Category Archives: Narrative Writing

Outstanding Speech

1389.8 Holocaust C

The speech below was one of 126 delivered in my World History class this spring. The student gave a forceful and emotional reading that enthralled the audience and effectively placed them at the scene of Kristallnacht. At 487-words, this speech took the student 3:47 to deliver. It was a tour de force. I wish more than 40 people had been in my class to witness it.

The Night of Broken Hearts

We went out into the street. The crowd of people became the street, all tripping over each other towards a nearby synagogue, all shouting angrily. We had followed. As we reached the synagogue and halted, silent and angry, we could see at the end of the building, flames rise. The crowd rushed forward and their greedy hands tore seats and woodwork from the building to feed the flames coming from the east of them.

Behind us we heard more shouts. We turned, and saw a part of the mob start along the road to Israel stores. During the days the store’s held granite cubes ostensibly used for repairing roads. Youths, men, and women, screaming deliriously, hurled these blocks of granite through anything glass. Within a few minutes the doors gave away and the indignant mob rushed inside to pillage and loot.

By then the streets were chaotic, filled with bloodthirsty people screaming for the death of Jewish people. A man tried to protect an aged Jewess who had been dragged from her home by a gang. Provided, I pushed my way through to help him and, between us, we managed to heave her through the crowd to a side street and safety.

The center of their hate was a hospital for sick Jewish children, many of them cripples or immobilized. In minutes the windows had been smashed and the doors forced. We arrived when, the swine were driving the wee mites out over the broken glass, bare-footed. The nurses, doctors, and others were being kicked and beaten by the mob leaders.

This was the personal story of Michael Bruce, a non-Jewish Englishman. He had watched this horrid act along with many others would had stood by while it occurred. This event is known as “Kristallnacht,” where Nazis and their supporters in Germany engulfed synagogues in flames, vandalized Jewish homes, schools and businesses, in addition to killing close to 100 Jews, but what had caused this event?

In 1938, Herschel Grynszpan, a 17-year-old Polish Jew learned that the Nazis had exiled his parents to Poland from Hanover, Germany. As retaliation, on November 7, the teenager shot Ernst Vom Rath, a German diplomat in Paris. Rath died two days later, and Hitler attended his funeral. Joseph Goebbels, who was the Nazi minister for public enlightenment and propaganda, immediately seized on the assassination to rile Hitler’s supporters into a rage that would cause a terrifying wrath.

The Night of Broken Glass was the result of that rage. After all these atrocities, little action was taken by neither Europe nor the United States. Even if President Roosevelt instructed that refugees already in the U.S. could stay, that does not excuse the fact that we did NOTHING to stop it.

Therefore, we must honor the people who died. We must honor the people we did not save. We must remember the innocent people whose lives were stolen.

kristallnacht-burning-380

Works Cited

“Kristallnacht Eyewitness Accounts and Reminiscences – Simon Wiesenthal Center Multimedia Learning Center.” Kristallnacht Eyewitness Accounts and Reminiscences – Simon Wiesenthal Center Multimedia Learning Center. N.p., n.d. Web. 22 Feb. 2015. <http://motlc.wiesenthal.com/site/pp.asp?c=gvKVLcMVIuG&b=394831&gt;.

Ballastk, Angela. “Kristallnacht: Background & Overview.” Background & Overview of Kristallnacht. The Holocaust Shoah Page, 2000. Web. 03 Feb. 2015. <http://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/jsource/Holocaust/kristallnacht.html&gt;.

Shirvanian, Armen. “The History Place – World War II in Europe Timeline: November 9/10 1938 – Kristallnacht, the Night of Broken Glass.” The History Place – World War II in Europe Timeline: November 9/10 1938 – Kristallnacht, the Night of Broken Glass. The History Place, 1997. Web. 05 Feb. 2015. <http://www.historyplace.com/worldwar2/timeline/knacht.htm&gt;.

Feedback

I have been experimenting with a robo-grader called PaperRater.  It gives the students immediate feedback on (1) originality, (2) spelling, (3) grammar,  (4) word choice,  (5) transitional phrases, (6) sentence length, and (7) academic vocabulary. This enables the students to shore up any weaknesses in their writing before they give it to me. You can read the report on this speech HERE.

College and Career Ready Writing

What does it mean CCR

Educators are familiar with the phrase “college and career ready” but few are able to articulate what determines this readiness. This is because there has been little empirical analysis on the literary skills required in community colleges. Being college and career ready means students are able to communicate clearly—to speak grammatically, write well and read the required materials with understanding. A May 2013 study from the National Center on Education and the Economy asked what kind and level of literacy is required of a high school graduate for success in the first year of a community college program? They collected data from seven community colleges in seven states, serving rural, urban and suburban populations with enrollments from 3,000 to 30,000.

Reading

The reading and writing required of students in community colleges is not very complex or cognitively demanding. The reading complexity of college texts is between 11th and 12th grade. Successful readers of information-rich texts should have the ability to read complex texts in unsupported environments. The capacity to process, retain and synthesize large amounts of new information must be increased. Significant reading experiences must occur in a wider range of content areas. The skills in comprehending statistical tables, charts, maps, lists and other documents in college texts need to be improved.

CC Reading Levels_NCEE

Reading for in-depth subject matter comprehension is not formally taught in our high schools. This disconnect between high school and college reading demands suggests a need to reexamine what is taught in high school. What are we asking our students to do with what they read? College students are rarely asked to do complex analyses of texts, except in English Comp classes. One third (33%) of the courses examined used multiple choice or true/false exams and assignments exclusively.

Writing

Most introductory college classes demand very little writing; when it is required, instructors have very low expectations. Community College writing typically takes the form of informational writing or collecting evidence for a course of action. Complex writing plays a minor role in community college student exams. Even so, a large number of high school graduates cannot meet the low expectations that community colleges have of them.

Panel Ratings_NCEE

Community College instructors do not expect their students to read at the level of their texts or to write much. The majority of essays were argument or informational, only one college contributed narrative essays. Agreement between scores was significant at the lower end of the grading scale with notable disagreement at the mid-range of the scale One-fifth (20%) of essays that the panel considered college ready were scored not college ready by the instructors. Almost half (48%) of essays considered college ready by the instructors were given scores of 2 or below by the panel.

Over 75% of the essays given a B by the instructors were marked 2 or below by the panel. Argument essays often received Bs without including well-supported claims. No pattern emerged to suggest why the panelists graded the writing aspect of the subject matter essays more harshly than instructors.

Dist_Grades_Essays_NCEE

Community College students are required to learn college writing in English Comp and then rarely asked to write again. When they are asked to write outside of English class, the acceptable standard is considerably lower. Many of the deficits of HS school ELA instruction are being replicated rather than remedied in community colleges. Students clearly need better instruction in constructing arguments and in laying out their thinking logically and persuasively.

Big Takeaways

We need high schools and community colleges to concurrently raise their standards for reading and writing. This doesn’t just happen in high school, but needs to be a collaborative effort when implementing Common Core State Standards throughout the PK-12 curriculum.

Reading

Students must have the ability to read information-rich texts in unsupported environments. Teachers must increase the capacity of students to process, retain and synthesize large amounts of new information. Students must have significant reading experience in a wider range of content areas. Teachers must increase the ability of students in reading and understanding tables, charts, maps, and lists that supplement the prose in many college texts.

Writing

We are not teaching our high school and community college students to be proficient writers. The limited writing skills that we do teach, we do so ineffectively. Many high school graduates cannot meet the literacy demands of community college programs. Complex writing tasks need to play a larger role in both high school and community college student exams. History teachers may increase their writing instruction skills by signing up for this free online class.

Reference

Tucker, M. (2013). What does it really mean to be college and work ready? The English literacy required of first year community college students. The National Center on Education and the Economy. May 2013. Washington, DC. Retrieved from http://www.ncee.org/college-and-work-ready/

Writing Historical Narratives

storytelling-copy

The Common Core’s addition of narrative writing is likely to challenge many History/Social Science teachers that are unfamiliar with this type of writing. Students are now expected to write narratives that develop real or imagined experiences, and/or events using well-chosen details and well-structured event sequences.

Since only six percent of my class or eleven out of my 183 high school students chose to write a historical narrative on our last formative assessment, I created a task that would increase their storytelling abilities about the principles of Judaism. Instead of outlining, I asked them to cluster or bubble map the main ideas from the textbook chapter. We use the 2007 California edition of World History: The Modern World (pp. 28-32) by Pearson Prentice Hall. Most students had one to two pages of events and people that they could use to create their narrative. Prior to beginning their writing, they also had a full day of instruction on period-specific vocabulary. For homework the students also viewed the Crash Course video series segment on Judaism. Lastly, students viewed a short, online video on narrative writing tips and techniques. The video was played once in class and posted online so students could view it again from home.

The prompt and directions were:

You have a 53 minute class period to write a Historical narrative about the Jewish people. Use your cluster map to provide details. This task requires you to tell a story about a historical time period, blending facts with imagined characters and situations.

  • Use one person’s point of view (a central character)
  • Use chronological organization and transitions
  • Describe people who actually lived and events that actually happened. However, you may include fictional people and details.
  • Show you have an accurate understanding of historic events and details of actual places

I use word count as a proxy for student effort and as a goal-setting strategy. Thus, I always like to display the number of words each class period writes.  I then compare each class mean. I try to generate some competition between the classes. Why do you think period three wrote almost 150 more words than period 1?

Word Prod Means

The chart above compares the average number of words written by each of my five classes.
Number 6 is the average of all five means. A total of 176 essays were turned in.

The factors I looked for in these narratives were: 1) a creative title; 2) word count; 3) main character point of view. During my readings, I discovered that a small group of students had misunderstood the assignment and had made their historical characters into outlandish fictional people doing things that had no relevance to the historical period. In my debrief with the students, I will remind them that the purpose of the assignment was to show an accurate understanding of historic events and details of actual places.

The majority of my students picked a historical character and remained in that character for their entire writing assignment. One or two students misunderstood the assignment and wrote one or two paragraphs from the perspective of each Moses, Abraham, David, and Solomon. I attributed this to students not listening carefully enough to the directions. The charts below compare student performance on my last two writing tasks.

Word Prod Means by Period

Evaluating Intro Paragraphs

This post is the third in a series on how to assign student writing and provide feedback without infringing on instructional time. In my flipped classroom, I am able to put content lectures online and spend class time conferencing with my students on improving their writing. These samples are introductory paragraphs to informative and explanatory and historical narrative prompts I assigned students on the ancient Greek philosophers.

PROMPT #2:

Write an informative/explanatory essay about the lives of the big three Ancient Greek philosophers, Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle. Include biographical facts as well as the contributions each philosopher made to Western political thought.

SAMPLE A

Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle were three great philosophers. All three of them were connected in some sort of way. There lives were very different in many ways.

SAMPLE B

The three subjects I will talk about are Aristotle, Plato’s and Socartes. They are all greek philosophers. Aristotles, plato’s and Socartes are all very similar. They all play a part of the economic structure and culture like laws and citizenship.

SAMPLE C

One of these famous philosophers name was Socretes. He was a stone mason and philosopher. All the things we know about him comes from Plato. Plato was Socrates’s famous student. Socretes was also known for asking questions around Athens. But, the people of Athens got fed up and put him on trial when he was 70 years old. 280 people voted Socrates guilty and sentenced him to death. Socrates thought they should be paying him. But, unfortunately he died by drinking poison.

PROMPT #3:

Write a historical narrative retelling the Suicide of Socrates from one character’s point of view (Socrates, Apollodorus, or Crito). Tell the story of why Socrates was put on trial, what happened at the trial, and what happened at the end of the trial.

SAMPLE A

When Socrates was 70 years old, he was put on trial. He was accused of corrupting the city’s youth and failing to respect the gods. In the jury there was 501 citizens. The jurors condemned him to death.

SAMPLE B

I am Socrates, I was an Athenian stonemason and philosopher. Most of what people know about me comes from my most famous student Plato. I didn’t write any books instead. I went to the marketplace and questioned citizens about their beliefs. I often ask the question “What is the greatest good?” To me this exam of questions was a way to help others seek truth and self knowledge, but to Athenians such questions threatened accepted traditions.

SAMPLE C

The year was 399, I had to stand in front of 500 of my fellow Athenians. I was trialed for supposedly “corrupting the youth.” How outrages! All I did was spread my thoughts and teachings! Anyways, I knew, if I were to be guilty, I might be given the death penalty. The trial took place in the heart of Athens. Many people knew who I was. I am 70 years old. I had many anti-democratic points of view, that might have brought me here.

As I conference with each student, I will employ rubrics from the Literacy Design Collaborative that evaluate argumentative, informative, and narrative writing. Students will assess themselves first, before I comment on their work. Adhering to Mike Schmoker’s advice from Write More, Grade Less – I will only provide feedback on improving introductory paragraphs and will ask them to revise and complete this assignment.

Evaluating Student Writing

Following up on my earlier post on Historical Writing Prompts, this article will describe the results of a formative assessment on the Ancient Greek Philosophers for a 9th/10th grade World History class. This population of students was able to choose which type of writing task they wanted to complete (argument, informative, or narrative). They wrote a total of 183 essays that ranged between 18 and 640 words, with an average of 255 words per essay. From the results, it is clear these students needed additional instruction on (1) titling their essays to indicate which prompt they had selected, (2) specific instruction on rephrasing the prompt in their first two sentences, and (3) assistance in writing an introductory paragraph that organizes their thoughts and contains a thesis statement.

In this post, I will provide three samples from the argumentative writing prompt and ask students to vote for the strongest piece of student writing. Student work is typed verbatim; typos, misspellings, grammatical errors, and factual mistakes are intentionally included.

PROMPT #1:

Argue that Plato and Aristotle held an essentially positive (or negative) view of human nature. In a well-reasoned essay, support your position using at least three of the quotes below as evidence to support your position.

SAMPLE A

Aristotle and Plato have made many quotes and many historians and people argue for the meaning of these quotes. In this paper I will discuss these quotes and put in my opinion. There will be showing if they are positive or negative.

SAMPLE B

The 3 quotes I will be talking about were from 2 famous philosophers, Aristotle and Plato. I will be showing you how powerful these quotes are and what they mean to me. I will be deciding if each quote represents a positive or negative view of human nature. These quotes would never mean the same thing to other people because of their opinions, and how they see on there own perspective. The first quote will be on Aristotle.

SAMPLE C

The meaning of “A good and wise life is the wealth that brings happiness” To me a good and wise life is having money and having your dream job. Also having a wonderful family. And having to see them everyday and having no worries. And no crime in the world.

Twittercide of Socrates

The Suicide of Socrates – a rhyming tweetathon was inspired by Dan Krutka & Michael Milton’s terrific work, which is paraphrased, or heavily borrowed from below. If you would like to steal their great ideas, follow them on Twitter @dankrutka & @42ThinkDeep, respectively.

Even though young people are increasingly using social media in their everyday lives, educators have been slow to explore how they can extend the classroom online. The National Council for the Social Studies (NCSS) reported that students face a “digital disconnect” as they walk into social studies classrooms and are forced to unplug from the online world where they spend most of their time and energy. Many schools and districts block popular social media sites and ask students to keep their cell phones turned off and put away while in class. These short-sighted policies most likely prevent contemporary educators from adding an essential ingredient crucial to student engagement – relevance.

Soc Tweets 3

Twitter is a microblogging service where users send “small bursts of information,” called “tweets,” to others. Using Twitter with students can provide an opportunity to model valuable skills and dispositions regarding digital citizenship and social media literacies. Informal online learning environments that many young people freely join may result in the creation of participatory cultures that represent ideal learning environments.

Soc Tweets 2

Krutka & Milton (2013) summarized an emerging body of research that has examined the use of Twitter in education. Most students voluntarily backchannel with Twitter and this increases the understanding of course concepts. Tweeting is useful for encouraging concise writing and has even be used with first and second grade students to scaffold writing for an authentic audience — their families. Other research suggests that tweeting encourages the informal learning, or background knowledge that helps students connect their schema to a course curriculum. Also, Twitter may increase metacognitive function by promoting succinct reflection.

With this foundation, I decided to try to make the suicide of Socrates more relevant to my 9th & 10th grade World History students by asking them to read a primary source, retell it in rhyme, and then we would vote on the best examples by retweeting and favoriting couplets of their work. I motivated students by showing a Dan Pink video – http://www.danpink.com/2013/06/how-to-pitch-better-the-rhyming-pitch. The primary source is located here: http://www.eyewitnesstohistory.com/socrates.htm and the rhyming dictionary is here: http://www.rhymezone.com/. Students submitted their version of the story in at least 10 rhyming couplets. There was considerable variation in quality in the final products. The end results were highly entertaining. You can see the best couplets on Twitter by searching under the hashtag #PetriWH. Students were given a master list of the 20 best rhymes and were directed to cut the list down to 10 and properly sequence them with a beginning, middle, and end. Student engagement was high during this narrative writing exercise. This post publishes some of the better examples. We will see if this scaffolding exercise makes their formal essays better next week. A game-based formative assessment tool measured their knowledge in a fun and engaging fashion https://play.kahoot.it/#/k/16093094-257a-47c5-a48c-13c2377d8171. The big takeaway for me was that asking students to use Twitter as an educational tool was something they responded to positively. Thus, educators may be well-served to incorporate Twitter and other social media, in order to meet students in their digital world and provide 21st Century relevance to an age-old lesson. If you are not in a 1:1 classroom, your students don’t have access to Twitter, or you suffer from tech-phobia, feel free to use this template.

Soc Tweets 1

References

Krutka, D., & Milton, M. (2013). The Enlightenment meets Twitter: Using social media in the social studies classroom. Ohio Social Studies Review. Volume 50, Issue 12. Fall 2013.