Category Archives: Maggie Lopez

Poetry Out Loud

As a teacher, we tend to teach what we like and what excites us.  As I confessed before, poetry is hard for me to get into.  I get more jazzed up over nonfiction or an engaging book.  But this year I have pushed myself to be uncomfortable with poetry at times because my students need and deserve poetry.

And you know what, so far so good.  I have enjoyed the challenge of challenging my teaching range and comfort.

This year, aside from dissecting and discussing poems for the AP Lit exam, we have written beside poems like “Desiderata” and “Lost Generation.”  We’ve watched spoken word performances.  We have written poems about our names and heritage.  We have discussed thematically related poems in small and jigsawed groups.  We have created Book Spine poems that connected to another work of literature.  We have found and shared poems connected to our independent reading as a way of book talking those books.  We have read poetry for the sake of hearing words and enjoying them.  We have also participated in the annual Poetry Out Loud competition.  

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As a national competition sponsored by the National Endowment for the Arts, Poetry Out Loud has been around since 2006, with the goal of promoting exposure and participation in poetry and spoken word.  Simply, it is a recitation or performance competition that begins at the classroom level with students reciting one or two poems, then progresses to the school, regional, and possibly national level. When started in 2006, only classic poets (think Dickens, Dickenson, and Front) were featured, but the program has since expanded greatly with hundreds of diverse, living choices for students to recite.

My school participates each year, starting at the classroom level.  Top performances from each period are then selected to compete among their peers in the same English class period (freshmen through seniors), with the top performances then competing at the school-wide assembly.  The winner of the school-wide assembly, which is judged by a panel of non-English teachers with Poetry Out Loud’s official rubric, goes on to represent our school at the regional level, possibly national.

While many students are shy and hesitant to perform in front of their peers, the competition has great benefits.  

  • It is a unique way to incorporate speaking and listening standards and a related performance task.
  • There are ample mini-lessons to incorporate with each student’s choice of poem you can pull from your poetry teaching archives or the website.  We researched the poets and their inspiration, examined how diction creates tone, where to place emphasis when performing, and how one creates a verbal tone that mirrors the message of the poem.  
  • The entire competition is student-centered and differentiated–students are selecting the poems, working to understand their poem beyond memorizing the words, and performing the poems.
  • The competition cultivates an appreciation for performed poetry and exposes all participants, myself included, to new poetry.  This year, I really loved hearing new poems. Some of my new favorites: “How to Triumph like a Girl” by Ada Limon, “The Delta” by Bruce Bond, “The End of Science Fiction” by Lisel Mueller, and our school’s winner, “Rabbits and Fire” by Alberto Rios.

While I still have more ideas for more poetry in the classroom–mimicking a style or genre, weaving a poem with original art, creating blackout poems, crafting poems from chapter titles or lines–Poetry Out Loud adds another dimension to poetry in the classroom. 

Check it out and put it on your school’s calendar for January 2021!

 

Maggie Lopez is currently reading “Bringing Up Bebe” and “The Coddling of the American Mind” as she awaits her baby girl in April.  She will be taking a hiatus from writing for the blog, but looks forward to reconnecting in the fall.

A Return to Flexible Seating

After introducing flexible seating into my junior/senior English classroom last year, I reflected in July about what I liked and didn’t like about the classroom arrangement.  After implementing some changes of my own and many reader suggestions (thank you!), I wanted to reflect over another semester of flexible seating.

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What I changed this fall:

  • Furniture Arrangement:  This year, I made smaller pods of seating. I got rid of the large round tables that ate up a lot of the room and actually moved in more traditional desks (partially due to larger classes).  With the additional space, I was able to fit two smaller tables and a set of chairs for students to work, providing more options for spaces. The room has a nearly-equal balance of seats that require students to use clipboards for writing and desktops or tables.
  • Expectations:  We had a discussion about the purpose and role of flexible seating in the classroom at the end of the second week of school and set guidelines together versus rules.  Students were granted permission to move the furniture to better facilitate group work or sight of the whiteboard, with the stipulation the room comes back to order when the bell rang.  We also discussed the importance of creating a single classroom environment, not one of multiple little pods, and facilitating that through direct eye contact.  I also shared my goal that the classroom feels more like a home than a place of rigid learning, but that homes are to be respected.  
  • Ownership:  While I still reserve the right to ask a student to make a better seating choice, I started the year by asking students to change seating areas each day for the first two weeks.  I believe this established that no one has a “spot,” but we share the space based on need and how we are feeling each day. Additionally, students are required to select a seating new area of the classroom every six weeks or so, which coincides with our school’s midterms and quarters.

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With larger classes this year, the room is more crowded, but feels more, well, flexible.  Removing the large, cumbersome tables also makes re-arranging the desks and chairs for a Socratic Seminar much easier.  I also have enough desks to facilitate an inner circle of desks and an outer circle of chairs. With smaller tables, groups are naturally formed which is a time saver and I can check in with one area at a time for conferences or work checks. Additionally, with less traditional seating available than with last year’s set up, my students and I have utilized the luxury of the cafeteria tables right outside my door.  While one class period a day may not be able to access these additional workspaces because of the lunch schedule, the cafeteria tables have become an extension of our classroom and great for spreading out groups or when we need more table space.

With very few reminders, students have been respectful and able to flow between small group learning and whole-class learning.  I notice students craning their necks to look at their peers or myself when talking and students.  While some classes are more open to moving daily than others, I find more students are switching around where they sit every few days, are moving based on what we are doing in class, and voluntarily switching seats to accommodate peers.  Students this year take responsibility for their seating choice for the day and have not “claimed” a seat as students did last fall, sitting there through the spring. Sometimes, I confess, the classroom does feel disjointed, like when students are working independently and chatting with those close to them, but I remind myself that at least they’re in a community, not isolated desks of individuals.

While the set-up and general facilitation of non-traditional seating is not always easy and I’d love to make my own place in the classroom just as flexible, students unanimously responded across six classes that they prefer the arrangement and choice to rows of desks, especially for reading time.  So if it works for them, I will make it work for me!

Maggie Lopez wishes everyone a happy, productive 2020 full of excellent books!  She is currently reading “The Lost City of Z” by David Grann after thoroughly enjoying “Killers of the Flower Moon.” You can connect with her @meglopez0.

Text Talk: Ink Knows No Borders

In American Literature this year, we are taking a “disrupted” look at the American Dream, noticing its failings and shortcomings through the literature we read as a class. 

After discussions over the summer reading titles and a gallery walk to generate our thinking around the American Dream, we watched an abbreviated version of Chimamanda Adichie’s TedTalk “The Danger of a Single Story” before identifying and discussing the “single stories” in our lives and our world.

We then dug into selections from Ink Knows No Borders: Poems of the Immigrant and Refugee Experience. The collection of poetry features a range of perspectives on adjusting to life as an immigrant as one tries to stay connected to their home culture while adapting to a new place. The poems are both heartbreaking and heartwarming tributes to the courage of the authors.

With a packet of assorted poems, students first processed one poem with their peers, spending time deciphering meaning and making connections.  We then created jigsawed groups where students taught and discussed their poems with a new set of peers. Together, the jigsawed groups began to track thematic connections across the differing, yet similar experiences of the authors.

The poetry offered alternative perspectives while being accessible and real. The poems about names and traditions resonated with my refugee students from Africa, while other students related to the burden of balancing two cultures, one at home and one at school. We Googled more information about the current situation at the Mexico-US border, and one student was brave enough to share his family’s story of obtaining citizenship while another student shared that she fears ICE will take away her parents every day. 

When we discussed the poetry as a full class, students came away with an understanding that often in our country, there is a single story told about immigrants. Students came to the insight that this was misguided and unfair because immigrants founded our country and the United States often promotes the promise that the dream is achievable to all. Students overwhelmingly agreed that we should be more understanding, welcoming, and helpful to people who want to make a better life because we all have stories and hardships.

This text worked well because students discovered new perspectives, connected to their lives and our world, and also gained low stakes poetry exposure, one of my goals for the year. Plus, our conversations made me so happy and hopeful to teach resilient, inclusive young people in this time of division.

Maggie Lopez is grateful for her digital colleagues and an incredibly rewarding profession.  You can find her on Twitter @meglopez0.

 

Integrating Sketchnotes into Annotations

When any unit is designed, I intentionally consider what important academic skills I can either teach students or reinforce to support critical thinking in preparation for academic endeavors after high school.  While the majority of my juniors and seniors are familiar with annotating, we still practice making our internal thinking and interactions with the text visible on paper no matter what we are reading.

An idea presented at NCTE last year was sketchnoting, which is the practice of creating visual annotations to develop meaning.  Students are encouraged to draw pictures and symbols or icons instead of writing their thinking in the margins, like a visual poem write around or visual 1 Pager.  While I am certainly no artist, just stick figures over here, sketching annotations adds a different dimension to meaning-making.

I love that sketchnotes provide an opportunity for more creative interactions with a text and provide an opportunity to use the right side of the brain.  Sketchnoting simply offers another mode for students to create meaning and retain information (You can watch a great overview from Verbal to Visual and utilize the free resources, too).

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As we dig into our first full class novel, students are assigned pages to annotate or sketchnote as we read, these pages then prompt our TQE (thoughts, questions, epiphanies) discussions.  I started out with a think aloud model for students with the first (rather dry) pages of The Great Gatsby.

While most students begin with traditional annotations, highlighting and marginalia, because that is what they’re more comfortable with, many slowly branch out into adding pictures or visual notations with more practice and after seeing their peer’s examples.  

Aside from having students intentionally interact with a text and build their annotation skills, the annotations and sketchnotes provide scaffolding for the final project, a visual 1 Pager or a “graffiti wall” that encourages students to display their learning visually.  I did this project two years ago with juniors who read –I may challenge this year’s crew to use fewer words.

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Visual notetaking can be a more compelling way to lure students into making meaning with a text or other content.  I am hoping more sketchnotes start popping up on the pages of students’ notebooks and other assignments, in my classroom or others.

 

Maggie Lopez is awaiting the snow and start of ski season in Salt Lake City, but wishing she was attending NCTE 2019 this month.  She is currently reading Into the Water. Follow her @meg_lopez0.

Book Snapchats

While I’m a little bummed I’m not attending NCTE in Baltimore this year, NCTE 2018 in Houston was awesome–I’m still going through my notes nearly a year later!  Not only did I get to meet a handful of Three Teachers Talk contributors in person, snag new books, fangirl favorite authors, and catch up with former colleagues from Lousiville and Houston, I headed home challenged by new ideas and armed with new activities to implement in my workshop.  NCTE is truly a magical event for educators–enjoy if you’re heading to Baltimore next month!

Like many of us, I am always seeking different, engaging ways students can interact with and analyze a text.  One such activity from Charles Youngs (@Charles_Youngs), an educator and instructional coach in Pennsylvania, was Book Snaps.  Students are tasked with finding a significant page in a text, then creating an analytical “snap” via Snapchat.  While we work on annotating and sketchnotes throughout the year, Snapchat opens the arsenal of analysis tools students can access to create meaning.  There are stickers, filters, animated gifs, color tools, stamps, and other features I don’t even know about which students can use to digitally annotate.  Last year, I used the activity to study the minor characters and themes in The Bluest Eye in small groups.  This past week, my students created a snap about their independent reading book as the quarter comes to a close.

As students spent time finding the page that would “sell” their book, the discussion surrounding gifs and stickers turned analytical.  Students asked one another for advice on the features and, in the process, discussed the characters, conflicts, and themes with one another.  I didn’t expect to hear such thoughtful commentary while students were creating.

If students did not have Snapchat, I offered the opportunity to take a picture of the page then edit it on Google Slides.   Once students completed and downloaded their Snap, we compiled them on one Google Slide deck.  Don’t worry if you’re not Snapchat savvy–your students definitely are!

Maggie Lopez only sends snaps of her dog Bounder to her husband and is currently reading The Spy and the Traitor by Ben MacIntyre.  You can find her on Twitter @meglopez0.

A Reverse Approach to Multiple Choice

I know–yuck.  Multiple choice?  On a blog about workshop?  This post may seem like the odd man out or the one that doesn’t belong here, but please keep reading!

While a multiple-choice assessment is certainly not a form I want to use in class, it is inevitable my students practice the format for the AP exams.  The challenge for us teachers is to make the practice meaningful without taking practice tests over and over again (No thank you, “Drill and Kill”). This year, instead of making these exercises something we do, I want students to see these as something we workshop.

First, my language has shifted from “Let’s complete this multiple-choice practice” or “Let’s working on our timing” to “Let’s dig into this passage and create meaning together.”  I am hoping students begin to see the passages as a challenge to unlock and discover as they inquire about meaning rather than a 15-minute task.

I am also shifting how we work through the passages, igniting the workshop mindset of reading, questioning, re-reading, and making connections.  Sometimes we will read the passage together out loud, look up unfamiliar terms, paraphrase, and annotate, creating meaning together before examining the questions.  Othertimes this close reading is done in pairs and students work the questions together. Another strategy, done in peer groups, is what I call “Reverse Multiple Choice.”

Although the process takes a bit of planning and sometimes typing on our end, I think it is worth it (there is a sample linked at the end to get you started, too!).  In summary, students are grouped and given each part of a multiple-choice selection–the passage, the question stems, and the answer sets–one at a time, then asked to answer the questions after a lot of process thinking.  

Students have enjoyed working together to break the monotony of practice selections as this becomes about thinking and talking with one another while still developing the thought-patterns necessary for working through passages on the exam.  Starting this practice early in the year, I notice students immediately learn to share any thinking or ideas surrounding the “gray areas” of a text and to not shy away because they aren’t sure of the correct answer (that is exactly where they should be in the fall!).

Here are the steps as you would implement them in your classroom (please note the time required will be determined by your students or your expectations of how quickly they are to work, the times provided are just suggestions and will differ with the text):

  1. Group students into clusters of 2-4 with their desks circled.
  2. Distribute a multiple-choice passage and ask students to independently read and annotate as they would on the exam (7-9 minutes).
  3. Once completed, ask students to chat about the gist of the passage in their groups, allowing time for questions and clarifications (2 minutes).
  4. Pass out the passage’s Question Stems, without answers, in random order.  Invite students to work through the questions as a group, referring back to the reading and writing what they believe the answer is as if they were open-ended questions.  Some questions may require students to think in reverse (i.e., students may list what elements are present if the question stem asks “Which is NOT present…” or a similar variation), but all questions will get students talking about their thinking (10-15 minutes).
  5. Once completed, pass out the Answer Selections, again in jumbled order, and ask students to pair the appropriate Question Stem and Answer Set together.  I like to use numbers for the Question Stems (step 4) and letters for the Answer Sets (step 5), so students know to pair a letter to a number (3-5 minutes). 
  6. If you’d like, you may check that student groups paired the Question Stems and Answer Sets correctly before distributing the full question set for the passage.  Students then, using all of their thinking and notes, work together to answer the multiple-choice questions (8-10 minutes).
  7. In whatever manner you’d like, reveal the correct answers.  I have found students want to understand questions they missed and other student groups can often explain the thinking that led their group to the correct answer.

I am hoping these varied, workshop-esqe approaches build student’s ability to process challenging texts through the processing of each component separately and build their confidence for making sense of the gray areas in challenging texts through the peer to peer talk.  This approach can be adapted for any test-prep we may be required to work in for state exams or standardized tests, too.

Here is a sample of the process using the 50 Essays Multiple Choice for  “Letters from a Birmingham Jail”

 

Maggie Lopez is:

A) Enjoying being back into the swing of the school year.

B) Currently reading How Soccer Explains the World by Franklin Foer.

C) On Twitter @meglopez0.

D) All of the above.

To Flex or Not to Flex:  I’ve Been Thinking about Flexible Seating

Being a new teacher at school this past year, I was the recipient of the “new English teacher classroom” that has been passed down for the last two years.  This classroom is located at the far end of the cafeteria, literally in the cafeteria, and came stacked with rows upon rows of forward facing desks, equally spaced in rows, all facing the front.  So industrial revolution-esqe. So not ideal for cultivating a welcoming environment where students to take ownership of their learning by interacting with one another to question and create meaning.

In the hopes of making my corner of the school more welcoming and conducive to English work, I slowly began to create flexible seating areas.  I built this up over the school year, finding more cozy chairs, lights, and touches of home to add, but I will confess: I don’t love my flexible seating classroom.

 

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Isn’t this how we want all students to read in a Book Club?!

 

Let me explain, as there are pros and cons to everything.

Positives:

  1. Students are pretty chill and calm in class (also see Issues #1).  Students are relaxed because the lights aren’t blazing overhead and the furniture creates a homey vibe.  Students enjoy a break from sitting in the rigid desks that are too small for some or built for right-handed writers.  They also have more space for their books, laptops, and notebooks.
  2. Students can settle into our reading time.  I’m not sure about you, but I don’t read for pleasure at home in a rigid desk, sitting straight up.  I read on the couch settled to my gently snoring dog, or I read in an armchair with my slightly overweight dog, or I read propped up on pillows in my bed with my dog who sprawls out to cover half the space.  While I can’t bring Bounder to work (I wish!), I can create the transference of reading atmosphere from school to home.
  3. Students have a choice over where they sit depending on how they’re feeling or what type of work we are doing.  I had a few students who changed seats every day, and some who stuck with the same place. Sometimes a student would move to a new seat halfway through the class, usually to a desk or table after reading time.  This makes seating charts completely unnecessary and beside the point (woo!). Students also exercise soft skills, like compromise and problem solving, when they negotiate their daily seating choice.
  4. I can easily circulate around the room, accessing each student without having to disturb their neighbors in the tight rows of desks littered with backpacks.  Students also have access to one another.

 

Issues:

  1. Students are pretty chill and calm in class (also see Positives #1).  Sometimes the siren song of the plush armchair is too much to resist, and even my most engaged students are sucked into a nap.
  2. Students cannot see all of their peer’s faces at one time.  I didn’t realize how much it would annoy me, but I realized that to me, eye contact equals engagement.  Sometimes, this led to group conversations versus whole class conversations, as one side comment turned into a table chat.  While there is less of a “front of the room” as students are not all facing the same direction, this can be an impediment to the building community at times.
  3. While student seating is flexible, room configuration is not. I only have one projector and whiteboard, so there is a distinctive front of my room, which all the chairs have a vantage point of.  I have a collection of regular desks, two large tables with, a small table with chairs, and a living room set up with larger chairs and a coffee table. There isn’t much flexibility for reorganizing the shape of the classroom to support instruction, aside from group work.  Moving the furniture into an inner-outer circle is near impossible, especially given the four minutes between preps or short precious 40 minutes I spend with students.
  4. Creating these flexible spaces costs money out of my budget.  In total, I think I spent a little over $200. I debated–$200 in books for my classroom or $200 to buy old furniture.  I debated, that is a lot of book money, but figured options for seating would help me cultivate a welcoming, comfortable classroom environment.
  5. Students are always jostling for the biggest, most plush chair, which I suppose cuts down on tardies, but also calls for a bit of regulation of the most coveted chair on campus by me.  This guy: 

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I learned a lot from this experiment and while room 104 has received a total facelift, there are some kinks to work out.  In the fall, I will set guidelines, not rules, to help form clear expectations for next year for how to navigate our space.  I will encourage students to select a new seat each week, so one group doesn’t always sit around the coffee table and students are mixing the voices they’re hearing.  I will also teach the importance of connection and looking at the speaker. Not doing so creates pods that are isolated versus cohesion as a full group.  I will continue to reserve the right to ask students to make a new or better choice in their seating, as well as use the sections of the classroom to a group and regroup as it best fits instruction.  I will also scour the local Goodwills for smaller tables and different chairs that are both more comfortable and flexible.

Aside from the lack of flexibility in the layout and money borrowed from my book budget, I believe creating a classroom with flexible seating was worth it for students. I adapted the “weird classroom in the cafeteria,” as one junior put it, into a space students feel welcome to breathe and relax a little during the day–there is something about being out of a desk and making a choice.  At the end of the day, if students are happy and like the setup, I can be satisfied with that.

Any flexible seating transition suggestions, guidelines, or ideas?  Please share them!

 

Maggie Lopez is enjoying summer vacation and hopes all of her teacher friends are doing the same.  You can find her on Twitter @meg_lopez0.

 

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