The Bluest Eye

The Bluest EyeToni Morrison’s first novel The Bluest Eye is frequently challenged due to situations involving rape and incest. When I first read it several years ago, I found it shocking, but I think it teaches us interesting things about how we define beauty in our society, what acceptance and love are, and how we harm not just black women but our entire society with narrow ideas about beauty and acceptance.

My ninth grade students will read The Bluest Eye as the last novel study this year. I think we will have time to do a study of short fiction and poetry in May following this book. I have just created a UbD unit for this novel; feel free to check it out and give me feedback. One thing I have noticed about myself is that when I create these units, I really skimp on the Learning Plan part. I think that might be because my schedule is so different from most other teachers with a rotating block and frequent schedule alterations that it is hard for me to make a day-by-day plan at the beginning, but I do have a chronological outline for approaching the novel. I will begin with the following video:

[kml_flashembed movie="http://www.youtube.com/v/rjy9q8VekmE" width="425" height="350" wmode="transparent" /]

Every time I watch this video, it makes me cry — right at the part when the children are choosing dolls. I once had a student who wrote an essay about what she would be like as she aged, and with each progression in age, she noted that her skin was lighter (she was fairly dark-skinned). Part of her definition of future success involved something she couldn’t do anything about — something she shouldn’t feel like she should have to do anything about. I remember crying over that essay, too. And feeling helpless.

I found an excellent webquest by Cele Bisguier that I will use for my performance task.

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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.

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Death of a Salesman

I have been struggling with writing a UbD plan for Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman. I think have have one sketched out, though I still need to create guiding questions for various pieces of the unit, including YouTube videos and a selection from Thomas L. Friedman’s The World is Flat.

In looking at the plot and themes of the play, and perhaps because it is so much in my thoughts lately because of my professional development courses, I made a connection between the play and the modernization/globalization or flattening of the world that our students will need to contend with in their work lives. One chapter of The World is Flat in particular came to mind — “The Untouchables” — as I began thinking about connections. I opened my book only to see Friedman himself referred to Willy Loman in that chapter. It must have been there in my subconscious because I had recently read it, but I was grateful to have my connection thus solidified.

I struggled to come up with a performance task that is relevant and addresses my essential questions, but would also be engaging. I think I have one. I am fairly happy with the unit as it stands because I think it is a unit that connects a past Miller was familiar with to a present and future he probably could not have imagined, and I think it will have interest and relevance for my students. You can check out the unit at the UbD Educators wiki.

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UbD Wiki: Summaries

Miguel Guhlin has joined the UbD Educators wiki and wants your help.  He is posting UbD chapter summaries and wants input from other wiki members.

I want to ask wiki members a question: Miguel suggested that we unlock those summary pages to allow nonmembers to participate.  What do you think?  My idea was that allowing editing by wiki members only would prevent vandalism, but it also closes participation — I have not denied membership to anyone, nor do I plan to (unless they join then vandalize the wiki, which seems unlikely), so perhaps the point is moot.

Check out the summaries and add your thoughts.  I’m really excited about Miguel’s work and plan to begin adding my own ideas this weekend.

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UbD Educators: Suggestions?

I have mentioned before that the UbD Educators wiki has grown quiet.  I think there may be two reasons for this:

  • We’re all busy educators who have difficulty finding the time to create, post, and/or comment on others’ posted UbD units.
  • We’re not getting what we need out of the wiki.

It’s not in my power to alleviate the first problem, and believe me, I hear you there.  However, the second problem is much easier to address.  The wiki is only as good as we make it.  If you need a feature that the wiki doesn’t have, add it.  If you have trouble keeping up with new pages and discussions, try subscribing to the site’s various RSS feeds (you can keep up with all changes or just changes to one page).  If you want to make a change, but you aren’t sure, ask the wiki members about it on the Suggestions page.  the majority of the wiki’s members have not yet contributed either unit plans or discussions.  I want to hear your voice!  I don’t mind lurkers, but we have the potential to make this wiki a huge repository of ideas and discussion about UbD, and we can only do that through teacher contributions.

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Hamlet and Romeo and Juliet

I just finished writing UbD units for Hamlet and Romeo and Juliet at the UbD Educators wiki.  As I finished writing the unit for Hamlet and saved the page, I lost half the work I had done, and I am still not sure how it happened, so I had to re-do it.  Word to the wise — when working with anything you’re doing online, save and save often.  When, oh when will I learn to do that?

Shakespeare Set Free: Teaching Hamlet and Henry IV, Part 1In order to successfully steal the Hamlet unit, you’ll need to purchase a copy of Shakespeare Set Free: Teaching Hamlet and Henry IV, Part 1.  I have the edition published in 1994, and I haven’t seen the latest edition, so if you know the difference between the two editions and would care to share in the comments for interested parties, I would appreciate it.  I think the Shakespeare Set Free series is a great resource for educators, but I don’t do all of the performance activities.

While we’re discussing good resources for teaching Shakespeare, don’t forget the Folger Shakespeare Library’s website, which has a large repository of lesson plans contributed by teachers.  If you can get them for your classroom, the Folger Shakespeare editions of the plays have pretty good explanatory notes and glossaries, too.  A Way to Teach has a great selection of Macbeth lesson plans and Tempest lesson plans.

If you are looking for Shakespeare video, you might check out Shakespeare and More over at YouTube.  They have a large selection of Shakespearean video.   Speaking of video, if you were looking at older posts about teaching Romeo and Juliet, you will have noticed the videos don’t work.  I’m sorry about that.  I’ll need to go back and revise the posts so that the video isn’t necessary, as the videos are no longer available at YouTube.

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The Faculty Room

Meg Fitzpatrick, editor of of the UbD e-journal Big Ideas, invited me to contribute to both the e-journal and a new blog they are announcing today: The Faculty Room. Please come on over and join in our conversations (my first post on the blog should appear some time tomorrow). You will find other “familiar faces” over there. Also, now seems as good a time as any to remind you that the UbD Educators wiki is a good resource for you to post, share, “borrow,” and obtain or leave feedback on UbD lesson plans.

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What I’m Reading

If you haven’t happened upon Nick Senger’s blog Teen Literacy Tips, you need to check it out. Nick provides valuable content in every post. I am subscribed to his RSS feed through Bloglines, and I invariably bookmark his new posts so I can return to them when I have time (what’s that?).

I recently finished Making Classroom Assessment Work by Anne Davies (read the first edition rather than the updated second, which I linked). I read it as part of Blackboard Online class I took through a local public school system. Frankly, not much new here to anyone who has read Understanding by Design. If I can be allowed to vent for a minute, the reason I took the course in the first place is that I need six more SDU’s (PLU’s or whatever you call them where you live). I submitted my transcripts and all the necessary information to the Georgia Professional Standards Commission, but they would not accept anything I had done since about 2004. I suppose I can understand why they might not want to accept professional learning I have participated in at my own school, even if I thought it was a valuable experience; however, I do not understand why they wouldn’t accept Mel Levine’s Schools Attuned. I worked extremely hard to earn the 4.5 PLU’s I earned for that course. I didn’t work a tenth as hard to earn the 2 PLU’s I just earned for reading Anne Davies’ book. If I had known Georgia was not going to accept the credits, I wouldn’t have worked so hard to finish the course online last year. Lesson learned. I will simply take a two-credit course online each year to meet my recertification requirements. At least I should then be assured that my courses will count for something. I have a non-renewable certificate that is good until the end of June, by which time I will have earned those six credits.

My husband sent me an article about a Wisconsin teacher arrested for praising the Columbine shooters on a blog. First of all, I’m not sure what the teacher said constitutes a threat, but to be fair, we’ve punished students for the same type of behavior. Second, once more we have a reminder that sarcasm does not travel well on the Internet, and it would probably be best to avoid it in any situation when it can be interpreted with any ambiguity. Third, and most important, teachers who post anonymously are not really anonymous; you can and might be found, and when that happens, you might be in trouble for what you say. In my opinion, the smarter and safer route seems to be to post openly and don’t say anything that you wouldn’t print on a billboard on the local interstate highway. Aren’t we also trying to teach our students that lesson? Finally, does this incident violate freedom of speech? I contend it does. If the remark was intended to be sarcastic, it missed the mark. If it wasn’t, it was incredibly ignorant, mean-spirited, and disrespectful. But I thought we had a right to be ignorant, mean-spirited, and disrespectful out loud in America. The teacher has learned a valuable lesson: Cave quid dicis, quando, et cui. He won’t be charged with a crime, but the district where he has taught since 1994 has not yet decided what to do about his job.

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Tests: Authentic Assessment?

Should we revisit testing as a means of assessment?

No doubt, students will need to be prepared for college (or, if you teach middle school high school; if you teach elementary school, middle school), and most colleges still using testing as a primary means of assessing students.  After all, when you have a lecture class with 300 students, it is not feasible to use alternative methods of assessment.  Perhaps the biggest argument in favor of keeping tests is to prepare students for the college environment.

I looked over my unit plans, lessons, and assessments this semester, and I realized something interesting.  I have given very few tests.  Most of the tests I have given have been summer reading assessments.  I have relied primarily on the following means of assessment: quizzes, essays, and “authentic assessments.”

My quizzes are typically five-question, short answer quizzes over reading assignments so I can be sure students are doing the reading I have asked them to do.  Students typically do either well or poorly on them based on how well they have read.

Essays are a staple of the English curriculum, but perhaps even more so at my school, with its competitive college preparatory environment and focus on developing writing skills.  My goal has been to assign at least four essays for each class this semester.  I have mostly realized this goal, largely through better planning using UbD to construct units.  I also allowed most of my classes to choose an essay they wrote this semester to revise for a higher grade, as I believe revision and reflection help students see writing as a process.

My “authentic assessments” have come straight from UbD and include crafting a résumé for Beowulf, writing our own Odyssey in order to demonstrate understanding of Homer’s, writing a letter to Arkansas Representative Steve Harrelson regarding his state’s apostrophe dilemma, and creating a comma usage manual for Rogers Communications (that $2 million comma error had to hurt!).

As I indicated in a previous post, I simply ran out of time this semester in order to truly do what I wanted to do with each unit.  I do have fewer minutes per week with my students than I would like — I average 45 minutes per day with each class, which is substantially less than other schools where I’ve worked.  However, what I have learned about the authentic assessments is that they were not only much closer to the kinds of tasks students will be asked to do when they begin their careers than tests.  How many tests have I taken as part of my job?  I can’t think of any.  I did have to take a test to get my certificate.  I had to take another to exempt from a computer skills course required in my state.  No principal has ever asked me to take a test for any reason.  If you take a look at the kinds of tasks I asked students to do to prove to me they internalized the essential questions we were exploring as part of our units this semester, I think you might discover that the tasks were more engaging than the standard test.  The tasks also asked students to think, internalize, apply, analyze, and synthesize information and present it in a unique fashion.  In short, I think they were taxed to think critically on a much higher level in Bloom’s Taxonomy than a standard test would require.

Are tests going anywhere?  I doubt it.  And I do believe that students should know how to take a test and how to study in order to do well in college, but I also think it behooves us as educators to offer them opportunities to demonstrate their learning with authentic assessments that enable students to truly show us what they know and practice working on the kinds of tasks they will be asked to do as part of their careers one day.  At any rate, it’s something to think about.  Though I have had fewer tests in my class this semester, I don’t think my students have learned less or been less challenged.  If anything, they have been more challenged (particularly with regards to writing).  However, I do still plan to give them a final examination.  Still, I think it would be an interesting challenge for all of us to examine what we are accomplishing through tests and ask ourselves if we are really preparing students for life beyond school.

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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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