But there's no point in looking back. It's time to move forward.
So the best idea we had was about reading. All three of my classes are reading heavy - four to six novels in the semester. I've really struggled with how to do reading in a way that fits with the mindset that Andrew and I have pedagogically and the context I have practically. I don't want students to have to do all the reading at home. We know that doesn't work for most of them, and it's often the homework left for last - many times, following 3-4 hours of homework into the early hours of the morning.
So there has to be a way to give students the ability to use class time to read; that, paired with the ways that I'm encouraging reading rather than punishing the lack of reading, means that students won't have the stress that normally accompanies the teaching of a novel. And part of that process is helping students explore why reading is so important.
So why do we read? That's the question that will kick off our Explore-Flip-Apply mini-unit for all three classes. From reading the essays from my Essay Exposition class about their experience in English thus far, it's clear that they do not understand why we're asking them to read books that have little to do with them or their lives.
Again - why are we asking them to read these books?
It's because we believe that literature has a universality that can speak to the experiences that make us human. Books tell us what it means to love, how to grieve well for lost love, why friendship is essential, how travel broadens our horizons. They connect us to people with whom we have no connection, and will never know. They show us the range of human experience and guide us through challenges and successes.
But more importantly for English teachers, literature is a vehicle to get our students to write and think critically. Not to say that the "universality of human experience" angle isn't important - that's certainly the reason that adults continue to read after their education is complete. But for our students, we use the characters, the plot, the setting and the writing itself to show them how we have analytical conversations, how to build a rational argument in writing, and to make connections.
But what do our students see? They see us asking them to analyse the development of a main character. They see us asking them to write a business letter in the voice of a character. They see us assign reading quizzes and journals that ask them to interpret specific passages through a critical lens.
They don't see that all of those things are building their ability to become strong critical thinkers. Is it any wonder that they push back against reading? Is it any wonder that they don't see reading as important?
For our first unit, we want them to see both sides. I have a feeling they can generate the "universality of human experience" answer, and that is what they will do on day one. We will pose the question - why read literature? - we will see the reasons they develop. Then for "homework" that first night, we will have students watch a short video where Andrew and I talk about why we use literature to teach our classes - and they will take notes.
The next day, they will be in the computer lab and will be introduced to Google Drive and the AutoCrat script* we'll be using to create new documents for each assignment. Once that is set up, we will compile the notes students took the night before onto a collaborative note-taking document. The idea is that they start to develop note-taking strategies that will serve them well in college. They will not often need to take notes in our class (rarely is there direct instruction, rarely is note-taking required while watching a video, and rarely do we assign ANY homework, let alone a video with notes) but working on collaborative documents will set the foundation for the CO-Lab partner work we will do later. Then they will work on a reading timeline for their own life.
The last two days of the mini-unit will be a Socratic Seminar (with collaborative note-taking, live during class and a backchannel discussion**) on why reading literature is important for high schoolers and a short vignette about a meaningful literary experience, positive or negative, from their own life.
The hope is that showing them that reading is about more than getting a grade, hearing about heartbreak, analysing a symbol, or memorising plot points will help them see the relevance of the reading we'll be doing.
The next portion of the unit will be watching Derren Brown's Apocalypse, which plays with the notion of a zombie apocalypse and uses a strong literary reference to The Wizard of Oz...yet another reason to read: so you understand references in popular culture.
I'd love to hear your reasons for why people should read literature. Having a list of reasons for our video that draw from our PLN would be amazing.
*The amazing thing about this script is that students fill out a google form on the tmiclass.com website, then get emailed a document that is automatically shared with us, dropped in the correct folder, and titled with a standard naming convention. It's pretty much the coolest thing in the entire world. Second to collaboration, I guess.
**During our Socratic Seminar at the beginning of the year, I introduced a format I used for reading and watching movies last year and wrote about here on the blog. Essentially, I open a todaysmeet.com thread, and display it on the front board. Students then choose inner circle - talking - or outer circle - participating on the todaysmeet thread. Then there is one students responsible for bringing in the interesting ideas from the students in the outer circle. Started using this structure in September, and students have loved it and told me that it drastically lowers the anxiety associated with how they have been graded for discussions in the past.