Making Honors English More Challenging

Discussion in 'Secondary Education' started by BeckyPie7, Aug 28, 2007.

  1. BeckyPie7

    BeckyPie7 Companion

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    Aug 28, 2007

    Here's my question. Yikes I'm freaking out. I'm teaching honors 9th grade english and regular 9th grade english. I was planning on making honors a little harder by asking for more projects and writing from the students and by grading them a little more strictly. That's what I was planning until I found out that I have an administrators daughter, an administrator who is very critical of her daughter's teachers and who is very involved. She told me, right off, that she expect outside reading of trade books, trade books I don't own.
    How do you make an honors class harder for the students in a way that will make this parent confident that her daughter is getting all of the learning she can out of this class. Last year was my first year teaching and I basically assigned more work and homework but I really want to impress this woman and I want to make my class challanging. Any suggestions or ways in which you make your honors classes challanging?
     
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  3. silverspoon65

    silverspoon65 Enthusiast

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    Aug 28, 2007

    when I teach honors, my students did all writing of essays and reading of books at home. Class was only for discussion or in depth thinking type assignments.

    I also gave my students all the work ahead of time, and only collected it once a unit, but I also scored them on their contribution to discussion, sort of using a socratic method, so they knew they had to do the reading and work at home.
     
  4. JustineCase

    JustineCase Rookie

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    Aug 28, 2007

    that's a very good idea, except what do you do when you don't have enough textbooks to send home with the students, or enough novels, either?

    Also, how do you prepare them (and yourself?) for a classlong session of discussion, or ensure tthey won't use your class to do homework for other classes?

    I'm in my first year teaching, and i have a Jr. honors class that I'm afraid I might not be challenging enough.
     
  5. silverspoon65

    silverspoon65 Enthusiast

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    Aug 29, 2007



    That is a tough situation, but I would either 1. convince the kids that they want to buy their own novels. You could offer to order them if they bring the money, and get Dover thrift editions, which are only a 1-3 dollars. Show them how to write in the books to get the most out of reading. Tell them this is what they do in college, and that if they use a school book, they won't be able to do that. I do this even though I have enough novels, and a lot of kids cough up a few bucks, even the kids with some financial problems, if I get the really cheap ones. The other kids just opt to use the school novels. Then they can all take them home. OR 2. split them up into small groups and have half reading one thing and the other half reading another. So for my first unit on the Puritans, I could have half the class reading The Crucible and the other half reading the short stories from the text book, and then they could switch. This of course would require greater planning on your part.

    My students usually have a number of projects going on at a time, so filling class isn't usually a problem. And it's not that we NEVER read in class - I might pull out a chapter or section or related poem for close reading and discussion and analysis. In many cases they are closely reading something they probably quickly read the night before. But we are not just reading aloud in class.
     
  6. clarnet73

    clarnet73 Moderator

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    Aug 29, 2007

    I don't know how the "regular" English classes worked, but I was in honors English through high school... pretty much everything we read we read out of class, or were supposed to. We'd be assigned a particular passage to read for each class... and class time was spent discussing it. Essays were done at home, too. We'd be allowed to turn in drafts for feedback before the essay was due... I wish I'd taken advantage of that, my writing would have been stronger. :)

    When I saw the writing prompts that the "Regular" kids had on the same novels, I think ours were more analytical... we often had to reference a novel we'd read earlier in the year, or compare/contrast two very different characters... they were a lot more open-ended (The author uses this particular theme/literary device quite often throughout the novel... identify 3 particular points in the novel where this is used and write a well-constructed essay about the significance... for example).

    My junior honors teacher was HUGE on vocabulary, also... I know she did this with all her classes, not just honors, although I think we got different lists. Ours were either unusual words from the novel we were reading or they were SAT words. We were greatful to have learned "obsequious" when it came up the following week on the PSAT ;)
     
  7. clarnet73

    clarnet73 Moderator

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    Aug 29, 2007

    I don't know how the "regular" English classes worked, but I was in honors English through high school... pretty much everything we read we read out of class, or were supposed to. We'd be assigned a particular passage to read for each class... and class time was spent discussing it. Essays were done at home, too. We'd be allowed to turn in drafts for feedback before the essay was due... I wish I'd taken advantage of that, my writing would have been stronger. :)

    When I saw the writing prompts that the "Regular" kids had on the same novels, I think ours were more analytical... we often had to reference a novel we'd read earlier in the year, or compare/contrast two very different characters... they were a lot more open-ended (The author uses this particular theme/literary device quite often throughout the novel... identify 3 particular points in the novel where this is used and write a well-constructed essay about the significance... for example).

    My junior honors teacher was HUGE on vocabulary, also... I know she did this with all her classes, not just honors, although I think we got different lists. Ours were either unusual words from the novel we were reading or they were SAT words. We were greatful to have learned "obsequious" when it came up the following week on the PSAT ;)
     
  8. BeckyPie7

    BeckyPie7 Companion

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    Aug 30, 2007

    I work in a very rural, very poor area. Having the students buy their own books is not an option. They won't do it, their parents won't do it and I'd get a bad rap as the teacher who wouldn't help out the poor.
    I'd love to spend most of the class time discussing what we've been reading but my classes are 90 minutes each. That's TOOO long to discuss anything, even if these kids are honors kids. If I did have them do all of their reading at home and chose to discuss the reading in class I'm not sure how I'd fill the rest of the time. I already do vocabulary, grammar, journals, essays, summaries, research, and all sorts of things but, at the end of each class it seems there is still time left. Yikes...I thought I'd be more experienced this year.
     
  9. EnglishMiss

    EnglishMiss Rookie

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    Aug 30, 2007

    Hi, I have 10th grade honors and I have some of the same concerns as you with making it challenging enough. Last year being my first year, I actually got some feedback from kids at the end of the semester that I wasn't being tough enough (((blushing))). With the exception of more vocabulary quizzes, I actually pick up and grade fewer daily things with my honors than with my regular - the kids know that what we do in class every day, whether it's grammar practice or discussion over literature, is not necessarily something I'm going to collect and grade in every little detail, but it's still something they're accountable for on the test and can bring in in writings, etc. They are expected to be more "self-regulating", coming in for extra help if they aren't getting something, and most are pretty good at that - it's clear on the test if they aren't, then we have some catch-up to do!
    I agree, 90 minutes is too long with any one topic! Just try to vary it as much as possible. For short readings, I'll have them read in class on block periods, in small groups with some questions to respond to that help us get started on discussion. I find when reading it with a small group first, they're more relaxed and willing to throw ideas out there, so we get more ideas going with the whole class. I grade them on what we discussed by taking something we talked about together and giving them a different poem/story/excerpt/whatever, then ask the students to quickwrite a short paragraph (always with a question that's higher up on Bloom's taxonomy). Basically they're examining this one in a similar way to what we discussed together, but this time alone & a slightly different angle on a different text so I see if they're individually critically thinking too. That also gets them writing more, even if it's just a quick paragraph.
    Ooh sorry for writing a book!
    I really like the idea of grading them on a sort of Socratic method, silverspoon, could you share more of that please?
     
  10. msb

    msb Rookie

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    Sep 2, 2007

    Hi, I agree with giving out more analytical assignments for the students. I taught 8th grade honors and most of the reading was done at home, but they had to be able to answer questions regarding the reading the next day. Their assignments were also different from my regular classes in that they were given more challenging assignments than those classes--not necessarily longer. I also agree with EnglishMiss in regards to the Socratic method. Assigning them a text to read and review, and then using the Socratic method for inquiry and response, would be good in an honors class. I think at that level, they were more apt to do the reading and be prepared for discussion the next day (for the most part). I was going over some article (the Holocaust) with students for another class (AVID), and they were quite involved with determining questions for the discussion. I am going to use the Socratic method with my students with another article about bullying or something relevant to them.

    Anyway, here is a site I think that is helpful for the Socratic method:
    http://www.maxlow.net/avid/socsem/socraticseminaroverview.html

    In regards to the administrator, I have a few students whose parents are educators and some administrators. Does it make me nervous? I guess so. However, I think there are a few parents who think that no matter what you do, it will not be good enough for their child. I think if you keep your goals for your students in mind, they won't need to give you a hard time--especially if you tie it to the state standards. :)

    MSB
     
  11. wunderwhy

    wunderwhy Comrade

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    Sep 8, 2007

    Here's my experience (this is my sixth year of teaching, third teaching tenth grade honors English).

    Don't be afraid to set the bar high. You can always lower it a bit by giving an extension on an assignment or curving an assignment that they struggled with. It's much harder to raise expectations once they've gotten used to the way you do things, but you can always say, "I know I expected a lot from you this week. Let's make your paper due next Monday instead of Friday."

    The teacher from whom I took over the honors sections was a long-time teacher and the department chair. Still, I assigned a much more difficult summer reading assignment than she ever had (1,000 vs. 200 pages) . . . and the kids did it! And liked it! Her vocabulary quizzes were easy (multiple choice). I made mine fill in the blank with no word bank. And the kids got used to it and did fine on them. Every time I think, "Oh gosh, that assignment really might have been too hard," they surprise me with how well they do.

    We also do Socratic Seminars. They are rough at first (the 9th grade teacher is supposed to do them but doesn't because she thinks they're too immature, so I have to introduce the process to them), but then they get the hang of them, and I love it when they go beyond trying to get in their prepared comment to listening to one another and responding thoughtfully on the spot. The first seminar, I allow them to raise their hands and have me call on them, and it's basically a lot of people saying statements they've prepared for homework. By the last seminar, I am not involved at all, and they go back and forth excitedly debating the question.

    I think that making honors "a little harder" is the wrong approach, like it's just regular English with a little edge or a little more work. It should be a different class entirely. Whereas in regular English we are hoping for proficiency in writing and reading and for increased vocabulary and knowledge of grammar, in honors English we are hoping for mastery of writing and reading skills and for superior vocabulary and knowledge of grammar.

    Here is how my workload varies for each level I've taught:

    These are all approximate.

    Honors:
    *2 papers per marking period, 8 a year
    *4 journal topics per marking period, 16 a year
    *2 to 3 novels, plays or units (short stories, poetry, etc.) per marking period, 12 a year
    *frequent pop quizzes on reading assigned at home
    *5 or 6 vocabulary quizzes (no word bank) per marking period, 22 a year
    *1 or 2 vocabulary tests per marking period, 6 a year
    *20 words per vocabulary lesson
    *weekly sentence corrections and quizzes
    *two grammar units per marking period, 8 a year
    *projects and long-term assignments throughout the year
    *about one Socratic seminar each marking period, 4 a year
    *4-5 page research paper involves actual research to answer a question and pose a hypothesis. Research is done by students outside of class.

    Middle level:
    *1 to 2 papers per marking period, 6 a year
    *about 2 literature units per marking period, 7 a year
    *regular pop quizzes on reading assigned at home
    *5 vocabulary quizzes per marking period (with word bank), 20 a year
    *1 vocabulary test per marking period, 4 a year
    *ten words per lesson
    *weekly sentence corrections and quiz
    *about one grammar lesson per marking period, 4 a year
    *about one project each marking period
    *2-3 page research paper about author's life. Research is done in class trip to library.

    Lowest level:
    *about one literature unit per marking period, 5 a year
    *no reading assigned at home
    *one paper per marking period, 4 a year
    *five vocabulary quizzes per marking period, 20 a year
    *one vocabulary test per marking period, 4 a year
    *ten words per lesson
    *weekly sentence corrections and quizzes
    *simplified grammar lessons about common mistakes, not about phrases, clauses, etc.
    *one project a year
    *much preparation for the state test
    *1-2 page research paper about a consumer product. Research is done in the library. Teacher provides additional materials in class. We do all steps together.
     
  12. wunderwhy

    wunderwhy Comrade

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    Sep 8, 2007

    I just read your second response. You have the kids read their assignments in class in honors? I strongly disagree with that for honors level kids, especially when your reason for doing so is less pedagogical and more about how you don't know how else to fill 90 minutes.

    Here's how I spend an average 90 minute class:

    10 minutes: pop reading quiz
    20 minutes: students break up into groups to discuss questions about the novel
    20 minutes: representatives of each group share (maybe after writing on the board in the square for their questions). We discuss as a class each question as we go along.
    30 minutes: Students pull out the grammar packets I made for them on [clauses, phrases, pronouns, subject-verb agreement, whatever.] I teach the basics on the board. We do one set of exercises together. They do the next set on their own to see if they get it. They trade papers and check each other's.
    10 minutes: I hand out and explain their next writing assignment. I hand back graded work. I go over their homework.

    Some days we might not do anything with literature or grammar or will do vocabulary instead. Other days an entire class period will be taken up by a Socratic seminar or a test. But most days we have a little literature, grammar and/or vocabulary, and writing mixed in.

    Here are some ideas for what you can do after the students have read at home:
    *give a pop quiz (multiple choice or simply put 5 questions on a page -- some with a one word answer and some that require explanation)
    *give students a scene from the play and have them direct it -- each group will have a different scene and present at the end of class
    *give half of the class a character from the novel to play at a "murder mystery party" -- the other half has to watch and guess who's who. If they're not doing a great job of acting, ask each kid what they did that day. "I was thrown in jail" or "I poisoned my whole family" usually gives it away. ;)
    *come up with 12 scenarios based on the novel that didn't happen. Students will pair up and then write the dialogue for the scene as though it happened in the novel.
    *put students in about 5 groups and give each group a question or theme to explore in the reading. Then they present to the rest of the class.
    *have a Socratic Seminar (note: this must be assigned beforehand).

    If you still have extra time to fill, you can:
    *take them to the library and make them check out an independent reading book. This way they can still read at the end of class, but it's for a long-term project, not to do what should be assigned at home.
    *give them journal topics to work on.
    *make them write their own sentences as examples of the grammar rule you just explained. Encourage them to write silly (but appropriate) sentences. Collect them, and make a new worksheet out of their sentences for the next time you have extra time to fill. It will be fun and a good review.
    *Make "I have, who has" cards of their vocabulary. Each card says, "I have [word 18]. Who has [definition of word 5]?" Then someone will respond, "I have [word 5]. Who has [definition of word 12]?" etc. They like this game and it's a good way to review vocabulary and keep them focused when there are a few minutes to kill.
     
  13. wunderwhy

    wunderwhy Comrade

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    Sep 8, 2007

    Here's an example of some of the group questions I hand out that I had on my home computer.

    Note: my students have computers. These questions pertain to Night.

    Directions: Meet with your group to find the following information. Pick a spokesperson to present the information to the class. Take notes on the information presented by other groups.

    Group 1: What type of a person is Elie at the age of 12? What is important to him? Research Piaget’s theory of cognitive development. Elie is just on the cusp of entering the last stage. How might this explain his mindset at age 12? Be sure to explain to the class what the final stage entails.



    Directions: Meet with your group to find the following information. Pick a spokesperson to present the information to the class. Take notes on the information presented by other groups.

    Group 2: Recount all the missed chances that Elie’s family has to escape. Who warns them? Why don’t they listen? Of what is Moshe/Moishe a symbol?



    Directions: Meet with your group to find the following information. Pick a spokesperson to present the information to the class. Take notes on the information presented by other groups.

    Group 3: Explain how the Nazi system to divide and conquer applied to the town of Sighet. Who was taken first? Where? Why were these people easier to take than others?



    Directions: Meet with your group to find the following information. Pick a spokesperson to present the information to the class. Take notes on the information presented by other groups.

    Group 4: Explain what happens to the synagogue. What is it called when something sacred is disrespected? How does this symbolize what will happen to the Jews?



    Directions: Meet with your group to find the following information. Pick a spokesperson to present the information to the class. Take notes on the information presented by other groups.

    Group 5: Where is Palestine mentioned? Summarize the conflict between Israel and Palestine for the class. You may need to do a little research to do so. How was that area of the world affected by the Holocaust?



    Directions: Meet with your group to find the following information. Pick a spokesperson to present the information to the class. Take notes on the information presented by other groups.

    Group 6: What is the Cabbalah/Kabbalah? Why does Elie want to study it?
     
  14. msb

    msb Rookie

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    Sep 8, 2007

    Those are some great ideas! I like how you have them tiered for each class.

    Thanks!
     
  15. BeckyPie7

    BeckyPie7 Companion

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    Sep 10, 2007

    Thanks for all of the ideas. It's only my second year teaching and I'm having a much easier time filling the class time. Ninety minute classes just seems so daunting when you're new at it. I'll have to use some of those ideas. I find that I don't really have to have them read in class for honors this year (because now I know how to fill the time a bit better). I do make my regular kids read in class because they are at such a low reading level but that's a different story. :) Thanks again!
     
  16. Brendan

    Brendan Fanatic

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    Sep 10, 2007

    My first year teaching I was split between the English and History departments and taught English 9 Honors. I did not igve them pop quizzes we had discussions on the reading most of the time, I only gave them pop quizzes if the kids were not participating. In my classes (keep in mind this was 10 years ago) I would do something like this and I have 90 minute classes:
    -15 minutes: warm-up
    -35-40 Minutes: Discussion of Last Night's Reading, Discussion Guide worksheet to go along with it, and notes on the reading. (Sometimes a Socratic Seminar). This time may also include somet type of activity having to do with the text.
    -30 Minutes: Writing, Grammar, Vocabulary, or Lit Terms lesson and activity.
    *I gave vocabulary quizzes every thirty words or 3 lessons.
    *Vocabulary Tests were given twice per term.
    *I gave an essay, major test, or project on each novel..
    *I gave about 3-5 grammar quizzes per term and one test.
     

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