Video Clip & Description of Events
Pedagogical Commentary

1. Describing the Rationale

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I describe the dilemma of tracking at my school, and how I group my students heterogeneously by race to break down stereotypes and encourage all students to engage in academic discourse. (1:28)

I was sorting the students into groups for the discussions and was purposefully mixing the groups racially. Here I am influenced by Troy Duster’s work at Cal years ago and his belief in the importance of mixing students racially as learners. He felt the UC system had an obligation to seek a racially mixed student body as a way of breaking down stereotypes and a way of inviting everyone into the conversation. It’s important to me that African Americans males particularly at our school step up as students—take positions as thinkers, readers, writers. I need to do what I can to bring them into academic conversations—for themselves (so they will learn how to do this kind of talk — see Guadalupe Valdez and Bahktin) and for their classmates.  

2. Introducing the Analysis Task

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I introduce the day's task to my students. This is the first day that they will be analyzing and responding to an AP English Examination literature prompt. I remind them of the key points they should attend to in their groups, and to rely on their SOAPS strategies to support their investigations. (3:58)


Something I became aware of as I watched this video is how much my classroom reflects my life as a traveler—Tibet, Cambodia, Guatemala—and my politics. I am not being disingenuous here: I am sure that people who see this video or the parts that show my classroom may have some issues with my blatant politicizing my classroom.

Introducing the class: I almost always start the period by going over all the things we have to do—to give kids the sense that we don’t have a minute to waste. That’s big with me. Teachers have to be purposeful in their lessons; if we waste time we are disrespecting our students.
On testing: I do give tests on books. I hold them accountable for assignments. The 90 minutes of writing on a book is my way of preparing them for college exams but also I allow that much time because I want them to spend time thinking deeply about the books they’ve read. Which books? In this case it was non-fiction works they had chosen to read in small literature circles. That’s why I had to make up individual tests.
Analyzing text in groups: Influenced by Vygotsky, I see talk as a tool for learning. So, to prepare kids for writing their “first official AP text analysis essay” I had them get into groups, read it, and discuss it as a prelude to writing it on their own two days later. Here I am influenced by the Goodmans (Ken and Yetta) who also use talk as a tool for learning but have this neat idea that instead of having an expert other—the way Vygotsky talks about the Zone of Proximal Development (ZPD), they believe that kids talking in a small group create their own sense of expert other; that is, working together, kids in a group create a real sense of expertise over a piece of text. This was not the first time I had given these kids a piece of text analysis. We worked out a few in class. But this was the first AP prompt and passage they had done.
Diving students into groups and explaining the task: Before moving kids into groups, I give them clear directions about
what they are going to do in the group. If I do this beforehand, I don’t have to go around to each group and check that they know what they’re doing.
How I choose leaders: I change them constantly because I want all kids to get a chance to lead.


3. Reading the Prompt & Initial Responses

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Christine takes the lead—she is a student leader and a good reader. I think it’s important to show this part—how one student reads through it, they attempt a little discussion, and they someone says, “let’s read it again.” (9:09)

View Christine's Prompt

I didn’t tell them they had to do that but it is something we do all the time in class. Get a quick interpretation, and then go back to reread to get a deeper one. Notice Christine calls on Josh to read it the second time. On the second time through, the kids circle more words or highlight more words. Notice how on task these kids are—they know what to do. They are not sidetracked when the tardy student joins the group. As they make their way through the text, they defend what they say by quoting the text—supporting their ideas with specific quotations from the passage. 

4. Establishing Alternative Interpretations

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Jerryck sees the passage as a metaphor. “You can take that as two ways”—here for me is a perfect example of reading as a social, cultural act as well as a cognitive act.(2:25)

Jerryck is bringing the piece an understanding that the other kids didn’t have or at least didn’t mention but they pick up on it. Then Isabel brings in what she knows about boxing which invites Jerryck to tell what he knows about boxing. (During this discussion, there I am moving a chair to sit down with a group. That’s important to me—I will sit in with groups to listen but only after the groups are going. The kids need to take responsibility for getting the groups working.) 

5. Building on One Another's Thinking

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The discussion is so good: they’re taking turns, acknowledging each other, using each others' ideas, defending their ideas, deepening their understanding.(8:00)


Notice Christine always draws the group back to the prompt. “diction”—“Proud club fighter.” The discussion is so good: they’re taking turns, acknowledging each other, using each others' ideas, defending their ideas, deepening their understanding. They ask each other questions and respond. See Petya’s question that Jerryck answers. They listen intently to each other and are doing serious stylistic analysis.

[About this group: really mixed in terms of major identity in the senior class: Jerryck is a basketball player (heavily recruited by big schools) and transfer student—new to EC this year, Ryan is a debater, Christine is senior class president, Isabel is a techie/Gay Straight Alliance member, Petya is an immigrant from Bulgaria, Josh is into leadership and drama productions,
Marcelle—shy member of the popular crowd. None of these kids are close friends outside of class though they are in classes together.]


6. Scaffolding the Students' Conversation Using SOAPS

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I enter in. Here I couldn’t resist—I’m reacting to Jerryck’s point about Michael Jordan. Then after I have added my 2 cents, I have a teaching moment. I ask them to use the SOAPS technique to push themselves about the SO WHAT of the piece—what else is this about besides the death of Paret? (9:44)

But notice—I go in for just a moment and leave. I don’t want to overwhelm them. Then, again Jerryck brings in what he knows about boxing (social/cultural stuff) and so does Ryan. Christine focuses the group again on the task. Petya clarifies what the Occasion is in SOAPS. Jerryck goes back to summarize the text, off the SOAPS business. Petya tries to steer the conversation back to the SOAPS by talking about the narrator. Josh talks a bit about the narrator but goes into the narrative again and off the SOAPS. Christine goes back to the prompt, to focus the group. [They work the whole time. They do not get the point that the boxer actually died.]