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!
Despite getting 8+ hours of sleep every night...
Despite pushing back my start time until 9am...
Despite shrinking my work hours down to 7, instead of my usual 9 a day....
I am still SO exhausted.
Once upon a time, I dreamed about working from home. The idea of lounging in your jammies all day. Being mandated only by a couple office hours. Having time to eat actual meals...
It all sounded so good.
Until we had to do it.
Between redesigning curriculum, helping my colleagues deliver online instruction, answering a million messages, and defending myself more than ever...it has been a lot. To say the least.
I can only imagine my readers (...do I have readers?) are feeling the same.
Today, I am hoping to help you by posting some video-activity pairs that might help out with teaching rhetorical analysis. In my class, we are focusing on different rhetorical choices or challenges of rhetorical analysis each week, so these two lessons are focused around tone and juxtaposition.
I know you've heard it a billion times over the last few weeks, but we really are in this together. Let me know if there's anything I can do to help!
Below is a video about how to analyze for tone and the accompanying activity. I like to refer to Inside Out and emojis as a point of reference for the kids, and it seems to help!
The activity below starts kids off on analyzing the juxtaposition in Lou Gehrig's farewell address. The accompanying video is my demonstration of how I would finish the paragraph.
So... is anyone else absolutely sick of working from home? (Like... so sick that you miss wearing actual clothes even).
We are officially at one week of no school, but we cannot begin instruction until next week, Wednesday.
And as you likely know, we won't have much more clarity on the test until next Friday.
And as you also know, we have no idea if/when/how we'll return to "normal."
If you are like me, this all means that you are just spinning your wheels until you know what direction you should be going in. Before the announcement to close and the consequent updates from College Board, I was planning to create and dish out a multitude of online units to help you all out. Now - since I have no idea which question will be selected for the test - I'm not sure what needs more focus and what can be de-emphasized. The best I can do is to wait until the April 3 update and then go HAM.
However, I don't like sitting around. At all.
To pass the time this week, I am planning on extending some of my reading assessments and figuring out new ways to tackle the reading standards.
(Yes. I know there is no multiple choice on the test. I'm just creating things I know will be helpful in the future regardless).
That said, earlier this year I posted a combination assignment on my Teachers Pay Teachers site which showed how to scaffold from a simple "SPACES" analysis to the more rigorous SPACECAT. Sitting around (and twiddling my thumbs today), I created one further step in that scaffold, called an Extended SPACES analysis. It is a more rigorous form of the reading assessment that pushes kids to answer more of the essential questions posted in the CED. It also aligns with the first webinar lessons College Board posted, which will focus on understanding audience and speaker relationship.
Online learning will give us the rare opportunity to differentiate for our kids, and this is a tool that I hope will be helpful for you. If nothing else, I hope its something you can use sometime!
If you are in the AP Language and Composition group on Facebook, you have probably seen the many manifestations of The Murder of Allen Ripley activity. The basic premise is that students come in to find the room transformed into a crime scene. Then, they are tasked with solving the murder. It’s a great activity to practice synthesis and line of reasoning! (MAD Shout-Out to Patti Snowden, who created and posted the assignment).
Seeing all the cool posts and reactions, I was immediately sold. As a true crime fanatic… you know, the type that falls asleep to Forensic Files every night and squeals at every new crime docuseries on Netflix… I was so excited to try this out with my class. We are jumping into our next topic unit on gun violence, so it seemed like a great way to hook them. (Again - all credit to Patti Snowden. I just tweaked an already awesome learning experience).
For our version of this activity, we used two days. One day for students to act as law enforcement and study the crime scene, witness testimonies, and synthesize information to create an arrest warrant. The next day, they were handed another group’s warrant and asked to act as prosecutors or defense lawyers, composing a compelling opening argument. We use standards-based grading, so we decided to assess their opening argument on Evidence and Commentary. Here is how we describe proficiency for these opening arguments:
Now… if you haven’t figured it out yet, I am admittedly super “extra” when it comes to planning lessons like this. So in addition to the activity designed so wonderfully by Snowden, I added a few more curveballs and added bonuses. Here are some ideas (and materials) that you can take to your own classroom!
Day 1: Law
The first day, students are practicing synthesis and critical thinking. They treat the case file like the sources for Question 1 on the exam and make connections to defend claims about motive, opportunity, and means of operation.
Day 2: Order
The second day, students are practicing on-demand persuasive writing. They are also encouraged to engage in counterargument. This practice will help with both Question 1 and 3 on the exam.
Overall, I'd say it was an overwhelming success. In the afternoon of Day 1, I had students coming to class saying such gems as:
"I heard English was actually fun today!" (Eye roll.)
"I'm excited to solve a murder!"
And after the first day, they were asking if they could put the suspects on trial. (Had it been a more convenient time - not a couple days before the big music trip to Chicago - I would have added a full mock trial.) The fact that they were so excited about argument and reasoning is such a credit to Snowden and her great activity!
If you haven't already, I STRONGLY recommend you implement this in your classroom. Have a great week, all!
I am the elusive English teacher that hates poetry.
Actually, I don't HATE poetry. I love rupi kaur poems, song lyrics, and Pablo Neruda. I just hate everything education has done to ruin poetry. For the kids. For myself.
Which is why I was a bit hesitant to take on AP Literature and Composition last year - where half the test is poetry! (#cringe)
Nonetheless, I have managed to find my way around the hated scansion and poetic form bits so that I can hate it a little less. For instance, last year we focused on global voices and poets. Below is my little crash course version of the unit.
Global Voices: The Danger of a Single Story
#2. Poetry FRQs
There are two terrific poetry (Question 1) Free Response Questions by foreign born poets that I used with this unit to great success: 2011's "A Story" by Li-Young Lee and "XIV" by Derek Walcott from the 2015 exam. Below are prewriting templates I used with students.
#3. PUrple Hibiscus Prose Analysis
Yes. I realize this isn't really poetry practice, but this is a short prose analysis activity I brought in to review Question 2 as well.
#4. COnflict in Poetry
I wanted to review conflict with my students at some point in this lesson last year, so I put together a gallery walk. Below are the poems and the handout they completed:
#5. Abstract Relationships
This is a lesson I added on this year. Another gallery walk, this one is helping students think about the "broader context" that is required of them for the sophistication point. I went through my own sample of analyzing abstract ideas
#6. Emoji Annotation
And that's what I got! Like I said, I am a very reluctant poetry teacher, but these activities have worked well for me and my students. Hope it helps!