Accelerated Reading, Writing, and Critical Thinking
Table of Contents
Semester plan 5
Unit plan 6
Reading guides (selection) 8
Reading quizzes 18
Essay prompt 20
Essay rubric 21
I plan to teach a unit on “Motivation and Success” with a cohort next semester, but for my project, I decided to focus on the criminal justice system. I am particularly interested in selecting materials that are relevant to our current national discussions because I think it helps students to see the importance of the work they complete in the course. Through their reading and writing, students are participating in a national conversation.
The primary texts for the course will likely be Amy Bach’s Ordinary Injustice and Michelle Alexander’s The New Jim Crow. In conjunction, the works detail an in-depth investigation into the failures of the justice system. I know that Alexander’s work has been used successfully in other accelerated courses. I need to do further research (and reading) to determine if Bach’s work will be effective as well. From my preliminary research, though, it seems like a good fit. I think that once that I have taught English 95, I will have a better idea if Bach’s piece will be effective in the course.
Instead of a traditional memoir, I decided to use selections from Serial, a podcast. I used the podcast in English 90 this semester, and it worked well. The podcast details the experience of Adnan Syed, a teenager convicted of murdering his ex-girlfriend in 1999. Sarah Koenig, the narrator, tells the story much like a Dateline murder-mystery. Even so, she raises important questions about the criminal justice system. The selections equate to over 200 pages of text and about five hours of audio. The length of the work and the narrative-style reflect a memoir, so it isn’t much of a stretch for students. Moreover, I liked using the podcast because it introduces students to another medium, and it is also useful in improving students’ auditory skills. I asked students to listen to it as they followed along with the transcript and took notes. In a 95 course on the justice system, after a semester of discussing the problems with the criminal justice system, the podcast should provide students with an interesting case study to apply the knowledge that they gained from the readings in the first two units.
For my project, I adapted my English 90 Serial unit to fit with the pedagogical principles of English 95. While I made numerous changes, the two most significant changes that I made to the unit was redesigning my materials to be less prescriptive and transitioning my focus throughout the unit to a thinking-orientated curriculum.
For example, I adapted my reading guides to reflect the pedagogy of acceleration that encourages critical thinking and allows students to engage with the issues that they identify as important. In my original unit plan, my reading guides were incredibly prescriptive. I pointed to specific moments and specific conversations in the podcast and asked students to report on these ideas. I didn’t really provide students with the space to challenge themselves to identify important areas and key concepts on their own. Moreover, I found that I nullified an emphasis on critical thinking and instead emphasized plot summary and basic comprehension. In my revision for this project, I asked students to take notes on key points, but I did not specifically call their attention to details. In doing so, I moved away from comprehension and encouraged students to use their critical thinking skills to prioritize information, summarize, and reflect. I hope to encourage students to complete a purposeful reading that is driven by their own abilities to identify and summarize key information. By asking students to locate key concepts, I am challenging students to use critical thinking skills while tracking their own comprehension.
In my unit plan, I also included more time for students to process and engage with the podcast. When I first taught the unit, I thought that the basic timeline of events would prove challenging for students. My lessons were often aimed at these basics. However, I realized that students had little trouble with the overview of the case, but instead they needed time to wrestle with the nuances of the criminal justice system. Students struggled with some of the complex aspects of the investigation and others had a hard time sorting through the nuances of the lawyers’ tactics. I also saw that students were ready to engage with these larger concepts, despite their struggles, and that they were not as interested in reviewing plot points. In my modified unit, I built in time for students to make sense of these complexities. I focused on challenging students to dig deeper to tackle these complex concepts by creating space for student-directed discussion and by introducing more activities based on critical thinking. My reading quizzes reflect this new focus on nuance and depth rather than a surface reading focused on basic comprehension.
I am excited for my new unit. I think the changes will allow students to produce stronger essays and encourage students to better use their critical thinking skills. I also think that students will be further engaged with the material.
1. Read actively and demonstrate critical thinking skills through the ability to comprehend, summarize, analyze, synthesize, and evaluate a variety of primarily non-fiction texts, which would include diverse perspectives and worldviews. (PSLOs 1,2,3,4)
2. Write, edit, and revise expository essays, which integrate and synthesize course readings and are clearly focused, fully developed, logically organized, and show developing syntactic maturity. (PSLOs 1,2,3,4)
3. Demonstrate awareness and use of strategies for academic success (PSLO 5).
-Supplemental readings on mandatory sentencing, “War on Drugs”
-Data on incarceration rates
-Synthesis Essay #2
(out of class, graded, 4-6 pages)
-Two reading quizzes
-Major Essay 20%
-Reading quizzes 5%
-Michelle Alexander’s The New Jim Crow
-Supplemental readings on the text
-Data on incarceration rates
-Synthesis Essay #3
(out of class, graded, 5-6 pages)
- Two reading quizzes
-Major Essay 20%
-Reading quizzes 5%
-Serial “Season 1”
-Supplemental readings on the podcast
(in-class/out of class)
-Final Exam (in-class essay, graded)
-Smaller assignment 5% (of 10%)
-Major Essay 10%
-Review of semester readings for revision assignment
-Review of semester readings for synthesis essay that connects readings from semester
Serial Unit Plan
Learning Goals: SLO 1(activating schema, comprehension, reading strategies for podcast)
Warm-up: Schema question
Lecture: Lead class through pre-reading of podcast
Activities: Review photos from case to make predictions; talking to the text practice; listen to episode 1 in class; practice together; reading guide 1; “Think Aloud” and “Talk to the Text”
Homework: listen to episode 2; reading guide 2
Warm-up: reading question/reflection question
Lecture: Episode 9 summary
Activities: “What we know now” activity; “building a case by evaluating a case” activity; note-taking strategy for essay; begin theme based groups and focused reflection
Homework: episode 10 and reading guide
Learning Goals: SLO 1 (evaluation and analysis); SLO 2 (logically organized and fully developed)
Warm-up: Evaluation question
Lecture: Evaluation (concept review); Episode 11 summary
Activities: “Impact” profile; argument exercise; free write on essay prompts; theme based units develop list of potential examples and must present case to class
Homework: episode 12 and reading guide
Learning Goals: SLO 1 (comprehension and analysis) and SLO 2 (fully developed)
Warm-up: Comprehension reflection question
Activities: open discussion; group work for brainstorming ideas; reading quiz 2
Homework: chunking outline
Learning Goals: SLO 2 (logically organized)
Warm-up: organization question
Lecture: (as needed)
Activities: organization exercise; group essay activity; topic sentence review; in class time to begin essay in lab
Homework: rough draft
Warm-up: revision question.
Lecture: (as needed)
Activities: self-review; revision plan; conferences with instructor to prep for revision of rough draft
Homework: revise rough draft (bring updated copy to class)
Learning Goals: SLO 2 (fully developed, logically organized) and SLO 3 (strategies for success)
Warm-up: reflection question.
Lecture: as needed
Activities: peer review; in class writing and reflection time in lab; self-annotation exercise; peer annotation exercise
Homework: revise essay (due next class)
Reading Guides (Selection) Serial Episode Tracker
Episode 1: The Alibi Sections assigned:
Episode 2: The Break-Up Sections assigned:
Episode 3: Leakin Park Sections assigned:
Episode 4: Inconsistencies Sections assigned:
Episode 5: Route Talk Sections assigned:
Episode 6: The Case Against Adnan Syed Sections assigned: Directions: After finishing an episode, write down a short summary of events and key points. Make sure to write one for each episode. This will be helpful when you go to write your paper.
Episode 8: The Deal with Jay Sections assigned:
Episode 9: To Be Suspected Sections assigned:
Episode 10: The Best Defense is a Good Defense Sections assigned:
Episode 11: Rumors Sections assigned:
Episode 12: What We Know Sections assigned:
Episode 7: The Opposite of the Prosecution Sections assigned:
Why does Rabia think Adnan did NOT do it? Summarize her reasoning. Be specific. What does the state (prosecutor) say happened that day? Who is responsible for the murder? Who was involved? Why did they do it? Summarize the prosecution’s argument. Be specific. What does Jay say happened? Pay attention to his timeline and his depiction of Adnan. Summarize his version of events. Be specific.
Directions: As you listen to the first episode, take notes on the various versions of events. Pay attention to the motivations, the timeline, and the differences of opinion.
What does Adnan remember about that day? Summarize his version of events. Be specific.
Explain what happens with the letters and with Asia’s testimony. Follow the events from 1999 through Sarah’s conversation with Asia and the hearing. In the letters that Asia writes to Adnan, what does she say happened that day? Summarize her version of events. Be specific.
Serial Episode 2: The Breakup
Directions: For this episode, you will read some of the transcript of the text and you will also listen to a portion of the episode. You will also be asked to summarize, predict, reflect, and respond. Make sure to pay close attention to the instructions. For the first portion of the episode, read the following selections and then respond.
Read the following excerpt:
“So to pick up where we left off, last episode, you heard how the prosecution told the story of this murder at Adnan’s trial. And the motive the State supplied, the basis for the whole thing, was that after Hae broke up with Adnan, he couldn’t accept it. He was so wounded by her, and so furious, that he decided to kill her. Prosecutor Kevin Urick told the jury in his opening statement, “He became enraged. He felt betrayed that his honor had been besmirched, and he became very angry, and he set out to kill Hae Min Lee.” Or this is from closing, “It was humiliating, what she did to him. Make no mistake about it, ladies and gentlemen. This was not a crime about love, this was a crime about pride.”
But was that what their relationship and breakup were really like? Was he so hurt that he decided to kill her. That’s what I’m trying to find out in today’s episode, by talking to lots of people who knew Hae and Adnan.” Read the following excerpt:
Since he and Hae both had immigrant parents, they understood the expectations, and the constraints. Do well in school, go to college, take care of your younger brother, and for Adnan, no girls. If a female friend rode in his car, for instance, she’d have to make sure not to leave any long hairs behind. Or if a girl gave Adnan a ride home, she’d have to drop him off down the block so his parents wouldn’t see who was at the wheel.
You know, it was really easy to date someone that kind of lived within the same parameters that I did with regards to, you know, she didn’t have the expectation to me coming to her house for dinner with her family, you know, she understood that, you know, that um if she was to call my house and you know speak to my mother or father I would get in trouble, and vice versa. You know, so we would have to kinda set up our talks on the phone. Usually we would talk late at night when our parents were sleeping.
They had a whole system for this. One would page the other when the coast was clear. This was 1998, so not many cell phones around. Then that person would call some 1-800 service like the weather or the time and the other one would call in so the phone wouldn’t actually ring. It would come in through call waiting and the dozing parents would never be the wiser.
They hung around all that summer before senior year. They’d meet up after work and drive around. They were seventeen. They were in love. They were active. They’d have sex whenever and wherever possible. Sometimes at motels or the car or at a park or at other people’s houses or apartments. Sometimes they’d fight and then they’d quickly make up. A couple of times, Hae called it off but then would ask for Adnan back after a day or two or three.
Read the following excerpt:
It is true that no one at the time described Adnan as acting obsessed or menacing in any way. Not even Aisha. And in her diary, Hae never expresses any concerns about Adnan’s post breakup behavior. In fact, she writes about a time just before Christmas, so after they’d broken up, when she gets into a little car accident and calls up Adnan to come get her from work. Both Don, her new crush, and Adnan look at the car together and decide it’s unsafe to drive, so Adnan takes her home. Apparently it was all very cordial. Even Don said so. He wouldn’t talk to me for this story, but he testified at the trial.
At this point, I’m going to say flat out that I don’t buy the motive for this murder, at least not how the State explained it. I just don’t see it. Not one person says he was acting strangely after they broke up. He and Hae, again by all accounts were still friends. He was interested in other girls. He was working at his job. He was headed to college. About two weeks after his arrest, he gets an orientation packet from the University of Maryland. I don’t think he was some empty shell of a kid who betrayed his family and his religion and was now left with nothing and conjured up a murderous rage for a girl that broke his heart. I simply don’t buy it. And the reason I don’t buy it is because no one who knew him, then or now, says that’s how it was. I want to be clear, though, that that doesn’t mean he didn’t do it. It just means that so far, I think the State’s story about why he killed her doesn’t hold up. Maybe it was more of a spur of the moment thing. Maybe despite the other girls he was running after, he was privately stewing about Hae. After all she was apparently still flirting with him after they broke up. Still paging him with loving messages. She bought him an expensive jacket that Christmas. Maybe he thought he still had a chance with her. Like their friend Debbie told me, maybe once Don came on the scene, he thought “that’s a slap in the face! How dare you continue to lead me on like this?”
Summarize: What did the state say was Adnan’s motive for killing Hae? Do they think it was a crime of passion or do they think it was premeditated? Why does it matter?
Listen to the following selection: Start the recording at 10:15 (10 minutes and 15 seconds) and listen until 19:05 (19 minutes and 5 seconds)
How does Adnan explain the role of religion in his relationship?
Adnan’s mother was upset with Adnan’s behavior. What did she think was appropriate behavior for Adnan?
Sarah Koenig gives a list of examples of information that can either be used against Adnan or be meaningless in trial. Write down the examples.
Summarize: What were Adnan and Hae’s parents’ expectations of them? How did Hae and Adnan’s relationship break this expectation? Why was this relevant to the case?
For each example, explain how they either be “bad” for Adnan or be meaningless.
Serial Episode 4: Inconsistencies
According to Jay, why does Adnan ask him to help him to commit the crime? Give specific details. Given our previous readings, why might his reasons be valid.
Why does Jay say he would go along with Adnan’s plan instead of turning him in? Give specific details. Given our previous readings, why might his reasons be the valid.
According to the State, why does Adnan ask Jay to help him to commit the crime? Given our previous readings, why might his reasons be the valid.
Take notes on the changes in Jay’s version of events (I count 8 examples):
Choose three examples and explain why they are significant. Choose three examples and explain why they are insignificant.
Directions: As you listen to a portion of this episode, take notes on relationship between Jay and Adnan. Start the episode at 11:35 (11 minutes and 35 seconds) and listen through 33:41 (33 minutes and 41 seconds).
Serial Episode 5: Route Talk
Summarize: How did the state use the cell phone records? Explain the problems with the use of these records.
Directions: As you listen to a portion of this episode, take notes on the way the cell phone records are used in court. Start the episode at 27:38 and listen through 43:22.
Serial Episode 8: The Deal with Jay
Summarize Christina’s tactics during the trial. Give specific examples. Summarize Sarah’s conversation with Stella, the juror. What important or critical information did Stella reveal about her understanding of Jay’s involvement? Why?
Directions: As you continue to listen to the first part of the episode, take notes on the various versions of events. Pay attention to the assumptions people make and ways those assumptions may be wrong. Start the episode at the beginning and listen through 19:15.
Serial Episode 12: What We Know
Reflect on Adnan’s experience. What do we know?
Choose an essay prompt. Answer the question. Directions: As you listen to this episode, take notes on the various versions of events. Pay attention to the motivations, the timeline, and the differences of opinion.
Serial Reading Quiz #1 Directions: Answer 5 of the following questions (your choice). This is an open-book and open-note and closed-neighbor quiz. You may use notes and transcripts, but you must complete the quiz on your own.
A judge ruled that Christina Gutierrez’s decision to not use Asia’s alibi was strategic. Explain why the judge may have been correct in drawing this conclusion.
Jay’s story shifts many times. Summarize three ways that Jay’s story changes to further incriminate Adnan. Explain why these changes hurt Adnan.
Explain how Adnan’s religion and heritage was used against him in the trial. Do you think it was fair?
In your own words, summarize the reasons that Jay gives for going along with Adnan’s plan. Do you think it was valid? Explain why.
Explain how the prosecution used the cell phone records to convict Adnan. Identify and explain the problems with the prosecution’s use of the cell phone records.
Koenig lays out some incriminating evidence against Adnan. Using the evidence she provides, take the side of the prosecution and explain why this evidence looks bad for Adnan. Then, take the side of the defense and explain why this evidence doesn’t mean much.
Serial Reading Quiz #2 Directions: Answer 5 of the following questions (your choice). This is an open-book and open-note and closed-neighbor quiz. You may use notes and transcripts, but you must complete the quiz on your own.
Episodes covered: Episode 7, Episode 8, Episode 10, Episode 12
Christina Gutierrez argued with the judge about having access to evidence during the first trial. Summarize the situation. Then, explain how this situation reflects the larger problem with Christina’s tactics during the trial.
The prosecution apologizes for misleading the court during the bail hearing. Summarize three examples of the evidence that was inaccurate or exaggerated. Explain the significance of this evidence on the outcome of the hearing.
Dierdre Enright discusses the issue of finding evidence “inside/outside the crime scene.” Explain what it means to define a crime scene and how this impacted Adnan’s case.
When interviewed, the jury explains what had the biggest impact on their decisions. Summarize three examples. Explain how the jury may have been misinformed or unfair in their thinking.
In your own words, define the term “bad evidence” and explain how this idea may have played a part in Adnan’s case. Use a specific example.
In your own words, define the term “verification bias” and explain how this idea may have played a part in Adnan’s case. Use a specific example.
Adnan’s lawyer asks the judge to consider this a crime of passion. Explain why the lawyer does this (even against Adnan’s will) and how it is actually helpful for Adnan.
Writing Cycle #4 Essay Prompt Context: Serial focuses on the specific problems that Adnan faces with the legal system, but we know that Adnan’s experience is not unique. Many people face similar obstacles when seeking a fair trial. As such, the podcast highlights larger issues with the justice system.
Task: After listening to Serial and reading a series of articles that explore issues surrounding the criminal justice system, you are invited to weigh in. Using careful reasoning and strong support, use examples from Serial to write a 4-6 page paper that makes an argument about the justice system. Choose 1 of the following questions to respond to:
Deirdre Enright believes the prosecution should not have “brought” the case. What evidence was used to convict Adnan? Do you think there was a sufficient amount? What does this say about the criminal justice system?
At times, Koenig is shocked by the prosecution’s tactics and actions. What are some things that the prosecution does to ensure a conviction? Do you think these are ethical or fair tactics? What does this say about the criminal justice system?
Adnan was granted a new hearing because of mistakes his lawyer made. What are some of the problems with Adnan’s lawyers? What does this say about the role of defense lawyers in trial?
Koenig believes that prejudice, specifically racism, was not a factor in the trial. Why might she be wrong about this assessment? What does Adnan’s experience (and even Jay’s) reveal about the role of prejudice in the justice system?
-4-6 pages, typed, double-spaced, 12-point font, Times New Roman
-Use at least 2 articles
-No outside sources
- Citeyour sources in-text and in a works cited page
- You must have a level-3 thesis, clearly stated at the end of your introduction.
-You must support your thesis with details, examples, quotations, reasons
List of Readings (note: additional readings may be assigned):
F or NP-Unacceptable
Essay has a clearly stated thesis, usually placed near the end of the introduction. Thesis is appropriate for audience and purpose. Points/topic sentences and supporting examples all stay focused on the thesis.
The thesis though defined and appropriate, lacks the insight of the ‘A’ paper. Essay may have very minor staying from thesis or relatively insignificant lapses in clarity.
Essay adequately fulfills its purpose, and has some commendable features. Essay has an identifiable thesis, although it may be faulty (too broad / too narrow). One point and/or a few supporting examples may somewhat stray from the thesis.
The paper is seriously weak in at least one of the following criteria: the thesis may be unclear or may not address the assignment task, or many points and/or supporting examples don’t clearly support the thesis.
The essay has no recognizable central idea, and/or no clearly defined or apparent plan of development. Essay isn’t focused on a thesis.
Each paragraph has a clear topic sentence or point that is relevant to the thesis. Essay displays coherence within each paragraph. Essay transitions appropriately, and organization is smooth with clear connections between points.
Paragraph unity and/or coherence may have insignificant lapses in clarity. May need more (or better) transitions in select areas.
Essay has a recognizable organizational structure, although there may be some weak transitions, an occasional unclear topic sentence (or point), and/or some lack of coherence within paragraphs that nevertheless does not significantly interfere with understanding. Points may be somewhat choppy.
Organization was attempted but is weak in that paragraphs may lack clear topic sentences or points. Many paragraphs may lack coherence. Points and/or examples are extremely choppy with very little use (if any) of transitions.
Lacks an organizational structure. Essay may have disunified or incoherent paragraphs.
Each paragraph contains abundant specific examples, details and illustrations drawn from the sources to fully develop the main point as expressed in the topic sentence. Paragraphs show thoughtfulness (e.g. analysis, reflection, explanation, commentary, synthesis). Conclusion ties together ideas and provides closure.
Though relatively substantial and specific, the development in a “B” essay is not as extensive, in-depth, or varied as in the “A” paper (may lack a complete development of analysis or context in certain areas, have minor redundancies, or have limited text-to-text or text-to-world thinking), but it still reflects a full response to the assignment and a solid comprehension of the readings.
The essay provides development of its thesis/ points through specific examples and some elaboration although support may be minimal, predictable, redundant, and/or may reflect a slight lack of reading comprehension.
The ideas in the essay may be seriously underdeveloped and/or evidence is used that doesn’t clearly support the thesis. Writing may reflect a significant misreading of the text.
Consistently vague or non-specific support. No evidence of reading completion or comprehension.
Essay has few sentence level errors. Essay displays sentence structure variety and maturity. Sentences are focused and concise.
Essay may contain some errors in grammar, punctuation, or proofreading. The essay reflects focused, complex sentences for the most part though sentence structure may be occasionally awkward, incorrect, or choppy.
Proofreading, punctuation, or grammar errors may persist; however, they do not impede understanding. Student attempts to write mature, focused sentences while using sentence structure variety though many times sentences may be awkward, unsuccessful, or choppy.
Essay displays many proofreading and/or grammar usage errors. Student is clearly struggling with sentence focus and/or variety (too many choppy sentences).
Sentences are flawed in structure.
Frequent errors, both major and minor, in grammar, punctuation, and spelling. No evidence of focused, concise sentences or variety in structure. Essay may contain too many flaws in sentence structure impeding understanding throughout.
Presentation and Documentation
Student correctly uses MLA format for formatting and citation purposes. Essay is submitted with all accompanying materials if in a portfolio.
Presentation may be missing a component or two and a few minor formatting errors.
May have one or two more serious errors in MLA format or citation but they are not consistent.
Student may have significant problems with task comprehension or may not have understood the reading assignment. Major errors in MLA format or citation.
Paper may be too brief, off topic, plagiarized, or otherwise non-adherent to the requirements of the assignment.
I am looking forward to teaching English 95. The pedagogical principles and strategies align with my teaching philosophy. I have high expectations for my students, but I also offer a great deal of support. I work to challenge students to use their critical thinking skills to produce thesis-driven essays that are backed by strong support. I think that my approach will fit well with the “backwards design” and “thinking-orientated curriculum” of acceleration.
I am also excited to use full-length works and center a semester on a specific theme. My experience with composition as a student followed this model. As an undergrad, each composition course had a different theme, and we read full-length works over the course of the semester. As a student, I found it interesting and the work reflected assignments from my other classes, so it felt very “college.” I am excited to implement a similar curriculum as an instructor. Additionally, I look forward to including full-length works because I think it will allow students to read more and dive deeper into the issues. It will also challenge students to wrestle with the concepts in ways that shorter readings with multiple themes do not.
I think a challenge that I will face in 95 is keeping students both focused and engaged. When teaching Serial this semester, I found that there were times when students were almost distracted by the content of the podcast itself. They were so excited to talk about the issues. At times, it was difficult to get students to focus in a productive manner. I accounted for this in my English 95 unit by building in time for students to discuss and debrief about the material. Hopefully, after given some space to debrief, students will be able to engage with the material in a meaningful way. I also developed lessons around focused discussion and focused reflection. On the other hand, by the end of the podcast, students were tired. I wasn’t sure if students could handle the listening load, so I took a lot of time to work through the material. I found that students were very capable of managing the load, and many even chose to listen ahead. Many students noted that they “binged” it. I adjusted for this in my lesson plan by having students move through the podcast faster. It will hopefully ensure that students do not get too tired with the material. I think any semester focused on a single theme can wear students out. I am hoping that by looking at the theme through a different lens with a different focus for each unit will help to keep students engaged. Moreover, I think ending the semester with a case study presented through a new medium will further help keep students interested and engaged.
After a semester of preparing, I am ready to get in the classroom and get some first-hand experience.