From October, 2014

When “Nice Shirt” Means “Go Home and Change”: A Lesson on the Types of Irony

Verbal irony is a tool familiar to many a high school student.  As a parent of a fourteen-year-old, I would say anecdotally that teenagers may have trouble surviving without it.  The above video clip of Family Guy, therefore, might be a great bell ringer and/or attention grabber to begin a lesson on the types of irony.  It starts students in a place of familiarity (perhaps in content and medium) and could be transitioned into a discussion of how often verbal irony (which includes, but is not limited to sarcasm) is used in today’s society.

In lesson 3.5 of Springboard Senior English, students are introduced to the three types of irony.  Under each type listed below, there is also a Ted Ed video of less than three minutes that outlines the definition and gives examples for students.

  • Dramatic: irony where the audience knows more than the characters do about the events occurring now or in the future of the narrative, resulting in humor, suspense, or some other intended effect on the audience

  • Verbal: irony where a character says the opposite of what they mean

  • Situational: irony that creates a “surprise ending” that defies the audience expectation

In the Springboard lesson, groups of students are given a scenario and outcome, and they are asked to create and perform a scene using this information and the types of irony.  To scaffold this lesson for students, the teacher could give each group one type of irony on which to focus.  In addition, a brief mini-lesson on the parts of a script might be helpful. Teen Ink has a large selection of scripts and plays written by teens, and a piece of one of these could be used to discuss the format of playwriting, which would also build to the second Embedded Assessment where students will have to write and perform a play script based on an interpretation of Othello through one of three critical lenses (historic, cultural, or feminist).

On a sub-note, Ted Ed videos are a great resource for teachers.  Here is a link to all of the videos available through Ted Ed for irony.  Each includes online questions to go along with the video and a list of additional links. I will post more about this resource later, but here is a video about the ways you can use Ted Ed in the classroom.     

Easy Online Research Process: Finding Resources, Note Taking and Citing Sources

To help teachers and students access research for assessments (essays and presentations), I have been accumulating online articles relating to specific topics.  Teachers in some classes have then given students the link to the post or provided them with a handout that lists each resource and link (or both). Teachers may also choose to link these blog posts to their own websites for students’ easy access.  Lastly, some teachers have printed packets of these articles in a class set.  The following are two example sets:

As students are reading these electronic resources, they can also use this AWESOME online tool to highlight and save comments on the articles to an account to use later:

Lastly, as students are finding this research, teachers might want to ask them to create a Works Cited page as well.  The online program EasyBib is a quick and easy way to do this.  In three steps, I was prompted to fill in information to create the Works Cited entry for the blog post linked above, which I then cut and pasted here:

Lust, Brandi. “Articles on Modern Cultural Issues for a Synthesis/Argumentative Essay.” Lifelong Learning

            LabN.p., 8 Oct. 2014. Web. 17 Oct. 2014.

Students will still need to look for the information in the article, website or book in order to enter it, but the program makes formatting very easy for them to create citations.

Incorporating Student Reflection: Effective, Efficient Essay Feedback Continued

Reflection can certainly seem like a luxury in the high-stress, multi-tasking world in and out of the classroom.  Doesn't everyone, student and teacher alike, wish for a quiet space in which we can reflect, ponder and process? (Or maybe take a nap?)

Reflection can certainly seem like a luxury in the high-stress, multi-tasking world in and out of the classroom. Doesn’t everyone, student and teacher alike, wish for a quiet space in which we can reflect, ponder and process? (Or maybe take a nap?).  Credit to Pondering Prusik

“We do not learn from experience… we learn from reflecting on experience.” 

– John Dewey

In any field, reflection is a key component to improving one’s performance.  According to the organization Thinking Collaborative, “HEC Paris, Harvard Business School, and the University of North Carolina showed a 23% better performance in groups that reflected after a learning experience than those who had not.”

A 23% gain is significant, and reflective activities can be as short as a few minutes; in that regard, they are instructional time very well spent. Some of the gains of reflective activities noted in The Harvard Business School’s article “Learning By Thinking: How Reflection Improves Performance” include:

  • improved learning
  • a more positive view of the experience afterward
  • a building of one’s confidence to achieve a goal

Translating this to writing, the more a student can reflect on his or her own work and process, the better writer that student will become.  An additional benefit for teachers is that as students become more proficient in reflection, less feedback is necessary from the instructor. In short: asking students to identify the successes and struggles they are facing enables them to do more of the work for themselves, taking the pressure of having to identify what is wrong off of the teacher and instead allowing the instructor to focus on solutions to these challenges.

As a brief example of this, if a student is asked to identify a weakness in an essay in writing, the teacher does not have to spend the time giving that specific feedback and might instead just agree with the student comment in a single word and focus on guiding instruction to meet that particular weakness now or in the future. The following two resources can be used as tools to gather more reflective data from students.

  • This Cover Sheet for Draft Submissions can be used when collecting student drafts and giving formative feedback, or when planning for individual conferences
  • This Cover Sheet for Final Essay Submission can be used when collecting essays for a grade.  In addition, I have had a lot of success asking for a one-page reflection with the final paper.  Here are some possible prompts:
    • Describe your research process for this essay.  Where did you look for information?  How did you decide what to use?  What obstacles did you face in the research process?  How did you overcome them?
    • Describe your writing process for this essay.  How many times did you revise and what errors did you find?  Who else did you have review your work?  What feedback was most helpful to you?  How did you use the feedback you were given?
    • Describe a challenge you faced when writing this essay.  What did you do to address this challenge?  What would you do differently next time?
    • Describe a success you had when writing this essay.  What do you think contributed to your success?  How will you build on it the next time you are asked to do a similar task?
    • Describe something that surprised you about the writing/research process.
    • What did you learn through the process of crafting this piece of writing and engaging in this research?

On a final note, this post is a continuation on the post “Resources for Grading Essays and Giving Effective, Efficient Feedback,” which has many more specific tips on easing the grading load and providing effective feedback to students on essays.

Resources for Grading Essays and Giving Effective, Efficient Feedback

Carol Jago writes about challenges all English teachers can understand: grading, giving feedback and helping students to improve their writing while also having a life beyond the stack of essays we all carry in our bags and on our minds every day.

Carol Jago writes about challenges all English teachers can understand: grading, giving feedback, and helping students to improve their writing while also having a life beyond the stack of essays we all carry in our bags and our minds every day.

Grading essays is one of the most time consuming and frustrating parts of being an English teacher.  In addition, the feedback given on final essays is often not utilized by students.  The following is a list of tips and specific strategies gathered from a variety of sources (including Carol Jago’s book and online forums for teachers) that can be used to give feedback on writing effectively while sparing the sanity of the teacher.

Formative Assessment/Feedback Techniques

“When you do the revision, you are the only one becoming a better writer.”

– Carol Jago, Papers, Papers, Papers

The more time spent by the student revising a paper before it is turned in, the less time those papers will take to grade. In addition, studies show that students are more likely to read feedback if they have the opportunity to make changes that will impact their final grade (Jago 87). In our district, one teacher in the high school told me that while most students looked at feedback on their drafts in, almost none of them have looked at the summative feedback, even when it included the final grade.

Formative Feedback Guidelines:

  • Give formative feedback in chunks when possible (introduction, body paragraphs etc.)
  • Have students identify areas in the paper they feel may need help before turning them in to you for feedback (see draft cover sheet)

Formative Feedback General Strategy:

  • Spend ten minutes looking at a class sets of drafts and writing 1-2 abbreviated comments on each
  • Take notes over common problems and strengths on a separate page
  • Pass back papers the next day and discuss common problems and strengths with each class (could also provide these as a checklist for students)
    • Use areas of weakness for mini-lessons to improve key areas for students’ success
    • Use areas of weakness as focus points for peer review

Other Ways to Give Formative Feedback

  • Use one highlighter for strengths and another color for weaknesses
  • Circle or cross out errors and then have students meet in small groups to work on revision of those errors
  • Provide revision keys and leave abbreviated comments on essays

Revising Sentence Structure:

  1. Highlight one sentence in each students’ paper with a key error (awkward and confusing sentence structure for example)
  2. Pass papers back and have students meet in small groups and each student:
    • Reads the sentence aloud
    • Gets feedback from the group
    • Revises the sentence based on the feedback

Using Peer Feedback:

  1. With a sample paper, model writing questions you might ask a peer after each paragraph
  2. Have each student read their paper silently and write a question to ask their partner after each paragraph
  3. Students take turns reading their paper aloud to a partner, asking the questions they have written after each paragraph
  4. Make the paper due the next day so that students are more likely to use feedback they were given

Using Individual Conferencing:

  • Have students prepare for the conference (be prepared with areas of struggle and strengths, have them talk about their paper first, give them a conferencing form to complete before you meet with them)
  • Utilize the instructional coach as part of the process (to meet the needs of more students)
  • After the conference is over:
    • Share teacher notes with student
    • Have students list “action items” to be completed before the final essay is due

Using Self Assessment:

  • Have students complete the rubric, add comments and reflect on their grade before they turn in the paper (see final essay cover sheet)
  • Have students complete a “reflection assignment” before they turn in their paper
  • Have students reflect on the grade/comments they received after the grade is given

Effective Teacher Feedback

According to Belhanger and Allingham, there is little to no evidence to suggest that students read comments from teachers if they are not being asked to revise their essays (Jago 88).

However, the study shows, “The most successful comments or corrections were those referring specifically to criteria that teachers taught in class” (Jago 88).

In addition, comments that addressed the student directly and showed care about the student and their ideas were more effective than general positive feedback (ex. “Great job!” would not be considered as helpful to most students) (Jago 90).

As a rule:

  • Too much feedback is overwhelming to students
  • Students are more likely to read comments than to look at corrections
  • Verbal feedback is as valuable as written feedback
  • Without opportunities such as time in class to read comments and respond/reflect on what was said, students do not experience gains from feedback

Summative Assessment Feedback

Common expectations make grading easier:

  • Posting common rubrics
  • Using common student samples for each performance level
  • Expressing common expectations for writing assignments

Overall, feedback should be:

  • Focused on instruction given
  • Specific
  • Short and actionable
  • Easily understood

Before turning in the assessment:

  • Have students highlight key elements on which you want to focus within the paper. For example:
    • Highlight your reasoning in one color and evidence in another
    • Label your thesis statement
  • Have students write out three strengths and three weaknesses at the end of the paper. Instead of writing out those comments yourself, you can just circle those with which you agree and write “yes.”
  • Choose specific elements from the rubric as a “focus area” where the most instruction was given and give feedback primarily in that area.

 After turning in the assessment:

  • Have students respond to feedback in some form:
    • Writing a response to the comments given
    • Writing a letter to themselves about what to do next time to improve
    • Revising a sentence, paragraph, portion of their paper
    • Revising the assignment for a better grade

 Works Cited

Boettcher, Judith, PhD. “Tips for Making Grading Formative and Efficient for Your Learners.” Designing for Learning. 2010.

Web. 14 Oct. 2014.

Filller, Daisy. “Six Tips for Grading Writing.” The Educator’s Room. 20 Mar. 2013. Web. 14 Oct. 2014.

Jago, Carol. Papers, Papers, Papers: An English Teacher’s Survival Guide. Heinemann: Portsmouth, 2005.

MizDubya. “English Teachers How Do You Grade Papers Quickly?” A to Z Teacher Stuff. 25 Oct. 2008. Web. 14 Oct. 2011.

Here is a downloadable version of this post in a handout form for teachers:

Argumentative Essay Resources for the Topic: “Is College a Requirement for Success in Today’s Society or Not?”

For the ninth grade Embedded Assessment 2 in Unit 1 of Springboard, students are asked to write an argumentative essay about the value of a college education.

The ninth grade teacher team decided to phrase the prompt as follows:

Is college a requirement for success in today’s society or not?  

Students will be required to utilize multiple sources to answer this question and can choose a variety of angles on the topic.  The following are a list of resources that can be used for this purpose.

Articles Against College Education

“Is College Worth It?” from The Economist

“The Case Against College Education” from TIME

“Why a College Degree May Not Be Worth It” from U.S. News

“College Isn’t for Everyone: Let’s Stop Pretending” from Slate

Articles About Trade Schools

“Going to Trade School; Should You Do It?” from Fox Business

“In Hard Times, Lured into Trade School and Debt” from The New York Times

“Trade Schools Might be a Better Choice than College: Here’s Why” from Lifehacker

Articles in Support of College Education

“Why Your College Degree Has More Value Than You Think” from Huffington Post

“Value of College Degree is Growing, Study Says” from The New York Times

“It Still Pays to Get a College Degree” from Forbes

“Top Ten Benefits of a College Degree” from The Christian Science Monitor

Here is a handout that can be given to students with links to all of the articles:

Articles on Modern Cultural Issues for a Synthesis/Argumentative Essay

For the tenth grade Embedded Assessment 2 in Unit 1 of Springboard, students are asked to write a synthesis essay answering the following prompt: “To what extent does a person’s culture inform the way he or she views others and the world?”

One team of teachers decided to modify the prompt as follows:

How does the culture of ___________ impact how one views and interacts with the world around them?  

The possible topics students might choose to focus on are as follows:

1.  Culture of Social Media/Technology

2.  Culture of Consumerism/Advertising

3.  Culture of Social Status/Class Structure

4.  Culture of Educational Background

To meet the needs of the assessment, students will need to synthesize multiple sources to answer this question in an argumentative essay format.  The following are a list of resources that can be used for this purpose.

Culture’s Impact on Humanity in General

“Your Brain on Culture” from American Psychological Association

“Five Examples of How the Languages We Speak Affect the Way We Think” from TED

Social Media Culture

“Has social media changed the way we speak and write” from English Town

“Don’t Fear the Network: The Internet is Changing the Way We Communicate for the Better” from Pacific Standard

“I Knew You Before I Met You” from Faculty Voice, the University of Maryland

“Five Ways Facebook Changed Us: For Better, For Worse” from CNN Tech

Advertising/Consumerism Culture

“Driving Teen Egos- and Buying- through ‘Branding’” from American Psychological Association

“The End of Cosumerism?” from The Guardian

“Environmental Ills? It’s Consumerism, Stupid” from Scientific American

Social Status/Class Culture

“21 Ways Rich People Think Differently” from Business Insider

“Culture of Poverty in America” from Huffington Post

“Facing Social Class” from Russel Sage Foundation (book summary)

Facing Social Class from the book, chapter one

“We are not all Created Equal” from Esquire (has some profanity, but low-level)

Educational Culture

“Struggle for Smarts: How Eastern and Western Cultures Tackle Learning”

“Hack Schooling Makes me Happy” from TED

“Does Education Kill Creativity” from TED

“Campus Culture or Climate” from New York Times

“College Culture” from Galivan College

Here is a handout that can be given to students with links to all of the articles:

Here is an Outline for a presentation version of this project: