lit lover book

reflections of an ever-evolving educator

Monday, January 24, 2005

remedial reality

I've been so swamped that I neglected to write about my Friday morning last week. I need to write about it because I really need to remember it. Always.

Friday morning, one of my colleagues (and a friend as well) called in sick. No sub was immediately available to cover her first period class, so, naturally, I stepped in, being the only one available with first period planning. No biggie, right? I mean, she had lesson plans, a lovely read-and-then-write-an-essay-in-response assignment. The reading part of the assignment was even interesting--an essay by Stephen King. With only 11 kids in the class, what could possibly go wrong?

Everything. First, and most important to know, this was a remedial ninth grade class. Kids were specifically placed in the class based on test scores and academic performance. Most had major difficulty with--you guessed it--reading. Now add in the fact that the lovely assignment was our SIP assignment (translation: department-wide, no modifications). Can you see where this is going?

So I hand out the reading. Almost 2 pages, single-spaced. One student immediately asks, "Can we read this aloud?"

"No, I'm sorry. You have to work individually."

The paper slaps the desk. "Well, forget it then. It'd take me an hour and a half to read that."

A chorus of agreement ripples across the room as another student, Twitchy, gets up to throw away the perfectly clean piece of paper he has just crumpled into a ball. This is his third trip to the trashcan in as many minutes.

"Twitchy, you need to sit down."

"What, man? I'm just throwing something away."

"You need to sit down and stay seated. Don't get out of your seat again."

Twitchy ducks his head, turns away, then looks straight at me and asks, "Can I go to the bathroom?"


A verbal struggle ensues, during which Twitchy insists that I am discriminating against him (we're both white). He then tells me that he needs a goal, that if he does his work I should let him go to the bathroom--"see, that's a goal and people need goals, man."

"That's true, that would be a goal. But you're not leaving this room."

Another student, Silent Bob, is crossing the room now. When I ask him why, he tells me he needs a dictionary. Students are not allowed to use dictionaries for SIP assignments, I tell him. He raises his voice: "I'm getting a dictionary and you can't stop me." He has a point.

Throughout these exchanges, absolutely no one is working. No one, that is, except my former honors student, who failed my class last semester and who is now woefully misplaced in this one. Every time I look at him, I want to weep.

With only fifteen minutes left in the period, I realize that I suck at this. My friend excels at it, inspiring kids such as these to try when they never have before. I am amazed by her compassion and her gift.

And I am so very grateful that she returned in full health this morning.

Thursday, January 20, 2005


My kids are amazing and they deserve a far better teacher than I have been lately.

We have been mired in the down and dirty world of grammar (yuck and double-yuck). Today we started participles. I explained. They nodded. They took notes. They completed exercises. We checked them. Yawn.

The amazing part? No one slept, no one whined or complained, and everyone stayed on task in spite of the mind-numbing tedium of it all. They deserve better than me.

I did make an attempt at levity in my last class, but it didn't go too far. I told them verbals might be considered the drag queens of the grammar world--they want to be nouns, adjectives and adverbs, they act and dress like them, but at the end of the day, they're just verbs pretending to be something they're not. One kid cautiously raised his hand and asked, "Are you saying that verbals are cross-dressers?"

Yep, that's what I'm saying.

Wednesday, January 19, 2005

to blog or not to blog

I'm learning all sorts of new things about kids and technology through my work with blogs and my students this semester. I started small by creating a separate class blog for each of my class periods and simply requiring students to comment occasionally on certain posts. We haven't been able to move past that point yet and I'm fast discovering all sorts of new things in the process.

Perhaps the most amazing discovery is that my kids are not nearly as techno-savvy as I thought they were. These are ninth grade honors students in a pretty affluent suburban community. These kids have grown up with computers and the internet. And yet...they still don't really know how to use it. That's the fascinating part. For all the time they spend IM'ing, emailing and surfing, they still don't really understand the logic of the internet, how to navigate an unfamiliar website, or how to use the internet to find what they need to know. I mentioned before that I was surprised that most of them did not know what a blog was--had not even heard the word before I mentioned it! And now I'm finding that even something as seemingly simple as posting a comment to a topic is bewildering to some of them. I guess one of my initial goals, to increase students' computer literacy and use of technology, is indeed one that I will be addressing. I just had no idea to what extent.

Another interesting observation--whoever posts a comment first sets the standard for those that follow. If the first post is complete, well thought-out, and insightful, most of the rest will be as well. However, if that first comment is a weak one--whoa, nelly! I had one student in one class who completely misunderstood the prompt she was posting to. Unfortunately she was the first to post. The next 7 posts followed her incorrect example, before some free thinker realized that everyone else was doing it wrong! We discussed this in class today, and some of the kids admitted that they got confused. They had read my prompt, thought they understood it, but then questioned themselves when they saw all the incorrect postings. So they followed the herd!

Some other rather mundane things are making themselves known as well. I've realized I must note the date due in bold at the top of the post if I really expect them to do it by then. To simply include it in the body of the post is just silly idealism at this point. All of this really means that even on the internet, they don't read instructions!

Thursday, January 13, 2005

I got your diagram right here

Today I took my ninth graders into the writing lab to use some really cool software that teaches them how to diagram sentences. Most had never done that before, which is amazing to me. I remember diagramming every sentence I wrote in 5th grade (and believe me, Mrs. Prater had us writing a lot of them). I think it's a great way to connect the abstract concepts of grammar to something concrete and visual. Most seemed to enjoy the activity today. Granted, it was new, and the software made it much easier than the way I learned. But still, I'm always impressed when anything connected with grammar is met with "cool."

Wednesday, January 05, 2005

Back again

So far, I've been pretty remiss in keeping up this blog. Between the self-censorship issue and my mom's health, blogging has taken a backseat in the past couple of months. However, it's a new year, a new semester, and I'm determined to do better.

I'm very excited about what's going on in my classes right now. I've created a class blog and today I took my little freshmen into the Writing Lab to introduce them to it. Amazingly, out of almost 60 students, only 1 had even a vague idea of what a blog is. I was truly surprised. I guess the term has not trickled down to my freshmen yet--it seemed last year that many of my seniors were maintaining their own blogs and reading those of their friends. But I'm determined to blend blogging into my teaching practice this semester. This is the trial run, so I feel sure I'll make lots of mistakes along the way. But I do love trying something new.

If you'd like to take a look at what's going on with my classroom blogs so far, be my guest! But please, preserve my anonymity on this site (I really don't want my students reading my blog reflecting on my teaching and them). I'm open to any suggestions about incorporating blogs into the classroom, so comment away!