Thursday, November 20, 2008

Writing is Essential

A video on the writing process, produced by students at McKay High School in Portland, Oregon:

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Mark Wahlberg Talks to Animals

Thank you Andy Samberg. This gets funnier each time I watch it. (And I've watched it a lot.)

Say hi to your mother for me.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Elegance in writing

Props to Bruce Schauble for this post on elegance. I also appreciated the Universal Intellectual Standards he referenced.

This year my school is focusing on (among other things) higher order thinking skills, so the above materials are timely and appropriate.

Thanks, too, for these Reading Response Moves. For those of you who haven't checked it out, Bruce's blog, Throughlines, is a must read.

I snapped the above photo in a state forest in Western Massachusetts with a Canon PowerShot SD750 this October.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Teaching with easels

Last year I bought four wooden, self-assemble easels from Joann Fabrics to use in my classroom. I had recently gone to a conference of The New England Association of Teachers of English, where one of the presenters - a former Massachusetts Teacher of the Year - used easel posters to engage a group of English teachers during a seminar.

Once the easels came in the mail, I went to my local hardware store and picked up four pieces of plywood. I set a piece of plywood on each easel, clipped easel paper onto the plywood, and voila! - I had four classroom easels for under $60.

The past two days I've used the easels to help structure discussions of To Kill a Mockingbird. In the first two photographs, students initially wrote quotes and drew images before going back to the easels for "round two" to explain the quotes and write down insights gleaned from the images. In a "final round," students used yellow reporters notebooks to write down the main idea they extracted from each easel, along with something they felt wasn't sufficiently explained and needed to be discussed in class.

In the third image, students wrote quotes and questions. They then analyzed their quotes in the reporters notebooks, and answered questions on the easels.

The fourth image contains some of the instructions I wrote on my front blackboard. The students are to be commended for both tolerating and actually reading my handwriting.


Use of the easels allow students to work collaboratively in groups, share their thoughts and insights with each other, and receive immediate feedback on their ideas from peers. It also gets them up and moving around the room. Both yesterday and today, students said "This period goes by so fast." It doesn't always, but when everyone is engaged, time is a rare commodity that I just don't have enough of.

For the easel activity to work, students need to have done the reading, done their homework (in this case, one of four literature circle jobs), understand exactly what they are supposed to do and in what order, and evenly delegate each of the tasks within their groups. My students have been working in literature circle groups of four, so we ended up having five groups in each class. At times a couple of the easels were "busy" when two groups were at the same one, but overall students did a good job working with and around each other.

In the past I've done other activities where there are four groups, so each easel is occupied by only one student mass.


I find if I don't offer students an alternative structure for class discussions, (lit circles, easel activities, Socratic seminar) I can end up dominating the conversation. That's not what I want. I'm not here to tell the kids what I know about To Kill a Mockingbird. I'm here to see what they're coming to know about it as they read it. I want to help shed light on ambiguities and clear up misconceptions. I don't want to recount plot or show them how brilliant I am at literary analysis. I can certainly model these things for them, but if they begin to get the idea that I'm going to tell them about the book and explain what things mean, they won't be inclined to read. Why should they if I'm going to give it to them in class?


I've found that groupwork can be a great motivator. If students in a group are responsible for different tasks or roles, and they know that each task is vital for the group to function cohesively in class, they're more inclined to do the assignment. I always check homework at the start of class on the day it's due, and I usually try to use homework as the basis for some kind of discussion, or to lead into new territory.

I'd be curious to hear of your experiences using easels in the classroom. I'd also be happy to provide more info on how I structure some of the activities.