The Identification Test

I tend to give my students identification tests where the students must do three things with each person, item, or idea:

  • (1) identify the person, item, or idea and its place in the story;
  • (2) explain the importance of the person, item, or idea; and
  • (3) connect the person, item, or idea to a major theme in the story or to a literary device.

An excellent student example for The Bastille would be:

(1) The Bastille was a famous French prison known for its harsh conditions and for the number of prisoners unjustly sent there. (2) Dr. Manette was unjustly imprisoned in the Bastille for 18 years, and when the prison was destroyed Monsieur Defarge ran to 105 N. Tower looking for a buried paper. (3) The Bastille became a symbol of the nobles’ power and cruelty before and during the French Revolution; when it was destroyed, it became celebrated like our Independence Day.

Generally, the students do an excellent job of this, and this type of test hits on all sorts of state and local standards.

However, I gave four classes a test of identifications and three classes had an average of a B+ or better, but the fourth had a C average. This fourth class was one of feast or famine with A grades or F grades up and down the roster. The reason for their low scores is obvious; namely, most of the students in this class refused to study and did little to nothing to prepare.

Now comes the hard part: what do I do about this? Do I force them to keep their scores knowing that they did little to study? Do I provide an opportunity for the students to earn back some of the points by retaking the test?

I tend to vote for a chance to retake the test, but I need the students to prove they have prepared prior to taking the second exam.

What would you do?

Away at a Conference

I’m heading out of town for a conference, and I’m again amazed at how much time it takes to plan for absences. I will miss the last two days of school this week, and I finished my sub plans today and set up everything for my sub. This took over two hours!

Unless I provide a video and just let my kids be lazy for the two days, I have to put thought into the lessons that can be completed independently or lessons that my sub can implement (and that do not require any content expertise). This is a time consuming process. I rarely show films in their entirety, generally relying only on short clips that illustrate an idea or concept so this was a non-starter for me.

This is one of those duties which non-teachers do not understand. Planning for time away is not just handing a video to a glorified babysitter; it’s typing out instructions that can be enacted by an amateur where the lessons require little to no adaptation on the spot. The lesson has to be simple enough for the sub but complex enough to maintain student engagement.

Whew! Thank goodness that’s finished.

While I’m gone, I would like to recommend three blogs I enjoy reading. They are:

These are three (of a number of blogs I enjoy) which include regular, thoughtful posts on education issues. Enjoy!

Vocabulary Words Are All Around Us

Yep, that’s what I told my students: vocabulary words are all around us.

Frequently, I hear my students complain that they’ve never “heard this word” or have never “seen this word” and other such comments when we study new words. In the last month the students have received words, which they claim are never used, such as the following:

  • elegy,
  • obfuscate,
  • obloquy,
  • jingoism,
  • oeuvre, and
  • opus.

Thus, I said to the kids that I would bet them breakfast that within 10 days I would be able to bring in an example of each word in a pop-culture novel that I’m reading, a magazine I read regularly, or in a newspaper article in a local paper.

Mission accomplished!

I used Entertainment WeeklyRobopocalypse (a novel about robots turning on humanity), 11/22/63 (a Stephen King novel about time travel), and The Seattle Times to win the bet. The students were astonished.

Then, I challenged them to be honest and look for our vocabulary words in whatever they read whether that be a blog, a comic, a novel, a magazine, a newspaper, or other text. Truly, I did not expect the kids to take up this challenge, but within a week the kids (one class) had found 35 of the 40 words we’d studied so far.

J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter novels provided quite a few of the words, which greatly shocked the students. They realized that I wasn’t lying about the prevalence of these words and that the students often skip over unknown words without looking them up (or even recognizing that they skipped a word!).

I’m hoping the buy-in increases a bit. 🙂

Busy Sunday

Weekends are rarely open for straight relaxation, but I did manage to take yesterday off. I’ve been fighting off a sore throat and a minor cold, so I decided to enjoy some quiet time with the DVR and caught up on a couple shows I enjoy.

However, Sunday is another day.

I have already set up my calendar for the week, and now I need to head to the school and get some work done. I’m guessing I have about 4-5 hours of work to do, but I will listen to music and force myself to take a break every hour (when I normally check on my fantasy football team).

The only thing I really dread about today is getting through the 120 assessments my Sophomores completed. I do not enjoy assessing them, but I need to have them ready so I can share my results with the other Sophomore English teachers.

We look at our own classes and then look at the 10th graders as an entire group, which then allows us to discuss what we each do and what else we can do to help the students improve. This part I love! I enjoy the back and forth discussion about approaches, strategies, and working with groups of kids.

Teaching A Tale of Two Cities

Let the students teach one another? Of course we can!

I tend to receive many, many questions when teaching anything by Charles Dickens (currently A Tale of Two Cities), and I frequently look for ways to combat being the provider of information and instead becoming a facilitator of learning. All of that eduspeak really means I want the kids working harder than me.


Before explaining the lesson, I need you to know that I have the students write down questions about their assigned reading along with the page numbers on which the question was based. This occurs each night. For the first three days of the reading, I spent quite a bit of time answering these questions before we could actually move to analysis (since most of their questions were fairly basic). The kids were starting to think I would just do all of the work for them, and I needed the students to start becoming independent of me.

Thus, I put my students into five groups of 5-6 students each, and I assigned each group one of the five chapters read over the weekend. The students were required to sit in circles and answer one another’s questions about the chapter and then to summarize the chapter in ten sentences. I moved from group to group but really just said things like “what evidence from the text do you have for that idea?” and “how do you think you can answer that?” I wanted the onus placed on them to find their own answers. The students had 25 minutes to work in their groups. They could use any resource in the room that was in print–no online sources (because of the dreaded SparkNotes and the like).

Then, the students moved back to a full class setting after I collected their summaries, and the students could ask the groups questions about the chapters. I simply ensured that the students maintained order and remained attentive while the students helped answer one another’s questions and clear up ambiguities and areas of confusion.

I only needed to jump in once to correct the students going down the wrong path. I considered this a successful venture, and the students left the room with more confidence than when they entered. 🙂

Collaboration & Teams

Negative Nancy is back at it again.

Today we had a great session of scale-building and assigning standards to specific classes when Nancy decided it was time to rant. She doesn’t like commonality, doesn’t want to assess on her own time, and doesn’t want to follow others but wants to lead everyone. The problem with leaders like Nancy is that they frequently find no one behind them when they are blazing trails. Of course, blazing trails can be a good thing as long as a scorched earth policy isn’t implemented.

However, on a much more positive note, I got to work with another group of teachers who jumped into the work today with gusto. Loved it! Everyone was active, all gave input, each person got involved in the debate, and we came to consensus without any difficulty. We should have filmed the session!

OK happy face_full