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."