1. Grit: Survey students early in the year. Use the language of Grit: IMAGINATION, CURIOSITY, SELF-AWARENESS, COURAGE, ADAPTABILITY, PERSEVERANCE, and PASSION all year long.
2. Writing Instruction: I have been asking questions about writing instruction and trying to answer them with observation and data for as many years as I have been creating a portfolio, and I never conclude with a satisfying answer or discovery. In short, I feel like what I’m trying to figure out how to help students master is bigger than what I can accomplish. When you think about it, students spend most of their high school English writing assignments on essays about literature, when in the world, this is a very specialized type of analytical writing. In college, I bet only English majors write essays about literature. Of course I believe it’s good training for all types of analytical thinking–even science!– but students don’t see it that way, and they way they see themselves learning–a huge component of grit–is very important for their success. Our offerings in English are extremely limited. Look what is offered to students in neighboring towns:
Falmouth English Courses
Freeport Program of Studies (scroll to English)
Mt. Ararat English Courses (scroll and link to English)
My point is that maybe we expect too much of a catch all English class. That to teach voice and tone, one needs to be aware of the different ways and audiences to use these voices and tones. We need some meta-organization of writing, and maybe this starts with examining our offerings. I’m hoping some time in the future when we look at our department, we can build on the many things we do well and talk frankly about where we lack.
That said, instead of trying to make a connection between personal and analytical writing, it seems appropriate to focus on persuasive writing in general. We’ve been using the NY Times and other sources the last few weeks this year in a unit about memoir and editorial writing. I’d like to stretch this out all year and hopefully give students a greater understanding and command of mastery. We’re hoping to use digital portfolios next year where students can link to and share their work. We’ve been using resources like This I Believe, Room for Debate, and the Student Opinion Blog. To include some media studies, I’d like to consider persuasive film/documentary for an assignment, inspired by OpDocs. I see these assignments unconnected to literature, which is where the Common Core is going, but it adds to the already disjointed feeling of Junior English. We’ll have to keep talking and negotiate this issue.
3. Working with Colleagues: My last comments lead well into these. I’m taking on a new role as department leader. I think my first goal next year is to be a listener and facilitator and work persistently to bring the teachers in our department to common ground. I want to help them understand how it’s okay, even good, to disagree and how to express these viewpoints without anger or resentment, although I’m still learning these skills myself. I want to serve the people in my department. My strengths are intuition and creativity. It’s going to be a difficult start, I imagine, but I’m optimistic.
On a separate but related note, I’m looking forward to work on the leadership team because I think it brings the opportunity for authentic collaboration. In writing a letter of recommendation for a friend with whom I used to teach an integrated Humanities class, I realized how our work together was truly collaborative because we were both learning skills and ideas that were outside of our skill set. She is a History teacher. I think the way to really collaborate is when two individuals from different backgrounds and skills sets work together to accomplish a task. When we collaborate over courses at YHS, we’re more often negotiating. I’m looking forward to working will colleagues in other departments and finding ways to increase authentic collaboration.
4. The Connection Between Grading and Support: Here’s an idea…in the work of grading it seems that the goal is to grant students more chances and more support from teachers to give them more opportunities to master the material and earn a coveted grade. What if instead of reducing the rigor of evaluation (are we doing this?, I think, maybe so), we increase the opportunities for support. The places I see for development are in connection with Lorrie King’s work and extending the STAR tutoring program in wider, more accessible ways. I’ve put “Student Support” as my first choice for the NEASC Accreditation because I’m interested in thinking more critically about this topic.
I’ll stop here. Thanks for reading!