Thursday, August 21, 2014

Parenting Students

On the first day back to school, our superintendent, Dr. Turner, challenged all of us teachers to treat our students like they are our children: to go the extra mile, to fight for them, to make sure they are nourished educationally, and to think about their future as citizens of this great country.  As teachers, to raise the next generation to meet the challenges of its day, we can inspire dreams by teaching students to manage their time, to follow through on their responsibilities, to see that their decisions do lead them down certain paths.  If we care about our students like parents care about their children, we will create lessons that will make students feel growing pains that cause them to even make startling statements like "I can't do this!" or "It's impossible," or "I need help" or "I'll hang out with my friends as soon as I finish my homework," or "I really like being challenged by this material."  Eventually, if we stick to our guns, students may reflect on their education and say, "I hated going through that class, but it taught me how to . . . " or "Now I see why we had to do this work."  Or perhaps they will even say, "Thank you. You believed in me when I did not believe in myself." Parents and teachers have a tough job filled with satisfying sacrifice and love like none other, and the adults of tomorrow deserve that sort of love so they can pass it on to the next generation.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

See How They've Grown

When school dismissed for summer, I transplanted the two inch tall plants, which had been growing in my classroom since my homeroom students planted them in January, into the earth. Not all have survived: rabbits, deer, weeds and the issues of being started indoors all threatened their existence, but now, finally, they are starting to bloom. It is worth the wait. Soon the juniors who planted these seeds will start their senior year. I can't wait to see them on August 25th, the first day of the 2014-2015 school year.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Students as Teachers

Gabrielle took charge of the classroom.  She handed out small pieces of paper from a sandwich-sized Ziplock baggie.  She asked twenty-four of her peers to anonymously write down an insecurity on the paper.  Without hesitating, students wrote.  Then, following her directions, they fold the paper in quarters and submitted them to the box she designated.

Next, Gabrielle told students to grab an insecurity from the box and to make sure it was not their own.  Quickly and quietly all selected and were directed to write a letter of advice to the insecurity.  Students wrote with great focus and with much to say.  

When the ten minutes were up, Gabrielle called students one-by-one to read their advice.  The insecurities did not vary much and all could relate:  Seven of the twenty-five had issues with the perception of being fat, six had issues with the way they perceive their looks, one each feared being a failure, feared being alone, compared oneself to a boyfriend's ex-girlfriend, feared that life has no purpose and the advice was what each and every student needed to hear.

Jaleesa  wrote this:
“My Eyes”
What is wrong with your eyes? I see nothing wrong with them. They are actually very beautiful. The color that you have makes your eyes twinkle. I can tell when you are happy, nervous, or scared because your eyes always tell a story. Your eyes are special. They stand out like no other. You are a very mysterious person, but when I look into your eyes I know you have a kind heart. Please do not dislike your beautiful unique eyes because they are what make you “you” and you are a beautiful person. Embrace them.

Jocelyn wrote this:
Your Depression will lose

Who ever you are, I need you to know that you can conquer your depression. You can fight it! Whatever it is that is overshadowing you and making you feel the way you feel, please, know that there is someone out there that wants to talk to you and listen to every word you have to say. I don’t know if you do talk about your depression, but if you do and do not talk to anyone, you will just build up more weight on your shoulders. Let me tell you that I can understand how hard that can be; to find someone who you can trust and be honest to, but don’t give up. Find someone, let them know how you feel because letting out all your emotions will take some weight off. Please, I beg that you do this! Please!
I don’t want to say that I know how it feels to go through depression because I’m writing about you. Not about me, but I know what depression feels like. I wish I didn’t. HONESTLY I wish I didn’t. Depression is such a terrible state to be in! I hate it! With all my heart I do. I don’t know how bad your depression is but please, find what can free you from this. ASAP! There is someone out there that wants to support you and care for you. I am writing this in a serious matter. From my heart. I don’t know who you are but please don’t take this the wrong way. I love you. Whoever you are, I love you. Everyone is loved and needs to be loved. Love is what can help you escape from this. Love conquers everything. I believe it. To believe it, you need to love yourself and I hope that you do.
I’m sorry that you are going through what you are going through. Depression is hard to get through and I know you can fight it. I need you to believe that. I believe that you can do it.
Find something or someone that makes you happy and smile and laugh. One true meaningful smile can help with your depression. If drawing makes you happy; draw. If singing makes you happy; sing. If exercising blows off some steam or clears your mind; workout! Find your freedom. Find what helps you not ‘just make it through the day’, find what can free your from this forever.
If you need to speak, I am here. Please, do not hesitate. I mean it.

This timely exercise, generated by a student, had a carryover effect.  I tried the same exercise with my freshman English class, and with some guidance about taking the exercise seriously and maturely,the same results occurred.  Students opened up and their peers came through with good advice.It is a reminder that students with a say in their classrooms can create lessons that resonate with their peers in a much more profound way than any teacher could develop.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Growing Together in Homeroom

On January 24, to beat the winter doldrums, I wanted my 25 homeroom students to plant zinnias, so I bought an inexpensive starter kit that conveniently had 50 spots to grow seeds and I put together these instructions.

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  Displaying IMAG3014.jpg                                    Displaying IMAG3011.jpg

In a brief ten minutes, the students had the seeds planted.
Now it is February 11 and the seeds look like this:  Displaying IMAG3033.jpg 

And we are collecting milk cartons so in a week or so we can transplant the zinnias.  Who knows, maybe they will bloom in the classroom.

A Novel Way to Write Creatively

We have just started the process of piecing together a novel in Creative Writing class.  Twenty-five students, each writing one chapter, are figuring out character sketches in the pictures below.  All will use the same information so their chapters make sense in the end, but for now, we are in the creating stage.

Backing up to the beginning of this project, students received several slips of blank paper to record ideas so we can randomly yet in an orderly way figure out the basics of the novel. A box was placed at the front of the classroom, and students submitted their ideas each time we had a decision to make about where the novel would go.  First we brainstormed on the board the potential types of fiction as a class; from that list, students individually submitted their choices. Fantasy was drawn by the student chosen to be the selector and the novel had a genre.  Next we determined settings for the movel, so the drawee selected five of the twenty-five suggestions for time and place and those places will house the entire novel's plot.    Then students wrote character names and brief descriptions.  We decided six characters would be plenty for this novice novel, and that's how we ended up with Jericho, John, Carson Clayson, Semilla, Julie, and Skylar.  Then students submitted ideas for the title, and voila, Broken Wing it is.  Finally, we chose chapter names in the same way.  Students submitted two ideas on two pieces of paper. Then we numbered the chapters, one per student, drew an option, and that became chapter 1; we also drew out a student's name to match up an author with a chapter.  Here is the first sketch of the  project's foundation.  To determine more fully who these characters are, the class was divided into six groups and created this for all students to reference as needed.  Finally, each student is assigned a chapter per day.  The first student wrote chapter 1 for Feb. 10th.  The second student will write chapter two for Feb. 11th and so on until March 17th when the last chapter is due.  I'll update the blog when that occurs.  Who knows what will become of this project.

Title: Broken Wing
Characters (6):
Jericho, angel, appears to be 18 age and origin unknown, black hair, blue eyes,
lean and wiry, wears jeans, a black plain t-shirt with a dark green jacket and
pale skin. His personality is cold, calculating, quiet and stern, observes and
speaks coldly, jerkish and moody
Semilla: origin, born in the underworld, sad, bipolar, hairy
Julie, red hair, blue eyes, short, 18, smart, shy but tough, loves to sing but only in
the dark alone, determined but scared but brave, can never balance the
John:  origin Italy, short, chubby, 25, fat arms, rolls around everywhere
Clayton Carson:  Manipulative, sly, works alone, sociopathic, seems personable,
from England, 19, birthday on June 4, tall, handsome, dark hair, blue eyes
Skylar:  lost, 17, girl, long blonde hair, green eyes, average, very sassy, listens to
music because she is alone, born in Illinois, impatient

Plot: Skylar is missing and many are out to find her for both good and bad reasons.
Setting: (see the last part of each chapter listed below)

Genre:  Fantasy

Ch. 1 Danny “Goodbye”  Italy 6829 AD
Ch. 2 Mariah “Tales of Draccosack” 2083 underground
Ch. 3 Kelsie “The End of the Unicorns” Spring time in the magical faerie forest
Ch. 4 Gabrielle “Fading Away” 1442 Bulgaria, midmorning
Ch. 5 Ivette “The Fantastic Wilma Wigoo” 1997, Edinburg, Texas

Ch. 6 Jessica “The Fearsome Adventures”Italy 6829 AD
Ch. 7. Esmerelda “Float”  2083 underground
Ch. 8 Jocelyn “The Fall” Spring time in the magical faerie forest
Ch. 9 Kelvin “Wonderland” 1442 Bulgaria, midmorning
Ch. 10 Erika “Expecting Trouble” 1997, Edinburg, Texas

Ch. 11 Jaleesa “Visiting the Neighbors” The Fearsome Adventures”Italy 6829 AD
Ch. 12 Fernando “Unicorn and the Castle” 2083 underground
Ch. 13 Kate “The Rival Kingdom” Spring time in the magical faerie forest
Ch. 14 Laci “Unicorn Lays Eyes on Rainbow Puff” 1442 Bulgaria, midmorning
Ch. 15Karen “Inside”  1997, Edinburg, Texas

Ch. 16 Juan “Fairy Underworld” The Fearsome Adventures”Italy 6829 AD
Ch. 17 Kimberly “Frozen” 2083 underground
Ch. 18 Alisha “Red Velvet Cake Time” Spring time in the magical faerie forest
Ch. 19 Sarai “The Floating Car” 1442 Bulgaria, midmorning
Ch. 20 Lizzie “Unicorn in Love” 1997, Edinburg, Texas

Ch. 21 Varinia “Turned 18 and Everything Changed” Italy 6829 AD
Ch. 22Diana “The Magical Discovery”  2083 underground
Ch. 23Raquel “The Found Remains” Spring time in the magical faerie forest
Ch. 24 Alejandra “Surprise”  1442 Bulgaria, midmorning
Ch. 25 DeAnna “Parallel House” 1997, Edinburg, Texas

Friday, January 31, 2014

We're Done Reading the Book, but Our Learning is Just Beginning

Since Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury has been a part of the Accelerated English curriculum for six years now, I have always wanted the students to do a project with the allusions in that book. The time has come for my dream lesson plan to be scheduled into an actual unit.  

For a quick summary, Guy Montag, the main character in Fahrenheit 451 is a firefighter in Bradbury's dystopian novel set in a future time of war. Firefighting has evolved to burning homes with books and even the owners if they refuse to leave their books behind.Throughout the course of the novel, many literary allusions are casually tossed around like frisbees just out of reach of the students' perception.  So after we finished reading the entire novel, it was time to teach them how to catch those allusions.  

First, students were individually assigned a set number of pages from the book(to avoid repetitious subjects), and they had to individually post allusions found on under the discussion section so all students can access this information. 

From the students findings, I created this task to kick off the next phase of the project:

Directions:  Choose a pair listed below.  Research them. Find out pertinent information (who, what, where, when, why as best you can.  In your own words, post your information as a comment beneath the subject on the discussion.  The goal is for others to read the discussion and find out important information about your subjects. Be thorough yet concise.

____________1.  Edna St. Vincent Millay, Charles Darwin
____________2.  Walt Whitman, Alexander Pope,
____________3.  William Faulkner, Arthur Schopenhauer
____________4.  Bible (Old and New Testament, Matthew, Mark, Luke and John).
____________5.  Hercules, Albert Einstein
____________6.  Antaeus, Aristophanes
____________7.  Luigi Pirandello, Thomas Jefferson
____________8.  George Bernard Shaw, Albert Schweitzer
____________9.  William Shakespeare, Abraham Lincoln
____________10. John Milton, Gautama Buddha
____________11.  Sophocles, Mahatma Gandhi
____________12.  Aeschylus, Confuscius
____________13. Eugene O’Neill, Thomas Love Peacock
____________14.  Jonathan Swift, The Constitution
____________15.  Marcus Aurelius, Ecclesiastes
____________16.  Dante Alighieri, Little Black Sambo
____________17.  Benjamin Franklin, Uncle Tom’s Cabin
____________18.  Nicholas Ridley, Gulliver’s Travels
____________19.  Plato, Plato’s Republic
____________20.  Henry David Thoreau, Hamlet
____________21.  Thomas Paine, Cambridge

In class, I drew names out of a box and one-by-one students chose their topics (I had everyone write down who had which topic to help them all keep track).  Now students are in the midst of finding out who these people and references are.  In the next step, each student will select reading material by one of the authors or titles mentioned.  After that is completed, we will begin synthesizing all that we have gathered from the novel, the individual reading pieces, and tie it to our experiences as humans in the year 2014. Part of this process will include exploring questions like are these books worth saving?  Is knowledge of them dangerous?  Why is the society in Fahrenheit 451 so fearful to let people think for themselves, to feel their emotions?  Why is the goal to cram people full of distractions that keep them from thinking about someone other than themselves?  Is our current society like this? What does our society fear people will do? Is knowledge dangerous?

Ignorance of the allusions weakens the whole experience of reading the book. We finished reading Fahrenheit 451, but the learning is far from over.