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?

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2 Comments »

  1. ec said,

    At my school, we’re required to do a unit on the college essay with seniors….and I actually just started it today. Like you, I’ve found that the best way to get kids to write a successful personal narrative – one that’s tightly focused with a strong voice – is to give them a ton of samples, especially samples with varying styles, because I think that’s key to helping them find their own voices. I’ve also found that it’s important to give them some “practice” personal narrative assignments ahead of time (scaffolding!) with very tight, very strict requirements that also allow them to explore their own voice.

    For example….we read “So This Is Nebraska” by Ted Kooser, talk about the poem (how the speaker feels about Nebraska, how we know this, etc), then they write a prose “So This Is…” about a town or place special to them. I’ve also written a sample for them about my hometown, so they can see the very specific form and structure that I’m looking for….but the content, the voice, the picture they paint is their own.

    I don’t know how much of yourself you’re willing to share with your students – that varies with all of us, and I don’t get much more personal than this piece – but it might be worthwhile to model for them what you’re looking for…..think of a significant senior year experience of your own, talk to them about it, write a sample in your 17 year old voice (or tell them what you would write…I realize the whole writing a sample thing also isn’t for everyone, particularly someone with a new baby!).

  2. syb said,

    Have you perused Dana Huff’s blog?

    I read a lot of ed blogs on the net and she seems REALLLY with it.. as far as her career goes, she has taught (only) about 8-10 years. She has a good many idea that she welcomes you to D/L too

    It’s huffenglish.com

    Best,
    Syb


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