Change In Your Classroom

In a stack of papers called Instruction.

  • Jul
  • 16
  • 2008

If you’ve stopped reading on a regular basis, it’s time to start again. Here are some beginning ideas for changes I might make to course content this coming school year. I’ll get to classroom policies later. I need you to agree or disagree with me on any of these. What are you thinking about doing in your classroom?

Skills Lists

Produce a list of skills that students need to exhibit. These skills need to be fairly self explanatory, boiled down, and as adjective free as possible. This should be a list of things that can be objectively measured. “Write a strong thesis” is a matter of opinion. “Include three quotations in defense of the thesis” is not. Of course, that’s easy to say at this stage in good ol’ July. Still, break reading, writing, and speaking down into concrete skills. Start with your state standards and drive to something demonstrable. If you don’t change anything else, in addition to the other stuff happening in class like normal, give lessons on and assessments of those skills. Hopefully, the large projects (essays, probably) will incorporate those skills so you’ll be assessing them in more than one way. Anyone want to collaborate on this?

…Go To War With The Army You Have, Not…

The sad fact is that, while I would love to fill my classroom with readings from the most recent texts and modern novels, I have a limited list from which to choose. I have a bookroom with maybe fifteen titles for each course (typical publication date: more than 50 years ago) and a textbook with short stories, essays, and excerpts. As soon as I start photocopying texts (which I do like a fiend, by the way), I run into problems: limited to x copies a month, copy machine is broken, William’s settlement, board approval of outside texts, etc. In further response to Eric’s post, how do English teachers work with popular texts? is a good resource. Add a tag to the URL and start culling. That’s a lot of ongoing reading to find. The cynic in me says that students may not find this any more interesting than that book from 1852. It all depends on how you teach it.

Course Reader

On the other hand, I’ve been thinking of creating a reader. There are certain texts I get to every year, almost without fail. And if I put them into a reader, I’d be even more likely to get to them. Assume that I include texts that typically promote certain skills, serve as good/bad examples, touch on important thematic concerns, and the like. I’ve got a large table of contents already for teaching English 3 and 4. What would you include?

Themed Course

English 3 naturally revolves around the American Dream for me. Almost everything we read shows characters in pursuit of it or questioning what it really means. That quest is almost the whole of American history and literature. I organize English 4 around the search for reality. From Oedipus to Hamlet to Heart of Darkness to Siddhartha, everyone’s trying to find out what’s real. Add identity to the mix and it gets really interesting. What if each essay is designed toward adding another element to the student’s explication of the theme of the course? Start with a discussion of the theme just based on any background knowledge the student has. Set a page minimum, include some questions that must be addressed, create a sense of audience, and begin the writing. After each unit, take out the previous draft and add to it: does this unit enforce what you thought or change your mind?

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