Thursday, June 20, 2019

Making Reading Visible: Annotation as Assessment

Look at all that work students' brains can do while reading!

At the end of a year, what is important for me and for my high school English students to identify about the learning that has happened? This spring I decided that in addition to a self-assessment of their growth as readers, writers, thinkers, and speakers/listeners (see last week’s blog), I also wanted my 10th graders to show all the ways their reading brain works to make sense of a piece of literature. I don’t care so much what they remember about individual pieces of literature that we’ve studied—they could get all that from a couple of hours with SparkNotes. I wanted to see what they could do with a new piece of literature. I wanted them to see what they could do. 

So I came up with a prompt, a rubric to be used on the close reading and annotation of the opening paragraphs of a novel, and a selection of novel openings on which to practice and then perform. (See this blog for my initial foray into using annotation as assessment with poetry.) I was so encouraged by the amount of thinking students were able to demonstrate in their annotations, I learned more about how students’ brains process reading, and I identified ways I can improve instruction in the future. That’s an exam worth repeating. 

Here’s what I did for 1/3 of my exam—I distributed a copy of the first page of The Kite Runner and the following prompt and rubric: 
PART 2 (30 minutes) _____ /30 points 
Skill transfer to reading. You will receive a short piece of fiction writing on which to demonstrate your ability to understand, analyze, interpret, and apply an author’s intent by annotating your close reading. You will need to be able to paraphrase/summarize, identify literary elements and elements of style, visualize images, ask questions, make inferences, and connect to your life, the world, and/or other texts.

_____ /5 Paraphrase/summarize
_____ /5 Identify literary elements 
_____ /5 Identify elements of style
_____ /5 Ask questions
_____ /5 Make inferences
 _____ /5 Connect to your life, the world, and/or other texts

I had explained that I expected much more than 6 highlights and notes—but there should be at least 1 of each of the 6 types of strategies above, and 1 of each should be indicated with its number, though depending on the text there will be many of some and fewer of others. For instance, they may only have one connection and many questions; or one inference and many literary elements. (Grading hack: This not only ensured they could identify what inference is, but also made it easy for me to check that they had at least one of each.) 

Here are some of the ways students responded:
(1) Summary: Everyone had accurate summaries. 


(2) Literary elements: Many students noted the vivid imagery (from “crumbling mud wall” to “early afternoon sun sparkled on the water”), personification (“the past claws its way out” and the kites “danced”), and simile (“floating side by side like a pair of eyes looking down on the city of San Francisco”) 


(3) Elements of style: Students commented on the 1st person narrator, the pervasive use of descriptive language, the hints and flashbacks.


(4) Questions:

  • Did he/she just move here?
  • Was he/she hiding from someone/something?
  • What does “unatoned” mean? What kind of sin? What did he do?
  • What do the kites symbolize?
  • Who’s Hassan and what’s a kite runner?
(5) Inferences:
  • Must be somewhere cold 
  • “Twin kites”—I think it is a symbol and is important to the story since it is the title of the story
  • One student tracked his inferences: “Sounds like a white boy from Europe or America”… “He’s not in Europe like I thought he was”… “He’s in America!”… “Did he come from a different place?”… “The names sound like they are from the Middle East.”
(6) Connections:
  • He’s in California—my sister actually went to the Golden Gate Bridge
  • I have those moments where I was like, “If I had only studied more,” or “If I were only one second earlier.” I think his/her decision/situation was far worse, though.
  • The narrator went on a walk after the call (that caused him to think). I also sometimes go on walks to think or when my brain needs a rest.
  • I don’t know what he did, but for Christians we have Jesus to forgive us, so we don’t have to worry about “being good again.”
  • No matter how far you push down or try to forget about the past, because it happened, it might or will be brought up again.
  • This person is like me since I talk on the phone with my close friend that is in Mongolia every week since she was close with me in Australia.
  • There are also decisions I’ve made in life that helped shape me into who I am today! Events where my world was flipped upside down. But I need to not let these events dictate the course of my life.
  • People fly a lot of kites in India, especially on Independence Day. I can see 100’s of kites in the air.
  • I could relate to this character who I don’t know much about because after I moved to Okinawa, everything changed….
Besides delight at the amount, thoroughness, and quality of thinking evident, one of the things I reflected on was how inferences develop. While it became obvious that nobody knew Kabul is a city in Afghanistan, they all used inference and questions to try to figure it out—the important thing about inference and questions being that they are provisional (as demonstrated by the student tracking his inferences about setting), and were they to continue with the book, they would refine their inferences with more information. Most of them picked up on the lines “I thought about Hassan. Thought about Baba. Ali. Kabul.” Hassan, it was clear from the passage, was a person. So they inferred that the rest were, too. Inferred that they were Middle Eastern. And asked how these people would be connected to the story. Many inferred from the line “San Francisco, the city I now call home,” that the narrator had come from some place else. Some place probably 3rd world, since the 3rd line refers to “a crumbling mud wall.” Possibly Pakistan, since that is where the phone call from Rahim Khan came.  


Inference often extends to unfamiliar words. I allow students, after they mark an unknown word with a question, to ask me for the meaning. Many students asked about the word “harelipped,” but one student decided to forge ahead with inference in the following note: “Harelipped—talks fast?”

One point that became obvious already in our practicing was the need to clarify what, exactly, “style” is. Students asked what the difference between literary elements and style was, and I was slightly stumped. When I had made the rubric, it had seemed obvious to me that literary elements are literary terms or devices and style is word choice and syntax. And sometimes that is clear—but sometimes it’s a matter of pervasiveness. One simile is a literary term identified, but five of them throughout the passage looks like style.


The extra benefit of this type of exam? Students have read the opening paragraphs of 4 novels (1 for whole-class practice, 2 for optional practice, and 1 for the exam) they might want to pick up this summer! 

Friday, June 14, 2019

What Did My Students Learn This Year?

Yep, school is done. And that's something to celebrate--as well as the learning that happened during that year!


  • I am very happy that I took this class because I feel that I have grown not just academically, but also as a person.
  • In this class, I learned how to read with happiness…. I used to…close a book and review it with just one word: “bad,” “good,” okay.” But now it’s impossible to just say with one word all the thoughts in my head.
I have a magic teacher wand that can change a terrifying word like “exams” into an opportunity to make people—both students and myself—happy. Because “happy” includes growingdoing, realizing, and articulating it. It’s taken me a while to find this magic wand, but now that I can articulate significant class goals in a course statement and target, teach, and assess those goals, a big part of what I have to do at mid-year and year-end exams is simply remind students of the goals and ask, “Are you half-way there? Are you there? How do you know?” If you want to see my full course description and final exam prompt, scroll to the bottom of this page. But here are some of the 10th grade responses--in addition to the two at the top of this page--to the final third of my exam: Write an assessment with support of how you have grown as a reader, writer, thinker, speaker/listener this semester.

As a reader...
  • I now don’t fear reading poetry.
  • I realized poetry is not meant to be understood on the first read, and that it actually is very relevant.
  • After Dark…really changed my approach to not just English books, but also Japanese books. I was so blown away by the details and the emotional connection I was able to have with not just Mari and Takahashi,  but also Eri, Shirakawa, Korogi, and Kaoru. It really felt that all of these characters reflected society. The details in this book were amazing, and Haruki Murakami’s diction and sentence structure were very beautiful to me. It did not feel boring reading all these descriptions, but he made me want to know more. This book really challenged my attention to detail because all of the detail felt very important. Haruki Murakami did an incredible job…connecting all of the characters. For example, when Takahashi felt this “wall” between him and the criminals was not as thick as he expected, but he felt a “thick wall” between him and Mari like nothing will get through.
  • A Doll’s House, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, [the excerpt from] The Female Brain, the Introduction to the Song of Songs [from the NIV Study Bible], and the essay at the end of A Midsummer Night’s Dream all went so PERFECTLY TOGETHER. What a unit. We learned the science of love, the actions we do under love, and the meaning of love. Another thing I learned from this was that Shakespeare is still relevant. The Bible can be very relatable, too. This unit changed my whole thinking that just because literature is old means that it doesn’t apply to me because it was written 500 years ago. But when we broke down each act, each scene in class, and got to the core meaning of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, it blew my mind. Shakespeare didn’t have science, but he still captured the essence of it and even imagined a flower which could make people fall in love! 500 years ago Shakespeare thought of oxytocin!
As a writer...
  • Perseverance is key in writing. If you keep writing, you’ll come across a good idea.
  • As a writer, I learned to write with purpose. I wrote my essay about love because I truly believed in what I was writing, and not just because I wanted an A. I wrote my “Who Am I” paper because I believed what I wrote reflected who I am. Through this year, I’ve developed the ability to express myself on paper. Like the…short story I wrote. Peer pressure is a true problem I’ve dealt with, and I was able to convey a message about it through a story of a boy sitting at different lunch tables.
  • I enjoyed writing my short story as we learned how to incorporate theme and dialogue in our own style.
  • I definitely grew as a writer this semester. I remember how you taught me to just keep writing my thoughts down instead of overthinking my first drafts and only being able to revise one paragraph.
  • Being in Honors English 10, my writing improved a lot. I learned how to start the writing, how to write the thesis, how to write the conclusion, and more. However, the most important thing that I learned through writing was who I am. I believe that it is very important to know yourself, and I am glad to know who I am through writing. One of the quotes that I found said that “without knowing what I am and why I am here, life is impossible.” Through writing, I improved as a writer but also I improved as a person.
As a thinker...
  • I…learned about perspective. When I first read A Doll’s House, I thought Nora was a bad person. But after reading and comprehending, I understood what she was going through.
  • After Dark taught me about empathy and how we should use it. I learned people are not always the way they seem by reading about the characters in After Dark.
  • I found out “ordinary” looking people like Shirakawa [in After Dark] are definitely not ordinary.… Also, everyone has a very personal story, you just have to get to know them to find out, like Korogi and Takahashi. 
As a speaker/listener...
  • I also got better at speaking in front of the class and sharing my thoughts. Before, I was easily scared and shy, but as I got more into the reading, I had this strong urge to share my thoughts.
  • Talking in different groups and with different people helped a lot because they would always find things vital or just interesting that I had missed [in the reading]. That happened a lot in After Dark…. I had never talked with friends about an assigned book outside of class ever before!
  • I constantly found things that I would’ve never thought of if I hadn’t done a group discussion. And I also was able to share my own ideas that some other people didn’t think of.
  • The Man with No Face in After Dark was an interesting topic to talk about. Speaking and listening to my friends was very interesting because each one of us had a different perspective…. “The mask has no holes for the nose, mouth, or eyes, but still it does not seem to prevent him from breathing or seeing or hearing.” At first, I had no idea what this symbolized. But at the end… [b]y speaking/talking, we ended up with a great answer. It gave me confidence to speak/listen and made me practice to tell my perspective to other people.
I am excited about what my 10th graders learned. I had a great time reading my exams, and I am ready to celebrate with a summer break.

What are your course goals? Did your students reach them? How do you know? How do they know?

--------------

My exam prompt:

Course description from syllabus: A literate life confers the ability to define ourselves, to enter the perspective of others, and to have a voice in the world. This is my experience as a literate person, and it is my dream for my high school English students. So students in Honors English 10: World Literature engage with critical reading, listening, thinking, speaking, and writing in academically rigorous and personally powerful ways as we interact with people from many different times and places--their perspectives, their stories--and discover what it means for us to become part of that conversation. Students will read, journal, write, discuss, research, and present as they grow in their mastery of communication.

We are finished with the course. Did you achieve the above description? The semester 2 exam is the opportunity for all of us--students and teachers--to assess what kind of progress was made toward the lofty goals articulated in those beginning-of-the-year statements. Because a rich command of language, knowledge of how that language works, the ability to apply that knowledge in reading and writing, and the ability to self-assess one’s own growth are all important components of being that “literate person,” your exam will consist of the following 3 parts:

  • Vocabulary. Multiple choice for the entire semester. (50 out of the 120 words we have had will appear on the exam. See Quizlet folder posted on Google Classroom for the 6 sets of words, definition list and context sentence list for each set.)
  • Skill transfer to reading. You will receive a short piece of fiction writing on which to demonstrate your ability to understand, analyze, interpret, and apply an author’s intent by annotating your close reading. You will need to be able to paraphrase/summarize, identify literary elements and elements of style, visualize images, ask questions, make inferences, and connect to your life, the world, and/or other texts.
  • Self-assessment. Write an assessment with support of how you have grown as a reader, writer, thinker, speaker/listener this semester. Be sure to address each of the 4 areas. If you feel you have not grown in a particular area, please state why and articulate a plan for how you will grow next year.

Friday, June 7, 2019

9 Moments I'm Celebrating This Week


Last week of regular classes: tempers are as short as the time and patience as thin as the snow on the ground here in Okinawa. Elementary students weep in the hallway. High school students surge into my room spouting indignation and complaints. Schools are emotional places, and never more than at the pressure point of a year’s end. I can grit my teeth and hang on for 3.5 more days, or I can take a deep breath and hang out for a few minutes in the happy place in my head where the this-is-why-I-teach moments migrate until they fade away for lack of attention. 

Here’s what I found when I went looking for a few good things that happened this week:
  1. The student who stopped by to show me the stack of summer reading books he’d just checked out from the library—with a shy flash of Emerson’s essays (we struggled through one of them in AP Lang this year) which he’s a little nervous about, but excited to challenge himself with.
  2. The 2 students from the Service Club who offered to clean my room for me. So honored to watch these students’ growth toward a service-oriented maturity. Plus loving my squeaky clean floor, countertops, and whiteboard!
  3. The variety of ways 11th grade AP students interacted with the text when, at the end of a year of trying different ways, I just said: 1/2 page journal entry on each chapter of The Great Gatsbywhatever helps you process, hold thinking, and be prepared to discuss it. (See above and below.) And we also had great discussions!
  4. My first experiment with one-pagers to wrap up the post-AP test reading of The Great Gatsby (yeah, we are so done with writing essays…).  They aren’t stellar examples, and not even complete, because I limited the amount of time spent, but even at that, I’m excited about the way students really engaged and pulled together, in their own way, all their reading and journals. (For more about one-pagers, see this recent Cult of Pedagogy post for explanation, examples, and free templates. You won't regret it!)
  5. Laughing and crying (literally) with 11th graders doing a read-through of A Raisin in the Sun. Today I was reading Mama about losing baby Claude and how her husband had loved his children, when I choked up and my voice got all squeaky. And the students were so quiet and respectful and just carried on with their parts. 
  6. The colleague who shared her excitement with me about her students' performance on a project she created while attending a project-based learning book discussion with me this spring.
  7. Another colleague who is reading Ender’s Game for the first time and excited about exploring the possibility of incorporating it into the curriculum.
  8. 10th graders poring over portfolios, talking with classmates about what they read, wrote, thought, and discussed this semester. I love to see them rising to the challenge of explaining and supporting their growth this year as they prepare for the self-assessment part of the exam.
  9. 10th graders gasping in surprise as they came to the last line of the opening paragraphs of The Secret Life of Bees. Another part of the 10th grade exam is annotating a close reading of the first page or two of a novel they haven’t read. This was our all-toegther practice piece. They competed to identify literary elements and they asked great questions. Some of the inferences got a little out of hand—I had to warn them than just in case they picked this for summer reading, it is not a super hero book—the female bee version of Antman

And I’m just getting started. It’s one of those things where the more you remember, the more you remember. But it’s time to get ready to go to graduation. More tears there, I’m sure, but I’m already feeling more relaxed, grounded in this teaching thing I do, and ready for the emotions to come.

How about you? Don't forget to stop this week to hang out for a few minutes in that happy place in your head where the good-teaching moments go. 



Friday, May 31, 2019

Inquiry and Vocabulary

10th graders getting the most out of peer conferencing in the final days of school while 11th reads The Great Gatsby

“My word is so sad!” mourns one 11th grader settling herself in her seat.

“What is it?” I ask.

“Meretricious.”


Indeed. According to my computers desktop dictionary it means  apparently attractive but having in reality no value or integrity: meretricious souvenirs for the tourist trade. I immediately know the phrase from The Great Gatsby where she had found her word: ...the service of a vast, vulgar, and meretricious beauty (98).

I know I’ve hit on a winner when the students walk into the room talking about words—and there isn’t even a vocabulary quiz that day.

“Mrs. Essenburg!” Another student is waving her hand at me from her seat before the bell rings to begin. “I have a question about my vocabulary word! I looked it up in the dictionary, but that meaning doesn’t make sense with the sentence!”

The word: septic. She knows it has something to do with an infection, but the sentence is “…I’d enjoyed these same people only two weeks before. But what had amused me then turned septic on the air now” (106). 

The word septic is vivid to me because I’m currently burning through a British mystery series where the protagonist is a battlefield nurse in World War 1. (It
s Charles Todd’s Bess Crawford mysteries.) I tell the student how the characters in my book are always talking about a wound going septic—or, blessedly, not. If it did, amputation was a certainty and death a strong probability. 

So the student was exactly right—it doesn’t make sense in the sentence if you think literally—but if you think of it as one word turning the whole description into a metaphor, it not only describes something turning negative, but also carries connotations of disease, death, and decay. I got to have that whole conversation with a student, initiated by her, which she then passed on to the class when I asked her to share her word. As she walked up to the front of the class, she said, without even looking at her book or notes, “It’s on page 106 on the top left side.” She must have been studying that sentence! 

Last week I took a small risk to try a different approach to vocabulary—students choosing one word for themselves from each night’s reading of The Great Gatsby for which they will do whatever they need to do to learn it well enough to teach to their 2-3 group mates the next day before discussing the reading (see this link for more). This takes not more than 5 minutes at the beginning of the period. Then I also added random selection of 2-3 students per day to present a word to the whole class. I wondered if the enthusiasm would wane, and I’m following through this week to report that it hasn’t. 

At this point at the end of 11th grad AP English, I'm hoping to see students developing their own word awareness and vocabulary building skills. It was a little over 5 years ago when I first read The Vocabulary Book: Learning and Instruction by Michael F. Graves and began working to build all 4 parts of Graves' robust vocabulary program into my class:

 Rich and varied language experiences (reading, writing, listening, discussing)
 Individual word learning (of course)
 Word-learning strategies (using context clues, word parts, and reference tools; developing a strategy for dealing with unknown words; and adopting a personal approach to building vocabulary)
 Fostering word consciousness

You can see my first blogs reflecting on how to apply my learning in my classes here, here, here, and here. (In fact, writing this blog I discovered that there is a new edition of the book which I should probably get.) Im amazed at how much I've learned about words, roots, etymology, multiple meanings, and likely misunderstandings in the last 5 years of paying attention to words and talking about them with students.

One more tool in my word learning toolbox. I dont think Id use it all the time. (Who wants to do anything all the time?) Also it reduces the number of words we can assimilate, assessment is more difficult, and we need the word learning experiences built during the year to make it most effective. Im sure this is working well because of a year of fostering word consciousness and word-learning strategies. Also because of choice (one of the 4 engines of student motivation). And finally, because theres a purpose: weve built an understanding that using powerful words as writers comes from being aware of them as readers. Within a year, no one will ever MAKE them learn vocabulary again. So they need to develop their own strategies for continuing to grow their facility with words: not just impossibly long words, but vivid words which they may have in their receptive vocabulary, but not their productive vocabulary.  

How do you foster word consciousness--in yourself and in your class?

Thursday, May 23, 2019

Need Energy? Take a Risk. Even a Tiny One.


The last weeks and days of school feel like anything but the time to take a risk. Hunker down, keep on keeping on, do what I know works—or at least doesn’t explode in my face. The siren song of familiarity and safety is oh so strong. I just want to survive the last few days or weeks, to make it to summer. 

Wrong choice—because 2 big energy surges have come from risks I’ve taken this week. They’re not huge risks—I know that. But they felt like it at the moment of committing myself. And on a Friday afternoon this close to the end of the year, thinking about them makes me smile:
  • Students selecting 1 word per day from the class reading (The Great Gatsby) to learn and teach to classmates.
  • Teachers writing appreciation notes to each other.

Here's why those activities gave me a surge of energy and made me smile:

(1) Students selecting 1 word per day from the class reading to learn and teach to classmates: It’s 11th grade AP students. The AP test is done. We’re reading the novel for a piece of literary fun. The usual drill is we have a 20-word list selected from the reading every several weeks—selected either by me or collaboratively from words students bring in and I compile. I post on Quizlet 1 list with definitions and 1 list with source sentences. We talk a little about the words we come to each day, and in the end, I give them a matching quiz with 5 definitions straight from the list, 5 origin sentences straight from the other list, and 10 transfer sentences. 

But last week I told them that while on the reflection on their last processed essay, many of them had set themselves goals of using more sophisticated vocabulary in their writing next year, they were soon coming to a point in their lives where no one was going to be giving them lists to learn. They’d need to develop their own methods for paying attention to powerful words and incorporating them into their own vocabulary. So for this novel, I was going to ask them to pick 1 word per day to learn (in whatever way works best for them) well enough to teach to their table group the next day. 

I pass around a paper each day for each student to list his or her word for the day next to their name. I’ll decide how to do the final assessment when we get there. Maybe copy the list, slice in into strips by student, and tell them to write original sentences? Anyway, we start class with reciprocal group teaching of their words to their table groups of 3 or 4. Today I heard such interesting conversations that without forewarning, I called on random students to come to the front and teach the entire class. (Everyone will have a turn before the end of the year.) 

We had one student teach us “knickerbockers.” She had even brought a photo she had printed from online. And she ended with the sports trivia tidbit that that’s the origin of the team name of the New York Knicks. Next we had “incredulous,” with an etymology lesson tying it to “credible” and “credit.” Finally, we learned supercilious, and we decided that it has nothing to do with “super silly,” but more to do with Tom Buchanan, the Great Gatsby character who is its embodiment. 

(2) Teachers writing appreciation notes to each other: I was leading my final after-school divisional meeting of the year (minus middle school teachers who were debriefing testing data), and trying to think of a good community-building opener. Merging and adapting several ideas I’ve seen recently, I put a quarter piece of paper on each desk, asked each teacher to put his or her name on the top, and then, leaving their paper behind, rotate to the next desk and write on the paper you find there one thing you appreciate about the person whose name is at the top. We used a timer and took 20 seconds per person. People threw themselves into the exercise with good will, and were refreshed, at 3:30 on a Monday afternoon, by the time-tested practice of giving and receiving appreciation. 

I wonder what tiny risk or two I can take next week to generate that extra little charge of energy to get me though the last full week of regular classes?


Thursday, May 16, 2019

Authentic Assessment Motivates


“I’m so excited about our presentation today!”

I’ve never had a 10th grader say that to me…before today. What made today different? A real audience. My English 10 class was giving group presentations on Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream to the other half of the 10th grade which has a different English teacher, meets the same period, and is studying a different Shakespeare play (many thanks to my colleague for providing us the stage!). The stars just aligned to make that happen, including me participating in a book discussion about project-based learning this spring, so it occurred me to stretch my thinking about my usual in-class presentation.

I love to answer student questions, rather than trying to get them to answer mine.  The whole time we’ve been reading the play, students have known they need to understand it well enough and act skillfully enough to convey meaning and enjoyment to peers. The last several days of working on their presentation have driven them to question the text and their interpretation more attentively: “Mrs. Essenburg, how do I read this?” “Mrs. Essenburg, what am I saying here?”

The presentation incorporates one excerpt from the play (80-120 lines) as one piece of support (along with an additional quote from each of the 4 or 5 group members). The goal is for students to demonstrate the literary understanding of how a motif plays into a theme, to use support from the text, to grapple with difficult text, and to interpret the understanding of the text to an audience with all the tools available to an actor and presenter. And to be intrinsically motivated to do it.

There are many advantages to incorporating theater into  language arts class. One is the opportunity for using the strengths of our kinesthetic learners. Another is natural formative assessment of reading comprehension--when a speaker is facing the wrong person, for instance, I can intervene with some text-based questions. Or misunderstanding punctuation (no, it's not "Stay sweet, Helena," it's "Stay, sweet Helena"). Or mispronouncing the myriad English vowel sounds ("jowl" rhymes with "owl"--it's not the vowel sound in "mow"). Finally, theater is made for authentic assessment--for an audience. 

That’s short and sweet for this week, but just a note to self: authentic assessments drive student engagement with challenging content and skills. Even Shakespeare.

Evolution of a scene: Discussing stage directions in class
The performance today

Friday, May 10, 2019

When I Work Less and Students Learn More


After the bell rang, a student was still sifting through old drafts of past essays. “Can I take these home? I want to finish looking through all my revised drafts for proofreading marks.” Me: “Are you finding any patterns?” Student: “Yes! I keep making the same mistakes!”

This conversation earlier this week highlighted one failure and one success for this year. The failure: I really need to find a way for students to track their proofreading errors. I always start the year with great plans, and they always end up getting crowded out. The success: directing students to real life resources. That's what made this student suddenly decide all on her own, at this point in the year, to start tracking her common writing errors. 

On the day we were editing our last essay, I gave students a real-life writing resource: the Publication Coach blog “10 Ways to Become a Better Proofreader.” I asked students to read it and commit to using 3 of the 10 strategies, and during the time for working/conferring, I went around and asked each student which 3 they’d picked. The student staying after had picked number 9: Make a list of your own common spelling or grammar errors. 

I was impressed again with the beauty of the teaching hack of directing students to real-life resources. 


  1. It saves me having to create things. 
  2. It connects class to life. 
  3. Advice seems so much more authoritative coming from a real-life person (as opposed to your teacher). 
  4. Students gain access to tools they can continue to use long after they’ve lost all Mrs. Essenburg’s handouts. 

Oh, yes, and also that “pick 3” thing—picking is a powerful motivation. So much better than if I say, “Here are the 3 most important ones that I want you to do.”

Some other times I use real-life resources are for public speaking (like Toastmasters; see this blog for more on my lesson) and source bias checking (like Media Bias/Fact Check; see this blog and this one for more on my lesson). In fact, in a recent class we were comparing magazine covers on the same topic from 2 different magazines and one student asked, “What’s the bias of the New Yorker and The Atlantic Monthly?” Delighted that they’d remembered our earlier lesson, I reinforced it by pulling up on my computer and projecting the Media Bias/Fact Check ratings of the 2 magazines. 
  
Teachers Pay Teachers is a wonderful resource for the busy teacher, but even better is when I can direct students to real life resources. That is, resources created for and used by adults as they go about doing real life well. 


What real-life resources do you direct students to?