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Hello English teachers! March 28, 2011

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bookcover

Welcome to the Building the English Classroom blog, a supplement to my book of the same title, published by NCTE.  The site is a place for reflections, discussions, and resources on topics related to all aspects of English teaching.  Please scroll down to read my posts, add a comment,  and contact me with suggestions.  I look forward to exchanging ideas.  To see a description of the book, read a sample chapter, or order a copy, click here. To read a review on the National Writing Project website, click here.

Bruce Penniman

African Studies April 11, 2011

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Including international literature in the English curriculum has been a passion of mine for many years, and I’ve been particularly interested in African studies, perhaps because Africa is the most underrepresented part of the world in the curriculum, in my opinion.

For the past five years I’ve been working with several colleagues (including one from Senegal and one from The Gambia) to establish an African Studies program at Amherst Regional High School. We’ve co-taught a pilot course a couple of times, and we have some additions to the curriculum in the works. Another goal is to establish a student exchange program with Senegal and The Gambia, and we’re about to take a step toward that goal.

Several of us are embarking on a trip to those countries to visit cultural sites and schools ans to meet families. We’ll be blogging the trip at http://blogs.arps.org/africanscholars/. Come along for the journey!

A Letter to President Obama March 28, 2011

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Mr. President, I don’t understand.

On March 2, you signed an extension of the Continuing Resolution to keep the government running for the next two weeks.  The bill included $4 billion in cuts of discretionary spending.  Among the “wasteful” programs eliminated by this bill were Reading is Fundamental, the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards, Teach for America, and the National Writing Project.  The funding for these programs was not reduced; it was zeroed out. (more…)

Collective Bargaining and Education February 27, 2011

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It’s more than a little ironic that at the same moment in history that people in a dozen Middle East countries are speaking out against repression and toppling autocratic leaders, conservative lawmakers in a dozen U.S. states are seeking to enact repressive measures against teachers and other public employees under the guise of balancing budgets.  The nation’s attention has been focused in particular on Wisconsin, where Governor Scott Walker can’t take yes for an answer.  (more…)

Teacher Evaluation February 4, 2011

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Calls for new approaches to teacher evaluation have become a steady drumbeat lately, especially with the requirement in the Obama administration’s Race to the Top program that evaluations be linked to student performance.  The worst-case scenario, of course, is that “student performance” will be defined as “high-stakes test scores,” creating even more pressure than already exists to focus on test preparation activities instead of rich learning opportunities.  (more…)

Digging Deep in the Common Core January 14, 2011

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As a teacher-consultant in the National Writing Project, I’ve been involved over the past several months in a number of initiatives at the national and state levels related to implementation of the Common Core Standards, which have been adopted by 40 states.

The national initiative involves a partnership between NWP and the Gates Foundation, which has developed a coalition of partners to create rich curriculum related to the Common Core based on target tasks and backwards-designed instruction.  The Massachusetts Writing Project team, with representatives from all three sites in the state, is one of five teams from around the country.  The others are from California, Idaho, Kentucky, and Michigan.  (more…)

Bowdlerizing Twain January 7, 2011

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I received a call from Millie Davis at NCTE this week asking me if I wanted to be interviewed about the new edition of The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn in which editor Alan  Gribben, a Twain scholar at Auburn University, has replaced the word “nigger” with slave.  I couldn’t make the interview, but I would like to comment.  (more…)

Common Core Standards May 23, 2010

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In case you haven’t yet heard, the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO) and the National Governors Association (NGA) released in March a draft of Common Core K-12 State Standards in Language Arts and Math on behalf of 48 states, two territories, and the District of Columbia.  If/when these standards are adopted by the states, they will replace existing standards, though each state has the option of adding to them.  (more…)

Sneak Teaching January 18, 2010

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Last summer and fall, I was co-facilitator of a Western Massachusetts Writing Project institute sponsored by the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education.  The institute, entitled Reading and Teaching American Literary Nonfiction, drew talented teachers from several high-needs districts in Massachusetts and generated many thoughtful discussions of the challenges of teaching reading and writing.

One of the challenges faced by several teachers in the group is their districts’ requirement that they follow scripted daily lesson plans.  Not curriculum maps or course objectives, but down-to-the-minute sequences of class activities, leaving little room for teacher creativity or student interests. These teachers were frustrated by these requirements, and some admitted to engaing in “sneak teaching,” including unsanctioned content when no one was looking.  (more…)