A Blog Covering D.C. Education [ABCDE]

Closing the Teach For America Blogging Gap
Jan 24 2011

Fresh Idea for a Fresh Beginning?

Just like that, our first semester ended, almost as soon as it had started, last Friday. And, just like that, Spring 2011 begins tomorrow.

As they say, “no rest for the weary.”

Objectively-speaking, last semester did not go that well. I certainly had an interesting situation, given my more-than-5-week absence from school due to grand jury duty. But even before and after that commitment, I do not feel like I was on the mark. My lessons felt dull; many students’ eyes glazed over; my long-term plan was haphazardly put together. I had successes, but not enough. I need to change that.

As with any fresh beginning, I’ve revamped a lot of things. But first things first. Day one, if not done well, can be the day that students are “lost”–returned to the state of disenchantment that characterizes so many students, especially upper-level high schoolers. What will make our first day together more engaging, more unique?

I toyed with the idea of going through the syllabus and briefly explaining what we’ll be learning throughout the semester. But I realized that this has potential to be extremely boring.

So, here’s what I did. I spent a large chunk of my weekend mapping out new long-term plans. They are detailed. They make sense. They have (somewhat) logical sequencing. Each unit has corresponding essential questions, key ideas/people, literary terms, skills, standards, writing products and texts. I’ll be honest–this is the most in-depth I’ve gone with my LTP. And I’m going to give this to them tomorrow–but not in a traditional format.

Instead, I’ve created Wordles using the text from the syllabus (more accurately, my long-term plan, which is in Excel format). For those who don’t know, Wordle is a website that allows you to create word clouds. You paste in a bunch of text, the online app conducts a word frequency analysis, and then it splashes these words on a map in random patterns with the size of the words corresponding to their frequency. It’s a brilliant visual tool.

Wordle certainly is not a new technological innovation (it’s been around for a few years). But I think the idea of having students receive a Wordle for the class with the contents of the syllabus in it is a great way to capture students’ attention and pique their curiosities. Students will be forced to actively interpret the structure and nature of the course. It’s almost challenging. Can you “figure out” my Wordles?

English 4 (12th grade):

Wordle: English 4 Syllabus

Journalism 1:
Wordle: Journalism Syllabus

I can see some students asking these questions:

  • Why does “analyze” appear twice right next to “analysis”?
  • Why is “sonnet” so big?
  • What does the word “brevity” mean?
  • What is “press”? (is that like  “getting pressed“?)

The beauty, too, is that I can ask some pretty interesting questions of my students as a “preview” of the semester:

  • What do you think is going to be the focus of this class?
  • What literary movements and historical eras are we going to learn about?
  • What books do you recognize?
  • What Shakespeare play are we reading?
  • What words are unfamiliar to you?

I might even suggest that students place these Wordles on the front cover of their binders (which I am going to require, strictly, this semester).

We’ll see how things go tomorrow. As I’ve learned over and over, easier said than done.

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    Really, "A Blog Covering Dilemmas in Education": A (former) English teacher's reflections…

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