Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Pushing Through

So the fifth week of school has done me in. I feel flat. I feel like every day should definitely be Friday. My body is saying, "This is for real? Summer is done??"

I can only imagine how my students are feeling if I feel this way about a job I love. Note to self:
  • Be gentle with them. Maybe even be gentle with yourself.
  • Do what you can to make class interactive to wake us all back up.
  • Remember this too shall pass.
Anyone else feeling it? Anyone have wisdom to share?

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Real Life Authors

I am really excited (a dorky teacher level of excitement) about the next week with my freshmen and their study of short stories. Our course, Introduction to Genres, focuses on two essential questions:
  • What do we learn from the "masters" about how to write well?
  • How can you use these tools to make your own writing "masterful"?
With each genre, we read "masterful" examples then the students write their own, using the techniques they have seen in action. Our first genre study is the short story. I wanted to put the connections I have developed through Twitter and the English Companion ning to work to push my students' writing even further this year. Enter: two real live authors.

I learned about Australian author Margo Lanagan's thought-provoking story "Singing My Sister Down" when I put out a request on Twitter about stories people taught that their students loved. Come to find out, Margo Lanagan has her own blog ... and my students are blogging ... so two plus two equals four! My students are reading her story this weekend, and we will discuss it tomorrow. Then we will look at her blog together with their homework being to write to her -- to comment on her blog like they hope people comment on theirs. I hope some of them are proud of enough of their own blog posts about her story to share the link with her and invite her to comment. Writers sharing their blogs ... perfect.

Then later in the week, my students will participate in a Skype call with author Clyde Edgerton. This is a contact I made through an EC ning friend Yvonne Mason. Yvonne shared with me that she knew Clyde Edgerton and offered to contact him on my behalf. Clyde graciously accepted my invite to talk to my students about how he crafts short stories. My students will have read one story by him and talked about what they see in his writing style. They will also have completed a first draft of their own stories and be ready for revision tips from him. Writers talking together about how they write ... perfect.

Yes, I am excited to a silly degree ... I hope my students are at least half as excited :)

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Thinking (Both Mine and Theirs)

Without my planning this, I focused on thinking with both of my classes today. It turned out to be an interesting pairing of lessons for me -- seeing the emphasis on independent thought I ask of ninth graders and that which I ask of seniors.

My ninth graders are just getting deep into our study of short stories, and I am pushing them to use their blog posts to explore how the authors use short story techniques. (Please read and comment on their blogs here if you have time -- they are enjoying sharing their ideas.) This is a new thing for me -- to make their reading reflections more than just, "What did you think of the story?," and instead, "What do you think this author is doing with his/her writing and why?" To prepare them for their assignment tonight (to study how Alice Walker shifts traditional plot structure in "To Hell With Dying"), we spent much of the period today looking at the climax and resolution of "The Most Dangerous Game." One student read aloud the ending, which was a subtle use of rereading with them, and the others had pen in hand marking the clues that led them to be able to say, "This story has a clear resolution." I am trying hard this year to be more overt about reading strategies with my students (thanks to I Read I But I Don't Get It), and today's small exploration into this area was great for my students and me. I can already see in those blog posts that have been done tonight how they processed the shifting of plot we discussed happening in "Game" and how they are transferring this understanding to a new and very different story.

The very next period, my AP students spent the class pushing themselves to overtly use the rereading strategy and reflect on how much it helps them. At this stage, I am trying to remind them that careful reading is an obligation so that they slow down and really engage like I know they can. We spent much of the period visiting and revisiting this quote (from an NCTE presentation I went to three years ago): "Confusion represents an advanced stage of understanding." They moved from seeing this as a paradox to understanding that if they come to class thinking they have "gotten it all" in a reading, then they have probably not actually engaged with that reading. We talked about the realistic pressures of rereading -- how they cannot read every assignment three times in full. Instead, they can reread sections that strike them multiple times so that then, as a class, we will all be experts in pieces so we can see a much deeper whole.

My freshmen and my seniors ended up doing the same thing today -- slowing themselves down to let their minds truly think. Great day.