September 26, 2007

Barely controlled chaos

Posted in classroom stories, curriculum, lesson plans at 10:26 pm by mrsmauck

So my seniors have started working on their big projects for the year, a senior scrapbook. They’ll have ten reflections on senior year experiences, along with with ten pieces of memorabilia to physically commemorate those times. I’m trying to get them to polish the pieces, to work on building scene and character and theme, but I don’t know how successful I’m being. They turn in their first reflection Friday, so we’ll see. I’ve had them bring in rough drafts and fill out peer critique worksheets for each other, in which they pinpoint parts that need more detail, could use some dialogue, etc. Then today, we read a personal essay that had a really good example of setting a scene, and writing to a theme, and I had them revisit their drafts to build a scene more completely. The drafts I’ve read so far seem to be retellings of experiences with tons of random details. There’s no discernible theme, no significance as to why this event was important to them.  I think the worksheets and reading example stories isn’t enough. I need to model some good critiquing. They seem to think that once they write something, it’s done. They haven’t yet learned the fine art of revision.

 My juniors are preparing their final projects on The Crucible. I’ve just realized that my unit on this play will end up being six weeks long when it’s all said and done! Is that ridiculous or normal? We read most of the play in class, aloud in small groups, stopping at the end of each act to discuss and watch the Daniel Day-Lewis film version. I wanted to be sure everyone followed the plot. They wrote two small (although they thought they were big) papers at the end of Acts I and III. Now, they’re doing group projects. They chose from four options: a performance of a scene in the play or an original parody thereof, a talk show featuring prominent figures of the Red Scare of the 1950s, a debate over the possible explanations for the accusers’ affliction, or a presentation over the significant changes Miller made from fact to historical fiction. I’m torn as to how much I should help the groups: with my third-hour juniors, I was very hands-on. I was glad I was, too, because they’re a bigger class, and some would try to play Internet games or do random searches (and I mean random: I saw one for how to trap a squirrel), or just get off-task. So with them, I circulated and asked what their plan was, and helped where I could the entire time. With my last-hour class, which only has nine students, I pretty much let them work, and I think they’re going to be ready to present tomorrow. We’ll see how it goes.

What do you think: How do you teach kids to write a personal essay that has both sensory detail and a theme? How long should I spend on The Crucible? Should I require more at-home reading, to speed it along?

September 16, 2007

A tired explanation

Posted in classroom management, lesson plans, mommy at 3:31 am by mrsmauck

I’m not sure how reflective I’m going to be able to be this year…how the reflective teacher did it, I don’t know. By the time I get home, relax with my daughter for a couple hours, cook dinner and clean up, it’s past time to plan my lessons for the next day. I’m up until 11 or 11:30 doing that, and then I have to get bottles and pump equipment ready for the next day. Four preps is tough. Writing lesson plans is much like writing papers for my college classes: I dread getting started, but then I get tons of good ideas once I start, and end up thinking it was a satisfying expeirence. Unlike with writing college papers, though, sometimes my lesson plans succeed and sometimes they flop. So when I finish writing, I’m not done. I have to deliver it, and often after that’s done, I don’t want to look back. I feel like I only have time to look forward. I know this is the raison d’etre for this blog, but I just don’t know how I’ll find time to do this.

Looking forward to next week: I think I’m going to have to tighten the reins: Several of my classes became fairly chaotic last week, with too many kids going back to their lockers for supplies, needing to go to the bathroom during class, etc. I’m going to have to implement a system for this. I’m thinking they’ll get three bathroom trips per 9wks, and after that, it’s a Tardy. All trips to lockers after the bell rings will get a Tardy. I hate that I’m having to do this a month into the year, but better late than never. I’ll just have to be sure and do this consistently, and they’ll have to get used to it. I hate this; I’d rather trust them to be responsible, like in college, but they just won’t do it.

First Parent-Teacher Conference done…

Posted in parents at 3:14 am by mrsmauck

What an exhausting day it was, but it’s over. I met about 20 parents, I think. Our school holds the conference on a Thursday evening from 3 to 9 p.m., making an incredibly long day for teachers, especially newbies like me who get a lot of visitors. I had a parent who questioned the value of one of my writing assignments, and of course I thought of a good reply later: I’m not teaching these kids to analyze paintings, and how they relate to The Crucible; I’m teaching them how to think and communicate. I’m being as creative as I can to give them assignments I think they might get into, and this is the thanks I get. This parent’s son could easily be an A student, but he was on Academic Probation last week for simply not handing assignments in. When he handed in his first on-time assignment this week, it was an A paper. His dad seems to be opposed to the teaching of literature in our schools, and my principal had encountered this before, so he came in with the parents and deflected some of the criticism expertly by placing the blame on No Child Left Behind, testing, state objectives, etc. By the time they left, I think they thought George Bush was was the reason their son was failing my class.

I’m not a fan of parents who bring their students into the conference, either, I’ve decided. One set of parents brought both daughters into the classroom with them, and the daughter with the C grade (and D writing skills) looked as though she was on the verge of tears the entire time I listed her incomplete assignments, and was forced to defend my reasons for giving her a 70 on a writing assignment. That was definitely my most tense meeting, with a close second being the host parents of two foreign exchange students who seemed to think I was teaching a college curriculum to their students, who both have B averages, mostly because of late assignments and misunderstanding assignment directions. I could have pointed out that the foreign exchange student in my sophomore class is holding down an easy A average, despite the language barrier, but I didn’t.