Seniors Teaching Freshman Lessons About Poetry #phsAPeng

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Creative Commons License Carey Rose O’Connell via Compfight

Yesterday you chose a poem from THIS LIST.

My (admittedly vague) instructions to you were to read the poem and then “read up” on the poem (by following the links provided or to search online) and find some “fun facts” about the poem. In class today, you will give us some of those fun facts and do an oral interpretation of the poem you selected.

First, I will present some fun facts about T. S. Eliot and his poem “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock.” Then I will do a dramatic reading of said poem. Then it will be your turn.

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Creative Commons License Carey Rose O’Connell via Compfight

But wait! There’s more! Your assignment after this is to TEACH your poem to a freshman. You will create an informative video about your selected poet and poem as well as an (hopefully a dramatic, engaging, oral interpretation of the poem).

Your video should include the following things …

… a brief bio of your poet.

… any significant historical, cultural, or personal events that inspired the poem.

… any other interesting things you can find out about the poet or the poem.

… your oral interpretation of the poem.

Think of how you would like to be taught a poem. Make it interesting for your freshman. We will share some of the videos here in this post.

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Creative Commons License Carey Rose O’Connell via Compfight

Blog Prompts for #phsAPeng

Brainstorm Cloud

Krissy Venosdale via Compfight

DIRECTIONS: Choose one of the following as a prompt for this week’s BLOG entry (due FRIDAY). (Post your response in your own blog.)

OPTION 1
What are you really learning at school?

OPTION 2
Read at respond to the following article. (If you need a paper copy, I have one.)

How Well Do You Think Standardized Tests Measure Your Abilities? (Note that this article is from 2012.)

OPTION 3
In light of an upcoming standardized test that you may or may not be taking … or tests that you’ve already taken … are standardized tests helpful or harmful? useful or worthless? Explain your stance. (Keep in mind that standardized tests include the ACT, SAT, MAP, State Tests, AP exam and others not listed.)

OPTION 4
Read at respond to the following article. (If you need a paper copy, I have one.)

Is School Stressing You Out? (Note that this article is from 2010.)

OPTION 5
Read at respond to the following article. (If you need a paper copy, I have one.)

Let’s embrace competition in advanced placement courses.

On The Danger of Books That Have Been Made Into Movies (and Potential Flim-Flammery)

Brookland Theatre

Bill Dickinson via Compfight

The title of this blog post is a bit alarmist, especially since I was specifically speaking from an academic standpoint. Some teachers fear that students who have been assigned to read books that have been made into movies will not read and will just watch the movies instead, presumably working under the assumption that the movie is exactly the same as the book. Alarmist indeed, especially since I don’t think there is any danger in this situation, even academically speaking.

If your student hasn’t read the book, you will know. After all, you can’t flim-flam a flim-flammer … eh? I mean we were high-schoolers once. We went to college! We know all about tomfoolery, malarkey,  funny business, and shenanigans. (I would’ve used another better-known saying at the beginning of this paragraph, but I like to keep this blog family-friendly … ish.) If your student hasn’t read the book, but watched the movie (or for that matter listened attentively during lectures or class discussions), s/he might be able to answer very basic content questions, but it will be nearly impossible for him/her to analyze or evaluate without being vague. This is when you can pull out your questions that pertain to the movie but not the book or vice versa … and BAM! you know you have a flim-flammer on your hands. Proceed according to your classroom policies regarding students who don’t do their work (which hopefully includes trying to get to the bottom of WHY the student is avoiding the work). Will there be the rare exception of the student who is so skilled in the art of bull-skooting that s/he will be able to dazzle her/his way through an assessment over a book s/he has not legitimately read? YES, but you don’t have supernatural powers, so there is nothing you can do about it, so let it go. As long as the student isn’t doing something to hurt her/his classmates, school property or you … for good gravy’s sake, let it go.

CONFESSION: I used to be one of those teachers who lived in fear of students poppycocking their way through a literary unit armed with only their cinematic knowledge of a piece of literature. What if they don’t read? What if they lie to me? What if they trick meeeee? What will my colleagues think of me? What will my principal think of me? Why am I so worried about me? Me? Me? Meeee? Why am I worrying about things that haven’t even happened yet and might not ever happen? Why don’t I trust kids? Why am I such a control freak? The older I get, the more I realize that, except for what I do and feel, I cannot control much else, which allows me to live in fear no more.  A conversation I overheard during a lit circle discussion a day or so ago helped to solidify this and I will tell you about it, but first, a digression:

In my Contemporary Literature class, one of my goals (which is-dare I admit this publicly?–NOT ATTACHED to a state standard—GASPPPPpppp!) is to take each of my students’ stance on reading and move it closer to LOVE.

Allow me to expound visually …

I'm just below considering Reading as marriage material.

Where do you fall on the Reading (the feels) Spectrum? I’m just west of considering reading as marriage material.

 

In other words, no matter where the a student is on the Reading (the feels) Spectrum, I want that student to be closer to LOVE when s/he walks out of my class at the end of the semester. Most kids walk into my class with a basic MERPitude toward reading. They don’t outright hate it, but it’s not something they crave. Some kids walk in somewhere between MERP and HATE. Even fewer walk in somewhere between MERP and LOVE. It is a rarity that a student is already in LOVE with reading when they walk in, but it does happen. In fact, every so often I have a student take Contemporary Literature because s/he wants to, even though s/he is already enrolled in another English class and doesn’t need the extra credit to graduate. When that happens it is a true compliment to English Language Arts–probably one of the highest.

In Contemporary Literature, (which originally was created for students who did not plan to attend a four-year college, but now has been overflowing with students of every post-high school intention imaginable … !!!) I use the following things to help move student closer to LOVE:

A. high-interest books: I do not pay attention to reading level or text-complexity. I look for well-written, interesting, books with relatable characters and topics that affect modern students. I don’t give a flying fig if it appears on some elite College Board or ACT list. I don’t care if scholars think it’s trashy, or simple, or cheesy. If it hooks a reluctant reader’s interest, I’ll take it.

B. self and group regulated activities: –like literary circles, for example. Activities like lit circles gives the students choice and independence–something that EVERYONE needs to thrive, whether they are 2 or 100. These are also elements that are too often left out of the classroom, sadly.

C. alternative texts: We dive into graphic novels, science fiction, articles from the web, podcasts, and movies. YES: Movies ARE a -visual- text.

And now back to my original topic … Sometimes books inspire students to watch movies. On the other hand, sometimes movies are the gateway drug to books. Yes indeedy: Movies can lead students to books! Sometimes a kid likes a movie so much that s/he decides to read the book. And, sometimes a kid is assigned a book that has been made into a movie, and even though the movie isn’t exactly like the book, it still helps the kid understand the book–either before the student reads or retroactively. Those are positive things!

Personally, I prefer to read a book THEN watch a movie. However, other people have different preferences. Just because that’s the way I like to do it DOESN’T MEAN EVERYONE HAS TO LIKE IT THAT WAY. (That’s hard for some teachers to grasp, I’ve noticed.) For me, once I’ve seen a movie, it’s hard for me to NOT picture the actor who played each character as I read, and I don’t like that, but not everyone has those issues. They are either able to block the actors’ images from their minds or they enjoy having a visual upon which to rest the mind’s eye.

sunny windless days

Read everywhere!

 

If you choose a book to teach (or allow students to choose a book to read) that has been made into a movie, will you have a percentage of kids who will watch the movie in lieu of reading? ALWAYS. Just like you will always have a percentage of kids who “replace” reading with Wikipedia or Sparknotes or LitCharts or the next newfandangled thang that comes along under the guise of helping people understand literature but which actually serves as a means for kids (and adults) to cheat on content-level tests (and book club meetings). (In fairness to the aforementioned entities, I will say that when used with integrity, they do serve as a resource for helping people understand literature–at a surface level.) That being said, if a kid is able to pass an assessment without reading the book, are you asking the right questions? (That is for another blog post, methinks.)

Now back to that conversation I mentioned earlier in the post. During lit circles the other day, I overheard students discussion the book, The Fault In Our Stars by John Green, which is not only a popular book, but also a popular movie. The group members had all seen the movie. They were comparing the book to the movie and making note of all of the differences. They were also evaluating the movie based on the book–what they liked about the book and what they thought the movie did better. They were also qualifying WHY they felt that way. This was a grown-up conversation, and they were doing this without my guidance and without micro-management of any sort. The lit circle provides a flexible structure for the students. They build outward from that structure. It is always an honor to lead a class in discussion, but it is an even more rewarding to listen to young people do it on their own. And guess what? They held each other accountable for reading. Based on my experience, students are more motivated to be prepared when they know their peers will be upset with them than they are when they just know that the teacher might be upset. And it is one thing to attempt to bamboozle a teacher. It is another thing to attempt to hornswoggle a group of your peers. They will call you out–publicly. And they will determine whether or not you read or just watched the movie and said you read. They will ask the trick questions outright!

The movie version of The Fault in Our Stars served as another point of dialogue for the students. It did not detract from the conversation. It did not demotivate them. They still read the book. They held one another responsible. They got into higher levels of thinking (analysis, evaluation) BECAUSE they watched the movie AND read the book.

Outside of lit circles, there will be kids whose interest is sparked enough by a movie that they will read the books that inspired the movies  … and they might even like reading those books … maybe even a little bit more than they enjoyed their last reading experiences.  As a result, they move a little closer to LOVE!

That is a good thing. That is what teaching is all about.

Rigorrrrrrrrrr

catacombs

seth m via Compfight

I like what (most) educators mean when they say RIGOR (and OF COURSE I love love love the bojangles out of relevance, which typically leads to engagement) but truth be told, the word rigor just makes me think of stiff corpses …

<tenting hands à la cartoon villain>  … You’re thinking about them now … aren’t you? …

Unfortunately (for me and anyone like me), any time you get a bunch of dorks together to talk about curriculum the dead body word comes up, every stinkin’ time. It’s been in use for a good long while now too, so I think it’s outlived the buzzword phase. We’re probably stuck with it. However, after typing rigor into thesaurus. com, I’ve curated a brief collection of of alternatives for the aforementioned word that I would very much like to avoid, if possible, when discussing anything but the state of a cadaver from this point forward:

AUSTERITY –> After all, standards should be of a stern and unwavering nature, no? (Curriculum should not be austere; standards should be.)

FIRMNESS or RIGIDITY  –> Standards should be unmoving, stationary targets. (Again: The curriculum should be fluid, adaptable, and ever-evolving to best meet and exceed standards, but the standards themselves should usually stay put–until we discover a problem. Then they should be altered immediately.)

PRECISION –> Of course standards should be clearly defined and exact–so should curriculum.

ASPERITY –> This one means harshness or sharpness, which is way worse than THE WORD THAT SHALL NOT BE NAMED’s definition, but as a word, it is much more auditorily pleasing.

INFLEXIBILITY or TRADITIONALISM or CONVENTIONALISM –> These are, after all, qualities that curriculum and standards sometimes take on if rigor’s intended meaning is misconstrued. Maybe, if we called it one or all of these things, it could serve as a warning to people when they started getting away from academically or intellectually challenging (the definition I use for rigor) curricula to stale, inflexible, stoutly traditional or boringly conventional curricula. (There’s nothing wrong with some traditional or conventional methods, so please don’t slay me with your words, dearest readers who favor traditional or conventional methods in education. I just firmly believe that educators need to stay fresh and open to the idea that there is always a possibility of something better out there as we continually learn more about learning.) In other words, when we are dealing with a rigorous curriculum–cool. When we are dealing with a stale, unwaveringly, boring, traditional-for-the-sake-of-tradition curriculum we can say … Whoa, slow down there, doggy. We’re getting into the realm of inflexible traditionalist conventionalism and we’re going to need to shorten your leash a little.

OBDURACY –> This means unmoving, stubborn, unyielding … When you get down to it, standards should be these things, but the people who write them shouldn’t be. WE, the keepers of the curricula, have to be flexible enough to see when something that was “set in stone” needs to be sandblasted.

PUNCTILIOUSNESS –> This is my favorite. It is more in line with what I think of when I think of what curriculum and standards should be, but is also just a cool words that does not conjure up any morbid thoughts for me. It feels pleasant on the tongue and sounds lovely in the air. Punctiliousness is an attentiveness to detail. Isn’t that agreeable? Maybe even … charming? Okay … that’s probably taking it too far, but it’s a heckuva lot better than corpses … frozen, immalleable, ossified corpses. (Shut up! I’m closing out of the thesaurus.com tab right now …)

None of the words on the above list mean fun things–not that education ALWAYS has to be a circus of entertainment. (Though wouldn’t it be cool if we actually included a standard for fun? Then again, any attempt to standardize fun would probably make it less fun … so, never mind.) Education should be fun when it CAN be, but it can’t always be. Curriculum should be suitably challenging, even difficult at times (not that fun and challenge are mutually exclusive). And again, I think that rigor (gag!) as it is usually intended in curricular discussions IS a good thing. I just wish we could agree on a more palatable* way to say it.

*I thought up the word palatable without the assistance of thesaurus.com.

Serial Podcast Dialogue for Episodes 1-6 #phsCONlit

Graphic Conversation

Marc Wathieu via Compfight

NOTE: If you are here from somewhere other than Mrs. Morgenson’s Contemporary Literature and Writing class, know that the comments after this post have spoilers for Episodes 1-6 of the Serial podcast.

Hello #phsCONlit students,

This blog post is for you. Here is where we will have a dialogue about the Season 1 Serial Podcast. By the time you post any ideas here, you should have listened to at least the first SIX episodes of the podcast AND completed the examination of evidence presented in Episode Six.

At this point, what is your stance on this case? Was Adnan faultily convicted or is he where he needs to be (in jail)? (Explain your position.)

Remember that in the United States, in a court of law, to be found guilty a jury must find the accused guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. In other words, they are not supposed to convict based on a hunch, their feelings, their own experiences or anything else other than the facts presented at trial. (Does this always happen? No. Of course not. Any time human beings are involved in decision-making, there is room for personal judgement/baggage/opinions/experience to influence a decision. That’s why there are 12 people assigned to a jury. The hope is that they will balance each other out somehow. That’s also why there is a jury selection process–so anyone with obvious biases will be “weeded out” of the jury pool.) So, when you are answering the above question think about the following options …

  • You believe Adnan is probably guilty, but you don’t think there is enough evidence to convict him beyond a reasonable doubt.
  • You believe Adnan is guilty, and there is enough evidence to convict him beyond a reasonable doubt.
  • You believe that Adnan was involved in Hae’s murder somehow, but he probably didn’t kill her.
  • You believe that Adnan is innocent and deserves to be set free.
  • Another option that I’m not thinking of right now …?
  • Bonus: If you believe Adnan is innocent, who do you think killed Hae?

I also want you to consider how Sarah Koenig presented the evidence. Do you believe she is biased in her reporting, or is she balanced? Do you believe her opinion is evident, or does she have a good “poker face” or in this case, “poker voice”? Does her presentation of the evidence affect your opinion regarding Adnan’s guilt or innocence?

Respond in the comments below BEFORE you read your classmates’ responses.

Once you’ve posted, read through your classmates’ comments and respond to their comments–particularly those you disagree with. (Keep it civil!) Extend one another’s thinking in this matter. Try to convince each other that your stance is the right stance. Work on persuading one another to sway each other to your point of view. If someone legitimately sways your opinion, say so and say why. Everyone needs to interact with other commenters.

ASSIGNMENT:

  1. Answer the question posed above (before reading your classmates’ comments).
  2. After you have posted your comment, respond to at least FIVE other commenters with reasons why you agree or disagree with their stances. (The most interesting dialogue most likely will come from the people with whom you disagree.)
  3. If someone responds to your original comment, you should reply back to that commenter to further extend the dialogue until it comes to a satisfying close.
  4. Review the section of  THIS POST about posting quality comments (scroll down), if you need a refresher on what that entails.
  5. You will be graded on the quantity of your comments (at least 5), the quality of your comments (see #4, if you need a refresher), and the responsiveness you demonstrate to fellow commenters (including me. I will jump in and play devil’s advocate from time to time, if I see the conversation getting stale).

Graphic Conversation

Marc Wathieu via Compfight

How to Submit an Assignment to Mrs. M., Digitally, Using GoodNotes or Pages

Screenshot 2015-01-08 17.13.39

Using GoodNotes:

1. When you receive an assignment via your class’s Google Drive, open it in GoodNotes. This will allow you to write directly on the document.

2. WRITE (TYPE) YOUR NAME at the TOP OF THE DOCUMENT.

3. Click on the title of the document to change the name of your document to …

ASSIGNMENT NAME + YOUR CLASS PERIOD + YOUR LAST NAME
(+ FIRST INITIAL, if someone else has the same last name in your class period)

EXAMPLES:
Journal1p2Morgenson

Vocab3p5Clayton

Kenningsp8SmithB

4. Once you’ve completed your assignment go back to the main screen in GoodNotes and click on EDIT.

5. Choose your assignment, so that it is highlighted.

6. Click on EXPORT.

7. Another prompt will appear. Click on EXPORT.

8. Many options will appear. Choose EXTERNAL APPS.

9. Choose GOOGLE DRIVE. This will launch Google Drive.

10. Google Drive will ask you “Would you like to upload this document to Drive?” Choose UPLOAD.

11. Click on the “i” (in a little circle) on the right-hand, next to the document title.

12. This will pull up the DETAILS menu. Choose the “MOVE TO” option.

13. Choose our SHARED SUBMISSION FOLDER.

14. Click on “MOVE HERE.”

15. Google Drive will prompt you with the message “Move: Document will be shared in Folder”. Choose MOVE.

Now your document should be available to both of us. Hurray!

Screenshot 2015-01-08 17.13.49

Using Pages:

1. Create the document in Pages.

2. WRITE (TYPE) YOUR NAME at the TOP OF THE DOCUMENT.

3. Go back to the DOCUMENT screen to change the name of your document. Click on the title to change it to …

ASSIGNMENT NAME + YOUR CLASS PERIOD + YOUR LAST NAME
(+ FIRST INITIAL, if someone else has the same last name in your class period)

EXAMPLES:
Journal1p2Morgenson

Vocab3p5Clayton

Kenningsp8SmithB

4. Complete the assignment.

5. Go back to the DOCUMENTS screen in Pages.

6. Click on the box with an upward pointing arrow in the top left-hand corner of the screen.

7. Choose OPEN IN ANOTHER APP.

8. Select the assignment document.

9. Choose PDF.

10. Click on CHOOSE APP.

11. Choose OPEN IN DRIVE. This will launch Google Drive.

12. Google Drive will ask you “Would you like to upload this document to Drive?” Choose UPLOAD.

13. Click on the “i” (in a little circle) on the right-hand, next to the document title.

14. This will pull up the DETAILS menu. Choose the “MOVE TO” option.

15. Choose our SHARED SUBMISSION FOLDER.

16. Click on “MOVE HERE.”

17. Google Drive will prompt you with the message “Move: Document will be shared in Folder”. Choose MOVE.

Now your document should be available to both of us. Huzzah!

Kindness Ripples through @phsKINDNESS

phsKINDNESS

Some time ago, I assigned my very small (but mighty) Contemporary Literature (#phsCONlit) class their cornerstone assessment, which was designed to have them identify a social problem that they encountered in one or more of the texts (novels, articles, movies) we read throughout the duration of the semester. After reading countless articles about domestic abuse, teen suicide and bullying as well as novels Winter’s Bone by Daniel Wooddrell, Stitches by David Small, and Saint Iggy by K.L. Going, (and surmising that one of the root problems for the main characters in each of these books could be bullying behavior by both peers and adults) and viewing the documentary Bully (which was more straightforward in presenting bullying as a social problem), the six students (who prefer to remain anonymous) centered on bullying as their focal issue and narrowed that focus to cyberbullying, because it was a problem that they had ALL witnessed, been the recipient of, or participated in directly. (These were not easy conversations and it took a lot of trust.) The assessment tasked them with finding a possible solution for this problem. I pointed out to them that I noticed that I often see students tweeting (and retweeting) negative or unkind things, but that I couldn’t necessarily say the same thing for kind tweets. As a result of the assessment and the dialogue that occurred during the formulation stages of the project, they decided, as a group, to create a Twitter account that tweeted and retweeted nothing but kind words. And @phsKINDNESS was born.

Ironically, at the same time, an anonymous student (but maybe NOT so anonymous because students talk!) from our school created a Twitter account that posted nothing but unkind things. The six students in my class agreed that they would not follow it and that they would not “FAVORITE” or retweet anything that THAT account posted. (A couple of them were following the account and they realized that this was hypocritical and unfollowed it after our conversation.) For the record, the unkind account was deleted not too terribly long after its creation. Ours is still going strong. (One other remarkable moment in this process was when one of the students pulled out his cell phone and told us that he was then and there going to delete and block his ex-girlfriend’s phone number from his phone because all they did was bully each other and he was tired of it. I was so proud of him.)

Once the account was established, they began searching for kindness on Twitter and found it! We tweeted kind things; we retweeted kind things; we followed kind people. And then people started following us. The account quickly had 100 followers, mostly from our community and the Twitter education community. As of the creation of this blog post, we have 236 followers, which, for a non-celebrity account, is not too shabby, though, wouldn’t it be awesome if kindness received some celebrity? We also established an email address (phskindness@gmail.com) to encourage people to submit quotes about kindness and instances of kindness that they have witnessed on Twitter.

In 2014, two students (who were NOT part of the Contemp Lit class that created @phsKINDNESS) and I attended the Wicked Anti-Bullying Summit at the Holland Performing Arts Center in Omaha, NE. The students who created the account graduated in 2014, but because of my attendance to The Summit, I have continued the account, with the assistance of those who pass along kindness via Twitter and our email account.  I also submitted our project to the The Summit’s project contest and it was selected as a winner. As a result, in either March or April, I get to take 100 students and teacher to a show at either The Orpheum Theatre or the Holland Performing Arts Center. I am going to invite the six students who started @phsKINDNESS, but I don’t know if they want to “out” themselves just yet. They are proud of what they did, but one thing we discussed is doing kind things for the sake of kindness rather than “getting credit.” In essence, whether they come or not, their kindness is being rewarded by paying it forward to the current students of PHS.

In a roundtable discussion with invited members of our school community, our principal asked the students how they planned to sustain this project after their graduation. As a group, we came to the conclusion that they would do so by the way they live. My hope is that they are doing just that, and I suspect that they are. The small but mighty group was an unlikely group of friends who had just the right synergy to pull off the project. My belief and my hope is that they will pay it forward with a lifetime of kindness. They know they have the power to do so.

Here’s a news report by local station WOWT, Channel 6

I am pro-digging for explanations about anti as a preposition.

Digging in the Dark
Creative Commons License Photo Credit: Wessex Archaeology via Compfight

Prior to recently, I have only ever thought of anti as a prefix. However, it recently showed up on a list of “frequently used prepositions” for my AP English and Literature students. One of my students noticed it hanging out in the “A” section of the list and asked, “Is anti really a preposition?” I told her that I hadn’t ever used it as a preposition, but that I would look into it.

We were right in the middle of my model grammar lesson–the one I alluded to in my post about how grammar instruction is a big fat challenge for me–so we carried on with the lesson. The problem was that I couldn’t really think of an example of how I might use anti as a preposition. Call it a brain fart. Call it a knowledge block. Call it a lapse in the thinks. Whatever you want to call it, I couldn’t, at that moment, think of it in those terms. So, I turned to a web search. It didn’t take long to come up with a basic definition and an example sentence for how to use anti. I must sheepishly admit that it was the first entry that popped up in my search.

I sent my students this email at the end of the school day:

One of you asked about the preposition anti … I had never thought of it as a preposition before, so I did some digging. (I didn’t have to dig very far.) I found this via our friend Google –>
preposition: anti
opposed to; against.

Example: “I’m anti the abuse of drink and the hassle that it causes.”

To me this seems like an awkward say that “I’m against the abuse of drink and the hassle it causes,” but I suppose some people may use this as a way to add variety to their phrasing.

My student responded later that evening with the following message:

Interesting, thanks for looking into it! However, I am still confused on how is it a preposition. If you take that part of the sentence out, it doesn’t make sense.

I felt like she was right, until I thought about it for a while. (Here is where diagramming MAY have come in handy …) I also realized my explanation was too … first-entry-on-Google-searchish, so I responded with this:

Actually … now that I’ve pondered this a little longer I realized that it actually does (technically) make sense … I’m anti the abuse of drink and the hassle that it causes.

Really the sentence I’m … or I am can stand alone. Technically “anti the abuse …” modifies (describes) what “I am.”

For instance, look at this sentence … I’m under the table.

The subject is I and the verb is am. The prepositional phrase is under the table. It modifies where I am … Does that make sense?

I did research this further after your observation though and it seems that anti is more of a British preposition than an American one … which probably why it sounds weird to us.

My hope is that, henceforward, if you, dear reader, are ever confused about why anti is on a list of frequently used prepositions that this post will pop up on a web search and that you will dig deeply enough to find it.

The Lament (and Plea) of a High School Grammar Teacher

YouHadMe-400x280

When I was in high school, I diagrammed exactly ZERO sentences. In fact, I didn’t even know what diagramming was until college, when I took a Linguistics class well after declaring secondary language arts as my major. I remember doing grammar worksheets in elementary school, junior high, and high school. I remember learning tricks like FANBOYS (which maybe isn’t even a thing anymore???) and being confused by when to use commas. I also know that until I became an English teacher and researched it on my own, the semicolon was an enigma. (Now it’s my favorite.)

I also remember learning more about grammar in French class than in English class. I, without a doubt, learned more about how to apply grammar to my writing as a school newspaper staffer than I ever did in any English class. Newspaper staff is where I learned how to use a style guide too. Even though it was the AP Style Guide, it still set the foundation for using MLA and APA in college in the sense that it was a place to go when I wasn’t sure about something.

I’ve also sort of been blessed with excellent grammar genetics. I’m a good speller and have a good gut for the rules. Reading was a big deal in my household growing up too, so I’m certain I picked up on the rules of Standard English Grammar because of how much reading I did as a child and young adult. (Thanks for setting that foundation for me, Mom.)

During my language arts methods classes in college, we didn’t learn any techniques for teaching grammar explicitly. We were told that students should learn grammar through their own writing and that we should address grammar issues prescriptively. In other words, when we noticed an ailment, we should offer the student a cure at that time, rather than taking preventative measures, because discrete grammar instruction was supposedly ineffective.

So, it should come as no surprise that I really don’t know the best way to teach grammar. There. I admitted it.

I have some ideas, but I’ve been using the prescriptive method for nearly 15 years now and I’m not convinced it’s the right way to go about it. However, drill and kill doesn’t sit quite right with me either.

It is also less than unexpected that when I seek advice on best practices for teaching grammar from other teachers via social media that I get a whole bunch of cricket chirps in response. I have also done some poking around on the web and there are some good lessons out there … creative, engaging, helpful … but they are few and far between, and random. There isn’t that much stuff out there to help teachers teach grammar (in an engaging way). For example, when you type in “Romeo and Juliet Lesson Plans” in a search engine, something in the neighborhood of six magjillion lesson plans come up and a good number of them are effective. Not so with a search of “high school grammar lesson plans.”

Hear my cry, internet!

How do you approach grammar in your high school English classrooms?

I tried something new in the grammar department today and the lesson will continue tomorrow. (It may bleed into next week for all I know) … and I will document the experiment here.

What I really want to create is a bank of awesomely engaging lessons that teach something that is not usually categorized as “awesome” or “engaging” (in the eyes of most students anyway). If you have an awesomely engaging grammar lesson for high school students, will you share? Please?

Also, if you would, please share this post and respond in the comments below. (Please don’t share this with any crickets though.)

Two-Sentence Horror: A Quick, Fun, Challenging Writing Assignment for High School Students on Halloween

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Photo Credit: Brenda Clarke via Compfight

Right before Halloween, one of my sixth grade teachers sent me a post on Facebook leading me to an aggregation of two-sentence horror stories. She still teaches sixth grade and thought that while these stories might be a little too much for sixth-graders, as a high school English teacher, I could have some fun sharing these with my students. And I agree with her. So I did.

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I told them how I came to find these stories and some of them commented on how neat it was that I stayed in touch with my sixth grade teacher still and that it was sort of cool and sort of creepy that she would send me a link to such scary stories. After I read through one of them, my drama students insisted that we turn the lights off. With my AP English students, we just went ahead and turned them off from the outset. The reactions to the stories were pretty good in that I think some of them legitimately creeped out some of the students, which was, after all, at least partially, the goal.

The other goals were to practice brevity in writing. How can we deliver a power-packed story with only two sentences? Which word choices will give the most bang for the buck? Which would be more effective-short sentences? long ons? a combo of both? We had an opportunity to analyze some of the sentences’ grammatical structure. Are some of these run-ons? comma splices? long, grammatically correct sentences? We also talked about formula. Was there a trick to making a short horror story work? Was there a pattern that tied all nine stories together? Which stories were the scariest? Why were they scary?

After reading through all nine of the stories, and having a wee discussion comprised of the aforementioned questions and their responses, I gave the students time to compose their own two-sentence stories. Then we shared them aloud in Drama class. (We had other things to do in AP English, so they just submitted them to me to be shared on a another day.) Oh, and I wrote one too! You will see some of the results below.

from Morgan Z.

That creep was still standing by the bus stop the next day. Even after running him over twice the day before, there he was, standing there.

from Hannah C.

He woke up from a nightmare in which a creature was in his bedroom. He drifted off, while staring at two yellow lights outside his window, except they weren’t lights …

from our foreign exchange student from Holland

De donkere nacht is nog maer net begonnen. Er tyn al 10 lyken geuonden …

(If you read Dutch, you are probably really scared right now…)

from Shaylee M.

I walk down the hallway toward the bathroom, only to see a light coming from a crack under the door. I slowly open the door, but I see no one there … until I turn around …

I woke in the middle of the night and heard a girl singing beautifully. I follow her voice to a pond outside, but all I can see is my demonic reflection.

from Jax C.

Marry had a little lamb; it’s fleece was white as snow. Now Mary’s dead and the lamb’s fleece is red as blood.

I couldn’t move as thousands of their little legs crawled up my arms, legs and into my moth. I screamed, waking my self up only to feel the little legs crawling up my neck.

from Sophia V.

He whispered, “Go to sleep.”  So I did … forever.

I was walking though the forest as the sun was going down.  I saw a tall man with a white face and now all I can give you are signs from my own blood to stay away.

She was only four years old and dressed in white.  But she managed to kill me anyway.

from Tanner P.

One day I came home from school and had a hankering for some oreos. When I opened the package, it was empty.

I was walking through the forest, hopelessly lost, and my phone was dead. Then, out of the corner of my eye I spotted him: Shia Labeuof.

It is a tough job being a mortician nowadays. It is getting harder and harder to hide the claw marks inside the coffins.

Supper is the one time that my family all comes together. The only bad part is the main course will not stop screaming.

from Maria B.

Every night, the old woman would say goodnight to her dead husband before crawling into bed. One night, a scratchy, dark voice responded from under her covers, saying, “He’s not here anymore.”

As they lowered my little sister into the ground, i just wanted the funeral to be over. I couldn’t help but wonder if the coffin would supress the screams that were sure to start at any moment.

from Devin N.

It was Halloween night and it was pitch black outside when out of the corner of my eye I saw something on the ground. To my horror it was a person tearing the flesh from a dead rotting corpse and as I looked closer I said, “Mom!?”

And finally … MINE:

“Lullaby, and goodnight,” she sang in her raspy coo to the children. “When did Fluffy learn to sing?” said the boy to his little sister.