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Why We’ll Read More Than an Article of the Week in Senior English

I wish I were kidding. I am still laughing, but this is not funny.

Last week was my first week back to school. We had five days of shifting classes; schedule changes like shuffling cards with every student vying for their winning hand, or at least two out of four classes stacked with friends.

This is my first year to teach senior English (I still have one section of AP Lang), and I felt a mixture of excitement and dread all summer. Twelve years of reading, or not. Twelve years of playing the game of school, or not.

How do I get students to want to read, want to write, want to explore and question and challenge when it’s possible they just want to be done with school? I am pretty sure that’s how I felt senior year. Granted, that was a loooong time ago, but I do not remember any teachers’ names, any books I read for school, anything I learned the year before I graduated.

I wonder if that’s normal. Somehow I don’t think it should be.

But I do not want my seniors to remember me. I want them to remember learning something that adds value to their lives. I want them to remember learning something that adds value to my life as they vote beside me for elected officials, move into my neighborhood, become my doctor, or perhaps teach beside in the classroom next door.

I know the routines of a workshop pedagogy will help me do that, of this I am certain.

We’ll read and think and write and talk. We’ll share our thinking and our writing in small groups and as a class. We’ll talk about books and the themes that resonate and why that might be so. And we’ll write about the things that matter in our lives.

We started all of this in five short days.

I also got a little panicky.

If you are familiar with Kelly Gallagher’s work, you’ve probably heard him talk about why he started Article of the Week. He said he’d given his students, seniors, an article to read, and while circling the room and checking in with small groups, he asked a couple of kids how their reading was going. “Okay,” they said, “except we don’t know who this Al Quaeda guy is.”

Uh huh, seniors. Seniors who had no idea what was happening in their world.

I’m not too sure mine do either.

2017 Face Palm Experience #1:

We’d just looked at images of the destruction from Hurricane Harvey. We’d done some thinking in our notebooks about how these images made us feel and what we could do to help in the efforts to aide our fellow Texans. I walked the room, listening in as students read from their notebooks. Then, I heard this:

“Can a hurricane happen on a lake?” Student A said, “I mean like would a hurricane ever happen on Lake Lewisville?”

I stopped. Wouldn’t you?

Student B answered, “Uh, hurricanes happen on an ocean.”

“So what ocean is by Houston?” said Student A.

“That’s the Gulf of Mexico,” said Student B.

And Student A asks “So what ocean is that, the Pacific?” as she reaches for her cell phone.

I wish I were confident she planned on looking up information about hurricanes and oceans and weather patterns. Somehow I doubt it. I’ve asked her to put her phone away 47 times in five days. (So far phones have not been an issue except with this student.)

Now, I am left wondering:  Will whatever we do in room E111 be enough to prepare my students for the world beyond the halls of our high school? The responsibility is a lead weight on my shoulder.

I sure hope I can carry it.

 

Amy Rasmussen is the mother of six amazing young adults, grandmother of five smart and sassy little people, and wife to a brilliant marketer, sales exec, life coach, and dog lover. She teaches readers and writers in AP Language and English IV in North TX and facilitates professional development on the workshop model of instruction at every opportunity. She loves God, her family, the U.S.A., and all humans everywhere. Follow Amy on Twitter @amyrass

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15 thoughts on “Why We’ll Read More Than an Article of the Week in Senior English

  1. […] like today should never become routine. And these are the things we should be talking about in our English classrooms. But to have the heavy talks, of course, we need to be able to […]

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  2. profeross September 6, 2017 at 8:42 pm Reply

    Reblogged this on Ask Bigger Questions and commented:
    Article of the Week has been transformative in all of my classes, building background knowledge, keeping students informed about current events, and fostering literacy and improved writing.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Lisa Dennis September 5, 2017 at 7:51 pm Reply

    I immediately turned around and quoted your post today with each of my AP classes. I told them one of my major goals for them was to get them to the ballot box with informed opinions and the wherewithal to share those opinions diplomatically with all perspectives on a given candidate/issue. Love your post today, Amy. Those seniors are so lucky to have you.

    Like

  4. debkrygeris September 5, 2017 at 7:36 pm Reply

    Hi Amy,

    Hope I can provide a glimmer of hope. I started doing Article of the Week with my 6th graders 2 years ago; last year definitely 1 article every week. We read it, discussed it, and then they responded to prompts or formulated their own personal response, in writing weekly. I, too, was amazed at what my students didn’t know. But, you know what? Over the year, they started to pay attention to the news. They started suggesting topics and articles. I pulled a lot from Newsela and Science News for Kids so I could adjust for reading level. But, we got into some heavy topics and I was so proud of my kids. So, maybe if the trend continues, you’ll start to have students that have done this before, and now they are more engaged in the world around them. Anyway, that’s my hope at least. Good luck this year! What you’re doing is SO important!

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  5. mrsturnerblog September 5, 2017 at 9:20 am Reply

    Oh this. I’m constantly amazed at the thing my 11th graders don’t know (what peril or famine means, for example, or details about big things in history). Of course, I’m also astounded at what they do know or what they know how to access. That seems to be the key for my kids–what they don’t know, they know how to look up or figure out. I think that’s why they don’t remember stuff that I would have learned and remembered from school. It’s a different way of thinking. The problem is that that thinking doesn’t lend itself well to making connections and growth, and it leaves us fairly focused on our immediate world rather than the larger world around us. That’s why I do Articles of the Week and why I pull in mentor texts with topics that I think they should know about or at least think about. You can do it. You’re amazing. I keep telling mine every day that I’m trying to expose them to the world around us because mine will be voting soon and I don’t want them to elect Kayne just because they recognize his name or think his wife is hot–I need them to know about the world so that they can start to right the ship for us.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Amy Rasmussen September 5, 2017 at 1:08 pm Reply

      I appreciate your thoughts, Ms. Turner! I think it’s this “it leaves us fairly focused on our immediate world rather than the larger world around us.” that worries me the most. I know students CAN look up information that back-in-the day we memorized or truly learned. I also don’t think enough of them actually DO look it up. Seems like everyday I am talking about the importance of using our resource (the phones in their hands) to broaden their minds and expand their worlds. I also think curiosity must play into this somehow. I’m working on sparking curiosity with the hopes of it leading to inquiry. After a little bit, I will have my students find their own articles of the week. Maybe this will help.

      Thank you for reading — and for your insights. God bless you and yours.

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  6. Smith-Chavira Terri September 5, 2017 at 8:36 am Reply

    You can and you will:)!

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    • Amy Rasmussen September 5, 2017 at 1:09 pm Reply

      Ahhhh, Teri, you are my trusted cheerleader. Thank you.

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  7. Stacey Goldblatt September 5, 2017 at 8:19 am Reply

    My English teacher senior year changed my life. Seriously. This was back in 1987 when you’d be hard pressed to find an English teacher who allowed her students to play in the writing sandbox. But play we did. We wrote essays and poems and journal entries. We didn’t just read Macbeth, Antigone and Cyrano–we experienced these texts. Cyrano de Bergerac was the first book that made me cry out of beauty: the words! I fell in love. This teacher awoke the reader and writer within me. (Since then, I can’t get either to shut up.:)) That lead you’re carrying around? Look closer…you’re carrying seeds.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Amy Rasmussen September 5, 2017 at 1:10 pm Reply

      Oh, you are just lovely. Yes, yes! I am carrying seeds. Thank you!

      Like

  8. Shana Karnes September 5, 2017 at 7:32 am Reply

    I totally identified with this post! I felt such a range of emotions reading it, which is how I felt while teaching seniors! Impressed with their candor, horrified by their cluelessness, excited and terrified for them to leave school to enter the “real world.” I, too, felt a responsibility to get them all ready for this world in the short 180 days before they left my classroom…and I’m not sure if I ever succeeded, but I, too, know that a workshop pedagogy sure helped me get closer to my goal than I would have otherwise.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Susan Koukis September 5, 2017 at 7:20 am Reply

    This is how I feel every year with seniors.

    On Tue, Sep 5, 2017 at 7:48 AM, Three Teachers Talk wrote:

    > Amy Rasmussen posted: “I wish I were kidding. I am still laughing, but > this is not funny. Last week was my first week back to school. We had five > days of shifting classes; schedule changes like shuffling cards with every > student vying for their winning hand, or at least two ou” >

    Liked by 1 person

    • Amy Rasmussen September 5, 2017 at 1:12 pm Reply

      Thank you for this comment — although I don’t know if it makes me feel better or worse. Haha. We are all in this educate-the-adults-of-tomorrow thing together. I know THAT makes me feel better. 🙂

      Like

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