Professional Development Books that Influenced my Teaching Practices

I am asked often enough for recommendations of this sort of thing that I thought I’d share.

Understanding by Design by Grant Wiggins and Jay McTighe was the first truly useful and completely life-changing professional development book I read. I utterly altered the way I taught after reading it. It seems obvious to think about larger questions and determine what I want students to learn or be able to do by the end of a lesson or unit, but I wasn’t doing it before I read this book. This book is an essential in project-based learning. Some of my older posts written as I reflected on reading this book still get more traffic than anything else on this blog. Try searching for the tags “ubd” or “understanding by design” to read them.

After reading An Ethic of Excellence: Building a Culture of Craftsmanship with Students by Ron Berger this summer, I completely revamped the way I teach writing, and it’s really working well. For more information about writing workshop in my classes, check out these posts: Writing Workshop Part 1, Writing Workshop Part 2, and Writing Workshop Part 3. One of our history teachers and I discussed how this process could be used in his classes as well, and he has begun to implement it with excellent results. We had an enthusiastic sharing session about it last week. I am so thrilled. The side benefits: 1) students are returning to the work, even after it’s been graded, to refine it further (not every student, true, but the fact that any student is doing this is remarkable to me); 2) no issues with plagiarism, which is a benefit I didn’t even consider when I started (but it makes sense if you are sharing your work with all your peers, you wouldn’t plagiarize it); 3) our classroom is a true community—one student commented on course evaluations that “we are always collaborating” and another said that the class is like “a family.” Students are beginning to ask for workshop. It’s amazing. I can’t say enough good things about how it has changed my classroom for the better, and it’s really because I read this book that I opted to try it out. One thing I’d like to see: an update of this book with consideration of using technology tools. Ron Berger carries around a massive amount of original student work, and digitizing it or doing the projects using digital tools would really help. A new section explaining how to do that would be great (I volunteer as tribute, if the folks at Heinemann or Ron Berger himself are interested).

If you have been reading this blog for a while, you might remember the summer I went to a Teaching Shakespeare Mini-Institute. It was phenomenal. The performance-based methods advocated by Folger have increased my students’ engagement in Shakespeare and have helped them grapple with his language and themes. I have used Folger methods with students of all backgrounds and levels, and they just work. I couldn’t teach without this book. It makes me sad that there isn’t one for every play I’d consider teaching, but this volume has Romeo and Juliet, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, and Macbeth, and two other volumes have been published that incorporate 1) Hamlet and Henry IV, Part One and 2) Twelfth Night and Othello. I would love to see one on Julius Caesar. I think that play is hard to teach, and it is so frequently taught. Could be useful. Anyone want to go in with me to design a good Caesar unit? Let me know.

Penny Kittle’s book Write Beside Them: Risk, Voice, and Clarity in High School Writing helped me understand the importance of modeling, of the teacher as learner. The book includes a DVD, so you can see Penny’s writing workshop in progress. She discusses how her students keep writer’s notebooks, how she incorporates minilessons and conferences, the ways in which she teaches genre, and how she assesses. It’s fantastic.

I have a lot of books on my shelf that I really need to get through. Hopefully, with some changes coming soon, I’ll have some time to do that.

So now it’s time for the real conversation: which resources do you recommend?

Just for the purposes of full disclosure, I’m an Amazon associate; however, none of the authors or publishers have offered me compensation for sharing these books, and I share these books with you because they have truly been helpful to me. The associate links are a convenience for those who wish to purchase from Amazon.

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“To End Where I Begun”: Backward Design and Shakespeare

I am presenting at NCTE tomorrow morning at 9:30 at the Yacht and Beach Club in Grand Harbour Ballroom South. You can download and/or view all my session materials here.

Note: I think if you visit the presentation on SlideShare and download it, you can get the notes.

Here is my handout for my Macbeth performance task that I discuss as an alternative to a performance.

Here is a graphic organizer for my comparative video exercise for Act I Scene 1. I use the filmed versions of Macbeth directed by Jack Gold, Roman Polanski, and Geoffrey Wright for this activity.

Here is a Wordle made from the text of Macbeth that I use to introduce students to themes in the play.

Chris Shamburg’s radio play of the “Double, Double, Toil and Trouble” scene.

If you want to explore the UbD Educators wiki (Understanding by Design, ® ASCD) for a variety of resources, feel free to check it out. You don’t have to join to lurk; you have to join to contribute your own work.

Links to my previous work aligning Folger methods with backward design:

Blog posts about Folger/teaching Shakespeare:

Links to other helpful resources:

If you would like to see the Shakespeare Made Easy activity I mentioned, please visit and join A Way to Teach. You’ll find a lot of great resources there.

If I can think of more stuff to add later, I will, so bookmark this post if you’d like to access it more easily.

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NCTE Presentation

NCTE Postcard

In a couple of days, I’ll be Orlando-bound. I’m presenting on authentic assessment in Shakespeare with the Folger Shakespeare group. I do feel like a part of a family with those folks. If you want to check it out in person, come see the presentation on Saturday at 9:30 in the Yacht and Beach Club/Grand Harbor Ballroom, Salon South. It’s session G.46.

Some time soon, I will be posting my presentation and any accompanying handouts, etc. here and at the NCTE Ning.

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Folger Shakespeare Teaching Sessions at NCTE 2010

Love's Labour's LostIf you’re looking for ideas for teaching Shakespeare, you should attend the Folger Shakespeare Library’s sessions at NCTE. Folger will present five sessions, but you need not attend all five:

  • A.44, Friday, 9:30-10:45; Shakespeare Set Free Act 1: How Pre-Reading Strategies and Activities that Focus on Language Will Ease Your Students into Shakespeare. This session will briefly introduce teachers to the philosophy of the Folger Shakespeare Library and then will focus on a variety of dynamic pre-reading activities. Presenters: Mike LoMonico, Susan Biondo-Hench, Kevin Costa.
  • B.45, Friday, 11:00-12:15; Shakespeare Set Free Act 2: How Getting Students on Their Feet and Working with Shakespeare’s Language is Easier than it Sounds. Getting your students up on their feet is an essential way to engage them with Shakespeare. The presenters will demonstrate a variety of activities to ease the transition from seat-based learning to performance-based learning. Presenters: Robert Young, Julia Perlowski.
  • C.43, Friday, 12:30-1:45; Shakespeare Set Free Act 3: How Internet-Based Web 2.0 Tools Can Get Your Students Closer to Shakespeare’s Texts. The presenters will demonstrate several Web 2.0 activities for teaching Shakespeare developed with the Folger Library. Attendees will be given tech tools to assist students in a close reading of Shakespeare’s texts. Presenters: Mike LoMonico, Scott O’Neil, Chris Shamburg.
  • F.48, Saturday, 8:00-9:15; Shakespeare set Free Act 4: How to Use Film and Video in an Active Way to Connect Your Students and Shakespeare’s Plays. We all use film when we teach Shakespeare. This session will demonstrate how using YouTube, viewing multiple versions of the same scene, and creating video trailers can make film an active rather than passive experience. Presenters: Robert Young, Joshua Cabat, Mike LoMonico.
  • G.46, Saturday, 9:30-10:45; Shakespeare Set Free Act 5: How to Create Meaningful and Authentic Assessments for Your Shakespeare Unit. As your unit winds down, you look for activities that go beyond making Globe Theater models out of popsicle sticks. The presenters will demonstrate several strategies that employ higher-level thinking to evaluate students. Presenters: Mike LoMonico, Dana Huff, Robert Young, Carol Kelly.

Yes, I’m presenting that last session, and it would be nice to see friendly faces, so please do come.

If you work with teacher candidates, you might also enjoy session M.39, Sunday, 11:30-12:45; Teaching Teachers to Teach Shakespeare. The panel will present their philosophy and some practical tools for integrating the teaching of Shakespeare into pre-service English Methods courses. The speakers will focus on current best practices developed by Folger Shakespeare Library’s Education Department and teachers who they have worked with. Presenters: Robert Young, Mike LoMonico, Glenda Funk, Peggy O’Brien, Rick Vanderwall.

See you at NCTE.

Creative Commons License photo credit: UMTAD

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Catching Up: Folger Education

English Journal September 2009I have been trying all week to finish the last English Journal so I can gush about all the Folger goodness, but I haven’t had a chance. Lest I let too much more time slip by, I’ll discuss the articles I have had a chance to read. Mike LoMonico, as usual, is on target with his suggestions for teaching Shakespeare in his editorial. The Shakespeare Set Free series taught me a great deal about how to teach Shakespeare, but participating in the the Folger Teaching Shakespeare Institute in Decatur last year transformed how I approach not just Shakespeare, but everything I do.

I also read my friend Joe Scotese’s editorial about reading Shakespeare’s text as opposed to easy versions with “translations.” Joe’s description of the words as the tools of Shakespeare’s art (Stephen Booth) was beautiful, and I have had the occasion to bring it up twice in the last couple of weeks during teaching. Thanks for the timely imagery, Joe!

I read Peggy O’Brien’s and Robert Young’s discussions of the history of Folger’s work with teachers (and students) and its present and future. I began reading Susan Biondo-Hench’s article “Shakespeare Troupe: An Adventure in Words, Fluid Text, and Comedy.” You might recall that Susan Biondo-Hench wrote the Romeo and Juliet unit in the first volume of Shakespeare Set Free.

Several of my friends have articles in this issue. Chris Shamburg and Cari Craighead collaborated on “Shakespeare, Our Digital Native.” Cari and I were in the same TSI, and Chris and I connected at NCTE and online. I also met Chris Renino, author of the Macbeth unit in SSF and the EJ article “‘Who’s There?': Shakespeare and the Dragon of Autism,” at NCTE last year. Chris and I both have autistic children, and though mine are younger, I am obviously excited to read his article for personal reasons as well as professional ones. Christy Desmet, who wrote “Teaching Shakespeare with YouTube,” and I have a long history together. She teaches at my alma mater, UGA, and we worked together about 12 years ago in an online cohort of new teachers, professors, mentor teachers, and aspiring teachers. Our conversations were so helpful to me as a new teacher. We reconnected at the Folger TSI in Decatur last year.

I really wanted to submit an article for this issue, but I was struggling with new roles as department chair and graduate school student, among other duties. I just didn’t have time to do it. And now I’m kicking myself because I would have loved to have been a part of this issue.

In related news, Folger has a new blog: Making a Scene: Shakespeare in the Classroom. Definitely check it out! I’m really excited about it.

I want to talk about all of these articles and blog posts in more detail when I have a chance, but the weeks have been ticking by, and I didn’t want too much time to elapse before I brought your attention to these resources (if you didn’t know about them already).

In other news, I am not able to go to NCTE this year. I knew it was a long shot because I went last year, and the economy being what it is, well, let’s just say I was fairly sure it wouldn’t happen. I do wish I could go, however, because I really wanted to meet up with some friends (not to mention the learning!). I am planning to go to GCTE and possibly ISTE. ISTE takes place in Denver this year, and school will be out, so it would be a good opportunity for me to visit family in addition to attending my first ever technology education conference, so I would like to try to go.

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Proof Folger Methods Work: Week in Reflection, 1/20-1/23

Here in America Monday was a school holiday: Martin Luther King, Jr. Day.  I believe some of my students engaged in a service activity.  One was organized by the school.  I did not, and I feel bad about it.  Even if I had just gone around the few blocks around my house and picked up trash, it would have been something.  I will try to be better next year, although to be fair, I have done volunteer work at other times when it hasn’t been a national event, and I try to help others.  Still feel guilty.

So teaching A Midsummer Night’s Dream is quickly becoming the best part of my day.  And maybe I’m not too crazy to think perhaps my students are enjoying it, too.  Here are some comments gleaned from the classroom blog (by the way, the requirement seems to be helping, and I think the students are actually engaging with the blog more):

Mrs. Huff I just wanted to say that I am really enjoying what we are doing in class right now. It was a very unique and different style than i am used to. (Adam E.)

Preparing for the performance that we will get to act out in front of the class on Monday has been a lot of fun. Choosing who gets what part, deciphering whether or not it is apt for a character to cry, laugh, or even move in a certain way at specific points in time, and creating the prop that will be incorporated in the performance have made this project very enjoyable (not to mention that it also helps elucidate scenes and setting contexts that might otherwise be confusing or unclear) . To be honest, before we began MND, I had never thought that studying and analyzing Shakespeare’s works could be this entertaining. Because we have separated into different groups, it will be interesting to see how each group has personalized the scene in their own, unique ways. (Jake S.)

i really liked our pantomime/charades activity in class yesterday. it was fun yet educational and a lot of us participated more. We should do more activities like that in our class! (Mor L.)

I found that by analyzing the text in more detail and actually using the text to act out what was going on really helped me finally understand what we were reading. (Sophie S.)

I thought doing subtext in groups was a lot of fun because it was more hands on then we usually do in Brit Lit. I loved that we weren’t just reading for 45 minutes, but instead actually learning (Sophie S.)

OK, mea culpa if Sophie hasn’t traditionally seen reading as learning, but I think she did mean that the close reading they did to determine subtext was more valuable than reading alone.  It is true, however, that students who are not as, shall we say enthusiastic about my class as I’d like, are starting to show signs of enjoying what they’re learning.  Jake is referring to a presentation these students will do on Monday.  Let me explain what he means.  Mike LoMonico shared this idea with us at the Folger Teaching Shakespeare Institute last summer.  In the TSI, we were given copies of the scene when the plebeian mob kills Cinna the Poet in Julius Caesar along with a checklist of items to include in our presentation of the screen.  The checklist includes the following items:

  • the assigned text from Julius Caesar
  • a contemporary prop
  • a tableau at the beginning of the presentation
  • a tableau at the end of the presentation
  • at least one moment of direct address to the audience
  • at least one unexpected entrance or exit
  • at least one line of unison speaking
  • at least one moment of unison movement
  • at least 10 seconds of silence
  • someone must laugh and someone must cry

Because this class has 15 students (it’s my largest class; don’t throw things—I also have four preps and might have five next year), I recut the scene for three players so I would have even groups.  You may want to figure out how big you want your groups to be and cut accordingly.  You can download my scene for three players or create your own.  The essential idea is to pick a scene from the play you are studying that will work well for this type of exercise.  Some suggestions:

  • Tybalt kills Mercutio in Romeo and Juliet
  • Anything with the three Weird Sisters in Macbeth
  • Cinna the Poet is murdered in Julius Caesar
  • Bottom is transformed into an ass in Midsummer Night’s Dream
  • Petruchio forces Katherine to skip their wedding banquet in Taming of the Shrew
  • The guards see the ghost of Hamlet’s father in Hamlet

Obviously, these are just suggestions.  If you have ideas for scenes that might work for this activity, feel free to share in the comments.

My students have actually been doing a great job.  I have circulated and viewed their practicing, and wow, how wonderful to hear the walls ringing with Shakespeare instead of the usual.  And as Jake said, it will be interesting to see how each group personalizes this scene.  The feedback I am getting all the way around is that acting like this really helps them think about and understand what they’re reading, and they seem more enthusiastic.  Not only that, but their quiz grades are improving.  We started acting with the second act of the play, and the quiz grades improved dramatically.  In fact, the class average on quizzes from Act 1 to Act 2 increased by 16 percentage points from a respectable B- to an astounding A+.  I should add these are not objective quizzes but short answer quizzes.  Therefore, my conclusion is that Folger teaching methods work.  My students learned more and had more fun while learning.  What I need to do is plan for more experiences like this in all my classes.

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I Noticed: Week in Reflection, January 12-16

The title of my post comes from a check-in activity I learned at the Folger Teaching Institute in which I participated last June.  At some point of closure — the end of the day or right before lunch — we gathered in a circle and made a statement about something we had just done beginning with “I noticed…”  I introduced the idea to one of my junior British literature classes.  They are currently studying A Midsummer Night’s Dream.  We had a really good class in which everyone was on their feet acting at some point.  We reviewed subtext and tried some exercises before getting in groups and using subtext and movement to interpret lines from the play.  It was such a good class!  They are usually somewhat reluctant to participate, and I don’t know what was different.  Actually, I have a theory, but I can’t prove it.  My theory is that one or two students who are usually quiet and don’t often participate decided for some reason unknown to me to get into it that day, and the rest of the class just followed their lead.  I can’t explain it.  It was actually kind of strange!  At any rate, it seemed like the perfect time to close up with an “I noticed…”  I hadn’t planned to to do it, but it felt right.  I started with “I noticed how much fun it was when everyone participated and got involved today.”  (Or words to that effect.)  My entire insides screamed YES! when one student said, “I noticed how reading the text and trying different subtexts and acting made it easier to understand the play.”  I liked that one student noticed that his classmates were better actors than he anticipated they would be (he’s a fine actor himself — much acclaim for his work in the play last year).  I felt sad that some students used “I noticed…” to be down about some aspect of themselves.  I can’t remember that anyone used “I noticed…” to to be down on the class, which is good because “I noticed…” carries that risk, I suppose.  It was the best five minutes of my teaching all week.  I need to do it more often.  In case you are curious, my students have read up to the part when Bottom is “translated” and Titania has fallen in love with him.

I worked a bit on next year’s teaching assignments, but whether or not they will actually be used, I have no idea.  It depends on the schedule and enrollment and in terms of students, who signs up for what classes.  Working on Romeo and Juliet is a lot of fun for me, but this time around, I am noticing I am not as much into it as I have been in the past.  After all, this is my tenth year teaching the play, and in some cases, I taught it to several classes.  I am really familiar with it, and I think at this point, I can very nearly teach it in my sleep.  That sounds really boastful, and I don’t mean it that way at all.  I love the kids’ excitement over the play.  It’s hard not to feel enthusiasm when they so clearly enjoy what they’re learning.  But this year, and maybe it’s because I’m teaching MND and Taming of the Shrew, neither of which I’m nearly as familiar with, I am not enjoying it quite as much as I have in the past.  That means one of two things: 1) maybe it would be a good idea for me to get out the ninth grade, or 2) maybe I need to try some new approaches.  The problem with the latter is that I have a really good plan, and it works.  The former seems like a better idea to me given that Romeo and Juliet is the only part of the curriculum in ninth grade that really excites me, and if even my excitement for that play is starting to diminish, perhaps it’s time.  So whether it will happen or not, I can’t say, but my suggested schedule doesn’t include any ninth grade classes.  And perhaps taking some time off teaching it will be good if I wind up in ninth grade again.  If I do teach ninth grade next year, I need to figure out a way to get excited about it.

Taming of the Shrew is going well, too.  We tried physicalizing some lines, something I also learned at Folger.  Folger has a video of Caleen Jennings, who led some of our classes, demonstrating how to physicalize lines, and I shared it with the students.  Their reaction was not what I expected.  They thought it was funny and were excited to try it.  I expected they might be “too cool” for it and think it was weird.  One of my students still has the two lines we tried memorized, and she said it was interesting to see how physicalizing the lines helped.  I tried to talk her into trying it to help her learn her lines for our school play, but she didn’t think she would.  Here’s the video:

So all in all, a really good week with some fun on-your-feet learning and reading.  Is there anything more fun than teaching Shakespeare?  Not in my book, anyway. (Sorry about the pun.  No, I’m not.)

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Taming of the Shrew

The Taming of the ShrewI found a wonderful unit plan for William Shakespeare’s Taming of the Shrew, which I begin teaching one of my British Literature and Composition Classes tomorrow.  I adapted it, adding in some ideas from the Folger Shakespeare Library (whose lesson plan section on this play is kind of skimpy) and some ideas from the Penguin-Putnam Teacher’s Guide (pdf) for the play.

You can view my UbD plan uniting these ideas and comprising NCTE and Georgia Standards addressed in the unit plan at the UbD wiki.

I wasn’t too sure about this play at first.  It’s been a while since I had taught it, and I was not sure if I really wanted to teach it, and I certainly didn’t want to sit down and plan it.  Now I’m really excited about it, and I can’t wait to work with this class.  I kept visualizing them completing the activities as I read over the lesson ideas and began incorporating them into the UbD framework.

Teaching Shakespeare can be daunting, but it can be so much fun.  Kudos and thanks to everyone who so willingly shares his or her ideas online for the rest of us.  What I wouldn’t have given for the large community of English teachers on the Internet now when I was a new teacher!  Now I’m off to share this resource with even more teachers who otherwise might not read my blog or see it at the English Companion Ning.  If you’re not already there, consider yourself invited.

Photo Credits: North Carolina Shakespeare Festival production of Taming of the Shrew
Photographer: NyghtFalcon
Actor(s):Monica Bell and Dan Murray

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The Teacher’s Daybook, 2008-2009

The Teacher's Daybook, 2008-2009I just pre-ordered my copy of Jim Burke’s handy planner, The Teacher’s Daybook, updated for 2008-2009. The planner will not actually be released until July 10. Usually, it is released much earlier, and I wonder if some of the changes made didn’t cause a delay in publication. The planners usually run from July to June of the year specified, so I can’t help but think there was a problem this time.

I actually mocked up syllabi for this fall yesterday. Why do I want to go back to school so bad when I just started my summer? The Folger Teaching Shakespeare Mini-Institute! I am really excited to teach three Shakespeare plays this year — Romeo and Juliet, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, and Macbeth, all of which, interestingly enough, are included in volume one of the Folger Library’s Shakespeare Set Free series. As a participant of the institute, I will be receiving a copy of this volume. I already have one, so I plan to donate the older copy to a colleague and keep the new one. I am not sure what the difference between the one I already have and the new one is (aside from the cover). Does anyone else know?

If you can only get one volume of the series, this volume is the one I recommend because it contains two of the most frequently taught plays — Romeo and Juliet and Macbeth — both of which are frequently anthologized in 9th grade texts and British literature texts respectively. It is my hope that if Folger produces another volume in the series, they will consider creating a unit for Julius Caesar, as when I have had to teach that play (twice), I have had difficulty in coming up with creative ideas, although it looks like there are some good ideas on the Folger’s Web site. There is a great idea for the scene when Cinna the Poet is attacked by the plebeian mob that we did at the Mini-Institute, but I don’t see an identical one on the Web site (here is a similar one).

Well, I need to tell myself to enjoy this break from teaching. I am twenty pages from the end of Wuthering Heights, which I am actually reading in its entirety for the first time (sorry Mrs. Keener — it wasn’t personal — I just couldn’t keep up with the reading schedule!) and Penny Kittle’s Write Beside Them was set aside while I finished up with end-of-year business (and I mean “busy-ness,” too), and I feel I have not been a good participant at the wiki. And I need to read the summer reading books assigned to my students (or at least the ones I haven’t read yet) so that I can make assessments for the books.

Techy Addendum: I have been getting a 500 Server Error when I post to this blog that says there is a misconfiguration on the server.  No problems posting at all, so it must be related to something that happens after I post.  No problems when I edit posts.  I am not sure what is causing it, and trying to figure it out over the last couple of hours hasn’t been fruitful.  Please let me know if you are having problems commenting.  Comments are held in moderation, so your comment might not appear right away, and that is not a bug.  However, if you get a strange error message (such as a 500 Server Error message), please let me know.

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