Sunday, November 29, 2009

Happy Thanksgiving!



I hope you had a wonderful, restful break. Because goodness knows, you deserve it. You can also be thankful for more student samples to come this week! I scanned them as PDFs...but didn't mark the originals because I wanted you to have a clean copy to read. You might see where I'm going with this - as such, student names are still on the papers and I can't censor them on the PDF. I'm now working around that and intend to share more samples this week. Stay tuned!

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Ask Why, Not How - Part 1

Building a better literary analysis? With 10th graders?! Yes, indeedy. My number one goal last year was to get my students to really write literary analyses. It was my goal to have them ask "why" not "how" about literary devices, moving towards seeing how a literary device contributes to the whole work.

To my discredit, I don't think I really hit this full force until the second semester; then I began to truly see lightbulbs not only flicker but burn brightly. I was sorry I didn't start it earlier, but I do believe that by the end of the year, they had the critical thinking skills to send them into 11th grade with exceptional momentum. This year, then, I resolved to introduce the idea at the beginning of the year so that even if they weren't totally ready for it, it was something that we could continually hit upon. It is my hope, then, by the end of the school year, ALL of them have a full capability and are even further along than my kids last year (a girl can dream, can't she?).

One tool from the summer AP Conference I have definitely utilized is a formula for writing thesis statements, provided by John R. Williamson (our amazing presenter). The formula is awesome --challenging, but it works.

I introduce the formula via powerpoint presentation, and we've worked with the formula since August. I printed the formula on a poster and had it laminated. It is on the wall and will remain there all year long - yes, even during tests - as a constant reminder. I want them to use it and look at it. The more reinforcement, the better!
Note on the powerpoint's lesson - We had read "Everyday Use" by Alice Walker for homework and came to class ready to talk about it. I had a short sample AP test reading taken from an article about trains & style/functionality. They read it then followed the directions in the powerpoint. When we discussed which train is a more accurate representation of each character, I kept saying "Tell me how you know from the text. Read it to me" I continually made them go back to the text and pull out passages to reinforce their point. They gave me strange looks at first ((What do you mean, Mrs.P? Are my vague qualifiers not good enough?)) but began to "get it" and even help one another find the support s/he needed. Once they got the hang of that, we moved on to the thesis statement steps.

I have also recently given them this "Thesis Manual" I will let them use on future tests (wishing I had done that at the beginning of the year). Some of the weaker students were forgetting what acceptable "directions" were. I continually use the term "literary devices" and I even have a poster in my room that lists your basic literary devices (conflict/setting/characterization/etc). But somehow they were still just pulling non-literary devices as directions (ex: in Animal Farm, they were using "Communism", "bravery", "power" as directions).

I'm starting you like I did my students...first lesson on creating thesis statements. Practice that for homework and when we come back, we'll learn how to develop a literary analysis from that thesis.

Extra Notes
  • The formula I present here is amended for 10th graders, per John's recommendation. If you have 9th graders, he recommends just getting them to steps 1, 2, 3. If you have 11th or 12th grade, there is an additional step - 5. a Qualifier (in order to...).
  • John also warned us: do NOT show them an example of a thesis statement from this formula. Give them the steps, give them the pieces, but do NOT model it. They get intimidated and think they can't do it. They can. Will their first attempts be poor? Absolutely. That's why I wanted to do this at the beginning of the year -- we now have all year to practice. We spent a few days bringing in practice thesis statements, looking at fellow classmates' statements and editing/revising as a class.
  • To start, I make them write the formula IN ORDER. Once they have that down, they can play around with the order. But if they try to play with the order too early, they confuse themselves and lose parts of the formula.
  • I recommend teaching this after you've talked about determining theme. Theme is usually Step 4 - Universal Idea.
  • This is also a good time to talk about talking about literature in the present tense - remember "Claim" (step 3) needs to be in present tense!
source: John R. Williamson; photo source: Netream

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Thanks :)

Thanks for the support & advice. Just so you know, it's been on my mind all weekend - telling the kids - and I think I'm going to do it Monday just to get it over with. I'm not sure why I think it will go so badly. I do worry that they'll "check out" but that's their dumb mistake if they do - I'm still their teacher until the end of the semester, so I'll still be taking grades!!

It's just that their "good behavior" party will also end up being my going-away party.

Thanks for the support :) They've got a test tomorrow, so I'll just break the news after the test, maybe 5-10 minutes before the end of class.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Breaking the news...

So, friends and fellow teachers, I come to you again for some counsel.

We have recently found out that my husband received a job offer! Hooray! He has been searching since April, and it's a position he's excited about, so this is all been quite a thrilling time for him.

However, it is in a different state. And they want him to start December 1. We cannot afford to live in 2 places at once, so I'm finishing the semester here and then leaving to join him in New State. It absolutely breaks my heart to leave my kids mid-year. I find it ironic that, out of all the years I make it a goal to be more personable with my students (and thus more attached), I have to leave them mid-year. I. hate. it. Trust me, I've shed a few tears over this, and had to choke them back again as I told my principal this afternoon that I'd be leaving at the end of the semester.

I hate that someone else will be there to administer the state test to them in May. I hate that s/he won't know what we've already covered (actually, I plan on leaving a little letter just saying "This is what we've covered and what I had intended to get to in the 2nd semester." Not sure if that's overstepping boundaries, but I thought it might be helpful for someone coming in mid-year. At least s/he's not stepping into a total void, ya know?)

There's also the wonderful people I've met at school - other fabulous teachers who have become friends, not just colleagues. I'm afraid of going to a new school in an area I don't know and creating a new curriculum...but mostly, I keep going back to the kids. I want to see them finish out the year. I want to see how they grow between now and May. I want to know what they get on their state tests - in the switch-over, with anything get forgotten or left behind? Will they be prepared? (Will another teacher perceive them to be well-prepared?) (and perhaps just as selfishly: will they love this new teacher and forget all about me?) I knew when this time came that it would be difficult to leave. Three years in a school makes you put down roots. I especially hate that it's in the middle of the year; there's a natural closure to the end of school in May. Everyone's expecting it. This...well, it just sucks. But that's life.

So... how do I break the news to them? And when? I of course don't want to wait too long. But I'm not sure what will happen if I tell them "too early" when we still have 4 weeks left to go. I'm not sure how or when to have that conversation. I can't imagine telling them and then saying, "OK, well let's get out your notebooks and..." At the moment, I'm considering telling them just before Thanksgiving break; I'm thinking that will give them time to digest, recoup, and come back ready to work. But maybe that's chicken of me? Any thoughts?

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Free samples

Clix requested some student samples, and I am more than happy to show 'em off (by the way, I'm reading drafts of my kids' papers this year: love 'em! Excited to get more, brag-worthy papers)

Here are two, taken from my advanced honors class. So, keep in mind that yes, these are advanced students. But honestly, my standard kids' papers weren't so far from these. Not as strong a command of dialogue, but still very creative & fun.

Sample #1 - Topic: Werewolves


Sample #2 - Topic: Winchester Mansion

Saturday, November 7, 2009

I found Waldo!

I still have not yet found that woman's website. I have asked a couple colleagues and will let you know as soon as I find out!

By the way, as I hunt for this, it makes me absolutely sick to see how many research/term paper sellers are out there. I wonder what circle of hell Dante would have reserved for their special kind of sleaze. With the used-car salesmen perhaps?

This is a fun activity we do to start the unit; it gets them thinking about the perspective of another person.
Materials: Copies of Where's Waldo? laminated pages

1. Explain to students that the idea of this activity is to practice telling a story from another person's perspective (natural to your creative-fiction writers, but not-so-natural for others).
2. They are to take a spread from a Where's Waldo? book and select a character from it. It may not be Waldo and it MUST be from a 2-page spread (when you start to tear books out of the pages, the backs of the 2-page spreads will have 2 different sides on the back...they sometimes try to choose those sides, but that's too easy!)
3. Then they are to write a paragraph from that person's perspective (5 minutes). What do they see/hear/smell/taste/feel? What got them there? Why are they there and what are they doing? It should be written in first-person, as they are supposed to become that character in their writing.
4. After 5 minutes is up, they must pass their paragraph and layout to another set of partners. The partners should read the paragraph and try to figure out who the person is. Usually the paragraphs are good enough that students find the character in 1-2 minutes.
5. Divide students into groups of 3/partners. Give each set of students a copy of the Where's Waldo? layout and let 'em go!
6. Do another round if you have time! (More than 2 gets a bit dull, though)

They LOVE this!! I don't grade the paragraphs but I do love to look at them because the descriptions/characters they create are hilarious! While you gather up materials, set students to a good closure activity: ask them to jot down what really helped them figure out which character they were looking for. When we start drafting, I remind them to think back to this activity-- don't just give facts and dates but give me what the person said, thought, felt, and sensed.

Not doing a creative research paper? This is strategy adaptable for teaching point-of-view (have another group re-write the paragraph as second person, third-person limited, or third-person omniscient) or for practicing descriptive writing, too!

p.s. this is also great for introducing kids to the timeless character of Waldo. I was shocked that some didn't know who he was. They loved him by the end of it, though!

source: A fellow awesome teacher whose name I can't find!