All last week I’ve been harassing students to do the technology stuff and do it right. I had to go in to the class wiki and remove all of the students’ last names in order to protect their security and privacy. I also spent the weekend looking over the learning survey results and making seating and small group decisions.
As it turns out, I could rely on a few key indicators to help me decide upon small groups. Only a few students specified that they “liked to take charge and lead the group.” I made sure they were split among different groups. Most students rated themselves moderately between “Let me work on my part of the project” to “It’d be cool if we do this all together” — those students who rated themselves at the extreme were generally grouped together. It was then a matter of eyeballing general personality profiles and skill sets to form the rest of the groups. I tried to achieve general uniformity when it came to group behavior and general diversity when it came to learning styles and skill sets. Of course, I also used my intuition and judgment about students based on classroom observations.
I ended up with four or five 3- to 4-person small groups that I arranged around table clusters in the room. These were going to be my assigned seats for each class.
I gave out the unit tests for The Water is Wide and A Separate Peace today. One of my colleagues pulled these tests from her archives and submitted them for our review. I was too frazzled to argue and too busy catching up to make tests of my own. I regret that now.
I need to be a bit of a control freak around assessments. Tests are a test of teachers — they reveal characteristics of care, knowledge, fairness, organization, relevance and depth of instruction. Ideally tests should be:
- As easy to grade as possible
- Clear in instruction and design
- Appropriately broad
- Appropriately deep
- Appropriately difficult given classroom expectations
I’m not sure if the tests I gave today meets all these criteria, and that really bothers me.
Creative project presentations. Thankfully, I didn’t see too many generic posters, and I was quite pleased with the level of creativity and care given to some of these projects.
I liked documenting the creative project presentations. I took pictures of my 7th graders and videotaped my 8th graders. Not only did it give me something to decorate the wall outside my classroom with — and something to show the parents — but it also helped jog my memory about each student’s presentation.
Oh, and Tuesday night was Back-to-School Night
I also used the brief respite I had from full-on instruction to update the class wiki to make new pages for our upcoming new units. For each new text I made a modified list of essential questions, a reading schedule, and a blank table similar to the one we took notes on for our summer reading books. This last table was going to be the basis of the active reading homework assignments I was going to assign along with the readings. The X-axis headers specified columns for Plot, Character, Quotes, and Setting. The Y-axis headers specified rows for each night’s reading assignment.
I also created a vocabulary page on the wiki for my 8th grade class.
Assigned seats! Of course, nobody was too thrilled about this new development in the class, but I didn’t really hear any genuine venom. I might very well re-evaluate these seats after each trimester just for variety’s sake.
I had my eighth graders write another journal entry, this time on a true story of pursuing a personal calling. Once again, I left it up to them to interpret the prompt as they saw fit.
As a class we then wrote out the MLA bibliographic citation for our new text, The Alchemist. One of my goals this year is spread out the research instruction more evenly throughout the year.
I didn’t know with this rambunctious group how long it would take to explain the homework assignment, so I made sure I explained it early on. In addition to the assigned reading of The Alchemist, they were to go to the wiki page for The Alchemist and add in notes from the reading. I assigned each corner of every 4-desk table cluster a number. Number 1’s had Plot, 2’s had Character, 3’s had Quotes, and 4’s had Vocabulary. These roles would rotate with each new night’s reading. For one’s role, each student had to go to the appropriate cell on the table on the wiki and add in an appropriate note. You couldn’t repeat content, however, so if you arrived later than other students at the wiki, you would have to look harder to add something new.
I made sure we discussed proper wiki etiquette and accountability — how I was notified of changes and how, therefore, it didn’t make any sense to maliciously change another student’s contribution to the wiki. We discussed how each student needed to place their initials by their contribution and how those students finding quotes needed to cite the page numbers of the quotes. All in all, I was pleasantly surprised how well students understood their homework.
I was therefore able to move on to talk about some of the content of the introduction of the book, which specified what Coelho perceived to be universal obstacles to pursuing one’s Personal Legend.
I covered with my seventh graders a lot of the same ground as what I discussed with my eighth graders the day before. Once again, I was pleased how most students clearly understood what the homework assignment entailed.
We then had a good discussion on George and Lennie as characters and on the nature of their friendship. Students were pretty perceptive about what George and Lennie were running from and why Lennie’s personality presented problems for them.
I was also able, with my seventh graders, to go over some background information of Of Mice and Men. We discussed the 1930s, the Great Depression, the migration to California, the Salinas Valley, and — at least with one class — the concept of the American Dream. I also made sure to mention how Steinbeck generally structured the book as a 6-act play; each chapter begins with a description of a fixed setting and all the action within the chapter takes place on that stage.
My eighth grade class started with another journal prompt. I gave them the option to either continue with the prompt from the day before or to respond to a startling picture of a flock of sheep. While they wrote, I expressed my deep admiration that everyone in the class did the homework and did it correctly and rewarded everyone with a Munchkin from Dunkin Donuts.
We then reviewed last night’s reading using everyone’s recent contributions on the wiki as a guide. I then assigned new roles for tonight’s reading.
I then directed everyone’s attention to the specific essential questions for The Alchemist and ran through them quickly. I also made sure to mention the vocabulary quiz that I was going to give them the following week.
Following up on my observation on the theatrical nature of Of Mice and Men, I began each seventh grade class with a reading from last night’s homework. I read the narrator prose, and I assigned students to read dialogue. It occurs to me now that it might have served us all well to go over dialogue punctuation conventions; it might have helped students to realize when their lines ended and another student’s had begun. At any rate, we read the scene where Curley first confronts Lennie and George in the bunkhouse.
We discussed the living conditions George and Lennie had to endure. We then moved to discuss the different characters on the ranch, since they all make an appearance in this chapter. We discussed what the mentality and working conditions of the ranch was, and I made an exaggerated analogy to the school from hell. I then asked each class to come up with what strategies they could use to survive under such conditions.
One thing we did not get to discuss much was the contrast between the settings of the first and second chapter. The valley of the first chapter seems idyllic while the ranch of the second chapter seems grueling and depressing.
As for the eighth grade, I began the class by collectively filling out one of the exercise units in their vocabulary books. This led to a discussion of the vocabulary quiz I was to give them next week. Part of their homework for the night was to do another exercise section of the vocabulary book.
As with the seventh grade classes, the eighth grade class was dominated by discussions on the previous night’s reading. I liked how I could use the wiki homework assignment to prompt and guide those discussions. This is especially helpful for The Alchemist since this is a completely new unit that I’ve never taught before. It’s full of soundbite quotes, so I used these to provoke discussion and then later switched to a consideration of some of the essential questions we had discussed prior.
As one might expect, I asked students to continue with the wiki active reading homework assignments.