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.


Finishing Beowulf

Posted in Uncategorized at 4:20 am by mrsmauck

So my seniors finished Beowulf today. We were both relieved, I think. Don’t get me wrong: somewhere between the groaning about the language, the confusion over kennings, and the scoffing at Beowulf’s supernatural strength, we had some good discussion about the nature of a hero, and of glory. They all also wrote their own boast, modeled after Beowulf’s, and some did an amazing job of making the ancient language and heroic tone their own. I want to give them a pep talk on Monday, telling them that the language was tough, but they beat it, and they should be proud of themselves. They’ve now read the original epic, and  no one can ever take that away from them. We’ve got a four-day weekend, thank goodness.

Tuesday, we’re going to look back at the text and learn the concepts of personification, foreshadowing, and irony, all found in the poem. Pretty sophistocated devices for an illiterate storyteller, right?

Has anyone seen the 2005 film Beowulf & Grendel? One of my students has The Thirteenth Warrior, which also took inspiration from the poem. I’m wondering whether either of these is worth watching in class.

Here’s what I’m thinking for culminating projects for the poem:

  1. Write and illustrate a children’s book or comic book version of the story.
  2. Compare Beowulf to another epic, which probably took its inspiration from the poem. To provide specific details from the epic you choose, you’ll need to watch the film or read the book again, so you can include specific quotes and examples from both texts.
  3. Write the villain’s side of the story: In either a narrative poem of at least 40 lines or a first-person story, tell the story from the P.O.V. of Grendel, Grendel’s mother, or the dragon.

August 26, 2007

First full week over…where to start?

Posted in Uncategorized at 9:20 pm by mrsmauck

Wow, this week went by so fast! My kids had their first library day, which went well for the most part. I can already tell though, that the non-readers are going to have trouble focusing on reading and not visiting for 30+ minutes. Our bell work for that day was to look at a handful of quotes about reading and talk about them. Here they are:

Books let us into their souls and lay open to us the secrets of our own.  ~William Hazlitt, 19th century English writer  

A book must be an ice-axe to break the seas frozen inside our soul.  ~Franz Kafka, 19th century German novelist  

Fiction reveals truths that reality obscures.  ~Jessamyn West, 20th century American novelist  

The man who does not read good books has no advantage over the man who can’t read them.  ~Mark Twain, 19th century American writer  

Some books are to be tasted, others to be swallowed, and some few to be chewed and digested.  ~Francis Bacon, 16th century English writer, philosopher, and scientist

I heard several choruses of, “I don’t get, like, any of those!”But a few kids in each class stepped up with some good insight, and I segued into how reading is going to work in my classes. The previous teacher had a book list the students had to choose from, and they had to take a test in the library after. I’m letting them choose any book, or bring one from home, and allowing them to choose their final assessment format, which seemed to get them a little excited. Rather than taking the test, they also have the option of making a book review poster or giving a book talk in front of the class, both of which I hope will get other students excited about reading. A neighbor of mine gave me a shoebox full of Louis L’Amour books, which I basically just took to be polite, but lots of the boys jumped right on these! The library has a pretty good selection of them, but I had some new ones for them to choose from. I don’t think I have a single Louis L’Amour left in my classroom library! I really tried to single out the kids who just milled around the library aimlessly, and ask them questions about what they’ve liked reading in the past, and then find a similar, high-interest book. I really need to read more YA books; I couldn’t make a whole lot of recommendations, but when I couldn’t offer help, I tried to get another student to recommend a book he or she liked.

Monday night, I went into freak-out mode: No more opening activities and fun library day: Tuesday was my day to actually begin teaching! At around 11 p.m., I was still surrounded by open textbooks, novels, and staring at my laptop screen. My husband asked if I was going to be finished soon. “I could stay up all night and not be finished,” I told him, and I was serious. But, I got to bed by midnight, still mildly freaking out, but basically prepared to introduce The Odyssey, Beowulf, Ayn Rand’s Anthem, and The Crucible. Whoa!

I saved time by doing the same intro for the epics, The Odyssey and Beowulf. I gave a little bit of historical background on both, telling kids that we would have a test over this, so they should take notes. However, during my short lecture (It probably lasted seven minutes, tops), most kids just stared at me blankly. I have a feeling I’m going to have to model note-taking and then give them some quizzes before they figure out that taking notes is an important part of test preparation. Our primary activity for both classes was a worksheet from ReadWriteThink on the epic hero cycle. In small groups, kids filled in examples of epics with which they’re familiar (we talked about Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter, Star Wars, etc., beforehand and I wrote them on the board). I was really surprised that some kids weren’t familiar with any of these epics, but they came up with some good alternatives: Shrek, Conan the Barbarian, and Batman. So freshmen and seniors did the same thing that day.

My sophomores are the easiest class: a group of 15 kids in which the leaders and the clowns are both interested in learning and achieving their best. To introduce Anthem, I used this great lesson plan about dystopia, also from ReadWriteThink, which uses The Matrix to help kids understand the idea of dystopia. To start out, the kids journaled on their idea of the perfect society, and what they would do to control its perfection. We had a great discussion on whether murder or banishment is appropriate to maintain the perfection, when the perfect society should not include killing. I introduced the definition of dystopia, and then we watched the scene from The Matrix where Morpheus welcomes Neo to “The Real World,” and explains how it got that way. We talked about how the Matrix fits the dystopia definition, and thought of other examples of dystopian films and video games. Then we read the first coupe paragraphs of Anthem, which really threw them for a loop. I wanted to witness the moment when they figured out that Equality was actually an individual, so I didn’t assign any reading homework the first night. I really liked how the reading went the next day in class. Kids read a couple pages silently, and then I had each group discuss the implications of different aspects of Equality’s world for their society: wearing iron ID bracelets, the evil of superiority, the transgression of preference, all learning past a certain age being confined to one place and one group. After some good discussion, I assigned the rest of the first chapter, about 15 pages, as reading homework. I really think everyone did it, too! I was thrilled with the discussion we had after the first chapter. Several of the kids said they wanted to keep reading when they finished, and I told them that the rest of the book is just as exciting as the second half of the first chapter. I’m really glad I chose this book as our first one.

Beowulf, on the other hand, is completely the opposite. We had a mini-lesson kennings the second day, but I don’t know, I couldn’t get them to understand the idea behind them. Very few of them could think of any good examples of kennings for nouns I put on the overhead, like a computer, a cell phone, a prom dress, a quarterback. I tried to give examples, like a kenning for love could be “heart-melt,” which I know is cheesy, but I was working on the fly here. They kept just thinking of two-word synonyms for the words, like “communications device” for cell phone. I kept trying to push them toward the poetic and metaphorical, like “thumb-bruiser” for cell phone (with all the texts, get it?), and some did, but about half seemed to be totally lost. Once we started reading the text aloud in small groups, most kids seemed to get totally bored. Like the sophomores, they’re reading in small groups, with each group in charge of tracking certain aspects: I’ve got a hero group, a villain group, a poetic devices group, and a Christian influences group. However, they seem to be focusing on making lists of examples for their aspect, and not getting an overall understanding or appreciation for the poem. I brought in a couple graphic novelizations of the poem, one by Gareth Hinds and a newer one by James Rumford, and we read corresponding sections from it after reading the text. It seemed like they understood the poem the best when I read a short section aloud, stopping every other line or so to dissect what was happening and the language being used. But I hate to spoonfeed them this way! Maybe after they have the example from me, they’ll know how they have to read a difficult work like this. I assigned them a 10-line poem modeled after Beowulf’s boast for weekend homework. They have to tell why they are worthy of their quest, using alliteration at least three times, and at least two kennings. I’m considering letting them hang onto their boasts for another day so that I can show them an example of my own boast, because I feel like I didn’t give them a good enough idea of what I want on Friday.

I think The Crucible is going well: we’re reading the play aloud in small groups, and stopping to discuss. After each group finishes, I give them a character they need to discuss, and then each group shares with the class. Also in this class, I gave them their first reading homework last week, and it seemed like most of them did it. One discussion group couldn’t come up with anything on their character’s role in the section assigned as at-home reading, so I know they didn’t read, but I think they’ll have to for the weekend writing assignment I gave them. They have to either write a character journal entry; an essay analyzing how one or two paintings on the pages of the play in our textbook represent characters, themes, events, or setting; a persuasive letter telling whether Rev. Parrish should receive a pay raise; or 20 lines of poetry about the play so far. We’re also watching clips of the movie version after each section that we read. The variation between reading in groups, small group discussion, whole-class discussion, and movie-watching seems to be keeping everyone engaged and understanding the story.

I was so proud of my freshmen on Friday! As an opener for The Odyssey, they researched a baker’s dozen of Greek gods and goddesses in pairs. I know they’re new at research, so I just gave them three specific pieces of information they had to find on their god or goddess: how he or she was born, what he or she is the god of, and one great adventure he or she has had. There aren’t enough computers in our library for every group to have one, so some were forced to consult, *gasp*, books! After a day and a half of in-class research, they gave group presentations to the class. I told them they had to be entertaining and original, so we had several groups do late-night talk show formats, one shy group did a great collage poster on Calypso, and another group did a live news broadcast presentation. Not everyone was prepared, and not everyone did research the way they should have, but I really think that everyone learned about the gods and goddeses, because they seemed enthralled to see their classmates presenting their work to them. After each presentation, I did a quick review and told them which piece of information they would be quizzed over on Monday. So Monday we’ll have a quick review quiz over all the presentations, and the kids will fill out evaluations on their partners’ contributions to the presentation.

Whew! There’s lots more I could talk about, but our lesson plans for the week must be turned in to the principal tomorrow morning, so I better get cracking! Plus, we were supposed to turn in three days’ worth of substitute lesson plans by Friday, which I didn’t get to finish, so I’ve got to take care of that, too! I have no idea what I’m going to tell the sub to do–I mean, if I knew I was going to be gone, I could easily think of some lesson plans that have to do with the unit we’re in, and are easy to supervise, but how can I write lesson plans that will be good year-round? Hmmm…

August 14, 2007

Teacher shopping

Posted in Uncategorized at 10:26 pm by mrsmauck

All the teachers at my school get $75 to spend on their classrooms. I was pleasantly surprised at this, until I found out that our school does not stock ANY basic supplies that we had scads of at my old work. At my college office, it was very simple: we had a supply room with plenty of file folders, hanging folders, tablets, highlighters, pens, tape, scissors, Post-its, everything we might need to do our jobs. At school, as I’m sure most  of you teachers have experienced, NONE of that is provided. I found it really difficult to choose things for my classroom when I haven’t even gotten into any kind of routine yet: Will I want a file folder for every student? Maybe–so I bought 100. Will I do Greek and Latin root flash cards? Perhaps, so I bought some 3 x 5 cards. Will I use an overhead projector often enough to need to buy transparency markers? Maybe, so I threw some of those in.

I have had much less free time during these two days of in-service than I thought I would, and now I only have one day left at school to get everything ready for the first day! Yikes!

August 11, 2007

Long day at school

Posted in Uncategorized at 3:52 am by mrsmauck

How did I get to school at 9 a.m., leave at 2 p.m., and feel completely exhausted by the time I got home? Because I did a dry run today: seeing what time I needed to wake up to get me and little miss mauck out the door by 7:15 a.m. The good news? I did it, waking up at 5:50 a.m. to feed her (and I use the term waking very loosely here). The bad news? At New Teacher Orientation this morning, our superintendent informed us we need to be at school by 7:50, when I thought my arrival time needed to be no later than 8:15 a.m. That 25 minutes is precious. I need some adjustment to this 6.5 hours of sleep business. I’m used to sleeping as late as little miss will let me.

I made some progress on my classroom today: I covered my three bulletin boards: two in yellow swirly fabric and black borders (school colors!), and the long skinny one above my chalkboard (who uses a chalkboard, anyway?) with paper and these cool bookshelf-looking borders I found in my cabinets, which I thought were only crammed with useless old textbooks and endless amounts of supplemental stuff for my textbook. Covering the boards was the easy part: Now I’ve got to make posters, which is very hard to do for me, as my handwriting is horrendous, and my paper skills are a bit too flamboyant and messy to make good posters, although I can do a mean scrapbook page when I get the urge (Wonder when that urge will return so I can start little miss’ scrapbook?).

Sidenote: Who seriously has time to use all these resources? There’s an entire book of “lesson plans,” in which each page just lists abougt 50 resources for each text: Get these transparencies, these recordings, these CD-Rom interactives, etc., etc. I don’t know, it feels like “Teaching for Dummies.”

Okay, I need some input on read alouds: Does anyone use them at the high school level? I’ve been talking with the lovely Jennie over at Unabridged Opinions, and she does this often with her middle school students. I really want my students to only have to read their SSR novels at home, and save our whole-class texts for classroom reading and discussion. But I’m still worried that reading aloud will be monotonous and eat up all our class time. Any thoughts, suggestions, advice? Also, I really want to do Readers Theater with the plays that we read, like The Crucible, Shakespeare, etc.  How should I introduce this kind of reading to the kiddies? Should we read the text aloud first, and then stage scenes, or can we do cold readings as Readers Theater?

March 7, 2007

Pressing on

Posted in Uncategorized at 7:26 pm by mrsmauck

Well, I got my first teacher rejection letter yesterday. The interview at the nearby small school went well, but it went better for someone else. I’m not crushed though; the teacher who got the job has five years’ teaching experience, she graduated from the school where we interviewed, and her children go there. I probably would have hired her, too. I had actually been told about her beforehand, and I knew if she decided to apply, she would probably get it over me.

So I’m sniffing out new leads and sending out more application packets–including one to the school where this woman teaches now–there’s sure to be at least one opening there this fall!

January 16, 2007

The Crucible/McCarthyism lecture

Posted in Uncategorized at 6:02 pm by mrsmauck

THANKS so much to all who posted their great comments on my introductory McCarthyism lecture for The Crucible: Georgia English teacher and adventurous gal Courtney (who appears as Anonymous for some reason), Golden State special ed teach and avid reader California Teacher Guy, New England elementary teacher-in-training Brown-Eyed Girlie, Texas late-blooming teacher maestra RedKudu, and English/History teacher and newbie to this little blog, Ms. Q! It’s incredible to me that I solicited teacherly advice, and got such a wide range of respondents, geographically and educationally, all with great insight and valuable experience from which to draw!

I’m going to begin calling the schools this week to which I sent out resume packets last week, so updates to come on the job front!

Also, my sole graduate course this semester, Psychology of Childhood and Adolescence, begins today.

Recently finished reading:

  • The Sledding Hill, by Chris Crutcher: Great high-interest, low reading-level book with powerful messages about death and censorship. Told from the POV of a teenaged boy who dies in the first chapter, but sticks around to help his best friend cope during his grieving period and a struggle against the school administration to keep a Chris Crutcher novel in the school curriculum (self-referential much?).
  • A Northern Light, by Jennifer Donnelly: Great female protag in 16-year-old Mattie, a turn-of-the-century country girl with a lot of responsibility at home blocking her dreams of going to college at Barnard, where she’s won a scholarship. Gets a bit muddled with a true story woven throughout of a young woman who was murdered at a summer resort.
  • The Water is Wide, by Pat Conroy: Inspiring, entertaining teacher memoir, with fascinating themes of racism (Conroy openly talks about his former racist days, growing up white and privileged in South Carolina), poverty, and bureaucracy in the school system.
  • Anthem, by Ayn Rand: I love most dystopic novels, but this one stood out: extremely philosophical, with sophistocated ideas of laissez-faire capitalism, altruism, and conformity. Short enough to do a great unit on these ideas in the classroom. Check out the reflective teacher’s experiences teaching it in a middle school classroom right now!

January 3, 2007

The job search begins

Posted in Uncategorized at 5:41 pm by mrsmauck

I’m about to start sending out resume packets to area schools, which will include a cover letter, resume, copy of teaching license, and unofficial graduate transcript. Any tips, suggestions, ideas for this initial step in getting an English teaching job for this fall?

August 15, 2006

The Ron Clark story

Posted in Uncategorized at 3:24 am by mrsmauck

Okay, who saw this truly inspiring TV movie last night? I laughed out loud, I wept quietly…it was beautiful! If you saw the promos for it, don’t worry the cheese factor was considerably lower than the lines they kept showing over and over: “Everyone says we’re losers, Mr. Clark.” “You. Are Not. Losers.”

Great moments:

  • When Mr. Clark was interviewing for a job in his home state of North Carolina, he saw a little (rat-tailed!) boy standing in a trash can outside the classroom door. He went over and asked the kid what he was doing. The little boy, his face burning with embarrassment, answered that his teacher said he couldn’t learn anything and deserved to be taken out with the trash. Mr. Clark introduced himself, asked the boy’s name, and then told the boy he’d forgotten his own name. “What was my name again?” “Mr. Clark,” the boy replied. “See, you just learned something.” and he pulled him out of the trash can.
  • Mr. Clark is continuing his thus far fruitless search for the toughest teaching job he can find in Harlem. He walks up to Inner Harlem Elementary to see a teacher and a student shoving each other outside the door. Mr. Clark races up and separates them just as the principal walks out and tells the teacher that if he walks away, he stays away. The teacher walks away, muttering “You can keep the bastards,” and the boy goes inside. Mr. Clark tells the principal, “I can start right now.”
  • Mr. Clark told the classroom that if they trusted him and jumped off the proverbial cliff, they would fly together. To demonstrate their agreement, they all came forward and lit a candle on this beautiful cake at the front of the classroom.

There were several others, but I don’t want to give away plot points. Inspiring TV movie, highly recommended! Who else saw it? Anyone have any thoughts on how true this was to life in the classroom? I encourage you to go to Ron Clark’s site, which I linked above. He and his Harlem students who were portrayed in the film, visited the set! Lots of great photos, tidbits, and behind-the-scenes stuff.

In other teacher film news, I was flipping channels the other night and came across a classic, Dangerous Minds. After Michelle Pfieffer’s first day of school, in which she tries to learn classroom management in a night, my oh-so-caring Hubby remarked, “That’s going to be you!” Ha! I won’t be teaching in the inner city, but I’m sure I will be completely overwhelmed.

August 11, 2006

The Game of School

Posted in Uncategorized at 8:44 pm by mrsmauck

Don’t you just hate it when you find out you are a hypocrite? So I’m reading some more of The Passionate Teacher, the part about “The Game of School.” It’s very easy for teachers to form a silent agreement with the kids: you stay busy, stay quiet, and we’ll both stay out of trouble and pass the time here together. Students play the game by doing the least amount of work possible to get the grade they want; they don’t invest themselves personally into their work or exert any extra effort. Teachers play the game when they take the easy way out in giving assignments and grading: multiple choice tests because they’re faster to grade, textbook curriculum because it requires little thought to assemble.

Ah yes, what a travesty! I think to myself. I’m going to inspire passion from my students; never any of this slide-by stuff. But was it not me who only last year told a fellow student that I think the smartest students find out how to do the least amount of work possible and still get good grades? I was not only playing, I was a dominator in “The Game of School”! I don’t mean to rationalize what I said, but really and truly, I’m a student just like many of you: a procrastinator, a groaner, a page counter. BUT when I get in the middle of a classroom discussion about a novel, I absolutely come alive. I love stretching my brain like that! Same thing with doing research for a paper, and even writing it: I moan and groan about doing it, but once I get started, I take research for way too long, take notes voraciously, write with relish, and polish with flair. I just don’t like to reveal this passion to other students very often. We’re not really cultured to do that. Heck, I only just admitted that I actually liked a classroom novel for the first time (in front of the class) last semester! Enjoying reading and writing for class is just considered nerdy in school, no matter what way you look at it. You have to work for those discussions that push the limits of our brains and for those projects that light the students’ passion. Often the students don’t even realize they’re actually passionate learners, like me, until much later in life. What’s the moral of my little story? Probably a lesson most of you have already learned, but to me, it’s a revelation: Even if you’re a procrastinator, if you dread any semblance of work, you can still enjoy and be passionate about learning (and teaching!).

Ah, free at last, to be an unabashed learner. What a feeling!

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