I Noticed: Week in Reflection, January 12-16

The title of my post comes from a check-in activity I learned at the Folger Teaching Institute in which I participated last June.  At some point of closure — the end of the day or right before lunch — we gathered in a circle and made a statement about something we had just done beginning with “I noticed…”  I introduced the idea to one of my junior British literature classes.  They are currently studying A Midsummer Night’s Dream.  We had a really good class in which everyone was on their feet acting at some point.  We reviewed subtext and tried some exercises before getting in groups and using subtext and movement to interpret lines from the play.  It was such a good class!  They are usually somewhat reluctant to participate, and I don’t know what was different.  Actually, I have a theory, but I can’t prove it.  My theory is that one or two students who are usually quiet and don’t often participate decided for some reason unknown to me to get into it that day, and the rest of the class just followed their lead.  I can’t explain it.  It was actually kind of strange!  At any rate, it seemed like the perfect time to close up with an “I noticed…”  I hadn’t planned to to do it, but it felt right.  I started with “I noticed how much fun it was when everyone participated and got involved today.”  (Or words to that effect.)  My entire insides screamed YES! when one student said, “I noticed how reading the text and trying different subtexts and acting made it easier to understand the play.”  I liked that one student noticed that his classmates were better actors than he anticipated they would be (he’s a fine actor himself — much acclaim for his work in the play last year).  I felt sad that some students used “I noticed…” to be down about some aspect of themselves.  I can’t remember that anyone used “I noticed…” to to be down on the class, which is good because “I noticed…” carries that risk, I suppose.  It was the best five minutes of my teaching all week.  I need to do it more often.  In case you are curious, my students have read up to the part when Bottom is “translated” and Titania has fallen in love with him.

I worked a bit on next year’s teaching assignments, but whether or not they will actually be used, I have no idea.  It depends on the schedule and enrollment and in terms of students, who signs up for what classes.  Working on Romeo and Juliet is a lot of fun for me, but this time around, I am noticing I am not as much into it as I have been in the past.  After all, this is my tenth year teaching the play, and in some cases, I taught it to several classes.  I am really familiar with it, and I think at this point, I can very nearly teach it in my sleep.  That sounds really boastful, and I don’t mean it that way at all.  I love the kids’ excitement over the play.  It’s hard not to feel enthusiasm when they so clearly enjoy what they’re learning.  But this year, and maybe it’s because I’m teaching MND and Taming of the Shrew, neither of which I’m nearly as familiar with, I am not enjoying it quite as much as I have in the past.  That means one of two things: 1) maybe it would be a good idea for me to get out the ninth grade, or 2) maybe I need to try some new approaches.  The problem with the latter is that I have a really good plan, and it works.  The former seems like a better idea to me given that Romeo and Juliet is the only part of the curriculum in ninth grade that really excites me, and if even my excitement for that play is starting to diminish, perhaps it’s time.  So whether it will happen or not, I can’t say, but my suggested schedule doesn’t include any ninth grade classes.  And perhaps taking some time off teaching it will be good if I wind up in ninth grade again.  If I do teach ninth grade next year, I need to figure out a way to get excited about it.

Taming of the Shrew is going well, too.  We tried physicalizing some lines, something I also learned at Folger.  Folger has a video of Caleen Jennings, who led some of our classes, demonstrating how to physicalize lines, and I shared it with the students.  Their reaction was not what I expected.  They thought it was funny and were excited to try it.  I expected they might be “too cool” for it and think it was weird.  One of my students still has the two lines we tried memorized, and she said it was interesting to see how physicalizing the lines helped.  I tried to talk her into trying it to help her learn her lines for our school play, but she didn’t think she would.  Here’s the video:

So all in all, a really good week with some fun on-your-feet learning and reading.  Is there anything more fun than teaching Shakespeare?  Not in my book, anyway. (Sorry about the pun.  No, I’m not.)

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6 thoughts on “I Noticed: Week in Reflection, January 12-16

  1. I just finished teaching Midsummer to my sophomores. Wait until you get to the last act and have them act it out. My kids had so much fun with that one. I told them, "Remember, you are BAD actors who think you are pretty good," and then they really let loose. Some were laughing so hard they had trouble delivering their lines. Both the audience (the three couples) and the real audience (the rest of our class) were in stitches throughout. After we watched the movie version with Kevin Klein as Bottom and some of the kids felt they had either delivered the lines equally as well, if not better.

    I teach advanced sophomores and the AP seniors. Most of these students I end up having twice. It is nice because they remember the fun they had with the comedy as a sophomore and aren't so intimidated by Shakespeare when we begin the tough work of analyzing Hamlet their senior year.

    I love the "I noticed" idea for ending class. I can't wait to try it. Thanks for sharing your thoughts. -Laura

  2. A year or so ago I watched a video of someone from Harvard's 'Teaching for Understanding' giving a poetry lesson, in which she encouraged the students to ask two questions after they heard the poem: What did you notice? What did you wonder?

    Exactly as you found, the questions seemed to unlock something in the students. I've used these two questions constantly ever since, to the extent now that some of my students automatically approach a new text in this way.

    I enjoyed reading your post very much.

  3. I know that "Romeo and Juliet" is the universal for ninth graders, but I'm wondering if just trying a different play with the ninth graders for a couple of years might help you get your excitement back…

    I'm going to be doing it with three of my 5 English classes starting in a couple of weeks, and I'm pretty excited about doing it. Of course, I haven't done it in a couple of years now, so I'm hoping to find some new and exciting things I can do with the kids and see what sort of insight I bring to it now.

    I think I might try the "I noticed" thing with mine when we get back to classwork (they have exams next week and then Boys' Shabbaton/Girls' Shabbaton). That's a great way to get the students to reflect on their own work.

  4. I enjoy following your blog! I checked out the Skillful Teacher book on Amazon because the title intrigued me, and I saw that it costs $69. Oh my! I'm curious if you are enjoying it, etc.

    • Kara, I don't think it necessarily covers ground that Marzano et. al. and Harry Wong or Ron Clark don't cover in their books. Our faculty is studying it together; hence, the reason why I am reading it. It is pretty good, especially for new teachers. Veteran ones can learn a thing or two, also.

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