Secondary Solutions

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5 Tips for Spicing Up Summer School

 

There can be so much variation in summer school programs, but in my experience, the class sessions tend to be longer, class sizes tend to be a little smaller, and most students tend to be a little less motivated, especially if they are retaking a class that they failed.  With budget cuts, I’ve also experienced a tendency toward combo classes like English 9 and 10.   While these factors can be barriers to engagement, I think there are a few things we can do to spice things up in the summer (and during the school year too!). I’m sharing my 5 tips for spicing up summer school and I’d love to hear your questions. comments, and suggestions in the comment section below!

summer school1. Quiz-Quiz-Trade: I learned this strategy at a Kagan workshop during my first year teaching in junior high.  Although Kagan structures are geared toward younger students, many of them still work like a charm in secondary English.  You can check out the Kagan website here.  To use quiz-quiz-trade, you have students create flashcards with vocabulary, literary devices, or other terms.  Then students mingle around the room creating temporary pairs.  When they pair up, they quiz each other on one card each, trade and then mingle to new partners.  It doesn’t take very long, but it gets students up, moving, and studying.  I’ve had so many students tell me that it helped them remember vocab.  If you have a combo class, you can create mingling areas for students with like words.

2. Showdown: Showdown is another Kagan structure in which students work independently on an exercise. When “Showdown!” is called, students show teammates their work, and they begin the process of checking, coaching, and celebrating.  You can read more about it here.

3. Literature Circles: Literature circles are ideal for motivation, especially if you can incorporate student choice in books and roles.  It is also easy to manage with multiple grade levels.  Here is a link to my post all about literature circles.  

4. Socratic Seminar: Socratic Seminar is my favorite way to get all students involved in a discussion, even when some are more reluctant.  If your summer school class is made up of students repeating a class, chances are they did not get to show off their literary analysis skills during the regular school year for whatever reason.  Socratic Seminar can offer a nonthreatening way to feel personal and peer success.  Here is a link to my post with more information about the logistics.

5. Engaging Informational Texts: We need to incorporate more informational texts in our classrooms, but it is hard to find the time to go through all of the options.  If you have more freedom in summer school curriculum, it is a great time to try out a few new reads. A few summers ago, my class did Nickel and Dimed one session and The Tipping Point another session. Students were interested in the reading and I was able to pull out excerpts to use during the regular school year.  Depending on the level, I’d also recommend Blink, Freakonomics, and Fast Food Nation.

What do you do to spice up your summer school sessions?  We’d love to hear your questions. comments, and suggestions below!

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A Teacher’s Thoughts on Summer Reading:

Summer Reading

It is the time of year again when we meet in departments to plan out summer reading programs. For me, the words “summer reading” can be a delight and a drain. I work at a school that requires summer reading for college prep and honors English classes at every grade level, which can present some challenges.  Even with the struggles, I think that summer reading is a battle worth fighting.  If you are interested in some of the scientific benefits of summer reading, click around this site for a bit.  Here are my thoughts on putting together a summer reading program that will enhance the curriculum without burning out teachers or students.

1. Offer high interest materials. Summer is a great time to give students a book that will keep the pages turning and not keep the eye lids drooping. Pick something that will appeal to the teenagers at your particular age and level.  This strategy combats my biggest struggle, which is the lack of motivation for some students.  Some suggestions:

  • The John Green books, like Looking for Alaska, The Fault in Our Stars, or An Abundance of Katherines-  It is fun for teenagers to read about other quirky teenagers.
  • Science fiction and fantasy- the kind of books that often get left out of the traditional canon in the school year.  I like books like Dune, The Time Machine, or Hitchhikers Guide too the Galaxy, but there are tons out there to choose from.
  • Other YA faves like Catcher in the Rye, 1984, Perks of Being a Wallflower, etc.

2. Offer reasonable choices. It is nice to offer choices in case some students have read some of the books on the list and also to honor the interest factor for a wide range of students. Each book should be of reasonable length for students and the book list should be of reasonable length for teachers.  In my humble opinion, the teacher should have read all of the books on the list in order to engage in discussion and assessment.

3. Keep assignments simple. If you are doing handouts, questions, essays or anything else with the book, keep it simple.  Summer reading should be about enjoying some quality literature and not getting bogged down in minutia.

4. Make it count. Students learn very quickly and then word gets out if the summer reading assignment does not “count for anything.”  If you can, make the assessment or discussion worth a substantial point value.  In case students don’t complete the assignment well, I like for the summer reading to be worth enough to hurt the first quarter grade, but not so much that the semester grade cannot recover.

5. Bring the conversation online. If you are working with a manageable sized group, using a platform like Collaborize Classroom could be a great way to check in with students throughout the summer. Click here for a Collaborize Classroom tutorial.

6. Be flexible and have a back up plan.  I’ve never had a year with no transfer students or other I-didn’t-get-the-summer-reading situation.  When this happens, I usually excuse the assignment or give students until the end of the first quarter to get it done. The first few years, I let this eat me alive because I was in pursuit of that perfect summer reading program.  It is not out there. Make it work.

 

What are your thoughts on summer reading? Leave a comment below!

 

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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?

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