Saturday, July 9, 2011

The Writer's Notebook

I have been looking into the ideas of Writer's Notebooks and the Writing Workshop. A friend of mine suggested that I read "Notebook Know-How", by Aimee Buckner.

I felt that the book had some interesting and worthwhile ideas, but I still have a few issues:

1. Firstly, Buckner seems to stick to one genre: narrative. I my classroom, narrative writing is only a small portion of my writing curriculum. Mostly, we work on essays. If I give the students total control over what they write, I have a feeling they won't want to write essays of different kinds. Also, how will I teach the components of different types of essays (compare/contrast, instructional, descriptive, etc.) if they're all working on different projects?

2. The book seems geared toward elementary grades. I have found in more than one book on notebooks (and the closely-associated writing workshop), that the authors expect teachers to use at least three hours a week for this practice. Is this possible in a middle-school environment, where we only get five hours with the kids a week in the first place?

I work in a very small district and have been trying to converse (via blog) with some other teachers about these issues, but it is difficult! I wish I had a few other teachers to bounce ideas and questions off of...

Friday, January 14, 2011

Better Blogging by A Teaching Life

If you get a moment, check out: Starting Off a New Year Planning

I found this post, by A Teaching Life, to be particularly helpful. As we ended the glorious week of vacation that is Winter Break, I found this site and instantly loved it. This teacher shares her lessons and her ideas, and occasionally her own writing or inspirational pieces. I love it! I also like that she links directly to book information, which makes it easy for me to find, order, or link to other pages. I appreciate the extra effort. The pictures are nice, too!

Since we don't compete with each other, I am so eager to learn from other teachers. What inspiring projects have they completed in class? What gets their students fired up about writing? How do they survive the day with 120 (or more) highly-hormonal and dramatic kids? If only our job were easy...but it's rewarding instead.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

"Class is really fun today...I just can't explain it."

We are in the midst of reviewing for our Semester Final this week. My lesson plans are full of review games like Jeopardy and whiteboard races. It's been a challenge to come up with quick and easy activities, because the kids are still bonkers from our snow day on Monday. (Not to mention the late start yesterday and the lingering snow on the playground. How DO they manage to be covered in it by the end of recess?)

To practice the parts of a story, I split the kids up into groups of five. In these groups, each person wrote a "part" of a very short story, the: exposition, rising action, climax, falling action, and resolution. They wrote their part on a whiteboard, and then each group presented their story. Each time, we reviewed the proper order of these vocabulary words. It was fun! Here was the one we came up with in 1st hour:

Once there was a little frog who lived alone in the swamp.

Rising Action
Suddenly, he saw a hawk flying in the sky above him. He ran and ran, then finally grabbed a clod of dirt and flung it at the bird.

The hawk dove at the little frog, pointing his talons toward his scrawny neck. The frog ducked.

Falling Action
The hawk missed and hit a tree. He knocked himself at and hit the ground, seeing stars.

The frog lived happily ever after and the hawk stumbled over to Buffalo Wing Station for a good meal.

Ahh, the kids. They are so funny.

When one student was leaving class, he tried to explain to another student what we were doing. "Class is really fun today," he said, "but I can't explain why..." Wow. This is the highest order of compliment. We reviewed vocabulary and they actually had FUN. Will wonders never cease?

Monday, January 10, 2011

An Interview With My (Sarcastic and Melodramatic) Blog

What better way to spend the evening of a snow day than beginning a bloggy adventure? At approximately my normal bedtime (we're on a 2-hour delay tomorrow, so who's counting?), I got a chance to sit down with my blog and ask it a few pointed questions. The answers may surprise you. I may have created a monster...

Mrs. S: So Blog, if I may call you that, how have you been?

Blog: My goodness. Barbara Walters you aren't. You really should have started with a more hard-hitting question, like, "Do you worry that you are contributing to the pernicious effects of cyber-overstimulation in juveniles?"

Mrs. S: Wow, that would have been a more severe question. A bit abrupt, but definitely a conversation-starter.

Blog: Obviously.

Mrs. S: Anyhow, let's start with the basics, shall we? How long have you been chronicling the exciting life and times of Mrs. S?

Blog: Am I allowed to comment on the presumptuousness of this statement?

Mrs. S: I'd rather you didn't.

Blog: Very well, I have been around for only about two weeks now. I'm woefully under-used and -appreciated. Mrs. S is not a fastidious blogger, and her posts seem to vary in subject from the mundane to the downright philosophical. My identity is in question...

Mrs. S: How frustrating that must be for you! I imagine that Mrs. S feels that her own identity, or job rather, pulls her in many different directions, too. Have you given any thought to your purpose?

Blog: I aspire to be a place where Mrs. S can swap lessons, lesson plans, and literary achievements. She's a very idealistic woman, and is willing to try anything. You know she spent several hours over her break pouring over blogs and websites trying to get ideas for essay assignments over winter break?

Mrs. S: You don't say. I suppose many teachers are prone to this behavior. Do you think that Mrs.S is willing to put in the work needed for her blog to be a success?

Blog: Oh, I believe so. Mrs. S teaches in a very small district, and interaction with other same-grade teachers is frightfully scarce. She would love to probe the minds of more experienced teachers. She'll stick to it, all right.

Mrs. S: I'm terribly sorry, but that's all the time we have for now. SOMEBODY stayed up to late to watch a fascinating British TV show called Dawnton Abbey last night and is a wee bit "knackered" if you know what I mean...

Blog: I do. I spent a summer abroad in 2001.

Mrs. S: That's impossible, you just said...

Blog: As you said, it's bedtime.

Mrs. S: Argh, anthropomorphism at its sarcastic worst... Goodnight everyone, and have a pleasant (if not delayed) tomorrow.

Snow Day = Happy Day!

Okay, okay. It's going to really mess up my whole "finals" plan, but we very rarely get a snow day here in Southern Colorado! I'm very excited. I graded a whole period's worth of narratives, and I'm going to go XC skiing next to the river while taking pictures, then I'll work on my own story, retire to the couch, read an education-based book for an hour, and then let myself read a fiction (not geared toward young adults) for a little while, too. Brilliant!

Sometimes, you redeem yourself, Winter.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Semester Finals - How Early is Too Early?

At the begining of the year, we recieved a list from the high school teachers in our district. This list comprised all of the things that these teachers wished that we'd teach to our middle-schoolers before they began their freshman year. Among many others, they had expressed that they'd like their students to be introduced to the idea of finals.

So, I am giving my first semester final this week. (I probably should have done them quarterly, but I feel that this is a perfect opportunity to revisit some topics before we really get into CSAP prep in the month of February.) I have created a fabulous (by my standards) review / study sheet, and we are playing review games all this week. We're doing everything from Jeopardy to role-playing games, and everything in between. I'm excited to see how the kids respond to the idea of a semester final: will they find it challenging? Tedious? Exciting? Who knows! Either way, I'm thankful for the opportunity to show the kids just how much they've learned (or re-learned) throughout the school year so far.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Slice of Life

"Jason," I said sternly, "you need to sit down."
He sauntered toward his seat, head down and voice muffled.
"I don't want to sit there," he said, "Kaitlyn growls at me..."
The other kids laughed and giggled at this, his wittiest of remarks. Kaitlyn, a cheerful and brilliant young lady, looked at me with her hands raised in mock protest. I shrugged back at her, always apt to ignore some comments in the interest of denying clowns what they craved most - attention.

The lesson continued and we broke into groups for a quick practice with "Intriguing Leads." I walk over to Kaitlyn, who is gently crying. Her partner sits accross from her, studying their paper and trying in vain to get Kaitlyn to ignore what is bothering her.

"What's the matter?" I ask, and my mind races to the incident moments before. Her eyes are wet with tears. What have I done?

"Was it the comment about you growling?" I asked cautiously.

"I'm just having a bad day..." she began, "and that was just part of it."

Just part of it. If you're not part of the solution, I think...

It is my job to protect them, and I had just shrugged and moved on. I give her solace when the bell rings, allow her to be late for her next class while I try to make up for my ambviolence. It is no use: her day is ruined. Even the smallest things can hurt these kids. They pretend to be so strong, but they delicate. So delicate...

Monday, January 3, 2011

The Best of Intentions

Ah, writing assignments. How I love to create and develop you, only to watch you fall flat on your face. I have to find a balance between allowing the kids to write what they want and having enough structure to help them find a good topic. It's a tricky task. When I fail to do this, I see a wide range of enthusiasm for certain essays.

The "How To" instructional essays yielded some really amazing essays / projects, like: "How to Hunt Elk", "How to Find a Long-Lost Friend", and "How to Make an Amazing Mini-Movie." I am impressed with so many of the students' writing and creativity. Then, there are the few who are so uninspired, so beleaguered by the prospect of writing (gasp!) an essay that they fail to produce anything of substance.

It is so hard to love writing and see others view it as drudgery.