Instruction


Part of my personal philosophy on teaching and learning is that they are somewhat interchangeable: most of the time, I will teach and students learn, but the opposite should also happen frequently as well. And although I want to provide models, sometimes it’s nice to explore with them.

In my writing elective, we’re studying short fiction, and I wanted my students to write some microfiction pieces, 200 words or less. I gave some examples from a blog that is run by some friends of mine (it’s good stuff) and let the students go, joining them in writing a couple of microfiction pieces as well. The ones that the students shared were quite good: some funny, others serious, with some other variations as well.

But for a moment, I’m going to take the spotlight and share my own writing. Keep in mind that these pieces are unedited from the original writing – and I wanted to keep them that way. (more…)

Over a month ago, blog friend Clix stopped by to point out a great resource for English teachers. I said I would look into it, having heard about it a little, but I admit that I was remiss in doing my duty to pass on this resource to my own readers (some of whom are English professionals).

The resource is the English Companion Ning, which (if you’re not familiar with Nings) is a social network that is dedicated to questions of English pedagogy. There are a great deal of very capable English professionals on the site, and there are groups and forums devoted to virtually any broad genres or disciplines within English language arts where you can start discussions and find resources for teaching – from teaching writing to teaching texts to teaching research papers, as well as discussions on The Crucible and transcendentalism (you can bet I’ll be referring back there soon) and To Kill a Mockingbird and teaching writing to lower level and unmotivated students (I’ll be revisiting that one soon – I have plenty of both!) and even MLA research papers. There’s honestly too many discussions to link.

And it’s a huge network – over 10,000 members as of this posting – that has even won this year’s Edublog Award for Best Educational Use of a Social Network Service.

If you are an English educator and haven’t checked out this site, don’t wait a month like I did – do it now. I promise, you won’t regret it.

Todd Whitaker has this little bit that he talks about in person (and he’s done it both times I’ve seen him) where he talks about teachers who say things like, “I’ve told Billy a thousand times not to do that.” His remark: “Now there’s a slow learner.” (After a few seconds, you start to realize that Whitaker’s not talking about Billy…)

Sometimes I feel like that teacher.

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Post now updated with post-data – see bottom of entry.

I have often been disappointed at the reaction that some students have had to activities I’ve prepared, especially the ones I’ve been excited about. I once tried to do an activity with eighth graders that was essentially an improvisational exercise utilizing an understanding of the four types of sentences – declarative, exclamatory, interrogative, imperative – based on an improv bit that was done on the late great improv show Whose Line Is It, Anyway? where the participants are given a certain type of sentence and can only use that type of sentence to carry on a dialogue. (The Whose Line? bit focused on questions, and they also did something similar with song titles.) I thought it would be fun and it would engage current knowledge – well, it bombed, badly. Part of it was a lack of understanding of what they needed to do, and part of it (I think) was a lack of motivation to be creative.

So when I started planning an activity today, I decided to temper my enthusiasm with a little cynicism about how well it will be received.

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That’s “Thank God For Short Weeks.”

Today is the last day of instruction, and only the first half of the day meets for classes (so no juniors – hoorah!). It couldn’t come soon enough.

The last few days since I last posted anything have been extremely trying. Notable moments (good and bad):

  • Tuesday: Celebrated the National Day on Writing in a few classes by doing writing of some kind, and I taught a mini-lesson on six-word memoirs; several of the students really got into it, giving me such gems as “Promises are made by truthful liars.” Also, sophomore hits me in the head with Dan Brown’s latest novel (I wish the student had better taste in smaller books). Oh, and I had to correct my seniors on the true etymology of the F-word (it’s from a common Indo-European root with analogues in several Germanic/Scandinavian languages; it has nothing to do with acronyms like “Fornication Under Consent of  the King”), which is, um, not something I had ever really expected to come up…
  • Wednesday: Discussed evaluation with principal, which by and large was good; asked for some feedback on how I could improve and talked that out a little. A sophomore class really pushed me over the edge, and I gave another detention to one student in particular who has repeatedly pushed me too far.

I need the break, and I wish I were getting one: tonight is my older brother’s wedding rehearsal (I’m in the wedding party, my first time in that experience), and tomorrow is a few parent-teacher conferences in the morning (that might give me some new material to write about) and the wedding in the late afternoon. I am going to be wiped out, most definitely.

Wish me luck.

This Youtube video was posted by a friend on facebook, and it got me thinking…

About what? you might ask. Well, I’m glad you did!

One of the most remarkable things that this experiment suggests is that fun can be a viable method of behavior modification. If you want people to start using stairs (which is beneficial to them in terms of health, but don’t ask people to listen to reason on something like that), then find a fun way to entice people into using them: make the stairs a friggin’ piano.

I see a very logical extension of this “fun theory” into the classroom – if you want students to modify their behavior so that learning can occur, make the classroom fun. Throw out the stuffiness and stifling atmosphere and encourage one that pushes students to get up, to take risks, to let comfort go and reach for the unknown.

I don’t know an easy way to do this – and certainly I would be open to suggestions – but I think it can be achieved. It is, if nothing else, food for thought.

We’re now eight weeks out, with the quarter approaching imminently (it ends on this coming Friday). I’m glad that the quarter’s almost done, although I feel like I have so much to get taken care of in the meantime.

Looking back on just this week, it feels like so much has happened, so much that I want to talk about (and some of which I already have). So here it goes, I suppose (sorry about the unintentional rhyme):

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Today is my first official observation and evaluation by my principal. I would be more worried except that 1) I like my principal and am not generally intimidated by her because I am fairly confident that she won’t just slam me but instead will provide constructive comments and 2) the class she’ll be observing is one of my better sophomore classes. (I pretty much abandoned any hope of her observing the juniors now, although my plans worked out such that today’s lesson for them should be pretty good – we’re covering McCarthyism in preparation for reading The Crucible next week, and I have some transparencies of Herblock political cartoons to help connect our previous discussion of the Salem witch trials on Monday.)

The only thing that leaves me a little worried is the fact that I opted to go for a language lesson today. We’ve been doing narrative essays in this course, and I found out pretty quickly that many students did not realize, for instance, that essays are generally not one long paragraph. I had to go through several of the initial drafts and say, “Hey, you need to break this up because your reader is not going to want to read one huge chunk of text.” I also have a lot of problems with sentence construction, particularly with run-ons, and that’s what I’m going to focus on today. It should be a relatively straightforward lesson, with little room for students to run away with the class (discussions about literature can get this way if I’m not careful), so I hope that will minimize problems.

On the bright side, only two more days left in this week, and then week eight is finished. Another short week next week, and the quarter is over and 25% of the year has passed. All in all, I think I’ve kept my head above water nicely, and I think at least some of my students have learned something – that’s a plus, right?

Despite my fears about this week, things have gone mostly right for me. Some of the reason for this is simply that I went a little bit light on the things I taught, giving students time to work on major projects in class. For at least one day thus far, I was barely in my classroom; my three regular courses were in the computer lab working on narrative essays, persuasive speeches, and cultural research projects. Really, there has been very little material that I’ve been able to do this week, probably mostly covering the final chapters of Grapes of Wrath in my novels elective (which I’m struggling to get finished because I want to move on – I had planned on starting The Great Gatsby this week but hadn’t been moving quickly enough) and providing some material on the nonverbal elements of speaking in preparation for persuasive speeches.

That doesn’t mean that everything’s come easily, though. Today in particular was one filled with a little more drama than I would like to deal with.

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Now that I’ve gone through about three weeks of my first year of teaching, I think that I have enough perspective to make some statements on how being a “real” teacher, solely responsible for what happens in the classroom, is different from the oversight and guidance of the student teaching experience. Or, at least I can make some distinctions about how my experiences in these two contexts have been different or similar. As always, your mileage may vary.

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