Sunday, March 12, 2006

How To Avoid the Wall

It feels as though I always find myself at this time of year smashing head-on into a wall of boredom and monotony in my classes. This is why I love attending the CLAS conference--it's not only a break from the typical weekday, but it gives me some much-needed new ideas for the classroom. This year I attended two sessions, and both were pleasantly founded in constructivism.

The first session explored how to use portfolios in the classroom without creating an excessive amount of work for the teacher. What I liked about the presenters is that they clearly addressed the uselessness of letter grades when assessing writing (how do you give someone a D on an essay about their grandmother dying?), but the necessity of grading in a high school framework. They basically balanced traditionally graded academic essays with creative pieces that received completion grades only, along with a writer's memo establishing purpose and a reader's memo establishing reflection. The creative pieces were called "YAWPs" (after Uncle Walt, of course) and encompassed a wide variety of activities. I can see some of my students absolutely loving these, especially in my Honors classroom where I often push aside their creativity to make space for timed writing, analytical essays, and vocabulary. Interestingly, the rubric used to assess the portfolio at the end of the semester is completed by the student, not the teacher, and it focuses on growth and process.

The second session focused on using Harper's Weekly in the A.P. classroom to explore rhetoric. I loved it and will definitely use it, but it seemed like a one-class deal. I'll have to think about how to expand it...I guess that first step will be to figure out what, exactly, Harper's Weekly is.

In any case, it was inspiring to be surrounded by so many people who are passionate about the same thing (this is also why I love my Oxford program). I was also careful this year to attend sessions for high school teachers only--none of this putzing around with kindergarten coloring book crap. Sometimes, I find myself suddenly and inexplicably angry with primary school teachers, and I'm not sure why. I think I blame them for all my students who can't spell or use commas. But this is a discussion for a different time and place.

Remember: Live it, love it, blog it.