English Language Arts - Methods and Madness

Thursday, December 28, 2006

Winter Reading

I am currently catching up on some pleasure reading (as well as education related reading as well) over this break and wanted to recommend a great book I started today: Frank McCourt's (author of Angela's Ashes) "Teacher Man". Beautiful account of a teacher's life from the first day in the classroom through a thirty-year career. There is much that I can relate to already (he attended NYU for his teaching certification), and other experiences that I am sure I will come across soon enough. Check it out.

Monday, December 11, 2006

Ongoing Reflection Part III: Independence

Third Theme: Independence

What are some ways I could give students the reins, so that they are in charge of their work process?

How can I help students creatively work through problems?

Ongoing Reflection Part II: Risk

Second Theme: Risk

What frightens you as a teacher?

What risks do you take to overcome your fears?

Ongoing Reflection: Environment

This and the next two posts come from Rembert and Lydia's Best Practice Presentation in section 3. The two of us have had conversations over the past few months about ideas & concepts within teaching and learning that interest us. As we’ve been teaching we’ve also had real-life situations in which to examine those ideas in relation to actual students. Rembert and Lydia picked three broad themes from our conversations; we invite you to consider them for yourself and to add your own thoughts. We posed questions in class relating to each theme, and hope that you will now post your reflections to this blog so that we can all continue these conversations as we strive to develop disciplined habits of mind.

First theme: Environment

How do you plan lessons and activities that allow both student and teacher to actively process, discover, and evolve rather than transmit from some old, dead place?

How do you address your students’ vulnerabilities in the class—either physical, intellectual, or emotional?

Not A Lover of Lit

On several occasions, Tim talked about how we were problably lovers of literature growing up and that we were nerds who knew and loved grammar. Tim also talked about how we loved in class lit discussions and this was the impetus for us to teach.

Here's a dirty secret: I hated Enlgish growing up and I almost flunked out of high school.

Growing up, English and science were my two least favorite subjects. I despised writing in English class. I never understood the "rules" of grammar and always felt like moron in class. I used such tricks of the trade as miniscule handwriting and passive voice to get by. I thought my teachers were mean spirited old people (most of my teachers retired by the time I finished freshman year of college). The selections sucked, and the in-class discussions sucked even more. (To this day I still hate "Lord of the Flies.")

In all fairness, I was an avid reader growing up. I had a voracious appitite. I think I read 40 books one summer (2nd grade, I think). I enjoyed talking about books with my friends. However, in class discussions of books and short stories were an entirely different matter. I remember answering pointless questions at the end of each story. I remember feeling that the stories themselves were more pointless than the questions. It all seemed like busy work to me. By my early teens I discovered a passion for rock-n-roll, so I no longer had time for reading or even televison. (To this day I still despise TV, but that's another topic.)

After I graduated from high school, I started to read for pleasure again. In high school, my friends read "cool" books such as "Naked Lunch" and "A Clockwork Orange." I felt that I had to keep up, so I read them. My friends and I would listen to Thelonious Monk or Beethoven while arguing over the significance of passages in the texts we were reading. My junior collge English classes were not as enlightened. In fact, they bore a striking resemblance to my high school and middle school English classes. Bo-ring.

I remember hearing that upper-division English classes at four-year colleges and at univiersities were more interesting than the lower-division classes at my junior college. I eventually signed up for classes at Mississippi State University and discovered that being an English major was more like the expereince I had with my friends rather than the experiences I had in class. I also became friends with several of my professors. Over beers, we would argue about literary theory, politics, literary genres, literary history, and whatever else was on our minds. It was a liberating expereince.

Even more liberating was my evolution as a writer. My professors were not fooled by my use of passive voice. They did not see it as flowerey and cool. They saw it as pretentious and boring. I spent many hours--both in class and during office hours--learning my craft. Now I understand grammar and writing, and successfully teach them to freshmen in college. I am more than prepared to teach high school.

I believe that my experinece will guide me as a teacher. I see that disjointed exercises don't work. In-class discussions are important, but they have to draw out what is already inside the reader; not to simply answer a question for the sake of answering a question. Rather than worry about if my students are enjoying the material, I want to make sure they see why they are studying it. Rather than make them write essays "because I said so," or even because "this will help you in the future;" I want them to feel joy in expressing themselves. I want to see that they can formulate and express an idea. They don't have to like it, nor do they have to have fun; but they do need to find the joy within. Otherwise English is a series of disjointed readings and BS discussions.

Thursday, November 30, 2006

Let's talk about sex.

Today, I threw someone out of class for ignoring my numerous requests that he stop using the word "fag" to describe one of his groupmates. When students at my high school (XX school name removed XX) are asked to leave class, they report to the Wellness Center, a room staffed by a couple of counselors with street credit who attempt to get to the bottom of behavioral issues in a productive manner. I had privately asked the student to cease; I explained that many people, including myself, found it to be an insulting word; I told him that I was available after class to have a serious discussion about these issues, if he so chose. Well, he made the wrong choice, and got himself removed. This is not the first time that this word and others like it have been casually hurled around the classroom or hallways. And yet, no one in authority seems to want to touch the issue at all, in any meaningful way.

Does anyone on this blog teach at a school where homophobia among students is seriously dealt with? How so? My school has a clearly-stated and -posted rule banning hate speech of any kind, but the message has seemingly not yet reached the 9th grade. (I don't know about other grades.) Is there a way for schools to address the developing sexuality of their students in a mature fashion, and without crossing boundaries? It's a confusing time for all students, and I'm wondering what place these conversations have. Homophobia is certainly not the only problem that appears in the teen years; sexism and mistreatment between the opposite sexes are just as rampant. Why is more not being done to provide some kind of sensitivity training?


Tuesday, November 28, 2006

A Blog about Teaching Writing

Check out The Science of Teaching Writing. "Camdaram" is a middle school ELA teacher who has interesting posts on the teaching of writing in his classroom. I always learn something new!

Short Story Suggestions for 7th Graders

Every Friday my CT and I do a read aloud with our 7th graders, and we're running out of short story ideas. We're focusing on memoirs right now because we're doing a unit on non-fiction. We find ourselves in a Catch 22 situation because we need material that isn't too racy (our first read aloud was "First French Kiss" and, while they loved it, they could barely contain themselves) but is still more literarily sophisticated than they could read themselves (which is why we're not reading "Chicken Soup for the Soul" and the like). I've looked through the previous posts and I don't think I would feel comfortable reading about things like sexual abuse when we (purposely) don't really allow time for discussion or written reflection. I guess what I'm asking for are memoir texts at a high school reading level that are age-appropriate for middle schoolers. Suggestions? Anyone? Anyone?


Monday, November 13, 2006

Adding Links to the Blog

As you can see, we can add any useful links and website to the list on the left-side.

You can post any url or website you would like to this list by replying with a comment to this posting that has the url or website information.


Sunday, November 05, 2006

Amy Hempel.The Harvest

Here is the link to the full story from our Best Practice presentation, since I don't see it on here yet. :~)

"The Harvest" (Amy Hempel):

Friday, October 27, 2006

Short Stories!

Hi classmates!

I am teaching a short story (Fishers' "Miss Cynthie") on Wednesday and am looking for a creative exercise the class can do in pairs or groups. I just used chart paper so I am trying to steer clear of it. I am not really teaching the literary elements of the story since its a humanities class. I am instead using it to talk about the Harlem Renaissance and the effect of performance art on society. Can anyone think of anything? Thanks