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.
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.
Planning is never easy
I always start with a few good books on the topic I am looking to have students work on. For this particular unit., I selected the following books for my self-study prior to selecting a graphic novel to use or buying any materials:
I also typically peruse a good number of scholarly research articles and pedagogical articles to ensure that I am covering (or not missing out on) all the relevant standards and skills that can be mastered using, in this case, graphic novels and comics.
For this unit I used several great scholarly articles. My favorites are:
How Could It Go Wrong?
Where I am right now
At this moment, I am in the beginning stages of the planning process. While I have reviewed and determined there is a BIG reason why I should use the graphic novel to teach I have not determined exactly what will be emphasized. I think that the basic elements of a story are always important to discuss with the class, the deep themes in V for Vendetta along with the overview of dystopian societies would be good enough to me to warrant an exploration of this engaging storytelling medium.
I also hope to explore how characters are developed in visual form to setup the class for future film study/screen writing units or simply to inform their narrative writing in general.
Remember: Teaching is the Art of Assisting in Discovery
If you always fall back on the fact that, as a teacher, it is your job to assist students in doing the heavy lifting you can not go wrong. Comics and Graphic Novels are engaging, but the questioning and rigor in the classroom should not be compromised for any reason. When I launch this unit I will be sure to update you all with the materials and insights I learned from going high engagement in our classroom readings.
I'm sure you're familiar with the classic game of Jenga. Pull out a piece and attempt to keep the tower standing. Well, turns out, this works really great as a review activity for studying literature.
I ran across the Literary Jenga product on TpT and I am absolutely in LOVE with it. I have been looking for ways to "gamify" classroom learning to increase engagement. Literary Jenga is a way to start out with low/no tech requirements.
If you're feeling adventurous -- Breakout EDU offers a cool program where students seek out clues and answers to break into a locked box. Think of the teamwork required to complete this task. There is a library of created games or you can create your own. Set a timer and let the class begin -- no hints!
Back at school and enjoying the fresh start of a new school year. After such an inspirational summer working with amazing educators and scholars from all over the country (and world) I am back to school. A particular educator, Marjie Bowker, who I met during my summer NEH seminar, directs an ingenious self-published narrative writing program at her high-needs school in the Seattle, WA area. Check out more on this amazing program here. Being that teachers ARE the greatest thieves out there -- I decided to start a self-published student generated narrative writing program at my school.
While the project is just getting going at this point, I will be sure to update you with progress and any takeaways I have with trying to launch this type of program in the classroom. At this point we have brainstormed tie in's for professional writer workshops and readings to support the student's writing skills and we are also thinking about ways to embrace other cultures and tie in English Language Learners to the program through our Latin American studies program. Our graphic design and print layout classes will help a professional designer and typesetter with the development and layout (and art) for the project.
I think the best part of this project is it is self-sustaining (if done perfectly.) When students are published we sell their books and the revenue from those sales help to support the next year's printing.
Here's to another great year and another HUGE project to tackle.
I thought this movie would make a great film study of character, Appalachian culture, in and out migration, and finally symbolism. Think about the piece of wood Gerdie is attempting to carve as her masterpiece. Why can't she get the face done? What is more important to her -- the face of Christ or the wood itself? Why? What about the argument Gerdie has with Clovis. How is this argument symbolic of Gerdie holding on to her upbringing and story as an Appalachian woman?
On Wednesday the 20th we had the great pleasure of participating in a small group teaching session with Frank X Walker. Walker's poetry in Turn Me Loose: The Unghosting of Medgar Evers was especially poignant and relevant -- even though it focuses on revisionist mythmaking surrounding the murder of Medgar Evers by Byron de la Beckwith in Mississippi in the 1960's.
This work is so powerful and I hope to use Walker's work this year in class. Below you will find an NPR story regarding the book and the links above will get you to Amazon to buy it! It is well worth it and something you can use in the classroom or just to think at home.
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.