Tuesday, April 07, 2009


While searching for our next advisory project I came across the following article written by a student from another High School.


Most seniors remember the mixed grade advisories that were disbanded in September 2005. Upon our promotion to the upper school in 2004, we were put in advisories with upperclassmen, which, although daunting at first, was eventually an experience that many of us appreciated. Older students provided us with all sorts of advice for surviving high school, from choosing class to prioritizing our responsibilities. Mixed grade advisories gave us the chance to hear first-hand about the stress of junior year, the complicated college process that followed, and the ultimate decision of choosing which college to attend before we had to experience it ourselves. They weren’t trying to scare us, but, rather, to prepare us. When questioned about what it was like when multiple grades were represented in his advisory, Peter Gow, the Director of College Counseling, who has been working at Beaver for over twenty years, recalls, “I remember some great examples of good advice and important lore being passed down in those meetings from older students to younger ones.” He does believe, however, that “same-grade groups can be great ways for advisors to work together on issues related to grade-level concerns.”

A year later, however, few were happy to hear that new advisories were separated by grade. Toph Tucker, a senior who was in a mixed-grade advisory until last year, says, “I know that the administration worries that older students will intimidate freshmen or some such thing, but having some representation from higher grades was one of the best things about my advisory.” Toph and I, who were both in Mr. Whitten’s advisory for three years, had such an amazing time in our mixed-grade advisory that we were furious that the incoming freshman didn’t get this opportunity. Instead, they were essentially being cut off. We knew that keeping all of the freshmen apart from upperclassmen was a mistake. The freshmen, however, considered themselves lucky. The idea of having to spend half an hour with the “big kids” every week wasn’t appealing, so there were no objections from them. When asked his opinion on being in an all freshmen advisory, Willy Tucker, Toph’s younger brother, states that he was “pretty happy” about being separated from the older students. As a reply to this comment, Toph remarks, “He just doesn’t know what he’s missing.”


Friday, April 03, 2009



As a teacher who is attempting literature circles, I have many thoughts going through my mind. While the literature circles are reaching the lower level kids (sometimes!), my higher level kids are not getting a deeper analysis and understanding of the text (which is why I am compensating for that by torturing myself, by creating higher level thinking questions for EVERY GROUP. OY!) There is so much theory, and yet the practice is such a different story....it's exhausting. My lower level students are most often also the students who are the least motivated. Therefore, I spend so much time working with them, and yet many of them are still not even reading the text that is ON their level.

The higher level students are having ON TASK conversations, but are not pushing their thinking. While I do sit in groups and push their thinking, you can only really do this with one or two groups per class and the rest are just doing "plot summaries".

I'm beginning to think that we need to be really careful with which books we choose for literature circles. Books are not just about "plot" which is really all they have been looking for. While we've discussed themes, and characterization, the deeper analysis still always only comes from me. The books I chose are so deep, and need to be analyzed, therefore I feel frustrated with the lack of analysis my kids are missing without my guidance.

There is also so much being gained (self-directed learning, holding each other accountable...).There is so much to teach in a book that is also being lost in literature circles (analysis, the bigger picture, guidance, class conversation). I think literature circles are like anything else, too much of anything is not good either. Especially in an English class, where our job is entirely skills based, we need to offer students a variety of skills, projects, options, etc.

Everything we do is (unfortunately) aways geared towards one level or another. Literature circles (at least in my class) are better for the middle and lower level learners. Therefore, 1/3 of my class (the higher level) is still relatively bored, which was the same as before when I was teaching the whole class novel and the lower 1/3 was bored. They have on task conversations, and the literature is differentiated, but their brains are capable of so much more, and I don't know how to get them all there in every class. What to do?