Week 9


One thing I forgot to mention in Week 8: On Friday, I set up a table on the wiki for the 8th graders to come sign up and meet with me for a personal conference on their Williamsburg paper. Not everyone did, but I guess that’s okay.

MON: Etymology of words & Secret Life of Bees, Ch. 3-4

My 7th grade classes got a titillating lecture on etymology. I started off talking about what etymology means and briefly looking at the etymology of the word “etymology” itself. I then took a look at the etymology of the word “musk”. I explained that musk is a substance that has a distinctive smell that used to be very common in perfumes. In contemporary usage it refers to similar substances or similar smells (I mentioned Tag and Axe body colognes as examples they could relate to). I showed them how they could use a collegiate or unabridged dictionary to get a detailed etymology of the word and then showed them how they could also use online dictionaries such as Answer.com or Merriam-Webster Online.

I showed them how “musk” came into English usage in the late 14th century and how it had a history of derivation starting from Middle English all the way back to Old Persian. I discussed how we could infer the spread of the word through history by looking at these derivations. We took a more detailed look at the etymology using Etymonline, a really great online reference. It seems that the Persian word meant “testicles” (giggles) and that it was related to their word for “mouse” because that’s what they thought testicles resembled (guffaws). Yes, it was low-brow and gross but the students quickly agreed when I said that understanding a word’s etymology not only provided an interesting history lesson but also an aid to remembering the meaning of a word.

I then assigned each student one or few words to look up the definition and etymology to as homework. They were to post their findings on their blog. They, of course, also had two chapters of reading: 12-13.

My 8th graders began class with a pop quiz. I then passed back a number of assignments I had been holding. We then talked about how the novel refers to historical events such as the Birmingham Bombing. We talked about the use of bees, mothers, and the virgin mary as symbols throughout the book. We talked about how Lily both yearned for a place to belong but also seemed to resist it as she lied to August about her situation. I don’t know if it’s me or the class in general, but there’s a general malaise that’s infecting the class. I’m being very testy and the class is being very uppity.

I assigned them chapter 5 to read for homework.

TUE: Vocabulary, Cont. & In-class reading

I gave out a sheet of paper that had all the vocabulary words on it to my 7th graders. It had a column for each word’s part of speech, definition, original language, and original definition. The students had to collaborate with their classmates to fill in the sheet completely.

While they were doing that I started calling over each student one by one and asking them to give me their blog addresses so that I had a list of every student’s blog. I finished class by announcing they had three more chapters to read for homework: 14-16.

My 8th grade class got another pop quiz. I’m starting to dread this class. Dana, my wife, is noting that I seemed happier last year. I don’t think it’s the class itself per se — there’s a lot of personal stuff going on that I’m shoving under the rug — but this class is bringing out the worst in me. I threatened to keep giving them pop quizzes until they shaped up.

They had two chapters to read for homework (6-7). To ease their burden, I gave them the hour block to read in class while I took down their blog addresses as I did with my 7th grade classes. Of course, there was a lot of chit chatting going on, and I got fed up. I threatened those who were talking with a written homework assignment: three paragraphs describing the three Boatwright sisters, respectively.

The problem with threats is that they’re often all bark, no bite. You wave a stick and hope you don’t have to use it. God knows the last thing I need is a bunch more papers to grade. But I knew I had to bite today, let the class know that I’m crabby enough to be mean — that I wanted a different tone in the classroom — if not more respectful then at least more fearful. At the end of class about five students ended up getting the homework assignment. They weren’t happy, and I wasn’t happy, but it came to that.

WED: Vocabulary; Personal Symbol Assignment

I spent the 7th grade periods going over the classwork assignment from the day before. Most of the students did the work, but I thought it was worth everybody having consistent, accurate information that they could study from for their vocabulary quiz.

My Block 1 class, which had a drop block yesterday, complained that they didn’t know that I expected them to stick to the reading schedule even when there wasn’t any class. Given that it was Halloween, I didn’t assign any more reading for homework.

My 8th grade class was a little more sober today. We started with a pop quiz and then discussed a writing assignment that my co-worker came up with. I kind of regret resorting to that assignment in class. The timing is off; I don’t want to bring up any writing while the students’ Williamsburg paper is still hanging over their heads. But I didn’t think and went with it. I had them brainstorm a symbol that represented themselves. I didn’t assign any reading, but had them post a picture of their symbol on their blog. Eventually they’ll start a memoir vignette based on that symbol, but I might hold off on that until later.

THUR: Anahita’s Suitors; SLOB Discussion

The 7th grade classes started with a pop quiz. It seems to make sense with Anahita’s Woven Riddle that they get pop quizzes after every section of the book since there’s several such sections and each one seems to have a theme of some sort. These pop quizzes not only enable me to check that everyone’s reading but also gives me an opportunity to use the quiz to review several chapters worth of reading.

The class discussion revolved around Anahita’s suitors and how they might represent different traits or aspects of her culture. We ended with a quick animated debate over who would end up winning Anahita’s hand in marriage. They were then assigned chapters 17-18 to read for homework.

I didn’t give my 8th graders a pop quiz to reward them for their behavior the day before. Instead we started class with a brainstorming of descriptive properties of their personal symbol. I really wish I hadn’t brought up this assignment when I did. I might just silently kill it and bring it up again later.

We had another class discussion about the novel. The essential questions are a good framework for structuring these discussions, but I’m starting to feel like I’m using them too much as a crutch. The discussions seem lifeless; I feel like I’m going through the motions. I really need to be reading the book along with my students. I need more time!

I assigned them chapter 8 to read for homework

FRI: RSS Feeds; Group Notes

I spent my 7th grade classes showing them how to subscribe to RSS feeds on Bloglines and Google Reader. I re-emphasized the distinction between doing things the “official” way and the “un-official” way — something my 8th graders don’t seem to get.

The 7th graders seem to follow along okay, but I think I really should keep putting tech tutorials on video — students really seem to utilize them to go through the process step-by-step.

I told my 8th grade classes that I worried that no one was taking notes. As a result, I gave each table group a poster-sized piece of paper and some colored markers. I then assigned each table group one of the essential questions. They were to write as many notes on that question as they could. Later on, as the activity started to wane, I directed each person in each table group to find a unique quote relevant to their question and add it onto their paper.

It was a good exercise. Students were involved (my classes are getting too passive and I’m talking too much) and some valuable review got accomplished.


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