Category Archives: writing

Starting Class

Today I started class with these directions:

Today, everyone should be finished writing their EOC paper. If you’re not done yet, then that’s where you need to start. Everyone else who is done will move on to pages 13 and 15 in your packets [gesture to the list of directions on the board]. If you don’t yet have a partner for these pages, let me know and I’ll set you up with someone. The directions are on each sheet, but they are both identical to what we did earlier in the week. And remember, everyone’s paper is turned in the same way, so to find your partner’s paper, just go to the document where you gave me the link for your paper – the document I shared with you Tuesday. Your partner’s paper will be there too.

When you’re done with that, let me know and I will give you the next step for our writing process today.

Then, a few minutes later:

Me: Boy 1 says he’s done. Is anyone else finished and ready for a partner?
Boy 2: I am.
Me: OK. So you two are going to read each other’s papers and complete those pages in the packet.
Boy 1: What pages?
Me: Pages 13 and 15.
Boy 1: What packet?
Me: The orange packet. The packet we’ve done all of your EOC work in all week.
Boy 1: I don’t have that.
Me: Where is it?
Boy 1: I think I put it in the basket.
Me: OK, then it’s still in the basket. Go ahead and get it.
Boy 2: Which pages are we doing?
Me: Pages 13 and 15.
Boy 2: I don’t have my packet.
Me: Where is it?
Boy 2: It’s at home.
Me: That packet has three of your EOC grades in it.
Boy 2: Yeah, can you just print the pages for today for me?

So I print the pages, then when I bring them to Boy 2, the boy next to him speaks up.

Boy 3: What do I do when I’m done?
Me: You’ll get together with someone and read their paper. These two haven’t started yet, so how about we do a triad instead: 3 read 1’s paper, 1 read 2’s, and 2 read 3’s.
Boy 3: What do we do with their paper?
Me: You’ll complete pages 13 and 15 of your packet.
Boy 3: What packet?
Me: The orange packet. The packet we’ve done all of your EOC work in all week.

Boy 2: How do I find his paper?
Me: Go to the document where you turned in your paper – the document I shared with you Tuesday. Boy 1, have you opened 2’s paper yet?
Boy 1: No. Why?
Me: Because you need to read his paper and complete pages 13 and 15 of your packet.
Boy 1: How do I find his paper?
Me: Go to the document where you turned in your paper – the document I shared with you Tuesday.
Boy 2: I have that document open. Now what do I do?
Me: Click the link for the document next to his name.
Boy 1: This document?
Me: Yes, that’s the document where everyone turned in their work. See? There’s yours right there.
Boy 1: OK, now what?
Me: Click the link for the document next to his name.
Boy 1: OK, now what?
Me: You’ll complete pages 13 and 15 of your packet.
Boy 1: I already did this.
Me: This is a new sheet that you’re completing for your partner’s paper, but they are both identical to what we did earlier in the week.

Boy 3: So what do I do now?
Me: Do you have 1’s paper open?
Boy 3: No. Why do I need his paper?
Me: Because you’re going to read his paper and use it to complete pages 13 and 15 of your packet.
Boy 3: I was reading my paper.
Me: There’s no need to read your paper. You wrote your paper; you already know what you had to say. You need to read someone else’s paper for the analysis.
Boy 3: How do I find his paper?
Me: Go to the document where you turned in your paper – the document I shared with you Tuesday.
Boy 3: The link won’t even open.
Me: You have to click on it to open it.
Boy 3: I already did this.
Me: This is a new sheet that you’re completing for your partner’s paper, but they are both identical to what we did earlier in the week.

Boy 1: Is this all we’re doing this period?
Me: Based on how well things are going so far, yes, this is probably all you’ll be doing today.
Boy 1: Sweet!

Then about twenty minutes later, I see a girl across the room watching a video on her phone with her laptop put away.

Me: Are you considering yourself all done?
Girl: Yeah.
Me: OK.
Girl: I don’t have a partner though.
Me: I can get you a partner. Are you wanting to get your computer out again so you can do the partner activity?
Girl: No, not really.
Me: OK. Then make sure your packet gets turned in. You’ll just have a zero for that portion of your EOC.
Girl: OK. Do you still want me to do page 15?
Me: No, because that was part of the partner activity and you said you don’t want to do that. So like I said, you’ll have a zero for that portion of your EOC.
Girl: OK.

I promise you, the amount of repetition in this post is entirely accurate.


Complaints from the Peanut Gallery

My students have been complaining. Shocker, I know. Today is the eighth day of school this year and, according to students, this hasn’t been much of an “English classroom” yet. It’s been more of a history classroom. So now about half of my students are wishing for Ms. F, the teacher down the hall, who isn’t even teaching eleventh grade this year but who the students are all telling me they’re going to talk to their counselors about to get their schedules changed. I told them to go ahead.

It’s funny to me, that my students, so many of whom say that they hate school and that what I have to teach them isn’t valuable to their lives, suddenly have these uber-political ideas about what an English classroom is “supposed” to be like. So then I find myself justifying what we’re doing – which, by the way, is all frontloading for A Raisin in the Sun, which we’ll start reading next week. When I teach this text, I use the essential question “What connections exist between the past and the present?” So I start by looking at the Civil Rights Movement and then we look at racial tension today. Throughout the text, we bounce between the 1950s and today, examining the roots of discrimination as well as the modern development of said discrimination.

My students so far have activated prior knowledge about the CRM quickly and without lecture or notes, they have analyzed primary texts, they have read a poem and written a literary analysis of said poem, they have moved through the peer revision and self-revision stages of the writing process, they have conducted a short research project and today they are preparing for a large group discussion that leans toward a Socratic seminar. In short: they have done a LOT and all of it is supported by ELA standards.

But yesterday I actually had a girl ask me, “So, is this, like, all we’ll be doing this quarter? I mean, we already talked about race in school a few years ago.”

Yes, honey, we will be having this conversation all quarter. Because one conversation about race a few years ago doesn’t make you enlightened and beyond all stereotypes and racist comments.

Ugh. I’m not getting bogged down by their complaining – not really – because I know that they’re teenagers and they complain and the teenagers who have the life circumstances that the teenagers at my school have probably complain a lot more than other people, so it’s not personal. I will keep doing what I’m doing because I know it’s good and right and, like I said, supported by the standards.

But it would be nice if they stopped.

Just. Do. The. Work.

Two weeks ago, I assigned what I thought was going to be a pretty easy assignment. They had to write a letter that starts, “Dear Students,” to the students at our school. It could be about anything at all – as long as it had the audience in mind. And they had to use pathos – emotion – to get their point across. Yell! Plead! Flatter! Anything emotional. Easy, right?

Dear Students, Get off your lazy asses and come to school every day! Dear Students, Put away your cell phones during class! They make you feel so important, but it’s a lie! That text can wait another half hour until the bell rings! Dear Students, Speak up in class! When you refuse to participate, you don’t get the luxury of also complaining about how boring school is!

Oh, wait. Those are my letters I’d write to students. Back on track…

So the assignment was an easy one. And they had two whole class periods to do it in – three hours to write the minimum requirement of 300 words.

Only about half of them turned it in. The ones I received were meh. So it goes.

This Monday, I had a kid ask me if he could still turn his in. Yes. Absolutely. Please turn it in. It was a decently large grade in the grade book, so getting this paper in will make a difference for him.

All I have to say is: thank the gods I know more about functional technology than my students.

This student turns in to me a nearly four-page paper about cell phone use. It’s not set up like a letter, so I just scan through. That’s when I found them: in-text citations. This kid who’s on his phone all class period, barely pulling a D in most classes, never has the answers to questions, turning in the assignment two weeks late…this kid wrote two extra pages, did research, and cited his sources? Right. Then I noticed the title of the document: Cell Phones 12A. He did the paper for English 12A – another class!

I emailed him back and told him he must have sent me the wrong paper. Yesterday in class he asked if I’d changed his grade yet and I let him know about the email (which he said he saw). He tried telling me it was the right paper. *ahem* I told him why I thought this – the research, the document title. He looked at me wide-eyed and finally stuttered out “Oh…uh…yeah…I…I mean…Yeah, that’s…like…not the…not it…not the right paper…”

This morning I have another paper from him. It’s about teacher tenure – not exactly a topic I would have expected a student to write about in a letter to other students. Well, Google Docs has this awesome feature at the top of the page that allows you to see all the edits made to the document. According to this log, the student started writing this assignment two weeks before it was even assigned. That means he’s either clairvoyant or lying again.

I’m giving him one more chance – and told him so. He’s feigning ignorance, saying that he had no idea that those documents weren’t the right ones. I told him to double check this time because the next time I received a file that wasn’t the right assignment, I would write him up for plagiarism. He argued that he really did write those papers, so we had to talk about the definition of plagiarism a little.

Then he asked, “So, if I can’t find the right essay, should I rewrite it?”

Yes, child. Yes you should.

A Dream Deferred

I gave my students a writing prompt the other day that, let’s be honest, I was really proud of. It pulled together two great days of learning with a poem and asked for analysis and synthesis of information. Plus, I’ve been working with them all quarter on how to properly respond to literature. Now, this writing prompt could easily have been an essay prompt, but I only gave them about fifteen minutes to write in class. I wanted them to be thorough, but I didn’t need them going crazy with seven pages and footnotes and proper headers and all that. As if. Three minutes later, every single student had turned in their response. Baffled, I cautioned them, “You guys, you still have eleven minutes until the bell rings! Are you sure you wrote everything you needed to write about the poem?” I even went to individual students. “You already turned your paper in? Did you give me an A+ response?” I went so far as to tell them, “If you didn’t directly quote the poem, at least one source from yesterday and one source from today, don’t bother turning in your paper. You are NOT DONE.” No one retrieved their papers from the basket. No one.

Well, I read their responses today. First, though, the prompt:

What dream is Langston Hughes talking about in his poem “Harlem”? Was he right about the outcome of the dream? Use evidence from class – both yesterday and today – to support your answer.

Here are some of the responses that kids told me to my face they were sure were good and would receive an A+:

  • He’s dreaming about being equal and free. Yes he was cause it eventually happened cause MLK and Lil Rock 9.
  • I think he is talking about the end of segregation and the hatred between races. He was wrong about what would happen, the dream came true and all races were able to integrate and have the chance for a better tomorrow, that they will get along and not complain. Sources of thought: Real reasons the US became less racist toward Asian Americans [that’s an actual title of an article we read the day before]
  • His dream is to have racism come to end. He’s asking if this sore topic, that americans refused to talk about and resolve, will ever be rendered
  • A dream that’s deferred doesn’t go away, it just waits until the right time. Like Abolishing slavery and all racist laws, if you’re patient it’ll come true. but you still have to fight for what’s right, and it certainly wont easy.
  • the MLK Jr. Dream and if it will ever happen.

Obviously, this is an assignment I’m going to have to revisit on Monday.


Down With Haters

My students did a close reading of the Declaration of Independence. Then I had them write their own declaration, declaring independence from whatever they wanted independence from, as long as it used logic (in the style of Thomas Jefferson) and followed the same basic outline of content organization (again, in the style of Thomas Jefferson). As you can well imagine, most of my letters were of the “Dear Mom and Dad” variety. A couple of kids broke up with someone and a few quit their jobs, but by and large, the majority of kids wrote letters explaining why they needed to move out.

Except one girl. She wrote her letter declaring her independence from the haters.

This girl is sweet and quiet and mild mannered. She’s an introvert and, while I have gotten the feeling that there’s way more going on under the surface than she’ll let on, she doesn’t show it. Or, rather, didn’t until writing this. Here’s just her list of grievances:

I want this separation specifically for these five reasons; for one I would like to focus on my schoolwork not try to please people who are not fine with the way some individuals carry positive vibes,second I am tired of having to beat around the bush. These days you can say “hi” and it will offend someone.third this society is becoming to self absorbed it’s all about who owns expensive things and eyebrows now. Fourthly I am sick of people going around disrespecting others for no reason like “shut the hell up” if you don’t got anything nice to say then shut it and move on. Lastly I would love it if certain people would stop sticking their noses in places it does not belong.

I can’t say that I completely understand what she means about everything being about eyebrows now, but that’s OK. In general, I can rally behind her cry. Be gone with you, haters. We’ve got better things to do.