Precious Gifts: The Consequences of Reading in Grade 10

A student asked me today, “When are we going to start that Poetry unit?”

I have more than once looked at the cardboard box of Grade 10 poetry textbooks and asked the same question. The box sits neglected in an my otherwise abandoned classroom as I have spent the entire semester teaching in the library or computer labs.

“But we would have to stop what we are doing,” I replied, “and I like what we are doing.”

These are the times I have to remind myself that it is not so much about what text we are reading, it is about about what we are doing with the text we are reading. The “what” we read is secondary to the “how” or “why”. In Language Arts the “ends” is the “means.”

Students need to read some every day, and write some every day, be accountable to someone every day. The formula seems intuitive enough to me.

“Schools should be creating men and women who are capable of doing new things, not simply repeating what other generations have done.” — Jean Piaget

I really see the “new” gains made by this simple formula with this semester’s Grade 10 class.

For this class, as any other, success emphasized the following: individual work habits, homework, home reading, school reading, keeping track of missing or late assignments, attendance, accounting for reading/homework witnessed by parents, and keeping extracurricular coaches “in the loop.” By Christmas break, 14 students will have read over 80 books.

Students have overwhelmingly been proud of the books they have read, proud of the writing they have done. They wrote about themselves, other texts, and the world. They picked their own texts, they selected their own focus questions, they developed their own voices.

This class was special, we were in a library every day. We surfed the net and wrote to a blog, every day. I enjoyed reading responses to dozens of different books by emerging and maturing voices. With the iblogs, I checked that progress every day.

We put our feet up if they were clean, we traded in a lousy book for a better one. We read and wrote as much or as little as we were able. We took time to read, time we tracked in detail every day.

This is the first class I have ever required students to have a Public Library card. Radical stuff.

This is the first class where every student kept a “Reading Log” and I insisted that parents and teachers sign as witness every time the student read. I even invented an arbitrary calculation: “Home Reading Ratio”. Students divided the number of pages read by the number of pages read at home.

I am embarrassed to postulate that I may have students, in older grades, that have NEVER read a book that the class has not read together. I will never say that about these readers.

Each student received a tonne of time to read, a tonne of time to connect. Precious gifts.

Private business vending tests to students

I heard about our school division particpation in a private business site geared at “vending” standardized acheivement tests to students, today . . . a day before an English 30 final, 3 weeks after the L.A. 9 final Part A, and a week after all grade 10 classes have wrapped up. A third party, non-government, now has a list of every student I teach and is awaiting their input to validate multiple choice tests.

I do not know the exact costs to our publicly funded school for using the test “vending” site, but I think I heard $.35 per test. The site has been around for a while and the government has already poured in a million bucks every year since 2005. Until today I understood that such sites were “just another tool” in a sea of online gadgets for testing kids. I understood my participation in such sites was “voluntary.” Until today.

I was enrolled, as was every student I teach, without my knowledge or consent.

I do not know any teachers involved with creating the site. I know a lot of teachers.

So I started to research . . . My fellow teachers have already responded to the Castle Rock testing program:

reputable internationally recognized organizations such as the Educational Testing Services have pointed out that the final cost of developing even the most modest version of a program like CAA in the Alberta context would run into the tens of millions of dollars. In the Association’s view, the overly ambitious claims being made for CAA are neither educationally sound for students nor financially realistic and sustainable.

Why the Alberta government would commit millions of dollars to a private company to modify old provincial test items and put them online remains a mystery.

in the Language Arts Provincial Achievement Test, about one-third of student outcomes can be assessed through multiple choice questions; that of the 200 learner outcomes for Grade 9 science, only 63 (32%) can be assessed; that of the 51 learner outcomes for Grade 9 Mathematics, 24 (47%) can be assessed; and that of the 67 learner outcomes for Social Studies, only 22 (33%) can be assessed.

During the fall, Association staff responded to calls from many teachers who reported feeling pressured to participate in CAA. After being informed that the Association does not support CAA, most of the callers decided not to participate in the program.

as of January 30, 2007, … the superintendent and board of trustees of Edmonton Catholic Schools recently advised its teachers that the board would no longer be participating in the CAA project and that, given the implementation and professional concerns (including those raised by the Association), involvement in the program was henceforth voluntary.

All of this was a mystery to me. And now from my confusion is emerging a very sharp professional opinion on the issue.

I have not been given the opportunity to think on this “vending” of tests to kids.

I feel my mood changing. I need a cookie.

Prepare for English Language Arts Finals

For those in the midst, or looking ahead at finals in my LA classes(9, 10-1, 20-1, 20-2, 30-1, 30-2).

Consider the outcomes we’ve tried to achieve.

Enhancing the artistry of communication has been a strong technical focus. Skills mastered include using online blogging tools, Word Processing, Spreadsheets, even graphical enhancements using Photoshop or audio/video podcasting tools have been included where time permitted and initiative taken. Participation on an online forum has generated a myriad of useful tips/reminders, questions/answers. There will be no speadsheets on the final, the use of Word will be necessary for English 30.

Each course has been structured around Focus Questions and related questions: English 10, English 9.

Emphasis on social networking, peer review/support/criticism has been critical for developing critical thought and reflection for writers defending an idea.

Each course has a reading list: English 10, English 30. Not every title has been studied intensively(or at all), but the proportion of attention paid to those pieces that were studied in class deserve the same level of attention on the final. Of course, those who choose additional literature from the list to focus on in the final deserve to have that initiative rewarded as well. If you choose to focus on Shakespeare, your audience gets tougher, I’ve noticed.

An English 30 paper looking at how the images/symbols/archetypes of Sophocles and Kingsolver relate to personal freedom to would be intriguing. Why not an English 10 paper discussing the threat of fanaticism by comparing the speeches of Mark Antony, Joseph Strorm, and Eamon De valera? What does Søren Kierkegaard have to do with every page you’ve ever read or written?

Extras, everyone should be able to link to Wikipedia for literary terms, difficult vocabulary, or just the odd or eccentric idea; can anyone incorporate the Hayflick Limit into their paper? Everyone has seen video and heard an mp3, but are any daring enough to Podcast their final essay? A carefully edited U2 mp3 snip, an embedded flash video of Ophelia Simpson, a slideshow?

rubric.pngThe only limit is to abide the first line of every rubric you’ve ever attached to any assignment:

I _________________ honestly declare that the work is what I have done. In circumstances when I have quoted a certain authority, I have clearly indicated what is a quote and the author. 

A Blogger’s Code of Ethics contains truths far older than the phenomenon of blogging.

English 30s will have no access to internet, filesharing, etc etc. English 10s can have it all.