12 August 2012


Forty-five minutes a day, four days a week, I get to teach a class that is not a class! I will be preparing students to pass the reading and writing portions of the COMPASS test for entry and success in college courses.It is how my new school is dealing with the disparity created by hybridizing a high school and a college (we have to meet every day, they, well, don't). And I get to maintain my Spanglish cred.

It won't have its own slot on report cards or transcripts, though I did work out a deal with another English teacher so that students can get credit in his class for the work, so as to avoid the I-don't-have-to-do-this trap and not waste their time.

Plus, I get to have my mini-class in the computer lab, and you know what that means. That's right, my friends: blog them to death.

I confess a certain perverse attraction to testing, despite knowing intellectually that it is not the sum of my worth as an educator. The test is kind of like an aloof, dysfunctional parent whose approval I cannot help but crave. Nevertheless, I prefer to teach beyond the test most of the time. You know, break out the oil paints and hand-carved frame for Mother's Day instead of just macaroni and glitter glue.

So my plan is to have students writing and reading constantly. That's probably at least 50% of it. Then I see where the recurring problems are, where they could step up their games, and we have us some mini-lessons. I predict some work with run-ons and fragments, paraphrasing, rephrasing, mood and tone, author's purpose, main ideas and supporting details, and style.

I intend to set aside 15 of the 45 minutes each day for them to blog and for me to play Isabella from Phineas and Ferb: "Whatcha doooooin'?" Each of those four days, they will choose from one of four topics (though they must hit all four some time during the week)

  1. Something we read--We'll be looking at different articles, excerpts, and stories, at least one a week. The COMPASS site says for the Reading section to anticipate: "Practical reading, Prose fiction, Humanities, Social sciences, Natural sciences" to be covered. We've got eighteen weeks, so I'll aim to hit each type at least 3 times.
  2. Something you read--I figure they can handle one extra book of their own choosing over the course of a semester. Heck, I'm okay if it IS a picture book, as long as they have something different to say about it each week. And if they are more prolific readers, by golly they can have a different one each week, too, if they want.
  3. Something from class--Mind you, it doesn't have to be from our class, but I would like them to reflect on things they are learning. It might just be a rehash of something they found interesting or a breakdown of something they'd had trouble with (or perhaps were the only ones NOT to have trouble with). It might be a deeper look into something that raised questions. It might be something that they contributed to discussion or wish they had contributed to discussion.
  4. Something that won't get me fired--They can write about anything they want! As long as it is within the realm of high school classroom decency, of course. It would be cool if we had some poets or fiction writers, but it might also be a suitable spot for regular old journaling. Granted, we'll probably have to have a thorough chat on Day 1 about what is and is not high school classroom decent, but that is a small price to pay to get some worthwhile writing.

Now, of course Writing Skills for the test will cover usage and mechanics ("Punctuation, Sentence structure, Basic grammar and usage"), but I anticipate needing more time for the rhetorical skills: Strategy, Organization, and Style, as they may also be Writing Essays. To that end, I will have them choose one blog post each six-week grading period to refine and turn into something awesomer still, and we'll probably take one week of the term away from blogging to accomplish said refinement.

I think I will be able to fit a little choice in there, too, but probably only one of the three terms--maybe the middle, maybe the last. Here's how I foresee the revisions being revisioned:

  1. Persuasive essay--turn your post into a piece that makes your audience want to make a change.
  2. Researched essay--pick a topic with greater depth, find some sources, give them credit. (Not sure if this should be the second or the last one.)
  3. Poem or short story--get creative, master your own style and strategy, maybe imitate some "prose fiction."

I have to say that the more I think about this non-class class, the more excited I get about the possibilities! And if it means our kids blow the top off of the COMPASS test, all the better.

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