An Update on Classroom Blogging

Initial post about using WordPress/Blogging/Feedly in the classroom

Several weeks ago, I discussed my desire to have my students begin blogging in the classroom.  My plan was to have them create their own WordPress accounts and write both creatively and academically, both inside and outside of the classroom.  The school year is only 3 weeks old now and I have successfully assigned two blog postings.

Blog Assignments:

  1. “Convince Me” Final Draft
    1. Students will participate in a Think-Pair-Share in order to create a list of the characteristics of a convincing argument.
    2. Students will share out their responses to create a master list of all the characteristics.
    3. Students will read a sample argument essay in which the major parts are labeled.
    4. Students will create their own definitions of the parts of an argument essay based on the samples and their purposes.
    5. Students will respond to the following prompt: I am a flexible teacher, so if I hear a convincing argument for something, I will give it genuine consideration. I typically assign homework three days a week. Write a one-paragraph argument that attempts to convince me to cancel assigning homework for Eng IV.  Alternative: You may like homework, so you can argue for why it should still be assigned.
    6. Students spent three days between peer editing, reading samples and grading them, and studying other argument essays before writing their final draft that is uploaded to their blog as their first posting.
  2. “To This Day” Inspired Poem
    1. In our synthesis essay unit entitled “Haters Gonna Hater,” I had students read multiple texts from various genres that all dealt with bullying.  One poem that was included in this unit was “To This Day” by Shane Koyczan.  There’s a fantastic rendition, in addition to the TEDTalk, of “To This Day” that you can watch here.  
    2. Students worked with “Arm Partners” (someone that is within arm’s length of their original seat) to read through the printed version of “To This Day” and they completed a Close-Reading analysis.
    3. After sharing their analysis with their partners, students watched the video version of “To This Day.”  This is the version we watched:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ltun92DfnPY
    4. Students were asked to discuss the specific writing choices that were made that separated this poem from others they had read.
    5. Finally, students were asked to write their own versions of “To This Day” in which they mimicked Koyczan’s style.  The topic was bullying.  Their poems had to be 10 stanzas with a minimum of 6 lines each.  This poem was posted on their blogs.

Preparing for the Fall Part One: Anchor Texts

Anchor Text: The novel/play/poem/nonfiction text that is the primary text that exemplifies a chosen theme.  It is the text that is the source for all the supporting texts and lessons.  The confusion is that this is the book that is taught.  This is wrong.  You do not teach To Kill a Mockingbird.  You use To Kill a Mockingbird as an anchor text to explore the inherent nature of good and evil in people.

Now that my annual plans have been completed and I have attended all the necessary conferences for the summer, it’s time to buckle down and prepare for the fall.  I’ve been sampling classic literature over the summer, which has never been my genre of choice but have been compelled to through my 100 Books challenge, and have finalized my anchor text selection:

  • “Macbeth” by William Shakespeare (Both Standard and Honors)
  • Frankenstein by Mary Shelley (Both Standard and Honors)
  • Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen (Honors)
  • 1984 by George Orwell (Both Standard and Honors)

Book 2

The theme for 2014-2015 is The Use and Abuse of Power.  We will be exploring those in authority throughout the historical context of each text, how the characters and plot reflect those in authority and the social commentary made by the authors, who is in authority and why, what happens when power/authority is abused, social structures throughout history, and the role of the “average man.”

Book 1

I’ve been working with my colleagues, who are new to the teaching profession, assisting them with their own curriculum, pacing guides, and text selection.  The number one question that they’ve asked me is, “How do you choose WHAT to teach with SO many choices?!?”  The truth is that there are several factors that must be taken into consideration.

1.  Is this a text that I am going to be comfortable enough to teach?

2.  Is this text appropriate for my students, both in text-complexity and content?

3.  Is this text county/admin approved?  How much will I have to fight if there is controversy around this text?

4.  What am I hoping to teach my students by utilizing this specific text?

5.  What supplemental texts (short stories, nonfiction, poetry, etc) can I use to support the theme/Big Picture of this unit?

6.  Will my students be able to relate to this text?  How will I make this relevant to them?  The buy-in factor.

These are all questions that I ask myself as I make the decision of whether or not to include a text as an anchor text.  Once I have identified these texts, which I promise you is probably the most difficult part of curriculum planning for me, I reread the text with the idea in mind of identifying:

  • Elements of Characterization
  • Examples of themes
  • Symbols
  • Significant quotes
  • Vocabulary

Book 3

I will also begin brainstorming project or essay ideas.  I do not begin thinking about quizzes or tests until I’m much closer to actually teaching the unit.

Book 5

Annual Plans

I’m a confessed curriculum nerd, so when I was asked to create an annual plan (otherwise known as a pacing guide) for my three classes this fall, I didn’t look at the request as work, but more or less like a fun, organizational activity.  The format for our annual plan was already selected by our administration, and while I understand the one-size-fits-all mindset might work in some instances, I was less than excited about working with this template.

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Excel and I have never really gotten along and I’ve always preferred to work with Microsoft Word when I had the chance.  I’ve had to watch a few Youtube videos in order to make my annual plan come to fruition, but here are a few excerpts:

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Here is a link to my completed document: Yearly Course Outline English IV

When I think about the purpose of an annual plan/pacing guide, I think about the useful nature of the document for the teacher.

1.  First and foremost, it helps streamline and prioritize the curriculum.  Most teachers will spend the vast majority of their summer vacations researching and organizing units or activities within the unit.  I moved up an entire grade level which caused me to add four completely new text titles because I will be working with the same students two years in a row.  With all of this brainstorming and new materials, I need to be able to reign in the content into an applicable manner.

2.  Identify timelines for how you will be able to cover the vast amount of content into a relatively short amount of time.

3.  Assess the new standards.  For myself and those other teachers who work in states where the new Common Core standards will be implemented, we realize that it’s now time to put up or shut up about our understanding of the requirements of the new standards.  We have been through workshops, read articles, Think-Pair-Shared with colleagues and administrators, and now it is time to put them into action.  Before you can truly understand where you’re going (Pacing Guide) you must be able to truly understand the what and how to implement the standards.

4.  Matching how much your mouth can hold versus how much your belly can.  In my ridiculous method, I am simply trying to say that the pacing guide is used to help trim the fat.  If I could have the entire school year, minus vacations, assemblies, testing, etc, I would add about another three to five novels to my curriculum.  I have utilizing four main texts: selections from The Canterbury Tales, Macbeth, Frankenstein, and 1984.  If I could, I would ask my students to read John Green’s Will Grayson, Will Grayson, Kate Chopin’s The Awakening, and Amy Tan’s Joy Luck Club.  I know that I can’t afford to do this, go over my time budget, so realistically the pacing guide lets me know how much room I have left on my plate.

Question: How do you utilize your annual plan/pacing guide?