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Balancing rigorous academic study with joy in learning, particularly when it comes to project-based learning, may seem impossible. However, in my ninth-grade English class, we manage to do just that.
Teachers often define academic rigor in English as the study of challenging works of literature accompanied by in-depth literary analysis in writing. But what about projects that allow students to delve into who they are and what they are passionate about? Is there space for these projects in academic classrooms? Can we ensure that students learn concrete skills and are challenged academically while also providing them with opportunities for self-discovery and joy?
The Muse Project
At Pacific Ridge School, where I’ve taught for the past four years, all ninth-grade students complete the Muse Project in English class. Through this project, students explore what myth is and how it connects to identity. We begin by looking at various definitions of myths, including the stories people have told to explain natural phenomena (for instance, Greek and Norse mythology), widely held untrue beliefs, and exaggerated and idealized truths.
Next we turn to our central text, Celeste Ng’s Everything I Never Told You. Previously, we used Homer’s The Odyssey, which may seem like a more natural fit given that it is, itself, a myth. While myth may not be the most obvious theme in Ng’s novel, by digging deeper, students find it is central to the Lee family’s story as they consider the myths the characters have about themselves, the myths other people have about them, and the myths people more generally have about different facets of identity, including race, ethnicity, gender, and sexual orientation.
For instance, through James, a Chinese American history professor who specializes in American cowboys, students contend with the notion of what it means to be American, to look American, and to be viewed as qualified to teach about America. Through Marilyn, a stay-at-home wife and mother who once dreamed of becoming a doctor, students consider gender-based expectations that, for centuries, excluded women from many spaces, particularly STEM fields.
While I have found that Ng’s novel pairs beautifully with the Muse Project, any number of texts can work, so long as they provide students with the opportunity to consider the myths we as a society have about different identities.
Using this analysis of Ng’s novel as a starting point, we launch into the two-month Muse Project, which asks students to consider the role of myth in their own lives. Students subsequently create an original myth about themselves and bring this to life through an artistic creation of their own design. As students brainstorm ideas for their projects, they consider their own identities, including who they are and who they want to be in our school community. Through their projects, students seek to answer this essential question: Who am I? By answering this question, students are able to share pieces of themselves with our school community, all while having fun, developing their creativity, learning new skills, leaning into discomfort, and taking risks.
I have seen weather balloons, laser-cut planes, stunningly shot music videos, larger-than-life fantasy maps, and digital art made from math equations. Students are encouraged to utilize various teachers, resources, and technology both on and off campus, and every year, they step out of their comfort zones to try new things and create unbelievable works of art. While the projects are impressive, what is most amazing is seeing students share their passions, interests, and who they are at the MUSEum Showcase, an annual event that celebrates their work.
Students also do a significant amount of writing as part of the Muse Project. In a literary analysis assignment, students examine a specific myth about the identities of one of the characters in Everything I Never Told You. Additionally, in a personal statement, they reflect on the myth they created about themselves, how the medium they chose for their artistic creation serves as a form of mythmaking, and the connection between their work and Ng’s text. In this way, the Muse Project provides a blending of academic rigor and joy in learning, providing students with opportunities to hone their analytical, reflective, and personal narrative writing skills while also exploring their artistry and creativity.
Students Need Moments of Joy
During the 2023–21 school year, in the midst of the pandemic and hybrid learning, one of my administrators suggested cutting the Muse Project so we could focus on more academic work. I understood that there was pressure for teachers to mitigate potential learning loss, but I remained adamant that we keep the project—it’s an immense source of joy for students, and I didn’t want to give up a project that allowed them to explore who they are and the limits of their imaginations in the pursuit of purely academic work.
Ultimately, we kept the Muse Project, and seeing what students created absolutely blew me away. Despite the restrictions and obstacles they faced, including fewer resources and limited access to technology and help on campus, students rose to the challenge, using materials and guidance they could get at home to create artistic projects that left our community in awe.
As an English teacher, of course I want my students to learn how to write effectively and persuasively, to grow confident in discussing and analyzing literature, and to master grammatical concepts. But I also want them to cultivate their interests, explore aspects of their identities, and learn that they can achieve greatness even when faced with immense challenges, all while finding joy and having fun.
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Tense communicates an event’s location in time. The different tenses are identified by their associated verb forms. There are three main verb tenses: past, present, and future.
In English, each of these tenses can take four main aspects: simple, perfect, continuous (also known as progressive), and perfect continuous. The perfect aspect is formed using the verb to have, while the continuous aspect is formed using the verb to be.
In academic writing, the most commonly used tenses are the present simple, the past simple, and the present perfect.Tenses and their functions
The table below gives an overview of some of the basic functions of tenses and aspects. Tenses locate an event in time, while aspects communicate durations and relationships between events that happen at different times.
Tense Function Example
Present simple used for facts, generalizations, and truths that are not affected by the passage of time “She writes a lot of papers for her classes.”
Past simple used for events completed in the past “She wrote the papers for all of her classes last month.”
Future simple used for events to be completed in the future “She will write papers for her classes next semester.”
Present perfect used to describe events that began in the past and are expected to continue, or to emphasize the relevance of past events to the present moment “She has written papers for most of her classes, but she still has some papers left to write.”
Past perfect used to describe events that happened prior to other events in the past “She had written several papers for her classes before she switched universities.”
Future perfect used to describe events that will be completed between now and a specific point in the future “She will have written many papers for her classes by the end of the semester.”
Present continuous used to describe currently ongoing (usually temporary) actions “She is writing a paper for her class.”
Past continuous used to describe ongoing past events, often in relation to the occurrence of another event “She was writing a paper for her class when her pencil broke.”
Future continuous used to describe future events that are expected to continue over a period of time “She will be writing a lot of papers for her classes next year.”
Present perfect continuous used to describe events that started in the past and continue into the present or were recently completed, emphasizing their relevance to the present moment “She has been writing a paper all night, and now she needs to get some sleep.”
Past perfect continuous used to describe events that began, continued, and ended in the past, emphasizing their relevance to a past moment “She had been writing a paper all night, and she needed to get some sleep.”
Future perfect continuous used to describe events that will continue up until a point in the future, emphasizing their expected duration “She will have been writing this paper for three months when she hands it in.”
It can be difficult to pick the right verb tenses and use them consistently. If you struggle with verb tenses in your thesis or dissertation, you could consider using a thesis proofreading service.When to use the present simple
The present simple is the most commonly used tense in academic writing, so if in doubt, this should be your default choice of tense. There are two main situations where you always need to use the present tense.Describing facts, generalizations, and explanations
Facts that are always true do not need to be located in a specific time, so they are stated in the present simple. You might state these types of facts when giving background information in your introduction.
The Eiffel tower is in Paris.
Light travels faster than sound.
Similarly, theories and generalizations based on facts are expressed in the present simple.
Average income differs by race and gender.
Older people express less concern about the environment than younger people.
Explanations of terms, theories, and ideas should also be written in the present simple.
Photosynthesis refers to the process by which plants convert sunlight into chemical energy.
According to Piketty (2013), inequality grows over time in capitalist economies.Describing the content of a text
Things that happen within the space of a text should be treated similarly to facts and generalizations.
This applies to fictional narratives in books, films, plays, etc. Use the present simple to describe the events or actions that are your main focus; other tenses can be used to mark different times within the text itself.
In the first novel, Harry learns he is a wizard and travels to Hogwarts for the first time, finally escaping the constraints of the family that raised him.
The events in the first part of the sentence are the writer’s main focus, so they are described in the present tense. The second part uses the past tense to add extra information about something that happened prior to those events within the book.
When discussing and analyzing nonfiction, similarly, use the present simple to describe what the author does within the pages of the text (argues, explains, demonstrates, etc).
In The History of Sexuality, Foucault asserts that sexual identity is a modern invention.
Paglia (1993) critiques Foucault’s theory.
This rule also applies when you are describing what you do in your own text. When summarizing the research in your abstract, describing your objectives, or giving an overview of the dissertation structure in your introduction, the present simple is the best choice of tense.
This research aims to synthesize the two theories.
Chapter 3 explains the methodology and discusses ethical issues.
The paper concludes with recommendations for further research.When to use the past simple
The past simple should be used to describe completed actions and events, including steps in the research process and historical background information.Reporting research steps
Whether you are referring to your own research or someone else’s, use the past simple to report specific steps in the research process that have been completed.
Olden (2023) recruited 17 participants for the study.
We transcribed and coded the interviews before analyzing the results.
The past simple is also the most appropriate choice for reporting the results of your research.
All of the focus group participants agreed that the new version was an improvement.
We found a positive correlation between the variables, but it was not as strong as we hypothesized.Describing historical events
Background information about events that took place in the past should also be described in the past simple tense.
James Joyce pioneered the modernist use of stream of consciousness.When to use the present perfect
The present perfect is used mainly to describe past research that took place over an unspecified time period. You can also use it to create a connection between the findings of past research and your own work.Summarizing previous work
When summarizing a whole body of research or describing the history of an ongoing debate, use the present perfect.
Many researchers have investigated the effects of poverty on health.
Studies have shown a link between cancer and red meat consumption.
Identity politics has been a topic of heated debate since the 1960s.
The problem of free will has vexed philosophers for centuries.
Similarly, when mentioning research that took place over an unspecified time period in the past (as opposed to a specific step or outcome of that research), use the present perfect instead of the past tense.
Green et al. have conducted extensive research on the ecological effects of wolf reintroduction.Emphasizing the present relevance of previous work
When describing the outcomes of past research with verbs like find, discover or demonstrate, you can use either the past simple or the present perfect.
The present perfect is a good choice to emphasize the continuing relevance of a piece of research and its consequences for your own work. It implies that the current research will build on, follow from, or respond to what previous researchers have done.
Smith (2023) has found that younger drivers are involved in more traffic accidents than older drivers, but more research is required to make effective policy recommendations.
As Monbiot (2013) has shown, ecological change is closely linked to social and political processes.
Note, however, that the facts and generalizations that emerge from past research are reported in the present simple.When to use other tenses
While the above are the most commonly used tenses in academic writing, there are many cases where you’ll use other tenses to make distinctions between times.Future simple
The future simple is used for making predictions or stating intentions. You can use it in a research proposal to describe what you intend to do.
It is also sometimes used for making predictions and stating hypotheses. Take care, though, to avoid making statements about the future that imply a high level of certainty. It’s often a better choice to use other verbs like expect, predict, and assume to make more cautious statements.
There will be a strong positive correlation.
to find a strong positive correlation.
a strong positive correlation.
Similarly, when discussing the future implications of your research, rather than making statements with will, try to use other verbs or modal verbs that imply possibility (can, could, may, might).
These findings will influence future approaches to the topic.
These findings could influence future approaches to the topic.Present, past, and future continuous
The continuous aspect is not commonly used in academic writing. It tends to convey an informal tone, and in most cases, the present simple or present perfect is a better choice.
Some scholars are suggesting that mainstream economic paradigms are no longer adequate.
Some scholars suggest
that mainstream economic paradigms are no longer adequate.
Some scholars have suggested
that mainstream economic paradigms are no longer adequate.
However, in certain types of academic writing, such as literary and historical studies, the continuous aspect might be used in narrative descriptions or accounts of past events. It is often useful for positioning events in relation to one another.
While Harry is traveling to Hogwarts for the first time, he meets many of the characters who will become central to the narrative.
The country was still recovering from the recession when Donald Trump was elected.Past perfect
Similarly, the past perfect is not commonly used, except in disciplines that require making fine distinctions between different points in the past or different points in a narrative’s plot.Sources in this article
We strongly encourage students to use sources in their work. You can cite our article (APA Style) or take a deep dive into the articles below.
This Scribbr article
Bryson, S. Retrieved July 14, 2023,
Cite this article
Aarts, B. (2011). Oxford modern English grammar. Oxford University Press.
Butterfield, J. (Ed.). (2023). Fowler’s dictionary of modern English usage (4th ed.). Oxford University Press.
Show all sources (3)
Garner, B. A. (2023). Garner’s modern English usage (4th ed.). Oxford University Press.
Handing students the task of creating their own vocabulary lists is a simple way to have them take responsibility for their learning.
For many teachers, finding ways to differentiate their lessons is just plain tough. There are so many responsibilities to meet and tasks to complete in a typical day that taking one really great lesson and trying to meet the needs of every single student can be extremely daunting.
Vocabulary instruction, though, is a crucial area to ensure that the work is worth students’ while. Strengthening their vocabulary makes them stronger readers, more influential writers, and more culturally aware citizens.
For so many years, teachers have laboriously passed out vocabulary lists, given students a week to memorize the words and definitions, and then had them regurgitate the out-of-context words that half the kids still couldn’t use properly in a sentence. And the other half already knew some of the words before the list was in their hands.
Can we plan our vocabulary instruction so that all students can walk away with a stronger vocabulary?
I think so. We can start by giving students the power to choose their own vocabulary words, allowing them to take responsibility for their learning.
How to Begin
Start by giving your students a common text to work with. Newsela has great articles that can be differentiated by Lexile levels for the different students in your classroom. Just make sure that the text is at a high enough Lexile level for them to grow. While there should be words with which they will struggle, they shouldn’t be overwhelmed by the text.
Have students preview the text according to your normal processes—making predictions based on the title, looking at text features, etc. Before students begin reading the text, ask them to skim it for five words they don’t recognize. Instruct them to highlight these words so they’re easy to find again, and have students create an “unknown words” chart in their notebooks to prepare for their word work as they read.
As students read and stumble upon their highlighted words, they should stop to determine the meaning of those words. I make sure students have devices to look up definitions as they read. Encourage students to never skip over words they don’t know. This deeply impacts their comprehension of the text—it’s a strategy they need now and can use for the rest of their lives.
Students won’t be able to complete this process effectively until they’ve been taught how to break down words and use context clues, so it’s important to give mini-lessons on the different types of context clues, how to use connotation to determine denotation, and how to recognize word parts. This will set your students up for success with this exercise.
After students have finished the reading and have a graphic organizer breaking down five words, begin providing opportunities for them to use the words. Students truly understand a word best when it’s learned in context and then can be used properly in context. Have students use their five words all week long in different activities—you can give them a variety of options for vocabulary development so they don’t get bored.
Mini-conferences: Since it’s important for students to be able to use the words in context, you can meet with them to ensure that they’re using their words properly. These conferences can be extremely brief and done right at their desks, or you can take a few minutes at a side table. Just make sure you’re providing the coaching your students need in their vocabulary development.
Frayer Model remix: The Frayer Model graphic organizer is a tried-and-true vocabulary strategy, but it can become boring after a while. Keep it fresh by changing up the activity in each box. Try having the students compare their words to random things like types of candy, people in history, or something they could find outside. You’ll find that this strategy will have them thinking more deeply about the words and making deeper connections.
Teach the class: After students have spent some time mastering the words they picked, give them the opportunity to teach the words to their peers. We know that students have mastered content when they can teach it themselves, so use this as a quick assessment to monitor their progress.
Letter to a word: Students bring their word to life by writing a letter to it. The content of the letter will depend on the connotation of the word and how the student has decided to personify the word. Give students the extra challenge of using words they’ve already mastered in the letter.
Vocabulary instruction is easy to differentiate and make personal for every student, and doing so helps students strengthen their vocabulary and build essential skills in using context clues.
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Today at the 2013 Google I/O conference in California, Google announced that the company would begin selling the Samsung Galaxy S4, the newest in the most successful Android phone line on the planet, themselves. When you buy a Galaxy S4 from your wireless carrier or a retail store, it comes with a skin called TouchWiz and a two-year contract. With Google, you’ll pay more, but you won’t get stuck with either the skin or the contract.
The developers in the audience cheered when Hugo Barra, the head of Android at Google, showed a Galaxy S4 with stock Android. Then the cheers died out, suddenly and awkwardly, when Barra noted the price for this special phone: $649. One person gave a sad whistle. Barra chuckled and changed the subject to the Chromebook.
The audience was excited because stock Android–the version of Android that comes on Google’s own Nexus devices, the so-called “pure” Android that is created with no input from any other company–is excellent. Google has spent years hiring some of the best user-interface designers in the business (they’ve poached several from competing companies) and turning Android into a streamlined and fantastically competent operating system. Hell, they even created their own font (it’s called Roboto, and it looks a bit like Helvetica). Stock Android is fast, clean, and simple–the best version of Android you can get.
The other benefit to stock Android is receiving updates quickly. Android is updated frequently, with major new versions arriving about once per year, but the only devices that receive those updates as soon as they’re ready are the ones with stock Android. If you’re using anything but a Nexus, you’re going to have to wait. The update might come in a few weeks, a few months, or it might just…never come.
The Nexus phones aren’t that popular; they’re sometimes sold exclusively through Google, and they never have the weight of promotion that a flagship Samsung, HTC, or Motorola phone has. According to the Guardian, the Nexus 4–the latest Nexus phone, which we ranked as the best smartphone of 2012–sold a paltry 400,000 units in its first quarter. Samsung shipped (not sold, but still) 6 million Galaxy S4 units in the phone’s first 15 days. If you have an Android phone, chances are you’re having an inferior experience. Check out our Galaxy S3 review for why–the hardware manufacturers who slap skins and features on their phones are just not as good at this game as Google.
What Google needs is a self-destruct button. A built-in way for any Android device to delete whatever skin it came with and revert to clean, cool stock Android.
* * *
The odd thing about this inability to revert is in the meaning and execution of “open source.” Android is open source, which means the hardware manufacturers are free to use it as they see fit, even if that means making it worse. But there’s a paradox in that the openness enables a lockdown. Google has been tentative, nervously promoting stock Android as if it’s an also-ran and not the default. “It’s Google’s version of Android,” said Barra. But shouldn’t that be the base? Shouldn’t every other version be a version of that?
4. Track your accomplishments
Providing hard data to show what you’ve done throughout the year is highly beneficial. Employees and managers may roughly understand how you have performed but having concrete numbers to back up any assertion strengthens the validity of your self-assessment.
“If employees … spend 10 seconds a day writing down their one biggest accomplishment, success, metric hit, feedback received for that day, they’d have 10 times more data than they’d ever need for self-assessment,” said Mike Mannon, president of WD Communications.
Hank Yuloff, the owner of Yuloff Creative Marketing Solutions, said continuous evaluation of your performance can make it much easier to ground your self-assessment in facts and measurable data.
“We teach our clients to keep a list of daily and weekly accomplishments so that when it is time for the self-assessment, there is very little guesswork as to how valuable they are to the company,” Yuloff said.5. Be professional
You should always be professional when writing self-assessments. This means not bashing the boss for poor leadership or criticizing co-workers for making your life more difficult. It also means not gushing over a co-worker or manager you like. Whether you are providing critical or positive feedback, professionalism is important.
Being professional means giving the appraisal its due attention, like any other important project that crosses your desk. Dominique Jones, chief people officer at BusPatrol, recommends treating your self-evaluation like a work of art that builds over time. She said you’ll be much happier with the result if you give yourself time to reflect and carefully support your self-assessment.
“Use examples to support your assertions and … make sure that you spell- and grammar-check your documents,” Jones wrote in a blog post. “These are all signs of how seriously you take the process and its importance to you.”Self evaluation example statements
Keeping things simple and using short, declarative bullet points are key to writing an effective self-assessment. While the exact nature of your self-assessment might depend on your industry or your job description, this basic model can help guide you in writing a self-evaluation.Strengths
I am a dedicated employee who understands my role and responsibilities, as well as the larger mission of our business. I strive to both do my job and make this company successful.
I am a good communicator who stays on task and helps rally the team when cooperation is needed to meet a deadline or solve a problem.
I am a creative thinker who can develop novel solutions and improve conventional ways of doing things.Weaknesses
I am somewhat disorganized, which often impacts my productivity. I have learned how to manage my time better and intentionally direct my efforts. While it remains a challenge, I have seen some progress and look forward to continually improving.
Sometimes, I do not ask for help when I could benefit from assistance. I am always willing to help my teammates, and I know they feel the same way, so I will try to be more vocal about when I need a helping hand moving forward.Core values
I believe in teamwork and cooperation to overcome any obstacle.
I value respect and transparency between employees and managers.
I value friendship and building warm relationships within the workplace.
I strive to be a welcoming and helpful presence to my co-workers.Accomplishments
I never missed a deadline in the past year and often submitted my work early.
I’ve gone beyond my job description to ensure our team operates optimally, staying late and helping others whenever it could contribute to our collective goal.
I created and delivered a presentation, stepping outside my comfort zone to do so. It was well received and bolstered my confidence regarding public speaking.Goals
I want to continue developing my presentation and public speaking skills. As a weakness that I listed on previous self-assessments, it is gratifying to see that I have made some progress on this skill set, and I would like to double down on the growth.
I aspire to enter a managerial role. I enjoy working closely with my teammates and considering the bigger picture, and I often efficiently help direct resources. I could see myself as a manager who helps facilitate teamwork and encourages workers to do their best.Feedback
My manager is pleasant and transparent, and they always set clear expectations. I never have to guess where I stand. I appreciate the openness and direct communication.
I want to be more involved in decision-making at the team level. I believe each team member has unique insights that supervisors cannot fully understand since their perspective is different. I believe involving staff members in strategic planning could greatly improve results.
Did You Know?
You should keep your self-assessment short and simple by using bullet points.
Student Philanthropists Get Real Cash SMG course puts $15,000 toward charitable causes
Kristen McCormack, faculty director of the Public and Nonprofit Management Program at SMG, is helping her students give away $15,000 to a worthy cause. Photo by Vernon Doucette
Maureen Merrigan and her classmates in the School of Management course Nonprofit Management have a problem. They need to give away thousands of dollars. And it’s a whole different story, Merrigan says, when the money is real and so are the needs.
“It’s going to be tough finding a nonprofit to fund that we can all agree on,” says Merrigan (CAS’08). “We’ve discussed splitting into groups or saving some of the money for next year.”
The money that Merrigan is talking about is a $15,000 fund that Fidelity Investments has donated to the University as part of a nationwide pilot program to nurture young philanthropists on college campuses. This spring, some 25 undergraduates taking the SMG course will act as a genuine charitable organization and disburse the money to a worthy cause. To do it right, the students will form a board of directors, create donor guidelines, and research the inner workings of potential nonprofit candidates.
“The idea is that students learn a lot more from doing than reading about it,” says Kristen McCormack, faculty director of SMG’s Public and Nonprofit Management Program.
The philanthropic initiative, called Students4Giving, is a joint effort of Campus Compact, a national coalition of college and university presidents dedicated to civic and community engagement on campus, and the Fidelity Charitable Gift Fund, the charitable arm of Fidelity Investments and the country’s fourth-largest public charity. After BU joined Campus Compact this year, McCormack, with the help of several students, submitted a Students4Giving proposal. Of the 35 institutions applying for the seed funds, 5 were chosen: BU, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Portland Community College, in Portland, Ore., California State University, in Fresno, Calif., and Whitworth University, in Spokane, Wash.
“Students are going to learn all about the challenges involved in giving away money,” McCormack says. “They’re also going to learn the characteristics of a well-managed nonprofit organization, and they’re going to figure out what it means to have impact in the community — is it the number of people you serve, the quality of services, or whether you’re making change in a broader context?”
Merrigan, an archaeology major, helps run the BU Community Service Center’s Student Food Rescue, a campus volunteer group that collects and distributes food to shelters, meal programs, and food pantries. After graduation, she’d like to develop youth programs in museums. “I’m very familiar with managing volunteers,” she says, “but the business side of a charity is so foreign.”
Jon Hammer (SMG’08), a business administration major taking the class, says that this is the type of grant he would expect to see in an MBA program.
“It’s a pretty unique opportunity for students at our level to have a real financial impact on real nonprofit organizations,” he says. “It gives us a chance to dig deep into the activities of several organizations to see where we can make the biggest difference and how it should be done.”
That’s precisely what Fidelity has in mind, says Sarah Libbey, senior vice president of marketing for the Fidelity Charitable Gift Fund, which has disbursed $7.3 million since 1991.
“Our goal is to inspire students to be thoughtful philanthropists while giving them the skills to assess the needs of the local nonprofits,” she says. “We hope this will be the beginning of a lifetime of community involvement.”
Merrigan sees things the same way.
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