Sunday, May 21, 2017

assessments in the classroom and how to better them for the students

Assessments in school have always been so mediocre, and are either straight from the textbook or a teacher trying to trick you.  Many students I know have managed to play the "game" and easily ace tests but retain no information, I never could.  I always do well on tests where I apply what I'm learning and less just reiterating the textbook.  These are just a few different styles of assessment, specifically for English but not limited to the English classroom, that require the student to learn, apply, and help them later in life.

Oral presentation:
Oral presentations are scary for most students, but they will never become easy if you don't do them.  One of my favorite school presentations was earlier this year in my English class, where we had a choice to either write a rap, and perform it in class, or write an inspirational speech, then perform it.  We were all given a long time to write, and we could go in during lunch or study hall to practice and get critiqued on our performance.  I chose a rap, and it was one of my favorite school experiences, everyone in our class was very positive with each other, and it helped almost everybody's confidence in the class.

Creative writing:
Creative writing allows the student to let their imagination free, and use all forms of writing.  This can truly show a students writing ability and their progress throughout their writing career.  These could be in the form of quick writes. Essays where a prompt is answered and analyses of poems, songs, or any other form of literature.  For more on creative writing and implementing it in the classroom, view my earlier blog, http://btb-dawson.blogspot.com/2017/03/implementing-creative-writing-into.html

Teacher-made assessment:
Tests and quizzes made by the teacher is a great way to test the students on what is being learned, especially for grammar and any other subjects being learned.  It is important for the teacher to make it on what has truly been focused on in class, and not just something in fine text in the corner of a flip chart.  These will show that a student can apply what they are learning and if the assessment is made correctly it will help the student better understand how to apply the information.

Using different assessment forms in the classroom will not only allow the student to learn more, but will also intrigue them much more than the classic scantron test.  From the student’s perspective, these forms of assessment are not only the most helpful, but are much less dreadful, they even allow you to apply what is being learned, a key factor in any classroom.

"What Are Some Types of Assessment?" Edutopia. N.p., 15 July 2008. Web. 21 May 2017.


Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Time management and increasing productivity in the classroom

I have never been very great with managing my time; I have always been a procrastinator.  Until this year, I would always wait until the last second to do my work.  I was always able to get away with this, but I got hit hard during the first quarter of ninth grade.  Since then I have had more and more work packed on, but I have found a few ways that work for me, and they may work for you.

Carpe Diem
"Carpe diem.  Seize the day, boys.  Make your lives extraordinary."-John Keating
This quote from Dead Poets Society really made me realize what I should be doing.  At first I thought I should do what I want, anything that I desired I would attack it with haste.  But after thinking about how I could make a real connection with my life and that quote, I decided to take the entire day for what I wanted, and what I truly desired, and left the night for the necessities.  I wait until sundown or a bit after to enter the mindset I needed to get work done, and I would be done in time to get eight hours of sleep.  Some think that this way of getting work done isn't a good idea, but it works for me, I can go to track, the gym, and hang out with friends, then I have my time for school work and other assignments.  This can be brought into the classroom by not having the students fill out worksheets in class, but take up the whole class to teach them.  Then allow the students extra worksheets and papers if they think that they really need it.  This allows the students to be given the choice of not doing unnecessary work but it still gives them a chance for help if they really need it.  

Silence
Silence is the key to speed and quality.  I have learned to do my work in a room where all I can hear is my keyboard's clicks.  Doing this makes my brain flow much easier, reading becomes faster and I actually pay attention, and I don't have distractions.  When I work in silent I get papers done in thirty minutes that would normally take more than an hour.  The only problem with working in this environment is that it is rare.  It is hard to get a silent room for even an hour, this is one of the reasons why I work in the night also, and silence is most common in early mornings or late nights.  This can be brought into most classes by allowing a thirty-minute period of time for the students to work independently or one on one with the teacher.  This gives a great workspace for the students as everyone is working and it gives them time to focus on whatever they need, studying, writing papers, reading, or doing homework.  

A Small Light In A Dark Room
"But even an ordinary secretary or a housewife or a teenager can, within their own small ways, turn on a small light in a dark room."-Miep Gies 
This quote, which I heard in Freedom Writers, inspired me.  To do what I do, to get what I need done, and to do the right thing.  I was never extremely aware that people actually heard what I was saying, writing, or saw what I was doing.  That is until I do see it, for the first time I saw that people were listening to what the #bowtieboys are saying, that day was March 16, 2017 on the #G2Great chat.  That day my tweets were viewed over 16,000 times, a number I couldn't even imagine.  That night of the chat, I really felt as if I was pushed to continue, and to do what I'm doing better than ever.  You don't have to be a celebrity, millionaire, or a congress member to make change, you just have to put in the time, and work for it.  I believe that social media can be brought into the classroom in many ways, for example my English class has weekly discussion boards online and this offers a great format for person-to-person interaction online.  Doing online chats or any sort of published work can be very affective in the classroom as it shows that the students are doing it for a reason, not just for a grade.  They can show people what they believe, desire, or just care about and doing this inspires and can be intriguing as they aren’t writing about a prompt on something they don’t care about.

Freedom writers. Dir. Richard LaGravenese. Prod. Danny Devido. Paramount home entertainment, 2007. DVD.

Dead Poets Society. Dir. Peter Weir. Perf. Robin Williams. 1989. DVD. 

Friday, March 3, 2017

Implementing Creative Writing Into The English Classroom

Incorporating creative writing into the English classroom is very important in order to create a more personal and a more interesting environment.  Creative writing is not an easy style of literature to bring into any classroom.  Many students will slack off if they don't have anything to write about, and many teachers will be afraid of not having a rubric.  This is usually because they don't know how to write in this way and they don't have true motivation to write it.  Before this year I was never truly introduced into creative writing; I always had a rubric, topic, and an exact style that I had to write in.  This year I was given each quarter a creative online writing to write, and it was 15% of my grade.  I was very scared when I first heard that, but now it is fun to write it.  There are many ways that we can implement creative writing, and all of them have their specific benefits.

Quick Writes
Adding quick writes into the classroom opens the minds for the students, and allows them to explore different styles of writing and different topics.  Just one five-minute quick write is enough time for each student to write their own little story, poem, or any other style.  This will make them more comfortable with writing, and are given an intro to all kinds of topics you decide.  "It can serve as a basis for more collaborative learning activities, such as student-led discussion, or pair and shares." (Shen)  Doing these discussions helps tremendously with the students ability to present and with their confidence, even though they can pass if they would rather not share.

Presentations
Implementing presentations can have many benefits for the students, especially when they are given on open topic.  The students can choose what to present about, and in doing so, they will get a better oral presentation skills and will boost their confidence in front of crowds.  "Despite the fact that oral communication is a key professional skill, efforts to help undergraduates develop this skill are often confined to an isolated course on public speaking, if they are formally addressed at all," (Galindo)  Recently in my English class we had the choice to either write a speech or rap and present it in front of the class.  Many of the students were very scared and overwhelmed, but the teacher offered help on the presentation part of it.  Almost all students took advantage of this, and were in the clear when it came time.  Others weren't and really struggled but from talking to them, they have taken a good lesson out of it, and that to take advantage of your resources because it will help you later on.

Analyses
Using analyses allows students to really explore different types of literature, and then depict it in any way that they want.  The analyses can be on poems, songs, books, movies, or any other piece of literature.  I have just begun doing these analyses for my English class this year, and so far we have done three poems, two songs, one movie, and we do an analyses every few days.  I know of not one student who doesn't love either poem or song analyses.  Doing these allow those students to let you what they think, and how they interpret something.  This is a great confidence booster in the students writing as their thoughts aren't judged and they can access areas of writing that they have never accessed.

What I have mentioned here are only a few styles of creative writing that can be used in the English classroom, but there is a never ending list.  Every student can do some form of creative writing, it just depends on how motivated they are.  Writing creative papers can have many of its benefits, as it boosts the students confidence, allows the student to explore their writing abilities, and will teach them how to be a better writer without even knowing it.

Galindo, Julia Hayden, Ed.D. "Presentations." Ablconnect. N.p., n.d. Web. 03 Mar. 2017.
Shen, Danxi, Ed.M. "Quick Write." Ablconnect. N.p., n.d. Web. 03 Mar. 2017.

Thursday, February 16, 2017

Walking in a Teacher's Shoes

I recently spent a full day shadowing Mr. Freeman, a history teacher at my school.  It was a great experience just finding out what teachers really have to do, and why.  I think that doing this has bettered my understanding for teachers, and has made reading teachers textbooks much easier as I understand the problems they run into.  One of my favorite lessons I got out of that day was how easy it is to teach to the test and not get a true understanding.  Mr. Freeman didn't take the easy route, and was able to give a quick overview of test standards, then teach the actual information to the point where I was learning it, without being a student in the class.

I first walked into Mr. Freeman's class before any kids got there.  He welcomed me, both in person and by his room.  His room consisted of a desk in the corner, a massive global map, posters everywhere, and many more decorations.  The desks in his classroom were in rows of two, and he could get easy access to each student.  His welcome was odd though, since it was before school he was finishing work, He didn't really look away from his computer, or even stop typing.  After seeing this, not thinking badly of it, I knew he was a hard worker and by the tone of his voice he seemed excited for the day.  I asked what he was doing and he waited a minute to finish what he was typing, then in detail told me how he was changing the way he would teach.  He was going through every single PowerPoint and changing his old guided notes to Cornell notes.  I asked why and he told me how it has been studied and proven that Cornell notes are the best method of note taking.  All of this happened within the first ten minutes of stepping in his classroom.

First block started, World History Two, his lower level class, and everyone were pretty excited coming in.  As soon as Mr. Freeman finished up with writing some notes, he quieted everyone with a loud "Hello!" and everyone replied back with some sort of greeting.  He was immediately making jokes with the students and the classroom lightened up very fast.  To start the class he handed out a small summative assessment that covered the homework from the night before.  Almost all students finished it with ease, but the ones who didn't were given hints, but not full answers.  He started to begin notes with an introduction to what they will learn for the day, and an update on his website (http://www.freeman-pedia.com).  After this he showed exactly what the sol test standards are, then went on to the notes.  During these notes, he would make plenty of jokes, answer questions, and make sure each student understood what they were writing down.  Towards the end of the notes, he referenced one of his many posters to the information being taught, then told the kids about a couple of available videos they can watch on his website.  This class was most important for me because I finally saw all of the work it takes to teach students, and all that he does to help them.  It gave me a much better understanding of what teachers have to do behind the scenes also.

Second block came along; it was a testing block, like fourth block.  He was testing AP World History, and the students were scared.  To my surprise they weren't as focused and didn't listen as quickly to Mr. Freeman.  He began the class with letting the students ask about the test information, and he would go over the notes, allowing the students to get a bit of a refresher.  After this he went on to begin a Kahoot.it for a unit review.  The kids were very appropriate with their names, and really tried.  After the game, he handed out the test.  There were fifty multiple choice, and one short answer question at the end.  The students were very comfortable with the test, but when they had a question, they didn't hesitate to ask.  Most students didn't finish or even start the short answer, so Mr. Freeman told them all that they could come in early or stay after late anytime.  That is when I knew Mr. Freeman is dedicated, and how much time it takes to give students the opportunities they need.  This showed me how test taking is in the teacher’s eyes, and all that he does to help the students.

Third block began; this was Mr. Freeman's planning block.  I used this time to ask questions about how he runs his class, and why.  The first question I asked him was:  What do you do to help students who aren't learning the information?  Mr. Freeman told me that he has a team teacher in his World History block to help with students who need the extra help.  He is also always helping, as his door is always open in the morning and his website is completely open to the students.  The second question I asked was: What is your reason for decorating your classroom the way you have?  He responded by saying, "I hate plain classrooms, they feel like prisons." (Benjamin Freeman, 2017) he also said it adds character and it gives something to talk about, both for fun and to relate what they are doing in class to.  The third question I asked was: What are the homework assignments usually like?  He responded by saying, "They are mainly review of a subject or a preview of the next unit.  Most of the time it is vocab that we talk about in class so the students aren’t unfamiliar with the words." (Benjamin Freeman, 2017)  The last question I asked was:  How do you establish a good rapport with your students, and what is the benefit you seem to get out of it?  He told me that the most important thing is to be funny.  He is very sarcastic, and laid back, and the students love it.  One other thing he said is, "It helps to have students who play along with him." (Benjamin Freeman, 2017)  Doing this mini interview helped a lot in realizing what the teachers need to think about when making plans, and actually teaching the students.

The way that Mr. Freeman teaches, reminds me a lot Dr. Beers' Direct vs. Scripted information chart. Under Direct information she says, "Teacher evaluates student needs to determine what needs to be taught." (When Kids Can’t Read What Teachers Can Do, 2003)  then under Scripted information she says, "Program decides what should be taught." (When Kids Can’t Read What Teachers Can Do, 2003)  Mr. Freeman teaches much more in a direct information style, as he fits the students needs, and works with them.  Direct teaching is a much better way of getting the information across and actually teaching to apply the knowledge.  Scripted information is much like teaching to the test as you basically have the student memorize the information.  The students also seemed much more responsive to Mr. Freeman's style of teaching compared to other teachers, and most were excited to learn.


Beers, G. Kylene. When kids can't read, what teachers can do: a guide for teachers, 6-12. Portsmouth, NH, Heinemann, 2003.



Freeman, Benjamin. "Teaching Methods." Personal interview. 31 Jan. 2017. 

Thursday, February 9, 2017

Incorporating literary theories in the classroom

Using lenses in the English classroom is very important in order to build a better community, stronger reading skills, and greater understanding of others.  Teachers have always looked down on literary theories, as they think that they are useless and that there are better things to teach about.  I have been reading the book Critical Encounters In High School English: Teaching Literary Theory To Adolescents and I have been exposed to very many different lenses.  These lenses have made understanding people unlike me a lot easier, whether I am doing this in my reading or in eye-to-eye conversation.  As a fifteen year-old freshman that has trouble reading, I feel that many other students would love to learn about these lenses.  Without even realizing, I have increased my reading skills greatly, as I saw after reading When Kids Can't Read What Teachers Can Do, a book for teachers to help students.  These are some of the lenses that I think will help students tremendously.


Gender Theory

Gender theory, also known as feminist theory, is something that almost all students could use in our world right now.  This lens is very important to understand the opposite gender and how they think, especially as a male.  This helps students my age because we are becoming more knowledgeable about the world and feminism is a very big topic that not many people understand.  Most of the students in my grade think very strongly about one side, but don't understand why the other side thinks that way.  As Appleman says in her book, "There are at least four dimensions in which feminist theory can transform students' reading" as we can learn to think through the eyes of a female.  Teaching this will completely change the way we read books that are in the footsteps of an opposite gender.  This could help many struggling readers as it gives multiple perspectives, and gives them more confidence in their reading as they won't be as scared to read a book that doesn't have their same point of view.  

Marxist Criticism Theory

Marxist criticism theory, created by Karl Marx, is a lens that points out the different social classes.  This theory is a conflict theory as it shows the conflict between the rich and the poor; dedicated philosophers have also studied it for decades. "And Marxists critics are also interested in how the lower or working classes are oppressed - in everyday life and in literature." (Literary Theory and Schools of Criticism, N/A) This could be a very important theory to teach students as in my area there aren’t too many families in the lower class.  It is always good to be able to think like a different social class, as they are very prominent throughout the US.  Marxism could also help many students in their reading, as the students will begin to understand the lower class and how they think compared to us students.  Too many teachers find that teaching this theory will be useless, as they believe all students already get it, but I can tell many students in my grade are completely oblivious to the other social classes, and think they have it just as easy as their peers. 

Critical Race Theory

Critical race theory (CRT) is all about racism, and how it affects literacy.  This theory comes up in most literature, especially in older literature.  It is very important for students to realize how to apply CRT into our everyday lives and in our reading.  CRT is very helpful in order to point out the struggles of different races and how different terms relate to their culture.  "In adopting this approach, CRT scholars attempt to understand how victims of systemic racism are affected by cultural perceptions of race and how they are able to represent themselves to counter prejudice." (Literary Theory and Schools of Criticism, N/A) Many students would be helped by this theory as it has them think like someone they aren’t and they will realize how that race is oppressed.  The amount of literature that you could use CRT is limitless, and it could be a great way to show students with different types of literature.  

How To Apply The Theories

These lenses can be incorporated into the classroom very easily, with a discussion or an essay with the students looking through the opposite gender, social class, or race's eyes.  This discussion or essay could be based upon a book written in a different point of view, or even any other type of literature in the that point of view.  Doing this will allow the students to think as the character does, and get a better understanding of that group.  After doing this the students will get a much better grasp of this lenses, and how to apply them.  Another way that teachers can use this theory, is to have the students find a piece of literacy to apply the lens to, and change it to a different point of view.  This will help the student with their ability to analyze literature and apply this theory to real examples.  


Literary Theories are a great help to struggling readers.  They give the readers another perspective to read and think through, and will give the students more opportunities with their literary texts.  Within Dr. Beers' Think-Aloud Self-Assessment, she asks if the student has been visualizing, predicting, commenting, questioning, and more, in order to make sure the student is thinking aloud.  This ties into using lenses in the connecting portion, "I ask myself how this is like something I've read or maybe a song I've heard. (Connecting)" (Kylene Beers, 2003) if the students are learning lenses they can begin to connect different texts and use similar lenses, from text to text.  These theories could also help excelling students as it gives them something to experiment with, using different lenses.  The students will be exposed to many different styles of thinking and can build off of that, making their reading and writing skills excel greatly.

“Welcome to the Purdue OWL.” Purdue OWL, owl.english.purdue.edu/owl/owlprint/722/.

Appleman, Deborah. Critical Encounters in High School English: Teaching Literary Theory to Adolescents. New York, Teachers College Press, 2009.

 Beers, G. Kylene. When kids can't read, what teachers can do: a guide for teachers, 6-12. Portsmouth, NH, Heinemann, 2003.