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.
While I still have a traditional grading system in my high school classes, Zerwin’s book, coupled with inspiration from my conversations with Morone, gave me several ideas that I’ve already incorporated. For example, I developed a list of ELA Standards for my 12th grade class that I plan to emphasize throughout the year. I led students through several metacognitive activities prompting them to reflect on their current skill levels and set goals for the school year. I plan to return to these standards and goals throughout the year to help students track their progress, reassess their goals, and develop their metacognitive abilities.
I look forward to reflecting throughout the school year myself of the value of this system, and hope to write about the experience in the future.
2. A Teacher’s Guide to Mentor Texts (2021) – Allison Marchetti & Rebekah O’Dell
In preparation for a school partnership I’m involved with as a Drew Writing Project Teacher-Consultant, I read Marchetti and O’Dell’s A Teacher’s Guide to Mentor Texts, a follow-up to their 2015 book, Writing with Mentors. In both texts, the authors argue that authentic and contemporary mentor texts by professional writers are vital tools for inspiring secondary student writers. While their first book on the topic was more theoretical, their latest book contains evocative and numerous sample mentor texts, suggestions for where to locate authentic mentor texts across a variety of genres, and examples of language the authors use with students to describe mentor texts’ “writing moves.”
I also enjoyed the book’s online companion resources, including videos of the authors conferring with students to demonstrate how to deconstruct mentor texts, and how to try out mentor texts’ writing moves in your own work.
3. The Creativity Project: An Awesometastic Story Collection (2018) – Colby Sharp (ed.)
This fiction collection, edited by Colby Sharp, has a fun and unconventional premise. Sharp asked a bunch of his talented writer/artist friends to develop creative writing prompts, and then randomly distributed the prompts among the group to inspire the contents of the collection. Prompts vary from sentence-long invitations to half-written stories to photographs, and responses take several forms, including story stories, poems, and comics. I look forward to using at least one of the responses (an untitled story by Grace Lin) in my Modern Fiction class this year.
The final section of the book, entitled “Now It’s Your Turn: Pick a Prompt and Make Something Awesome,” is filled with additional creative writing prompts that are sure to spark creativity. According to Amazon, the book is recommended for upper elementary-level readers/writers, but I think it will be an enjoyable addition to my secondary classroom.
Fellow English educators: Now it’s your turn! What did you read this summer? Drop a comment below and let me know what to add to my “to-read” list on StoryGraph (a new and somewhat improved spinoff of Goodreads).
P.S. In addition to reading the titles above and several others this summer, I also read 2,000 minutes of children’s books aloud to my toddler for our local library’s Summer Reading Challenge, which kept my voice in shape for classroom read-alouds.