Thursday, August 18, 2011


Hello all,

As a new teacher to CCTS, I have learned valuable components during my first year. I realized just how strongly I felt about our school, the need for academic rigor, and the overall expectations of our student body. When I received Marc's e-mail regarding Curriculum Writing, I decided there was no better opportunity.

Within a half hour on the first day, Van, Joel, and I were exchanging ideas, suggesting book titles, and creating activities that would compliment our units. The time simply flew by. I appreciated the various input that was put forth. Joel has an extensive list of books that he read, with a magnitude of information floating around in his brain and I looked forward to hearing about them. Also, Van's input from Pennsauken was not only informative, but appreciated as well.

Although, I was originally apprehensive comparing our material and lessons to Social Studies, the transitions that we created and the unit themes that were constructed (such as "Psychology" and "Change") are topics that I cannot wait to teach. I also appreciate the "revisiting"concept, such as the Odyssey in both freshmen and senior year. The depth and details that students will accumulate by the time they are seniors will be far more extensive than we could have ever dreamed.

I must say however I had one major fear before entering this year that Curriculm Writing somewhat alleviated. I have five classes of RPO Junior Read 180 students... and this is their HSPA year. Although the growth they've demonstrated in the past year is remarkable... what if they don't pass? What will come of them? How will that reflect me? (I don't want to be selfish, but I can't help but wonder) However that seemed to dissipate when Dennis and Marc started talking on the last day of writing. They spoke about benchmarks and how a specific group will sit down together and find appropriate tests that will match the skills we have taught during that semester, marking period, month, etc. I know the tests aren't the same, nor are they on the same level of magnitude, but I hold similar expectations and I now feel reassured that my students will be able to pass the test to the best of their ability.

Overall, I feel as though Curriculum Writing will benefit our school. It will also improve the quality of our teaching. I look forward to teaching Macbeth, a Modest Proposal, and even events such as Hurricane Katrina and the aftermass of Haiti. We have now broadened our students' experiences. We have created a curriculum where the English classroom can branch out extend itself beyond what a student's original perception of "class" was. We are now creating experiences, not just lessons and I find that to be far more memorable than any grammar lesson (even though we will be teaching that too!)

-Lauren M.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

The Power of Words

"There is more than a verbal tie between the words common, community, and communication." -John Dewey

Monday, April 4, 2011

"Getting Students to Talk"

Check out this article on generating engaging, maeningful class discussions that let you be more sure that learning is taking place...

Thursday, March 31, 2011

How Students Cheat in the Digital Age

Check out the slideshow on this site showing 10 common ways in which students use technology to cheat.  It brings up some interesting points about what constitutes learning, what's the nature of good assessment, and what kinds of tools should and should not be allowed to be used in class or on tests. 

As teachers, it's important to keep up with the technology that our students use-- if we are nervous around technology and uncomfortable using it, we only place ourselves farther away from our students' lives.  Our students are digital natives-- by knowing about the tools they use and knowing how to speak their language, we show them that their lives are interesting to us, that we are lifelong learners, and that we recognize the power their technology has when used for learning.  That last part is our most important job-- I was always surprised at how much my students knew about using the latest smartphones, applications, and programs, but how little potential they saw for these programs to be used to learn.  It was my role as a teacher to take them down that road.

One thing I took from this slideshow is that we need to re-think the format and substance of the assessments we give.  If our assessments focus on simple recall, factual knowledge, and memorization-- basically anything a computer can do faster and more reliably than a person-- what are we really asking our students to learn?  Outdated skills that won't enable them to be competitive in the job market?  If our tests are grounded in real-world application, 21st-century skills, and opportunities for real mastery of the work, then cheating either won't be possible or students won't want to cheat because they'll be vested in the interesting, challenging, meaningful work.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Carving Out our Own Space: Wiki-making in Room 5-10

I'd like to take a few minutes of your time to offer an analysis of a project in which my students, my co-teachers, and I are currently engaged. The over-arching goal of the project was to teach our students some research skills without resorting to the same methods that we learned as high school students. This goal grew out of a concern that the research methods we developed in college differed drastically from the index-card methods of yesteryear. Furthermore, we wanted to provide meaningful and practical learning for students whose careers eliminated the need for college yet still demanded the skills of finding and organizing information. Our dilemma, then, was to fit the important content of research skills into the new forms of our day.

Planning and Justification
As my colleagues--Julianna Tress and Judi Russo--and I fleshed out the details for the research project, we puzzled most over the medium of presenting the research. Conventional methods seemed cumbersome here: to have students research information in hard copy texts, take hand-written notes, and then present their findings in a 5 page paper seemed too abstract and foreign for our students. And so, we tried to imagine different mediums that would elicit the same skills--finding, manipulating and organizing information. We thought of websites, podcasts, video recordings of interivews, a documentary, and too many other ideas to list here. As we calculated the necessary (and available) technology, we ultimately settled on having the students create a wiki using the free, hosted software at Wikispaces. A wiki, we reasoned, would allow them to create a taxonomy of information, list sources for their research findings, and to work on writing the text in smaller chunks.

The Project
The gist of the project is a six-week group research project formatively assessed with deadlines and summatively assessed by a final product--a wiki. Each week, with the exception of the fourth, the students were responsible for handing in (sharing) a document that shows that they met the weekly deadline. The first week was slated for choosing a topic and generating questions to guide research. The second we planned to research answers to the questions, using both library resources and general internet resources. The third week was dedicated to organizing the information first through a mind map and then a formal outline. The fourth and fifth week were setup for writing and editing the copy or text to go on the wiki. And then the final week was to be spent transferring the text to the wiki and editing the style of the pages. Ultimately, the project should produce a five page wiki--each student in a group of four would be responsible for one of the four subpages with a joint effort on the front page.

The Problem Areas
Before talking about why we really like the project, let me outline a few of the problematic areas we have found as we've been working with the students.
1. One week was insufficient to teach mini-lesson on research methods and to give students time for guided practice. The obvious solution to this would be requiring students to complete research outside of classroom, but our general modus operendi has been to keep all of the work in the classroom because of our students' general resources at home and at public spaces.
2. Allowing students to select topics for research necessitated a wider variety of research venues than we anticipated. Topics such as Jersey Shore, partying or even vice in Camden were not easily researched using the wonderful resources that our school library has. Instead, we had to modify, en media res, to help our students find appropriate and informative websites, articles, etc.
3. We ran into a great deal of pacing problems as well because this is our first time working through the project. We've been discovering a great deal about the constraints of working with technology in the classroom. In a certain sense, this has been teaching us all a great deal of patience as well as ingenuity with computers and internet browsing. On some levels, I see this as a bit of success because it's building skills in our students to make them less dependent on a school setting with a teacher looking over their shoulder. Still, we've learned a great deal about adapting projects and stretching our expectations and parameters.

The Success
Throughout the project, we've met with an agreable disposition from our students, and as many of you know, this is a success in and of itself. Even our most problematic students have been at least absorbed in their work, and therefore, they haven't had the opportunity to engage in "non-learning" activities. This has been a certain success for us, at least from a class room management perspective. But we've also had some academic successes: our students have developed (or honed) their analytic skills as they have appraised various websites, databases, and search engines in pursuit of the questions they have developed. While this is a bit more staged than an organic research opportunity (think about the last time you watched a how-to video or looked for reviews of a particular product), the formalization of what we all are already doing has provided the students with an opportunity to reflect upon their learning and skills. This is somewhat like reading poetry: the formality of the poem forces us to become reflective on its means as well as its meaning. Pardon the literary analogy.

Here's the meat of my post, and my real reason for taking the time to write it. Despite the difficulties and experimental nature of our project, we have met with a great deal of academic and interpersonal success. By finding out the kinds of things our students are interested in and guiding them into an organized knowledge about that topic, we've begun to establish a different and perhaps better sort of rapport with them. I'd like to think that this rapport is based on our willingness to learn alongside our students, adapt to real world circumstances, and engage in academic activities that might actually matter to them. In my mind, this is the goal of teaching in the 21st century. And though I detest buzzwords and trendy ways of discussing things, I have to admit that this kind of timely project provides the context in which our kids can at least possibly thrive, learning skills that actually prepare them for the digital world in which we--as American adults--are already thriving. This is mainly a philosophic arrangement of the successes we have encountered as we've been doing the project, but we will keep you up to date via comments as we meet--one hopes--with continual success as a group of learners in room 5-10.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Writing College Essays

The article below offers some good advice on college essay-writing.  What else can we, as a dapertment, add to our knowledge of teaching the art of college essay-witing?  If you have done this with your students, please post on the topic and I will add it to the department site. 

So much of teaching college essay-writing depends on the question, really.  I used to say that they had to be sure to do two things:

1) Make it personal and sincere.  It's easy to see right through platitudes.

2) Answer the question directly.  Being circumspect shows that you're either avoiding the question or can't organize your esay well.

Here's the article.