Category Archives: Reflection

Year in Reflection

reverseThis was a fairly big year for me.  I went back to school and now have one semester of graduate school under my belt, and I also took on chairmanship of my department, which has brought challenges both expected and unexpected.  I also had the opportunity to go to the NCTE convention for the first time in ten years, and I presented at the GISA convention.

Every year, I make the same resolution, and I keep it for about the same length of time most people keep theirs: to cook more meals.  It’s hard to find the time.  I am not very good at the planning part.  I do well for a while, but then I leave off planning for a while, and resort to picking up junk on the way home.  Plus, I have been getting home later this year with more work to do, and it has caused problems for me as far as cooking meals.  Any tips?  I downloaded a meal spinner app from iTunes for my iPhone.  Maybe it will help; maybe not.  What I need to do is come up with some kind of way to plan meals.  Anyone know of a good program or tip for doing that?

Another thing I want to do is try to grade things faster.  I tend to get backlogged, and then I have to spend a day just plowing through grading.  I would like to get things back to students faster, but I admit that’s really hard for me to do with writing.  I spend a lot of time on it.  I am at least glad that I finished grading before the holidays because it is very hard for me to grade at home — my children see to that.  So, for that matter, does my husband.  Instead, I was able to relax and enjoy the holidays as time off.  Too many of my colleagues are grading papers if Twitter and Facebook are any indication.

I want to spend more time reading.  I am hoping that now that I have an iPhone, I can work through some books using Stanza.  I read 23 books this year, not counting re-reads (I re-read Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows and Twilight).  That’s not too bad, but if I set aside a little bit more time, I could probably double it.  It’s not a race or anything, but I would like to read more than I do.

I think I did fairly well with my British Literature classes in light of a very short October (filled with days off for Jewish holidays).  I cannot assign homework over Jewish holidays, nor can I assign major assignments to be due the day after a Jewish holiday, and while I understand and respect the reasons for these requests, it does make it hard to move through any material that month.  Next year, they will mostly be on the weekends, so it should be better.  In spite of that, my students still read excerpts from Beowulf and The Canterbury Tales and all of Macbeth.  Next semester I start with A Midsummer Night’s DreamThe Taming of the Shrew in one class and in another.  I do not feel as good about the number of books I was able to teach in my Hero with a Thousand Faces elective, which was seriously curtailed by the holidays.  Still, the students did learn a lot about Joseph Campbell, and I think I accomplished my mail goal of helping them see the movies they watch and the books they read in a different light.  My ninth grade class is going fine — I taught phrases, punctuation (commas, quotation marks, italics/underlining, semicolons, colons, and apostrophes), and two novels — The Bean Trees and The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time.  All in all, I think I was able to move through a good amount of material in a quality way that helped my students learn it.  I seem to be getting better at that rhythm the longer I teach at my school.  I am hoping some changes we are discussing will help me even more next year.

So that’s it.  My reflection for this year.

Creative Commons License photo credit: maria flying

Blogs, and Wikis, and Nings, and Things

This is liable to be a rambly post, and frankly, I’m not sure I like reading those myself, but sometimes they have to be written.

Those of you who are members of the UbD Educators wiki — are you interested in having a Ning, too?  It wouldn’t mean shutting down the wiki, but Nings seem to enable more different kinds of interaction, so I thought I’d float the question.  Jim Burke’s new Ning has become incredibly active and interesting, but he’s also Jim Burke.  Still, the success of Jim’s Ning made me wonder about UbD Educators.

Which leads me to something I have been mulling over for a while.  I think I’m stretched too thin.  I join too many online “clubs.”  And I probably just used unnecessary quotation marks.  I am currently a member of nine Nings (0nly about two or three of which I even look at, much less contribute to) and nine (or ten?) wikis, again most of which I don’t contribute to, or at least not regularly.  I have six (I think) blogs, and the one I update most is the one I do for my students.  This one comes in second, followed by my book blog.  My other blogs are fairly shamefully dormant.  When I look at the numbers, I freak out a little and feel bad.  I also wonder what to do about it, or whether what I’m currently doing is OK.

Long term career goal I’ve been thinking about for a couple of years: teacher education.  I think I want to work with English Education majors.  I’m not sure what I need to do to reach that goal, but the good news is that I am in touch with my own English Education professors, and I can ask them.  Meanwhile, if you do work with preservice English teachers, please share your advice or experiences.

I asked this question on Twitter, but got no response.  If I am a member of ISTE, is it still worthwhile to join AECT?  My ITMA program at VA Tech keeps talking about AECT, but all the tech folks in the Edublogosphere (should that be capitalized?) always mention ISTE.  Just wondering.

Finally, if you are headed to the Georgia Council of Teachers of English (GCTE) conference in February, I invite you to the session I’m presenting on Using Blogs and Wikis for Professional Development on Friday.  It’s the same session I presented at November’s GISA conference, so if you already came to that, you wouldn’t miss anything new if you skipped it.  Suggestions for the presentation are welcome.  If you were going to the session, what would you hope to learn or want to know?

OK, I have picked your brain enough today, Internet.

A Quick Update

Being department chair coupled with starting graduate school hasn’t been good for my blog, but I feel great about what I’m doing and learning.  I had an excellent start to the school year.  My Hero with a Thousand Faces elective class is going very well.  We’re reading The Iliad together right now.  My British literature classes are going well; we wrapped up summer reading and start Beowulf in earnest this week and the next.  My ninth grade class is full of hard workers.

I am connecting with fellow students in my program at Virginia Tech through Facebook, and that has added a whole new dimension to my use of social networking.  One of my classmates set up a study group for us, and it has been helpful.  For instance, I found out who among our group is taking more than the first three hours our program of study recommends.  I needed financial aid, and I had to go at least half time, so I had to add a fourth three-hour class.  It was good to know who is taking the class.  I was using Excel for an assignment in that class last week, and I had to call my dad for a little bit of help (I’m weak with Excel).  This week, a classmate mentioned she was having some trouble with making the chart in Excel.  I was all ready to share what I’d learned, but it turned out she used a different program and made it work.  It’s easy to feel disconnected from fellow classmates when you’re studying online, and Facebook has been great for connecting and feeling at least a little bit like I’m part of a class.

I’ve been doing well with my assignments so far.  The level of challenge has been mixed, but I understand that much of it is intended to be introductory material.  Perhaps program designers needed to think about where most people are in their level of computer knowledge.  I am a bit concerned that one of my classes is a little dated in the era of Web 2.0, but I’ll reserve judgment until I’ve completed a few more lessons.

I am in love with my new MacBook.  I took advantage of the free iPod with rebate promotion, and I also now have an iPod for the very first time ever, and I love it, too.  It’s an iPod Touch.  I am not sure I will go back to a PC after the Betsy iBook and now this MacBook.  I am really glad that I was able to get the computer — never would have happened in a million years if not for financial aid.  I have to say our Federal Student Aid program is really excellent; I was able to go to undergrad and now attend grad school when there is no way I’d ever have been able to do either without financial aid.  I think it’s great that we offer that opportunity to students.

So, I’ll try to update soon with content and the like.  Stay tuned!

Writing and Reflecting

After I viewed some pieces on the DVD that accompanies Penny Kittle’s Write Beside Them, I thought about my improvement as a teacher over the last few years, and I have decided that a lucky confluence of two events contributed to making me a better teacher: I began teaching at Weber four years ago, and a year later I began writing this blog.

Working at my school with an administration that has supported my efforts to grow and try new things, like blogging and wikis and other ideas, has been so freeing, and if I had not found Weber, I wonder if I would be blogging now or trying some of the other things I’ve tried.  In fact, I wonder if I would be teaching.

Here I am, in the middle of July, and I’m blogging about education and reading education books and blogs.  Why?  I can take a vacation, right?  The thing is, I really want to be back in school and try it all over again.  I am lucky in that my school doesn’t mind that I blog.  This is huge in an era when blogs are routinely blocked at schools, never mind encouraged.  I have always been able to blog about my journey as an educator, here, under my real name, and not worry about it.

And the blogging is what really made me a better educator.  I really began thinking and reflecting about my practice in a way I hadn’t done before.  I read professional literature and wrote about it here.  I jumped in and took risks with projects, and even if they failed, I felt better for having tried.  I shared.  I asked questions.  I helped.  I got feedback.  The audience I have here has truly been helpful to me as I struggled to figure out who I was as an educator and what I wanted to do.

I am excited about the next school year already.  Each year is better than the last.  I am learning and growing all the time.  Blogging has energized me and made me excited about my career.  I have struggled with my career in the past and even quit teaching for a time.  Now I just can’t imagine doing anything else, and this reflection, this space to think and discuss ideas, has given that to me.

Changes

Nobody’s complained about the absence of my weekly reflections, but I suppose I feel the need to explain anyway. Our last day of school was today. This week was finals week. I have been crazy busy because not only am I finishing up the year, but I’m also moving classrooms and wearing a new hat, which has taken up some time this week. My department chair is leaving us, and I was offered and accepted the position of English Department Chair. I have never been an administrator of any sort, and I always said I didn’t want to be, but I do want to do this job, and I want to do it well. As department chair, I will take on duties such as managing department issues (professional development, book orders and inventory, ensuring department tasks are done), facilitating meetings between my department members and parents (if necessary), serving as a liaison between administration and my department, planning and conducting department meetings, and probably a lot more stuff I don’t even realize I’ve taken on.

OK, I admit I am excited and honored. I didn’t think I would be in this position a few years ago. Initially, I wasn’t sure I wanted to do it because I wasn’t sure I could do it. Over the last few weeks, however, I have decided that as long as I approach this new position as I always tried to approach my job and I do the best job I can do, it will be fine. I actually am pretty good at the paperwork and bookkeeping elements of teaching. What will be new for me is being in a position of some authority.

I am looking forward to this new challenge. My school has offered me a great deal of freedom and support to grow as a teacher. In the four years I have been there, I have written an English Journal article, made a presentation at a statewide conference, offered professional development to my colleagues in the faculty, connected with educators all over the country and the world through blogs and wikis (with the support of my administration when many schools discourage blogging), and genuinely felt embraced and valued for my contributions in way I have never felt anywhere else. And it has only made me want to do more. I have done more in the four years I have been at my school because I have been able, through their support, to do more.

So… onward and upward to even more great things!

Week in Reflection, May 12-16

We’re truly in the home stretch now.  My own students have two more weeks of regular classes.  My children have just one more week.

Once again, poetry has been squished in at the end of the year.  I suppose this happens because poetry is generally short, and teachers can expose students to poetry (and do a pretty fair job) in a short period of time.  Still, if I teach 9th grade again next year, literature in general, and poetry in particular, is something I want to focus on improving.  In our curriculum, which emphasizes a grammar survey and composition, literature tends to get the short shrift, but with careful planning, it doesn’t have to.  I have to say I did a much better job this year than I have in the past with integrating more literature; however, room for improvement exists, and I will make it a focus next year if I teach the same course(s).

I had the opportunity to teach my colleague’s British literature class, which was a real treat for me.  Because I think the lesson is potentially useful, I will post it soon.  I taught Robert Browning’s dramatic monologue “Porphyria’s Lover.”

In true “what works with one class doesn’t work with all of them” fashion, I am trying an SAT introduction unit with my own tenth grade class that worked beautifully in a colleague’s tenth grade class when I took it over for a couple of weeks.  My perception is that my own class resents the instruction.  That could be because of the time of year, and perhaps they would resent whatever I cooked up for the final few weeks, but it puzzles and bothers me that something that was so well-received and appreciated by one class is borderline rejected by the other.  I suppose I need to think about this unit over the weekend.

Week in Reflection, May 5-9

I try to write these reflections on the weekend, but perhaps I can be forgiven for skipping Mother’s Day weekend.  This time of year is so busy for teachers, isn’t it?  Even as things are wrapping up, which should make me feel lighter, I seem to have more to do than ever.

I have already reflected a little bit on last week in a previous post.

One thing that’s been on my mind this week is that it is taking quite a while for Amazon to ship my copy of Write Beside Them.  I would like to have it by June, so I am starting to wonder if I shouldn’t cancel my order and order directly from Heinemann.  I was so excited to save money by ordering from Amazon, but it’s taking unusually long, and I feel I should apologize to folks who ordered the book through my referral.

As I write this, I find I am not feeling particularly reflective at all because I can barely remember what I taught last week.  I think I will chalk it up to the time of year.  I do know that utilizing backward design has made all the difference in my teaching this year.  At this time of year when students have one eye on the calendar (and so do their teachers) and the other out the window, I am pleased to say we’re still learning and thinking and writing and reading.

Each year gets better, but I’ll save that reflection for the end.

Week in Reflection, April 28-May 2

Our Spring Break was last week, so I didn’t post a reflection.  As this was the week of our return to school, and we have also entered that final stretch of the year, I’m not sure either I or the students were as plugged in as usual.

My seniors basically have two weeks left because our school allows them to finish early.  Next week and the week after, they will be working on a final paper for me.  This week, we finished watching A Streetcar Named Desire, and I was struck again by Brando’s performance.  You probably know this bit of trivia, but Brando was the sole member of the core cast not to receive an Academy Award, though he was nominated.  Vivian Leigh won Best Actress for her portrayal of Blanche; Kim Hunter won Best Supporting Actress for her portrayal of Stella; and Karl Malden won Best Supporting Actor for his portrayal of Mitch.  The Best Actor award that year, however, went to Humphrey Bogart for his performance in The African Queen.

My ninth grade students are working through grammar.  One class finished up phrases and started on clauses.  The other class learned about active and passive voice and began discussion of Toni Morrison’s first novel, The Bluest Eye.

The tenth grade writing class I teach presented Power Point presentations.  So often our kids add animations, busy backgrounds, and too much text, then read the text rather than use it as a guide for the audience.  Despite my instructing students on the perils of Death by Power Point, a few of their presentations included some of the problems I’ve mentioned, and I am frustrated that I somehow was not able to communicate how to avoid these issues to my students.  Also, I am frustrated by the fact that in order to be successful, they had to unlearn bad Power Point habits, which may explain why all of them weren’t successful.  We need to teach kids how to use Power Point correctly from the start.  I think too many teachers are a little too impressed by all the bells and whistles and actually reward students for making cluttered, busy, and ultimately unreadable presentations because they themselves don’t know how to do some of the things the students do, thus the teachers assume it’s hard and took a lot of time and effort.  Let’s face it, our students have become accustomed to being rewarded for style over substance.

The last two days of the week, my writing class began a unit on SAT preparation and practice.  I have evaluated SAT essays in the past, and as I haven’t done so for quite some time, I suppose it’s safe to disclose this fact.  Students generally find this unit to be very helpful.  I have been using Sadlier-Oxford’s helpful Grammar and Writing for Standardized Tests as a guide; I highly recommend this book, as it focuses on the SAT’s writing section (error correction, sentence and paragraph correction, and essay).

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.