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 ...