Monday, October 12, 2015

Summerhill School, an Overview and a Short Book Review

Summerhill School: A New View of Childhood by A. S. Neill, Revised and Expanded, 1996 American edition, edited by Albert Lamb.

Summerhill is wildly popular in the realm of alternative education today, so let's start with a little general information about the school itself before we get into details on the book.

Summerhill was founded by Alexander Sutherland Neill in 1921, first in Germany. It soon moved to Austria, again to Dorset, England, and finally ended up in Suffolk, England in 1927, where it's remained ever since. It's a boarding school that houses around between 60 and 100 students (boys and girls) aged 5 to 18. It is known for being one of the first democratic schools, meaning that rules and general functioning (apart from, in this case, human resources and finances) are conducted by a popular vote in which each student and staff member counts as one voice. Lessons are held by about 10 teachers in traditional subjects, such as math, English, and science, and also in non-traditional things, such as gardening, making paper airplanes, and playing chess, though no lessons are compulsory. Play is seen as more important than academics, and students that come from other schools typically spend an entire year or two attending no classes at all. The selling point of this is that when students do decide to attend classes, it is at their own desire, and, with such intrinsic motivation, quickly excel.

The school has survived the death of its founder in 1973, against his own expectations, and is now run by Neill's daughter, Zoe Readhead. She has pulled the school through a number of inspections by the UK's Ofsted (Office for Standards in Education, Children's Services and Skills), one of which ended in an order to force compulsory of lessons. The school took the department to court and won a settlement. The whole ordeal must have been an anxious time for the community, and a BBC movie titled Summerhill was based on that event. It seems as though the government has gotten a better sense of how the school functions since then, and has given it space to exist without fear of being shut down. Their 2011 inspection indicates that they recognize the unique benefits Summerhill offers.

Also interesting to note, possibly to no one but me: as of 2011, Ofsted lists day school tuition as roughly £3,000 to £9,000 ($4,500 to $13,000) and boarding tuition as roughly £8,500 to £14,000 ($12,000 to $21,000). I'm assuming this is per term, which is roughly equivalent to an American semester. That's quite a bit, but then again, I've never looked at prices for boarding schools. The day school prices seem a little much, too, though.

As for the book itself, it's necessary read with some context in mind. Again, Summerhill was founded in 1921. Having been up and running strong for almost 100 years, it's no longer the experimental school it once was. It wasn't even really an experimental school when the book was written in 1960. The author, however, is the same man, and he carries with him some characteristics from his age. Reading his words, Neill certainly seems like someone's grandfather.

He certainly has some mannerisms that would be inexcusable in today's educational setting. The most notable is the way he speaks to the students. He claims that he is meeting them on their level and that that this startles them into realizing they don't have to view him as an authority figure. Sure. But literally cursing at the children? At one point, when a new enrollee refuses a cigarette, but Neill is positive that he's a smoker, Neill scolds him, "Take it, damn you." At points, he seems to bicker with the children as though he is one of them. I'm on board with the idea of treating students like you would treat adults, but this is just too far.

Additionally, he seems to show no regard for real laws outside of the school. He mentions fears of being shut down, say, if a student became pregnant at the school, but then clearly demonstrates a disregard for other laws, like indecency, smoking, and age of consent. The school makes rules democratically, but it's interesting how many things come up that I feel would be outside of the realm of consideration legally. No, children, we can't go sunbathing nude, no matter how many of you think we should, because it's against the law. The police will arrest us. Or maybe laws in Britain are different than the US laws I'm familiar with. Or maybe they were different in 1960. Neill fears different things will shut down the school than I would currently would.

And then there's the small point of him coming to education with an interest in psychology and thinking he needs to "cure" his students...

Apart from that, Summerhill School remains radical for positive reasons, even still. The book garnered a lot of attention when it was published, and it seems like it started quite a movement. I devoured my copy, covering it in highlighting, bullet points, and exclamation points. It was a wonderful read, but alas, for some reason I can't bring myself to go into any further detail here. My brain has processed the information and is ready to move on. I'll have to leave you with links to further research instead. More, undoubtedly, when I take up the concept again.

Summerhill's official website
Wikipedia's Summerhill entry
Zoe Readhead - Summerhill--That Dreadful School!
The Guardian article: Summerhill school and the do-as-yer-like kids
The Guardian article: Summerhill School: these days surprisingly strict
The Independent article: Summerhill alumni: 'What we learnt at the school for scandal'
The Independent article: Summerhill: Inside England's most controversial private school
Centre for Self Managed Learning - Report of an Inquiry into Summerhill School

Monday, October 5, 2015

A Dream (School) Reborn

A few years ago, I started thinking about creating a school of my own. Of taking everything I've been learning in my exploration of education and combining it into one beautiful amalgamation of a physical location where children and young adults can grow and thrive. The best pieces of every methodology combined into something wonderful. A place that cultivates 21st century citizens, peaceful, creative, and healthy. A place that is living and changing and growing right along with its students.

Unfortunately, as I began teaching in the "real world," I felt that dream slipping away.

Here's a story I've heard again and again: a curious, playful, life-loving, fun-creating, happiness-filled five-year-old enters school, vivacious and energized, excited because she knows it means learning, something she loves more than anything. And she's told to sit still in a hard, plastic chair for hours. She's told that she mustn't speak unless she raises her hand. That she must follow directions given to her by adults. That she isn't to ask why. Just do it because we tell you to. And slowly but firmly, all of the curiosity and energy and enthusiasm for learning is beaten out of her until she's just like the rest of the students, just another pawn in the game of modern society.

A similar thing happened to me. I, as well, entered school, but as the teacher. I was made to make the students sit still in hard, plastic chairs for hours. I was made to tell the students that they mustn't speak unless they raise their hands. That they must follow the directions I give them. That they aren't to ask why, just do it because I tell them to.

I've been fighting bout after bout of depression and work-related stress. I've tried to tell myself that it's silly, to get over it, because "I have a great job." I've worked in two different schools where I could "create my own curriculum" and design the classroom "however I like." Why should I feel depressed and stressed out about that? I've been able to innovate and try different methods of teaching, throwing out ideas that I couldn't get to work and supplementing them with new ones of my own creation. I've been getting more and more courageous--I'm currently working to design a deskless classroom!

But the thing is, it's still a classroom. It's still all within the structure of the traditional public school.

Since I've started actually teaching, I've been told that this is just the way real teaching really is. I've been surrounded by "educators" that have had their curiosity and energy and enthusiasm for teaching slowly but firmly beaten out of them until they're just like the rest of the teachers, just creating more pawns in the game of modern society.

I let them and everyone else around me kill the dream school idea. It was a silly idea. THIS is what it's like to REALLY be teaching.

And, just like the little girl, I became disillusioned by what everyone else decided was what "school" really meant, what "teaching" really meant.

Like her, I had hopes and dreams of what I could do once I really got to "school," once I really started "teaching," what it would mean and what it would be like.

And like her, I got crushed when I really got there, shoved into a role that wasn't meant for me, broken of spirit.

And yet, I haven't been able to shake this feeling that I'm meant for something else... Something I don't even know about yet... You know that statistic that says some such number of students will one day work in jobs that haven't even been created yet? I haven't been able to shake the thought of that...

This summer, in the midst of beating my head against a wall to develop a curriculum for my third year of teaching, I had to take a break. I had to step away from the nothing I was doing and the persistent screaming in my head. I took a walk and ended up at an elementary school near my house, one that was shut down to ship the students off to a bigger, more factory-like model of school, despite the protest of children and parents who loved the building and the community it housed. I peeked in every window, wondering what it was like, this place so many people once loved and fought so hard in vain to protect. I found myself dreaming of reopening it.

I dreamed all day, though my brain continued its screaming about the impending doom of the Upcoming School Year. I know why. My thoughts took refuge there to escape the actual work I needed to do. I know it was easier to live there in a fantasy-dream world where everything was perfect and happy-fun-times. It was an escape tactic.

But I've kept coming back. It's been three months, and I can't get the thoughts out of my mind.

I just can't fight it anymore--my dream of opening a school has been reborn.

Most of the time, because it happens very frequently, the story of the little girl has a dreary ending--she lives a sad, frustrated childhood and grows up to live much the same as an adult. But sometimes it has a happy ending--the child and her parents find a new, alternative school more fit to her learning style where she can thrive. Her passion is reignited.

I've been doing more research again on alternative schools and education. I've been reading Summerhill School, a book that's been on my To Read list for years. I'm glad I saved it for now because this is a time when it can really empower me. I'm only a little ways into it so far, but I've been as inspired by it as I was my first time through Children Who are Not Yet Peaceful. I've also been researching other democratic schools, including Sudbury. I have so much to learn and to think about and to explore. I have so much to write. So much to do! Like the little girl with the happy ending of the story, my passion has been reignited.

And that statistic I keep thinking about, with the students that will work in jobs that have yet to be invented? I think it does apply to me, after all, and my job hasn't been created yet because I haven't created it.

Friday, October 2, 2015

Book Review: Becoming a Critical Thinker

Every once in a while, the half-priced bookstore near my house has some incredible things. I was convinced I had stumbled upon one when I found the 4th edition of Houghton Mifflin's Becoming a Critical Thinker by Vincent Ryan Ruggiero. I was very excited to plan a curriculum around this textbook, and I was already trying to decide if I should just photocopy pages as handouts or try to go the legitimate (-ly difficult?) route of trying to convince my school to order them.

Unfortunately, I dropped all such plans after my initial skim of the book.

Already in the 14 years since this 4th edition was published, some of the material and pictures have become very dated. 

Take an argument from page 83, "TV and movie apologists are forever telling us that we have no business criticizing them because they are only holding a mirror up to reality. ... It would be more accurate to say that the media hold a magnifying glass to carefully selected realities--namely, the most outrageous and sensational events of the day, such as O. J. Simpson's trial, Princess Diana's tragic death, and President Clinton's sexual activities and alleged obstruction of justice among them."

Or examples on page 75 of helpful search engines: "Many of these sources and innumerable others are available on the Internet (sic). Here are a few especially helpful websites:,,"

I went to find some updated versions online and discovered that they're already up to the 8th edition. Unfortunately, they're a bit pricey. Amazon currently lists new copies for $73 and used copies for $47. That's significantly more than the $4 I paid for my older edition at the half-priced bookstore.

But other than that, I still don't think that this would be the best option, at least for my current high schoolers. There are many controversial topics up for debate in my edition, including pornography, alcohol consumption, marijuana use, abortion, and prostitution. While these are excellent topics for debate, I definitely don't think I could encourage my current group of students to approach them with the seriousness they require. This is a college textbook, after all. I can think hypothetically all I want, but that doesn't change the reality of the situation.

And even more importantly, I don't think I could realistically get my students to understand some of the content. At least not cover to cover, in the manner they've laid out. I'd definitely need to simplify some of the text and add supplemental materials for comprehension. One example of this comes right at the beginning of the book on page 6, "Given the popularity of the false notion that truth is personal and subjective, you may have to remind yourself now and then that truth is impersonal and objective." I have a few students that would read that passage, even within the context of the rest of the chapter, and then look up at me with eyes glazed over in incomprehension. Unfortunately. (But at least I know my students enough to predict that!)

There are some good sections that I'm thinking of using, however. Chapter 5 is titled "Recognizing Errors in Thinking," and uses nice categorization and language. Chapter 6, too, gives some exercises in "Applying Critical Thinking," including analyzing commercials, print advertising, and television programming. If I use anything in my classroom this year, it should be those.

Overall, definitely not a bad textbook. I'm sure the right teacher could make an excellent college class out of it, and I think I may invest in a more current edition in the future to use with the right group of students. (Although I KNOW that the more I think something's not appropriate for particular students, the more they actually NEED it. I know.

For future reference, here's a sample of 7th ed. Chapter 1, and here's a link for the pdf version of the entirety of the 7th ed.

Friday, September 18, 2015

A Further Iteration Idea for Classic Literature Studies

Three weeks in, and I already have to mix it up. My Classic Literature Studies program is already not working out the way I planned. This is why we embrace flexibility as teachers!

I'm not sure if it's just my school, or region, or country, or generation, or what, but my students are not "getting" classic lit.

My mind immediately goes back to the foundation of the project as a whole. The basis of Lit. Research and CLS both were to same question: Why do we teach classic lit in schools? The answer was that these are books every high schooler needs to read so that we, as a society, maintain a level of collective consciousness. That is to say, every person (at least in America) reads these books so that we have a common set of knowledge to draw upon. If we make a reference to Romeo and Juliet or To Kill a Mockingbird, we can be relatively sure that it will be understood.

I had a small class of seniors today, so we talked about it together. We really, actually talked this time. I had been letting a one-sided lecture suffice for this topic, but this time I opened up and welcomed feedback. The consensus they reached was, "Well, that doesn't matter because these books suck. Why are we forced to read these books when so many better books exist?"

And I get it. I completely get that. In fact, I have friends that question my commitment to teaching classics, as well. A common refrain from my husband whenever I mention literature is, "So, when are you going to teach The Name of the Wind?" Another friend always opens his mouth and then just shuts it because he knows he won't get a satisfactory answer from me; he's already tried.

To some extent, I'm still stuck in I-have-to-do-things-the-right-way mode. I'm afraid of being shunned both by my school community and by English teachers as a whole. I'm afraid of being outed as "not a REAL English teacher" if I don't dedicate myself to teaching the "proper" things.

But... isn't that what I do? Isn't that my whole schtick? Isn't the basis of professional career as a whole to question tradition (as Millennials are wont to do) and give my student what really matters? Have I really gotten so confrontation-shy?

At the same time, I still don't feel like I'm ready to drop CLS completely yet. There is still the matter of the collective consciousness that I felt so strongly about. And there is still the matter of my constituents (namely, my students' parents) wanting to keep the classics in the classroom. So it's not out the window yet. I'm just going to mix it up some more.

A story came across my local NPR channel on my drive to work this morning about how a recent study shows Kansans' desire for schools to teach a shocking 70% non-academic skills, "like teamwork, communication and persistence," over the traditional math and reading curriculum. Hearing that was just what my sore little heart needed to hear. I've been so stressed recently trying to force my curriculum to work. It was a relief to hear that others across my state are embracing a more liberal education again. I reached work in a brighter mood, ready to make some changes, ready again to challenge the status quo. I started brainstorming as my students wrote in their notebooks.

First, why do we need the change? What's been going on?

For a little over a year, I've been trying to teach classic literature as such:

-At first, I tried the most traditional route: Assigning one or two chapters of reading homework at a time and giving quizzes the next day. The students hated it, and so did I. They were forced to maintain the speed I set, which slowed many of them down and rushed the others quicker than they could handle. The quizzes seemed like an inauthentic mode of conversation, and most of them felt like I was just trying to "catch them" not reading. But when I tried NOT giving quizzes, most of them didn't read at all. The whole thing seemed inauthentic, in general, because that's not how we read when we read for pleasure, a chapter at a time, then stop and recap. Well, not most of the time, anyway.

-Thus, Lit. Research. I tried making reading optional. They didn't have to read the book, but they did have to know about it. The students had to look up the books on the computer and develop a summary paragraph listing an "elevator speech" of the most important things it encompassed. And they could still read if they wanted to, though I only had a couple of students read a couple of books the entire year. It seemed like such a good idea, but the students were lazy and I wasn't very good at enforcing my expectations. For the most part, they printed a page from Sparknotes and called it good. Thus, they didn't truly comprehend the books or the messages within, and I was again frustrated.

-This year, I've been trying to take the middle road by giving them only short excerpts to read. (Again, the whole book is available, but not mandatory.) It's three weeks in, and I can already tell that it's not going to work. My students still resist reading anything I put in their hands if at all possible. But now I've come across a new problem I didn't realize I had last year--they don't comprehend the text. Even the first excerpt, which I purposefully chose as an introduction to the book, no prior knowledge necessary (though we did, of course, go over some background information beforehand) led to complaints of, "I don't get it." They don't want to read, and when they do read, they don't understand what they're reading.

After realizing that the text wasn't coming alive for them, I started reading the excerpts to my students. I have mixed feels about this process already.

I was going to make a claim of "Everyone likes to be read to" and link it to an article confirming said claim, but then I realized that that's a bigger point that I can actually do a lot of research on. I could write an entire post about using read alouds with high school students.

So, until that point, suffice to say that part of my new plan for CLS includes read alouds. It seems to be the only way that I can get the "boring, old" text to come alive for my students, apart from movie adaptations (which I'm always weary of, personally). More on my mixed feels when I sort them. Until then, I'm reading Classic Lit to my students and discussing as we go along.

And for the rest of reading? I've been thinking about getting more classroom involvement in self-selected reading, most likely along the lines of a creative project once per quarter. Perhaps a video or a podcast or something? It seems a little daunting, honestly, but we'll start out small. They still have AR point goals and half an hour a week of class time to read. I just want to do more with that.

Thursday, July 23, 2015

On Shakespeare

Last year, back when I gave teaching to the text (hah! puns) a shot, I noted that I had developed strong feelings about teaching Shakespeare. Well, you know, so has just about every English teacher in America, I think.

The basis of my feelings are this:

1. The language of Shakespeare is outdated and almost as difficult for students today to navigate as Old English.
2. Yes, the themes and motifs Shakespeare presents are still prevalent in modern times, but other texts (ones where students aren't distracted by what is essentially a foreign language) present them better.

Dana Dusbiber puts it eloquently in her editorial reprinted by the Washington Post.

It seems that Dusbiber and I, however, may be in the minority, at least of those who have vocalized their opinions. Most of what I see online are die-hard Bard fans who criticize anyone who would even think of skipping over that portion of English lit.

They do have make some good points, though. Here are some examples, onetwo, three, and four from the Folger Shakespeare Library's blog, another from that same writer's personal blog, and one from a blog titled Talk Like Shakespeare. Okay, so maybe that's not the most unbiased of resources. Here's one in response to Dusbiber's editorial, and here's one from an author of what appears to be trashy novels from that one time he was on the school board. Neither of those are as eloquently written, but they still have their merits.

The only point that matters to me at the moment, though, is that Shakespeare is, indeed, mentioned in CCSS. So yes, I should teach the things I'm passionate about because the students can pick up on my passion, but I also need to include Shakespeare. It fits into the Classic Lit curriculum well, anyway, and I can teach it in my own way.

Just because the language aspect is difficult doesn't mean we need to shy away from it, I know. We do difficult things because they're difficult, after all. It's just something that needs to be taken into consideration. It should be, "When we study Shakespeare, we're studying a foreign language. Already knowing modern English, this language is pretty easy to pick up, like Spanish, but we need to think of it as a foreign language because people we live with wouldn't understand us if we started speaking like this."

With that as an introduction to set the mood, here are some other things I need to keep in mind to do:

-First, we DON'T need to read the entirety of the play together, like I tried to force last year. We also don't need to act the entire thing out, which I feel a little compelled to try. Those things aren't me. They aren't they way I teach, and they will never come off as genuine. Instead, I can select short but important passages to focus on. We can dissect them, which will be a little tricky but still good for us. We can translate them into our own words.
-We can even practice performing them, just those small little sections.
-This "Living Iambic Pentameter" activity looks fun.
-We can even trade Shakespearean insults.
-Remember to use the Folger Library as a resource.
-And maybe some of this "Teaching Romeo and Juliet" stuff?
-Some Youtube videos about Elizabethan theaterthe Globe, and pronunciation that makes more sense.

I got this. No big deal.

Friday, July 3, 2015

Preparing for Iteration 2 of Literature Curriculum (From Lit Research to CLS)

The original concept for Literature Research was to teach two distinct things--both Literature and Research, as the name implies. It was to teach Literature, as public perception says an English teacher should do, while concurrently incorporating research skills. The thought was that 21st century students need strong research skills, and thus I planned to have students using them frequently.

The first problem with this last year was that I didn't demonstrate how to research as well as I should have. I often had students printing off or copy/pasting Sparknotes and calling it good. So that's my bad. I didn't actually teach research skills. Noted. Lesson learned. Next year will be better now that I've recognized this.

The second issue I'm faced with now as I develop my curriculum for next year is that my parents and principal want more gathered material to present during lessons. That's fine. I can understand and work with that. It's just that the more material I gather for students, the less they need to find. That's not a bad thing, it's just less "research" they are required to do.

It's when considering this fact that I realized that Literature and Research don't actually go together as well as I previously thought. Trying to put both together, one always sacrifices the other. I can either have a good literature program, full of all the gathered material to distribute during lessons, or I can have a good research program where students need to find the material on their own. I can't have both together in this instance. And I need to teach both literature and research, so it's time to uncouple the two.

Thus ended the concept of Literature Research.

But that's not to say that the whole thing is dead. It's only time for an evolution.

The second pillar of the Lit. Research program was that students need to understand the concepts of classic literature. They need to be able recognize titles and authors and connect them to plot points, characters, and quotes, and that pillar still stands. Without the other, in fact, it becomes the focal point of the program. That point will be what my new literature curriculum is based on.

I referred previously to the "collective consciousness" that Americans (or English speakers?) have surrounding literature--that knowledge that we all have about certain classic texts. It's part of our culture, and it's present everywhere. You can find references to literature in movies, TV, popular music, video games, and everyday conversation. Classic literature is the birthplace of cliches. They hold stories and characters that everyone knows, and if a reference or satire is made of them, it is under the impression that any member of the English-speaking audience will understand it.

This is what I intend to impart to my students. This is the foundation of my literature program. It has less to do with reading classics just for the sake of reading them or because of tradition and more to do with seeing literature as a part of our culture.

I'm not mourning the end of Lit. Research. I'm happy that I attempted something new, learned from it, and can now try a second iteration. And in fact, it's rather liberating recognizing that I needed to uncouple the two in order to make them better. Onwards and upwards! (I wish there was a cool new name I could think of for it. I like those sort of things. It's too bad "Cultural Literacy" is already a thing and that "Literature Literacy" sounds weird. Meh. I'll keep thinking!)

Edit: Okay, I decided on a name--Classic Literature Studies, CLS!

Thursday, June 11, 2015

NSFW: A First Attempt at Magnetic Poetry with High Schoolers

Last summer I found a set of Magnetic Poetry at a garage sale that I was excited to share with my students. I set it up on the side of a filing cabinet like so (click to enlarge):

I started off with a poem of my own:

I set small sticky notes near by in case they wanted to create by lines as I had demonstrated, but no one ever did.

I didn't directly address the area of the room or create any rules for it, and it took most students quite a while to realize it was even there. Some students noticed it right away, however, and went over of their own accord to play, and I generally left them to it. Most of them had the sense that it was an "after-I'm-done-with-my-assignment" type of activity without me even mentioning it.

I documented every creation that was left after the students left the classroom. As shouldn't actually be surprising with teenagers, some poems got quite vulgar, so I'll include our adventure after a jump. Be warned, teenagers are very creative! They're exploring their sexuality and can put words together in ways I would never have expected. Most of their creations are Not Safe For Work, and a couple of them made even me blush.

Thursday, June 4, 2015

Lit. Research and the Metaphor of One's Position as a Structure

I'm afraid to start talking about Lit. Research.

I'm afraid of analyzing it.

I'm still not that confident in the validity of it as a curriculum.

I spent a year fighting for it, but towards the end, I got tired. I began to grow skeptical myself.

I keep trying to reflect on it, but one thought keeps looming above all others: What if it isn't actually that good of an idea?

Every time anyone questioned it (slash me, because I take things personally), I was able to justify the program. But just barely, it seemed. I don't know that I really convinced anyone.

I know that it's okay to have an idea that doesn't work. It's part of the invention process. It's part of iterating. "I've just found 10,000 ways that won't work," and all that. I know that it's completely acceptable and that I would say the same to my students.

It's just hard to admit it.

It hurts your pride.

Especially when it's about something you've tried over and over to convince a hundred doubtful people of.

Especially when you're trying to convince a hundred doubtful people of your professionalism at the same time.

But of course it COULD still be a good idea. It COULD work.

And that's one of the reasons it's so hard. I don't know whether to keep fighting or to just give up.

And I'm not going to know unless I explore it more.

Repeat from line one.

I just have the sinking feeling that I'm fighting in vain. That I'm working on a useless project. That I'm trying to claim I'm an engineer while building a bridge out of toothpicks.

See, here is a concept I've played with in my mind for years: Each position, stance, or philosophy you hold to be true is a structure. Every time it's questioned, your structure chips at the foundation. Through reasoning and logic, you can fortify the structure of your position, making it stronger. At times, an enemy may deliver such a stunning blow to your structure that it becomes irrecoverable. You may discover that that structure wasn't defending, that it was build on shaky ground to begin with, and no fortifying will ever make it stand tall again. At that point, you may have to forfeit your claim and take up the enemy's. Or, in the case that your enemy's structure was likewise destroyed, you may be forced to build an entirely new structure out of broken pieces of the old and your enemy's put together. If your structure is never questioned, it is weak. It's only through dialogue, through delivering blows to one another's castles (ACTUAL blows, with intent to knock them down) that one can build a strong, worthy stance on anything.

My castle of beliefs about Lit. Research has been questioned, but instead of fortifying it with reasoning and better logic, I've just been patching the cracks and ignoring them. I haven't truly been trying to build my castle to withstand anything thrown against it. I've been turning my back to it, assuming it was still there, standing strong! In fact, it may have been dealt a finishing blow ages ago. The only way to know for sure is to analyze the cracks.

And what that means in reality is a deep analysis of the program as a whole, both the foundation it's based on and the details of how it's done.

It's just that it's scary because I created this program. I believed in it. I viewed it as my own child.

But it's not. It's only a structure.

I take blows against it personally, but I shouldn't. Those blows aren't towards me as a person or even as a teacher, they are just testing blows. They are testing the validity of my castle.

I'm afraid of discovering that my castle has suffered a fatal blow because that might mean that I'd have to take up my enemy's flag. But didn't I just say that it's acceptable, the that case, to build a new structure out of the remaining pieces? That's what iterating IS. Build the structure, try to knock it down. If it falls, take the existing whole pieces and build a better one.

I want the best for my students. I want to teach them in the best, most efficient and effective ways, and that means that I need to analyze my methodology. I need to test its strength and look for cracks that need to be fortified. I need to see if its integrity has already been so damaged that it doesn't hold weight anymore. And if that's the case, I need to pick up the broken pieces and start again.

Because I'd ask the same of my students as I would for myself.

I will analyze the shit out of this program. I will test it for weaknesses myself. By the time August rolls around, there won't be a disputing attack strong enough to hurt my castle anywhere to be found.

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Notes from Bulletin Board Spring 2015

I have a bulletin board directly behind my desk I use to hang the school calendar, lunch menu, schedule, and any time sensitive notices from other teachers I need to remember. As the school year wore down this past year, I started keeping small notes to myself that I wanted to remember for next year. They were scattered and various half-thoughts, exactly the sort of thing that I need to write down before they disappear from my brain forever. On my last work day before vacation, I compiled them all into one sheet, organizing them by topic and expanding on anything that didn't make sense by itself. Here's the final analyzed list:

*Add to pledge -- seeing multiple sides to issues / arguments
*Add to pledge -- "viewing new perspectives" or similar language
*Add to Practices handout -- my stance on standing / stretching during class

*Answer questions each day / week for Lit. R. -- essential questions?
-"What is the plot of x?"
-"What is important about x?"
-"Who is the author of x? What do you know about them?"
*Literary terms -- one/week?

*Lots of practice playing devil's advocate. Create some sort of game?

*Perspectives throughout the year. Reflections from various perspectives
*Start the year w/ Doing Hard Things convo (Dave Stuart)
*"What to look for when you read" lesson should be one of the first lessons of the year (so that when we read excerpts, they can look for style, etc.)
*Plagiarism discussion at beginning of the year. "We usually look at content online, but we need to write our own content. Either about the content we read or something it makes us think about, something it inspires us to create, etc." / "If you copy paste, use quotations. That's totally acceptable and gives more context to your reader. It just doesn't count towards YOUR word count because they aren't YOUR words."

*Create a template for informative AoWs, not just argumentative

*For summaries, teach how to combine sentences.
-"The Old Man and the Sea was written by Ernest Hemingway. It was written in 1951. It was written in Cuba. The Old Man and the Sea is a novella."
-"The Old Man and the Sea was written in 1951 in Cuba and was written by Ernest Hemingway. This book is a novella."
-"The Old Man and the Sea is a 1951 novella by Cuba resident Ernest Hemingway."

*There are two ways to handle any situation. Take situation X (I accidentally ate a bug?):
-The Emotional way: ... (Freak out!)
-The Rational way: ... (Well, I hope I don't get sick, but I suppose it's okay. I wonder how many people accidentally eat bugs each day? I wonder what bugs are made of. Protein?)
-Which way is better?

*Feedback: "I want to read more books." / "Explain better. Use models, exemplars. Write down exactly what you want to say."

Saturday, January 3, 2015

HS English Spring Semester plan

Here's what I want to accomplish with my second semester of teaching high school English:

*Continued Article of the Week project
*Continued Lit Research project (one text per week for seniors, one every other week for juniors, and one a month for freshmen and sophomores)
*A small writing assignment for journals every day for all classes, even on days we're working on other assignments. That means it may be homework some days. Consider putting prompts on a website students/parents can access from home.
*A big writing/research project integrated with History class. Possibly integrated, also, with blog writing. Much of this depends on when we receive Chromebooks.
*Speeches, presentations, communication. PVLEGS. I need more curricula material for this.
*Practical life assignments for seniors. How to write a resume, have an interview, fill out documents, file taxes, etc.