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Thursday, April 20, 2017

Gradual Release of Responsibility: Common Core Style

  POST by Erin Thomas, HS English Teacher

The final quarter of the school year is always my favorite, and not just because summer vacation is finally in view. My students and I spend much of the year in a metaphoric handhold, as I guide, lead, and model them through the content, until suddenly, they seem ready to let go.

But let's face it: letting go can be hard. Can we trust them to maintain a high level of discussion, if we aren’t the one playing the facilitator? Will they stay focused and on task? How will I know what they get out of the discussion, if I am not listening to every word spoken throughout a discussion? The reality is that all the hand-holding we do the first half of the year, is exactly why we should trust them to do all of these things. Whether the class is CP or Honors level, they can be trusted, as long as we have taught them how to use the tools they will need.

For me, the close of the third quarter coincided with the end of our All Quiet on the Western Front unit, so I needed this discussion to draw a conclusion to all the work we had been doing. Since our curricular units are all Common Core based, we had been analyzing the novel in connection to essential questions and a number of connected ancillary texts. It was important to me that my students demonstrated that they could apply what I had been modeling for them all year, by writing their own questions and bringing in their own outside sources.


The set-up for this discussion was fairly simple, but somehow ended up infusing all of my favorite things, both tech and content wise, from this year!

Students did not go into this discussion cold. I explained that they would be participating a Six Person Panel Discussion (named so mostly because it sounds fancier than working in group of six), and I provided them with the handout which outline what would be covered.

In addition to reflecting on the ancillary sources I had provided over the course of the unit, students were asked to bring in their own annotated sources.

Getting them Organized and Letting them Go:

On the day of discussion, I had students simply draw a color which determined their group assignment.

I tend to shift back-and-forth with assigning roles during discussions, but for this activity, since I was going to be an observer, I knew I wanted them to have assigned responsibilities.

After assigning roles and discussing expectations, I put the timer on for twenty minutes, and just let them go. It was amazing to watch them navigate this discussion. Every group talked for the entire twenty minutes, and every student, even my quietest ones, participated multiple times throughout the discussion. Watching my sophomores interact with each other, as true academics, was incredibly gratifying.

After a quick, share-out from each of the groups, I had them take one final step. Since I wasn’t able to sit with each group for their entire discussion, I wanted to find a way to still hear from all of them.

Bringing it to a Close:

Let's Recap is tech tool which allows students to quickly create short videos. It's great to use when you want to hear from all of your students, but you just don’t have enough minutes in the class period. For this discussion, I essentially used it as an exit slip. In the last few minutes of class, I had students log in and informally tell me about one ancillary source shared by a peer in their group. If you haven’t used this tech tool before, I highly recommend it. It is user friendly, easily viewed and assessed, and best of all, guarantees that you will hear from every one of your students!

This discussion definitely ended-up being a standout for me for the whole year. Everything that I asked of my students felt meaningful, and best of all, their skills and intelligence were able to shine!

Happy Discussing!

Thursday, April 6, 2017

Literary Blocks

GUEST POST by Tracey Ryan, HS English Teacher

Everything in the English classroom is dependent on students reading the assigned texts.  I am always trying to figure out ways to engage students - to make them go back into the text to further their understanding.  Too often - I have them respond to quotes and write a "chunk."  For each chunk, students respond by providing context, close text analysis, and purpose. It's essential for them to understand how authors make meaning, but my selection of the quotes and the formulaic ways they are required to respond puts the onus for understanding and learning on me rather than the students.

After reading read a blog post from Dawn Lam [Mrs. Lam's Musings], I decided to "borrow" her idea of modifying the game "Cards Against Humanity."  I purchased wooden blocks from Amazon and wrote on each side a different literary device.  My class had finished reading the first four chapters of Lord of the Flies. Instead of me dictating what the students would examine in the first four chapters - I let them roll the block to determine what literary aspect of the first four chapters their group would examine.

After rolling for their literary device, the group had to figure out how they would present their analysis.  We've practiced with a few tech tools this year so I gave them free choice as to how they wanted to present their findings.  My suggestions included;  Google Slides, Google Drawings, Adobe Spark, Infographics, Hyperdocs or even just a Google Doc.    Most students played it safe and went with Google Slides but some ventured into Google Drawing, Adobe Spark, and Popplet.  Examples of some of the final products follow:
Imagery - Google Drawings

Characterization of Jack - Adobe Spark 

Analysis of Conflict - Google Slides

Analysis of Symbolism - Popplet

After sharing the assignment with my grade level team we came up with a series of variations on how to grow the assignment.  

  • Roll two blocks - one for the literary device - the other for the purpose.  We came up with two separate lists.  The device list included:  conflict, characterization, syntax, motif, imagery, figurative language (metaphor/simile, symbolism, personification, etc.).  The purpose list included:  theme, character,  setting, tone, mood/atmosphere, and point of view. Some of the devices are interchangeable with the purposes. (Thanks C.Kirch for the suggestion)
  • List the lens of literary criticism on the sides of the block and have students roll to determine through which lens they will examine the text.