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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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.

December 13, 2006

Too difficult for regular students?

Posted in curriculum, grad school at 6:20 pm by mrsmauck

Okay, teachers, I need your opinions: My Methods teacher said my lesson on McCarthyism would not be suited to regular classes (but instead to AP or GT kids), and docked me 5 points! I want you guys to tell me if this is too much for normal juniors in high school: I’ve copied the text from my intro PowerPoint on McCarthyism. FYI, students will construct/create McCarthyism museum exhibits as one of their final projects for this unit: there won’t be a test over McCarthyism, so this presentation is really to get an overall understanding for discussion of The Crucible as an allegory and to get ideas for the exhibit they will choose.

Slide 1:
A Very Proper Gander (humorous fable by James Thurber) in today’s world? (I used this as an opening activity)
* Racial profiling (chart from U.S. DOJ on number of black homicide offenders and number of whites)
* NSA Wiretapping
(Discuss judging based on appearances, the govt.’s rights to do so, post 9/11 world, etc.)

Slide 2:
Red Scare of 1950s
* “Are you now or were you ever a member of the Communist party?”
(Ask students what they think of when they hear the word communism: positive/negative? What does it mean?)
*Communism def.: a theory or system of social organization based on the holding of all property in common, actual ownership being ascribed to the community as a whole or to the state.
*Flag symbolizes unity between agricultural and industrial workers.
(Discuss: this sounds like it could be good, yes? Who would not like this system? Who runs our government? Riiiight.)

Slide 3:
Second Red Scare: 1947-1957
* Cold War made U.S. extremely suspicious of Communists: Communist Party of the United States had 50,000 members in 1942.
*Senator Joseph McCarthy kick started anti-Communist fervor with a 1950 speech in which he proclaimed to have a list of more than 200 Communists working for the State Department.
*Alger Hiss, Julius and Ethel Rosenberg arrested for espionage, accused of being Soviet spies.
*Communism, though never illegal, became equal to treason to the United States.
*Anti-Communist “loyalty review boards” sprung up at all levels of government and for private companies.

Slide 4:
J. Edgar Hoover and the FBI
*Hoover developed his assignment to rid the country of disloyal radicals and leftists into the FBI.
*Distributed blind memoranda (anonymous documents) that indicated Communist loyalty through its “Responsibilities Program” to employers, often resulting in firing without any questions asked.
*Used many illegal practices in its pursuit of information (burglaries, wire-tappings, undercover operations.)
*COINTELPRO, a formal “dirty tricks” program, in which the FBI planted forged documents, leaked information to the press, called for IRS audits, etc. on organizations that were suspected of Communist or radical activity.
(Compare to NSA Wiretapping. Can the govt. do illegal things during times of war?)

Slide 5
House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC)
*Investigated many German-American Nazis during WWII.
*Became especially associated with the investigation of Communists, particularly suspects in Hollywood. (1947)
*Hollywood Ten: First Amendment
*Supreme Court ruling: Defendants may Claim the Fifth, but if they waive that right and do talk, they must “name names.”
*McCarthy: “Fifth Amendment Communists”
(Discuss: Think for a moment about what you would do in this situation? Would you be willing to lose work and your reputation to save the names of your friends?)

Slide 6
Hollywood Blacklist
*The day after the Hollywood 10 were cited for contempt (Nov. 1947), the MPAA released a statement that none of the major studios would knowingly employ a Communist.
*Arthur Miller was one of the people on the blacklist.

Slide 7
Arthur Miller: A Communist?
*“I would never have found it believable, in the 50s or later, that with its thuggish self-righteousness and callous contempt for artists’ freedoms, that the Soviet way of controlling culture could be successfully exported to America.”
*He was subpoenaed by HUAC in 1956, and was cited for contempt for refusing to name names.
*Longtime friend and director Elia Kazan (A Streetcar Named Desire, On the Waterfront) was also called before HUAC, and under the threat that he would never work again, confessed and named names.
*Miller began thinking about the “red hunt” as a “witch hunt” and was inspired to write The Crucible.

From here, go into discussion of the setting of the Salem Witch Trials: assess their prior knowledge, see how they think this parallels McCarthyism. Introduce graphic organizer in which students will fill in parallels between McCarthyism and the events of The Crucible.

If I used this presentation with regular juniors or seniors, would it just go over their heads? My brother is a senior in high school, and he read The Crucible this year, and his teacher never once mentioned parallels to McCarthyism. I don’t see how you can do this! Please help me out.

December 6, 2006

Teaching Shakespeare, The Crucible

Posted in curriculum, grad school at 9:20 pm by mrsmauck

This is the last week of classes at Local U, and I gave a presentation on teaching Shakespeare Monday, and Wednesday, a lesson presentation from a unit plan I did for my Methods class titled *deep breath* “Personal freedom vs. Institutional control” (using The Crucible, McCarthyism projects, and YA novels The Chocolate War, After, and The Wave). Getting this unit ready was intense! Five weeks’ worth of discussion questions, daily plans, assignment sheets, rubrics, a test, a PowerPoint, etc.

My Methods teacher’s comment was that my lesson was very well-organized and I used questions very effectively with the students, but that a discussion on McCarthyism might be a bit over 11th graders’ heads. The lesson I presented was an intro to the unit: background on McCarthyism, introduction of themes, etc. What do you all think? Can you discuss The Crucible without discussing McCarthyism? I never learned about McCarthyism until I got to college, and then I found it fascinating, and for my teaching philosophy of forming critical thinkers, I think a unit on it is very appropriate. I tied in racial profiling after 9/11, NSA Wiretapping, and used a fable by James Thurber called “A Very Proper Gander” to introduce the ideas of policing your neighbors and a culture of fear and suspicion. What do you all real teachers think? Is this stuff too heavy for high schoolers? Or do they need it? How do you simplify it?

August 28, 2006

Textbook Pressure

Posted in curriculum at 8:46 pm by mrsmauck

Okay, I need some real teacher input. Am I living in a dream world to think that the students and I can actually select some of the texts we cover in each class? I was talking with my mother-in-law, a very able former H.S. English teacher, about some of the works I’d read lately, thinking about teaching them (Heart of Darkness, different YA novels). She quickly shot down these options say, “You have lots of ideas, but you just don’t have much time. There are so many things you have to cover, that you don’t have time to cover anything else.”

Okay, so what do I have to cover? Do your districts or states require that you cover certain works each year? I thought they provided you with textbooks and the “approved reading list” and then let you choose what you wanted to teach. I mean, I know there are certain works that all freshman English courses need to cover: Romeo & Juliet, etc. But is there absolutely no space for the teacher to supplement the curriculum with her own choices? Or for, heaven forbid, the students to select novels to read in lit circles? These were my plans and dreams, but now I’m feeling like they’re unrealistic.

Please, tell me how you negotiate teaching required works and your and the students’ choices.