Should We Have D’s?

Georgia did away with the D in its public schools a long time ago.  The reason I know this is that when I moved to Georgia as a junior in high school, which was almost exactly twenty years ago, I had a D in biology on my transcript, and my counselor explained that because it was a passing grade where I came from, the Georgia school to which I was transferring would consider it a passing grade; however, he let me know that grades below 70 were failing grades in Georgia.  I guess that means if you go by the old dictum that A’s are excellent, B’s are above average, C’s are average, and F’s are failing, then in Georgia, you drop from average work to failing work if you find yourself on the other side of that 70.

Private schools, however, are free to retain the D, and my school uses the A-F +/- grading scale.  I have to say that having worked with both scales, I believe the D has merit.  There is a gap between average performance and failing performance, and I think the D serves that gap well.  Below average.  The warning before you fail.  The impetus to do better.  It’s a nice cushion for the students, and I think it might prevent grade inflation.  I am almost sure a chemistry teacher in high school gave me a 70 I didn’t earn because I worked hard, was generally quiet, and turned in all my assignments.  I just had a very hard time with the subject.  I can’t really say my knowledge of chemistry was average as high school student.  It was probably below average.  Maybe it’s just me, but I see a difference between doing average work and doing failing work.

What do you think, though?  Do D’s serve a purpose?  Is Georgia wrong to delete the D?

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Late Renaissance and Restoration Poetry

My students in British Literature and Composition have just begun a unit on late Renaissance/Restoration poetry.  We will read the following writers:

  • John Donne
  • Ben Jonson
  • Andrew Marvell
  • Robert Herrick
  • Sir John Suckling
  • John Milton

Afterward, students will explicate a poem, something I was not asked to do until I was a freshman and college.  When I told our AP Literature teacher (who also often teaches juniors and seniors), he seemed thrilled to learn I was going to try explication, and he gave some good things to peruse and think about.  Meanwhile, to get my students started, I am using Lisa Huff’s TPCASTT method for analyzing poetry, and the students have responded positively to the deep reading, even if they haven’t necessarily “liked” the poem.  It’s hard to get past “do you like this poem or not and why” with some students, and this graphic organizer really helps.  At any rate, I’m really encouraged by the positive comments the students are making about the material on the classroom blog.

Through the English Companion Ning, I became aware of an excellent podcast of a BBC program called In Our Time.  I listened to and shared the episode concerning the Metaphysical Poets with my students, and I’m crossing my fingers they will listen to it.  I think it will really help them understand especially John Donne, whom I find to be a challenging writer.

Speaking of the Ning, I have not contributed as much as I need to because I have not had time to keep up with the conversations going on.  I’m going to try Steve Shann’s suggestion of setting up Pageflakes to keep track of the Ning.  I am finding it a challenge to balance teaching with grad school and home life this semester.  This weekend in particular looks like one long, bleak work session to me (I am just on a short break, I promise), and it depresses me not to be able to read for pleasure, particularly after Matthew Pearl sent me a galley copy of The Last Dickens that I’m itching to start.

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Transparency and Reassurance

Bill Genereux has an interesting post about what he calls “The True Digital Divide.”  He discusses in detail something I touched on in my presentation at GCTE.  If we truly want students to engage with the technology and use the Web 2.0 tools available to them, we have to be leaders.  We have to use the tools ourselves.  If we want students to blog, we should be blogging.  I think educators blogging could be a very positive form of transparency.  In an age when people make a lot of assumptions about what is or is not happening in classrooms, often I think the teachers’ voices are missing, and blogging can be a positive platform to share what we are thinking and learning and doing.  On the other hand, I think it has become for many teachers who blog a platform to complain.  No doubt teaching is hard work, and sometimes it feels good to vent.  I personally think blogging is a terrible platform for complaining.  First, I don’t think most of us like to read it.  Second, it’s just not wise; Regnef High School anyone?  I am very interesting in posts and conversations that make me think.  So yes, we need to be using the tools, for as Sheryl Nussbaum-Beach notes, “Technology will never replace teachers. However, teachers who know how to use technology effectively to help their students connect and collaborate together online will replace those who do not.”  And of course, Alfie Kohn reminds us that sticking techy labels on tired or misguided practices isn’t the answer either.  Still, I think we’re moving into a positive direction when parents and students (as well as other teachers) can gain insight into what teachers are thinking and doing.  I have actually noticed something interesting: students joke about Googling me and finding lots of links.  I admit it’s true that I am in a lot of places online.  But I encourage them to read it and tell me what they think.  And when they do, they share their observations.  It can be a good thing when students, parents, and colleagues get a glimpse into a teacher’s mind and like what they see.  Transparency can foster reassurance.

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GCTE, Reflection, Looking Ahead

Some of you may know I went to the annual GCTE (Georgia Council of Teachers of English) convention this weekend.  It was great, but the numbers were down — probably the economy.  I know lots of the schools systems have probably told teachers they would not pay to send them to conventions this year.  For instance, my children’s system is not paying for field trips this year, so it may be they are also not paying for conventions.  I presented a session on Using Blogs and Wikis for Professional Development.  I was at first disappointed that it was somewhat sparsely attended, but I think that was the norm.  Several sessions I attended were like that.  I had six folks, which I think is just about what I had at GISA.  It makes sense that the folks who attended the Folger TSI except for Mike LoMonico, who was awesome moral support, didn’t come as I had presented some of the technologies I shared with them over the summer.  Lots of my fellow TSI participants were there, and it was good to see them again.  I was also grateful that my friend and colleague Rebecca came to my session, even though she didn’t have to because she works with me, and I was thrilled to finally meet Clix after working with her online for a couple of years.  She also came to my session even though she already knew everything I was sharing (thanks!).  Aside from my three friends, I had three other attendees, and I hope they found it interesting and learned something they can use.  I do think the presentation went well.  I used Keynote instead of PowerPoint, and I basically wrote down everything I wanted to say in my notes and created the presentation from that so I could avoid crowding my slides.  I’m learning!  Keynote has such beautiful templates!

I went to Mike LoMonico’s Folger presentation, and it was good as always.  Julie Rucker and I covered some of the same ground, but our focuses (foci, if you want to be a pedant) were different, and it was good to meet her as well.  I also attended Buffy Hamilton’s presentation on multigenre research projects, and I am most excited to try one.  Multigenre research projects are something I had heard about but didn’t know much about, so I saw Buffy’s presentation as a great opportunity to learn more.  She created a fabulous wiki to share her presentation.  I found it so inspiring; I think I’ll work some more on the wiki I created for mine.

Aside from the wonderful presentations, the best part of GCTE was seeing everyone again.  Gerald Boyd, who is our state Language Arts Coordinator, used to be the Language Arts Coordinator for Houston County when I worked in that system, and we had crossed paths on several occasions.  It was also good to see Peg Graham again, who was not my professor when I went to UGA, but whom I knew through my own professor.  Of course, all the Folger folks were fun to see again.  I also got to meet Jim Cope, with whom I have exchanged e-mails and who really saved my rear-end when he loaned me a cable I didn’t realize I had forgotten to pack.

I had a great time, and I hope Rebecca did, too.  I feel excited and energized!

Last week, I had one of my classes present their scenes from Taming of the Shrew. I have some great comic actors in my classroom.  This coming week, another class will present scenes from A Midsummer Night’s Dream.  I am looking forward to seeing these scenes as well.  My ninth graders will begin preparing to present scenes from Romeo and Juliet, too.  I am so excited to have finally figured this out.  I have used some Folger stuff for years, but I shied away from performance because I just wasn’t sure how well it would help students learn the play.  And yes, I know how ridiculous that sounds.  After actually going through the process of performance and presentation myself, I learned how much it truly does help foster close reading, critical thinking, and enjoyment of the plays, and the light bulb finally went off.  I will never teach a Shakespeare play in the future without incorporating some elements of performance.

Here is my GCTE presentation for those who are interested:

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Planning

Lesson planI have been thinking about planning and new teachers quite a bit lately.  When I was a new teacher, everything I taught was new to me, and I didn’t have enough time to plan.  I think a lot of schools are a similar schedule: six periods a day, teachers teach five and have one planning period.  Not nearly enough.  Many teachers, especially new teachers, need to use time outside of school to plan.  Of course, nowadays the Internet makes a wide variety of lesson plans available to teachers, and I imagine planning is much easier for student teachers and new teachers than it was when I started teaching; however, the quality of a lot of this material is mixed, and I think it might sometimes be hard for new teachers to be able to discern the quality of lessons.

What can we do to help new teachers learn to plan?

  • Mentorship: Model how to plan for units and lessons.  Meet with new teachers to plan with them.  I was provided with a bunch of templates when I was student teaching and sent on my way.  It really took me years to figure out how to select activities that would meet learning objectives and instructional strategies for teaching those objectives.  We need to be doing more of this in teacher preparation, and some time down the road when I am working with preservice English teachers, I will.
  • Make them turn in their lesson plans: I expect many of you will disagree with this requirement, but I think regular feedback on and discussion about the lesson plans they create will really help new teachers.  No one made me do that once I had my own classroom.  In my first school, I turned in weekly plans to the Curriculum Director, but she never looked at them, or if she did, she never gave feedback.  Of course I had to turn in lesson plans when I was student teaching, but once I no longer had to do so as a new teacher, I admit I went into the classroom winging it sometimes, and that’s not good.
  • Engage in professional development with new teachers.  Do a book or article study together.  Discuss techniques.  Our school is doing one on The Skillful Teacher to the left in the sidebar.  It’s a good book: one I wish I had as a new teacher.
  • Build in some sort of regular reflection: Jim Burke’s Teacher’s Daybook has space for reflection.  Journals would work.  For those who want interaction, I think blogs are perfect.  My teaching has improved more than I can measure as a result of this blog.

Those are a few of my ideas.  I’m convinced that better planning will lead to better classroom management in many cases (some schools have administrator issues too large to compensate for, and I’ve been there and done that in the past).  If we can help teachers become more effective planners, we might retain teachers at a higher rate than we currently do.

What would you do to help new teachers?
Creative Commons License photo credit: kokeshi

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