Fieldwork Reflections: Nicole Callahan

The Teaching of English M.A. program at Teachers College offers a bi-weekly workshop series and colloquium for all student teachers in the program. The goal is to connect M.A. students with the work of master teachers and leaders in English education in ways that will inspire them to implement innovative instructional practices in their own classrooms. The “Fieldwork” strand of the blog provides M.A. students with a forum to discuss how the featured presenters’ work might influence their own practices in the field.

Nicole Callahan (TC): Uniting Technology, Research, Reading, and Writing Through Synthesis Assignments

As a future secondary English teacher I often worry about the ways I will approach teaching various texts. One thing I have not considered is how I will approach teaching the summer reading book list. I know that when I was in high school I never understood why we had to read books over the summer, especially since we rarely discussed them during the school year. Nicole Callahan’s presentation “Pride and Prejudice Webquest: Creating Authentic Assessments with Webquest Assignments” touched upon an innovative and academically rigorous way to keep students engaged with summer reading material…I thought Nicole’s presentation was very useful, and I plan on using her assignment as a frame to construct my unit on One Flew Over the Cukoo’s Nest.

–   Lakisha Odlum

As a new teacher who’s never assigned summer reading or had to assess a student’s fluency with summer reading, Nicole Callahan’s seminar was my first look into ‘teaching’ a piece of literature without having read it together as a class. In my own teaching practice, I can’t help but compare the things I’m learning everyday to my own experience as a high school student. I can’t remember ever having been quizzed or asked to write papers on summer reading; merely reading was enough. In creating my current teaching philosophy I’ve always wondered how to make assessments fun, creative and not painful for kids. Summer reading is difficult enough without having to write a massive research paper comparing and contrasting one thing to another…Regardless of procrastination and lack of motivation, I believe transparency is always the best option. I want my students to know and understand why we as teachers are assigning the things we are, why they must participate and what they’re going to ‘get’ out of it…So what deters kids from performing in class – particularly with a book like Pride and Prejudice? We discussed a lack of motivation when performing research as well as alacrity to plagiarize large chunks of online text – kids will ALWAYS do this. The web quest is a great option for vetting proper and pertinent info for kids.

– Nicole Chernyakhovsky

The presentation on webquests was a truly helpful introduction into this project.  As with my first exposure to multigenre assignments, I was excited to discover a project that both ties together and surpasses the traditional notions of research, essay writing, and presentation…My Master’s inquiry centers on having students complete journal entries on a Google doc, with a physical component of group discussions about their entries.  I am interested to see how these two parts work together and how successfully students engage the online portion.  My findings will hopefully help me to find the “e-balance” for my own future planning…

-Alison Eitel

Reflecting back to high school, I remember dreading hearing the teacher announce that we were “off the computer lab.”  Internet research, in my mind, was staring at a really large computer, which appeared to be so inviting, yet was so difficult, stubborn, and BORING.  Nicole, acknowledging these obstacles, created a system in which students could conduct internet research in a playful, creative, and productive manner… I also want to commend Nicole for not remaining complacent.  Nicole was frustrated with the status quo and proposed a change.  What is teaching if not reform?  I truly believe that change stems from progress and progress stems from passion.  I admire that, and I aspire to be a teacher who creates a stir, impacting the lives of the students and community.

–       Danielle Rohatiner

Unsurprisingly, given that I am a slightly nerdy female English teacher, I love all things Austen. This is precisely why I am extremely reluctant to teach Austen. Not only would I be disheartened by the students who refused to read the book, or who dismissed it as boring or lame, but I would be terrified that I would suck the joy out of the book by linking it in students’ minds with homework and tests. This project—and the in class emulation we did—gave me some courage to attempt it. There are simple ways to ensure that students do more than watch Keira Knightly mugging for the camera, there are ways to make authentic assessment interesting and enjoyable, and there are ways to direct students’ attention to the subtleties of Austen’s humor and style without being entirely didactic and dull while doing so. I think I will still be a little hesitant to throw Pride and Prejudice on my syllabus, but now I won’t run screaming if I do happen to find there.

– Jessica Manners

…I was excited to be able to try my hand at writing like Austen. Believe it or not, in all of the times that I have read Pride and Prejudice, whether for class or leisure, I had never even thought of such an activity! So many assignments require a reading and regurgitation of the novel that often times the really interesting aspects are completely forgotten. I must admit, at first it was a bit challenging to try to write in the style of Austen. I found it hard to not just look at the passage and mimic her language directly. But then, once I loosened up a bit, I found this exercise fascinating. I found myself using words that I didn’t even remember that I knew! I heard myself saying the words as I wrote them, but they weren’t in my voice. It was as if a narrator was saying them…I thoroughly enjoyed exercising my brain in a way that was so creative…

–       Nicole Reda

I would like to do this project with my own students some day with my favorite novel, Jane Eyre. For my Methods class, I am creating a unit plan on Jane Eyre and this website has given me inspiration for an assessment in my unit. I will have the students write a “deleted scene” or a short, extra chapter to the text in the style of Charlotte Bronte. They will need to research the time period of the text: education in boarding schools, the life of the governess, treatment of the mentally ill, and colonialism/missionary work. My students will demonstrate their understanding of the time period by incorporating these historical ideas and issues throughout their added section of the text. Creating a website for this assessment would be challenging, but a great addition to my teaching portfolio.

–       Adina Kastner