Friday, January 13, 2017

Celebrating MLK's rhetorical significance

Photo by Madelina James
In celebration of Martin Luther King, Jr., I put together some resources for ELA teachers to help students appreciate the language Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

First his "I Have a Dream" speech is significant for many reasons, but it's also worthwhile to appreciate the elegance of the words themselves. It's one thing to say that the speech is powerful, but it's another to identify reasons that account for that power. That's what this lesson is meant to do (link to the PDF).

I also want my students to understand that "Letter from Birmingham Jail" is an important document historically, of course, but also rhetorically. It's one of the best written documents in American history. Here's a doc I put together that explains a few reasons why.

Sunday, August 28, 2016

Ideas for starting your classes

Bulldogs Read by me
How do you start each class? In my last post I talked about ways to start the school year, but what about every day after that? The first few minutes set the tone for how the rest of the session goes. Some of the teachers I know have an opening quote on the board that the students respond to as soon as they walk in the door. After 10 minutes they invite students to share their responses; otherwise, move on to the day's lessons. Activities like this and the ones below allow teachers time to do attendance, touch base with students, etc. while still giving students a meaningful task. Here are ways I begin my classes.


When possible greet the students at the door. I can't always be at the door when they arrive, but when I am, I always welcome them to the day's class. I do this because I'm genuinely happy to see them.

Silent reading or writing

This year the AP English Language students will read from a nonfiction book of their choice for the first 10-15 minutes of class. The goal of this assignment is to complete at least one nonfiction book a semester. That allows a slower reader to choose a long book and time enough to complete it. If students finish a book, they move on to another. 

Students share the load

Why should teachers have to do all the work? Once the class has completed some preliminary discussions about writing style, I have students do some of the work of beginning the day. At least once a quarter students are responsible for choosing a passage from their free-reading book to share with the class. Here's a link to the assignment that I collaborated on with my colleague Bryan Jeffreys. Even if you don't have students choose a passage from their reading, I've seen variations of this activity where students choose some inspirational words, read them to the class, and then read aloud their reflection on why they personally consider that quote inspirational.

It's been said that we never get a second chance to make a first impression. The same can be said for each class we teach.

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

First day activities to start the new school year

We all want to start school off on the right foot. If you're an English Language Arts teacher here are are some ideas my English department colleagues and I came up with.
My 2016-17 advisory group by me
  • Read a favorite poem of yours, ask the students to write a response, and then share your own. My colleague Linda Simpson starts with "Being a Person" or "Just Thinking" by William Stafford.
  • My colleague Matt Vanderlaan has people Interview a partner and compose a feature like Time Magazine's 10 Questions. Here's a link to my multimedia profile assignment that I adapted from Matt's original idea.
  • In another class I have students write about what their teacher should know about them as readers and writers (see below).

My Reading History assignment

Reading is one of the most valuable things we do. As we work to develop our skills, it is helpful to understand how our attitudes have been formed. Please write a letter to your teacher about your history as a reader. Include answers to as many of the following questions as you can in your letter/personal history.

  • Favorite childhood/bedtimes stories (who read to you?) Describe. 
  • What are some of your earliest book memories? Anything funny happen?
  • Who in your home read? Parents? Older brothers/sisters? grandparents?
  • What magazines or books were in your home?
  • Who read to you in pre-school or the library? What books were your favorites?
  • What were your favorite TV shows as a child? Describe. Can you remember any favorite commercials or jingles?
  • What teacher/s taught you to read in school? Describe how they taught you. What did teachers read to you? Which books were your favorites?
  • Did you enjoy reading in school? Did you enjoy reading aloud in class?
  • In Junior High Did you read more or less frequently? Explain. Did your friends read? Did this make a difference to you?
  • Best book you’ve ever read and what made it the best
  • Worst book you’ve ever read and what made it the worst
  • Magazines or newspapers you look at regularly
  • Where and when you enjoy reading most
  • What book you are reading at the present time?
  • What books are you considering reading next?
  • If you buy books and keep them, where do you keep them?
  • How do you feel about reading in general?

Thursday, March 17, 2016

Student Reporting Labs and my students work

If I've learned one thing in the decades I've been a teacher, it's that our students have powerful voices that need to be heard. Given the public discourse that's happening these days, it's more important than ever that our students have a say. The PBS NewsHour Student Reporting Labs provides a platform to accomplish these goals, with programs for teachers as well as students. Below are some of the resources from today's presentation at UCET 2016.

Programs for students and teachers

A great opportunity for your aspiring journalists is the all-expense paid, week-long SRL Academy each summer in Washington D.C. Although the application deadline for this year's Academy has passed, look for applications next winter. Judge student Alex Maxwell participated in this program in the summer of 2015. Also keep an eye out for the SRL Apprenticeship Program, which Judge student Mary Oliver will be attending this summer.
2015-16 Student Reporting Labs at Judge Memorial

I highly recommend the Summer Teacher Boot Camp in Washington DC, which I attended in 2014. Teachers can apply for that in the spring of each year.

Student videos

This past fall, the Outside the Box series looked at how preconcieved notions of gender and affect the lives of middle and high school students. My students contribution - Let's Dance

In the fall of 2014, Student Reporting Labs from around the country produced stories of teens who make a difference in their community. This feature by students at Judge Memorial, Serving Those who have Served, was featured on the 2014 Christmas Day PBS NewsHour show.

Last spring another SRL school was a Winner of White House Film Festival; my students video received an Honorable Mention in that same contest.

Thursday, March 03, 2016

How will you incorporate the 2016 U.S. elections in your teaching?

American flag by Delaney Barnett
How will you incorporate the 2016 elections into your curriculum?

I'm putting together resources around the 2016 election, like I did for the 2012 elections. This fall the books I'll teach are Julius Caesar, 1984 and Unspun: Finding Facts in a World of Disinformation. Although Unspun was written about ten years ago, the concepts are still relevant today. For example this year I had students update Unspun with examples from 2015. Here's a link to the assignment.

As far as social annotation goes, my students will participate in "annotatathons" hosted by like these great speeches by previous American presidents. We'll also analyze the rhetoric of great American documents like the Declaration of Independence. Finally a project that I'm involved in is the Letters to the Next President 2.0 initiative sponsored by the National Writing Project and others.

That's what I've got so far. I'd like to see what others are thinking.

Thursday, October 29, 2015

Talking about the future of journalism

My student, Alex, and I on Utah Conversations. Link to show.
I recently appeared on Utah Conversations on KUED, and much of this episode of the show centered on the future of journalism. My class is a PBS NewsHour Student Reporting Lab, one of about 100 around the U.S., and my student Alex was fortunate enough to be a fellow this summer with them in Washington D.C. Some of the things the seasoned journalist, Ted Capener, was curious about was whether students have changed over the past few decades and how today's youth use media.

Saturday, July 04, 2015

Motivation and online discussion forums

A lot of teachers have their students use online discussions in their classes. Whether you use a closed blog that's only for members of your class or whether you have a more open structure where your students communicate with students around the world, you've probably come across motivation issues.
Pages & Bits by me

One thing I noticed a while back is that when my students received a lot of unsolicited feedback from students at other schools, they were initially excited with the sheer volume of responses. I would overhear conversations like this:

Student 1: "I got 12 comments on my post."
Student 2: "I got 15"
Student 3: "I heard Larry got 22."

These comparisons would go on until the students started reading the comments. Once they critically examined the comments they received, the conversation then focused on the quality of those comments. I recently published a study in the Journal of Educational Computing Research that examines the relationship between motivation and the quantity and quality of comments my high school students received on their Youth Voices discussions. I looked at motivation through the lens of Self-Determination Theory, specifically how comments affected students' sense of relatedness, perceived competence, interest, and value.

I found that while the quantity of comments received was related to two motivational factors, the quality of the comments was related to all four motivational comments. As a teacher what I've learned in practice and through this research study is that I think it's best when my own students comment at least twice as often as the actual posts they write. And more importantly, I've learned that teachers need to be clear in their conversations with students about what makes good comments. Some traits my students mentioned most frequently: the commenter took the time to understood the writer's perspective, the commenter took the writing seriously and was viewed as competent, the comment addressed specific aspects of the post, and the comment extended/added to/challenged the writer's thinking.