Tag Archives: 2015-2016

Lesson Plans!

Today I worked all day — PARCC remediation all morning and lesson plan writing all afternoon. I worked primarily on collecting the resources I use for three “group work” assignments: Monsters (Frankenstein), “A Wreath for Emmett Till” sonnet sequence, and Macbeth. All three lessons work similarly, and most kids like them. Before or after reading a piece of literature, students work in groups to present some outside research about or related to the work. We had done “What is a monster?” before reading Frankenstein to study people throughout history who could be considered a monster. This week I will be teaching the sonnet sequence “A Wreath for Emmett Till.” It follows our study of sonnet structure and Shakespearean sonnets, but it is a more contemporary topic and obviously relevant today. The groups look at the art, do research on the history or recent related topics, the poet and methods of narration. Before I teach Macbeth, the groups work on areas related to the psychology of good and evil. All the lessons give students practice in reading, writing and presenting and they give plenty of good ideas for future writing assignments.

Anyway, I am being observed this week so I needed to do a lot of paper work for the pre-conference. Since I am using the Emmett Till lesson, I did manage to kill two birds with one stone. Still have a lot to do…

Happy Super Bowl Sunday!



Met with Dr. Zamora this week and I am seeing the finish line up ahead. What does it mean when you see the light at the end of the tunnel? It means you are still in the tunnel. Sigh.

I have now created four google docs which will be the four main menu items on my site. They are entitled: Ideas! Movement! Urban! Connected! I had other categories like reading-writing connection, but those ideas will be integrated into one of the other four categories. I have those umbrella categories sketched out, and will link them to specific lesson plans (mine and others’), resources, and sources. Worked mostly on Ideas! today with lesson plans on debate and Socratic seminar. Movement is next and then I will meet with Dr. Zamora to get ready to do the next two.

Still nervous about finishing. I may have to tutor after school and on Saturdays to get kids to pass the PARCC since so many of our students did not pass and will not graduate if we can’t remediate and re-assess… this is sort of the polar opposite of the ideas I am promoting for my project, but the powers-that-be have deemed it will be so.

I also have to get through the red tape to have my program evaluated and submit the application to graduate… hope that is not too problematic … wish this snow day was a Monday…


Winter Break Thesis work

Happy New Year!

I now know that the deadline for thesis submission is April 15, so that is my finish line. I am determined to push to complete this project by then, and I want to get a lot accomplished before I go back to school on January 4.

Dr. Zamora shared some information about using remix in the classroom and I will continue reading about how to make these outside of the box ideas work while still adhering to the standards and formative assessments and all the other things high school teachers have to do. I am going to work on the new lesson plans this week and begin putting together a website and also move into the theoretical grounding of the project.

I asked my family to help me come up with ideas for this project’s website. The winner so far is “write out of my mind” or “write out of your mind” or something that indicates outside of the box ideas for teaching writing … I am still open to new suggestions and looking for a good format for the website.


Lesson Plans

It has been a long time since I’ve posted anything, but I finally convinced myself to get some work accomplished over Thanksgiving break.

I have just completed two lesson plans: one was a debate lesson plan related to two pieces of literature we read in senior English, Frankenstein and Macbeth. I plan to use the Frankenstein debate in December and the Macbeth debate in the spring, so I could perhaps film those and evaluate how they work in my classroom. I would like to have a debate tab on my site and also include classroom debates on the student-selected argumentative essay topics they write in the spring.

The other lesson plan was the skit activity related to introducing arguments and counter-arguments. I would like to have a skit tab and include some of the skits the students perform related to reading Beowulf, Macbeth and other works we act out. The physicality of acting out the character helps students understand characterization in the literature they read and in their writing.

I am going to work now on a socratic seminar lesson plan. I think it makes sense to pair the socratic seminar lesson with the debate lesson–both can be about the same work, but whereas the debate is oppositional and confrontational, the socratic seminar should be collaborative and open-ended.

After that, I am more than a little stuck on the remix idea. I am intrigued with the idea, but it is hard for me to create a concrete lesson plan… I will probably have to do more work on that.

Bibliography – take one

I just finished sharing an initial annotated bibliography. I have about 40 sources, but have only written about 25 or so. Some of them will need to be thrown out, but I feel like I found them so I will list them and then edit at the end. I think my next step is to start dividing up sources into the different areas I am discussing: urban education, educational theory and then the methods I am exploring.

OK – I just looked and saw that this thing is actually supposed to be the lit review. What we did in Dr. Sutton’s class was to write about the sources in a paper, but the annotated bibliography is the list. I am not ready to write coherently about the sources – I will need some guidance on this part.

I am planning to come to class for the first time in a while on Thursday and hoping to meet with Dr. Zamora while I am there. The day before that I am going on a class trip to the Holocaust Museum in DC. I also had this bizarre bout of vertigo and I couldn’t even read for a while, so I am happy to be getting back to normal-ish. I am still nervous about not finishing this project, so I am struggling to keep going regardless of whatever else is going on.

Off to get some coffee before I start lesson plans, grading and paper work…

Bibliography Update

I am just updating my work on my bibliography. I had planned to make a lot of progress this weekend, but I got distracted by some of the research yesterday. I found a few articles relating movement to creativity, academic achievement and writing. One interesting article was about how yoga helped college students manage their work. That was interesting to me, but maybe not relevant to my topic? I read it anyway just because it was personally interesting.

I also did some research on the code meshing idea. A few articles dealt with ELLs and their need to develop the ability to code switch in the classroom. I still have some reading to do there. I will try to organize some of this later today or this week…

But I need to watch the Eagles beat the Giants tomorrow…

After the early proposal

I had a goal of doing something thesis-wise each day–even if it was just to find one or read one article. But a month into the school year and I haven’t met that goal, or even come close.

After submitting the early proposal, I am continuing on my plan of finding ways to help urban high school students find their voice and creativity in the classroom. I am looking for research specifically about physical movement as it relates to creative process and about codemeshing in the classroom. I have also noted that there will be sessions at the teachers’ convention about the achievement gap as it relates to best practices and one of the keynote speakers will be speaking about the narrative of race in the classroom–so I am hopeful I will pick up some ideas, sources, or direction from them.

October is a crazy month for teachers – all our state-mandated pre-assessments must be submitted so we can make sure we hit our student growth objectives for the year… plus observations, lesson plans, grading, teaching… so my goal is just to continue working on my sources…

Early Thesis Proposal Draft

This is the draft of my proposal:

  1. My problem/question: Students in urban schools are subject to strict controls to keep order in the classroom and school. Teachers then ask students to be creative, to think outside the box, and to use their own voice in their writing. Not surprisingly, students are frequently at a loss where to begin. How can teachers in urban English classrooms give students the freedom to express their ideas? What are the best practices for teachers to encourage students to create arguments, write theses, and find their voice?
  2. Current research is focused on the maker movement and student creativity. While schools were built in the industrial era with a factory-model, our society has moved into a digital age where creativity, not conformity, is valued. Educational research asks teachers to develop best practices for our classrooms. Combining these two ideas: what are the best practices to cultivate student creativity in their writing?
  3. There is a great deal of research on teaching argumentative writing (possibly the most difficult writing form to teach). Newer research on teaching in the urban classroom and creativity will also be applied. My proposal grew out of the work of a teacher in North Korea who posited that her students could not write because they lacked access to outside information, particularly the internet, and because they had been told what to think, do and say their entire lives by their totalitarian regime. It occurred to me that while our students have access to outside information, they are forced to mold their behavior to fit the confines of urban public education. The lower the achievement level of the students and the more dangerous the environment, the more controls are placed on student behavior. On the other hand, more affluent students not only have greater access to technology and resources, they are also privy to greater freedom in and out of the classroom. How does this dichotomy feed the achievement gap? What can teachers in urban schools do to narrow the pernicious achievement gap and get our students ready for a world where they are asked to think, speak and write creatively.
  4. My approach is to explore any methods that have been effective for writing teachers. Then I would evaluate those methods for effectiveness in an urban classroom. I will gather resources from personal experience, from the work of my peers and cohort, and from a variety of resource sources. My focus is not on theoretical ideas but on concrete methods teachers can use tomorrow in the classroom.
  5. I hope that my outcome will be a catalog of options that urban English teachers can use in their classroom. After initially exploring the unique challenges of the urban classroom, I would like the focus of my project to be a collection of lesson plans and classroom ideas the teacher can adapt to his/her situation. I would like to end up with both narratives and videos of lessons that have worked in my classroom and in classrooms of other teachers.

A beginning

I now have a roadmap to begin navigating the MA thesis process. Dr. Zamora has provided a series of deadlines for the semester and I was able to talk to her about my topic. I need to get the proposal into a more suitable format, but my basic idea is creating a collection of best practices for teaching writing in urban schools. The theoretical underpinning is based on the (sometimes necessary) restraints placed on students and teachers in urban schools. Often the need for control and management removes all the freedom necessary for creative intellectual (and other) thought. So we are left with a classroom of students looking to fill in the blank or regurgitate information they heard in class or googled. The starting point for this project was a Ted Talk I saw about a teacher in North Korea who said her students couldn’t write because they were so controlled by the totalitarian government that they were unable to come up with original ideas. Similarly. students in urban schools are often told what to think and are not given the opportunity for original thought.

Quick ideas – skits and debates are good ways for students to be free from the formal structure of writing but still come up with their own ideas. The physical movement of skits is a starting point for creative thought.

This is maybe only tangentially related, but urban teachers are very likely to be working for an administration that requires canned or scripted curriculum, to have a lot of rules and paperwork and a lack of individualized attention. Creative workplaces (I am thinking google here) give workers complete freedom — massages and good food and drinks are all included — and they still accomplish a great deal. Is there a way to take charge of our workplace so we feel empowered enough to free up the classroom for our students?

I am looking to turn some of these ideas into the initial proposal and continue work on my annotated bibliography. I am trying to remember to breathe whenever I think about some of the other deadlines I will be facing this semester (public school teachers in New Jersey have to create Student growth objectives — and meet them — each year, so working on that is always stress-inducing). But if I work steadily, I believe I will complete the project and have a solid piece of academic and practical work completed by May!