Thursday, May 27, 2010


And now, the end is here/ And so I face the final curtain...

Confession: End of year closure - I never really did it. I would usually show Dead Poet's Society along with a discussion intended to get the kids to think about the life lessons they learn in the classroom. And then the final bell would ring and I would wish them well on their future exams (they had already taken mine - the state test) and a safe summer.

And then there were none.

Which, in some cases, was fine. By that time of the year, there were a handful of kids who I'm sure were glad to be rid of me, just as I was glad to be seeing them out the door. There were a few I'd miss, who would promise to come back and see me next year. And then others who were apathetic (sidenote: as big of a nerd I was, and as much as I loved some of my teachers, I rarely went back to them and said hello. I take comfort in this, knowing there are probably just as many kids who enjoyed my class and never said so as there are kids who tell me).

But in the future, I'd really like to do something that gives the year appropriate closure. Something that says "We've spent a lot of time together, made some progress, and that deserves recognition." Something that acknowledges I have enjoyed sharing a classroom with them.

I like the idea of writing little notes to all my kids individually like teachin' does, but with 120 students, I would probably have a hard time coming up with anything to say for some of them. But it's the effort, right? So, I'll think about it. Especially because some of these kids need to hear something good about themselves -- just like I want to hear what a good teacher I am, they want to hear what good kids they are! So perhaps that's a project I'll undertake.

But what else is out there? Are there any special projects or activities you do for end-of-year closure?

Friday, May 21, 2010


In this period of Blame the Teacher Policy Changing, I generally just avoid recent edu-talk in the news. A family friend sent me a link to this article from the Boston Globe, however, so this time it was rather unavoidable.

"Failure to Communicate"

You may have the same initial reaction I did as I started the article: Great, another All-Knowing College Professor (who may not have ANY secondary experience or pedagogy classes!) condemning the lazy High School teachers who aren't teaching well enough.

But since this family friend is someone I trust and who I know respects teachers, I bit my lip and read on. Thank goodness! Here, finally, is a positive piece that points out that the writing skills of our current generation is suffering, and it is NOT the fault of the teachers, who are likely overwhelmed.

The piece is short and only hints at the problem of teachers' full plates. I think any of us could easily fill in the details on all the aspects of teaching that take time away from good lesson plans: paperwork (IEPs, Committees, Documenting EVERYTHING), standardized tests, admin support (or lack thereof), parental contact/support, class sizes, clubs, coaching...

But anyway. Positive report for teachers. And we need a little of that right now.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

awkward turtle

Awkward Agonizing
No one is home, so I have to process this interview all on my own. Which means I will blog it.

Downsides to today's interview:

She asked me point blank what I would to do teach, say, inference. And my mind went blank. Couldn't think of a darned thing. I asked for a minute to think about it but I think she could tell that I froze because she moved on. Thank goodness.

She asked how I would start a typical lesson plan and I said probably start w/ vocabulary, practicing it in context and looking at it in-text. Then reading, I might do groups, whole classroom, out-loud...I usually try to maintain a variety of methods to appeal to different learners. I mentioned I would break reading into chunks. When we read, I would have them complete prediction-question-comment-connection (but I could only remember 2 of them! ack!). She asked what kind of work I've had them do in groups. I mentioned that I sometimes have them read, letting them choose how their group wants to read - outloud, silently, taking turns, etc. - and they could fill out graphic organizers or make posters. I just felt like I was rambling/pulling stuff out of my butt. I'd studied interview questions before going in, but I felt like I should have studied my BLOG here for ideas!

First question was "What do you know about middle school?" and I had no idea how to answer it. It was just so broad. I was expecting "WHY do you want to switch to middle school?" I flubbed around a bit, saying that I enjoyed my time with the sixth graders (who were end-of-year-nearly-7th graders) during a 6 week practicum, and that I had many friends who are middle school teachers who I can call upon should I need support and insight. Awkward.

She asked about discipline, but she phrased it in such a way that I wasn't sure where to start. I can't even recall the question. I kind of joked "Hm, how do I start?" and she made a more specific question about drama queen girls and how I handled that. I recalled an incident from last year about a girl who was constantly giving attitude to other kids in the room and that I pulled her out two or three times that year to mediate. The last time, I finally firmly told her "Get out of other people's business." And then gave her the option to go back in that room, keep her mouth closed, and get along with people -- or go up to the office and try her case there. I segued into my discipline idea of "choices" so students can feel like they're making a decision about their lives (since teens so love to be independent), and that 99% of the time, when given the choice, they slink back into the classroom. Bah. I liked how I ended it but I didn't like how I floundered through the middle part, trying to remember the incident(s) with Little Miss Thang.

I kind of forgot that I had to be impressed with THEM, too, and could feel myself putting on the "I so want to impress you" vibe.

She claims class sizes are about 30 for 7th grade (which is her current opening). That number does not excite me.

I felt okay with the principal. But I'm not 100% sold.

Upsides to the interview:
I got to peek into several classrooms. They look large and the desks are nice & big, too.

I emphasized that I came from a school that was very upfront about the fact that discipline was a top priority there. And that, as a first year teacher, I received invaluable support regarding classroom management and following through on policies.

I reminded myself several times as we started walking through the halls that THEY have to impress ME. I am still considering grad school and even leaning more strongly towards it. So, drop the "I want to impress you vibe" and put on an evaluative "You have to impress me" vibe!

Many of the other teachers are young, so I would likely be able to make many new friends.

Every room has a Smartboard - which she emphasized is not just for ppt presentations or a glorified whiteboard. I told her that I've seen them and had training with them, but haven't been able to actually USE one extensively. It would be rather neat to be able to put text up and have kids "mark it up" or use it to give wicked awesome group presentations.

They have pacing guides but you are just limited to completing that information within the 9 weeks. No shared unit tests, etc. which is good.

It's been a long time since I had an interview, and now I can say I've done one recently. I shook off some of the rust, and I'm proud of myself for that.

I asked good questions. I asked about class sizes, discipline policies, pacing guide restrictions, vertical teaming, electives like band (we got a little performance from a musical rhythm class. they were so cute!), and STEM education kits.

At the end of the interview, I got the impression that she liked me. Said she enjoyed talking with me and that basically, I'm what she's looking for -- someone young but with a few years of experience. She can't hire anyone right now, but please keep in touch with her via email, and she's hoping she'll know next week what kind of offers she can make. Please keep in touch, and so on. Who knows? I'm trying not to focus on the awkward bits.

I still have no idea if I want to teach middle school. They could be fun...but then again, I love teaching those upper level classes, too. But the outlook for teaching jobs just looks so bleak right now, honestly!

Monday, May 17, 2010

Oh, Irony

Looking for an amusing example of irony? Here's one for ya...

Saturday, May 15, 2010


Friday I drove 8.5 hours back to TN to witness the graduation of my very first batch of students. I doubted any of them would be looking for me (most stopped saying hello in the hallway after their junior year. They're so awkward. I say it with love), but I wanted to see them for my own sake. Imagine my pleased surprise that quite a few did notice me and were genuinely excited to see me, offering hugs without any prompting. Some of my students from this year were there and they were all waving and calling to me. Two from the band jumped up and ran over to me and gave me big hugs. Sweet, sweet girls. Back to the graduates. All the seniors had smiles permanently lighting up their faces. They were glowing and giggly and just so thrilled, as they should be. Some of these kids were the first to graduate in their family, which made the victory all the more sweeter. When the band struck up "Pomp & Circumstance," the teachers began ushering everyone into line. You could see everyone stand up a little straighter, and the smiles wobbled a little bit. Some from nerves, others from emotions, and I saw quite a few girls choking back tears. I had to turn away or I feared I would lose it!

Two years ago, they were little punky fifteen-year-olds. They were just babies! And now, they are high school graduates!! I have seen many of them grow up SO MUCH in those two years. Some truly amazing transformations. I was so incredibly blessed at this school with some truly amazing, wonderful, lovable students. I sometimes get hung up on the negatives - things I could have done better, students I failed in some way, or students that just drove me crazy. You know the laundry list. But I cannot forget I had so many more amazing, lovable kiddos.

I will definitely have to go next year also, since I worked harder to maintain relationships with my second year kids. I can't wait!

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Blessed AC

I could be outside, mulching & weeding our (very pathetic) front flower beds. I could be finally purchasing and planting those Black-Eyed Susans by our very lonely mailbox.

But it's hot. And I just finished mowing the backyard. So instead, I'll put the planting/weeding/mulching off until next week.

Speaking of next week, I have an interview for a 7th grade Language Arts position that was scheduled at the teacher fair. I figure I'll go and interview for the experience, but I'm not totally sure I would want to accept the job, should it be offered to me. Teaching middle school would be an entirely new experience. I enjoyed the little time I spent with some sixth graders, but that was ages ago and I wasn't doing a whole lot of teaching, mostly observing with a few mini-lessons thrown in.

*edit* Perhaps the sentiment that most influences my decision is that some of my favorite/most memorable teachers were from my middle school years. Teachers who I just adored because they were funny, creative, and caring. One was even a teacher I felt compelled to write to when I decided I would become a teacher, informing her that she was the kind of teacher I hoped to be.

Any words of wisdom from my middle school cohorts?

Monday, May 10, 2010

It ain't no Ren Fair

If only the Teacher Fairs were more like REAL fairs: goofy booths where you can win prizes (like a job! yippee!), quaint but completely safe rides and maybe jugglers and unicyclists zipping around. We gotta have SOMETHING to keep us entertained while we wait in lines for hours.

Call me cynical, but I'm not totally sold on teacher job fairs. I suppose it's one opportunity for schools to collect many resumes all at once, rather than getting them in fits & starts via prospective employees mailing them in over time. You could argue that they get to put a face to a name, but to that I say: REALLY!?! It's a nice thought, but after they've seen umpti-billion brand new faces looking at a trillion different courses, do they REALLY remember my face or ANYTHING about me?

Maybe those principals put those resumes in a special pile as their "go to" file, with the idea that at least these people made the effort for some face time (as one principal there told me he did). I guess there is that. But still. The first teacher fair I went to was a complete catastrophe; the county had never done one before and grossly underestimated how many people would be there. Everything was just frantic and a tad hassled. The fair I attended today was at least more calm and organized, though my complaint is that it was held on a school day at a school. All these prospective job candidates are now competing with students, faculty, and visitors for parking spaces. I digress. Overall, it was still okay, but I just end up leaving and thinking, "Did that really do any good?"

Ultimately, a job fair means standing in line for approximately 2+ hours in order to get a total of (maybe) 15 minute actual face time with an administrator. They didn't really learn anything about me that wasn't on my resume, and I didn't learn anything about them, either. They probably won't remember my face if they do call me in for an interview. (If you haven't noticed yet, I'm naturally quite cynical.)

Have you ever attended a teacher fair? What do you think?

Thursday, May 6, 2010

It's baaaaack!

That's all very nice, you say. But I don't teach a film course. I teach ENGLISH .

I haven't forgotten! As previously stated, chances are, your standards include interpreting media sources, so adapt the film unit to your needs. Here's one way to make that connection between your reading and the film.

Back to storyboarding!

If you haven't shown your classes a storyboard before, warm up with an introductory explanation of what they are, which I explained in one of my Harris Burdick ideas.

Once you've explained how to put together a storyboard, turn your attention to a story you've read recently. I recommend choosing a work with strong imagery, or a text that students especially connected to and enjoyed. My suggestions based on what we read in 10th grade: Animal Farm, "The Pedestrian" by Bradbury, "Lamb to the Slaughter" by Dahl, or anything by Poe. You could even read something short & entirely new for the purpose of this storyboard. Once you've decided on the text, start the storyboard!

It is up to you whether you want students to all storyboard the same scene or to let them choose their own scene. Storyboarding Activity

Option 1:
Choose a scene you think is particularly powerful or interesting or significant, and assign it to the class. Ask them to storyboard two pieces to this scene, filling in the appropriate details.

Option 2:
Allow students to choose a scene they feel is most significant or interesting...and so on.

Option 3:
Break students into pairs and assign them specific parts from the story, so that you end up with a complete storyboard including start to finish of the text.

And, with all the above, share and compare as a class! As students present, inquire about & discuss their choices behind their lighting/sound/angles, etc.

An interesting next step might be to combine students into groups to put together their pieces and look at similarities & differences. As a closing activity, groups could write up similarities in their storyboards and why; contrarily, they could also write up the differences and why.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Get the words, yo

The storyboard clip made me wonder if I'd tackled a small film unit. If I had, I didn't tag correctly, because I couldn't find it, other than my reference to John Golden's book in my lesson on irony.

This is a fun unit, and I've had students come up to me afterward and say, "Mrs. P, I went to see New Moon this weekend, and I just kept thinking about angles!" At this point, I cackle and rub my hands in glee, proclaiming that My evil plan worked!

But srsly.

This is great for connecting reading and visuals, which can be difficult for kiddos. Reading isn't always real to them. "Reading cinema" gets them thinking about the movies they watch, seeing the WHY behind a technique; if you can sell that movies use intentional techniques (which is pretty easy--they seem to accept that directors use lighting,angles, movement, sound, etc. for purposes more readily than they do in a novel), you can sell them that novels are the same way. Authors don't just keep mentioning that cat for no reason. The cat MEANS something, contributes something to the theme, purpose, or character (yes, I'm looking at you, Ethan Frome).

I've waxed poetic enough. On with the lesson.

First, ya gotta know the terms. Golden offers several pages of them (defining, explaining, and exampling), but I narrowed them down to a manageable size for my kiddos. I offer up the terms via my Reading Movies powerpoint. I warn you: the powerpoint contains (primarily) definitions-only. As they copy, I also talk through the intended effects of presented terms (getting them to actually take notes on what I'm SAYING and not just what is in front of them is actually a skill I try to prep them for. Not sure that it's terribly successful, but I try). Slide 5 provides an example Golden uses from North by Northwest. We talk about the effect of each shot and why the director chose the original.

After kids have the terms down, have them demonstrate understanding with a few still-motion pictures. Golden offers many in his book. (Brain Storm! Try using Harry Burdick here! I TOLD you that stuff was genius). Model a practice round as a class, and then perhaps do small break-outs, giving groups or pairs a picture they can "read" and then briefly describe to the class.

Once students exhibit adeptness at applying the terms and identifying their effects, practice a bit more with whole film scenes. You can probably guess my suggestion for this here: Golden's book. Lots of great examples, already broken down into appropriate scenes, and the movies are classroom-ready. You'll need to play the scene twice. I recommend whatever scene you show, encourage them to just watch and absorb, jotting down the terms they identify in the scene. The second time around, think about what effect those aspects have. My kids were ready to talk through the clip the 2nd time, so I would pause as we talked about the effects.

You've got the terms and uses down, so next is putting those terms and effects to your own use! Stay tuned.

Monday, May 3, 2010

Good teachers collaborate

*tap tap* This thing on?


After looking at some of the Harris Burdick pictures, did you have any idea how you could use them in YOUR classroom?

Screenplays & Theater

Oh, one more idea:

If you're doing a drama unit, you could also encourage students to write a screenplay or theater play based on a Harris Burdick work.

With my sophomores we talked about basic theater terms they needed to know for Shakespeare or a Greek tragedy, but since we didn't read more modern dramas, we didn't talk much about the use of scenery or costumes or detailed stage directions. Mostly we talked about the limitations of Elizabethan or Greek theater and how they worked around it! For us, this would be a great opportunity to stretch outside of that a bit and look at something modern (if you could get your hands on an original screenplay of a movie they know & love, how cool could that be?? I don't even know where you could look for something like that). If you already read something modern...well, lucky you!

So, get a modern text (screenplay/theater) in order to talk about the effects, stage directions, etc. then practice their own by using Harris Burdick pictures!

Saturday, May 1, 2010

Summer Literacy Challenge

Was my last post really on Wednesday? Oh dear. I must be losing it. I could have sworn it was Thursday.

Since I've neglected you two days in a row, I'll take a hiatus from my normal weekend hiatus and post a little somethin' somethin'. While catching up with my blogroll this morning, I encountered teachin's contemplations over end-of-the-year activities. She mentioned an idea which I love love love to combat the summer gap that puts the brakes on any momentum gained by June. This is one of those wonderful blog chain-letters, so to speak, in which teachin got it from Stacey who got it from Jen Barney.

The idea is to put together a packet of mini projects or tasks that will exercise and stretch those reading & writing muscles, preventing atrophy. How does the teacher motivate these students who s/he technically no longer has? By offering them a "survival pack" for next year's grade, which is awarded upon presenting a completed Summer Literacy Packet. The survival pack is mostly school-supply oriented, but with fun items like colorful pens, neat bookmarks, or anything you can find great deals on. (This is something that might be worth planning ahead: stockpile items in August/Sept/Oct from back-to-school sales)

I love this idea and want to query my fellow secondary do you think this could work with high school? If you're doing grades 9-11, you will easily see the kids in the hallway again, so returning the packet to you shouldn't be a problem. I just wonder how motivated high schoolers would be to get that survival packet. Then again, I've heard it said that high schoolers often perform for the same/similar motivations that elementary teachers use, so maybe they would be interested in getting free stuff. I wonder...

Would it be possible to contact local businesses/retailers (movie theater, restaurants, etc.) to ask if they would donate any coupons or small gift certificates to these survival packs? (a free popcorn at the theater, free appetizer, 10% CD/DVD). Pizza Hut used to do it (do they still?) with reading programs all the time! Hm... okay, yes, I would definitely look into this.

I found ONE sample online that seems to be geared towards high school. It breaks items down into categories of one point to five points; there are MANY different items under each category. They could do any variety of those activities all summer long and then bring in the checklist (and proof) for extra credit at the beginning of the new school year. I really like this idea and am already considering implementing it should I go back to teaching this year. It might take some cooperation on the behalf of other teachers, since students don't know which teachers they will have until August(ish). Perhaps it could be something your department agrees to do together? The benefit of the packets that Stacey & Jen Barney created is that they are weekly challenges, which means students practice all summer long and not just cramming in the activities in the last 2 weeks, which could potentially happen with the upper-level sample I found.

Any ideas for how to adapt the Summer Literacy Challenge for upper levels?

source: photo1 courtesy of Canton Public Library; photo2 courtesy alex.ragone