Wednesday, December 26, 2007
One of the rituals at their household is to construct miniature houses with graham crackers and candy - held together by a mix of confectionery sugar and egg whites. The first step is to create the base. Once the four sides are glued together, one begins work on the roof. After the icing hardens and the frame is forged, the fun begins.
The best part of constructing a candy house is decorating it with yummy treats. We had at our disposal 30 different types of candy, ranging from M&Ms and Skittles to malt balls, gum drops, gummy bears, Tootsie Rolls and caramel squares.
The challenge is figuring out: 1) what motif you are going to use for your house, and 2) which candies are best for the job.
I ultimately decided to go with a smiley-face theme. Each side contained a variation of a friendly smirk, with different candies used to compose each one.
Tuesday, December 18, 2007
My initial foray into the blog world was one of experiment and curiosity. I knew I would eventually want to incorporate blogs into my teaching, but I wasn't sure how. I knew I wanted to expand my circle of colleagues, but I had no idea who was out there or what they had to offer. I knew I wanted a venue to write and reflect on my teaching, but I didn't know what I'd say or who would read it.
After one year I've corresponded with and learned from dozens of professional educators from across the U.S. (and a few from beyond America's borders). I've made 98 posts and had almost 8,000 visitors and 25,000 page views. I've written about my classroom, myself, sports, and popular culture. I created a resource page with handouts and assignments for my students and other teachers to download. I posted poems, essays, and short stories written by my students on class blog pages, and taught them how to positively and constructively respond to each others' writing.
I've done a lot, but it feels like I've barely scratched the surface. I'd love to write more about my successes and failures in the classroom. I'd enjoy posting more reviews of books, teaching guides, movies, and music. I'd like to mix in a message board and wiki. I'd like to teach actual blogging, and have my students create their own individual pages. I want to upload more handouts and teaching ideas, and beef up my link lists. I'd like to read an entry on each of the teacher blogs I link to and post a comment. I'd enjoy discovering 10 new teacher blogs and adding them to the list.
I had no idea how much of virtual world was out there when I first began. It is ever-expanding, and with it, I hope to grow too. I look forward to building on my successes from year one, finding new ways to engage my students, sharing my growth and development as an educator, and learning from all the fantastic teachers and education professionals I've been fortunate to link up with. Thanks to all who helped me get started.
As Bruce Schauble wrote on his blog's recent first birthday, many happy returns!
Saturday, December 15, 2007
Above is the image of the girl you were asked to write about for homework. Remember to be as specific as possible, as your answers to the questions will ultimately shape her character and interactions with granny in the group story you'll be working on next week. Be creative, use detail, and have fun!
Those interested in learning more about artist Justine Bassani can click here.
Thursday, December 6, 2007
You'll want to immediately introduce a conflict, bring it to a climax, and resolve it. The muse for this assignment is the image on the right. You should feel free to take creative liberties, but remember to incorporate enough aspects of this painting so the stories are somewhat congruent.
Your story should be on one side of the card. On the other side, give your story a title and provide a colorful drawing or image to intrigue and engage the reader. We will share our terse tales on Monday.
Wednesday, December 5, 2007
What do I remember since my last post? I remember turkey and stuffing sandwiches. I remember my sister's 26th birthday and my fiancee's 30th. In between was my first formal observation of the year (it went well... I'll write about it later), a 2-hour delay due to an early morning snowstorm, and a visit with a few of my old high school friends. Oh, and I watched some sports on TV.
As all New Englanders know, it is literally an awe-inspiring time to be a sports fan here. I revel in each Patriots victory and pay homage to The Big Ticket each time the Green come up winners (currently an NBA best 14-2). And with the Red Sox fresh off a World Series victory, the largest cause for concern involves trading a promising rookie outfielder for one of the game's most dominant pitchers. Tough stuff.
I've lived in Massachusetts long enough to know not to take any of this for granted.
Happy Holidays y'all.
Sunday, November 25, 2007
The report urges policymakers and stakeholders to take action on three fronts:
1. Use technology comprehensively to develop proficiency in 21st century skills. Knowledge of core content is necessary, but no longer sufficient, for success in a competitive world. Even if all students mastered core academic subjects, they still would be woefully underprepared to succeed in postsecondary institutions and workplaces, which increasingly value people who can use their knowledge to communicate, collaborate, analyze, create, innovate, and solve problems. Used comprehensively, technology helps students develop 21st century skills.
2. Use technology comprehensively to support innovative teaching and learning. To keep pace with a changing world, schools need to offer more rigorous, relevant and engaging opportunities for students to learn—and to apply their knowledge and skills in meaningful ways. Used comprehensively, technology supports new, research-based approaches and promising practices in teaching and learning.
3. Use technology comprehensively to create robust education support systems. To be effective in schools and classrooms, teachers and administrators need training, tools and proficiency in 21st century skills themselves. Used comprehensively, technology transforms standards and assessments, curriculum and instruction, professional development, learning environments, and administration.To view the full report, "Maximizing the Impact: The Pivotal Role of Technology in a 21st Century Education System," click here.
I've come to the conclusion that the original reading was due to the readability scanner not making sense of all my external links. By running the feed URL I was able to get a truer sense of my writing, as only the content from blog posts was analyzed.
Another more in-depth readability site is Juicy Studio. This site analyzes a number of writing attributes, including the Flesch Reading Ease and Gunning-Fog Index. This blog's Fog Index score is 9.1, which is similar to most popular novels. A score of 8 is equivalent to Reader's Digest, and 11 is most like the Wall Street Journal. As an English teacher, I consider myself in good company.
Thursday, November 15, 2007
If it turns out the site is dead, I will need to upload all of my files again to a new server. I don't know when everything will be back up, as if your lives are like mine, it seems that on some days I barely have enough time to eat three square meals.
Ah the joys of teaching... and technology!
If anyone knows of a free and reliable file hosting site that allows direct links, please let me know.
Saturday, November 10, 2007
"Of the 17 arrested that night and charged with disorderly conduct, seven people, most of them college students, were ordered by Roxbury District Court Judge Edward Redd to write a five-page essay about their arrests," the article states.
Redd's sentence is an example of the type of reflection we, as teachers, try to impart on our students. According to the story, "one student wrote that passing a night in jail made her feel 'reduced to a fraction of myself.' Another lamented that 'running down to Fenway Park in a craze is only asking for one thing and that is trouble.' "
As I've mentioned before, our school is currently in the process of implementing Writing Across the Curriculum. It seems only natural that it would extend to our school's "planning room," the place where students who can't behave in class are sent, usually for the remainder of the period.
I wonder what would happen if, as a component of students' punishment, they were required to write a reflective essay and share it with the teacher whose class they disrupted.
Thursday, November 8, 2007
Fans of Boston Celtics basketball have to be ecstatic about the team's trades for Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen last summer. Combined with Paul Pierce, the C's now have one of the most prolific offenses in the league. Their defense hasn't been too shabby either. With last night's demolition of the Denver Nuggets, the Green are off to a 3-0 start.
It all begins with Garnett.
A 10-time All Star and former NBA MVP, Garnett's physical skills and basketball IQ are well known. What fans might not have realized are the Tom Brady-esk work ethic and passion Garnett brings to the game.
"Basketball is my spine. It's my heart. It's my blood," Garnett told the Boston Globe recently.
Garnett is articulate and eloquent, as evidenced by his use of metaphor. He's also a smooth dropper of analogy, offering up this one that would make any English teacher salivate: "Home wasn't a great place for me, and I found my sanctuary to be basketball to where I could disappear on the court," Garnett said. "It's almost very similar to people who read. They take a good book and get lost in the book. I take my ball and I get lost on the court. I can be whoever I want to be at that time. It don't matter if it's 12 in the morning, 2 in the morning. That was my sanctuary."
If you're interested in reading all of Shira Springer's interview with Garnett, click here.
As a teacher, I draw inspiration from the dedication and desire of local sports stars like Garnett and Tom Brady.
In a Globe interview last year, New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick said one of the reasons Brady is so successful is because of his work ethic.
I particularly like this excerpt written by Belichick in an e-mail to his 12-year-old son about being successful in school:
"Be sure to sit in the front row and pay attention to the teacher. That is what our best players do when we have meetings," Belichick wrote. "Tom Brady always sits in the front row with his notebook open when the meeting starts. He also does his homework and turns it in when he comes to the stadium in the morning."
Saturday, November 3, 2007
In an academic age where high stakes bubble tests and formulaic, calculated responses to mundane prompts seem to trump creativity and self-expression, lit circles allow for authenticity and ownership while also reinforcing the higher-order habits of mind found in successful test takers.
Click here for the literature circle assignment I use with my students. Hawaiian high school educator Bruce Schauble's in-depth lit circle page can be accessed here. Another nice site is LiteratureCircles.com. This other site has 16 different lit circle links. Check out these literature circle roles from an Alaskan middle school teacher, including "character captain" and "literary luminary." Even more literature circle resources can be found here at Web English Teacher.
Nancy Patterson's literature circle role sheets are available here.
* UPDATE * Click here for a newer post on literature circles, including six new jobs!
Please feel free to share your own experiences with literature circles, or comment with questions about implementing them in your own classroom.
One of these days I'd like to hone my acting chops and do my best Foley impersonation before the seniors in my World Literature class. There's no doubt some of the themes would resonate.
Tuesday, October 23, 2007
Monday, October 22, 2007
Often the most reliable Internet sites for research projects have a URL that ends in .edu, .org, or .gov. The ending of a URL can tell you about a site's "domain." Click here to learn more about domain names.
The domain .edu means the site is produced by an educational institution like a college or university. The domain .org is used for a non-commercial, non-profit site. A .gov site is associated with the United States Government. These types of sites often have reliable information written by professionals, although there are, of course, exceptions.
To limit your Google search to either .edu, .org, or .gov click here. First enter the subject of your search at the top, then type .edu in the domain box. All sites listed should be limited to .edu. Do the same for .org and .gov.
Once Google provides you with the search results, use the right-click button to open links in new windows that you want to explore. This way you can keep the main search field open while easily checking out links that seem relevant to your topic.
Click here to learn about the correct way to cite sources using MLA format.
For an electronic copy of the To Kill a Mockingbird research project assignment sheet, click here.
Sunday, October 21, 2007
About a month ago I gave a technology presentation at our school district's first mentor/protege meeting of the year. Ironically, I had to create a paper handout to accompany my lecture because the room I was presenting in wasn't equipped with a video projector.
One of my topics was blogs in the classroom. I hope this list of resources is helpful for teachers looking to use blogs to engage students and enhance their curriculum.
Dream no longer. Click here to enter Pandora Radio, a creation of the Music Genome Project.
It's definitely the easiest way I've found to listen to music you love and didn't even know you loved... all for free.
Kudos to The Seashell Seller for turning me on to this totally tubular tune depot.
Saturday, October 20, 2007
While out for a ride on my scooter this afternoon, I happened upon the above rainbow. As I sat in traffic waiting for the light to change, I took a moment to observe those around me. Many stood mesmerized by the natural light display. Some snapped photos with cellphones. It seemed that for the 60 seconds I waited at the light, all was well with the world.
My concerns - be they personal, professional, or worldly - ceased to exist. The apartment to clean, the essays to read, and student recommendation letters to write were forgotten. The heinous conflict in the Middle East and constant news reports about the destruction of the environment and the downward spiral of our country were temporarily out of mind.
Panning my head I saw happy couples sipping lattes at a local cafe and college students walking aimlessly down the sidewalk, all soaking in the colorful arc from above. I thought about civilizations that existed before science, and wondered what justification tribal leaders gave for such a brilliant phenomenon.
When the traffic light changed I pulled the throttle and accelerated through the intersection, another moment of my life gone, another experience relegated to memory.
Thursday, October 11, 2007
Comments let the writer know he/she has an audience.
Comments encourage people to write more and better pieces.
Comments help people to think deeper about an issue.
Remember that a blog is not “live chat” or personal correspondence like a letter or e-mail. Make sure that you are appropriate with language, grammar, and punctuation, and that you are constructive in your comments.
A well-written comment…
… is always expressed using a positive tone.
… if critical, is both gentle and sandwiched between positive statements.
… is very specific when giving praise. This creates a sense of authenticity and believability in the comment.
… may be brief or lengthy but leaves the author of the blog post with the sense that the commenter is “on their side” and genuinely interested in their success.
Here are some comment starters to get you going:
This made me think about…….
I wonder why…….
Your writing made me form an opinion about…….
I saw in my mind…….
Your writing made me think that we should…….
I wish I understood why…….
This is important because…….
I think you write this to show…
I can relate to this…….
This makes me think of…….
You seem to be saying that…
I was reminded that…….
I found myself wondering…….
Please read the specific comment instructions for the assignment you are responding to. Thank you!
Damn son I’ve been living a lie
I feel like
I wanna break down and die.
Slept with my mother
Made her my lover
Now I gotta go and
stab out my eyes.
Cursed I was, from my very birth
Taken away, met for a hearse
Shepard found me, brought me in
life once again.
Yeah I solved
That riddle of the Sphinx
Whoda thunk, it was all just a jinx?
Cursed by gods with a foul plan
Don’t know what I did
To deserve this fate
It turns out
I’m the one that I hate.
There’s no happy ending, to this tale
Nothing I can do, to avail
The deeds that I’ve done
Shoulda been a nun
But that ain’t my story,
Real life is gory
And now my face looks
Like chicken cacciatore.
I - What does the author seem to be saying about what is valuable, and what he or she most strongly values?
II - Which of the two objects/priceless moments described in this essay did you find were most vividly and clearly described? Reference one specific part, anecdote, scene, or description that you thought was particularly well done.
III - In general, what is one of this essay's overall strengths? It could be its organization, word choice, writing style, introduction, conclusion, etc.
IV - What is one piece of advice that the author might consider for future writing assignments? This should be phrased constructively (try doing ------- next time, consider --------) or inquisitively (what do you think would happen if you -------------?)
Comments should be about two paragraphs (6 to 10 well-written, informative sentences). Your comments should appear below the story you are responding to. When asked to choose an identity, click "other," then sign your comment with your first name and last initial. Comments not posted according to these instructions will be deleted.
I would like you to respond to a minimum of two essays per class (6 total). The essays will be up by the end of school on Monday, Oct. 15th.
* Please bring a printed copy of your comments to class on Tuesday, Oct. 16th, as I will check them then. Your classmates and I thank you for your valuable feedback.
Tuesday, October 9, 2007
Over the summer I stumbled across the Writing Next report. Its chief findings regarding effective writing instruction are as follows:
The Recommendations -My school is currently implementing a Writing Across the Curriculum initiative. When I was a reading and writing tutor at Plymouth State University's Reading and Writing Center during graduate school, I first learned about WAC. It was there that I had writing conferences with students from all disciplines - including math!
Eleven Elements of Effective Adolescent Writing Instruction
1. Writing Strategies, which involves teaching students strategies for planning, revising, and editing their compositions
2. Summarization, which involves explicitly and systematically teaching students how to summarize texts
3. Collaborative Writing, which uses instructional arrangements in which adolescents work together to plan, draft, revise, and edit their compositions
4. Specific Product Goals, which assigns students specific, reachable goals for the writing they are to complete
5. Word Processing, which uses computers and word processors as instructional supports for writing assignments
6. Sentence Combining, which involves teaching students to construct more complex, sophisticated sentences
7. Prewriting, which engages students in activities designed to help them generate or organize ideas for their composition
8. Inquiry Activities, which engages students in analyzing immediate, concrete data to help them develop ideas and content for a particular writing task
9. Process Writing Approach, which interweaves a number of writing instructional activities in a workshop environment that stresses extended writing opportunities, writing for authentic audiences, personalized instruction, and cycles of writing
10. Study of Models, which provides students with opportunities to read, analyze, and emulate models of good writing
11. Writing for Content Learning, which uses writing as a tool for learning content material
I am hopeful that as our school encourages writing in other content areas, and as our English Department works to shore up writing instruction across levels and grades, cutting edge research like that found in the Writing Next report will help to guide us in our quest to empower students to become stronger readers, writers, and thinkers.
Saturday, September 29, 2007
Each quarter my students read a 300-page minimum Outside Reading Book of their choice. They then pick one of 50 alternatives to the book report and present their book to me and their classmates. Depending on how well they satisfy the ORB presentation criteria, they can earn up to 3 points on their final quarter average. Those who don't present lose 3 points.
Students also must write a 400-500 word book review, which students post to their class blogs. The blogs allow students to share and learn about what they are reading, and helps them when making future Outside Reading Book selections. The goal is for students to become self-empowered readers.
During high school, my friends and I independently read The Lord of the Rings trilogy and The Hobbit. My experiences reading these books were some of the most enjoyable literary encounters of my young life. There was (and is) something about the freedom of choice and the luxury of proceeding at your own pace that makes reading rewarding and fun.
I can remember hiking out to the peninsula of a local pond, propping against a tree, and soaking in the chronicles of Frodo, Gandalf, and friends until the fall sun hung low in the sky. I can still hear the crunch of leaves beneath my legs and smell the woodsmoke from nearby fireplaces. There was something ethereal about that spot and that time, and those surroundings made Tolkien's narrative seem more magical and majestic than it already was.
In the chaos and uncertainty of high school, these outdoor excursions and rich literary adventures were sources of sustenance and inspiration. I hope my students' ORB experiences can be as powerful and valuable to them as mine were to me. Even in an increasingly digital and visual world, a good book can still grip hold of the mind and provide an experience as moving and affecting as any.
Monday, September 24, 2007
Last week I met about sixty parents at open house. It was great to see such a strong turnout and meet those responsible for the fantastic students I've been blessed with this year. Today, for example, one of my 9th grade classes had a Socratic seminar on Steinbeck's The Pearl. The kids asked rich questions, listened to and built off each others' responses, and waited to be called on by the student moderator before speaking. The students were respectful, sincere, and well prepared.
The day after open house I gave a presentation about using technology to enhance one's practice at our district's mentor/protegee meeting. I plan to blog more about that later and post links to a variety of resources that helped me launch my blog and use electronic tools in the classroom.
A few days ago I received an e-mail from a teacher in Florida who wanted to know how I was able to avoid cyber-bullying on my student blog pages. I did iterate with students that the blogs were an academic space, and modeled for them what would be considered an acceptable comment. I also provided specific instructions (posted on the student blog pages) for commenting that depended on the nature of the assignment and the type of feedback I wanted them to provide.
Because I was the sole administrator of the blogs, only I could make blog posts, and I was free to delete any comments that were inappropriate. I think I removed about five comments total, and that was largely because they didn't follow the prompt instructions, not because they were vulgar.
For more about my experiences blogging with students, read this post from earlier.
Saturday, September 15, 2007
I spent nearly an hour perusing the offerings before settling on a mix of about 60 fiction and non-fiction titles for $40. This particular bargain-bin book raid was heavy on non-fiction, with a number of works written by or about journalists and media figures (Bill O'Reilly, Donald Trump, Chris Mathews, Jim Hightower, Al Franken). I focused on this genre largely because I am requiring all students in my journalism class to read a 200-page minimum non-fiction book each quarter, and wanted to bulk up my classroom library.
I also picked up a handful of titles I thought might help me as a teacher, leader, and motivator of people. One such selection is The 48 Laws of Power by Robert Greene. While I've only read the first five chapters (on the first five laws), I am thoroughly enjoying the book, as it mixes maxim with history in an enlightening and entertaining fashion. Greene explains the theory behind each law, then culls from history both a transgression and observance of that law.
The 48 laws can be found here.
Not all the laws are applicable to classroom teachers. Some of them could even be considered contrary to our mission. But for anyone interested in viewing history through the lens of individualistic human behavior - and gaining insight on how to achieve and maintain power - 48 Laws is not to be missed.
Wednesday, September 5, 2007
One of the conundrums I've recently discovered while keeping this blog is knowing my audience. There are teachers, students, parents, and administrators who peruse this site. Given this diversity, it is hard to be as informal as I might like, because I don't want to offend some of my readers or give the wrong impression.
In my experiences as a reader the most enjoyable writing I find is unapologetic and pulls no punches. I love it when an author truly tells it like it is, or at least how he sees it. Honesty can be a powerful vehicle for voice. I hope I've found a voice for this blog that is professional yet laid-back, serious yet sarcastic.
I know it's still early, but I've really been impressed with my students. The freshmen are eager to learn, they ask good questions, are curious, and encourage a diversity of opinions. Sometimes I feel as if I'll have done a good job if I manage simply not to destroy their enthusiasm and naiveté. Sure they have a lot to learn, but there's also a lot they could unlearn.
My senior class so far been a nice mix of reluctant and eager students. Right now they're blending well and it's nice to see. I had a few of these kids sophomore year, and they have really mellowed and matured.
In my elective, journalism, there are a number of strong writers who fancy themselves future members of the fourth estate. Their curiosity and dedication is admirable. I have new ideas and plans I will be implementing this year that I will blog about later. Suffice to say I am excited about the course's potential and what the students will create.
Wednesday, August 29, 2007
I was at school nearly 13 hours today. We had a variety of meetings, then I spent almost seven hours planning and working on my classroom. I also went in both days this week and two days last week. On an average day I will spend 10 hours at school, arriving around 6:15 a.m. and leaving a little past 4 p.m. That's an average day. Some days I'm there until 6 or 7 p.m. I can count on one hand the number of days I left before 3 p.m. last year.
I do try my best not to bring work home, but still it happens - especially around grading periods.
To any teachers reading this, have a great year. Your hard work will pay off. To any of my students reading this, know that I am looking forward to getting to know you and helping you become stronger readers, writers, and thinkers. And to any of my administrators who may peruse this blog from time to time, know that B-G will again be giving his all to a job he finds truly rewarding and inspiring.
Here's hoping we can get a good night sleep before the big day.
Saturday, August 25, 2007
A number of other bloggers have been posting their results from MyPersonality.info, so I figured I'd take the tests and post mine too. I did this three years with my English classes, and ended up determining the overall multiple intelligences of each class and each individual student. I was able to create a couple of authentic writing prompts based on the results.
It might be useful (and fun) to do it again this year.
Thursday, August 23, 2007
About 15 minutes into the film, a woman in her early 50's entered the theater - which was less than half full - walked in front of me and my fiancee, and sat down next to me. I thought this was a bit strange.
The woman then proceeded to make loud moans and gasps whenever anything slightly dramatic happened. Given that this was a dramatic movie, and dramatic things were happening about once every 30 seconds, the woman's grunts, exclamations, and utterances were, to put it mildly, making me uncomfortable.
Every time I would look in her direction, I would see her wearing a narcotic smile and staring intently at the screen. She was completely oblivious to the sounds she was making, or was pretending to be oblivious. My fiancee even "shusshhed" her, but to no avail.
At one point I thought of asking her to be quiet, but I didn't want to cause a scene. My fiancee and I ended up moving forward a few rows, and although we weren't fully out of her range, we did enjoy the rest of the film.
This encounter with the movie moaner made me think about my methods of classroom management. I'm the type of person who would prefer to ignore a behavior until it goes away rather than react like a volcano at any annoyance or distraction. I, frankly, don't enjoy confrontation, and have never viewed myself as a type A authority, like a policeman or Army sergeant.
I don't like yelling at people because it raises my blood pressure and causes me to get tight in the chest. I believe that reason and understanding are the keys to resolving conflicts and disputes, not "because I said so." I've always been unimpressed with people who give orders and demands without proper justification. As a teacher I do my best to explain everything that we do in the classroom. Sometimes the students don't really care why, and in that case we just roll with it. But if they ever want to know my reasoning for teaching a novel a certain way or giving a specific assignment, I am happy to share my thought process with them (and how that process aligns with school and state curricula). I feel it's something they deserve.
Sometimes there are moments when I have to put my foot down and kick a student out of the room. I don't like to do it. I want my students to stay in the room and take part in whatever activity or lesson we have planned for that day. But when a student ceases to be reasonable, and is distracting his or her classmates from learning, and attempts at redirecting the student have failed, the student has got to go.
Had the movie moaner been one of my students, I would have politely asked her to listen and watch the movie quietly. If she continued moaning, I would have given her a clear warning so she knew the next offense would result in a disciplinary measure. If the warning didn't work, and she moaned again, I would write the name "Movie Moaner" in my "detention den" (a small rectangular box in the bottom right corner of my board) and send her to the hallway.
Once the movie moaner came after school for a 20-minute detention, I would remove her name from the board. If she didn't show up, the next time she moaned after receiving a warning she would be sent to our school's Planning Room, rather than the hallway. The Planning Room is staffed by a professional who telephones the student's parents and explains the offense. A trip to the PR is accompanied by an office detention, and negates a student's opportunity to participate in any extra-curricular activities planned for that day.
I probably sent 15 students to the PR my first year of teaching at my current school. Last year I didn't send any. I don't know what this year will bring, but I'm hoping that I can provide students with such an intellectually engaging class that they'll have little time or inclination for disruptive behavior.
Of course, regardless of what I create for my students, there will be a handful of movie moaners I'll need to deal with over the course of the year. Here's hoping reason and understanding can prevail. If not, one of us is going to have to change seats. And I'll tell you right now, it ain't gonna be me!
(Those last two sentences were written in my tuff-as-nails persona. Quite intimidating, eh?)
Tuesday, August 21, 2007
Recently a teacher from Missouri e-mailed me asking for info about how I've used blogs with my students. Here's what I've done so far, and what I'd like to do in the future:
Last year students posted three assignments online - a short fiction story, an essay on The Old Man and the Sea, and a favorite poem from their poetry anthologies (click here for more info on the anthology project).
Students wrote the essays at home and in class using laptop computers from one of our school's two computer carts. After peer-editing and revision activities, students passed around one of my USB drives and saved their writing as word documents on the drive. I then uploaded the text to Blogger by copying and pasting their writing into the "create a post" text boxes.
Some students also saved images as jpeg files, and I included them with their writing. Click here, here, and here to see the three student blog pages I created last year.
Once their entries were up, I posted comment criteria, and as a homework grade, required that they provide specific responses to a minimum (three to six) number of posts. This year, I am also going to require that the original authors reply to the comments, in an effort to further the dialogue and encourage reflection, insight, and improvement.
In an effort to protect student's identities, only last initials were used. I have also only used my initials in identifying myself, and have not referenced the name my school.
My purpose in creating classroom blogs was to give my students a real audience, and to allow them to grow and learn by reading each others' work. Some of my students are very strong writers, and exposing classmates to their work and insights into the writing process can only make everyone stronger articulators of the written word.
A number of students were also able to share their writing with friends and family members, which helped to demystify just what exactly we "do" in English class.
One of my goals for this year is to find another teacher to collaborate with on similar assignments. I think it would be great for students to receive feedback from a group of peers in another state or, even better, country. If any teacher is interested in collaborating - even just for one assignment - please click here to contact me by e-mail, or post a comment below.
Eventually I would like to teach students how to create their own blogs, and give them more ownership in the process. Right now I am planning to again have class blogs, where students give me their writing and I do the postings. Eventually I would like to segue to individual blogs, but it will require teaching Blogger (or some other application) and instilling a code of ethics and guidelines, as well as getting parental consent.
If any of you have had success with individual student blogs as venues for students to share and receive feedback on writing, please leave your links in the form of a comment so I can check them out!
Also, anyone who has questions about what I did last year or plan to do this year should feel free to ask.
Friday, August 17, 2007
After this Sunday, I'll be back in edu-world. Fortunately, school doesn't start until Aug. 30th, so I have a little bit of time to wade into the waters and re-acclimate. I'll be heading in three days next week - one day to set up the room and print handouts for the first week or so, another to attend a professional development workshop on Podcasting, and a final to take part in our 9th grade orientation, dubbed "Tracks to Success."
Depending on how much I accomplish, I might go in one other day before Aug. 29th, which is a mandated "teacher day," although most of the day is consumed by meetings. Part of me is looking forward to returning to the classroom, while another has really appreciated and taken advantage of the much-needed downtime, and doesn't want it to end.
Looking back on last year, it seems I only remember my successes and the fun classes and the kids who did amazing work and the students I feel I reached and really challenged and inspired to dig deeper. I tend to forget the failures, the students who dropped out, or never made an effort, or whom, for whatever reason, I never connected with. I definitely dwell on my accomplishments. They make me remember why I love this job, and how it truly can be rewarding.
This isn't to say I don't reflect on my failings. I do. Although I don't think I actually "fail" so much as "trickle." There are some days when a lesson or activity is like a huge tidewater or a class 5 rapid. It storms the classroom, enraptures everyone, and takes us along on an invigorating ride. And then there are the weak lessons which just seem to trickle by, never really gaining momentum, never capturing or inspiring.
I want to be a roaring tide. But not everyday. It would be too exhausting. Perhaps my motto for this year will be "more flow, less trickle." Or less dribble? I don't know. I do know, though, that I've stumbled across an idea I had no initial intention of writing about. I was going to blog about the beach, but I've kept the focus on what I'm doing after the weekend, as I'm thinking about what I'll eventually be doing when school starts.
Am I digressing a little? Perhaps. Maybe this is an example of a first draft of something that could be more cohesive and polished. But am I not following a single thought wave? Doesn't this entry "flow?" I'm not entirely sure.
Writers on any level must have opportunities to share their writing with other experienced writers and readers before they declare it final. Good writing owes much of its success to good eyes - those who provide a writer with honest and helpful feedback.
One of my goals for this year is to find ways to get students to feel comfortable critiquing each others' writing. And I don't mean finding comma splices and fixing its/it's. I mean responding to higher-order concerns like ideas and organization. I also want them to look at sentences not just for grammar, but for fluency. For beauty. For artistic and expressive merit. For originality. For their ability to capture and enthrall. This means students need to see authentic first and second drafts, and they need the revision process modeled and explained. They need opportunities to take risks and to trust and to feel the power and satisfaction that comes with expressing one's self in the written word.
Soon I will appear in Room 512 as Mr. B-G and strive to summon the streams of knowledge, but not yet. This weekend I will just be Peter. Just one more person seeking solace from the sun's August rays. One more guy trying to catch a rideable wave.
Thursday, August 9, 2007
Now look closer. One of them is brewing some tea. Another is snacking on a cracker. And wait, are those two kids lying on the floor?! What's that couch doing in here? Hey, that student is using an electronic device to listen to music!!!
While I have never seen him teach, based on this post from Eric Hoefler, I have every reason to believe that everything I wrote in the first paragraph occurred in the classroom he describes on his blog, Sicheii Yazhi. The post is called "Remember Their Bodies," and in it, Hoefler argues that our classrooms, as currently constituted, are less than ideal places to learn. An excerpt:
Remembering, and planning for, students’ bodies is a foundational way to build rapport, trust, and respect in the classroom. When students enter a classroom that has been designed with their bodies in mind, it sends a message that the teacher is concerned with the students as people–not just as students, test scores, or check-marks on an attendance sheet.3 In contrast, a classroom that doesn’t seem concerned with students’ bodies implies that the teacher is not concerned with an aspect of the students’ identity about which they are nearly obsessed.4 Even if these messages don’t register consciously, they still affect how teachers and students relate to each other and can have a profound impact on the learning that does or does not happen in that classroom.
Here are a few things I did as a teacher to be more considerate of my students’ physical needs:
- Comfort: I had an old couch that I didn’t need any more, so I brought that in and placed it in a corner of the room. I also bought some cheap inflatable “air-cushion” seats and some cheap mats to cover the linoleum floor. (When students met in groups, they would use both.)
- Options: When students were working individually (reading or writing) or meeting in revision groups, they always had options for where to do that work. They could stay in their desks, or they could use the cushions, mats, or couch and could take the cushions and mats into the hallway to have more space and reduce noise.
- Breaks: Most educators know that the brain needs pretty regular breaks in order to process the new information it’s gathering. I tried to stop every 15-20 minutes throughout our 85 minute periods to allow students to stretch, walk around, get a drink of water, etc.
- Refreshments: I kept a water-cooler in my classroom that gave cold and hot water. Students were always welcome to get a cup of water or to make a cup of tea. I also kept a basket full of mints (helpful for group work). Students could bring in additional food or drink to share (we kept a small refrigerator, too.) I had a “Scooby fund” (a Scooby-Doo doll with a pocket in front) for students to contribute change to help cover the expenses. They policed the sharing themselves.
- Environment: My classroom had no windows, so getting things to grow was difficult. I had two tough little plants that survived “the dungeon” and a few other fake ones. I also used a number of lamps so that I could turn off the glaring fluorescent lights. We put up posters and student artwork on the walls. I played music throughout the day when appropriate, and students could bring in their own selections.
The result was far from perfect, but the students appreciated the effort and enjoyed being in my classroom. I have no doubt that this positively impacted their willingness to learn, and therefore positively impacted their ability to learn.
I also admit that most of what I did above was against the school’s stated policies. Here I can only say: I did what I thought best for my students, and I supported my actions with theory and practical results.
Brendan Halpin (see earlier post) might call me a wuss or a sellout for doing this, but he's no longer an educator, and it is frankly not surprising. Experienced teachers know that we must pick our battles carefully, and be willing to make concessions. This "team player" approach can then yield benefits when we request a favor or take a stand on something we feel is important.
Anyhow, in case you are wondering, here is where I stand on the unholy trinity of hats, cellphones, and food:
Hats - They should be allowed 100 percent of the time or 0 percent of the time. I am comfortable with either extreme. I don't know if there is any research regarding how student behavior, effort, and attitude are affected by hats, but if there is, I would be in full support of whichever policy had the greatest effect on those qualities. I don't view a hat as a symbol of disrespect. I view a hat as a symbol of identity, and I think we need to consider how we're affecting students' abilities to form identities when we decide if they can or cannot wear hats.
Cell phones and electronic devices - The best policy would be one that instills within the students proper behaviors regarding when and how these devices are used. I don't think cell phones should be allowed in the classroom, but if a student wants to listen to her iPod while quietly working on an assignment, what's the big deal?
Food - I believe that if a student has the ability to discretely eat food in class without being disruptive or causing a mess, then that student should be allowed to eat. If a student shows an inability to do this, then a student should be banned from eating.
I know I learn and study best when I'm in a comfortable environment. While my classroom isn't as progressive as Hoefler's, it does contain numerous plants, a meditation bell, and a Chinese wind gong, among other adornments. While I don't see adding a water cooler or fridge anytime soon, it would be cool to have a couch - or a least a few floor mats I could roll out as an option when students are doing group work.
It's my belief, though, that regardless of my teaching environment, I am only as good as my curriculum - I'm only as good as what I know how to teach. Fortunately, I have all the same classes this year as I did last year, which is a first. This will allow me to really focus on my subject matter, my pedagogy, and my assessments, as these are truly what will determine my (and my students') success in the upcoming year.
Tuesday, August 7, 2007
I set out to write something different from the usual 'I saved those difficult kids in one short year' teaching books: I wanted to show how and why people keep at it, to be honest about what a great job it is without sugarcoating how hard it can be and how easy it is to get discouraged by the other adults. An elementary school principal who reviewed it for the Boston Globe called it, 'Cynical, mean-spirited, and depressing.' I humbly suggest that any book by a teacher which makes a principal apoplectic is worth a read.
Faculties is one of only a few books I've read recently that I didn't want to put down until it was done. It maybe took me five or six hours to read. At one point I read for almost three hours straight. That is rare for me, as my mind usually wanders elsewhere after about a hour or so.
Not with Halpin. His writing was direct, honest, and biting, and it really captured me:
"I have one senior class, and although I am undoubtedly the kind of guy they would beat senseless for fun if I were their age, the boys in the class decide that I'm cool" (60).
"I want to empower them, I want them to be free citizens rather than obedient automatons, and so I am just terribly uncomfortable with the reality of my authority" (39-40).
"Many, many [faculty] meetings degenerate into someone holding forth on the importance of the hat rule. Once I make the mistake of saying that the kids don't really understand this rule, that they generally obey rules that they understand, and that they continually break this rule because it seems arbitrary to them, and if we could just explain it, we might have better compliance. I am shouted down by a history teacher who yells, 'It's about RESPECT!,' thereby ending the discussion without actually saying anything" (91-92).
These are just three of hundreds of nuggets found in Halpin's book. I personally enjoyed it because it gave honest insight about the four different school cultures in which Halpin worked. He doesn't dedicate as much time to describing his lessons as he does to detailing his coworkers' quirks and annoyances, so don't go into it expecting to have profound pedagogical insights afterward.
Read it for his voice. Halpin comes off as idealistic but broken, and he's both bitter and earnest. I think all high school teachers should read this book, as it serves to honestly (and, albeit, quite subjectively) remind what is both great and troublesome about our profession.
Sunday, July 29, 2007
It's pretty damn impressive. The woman's memory is good, and she can still see, hear, talk, and eat her own food. She can even walk with a little bit of aid. Every day she completes a workout routine which involves lifting five pound weights.
I can only hope I am so fortunate should I reach her age.
Technically, the celebrating really begins tomorrow, which means that today I've had time to catch up on a lot of my fellow edubloggers' latest postings. I must say that it is quite cool being part of this virtual community. Regardless of if it is reading about a new teacher's quest for employment, a veteran educator's search for the perfect boarding school, or the restlessness that comes in August as we prepare to return to our respective places of employment, the education professionals on my blogroll never fail to teach, entertain, and inspire.
I have a lot of new lessons and ideas that I am eager to unveil for 2007-2008, and a number of these insights and approaches have been spurred by what I've read on the blogosphere.
Here's wishing everyone a great school year, and a continued (hopefully) restful and rejuvenating summer. Also, happy birthday grandma!
Thursday, July 26, 2007
A few days ago I went for an evening walk around my neighborhood. I enjoy walking, especially on summer nights when it's cool and one can see and hear the fireflies and crickets.
The loop I like to travel is about 3.5 miles. At one point it descends down a hill, crosses train tracks, and passes by a large stretch of open field. At night this field comes alive with chirps, squeaks, and the transformative glow of fireflies.
There must have been hundreds of fireflies darting about the field, lighting in unison to the crickets' chirp. For a moment I stood transfixed, marveling at the beauty and splendor of the natural show before me.
The above image by Bruce Nichols invokes a feeling similar to the one I experienced. While my walk takes only one hour, its effects can last for days. Aside from the physical exercise, there is a clarity of mind that comes from traversing the sleepy streets of my town and soaking in its natural and man-made vistas.
It's important for us to remember to get out and explore, and to be willing to be swept away by something as simple as insects in a field, or the silhouette of a grain silo in the moonlight.
Thursday, July 19, 2007
Teachers are then asked to declare their personal goals for the school year. I am not sure what my "official" goals will be for 2007-2008, but below are some of the things I would like to accomplish (Included are also some things I know I will accomplish... it makes the list less intimidating.):
* Continue professional development by attending a podcasting seminar this August, and the New England Association of Teachers of English conference this October.
* Continue working to establish a professional school culture by collaborating and sharing with colleagues.
* Work to maintain open communication with parents (via blog, e-mail, phone, and student/teacher/parent conferences).
* Spend more time focusing on the writing process, and consider assigning more weight to brainstorms, freewrites, rough-drafts, and revisions.
* Improve implementation of writer's workshop by better modeling the drafting process and explicitly teaching what constitutes effective peer feedback.
* Create assignments that foster higher-order thinking skills.
* Ensure students write every day.
* Ensure students read every day.
* Provide the opportunity for students to think critically every day.
* Spend more time developing a reader's workshop, and improving the reading skills of all students.
* Be aware of students' multiple learning styles and provide opportunities for ALL to engage in small group and whole-class discussions. This includes finding ways for students who struggle with public speaking to comfortably express their views and thoughts.
* Do a better job helping reluctant readers to read class literature outside of class. I'd really like to arm these students with a list of reading strategies and get them to tolerate and perhaps even find pleasure in reading.
* Use non-fiction articles and shorter writing pieces to flush out themes and major ideas from the required curriculum in hopes of making the novels, plays, and short-stories more accessible and engaging .
* With my journalism class, find a balance between teaching and assessing concepts and skills with time for students to work independently on our high school's newspaper.
* Build on the use of blogs as a place to post and share writing. Perhaps this also means starting a class wiki or using podcasts and other technological tools to lend a 21st century bent to various assignments.
* Get students reading newspapers and paying more attention to current events. See this post here about the thoughts I have for my classroom's Current Events Cove.
* Find ways to hold all students accountable during small-group discussions by setting baseline standards that all students must meet when working in groups.
* Elucidate the steps required for an in-depth discussion, rather than simply hoping one will organically evolve. Sometimes the students will naturally take a discussion into deeper waters. I need to do a better job of observing the conditions present when this happens, and then be able to articulate it so they understand what led to them having a "really cool" or "awesome" discussion.
I could probably spend a few hours sitting here writing about what I'd like to do as a teacher next year, and what I'd like my students to accomplish, but I think I'm going to try to bring this post to a close, as it's getting close to dinner time, and I want to do some reading a bit later.
If any of you have thoughts or suggestions about some of my goals, or would like to share any of your own, please do!
Sunday, July 15, 2007
A personal aside on explicit lyrics: In 9th grade I was one of the first members of my class to own Body Count, a rap album that contained a number of highly controversial songs, the titles of which I am not going to list. I initially enjoyed listening to the record because of its shock value and "taboo" status, but over time I grew disinterested.
I don't think the vulgar language contained in the following video is necessary to communicate its positive message that reading is beneficial, but perhaps others will find that this "gloves off" approach to lyrical composition works.
* FINAL DISCLAIMER * Mr. B-G does not condone the use of offensive language in his classroom.
Saturday, July 14, 2007
Journalists now blog live, are expected to be proficient in Internet publishing, and are required to meet deadlines faster than ever. As online audiences grow and print subscribers dwindle, the papers that make it will be the ones that provide the clearest, most timely, most accurate, most accessible online content.
While I do enjoy reading live reporter blogs and articles with clickable hyperlinks, I still enjoy reading the print edition of The Boston Sunday Globe, accompanied by a cup of freshly brewed Dean's Beans coffee.
I write more about this affinity here, in an example of an essay assignment I modeled for my students that was inspired by a Socratic seminar discussion of Steinbeck's The Pearl.
If, through representations of teaching and learning in popular culture, ordinary people come to believe that teaching is a natural talent that does not require much professional development, they may be loath to pay for it. If they come to believe knowledge is simply knowing isolated facts, they may clamor for even greater amounts of testing. If they believe teachers should be treated as saints, in the profession only for the chance to do noble work, they may be less willing to understand the need for pay raises. I enjoy as much as anyone the shows and films that include teachers, but their impact gives me pause.
In the wake of the recent success of Freedom Writers, Lindblom's words ring loudly.
Wednesday, July 11, 2007
While I'll admit I don't know much about the pros and cons of extending the school day, one article I read recently said that Bill Gates (above) and other billionaire executives are behind a 10-hour school day largely because that translates into a normalized 10-hour work day.
Time is one of the most valuable commodities we have, and we spend far too much of it toiling on the job. Americans work significantly more than Europeans (two weeks paid vacation vs. two months), and our country is the only developed nation that does not guarantee its workers any paid vacation time. Why? Because most U.S. laborers are not members of unions, and thus have little negotiating power. For more, check out this article from Znet.
Tuesday, July 10, 2007
The first step involves making the dough. In a large bowl I combine flour, sugar, salt, yeast, and a bit of olive oil. I knead the dough with my hands until it is firm. I then shape it into a ball, cover it, and wait for it to rise.
Next comes the red stuff. I like to throw tomato chunks and paste into a saucepan of spaghetti sauce, and heat until the mixture begins to simmer.
The dough is flattened and applied to a circular sheet pan, which has been dusted with cornmeal. The sauce, cheese, and selected toppings are applied, and the pie is placed in a 400-degree oven for 15-20 minutes.
The pizza goes down best with a cold beverage and good company.