Week in Reflection, January 5-9, 2009

I’m going to try to bring back my weekly reflections, though after second semester of grad school starts back up, who knows.  Still, I think reflection is a powerful part of being a good teacher, and writing, in my mind, is better than just thinking about it, too.

First, my own teaching.  I started Shakespeare plays in three classes.  My ninth grade class is reading Romeo and Juliet (coincidentally, so is my ninth grade daughter).  This play never gets old for me, and this is my ninth year teaching it.  At this point, I have to admit I do very little tweaking with my unit plans and basically just pull from my memory.  As always, the Folger Shakespeare Library has been and continues to be an excellent resource.

One of my eleventh grade British Literature and Composition classes began The Taming of the Shrew, and I really wish Folger had more stuff for this play.  As it is, I found an excellent unit written by Sydney King of the Oakland Unified School District.  This district has a great site with lots of resources for teachers, and I am glad they appear to have so proactively encouraged their teachers to share.  I discussed this unit in a previous post.  So far, we have finished Act I, and the students are having some trouble with the humor.  I explain, and they look at me like “That’s not funny.”  I am hoping that as we move through the play, they will find it more humorous and enjoy it more.  To be sure, the beginning, with all the strange Italian names and people in disguise, must be somewhat confusing.  I asked them to make a character map and will make copies for the whole class of the best one (plus reward that student).

I began A Midsummer Night’s Dream in my other British Literature and Composition class.  This class does not like to participate.  At all.  Ever.  And if you’re reading this, guys, you know it’s true.  It’s frustrating to call on students to read when my other classes argue over who gets to read, and that’s all I will say about that.  We are doing some engaging work that I perhaps fool myself into thinking that even this class is enjoying a little bit.  I even bravely posted a YouTube video of my group from last summer’s Folger Mini-Teaching Institute acting out scene 1.2 (Bottom and the mechanicals planning Pyramus and Thisbe).  Crickets.

A ranty digression: Even with a new requirement that students must leave one comment per week on the classroom blog, I cannot seem to get my students to use it.  Honestly, when I was in school, if my teacher had a blog for us, I have to say I would have been interested enough to keep up with it.  I just don’t understand the near total lack of interest.  Of course, I know I’m an English teacher and therefore more inherently interested in English than my students, but the fact remains that this is something different that only one other teacher at our school does (that I know of).  It’s a helpful tool.  It’s frustrating to see how little students actually use it.  I just don’t think asking them to use it is asking much, so I increased it to a requirement, and here it is Saturday, and only one student has commented on the blog.  I really, really don’t understand it.

So back to MND.  I haven’t taught this play since my third year of teaching, I think.  I taught it my first year in a poor rural school and my third year in a suburban school.  I actually took my students to see it in Macon, and ran into my former students from the other school!  That was really interesting because they had been sophomores when I taught them, and their senior English teacher had brought them.  The junior class (which I had taught as freshmen) was also there, but I had taught them Romeo and Juliet.  I asked the sophomores if they remembered studying the play, and they did (I think one girl still had Titania’s “Set Your Heart at Rest” speech memorized).  My suburban students were clearly intrigued by these former students of mine, and it was good to see them again.  I remember that months later, after we had switched teachers (at this suburban school, we switched at semesters, and I might get some of the same students back, but most of the time, I got a brand new crop).  One of my students showed me next time I saw her that she still had a copy of the speech in her notebook several months after we had studied the play, and she was very proud of having learned it.  I am hoping that my current students will feel the same way at some point.  At any rate, Friday, we practiced and picked apart those 12 lines, so I hope the students got something out of it.  It’s harder to work with students who are not enthusiastic no matter what I do.

I also have a new Writing Seminar class.  I didn’t used to like teaching Writing Seminar at my school, but after I had done it for a couple of years, it became one of my favorite classes to teach — I lean more now towards running the class like a writing workshop.  My students are currently engaged in the big deal tenth grade research paper, which I teach old-school style with note cards.  At some point down the road, I would like to engage Google Notebooks or Zotero, but at this point I am not able to do that, and that’s all I’ll say about that.  At any rate, it’s something I am very comfortable teaching, and it’s a very important skill.  We have engaged in a unit on understanding plagiarism this week (taken from a recent issue of English Journal, and NCTE’s Web site is taking an absurd amount of time to load, so I’ll have to share the bibliographic details later, as that issue is on my desk at school right now).

I think it has been a good week for the first week back after a vacation.  We had the National Honor Society induction Thursday night.  I have been the NHS adviser at school for a while now, but frankly, it was too much for me this year with department chair and graduate school, and I am not sure I should be doing it anymore.  At any rate, our community service activities and club meetings will be the focus for the rest of the year, and that suits me.  The selection and induction process is more time consuming.

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12 thoughts on “Week in Reflection, January 5-9, 2009

  1. I very much enjoy these reflections…thanks for bringing them back

    Blog suggestion: I have a journal prompt on my blog and have the students write their responses right in the comments instead of their journals which I use for warm-ups. We have a laptop cart in the classroom so this is easy to facilitate. I also ask that the student make a comment on a minimum of 1 other student's entry. Just a thought.

  2. I struggle with the same problems getting students to use blogging for any sort of educational purpose. I created an extra-curricular writing club and they took to posting their work on blogs like crazy and wrote and commented on each other's all the time, but some of these same students simply refused to post on my blog when it was related to school. It continues to boggle me.

  3. Dana,

    The week in review is a great model for the rest of us. It's so simple, yet it focuses you back towards what you accomplished, or didn't accomplish, in the past few days. I am glad they are back here.

    It's easy to forget just how good our students are at "doing school" as they always have. When have their previous teachers asked them to post their thinking publicly? How many of them were able to hide behind the "blue-bird" students in class discussions? Now you are asking them to use a medium they see as theirs, one that they use for little else than recreation, for academic purposes. They will resist.

    As much as a shift as it is for you, using the web for academic purposes other than Google searches gives our students pause. I like Darci's suggestion of providing an open response style prompt that takes the place of something they already do. When we work with our teachers with technology, we always try to take something away when we give them something new. It lowers anxiety and helps them feel more efficient. Can you do something similar with your students? It's very "carrot-and-stick" like, but it may work.

    • The journal suggestion isn't a bad one — except my classes are so short generally that I had to cut out journals, valuable as I see them. It would involve reintroducing journals. I do try to leave information that they could comment on — I ask questions, I share videos or images, I make comments. I think we'll see how the experiment of making it a quiz grade goes, and we'll see what happens.

  4. I am just finishing up Romeo & Juliet with my 9th graders as well. Even though I am only in my third year, I too feel like its a home run unit. It always goes smoothly and the students always seem to have fun with it. I think its because I spend so much time as a student teacher creating the unit that it was so complete. It easily translates year after year.

    My students refuse to blog as well. I post extra credit only on the blog, but it doesn't seem to help so much. I would like to get a a lap top for my classroom that is for purposes like this. Maybe having a computer accessible at all times will jump start their interest. Who knows?!

    I enjoyed your entry!

  5. I am just finishing up Romeo & Juliet with my 9th graders as well. Even though I am only in my third year, I too feel like its a home run unit. It always goes smoothly and the students always seem to have fun with it. I think its because I spent so much time as a student teacher creating the unit that it was so complete. It easily translates year after year.

    My students refuse to blog as well. I post extra credit only on the blog, but it doesn't seem to help so much. I would like to get a a lap top for my classroom that is for purposes like this. Maybe having a computer accessible at all times will jump start their interest. Who knows?!

    I enjoyed your entry!

    • No, but good idea. When we get closer to the end of the play, perhaps I'll mention it. Or better yet, dig out the book and read that part out. I have to say I love Bella's reading taste. :-)

  6. I loved reading your reflections!

    I have a class that doesn't like to participate too. And I agree that it is so frustrating to have to "share" the part of Macbeth in one class and then pull teeth to get someone, anyone, to read it in the next. One day I had a couple of my yearbook students in the back of the room working on yearbook stuff while I was teaching English and they jumped up and volunteered to read since no one in my English class did!

    I've yet to try a class blog. One of these days!

    • Thanks, Susanne. I have now required one comment per week, and some students have chosen on their own to do more than that. We are beginning to have some good conversations at the blog.

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