*Names and identifying details have been altered to protect the innocent people who could sue me.

February 19, 2012

There is no why, children. (I'm sorry.)

Night, Elie Wiesel's autobiography of his experience at the Auschwitz concentration camp during WWII, is difficult to read. In fact, the only thing more difficult than reading it might be teaching it. And the only thing more difficult than teaching it once is teaching it 4 times a day. And perhaps the only thing more difficult than teaching Night four times each day is teaching the Holocaust to kids who have never studied it before. There's been a lot of, 'But whyyyyyyyy teacher, whyyyyyyyyyy? in my life these days.

All this is to say, I haven't wanted to think much about teaching in my off hours.

In lieu of a high-low-high, I've got a KWL for you. KWL is a standard teaching technique that activates background knowledge (K), encourages students to engage with the material by asking about what they want to know (W), and then provides a post-lesson wrap of what they've learned (L). We're not quite finished with the unit yet, but here are some sampled answers from the past few weeks that will give you a sense of what this month has been like.

K: What do I know about World War II? It involved fighting. The whole world took part. It was a sequel to World War I.

W: Why did Hitler hate the Jews so much? Why did Hitler prefer blonde hair and blue eyes? Why didn't anybody stop him from doing what he wanted to do? How was he able to do all of this? How can one person cause so many deaths?

L: Ms Gettlin, I figured out why Hitler hated the Jews. On the internet it said he was a vegetarian. So I think that's probably why he hated the Jews, right?

February 9, 2012

Connect the dots - the soap box edition

As a side note, a while ago I was reading an article that talked about the long-lasting effect of “excellent teachers.” The overall argument was something like:
Excellent teachers increase test scores.
1. Those students then go on to higher education.
2. Those students also earn more, in the long run.
3. Those students don’t get pregnant as teens.

Now, I realize that the underlying assumption of the article is that higher test scores indicate students who are more successful in life. But even were that made more explicit, I would still grade this process of analysis very low – were this one of my students – because the “connect the dots” still asks a lot of the reader. And I would suggest that a stronger, more nuanced analysis of this research might look more like this:

Excellent teachers prepare students to be informed, engaged participants in their education and life by increasing student agency, self-awareness, and confidence.
1. Those students are then able to seek out, and be successful in, higher education.
2. Those students are then able to get, and maintain, high paying jobs.
3. Those students are then able to make smart choices that demand self-respect, emotional maturity, and long-term thinking.

Soap box away now. Soon I’ll type up my student’s responses on their allusions quiz. Here’s a sample:
Q: What was Lazarus known for?
A: Shooting someone with a laser.

February 8, 2012

"Connect the dots"

8th graders are not particularly good at analysis. (Neither are the rest of us, for that matter, but more on that later.) The English classroom bears a lot of the burden for increasing reading and writing scores on standardized tests – regardless of the content of that reading or the purpose of that writing – and so we focus a lot on analytical writing, and how to improve the process of stating a claim and then proving it.

To help my students visualize this, I tell them they need to “connect the dots.” First, we make a main idea statement in the center of the page, then place brainstormed proof for this around it in a circle, each with its own dot. The analysis – the hardest part of writing – has to do the job of “connecting the dots” between the proof and the main idea. Don’t make the reader work for it, I tell them – make it obvious. Give the reader no choice but to agree with your point.

Here, then, are some of the brainstorms my students have handed in recently (retyped into a more linear format, for easier reading).

Finding Nemo is the best movie of all time.
1. Lots of action: the action where Merlin escapes the shark makes it great.
2. Talking fish: Not many movies have talking fish, which makes it a lot better.
3. And sharks: Having sharks makes it GREAT.

Jersey Shore is the best TV show of all time.
1. Fun: Partying in the show and its funny to watch with friends.
2. Violence: People are constantly getting in fights.
3. Good life lessons: What not to do when you're in public!

The Goonies is the best movie of all time.
1: The Truffle Shuffle – the truffle shuffle is a weird and funny move, which makes it good.
2: The Ship – I like the big ship with all the gold and stuff.
3: Booby Traps – The little asian boy [sic] uses dynamite to stop the villains. And it's funny when he says “booby.”