Friday, August 20, 2010

My Favorite Student I Never Had In Class

     Last night I had dinner with a graduate of HHS who will travel to the Big Apple in less than a week and begin his drama studies at New York University. Jacob never took a class from me, but we became acquainted during his sophomore year anyway. We spent much time together after school chatting about writing and literature. He's my favorite student I never had in class.

     "Do you remember how we met," Jake asked while we awaited our meals? I paused for a minute, trying to recall the exact moment. "I was doing an assignment for C's class. I was interviewing MD, and you were in her room. Whenever I asked her a question about teaching, you had something to add. So the interview really became an interview with you both." Wouldn't you know it. We met when once again I was chiming in with my two cents worth.

     Jake started coming to my room after school to chat about books and writing. "Who's your favorite author? What's your favorite book? What do you like about Hawthorne's style?"  During his junior year, Jake traveled to another school for AP Language and Composition, so he'd bring his papers to me for extra help after school.

    "Do you still have your Mustang?" Jake wanted to know between bites of salmon. "I remember when you got that car. You tied it into the American Dream when you were reading The Great Gatsby and took your class out to the parking lot to see it." I'd forgotten about that, although I can say driving a Mustang ups my stock with high school students.

     During the summer of 2008, Jake was serving a mission for his church in Alexandria, Virginia, and I was spending a month at the Folger Shakespeare Library's Teaching Shakespeare Institute, so I took the Metro to Alexandria one evening and treated Jake and his mission partner to Tia food. It was a bit incongruous to have dinner with two LDS missionaries in white shirts, ties, and name plates, but I'm glad I could bring a little bit of home to the East coast for Jake.

     "You definitely get some of the credit for my acceptance into NYU," Jake told me during dinner last night. Responding to the confused look on my face, Jake explained: "You spent so much time with me talking about writing and literature, reading my papers. You have such enthusiasm for teaching, and you really helped me a lot." Then to bring me down from the pedestal, Jake asked, "Do you remember the time some kid came into your room and put a shake down on a student's desk and you chased him down the hall in a skirt and high heels? People still talk about that!" Somehow I've managed to forget that graceful teaching moment!

     After dinner I gave Jake a ride home and promised to visit him in New York if he promised to score some theater tickets for me. My favorite student I never had in class gave me a hug, and as I drove away in my dream car, I thought about the many students teachers never teach in class and the influence we and they have on one another's lives. We teach even when we're not teaching. Sometimes it's these students, the ones who don't hear our lectures or sit in the desks in our classrooms, who learn the most from us and  who remember us as the favorite teacher from whom they never had a class.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Reining in Grammar with Social Networking

Originally published @ old blog site.

At times I see a gulf between formal grammar instruction English teachers provide and the grammar lessons parents want their children to receive. Early in my career, grammar lessons resembled the isolated study I experienced in junior high. These days grammar talk in my classroom looks more like my Facebook profile. Last week I posted a status update about my evolution into twitter chat:

Twitter chat is turning out to be a great way to connect w/ English teachers to discuss mutual concerns via #engchat. Tonight Twitter chat between parents and teachers #ptchat. This is awesome! If you aren’t on Twitter, you should be.

This status update prompted the following conversation about parental concerns over grammar instruction:

S.H: I wish every English teacher would spend some time discussing mis-placed apostrophes and incorrect homophones this school year. I am tired of seeing newspaper headlines and articles with sentences like “Coach reigns in practice when it’s hot.”

It makes me wonder who reigns during cool weather, if not the coach, assuming that “it’s” is meant to be the contraction of “it is” and is referring to the weather.

Spell check has made us lazy. It is NOT a replacement for knowing English, and it does not catch incorrect use of possessives and homophones.

L. B-K: I’m not an English teacher, but I understood “it’s” as a contraction of “it is” and referring to the weather. If the journalist was referring to the coach being hot, isn’t it correct to use either the word “he’s” or “she’s”, or even “they’re”? I am just curious…not trying to present an argument.

E.E.T: ‎”Coach reins in practice when it’s hot” is correct. Rain, reign, rein.” It’s” (contraction for “it is” and “its” possessive pronoun….

English is a living language, so I predict we’ll see one form of “its/it’s” within the next 25 years as “text speak” continues to influence spelling. Look for other changes, too, such as the continued death of the subjunctive mood as in L’s example, “If the journalist was…” The subjunctive reads, “If the journalist were….” This expresses a condition contrary to fact, but I see many English teachers who no longer use it. It’s on its way out, so is the rule against split infinitives, as in “to boldly go” vs. “to go boldly.” The latter is correct.

S. H: Star Trek ruined us on split infinitives!

What is the status of dangling prepositions?

L. B.-K: rein…right! I didn’t catch that one, being I was more interested in the “correct” use of the pronoun “it’s”, which I know was referring to the weather.
I suppose I read S’s comment wrong? I thought she was stating that “it’s” was misused.
I still would like to know if the coach was being referred to being hot, instead of the weather, what pronoun would you use?

E.E.T: L, use “it’s” since the antecedent is clearly the weather.

S: The rule against ending a sentence w/ a preposition is ignored by most. Purists such as myself try to avoid ending sentences w/ prepositions. I suppose this is from having Mrs. Rucker for eighth grade English!

I think students care about using grammar correctly, especially in formal writing. These days I use “Personal Style Manuals” and conferencing as the primary way of raising student awareness of grammar issues. I’m thinking about ways to evolve grammar instruction via social networking. If Facebook as grammar book works for parents, perhaps it will for their children!

Click here for a brief pro/con perspective on the value of social networking in the classroom.

Of Course it’s Heavy; It’s My Textbook: Evolving Beyond the Book

Original post @ old blogging site.

For years I’ve kept a collection of supplemental textbooks in my classroom. I have an old Scott Foresman England in Literature classroom set of texts that’s at least thirty years old; indeed, it’s the first text from which I taught my first year of teaching. I’ve clung to this particular text because for reasons I really can’t explain, it’s a better textbook than subsequent one’s I’ve used. Most of the time these books sit on shelves gathering cobwebs and hiding gum wrappers students deposit behind them. I’ve kept them because, well, you just never know when they’ll come in handy.

At the end of last year I’d had enough of the classroom clutter and decided I need more space in my small room. Over time I’ve brought far more stuff in than I’ve removed. I needed to apply the first rule of closet organization to my classroom: If you buy something new, get rid of an old clothing item. I don’t do that, but still it’s a good rule! Also, I’ve been making room for comfortable reading areas in my room and building my library of YAL. I’ll be taking a recliner that I purchased at a yard sell to school this fall, so I’ll need to haul out more of the old books. I couldn’t go cold turkey so kept sets of ten of each.

When school starts in two weeks, I won’t be checking textbooks out to students; I won’t insist they bench-press their way to class lugging the massive tomes; I won’t assign many readings from the literature anthology; and I probably won’t assign any of the exercises in the book. I haven’t used these in years. My position regarding textbooks has evolved. Shelly Blake-Plock blogs at Edutopia (“Increase Student Engagement by Getting Rid of Textbooks”) about the harm textbook reliance does to student engagement and learning: students find textbooks boring; textbooks serve teachers better than they do students; textbooks are political with content dictated by political ideologies. Blake-Plock also offers alternatives that increase student learning, including links to MOMA and other Web 2.0 resources that invite students to use primary sources and compose their own questions for inquiry.

When students enter room B-14 on September 2, I’ll greet them by literally lifting a weight off their shoulders. I won’t check out the text because we’re evolving beyond the book.

Evolving By Blogging

*The following is my first post on August 10, 2010 at my old blogging site.. I changed because I want to enable reader comments, so I've "tumbled" over to Blogger!

Teachers who began their careers in the early 1980’s know what it’s like to teach in a no-tech classroom. Many have evolved their practice in sync with tech developments, but some like me are late-comers to the blog party.

This is not to say that I teach in a no-tech classroom but that blogging intimidates me. Yet if I want students to face their writing fears, so too must I. Choosing tumblr. to host my blog is metaphorical in that the utilitarian function of a tumbler is to shake things up. This year I’m shaking things up in my professional life, and maintaining this blog is one way I’m evolving professionally.

I’m sure I’ll tumble and stumble along the way, but at least I’ll then have blogging topics!