August 29, 2006

THANKS!

Posted in teacher blogs at 2:04 pm by mrsmauck

Thanks so much, Tim Frederick, CaliforniaTeacherGuy, Brown-Eyed Girlie, and Reflective Teacher! Great recommendations and advice.

August 28, 2006

Textbook Pressure

Posted in curriculum at 8:46 pm by mrsmauck

Okay, I need some real teacher input. Am I living in a dream world to think that the students and I can actually select some of the texts we cover in each class? I was talking with my mother-in-law, a very able former H.S. English teacher, about some of the works I’d read lately, thinking about teaching them (Heart of Darkness, different YA novels). She quickly shot down these options say, “You have lots of ideas, but you just don’t have much time. There are so many things you have to cover, that you don’t have time to cover anything else.”

Okay, so what do I have to cover? Do your districts or states require that you cover certain works each year? I thought they provided you with textbooks and the “approved reading list” and then let you choose what you wanted to teach. I mean, I know there are certain works that all freshman English courses need to cover: Romeo & Juliet, etc. But is there absolutely no space for the teacher to supplement the curriculum with her own choices? Or for, heaven forbid, the students to select novels to read in lit circles? These were my plans and dreams, but now I’m feeling like they’re unrealistic.

Please, tell me how you negotiate teaching required works and your and the students’ choices.

August 23, 2006

Teaching using Multiple Intelligences

Posted in philosophy at 8:52 pm by mrsmauck

Our discussion in Methods today was about student diversity. How are we supposed to teach the at-risk students, the overachievers, the gifted students, and the average ones, all at the same time? I think the more important question is how do we teach students with so many different sets of talents? I think it’s important to believe that every student has something to offer to your classroom, no matter how bad their grades are. These categories are really just arbitrary, in my view, because they’re based on grades. Rather than worry about the diversity of intelligence level (which is based only on assessment, ususally), we should focus on teaching to Gardner’s Multiple Intelligences.

I want to administer a survey or quiz in the first couple days of school to try to understand how my students learn best, and what they’re best at doing. This won’t be so much for my benefit–I just want the kids to know that I believe Howard Gardner’s statement:

It’s not how smart you are; it’s how you are smart!

I’ll plan to teach to all the intelligences with lots of project choices and a combination of group and individual projects. To me, GT programs reward those who excel on standardized tests-probably those who have linguistic and logical intelligence-but not others. Those who argue this say that all the areas are correlated, but I couldn’t disagree more. I’m really high on the linguistic and interpersonal scale, but way low on logical, spatial, kinesthetic, and musical. And I score really high on standardized tests, usually. Here’s a great site with simple definitions and example of M.I., and links to lots of online tests. See how you’re smart!

August 22, 2006

Thoughts on Methods…

Posted in grad school, grading at 7:12 pm by mrsmauck

So my Methods class met for the third time yesterday, and we had a kind of roundabout discussion about memorable teachers, extra credit, and finally, grading. The prof said she sees so many high school students in her lower-level Humanities course who think they’ve turned in an A paper, when in reality, it’s a C. The high school grading system is so inflated that students who just meet the baseline objectives are being awarded A’s. Kids who turn in work–no matter how terrible it is–can’t be given lower than a 50 in many cases, my prof said.

My solution to this problem: Rubrics! Kids will know exactly what is required of them for all major assignments, because they’ll have a rubric with each component of the project or paper measured on a 1 to 5 scale, each number representing a specific level of quality, which is described on the rubric. Will this curb grade inflation? What do you do to combat students’ attitudes of entitlement when it comes to grades?

August 20, 2006

As a teacher, I will…

Posted in philosophy at 3:39 am by mrsmauck

Okay, here’s another journal entry for my English Methods class. This question deals with what I want to accomplish, specifically, by becoming a teacher. Here goes.

As a teacher, I will help students

  1. Begin, or continue on, a journey of self-discovery. Reading helps you see worlds outside your own, and writing helps you consider yourself and your own world in the context of the wide world. I want to help students discover their learning style and what inspires them and moves them. Moments of revelation that happen in engaging discussion about literature and in meaningful writing assignments and projects become part of the person that is forming almost right before my eyes.
  2. Become effective oral communicators. Through classroom discussion, presentations, and small group work, I want my students to learn to listen and speak effectively.
  3. Enjoy reading. I want to open students’ eyes to the idea that difficult literature can still be enjoyable, and that enjoyable literature can still be studied in a classroom setting.
  4. Apply knowledge and skills they pick up not just in my class, but in other classes and the world, to themselves so that they can achieve their own unique goals and ambitions. (This is where the “real-world connections” come in that Fried talks about so much: Help students see that this knowledge is salient in today’s world.)
  5. Dream big, and go after those dreams (Thanks, Ron Clark!).
  6. Be reflective individuals. I want them to see that writing is often about making sense of themselves and of the world, and this is something they should be doing everyday. Why do things happen this way? How could we improve this attitude or process or system? Why do I believe what I believe? What if I could change things? These are things they should think about everyday as they process information.

Teachers, I’d love some feedback. What do you think of my sky-high goals? I understand that accomplishing just one or two with each kid would be awesome, but even to just do that, I need to make these goals dictate my lessons and teaching style. I can’t just say them and think them right now, and then forget about them when I start planning and preparing for my classroom, and actually teaching.

What other goals do you have for an ELA classroom?

August 16, 2006

Back to school for me!

Posted in grad school at 5:56 pm by mrsmauck

Nope, I’m not in front of the classroom; still in one. Classes began at my hometown college today, so I’m back to balancing full-time work and graduate classes. I’m really excited about it, though. It’s going to make these next few months zoom by. (I know; it’s bad to wish your time away, but I’m so ready to be a teacher!)

I had a serious freshman moment today! Happens to the most seasoned of students!! I pulled the oldie but goodie of walking into the wrong classroom! Excellent! Thankfully, I saw a familiar face, and asked her what she was doing in a 4000-level class, knowing she’d only graduated from high school a year or two earlier. She apprehensively informed me that she was in Humanities. “Oh! My schedule said my class was in Room 318!” I replied, as though all these young pups were in the wrong classroom, not me. “I think this is Room 319,” she replied. “What a moron,” all the freshmen in the room thought simultaneously. Oh well! At least they all saw that’s it’s no big deal to make mistakes! The thing they were fearing most about their first day of class just happened to a graduate student! (There, now I feel better about my stupidity–it was all for the freshmen!)

I’m taking Methods and Media of Secondary English, which should be amazing. There are only seven students, including myself, all of whom are female. The prof, who’s also a female, taught my World Lit class last semester, and she’s very engaging and democratic. A great example for me. Once I get into reading the textbook, which asks that the reader journal responses to reflective questions, I’ll start posting them here.

My other class is Shakespeare, which I’m so jazzed about. The prof is this eccentric Shakespeare expert, and he requires us to memorize a line of blank verse for every class period, and–get this–be ready to recite it aloud in class! A bit stressful, but fun to hear others do it, I’m sure. It’s a senior-level course I’m taking for graduate credit, so my graduate component will be some sort of project on teaching Shakespeare. I NEED IDEAS! What kind of project can I do that would actually be useful for teaching Shakespeare to middle or high schoolers? Here are some ideas:

  • A PowerPoint intro to a Shakespeare unit (or single play) with background info about Elizabethan theater, the bard, etc. This should have a non-electronic method, as well, since I don’t know for sure that I’ll have a classroom with a digital projector (oh please please!).
  • A six-week unit plan for teaching Romeo & Juliet, as that is required reading for so many freshmen.
  • A general presentation on teaching Shakespeare. I found another student’s presentation on this here. This presentation is actually on how to teach R&J, which might actually be more feasible, so I could focus the scope more. This sounds kind of blah, but it might actually be really useful and comprehensive, as many people in this class are probably English Education majors.

Other ideas? Suggestions for a general presentation?

Ron Clark replay

Posted in teacher blogs at 2:15 am by mrsmauck

Hey teach! If you missed the Ron Clark story, check it out this Thursday night at 9e/8c on TNT!

August 15, 2006

The Ron Clark story

Posted in Uncategorized at 3:24 am by mrsmauck

Okay, who saw this truly inspiring TV movie last night? I laughed out loud, I wept quietly…it was beautiful! If you saw the promos for it, don’t worry the cheese factor was considerably lower than the lines they kept showing over and over: “Everyone says we’re losers, Mr. Clark.” “You. Are Not. Losers.”

Great moments:

  • When Mr. Clark was interviewing for a job in his home state of North Carolina, he saw a little (rat-tailed!) boy standing in a trash can outside the classroom door. He went over and asked the kid what he was doing. The little boy, his face burning with embarrassment, answered that his teacher said he couldn’t learn anything and deserved to be taken out with the trash. Mr. Clark introduced himself, asked the boy’s name, and then told the boy he’d forgotten his own name. “What was my name again?” “Mr. Clark,” the boy replied. “See, you just learned something.” and he pulled him out of the trash can.
  • Mr. Clark is continuing his thus far fruitless search for the toughest teaching job he can find in Harlem. He walks up to Inner Harlem Elementary to see a teacher and a student shoving each other outside the door. Mr. Clark races up and separates them just as the principal walks out and tells the teacher that if he walks away, he stays away. The teacher walks away, muttering “You can keep the bastards,” and the boy goes inside. Mr. Clark tells the principal, “I can start right now.”
  • Mr. Clark told the classroom that if they trusted him and jumped off the proverbial cliff, they would fly together. To demonstrate their agreement, they all came forward and lit a candle on this beautiful cake at the front of the classroom.

There were several others, but I don’t want to give away plot points. Inspiring TV movie, highly recommended! Who else saw it? Anyone have any thoughts on how true this was to life in the classroom? I encourage you to go to Ron Clark’s site, which I linked above. He and his Harlem students who were portrayed in the film, visited the set! Lots of great photos, tidbits, and behind-the-scenes stuff.

In other teacher film news, I was flipping channels the other night and came across a classic, Dangerous Minds. After Michelle Pfieffer’s first day of school, in which she tries to learn classroom management in a night, my oh-so-caring Hubby remarked, “That’s going to be you!” Ha! I won’t be teaching in the inner city, but I’m sure I will be completely overwhelmed.

August 11, 2006

The Game of School

Posted in Uncategorized at 8:44 pm by mrsmauck

Don’t you just hate it when you find out you are a hypocrite? So I’m reading some more of The Passionate Teacher, the part about “The Game of School.” It’s very easy for teachers to form a silent agreement with the kids: you stay busy, stay quiet, and we’ll both stay out of trouble and pass the time here together. Students play the game by doing the least amount of work possible to get the grade they want; they don’t invest themselves personally into their work or exert any extra effort. Teachers play the game when they take the easy way out in giving assignments and grading: multiple choice tests because they’re faster to grade, textbook curriculum because it requires little thought to assemble.

Ah yes, what a travesty! I think to myself. I’m going to inspire passion from my students; never any of this slide-by stuff. But was it not me who only last year told a fellow student that I think the smartest students find out how to do the least amount of work possible and still get good grades? I was not only playing, I was a dominator in “The Game of School”! I don’t mean to rationalize what I said, but really and truly, I’m a student just like many of you: a procrastinator, a groaner, a page counter. BUT when I get in the middle of a classroom discussion about a novel, I absolutely come alive. I love stretching my brain like that! Same thing with doing research for a paper, and even writing it: I moan and groan about doing it, but once I get started, I take research for way too long, take notes voraciously, write with relish, and polish with flair. I just don’t like to reveal this passion to other students very often. We’re not really cultured to do that. Heck, I only just admitted that I actually liked a classroom novel for the first time (in front of the class) last semester! Enjoying reading and writing for class is just considered nerdy in school, no matter what way you look at it. You have to work for those discussions that push the limits of our brains and for those projects that light the students’ passion. Often the students don’t even realize they’re actually passionate learners, like me, until much later in life. What’s the moral of my little story? Probably a lesson most of you have already learned, but to me, it’s a revelation: Even if you’re a procrastinator, if you dread any semblance of work, you can still enjoy and be passionate about learning (and teaching!).

Ah, free at last, to be an unabashed learner. What a feeling!

August 4, 2006

Huckleberry Finn and Odysseus

Posted in Uncategorized at 2:22 am by mrsmauck

So I was about halfway through The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn ($4.95 Wal-Mart version), when I came home one evening to find poor Huck and Jim and the mighty Mississip lying is shreds on my carpet. Revenge of the Ranger! Grrr! This just a couple days after he shredded my mom’s paperback copy of Farewell to Manzanar (You can check out my final thoughts on it here). Anyhoo, until I can get to the library and check out a copy of Huck Finn, I’m going to content myself with laboring through The Odyssey, the Robert Fagles translation. Well worth the effort, definitely. When I look back at my notes, the story is action-packed, but the epic prose make it seem a bit distant and wordy. Of course, a study of the classic culture of Greece is always well worth study and evaluation, so I think a unit on this piece should be really fun.

Any teachers have some words of wisdom on how they cover The Odyssey? Do your students read the entire epic, or just episodes? I’ve heard of several teachers using O Brother, Where Art Thou in conjunction with it, which I think would be very cool. Do you focus more on history and the Trojan War, or mythology? Or do you teach the epic genre? I think I would want to do all this, in perhaps a three-week unit or so.

Ideas for activities and projects to go with the unit would be:

  • Character poems for mythology characters.
  • Write your own myth. Take an existing myth and write it in the first person, create your own gods and myth, or write a “real myth,” a contemporary retelling of a myth. (I love choices!)
  • Write your own Odyssey. In groups, students create a “Hero’s Blog,” each member researching a different place and writing about the same character’s adventures in that place. Together, they craft the character, time period, and overall story arch, but individually, they write the blog entry. I created this assignment for my teaching strategies class last semester. Teachers, what would be the disappointment factor for this project?
  • Epic exploration: Before reading The Odyssey, complete a worksheet on epic conventions in groups, using students’ knowledge of pop culture epics like Star Wars, Lord of the Rings, and Harry Potter.
  • Periodic RAMP writing excercises

There’s tons of possibilities, I know. I’ve got a couple good big projects, but the in-between time is what I’m not sure about: Probably a combo of whole-class and small-group discussions and journaling to engage students about that day’s reading.

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