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How Should We Pick Required Reading?

required reading

A co-worker recently re-posted this article criticizing changes that my alma mater UCLA made in 2011 to the English department required courses.  Gone are the days of required single author courses in Milton, Chaucer, and Shakespeare, which have been replaced with thematic courses and syllabi full of a combination of the traditional canon and new voices.  Of course, I poked around and saw other articles like this one, in support of the changes and found this clear explanation of the changes from the Daily Bruin.  This all got me thinking about the books that our high schools require.  I currently teach American lit and British lit to juniors and seniors in high school and so my required reading relies heavily on our anthology with the supplement of a couple of novels.  Even though I LOVE my curriculum, I think it is important to think about how we select required reading. Below I’ve listed some of the major considerations out there with a brief opinion of my own. I’d love to hear your two cents!  How much control do you have over your required reading?  Are you happy with your current list?

  • Students should read the foundations like mythology, the bible, and philosophy.  The argument here is that students cannot fully appreciate any works inside or outside of the traditional canon if they do not understand the allusions and underpinnings.
    • I can relate to the difficulties of teaching Romeo and Juliet to students without a working understanding of mythology or Bless Me Ultima without the biblical allusions.  I also relate to the struggle of engaging high school students in the philosophies of the metaphysical poets or the transcendentalist thinkers.
  • Student should be able to read texts that connect with their identity. The required reading should be tailored to the school’s population to reflect authors, characters, and themes that connect with the race, gender, sexuality, and socioeconomic status of students.
    • I have witnessed students come alive as readers when reading works from authors that they personally connect with, like Cisneros, Cullen, and Hong Kingston to name a few. There is a definite power in the approach and I think it is most evident in the long-term inspiration for students to be life long readers and writers.
  • Students should read the masters like Chaucer, Milton, Shakespeare, Thoreau, and Pound.  In Emerson’s “Education”, he writes about the paradox of genius and drill.  Students must closely read the masters in order to create new, relevant works.
    • This is a tough one for me because I sometimes feel that I sacrifice depth in order to cover the breadth of the “masters” which leaves even less time to explore other works.  On the other hand, I want my students going into college with a working knowledge of the major literary players.
  • Students should read around a universal theme. This approach can incorporate the traditional canon and maringalized voices around a common thread.
    • I personally love this approach because it marries the two sides of the argument allowing the educator to juxtapose the traditional canon with additional perspectives. I think this can also lead to a deeper understanding of genres and style through direct comparison.
  • Students should be able to choose their literature. There is also the argument that education in the information age must completely revolutionize to include choice as a center piece.
    • In theory I like this, in practice I loathe it.  As a teacher I take pride in my ability to guide a curriculum toward objectives.  Allowing 100% choice muddies the water of rigor and assessment for me.

What do you think?  How should we be picking the required reading for high school students?


9 Tips to Inspire Students to Actually Read

Get Students to Read

We’ve all had those class periods that seem to drag on with a flat discussion because half the class didn’t really read the last night’s homework.  With all of the shortcuts out there on the internet and sometimes a general apathy that hits teenagers, how do we get them to actually read?  Here are some of my ideas and I’d love to hear yours in the comment section below:

1. Introduce with enthusiasm. It doesn’t always work, but I know that sharing the reasons why I fell in love with the book or author goes a long way with some students to get them excited to start reading.  It sounds cliché, but attitude really is 90% of teaching sometimes right?

2. Daily reading quizzes. Most of my homework is reading.  Read a chapter, read a story, read a speech.  I don’t usually assign questions with the reading because I want them to read fluidly and possibly even enjoy what they are reading without the hassle of stopping every paragraph to answer a question (Plus, grading daily homework and reading quizzes on top of regular essays would probably put me over the edge!).  Every day after the reading, I give a quick comprehension quiz that is not based on the sparks note version, but the actual reading.  During the first quarter, grades suffer, but after that most students figure out that actually reading is the easiest way to pass the quizzes.

3. Talk about the long-term. I teach mostly college prep and honors classes and I find that sometimes high school students need a little perspective.  In my most non-condescending voice we have candid talks about the kind of reading skills and self-discipline students will need to compete in college.

4. Put students in charge. Create projects, assignments, and assessments in which students teach the reading.  Check out this post for a specific game plan on this one.

5. Leverage technology. Check out these posts on how to enhance curriculum by using resources like collaborize classroom, twitter, prezi, google presentations, google forms, explain everything, iPads, and infographics.  Kids love technology, let’s use it to our advantage.

6. Create a social experience. Students are more likely to read when there will be some social aspect with their peers in class. I personally love using socratic seminar and literature circles.

7. Give students options. When possible, allow students to pick a book from a thematic list.  For times when the whole class is reading the same book, give choices on the accompanying assignment.  For example, for a chapter of The Great Gatsby, choose a character and outline his or her actions and motivations.  This allows students to connect more meaningfully with a character that they choose.

8. Use the power of the audio book. My students told me about the librivox app and at first I was a little leery, but now I’ve heard so many success stories that I am sold.  I have students who need to read the chapter with the audiobook and others who read first and then listen as a review on their way to school.  If they are going to have the headphones in anyway, it might as well be in the name of the classic authors.

9. Teach annotation strategies. Actively teach students how to highlight and write brief notes in the margins.  If they become more successful at reading assessments through close reading strategies, they are more likely to feel motivated to actually read and not give up before they start.

What would you add to this list?  I think it needs an even 10…


Blogging Challenge – Accepted!

Hello all!  It has been a while since I have been able to blog (working on a fabulous NEW product!!), but I was tagged by Tracee Orman (@mrsorman) on Twitter and have accepted his blogging challenge. You can read Tracee’s answers and random facts HERE. If you don’t know Tracee or her materials, you are in for a TREAT!  Tracee is one of the best ELA content creators out there, and I LOVE her stuff! You can also find her clip art HERE and all things Hunger Games HERE. I have known Tracee (virtually) for several years now, and if I was still teaching, I am sure she would be my “go-to” for everything!

So, having accepted Tracee’s challenge, here are the rules:
1) Acknowledge the nominating blogger (check!)
2) Share 11 random facts about yourself.
3) Answer the 11 questions the nominating blogger has created for you.
4) List 11 bloggers. They should be bloggers you believe deserve some recognition and a little blogging love!
5) Post 11 questions for the bloggers you nominate to answer and let all the bloggers know they have been nominated (You cannot nominate the blogger who nominated you).
Eleven random facts about me…
1. I am an introvert, and feel much more comfortable speaking in front of hundreds of people rather than just a few.
2. I was born and raised in So Cal…where I still live
3. I was recently challenged by my husband to find a hobby other than work (crazy, huh?), so I chose painting, which I have NEVER done.  Turns out, however, I am actually pretty good (for an amateur).  Here is my most recent…  it is my first winter scene…the others I have done have been sunsets on water.  (Apparently, I like painting water!)
4. I have a 5 year old daughter, who is in Transitional Kindergarten here in California.  Basically, since she didn’t make the age cutoff, she is in a new two-year kinder program along with other kids who didn’t make the cutoff.  She LOVES school and her teacher, and is excelling in everything, making me one proud Mama!
5. I majored in Acting. I have done Musical Theater all my life, but now I focus on my family and business.  Basically, my degree has come in handy, as I act like I actually know what I am doing every day! :)
6. I have a Master’s degree in Education.  I SWORE I would never be a teacher, since my mom was a teacher and I saw her struggles.  However, life had a different idea.  I became an English teacher, hoping to become a Drama teacher too.  I never got the Drama gig, but actually enjoyed teaching English.  In 2004, in my second year of teaching, I came up with the idea for Secondary Solutions Literature Guides.  By 2005, I was in business.
7. Secondary Solutions and Elementary Solutions is a family business.  I am the owner, my mom (who is a former elementary and middle school teacher and teacher of the year) is my right arm, now managing over 10 writers, in addition to formatters and editors.  My brother in law is my Operations manager, who handles all the shipping and Marketing, and my sister takes care of all the books.  Yep, there are only three of us working full time on this business!!!  There is little sleep happening between us.
8. Wow…eleven random facts really IS hard!! (Tracee was right). If she counted this one, I can too, right?
9. I have had a ton of odd jobs throughout my life including a stint as a celery stalk for the LA County Fair, several waitressing jobs, singing gigs, an elf at a Christmas show, Mrs. Santa in another, cleaning apartments for the elderly, a bear crafting (making outfits for bears) business, a jewelry business, and more I can’t remember!
10. I am never satisfied with the status quo…I am always looking for more, better, faster, etc.
11. I am currently working on a TOP SECRET product for Common Core, and I am SOOOO excited about it! (Stay tuned!)
Whew…that was hard! Now on to the specific questions from Tracee…
Here are my 11 questions (and I’m doing the same…borrowing from Mike’s!):
1. Coke or Pepsi? DIET COKE
2. Favorite teaching tool? my laptop
3. What is the biggest change in education since you started teaching? the Common Core standards
4. In ten years, I’ll be… a millionare?!?!
5. Funniest thing said in your classroom? it’s been so long since I have been in the classroom, I can’t think of anything except one dirty story bwahahaha!
6. If you were not an educator, what profession would you have liked to pursue and why? I love where I am.  I have always wanted to have my own business, and owning Secondary Solutions and Elementary Solutions is my dream.  I never thought I would be creating materials for English teachers, however; I just knew I would be an entrepreneur.
7. What is the one place you would like to visit in the world that you haven’t been to?  Europe.  Absolutely.
8. Who has had the biggest influence on your professional life? My mom.  She has been my biggest influence in everything in my life.  She is my #1 fan and biggest Devil’s Advocate!
9. Favorite book?  I would have to say The Hunger Games trilogy.  I know, it is not some earth-shattering piece of literature, but I loved the entire journey.  I am also a HUGE fan of Shakespeare!!!
10. What is one thing about yourself that most people would be surprised to learn?  I am extremely introverted and have social anxiety.
11. If you won the lottery, what would you do with your winnings? Buy a bigger house, with someone to clean and cook meals!!
If you made it this far, hallelujah! Now it’s your turn!
I have to tag 11 fellow educators, so I’ve chosen:
4. Michelle Lundy (@MakingItTeacher)
5. Addie Williams (Teacher Talk)
ANYONE ELSE?  I will try to add more later…


Thanks again, Tracee!

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