Saturday, July 10, 2010

What if I were an English teacher? Pt. 1

A lot of the positions open in my area are: 1.) elementary, which I'm not technically qualified to teach yet; 2.) middle school, which I AM qualified to teach, and would like to do, 3.) or high school, split English / Spanish positions, which I'm qualified to do, would like to do, but the prospect of which frankly intimidates me.

I've read through both the state ELA standards, and the common core ELA standards.  But it was mostly in the context of finding cross-curricular points of contact with Spanish.  The communication skills are obviously the same, but how you teach them are obviously very different.  So the goals--higher-order thinking skills and clear communication of thoughts--are the same.  But what it looks like where the rubber meets the road have to be colossally different.

As a mental exercise, I've started thinking about how my ELA class might look.  Learning goals?  Unit makeup?  Assessments?  Instruction?  Interventions and intervention triggers?  Obviously the answers to these questions are context-specific, but some parameters could still be set in advance.

Today's topic: A review of the training.

At my previous school, the county-wide instructional coach, taught us all to do a lot of ELA tasks.  For example, I've gotten day-long trainings in how to teach academic and content-specific vocabulary.  (As a World Languages teacher, I have a host of strategies that work well for this anyway.)  Annette also taught us how to teach deep-writing techniques, doing it in stages and getting deeper and deeper, using writing prompts, paired- and small-group conversation, picture storytelling, etc.  (Not incidentally, she also talked a great deal about building community in classrooms, an important task in all topics.)

In college, I took two English methods courses:  How to teach reading, and how to teach writing.  The reading class, as I recall, was heavy on the interventions--how to tell if a high-school student is having difficulty reading, how to determine exactly what kind, and what to do with that information.  At that time, gone 11 years now, I never expected to teach English, so in my independent work I applied most of the reading intervention strategies to ESL learners.  It helped me remember them better, but I'm not sure how effective they would really be at this point.  I still have a copy of I read it, but I don't get it by Chris Tovani, although it's probably 4 editions behind by now.  The "Teaching writing" class spent a lot of time looking at ways to motivate students to write, and what to look for once it's there.  I remember a touch of learning goals, a block of learning strategies, and a lot of interesting writing projects.  The over-arching theme of the class was writing as a community activity, not something done in isolation, but done together.  More specifics on both of these classes, as well as other trainings, as I pick apart the individual pieces.

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