Category Archives: Reflection

Week in Reflection, April 14-17

This time of year, I find that I’m not blogging as much as I would like because I’m so exhausted.  You know, people talk about what a perk it is for teachers to have breaks in the winter and spring and a longer one in the summer — usually people who don’t teach, by the way.  These breaks are absolutely necessary to rejuvenate.  I think teachers put a lot of themselves into their work.  Having to be “on” so much of the time wears me out, and I don’t think I’m the only one.  Every time I take any sort of Myers-Briggs test, I always come out INFP.  If you aren’t up on the parlance, that basically means I am introverted, and I find social situations tiring.  People suck the energy right out of me, and you can’t get more people-oriented than teaching.  This article in The Atlantic actually did a lot in terms of helping me understand why I’m so tired at the end of a school day, and as the end of the school year ends, it seems to get worse.  As a result  of this exhaustion, blogging is one of those things that tends to go by the wayside.

I read the blogs of other teachers and feel inspired by what they are doing — especially descriptions of lessons and ideas for teaching –and I want to contribute, too.  Maybe this week will afford me some time to do so, as I am (finally) on spring break!  Why so late?  Passover falls late this year in the Jewish calendar, and my school, as a Jewish school, follows the Jewish calendar.  Our break starts tomorrow.

Teaching the week before spring break is always difficult.  I came home today and took a nap. This week, my seniors finished reading A Streetcar Named Desire, and we began watching the excellent Elia Kazan production.  One forgets how attractive Marlon Brando was.  Every time I watch that movie, I am amazed all over again by his embodiment of the role of Stanley Kowalski.  One of my students pronounced the play her favorite piece of the year, and another quickly agreed.  I really enjoy teaching the play, too, if for no other reason than the opportunity to see the excellent movie again at the end.

My writing class was creating Power Point presentations.  I have seen a lot of death by Power Point lately, and we can’t very well blame the presenters if they are never effectively taught how to create a Power Point presentation that works.  A cursory glance at my students’ works in progress tells me that most of them understood not to cram too much information on a slide or use busy backgrounds, but I’m not sure all of them heard this message, and I am puzzled — I thought I really emphasized that part.

I have been teaching verbals, clauses, and misplaced modifiers.  I struggle with this part of our curriculum every year — not because I don’t understand it or because I don’t impart it with some success.  I struggle with its usefulness.  If a student is using gerunds correctly when he or she writes, is it imperative that they be able to label them as subjects, direct objects, indirect objects, predicate nominatives, and objects of prepositions?  Yet, it is part of the curriculum, and therefore, part of my teaching.  I find it much more useful to spend time on the nuts and bolts of writing that students struggle with — commas, for instance.  I thought I created a fairly effective unit for teaching commas, but I find over the course of the year that students are still not consistently applying rules for using commas.  Marking comma errors hasn’t done much to help my students learn to use commas.  Suggestions are welcome.

Week in Reflection: March 31-April 4, 2008

This week was a really good week for me, personally, which I think translates often into good teaching.

One of my ninth grade classes is completely done with The Catcher in the Rye, and the other is still in the discussion part of studying the novel. The discussions have been good. Students always seem to enjoy this book. One of my students who didn’t like it actually asked me if there was something he was missing, as all of his classmates seemed to like it, and he expected to like it. I confided that I didn’t like it either in high school, but I loved it years later when I read it again. When I was in high school, I had trouble getting past the part when Holden hires Sunny, the teenage prostitute. Even though they do not, shall we say, complete the transaction, and Holden winds up getting beaten up by her pimp, I found the notion that he would even hire a prostitute distasteful. I just didn’t like Holden. Years later, with more experiences and perhaps more empathy, I viewed Holden entirely differently. I think it helped my student to hear that he is perfectly fine, thank you very much, if he doesn’t like the novel. On the other hand, one of his classmates read the novel four times before it was due. I am in a quandary about this student, too, because this student did not perform well on my reading quiz, which should have been a breeze after reading the novel four times. I still can’t figure out how that happened, but it makes me feel rotten. Talk about a motivation-killer.

I am teaching grammar, specifically phrases and clauses. I have some problems with the efficacy of this required part of my curriculum.

I had interesting conversations with a few senior students this week. They are presenting their Flat World Willy handbooks on Monday. The conversations we had centered around the idea that a few of the students recognize that I (and their other teachers) are trying to put together good learning experiences that are relevant to their lives, and I think they like the handbook assignment. But they are also frustrated by working with peers whose minds are already checked out. I have heard more than once, “I didn’t want to come to school, but I thought about you, Mrs. Huff, and how mad it makes you when we skip class.” I suppose I should be grateful that the students have empathy for my feelings after planning and being disappointed, but I wish they came to school because they wanted to learn. Their course loads have been pared down. They are doing internships in the afternoons. Their minds are on the colleges they will shortly be attending. I can empathize with them. I remember that feeling. Heck, I got accepted to grad school this week, and I was elated. Even though I am taking courses online, registering for my Virginia Tech personal identity so I could login and use all the resources available to me as a student made it feel very real — I feel like I am going back to school, and I am excited. But my students haven’t graduated yet, which is an important step to attending college, and I don’t want them to check out when have such a small amount of time together.

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.

Week in Reflection: March 17-21

This was a crazy week.  Monday was a teacher workday; Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday, our schedules were different from “normal”; and Friday was Purim — we didn’t have classes and spent the day celebrating.  The students were pretty good considering all the schedule disruptions.  I had a really good discussion with my senior class about a piece I asked them to read from Thomas Friedman’s The World is Flat as well as two short videos we watched — Karl Fisch’s “Did You Know?” and an excerpt from The Simpsons — “Kiss Kiss Bang Bangalore.”  We are making connections between Death of a Salesman and the plight of Willy Loman to modern issues of globalization, outsourcing, and living in “exponential times.”

My tenth grade class will turn in the final draft of their research papers tomorrow.  One hard worker has written something like ten drafts!  I am proud of all their hard work and have a suitable celebration in mind.  This week is a much more normal week, thank goodness.

We have 12th grade and 10th grade trips coming up in the next couple of weeks.  Spring break isn’t far off, either.

Week in Reflection: March 10-14, 2008

This week, one of my ninth grade classes finished The Catcher and the Rye, and we began discussing it in class.  We also studied adjective and adverb phrases.  The students really enjoyed the discussion of the novel, and I think they liked the book a great deal.  That novel always seems to be popular, especially with boys.  It brings up a good point.  A lot of what we read in school isn’t necessarily appealing to boys.  I think my male students enjoyed Romeo and Juliet and The Odyssey.  I really do try to think about how to draw boys in when we study literature.  The discussions this week went very well.

My tenth grade writing students watched The Freedom Writers.  I know a lot of people don’t like the movie, but I do, and the students were rapt.  We had a really good, insightful discussion about the movie on Friday.  One student in particular really seemed to be able to understand the motivations of Erin Gruwell’s department head.  He said he was playing “devil’s advocate,” but his points were all well taken — why shouldn’t the students move on to a new teacher?  Wouldn’t that be the ultimate test of how ready they were?  Is it really good to have the same teacher all four years?  He also wondered about the issue of seniority.  Was Gruwell getting a “promotion”?  The department head certainly considered it to be one.  Laying aside the assertion that she deserved one (I think she did great work), she had only been teaching two years.  Another issue that concerned the students was the practicality of what Gruwell did — in the movie, her marriage falls apart due to neglect on her part, and she has to take two extra jobs to pay for what her students need.  My students saw the good that resulted from these choices, but they were, I think, right to question the cost.  I thought the students had some really good insights into what they were seeing.

My seniors finished Death of a Salesman.  I wasn’t sure how they would like it, but I think discussing how it is the story of many people today really hooked them, which isn’t terribly easy to do with seniors at this time of year.  I am really excited about this unit, so it could be that my own enthusiasm showed.  I also spent a lot of time planning it — thinking of questions for discussion, assessments, etc. — and that always pays off.  It was remarked by someone who shall remain anonymous that I had put a lot of work into the unit, and I think the insinuation was that given the climate (seniors just ready to graduate and move on with the next stage of life), I probably wasted my time.  I don’t think so.  I think we have to work even harder as teachers to engage students when they are distracted by this future that’s just out of their reach.  They can’t help their feelings — and I had the same ones when I was a senior.  It’s a really exciting time.  I envy them getting to go off to college for the first time, learning so much, figuring out who they are.  I had a great college experience, and I wish I could do it again.

I obtained permission from one of my ninth grade classes to post their writing at a blog I have admittedly only occasionally used for student writing.  The last posts are reflections of the novel The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn done a year ago.  The writing I will be posting is collected from creative writing diaries from characters in Romeo and Juliet.  I plan to post one diary entry a day beginning on Tuesday.  If you are interested in reading them, you might want to pop over to the Room 303 Blog and subscribe to our RSS feed.  I don’t have e-mail subscription set up on that blog.

I have been approached to do a blogging project with a teacher in Hawaii, and I am really interested.  I would like my students to have their own blogs for written reflection, but sometimes I feel like I should have established that early on, and how do you do that?  I should think it would be great for interaction, discussion, exploration, and reflection.  Does anyone know if I can do that with Moodle?  I hesitate to put students in the position of public reflection if they feel uncomfortable about it, but if we can do it just within our community, I don’t think there would be a problem.

Week in Reflection: March 3-7, 2008

I think the Death of a Salesman unit I’m doing with my seniors is going well. At any rate, they seem engaged in the material and are making good connections. I am very excited about starting the part of the unit when we make connections to The World is Flat and globalization and outsourcing.

Speaking of The World is Flat, I finished it this week, and you can read my review at my book blog. The only thing I really want to add to what I said there is that I am really excited about the educational opportunities that will arise from “flat world” technologies like blogs and wikis. Even though I have already begun using these technologies, I still feel that in many ways I have just barely scratched the surface of what is possible, and I find that exciting.

My ninth graders in one class learned a few quick things about mechanics — quotation marks, italics/underlining, colons, and semicolons. The other ninth grade class has been writing an in-class essay. My tenth grade class is nearing the home stretch in their research paper.

Looking ahead, my ninth graders will be studying The Catcher in the Rye, which I always find enjoyable to teach, and which the students usually really like. One class will have the novel read by Tuesday. They are completing reflective journals as they read. I think the unit I am using came from the Understanding by Design: Professional Development Workbook. I know Jay McTighe mentioned it when he did professional development at our school, and later, when Grant allowed UbD Educators wiki members to enroll in his Moodle course, I downloaded the plan from the course documents. The only thing I tweaked was the essential questions. I liked the assessment, but I didn’t feel it really addressed the essential questions. I was curious about different questions, too. I would imagine the material is copyrighted in some way, so I can’t post it to explain what I mean, but I can point you toward the UbD Workbook (linked above).

And speaking of Grant Wiggins, I can’t pretend it was all fun to tangle with Alfie Kohn, but it was good for two reasons: 1) I really reflected about my homework policy and came to the conclusion that I am doing right by my students with regards to homework; 2) I received some clarification regarding Kohn’s ideas. Truth be told, he and I probably agree on a lot — I am not a fan of standardized testing or grades either, but I also don’t think they are going anywhere because schools and parents can’t figure out how else to measure learning. I am not someone who likes to make waves, and I did sort of wind up in the hot seat.

Week in Reflection: February 25-29, 2008

The Lamppost Blogger recently mentioned a weekly goal to be reflective about the week’s teaching.  I love the idea and decided to steal it, and I meant to start yesterday, too, but the day got away from me.

I am really happy with the unit I have written on Death of a Salesman.  My main worry at this point is that it coincides with a strange time at my school.  Seniors are given the option to finish high school in Israel through a partnership with a high school there, and Friday was the last day for these seniors.  Frankly, it feels as though the seniors who have decided to finish school here have checked out already.  With three months still to go before they graduate, it is a little early to stop learning.  My worry is that students won’t get all they can out of the unit because they are not prepared to put much into it.  I suppose that is the bane of a twelfth grade teacher’s existence, but it’s frustrating.

By far my most successful lesson this week involved me being utterly silent as my 9th grade students conducted a Socratic seminar around the question Who is most responsible for the deaths of Romeo and Juliet?  The discussion was a treat to listen to.  Students were turning to the text.  They knew it backward and forward.  They were citing evidence.  They were debating.  They also told me they had fun.  I am sure they learned much more through preparing for this discussion than they would have studying for a test, and I think the assessment has more real-world applications, anyway.  They wouldn’t let me record it, probably knowing I would share it on my blog!  You can read a description of the assignment here: Teaching Romeo and Juliet: Part Four and a reflection from last year here: Who Killed Romeo and Juliet?

I don’t feel good about leaving school early on Friday.  I had to — I actually have a mild concussion.  I got bonked on the head Thursday night when a glass full of pens and change fell off my bookshelf and hit my head, but I didn’t think it was too bad until the next day when I felt sort of dizzy and queasy.  Finally, I felt too bad to carry on, so I asked a colleague to teach my writing class about documentation and Works Cited pages.  I am sure she did a great job, but I hate feeling as though I let my students down, even when it couldn’t be helped.