Thursday, September 24, 2015

Shakespeare Ponderings

Ever since I began teaching at this school, English II (10th grade) has studied Julius Caesar. When I was first assigned English II, I hated the play. I'm not a "words for the sake of words" person (Mercutio's Queen Mab speech feels like a tiresome detour) so a lot of the pontificating seems overlong to me. Plus it's another bunch of dudes; Portia and Calpurnia get some words that end up not making any difference to the story. And I could go on for pages and pages about how insulting Portia's characterization is - the way she attests to how much better she is than other women, and part of her justification for that is based on who the men in her life are. And then a few scenes later she's so nervous and upset that she can't think straight.

This year we got parallel-text copies of A Midsummer Night's Dream. Part of me wants to teach that instead of Julius Caesar (given that it is expected that we WILL study a Shakespearean play in English II - I would not be allowed to use Antigone or a novel instead). The main reason is that we don't teach ANY of Shakespeare's comedies. The closest we get is the first half of Romeo and Juliet in English I. So students finish our program and graduate having been /told/ that Shakespeare also wrote comedies, but not really having been exposed to them. And I feel like they end up thinking that Shakespeare is all intrigue and murder and angst and forgetting that there's more.


Julius Caesar looks at the ideas of leadership and power and the responsibility of citizens when government starts going wrong. (Or when you think it does.) And I tend to think that those concepts are of greater significance than romantic love and mistaken identities and whimsical magic. Nor are you going to get me to believe that romance is more relevant to teens than "what do you do when the people in charge are becoming bad leaders?"

Additionally, the play makes a fantastic follow-up to Animal Farm (which we also study), where the 'lower' animals let the pigs assert more and more control until they end up getting fed less and having to work harder than they did when they were owned by humans.

I guess I'm wondering about the relative value of the thematic messages in Midsummer and Caesar. I feel like the latter is much stronger, but that may only be because I haven't taught the former! So, to those of you who've taught A Midsummer Night's Dream, what do you see as its enduring messages, and why are they so important?


Friday, September 18, 2015

A Little Kindness Goes a Long Way

Today has been fairly peaceful. I have a few students who want to put their heads down, but so far if I offer them the choice between going to the nurse and sitting up and doing their work, they've picked the latter. 

And I can't blame them too much. I'm tired too. Right now I'm feeling frustrated because I KEEP having to rearrange my research unit to accommodate state or district mandated testing.  I feel caught in between the statement from the superintendent and board that "student use of technology is a non-negotiable priority" and the plain and simple fact that when I ask for technology that students can use, I'm told they can't have it.

So my unit plan isn't revised, mostly because I don't know when we can use the darned computers, but also because every time I look at it I start getting angry.


Tuesday, September 01, 2015

Pledge Procedures

Last year there were a couple of posts talking about the Pledge that I meant to respond to, and didn't.

I teach in a high school (9-12). This year I have all sophomores, but I've taught students of varying ages in previous years. Every morning, over the loudspeaker, someone recites the Pledge before we have the announcements for that day. However, I do not tell my students that they are required to recite it along with the student on the loudspeaker.

Most days, I stand. Sometimes I put my hand over my heart; sometimes I don't. Usually I don't say it myself more than once or twice a semester.

The idea that all students should recite the pledge at the beginning of every day has always seemed a bit dodgy to me. For one thing, even if it's not intended as indoctrination, it sure feels that way. Additionally, by the time they reach me, it seems to have gone from "tradition" to "rote." So I feel that allowing students to choose whether or not they say the Pledge makes it more meaningful.

Most, if not all, of these students have been through years and years of public school already and know the Pledge "by heart."  I do like that everyone knows the Pledge - and the national anthem. There's definitely value in these shared experiences.

It's interesting to watch the students each morning to see what they choose to do.


Thursday, August 27, 2015


It's hard to believe that I've now been teaching for more than ten years. Sometimes it feels like there's not that much that has changed, but that's only because most of the changes have been so gradual.

It feels like there's a lot more paperwork than there used to be. I'm not sure if that's true, or if I'm just experienced enough that I'm actually DOING more of it. And some of it is what I've come up with myself, for various reasons.

For example, when we do novel studies, we only have enough books for students to use them during class. So I sign out a book to each student every day, and then sign them back in when they finish the work for that day. It's tedious, but I almost never have a book disappear anymore. I started that policy after our department went from 90 copies of Animal Farm to about 30 in the space of two years. Each copy goes from my hand to a student's hand and back, in part because when I put the books back in the cardboard box we use to store them, I stack them neatly. Somehow when students put the books back, they end up in a jumbled mess. I used to nag them to put the books away in neat stacks, and that helped with the condition of the books, but it was one more thing to hassle them over and it was always an issue. Now it's not!

And it's not as time-consuming as you might think. It takes about five minutes to get everyone a copy at the start of class. Then they turn them in as they finish, so I generally don't have a line at the end of class. Writing each student's name down also helps me learn their names!

Then when students ask to use the restroom or get a drink of water or something, I have them sign out on a log sheet (full name, date, time, destination) and then ALSO write those same four things on a piece of scrap paper (I keep a stack by the log sheet). Then I sign the scrap paper and they use that as a pass. Then when they get back they are to sign in on the log sheet. When a sheet is filled I take it off the clipboard and file it in a binder.

This year I'm also adding a behavior log. I've never been good at keeping immediate records of behavior. While I've never had my disciplinary notes called into question, I feel more confident when I know I have an accurate description of events.

I don't like doing paperwork, but I like having it. It makes me feel safe. I like knowing I have a record of what has gone on in my class. Given some of my prior experiences with the current administration... well, one of my favorite sayings is "I'd rather have it and not need it than need it and not have it!"


Friday, August 21, 2015

I Only Have One Life

I just read Maya's post and it really struck a chord with me. I often feel like I don't have enough time in my day. It's very hard for me to slow down - and waiting is even worse! I hate waiting, because if I'm not doing something while I wait, it feels like I've lost that time.

Jupiter Ascending is a movie I really like for a lot of reasons, but one of the most important is a remark by one of the characters that the most valuable resource we have is TIME. That was something I'd felt for a long time but hadn't really found a way to explain. There are so many different things I want to do, not to mention all of the things I ought to do or NEED to do, and I only have one life to do them in.

There are more books published in a year than I could possibly read in a year, even if all I did was read. My to-read list keeps growing instead of shrinking. There are movies and tv shows that sound fascinating, but that I haven't yet watched. I purchased the Mass Effect trilogy almost a year ago - I think it was on sale last Thanksgiving - gosh, I hope it wasn't the Thanksgiving BEFORE last! - but I haven't even opened the program because I'm still in the middle of the first Dragon Age game, which I started the previous summer.

I do try to declutter, but it's HARD. There's fanfic to read and costumes to sew and languages to study and and parents to visit and coding to practice and doodles to sketch and siblings to call and songs to sing and friends to play games with and plays to perform - all things that are fun and invigorating. They fill my life in wonderful ways.

How can I give any of them up?

So I prioritize. I try to focus. I cycle through, trying to keep up with everything while sometimes feeling like I'm not making progress in anything. And when that happens, I also try to forgive myself.

Starter text here Rest of text here. Any final text here. Image thanks to URL HERE


Friday, June 19, 2015

Challenge Olympics
I have been meaning to respond to this post for some time, but every time I read it, I get angry. In it, Janet Givens states:

American teachers, the ones teaching at American universities, colleges, and even some high schools, are spoiled. - See more at:
American teachers, the ones teaching at American colleges, universities, and even some high schools, are spoiled.

What makes this even more ignorant is that at the beginning of her post, she says "One of the oft ignored challenges of culture shock, is that we begin to see the world in black and white: good and bad, right and wrong." However, that's exactly how she divides Kazakhstani teachers and American teachers.

I can't help wondering what about her teaching experiences made Givens think that American teachers are "spoiled," or even why she extrapolated from her own experiences to American teachers as a whole. Nothing whatsoever about her post gives any support to the implication that teachers' expectations are unreasonable. Because that's what being "spoiled" means - expecting more than you have any right to.

Givens continues to make claims that are both ridiculous and insulting: "American teachers can't possibly work as hard as my teachers here in Kazakhstan. American teachers have students who are, generally, prepared... American teachers don't know what frustration and impotence really are."

And yet every one of the student types she lists is equally true of my classes:
  • students who are never present - actually I find this to be less of a problem than students who are rarely present; students who aren't ever present aren't my responsibility.
  • students who want to be somewhere other than class - "at least three," she says. Sweet Christmas, how I wish I had that few in this group!
  • students who are well below grade level - "who in America would still be in grammar school, repeating eighth grade." This is another obvious illustration of her ignorance. Does she really think that schools can just continue to let a child flunk indefinitely?
  • students who don't participate - I mean, really. She really believes American classrooms don't have these students?
  • students who are active and engaged - Yup, I've got those as well.
I don't use textbooks to teach grammar. And my students don't all have their own texts. I have a single class set that has to be shared among all of my classes. Granted, I teach high school, but I remember that in college, I often didn't get my own copy of the "required" textbook for the courses I took.

Maybe as a blogger, Givens felt it necessary to have a "catchy" title for her piece, something that would generate lots of hits. But I really don't appreciate being clickbait. Her dismissive tone toward American teachers is discouraging, and what's worse, it seems to be a good representation of the general attitude toward teachers overall.

Pat Hensley responded in a much more positive way. You'd think that having been online for decades, now, I'd be able to let malarkey like this pass by without comment. But apparently not.

Image from
merican teachers, the ones teaching at American universities, colleges, and even some high schools, are spoiled - See more at:


Thursday, May 14, 2015

Zero Sum

In his post "How the American education system doesn't fail," David Brin responds to a Washington Post article by Fareed Zakaria. Zakaria's article warns of problems that may arise from focusing too heavily - or even exclusively - on excellence in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) disciplines.

Brin says that Zakaria takes too pessimistic an outlook. He suggests that the breadth requirements of a four-year bachelor's degree are fairly well embedded into American culture, and aren't likely to be done away with any time soon. But the repeated pushback against "zero sum thinking" got me thinking.

In one sense, Brin is right. Spending more time studying math and science doesn't necessarily mean completely abandoning art and literature. However, the time that we spend on any one thing (such as studying math or science) is time that we are, by deduction, not spending on something else (such as studying art or literature). So in that sense, constrained as we are by the laws of thermodynamics, it IS a zero-sum game!

These are choices I have to make in my classroom as well. Choosing to teach these stories, essays, poems, etc. means that I will not have the opportunity to teach others. The time I spend to have students practice speaking in front of the class is time we are not spending on having them practice finding information in the text that supports their analysis. These decisions would be easier if I was choosing between "good instruction" and "poor instruction," but that's rarely the case. When I have to choose between two good opportunities, knowing I can't do both... that's hard. It's really, really hard.


Saturday, May 09, 2015


One thing that really grinds my gears is when students claim that they "didn't have enough time" to finish an assignment.

Our school system policy is to allow students to turn in late work with no penalty to their grade, which, okay, I can accept because according to the standards we are supposed to be evaluating demonstrated academic ability, not behavior. It also helps that we are given (some) flexibility to set harder deadlines, so that we don't receive a metric ton of work at the end of the term from students who are scrambling to pull up their grades.

I think I want my policy to be "once I return an assignment, I will no longer accept it for credit." Ideally I'd post a running tally of how many had originally been turned in and how many I've evaluated so far. Generally, the more work an assignment takes from the student, the more complex it is to evaluate. That would give me more of a sliding scale so that my deadline is both clear and flexible.

Additionally, we allow students to re-assess, so long as they complete a contract identifying problems they encountered and make a plan (usually including additional work for practice) so that when they complete the assessment the second (or third...) time, hopefully they'll do better. But when I see "I didn't have enough time" listed as one of their problems it sends my blood pressure skyrocketing.  Because, see, there was additional time available - I am here before school starts and after it ends. I allow students to come in from any of their other classes to work, so long as they have permission from their other teachers. The library is open before and after school and during the lunch periods.

Did you use any of those opportunities? Did you even ask about them? No? Then don't you dare claim that you "didn't have enough time."


Thursday, March 19, 2015

Leadership / Citizenship texts - POSITIVE examples?

The major texts we use for English II happen to have leadership as a common theme. It wasn't planned, but it works out nicely. We use Animal Farm, Julius Caesar, Lord of the Flies, The Prince, and Antigone.

The thing is, those are all kind of... well... dismal. And I've been trying to think of a work (ideally not one by yet another dead white guy!) that focuses on what it takes to be a good citizen and/or a good leader but carries a positive overall tone. The best one I've come up with is To Kill a Mockingbird, but (a) that's one of our texts for English I, and (b) it's still kind of discouraging!

Any suggestions?

Image thanks to


Monday, March 09, 2015

How to Weather the Storm

I'm tired.

I'm tired of students ignoring directions. I'm tired of having to repeat myself because students weren't paying attention. I'm tired of students acting like they should be allowed to do whatever they like (play on their cell phones, chitchat about weekend plans instead of working, sleep in class), and throwing a fit when I attempt to redirect them.

I'm tired of re-re-re-re-RE-organizing my unit plans because they're supposed to be kept up to date and we keep losing days because of bad weather. I'm tired of worrying how I'm going to prove that I'm a good teacher, because the current assumption is that you're mediocre or even negligent unless you can document otherwise. I'm tired of spending my time documenting my good teaching instead of actually practicing it.

I'm tired of feeling like I'm always in a lose/lose situation. If I don't stay abreast of popular culture (or if I keep my mouth shut), I'm ignorant and out of touch and can't relate to today's world. If I do, I'm unprofessional and possibly a creeper. If I point out the ways that teachers are often exploited, I'm a greedy whiner. If I keep my head down and just try to do my job, I'm a sellout.

I'm tired of being tired.

The truth is, in some ways, teachers have it much better now than they ever have. I don't have to come in at dawn to get the furnace started, nor did I have to worry that getting married would torpedo my career. But there is a level of self-sacrifice assumed of teachers that isn't true in other professions; in many cases, the work day extends long into the evening and often covers the weekends.

So what can we do to weather the storm?

1. Develop a support system.   I have wonderful people to help me - my husband is always patient and encouraging when I come home tired and frustrated (again). We both have parents in the area, and we actually enjoy spending time with them. Our friends are creative and interesting people, and we have lots of opportunities to be active in our community.

2. Learn to say "no." There are so many demands made on our time and abilities. It feels like each person thinks that the task they're requesting is the only one we have! If we say yes to everything that's asked of us, it becomes impossible to follow through. For me, going back on my word makes me feel incredibly guilty, even if I didn't mean to. So it's really important that I only agree to do things that I'm absolutely sure I'll be able to do in the time frame given.

3.  Get plenty of rest. This is especially important right now after "Spring Forward." Your body may still be used to going to bed at what it thinks is 10 PM, so you might have to start your bedtime rituals a little earlier. That way you don't look at the clock, thinking it's almost bedtime, and realize that you've accidentally stayed up until 10:50! Being well-rested helps me be more alert and focused during the day. It's easier for me to be patient with students who complain and to come up with an alternate plan if the copier jams, or the fire alarm goes off, or the books have completely fallen apart at the spine.

4. Exercise. I'll admit, I don't do as much exercising as I should. It's really hard when you're frustrated and worn out! Now that our school day is 20 minutes longer (because we missed so many days this winter) it's going to be even more difficult.

5. Eat well. Being hungry puts me in a rotten mood. If I don't have breakfast, I'm grouchy until lunch. There's also plenty of research that shows that eating breakfast also kicks your metabolism into a higher gear so that you're more ready for the day.

Also, it's often tempting to grab fast food after school. As a treat that's fine, but on a regular basis, it's bad for both your health and your bank account. When you make dinner, prepare enough to allow for leftovers to take to school for lunch. If I don't have leftovers, I try to pack sandwiches the night before. The morning is rushed as it is; anything I can do ahead of time to prepare makes it a bit easier.

 6. Count your blessings. Last but not least, take some time every now and then to remind yourself of the good things in your life. Look around you for opportunities to connect with others. Don't try to do everything yourself; remember that by graciously accepting help from others, you can make them feel valued and important.

What suggestions do you have for staying active for the long haul?


Monday, January 12, 2015

Companion texts

We'll be starting to read Animal Farm in just a few days. I think the overarching question I want to push students to examine is "What is the citizen's responsibility to society – and why?"

See, I've taught it before, and the students often come to the conclusion that the pigs just should have been nicer. I don't know if it's because they're that naive, or because they're slacking off and not bothering to look below the surface. Because, honestly, at the end of the novel, the pigs have it pretty good, at least in comparison to the rest of the animals.

The pigs aren't going to be any nicer unless the other animals make them be nicer. But by the end of the story, the pigs not only have the dogs as enforcers, they have the guns and other weapons as well. It would be very difficult for the other animals to take a stand against the pigs. The key is that the other animals didn't make the most of their opportunity to be involved in the new government after the Rebellion. They weren't lazy – they worked hard – but they were willing to go along with what someone else wanted. If you do that often enough, you're going to get stepped on, and that's exactly what happened.

For potential companion texts, I've used "Initiation" and "The Fan Club" as a pair, to encourage students to examine the desire to belong. I also have access to "The Lottery" and "The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas," but I'm less happy with those. They seem to oversimplify the situation. Both of them look at established societies, sort of as a "oh my isn't this terrible," but they don't look at how those societies and their practices developed. For example, you can definitely make the case that a capitalist society is predicated upon the suffering of those at the bottom for the well-being of those at the top. In "Omelas," we are just flat-out told that the suffering one is innocent. How do we know this? Only because the narrator says so. However, in our society (for example) we make other excuses for why those at the bottom are there. They aren't willing to work hard. They're selfish. They're criminals. We tell ourselves that our suffering ones are not innocent.

Trying to change society is a HUGE task that really can't be completely accomplished by one person, Hunger Games notwithstanding. So I want to get students to think about what it would take to change society, to make the world better, and what they can do to help make it happen.

Any suggestions for other possible texts to work along with Animal Farm?


Saturday, December 27, 2014

End of Term Exhaustion

One of the buzzwords this year has been "grit." In the reading I've done, I've heard it explained that students who take responsibility for their achievements are more likely to be successful than students who attribute their success or failure to external factors. This makes sense on the surface, but when I was reading my students' reflective essays, I noticed something interesting.

I had asked them to write about a standard they had mastered and a standard they still needed to work on. And for quite a few of the students, they claimed that the standard they mastered was because of their own skill and hard work... then went on to give all sorts of excuses I mean reasons that they'd been less successful. There were very few students who took responsibility for both their successes AND their failures. Needless to say, this was enlightening for me, but also somewhat discouraging. According to my students, any learning that happens is apparently in spite of me, not because of me.

Grit is variously defined as a mixture of determination, resilience, motivation, and courage. Here are some recent articles and blog posts that discuss it:

But while these all exalt the value of getting back up after failing (and in fairness, students who don't do that won't succeed) the truth is that simply trying again, or even trying harder, may not be enough to ensure success. Because if you did something that didn't get you the desired result, if you just do the same thing again, you're likely to get the same less-than-desirable result you did the first time. Perseverance alone isn't enough.

One of the skills that I don't see mentioned in the articles that talk about grit is reflection. After experiencing failure, but before charging back into the fray, it's important to take a good look at what led up to that failure. What were the factors that caused it? Which can I influence directly? What can I do to compensate for the factors that I cannot change? But while we practice this on a regular basis, I'm not entirely sure how I can break it down into smaller steps or try it at an easier level or provide support to help students who are struggling with it. (A lot of my students seem to equate "helping them" with "giving them the answer.")

How do you teach effective reflection? Do you teach it? If not, how do you encourage students to look for ways to improve?


Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Social Networking

I am, by nature, a solitary person. Most people would not suspect this, because I make an effort to be not just polite, but friendly. But when I get home from school, I am perfectly content to spend the evening (or an entire weekend) surfing the web, watching TV, listening to music, reading books, and doing household chores.

However, I know that having a good relationship with one's colleagues is important. So I try to stop by and talk to the other teachers in my department at least once during the week - usually during planning. But the thing is, it's really hard for me, even more so than usual. I've always got this nagging feeling that I ought to be grading, or contacting parents, or looking for resources, or responding to emails, or printing articles or rubrics or graphic organizers, or updating student progress on the network... the list seems endless. Talking to my colleagues is something that feels frivolous -- it's so enjoyable that it must be a waste of time.

On the other hand, there are teachers who are always in someone else's room talking whenever I pass by. I don't understand that at all. Are they really able to get things done with that much time to spare? Am I that inefficient?

This year I haven't done nearly as well with keeping up with this blog, or with staying involved with the English Companion Ning. It doesn't help that the Ning is blocked while I'm at school, which is generally where I am when I'm suddenly hit by something like "hey, I wonder what ideas other teachers have for short stories to pair with Julius Caesar."

I haven't decided if it's because I have more extracurricular activities going on, or because I just don't have as much to say. I hope I'm not burning out.

Image: Norman Rockwell's "Chain of Gossip," 1948


Friday, October 17, 2014

Friday, October 17 - Homecoming

Brief note - it seems like blogger has changed things and my 'Continue' links aren't working the way I wanted them to. That's frustrating. Part of me feels like I ought to take just a little bit of time this weekend to check and see what I can do to make them work again, but then there's another part of me that says "you haven't been keeping up with your blogging anyway, so it's not like it matters."


So today is Homecoming. I must confess, I'm not a particularly rah-rah sort of person. I mean, I do like my school and my students (even if their attitudes and behavior aggravate me on a regular basis). But I'm not particularly interested in extracurriculars. I'm here at school all day, focused on my work, and when the day is over I want to go home and focus on other things. It doesn't help that I have a 40-minute commute; I wish the school was closer to the house we could afford, but it's not. And I could get a job at a school that's closer - there's at least one that's within walking distance - but like I said, I do like the school I'm at and I particularly enjoy working with the colleagues I have here.

So in addition to a lot of school colors everywhere this week, we've had dress-up days and the student government had a competition to raise money for their floats and there was a parade last night. Tonight is the big game so there's a pep rally today. During school. All of our classes are shortened so that for the last 45 minutes we can put all the students in the gym and have them scream a lot.

And we have to be there.

I guess you can tell that I'm not a big fan of pep rallies. For one thing, I just generally don't like large ceremonies. They feel impersonal and bland, and the larger they are, the longer they tend to go on. Additionally, I'm not fond of the fact that we take time away from academics for the purpose of supporting extracurriculars. And it's so loud.

I feel like this makes me a big gloomy cloud of not-fun, but I'm looking forward to next week, when hopefully things will go back to normal!


Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Wednesday, August 27 - Lesson: "Beginnings"

Every story starts with the promise that reading it is worth your time & effort, and gives clues about what to expect. In the first sentence, the author establishes this promise, enticing the reader to continue, and hints about what the reader can expect from the rest of the book. Consider these famous beginnings:

  • Call me Ishmael.
  • It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen.
  • Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.
  • They shoot the white girl first.
  • 124 was spiteful.
  • Mrs. Dalloway said she would buy the flowers herself.
  • It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife.
  • You don't know about me without you have read a book by the name of The Adventures of Tom Sawyer; but that ain't no matter.
As a class, we discuss a few of these openers - I generally start with Moby Dick and ask students what they notice. They either mention "he has a weird name" or "he's introducing himself." Each of those leads into a significant point - Ishamel is an allusion to the story of God's promise to Abraham in the book of Genesis, and there's an important distinction between call me and my name is, which allows me to touch on the concept of an unreliable narrator.

I always finish with the beginning of Neil Gaiman's The Graveyard Book, because I love the way it builds from a dull start to an exciting finish:

There was a hand in the darkness, and it held a knife.
"There was" is about the most boring start to a sentence you can write! Then we move to "a hand" so there's at least an object, but it's ordinary and there's no description. But then we get "in the darkness," which adds description and some mood - kind of suspenseful. Then "and it held" provides some action, and we finish with "A KNIFE." Cue the dramatic music!

Then I take out my copy of the book and ask them what the first thing they notice about the page is, and I very briefly open the book to that first page:

I need to get out of the habit of asking them what they notice first, because they always pick the knife! Then I have to go back and ask them "how is this first page different from the first page of just about every other book? How is it different from the book you're reading?" Then they point out that most books have black text on a plain page, but here, the typeface is reversed on a black background.

So in the same way that the author's words are designed to grab the reader's attention, here we have the book's design working together with those words!

Then I ask them to look closer. What is right there by the end of the sentence? The knife! they say - by this point they're always getting a little excited, because they see how it's all connected. What part of the knife? I ask, and they say the blade or the point.

Okay, so where does your eye go, after you see the knife? Of course they say they want to know who's holding it, and what's going to happen. I trace my finger along the knife, past the hand and up the arm, saying okay, so this is where you look, and - uhoh! What happens here? I ask, pointing to where the drawing cuts off. What is the book itself encouraging you to do? What is supposed to happen when your eye gets to the bottom right corner of the page?

And it's just delightful to watch their eyes light up as they say you're supposed to turn the page and keep reading!


That's what every author wants the reader to do - keep reading! And this book does a particularly good job of getting you to do just that.

Then we start our classwork. Because each student has a different book, there's really no way they can cheat; I let them help each other out and discuss the work together.

Turn back to the beginning of the book you chose, and re-read the first sentence. Based on that sentence alone, what clues can you gather about the rest of the story? Images thanks to and


Sunday, June 08, 2014

Summer Feathers

Goals for the summer:

  • Change the address on my driver's license √
  • Register to vote (waiting on card to arrive)
  • Create Antigone unit
  • Check the used bookstore for The Hunger Games (√), Catchphrase, and Taboo (didn't have the latter)
  • Read Things Fall Apart
  • Practice doing voice work √
  • Write sample video game quest trees
  • Continue learning to code √
  • Continue tap lessons and practice √
  • Daily cardio/weights/yoga √
  • Develop clicker games and review practice
  • Create other review games
I've been doing pretty well, I think - I haven't done any of my planning-type stuff yet but I want to wait until I actually have my classes for next term. That way I can create plans and materials I can actually use!


Saturday, June 07, 2014


So at the end of the school year we were informed that next year, the lowest grade we would be allowed to put into the computer gradebook, for any assignment, would be a 60. Needless to say, this news caused a bit of a kerfuffle.

My biggest concern is that I don't know of any schools that have used it and found it helpful. If there are some, it sure would be nice to see HOW they implemented it - what other procedures they put in place so that students' grades accurately reflected their demonstrated mastery of the standards.

STICKING POINT: How do we ensure that low-level students do the practice that they need so that they can improve, rather than just taking their 60s and assuming they can do some extra-credit work at the end of the term so that they can move on to the next course (for which they will be unprepared)? Back when I taught 9th grade, we read Lois Lowry's novel 'The Giver.' Scholastic says that it's at a sixth-grade reading level, but some students said that it was too hard for them.

I also think that advanced students will say that this is "unfair," but IMO they need to just suck it up. It is NOT unfair. If they bomb (or blow off!) an assignment, they get the same "free" 60 that everyone else does. And EVERYONE who wants more than a 60 has to work for it. The rules are the same across the board.

It also ties in to the law of diminishing returns, which is primarily an economic concept, but has broader relevance. The better you get at a skill, the harder you have to work in order to improve further, for example. Same idea here. The 60 is free. You want to pass? Gotta work a bit. You want a solid B? Gotta work even harder. You want a really good grade? Better be prepared to study on the weekends!

You can see this in video games, whether it's console shooters or Farmville. When you start off, it's like you CAN'T fail. But as you progress through the game, the content gets harder, and you have to start actually thinking about what you're doing. You may even decide to get help. But that is entirely your choice, you know? If you get frustrated, you can always just stay on a level you're comfortable with and not stress out over trying to beat a level that's too hard for you.

When I spoke with the principal he said that only a few teachers had sent him anything in writing, and that if there were concerns he needed to be able to give some evidence to the higher administrators. But my thought is that the reason that so few teachers have responded is that none of us were given the chance to offer our input before the decision was made. Even IF we hadn't been told that this was definitely going to happen, why wouldn't we be skeptical?

We'll see how it goes.


Thursday, May 08, 2014

Pushing for independent-choice reading

So... I had the meeting with my administrator to discuss my annual evaluation. Overall it went well. I made a strong push to reinstate my individual-choice reading IN CLASS. The administrator has been against it (!) and seemed to see it as "free time."  (Actually SAID that at one point. I somehow managed to keep my cool.) Well, I brought a bulleted list of how my practices for CR support quite a few of the Common Core standards while also differentiating both by student ability and interest level. I also had a couple of articles that collected some of the research that supports "sustained silent reading" (although I do more with it than a typical SSR program does).

Faced with that sort of reasoned, professional assault, my admin backed down a bit and asked me to see if the other English teachers at my grade level used student-selected reading in class. And I was pretty sure they didn't (after all, as important as it is to me, *I* backed down after I got told not to use it!) but I figured I could talk to them about why they didn't and see if they were interested in including it.

One of the teachers said that she felt like with it being English class, and all the literature we read together, that they already did a lot of reading in class and she didn't want to force them do more. She did have a small classroom library available for students who wanted to check books out.

The other teacher said that she had a difficult enough time getting through the curriculum she already had. And I couldn't help wondering just what it was that her class did if she was dropping entire units. But... I didn't say that. Actually I didn't say much of anything at all.

I don't feel like I have the authority to say "no, you shouldn't do that, you should do this, and here's why." I just... I feel pretty strongly about what I do and why I do it, especially the individual choice reading. I believe it's solid instructional practice. I believe it's what's best for students. I believe it's a better choice than sticking solely to the whole-class literature. And I don't understand why administration is telling me that I can't teach in the way that I feel is best, and other teachers aren't required to defend their practices.


Saturday, January 11, 2014

Why Do We Study Works We Can't Read?

The first semester is winding down and somehow I've managed to get (mostly) caught up on grading and end-of-term paperwork. So I've got some time to look over my unit plans and think about what I teach and how I teach and why I do things that way.

The thing is, I'm rather conflicted about my reasons for teaching Beowulf. Like... if it's important to study, say, the original text of Romeo and Juliet, and it's not enough just to watch the Baz Luhrman flick from the 1990s, why do we not apply the same reasoning to Beowulf? What makes an adaptation okay in one case - even something of a tradition - and not okay in another?

Is studying Beowulf really the best use of that time? I mean, sure, it's a ripping yarn, but personally I like The Song of Roland better. I mean, the epic friendship - "A Roland for an Oliver!" and the way it develops through the story and the REVEAL... it's awesome. And then there's Durandal and the arms of Achilles and it's just buckets of fun.

Right now I feel like I'm supposed to teach it because it's the oldest long work we have (why does that matter so much?) that's a progenitor of Modern English. (Given the Norman invasion, why NOT start with Roland, especially as a counterpart to the Canterbury Tales?) And because TRADITION.

Help me out! Why does this particular work matter so much more than everything else I don't get to teach?

Cross-posted from the EC Ning.


Friday, December 13, 2013

Stupid update

We are having issues with our online gradebook. I am so frustrated I can't even begin to put it into words. I never feel like writing. I've started to resent all the time and money that it's just assumed I'll dump into MY JOB. And then that makes me worry that I'm burning out, that I'm turning into a dried-up husk like everyone complains about -- that I'm becoming a Bad Teacher.

Money is SUCH an issue right now. We're supposed to use more informational reading instead of relying on the literature that we actually have on hand. But there's no money for more books, and God knows there's certainly not enough for students to have school-issued laptops or ipads or anything.

Just so TIRED of things not working.

Anyone know if there's a blogging carnival running?