A blog following teacher Aaron Jura as he plans engaging, yet relevant English Language Arts content for High School students in New Orleans, LA.
Students across the nation constantly lament about the monotony of the classroom. Every educator knows increasing student achievement requires engagement from all learners in classroom activities and content. I have always said that the practice of teaching is something that can be learned, while the art of it is something that must be perfected. Much like a top producing salesperson for a corporation would do, effective educators are constantly selling (or to add some finance jargon I am sure I heard on a movie) “always closing”.
The question is how to we, as educators, engage students in the process of learning and get them to use all the amazing critical thinking skills we have taught them to be able to use. I think I found the answer to that this year with the addition of breakoutEDU games into the freshmen English classroom.
BreakoutEDU brings the concept of the escape room into the classroom. Using a series of boxes; locks; invisible ink; and clues, students work in small groups (size varies by game) to solve the puzzles and breakout before time expires.
So, you might be asking yourself: How this could help increase student achievement? While the jury is still out regarding peer reviewed sources and data on the topic, my classroom has truly benefited from working toward a more active and gamified environment.
I would also like to point out that BreakoutEDU is such a versatile tool for the classroom. Breakout charges between $150-200 a kit, which includes the items; boxes; locks; and access to get started. Breakout also provides an “open source” option where you can shop on Amazon and build your own kit (about $100 a kit). I was able to get my classroom 4 complete kits by writing a request on Donors Choose.
Anyway, in my freshmen English courses we have done 2 games so far as part of the inevitable Romeo and Juliet unit. I used Shakespeare Lost in Time and Unlocking Shakespeare to help breakup the pre-work (Elizabethan society presentations, Queen Mab illustrations, and sonnet writing). Students must work in small groups (each group had their own box) and they had to apply the lessons they learned after deciphering a series of cryptic clues. Each breakout game had several winners; however, there are also students who don’t break out. Usually this is a result of a lack of leadership in the group or things the group can reflect on to improve for the next game.
If you haven’t heard of breakoutEDU you need to check it out – get your classroom to a place of active engaged learners. Once they play a breakout game they will definitely want to do more!
Well, we just finished up reading The Odyssey,
The students really seemed to enjoy it. I think what made it successful was that we led into the reading with a full reading of a bunch of Greek mythology. The Greek mythology we read helped students to contextually be better able to comprehend the allusions in The Odyssey.
Secondly, breaking up the book with high-engagement project work helped to keep student's attention during our 4-week long reading of the story. Students completed presentations with a partner on the structural elements of the Hero's Journey. They applied their analysis of the structure of this storytelling structure to a film of their choice and then presented to the class. The final project they did was a "mannequin challenge" project where students recreated scenes from The Odyssey in tableau set to music.
Breaking up a dense work like The Odyssey with managable, highly-engaging projects seems to be the best way to get it done.
Continuing on yesterday’s post on technology in the classroom and how I (a high school English teacher) use it. In the part I post I detailed several key sites and apps to make life easier. If you picked up one or two (MAX – it’s the rule) of those tools, be sure to master them before moving on a new tool.
CURRICULAR TOOLS FOR THE ELA CLASSROOM
I teach English and reading at a high school level, so the majority of tools I will share are those that will work best in an upper grade application. I am sure my lower grade teachers could also use some of them too with minimal to no modification.
Hope you can take away some ideas from this post of curricular technology tools and their potential applications in the secondary English classroom. Next time, I will post on some tools you can use to help keep engagement during lecture presentations. Until we meet again.
Whew! I just pulled myself out of a hole -- caught up on grading (it's a constant battle.) I also drank a pot of coffee at 10PM and now I am wide awake at 1AM! I'm updating you on what I have been up to and some general classroom strategies I am working on.
I've noticed a lot of late work lately, which is putting students behind. This is problematic because it hinders the progress of a unit when you have to pause to give students additional time to catch up. The part that irks every teacher is that it doesn't seem to be pacing related and instead seems to be grit related.
I am implementing 2 new strategies to help with this:
1) Pink Slips: When students are deficient on an assignment I am printing out a pink slip for them that sets an expectation that the item is made up within a certain period of time. Time consuming? YES!!! But needed until students are more organized.
2) Student Performance Contract: Students who have a C or lower are going to have weekly 1 on 1's and a student performance contract. We will work together (tutoring M, T, Thurs after school) to ensure success. If student breaks the contract by not turning in work they will be required to attend Saturday intervention to complete missing work.
As for me, I have started doing after school tutoring M, T, Th until 5:30 PM. Wednesday's I am working with the National Archives as a member of the Virtual Foreign Service as an Assistant Curator for the Today's Document project. And, I just started teaching at Dillard University on Saturday's. Oh yea, plus my typical schedule of audited courses, American History courses, and grant writing work.
I guess I should try to get to bed...
Mr. J is a high school teacher in New Orleans, Louisiana. Mr. J believes in the power of educators to help children and families achieve. Follow his blog for tips and techniques to keep engagement high and student achievement at the forefront.