external image 41F450P99RL._BO2,204,203,200_PIsitb-sticker-arrow-click,TopRight,35,-76_AA300_SH20_OU01_.jpg

Beyond Standards: Excellence in the High School English Classroom 2001
Beyond Standards offers concrete ways to conceive what it means to foster excellent performance in the classroom and vivid examples of student work that was motivated by the pursuit of excellence rather than by test scores. Packed with richly detailed classroom anecdotes, it explores the many ways teachers can select books, design lessons, and inspire discussions that can lead all their students to extraordinary achievements, both in the study of literature and in their writing assignments. Included are practical tips on everything from helping students self-edit their writing to "tricking" them into reading a lot more poetry.

Can Excellence Be Prescribed?

external image prescribe.jpg
Carol Jago doesn't think so. She believes a focus on creating standards that every student ought to be able to achieve might lead to creating a glass ceiling that limits the true potential of some students. This doesn't mean that standards should be dismissed. Instead she believes that teaching ought to aim at inspiring students to their full potential, in many cases this means exceeding standards."We need to make sure that in our push to achieve standards , we don't forget about inspiring excellence (Jago xiv)." Her book is an argument to create a culture of excellence and aim to inspire all students to achieve their potential--a "shoot for the stars and get the moon" mentality.

Standards: Hurdle or Inspiration?

external image hurdle-face.jpgexternal image flag1.jpg
Carol Jago asks a great question, "What kind of learners have we created if students feel they must turn to an adult or an outside source to determine the value of what they produce (8)?" This is the essence of her first chapter, "Engaging Reluctant Scholars," Jago contrasts classroom environments where a standard is written on the board and students are expected to meet the standard in poetry of the day and a classroom where students read examples of excellent poetry and are asked to identify examples of excellence within and then aim for such quality and identify it within their own work. In the first example the students have a hurdle to overcome and need to complete the work at a level that meets the standard, in the second example the students are shown a rally point and asked to climb as far as they can.

Jago believes posting standards on the board are a waste of time, just "bumper stickers" that do little to influence student behavior (8). Many teachers argue that posting standards gives students a sense of purpose for the exercise of the day and let's a student know if they are on "target"? Jago believes that purpose comes when students are focused on creating excellence for themselves.

No Boot Camp Here

external image boot-camp.jpg
"I know that the most powerful learning that occurs in my classroom when the students care about what we are reading (22)." Jago believes that learning ought to be rigorous but it shouldn't be a boot camp. In the second chapter, "Creating the Culture of Excellence," Jago discusses the core needs of every student:
  • A caring, well-educated teacher with professional time in the day...
  • A safe, clean environment in which to learn...
  • Up-to-date textbooks...
  • Well-equipped science laboratories.
  • Access to technology...
  • Classroom libraries...
  • Athletic programs...
  • Music, art, and dance programs...
Jago then moves beyond the list to add one more need of the students, the ability to decide what is important. Jago uses the rest of the chapter to give examples of assignments that prompted students to move beyond the standards. The students were given freedom to choose what they felt important and the assignments followed from their lead. It is implied that the students still took part in rigorous learning without the teacher barking out what the student needed to learn.

A Steady Diet of Extraordinary Books

external image eatyourwords.jpg
In chapter 3, "Beyond Reading Standards," Jago claims that it is not enough for a student to know how to read, they must make reading a habit.Every student ought to be fed a steady diet of extrodinary books(40). One of the roles of a good teacher is knowing how to scaffold instruction for struggling readers, but an overlooked and evenly important skill is knowing which books to hand students who read above the rim(41). In the process of guiding students towards becoming good readers, she examines the good habits of readers as described by Pressley and Afflerbach (31-32) and later examines bad habits of good readers (37-38).

At the end of the chapter she points the reader towards two websites that offer teachers help with book recommendations. The links in the book no longer work, but updated links can be found below:
Berkley Public Library Teen Services
American Library Association Notable Books

Just Like Riding A Bike

external image Megan-Bike-01.jpg
Responding to student writing ought to be like teaching a child to ride a bike (46). Jago uses the simile to guide teachers in thinking about how the choice of responses a student receives on their papers. Chapter four, "Beyond Writing Standards," offers a reminder to follow The Elements of Style by Strunk and White as well as a handy lesson on teaching students to revise.

Long Live the Term Paper

external image student-research-a0104a-300.jpg
Chapter 5," Beyond Research Standards,"5 addresses student research. Jago once believed that term papers needed to go along the way of the dinosaur. The benefit students received from doing the papers did not equal the amount of class-time consumed in the research and production process; however, word processing and the Internet have now made research much more time efficient. Jago now believes that in order for students to meet the criteria of research standards, term papers are essential. In chapter 5 she gives samples of research assignments for 9th-graders with below-average writing skills and for 10th grade honors students. The key to helping students write above the standards is making the research questions meaningful to the students.

The Business of Madmen

external image saupload_alice_in_wonderland.jpg
In Chapter 6, "Beyond Literature Standards," Jago weaves the Alice in Wonderland metaphor throughout the chapter to describe the experience of teaching. She cites Yevgeny Zamyatin, who wrote "True literature only exists when it is created by madmen, hermits, heretics, dreamers, revels, and skeptics; not by reliable clerks just doing their jobs. (72)." It is madness of authors that makes for great stories, it is madness that brings a teacher to the classroom, and if literature is going to be exciting to students then they must be invited to join in the author's madness. Jago claims to often we "treat works of genius like corpses to be dissected (72)" when we ask students to root through a work and find literary terms and "the meaning" of a work. Literary terms are important, but they should be treated as tools to help build a vocabulary that aids in the investigation of the madness.

Perhaps its madness, but she asks her high school students to become Goldilocks and seek out poems that are too easy, too hard, and just right. She also asks students to teach her--is that madness? The model lessons that she offers in this section appear exciting opportunity for both student and teacher.

Exit Exams?

external image no_exit_prohibition_sign.png

"Before students can go beyond standardized assessments, they need to go through them (88)," writes Jago in chapter 7, "Beyond Assessment Standards." In this chapter, Jago shares her fear that exit exams are as good as posting "no exit" signs on the doors of schools to man children; she shares an eye opening essay about "Playing the Game of School" (90-91) written by one of her student; she shares her experience of taking the SAT II as a teacher and she shares ideas on what teachers can do to help students "exit" as well as the limits of their ability and makes a call for help from the community.

The Medium is the Human Mind and Spirit

external image bouquetofpencils.jpg

A good reminder and inspiration for all teachers is a reflection on teachers by John Steinbeck that Jago quotes in chapter 8, "Beyond Teaching Standards," "Teaching might even be the greatest of arts since the medium is the human mind and spirit (102)." Jago uses Steinbeck's quote to emphasize the importance of teaching and expresses a hope that society might view the profession as favorably as Steinbeck. It is her view that teaching is looked at in this perspective then perhaps teachers will receive the support they need and incentives they want to make teaching into the art it ought to be.

Presented By:

Jonathan Pippenger

Jonathan has taught at high schools in Las Vegas, Detroit, and South West Michigan. He has been principal for a K-8 school and is currently a stay at home dad (unless we are Up North!) and graduate student at Western Michigan University.

Jonathan can be reached at apapippenger@gmail.com or check out his website.