August 31, 2007

Acting out The Odyssey

Posted in classroom stories, lesson plans, Uncategorized at 4:28 am by mrsmauck

My freshmen now have a good understanding of 10 of the Greek gods and goddesses, and we’ve started reading The Odyssey. We’ve only spent time in the text for two days, and the first day, I read the poem aloud while some volunteers acted out the action. Today, they read a section in small groups, summarized it for me as a class, and then we acted some more. I’m thinking that Tuesday, they’re going to read in small groups, and then they will direct the actors themselves, without my assistance. As it was today, I was putting so much effort into my dramatic reading that I couldn’t really monitor everyone’s understanding, and I feel like they need to tackle the poem themselves. My actors got a little bored, since I was reading their lines, and then waiting for them to chime in with their own version.

After finishing the poem, I plan to watch O Brother, Where Art Thou, completing a compare/contrast worksheet as we go.

Finishing Beowulf

Posted in Uncategorized at 4:20 am by mrsmauck

So my seniors finished Beowulf today. We were both relieved, I think. Don’t get me wrong: somewhere between the groaning about the language, the confusion over kennings, and the scoffing at Beowulf’s supernatural strength, we had some good discussion about the nature of a hero, and of glory. They all also wrote their own boast, modeled after Beowulf’s, and some did an amazing job of making the ancient language and heroic tone their own. I want to give them a pep talk on Monday, telling them that the language was tough, but they beat it, and they should be proud of themselves. They’ve now read the original epic, and  no one can ever take that away from them. We’ve got a four-day weekend, thank goodness.

Tuesday, we’re going to look back at the text and learn the concepts of personification, foreshadowing, and irony, all found in the poem. Pretty sophistocated devices for an illiterate storyteller, right?

Has anyone seen the 2005 film Beowulf & Grendel? One of my students has The Thirteenth Warrior, which also took inspiration from the poem. I’m wondering whether either of these is worth watching in class.

Here’s what I’m thinking for culminating projects for the poem:

  1. Write and illustrate a children’s book or comic book version of the story.
  2. Compare Beowulf to another epic, which probably took its inspiration from the poem. To provide specific details from the epic you choose, you’ll need to watch the film or read the book again, so you can include specific quotes and examples from both texts.
  3. Write the villain’s side of the story: In either a narrative poem of at least 40 lines or a first-person story, tell the story from the P.O.V. of Grendel, Grendel’s mother, or the dragon.

August 26, 2007

First full week over…where to start?

Posted in Uncategorized at 9:20 pm by mrsmauck

Wow, this week went by so fast! My kids had their first library day, which went well for the most part. I can already tell though, that the non-readers are going to have trouble focusing on reading and not visiting for 30+ minutes. Our bell work for that day was to look at a handful of quotes about reading and talk about them. Here they are:

Books let us into their souls and lay open to us the secrets of our own.  ~William Hazlitt, 19th century English writer  

A book must be an ice-axe to break the seas frozen inside our soul.  ~Franz Kafka, 19th century German novelist  

Fiction reveals truths that reality obscures.  ~Jessamyn West, 20th century American novelist  

The man who does not read good books has no advantage over the man who can’t read them.  ~Mark Twain, 19th century American writer  

Some books are to be tasted, others to be swallowed, and some few to be chewed and digested.  ~Francis Bacon, 16th century English writer, philosopher, and scientist

I heard several choruses of, “I don’t get, like, any of those!”But a few kids in each class stepped up with some good insight, and I segued into how reading is going to work in my classes. The previous teacher had a book list the students had to choose from, and they had to take a test in the library after. I’m letting them choose any book, or bring one from home, and allowing them to choose their final assessment format, which seemed to get them a little excited. Rather than taking the test, they also have the option of making a book review poster or giving a book talk in front of the class, both of which I hope will get other students excited about reading. A neighbor of mine gave me a shoebox full of Louis L’Amour books, which I basically just took to be polite, but lots of the boys jumped right on these! The library has a pretty good selection of them, but I had some new ones for them to choose from. I don’t think I have a single Louis L’Amour left in my classroom library! I really tried to single out the kids who just milled around the library aimlessly, and ask them questions about what they’ve liked reading in the past, and then find a similar, high-interest book. I really need to read more YA books; I couldn’t make a whole lot of recommendations, but when I couldn’t offer help, I tried to get another student to recommend a book he or she liked.

Monday night, I went into freak-out mode: No more opening activities and fun library day: Tuesday was my day to actually begin teaching! At around 11 p.m., I was still surrounded by open textbooks, novels, and staring at my laptop screen. My husband asked if I was going to be finished soon. “I could stay up all night and not be finished,” I told him, and I was serious. But, I got to bed by midnight, still mildly freaking out, but basically prepared to introduce The Odyssey, Beowulf, Ayn Rand’s Anthem, and The Crucible. Whoa!

I saved time by doing the same intro for the epics, The Odyssey and Beowulf. I gave a little bit of historical background on both, telling kids that we would have a test over this, so they should take notes. However, during my short lecture (It probably lasted seven minutes, tops), most kids just stared at me blankly. I have a feeling I’m going to have to model note-taking and then give them some quizzes before they figure out that taking notes is an important part of test preparation. Our primary activity for both classes was a worksheet from ReadWriteThink on the epic hero cycle. In small groups, kids filled in examples of epics with which they’re familiar (we talked about Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter, Star Wars, etc., beforehand and I wrote them on the board). I was really surprised that some kids weren’t familiar with any of these epics, but they came up with some good alternatives: Shrek, Conan the Barbarian, and Batman. So freshmen and seniors did the same thing that day.

My sophomores are the easiest class: a group of 15 kids in which the leaders and the clowns are both interested in learning and achieving their best. To introduce Anthem, I used this great lesson plan about dystopia, also from ReadWriteThink, which uses The Matrix to help kids understand the idea of dystopia. To start out, the kids journaled on their idea of the perfect society, and what they would do to control its perfection. We had a great discussion on whether murder or banishment is appropriate to maintain the perfection, when the perfect society should not include killing. I introduced the definition of dystopia, and then we watched the scene from The Matrix where Morpheus welcomes Neo to “The Real World,” and explains how it got that way. We talked about how the Matrix fits the dystopia definition, and thought of other examples of dystopian films and video games. Then we read the first coupe paragraphs of Anthem, which really threw them for a loop. I wanted to witness the moment when they figured out that Equality was actually an individual, so I didn’t assign any reading homework the first night. I really liked how the reading went the next day in class. Kids read a couple pages silently, and then I had each group discuss the implications of different aspects of Equality’s world for their society: wearing iron ID bracelets, the evil of superiority, the transgression of preference, all learning past a certain age being confined to one place and one group. After some good discussion, I assigned the rest of the first chapter, about 15 pages, as reading homework. I really think everyone did it, too! I was thrilled with the discussion we had after the first chapter. Several of the kids said they wanted to keep reading when they finished, and I told them that the rest of the book is just as exciting as the second half of the first chapter. I’m really glad I chose this book as our first one.

Beowulf, on the other hand, is completely the opposite. We had a mini-lesson kennings the second day, but I don’t know, I couldn’t get them to understand the idea behind them. Very few of them could think of any good examples of kennings for nouns I put on the overhead, like a computer, a cell phone, a prom dress, a quarterback. I tried to give examples, like a kenning for love could be “heart-melt,” which I know is cheesy, but I was working on the fly here. They kept just thinking of two-word synonyms for the words, like “communications device” for cell phone. I kept trying to push them toward the poetic and metaphorical, like “thumb-bruiser” for cell phone (with all the texts, get it?), and some did, but about half seemed to be totally lost. Once we started reading the text aloud in small groups, most kids seemed to get totally bored. Like the sophomores, they’re reading in small groups, with each group in charge of tracking certain aspects: I’ve got a hero group, a villain group, a poetic devices group, and a Christian influences group. However, they seem to be focusing on making lists of examples for their aspect, and not getting an overall understanding or appreciation for the poem. I brought in a couple graphic novelizations of the poem, one by Gareth Hinds and a newer one by James Rumford, and we read corresponding sections from it after reading the text. It seemed like they understood the poem the best when I read a short section aloud, stopping every other line or so to dissect what was happening and the language being used. But I hate to spoonfeed them this way! Maybe after they have the example from me, they’ll know how they have to read a difficult work like this. I assigned them a 10-line poem modeled after Beowulf’s boast for weekend homework. They have to tell why they are worthy of their quest, using alliteration at least three times, and at least two kennings. I’m considering letting them hang onto their boasts for another day so that I can show them an example of my own boast, because I feel like I didn’t give them a good enough idea of what I want on Friday.

I think The Crucible is going well: we’re reading the play aloud in small groups, and stopping to discuss. After each group finishes, I give them a character they need to discuss, and then each group shares with the class. Also in this class, I gave them their first reading homework last week, and it seemed like most of them did it. One discussion group couldn’t come up with anything on their character’s role in the section assigned as at-home reading, so I know they didn’t read, but I think they’ll have to for the weekend writing assignment I gave them. They have to either write a character journal entry; an essay analyzing how one or two paintings on the pages of the play in our textbook represent characters, themes, events, or setting; a persuasive letter telling whether Rev. Parrish should receive a pay raise; or 20 lines of poetry about the play so far. We’re also watching clips of the movie version after each section that we read. The variation between reading in groups, small group discussion, whole-class discussion, and movie-watching seems to be keeping everyone engaged and understanding the story.

I was so proud of my freshmen on Friday! As an opener for The Odyssey, they researched a baker’s dozen of Greek gods and goddesses in pairs. I know they’re new at research, so I just gave them three specific pieces of information they had to find on their god or goddess: how he or she was born, what he or she is the god of, and one great adventure he or she has had. There aren’t enough computers in our library for every group to have one, so some were forced to consult, *gasp*, books! After a day and a half of in-class research, they gave group presentations to the class. I told them they had to be entertaining and original, so we had several groups do late-night talk show formats, one shy group did a great collage poster on Calypso, and another group did a live news broadcast presentation. Not everyone was prepared, and not everyone did research the way they should have, but I really think that everyone learned about the gods and goddeses, because they seemed enthralled to see their classmates presenting their work to them. After each presentation, I did a quick review and told them which piece of information they would be quizzed over on Monday. So Monday we’ll have a quick review quiz over all the presentations, and the kids will fill out evaluations on their partners’ contributions to the presentation.

Whew! There’s lots more I could talk about, but our lesson plans for the week must be turned in to the principal tomorrow morning, so I better get cracking! Plus, we were supposed to turn in three days’ worth of substitute lesson plans by Friday, which I didn’t get to finish, so I’ve got to take care of that, too! I have no idea what I’m going to tell the sub to do–I mean, if I knew I was going to be gone, I could easily think of some lesson plans that have to do with the unit we’re in, and are easy to supervise, but how can I write lesson plans that will be good year-round? Hmmm…

August 17, 2007

My students

Posted in students at 11:48 pm by mrsmauck

So I’ve got grades 9-12, and I can already tell my sixth-period seniors are going to be a rowdy bunch. They’re good kids, but it’s a bad time of day, I think. Right after lunch, right before P.E., you know how it goes. I’m wondering if I did the wrong thing today, though: We rushed through our starter activity a bit, and ended up with 20 minutes to do a survey that should have taken about 10. So some kids got a little chatty, and I found myself being drawn into conversations with them, not related to the survey. The ones who were being the most talkative will probably be some of my favorite students though: they were the ones grabbing books off my library shelf and asking to borrow them early, asking me if I’d read certain books, etc. It’s hard for me to not show them attention when they’re being so darn interesting and clever! I found out some interesting stuff in these conversations though: One boy has a tattoo commemmorating his brother who died (didn’t ask how), and another girl has twin baby girls! Most of the fun facts I gathered were indirect offshoots of questions about the survey, but I afterward I felt like I might have paid too much attention to the ones who I kept having to get on to for talking (not about the survey). I’ll have to work on pacing my lessons better, and making sure I keep them on task. A few of them who talk are ones who I know are smart, but some of the others really need some help, and just don’t want to work because it’s too hard. So I can’t cheat them by giving too much attention to the smart, funny kids.

I’m a teacher!

Posted in classroom stories, lesson plans, reflection at 11:31 pm by mrsmauck

First two days DOWN!  And I think they went really well! I started out having them fill out student information cards: they wrote down their name, preferred name, e-mail address, average amount of time spent on homework per week, and three things they like to do. I would have liked a better method for learning names, but oh well. After I went over my expectations and syllabus (which lasted a bit too long, I think), we launched into our first learning experience, and it was a good one! I stole this idea from graycie about a year ago, and am finally getting to use it! We read this poem called Mountain People by Jo Carson, from her book Stories I Ain’t Told Nobody Yet.

Mountain people
can’t read,
can’t write,
don’t wear shoes,
don’t have teeth,
don’t use soap, and don’t talk plain.
They beat their kids,
beat their friends,
beat their neighbors,
and beat their dogs.
They live on cow peas,
fatback, and twenty acres
straight up and down.
They don’t have money.
They do have fleas,
overalls,
tobacco patches,
shacks,
shotguns,
foodstamps,
liquor stills,
and at least six junk cars in the front yard,
Right?
Well, let me tell you:
I am from here,
I’m not like that
and I am damned tired of being told I am.
~ Jo Carson

We talked about the shift in viewpoint at “Right?”, the staccato rhythm, and finally, the stereotypes. Then I said, “You know, just about every group of people has some stereotypes associated with them: things other people believe about you just because you’re a member of that group. What kinds of stereotypes do you guys see, as teenagers?” They were uncertain at first, but then they found their groove. Then I passed out a new version of the poem called “Teenagers Can’t,” with blanks beside all the “can’t”s and “don’t”s. They completed their poems in small groups and then volunteers read theirs aloud. They seemed to get a kick out of it, and there were some moments of brilliance in each poem. Then last night I took the poems from each class and combined the best parts to get one phenomenal class poem. Today I got to experience the payoff. They loved seeing their efforts typed up and on the overhead, and they recognized parts of their own poem. I told each class I was really proud of them, that I thought their poems were just as good, if not better, than “Mountain People,” and I do. I think my sophomores’ poem was my favorite:

Teenagers
can’t be quiet,
can’t be polite,
don’t have respect,
don’t care,
don’t listen.
They stress over everything
And care about nothing.
They sleep too long and talk too much.
They know what they want and
Don’t like what they have.
They act stupid.
They do have long hair,
Dirty clothes everywhere,
Speeding tickets,
Braces,
Dirty socks,
Dirty rooms,
High phone bills,
And nothing to do.
Right?
Well, let me tell you:I am a teenager,
I’m not like that
And I am tired of being told I am.

After we read their collective poem, I had them journal some things teenagers can do. We shared, and then I asked them how they can tell other people that they can do these things. “We can do it,” they said. And they can!

August 14, 2007

Teacher shopping

Posted in Uncategorized at 10:26 pm by mrsmauck

All the teachers at my school get $75 to spend on their classrooms. I was pleasantly surprised at this, until I found out that our school does not stock ANY basic supplies that we had scads of at my old work. At my college office, it was very simple: we had a supply room with plenty of file folders, hanging folders, tablets, highlighters, pens, tape, scissors, Post-its, everything we might need to do our jobs. At school, as I’m sure most  of you teachers have experienced, NONE of that is provided. I found it really difficult to choose things for my classroom when I haven’t even gotten into any kind of routine yet: Will I want a file folder for every student? Maybe–so I bought 100. Will I do Greek and Latin root flash cards? Perhaps, so I bought some 3 x 5 cards. Will I use an overhead projector often enough to need to buy transparency markers? Maybe, so I threw some of those in.

I have had much less free time during these two days of in-service than I thought I would, and now I only have one day left at school to get everything ready for the first day! Yikes!

August 13, 2007

Long day of in-service

Posted in classroom library, curriculum, lesson plans, planning at 8:38 pm by mrsmauck

Except for the fact that I got to know some of my fellow teachers, today seemed like an incredible waste of time. We were supposed to be learning how to use test scores to individualize our teaching, but really, isn’t that pretty self-explanatory? You look at your students’ and class’s scores, pinpoint areas of weakness, and remediate! But for some reason, a couple women who talked to us like we were elementary kids had to explain this to us for about five hours. I felt a better use of our time would be to create benchmark exams that align to our state standards, since our principal wants us to administer these every 9 weeks.

 Other bits of information I learned today: This year is a textbook adoption year for language arts! Hooray!

 Our library has tests over most of its books, and the middle school teachers require their students to read and take tests over four books per 9 weeks. Hmmm…this seems like a good way to ensure that kids’ read–I suppose the scores on these tests could be worth a major project grade, to show the importance of reading. But here’s my dilemma: What about my classroom library?  I’m starting to feel like I’m making things too difficult. I should just do what the other teachers do, and not worry about “creating a reader’s environment.” I mean, I’m proud of my little library, but how can I keep kids accountable for reading those books? I haven’t read all of them, so I can’t write tests on them. I still want to do weekly reading journal entries to encourage reflection on reading, but I need to make sure they’re completing the books, not just reading during SSR in class. Suggestions?

I’m also the Student Council sponsor and one of three Junior Class sponsors. I’m keeping a positive attitude about this right now, though I know many of you will think these jobs are a burden: I’m looking forward to getting to know my students outside the English classroom. We’l see how much time these things actually take.

Tomorrow: CPR Training and classroom work day. I’m going to apply myself to my classroom expectations bulletin board, my 6+1 Writing Traits poster arrangement, and my book reviews bulletin board.

Any opening day activities you teachers have found successful? We’ll just have Thursday and Friday with the kiddos this week, so I’m just planning on doing getting-to-know each other, the classroom, my procedures activities. Here are my plans so far:

  • Fill out student information sheets (activities, academic goals, short answers on attitudes/aptitudes for reading and writing)
  • Write letter to me using your student information sheet, telling me what I need to know about you as a student (this will probably be weekend homework)
  • Introduction to expectations, policies, English binder, outside reading
  • Activities that introduce my teaching style and help me get to know them.
  • Mini-lesson on choosing books you’ll like.
  • Choose first books.
  • Learn procedure for weekly vocab.

This is the week!

Posted in lesson plans, reading workshops at 4:04 am by mrsmauck

Three days of in-service starts tomorrow with a day of curriculum alignment. I’m pretty sure my brain short-circuited today in the middle of about a million decisions about my classroom procedures, methods, and first days of school.

After slaving all afternoon on my “Outside Reading” handout, informing kids they’ll have to read at least four outside reading books per semester, my brother, who just graduated from high school gave me a harsh reality check: He said his English teacher of the last four years (small school) had the same requirement, and very few students ever read any books. During in-class reading, they’d pretend to read or just sleep, and then patch together a book report from the film version, the back cover plot summary, and/or online plot descriptions. I’m hoping that my scaffolding of this requirement will make things different: help selecting books: mini-lessons on genres, authors, and books, occasional read-alouds to pique interest. However, I’m realizing I need some sort of grade consequences to enforce this four book thing. I’ve got points for in-class reading, bringing the book to class, and weekly reading journals, but no grade mentioned as of yet for number of books read. I suppose a test grade of 100 for each book completed, and a 0 for books not completed? It seems like that would encourage faking completion, though. My brother’s English teacher assigned a highest-possible letter grade based on amount of books read: if you read only 3 books, the highest you can get is a B, 2 = C, etc.

August 11, 2007

Long day at school

Posted in Uncategorized at 3:52 am by mrsmauck

How did I get to school at 9 a.m., leave at 2 p.m., and feel completely exhausted by the time I got home? Because I did a dry run today: seeing what time I needed to wake up to get me and little miss mauck out the door by 7:15 a.m. The good news? I did it, waking up at 5:50 a.m. to feed her (and I use the term waking very loosely here). The bad news? At New Teacher Orientation this morning, our superintendent informed us we need to be at school by 7:50, when I thought my arrival time needed to be no later than 8:15 a.m. That 25 minutes is precious. I need some adjustment to this 6.5 hours of sleep business. I’m used to sleeping as late as little miss will let me.

I made some progress on my classroom today: I covered my three bulletin boards: two in yellow swirly fabric and black borders (school colors!), and the long skinny one above my chalkboard (who uses a chalkboard, anyway?) with paper and these cool bookshelf-looking borders I found in my cabinets, which I thought were only crammed with useless old textbooks and endless amounts of supplemental stuff for my textbook. Covering the boards was the easy part: Now I’ve got to make posters, which is very hard to do for me, as my handwriting is horrendous, and my paper skills are a bit too flamboyant and messy to make good posters, although I can do a mean scrapbook page when I get the urge (Wonder when that urge will return so I can start little miss’ scrapbook?).

Sidenote: Who seriously has time to use all these resources? There’s an entire book of “lesson plans,” in which each page just lists abougt 50 resources for each text: Get these transparencies, these recordings, these CD-Rom interactives, etc., etc. I don’t know, it feels like “Teaching for Dummies.”

Okay, I need some input on read alouds: Does anyone use them at the high school level? I’ve been talking with the lovely Jennie over at Unabridged Opinions, and she does this often with her middle school students. I really want my students to only have to read their SSR novels at home, and save our whole-class texts for classroom reading and discussion. But I’m still worried that reading aloud will be monotonous and eat up all our class time. Any thoughts, suggestions, advice? Also, I really want to do Readers Theater with the plays that we read, like The Crucible, Shakespeare, etc.  How should I introduce this kind of reading to the kiddies? Should we read the text aloud first, and then stage scenes, or can we do cold readings as Readers Theater?

August 8, 2007

Classroom expectations

Posted in classroom management at 5:34 pm by mrsmauck

I decided to call my class rules “expectations” instead, creating some for me and some for students. I got this idea from the ever-reflective and inventive Laura Huertero.

 You can expect me to:

1)       Respect and care for students.

2)      Provide each student with an equal opportunity to learn by maintaining an emotionally, physically, and mentally safe environment.

3)      Encourage curiosity and discovery through teaching methods that appeal to all learning styles.

4)      Present problems that require you to develop your critical thinking skills so that you can be a leader in your field.   

In return, I can expect you to:

1)       Respect your teacher and your classmates:

a.       Bring required materials to class.

b.      Be seated and working when the second bell rings.

2)      Allow all students, including you, to learn and achieve their highest potential.

3)      Obey all school rules in my class.

4)      Be an active participant in your learning: ask questions, discuss issues, and be passionate and creative with your work.

And here are my consequences:

1st Offense: Verbal warning

2nd Offense: Documented warning, conference with teacher

3rd Offense: Detention/Referral (Check school policy), Call to parent

 I haven’t printed these up for posters yet, so any comments or constructive criticism is still welcome.

 After a year and a half of telling the teacher blogosphere about my teaching methods and classroom mangement, I’m finally going to be telling students abou the, in a little over a week! Excitement and anxiety hardly cover what I feel when I try to let that sink in!

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