Response to the NYT Article “Americans Think We Have the World’s Best Colleges. We Don’t.”

I read an article in the New York Times today that annoyed me. It’s another one of those articles along the lines of how bad American students are compared to the rest of the world. But this one was focused on how bad American universities are.

Basically the author claims that Americans believe their universities are the best, but that recent studies/statistics/international tests (PISA and Piaac in particular) show that American college students are way below their international counterparts, particularly in regards to their ability to do math as compared to students in other countries.

These articles pop up all the time, and they often bring up the fact that American students are bad at math. And it can’t be denied, when you compare American students to their counterparts in Japan and China, American students ARE worse at math. But does that mean the whole system is worse?

I taught in China for three years and I am currently teaching in Japan. I have mainly taught students in the upper echelon, the students who are college bound, many of them hoping to go to college abroad. They are the cream of the crop, really. And some less creamy ones mixed in. I feel like I have some awareness of the caliber of student here in Japan and also in China, especially the elite students.

They are amazing at math, but that is because they are expected to be working at a much higher level of math at a younger age. Math is a priority. Students who struggle in math face extreme pressure to improve their performance in math. Even the ones who struggle and must take the lower math are still performing at a higher level than most American students.

This long-term, hardcore, intense study of math from a young age is why they are better at math! But I don’t think it means that American colleges are not as great as many colleges in other countries.

The fact is, American colleges ARE rigorous. I attended University of Massachusetts, Amherst for my general ed classes – my first two years. I found the professors to be challenging, inspiring, and critical (in the best way possible). I learned so much. In addition to that, I had the opportunity to work for a cooperative business on-campus, which was basically a student-run business that was overseen in the same way that an on-campus club or organization would be. We were overseen by the UMASS organization of cooperative businesses, along with about six or seven other co-op businesses. It was such an invaluable experience – I worked with about 10 other students to organize from top to bottom the running of a small sub-sandwich shop in one of the dorms. I learned how to run a small business, do inventory, purchasing, planning, publicity. And I made friendships that were so meaningful because we were participating in this challenging venture together, and we had to figure out how to run it AND agree about how we would run it. It was exhausting and fun and one of the best learning experiences of my life.

American universities offer these types of extra curricular activities to students; I believe that these types of activities beyond the classroom are so important, so stimulating, and so valuable! Not just to student learning, but also to their social development. The array of activities and opportunities on campus make the experience of attending an American university really unique.

I ended up transferring (a long story for another day) to UC Berkeley and finishing my undergraduate degree in linguistics at that top university. I won’t try to convince you that UC Berkeley is one of the best schools in the world – it is, and everyone knows it. But I do feel like I have some perspective because I went to a lower-tier public university (not lower-tier, really, just lower-tier when compared with Berkeley) for my first two years, and I was challenged and enthralled by my academic experiences in both places.

However, I think what really sets the American universities apart is the access to resources. To go to school at a large public university and have access to an incredible library, like the one at UMass Amherst or at UC Berkeley. That in itself is a gift to any learner. If you go to libraries at Japanese universities or Chinese universities, I guarantee you that they just don’t compare.

And being in proximity to great minds who are at the center of groundbreaking research studies….. my professors at both schools discussed their research on a regular basis in lectures. Some of that spirit for inquiry just rubs off on you when you are surrounded by it. You can’t help but be inspired to think, to ask questions, to debate with your peers, to practice being a thinker like those professors in front of you.

I loved my college experience in America. I believe that having the opportunity to take two years of general education courses allows students to become more well-rounded and more sure of what it is they want to focus on. Being a specialist is important, but that’s what grad school is for. American universities at the undergraduate level produce well-rounded thinkers…. at least, that’s what they try to do. Some responsibility also falls to the student to take advantage of the opportunities they have before them.

Everyone knows these studies which compare different countries and try to figure out which students are the best are just bunk. It’s impossible to get a fair measurement because so many aspects come into play. But just based on my own experience living and working abroad for many years, having the experience of working closely with many Asian students, seeing the style of Japanese and Chinese education in action…. I have to say that there are talented students everywhere. But if I were to choose where to go to college, if choosing between Asia and the US… I would choose to return to university in America in a heartbeat. American education is expensive, but the learning opportunities are incredible.

 

Why I hate grading papers.

On days like today, when I have a stack of papers to grade at the end of the term, I feel myself constantly questioning why I chose teaching as my career.

I’ll be honest. Grading papers sucks. It is exhausting. Especially when you are an English teacher and you have to grade papers written by students whose first language is NOT English. It adds a whole other dimension to the challenge of making yourself sit with a stack of 100 papers in front of you and push yourself to just do it.

I have a few rules that I have developed over the last few years. I try to keep to these rules, and then it usually works out better in the end. The first and most important rule is that as soon as I feel myself getting angry, I stop grading papers. It happens a lot, actually. I’ll be reading an essay and the little mistakes that students make that I’ve harped on about, but that they never seem to attempt to correct, just start to piss me off. Like when they write the title of a novel but they don’t capitalize it OR underline/italicize it. It’s such a basic rule. Or when they refuse to double space even though I’ve shown them exactly how to do it. Or when they write “There are 2 reasons why…” instead of “There are two reasons why…” Or when they spell “dangerous” as “deinjures” (that’s one from today, actually – a seventh grader). When the little things start to drive me crazy, then I have no choice but to take a break. Otherwise, my comments will get nasty and the anger will come through in red pen – and it will be there forever. (Until I pull out the white-out – I have had to do that before when I wrote something really mean, but white-out by the teacher on an exam does NOT look good).

Another rule I have is that if it is a midterm or a final exam and I sit down to grade it, I have to push myself to get through ALL of them that day. It really sucks when you have exams that you are slogging through. With essays and research assignments, I have to break those up and grade them over a few days. But with exams, if I just let them sit, then my students are constantly bugging me about them. And I feel them weighing on me. And if they are end-of-term exams, then I really have just a limited amount of time before I need to start dealing with figuring out grades, so it’s better just to suck it up and push through it. Plus, it’s really important for the students to receive feedback in a timely manner and all that jazz….. so I try to push through the exams as soon as possible.

Of course, I broke that rule today. I graded 25 out of 32 end-of-term exams that my seventh graders took today. It’s just such a big class. And 6PM came around and I was hungry and so my husband I went out for dinner. And now I am here and it’s 9PM and I just can’t bring myself to finish grading them tonight. Momentum is really important when you have determined to finish a class set in one day. You just have to push through it, and if you stop, then it’s very likely that you won’t sit back down and finish them.

I guess my last rule is that I take the grading seriously. I tell myself that many of my students have put in the time and the effort, at least in their own way. They deserve my undivided attention and my serious assessment of their performance. Sometimes it is obvious that a student just hasn’t put in the time, that they just sped through it without really trying. For those students, I allow myself to go faster through it. They make it easy, actually, since there is less to grade. But for the students who have obviously put some effort in (and a lot of them do, in fact, TRY even if it doesn’t seem like it) I do my best to focus in and give them the best feedback I can.

It’s funny… the title of this post started off as “Why I like teaching and why I hate grading.” But I think I’ll save the “Why I like teaching” for another day. The fact is, even though I hate grading (I HATE it!) I absolutely do like teaching, and there are so many reasons why. So at the end of the day, when I still have 50 exams and another 40 essays waiting for me to grade because it’s the end of the term, I just have to remind myself that in two weeks, it WILL BE DONE – report cards and all of it. And at the end of the day, I love teaching. Soon enough I can focus on the part of my job that I love, and this hellish part will be over…… soon enough….

My Blog

I haven’t been writing on this blog. I had all these grand ideas that I would write a blog about education, and it would help me to be a more motivated educator while also helping me professionally. But then I got busy with work, and I was overwhelmed by the courses I was taking to clear my credential, and I never felt the motivation. And so this blog has sat here, a relic of an aspiration.

Finally, this morning, I woke up with inspiration. I sat down at my computer and started typing. The words were flowing. I had to take a short break to go to work (I had to work a half day because it’s a Saturday workday). Then I came home and continued where I left off. 

I finished the blog post. But then I did something stupid. 

I left the webpage I had been writing it on. (I had been writing it on WordPress directly, where it says “New Post” and encourages you to just start writing). Obviously, this was a ridiculous thing to do. But I thought it had been saved as a draft, or I thought WordPress would save it automatically, or I thought…. well, you know how it goes. The post is gone.

So the post I was just about to post is gone. Should I give up blogging? Just when I was ready to get started again?

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I am writing this now as a way to keep the momentum going. I really don’t feel like writing it all over again. But at least with this sad little post, I have something to keep me going.

Writing all about education isn’t working for me. Even though this blog was born as a blog about education, I am going to ret-con that idea and just write about whatever I feel like writing about. Since I am a teacher, it is likely that many of those posts are going to be about education. But this is me desperately trying to keep the patient alive. This blog might die. (Not that it had much of a life to begin with.)

So today I am going post this with the intention that I will start this blog again. Who knows what it will be about. Hopefully it will be interesting. At this point, no one is reading it except me so it doesn’t matter anyway. But I am going to try to make it happen.

Student Behavior in My Classroom – A Classroom with all Japanese Students (Part 1)

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I teach in an IB (International Baccalaureate) school in Japan. It isn’t an international school – it’s a Japanese secondary school with an IB program. All my students are Japanese, but many of them have lived in foreign countries for a year or two. While many of them have experience living abroad, their culture is definitely Japanese. One or two who lived in the US or the UK for a long time could be considered “third-culture kids,” but they are a rarity. Most of the kids are 100% Japanese, culture and nationality.

So what this means is I am an American woman teaching a classroom full of students from a culture that is different from mine. And I am immersed in their culture.

By the way, I am not an ALT (an ALT is an assistant language teacher – most foreigners who teach in Japan are ALTs, including my husband). I am completely in charge of my class. Being a foreign teacher in a Japanese school has its challenges, as you can imagine. One of them is discipline.

Don’t get me wrong. Discipline is not nearly as challenging here as it is in the states. 90% of my students are well-behaved, polite, and no problem whatsoever. But contrary to popular belief, Japanese teenagers are not that different from American students. They have the same bad habits. They do their homework at the last minute. They are sleepy in class. They love their phones, PCs, and video games. They daydream in class. Some of them are even bullies.

There are major differences too, but I don’t want to discuss those at the moment. What I want to discuss is the 10% of students I have that do require some discipline. I have had a variety of students who have done things in class that most American teachers would reprimand. When they do these things, it is my first instinct to discipline them in the same way I would back home. In fact, that’s what I did my first year. But now I have been here for two years (almost) and I am starting to realize that the Japanese teachers don’t discipline in the same way. And I don’t really feel comfortable coming in and just doing things the way I would back home.  It probably wouldn’t be very effective, anyway. I would just seem even more foreign to them.

Here are some of the discipline-worthy behaviors my students have exhibited in class:

  • Sleeping in class (this is very common in Japan and it seems to be more accepted here, although the administration adamantly says it is not to be accepted)
  • Chatting while I am teaching (I know this is normal student behavior, but it isn’t something I usually tolerate for very long.)
  • Speaking in Japanese about me because they know I can’t understand them
  • Bullying classmates in Japanese because they think they can get away with it
  • Making faces when I turn my back to the class (I have an infamous class of seventh graders at the moment – they do all sorts of things when the teachers turn to write on the board)

All of the above behaviors are pretty tame. I haven’t ever had to deal with real defiance at this school. Most of the students at my school come from stable, supportive households, so their parents would be very responsive if they found out their child had behavior problems. Plus, it’s a private school so the expectations are pretty high for behavior.

Expectations. That is one of the main differences I wanted to point out. In American schools, it is commonly accepted that the best way to start the school year is to introduce your rules and expectations.  The teacher states these very clearly and starts off the year with strict rules, at least until the class routine is clearly in place and all the students know what the teacher expects from them.

In Japan, or at least in my school in Japan, rules are not stated explicitly by the subject teacher at the beginning of the school year. The teacher does not walk in on his or her first day of math or English class and outline a list of rules. Moreover, rules are not posted in the classroom for the students to see. In fact, when one of my colleagues (another foreign teacher, from the UK) suggested that we post rules in the seventh grade classroom, the Japanese teachers had a hard time understanding why we would do that.

But even though the subject teachers don’t state the rules, somehow the students do know they are expected to behave in a certain way. Unfortunately, my inability to speak Japanese limits how much I can understand about how the school communicates expectations to the students.  But from what I can gather, and from what I have read about discipline in Japan, and of course from what my colleagues tell me, it seems that students figure out how they should behave based on these things:

  • influence from the group they are in
  • their homeroom teacher
  • their soccer coach (students on the soccer team are expected to adhere to a strict code of behavior)
  • the soccer coach (at our school, he seems to be in charge of speaking at the school assemblies about working hard, wearing the school uniform correctly, and not getting into trouble)

In this post, I will discuss the first point. I will get to the three following points in my next post.

How “discipline” comes in the form of influence from the group

The first point is the most important one. Everyone probably knows that Japanese society is a collectivist society. It is the stereotypical collectivist society. Social cohesion is the priority, and when an individual is treated unfairly, it isn’t usually their first instinct to stand up for themselves. Their first instinct is to fit into the group.

(Of course, I probably don’t know what I’m talking about. I have to add a disclaimer right now. I am an outsider looking in, and I don’t even speak the language. Please just take my words as my own perception of things and assume that they are probably all wrong.)

But it seems to me that it is really true – the group rules here. The reason I think this is because I have seen this with my own eyes. In the program I teach, the students are assigned to one class, and they stay with that class from seventh until twelfth grade. They do not mingle with other students, not really. They spend all of their school days with a group of about 20-30 other students. And when you teach one of those groups, you really see that as individuals, it can be really hard to get to know the students. They aren’t willing to reveal their distinct identity immediately. They don’t want to be seen as an individual. They want to hide within the class. But the class as a single entity has a very distinct personality.

Each of my classes is very different. But the weird thing is, the students within a class are very similar. They behave in similar ways. My twelfth graders are all laid-back, friendly, and really happy to spend classes discussing and debating big ideas. My eleventh graders are very introspective, and very intelligent. They are deep thinkers who (to my utter frustration) are less willing to share their ideas out-loud (although they are happy to share them with each other in small groups). My tenth graders are also extremely quiet and they are all a little nerdy. They are probably the most “Japanese” of the classes in that they are unwilling to do any activity until they see that others in the class are willing to do it. (There are a lot of awkward silences in that class). And my seventh graders – they are all insane. They are hyper, playful, and naughty. They are a class of 27 little monsters.

Ok, I am exaggerating of course. There are individual personalities in these classes. But it is amazing how much influence the group has on the individuals.  Much more than in America.

So, what this all means is that much of their behavior is based on the expectations of the group. The Japanese way is to let the group influence the individual rather than one individual standing at the front of the room and exerting power over the entire group (although this definitely does happen – I’ll get to this when I discuss the soccer coach I mentioned earlier). This is especially seen with small children. Parents do not reprimand or punish their children for “misbehaving”. They let them be wild and out of control, knowing that in a couple of years their kids will enter kindergarten and be intensely socialized into behaving appropriately. It is almost as if that “childhood,” before they enter the system, is sacred and they must be left to be free, because that freedom is very temporary. Then the child enters school and feels the intense pressure to conform to the group.

Mostly this works, but there are those few students who act out or misbehave. In my seventh grade class, this misbehavior is socially acceptable because that’s how the whole group wants to behave. In my twelfth grade class, it is less acceptable, but the students would not directly speak out and tell a classmate who is being too chatty to pipe down. They just ignore the student or wait for the student to figure out the group wants him/her to change his/her behavior. Sometimes this works and sometimes it doesn’t. It seems that about 90% of the students have it figured out and they fall into line. And the ones who don’t fall into line exactly aren’t really that far off. If there is anyone who really doesn’t fit in, then the eventual consequences can be pretty extreme. In fact, bullying is a serious problem here, and it’s no wonder why, with the priority being to fit into the group.

I will continue writing about this topic of discipline in my next post. There really is so much to say.

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photo credits: specialoperations via photopinBeckywithasmile via photopin  cc

A Day In The Life…

I’ve heard that a blog can be kind of like a diary. Here is my first “diary” entry. A day in the life…of me.

I woke up today at 6:15, the same time I always wake up on a work day. My alarm always wakes me up. This morning I was in a deep sleep and I think I was having a nightmare, so it wasn’t a bad thing that the alarm went off.

My workday morning routine (notice I don’t say “weekday” since here in Japan my workweek often includes Saturday) is always the same:  shower, iron my clothes, dress, blow-dry, make lunch for later, take vitamins, eat cereal and drink coffee, check Gmail/ CNN/ Facebook/ Twitter/ bank account, put on a touch of makeup, head out the door at 8:00 AM. Walk across the street. (My school is across the street from my apartment complex.)

I work at a private Japanese secondary school. It includes both a junior high and high school. We are required to be there at 8:20 for the morning meeting. The morning meeting is when all the teachers meet in the main teachers’ office on the ground floor and the principal or vice-principals take us through any announcements for the day. Since I work in a smaller international program within this school, I don’t actually have a desk in the main teachers’ office. During the morning meeting, all of us from the international program jam ourselves into a corner in the back, sitting uncomfortably on folding chairs as the announcements are given in Japanese. I don’t understand a word of it (OK, I admit, I might understand a word hear or there). But we have a translator (the head of our program, actually…she wears many hats). She makes sure we get all the information, down to the smallest detail…. We do this every morning. Morning after morning. It’s really weird when I am sitting there and then I blink and I am sitting there again but it is the next morning. This is the routine, Monday through Friday, and two Saturdays per month.

This morning, the morning meeting was short. There are various school trips going on at the moment, with some of our students in the international program away in Iowa for a homestay program, and some of the other students in Utah for a different homestay program. Teachers are with them, and some other teachers are away on business trips, so less teachers and less students meant less announcements, thus, a short morning meeting.

The students have homeroom at 8:40 for about 5 minutes. I’m not a homeroom teacher (I have the heaviest class load so I got out of having that duty). Then we start lessons at 8:50. But I didn’t have class this morning during first period. Actually, today I had much of my morning free to prep. We are in the last couple weeks of the last term of the year (the third term), and I have a little bit of a lighter schedule since my twelfth graders have finished all their classes. (In Japan, the twelfth graders finish at the end of term two and they spend much of term three taking university entrance exams.) So today I spent my morning grading exams, making photocopies, and preparing lessons.

 

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Lunchtime is usually at 12:40. It was a bit earlier today because the students have shortened lessons due to this being the end of the school year. The students eat lunch in their classrooms. Their mothers pack them bento lunches, which are a balanced smorgasbord of vegetables, a small portion of meat (often fish) and a big serving of rice. Sometimes I like to take a peek to see the nicely organized compartments in their bento boxes. I wish I had time to make such a healthy meal, but for me it’s usually a sandwich or leftovers from dinner the night before. Today it was leftovers.

I taught three periods of classes in the afternoon. My seventh graders are adorable little demons who find any opportunity they can to make trouble, but who are very good at doing so without me knowing. I’m fine with that. They follow the Japanese custom of standing and bowing to the teacher at the beginning and end of class. At first I thought it was strange and I was a little uncomfortable with it. I don’t expect my other students to do it (my 10th, 11th, and 12th graders), and they know it is not expected by the foreign teachers like me, so they don’t bow to us. But the seventh graders need structure and they have such a hard time not acting like maniacs half the time, so all of the teachers, including the foreign teachers, encourage them to maintain the custom. I am sure it will fall by the wayside when they enter 8th grade, but it has helped create some sense of structure in the class.

(One of the reasons there has been such difficulty with this particular seventh grade class is because the Japanese style of discipline does not include stating explicit rules of behavior. This particular group of kids really needs explicit rules and expectations. But the discipline philosophy is completely different in Japan, so there are no rules. But that is a post for another day.)

I also taught my eleventh graders in the afternoon. That was an uneventful class. I just gave them back their year-end exams, passed out some homework I wanted them to work on over the next week, and let them work on the reading assignments.

My tenth grade class was more eventful. I taught the lesson I wrote about in my previous post, the lesson called “Football in American High Schools.” This was an important lesson because I was recording it to show to my induction supervisor in the program I’m doing through CGU to clear my credential. I set up the digital recorder and explained to my students that it was there to record me, not to record them. I asked them to try to be actively engaged in the lesson because this would make me look good (I did this before I pressed the record button, of course!). They were happy to help. I found out that this is actually a great strategy for getting them to be more engaged – tell them it will help to make me look good. (They are really sweet kids – usually very quiet but since they knew they were helping me out, they tried their hardest to seem like they were totally comfortable discussing ideas in front of a camera.) Of course, there were some technical difficulties. The camera was on for a while but then it stopped because the SD card was full. I had to spend about 10 minutes just trying to figure out how to delete stuff off the SD card. It was a school camera, and I hadn’t realized that people had filled it up and hadn’t deleted their old files. So that wasted some time. But my students were totally cool about it. To be honest, I didn’t really care if they learned a thing during this lesson. It’s the end of the school year, I’ve made them work their butts off for the last three terms, and I just wanted to get this lesson on video so I could check off another box on my way to clearing my credential. My students played along, and we eventually got the lesson back on track. They put on a good show of discussing their definition of “culture” and then we came up with a definition that I wrote on the board and then the bell rang and class was over. I think I’ll show them the second episode of “Friday Night Lights” tomorrow as a reward for being so helpful today. I showed them the pilot last week and they seemed to really like it. Today some of them were asking me what happened to Jason Street. I feel bad giving them the bad news. I’ll let them find out in the show tomorrow.

After that, I went back to the office and watched the video of my lesson. I realize that I definitely have a “teacher voice” and that I kind of look drunk when I am in front of the class.  I’ll have to work on that.

At 5:20 I came home, worked out, ate dinner, and started blogging. And here I am.

 

photo credit: gamene via photopin cc 

 

Inside My Classroom: Lesson Plan – Football in American High Schools

This is a post on a lesson I am currently working on for one of my classes.

I teach in an International Baccalaureate school in Japan. I teach both MYP and DP English. The Japanese school year ends in March, so right now we are nearing the end. But we have a few strange weeks which fall in between the year-end exams and our spring break. Last year, I used this time to teach lessons on grammar and sentence structure topics that we hadn’t had a chance to get to during the year. But as most English teachers know, it doesn’t really work to teach a lot of grammar out of context. So this year, I have decided to use the time in one of my classes to get them started on the first unit of the new school year. I am not really diving right into the unit, but instead I am using this time to set the scene and to build some background knowledge.

This lesson will be for the IB course DP English B. In this course, students develop their oral and written English skills through the study of topics such as communication and media, social relationships, global issues, health, science and technology, leisure, and a few others. The teacher is also expected to bring in topics related to English-speaking cultures, since this is an English as a second language course. The lesson I am going to be doing with my students is related to the topics of health, leisure, and culture and traditions.

This is just the first lesson. This is meant to start as an intro to a bigger unit, titled Sports Traditions in English-Speaking Cultures.

In this lesson, I have decided to introduce students to traditions in American football, specifically football in in American high schools. While Japanese students are very familiar with America’s favorite pastime (baseball) since they themselves love the sport, they are not as familiar with American football. I think many people would agree that football in America has actually taken over and become the more popular spectator sport. The topic of football also seems like a great way to introduce my students to some aspects of American high school culture.

I am looking forward to doing this lesson with my students because I really love the show “Friday Night Lights,” and I think it will be fun for them to see a television depiction of American high school culture. This particular class tends to be extremely quiet, so I am having them do a lot of group work to help motivate them to discuss more. I don’t have much success when I try to get them to discuss as a whole-class, but in small groups they seem to enjoy discussions.

I will write a post later this week about how it goes. Here is the lesson plan:

Lesson: Football in American High Schools

Objectives

Students will:Ÿ

  • define culture
  • identify cultural traditions in American high school and American sports culture (based on their viewing of the pilot episode of the television drama “Friday Night Lights”)
  • discuss how the cultural tradition of football is important to American culture and why it might face opposition by some people
  • use vocabulary related to American culture to discuss football and the television drama “Friday Night Lights”

Essential Questions

  • Why do people play football?
  • How can football promote a sense of community?
  • What are the benefits and drawbacks of playing football?
  • How does football contribute to creating cultural identity in America?

Procedures

Day  1

  1. Give students a handout to introduce vocabulary related to American high school (freshman, sophomore, pep rally, etc.) and American football (quarterback, tackle, touchdown, etc.). Go over words and explain cultural terms.
  2. Give students a list of character names from the pilot episode of “Friday Night Lights.” Briefly go over characters so that students have some idea of who they are before watching the program.
  3. Show the pilot episode of “Friday Night Lights” to students. This program will serve as a point of reference throughout the unit when discussing how sports promote community pride and contribute to cultural identity.

 Day 2

  1. Tell students that in this unit, we are going to be thinking about the role sports play in culture, with the goal of learning more about sports played in English-speaking countries. We will begin by looking at the role football plays in American culture.
  2. Write the word “culture” on the board. Write two questions: What is culture? What are examples of culture? Tell students to write ideas in their notebooks for five minutes.
  3. Put students into pairs. Pairs should discuss their ideas with each other. Together, they must write a basic definition of culture. Walk around the room and check their understanding. This activity should help students gain confidence before they share their ideas with the whole group.
  4. Go over students ideas about culture. Call on pairs of students to explain what “culture” means. Using their ideas, write a definition of culture on the board. Students copy this definition into their notebooks. The definition should be something like:

Culture is a shared set of practices and traditions that characterize a society or group of people. Culture can include clothing, food, traditions, ceremonies, spiritual practices and beliefs, language, family structure, and communication styles.

Model to students how to write a clear definition and how to identify examples of culture by identifying specific examples of Japanese culture. (Make a list of specific examples on the board.)

  1. Put students into groups of four. In their groups, they will discuss these questions:
  • What is your reaction to the show “Friday Night Lights”? What did you find interesting? What did you find difficult to understand?
  • How does football help to promote community pride in the town of Dillon, Texas?
  • What did you learn about American culture by watching the show? (You may discuss anything – you do not have to only discuss football.)
  • What are the positive benefits of playing football in American high school? What are the drawbacks of playing football?
  • How is football an important part of American culture? How does it contribute to creating a sense of American identity?

Independent Practice

Students write a journal response in their notebooks. Journal responses must be one page. Journal responses must answer the question “How is football an important part of American culture?” Students may also discuss other questions from their group discussions. We will discuss their ideas together in class the following day.

 

Writing Across the Curriculum: Resources

For those who are interested in learning more about Writing Across the Curriculum, I will post links to resources here. Check back for updates.

Writing Across the Curriculum in Secondary Education:

  1. Writing Across the Curriculum Reference Guide – Bazerman, C., Little, J., Bethel, L., Chavkin, T., Fouquette, D., & Gaurfis, J. (2005)
  2. Writing Across the Curriculum by Steve Peha
  3. Specific subject guides for using WAC (created by the Michigan State Department of Education):

If you find other good resources, please send them my way!