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Archive for January, 2016

Still thinking about reluctant readers, sometimes it seems the best way to grab the attention of C21 learners is to add a digital element to tasks/activities. This has worked well in the past for writing activities so I’ve started looking for ways to use the digital world to entice (or ensnare – tomato/tomatoe) my reluctant readers.

Philosophically, I’m in two minds.  The debate that all reading is reading regardless of platform is almost passe but It seems a shame that students can’t simply pick up a book and engage with words on paper. Then again, I grew up in a different era with far less distractions so I’ll put that misgiving aside and focus on finding interactive sites and tools to bolster reading engagement.

One thing I hear a lot “I can’t find a good book.” Really?! (You pick your battles and that is not one worth fighting!) Is We offer recommended reading lists to our seniors and I talk about reading a lot in class, often bringing in books from home to create mini displays around themes we’re discussing or current issues. I also put best seller lists on the whiteboard and refer to those to encourage a reading culture while other staff review books on the school website. Last year, I set up a Pinterest page of good reads and promoted that in class. Simple to do and enables students to visually browse titles. (My juniors blog about their reading on Taieri HotReads but those texts aren’t generally sophisticated enough for Level One and Two).

A site worth checking out is Book Drum. The self-described companion site gives additional information on a range of titles so if, for instance, a student is reading Captain Corelli’s Mandolin, they can visit Book Drum for background information on the setting and events including maps, photos and a range of visual and audio materials. The Bookmarks Section has YouTube clips and interviews that help give context to the issues covered for titles featured.

These days you don’t need a special device or to download an app to read a book online. There are plenty of options for the digitally inclined to read online with texts easily accessible via the standard range of internet browsers.

A few years ago while teaching a media communication course, I discovered that our local public library has a range of magazine titles and newspapers from around the world which you can read FOR FREE online. All you need is a library card and a birth date to log in. Go to the homepage and under Digital Resources tab you’ll find a Newspaper Direct Press Display option (as well as a plethora of other great material ideal for research standards). There are a range of titles with articles suitable for Level One and Two. And did I mention, FREE!

The Dunedin Public Library website also includes ebook and eaudiobook sections. At the eaudiobook section, you can borrow via one of two services. The ulverscroft option features a catalogue of 184 downloadable titles enabling users to listen to books being read. This service can also utilised via a free app for Apple users. You simply download the app and bang, you can access the titles. Brilliant. This should be treated as complimentary activity – it’s still essential in the spirit of the Achievement Standards for independent reading that students actually read a text but for a slower reader, I see potential in having the book in hand and listening at the same time as they are reading.  The ebook section allows users to borrow and read books online, a familiar concept for a generation of people who have grown up around ereaders such as kindle.

At Read Any Book users can do just that, Ebook Friendly has done all the hard work for me listing the top 10 ebook sites (some titles free, others not) while TechSupportAlert lists a whooping 346 sites.

 

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Still on a reading theme, here are a couple of clips I have used to inspire Level 1 and 2 students:

I have developed a series of close listening questions to accompany the high energy How and Why We Read. Let me know if you would like a copy:

 

 

 

 

 

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Following on from my previous post about engaging senior students struggling to connect with English, I thought I’d share some start up activities developed over the past few years which now form a nice wee package of introductory lessons.

Week One is important. You only get one chance to make a first impression. That first impression for any student is key but for young people who have already experienced consecutive years of Not Achieved (and however you dress that up, it’s never a great feeling), it is vital. Instead of weighing students down with course outlines and standards offered on day one, last year I decided to focus on The Future – for the world, for them as people, and for them as English students to encourage them to reflect on where they want to be and (hopefully) see some relevance in the days, weeks and months ahead because for Mr I Hate English and Ms I Never Read, by definition, this can be a very long year.

To start with, we watched a very cool compilation video summarising the highlights of 2014 via Upworthy. All they had to do was watch and see if they could yell out the event/person’s name before the subtitles. This year – and hey, it’s still early, the best one I’ve found so far is a summary via Facebook.

Fun Factor – check.

Taking it up a level we then close view The World in 2020 (I’ve also used Shift Happens in the past) and discuss ideas around changes in technology and education. Next I used a selection of articles from Mindfood on Future Trends which featured in December’s issue (and has been repeated this year). Students choose a topic that selects them (food, travel, technology) read one or more articles then answer a series of questions. The activity culminates with them pairing up with other students who read about the same topic, summarising and mind-mapping the predictions plus adding their own.

Big Picture – check.

Next I use a reflective piece of writing by a teacher simply titled Some Thoughts (on studying English) which a colleague shared with me years ago. I remind them (hopefully) about skimming and scanning as a close reading technique and then they read and answer questions.

Subject importance – check.

Now we’re up to about Day 3 so I get the students to complete the Careers Quest  (regardless of whether they have done it before or not) which involves answering questions about their likes, strengths etc. This data generates a list of career options as well as entry requirements for the industry, income, current employment climate and information they can use as the basis for a report writing or oral presentations later in the year. (Make sure they save their results so they can refer back later on – and write down password!)

Individual relevance – check.

At this point only, I give out the course outline and go over available standards and credits with them. It might feel as if I’ve created a false impression that the year is going to be all about YouTube and mind maps but what I’ve learned about these students is they already know they will find the standard required hard but what might motivate them to give things a go is if they can see some relevance and understand that we are working together to develop life skills.  Certainly beats writing letters about yourself ….

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One of the biggest challenges teaching senior “alternative” English classes is engagement. In the first week of school, that bubble of (barely containable) excitement heralding the arrival of junior classes is sadly missing for many of their senior counterparts. Some are repeating Level 2 English, some are ESOL students, most “hate” English and pretty much all of them “don’t read.” And so we embark on a sometimes tedious and (if you let it be) soul-destroying journey to teach and learn together.

Although it is always challenging, this is high stakes in more ways than credit counting. For many, it may be the last time they will study literature or attempt to craft writing which makes the quest to help them enjoy some sense of success and enjoyment even more pressing. After five years working with these students, I have learned to focus on the micro because for many attaining Level 7 of the NZC is akin to climbing Aoraki-Mt Cook – not impossible but a huge task.

So what can we do to try and inject some positivity into their learning journey? Course design is an obvious starting point. At an OATE PD day at the end of last year, wide ranging discussions were held on the inclusion of Unit Standards into courses (pros and cons), family expectations, school expectations, ministry expectations – lots of people expecting lots from these young people, many of whom continue to find basic punctuation a struggle.

At our school, we inform students and their families that for many, this is a two year course to ensure expectations are realistic. We are open to assessing work against Level Six and Seven of the NZC so students might pick up some Level One credits and we are picky about the extended texts we use in class. We’ve found that texts with an episodic structure rather than epic narratives work best.  This year, we will try The Things They Carried by Tim O’Brien which lends itself to plenty of writing and research activities as well as being an extremely well crafted text in its own right. For many of these students, reading classic literature at school might score a high 10 on the moan factor today but they always feels a sense of pride when they finish reading these texts and, despite their preconceptions, engage readily with classics – which is why we still teach The Outsiders, To Kill A Mockingbird and the Lord of the Flies. They are timeless for a reason.

When it comes to short texts, I focus less on language features and more on content and meaning. We use lots of song lyrics that relate to themes we’re reviewing. Those that have worked well include: Hurt (Johnny Cash), You (Young Sid), Another Brick in the Wall (Pink Floyd) and Goodnight Saigon (Billy Joel).  Wherever possible, I use visual texts so alongside Apirana Taylor’s Parihaka poem, we watch the kinetic typography clip. We also look at the earlier version by Jesse McKay alongside Tennyson’s Charge of the Light Brigade and then read/watch Tim Finn’s lyrics. Connections anyone?!

In 2015, we offered Vocational Tasks for some achievement standards which helped with what is an enormous barrier to success for many – relevance. I see more scope for using these in the future although found the tasks themselves were extremely sophisticated for these learners – writing a “website” or investigative feature article requires specific skills and for many, the structure of a persuasive essay is safer territory.  Using their Career Quest generated findings (see upcoming post), some attempted to write a report on issues in their industry/career field using focus questions as subheadings. This research can also be used for oral presentations. To boost participation in this standard, we now allow students to record presentations to play in class and also give them the opportunity to work in pairs. This is a work in progress.

But above all, my big focus for Level 2 ENL is to help them become engaged readers. Over half of the Achievement Standards we offer rely on students reading independently and reflecting on their reading so that rather lofty goal has become my main focus via a series of small steps.

I keep folders in class of magazine articles, short texts, lyrics and poems organised via subject so that after getting to know students, I can steer them towards material that might engage them. (The bonus is that I have taught some students already so have a head start). I reinstated SSR and was thrilled when they all bought into this although not so thrilled that some opted to leave books behind in class… I took them to the library where the librarian presented a range of suitable texts with a focus on non-fiction linked to personal interest. This year, I plan to take this class to the library once a fortnight. If reading is key, this should be a worthwhile investment.

It is all well and good to say they should be reading themselves, but if they haven’t developed those habits, I’ll do my best to ensure they are reading at school. Who knows, even if the credits aren’t gained, maybe some will read a book or two and maybe, some might decide to keep reading beyond the confines of our classroom. It might not show up in a credit counting table but I’ll consider that a success.

 

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