Managing Classroom Crunch

We’re getting to the time of the year when the calendar starts to condense and compress: it’s the classroom crunch! Suddenly, it’s a week until Thanksgiving break, tomorrow is probably a snow day, and you’re wondering where the time has gone. Things are starting to look grim: you have too much curriculum and not enough days left on the calendar. We’ve all been there, and here are some tips for getting through the year-end crunch.

Managing Classroom Crunch #moore-english

Prioritize. What knowledge and skills do students absolutely need when they leave your classroom? While all standards are important, they are not created equal. Which standards are non-negotiable for you and your students? Once you can answer these questions, you will be on the path to surviving crunch time. In order to answer these questions:

Think Vertically: Where are your students going next? I teach sophomore and junior English, so when it comes time to prioritize, I start to think about what skills and content students absolutely must have before moving on to English 11 or 12. For example, in order to be successful in junior English, my sophomores must know how to locate, embed, and cite evidence. With this in mind, activities and lessons that stress CCSS RL 9-10.1 about drawing conclusions and making inferences becomes a priority while SL 9-10.1b about working with peers to establish discussion norms gets less screen time.
Consider Scaffolding: In addition to skills and content students need to know before they leave, what content should they learn in your class as scaffolding for learning in future classes? For example, students learn about independent and dependent clauses and parts of speech in ninth grade so they can work on active voice in tenth grade and gerunds in eleventh, so it would be in students’ best interest to continue emphasising language standards.
Look Toward Assessment. At the end of the semester, how will students be assessed? While I don’t want to encourage you to teach purely to the test, backwards design is sound practice. It would be unfair to send students toward a team, district, or state assessment without adequate preparation. For example, our sophomore state assessment always includes context clues, so I will continue to prioritize content clues. Similarly, the state assessment has no listening component. For this reason, I will emphasize context clues with every reading and grammar lesson but maybe will only stress listening once a week.

Managing Classroom Crunch #moore-english

Streamline. In addition to prioritizing as you move forward, also plan your remaining class time so as to be as efficient as possible. Make the most of what class time you have left. Streamline your classroom with these tools:

Minimize Transitions: Tomorrow, time every transition in your classroom. How much time does it take students to settle into the bell ringer? How much time does it take students to move from the bell ringer into the first part of the lesson? How much time do students lose moving from paper-pencil activities to digital work? You will be amazed at how much class time we spend transitioning.
  • In order to minimize these transitions, we can learn a lot from our elementary friends: use timers, try a doorbell for classroom transitions, or try classroom signals. One of my mid-year classroom resolutions is going to be trying out a classroom signal.
  • Look for other opportunities to maximize class time. For example, when students pass in work, always have them pass backward instead of forwards. Always make sure to have routines and procedures for students to fall back on. I also assign some classroom jobs to students. Even my high-school students feel empowered by some of the smallest responsibilities: answering the door, advancing the PowerPoint, or changing the daily analogy.
Combine Standards: Especially in ELA, our standards overlap, so design lessons and learning opportunities that ask students to work across standards. For example, even the simplest writing assignments probably touch multiple standards. Today, my sophomores summarized a scene from Julius Caesar. While summary was the lesson priority (RL 9-10.2), students also had to make inferences (RL 9-10.1), use context clues to determine the meaning of unknown words (L 9-10.4), write appropriately for audience and purpose (W 9-10.4) and use an appropriate tone and style (L 9-10.3). In one small assignment, students touched on five standards. If I ask them to type their response, we touch another standard (W 9-10.6); if I ask them to provide feedback to one another, that’s another standard (W 9-10.5); and if we share summaries aloud, that’s yet another standard (SL 9-10.4). This means that lesson design can be a natural way to ease the end-of-the-semester crunch. Not only do teachers want their classrooms to be efficient, but we also want lessons that make the most of student skill and seat time.

Managing Classroom Crunch #moore-english

Revise and Reflect: Regardless of how much prioritizing and streamlining I do in my classroom, crunch time is a struggle. Each year it looks a little different. For example, we’re doing a textbook pilot this year, and the time commitment was far more than anticipated. Next year, we’ll be learning a new textbook and a revised curriculum, so I’m sure that will cause a strain. Regardless of what causes crunch time, I want to avoid making the same missteps twice. For example, after my first year of teaching, I learned not to schedule two major process papers in one semester. Revising and reflecting on factors that caused me to feel pressed for time is a valuable way to help me plan for the future. Similarly, if I make note of how well I reacted to feeling crunched for time, I can learn which reactions produced the greatest benefit for my students. Reflection does not have to be elaborate. Sometimes a note in my plans or a Google Keep note is enough of a reminder so when I arrive at this point in the semester next year, I have an even better way to help my students. From my reflection, I know how to revise my practice going forward. This is part of the process of growing professionally and being a lifelong learner.

How do you handle the classroom crunch? Share your best tips and tricks in the comments! 

Remember to subscribe for new posts every Tuesday.  Follow along and keep in touch with Moore English on Instagram, Pinterest, and Twitter. With Thanksgiving next Thursday, I doubt there will be a Tuesday post. Look for posts to resume 11/20. 

Managing Classroom Crunch #moore-english

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Choosing Texts for Literary Criticism

This week, my juniors will make their first foray into literary criticism. In the past, I’ve written about the importance of incorporating literary criticism in secondary English. Today, I’ll share texts that are perfect for introducing literary criticism.

As you choose texts for introducing literary criticism, remember that the goal of the lesson is to introduce and present a critical lens. While you want to choose an appropriate text, you also want to choose an approachable text. Literary criticism is intimidating enough without choosing a text that is too dense.

Choosing Texts for Literary Criticism #moore-english

Formalist Criticism: Since formalist or New Criticism is all about the unified whole, look for a text that’s every choice points to a specific theme or main idea. Although students don’t usually know the words “formalist” or “New Criticism,” they have long been doing this type of work because this is the position most literature classes and standardized tests take. For this reason, you may only need a short work to reinforce formalist beliefs.

With this in mind, I use the poem “Long Distance II” by Tony Harrison. The meter is regular, and the language is non-threatening, so students are able to focus on the moves Harrison makes to support his main idea. For example, the rhyme scheme and point of view change in the final stanza, and these key details point to the main idea. Similarly, in “Invictus” by William Ernest Henley, the rhyme scheme is consistent until the last stanza, which repeats a rhyme (and a word) from the first stanza.You can find my lesson for “Invictus” here

If you’re interested in a longer text for formalism, Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird is a great example of a unified whole. Early on, Atticus tells Scout about the importance of walking in someone else’s shoes. To do this, Scout would have to change her perspective. At the start of the book, Scout cannot do this: her misunderstanding of Walter Cunningham Jr.’s eating habits is evidence. In the middle of the book, during the climatic courtroom scene, Scout sits in the colored balcony. In this moment, her perspective is physically changed. Finally, in book’s conclusion, she makes the choice to walk Arthur Radley home and, in doing so, stands on his porch and sees the world from his point of view. Through these three choices, Harper Lee creates a unified whole and a fine opportunity to practice formalism. My To Kill a Mockingbird resources are here

Choosing Texts for Literary Criticism #moore-english @moore-english.comArchetypal Criticism: Like formalist criticism, archetypal criticism is often one of the first lenses I introduce. Without knowing it, students are often familiar with archetypes and archeplots. For example, when I introduce Julius Caesar as a tragic hero, we trace those characteristics through several other figures. Like Julius Caesar, many of Shakespeare’s other main characters make for compelling archetypal criticism, including Hamlet, Macbeth, and King Lear. Because the subject of archetypal criticism is often a hero, Beowulf can be a good choice. I especially like to use Beowulf because Grendel and his mother are very much the inverse: where Beowulf has fatal flaws, Grendel and his mother have critical weaknesses (greed and fear) and where Beowulf makes selfless choices, Grendel and his mother act selfishly. This discussion gets even more interesting when readers consider John Gardner’s Grendel. In discussing the interplay between heroes and anti-heroes, I value this think sheet. Other heroes to consider are King Arthur, Odysseus (in both Homer’s The Odyssey and in Alfred, Lord Tennyson’s “Ulysses”) and Sophocles’ Oedipus. Outside of epic tales, Gatsby offers an interesting study in heroism as does Kurtz in Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness.

Biographical Criticism: For biographical criticism, my favorite text is Henley’s Choosing Texts for Literary Criticism #moore-english“Invictus.” First, my students produce a formalist reading as discussed above. Then, I ask students to speculate about the circumstances during which Henley wrote his famous poem. Most students predict that he’s fighting a war. However, Henley had actually lost a leg to amputation, and during his recovery, he wrote his poem. After I give students this information, I ask them to reconsider the poem. How has their understanding of the poem changed? To see my full lesson plan for “Invictus,” check out Introducing Historical and Biographical Criticism.

Another great text for biographical criticism is John Milton’s “Sonnet 19: When I consider how my light is spent.” Again, I ask students to provide a close reading of the text, during which they usually find multiple interpretations of the speaker’s “light.” Then, I tell students that “Sonnet 19” is also known as “On My Blindness,” and I explain that Milton was actually blind. Once I provide this information, I ask students how their understanding of the poem has changed. Does this information enhance or diminish the power of the poem, or does the poem’s power exist free of this information?

Other opportunities for biographical criticism include confessional poetry from Anne Sexton or Sylvia Plath. From Sexton, “Courage” is powerful, and from Plath, “Mirror” works well with students. Similarly, Gerard Manley Hopkins’ so-called “Terrible Sonnets” also provide an opportunity for biographical criticism. In terms of drama, analyzing Arthur Miller’s “Why I Wrote The Crucible” is effective biographical criticism and transitions nicely intro historical criticism.

Choosing Texts for Literary Criticism #moore-english @moore-english.comHistorical Criticism: Like biographical criticism, historical criticism requires a little outside knowledge. The intersection of history and literature is rife for literary discussion. For this critical lens, I have several favorites. In terms of poetry, Samuel T. Coleridge’s “Fears in Solitude” can be quite powerful, but it’s fairly dense. The same is also true of Gerard Manley Hopkins’ “Wreck of the Deutschland.” Both provide good opportunities for applying an historical lens, but they’re better extension activities than first attempt texts. Because I know I’m looking for a text that invites historical criticism without being too intimidating, I will often choose Alfred, Lord Tennyson’s “The Charge of the Light Brigade.”  

Beyond poetry, excerpts from Tim O’Brien’s The Things They Carried can be powerful. For example, our textbook includes the chapter “On the Rainy River,” which is compelling in its own right but becomes more powerful when read in the context of Vietnam. Another option would be Nathaniel Hawthorne’s “Young Goodman Brown” with its considerations of Puritan belief and fears. 

Similarly, George Orwell’s “Shooting an Elephant” is a great choice for introducing historical criticism. The speaker is working for imperial Britain in India, and his conflicted opinions on imperialism, empire, and colonialism present an engaging opportunity for historical perspective. Since there is debate on how autobiographical “Shooting an Elephant” is, this can also be a good opportunity for biographical criticism. Check out my lesson plan for “Shooting an Elephant” here.

Additionally, excerpts from Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness also offer Visualizing Shakespeare #moore-english moore-english.comopportunities for analyzing the impact of history on literature. My favorite excerpts can be found here. Other fiction rife for historical criticism include Things Fall Apart, Animal Farm, The Great Gatsby, and To Kill a Mockingbird. In terms of drama, Arthur Miller’s The Crucible with its interesting historical contexts is a great option. Further, William Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar is an interesting case since there’s evidence that he wrote the play to comment on the political situation during his own time. However, he set the play in ancient Rome to avoid any claims of overt rebellion.

New Historicism: Like historical criticism, New Historicism requires some Choosing Texts for Literary Criticism #moore-english @moore-english.comhistorical knowledge. However, New Historicism is as interested in historical “fact” as it is in the way an individual or group’s position and identities (gender, sex, religious affiliation, socioeconomic status, etc.) affect perspective. For this reason, I like to use the text we read during our study of historical criticism as a stepping stone. For example, in “On the Rainy River,” “Shooting an Elephant,” and Heart of Darkness, the speaker is always a white male. With these speakers, students have an opportunity to discuss the effect of privilege on perspective.

At this point, I’d like to mention one of my favorite essays. Aldous Huxley’s “Words and Behavior” is a particularly compelling essay about the dangers of rhetoric. While the text is extremely challenging, it would be a great option for every type of criticism mentioned so far. Students can provide a close reading of the text for formalism. Then, they can consider how Huxley’s upbringing, including his brother’s suicide, mother’s sickness, and his own vision problems, affected his work. Next, the political situation in which Huxley wrote “Words and Behavior” is particularly relevant. Huxley’s position of educated privilege no doubt also affected his text.  

Choosing Texts for Literary Criticism #moore-english @moore-english.comFeminist and Marxist Criticism: As with New Historicism, I prefer to “recycle” a text when introducing feminist and Marxist criticism. For this reason, when I introduce these lenses, we will revisit an earlier text. For feminist criticism, Heart of Darkness works particularly well because it features few women characters, and none of them have names. If Heart of Darkness isn’t a workable option for your class (too long, too difficult, too offensive, etc.), “The Yellow Wallpaper” by Charlotte Perkins Gilman can be especially good. However, a less heavily anthologized option would be “A New England Nun” by Mary E. Freeman or “A White Heron” by Sarah Orne Jewett. Other options for feminist criticism include “Daisy Miller” by Henry James, “Editha” by William Dean Howells, Pride and Prejudice or Northanger Abbey by Jane Austen, Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte, Macbeth by William Shakespeare, or “Eve’s Diary” by Mark Twain.  

For Marxist criticism, my first choice is, again, to “recycle” a text. In this case, Choosing Texts for Literary Criticism #moore-english @moore-english.comThe Great Gatsby is an excellent option for exploring the effect of class warfare. Another novel to consider is The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. A novella to consider is “Daisy Miller” by Henry James. In terms of poetry, Walt Whitman’s description of class in “Song of Myself” works well for a Marxist perspective. For a short story, Jack London’s “South of the Slot” is a great option. However, my favorite short story to read for a Marxist perspective is Eudora Welty’s “A Worn Path.” In fact, this is the short story my students read yesterday. In this text, the main character is an elderly, ailing black woman named Phoenix Jackson. Throughout the story, her race, gender, and class become obstacles in her journey down the “worn path.” Welty’s observations about human nature are particularly astute. Students always have excellent conversations after reading this text. 

Choosing Texts for Literary Criticism #moore-english @moore-english.comPostcolonial Criticism: With its consideration of the effect of colonization and imperialism, postcolonial criticism does not apply to every text. Nevertheless, it works exceptionally well with “Shooting an Elephant,” Things Fall Apart, and Heart of Darkness. Additionally, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s TedTalkThe Danger of a Single Story” both provides postcolonial analysis and could be the subject of postcolonial analysis. In terms of considering “the Other,” texts like Frankenstein and The Scarlet Letter provide compelling options. For example, Frankenstein’s monster is made an Other by his creator, and he becomes acutely aware of his Otherness. Similarly, Hester Prynne is an Other, is aware of her Otherness, and at times seems to celebrate it. 

What texts do you recommend for teaching literary criticism? Which titles should we add to our list? Let us know in the comments! 

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Choosing Texts for Literary Criticism #moore-english


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Visualizing Writing

Visualization is one of my favorite classroom strategies. We use visualization with synthesis thinking, drama, and reading. Sometimes, though, it’s hard to help students visualize with their own writing. How can teachers help students conceptualize their final written product? Over the years, I’ve come to value these steps as essential to helping students visualize their writing.

Reward Brainstorming As a student, I always used my own techniques for brainstorming and resented teachers that required me to brainstorm in a certain way or with a specific graphic organizer.

For this reason, as a new teacher, I vowed to never require my students to brainstorm. That was a mistake.

When my students didn’t take time to brainstorm, they produced disorganized or incoherent writing because they struggled to visualize their end goal.

Reluctant to require brainstorming but understanding its importance, I began offering students a menu of brainstorming options. When we’re beginning a writing exercise, essay, or project, I offer students this menu. Sometimes I make each student or table a copy, but other times I just post the menu on Google Classroom.Visualizing Student Writing Brainstorming Choice Menu @moore-english #moore-english

Next, I do a think-aloud with students as a talk through the possible options I would use for brainstorming. For example, if we are writing narratives, I might do a talk-aloud to show students that I would consider using a plot diagram, word association, bulleted list, or audio word blurt for my brainstorming. In my talk-aloud, I would also model how I choose not to use a structured outline strategy for drafting my narrative.

Visualizing Student Writing Brainstorming Choice Menu @moore-english #moore-english

Then, I would ask students to choose and try their brainstorming method. When students brainstorm, they begin to visualize their final product. The act of visualization helps students better conceptualize their work. As teachers, we can reward this behavior by having students share or showcase their brainstorming. For older students, I often use points in the grade book as the reward. In some classes, this means students earn ten points simply for brainstorming. In other classes, students not turning in evidence of brainstorming lose 10% of the final product’s total potential score. Either way, my goal is to emphasize to students the importance of visualizing their work.

Provide the Rubric Early I never grade writing without a rubric. Rubrics keep grading efficient, clarify expectations, and provide equity and transparency in assessment. Additionally, by providing the rubric early, students know exactly what they’re writing toward. In other words, the rubric clarifies the author’s purpose. As we go about drafting our product, we will continually refer to the rubric. For example, when we work on using evidence, we will refer to the section of the rubric focused on using evidence. 5 First-Week Writing Ideas I will then ask students to self-reflect on their current progress by ranking their paper with the rubric. For this reason, I really like using paper rubrics (as opposed to digital rubrics) with my students because they can use different colors to mark different parts of the paper-writing process or different reflection opportunities.

Giving students the rubric early and referencing it throughout helps students visualize the progress they’re making toward their end goal. Additionally, the rubric breaks down the process into easy to manage sections, allowing students to visualize the steps in the process.

Evaluate Exemplar Texts During a recent conversation with my principal, he asked me about my lesson plans for my Informative Paper unit. He noticed that “rough draft” was listed as the formative assessment, and “final copy” was the summative. When he asked me how these items would be evaluated, I explained that the department has common rubrics for all our major assessments. Then, he asked me how students use the rubric. His point was that students cannot be expected to produce a final copy if they do not have a clear vision of the end goal.

For this reason, I explained, students evaluate exemplar texts. Evaluation is a high-level thinking skill. Applying the rubric to an exemplar text allows students to see a final product, assess its value, and reflect on their own work in light of this process. In order to facilitate this process, follow these steps:

  • I have collected students exemplars over the years. Typically, I keep 4-5 versions of all our major summative assessments. Some of the exemplars are of the highest quality, but oftentimes the most valuable exemplars are the ones that make common missteps. For example, my Informative Unit focuses on organization, use of evidence, and following a standard citation format.
  • With this in mind, I will share an exemplar that does all of these things well, but then I will also share an exemplar that does not embed quotations or an exemplar that neglects MLA-style citations.
  • Once I have collected my exemplars, I will strip them of any identifying information, and then I will randomly number them.
  • In class, I break my students into groups of 4-5, making sure each group has a balance of personalities and writing skills. I will give each group a set of numbered and stripped essays and ask them to use the rubric to assess these exemplars.
  • Each group will apply the rubric, reflect on the essays, and rank them.
  • On the board, I will project this slide (click and you will be able to make your own copy), and each group will share their rankings with the class. Visualizing Student Writing Brainstorming Choice Menu @moore-english #moore-english
  • Then, we will discuss the rankings as a group, especially where groups differed in their rankings. This conversation is an excellent way to clarify student misconceptions, reinforce positive writing skills, and help students “see” what quality looks like. While this process can take 30-45 minutes, it is well worth it in terms of helping students visualize their writing goals.

Set Writing Goals Over the course of a semester or course, it is also essential to help students visualize their growth and goals as writers. In order to facilitate this process, at the beginning of the year, students use this form (a #freebie!) to set goals. Visualizing Student Writing Brainstorming Choice Menu @moore-english #moore-englishThen, we keep a one-page data sheet with our writing goals. Each time we write, we chart our growth as writers. These graphs can become a great talking point during writing conferences with students, with parents during parent-teacher conferences, student-led conferences, or with data teams during analysis. The value of these charts is that students visualize their writing growth over a longer period of time. This emphasizes that writing is a process but so is learning.

How do you prepare students to visualize their writing? What tricks, tips, or strategies help you to communicate the importance of revision and growth to your students? Let us know in the comments! 

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Classroom Hygiene and Health

I love fall: scarves, plaid, pumpkins, cooler weather. But, as a teacher, I also know that fall brings the beginning of flu season: sneezing, coughing, and sniffling students are the perfect recipe for a sick classroom. Like the best lesson plans and classroom management, it’s important to be proactive about classroom health. Here are the best tips and tricks for “weatherizing” your room!

Get Students Onboard: As the weather begins to turn, have a frank conversation with your students about health. At the secondary level, this conversation is pretty short and blunt, but it never hurts to remind students to wash their hands and cover their mouths.

Make Health Routine: Build classroom “check ups” into your daily or weekly classroom routine and procedures. This week, I reminded students that there is hand sanitizer right next to the door and right next to the bathroom pass. This is the location of my May-I-Borrow-Shelf, which students can access anytime during the period. In the same place, we also keep tissues, paper towels, and Clorox wipes. Another way we build cleanliness into our room is to do a class “wipe down” once a week. During this time, everyone gets a Clorox wipe and cleans their desk, chair, and any handles they can find. Even my older students view this activity as a kind of game, so everything gets clean without too much complaint.

Dress in Layers: This year, I travel between classrooms, moving from mobile classroom to mobile classroom. This means I don’t always know what climate I’m walking into, so I wear several layers. Sometimes it’s like dressing for all the seasons in a day. For this reason, I also keep an extra sweater, socks, and gloves in my classrooms. I also encourage students to bring an extra jacket to keep in their backpack.

Keep a Weather Eye: Just like we keep an eye on the weather, keep an eye on students, too. Inevitably, sadly, some of our students will not have access to warm clothes. How you decide to respond is, ultimately, your choice, but most communities have some options. In my building, we have a student closet that our at-risk counselor manages. Similarly, when students do need a clothing voucher, I can quietly contact the guidance office and, if needed, send the student to the office. Of course, we’ve also had times when the closet is empty or missing the necessary sizes or when the vouchers have run out. When this happens, we can send out a call for donations, mention the need to a local charity, or hit the clearance racks ourselves.

Make leaving sub plans easier with this ready-to-print FREEBIE. #subplans #moore-english #iteachtoo

Manage Your HealthWhile it’s important to keep our classrooms and our students healthy, it’s also important for teachers to remain healthy. This week @Blackboard_Talk had a great article about the importance of not sacrificing too much for teaching. In my own life, I noticed a huge difference when I started taking a daily vitamin, and I know other teachers that swear by daily apple cider vinegar, Emergen-C, and Echinacea. I’m not a doctor or medical professional, so before you make one of these changes, chat with your family physician. Similarly, being prepared to sickness can be a great way to be proactive. Before you get sick, plan for emergency absences by putting together some emergency sub plans that can be deployed at a moment’s notice. To help you prepare for an emergency absence, check out this free Substitute Cover Letter.

Before you start class tomorrow, take an assessment of your classroom. How is your classroom hygiene? Are you ready to be proactive about sickness? Let us know what other tips and tricks you have for keeping your classroom healthy.

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Classroom Hygiene and Health #moore-english

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Take the Thank-You Challenge

Growing up, there were lots of lessons I should have learned from my mother but….I ignored some of her sage advice. For example, I should have listened when she told me not to pluck my own eyebrows but…alas…2001 was rough.

However, one thing I absolutely learned from my mom was the value of handwritten thank-you cards. There’s something magical about dropping a quick thank you in someone’s mailbox! A few lines that take you five minutes to write can go a long way in improving someone else’s day!

Thank You Challenge #moore-english

For this reason, I keep a box of blank cards in my desk drawer. When I see cards on clearance or at a garage sale, I almost always pick them up. There’s something special about getting an actual card and not an email or a text. No occasion is too small for a thank you–send them after a curriculum meeting, after a co-worker leads a great PD session, or after a colleague does you a favor. As long as your thanks is genuine, there are no rules–sign your name, sign as a group, seal the envelope, have your students do the writing!  

So here’s my challenge for you: find a way to thank someone in your life this week! Take a few minutes and drop a line to a past teacher, a fellow teacher, or a member of the support staff. Send a genuine, handwritten note of thanks and let them know you’re grateful!

Remember to subscribe for new posts every Tuesday. Follow along and keep in touch with Moore English on Instagram, Pinterest, and Twitter.

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Paired Texts for To Kill a Mockingbird

As I mentioned in an earlier post, instead of doing a traditional short stories and/or poetry unit, I prefer to teach a novel or drama and then supplement with thematically relevant texts. Here are the texts I pair with To Kill a Mockingbird and the skills I emphasize with each

Paired Texts for To Kill a Mockingbird #moore-english

1. “We Wear the Mask” by Paul Laurence Dunbar

Since To Kill a Mockingbird is the first text we read in my sophomore class, “We Wear the Mask” is first poem we encounter, and it provides both great context for To Kill a Mockingbird but also provides students with a good introduction to annotating poetry

2. “The Mask” and “Caged Bird” by Maya Angelou

After reading Dunbar’s poem, we also read Angelou’s re-interpretation or adaptation of his work. This opens up a great conversation about the way authors and artists build on one another’s work, finding way to address similar themes and concerns. In particular, this is a poem where I begin to introduce the concept of tone.

Similarly, “Caged Bird” provides an opportunity for synthesis. While the poem and the novel use similar symbols, they have different perspectives. With this poem, students build on annotation skills and on their understanding of tone, but now we’ve added symbolism and started in on our synthesis skills. At this point, we are able to start building a synthesis map to visualize connections between texts.

3. Credo: What I Believe” by Neil Gaiman

This short piece from Gaiman is a recent addition to my To Kill a Mockingbird unit, but it’s proven to be invaluable. As with “Caged Bird,” it’s a good piece for addressing perspective. It also contributes to our synthesis map. However, paraphrasing and summarizing are the skills I really emphasize with this piece. It’s short enough that students can summarize it independently, but then we break it into chunks and practice our paraphrasing and close-reading skills. Where I place this text within my unit varies from class to class: for classes with low comprehension skills, I place this early; for classes with low synthesis skills, I place this later in the unit. 

4. “The Economics of the New Jim Crow” from

This is the first piece of nonfiction my students read, so it is both fitting in connection with To Kill a Mockingbird and of appropriate complexity and length for the beginning of the year. Before deploying this text, read it carefully because it begins with a powerful image. The text helps reinforce the notion that American racism has not ended but that it has evolved and has an economic component. Great for discussing how authors use evidence and figurative language to make and support claims. also has The Disparate Impact of Climate Change,” which I do not always have time to teach (and it’s getting a little dated); however, this article makes a great point about the connection between class, poverty, and discrimination. My students often miss the class implications of To Kill a Mockingbird, so I value that aspect of this article.

5. Ruby Payne’s Hidden Rules for Understanding Poverty from A Framework for Understanding Poverty

Most of us probably read Ruby Payne’s work as undergrads, and while I admit that the text has some problems, the chart of Hidden Rules works extremely well with To Kill a Mockingbird. This is a discussion point for my students as they evaluate how the hidden rules work within To Kill a Mockingbird. This is an opportunity to continue synthesis, but this is also a place where I begin introducing text features and discussion skills. 

6. CrashCourse To Kill a Mockingbird: Part I and Part IIPaired Texts for Teaching To Kill a Mockingbird @moore-english #moore-english #2ndaryela

I rarely show these clips to the whole class, but I often use them as discussion stations. I’ll place one clip at one station and ask students to either write questions based on the clip, or I will write questions for discussion for the students. If you are not able to use these in class, you can post them to your Google Classroom. Be careful about when in your reading you use a clip so as to guard against spoilers. I also have listening guides for both episodes.

What texts do you pair with To Kill a Mockingbird? How do you use this text to teach the intersection of history and literature? What texts should I add to this list? Let us know in the comments! 

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Paired Texts for To Kill a Mockingbird #moore-english

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Assessing Close Reading

Yesterday, Danielle Valentin asked me a great question on Twitter: What’s the best way to assess close reading? Assessing Close Reading #moore-english #closereading #iteachela #2ndaryela #annotation

According to Beth Burke, NBCT, close reading “is thoughtful, critical analysis of a text that focuses on significant details or patterns in order to develop a deep, precise understanding of the text…” In other words, close reading engages in a meaningful dialogue with the text. Oftentimes, we facilitate that conversation through annotation, but Carol Jago and Penny Kittle remind us that “Annotation is not close reading; it is a habit of the mind.”Assessing Close Reading #moore-english #closereading #iteachela #2ndaryela #annotation

Similarly, Dave Stuart Jr. reminds us that annotation is only valuable when it has purpose. This means, as teachers, we must intentionally plan for how annotation will appear in our lessons. Additionally, we must also make sure students understand the purpose for annotation in our lessons. If we incorporate annotation into our lessons in service of close reading, then we must ask ourselves how the assessment measures students’ ability to close read. Furthermore, we must return to Danielle’s original question: how do we assess close reading?

With that question in mind, here are 5 Dos and 1 Don’t for assessing close reading:

DO model close reading and share your thinking with students. Assessing Close Reading #moore-english #closereading #iteachela #2ndaryela #annotationBefore students can begin the process of close reading with rigor, it’s important to walk students through the process. Let them see and hear your dialogue with a text. For my juniors, I model close reading with the first paragraphs of Jonathan Edwards’ “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God.” Choose a text that presents frequent opportunities for students to wrestle with meaning. Build in an opportunity for you to self-assess your work in front of students, so you are modeling the reflection process for them, too. 

DO invite dialogue. My absolute #teachertruth is that reading is a conversation, and writing is a social activity. With this philosophy in mind, I fully believe that close reading is a conversation with a text. Students have to bring their insights into the text and make room for the text’s impact. For Peter Elbow, this is the “violence” involved in learning: to make sure that both student and text are “maximally transformed–in a sense, deformed” (331). Close reading should invite a chorus, a cacophony, a conversation! Incorporate meaningful academic discussion into your lesson. Ask students to establish some behavior norms for discussion, but then let them dig into the text together. The assessment comes from your observations, student responses to each other, and student responses to your questions.

Assessing Close Reading #moore-english #closereading #iteachela #2ndaryela #annotation

DO use close reading as formative assessment. While my students are discussing a text, I ask them to have their annotations out. As they chat, I walk around and read through annotations. If annotation is your tool for assessing close reading, then you have to be reading over students’ annotations to make sure they balance critical thought with comprehension. This can be a hard balance to strike, which is why modeling is so important. As I walk, I star great insights and write questions where students missed an opportunity to extend thought further. After a discussion, I encourage students to share their reflections on their annotations. If I consistently see a student struggling to create meaningful annotations, I will do a mini-lesson and reteach as needed.

DO use close reading as a platform for summative assessment. Four Steps For Pre-Reading Any Poem #moore-english moore-english.comClose reading draws on inference, analysis, synthesis, and evaluation skills! Because close reading requires so many higher-level skills, it is a great platform for diving into a summative assessment. In writing, close reading is an important part of peer revisions and feedback, but the summative assessment is the writing. During Socratic Seminar, close reading is essential to generating meaningful questions, but the questions and dialogue are the summative assessment. In reading, close reading is critical to providing a nuanced poetry study, but student responses to the poem (maybe in the form of multiple-choice questions or a short answer) are the summative assessment.

DO incorporate voice and choice into close reading. In my classroom, close reading almost always means annotation. However, instead of insisting that students use one standard annotation format, we experiment with a variety of formats: double-entry journals, Cornell notes, and post-it-notes. Sometimes we annotate in Kami or directly on a piece. After students try a certain number of annotation styles, they can choose the one that fits their needs and their mind. But annotation isn’t the only marker of close reading. Students can complete exit tickets, color-code a text, design graphic organizers, free write, or journal. Each one of these items can be an assessment of close reading.

DON’T grade close reading. Close reading improves student comprehension, engagement, and higher-level thinking. However, close reading is not the summative assessment, so there’s no need to put a grade on close reading. Remember, “grading” and “assessment” are not synonymous. As Carnegie Mellon University indicates, assessment seeks to “improve student learning” while grading is evaluative. Close reading is an assessment of how well a student interacted with a text and can be measured with annotation. However, the goal of close reading, like the goal of assessment, is to improve student learning. Grade the final copy. Grade the Socratic Seminar. Grade the item, task, or product that shows the culmination of student learning.

What close-reading strategies work in your classroom? What other questions do you have for Moore English? Send your questions, and remember to subscribe for new posts every Thursday. Follow along and keep in touch with Moore English on Instagram, Pinterest, and Twitter.

Assessing Close Reading #moore-english #closereading #iteachela #2ndaryela #annotation

Photo by Jess Watters on Unsplash

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Parent-Teacher Conference Tips

Last week, my school hosted parent-teacher conferences. As we were preparing to welcome parents and guardians, one of our new teachers asked me what to expect. How many parents would attend? How should teachers dress? Would dinner be provided? During this conversations, I realized there are several little tips and tricks teacher pick up over the years that make for a smoother conference experience.

Parent-Teacher Conference Tips #moore-english


Classroom Goals and Conferences 2018-19 #moore-english

Begin early. Setting the stage for successful parent-teacher conferences begins long before conference night. One of my goals for this year was to make more positive parent contact, and each instance of positive parent contact makes for a smoother conference night. I still have a long way to go in terms of meeting my goal, but positive contacts ahead of conference night can make the challenging aspects of conference night easier to manage. Additionally, if you have a concern for a student or see opportunities for growth, try to begin that conversation before conference night. Conference night should not be the first time you address a concern with parents.

Invite conversations. When you start proactive conversations with parents, conference night becomes another opportunity to continue the conversation. Think of it as a formative assessment in determining how effectively you are leveraging your parent-teacher relationship in favor of helping out a student. For this reason, when colleagues mention that they never see the parents they need to see at conferences, suggest they invite families into the conversation.

Seating arrangements. Before conferences begin, arrange seats so you will be on the same side of the table. This visually suggests to parents that you are all on the same side. Sitting behind a desk or at opposite ends of a table creates an adversarial atmosphere, and that’s to be avoided. This may seem like a little gesture, but if you can be proactive about this one detail, it will give you the opportunity to frame the conversation in a positive, collaborative manner.  

Be proactive. Similarly, if you know a challenging conversation is coming, be proactive and arrive with solutions, including tutoring opportunities, pre-planned intervention options, course recommendations for the future, or appointments with counselors and coaches. While you want to honor parent concerns, and while you also want to listen to parent concerns, arriving with a few options ready to go shows parents that you are prepared, invested, and continually working for their student. You may not need all the items or solutions you prepare, but having a few planned options gives you room to say, “Here’s option x, but I can also look into y.” Even if you know the coming conversation is going to be a breeze, arriving with data, student work, student goals, or enrichment opportunities is an important part of continuing to build meaningful parent-teacher relationships.

Listen to listen. The science of listener attention indicates that in most conversations, we are listening to respond rather than listening to learn. In other words, instead of taking in someone else’s words, we’re continually thinking of our responses. While I encourage you to arrive to conferences prepared, I also want to encourage you to listen to parents. Sometimes they simply need to vent or simply need to know someone is listening to them. You may still end up offering your solutions and suggestions, but you also want to honor parent concerns and emotions. Dignify first.

Provide a takeaway. Oftentimes the outcome of a parent-teacher conference is intangible. Sometimes it’s trying a new behavior system, staying the course, or trying a different modification. Providing parents with a tangible takeaway gives the conference some gravity and gives parents something to take home. The takeaway can be a grade report, a piece of student work, or an at-home literacy game.

Stand up. An uneasy silence can often fall over the end of a conference. I like to think that this happens because parents are waiting for the teacher (that’s you!) to dismiss them. When this happens, just stand up, offer a handshake, and see parents to the door. These gestures are easy and effortless but can make a world of difference.

Follow up as needed. Especially when a conference has been challenging or has led to a change in classroom behavior, a follow-up message is important. Sometimes the message is as simple as “I can see your student trying” or “The additional tutoring is really paying off!” In these cases, a positive message is an important step in that continually growing relationship. When conferences have not led to the desired outcome, a follow up becomes an important part of showing parents that you are not giving up on their student.

When do you have conferences? What tips and tricks would you pass on to new teachers? Let us know in the comments! 

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Parent-Teacher Conference Tips #moore-english

Image credit: Ivory Mix

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Intersections of Historical Context and Literature

A few weeks ago, I discussed strategies for tackling the ever-challenging CCSS 9-10.7 and 11-12.7, the standards associated with approaching a text in two mediums. As I was reflecting on this post, I began to think of other challenging Common Core standards, and 9-10.9 and 11-12.9 came to mind. These standards focus on the intersections of history and literature, challenging students to consider the relationship between the historical context in which a text was written, takes place, and was published. Such considerations beg the question: what is the relationship between history and literature? Further, can ELA teachers, who may or may not be certified in social studies or history, help students understand this complex intersection?

Teaching the Intersection of Literature and Historical Context @moore-english

Before Instruction

First, consider what historical context is developmentally appropriate for your students and your course and curriculum. For example, in my unit about The Great Gatsby, it’s important for students to understand the alienating and disillusioning effects of World War I in relation to the American Dream, but they do not need information about postmodernism (curricular need). Additionally, if your team or department has specific expectations about teaching a particular aspect of historical context, make sure to incorporate that into your planning. Similarly, reading The Great Gatsby with freshmen or sophomores is different than reading with juniors and seniors. Typically, freshmen and sophomores need to spend more time working on basic figurative and literary devices like point of view and paradox whereas juniors and seniors are better prepared to synthesize dense material about literary movements (developmental need). Making these kinds of distinctions allows teachers to build historical context that is developmentally appropriate. 

Next, consider the summative outcome. Engage in some backwards design and consider what students need to be able to do at the end of the unit. Do they need to be able to connect historical contexts? Compare contexts? Situate a text in its historical context? Synthesize historical context and theme? Each one of these skills (connect, compare, situate, synthesize) happens at a different level of understanding. Once you know where students need to end up, you can build instruction backward to make sure students end up with the knowledge and skills necessary.

Then, do some research into the historical context you’ll be using in class. This does not have to rigorous research, but make sure you are versed in the basics of what you’re teaching. Consider checking out resources like the Smithsonian Learning Lab, the Folger Shakespeare Library, C-SPAN Classroom, or Newseum-ed. Do not feel like you need to be an expert, but make sure you acquaint yourself with key information students will need for success.

During Instruction

Start by drawing on prior knowledge. Ask students how literature and history relate to one another. See if they can point to any specific examples. For example, how does the tide of dystopian novels comment on the current state of affairs? Or, how does the increasing diversity in Young Adult literature comment on the reckoning happening in the public sphere? These kinds of rich, specific topics can help students cement prior understanding and will provide an anchor for additional knowledge.

Teaching the Intersection of Literature and Historical Context @moore-english

Create opportunities for students to approach multiple standards or learning targets at the same time. For example, under the Common Core, students should be able to understand historical context, and students should also be able to generate research questions, locate credible research, determine a text’s relevance, and analyze a text. This is a great opportunity for students to work on two related skills. For example, today my sophomores started reading Anderson Cooper’s memoir Dispatches from the Edge. Throughout the book, Cooper visits Sri Lanka after the tsunami, the Middle East during the Iraq War, Africa during the Niger famine, and Louisiana shortly after Hurricane Katrina. While my students may have heard of these events, most of them have no cognitive framework for such disasters or settings. I could have done an elaborate lecture with historical background for each location, but I chose to frame this as a research opportunity. Students exercised voice and choice by determining which event they would like to research. We reviewed the characteristics of a credible, reliable source, and then they began to search for a source of interest. For homework, students will annotate their source, provide an objective summary, note any key text features, and provide an MLA Works Cited entry. This way, students are working with several skills at once: research, citation, summary, annotating, and analyzing the intersection of literature and history.

Next, create opportunities for students to visualize historical context. Making a class timeline can be a great way to “see” history. Similarly, has a digital timeline tool that students can use collaboratively. I also have had success with collaborative Google Slides; each student or group can add a slide with an historical event and the slides can be arranged chronologically. Another great way to help students visualize historical context is to have students seek out or encounter primary sources. For example, when teaching Beowulf, students almost always consider an image of the text as it appears in Old English. This helps give students an idea of how the English language has transformed and provides us with an opportunity to reflect on why language changes or evolves. Additionally, maps can help students visualize historical context. Oftentimes, my seniors struggle to conceptualize the relationship between Beowulf’s Scandinavia and Hrothgar’s Denmark, so we turn to a map to visualize the world.   

Teaching the Intersection of Literature and Historical Context @moore-english

Finally, as you build instructional opportunities, continually consider where you want students to end up. If, at the end of the unit, students need to be able to write about the intersection of historical context and literature, then build in formative assessments addressing the concept. Similarly, if synthesis of historical context and literature is the end goal, continually provide opportunities for students to draw from multiple texts and perspectives. Design instructional opportunities that will prepare students to show off everything they’ve learned. This should allow you to create summative celebrations rather than summative panic attacks.

After Instruction

After a lesson or a formative assessment, consider where students are in relation to the Introducing Literary Criticism and Historical Context @moore-english moore-english.comend goal. If they are far off the mark, how will you address this concern? Are students misunderstanding domain-specific terms like “historical context”? If so, it may be time for a mini-lesson. Are students struggling with synthesizing?Try a think aloud or modeling opportunity may be in order. Do some students “have it” while others do not? Then, consider historical criticism as an enrichment opportunity for some and a revision opportunity for others.

Working with historical context is difficult for students and teachers, but planning for how you will address the intersection of such dense concepts is key. How do you prepare students to tackle this standard?   

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Teaching the Intersection of Literature and Historical Context @moore-english

Photo credits: Photo by Ian on UnsplashArtem Bali on Unsplash; Himesh Kumar Behera on Unsplash

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American Dream Introduction

Last week, I mentioned that my juniors were testing on The Great Gatsby, which got me thinking about some of my favorite lessons for Fitzgerald’s classic novel. Helping students conceptualize the American Dream is an essential part of The Great Gatsby. One of my favorite ways to introduce the American Dream is with primary source articles tracing the development and evolution of the American Dream. The New York Times has a section called the Learning Network, which includes relevant articles for high school students, lessons for teachers, and appropriate clips and infographics. It’s a great resource, and even if you ignore the rest of this blog, you should check it out.

A few years ago, their weekly newsletter included a lesson called “I Dreamed a Dream in Time Gone By”, which included links to several articles from the New York Times, each one from a different time period and each one offering a different perspective on the American dream.

At the time, my students were getting ready to start The Great Gatsby, so I knew I was going to spend some time discussing the idea of the American Dream. The Learning Network’s resources proved invaluable in helping me introduce students to the concept of the American Dream and also provided an opportunity for students to interact with primary sources. 

While the Learning Network provides its own lesson, I ended up doing this.

1. Collect Resources: I printed each of the articles linked to the Learning Network lesson. There were 11 articles in total, and each year I add another article to the pile to keep the conversation going. Each article is, itself, a primary source. To find additional articles, I visited Time and NPR. Most of the time I print the articles I want to use, but sometimes I link them on our class’ Google Classroom.

2. Read each article yourself because you will find that some articles are more complex than others.

3. Divide the class and assign readings. I rarely create high-low partnerships in my classroom, so I divide these readings from most complex to least complex and assign my most independent readers to the most challenging texts and my weaker readers to the least complex texts. I do all of this before class begins.

3. Explain the directions

Grading the American Dream #moore-english

For me, each group has to read and annotate their articles and then grade the American dream as it was presented in the article. I have students use the following chart as a way of organizing their ideas. The chart asks students to situate their article historically, consider how history affected the American Dream, determine the requirements fo achieving the American Dream during their historical context, and to grade the American Dream accordingly. I model this process with an example article.

4. Predict. Before students begin presenting their grades for the American dream, ask students to predict the trend in the American dream since its naming in the 1930s. Do students think the American dream has remained steadfast? Fallen off? Improved? Ask them to make a prediction and, if you have time, share and discuss those predictions.

5. Present their grades to their classmates. Have students present their grades of the American Dream in chronological order so students can see how the American Dream has progressed. After students present, I hang all of the charts on the wall so we have an American dream timeline. Then we discuss the trend in the conception and strength of the American dream.

Throughout our reading of The Great Gatsby, students reference this timeline as its version of the American Dream conflicts with and/or relates to the American Dream as it appears in Fitzgerald’s novel. Overall, I’m grateful for the Learning Network’s resources. What strategies or methods do you use to introduce the American Dream? Do you introduce the American Dream with The Great Gatsby or as a different part of your course? Let us know in the comments.

Check out these resources for The Great Gatsby. 

Grading the American Dream #moore-englishGrading the American Dream #moore-englishGrading the American Dream #moore-english

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