I announced on the blog over the weekend that I was going to accept the final drafts of the 8th grade Alchemist paper on Wednesday, not Monday. A couple of students still turned their papers in on Monday, but most seemed to appreciate the extra time.
MON: Of Mice and Men Skits; Paolo Coelho article
Monday and Tuesday were devoted to videotaping the 7th grade skits for Of Mice and Men. I was a little disappointed in the results; most of the kids read their scripts in a monotone, only perfunctory attempts at costumes and props were made, many of the scenes went on much too long. Part of the problem seemed to be that the kids sensed that this was a half-baked idea which only warranted a quick and dirty effort. Part of the problem seemed to be that kids were simply not used to performing. I really need to get my act together and put together some improv exercises for students to do.
Over the weekend I finally borrowed A Universal History of Infamy by Jorge Luis Borges and xeroxed the “Tale of Two Dreamers” — the short story that inspired Coelho to write The Alchemist. I also xeroxed a New Yorker profile on Paolo Coelho to read in class.
I guess I was thinking that I was going to make one more effort to communicate my problems with The Alchemist by showing how Coelho differed from Borges’ original story and by showing how Coelho himself is troublingly egocentric. Instead, I ended up boring, if not confusing, my students to tears.
TUE: Class Essay Discussion; Blogs
My co-worker came up with this idea of a class essay. She wanted to do some expository writing for Of Mice and Men and decided one way to ease into it was by writing the essay together as a class. Inspired by a recent faculty meeting, she seemed to have some success with having the class make major decisions about the essay using a discussion in the style of a Quaker Meeting for Business. So I spent Tuesday and Wednesday trying to do the same. I talked about the difference between consensus and clerking the spirit of the meeting. I discussed the prompt for the essay (comparing a contemporary marginalized group with a marginalized character within the novel) and then opened the floor to ideas about what direction to take the essay.
It was not pretty. I noted later that several patterns of behavior were evident. A few people got up to speak multiple times and dominated the conversation. Others never bothered to speak at all. Several times when the conversation seemed to be narrowing in one particular direction, someone would speak up and suggest a completely new avenue of inquiry. Sometimes two camps of thought would emerge and the conversation would turn into a debate about the merits and demerits of either side.
It’s becoming clear to me that one of the most important things I can teach — but don’t know how to teach — is how to go with the flow. How to tune into the groove of a larger community. How to go with the sense of the larger conversation.
As for the 8th grade, the tech support teacher for the Middle School came in with the mobile laptop cart and taught them the school-endorsed way to set up blogs. The blog server, I expected it to, acted very idiosyncratically, causing mass confusion and frustration among the students. We decided to schedule another session for the next day.
WED: Class Essay Paragraphs; Blogs Redux
I divided up the 7th grade classes into small groups to work on individual paragraphs for the class essay. I set up a separate wiki page for these essays and asked the 7th grade to post up their individual paragraphs within the proper order for homework.
Given the chaos of the instruction of the day before, I agreed to bring my 8th grade class into the computer lab to re-do the blog tutorials. Still some frustration and confusion but the overall affect was better.
THUR: Class Essay Revision; Vocabulary
All the 7th graders came into class today griping about lost work on the wiki. Apparently there were some problems as the time on the wiki got handed from user to user. Definitely some of the luster and novelty of technology is dulling in all of my classes.
Nevertheless it was good to have the entire essay there on the wiki to read together. We discussed the need for more coherence, flow, and transitions between each of these paragraphs. Students could definitely see for themselves how the essay as a whole wasn’t working and could immediately tell the revisions they needed to work on their individual paragraphs.
My 8th grade classes worked through the next chapter in the vocabulary books. We talked about how knowing the part of speech of a word can be a valuable consideration in trying to answer the fill-in-the-blank sentences they encounter in quizzes.
FRI: Of Mice and Men movie; Essay Introductions and Conclusions
I ended the week in my 7th grade classes by showing them scenes from the Of Mice and Men movie directed by Gary Sinise. I assigned them the first two chapters of Anahita’s Woven Riddle for weekend homework.
I gave a lecture on writing introductions and conclusions for expository essays in my 8th grade class. We talked about how the introduction starts with a hook and narrows into a thesis statement and how the conclusion repeats the paper’s argument and expands into a consideration of larger implications. The students seemed to appreciate being shown specific rhetorical moves and techniques they could make in their writing.