Saturday, January 31, 2015

Rhetoric in the Media

The Rhetoric of Project Based Assessment 
I love teaching rhetoric....said every English teacher ever.
For the past five years I have taught a rhetoric unit to my 11th graders: Animal Farm, "Modest Proposal", articles, irony, parody, rhetorical triangle, logos, ethos, pathos, and logical fallacy. The final assessments were student created modest proposals and a campaign for an Animal Farm character.  I love the unit but have been meet with spotty success. The idea of rhetoric always seems foreign and abstract to the students so their ability to evaluate it or use it purposefully seemed shallow. And so much has change in the last five years with the growth of digital rhetoric - something my students are bombarded with. We can't really talk about or teach rhetoric now without discussing how it's used in digital spaces.

as a warm-up I have the students
explain this meme to each other 
So. this year I had to make a change. Inspired by this amazing blog and his lessons on teaching rhetoric with Animal Farm, I decided to change it up and I am so happy I did.

Using his lesson outline, I gave students notes as I normally would on rhetoric and then we used his analysis chart to complete an analysis of a Chevy commercial that makes me want to die every time I see it (they play it about once every 5 minutes here). I then had students work in groups to complete the analysis outline sheet described on the blog. From there we completed an analysis of Old Major's speech.

I kept going. I developed a final performance assessment where I took 15 modern campaigns that focused on politics, products, and hot topics (everything from #blacklivesmatter to Obama '08 to Dove: True Beauty) . I put the students in groups and had them complete an analysis of the campaign. They had to research the history, complete a written analysis of multiple campaign samples and present their findings to the class in regards to the rhetorical effectiveness of the campaign.  You can find my instructions here and rubric here.

The presentations took three days and the group's final products where varied. Some of the best ones where organized, rehearsed, and accurate. The members all knew the background of the campaign and could CLEARLY describe logos, ethos, pathos, and logical fallacies. Even thought this was group work, it was painfully clear which students didn't do their part or really understand the concepts. Here are a few of the better prezis ( Nike: Find Your Greatness and #aerieREAL ).

One of the worst presentations ended not with
 the group stating their thesis, but with them playing
a Nicki Minaj video. Ughhhhhhhh...
Reflecting on the project, I realize that I need to have all the students research and write something on the background of their campaigns before getting into groups. What I noticed was how some groups were lost because they didn't understand the context of the rhetoric. For example, if you don't understand the state of the country after two terms of G.W. Bush, you won't understand what Obama's 2008 campaign was trying to achieve.

Next year, I want to expand this assignment into a formal marking period long project based assessment where the groups will have to create their own social media campaign based on causes they support and analyze their own use of effective rhetoric.

In the end, I always have to ask myself: is it rigorous and is it relevant ?
I think the changes I made in my rhetoric unit are both; )

How do you teach rhetoric? I would love some new ideas and mentor texts.

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Count Down Poems

My English department loves spoken word poetry.
We have a thriving creative writing and poetry program as well as a writer's tea and coffee house to celebrate student writing.
Before you take this a shameless bragging you should know that my school is not some well off preparatory academy bustling with aspiring writers and visionaries (though I am sure we have a few walking these halls). We are a racially diverse school full of middle to lower class families, many of whom rarely leave the confines of southern New Jersey or a high school diploma.
Our creative writing community was built from the ground up - mostly by our amazing English department. We identified the writers, promoted the electives, ran the after school opportunities, and our lit coach even organized a visit from Sarah Kay and Phil Kaye as part of  Project Voice. 

Bringing spoken word poetry into your classroom can be scary. Many of the poets write about issues that you or your students might feel uncomfortable with. Modeling the poems as mentor text can be risky business because it opens the door for students to share aspects of their lives that you may not be ready to see. Frankly, you might just want to keep that door closed.
As the teacher, you have to make that call, but I can promise you that using spoken word in any form might be just what you and your classroom need.

The Count Down Poem as Mentor Text 

The Context: I do this activity in Creative Writing during a poetry unit but it has also worked in the 12th grade English story telling unit (poetry as a means of telling a story).

The Activity: I always start with lists to get ideas going. On this particular day I had them write a list of people who have impacted their lives in a big way (positively or negatively). I show the students spoken word poems (I have them read the poem before we watch it). Then I ask the students what they notice, lines they loved or that confused them. I annotate the poem on the board during this time, gently guiding them towards the skills I want them to attempt.

                                                                     Full Text here 

The Count Down Poem: I want the students to mimic the count down structure in poetry as well as play around with repetition. We discussed and annotated these aspects of the text already so they have a starting point. From there I have them select a topic on their warm-up list and use the count down structure to write a poem about it. As always, I model and we share our best lines.

Other great count down poems you could use: Michael Lee, "Pass It On" , Rudy Francisco, "Scars/The The New Boyfriend", Guante, "Reach".

Monday, January 5, 2015

Meals in a Jar:Breakfast style

It may be common practice for most teachers, but during the day I never get time to do fancy things like eat or go to the bathroom. We run on a 8 period bell schedule with lunches running from 4th-7th period. As a teacher, depending on your schedule, you could be eating lunch anytime between 10:30 a.m. and 12:45 p.m.
For the past three years I have had 7th period lunch, which normally wouldn't be a issue, but I eat breakfast at 6:30 a.m. on the way to work. I go without food for over 6 hours which means that around the end of 4th period I am about ready to rip a kid's head off because I am so hungry.

To combat this issue and keep my job, I have to eat a mega-breakfast. I am talking epic, hard, hold me down for hours like I was running a marathon kind of breakfast. It also cannot have too much liquid in it because I don't get a potty break for about 4 hours (awesome!).

These meals in a jar have been all over pintrest so I decided to give them a go and report back.

Breakfast: Overnight Oatmeal 

1/4 quick oats
2 tsp of chia seeds <-- don't skip these
1/3 cup vanilla Greek yogurt
1/4 cup milk
Splash of vanilla extract
some almonds
Bunches of chopped up fruit

Full time: 5 hours (success !)
I am in love with the overnight oatmeal. I made 3 at a time which took me about 10 minutes and saved them in the fridge for the mornings. I was pretty content until the end of 6th period and did not rip a child's head off so that means a win for me (and my students).

If anyone else has ideas for mega-breakfast, please share in comments.

Saturday, January 3, 2015

Back From Break

Portfolios and Writing Workshop

I am a creative writing graduate student at Rowan University.yet narrative writing is not my cup of tea. I know that I can knock your socks off with a 50 page analysis paper or scathing editorial, but I also know I would bore you to tears with my long winded meandering melodramatic plot lines.
So it makes perfect sense that I would then sign up to take Writing the Novel as my summer course. 
The three weeks between the moment I signed up for the class and actually walking in on the first day I was plagued with tidal waves of self-doubt. 
I even had a nightmares about walking into a room full of aspiring Steven Kings and Maya Angelous, all of whom would laugh openly when I read lines of my novel out loud. 
However, on that first night of class, heart pounding, palms sweating up the edges of my notebook, I learned that I would be assessed on a final portfolio and not just my final draft.
I felt the weight of my own self-doubt float away. 
I knew I could research, brainstorm, reflect, and edit like a pro so there was no need to fear. I could have the best/worst novel possible and still get an A in the class. 
And then it hit me: why don't I use portfolios like this in my classes?

Currently my district's English curriculum mandates that we give one test weighted writing assignment a marking period. Normally the nature of this assignment is dictated to us (something I am not particularly pleased with). The students know it's coming and they dread it. They wait for the topic sheets and graphic organizers, pages of teacher comments in red ink on their one rough draft, and a final draft that bores you to tears. 
The writing is weak, lifeless, and banal. 

But why? Can't we do better? 
Can't we make them think about their choices and not just hand it to them in a neat little graphic organizer. Yell out: Here, students, a worksheet with some boxes, fill it in. Here, students, your rough draft with comments you won't look at anyway. Here students, get all stressed out about this final draft that is just as terrible as your first. 

So this year I took the leap. I switched all of my writing assignments to portfolio assessments. I am two marking periods in and looking back, I know I made the right choice. It has been a hard transition for the students who are so used to having the teacher think for them. I am often met with some cranky customers who don't want to hear me say "I don't know. What do you think?" one more time. 
I know there are whole books dedicated to the topic of portfolios in the secondary classroom. However, I still want to share my plans and maybe they can help you take that one fearless jump to portfolio assessment. 

Writing Portfolios To Save the Day

The context: I used this in my Western Studies class - a double period class of honors level 11th graders. I team teach this 46 student class with a history teacher. I also used this in my 12th grade Accelerated level class and Creative Writing class. Creative writing is comprised of mostly 11th and 12 grade students from lower level English classes. 

Day 1: Introduction I show my students this youtube video on the creative process.  It's a useful video because it moves quickly, shows the portfolio process, and is created by a real person who writes for a living.  From that point, we talked about what students normally do during their writing process that contrasts what the video described. Normally the students say the same types of things I already mentioned: no topic choice, cut and paste outline, one draft, and little edits before final draft.
At this point, I break out the assignment sheet that I linked above and we go over the different aspects of the portfolio. I also pass around a sample portfolio that gives the students something tangible to look at while we review the instructions. 

Day 2: Topic intro and Idea generation - I give the students the topic. Often I don't get much say in this as it is outlined in my curriculum, but sometimes I do get some wiggle room. I like to show students youtube clips, images, art work, news paper articles or any other concrete material to help them get a better grasp of the topic. If I have a completed paper on the same topic we might review that as a class. We will discuss ideas related to the topic and take notes. I consider this day to be a time for students to get their feet firmly planted on the topic - if the ground work is shaky, they are going to fall before the paper even gets going. 

Day 3 Outlining - I firmly believe that graphic organizers come from the devil. Teachers were flooded with these things over the years and all they have taught our students how to do is fill in boxes. They don't understand how or why to structure their writing in any particular way or even how to group their ideas if there is no boxes to guide them. I normally start by asking the students to free-write on the topic for five minutes and share their ideas with a partner. From there we underline and star good ideas and then we share as a class. After that, we discuss different ways to brainstorm that information - some students opt for a web while other set up their pages in columns. At the end of the period I have the students write a short reflection on their choices. (I have a format for reflections which I will link at the bottom of this post). Outline will be due the next day 

Day 4: Group time with outline - I set the students up in groups of 4 and they swap outlines. I give them a guided comment sheet to complete (linked at the bottom). At the end of the period, we discuss some outlines that worked and why that might have been. Homework is to use outline to write the intro in their note books. 

Days 4-6  Writing Workshop - Here I focus on only 2 or 3 skills I want the students to master during this writing assignment. For example, I just finished an analysis essay portfolio unit with my 12th graders and I focused on topic sentences (ahhhhhh, why don't they get these right!!!!), transitions, and embedding quotes. Each day I introduced the skill and showed an example for 10 minutes and the rest of the period the students completed a writing activity in their note books connected to their topic using the skill. I would conference with students during this time and they would help each other. It is important to mention to them that workshop writing is part of the writing process and should appear in their portfolios. Sometimes I will get students who think they can opt out of workshop time to gaze out of the window or at the back of that pretty girl's head.I also want to say that it is very tempting to want to cover 15 skills at the same time, but don't, only focus on covering only these few and do them well. There will be time for MLA format and dangling modifiers - I promise. Homework is to complete rough draft.  

Day 7: Self-Edit day- Students use the self edit sheet (linked at the bottom) to edit their papers. I let them help each other and I will float around and help explain the self-edit directions to them. It is important to stress how the rough draft with their self-edit comments are also part of the drafting process and should be included in their portfolio. Homework is to use edits to fix saved drafts and print out a new 2nd draft. 

Day 8-9; Peer editing - Students can use their new 2nd draft or their first draft to complete peer edits. I normally do something called shepherding as a means of peer editing, but you can do whatever method you like.  Homework: Complete a reflection on peer editing 

Day 10: Writing introduction letter to their portfolio - I give the students really clear instructions on how to set up the portfolio introduction letter and we write it together in class. Homework: Use peer edits to edit your draft for a final draft. 

Day 11: Portfolio Organization day - I let the students use this time to organize their portfolios. We use binders with colored paper to break up the different sections (notes and brainstorming, editing and revising, reflecting, and final draft and I have them complete a final checklist. 

Day 12: Students share their work: I think it is really important to have students swap portfolios, read each others work, see each other's process and participate in a teacher lead discussion about what everyone learned during the unit. 

I like to stress that the only place you hide mistake is in the final draft - all the mistakes along the way are there to teach you something. We take this time to discuss those mistakes. 

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

The War Between Your Students and Poetry

the poetry comes out and the heads drop ! 

When I announce to my classes that we are about to begin a poetry unit, I am almost always greeted with the same symphony of groans and complaints. But why?
Poetry is one of the hardest texts to teach. For a teacher it's like explaining faith or the color blue, you see it, you know it's there and it's beautiful, but struggle to find the right words.
For many English teachers locating the metaphors and deciphering the imagery is easy but for many of our students, its scary uncertain territory, where they feel they are most often going to be wrong.
Close reading strategies are one of the many ways to address these problems with our students, but  today I want to post about the access point - the little crack in the forbidding wall of poetry that will allow your students even the smallest window into the foreign landscape of poetry.

Sensory Swapping 

The context: I got this idea from a talented teacher (where most of my ideas come from) and adapted it to suit my needs. I was in the middle of a war unit with my senior accelerated class. The grouping was an interesting mix of very high functioning AP students who didn't want the rigor of AP their senior year and very low functioning students who had to struggle to stay out of the College Prep track (what we used to call basic English). They were all relatively nice students, but none of them great creative thinkers by any stretch of the imagination.

The texts we covered in the unit: "Why Men Love War", "Guests of the Nation," "Love Note from the Middle East"

The goals: to introduce poetry as another genre that deals with the many complicated aspects of war; to have students form connections between the poetry and other genres that we have been reading; to have students use poetry conventions such as metaphor and imagery in their own writing.

The set up: I had students form one big circle with their desks, all of us facing each other (I feel that this works best with kids who don't want to share their creative writing). All of the students had a pack of poems in front of them and their writer's notebooks.

The activity: I started class with having the students create a list of "things" they consider to be hard. I had them share their lists with each other. Some examples I heard were "picking a college,"  "getting up in the morning," "making enough money," or  "my class" (ha-ha). I explained that one of the main conventions of poetry is its use of sensory details and not clear narrative or sentences to express an idea, emotion, or message.  I then created a list of the five senses on the board with some examples of sensory details from my classroom. I was sure to explain the need for specific details here. We could say the walls are white or we could say the color white of eggs shells. We then all watched a video of actual footage taken in World War I while the students filled the page with every sensory detail they could imagine from these scenes. After that we went around the circle and everyone shared their best detail. I encouraged stealing ideas at this point.
Now here comes the scary part. You see the fear build in their eyes as soon as you give the next instructions so get ready.
What I had them do was take their war imagery from the video and use it to describe one of the "hard things" on the list they started when they walked into class. They could write a poem or complete sentences if they wanted - whatever was most comfortable.
I had to model at this point to quell the panic - something like "Okay, my "hard thing" is dealing with bullies in school so I would write:  "I walked through the hallway minefield, careful the duck below the machine gun insults." They seemed to get the idea pretty quickly.
After about ten minutes, we went around the circle and shared our writing.
I was shocked at the amazing gems of insight I got from this bunch. An activity like this stripped away the confusing and complex nature of poetry and brought it down the the simplicity of the senses. Students were creating insightful and unexpected metaphors by describing concrete images and then swapping them out for an unrelated yet appropriate idea, event, or  message i.e. the hard day as a war.
They surprised themselves and they surprised me.

Now that the access point was open, there was no closing it. I hit them with this video and then we read some Wilfred Owens. We discussed poetry as a form of story telling - a topic for another post - and students formed connections between the sensory details uses and the big thematic ideas of his poem (injustice, loss of innocents, and the cyclical nature of war.)

   I ended with showing them this spoken word poem and we connected the event of falling in love to a war. 

The modification: You could really use sensory swapping as an effective intro to anything - youtube clips of athletes competing in a race and Carpe Diem poetry for example. I teach a double period history and English class so also used this lesson with my co-teacher to intro World War I.

I would love to hear from anyone else out there - what do you use as an access point to poetry? If anyone used sensory swapping, please share your experiences.