I’ve been sweating over the agenda for a workshop on teaching English II—sophomore English for you civilians.
I’ve read Fisher & Frey’s Rigorous Reading. Twice. I’m going to have the teachers practice creating all six levels of text-dependent questions. I’ve got a great heuristic device for analyzing poetry. I’ve got another for analyzing character.
For our opening activity, I’m going to ask them to deconstruct the end-of-course test using an activity called List-Group-Label, once again tapping my current favorite professional book, Making Thinking Visible. I want the teachers to see that higher order thinking skills are not antithetical to the test.
To drive this point home, I even selected the wood floor background for my PowerPoint slides. It’s visual metaphor: the EOC represents the floor, the least our students should be able to do. If we teach to the ceiling, the floor will take care of itself. Clever. I know, right?
So why am I sweating?
They say that nothing is idiot-proof to a sufficiently motivated idiot.
I taught high school English for eleven years, and I was clever even then. I had nifty heuristic devices and graphic organizers and catchy expressions. And they were all very effective…for the students who gave a damn. Nothing is student-proof to a sufficiently apathetic student.
When I was a student, I didn’t care about math. Despite that fact, I did fairly well in it because I could plug-and-chug. Teach me the algorithm, and I’ll know when I have the right answer. I was far less successful in any math class where I had to figure out which algorithm to use or—God forbid—create my own.
Close reading, like theoretical mathematics, is not merely an intellectual act. It is a manifestation of the desire to understand. Before students can successfully read between the lines, they must believe that there’s something worth finding there.
I am an ethical person. I no longer provide after-school professional development because it doesn’t work and, frankly, it’s inhumane. I need a minimum of three hours and teachers who are not already exhausted. It is not enough for me to present the material; I want teachers to use it.
For the first time since arriving at my current employer, I’m concerned that teachers may not be able to implement what I give them. I can’t in good conscience craft a presentation on how to effectively teach English II without including some instruction on how to build the will of the students to engage with the material.
And, to be quite honest, I'm not sure I know how to do that. I'm not sure I ever did.
I'll keep you posted.