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English Teacher: NMSI Training a Bright Light in Difficult Year

Kristen Kurzawski
connected with us to share how much she enjoyed attending a one-day NMSI fall training this month.

“I am using absolutely everything we discussed,” says Kurzawski, an AP English Literature teacher at Brashear High School in Pittsburgh. “No one at NMSI trainings ever wastes my time. The presenter used every minute in the right way, and all the information is fantastic."

She went on to say, “I wanted to send you a shout out to brighten your day.”

We appreciate feedback from teachers, particularly during this challenging time. In a follow-up conversation, Kurzawski answered a few questions about why NMSI’s training was useful for her classroom.

Tell us more about why the NMSI fall training was beneficial.

One of the great things is it built in scaffolding and expectations for students taking the AP exam. In the English exam, the kids have to write three essays in a two-hour period, and those essays are intimidating. The training provided weeklong lessons for the kids to practice writing a paragraph or two of the essay and different ways of approaching it, like in groups or solo, in a low-stress environment.

How is that different from the way you’ve approached teaching in the past?

I usually do one practice essay in a unit. The NMSI approach has students continually practicing the essay throughout the unit, and then in the end, they do the whole essay themselves. Since incorporating this into my classroom, by the time the kids get to the full timed essay, they felt really confident and comfortable with it for the first time because we kept doing chunks of it over and over, and that helped them feel really confident to do a big essay.

What else did you find helpful from the NMSI training?

One activity has students analyzing texts from different lenses. The kids have six different ways to read and analyze the text, and it’s something I’ve shared with the whole English department. It can be used with ninth- or 10th-graders – it doesn’t have to be AP to be useful. After they did the activity, they could talk about thematic statements that were so much deeper and more layered because they looked at it from a gender, race or socioeconomic position. It really opened their eyes to deeper concepts in the text.

How did this training incorporate culturally relevant teaching practices?

The unit is designed to give students a lot of different ways to approach problems. They can do it in groups or individual work, and also gives them a lot of choice to tweak it so that it best fits their personal learning model or home situation. If they can’t unmute their mic for group work because there’s a lot going on at home, they could still choose to work alone. The unit is designed to be taught virtually, and it worked really well.

What are your students’ reactions to these NMSI materials?

I do a debrief conversation with kids at the end of the week, and they loved the lens project. It made them think about race and gender in ways they hadn’t before. Another thing students really liked is collaborating as a group to write essays because they really felt they could show their own strengths and learn the strengths of others.  

Looking for ready-to-use lessons, AP planning materials and other resources for teachers? Check out NMSI's classroom resources.