Wednesday, April 30, 2014

“Sometimes being a teacher is hard.”

Most educators will tell you that teaching is a calling: It’s not a glamorous job. It’s often not a high-paying job. It can be frustrating and time-consuming. But, it’s a rewarding job, and that’s why they chose to enter a profession that many of us consider one of the toughest jobs in the world. Teachers are passionate about what they do for many reasons. I came across this heartfelt story from a teacher who shares an experience that reminded her of why she chose to teach.

“Sometimes being a teacher is hard.

It's been particularly hard lately because we're in the middle of standardized testing season, which, as you know, turns us all into crazy people.  You guys take 6 tests a week to see if you're ready for the battery of standardized tests coming up, while I have to "drill and kill" you as administrators breathe down my neck, because their bosses are breathing down their necks, because the state is breathing down the districts' necks, and so on.  (There is a lot of neck-breathing going on.) …”

Yes, sometimes being a teacher is hard—but you love it. Sometimes being able to focus on what you love about being a teacher is hard, too. At Prestwick House, we don’t always get to see the moments like “Love Teach” had when her students blew her away with a poetry recitation, but we love being part of the educational process and helping make your life a bit easier.

There is so much preparation to do before teaching a book, and we know that prep work isn't why you got into being a teacher. That's why every Prestwick House resource is designed to be ready to use. We share your passion for teaching and have created comprehensive and academically sound Teaching Units that do the prep work for you, so you can get to what you love about teaching.

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Teaching Nonfiction and Opportunities for Civics and History Instruction

While the standards movement doesn’t address history and civics directly, teachers are finding that a great deal of the focus on nonfiction creates abundant opportunities for teaching civics and history.  This thoughtful essay by Peter Levin digs into both the positives and negatives that history teachers can encounter when confronted with standards that focus heavily on nonfiction.          

Since the Common Core is about math and English, not other subjects, I and many colleagues have written a voluntary framework for states to revise their social studies standards, the College, Career, and Civic Life (C3) Framework. But some thoughtful and well-informed people believe that the Common Core itself provides sufficient impetus for strengthening the social studies. I have heard that argument made by the social studies coordinator of a very large urban school system, the lobbyist for the main teacher’s union in a major state, and others. They point to valuable provisions in the Common Core’s English/language arts standards.  For example:

  • The Common Core includes standards for speaking and listening that encourage deliberation, which is a fundamental democratic skill. “CCSS.ELA-Literacy.SL.11-12.1b Work with peers to promote civil, democratic discussions and decision-making, set clear goals and deadlines, and establish individual roles as needed.”
  • The Common Core is not a curriculum, and it does not prescribe content, but it frequently uses classic civics texts as illustrative examples. “CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RH.11-12.4 Determine the meaning of words and phrases as they are used in a text, including analyzing how an author uses and refines the meaning of a key term over the course of a text (e.g., how Madison defines faction in Federalist No. 10).”
  • Again, although the Common Core generally avoids mentioning specific texts and assignments, it gives explicit attention to “seminal U.S. texts, including the application of constitutional principles and use of legal reasoning (e.g., in U.S. Supreme Court majority opinions and dissents) and the premises, purposes, and arguments in works of public advocacy (e.g., The Federalist, presidential addresses)” and to “seventeenth-, eighteenth-, and nineteenth-century foundational U.S. documents of historical and literary significance (including The Declaration of Independence, the Preamble to the Constitution, the Bill of Rights, and Lincoln’s Second Inaugural Address) for their themes, purposes, and rhetorical features.”
  • It has been typical to teach reading through fiction alone at the primary grades, but the Common Core requires experience with nonfiction texts all the way from k-12. By high school, it explicitly requires reading civics texts. “CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.9-10.9 Analyze seminal U.S. documents of historical and literary significance (e.g., Washington’s Farewell Address, the Gettysburg Address, Roosevelt’s Four Freedoms speech, King’s ‘Letter from Birmingham Jail’), including how they address related themes and concepts.”  
One of the often overlooked elements of the CCSS that's implicit in the creation of the standards is the cross-curricular nature of the CCSS movement. While the Reading:Informational Texts standards talk about an increased focus on nonfiction, it's not just in the English Classroom that we're reading. It's in science, math, and social studies. Just because your students will be doing some reading in these other classes doesn't mean that there's not a lot of value to reading historical documents, science articles, and other informational texts in the language arts classroom. That's why Reading: Informational Texts has science and social studies texts examined from a language arts perspective. Now if we can only get science teachers to use the same writing rubrics as our English teachers do.


Monday, April 28, 2014

The Benefits of Analytical, Text-based Writing Revealed!

Not long ago, the loudest sound you could hear about the Common Core, especially the fairly rigorous writing standards, were protests that the standards were unattainable, that kids would never be able to think and write the way the standards described. Now, however, murmurs of success are growing louder. Take for example what’s been happening in Belle Chasse Primary School in Louisiana as described in this recent post on The Hechinger Report.

"Proponents of the change say an increased emphasis on analytical, evidence-based assignments will better prepare students for the kind of writing they will face in college and the workforce, where few will be asked to describe family vacations or write poems, but they could very well be asked to summarize a research paper or defend a project proposal....

"Belle Chasse Primary’s teachers say the more text-based, persuasive approach to writing has been helpful for students who don’t know where to start when faced with more open-ended questions or when asked to write a story. But it also requires a level of maturity and discipline for a 10-year-old to make an argument based largely — if not solely — on evidence from a reading passage."

Those of us who teach (or have taught) high school have often (whether fairly or not) looked at the grades below ours with some scorn: if only these kids had begun to learn … earlier. Now, apparently, the kids are beginning to learn, and the challenge will be for us high-school folks to pick up the ball and run it farther than even we’ve gone before. It won’t be an easy task, but it won’t be unachievable, either. As one commenter on the above article says:

"Its very simple. MORE writing with a good process is what develops good writers. We need to find ways that teachers can do more writing without penalizing themselves."

College and Career Readiness: Writing

More writing, good process, and not penalizing teachers is what our new 9 – 12 series College and Career Readiness: Writing is all about. Lesson by lesson, step by step, we help you be the most effective teacher possible without adding still more hours to an already over-crowded work week. 

Friday, April 25, 2014

Creativity and Time

Thanks to Mr. G's Edublog, I ran across this fantastic video talking about the relationship between creativity and time. While the video was originally about creativity in a corporate setting, Mr. G read it as creativity in his classroom, and I came in looking for an article about how difficult it is to be creative as a teacher with the million different expectations put on your plate. 

Mr. G's post is great though, so I'll just leave you this quote from his blog.

"Our students may not want to persist at
editing and improving a text over a long period of time because they
have grown up in a system ( and I’ve been part of it for 25 years so I’m
not criticizing anyone without taking the blame too) that values
quantity over quality, product over process and finishing over creating.
If we really want to bring about Sir Ken Robinson’s revolution, this
has to change. Collecting 20 samples of writing that are not good enough
has to be replaced by a paradigm shift to working on a text until it is
great. Ticks, crosses and percentage points don’t teach a student how
to improve their writing ( or counting, calculating,thinking,
questioning,researching, drawing). Guidance, tracking, encouragement,
constructive feedback, expectation and TIME does."

Have a great weekend everyone. 

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Why should we teach literature?

While there has been a big shift in what is to be taught in English classrooms, and with the common core standards moving us more towards reading informational text, reading literature (fiction and poetry) is still a key factor for improving our students educations and lives.  Studies show “ that individuals who often read fiction appear to be better able to understand other people, empathize with them and view the world from their perspective.”

This article from Time Magazine is the perfect justification of why reading literature is so important. 

"'Deep reading' — as opposed to the often superficial reading we do on the Web — is an endangered practice, one we ought to take steps to preserve as we would a historic building or a significant work of art. Its disappearance would imperil the intellectual and emotional development of generations growing up online, as well as the perpetuation of a critical part of our culture: the novels, poems and other kinds of literature that can be appreciated only by readers whose brains, quite literally, have been trained to apprehend them."

There may not be a clear indication as to what percentage of time spent in ELA classrooms should be geared towards informational text or reading literature. Despite all of the focus on the shift to more nonfiction selections, the new common core standards still include reading literature as a major part of the curriculum because it plays an important role in their lives and education. 

Reading Literature is a brand new series for grades 9-12 which will be available this summer. The book includes both short stories and poems that use the guidelines from the CCSS to ensure they're appropriately rigorous. In addition, every story annotated and includes questions tied to every standard for Reading Literature. 

Reading Literature

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Why is Shakespeare Important to Geek Culture? That is the Question | Kiri Callaghan

Happy Birthday, Shakespeare!

Why is Shakespeare still relevant? Here's a fun video to share with your classes that shows how pop culture has been influenced by the Bard.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

How important is it to teach students to read informational texts?

We all know there are still questions and some confusion about teaching students to read informational texts. The true, clear definition of "informational text" isn't ultimately defined, and teachers still have questions about what the goals of this shift and how to make changes in their classroom . This article from Educational Leadership ultimately comes to the conclusion that regardless of whether you are teaching informational texts or classic literature, the ultimate goal is getting the students to read both and find a balance to better educate students for college.

"But there has been one kind of criticism leveled against the new mandates—and it targets informational text. The new standards have asked for big increases in rigor and the level of instruction in reading, added prominence to a literary canon, proposed a shift from an emphasis on personal writing to one on academic writing, expanded literacy teaching into the disciplines of history and science, promoted deeper analysis of the ideas and arguments in texts, and placed a new emphasis on inquiry and 21st century research tools (National Governors Association Center for Best Practices [NGA] & Council of Chief State Schools Officers [CCSSO], 2010). Despite all those momentous changes, the major grumbles have been aimed at the fact that the standards encourage more reading of informational text at school."

In trying to encourage this shift, the CCSS committees have suggested that you pay attention to quantitative measures of complexity like Lexile® Measures and Flesch-Kincaid and qualitative measures that are difficult to define, and balance those with tasks considerations that emphasize rigor and require students to include textual justification for their analysis. To help you manage this shift, Prestwick House has developed Reading Informational Texts for grades 7-12 with a close eye on the guidelines and requirements of the Common Core State Standards.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Going Beyond Conventional Teacher Wisdom for High School Writing Programs

Getting your students back on solid ground with the writing skills needed to succeed in college and career can, at times, take some creative, out-of-the box thinking. In a recent article on The Atlantic website by John Maguire, a writer and editor who authored the Newsweek College Writing Guide and who also teaches college writing courses in the Boston area, addresses this and other issues regarding college career readiness.
"As a college writing instructor, I have seen many students show up in a freshman comp class believing they can't write, and their opinion is valid. They don't realize that it's because they lack certain skills that were common among college freshmen 40 years ago." – John Maguire

"In her article "The Writing Revolution," Peg Tyre shows the teachers at New Dorp High School beginning to ask the question too few writing teachers ask: What skills do these students lack? She quotes Nell Scharff, an instructional expert brought in by the school, as saying, "How did the kids in our target group go wrong? What skills were missing?"

You can read the full article here:

If your students are lost and confused by a piecemeal approach to writing while you and your colleagues struggle to retrofit an unworkable program to meet the new expectations of the common core. Consider our own College and Career Readiness: Writing – a comprehensive 9-12th grade writing program that provides students with consistent expectations from teacher to teacher and year to year and gives teachers a clear, methodical program that fits into their curriculums.

Take a look at some sample pages here and request your free sample today. 

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Inspiring Teachers: Sarah Brown Wessling

Sarah Brown Wessling was selected as National Teacher of the Year in 2010 because of her ability to breathe life into literature and keep students at the center of the classroom. I recently came across this great interview with her on Education World.

"I work alongside them to explore the essential questions that guide our thematic units. I cant wait to introduce them to characters in literature and rediscover those literary figures through their experiences. I model what it means to construct your own meaning, and then support them as they learn to take intellectual risks. In short, I am transparent about my passion and invite them to join the club...

We need to not only construct learner-centered classrooms where disciplines collapse, where ideas flourish, where learning becomes relevant to students; we also need to be prepared to re-envision what a learner-centered classroom can look like in the 21st century. We must create the kinds of worthy learning experiences that drive students to become critical thinkers, problem-solvers, and innovators. We must create environments where the consumers of our curriculums become the designers of their own learning."

Click here to read more.

What activities do you do in your literature classes to bring the text to life?

Prestwick House Activity Packs are loaded with our favorite activities personalized for each book. Talking it over with our editors, our favorites are creating found poems, working in small groups to compare multiple authors' styles, creating a fictional newspaper, and creating scenes in comic strip format.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Literature and the Common Core

The Common Core standards’ emphasis on informational text has left many ELA instructors concerned that they will have to eliminate many fiction classics from their curriculums. A recent article in the Huffington Post  illustrates the confusion and concern many English teachers have expressed. As lovers of literature, you want to ensure that your students are exposed to a broad range of great literature, but you're ultimately bound to the standards imposed by your districts. Despite assurances that other subject area teachers will be responsible for incorporating informational text to allow English teachers more time for literature, many English teachers feel the responsibility for meeting reading standards will ultimately fall on them.

Reading Literature, a new series from Prestwick House, was created to help teachers simplify the transition to Common Core. By providing a dozen poems and short stories along with questions that address specific Common Core standards, Prestwick House is helping English teachers continue offering a range of great literature in the time they have allotted. In the time it would take to read a single novel, students can be exposed to the works of a dozen authors. The pointed questions, which reference the particular standard being addressed, assist busy teachers with lesson planning during this confusing period.