by Harry and Rosemary
How to Write
teaches sophomore English in Fort Smith, Arkansas, and she is
proud to share that her students have achieved so much success
that they believe they can conquer any poem.
She had her students write sonnets and poems. Thirteen
of her students were interested in having their poetry published
and submitted their poems to a national poetry competition.
Eight of the thirteen entries were accepted for publication
and printed! Two students later wrote poems that
were submitted to a summer poetry competition, both of which were
accepted for publication.
She attributes her students’ success to the foundation
and interest created from her prose poetry unit.
The purpose of Oretha’s prose poetry unit is to transition
sophomore students from reading prose to reading poetry and to
help students gain an interest in and an appreciation for poetry.
To prepare her students for the unit on prose poetry, she uses
a PowerPoint presentation.
to see this prose poetry PowerPoint presentation in a separate
browser window. (Important Note: Use Internet
Explorer for best result. Click on Slide
Show button in the lower right corner to view
full screen with audio efffects. Use space bar
to advance slides.)
The first eight slides of the PowerPoint presentation introduce
students to a brief explanation of prose poetry and the use of
figurative language to create striking images.
After the eighth slide and a brief introduction of the author,
students follow along in their text books while listening to the
audio of “A Storm in the Mountains” by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn.
In response to the audio, students share their personal, unique
encounters with nature, such as if they have gone camping, fishing,
or hiking. For example, one student shared her experience
with an unexpected thunderstorm while camping in the woods.
Another student related his experience of hiking in the mountains
during an unexpected torrential downpour. Another student
talked about a raging fire she witnessed, while another told about
his close encounter with a tornado. In response to the audio,
students connected their “personal encounter with nature”
to the prose poem. This engages the students.
Before showing the PowerPoint slide “Compare and Contrast,”
students brainstorm ideas of how “A Storm in the Mountains”
compares and contrasts to short stories. The objective for
comparing prose poetry with short stories is to help students
discover the unique imagery found in prose poetry. A Venn
diagram is perfect for leading students to find this striking
After proceeding in the PowerPoint to the “Quickwrite”
slide, students are given the Quickwrite worksheet that serves
as a prewriting for their personal prose poem.
for a copy of the Quickwrite worksheet (Note:
Acrobat Reader is required for viewing the file).
Before leaving class, students have a strong foundation with
which to successfully write their own prose poem, and write they
do! Students are now ready to read poems by Baca, Cummings,
Dickinson, and Shakespeare.
Assessing Student Progress with a Rubric
The purpose of designing a lesson is not simply to ensure
that students are taught, but to ensure that they learn.
That is, it is one thing to teach a lesson, but it’s another
thing to ensure that the students learn the objectives of the
lesson. Teaching does not mean to lecture.
Teaching means to find the methods necessary to utilize
your genius and creativity to deliver a lesson so that the students
learn what you want them to learn. The opposite
of this would be a teacher who says,
“I covered it. If they don’t want to learn
it, it’s not my fault.”
Sorry, but if they do not learn it, you haven’t taught
it well enough.
To help students learn, begin every lesson with a set of objectives.
To review what this means, please read our April 2006 column,
“They're Eager to Do the Assignments.” (http://teachers.net/wong/APR06).
In this column, we shared how a teacher, Julie Johnson, structures
- She decides what her students are
to learn (objectives).
- She shows them what they are to learn
(demonstrates and teaches).
- They practice or do the assignment
on what they are to learn (guided and independent practice).
- They are tested on what they know
they are to learn (assessment).
Julie says, “There is no secret as to what is expected
of them. When I do this they all succeed.”
Also, please read Chapter 22 in The First Days of
School. This chapter talks about how to structure
an assignment for student understanding. We make
the statement that if the students know what they are to learn,
you increase the chances that they will learn (page 214).
|Likewise, in 1993, the National Association of Secondary
School Principals said that students will learn more if they
- what they are to learn,
- how they are to learn it,
- how they are to demonstrate what they have learned,
- how the quality of their learning will be evaluated
Prose Poetry Rubric
Andrew Erikson, who was a student in Oretha Ferguson’s
class last year, says,
“Having the rubric was like having the poem in front
of me. The rubric guided me through the process of writing
the poem, when otherwise I would have been clueless."
On page 209 in The First Days of School,
we say that
- The greater the structure of a lesson and the more precise
the directions on what is to be accomplished, the higher the
- Learning has nothing to do with what the teacher covers.
Learning has to do with what the student accomplishes.
To structure a lesson so that the students know beforehand
what they are to accomplish, give the students a scoring guide,
or rubric, before each writing assignment. To review
what a rubric is, please review our October 2006 column, “Assessing
Student Progress with a Rubric.” (http://teachers.net/wong/OCT06)
Rubrics give students a beginning focus point and a sense of
direction for their writing. Oretha not only uses the poetry
rubric to evaluate students for grading, but also to evaluate
students’ learning. It also evaluates how well she
created her lesson.
To write a rubric, you first decide what factors you
are looking for that will tell you if students have learned what
you want them to learn. For Oretha’s lesson,
she decided that five factors were important to measure student
ability. They are as follows:
- Ideas: How well can the student develop focus,
interest, and involvement?
- Organization: How logical and organized are
- Sensory Images: How vivid, detailed, and
intense are the images?
- Use of Language: Are the choice of words
rich and imaginative?
- Presentation: Does the presentation enhance
and go beyond the assignment?
She then took each factor and divided it into four levels
of competency, giving each a point value.
Students are graded and student learning is assessed on the following
domains on a scale of one to four, with four being the highest
level of achievement.
Prose Poetry Rubric
Advanced ideas that captivate and involve the reader deeply (4)
Proficient ideas that are well focused and interest reader throughout
Basic ideas that have some focus but lack continuity (2)
Basic ideas that are unfocused and author seems unsure of direction
Advanced ideas that use a logical, effective organizational strategy
Proficient organization where sequencing is logical and the poetry
form has been followed with few errors (3)
Basic organization that shows some sequencing but is not evident
throughout the poem (2)
Below basic organization where sequencing is illogical or not
Advanced sensory images that are vivid, detailed, and intensely
Proficient sensory images that are clear and portray ideas or
Basic sensory images that express thoughts marginally (2)
Below basic sensory images that are difficult to visualize and
do not express emotion (1)
USE OF LANGUAGE
Advanced use of language that expresses rich and imaginative language
Proficient use of language that states appropriate choice of language
Basic language that only uses thoughts marginally (2)
Below basic use of language that is imprecise or shows an inappropriate
choice of words (1)
Advanced use of presentation that exhibits features beyond the
assigned requirements which enhance meaning. Presentation is neat
and legible (4)
Proficient presentation that demonstrates assigned format is followed
and presentation is neat and legible. (3)
Basic presentation that shows a limited quality of appearance.
The assigned format is not followed throughout. (2)
Below basic presentation where no quality of appearance is visible.
The format is not followed. (1)
Rubrics or scoring guides come in many forms. They can be presented
in a list as shared above. The same information can easily be
turned into a chart or spreadsheet. Ease of understanding should
drive your format choice.
To see such a rubric, click here.
Remember, as we explained in last month’s column,
the purpose of a rubric is to provide meaningful feedback that
will help teachers modify their instruction and will help students
to improve their learning.
To help a teacher modify instruction, we say on page 238 of The
First Days of School:
- If the student MASTERS an objective, give the student enrichment
(not more) work or ask the student to help other students in
a supportive mode.
- If the student DOES NOT MASTER an objective, give the student
remediation or corrective help.
Effective Teachers Have Structured Classrooms
Oretha Ferguson’s success goes way beyond just
a single lesson. Her classroom is structured and
organized from Day 1.
- There is structure at Oretha’s school. The staff has
agreed on five school wide rules. These are part of a PowerPoint
presentation and you can see it by clicking here.
(Note: Images can take a while to load.)
- She distributes a tri-fold that lists her classroom procedures
and rules. The students are required to keep the brochure in
their English notebook for reference throughout the year. The
parents also get this tri-fold. To see this tri-fold, click
- She also has a Welcome Back Newsletter. Click here
to see this.
Her class runs so smoothly that if a student forgets what to
do, such as throwing away trash properly or sharpening a pencil,
all she has to say is,
"What is the procedure, please?"
Oretha explains that the reason there is so much familiar material
in her tri-fold is because her procedures are based on The
First Days of School that the district gave to all
new teacher inductees during New Teacher Induction.
Students Learn What Gets Taught
The most effective schools and teachers are organized
and structured for learning. If you would like
to learn how to organize a well-managed classroom, please go to
The ineffective teacher stumbles from day-to-day, wondering what
to do next and has no structure to the classroom. This is
why students ask, “Why are we doing this?” or “I’m
bored.” When this happens, no learning takes place and behavior
problems start to escalate.
The effective teacher has a well-managed classroom where
more teaching and more learning takes place.
In a study it was discovered why one teacher was so much more
successful with his students. He taught 28 times as much
science as the teacher down the hall, but no one knew this until
the researchers came and observed a set of teachers, because in
most schools teachers teach in isolation.
It should be common sense that if you do not teach it, they won’t
learn it. Just as, if a sales person does not sell the product,
the customers are not going to buy it. If the quarterback
does not throw the ball, the end will have nothing to catch.
And, if you don’t throw a party, the guests are not going
The research is very specific about student achievement.
- Mike Schmoker says, “Lay out a sound set of standards
and then actually teach these standards and we will get a rise
in levels of achievement immensely.”
- Robert Marzano did a study of what affects student achievement
and says, “It is what gets taught!”
- Andrew Porter of Vanderbilt University says, “What gets
taught is the strongest possible predictor of gains in achievement.”
In Oretha Ferguson’s classroom, the students know
what they are to learn and Oretha knows what she is to teach.
Rubric for How to Write a Rubric
If you use rubrics in your teaching, take the test below to check
for your understanding. Give yourself the points shown in
Advanced ideas on how to incorporate rubrics in your lesson (3)
Proficient ideas that are well focused and guide the students
throughout the assignment (2)
Simple ideas that have some focus but lack depth and direction
Advanced ideas that provide a clear path for student success (3)
Proficient sequencing of criteria for evaluating the lesson (2)
Basic organization that shows some sequencing but is not evident
throughout the lesson (1)
USE OF OBJECTIVES
Clear alignment of tasks and scoring to objectives of the lesson
Acceptable use of most of the lesson objectives in evaluating
student performance (2)
Marginal use of the lesson objectives in evaluating student performance
Expectations and scoring criteria are written in simple language
and presented for maximum understanding (3)
Expectations and scoring criteria are confusing and not presented
in an organized fashion (2)
Expectations and scoring criteria are written but never shared
with the students (1)
If you scored a 12, you are on target for student success.
Congratulations, for we know you and your students are working
hard and accomplishing much in the classroom.
If you scored fewer than 12 points, watch for our December/January
column where we will “reteach” rubrics and give you
more concrete examples of how they are written. Then try
your hand at using a rubric and come back to this column and evaluate
yourself once more.
Best wishes as you work to achieve maximum student success in
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