Friday, March 27, 2015

Lose the Textbook and Build Student Autonomy

I got rid of my textbook for my one school.  I need to find out if I can for the other school too.  I just didn't find myself using it enough to justify asking students to buy it.  When I taught high school I barely used the book because I had 7 copies (that were falling apart) for classes of up to 32 students.  I'll let you think about the logistics of that for awhile.

Ok.  Crazy right?  Anyways I've gotten used to not using textbooks.  There are times I have used them and liked having the option but in my college writing classroom they are no longer necessary.

So, what have I done instead?  This semester I am getting my students to buy in by giving them A LOT of autonomy in the form of choice.  I've done this by assigning them independent reading projects.

This means they are finding their own mentor texts.  The first one that I developed was focused on opinion writing.  I had them use online sources like Slate, The Atlantic, The New Yorker, The New York Times, and Salon to find essays that took a specific stance on a topic.

I told them they needed to find five different texts all about "pop culture" but I didn't stress if they got a little away from that.  The point was I wanted them to choose articles that interested them.  I didn't worry if they found archived pieces or not.  I wanted them to have variety.

Once they found their articles they had to complete five different tasks that asked them to examine the choices the authors made.  They did one task per article though I could have arranged it any way I wanted or used less samples.  Essentially they looked for things like thesis statements- and their placement, length of essays, use of figurative language, organizational features etc.

In doing so we found that most authors didn't write in a standard five paragraph essay format.  They realized thesis statements always come early in a piece but they don't have to be the last sentence of the first paragraph.  Some, not all, saw figurative language even though they were reading non-fiction.

I think it was quite successful though- next time I will probably pick one essay that I want them all to read and examine before we move into the independent part.

The big take away product at the end was writing a summary and response paper that was 1,000 words long.  This introduced the concepts of summarizing, quoting, and paraphrasing and using MLA citations.  Yet, they didn't have to use multiple sources.  They are still revising these papers as we are doing a portfolio as a final but I have seen drafts from everyone!

If you're interested in using my exact format I've put my handouts up for sale at my store.  Here are some of the pages that are included:

Thanks for reading!  Let me know how it works out!

High Five for Friday

Today I'm linking up with Julie Faulkner of Faulkner's Fast Five to bring you 5 highlights from my month!

March was a great month for me:

1.  I got a lot of subbing in at the local high school.  This will help my budget a lot!

2.  I finally felt like a hit a stride with my blogging as this is the second month in a row that I posted at least 10 times!  I'm loving it, and I hope you are too!  Check out all my March posts HERE.

3.  I attended the 4Cs conference in Tampa, FL.  The 4Cs is the Conference on College Composition and Communication.  I was able to attend focus groups, see great presentations that inspired me, and perhaps most importantly get some sun after a very cold Cleveland winter.

4.  I got called for an interview for a tenure track position!!!  It's a phone interview and just the first step in a long process but I am super jazzed.

5.  I tried a new approach with my students memoir assignment.  They get to choose whether to write a standard memoir, a comic version, or write it in verse form.  They're just getting started to check back to find out how well it went!

Check out all the great posts over at Julie's Blog!

Faulkner's Fast Five

Thanks for reading!  How was your month?  Tell me in the comments below!

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Poll Results: Favorite Literature to Teach

Well guys, the results are in… and To Kill a Mockingbird is the winner!  Really the votes were pretty spread out.  I was surprised that Hamlet and The Great Gatsby didn't get any votes.  I've left the poll open so maybe people will continue to vote.  Who knows.  Personally, my favorite- and I didn't vote, is Of Mice and Men it's short but meaningful.

Thanks for reading! Don't forget to vote in my newest poll about class size!

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Tuesday Poll: What is Your Ideal Class Size?

There is a lot of debate about class sizes and I've taught courses of literally 1 and classes of up to 32… what is your preference?  I'll let you know my thoughts next week!

 Thanks for reading!

Sunday, March 22, 2015

5 YouTube Videos to Use in your Secondary English Classroom

I've discussed on the blog before how I like to incorporate youtube videos to keep my students engaged, to mix up my class, and to give myself a mini break every once in awhile.  Here are 5 that I think are stellar and can be used in almost any high school or college classroom.  Some may be appropriate for middle school but I do advise you to, as is good practice, screen each video in its entirety before showing it!

1.  History of the English Language

I've used this video at many times during a semester but it's probably best being used early on.  This was made for adults so there are clinical terms for genitalia included within it.  Pre-screen for your classes.

2.  Crash Course: How and Why We Read

This video is great for the first week or so of an English class!  And, it's John Green!  Kids love him!

3.  WordCrimes

I use this video right before the first time we peer edit/revise papers.  I ask students to write down a few things that they think they often mess up on!

4. Strongbad Emails #64: English Paper

Homestar runner is an oldie but a goodie.  This is a great video to show when assigning the first essay of a class.  Some students find it more amusing than others- but I love it.

5. Write your story, change history - Brad Meltzer (Ted-ed talk)

This video comes with an attached lesson.  It's a great motivational piece that could be used prior to a memoir or personal narrative unit or just when a class seems in need of a pick me up!

What are your favorite videos to use?

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Thanks for reading!

Friday, March 20, 2015

Warm Weather- Wait, What is That?

I'm from Cleveland.  It is still not warm.  But, with any luck, it will start to warm up soon.  With warm weather comes different issues when teaching.

When I taught middle school the students were extra fidgety.  They'd spent all winter cooped up inside and just wanted to be outside and moving.  When I taught high school attendance became a bit shaky and the students were very distracted by the nice weather outside.  Now, teaching college, I see a bit of both issues.  Even my adults don't want to be inside during the nice weather and attendance suffers.

So, what should you do?

First and most importantly, it's important to KEEP TEACHING.  As soon as you act as if the semester or year is over you will stop getting quality work from your students.  Instruction has to come first.  That said, I try to reexamine my lessons and make sure I'm not getting burnt out and that I'm continuously coming up with engaging lessons for my students.

Secondly, I find ways to incorporate the weather into my lessons.  Poems about spring etc.  At least then they get to talk about it!

Thirdly, I consider whether or not going outside is an option.  This really depends on your school, your class, and your location.  Sometimes it's just good to take a walk around the building once.  But other times I"ll have them bring notebooks and journal or take notes on a lecture I deliver outdoors.  You have to know your class though.  Some classes are even more distracted by being outside.

As the year winds down I come up with ways to include more media and give students a little bit of a break.  I usually have my final assignments due a week before the end of the semester so they can focus on studying for their finals in other classes (since I don't have a "test" final and just have a final writing sample.)  I may even bring in a small treat or something- keeping them on "my side" as the year closes out was very important when I was teaching middle/high school in high needs/high risk areas.  It made the last few weeks much more manageable.

What about you?  What do you do when the sun finally returns in the spring and the students sense the end of the year...

Thanks for reading!

Sunday, March 15, 2015

Substitute Teaching Tips and Tricks: Part 2

I've been getting lots of attention on my first post about Tips and Tricks for Substitute Teachers.  As I've continued to sub I've thought of a few more things to add to the list.  Did you miss part 1?  Check it out here.

1. Leave detailed feedback.
-If a class was really truly perfect then maybe one sentence is fine, but try to note what was going on in the class.  Were there a lot of phones out?  Even if you didn't care it might be good to note because it could be a major rule in that classroom and the teacher may need a reminder to tell subs in the future to not allow it.  Did everyone finish early?  Did no one finish?  Let teachers evaluate the amount of work they leave for their students.

2. Create a business card.
-You can put your name, phone number, and email address on it as well as the days/times you're available to sub.  I encourage teachers to text me ahead of time to see if I'm free and then the secretary is able to put me in specifically for a job.  (Make sure that works with how your sub system is set up.)  I like doing this because I really dislike the 6am phone call.  In fact, because subbing isn't my only source of income I only take pre-planned days.  I need to know before 10pm the night before.

3. Get seen.
-Introduce yourself to the administration.  If you think you want a job in the district then start getting some face and name recognition.  Ask them a question, pay them a compliment, or just say hi.

4. Mingle.
-I've heard mixed comments about going into staff rooms as a new teacher.  However, I think you should.  Make some friends with other staff members during your lunch break.  Find out about the school.  Hand out your business cards and remind them you can sub!  I think this is great marketing for yourself.

5. Be proactive.
-If you see something that needs to be done, do it.  Volunteer for any extra tasks.  Your work ethic will be noticed.  If a teacher didn't specifically ask you to grade something consider if you can.  I usually only do this for multiple choice (i.e. a clear right or wrong answer) and if the answer key was left.  I only mark the ones they got right but don't put any points etc down if I don't know the grading scale.  We all know how busy teachers are, it's nice to help out.

6. Dress to impress.
-Until you're established in a school and know that every Friday is a jeans day plan on over-dressing.  Skip the khakis wear slacks.  Women, be conservative in your dress.  Button downs, blouses, blazers etc.  I think it help sets the tone for students that you are in charge and it shows the staff that you take your job seriously.

I hope this continues to help you have a great experience subbing and helps you get a full time job!

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Thursday, March 12, 2015

Giveaway Time! Test Prep Style!

I have great news!  Julie Faulkner and The Language Arts Classroom have organized a FANTASTIC giveaway!  There are 14 different resources in the bundle that is being given away and it totals in value at over $70! I was lucky enough to be included and have donated my Reading Vocabulary Power Point bundle which is a bundle of power points I used to review key terms with my students before any standardized test!  They can't answer the questions if they don't know the vocab right?  

So here's the deal.  The giveaway is running from March 15th till the 29th of March.  Then, on April 1st the winner will be announced.  To enter you need to visit The Language Arts Classroom blog and follow the instructions there.  Check back here on the 15th for a reminder and more information!

May the odds be ever in your favor!

Increasing Engagement in a College Classroom

A lot of college professors don't come from an education background.  They are incredibly intelligent and knowledgeable about their subject areas but don't know as much about how to help students retain that information.  Elementary, middle, and high school teachers spend a lot of time learning about how to keep students engaged and what types of activities help students truly learn material.  I'm not sure what we let that go when students get to college.

I currently teach at a couple 2-year community colleges.  My students range from high schoolers to individuals old enough to be my parent.  Just like when I taught high school and middle school my students have a variety of learning styles and needs.  Sometimes, in class, I see students zoning out and missing important information that I'm providing.  I think college professors need to do more to help their students succeed, and that means increasing engagement and even some differentiation.

I am not advocating that we do away with all lectures.  Learning to listen, focus, and take notes on just the most important things are crucial skills.  However, I think that needs to be balanced out with other learning opportunities.  Our end game should always be that students know the material- how we get them there shouldn't matter too much.

Here are some of the strategies I use in my college classroom.  So far, I have been met with little to no resistance from the students.  In fact, with several of them I've been told that they're fun, interesting activities or assignments.  Some of what follows is specific to an English classroom but some can be used in many subject areas.

1.  Journal Entries- I have three sets (trying to finish a fourth) that I choose from and post for the first 5 minutes of class every day.

2.  Task Cards- Some I've come up with some I've purchased from other sellers.  I even started making my students move around the room.

3.  YouTube Videos- There are some really creative people out there who have created awesome videos.  It really helps break up my classes.

4.  PowerPoints- These truly help my visual students and keep me focused and on topic.  (I'm guilty of being a rambler, anyone else?)

5.  Background Music- I find instrumental music to be relaxing and calming when students are working quietly.  It also makes me less likely to interrupt.  (I don't do well with silence.)

6.  Greeting the class- Every day I start with asking my class how their lives are going.  It's been proven time and time again that students need to feel valued.  I also share a little about my life.

7.  Exit Tickets- I'll ask students to write the answer to a question down on a slip of paper as they leave so I know if they understood the most recent concept covered.

8.  Pop Quizzes- I rarely announce a quiz.  This helps to encourage students to come to class and to keep up with the readings.  I keep them short, 5 questions typically, so they are easy to grade.

How do you engage your students?  What techniques from your high school classroom could still work in the college classroom?

Thanks for reading!

Saturday, March 7, 2015

Gearing up for April

So in a few weeks it will be April and that's poetry month!  Check out this post I wrote last year to find some great poetry resources:

April is Poetry Month! As an English teacher this is one of my favorite months of the year. Oh, and it’s my birthday month too! Double Win! To kick off the month I thought I’d share with you some of my favorite poetry resources and a few ideas that you may be able to use in your classroom!
First, here are some amazing websites that are great for teachers and students alike.
1. The Poetry Foundation This website is simply put, awesome! They have an extensive collection of classic and modern poetry. You can search by topic, by literary device, or author. They also have audio files to listen to as well as teacher resources. This is definitely a resource that is useful for teachers of all subject matter. You can find poems that relate to a theme or topic from your class whether it is science, social studies, or even math!
Want the rest of the post?  Visit the Cross Curricular Corner!

Friday, March 6, 2015

Results Are In: People use TpT!

Results for last weeks poll are in!  Sorry they are so late.  
Though I didn't get too many results I'm glad to see that most respondents are regular buyers and all use TpT as a resource in their classroom!  

What questions would you like to see in future polls? 

Thanks for reading!