Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Favorite Short Stories

I asked my irreplaceable Twitter community of English teachers: if you could only teach one short story, what story would it be? Now, being English teachers, some of them actually chose two and three stories (who can narrow literature down to just one favorite?), but here is their list:

"Nineteen Fifty-Five" and "Araby" (@readinator)
"The Story of an Hour," "Scarlet Ibis," and "The Yellow Wallpaper" (@suzieswimz)
"The Yellow Wallpaper" and "The Lottery" (@nicolemurr4)
"The No-Talent Kid" (@pjhiggins)
"The Scarlet Ibis" and "The Most Dangerous Game" (@jmiscavish)
"The Speckled Band" and "The Rocking Horse Winner" (@andyleefisher)

Two of my favorites are "To Hell with Dying" and "Bluestown" by Geoffrey Becker (the short story that became part of a novel).

What is your and your students' favorite story?

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Ning Wisdom from Students

As my year winds down, I have turned to my students for final reflections. Two chose to think about their experiences with our ning work on Othello. As the actual users of the ning, their responses are invaluable. If it didn't work, they lived through it. If it did, they learned from it. As teachers, we can hope new tools and teaching techniques change our classrooms; our students are the ones who tell us if they did.

Cara wrote, "The Othello character group [that we did on the ning] ... REALLY helped in understanding the text. I felt super-knowledgeable about my character in a way that didn't come from my teacher or a book, but a peer and myself."

There is it -- the evidence that student-directed learning does happen and that it is more powerful in both the depth of the learning achieved by and the confidence instilled in our students.

Neil wrote, "Whatever you do, do not overdo online tools in place of discussion. Class discussion is still king; this is coming from a teenage kid. The best discussion ends up taking place in class, whether everyone responds or not. On an online forum where everyone is required to answer, the temptation is to read only the posts you are required to comment on. In class, you can’t really filter out someone speaking."

Neil's words are a great reminder to us that Web 2.0 tools are tools we add to our teaching kits not that replace everything we have ever done. Yes, many students write more in the online forum than they speak in class, but face-to-face discussions are important too. This is my main goal for my Web 2.0 integration next year: to link the out-of-class online work closely and thoughtfully to our in-class work. I tried to do this as much as a could this year in a few ways:
  • starting class by having everyone return to the discussion thread, read a new part they had not read, and comment on it
  • choosing a few posts to project to the class as discussion prompts
  • having the students review a discussion thread, noting something new they have learned or a question they have, then sharing these and discussing them
I saw time and again that connecting students' out-of-class thinking with their in-class work validates both and deepens their learning. Even those students who are more hesitant to speak out in class did so much more when they could base it on the online work -- they had a chance to get their ideas together and thus had more confidence. Students see that the online work is not just an "add-on" -- it is integral to their overall learning.

I want to end with Neil's reference to being required to participate. This to me is the eternal rub ... we want our students to be excited learners not because they have to be. We hope they see these tools as things they can use in their own lives to further their engagement in our world. Will Richardson would have all learning be self-driven in this way.

However, I have found I do need to require participation, at the start ... and to be honest, sometimes all the way through. I will continue to develop my use of these tools to be as student-driven as I can, but I also know my students do not always LOVE to be online outside of class time. So, thus I require responses. I try to make this requirement as open as I can -- 3 responses of any sort (new posts, comments, whatever) for homework or 15 responses of any sort by the end of our work with a text. This is a pickle I will continue to chew on [:)] -- the power of online tools to increase student-driven learning while also not being what every student always wants to do.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Why Do We Read?

Today was my third to last day with my AP English Lit students. Bittersweet times. I have one goal for them as we come to the end of our time together: to be readers and writers in the world beyond my classroom. Today we explored reading. Using Steven Shann's wonderful work about literature and values, my class and I brought in books we value - books from any age in our lives that have stayed with us for any number of reasons. We shared our books, making a map of literature in our lives. My students then answered, "Why do we read?" Their responses show me that my students, as a cross-section of our world, are thoughtful, seek what is good and right, want to grow and learn, and will keep reading -- not just for me, but for their world. I am not surprised, and I am very proud. Here are their words ...

Evan wrote, "I can truthfully say that I am not an avid reader and I don’t know if I ever will be, but some of the books I have read, such as Bringing Down the House or Miracle in the Andes or Into Thin Air, have truly changed my life. Reading these people's life experiences has helped me realize who I am and what aspects of life I should or shouldn’t follow. I believe this is why people read. What I think is unbelievable is that in today’s world, people are always trying to create ways to make things easier and able to be done with minimal effort, but for some reason most humans such as myself will pass on the chance to see a 2hr movie to read a 400 page book that may take a few weeks. I wish I had the answer to why this is."

Cara wrote, "I think we read to lean ... We learn about facts of other places and cultures of course, but I think that what we are really learning is about how much more there is to the world beside our selves."

Griffin wrote, "We read because it is something we want to do. Reading fulfills something that we are want. It is that simple."

Greg wrote, "If you know a book is nowhere like your life (A Million Little Pieces for example) it gives new perspective."

Maggie wrote, "I think we read to gain more out of life. Being able to read the experiences or fictional stories of others takes us to places we would never dream of. We all have our individual sense of who we are and we will go in one direction with our lives, but by reading, we're able to experience and imagine our life as someone else. It could either make us happy with the life we currently have or drive us to make a change and do something else."

Carmen wrote, "Reading is one of the most powerful things in the world. It’s how we communicate and it’s how we learn ... It would be nearly impossible for the world today to operate without it ... It just makes me really happy…so that’s why I read."

Emily Z wrote, "I think that we read to understand something that we didn’t before. I think that along with reading, we understand ourselves better. We put ourselves in the situations, we challenge ourselves to think about what we would do if we were the characters, and as the character grows, I think we are able to grow with them."

Carley wrote, "We read to learn, feel inspired, and connect. We read to understand. We read to know. We read to laugh, cry, and love. We read to identify with characters, make them our friends, and learn from their mistakes ... We read for the impact it makes upon our lives. We read to discover lessons we would otherwise have to learn the hard way ... We read because it makes time worthwhile, and most importantly, we read because we love it."

Nate wrote, "If we can search for a book’s truth and depth AND enjoy the author's hard work, we gain insight from another person’s perspective…that’s why we read. That way we’re always learning and always moving forward."

Jamie wrote, "Currently I read to better myself; however back in the day, reading meant being with my family right before bedtime. I have tons of memories of being with them that I could never replace."

Carlyn wrote, "To be able to experience anything imaginable"

Raleigh wrote, "We read for fun. We read to go places we cannot go within an hour or a day, however long we decide to read. We read to exercise our imaginations and stimulate our minds. We read because we want to. We read because we want to see life from another place or time. We read to think and expand our own knowledge. We read because it is beautiful..."

Emily G wrote, "We read to escape ... We read to learn ... We read to relate ... We read to think."

Joe wrote, "I think people read to experience things we otherwise can't, and to confer with others about their feelings to something in a book. Unlike movies, books are personal, reading a book is like writing a journal. You feel a new you building itself as you read about events you have never confronted in your own life."

Nicholas wrote, "We read in order to escape the realities that surround us and escape the stresses of the world."

Britnae wrote, "It validates what you are feeling. I think this is nearly an exact quote from somewhere I forgot, but there's nothing more thrilling than opening a book and finding the author wrote something that you thought only you had felt before. I tells us that it's okay to be crazy, or dissatisfied, or goofy, or intellectual ... books are like meeting new people."

Carole wrote, "I wanted to go into a new world, I wanted to meet new people. I would pretend that the characters I read and liked were my friends and would talk to them. The more books I read the more friends I got, the more places I knew."

Landon wrote, "We read to escape."

Walker wrote, "If I want to be a warrior battling against the forces of evil, a spy infiltrating enemy headquarters, or a gentleman in the British Aristocracy, I read. It allows me to almost leave my corporeal body and mentally journey into another world. It allows me to meet thousands of new friends, and travel to thousands of new countries and worlds."

Neil wrote, "Reading is a kind of experience you can keep forever; you can hold onto something forever from a good book, and eventually you end up with a mind full of wisdom to share with people around you."

Friday, May 1, 2009

My Goals (answering Will and Sheryl)

Six Months Out ...
  • to refine my PLN (not meaning shrink it necessarily -- meaning find what is most powerful for me and making the time for that)
  • to develop my English teaching network as I reenter the classroom
  • to get my head around what we as a school hope to achieve with the 9th grade and link that to the curricular goals of my department so both sets of goals flourish in tandem
Three Years Out ...
  • to have collaboration be a regular and routine part of my teaching for me and my students
  • to have writing be challenging and authentic for me and my students
  • to create a classroom environment where students explore and create with me and beyond me