Lately, in my English 10 class, we’ve been doing CAHSEE prep. Students have to think about essays. They read essay prompts for expository, persuasive, and response to literature and then by gradually releasing students to independence, we remove the graphic organizer and have students think about how to organize their essays, now, and in the future.
I know we’re teaching to the test, and have been for the past two weeks. However, this essay writing is critical for the students to pass the CAHSEE and graduate high school. This is also good practice for the AP class and test students will take. Since this is an honors English class, these students are supposed to be college bound where essays and how to write well rules their upcoming worlds. Is teaching to the test okay if the test is important? I’m torn about this—however teaching to the test is a topic for another time.
I appreciate how my cooperating teacher and I use cards to call on students. This brings everyone to the conversation and you can really see students thinking. I think this is better than only calling on the students with their hands raised every day, all day. I’ve been in classrooms where the raised hand always gets the say and maybe five students are the only ones who ever seem to be thinking—and sharing at least.
I love Burke’s idea of expanding upon “I will come back to you” by adding or using, “Well, what would you say if you did know?” This really helps students feel safe taking a guess (p. 239).
To support thinking, I do the following. And, these are the ways I’d like to better support my students more often.
1. I really like using “yes, and” to help students clarify their thinking. Instead of “yes, but.”
2. While reading students essays, I like to support students thinking by asking questions. I try to do this more and more instead of making statements. However, it’s time consuming to write questions while reading and grading essays. I use a lot of “why?” etc.
3. Discussions are a huge part of thinking in the classroom. I think it’s important to work on large group, small group, and paired discussions. They all help in their own way. Small group or paired discussions help the more quiet students talk their way to understanding and have a voice when they might not speak out in a sea of students.
4. Scaffolding, as I mentioned earlier, really helps, but it’s important to gradually release to independent thinking. My students won’t get a graphic organizer when they take their CAHSEE or AP exams!
5. Modeling is important. My CT is amazing at modeling, and I yearn to get to the point when I can explain any topic and concept with clarity and grace.
6. Burke helps define the “domains of thinking” as “talking, writing, drawing, questioning, reading, and integrating. My class includes talking, writing, questioning, and reading, but needs more integrating and drawing (multiple intelligences).
7. Dense, essential, meaningful, connected questions that “create a space and opportunity for a meaningful conversation that involves everyone,” even students who did not do the work/reading, etc.
Burke, T. The English Teacher’s Companion, Third Edition, Chapter 9.