The Crucible: A Psychology Cross-Curricular Lesson

I’m in the midst of teaching Arthur Miller’s play, The Crucible, which I absolutely love for the end of the American Lit school year since it so eloquently ties together early and modern America.  We have been doing Streetcar Named Desire for the last few years, but made the switch back to The Crucible this year, so it was time to revamp my curriculum and dust off the cobwebs on my brain!  I’ve been using the newly released, 2015 Common Core Aligned Unit from Secondary Solutions, which has been saving my life (especially since I am almost 8 months pregnant)!  It is chock full of meaningful activities, assessments, and resources for teaching the play.  Today I want to share a supplemental, cross-curricular activity that I tried this year.  Where it works, the English department at my school likes to collaborate with the social science department to enrich both of our curricula and help students make connections.  The most obvious links in my class are between American literature and US History, but this activity links the Arthur Miller play with psychology,  a popular social science elective at my school.

The Crucible: A Psychology Cross-Curricular Lesson

I start by showing the Crash Course Psychology episode about social thinking.  If you are not familiar with Crash Course, it is an educational youtube channel, founded by John and Hank Green, that features fast-paced, engaging, and well-researched videos about literature, history, science, and more.  Many of my students are fans (even outside of school) of these vlog brothers because of crash course and also because of John Green’s best selling books, The Fault in Our Stars and Looking for Alaska.   You can find their youtube channel here and check out their patreon page here for more information about their funding source.  Going back to The Crucible lesson, here is the video I show my students:

After they watch, I pose the following questions:

(I used powerpoint to lead a class discussion, but this could also be an individual/group written assignment.  I also used this lesson after Act 1, but it could easily be adjusted to work later in the play)

  1. — Think about the attribution theory. Which characters do you think have acted mainly from disposition (personality) and which have acted mainly from situation? What evidence do you have to support your assertions? Note: Keep in mind the fundamental attribution error theory, which states that we overestimate disposition and underestimate situation.
  2. —What has been the role of persuasive arguments so far? —What evidence do you have to support your inferences?  (Central Route Persuasion: based on evidence and sound arguments. Peripheral Route Persuasion: based on incidental moods, attitudes, appearances, etc.)
  3. —Predict how you think the “foot in the door phenomenon” will effect the witch trials. (Getting people to agree to larger requests by first asking more modest ones.)
  4. Predict how the Stanford experiment will inform the psychology of the witch trials?(The power of the situation can easily override the individual personality.)
  5. —Which character(s) so far has experienced some cognitive dissonance? What do you think will be the effect? (Cognitive dissonance- a mismatch between who we think we are and how we behave.)

My students were engaged in this discussion and able to make connections about how the psychological phenomena in The Crucible are not unique to the Puritans, which was a major point that Arthur Miller makes in the play.

A Follow up Lesson:

Toward the end of the play we followed up with this video about social influence with the subsequent discussion questions:

  1. How does the Milgram experiment inform the behaviors of characters in The Crucible (Milgram experiment: Participants hurt others when authority figure asked them to.)
  2.  How does the Asch experiment inform the behaviors of characters in The Crucible? (1/3 of people answer obvious question wrong because others are also answering wrong.)
  3. —How did Puritan culture and historical context contribute to normative social influence? (Compliance and conformity in order to be liked or to belong)
  4. —Have you experienced social loafing? In what contexts? What does it look like? What are the effects? (This question is not related to The Crucible, but students have a lot to say about it!)

I really liked the way that these lessons turned out, but I would love to hear your comments, questions, and suggestions below!

Preparing for Maternity, Paternity, or Family Leave

IMG_2133Teacher friends, I know that many of you are like me with a serious appetite for control.  Organizing, planing, and assessing variables are some of the things that make us good teachers. They are also some of the exact things we need to let go of when preparing for a maternity, paternity, or family leave sub.  I’m currently in the process of preparing to take maternity leave for my second baby.  It is such a personal decision and a personal process that I can’t emphasize enough how different this experience can be for everyone.  No parent should feel compelled to fit neatly into the model that worked for their co-workers, friends, or even themselves with a previous child.  As a society and as a profession, we should reach out in support for people needing to take family leave no matter if they are: mothers or fathers, biological or adoptive parents, caring for a baby or a relative of another age or in any other circumstance.  That being said, I would like to go through a few things that I think are good to think about when preparing for family leave.

1. Timing: As with many things in life, timing is everything.  Unfortunately, we cannot always plan these things, so here are some time issues to consider:

  • Time of year: If you are going to be gone for the first few weeks of a school year, it may be advantageous to leave some detailed instructions for policies and procedures that will help you transition smoothly into the rest of the year (but be prepared to start over when you come back anyway).  If you will be gone during testing, you can communicate proactively to assure students that they will still be able to do their best.  If you are going to miss the end of the year, be realistic with what a sub can cover!  Fourth quarter is a hard time for all of us.  No matter what period you will be missing, think about what may come up during that time and plan accordingly as much as possible.
  • How much time you have to prepare: Some teachers have 30+ weeks to prepare and some teachers have an emergency that necessitates a quick exit.  Do what you can, but don’t beat yourself up if you need to leave in a hurry.  As much as we love to control our classrooms, sometimes we have to give ourselves an excused assignment and trust that our capable colleagues, administrators, and substitutes will have our back.
  • How much time you will need off: I am a fan of over preparing just in case you need more time than you originally expect.  Over-preparation will also help smooth the transition back since you will have many things already taken care of!

2. The Sub: If you are lucky enough to know who your sub will be in advance of your absence, you can use that information to effectively plan.  Experienced subs may need very little more than an outline of what should be covered during your absence.  Newbies may want more scaffolding and resources.  There can also be a trust factor when preparing for a sub, especially for secondary teachers.  We have spent our careers building, tweaking, and perfecting our curriculum and assessment banks.  It can be scary to hand over the keys and other resources, knowing that a careless steward can result in having to recreate final exams and other sensitive materials.

3. School Culture: Your school may have a well-estabished protocol for preparing for a long-term sub.  It is helpful to ask administrator and any co-workers who have been through the process before you start preparing just in case there is a specific plan already in place or in case they have some time-saving advice for you.

4. The Students: If you have students or parents that will be espeically sensitive to your absence, consider how to best preparing them in advance, but also consider creating something for the sub to share with them while you are gone.  You can pre-write some notes of encouragement or pre-record a video pep talk to pump them up before things like graduation or a big test.

5. Your Situation: It is not fair to compare.  You may be ready to come back sooner or later than your co-workers in similar situations.  You may be dealing with more complicated medical issues or other private factors.  Don’t expect that your path will match the expectations of those around you.  Allow yourself the space to take care of yourself and your family so that when you return, you are ready to take care of the students in front of you.

Our jobs are incredibly important.  We change lives. Many of us count our students as our children.  In the end, though we must let go in order to take care of ourselves and our families.  We have to rely on each other to keep the system moving and care for the young minds entrusted to our care.  The issues above are ever-present in the minds of teachers preparing for leave, but should also be present in the minds of fellow teachers who can choose to be part of the support system.

We’d love to hear your leave stories, advice, and questions in the comment section below.

A Creative Spin on Argument Writing

argumentNo matter which standards you are currently in alignment with, argument writing is an incredibly important mainstay of English curricula.  Arguments can take many forms, and sometimes it is fun to mix up the writing assignments to inspire students to use their creativity and have a little fun (especially during fourth quarter)!  Today I want to share a writing assignment that fell into my lap recently and turned out to be a great experience for my secondary students.  Last week, I was reading the New Yorker and I came across this article that described a couple’s first dinner in the form of a recipe. I thought that it was an interesting social commentary that teenagers could easily relate to (even though the article is geared toward young adults).  So, I decided to mix up the argument writing for the week to include an assignment modeled after this article. We read the article together and discussed the elements of style, content, and convention that were employed as well as the arguments, both explicit and implicit.  A couple of the reasons I liked this assignment were:

  • It allowed students to read a relevant professional model of interesting prose.
  • It engaged students in a creative (dare I say fun) writing assignment.
  •  It still covered some standards that I am always working on (namely CCS 9-12 Writing.1 A,C,D)
    • Write arguments to support claims in an analysis of substantive topics or texts, using valid reasoning and relevant and sufficient evidence.
    • Introduce precise, knowledgeable claim(s), establish the significance of the claim(s), distinguish the claim(s) from alternate or opposing claims, and create an organization that logically sequences claim(s), counterclaims, reasons, and evidence.
    • Use words, phrases, and clauses as well as varied syntax to link the major sections of the text, create cohesion, and clarify the relationships between claim(s) and reasons, between reasons and evidence, and between claim(s) and counterclaims.
    • Establish and maintain a formal style and objective tone while attending to the norms and conventions of the discipline in which they are writing.

The Prompt:

Write a social commentary that takes the form of a process.  Teacher Note: We extensively brainstormed social issues/situations and process writing forms in class.  Social issues included things like: family dynamics/sibling rivalries, report card season, smart phone use, sports team/club/group hierarchies, college applications, and other topics.  Processes included: writing a recipe, giving directions, giving a formal invitation, and proctoring a test among other ideas.

Would you use this assignment in your class?   What other creative ways do you teach argument writing?   We’d love to hear from you in the comment section below!

Helping Students Manage Testing Stress

test stressDuring this time of year, students across the country feel anxiety levels begin to creep up due to the onslaught of high stakes testing.  Some take it all in stride, while others reach panic mode before the first bubble is even filled in.  Whether they are taking the SAT, ACT, State Proficiency Test, Common Core Assessment, Advanced Placement Test, finals, or any other high stakes test, the pressure on students can be very real.  For some, test results will go a long way toward high school graduation or college acceptance.  So how do we help them deal with the anxiety associated with these tests?  I’m sharing some ideas below, and I would love to hear your thoughts in the comment section following this post.

1. Validate their feelings. Especially in the case of high school exit exams and college entrance tests, test scores have become really important to the lives of some teenagers. Others face extreme pressure to excel from home or competitive peers.  Instead of ignoring their anxiety or brushing it off as silly, we can do our best to understand and commiserate.  Sometimes all students need is someone to listen to their frustrations and then develop a solid plan for moving forward.

2. Keep it in perspective. As adults and professionals we have seen the tests come, go, and change over the years.  We know that students have so much more to offer this world than a simple exam score.  We can consciously discuss with our students the idea that the score does not define them and in many meaningful ways doesn’t have long term implications on their lives.  There are almost always options for students struggling with high school standards, and almost all colleges weigh grades, co-curriucular activities, and other considerations more heavily than test scores alone.

3. Practice. Whether you start the class with a practice warm-up question daily, do a full “dress rehearsal”,  or find other ways to familiarize students with test directions and questions, students will benefit from demystifying the test with some solid practice.

4. Build them up. We can (and probably should) spend three quarters of the year giving students critical feedback on their skills, including those which will be tested. We do them no favors by sugar-coating their areas of improvement.  However, there comes a time when we need to switch modes and become their cheerleader.  We want them to go into the test with confidence.  For me, this is usually a couple of weeks before the test.  I like to show this Amy Cuddy TED talk and practice power posing a little:

5. Make sure they have the personal bases covered.  Knowing your students and the context in which you teach, you probably have a good idea if someone is going to struggle with having the pencils/pens, nutritious food, a good night sleep, emotional support, a ride to the test, and other basic needs.  When we can do something to privately and considerately reach out to these students, we can help relieve the survival pressures that pile on top of regular test stress.

What would you add to this list?  How do you keep your students calm in testing season?

How and Why to Try Partner Quizzes in Your Classroom

partner quizzesI love to mix up my assessment strategies to incorporate old, faithful methods as well as creative, new approaches.  Today I want to talk about why and how partner quizzes work for a secondary English classroom.  Note: I have heard of some teachers/professors successfully using small groups of 3-4 on both quizzes and exams, but I only have experience with partners on lower-stakes quizzes.  I’d love to hear your comments, questions, and suggestions below!

Why partner quizzes work:

They work to compel-

  • Engagement: Add the word quiz in place of a normal collaborative assignment and suddenly they really want to get the answers correct.  Even my less motivated students love the idea of getting a great quiz score because they were able to discuss answers with a partner.  They feel like they are cheating the system, when really they are having amazing debates and conversations about the material I want them to master!
  • Collaboration: In partner quizzes students are able to add to each other’s ideas and bring each of their strengths to the table, which usually leads to more complete, thoughtful answers.  As we prepare them for adulthood, learning meaningful collaboration is paramount!
  • Student-led Teaching: We all know that students understand the material better when they can teach/explain it to another student.  Partner quizzes help provide this teaching opportunity.
  • Preparation: Group quizzes can add a little bit of healthy peer pressure to prepare.  This is especially true if the partnerships are not announced until the day of the quiz.  Most teenagers do not want to appear unprepared to their peers (even though they often pretend like they are too cool).  A gentle discussion of the embarrassment that may ensue for an unprepared student can go a long way the day before a quiz.

Tips for How to Make Partner Quizzes Work:

  • Instructions: Make sure to give clear instructions about what successful collaboration looks like and how the process of taking/grading the quiz will work. Explain the most advantageous ways to go about completing the task.
  • Grouping: Decide how you want to create partners- by ability, by choice, by random draw.  There are benefits to each of these methods, which you can play around with given your own classroom context.
  • Multiple Quiz Versions: If you are worried about other groups overhearing and copying answers, you can make multiple versions of the quiz.
  • Individual vs. Group Grades: In my view, you have three main choices here:
    • Each student fills out the quiz and you randomly grade one quiz and enter for both students.  This helps make sure they are checking each other’s work and both participating.  I grade for content and mechanics, so they have to proofread for each other too.
    • Each student fills out the quiz for his/herself and is each quiz is graded.  This allows students to discuss answers, but ultimately come to different conclusions.
    • Each pair fill out one quiz.  This cuts down on paper.
  • Types of Questioning: Generally, open-ended, higher level thinking questions are better for partner quizzes so that students have something meaningful to discuss and write about.  I only use multiple choice for partner quizzes, with my advanced placement class with very difficult rhetorical analysis questions.
  • Sporadic Use:  I think partner quizzes work best when they only happen occasionally.  I only use them for formative quizzes and then have individuals work on tests/exams.  In my experience, when they are used too often, students start finding ways to avoid the work.

What are your questions or experiences?  We’d love to hear them!

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