3a. Communicating with students
At the beginning of a new unit, students are given a calendar and a schedule of due dates for homework, tests/quizzes, and classroom activities. In this way, students can organize their own schedules and plan to have work competed on time. Also, in the event of an absence, students know what has to be made up.
Students are also given a study packet for each unit as well. These packets include: introductory information pertinent to the unit, vocabulary word lists, reading/study questions, literary analysis questions, and any supplementary materials that we may need in the unit (poems, stories, articles, worksheets, etc). All of my unit packets look alike, so students come to know where to find certain materials in them. The expectation is that all study questions will be answered in 3-5 varied sentences (as a way to improve the development of a response) that include a properly cited embedded quotation from the text (as support).
My quiz formats are all alike as well throughout the year. Keeping quizzes in a familiar format creates a sense of comfort in the students as there are no surprises. All reading quizzes are comprised of ten multiple-choice questions (text-based and also related to literary analysis) and three short responses (taken directly from the homework questions). I tell students that the homework is a dry run for the quiz. The better job they do on the homework, the better it will stick in their memories as they answer the same questions on the quizzes.
All vocabulary quizzes also follow a similar format: I read the definition, and students write the appropriate word and spell it correctly. Students earn ten points for appropriate, correctly spelled words. Five points are given to responses that are 1-2 letters off in spelling (including a capital letter for what are not proper nouns), and anything more than 2 letters off is marked wrong. Students are often given bonuses of past vocabulary words or using the words in complete sentences that demonstrate they know what the word means.
By being upfront with students about quizzes and keeping up with the schedules in the study packets, this helps to alleviate the stress of wondering what’s coming next. I give as much advance notice for all assignments as possible to allow students to adapt to their personal schedules, which include sports, music and other activities.
3b. Using questioning and discussion techniques
I ask higher level questions both on quizzes and in the classroom. I want students to be able to back their responses up with textual evidence, so I follow their answers with, “So how do you know?” or “What makes you say that?” Also, when a student responds to a question, I ask others to add to the response.
Students also work in cooperative groups throughout the year. I mix up the groups so that they get to work a unit with everyone in the class at least once. I pose questions to each group, and they work together to come up with an answer, which they then present to the rest of the class. This works especially well with the literary analysis questions that I give in each unit. For example, during the Shakespeare unit, I divided a list of twelve questions among the six groups. This allowed the groups to focus in on two particular literary devices in depth (because was group was responsible for only two questions). When a group presented to the class, the listeners were responsible for writing down what they heard. During the presentations, I would interject with, “And….” or “Soooo…” or “But…” and students would then elaborate on their responses. This continued until the question had been thoroughly answered. By the time we were finished, each student had an answer to all of the questions.
3c. Engaging students in learning
For some assignments, I allow students to create the questions from the reading. I tell them that the questions have to be text-based, but without obvious, fact-level, “point to it” answers. We work on inferencing with the reading to create higher level thinking questions. For example, when the enriched students worked with Every Bone Tells a Story (a non-fiction piece they’d read over the summer) during quarter one, they were placed into cooperative groups (one for each of the four hominins discussed in the text). Each group had a series of tasks to perform, including creating study questions for their assigned section of the book.
For all classes, I also offer as much choice as possible so that students feel they have some input into their assignments. For example, when we worked with the Evidence-Based Claims in the Regents/Consultant short story unit, the students were allowed to choose which of the stories they felt most comfortable using in the completion of a writing assignment (each claim focused on a different literary device, so students could choose to write about the one they felt they could shine with). During the poetry unit, the Regents/Consultant students chose their own free verse and lyric poems to use for analysis. I believed that if they had some choice, they would be more inclined to look deeper into the poem.
3d. Using assessment in instruction
I used the following categories in my grade book:
Reading (40%): This section includes all reading tests/quizzes and homework assignments;
Analysis (20%): This section includes literary analysis essays, critical thinking writing assignments done online (Reader Response Questions), and literary analysis questions from the unit. This section also includes journal writing in response to Visible Thinking exercises;
Research and Reports (20%): This section includes all the steps of the research process for the main research paper, as well as smaller research projects or reports done throughout the year. For the Enriched students, it also includes the enriched short story project and the 60 Day Sojourn done online in conjunction with the Hero’s Journey lessons;
Language Skills (20%): This section includes the Greek or Latin Root of the Week posting done on the classroom websites as well as all vocabulary quizzes for the unit. It also includes any writing exercises we do involving grammar/sentence structure;
Students are able to monitor their own progress via the Parent Portal online.
3e. Demonstrating flexibility and responsiveness
I have made it my practice to eat lunch in my classroom in order to be available for students on a regular basis. They can come to me during period 5 for make-up quizzes, to ask questions, or to seek help with homework/assignments.
In the event of a student struggling with material, I have been willing to work with that student to help him/her succeed. I have worked specifically with several students who have suffered from concussions this year, as well as extra support for my IEP students. I have also extended deadlines to students who come to me and ask for help.