Saturday, January 17, 2009

Day Ten!

Today was the final day in my second week at AHS and it was a good day. In the morning, first hour, I went and watched another teacher in the Language Arts department teach her students an introduction to 1984 using a Pavlov’s Dog experiment in class. It was really interesting how she got the students involved in the process. The students did this stimulus-response activity and really had a fun time working through how it applied to the novel. From there the teacher tied the activity really well to the first chapter of the novel. What’s even more impressive was how the students tied the book really well after that activity. The students learned a lot from the activity and the connection to the book was readily apparent and worked right into the novel and their homework for the weekend. Great activity and it was a lot of fun to actually watch and learn about it in person.

Third period for English 10 we had a coffeehouse type atmosphere for the students to share their memoirs. It was great because a lot of students brought treats and then we filled up the hour with sharing. It just amazed me what tenth graders wrote about, but what is even more is that they shared their memoirs in class. Students shared about deaths from cancer, illness, athletic championships, and top moments in high school. It amazed me with how open students are about their writing and how they have faced the issues in their life and moved on. The emotion and feeling that they put into their writing was incredible. As a listener they writing moved me close to tears multiple times. I cannot start to read the rest of the essays to see what the rest of the students wrote about. In reflection, though, what do you say to a student after they just shared one of the, if not the, most personal moment in their life with the entire class? Kristin and I talked about this after class. You can’t just say nice job when a student shares that type of emotion with the whole class. Instead, what do you say? Kristin and I kind of decided, or more so I learned from her example, that instead all you can say is thank you. Thank you to the students in English 10 for being so up front, honest, and for writing amazing pieces of work that inspire me, the teacher, to be a better writer.

In English Literature, my seniors, I was able to sit in on a discussion of their thoughts about the afterlife. This was an absolutely incredible conversation, which was completely respectful and included no fighting, no yelling at each other, and no telling each other that their personal views were incorrect. This whole discussion was absolutely incredible to me. I was never able to really be asked in high school, nor was I given the chance to really question my beliefs and thoughts about the afterlife. These students were challenged by the questions that Anne was asking them. For instance, where do you go when you die? Where is hell? Is there a hell? What does it look like? Is there a heaven? What does it look like? How do you get there? What happens to all the unborn babies or those that do not have a chance to “hear the gospel”? Where do they go? Let me tell you, these students just went on and on. Each person had a slightly different viewpoint about life and death and many are very afraid to die at all. The overall conclusion I think was that which every way you fall on the heaven or hell question, it was kind of decided that there needs to be more proof for people to fully accept one side or the other – unless you have strong convictions to either side. The point, I guess, is that no one really knows what is out there, which for me personally the idea of faith comes in. At some time we have to trust in what we cannot see, but that is a personal opinion. The students also had a really long discussion about the difference between “religion,” which they saw as something that is very exclusive, and “spiritual,” which they saw as something a lot more inclusive. Lots of students believe that they can be spiritual without being religious. I figure I can weigh in on their blog with my personal thoughts, but what amazed me was just the type of conversation that they were having in the classroom. Students were up with their hands in the air for about twenty minutes, at points, before they could add their viewpoint to the conversation. They were so respectful throughout the entire conversation, but what was really important about this experience to me, was the conversation with Anne after the day was over. I discussed with her how I thought the conversation in English Literature was incredible and how the students acted. She asked me how I thought that a conversation like that was possible. I responded that it all goes to how you set-up the conversation, which she agreed with. In any type of deep, philosophical conversation, like that one, it is really important to set-up the ground rules. So Anne explained how she actually set-up the conversation with the students and how that translated into the amazing conversation that I saw in the classroom. It was quite a learning experience for me to see how to actually hold and monitor a discussion like that. The exciting part is that I get to take part in that conversation and lead new strains of it, starting on Wednesday of next week. Also, their conversation did not stop in the classroom, as it continues on their class blog. You’ve got to love a 21st Century education at work.

I went to American Literature and assisted Kristin with teaching the class. She covered the material, which she did very well and it was nice to see how another teacher teaches the same thing that you already taught. It makes you a better educator in the long run, plus I get to see what she does differently than me. She really explained her lesson to the students and connected with them on multiple levels. She called on a variety of students, including those that do not talk very often, and she was very energetic and excited in her teaching style – even though it was a Friday afternoon. This class will be enjoyable to take over, at the appointed time, but for right now it is just really nice to get experiences in there. One thing Kristin and I talked about after school, which of the final two classes that I have yet to take over (English Literature and American Literature) am I more comfortable with? After a lot of thought, I responded that I am more comfortable with the English Literature class, mainly because of the laptops. Both groups of students are amazing, but the transition from teaching two laptop classes to a totally non-laptop class, which is what American Literature is, will be a challenge. As of right now, I am having enough challenges with the load I have and will have in the next week, although I look forward to taking over my final class in just over a week and a half. Until then, I look forward to taking over the English Literature class on Wednesday. Here comes three classes and three completely different preps. Horary for student teaching, and if anyone has stress relief tips and how to get more rest with less sleep a great time to share those would be now!

My ninth graders always come at the end of the day, but lately they have left me with a feeling of contentment. I am happy with where I am with them. I have gotten over that hump of ninth graders that I blogged about lately and am now really enjoying refining the challenge and art of teaching. On Friday, we took their works cited lists that they turned into me and I gave them back to them. On Wednesday we covered how to do a web site MLA citation, something that the students need to know. I looked at them on Thursday night and all of them did them incorrectly, whether it was a period in the wrong spot, collecting the wrong information, or something completely different. What I was upset about was that we spent almost the entire period on one concept, although it is a hard concept and I definitely did not get it the first time, I had to give everything back. So on Friday in class I pulled an example from every sheet that was turned in, which of course was about half of the class and created a worksheet. From there the students were required to correct the examples and make them “right” according to the format. Then I told them flat out that what they turned in the night before was unacceptable and they would have to redo it over the long weekend. I know that a few of them put in a lot of work trying to figure out the citations, but I really feel that doing these citations, although very elementary, is an important concept for the rest of high school and for college specifically. Anne encouraged me to give it back to them if it was not acceptable, and when I looked at their work I did not think it was acceptable. So I returned it to the students. On top of that I was really excited that we made some progress with their papers in other areas. What we did after the citation mess was cover thesis statements. The focus for this week was modeling for the students, which is exactly how I taught this concept. I laid out each important element and then I provided a student example. After each element was laid out I then crafted the complete thesis statement for them. Then I wrote out the entire thesis statement and covered with them how you take the elements of the thesis and crafted it into a whole statement. I made sure they understood this concept before I moved on, which I did by moving 180 degrees to the back of the classroom on the other blackboard (yes, you read it here I have been using the blackboard in my teaching. There just is not another way to model the concepts that I am looking at without using the blackboard). I made them all turn and look at me and I got to see each and everyone of their eyes before I moved on. The unique thing was that I provided adequate wait time too. I did not move on, and they understood that I would not, until I saw each and every one of them. That is sometimes a problem with the laptops. If the top is not tilted down then they will be using it and that takes their attention away from me teaching. Then from there I told them that they were not leaving the classroom until they wrote their thesis statements and turned them into me – and I was serious too. Anne kind of encouraged me, but I repeated that a few different times with an elevated voice (see Wartburg representative I can be animated and have a good time in front of the classroom) and the students got the message. From there I started doing something that I love doing, meeting with each student on an individual basis. I get down on their level and encourage each one in a different way. Each student needs help in just a little different way and I love meeting and encouraging each of them in those ways. Further, it has been really fun learning each of their little quirks too. I had each of them give me their “exit ticket,” as Kristin calls them, right before they left. Then I made the mistake of assigning them more homework right before they left, and as the bell was ringing. I am pretty sure that half of them did not understand what I was talking about or what they were going to do, but I did it anyway. Anne and I talked about this after school, and I knew the minute that I started assigning it that the students were not paying attention. Therefore, I am not expecting the students to complete the homework and we will spend Monday getting that done, although somehow I am comfortable with that fact. It was a successful day of teaching 9th graders again, which is always a good day. By the way, I gave Anne a job in the classroom and actually asked for help. I wanted her to help the other half of the classroom with their thesis statements, while I helped the other half. That was really helpful in that I could focus on one half, while she took the other half. 9th graders are a handful and if we have two teachers in there we might as well use them both. It was a great moment of partnership in education.

After school Kristin came to C-11, the classroom where I teach 9th and 10th grade. We discussed next week, where Anne is going to be gone finishing a graduate school project in Florida on Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, and Monday. Guess who is teaching all of her classes? You’re reading his blog! That’s right, next week I will be Anne and actually teach her 9th grade Honors students, two classes of them, they are the ones that were in the conversation with Dan Pink on Thursday, and then the 9th graders and seniors. It will definitely be a challenging and interesting experience and I look forward to blogging about it next week. In addition, I will be teaching my 10th grade class too. It sounds like a lot, but the senior and the 9th grade Honors lessons are completely planned out for me; I just need to teach them. It was really nice to decompress on my first two weeks and actually get to talk to them both. We talked a lot about what went well and what I can still work on, but it was a great discussion. My take away, in addition to the things we talked about, was that it was great week. I learned a lot, of which I will post in the next blog, and have also grown immensely too.

Then after our meeting I headed over to soccer. I have such a passion for coaching and getting to know these women players. They really enjoy having me around and coaching the goalies, which apparently the women did not have a goalie coach last year. It is just a great cap on my whole experience at AHS and on my day. I am passionate about correcting the small things in their game and apparently, according to a dad of one of the goalies, I am really animated when I am talking to them. I just get excited because I am in my “sweet spot” getting to teach in an amazing technological environment, work in an incredible school, and get to coach women’s soccer goalies. After practice was over the women were giving me a really hard time about my name. In fact, when we were sitting at a stoplight I had a conversation with a bunch of them about my vehicle, which was pretty humorous to them, but what astounded me was that they cared enough to scream out their window at me to say hello. I guess I am making an impression, and it is nice to be in relationship with them all. It will be hard next week to be without them, as I have practice for a special occasion on Friday, but that will have to wait until another post.