Hopefully your new year is off to a wonderful start. I wanted to take a moment to update you about our upcoming units of study in our 9th grade Composition through Literature course and share with you where you can find some of the resources to stay connected with our class.
We have just kicked off our Poetry unit this past week. Our class will be reading, analyzing, and writing of a variety poems. Free verse and blank verse, blackout poems and haiku, odes and sonnets - we'll be using a variety of formats as mentors for our own creations. We will have an opportunity to hear from poets coming into our class to share spoken word poems and talk with us about publication. Students will have an opportunity to publish their poems on their online portfolios as well as submit their work for publication outside of our school if they are interested.
Our poetry unit will lead into our study of the epic poem of The Odyssey. We'll be discussing the hero's journey and making connections between our reading of this classic tale with our reading of modern hero's stories like The Hobbit, Percy Jackson, Star Wars, and the Hunger Games.
Finally, we will wrap up our semester studying the American classic To Kill a Mockingbird. Not only will we analyze the characters of this story, but we'll discuss if this book should still be considered relevant today. How does this novel hold up in today's world?
We would love to invite you to read along with us! You can find our daily agendas posted on our the "Class Links" tab of this website. If you have an interest in reading along with us, discussing these texts with us either virtually or in person, we would love for you to join us! We'll be utilizing some online discussion spaces this semester that will open up opportunities to connect with other readers, and we'd love to include you! More information will be posted on this class website throughout the semester.
Our new year is off to a great start, and we're looking forward to connecting with you soon!
It's my favorite time in the semester...RESEARCH TIME!
This year our freshmen are connecting their semester-end research unit in our English class with what they are learning in their Biology course! Students are studying the human impact on specific ecosystems in Biology, and in our class, students will be selecting an issue currently affecting our environment that they would like to do something about. Students are able to use their research across our two courses in order to extend their learning. Coincidentally, as both the English and Biology classes begin work on this project, the United Nations Climate Change Summit is happening in Madrid. This means that our students should be hearing all about their research topics as our local and national media outlets cover the Summit over the course of this week and next.
But we're not just going to be looking up information and writing about it. No! Instead, students are hoping to connect with experts and organizations working to make change in the areas of our selected topics. This is where you can lend us a hand.
If you are someone (or know someone) doing work in any of the fields below that wouldn't mind my students emailing a few questions, please add your name and contact information below (or access the spreadsheet here). We would love your help learning as much as we can about our selected topics.
I'm not going to lie, I have issues with Romeo and Juliet.
In our ninth grade Composition through Literature class, we've spent the last few weeks wading into Shakespeare's language. We've split our classroom into families with a taped line dividing our room in to the Montague and Capulet sides. We've performed original skits utilizing Shakespearean language, and we share daily Shakespearean greetings.
But now that we have finished reading the first Act and are nearly complete with the second Act, we're beginning to question why are we reading this play. Yes, Shakespeare's language and syntax can be challenging for students, but that's not what has us perplexed. So far we've seen Romeo cry over not being able to be with the beautiful Rosaline and move on to the beautiful Juliet, watched Juliet's kinsmen threaten assault on the Montague women, learned that Juliet's mom is about 25 and wants to marry off 13-year-old Juliet to an older man, gasped as Juliet repeatedly kisses a stranger and then pledges to marry him within a couple of hours - well, we are scandalized! Then today, as we were writing letters to Juliet, (yes, you can write a letter for advice to the Secretaries of Juliet in Verona, Italy), we learned that it is considered good luck to rub the chest of Juliet's bronze statue that stands outside her home in Verona. This is too much! Why are we still reading this play?!
And actually, we'll be getting to this very question in our study of the play in our coming class periods. Many students come to class thinking that Romeo and Juliet is a story of romance and triumph. There is this mythology surrounding the story of Romeo and Juliet. Taylor Swift has a few songs about it. But it is certainly not an instruction manual for love. It is time to disrupt Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet! It is tale filled with abuse of power, negligence, violence, toxic masculinity, and misogyny. What do we do with that?
In our class, we'll be talking about these issues. How does the violence that begins with the parents in this tale impact the children? Romeo and Juliet are children, only 16 and 13, are they able to make informed, mature decisions? What do the adults in their lives do to support or undermine their growth? In what ways do the male characters objectify female characters in the play? What impact does this have on who has power and who does not? Whose story is centered in the actions of this play? Whose voices are pushed to the margins? Why?
Reread those questions. Perhaps this is what makes Romeo and Juliet relevant today. We are still grappling with many of this issues in our world today. So rather than focus on the romance between these star-crossed lovers, let's discuss how the issues presented in the play are still important to be discussing and connecting to our world today.
In the coming weeks, we'll be sharing some of our thinking and discussion using digital tools. We would love for you to join us virtually as we discuss some of the major issues presented in the play. Watch this space for more information!
Fridays are our reading days. It's my favorite day of the week. This past Friday, as the temperatures dipped and snow swirled, we declared it our first "Snuggle Up and Read Day." We had hot water so we could mix up some hot cocoa, cookies to dunk, and we found a comfy place in the room to record our reading goals for the coming week and spend the class hour reading.
We begin the class hour each Friday by adding up the number of pages that had read in the past week and added it to our weekly reading log. Students can select any style of text to read - realistic fiction, poetry, self-help, memoir, graphic novels, dystopian. At the close of each month, we reward students who have met or exceeded their weekly reading goals each week during the month (thank you, Herb and Fire Pizzeria). After eight weeks time, we break our weekly routine to share our books and learn about more potential books that we add to our "To Read" lists. Finally, we end each Friday class hour with "First Page Fridays."
What is "First Page Friday"? As students wrap up their Friday reading time, I share with them a little about a book that I have enjoyed. I briefly introduce the author and a summary of the story, and then I read students the first page of the book. In a few short weeks, my students will take over and begin to share their favorite books.
This week I shared Laurie Halse Anderson's nonfiction poetry book titled Shout. Many of my students have read one of her early books, Speak. Shout, intentionally titled to follow in the footsteps of Speak, focuses on Anderson's early struggles with silence and her journey to find and use the power of her voice. It is a devastatingly beautiful text, one I was excited to share with students. And, to add to the excitement, I also got to share with students that our school will host a visit with the author come spring! At the close of the day, I was able to give away a copy of the book to a student in each of my classes (thank you for making this possible, FirstBooks). And to top it all off, we heard from Ms. Anderson on Friday! I posted a picture on our class Instagram site of our cozy reading day activities alongside page from Shout about "hygge", the Danish idea of comfort and connection. The author took a moment to write us a "comforting" reply. Very cool!
It is our revision and reflection week. Students in all of Ms. Ward's classes are taking a moment to pause before we write our next essay, delve into our next book, to reflect on the work that we've done so far this semester. Specifically, students are reflecting and revising their first summative essays. They have received feedback from a partner during peer editing, they have self revised, and they have received feedback from the teacher. Based on all that feedback, we need to go back and look at our initial goals. We need to make changes based on the feedback we've received. What did we want to improve upon? What did we do to ensure our learning and success? And perhaps most importantly, we ask ourselves what we will do differently next time.
Students have this week to make any additions and revisions to their Unit 1 essay. We want to see students continuing to reflect on and grow in their writing skills. Whatever revisions (not just edits) students make on their Unit 1 essay will improve their grade. There is no penalty for revising! We want to improve the quality of our writing and create goals for improvement that we can measure.
What will I do differently in my next writing assignment to ensure success?
We've been busy in our ninth grade Composition Through Literature classes. We've been reading and writing up a storm, and now it is time to share what we've been working on! If you mouse over the images below, you will find links to our online portfolios. They are a work in progress, but we've gotten a good start. We'll be adding to these sites throughout our year together.
We're only two days into the new school year (okay, a day and a half), and already we are off to a great start. Why? Because we've built our social contract! Our what?
We start that very first week of school by constructing a social contract for our learning community. I ask for student input on what our learning and behavior expectations should be. Today, we have candid conversations about what respect looks like, both from the teacher and from students. When we talk about the classroom, it is our classroom and our learning community. We work together. It is not mine or yours. Our social contract is built on the collaborative conversations that we've had stemming from four key questions:
From these questions we end up talking about what respect looks like in our classroom, and we use this conversation to establish our learning and behavior expectations. Today, we got into some deep conversations about fairness and the differences between equal and equitable. We discussed balance, boundaries, and the need to hear from all voices in our community. Students volunteered the qualities that we needed visible on our social contract, and tomorrow when they walk in, we will all sign it. This is our commitment to one another, our commitment to this learning community. What a great place to begin!
It's my favorite time of year...
We began our tenth grade inquiry projects last week by exploring the issues and topics that inspire us as well as those that break our heart. Our research is focused not simply on collecting sources and writing that traditional research paper that only the teacher reads. No! Instead, our students are looking into the problems and issues that they face in their lives. Yes, they will write a paper, but they are also putting together a TED-style talk (and yes, some of our students willrecord their talks for TED) in order to share their findings and solutions with an authentic audience.
But we need your help! As part of this assignment, students are asked to connect with an expert. My students are hoping to interview an expert on their research topic either in person, on the phone, or via email. Take a look at our growing list of topics below. If you would not mind if one of my students contacted you, please share your contact information on our spreadsheet. Students are hoping to make connections this week.
We couldn't do it without you! Thank you for your support!
I am thrilled to share that five of our GHS students were recently invited to the TED Talks headquarters in New York City this November to participate in a special TED Ed Weekend with students from all over the world. Wait! How did that happen?
Let me explain.
First, some background: The TED-ed team (that's TED's education team) started a program three years ago inviting educators from all over the world to participate in a special program in which the TED-ed organizers would connect and support educator's innovative ideas for teaching. Educators were asked to submit an application and complete an interview. Out of over 1,000 applicants, I was selected along with 29 other teachers from the United States, Argentina, South Korea, Kenya, Poland, and the United Arab Emirates to be a part of the TED Innovative Educators program (we call ourselves the TIE fighters ;) ). Over the past couple of years, we have worked with the TED-Ed team to help build a community and a space where students' voices are heard. The TED-ed community is one that firmly believes that some of our best ideas, those that will change our world, come from our youth, and so the TIE program is about going back into our schools (Grandville, in my case) and helping give students a platform for their stories, creations, and discoveries.
Last year when my sophomores were studying revolutionary speeches in American history, we also wrote our own revolutionary speeches. What ideas do we have that will change our world? We used materials and ideas from the TED Ed Clubs to help us further develop our talks. Students had an opportunity to have their talks video recorded and shared with the TED online community, and seven of our students did. After submitting their talks, our group was invited to participate in the upcoming summit with students from all over the world who have done the exact same thing. Together, we will have an opportunity to explore how to further share our ideas and make sure that the voices of our youth are being heard.
So in November, we are headed to New York City. But, we could use your help! We need help covering the cost of our trip. Here's where you can lend a hand - our DonorsChoose project.
We would love your support!
Ms. Jen Ward
An interest in helping young people discover and define their writing voice and reading interests drives Ms. Jennifer Ward to cultivate a student-centered learning environment, one that supports individual learning goals and incorporates purposeful use of technology. In March 2017, Ms. Ward was named teacher of the month by Michigan's 86th district state representative, Thomas Albert. In March 2016, she was named a TED-Ed Innovative Educator and is also a Google Certified Innovator, National Writing Project Consultant, and a 2014 PASCD Emerging Leader. Ms. Ward taught for 13 years in a Philadelphia suburban district and returned to her home state in 2015. In 2017, she joined the Grandville High School bulldogs!