fine
  • Tell students: take a piece of paper, tear it into 6 pieces (any shape, any size) - write something on each of those pieces (my constraints: one thing from The First Part Last, one thing from Chapter 5, and then whatever you want on the other four. This allows some common language, some low-risk review opportunities, and for students to bring in favorite quotations/song lyrics/recent conversations/etc.)
  • In their groups, students go around and share their pieces of texts
  • Then, each group does their own Yankee swap (also called White Elephant, I just learned). If you haven't done one, it's that holiday game where one person starts (ex. person with next birthday) and they get to ‘choose’ one piece of writing from anyone in the group and swap it with one of theirs. Next person goes - they can ‘take back’ the piece if they want it. Third person, same, etc. So, in theory, everyone has a new piece of writing in front of them, unless they swapped back for their own piece (which, if they really liked it, is absolutely fine)
  • As this is happening, I go around and I 'give’ a text to each student. This can be any bit of text - I brought in old issues of Time Magazine and tore out pages and distributed one to each student
  • Students now have 1) writing pieces of their own, 2) new piece 'given to them' from someone else, 3) a piece text from me. Now, they compose a found poem. (My constraints: they have to use at least those three resources, but any part of them - a word or phrase is good). They can add anything else they want to add, and visually organize their poem how they'd like. There is no wrong answer, the point is to create a poem that organically rises from the student and their texts.
  • Review and Reactions: Student shares poem with their group and gets feedback from each of the group members. If this activity goes beyond the day, you might have them revise / re-write or
  • Whole-group debrief (some questions, but I think the discussion will run itself)
    • what did you notice about this as 'a writing process'? how was it similar / different to what you normally do?
    • what was feedback like? what did you notice about how your peers responded?
    • how / why might this activity inform your writing in the future?

I can easily see this as a period-long lesson in a high school classroom (ours was part of a longer block). In about an hour, there was time to 'go find' texts for the initial six pieces (these could also be brought in for homework), time to create, time to share, time to compose, and time to reflect. I had music on for various parts of the class, and even created my own found poem from bits of their conversations. 

Facilitation note: I started with whole-class directions, but then as each group set a different pace, gave the subsequent steps to them as they encountered them. 

It really struck me how this lesson invited students to open up. First, they could bring in 'any text' so students wrote down movie quotations, song lyrics, what their mom said to them that morning, and so on. The sharing time was a way for them to get to know each other, and eavesdropping during the Yankee Swap produced such gems as "I'll trade your Thoreau for my 'I'm just in it right now'". There was a quiet intensity when everyone was composing their found poems - opening up the genre gave students a space to 'play' and I could go around and ask questions and nudge here and there. When groups shared back, the members could hear how 'their texts' had been incorporated into the final poem. And the discussion after, about how the experience of writing was so different than normal, reminded me that creativity and rigor don't need to be only in academic forms.

All in all, a lovely morning creating and thinking and reflecting on the nature of writing.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

The Relevance Rainbow

When commenting in the margins of student papers, I often underline the sentences after a quotation and ask ‘what does this mean - why does this matter?’ Unfortunately, my questions weren’t having an impact - students either re-phrased the quotation, provided analysis that didn’t align with their point, or simply moved on. I needed a way to help students clearly and effectively articulate the ‘take away’ from their chosen quotation.

Inference Wheel
One graphic organizer we use in my classroom is the Quote Sandwich, which helps gives structure to the elements of a paragraph. However, I wanted a graphic organizer that stripped the weight of the paragraph away so students could focus on the immediate post-quotation analysis.

I turned to the Inference Wheel, a graphic organizer where students choose multiple quotations and write them on the inner ring, explaining what they mean in the outer ring. This structure is especially helpful for analyzing multiple quotations in a night’s reading. But it was still bulky; I wanted students to focus on breaking down one quotation and building layers of its implications.

So, I tilted one ‘pie slice’ of the Quotation Wheel, and made it into a half-circle, drawing arcs above it. I labeled the levels ‘relevance to characters, relevance to book, relevance to life’ so students could scaffold their own analysis from specific to general.

Relevance Rainbow
I gave students either lined paper or plain paper and drew my own rainbow on the board. I like it when students create their own graphic organizers - not only do they consistently giggle while drawing - you’d be surprised at the rainbow variations - but they develop a sense of ownership over constructing their own diagram. Also, I don’t have to make photocopies. Students who like to keep their work in their notebook or on hole-punched paper can do so neatly. One drawback is that some students don’t like writing along a curve - they end up tilting the paper and doing ‘Relevance Art Deco’ with straight lines. The intellectual work of extending implications of one quotation is the same, no matter what visual variation they choose.

Once the Rainbow is on the board and on their papers, we complete one together. I choose a significant quotation from the reading the day before and start to fill out the first level, modeling why I think this line is important to the characters involved. There is space for multiple sentences of analysis, so I also ask for contributions. We move on to why the quotation matters to the book as a whole, and if it serves as a turning point, milestone, or predict how it could have an impact later on. This conversation can drift into author’s purpose as we discuss why this event happened when it did. Finally, we talk about the broader connections to life that the quotation could have, commentaries on individuals, society, etc. At the end of our discussion, I ask students to highlight the most important analysis they wrote down, which effectively annotates their own work for easy review.

When students fill out a Relevance Rainbow by themselves, there are many variations to the whole-class model that draw upon previous knowledge, collaboration, and even scaffolding towards essays.

  • The first two levels could serve as a reading quiz, and then launch class discussion. 
  • You can use it as a closing activity for students to synthesize that day’s conversation. 
  • As a stand-alone activity, you could choose a specific page or section, have students re-read it and pull one quotation from to analyze. For example, when reading Lord of the Flies, during the three pages when Simon dies, there are many quotations worth pulling for deeper consideration. 
  • In addition, students could use the graphic organizer as a form of ‘Give one, Get one’ where they choose a quotation and go around to ask what other students would say to analyze it. 
Any of these variations encourage students to compile multiple iterations of analysis on the same quotation.

If the final assessment is an analytical essay, completing multiple Relevance Rainbows through the unit will help students scaffold their analysis. When the essay comes, I have offered that they can choose any level and trace either a character, moments that were crucial to a plot trend, or craft a thesis about what the book says about humanity, life, etc. They can now go back through their multiple organizers, see what they wrote and what they highlighted, and construct their paper accordingly.

Giving students an accessible graphic organizer that scaffolds their analysis helps them meaningfully build levels of meaning, gives them a resource during a unit and cumulative project, and provides an effective formative assessment for teacher use.

Monday, June 16, 2014

Chancellor's Academy 2014 - Keynote

I was fortunate enough to present for the Chancellor's Academy - I talked about how intentional curriculum design can open up opportunities for student ownership of their own learning.

Here are some of the tweets from today - so many amazing people I was able to talk to!