Friday, February 22, 2008

Can't Sleep ... So Why Not Lesson Plan

It is 4:15 AM, and my alarm is going to ring in an hour. I have used my insomnia to finally have time to focus on my plans for my students' character sketches for Othello. I was worried about having the papers rushed at the end, which would have been a shame because we have worked very closely with this play and the papers have, consequently, real potential. I have now slowed things down to let our work sink in as they process their chosen characters' final moments in this tragedy.

The students move into this character study having performed live the entire Act V of the play (check my webpage later for pics and video!). Therefore, they know this play about as well as they can at this point. I hope the critical essays we then read (here and here) play an even bigger role in their papers because we are working through them a bit more. I am using Google docs to have them outline their chosen essay with a partner the night before they come into class to jigsaw. I have also included these essays along with other suggested sources on our Tumblr page so they are reminded that these can be outside sources for their character studies. Now let's see how it works out ... the best laid plans ...

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Library Thing

I have used Library Thing all year with my AP Lit students. For each theme we study, they choose a novel to read on their own, and we have Book Celebration Day where we sit together and share our books. It has always been a great day -- nothing like an English class where you just talk about books you loved.

I have struggled though with how to have them keep track of their books and review them. Library Thing seemed like a great solution. We all joined a group and "friend"ed each other, so now we can see each others' libraries and reviews. I have not though used it as much as I would like, which means of course that my students weren't using it as much as I had hoped. In fact, I am pretty sure they don't visit the site unless a review is due.

But I tried something different in today's class -- this was Book Celebration Day #3. I projected my Library Thing page and clicked on each of their names and reviews as we went around the circle. I thought it would be fun to just see the number of stars each person gave their book, and then listen to why. This indeed was neat, but what was even neater were the reviews by other people that pop up in the righthand margin. We got to see reviews from all over the world about the very books my students had read -- some in other languages as well. This was not a HUGE moment in class -- instead it was one of those little moments that add up. My students have been studying "World Lit" all year, and today they connected in a small way to people around the world reading the same stuff. Neat. Now I am thinking about how to capitalize on this more so next year ...

Saturday, February 16, 2008

The Text

I had a great few days in AP Lit this past week. They happened in my more challenging room -- the one where I have English class in the physics lab, the one where the big lab tables are oddly arranged and way too heavy to move. What has happened is that we have all just turned our stools towards the empty middle of the room and sat with our Othello texts and pencils in hand reading/acting/miming our way through the second act. The students have been more engaged in the TEXT (not the story -- that always grabs them -- but the actual book in their hand) than most all of my prior classes.

Pushing close reading even more has been a recent goal of mine. I have worked to remember to ask a student with every response to point us all to a place in the text, and what has happened is that this particular class has already internalized that. They start their responses with the text. As a result, they have seen and shared really cool things and made connections that other classes have not made -- or at least never expressed out loud.

It is an interesting thing to see happen -- reminding me of how one teaching goal can spawn unexpected results. I have ended up being able to change my discussion prompts. On Friday, all I did was to tell them to have pencil in hand and that those who did not have parts to read/perform were particularly responsible for marking new things they learned or "ah ha" moments. When the reading was done, all I had to say was, "So what did you notice?," and off the discussion went. I have tried this before with lots of silence in response. But this time, it was different -- and invigorating. I had a class marking all over the text and debating with each other, not through me. A good end to the week. A good end to what ultimately is a class training exercise I suppose. I am pleased with the results of course and now am still trying to figure out all of the reasons why it worked this time!

Wednesday, February 13, 2008


Our English department had a retreat on Monday morning where we got to discuss the courses we would like to offer next year. First of all, kudos to the administration for empowering us in this way. We had a wonderful discussion of semester courses each of us would like to offer, coming up with a final list ranging from medieval literature to the 19th century novel to poetry writing. This leads me to my second of all ... the time to talk and share is what engenders great teaching. I know we all left this meeting excited about the mere possibilities of these courses, and I know we will all continue to talk about them should we get approval to offer them. It seems like such a simple solution: give teachers some control over their curriculum and courses and then give them time to act upon such control.

[Oh, and in case you are wondering, my courses would be "World Religions through Literature" and something about writing -- "Creative Writing" or "Poetry" or ... :)]

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Going with the moment ...

I had a great tech moment yesterday. I had my students for homework find websites that had particular information about Shakespeare based on a list of topics. They then posted to our blog a write-up of the info with hyperlinks to the sites. One of my students who was to research producing Shakespeare went to You Tube and embedded two videos of casts working out their understanding of the scripts with a great explanation of how he had not realized how text/word-heavy the analysis was. I read the blogs before class and was so excited to see the work this student had done. I adjusted my plans to show the video he had found. I thought having a little video would be interesting, but it turned out to be the foundation of what we then did today as we tackled our Othello text. We referred back to the video, and I could remind my students that those actors always went back to the text for the meaning. Hence, so did my students ... and in a way they had never before in previous classes doing this lesson. Whether the video inspired my students or whether it inspired me to explain our analysis better -- I can't say for sure. But it sure went well, and it goes back to bringing into the lesson what a student had found to add to our learning. That is the great equalizing effect of the Internet and technology. The "teacher" role is always shifting, and I LOVE it when this happens.