Is it true what they say? Does absence make the heart grow fonder? I’m not sure about all that. What I’m sure of is that during a three-week absence from posting, I’ve accumulated a lot of possible topics and am now faced with a dilemma. Should I reflect on the two books I just read—one on either side of the charter school debate? Should I explain my work with the state science standards writing committee I’m a part of? Or what about the panic I feel this week about End of Instruction Exams coming up next week? These are all good topics, and I may post about some of them soon. But this week I’ve planned some interesting activities for my junior English class that I’d rather address.
Common Core State Standards place more emphasis on reading and analyzing informational texts, and I’ve been racking my brain to come up with interesting ways to do that. Unlike some English teachers, this new emphasis does not anger, disgust, or confound me. As I’ve stated before, I greatly prize classic literature and recognize its value. However, I have great respect for nonfiction texts as well and believe they have practical applications for most students.
The challenge was in choosing which informational texts to study, and I decided to go with texts that my students would choose if asked. Last week, we read the Oklahoma Driver’s Manual and took some quizzes—some of my own design and some DMV practice tests online. While no one would argue that those 96 pages are an example of fine literature, it does qualify as a high interest text important for young drivers to understand well.
This week, we’re reading and analyzing texts that detail skills of great interest to my students as well. I asked them, “What would you really like to learn how to do?” Suggestions poured out, and they finally settled on such interests as cooking, applying makeup, crochet, and yoga.
Yesterday, for example, we read a selection about the origins and development of the art of crochet. After students took a short quiz about the reading, I broke out the crochet hooks and yarn. Who would’ve thought a simple crocheted flower of 5 rounds would cause such frustration! Most students gave up after the first round of chain stitches, and none got further than three rounds, but they at least know the cultural origins of the art (and got a lesson on patience in the bargain!).
Today, we read about the importance of eye makeup in ancient Egyptian culture and the minerals they ground to adorn themselves with. While a few students chose to sit out the activity, several were happy to apply Cleopatra-style eye makeup to their classmates to show off in their other classes. With prom coming up in a few weeks, I think we generated some interesting new styles!
Our “cooking” selection is tomorrow. Because I have no real cooking equipment in my classroom, we selected Mixed Berries and Banana Smoothies to prepare. I’ve just finished posting the online quiz they’ll complete after reading “Nutritional Values of Fruits and Vegetables” from a link on the USDA site. I’m guessing they’ll enjoy every one of the 7 grams of fiber and 9 grams of protein our concoction provides!
With the online portion of their End of Instruction test coming up on Tuesday, students should be better prepared to successfully read text passages for information. And they may consume a few more apples and oranges from the lunch cart next week to boost their energy levels for the rigorous testing schedule. Just don’t ask them to make any double crochet stitches!