The Best Laid Plans

Some weeks ago, I shared exciting news that my students were collaborating with a girls’ school in Israel on a joint wiki writing project. Just as we got our wikis off the ground, a teachers’ strike in Israel put our plans on hold. The strike has now lasted more than a month. If it is not resolved before the winter break in about three weeks, the project will be on hold indefinitely as my students will be writing a research paper from January to March.

I know that the teachers I am working with are saddened about this turn of events, and I think we all agree that the timing of our collaboration was unfortunate in light of the strike. However, I think our situation poses an interesting lesson for all of us who are interested in embarking upon global collaboration in our classrooms.

What do we do when the best laid schemes o’ mice and men gang aft a-gley?

And what does it say about the project that the kids are still chatting through the discussion area of the wiki and friending each other on Facebook even though the project is on hiatus?

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Annie Proulx Literature Circles

Close Range: Wyoming StoriesMy senior Short Story and Composition students finished up a study of Annie Proulx’s Close Range: Wyoming Stories today.  My department head and I are both teaching separate sections of this course, and we have been planning together.  We decided to try literature circles, which I admit I have not done much in my teaching career.  All of my students read “The Half-Skinned Steer,” which is widely acknowledged for its excellence — it was selected for The Best American Short Stories of the Century, edited by John Updike, and study aid sites online have begun to pick it up, too.  Aside from that one story, I asked them to pick four others to read — their group’s choice.

Borrowing stealing widely from suggestions in Mr. B-G’s post on Literature Circles, I created a handout for my students to use: Annie Proulx: Literature Circles.  Each literature circle group member would have a different job: moderator, new critic, psychological critic, and anthropological critic.  The moderator’s job was to compose a good list of questions for the group to use, especially when discussion died down.  The new critic marked passages in the story and explained their significance to the group.  The psychological critic examined character motivation.  The anthropological critic examined the influence of society — in Wyoming, as it is depicted in the stories — on the characters and events.  Each member wrote a short piece as part of their job — a sketch of the characters, for example, or a list of questions.  Students switched roles for the subsequent stories so they could try different aspects of literary analysis.

I thought it was going well, but I received some great feedback today.  The students told me first of all that they liked working in the small groups, and they asked if we could please do this again.  Second, they said they liked picking what they read.  I know it’s not always possible to allow students choice, but in the case of literature circles, I think it works well.  I am also torn because I know sometimes students do need a teacher to nudge them in the direction of a story they will like.  I know I never would have read much of the literature I read in high school and college if it had not been assigned reading, but I also thoroughly enjoyed it.   Another aspect the students seemed to like is the freedom of the assignment.  I even let them spread out into more cozy places — study nooks throughout our floor — to work (which of course involves more arduous circulation on my part, but really made for natural “book club” type discussions).

I plan to have them work in literature circles next with a study of Susan Vreeland ‘s Life Studies: Stories, after which we will be at the end of our semester, for all intents and purposes, and will begin working on the final writing project.  It’s been a lot of fun, however, and I have to highly recommend Mr. B-G’s helpful post for teachers considering literature circles.  One of the things I really like about our senior English curriculum is the academic freedom I am afforded to choose works that students in high school might not necessarily be exposed to.  We read Franz Kafka, Edgar Allan Poe, Ernest Hemingway, and Flannery O’Connor, but the opportunity to read authors like Proulx and Vreeland in high school is much more rare.

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Urban Posters 2

It looks like UrbanPosters.com shipped my order today, almost exactly three months after I ordered it.  I still have not received feedback regarding the lateness or the multiple e-mails, or the BBB complaint, and I suppose I don’t expect to now, as they will feel they fulfilled their end of the bargain.  I am not satisfied, however, and will still not order from them again.  Three months for posters they said they had in stock is ridiculous.  Amazon does better with out of print materials than that!

Crossposted at Much Madness is Divinest Sense, the Pensieve, and Our Family History.

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UrbanPosters.com

Consider this post a public service announcement.

Back in mid-August, I ordered two posters from the website poster outfitter UrbanPosters.com. September came and went, and they had not arrived. Furthermore, the company did not respond to numerous e-mails regarding my order. I filed a complaint with the Better Business Bureau, but the company has yet to respond to that complaint as well. I’m out about $27, which is not a lot, but much more disturbing to me than the fact that I lost money is the fact that the company ignored repeated requests and a BBB complaint. I have rarely received such shoddy customer service anywhere. I would urge you strongly not to do business with this company and to spread the word around.

Crossposted at Much Madness is Divinest Sense, the Pensieve, and Our Family History.

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GISA Conference

I went to the annual Georgia Independent School Association (GISA) Annual Conference today.  I ate lunch with Megan; it’s cool to see connections I made through this blog become “real-life” connections as well.  Incidentally, Megan presented a session on using social bookmarking (such as del.icio.us).  The two sessions I went to were very interesting (which hasn’t always been the case at GISA — the session I presented last year included): Fantasy Literature (teaching The Lord of the Rings, Star Wars, and Harry Potter along with Campbell’s ideas about the journey of the hero) and Blogs and Wikis in the Classroom.  Frankly, I confess I went to the latter to see if a) it would be better than the session I presented last year (it was), b) what the presenters would say.  I did not expect to learn about anything new.  Of course, I did learn about some things that were new to me, at any rate.

One thing that interested me in particular about the Fantasy Literature session was that so many other schools already have this class as an elective.  A teacher from Pace Academy shared his successes teaching the course to 8th graders, and a teacher from Griffin Christian High School shared that he teaches The Lord of the Rings for the first semester of 9th grade, teaching all the literary terms, etc., through the context of that work.  I taught The Hobbit one year — when I was a student teacher, in fact — and I found that students in general didn’t like it much, but I think as part of an elective, it would be a different crowd.  Frankly, I could see myself really enjoying such a class.

The blogs and wikis session introduced me to Voice Thread, which Megan mentioned also at lunch.  I imagine if you hear about something twice in such a short span of time, someone’s trying to send a message.  For the uninitiated, Voice Thread is online software that allows users to create documentaries using images and creating narration to accompany the images.  Check out this sample of its use: Slavery in America (by Jeff Morrison’s middle school students at the Lovett School).  Jeff (one of the presenters) also introduced us to TrackStar, which somehow went under my radar, even though I’ve used 4Teachers‘ other service RubiStar to create rubrics.

I am thinking about ways I might integrate some of these resources with my current projects — The Canterbury Tales and The Odyssey.  You can view Jeff’s wiki, which has links to a bunch of sources he shared with us.

One of my favorite parts of Jeff’s presentation was a video he shared:

Please enable Javascript and Flash to view this Flash video.

As Jeff said, that is what it is like to teach.  Especially middle school.

By the way, I am now receiving e-mails when comments are posted.  I kept my eyes on the WordPress Support forums’ thread related to my problem, and eventually, someone posted a solution that worked for me.  I uploaded a plugin created to work around the problem.

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Stress Test

My students participated in the 2007 Apple Insomnia Film Festival contest and created a video entitled “Stress Test.”  Filmmakers can win the contest in two ways: 1) be awarded first place by the judges, or 2) win a popular vote.  Please check out their video, and if you enjoy what you see, vote for them.

If you don’t have an Apple ID, you need to create one in order to vote.  If you have an Apple ID, you can vote here.

If you have any questions, please leave them in the comments, and I will ask the students to address them for you.  Thanks!

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