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The First Step: Fall in love with Language

My first week back in the classroom was a blast. Although exhausted, I am also rejuvenated. More than I ever I see the need for what we do at The English Teacher’s Friend.  During my first 4 days of teaching I attended (or presented) 5 meetings. Most meetings, as you all know, are a bit of a time waster. The intentions are always good but when one is constantly in meetings, there is no time to implement the things you discuss in the meeting.

I continuously hear this complaint from teachers–never enough time.

In these meetings we talk about how to improve student learning–how to show better scores on the next assessment (which also takes time away from teaching).

What I don’t understand is how we –and I say WE as in the greater WE in the US–cannot see the most obvious. Students have to be engaged. Who thinks these struggling students are truly interested in the strategies we teach them? Langauge Arts is just that–the art of language. We have to start with letting THEM discover the art of language. How?

Share poetry every day–without analysis, without picking apart the pieces, just sharing and letting it sink in.  Today I will share this poem with my students and when it is over I will give them a prompt: digital living –go. I will write with them in a student seat, not at my desk.  We won’t grade it. We will share. We will highlight words or lines that resonate. Then move on. Spoken Word poetry is incredibly powerful with students (and adults) and provides that “in” to the world of language. Don’t devalue the time spent on it. 

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Read excerpts of books about real events they haven’t known about. Build their background knowledge without KWL charts or pre-assessed quizzes. Share your passion for reading. Offer a page for them to check out your books.

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Give examples often of how language is a living thing, always evolving (some would say devolving) The popular words kids would know–like those in the new today . Occupy used to mean “the naughty”–as in to “occupy a woman.” These interesting facts on The Hot Word on dictionary.com. Talk about how words and cliches derived their meaning.

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Ask them what they want to learn about. Make a list. Find material that relates. Have them bring in articles of interest. We have that luxury in our classes that other subject areas do not. We can pull the content we want. Ours is skills based–primarily. So use that to your advantage by asking them what they want to know.

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Provide writing prompts that are truly prompts–a little something to get them thinking, get them started, but then allow for them to express their own topic. Don’t grade everything they write. Give them more opportunity for brainstorming and revision.  When students listen, have them share words or phrases that stand out, words they connect with.

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Too often we say we don’t have time for these things–to share poetry everyday, write open prompts everyday. I understand. Coming into this class at semester time and trying to get them ready for the “big test” in jsut a few months is daunting and I have wondered if I am doing these kids a disservice by not focusing solely on the testing-style questions.

I guess you have to ask yourself some things about that. First, they have been doing the testing cycle for a decade now. Has it worked? How many times have they  not passed? How far behind are they?

It is easier to justify these more creative and student-driven decisions when the other option hasn’t really been working. Some say we cannot afford the time to try it. I say the student cannot afford for us not to.

Students love quotes and I admit I do too. Fortune Cookie papers line my desk. This one is taped to my computer monitor: Your Present Plans Are Going To Succeed.

But this is the quote I think of the most when I think about my teaching philosophy:

“If you want to build a ship, don’t herd people together to collect wood and don’t assign them tasks and work, but rather teach them to long for the endless immensity of the sea.” – Antoine de Saint-Exupéry

How do you get kids to LONG for language?

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