Sometimes I hear the voices of imaginary (and real) teachers.
They’re not as nice as my imaginary (and real) students:
“So you’re telling me that you read and write for twenty minutes every day? Why don’t you actually teach them THE CLASSICS and LITERATURE THAT MATTERS?!”
This week, after we read and wrote a little, we analyzed Langston Hughes‘s poetry and his purpose as a poet and writer.
I used to read one long poem to my students and have them watch me pull it apart. Now, I let them pick one, and I guide them through the poem with an example of my own.
This week, I put a dozen poems by Hughes on my front table, and let my students choose which poem they wanted to work with that day. After they settled, I explained who Hughes was and his role in the Harlem renaissance.
Together, we slowly walked step-by-step through a simple poetry analysis. I assured my students that they could decide what their poem meant, and as long as they had evidence to support their thoughts, it was correct. I encouraged them to switch their poems out if they wanted, and most took advantage of that opportunity as we got rolling. (Self-differentiating, you know.)
At the end of the activity, they illustrated their poems to prove their competency in Communications. We discussed the symbolism of color in both art and literature, and the way that the human eye is drawn to a full-color picture.
To wrap it all up, they shared their poems and pictures with the class, defending their thoughts, demonstrating competency in both Communications and in Reading.
I assessed their written analysis and their illustrations as a formative grade.
Who cares if the answers are “correct”?
In the share-out, many students had different interpretations than their neighbors, and I had to physically pull erasers out of their hands when their heads filled with self-doubt.
One student read the poem “Tambourines,” thinking that a tambourine was a type of fruit. He decided that his poem was about new beginnings and birth, using the tambourine-fruit as a symbol of life. He supported his opinions with lines from the text.
Factually, was he wrong? Oh, he was so wrong.
Did he still demonstrate that he could analyze text? Yep.
Did he still score as proficient on this assignment because he demonstrated his ability to analyze text? Yep.
When we talk about competency-based education:
Did my students practice reading more this week than they would have if I had assigned a novel?
Probably. They read an average of 30 pages/each in their choice books, as well as the poetry we studied during class.
Did my students practice analysis more than they would have if they had written a paper about a book they (probably pretended to) read?
Yes…and I would argue, their analysis was more meaningful because they were able to personalize their analysis.
While we were doing this, did students in other English classes fail because they didn’t fill in a test about a book they didn’t read with the exact meaning that their teacher told them in class?
Yes. I like this way better.