#4 Teaching the Novel with Ariel Sacks

 Ariel Saa4305f04c8e15d3f9d7cb1d210fb69accks

  8th grade ELA teacher at Brooklyn Prospect Charter School (NY)


 Segment I – Background and Inspiration

Tell your story. Where are you from and how long have you been teaching? What classes have you taught? 
– Ariel has been teaching for 10 years. She is currently at Brooklyn Prospect Charter School where she teaches 8th grade English. Before that she taught at two NYC DOE schools both of which were high-needs schools that served 100% poverty populations.


Who has helped you in your journey to become a master teacher?
– She had unbelievable training at Bank Street College. In particular, Madeline Ray, who was her mentor, also served as a prolonged influence, mentoring her for an additional two years when she began her teaching career. 


It is important for other teachers to know that we all have had setbacks in the classroom. Identify an instance in which you struggled as a teacher and explain what you learned from that experience.
– In Ariel’s first year she asked her students read the entire novel through before discussing it. When the due date arrived, it quickly became clear that 50% of the students had not read. She had lost many of her students in that moment but gave the students amnesty. She divided the class between those who had read and those who did not. The ones that finished had amazing discussions about the text and those that did not read saw this, overheard this and were inspired to read. This method was still a powerful model in her eyes, she just had to build the systems and structures to support all students.
Why teach English and the language arts?
– She believes that English is all about how to communicate with people — how to listen, speak persuasively, and how to write coherently. Then there is the artistic elements of beauty, wonder, sadness, which helps us to understand our place in the world. 
What is one thing that you love about the classroom?
–  A teacher can create structures and routines but it the dynamic of a classroom is unpredictable. Every class, every day, every year is different.

Segment II — Digging into the Teacher Bag of Goodies

What book do you recommend to a developing teacher?

 Whole Novels for the Whole Class: A Student-Centered Approach. This is the book that she wishes she had when she started out teaching. It is a progressive, yet practical approach to teaching literature to adolescents. 

 Also Reading, Writing, and Rising Up: Teaching About Social Justice and the Power of the Written Word it offers writing assignments that embraces the diversity of the classroom to bring out student voices. She has used just about everything in that book.  

What is one thing a teacher can do outside the classroom that can pay off inside the classroom?
– Ariel believes that teachers should get acquainted with the neighborhood where students live is valuable. Walking a mile in her students shoes can create a lot of opportunities for greater understanding and empathy for their background.
Is there an internet resource that you can recommend which will help teachers grow professionally?
  Her best interactions with other teachers happen through Center for Teaching Quality. She has recently become interested in #Engchat on Twitter.  
What can a teacher can do to make students better writers?
– Pair students and have the partner read the draft. This is because writing is in the ear. Often we don’t hear our own weakness until is is read to us and the reader will pick up on it and the writer will hear it as well.
What novel or poem do you love to teach and why?

 Sherman Alexie’s The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian is a book that she is currently in love with. In Ariel’s eyes, it is a masterpiece of young-adult literature because it discusses inequalities in such an approachable way. It is just great fun. 


6 thoughts on “#4 Teaching the Novel with Ariel Sacks

  1. It is so important to learn about your students as people as Ariel says: go into the neighborhood, talk to them in their own space, see them as individuals outside of their place in the classroom. Relationships forged outside of the classroom enhance those within the school. Students become more willing to share themselves in their writing when they believe the teacher knows them on a deeper level. I would be thrilled to win a copy of Ariel’s book!

    • Yes Mary! This is one of the reasons why I loved teaching To Kill a Mockingbird. Atticus says, “You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view–until you climb inside of his skin and walk around in it.” I see more and more students entering my classroom with needs — personal or diagnosed. The way to engage these students it not only to be aware of those needs, but to put yourself in their situation. Then you can begin to understand what their hinderances to learning are, and consequently, develop ways to transcend them.

  2. Thank you for the text recommendations! I, too, wish I had a book that would have guided me on how to teach a whole novel to a whole class. Also, I love Sherman Alexie and his works are amazing!

  3. I really liked the concept of “writing with your ear.” When students hear their own writing, they can switch from writer to listener/reader. They can then toggle back and forth between the two while editing.

  4. I appreciate your mission to talk to the positive goings on in education. And enjoyed your discussion with Ariel about her inspiring work in the teaching of literature; an art form that is as complicated as any other. Conversations on methodology that reveal ‘how it is made’, as well its mystery, will always call to me.

    Ariel often writes to the need for hearing the ‘student voice’ in the classroom, it was nice to hear hers. Thanks for making that happen!

  5. This kind of information is actually helpful for those people who wanted to improve their abilities in teaching. From this, they can surely use some ideas regarding on this kind of tools that they can use.

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