Planning for Next Year

Titanic BlueprintSome time in April or May, I think a lot of teachers, or maybe just teacher geeks like me, start thinking about next year and how they’re going to make it even better. I have not created an entire curriculum map, but I have a skeleton. A few broader goals:

  • Using wikis for my classes. And I’ve already begun working on one.
  • Organizing a portfolio using LiveBinders.
  • Interactive notebooks need some revision or even perhaps an overhaul.

Here are the essential questions for the British Literature and Composition course:

  • How do our stories shape us? How do we shape the world around us with stories?
  • How is a period of literature a response to the culture/history of that period?
  • How is a period of literature a response to the previous period?
  • What themes/ideas transcend time and culture?
  • What are the key concepts, values, and literary forms of the various periods?
  • How has the English language changed over time?

I have Joe Scotese to thank for the first question because I will be using Grendel, and the idea of the storyteller as a shaper and creator of history comes from that book, but it was Joe who made me think about how it applies to all literature. The next four are those overarching questions that frame or could frame any chronological study. The final two regard the study of literary terms and language. I plan to read about language development this summer, namely The Adventure of English by Melvyn Bragg, which I have on my shelf already.

I have organized the British Literature study into six major units, which is helpful because the textbook does the same; however, because we use a different text for Honors courses, it was helpful to see how I might divide its content. These units are correlated to time periods:

  1. Anglo-Saxon/Medieval
  2. Renaissance
  3. Restoration/Neoclassical
  4. Romanticism
  5. Victorian
  6. Modernism/Postmodernism

Major works either planned or under consideration:

Major authors by unit:

  • Anonymous Beowulf author, John Gardner, Geoffrey Chaucer
  • Shakespeare, Marlowe, Sidney
  • Donne, Jonson, Marvell, Herrick, Suckling, Milton, Swift, Pope, Johnson, Gray
  • Blake, Burns, Wordsworth, Coleridge, Byron, P. Shelley, M. Shelley, Keats, Austen
  • Tennyson, R. Browning, E. B. Browning, E. Brontë, Arnold, Kipling, Housman, Wilde
  • Woolf, Yeats, Orwell, Heaney, Huxley, Lessing, Owen, Brooke, Thomas, Hughes, Walcott

Again, just a skeleton.

A mockup of essential questions by unit (excluding essential questions for major works, which have their own).

Unit 1

  1. How does the literature reflect Anglo-Saxon culture?
  2. How did Old English evolve into Middle English?
  3. What can we learn about the values of people during the Middle Ages through their literature?
  4. How did people in the Middle Ages see their world?

Unit 2

  1. How did Shakespeare contribute to the development of the English language and to literature?
  2. How did the sonnet develop as a prominent poetic form?
  3. How did the monarchy influence literature?
  4. How did Middle English evolve into Early Modern English?

Unit 3

  1. How did early dictionaries contribute to the development of the English language?
  2. How did the English Civil War and Restoration of the Monarchy impact literature?
  3. How did the rise of literacy and the rise of the middle class impact literature?
  4. How did lyric poetry and the novel develop as forms?

Unit 4

  1. How did the spread of the British Empire impact the English language?
  2. How did the Age of Revolution and spread of Romanticism affect literature?
  3. How did the rise of industrialism impact literature?
  4. How did Romanticism influence the arts?

Unit 5

  1. How did Victorian reserve impact use of language?
  2. How did the spread of reform and imperialism impact literature?
  3. How did psychology, realism, and naturalism impact literature?
  4. How did the influx of women writers impact the development of literature?

Unit 6

  1. How did the World Wars impact literature?
  2. How does British English differ from American English?
  3. How did concepts of modernism and postmodernism develop?
  4. How did the waning of the British Empire affect literature?

In thinking about the literature, I drafted a list of potential essay/writing assignments, which would make eight major writing assignments in year, or four each semester.

Prospective Composition Assignments

  1. 2 Narrative Essays—College essay
  2. Persuasive/Argumentative Essay—Beowulf as hero
  3. Literary Analysis—characterization in Canterbury Tales, courtly love in CT
  4. Creative—Macbeth directing a scene, Literary Analysis—characters, theme, symbols in Macbeth, Persuasive—witches’ influence, who is to blame, Lady Macbeth’s influence
  5. Persuasive/Argumentative Essay—Satire (A Modest Proposal)
  6. Literary Analysis—Poetry Explication
  7. Annotating a text

I also think students should learn, refine, or develop these technology skills:

  • PowerPoint or other presentation software (specifically, effective use as opposed to “Death by PowerPoint”)
  • Digital Audio and/or video
  • Microsoft Publisher, Apple Pages, or similar newsletter/document-creation software
  • Wikis, Digital Portfolio tools
  • Prerequisite skills—e-mail, MS Word (font, line spacing, formatting), online research—this list comes from previous requirements at the school and within our department.

Because I’m not sure what other courses I am teaching, excepting the Hero with a Thousand Faces elective, I have decided not to sketch out any ideas for other courses.

Creative Commons License photo credit: R P Marks

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Hey, Stranger

Collatz ConjectureOK, so my friends have reached the point of stopping calling and asking me if I want to hang out. I had a stack of essays—ungraded—shuttling back and forth from school to my house for a month. A month! I am teaching five classes, five different preps. And this is the time of year when it gets busy. When you look at the calendar and say, “Oh, hi, March! I’m still in the Renaissance.” Then I have to give myself permission to still be in the Renaissance because of all the instructional days lost for various reasons, and I have to tell myself it’s OK because it’s an introduction to British literature and not meant to be as comprehensive as a graduate school (or even an undergrad) seminar.

Speaking of grad school, I am also behind in that area. My Educational Research class is proving challenging, but I am learning a great deal, even if my quiz scores don’t show it (the quizzes are another issue altogether). My Multimedia Authoring course is beginning to rank up there with my favorites in the grad school program (Instructional Media, Graphic Design for Multimedia Presentations). I like classes that allow me to create; however, I am concerned that I have bitten off more than I can chew. I want to create a flash game that helps students learn phrases and clauses. I would like it to be similar to the Grammar Ninja game, but I know I’m not knowledgeable enough to make it quite that good, especially graphics-wise. The creator of that game is majoring in Computer Science with a minor in 2-D Art for Games, and I surely don’t have that background.

Still, I have not completely checked out, and I can be found bookmarking links on Diigo and tweeting most days of the week. I don’t always bookmark links I check out. This morning, someone (and I admit I can’t remember who) tweeted this link. I don’t know how to feel about this issue. Sad that the parents were so easily satisfied? Confused as to whether I missed some qualification left out of the article? Angry that my profession is reduced to entertainment and stripped of its seriousness of purposes for the sake of TV? I realize the article is now about six months old, and Danza does seem to have some empathy for the life of a teacher and seems to treat the profession with some reverence and respect. If I’m fair, I have to admit I think he “gets” it about teaching, or at least his blog posts reveal he does (and I’ve only begun taking a look, so your mileage may vary).

What do you think of it?

Update, 4/1: The LA Times has a new story about Danza’s first year teaching.

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Summer Reading and Plans

I do not have grad school classes this summer, so I will be taking advantage of the time to really work on professional development, plan, and read for pleasure. I document my pleasure reading at another blog, Much Madness is Divinest Sense; an RSS feed from that blog appears in the right sidebar.

I want to read or re-read the following books this summer:

In terms of planning, I want to really write some good units using UbD and make sure the year flows and is connected by large ideas and that students can see explicit relationships among the literature selections, concepts, and writing assignments. I want to also integrate grammar instruction more with literature. I’d like to be more involved at the English Companion Ning and also try to read Kelly Gallagher’s book Readicide, as he’s conducting discussion at the Ning.

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Planning

Lesson planI have been thinking about planning and new teachers quite a bit lately.  When I was a new teacher, everything I taught was new to me, and I didn’t have enough time to plan.  I think a lot of schools are a similar schedule: six periods a day, teachers teach five and have one planning period.  Not nearly enough.  Many teachers, especially new teachers, need to use time outside of school to plan.  Of course, nowadays the Internet makes a wide variety of lesson plans available to teachers, and I imagine planning is much easier for student teachers and new teachers than it was when I started teaching; however, the quality of a lot of this material is mixed, and I think it might sometimes be hard for new teachers to be able to discern the quality of lessons.

What can we do to help new teachers learn to plan?

  • Mentorship: Model how to plan for units and lessons.  Meet with new teachers to plan with them.  I was provided with a bunch of templates when I was student teaching and sent on my way.  It really took me years to figure out how to select activities that would meet learning objectives and instructional strategies for teaching those objectives.  We need to be doing more of this in teacher preparation, and some time down the road when I am working with preservice English teachers, I will.
  • Make them turn in their lesson plans: I expect many of you will disagree with this requirement, but I think regular feedback on and discussion about the lesson plans they create will really help new teachers.  No one made me do that once I had my own classroom.  In my first school, I turned in weekly plans to the Curriculum Director, but she never looked at them, or if she did, she never gave feedback.  Of course I had to turn in lesson plans when I was student teaching, but once I no longer had to do so as a new teacher, I admit I went into the classroom winging it sometimes, and that’s not good.
  • Engage in professional development with new teachers.  Do a book or article study together.  Discuss techniques.  Our school is doing one on The Skillful Teacher to the left in the sidebar.  It’s a good book: one I wish I had as a new teacher.
  • Build in some sort of regular reflection: Jim Burke’s Teacher’s Daybook has space for reflection.  Journals would work.  For those who want interaction, I think blogs are perfect.  My teaching has improved more than I can measure as a result of this blog.

Those are a few of my ideas.  I’m convinced that better planning will lead to better classroom management in many cases (some schools have administrator issues too large to compensate for, and I’ve been there and done that in the past).  If we can help teachers become more effective planners, we might retain teachers at a higher rate than we currently do.

What would you do to help new teachers?
Creative Commons License photo credit: kokeshi

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Time

I never have enough time to teach everything I want to teach — at least not the way I want to teach it.  I have found myself frustrated this year after writing some very good UbD units, only to find I have to cut out parts in order to finish the work in the amount of time I have available.  I have also had to contend with Jewish holidays, our peculiar school schedule, and shorter class periods.  When I taught public school, each class period was at least 50 minutes long.  My classes work out to be 45 minutes long each day (one day is a double period of 90 minutes, but we have class only four days of week, so the average is 45 minutes).  Five minutes doesn’t seem like a lot, but over the course of a week, that’s an average of nearly a half hour.  I just don’t feel as though I really do justice to some of the topics I teach as a result.

How do you cope with the time crunch?

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UbD Educators Wiki

Some months down the road after its creation, the UbD Educators wiki has fallen silent. I logged in today to find that neither changes nor discussions had taken place in the last 30 days. Yikes!

I take part of the blame upon myself. Having five preps leaves me, ironically, with not much time to plan, particularly now as National Honor Society business has take up much of my time.

Update, 4:45: I have a draft of the lesson for my Canterbury Tales unit up now.

Well, at any rate, I invite new folks to join in, quiet members to speak up, and previously active members (such as myself) to become active again. I think this kind of professional development, sadly, is much more valuable and important than much of what teachers normally get. I’m only sad I can’t get you PLU credits for it.

I’m going to start with a unit on The Canterbury Tales. Wish me luck, but give me time to finish it before you comment.

See you over there.

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