Monday, July 26, 2010

In a Nutshell...

Right now I'm feeling REALLY overwhelmed. I just cleared off my desktops on our two home computers, and there are just SO MANY files that I've saved as possibilities for the upcoming year or professional materials to read... I guess it's a good problem to have, but it's a little frustrating. I hardly know where to begin.

The first step was sorting out the teaching stuff from the other cool stuff - silly videos, neat pictures, cartoons, articles that resonated with me - and putting all of that where it goes. The next step - going through the teaching stuff and actually opening files and looking through them - that's got me a bit intimidated. I've got 90 files on this computer alone. And I haven't even started looking at my laptop. You know, the one that's actually my work computer. Hoo boy.

Anyway, what I really had planned for this post was listing out my sequence of units and going over my rationale for why each unit goes where it goes. It'll be a nice way to put off the inevitable.

Okay, backstory. This year there will be two major changes. First of all, due to the financial crisis, the state lopped eleven days off the student calendar - from 180 to 169. Naturally, there should be no resulting drop in student achievement. Okay, snark over, not really the point. And everything got cut from the beginning of the school year. So instead of starting at the end of this month, we're starting halfway through next month. That actually works out pretty well for me since I've got surgery on Friday....

Holy s*t. Next week is our last full week off. DAMN. I can feel my blood pressure rising steadily now. AURGH!

De-tangent-ing, that was kind of a doozy for us since we were on semester blocks: four classes before winter break, four more afterward. Obviously, going from 90 class days to 79 is nuts. We opted to keep the block but go to an alternating (A/B) schedule. Our classes will be 93ish minutes long and meet every other day. Courses will run the whole year. We have a week off at the beginning of October for fall break, a full week for Thanksgiving (plus I hope to get permission to go to the NCTE conference, which is the week before), winter break the last two-ish weeks of December into January, and then spring break is the first full week in April.

Unit 1 - "Baby Steps." Here I'm getting to know my students and their capabilities. We'll use shorter works to practice some of the strategies we'll use with longer texts later in the term. I don't know that I have a big idea for the students, but the idea that's shaping how I plan the unit is "tough stuff in little doses." I have nine days planned, which (given our schedule) takes us through August.

Unit 2 - "Breaking Free" (1984). I think what I really want to do is push against cultural walls. This community is so, SO insular, and so a book like 1984 seems irrelevant because not only is "the world" (as they understand it, anyway) not like that, so many of them seem incapable of envisioning a world that is significantly different than what they're used to. The reaction seems to be "Wow, what a sucky world they live in. Glad we live in AMERICA! Yay us." 1984 just seems silly. Two Million Minutes might work well here... another really good one would be A State of Mind as it presents a thoroughly foreign culture in a mostly-not-negative light. Plus I own it. I plan to use How to Read Novels Like a Professor to introduce it, talking about how the way an author begins a story gives us clues about the rest of the story. They'll have a set of pretty basic questions (mostly fact-based) to guide their reading. And we'll also be meeting in literature circles. We'll have practiced the literature circle jobs back in unit 1. Twelve days for this takes it past fall break through most of October.

Unit 3 - "Competence Creates Confidence" (poetry & short drama). The reason people hate public speaking is that they don't have enough experience to be comfortable with it. I want to focus on presentation (volume, elocution, eye contact) and interpretation (body language, blocking, general acting). They'll get a break partway through when I'm at the NCTE conference (I think I'm going to have them catalog my classroom library); except for that, it goes all the way to winter break.

Unit 4 - "The Price of Freedom" (Julius Caesar). Can freedom come at too high a cost? I wanted to make sure I put this unit after the previous one - I'm not happy about having winter break between them but that's just kind of how it fell. In the previous unit students will have had some exposure to Shakespeare through his sonnets, so hopefully the language will be less of a problem. I have loved doing the one-day workshop as an intro, and I'll be contacting some of my previous students to act as group leaders. This is a 12-day unit that will go through the first week of February.

Unit 5 - "Honoring Our Voices" (Nonfiction / writers' workshop). Although we'll have been doing a good bit of writing the whole way through, this is where we'll really start looking at literature as writers. We'll start by looking back at works we're familiar with so that hopefully we can move past comprehension issues and look at techniques. We'll also look at our own writing, what we've already done, looking for patterns in topics or themes or style. I want students to recognize that in order to be respected by others, they need to show that they respect themselves first, and they can do that by shaping and polishing their work. 10 days; goes into the second week of March.

Unit 6 - Research project. Okay, this unit? Sucks. I don't have much freedom with it. I wish I could make it about exploration - about taking the seed of an idea and running with it, pursuing it as it leads to new information and new ideas. But we just don't have the resources. I have it near the end of the year because they're required to write a four-page paper and I think it's only fair to give them the time & training to develop the "writing stamina" they'll need to do a good job (that's also why it's after the writers' workshop unit). But I don't want it at the very end because (a) there are always those who slip behind for one reason or another; this gives them some meager chance to catch up, and (b) goodness knows I don't want to be stuck grinding away at a bajillion research papers over a single weekend. 12 days - they'll turn their roughs in a few days before spring break so that I can give some pointers, and then we'll have a few days to conference again after break before heading to the computer lab to type, finishing mid-April.

Unit 7 - "Show & Share" (Portfolio compilation & book clubs). Lots of choice and student-driven learning here to make the end of the term fun while staying rigorous. They'll go through and pick out writing samples - not just ones that demonstrate their best work; what I really want to see in their portfolio is change over time in the samples, and analysis of their development as a writer in a reflective piece (or series of reflections). Maybe I'll have them pick a piece or two to polish. For the book clubs I've got a number of YA dystopias, so they'll pick their discussion group based on the book they want to read, and it'll reflect back to 1984 as well. For the final exam I plan to invite parents and community members, and the students will present and discuss their writing portfolios.

I would really, really like to know what others think of this. Sometimes it concerns me that I teach so few major works. But I hate feeling rushed, and I haven't felt that any of this dragged. Then again, the units went by a lot quicker when we were meeting every day, so I don't know.

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