Tuesday, December 9, 2008
The difference between Wordle and Word Trees is that "punctuation matters." I am curious if this will lead my students to different understandings as the trees branch out in different ways. Has anyone used Word Trees before?
Monday, November 24, 2008
Saturday, November 22, 2008
I also attended the tail-end of a session on laptop schools, and it was gratifying to feel like the "old-timer" there. Schools who are considering moving in this direction were asking questions, and hearing others' answers and sharing my own reminded me how far we have come in successfully implementing our 1:1 program. Yes, we are still growing and improving everyday, but I cannot imagine teaching without laptops.
I ended my day with a tour of the Alamo -- what a beautiful place. The trees are breathtaking -- they look like the olive trees I saw all over Italy. I picked up cowboy hats for my two kids and an Alamo bandana for my husband -- I am bringing some of my Texan roots home to them.
Tomorrow morning is the Commission on Composition meeting then I head home. A fast and great conference. Next year is Philadelphia, and I think I can get at least one more teacher from my department to be able to come with me because we could maybe stay with my sister (read: free). It will be great to share this with a colleague -- twice the sessions, twice the learning, twice the growth for us as teachers.
Friday, November 21, 2008
Now that I am on my own laptop (and not hogging one in the NCTE store), I have time to think more about what I heard and did today.
First, I find it interesting that the fullest session BY FAR that I attended was on AP English. Their focus was how literature still matters and how the AP curriculum is one good way to keep literature at the forefront. The session was absolutely packed -- people sitting in every empty space on the floor when all of the chairs were full. It makes me wonder why. In a conference of so many new ideas, AP gets some of the biggest attention. I enjoyed the session overall, and the presenters were well-prepared and engaging. But I have to say that I did not learn strikingly new things. Instead, I enjoyed it because it confirmed the techniques I use with my AP students and younger. I wonder why others were drawn there and what they took away.
I did attend a session that was not well-prepared, and that is always frustrating. It can take a good 15 minutes to get from one end of the buildings to the other, so once I get there, I'd like to stay and gain something. I was really looking forward to the topic too, but the presenters mostly rambled and quoted a single teacher resource. This surprised me I guess because of my own personality. If I were giving a session at a national conferance, I would hyper-prepare (not a great thing either!), so I guess I expect each session to at least have a focus and forward motion.
I have the first thing that I am going to take right back to my students. This was said in a conversation about the decline of reading habits across the board in our nation. The stats are pretty sobering -- nearly half of all Americans 18-24 do not read for pleasure. The presenter then said this: "Something about growing up in America discourages cultural and literary growth." I plan to share this with my world lit students as a step in our quest to answer the essential question, "Why must we think?" I am curious if they agree with the statement, and if so, why. Or if they do not, I hope to help them come up with ways they can prove it wrong by how they live their own lives.
Finally, that session linked with another in my head about students' reading habits. I think I am fortunate that many of my school's students are active and engaged readers. Our teachers do a great job of offering choice and encouragement with personal reading, thus keeping that flame alive. I also think our students impressively give us the benefit of the doubt and are willing to try an assigned reading and actually like it. Yet, I don't want to be living in a dreamworld, so I would like to dig a little more deeply into our students' reading habits. Do they really read enough for pleasure, or are they in that other half of the statistics? The reason why I wonder this is what was shared in a session about reading stamina. First, they said the thing that prohibits most students from maintianing their reading fluency is maintaining their stamina as texts get harder. I think this might define a struggle we have been seeing from our 7th to 8th grade as we have realized that our 7th grade texts might not challenge the students as much as even the 6th grade texts do. Is their stamina back-sliding? And this leads me to their other finding -- the students in their research study, even in 6th grade, were overwhlemed by homework so they literally had no time to read well and for a duration of time. I think my school might be guilty of this too ...
Tomorrow I am facilitating a session on how high-stakes testing is affecting writing and writing instruction -- should be interesting. Then later in the day, I am really looking forward to finally having the time to stop by "Tech on the Go." I can get there when they are having a general sharing of ideas, so it will be great to hear what others have done and be able to share what I do. Oh, and of course, I am going to visit the Alamo -- I am two days behind Dana Huff as it is!
- Opening Session with Marc Prensky: "With the old ways of teaching (lecturer/teacher), technology does get in the way. With the 'new' ways of teaching (guide/partner), technology is the tool." (a loose quote from memory)
- A talk on critical theory and practice with Gerald Graff (president of the MLA): How we read and how we talk about what we read matters more than what we read.
- A session with AP consultants sponsored by the College Board: My worlds collide when one of the presenters is someone I knew from the AP readings.
- A session on using American lit texts to teach about prejudice and cultural understanding: I went to this one specifically to bring ideas back for our American Literature teacher Jennifer. I think I have some titles for us to consider for replacing Black Ice.
- This afternoon is going to be all about teaching reading strategies. One session I am attending is billed as specific reading strategies tied to brain research, and the other is billed as focusing on teaching reading stamina. I am very curious about both of these because I think they can help with discussions our department has been having about challenging our students as readers without losing them.
Wednesday, November 19, 2008
Friday, November 14, 2008
Here is what he created: a document for us to use for notes and thinking plus a website to explore. (And if you listen to the audio file, yes, those are two of our Jewish students Joe recorded reciting a Hebrew prayer. He also brought in one of the student's actual Torah.)
Tuesday, November 11, 2008
"When I was a teenager, I remember reading letters to the editor in my local paper, where the grown-ups were arguing about whether to allow students to use calculators. The unspoken worry was that since calculators had appeared so suddenly, they might disappear just as suddenly. What none of the grown-ups in that conversation understood was that there would never again be a day when we needed to divide two seven-digit numbers on paper. What seemed to them like a provisional new capability was actually a deep and permanent shift, one we students recognized immediately" (Shirky 294).
Do all of your students get this today about the web and all of its possibilities? To be honest, I am not sure all of mine do, and that is why this quote makes me think so much. As a teacher, I feel so often on the back-end of the "Web 2.0" movement -- barely hanging on. Yet, for some (many?) of my students, I am pulling them along. I am showing them not only, to keep Shirky's metaphor going, why this calculator is here to stay but also why they should be recognizing this as part of THEIR worlds.
So in the end, am I in front or back?
Saturday, November 8, 2008
Monday, October 27, 2008
Read the whole article by Dr. Wesch here.
Sunday, October 19, 2008
Here is what I think worked best for us:
1. All Upper School English teachers memorized a poem, and we all recited at the all-school meeting where we introduced the contest. I found I could then really talk with my students about the challenges yet benefits of poetry memorization and recitation.
2. All Upper School students were required in their English classes to prepare and recite a poem. This got everyone involved.
3. The whole Upper School was the audience for our class winners competing to be the school winner. Since everyone had memorized a poem, they all understood what those on stage were up against.
Saturday, October 18, 2008
Friday, October 10, 2008
1. LibraryThing: My students and I are part of a class group, and we each post a review of our books before class. Then, as each of us is talking about our books, I project up the reviews. We can see how many stars the reader gives the book plus the overall average star rating of all LibraryThing users. When students are choosing their next novels, they can go back on and reread any reviews of novels that peaked their interests. It is a great way to collaborate even more with what we are reading.
2. Creative Technology: I also updated my suggestions for the creative responses to their novels. I added voice and video options as well as keeping more traditional models and creative writing ideas. I really want the students to explore with this assignment -- we do enough literary analysis as it is for all of our other assignments. Today I got a recording of a speech putting Napoleon from Animal Farm on trial, a musical and image collage about Paradise Lost, a Google Earth exploration of the airports from Fight Club plus a beautiful painting of a clock inspired by Clockwork Orange and a model of The Road.
My students and I now have a load of new books our classmates have told us we must read.
Sunday, October 5, 2008
Saturday, October 4, 2008
Tuesday, September 16, 2008
Thursday, September 11, 2008
My second student created a webpage. He did not use FreeWebs like I had hoped -- the site he used has a free trial but then he will have to pay. So I am curious if his site will disappear in 30 days. But his classmates were very intrigued by his site and enjoyed the visuals he chose. He then played a YouTube video of a Beethoven piece. This was the most amazing part -- as the music was playing, he explained to the class how Beethoven's music was often soothing and melodic but that we should hear the tension building in this piece just like it was in this time period. Almost on cue, the music rose and the class almost made an audible, "Ahhh ..."
A 100% success day. We had great uses of technology supporting learning, we had music, we had archival photos, we had art, we had fun, we learned. My first two students have set the bar very high for their classmates.
Tuesday, September 9, 2008
His findings confirmed for me what I have been playing with in my mind all summer. How do we help our students become good readers who do not get frustrated and quit when they come up against a reading challenge?
I tried his method today with my students and Candide. They read this for summer reading, and in the past I gave them a few questions to consider just to refresh the book in their minds before we begin to discuss it. This year, I had them do a guided rereading activity on the first chaper. Here it is.
Today in class, I began by projecting up the first chapter and asking them what they found in their rereading. We had the best discussion of this book I have ever had with a class. They made connections between the character traits presented and what they knew would happen in the book (Candide is shy and does not think much on his own --> makes sense that he struggles with disagreeing with his beloved tutor's ideas for so long). They saw the satirical barbs already in place (and could see that it took them longer the first time around to see the satire). They had fun realizing just what Pangloss was doing when he was tutoring the chambermaid (!!). And they said again and again, "I had not noticed this the first time I read the book, but ..."
Their essays are on Thursday, so we will see if the success in writing plays out for my students too, but the reading strategy approach is a keeper. (Here is another idea for a reading strategy -- I now know even more about why this lesson works so well!)
Monday, September 1, 2008
Thursday, August 28, 2008
Here is an excerpt. If you are familiar with my essential question ideas for this world lit course, this post was the way I got them started thinking about it. Their thoughts about thinking in general plus the personal way they apporach each other was more than I could have hoped for.
Topic #1: Why Do You Think? (And Do You?)
starts: August 25, 2008 at 12:01 AM ends: August 30, 2009 at 11:59 PM
Created by Susanne Nobles
"We've learned to speak and think in the epistemology of television, which is essentially filled with thought-terminating clichés ... There is a kind of war against self-reflection, self-criticism, and real introspection" (Whitehead).
I believe literature of all kinds, and specifically world literature, can create a culture of intellect and thought. Yet reading world literature requires “two competing [tasks]: an invitation to identify (‘This text is about you!’) and a warning against overidentifying (‘This text was never about you!’) … Far from being an excuse for passive reading, ‘This was never about you!’ calls students to attend to a material world that is not their own, which means caring enough ‘to learn it’ … Can Westerners’ confrontation of a foreign text result in genuine identification …?” (Eck 579, 582).
When was the last time you really thought about something? Be honest … what does real thought look and feel like? Okay, when was the last time you did that?
I actually am a fairly reflective person and fall into deep thought on a fairly regular basis. I'd say that the last time I fell into deep thought had to be over this past weekend when I was dealing with a difficult decision that I had to make. I also find myself thinking more and more about college and what I want to do where I want to go, and how those decisions will affect me during college and later on in life. I guess I never really stop thinking about that subject because I find my self often drifting off into my own little world of self reflection on the topic. I never really think about the same thing, but often times I get into deep existential and philosophical discussions with my life where I ponder things untill my head begins to swirl, and I begin to lose grasp on the topic that I am trying to understand. I usually get into real thought when I am not distracted by anything else, however I can keep on the same subject for several days "pausing" my thinking until the distractions are over. Usually it involves picking my brain appart, presenting counter points and arguments to points that I am trying to make, and it ends with analyzing why I am thinking and acting in a certain way and what the consequences of behaving like that are. It's actually all pretty exhausting. So yeah I guess I would still have to stand with saying that the last time I did that was this past weekend, because It definitely fit the description of what I just put down.
Reply #6.1 to Response #6:
I know the same feeling, and I know we have talked about some of those issues between ourselves, specifically last year. And I think that the feeling that you are losing yourself in the moment is all the more of a testimony to how deep your thinking. I feel that the harder and longer you ponder something, the more questions begin to form, and the harder you have to think. This might be why so many of us avoid hard reflecting, because we find it is to much work.
Monday, August 25, 2008
Friday, August 15, 2008
Wednesday, August 13, 2008
- Teaching 2 sections of AP English Literature and Composition with a focus on world literature
- Director of College Counseling
- Student Government advisor, including heading up our new Leadership Camp this weekend. Two days of leadership talk and work -- I am excited to see how our student leaders delve further into what leadership is.
- English Department Coordinator (main department focus: getting our consensus curriculum maps finalized)
- Co-chair of our 10-year accreditation visit
- "Overseer" of our school's first curriculum guide which is at the printer as I type -- I can't wait to see it next week and hand it to the faculty. I am still unsure about what my Head of School has in mind for my role to keep it current and improving ... stay tuned.
- My 4 1/2 year old daughter will be attending preschool 5 mornings a week -- she is VERY excited. They have requested that we send in a computer headset for her, so she is a techie in making I guess.
- My 2 1/2 year old son joins his sister in preschool this year -- and according to him it is about time. 2 mornings a week.
- A member of Will/Cheryl's PLP with 5 other FA teachers as well as teachers from around the world
- Thursday night yoga classes
- Running three mornings a week with a new mom -- she is balancing her run with feeding and clothing herself and her son all before 7:00 AM. Amazing.
- Attending NCTE in November as a member of the Commission on Composition. The theme this year is "Shift Happens" -- perfect.
I go back to work this Sunday with Leadership Camp -- it will be a great year.
Tuesday, August 12, 2008
We use the first page of Brave New World as our initial practice. Before my students actually begin reading the novel, I have them underline all descriptive words on the first page only (a great grammar moment as we discuss how, while adjectives and adverbs are by nature descriptive, nouns and verbs can be too). Then, by projecting the first page (here is the whole novel on-line -- the first page is the first 3 paragraphs) on a Word document, we mark it up and see the descriptive dissonance Huxley creates through his diction. The "fertilizing room" is cold, most sterile, and nearly dead. Through his word choice, Huxley has created a window into the metanarrative of his novel. We don't yet know WHY he does not like the society he is creating, but now my students can start reading as knowledgeable readers and not be lulled into thinking Huxley is presenting his own utopia. Oh the discussions that follow.
Wordle has entered my life now though, and look at what I can do to cap off this lesson:
The word "light" is one of the biggest. How does this fit with the bleak, cold atmosphere we have just discussed Huxley creating? Maybe my students will see through this visual tool how Huxley is layering words to build both sides of his message that life is being created here, life that maybe is still very important despite this society saying otherwise ...
I set as one of my goals last year to use more visuals in my classes. I tend not to be a visual learner, but I know many of my students are. Wordle is a great tool for this. Here is more about how to use Wordle with literary analysis (this NCTE blog has lots of great tech stuff if you have time to scroll through it). I am imagining that later in this novel I will have the students create Wordle maps of their own chosen passages and talk about what they discover about Huxley's message though his chosen words. Stay tuned for lots of Brave New World maps to show up in the Wordle Gallery ...
Saturday, August 9, 2008
Tuesday, July 22, 2008
Monday, July 21, 2008
My school is radically changing our daily schedule (from a traditional 7-period, 45-minute class day to a collegiate modular schedule), so we have been told to make our #1 priority in our lesson planning to focus our time with students on meaningful, incisive learning. (Yes, we should be doing this anyway, but the mandate is clear and no more "work on your project" days if I can help it.) So, I have looked over my plans with new eyes this summer, and that is scary and exciting. Scary because it always makes me remember that first year of teaching when I felt like I was recreating a wheel every single day (if you are a first-year teacher reading this, please teach for another year -- it is so radically different and you WILL now have time -- I promise). How nice it is to have old plans that work well to use again. But that leads me to the exciting part -- to be forced to look at these old plans and make them even better. As I have said before on this blog, even the best lesson can be made even better through reflection. Yet, sometimes we don't make time for that reflection, so when my admininistration makes me do it, all the better.
Back to the "But ...": what I saw when I opened up my first unit was that I have focused on establishing only the "AP" part of my course on the first day. We talk about what it means to be AP, look at books used on the exam, think about how prior classes have prepared us for this point ... all good stuff, but none of it about world literature. So as much as I have always said, "I do not teach this course towards the AP exam," I was setting up the course just this way. Ah, what new eyes can show us.
Now I am going to use this first day, this first class that is ripe for setting the tone for our year, to talk about the world and my essential question, "Why must we think?" I have not yet figured out HOW I am going to do this (it is really only July still -- plenty of time to solve this puzzle), but I know it will change my course for the whole year. Maybe not so much for my students -- the first day, as important as it is, is still only the first day and just one part of their whole experience. But for me, this first-day shift of focus has allowed me to see that I really do for the most part teach a world lit course that also prepares students well for college. Now I am going to capitalize on just that.
Thursday, July 10, 2008
Students learn how to read in elementary school then just keep on reading in middle and high school, right? As a high school English teacher, I have fallen into believing this trap. My students grow as readers, able to tackle the next challenge, just because they KNOW how to read, right?
This, according to Jago, is why schools are increasingly offering shorter, lighter, and easier books to older students. The students complain that reading is too hard, and we, very honestly, fear that we are turning them off as life-long readers. But instead of regressing, we need to teach reading skills that are appropriate for the level of reading we are asking our students to do. "If lessons include only work that children can accomplish without the help of the teacher, students are being shortchanged. The thoughtful teacher aims instruction just beyond what students are able to perform independently" (Jago 72).
Jago offers great suggestions for making transparent for students what expert readers do as they read. She starts many texts with short read-alouds, stopping to talk about what she has noticed and then what they have noticed. She then rereads the opening to show how readers work to be sure they have a feel for an author's style and flow before getting too far and too lost (she strongly disagrees with reading aloud whole texts -- this is just an introductory activity). She has her students mimic literary devices authors use, such as the epic simile, so they really understand the device and can watch it develop in the text. The list goes on (read this book -- it really is worth it). In the end, she is teaching students how to read, that is how to take the next steps in reading skills so that in the end they are indeed life-long readers. Yes, even in Jago's world, there is a place for light reading, but it should not be the only reading students are able to do.
Sunday, July 6, 2008
- Excerpts from religious texts, but excerpts from the Koran specifically: My students and I study the Koran (here is the document I use with my students) along with the Bible, Torah, and Bhagavad-Gita, and I know their understanding of the Koran is enhanced by building off the other religious works. Yet it is reading the Koran that changes their world views the most, and our field trip to the Islamic Center in Washington, DC, is irreplacable.
- The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho: This text is a student favorite every single year. I do not do much teaching of the text -- since it comes at the end of the first semester and is an "easy read," I turn most of it over to the students to read and understand themselves. Consequently, it is the novel itself that deserves the credit for inspiring, reassuring, and fascinating my students.
- Othello by William Shakespeare: The tremendous Folger's Shakespeare Set Free teaching guide brings this play literally to life for my students. Each year, they perform the entire fifth act, and I am always amazed at the depth of understanding they show -- as well as memorizing all of those lines in just a week! They love this -- here are some pics and the U-Stream of this year's performance. It takes quite a bit of time to work up to such a performance, but that time could not be better spent -- even on Faulkner :)
Introduction to Genres (Freshman Year):
- Night by Elie Wiesel: Wiesel's story is the single text every freshman says should never be removed from the curriculum. Using Wiesel's wise words, students work hard to fight indifference as the worst evil.
- "We Real Cool" by Gwendolyn Brooks: If you can find the anthology Poetry Speaks (which is well worth buying even if you don't teach this poem because of the incredible wealth of voices reading wonderful poems) with a recording of Brooks herself reading her poem, you will have the tools for the best discussion of the use of line breaks to create meaning that you can ever have.
British Literature (Sophomore Year):
- Regeneration by Pat Barker: Maybe it is because this is one of the few texts they read all year that is not written in verse, but this novel fascinates students. I also am awed by the World War I poets, so being able to teach them in conjunction (I got verse in there!) was an extra bonus.
American Literature (Junior Year):
- A Farwell to Arms by Ernest Hemingway: I think I have a future research project embedded in students' reactions to this novel. I no longer teach American Lit, but I get most of the seniors the next year, and this is by far the class favorite. Why? There is my research project for you because this novel grabs every kind of reader -- male, female, action, love, discerning, just like to turn the pages ... I know our junior year teacher is great, and there is something even greater about this novel.
What are your students' favorites? And why? Is it the text itself separate of all else or is it something you really rock at teaching? I'd love to hear your answers ... that way I will have even more great things to add ...
Wednesday, July 2, 2008
Sunday, June 29, 2008
Wednesday, June 25, 2008
I am writing these poems
Saturday, June 21, 2008
Thursday, June 19, 2008
The novel poses two potential problems. First, the setting of the novel, future London, requires students to understand another culture. This problem is not too challenging though, as the culture is similar to the students’ own, and this is why the novel is a great entrance to the year. In later works, students are introduced to cultures that seem totally foreign, so they learn key skills for interpreting a culture through this more relatable work. The second potential problem is the sexual mores of the society Huxley creates. This is a mature book, one that is read only by seniors. These seniors must work to understand that Huxley is not promoting the values of his society; instead, he is condemning them. Through the careful reading required by the text, students can understand the mature themes in the context Huxley intends.
By studying Brave New World, our students are beginning their literary world travels by establishing two fundamental skills: careful reading and deciphering new cultures.
Monday, June 9, 2008
I have worked mightily this year to develop my PLN with Web 2.0 tools, and I have found some great resources of teachers all over the world (follow great teachers CoolCatTeacher, Thespian70, or AngelaMaiers on Twitter or read Susan's blog on using tech well, J. Clark Evans's blog on melding teaching and tech, or Cruel Shoes about the big ideas of teaching). But talking face-to-face with the teachers in my own building cannot be replaced. To know that I am teaching with other great educators and that we are all trying to be the best we can be creates an energy that encourages me even more.
So, here are the essential questions our English department drafted for our core courses. These are all still in the working stages, so please help us revise if you have ideas.
Introduction to Genres (9th grade):
- What do we learn from the “masters” about how to write well?
- How can you use these tools to make your own writing “masterful”?
British Literature (10th grade):
- How can the written word change society?
- What is the "British literary tradition"? (first semester)
- How do these works challenge the traditions? (second semester)
American Literature (11th grade):
- Who am I as an American?
- How does the literature and an understanding of its chronology and themes show how we as a people came to be who we are today?
World Literature (12th grade, including AP English Lit):
- Who am I as a citizen of the world?
- How does the literature and an understanding of the geography and culture from which it came expand your world view?
I look forward to hearing your ideas, combining my real-life colleagues with my virtual ones.
Tuesday, May 27, 2008
Thursday, May 22, 2008
And I am now heading into my own summer where I hope to achieve at least a part of the reflection I have asked my students to do. Elaine Plybon wrote so truthfully about the reality of a teacher's summer, so I wonder what I will have actually achieved by summer's end. But I have spent this school year really thinking about my teaching, something the luxury of years of old lessons at my fingertips has allowed me not to always do. And reflection is to me the single most important piece of being a good teacher. None of us are perfect, and no lesson is perfect, no matter how well it goes. We ask our students to learn and grow, and we must do the same.
So, here are my goals for my reflection this summer:
- I will revisit lesson planning by reading Understanding by Design
- I will figure out how to add The Rime of the Ancient Mariner to my AP class to add some reading level challenge that I think is lacking
- I will read 2 novels about other cultures (still deciding what these are!)
- I will research the writing approach, 6 Traits of Writing
- I will keep my blog current and keep up with everyone on Twitter
Now that I have written them down, I have to do them! What are your reflection goals for the summer?
Saturday, May 3, 2008
Why we don't make those connections across this educational divide is a blog for another day. Instead, I just want to encourage every teacher to reach out and ask. That is all I did. I contacted Wendy with an email asking her if she would be willing to meet with me to explore ways I could work with her and/or her students. She was immediately enthusiastic about meeting with me, but not just for me to learn from her. She had ideas for things she could learn from me. I have to admit that I was surprised (and delighted!) by this. Me, a high school teacher? How could I offer something to a college professor?
We talked for an hour and a half. Our conversation ranged from curriculum design to great books to read about teaching to the expectations of college professors in literature and writing to how pre-service teachers could learn from my students to how a small school like mine could be a great place to affect positive change. I am now researching "Understanding By Design," a planning method that seems to take the best of the many ideas I learned in college and my masters program and combine them, and the "Six Traits of Writing," something that might help our writing program find a cohesive focus from K to 12. Wendy is awaiting receving essays my students are writing this week so that she can learn from them to add to her research on composition and education. She is also excited to work with my students next spring with her pre-service teachers.
Wendy and I could have kept teaching effectively and enthusiastically without these ideas we generated. But we have built a bridge together, one that will help high school students be the best prepared for college that they can be and one that will help future teachers become the best teachers they can be.
So, make the call or send the email. I hope you find someone as excited to work with you as I did. If you are on the high school side, I recommend you start with an education professor who specializes in your content area. They are already thinking about teaching and learning, so they will be, as a group, the most receptive. If you are on the college side, just call a teacher. It does not have to be a department chair -- any teacher who is teaching something you are interested in will be happy that you called them because it validates what they do (yes, we as teachers teach because we gain validation in more intangible ways, but it sure is nice when someone "higher up" validates us too!). They may say no to working with you, but you will have given them that validation -- and they will probably recommend someone who will say yes.
Friday, April 11, 2008
I started by changing around the discussion prep work (see this here), incoporating sharing and reflecting on the group's Google doc before coming to class. Students have to, for example, add a question they have about the reading to the Google doc for the first seminar. For the second seminar, they have to reflect on the discussion their group had and note on the Google Doc the most important themes and issues they see thus far in the novel. In class, the Google Doc will allow all of the students to be clued in to their books and the discussion rather than typing furiously away taking notes (see seminar guidelines here).
Overall, Web 2.0 tools have given me class time I never had before -- the students' own time at home alone yet still connected with each other in web-based discussions. Individual literature reflections have become full-blown discussions before class even happens (using the Turn It In discussion board). I hope Google Docs can become yet another venue for this independent yet collaborative thinking my students have been doing. It just so happens that I really don't need to be guiding every aspect of their discussions -- they do just fine, if not even better, playing with the ideas on their own.
Sunday, April 6, 2008
We began exploring this final theme on Friday just by looking into what the individual words "cultural," "identity," and "isolation" meant. This produced great ideas -- particularly the point that you can be be isolated even within the culture that creates much of your identity. We discussed literary examples to explore it more, and it was neat to see them play with familiar characters in a new way. I ended this part of the discussion by having them define what we would need to look at in our upcoming readings to help define this theme. On their own, they said we would need to define first the culture then define how the characters were placed in relation to this culture. From there, we could explore.
They defined my unit plan. On their own. This inquiry stuff works.
I ended class with the following question to introduce Franz Kafka's The Metamorphosis: How do our everyday cultures (that is our families, jobs, friends, classes -- those things we experience every day) affect who we are and who we aren't? I told them that we were starting small with this exploration -- with a story that rarely even left a single home. We will the build on this by reading Things Fall Apart, starting as outsiders to the culture that is at the foundation of the novel.
Tuesday, April 1, 2008
Today I made the inquiry-based approach the overt guide for our discussion of Oedipus Rex. We had looked at two questions before beginning -- "What if your search for self leads you to something you do not want to know?" and "Do our actions determine our fate?" -- and then moved on to reading the play in class and playing around with the character of Oedipus in nightly on-line discussions. Typical literature discussion stuff.
So I dragged out the questions again as the start to our class today, saying that now it was time to see what Oedipus could teach us about the answers -- my inquiry frame. Our discussions ranged from the strong characters of Sophocles's writing to the ancient Greeks' view of fate to the views of fate we have. This class tends to be quiet, so it was not the liveliest discussion ever -- but it was real. The students talked about how, as much as they want control, they like to think there is some fate in their lives -- that things happen for reasons. This led to their college decisions (which have all come in as of April 1 -- a coincidence or fate that I had this discussion today?!) and whether some of the difficult news they had heard had a role in a larger plan. Not all students saw it this way, and the give and take with this was impressive. They were not trying to convince everyone of their views -- just playing around with ideas. I ended class by having them write down their thoughts on fate and choice and life, and the keys did not stop tapping for a full five minutes. I don't know what they each specifically wrote, but I know they were intrigued and connected.
An old method proves effective again. I am now going to try to be more overt all year with my world literature themes -- phrasing them with the questions that have always lurked under why I grouped the particular set of books together in the first place. Going back to our roots as students of teaching often uncovers great things.
Friday, March 21, 2008
So for now, we are replacing The Once and Future King and Frankenstein, while also considering How the Garcia Girls Lost Their Accents for incoming ninth graders' summer reading. Do you agree or disagree with these ideas? Other titles to suggest instead?