23 October 2014

The Horror! Independent Reading for Literary Analysis

Sometimes I do very academic, very Englishy things with my students. Overall, I want to engage students in the work of the real world, tasks with immediate relevance. Sometimes, though, I want to to make sure they are prepared for the academics-for-their-own-sake literary style of analysis that will be required of them in college level courses.

And, you know, critical thinking is good for their brains, and in theory, the same skills they use for literary analysis will be applicable in other nonliterary contexts.

So what if it's with horror stories they're analyzing?

My kids get their assignments from Google Classroom,
but Blendspace could work too.

My Film & Literature class is all seniors, so I get a little leeway with their text selection--though permission forms did go home for R-rated selections. In another English class, movie ratings probably wouldn't have factored in, and there are any number of routes you could go with the types of text selected: genre, thematic, time period, regional.

Whatever types of books you want to have students read, these steps could help you.

Pre-selected book list
Now I am not a fan of horror--fiction or film. But I know it gets my kids going, and, well, 'tis the season. So of the 32 books on the list that I offered them, I have only read 4; I've only seen 3 of the movies. I had to rely on Sr. Sexton to help rule out books that were even less appropriate than their movies (don't ask what happens at the end of It), and I made sure there were at least 5 PG13/TV14 on the list in case not everyone could get parent approval to check out an R movie for class. Either way, it gave students a starting point.

Book reviews
I had students peruse Amazon reviews and IMDB for at least 3 different novel/film combinations. They had to find the ratings and pick out quotes from at least one review for each that either made them want to read the book and watch the movie or not want to read or watch either as well as the year they came out. In the future I'd add page number and movie length if only to help students make an educated selection (and really, don't we judge a book by its volume when we're pleasure reading too?)

Shared Google Calendars
We made a trip to the library (and made alternative arrangements where necessary) to pick up our books. Books in hand, students sat down and create a Google Calendar they shared with me and then set a page number goal for each day until the book was to be completed. They looked for natural page breaks and took into account days they knew they would be free or busy. This was a handy way to also set up individualized reminders to be sent out to each student daily.

Google Form quote collecting
The county's description for Film & Literature emphasizes exploration of setting, narration, characterization, plot, and theme, and we have been breaking those down one or two at a time in the previous 3 essays: now we put them all together. I created a Google Form and posted it in the About section of their Google Classroom page for students to return to each day. Instead taking of a reading quiz, students entered quotes from what they'd read the night before for each of 4 literary concepts (we'd later take those all to form a cohesive picture of the 5th: theme).

I shared the response spreadsheet with them all, and we looked at collected quotes as a class first and then in small groups where each zeroed in on a specific literary concept and gave each classmate feedback on whether or not they should use the quotes in their essay. The groups also tried to express what conclusions could be gathered from each quote in their column as well.

Daily check-ins and calculations
I don't grade students' progress on their reading. While they're entering their quotes for the day, I consult my calendar for each and see where each is. I know they know if they're behind, but they also know that I know. This factor plus planning specifically where and when reading is going to happen to catch up has worked pretty well. It also helps to have students recalculate how many pages they need to read each night now to finish the book in time.

Weekly blog posts
We've also been doing what I call "concept blogs" all along this semester, where students pick one of the Big 5 and analyze its application to the text at hand. Through their blog posts, they analyze 3 before even getting to the essays--and yes, they can use the blog posts on their essays (they generally have to clean them up quite a bit, though, as the blogs are pretty low-stakes writing). This gives me insight before it's too late into 1) how well they understand what they're reading and 2) how well they understand the concepts.

I've got to tell you: their understanding has doubled since we started this project!

Essays will be submitted in about a week. Some students are finished with their books and have begun composing their essays. Some students are halfway through their books but picking up speed.

They may never have to discuss the literary qualities of a Stephen King novel after they leave my class, but they will be able to find evidence, explain it, and manage tasks.

16 October 2014

Nip Late Work in the Bud: Google Classroom Contact

Can I just say how much I love some of the features on Google Classroom? For example, there are two numbers for any assignment I create, right there on my stream: numbers for Done and Not Done. I simply click the Not Done column during my 4th period planning or after school the day an assignment is due (or the day before, if they've had a while to work on it) to see who has not turned it in yet. Then I click to check the little box next to Students, click EMAIL, and I send them some variation of this missive:
SUBJECT: ________ due today! Can I help? 
I noticed your ________ was not submitted yet. Is there anything I can do to help you wrap up? Did you have trouble...? 
Remember you can... 
________should be submitted today so that you can...
Please let me know what else I can do to help you complete the assignment!
 And you know what else? I blind copy their parents the same email (Google Classroom automatically makes them all BCC, so I send the main copy to myself).

I do occasionally get some questions back, but more than that? I get assignments turned in--sometimes within minutes of sending the email!

Maybe they just need someone to set off a little pavlovian bell on their phone to remember to hit submit. Maybe the "Remember you can" section gives them the missing piece to the puzzle so they can finish. Maybe the "so that you can" section makes them see the importance of submitting the work sooner rather than later. Maybe Momma lights a fire under them when her phone dings. Whatever the case, I have me some instant documentation if somehow my little reminder doesn't work its magic.

I confess this is not much use where neither child nor parent is attached to a smartphone or other email receptacle. Though that is a dwindling problem, it does still exist for a few of my students who fall behind. But at least it does cut back on the number of people I have to chase down during class so that I can actually attend to the ones who don't get the benefit of the inbox buzz the night before.

15 October 2014

Genius Hour Agenda 3: Reflection

Absolutely everything students do for Genius Hour, beginning to end, goes on our class passion blog. Now they're not writing blog posts from the start, unless of course you count making a list of words related to their topic. At the beginning, we are in research mode--or the "collect" phase of the Genius Hour process-- so the early posts are mostly embedding other people's words, demonstrating Novice Low reading skills like recognition. After collecting a quorum of resources that demonstrate the vocabulary in context, though, it is time to reflect.

Now, Genius Hour is but once a week the way I do it, though you could take your "20 Time" out at the beginning or end of each day, if you prefer. The rest of the time, you are still doing what you do, so they're getting all of that valuable comprehensible input along the way. For my part, I help hit the basic verbs hard in OWLanguage-type activities and other class practices during class project time. Amy Lenord compiled a list of the following essentials that will work no matter your unit:

I think, too, you can probably express most things you want to say with maybe 10 verbs, and the focus helps novices keep their phrasing simple:
  • Hay
  • Es
  • Son
  • Tengo/tienes
  • Necesito/necesitas
  • Entiendo/entiendes
  • Quiero/quieres
  • Me gusta/te gusta
  • Creo/crees
  • Puedo/puedes
Students use these verbs along with sentence starters and semi-scripts stacked with cognates to reflect in at least 3 forms: Questions, Summary, and Discussion.

Just as in Project-Based Learning, Genius Hour demands a Driving Question to steer the project. I've found that students attempting a passion project in the target language really need to poke around and see what's available on their level before they frame their questions. The question about where dreams came from was really a fascinating one, and those looking to prepare for careers in pediatrics or forensic science are certainly valuable and ambitious...but there's not going to be a lot they can work with in the target language. So I have students form their Driving Question after they've at least pinned a few resources and scoped out some tweets, maybe found contact information for an expert or five.

Then they set a task that will demonstrate the answers to that question and, like PBL, they break the Driving Question down into need-to-know questions, smaller questions that they could answer with different sources to inform their larger questions and goals.

For summaries, I provide sentence starters tied with the kind of collecting I had them doing most recently. The sentence starters, of course, rely on those high-frequency words we use regularly in class and cognates, so my novices still only need to contribute their level-appropriate words and phrases--gleaned almost entirely from their research and established list.

Reflection 1: after collecting pins and retweets
Something interesting for the class is...
I want to know more about...
I never knew that...
Other interesting topics related to my topic are...

Reflection 2: after following Twitter accounts and finding contact information
Experts in my topic are...
Experts can help me by...
If I need more experts or information, I can...

Reflection 3: after Google searches and Diigo highlights
A pattern I've seen in my research is...
I thought that...but I learned that...
I still don't understand...because...

Reflection 4: in preparation mode
Something interesting for the class is...
When I present my topic, I want to focus on...because...
I can show the class how...works...

I like to have students form questions and summarize before discussing so they have a reference point for the discussion already scaffolded in for them. What's more, I have students do a little asynchronous discussion before actually speaking, too. I set up groups of about 4 students with similar interests (always plenty of food and music groups) so that they will perhaps have some personal vocabulary in common, and also something they care about discussing.

Students then need to review what their blogging partners have posted--since the beginning or at least since the last time they checked--and then comment on their most recent summary post. They must respond with 2 statements (Me gusta... and Quiero saber mas de...) and 1 question. Then, each person answers each response on their own summary posts.

For the synchronous conversation, we turn to Vocaroo and break out their interpersonal playbooks to semi-script the conversation ahead of time. Their conversations connect to what they've already seen on the blogs, so they're reinforcing in a different mode, but gaining fluency with speaking on their personal topics as well.