Keeping it current.

Hey Everyone,

I just wanted to share a great experience that I had today during my observation. I ended up observing a different teacher. She had an 11th grade AP English Language class. This class focuses more on writing and reads a lot of nonfiction. I was astounded by how much this class was rooted in current events. Each week, they write current events papers based on an article. They also had readings involving the Patriot Act, and today they handed in an annotated bibliography of their research on global warming.

Today, the teacher introduced a new project to them. She called it a “group analysis paper” and said that they will work in groups of four to create a document. She explained that in the real world, people often need to work in groups to analyze a problem. Each group would read an article and analyze the credibility and bias of the author, the structure of the argument, the potential flaws in the construction or logic of the argument, and so on. I was particularly struck by the articles she had chosen. They were from current issues of magazines such as Newsweek, Scientific American, Skeptical Inquirer, and Mother Jones. The articles were about AIDS, Space, alternative lifestyles, controversial institutions for the mentally ill, and so on. I thought this was a great way to teach students about argument while raising their awareness and interest in the world around them. I think the content of this course is key. It would be so easy to use outdated materials or bland topics, but the teacher had carefully selected articles that were current and engaging.

This class reminded me of some of our earlier readings, particularly the “Chat room musings” article. This is a great example of keeping the material fresh. Also, this course obviously looks outside of the canon for texts. This was great for me to see because I had not yet seen the method in practice to this degree. It convinced me of the effectiveness of using other texts in class.

Has anyone else discovered any similar methods in their observation?




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11 responses to “Keeping it current.

  1. sunyprof

    Whose post is this? KES

  2. sunyprof

    I just got this email from my YALSA yalsa-bklistserv…good news for us literacy teachers:

    “My district is looking for graphic novel titles that support our high school modern civ class (world history from Renaissance until today). The textbook has a very high reading level, and they are looking for something more accessible for students. I have already started the list, which I included below, but can you give me any other suggestions? Thanks!

    The 9/11 Report: A Graphic Adaptation
    Deogratias, a Tale of Rwanda
    Maus:a Survivor’s Tale: My Father Bleeds History, V1
    Maus:A Survivor’s Tale: And Here My Troubles Began, V2
    Persopolis II
    Fax from Sarajevo
    Safe Area Gorazde
    Alia’s Mission: Saving the Books of Iraq
    Age of Bronze: A Thousand Ships”


  3. sunyprof

    Look at this wonderful response to the query above—see what we’re missing when we’re stuck on OF MICE AND MEN. KES

    “You should include Larry Gonick’s History of the World graphic nonfiction. His stuff is excellent. You probably want the 3rd and 4th volumes.

    I would also suggest Lat’s books, Kampung Boy and Town Boy (both from First Second), for their portrayals of everyday life in Malaysia.

    Marjane Satrapi has written other books besides Persepolis that you might want to look at: Chicken & Plums might be a good one. And there’s a second volume in the Age of Bronze series: Sacrifice.

    We Are On Our Own by Miriam Katin provides another personal perspective on being a Jew during World War II.

    Guy Delisle’s books, Pyongyang: A Journey to North Korea and Shenzhen: A Travelogue from China, are outstanding (both published by Drawn & Quarterly).

    Ted Rall has written two books about the Near and Middle East: Silk Road to Ruin and To Afghanistan and Back. He uses some rough language, but he provides much food for thought in his books.

    Aya by Marguerite Abouet (Drawn & Quarterly) is set in the Ivory Coast of Africa, around 1978.

    Laika by Nick Abadzis tells of the Russian Space Program’s efforts to keep the Sputnik program going in the 1950s, and portrays the people, and the cute dog, that made history by putting the first living creature into Earth orbit in 1957 (almost exactly 50 years ago today). This is from First Second Books. Abadzis did a lot of research for the book, and he includes his sources.

    Oni Press has a book, First in Space by James Vining, that tells of the American Space Program’s response to Sputnik, and NASA’s efforts to put an animal into Earth orbit and return it to Earth alive. Again, Vining conducted a lot of research for this book and provides his sources.”

  4. mandygrl101

    I don’t know who wrote this post, but I think your classroom sounds fascinating. I have always envisioned incorporating social issues and current events into my future classroom. Further, I wonder if I can accomplish this when I introduce my host students to e-pals? Perhaps I can pick a classroom from the Middle East or Africa for our e-pals project. Not only would I be using technology with the kids, but I would also let students learn, first hand, about issues that are going on in other parts of the world…war, AIDS, genocide, different cultures, etc. Do you all think this is appropriate for 8th graders?

    Tell your host teacher to keep up the good work!

  5. allison

    Sorry for not signing. I wrote the post about my observation experience.

    Mandy, those are tough issues for 8th graders, but I don’t think we should underestimate them. I think they know about these issues already and we should certainly push them to think more critically about them.

  6. traverse02

    Unfortunately, the class I’m observing is a little behind as far as discussing current issues. On my first day of observing a few weeks ago, they were given a very simple writing exercise and many of the students were easily confused.

    The teacher used a Powerpoint slide to show 4 statements about herself, one of which was a lie. The students were to guess which statement was false and then come up with their own lists which they would share with each other and try to figure out their classmates’ lies. After interacting with their peers and figuring out who was lying about what, they were to pick one of the statements they wrote and embellish a little by making up a story about the statement. They could pick true statements or the lie. It was a perfect opportunity to be creative. Immediately the hands started to raise and confusion hit. Many students didn’t understand what to do.

    Now, I must mention that this is a 7th grade, remedial class in English (I was actually stunned when I found out I wasn’t in a 4th grade class). A few of the students are also special ed students. So I could understand, to a certain extent, why they wouldn’t be able to immediately grasp the activity. But the activity itself seemed like it would belong in a 1st grade classroom. My heart literally broke when different students repeatedly asked what they were supposed to do.

    I don’t really know where I am going with this, but part of me wishes I was in a classroom like Allison’s. I know that it’s a good experience for me to see this kind of thing, but I can’t help but get the feeling like something is terribly wrong. We were far beyond exercises like this by the time we were all in 7th grade.

    I also must mention the amount of technology available in the classroom. There are 3 computers all with internet connectivity, a digital projector and surround sound speakers. None of it was used, save the projector (and none of it has been used since, as my observations continue).

    I’m at a loss.

  7. sunyprof

    I’ve been at a loss for some time Raph…thank you for sharing–despite the dismal nature of your observation. We can talk more about this. KES

  8. jexter1

    My observation experience has been less fulfilling as well. Unfortunately, my expectations appear to have been too high . But on a happier note, I think the “group analysis paper” is a great idea. I never thought of that for an adolescent class. Many of these kids will enter the business world and that involves 100% of teamwork & solving problems as a group. As educators, we also have to know how to discuss, analyze & find a solution as a whole when dealing with a misbehaving student, for example. In the middle school I went to & the school I observe at, the teachers work in “teams,” making the skills to communicate & work well with others imperative.


  9. allison

    That sounds horrible. I can’t imagine how you must feel sitting in that classroom. It must be so frusterating.
    7th graders are certainly above such exercises, but it seems that these 7th graders couldn’t even grasp this simple activity. It upsets me that they were allowed to come so far. Is there any advantage to keeping kids back for a grade if they haven’t learned the material? Why haven’t we caught this problem earlier.
    It’s so upsetting because it seems that they cannot do more advanced “seventh grade” exercises until they have mastered the fourth grade ones. But my question is, “why does it have to be so boring?” If they have the technology, they should be doing interactive exercises as a class.
    I’d like to see this discussion continued as well…

  10. ll123

    I am so happy that you had such a wonderful experience in your host teacher’s classroom. She was obviously practicing what is called a connection between her students and the real world within her power. However, I do concern that how can she manage the school required readings, the time for test-preparation, and other literary analysis for classics, which all demand class time. As we all know, teachers have to follow certain school district rules as far as teaching content is concerned. Is this her common practice or just something she does once in a while? I bet that, at least, she has a good relationship with her chairman. Imagine Gruwell doing this, her chair of English Department would have given her a hard time. 🙂 Posted by L. L.

  11. canadawr5

    I like the fact that my teacher has “Reading Day” on Friday’s. Every friday, students have to bring a book and read silently for about 20 minutes before class begins. Matter of fact, I think reading Day is today.
    I don’t know if they are learning anything but I certainly enjoy the peace and quiet!

    Ray C.

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