Wednesday, October 27, 2010

You can't stop me from breaking into song

Forgive me, friends, if I seem a bit too cheery for a Wednesday afternoon. But I have the sudden urge to burst into song.

Do you have your kids sign your yearbook at the end of the year? I was too anxious to ask the kids to sign my yearbook - silly isn't it? - because who knows what they might say. But my kiddos this past year I really missed, so when May rolled around, I asked the gal who took over my classes to offer the book to my kids. She graciously agreed.

The transport of said book got a bit sidetracked, but I've finally gotten it. The comments made me laugh and cry all at the same time. The girls, of course, were a bit more effusive than the boys, some of whom merely signed their names. But there was one message that positively made my heart stop. A young man, one of those "still waters run deep" kind - somewhat reserved, smart, but shied away from his potential in favor of being "cool" - wrote me a short note thanking me for challenging him and always pushing him to do his best.

I wanted to hug him and burst into tears simultaneously.

One thing I hope to do with my own flesh n' blood children is encourage them (read: make them) to affirm and thank teachers they love or feel challenged by. I hope to make sure that even when my students are in high school, their teachers receive something (a note, anything!) on Teacher Appreciation Day, even if I have to send it by way of carrier pigeon to do so. We teachers don't get much affirmation but when we do, words can't adequately express our joy. Even the tiniest hint of it can keep us uplifted for weeks.

My prayer for you this week is that you too may experience some little sign of affirmation, just a little something to keep you going and remind you of why you do this.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Oh my gaw...

Scene: Small office-turned-tutoring room in a tutoring center. High school senior and teacher sit across from each other at low tables, working on the essay portion of the SAT. Teacher introduces material in book presenting different ways to provide evidence to support your thesis. Book provides a sample outline to complete, so teacher asks student to take a side on the prompt, which is "Is violence ever justified?"

Teacher: OK, so can you think of a historical example that might help prove your thesis that violence is sometimes justified?

Student: a war.

Teacher: Good, okay. Which war?

Student [shrugs]: Any war.

Teacher [thinks]: Oh My Lord. [gulping down her terror, says] Well, pick one. Remember we want to be as specific as possible in our examples.

Student: The Iraq War.

Teacher [growing increasingly frightened]: OK, so why was the Iraq War justified?

Student: Because of New York.

Teacher [crying inwardly]: OK, what about New York?

Student: The planes.

Teacher: OK, I think I see what you mean. But can you explain better? Remember we have to be specific.

Student [looking at Teacher like she's an idiot]: Because the terrorists.

Teacher: So, because terrorists flew planes in New York, we went to war with Iraq? How is that justified?

Student: Because they're from the Middle East.

Teacher [momentarily stunned. Students' words hang in the air].

Teacher [gathers her wits]: So, because they live in the Middle East, we should go to war against them.

Student: Al-Qaida?

Teacher [seeing a light at the end of the tunnel]: And what does that have to do with Iraq?

Student: They were... there?

Teacher [grasping the thread of hope, whatever it may be]: OK, now we're getting somewhere. So the Iraq War was justified because terrorists from al-Qaida, which was responsible for violence in New York, were hiding in Iraq. See how we had to make those very specific connections? You can't assume your reader is going to know what you mean!

Student [relieved. Writes down connection in essay's outline]

Teacher [decides to suppress the innumerable frightening things about what just exchanged]

I didn't bother to set this kid straight because A. she's one of my lower-achievers and needed a little encouragement, not nit-picking. B. we clearly didn't have time for a history lesson. Hell, a modern culture lesson. She later in the session had no idea what a "jihad" was, which seems unbearably sad considering she is a teen in this millennium. Of course, in her defense, when asked "What might any world religion or group of people have to say about 'violence is sometimes justified'?" She didn't come up with the Crusades, Inquisition, "eye for an eye," or Cherokee war games either.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Let's watch a grown man cry

Oh, Tony Danza.

Has anyone watched this special where Tony takes on an English classroom? I haven't yet watched it, but I intend to. I have seen clips in which he is in tears. I am strangely comforted by this sight.

Interview on Today show with Tony & Clips from the show.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Parenthetical citations don't have to be a pain!

Let's see here...the kids have their topics, you've reviewed paraphrasing and note-taking, and have spent some time in the library. Next step -- writing!

My suggestion: plan to go to the library about three days total (in 50 minute classes). Take them 2 for note-taking, return to the classroom for some drafting, THEN go back to the library for final note-taking. Since they're new to this research thing, they don't really know what to take notes on when they get to the library. Then they begin writing the story and realize, "Oh, I could really use X information here!"

Before drafting, take a day or two to go over parenthetical citations and works cited. Depending on your group, you can do a works cited page FIRST and then go over citations, or vice versa. I've done it both ways, and I think you just have to know your kiddos. As you can imagine, either way will take a couple days.

Works Cited First

1. Print off some of the How To manuals from Cambridge Public Library's awesome resources(and yes, they're already updated with the new MLA formatting!). Number each packet to create your own class set of manuals. These stay on the desks from class to class and are the reference manuals students use as they create their source entries.

2. Pull up a short Works Cited powerpoint and go over the process. Direct students to these How To Manuals to make their works cited entries. Remind them that the final works cited is in alphabetical order. Do not differentiate between types of sources, sources that have authors or don't, etc. Make the citations, then put them all in alpha order.

3. Have them take all their source pages and make works cited entries for them. No, they haven't used them in the paper yet, but it will come in handy when you are going over parenthetical citations. When everyone has a drafted works cited page, continue to #4.

4. Go over the powerpoint on parenthetical citations and have them take notes. You can show them, "Look, the first item from your works cited is what appears in the parenthesis, EVERY TIME."

5. When they begin drafting and ask what to put in the parenthesis, you can direct them back to their works cited. In this way, they are constantly referring to the page and seeing how the citations and works cited work together.

5.5. On a certain day after drafting has begun, give them a quiz on parenthetical citations.

6. (Herein lies the problem with this method) At the end of the process, emphasize that a Works Cited page is a list of "works that you cited in the paper." On the last day of drafting, remind them that any source that is NOT used in their paper, must NOT appear on their Works Cited page. Say it until your face turns blue, because even still, some will not go back and trim the WC.

Works Cited Last

1. Introduce the powerpoint on parenthetical citations and have them take notes. In the ppt, I tried to cover the possible scenarios my students were most likely to encounter, knowing the materials they were working with. You may need to add more if your students will be using databases.

2. Practice with a short citation exercise they can do as a class. Review and make corrections.

3. Draft. (Herein lies the problem with this method) I found that students had more questions as they began drafting. I put a lot of time into those parenthetical citation notes & examples, and I got tired of answering questions that were literally spelled out on the page in front of them, so I made a policy: "You have to FIRST check your notes before asking me a question. If you ask a question that is ON YOUR NOTES, I will just walk away."

3.5 On a certain day after drafting has begun, give them a quiz on parenthetical citations.

4. When students have finished drafting, now work on the Works Cited page. Tell them to go through their paper and put a star on the source pages that they ACTUALLY USED in the paper. It might be good to have them make separate piles on their desk, just so you can get visuals to see if they understand.

5. Print off some of the How To manuals from Cambridge Public Library's awesome resources(and yes, they're already updated with the new MLA formatting!). Number each packet to create your own class set of manuals. These stay on the desks from class to class and are the reference manuals students use as they create their source entries.

6. Pull up a short Works Cited powerpoint and go over the process. Direct students to these How To Manuals to make their works cited entries. Remind them that they are only making entries for the sources they used in the paper. Also remind them that the final works cited is in alphabetical order. Do not differentiate between types of sources, sources that have authors or don't, etc. Make the citations, then put them all in alpha order.

Once your kids have some drafting done, return to the library for any supplemental notes they wish to add. Schedule a few days for peer review, nab a computer lab for final drafts, or assign them to finish it at home.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Hold yer horses

But wait! Did I just send you off to the library without a refresher on paraphrasing?

Oops! That was my mistake my first year - silly me, thought a general review of the term "paraphrase" would be enough. When kids got into the library and started just copying word-for-word from the book, I realized we needed a refresher. So, learn from my mistake - make sure before you go into the library they remember how to paraphrase.

Since, in all honesty, paraphrasing should not be a new skill to 10th graders, even if they might need to brush up on it, I combined this lesson with one on media reliability. Again, I was going to send them off to the library, where they would naturally (and fairly) assume that in a school library, just about anything they pick up would be a reliable source. But I knew it wouldn't be long before they attacked the computers. Again, a good defense is a good offense! (or is it the other way? Whatever. Be prepared!)

Materials: Printed notes, PPT, Reliability of Source Pages

1. I had students do the "fill in the notes" practice with the first half of this powerpoint to save time. Hand these out.
2. Go over the Powerpoint regarding paraphrasing, emphasizing its importance in research. I introduce a short discussion of the value of paraphrasing in the first slide when I go over the definition.
3. Students fill in their notes as we go through the PPT. Stop on slide 3 for them do to the practice provided on the notes page.
4. Continue with a discussion on media reliability. I admit I stole this latter part of the PPT from a website, but I can't even remember who/where I got it. If the author wants his/her name on the latter part of the powerpoint, please speak up and I'll certainly give you credit here!
5. At the end of the powerpoint, I have students break up into groups to practice discussing media reliability, an activity I picked up from the Gateway Institute. Here is a list of possible sources for the stated activity: Media Reliability Exercise. Print each on the center of its own page, and hand each group a set.
Alternative: If you have a big enough class, give each student a source and reserve 3 or 4 students to place their classmates in order. In this way, the whole class can discuss together. Encourage the students holding sources to speak up if s/he feels s/he could be more appropriately placed.
6. There is no "correct" answer. When a group feels s/he is done, go over to their group and ask them about certain items, just to make sure they thought about their order. Ask them how easily they agreed on this order, or what items gave them the most trouble. If you feel strongly that they have missed a certain idea, correct them. But in general, if they can defend their reasoning, go with it.
7. As closure, give each student a post-it note after reviewing his/her group's order. Tell them to mark on the post-it note whether the group completely agreed with the final order and whether or not s/he would have moved one item.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Ready, Set...Write!

While doing some blog housekeeping recently, I realized I left out some other aspects of the research paper I use with my kiddos!

After students practice creative perspectives with Waldo, select their topics, and read sample papers, we get ready for our research. I use my own method for note-taking which includes one full page for each source. It is basically a combined source card and notecard, expanded across an 8.5"x11" page. There are a couple reasons I don't do index cards: I am not required to make 10th graders use notecards, I find them to be onerous, and I never used them myself in college. If you want to get away from notecards and are interested in seeing my example, I've provided a link to a sample page at the conclusion of this entry.

After students have done a bit of research - maybe after a day or two, we do a hypothesis & brainstorm. This is usually just a simple homework assignment or even a closure after a day at the library.

Just some simple prewriting...
This paper doesn't have a "thesis" per se, but students have to have some direction to it. So instead, they get to develop a "hypothesis." They will choose ONE possible explanation for their mystery and use that to formulate the plot of their story. I give my students the following:

Hypothesis: On your own paper, copy this sentence, filling in the blank with information about your paper.
I am telling a story about ____(topic)____, and I've decided the explanation I will focus on is _____________________________________________________."

For some reason, this can sometimes confuse classes. If you want to give them an example from a topic no one is working on, go ahead ("I am telling a story about crop circles, and I've decided the explanation I will focus on is that aliens make them in attempts to communicate.").

Then they must brainstorm possible ways to tell this story. Remind them of the different formats they saw from the sample papers. I give my students the following:

Brainstorm: List at least 4 different ways or perspectives you could use to tell your story. Circle the one you intend to use.

Again you can give them examples from a topic no one is working on.
Crop Circles: 1. a newspaper article about random crop circle appearances; 2. a short story about aliens creating the crop circles; 3. a first-person story about visiting my Uncle, a farmer; 4. a news report script/interview with farmers and experts

After you've made sure everyone is on the right track, then you can let them start drafting!

Source & Notes Page Sample

Monday, October 4, 2010

"Metacog" Reading

Well, active reading is great and all, but what am I supposed to do if I can't write in the book or read aloud in class? They need to actively read at home, too!

Are you saying you don't follow each and every single student home and stand over their precious shoulders as they do their homework? No? Just me?

For all you slackers, I came up with my "Metacog" chart: a graphic organizer and active reading all in one! (and there was much rejoicing)

Check it out!

It's pretty straightforward. Just to ensure that my darling little angels are reading and reading actively, I require them to copy this chart into their notebooks and fill it in as they read. I used this for homework on assigned novels and booktalk books.

Remind them that they don't write in the first column - that is just the title for the row. They write in the second and third column. The second column should be a brief description of the scene ("Ruby is talking to her therapist") and page number, just so they can't make up any ol' thing, and the third column is whatever their prediction/question, etc. is. They must complete each skill over the course of that reading assignment. They don't have to do it in order, of course, just have to make sure they do one of each.

As kids get the hang of it, feel free to have them fill out the chart themselves. Make more rows, and have them fill in multiple predictions/questions/comments/connections. They could do 5 comments and 2 questions for all I care. I just want them to actively read! This chart is easy, doesn't require your making copies, and (I think) effective.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

More songs, more fun!

Over the summer a friend shared with me her extensive list of songs she uses to complement lessons on poetic and literary devices. She worked hard to provide a wide variety of artists and genres, and I should say she accomplished her goal! She also added a few new categories to my original list, including one for short story plot chart, so students could practice analyzing the elements of a plot (exposition, climax, etc.) through songs that tell stories! Awesome, huh?

Go take a look at the post now
. It's burgeoning with fresh material, waiting for you to bookmark it!

And, as always, if you have anything to add, leave a comment and say so!

Poetic Devices & Music...

Friday, October 1, 2010

Active Reading

If there's something I've learned about ordering people around, is that they want to know why they are doing something, students especially. Granted, they'll find a way to complain about just anything if it's that kind of a day, but in general I've found that if you can convince them that the work has value, they'll do it. Begrudgingly, but with a tad less resistance.

It is for that reason I give my students a short spiel about active reading, even introducing the term "metacognition." (I also find if you throw around scientific terms/studies to back it up, they will also begrudgingly accept the fact that, hey you know what you're talking about. They're all about the propaganda, those teenagers.)

Since I couldn't have students mark up their textbook for active reading, the next best thing is to do this orally, as we read together. I took a note from my student teaching mentor teacher and made little "Metacog" cards.

Making "MetaCog"/Active Reading cards
1. You will need 3 or 4 3x5 or 4x6 (your preference) index cards.
2. You will need markers/fine-tip Sharpies of as many different colors as you have index cards (i.e. 3 or 4)
3. Using a different color per card, on one side of the card write:
4. On the other side, I write a giant question mark and make a funky border. You could do the same or write "MetaCog" or "Active Reading" or whatever fun quirky title you want to give this activity.

In Class...
5. Explain the idea of active reading/metacognition to students.

Explain however you so choose, but you will need to eventually lead explaining the skills that are on the cards.
  • Prediction - predict an event or plot twist or character development, etc. Make a guess as to something that will happen in the next few pages or in the next 100 pages.
  • Question - question the text. Are you confused about what is happening? Is there an unfamiliar word? Do you wonder what a character's motive/etc. is? You as teacher may choose to answer it or not. I usually don't unless they claim to have no clue what is happening, then I have a peer help explain.
  • Comment - comment on something happening in the text. This is the "freestyle" section. Anything from "I can't believe she just did that!" to "Don't go in there!" to "I wish I could do that!"
  • Connection - connect something from the book to anything outside of it, be it another book, movie, or life experience.
6. Explain that you are going to give the cards to 3 (or 4) random students.
7. As the class reads, you will periodically call out a color.
8. The student with the card of that color must then offer a prediction OR question OR comment OR connection on the text. Student's choice.
9. After s/he does so, student gets to pass the card to whomsoever s/he chooses. And next student must accept! (this invokes that slight element of cruelty that makes it a little fun to watch).
10. After the card has been passed, class will continue to read. At the appointed time, teacher will call out a new color, and the process repeats.

I make a little chart for myself ahead of time, tallying which colors I've called so I don't call the same one over and over or in the same order. Like to keep 'em on their toes.