Reflection: Shared Expectations The Power of Rhetoric (Day 3 of 3) - Section 3: Building Knowledge


It's pretty much the most useful question you can ask any can I help you learn better?  I think the first time I ever asked this question it came from a place of complete and utter frustration years ago.  You know the kind of day...I'm sure we ALL know the kind of day--the day when your students arrive to class for the 230,850,230th time in a row saying, "I didn't get the reading assignment, so I didn't do the homework," despite having access to a million resources and to you, their wise teacher, just an email away waiting to assist.  That day I asked students with more than an ounce of frustration what they needed to be successful.  I really meant this question, though it was more out of desolation and the bottomless despair felt so poetically by English teachers everywhere, rather than with the intention of collecting regular feedback to improve student performance.  Now I've wised up a bit and incorporated this feedback along the way to avoid landing at the point of hair-pulling and binge Oreo eating.  Despite this being a regular question in my classroom, it still tends to take students off guard the first time they have the opportunity to provide feedback and suggestions to guide their own learning.  Today's experience was no different, though I will say that building in so much work on their learning preferences, strategies, and Reading Apprenticeship has made them more able to advocate for their own needs.

The outcomes of today's discussion were wholly positive, and as usual, I came away with more strategies that I can start using immediately to help serve students better.  Students also noted a feeling of relief and a renewed sense of dedication to trying their best at the work, knowing that their suggestions were heard and would actually make a difference!  The main areas for improvement (and the student-generated plans to improve these things) are outlined below and will be incorporated into lessons as soon as next class period!  (Another bonus for this activity is that on a professional level, your evaluator looks for ways that students are actively involved in guiding the curriculum, making rules, and enforcing rules, so I'm plopping this activity directly into my portfolio!)

  1. Issue #1: While we close-read in class, students note that they understand the material with much more ease than when they are alone.  Despite trying to recreate what we do in class with breaking down sentences, summarizing, and connecting to other material, they say they forget exactly how we do this.  (Obviously, the first few suggestions thrown out were to only read in class, but let's face it, that's not an option for developing the kind of independent, confident readers the Common Core requires.  Students rolled through ideas like writing down the steps for close reading or completing worksheets made by me while they read, but they decided that these things were kind of artificial for real life.  Ultimately, they hit on a brilliant idea, which was to have me record myself modeling a close reading for them and placing the recording online for student viewing to jog their memories about how it works!  In a million years, I would never have come up with an idea so beautifully simple and effective (which is why "stealing" ideas from students is brilliant!).  I agreed to make this video (but have not done so yet to share here), and students even suggested texts that I could work through for them that were comparable to their tasks at hand.  This suggestion definitely seemed like it would win the "best suggestion by students today" award, until we got to our next issue!)
  2. Issue #2: Students are having a hard time both taking down notes in class over what we read and thinking about what we read simultaneously.  When notes of any kind (including class-generated summaries of texts or rhetorical strategies like we've been doing lately) are displayed on the projector, many students are so engrossed in copying down the material that they completely shut out all discussion of examples to better understand the material.  (Again, there were a few suggestions that were obviously not plausible that were shared first, including never writing anything down and me just giving them all the material so they wouldn't have to worry about multitasking.  I was happy that this second suggestion was nearly immediately nixed by several students who correctly said that just giving them notes would make students who were already struggling to stay on task with the Chromebooks and their plethora of possible distractions have an even harder time staying on task.  After much productive discussion, students came up with potentially the most brilliant thing I have heard employed in the 1:1 classroom: collaborative notes.  The students' plan required only that a shared Google Doc be started for the class period.  On the document, students would take turns copying down information, much like we use "popcorn" reading.  In the case of the last few lessons, it would look like one student reading a paragraph, the class summarizing the paragraph, then the next student in line or called on typing up the summary on the collaborative document.  When we were listing and all typing rhetorical strategies used, we would instead be having each student type and add their own suggestion to the collaborative document after they shared it with the class.  The resulting product would be a complete set of notes for the day that everyone had worked on, but with each student only having to type a few ideas, leaving them cognitively free for the remainder of the period.  I feel in love with this idea, but I did have some concerns about making students accountable for their contribution and activity on the notes.  Students were quick to suggest that they could come together to set rules for participation and consequences for poor behavior or work, then help to enforce those rules.  I can't express how excited I am about moving forward to try out this idea!  The amount of enthusiasm it generated in class makes me thing that it will be a new, regular part of my teaching and classroom management strategy.)
  3. Issue #3: Student participation from some students is very low, hitting only minimal targets, while others are very chatty.  Students would like to see this more evened out.  (While ClassDojo has been set up for students on my end, I have not made a huge deal about it to them yet.  I suggested this be a class focus, and they were very enthused.  However, I did not have an answer for getting people to surpass the minimum-participation requirements, so I handed that problem back to my class for consideration.  Students came up with giving them extra credit for participation...which I scoffed at...but they ultimately arrived at the idea that if they could bank their ClassDojo participation tallies for some kind of reward, i.e., extra credit, homework passes, or tickets for winning something, they would be more motivated to participate more often.  I already have a system using reading quiz scores during novels which students can earn tickets for an entry to win a Kindle each year, so this was very feasible to add to my classroom!  I haven't exactly worked out what the reward will be, but ClassDojo points are now both a grade and an accumulation toward...something.  This one is to be determined!


Overall, this activity was incredibly enlightening, and students are now more invested than ever in this class and their success.  I cannot wait to start applying some of these brilliant ideas!

  How Can I Help You Learn Better?
  Shared Expectations: How Can I Help You Learn Better?
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The Power of Rhetoric (Day 3 of 3)

Unit 2: A Revolutionary Introduction to Argumentation & Rhetoric
Lesson 3 of 8

Objective: SWBAT evaluate the effectiveness of political works by Patrick Henry, Thomas Paine, and Ben Franklin by comparing and contrasting the organizational structure, themes, rhetorical devices, and argumentative elements extrapolated through close-reading and class discussion.

Big Idea: If I said Patrick Henry, Thomas Paine, & Ben Franklin were astronauts, would you believe me? Bet you would if THEY said it. That's talent.

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constitution signing
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