Saturday, December 1, 2007

Setting the Bar High

I find myself struggling with my students to reach the standards I set. I place the bar of my expectations fairly high. I expect my students to work hard, produce the best effort they can muster, and produce a product that they can hand in with pride and understanding of the concepts and standards required.

As a result a great majority of my students are failing- but not because I set the bar high. They are failing because they don't turn in the work they have been doing. Or they fail to complete the only assignment that I send home as homework and fail for that reason.

I have sent home notices to parents inviting my students who struggle to get assistance after school on missing and difficult assignments. I have allowed them to make up nearly every assignment. My students work collaboratively as often as possible. I allow class time for all work and guide them on each step. Yet they continue to drop the ball a little here and a little there. What shocks me is they still believe they should be passing class with good grades.

So here I am 3 weeks left in the semester and praying my students will wake up and pull this one out. What kills me is how close they are only 1 - 4 assignments away from passing.

So my solution: I am offering TONS of extra credit that reinforces what we are doing and mirrors the assignments they did not turn in. I'll let you know how it turns out...

Do I lower the bar? Or do I maintain my standards despite the high failure rate?

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Letters About Literature Contest

I found a great way to get my students excited about writing and reading! Inspire them to win a contest that pays money is how. This is an annual event and is available in other states as well. Details follow...


First, reflect and connect! Select a fiction or nonfiction book, a short story, poem, essay or speech (sorry, no song lyrics) you have read and about which you have strong feelings. Explore those feelings and why you reacted the way you did during or after reading the author’s work. Consider one or more of these questions when writing your letter: Did the characters, conflict or setting mirror your life in some way? What strengths or flaws do you share with a character or characters in the book? What did the book show you about your world that you never noticed before? What surprised you about yourself while you were reading this book? Why was this work meaningful to you?

Second, write a personal letter (not a fan letter or a book report!) Express yourself! A letter is less formal
than an essay or research paper. Write honestly and in your own voice, as if you were having a conversation with the author. Those are the best letters to read and the most fun to write! Keep in mind these two tips:
• Correspond, don’t compliment! Your entry should inform rather than flatter the author.
• Do not summarize the book’s plot! The author wrote the book and already knows what happened. What the
author doesn’t know is how the book affected you.

Third, prepare your letter for submission.
• Entries for Level 1 should be no less than 100 words and no more than 400 words.*
• Entries for Level 2 should be no less than 300 words and no more than 600 words.*
• Entries for Level 3 should be no less than 500 words and no more than 800 words.*
*Recommended lengths.

Please refer to the Contest Entry Guidelines in Rules #4 of the Official Rules found at
complete information on how to prepare your letter.

All entries will be judged on the following criteria:
• Exposition (the writer’s use of language skills, organization and grammar).
• Content (the writer’s achievement in addressing the contest theme).
• Writer’s Voice (the writer’s style and originality of expression).
Each criteria will be scored on a scale of zero (0) to five (5), where five (5) is excellent and zero (0) is not fulfilling the judging criteria.

Your letter must be postmarked by December 14, 2007, and mailed to:
Emily Masters
Humanities Tennessee, Tennessee Center for the Book
306 Gay Street, Suite 306
Nashville, TN 37201
Ph: (612) 770-0006 x15

Judges for each participating State Center for the Book will select the top letter in each Level of Competition (see State Level Judging in the Official Rules for more details). State Winners will receive a $50 Target GiftCard SM and will advance to the National Level Judging. Judges for The Center for the Book in the Library of Congress will select six (6) National Winners (2 per Level of Competition) and twelve (12) National Honorable Mention Winners (4 per Level of Competition). The National Winners will receive a $500 Target GiftCard, plus each will win a $10,000 LAL Reading Promotion Grant for their community or school library so that others can experience personal relationships with authors and the stories they tell. Additionally, the National Honorable Mention Winners will each receive a $100 Target GiftCard and a $1,000 LAL
Reading Promotion Grantfor the community or school library of their choice. Community or school library selected for the National Winners and National Honorable Mention Winners is at the Sponsor’s sole discretion. Refer to the National Level Judging in the Official Rules for more details.

Thursday, August 2, 2007

50 Alternatives to a Book Report

I just read a great article from NCTE's "English Journal" it is a pricey subscription but well worth every penny when I can cough up the money for it again. In the mean time- I signed up for NCTE's weekly newsletter via email. The newsletter includes links to current articles in the news that relate to Education and more specifically English Education. At the end of each newsletter are free articles from NCTE's various publications that relate to an article at the very least they have a theme. Each week I make sure to scan them over and download and save articles worth reading again. What is so great is that articles are available from each school age- elementary, middle, high, & college.

So 50 alternatives to a book report as simplified by me-
(Some of the ideas have been combined and listed as
alternatives where appropiate. You'll find 45 numbered
ideas below.)

*Imagine you are a character in the book. Jump into his or her head and tell me what they would think or feel about...
1) imagine their childhood
2) relate them to an astrological sign and prove it
3) what would their favorite superhero be and why
4) imagine they are applying for college- write their application essay
5) calls into a radio show for advice- write the script
6) create a web page for 5 characters (think myspace)
7) your character is in a chat room who are they talking to and what about
8) create an imaginary email directory for this character- explain your reasoning for each person
9) create a high school yearbook for 3-4 characters to include clubs, activities, nicknames, and 'most likely to' _____
10) write a series of letters between character and author (3 or more back and forth)
11) characters dream vacation? create a multiday travel plan and explain your characters reasoning for each step
12) create a scrapbook that your character would have made (variation memory box)
13) create a collage that your character would say represents them
14) 3 students assume the identity of 3 characters- play 20 questions to figure out who is who
15) assume the identity of a character was discriminated against- write a complaint about the discrimination
16) give your character 3 tangible/intangible gifts- provide a picture and explain your reasoning
17) create 5 unique answering machine messages for 5 characters pay attn to voice & diction
18) pretend 3 characters are being interviewed by reporter/police/lawyer create a monologue response to the same event for
each character
19) Look up several character names in a name meaning book/website explain how what the name means is/is not a
reflection of them as a character
20) Pretend your character has picked up the newspaper- select 5 articles your character would read and explain why your
character would read them.
21) Pretend your character has picked up a magazine and is looking at the ads- select 5 ads your character would consider
purchasing the product. Display the ads on a poster and underneath explain why your character would read them.
22) imagine your character is passionate about an 'issue' create a pamphlet about this issue that includes your characters
opinions on the subject
23) imagine you are having a party and can invite 5 people alive/dead/fictional to introduce to your character- why them and
what would you hope the character would learn from the introduction
24) create a family history of one of the main characters- include five memories from five different events (i.e. a family
dinner, birthday, winter holiday, and so on)
25) imagine your are friends with your character and are recommending 5 books to him or her which 5 books/movies and
26) pretend the character lives in your neighborhood and needs help dealing with their issue- create a poster on available
help for this issue in your area include brochures, ads, phone #'s, company names, professional business cards and so on
27) imagine your character is applying for a game show called 'the dating game' what would they say about themself and
what would they say about what they want out of a date
28) create a music play list or mix cd of music your character would like and have- be sure to explain each selection
29) create a photo album your character would put together based on specific events and people from the novel
30) Create an alphabet list of sentences based on your characters personality. 'A' is for the adventure Huck discovers on his
journey down the river. 'B' is for...

The last twenty ideas are written from the readers perspective or assume a role that is not a character from the book.

31) Critique the interactions in the novel from the point of view of an organization that might have something to say about it.
EX: Environmental agency, Humane Society for Protection of Animals, and so on.
32) Create a social worker's report. EX: Child Welfare department report on Huck Finn's childhood.
33) A talk show has invited your character; create the title of the show a guest list, and a prepared list of questions for each
guest. Be sure to include which talk show and why they are interested in the character.
34) Thinking of all the movies you have seen select five movies that are in the same genre of this book. Provide summaries
and an explanation of how each movie is like the book.
35) Title Acrostic: Take a large piece of construction paper and write the title of the book down the side of it. For each letter
write a sentence that provides information about the book events and characters.
36) Cartoon Squares: create six cartoon squares that shows a significant event from the novel then under each write a few
sentences that explains the picture.
37) Word Collage: Put the title in the center and then looking through magazines select words, phrases, and sentences in
various prints that illustrate your novel. Think in terms of theme, setting, plot line, and characters. Min 50 cuttings.
38) Music Soundtrack: Divide the novel into logical sections and select a soundtrack for each section, record the music and if
possible do voiceovers that explain why each selection is ideal for that section in the novel.
39) Poetry: write 3 poems in response to the novel. Consider: theme, character, and location
40) Letter to the author: Write a letter to the author or an audience that is concerned with the author be sure to include why
you think they wrote it, what they were trying to get across to the reader, and what you got out of the novel personally.
Then we mail the letter.
41) Word Test: Select 15 words that you think are essential to the understanding of the novel. Explain why you picked the
words and how you would define them in the context of the story.
42) Found Poem: Select a very powerful chapter from the novel and select key words, word phrases, and lines the evoke
strong images and are critical to the chapter events then arrange them in chronological order.
43) You are a psychologist- select five characters from the novel and write an essay about each character's fears in terms of
psychosis and what they want to avoid the most. use examples from the novel to support your findings.
44) Draw a scene: for the artistically talented. Draw a scene from the novel, include characters, and include yourself in the
picture (think what role did you feel like you held as you read that part of the novel). Then include written explanations
for why you drew the scene that way and why you assumed that role or location in the picture.
45) You are a detective and are investigating an event(s) in the novel. What are they investigating? Who do they interview?
What do they find? Write this in a short story format.

Please use the comment feature to add any additional ideas you may have.

Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Starting a New Year

It is that time again- Me I only have a week, we go back Aug 7. I am sitting here thinking on how to begin my new year. I was lucky enough to receive several files from a teacher who is becoming an administrator. With these files I am revamping how I begin my year. I now have a PowerPoint to introduce myself, to introduce my rules, to introduce my procedures, and to outline my expectations. I am starting with teaching units within a few days to ensure that my students take school seriously in a hurry. I've also created a blog for my classes. This will allow my students to ask questions and parents can read instructions and find due dates for assignments.

Other thoughts- I learned last year that it is a bad idea to put a signature page on the same page as the syllabus. I ended up with signed syllabi and my students did not have a copy of their own. So this year I am making it a separate page. I also doubled the length of my syllabus to address my policies on several things that come up like tardies, late work, being absent, and plagarism. It is better to have decided how to handle these and inform students ahead of time what will happen.

I am also adding a new requiremnet to my classes- an end of class activty. We have bellwork everyday but at the end of class my students start packing up and I lose 2 minutes. So my plan is to take back those 2 minutes. During their final few minutes of class students will write a 4-6 sentence summary of what they learned or did that day.

Each day their journal will include the date, the agenda, their bellwork, and a summary. I believe this will cut down on the number of students who are confused after being absent. They can now ask any classmate what they missed. I'm also expecting my students to have a clearer vision of what we are accomplishing and what our goals are.

I need more ideas on team building lessons and get to know you activities. Any thoughts?

Thursday, July 26, 2007

AVID Training in Atlanta, GA

AVID training, well some of it was great. I was able to get some answers to questions I had raised over the last year.

Question #1 I had my students take notes called a double entry reading log- basically a modification of Cornell Notes. What on earth do I do with the question section when my student has no question?

Answer #1 Have students formulate a question that might appear on a test that relates to their notes. Make sure you instruct your students on higher order thinking skills. Consider using the Costa three levels of thinking or Bloom’s Taxonomy. Try making a poster of the key words that address each level and post it for students to refer to. The thinking here is students will begin to look at notes and begin to imagine what type of questions could be on a test and study appropriately.

Question #2 How can I conduct class discussions so my students are actively participating and those who are silent are still interacting?

Answer #2 This will take some time- Socratic Seminar is one method you can use. The key here is not what method you use, but conducting short discussions and work your way up to longer discussions. Some key tips I will use- have students evaluate the statements each other make. Give them evaluation sheets to fill out. Tell your students what you do and don’t like about a discussion. Also have each student create 2 discussion questions and copy them over onto a class list for you the teacher. This way even your shy students could have their questions posed. Redirect students as needed. (We’ll talk about this more later.)

Question #3 How do I get my students really comfortable with timed writing?

Answer #3 First, take a sample cold timed essay writing prompt from the first week as a baseline. Revisit the essay later to compare and see growth. Second, teach them to create three bullet points before formulating a thesis and writing an essay. Third, have students practice outlining many essays and choose to write only one once in a while through all the drafting stages.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Differentiating Instruction: Centers

I sat in on a seminar at the NCTE conference in Nashville. There were three presenters- one author and two teachers who were applying differentiation techniques. Here is a sample chapter from the book the author wrote.

I was really excited seeing models of how to create and implement centers with students. The presenters focused on using each center around a mulitple intelligence if possible, around standards, and around specific skills or concepts.

So I tried creating a center activity for my 10th grade ENG students. They needed a way to engage in the novel "To Kill a Mockingbird" and a chance to review key themes and events from the novel. I found a website with several ideas for activities for the novel and adapted them into 8 centers. Now my instructions weren't the best on paper but the kids helped each other after I explained any confusion to two or three students. I required them to complete 5 out of 8 over two days. I also allowed extra credit for any centers completed beyond five.

Nearly all my students finished the centers... and more importantly I saw high marks on the exam for the novel as well. I took high order concepts from the centers and included them on the exam. (Because only 5 were required I took the questions from the centers that a majority of the students attempted.) These concepts were also discussed during the unit.

This year I am going to have my seniors read four or six different novels together in small groups. So while group 'a' is reading "Frankenstein" another group is reading "The Count of Monte Cristo" and so on. This way students are working in little reading clubs and supporting each other as they proceed forward. In both the NCTE seminar and the COMP training I got this summer any group work like this requires you create jobs or roles for group members to fulfill each day. Additionaly it is important to ensure that the groups rotate the roles and keep a log. I saw a teacher implement this concept, however, I didn't want to apply it as she had many failing groups. So why now? The seminar taught me how to make it work- it all boils down to a check system and mobility. I watched the instructor that tried this and she sat at her desk- she didn't join in any group at any time. Imagine joining each group for 3 minutes to keep them focused, on task, and check progress.

I found a website that has book club reading guides- I plan to print them out and ask one question to each group each day. Get them going on an angle that perhaps they would not have come up with on their own.

We want our students to enjoy reading- adults I know talk about what they read- they talk about the movies they watch. I truly believe that this can give our kids the opportunity to engage in reading in a meaningful way.

Another idea- is having the groups break out to discuss standards/concepts. A new group would form composed of one member from each group. So Group #1 would have one member from Groups A - E. Group #2 would have have one member from the Groups A - E. These groups could then discuss concepts such as: plot development, character development, artistic devices, and so on. The students would have already discussed these concepts about their book and would now be able to compare and contrast the concepts across the different books. Each student would be an expert on their one book and learn a little about the other novels. They will also become familiar with key concepts manifested in multiple ways.
EX: The students in Group #1 are discussing the protagonist vs. antagonist in each of their respective novels. They should share the characteristics of their respective characters and will become a teacher of the concept to their peers.

I know it sounds complex but I am bought on the concept. I am going to attempt this style of grouping andd trading off with a simple concept to start. The plan is to make my students experts in writing and will break them up into groups on the DWM. I think this would work for grammar concepts as well.

- any thoughts?

Sunday, June 17, 2007

importance of Reading

Reading is exceptionally important to becoming a better communicator. I know how hard that is to convey and persuade high school kids to believe. So I plan on pushing them into a bit. As part of an ongoing assignment I am going to require my students to read one book each quarter. I found this site that divides up book recomendations for girls and guys of high school age. What do you think would be the best way to assess this? I was thinking I could create a few choices so my students at least feel like they have some control. Any thoughts?

Aug 14, 2007

I introduced the idea of one outside novel per quarter and of course heard the collective groans. I decided to pull students to my desk one at a time. I'm letting them peruse the approved reading list and use the computer to research the book reading reviews and excerpts to aide in the selection process. So far- every student I've pulled aside has made a selection. More importantly, I got zero attitude about the process. I'm hoping I'll have nearly every student assigned to a title by this time next week. I'm keeping my fingers crossed.