Sunday, September 29, 2013

Learning By Watching

During the last few weeks of school, I've had more teachers in my room than I've ever had before. (Well, without food being involved.)  Our principal has challenged us to take some time and watch a colleague teach. The principal will even sub an hour, so that we can leave our classroom.

Don't get me wrong. They didn't come to my room because I am so magnificent.  I struggle daily and make as many mistakes as anyone.   That being said, I was the first in our building to attempt a Socratic Seminar, and several wanted to watch the process.

Somehow, having other teachers watch my first efforts with a new teaching method wasn't terribly intimidating.  They knew I was finding my way, and I knew what they were going to see didn't have to be perfect.  They gave me feedback and ideas for how to improve the method, and now a couple of them are trying the Socratic method, too.

Now it's my turn.  I need to find the time to get down to a colleague's room and watch them interact with students.  We have some incredible teachers in our building. Narrowing it down to one is going to be tough.

Sunday, September 22, 2013

One Step Forward, Two Steps...

You know the drill.  I was so hoping that I was making progress.  It was too good to be true.

We had spent a week or so discussing the history of our English language, where it came from, and where it seems to be heading.  We even spent some time wondering if the technology of today puts us into the Post Modern Era of the English language.

Then, I listened to my students having a Socratic Seminar on English usage today.  Students doubted the articles that said applicants were using text lingo on job applications.  They guffawed.  "We know when to use text language and when we shouldn't."  Uh...right.

The next day, I pointed them in the direction of our classroom blog.  There was a post for Extra Credit. (OK. Mainly to make sure that they actually knew how to access the blog!) The comments they had posted the week before were horrifying.  They didn't capitalize "I," "English," or sometimes even their own name.

"No one sees the blog, Mrs. E."

Well, I do.  Students in my classes do. Their parents do. Colleagues can and do.  Other English teachers could.  What would any of those people think of me as an English teacher after they read the student comments? I told them I was doubtful that I would even have a job.

The assignment for that day was to read the comments on that post and see how many had errors.  They then were to pick the ten worst offenders, copy them into a document, and rewrite the comment using correct grammar.

And a hush fell over the room...

(I probably should let you know that I assured them that I would post no more comments with such blatant disrespect for our language.)

Yes, just when you think your students are making progress...!

Sophomores do such a great job of keeping me humble.

Monday, September 2, 2013

Academic Vocabulary

Our students may be unusual in that they have a very limited vocabulary.  (Somehow, I can't imagine that we are the only school whose students do not have the vocabulary for post secondary education or for the business world.)  So, a goal for my students this year is for them to not only be exposed to a more academic vocabulary, but to use it on a daily basis.

I started with the word "annotate."  Every time I used that word in class, students were to do a "Wooo!" (Kind of like Pee Wee Herman's Secret Word.)  We talked about how important it is for them to mark up their texts with questions, comments, and paraphrasing for understanding.  This isn't about me guessing what is going to cause problems.  This is for them to dig through the text and find their own meanings and questions.  (Thus, they are doing the work.)  There was a lot of woo hooing in English II.

To encourage them to use the "Words of the Week," each class has a piece of paper on the front board. Every time a student uses a word correctly in discussion, they get a gold star to put on their hour's paper.  The competition has been heated between a couple of hours, and even students who find the vocabulary difficult have been using the words.  SCORE!  (This idea came straight off of  If you haven't discovered that gem yet, be sure to check it out.)

I choose four to five words a week as academic vocabulary. I also give them derivatives and challenging synonyms.  The words go up on our front board for the week, so they can see them daily.  At the end of the week, we add them to the word wall.  The next week, they get new words on the front board.

What have I noticed?  Challenging words (think synthesize, literal, allegorical, etc.) are making their way into their daily discussions.  And to be honest, I think there are a lot of students who are quite proud of their growing vocabularies.