Moving Forward from Tragedy

My Post

I wish I wasn’t writing this post. I am reeling from last week’s school shooting, as I’m sure all of you are as well. To be completely honest, this post is as much for me as it is for anyone reading it.

I’ve never experienced a school shooting. Nor have I experienced a natural disaster at my school. I cannot speak directly from those perspectives, so please forgive any missteps I take. As a middle and high school student myself, I experienced the tragic death of a peer. Actually, several peers (my community went through a terrible year during which seven teenagers lost their lives). I speak from these experiences, but I apply those lessons I learned to this most recent national tragedy because it is the only way I know how.

Be well-informed, and open-minded

There is so much information out there, but there are also so many opinions. We need to find that balance between healthy skepticism and open-mindedness. Many people, in their desire to explain and understand, are desperately trying to pin down something to blame: guns, mental illness, school security, community (or lack of it), parents (or lack of them), school environment, violence in video games and media, etc.

Might I suggest this: keep an open mind, as this issue is likely more complicated than just one answer. There are a lot of people out there with experiences and knowledge that we don’t have; their perspectives might bring something new to the table. Don’t become so wedded to one viewpoint that you discount other reasonable perspectives.

Also, remember that you do not need become the champion of a cause. If you feel strongly about it, then go for it. But it is not your job to figure out why this tragedy happened. It’s okay to read all about the various explanations, but still not commit to one cause. It is more important to be aware and well-informed about each than to blindly commit to one argument. Isn’t that what we teach our kids every day?

Find community

There is strength in numbers, and that includes emotional strength. Find someone or a group to talk it out with. Allow yourself the time and space to process. Even a simple “I feel the same way” is hugely helpful with our grieving.

Find a community of other educators at your school, or look online: Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram are full of like-minded teachers.

Lean on your personal community too: your family, your friends, your pets, etc. They might not know what we go through every day, but they’re just as terrified of something happening to us or the kids we care for.

Moving forward, not moving on

This an important distinction. Moving on implies that we forget, that we put aside our feelings. Now more than ever, however, it important that we do not forget or put on a brave face, pushing down our feelings. When we move forward, we acknowledge the horror of what has happened and we use those feelings of terror to make change. We must do our best not to get stuck in the tragic moment, as that is neither productive nor healthy. But we can be inspired to continue our lives in a different way.

Take action

Big or small, taking action will definitely make us feel better. You can see teachers across the internet already taking this moving forward step. They are taking action, big or small. Teachers are reaching out to their congressional representatives, sending letters to the school in Florida (FYI, the administration there has indicated that they can’t handle the influx of letters coming in), and spreading awareness across social media. I’ve seen teachers address this tragedy with their students through discussions, free writing, reading nonfiction articles, and researching school safety.

Many teachers are rethinking how their classroom protects their students. If it makes you feel better, you can rearrange your classroom furniture or buy safety supplies. Personally, I am keeping my door locked (new policy from our principal), developing a plan of action with my students and TA, and have purchased door stops to put in the back of a closed door (so it’s much more difficult to swing open). I know other teachers are looking at window covers, wasp spray, and bullet-proof gear like vests and backpacks.

Movements are sweeping across social media to teach more kindness and connection among students and staff, to demand better safety procedures from administration, for better response to disturbing comments and actions, and for more comprehensive and accessible mental health care. You can support any movement by posting on your own social media, sharing it with others, and bringing them to the attention of policy-makers.

Do whatever helps you to move forward from this horrific tragedy. There is no one right answer. Taking some sort of action can be extremely helpful in our own processing.


How are you dealing with this tragedy or any other? Do you have suggestions for other teachers? Do you have any helpful resources to share?

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Are We Grading From Rubrics Wrong?

I have always struggled with grading. It’s my least favorite part of teaching. I am all about giving students feedback, but I just don’t feel that grades are the right way to do that. If you want to read more about my feelings about grading and my current practices, check out this post on grading conferences.

What I want to talk about today is how I’ve been using rubrics differently. I think everyone and their brother knows that rubrics are where it’s at in the education world today. Rubrics give students clear expectations and guidelines. They (seemingly) remove objectivity from grading assignments such as essays. Seems like a good solution, right, in theory? Ah, in theory.

My school developed rubrics for writing, participation, and classwork a few years ago. They are each on a four- or five-point scale. What I struggled with was my hardworking writers scoring a 3 out of 4 on the rubric, and then that translating into a 75% in the gradebook. My students’ grades were just not where I thought they should be. Ava, for instance, was definitely an A-level student, but the rubrics were dragging her down. In another example, Ron worked his. butt. off. But because of his limited capabilities would put him below a 50, and that just didn’t seem fair.

I spent a good portion of my summer researching and playing with math(!) to try to get my rubrics to match what I thought students deserved. Then, I discovered Roobrix. The people behind Roobrix agree with me: we aren’t transferring rubric scores to points properly. I’ll link to Roobrix’s explanation here. And the converter tool is here.

Play around with it a little. Try the traditional method of scoring via a rubric and Roobrix’s converter and decide which grade more accurately portrays your students’ abilities (if you like the traditional way better, no shade here; I just want to offer the option).

When you use the Roobrix converter, make sure you alter the settings to fit your criteria/setup.


What are your thoughts about rubrics? Would you use the Roobrix converter tool? Let me know!

Reflection: Saved by Reading

saved by reading

The Plan

  1. Introduce the theme
  2. Introduce, model, and practice using reading strategies
  3. Read several texts related to the theme, using the reading strategies
  4. Discuss each text
  5. Respond to the theme in a written response

Concepts Covered

  • Reading strategies: summarizing, annotating, chunking
  • Writing strategies: combining narrative and argument writing, using humor and vulgarity, writing with intended audience in mind

The Materials

This unit was inspired by a thematic grouping of texts in the book 50 Essays Anthology, which includes Sherman Alexie’s essay Superman and Me, an excerpt from Frederick Douglass’s Narrative, an excerpt from Stephen King’s On Writing, and a chapter from Malcolm X’s memoir.

For each text, I introduced and modeled a reading strategy, which students then used as they independently read. We began with annotating in Alexie’s Superman and Me. I asked students to specifically annotate for repeated words/phrases/images. For Frederick Douglass, we worked on summarizing and we chunked the text into smaller sections since it is a more difficult and longer text. Students practiced all three strategies while they read Stephen King and Malcolm X. Again, I gave students something to specifically look for as they annotated. For Stephen King, I asked them to look at King’s use of vulgarity and humor. And for Malcolm X, I asked students to label each paragraph as primarily narrative or persuasive in purpose.

After reading each text independently, we held a class discussion. I am attempting to use the Book-Head-Heart framework from Kylene Beers and Bob Probst’s book Disrupting Thinking. (You can see my review and thoughts about the book here). To hit the “book” portion, I began each discussion by asking students to recall the key ideas from the text. Then, we segued into the writer’s moves we noticed while reading (the “head” part of the framework). I also attempted to incorporate the “heart” part of the framework by asking students what parts of the text really spoke to them.

After reading and discussing each of the texts, I assigned a written response and provided two choices. Students could either respond narratively, telling the story of what “saved” them, or choose something from the text that spoke to them (again, appealing to that “heart” part of the framework) to discuss, a pseudo-argument, if you will. I encouraged my students to use the writing strategies we observed in the writing of Alexie, Douglass, King, and Malcolm X: combining narrative and persuasive writing to increase engagement and effectiveness, using vulgarity and humor, and omitting and/or choosing details carefully for your intended audience.

Reflection

I was really excited to start this unit. I really love Sherman Alexie and Frederick Douglass, so I was thrilled to have the opportunity to share these authors with my students. And I wasn’t disappointed with what Alexie and Douglass had to offer my students, and what they came up with!

When I started this exercise, I was expecting the discussions to act as a quick assessment of their understanding, a probe of deeper thinking, but what I got was so much better. Students brought up some interesting details, like how Frederick Douglass describes his mistress. It led to a discussion of using rhetorical analysis to better understand some of the choices the author made. I was not expecting us to go this way, but once the students opened that door, I went in full bore. And what amazing understandings my kids realized! By thinking about Frederick Douglass’s intended audience and purpose in writing his narrative, students understood that he probably chose his words very carefully, crafting his descriptions to further his purpose, possibly omitting details that don’t fit with his purpose.

Perhaps due to my enthusiasm, the reading and discussing of Sherman Alexie, Frederick Douglass, and Stephen King went swimmingly. Malcolm X, not so much. Both I and my students found it to be long and not nearly as engaging as the other texts. Next time I use this unit, I will eliminate Malcolm X.

In reflecting on the reading strategies I introduced, I found mixed results. My struggling readers really took to the strategies. My high-level readers also used them to their advantage. But my middle-of-the-road kiddos resisted using the strategies, adamant they did not help. Despite this, I will continue to recommend the use of these strategies and model them for my students, since many of my students do find them helpful.

For a written response, this was the first time I offered my students a choice. My students struggled with it at first–with the ability to make their own decisions. But with encouragement, they eventually ran with their freedom, and, for the first time, I wasn’t prompting them to write more and expand their thinking. They wrote some of the longest pieces I’ve ever received. I was thrilled.

Their written responses also revealed many, many areas needing some work. It’s easy to sometimes be overwhelmed by everything they need to improve on. I decided to hone in on issues with incomplete sentences and run-ons. We did some mini-lessons and practice, which they did well on in isolation. While the students thought they fixed all issues in their drafts, I was still not happy. I printed out every student’s draft and highlighted the sentences needing attention. I didn’t fix it for them or even indicate why I highlighted the sentence. Then I passed them back and asked them to review and fix. The students did surprisingly well! A handful of students needed some guidance, but once they received guidance with just one of the highlighted sentences, they were able to correct the others without assistance.

Since this was our first full-process written response, I really looked at the other areas of need as a starting point for the school year. We’d address them in subsequent writing assignments.

Overall, I was pretty happy with this unit. It was a very different type of unit for me, organizing it thematically. But I will definitely do this again! Offering choice in the written response was also a successful venture that I will use again.

Thankful.

Adobe Spark (5)

This year has been a rough school year at my school. It’s been a weird year. We always work with a group of students that need extra help. All of my students have IEPs and need support with their mental health and emotional well-being. But the team approach and supports that we have in place make our jobs possible. Usually. This year, our usual approaches, supports, and plans are not working like they used to. Online bullying is really taking up a lot of our time and energy. It has been very frustrating and the atmosphere has been a little tense.

To combat the frustrations and tensions, I find it helpful to take time to deliberately grateful. Back in January of 2017, I decided to write one thing I’m thankful for every day this calendar year. It has really helped me to keep a positive outlook on every situation I’ve found myself in.

So to help me keep my positive focus at school too, I’m going to use the Thanksgiving holiday to take a few minutes and be thankful with all of you.

On a personal level, I am so thankful for

  • my husband, who has always been such an amazing support to me and my teaching
  • my parents, who are always there to listen to me vent and help me when I get overwhelmed, but also there when everything is going right
  • my brother and sister, who I always enjoy spending time with
  • my tenants, whose rent pays my mortgage, but more than that, they are sweet and helpful as well
  • my husband’s new job, which will hopefully be a better place to work and is also providing us with some wonderful financial opportunities

At school, I’m thankful for:

  • a sweet group of girls in my homeroom that I genuinely enjoy spending time with
  • the opportunity to push into my colleagues’ classrooms every day during first period
  • the enthusiastic and energetic group of boys in my second period Global History class
  • the hardworking third period class that uses every strategy I show them
  • the passion in my fifth period class
  • the deep thinking my seventh period class does on a regular basis
  • my friends Chris, Joal, and Maureen who listen to me vent, brainstorm solutions with me, and help me reflect (and sometimes celebrate) afterwards, but also are just good friends that I enjoy spending time with
  • my principal, who listens to me and helps me when she can
  • Melissa the secretary who keeps all of our lives running smoothly.

 

What are you guys thankful for?

NYSEC 2017 Insights

On October 26th and 27th, I was lucky enough to attend my first ever annual New York State English Council (NYSEC) Conference. I had so much fun and learned so much–I cannot wait to go back next year. But until then, I wanted to share some of the great ideas I gathered.

Helping Students Become Better Readers

The first keynote speaker was Elfreida Hiebert, a literacy expert, who spoke about how to develop better readers. Hiebert believes that reading aloud to students, as they listen, is not the best way to increase their skills in reading. She compared it to working out: you don’t get in shape, developing your muscles, by watching other people exercise.  Likewise, students aren’t going to become better readers by listening to other people read. I don’t entirely agree with Hiebert. There is plenty of research that supports reading aloud to students some of the time. I think students need opportunities to read themselves and listen to others.

Hiebert also suggested that we provide magazine articles every day, especially in the content areas, to help students gain knowledge while also employing those reading skills. For articles, Hiebert recommended ReadWorks but I’ll throw NewsELA out there too.

Civic Discourse & Argument

The first presentation I attended was from two teachers who were inspired by the Letters to the Next President Project (from the National Writing Project). They wanted their students to be aware of current events, have well-developed opinions, and express their opinions appropriately.

One of my favorite resources from this conference was a Headline Search bellringer activity from these teachers. Once a week, they have students browse the headlines from news websites such as NewsELA, Smithsonian Tween Tribune, KQED Do Now, Youth Radio, Room for Debate, NY Times Learning Network, Washington Post, USA Today, and the local regional newspaper. Not read the articles, just browse the headlines. Then, they had students list issues among those headlines that were important to them or affected them personally, their community, and their nation. They also had students identify what they’d like to see stopped and started in the world.

What I love about this resource is how accessible it is. Students who struggle with reading and writing only need to focus on the headline, not the whole article. And it’s a great prewriting strategy. It only takes a few minutes, yet makes our students more aware of what’s going on in the world and maybe will spark their interest to read more.

While I’ve heard of the Letters to the Next President project, I didn’t know much about it, now had I done it before. I’m definitely feeling inspired to include a version of this project into my curriculum this year. And I say a version because the other teacher who presented decided to take this to a local level. Students wrote letters to local politicians and sent them into the local newspaper. I thought this could be really neat too, as his students got quite the thrill out of seeing their words in print.

DBQs in ELA

The second session I attended was a bit of a sales pitch, but the concept is a really neat idea. The DBQ Project was created by two teachers, and still employs teachers to create and vet their products. While DBQs (or document-based questions) are nothing new, in my experience, they tend to be used for assessment purposes. Social studies teachers teach students how to write them, but then use the DBQ as an assessment technique. The presenter explained that while students still produce an essay, their focus is to learn through a DBQ. The other novel part of this was that the DBQ was expanded out of social studies and into literature.

The unit (called a Mini Q) is organized around a question (for instance, “Holocaust Writings: How does the spirit triumph?”). The unit materials provided by the DBQ Project includes a hook, a one-page article with background information that introduces vocabulary and the essential question, and then a series of “documents” that help students to answer the question. In social studies, these documents would be primary or secondary source excerpts. But in ELA, the “documents” were excerpts from literature. For the Holocaust example, the documents included excerpts from Yellow Star by Jennifer Roy (a book written in verse about Roy’s aunt who survived the Holocaust), The Book Thief by Marcus Zusak (a novel about a German girl during WWII), Anne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl, and an autobiography titled An Interrupted Life and Letters from Westerbork by Etty Hillesum.  

Purchasing a binder, which each contains 10-12 Mini Qs, is quite an investment at over $300. But I think this concept of teaching with a DBQ rather than assessing and using the DBQ format in English are both concepts worth exploring on my own.

Building Empathy through Narratives & Authentic Research

The second keynote speaker was Gae Polisner, author of The Memory of Things, a young adult novel about September 11th. She spoke about why she chose to write about 9/11, which truly resonated with me. Polisner is from New York City and felt profoundly affected by that day. While I am not from the city, I am from New York State, and September 11th shaped who I am since I was young when it happened. Polisner felt current teens and young adults completely disconnected from this day that affected us both so deeply, and she decided writing a novel from the perspective of a teen in NYC was the best way to share the meaning of 9/11.

Polisner believes she is helping to create empathy among her readers through this book. So, she argued, teachers could encourage their students to build empathy among themselves and their peers by reading and writing about unique experiences. I love this idea. Let’s ask our students to write narratives with the goal of creating empathy in others; something which our world sorely needs right now.

Polisner also discussed the amount of research that she had to do to write The Memory of Things. Even though she experienced 9/11 herself, she did not experience it exactly the way she wrote her main character experiencing it. So she walked the streets he walked in her book and she spoke to people who had first-hand accounts and knowledge of things her character experienced. So often, we de-personalize the research process for our students by having them look at academic or professional journals. Instead, let’s teach our students how to do authentic research, by speaking with people who are experts due to their experiences and knowledge. While, yes, our students will need to know how to do research from those journals to write in college, they probably won’t ever do that kind of research again unless they pursue a career in academia. In their careers and personal lives, their research will consist of talking to people, formally or informally. So let’s teach them how to do that, and use it, appropriately.

Fusing ELA and History Classes

All teachers know that English and social studies classes use many of the same skills. In New York State, the new social studies standards are extremely similar to the ELA standards, down to a few word changes. So the two teachers in this presentation shared the combined English and history class they created, called Fusion, and teach in their schools. Historical novels, primary and secondary sources, and other media are used to support skill and knowledge attainment in both content areas.

On their website, they have units available for purchase and they are coming out with a textbook in 2018 for a combination of ELA and world history. But this can be done on your own, for whatever historical content your grade level teaches, with a little research and planning. And by a little, I actually mean a bit more than that. An excellent resource they shared is Historical Novels, which lists novels that correspond with various time periods and regions.

Podcasts in the Classroom

I hope to do an entire post on using podcasts in the high school ELA classroom, and thankfully these two educators (an ELA teacher and a librarian) gave me even more great information. At the end of the school year, when summer is close and student attention spans are short, consider using podcasts as a “reading” unit or assignment. If you have students “fake reading” and using the internet to complete assignments, this might be a solution for you! While there is tons of info out there on most novels you might ask students to read, there is very little out there on podcasts. No faking or stealing.

Some great podcasts you could start with are Serial (the first season is better), Limetown, and Lore (warning: now an Amazon Prime show). But there are tons of great podcasts. Here are some resources:

Podcasts are great for lower level readers who spend so much energy on the act of reading that comprehension and higher-order thinking are out of reach and busy students who can listen while doing other things.

A New Approach to Revision

This presentation came out of a local chapter of the National Writing Project. The educators (a high school teacher, a college professor, and a college writing center director) developed a system to help students become better at peer feedback. Personally, I think it’s a great approach for teachers to use in writing conferences too.

In this approach, they ask the reviewer to first read and notice what’s going on in the writing piece without making any corrections. This would go hand-in-hand with teaching writers’ moves through mentor texts. What writing moves is the student writer using? Then, the reviewer simply points out and names the moves. For instance, “Here you have presented a counterclaim.” This focuses the reviewer, either student or teacher, on what is there, not what isn’t. Then, the reviewer articulates what this move did for the writing. This can be the trickiest part because you have to move students beyond the “I like it” statements. This step should lead to a conversation with the writer, so being more specific will result in a better conversation. Now, the reviewer can be evaluative, noting places where the writing resonates. The reviewer can also pose a question, include a curiosity, or suggest a possibility. The final step to rethink, review resources, converse, and revise the piece.

I like how this process supports the use mentor texts and developing a toolbox of moves for a writer to use. I like that this revision process focuses on actual revision, not editing. I like that it focuses on what is there, rather than what is not. When we point out weak sections of writing, students often don’t know how to fix it. If they did, they probably would have fixed them already. In this process, by focusing on what is done well, it reinforces these skills. And maybe the student writer sees that their reviewer noticed strong claims in the first few body paragraphs, but nothing was pointed out about the last couple paragraphs and that is an area to strengthen.

Kwame Alexander

The final keynote of the conference was an hour of listening to Kwame Alexander, author of the popular YA book in verse The Crossover. He was a delight to listen to, engaging and brilliant. If you ever have the chance, I highly recommend seeing him.

And now, be jealous of my awesome picture with him and signed book:

Grading Conferences

10 o’clock at night. Bleary-eyed. Mounting exhaustion. Grades due in less than twelve hours. My frustration escalating as the number of missing assignments increases.

You guys have been there too, right?

Every year I have struggled with choosing a fair break down of grades for English class. In other subject areas, grading can be fairly straightforward. In math, for instance, you teach a lesson on solving one-step equations, the students have time to practice and receive feedback from you, you reteach concepts as needed. Then, students take a quiz or test to assess their ability to solve one-step equations. You put the test/quiz grade in the grade book. Simple. Fair. Even in science or social studies, there is a set content that students need to learn, so you communicate the information to them and, eventually, they are assessed on their understanding of that content.

In ELA, it’s not so simple. Consider: if I taught lessons on essay-writing, allowed them time to practice, and then tested them, the school year would be over by the time we finished one round. As a result, many English teachers grade everything. I was one of these people. I felt that it was only fair to give students a grade if they put time and effort into it. Thankfully, some wonderful fellow educators convinced me that I didn’t need to grade everything. But then I was left with the questions: what do I grade? How much should each graded assignment be worth?

Last year, I decided to try standards-based grading. Our grade books weren’t exactly set up for this system, so I had to create my own version. I grouped standards into categories and, rather than the typical classwork, projects, homework, groups of standards were my grade book categories:

  • Reading for Key Ideas & Details
  • Literary Analysis
  • Written Content & Analysis
  • Written Coherence, Organization, & Style
  • Written Conventions

Each graded assignment went in not as one assignment but as an assignment into each appropriate standards-based category. So for instance, one essay would be put into the grade book as three grades, one in each of the Written categories. My thinking behind this was that at least the grades could be feedback to the students. If they had a low score in the Conventions category, then they would know that was an area to work on.

As with all the best-laid plans, this one also went awry.

My standards-based grading spin-off ended up being a lot of work for me, with very little reward. That’s when I started printing out grade reports every week and, when I met with students for their reading conference, I would also show them their grade report and discuss it with them. Students started having a better understanding of how their grades were calculated, how low scores or missing assignments impacted their grades, and how their effort directly affect their grades. Students were able to point to a low score and tell me, “Oh, yeah, I didn’t really understand this assignment” and we could have a conversation that led to true learning.

I was encouraged by this progress. I read somewhere ( I want to say Kelly Gallagher but I don’t remember for certain) about allowing students to choose which writing pieces were graded. And I started thinking… what if students got to choose everything that was graded? What if we did lots of reading, writing, discussing, and thinking every single day and then students chose their best of each to be graded?

I proposed to my principal this idea, and, with a little tweaking, she approved. Grades would be determined by both the student and me via a grading conference. I would give students a rubric, and they would supply evidence (i.e., their work) to support their score on the rubric. Every three weeks, which works out to three grading conferences per marking period, we’re meeting for a grading conference.

So now, we work without the threat of grading hanging over our heads every day. My students do amazing thinking and hard work all the time. Sometimes, they have a bad day and it’s okay because one bad day doesn’t kill them. They simply choose evidence from another day. Or if they are absent the day of a discussion, it’s no biggie because they can use another discussion as evidence.

The first round of grading conferences took a while. But the conversations I had with my students were so worth it! I got to know students and where their thinking was at about their own abilities. Most of my students under-scored themselves and I had to show them they actually deserved a higher score on the rubric! Other students immediately saw and were aware of their deficits. Some even asked to make revisions and come back the next day. My students who typically give low effort were suddenly putting in a lot more.

I’m still tweaking and learning how to make this work the best I can. But I’m thrilled with the results so far. I’ll keep you guys posted on how it goes throughout the school year.

 

Reflection: Rhetorical Analysis

Rhetorical Analysis

For a bit of a change, I decided to start my school year by introducing rhetorical analysis. In the interest of full disclosure, I have to admit that I had never taught rhetorical analysis prior to last year. In fact, I had never been taught it in high school and never encountered it in college. I only decided to teach it because a lesson arrived in my inbox ready-made from Teach Box last winter.

And. It. Went. Amazing.

The ELA specialist I work with was delighted that I was finally ready to hop on the rhetorical analysis train. So while brainstorming units for the 2017-2018 school year, I decided to start the school year with rhetorical analysis.

The Plan

  1. Introduce elements of rhetorical analysis
  2. Practice using Superbowl commercials
  3. Practice using texts

Concepts Covered

  • Rhetorical Situation: occasion, context, and purpose
  • Rhetorical Triangle: speaker, subject/message, audience
  • Rhetorical Appeals: ethos, logos, pathos

The Materials

I used excerpts from The Language of Composition to introduce rhetorical analysis. This text is typically used in Advanced Placement courses, but do not let that scare you off! The first chapter introduces rhetorical analysis succinctly, including several examples and explanations of each example. I gave my students some pages to read, and other pages I used as a teaching guide for myself. We read and discussed each element of rhetorical analysis within the text excerpts. Now, would I hand this book to my students with no other assistance or scaffolding? No. But with teacher guidance and class discussion, this text is very accessible for students, from above grade-level to several levels below grade.

Commercials are a great resource for practicing rhetorical analysis. In my classes, we talked about the fact that all commercials are trying to sell something–a product, a service, or an idea–and that the speaker is generally the brand or, possibly, a celebrity endorser. Taking just these two elements off the table makes the rest much more accessible. We watched one Superbowl commercial together and then as a class went through the elements and appeals. After that work together, each student chose another Superbowl commercial to independently perform an analysis. For our first attempt at presentations, students also presented their analysis to the rest of the class at the end.

You can also check out Teach Argument YouTube Channel for some awesome videos talking through a rhetorical analysis of various commercials and music videos. I had my students watch one of the videos of a commercial prior to completing their own analysis. I also had my kids watch one of the music video analyses as a homework assignment.

To practice an analysis of a text, I once again turned back to The Language of Composition. From this book, I was able to present four texts–a newspaper article, a speech, a social commentary, and a political cartoon–on a single topic (the Apollo 11 moon landing) for students to choose from. This element of choice gave them the opportunity to challenge themselves on their own level. You would be amazed how appropriately students will challenge themselves when the given the chance in a low-stakes environment (more about that in a future post!).

Reflection

I was pleasantly surprised with how well most of my students did with this mini-unit on rhetorical analysis. While all my students did well with the commercial analysis, I felt like the true test of understanding came with the analysis of the Apollo 11 texts.

This unit did not go off without a hitch. All of my classes utilized an anchor chart to remind them of the various elements of rhetorical analysis throughout the unit. Nobody has completely memorized the elements, but, for me, that’s okay. My goals were not to memorize the parts–that will come in time as we continue to use rhetorical analysis throughout the year.

All of my classes required review of the elements.  One of my classes required some serious reteaching due to a funky schedule and multiple absences resulting in some missed instructional time and long stretches between classes. For this class, I found that remaking my anchor chart was the key to getting my students to independently conduct a rhetorical analysis. See the change in my anchor charts:

              First Draft Anchor Chart                                             Second Improved Draft

The second version (the one on the right) provided my students more independence with using the rhetorical situation, triangle, and appeals. The anchor chart remains posted as we move into our next unit, so we shall see how we progress with it!


Have you taught rhetorical analysis? Have you ever started your school year with rhetorical analysis? Do you have any favorite lessons or resources? Please share!