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.

15 thoughts on “Week in Reflection: March 10-14, 2008”

  1. Dana,

    I use Drupal – though I have used Moodle as well (but not for a while). I have to say I love Drupal and it has tremendous flexability – you can blog and you can create Organic Groups that allow you to control who sees what. I have groups for each of my classes — you can even create groups for each separate period.

  2. Before I became a teacher, I produced theatre here in L.A. One of my director friends did an updated production of Romeo & Juliet where the Queen Mab speech was adapted into a rap. It was absolutely brilliant. Having your boys do something like that might hook them in even more.

  3. Yes, Moodle has a blog activity, but it's a bit like hunting bunnies with an elephant gun – lots more power and work than you might need. If you have the capacity, I recommend Word Press (might be what you're using for all I know). It does have the security level you might need.

    I'm interested in your comments on "The Freedom Writers". There was a teacher here in Indianapolis that lost her job over teaching it. Wondered if you had any problems.

    Mark C. Miller

    English Department

    Noblesville High School

    Noblesville Indiana

  4. McSwain, I did have the students recite Mercutio's "Queen Mab" speech, and I said they could rap it. No takers.

    Mark, I had to look up that story about The Freedom Writers. It looks like the school board has an approval process for books that the teacher circumvented. Based on the two quick articles I read, I'm not sure she should have been fired. I work in a private school and have been blessed with academic freedom and trust. Anything in that movie is certainly not worse than they read in The Color Purple, which is on our required reading list. So no problems. I used it last year, too. My daughter said the movie was approved for viewing on the bus on the field trip to Washington, D.C. She said she was surprised it wasn't rejected because of language. It's rated PG-13.

  5. Oh, and I do use WordPress, Mark, but I was really looking for something more in-house, and I have been thinking about Moodle for more reasons than just blogging.

  6. Hi Dana,

    I am one more person who can't stand the Freedom Writers movie. Check out this old post of mine with a link to a related NCTE article.

    I too would like to create individual student blogs for writing, feedback, and reflection. I know Blogger makes it possible to limit a blog's audience, so that may be one way to go.

    I hope you don't mind Dana, but I am tagging you with a meme. Check it out on my blog.


    Mr. B-G

  7. Mr. B-G, I did that meme. Thanks for the tag, though.

    I don't really like Blogger. I've played with it, and I don't like that I would have to totally remove the navigation bar at the top to disable the Next Blog feature. The navigation bar has the search feature. I suppose we could create Google search boxes, but I would rather it work out of the box without too much tweaking. Of course, I admit, I just don't really like Blogger, so perhaps it's more of a personal thing than a fair criticism of their service.

  8. Maybe edublogs? It has a new function where you can quickly create student blogs and retain admin functions.

    If you ever wanted a easy blog posting collaboration, you can look at what our kids do (nstearns.edublogs.org) and get a toe in. Plus, edublogs has a Comment Press plug-in which is great for paragraph by paragraph textual annotation. (aptexts.edublogs.org).

  9. Dana,

    I have been wanting to use Moodle at my school site for a while. Does the district have to have it loaded on their server, or is there another way that I can set up a course for my high school English classes? I have a blog through http://www.classblogmeister.com, which has great security, but I would like to do more with my classes through Moodle. I even went so far as to load the opensource software on my laptop, but I do not want to turn my home computer into a server. Again, do I have to go through the district on this?

  10. Mrs. G., I may be a little out of my element here, but from what I read, it looks like it needs to run on a website. That means if you have your own domain, you can run it off your domain.

    Any experienced Moodle users out there able to help Mrs. G.?

  11. I've used Moodle — and you're right Dana, you need to put it on a webserver. This could be your own domain, your school's computer, and even most internet service providers give you some space for a website.

  12. Two things: When the kids read Catcher in the Rye I love asking the kids whether they believe Holden is a phoney or not.

    Also, once a semester I hear "Sleep tight ya morons" echo down the hallway when my wife's class finishes the novel, and then they run out the back door. Makes me laugh every time. Of course, other kids say "Why can't I take that class?"

  13. This if off topic. You give assignments, right? I am reading Vicki Spandel and I cannot see what is so bad about giving assignments. Have you ever done a writer's workshop kind of classroom?

  14. Of course I give assignments. I do writer's workshop with certain assignments, as well. I do peer editing, and I use student writing as exemplars to discuss writing. We do daily short editing assignments. I am unfamiliar with Vicki Spandel's work, so I don't want to presume anything. I not really clear on what you are asking.

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