Monday, 22 January 2018

Reflecting on Grade 9 English (ENG1D)

This semester I taught Grade 9 English, and I was instructed to make some changes in the course. Unfortunately, our literacy test results went down, and there is concern that Grade 9 English wasn't sufficiently preparing students for the test. (And, no, I don't think the purpose of school to teach students to take a test. ) I had (have) reservations about "teaching to the test", but the reality is that students need to meet the literacy requirement in order to graduate. I do have fears about this, as my final marks (minus the portfolio interview) seem "high", and I wonder about my expectations. What if my expectations are out of line and my students fail the literacy test?

Our first unit was "Literacy Bootcamp", and I dreaded it. Fortunately, it turned out to be fine. I didn't use any of the pre-packaged literacy prep, but rather looked for current texts. My co-teacher and I selected texts that focussed on technology and social media, and it was easy to keep my eye open for news reports, editorials, and videos that fit these topics. We did direct teaching of reading strategies, answering six-line responses, news reports, and series of paragraphs. Our summative task was a test where students had to read an editorial, answer some multiple choice questions and answer two six-line open responses. In addition, students had to write a news report similar to the literacy test. They also had to write a series of paragraphs. Overall, the summatives accomplished what I wanted them to. That said, I am contemplating changing the placement of the "Literacy Bootcamp". I think I want to do it as the last unit. My rationale for this is that I want to see how much direct teaching I will need to with regards to reading strategies, quotation integrations, paragraph organization, and their readiness to complete a full persuasive essay.

Our second unit of study was short stories. It was fairly typical of English--learn some literary devices and analyze how authors use literacy devices to communicate their themes. We also focussed on turning our observations into ideas, and supporting their ideas in well-organized paragraphs. There were two summatives: a test that assessed their knowledge of short story terms, as well as the ability to write an analytical paragraph in response to a prompt. Additionally, students were given a sight short story to read and write an analytical paragraph based on their independent reading. In hindsight, this seems repetitive, and I think that reading the sight short story and writing an analytical paragraph would be sufficient.

The third unit was the study of the novel The Book Thief. I have taught this novel four times, and I love it. The majority of my students enjoy reading the novel, but the length can be overwhelming. I am going to try a new novel this coming semester: Flawed. I really liked the topics that we explore in The Book Thief, and those topics map over well to Flawed. The summatives for the unit were literature circles and an extended paragraph. I really liked the extended paragraph, as students wrote three paragraphs over the unit, then selected their best paragraph and polished it for assessment. On the other hand, the literature circles were a FAIL. I need to do some more work on structuring the literature circles this coming semester. I am thinking that the circles will only be done twice-weekly, and I will assign specific roles in an attempt help students facilitate their discussions.

I have some thoughts on the exam, and I am betting on having some thoughts about the portfolio interviews, so I will reflect on those at a later date.

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