Rigorrrrrrrrrr

catacombs

seth m via Compfight

I like what (most) educators mean when they say RIGOR (and I love even more the idea of relevance and engagement in the classroom) but truth be told, that word 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.

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.

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.)

This break, I actually took a break.

During the past two weeks, my school district took winter break. We finished up finals and the students vacated the premises of the school building. Before leaving, I tried my hardest to finish up grading.

Impossible.

However, I made a considerable dent in the stack and entered as many grades as possible. I even posted grades for four of my classes–before leaving for break.

Breakthrough!

The weekend before Christmas, I finished grading the papers and posted the remaining two classes’ grades. This meant that I had NO grading to do for the rest of the break. This has never happened before in my 13 years of teaching. (I just finished my 13th year of teaching! I was a mid-termer and was fortunate enough to find employment mid-year.) I always had a lot of grading to do over break, sometimes because of poor planning on my part, sometimes because of bad luck, and sometimes because I procrastinated–usually because of the first and third reasons. Bad luck is usually a symptom of the first and third reasons.

This year, I planned better; I was lucky; and I didn’t procrastinate.

As a result, I spent time with my kids and family, read books, watched an entire Netflix series, cleaned, caught up on laundry (which is another rarity in the Morgetron household), went to THREE movies, IN A THEATER (big deal in Morgetron land), played with my dogs, hung out with my chickens, helped my husband deliver firewood, created a flyer and business cards for our new business, and I did so without the distraction of a task left undone, looming over my conscience.

As a result, I feel refreshed and I will be a better teacher this semester.

That which feeds the soul, clears the path for bigger tasks.

My cup runneth over.

This Feels Like Failure: Why Are So Many Students Dropping My Advanced Placement English Class?

I teach an Advanced Placement English class. It’s a challenging class. It’s hard. Really. There are times when it’s not fun. High school me would’ve struggled with it. Undergrad me probably would’ve struggled with it a bit. Shoot! Come to think of it, there are days when I would struggle with it now, if I were juggling what my students are juggling.

The students have to learn difficult vocabulary–words that show up frequently in classic literature–and they have to use said vocabulary in context. They have to learn how to identify AND write in sentence structures that I didn’t learn about until college or after. They have to read challenging, sometimes dense, sometimes archaic, sometimes confusing (but beautiful! controversial! poetic! lovely! wonderful! universally truthful), texts, rife with figurative language, dripping with irony, loaded with difficult-to-decipher symbols (but that have withstood the test of time). They are in charge of leading discussions. They are responsible for analyzing literature through writing.

I view this class as not just a way to prepare for the Advanced Placement test they will (hopefully) take (and DOMINATE) in the Spring, but to prepare them for college, and more importantly, to ready them for the cruel world after college. In it, they are exposed to rich content, but even more importantly–they practice and (usually) master transferable skills that they will use for the rest of their lives: effective writing in multiple modes, critical thinking, creativity, idea generation, collaboration, decision-making, time management …

They blog. They analyze. They interact face-to-face. They interact digitally. They do or do not hit deadlines (and there are consequences for both). They write. They speak. They think. They think. They think. They think and think and think!

They are currently synthesizing their skills in the form of a mimesis–an assignment that requires them to create an original short story that mimics (in more than one way) the work of a famous author, whom they have studied in depth. It is–to use one of their vocabulary words–arduous. It is hard work. It takes time. It takes tenacity. It’s not something most people can write in an hour and half (though I have a student who claims he did … !)

And, at the end of last week and today, nearly half of them brought me paperwork to drop my class at semester.

Herein lies my feeling of failure.

Some of the students have legitimate-sounding excuses for dropping the class. Some of them do not. However, underneath all these reasons–legit or not–is a nagging question: What did I do wrong?

I want this class to be rigorous. In fact, it’s required, by College Board standards to be rigorous. My district requires it to be rigorous. However, I don’t want to be so rigid as to drive away my students. They are, after all, some of my favorite people in the whole world! Don’t get me wrong: I realize that not every students is cut out for Advanced Placement English, and it is a typical event for some of them to drop at semester, but the sheer number of drops this time around has me in a bit of a stupor.

As a result of these drops, I’m not feeling like the greatest teacher. Not that I ever feel like I am THE greatest teacher, but today, I am feeling pretty down. It is my instinct to keep these feelings to myself or maybe to whine a little to one of my mentors, but I have decided to reflect here–”out loud”–because I don’t think we lament enough in public. It’s important to put our best selves forward to the world when we can, but it’s also okay to reveal the moments that are the most trying. This week has started out with a fizzle, but this anticipated mass exodus of students has deepened my resolve to continually improve myself as a teacher. But for today, I’m going to take some time to marinate in this feeling of disappointment and to labor over my aforementioned question, along with these:

  • What can I do differently to retain more of my students?
  • What can I do to impart–to students and their parents–that what you learn in a class is more important than the almighty grade?
  • Is this class’s level of rigor befitting a entry-level college English literature and writing course or have I taken it too far?
  • Are my expectation too high? (I don’t think so–but believe me–I will think about this.)

I’m holding onto the hope that tomorrow and the next day and the next day will be better days–as a result of reflection and time. I’m holding onto the hope that next semester, I’ll be a better teacher–as a result of this semester’s events and as a result of this public reflection on some very raw feelings.

iCrave balance

For as much as I believe in technology integration, changing with the times, and embracing new ideas, I still love doing things the old-fashioned way.

This post was mainly inspired by this:

This is the library of a college near my home. I took some students to a workshop there last week and one of the students took us on a tour of the campus. It was a lovely workshop for the most part, and the campus was delightful overall, but walking past a library without a (traditional) book in sight (I’m certain there were e-readers present) stirred a sadness in me.

One of my students even said, “This is a total turnoff. I will not consider this college nor any college that has a library with no books.” Of the students who gave me (unsolicited) feedback, none of them were happy about the bookless  library. Three of them said it made them sad. One seemed more angry than anything … maybe even outraged.

I am guilty of getting overly wrapped up in technology. I have become concerned that I’m more interested in documenting my life and my children’s lives that I’m not living it as fully as I could be if I (more frequently) were to set the iPad down or unplug from my (slow and cumbersome at-home) wifi connection and go outside. It’s not that I never set foot outside or spend time with my children. I just have realized how much of my time is involved in social media, reading the latest articles, networking with peers outside of my school, and … yes … I must admit … dinking a round on games and mindless surfing.  (Do people still “surf the web”? I just realized I haven’t used that phrase for ages. Hmmm.) But there are still things that I like to kick old style. Reading a book is one of them.

Other things I still like to do the old-fashioned way:

  • write letters (but I love personal emails too)
  • visit places in person (though if I never make it to Paris, some of the cyber tours I’ve taken are pretty slick)
  • look at pictures (I realized this when I was going through the scads of photos I have of my youngest daughter as I was putting together a slideshow for her graduation party, which we are in the throws of planning as I type. *sighhhh*)
  • hang out with friends (though hanging out with distant friends/loved ones via Skype or Google Hangout is a decent substitute)

It has been assumed by some that because I am a tweetaholic, or because I work in a 1:1 iPad school, or because I sign up for PD at every turn that I’m ONLY into technology, but that’s not true.

I love the simple things in life–a good book, a cup of tea, receiving a letter from an old friend, taking a walk with my daughters and husband, petting my dogs.  However, I also love social media, streaming entire television series on my computer, and iMessage AND what technology has done for the classroom.

I suppose it’s a balance between modern and “old”  that I crave.

 

 

Good learning is good learning.

This blog was originally concocted in an effort to document my experience as a teacher in the first year of a 1:1 iPad school. I certainly haven’t blogged as often as I originally intended, but I’ve noticed that most of my posts are not centered around iPads at all. My first post set that up though –> I wasn’t expecting our iPads to transform our school into some sort of megaplex of learning (anymore than it already is), but I was hopeful at the chance for all of my students to have equal access (or closer to equal access) to resources that were, at best spotty, in previous years. Closing that gap between HAVE and HAVE NOTS was what I appreciated most about the prospect of going 1:1. I believe our 1:1 initiative has done just that.

However, what this blog turned out to be more than anything was a place to share things that work for me (so that others may benefit) and to promote my students’ work and experience. Some of these things, work, and experiences involve iPads as a “star,” but most do not. In other words, though having iPads at our fingertips has been (mostly) wonderful, it hasn’t changed what I do in the classroom very much. It’s given me different ways to do it, but I’m still striving for the same outcomes, rolling with the same punches, and having similar successes and failures that I’ve had in years past.

When it comes down to it, most teachers I know have a knack for finding what works for their individual students regardless of the resources provided to them. I am grateful that my job and my students lives are easier because of the incredible educational instruments we as a school community have close at hand every day, but bottom line –> good teaching is good teaching AND, more importantly good learning is good learning. Both can transcend the devices we have at our disposal.