Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Risk Taking: Challenge 2014 in Freshman English

Below is the email I received from Beth Nowell, one of our teachers of 9th grade English, after school on the first day our students returned for the second semester:

I just thought that I would share my lesson for today. I normally get my kids to write on the first day back and have them reflect on first semester and what they can do differently second semester....same ole same ole. This year I decided to show them the Challenger launch. (I have been amazed at the number of students who were not aware of it.) I asked them to focus on their launch date, May of 2017. We have had the best discussions about what they can do to prepare for their launch and what can interfere with their launch from HHS. 

Tomorrow they are taking the grammar income test, which is really all made up, that will predict their income level based on their grammar score. It's fun and it actually is a mini-lesson on common errors.

Happy New Year!

On Tuesday afternoon, I visited her 7th period class. The investment and excitement by the students was easily observable. She had captured them with an engaging and relevant lesson. I asked Beth to write a blog post so that we could share her activities with you. Enjoy!

Challenge 2014 in Freshman English

The first day back at school after Christmas break has always presented somewhat of a challenge for me. I have so many things on my mind as far as wrapping up the first semester and making plans for second semester, but first and foremost is usually the same gnawing question. What can I do to motivate my students for the second semester?  

I must concede that more times than I would like to admit, I have started off by asking my students to write down a few resolutions and reflect back on the first semester and what they could change to make the second half of their year even better. That approach was always met with pretty mediocre initial responses and very average long-term results. This year I wanted to do something different, and an online communication with an old friend gave me just the spark that I needed.

A former colleague in South Carolina shared in a Facebook post that she always talks to her seniors about their launch date and what they need to do to finish strong. It dawned on me that I need to make my freshmen more aware of their final “launch date” in May of 2017 instead of just focusing on second semester. 

I don’t want them to wind up in their junior year scurrying around with a low GPA, worrying about college admission, and wishing that they had taken their studies more seriously when they were younger. The spark from my friend and my desire to motivate my students were the catalysts for my new approach, Challenge 2014.

Second Semester Day 1 - I started the first day back with this video footage of the Space Shuttle Challenger disaster in 1986.

The students really had no idea why I had chosen to show them this video; I even asked them to guess. I looked at their puzzled faces and asked, “Does anyone know what happened to the Challenger? What caused the explosion?”  I had some students who had never heard of the Challenger. On the other hand,  I also had a few who not only knew about it, but had discussed it in a science class and remembered that it was the O- ring seal that was the culprit. After everyone was engaged in the conversation, I segued into my reason for showing the video clip. 

I pointed out that they, too, were going to have a launch date, not from Kennedy Space Center, but from Hoover High School in May of 2017. I stressed to the students that I want to be there to see them walk across the stage on that day, and I also want them to be prepared for the next stage of their lives after the launch. 

Metaphorically speaking,  I want my students to have the perfect landing, unlike the one of the Challenger

At that point, of course, they realized my motives, and we discussed all the possible “O-rings” that could interfere with their launch, and they were quite candid in their responses. Their list included drugs, alcohol, peers, social media, laziness, and lack of motivation, just to name a few. One especially vocal student even shouted, “Myself!”  Everyone agreed that he had hit the mark for most of them.

The next step in the day’s lesson involved a journal entry that asked them what they could do to make sure that they would have a successful launch from Hoover High School and a landing in keeping with their goals and dreams.

With the journal entries written and filed away, we recapped the day’s lesson, and the students commented on the especially poignant scene of Christa McAuliffe’s parents as they witnessed their daughter’s tragic launch.  I think many of the students realized at that moment that they want to accomplish their goals not only for themselves, but for their parents as well.

Journal Entries

Second Semester Day 2 – In keeping with the Challenge and Launch Date theme that I had introduced on the day before, I decided that it was the perfect time to introduce them to the Grammar Income Test, another way to think about the future. I had already planned for the students to revise and edit paragraphs and essays later in the week and focus on common errors so The Grammar Income Test was a perfect fit for that.  Not only does it force students to examine common errors, it gets the students engaged in lively discussions, especially when they discover that the test is not actually what it claims to be, an accurate predictor of future salaries based on 20 questions on grammar and usage.

The test can be viewed at the above link, but here is the scoring guide for projected salaries.
0 to –4 $150,000 and above top executive
5 or –6 $90,000 to $150,000 upper management
7 or –8 $60,000 to $90,000 key personnel
9 or –12 $25,000 to $60,000 semi-skilled
13 or –18 $10,000 to $25,000 unskilled
20 or more $0 to $10,000 unemployable
Grammar Income Wrap-up - After my students took the test and commiserated about their scores, I handed out the mini-lessons on the common errors on the test and explained that we would go over those and that they would have an opportunity to raise their scores on another quiz a week later.  Since the students initially bought into the concept of the test as a valid assessment, it was not until later that I revealed that the test was fabricated.

Day 3 – Raise Your Grammar Income Quiz – Now that the students realize that the Grammar Income Test is actually a fake, I stress that even though the test is not exactly valid, the premise is true. Grammatical skills and vocabulary as well can greatly affect a person’s success!  

I referenced  “The One Thing You Cannot Hide,” a lecture by Earl Nightingale, which will provide closure after the students take the final quiz that will raise their Grammar Income. 

Overall, my students enjoyed the Challenge 2014 exercise and The Grammar Income Test.  These lessons coupled together started them off thinking about the future and that they have the power to control where they will be headed in May of 2014. I can’t wait for their launch!

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