October 22, 2007

Writing our own myths

Posted in lesson plans at 2:50 am by mrsmauck

I’ve had so few successes with my freshmen so far, but I think I can say that I had one for our end-of-nine-weeks project. After researching Greek mythology, learning the epic heroic cycle reading excerpts from The Odyssey, and watching O Brother, Where Art Thou, comparing and contrasting the two, we wrote our own myths. First, I modeled this by filling in the epic heroic cycle chart with my own story, and then I showed my myth on PowerPoint.

I enjoyed writing my myth so much, it made me think I’d like to turn this Pristina story into a children’s book. But as always, I have a great idea, and then all the little details come crashing over me, give me a scared feeling in my stomach, and I abandon all efforts in favor of everyday duties and pleasures.

 My students’ myths were SO good: the boys’ were invariably filled with gory battles, while the girls’ mostly ended with the main character getting married. Some were an amalgam of Disney movies and fairy tales, but others were completely original and genuinely entertaining to read. I hope it was a good writing experience for them. I tried to teach them to self-edit this time, which we’ll continue to work on throughout the year.

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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.

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,
overalls,
tobacco patches,
shacks,
shotguns,
foodstamps,
liquor stills,
and at least six junk cars in the front yard,
Right?
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:

Teenagers
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,
Braces,
Dirty socks,
Dirty rooms,
High phone bills,
And nothing to do.
Right?
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!

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.

This is the week!

Posted in lesson plans, reading workshops at 4:04 am by mrsmauck

Three days of in-service starts tomorrow with a day of curriculum alignment. I’m pretty sure my brain short-circuited today in the middle of about a million decisions about my classroom procedures, methods, and first days of school.

After slaving all afternoon on my “Outside Reading” handout, informing kids they’ll have to read at least four outside reading books per semester, my brother, who just graduated from high school gave me a harsh reality check: He said his English teacher of the last four years (small school) had the same requirement, and very few students ever read any books. During in-class reading, they’d pretend to read or just sleep, and then patch together a book report from the film version, the back cover plot summary, and/or online plot descriptions. I’m hoping that my scaffolding of this requirement will make things different: help selecting books: mini-lessons on genres, authors, and books, occasional read-alouds to pique interest. However, I’m realizing I need some sort of grade consequences to enforce this four book thing. I’ve got points for in-class reading, bringing the book to class, and weekly reading journals, but no grade mentioned as of yet for number of books read. I suppose a test grade of 100 for each book completed, and a 0 for books not completed? It seems like that would encourage faking completion, though. My brother’s English teacher assigned a highest-possible letter grade based on amount of books read: if you read only 3 books, the highest you can get is a B, 2 = C, etc.

July 31, 2007

More on SSR

Posted in lesson plans at 11:01 pm by mrsmauck

Athena left a great suggestion in her comment: to have the students use Library Thing to track the books they’ve read in SSR. I love it! What a great, nonthreatening way to have some closure after you finish a book! And the kids would have such ownership of that kind of thing. I think I’m going to start out requiring students to complete at least four books per semester–Is that not enough?

Another idea I had yesterday: students could be required to post weekly responses to their reading on blogs. I would also require them to read and comment on the blog entries of say, two classmates per week. I have two classroom computers–to avoid having to take the entire class to the computer lab once a week, perhaps I could allow students to rotate everyday, four of them missing part of SSR to post to their blogs and read the blogs of classmates. Does this sound too complicated? I think I’ll try it with one class my first semester and see how it goes.

6+1 Writing Traits, Beowulf

Posted in classroom appearance, lesson plans at 10:12 pm by mrsmauck





I worked on my 6+1 Writing Traits poster today. I plan on matting each of these on construction paper and grouping them somewhere in my room. Anyone have any bits of advice on implementing this program? I think it will be really helpful for students to have these on handouts as they write, revise, and peer-edit, so they have some structure and language to articulate what is good and bad about their work.
I also read Beowulf again today, as it will be the first unit for my seniors. I remember thinking it was completely archaic and boring as a student, but now, I thought the poetry was beautiful and the plot fast-paced and interesting. Is that a difference in maturity and knowledge of language, or did my previous learning experience suck the life out of the oldest English poem on the planet? I plan on introducing this with a comparison chart of today’s epics and heroes, having students brainstorm the traits of an epic by analyzing Harry Potter, The Matrix trilogy, the Lord of the Rings trilogy, and/or Star Wars. We’ll do this using the elements from Joseph Campbell’s Hero’s Journey. I think we’ll read it aloud in class, as it did begin as an oral tale, and we’ll pause to discuss, and do structured group work, in which each group discusses and writes down notes on different aspects of the poem: poetic devices, Christian influences, heroic traits, villanous traits, and storyboarding. The storyboarding group will work on a master timeline of events with drawings, noting elements from the Hero’s Journey. As final projects, students will put together a Heroes Booklet and also write a short essay on one of the aspects the small groups explored during our reading.
bought two beautiful graphic novel versons of the poem: this one by James Rumord and this one by Gareth Hinds. I’m trying to decide how to use these. Perhaps students could choose to do a graphic novel version of one of the battles rather than the short paper?
Any constructive criticism of this unit plan is most welcome!

July 27, 2007

Classroom prep

Posted in classroom appearance, lesson plans at 6:05 pm by mrsmauck

With only two full weeks until school starts, I’m starting to get a little anxious about getting everything done. I’ve got a magazine deadline August 6, so next week will be divided between that article (on Oklahoma blogs–whoop!), Claire, and hanging out with visiting relatives. That leaves one week to ready my classroom. Here’s my to-do list for that week:

1. Walls: minimal in the beginning, as I plan to create posters to remind them of things we learn.

  • Class rules: Respect yourself, Respect your classmates, and Respect your teacher
  • Promises to my students (jacked from the perfectly seasoned Graycie): I promise that I will not ask you to do anything you cannot do, I promise that if I ask you to do something new, I will show you how, and I promise that if you do the things I ask you to do, you should pass this course.)
  • Book recommendations: I post brief reviews of books I’ve read recently, replacing them with student reviews as they finish books.
  • 6 +1 Writing Traits

2. Class Syllabi

3. Lesson Plans, of course! I’d like to have the first couple weeks planned when we start school.

4. Class Library: I’m up to about 70 books now, and I’m going to arrange them by genre, and then within each genre, I’m going to try to order them from less difficult to more difficult.

Question about SSR: I’m now planning on devoting the first 10 minutes of every English class to SSR, with weekly journal entries or creative projects due, book talks every other week, and frequent mini-lessons on choosing books, active reading, authors, and genres. I think I’m going to require that every student read at least 5 books per semester, with books with more than 250 pages worth two books. Any other ideas on how to make this SSR beneficial and effective for students?

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