Saturday, May 5, 2018

Combat May-itis with Real-Life Skills and Reflection

May-itis is what can happen in May in educational systems where the school year ends in June. It is a lassitude or paralysis that results from the confluence of the realization of a limited time in which to accomplish all remaining goals and the wish that a goal in sight means a goal accomplished. Two ways to combat May-itis: (1) give students real-life resources that adults use and (2) reflect on learning.   

I may have a minor case of May-itis myself. This week my 11th grade AP Language and Composition students were wrapping up their last processed papers for the year. When it came to the final editing mini-lesson, I drew a complete blank. I just felt like I had nothing new left to teach them about grammar, conventions, and even style. If they would just use all of the knowledge and strategies we’ve explored in class over the last two years.… Suddenly I remembered a professional writers’ blog I’d seen earlier this year about “10 Ways to Become a Better Proofreader,” so I searched the blog, and when I found it—eureka!—it was perfect. I love giving students real-world resources (like Toastmasters for public speaking tips) because it demonstrates that these aren’t just fake school teacher targets, and it empowers students to find their own resources in the future. Also, this particular list reiterates many things this teacher has told them and/or required writers to do…but have students internalized those things, and will they continue to use them their senior year, in college, and in life? 
List of frequent errors? Start here...

So for the mini-lesson, I told students this was the last editing day we’d have, and I hoped they’d take everything we’d learned about writing process and about editing, use it today, and take it with them. I asked them to read the article, write down 3 of the 10 things they would commit to using today and in the future, and then spend the rest of the period doing it. Meanwhile I’d come around to check their list of 3 and answer any questions they might have about my editing marks on their papers (my practice is to mark the first 10 errors or questions I come across) or about anything else.

The next day, when final drafts were due, we did our usual self-assessment and reflection (something I have become committed this year to always allowing time for) with an additional question: How have you grown as a writer this year? (I distributed their writing portfolios so they could do some research.) Sometimes I’ve saved this whole-year reflection until the very end of the year, but you can also miss the peak. This is the first time I’ve done it this early, and because of the timing with the AP test, it was something I definitely want to repeat. 

Here are some of the things students said they learned while working on this paper (Prompt: Letter to yourself in 10 years: Given what you’ve experienced in your life up to this point, what you have read this unit about citizenship, and what you have learned this year about reading, writing, listening, thinking, and speaking, how do you hope you will be using your voice as a national and global citizen?):
  • Once I grow up, I’ll have a choice of what kind of citizen I want to be, which I really hadn’t thought too deeply about before. So I’m glad I’ve gotten to really get into it. I also learned to read my sentences backwards and aloud to catch errors and make some good changes. 
  • Making cuts where they need to be made, knowing when not to include something, even if it’s well written, for the purpose of my overall narrative.
  • I decided to step away from using vocabulary and diction that I’m not comfortable with, and focused on the philosophical/pathos aspect of the essay. I’ve learned that it’s important to know your audience when writing since it made some decisions in writing (allusion, diction, and sources) easier.

Here are some of the ways students said they had grown as writers: 
  • Over the course of the year I have…become more adept at presenting my ideas in a much clearer way…. I have also gained better insight into developing an idea over the course of an entire essay, using structure to my advantage. I think my quality of work still fluctuates somewhat, but writing has started to come much more naturally to me, and I now know what to focus on to improve my writing further.
  • I definitely feel as though I have a better understanding of what rhetoric is and how to use it, which was really hard for me at the beginning of the year. I also think that I’ve become better at making sentences stand out, whether it be by varying sentence structure or building up to something, which I think makes my work more impactful. I also think I’ve become better at making “bigger” words actually sound meaningful and sell used and not just having them there for the sake of having a big word there.
  • …One of my favorites was the education essay. I felt so strongly about this particular subject, specifically when we read about how today’s technology impacts our education…. I’ve learned so much about the world around me.
  • I’ve grown to put a lot of my own character into my writing. I’ve grown out of the habit of just using the all too familiar intro, three points, and conclusion style, and stretched my ability to write more types of essays.
  • I think I’ve become more aware of multiple perspectives, which is important when writing.

That was a great antidote for my May-itis! Now on to the very focused AP test prep next week!

How do you combat May-itis in yourself and in your students?

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