Thursday, November 25, 2010

Seeing My Words Work

Apparently I'm going to be writing some reflective blog posts. Can't help it.

I wonder how JFK would have felt, or did feel, when he heard someone say, "Ask not what you can do for your country, but what you can do for your country."
I wonder how anyone famous feels/felt when they heard their own words spoken by someone else and used in an attempt to change the world.

Well, I"m about a million years away from being famous at anything, but the other day I was grading my students' journals and I found my own words buried in one journal. I almost missed it. Here's the background - one day during Red Ribbon Week a list of students who had not been wearing their seatbelt that morning was read over the intercom. This was about 2 minutes before the end of last hour. A student in my room had his name read, and everyone laughed. I was infuriated that they thought that was funny. With what was probably my coldest stare ever I said, "I don't think you all would be laughing if that was a list of people who had died on the way to school today."

The next day my school lost a student in a tragic football accident. Many of my students journaled about that incident and in one student's journal I found my words and her reflection about what that really meant. I was bowled over. Now, please note that this has nothing to do with how awesome I am or how moving my words were. Just simply that she was listening. The fact that she opened her ears to what I was saying. That she opened her mind to a bigger perspective of what was happening in my classroom.

This student motivated me to encourage more incidents like this one. Now, how to do this? Teaching listening may be one of my biggest challenges.

We'll see

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

But That's Us!

So, I'm laying in bed last night thinking about teaching, big surprise, and a thought struck me. The connections I can help kids make between what we read and their own lives count as 21st century skills, right? Or at least they could.

Here is why I ask. When it came to light that Romeo is 16 and Juliet is two weeks from being 14, they were shocked, dumbfounded, silent. Then one kid manages to raise his jaw from the floor and he said, "But that's how old we are." Yes, yes it is.

Do these connections, these realizations that what's happening in a book could happen to someone like them count in the 21st century skills department. I argue that those connections and realizations have the potential to teach empathy, which I also argue is seriously lacking in today's society.

Yes, this is what I think about in bed at night. Have I totally lost it yet? I don't think so.

We'll see

Monday, November 22, 2010

Act II Reevaluation

How 21st century am I? Not very it turns out. It's amazing how getting 50 freshmen through "Romeo and Juliet" wears you out. It's more fun now as they understand it more and more with less and less help from me. But let me tell you what, Act I was a drag! Act II was much better. I'm hoping for the same progression through Act V. But what about this 21st century stuff. The best I've been able to do is to incoporate some modern or "modern," as was the case with the Three Stooges, videos and to try to encourage some more indepth discussions. When we met earlier in the semester, the fabulous Dr. B. helped me work through some freshmen discussion challenges, and there are many. For example, I ask a question, they give a one-dimensional answer, I ask why, they say they don't know, I ask a further, more indepth question that essentially means "why" and they shrug. It's scintillating, really, it is. (cough, cough) But they are getting better. Plus, I think those one-dimensional answer-ers are starting to realize that they don't just get to say something silly in front of everyone, they have to be able to back themselves up when I ask a follow-up question. One kid the other day even said, "Well I didn't think I was going to have to talk about it." Yes you are, yes you are. Now, what about those movie clips? Do they count as 21st century learning. When used alone, I think no. But if I tie them to the day's discussion, maybe a little more, and if they relate to real life, then yes, even more. We watched the Taylor Swift "Love Story" video on the first day and broke down some of the lyrics. That was an especially good discussion. Another favorite was linked to a clip from "Friends" about the importance of names. That was a good one because they got to say "crap" as many times as they wanted and I called them all Bob during an illustration of how tied they are to their names. Overall, a successful discussion. Until a kid called me Bob that is.

Now, what's the next level? Do I rush through Acts III-V and then do all the "fun" 21st century stuff at the end? That would work, but I know it isn't the best choice. What to do, what to do? I wish there was a conference where they could teach me this stuff. Maybe I'll do some solid research over Thanksgiving break.

We'll see

Monday, November 8, 2010

Pre Day 1, Everything is Pending

Okay, so I'm not entirely through "Romoe & Juliet," but I do know the first act inside and out...I think. I feel prepared to teach it anyway. However, what materials do I have prepared.

1. A few journal entries including a pretty awesome one including Taylor Swift's "Love Story" music video
2. A character cheat-sheet to keep the Montagues and the Capulets straight
3. An Act I study guide

"A study guide!" you exclaim in horror. "I thought you didn't want to be a worksheet teacher." Okay, I know. I'm the one who said that. But after some reflection and discussions with the other, more experienced freshmen English teachers, I've realized I can't entirely nix the worksheets. They need them. They're freshmen. They're not that focused yet. However, I can design the worksheets do they teach note-taking instead of regurgitating. I can also mix the worksheets up with a few awesome 21st century lessons. Once I figure out how to do that. It's definitely a learning process for me. One thing I do have the confidence to do - have deeper discussions. My classroom discussions before now have always been pretty shallow, often because I feel rushed. But I think I'm ready to lead some stronger, deeper, more patient discussions. "Romeo & Juliet" is the perfect place to start with this too, since infatuation between teenagers is something my kids are bound to have a lot of thoughts on. Right?

We'll see.

Sunday, November 7, 2010


Good intentions somewhat failed. I have to begin teaching "Romeo & Juliet" seriously on Wednesday, that's only three days from now!

I am not ready. It seemed so long from every day that I kept putting off the major planning. However, I shouldn't be too hard on myself I know, because I can be incredibly productive in just a few hours time once the stress sets in. That means that for the rest of today plus on Monday and Tuesday evenings I have lots of time to get lots done...I just actually have to do it.

Deep breath.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Back to Basics

This should be pretty brief.

So, 21st Century motivations aside, you still have to review the basics. You still teach additions, you still teach the alphabet...and you still have to re-read "Romeo & Juliet" before you can teach it.

It's going well. But I currently have a fear that it's going to be like teaching a foreign language I'm not fluent in. Thus, great detail in my preparation is required. I'm going through the text very thoroughly and doing my best to prepare myself for all the, "What does that mean?" questions. But the best realization I've probably yet made as an educator still applies - it's better to admit when you don't know than try to lie to the students.