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?

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.

August 17, 2007

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,
tobacco patches,
liquor stills,
and at least six junk cars in the front yard,
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:

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,
Dirty socks,
Dirty rooms,
High phone bills,
And nothing to do.
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!

November 9, 2006

Pseudo-teaching experience

Posted in classroom stories at 9:58 pm by mrsmauck

I spoke at a Career Day today about the journalism field. It was tough putting on an excited front about journalism when at the moment I was doing what I actually, passionately want to be doing: teaching high school students! I do want to teach journalism in high school though, so some of what I said I could actually be reiterating in the next year in my own classroom! Pseudo-teaching was extremely motivating, but quite tiring! I only did it for half a class period for three hours, and I felt pooped after! I’m sure you teachers know what I’m talking about: that exhausted, but somehow fulfilled, feeling. It was amazing seeing the boys in the very back row get interested in what I was saying: one minute they were rolling their eyes at each other, and the next, they were engaged and asking really good questions. I would make mental notes; ah! That’s what gets them! and try to keep going in that direction, as long as it wasn’t something ridiculous that got their attention, like the mention of something bathroom- or body part-related. However, sometimes it’s good to throw in a little something unexpected to wake them up, right?