22nd February 2019
I have spent most of my time and thinking this year on how to teach students more effectively in the classroom (https://www.aft.org/sites/default/files/periodicals/Clark.pdf and https://www.aft.org/sites/default/files/periodicals/Rosenshine.pdf), actually retain what they’re supposed to be learning (https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/researchers-find-that-frequent-tests-can-boost-learning/) and be able to consolidate their learning.
In particular, I have become more intentional about guided instruction whenever they are encountering something new and directly telling them what they need to know in order to be successful, rather than letting students work cooperatively in inquiry groups that may be simply the blind leading the blind. English literature isn’t just about learning literacy skills; its content is the exploration of human condition—the struggle to live within our limitations and whatever meaning can be achieved within our lives. Following the principle of interleaving content, the first week of Lit 11 named those struggles and each text has revisited those themes. When teachers lament how students can’t seem to think, it’s more often that students often don’t have ideas to think with. So it’s been important this year to give them things to think about, rather than hoping they’ll just magically come up with deeper ideas on their own, when they’re inexperienced with and ignorant about what we’re asking them to analyze.
Classes sometimes begin with quick retrieval exercises to help students remember key content that needs to be automatic in order to free up cognitive capacity for students to be able to focus on higher-order thinking and problem-solving. For example, asking English 9 students to list as many literary features as they can in 5 minutes or Lang&Lit 12 students to write 3 distinct traits for each major character in Great Gatsby or Lit 12 students to name the order of deaths in Hamlet. I think I need to sit down over the summer and think about what the essential terms, facts, and content are for each course I teach and make sure that students acquire fluency and automaticity in those. I also want to figure out how to get students to handwrite the things that are important and help them distinguish between laptop work and pen/paper work: https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/a-learning-secret-don-t-take-notes-with-a-laptop/.
As my IBDP English 12 courses head into review for the next couple of weeks, the comparative T-charts and class activities have all been designed to help them consolidate their own interpretations of the novels that they will write on for their Paper 2 final exam on May 16th. The Lit 11 class has begun their study of our final World Lit text: Bulgakov’s Master and Margarita, in which their interactive oral activities are going to do the intellectual heavy lifting, not my teacher lectures and guided discussions. I did enough modeling with Grendel and the magic realist novellas last fall; we shared the load in the Kafka unit. This is going to show whether the scaffolding and conceptual frameworks of this past year will actually allow them to approach a challenging novel on their own. I will be looking at the quality of their interpretations, the sensitivity of their close reading of extracts, and their ability to create and pursue independent topics for their World Lit essay drafts.
My Lit 11 class is going to take the follow-up survey this week and I’m interested to see whether there will be a significant change in the results because I have focused more on consolidating learning in a longer-term sense than on a daily basis (mainly because of: https://learningspy.co.uk/featured/what-might-be-a-good-proxy-for-learning/). I have been more conscious of leaving at least 5 (ideally 10) minutes of class left for closing the lesson, mainly because I want to make sure that they know what the homework is and can ask questions (rather than shouting “Check DX for homework!” as they’re packing up and leaving) and they know what the plan for the next class or the coming week is. I have also been much better about beginning each lesson with a quick recap of what happened in the last class and what they should have learned (ref: Rosenshine’s “Principles of Instruction”).
Once I have this second round of survey results, I want to reflect on what ISB students need from our English curriculum and maybe continue working on the English handbook that I think I’d like to trial next year with the new IBDP English courses.