Anyone who even remotely follows my work knows one thing - for sure - by now.
I LOVE true crime.
I've shared my materials for The Murder of Allan Ripley and my virtual CSI: AP Language. Now, I have an entire unit. (In my defense, it's what the kiddos wanted... Like over 75% of them.)
Introducing.... my version of Unsolved Mysteries.
[NOTE: The full unit will be for sale on my Teachers Pay Teachers site shortly.]
You'll notice that the rubric (scroll to the bottom of the inserted page) uses AP Language standards, including: Thesis, Commentary, Intro/Conclusions, Assertions and Evidence, but it also uses some of my own (Revision and Presenting Information).
Because everything in 2020/2021 must be flexible - that's how I allowed the students pace themselves. I gave them the checklist below and the suggested pacing calendar, but ultimately, everything was given a hard deadline at the end.
We have student iPads, so I directed them to Anchor, an app that makes podcasts really simple. (It is pretty limited, but at the end of the semester, that isn't necessarily a bad thing).
If you will be using desktops or laptops, I would recommend Audacity. I've used it in the past with students and they caught on pretty quickly.
For a sample, I created a podcast about the Manson murders with my fellow AP teacher. Ours got a little extra (SHOCKING!) so it's over 18 minutes. However, we wanted to be sure that students saw the many different things they could do with audio and discourse. (#noregrets)
As of now, students have (or at least they are pretending to have) completed their research and are putting together scripts. Because they are in groups, they have been pretty self reliant - with me just popping in to suggested resources and remind them about rubric criteria.
If you're looking for something to end the semester or a break from test prep monotony next semester, I hope you find this helpful.
I didn't even post in December! What??
Sorry for the radio silence. I have been a busy bee - along with pretty much every teach in America. My seniors have wrapped up our introduction to poetry and are now deep into Sing Unburied Sing by Jessmyn Ward. The juniors - AP Language - have finished their survey of the three essays on the exam and are now jumping in to a unit they helped me design - true crime podcasts! (As you might have inferred, they LOVED our True Crime week awhile back).
Regardless, today was one of those days where I just put all of that on the back burner. Moments such as yesterday are (fortunately) rare in our history as a nation, but they deserve dedicated time in class. For kids to process. To have big conversations. And - in AP Lang - to look at what role language has to play in the "real world."
Cue: Me, frantically texting my AP Language counterpart yesterday, rewriting the entire plan for this week.
If you haven't figured it out yet, I am a PLANNER when it comes to school. I plan months of material at a time. Struggling with anxiety, it is one of the things I can control, so I DO. (I'm the fool who has semester 1 planned out by the time school starts).
That said, one of the hardest lessons for me as a teacher has been knowing when things can wait. Obsessively watching the news last night and the stream of congressional debate, I found myself in one of those important moments. I immediately thought, "If there was ever a moment for kids to 'get' a rhetorical situation, this is it!"
We were going to revisit rhetorical analysis next week anyways, so I cut that stuff out. Pushed back today's work. Then, threw together a quick graphic organizer for them to practice identifying rhetorical choices:
I started class with a brief overview of yesterday's events. (A DIFFICULT task when you are trying to appear objective and unbiased).
Then, we walked through the graphic organizer before I shared the YouTube playlist. In small groups, they watched videos together and picked out one rhetorical choice in each video - which they then explained as well.
Some of my proudest moments of today were when ...
1. I got to tell a kid that she can write like Tammy Duckworth too, if she just keeps writing.
2. Another student marveled that they put these speeches together under so much pressure, allowing me to tell them that there is a reason behind timed writes and healthy pressure. (That it brings out our best at times!)
3. Two girls who have struggled all year FINALLY picked out a rhetorical choice on their own! And beamed with pride that they did it!
To put it simply, it was a really great day in AP Lang, and I actually think the kids will remember it.
What else can you ask for mid-pandemic? Am I right?
I'm sitting here - after putting in five hours on a non-school day - trying to think of a witty funny way to introduce the next project my senior AP Literature students and I are going to try out.
And I got nothing.
It's like I told my brother tonight: "2020 isn't about inspiration. It's about survival." (He made the woeful mistake of allowing me to talk about school).
Therefore, no bells and whistles.
In putting this unit together, I wanted something that would allow me to get students to think about poetic form (sonnets, in particular) but tie the bigger meaning of structure in poetry. In preparation for creating their sonnets, students will think about the function of each quatrain as well as the final couplet. Then, I'm going to set them free to think about how to depict that meaning.
You'll notice my final product definitely ventured from the storyboard. (Animating is COMPLICATED. Ha ha).
I don't know about you guys, but I am going to be up awhile. (Hopefully in celebration). You'll have to forgive any typos - these results are going to require some vodka sedation.
I figured it would be a good time for an update, particularly because I haven't been getting much posted lately. I'm sure if anyone understands, it's other teachers!
As I have mentioned, we are in a hybrid format. That means I get half my kids Monday and Tuesday and the other half on Thursday, Friday. Wednesdays, everyone is virtual. When I don't see the kids, they complete online work. Those of you in the same (or a similar) format would probably agree that the kids are struggling with their virtual work.
And frankly, I don't blame them. I feel like they are getting about a million videos to watch, materials to read, and disengaging activities. I mean, I am trying my best, and they are remarkably putting up with it, but the virtual days are very difficult to plan for me. How do you interest a kid in an activity that will glue them to a screen for hours?
My answer: True crime!
The kids may not feel the same way, but I LOVE true crime. Last year, when we adapted the Murder of Allan Ripley, I was so excited to bring my huge interest in forensics and detective work into the classroom, and then, I was even more excited that the kids seemed to love it! Why not do more of the same?
This week, we are focusing on argument structure (line of reasoning) and reviewing past concepts. We'll do the traditional Allan Ripley activity during the live days, but I created another virtual true crime activity to hopefully engage the students in these new concepts and review.
Introducing.... CSI: AP Language.
The premise is simple: Solve the crime! I created a series of tasks which review content and introduce structure. If students can get a perfect score on a task, they can get a clue. Their goal is to gather as much information as they can to solve the crime.
I began with what I know. I am the odd duck that falls asleep to Forensic Files every night. (Peter Thomas has to have the most soothing voice... even when he is talking about some pretty grizzly murders). I picked a case I am familiar with and picked out the clues.
My course is set up in Schoology, so I use completion folders to require a certain score on each task before they can open the clue. If you don't have that option, you could have students "unlock" clues by handing in their tasks. Also, I apologize that the format isn't the most adaptable. I made everything right in Schoology, so that's the only version I have.
Below is the step-by-step, as it appears on my Schoology page:
The best feature, I think, is the ability to check progress. My students are split into two hybrid groups, so I am still teaching classes when I am supposed to be keeping tabs on my other students who are virtual. This makes that so much easier!
If you select Student Progress at the top. (It should appear if you have setup completion folders). On the right, it will give you the percentage of work completed.
I check this the morning a cohort returns for live instruction and make a point to check with those students that are behind.
3. Folder Description
The last tip is pretty simple, but helpful, according to the kids. Use the text description of folders to present students with a checklist.
I use this space to outline learning objectives or to create a visual checklist of students work for that week. If I'm being really extra...both. :)
Just select edit next to the folder and enter information that will clarify what students need to do.
So those are my tips and tricks! They have been helping A LOT during hybrid learning and I hope they do the same for you!
That anxiety. The back sweat. The awkward silences.
I hate the first day... and this year, I get to do it twice - with half a class each time. What a treat. (eye roll)
Despite how much I hate the first day of school, I have a first day of school tradition. I send an update to my family and friends about how I am feeling as I go into this new year. I'd like to share that here...
Years ago. I got the words "Believe" and "Inspire" tattooed on my arm. Some days, it's there to get me through the tough moments. Others it reminds me how lucky I am to be entrusted with this work.
Never have I needed to believe as I do now...
We're going back to school tomorrow.
(Not pretend school where we get long lunches, jeans and gym shorts, and time to chat).
And for every teacher eager to get back in the room, there is another constantly playing through the worst cast scenarios.
And for each happy reunion, there is the unspoken fear of when the first positives will hit. COVID is an unavoidable fog.
That said, over the last two weeks, I've seen the light stream through...
Teams dissecting their plans and swallowing their pride to make sure they choose best over familiar.
Colleagues - some that never talk - encouraging one another as they pass in the hall (...maybe because masks make the typical smile and nod irrelevant ).
A room full of anxious educators laughing off the irony of seeking out symmetry in a world of chaotic (and seemingly, relentless) asymmetry.
People stepping up to challenges they never could have anticipated - and just figuring. it. out.
If such powerful growth comes from the return of teachers, I can only imagine what inspiration the students will bring with them tomorrow.
We're worried. We're lacking confidence. We're afraid...
But if we believe in this opportunity, this community, and the hope of this moment, we can't fail. And we won't.
As my colleagues and I navigate a hybrid schedule, COVID protocols, and distance learning, most are feeling... stressed. Being one of the more senior teachers in my building... (Yes. Seven years is more than most have been in my building...)...I am pained to see this - particularly with young teachers.
Last week, I hosted a session on flipping an English class, using what I learned last year when we moved to a more personalized, flexible format. (Who would have thought one of my crazy schemes would pay off so well??) I am still no expert - and therefore, am approaching the year with my own anxieties - but I am glad that I can offer some advice in a flipped/flexible format.
I wanted to share that same advice here to help those of you forced into a similar situation.
- Flipped: All instruction is available on our Schoology site. I've created videos (on videos on videos...) of content to launch different skills. The kids are responsible to engage with the content and then complete some sort of assessment.
- Flexible: Class is open format, meaning that I rarely host whole-class lessons. Instead, I am usually conferencing, conducting small groups, etc. This flexible format changes as I see needs in the students' work. Additionally, students pace their own work to meet a set unit deadline.
Issue #1: Motivation and Management
When I met with my department to talk about this format, one of the first questions to come up was how do you manage this format with restless underclassmen (or really, traditional students in general).
My best solution is to a) build a community of mutual respect and b) proximity. Last year, we had students compose their own syllabus - including a section on what flex time should look like. When the room got too loud or off-task, I would stand up and remind them of the needs of the rest of the group. (Something like: "Hey all. I want to remind you of the others in the room. You know that some of them need quiet.")
Other than focusing on that class culture, proximity goes a long way. I removed my desk from my room last December. That forced me to find a place to sit with the kids which, in turn, put me around those students that usually needed more monitoring - either for help or redirection.
Issue #2: Time Management and Self-Pacing
As anyone knows, give students an inch and many of them are going to take a mile. This is absolutely the case with flexible pacing. While some worked to get things done right away - others were daily battles and reminders to get work done.
While I still don't have all the answers here, I can tell you that conferencing was the best solution here. The flex format allows for one-on-one help with course content, but it also allows for individual help on soft skills like time management and organization. When students began to fall behind last year, I would start checking in with them more often, or in some cases, sit down and create a daily calendar with them. We also started giving a pacing suggestion to let students know if they were behind. For instance, we would start class telling them that they should have 6 out of 9 items submitted. If they had less than 5, we would request they come to us for advisory/tutorial time or send communication home that they were behind. Usually the threat of either put them to work.
Issue #3: Distance
Honestly, our biggest objection was the distance created between us and students. For the first quarter last year, we felt as though we were just sitting at the front of the room waiting for kids to ask questions and come to us. It created an invisible barrier that we frankly, hated.
That was a huge motivator in getting rid of my desk. Sitting on level with the kids made it less intimidating to ask a questions and fostered more casual daily conversations with kids. This in combination with an increase in conferencing is my plan for this year - even in a socially distanced format. My desk is still out of the room and I have a goal of no less than three conferences a class period - even on days with small groups or minilessons.
Issue #4: Quarter Crunch
I'm not sure this is even specific to flexible learning, but as the deadline approaches, you get a rush on assignments being handed in. (Really. That happens with any deadline). In my session on Friday, my co workers mentioned that no daily deadlines would result in a wave of work handed in at the end... and yeah, it will. However, incentivizing early submission went a long way.
We reminded students daily that if they wanted to redo anything or get one-on-one feedback, they needed to get things in early. As they started handing in work (and seeing that they would definitely need revisions/redos), they started to be a bit more proactive.
Issue #5: Workload
A flipped OR flexible OR virtual format requires additional work. Most of us don't have a video library of all lessons ready to go. (If you do, you're even more extra than I am... which is saying something). The best advice I have to manage this work load is two part:
1) Record as though you are teaching. Don't re-record or edit the film or add fancy transitions. First of all.... the kids aren't impressed by PowerPoint slide transitions or animations. I promise. Secondly, you wouldn't stop class and start over if you noticed you made a mistake, so don't do that with a video.
2) Save your prep time for prep - not grading. I know as English teachers - particularly AP teachers - we are inundated with material to grade and there are countless strategies to limit that. The best option in a flexible format is to sit with students while you grade their work. Talk through the score and feedback and then move on, entering the scores as you go. It limits grading outside of class AND provides them valuable insight. Win win.
My hope is that this gives education the push it desperately needs toward innovation and reform.
I know that big picture feels completely out of grasp, but we'll get through it! We always do.
But facing a year of unprecedented unknowns, I have no idea what to say or feel.
I am excited to be back in the classroom, but I don't know how that classroom will ever feel like it once did.
I am excited for kids to get back into school, but I am worried about them being exposed to Covid.
I am both dreading and excitedly awaiting Wednesday, when I'll return for my first day of PD.
Beyond that, I can't really wrap my brain around much more.
I do feel very fortunate that this is my third year teaching the same preps. That means I have materials for everything ready and I can focus on all the changes and variables that come with this year. I am also fortunate enough to have started last fall in a flexible, self-paced format that I can implement again. I'm not really stressing about course content, to be honest.
However, I know that is not the case for everyone.
That's one of the big reasons I spent this summer updating my Year of AP Lang. I truly hope that it comes in handy for someone and spares them at least one meltdown. (Even with those units in my back pocket, I'm anticipating a few meltdowns of my own.)
That said, I woud like to continue helping where I can. I am thinking of maybe posting my flexible, hybrid format on a week-by-week basis. Or I could start sharing some of my AP Literature materials. Or I could just create new AP Lang content as the year goes on.
Thoughts? If so, comment or email me. I am here to help :)