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…

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1 Comment »

  1. X said,

    Sub plans are stupid. On the few occasions when I’ve been out without leaving something (Gasp! I know! But these things do happen…), I don’t think they’ve ever been used. I didn’t even turn them in at all one year. As you pointed out, the concept is a bit ridiculous. I tend to turn in something like “Read this text, write a summary this way, write a response this way” or “Read this text and write one of your own. Use this outline to plan it, then write your final copy on the other side.” I don’t count on the sub to do any teaching. There are some phenomenal subs at my school and also some who don’t do much more than breathe. No exaggeration!

    High school English sounds so different from middle school! Well, that’s obvious. But since I’ve always been in middle school, I have really vague ideas about high school. Four preps is such a ridiculous amount of work! This post made me remember reading The Crucible in ninth grade drama. I love how you gave so many options for their weekend homework…very cool!

    I think I’m just avoiding my own work right now…oh, wait! Maybe you can get some YA reading in while you’re feeding your daughter? Not that I have any experience there, but a friend told me that she was able to read a lot more when her kids were nursing. And maybe it’s not the best way, but I’ve learned about a lot of YA books just by browsing and seaching Amazon.com and Barnes and Noble.


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