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 :)
I know we all have so much anxiety about what school will look like in the fall. I also know that many of you have found my "Year of AP Lang" resources helpful. I also also know those resources became outdated with the test updates. (Wow. I know a lot).
The bottom line is we are all in a situation where we might need a crutch this year.
Its for this reason that I have been at work, putting together an entire semester of units for AP Language. All six units are posted and ready for use under "A Year of AP Lang (Updated)." The units are aligned to the 2020 changes and standards, but I do not follow the College Board's unit distribution.
Semester 2 units are coming. I hope. I am starting to spin with all the planning I need to do for my new course (Posts coming soon...), AP Lit, and Newspaper. If nothing else, I am going to post my favorite units from my TpT site to give you a great second semester too! I promise to have Semester 2 up by late October.
Please let me know if there is anything I can do to help - especially with modifying these units for virtual learning. They are designed for in-person learning, but I would be happy to help adapt and redesign things for visual environments. :)
Alright. I'm off to figure out how you squish AP Research into AP Language... Pray for me.
In fact, the other night I was writing in my journal, and I tried to write down every secret I still had. I could only come up with five. (And, honestly, I am fighting the urge to write them here). Talking and writing have always been my best way of healing, so secrets just don’t last long with me.
The same applies with students. I would say I am hugely transparent with them - probably TOO transparent to be honest. Like secrets, I don’t hide my reactions well. My department chair and close friend always tells me to “Check your face!” before department meetings. My expression gives me away every time, so honestly, it’s easier to be an open book than try to hide anything.
That said, the biggest upheaval of my life, which happened last spring and deepened the first week of school this August, is something that I chose to keep from my students.
But now, days after graduation, I am fielding all the Facebook friend requests from them, and I am terrified they’ll scroll a little too far back and find out that for more than nine months, I was keeping something from them. Something that changed me inside and out. That I was pretending to be something I wasn’t.
But we all wear a mask sometimes, right? Having battled mental illness for years, there have been countless times where I had to plaster on a smile when I felt horrible inside. And when a student has complained about a faculty member that I too dislike - I’ve sought out good qualities and complimented the teacher.
Yet somehow, as I watched them graduate last weekend, I felt as though I had been inauthentic. That I had hidden too big a piece of the person I have become.
For them, it’s inconsequential. They don’t know what they didn’t know.
For me, it’s not so easy. In fact, I am writing this in the hopes I’ll come to terms with keeping such a big secret from the students that - frankly - pulled me through the worst of it.
I know the dangers of oversharing with students. Simultaneously, I hate that I lied by omission. I feel the mutual respect and trust I’ve built with students is always derivative of my openness and honesty. So what can I do when my authentic self is too much to share?
The other day, I was talking with one of my readers about trust-building activities, and I realized that for me, I’ve always built that trust out of this transparency. No secrets. No “because I said so.” No deflected questions.
Having faced this time where transparency wasn't possible, I recognize that I need some other strategies too. Here is what my personal learning network and I came up with:
- Write beside them. @cruickbook - one of my Twitter pals - said that “being honest about how difficult writing is” for her and “not pretending to know it all” builds trust. I couldn’t agree more! When I first started modeling writing for students, I was obsessive about writing out my response before hand to make sure that I explained it perfectly. Since, I have dropped the pretense. If a draft isn’t going well, I tell them. If a sentence beginning sucks, I point it out, saying “If we got time, I’ll come back to it.”
- Maslow Hierarchy of Needs presentations. This idea comes from the same lady that tells me to “Check your face” before meetings. (It’s in a loving way… I think). Basically, students are introduced to Maslow's hierarchy. (She uses a YouTube video). Then, they get a “brown bag” in which they bring an item that represents each level of the hierarchy for them. For instance, maybe self-esteem looks like a camera - as in, they see themself as a skilled photographer and that builds their self-esteem. As she puts it, “kids get to understand the different needs, what each of us needs, and what is important to us.” In other words, it builds compassion. (Full disclosure, I haven’t done this one, but I am going to try it! This lady is a teaching ICON, so I’ll steal anything she throws my way).
- The same teacher also gave me what she calls the Four Quadrant Activity - another first week of school activity. Essentially students outline their expectations for themselves, for their peers, for the teacher, and for groups the first day. Then, the teacher compiles an anonymous list of responses and as a class, they determine which expectations show up multiple times, but also (and I love this part!) talk about those expectations that only one student wrote, reminding them that they need to understand that someone in the room needs something additional. The process goes through all four quadrants. It also creates a point of reference for the year when conflict arises. I’ve done a similar activity in which students created their own syllabus - setting up expectations for behavior and class policies. This kind of ownership over class procedures is hugely helpful in building trust between teacher and student, because as the teacher, I am not just handing down mandates. We come to them together. It is also helpful in building peer trust as they find commonalities and learn about individual needs.
- Conferencing. It’s no secret that conferencing - particularly about reading and writing - have a massive impact on student success, but these one-on-one conversations do so much more than that. Here’s an example: My colleague and I both teach AP Language and Composition. We have similar styles, and we do the exact same assignments and lessons every day. Nonetheless, she had a past student that refused to accept the feedback on her writing - to the point that she was getting mom and administrators involved. When we offered conferences, she came to me - certain that I would tell her the writing was beautiful and perfect. That’s not at all what happened; however, because we were able to talk through the different aspects of the essay and I could answer her questions, she accepted the feedback. From there out, she was much more willing to trust the feedback my colleague continued to provide. Had she signed up for the same conference with my colleague, it would have been the exact same result. Students need that brief back and forth to see the rationale behind grading sometimes. And that also goes for reading check-ins and even just casual conversations. Any time you can invest in one-on-one moments like this is hugely important in building trust.
- Low stakes group work. I totally agree with another Twitter friend, @randomkat, on this one. Sometimes you need to throw kids together with some paper and markers and tell them to color. It may not be graded. It may be a stretch from the content, but these moments offer a rare chance to interact in a less stressful way. As a student myself, we often did one-pagers in my AP Literature class. While we worked, we talked and joked and built the relationships we had as the year went on. Giving the time for these casual interactions will help students trust one another as they become more comfortable.
Those are the ideas I've scrounged up. As I hear from more people, I’ll keep adding to the list!