Technical Difficulties

If you tried to access my site earlier today and saw an odd error message, I just wanted to assure you it’s been fixed. I tried everything I could figure out, but finally wound up calling tech support at Bluehost. The wait on the phone was longer than I wanted to wait, particularly on a cell phone, so I hung up when I noticed they had live chat, too. Tech support solved my problem in less than five minutes. Thanks, Bluehost!

I decided to do my UbD Comma Unit with my 10th grade Writing Seminar class, and it went great. Well, I have a great group in that class anyway, but they were really interested in the costly comma mistake, and I think it really made them think about the importance of using language and punctuation correctly. I have haven’t checked out the unit, you should. I would be the first to admit that grammar isn’t the most fun to teach and sometimes it’s hard to help students see the importance. I think I did a good job making this unit relevant.

[tags]commas, grammar, education, english, bluehost[/tags]

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HomeworkI went to my eldest daughter’s curriculum night (she’s in 8th grade) tonight, and I heard a somewhat familiar refrain from each of her teachers: “I don’t give much homework.”  Well, why?  I don’t think 30 minutes to an hour is too much for an 8th grader, and I want her to have study skills for high school and college.  I realize her school is on a block schedule; therefore, her classes probably get a lot done at school.  I still think it’s odd that they give so little homework.  I realize some people believe homework interferes with family time, but I think students need to learn how to juggle all parts of their life.  If they have homework, they need to set aside time to do it when it doesn’t conflict with family time.  For instance, I used to do my homework as soon as I came home from school.  If I recall, I almost always had about 30 minutes to an hour of homework in middle school.

Also, my daughter’s school has a policy whereby teachers are required to give incompletes if students have missing work.  Students must do the assignment and get some credit for it, no matter when it’s done.  Frankly, I think this is really unwise.  What kind of responsibility is the school teaching its students regarding turning work in on time?  My daughter turned in a Spanish assignment well over a week late last year, and her teacher gave her a 100.  I talked with her and told her I didn’t think it was fair; plenty of students turned in the assignment on time, but it made no difference.  She got extra time and got the same grade!

I don’t give homework every night, but my students do a fair amount of homework in preparation for class — mostly reading homework.  And I give quizzes to hold them accountable for it, too.  They have 20 vocabulary words every two weeks and have to complete vocabulary cards.  Of course, this wasn’t the case when I taught at a rural school — most of my students spent an hour or more on the bus in the afternoon, and they wouldn’t have done the work anyway.  We were on a block schedule, so I wound up assigning a lot of classwork to break up the long periods.  But my daughter is not in a rural, underperforming school.  She needs academic challenge.

What do you do about homework?  What factors do you have to think about?

Image credit: squarepants2004j

[tags]homework, education[/tags]

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School’s in Session

You sure can tell when school is back in session again around this blog, can’t you?  We started back on August 20, and I am busily evaluating summer reading, grading, and planning.  I am advising National Honor Society again after a hiatus, and I am looking forward to making that a really good, solid organization that is something more than a line on a resumé.

I have five different preps, which is standard for me, but my largest class is currently 17 students.  I have some really great, enthusiastic and just generally kind 9th graders, which always makes it fun.  My 10th grade Writing class is a great group with hard workers.  My 11th grade British Literature class is going to be so much fun.  I have wanted to teach British Literature for my entire career.  My senior class will be smoother and more interesting, I hope, since I have taught the course once.  In other words, I am really excited about my classes and my students.

Meanwhile, my own children have started back to school.  My oldest is in 8th grade, and she seems very happy.  My middle one started 1st grade.  More seat work and less playing.  We are reading Ramona the Pest together, and she really loves it.  Some insight into her particular problems — if you are familiar with Beverly Cleary’s Ramona Quimby, let’s just say my middle one is a lot like her.  My youngest is in special needs pre-K and has a wonderful teacher.  He is making real progress.  Everyone is riding the bus and getting used to the routine of school.

I am really excited about some of the things we are doing this year at my school.  For starters, all of our 9th grade literature is based around the theme of the quest of the hero.  I think it’s going to be great.  I am taking my 9th graders and 11th graders on a field trip to see Romeo and Juliet and Macbeth respectively at the Atlanta Shakespeare Tavern.  I have also, as many of you know, been implementing Understanding by Design (UbD) in my planning, and my first UbD units for our summer reading (One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, Brave New World, and A Lesson Before Dying) are now underway.

[tags]literature, education, ubd, understanding by design, back to school[/tags]

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An 8th Grade Education

You have probably heard elderly family members or friends refer to having an 8th grade education. Going through grammar school, or 8th grade, without continuing on to high school was fairly common in the past. But what exactly was an 8th grade education? Genealogy blogger Randy Seaver posted an 1895 Salina, KS. 8th grade final exam. Here is an excerpt:

Grammar (Time, one hour)

  1. Give nine rules for the use of capital letters.
  2. Name the parts of speech and define those that have no modifications.
  3. Define verse, stanza and paragraph
  4. What are the principal parts of a verb? Give principal parts of “lie”, “play”, and “run.”
  5. Define case; illustrate each case.
  6. What is punctuation? Give rules for principal marks of punctuation.
  7. Write a composition of about 150 words and show therein that you understand the practical use of the rules of grammar.

How would you do?

[tags]grammar, english, education[/tags]

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Webquests and UbD Units

I created a UbD unit for One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, which my seniors read for summer reading.  Please check it and tell me what you think.  The webquest for the unit can be accessed here.

Also, I created the webquest for my UbD unit on Brave New World.

[tags]ubd, brave new world, one flew over the cuckoo’s nest, webquest, literature[/tags]

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Teaching Meme

Hipteacher tagged me for this Teaching Meme.

  1. I am a good teacher because… I am reflective of my practices and honest with myself and my colleagues about my strengths and weaknesses.
  2. If I weren’t a teacher I would be a… lawyer, but not a trial lawyer. I don’t think I’d like the courtroom. I do like research, and I could see myself doing that.
  3. My teaching style is… undergoing some change. I realize I spend too much time in some areas that don’t benefit my students, and the positive reaction of the students I taught in a summer seminar to a much more discussion-based course has convinced me I need to basically eliminate reading in class altogether. Also, I have realized lately that while I love to be read to, I dislike having handouts read to me. Ugh. I will never do that again, and I don’t care whether that means I have to worry the students don’t read them without me. I am also working on making my assessments more authentic.
  4. My classroom is… very neat (because school hasn’t started), bright, clean (but my desk is not), and airy.
  5. My lesson plans are… fairly organized, as one of my goals this year is to approach my curriculum according to the principles of Understanding by Design.
  6. One of my teaching goals is… to help my students become better, more confident readers and writers.
  7. The toughest part of teaching is… balancing work and home. It is very easy to spend all of my time working, but my family needs me, too.
  8. The thing I love about teaching is… interaction with a collegial faculty and students. I feel fortunate to be in a profession that enables me to learn new things all the time.
  9. A common misconception about teaching is… that teachers have a lot of paid free time — entire summers with nothing to do, holidays, long breaks. Our contracts are based on the days we work, but are often divided over 12 months for our convenience. Anyway, most teachers I know do some work during those times, and most teachers I know also do a lot of work outside of normal work hours.
  10. The most important thing I’ve learning since I started teaching is… document, document, document. It’s much harder to convince others of a problem if there is no pattern, and documenting also enables teachers to make sure they are fair.

I tag Robert, Clay, Clix, Reflective Teacher, Nancy, and Ms. George.

By the way, Sheryl Nussbaum-Beach tagged me for the 8 Things Meme, but I did that one already.

[tags]education, teaching, meme[/tags]

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Wowing the Parents

Here in Georgia, we start school early in August for some reason I am unable to fathom. It is cooler in Georgia in June than in August, so it stands to reason that we would be better served in terms of cooling/electricity costs if we started in September and went through later in June. However, no one asked me. I don’t think it would overlap with college semesters, which was the ostensible reason given for starting in August.

At any rate, my own three children started back last Monday, and my students will start on this coming Monday. My eldest is in 8th grade, my middle one is in 1st grade, and my baby started pre-K. The eldest is happy to be the big cheese in middle school. I asked her language arts teacher which books they might read (because I’m nosy), but she hasn’t definitely decided yet. My middle one’s teacher is on maternity leave, which is tough for transition, but there’s not much to be done, I suppose. My youngest is in a great special needs pre-K class — five students — with an amazing teacher who already has my undying gratitude and loyalty.

Which leads me to a question I wanted to ask you all. What does it for you with your own kids’ teacher(s)? What I mean is, as teachers yourselves, what do you look for or notice that makes the difference for you between a good teacher or a great one? Given what you know about teaching, what does your own child’s teacher have to do to make you sit up and take notice?

I realize my son’s teacher (as a special ed teacher) simply has to go the extra mile because the nature of working with special needs students requires it. She has shared photos with us on Snapfish (I cannot link to her photos, nor would I if I could due to privacy concerns), created journals so we can share information back and forth, and responded promptly to e-mails, but more than that, she did little things to make me feel comfortable leaving my son in her hands. She gave him a picture of herself before school started so he could get used to her face. She gave me an exact copy of their schedule so I can see what he’s doing during the day. She is arranging parent night around all our schedules because we have kids in other schools (his school is not our “home” school because our home school cannot accommodate a special needs pre-K class). You just can’t imagine how scary it is to send a child like my son to school for the first time unless you’ve had to do it, and it’s been an amazing experience.

So what about you? What can a teacher do for your children that wows you? And what do you plan to do to wow the parents of your own students?

[tags]education, teaching[/tags]

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Contact Me

Lisa Breininger, you sent me a message on my contact form, but my e-mail reply bounced.  Please get me your e-mail address.  Mine is dana dot huff at gmail dot com.

Thanks.  Other folks who have contacted me, please know I’m in the process of responding to mail.  You will hear from me shortly, but in case you don’t, feel free to remind me you asked me something.

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Yes, I’m Still Alive

This week I taught a course for our seniors who plan to spend their last “quarter” studying in Israel so they can meet their English requirement.  The week-long course was an intensive all-day class, which we as educators are perhaps used to, as it seems to be how most professional development is conducted.  I wasn’t sure how my students would handle it, however.  It’s hard to sit all day, have a working lunch in which you’re required to read around 10 pages, take two or three quizzes, write an essay each day, and still do between 40 and 60 pages of reading each night, which is what my students were required to do.  In fact, they did an excellent job.  They worked very hard, and I was really impressed by our discussions.  The feedback I received about the course was positive, too.  The students indicated they felt challenged, but that they also enjoyed the course.

The main text we used was a college freshman literature text.  It included some of the standard freshman level pieces, such as Updike’s “A&P,” but it had quite a few very modern selections.  I spent a long time reading the selections and framing discussion questions before the course began, but the planning really paid off.  The whole week was very organized.  I really enjoyed some of the selections we read, too.  Each day centered around a different theme.

I came home exhausted each day.  Even when I teach, I have at least one planning period or some kind of down time, and I discovered it makes a huge difference.  One day I came home and actually fell asleep sitting up, which I don’t think I’ve done since I was a child.  However, even though it was hard work for all of us, I feel a tremendous sense of accomplishment and satisfaction with the course — the work the students produced and the work I produced.  I think I learned quite a few things I plan to apply to my junior and senior level English classes.  My students responded to this class in ways that my seniors last year didn’t respond to my year-long course, and I think it was the college-level challenge and approach that framed this week-long course.  On some basic level, I think teenagers especially want to be treated as intelligent people, and I don’t think they mind working hard if the challenge seems to have a point and the instruction and discussion are interesting.  Or, at least, that was the feedback I received.  It was an intense week, but it was just a week, and I think the students and I all felt that if we could just plow through the week, the reward would be worth it.  I think we were all surprised by how much we enjoyed it.

I am, however, relieved it is over so that I can spend next week recovering before school starts.  So if you’ve contacted me over the last few weeks and received no response or if I’ve put you off, give me a couple of days to wake up, and I’ll try to catch up.  I feel so behind!  I especially feel bad about my absence from the UbD Educators wiki.  I’ll get on there and look over the discussions and posted units soon, I promise.

[tags]education, literature, teaching[/tags]

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