Catching Up: Folger Education

English Journal September 2009I have been trying all week to finish the last English Journal so I can gush about all the Folger goodness, but I haven’t had a chance. Lest I let too much more time slip by, I’ll discuss the articles I have had a chance to read. Mike LoMonico, as usual, is on target with his suggestions for teaching Shakespeare in his editorial. The Shakespeare Set Free series taught me a great deal about how to teach Shakespeare, but participating in the the Folger Teaching Shakespeare Institute in Decatur last year transformed how I approach not just Shakespeare, but everything I do.

I also read my friend Joe Scotese’s editorial about reading Shakespeare’s text as opposed to easy versions with “translations.” Joe’s description of the words as the tools of Shakespeare’s art (Stephen Booth) was beautiful, and I have had the occasion to bring it up twice in the last couple of weeks during teaching. Thanks for the timely imagery, Joe!

I read Peggy O’Brien’s and Robert Young’s discussions of the history of Folger’s work with teachers (and students) and its present and future. I began reading Susan Biondo-Hench’s article “Shakespeare Troupe: An Adventure in Words, Fluid Text, and Comedy.” You might recall that Susan Biondo-Hench wrote the Romeo and Juliet unit in the first volume of Shakespeare Set Free.

Several of my friends have articles in this issue. Chris Shamburg and Cari Craighead collaborated on “Shakespeare, Our Digital Native.” Cari and I were in the same TSI, and Chris and I connected at NCTE and online. I also met Chris Renino, author of the Macbeth unit in SSF and the EJ article “‘Who’s There?’: Shakespeare and the Dragon of Autism,” at NCTE last year. Chris and I both have autistic children, and though mine are younger, I am obviously excited to read his article for personal reasons as well as professional ones. Christy Desmet, who wrote “Teaching Shakespeare with YouTube,” and I have a long history together. She teaches at my alma mater, UGA, and we worked together about 12 years ago in an online cohort of new teachers, professors, mentor teachers, and aspiring teachers. Our conversations were so helpful to me as a new teacher. We reconnected at the Folger TSI in Decatur last year.

I really wanted to submit an article for this issue, but I was struggling with new roles as department chair and graduate school student, among other duties. I just didn’t have time to do it. And now I’m kicking myself because I would have loved to have been a part of this issue.

In related news, Folger has a new blog: Making a Scene: Shakespeare in the Classroom. Definitely check it out! I’m really excited about it.

I want to talk about all of these articles and blog posts in more detail when I have a chance, but the weeks have been ticking by, and I didn’t want too much time to elapse before I brought your attention to these resources (if you didn’t know about them already).

In other news, I am not able to go to NCTE this year. I knew it was a long shot because I went last year, and the economy being what it is, well, let’s just say I was fairly sure it wouldn’t happen. I do wish I could go, however, because I really wanted to meet up with some friends (not to mention the learning!). I am planning to go to GCTE and possibly ISTE. ISTE takes place in Denver this year, and school will be out, so it would be a good opportunity for me to visit family in addition to attending my first ever technology education conference, so I would like to try to go.

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Interactive Notebooks: Professional Development Goal

My school has an interesting professional development program. The first year of the program involves exploration of a topic, and choices include educational research and reflection, general teaching practices, and career and leadership development. During the second year of the program, we can either 1) write one or two goals based on Charlotte Danielson’s domains as described in Enhancing Professional Practice: A Framework for Teaching or 2) work on a project that relates directly to an improvement in instruction of our students. In year three, the focus is on teacher observation and evaluation based on Danielson’s Framework and especially focused on instruction (Domain 3).

I decided that my goal would be to increase students’ critical thinking and engagement through Interactive Notebooks. It seemed a worthy goal because I am already using the notebooks, and now I will be collecting data and analyzing their effectiveness. I have collected all my students’ notebooks for the first time over the last couple of weeks with the following observations:

  • My students in British Literature and Composition (juniors) are really getting the idea behind the notebooks. They are naturally a pretty organized group, and they remind me if I haven’t told them that I need to indicate which section items go in and whether the assignments should be on the left or right. Thus, I was pleased with what I saw when I examined their notebooks. I still need to remind students about fleshing out the left with their own ideas.
  • My ninth grade students had major confusion about the notebooks. They are not as naturally organized as my juniors, so it stands to reason they will need more help, and if I am honest with myself, I haven’t given them all the help I think they need after looking at their first notebook checks as a baseline. I would like them to make more connections, but they need more help. I am also not giving them enough assigned left-hand side work.
  • My seniors seem to understand what to do, but many of them didn’t do it. I don’t think I have buy-in with that group because they have all, except for one student, had my class before, and they liked the notebook checks I used to do. I think they liked them because it did involve a little bit less work for them. They didn’t need to make the left-hand side connections. I had assigned a reading journal for the left-hand side for this time, and only a few students completed it. I think they just weren’t reading. It’s an elective class, and I hate to go the reading quiz route, but I may have to. Seniors are kind of a different animal in terms of engagement, and I suppose I can expect they won’t necessarily be invested in trying something new.

What I need to do to improve is give my ninth graders more opportunities for connection and reflection on the left and work with my elective students to convince them of the value of the notebooks. I could supply models from my juniors so that they could see the notebooks at work. Models actually wouldn’t hurt my ninth graders either. Even with my juniors, who are doing well, I can improve by suggesting ideas and opportunities so that the notebooks, particularly the left-hand side, are on their minds as a natural part of learning.

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