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.
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.
When reading these reports (see link buttons below), I was struck with a line in the Aspen Institute’s Roadmap to Improvement reading. The Aspen Institute said that current evaluator training and certification programs “… send the message that the main purpose of evaluation is to rate teachers, rather than support their professional growth.” I’m sure many classroom teachers could agree with this claim as the current state of teacher evaluation in the state. Even on a teacher level, colleagues will often focus on the rating as opposed to focusing on the feedback given. Getting anywhere near a reflective practice will require changes in the ways that leadership and educators in the classroom view evaluation and observation. The reflective nature of observation and evaluation is also highlighted in the principles listed in the CCSSO report titled Principles for Teacher Support and Evaluation Systems. The first principle listed sums up the main issue that the purpose of evaluation and observation must be better defined and tied to student achievement AND professional growth. Getting to a place where teachers feel supported through evaluation and observational feedback is an important goal. In order to increase buy-in and in some cases re-legitimize the profession as a profession and not merely a job is an important element too.
In my experience, there is a clear management gap that must be addressed at the leadership level in order to focus on selling any new observation or evaluation tool. Managing people is very difficult and does not come naturally to some people. I have observed nearly every leader I have ever worked with struggle to communicate with classroom teachers about observational feedback. The leader often presents as timid or overly aggressive and ultimately unfocused on the ultimate goal of professional development.
Student achievement can be positively impacted through effective observational feedback that directly relates to improving teaching practice. Also, doesn’t it just make sense to directly tie the feedback to the student’s ultimate success? Most teachers do what they do because they believe in their students and want to see them succeed. If the conversation is moved toward students and away from the hypercritical teacher centered rating I would say that the messaging issue relating to this being about the students and their success and not merely on the educator and their perceived challenge areas.
Fairness, credibility, and transparency would be my next area of interest. When I worked for General Electric in management many of the elements of an employee’s observation were available for viewing and analysis by the team. It shouldn’t be scary to share about your evaluation and observational feedback. I think that celebrating student achievement could be the focus of PD’s – discussing solid classroom practices that increase critical thinking while also positively impacting engagement. This is where I think that peer groups or professional learning communities (PLCs) could be a big asset to a refined evaluation model. A well implemented PLC program could be very beneficial when refocusing back to reflective practice and performance improvement. Colleagues can be a huge asset to improving teacher performance and nurturing/fostering an environment where that is celebrated would help educators and also leverage the highly effective qualities of others to improve our own performance in the classroom.
We ask students to constantly reflect on things and to consider new possibilities. I believe that teachers should be consistently engaged with doing the same thing about their own practices to positively impact student achievement. In the Aspen Institute report I was also struck with how they described how a prescriptive plan for improvement would be more effective to better develop teacher professional growth. I think this could be a very interesting way to use a Professional Growth Plan (PGP). In a perfect scenario, the PGP would be formed with the observer as a focus area for teacher improvement. Based on previous observations or evaluation information, feedback from PLC group, and self-reflections teachers could work with their evaluator to monitor and improve teacher effectiveness. This would of course look differently in every setting, but I think some fluidity at the local level could allow the PGP to be a tool for student achievement and at the same time be a conversation point or focus area for the teacher and evaluator throughout the year.
Addressing the guiding question, I believe that the stigma of evaluation needs to be addressed and many people in leadership roles need to be better versed in the objective of the evaluation. If the evaluation/observation is used to encourage teachers to do better for their students and their future students, then the evaluation system can be used as a level for improving student achievement. Secondly, I think that addressing this messaging concern could also help to make the experience for new teachers and those who are veterans more rewarding. By encouraging improved performance for students through reflective critique and peer support systems we could also impact the severe problem of teacher retention. Elevating the job of teaching to the profession of educating is a message I believe anyone in the field can get behind.
Here are links to the articles I referenced in the post:
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.
One thing that teachers (newbies and veterans) always need to talk about is technology in the classroom. New teachers tend to be so tech heavy they literally fall apart (I’ve seen it) when the inevitable projector bulb goes out. Veteran teachers tend to be a bit fearful of change to the classroom environment and at times the element of handing off control to students becomes an issue with technology application during instruction. Overall, this was one of my most successfully taught professional development courses, because it seems that everyone is searching for more opportunities to leverage technology in the classroom.
START SMALL AND BUILD ON SUCCESS
Don’t try to do it all! Try to use one (or maybe two) of the tools – master their use and application to your classroom and then move to another tool. If you try them all at once you will fail, you will feel the failure, and it may turn you off from trying again. Whatever you think, DON’T DO IT! I am especially speaking to the newer teachers out there.
There is more to being successful with technology in the classroom than being able to use the tools yourself. The real magic of technology in the classroom is when it helps students to connect with content, learning, and ultimately increases achievement. This is not something that will come right away, and teachers should prepare to start small and incorporate management tools and technology to make life easier before jumping head first into some of the more “feature filled” applications.
MAKING LIFE EASIER
I use a variety of technology tools to make life easier on me. Many of these tools have an initial investment of time and labor (setting up classes, assigning logins, etc.), but really pay off once you have them operational.
This is just part one of my list – in a week or so I will be posting a comprehensive list of tools to use in the classroom with students to increase engagement and achievement.
I am so excited to be selected as a LEAD Fellow for the 2016-17 cohort representing the State of Louisiana. This is an amazing advocacy and professional practice improvement program that believes that regardless of zip code EVERY child should have access and opportunity to have an amazing education.
Over the next few months I will be elevating my voice as an educator and advocate for all students. I am hoping that the work conducted and the lobbying done will make improvements for both students and professional educators through the state.
If you want to read more about the fellowship, you can check it out here,
This weekend the NEH Voices from the Misty Mountains group went on an optional field trip to Washington, D.C. to visit the variety of museums and monuments in the city. I included some pictures from the trip below:
Such an amazing 8-mile kayaking journey from Taylor's Landing to Shepherdstown, WV. I was able to snap pictures of lots of wildlife -- including a bald eagle in flight, some deer, heron, and more.
I am on my second week of the Voices of the Misty Mountains seminar at Shepherd University here in Shepherdstown, WV. I must say this experience working with Appalachian writers and playwrights has been exceptional. I am excited to continue watching the plays going on here with the Contemporary American Theater Festival. I am also loving working with creative figures like Silas House and Adam Booth (this week we have Kentucky based poet Frank X Walker.)
I will post a more detailed post VERY soon!
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.