The Vertical Vision: Hitting on All Cylinders (PART IV OF IV – Writing)

Dear Teachers,

Today is the fourth blog in a four-part series called “Hitting on All-Cylinders” (HOAC). The series began with one of my colleagues asking me how to get everything done in a given year. In other words, her Scope and Sequence (S&S) was so packed, she felt she had too much to do and not enough time. To address her issue, which most teachers and I have, I decided to answer her question by providing a program I called Hitting on All Cylinders: Relevant Vocabulary Study. In this program, I demonstrate how I combine and integrate reading, writing, grammar, and vocabulary in an English Language Arts (ELA) classroom. A quick recap of the previous blogs:
Before we go there, I’d like to respond to Nancy’s comment about the labor intensity of the system:

The labor intensity to which Nancy Sharma refers in this week’s “Good News from the Front Lines” is two-fold: setting up the system and following through with it. In the spring prior to the next school year, Nancy and I and other vertical team members spent many days after school designing this vertical approach to teaching ELA, and our district language arts coordinator, Dr. Jo Ann Patton, and our high school instructional principal, Dr. Ann Clingman, were invited and at least one of them attended as our administrative support. This time together was invaluable, and we grew closer as a team of professionals. We laughed and giggled. We also debated. But we became a well-oiled machine, and the students realized that the English department was a team. The meetings lasted one hour, and we created the system that was implemented the following year.

When the school year began, and we launched the program, each day in my class, my students and I devoted the first five to ten minutes of class to the HOAC system. That allotted time was sacred, and it resulted in a building of scholarly skills and momentum, of respect for each other and confidence, of camaraderie and maturity, all of which were related to the close reading we were performing in-class and out-of-class. When Nancy and I started this program about twenty years ago, technology was nowhere near as sophisticated as it is today. But today, the system is particularly effective and less labor intensive for those teachers who understand and apply the concept of the “flipped classroom.” In “7 Things You Should Know About . . . FLIPPED CLASSROOMS,” Educause Learning Initiative defines the relatively new pedagogical format:

[In a flipped classroom,] [s]hort video lectures are viewed by students at home before the class session, while in-class time is devoted to exercises, projects, or discussions. The video lecture is often seen as the key ingredient in the flipped approach, such lectures being either created by the instructor and posted online or selected from an online repository. While a prerecorded lecture could certainly be a podcast or other audio format, the ease with which video can be accessed and viewed today has made it so ubiquitous that the flipped model has come to be identified with it. The notion of a flipped classroom draws on such concepts as active learning, student engagement, hybrid course design, and course podcasting. The value of a flipped class is in the repurposing of class time into a workshop where students can inquire about lecture content, test their skills in applying knowledge, and interact with one another in hands-on activities. During class sessions, instructors function as coaches or advisers, encouraging students in individual inquiry and collaborative effort. (February 2012)

I share the flipped classroom notion with teachers who are constantly looking for time to perform all the tasks an English language arts teacher must perform. The flipped model suggests that teachers produce a twelve to fifteen minute video of their annual lectures which they present in more than one class. The students view the lecture at home, and the next day a discussion ensues. The magic is that without lecturing in front of the students during class time, you’ve found twelve to fifteen minutes of extra time per class period. Students might spend this precious time reading silently, working on projects, performing writing assignments while the teacher meets with students in one-to-one conferences or scores and returns submitted assignments, therefore, providing immediate feedback. Some teachers say, “Deborah, they don’t do their homework now. What makes you think they’ll watch the video at home?” My response is that I have found that the kids DO watch the videos because the assignment is technology-based. When homework is technology-based, they seem to do it.
And now for Part IV, the pièce de résistance: Writing
  • With the approval and support of an administrator, each level creates a fall and spring semester list of PARAGRAPH TOPICS which connects themes of literature to life experiences.
  • This assignment assists ELA teachers to assign non-fiction prompts (expository and/or argumentation) while still working through the literature.
  • Each Wednesday, the students submit a one-, two-, or three-chunk paragraph.
  • The students must include and highlight in the paragraph one sentence that has the same construction as that week’s grammar lesson.
  • If the students can include a vocabulary word from that week in the paragraph, without the vocabulary word sounding contrived, they would receive a star on their paragraph and a big smile from Dr. Louis!
  • Example: One of the weeks during a unit on Romanticism, we’re reading Wuthering Heights as our core piece and interjecting poetry. We read “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner” (1834) by Samuel Taylor Coleridge. The paragraph prompt for that week: Write a two-chunk descriptive paragraph (2+:1) about a vacation gone awry!
  • Worth seventy points. The Grammar Sentences on Tuesdays are worth thirty points. Let’s recap their weekly grades for HOAC:
    • three sentences – 30 points
    • paragraph – 70 points
    • quiz – 100 points or 200 points
  • The special instructions may include the number of chunks and ratio required per paragraph.

The following list is a sample from Nancy Sharma’s English IV AP course. Because these students are senior AP students, she does not require a certain number of chunks or a ratio although she does have a requirement for a minimum number of sentences. I have inserted a couple of ideas for teachers who would like to include chunking and ratio instructions.

Ms. Sharma’s Rules:

On Wednesday of each week, you will turn in a single paragraph of quality befitting a high school senior.

  • It should have a controlling topic sentence and supporting details.
  • It should have a variety of sentence types with no more than two simple sentences.
  • It should end gracefully.
  • It should follow proper MLA manuscript form.
  • It should have a MINIMUM of eight to twelve sentences. (Deborah’s note: at least two – three chunks is what Nancy is wanting.)
  • It must include at least one sentence which conforms to the grammatical requirements of the week.
  • It must be on time (not even one minute late).
  • It must be grammatically and stylistically sound.
WeekSuggestions OnlyDue DateSpecial Instructions
2two chunks; 2+:1Aug. 31What is a goal you have, an obstacle which challenges that goal, and your solution for overcoming that obstacle?
3Sept. 7What is your opinion of fate?
4two chunks; (a) 2+:1; (b) 1:2+Sept. 14(a) Have you experienced a restlessness in your life? Explain the sensation and analyze the experience. OR (b) How does Siddhartha reflect parents of today?
5two chunks; (a) 1:2+; (b) 2+:1Sept. 21(a) How does Siddhartha’s descent into desire reflect your own private lives and/or the consumptive nature of our society? OR (b) As a senior in high school, what wisdom have you gained in your life?
6End of Six WeeksNo Paragraph DueSiddhartha Essay Due.
7Oct. 5Think about someone who just doesn’t fit in; explain the causes. Please do not use actual names and avoid hurtful descriptions of identifiable peers and/or persons in the school community.
8Oct. 12How would Heathcliff fit in at _______________ (write your high school name in blank)?
9Oct. 19Discuss your knowledge and understanding of revenge and its effects on a person’s life?
10Oct. 26Write about a time when you were governed by your impulsive enthusiasm, not by reflection or ideals of civility. (Remember, PG-13)
11Nov. 2Write about a time when you were governed by reflection or ideals of civility, not by your impulsive enthusiam.
12End of Six-WeeksNo Paragraph DueWuthering Heights Essay Due.
13Nov. 16The three witches are sometimes called “instruments of darkness.” What instruments of darkness are found in our society, and how do we combat them?
14Last day before Thanksgiving HolidayNov. 22Have you or someone you know experienced blind ambition? Explain.
15Nov. 30What do you think about one of these sayings, “Behind every great man is a great woman” or “behind every great woman is a great man?’
16two or three chunks; 1:2+Dec. 7Shakespeare considered evil a force beyond human understanding. Do you think Shakespeare also saw the forces of evil as stronger than the forces of good? Explain.
17two chunks; 1:2+Dec. 14Think of a modern character, real or fictional, whose downfall — like Macbeth’s — came after an attempt to gain great power. How is this modern figure like Macbeth, and how different?
18End of SemesterDec. 21The Tragedy of Macbeth Essay Due.

Please contact me with questions or comments! Keep reading and writing!

Warm regards,

Dr. D’