Sunday, 30 June 2013

Practice makes perfect...but I don't want to be perfect, I just want to improve

I think most (all?) teachers have favourite courses to teach.  I love teaching ENG3U1.  Next year I am excited because I get to teach the class both semesters.  It is also unusual in that there will only be three teachers doing the course, not a minimum of five different teachers, as has happened in the past.  I think this will be easier to create a tighter course through collaboration.

In case I forget everything over the summer months, I want to reflect on what I did this past semester and how I will improve it for next year.

Getting Off on the Right Foot: Close Reading

I think the way I started the course this past semester is fine...but I want to do it better next year.  We discussed the inappropriate use of cultural costumes and used on-topic articles to practice writing analytical paragraphs.  We then transitioned into reading The Rez Sisters.  For next year, I am going to start right away with a unit on close reading.  Close reading is the key to being able to make meaning of a text, so I think I need to start with the skills required to do so.  I am going use a variety of texts, such as poetry, photographs, documentaries and articles.  We will use strategies, including TPLASTT, SOAPSTone and Says/Does Analysis, to uncover meaning.  The summative task for this unit will be an in-class close reading response essay.

Novel Study: The Kite Runner

After a short unit on close reading, we will transition to our novel study, which is The Kite Runner.  Based on my own reflections and student feedback, we didn't spend enough time on the novel.  I felt very rushed, because I spent so much time on Macbeth.  In previous years, we spent time on getting a thorough understanding of Afghanistan and its culture.  We also focused on cultural identifiers, which are key for the ISU. I think this is necessary and I will be incorporating these aspects into the tutorials that the students will lead.  There are a series of skills, beyond close reading, that students will have the opportunity to hone.  In this unit, we will work on presenting, questioning, and leading and participating in class discussions, both face-to-face and on-line.  Again the summative task for this unit will be an in-class close reading response essay.

  • Presentation: In the first chapter of The Kite Runner, Amir alludes to his defining moment.  I really enjoyed the presentations my students did on their defining moments, so I will do this again.  This time I will incorporate some formative assessment Scott Jordan shared with me.  I will use the "Stars and Wishes" technique. After a student presents, classmates will share what they thought was well done in the presentation (Stars) and what needs to be improved upon (Wishes).  Additionally, I will videotape the presentations so that students can actually see how they present.  I will go first.  I know that presenting is a great fear of students, and mine too, so I will share my vulnerabilities with the students.
  • Tutorials: This past year, my students did literature circles.  I have used literature circles in the past, but this year, it was a failure.  I think they failed because marks were not attached to them, so students didn't see their value.  Additionally, I think students were overwhelmed because they were also reading their ISU novel. The purpose of the tutorials is to share appropriate background information applicable to the assigned chapters, ask questions that demonstrate understanding of the text and spark conversation and present in front of an audience.  This "Q Chart" adapted by Lisa Unger will be helpful for the students when they are creating their questions.
  • Blogging:  Once the tutorials are under way, I will introduce blogging.  I have blogged about blogging here and here.  I wasn't happy with the rubric I used to assess the students' blogs, so I have to revamp it this summer.

The Independent Study--Cultural Novels

This past semester, we departed from the usual ENG3U1 ISU.  In first semester, a colleague had the students focus on using secondary texts to support the definitive statement the students pulled from their primary text.  This was developed in an essay.  For second semester, I also used this idea and reworked it so that the students did a presentation on their novel.  I found the presentations tedious, but I take responsibility for that because I did not give the students enough practice presenting.  I hope to remedy that by doing informal presentations, with feedback, throughout the semester.  I am going to keep the ISU presentation, because I believe that the ability to present well is an incredibly important skill.  

Originally, I liked the idea of using secondary texts to support the definitive statement about culture, because it supports one of the big ideas of the course.  I have come to realize that I do not like that big idea, and as such, I am not going to focus the ISU on it.  I explain my concerns here.  The students will still focus on reading a novel about another culture, but they will focus on the perspective the author puts forth, using evidence solely from that novel.  I found that the presentations were rather superficial and the students could easily get away with not thoroughly reading their primary novel, nor thoroughly analyse secondary texts.

The ISU will be worked on concurrently with the final two units, The Rez Sisters and Macbeth.  The actual ISU presentations will take place over the last couple of days of the semester.

Play Study: The Rez Sisters

I was first introduced to Tomson Highway's play, The Rez Sisters, in university and I quickly fell in love with it.  It is an "easy" read, but there are many complexities to be explored within the play.  It brings to light the many issues faced by Native Canadians living on the reserve.  Highway makes great use of symbolism to expand on these issues.  There isn't a lot I am going to change with this unit, except the summative assessment.  The students will still write an analytical paragraph, but the question I used this semester focused on analyzing the perspective of one of the sisters.  I was trying to connect to one of the big ideas.  I found the question to be lame and for the next semester, the question is going to focus on analyzing one of the many symbols in the play, such as the toilet, the can of condensed milk or the 18 wheeler.

I still believe Shakespeare is relevant!

Captioned by Aiden, Branson, Cody and Marjone
Our final unit of study will be Macbeth, one of my favourite Shakespearean plays.  As I previously  mentioned, this unit really dragged on last semester.  I don't think it was because I actually spent more time on it.  The unit was interrupted by March Break, Easter holidays and numerous no bus days, including two that were back-to-back.  With this unit, I am not going to change much.  I will definitely have the students tweet Macbeth.  I detail the experience here.  Depending on time, I will repeat the activity of the students putting Macbeth and Lady Macbeth on trial and The Great Meme Challenge.  The summative task will be an in-class passage analysis, just like this past semester.

The Final Exam

In previous semesters, the culminating 30% was made up of the ISU essay and small group tutorials.  This past semester, we made the change to a written exam worth 30% of the grade.  Students read a series of texts with about hip hop and used evidence to write an analytical paragraph answering the question: What is hip hop?  I was satisfied with this exam, but because I am making a shift in the ISU, students will not have the practice of synthesizing texts, so I don't think this type of exam will work for next year.  In speaking with ENG2D1 and ENG4U1 teachers, I think the exam for next year will be a close reading response essay. This is reflective of the analytical and communication skills the students worked on over the course of the semester.

Obviously, this course of action is not set in stone and I am willing to make changes to the course.

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