Now that the new year has started, I thought I would write a short post about the units I’m starting with my juniors and seniors next week.
My junior classes will begin Ernest Hemingway’s The Old Man and the Sea on Wednesday and my senior classes will start Beowulfon the same day. (In addition, my Composition class will begin brainstorming ideas for their I-Search papers on the same day, while my Novels classes begin their independent reading books.)
These lit units are the first ones of the school year for both grades. Last fall, we wrote memoirs, poetry, short story analysis essays, and a variety of pieces for Writer’s Workshop. We also wrote poetry and entered writing contests, such as the Scholastic Art and Writing Awards.
Of course, we also read. Between nonfiction articles for Article of the Week assignments and various books we “tasted” on First Chapter Fridays, we did expose ourselves to new reading. Still, in-depth and extended study of selected literature was not on the menu.
I’m excited to experience these literature studies with my students. I’ve read The Old Man and the Sea before, but not Beowulf. And to be honest, I’m a little embarrassed that I haven’t read this foundational text before. In fact, I’m not sure how I missed reading it until now.
I’m fairly well prepared to get started with these new units, but at the same time, I know that teaching them will be challenging and probably dominate my planning time.
It’s quite a handful to create daily lessons for two new texts. Compound that with the fact that at my small rural high school, I’m the only English teacher for juniors and seniors. That has its positives (I have autonomy and choice when planning), but it also has its negatives. For example, while I do have a general curriculum to follow, I do not have unit specific materials beyond the textbooks and novels.
As such, I’ll be creating and designing lessons as I go. Thank goodness for ready-made unit plans, which provide me a basic framework that I can tweak and adjust for the future.
I’ll update you on how these new units progress in some future posts.
Thanks for reading again this week! What are you gearing up for now that the holidays are over? Feel free to leave a comment and follow my blog to catch those follow-up posts.
This student-written essay illustrates transition ideas
A few weeks ago, I wrote a post about how the nonfiction author James Swanson’ transitions from paragraph and from chapter to chapter in his nonfiction narrative Chasing Lincoln’s Killer. The post discussed transitions words (such as therefore, however, in contrast, nonetheless, and others) that we all know and love and teach. However, the post also discussed a more subtle form of transition… transition ideas. Read that post here.
Below, I’ve shown a student-written example of the same primary technique, repetition, that Swanson used to carry the reader from one paragraph of her text to the next.
This student’s term that she chose to guide the reader through her essay was “moving on.” In the photo below, I’ve underlined the five times that the writer repeated the words “moving on” or “move on.”
The student told me that she didn’t realize she was using repetition to create her transition ideas. Once I called her attention to it, however, she could see how using those words could help a reader navigate her argument’s reasoning and follow her ideas from one paragraph to the next.
We also discussed how repetition can backfire because it’s possible to overuse words and phrases in a piece of writing.
How to tell the difference?
It’s often a judgment call… a judgment call that requires lots of reading and re-reading (especially aloud!) to determine whether the repetition connects ideas and builds the argument, forming a continuous thread through the piece or merely distracts the reader, pulling them away from the argument.
It’s fun to see students making effective moves in their writing, especially when it comes to writing transitions and working hard to make their ideas carry through a piece smoothly, seamlessly, and unobtrusively.
I’ll have a few more examples to show you in a future post or two. Become a follower to catch that post!
Thanks for reading! How do you teach transitions? It’s one of the more challenging aspects of the craft. Feel free to leave a comment with your experiences and thoughts on the subject.
Be careful: the church’s Youth for Human Rights lessons are now available online.
A lot can happen in two years.
Two years ago, I wrote on Medium.com about a variety of educational materials offered by Youth for Human Rights International, a Los Angeles, Calif.-based human rights advocacy group. Back then, after doing some quick online research, I discovered that Youth for Human Rights International is actually a front organization of the Church of Scientology.
Recently, I checked back on the Youth for Human Rights website to see if it was still there, and if so, I wondered if it still offered the same materials and other propaganda extolling the virtues of the organization and its questionable humanitarian work.
What did I find?
A full online course. An app. A teacher dashboard so teachers can monitor student progress in the course.
Instead of sending away for the printed materials I wrote about two years ago, teachers can now instantly open an account, register as a teacher, and enroll their students to deliver human rights content from the Church of Scientology.
And don’t order the printed materials either.
Despite lots of United Nations name-dropping, the Church of Scientology has no business proclaiming itself as a human rights leader.
After all, there are several human rights that the Church of Scientology policies violate, which discredit its claim of being a leader in the field. I’m not an expert on the Church of Scientology, but if one reads even a moderate amount on this so-called religion, you’ll discover many questionable, unethical activities.
For now, here are three that I’m aware of: 1) the cult’s Rehabilitation Project Force, a forced-labor camp where cult followers are imprisoned to perform hard labor to compensate for violations they have allegedly committed; 2) the cult’s disconnection policy, which requires followers to separate themselves from friends and family members who criticize the Church of Scientology, and 3) the documented charges of physical violence and assault by David Miscavige, the church’s “ecclesiastical leader,” and other higher-ups.
Teachers beware: The Church of Scientology doesn’t make it obvious that it’s the force behind Youth for Human Rights International. Visit the YHRI website and you’ll find no connection to Scientology; however, visit Scientology.org and you’ll find numerous mentions of YHRI, its partner front United for Human Rights, and a heavy dose of grandiose language extolling the progress being made globally to advance human rights.
To be honest, human rights violations or not, when a cult is making inroads into American schools – even to promote an innocuous and noble cause – it’s unacceptable and dangerous.
In addition, providing a way for students to sign up for a Church of Scientology online human rights course is even more disturbing.
Despite negative publicity accrued over a few seasons of Scientology and The Aftermath, the Church of Scientology and its myriad front organizations are still operating.
The Church of Scientology’s attempts – including its new online course – to provide a curriculum to schools and to sign up students online is underhanded and dishonest… not qualities I would expect from an organization supposedly dedicated to the advancement of human rights around the world.
I keep tabs on the Church of Scientology and how it attempts to connect with classrooms. Thanks for reading again this week. And please let me know via email (firstname.lastname@example.org) if you are ever contacted by the Church of Scientology or its front organizations. I still receive emails from their offices regularly regarding their human rights curriculum.
I wrote the post below the week after the cathedral fire last spring; it pays tribute to the children’s book, Madeline, by Ludwig Bemelmans. By the way, I still have not located the copy of the book mentioned in the post. Darn.
Thanks for reading! If you’re a Madeline fan, please leave a comment!
The classic children’s book caused me to feel and understand the tragedy of the fire when I wouldn’t have otherwise
Photo: Ldorfman; Ldorfman [CC BY-SA 3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)%5D I don’t possess any personal connection to the Cathedral of Notre Dame in Paris. I’ve never even been to the City of Light. I don’t have a selfie to post or a brochure or keychain from the grand gothic masterpiece that was nearly destroyed by fire last week.
At least, the book supposed to be here. I vaguely remember stowing it away in a box several years back in the attic for safe-keeping with other beloved and well-worn children’s books my daughter and son read with me in recliners and on couches some twenty years ago.
Last summer, my husband and I moved to a new city. Since we had learned about our upcoming move way back in January, I began searching for a new position about a month later. The local school district in our new hometown didn’t have any positions available. As a result, I decided to explore the many small rural school districts in the surrounding area.
One of the very first openings I noticed was at a school district about forty minutes away from our new home. I noticed the listing and checked out the school’s website. It looked like a promising possibility, but the forty-minute commute gave me pause. Still, I made a mental note to keep it in mind as I continued my search.
A couple more openings soon showed up in other schools. One was about thirty minutes away. Another was a tempting fifteen minutes away. Of course, a few more with forty-minute commutes similar to that first listing popped up in my search results as well.
I continued to prepare my resumé, samples of student work, and other materials that I knew I’d need when I would eventually start interviewing. And just about everyday, I logged on the job search website provided by my state’s department of education and looked for openings in the area.
One day about two weeks later, the listing at that first school I noticed was flagged as being recently revised. Hmmm… I wonder what’s changed, I thought.
I clicked the listing. A significant change had been made: the district’s school board had, a few days earlier, approved a four-day week for the 2019-2020 school year.
The four-day week is a relatively new concept that more than 500 districts across the country are exploring. Small schools, especially those in rural areas, can reduce operating costs and, in lieu of higher salaries, better attract and retain teachers by offering a shorter work week instead.
Well, that definitely changes things, I thought.
Without looking further on the site, I quickly assembled a resumé and emailed it to the school’s principal. Within a week, I had an interview scheduled. About an hour after my interview, I received an offer, which I accepted the next morning.
That four-day week stopped my search cold. Yes, it would mean school days that run about thirty minutes longer, but it would also mean one fewer day of making that forty-minute drive each way, which was the main drawback for me since I was transferring from another rural district with a comparable salary schedule. And now, with the prospect of a four-day week, saving time and gas were just the beginning.
After all, what teacher doesn’t fantasize about what an entire extra day each week would mean fortheir life?
That extra day means I can schedule a doctor or dental appointment without taking time off from work (and, by the way, costing the school the wages for a sub).
It means I can do my grocery shopping on a quiet Monday morning instead of a hectic Saturday afternoon when everyone else is roaming the aisles, too.
It means I can hang around the house and redo that cabinet I’ve been needing to paint, but just haven’t found the three or four solid hour it requires.
It means I can burn a pile of leaves if I feel like it.
Or bake a loaf of bread.
Or read a book.
Or write a blog post.
Or yes, even do some grading and lesson planning. (Yeah, it happens.)
And think about what an extra day means to younger teachers with small children. That’s one fewer day of childcare to pay for and one more precious day to spend with their infant or preschooler. As a mother (my kids are grown now), that extra day would have meant the world to me.
And mind you, I don’t have every Monday off at my new school. Of about forty Mondays in the school year, twenty-two are actual “no school” days where both students and teachers stay home. On the remaining sixteen Mondays, only teachers attend school to plan and take part in professional development (PD) activities, such as first aid workshops, a suicide prevention session, and technology training.
Fortunately, my district doesn’t pack these Mondays with PD sessions; I usually have four to five hours of time to spend in my classroom preparing for the weeks ahead. I accomplish so much on those days completing work that I would normally just take home in a bag anyway.
I love the four-day week my new school district voted to adopt last spring. The district plans to evaluate the change next semester to learn how it’s working for students, parents, and school personnel. Everyone’s needs must be considered, for sure, but we must remember that educating students must remain the number one priority.
For me, however, the four-day week means my weekends are long, luxurious, and wonderfully rejuvenating. Yes, I could earn more in a larger, better resourced suburban district closer to my home, but my smaller paycheck is more than offset by that one glorious extra day.
Thanks for reading! Have you heard of any districts in your area considering the switch to a four-day week? What are your thoughts? Let me know with a comment. And don’t forget to become a follower for more ELA posts. Here’s a link to a recent post.
I still use this assignment on a weekly basis, but I’ve added narrative writing to the mix by assigning what I call Essays of the Week (EOWs) every other week. These narrative assignments use prompts provided by The New York Times Learning Network. I select a grouping of prompts from the list and let students choose one to respond to.
Here are some photos of the rubric portions of my AOWs and EOWs. Feel free to comment, ask a question, or share this post.
I usually assign a new AOW or EOW on the first day of the week with a hard copy due one week later. AOWs usually take a little more time to go over. For example, after a bell-ringer activity and a mini-lesson that addresses a specific skill required in the rubric (such as using semicolons), these take the better part of the class period when we complete these steps:
introducing the assignment
going over the rubric and its specific requirements
discussing the writing prompt
reading the article aloud
watching any related video on the news story
EOWs don’t take as much class time, since there’s no article to read. We might go through each prompt choice, however, and do some discussion to help students come up with writing ideas.
Let me know how these rubrics work for you.
My adaptation of Kelly Gallagher’s AOW is a mainstay in my teaching. The AOWs build nonfiction reading skills, improve writing stamina, and increase students’ prior knowledge of the world around them. My EOW simply adds variety to our routine while giving them opportunities to write narratives.
Thanks for reading again this week! I appreciate any and all comments. In fact, this post was created in response to a comment posted just last week about this article.
The Write Now! High School Writing Conference at Missouri State University
Shaun Tomson explains his metaphorical “I Will” statement, “I will always paddle back out.”
Here are some quick photos of the high school writing conference hosted by the Missouri State Center for Writing in College, Career and Community. I took these just a few minutes ago during the 2019 Opening Session. World champion South African surfer Shaun Tomson spoke about the power of “I Will” statements, part of his Surfer’s Code, an empowering personal creed that he challenged each student in attendance to write and apply to their own lives.
A student in the audience shouts out his “I Will” code.
Near the end of the session, Tomson asked students to share their “I Will” statements via a texting poll and from their seats in the auditorium inside Plaster Student Union.
I attended the conference with these four fantastic students from my school. They each attended two different creative writing sessions. I am very proud of these girls for taking a chance and attending this conference to grow their writing skills.
I’ll be writing another post about this conference and the specific sessions offered in a future post. I’ll also write about getting to see some former students who met me for a quick photo and catch-up session in the aisle.
In the meantime, the conference is actually just getting started. After lunch, students will attend another session, and then we’ll head back home.
Thanks for reading! Become a follower for more teaching resources and reflection.