Although we share opinions and beliefs regularly, it can be tough to hone in on the beliefs that drive us. Last week, I asked students to do just that: to think about a core belief, something that is integral to who they are or want to be, and write an essay based on it.
We used the model developed in the 1950s by Edward R. Murrow and picked up again in recent years as an independent organization (see www.thisibelieve.org). The essays are powerful because they are short, personal, and relatable.
After spending a morning listening to other people's essays, exploring different agree/disagree statements, discussing the difference between an idea and an experience, and trying out a few free writing prompts, the students were tasked with writing their own "This I Believe" essay.
And let me tell you, the essays were awesome. As a teacher, I enjoyed dabbling with this essay format because we spend so much energy on persuasive writing. Personal essays can be a breath of fresh air: they are personal and backed up by experience, not research. They are focused, clear, and direct. And, they are the epitome of the idea in English that you can write about anything as long as you can back it up!
Students spent most of the week developing, revising, revising, revising, and editing their essays. Once the draft was polished, I asked them to sit in a room and record themselves reading their essays, just as the official "This I Believe" essays are shared. We talked about how this step is an important one because personal ideas are best expressed through the person's actual voice.
So here you go! Here are essays written and read by four of the students from the module. Enjoy!
"Three rules for teens to follow"
"I am the best"
"I believe in hope"
Blog posts have been the name of the game in our Election Issues module this week. Students have been conducting research on chosen election topics - looking into the background and contrasting perspectives of two candidates for president - and will be reflecting on their research in their posts.
Because blog writing is new to many of these students, I'm providing a sample blog post on a topic not covered by any of the students: education. So here we go!
Waxing lyrical on my favorite topic: education
Abigail Adams, wife of one of America's early leaders, John Adams, wrote once in a letter to her son, "Learning is not attained by chance, it must be sought for with ardor and attended to with diligence." Education is a topic that affects every citizen in America, but politicians have differing opinions on how to approach it.
In the 2016 election, politicians are considering how to educate effectively, who should be in control, where the money should come from to fund education, and how that money should be spent. The problem is, there's no easy answer.
Context of the education debate
To understand today's education debate, it's important to know how education has evolved in the US. Fifteen years after the Mayflower landed at Plymouth Plantation, the first schools were founded in the colonies - a Latin grammar school first, followed by the first free school. The first college, Harvard College, was founded a year later.
Since those early days over 300 years ago, the history of education has been a series of laws, policies, and philosophies. The first law, the Massachusetts Bay School Law of 1642, established that "good education of children is of singular behoof and benefit to any Common-wealth" and stated that citizens needed to ensure no one "shall suffer so much barbarism in any of their families as not to indeavour to teach by themselves or others, their children & apprentices so much learning as may inable them perfectly to read the english tongue, & knowledge of the Capital Lawes." In other words, children should be taught to read and understand laws governing them.
Fast forward to the turn of the 20th Century. As the Industrial Revolution brought cars and cheap clothing to the masses, it also took over our classrooms. Typical public school education for the past 100+ years has followed that same format - the same standards, the same tests, the same expectations for every student across the country.
In the past 20 years, two governmental reforms have dominated education: the No Child Left Behind Act passed in 2001 and the implementation of Common Core Standards in 2010. And so here we are today, in many ways maintaining standardized education for students who are by no means standardized.
Hillary's K-12 education platform focuses on modernizing the education system. She promises to improve teacher training and pay and wants to re-build and modernize schools. Hillary also plans to increase computer science programs to better prepare students for tech jobs and to overhaul school disciplinary systems - offering schools funding to "implement social and emotional support interventions" instead of leaning on punitive punishment systems.
At the college level, Hillary wants to make college debt-free, offer free community college across the board, and offer extra funding to minority-serving higher ed institutions.
Trump wants to focus on student choice in his education plan: allow students to choose their school, encourage students to participate in magnet or charter schools, and increase choice for students living in poverty.
For college, Trump's plan includes decreasing costs by offering tax breaks to institutions and make it easier for students to attend a college or vocational school.
Christine weighs in
I'm not running for president, and I don't envy either of the candidates for being in the spotlight to "fix" education. Then again, Hillary and Trump chose their path, so power to them. Comparing the two plans I have researched, I find myself aligning more with Hillary's standpoint at the K-12 level but am skeptical about her plans for post-secondary education.
First, K-12 education: we have an incredible resource in our public education system, and I would rather invest time and money in improving those resources instead of advocating to ship students off to private schools. My concern is that, if we focus on expanding student choice, the public schools will be left in the dust because they have limited funds to begin with, whereas private schools are free to solicit funds from alumni and other interested supporters. Schools are also an important link with their communities; an investment in a local public school is an investment in the community itself.
As for the college level... I don't necessarily agree that college should be free to any student who wants it. College is an incredible resource, but it should be an investment of time, effort - and finances. My experience in life has shown me that we most value things we have earned through hard work. So while I appreciate the philosophy behind Hillary's pledge of free college education, I'm not convinced it is the best way to teach the value of education.
I had a feeling a week of experimental poetry with students would be fun - and I wasn't disappointed.
We tried out a new form each day - found poetry, haiku, "abecedarian" poetry, randomized poetry, and a little slam poetry. The students were game to try anything, and I'm really proud of what they came up with!
Here's a small sampling. Many elements of these poems jump out at me as being awesome, but I'll refrain from adding commentary and let the students' words speak for themselves. :)
What to write it’s here Right in front
What is it Another great prompt
What to write I know the prompt know
how to start
Everything has a start no matter how small or large
bugs they are small
planets they are large
in the end they both become one
There is only one space
within space there are billions of galaxies
Within one there’s more than ever imaginable.
Apples are Rotten (An Abecedarian poem)
In the olden days the church bells rang the warning bells.
Jingling sounds of fear.
King Rotten Apple
liked to terrorize the villagers.
noble knights ran in fright
of the apple king.
People of the town, the
Queen fainted at the
United Kingdom, and the people
“What ever shall we do” they cried.
Xylographs show the ancient battle.
You might want to reconsider your life choices because
zillions of apples inhabit the earth.
Contemplation of Existence (Too Haikül for School)
a group poem from the Western State poetry day
One more empty chair
A place for a road weary
traveller to sit
the chair sits alone
better than the floor
the chair stood empty
its pale green color faded
the metal legs bent
the bending, welding
of semi-cushioned tanned seat
hold an empty soul
the chair is empty
like my life
and my soul
Moments come and go
Just like my father
He was never there
Every pinky swear
Disappointment surrounded me
Nothing hurts more than broken promises
The trust was crumpled at our feet
The abandonment hurt
The trust issues are real
His leaving hurt
But it wasn’t my fault
Change the Road I took
There was a time in my life
Where I wanted to change something bad that happened
But I knew I couldn’t change the past
Even when I wanted to
But if I had that one chance
I would change the road I took
Like Robert Frost’s poem
The road less traveled
Only, I did not get the outcome that his story portrayed
I took the road less traveled
And it left me wounded and scarred
I wasn’t dead
I was still alive
And mentally scarred
How is this so
That's the problem
I don’t even know
I only saw the inevitable
A force that couldn’t be dodged
Just the dark
There was no light at the end of this tunnel
Or was there
I do not remember much
But I do know
If I could change one thing
It would be the road I took
Whether it would change the way I live now
Or if it would change anything at all
I do know one thing
I more than likely
Would not feel the pain that I felt
If only I did change the road I took
French Fries in the Fall
(a group poem from the Western State poetry day)
The auburn leaves scream against the skyline,
forcing her to forget to remember his eyes
Turns out when people fall, they don’t make a sound.
It enhances the tingling within the palm of my hands
You are the tingling in my stomach.
You’re easy on the eyes,
This is what I think about,
When I see French fries.
Eyes like the ocean
Pull me in till the tide comes back.
to the bottom of the seas
to the highest pines
eat all those fries
Tomorrow we're jumping into poetry! I designed this module around a field trip to Western State on Tuesday for their annual Slam Poetry day and am using the week as an excuse to introduce students to some non-traditional poetry.
Each day, we'll focus on a different type of poetry. I'll give students the option to try out some structure poetry like sonnets and limericks, but most of the week will explore more modern, free-form poetry: randomized poems, "abcedery" poems, and found poems.
I dabbled with these forms a few years ago through a Coursera class called Modern and Contemporary Poetry. It's a fun class - check it out. It's free. :) The class was a great way to get some exposure to modern poets and play with these non-traditional forms, and I've been looking for an opportunity to design a module around them at CCHS. And voila! the time has come.
We're starting out with found poetry on Monday. This poetry can take an unlimited number of forms, but for our purposes, we'll be working with lines pulled from books or news articles. I love found poems because they can take you in all sorts of directions, and that because you aren't under the pressure of writing from scratch, this form of poetry can feel much more accessible to students.
One of my favorite end-of-year assignments is to have students re-read their notes and freewrites from throughout the year and choose some of their favorite lines to re-construct into a found poem. It's a great way to re-visit earlier writing and to pull fun, random, new meaning out of context.
The example I will share with the students is one I wrote during my ModPo class, where I wrote down and then re-arranged the first lines from some favorite picture books. Here is the finished product:
What’s all this?
There’s a bear
near the top
he hasn’t eaten
Harold decided to
this is Henrietta
Peter woke up
an armored armadillo
Miss Cora Lee
this is Olivia
the time of
swords and periwigs
first trip alone
filled with love
there is no
Windy Edge Farmhouse
for a walk
cat called Mog
great green room
a small world
sunny days in
the Wump World
the best bakeshop
every Who down
what’s all this
Write a free-form paragraph responding to the question, "what is your relationship with the outdoors?"
These prompts definitely pushed the students to think outside the box! Some responded with excitement, others with frustration at first - but the end results were pretty fun to read.
Here's a sampling of what students in the module wrote:
My relationship with the outdoors - by Sierra
As a kid, I remember spending an abundant time outside playing with my friends. We’d stay out, playing in the dirt until the sun went down and our mothers called us in. Growing up, nature wasn’t very fascinating to me anymore. I found myself inside, doing something more entertaining such as coloring and watching T.V. When you get older, things start to get boring, and I think that’s what happened to me. As I entered my teen years, I remember walking around town after a rainstorm with my friends. Whether it was to get hot chocolate or to start chaos at the park, I enjoyed the way the stars shined on our faces as the moon snuck out to say hello. Nowadays, the only time I notice myself going outside is when I take walks when I’m upset or feel like taking pictures of the beautiful scenery. All in all, I would say my relationship with nature has grown far apart, but I would like to change that soon.
Happy place - by Seth
With a swish and a swirl, my favorite place in nature is sitting near a dreamy stream of crystal clear water drops. Sitting near, I can feel the power vibrating the ground below me. The pop of millions of bubbles gasping for air as they rushed ruthlessly downstream. Big round rocks trying to fight the power of this whispering created by the splash and movement. The smell of musk mixed with a bit of fish when the gentle breeze carries the mist. The green giants surrounding, trying to quench their thirst from the sweet flowing water we all call the Arkansas River.
5 Senses (Cali) - by John
The past few weeks have been intense as our seniors have been finishing up their work for graduation - most notably writing and revising (and revising and revising) their 10 page research papers.
Indeed, as soon as I finish this blog post, I'm headed back to the revision process, reading and commenting on drafts that are still working their way toward completion.
In the meantime, I have been planning my final module for the year: an ode to Molly Ringwald's iconic 80s flicks. I've decided to approach this module differently, though. Rather than giving the students the plan for the week, I am turning it over to them. It's their turn to do the work! Mwah ha ha ha..
If you head over to the Molly Ringwald page (at least today or tomorrow), you'll find a mostly empty page dotted with "TBD" lines that are usually filled with essential questions, goals, standards, and activities.
What my students will be getting tomorrow is a mostly blank syllabus, a curriculum map of our C-TACHs, and three DVDs. I will be asking them to use the C-TACHs (our standards) and the framework of Molly Ringwald's movies to come up with an essential question to investigate as a group, a few skills to focus on improving, and activities (and a DOK) that will help the students learn and demonstrate these skills.
I don't know about you, but I'm excited! My students have experienced my planning style all year, so I am eager to see how they do with this backwards planning approach. CCHS is all about giving students the space to design their learning, and this module will put them to the test.
OK. Now it's time for me to return to the research land of GMOs, alternative education, and the electoral college...
This week, I have been guiding students through the process of creating photo essays. I look for ways to teach analysis and intention without assigning a typical essay; not only does it break the 5 paragraph doldrums a little, it helps students see that these skills translate from one assignment to another.
Well, that's what I hope they are taking away, at least!
We kept the photography skills simple: Rule of Thirds, perspective. (See my module page for the resources we used.) After showing students some sample photos and analyzing them with these two rules, I sent the students out to try their hands at intentional photography.
I think they were surprised to find that, if they returned with a photo that didn't meet these skills adequately, I sent them back out to try again. Ha! See? Even the revision process translates!
Here is a sampling of the photos students in my module took - and I have to say, I'm pleased with the results! Not only do the photos align with the basic photography principles we reviewed, the student photographers were able to explain their reasoning behind the photo they took.
(click on each photo to see the entire image)
Next step: themed photo essays! Each student was tasked with creating three photo essays, each of which consists of five photos on a chosen theme. In addition, one photo essay contains color photos, one contains black and white photos, and the third contains edited photos.
Here is a sampling of photo essays uploaded so far:
I've just finished up the first two weeks of this semester's English Skills - an intensive, four-week mega module for new CCHS students covering the basics of mechanics and writing styles they'll need to be successful at CCHS. We talk about semicolons and parallel structure, 3.8 paragraphs and 5 paragraph essays, presentation skills and close reading.
One of the foundational elements of writing at CCHS is the 3.8: a paragraph with eight sentences covering three different topics. It's foundational here because this paragraph helps students develop thesis statements, understand how to use specific facts to support a thesis, and practice organizing ideas effectively. Teachers in all subjects use the 3.8 as a go-to quick response, so it's important for students to be confident writing them well.
Here's an example of a 3.8 I was given last week by one of our new students, Ehlana. This paragraph stood out to me because, besides effectively stating an opinion on a topic and giving three reasons to support that opinion, she weaves imagery and voice throughout the eight sentences. I dare you to read it and not picture a light breeze rustling through aspen leaves!
Of the Seasons
It is my opinion that Autumn is the best season of the year because the weather is nice, the world is filled with colour, and you can spend time with your friends once again. Fall is amazing; with the earth tilted away from the sun, hot summers turn to cool days. The sweaty tank tops are discarded and more comfortable sweaters donned. With the cold nights, leaves begin to change into a rainbow of colour. In the mountains, it can be a sea of reds and gold crunching under your feet. With the colours in the air, we go back to school. Our friends greet us in the hall while leaves continue to fall. With perfect weather, golden trees, and laughing friends, fall is easily the best season of the year.
Last week, a handful of students participated in an experimental module: using LEGO to inspire a story. (Ok, sure, since this is my first year teaching at CCHS, most of my modules are experiments - but this one broke the mold more than most.)
This module's inspiration came from an episode of the podcast Note to Self. I love this podcast because it is full of discussions about how to use technology in today's world and still retain some humanity.
The episode in question, "Why You Should Care about LEGO and Creativity" (you can listen to it here), questioned whether LEGO kits are ruining kids' creativity... and if so, what impact that has on our future in a society where creativity and innovation are essential to most jobs.
Listening to this episode, I wondered how my students would answer this question about LEGO kits - and I wondered what would happen if I gave students a bunch of LEGOs, let them play with them for a bit, and then use their creations as the basis for a short story.
And that's what we did! The students, no surprise, loved having the opportunity to play with LEGOs in class. They also had interesting responses to the Note to Self episode. In short: kits are great because they give you cool pieces you don't get in the regular bins, but the point is that you get the kit and integrate the pieces into your collection at large.
So in a way, LEGO kits don't hamper creativity, they expand your creative possibilities. But, as with most things in life, it comes down to what you, the builder, brings to the project. Your creativity will be as limited or expansive as you allow it to be.
Check out the LEGO module page on this site for more information about how the module was set up, and to see pictures of all the creations students came up with and used as the basis for their stories.
How did the stories turn out? Let me tell you, I was so impressed. I decided to stretch the students in a new way with this assignment. Rather than writing out a story as we usually do, I gave students tools to build characters, setting, and plot, but then talked with them about oral storytelling techniques and asked them to prep their story to tell the group, rather than polishing it in writing. So they planned, performed a "rough draft" with a partner, and then performed the final product.
Here's a sample of one story, told by Eli (premise: meteorite hits Earth, causing a pandemic... one survivor finds himself running from other survivors who are out to get him) -
Pretty great storytelling, no?
All in all, it was a fascinating module. I can tell the students were pushed with the idea of telling a story in front of other people, rather than writing it down behind the safety of a computer screen. We don't practice the "speaking and listening" C-TACHs (standards) as much as we address the writing standards, so this was a valuable exercise for the students - and helpful for me to see what worked and what can be improved!
I have a feeling this isn't the last time LEGOs will make an appearance in English modules at CCHS.
Hello! Christine here, your neighborhood CCHS English teacher. In the coming months, I'll be using this space to share the inside scoop on our English class and modules, and perhaps even to share samples of student work. So stay tuned!
In the meantime, check out this fascinating podcast series from Note to Self called "Bored and Brilliant", which explores our addiction to phones and why setting them down to give us space to get bored could just be the best thing for us and our creativity.
Hmm. Cultivating boredom... sounds like a great topic for an English module!
Christine Bailey: teacher of English, user of fountain pens, fan of Calvin and Hobbes, and advocate of parallel structure.