Teaching in 2020 is coming home after virtual parent teacher conferences to find nothing but cheese and a hunk of leftover roast in the fridge. (And then just grabbing a beer instead... Just me?)
Teaching in 2020 is getting to school only to realize it's "already" parent teacher conferences... even after you spent days scheduling them last week.
Teaching in 2020 is that moment when you think you are SO far ahead... only to realize you only have the next week figured out. After that, you're S.O.L.
Teaching in 2020 is staring at the wall in your office for a solid 10 minutes - trying to figure out where to even start.
Teaching in 2020 is hoping that the frozen meal you left in the freezer last spring is still ok because you DEFINITELY forgot to bring lunch.
Teaching in 2020 is screaming to your colleague across the hall instead of getting up from the couch in your classroom.
Teaching in 2020 is not actually knowing what your students look like. (Seriously. I didn't even realize one of my guys had a beard until virtual conferences).
Teaching in 2020 is hard.
This year, my school has a new head principal and one of the first things he told us is this year is about patience and grace. Granting grace to others, but also, to ourselves. It is hard on a group of perfectionists to constantly be treading in unknown waters, but we have to give ourselves a break. Pour a tall something and keep trying your best!
I thought I would post a mini lesson that we did this week - in response to our Unit 1 exam. Now that we have (somewhat) found our footing, we are starting to implement minilessons in response to assessments. As the year goes on, I hope to share these little activities here.
Anyways... the Unit 1 exam [included in my A Year of AP Lang (Updated)] focused on reading critically for the rhetorical situation, argument structure (thesis and claims), rhetorical choices, and stylistic choices. After the exam and usually after class essays, we like to do collective feedback - or an overview of common mistakes made on the test.
On the exam, we saw students struggling to articulate a specific purpose and properly write about rhetorical appeals. I'll explain...
In class, we talked about active purpose verbs vs passive purpose verbs. Essentially, phrases like "to inform" or "to convey" don't offer enough information on the relationship between speaker and audience, so they are passive, meaning that there is seemingly no interaction between the two. We pushed kids to think about purpose as active, or something that requires action from both parties. Like, "to evoke" where some sort of response is desired.
That said...these passive purpose verbs still showed up on the test.
Writing about Rhetorical Appeals:
The next common issue was that student struggled with how to write about rhetorical appeals. It's probably just me, but I get so frustrated with all the ways students try to explain ethos, pathos, logos. I think I have seen every possible combination.
They'll say the speaker "appeals to emotion," to which I ask: WHICH EMOTION?
They'll say the speaker "appeals to pathos," to which I ask: HOW CAN YOU APPEAL TO AN APPEAL??
They'll say the speaker "uses pathos," to which I say: "Ok... ok... Almost. But pathos is created, not a tool in the toolbox."
I don't know when it started, but these misarticulations have become a HUGE pet peeve of mine - to the point where I throw a little fit in front of the kids every time I see it.
Needless to say, they also appeared on the test.
Recognizing these issues with finding the right words, we decided to start by outlawing some phrases - or to put them to "rest."
I had this mini graveyard up in the room when kids came in. After reading time, I walked through the collective feedback for the test before transitioning with... "And now we are going to put those silly phrases to rest."
I posted five sentences that poorly express purpose or use of a rhetorical appeal, using the passage from their exam.
I went through each - asking kids to tell my why it was wrong or "sounded funny." When they couldn't figure it out, I asked guiding questions until they picked up on the issue.
Then, I directed them to the little paper flowers I had handed out during reading time. I asked them to choose one of the five misarticulated sentences and rewrite it to make sense.
After they had all written, I asked for volunteers to share. As a group, we made changes as needed or I explained how the changes made were correct.
I then asked them what we do with flowers at a funeral. That's when they figured it out - started to smirk, shake their head, or roll their eyes. (In all honesty, every class needs a little cheese every now and then to make things stick!). I put on a recording of "Taps" and they brought their flowers to the grave and laid them before the now deceased phrases while I lamented: "They were good phrases. They're just tired. It was their time."
And then we all sanitized our hands.... because COVID.
Next week - after the other half of my class does the same - I am going to post the graveyard on my wall with the best corrections attached. Throughout the year, I will add phrases as other issues arise.
I took only about 10 minutes (a fraction of how much time I spent hand drawing those stupid gravestones...), and in that 10 minutes, the visual sticks. Banning these phrases forces them to think carefully about what an appeal is doing and what it accomplishes. It also forces them to dig deeper into purpose - beyond passive, generic outcomes.
Here are my documents. In hindsight, I should have just typed the phrases on the gravestones in a spooky font and printed, but... then I wouldn't be my ridiculous self.
As always, I hope the year is going well. I know you are up against so many unknowns. Keep tackling one day at a time. That's what we do best. :)
As I mentioned in an earlier post, we are again adopting a self-paced, flipped format this year - largely thanks to the necessity for our current hybrid format. This model allows students to pace themselves up to a set deadline and navigate content independently. I spend class time providing individual feedback.
I wanted to talk logistics for those of you trying to navigate the same format or interested in a more flexible format. In my past post, I talked about the issues and challenges that came up. Now, I'd like to talk about organization and setting up a virtual environment.
Our school adopted Schoology a few years back to help facilitate digital resources, and I have to tell you, it's quality far exceeds any other platform we tried. I know these decisions aren't usually up to the teachers (WHY THO?) but if you have any say in platforms, I would highly recommend Schoology.
That said, my organization and format is designed to suit this platform. I apologize if that doesn't translate to your given platform, but it's what I've been working with for years.
Ever since I started teaching AP Language, I have opted to start the year with a skill-focus over using thematic units. Essentially, I want them to be familiar with all parts of the test by the end of the semester - when I usually give them a mock exam.
I know other's opt to work thematically, particularly if you are required to combine AP Lang with American Literature. I like to reserve this for second semester when students can better recognize how skills transfer. For instance, when I ask them to complete a research project second semester, I can make reference to skills we practiced with synthesis.
I'm sure both methods are wonderful. For me, I just like to have a strong foundation to refer back to. That's why my Schoology course is organized by skills.
Here is a screenshot of my first unit of the year: Rhetorical and Critical Reading.
Each folder is labeled with the standards (learning objectives) covered and assessed in that folder. There is some repetition in these standards as the unit moves on, but within each folder particular standards are introduced.
This is what Lesson 1: Rhetorical Situations looks like.
I use a Schoology "Page" to present all content (videos and texts for review). Then, the assignment (SPACES Analysis) is presented after.
I also include optional materials - particularly the College Board videos from last spring - to provide another explanation of the rhetorical situation.
This format of instructional videos and an assignment is used throughout my folders.
IMPORTANT NOTE: Having organized by entire units, we realized that students needed a clearer breakdown. Instead of concept folders, we are breaking it down by weekly pacing. That said, it is still skill focused, just divided into different folders.
Here is what Unit 2 will look like:
Over the years, I have learned some great things about Schoology and what it can do. (Things I REALLY wish I would have known at the start). Using a combination of these things, I have been able to really simplify navigation of materials... which is a MUST at the moment.
Here are some of my better tips:
1. Embedded Videos
This is something I learned from our instructional coach in August. I immediately went through and updated all my lessons to use this as possible.
Embedding videos eliminates a click of the mouse, and if you haven't already figured it out, the more clicks, the most likely you are to lose a kid. Embedding videos and texts keeps it simple.
This is what an example looks like:
To create this, I create a Page using "Add Materials." To embed a video, I simply paste the embed code (under Share in YouTube), and paste it into the Image/Media panel.
My YouTube channel has all of the different videos I use in my class.
Another cool feature is to embed documents using the OneDrive Resource App or Google Drive Resource App. HOWEVER, these will not show up in the Schoology app. My kids use the app almost exclusively so I still need to attach text documents. If your kids use the Schoology desktop site, this is a great way to streamline even further!
2. Completion Folders
With students completing work at all different times between live days and virtual days, I need to be able to check progress often. The Schoology completion folders make this possible while also letting the students know what needs to be completed.
You can also create a rule that a student must earn a certain score. I just haven't had the gumption to add that layer to my courses yet.
If you want students to do things in a particular order, make sure you check the box at the top. They will not be able to click on consequent items until the required content (notes, in this case) are viewed or completed.
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.
I also try to provide time estimates to give students an idea of how to best plan their time.
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!
If you were to ask me what my teaching nightmare would be, it would be the first day ... on repeat... forever.
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.
Like it or not - we are entering one hell of a school year.
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.
Let's start with a definition of what this format looks like in my room...
I know teachers well enough to know that our first response to new ideas is to think about what can go wrong. That's where I want to start. Below are some of the main issues we saw in this format, as well as our response OR how we will response in the future.
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.
I know there is nothing I can say or provide that will make this COVID nightmare more manageable or less miserable... but I do want to say this. From what I have seen, this obstacle is bringing out the best in some of my colleagues. They are trying new things, accessing new technology, and working together in ways they refused to before. It's inspiring really.
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.
I've been trying to sit down and post about the upcoming school year, but in all honestly, the idea of it leaves me speechless. I can't put into words how I feel going into this new reality. (And usually... I'm someone with words to spare).
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 :)
Just a short pop in to share what I have been working on this summer.
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.
I’m not good at secrets.
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:
Those are the ideas I've scrounged up. As I hear from more people, I’ll keep adding to the list!
I know. I know. This is two posts in two days. I am on a roll.
I posted some test day cheats sheets for the 2020 AP English exams in the Facebook groups, but OneDrive links SUCK. So here they are - both in Word and PDF format.
As always, I hope it helps!