A Classroom with a View

"Educating the mind without educating the heart is no education at all" –Aristotle


Classroom Practices

Implementing best practices and techniques to improve student learning.

Yes, I Volunteered to Score Essays My First Week of Summer Vacation

Every June, 1000+ high school and college English teachers descend upon the AP Reading site and voluntarily subject themselves to 7 days of 8 hours of grading 400,000+ high school students’ THREE AP English Literature essays. The fastest among us grade more than 2,000 essays each week, but most Readers grade at least 1,000 essays each week. Most of us keep coming back year after year. Why? Great question. 

In the middle of the Reading, I’m always exhausted; my eyes are red and burning; I’ve slept poorly in a hotel; I am jittery from coffee, sodas, too much chocolate and gum. I swear there’s no way I’m going to do this again. Then, after I get home and have had time to recuperate, I think, “I had fun! What a great experience!” Then inevitably, in January, that AP invitation arrives in my inbox, and there I go again, clicking “Yes, I accept” without a second thought.

I feel it’s a lot like childbirth: in the middle of it, you hate every minute and think there’s NO WAY in the WORLD I am doing this again, but after you are home and the pain of the moment is gone, when you’ve had time to reflect on the growth and joy you’ve experienced, you begin to think you can do it again.

I’ve been scoring for the AP English Literature exam for 14 years, and joining the AP Reading each year has brought me many personal and professional benefits. I have met some of my best friends at the Reading–my AP family with whom I’ve grown up, raised kids, celebrated marriages and anniversaries; people who share my laughter, challenges, losses, and triumphs; people who always find the best in each other to celebrate. The moral support and friendship we have grown over the last 14 years is unlike any friendship I have in my “real” life and is one I cherish and look forward to every year.

Professionally, the Reading provides a kind of intensive professional development that is both enlightening and immediately applicable to our craft, as well as connects educators from across the nation in a unique environment to share and collaborate. I’ve found opportunities to connect my students in Texas with students in California, Florida, and Vietnam to study and discuss Dante’s InfernoThe Kite Runner, and Things Fall Apart. As I’ve written previously, my students collaborated with a group of students in Vietnam, and their shared discussions resulted in a book they published. None of these would have been possible without the connections and network I’ve established from the AP Reading. Too, in my own teaching, the Reading provides me with insight into student writing, the broader challenges our students face nationally, and the opportunity to discuss ways to address these issues and trends with fellow educators whose advice and ideas I can bring back to my school.

So yes, while the Reading can be difficult when the AC in the convention center is too much to bear and you need to bring your hotel robe or comforter to stay warm (I’ve seen and done both–iykyk), the cafeteria food becomes too tiresome to choke down another meal, the “good” snacks are taken by the AP Chemistry Readers, and the convention center stupidly runs out of coffee and Coke Zero, I will continue to attend the AP Reading. It’s a great way to kick off the summer and begin the work of reflecting on the past year and planning for the new one.

U.S.-Vietnam Student Book now available on Amazon!

La Porte High School seniors in La Porte, TX and The Olympia Schools 10 X-cel students in Hanoi, Vietnam, worked on a year-long cultural study that culminated in their own published eBook. The book is the product of their discussion, collaboration, and learning over the course of the school year. Reflections is now available online at iTunes (search Reflections Global Connections), Barnes & Noble, Kobo, Google Play, Book Country, and now Amazon.

All proceeds from the sale of the book will be donated to International Rescue Committee (IRC), a charity that operates in more than 40 countries and 26 U.S. cities to provide humanitarian aid to people affected by conflict and natural disaster.

Click this link to learn more about their work and achievement.

Students published their book “Reflections”

Facilitator Daniel Rymer with GCXN students Facilitator Daniel Rymer with GCXN students

At the beginning of the school year, I wrote about Global Connections, a group of sophomore students at The Olympia Schools in Hanoi, Vietnam, and senior students at La Porte High School in La Porte, Texas, who initially began their interactions by studying Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart (GCXN, Part 1 and GCXN, Part 2). However, as their familiarity with each other grew, they asked to take on a much more monumental project: to write a book that explores their cultural similarities and differences and that provides a platform for their voices to be heard. They were undeterred by our warnings that a project of that magnitude would take patience, focus, hard work, and stamina. Well, as anyone with any experience with teenagers knows, when they put their minds to something, they do it. And they certainly did! Continue reading “Students published their book “Reflections””

Educate the child

As we begin thinking about and planning for the new school year, consider the kind of teacher you want to be: one who medicates the dancer or one who plays the music for her?


Differentiating Instruction through Reading Choice

IMG_5112In my previous post Building a Culture of Reading through Choice, I discussed how teachers might create more avid and willing student-readers by offering multiple texts from which students may choose rather than one compulsory text read by the entire class. I received many emails asking how I implement this in my classroom, how I choose books, and how I facilitate student learning when there are several different texts. Since so many people were interested, I thought why not just write another post? As any teacher knows, if one student asks a question, there’s probably 8 or 9 others who were wondering the same thing but were too shy to ask. So–to those of you who emailed: I hope this helps; and to those who were too shy to ask: don’t be! (I know–completely unhelpful advice).

As I stated before, I don’t like being told what to read, especially if I’m told to read it because it’s a “classic” and “canonical.” On my own, if still a bit begrudgingly, I decided to read Moby Dick and David Copperfield because peer pressure still has some power and I had to see what Continue reading “Differentiating Instruction through Reading Choice”

Correlation between Critical Thinking and Developmental Levels of Critical Writing

As students develop the cognitive ability to analyze, evaluate, and create, their ability to articulate their thinking in increasingly complex forms of writing also evolves.
As students develop the cognitive ability to analyze, evaluate, and create, their ability to articulate their thinking in increasingly complex forms of writing also evolves.

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