Teaching beyond Facts…

What does teaching beyond facts mean? I recently read a fascinating article on soft and hard skills in the 21st century. Here is a summary of the article from the Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.  

The school system that most adults today grew up with should not be in the classroom of today. The memorization of facts is not the most valuable resource for a student. The analysis and understanding of information – using the information in a way that develops the student and prepares them for the future is more important.

We live in an ever connected world. The future that the children of today face is increasingly changing and complex. To prepare students for the world of tomorrow, a world we cannot fully understand, educators must teach 21st century skills. These skills include Social-emotional learning, Habits of Mind, character strengths and grit. But, these skills are often seen as “soft” or non-cognitive. How does an educator teach them in the classroom. A more interesting question is how does one know when the student has acquired the skill?

Students need to learn literacy and numeracy. These things are still important. Test scores reveal a piece of the puzzle that develops a student. But, teaching a clear skill such as multiplication or letter recognition is not the same as the application of the real-world math problem incorporated with constructing a building or the value that comes with understanding humanity when one interprets and analyzes a poem.

In a 21st century classroom, we distinguish between different types of thinking. We ask questions of varied complexity; from fact to analysis to an application of skills, students must learn to work in a variety of ways: critical thinking, creative thinking, communication and collaboration. These skills move the student from the foundations of fact into the potential to apply their “soft” skills in a variety of situations.

What is uniquely different about these skills is that they are continually developed. The school can give each student the opportunity to practice critical and creative thinking, communication and collaboration through project based learning that targets these skills.
The full article can be found at: http://www.ascd.org/publications/educational-leadership/mar16/vol73/num06/Hard-Thinking-about-Soft-Skills.aspx

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Three Tiers of Words: Three Reading Strategies: Increased Personalization and Understanding

At the heart of great teaching is differentiation; this teaching tactic of differentiation inside of the teaching content area applies to language acquisition, stages of language, and academic language development; this work will help students across multiple content areas (P2).

In researching this teaching topic area, I reflected on two effective techniques for teaching academic language through a differentiated approach.

FIRST: Three Tiers of Words for Differentiated Instruction

  • Tier One includes vocabulary that the student already knows; teaching these words will help the student activate their prior knowledge.
  • Tier Two words are important over many years in many disciplines both your own and others; examples include parallel, theme, and base; teaching these words will help students make connections to ideas outside of the content and reinforce the meaning in the content.
  • Tier Three words are technical with narrow definition; these words should be taught for the lesson and looked up for further clarity; a student will engage the text at an analytical level.

SECOND: Three Levels of Reading for increased meaning and differentiated instruction

  • Level One, read for general understanding (identify words in all three tiers)
  • Level Two, making personal connections to other content areas
  • Level Three, extending the text to connect and converse with other texts

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(LINK TO POST)

Breaking the academic words into these three tiers allows both the teacher and the students to strategically approach the task of learning. By emphasizing the vocabulary early in the process of learning it can be reinforced at every step of the lesson.

In pre-reading students can identify words across tiers and note their meanings.

In connecting to personal experiences, a second stage of effective reading, students can connect their experiences of each word (especially Tier Two Words) in other classes to the text that they are examining and use the Tier One Words, words they already know, to build their knowledge and connection to the new text.

Finally as a student reads for deeper meaning, they are ready to ask bigger questions about the words and their interconnected meanings. By engaging in a process of inter-textuality, they will solidify the understanding and be able to comment on the text in relationship to other texts they have read.

Academic words in all three areas continually emerge in both Theatre Arts and English Language arts because both content areas examine texts from multiple sources with multiple narratives. I often tell my students that my class is not simply a drama class. Rather, my class is every class in the disguise of a drama class. Students must be prepared to speak about any topic that they know about. Because of this, they build their understanding of both of the first two tiers. Some common examples of these words are: inner-monologue, character development, and memorization.

The third tier words are then used most commonly through the language demand and are particular to the performance assignment. One simple example would be, blocking (the specific movement of actors on the stage).

Because of my research into the three tiers of academic language and three common phases of reading, my instruction has changed. I am more apt to point out academic words that make a connection between subjects and encourage students to read a text three times for increased clarity and deeper meaning. With each reading of the text I can guide the student by suggesting that they look for general understanding on their first time through a text, connections between the text and other subjects on their second read, and the conversation between one text and another in their third reading.

By using this three tier and three read through strategy, students are more likely to fully understand and personalize the text. Because a central practice of Theatre Arts is personalization and finding increased meaning, these strategies are invaluable to the students (and to myself). Further, different students will be reading at different levels. Knowing which level a reader is working on will allow myself to differentiate my instruction for that student.

One consequence of using this technique is lost time. It will take students three-times longer to complete any reading assignment. Because of this, reading assignments must be both shortened and be given in class time for guided completion. However, the benefits will outweigh the cost. Students will generate more connections inside of my content area and in content areas outside of my classroom.

Textbook Fail and Finesse

The lessons learned from years of teaching are rarely all put together into one lesson. Here is one example of many best practices for teaching literacy inside of just one lesson – watch to see why any teacher needs to know about them.

Here is a link to the full lesson: To Read or Not to Read

Equal Access to Academic Language and Classroom Content through Flipped Learning

Giving students the opportunity to access classroom content in multiple ways is an essential practice of an effective educator; learning content specific academic language can be difficult for both advanced English language speakers and English speakers that are still acquiring fluency, the effective educator will give students multiple opportunities to learn the same content in different ways so that students of different backgrounds can be served equally.

In theatre arts, learning the academic language associated with blocking (the physical movement on the stage that is comprised of entrances, exits, and moving about the stage) can be difficult to master. In my classroom, students are given multiple opportunities to interact with, process, and perform their understanding of the content. This can be especially effective for students that are English Language Learners, struggling readers, or struggling writers.

A primary strategy to instruction of blocking is through a flipped classroom model. First, blocking can be difficult to understand because it is comprised of a coded language that makes the process simpler if the user understands the code. Consequently, I put together a set of instructional videos that mirrored instructional lessons so that the students can take the time to comprehend the information at a pace that works for them. These videos both teach the code of blocking, the reasons for the codes, and how the student can use the blocking.

Further videos allow the students to document the blocking that will be used in the production. These videos have both auditory instructions and the blocking written out for students to copy down; most importantly, students can pause and rewind the video at any point so that they can catch all the information that they need. Students get to both see the code and listen to the fully spoken explanation of the blocking. Any questions that students have are answered in class.

The second strategy, now that students have a written record of the required blocking for the production is to process that information through performance and rehearsal. Students demonstrate their knowledge by actually doing the blocking on stage. This critical step takes the information away from the abstract representation and transforms it into a physical practice that anyone, regardless or reading or writing level, can perform.

Lastly, students explain in their own words why their character is completing the movement in the blocking. Allowing the student to personalize the information, this step makes the information memorable. Because, blocking is more than the set of codes that represent locations on the stage; blocking is the physical expression of the actor.

These multiple modalities represent three best practices in teaching content area language. Students get to learn through multiple forms of the text (recorded audio, recorded video, in person class time) at an understandable rate; students get to perform and demonstrate their understanding of the academic language; students get to personalize the information to finalize the memorization process and relevance.

This was the first year that I presented theatrical blocking through a flipped classroom. The approach is unconventional. Some of my more experienced theatre students resisted the concept. They wanted to quick coded language (ex. Bob X DSL, R O Sam, EX USR instead of Bob crosses down stage left to the right of Sam and then exits up stage right) that they could pick up on the spot. However, students that took more time to learn this content (my sixth grade class for the most part) really enjoyed the process of learning blocking through the flipped classroom because it gave them time to both understand the blocking and process their understanding in class.

The implications for student learning are significant. Presenting the blocking and academic language associated with it through an online format allows students to go back to the information at any time that they choose. I had many students comment that they enjoyed being able to reference both the primary instructional video and the actual blocking videos.

Further iterations of this project may include multiple videos of the blocking. One video would be the quick coded message version, so that more experienced students could sort through the content quickly and a second version for students that needed a more thorough explanation. This would address the concerns that my more advanced students had with the approach while maintaining the online resource for my students.

Cross Content Collaboration

Collaboration within the school community can be an effective way to reach students across content areas and to help create new and renewed engagement for students and teachers; to do this teachers must collaborate across content areas and use appropriate communication to do so.

My most recent collaboration with a teacher outside of my subject area is an improvisation and health project. In the project, students must investigate and research health issues that are relevant to their lives and then use that research to build a character in drama. The characters then come together for a “community meeting” and discuss the issues of relevance in their improvised lives.

This project started with student research; this research was summed up in a inter-disciplinary meeting that shared the outcomes across content areas between drama and health. These pictures represent the research compiled by the students.

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This information, generated by the students, was then summed up and shared with all the participating teachers so that it could be used in three ways. First, by using the foundational knowledge the health teacher is able to bring additional resources to the students so that their information that they use in drama can be more substantial.

Second, the students generate characters in an improvisational-based format that utilizes all of the research and gathered information. Based on the content from health class, students must create a back-story for their characters, character objectives and relationships, and character traits such as vocal and physical patterns.

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Lastly, this information, in addition to the work in class and the additional research in health class, is used to create a joint rubric. Students will receive a single summative evaluation that addresses their learning in both classes.

Every piece of written information is shared via Google drive so that both of the associated teachers can easily add and adjust content as the unit progresses.

This project exemplifies collaboration within the school because it is a unit that has and will continue to grow together. It allows students to combine their knowledge across content areas; this project further demonstrates this standard because it requires both of the collaborating teachers to communicate professionally in both written and verbal forms.

In summary, this project created a powerful effect on my students. They reported that the best aspect of the project was the integration of multiple subjects. Placing the health content in an improvisational format allowed them to explore the issues in both meaningful and personal ways. Further, this project created an excellent template (in both communication and lesson planning) for collaborations that I am sure will follow between the health teacher, other teachers, and myself.

In future iterations of this project, I will be sure to communicate with other teachers earlier in the year. While we had ample time to complete the project, the planning late in the year gave us undesirable timing when it came to the shared class time for the initial collaboration and the community meeting that the students jointly participated in.

Literacy Lesson: To Read or Not To Read

Using the CCSS, the following lesson was created in collaboration between theatre arts and fine arts content areas to incorporate multiple strategies in literacy instruction; the lesson incorporates strategies that are based in constructivist interpretation, visual interpretation, and performative interpretation. (Follow this link to see the evolution of this lesson from a fail to finesse)

LESSON OUTLINE: LITERACY FOCUS – MINI LESSON: TO READ OR NOT TO READ

 

Title TO READ OR NOT TO READ
Standard CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RL.6.4Determine the meaning of words and phrases as they are used in a text, including figurative and connotative meanings; analyze the impact of a specific word choice on meaning and tone
Central Focus (CF) To interpret the question posed by Hamlet, “To be or not to be…” by using expressive gestural images of actors, the original text written by Shakespeare, and actor created interpretive performances.
Academic Language Interpret, Gesture, Emotion, Voice, Physicality
Learning Target (LT) To interpret Hamlet’s question “To be or not to be” by looking at images of actors, and performing one line as a group.
OVERVIEW: LESSON MAP
Lesson Part Activity description / Teacher does Students do
GOAL Introduction of learning target and pre-assessment. Self-assess on Hamlet’s Question
1A Pre-reading: Dramatic Expression in Images Students explain thoughts about images that use dramatic expression and gesture.Students complete worksheet that asks them to interpret then respond to other students’ interpretations of the gestural & emotional images supplied.
1B Informal Assessment: Presentation of scaffolded syntax sentence. Students share, respond to and invent further performed interpretations of emotions.
2A Practice: Jigsaw of Text – Interpret Meaning Students work in groups to construct meaning by combining collective knowledge of a small piece of the text.
2B Informal Assessment: Self-assessment Students share translations with the class.
3A Extended Learning: Match text to images with a performance of interpretation. Students create original performances that are matched to a section of the text by selecting voice and physical choices that correspond to the text and their interpretation.
3B Summative Assessment: Student Performances (group assessment; teacher assessment on Rubric) Students self-assess their performance on the exit ticket.

 

 

Introducing the Learning Target
GOAL Teacher Does:Write [LT] on board.
Teacher Says:FIRST: tell me now if you think you can interpret what Hamlet’s question is. Show me a fist of five.
5 – I have an excellent idea of what the question is and what it means4 – I have a good idea of what it is, but I think there is more I could know.

3 – I have a basic idea, but I’m sure there are bits I am missing

2 – I am unsure about this.

1- I’m more than unsure, I’m lost.

Students Say:

FIRST, students silently respond to both the self-evaluation “fist of five” prompt.

Pre-reading: Frontload with Images (p. 100)
INSTRUCTION (1a) 1. Teacher asks students to divide into pairs.
NOTE: Review definitions of academic language organically throughout lesson. When word comes up in discussion, pause to write the definition on the whiteboard. Interpret, Gesture, Emotion, Voice, Physicality
2. Teacher asks – what is emotion? Teacher writes 3 examples on whiteboard. Ask for one emotion example from each pair of students. Then, ask pairs to add an adjective before their emotion.
Examples: intense curiosity, overwhelming joy, life-shattering despair, mind-numbing boredom. (Anger, Fear, Confusion, Malice, Revenge, Desperation – These would fit with Hamlet really well).
3. Teacher writes examples of emotions on whiteboard.
Teacher tapes 8 images/printouts from productions of Shakespeare plays on a table in a large circle. The images should display a wide variety of emotions that occur within Shakespeare productions.
There is a worksheet attached to each image. (see attached).

  1. What emotion does the gesture in the picture convey? Give evidence to support your opinion.
  2. Do you agree with the previous comment or do you disagree? Write specifically about the gesture of the actor.
  3. If you had to perform the gesture in the printout, how would you do it? What would your body look like if you were feeling that emotion?
Students divide into pairs.Students respond with one emotion example per pair.

Students invent adjective to make their  emotion more dramatic.

Pairs choose an image and answer the first question on the worksheet.
Each pair to take a couple of minutes to write response to question number one. Pairs then move to another image and take two minutes to answer number two.The same procedure is used to answer number three.

Group Sharing
INFORMAL ASSESSMENT (1b) Teacher Says:FIRST, Secretly choose an emotion to perform from the list on the whiteboard. DON’T TELL ANY OTHER PAIRS! THIS IS A SECRET!
Now, pretend that you are an actor and are in a Shakespeare play. What kind of gesture would you use to communicate that emotion? Practice that gesture with your partner for one or two minutes. Be as dramatic as you can! Let me model this for you: Teacher models acting out a gesture.
Pairs secretly choose which emotion to perform.Pairs practice performing that gesture for the rest of the class. The class guesses which gesture that they are trying to communicate.
If the class cannot guess the emotion, a volunteer can come up, read the emotion and take a stab at performing the emotion.
Jigsaw and Sketching My Way Through the Text (p. 131)
PRACTICE ACTIVITY (2a) Teacher Does:Pass out the mini-texts (see attachment at end of lesson).
Teacher Says:Read the small segment to your group. Do two things with the segment.
FIRST, respond to the small segment by trying to translate the words from Shakespeare into words that you would use. Write out your translation under the text on your page. Pool your collective knowledge to construct an interpretation of the text.
SECOND, in three minutes or less, to brainstorm with pictures without judgement, draw an image, or series of images, that you think represents the small piece of text. This does not need to be a professional piece of art. Rather, it should express the idea of the text. Stick figures, cartoon drawings, scribbles, loose sketches, and original artistic interpretation are encouraged. Three minutes starts now!
THIRD, match the image(s) that you drew to a similar image from the first part of this lesson.Teacher Does:

Observe and work with individual groups.

Students Do:

Students collaborate to pool collective knowledge and understandings to find language that is accessible for all students.

Students quickly sketch a pictorial representation of their translation.

Students match the images

INFORMAL ASSESSMENT (2b) Teacher Does:Pass out full text to class with indicated jigsaw pieces and space to write out the translation from each group.
Teacher Says:FIRST, we will now share out our text, I am passing out the full text that the class has examined in pieces. Next to the original text, there is space for you to write down the translation.
SECOND, each group will share their translation with the class. We will go in sequence so that we can hear the text in full. I will read the original and a representative from your group will read your translation. You should write down the interpretation of each group as we go. Be sure to speak slowly so that everyone can catch every word you say.
THIRD, after the readings, we will have a quick period of time for group comments and questions about the text or translations.
FOUR, Now that we have practiced interpreting, tell me now if you think you understand what Hamlet’s question is. Show me a fist of five.
5 – I have an excellent idea of what the question is and what it means4 – I have a good idea of what it is, but I think there is more I could know.

3 – I have a basic idea, but I’m sure there are bits I am missing

2 – I am unsure about this.

1- I’m more than unsure, I’m lost.

Students do:Students share their work with the class as directed.

Students discuss.

Students self assess with a fist of five.

TEXT TO IMAGES and DRAMATIC ROLE-PLAY (110).
EXTENDED LEARNING (3a) Teacher Says:FIRST, Now that we have created a translation, you have the opportunity to perform your translations for the class. Please work as a group to speak your section of the original text. As you speak select one or more vocal choices to perform (pitch, quality, tone, prosody)
SECOND, Students will identify one or more gestures and or movements by looking at both their drawings and the images from the first part of the lesson.
THIRD, Practice presenting the text as a group. You should speak and move in unison.
Students Do:Students prepare as directed.
STUDENT PERFORMANCES
SUMMATIVE AND FORMATIVE ASSESSMENT (1b, 2b, and 3b) Teacher Says:FIRST, We will now observe group performances. After each performance, please give a clap of respect, on my cue, to each group.
SECOND, Following the performance you will complete a group-assessment, on your exit ticket, of your performance; you will also receive teacher based summative assessment. Each assessment will utilize the same rubric.
Students Do:Students observe and perform as directed.

 

4. Supporting Development through Language
a. Language Function: What verb appears in your learning target that represents the language function?
Language Function: To InterpretStudents will interpret the text in multiple ways. Interpretation includes a background understanding (identifying what students know), an applied understanding (accessing learning through what the students want to know), and personalizing the interpretation for individual meaning. To break the task down further, there are several sub tasks to interpreting:

  • Gather and observe associated information:

Students must closely and mindfully look at a gesture and identify the emotion associated with it; they will use images that represent what an actor may do while performing the text to understand how actor expression influences the meaning of any text.
2) Translate the text into modern language and construct meaning through group definitions:

Students must pool collective knowledge and understandings to find language that is accessible for all students. They must build a mutual understanding by defining words, discussing meanings, and brainstorming associated ideas. Doing this will enrich the experience of both watching and performing the original text.
3) Personalize the text through creating images and performances

Through performances, students can express their interpretation by using vocal (quality, tone, pitch, and prosody) and physical choices (gesture, movement, body position) that convey deeper meaning.

b. Language Demand: What learning activities or products will students write, speak, or do to represent the language demand and an opportunity to practice the language function?
This lesson uses multiple strategies for students to practice interpretation. First students will frontload with images (1a). This tactic will allow the vibrant and powerful images of actors in performance to inform what the reader might imagine or look for when interpreting the text of “To be or not to be.” This visual hook will serve as an anchor for students to use as they tackle this difficult text.
Second, students sketch their way through a portion of the text (2a). This allows them to access both multiple intelligences and avoid being caught up on the large portion of new words and, essentially, a new language for them to translate. Using the jigsaw approach, students can interact with the text in a way that remains accessible.
Lastly, students perform their understanding (3a and 3b). This dramatic role play allows students to express their understanding of the content in the way that actors would also present their understanding of the content. This is a simple performance that the students can create of a master-text. By engaging the entire class in this exercise the students are both connecting with the entire text and they are making the text personalized to their own experience.
c. Additional language demand: How will students practice content vocabulary words shown in the learning targets?
In addition to the strategies described in the previous response, throughout the lesson, students turn and talk (1a, 2a, 3a). This strategy gives students the opportunity to practice and check their understanding of the lesson content and language demand of interpreting the text. By using this strategy, students can review key elements of the lesson, identify points of personal connection, and allow multiple students to work with multiple partnerships.
d. What learning activities enable students to practice using symbols or abstract representations of information (syntax), if these are part of the lesson?
I am choosing to respond to this question by focusing on how the teacher will clearly explain the discourse rules. During (1b), the teacher will explain that the students are to stay with their pairs and secretly choose an emotion to perform. The teacher explains that the emotion does not have to be the one that they originally invented. The students are told to keep this emotion secret and to practice it for a minute or two. After the teacher models a performance, the students are then asked to perform their emotion. The class votes to choose which emotion is being performed. If the class does not correctly guess the emotion, the teacher will ask for volunteers to take a stab at acting out the emotion. This will continue until the class is able to guess correctly. The steps/rules to this discourse game will be posted on the white board as a semantic map.
e. How is discussion (discourse) structured in activities?
Discourse is structured in a variety of ways in the activities. This entire lesson can be thought of as almost all discourse between students as a large group and through working/responding/interpreting/creating in pairs. Some examples are: (1a) invention and descriptive dramatization of emotions; and completion of discourse worksheets, (1b) Creation and performance of emotional gesture; whole group (1b) – acting out gestures in front of class and class responding to whether they understand emotion being performed. Further discourse is created by the whole class guessing the emotion as well as fine tuning performances when gesture does not communicate clear emotion, written response and reflection (1a) completion of worksheet where students interpret images and respond to each other’s opinions. (2a) Students collaborate to pool collective knowledge and understandings. Discourse is also structured in a less conventional way by having the students communicate with the class through the performing of gestures to express understanding of the academic language function (interpret) and response by the rest of the class of whether that language function was achieved. Students can further the discourse by performing the emotion for the original performers (in front of the class) as a communication/model of a deeper understanding of the language function. This further builds their skills necessary to interpret Shakespeare passages.
f. What other writing or speaking activities enable students to practice vocabulary and the verb shown in the learning target?
Students are asked to invent emotions and interpret them gesturally as a way to show evidence of understanding of the academic language. Students are also asked to complete worksheet that prompts them to explain their understandings of the academic language. Students work in groups to construct meaning by combining collective knowledge of a small piece of the text. Students verbally share translations of the text with the class. Students create original performances that are matched to a section of the text by selecting voice and physical choices that correspond to the text and their interpretation. Students self-assess their performance on the exit ticket.

 

 

You Should Champion the English Language and not Rant about Change

Every generation has cried out about the writing degradation of the next generation. Test scores are lower than ever, a critic may cry. But tests are biased ad are discriminatory to different populations depending on the content that the test asks about (Daniels, Steineke, and Zemelman, 2007).

The critic may try to expose the monumental outbreak that is assassinating the English language. “OMG” “LOL” and “BRB” are tearing apart our language. But, are they really? Language evolves with the people that use it.

What about “OK?” Historians cannot agree on the origination of the word. However, one dominant origination is from the phrase “orl korrekt” an alternate spelling of “all correct,” that was used in the U.S. during the 1830’s (for more explanation see http://www.oxforddictionaries.com/us/words/what-is-the-origin-of-the-word-ok).

From the birthplace of the English language, one of the greatest geniuses of all time, Shakespeare, made up more than 1700 words used in the common English of today (Mabillard, 2000). These words include, “exposure,” “birthplace,” “rant,” “dishearten,” “critic,” “monumental,” “outbreak,” “assassination,” and “champion.” There would not be a champion for the English language to rant about the disheartened critics, without Shakespeare.

The English language has been changing with every generation because of the way that people communicate. Perhaps today, the change is even more rapid. A teacher may say that their students hate to write; in reality the student may simply hate to write what the teacher wants (Daniels, Steineke, and Zemelman, 2007). However, students are not writing well for academic purposes (Daniels, Steineke, and Zemelman, 2007). This impacts the path of the student throughout life as they may struggle to learn advanced content in any given subject matter, as they work to meet state standards, as they seek out advanced education and take high-stakes testing such as the SAT and ACT, and as they seek out employment.

How should a teacher go about teaching writing? One strategy is Writing to Learn so that the teacher is not simply teaching “how to write;” the teacher should teach students how to learn through writing. Therefore, teachers should use writing in the following formats so that writing becomes part of the learning process: short, spontaneous, exploratory, informal, personal, one draft, unedited, and ungraded. These writing styles exist in every subject. From the quick notes that a science student makes about an experiment to the brainstorm “word cloud” that goes into writing an essay in English. The idea of ungraded work may be a novel approach in a school. But, a comprehensive correction of student writing does not and never has worked to teach writing (Daniels, Steineke, and Zemelman, 2007). Writing can be used instead to start discussions, feed small-group work, and review key ideas. From this point, the teacher can help the student act upon their writing impulses and guide the students to an academic voice in their writing.

Writing will always evolve and inform culture; if writing is also informed with an academic voice, it will change society in a way that is powerful and lasting (just as Shakespeare has done). As Gandhi said, “you must be the change you wish to see in the world.” Teachers take note and champion the change in the English Language because change will happen with or without your influence.

References:

Daniels, H., Steineke, N., & Zemelman, S. (2007). Content-area writing: Every teacher’s guide. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.

Mabillard, Amanda. Words Shakespeare Invented. Shakespeare Online. 20 Aug. 2000. http://www.shakespeare-online.com/biography/wordsinvented.html .

Content Area Reading Strategy: Academic Lanugage Focus

Secondary students struggle with content area reading because they do not understand the words on the page. What should a teacher do about this? One strategy is to focus on academic vocabulary. Students need to make personal connections to what they read and cannot do this if they are stuck on phonetic decoding. By breaking out the vocabulary acquisition into three tiers (Daniels and Zemelman, 2014) both teachers and students can strategically approach the instruction. Tier One includes vocabulary that the student already knows; teaching these words will help the student activate their prior knowledge. Tier Two words are important over many years in many disciplines both your own and others; examples include parallel, theme, and base; teaching these words will help students make connections to ideas outside of the content and reinforce the meaning in the content. Tier Three words are technical with narrow definition; these words should be taught for the lesson and looked up for further clarity; a student will engage the text at an analytical level. Teaching with vocabulary in mind will help with pre-reading, accessing previous knowledge, connecting to personal experiences, and reading for deeper meaning in the text; these are all proven reading strategies.

Reference:

Daniels, H., & Zemelman, S. (2014). Subjects matter: Exceeding standards through powerful content-area reading (Second ed.).

What’s the problem with American textbooks and how can this problem be overcome?

THE PROBLEM: The problem with American Textbooks is that they are often bland and outdated. The textbook replaces the standards that the teacher should use to derive original and refreshing lessons that are relevant to the student population. A textbook is a homogenous text that is made for universal appeal. With a mandated textbook, teachers are left to either follow the textbook in full (which is hardly teaching) or assemble their lessons around the required components. A textbook, when used as a primary or exclusive teaching device, is equivalent to letting another teacher (the author of the textbook) into the classroom and puts the primary teacher into a position of student management monitor.

THE SOLUTION FROM THEATRE AND ENGLISH LANGUAGE ARTS: Fortunately, both of these subjects have a broader range of choices than the average science or math class. These highly structured fields contain a set sequence of information that the student must master from one year to the next (Daniels and Zemelman, 2014). However, with English Language and Theatre Arts, the instruction has a spiral structure (Daniels and Zemelman, 2014). Students are required to build on past (and similar) learning experiences with the same structure and processes from one year to the next. In English Language Arts, students read texts (ideally in a wide array of genre) and respond to those texts through writing and other interactive activities (such as group discussions). In Theatre Arts, students study a new play each time they go through the process of performance; the text is always changing and the skills build upon the past experience of the student. Both of the subjects are focused on the personalized application and interpretation of the content.

THE QUESTION FOR EDUCATORS: Where does the information for your field live? Suggestion, take a cue from the humanities. Knowledge lives in the student; by capturing the student experience as they interact with the primary source of information, knowledge is formed. A textbook in science can be a reference tool for an educator because it contains the “required information” for the grade level. However, a textbook in Theatre Arts does not exist and a textbook for English Language Arts is seldom used. Further, students will learn and retain more information when the teaching is not exclusive to information processing (a.k.a. regurgitation). Information is retained through a personalization of the information – that is how it turns into knowledge. Lastly, this is how literacy can be build, across the subjects. Literacy must include the ability for one to personally translate, utilize, and generate information within the content. That cannot happen if the information is merely being read, memorized, tested, and forgotten.

Reference:

Daniels, H., & Zemelman, S. (2014). Subjects matter: Exceeding standards through powerful content-area reading (Second ed.).