Neil Gaiman: Free Book!

English teachers, here’s one to pass on to your students.  In celebration of his blog’s seventh birthday (quite impressive!), Neil Gaiman is going to post one of his books online for free for a month.  Readers vote on which book they want to see.  It might be fun for book clubs or classrooms to participate in a literature circle or perhaps even create student blogs to discuss the book.

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Stuff for English Teachers

I recently started using StumbleUpon (here’s my profile) in my Firefox browser to discover new sites, and I feel stupid for not trying it before now. Poking around the Internet for the last week or so, I have “stumbled” upon some good sites (and found some on my own):

  • Read Print has online books. I like the Shakespeare section. I did notice a few typos on the site (Hamnet Shakespeare died in 1596, not 1896), but the articles were interesting.
  • I’ve probably mentioned DailyLit before, but it merits mention alongside Read Print. I don’t think I could have finished Moby Dick if not for DailyLit. I am currently reading Emma. All of us have five minutes for a book each day.
  • Guide to Grammar and Writing has some interesting grammar activities; I found it via SMART’s English/Language Arts Resources.
  • NCTE Inbox is now a blog! I missed the inception when I let my NCTE membership lapse.
  • What Should I Read Next? looks like a great tool for teachers to recommend to students who are looking for books similar to ones they already like.
  • BookMooch enables users to swap books.  It’s free (except for postage).
  • Here’s a huge collection of writing resources.

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Hamlet and Romeo and Juliet

I just finished writing UbD units for Hamlet and Romeo and Juliet at the UbD Educators wiki.  As I finished writing the unit for Hamlet and saved the page, I lost half the work I had done, and I am still not sure how it happened, so I had to re-do it.  Word to the wise — when working with anything you’re doing online, save and save often.  When, oh when will I learn to do that?

Shakespeare Set Free: Teaching Hamlet and Henry IV, Part 1In order to successfully steal the Hamlet unit, you’ll need to purchase a copy of Shakespeare Set Free: Teaching Hamlet and Henry IV, Part 1.  I have the edition published in 1994, and I haven’t seen the latest edition, so if you know the difference between the two editions and would care to share in the comments for interested parties, I would appreciate it.  I think the Shakespeare Set Free series is a great resource for educators, but I don’t do all of the performance activities.

While we’re discussing good resources for teaching Shakespeare, don’t forget the Folger Shakespeare Library’s website, which has a large repository of lesson plans contributed by teachers.  If you can get them for your classroom, the Folger Shakespeare editions of the plays have pretty good explanatory notes and glossaries, too.  A Way to Teach has a great selection of Macbeth lesson plans and Tempest lesson plans.

If you are looking for Shakespeare video, you might check out Shakespeare and More over at YouTube.  They have a large selection of Shakespearean video.   Speaking of video, if you were looking at older posts about teaching Romeo and Juliet, you will have noticed the videos don’t work.  I’m sorry about that.  I’ll need to go back and revise the posts so that the video isn’t necessary, as the videos are no longer available at YouTube.

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The Faculty Room

Meg Fitzpatrick, editor of of the UbD e-journal Big Ideas, invited me to contribute to both the e-journal and a new blog they are announcing today: The Faculty Room. Please come on over and join in our conversations (my first post on the blog should appear some time tomorrow). You will find other “familiar faces” over there. Also, now seems as good a time as any to remind you that the UbD Educators wiki is a good resource for you to post, share, “borrow,” and obtain or leave feedback on UbD lesson plans.

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What I’m Reading

If you haven’t happened upon Nick Senger’s blog Teen Literacy Tips, you need to check it out. Nick provides valuable content in every post. I am subscribed to his RSS feed through Bloglines, and I invariably bookmark his new posts so I can return to them when I have time (what’s that?).

I recently finished Making Classroom Assessment Work by Anne Davies (read the first edition rather than the updated second, which I linked). I read it as part of Blackboard Online class I took through a local public school system. Frankly, not much new here to anyone who has read Understanding by Design. If I can be allowed to vent for a minute, the reason I took the course in the first place is that I need six more SDU’s (PLU’s or whatever you call them where you live). I submitted my transcripts and all the necessary information to the Georgia Professional Standards Commission, but they would not accept anything I had done since about 2004. I suppose I can understand why they might not want to accept professional learning I have participated in at my own school, even if I thought it was a valuable experience; however, I do not understand why they wouldn’t accept Mel Levine’s Schools Attuned. I worked extremely hard to earn the 4.5 PLU’s I earned for that course. I didn’t work a tenth as hard to earn the 2 PLU’s I just earned for reading Anne Davies’ book. If I had known Georgia was not going to accept the credits, I wouldn’t have worked so hard to finish the course online last year. Lesson learned. I will simply take a two-credit course online each year to meet my recertification requirements. At least I should then be assured that my courses will count for something. I have a non-renewable certificate that is good until the end of June, by which time I will have earned those six credits.

My husband sent me an article about a Wisconsin teacher arrested for praising the Columbine shooters on a blog. First of all, I’m not sure what the teacher said constitutes a threat, but to be fair, we’ve punished students for the same type of behavior. Second, once more we have a reminder that sarcasm does not travel well on the Internet, and it would probably be best to avoid it in any situation when it can be interpreted with any ambiguity. Third, and most important, teachers who post anonymously are not really anonymous; you can and might be found, and when that happens, you might be in trouble for what you say. In my opinion, the smarter and safer route seems to be to post openly and don’t say anything that you wouldn’t print on a billboard on the local interstate highway. Aren’t we also trying to teach our students that lesson? Finally, does this incident violate freedom of speech? I contend it does. If the remark was intended to be sarcastic, it missed the mark. If it wasn’t, it was incredibly ignorant, mean-spirited, and disrespectful. But I thought we had a right to be ignorant, mean-spirited, and disrespectful out loud in America. The teacher has learned a valuable lesson: Cave quid dicis, quando, et cui. He won’t be charged with a crime, but the district where he has taught since 1994 has not yet decided what to do about his job.

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Understanding by Design: “Yes, but…” and Afterword

Understanding by DesignThe final chapter of Grant Wiggins and Jay McTighe’s Understanding by Design is a summary of the research presented in refutation of three common reasons educators give for why they do not implement UbD: 1) “We have to teach to the test”; 2) “We have too much content to cover”; and 3) “This work [backward design] is too hard and I just don’t have the time” (303, 309, 316).  I heard a few people chime in with that last one, especially.  While this last chapter may convince those who are still on the fence, I’m not sure it is wholly necessary for teachers who are already on board with UbD to read, unless they need to convince others, and I’m not sure those who are thoroughly unconvinced of the efficacy of UbD (and have remained so after reading up to this point) will become convinced.

To me, at least, the largest argument seems to be the last one, and Wiggins and McTighe suggest starting small.  Plan one unit using UbD.  Build UbD planning and peer review into professional development — give teachers the time — and you will find that over time, a large bank of unit plans exists.

In this last chapter and the Afterword, the authors suggest visiting their subscription site, UbD Exchange, and creating curriculum units for peer review.  Access to the site is not free, and indeed, is somewhat out of my personal price range, and probably that of my school (I will check).  I want to thank Grant Wiggins for his stated support of the UbD Educators’ wiki; he could easily have viewed our efforts at establishing a reading/peer review group as a threat, but instead he offered the group access to courses offered through his site Authentic Education, and even said he would build a link to the wiki on his site.  To me, that says what he truly cares about is helping teachers become better at their craft.  I really appreciated his gesture.  In case you didn’t see his supportive comment, it is reproduced here:

Great blog! And I really appreciate the time and thought that is going into your reading. Yes, ubd is not for those looking for a quick fix. Nor is it great to be lonely – I hated that as a teacher myself. But there is actually a lot you can do on your own to sustain the work. The key is to take small steps – try out a few ideas here and there; work on 1 unit a semester – especially a unit that now is so boring it bores you to teach it. Learn the various ‘moves’ but only use the ones that appeal. And, finally, avail yourselves of the various forums and resources we and others have put together to support the work. Go to bigideas.org for starters. Check out the ubdexchange. Go to the virtual symposium on ubd and differentiated instruction run through ascd. And write the poor authors, who rarely get this kind of lovely feedback!*

cheers, Grant

OK, I’m ready to start planning some units and getting some feedback.  This book might be the single most helpful professional development/education-related book I’ve ever read in terms of real strategies that will make me a better teacher.  I feel really excited about the opportunities before me as I begin planning for next year.

* Wiggins’ original comment did not include links; however, I found the sites he mentioned and built hyperlinks to them for the convenience of readers.

Work Cited: Wiggins, Grant, and Jay McTighe. Understanding by Design. Expanded 2nd Edition. Alexandria, VA: ASCD, 2005.

[tags]Grant Wiggins, Jay McTighe, UbD, Understanding by Design, planning, backward design, curriculum, assessment, research[/tags]

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Extraordinary Comebacks

Extraordinary ComebacksSome time ago, the publishers of John A. Sarkett’s book Extraordinary Comebacks, asked me if I would like an advance copy of the book. I haven’t had a chance to read it, embroiled as I was in the end-of-the-year chaos. The book contains 201 vignettes — “stories of courage, triumph, and success” — from a variety of fields. Whatever your background, at least one of these stories will speak to you and encourage you to keep going.

The vignettes are arranged according to background — for example, Walt Whitman’s story is included in the Literature section. This construction makes it easy to focus on particular areas of interest. The book can be read cover-to-cover, but the vignettes are also short, requiring perhaps five minutes of your time each, which makes the book easy to pick up during a few free moments, but just as easily put down for later; the reader can skip around according to interest.

I would think that this book might be a good addition to the teacher’s classroom library. Our students struggle with difficulties, and I believe the vignettes might inspire our students to keep going.

[tags]John A. Sarkett, Extraordinary Comebacks, book review[/tags]

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Teacher-y Books

My copies of Jim Burke’s The Teacher’s Daybook, 2007-2008 and Understanding by Design, 2nd Ed. by Grant Wiggins and Jay McTighe arrived from Amazon today, and I’ve already begun working out my calendar in the daybook.  If you haven’t used this planner before, you might want to check it out, provided that your school doesn’t give you a planner already.  It’s a really good planner, with plenty of space for reflection and goal-setting.  I need to use those features more than I do!

I am familiar with UbD, but I wanted to read the book.  I must be crazy picking up more professional development to read when I still need to finish Jim Burke’s The English Teacher’s Companion as well as read and/or re-read the summer reading assigned to my students, especially in light of the fact that the last Harry Potter book is due this summer.

Does your school have a summer reading program?  Our students read three books (four if they are in AP Language or AP Literature).  Students are assessed on two of the books during the first weeks of school without prior discussion.  What I usually do is give students an objective test on one book and have them write a literary analysis of the other.  The third book we discuss in class prior to assessment.  If you would like to take a peek at what our school’s summer reading program is like, you can download the brochure (pdf).

The latest version of my schedule is as follows:

  • 9th College Prep. Grammar, Composition, and Literature
  • 9th College Prep. II Grammar, Composition, and Literature
  • 10th College Prep. II Writing Seminar
  • 11th College Prep. British Literature and Composition
  • 12th College Prep. Short Story and Composition (1st Sem.)/Drama and Composition (2nd Sem.)

Those of you in public school are probably putting your eyeballs back in right about now.  Yes, I have five different preps.  I had four different preps/four different classes my first year, and in each subsequent year I have had five preps/five classes.  Our schedule is a modified block schedule.  Students take eight classes each semester.  Students have six classes a day, two of which are double-blocks, four days a week.  All eight classes meet on Fridays.  Classes meet four days a week — one double block and three single blocks, with one day off each week.  It took me a solid year to learn the schedule, but some of my colleagues have been teaching at my school longer and still don’t.  What this odd schedule means is that some days are really heavy teaching days for me.  This year, Mondays were hard because I had two double-blocks and two single-blocks to teach out of the six-block schedule.  Thursdays, on the other hand, were light, as I had one double-block and two single-blocks.  After the seniors left (their classes ended earlier than those of the rest of the school), I had only one double-block and one single-block on Thursdays.  Depending on the day, I have a lot of time to plan and grade when compared to the average public school schedule.  Still, I would be lying if I said I didn’t work really hard — much harder than I’ve worked anywhere else.

[tags]professional development, English, teaching, professional reading, schedule[/tags]

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Ahab’s Wife

I am cross-posting a review I wrote of Sena Jeter Naslund’s Ahab’s Wife here because I think other English teacher geeks out there might enjoy this book.

Ahab's WifeFrom one brief mention of Ahab’s wife in Moby-Dick, in the manner that God fashioned Eve from Adam’s rib, Sena Jeter Naslund has fashioned Ahab’s Wife:

[W]hen I think of all this; only half-suspected, not so keenly known to me before—and how for forty years I have fed upon dry salted fare—fit emblem of the dry nourishment of my soul!—when the poorest landsman has had fresh fruit to his daily hand, and broken the world’s fresh bread to my mouldy crusts—away, whole oceans away, from that young girl-wife I wedded past fifty, and sailed for Cape Horn the next day, leaving but one dent in my marriage pillow—wife? wife?—rather a widow with her husband alive? Aye, I widowed that poor girl when I married her, Starbuck; and then, the madness, the frenzy, the boiling blood and the smoking brow, with which, for a thousand lowerings old Ahab has furiously, foamingly chased his prey—more a demon than a man!… I see my wife and child in thine eye (Moby-Dick, Chapter 132 “The Symphony”).

And what sort of a woman would be a match for Captain Ahab?  Naslund’s Una Spenser is Ahab’s feminine counterpart — where Captain Ahab is consumed by vengeance, Una learns forgiveness for all; Ahab is destroyed by his hate for the white whale, while Una survives and prospers because of her love.  This, then, is a woman to marry Ahab.

You do not need to read Melville’s Moby-Dick in order to appreciate Ahab’s Wife, but I would strongly recommend that you do so, for your appreciation will be much deeper.  Una begins her story in medias res, as memorably as Melville begins Moby-Dick: “Captain Ahab was neither my first husband nor my last.”  Una is pregnant and decides to travel to Kentucky to have her child.  She recounts the two most horrible moments of her life, then takes us into her past when she was twelve and first moved to the Lighthouse home she shared with her Aunt Agatha, Uncle Torchy, and cousin Frannie.

At the age of sixteen, Una runs away to sea as a “cabin boy,” and encounters horrors as her ship is destroyed by a whale and she is forced to survive on an open boat in the water.  She endures a disastrous marriage and is forced to use her sewing needle to support herself.  She feels immediate attraction to the elemental Ahab, and the two are happily married until Ahab encounters Moby-Dick in the Sea of Japan.

Una crosses paths with many luminaries of her age: astronomer Maria Mitchell, writer and transcendentalist Margaret Fuller, abolitionist Frederick Douglass, and writers Nathaniel Hawthorne and Ralph Waldo Emerson.  Naslund’s many literary allusions, from The Odyssey, to Shakespeare, to The Faerie Queene, and many more will delight book lovers.

Naslund has a gift for language, and she breathes life into Una — I wished as I read that I could have really known her! — and makes her setting so real, I felt I was there.  I have read some enjoyable books, but this might be one of only a handful that transcend other literary fiction to such a degree that I feel sure it will have a place in the canon of Literature with a capital L one day.  And Una Spenser is a remarkable character and proper soulmate for Ahab.

Read other reviews:

[tags]Ahab’s Wife, Sena Jeter Naslund, Moby-Dick, Herman Melville, Una Spenser, Captain Ahab[/tags]

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Tips for New Teachers

Hipteacher has a new post full of great advice for new teachers. I wanted to comment on a couple of pieces of advice and add my own.

There is no one lesson plan format. If someone wants “lessons” from you ahead of time, you could be turning in anything from red Sharpie scrawl across a napkin to three page documents that site local/state/national standards. Don’t do the latter if you can do the former. This, after three years of teaching and beating myself up about my inability to make and keep plans, is part of my actual philosophy of teaching. If I can remember a lesson that I’ve done before, and I want to do it again, then it was probably really good. If not, then I need to go back to the drawing board. I know this won’t work and won’t make sense for many people, but, for me, I keep my lessons fresh and my own excitement and engagement with the material high by doing this, and the kids respond.

I know this isn’t what she meant, but don’t go in there cold without knowing what you’re doing. The students have a nose for the unprepared teacher, and they will make sure your lack of plans means that no learning will take place. But she’s right in that a variety of lesson plan formats and templates exist. The bottom line is do whatever it is your school expects regarding lesson plans.

Stay away from negative, I-hate-children teachers. Avoid break-room, and eat in classroom if necessary. In private school, amend somewhat to eat lunch with others a couple times of week. This is a social thing and, therefore, necessary.

I don’t completely agree with this one. Yes, you should avoid those negative teachers; however, I don’t think they exist only in public schools, nor would I single out private school teachers for the “amendment.” You can find teachers who are happy in their jobs in either place, and you can find negative teachers in either place.

Keep handwritten, like with a pencil or pen, records. Keep everything. Your electronic grade book will erase your grades at some point.

This one is really important. In this day and age probably most of us are required to keep grades on the computer or at least send grades via a computer program. But keep a handwritten copy.

Other stuff I would add:

  1. Take notes during phone conferences and face-to-face conferences so you have a written record of any agreements/concerns/etc.
  2. Keep track of absences and tardies for each class period. I use a separate gradebook just for this purpose.
  3. Figure out a way to get students to do the work they need to do to practice without you having to grade every little thing. Ask me about notebook checks.
  4. Dress professionally. It really does make a difference.
  5. Get involved in professional organizations related to your field and subscribe to a journal.
  6. Bell-to-bell teaching is critical, particularly in middle school.
  7. Reflect on your teaching practices either in a paper journal or blog or something like that, even if it’s just once a month or once a quarter.
  8. Get support. If you are not assigned a mentor, find one for yourself; pick someone who likes his/her job, is willing to spend the extra time talking with you about teaching, and is admired for his/her professionalism and good teaching by the administration and faculty.
  9. Read The First Days of School by Harry Wong.
  10. Get yourself a professional planner (my favorite is the Teacher’s Daybook by Jim Burke).

Veteran teachers, add your own advice in the comments.

[tags]advice, teaching, teachers, education[/tags]

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