The One Who Formulates the Questions Owns the Learning

A 2012 article in The Boston Globe, showcased a high school classroom with students  brainstorming questions about a piece of literature. In the classroom was Dan Rothstein, co-founder of the Right Question Institute – a nonprofit that promotes the idea that asking good questions is an important life skill. Rothstein was in the classroom to observe the impact of questioning to drive learning, development, creativity, and innovation.

So much of school is for students to answer teacher created questions. Check out a few of the popular question stems presented in the 2018 New York State ELA Exam for 7th graders:

What is the best definition of . . .

What does the description of the setting in paragraph X reveal about  . . .

Which idea best supports a theme of the story?

Which quotation best supports the central idea of the story?

Which idea would be most important to include in a summary of the article?

Which sentence from the article best shows the author’s point of view?

How does paragraph X contribute to the excerpt’s structure?

What does the metaphor mean in the sentence?

But what if we asked students to ask their own questions? How does the ownership of learning change?

As Rothstein argues, “The rigorous process of learning to develop and ask questions offers students the invaluable opportunity to become independent thinkers and self-directed learners.”

Rothstein and Santana have their own Question Formulation Technique (QFT) –  four rules for producing questions:

  1. Ask as many questions as you can.
  2. Do not stop to judge, discuss, edit, or answer any question.
  3. Write down every question exactly as it was asked.
  4. Change any statements into questions.

Before the students begin developing questions, the teacher will design a focus for the questions by theme or topic. Students can formulate questions independently or in groups. Once questions are generated, students can

1. Classify questions as either open-ended or closed-ended

2. Rewrite an open-ended question so it was closed-ended and vice versa

3. Prioritize their top three questions

As Forbes journalist, Steve Denning writes,  “The true goal of education is inspiring students with a lifelong capacity and passion for learning, it is at least as important that students be able to ask the right question as it is to know the right answer.”

The benefits of QFT include increased participation because students are in charge of their learning by asking questions and processing their understanding. Teachers are facilitators. Rothstein and Santana state, “Teachers can use the QFT at different points: to introduce students to a new unit, to assess students’ knowledge to see what they need to understand better, and even to conclude a unit to see how students can, with new knowledge, set a fresh learning agenda for themselves. The technique can be used for all ages.” Before you begin formulating questions for students to answer about the most recent book they read, why not let them develop their own questions and illustrate their thinking about the text.

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An Action Plan for Building a Culture of Readers

I teach college courses on literacy and the one course that all preservice teachers are required to take is Literacy in the Content Areas. You can be working on a Masters in Teaching Physical Education, Art, TESOL, maybe science or math and you are required to take this course. For many of these teachers, the idea of teaching literacy is not at the forefront of their thinking about teaching. In fact, many question if I am asking them to teaching reading in their classes. My answer is always, YES!

Reading is an essential skill necessary across ALL content areas for learning. It is the foundation of all that we do.

This past weekend I read Many Ellis’ Lead with Literacy: A Pirate Leader’s Guide to Developing a Culture of Readers (2018) and Travis Crowder and Todd Nesloney’s Sparks in the Dark: Lessons, Ideas and Strategies to Illuminate the Reading and Writing Lives in All of Us (2018). Both books are published by Dave Burgess Consulting, the famed PIRATE educator and presenter. Ellis’ book showcases how she went about promoting the love of reading in her elementary school by transforming the school culture and building enthusiasm among teachers, students, and parents. Crowder and Nesloney highlight student work and activities that showcase the necessity of reading and writing in all classrooms to promote student voice and critical thinking. Both books are filled with practical, actionable ideas and strategies to embed books, literacy, and the reading into your school.

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Here are a few treasures to promote a love of reading in your own school and or classroom:

  1. Be a Reading Role Model – Take ownership and accountability for embedding literacy in all facets of the school and learning environment by being a lead reader. If you expect to create a culture of readers, talk about books, let teachers and students talk about books, share your love of reading, invest time in allowing students to read in school books of their own choice, celebrate books and readers, and promote a love of reading among teachers, parents, and students.
  2. Share Your Love of Reading – When students walk into your classroom or office the environment should showcase your love of reading. Display what you are currently reading, maintain a reading log, use social media to share your reading life, build a library, and share great books.
  3. Books for All – In addition to time and choice, students have to have access to books. In Mindy’s school there are reading emergency shelves throughout the school for students to pick up a book to read at anytime, even on the way to the bathroom. In her school is a clawfoot tub that is painted in school colors and filled with books for students to dive into what books to read next. Classroom libraries should be robust for students to choose books that capture their interests, questions, and curiosities.
  4. Your Physical Environment Should Mirror Your Mission – Set up a #BookSelfie station for students to snap a picture with the book they are currently reading. Comfy chairs, carpets, and reading nooks allow students to read in a comfortable place. Organize for a service dog to come to school for students to read to on a regular occasion, and set up little free libraries outside of the school by the playground if a student wants to just sit outside and read. Create book backpacks for students to take home over the weekend and share with their families. It is your responsibility to motivate students to read and see reflections of themselves and the diversity of our world in the libraries that are established. There are so many ways to bring that love of reading into your space and school.
  5. Have Fun with Reading – Reading should not be a punishment but a pleasure. Whether that means hosting a doughnuts and pajamas story time or a reading camp out for students, create events that celebrate books and reading. Gifting students birthday books on their birthday or having students share their favorite book on the morning announcements allows students to showcase their own love and fun with books.
  6. Cultivate a Love of Reading Among Teachers and Staff – Mindy shared two activities for PD that I am going to adapt for my students. The first was a Speed Dating PD where teachers had eight questions to discuss in three minute rounds. Questions like: As an educator, what book character are you most like and why? What is one book that has impacted your life? The second activity, Strangers in the Ball Pit is another fun way for staff members to interact with both light hearted and heavy hitting questions. Gallery Walks, flip a book study, and gifting great books to your teachers shows that reading is something that you value. When every teacher is on the same page, the school mission is attainable.

Crowder and Nesloney write, “If our goal is to build our students’ capacity as readers and writers, it is imperative that we participate in the process of reading and writing as well, in everything we do, in every subject we teach . . . the poetry of math, the metaphor of science, the humanity of history, and the literature of language arts combine to create a beautiful experience, all united by literacy.” (pg. 2) It is all of our responsibility to provide our students the educational experiences that empower them. Reading and writing are so important today in all of our classrooms as facts are being altered, silenced, and negated. Students need to be able to read critically and communicate effectively in order to amplify their stories, challenge, question, and inspire the words and information around them.

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#ISTE18 EdTech Start Ups: The Ones to Watch

One of the gems of the ISTE Annual Conference is the EdTech Start Up Pavilion. This year many of the companies in this group were literacy based with free tools teachers can access now. Here are five of my favorites:

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Go Go Brain is an interactive online platform that strengthens seven critical meta-cognition skills: 1. Listening, 2. Following Directions, 3. Self-Control, 4. Focus and Attention, 6. Working Memory, and 7. Visual-Spatial Reasoning. The website offers games for young people to play to build these skills and flex their brain muscles. As I was playing the games, I thought that this might be great for adults too. For the 2018-2019 school year, GoGo Brain is offering complimentary memberships where parents and teachers can enroll for free by visiting the website and use the code: GoGo2018.

Mind Right offers personalized, live coaching over text message for teens who want to talk, judgment free. The company was started by two women who met at Stanford’s joint MBA/MA in Education program. Inspired by personal and familial histories with trauma, Ashley Edwards and Alina Liao have been working to reduce the stigma around mental health in communities of color and ensure every child has access to mental health support.  With the growing amount of mental health and anxiety that young people may be feeling today and maybe unable or afraid to talk, Mind Right offers young people guidance from a team of coaches that can help navigate the challenges we face every day – both positive and negative.

826 Digital is a new website for educators with writing curriculum tools including activities, lesson, and student writing. This is a creative writing platforms with Sparks, or flexible and focused skill building activities, as well as ready to use, topic based lesson plans and mini units to help teach process and revision. Some examples include Rewriting the Zombie Apocalypse and Teach a pirate how to eat a peanut and butter jelly sandwich. All of the lessons and projects are Common Core aligned. There are resources to teach persuasive, expository, narrative, poetry, and STEM writing. I cannot wait to use some of these writing prompts with my middle school students.

For media literacy, Weird Enough Productions is launching their own comic based media literacy curriculum. With an eye on representation, their mission is to “combat media misrepresentation through original content and media literacy education.” Subscribe on their website now to get early access to their media literacy curriculum.

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I am so excited for Words Liive, a 21st Century education technology that has developed the Culturally Responsive Pedagogy needed to meet the instructional demands for today’s classrooms. Today’s youth needs to see themselves in their education to aspire to perform in school. They’ve created a patented platform that integrates song lyrics into students’ reading assignments. Founded in 2013 by artist and educator, Sage Salvo, Words Liive is a music-based literacy program that helps teachers and students connect classic canon with contemporary popular music today. Words Liive integrates song lyrics into students’ reading assignments via “Real-Time” and On-demand Culturally Responsive digital platform. Currently in Beta form, you can preview the texts, find lesson plans, and utilize the available assessments. Check it out!

 

 

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Trending EdTech at #ISTE18

One of my personal highlights ending the school year is attending ISTE – The International Society of Technology in Education Annual Conference. This is my third ISTE conference and with the tens of thousands of people attending, you are sure to meet edufamous authors, edtech companies, friends, and teachers who are excited by technology and teaching, just like yourself! This year ISTE has taken over Chicago and the learning is nonstop from workshops to playgrounds, to parties, and demonstrations. I most likely burn the battery on my phone and laptop within the first two hours of getting to convention center before I take out my Rocketbook and start jotting down notes in an old school way.

My first two days attending ISTE I have noticed some common themes running through the conference among presenters and edtech companies worth noting as we reflect on the future of schools and educating young minds.

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  1. Let’s Play: Gamification and Game Based Learning are Thriving. Don’t confuse the two. Games for learning or game based learning is using games to meet learning objectives. These are the companies that are putting out games for skill knowledge and mastery like science based Legends of Learning or a new company Go Go Brain, a new startup, who offers free games online that build metacognition and executive functioning skills. For Game Based Learning think Quizlet Live, Quizalive, Plickers, and Kahoot. Whereas, Gamification is using elements of games to engage students.  As my friend and amazing teacher, Tisha Richmond @tishrich, presented a workshop “Game On: Adventures in the Gamified Classroom” on Sunday, “gamification is a framework to layer over curriculum.” With gamification there is a story, theme, and game mechanics. In her own culinary arts classes she has gamified her culinary arts class with three different semester long thematic games: The Amazing Race, Master Chef, and the Amazing Food Truck Race. Gamification is immersive. To read more about Gamification and my own adventures in Gamifying my 8th grade ELA classroom you can check out my previous posts on gamification.
  2. VR and AR are more than just a Trend – I am talking augmented reality and virtual reality, Merge Cubes, Google Expeditions, and more. After meeting and speaking with 2018 ISTE Virtual Pioneer of the Year, @mrshoward118,  I am imaging so many more awesome scavenger hunts and learning experiences that I can create for my students using AR and VR to promote literacy. Here is a great beginner’s guide to using Merge Cubes in the classroom. There are so many ways that you can use this technology across content areas and grade levels. In my new book Personalized Reading I talk about Virtual Reality for building background knowledge but it is also a vehicle for storytelling and teaching content like with Story Spheres. Story Spheres allow users be the authors and creators of interactive experiences using 360 images and sound.
  3. Creativity needs to be taught, it’s not innate. It was about six years ago that Sir Ken Robinson stated in a TED Talk, “schools kill creativity” and since then there has been the Makerspace Movement and Genius Hour. These are two vehicles for promoting creativity in the classroom but in actuality, creativity should seamlessly be embedded within content area classrooms and across grade levels. The ISTE standards even require students to be Creative Communicators. Our students are in school preparing for jobs that have not been invented yet and for world problems that need solutions. We need students to be creative thinkers and problem solvers to help repair our world and the growing problems — social, emotional, economical, and scientific, including health and environmental. Teachers can foster creativity in the classroom by including play, problem based, and project based learning that are meaningful and authentic. I had a meeting with the CEO of EdgeMakers, Chris Besse and their new curriculum that promotes innovative thinking, creativity, and entrepreneurship. I was excited to see some of the lessons and pieces of their middle and high school curriculum because its objective was to cultivate creativity, growth mindset, collaboration, and problem solving among teachers and students.

4. Meaningful Makerspace. Makerspace and DIY is huge right now as we continue to fuel student creativity, curiosity, and failing forward thinking. The concept is to be a spark students and help them to ignite a passion for making, creating, tinkering, and problem solving. But maker space and STEM Labs must be not for the sake of creating a kitchy 3D printed key chain but more thoughtful in the use and purpose. For example, The Hand Challenge  was born of a desire to help anyone with access to a 3D Printer be able to be a part of work that can change the life of a child. Or having students who are working on Genius Hour projects that help the community in some way. Makerspace and STEM should not just be for the sake of a trend, but incorporated in authentic ways that are community based utilizing 21st Century Skills: collaboration, digital literacy, global connections, problem solving, and more. Thoughtful objectives and planning need to go into creating Makerspace and STEM labs with proper training and support for teachers to be facilities and support design thinking.

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5. Party Like a Rock Star Teacher – Teachers and EdTech companies really know how to party and hopefully you continue to party when you go back into the classroom (make learning fun, playful, and social when teaching). Evenings are filled with lots of PARTIES and events that allow teachers to connect and unwind and this year #ISTE18 was no different. Everyone is hosting a party and the hottest ticket is Edtech Karaoke if you are able to get a VIP pass at the House of Blues but there are also smaller social events going on like Alice Keelers’ #eduCoffee at 6AM for early risers at the hipster coffee house The Spoke & Bird or Edmodo’s party at the Field Museum after hours. Every tech company has something going on so just ask – or if you rather have a bite to eat of a Chicago hometown eat, get a bunch of people together and enjoy. ISTE is about connecting, learning, and celebrating teachers of course. As @theTechRabbi mentioned in his keynote, We have to cultivate passion and creativity in ourselves if we are going to expect it from our students.

6. UDL – I wrote in my book Personalized Reading, “Learning is blended, personalized and digital.” Universal Design for Learning or UDL is a framework that is at the forefront of education today. UDL is a framework for designing instruction that meets the needs of EVERY learner. UDL is not about technology but it is clear that technology is powerful for the options it provides. When teachers plan and facilitate learning with all learners in mind, offer flexibility in the methods of presentation of content material, student participation and expression increase along with high achievement for all students, including those with disabilities or limited English proficiency. Alongside of UDL, assistive tech can make learning awesome for all. It’s about offering multiple means of engagement and empowerment, multiple means of representation, and multiple means of action and expression.

 

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180 Days Book Review

Many moons ago I had the opportunity to take a workshop with Kelly Gallagher, the author of countless books on teaching reading and writing like Write Like Us (Stenhouse, 2011) and Readicide (Stenhouse, 2009). He is a mentor to me and all of his books are filled with teaching ideas that help build students’ reading and writing skills. Penny Kittle is another trustworthy teacher author with strategies for student success teaching. Together, these two publishing dynamos have written 180 Days: Two Teachers and the Quest to Engage and Empower Adolescents (Heinemann, 2018).

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As the school year winds down, many teachers – including myself – are reflecting and reimagining what next school year will look like: What might we do differently? What should stay the same? Where do the students need to dive more deeply in order to help build on their literacy and critical thinking skills? Gallagher and Kittle’s book effectively takes readers on a journey into their classrooms and experience the planning and execution of a school year in a way that helps match students with the right books while at the same time, “creating a classroom conducive to raising engaged readers writers, listeners, speakers, and thinkers” (pg. xvii). Throughout the book they expose the process that goes into planning and doing, as well as what they wish they got to but ran out of time.

Teaching in different schools across the country provides parallels as well as distentions that arose throughout the year based on the personal needs of their particular students and school community. The focus was always on their students with the intention of “crafting engaging and relevant learning experiences” because instruction should be designed around people – not the standards or state requirements. Additionally, Kittle and Gallagher’s objectives include “developing reading and writing habits needed for success outside of school: in college, work, and in their personal lives.” Whether students are going to attend post secondary schooling or not, If students are considering college, this infographic in the beginning of the introduction is telling.

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Gallagher and Kittle are upfront about their own teaching values and how these values shape their planning and teaching:

Each academic year is a unique, living mosaic. Curriculum is rewritten yearly based on the changing students and changing world. As they state, “we teach students, not curriculum.”

There is beauty in our content. Reading and writing is essential and the authors state, “we personalize reading and writing, seeking the deep connections that happen when you trust students to choose what they read and write and then teaching into their developing understanding.”

Models. The teacher is a model and as models we must be active readers and writers, modeling for our students the same expectations we have for them.

Choice drives engagement. “Students should have choice in what they read 75% of the time.” And writing is not different. Students should have choices what to write throughout the school year.

Reading Identity Matters. Time for reading is dedicated in every class so that “students can increase the volume of their reading, the complexity of their reading, and students will develop allegiances to authors and genres.”

Writing Identity Matters. “Writing is for life, not just for school.” – I love this quote because it centers around our students thinking and lives. Teachers need to honor students as writers in order to discover and seek answers to bigger questions (than those posed in a 5 paragraph essay).

Talk deepens thinking and learning. Verbal, as well as written communication is essential for learning. Listening and speaking are just as important as reading and writing. This includes small group, large class, conferences with peers as well as the teacher. Talk allows students to connect with one another and articulate thinking and understanding.

Be fearless. If we expect students to take risks, we must also take risks as teachers and writers. By taking risks, we are talking about willingness to try things that are new and challenging,

Grade Less and Assess More. Not everything that students complete needs to be graded. Assessment is on-going and should drive feedback and coaching – not one and done.

Collaboration is Essential for Professional Growth. Teaching shouldn’t be an island and when we work with others, we grow professionally in order to teach and respond to students effectively.

The book maps out the year with the different units of study that both Kittle and Gallagher teach. The tone of their classroom is set the first day and students are reading and writing daily. Each day also begins with a book talk to help generate interest in reading and help students make plans for reading. Prompts for conferences and mini lessons are throughout the book with additional considerations to help teachers map out their own year of reading and writing. Both have a balance of free choice/independent reading along with two core texts and three book clubs units. Students maintain Thought Logs or Writing Notebooks. Writing is a balance between tasks, assignments, and free writing. There are ten writing units that include traditional writing assignments/essays to digital storytelling and portfolios. Students read a variety of texts from To Kill a Mockingbird to infographics, and Ted Talks.

This book is filled with engaging teaching ideas and lessons, thoughtful reflections and considerations necessary to personalize learning ALL students. Together, our mission is to help students succeed as readers and writers inside and outside of school. Gallagher and Kittle show their readers a balanced a approach.

 

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Summer Spark 2018: Powerful Learning Experiences to Ignite Passion in Teachers & Students

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Today was a fantastic day in Milwaukee, WI for Summer Spark presented by University School of Milwaukee. Summer Spark is a two day professional development conference with a host of keynotes and workshops for teachers and facilitated by teachers.

Google Innovator, Jeff Heil said, “We are all here because we want to do what’s best for our students and to be better teachers for the students we serve.” This is the underlining mission of Summer Spark, to support teachers with engaging, relevant and fun professional development.  Today I had the opportunity to learn from amazing educators that helped to refocus my teaching purpose and passion.

The keynote was presented by Tom Murray(@thomascmurray), co-author of Learning Transformed. He introduced eight key ideas about teaching today to help students succeed in the future. The main point is that stand and deliver method of instruction doesn’t work today and that we need to make learning personal. Questions are more important than answers and we need to support students and allow them to figure things out, flip and twist in order to engage and create – not regurgitate answers. He used the analogy of a Rubik’s Cube . . .

The rest of the day I was on a gamification kick and attended three workshops on games and game building.

Melissa Pilakowski (@mpilakow) shared the Top Ten Games for any classroom. From Jenga writing and Scattegories to Gimkit and March Madness Brackets, Melissa had a game and gaming ideas to inspire students and make learning fun. Some digital games are helpful for basic vocabulary concepts and formative assessments like Peardeck’s Flashcard Factory and Vocabulary Dominoes, where others were great for argumentative and or creative writing like the card game Fun Employed and Storiumedu.

And the games didn’t stop there, Stephanie Crawford (@MrsCford_tweets) presented a session on Engaging and Empowering Mini Games that ignite the classroom by providing hands on assessment and critical thinking. Take out the play doh, legos, and dice and let’s have some fun. We had different challenges and in a short amount of time were given four types of challenge that promoted collaboration, creativity, and fun.

Michael Matera’s (@mrmatera) session on getting started with gamification was a reminder of the elements needed to sustain playfulness with challenge and purpose. In gamifying you classroom you need to choose a theme, create epic learning experiences, and set up the game mechanics. Matera’s Master Chef challenge is one I would like to replicate in my own classroom. Twenty students were selected to compete in this challenge and working on teams of four or five, students had to answer questions from a mystery box correctly. Strips of paper with the assessment questions on them were put into a box and students had to select a question and write our their answers on a team answer sheet to the questions. The teamwork and random selection made this game exciting for the students and fun.

The last workshop of the day was lead by Shelley Burgess (@burgess_Shelley), co-author of Lead Like a Pirate. We began by sharing our top three movies and then discussed what these movies say about us as educators. She reminded us that our job is to “raise human potential, and that raising test scores is not the end all, be all.” Education today is a people business and about relationships.” She asked us what type of germs are we spreading throughout the school and spoke about inspiring and supporting adults and students in our schools.

Of course the day was not over after a keynote and three workshops, there was more fun and collaboration to be had. Throughout the conference we were put into teams and played Goosechase, a digital scavenger hunt taking pictures, videos and sharing ideas to compete against each others. Before the end of the day we met in our teams to create a teacher superhero modeled from the super hero teams we are on. Lastly, trivia night was the most challenging trivia I have ever played. Despite the crazy questions and questions that stumped my team it has been an inspiring day and I have many ideas for the wild and wonderful first day of school come September.

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Springtime Sonnet Projects

In Sonnet 98 Shakespeare wrote,

From you have I been absent in the spring,
When proud-pied April, dressed in all his trim,
Hath put a spirit of youth in everything,
That heavy Saturn laughed and leaped with him.
Yet nor the lays of birds, nor the sweet smell
Of different flowers in odour and in hue,
Could make me any summer’s story tell,
Or from their proud lap pluck them where they grew:
Nor did I wonder at the lily’s white,
Nor praise the deep vermilion in the rose;
They were but sweet, but figures of delight
Drawn after you, – you pattern of all those.
    Yet seem’d it winter still, and, you away,
    As with your shadow I with these did play.
 
Spring seemed to be absent this year with cold rains and fickle weather. That did not stop my students from exploring Shakespeare’s sonnets and learning more about the wise and witty bard. In addition to close reading and textual analysis of the sonnets, my students also participated in a few visual projects to help showcase their understanding of Shakespeare’s prose.
Here are three sonnet projects to inspire creativity and fun while at the same time helping students master Shakespeare’s text.
1. The 5 Frame Sonnet – I talk about this project in length my book, Personalized Reading (ISTE, 2018). For this project students work in groups to present Shakespeare’s sonnet visually in only 5 photographs. Students must read, interpret, and summarize the sonnet. Using only images, students showcase the summary and main idea presented in the sonnet. The student example below showcases Sonnet 138.
2. The Sonnet Project – Based in New York City, this organization produced videos of all Shakespeare’s 154 Sonnets with professional actors dramatizing the sonnets. Each sonnet video also highlights a specific part or place in and around Manhattan and the Five Boroughs.
Check out their Sonnet 29:
After viewing these videos, students were assigned a sonnet and group to work with to present in video format. This project also required students to read closely and interpret the sonnet in order to create a video to present the sonnet’s key ideas.
Here are two sonnet videos that students created after working to understand :
3. Pop Sonnets – I came across this project after reading an article in Time magazine about a Tumblr page that turns popular songs into Shakespearian Sonnets. Actually, a book has been published to showcase many of these pop sonnets created. Every Thursday the blog shares a new sonnet. Inspired by this site, I gave my students the following assignment:

 

 

Here is how I assigned the project to my students:

A. Take your favorite song and transform it into a sonnet. You do not have to write it in Shakespearean English. You do have to use Iambic Pentameter.  However, if you use Shakespearean phrases correctly, you will get 10 extra credit points!
         How to Start —

  • Paraphrase the lyrics.
  • Highlight keywords you want to work in to your sonnet.
  • Condense and reorder your paraphrase into the key parts.  Start with the Volta* and Couplet** and work up to that.
  • Modify the language to follow the sonnet rhyme scheme. Extra credit if you use Elizabethan terms correctly and authentically (10 pts).

 

The outcome from my students were awesome.

Check out this one a student wrote based on Dua Lipa’s IDGAF:

Thou hath approached me in cordial temper

Regarding me in fond sincerity

I hath turned deaf to thine lies so tender

I harbor no more time nor love for thee

Find thine lady who shall hear thy ramblings

Too many a tear I hath shed for thou

Thy ong reign over my heart is ending

You come bearing apologies and vows

In mine heart for you I hold no regard

Thee hath lied and lain with other women

Shun thy pleading words my heart I hath barred

Thou hath plagued me but I am not broken

You hath nary been kind nor true nor fair

Thine time is over and I no longer care 

 

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13 Reasons Why Adults Fail Young People in Season Two: 13 Reasons Why

Warning: Spoiler Alert!!!

Season Two of 13 Reasons Why is back on Netflix and whereas school districts are sending mass emails of the graphic nature of the show, most teens and adults are binging the entire season in shock and awe, drawing connections, and possibly building empathy for the people in their school and community. Based on the young adult novel by the same name, Season 2 goes beyond the book and looks at the characters more closely as a trial unfolds against the school district for their responsibility in Hannah Baker’s suicide.

Watching Season 2, the role of the teachers, parents, and adults stood out for their lack of presence and negative impact or role in the show. It is not until Episode 8 or 9 that there is a shift in Jessica and Clay’s families where parenting becomes the forefront of the series in honest and imperfect ways. At the same time, I found myself critical of the lack of presence of teachers and school support staff throughout the school scenes that seemed inauthentic and the failures among parents aloof to these teenagers in crisis and need. Here are thirteen critical failures from the adults in the show:

  1. Teachers are invisible or erased from the story. Walking down the hallways of the high school there are literally no teachers. There are only two teachers who have a role throughout the series – I will talk about the math teacher/coach separately. In schools today there are multiple security guards, cameras, and more presence in the hallways. Additionally, the mop left in the boys bathroom by a janitor in Episode 13 can cost someone his/her job.
  2. The principal is driven by outside money and ignorant about the rumors and activity happening on campus. He never takes an active role to interact with his students or staff until it’s too late. When the guidance counselor, Mr. Porter, gives the principal the files of students he has red flagged, the principal doesn’t even look at the files but leaves them on the counselor’s desk.
  3. The guidance counselor goes on a home visit and ends up in a physical altercation with the parent – really, parents and school faculty in physical altercations?
  4. The baseball coach walks into the locker room and announces to his athletes that he has synthetic urine for any of his players who need it for a drug test the following day.
  5. In Episode 12 the same baseball coach tells his players “I don’t know and I don’t want to know” about the polaroid pictures. He seems only focused on his championships and not wanting to address the violence, drug use, or the fact that the entire team is labelled rapists.
  6. Justin’s mother is a junkie a chooses her drug dealer boyfriend over her own son. Justin mom has failed him from a young age and this clearly impacts his actions.
  7. Austin and Clay’s parents are lied to regularly and the parents never question their son’s credibility or actions, despite their stories not measuring up or their bad behavior.
  8. Clay’s parents buy him a car after he yells at them and his bike is totaled. He puts a lock on his door and stays out late. They question his behavior and he is not truthful and yet, he still got a car.
  9. Zack’s mother is emotionless and cold and after her son confides in her that he is struggling she turns her back and walks away.
  10. Bryce’s parent are egotistical and stoic. The father never questions his son’s actions. When Bryce’s mother asks about Hannah he tells her a graphic play by play what he did to her in the hot tub. She smacks him across the face and he stands there unfazed. In fact, he threatens his mother and there are no repercussions.
  11. Hannah’s dad has moved in with another woman less than six months after his daughter’s death and seemingly moved on with his life.
  12. Clay’s parents get into a huge argument and his mother leaves for a week to “let off steam and work things out.”
  13. The school says nothing about the suicide and violence happening on campus because of the fear of copycat suicides.

There are a few scenes where the parents are supportive and helpful for their children. Specifically, Clay’s father and Jessica’s parents. After Clay testifies, he and his father share  Starbucks coffee and talk. Clay’s father mostly listens. Jessica’s father is truly supportive of his daughter and the scene where he tucks her into bed is memorable. Her father struggles between overprotecting his daughter and letting her grow. He has the most scenes throughout Season 2 finding a balance between trusting his daughter and being present in a positive and supportive way.

Austin’s parents are upsetting to watch because of how aloof they are to their son’s bullying, anger, and isolation. His fascination in guns from the beginning of the series clearly maps out the extent of violence we will see by the last episode. Once he pulls out his arsenal of weapons he hides in the basement with his parents clearly unaware, I was reminded of Sue Klebold, mother of 1999 Columbine High School Shooter, Eric Klebold’s book, A Mother’s Reckoning: Living in the Aftermath of Tragedy (2016) and TED Talk (see below). This is a fascinating read for any teacher or parent and sheds light on the teenage brain, depression, and school violence.

Before you quickly dismiss Thirteen Reasons Why, it is an imperative series for all educators and parents to see with teens. The show raises important topics of bullying, addiction, suicide, rape, violence, and empathy. At the very least, it helps initiate conversations about the stress, loneliness, and choices young people might be facing.

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10 poems to make you think, cry, cheer, and respond

Poetry is powerful. Poetry tells stories. Poetry is testimonials. Poetry persuades, informs, and inspires. In an article for the Atlantic, Andrew Simmons wrote, “poetry enables teachers to teach their students how to write, read, and understand any text. Poetry can give students a healthy outlet for surging emotions. Reading original poetry aloud in class can foster trust and empathy in the classroom community, while also emphasizing speaking and listening skills that are often neglected in high school literature classes.”

In my own classroom I have utilized poetry throughout the school year for close reading, text to text connections, textual analysis exercises. Students are not only readers and listeners of poetry but also poetry writers themselves. Creating poetry for our multi genre projects and point of view exercises, responding to and writing as characters in the books they read. Below is a collection of powerful poems to share with secondary students for close reading, critical analysis, and mentor texts.

Stair-Poem

How to Write the Great American Indian Novel by Sherman Alexie

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