Week in Reflection: March 24-28, 2008

The end of this week leaves me feeling somewhat exhausted. I was rear-ended last weekend, and I have been dealing with the problems that entails — reporting the accident, waiting for the police report so I can file a claim with the other guy’s insurance, getting an estimate for damage (nearly $1300), and worrying about the fact that no one knows I’m signaling with my left turn signal, thereby making changing lanes and turning left more awkward and stressful.

My tenth grade students handed in the final draft of their research papers. I know it felt strange to be handing that assignment in after working on it for so long. I can tell that my students learned a great deal from the process.

My freshman are learning all about phrases and working on The Catcher in the Rye. I am not 100% satisfied with how phrases are going because my students come from such disparate backgrounds, depending upon the teachers they have had before. Students who ordinarily catch on quickly and do well on other aspects of my class are feeling awkward about their knowledge and understanding through no fault of their own. I agreed to meet them for some review at lunch some day next week, so I hope that will help.

My seniors are engaged in an assignment I called “Flat World Willy.” After reading Death of a Salesman, students looked at the play’s continuing relevance to our own society through an examination of outsourcing and globalization. They read an excerpt from The World is Flat (the chapter entitled “The Untouchables”), viewed Karl Fisch and Scott McLeod’s “Did You Know?” (which they really enjoyed), viewed part of an episode of The Simpsons called “Kiss Kiss Bang Bangalore” (which examines outsourcing in a humorous way), and viewed a Discovery Times special “The Other Side of Outsourcing” (Thomas Friedman). They are creating handbooks for either high school graduates or college graduates that will help the grads navigate the job pool in the age of globalization and outsourcing, ensuring that a) the grads will always have a job, and b) the grads won’t end up like Willy Loman. I think they are having fun with it, and what I have seen so far of their planning looks really good.

I’m so tired. Lots of stuff going on right now, and it’s sapping my energy. This is the time of year when it’s easy for teachers to get burned out. The first rule is to take care of yourself. You can’t be an effective teacher if you don’t.

Update, 3:41 P.M.: I keep forgetting to mention my 9th graders’ Romeo and Juliet diaries have been appearing bit by bit at the Room 303 Blog. It helps to scroll down because the entries are posted chronologically.

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A Usage PSA

OK, I can’t hold it in anymore.  The time has come for a public service announcement regarding some alarming usage problems I see in the blogosphere.

The past tense of the verb lead is led, not lead.

I know why you’re confused.  The past tense of read is read, so it is natural to assume that the word lead, which looks so much like read, must work the same way.

Here’s a handy guide:

If I lead, will you follow?

I led the team to victory.

Lead, pronounced like led, refers only to the heavy metal, making the name for the band Led Zeppelin an interesting pun, I suppose.  For example: That idea will go over like a lead balloon.

That is all, but I reserve the right to interrupt this blog for future PSA’s should they be necessary.

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Overdue Updates

I really need to go through my files and see what I can upload to the handouts page.  I know I’ve come up with some things I haven’t added.

I have now gone to Curriculum Nights for three children and participated in my own, so perhaps my evenings will once again return to some semblance of normal.  My middle daughter’s teacher has an interactive white board like I do, and it was interesting to see the parents’ reactions on both nights — so similar.  Well, they are pretty cool.  My students have been enjoying getting a turn correcting sentences with errors as a warm-up on the SMART Board, and when it gets out of alignment (which is an issue with my projector, not my SMART Board), they think it’s really fun to align it properly.

I’m really glad I started my classroom website a couple of years ago.  I think the students and parents really like it, and even though it takes some time to maintain, I think it’s well worth it, especially when students are forgetful or absent, and I can remind them of the resources at their disposal at the website.  Last week I made some improvements to it so that it’s even easier to find notes saved from the SMART Board and handouts I’ve uploaded.  I have tried to engage students in activities designed to force them to explore the site.  Those students who have explored it have told me it’s pretty easy to navigate.

I wrote two Shakespeare units last weekend, so I don’t think I’ll spend any of the remainder of this weekend planning.  I am excited, however, at my students’ progress on their Brave New World projects.  I am concerned about the progress of one group, but the others are all coming along nicely.  I am ready to finish summer reading in all my classes, though.  My comma unit went over really well with students, parents, and the faculty members I shared it with, too, so that’s encouraging.

Well, I’m curling up with Rebecca.  If you are interested in following my progress with fall books, step on over to my personal blog.

[tags]commas, teaching, education, planning, interactive white board, smart board[/tags]

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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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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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Teaching Grammar

Grammar is a thorny issue in English/language arts.  Many teachers, including myself, were probably taught grammar in some isolation from composition.  I remember well the old Warriner’s grammar books.  Those books have been out of print for some time, but I know many English teachers who kept their old classroom sets.  At my school, we actually still use the Warriner’s books in 9th and 10th grade — well, I think we do.  My department head said something about ordering grammar books, and I wasn’t sure if she meant no more Warriner’s or in addition to Warriner’s.  At any rate, as you can imagine, the books are extremely hard to come by, and as our enrollment increases and students lose or damage books, we will ultimately be forced to abandon the books (unless we already have, that is).

Why do English teachers love Warriner’s so much?  It has the best grammar exercises.  A movement in teaching English has moved away from teaching grammar in isolation.  As with many educational movements, that has meant throwing the baby out with the bathwater.  English teachers could be taught to figure out how to teach grammar in context using the grammar text as a tool, especially as the SAT still includes a writing section that is totally based upon the student’s ability to recognize errors, but many books on composition are not structured in a way that makes this easy.  They do a rather clumsy job of integrating grammar into composition instruction.

Many schools and indeed some state standards have done away with objectives that explicitly address grammar, and those that remain are somewhat general.  My state of Georgia, for instance, has one standard that addresses grammar instruction:

GA ELA9C1: The student demonstrates understanding and control of the rules of the English language, realizing that usage involves the appropriate application of conventions and grammar in both written and spoken formats.

Likewise, NCTE has one standard that addresses grammar, and does so even more obliquely than Georgia’s standard:

NCTE 4: Students adjust their use of spoken, written, and visual language (e.g. conventions, style, vocabulary) to communicate effectively with a variety of audiences and different purposes.

My students have traditionally had difficulty with grammar, but I think UbD might help with that somewhat.  While I agree that it helps students to learn grammar in context of reading and composition, I don’t think supporting exercises hurt in terms of reinforcement.  In any case, the 9th grade English course at my school is “Grammar, Composition, and Literature”; it is so titled because the emphasis in the course is placed on those three areas in the order of their appearance in the title.  I don’t always find that teaching grammar is fun, but it is part of our curriculum, and after having planned two units using UbD, I can see how I can make it seem more important and relevant to my students.

You can check out the two units (both on mechanical issues) that I have created so far:

Feel free to leave your comments in the Discussion area.  You don’t have to be a member of UbD Educators wiki to contribute to discussion, but you do have to be a member to edit and create pages.

[tags]ubd, grammar, english, language arts, composition, commas, apostrophes[/tags]

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UbD Unit Plans

After finishing Understanding by Design, I created two units:

  • Apostrophes (9th grade Grammar, Comp., and Lit.)
  • Beowulf (11th grade British Lit. and Comp.)

If you are familiar with UbD (or even if you aren’t), I’d appreciate feedback.  You can contribute to discussions at UbD Educators wiki without joining the wiki.

I can’t remember if I shared my schedule for next year.  Of course, exact class periods, etc. are still up in the air, but I will be teaching the following courses:

  • 9th College Prep Grammar, Composition, and Literature
  • 9th College Prep II Grammar, Composition, and Literature
  • 10th Writing Seminar II (Writing Seminar I is a ninth grade course)
  • 11th College Prep British Literature and Composition (1st semester)
  • 12th College Prep Short Story and Composition (1st semester)
  • 12th College Prep Drama and Composition (2nd semester)

I will also be advising the National Honor Society and helping with the GISA Literary Meet.

So if you are teaching or advising any similar classes or activities, I will be willing to collaborate and share.

[tags]Beowulf, apostrophe, curriculum, planning, lesson plans, english, ubd, understanding by design[/tags]

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Selecting Texts

My department is engaged in textbook selection right now. I’m fairly certain that we have decided which textbook company we would like to work with; however, I think we still need to pin down which peripherals we will order to supplement and exactly which books in the series we will use. I won’t tell you which ones we decided on here, but I will tell you two things that troubled me about this process.

First of all, my department head contacted Holt so that we could examine their series Elements of Literature. I have used this series in the past and really liked it. Unfortunately, they are not very interested in obtaining business from our school. They did not reply to my department head’s queries to visit our school and share their series with us. They did send samples of their ninth grade text. I was not very impressed with it, if I may be honest. We are a small school, and it is probably true that their energies might be better directed toward serving large districts; however, we did feel slighted. My department head and I discussed Holt’s lack of interest in selling books to us and determined that we would not be buying books from them.

Second (and I won’t tell you who), one textbook company admitted that its latest version of the textbook series was “dumbed down” for NCLB. My department head and I compared this version with the previous version, and it is indeed true. The questions are not as challenging. If NCLB is the reason why the texts were “dumbed down,” then one has to wonder what this law is accomplishing. If textbook companies are “dumbing down” selections and questions in order to help schools meet the requirements of NCLB, are the kids really benefitting? Isn’t the idea of NCLB to raise standards, not lower them? Keep in mind that the textbook salesman told my department head himself why the books were less challenging. We examined them for ourselves and determined this was, indeed, true.

What do you look for in a textbook? As much as we repeat the old saw that we shouldn’t judge a book by its cover, I have to admit I find books that have appealing covers and pictures inside, as well as a pleasing layout, grab my attention. I think the students like them better, too. Let’s face it, the eye candy is part of the package. We are teaching the post-MTV generation, and material has to be eye-catching. Is this a concern for you when you select books? I am, of course, not saying that we don’t examine the material to make sure the selections are appropriate, varied, and correlate with standards.

I feel good about the selection we made. I have worked with these books before, and I think the students will like them better than our current texts (which, by the way, are currently out of print and increasingly harder to find). Once details are final, and our principal approves our choice, perhaps I will fill you in.

What do we need to do to get Warriner’s back in print? Will begging work?

[tags]language arts, textbooks, textbook selection[/tags]

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Phrases Jeopardy

Some time ago, I gave detailed instructions for creating a Jeopardy game with MS Power Point.  I was excited about a new software program that purports to do the same thing, but is much less cumbersome; however, I haven’t been able to get it to work.  When I try to save the game, the program crashes.

Oh, well — back to the tried and true.  For those of you grammar teachers who want a handy review for phrases (adjectival and adverbial prepositional phrases, verbals, and appositives), feel free to steal download my Phrases Jeopardy Power Point.  I’ll tell you, this was great on the SMART Board!  Instead of Double Jeopardy, I created three lighting round questions.

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Classroom Purchases

My daughter Maggie and I went shopping today, and I made some interesting purchases for my classroom:

Each book is a collection of 180 class activities that can be used as warm-ups, homework, or extra credit.  I plan to use most of them as warm-ups, but I think some of them will be good full-lesson assignments on their own.

Here is a sample from the Spelling & Grammar book:

Where in the Whirled?

In the next five minutes, brainstorm as many words as you can that contain the letters, w, h, and e.

What is the longest word you came up with?  How many words did you think of that contain w, h, and e, but don’t begin with any of those letters?

This series is published by the makers of SparkNotes.  They also have vocabulary, test prep, and math books.

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