Three Poetry Final Projects for National Poetry Month

By Sharon Kunde

Marianne Moore argued that good poetry fashions “imaginary gardens with real toads in them”: worlds created of words in which toadlike reality crouches and springs on us, eliciting clenched hands, dilated eyes, “hair that can rise/if it must” (24, 5-6). Like good poetry, good pedagogy invites students into the world of ideas and allows them to create useful, authentic experiences and artifacts with those ideas.

While poems are easy to integrate into units on longer prose works, I strongly recommend devoting an entire unit (or more!) to poetry. In honor of National Poetry Month, here are some suggestions for final projects around which you can build an engaging poetry unit.

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The Power of Teaching Contemporary Poetry

By Melissa Smith

Imagine my student’s surprise when Elizabeth Acevedo complimented her analysis of her poem , or when Nate Marshall tweeted that a student’s blog on his poem was “dope” and “fresh.” Students feel recognized and validated, and these interactions are one of the most rewarding benefits to teaching living poets.

The #TeachLivingPoets movement started as a simple hashtag—a way for me to share my favorite poems and ways to teach them on social media. In 2017, after Skyping with poet R. A. Villanueva, whose poems we had read in class, my students begged me to set up another call; they wanted more. We ended up Skyping with him three times and the reaction I saw in my students was pure teaching gold. They were enthralled. They wrote guitar songs set to his poems. They wrote poems responding to his poems. They were excited—about poetry! The following year, social media interaction and Skype video calls quickly morphed into poetry readings and classroom visits.

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Why Bellringer Activities Are More Important Than Ever

By Mary McConnaha

Since moving to virtual, hybrid, or socially distanced in-person learning, many of us have had to adapt our tried-and-true classroom procedures to fit these new environments. As a middle school English teacher, I have always enjoyed engaging with my students through my “bellringers”—activities I’ve established for the first few minutes of class while my students get settled. Though it took some trial and error, I’ve found ways to continue these traditions via hybrid and online learning. What’s more, I’ve found it to be more important than ever to engage with and uplift my students through these small routines. Here, I’ll share my favorite ways to kick off my English class, whether in-person or online.

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The Unexpected Benefits of Teaching Virtually

By Danielle McAuliffe

The absence of bells and the cacophony of announcements in the morning is replaced with an unusual, peaceful quiet in the virtual high school. There are no loitering students in the halls, no calls to cover classes, no broken copy machines or parking problems. The usual hustle and bustle of what we associate with school is gone, and we are left with, well, time. Uninterrupted time to prepare for the day has become the new normal for both students and teachers. And I don’t mind it—in fact, I enjoy teaching remotely.

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Quick Reference Guides from Norton Books in Education

As schools resume classes this month, teachers and students are engaging in online learning to an unprecedented degree.  To help educators meet that challenge, Norton Books in Education has recruited experts in remote instruction to address the nuts and bolts of teaching online.  The practical tips below are excerpted from five Quick Reference Guides to be released this fall:

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Cultivating an Anti-Racist English Classroom

By Sharon Kunde

The English classroom is a crucial space for us, as teachers, to cultivate anti-racism. In ELA class, students learn which stories and points of view matter—they are taught which voices and narrative styles are legitimate. While strides have been made in the past years and decades to remove racist content from our English curricula, this is not enough to constitute an anti-racist curriculum. In order for our curricula to be truly anti-racist, we must rethink our entire system of literary study.

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Just-In-Time Skills: Creating Videos for Scaffolding

By Jonna Kuskey

Make room, Steven Spielberg. I’m going into the movie business. 

Well . . . sort of. 

As the old adage goes, necessity is the mother of invention, and the pandemic that forced us to move quickly to online learning forced me to make movies.  With a big box office budget of zero dollars, no big-name actors, and no brilliant CGI, I made videos to teach concepts or explain assignments so students could access the information wherever and whenever they needed or wanted. (Thank you, free version of Screencast-O-Matic!)

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Feedback as a Critical Tool for Distance Learning

By Matthew Johnson

The first time that it fully dawned on me just how much Covid-19 might change our lives and our world was when I saw those pictures in early March of sports teams around the world playing in front of empty stands. I remember looking at those images and wondering what it must be like for the athletes to play without the cheering, jeering, and general noise of thousands looking on. How strange it must have been to suddenly hear every crack of the bat and kick of the ball and to have more than a few moments of silence in between.

Little did I know that within a few weeks, I, too, would suddenly exchange my busy and loud work environment for the relative silence of a small and hastily constructed basement office. Overnight, the noise of my day—the hundreds of tiny interactions I had with students, the greetings and goodbyes at the door, the ambient buzz of 35 bodies learning in one room— disappeared, replaced with mostly silent asynchronous education where I was separated from my students by both time and space.

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Education in a Time of Upheaval: What Can We Learn?

By Peter Smagorinsky

Two stories have dominated the news since late May. One began quietly in January and took off with urgency in early March: the Covid-19 pandemic. The second occurred suddenly on May 25 and nearly blew the virus off the news: The killing of George Floyd, the culmination of a series of spring murders of Black people that included Breonna Taylor in Louisville and Ahmaud Arbery in Brunswick, Georgia.

In the background, other stories were reported, if obscured by the immediacy of these larger events. Among them were the questions of how schools would open in August, and how ordinary citizens could help address the systemic problem of racism in the US beyond issuing noble statements of support and participating in protests.

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The Effects of COVID-19 Are Not Just Academic: Preparing for Reopened Classrooms

By Jonna Kuskey

To say the 2020-21 school year will begin a little differently than most is an understatement. Public health experts have indicated schools may still be dealing with the effects of the pandemic in the new year, which means more remote and online learning may be on the horizon, and we need to be ready if that occurs. We also need to be ready for the COVID-19 slide, much like the typical summer slide, only steeper. A study by Kuhfeld, et al, “Projecting the Potential Impacts of COVID-19 School Closures on Academic Achievement,” projects students will begin this year with “approximately 63-68% of the learning gains in reading relative to a typical school year” and 37-50% in math.1 

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