Tag Archives: AP English Language

Mini-lesson Monday: Remembering 9/11 and a study of language

Our students are too young to remember the events of 9/11. And while we are not history teachers, I do think we have a responsibility and an opportunity to help them try to make sense of the horrors of that September morning and how it impacts their lives today.

hyrum

Pvt. Hyrum Chase Rasmussen

In church yesterday, the congregation stood and sang three verses of “The Star Spangled Banner.” This song has new meaning for me since my son Hyrum joined the Army this summer. It may have new meaning for you if you’ve been following the Colin Kaepernick-taking-a-knee-event-fall-out-and-discussion. I want my students to be able to make sense of their world and one way I can help them do that is to provide them with thought-provoking pieces that help them make connections. Maybe one of these texts will help them find their own “new meaning.”

In honor of September 11, the every day people and every day heroes who lost their lives, the families who still mourn loved ones, the soldiers who valiantly died facing foes in foreign lands, and the men and women willing to serve today in a time of unrest and war, this is the lesson that I will share with my students today.

Objective:  Using the language of the Depth of Knowledge levels, students will react to a first-hand account of 9/11 in their writer’s notebooks. They will formulate ideas on how this one story relates to our growing theme of what it means to be courageously human. Students will then analyze a text and compare the writer’s use of language to a text read previously.

Lesson:  We’ve already discussed the question, “What does it mean to be courageously human?” a phrase I borrowed from a text we read last week. (I read Chequan Lewis’ piece as a read aloud, wanting students to just listen and enjoy his use of language. Then, later we read it again and analyzed the literary and rhetorical devices he uses to create the meaning. I modeled how to annotate and asked students to write their own notes in the margins — something I will expect them to do throughout the year.)

Today I will remind students to read texts with pens in hand, noting the writer’s interesting use of language, any points of confusion, any words they don’t know, the structure of the text, and any and all devices the writer uses to craft meaning. Today’s text is the masterful piece Leonard Pitts, Jr. wrote September 12, 2001.

After students have time to read, annotate, and discuss in small groups, we will come together as a class and craft an anchor chart that details the moves Pitts makes in comparison to those craft moves made by Mr. Lewis. I will charge students to model these moves in their own writing throughout the year.

Follow up:  The anchor chart will hang in the room as a reminder that writers are intentional in the moves they make as they craft meaning. Students will be expected to be intentional in their own writing as they work on various forms of writing in class and on their blogs this year.

I Prefer a Community of Confident Writers — Our Jump into Understanding a Writer’s Craft

 

Before spring term was over, I’d written two pages of notes in the back cover of my writer’s notebook. I titled it “Remember to Do Things to do Differently.” I’m a bit ambitious — and I realize, often, too hard on myself. Although I knew my students learned last yearemember-to-do-things-differentlyr, I wasn’t confident that they couldn’t have learned more.

I imagine you’ve been there, too. Always second guessing.

One of the things I knew I needed to improve was my relationships with students — I needed them to be good and strong, faster.  I also needed to help students jump in quicker to the complexities of craft analysis without scaring the poor little dears.

So last week, the second week of school, I did what Lisa just wrote about yesterday. I “Encourage[d] Students to Start Sharing Who They Are,” and I did it by sharing a favorite poem by Wislawa Szymborska: “Possibilities.”

I asked students to study the poet’s language in each line and then write their own “Possibilities” poem, imitating the poet’s sentence structure and word play. I gave them a copy of my annotations and wrote my own poem as a model.

This proved to be an excellent lead into the rhetorical analysis students must be able to do in AP Language. I was able to see which students quickly understood how to look closely at an author’s craft — and which ones did not.

The best part though was what I learned about my students. All their preferences!!

Last Friday, when their poems were due, we did our first Author’s Chair share in class.

First, to help students build confidence, they read their poems to a partner.

faithsharing-possibilitiespoem

sharingpossibilitiespoems

Then, volunteers sat in our Author’s Chair and read their poems to the class.

While the student read his poem, everyone else sat with sticky note and pen in hand ready to offer “blessings,” things they liked about the author’s use of language, or connections they could make to his ideas.

sharingintheauthorschair

After each writer shared, the class flooded him with “blessings.” Smiles grew wide, trust blossomed, and the community that I felt was missing for too long a time last year took root.readingblessings

Bonus:  When students read their little notes, carefully crafted by peers who listened to
their writing, their confidence as writers grew. Too bad we ran out of class time. I might have run out of sticky notes if all students would have felt the desire to share.

readingblessings2

I wouldn’t have minded.

I would not have minded at all.

ciarawithblessings

I would love to hear your ideas on building community and/or introducing students to rhetorical analysis. Please join the conversation and share in the comments.

Poetic Rhetoric — Spoken Word Poems in AP Lang

For a long while now, I’ve wanted to write spoken word poems with my students.

I use Sarah Kay’s “Hands” at the beginning of the year to start students thinking about their lives and the important moments that shape them. We draw hands in our notebooks and fill them with words that represent our memories. Like many of you, I first did this myself with Penny Kittle, and now I draw a hand in every notebook as one of the first pieces I write in it.

I use Shane Koyczan’s “To This Day” and ask students to write a response to it. Sometimes they tell me things that break my heart. Like the fall on the first day of school when two different girls in two different classes wrote about the abuse they experienced from their fathers at home.

These and other poems students find interesting and inspiring, and while they’ve always worked as never-fail quick writes, I wanted to challenge students to use all the skills we’ve focused on this year to write their own poetry. My student teacher, Zach, and I finally figured out how.

And students wrote some powerful poems with some perfectly poetic language.

We called the assignment:  Poetic Rhetoric. what-matters-most-in-life-are-quotes-and-stuff-that-tell-you-what-life-is-really-about_motto

The initial task read like this:  Craft a spoken word poem that addresses a personal conflict and/or a social issue, include rhetorical techniques and literary and rhetorical devices to convince your audience of the need for positive change. Perform your poem for the class live, or create an automated slide show with visuals, or a video recording as a way to digital.

Every day for a week we shared a different spoken word poem. Sometimes we wrote responses as a way to mine for our own ideas for topics. Sometimes we studied the lyrics, closely reading and analyzing structure, tone, and literary devices. We encouraged students to use the work of these poets as their mentors:  “Remember, we learn to write when we study good writing.”

We listened to “Paper People” by Harry Baker, and we talked about theme and sentences that hold the most weight, ones that might be his position statement.

We listened to “Education” by Aadil Malik, and we talked about evidence and examples that support the main idea.

We listened to “Touchscreen” by Marshall Davis Jones, and we talked about repetition, puns, and other literary devices that make language clever and meaningful.

We analyzed the structure of “To This Day,” and we talked about how Koyczan moves from self, to another, to another, to everyone as a way to finally get to his moving plea “to get a better mirror.”

Zach taught mini-lessons, reminding students how to use personification, puns, allusions, and fresh figurative language. We gave students time to write in class, and time to talk with one another, and time to talk with us about their process and their product.

We provided resources on how to write performance poetry like this and this and this.

And students wrote beautiful and meaningful arguments.

Most students performed their poems live in class. (I did allow for a teleprompter since I am the worst at memorizing myself.) We have a slam poetry night coming up on our campus in April. I hope many of my student will perform their poetry again there.

Here are the lyrics to some of the ones I personally enjoyed. I wish I had video of the performances. You’ll have to trust me — they were awesome.

Nefertiti Franklin:  WelcomeToStereotypesAA

Jennifer Melendez:  Find Your Charge, which includes an evaluation of her writing process

Kennedy Jenkins: Use Your Mind

Fabian Gutierrez: ADPoem

And here is an example of one of the poems published digitally. I love her language.

Jessica Ortiz:  People Love to Talk

Reminders to self for when I do this writing unit another year:

A. Take more time with topic selection. As with any writing, if students choose topics that are too broad, or they do not know enough about, the writing is harder to revise.

B. Meet with students more often. Conferring is essential to helping students find what they want to say. Too many students procrastinate and then think they can produce quality writing at the last minute. I must remember to confer at the beginning, the middle, and the end of the writing process. Schedule time for this.

C. Allow time for students to provide one another more targeted feedback. Although they met in small groups and talked about their writing, they did not use their time as effectively as they could have. If I will be more purposeful in modeling what a helpful feedback group looks like, students will be able to help one another more.

I love teaching students to write. I’m not sure there’s a better gift than reading their published work and seeing that they understand the power of their voices. Sometimes they blow my socks off with the force of their wisdom. I love it when they get it.

Have you used spoken word poetry in your writing class? How? What are your favorite poems?

#FridayReads — Oh, Mercy! Have I got a plan for this mentor text

Usually I read about four books at a time. This makes for a mess on the bedside table, the coffee table, the kitchen table. I rarely use bookmarks, which is a shame because I have quite a lovely collection.

I end up leaving books split open and sound asleep right where I left them –sometimes just so I can remember the parts I know I want to use in class. I refuse to read on until I capture the sentence or passage that gives me pause. Such is the case with my new now bent-spine-copy of Just Mercy, a Story of Justice and Redemption by Bryan Stevenson. I’ve been stuck on page 18.

Here’s a portion of the passage I will use with my AP Lang students. You will, of course, find the rest of it when you buy the book, or here.

     When I first went to death row in December 1983, America was in the early stages of a radical transformation that would turn us into an unprecedentedly harsh and punitive nation and result in mass imprisonment that has no historical parallel. Today we have the highest rate of incarceration in the world. The prison population has increased from 300,000 people in the early 1970s to 2.3 million people today. There are nearly six million people on probation or on parole. One in every fifteen people born in the United States in 2001 is expected to go to jail or prison: one in every three black males babies born in this century is expected to be incarcerated.

     We have shot, hanged, gassed, electrocuted, and lethally injected hundreds of people to carry out legally sanctioned executions. Thousands more await their execution on death row. Some states have no minimum age for prosecuting children as adults; we’ve sent a quarter million kids to adult jails and prisons to serve long prison terms, some under the age of twelve. For years, we’ve been the only country in the world that condemns children to life imprisonment without parole; nearly three thousand juveniles have been sentenced to die in prison.

     We also make terrible mistakes. Scores of innocent people have been exonerated after being sentenced to death and nearly executed . Hundreds more have been released after being proved innocent of noncapital crimes through DNA testing. Presumptions of guild, poverty, racial bias, and a host of other social, structural, and political dynamics have created a system that is defined by error, a system in which thousands of innocent people now suffer in prison.

…..

     We are all implicated when we allow other people to be mistreated. An absence of compassion can corrupt the decency of a community, a state, a nation. Fear and anger can make us vindictive and abusive, unjust and unfair, until we all suffer from the absence of mercy and we condemn ourselves as much as we victimize others. The closer we get to mass incarceration and extreme levels of punishment, the more I believe it’s necessary to recognize that we all need mercy, we all need justice, and — perhaps — we all need some measure of unmerited grace. 

 

Before we ever read the text, and I did pull much more of it than I’ve posted here, we’ll spark our thinking with an image like this, posted at The Sentencing Project, and then write our initial responses in our writer’s notebooks:

Next, we will TALK. I know my students will want to share what they think about this graphic. Many will identify personally with it because they know a family member or a friend who’s served prison time.

When I introduce them to Stevenson’s text, I’ll give them a purpose for reading — besides just comprehending the message (identifying the purpose is a breeze since he tells us the reason he writes the book) — I want my students to notice the structure, the progression between ideas, the repetition and patterns they will see in the language. All the clues that build the tone.

I will ask them to mark the text, noting their thinking about these things. Without a purpose for reading, too many of my students struggle with the stamina they need to make it through even a page when I ask them to read critically.

Next, we will TALK. Talking will help some students understand what they read. It will help other students clarify their understanding. Some students will have noted what I asked them to notice as they read. I will rely on them to help the others — skill level is just one way my students are diverse.

I will also hand them a stack of questions that prepare them to write. They will read something like this:

What do you know about the writer based on what he writes?

What is the Stevenson’s purpose? Why does he come out and tell us so plainly?

What are the facts in this piece? What are opinions? How do you know?

What do you notice about the structure, any patterns, repetition? What do they do for the message?

How does Stevenson move between ideas?

And then we will write. Maybe I’ll give a prompt like this: Based on the text, and our discussion, is Stevenson’s opening argument effective, why or why not?  Maybe I’ll ask students to come up with their own analytical-style question to respond to. (I like this idea a lot.)  [see Talk Read Talk Write]

That’s probably enough for one class period, but my mind is still stirring:

  • What if I ask students to problematize the issue? Who are the stakeholders? Think all the way around the issue. Why do they care? Why do we care? What kinds of questions do we have about the claims Stevenson makes? What kinds of evidence do we need to convince us they are valid? How and when could anything regarding this issue change?
  • What if I ask students to identify just one of Stevenson’s claims and then research it? I assume the author provides support throughout the book. I’ll know when I keep reading. But what if students did a bit of research and then collaborated on substantiating Stevenson’s claims. Collaborative writing can be a powerful learning experience.
  • What if I ask students to brainstorm other issues Stevenson’s text suggests? We could probably create a pretty elaborate bubble map of ideas. These could lead to student choice in research topics.

What do you think? Any other ideas?

©Amy Rasmussen, 2011 – 2015

See the #Storify of #engchat March 23, 2015 — Fantastic Resources for Poetry

Thanks to @Drama_Chick for this Storify.

For one very fast hour this evening, Twitter blew up with the talk of poetry as English teachers near and far shared ideas for immersing their students in the beauty of words. So many fantastic resources and such great thinking! Thank you to everyone who participated, and thank you for taking a look here even if you didn’t.

I remembered one thing I wanted to share and didn’t. It comes from the book  A Surge of Language–Teaching Poetry Day by Day by Wormser and Cappella. I modify this list a bit and use many of these questions with my AP Language students as we look at non-fiction passages for rhetorical analysis.

Ten Questions to Ask About Words

1. What word intrigues you most?

2. Is there a word that confuses you?

3. What word surprises you?

4. What word seems most metaphorical?

5. Is there a word that seems unnecessary?

6. What word is most important?

7. What is the most physical word in the poem?

8. What is the most specific word in the poem?

9. What is the strongest sound word in the poem?

10. What is the most dynamic verb in the poem? (12)

I believe that poetry can make us better humans. If every person immersed himself in beautiful language, we’d all find much more peace. Be more kind. Loving. Genuine.

Let’s try it.

Challenge on.

Why Workshop? It’s All Very Simple

Attending the University of New Hampshire Literacy Institute for the past two summers has been one of the best blessings in my teaching career. I’ve remembered what it means to be a student, replete with pages and pages of reading assignments, almost nightly research papers, and the expectation that I will participate in class.

Sure, I earned graduate credit, but more importantly, I sat as a student. I remembered what it feels like to have a teacher present a task, encourage a discussion, require I read something. I remembered what it means to be the pupil. And I wanted to learn.

I think all students want to learn. I also think that many of them do not know how.

Last week I met with my new friend Holly. We shared ideas about our plans for August and how we will more fully implement readers/writers workshop in our classrooms. We discussed what it means to struggle as a student in an English class where English is not our first language, and reading books is a new idea, and the lack of food in our home is just one component of the lack of security we feel every single day. We talked about what it must feel like to these children to fail state tests year after year. Because they do. Holly will be teaching 10th grade for the first time, and her ESL background will benefit her students immensely. I will be teaching AP English Language, and all my students will be in the AVID program. I am convinced the AVID philosophy is one every teacher should embrace:

Hold students accountable to the highest standards,
    provide academic and social support,
 and they will rise to the challenge.

It’s a philosophy every good teacher I know applies in his classroom. It’s also why so many of us choose the pedagogy of Readers and Writers Workshop. Our high standards might be the same for all students, but the support we must give them to help them rise to the various challenges with reading and writing must be individualized. Their needs are different; therefore, we must differentiate. One-on-one reading and writing conferences become daily events. We encourage, and nudge, and teach the skills that a student needs at that moment, during that task. This is authentic instruction. And it invites authentic learning.

As I think about this new school year on a new campus in a new district with new colleagues, new administrators, and new schedules (block days versus the traditional eight period days), I want to remember what it feels like from the student perspective.

“I need you to notice me, support me, show me how to learn.”

I had a colleague ask me recently, “Which is harder to plan:  teaching the traditional way with teachers making choices, or your way with students making the choices?” I should have said, “Is that really the right question?” which would have been a better response than the one I gave him.

It is hard work being a teacher in a workshop classroom. I have to know my students. I have to talk with them and know what they do with their time outside of school, who their friends are, what their dreams are for after high school. I have to be a reader, and I often have to read books I’d never read except to try to match the right book with a student who hates reading. I have to allow choice in topics, and get used to feeling uncomfortable. I have to give up control, and let teens be real in an environment that invites their opinions, and sometimes their scorn. I have to write in front of them and show my vulnerability. They have to see me struggle because all writers do. I have to love moving students as readers and writers because ultimately, if I am their English teacher, and I am not moving readers and writers, I am not doing my job.

Is it hard? Absolutely.

But here’s the thing: It’s really not a have to as much as it’s a get to.

“Simple can be harder than complex: You have to work hard to get your thinking clean to make it simple. But it’s worth it in the end because once you get there, you can move mountains.”  ~Steve Jobs

“It’s all very simple. But maybe because it’s so simple, it’s also hard.” ~Natuski Takay

Writing Well is What Changes the World

Recently, I read Penny Kittle’s article “What We Learn When We Free Writers,” and I learned as much about myself as a writer as I did about my students. I needed to rethink some things.

See, I am trying to write a book. Most days I’m lying when I say so. I haven’t written well enough or consistently enough or passionately enough to say so.

But I am trying to.

I started reading Writing Down the Bones–Freeing the Writer Within by Natalie Goldberg, and I’m marking lines that resonate. So far, this is my favorite:

Write when you write (26).

I wrote it out and stuck it to my computer monitor, and during my lunch 20140407_114704break I open up my document in Drive and throw my thinking on the page. This is hard–I am so easily distracted. And the perfectionist in me nags until I go back and make revisions. I’m trying to quiet that voice.

The #100words100days challenge is helping. This started as a simple idea during #engchat a few weeks ago. I’m not consistent in posting my word count or links to what I’ve written, but I am writing. That’s what matters.

Back to the article:  Penny refers to the advice of Don Murray regarding authentic writing instruction. It includes just three things:

  1. Teach process, not product.
  2. Write yourself.
  3. Listen to your students.

I do all of these things. But sometimes, I do not do them well.

A few students and I had a big disconnect last week. They pushed back at what I was trying to get them to do. They didn’t understand. A lot.

I had failed at a few things:

A. I failed at making sure students knew that I do every writing assignment I ask them to do.

B. I failed at sharing (in a way that they understood) the enduring understandings and essential questions that directed my planning.

C. I failed at helping students see how process writing will help them with the timed writings that they will have to do on the AP exam, and it will help them with the writing they will have to do in college and beyond. (I still don’t get how they missed that.)

I assumed way too much. I guess I forgot these students are 16, and English class would be low on their list of priorities, if they kept a list.

So this morning, we slowed down. We thought about our writing and our writing habits. We wrote self-reflections, we evaluated our writing processes, and we talked.

First, I projected the stages of the continuum that Penny shared. Like her, I can see my students’ writing practices somewhere between “I won’t write” and “I freely write.”

Interestingly, when students placed their own writing practices on the continuum, with the exception of just two outliers, they all said they sat in “Stage three:  I will write, but I’m not deeply engaged with my own thinking. I want you to tell me what to write, so I can do it the way you say so and move on.”

This makes me sad, but I think I get it.

I am trying to break the writing habits students have practiced for years. Years of teachers giving prompts and writing assignments that students did not choose. Years of students writing only what they had to for a grade. No play in notebooks. No writing just for the pleasure of writing. No writing without penalty for poor grammar or mechanics.

Now we are in the fourth quarter, and I have roughly two months to turn the tide. Two months to help students get what I so desperately want them to get:  Writing well is what changes the world.

It is, you know. Just think about it.

Thanks for being our writing coach, Mr. Lightman

I’ve done a lot of thinking about structure lately. My students need to learn some. They’ve finally got some great ideas, but they are struggling with effectively sharing them in their writing.

I’ve become hyper aware.

I notice when an author introduces a topic. I notice when he builds a paragraph with reasoning and evidence. I notice when he concludes with a sentence that alludes back to the main idea. I notice balanced ideas in balanced sentences, and I get a thrill when the author captures meaning through structure and not just words and phrases.

Like this passage by Alan Lightman in his little novel Einstein’s Dreams (53-54):

There is a place where time stands still. Raindrops hang motionless in air. Pendulums of clocks float mid-swing. Dogs raise their muzzles in silent howls. Pedestrians are frozen on the dusty streets, their legs cocked as if held by strings. The aromas of dates, mangoes, coriander, cumin are suspended in space.

As a traveler approaches this place from any direction, he moves more and more slowly. His heartbeats grow farther apart, his breathing slackens, his temperature drops, his thoughts diminish, until he reaches dead center and stops. For this is the center of time. From this place, time travels outward in concentric circles–at rest at the center, slowly picking up speed at greater diameters.

Who would make pilgrimage to the center of time? Parents with children, and lovers.

And so, at the place where time stands still, one sees parents clutching their children, in a frozen embrace that will never let go. The beautiful young daughter with blue eyes and blond hair will never stop smiling the smile she smiles now, will never lose this soft pink glow on her cheeks, will never grow wrinkled or tired, will never get injured, will never unlearn what her parents have taught her, will never think thoughts that her parents don’t know, will never know evil, will never tell her parents that she does not love them, will never leave her room with the views of the ocean, will never stop touching her parents as she does now.

And at the place where time stands still, one sees lovers kissing in the shadows of buildings, in a frozen embrace that will never let go. The loved one will never take his arms from where they are now, will never give back the bracelet of memories, will never journey far from his lover, will never place himself in danger in self-sacrifice, will never fail to show his love, will never become jealous, will never fall in love with someone else, will never lose the passion of this instant in time.

_____________________________________________________________________________________

I love it when an author becomes our writing coach.

Thank you, Mr. Lightman.

Not the Same Old AP Writing Teacher

ocsWriting takes time. I imagine most English teachers know this. However, I am not sure most English teachers allow students enough time to produce their best work.

I speak from experience. You might be able to relate.

Traditionally, I would give students a writing assignment. We’d pre-write a day, sometimes two. We’d draft a day, sometimes two. We’d revise (or I’d hope they’d revise) maybe a day–or none at all, depending on the student. We’d publish our work and turn it in for a grade.

Oh, how incredibly dull . . .and ineffective. No wonder so many students hated writing.

This year we do writing differently. We are writing a lot more like real writers.

We start with reading. We read an engaging and complex mentor text. The author becomes our writing coach for as long as we are working on the assignment. The piece my students are writing now is a feature article modeled after the work of John Branch in Snowfall:Avalanche at Tunnel Creek, which recently won a Pulitzer Prize. We read the first four pages or so together, stopping to talk about the many devices Branch uses to craft the introduction to this piece. We discussed the rhetorical appeals and how Branch uses them to build credibility and create emotion. Students were mesmerized by the narrative. It’s a lovely day in my teaching life when every sentence in a text has something worthy of taking note–I had to stop myself in Snowfall. Too much talk, and we lose the rhythm of the article.

After we read, my students and I looked at the embedded photos with the captions and watch a couple of the videos. We discussed why the author included these in the piece where and how he did. I then told students that they would be creating their own article, and John Branch just became their writing coach.

Students chose topics after a lot of class discussion and responses to my probing questions in their writing notebooks.

  • If you didn’t have to go to school, or work, or any other responsibility, what would you do with your time?
  • If you could have dinner with three famous people, past or present, who would you invite to dine?
  • If you could travel in time, what era would you want to return to?
  • Where to you see yourself in five years?
  • What do you want your life to be like in 10 years?
  • What is something you have always wondered about?

Students chose some interesting topics:  One young woman is writing about building schools in Mexico, another is writing about neurobiology, and another is writing about hiking across Europe. A young man is writing about what life was like during Jesus’ time, another is writing about game design, and another is writing about becoming a pastry chef.

Initially, I had students jot their topics on a sticky note, so I could see if what they had chosen was “doable.” (We all know those students who choose topics that are so broad, and perhaps the students’  skills are so immature, that there is no way they will ever be able to write anything interesting.) I wrote some quick feedback, pretty much either “Run with it,” or “Wait! narrow this down,” and most students were ready to write.

Then I had this idea that I’d been playing with in some consulting I’ve conducted with North Star of TX madewithOver-2Writing Project. It’s a working structure to get students thinking. And if I teach it right, students will learn four different modes of writing in one go:  definition, narrative, examples, and argument.

I wrote my own working piece, and my students and I read it together. Then I asked them for suggestions on where I could improve and where I could add research. You can see my working document here: Authenticity.

Students then began crafting their own four paragraphs. This ended up being the final summative assessment for fall semester due to the deaths in my family and my many absences. Turned out to be a pretty good resting place.

When we return to class next week, these are our next steps:

First, we will return to Snowfall and read and discuss the piece in more detail. You know, to get us back in the reading and writing groove after our two weeks break.

Then, we will project a few student work samples on the board and talk through them the same way that students did with mine, offering suggestions on improvement and where research may work to advance the meaning. Every student who wants whole class help will have the chance to ask for it. Others might choose to just get help from their small writing groups. Either is fine, as long as all students share their work and get feedback.

Eventually, we will work on revising our structure, moving around paragraphs, and making our writing follow Branch’s award-winning article. Of course, I will pull sentences to study and conduct other mini-lessons all throughout our writing process. And I will confer with students regularly. We will add photos and videos (hopefully originals), and we will polish and polish and polish before we publish.

For the first time ever, I am in no hurry. I will not allow our time to be regulated by grading periods– well, until the very last one at the end of the year.

We will write.

We will revise.

We will confer and share and grow as writers.

And eventually, we will publish.

And celebrate.

I’d love to know how or what you have changed as a writing teacher. Please share.

AP English: Improving Our Rhetorical Analysis One Quickwrite at a Time

I’ve mentioned that I am working on finding a way to be more efficient in my writing workshop. I want to expose students to beautifully written language that we can study together, and maybe learn a little grammar, but I also want to use these pieces of text for quick writes. I know that the content (or at least my questioning) has to be compelling enough that students will have something that makes their fingers itch to pick up their pens.

When I read I find myself dog-earing pages and book-marking passages that have been crafted with many rhetorical devices and/or literary elements. By helping students recognize how these strategies, used deliberately by the authors, create meaning, my students’ rhetorical analysis timed writings are scoring higher than they have at this point of the semester in years past.

I love it when my ideas work.

This is the passage we will read and respond to this week:

From An Invisible Thread by Laura Schroff and Alex Tresniowski p4

And so, when Maurice spoke to me, I just kept going. Another thing to remember is that this was New York in the 1980s, a time when vagrants and panhandlers were as common a sight in the city as kids on bikes or moms with strollers. The nation was enjoying an economic boom, and on Wall Street new millionaires were minted every day. But the flip side was a widening gap between the rich and the poor, and nowhere was this more evident than on the streets of New York City. Whatever wealth was supposed to trickle down to the middle class did not come close to reaching the city’s poorest, most desperate people, and for many of them the only recourse was living on the streets. After a while you got used to the sight of them–hard, gaunt men and sad, haunted women, wearing rags, camped on corners, sleeping on grates, asking for change. It is tough to imagine anyone could see them and not feel deeply moved by their plight. Yet they were just so prevalent that most people made an almost subconscious decision to simply look the other way–to, basically, ignore them. The problem seemed so vast, so endemic, that stopping to help a single panhandler could feel all but pointless. And so we swept past them every day, great waves of us going on with our lives and accepting that there was nothing we could really do to help.

Write about a time when you encountered a homeless person or a beggar. How did you feel? What did you do?

I am still working on the questions. Sometimes I think it’s best to say, “Just respond.” Other times I think students need more direction.

What do you think?

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