The students will come in having completing a homework assignment which asked them to identify parts of speech, phrases, and clauses in the poem "War" by Charles Simic. Additionally, they were to identify one interesting move the author makes in each line in building overall meaning, and explain why they chose that particular passage. Today they will use their responses in a group protocol designed to deepen their knowledge of language function and their ability to apply an understanding of syntax while reading (Language standard 3) through peer discussion.
To put students in small groups I will count off by five to create five groups (one for each line of the poem); I'm counting off this time to have them work with different people; even though they know each other well, they still gravitate to the same people if left on their own to make groups, and I want to set an inclusive tone for the semester, since AP English Language and Composition is very dependent on student discourse.
After they are in their groups, I will post the following instructions for their groups on the Smartboard:
In your groups:
-- Share the parts of speech and come to common agreement.
-- Share phrases and clauses and come to common agreement.
-- Line by Line, each person share the move he or she highlighted and explain why.
Once they have had time to engage in conversations about the poem as a whole based on these prompts, I’ll walk around and assign one line to each group. They will be responsible for identify parts on the board for their assigned line and explain the remarkable moments they talked about (I won't do this right away because I want students to all engage with the whole poem to maximize the learning, and also to give me a chance to listen to the conversations as formative assessment). I will watch the clock, too, and indicate when they should focus on their assigned line so we have time for the next part of the activity.
NOTE: As students follow these instructions, I will circulate among the groups to listen, answer questions about parts of speech, and enter their conversations when appropriate (if they seem to not understand a concept, helping with identifying clauses, etc. Structured group work like this often ends up being a nice time for individualized instruction, as well as a time to get to know the students better).
In this part of the lesson we will jointly construct meaning of the text. The first part of the lesson allowed for students to learn from each other and gain some shared understanding of the content. It also gave me a chance to work with individual students and conduct formative assessment of how students addressed the questions so I can better build their knowledge regarding the function of words and groups of words in this part of the lesson.
Before starting this part, I will have students move their desks back to a "u" shape so they can all see each other and the Smartboard (this seems like an obvious step, but I've seen a number of student teachers do the full class discussion without doing this, and the students are never quite as engaged--how can they be when they are in a little pod, and some have their back turned?).
From here we will go through the poem, asking each group to send a representative to the Smartboard to fill in the parts of speech and identify phrases and clauses, or the start of clauses for their line. In this way, the groups take some ownership, and the movement in the room of someone writing on the board provides a different tone than me writing on the board (I'm still learning the possibilities of the Smartboard--I've only had it a year!).
When the person finishes and sits down, we'll check how they did with identification as a whole class. If there are any problems, I will use that as a teaching moment to go over the part of speech or syntax. Once any clarifications are made, the group will share the interesting moves they discussed in their groups, and more specifically why they thought the moves were interesting.
Other members of the class then have an opportunity to enter the discussion, either commenting on the move mentioned or talking about their own.
I will also add to the discussion to fully address the many things going on in the line before moving to the next one. The purpose of this is to see how everything has a function, so there the breadth of examples is what's important. However, I will make sure to note some syntactical choices, such as the fact that the first sentence, while three lines long, is one clause with lots of prepositional phrases (providing circumstances to orient readers to the narrative), while line four is a sentence by itself with two clauses. Another point of emphasis for me will be point of view, and how the first person pronoun "our" changes the whole meaning of the poem, in part because up to that point the point of view is third person and quite objective. I think pronouns are sneaky and not paid much attention, but can have strong impact on meaning and understanding, so I want to start that focus here. I will do this as part of the conversation for each line so I take advantage of teaching moments while also acknowledging the students' selections.
The students have been learning the function of words and language and how critical it is to look at the small details when analyzing language for meaning. Now it is time for them to think about this in terms of their own writing. This assignment is a reflection piece designed to assess where my students' confidence is regarding writing, and also to assess how they now understand the language concepts from Sin and Syntax, since the reflection asks students to reflect on their writing in light of the book, and more particularly the five principles of good writing Constance Hale outlines in her text.Sin and Syntax Reflection Prompt.docx
I am intentionally vague in the instructions because I also want to get a sense of how students respond to open-ended assignments without check points. When they ask me how long it should be, I respond "thoughtful isn't usually short" and leave it at that.