Today we are transitioning to our first thematic unit with the over-arching question of “to what extent do our schools serve the goals of true education?” While all the units will serve to strengthen student skills in reading and analyzing informational texts, I’ve chosen this as the first thematic unit because a goal I have in this class is developing reflective learners, and a great place to start is to reflect on an institution they have been in for two-thirds of their lives, but probably have thought little about.
However, since students are finishing reading Shop Class as Soul Craft by Matthew B. Crawford for tomorrow, (and handed in drafts of essays for editing today) today is a bit of a transition day. As such, it is a good time to first complete some unfinished business and take a look at the multiple choice questions they answered as part of the Understanding Rhetoric exam last week (I held off going over these because a student was absent when I first gave it, and also because I knew I would take a while to go over it, since there were a couple concepts students had a lot of trouble with. Additionally, these are the kinds of lessons that don’t always fit directly with learning units, since part of the lesson is test-taking strategies for standardized multiple choice tests). While this is in part a lesson on test-taking strategies for standardized assessments like the AP exam that the course culminates with (since the questions are from the Language of Composition 2e Teacher's Manual, I will also use a couple of the questions to do some mini-lesson instruction and review on grammatical structures and conventions, specifically understanding how to establish function through the context of the reading piece or the question itself.
Today I will focus specifically on the first three questions and the particular concepts for each, then quickly share the reasoning behind the remaining ones. I have a digital version of the textbook on my PC (I got a complimentary digital version from the book company when I decided to use this text), so I will project it on the Smartboard to emphasize language moves that lead to answers. Additionally, I will read the piece out loud again before addressing the questions. This will be in a full-class, lecture-type format, so everyone can get the same information and here student questions.
The questions were to the first three paragraphs of Barbara Ehrenreich’s “Serving Florida” (itself an excerpt from Nickel and Dimed). The first question asks about second person point of view (in an implied way—“picture yourself in. . . “—giving an opportunity to talk about the function of this type of construction rhetorically), the second about the function of syntactical constructions (non-restrictive phrases, though the other choices for answers provide more fodder for grammar instruction), and the third I will address is using context clues to determine meaning.
I will use direct instruction for this—the students are motivated by the fact that this is like the test they will take at the end, and most of them got four or five of these questions wrong when they tried it. While there are teaching moments for every question, I will focus on the three, going through each question and all answers, because there is only so much going over test questions that is tolerable! Also, I want to focus on going through all the answers, because I want to show them that in multiple choice, there are often a couple answers that fit the question—the trick is to determine the BEST one.
We ended up spending the majority of the class on these questions, with the biggest emphasis on test-taking and grammar. One question was, “Which of the following is used it the sentence that begins “The regulation poster in the single unisex rest room” (toward the end of para. 1)? A) compound subject b) compound adjective c) dangling modifier d) complex metaphor e)nonrestrictive phrase.” When I started asking what the constructions are that they were to choose from, or even what a phrase is, the students looked at me as though I was speaking another language. Apparently the first week of instruction has worn off! So, I decided to put the passages under a microscope. With the grammar question above, I explained that I am not interested in having students memorize the names of every type of grammatical construction, but if they know the basic parts of speech and constructions (subject, adjective, modifier, phrase, metaphor), they should be able to figure out what these more specific constructions are. From there we looked at the whole sentence in question, which was a complex sentence with four clauses, providing an opportunity to review phrases and clauses (I think learning how to recognize a clause is one of the more important things grammatically they can learn, particularly for interpreting complex texts).
This practice test really showed that I need to continue to emphasize the function of language at a grammatical level so that they are able to access that knowledge readily; these practice multiple choice questions offer a nice way to do this, since I can get immediate feedback about what they need instruction on, and can then look right at the text they are working with to take advantage of the teaching moment.
Also, I spent time emphasizing the importance of reading questions closely; the first question asked “The second-person point of view Ehrenreich uses in the first paragraph serves to:”. Almost all the students kind of ignored the second-person part of the question, and answered the broader question of how the first paragraph functions. So, we spent some time reading the questions more carefully and establishing what they are actually asking. Clearly we will need to do more practice on this (they will be even more motivated after next week when they all take their PSATs!).
The big question for this unit is “to what extent do our schools serve the goals of a true education,” and the new skill we will work on in this unit is the idea of entering the conversation—to not only determine the complex ideas presented in the texts, but to integrate the ideas with your own knowledge to address a particular issue. To get students thinking about this in general terms, I will have them free-write answers to the over-arching question, as well as other questions the textbook The Language of Composition brings up in their introduction to the thematic unit (pg. 175).
Students in my class are very familiar with free-writing because they have had me before (in 10th grade I have them read Anne Lamott’s “Sh@#ty First Draft” excerpt from Bird by Bird, and share with them how free writing got me through my dissertation) and know how much I like it. The general rules are that I give them a topic and a short time frame (5-10 minutes) and they are to write, without stopping. If they get stuck, they should write about that (I don’t know what to say anymore. This stinks. Hmmmm.) until they get back on topic. Writing through like this gets us to the good stuff-the deeper thinking we usually give up on.
For this, I will read the introduction out loud and emphasize some of the other questions it brings up, such as “should schools impart values as well as knowledge?” and “do mainstream ideas take precedence over the concerns of individual groups?” After reading it out loud, students will write for 10 minutes, and I will participate in the free-write as well to set up the next part of the lesson.
While verbally sharing is nice and can lead to strong discussions, sometimes certain voices get highlighted, and the audience is for the ideas and not the writing. This activity shakes that up. It is a simple process: each person in the circle (or row), including me, passes their writing to their left, and receives a new one from their right. And then reads. When they are done, they pass it along (if a class has a broad span of reading skills, I will watch until everyone is done, then cue students to pass). This continues until every student has read every piece, and gets their own back (with a large class, you may split up into two groups).
At the end, I will ask for a few comments on interesting things people read, but that is it. The activity is meant to give everyone a voice, read what everyone else is thinking, and enjoy each other’s writing without any real evaluation. Of course, by me participating, I am sending around a model, and getting to read everyone’s as formative assessment, so it is a great way to “hear” what everyone is thinking.
This free-write will lead nicely into tomorrow’s Socratic seminar on the book Shop Class as Soul Craft that they have been reading, the real kick-off for the thematic unit on Education.
Because I spent so much time with the multiple choice, we didn’t get to this. At some point during the multiple choice I had to go all in with it, recognizing that this wouldn’t happen. I won’t pick it up tomorrow due to the time it takes and the emphasis I've placed with students on completing their reading of Shop Class as Soul Craft for tomorrow; I''ll save the activity for some other free-writing instead when it seems appropriate for them to do so (a free-write where their ideas may be vastly different, and therefore interesting for everyone to read everyone else's responses, and to mix-up the class structure a bit).