Tips for Getting the Work You Want From Students


Questions about Lit

Have you checked out Secondary Solutions reading guides recently? They offer some amazing, insightful, standards based, questions and you can check them out here. These resources can save teachers a ton of time in planning, but we still have to teach the students to engage and respond well.  If we want a quality product, we need to spell out our expectations. Today, I want to share with you some of my rules for answering questions about literature.  Please leave a comment with any additions or questions you have!  Together we can make a master list and raise the bar in classrooms around the country! (PS The word document version is attached to the bottom of this post so you can print and edit for classroom use.)

How to Answer Questions about Literature in This Class:

  • Always use complete sentences.  In addition to the typical grammar rules, this means always using proper capitalization, punctuation, and spelling.
  • Answer the question.  This sounds obvious, but when we get in a hurry or forget to pay careful attention, we can easily answer the question we want to answer instead of the one being asked.
  • Beware of sentences that begin with the following words: because, that, and so.  Only yield those powers if you can control them.
  • Generally, authors should be referred to by last name. You may not refer to them by first name only and you should avoid Mr. and Ms.
  • Know your audience.  If you are not directly speaking to me, avoid use of second person (you).  If you are referring to a play or speech, you probably want to discuss the audience.  If you are referring to a book or story, you may mean the reader or another character.
  • When discussing poetry, do not confuse the author and the speaker.
  • Always use precise vocabulary.  Instead of saying that something is good, try to say that it is significant or ethical or delicious.
  • Remove slang, clichés, and emoticons.
  • Use strong verbs. Avoid words like said, quoted, or this also shows…
  • Pay special attention to parallelism.
  • Avoid unnecessary cheerleading.  I know Harper Lee is awesome, but let’s stick to a more sophisticated analysis of her work.
  • When quoting, be sure select quotes that actually prove your point.
  • When quoting, select short phrases and smoothly embed them in your sentences. Generally avoid long or stand alone quotes.
  • When quoting, use an ellipsis (…) to omit words from the middle of a quote.
  • When quoting, use [brackets] to add words that clarify within the quote.
  • Generally, literature is referred to in the present tense.  It is important that tense stays consistent in your work.
  • English/Humanities courses abide by MLA format.  When in doubt, check The Owl @ Purdue.

Sample Question and Answers:

Sample Question:

How does Robert Browning use language to set a tone in his dramatic monologue, “Porphyria’s Lover”? Be sure to name that tone.

Strong Answers:

  • Browning creates a foreboding tone by personifying the “sullen wind” as it “tore the elm-tops down for spite” and “did its worst to vex the lake” (Browning 42).
    • Note the smoothly embedded quotes, strong verb and precise language. 
  • Browning sets an ominous tone as he describes the speaker’s “heart fit to break” and Porphyria’s struggle with “pride and vainer ties” (Browning 42).
    • Note the attention to the speaker and parallel construction.

Weak Answers:

  • Robert says, “sullen wind” as it “tore the elm-tops down for spite” and “did its worst to vex the lake” (Browning 42).
    • Do not refer to an author by first name.  Also, “says” in this case is a weak verb and the embedding is not smooth.
  • Browning sets a bad tone.
    • This answer lacks evidence and uses imprecise language. 
  • Browning gives you scary tone with “sullen wind” as it “tore the elm-tops down for spite” and “did its worst to vex the lake” (Browning 42).
    • “Gives” is a weak verb.  Take out you.  Embed quotes more smoothly.
  • Browning writes a beautiful poem by personifying the “sullen wind” as it “tore the elm-tops down for spite” and “did its worst to vex the lake” (Browning 42).
    • The cheerleading does not answer the question. 
  • Browning sets an ominous tone when “she put my arm about her waist” (Browning 42).
    • The embedded quote does not support the answer and if it did, it sill needs some work with brackets to clarify and smooth out the sentence. 

Click here for a word document with this info that you can modify to suit your classroom! (It should save to your downloads folder) Don’t forget to leave your 2 cents in the comment box below and check back every week for more!

Teaching Students to Determine Credibility of Online Sources (Free Student Handout!)

Credible Sources

Two important revolutions have come together to make online source credibility testing an important skill to teach our students:

  • The Common Core emphasizes research and informational texts. 
  • Our students have incredible access to online sources.

Even though most of my students walk around all day with the internet in their pockets, they do not know innately how to determine the credibility of a source for my research paper, infographics, and other assignments.   More alarmingly, they consistently report bad habits including the use of fast information sources that they know are not reliable and the use of copy/paste functions to get homework done in a hurry.  In order to send students into college and into the world with valid research habits, I consciously teach students a checklist to determine the credibility of a source.  I  go through the list with them a few times and make them use it regularly in the hope that they will internalize the information for future use.  Here is my credibility check list:

I’d love to hear your tips, questions or suggestions to add to the list!  Leave a comment below and add to the conversation.

Determining the Credibility of Online Sources:

When using online sources for formal research, you must determine credibility in order to validate the reliability of your own research.  Keep in mind: Articles from peer reviewed online journals like those found in JSTOR, EBSCO Host, and other databases include all citation information and can easily be found credible.  Sites like Wikipedia, blogs, and social media are open forums for non-experts and while they may be great brainstorming tools, they are not credible sources for formal research.  With so many sites in the spectrum between JSTOR and Wikipedia, it can be difficult to determine credibility, so here is a checklist to go through when making an evaluation:

  • What is your topic?
    • You should always look for sources appropriate to your topic.  For example, if you are researching heart disease, you should look at sites run by The American Heart Association and not a side note blog post from Huffington Post.
  • What is the URL?
    • Always be sure to record the entire URL.  You will need this information and more to cite properly.   Be sure you are aware of the root site of the page you found.
  • Is the extension appropriate to the content?
    • .gov and .mil are government run sites, .edu means it is an education site, and .com/.org/.co can be purchased online.  This does not mean that .com/.org/.co are not reliable, but you should make note of the extension for overall reliability testing.
  • Who is the author?
    • You should use sites that have a stated author.  Sometimes the author’s name will be on the article or page, and sometimes you will have to dig a little deeper to an “about the author” page or a link on the main site.
  • Is there contact information for the author?
    • Credible authors will have some type of contact information. It may be in the form of an email, phone number, address, or online submission form.
  • What are the author’s credentials?
    • Look for authors who hold degrees, experience, titles, or memberships to recognizable professional groups relating to the topic.
  • Does the site appear to be professional?
    • Look for sites that are professional, clean, and organized. For most research, personal blogs are not a reliable source.
  • Are there typos and other errors?
    • Grammar, spelling, and other errors are a hint that the information has not been reviewed carefully and may be suspect.
  • What is the purpose of the site?
    • Are they trying to persuade? educate? preach? other?
  • Is there bias?  If so, what is it?
    • For example, if you take medical information from a cigarette company or sports information from a particular college, understand the bias.  Bias does not mean you can’t use the page; you just have to be aware and use the information accordingly.
  • Is this a primary or secondary source?
    • The closer to the primary source a page is, the more reliable the information.
  • Are there citations or a bibliography?
    • These will help you determine the legitimacy of secondary sources.  Ask yourself if the bibliography shows quality research material.
  • Is there a date for the publication/revision of the page?
    • You will need this information to cite properly.  It is also important to know that your information is current.  You don’t want to research current educational trends and use high school drop out rates from 1990.
  • Does the information seem in depth and comprehensive?
    • You want to look for sources dedicated to the information you are looking for, not a source, which briefly touches on your topic.
  • Overall Evaluation:
    • Based on this list, do you find this source to be credible?  Be sure that you are able to justify your evaluation with evidence.

Citing an online source:

Please refer to the Owl at Purdue for information on citing electronic sources in MLA or APA format:  Owl.English.Purdue.edu

What would you add, take away or ask about this list?  I’d love to know!

 

Flipping the Classroom

 

Today I wanted to talk about flipping the classroom, which seems to be the educational buzzword everywhere I turn. My own school is even starting this conversation informally (for now!).  The concept is simple, but the application I believe will be a little more complicated. Basically, the idea is to flip the traditional school schedule of lecture then homework practice.  The flipped schedule would see students front loading information at home through video lectures, reading, and other research followed by application, analysis, and practice in the classroom with the teacher.  For me, the jury is still out.  There are many ways that I see the flipped classroom as a marked improvement on the traditional breakdown, but there are also many obstacles that must be overcome to make this actually work in my real classroom.  I made the following infographic as a way to layout my thoughts on flipping the classroom.  Please note, this is from my perspective as a seasoned teacher with technical savvy and a toddler needing most of my non-school time.   We may see different pros and cons and may come up with different end solutions, but I’d love to hear your thoughts to keep this conversation going! Leave me a comment and share with your other teacher friends so we can learn from each other!

Flipping the Classroom

Emily Guthrie has taught junior high and high school English in Southern California for 8 years. She currently teaches grades 9-12, including AP English Language and Composition.  She specializes in working with technology to enhance curriculum for English learners and enrichment students.  She also blogs about fitness and motherhood at TheBusyMomsDiet.com

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