After this week, students will take final exams. Graduation is on the 12th (we are a Jewish school, so we don’t hold events on Fridays or Saturdays in order to avoid conflicting with Shabbat).

My schedule for next year is firming up, and believe it or not, I’m already looking forward to next year. I want to spend time this summer really planning for next year. What I want to do is take a look at the curriculum and at least get my units sketched out à la UbD. I want to make sure that my road map for the year is plotted. I did plot out the first month or so, and my lessons went great. I should have done more planning, but the craziness of the year set in and yadda, yadda, yadda, I didn’t keep it up.

Of course, I plan to make time for the final Harry Potter book and fifth Harry Potter movie, as well as genealogy research, but I usually find myself looking for stuff to do over the summer, and I may as well do some solid work on my lesson plans.

Do you plan over the summer at all?

[tags]education, lesson plans, summer[/tags]

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Harry Potter and Government Interference in Education

To quote Robert, whose opinion I respect:

I never knew you had a Harry Potter blog! How cool is that? You should advertise that more.

I went through my archives and decided to post a link to an essay I wrote on my Harry Potter blog about what I regard as J.K. Rowling’s thinly veiled critique of a problem in modern education: “Harry Potter and Government Interference in Education.”  Caveat: as I re-read the essay, I think it sounded as if I thought students who speak English as a second language or who come from a lower socio-economic status should be “left behind,” and I assure you, I don’t believe that.  I do believe that these children start out behind, and to expect them all to perform at grade level puts all of the blame for problems that go much deeper than education on the schools.

[tags]Harry Potter, education, NCLB[/tags]

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A 5/8 Meme

AQuiram tagged me for this meme, so here goes:

  1. What do you hope to accomplish with your blog?
    I use this blog as a means of reflecting on my practices (but not as much as I should), helping others, and sharing resources. It is my hope that visitors find some of it useful and interesting. I also hope that visitors might be inspired to try blogging, too.
  2. Are you a spiritual person?
    Hmm… in a manner of speaking, but probably not like most people think. I’m Christian, but I teach at a Jewish school. I don’t think I’ve ever really felt the presence of God in a church, but I have outside in woods.
  3. If you were stranded on a deserted island, what three things would you want to have with you?
    I don’t like these questions. OK, my family, a shelter, and a magical machine that enabled me to get anything else I needed. Cheating? Yes. Yes, it is.
  4. What’s your favorite childhood memory?
    It will be hard for me to pick one, but the first one that came to mind was the Christmas when we were all snowed in because of a blizzard (Colorado, 1982). It was a time of closeness and togetherness.
  5. Are these your first (tagging) memes?

Here are the rules for this meme:

  • Each player starts with eight random facts/habits about themselves.
  • People who are tagged need to write their own blog about their eight things and post these rules.
  • At the end of your blog, you need to choose eight people to get tagged and list their names.
  • Don’t forget to leave them a comment telling them they’re tagged, and to read your blog.

OK, so here are my eight random facts.

  1. I played the flute all through school and picked up French horn for a year in middle school and guitar for a few years in high school/college.
  2. I plan to start working on my Masters.  My first step is to take the GRE this summer.  I’m planning to get a degree in Instructional Technology.
  3. I have three children.  I don’t write about them much (or have I ever?) on this blog, but I do write about them sometimes on my personal blog.  My daughters each have blogs, too: Western Dragon and Maggie’s Blog.  My son has recently been preliminarily (lets see how many adverbs I can throw out) diagnosed with an autism-spectrum disorder.  He will be evaluated for special ed services this summer.  He is beginning to teach himself to read and write.  You can read what my husband said about Dylan’s communication.
  4. I am a pretty huge Harry Potter fan, and I CAN’T WAIT until the new book and movie come out this summer, but I admit it’s bittersweet — last book!  I actually have a blog devoted to Harry Potter, too.
  5. Should I turn this into a link fest for all my other blogs?  Sure, why not.  I am also a genealogist and have traced my family history back pretty far in several branches.
  6. Unlike AQuiram, I actually try to watch the entire season of American Idol.  My husband is a singer, and I enjoy his criticism of the contestants’ voices.
  7. My favorite composer is Chopin.  I just figured this fact out today.
  8. I am interested in the Middle Ages and was even a member of the Society for Creative Anachronism for a time.  I am a King Arthur buff — go on, ask me anything — well, I shouldn’t have opened that can of worms, but I’ll give it a shot.  I never miss the Renaissance Festival here in Georgia (I go with my daughter), and this year, for my birthday, I want to go to Medieval Times.  You only turn 36 once.

I’m not sure who has been tagged or who is interested, and at this busy time of year, I’m kind of loath to tag anyone, so I’m going to be cheap and just say whoever wants to be tagged, well, you’re it.


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I want to apologize to my feed subscribers.  I upgraded to WordPress 2.2 earlier this week, and I didn’t immediately realize there was a problem with my feeds.  I have corrected the problem, and those of you reading me via a feed reader should be receiving updated posts.

Incidentally, a quick Google search for the error message I was receiving and a glance at the WP Support Forums tells me I am not the only WordPress blogger who appears to have had this problem.  If it happens to you, simply re-upload all the WP 2.2 files.  I originally uploaded mine using an older version of WS_FTP, and the default uploading mode is Binary.  I think you should probably set it to Automatic, so the program can upload it in either ASCII or Binary depending on the type of file.  I am not certain, but I think uploading my files in Binary is what broke my feeds (read more about ASCII and Binary modes).

[tags]WordPress, uploading files, FTP[/tags]

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I have been grading student essays this morning and just detected plagiarism in one of my students’ essays. It’s not the first time a student has turned in a plagiarized essay to me, and I am sure (sadly) that it won’t be the last. On the one hand, I know this student was sick when the essay was due, but I did offer her more time to complete the essay, and she declined. What is particularly troubling to me is that the essay contains sections entirely copied and pasted from Wikipedia or I find this distressing for many reasons. First of all, I think it is rather insulting to my intelligence that a student believes she can copy text from such well-known websites without my knowledge — indeed, I had provided students with links to the Wikipedia article she copied in order that they might find it a useful source. Second, it bothers me that the student must have believed turning in writing culled from Wikipedia was OK. I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised; our current culture encourages plagiarism — you can purchase essays online. I find it frustrating that students continue to steal content from the Internet. I imagine they do so because it’s easier than stealing it from a book, but I don’t think they realize how much easier it is to catch them at Internet plagiarism.

I have learned a couple of tricks that help me catch plagiarists. First of all, look for straight quotes as opposed to curly quotes. Straight quotes often indicate copying and pasting from the Internet because web standard displays quotation marks as two small, straight lines, whereas the default font in MS Word, Times New Roman, displays quotation marks as two curly marks. Straight quotes don’t always indicate plagiarism, but they are something to look for if you are suspicious. If you suspect plagiarism, type a sentence or two from the paper word for word into Google search. You should yield a result if the language is identical to that of another site or even if only a few words have been changed (if you don’t put quotes around the sentence). I found my plagiarist using both straight-quote identification and Google search.

What should you do if you catch a plagiarist? It depends upon the nature of the assignment. I give students zeroes. If the assignment is a major assignment, such as a term paper or research paper, I think discipline needs to be taken further. I think students who plagiarize long-term assignments need to have their parents notified and possibly be referred to administration. I didn’t elect to do that with my student. I think the zero will be enough. I think she’s a sweet girl, and I hate that she’s put me in this position. I did try to be understanding about her illness, offering her more time to finish her essay. She declined.

We all make choices. Part of our job as teachers is to help students realize that plagiarism is never the right choice. Even a poorly written essay wouldn’t have received a grade lower than an F (50-59) in my class. I have a hunch she would have earned at least a C if she’d done the work herself.

[tags]plagiarism, education, writing, instruction[/tags]

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Professional Resumes

I started to write this post about a month ago. I didn’t finish it because halfway through, I asked myself, what do you know about this? Why are you writing about resumés? I have been, as they say down here in the South, hemming and hawing about the post ever since. I have noticed that many of my new readers are preservice English teachers, and I find this fact very exciting. I teach in a private school, and talking with preservice teachers online may be as close as I will get to working with a student teacher, which is something I have always wanted to do — ever since I was one myself! I am very interested in helping and encouraging new teachers.

When I was going through my English Education coursework, our professors helped us make resumés. We were told that while most professionals are advised to keep their resumés to one page in length, teachers should create two-page resumés. You should begin with your career objective. It can be as simple as “To teach English language arts to students in grades 7-12.” Mine reads “To integrate technology and English language arts and facilitate students’ communication skills through writing and reading in the secondary school.”

After my objective, I have my education background listed, including my certification.  I also included my GPA.  One thing you might want to do is include your major GPA.  Figure out what your GPA is for your major only — I selected all the English and education classes I took.  My major GPA is significantly higher (by about .15) than my total GPA.  I think including your major GPA, that is, if it’s higher than your total GPA, demonstrates how well you know your subject matter.

After education, detail your teaching experience, beginning with your most recent position backward.  If you have no teaching experience, include your student teaching and practicum here.  Also, include any work you’ve done with students.  Examples include camp counseling, youth ministry, babysitting, and the like.  I seem to remember including the fact that I had proctored the SAT when I wrote my first resumé.  Make sure you list any clubs you have sponsored or committees you were a part of.

If you are creating your first education resumé and/or you don’t have much teaching experience yet, you will want to include other work experience under a separate section from you teaching experience.  I don’t bother with that anymore, as I have been teaching for ten years and have several schools listed under education experience.

You can put Honors and Awards with education, but if you’ve received honors related to your job, you might want a separate section.  I list my Dean’s List awards and honor society memberships here.

I have a separate section on my resumé for publications because I have published an article for English Journal, a study guide for Beowulf, and a YA novel.

I have a section detailing my technology skills.  In this day and age, I think technology skills might be very attractive to prospective employers.

I would like to ask that professors, successful teachers, or principals post their tips for crafting education resumés in the comments so that preservice teachers might benefit from your advice.

P.S.  When you hand your resumé to a principal, don’t pronounce it like “re-ZOOM.”  I was within earshot of a teacher who did that, and it made me cringe.

[tags]resumés, education[/tags]

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Socratic Seminar

I don’t often apologize for a lack of posting.  Contrary to conventional wisdom, my philosophy of blogging is that one should only do so when one has something to say.  This philosophy is freeing, in that I don’t litter my blog with posts I don’t care about just so I can keep readers.  The year is winding down, which is stressful anyway, but it doesn’t help much when external stress is brought to bear by someone who could control him/herself if he/she wanted to.  Such is the education life, though, no?

With that inviting introduction, we move into what I really wanted to talk about, which is the beauty that is the Socratic Seminar.  You may recall my students participated in a Socratic Seminar earlier this year centered around the question of who was most responsible for Romeo and Juliet’s deaths.  You can read about that seminar here, along with my reflections about the amazing job they did here.  Another class of mine recently participated in a Socratic Seminar centered around the question “What’s wrong with Holden?” after reading The Catcher in the Rye.

A Socratic Seminar can be based upon any book.  All you have to do, as the educator, is figure out what larger theme or question you want the students to discuss.  Students do all of the other work, but they need guidelines.  First of all, in my experience, students have never heard of a Socratic Seminar, and even those who have heard of one are not sure what to do.  Just outline it for them.  You can use my handout, changing all the relevant information: Socratic Seminar handout.  I culled some of the information on this handout from Greece Central School District’s website.  I think if students are given a similar handout, they will know what they need to do to prepare.

I try to give students at least some class time to prepare.  If the truth be told, it isn’t strictly necessary, but it allays some of their concerns if they can run questions by me first before the seminar.  It also gives those who are having a hard time with the task a chance to see what other students are doing to prepare.  You may need to do some modeling with middle school students, but I haven’t found this to to be necessary with my college prep and honors ninth graders — of course, your mileage may vary, so keep in mind who your students are and what they will need.

The most beautiful thing about Socratic Seminars is that they enable the teacher to assess a student’s understanding of the book, while at the same time ensuring that the student does all the work him/herself.  It is hard to bluff through this assignment without having read the book.  Students have to mark passages so they can defend their assertions.  Their audience is their toughest one — their peers — and their peers will call them on it if they try to BS.

One thing you may notice, as I did, is that Socratic Seminars will give students a chance to shine — a quiet girl who rarely talked in class until the Socratic Seminar simply came out of her shell and contributed a great deal.  I think the Socratic Seminar helped her realize she has valid and interesting things to say.  Another thing that may impress you is how hard the students will work.  They will look up quotes, read criticism (even if it is just online), jot down notes, and the like.  One student told me that even though he’s read Catcher twice, he basically re-read the book just to prepare for the seminar.

Tips for conducting a successful Socratic Seminar:

  • If you’re like me, it will be hard for you as the teacher to remain quiet while the students talk, but it’s essential.
  • Allow students to use hands if they can’t restrain themselves.
  • Supply post-its if students can’t mark in their books.
  • Make sure students are aware of expectations — that each of them must contribute both as a speaker and a listener.
  • Put chairs in a circle.  My chairs are not connected by desks, but if yours are, put desks in a circle.

You might be surprised with what your students come up with when they are put to the test, and the best thing about it is that they do all the work — you just have to listen.

[tags]Socratic Seminar, literature, education[/tags]

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Venting Online

I debated with myself about writing this, but I decided to go ahead. I am about to vent about venting.

I understand teaching is a difficult job with few rewards. I understand many of us are working in schools that offer us little support and with colleagues who drive us crazy. I understand the occasional need to vent. But every post? After a while, I start to wonder why you continue to work under such conditions and don’t try to find something more satisfying. You’re obviously unhappy in your thankless job, and understandably, you need to vent your frustrations, but I have reached the point at which I wonder if you like anything about your job, and I’m frankly worried for your health. You sound a lot like I did when I was teaching middle school in a nearby district, but the difference is that I didn’t spew forth all my frustrations online. Reading your blog is a little like watching a train wreck before it happens — if your employers ever find your blog, which I hope they don’t, I can’t see how you’ll escape being fired. To your credit, I don’t think I can ever remember you complaining about the students, but you really seem to hate your co-workers with a passion. It’s my hope you’re not blogging from work at all, or you’ll have some real trouble on your hands if your blog is discovered.

Quite aside from the point I made that you are playing with fire — complaining online about your colleagues — your posts are a real downer to read. Is there nothing energizing, interesting, or exciting going on at your school? In your classroom? If I can lay it on the line, you’re depressing. You kind of remind me of Debbie Downer on SNL. The trouble with that assessment is that it isn’t congruent with what else I know about your personality. You can be pretty funny. You seem to enjoy life. You strike me as an outgoing person.

I don’t think it’s possible to always be happy with your job, especially if you’re a teacher. This time of year is especially difficult as teachers look at the calendar and freak out over what wasn’t covered and students look at the calendar and think it says June, not May. I don’t think it’s reasonable to expect that teacher bloggers will never complain on their blogs, but frankly, I don’t want to read anymore when that’s all they do.

[tags]venting, blogging, teachers[/tags]

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Schools Attuned: Finished

Back in June 2006, I returned from a week-long professional development program authored by Mel Levine known as Schools Attuned. All year I have been working on the practicum part — the application of what I learned back in June in my classroom. I think I am finished. I just sent my portfolio to my facilitator.

It took an amazing amount of willpower for me to keep at it. Without the meetings as an impetus to finish, the only carrot I could use to dangle in front of myself was the promise of PLU’s that I desperately need in order to renew my certificate next month (yikes!).

I was pleased to learn that a grace period exists from the end of June until September so I can get all my items in for certification, but I must say that Georgia’s Professional Standards Commission website is really difficult to navigate on the issue of renewal.  I suppose that’s because a lot of systems take care of that issue for their teachers.  My school doesn’t, and it can’t be the only one.  I just hope I can get it all done.  This will be the second renewal, which feels like a milestone for me — it somehow means to me that I’m a veteran teacher.  I’ve been teaching long enough to have to renew twice.  That feels like a long time to me.

[tags]education, Schools Attuned, professional development, teacher certification[/tags]

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