Facing History Features My Class

Facing History and Ourselves – probably my favorite PD organization – did a nice little piece on the English class I’m teaching on their website today:

The course started with a six-week unit called “You and I” that examined the notion of identity, exploring questions like Who am I? How am I perceived by others? How do both of these perceptions impact my choices? Next up was a six-week unit called “Us and Them,” which looked at issues of difference and incorporated Facing History resources on membership and society. In this unit, the students explored the history of the Weimar Republic as a way to set the stage for reading All Quiet on the Western Front. The course will end this spring with a unit called “The Meaning of Life.” It may be a lofty title for a seven-week unit, but it gets right to the heart of what the students consider – that meaning in life often comes from interacting with others, that each of us has causes and people that are of life and death importance to us, and that other perspectives can offer guidance for our own lives.

While the focus of the piece is Common Core, I think the key is that it captures how great classes that focus on students as people can also serve the demands of the Common Core:

The backbone of the course is a solid syllabus of readings and assignments that have the students writing and reading personal narratives from multiple perspectives, researching, constructing effective arguments, and critically analyzing complex texts across a range of types and disciplines. As a result, the students are meeting the Common Core State Standards through a deep investigation of nonfiction, fiction, and essential questions about human nature.

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Semester 1 Reflection: Build Your Own Civilization

Among the many unique features of my new school, Harvest Collegiate, is that our humanities courses are one-semester theme-based courses that, for the most part, are electives.  This means I completely wrapped up courses last week, and start a new term with a new course and students next week.

This past semester, I taught two courses.  The first, Looking for an Argument, was probably the best I ever taught.  The structure was creating by Avram Barlowe and Herb Mack of Urban Academy, and you can read more about it here, and buy it here.  I hope to write more on that soon. My second class was an interdisciplinary English and Global history course which I dubbed Build Your Own Civilization.  The global focused on ancient and golden aged civilizations, while the English focused on post-apocalyptic or “kids on a deserted island” scenarios.  In addition, the first 30 minutes of every class was devoted to independent reading of books of the students’ choice.  I owe a huge debt of gratitude to what I’ve learned about independent reading to East Side Community High School’s very well established program, my former colleagues Steve and Chris at Bronx Lab, and my department mate Kiran, who generously gave me all her independent reading materials.

I want to start with my students’ reflections.  I borrowed heavily from Paul Blogush’s evaluation, and was quite please with the info I got.

First, I asked my students to choose one words to describe myself, and one word to describe the class.  Here are the results:

I’m not sure I could be happier about helpful and challenging being the most common words to describe me, and am quite pleased they found the course interesting.  The one student who described me as “awesome” but the course as “less awesome” actually points towards my feelings about the class. Continue reading Semester 1 Reflection: Build Your Own Civilization

Unsolicited Advice for New and Novice Teachers: How We Teach Matters Most & Stay Humble

I caught wind of a math blog meme giving advice to new teachers after reading a wonderful post from Jason Buell called “Life in the Gray,” which nicely goes a long way toward summing up how complicated teaching really is. It reminded me of something I just wrote, which I though I would post here as well.

The following is a response to an email that was forwarded to me without a name or background.  Because of who sent it to me, I’m assuming it’s from a novice teacher, but I’m not sure.  The email came after this teacher got into a heated and upsetting argument with coworkers where she or he advocated for adding one piece of non-western, non-canonical world literature that might validate alternative experiences to the school’s curriculum of “Shakespeare, Steinbeck, Homer, and all of the other BS that we make the students read.”  She or he was looking for articles to prove her viewpoint was correct, and possibly to leave in the mailboxes of co-workers.  Below is my response, slightly edited.  I offer it here as advice to new English teachers, particularly those coming from a left perspective, but I hope there’s something in it for all new teachers.

Continue reading Unsolicited Advice for New and Novice Teachers: How We Teach Matters Most & Stay Humble