Showing posts with label Writing. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Writing. Show all posts

Thursday, 7 May 2015

The AP Challenge: Close Text Analysis of Hamlet

Close text analysis, or close reading of a text, is one of the core skills developed in English classes. It forms the basis for much for the AP English Literature and Composition exam, and requires critical thinking about how texts create meaning, both in terms of structure and content. In Grade 12, we apply this skill to a challenging text: Hamlet.

In the regular Grade 12 English course, the focus of close text analysis is a critical reading of the text and how it functions in the play as a whole. Assessments are chunked to help students differentiate between the importance of the information in the scene and the importance of how it is said. For example, how does word choice reveal character? How does a recurring image recall a larger theme? The goal is to be a critical reader, a skill that students can apply in any discipline and later in life.

Students in the AP course also hone their critical reading skills but have the increased challenge of deciding how to organize their findings in an essay. This essay is written in class over about thirty minutes, emulating the format of the AP exam. While this task may seem grueling, it enables students to make their own decisions about how to prioritize what they notice in terms of both its importance and how their ideas should be grouped within paragraphs. Students in both classes are taught to notice the same things; the difference is the depth to which students explain what they have noticed.

Close text analysis is a great example of how AP courses can increase academic challenge for students. Looking forward to applications to Greenwood's future flexible classrooms, the fact that both skills are taught during the same unit and can be done with the same readings also means that students can choose to challenge themselves with the AP model of the skill even if they are in the regular course. This way, students are given more opportunity for "challenge by choice," as they expand their critical reading skills.

Stephanie Martino
English Teacher

Wednesday, 26 February 2014

Personalized Independence

This week, English teacher Jennifer Walcott explains how she encourages students to customize the what and where of our Grade 12 Writer's Craft course to suit their needs and interests.

The Grade 12 Writer’s Craft course is an English elective, usually chosen by students who enjoy creative writing. As the course is process driven rather than content driven, students have many opportunities to make choices based on their interests and to develop a work plan that suits their schedules.

The recent non-fiction unit allowed students the option of what forms of writing they wished to learn, but also gave them the option of where they would complete their assignments.

All of the course steps and requirements were outlined to students in class on the first day of the four-week unit. The readings, quizzes, tasks, and rubrics were all presented with a weekly due date for each of the four tasks for the unit. Students then had several options they could follow. They had to select two forms of non-fiction writing from a menu that included: travel, interviews, opinion, feature, sports, reviews, and obituaries.

As is the norm in this course, students:
  1. Read expert guidelines for success criteria and complete two reading quizzes.
  2. Find six real-world samples of the forms of writing. I offered several suggestions of sources plus samples of magazines for these, but students had to secure their own.
  3. Write an analysis of how one of the samples met the criteria they had identified.
  4. Write two original pieces of their own and annotate them to show where they were meeting the criteria. Students were encouraged to create one of their pieces for the school newspaper.
Students were also provided a package of exercises to improve their diction, syntax, and punctuation. These were warm up activities that they could do on their own. Two peer editing sessions were built into the schedule as students have repeatedly said they prefer face-to-face peer editing rather than online editing.

Each student was invited to a conference with me and with a weekly due date for tasks, I was able to see how students were progressing through the tasks and to call in any student who needed additional support for another conference. Students were also able to request a conference during class time if they wished. I was always available during class time, and several students chose to work in the room where it was quieter and they could be more focussed. However, some students preferred to work on Writer’s Craft tasks late at night and used our class time to complete work for other classes as needed.

Writing is a fairly solitary task. Once you know what you are trying to do, it’s a matter of drafting and revising. This personalized and blended approach allowed students to work at their own pace - a few students completed tasks ahead of time - and when and where they found most conducive to the tasks. The challenge was time management. Those who planned were successful, those who did not, were less so as they lost revision time. However, with weekly due dates, I was able to contact those who needed help in managing time and the frequent check ins meant no one fell behind in submitting work.

At the start of the unit, students were offered a challenge to work as a group to create a magazine or newspaper and build their writing around a specific target audience. Three groups selected this option, but only one actually completed it. The others found the challenge of working together too much and gradually opted to work alone.  Interestingly, the group that stayed together to produce a magazine of their articles was made up of the students with the most mature time management and organizational skills. My challenge for the future is how to teach those skills beforehand so more students can have this real world experience.

Tuesday, 28 January 2014

Professional Practice in Media Studies

This week's post comes from Katharine Rogers, English and Geography Teacher.

Students in Grade 11 media studies participate in both the analysis and creation of many forms of media. Most recently, they have been working to develop their skills in review writing as a method of analysing television shows, documentaries, and feature films. As a number of the students in the course are interested in pursuing careers in related fields, it is important that the assessment process reflects the reality of the industry.

First drafts of written content are rarely published; as such, first drafts of written reviews in this class are not assigned a final grade. Instead, I provide the students with a temporary grade and ample feedback on their work. I then return the reviews to them, and provide them with the opportunity to revise their work up to four times. Students are required to complete at least one revision, but the others – all assessed by me for temporary grades – are optional. Students can track the improvement in their writing in a measurable way between drafts, which gives them ownership over their learning and revision process.


During the most recent revision stage, some students focused on the depth of their analysis, while others revisited the structure of written reviews. Feedback was completely personalized, and students were given up to three weeks to complete their revisions. They appreciated the opportunity to self-pace; some finished all revisions within the first week, while others used the full time allotted. In all cases, the students chose to revise their work at least three times.

Currently, media studies students are researching influential film directors, and will soon be asked to analyse and review a selection of their feature films. Students will have the opportunity to decide whether they’d like to stick with traditional review writing in order to further develop their skills in this area, or move on to the more challenging comparative review as an enrichment option. They will also have the opportunity to select their preferred method of delivery for this task; product options include written reviews, podcasts, videos, etc.

Once the students complete the first draft of their film reviews, they will move on to the second stage of development in their editing process. Now that they have been through a full editing cycle with me at the helm, they will apply the skills learned to critiquing the work of their peers. Students will work in groups of three, and will be permitted to submit their drafts for peer feedback up to four times. They will use this feedback and support to revise their work, and to determine when it is fit for final submission. This process will enable students to self-pace during the review cycle, and will help them to make mature, informed decisions about their own levels of readiness.

Monday, 9 December 2013

Reading & Writing: Grade 7 Students Personalized By Readiness

Since August, the Grade 7 English teachers have worked collaboratively to ensure personalized learning is delivered in our classrooms on a regular basis. We used the first unit, a novel study, to assess our students’ reading and writing abilities and to get to know each student as a learner.

In September, the students began reading Fighting For Dontae, a novel about a young boy living in an impoverished area of southern California. Throughout the unit there were various reading comprehension quizzes and paragraph writing exercises, as well as letter writing in role. We did ongoing assessments in preparation for unit 2. Based on each student’s demonstrated skill level, we then personalized their reading comprehension abilities and written expression.


Fast forward to unit 2, which began last week. Unit 2 looks at forms of writing. Students have begun learning about narrative and expository pieces. With the information we gathered about each student in unit 1, we are now able to personalize their reading and writing tasks to suit their individual needs and readiness.

The first task was to practice writing a narrative story. Students were all given different scenarios/story starters, from our observations and assessments from unit 1. This allows students who need extra support and structure to receive it, while stretching students who are ready to move forward.

Personalized learning has helped tremendously in the Grade 7 English classroom as students are feeling confident, and working towards their potential.

Michelle Lieberman
Teacher