Category Archives: AP Language

AP English and Choice Reading

Last week Lisa inspired me with a post she called Books Can’t Be Bullied. Her last line:

“Let’s produce millions of resilient readers, hungry for truth, who will open books and listen, because a book is always ready to talk, and frankly, we could all stand to listen a lot more than we do.”

Then, a friend and colleague of mine wrote a post on her blog about the importance of choice in her AP Literature class, a topic near and dear to my own AP English heart. (I’ve written about choice in AP and how I feel about AP test scores quite a lot.)

And I knew I would share Amber’s testament to readers-writers workshop in AP English. She builds resilient readers, hungry for the truth, who open books and listen.

In this world of fake news and clickbait sharing, we might all want to evaluate how we can provide more opportunities for our students, at every level, to take more ownership of their learning and grow as resilient readers who are hungry for the truth.

Let’s stop saying choice does not work in AP English. It does. And it’s the students’ voices that prove it the most.

Here’s an excerpt from Amber’s post. I especially love the student comments:

. . .

I am currently in my fifth year of teaching AP Lit., and I feel confident that the feedback I have received supports the idea that choice and Advanced Placement courses are not mutually exclusive; in fact, choice might just be essential to our students’ future as readers. Not only have my AP scores supported this (I taught the class of 2013 using full-class novels which were chosen based on how many times they were referenced on the AP exam as well as the desire to cover all of the major literary eras, and my AP scores have increased, and have remained above national averages, since I began to offer students some choice in which texts they read), but my students have also provided positive feedback about how the ability to choose what they read has provided them with more incentive to thoroughly read and explore their texts.

I should probably note that the reason I felt compelled to write this post is because recently, I heard several well-meaning, experienced teachers express genuine concern that the classics “are not being taught anymore” and that “we should make students read them because if we don’t, they won’t ever choose to read them on their own.” Yes, that’s right – I clearly heard the words “make them read…” – because yeah, that works.

Here are a few snippets from students:

  • “Being able to pick our own book to read made the class even better, because we got to choose something to read that would fit our own styles instead of being forced to read something we may not like.” –Tiffany
  • “The book I enjoyed the most…are all the ones I chose to read. I had been wanting to read 1984 for a while and I got the chance. It was so interesting to me because my favorite books to read are dystopias. I liked The Picture of Dorian Gray because it’s different form what I’m used to reading. I like the fact that it was controversial. The Nightingale just had me feeling all kinds of emotions. It was hard to put it down because it was full of suspense. Although I loved 1984, Animal Farm was not for me. I was excited to read it, but it let me down. I don’t think it was the book itself, just the fact that it was assigned with a lot of work. Also, that we had assigned chapters every week, so I couldn’t read it and enjoy it at my own pace.” -Isela
  • “By you giving us freedom, we’ve been able to produce more creative ideas and products. You have definitely helped me prepare just a little bit more for college. Thank you!” –Kara
  • “I suppose I should designate Beowulf as my least favorite book that I had been assigned to read in the duration of my high school years.  I did not despise it entirely; it simply was not very appealing.  In addition, I never completed it.  With only a handful of chapters left, it is one of the few books I have not at least forced myself to finish.  Thus, it will always be a sore spot on my conscious. For my final remarks (at least my final mandated remarks, but I am not making any promises), I would like to state that I prioritized this class over my others even though from the grading perspective this made the least amount of sense.  I honestly felt the need to learn and not just merely make last minute memorizations.”  –Allison
  • “The book I liked best that I read for the class was Les Miserables because I liked it the best and because it was so long I cracked and got the audio book, and I enjoyed having the book read to me as I followed along even though it was a 12 1/2 hour audiobook. My all time least favorite book from my high school Englishes was Bless Me Ultima. It was plainly a boring book and the more I tried to read it the less I was interested in it. I didn’t even end up reading it, honestly. I just sat in class and listened to everyone else’s discussions and from that I got the general gist of the story and such.” –Clancy

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Read Amber’s full post Choosing Readers Over Texts with the whole of her students comments. You’ll get it.

What are you thinking? Please let me know in the comments.

Amy Rasmussen lives in north Texas and teaches AP English Language and English 3 to the Fighting Farmers at Lewisville High School. She adheres to the words of Emerson: “We aim above the mark to hit the mark,” and Jesus Christ: “Love one another.” Imagine a world if we all love more than we think we can. Follow Amy on Twitter @amyrass.

 

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Writing Heals. Writing Assignments Do Not

Last week I learned a valuable truth:  Even when we think they are not listening, sometimes students get it.

Let me back up.

The week before last I attended a department meeting where our district ELA coordinator shared the National Writing Project’s Case for Good Instruction, information I learned at my National Writing Project Summer Institute in ’09. It details the differences between When Writing is Assigned and When Writing is Taught. The discussion around me was interesting and peppered with excuses. I left wondering how teachers would answer these questions if they were on a quiz. How would you?

In your ELA class, do students:

  • have opportunities to create topics that matter to them?
  • understand audience and purpose for papers because they are specifically identified in assignments?
  • see you spending time teaching writing skills and strategies?
  • get writing models, assignments, and strategies to guide each of the different writing tasks?
  • reflect on significant growth — or lack of it — in specific writing skills?
  • hear words of encouragement cheering them on to revise, edit, and improve — and to correct drafts and then resubmit?
  • think about what they write through brainstorming, free writing, role-playing, discussion, or other prewriting activities?
  • celebrate what they, and you, write and make efforts to display and publish it?

I think the biggest excuse we give for leaning on assignments rather than acting on instruction is TIME.

“I can’t let students choose topics because they don’t know what to choose.”

“I can’t teach this novel if it takes so long to write a paper.”

“I can’t do my research paper if I give them time to resubmit. It already takes so long to grade the finished product.”

Maybe you are right. Maybe we have to give up things that we think are best practices for things that are better practices.

Student choice in writing topics is better practice.

Writing instruction with effective models, strategies, time to talk, and time to write are better practices.

Helping students revise, edit, and improve their writing during the writing process with a keen sense of audience and purpose are better practices.

conferringwithjulyssaOur students need time. They need our time. They need our attention and our careful consideration about the things that matter to them. We may have to let some things go in order to give our students what they need.

We learn valuable truths when we do. Last week my students performed (or presented) their poetic arguments. We spent weeks choosing topics, watching video performances, analyzing lyrics for structure and craft, thinking, drafting, talking, revising, studying models, reading each other’s writing, giving feedback, practicing mini-lessons on concrete details and using abstract language to create jaw-dropping imagery.

We were a community of writers, united in a task uniquely our own.

And that is the difference between When Writing is Assigned and When Writing is Taught.

During all that time, I didn’t think Stephanie was listening. She sat at her table, barely talking, sometimes writing, always sad. Then right before Christmas break I sat down and we talked. She showed me her draft, and it scared me. I knew she’d been depressed — her grandmother died at the beginning of the year, and the light left Stephanie’s eyes. I listened to her share her sorrow, her anxiety, the weight of her world , and I gave her my cell phone number with the promise she would call if her boots got too heavy. Thankfully, they didn’t.

Every one of my students who presented their poems sparkled with pride as they faced their classmates, even the ones whose knees knocked in fear. They wrote from their hearts about issues that matter to them personally. They wrote the most important arguments about mistaken perceptionholding grudges, self-hate and self-love, parental control and uncontrolled parents, lying and how we’re programmed to labelBlack Lives Matter and dying white privilege. They wrote about better education and the stress of getting educated, absent fathers, loving fathers, and parentless children and alcoholics who should have put down that drink at 21.

They wrote about sticking together.

And they wrote about self-destruction and depression and monsters. So many of them wore grooves in the floor with the spikes that hold them in place until the sadness drags them down under. They broke my heart.

writing-heals-quote

Writing to heal is better practice.

Please enjoy Stephanie’s poem. She calls it “Smile.”

 

Many students chose video presentations over live performances. I published several this morning on the 3TT Facebook page. Take a look.

Please share your thoughts on teaching writing. Leave a comment.

 

 

Amy Rasmussen lives in north Texas and teaches AP English Language and English 3 to the Fighting Farmers at Lewisville High School. She adheres to the words of Emerson: “We aim above the mark to hit the mark,” and Jesus Christ: “Love one another.” Imagine a world if we all love higher and harder than we think we can. Follow Amy on Twitter @amyrass.

 

Mini-lesson Monday: A Matter of Perspective

I am thinking about the importance of perspective. Mine and others.

To truly understand how the world works, why decisions are made, what issues matter to individuals, when things do not go our way, we have to be willing to peer into the thinking of those who think differently than we do.

Sometimes — no, most of the time, this is hard.

It is especially hard for the sixteen year olds I teach. They wear their bias like badges, and they often silence those who disagree with them with blatant disregard. I fight against this every day, but last Friday we took a few steps forward. I want us to keep moving.

Objective: Students will formulate ideas while writing from a perspective other than their own: Who? What? Where? When? Why?; draw conclusions based on observations and interactions with peers.

Lesson: First, we’ll write. Students will take out their phones and take a photo of the person sitting across from them. They will then write for ten minutes, trying to convey that person’s point of view about their future. What do they want to do after high school? Where do they see themselves in five years?

We will then share our writing and discuss how difficult it is to know another’s thinking without ever having a conversation. We will tie this thinking into the conversations we had last week about stereotypes and making judgements.

Next, we will do the Crossing the Line activity as outlined here by Vanderbilt University. Of course, I will have to change some of the questions:  Coke vs Pepsi? Pshaw. This is Texas! I will have to say Coke vs Dr. Pepper.

This activity will inspire discussions about our similarities and our differences, and the poem will allow for even more discussion, analysis, and critical thinking around a text.

Follow up:  As we move into choosing topics for our Poetic Rhetoric unit, I will remind students of the importance of investigating all sides of a topic and the importance of considering alternate points of view as they compose their poems. I did not do this last year, and this will add a critical element to their arguments. Too many of the spoken word poems I’ve listened to seem like rants against some issue instead of including a shift or two that lead toward solutions.

In times like these, we definitely need solutions.

NOTE:  Shana, Lisa, Jackie and I are presenting at #NCTE16 this week. If you will be with us in Atlanta, we’d love it if you attend our session on Sunday, Nov. 20 at 1:30 pm. Room B211 of the GA World Congress Center. I will start our presentation with more on the value of perspective and how it relates to Advancing All Students in Readers-Writers Workshop.

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Try it Tuesday: Taking a line

My AP Lang and Comp students have been writing. A lot.

We’ve analyzed arguments and written short analysis essays. We’ve read powerful OpEd pieces like this and this and this, and we’ve written responses and modeled these writers’ craft moves. We’ve written arguments on our blogs and had a bit of fun modeling Neil Pasricha’s Awesome writing as we practiced using figurative language and specific examples in our essays.  We’ve read about the importance of serious reading, and written one-pagers to defend, challenge, or qualify. Lately, we’ve studied the work of Bryan Stevenson in Just Mercy and watched his TED talk.

I sensed my students needed something a little different, but I needed to keep them writing. So with just one class last week, instead of using a full mentor text to inspire great writing, we used a sentence.

I pulled this quote from Stevenson’s talk:

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And then I asked students to write anything they wanted: poems, essays, stories, whatever. The only requirement? Use that line somewhere in your own writing.

Then, on Friday, students moved to our “writer’s chair” and shared their writing. Our community responded with sticky note blessings.

Several students were reluctant to share. “Mine isn’t good,” more than one student said.

“We are a community of writers,” I encouraged. “This is a safe place, and we all want to know what you have to say. Truly, no pressure.”

After a few volunteers, Martina finally rose to share her response to Stevenson’s quote. Her voice was soft yet powerful:

It’s the sigh of relief and relaxed muscles from knowing you did the right thing. It’s liberating and lightweight–the world suddenly doesn’t seem to be positioned heavily on your shoulders. It can be the doubt and little knock of guilt on the back of your head knowing you did the wrong thing. It’s the tempting feeling of doing correct actions, but not being able to when you’re being held against a wall by your own conscious.

It’s difficult to see greener grass on the other side of the horizon when it’s fertilized with the negative aspects of your actions. Learning to realize and move on from what cages you in is the only form of developing into a healthier person–sometimes this ends up being all it takes for it to be “The right thing to do.”

“Always do the right thing even if the right thing is the hard thing”

As kids we grow up with love from family, the goodnight kisses from your parents after a bedtime story, the reassurances of  “It’s Okay” after a tumble on the playground, and the form of love that lingers in the atmosphere when you’re around the individuals that raised you. As we grow our love transforms into something deeper, something more emotional, something dangerous. It might have started with a crush on the new individual at work, the butterflies twisting and turning in your belly are a pure indicator that you’ve deeply fallen in a midst of hearts and dazy clouds of love.

Often times, things go wrong. Abusive relationships exist and they are common amongst the men and women in our society. Nearly half (43%) of dating college women report experiencing violent and abusive dating behaviors, Nearly 1.5 million high school students nationwide experience physical abuse from a dating partner in a single year, and one in seven men age 18+ in the U.S. has been the victim of severe physical violence by an intimate partner in his lifetime.

The right thing in this case is following your heart. Men and women trap themselves in abusive relationships because loving the one person that hurts you seems to be the right thing. Other times, allowing yourself to step away from the relationship/situation is not an option and it becomes a tough obstacle to get out of the arms that hold a restricting grasp on you. There’s always help, there’s always somebody there. Reach out for the right motives even if it’s the hard thing to do.

Never let a person of interest degrade your actions or make themselves superior to you. The most damaging thing to do–and often hardest–is staying in an abusive relationship. Love is a beautiful thing, don’t let anybody damage that for you. Instead, do the right thing for your health, mind, and body without the harm of anyone or anything. 

Two students shared poems, others shared why they think that quote is important, and others wrote arguments of a sort like Martina’s. All were important reminders to me to let students choose how they show they are learning.

Of course, the shared experience of reading their work was pretty fabulous, too.

One of the best things I can do as a teacher of writers is to offer opportunities for students to share their writing. I know the more we share with one another, the better our writing will become. If I remain the only audience (or even mostly their only audience — my students do write on their blogs and leave feedback for each other), some students may never make the connection between writing and truly conveying meaning. Too many just care about the grade.

By just taking a line last week and then asking students to write whatever they wanted, and then sharing… we built trust in our community and we celebrated that we really are on our way to becoming better writers.

What have you tried lately that improved some aspect of your classroom community? Join in the conversation and share in the comments.

 

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Mini-Lesson Monday: Do Teens Read Seriously Anymore?

It’s the end of our nine weeks. Well, kinda. I have one class of English 3 students that are at midterm since they are on accelerated block, and I’ve got two classes of AP English Lang who I share with AVID every other day in a year-long class, so they are at about the 4.5 weeks mark. Talk about crazy trying to keep the pacing straight and everyone moving.

One thing I know:  All my readers need to revisit the goals they set for themselves the first week of school. We’re going to start with independent reading. I’ve seen a little too much of this lately:

joshandtajhnotreading

Taken after exams when I suggested students use the time to read.

and not enough of this:

juniorboysreading.jpg

Daily routine: 15 minutes of independent reading

I set the standard high and ask my students to read three hours a week. This is difficult for busy teenagers who are not used to reading (and if we are honest, many are not used to completing any type of homework).

We will read this article this week “Do Teens Read Seriously Anymore?” and create our personal reading challenge cards. But before we do, I want to get students thinking about themselves as readers and what reading can, and should, mean to them and what they hope to accomplish in their lives.

Objective:  Interpret a quote on the importance of reading and connect it to my own reading life; construct a plan to help me meet my reading goals.

Lesson:  Students will select up two literacy/reading quotes and glue them into their writer’s notebooks. They will then think about their reading habits over the past several weeks of school and write a response to the quotes that connects their reading experiences (or not) and begin constructing a plan on what they can do differently in the upcoming weeks to either continue to grow as readers, or start to.

Follow-up: Later in the week we will also read “The Insane Work Ethic of Mark Cuban, Jeff Bezos, and 15 Other Powerful Leaders” and write a synthesis-type response using the two articles and their personal goals for reading.

Please share in the comments your ideas for getting and keeping students developing their reading lives.

Why I Love My Writers (and some book suggestions, too) #FridayReads

 

Maybe you see this, too:

I’ve got truly brilliant, fun-loving, willing-to-learn students this year, but when it comes to writing, they are as sloppy as a room full of toddlers with their first plates of spaghetti.  Missing periods and capital letters, too many commas (or not enough), and the makes-my-eyes-bleed lower case i. That one’s all over the room.

And I keep seeing this new thing:  the missing “it.”

Take this for example, all sentences from a self-evaluation students completed last week:  “My reading’s good, is something I do to release stress,” or this one: “Is the same thing as going somewhere,” or this: “My reading improved is better because I tried more.”

What?

Do I worry about mechanics over ideas? Never. Do I worry that my students know better and are just not paying attention? Always.

I teach juniors in AP English Language. This string-your-spaghetti-anywhere-you- want-punctuation should not be happening.

So we slowed down a bit. Took a step back. Searched in our in our independent reading books for sentences that struck us as interesting.

Students wrote their sentences on notecards. Here’s some they chose:

“It’s easier to jump out of a plan — hopefully with a parachute — than it is to change your mind about an opinion.” Think like a Freak by Levitt and Dubner

“We looked over toward the echoes of burdensome chimes, the slip and boom of the clutch and rasp of gears as the ice cream truck entered the dead-end streets and curves of Las Lomas.” Always Running by Luis J. Rodriguez

“They played basketball the way basketball is supposed to be played, and in the end they lost — but not before proving that Goliath is not quite the giant he thinks he is.”  David and Goliath by Malcolm Gladwell

“The barber gazed in amazement at this man with long-thick and black hair and beard, which gave his head the appearance of one of Titan’s portraits.” The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexander Dumas

“When he smiles, she notices that he has a dimple on only one side, and there’s something about this that makes him seem endearingly off-balance.” The Statistical Probability of Love at First Sight  by Jennifer E. Smith

“At the end of the hallway is a boy so powerful, so fearless, that he’s set up shop in the middle of a sacred site and renamed himself Goliath.”  Vivian Apple at the End of the World by Katie Coyle

“I felt a hot, tingly sensation spread spread over my skin as I slid down a few inches against the bench seat, wishing I could just melt directly into it’s crusty upholstery.” We Should Hangout Sometime by Josh Sundquist

“This is an ordinary Monday morning school day.A Stolen Life by Jaycee Duggard

“You see, Cinderella and I know what it’s like to look in the mirror and not recognize the reflection.”  Skinny by Donna Cooner

Then, in small groups we categorized sentences long and short, many punctuation marks or few. And we discussed the whys:  How does that mark help create meaning?

We could have spent days on this lesson. I should have allotted more time, and we will certainly return to it (maybe next week — it’s that pressing).

Then, yesterday as a way to join in on the National Day on Writing, I asked students to create a slide that explained why they write. Their slide needed to contain an image, a beautifully crafted sentence that included at least one of the literary or rhetorical devices we’d focused on recently, AND everything had to be correct: capitalization, spelling, punctuation. You might call me out on Olivia’s, but I think it works.

The ratio for correctness on this voluntary assignment was 22:6.

Here’s some of their tweets, evidence of why I love my writers. And also the reasons I hope we can take a little more care as we write. They have such amazing things to say.

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Mini-lesson Monday: Deeper Reading

 

I posted this on the TTT Facebook page on Saturday, but I think it also makes for a good mini-lesson, so here goes:

I went to a session by Kelly Gallagher at #IRC2016. He shared ideas from his book Deeper Reading, combining ideas he’s using with his students now. I was reminded of his thinking around thinking from a text: What does the text say? and What does the text not say?

Gallagher shared a few images from the news, a fact statement, an ad for a truck, and he modeled how he asks his students these two questions as ways to get them thinking about their reading.

I’d heard these same ideas before, but they resonated with me again. Critical thinking matters. We cannot get thoughtful writing, if we are not helping our students to think thoughtfully through texts.

Objective: Read a visual text, make observations and inferences that push critical thinking about a text. Draw conclusions and write your thinking.

Lesson:  Tell students that critical readers don’t just pay attention to what a text says, we also must pay attention to what a text does not say. This ties into the idea that everything is an argument — sometimes overt, sometimes covert. Bias also comes into play. So to get into some critical thinking today, we’re going to watch a short video about the refugee crisis.

Draw a T-chart. Label one column with “What does it say? and the other column “What does it not say?” As you watch the video make lists that answer these two questions.

Watch the video “Your phone is now a refugee’s phone.”

After students have time to do their own thinking and writing their lists (and maybe watch the video again), have them talk in pairs or small groups about the things they noted.

Hold a short whole class discussion about what it does for our thinking when we consider what the author, or in this case, the video creator, intentionally leaves out of a text.

Follow up:  Ask students to find their own text and apply this same thinking. Tell them they can find an advertisement, a chart or graph, an info graphic, another video — any text that they can answer the following questions:

What does the text say?
What does it not say?
Why does it matter?

Continue to ask students to consider these questions with a variety of texts throughout the year. This may also serve as a good exercise to help students find writing topics. Bonus!

 

Do you have any videos, ads, or short text suggestions that you use in similar ways to get students thinking critically? Please share them in the comments.

 

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