poetry and sidewalk art

Today we finished our unit on Death and Life, looking at how an awareness of our own death can influence how we live our lives. We looked at Tolstoy's The Death of Ivan Ilyich and a collection of carpe diem poems. Students wrote scaffolded essays about a good death or a good life based on Ilyich and their own experiences, and they made calendar pages for the poems they found interesting.

To finish, I got some sidewalk chalk and we went to the back yard of the school to write out lines from the poems to inspire those who walked by. I've done this for many years and it's always a favorite.

I love having them work with the words and show their enthusiasm for them, and I love that the medium is so transient, fitting the theme of the poetry so well. As we worked, students, parents, staff members, and folks from the neighborhood stopped by to ask questions and read. And yes, they were inspired.

Carpe diem, baby.


presentation: learning by doing

I sometimes get invited to to speak to and interact with English pedagogy students at the university level. I have always enjoyed this, partially because of the ego boost, but also because it requires me to reflect on pedagogy issues generally.

Sometimes I've been given a theme, but this time they left it open to me, so I chose to go with a common theme in my class: We Learn By Doing.

Here's the slide show for the presentation:

So I started the session by saying we would learn about how teachers can do consultations with students about their work. Slide 2 sets up a role play with a few guiding questions, and I gave them a few minutes to prepare.

We did the reflection session on sticky notes in slide 3, shared them and answered the 'I wonder' questions. Then they quickly finished the preparation. A few of the pairs did their role plays, and we discussed what we saw. Then I had them do the think/pair/share on slide 4. I listed some of their learnings on the white board.

On slide 5 I showed them the objectives I had at the beginning of the class, and it became obvious that they had learned more specific issues than I had planned, and they could see how I had asked questions to get us to these points in addition to the other stuff that came out of the activity.

In slide 6 I show what we have actually learned about, which is learning how to do student consultations by doing them, not by me giving a huge lecture on them up front and then having them practice.

Slide 7 is an example of a quick start instructions for a mobile phone. The point is this: when most of us get a new phone, we don't read the entire user manual. We look at the quick start instructions and start playing with it, referring to the user manual when needed. It's a good model for student learning, I think.

So I had them think about the way the session had gone and had them list what I had done to make the experience work. They came up with all of the elements of my list on slide 8, plus a few more.

It went really, really well. I will almost certainly do the same thing for other uni sessions to which I get invited.


resources for literary techniques

A big part of teaching IB Diploma English A1 has been teaching commentary-style analysis, which is basically close reading. Students need to look at a passage of a text and explain how and why the author is using specific features of the text. It's an assessment task, but one which encourages great critical thinking skills and encourages students examine language, not just see through it as a medium for the text.

For me, teaching this skill involves helping students explore the interplay between the specific and the general, looking at ideas, feelings and impressions of a text and how the words and sentences create those ideas and feelings. The greatest challenge is for students to recognize a feature. I encourage them to talk about something that seems significant even if they don't know what it is called, but it doesn't seem to work that way. When my students give me feedback, they tell me they need a guide of what to look for.

I started with a glossary, something like this. It helped them define terms, but they needed a way to move through the features common to a text and see which might apply.

A few years ago, I had my students create diagrams of literary techniques using bubbl.us. Organizing them by category seemed like a good way to approach it. Every year I give students a chance to revise them as they work with the commentaries, and so there have been several years of refinement for the first two. The last one we only made last year with MYP5 students, so we'll see how it goes. Here they are (click the image to view it at bubbl.us):