If you’re unfamiliar with the poetry of our extraordinarily talented West Virginia Poet Laureate, you need to add his work to your summer reading list this year. Marc Harshman is a West Virginia state treasure. An accomplished children’s book author, Harshman has also published two collections of poetry, Green-Silver and Silent and Believe What You Can. His work spans a wide range of complexities, and can be used in any ELA classroom at any level. I have had the pleasure of hosting him in my classroom several times, and I have used his poetry in my Advanced Placement Language and Composition course and in my English 11 class.
Here he is with my students below:
Harshman’s poetry sounds and feels as if Robert Frost and Walt Whitman took a hike together through the Appalachians. His poetry often explores our spiritual connection to the natural world, is rife with Appalachian themes, and filled with images of place, plants, animals, and people, his love of West Virginia evident in every turn of phrase. Often, his poems read like small celebrations of nature and beauty, highlighting the best of our people, our state, and our culture.
Take this one for example:
THERE WILL BE DANCING
A fiddle tune bearing, rough-shod,
the memory of the village:
sunlight on stucco,
leaf-plastered paths in autumn,
in moonlight and bracken,
the lilt of the market tongue,
ancient beyond telling.
A fiddle tune bearing, sweet as fruit,
a memory of timelessness:
candles on narrow sills
marching each night through Advent,
a bowl of rose petals, peach
and orange and crimson,
garlic and lamb simmering
in a black pan,
kisses long enough for tasting.
All have returned, just here.
Listen. They come round again.
There will be dancing, too.
When I started working on this blog post, I was originally going to share a lesson I have used quite successfully that pairs Harshman’s A Song for West Virginia with Whitman’s Song of Myself. A Song for West Virginia was commissioned by the Wheeling National Heritage Area to celebrate the state's sesquicentennial.
See Harshman perform the poem below:
The poem provides a brilliant "highlight-reel" version of West Virginia history—perfect for an ELA or Social Studies class, and could be used in both middle and high school grade classrooms. My lesson explores how poetry can be used to celebrate identity and individuality.
**If you’d still like some details on that lesson, shoot me an email, and I’ll send them over.
(Also, here is a copy of some guided reading questions I came up with for A Song for West Virginia)
But I’m not going to focus this post on that lesson. Instead, I came up with something brand new. As I was re-reading Harshman’s collection, Green-Silver and Silent in preparation for this blog post, I was struck with inspiration. And like we all sometimes do in our classrooms, I switched gears.
You see, because my favorite Harshman poems are his prose style poems. They're these wonderfully intense shorts, that read like flash-fiction.
Take SAVED for example:
At Bible camp, climbing a steep bank, a boy, adventurous and confident, cries out to see a hornet’s nest and so draws them to him. White butterflies linger in the field, haphazard and intentional all at once and unmindful of the thick heat. The mud is cool down by the river where friends cake handfuls of it over the fiery welts that burn across his face, down his neck and snake along his spine. It was a wet spring and the river had cut a new path, deeper. It’s hard to believe anyone was every baptized here, but buried perhaps, yes. The boy’s whimpers die away as he crosses the soybean field on the shortcut back to camp where his counselor will joke that he looks like a mud pie. A green heron stays frozen at its work in the backwash below pale willows. They would have swung on grape vines near here, great living ropes that would have soared twenty feet out over the sluggish, seductive, waters of the stream. All in all a lucky day.
It was when I re-read SAVED that this post went off the rails. I re-read it a few times, and I couldn’t stop thinking about how this piece would be excellent as a model in a mentor text activity. We have talked about using mentor texts a few times on this blog, and for more information about using mentor texts, click HERE.
Harshman gets quite a bit done in just a few lines—lines loaded with imagery and symbolism. He tells us a whole story, but still leaves us with questions, wondering.
These nine sentences manage to do all the things we want our students to do in really great writing.
Take a look at another example from Green-Silver and Silent:
IN TIME FOR SUPPER
He flinches at the sight of his mother’s bra and panties strung along the still clothesline. No wind to enliven this afternoon. A truck is grinding its’ gears up inside the green shade of the mountain. Where the lawn meets the road the grass is brown with dust. A small garden snake slithers out onto the hot asphalt. His mother sleeps in front of the TV where John Wayne charges downhill, bugles blaring, sabers slicing the heavy air into thin wafers of breeze. Ahead, white flags surrender both pride and virtue. A change in the weather? The truck will reach Cumberland in time for supper. As he digs a grave for the snake, the boy will wonder again what it takes to become a man.
Again, nine sentences that tell an incredible story. Dripping with imagery and symbolism, I clearly saw a new lesson here for my students.
I wanted to craft a mentor task activity.
So--the new plan:
I can’t wait to try this in my own classroom, but since it’s the last week of school it may have to wait until August. If you try this lesson, tweet us, Facebook us, or Email us and let us know how it goes! And share great examples of student work!
In the meantime, grab copies of Green-Silver and Silent and Believe What You Can and read some more incredible work by our very talented Poet Laureate. You can also find Harshman and many other West Virginia writers in the brand new anthology, Eyes Glowing at the Edge of the Woods.
Happy reading, happy teaching, and happy (almost) Summer!
*All poems excerpted from Green, Silver, and Silent (2012) with the gracious permission of Marc Harshman, West Virginia Poet Laureate.
By Jeni Gearhart
Summer. It is close enough I can smell the hotdogs, chlorine, and fresh cut grass. Ok, that smell might be coming from the neighbor’s house. They aren’t teachers spending Saturday morning grading papers, but I digress.
As we are approaching the end of the 2016-2017 school year, I’m vaguely thinking about what the next school year will hold. What worked this year? What did not? What can I do now to set up the next year for success?
Now, I am not planning for August in May. I simply cannot think about starting this all over again until I’ve had at least two weeks of uninterrupted recovery time (also known as my hibernation period of summer vacation). But, I can rethink one important aspect of my year: Summer Reading.
Oh, summer reading. The kids cringe when we pass it out, I cringe when I think about the piles of work that will then wait for me on day two.
Summer reading is a hot topic. What purpose does it serve? What purpose should it serve? Is it meaningful? What does research show?
After polling our students, reading up on the summer reading discussion, conferring with administration, and working together within our department, my teacher buddy Sarah Ferry and I have redone our summer assignment. And, I’m not dreading it in August.
Summer Reading Research
Thanks to @MrsFerryHHS and her techy know-how, we surveyed about fifty honors seniors on their opinions regarding summer assignments. Surprisingly, though they wanted less work, they had pretty common opinions about why we assign them:
Of course, there were a few “The purpose is to ruin our lives” comments, but the responses were generally positive.
Their views of the assignments themselves, however, showed a different story:
Personally, I think summer reading is absolutely important, especially for those who would identify as “nonreaders”. Continuing reading keeps students’ brains engaged. On the other hand, there are justifiable arguments to the contrary. Should students be allowed to just “check out” over the summer? How much of the work are the students actually doing? Does it encourage students to read, or does it keep them from reading what they want? This series of articles from the New York Times a few years ago offered some perspective. This article from Teach Argument was also very helpful in our discussion.
Based on my reading on the topic, summer assignments tend to fall into a few categories:
So, how to we make summer reading work for the teacher and for our students? This is our idea:
You can access the entire document here.
The only assignment our students will do with their novel is to choose and analyze five quotes. No bells and whistles creative project like previous assignments we’ve used. Rather, we are going to use this independent reading in the first weeks of the school year. Students will share their book in the form of a book talk when we return. We will also use their choice book to jumpstart our discussion of important skills like archetypes, themes, and characters.
Why we like this:
Our students get to read what they are already interested in. We are providing them with a short list of interesting titles, but we want them to have choice in their reading. As we know from research a la Kelly Gallagher and Penny Kittle, students form positive attributions towards reading more through independent reading than reading that is forced and “worksheeted” to death.
We will use this piece as our first writing assignment in the first weeks as we explore mentor texts (see Writing with Mentors by Rebecca O’Dell and Allison Marchetti) and work to revise their writing. This may also move into a longer research assignment as the year goes on.
We are providing them with a list of possible topics:
We also provide them with a list of relevant sources:
Why we like this:
Again, students will be reading things they already find interesting. They will go deep into topics, into the rabbit holes that we rarely have time to encounter during the school year. Hopefully they will find new interests through this reading. Regardless, this will encourage them to read widely and will inform them about current events. This will set them up for the skills that we will use throughout the school year, like analyzing bias and argument. Additionally, the writing they will be doing is manageable and based on real world writing.
We hope to engage our colleagues in other departments with this reading as well. Students reading up on new science research would be able to talk with their science teachers, those interested in art and culture may chat with their art teacher. We want to foster a culture of readers, and that doesn’t always mean that we are reading fiction.
I’m excited about this assignment (as is my administrator, which is icing on the cake). Summer reading has been stressful for me and for my students in my last five years of teaching, but I truly think that this one is going to work well.
It is my hope that we will encourage our students to be curious and to think deeply. Isn’t that the purpose of education?
What are your thoughts on summer reading? What ideas have worked for you? Leave us a comment, Tweet us your thoughts @WVCTE, or connect with us on Facebook!
Jeni Gearhart teaches 10 Honors English and AP English Language at Hedgesville High School in Berkeley County. Originally from Western PA, Jeni loves West Virginia and has taught all five years of her teaching career in the Wild and Wonderful state. She a not a hipster, but adamantly proclaims that she liked coloring books before they were cool. When not wandering the internet for new teaching ideas or grading papers, Jeni likes to drink coffee and devour good books.
By Shana Karnes
I can be a bit of a lazy reader.
I get impatient while reading, waiting for the plot to pick up, and abandon books with gusto. I leap from mystery to mystery, romance novel to short fiction, and toss in the stray nonfiction book when I’m feeling curious.
When I first began making choice reading a priority in my classroom, many of my students were lazy readers, too. They gobbled up YA fiction in droves, but balked when I booktalked a classic, or an award-winning piece of fiction, or any nonfiction. Some of them refused to move beyond their genre of choice for a whole year.
I knew, when I committed to choice reading, that it went far beyond just YA. I knew that all kids were capable of reading sophisticated texts, making complex choices about when and how and what to read, and that all readers have a hunger for a challenging, engaging read. But I wasn’t seeing my students living out those expectations, so I built in some structures to help them get there.
Reading Challenges -- I began scaffolding students up to more difficult reading choices with reading challenges. I read about these in Book Love by Penny Kittle, but wanted to put my own spin on them as far as making very specific challenges went. So, the first reading challenge involved picking a book outside your comfort zone (which required a fun day of work identifying our own reading zones); the second challenge involved reading a nonfiction book, the third involved reading an award winner, and so on.
By working as a whole class to try new books out simultaneously--me reading along with my students--everyone felt comfortable getting uncomfortable. We were all struggling along together, trying to decipher the vocabulary in a new book, or the structure of a new genre, or the style of a new kind of writer. I built in mini-lessons on these things, but I think it was most helpful that we talked about these issues in the light of being real readers--not “struggling” readers.
Authentic Writing about Reading -- When I first joined GoodReads many years ago, I realized how much my reading life was improved by just quickly taking the time to rate what I’d thought of a book. Before that, I’d start and finish books and never really think about them again. Soon, I began writing short book reviews, and then long ones, first just for myself, and then for the benefit of other readers. I began reading more book reviews to get a sense of what I might talk about other than writing and characters.
I wanted my students doing something similar, so we began studying book reviews--popular, funny ones on Goodreads and Tumblr; professional ones in the New York Times and the New Yorker; even famed reviewers like Roger Ebert, whose writing moves about film we applied to books. Students began tweeting at authors, writing reviews informally in their notebooks and formally for our school paper and "giving their own booktalks to one another.
Nurturing a Real Reading Life -- No longer were kids feeling confined to books I handed them. They began to choose books more independently, armed with information about their tastes, their peers’, and what was popular in general. I began to see more students reading books that didn’t come from my classroom library, more students talking to one another about books, and a bigger variety of books being read in general.
In my own reading life, I modeled these challenges. I read The Great Gatsby, Walden, and a few other classics for the first time in years, and truly appreciated them more during these second reads. I wrote book reviews on Goodreads, the Nerdy Book Club, and Three Teachers Talk. I tracked my reading in my notebook, on GoodReads, and on Twitter, setting goals and trying to take a moment to jot down, in quick review form, WHY I liked or didn’t like a book.
These practices not only helped me become a better reader; they helped my students grow as readers, too. Anna’s favorite book of all time became the award-winning A Constellation of Vital Phenomena, while Connor was blown away by Ta-Nehisi Coates’ Between the World and Me. These books and more were chosen, read, and evaluated independently, without the confines of assignments or the too-broad sea of “your choice” to hold them back.
WVCTE is wondering how you start your students with choice and then scaffold them up to more complex reading tasks. Leave us a comment, tweet us your thoughts @WVCTE, or connect with us on Facebook!
Shana Karnes teaches sophomore, junior, and senior preservice teachers at West Virginia University. She finds joy in all things learning, love, and literature as she teaches, mothers, and sings her way through life. Follow Shana on Twitter at @litreader or find more of her writing about secondary readers-writers workshop at Three Teachers Talk.
On Saturday, May 6, 2017 I had the honor of delivering the keynote address at the Shepherd University Teacher Pinning Ceremony. Below is a transcript of that speech.
Good morning, and first let me say Congratulations! Years of hard work and study come to fruition today. This is an incredible and momentous event, and you should be very proud of this accomplishment. Let’s give our graduates another round of applause.
Now, let me say thank you.
Because you have chosen to enter the most rewarding and challenging profession in our country today at a time when teacher shortages are at an all-time high. Teaching is an incredible act of service. And when you enter into the service of others, you have chosen a job that ultimately is about the greater good. By becoming an educator you have decided that you want to dedicate your life to literally making the world a better place. And that is not hyperbole. Your actions and words every day will have the ability to affect the leaders of tomorrow. This responsibility is awe-inspiring. And at times a bit daunting. I have tried to articulate the enormity of this many times, but Uncle Ben said it best when he looked at a young Peter Parker in Marvel’s Spiderman and said, “Son, with great power comes great responsibility.”
Because there is no service without some sacrifice.
Being a teacher can at times be extremely polarizing. Some of your days will be very hard and very thankless. And any teacher who says, “oh yeah, this job is a breeze” isn’t doing it right or has a magic key I have not yet discovered. And unfortunately, no matter what Hollywood movies tell us, this job will not be all standing on desks and yelling “O Captain, My Captain” or wearing cool leather jackets and jeans to school while Coolio’s Gangsta’s Paradise plays in the background.
No- sometimes this job will get the best of you. Sometimes you will pour your heart and soul into a lesson, and no one will get it. Sometimes you will be kind to a student who no matter what you do will not like you. Sometimes you will so overwhelmed by the difficulty of this job that you spend your lunch or planning period hiding somewhere to have a good cry.
But you know what makes it worth it?
Because sometimes you will pour your heart and soul into a lesson, and fireworks will go off in every set of eyes sitting in front of you. Sometimes you will be kind to a student, who will tell you later that that kindness changed his or her life. Sometimes you will be so overwhelmed by the magic of this job that you will spend your lunch or planning period wiping away tears of joy.
Teaching is miraculous. And maddening. It is hopeful. And heart-wrenching. It will make you laugh. And it will make you cry. And there is no shame in that. I teach the novel “The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian” by Sherman Alexie and in the book Junior’s basketball coach says to him. “If you love something enough, it’s going to make you cry.”
And no one goes into teaching unless you have love for something. Whether it’s math, or science, or music, or reading and writing, or working with young people, or coaching, we become teachers because something in our hearts drives us to the profession. We all know that it certainly is not the lucrative salary or low-stress work environment, but joy and love and service that brings us to education.
Today, I’d like to give you three pieces of advice. These are three things that have helped me say focused on that joy and love and service. Things that are integral to finding success in your classroom, and to staying in the profession longer than just a few years.
My first piece of advice is to always choose love.
You see because without love, this job is too hard. Without love, it does ask too much of us. And whether you realize it or not, when you chose to major in education, to become a teacher, you have already chosen love.
Now, I know some of you are mentally eye-rolling. I teach teenagers and can always sense a good mental eye-roll. And I get it. I admit, “choose love” sounds a bit hippy-dippy.
And no, I’m not saying you have love every minute of your job and all your students. That’s impossible. And truthfully, some of parts of this job and some students will be downright unlovable. Though it does make teaching them, infinitely easier if you do at least try to like them.
What I am saying is that you do always have to try love what you’re doing--what you’re teaching. And this is an active choice you can make. You’re the teacher. You’re in charge of your room and your lesson. The minute you stop loving what you’re teaching or how you’re teaching it, both your students’ lives and your life will become joyless.
So choose love.
Because by choosing love you are choosing to be the kind of teacher both the lovable and the unlovable kid would like to have in class. When you choose love you automatically start finding ways to make your students like or love what you’re teaching, and as one of my personal teacher heroes, Rita Pierson, put it, “Kids can’t learn from someone they don’t like.” And if you haven’t seen Pierson's Ted Talk called “Every Child Needs a Champion” I would recommend watching it immediately.
And while you don’t have to love the people your students may be, you do have to love them as learners. And seeing them learn will remind you why you chose this job, why you chose love and service from the start. It’s not uncommon for my husband to find me at our kitchen table, furiously re-writing a lesson, snarling at my family through gritted teeth, “everybody give me a few minutes, I’m trying to figure out how to love _______(fill in the blank with any student's name here).” Because no matter how unlovable they may be, when I see them learning, engaging in class and with literature and writing, in that instant, I love them.
So always try to choose love.
My second piece of advice is to remember that your students are human. And humans are emotional and unpredictable. And sometimes we need to respond to our students as one human to another—not as teacher to student. You must always expect the unexpected. You will encounter countless situations and experiences in this job that no teacher training class could prepare you for. For example, in my fifteen years as a high school English educator I have also functioned as an event planner, a counselor, a secretary, a clergyman, a parent, a club advisor, a social director, a nurse, a lunch lady, and an athletic coach.
I have ignored and been ignored.
I have celebrated and been celebrated
And I have loved and been loved.
All of this and still you have teach them your curriculum. You still have to think about standards and grades and achievement. You still have to do the job.
This job will demand a lot from you, sometimes more than you think you have to give. But that is what makes it incredible— the service and the sacrifice. The giving of yourself to the greater good. The choosing of love.
I would like to close with my last piece of advice: talk to your students. Ask them what they think. They want to be listened to. They want to be a part of the learning experience. And they are smart. They will make you a better person and a better teacher.
This past week, I followed my own advice; I asked my students for help. I said to each of my classes, “hey guys--I have to give a speech on Saturday to bright, shiny, new first year teachers. If you could give them advice for their career from a high school student, what would say?”
So now from the mouths of babes is some sage advice from a few of my 11th grade English students and some graduating seniors:
Dominique: “Don’t be too controlling of the students. Give them responsibilities according their age.”
Marie: “Don’t tell bad jokes and then laugh at your bad joke.”
Corbin: “If you teach until you’re over 50, please don’t nag us about how miserable and tired you are. I don’t care if you’ve taught for 30 years. If you hate kids get out now.”
Maddy: “Don’t teach us a new thing every day. Sometimes you have to let things sink in for a day or two.”
Zachary: "Some of us have many hard classes. We don't just have one hard class. Remember that your class isn’t the only one I have all day."
Chloe: “Don’t be stressed. Have fun at your job.”
Grace: “Don’t grade papers on the weekends. It will make you stressed and mean. Give yourself some non-teacher time.”
(Apparently, my students are very concerned about teacher stress levels.)
Trinity: “Don’t expect to be respected without giving respect first. Also- school isn’t our life. We have lives outside your room. Be aware of that.”
Hannah: "If you print worksheets off the Internet, make sure they are not out of date, and that they are correct. Also- we know how to Google.”
Thabiso: "We can smell your fear."
Berenice: “Always wear matching socks.”
Dayquan: “Kids are going to be annoying. Prepare for the worst. Be happy when it’s the best.”
Jake: “You know nothing Jon Snow.”
Hayley: “Whatever you do, don’t dance at prom.”
Liam: "Try not to take anything personally. Speak softly and carry a big stick. Also, snacks are always ok.”
Kaitlyn: "Be a person and make connections. Also, if you don't know an answer, admit it."
Lee: "Have a structured class. And act like you want to be there. If you want to be there, then we will want to be there. "
Eric: "If students know you put work into a lesson, then we will put work into doing it."
Kat: "Be a mentor."
Mark: "Smile. And have patience."
Autumn: "Incorporate parts of yourself into your teaching style."
Ally: "Just do your best."
Ben: “Take it easy. Try to love your job.”
I couldn’t have said it better myself. Congratulations graduating Educators of the Class of 2017. Thank you having me today, and for choosing this amazing life. Best of luck.
Jessica Salfia is a proud Shepherd University Alumni, the President of the West Virginia Council of Teachers of English, a high school English teacher, and a writer. She lives and works in the Eastern Panhandle of West Virginia.
One of our most important jobs as educators is to elevate our students’ voices. Our classrooms should be places were students feel that their voices will not only be heard, but that they will make a difference. I want them to consider their roles in their community and world. Right now, West Virginia is facing some extra-ordinary challenges: a struggling economy, a population decline, an opioid epidemic. Young people in West Virginia are discouraged. They constantly hear negative things about our state, and they ignore or don’t know is that West Virginia has a rich literary and art tradition. That our state exists because Mountaineers rejected slavery and valued freedom. Activists and artists are working tirelessly to create accurate reflections of the complexities and contradictions of our state and culture, and preserve our rich, history and traditions.
This year I decided to try something. I wanted find a way to not just engage my students in conversations about West Virginia and our struggles and successes, but I wanted them to be thinking about their place in West Virginia—how as young people they have a unique voice and perspective regarding how fix problems in our region. I believe that West Virginia’s path forward begins in our classrooms. (To read an Op-ed Karla Hilliard and I wrote about this, click HERE.)
This year, I taught my introduction to rhetoric to my Advanced Placement Class through the lens of Appalachian studies. You can see an overview of the unit HERE. The goals of the unit are (like West Virginia) diverse and multi-faceted. I wanted students to master the basics of rhetorical analysis, but also immerse themselves in the rhetoric surrounding our region.
The final culminating project in this unit was for the students to apply what they learned about crafting effective arguments, and create a proposal to present at the 40th Annual National Appalachian Studies Conference. We approached the task as an exercise in rhetoric. I asked the student to first choose something we studied in the unit that resonated with them. We covered a wide range of topics related to Appalachia: literature, poetry, environmental issues, the opioid epidemic, diversity, veterans, and stereotypes.
Then, students were split into teams had to write a proposal to present their chosen topic at the ASA conference. I asked the students to consider their unique voices. They are teenagers in Appalachia today, and they have a chance to share a concern or a topic with a conference of academics, writers, and activists. We read a few sample proposals and studied the conference website, program, and theme. I asked them to think about their proposals as persuasive essays and apply what they learned through our study of effective arguments.
The kids had a week to put together a “pitch” and write their proposals. They then presented their proposals to the whole class. I chose what I thought were the “top 10” pitches and gave them to a panel of teachers and administrators in my building to evaluate. They narrowed it down to four that they thought were the exemplars in terms of executing the task.
I put these four exemplars and my unit presentation together as a panel proposal for the conference, submitted it not really imagining that we would actually get accepted.
But then we did!
And not only did we get accepted, the conference committee emailed me to say how excited they were the students would be attending.
We were going to Blacksburg.
Below are three take-aways from taking 13 teenagers to present at the 40th Annual Appalachian Studies Conference at Virginia Tech in Blacksburg, VA on March 9-12:
1. Kids rise to the occasion.
My students prepped and prepared like professionals. I required them to meet with me bi-weekly to show me the progress of their project, and then we had a “dress rehearsal” the week before. They worked so hard. They understood the gravity of the opportunity they were being given, and their presentations were thoughtful, smart, and executed with more grace and poise than many presentations I’ve had to sit though given by adults. They blew everybody away.
We were also asked to sit in on a round-table discussion on youth and activism through art, and the authenticity and honesty of my students brought me and the rest of the room to tears. They were rock stars.
2. There is a wealth of educator resources at this conference!
Not only did I learn about several new pieces of Appalachian literature (read about Robert Gipe’s novel, Trampoline HERE), but my students and I learned about several incredible programs, organizations, and educational groups who care deeply about and are working on many of the same things we were discussing in our own presentation. And the authors and artists! My students were in the same room as Silas House, Jason Howard, Roger May, and Nikki Giovanni.
Roger May is not only a gifted artist, but he is also the director at Appalachian South Folklife and the Looking at Appalachia project, and a generous and kind human. Here he is taking time out of the opening of his own gallery show to answer my students’ questions about his photography.
And here is the incomparable Nikki Giovanni. Giovanni was brilliant, funny, honest, and by far one of the highlights for my students.
3. Young people want their voices to be heard.
My students had the opportunity to participate in discussions about activism, art, and literature. And because having high school students actively participate in this conference is a bit of an anomaly, they were encouraged to speak up and share their perspectives and opinions. What I noticed was a maturity and a sense of importance settle over my students that I had not previously seen. They reveled in having adults who were not their teachers or parents, care about what they thought. I realized that giving them this opportunity to simply be heard was one of the most important and powerful components of this activity’s success.
For more reflections on this wonderful weekend, you can check out my Twitter feed @jessica_salfia, and look for the #ASA2017.
WVCTE is wondering...
How do you incorporate ways for your students to share their voices or impact their communities in your classroom?
By Toni Poling
I like routine, both in and out of the classroom. I believe that structure and routine provide stability and consistency for students. I believe that when students know exactly what is expected of them they are more likely to meet (or exceed) those expectations.
With that said, I also believe that making a change can have positive implications in the classroom! All of us can be lulled into a sense of complacency when we only do what we've always done. Typically, when teaching a novel, my students are given discussion questions to answer as they read and their responses are used to fuel our discussions in class. While I do feel that this is a very effective method of providing guidance for independent reading, students can sometimes become uninspired in their answering of these questions.
Over winter break, I began sketching out plans for the spring semester, I wanted to take a different approach to the novels we would be studying. A few years ago, our English PLC had completed a book study on Kelly Gallagher's Readicide. I got the book back out and read it over break. In his book, Gallagher discusses the "overteaching" that can occur that can sometimes kill a student's love of reading. Instead, he proposed a more focused approach, encouraging close reading and focused study of the work's theme(s). I decided to adapt some of his methods to my AP Literature's study of The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson.
Upon returning from break, I distributed to my students a copy of "Good Readers and Good Writers" by Vladimir Nabokov. This is an essay with which my students have some familiarity given that we've read it at least two times before. In his essay, Nabokov expresses his thoughts on what makes a good reader and a good writer. Though my students have read the essay before, I felt it was important for us to be reminded of the purpose of this course and the objectives we are all setting out to accomplish. After closely reading the essay, my students worked in collaborative groups to create a list of characteristics shared by good readers. Below is a sampling of what they came up with:
Every group listed re-reading as a characteristic of a good reader, yet when asked if they re-read almost every student responded in the negative!
The next day, armed with some notes on the social, historical, and biographical context for the novella, we started The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. As it has been one of my goals this year to read aloud to my students, I began my introduction by reading the first chapter aloud, modeling for my students how I decode vocabulary through context clues and how I make note of important details. I sent the students home that day with a copy of the text and a reading calendar, but with no study guide or discussion questions.
At the start of the next class period, I provided my students with their final essay question: Discuss Stevenson's use of duality in Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde and apply this idea of duality to an aspect of the modern world. Students copied down the question in their notebooks. I explained that our discussion of the text would center primarily around this idea of duality. In the spirit of Gallagher's Readicide, I structured our first close reading exercise just as he had laid out in his book. I provided my students a copy of the first paragraph of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. They were instructed to work in cooperative groups to identify, through close reading, at least nine instances of opposites in the first paragraph.
After doing so, I asked the groups to answer the following questions: (1) What is duality? and (2) What is the duality of man?
After finishing the task, we reviewed the nine instances of opposites in the first chapter and discussed student responses to the questions. At first, this was challenging for students. They were struggling with working only with one small passage of the text instead of the entire chapter, but they were amazed at how much they could find in only one paragraph.
The following day I again provided students with passages for close reading and focus questions. The previous day, the students defined the term duality and the began a simplistic discussion of the duality of man; now the focus is on "good" and "evil" and Stevenson's portrayal of that duality.
In an AP course, I'm used to having sophisticated discussions with my students, but the discussion that stemmed from this close reading passage and the focus questions was, beyond a doubt, the best discussion we've had all year! My students were raising questions and making salient points that far exceeded my expectations. When I walked over to refocus one group having a side conversation, I found they were passionately discussing one of the focus questions. Students who aren't in my class stopped me in the hallway on their way to lunch to tell me their thoughts on duality and "good" and "evil" because they're friends with one of my students and had found the topic interesting. Isn't that a teacher's dream?
We are still working through this method to finish the novella (we should finish next week) and I can't wait to formally assess their learning; I'm anticipating some of the best essays I've read all year!
Though I can't say that I would use this method for every novel I teach, there is a lot to be said for the students' enthusiasm and the depth and quality of the discussions taking place. I think some of my students will likely pinpoint this novella as their favorite text thus far, but in all honesty that's not the purpose. My purpose has been to get them reading and thinking; so far, so good.
WVCTE is wondering...
How do you foster a love of reading with your students while maintaining the integrity of the curriculum?
Toni M. Poling is a National Board Certified Teacher at Fairmont Senior High School in Marion County where she teaches AP English Language and AP English Literature to juniors and seniors. Toni is currently serving as the 2017 WV Teacher of the Year.
Gallagher, Kelly, and Richard L. Allington. "Remember the Value Found in Second-Draft (and Third-Draft) Reading." Readicide: How Schools Are Killing Reading and What You Can Do about It. Portland, Me.: Stenhouse, 2009. N. pag. Print.
As a high school ELA teacher, finding the right books for my students is not only an essential part of effective instruction, but it’s critical in building good classroom culture and growing good people. I want to make sure that my classroom library and my syllabus reflect the rich diversity of my classroom population. But as a West Virginia educator, sometimes this is hard. In the last few years there has been an explosion of YA lit that features a myriad of diverse characters, races, and voices. But there seems to be a void in YA literature when it comes reflecting the unique stories of the young people of Appalachia. This past year’s NCTE Convention was themed around advocacy, and the opening panel featured several YA authors who write books that primarily feature protagonists from marginalized groups. The panel was incredible and moved me to tears, but at the same time, I couldn’t help but think, “Where is the representation for our young people in Appalachia? There is a whole group of young people who feel marginalized and who are not represented on this stage.”
More recently I attended and presented at the 40th annual Appalachian Studies Conference in Blacksburg, Va with a 13 of my Advanced Placement Language and Composition students. You can read about the incredible panel presentation we put together on this blog next week.
Before our presentation, my students and I were invited to participate in a round table discussion about youth and activism in Appalachia alongside award winning author, Robert Gipe. It was here that I was first introduced to his incredible book, Trampoline.
Trampoline is the story of 15 year old Dawn, who becomes immersed in her grandmother’s controversial fight against mountain top removal in their east Kentucky community. During our round table presentation together, the more Robert talked about Trampoline, the more I began to realize that this just may be the type of book many of our young people in Appalachia are looking for. I left the session, went straight to the convention hall and bought a copy of Trampoline. I spend the following Tuesday happily snowed in curled around this gritty, beautiful, heart-wrenching book.
As a teaching resource, Trampoline is rich with material. An illustrated novel, Gipe uses his stark black and white illustrations to provide us with further insight into the protagonist in much the same way Sherman Alexie uses Junior’s cartoons in The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian.
The similarities don’t end there. Just as Junior is forced to leave his reservation to save himself and becomes viewed as a “traitor” by most of his tribe, Dawn’s stance on mountain top removal makes her pariah to many in her mountain community.
However, Gipe’s prose sets him apart from Alexie in that Dawn’s voice is as mature, as rich, as powerful, and as resonate as the mountains themselves. And while Alexie’s book is clearly written for a young adult audience, I wouldn’t necessarily classify Trampoline as YA lit.
Trampoline is 312 pages long, a bit long for a middle school or freshman audience, and contains adult language and content. It would probably be best received in upper level high school classrooms, and/or perhaps excerpted for lower grades.
But Dawn’s story itself is one that will resonate with audiences of all ages for many reasons. Her coming of age struggle in the book is a universal one, but what makes this book important is that her story is a uniquely Appalachian one. She's a character who many of our students in central and southern West Virginia will immediately recognize as themselves. She wants to escape and at the same time she doesn’t. She knows why we need coal, but she also knows what it’s doing to her world.
One of my favorite excerpts in the book is in reference to these contradictions she faces. Dawn says:
“Those coal miners who had been so good to me, who had loved me through my tree-hugging ways, needed the mountains and the woods more than any of us. They loved it here, and they had to tear it up to stay. The full hard hardness of their lot came down on me that winter night, and I knew maybe not them but other coal-mining people would be mad at me, would hate me, but after that night, I never was mad at them, not the ones who lived here with me, not the ones taking their sorrow and joy from what was left of these trees, these rocks, these rustling waters” (226).
She loves the mountains and the people in them, but they seem to be trying to destroy her. She knows the coal miners in her community love the mountains, but they are tearing it apart. Just like West Virginia and Appalachia, Dawn and her community are full of paradoxes.
Her story is gripping, heart-breaking, and raw, and Gipe’s prose and illustrations show us this story though a powerful young voice—a character unafraid to be different, to be brave, to be strong. So often in Appalachia our young people hear a single story about who they are. Dawn rejects this. Much like the mountain landscape around her, she is powerful, wild, and authentic.
I will be adding this book to my AP English 11 Summer Reading assignment this year, and I recommend every teacher in West Virginia who is struggling to find a book that your students see themselves in, check out Trampoline.
If you’re interested in using Trampoline in your classroom, you can read the first Three Acts online in the literary and art journal, Still: the Journal. Click HERE to go straight there.
And if you had been thinking that maybe it seemed like the mountains were empty of stories for and about our young people…
well, I’ll let Dawn take this one...
To celebrate this year's Black History Month, Berkeley County Schools students read and studied One Book, Kwame Alexander's The Crossover. If you don't already know Kwame Alexander or his work, you should definitely check him out. WVCTE had a chance to meet Kwame and hear him speak on NCTE '16 in Atlanta. He is an incredibly inspiring and engaging speaker, writer, and fellow human.
The Crossover is a YA novel written in verse that follows the story of a young basketball superstar named Josh, dubbed Filthy McNasty, his twin brother Jordan, their retired professional ball player dad, and their PhD vice-principal mother. Like its writer, The Crossover is inspiring and engaging, breaking stereotypes and raising important questions about family, loyalty, relationships, adolescence, and the biases we bring to our reading experiences.
To top off our Black History Month studies and celebrate our One Book, a few of us decided there was no better way to wrap up good reading than with good conversation. Because many of us are active Twitter users and consider our connections on Twitter to be meaningful PLCs, we decided to extend that opportunity to students here in Berkeley County.
The lovely Jeni Gearhart, WVCTE Executive Committee member, proposed the plan, and after a few emails, a few graphics, and a little bit of hype, the first ever Berkeley County One Book Twitter chat was born.
We decided to host a "slow chat" and release questions each hour beginning at 7:45. We asked students to ponder the writer's craft and the big ideas in the text, which made for a rich discussion.
Below are a few teacher reflections and highlights of that chat.
First of all, I am now a certified Kwame Alexander fangirl. My students had a great time writing imitation poetry, and Kwame even retweeted some of our work. Much as I loved this book, I think the best part of this learning experience was the collaborative nature of it. Being able to have conversations with other teachers and other students about the text made it more significant than just a normal, isolated learning experience. My students enjoyed the #crosschat Twitter chat because it made the conversation more authentic. The reading experience became real, rather than just another assignment. I can't wait to participate in something similar again, and I've been already mulling around new ideas of how to make this happen again!
#CrossChat was no doubt a great day of learning. All six of my classes, from AP Literature to on-grade English 10 shared in a fun and thoughtful conversation with fellow Berkeley County students.
Here's my two cents on Twitter in the classroom: It works. Twitter provides engaging and relevant content. And when harnessed to elevate learning, it's undeniably effective. As a teacher, I've made some of my most meaningful professional connections on Twitter -- I've been endlessly inspired by colleagues from across the country, I've been forced to reflect and reassess my practice, and I've shamelessly celebrated my students and their incredible work. I believe students may find Twitter an exciting forum for learning as well.
And that's exactly what happened in #CrossChat. My students were eager to hear the thoughts of other students outside our class, to see how they agreed or disagreed, and to learn how others considered the text. Students were surprised by the novelty of using social media in class, but they were more surprised by the quality of conversation. Many were eager to share, and many more were eager to "listen."
And those are skills that never go out of style -- to share thoughts, feelings, and ideas, and to learn to listen to others.
I first read The Crossover last year, after seeing student after student devour it during independent read time. The few times I went to our school library to check it out, it was never there. I saw the way both readers and “not-yet-readers” connected to it, and finally bought a copy. I read it, laying in a swing under a summer sky, and I can remember that spell settling down on me. You know the one. When a book stretches outside the boundaries of its cover, and wraps itself around you in a net of words and magic. When I finished the last page, I snapped the book shut and hugged it close to my chest, and let hot tears spill down my face. I knew that this was a book that every kid should have an opportunity to read and love.
I then, of course started tweeting at students who I knew should read the book.
@TDoutrive (now a senior) did read The Crossover and loved it, by the way.
#CrossChat was an incredible way to give every student a chance to share their voices and engage with the book and their peers outside the classroom walls. The slow chat format allowed students time to get comfortable with Twitter chatting before engaging in rapid fire conversation. The best part of the #CrossChat was seeing students who are normally “quiet” in discussion go all in on Twitter. The semi-anonymity of Twitter was freeing for many of my students, and I saw kids sharing poems, ideas, and artwork during our discussion of Alexander’s work who usually remain quiet and withdrawn. The novelty of chatting about a common text with other student from within our county was also a high point. To see so many other young people across our county uniting around a novel, and not just any novel, but a novel written in poetry, was exhilarating. And Kwame, because he’s awesome, chimed in more than once, liking our students’ posts, and retweeting great student comments. This is an activity that was enormously successful, but I think it was successful because we picked the right text. The tool (Twitter) gave our students the outlet to talk about great art, and that is ultimately the goal of every classroom discussion.
WVCTE is wondering...
What do you think of using Twitter in the classroom? Would you be interested in having your classes participate in a chat? (We're up for planning!)
Leave us a comment, Tweet us your thoughts @WVCTE, or connect with us on Facebook!
Check out #CrossChat after the jump!
By Rachelle Green
For the month of February, I like to celebrate Black History Month. My English classes are full of presentations about African-American writers. With my creative writing class, I wanted to do something different. As the month approached, I thought about various activities I could do with the students. One day, the song “Blood on the Leaves” by Kanye West kept playing in my head. Kanye West included snippets of the song “Strange Fruit” in the song. As the day progressed, I could not get those snippets of the song out of my head. So, I went to Google. I looked up the lyrics to “Strange Fruit.” I was so moved by the words; at that moment, I knew that I had to do something with them. I then went to YouTube and listened to Billie Holiday and Nina Simone sing the song. Nina Simone sang it with so much passion. I knew then that I had to come up with an activity that utilized the words in poetry form, but also in song.
The next day, I found a site, History is a Weapon, that put the lyrics into poetic form. I then went to YouTube again and found a video of Nina Simone singing “Strange Fruit” but also explaining her thoughts and feelings about the lyrics. After watching the video, I considered the video to be very “raw,” due to the images of people hanging from the tree. But, I knew that images were important to the message, and I had to show it. The following day, I presented the activity to my creative writing students.
Before I jumped into the activity, I did warn students that this activity is 100% raw- REAL. I began with one of the students reading the poem aloud to the class. We then went on to analyze it and explain how the lines and phrases contribute to the overall meaning of the poem. I again warned the students that we were going to listen/watch a YouTube video that was 100% raw- REAL. I told them that it does show bodies hanging from a tree. I gave all students an out -- or an opportunity to look away or put their heads down and just listen.
After a listening/watching, we had a brief discussion about the video. I expected a moment of silence afterwards (which happened). It’s a deep topic to explore. I then gave the task after our class discussion.
I had students create a 3 stanza poem that highlights the struggles that Blacks face or faced in this country. They used the poem that we read as a mentor text. Because this is such powerful and moving activity, if they did not follow exactly how the poem was written, I was fine with that. Let me tell you, the students came up with some great pieces of writing. They talked about various topics ranging from slavery to Trayvon Martin to “White Privilege.” So much can come out of this single activity.
With all activities, there is always room for improvement. Some questions I've reflected on:
1) Could this activity work in a regular English class?
2) Does this activity only fit in the month of February?
3) Could this activity create the same results if I took out the video?
4) What ways can this activity improve?
Leave us a comment, Tweet us your thoughts @WVCTE, or connect with us on Facebook!
Rachelle Green is an English teacher at Spring Mills High School in Martinsburg, WV. She currently teaches tenth grade English and Creative Writing. She is in her second year of teaching, she says she still has much to learn. :-)
Rachelle is a member of WVCTE and hopes to hear back from YOU!
It seems like some of my best lessons and most successful classroom activties strike at times when I'm less concerned about a perfect and tidy plan and more focused on student needs and engagement. It seems simple and obvious enough, but adjusting my "work barometer" is something I'm always trying to finetune.
Last week my AP Literature students worked hard at reading, interpreting, and analyzing poetry. It was the kind of week that felt like a great workout -- challenging and a little uncomfortable, but valuable and motivating because you're getting leaner and stronger.
Each day, we took on a new poem. To kick of the new year, we studied a beautiful poem called "At the New Year" by Kennth Patchen. We then went "down the vista of [our own] years" with D.H. Lawrence's "The Piano." And after several student requests for "animal poems" (they're cool kids, what can I say?) we took a look at the wonderful and Zen "Golden Retrievals" by Mark Doty and the fiercely self-aware hawk of "Hawk Roosting" by Ted Hughes.
By the end of the week, students' increasing confidence in poetry analysis was palpable. So on a welcome 2-hour delay Friday morning, I thought it best we hit the brakes and play for a day.
Here's what we did.
I asked students to create a structure or sculpture that extended, supported, or highlighted an INSIGHT they had about ONE of the poems they studied during the week.
The goal was for students to revisit, re-read, and deepen their understanding of one of the poems from class and to use manipulaitves and play as "a way in" to their insights, interpretations, and analysis.
After that, we broke out the hand sanitizer and a big bucket of toys and got to work.
Here are some highlights of student work:
After time was up and all students had completed the task, I asked students to complete a Quickwrite Journal explaining and unpacking their thinking and choices in creating their structures or sculptures. Some questions I asked:
Besides the excited and bubbling "This is so fun!" from students, the best part of this purposeful play: Students were invested in learning and discovering more about the texts -- I heard thoughtful conversations and read thoughtful commentary about the poetry we studied. So...
WVCTE is wondering...
What does purposeful play look like in your classrooms? Leave us a comment, Tweet us your thoughts @WVCTE, or connect with us on Facebook!
Karla Hilliard teaches STEAM Academy Honors English 10 and AP Literature and Composition at Spring Mills High School in Martinsburg, WV. She's a contributing writer on www.movingwriters.org and a teaching fellow with Collaborative for Student Success. When Karla isn't teaching, you can find her hanging with her husband and two little girls.
Karla serves as Executive Vice President and Head of of Secondary Affairs for WVCTE. See what's happening in her classroom at www.hilliardsclass.com or connect with her on Twitter @karlahilliard.