What to Look for in a New Curriculum

This upcoming school year, our school will be looking at adopting a new high school ELA curriculum.  I have a very limited background when it comes to school districts and their adoption or development of curriculums.  I have seen many documents online as I have done my own research for my own, which was based solely on the incorporation of the state standards, researched-based strategies, and strong texts.

I have been through several textbook series and curriculum support presentations in my career, and this summer would be no different.  Before the presentations began, I sat down and made a list of all the features I would want the ideal ELA curriculum to have:

  • Standard-based lessons and activities
  • Reading, Speaking, Listening activities
  • Close Reading
  • A strong writing program
    • Synthesizing information presented into a product
    • “Beyond-the-text” assignments
    • MLA/APA/Citations/Plagiarism support
    • How to do research – online and in libraries
  • Rubrics
  • The text selection would be both rigor-appropriate, but also high interest
  • Technology & multimedia must be incorporated
  • Digital copies of the texts for the students and teachers
  • Differentiated options
  • Support for ELL/ESL students
  • A user-friendly interface
  • Support for teachers (professional development, customer service support)
  • Options for teachers to customize the content/assessments/assignments

Educator Question of the Day: What other features do you look for in a new curriculum?

Reflective Teaching Challenge Day One: Goals for the Year

Reflective Teaching Challenge

Write your goals for the school year. Be as specific or abstract as you’d like to be!

For perhaps the first time in my career, I will be going into a school year with very few changes to my schedule, but my role has certainly been redefined.  I have been a department chair in the past, but this is my first year of being in charge of certain projects and requirements and working with a team of more than four teachers.  Additionally, I have taught seniors and freshmen before, but never at this accelerated level or pace; the rigor is what defines the change, not the grade level.  Finally, I have taught AP Language & Composition, but I feel far more confident this year because of having experience on my side and having a stronger comprehension of how to help move my students from 2s and 3s to 3s, 4s, and 5s.  This scenario makes goal-setting much different than it ever has in the past.

Goals for the 2014-15 School Year

1.  Reflection

The whole reason I came across the te@chthought blogging challenge was because I wanted to incorporate daily/weekly reflections.  I find that reflection plays just as large and impactful part in lesson planning than the actual creation of the lesson.  The way that I would like to reflect upon my teachings is something that I have been searching to define.  Simply stated, I could ask these three basic questions:

  • What worked well?
  • What needs to be improved?
  • What will happen going forward?

Right now, I have a template for recording what actually occurred in each of my class periods.  It’s helpful because even though I have three class periods for one prep, they are all at different levels.  The differentiation between those classes cause me to become forgetful about what was assigned for one class versus another.  This document helps me keep things straight.

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If I were to add a column that asked the three questions about my daily/weekly lessons, I would be able to succinctly manage both the recording of and reflection on each lesson.

2.  Mentoring

As I mentioned previously, I am the English Department Chair, and even though I have six years of experience in this role, I have not managed quite so many teachers nor been in charge of so many facets of their performance.  I run department meetings, research instructional tools & resources, mentor new-hires, mentor first-year teachers, conduct random observations, and I work as part of the Executive Committee that is comprised of department heads, grade level team leaders, and administration.  Our English department has thirteen teachers, the largest by far in the school.  My duties to this responsibility compare to those of my teaching.  My goal in this position is to serve as a mentor and a facilitator, not as a dictator or authoritarian.  I want to ensure that if there are questions or concerns, I am able to help support my teachers and not come off as a know-it-all, elitist, or member of the gestapo.  I don’t know quite how this goal looks in concrete terms, but I suppose it will come off through my attitude, tone, and behavior.

One way that I worked towards making our team feel like a supported team was when I gave everyone a “Welcome Back to School” apple.

photo 1

photo 2

3.  Continue to Learn

While there is comfort in routine, the known,I wanted to push myself to always be learning something new.  Cliche as it may be, I stronger adhere to the ideology that in order to be successful teacher, I must instill a sense of curiosity in my students, creating lifelong learners.  This year, knowing that I would have to be even more knowledgable, push my students even more, increase the rigor and expectations to a higher level, I would have to be prepared to do the same for myself.  I’m very proud of my accomplishment of receiving my masters degree, yet, I will not be satisfied with myself if I stop there.

My main source of proof or measurability for reaching my goal of continuous knowledge acquisition is through reading and reflecting upon books.  I mean, I am an English teacher for a reason.  I have selected a book that a good friend recommended to get me started in deepening my understanding of literary criticism, feminist theory in this case.


Here is an NPR review.

I will continue to read books about literary criticism to add to my knowledge base.  While I have only taught English, my major in college was History.  My English minor is appropriate named in that I only took a few courses that dived into criticism.  The majority were writing courses or early American literature to go along with my fascination of history.

What goals do you have for this upcoming school year?  How do you plan on reaching them?  

Top Ten Teaching Resources for 2014-15

I am two days away from attending the first day of pre-planning for the 2014-15 school year.  It will mark the start of my ninth year of teaching, which means I have been building up quite the large bag of tricks to utilize both in the classroom and in my curriculum development.

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Today, I thought I would share with you some of the materials that I am most looking forward to using this year.  They include lesson plans, worksheets, and teacher resources.

Top Ten Teaching Resources for 2014-15

(In no particular order)

1.  Standards Tracking Chart

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LAFS 1112 Tracking Chart Generic

2.  Bloom’s Taxonomy Question Stems

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A list of question stems that are categorized by their Bloom’s level.  All six categories are listed.

Blooms Taxonomy Question Stems

3.  Teacher Reflection Worksheet

This template is setup to be a traditional lesson plan, however, I am going to be using it as a reflection tool instead.  I teach three preps, so I will have three worksheets per week, one per class.  Where each of the days of the week are listed, I am going to reflect on what worked, what needs to be modified, and anything else that is appropriate for the lesson.

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Teacher Reflection Worksheet

4.  Literary Devices in Literature Chart

I don’t know why I didn’t start this sort of document in the past, but it struct me while reading Jane Eyre, reviling in Charlotte Bronte’s writing style, that there were many different literary devices being used.  “Gee, that would be a great example of how to use anaphora in a real-world situation to show the students!”  And the rest is history.  I will be adding to this throughout the year and beyond.

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5.  TED Talk Worksheet

This is a worksheet that can be used with any TED Talk that you want to use in your classroom.

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TED Talks Worksheet

6. Diagram for Writing an AP English Essay

Screen Shot 2014-08-04 at 9.31.36 AM 7.  Creating Classroom Norms Activity – Beginning of the Year/Semester

After explaining what norms are and why they are important, I have the students break out into groups to create a list of norms they would like to see implemented into the classroom.  After we vote on our top 5-7, I print up a document that states them and all the students sign it.

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Community Agreement and Norms

8.  Classroom Rules Through Memes

Rules for Getting Along in Room 204 Erm

9. Close Reading Strategy: SCOUT

Resource: The Readiness is All blog

S: specifics (Locations, Characters, Time, Words, Choice of Details)
C: comparisons (symbols, metaphors, imagery, allusion etc…)
O: organization both sequential, what comes first and what comes last; and spatial, don’t bother looking it up, for me spatial organization is repetition, contrast, and questions like why is this paragraph or sentence so short or so long in comparison to the ones next to, or before, or after it. Organization also encompasses syntax.
U: unusual– this one is of course more difficult to explain, but I find it crucial. I want students to notice when things are different than expected. I want them to notice when generic conventions are broken, when something seems modern or just off. Those glitches in the matrix are often breadcrumbs leading down a potentially interesting rabbit hole.
T: Theme examples– This takes us full circle back to T3 (Topic/Tone/Theme) What are the quotes, symbols, plot events, motifs, characters etc… that point us back to theme and ultimately purpose.
Ideally I want students to find one or two of each of these. I might have them work in expert groups or I might just pick one or two of the SCOUT ideas to focus on for a particular work. After SCOUT-ing a work I want them to write their SCOUT discoveries in the form of a short paragraph of analysis. Before they write it down I want them to write down the page number and whether it is at the top, middle, or bottom of the page so we can quickly find the source of the evidence during class discussion.
Here is a list of literary terms for the S.C.O.U.T. process that I also use for the B.R.A.W.L (Battle Royal All Will Learn: a competitive team based Socratic Seminar process)

10.  Close Reading Strategy: 3T

Resource: The Readiness is All blog

So before we can discuss a piece of art (I use the word art to refer to any artistic endeavor including writing) we need to understand its specifics. When we talk about topic we are talking about basic comprehension: vocabulary, setting, situation, choices of details, characters, color, line, stroke, subject etc… if a student doesn’t understand a word or an allusion they will miss out on the ultimate intention and any corresponding theme.
Tone is the sulking Satan sitting on a ledge fuming over his Pandemonium. I require all students to have just ONE definition of tone. Tone is the author’s attitude towards the subject and the audience. Tone is crucial to understanding any piece of art. Tone starts with the title of a piece and works its way down and out. Tone can be tongue-in-cheek, playful, ironic, despondent and more. Tone colors every specific covered in the TOPICsection and leaves us with a palpable emotion. Students also need to understand the difference between tone, atmosphere and mood. Often in class I’ll say something like “listen up scumbuckets of Hades… I love, love, love teaching English.” The students quickly see that I can have one Tone (negative- illustrated by an epithet) towards the audience, and one tone (positive-illustrated by the repetition of the word love) shown towards the subject.
As we return to John Connor’s difficult decision we move into the pragmatic section of an artist’s purpose. (See this post for a brief discussion of the four purposes of art) Artists teach. They grab our attention by foregrounding an experience. The artistic dialogue is Hegelian in nature. There is a thesis made, a push back by the audience and society and then a synthesis of understanding. This is theme. I tell students that topic is what the story is about, but theme is what the story is REALLY about.
A poem that I love discussing early in class is Marge Piercy’s poem “Beauty I Would Suffer For,” or her poem “A Work of Artifice.” Her poetry is dripping with tone and has a fairly easy to understand initial theme. Of course there are more complex themes at work that you can explore later. I would link to the poems, but I’m not sure if the ones you find online are authorized postings by the poet.
If you want to really challenge your class, you can have them do a T3 with William Carlos Williams’ “This is just to say.” I enjoy using his poem once students experiment with the S.C.O.U.T. process which I will discuss in my next post.