Saturday, August 17, 2013

Why Flash Rhetoric Cards?

As a teacher, I realize each June that there is always something I can do to improve upon the quality of my instruction. Often these epiphanies do not result from personal reflection, but from the responses students give me on the blind surveys I periodically ask them to complete. The purpose of these surveys is to help me do a better job helping them, and this often has to do with tweaking existing processes or procedures so that they are more effective.

For many years now, I have required my Advanced Placement Language and Composition students to maintain a deck of flashcards which I call "Rhetoric Cards." This is by no means an original idea of mine, except that (at least initially) some students resist the task as they deem it elementary--at least in the context of a high school English class (his practice is very familiar to them in their foreign language studies). Once they poo-poo this strategy, I remind them that the purpose of the cards is not to promote the rote memorization of every vocabulary word but to have a tactile resource for relevant Tier 3 terminology at their disposal when reading or analysing text that they can go through. Given the thousand possible rhetoric terms that may turn up on the exam, I have chosen to focus on 100-120 that are most likely to occur or that (minimally) provide them the best opportunity to eliminate possible answer on multiple choice questions.

In my classes, we use the Rhetoric Deck as a tool for learning important Tier 3 terms. Tier 3 vocabulary consists of low-frequency words that occur in specific domains. Domains include subjects in school, hobbies, occupations, geographic regions, technology, weather, etc. Generally these terms and concepts are introduced when a specific need arises, such as learning "amino acid" during a chemistry lesson, or "litotes" in the study of rhetoric. Some common examples of the terms I required students to define and "card" during summer (in concert with reading Thank You for Arguing by Jay Heinrichs) include antithesis, tautology and decorum.

My epiphany around Rhetoric Card usage came when, last June, a few students suggested that the cards had a diminished value as the year progressed. While this can be seen as a positive (as students internalize the definition and application of the term/concept, they need the cards as a resource less), I was reminded that there are some students who never caught on to the task meaningfully in the first place. That is to say, some students failed in September to begin a deck and consequently never kept adding concepts and ideas as the class (and better students) progressed. In effort to maximize the potential value of this activity, I am committing this coming school year to insuring that I check them more frequently early on, and that as we move through the curriculum students and I physically interact with the cards more regularly through some term chunking and kinesthetic organizing.

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