Sunday, December 30, 2012

Reader's Workshop for The Great Gatsby

It's Lesson Planning time....

The essential skills:
What are the best aspects of literature to teach with Gatsby?

  • Setting
    • History
    • Description
  • Narrative Voice
    • Why would Fitzgerald choose this voice?
    • The role of the narrator? What's he for?
  • Theme
    • The American Dream
    • Gluttony of Wealth
    • The appeal of social climbing
    • American Caste system?

Bare bones structure of how the Workshop will work (Hah! I laugh at the redundancy of that).
We read The Great Gatsby as a mentor text practicing all of the essential skills, then students read their own novel of choosing. Something from the time period or about the time period (I want to make a list for students to choose from).

My ideas for how this workshop will work are very much based on Cris Tovani's work and helped by Kelly Galagher. The mini-lessons will primarily follow the Big Read (linked below) only condensed.

I intend to give a pre-assessment and and a post-assessment so that I can see where I'm landing as far as teaching. I feel like I need to have the data to back-up my teaching. I also need to pull the Common Core Standards to align with this plan.

The Great Gatsby Movie Trailer
SCC English Gatsby ShowMe
Dumbing Down Gatsby
American Dream in Gatsby
The Great Gatsby Big Read

I had to add this video! I just found this and it's AWESOME!
Crash Course Literature The Great Gatsby 1
Crash Course Literature The Great Gatsby 2

Friday, December 14, 2012

Classroom Management in a Post-Civil Society

Piles of books have been written on classroom management. Student teachers across the US have been gifted with Harry Wong's First Days of School and if they've begun teaching in the last 5 years, they've quickly realized that there is much more to classroom management than the good Dr. Wong ever talked about. He makes wonderful points, and I use many of his strategies. However, the face of society is changing and that means classroom management is changing.

The days of "sit down and shut up" while the all-knowledgeable teacher talks are quickly disappearing and many teachers are losing their handle on their classrooms much more often than they ever did in the past. Just ask them. Any teacher in my building will quickly tell you that students today are much harder to control than they were just 5 years ago. Tried and true methods like proximity don't work anymore. Threatening a student with a trip to the office to meet with the principal doesn't matter. ISS and OSS just mean more free-time for at-risk students to run enterprising small business, rabble rouse, wreak havoc in their family homes and otherwise educate themselves in the ways of the world. THere really isn't anything scary about authority to these students. They don't even consider the adult vision of authority to be authority, so why would they care if a well meaning teacher moves them to a desk next to their own or sends them to the office. Why are students so hard to handle these days?

The American culture  of civility is disintegrating. This is evidenced by the loss of manners in public, the idea that life is a joke and must be lived for the thrill, and an education that is not considered valuable. More importantly the structure of the family is falling apart, and therefore kids have no concept of authority. School should teach them the value of authority, but really school just creates a united front for the family unit to rebel against, especially for students in poverty.

Proximity as a tool for management no longer works. Test it and see. The adage is "move into the proximity of a student misbehaving and the majority will stop what they're doing." But, try it. Move into their sphere and many won't notice your presence (adults are not authority figures unless respect has been earned), many  misbehaving students will attempt to engage the teacher in what they are doing that is distracting the class, and a few will become belligerent, further distracting the class.

Students to whom ISS is given as punishment see it as a mere 7 hour study hall. There is no threat in that. OSS is even less scary. Granted for a good kid who has never been in trouble, OSS may seem like a big deal and will probably bring that student into line very quickly, but for a repeat offender, at-risk student there is no real punishment in being sent home for several days.

So, how can a teacher continue to teach without having a veritable zoo in his or her classroom? There are two major ways a teacher can create an atmosphere where his or her authority is accepted. Those two ways are fairly simple create relationship and build community.

Creating relationship--
How does a teacher create relationship? In my classroom, I greet students at the door. I learn their names as quickly as possible. My syllabus clearly states that I will treat them with respect. I teach mostly upperclassmen, so I state that I expect adult-like behavior for adult-like treatment. I am careful to let them know that I care about them. I give them feedback on their work in the form of handwritten notes and reactions to their writing. I take the time to listen to them when they need to talk. I tell jokes. I  introduce them to my life and who I am. I attend sporting events with all three children and husband in tow. I go to the school play. I do whatever I can to let the students know that I care about their real life and that I have a real life as well.

Building Community--
Building community begins with a teacher who creates relationship and moves beyond that into the actual pedagogy of the classroom. The content of an English classroom does not lend itself as well as some to a lot of collaboration, but I practice it at every possible moment. Students freewrite at the beginning of class three times a week. After they freewrite they share a line or two from their freewrites and listen to each other share. That 5 to 10 minutes at the beginning of class alone creates a community of thinkers and creators. Another community builder is getting rid of individual desks. I know not every school is able to do that, but having tables where students sit together in groups daily creates an atmosphere of collaboration and community immediately.

I'm sure I've missed things in this short post. I'm still thinking about this concept. It's worth researching and digging into at length. It could even make a wonderful doctoral thesis not that I ever thought I wanted to get a doctorate.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Think like a student!

Can we please stop thinking like adults and experience the digital world from our student's perspectives? They know nothing of a telephone with a cord. They have not lived without the internet or access to a computer. They don't hand-write first and then type. They know only a world of digital technology.

Yes, we need to access our "organic" (my term for things non-tech) resources, and yes, it is important to see technology as a tool not the be all-end all. BUT teachers have to quite thinking about how they were taught or how they think and expecting students to think that way. They don't! They are a new breed of thinkers. Lecture doesn't cut it! For the most part worksheets do nothing. But just because you're using Google Docs to collect papers doesn't mean you're using the best technological practices. And, your projector is for more than the occasional movie day.

We were born and raised in the factory system we call school. You want to fix disengagement? Quite thinking like an adult. Seriously! Are we in the classroom to please ourselves, or are we in the classroom to raise the future generations of world changers? If our purpose for being teachers is student-centered then our thinking must be student-centered.

My mentor teachers often comment that I am more tech savvy and used to technology than they, so all this is easy for me. But even I who graduated from high school 11 years ago have to work to forget the way I learned and teach to my students they way they learn. Thinking like a student is the only way we'll begin to figure out how to teach them. We shouldn't be dragging them back to the way we were taught. We should be leaping them forward.

Big news! Migration and disclaimer.

So, it was time for a move. I needed to separate this blog from my school account because I need a place to talk about school reform and not appear to be speaking for my place of employment. I know that anyone reading this can figure out where I teach. I don't hide it, but I'm not speaking for my school when I'm sounding off about reforms.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

After School Routine Checklist

Something I'm sporatic at at best is being routine about what I do when I leave my room. I found this great list and hope that I can pull it together a little better this year.

Middle School Math Rules!: After School Routine Checklist: I think it is really important to keep yourself and your classroom organized.  I was not a born organized person, but had to work hard to d...

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Revolutionize Secondary Education?

I've been reflecting on ways to change the High School day, so that students get the most out of their educational experiences. .. I mean everybody is reflecting on that right?

Anyway, I was floating around on Pinterest looking for things that I can use in my classroom. I was searching words like English, Secondary, High School, even classroom and was surprised to find very few secondary teachers of any subject on Pinterest. In fact if you do a random Google Blog search the majority of teacher bloggers are elementary teachers. This piqued my interest (and honestly made me a little annoyed. Are all HS teachers miserly with their ideas?). Why are there so many elementary teachers online and so few HS teachers? The short answer is we have no time in comparison to our primary counterparts. But the answer to that question was so clearly demonstrated to me by my daughter's teacher.

In the middle of July, my future, first-grader received a postcard from her Kindergarten teacher! How does that woman have time to do something as special as send a postcard to every student in the middle of the summer? Oh wait! She only had 18 students for a full year! 18 students! How many did I have? 145 at least. Can you imagine the hand cramp 145 handwritten postcards would cause? Neither can I that's why I never even thought of attempting it.

So, I had a thought! What if High School looked more like elementary? What if High school teachers had fewer students? What kind of difference could we make in a student's life if we didn't have so many of them wandering around that we struggle to remember their names on daily basis? Wouldn't that revolutionize learning?

I mean I could do a lot to shape 18 or 20 writers a year. I could really get to know their needs and help them grow as readers over the course of a school year. 

So. . . what if we organized high school like this. . .

Morning: Communication, Social Studies, Literature. All taught by one teacher.
Science and Math taught together by one teacher (probably not the same as the one who's teaching the morning classes, because I don't know about you, but I'm one of those English teachers who is NO good at math!)
Then afternoon is 2 hours specialized in whatever the student wants to specialize in.
I think that would be fantastic! Don't you?

Monday, April 30, 2012

Please don't become a teacher

Loved the blog linked above! Recently some students asked me if I believed that teacher should be allowed to conceal and carry on campus. I replied that if you could guarantee that all teachers were emotionally healthy and able to handle the pressures of an intruder situation, yes. But we cannot guarantee that every teacher is an emotionally healthy person let alone able to react well under the pressure of a live shooter in the building.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Random muttering.

I have been woefully negligent in posting this year. That does not mean that I'm not thinking about how to teach English or writing. I've just been doing it the old fashioned way in a notebook instead of here where I can share it with you. However, we're in the throws of EOC testing today and I am administering a test to my Honors freshmen and typing while I watch them struggle over testing company written passages and multiple choice questions that are randomly selected for maximum annoyance. So, since I'm watching students go cross-eyed and boggle minded I thought I would post on my poor neglected blog.

I want to make a difference in the field of education not just in students. I want to influence other teachers to do a better job as teachers sot hat fewer students leave our high schools fed up with education.I want to be an innovator in the field. I want to share what I am thinking about and trying in my classroom. That's a goal. BUT! And it's a giant BUT because it always gets in the way. Life happens. I had my third daughter in January. Nothing like maternity leave to throw off the rythym of the classroom. I've spent everyday since I've been back just trying to catch myself coming and going.
I don't know how many mom/teachers there are out there, but there is a reason I choose the teaching profession. I want to contribute to society and I want to raise well rounded healthy children. I want to be intellectually challenged and spend long periods of time at home with my children. I want to make and impact  on the lives of teenagers and impact my own children. The only way I could think of to do this was to become a teacher.
That's not to say I'm not passionate about what I do. Just the reverse actually. I am passionate about shaping future Americans. I teach English. I get to work on the way students think more than any other teacher. I get to walk into their hearts as well as their minds and touch them through the art of language. Language has power! Power to heal and bring life where there is no life. Can you see that I'm passionate?
I work in the best school in the US. I get frustrated when radio commentators rail at educators and the American education system as if we are all deserving of a whipping out behind the wood shed instead of acknowledging that some schools in the Midwest aren't bogged down by bureaucracy and we are trying. We're not all broken! Some of us are working well and pushing forward into the future with a good outlook. We're working to start the reforms that everybody talks about. Don't make broad blanket statements! They are usually lies.