Friday, June 13, 2008

Nuts and bolts

While busily scoring final exams and compiling 4th quarter grades, I received an e-mail from another member of the English Dept. This teacher, a savvy veteran with mostly 12th grade classes, was asking for information about the nuts and bolts of instruction that goes on in the lower grades.

She wanted to make sure her curriculum and expectations were aligned with students' prior English class experiences. What follows is my response to her - a rough summary of what I do with my 9th and 12th grade students. Eventually this teacher hopes to compile a working document that details our department's major writing assignments and instructional strategies from 9-12.

I'm curious to hear how other teachers approach these areas of instruction. It goes without saying that almost none of what I do is set in stone; I'm always looking to tweak, improve, and be as effective as possible.


Vocabulary - I assign 10 words per week, drawn from class readings and most common SAT words. Usually the students have a say in deciding which words we'll learn. They also have four roots per week, drawn from the most common SAT words, and three literary terms as relevant to class readings & assignments.

Students write sentences which they share out loud with the class. Student-created vocabulary quiz stories with literary term & root utilization questions are used as weekly assessments.
I'm thinking I might include prefixes and suffixes next year. I'm also leaning toward experimenting with vocabulary squares and other innovative vocab teaching techniques in lieu or in addition to sentences.

Major writing assignments - Many of these are available on my teaching resources page. A number of them have been updated from last year. If you're interested in the newest version (or something that is listed here but isn't there), leave a comment or fire an e-mail and I'll send you what you want.

Ninth grade (some of these are also used with my 12th grade class):

* Summer reading character/setting fusion synthesis essay (500-700 words)
* Pearl Value Compare/Contrast Narrative Essay (800-1000 words)
* To Kill A Mockingbird quote & concept analysis and expository essay (500 words)
* Old Man and the Sea MCAS Long Comp 5-paragraph essay with three embedded & analyzed quotations (500-600 words)
* Ernest Hemingway research narrative involving three sources, in-text citations, and MLA Works Cited (400-600 words)
* Poet research narrative involving a minimum of three sources, in-text citations, and MLA Works Cited (500-700 words)
* original 700-1000 word short story demonstrating the six short story characteristics (setting, plot, conflict, character, point-of-view, & theme)
* Romeo & Juliet Verona Times Persuasive Editorial Letter (300-500 words)
* Vocabulary in context 300-word original story (3x per year)
* Outside reading book review featuring summary, exposition, analysis, and an outside opinion (300-400 words, 4x per year).
Twelfth grade:

* Oedipus quote & concept analysis and expository essay (500 words)
* Siddhartha Comes to America synthesis/narrative essay (700-1000 words)
* College essay/personal narrative (300-500 words)
* Macbeth theme analysis essay with three embedded & analyzed quotations (700-900 words)
* Lord of the Flies quote & concept analysis and expository essay (500 words)
* Three-search research/interview/narrative essay utilizing direct and indirect quotations, internal citations, and MLA works cited (800-1200 words)

Grammar - In my classes, grammar falls under the broader category of writing instruction. I teach grammar when I teach and assign writing. Some convention elements are explicitly taught as they relate to the assignment or specific goals of a lesson, while others are on an as-needed basis as students' strengths and weaknesses reveal themselves.

Reading - All course selections are read outside of class with the exception of Romeo and Juliet (9th), and Oedipus & Macbeth (12th), which we reenact in the classroom in our "thespian arena" (a topic for a future post). In addition to our school's curriculum, my students also read four outside reading books of their choice over the course of the year. The selections must be at least 200 pages and of appropriate reading level and challenge for each individual student.

Homework - Assignments usually involve reading and responding to a text in some way. Homework responses are always checked on the they're due and usually serve as a catalyst for that day's lesson. Class discussions, activities, and participation opportunities revolve around nightly homework assignments - they're not just busy work. I'll give anywhere from 20-40 homework assignments per quarter, depending on complexity and time needed to complete. Students can expect to spend 30-60 minutes per night.