Why This/Not That? A thinking routine to move kids from identification to analysis

One of the biggest challenges in teaching rhetorical analysis is teaching kids to move beyond identification to actual analysis.  I have found over the years that when I teach kids to look for certain things, they find them!! If we talk about repetition, they can track it down. If we talk about parallel structure, boom. However, I’ve also found that many struggle to move beyond that identification.

“Oh, look!” they cry delightedly. “Parallel structure!”

And then they move on.  

I would press them when we would discuss and analyze in class, and they could usually get to something analytical, but when they would move to writing, they’d still stop at identification.  I found myself scribbling (over and over) in the margins of essays “why is this important?” and “what does this show you?”  

During a class discussion of a text a few weeks ago, I was digging for a more analytical answer and I said, “Yes, but why this word and not another one?” It was one of those teaching lightbulb moments when I realized it was a prompt my students could be asking themselves: Why this and not that?

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Teaching From My Twitter Feed: Golf on Fire

#tweaching

Last week I started the year with my AP Seminar students talking about perspectives: our own, those of others, and the ones forgotten or ignored in texts.  Much of the success of their research will be dependent on their ability to see issues from multiple perspectives. Imagine my excitement then, when this popped up in my Twitter feed:

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This has been happening to me more and more in the past few years, and I’ve found myself pulling materials on the fly from Twitter to use in class.  I even wrote about it here and here last year! This year, my teaching buddy (and fellow Moving Writers blogger) Mike and I are going to do a bi-weekly column called Teaching From My Twitter Feed. We think it will be a good way to keep pushing ourselves to add relevant, current material to our class and help our students see the potential for learning in their own Twitter feeds. Hopefully you’ll follow along as we experiment and share your own #tweaching with us as well! (Use the hashtag if you do. We’d love to see what you do!)

 

Now, back to that picture. There is so much to unpack both in the image and the caption. I threw the image up on the projector at the beginning of class and said, “What do you think?”  The questions started immediately:

  • Is that real?
  • What’s wrong with those people?
  • Where is that?

 

Since we were talking about perspectives, I nudged them in that direction a little first. We talked about the perspective of the photographer and the intention of the picture. We talked about the perspective of the golfers. Are they really uncaring monsters who carelessly golf the day away while the wildfires burn? Is there a perspective missing? What would happen if the shot were widened?

 

Then we talked about research. What did this picture make them want to know more about? Not a single student in my class knew that there are wildfires blazing in the west. They were all shocked because the only weather events anyone is talking about right now are the hurricanes.

 

Finally we talked about the caption: “In the pantheon of visual metaphors for today, this is the money shot.” Vocabulary alone, this was a winner. Few of my kids knew the meaning of “pantheon” so we googled it. I had to do some explaining because the dictionary definition was not particularly helpful, so it allowed for a quick convo about sophisticated diction. After that, the class was pretty split on “money shot”; some were giggling because they knew the vulgar definition and others simply knew it meant something vaguely like “most important.”  As delicately as possible, we talked about what he meant and his implicit meaning. Was the term “money shot” effective or just crass? Who was he criticizing? Who did the golfers represent? What did the fires represent?

 

All of this great discussion only took about 15 minutes of class but it showed my students how the things they scroll past can help them think more deeply and critically about the world around them. Could I save this picture and use it next year? Maybe. The discussion about perspectives would probably be largely the same, but it wouldn’t be as relevant or fresh for the students, and I’d miss an opportunity to help them see that there are interesting things all around them to think a little harder about–they just have to stop scrolling for a few minutes.  

 

The next day a kid came into class and told me that he’d read more about the wildfires online and that it “sounds crazy!”  That was all the confirmation I needed that teaching from my Twitter feed (#tweaching! We’re going to make this a thing!) is a good use of my class time. Sometimes I find something small like this that becomes fodder for notebooks or short discussion; sometimes it’s bigger and transforms a whole lesson. Either way, I think it’s one of the best avenues for keeping my class relevant with my students.

–Hattie

Do you find yourself #tweaching somedays? Connect with us on Twitter @TeacherHattie or @ZigThinks. We’d love to know what you’re up to!

Using Tech to Steal Back Time for Workshop

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A few years ago, the writing in my classroom was floundering. Our department had been aligning curriculum for awhile and, in my rush to get my ducks in a row and “cover” everything, I had begun sacrificing key parts of my instruction. There just wasn’t time to fit it all in. One afternoon during a particularly rushed writing conference, I knew I needed to reorganize and rethink what workshop was going to look like in my classroom.  I couldn’t make major changes to the curriculum, and I couldn’t magically make my class periods longer, so I started experimenting with ways to use technology to steal back some time. What I’ve landed on isn’t perfect, but it’s helped me create a space for the thing I believe helps writers grow the most:  face to face talk about writing.

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Machete or Scalpel?

Two and a half weeks from the end of the school year and I’m lucky enough to have kids clamoring to learn! A testament to my mad teacher skills? Unfortunately, no. Rather, they are desperately motivated by the elusive “perfect” college application essay. Several years ago my colleagues and I started finishing our year in AP Language with work on college application essays because we discovered that it is one of the easiest ways to keep the kids invested after the test in early May.  We don’t actually grade them or even collect final drafts, but we spend our last weeks of school knee-deep in writer’s workshop as the students struggle through this high stakes writing and work to produce something of which they can be proud.

 

This year, I’ve been doing daily Google Form “Status of the Class” check-ins to get the pulse of the class and figure out what they need from me in the form of mini lessons. In a recent form, a common theme quickly emerged: word count. They are all way over the dreaded 650 Common Application word limit.  They all need to cut things, but I realized that they needed  some focused instruction on which tool to use: machete or scalpel?

 

Being Concise

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A Late Night Mentor Text

I’ve written before about lessons inspired by my Twitter feed and it happened again early this week. Sometimes, right when you need it most, the universe drops the perfect mentor text right in your lap.

My AP Language students are busy prepping for the exam and all of them need a little more work with rhetorical analysis. They’ve gotten pretty good at identifying a writer’s purpose or message. They can pick strategies that an author uses to achieve that purpose or convey that message, but they struggle with explaining why.  They want a formula that, unfortunately, doesn’t exist.

Why is something powerful? Why does it create a certain tone? Why does it work?

I needed a text that would help them see the why.  Enter Jimmy Kimmel.

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Making Research Flexible

My second grader came home the other day and announced he needed to do some research. He was working on an informational book about basketball, he explained. Who am I to stand in the way of a researcher?? He plopped down and got to work. Soon, he had a document filled with all of the things he wanted to know:

bball.charlie

(Oh, the sadness when his research revealed that Michael Jordan is retired.)

Once again, the power of choice and interest was on full display. He was highly motivated because he was researching with a clear purpose: he had lots of stuff he wanted to know about basketball.   But that’s not what this post is really about. Watching him, I realized I was watching a researcher at work. I was watching a writer who was using research as a tool to support his writing.

I think that’s a shift we need to help our students make sometimes in their writing. Depending on their experiences with research writing, many of them have learned to be students who write research papers or complete research projects. Instead, we need to position them as writers who use research to support their writing. It may not seem like a big difference, but I think it’s an important shift if we want them to leave our rooms ready to be adult writers who can apply research skills in different situations. The problem with that shift is that it takes a lot of flexibility on our part.

 

 

 

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Yes/No/So

Spring in AP English Language is always a little tricky. Stress levels rise among the students as the test looms, and they’re all desperately searching for the magical formula that will make it all click. It’s tough to keep them engaged in the hard work of revising and slowly improving their craft as writers when they want me to just tell them how to get a 5 already.

When I’m not working with those AP students in the afternoons, I’m working with struggling readers and writers as a literacy support coach.  I experienced some similar frustrations–and the same desire for a magical formula– when working with some ninth graders on a recent argumentative essay.

In both cases, the students were frustrated with building arguments logically. They knew they had to address a counterargument, but they weren’t really sure what that entailed. They knew they had to support their claims with evidence, but they didn’t know how to order their different claims in a way that made sense. They knew some of the evidence was stronger than other pieces, but they couldn’t wrap their brains around how to weigh one piece of evidence against another.

As I worked with all of them, I realized I did have a magic formula.

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Wonderfully Messy Notebooks

About a month and a half ago, I wrote a post about my plan for new notebooks in my AP Seminar class.  I was fired up. We were going to make them into bullet journals. There were layouts, there were intricate planning grids, and there were lots and lots of colored markers and pens involved. After I posted the blog, several people said, “Make sure you update us! Let us know how it’s going!” So here we are, warts and all, with my wonderfully messy, not-at-all-what-I-imagined-but-actually-pretty-awesome writer’s notebooks.

Keep reading if you’re curious about what I’ve learned about my students and their writing lives.

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Research Lessons From My Twitter Feed

I’ve been scrolling through Twitter a lot these past two weeks.  I can’t look away from the news and everything I read is prompting new questions and new things I need to research. Saturday, someone tweeted a poem by Naomi Shihab-Nye, Gate A-4. It’s a beautiful story of an interaction between two women in an airport, one helping the other. She ends with some words of reflection:

nye

Though I teach two classes that don’t traditionally use a lot of poetry, this text fit perfectly in my AP Seminar class because it’s nearly impossible to read it and not be left with some questions in your brain. 

In AP Seminar, a research and inquiry based course, I’ve found one of the best ways prompt curiosity and inquiry is giving my students completely un-research-y types of texts: poetry, music, paintings, etc.  The formula? Give them something high interest, let the questions fly, and then let them build the answer.  Continue reading

New Year, New Writer’s Notebook

I’m one of those New Year’s Resolvers. I love making lists. I love setting goals. I look at the New Year as a chance to reorganize my whole life. It’s a magical time in my weird little world. So, of course, I was immediately intrigued when I saw a mention of Bullet Journals on Facebook. I quickly fell down the rabbit hole of lists and codes and layouts. Apparently these have been a thing on Instagram for awhile, and I’m a little late to game. Later in the day, I spied a Twitter convo between Moving Writers’ Allison and Rebekah about a bullet journal layout that would make for writing notebook time.  And, I’d been thinking quite a bit about Tricia Ebarvia’s Writer’s Workshop blog post and how that could help me better organize workshop in my AP Seminar class. The pieces started clicking together, and my second semester writers’ notebooks in my AP Seminar are about to get a big makeover.

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