Why Study Language Arts?
“‘The truth against the world!’ – Yes. Certainly. Fiction writers, at least in their braver moments, do desire the truth: to know it, speak it, serve it. But they go about it in a peculiar and devious way, which consists in inventing persons, places, and events which never did and never will exist or occur, and telling about these fictions in detail and at length and with a great deal of emotion, and then when they are done writing down this pack of lies, they say, There! That’s the truth!”
–Ursula K. LeGuin
“Foolish boy. Don’t you know anything about Fantasia? It’s the world of human fantasy. Every part, every creature of it, is a piece of the dreams and hopes of mankind. Therefore, it has no boundaries…I am the servant of the power behind the Nothing. It’s the emptiness that’s left. It’s like a despair, destroying this world. And I have been trying to help it…Because people who have no hopes are easy to control. And whoever has control has the power. I was sent to kill the only one who could have stopped the Nothing. I lost him in the Swamps of Sadness.”
–G’mork, The Neverending Story
“People say that what we’re all seeking is a meaning for life. I don’t think that’s what we’re really seeking. I think what we’re seeking is an experience of being alive….so that we actually feel the rapture of being alive. That’s what it’s all finally about.”
-Joseph Campbell, The Power of Myth
In this class we will study English / Language Arts / Humanities / Writing in a way that answers the following questions:
- How is Language Art?
Words as a form of creative expression.
- How can Language Arts shape my view of the world?
Words as a path to wisdom.
- What is linguistics and the study of language?
Words as a distinctive human characteristic.
- What is the power of writing and rhetoric? and How can I become a better writer?
Words as a communication tool.
- Why are stories a (REALLY) big deal?
Words as windows to the human experience.
- How can I truly appreciate words and writing?
Words coming to life through critical analysis.
“The world is a comedy to those that think; a tragedy to those that feel.”
What primary projects/activities will you use to position students as active agents of their own learning? How will students interact with and relate to one another and why do you value this for their learning or for the world today? What role will students’ personal experiences play in the functioning of your classroom?
- Listen to James Baldwin “artist” speech
- Dramatic presentations of literary texts (skits, videos)
- Aesthetic visual presentations of readings (paint, draw, photograph, etc)
- In-class debates
- Daily writing journal warmups analyzing a quote
- Analyze music videos
- Majorly epic poetry unit (common core challenge)
How, specifically, will you create an authoritative (rather than authoritarian) presence as a teacher? How do you see your role as a teacher?
I will be authoritative by really knowing my material. I will show my own very best writing as a mentor text (modeling the writing process – by tearing apart my best writing in front of them as if it was the worst writing ever). I will choose really awesome mentor texts. I will create rigorous assignments with high expectations. I’ll give consistent and helpful feedback. Asking questions that challenge students’ assumptions and get them making connections with the texts and with writing.
I’ll reward students with recognition for working hard. I’ll provide extra incentives (like extra credit but some kind of reward besides grade points). Students can nominate fellow students to receive “Carpe diem” awards for hard work and creative exceptionality (and we’ll watch the Dead Poets Society “Carpe Diem” scene to learn what this means).
I’ll make it clear from the beginning that I’m expecting them to work hard and think hard and put forth their best effort so they can get the most out of what Language Arts has to offer them (feeling “the rapture of being alive”).
CLASSROOM EXPECTATIONS & POSSIBLE RESPONSES TO CHALLENGES
In order to generate norms and expectations in my classroom, I will spend a good amount of time on the first day of class explaining what our class traditions and routines will be. They will know exactly how the first 5 minutes of class will be spent – journaling. They’ll have a chance to sign up to bring snacks (if that’s allowed in my school…I’ll figure it out). I might possibly introduce a very cheesy song that I got from a teacher with instructions for good writing. It sounds almost like a beat poem mixed with a cheerleading cheer (sing-songy) and goes, “Tell me what you think! Tell me why you’re thinking it – details! Details!” It even has little hand motions. You can’t do it without looking and feeling like a really big dork. But after fifteen years I still remember it, and remember the advice it delivers. I can sing this whenever we do any writing (which will be almost every day, so by God they’ll learn to bond with each other around their hatred of it).
I want the students to be heavily involved in helping to create classroom norms. I would like to ask the students on the first day about their idea of what respectful classroom behavior looks like, both towards their peers and to their teacher. I’ll write down their responses on the board or a poster board – if I write it on the board I’ll take a picture of it and print it out to be displayed in the classroom all year. I’ll give them time to talk with their neighbors in small groups to discuss their ideas, then ask them to share what their groups came up with and for any other thoughts about how they should behave and how to respectfully communicate with classmates during discussions and work time.
After discussing what the behavior and communication norms should be, I’ll also ask them how they think they should be held accountable for adhering to the norms. I’ll ask, “If you’re having a crappy day and find yourself violating this set of norms (or code of ethics, or whatever sounds like a good name for us to call it), how should your teacher or classmates hold you accountable? (Like, what is a way to gently remind each other to raise our hands to talk? etc.) What should the consequences be if you continue to violate the norms after you’ve been reminded of them by your teacher / classmates?” Then they will understand the steps for disciplinary action and will, ideally, resent it less if they’re caught up in it, because they helped to invent it themselves – they own it.
I will also ask the students what their expectations of me as a teacher are and to tell me how I should be held accountable to them. We will write these expectations and consequences in a succinct and aesthetically pleasing piece of writing to be displayed where it can be seen daily.
If expectations are not met, my first course of action will be to remind the students of the standards and norms, perhaps also reiterating the intentions and philosophy behind them. If a student continues to violate norms, I will remind them again, making it a point to mention that I am frustrated with their behavior and also to point out how surprised I am that they would be behaving this way, since they normally do follow the norms and meet the expectations by working hard and producing quality work. I may do this in class or one-on-one, depending on the circumstances and seriousness of the situation. If this doesn’t turn them around, I will follow my school’s disciplinary procedures.
ROUTINES, POLICIES, & PROCEDURES EXPLANATIONS
Consider the nuts and bolts of how daily life in your classroom will operate, and describe it. Include explanations of the following key elements (and others that you would like to add):
- Classroom Assessment System –
- What types of formative assessment will you use (minute by minute as well as day by day & week by week)?
- All writing assignments will be formative – major papers / book reports / film reports. All will follow a writing rubric with a specific focus on some writing skill for that unit, such as organization, word choice, sentence fluency, voice, etc.
- What system/tools will you use to manage your formative assessment system so you and students can see growth over time?
- They will have a writing portfolio and after every assignment they will have an opportunity to re-write for changes, up till the end of the semester. They’ll have a sheet in their portfolio that lists every assignment and the score they received for the rough draft, final draft and optional re-written draft, which they will fill in for every paper I hand back to them and I will “stamp” it or sign it or something, and they’ll turn it in at the end of the semester for final grades (completion is the final summative grade).
- What role will self-assessment on the part of students play in your assessment plan? How will you use student voice as part of your assessment plan/learning environment?
- I will have the students edit their own rough drafts during writing workshop times. They’ll write up a short self-reflection explaining what rubric scores they gave themselves on their rough drafts and turn this in as an exit slip on workshop day. They will spend an additional day workshopping by editing their peers’ papers and doing the same thing, sharing the feedback they gave to their partners and then handing in an exit slip with a written description of that feedback.
- How will you give clear, timely, descriptive feedback aligned with the learning targets in ways that move student learning forward?
- I will get their longer writing assignments back to them within 2 weeks. Short writing assignments within the week.
- What are the criteria for success that you will build into your course?
- Students will be able to:
- Critically analyze a piece of literature.
- Write a convincing argument for their analysis.
- Connect literature and language to artistic expression by practicing it themselves through creative writing assignments (writing their own stories, poems, songs, etc) as well as creative interpretations of literature (such as art projects or skits for book reports).
- Convey a sense of teacher and student role in the assessment process
- In addition to having writing workshop days, I plan on having at least 2 one-on-one conferences with each student to talk about their writing assignments and how they are improving as writers. We’ll have the rubric out and the feedback they’ve given themselves on exit slips and just sit and talk about any specific paper that I think demonstrates what they are doing well and what they need to be working on.
- What types of summative assessment will you use?
- I will have regular vocabulary quizzes that are scored as small test grades, summative. It will just be a list of words and the definitions that they’ve copied down from the board every day. Sheer memorization.
- I will also give a summative grade based on their participation and completion of assignments. They will receive full credit for turning in everything and completing the requirements for the writing workshop process (drafting, re-writing, evaluation of their drafts on exit slips) and turning everything in by the end of the semester or unit.
- I will give opportunities to raise their summative grade by giving them the chance to re-write papers all the way until the end of the semester (or a week or two before the end so I have time to read and evaluate whether they really improved their drafts or not).
- We will do some comprehension tests on texts that we read in class and they will be summatively assessed on their ability to answer questions about the books or stories we read. I will grade on a curve in case there are any ambiguous questions that students got confused about. I’m not sure whether I want to give them a chance to go over the tests and turn them back in for points after making corrections, because that doesn’t indicate that they really understood the book or made connections with it. I may just make this a plain old fashioned summative test, but give them a chance to re-read the text and complete a creative project demonstrating their understanding of it, if they bomb the test but want to make up for it by really trying.
- How will you regularly & consistently seek feedback about what students are needing and how they are responding to the learning environment you are helping to create?
- I will give them an anonymous online survey every two months (or paper version if they prefer) asking them: (1) What do you need from me? (2) Tell me what you are learning in this class. (3) Do you think there’s a way the learning environment in this class could improve?
- Role of grading in classroom; relationship between grades & learning. What will be included in grades in your class & why?
- Students will be able to:
- Time routines (beginning/ending class, weekly, etc.)
- Every day we’ll start out by writing for 5 minutes in a journal. Their writing prompt will be to just respond to a quote from a song or movie or great quotation. I’ll stamp for completion but won’t read it.
- We’ll have announcement time where I will direct the focus of the class and point to the learning target and answer questions for 5-7 minutes.
- Mini-Lesson – if it’s a mini-lesson day (maybe twice a week – once to learn and once to review and hear it again) we’ll spend 10-15 minutes on a mini-lesson or lecture, or I may have them deliver a mini-lesson in groups and we’ll use that time.
- Discussion Time – most of our class time will be in writing or discussion as a class. For Discussion Days we’ll sit in a circle and talk about what we’re reading and make connections with it as a whole class. I want the whole class involved in this because I think it makes it harder for people to hide and check out if they are all looking at each other. Some folks may be more quiet and shy and I’ll give them an opportunity to write their thoughts to me on paper or email me their thoughts and that will be their form of participation for the day. But my goal is for the norms and classroom culture to make them feel safe enough to share with the whole class once they start to feel comfortable.
- Workshop Time – On days when we do writing workshop, they’ll spend the bulk of the day drafting, revising, or critiquing other students’ papers. I will be walking around workshopping or conferencing.
- Test and quiz time – this will happen on designated test and quiz days. Times will vary according to the amount of content I’m testing. We probably will never need an entire period for a test that I’m delivering.
- Presentation and rehearsal time – we’ll be doing creative and dramatic presentations and I want to allot some time for them to rehearse and present. This will vary depending on the nature and length of the presentation.
- Exit slips – I’ll do exit slips sometimes and may need to give them a couple of minutes at the end to finish up and turn them in. I’ll have an envelope on the door they can slip it into.
- Materials routines – how will you collect, store, and redistribute student work?
- I’ll have an inbox for turning in work and I will check it after every class period. I’ll have files for each period to store work that hasn’t been graded yet and a file for work that needs to be turned in. I’ll record their scores and hand back their papers and they’ll be responsible for keeping their work for rewriting and in case I make a mistake recording something. I’ll communicate this to them and provide tips for how to keep track of their assignments at home. If they need folders or binders to organize stuff and they don’t have the resources they need, I plan on having a Community Supplies Bin for students to bring extra stuff they don’t want or need or just want to donate, and anyone can just grab from it at any time.
- What requirements will you have for work that is submitted?
- Every assignment will have its own requirements, but I will take any work that is incomplete and their rubric scores or summative scores will reflect it. If they start turning in stuff that’s half-assed and not complete on purpose, I will have a chat with them individually.
- Late/make-up work policies & procedures – how will you manage the classroom so that when students are absent you have materials in place that support their ability to catch up when they return
- I will have a website and my email available. If they don’t have access to internet at home I will give them more time as long as they have a reasonable excuse (sick, etc).
- Seating assignments – will you assign seats? How often? Why or why not?
- I will assign seats most of the time. I’ll assign their writing workshop groups and they will be seated according to those. I also plan on having the desks in a circle in the room (somehow, or as close to an actual circle as possible if there are too many desks) for days when we have discussions as a whole class. I probably won’t assign seats for that. I am toying with the idea of having my grandpa’s easy chair at the front of the room with a black and white picture of Grandpa Lamont the Humanities teacher looking like a super studly writer. The “Carpe Diem” student for the week or fortnight or month will be honored with the privilege of sitting there.
- Hall pass procedures – how do you want students to communicate with you if they need to leave?
- They will need to talk to me and grab a hall pass. If it’s an emergency they can just grab it and go, but talk to me later to acknowledge.
- How will desks be arranged?
- In a circle for class discussions, in table group type pods for writing workshop days.
- In which direction will students be facing?
- They will all be facing each other in a circle.
- How will students be encouraged to move around the room? Can they get up whenever they want?
- During workshop days, yes. Workshop days will hopefully include food so they can come grab food whenever, or come talk to me about their work. I will also be walking around giving feedback.
- How will you physically position yourself during your time with these students & why?
- I will not be on my computer during class unless absolutely necessary. I will always either be walking around or standing to deliver instructions, or sitting with them in the circle for discussion. I want my proximity to keep them focused, and also there’s no way for me to really know what’s going on with them unless I’m walking around and hearing their conversations and talking with them.
- Will the physical environment be modified at different times? When & why?
- Yes! Always. There will always be new works of art to display, so we’ll have places on the walls dedicated to those. We’ll rearrange the desks regularly every week for discussion times (a big circle) or writing workshop times (pods). I’ll delegate the rearrangement of desks to whoever is in the classroom early just hanging out (there are always students just around hanging out).
- I plan on not using computers or tablets or electronic devices in the classroom because I just don’t see a need for it (unless we have a special game day where we play Jeopardy or that trivia game where you buzz in with your smart phones – those will be special exceptions). I want them to learn to appreciate the antiquated art of ink and paper. They’re already overwhelmed by technology and I think this will be good for their brains to have a 50-90 minute break from it. Of course they will need some computer time for typing papers, and I will make special appointments for use of the library computers for class time or individuals.
- What types of formative assessment will you use (minute by minute as well as day by day & week by week)?
FIRST DAYS OF SCHOOL
- What sort of interest inventory/icebreaker will you use on the first day?
I play on creating my own interest inventory with questions that ask the students:
- Books they Enjoy
- Favorite Movies
- What they did last summer
- Whether they have a computer / device / internet at home
- Description of the family they live with
- What they want to be when they grow up
- What do they want to be buried with when they die?
- Languages they speak at home
I also plan on using the Color Personality test that places you into one of four personality types (orange – the adventurer, blue – the dreamer, green – the scientist, and gold – ?). These tests aren’t purely scientific but they are a fun way to discover character traits about yourself and learn why others who are different from you behave the way they do. Once they’ve figured out their color, I will split them into their corresponding groups and each of them will be tasked with building a structure using construction paper of that color. We did this once in my high school drama club, and my drama teacher went around and wrote down quotes from things she heard students saying that seemed to reflect what their personality type was. We had a ton of fun and really learned about each other from the exercise.
Knowing a little more about their home situation from my interest inventory (their language, family structure, computer access) will help me know if there are assignments that could be difficult for some students to complete (like a research project that requires lots of computer time). It will also be short answers and somewhat vaguely open ended for some questions so I can get a sense of if and how much they like writing. The color personality quiz is great because it gets people working together in something as a team right away and demonstrates their strengths and skills. It also shows the diversity of the community because you can see how different personality types function to produce the same thing with a different style of creativity.
I plan to continue the first few weeks of school with group activities like the color personality test. We’ll establish our norms and write them on a poster where they can be displayed and referred to. We’ll start the routine of daily journaling. I will give them journal prompts every day that they can use to journal with no sharing, so they can express themselves completely with no fear of exposing themselves, but during the first couple of weeks I will have them write some “sharing” journal prompts (perhaps highlighting the prompt in a different color or something) where before they start writing, they will know that they’re going to share what they’ve written with their table groups. All they need to do is share, there won’t be any analysis or feedback to the writing itself for the first couple of times, but the idea is to get them used to sharing their work with their peers so that they can be more comfortable with this during writing peer workshops later on.
WELCOME LETTER TO PARENTS
My name is Amanda MacLean and I’m looking forward to a year with your young people that is full of hard work, adventure, and fun. We are exploring the fantastic world of Language Arts together – the aesthetics, power and function of the written word. My goal is to create a community where your young person feels safe and empowered to be able to express him or herself without fear of being judged, where they will be challenged to become better writers, readers and thinkers.
A little about me: I have always been passionate about writing, good communication, and helping people learn. I graduated from the University of Texas in Austin with a degree in English and a minor in Linguistics. I spent my college years volunteering for a youth organization in East Texas where I counseled and mentored recent high school graduates, providing on-the-job communications training in a fast-paced promotions headquarters. I have experience giving one-on-one coaching and feedback, have managed small teams of students, and have taught training sessions for large groups in customer service, communications and work professionalism.
English was my best and favorite subject in high school, but it wasn’t until my last two years of college that I really began to fall crazy in love with the Language Arts. Words of dead authors came alive to me as they helped me discover the world around me in the beauty and tragedy of the human experience.
In my free time I enjoy writing, singing, playing guitar, compulsively cleaning and organizing things, arts and crafts, camping, yoga, gardening, wishing I was in a play, and daydreaming about foreign travels. I also take pictures and run my own small photography business.
Have a great day.