Saturday, August 30, 2014

Hands On Activities in English

As an English teacher, I struggle to find ways to engage my hands-on learners.  It is so much easier to be the demonstrator, lecturer teacher.

Yesterday, I had a smidgen of success.  Students had pre-tested on Phrases and Clauses.  The results showed that most of them didn't understand the difference. (The ones who did went to the library with an extended exercise that I will explain some other time.)

For the ones who didn't understand, we went through a review of the definitions together.  Then we reviewed verbs and subjects to make sure that wasn't the issue. (For many of them, that really was the problem.)  I wrote words on the board.  Together we identified subjects and verbs and then labeled the groups Phrase or Clause.

I wrote ten groups of words on the board, and they tested themselves by labeling them at their seats.  Finally, I divided the class in half and sent them to the board.  I called out Phrase or Clause, and they had to write an example not previously used.  The remaining students determined whether they were right or wrong and helped them fix errors.  Then everyone switched places.

This wasn't very creative or innovative.  Students have been at the board for many, many years. On the other hand, one student said he hadn't understood them until he had to write his own. (Thus proving once more that teaching grammar in isolation isn't very wise.)

When we finished, the students took the post test and 90% of them reached mastery at the 80-100% level.

My question is, have any English teachers out there developed manipulatives or other hands-on activities for secondary students? I have found a few ideas, but not many. I am particularly interested in ideas for teaching language usage and sentence development.  Any and all ideas would be welcome!

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Back Where I Started

Today is the first day of school, and I feel like I have landed right back where I started 37 years ago.  Well, almost.

Why, you ask?

My room has no air conditioning. It has been broken for the last two weeks, and the repairmen haven't been able to fix it...yet!  (I have high hopes and every finger crossed.)

I also have no technology working.  The tech plate on the wall that controls my document reader, mini mac, VCR/DVD, and projector quit working on the last day of school in May.  The tech guys alerted the company who has left this repair job until this coming Monday---after school had started.

And the computers in my computer cart all need some kind of update that I don't have permission to do.

But, I have survived without technology and air conditioning before--and I'm sure I will today, too.  My classroom will be more pen/paper oriented, and I'm fairly sure it won't smell all that great either. (Hormonal teenagers in 85+ indoor temperatures = YIKES!)

The difference today?  My daughter is now my assistant principal.  *sigh!  (Do you think there are paybacks coming for the time she spent in my room as a sophomore?  "Dear, what is that you don't understand about the concept of getting quiet??"  Yes, I might have said that during Sophomore English back in '97.)

Actually, watching her in this leadership position has been a treat.  I'm sure there will be rough roads ahead from time to time, but she seems like a natural.  I remember her kindergarten teacher knew what we would come to know--that she had exceptional leadership skills even in kindergarten.

Now, if she could just lead the AC people and the technology people to my classroom, I would be thrilled!

Sunday, July 27, 2014

My Sticky Note Lesson Plan Book

I made a template for a new Lesson Plan Book this year.  (Smart young colleague/former student has designed her own lesson plan book for several years.  I'm not quite as organized as she is, so what works for her needed some tweaking for me.) My book has room for notes in the squares, but the actual lesson plan will be on a sticky note that covers the square.  (Underneath it will also be a great place for notes on what went well or what needs to be changed.) It will also be super easy to pull the note off and attach it to the next day when schedules are interrupted.

I teach two classes, so with only two preps, the template is set up for my schedule.  Also, we are on a 7 period schedule, not a block.  It shouldn't be hard to adapt this to a block schedule.

It was important to me to see a whole week at a time, so I designed my template in Landscape rather than portrait.

Each day of the week will have a sticky note with the day's plans. The letters and numbers that are in each square are just reminders to me. (For Reading/English Op Class, they are time to spend on Vocabulary, Reading and Writing. And for English they are simply Bell Work, Standard, and Closing.)

There are 6 squares a week, so the final square is for things I need to remember, methods that worked, data, or even a to-do list.

Since Tiny Town High has an in-house printing company, I had them print my lesson plan book.  (I know there are companies that will do it for you.)  The companies allow you to design your own cover, add calendar pages, monthly reminders, etc.  I love our in-house company. She consulted me on weight of paper, binding, and cover arrangement.  (The binding below is temporary.  We needed a larger size, which had to be ordered, and this one will be replaced the first week of school.)

My Essential Standards are printed on the back of my Cover.

I know it won't take long for me to figure out a few changes that I need to make for next year.  I'll let you know how it goes with a sticky note lesson plan book.  Stay tuned.

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

English Op Room

I spent Monday working with two colleagues on an "English Opportunity Room" curriculum.  One colleague is the head of our PLC and an invaluable resource.  She and I wrote the first curriculum for another class similar to this one. The other colleague is our college English teacher who will be teaching this remedial class with me.

The isn't going to be called English Opportunity Room, but it will be based loosely on the Math Op room that provides a double dose of math for struggling students.  We aren't calling our class English Op room because we have had a Reading Strategies class for the past 10-12 years, so we are leaving the name the same. (I'm guessing that will be less hassle in the computer enrollment program.)

Last spring, I sat down the Math Op room teacher and was able to pick his brain.  He was so helpful and let me see all the activities the students worked on, the individualized instruction, and the testing schedule. There was a lot of variety in how they tackled the standards, which tends to be crucial for struggling students.  He has had a lot of success in helping students succeed in their regular classes.

Sometimes I wish that our Language Arts Standards were a bit less overwhelming and not quite so broad or all-encompassing. However, one of the first things we did was go through and circle the Anchor Standards that are absolutely crucial to the success of the students. We will concentrate on those.  And once we know which students will be in our class, we can individualize what skills need particular emphasis.  (Though now that I think about it, it doesn't really matter if we know our roster.  We could have drawn up the skills for each student on a separate page and then pulled the ones we needed when we saw our roster.  Darn!  Now, I think of that.)

We spent most of the morning hashing out exactly what the class was to do and then hunting for resources. We divided up the semester into six week segments, but then also divided up how class time was to be used each day of the week. The use of actual class time will change with each six weeks period.

The students in first semester English Op will be Juniors who need some extra work on their reading and writing skills. They were identified through the STAR reading test and also a fluency test.  (Their performance in my English II class also indicated a need for some remedial work, though this wasn't used for placement.)  The hope is that they will perform better, not only in English class but all classes, and then succeed on the State Test next spring.

Right now, the plan is to incorporate interactive notebooks into this class.  (Disorganization tends to be a quality that many low performing students share.)

All this being said, I bet you can guess what I am doing.
*I have spent several days hunting reading and writing resources that we can use to teach and challenge.
*I've found interactive websites to work on grammar and punctuation skills.
*Today, the plan is to create the interactive notebook for the first two weeks, so we can help the students.

And all this work is just for the new class.

There are new textbooks for my English II class.  I definitely need to immerse myself in the new text. I also want to have 180 days of Bell Ringer activities ready before school even begins. Somehow it always seems like the more work I can have done before school starts, the more enjoyable the school year is.

Do I have a bit to do before school begins?  Why yes, yes I do.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Summer Vacation

I spent the first two weeks of my summer hanging out with my kid sister. We had two nephews getting married in back-to-back weeks, so she came and stayed for both of them. We had a great time hanging out.  Then I went home with her to California for a week. I met her grand babies, saw her daughters' homes, met boyfriends, went to wineries, visited Tahoe, and sat on her back patio.

Arriving home on Tuesday night, I was grateful to get off the plane.  (Storms made flying nerve-racking.) I couldn't wait to see my grand kids, husband, and dog.  Yesterday, I did a lot of laundry.  And today...??

Lord, help me.
*I am going through new textbooks for next fall.
*I am hunting ideas for my lesson plan book that I get to design with the help of our Tech teacher.
*I am looking into interactive notebooks to improve the organizational skills of my students.
*And I am trying to figure out how to challenge my upper level students to exceed what they are used to achieving. (A track, B track, C track????)

To top it off:
*I am teaching a new class next fall, so I am looking for resources before our curriculum planning meeting.  The class is for students who struggle with reading and writing.  (Kind of one last charge before they take the State Assessment.)  All ideas are welcome.

Yes, I should be working on the house.  There are rooms that need painting, closets that need cleaned, and one dreadful ex-bedroom that needs some serious attention. And I can't think about anything but school.

Three months off?  Yeah, right.  My mind never strays far from the classroom.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

State of the Schools

Our State seems to be turning its back on education and teachers.

These are the things I'd like my legislators to know:

Yes, teachers need our salaries to pay our bills and support our families, but we don't teach for the check.

Yes, we have three months "off" in the summer, but we get paid for nine months of work, not 12.  (And we frequently spend quite a few of those days "off "preparing for next year's classes with curriculum work, conferences, and searching for new and better ways to teach.)

Yes, our salaries are public record.  (Feel free to look it up. And no, I probably don't want to compare my salary to yours-and especially not when I have been at this for 35 years.) I also pay the taxes that pay my salary.

Yes, we look for job security, but we don't teach for the tenure.

Yes, our bosses (Local Board of Education) are frequently the parents of students in our classes and in our activities.  (Are yours?)

Yes, we know that no one is more protective than a parent who feels their child is unhappy in some way. And we also know that our bosses (sometimes protective parents) get together at least once a month, where part of their evening (and their job) is spent discussing their children's teachers and coaches and the job that we are doing.

Yes, teachers have the job of sometimes making students unhappy or challenging them when they don't want to be challenged. Sometimes that, in turn, makes parents unhappy.

Yes, we might have to put a student in the chorus who really wanted a lead part.  (Or cut them from the team or sit them on the bench) Sometimes we disappoint students, AND that student might have a parent who is my boss, too.  And a protective parent.

Yes, we know administrators don't have tenure. We also know that they make about twice the amount of money most teachers do. We also know they have regular contact, discussion, sometimes camaraderie with our bosses; they build relationships with the bosses, and they have a chance to explain themselves on a regular basis. On the other hand, we know that teachers are discouraged from contacting our bosses, and even when we want/need to--we are only to do so by going through proper channels. To do otherwise could be considered insubordination.

And now no tenure means that teachers can be fired at any time or for any reason.

And guess what?

Today, I will go to school. I will work at nurturing relationships with students. I will hand back papers that are covered in ink, with grades which may or may not please. I will give a zero for plagiarism, lead a discussion on FDR's 1933 Inaugural Address, listen to students reciting "In Flanders Fields" and work at grading the next stack of papers. I will nag students to turn in late assignments or to come in to make up tests. I will give detentions for disrespect, confiscate hats and cell phones, and begin thinking about the curriculum for the new class that I may or may not be teaching next fall. I will meet with students who don't like their grade and comfort a student in tears because of a relationship going bad. I will return calls or emails to parents about grades or whatever else they might be worrying about, assuring them that everything will be fine or talking them through their worries.  And I will be trying to figure out exactly what standards we are to be teaching now.

And somewhat ironically, I will be hunting for videos that former students created for my Teaching Class, promoting teaching as a career.  Those videos will be used at a Career Pathway Fair, to encourage students to go into the Teaching Pathway and to choose the career of teaching.  

And the truth is...

I will put up no tenure and little respect, pathetic wages, and long hours of lesson planning and paper grading because...

I love my students--past, present, and future.

That's it.

And I guess, at least for today, that is going to have to be enough.