Reinventing Room 121

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Reinventing Room 121

An Open Letter to my English students.

December 8, 2013 · 3 Comments · ENG3C, Learning

Students,

As I think more about the conversation about marks and learning, I am reminded how sometimes what is obvious to me may not be obvious to you. Sure, I gave you a course outline, and yes, we read it together, but it was written to discuss what the possibilities of this course are, not about what the study of English is itself. Of course, I took that for granted. You are a senior and you have been taking English courses for years at this point, so you know what the subject of English is, right?

Let’s now consider English as a discipline and what that discipline demands. As a starting point, we should look at how the curriculum document describes the English courses that you have taken already, are now taking, and will be taking.  As you do, pay attention to the changes that occur from grade 9 to grade 12.

Grade 9 Applied:

This course is designed to develop the key oral communication, reading, writing, and media literacy skills students need for success in secondary school and daily life. Students will read, interpret, and create a variety of informational, literary, and graphic texts. An important focus will be on identifying and using appropriate strategies and processes to improve students’ comprehension of texts and to help them communicate clearly and effectively. The course is intended to prepare students for the Grade 10 applied English course, which leads to college or workplace preparation courses in Grades 11 and 12

Grade 10 Applied:

This course is designed to extend the range of oral communication, reading, writing, and media literacy skills that students need for success in secondary school and daily life. Students will study and create a variety of informational, literary, and graphic texts. An important focus will be on the consolidation of strategies and processes that help students interpret texts and communicate clearly and effectively. This course is intended to prepare students for the compulsory Grade 11 college or workplace preparation course.

Grade 11 College:

This course emphasizes the development of literacy, communication, and critical and creative thinking skills necessary for success in academic and daily life. Students will study the content, form, and style of a variety of informational and graphic texts, as well as literary texts from Canada and other countries, and create oral, written, and media texts in a variety of forms for practical and academic purposes. An important focus will be on using language with precision and clarity. The course is intended to prepare students for the compulsory Grade 12 college preparation course.

Grade 12 College:

This course emphasizes the consolidation of literacy, communication, and critical and creative thinking skills necessary for success in academic and daily life. Students will analyse a variety of informational and graphic texts, as well as literary texts from various countries and cultures, and create oral, written, and media texts in a variety of forms for practical and academic purposes. An important focus will be on using language with precision and clarity and developing greater control in writing. The course is intended to prepare students for college or the workplace.

The curriculum is designed in such a way that each year we build on the literacy, communication, and thinking skills we have worked on the year before. In order to use language with “precision and clarity” we need to … well, use language…we need to discuss, listen, present, and write about our ideas and our responses to the texts of the world.

And does it say what it is we are to do? What to read? What to write? What to create?

No.

Rather, we get to decide what content is meaningful and relevant to us. So when the opportunity to participate in a Mystery Skype with another class comes along and then read The Rez Sisters alongside them, we can decide to do this.

Then what?  We need to study the form, do some thinking, and create. Here are some of the ways we are creating before, during, and after reading the play:

  • Write blog posts on our thinking
  • Comment on posts to develop and extend our thinking
  • Participate in a Mystery Skype to focus on question development, thinking, problem solving, and collaboration
  • Make research notes which develops our reading and thinking skills about the content
  • Read out loud for fluency, thinking about the form and the ideas generated
  • Discuss ideas in the play and work together to think about complex ideas
  • Create an Annotated bibliography for application of researching skills
  • Make an Oral presentation with media support to consolidate our learning about researching
  • Write a Research Report to pull all of the pieces together and practice using language with “precision and clarity”
  • Reflect on the various learning processes

You see, the study of English is not something you can put in a formula. It’s not something that you can “do” in one task, one assignment, one test. The discipline of English is one of process, of reading, thinking, writing, talking, thinking, discussing, sharing, reading, thinking…..and finally, creating in a way that makes sense for you.

Reading and writing aren’t just skills we need to master to secure a place in college or a job, but are the means by which we can bring “ourselves into realization”; they are tools we use to  “imagine possibilities that you couldn’t have imagined before.”

And the marks? You get to decide what mark you will get. Engage, participate in the process of learning, take risks, do all the parts of the process, respond to feedback, attend class, be positive, have a growth mindset, seek help, take responsibility for your learning, hand work in….and the marks will be there.

Miss more than 25 days, have a negative attitude, refuse to contribute, produce no writing, ignore the process of learning, ignore difficulties and challenges, and deflect responsibility….and the marks will not be there.

I would love this letter to be the beginning of a conversation about learning. If you have a comment to make or a point to add to extend the conversation, please take a moment to add it here.

Keep learning,

Ms. Balen

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3 Comments

  • Sarah Le

    Ms. Balen, thanks for putting into writing my thoughts about marks and learning.

    You are right that “doing” English doesn’t fit into a formula, and I think this frustrates many students. Just before the break, I had a student complain (comment?) that English is hard because there is no ONE way of doing it. It’s also not fair, because the marking is subjective.

    I also like how you point out that students get to decide their grades. How do we get students to realize that they do have control over their learning? How can we develop “grit” in our students so that they will persevere when things are hard?

  • Ms. Balen

    So great that you dropped by Sarah!

    How do we get students to realize that they have control over their learning?

    Growth mindset.

    I have been working with growth mindset ideas for most of this semester, and although it is slow going with the students, I am completely compelled by Dweck’s work. I have lots to learn, but I am committed to these ideas.

    Have you read Mindset?

  • Koostachin Animkii

    Well, after reading all that, I agree where your coming from. Yes English is a hard subject, but that’s part of the learning experience. In the beginning it clearly says, “College Preparation” . If the students expect it all to be step by step instructions, they’re wrong, and if they take that attitude to an actual college, they’ll get laughed at and bounced back to their parnets house. But back to the point, I like how this course actually doesn’t have a formula because as I said earlier, It’s part of the learning experience. Aside from all the new things I have learned like reference notes, differences between a research report and a essay, how everything taught in the course relates to one big picture/ topic, it was interesting to see it all on a mind map at the end. It actually makes me think of what’s in store for me as a student in college & eventually university.

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