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.

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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.

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Happy New Year

This year, I had the opportunity to teach British literature for the first time — the course that made me want to teach English — and I had a wonderful time.  I will be handing the course over to a colleague, and I hope she will enjoy it, too.

I also had the opportunity to go on a trip with the juniors last January.

My students collaborated with the Reflective Teacher’s class on a Holocaust project and with students at Neveh Channah Torah High School for Girls on a Israel/Judaism project.

I had the opportunity to meet up with other edubloggers at EduBloggerCon.

I was delighted to be invited to blog with Grant Wiggins.  My teaching practices were transformed by his book with writing partner Jay McTighe, Understanding by Design, and I consider it one of my greatest accomplishments this year that the UbD Educators wiki was established, even if it became somewhat quiet.  I hope it will catch on, and I still occasionally receive requests to join it.

In the coming year, it is my hope that my proposal for a course centered around Joseph Campbell’s The Hero With a Thousand Faces will be accepted and that I will be teaching British literature again.  I would also love the opportunity to participate in more Flat Classroom projects with other schools and teachers — interested parties feel free to contact me.  I am looking forward to reading The World is Flat by Thomas Friedman as part of an online PLU course I am taking beginning next week.

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