Friday, October 23, 2015

3 Small Steps to Building Learning Community in English Class Free photo stock images

Check, check, and check.

Last week I said I had begun to implement 2 resolutions from the beginning of the year, and I was committing to a third. (See blog here.) This week I kept up the 2 (collecting student-selected vocabulary words and discussing a model sentence at the beginning of class) and added the third: class time for independent reading. 

It’s one of those blinding flashes of the obvious, but students tend to pay more attention to the things that teachers give class time and attention to. So here are some ways in AP English Language we are growing in our attention to vocabulary, to sentences, and to reading:

(1) Collecting student-selected vocabulary:
Pronunciation is an important part of vocabulary learning—particularly for those of us who know a lot of words from our reading that we seldom hear people say. I was reminded of this when I asked on Monday what vocabulary the students had collected from their reading. None. Really? Because I collected a couple I thought they might not know. How about facade? Quizzical looks. Where is that word? I gave them the page number and sentence. Oh! Is that how you say that word? Got the same response to paradigm. (At least now they won’t embarrass themselves by saying “fuh-KAYD” or “para-DIG-em” in a college interview…..)

Once the ice was broken, a few students did have words. Eschew was one, from the following sentence: “[M]ost gamers eschew reading manuals or walk-throughs altogether, preferring to feel their way through the game space….” (Steven Johnson, excerpted from an article in Discover, July 2005, qtd. in The Language of Composition 172). The first thing that popped into my head was “Eschew obfuscation.” I blurted it out, but then obfuscation seemed like an even more obscure word and not worth the trouble of the explanation, so I sort of trailed off and went on to other things. Imagine my surprise that night at home when I read in a popular young adult novel, “It was dishonest to act like Margo hadn’t participated in her own obfuscation” (John Green, Paper Towns). (Who says YA lit isn’t challenging?)

Note to self: Taking time to talk about student-selected vocabulary is also important for building a culture where it is safe to reveal your ignorance. Because if we can’t admit what we don’t know, how will we ever learn it?

(2) Discussing model sentences:
Students are beginning to bring up sentences in discussion—like this one: “Once I was a scuba diver in the sea of words. Now I zip along the surface like a guy on a Jet Ski” (Nicholas Carr, excerpted from an article in the Atlantic, summer 2008, qtd. in The Language of Composition 171). The student who brought it up didn’t like the metaphorical ending to a factual argument. However, another student objected that those analogies were what stuck in her mind and suddenly clarified the entire argument for her. (See original blog about using model sentences here.)

(3) Using class time for independent reading:
Here’s what 20 minutes of class time returned. Everybody has a book chosen: we are readers. Everybody knows what the others are reading: we are a community of readers. I’ve touched base with everyone on what they are reading—making sure, for instance, they know that Kurt Vonnegut and Joseph Heller are writing satires, similar in style to The Screwtape Letters we read last quarter—so pay attention to what their message is and how they use satire to communicate it. We are connecting our independent reading to our learning. 

I also discovered they didn’t know catch-22 has become an actual English word. I’ll have to add that to next week’s vocabulary list!

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