A blog following teacher Aaron Jura as he plans engaging, yet relevant English Language Arts content for High School students in New Orleans, LA.
After an amazing three-weeks participating in the National Endowment for the Humanities teacher seminar titled From Harlem to Hip-Hop: African American History, Literature, and Song I presented my culminating project titled The REAL Illuminati.
If you haven't noticed, many of my teaching strategy posts center around the concepts of engaging students in higher levels of academic achievement. Inspired by Dr. Tricia Rose's talk on Redlining and discriminatory policies and politics in the United States I concluded my project would take the redlining information from the federal government and juxtapose it against modern day racial gerrymandering.
This project would not have come together without the input of several amazing people:
Access all the readings, recordings, PowerPoint, and all other materials on Google Drive -- by clicking here.
This presentation uses the power of student friendly and culturally relevant ideas -- the narrative of "The Illuminati" to illustrate how power can be wielded behind the scenes to disenfranchise particular groups -- an impact very relevant today in America.
The presentation's main claim is that modern day racial gerrymandering in congressional districts is eerily similar to the now "illegal" discriminatory lending practice commonly called redlining.
When you look at the presentation, using Charlotte, NC as a guide you will see the similarities between 1940 redlining maps, the gerrymandered congressional district (blue line), when you layer in 2010 census data on racial concentration in Charlotte, NC.
The point of this exercise is to illustrate a claim, evidence, the tools of argumentation; while still using culturally relevant hooks to engage students in what could be viewed as "boring" without the strong sales pitch.
There are many exciting possibilities when using current events in the classroom, and the recent Supreme Court decisions on this issue also provide an opportunity for a larger, horizontally aligned connection to social studies, law, and even science (topography, etc.) Students could extend this even further into the math sphere by looking at election probabilities based on demographic data.
Again, the possibilities are endless -- I hope this inspires you or you use it in your class to create a more socially conscious student body -- the next leaders of our great nation!
I hope this is something you can use or modify to use in your classroom.
Every professional educator knows that engagement is a key element in ensuring students are committed to deep learning in the classroom. Every English teacher knows of the importance to engage students with riveting lessons that are both relevant and rigorous. This strategy layers in deep learning and investigation, while encouraging students to act as investigators. Getting them deeply involved in their text and evidence based analysis.
Haunted History is a term coined by Dr. Yohuru Williams in his AMAZING book Teaching US History Beyond the Textbook. This book and my time with Dr. Williams at this year's National Endowment for the Humanities seminar titled From Harlem to Hip-Hop have revolutionized the way I will approach the 9th grade English classroom for the next school term.
Haunted History and another strategy I will discuss in a later post called CSI -- are really simple presentation tricks and flipped classroom techniques that could be used in a variety of settings.
In my example, I use some of the alumni of the school I work for to engage students in biographical research projects ultimately resulting in the creation of a written biography of another alumni from our HALL OF FAME.
If you download the PowerPoint version (above) you will notice that creepy music plays when you dramatically read the introduction to the individual being profiled. This adds the drama that students love -- it's your hook!
After you present the case file you pass out to students (in small groups) evidence bags with various primary sources. Make it a mystery -- blackout names (as if they have been censored). Also, type up a list of questions you want students to be able to answer about the cases in question.
The case numbers and pictures are strategic -- use them to draw in the student (why those case numbers, etc).
While for my classroom this works with notable alumni, this can also work in other areas. Suggestions at the conference included exits off the turnpike (who are they named after), the names of cities, examination of important events, literary figures, scientists -- the opportunities here are endless.
Please feel free to post any questions about this you might have and I will definitely help out with what I know. Oh, and buy Dr. Williams' book -- the strategies are transformative.
I am about to blow your mind with a way to use MUSIC to give students context and deep analysis of a period of time/movement/really anything you want. This method is called KEYNOTING. Enjoy! I hope I just blew your mind. If you want more on these cool teaching strategies, check out Dr. Yohuru Williams' book Teaching U.S. History Beyond the Textbook: Six Investigative Strategies, Grades 5-12.
1) Select the theme or concept you will be having students work through. In the example, we used the concept of internalized racism and the black is beautiful movement.
2) Come up with a series of questions. These should be tied to your subject area. We worked through this using a more humanities driven approach to teaching English. Example: Who was the president? What was the unemployment rate? Who was the biggest celebrity that year? What's going on in foreign and domestic policy at the time? REMEMBER: These questions will remain consistent for the lesson -- doesn't matter which song the students are working on.
3) Have students work in small groups -- give them the year and have them use their technology tools to answer the questions based on the year.
4) Bring class back together for a report out -- chart the answers somewhere (board or a Google doc), etc.
5) Expose the students to the songs -- for our example we used Nina Simone (1966) Four Women, India Arie (2001) Video, and Kendrick Lamar (2015) Complexion -- focused on the feature by Rhapsody.
6) Whole class discussion and close reading of the lyrics -- keeping in mind the overarching theme.
Remember: Your going to want to provide copies of the lyrics and close read the selections to speak to the historical periods or issues you are working on throughout the lesson.
Sample of the questions and "student answer":
Closing thoughts: Differentiation opportunity: Since the questions remain consistent you could easily differentiate for a particular roster, you could select one song in the middle that speaks to the theme based on the average year of birth for the class (ENGAGE!).
As a teacher leader and advocate for kids, families, and teachers in Louisiana I was so excited to hear that I would be able to attend the 2017 :Teacher Leader Summit. It was hosted last week at the Morial Convention Center in New Orleans.
The sessions I was most interested in attending were related to the new end-of-course testing for 9th and 10th grade English language arts. Basically, what I learned is that the new EOC structurally represents the PARCC assessments in the multi-part questioning approach to reading comprehension and analysis.
I found a few amazing resources to help teachers prepare and ask BLOOMS aligned questions:
Essentially, your level 1 question should be of the basic (remember/understand) level of comprehension and then the level 2 question should extend the student into (evaluation/analysis) level thinking.
Written tasks will extend the student even further and will require instruction in paragraph stems as a method of scaffolding for struggling writers. I found a number of great paragraph stems to checkout through Pinterest. Here are a few of the best ones:
- Elgin ISD ELL Project
Overall, I do think that this is a great plan for assessment -- you will definitely get the data back to support intensive curricular interventions to improve student performance to mastery by 2025. Am I nervous to teach 9th grade ELA with high-stakes tests attached, heck yes? Who enjoys that type of pressure, but I always try to remember that students will reach the bar when the bar is set high.
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.
If you are anything like me you have probably wondered to yourself (more than a few times) HOW AM I GOING TO GET THE KIDS INTERESTED IN THIS. Well, that can be one of the most challenging or exciting (depending on why you do what you do) aspects of the profession of education. How do I deliver this content or skill to the student, while keeping them engaged and committed to success.
I actually think about this quite frequently when planning lessons, units, and especially when I am reteaching something that didn't quite go as planned the first go around. I always ask myself this fundamental question: How can I make this thing relevant to kids? If you are planning amazing questions without a focus on the relevancy you are not able to get into the deep analysis level that makes me (an English teacher) so excited.
I'll admit it. I'll do almost anything to make a lesson come to life in the classroom. I've read books like Teach Like a Pirate and Ditch that Textbook and have really embraced the full engagement model in the secondary classroom, at times, to my great personal embarrassment. However, with personal embarrassment can come professional triumph. Getting kids engaged in content is key to developing skills they can use later on in their lives to achieve their goals, their dreams, and will directly impact their families and futures.
Our class has been working through The Odyssey and has done a great job sticking to our objective:
Students will be able to analyze elements of an epic poem, such as, plot, setting, character, and figurative language.
We just completed student presentations, prior to the Thanksgiving Holiday, where students (in pairs) dissected, analyzed, and presented to class about a movie selection of their choice and how it fits within the elements of a Hero's Journey.
Coming back from class I hope to reinvigorate students in the story as we move to Part II (The Homecoming). Leveraging the viral social media sensation of the mannequin challenge students will be asked to in three scenes produce, film, and publish an original mannequin challenge video in small groups acting out scenes from The Odyssey. Students will be required to work together to tell the whole story (think Cyclops, the Sirens, the Lotus Eaters, etc.) in a three scene mannequin challenge format.
Leveraging relevancy (viral nature of the project) student engagement will skyrocket and they will (without knowing it) be analyzing the plot, setting, and characters in a three scene tableau. See how easy that was? To make it even easier, I have posted the assignment and rubric I created for this project below.
Well, as you all know, I have been working on creating a teaching unit on graphic novels and comic books. I have my introductory lecture PowerPoint completed (with teaching/lecture notes) and I am currently working on creating the guided notes worksheet for students that goes along with the unit. Next, I will be tackling the V for Vendetta graphic novel and splitting the unit up into the three sections represented in the work. While this has taken a lot of my "personal" time away from me over the past few weeks, I do enjoy coming up with new and innovative lessons to bring into the English classroom.
I hope to have the entire unit done by our Winter break and posted to Teachers pay Teachers so that other teachers can check it out and use it in class.
Comic books and graphic novels have evolved from a somewhat contrite art form and storytelling tool in their infancy to a narrative powerhouse that ignites the mind and engages the reader from page one. Graphic novels are beginning to become popular for use in the classroom setting. In Nancy Frey’s and Douglas Fischer’s book Teaching Visual Literacy on the topic they argue that using graphic novels and comic books increases engagement, strengthens multiple literacy competences, and boosts student critical thinking and analysis. So why, might you ask, are English classrooms not littered with graphic novels and comics? Well, that’s the issue right there. Many educators aren’t familiar with the joys of comic book and graphic novel reading. Many are even afraid to attempt to tackle the unfamiliar look of a comic book versus a novel. The purpose of this piece is to ignite the imagination by using this highly engaging and flexible storytelling device to drive student understanding of narrative structure and text to text and text to image relationships.
For me, some of the most difficult students to engage in the English classroom are the ones who play too many video games. I’m stereotyping a bit here, but frankly we all know the kids I am talking about. They are either into it or they are not and will zone out. They are typically the type of student that is intelligent, but if they don’t want to engage in something they are not going to. As an educator this tears me up, at times. I see the brilliance in these students when they fully engage, but they I see their regression when they are disengaged with a certain unit of study. I had tried and tried – choice projects, differentiation in instruction, project based learning and still I was catching disengagement from kids who were usually trying to slyly engage with a game on their personal device or school computer. Then I discovered graphic novels and the crowds went wild. The same student who I described above was instantly into the idea and their high interest, especially when juxtaposed against their typical disengaged personality, was intoxifying in the classroom and really helped to help shape the classroom culture positively.
So what does one do first when trying to tackle a completely new curriculum without any resources provided by the school or typical curriculum companies? Well, you make it … of course. I started with research using Frey’s and Fischer’s book on the pedagogical reasoning for using comic books and graphic novels and then I started research on the genre. Specifically, I used Understanding Comics by Scott McCloud and Will Eisner’s Comics and Sequential Art as my guides. Both books provide a perspective into the entire process of storytelling in comics. I was particularly taken with the relationships between text and art as it relates to this unique art. I also took an amazing online course through the California College of the Arts called Comics: Art in Relationship. I only audited the course and so the course content was free for me to view and access. From all of these sources I came to the conclusion that the benefits to teaching using graphic novels and comics far outweigh the risks. And so, I jumped in head first.
Potential Unit Plans
It really depends on how you want to teach or use comics on how you would implement it into your classroom, but here I will share a couple ideas I had when I was brainstorming during lesson planning:
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.