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.
By Jessica Salfia
Vocabulary. It can be the worst, amiright?
It’s been one of the most polarizing topics in many of the workshops and professional development seminars I’ve been in. Most teachers believe it’s difficult to teach well, and many teachers I’ve talked to about teaching vocabulary have two main complaints: it takes up way too much time, and the kids don’t really learn the words in the long term, memorizing them only long enough to pass a quiz.
But it’s also so, so easy. Kids are trained to grab those worksheets, flip to the glossary, and copy down those definitions. And they can do this with little to no critical thinking. Heck, they can do this with little to no thinking period. It’s automatic and painless, and this can be appealing to both teachers and students. A nice little break for everybody, right? But getting stuck in a vocab rut can be dangerous. Those quickly copied and memorized definitions often are not retained, and the way words work and move in language is often not learned at all when using “traditional” vocab methods.
So how do we do it? How do we expand vocabularies, and get kids to really own a word and its meaning? After all, much of the ACT and SAT is in fact vocabulary and context. This is integral part of our English curriculums.
I’ve seen a gamut of ways to teach vocab words. Some teachers have tried songs, others memorization. Some enterprising teachers get creative with cartoons like the one below:
Your Mission? Operation Vocab!
(insert Mission Impossible soundtrack here)
I use a version of this activity at least once or twice each nine weeks with various texts. HERE is a sample handout I used this year with Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s Handsomest Drowned Man in the World.
Here's how it works:
After reading the short story, essay, excerpt, poem, or article you are studying, have students identify five words in the piece they did not know before. These can be words they have seen before, but are unsure of their meaning, but preferably they need to pick out words they have never encountered before. Have students copy these down onto a handout or on a sheet of notebook paper.
Divide students into groups of 3 or 4. Each student will be assigned a role (with a catchy name, of course)-
After students are grouped and roles are assigned, students will share their vocab lists with each other. If anyone in the group can define a word for another member of the group, he or she should do so now. This is a 5-10 minute block of time in which the goal is simply to have conversations within the group about the words they didn’t know. Some sample questions for them to use in this discussion are-