First Year so far…

December 13, 2008

So it’s almost Christmas which means that I have nearly survived the entire first semester. 

I’m a month behind on grading.  Pathetic! I know.  I came to a point where I realized that I could either come up with plans and read up (and take notes on) our materials so I could prompt a decent discussion OR I could simply grade and let my students stare at the walls.  Being behind completely stresses me out.

First BIG Units

So far, I feel like I did a good job teaching my Beowulf unit and the first half of The Scarlet Letter.  I had reasonable quizzes almost every day.  I offered them out of 12 points possible but only counted them out of ten.  The questions were always pretty open ended, so I didn’t trap confuse them.  I did, however, read the Sparknotes right before grading to watch for specific phrases.   I tried to fit in 2-4 different types of activities, and we did some form of group work (carefully observed) most classes.

Beowulf was good because it was more creative and lax than future units.  An excellent way to start the year.  We discussed modern superheroes versus Beowulf and their qualities.  Chuck Norris was included each time, which cracked me up, and happened to support the idea that Beowulf refuses to use weapons unless he has a good justification.  I thought these kids would be too young to know who he is!  Students also made a comic strip depicting the fight scenes (in groups), wrote and presented a hero’s eulogy for his death, and finally created a visual depiction of one of the monsters while writing a creative retelling of the story from that monster’s point of view.  (Thanks to Susan Morton or Tim Dilg for that one!  Not sure who I stole it from!)

In the Scarlet unit, we did a debate about which man (Dimmesdale or Chillingworth) was worse and why.  I thoroughly enjoyed this, though I now realize that I need to offer more instruction on the concept of “supporting with details from text” before requiring this level of preparation from sophomores.  They are still adjusting at the beginning of the year.  I also realize that this unit does not belong so early in the year for the same reason – it is challenging to read and they need more time to adjust.

The Canterbury Tales unit took WAY too long,and was not merely inefficient, but also ineffective.   I attempted to have them “teach” the tale in detail.  They were not really able to accomplish this.  The reenactments were very entertaining and it helped get the kids involved.  Unfortunately, they were not keen on reading the directions carefully, and I realize it was too much thrown at them at once.  Next time, I need to find a way to condense the work and break it down into smaller individual tasks.  For the Wife of Bath, I didn’t provide enough time to go through it.  In the future, I’m wondering if and how I should include The Knights Tale.  I really don’t want to stay on this unit for more than 3 weeks, though, and it takes a really long time just getting through the Nun’s Priest’s, Pardoner’s, and the Prologue itself.

This year, I had sophomores do the Source Supported Essay, and then it was time to hit on the Age of Reason… Well, I did it backwards.  Next time,  I believe it might help the kids to read some persuasive writing first, and then do the essay.

For the Age of Reason unit, I didn’t spent nearly enough time discussing as a class OR in groups and it was a little dull.  Next year I will work on this, but I will keep the “culminating project” which is writing lyrics to a song.  I used Coldplay’s “Viva la Vida” as a model.  I hope I can continue for a couple of years, but I am going to try to be aware of when it reaches a point that students are no longer familiar with the song.

For the Source Supported Essay, I dedicated  WAY too much time to letting kids take notes from their sources, did not hold them accountable enough for their work, and did not adequately explain MLA’s Works Cited page.   I need to spend more time filtering through all of the handouts to make sure I don’t bombard the kids, but offer them adequate guidance.

The most recent unit we’ve finished in the King Arthur unit.  It started with a sort of webquest on Arthurian legend.  They also had to watch a movie from a list of films based on the legend.  It was very slow getting started, and then I had them do the research and have some in class prep time to work (in partners) on the Medieval powerpoints while we started reading.  I found it kind of difficult balancing the time, and I got behind on the discussions/quizzes because they had both the last minute prep day, then a day of presentations in a row.  I felt very pressed for time because I wanted to get as finished as quickly as possible (was trying to finish before Thanksgiving break, but we didn’t quite get done).  I also tried to do too many “creative” activities in a hurry at the beginning.  I will pare WAY down next year and focus on discussion and simpler in class activities.


WELL…. That’s all the finished units so far.   These are all the things that I want to remember for next year.  If you made it this far on my description, thanks for reading!!!


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