Looking forward 2013-2014

Four Comments:

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!


Collaborative Inquiry Question, Feedback, Reflection

Collaborative Inquiry Question 2013

I’m going to a couple of places to answer this question…

Results of Student Survey after completing the Research Project.

In an earlier post, titled Two Essential Questions to Prepare Us for Research, I asked students to respond to our Collaborative Inquiry Question. In trying to analyze those comments, I’m using the same method I have used in previous years: a wordle. I picked 15 random comments and here’s the image I got:

Screen shot 2013-06-01 at 11.13.37 AM

The words that stand out to me are:

Voice, Descriptive, Order, Important, Interesting, Clear, Thesis, Strong

It seems like students understand what makes a piece of writing (in any genre) good. I’m not sure linking personal essays and analytical essays is the best direction to go forward with. In my final research reflection question to students, there is a huge variety of responses. Three responses culled below…

The writer of A clearly did not internalize the process of inquiry. Even though this student doesn’t use the word, the writer of B is talking about grit. The writer of C has the most to say that is interesting to me. The two steps this student talks about require the most thinking. It seems that through these “hard steps” this student put his/her paper together according to what he/she learned and processed. It’s voice the writer of C is talking about. Voice and tone are the core of writing. I’ll go forward with that belief.

A.  It would have been much easier to have a thesis before we started research and I would definitely take that approach to the next paper I have to write.

B. To really learn about your work habits, you need to apply them to a long term project like this research paper. I found that making this observation about who I am and what matters to me is very difficult.

C. The hardest part of the process for me was moving from a topic to a question and a question to a claim, but when I determined my claim the rest of the process fell into place. This step was hard but very rewarding. Once I determined my Question it was a lot easier to direct my research, and once I determined my topic it was a lot easier to organize my paper and the research I had done into subtopics. I think this is a really important phase of the process and it shouldn’t be rushed through.

Professional Development 2013

Summary of Professional and Re-certification Steps:
Professional Development 2013

Professional Reading:
By far the best book on education I read this year was How Children Succeed by Paul Tough. It introduced me to a psychologist named Angela Duckworth who studies Grit as a means to success. A.D.’s TEDtalk #1. A.D.’s TEDtalk #2. I developed a grit survey for  my students right before they started the research project. My idea was to alert them to the types of non-intellectual skills they would need to be successful and to give us vocabulary when a step wasn’t going as they expected. It allowed me to say, “Right now, you need to be grittier in your approach.” Not sure they liked this response, but maybe if I started with the grit survey earlier in the year, they would internalize the ideas more.

AT’s Grit Survey
Angela Duckworth’s Grit Quiz (thanks, Alice Barr)

Research Project Metacognition

Metacognition is reflection and thinking about your own thinking and learning. You can write anything you like in this post. Here are some ideas to get you started:
Consider where you started in this project and what you’ve achieved.
Consider how the work we’ve done this year has been connected to this project.
If you ran into difficulties, try to figure out why and how you might navigate those situations in future projects.
Evaluate the depth of your thinking.
If we started a research project tomorrow, what would be your approach?
What did the discussion with your classmates help you realize?

Two Essential Questions to Prepare Us for Research

Considering the work you’ve just finished with your analytical essay about Fahrenheit 451, answer the two questions. The goal is to take our learning forward and apply it to the next essay which you will undertake more independently. Please respond in a comment.

1. It is my belief that if you can fix grammatical errors in glossing then you can fix them in your own writing before you turn in the final draft (especially when we take some class time to do it). How can we improve this quality so that the essays you turn in have fewer than two grammatical errors per page?

2. Comment on the quality of your analysis. Please spend some time reading my comments. What have you learned about the process? What will you do differently or more proactively in your research paper?

Thanks for your careful and thoughtful responses.

An Essential Writing Question

One of the skills I aimed (from a teacher’s perspective) to work on this year was bridging the gap between writing genres with students. With analytical essays in the past, it sometimes feels as if students are going through the motions just to get the assignment done. I want students to voice their authentic learning and opinions in their analytical writing as well as in personal essays. I want you to consider audience and purpose in your style, structure, and word choice in all types of writing.  Consider the following slides. They were the notes you collaboratively generated when I asked you to consider the differences between  types of writing.

IMG_1438 IMG_1439 IMG_1441 IMG_1448 IMG_1447

As we’re about to embark upon the research project, I’m interested in your response to this question:

Where do personal writing and analytical writing intersect, and how can you include qualities of personal writing to make your analytical writing sharper, more original, and engaging to read? When I asked you to consider these types of writing at the beginning of the year, we were looking at differences. Now I’m asking to think about intersections. What have you learned about personal writing (narrative & descriptive essays) that can help you write a more powerful analytical essay? Your honest and open comments are appreciated!

Our Progress as Analytical Writers

Look at the analytical pieces you have written this year. Consider the work we have done to craft paragraphs that are structured yet original. Where are you in this work? Do you see improvements in your writing? Do you understand qualities that you didn’t understand earlier this year? Have you acquired new skills? Post a comment that responds to any of the questions.