The F Word: A Leg to Stand On.

**This entry will be especially interesting if you are an educator.**

Common Core: it’s coming to a classroom near you. This semester is an effort to completely delve into the its waters of achievement, engagement, and growth.

I’ve always been taught that the first one to two weeks should be solely about procedures. It’s a difficult concept for me since they’re high school students and I don’t really know how to transfer those skills in. Instead, we spend the first day talking about the guidelines and procedures, the next day learning about responsibility, and as the week progresses we establish some pretty set routines. Next week we will jump into Gilgamesh and the Creation story from the Bible with BOTH feet. Before we get into actual work, though, we are reading “In Praise of the F Word” by Mary Sherry (and idea which I totally stole from a C3 workshop).


This is a two-three day lesson.

We started with the word, responsibility. Since this is an English class, we need to get our vocab churning soon. We discussed the meaning and I had the students tear off half of their bell-ringer and write their own definition of it in about 20 words.

Students wrote their anonymity number on their work and then crumpled up the paper. Surprisingly, the students looked at me in horror. I know a lot of teachers that refuse to even have the kids crumple their papers if they’re throwing them away  — let alone for an assignment in class! They tossed them into a cardboard box I have in class. They were passed back out and I told the students to write back, in response, whether they agreed or disagreed with the definition.

This launched me into my sermon about “agree/disagree and yes/no” questions. Students need to be able to critically think about and explain their answers. I told them flat out that I would could any unexplained answer as wrong — always. Instead, I asked them to always explain their answer and tell me why. Typically, those answers don’t have to be long, but they need to be able to communicate why they think the way they do. They seemed to pick that up with little difficulty. Now only if they can keep it up without being reminded to do so!

They crumpled them up again and were passed back out. This time, I asked them to read the definition and response and then tell me how that notion of responsibility could be acted out in my class. The papers were then returned to their respective owners and the students, without prodding, were already discussing the answers — eager to see the string of comments. Discussion of the assignment happened without being asked. This is revolutionary, people.

They stapled their bellwork to the front and then passed the mashed mess into the homework bin. They were walking around and beginning to talk so I shocked them and exclaimed, “Now, let’s get to work and read about the F word.” They stopped and looked at me. Ah, Mary Sherry: Thank You. From the bottom of my heart.

In prep, I told them an analogy about literature/non-fiction being like a table: they always have support. We discussed our rule-of-thumb for marking Main Idea and Details in a work we are annotating. Then we read the article together and they all seemed pretty focused.

We immediately got into groups, numbered off all of the paragraphs (for use tomorrow), and looked for at least 3 main ideas. There were a few students who didn’t get it at first, but with a little bit of individualized instruction, they got it and did just fine. They re-wrote their main ideas at the bottom of their articles and then found support to back them up by underlining the details.

I asked for volunteers to tell me their general thoughts on the article. They seemed to have a very good grasp of the overall concept of the article, explaining that it is ultimately the student’s job to be motivated — but parents and teachers have a HUGE part in that.

I love to get students arguing. It’s a silent joy of mine. I had each student in the pairs pick a supporting side: the students or the teachers/parents. They were then given 3-5 minutes (thanks to e.ggtimer) to defend their position. Some rowdy girls in 3rd hour got WAY into it, but they were actually learning so I let it continue in hushed tones. They were then bribed with tootsie rolls to explain their positions. A lot of the kids said that students have to want to work and do the work, while other said a major roll lies with the teacher because after they all, they do get paid. Students rubutted with the fact that no one can make them learn — even if they are a good teacher. Needless to say, I was so proud of my classes today.

On post-its (that I have started requiring as part of their necessary materials for this class) they wrote a 20 word sentence summarizing the article in its entirety. They really get into that word count thing. I’m going to use it all the time.

As they passed their articles in for tomorrow, several students exlaimed, “Are we going to do stuff like this every day?” I looked at her, “Well, that depends… are you enjoying it and are you learning anything?” She thought a moment, “well yep.” And at that moment I could have cried. I know it’s only day 2 but seriously… we are going to do stuff like this all semester. Who says they can’t enjoy learning like this?

We transitioned into a slide-show about MLA format and how it works in this class. We’ll be using it tomorrow as we write a sample essay about the article from today(for me to gauge their writing).

I get observed by my principal tomorrow and I have to say: I’m pretty confident in my abilities. Yes, I spent over an hour on one article, but the did GOT IT. They know what they’re talking about now. And I think I hit a few nails on the head with this notion of responsibility — namely my two repeat offenders. I mean, repeat Juniors.

Prayer, time, and block schedule: good things. Common core: a good, engaging thing. Banana, nutella, whole grain bread sandwiches: all good things.

Tuesday, what a good day.


(Article for today In Praise Of The F Word)


One thought on “The F Word: A Leg to Stand On.

  1. Pingback: Annotating Texts, the Unrated Version. | Adventures in Teaching

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