stack of books

Three Books to Shake Up Your ELA Classroom

I read several books this summer to prepare for the 2022-2023 school year, and I’ve rounded up a few favorites to recommend.

1. Point-Less: An English Teacher’s Guide to More Meaningful Grading (2020) – Sarah M. Zerwin

Alternative grading methods including standards-based grading, going gradeless, and ungrading have gained popularity in recent years, especially in higher education contexts and in response to the pandemic. As NJ-educator Matt Morone warned me this summer, there’s a rabbit hole of online resources on these topics. After getting a bit lost down that rabbit hole, I found Point-Less to be a helpful introduction to alternative grading refreshingly written specifically for an audience of high school English teachers. Zerwin presents her approach clearly and flexibly, encouraging readers to take what works for them and ignore the rest. One suggestion that resonated with me is to have students write reflectively at the end of a semester or school year about their learning, citing their own classwork as evidence of their growth.  [ . . . ]  Read More

Teens and Libraries Reunite via Virtual Field Trips

At the beginning of the school year, I asked my students to obtain or recover their public library cards. Since my students commute from several towns, this involved three local libraries. I hoped the assignment would encourage students to take advantage of the many resources available through the library.

I asked students to upload a photo of themselves with their library cards, and offered additional points for photos that conveyed “a love of reading.” Here are some examples (shared with permission).

One student submitted a pair of photos of himself as a five and fifteen year old getting his public library card. Astonishingly, the photos were taken on the exact same date, ten years apart.

A handful of parents emailed me unsolicited positive feedback about the assignment, including this short note (shared with permission):

“I love that you asked each of the students to get their library cards. When my daughter and her siblings were younger, we spent a lot of time at our library. When we went to the library the other day to get her card, she seemed nostalgic. She gave herself a little tour and got reacquainted with the layout. I reminded her that the library can be a place that she can study and take out books not just for schoolwork but for pleasure.”

When I spoke with a local library director, she shared the joy she experienced from seeing formerly active library patrons all grown up—they spent their early childhoods at the library, she explained, but then lost interest. She was thrilled to see them returning to the library to rediscover its offerings. Together, we realized we could seize the opportunity to highlight the resources that could appeal to young adults.

While I could not get permission to take my classes on field trips to three nearby libraries, I thought a virtual “field trip” would help students learn about these spaces and their resources from the comfort of our classroom. Now that they had their library cards, this was a chance to give students a taste of what the cards could offer.

The Logistics

I reached out to our three local libraries, and the librarians each generously agreed to give a 10-15 minute talk and virtual tour. I asked them to speak about shared services available to students from all of the local towns, as well as their library’s unique resources and special events. They could take a few questions, and conclude with a brief tour of the spaces (via web cam).

I created a Google doc chart for planning purposes so the presentations themselves would not overlap. I scheduled the library visits to occur once per week for three consecutive weeks, which meant that each librarian gave five, fifteen-minute presentations over the course of one day.

My school computer has a built-in webcam, but I requested a bigger, external one from our IT department so I could position it to capture more of the classroom at once. I conducted the calls over Google Hangouts.

Our Virtual Field Trips

The librarians were all friendly and eager to field student questions. They spoke enthusiastically about print and digital resources, patron services (e.g., free museum passes, lendable Kindles), and special events. Students followed along by referring to information on a print handout that the librarians had shared in advance.

Students enjoyed seeing the different teen rooms and quiet spaces in each branch, and several mentioned that they thought it could be a good place to work independently or meet with small groups. They were excited by upcoming events, such as the holiday cookie contest and a make-your-own bath bomb class.

The teen room of a local library our class visited virtually.

Exploring Additional Resources

After we hung up the calls with the libraries, we looked into some of the resources together. We went on RBdigital Magazines, a database that offers digital issues of current, popular magazines. Students were pleased to learn that many of their favorite titles can be accessed on their school computers. Another day, we tested out, a subscription website that pairs students with live tutors.

We also played around with Mango Languages, an online language learning resource. We learned how to say some simple phrases in Korean, American Sign Language (ASL), and Pirate.

Students were astonished by the many resources available through their card. “This is all free?” several asked.

We also looked at Google Street View for each library to give students a sense of where each library is located. Several remarked that they hadn’t realized the library was “right there.”

Student Reflections

Here are few reflections from students on the library visits:

  • “It was a great experience to see all the different libraries near me. I learned a lot about each of them and learned all the cool activities that go on.”
  • “I liked that we were able to see what each of the libraries looked like during the tours and we were able to see what resources each of the libraries offered.”
  • “I liked to know that we could get museum passes. This is beneficial to me because I think it would be a fun thing to do with my friends.”
  • “I was very interested in going to the bath bomb making class.”
  • “The library visit has inspired me to learn sign language, which I had never thought of doing.”
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