Category Archives: Teaching Methods

What to Really Do for the First Day Of School: a List for the Practical Teacher

IMG_20161213_155131 - CopyEvery teacher I know is playing their first day out- whether with the experience of last year fresh in mind or the optimism of the very first year ahead.   I quite enjoy the anticipation; it forces me to reflect on last year’s good intentions, last year’s “what worked and what did not work” so to speak.  I’m also a goal-orientated educator; articulating objectives or reflecting on past practices helps set the tone for the year ahead.  And, since I have a captive audience, I’m adding my list to the millions of other posted lists about the first days of school.  Only this list is the real list; the list of things you most need to do.  After twelve years of teaching, this is the list that works for me.  

  1. Eat breakfast. Even a small one.  This may sound like practical advice more than teaching advice.  Eat breakfast.  I spent many a school year running out the door without something in my stomach.  I spent many a school year wondering why my mornings just didn’t run as smoothly as my afternoons.  The one thing I did last year that change everything: breakfast.  Even if it was on the go, I had something prepared in my stomach every day.  Soon, I was up early so I could eat breakfast which means I was in my room a little bit earlier and I was in a great mood to attack the day.  It’s the same for students as it is for teachers- a little breakfast goes a long way.  Before I knew it, I was a morning person.  This year, I was gifted a kerig machine for my classroom and I’m tempted.  Very skeptical, but tempted; after I do number 3, I may add it to my classroom tech arsenal.
  2. Have templates, will use.   My teacher mentor from years ago gave me one of the best gifts: a collection of templates.  Have a student who has been absent and needs a reminder to check in? I have a template for that email.  Need to contact a parent about a student update? I have a template for that email. Need to update class on snow day make up work? I even have a template for that email.  Figure out what you need for the year and create those before the first day.  Leave room to make them personal (I do not make templates for feedback or comments in a gradebook) but efficient. I have a template for the first email to all parents that I modify depending on the year.  I use my absent student one all the time. Keep these electronically; mine live in my OneNote Teacher notebook in word doc form.
  3. Clean your room.  I sound like my mother who insisted that you really couldn’t do anything in a messy environment.  She’s right; last year I opted to clean my room before leaving for the summer.  I really spent time thinking about how the space was used (turns out I don’t need an extra bookcase for supplies) and how I want it to be used (I moved the lending library near the door- students grab and go with ease).  I eliminated the need for a desk two years ago; it just seemed to be a collection of things I didn’t want anyway.  Now heading back, I’ve got some leftover supplies from my summer class that need a home.  I’m excited to clean the department supply cart (a solution we came up with after declaring that no one wanted to keep the same supplies in every room), and I’m using washi tape to re-organize my dry erase boards.  I’m also re-examining how to better situate technology in my very old classroom; the document camera needs a new space and I’m hoping to convince technology to re-wire my projector.  And I clean.  With Clorox. Everywhere.
  4. IMG_20170602_102404 - Copy

    Part of the Core: Teachers who Started the Same Year As Me

    Establish your core.  I’m not talking about exercise, at least not physical exercise.  I mean your support group, your colleague core.  If you are new to your school, reach out to the person you will most work with and establish some mutual grounds.  Email your librarian, your IT department, and your department head.  Ask questions, schedule a time to meet before the school year gets started.  I reach out to the librarians with my course syllabus; the IT department and I meet to discuss the new technology I’m implementing.  I usually lunch with a few teachers in my discipline and invite new ones.  It’s important to feel connected to a sense of community, whether that be big or small.  Teaching very much takes a village and realizing how each of us connect is a big part of student success.  Any teacher who feels like an island is never well placed for a good year; if you aren’t a fan of big groups in the lunchroom, invite others for a coffee break.  While it takes time to develop a professional learning community, it takes one coffee break to feel connected. And that’s a start, for both you and your students.

  5. Harpers_Ferry_Fall_Foliage_by_Terry_Tabb_(770px).jpgPlan your next break.  I know, school hasn’t even started and I’m suggesting planning your next break!  I learned this years ago, when teacher burnout really threatened to end my career.  Before school starts, I plan the first vacation break in the new school year.  It can be as big as a week long diving trip (oh March, you can’t come soon enough) or a small weekend get away.  Have one in mind; better yet have one planned.  You will not have time to do this during the first months of school.  It will motivate you, re-invigorate you, and absolutely sustain you.  My first trip involves Harper’s Ferry, a convenient hour away.  I have a cute bed and breakfast planned right in the middle of October when the leaves are at their best. I may bring grading along, but I will at least be resting as the first two months of school are marked down on the books.
  6. Get a haircut. Maybe a manicure.  Okay, this one is maybe not a hard fast rule, but a spirited one.  Make yourself physically ready to greet the first day.  Find a first day outfit, get a first day haircut, or treat yourself to a manicure.  When you feel your best, you will be at your best. Maybe rock that brand new purse handbag patagonia messenger.  Do something that signifies a new start.  After all, that’s exactly what a first day is, no matter how many years of teaching: a new start. This year I may do all three.
  7.  Start mapping your collaborations or projects now.  Most teachers spend a lot of their summer re-inventing their curriculum, excited about how to make it new.  I will be honest: I spend most my summer trying not to think about my curriculum.  It rarely works in entirety; by this time I have an idea about new things I’m willing to do or new projects I’d like to try.  My first project is relatively easy to start: I’m re-doing the vintage game Guess Who? for the literary classroom.  (More on that soon.)  I’m also re-thinking the science fiction elective and hoping for a buy in from the science department.  Newspaper will utilize Microsoft’s Teams this year and this week I’ve started to establish their group site.  (Remember that utilizing a new technology can sometimes be a project itself.)  I’m also re-doing a play I wrote because a student  asked to produce it this year and wondering how to package the script.  All of this really gets my brain thinking and excited for the first day!
  8. IMG_20170705_130536 - Copy.jpgBring your kitten to work.  I’m just kidding.  Probably not an advisable thing, even if your kitten is just as cute as mine.  Instead, bring a happy photo for your classroom.  Just one or two; your students don’t need your life story in pictures.  Have one photo that makes you smile on those days you may need one.  I rotate mine out- sometimes it is my mom, sometimes its a kitty picture, and sometimes it’s just pictures of cupcakes.  (I’m not kidding.)
  9. Invest in a good planner and then use it.  I’m a moleskine devotee; my planner is a red 5 by 7 moleskine notebook.  I fill it in well before the first day, even taking an hour to double check my school email for events I might have missed.  I also utilize Microsoft Outlook on my laptop as well as Google cal for my phone.  Even so, the red moleskin is my dedicated school planner.  And I love the size- I can fit it into a bag with ease, the color is quick to spot, and the binding doesn’t catch on fabric.  I take notes right next to the calendar grid which is essential in faculty staff meetings.  Trust me, if you are navigating both a calendar and a notebook during a quick meeting, you will miss things.  I highly suggest a planner that leaves you room for both.  I have my planner with me through everything but lunch.
  10. Leave room to have room.  There is such a thing as the overplanned, overscheduled teacher who has a spot for everything.  That is just not me, and I find that often times it leaves little room for collaboration or those wonderful spontaneous moments when a project just clicks with the class.  Prepare, but don’t over prepare so much that you leave no room for the grinds to grease.  Let your students help guide your curriculum; leave room for them to explore.  I’m teaching Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood and intentionally leaving some room in the course schedule for discussion.  And in the event there is no discussion, it will be okay. I’m going to let them guide me that week.

Now I’m feeling like I need cupcakes, a kitten, and my course schedule completed.  Happy first day to all my teacher friends, and be sure to add to my list.  What did I miss?

 

 

 

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The New Way to Time Travel: AR and VR Classrooms

When I first started teaching in 2005, my principal was horrified at my request for a classroom wifi hotspot.  Horrified.  I received a document camera instead.  The next year I asked for the new iPad- just one for my classroom.  (It’s hard to believe, but iPads have only been around seven years!)  The horrified look. Again.

I left for graduate school the next year, thinking a graduate degree would help negotiate my bargining power with administration.

Now, having returned to the high school classroom some years later, I’m having the same conversations about technology and the classroom.  It is less about personal devices (we are a bring-your-own-device school); classrooms with laptops are the new norm.  And while there are still worthy conversations about social media, time on task, and access to new technology, I have full administrative support on the need for technology in the classroom.  (I even have my own hotspot!)  Yet there is a new battlefront brewing, and I’m wondering how much this one might re-shape or redefine teaching.  I wonder how much teachers, particularly humanities teachers, are willing to embrace the new virtual reality technologies.

Mobile-Marketing-Coming-to-Virtual-Reality.jpgFor the past four years, I’ve been an aggressive advocator for problem-based learning and game-based learning.  It comes from my own experience as a learner.  I simply retain knowledge best when learning to solve a problem or competing.  Between my many years on team sports and family game nights, my brain is hard wired to want learning to be at the very least fun.  I don’t think today’s generations are much different.  And I don’t deny the value of lecturing or even socratic methods; I just think problem-based learning and game-based learning are better frameworks to structure (preferably) interdisciplinary design.  So when VR (virtual reality) entered mainstream markets this year, I saw no reason why education wouldn’t be the first frontier for this relatively new technology.

Before I launch into my diatribe about how VR could re-shape the classroom, I do need to pay service to a growing concern among educators.  Grant Lichtman author of #EdJourney: A Roadmap to the Future of Education says it best, “Technology enables education; it doesn’t drive education…[technology] is just another one those changes that require a growth mindset.”  Many educators and even administrations focus more on integrating new technologies long before evaluating how that technology encourages learning or even if there is already implemented training for that new technology.  This can scare many would-be tech users away. Simply implementing new technology for the sake of declaring the school has that technology is a slippery slope: I’ve visited many a classroom where the SmartBoard is just a projector screen or the classroom iPad is still in the box.  Just the same, there are classrooms that declare their innovation simply by using technology.  Using is much different than implementation, and successful implementation happens when technology is allowed to be the vehicle to get to an answer or objective beyond simply use.

shutterstock_276949547Nonetheless, the new augmented (AR) and virtual realities (VR) excite me. There are some obvious reasons: AR and VR give access to students that they may not have otherwise- like the ability to see Greek ruins and never leave the room.  Virtual fieldtrips, while not an argument for replacing the real experience, could subsidize the cost of fieldtrips.  The internet has made so many of my students visual learners that I imagine VR and AR as just an extension of their visual mind-mapping, particularly for complex subjects.  There are other reasons to be interested in the AR/VR classroom.  Imagine problem-based learning in an augmented reality.  Team playing through a dangerous viral outbreak. Role playing as a crew member aboard Ahab’s ship.  Participating in an archaelogical dig. Studying the eco-system of the rain forest.  The possibilities are endless.  More than anything, I want my students to build stories, build worlds with a complex understanding of how a story works.  I want them to watch Gatsby become consumed with materialism and I want them to work alongside student coders to create new games, new escape rooms.

Essentially, I want teachers to start envisioning the classroom as its own VR- something they can use to engage students in the 21st century beyond recitation of facts.  I want my students to have safe spaces to practice digital citizenship, a growing necessity in this very connected world.  And, just as important, I want resources and professional development to grow with the new technology, rather than a learn as you go approach that many teachers are forced to do when faced with new technology.  I want that to be a key argument for putting new technology in the hands of educators while partnering with the IT department, who can often be territorial even when it comes to letting teachers teach or write tech focused professional development.  More than anything, I want to challenge the old boundaries with the new reality; I want the classroom to extend beyond four walls for my students. That technology is here, and if we are really going to be innovative, we need to embrace VR as an extention of student ability.

So.  Who else is asking their administration for VR gear?

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Filed under Teaching Methods, Teaching Philosophy, Technology

Why OneNote makes my (snow)day

It’s day five of the snow apocalypse in Northern Virginia.  Snow days can be a teacher’s wish come true and their worst nightmare all in one.  A former me would be scrambling to piece together an email, maybe some way to scan something in pdf form, and then hoping my students had both a computer and a printer at home.

Not this year and never again.

Not only am I on schedule with my lesson plans but in our five days off, my students have completed a quiz, a timed essay, and three collaborative activities that correlate to the reading.  I’ve even sent a link to help a student who left her book at school, all via OneNote.

The beauty of OneNote is realtime- things move in OneNote immediately.  When my students take a quiz, they can take it at the same time as normal class.  When they take a timed essay, I use OneNote’s time stamp to track when completion happened and page history to tell me when they started.  I dropped my audio lecture and powerpoint in the class content library so I could introduce Poe and start reading him as soon as we return.

While this is all good, the one thing I really love about OneNote is the collaboration space.  For example, yesterday we did a group scavenger hunt for details about Edgar Allan Poe’s life.  A simple table grid helped organize the data.

Scavenger Hunt

Poe Scavenger Hunt

In another class, we used the collaboration space to generate a chat board, a way to post questions about their reading of George Orwell’s 1984.

chat space

Chat Space for Reading Help! 

 

And today, I’ve been dropping in on each student’s outline page in their own personal notebooks to answer outlining questions.

Outline

Outline and Rough Draft Help in OneNOte

Makes me think that you could almost do an entire class virtual in OneNote….

Lord, I might be turning to the dark side.

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Filed under Literature Related, OneNote Teaching, Teaching Methods, Uncategorized

The Gatsby Game and VSTE (finally)

I tried to write a post all about VSTE, and well, it just made me want to write about what I presented at VSTE (The Virginia Society of Technology in Education).  So, two birds, one stone.

Let me tell you about this game I started playing last year.

My school runs on the modular schedule which means our academic year is broken up into 5 week units.  I teach mostly juniors- so junior year of English looks a bit like this: each junior must take the required Slavery to Civil Rights module (junior year is American Literature) and the research paper module (I don’t want to discuss how this works for AP History students in this post).  For the remainder of the year, they select three of four options.  In the modernism module, I teach Hemingway’s In Our Time and Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby in five weeks. Gatsby_1925_jacket

Take that in for a minute.  Five weeks.

As you can imagine, that’s a small amount of time to condense a lot of context, both literary and historical.  When I first start with this venture last year, I spent the first four modules trying to bet on the right horse- how much is enough to read Hemingway? To read Gatsby? To teach about the Lost Generation? Where do I put poetry? Interwar period? THE WAR(s)?  At the same time, I was starting to really entrench (sorry, I wrote Hemingway and then he was in my head) myself in game-based learning.  (Now, what I do isn’t true to the current definition.  I’ve come to learn that I’m more of a “playbased learning.”  I’ll talk about that perhaps in a different post.)  To me, the module schedule timing felt right for that kind of environment- five weeks.  But I would have to create the elements first.  And, because Hemingway was already complicated enough for an all girls audience, I choose to start with Gatsby.  41C1amNRGhL._SX322_BO1,204,203,200_

The first play of this game was relatively easy, but in many ways not quite a success.  I created stock figures, stereotypes of the 1920s: the mob boss, the mobster, the dectective, the police, the socialite, the press, the bank.  Each figure had a particular perk- the mob could steal, the press could publish, the socialites could curry favor, and the bank did what banks do.  Each character also had a security deposit box where they could keep evidence, pass messages, keep money. The objective was simple: convince the public that Gatsby was either guilty or innocent (depending on your character) by collecting or fabricating evidence from the story.  We played for a week; the students even built alliances, something I hadn’t considered.  They robbed with delight and I recieved everything from the hotel receipt from Myrtle and Tom’s affair, a faux newspaper that connect them mob boss to Gatsby bank accounts, a printout of Gatsby’s bank accounts, a string of pearls, a crime scene report…they were true to the text while being creative.  It was incredible.

TeapartyRules

Tea Party Rules from OneNote

And yet, I still felt that the game was amiss.  My students spent a lot of time trying to create evidence (sometimes just to create it) rather than thinking about the objective.  Moreover, while they were alive in the world of Gatsby, I didn’t feel they were connected to the time period, let alone connecting Hemingway and Fitzgerald to a movement. And, to top it off, I’m a tech teacher.  I pride myself on integrating technology.  This game operated mostly with brown envelopes and paper money.

In the middle of all this, I took the game on the road with my work partner.  We present at VAIS (Virginia Association of Independent Schools).  I kind of turned my talk into a “how to play a game in class” to “it’s not quite ready, what would you do” session.  The session was really invigorating- it was nice to see that other English teachers wanted to do the same thing- create worlds (whether virtual or digital) for their students to understand context. However, we didn’t really come up with a good way to modify the game.

So.  I finished last year learning OneNote, going completely paperless, and trying to figure out how to make Modernism different with a game that was going well for my students, but not for me.  Summer needed to be about work.  I’m going to flash forward a bit here- just imagine me at my desk, fast forward mode, bending furiously like a puppet on absurd amounts of caffeine, a furrowed brow while I pretend that I didn’t just cram everything for this year into the last week of summer.  You get the idea.

Facebook Capture

Facebook Page for one of the characters

This year, the game has changed and I am loving it. It started with Lauren (my work wife/partner):

“Well, if you don’t want them to create their own artifacts, you’ll have to reconsider your objective.”

(Cue my groaning)  “That would require taking the emphasis off Gatsby.”

“Yea.  Perhaps.  Or what if Gatsby was just an access point. What if, Fitzgerald, and not Gatsby was the point?”

And from there, the new edition was born.  The characters are chosen a bit the same- each student picks a historical figure to play as and they create a facebook page for that character.  This is still done in secrecy; we hold a Gatsby tea party to introduce the players to each other.  (I’m told I make a very good barkeep.) They come in costume, and ask questions (with some help on what kinds of questions to ask- no questions that can be answered with yes or no statements).  And then…then they get the rules.

acebook

The Gameplay Tab in OneNote

There are five ways to win, depending on the alliance you’ve created/chosen.  Each alliance has certain pieces of evidence and a certain amount of money they must collect to win.  In this version, I have already created the evidence and I have already printed the money.

What’s the difference, you might say.

In this version, you win evidence, skill cards, and money through challenges.  Now, these can be as Gatsby-related as I want or they can be time period related.  I even threw in a few writing challenges.  And, I DID IT ALL IN ONENOTE.  

Capture

Game Play Skill Cards (Can you tell I like cats?)

It. Was. Amazing.

Challenges

My Challenges Page in OneNote

I have everything from the Charleston set to modern day music,  a written piece on why Lucious Lyon in Empire is a modern day Gatsby,  a recreated Depression era advertisement and even an MLA citation for every Fitzgerald book our library owned.  This version allowed my students to get really entrenched in Modernism. What’s more, we played for FOUR WEEKS.  Alliances shifted, challenges became harder, and the competition was fierce.  Every single student was engaged.

The game still needs some tweeking- I’ve learned that evidence should move into circulation quickly (the last time we played, I was sure the mod would end before a winner declared) and that challenges were a great way to scaffold learning when applied correctly.  I am also considering taking the money bit out- it seems to complicate the game more than move the players.  I did love using OneNote, but the cards were challenging to keep up with; while my students didn’t know that they could easily copy cards into their notebook and I would be none-the-wiser, I should have a better system.  I experimented a bit with a twitter board in the collaboration space of OneNote with some degree of success, but I’d like to move away from having a tupperware container of “security deposit boxes” (aka brown mailing envelopes).

Challenge1

The Photography Challenge

I took this to VSTE (Virginia Society of Technology in Education) in December.  Despite my nerves, I managed to explain this to a group of educators (I won’t claim I did it well).  Point is, I’m learning that there are other teachers craving the same immersed environment.  They keep me alive.  (Shameless plug: go to VSTE.  If you are a technology oriented teacher, GO TO VSTE.  You will find your people.  I did.) I connected with one teacher who plans to do something similar with The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn and another who might take this to his history class.  Please do- take and adopt.  Maybe we can be friends, and I’ll tell you all about the Edgar Allan Poe/Forensics mashup I built with a fellow science teacher (next post spoiler alert).  I posted the pdf of the rules (thank you Lauren for being much more skilled in InDesign than me).  By all means, email or comment below, and let’s start having fun in the classroom!

PS: I have consent and permission to share student content on this post.

Gatsby Game Rules

 

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Reason #45 Why I love OneNote

It makes visual journaling soooo much easier….(and this yet after writing about a moleskin journal)Visual Journal Prompts_Page_1

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Andy Looney Beat Me in Fluxx

Andy Looney!!

Andy Looney!!

Sometimes, the best part of my job isn’t my job at all.  Sometimes, the best part of my job involves play.  This was completely the case on Sunday, when Andy Looney of Looney Labs came to play with us during Casual Sunday.

Now that statement may not quite mean anything or sink in yet.  If you are a Fluxx player, then start melting.  Andy Looney, inventor of the Mensa approved game, Fluxx, ventured out of Looney Labs with 6 different versions of Fluxx, 4 of which were not published on the market.

I’d like to claim that I’m just so cool even Andy Looney likes to play Fluxx with me, but I don’t think I’ll ever reach that level of epicness.  My students however, are awesome.  It was their epicness that made things happen.  Let me explain.

A big part of my teaching philosophy involves gaming in the classroom. I firmly believe that strategic gaming is a great platform to engage play and higher level critical thinking skills.  About two modules ago (we teach on a module schedule), I asked my American Drama Module to create an adaptation for A Streetcar Named Desire.  My only rules: it had to be an adaptation, which means certain plot devices had to remain and the story had to be mostly recognizable.  Beyond that, no guidelines, no project format, no detailed page long project description.  Oh, and there was a prize: best project won movie tickets and me as a chauffeur.  For a boarding school, this was “jackpot”.  (Apparently using article is now not considered hip.)  As nervous as I was about the outcomes of this “open ended project” format (ermergawd I’m going to get cardboard-put-together-last-minute-diaromas), the students were much more in stress mode.  IMG_2274

“Can you at least give us a list of project options?”

“Can you tell me if my idea is right?”

“What if I do it wrong?”

This is exactly why I think teaching creative play in the classroom is so important.  I will spare you a diatribe until a later post, but I will say this: we have programmed our students to believe that thinking outside the box is too risky.  It’s not worth the risk of getting a bad grade, it’s not worth the risk of being wrong.  We have programmed students to think that creative play is wrong.  And that is fundamentally the opposite of what learning and the classroom should do.

Every single group blew me away.  I had a fairy tale adaptation, a Teletubbies version, a fake documentary, and A Street Car Named Desire Fluxx.  While they didn’t win, I did tweet their version to Labyrinth Games in DC (best game shop ever).  I didn’t realize this at the time, but Kathleen at Labyrinth sees Andy Looney for Small Business Saturdays (yet another reason to love this place).  In passing through, I showed Kathleen pics of the version, and lo and behold, in about the time span of a week Andy Looney wanted to come play it.

It was awesome.

 

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Filed under Boarding school life, Casual sunday, Teaching Methods, Teaching Philosophy

“Outlining Sucks” or Why Students Hate the Hard Parts

I tell my students all the time that essays are my favorite part of teaching English.  It gets me a lot of eyerolling, but it’s true.  Well, partly: I love teaching essay construction more than I actually like to do essay construction.  The part of the essay planning that actually involves, well planning.  But I’ve also been one for picking something a part to see how it works.  Essay construction is very much like that- trying to pick apart a piece of literature and figure out how it works while simultanously constructing an essay that works.  Most students I know skip this step.  Instead of outlining, planning, gathering evidence, figuring out a thesis, they jump right in.  And it almost never turns out well.

I tell my students this but inevitably they by pass this stage anyway.  When it came time for the big out of class essay round two, I was determined not to get the same paper- brilliant in spots but lacking evidence, well said in a sentence but lacking any structure.  I was receiving 30 papers that had moments of clarity but lacked any overall organization.

When did we start skipping this step?  When did I start skipping this step?

This aggression will not stand, Donnie.

So the last module, I decided to spend a two days on essay organization.  Not only did my students enjoy and really understand the importance of this process, but their papers were infinitely better.

I had them start out with a series of different colored post it notes.  The first step in this process is to identify a controlling idea, or a thesis.  Most students just jotted down a fragment, an idea. Outlining oneHere, this student starts with the blue sticky note, “pilate vs macon/life of freedom/both children of the flying Solomon”.  We then talk about how to create good thesis statements- that the significance is really crucial.  One can talk all day about how Toni Morrison uses a certain symbol, but if you don’t explain why this is significant in your essay then I don’t care. Yellow sticky notes indicate further exploration; the thesis becomes “Society shops the idea of freedom into different forms for each of Solomon’s children”.  While not completely finished, I give them the go ahead for outlining.  I use red, yellow, and green page tabs.  Yellow indicates to proceed, but know the thesis will need more once the outlining is complete.  Red means “ahhh no stop!  Give me more on this idea!”  Green is easy- it means keep going.

And then the fun begins.  We talk about different ways to outline and organize information.  I tell them a story two ways: in a chronological order and then in order of importance.  Usually it’s StarWars.  For example, I ask my students when would you prefer to met Darth Vader, when he’s young and just starting out in the force or later as an opposition to our young hero, Luke Skywalker?

Allow me to digress. This is important.

You see, some students will argue that meeting Darth Vader as a child takes away the importance of Luke’s journey.  I would agree- if the main point of the story is to highlight Luke Skywalker’s struggle with the dark side, then chronological may not be the best form of organization.  Instead, I’d highlight the most important plot points- his discovery of Leia’s message, the self discovery on Tattooine, the fight with his father.  You can skip in and out of the timeline.  However, if you are arguing the spirituality (lack thereof or glimmer from within) of Darth Vader, then one may want to tell his entire story, in chronological order.

This works for just about anything- even The Hunger Games.

Organization and structure are important; they decided how the reader gets the information.  It’s the most persuasive tool a writer can master.  Once they understand and develop their outline, they have to justify WHY (not just how) they are organizing their essay.  And this two minute conversation has been the most crucial part of the process.  Thinking about structure and the reader is the most important thing students can do in the revision/creation part of an essay. Outlining 3

Once they have their outline on yellow sticky notes (and another tagged approval process happens), I ask them to write a personal objective for their paper. This is the light green strip.  Here, this student’s personal objective is to “be less obtrusively wordy”.  With objective in mind, they start the writing process.  They go back (and I encourage them to do so) many times to their outline (now in digital form) and add, subtract, move.  Some even use the sticky notes as placemarkers; ways to imagine what their essay might look like if organized differently.

When they are about halfway through the rough draft process (I did this activity on the day of peer review), I Outline 2ask them to identify three things about their paper: the strongest sentence, the strongest piece of evidence (quoted material from the text), and a list of four to five words that they really feel articulate the paper.  This go on post it notes for reflection later.

I have a nine panel window door that I used for each of my nine students to hang their process.  The important part is that this does go on display for the entire process.  It creates a community that holds each other accountable.

From there, they embark on their own. They might hate you at the start, but I can tell you from experience they will understand and appreciate that approaching finish line so much better.

Below is the first essay’s beginning digitalized outline after pre-planning; it turned into one of the best papers I’ve graded all year long.

OUTLINE

FLIGHT/ Freedom

Toni Morrison’s Song of Solomon focuses on a

Thesis: Pilate and Macon’s determination and courage to pursue their ideal freedom are qualities that has been developed from their family roots; simultaneously society impacts the two characters which formed two different lives of freedom.

  1. Macon VS. Pilate( Beliefs+ physical appearances)

Physically:

Macon-Tall, Strong, always carries keys around-pg. 55 “Own things=most important thing” quote, portrayed as “impregnable” the most feared and respected black man, willing to go to any extent for his money (power)(pg. 25 with Porter)

Pilate: Tall, strong->willing to go to any extent to protect her baby (Reba/Hagar/ Milkman?)-> Flexible: police scene, taller/ shorter in front of different people (pg. 206)

Isolated but regarded with respect, nobody bothers her (mentioned several times in the novel, people back off when they hear its related to Pilate)

Not well mannered (according to the people in the town in that time period in that society)

Beliefs: pg149->realizes how she wants to be seen in the world

Pg139->indifferent to money,

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Cornell Note-Taking

On note-taking:

I encourage my students to use the cornell note-taking method because it gives them an interactive guide to lectures, readings, and supplementary material.  Surprisingly, most college students do not have a defined method of note-taking and the majority were never really “taught” how to take notes.  In an ideal teaching environment, I’d love all my students to come knowing some kind of method; however, I spend the first day of class going over different methods.  The one I advocate the most is Cornell.  I find my students enjoy it more and stay with it the most.   Providing a template and an example help tremendously.  The example is found below; it uses Frye’s theory of symbol making as a reference.

Example of Cornell Note Taking: Heishman_Amy_Sample CornellNOtes

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Filed under Teaching Methods