Q: What project best helps your students to think “outside the box” about the way they approach creative writing?
A: With blackout poetry, students find a poem within a page of text, whether from a newspaper or a random page in a book. They identify words that strike them, then link them with other words. When read from top to bottom, left to right, it creates a poem. Then students “black out” the remaining words with a marker, sometimes even creating designs. Students get to express themselves in a new way, and they always surprise themselves with what they create.
Q: How do you engage students who have a weakness (or feel they have a weakness) with language?
A: It’s important to build confidence in students who struggle. When students don’t succeed, I make sure to let them know that they are not alone, and that we can all learn from that error. I also reach out to parents to encourage extra help outside of class. That’s the best time for me to work with a student and determine how he or she is feeling and how I can best help. Once we build that trust, I usually notice a significant difference, even in the student’s participation.
Q: What’s your favorite way to demonstrate that intimidating or archaic material can be relatable?
A: When we cover Romeo and Juliet, I have groups create a five-song playlist — one song for each act of the play. Students choose a song that represents their designated act, explaining their decision in a written analysis. Then each group shares their soundtrack, and we vote on the strongest one. I can’t count how many times students have told me they never would have realized so many songs they listen to could be connected to such an old story.
Q: What is the most surprising result of an assignment you gave to a student this year?
A: It actually involves the Romeo and Juliet soundtrack project. When it came time to brainstorm, one student stunned me. This student typically didn’t show much interest in class and sometimes wouldn’t turn in assignments at all. But when this student asked, “Would it be okay if I wrote my own song for this project?” — I must have had the biggest smile on my face! It reminded me that some students yearn for creative ways to demonstrate their knowledge and talent, and I challenge myself to give them opportunities to do so every day.
Q: You’re an AOPS high school graduate yourself. What has it been like returning as a Catholic educator?
A: It is exciting to see what this experience looks like from the other side. Teaching in a Catholic school is comforting, and it consistently reminds me of my roots in Catholic education. I often remind my students how blessed they are to be receiving this kind of education — both academically and spiritually. It is a truth they may not fully realize now, but someday they will, and they will be just as grateful as I am.