Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Fun And Games With Scholarship Applications

My boys Simon and Loc have received their well-deserved scholarship renewals, so I decided to nominate another couple of students. They're wonderful girls, whom I'm nominating for their leadership abilities. Both of them have stacks of award certificates, no problem there.

When I first discussed the matter with them, one wanted to be an events organiser, the other hadn't made up her mind.

Now the girl who hadn't decided wants to become a social worker. Her choices are mostly straightforward, though she has now decided to do Maths and Psychology, both expensive subjects. History would have cost $63 for the textbook. Maths will cost $88 plus, possibly a $200 calculator - I'm checking whether she needs the special one for General Maths. I may be able to arrange for tutoring if WC has some reconditioned computers, which they didn't have last year, but might have this year - the lady told me they were speaking to some potential donors. But she doesn't need Internet support, as her guardian has it bundled with the phone bill. Psych will cost $108 for the textbook and student book.

But her application is manageable.

The young events organiser has decided to become a secondary teacher, possibly a Foods teacher. So she's chosen the Hospitality subject, which will cost a bundle. I've emailed the Hospitality teacher to confirm. And Psychology. And Maths. Thank heavens the English books shouldn't be too dear. I was going to ask for help with the home Internet connection, but may have to drop that.

I am going to have to do some serious juggling here! There's a limit to how much you can ask. The charity relies on donations. So far so good, but I have to be reasonable.

Fingers crossed!

Sunday, July 24, 2016

Term 3 Year 8 - Week 3!

And another lovely session trying to get my head around the new Year 8 program...

Today wasn't the best. I had it planned out, the beginning of their iMovie presentation. I had the checklist of things they needed in it and the "how-to" sheet of making an iMovie on the school iPads and saving it into Public Share.

I had to wait for some to turn up. They had legitimate reasons, but it was not helpful. My best student didn't turn up at all; she was doing SRC work, involving going around to classes to take money for the SRC fundraising barbecue. She will catch up, if anyone does, but it interrupted my lesson. The students did tell me, though one thought she had gone to the wrong room(we were in the library). Another student had been in trouble and had to stay back to speak with the teacher. The two weakest students, who are not bad kids, spent the time giggling and chattering, interrupting me. By the time they were settled, I decided there was no point in trying to run the class as originally planned. Two students who had finished all their work so far were allowed to start collecting pictures for their presentations. The others were behind in the last piece of work, poems, so I sent them to the computers to complete. One, who had been absent that day, I sat down with and explained. She managed to complete an acrostic poem, on Koalas, by the end of the period.

I tried again after lunch. This worked somewhat better, though the SRC rep was still off collecting money. We went through the checklist sheet, discussing the tastes, smells, feel, sounds, sights of Australia. They did come up with some of each. Then I asked them to write down any words they might find helpful in looking for photos for the iMovie. I think that helped, but by then there were twenty minutes left, do I let them just start, telling them to save the jpegs into a folder with their name on it. Some seemed to have got the idea, but my two struggling students lost track

Not sure how I can deal with this. I need time to sit down with individual students, but those two keep me busy disciplining them, which takes time. And how much better are they? Well, one of them has actually written and finished something... But not today.

Sunday, July 17, 2016

Term 3 Year 8 - Second Week

Okay, I had to do a session on "Listening". And "How good a listener are you?" I told my students it was because this term's theme is "Listening and speaking" (The others are "reading" and "Writing"). This may be the case, but I don't know for sure that was what was intended by those who wrote this unit. It didn't do them any harm, though, to be honest, it was more like the Pathways - homeroom - subject than English, while in this morning's Pathways, the kids were given journals in which they were supposed to write about the things that happen to them, something that has in the past been a part of English, to get them writing by doing something that was easy for them. The closest I've come was in the blog posts, though there really hasn't been time to do it regularly and I have mostly used it for getting their work in one place.

Still. We did it and the kids co-operated and might even have enjoyed it. They started off with a survey on "how good a listener are you?" which I asked them to be honest about. It was like one of those things they have in a magazine, where you give yourself a score. Some of them were more honest than others. The student I KNOW has the most trouble paying attention gave himself a higher score than he really should have.

We discussed it. I even admitted that I'm not a very good listener myself. I told them that when I phone my mother every night I have a tendency to be reading while I listen to her and then she will say irritably, "I asked you a question! Didn't you hear what I said?"

I wrote on the board some of the ways we could improve our listening skills, using student suggestions, and asked them to write them into their books.

We will have to follow up on it at some stage.

I'd still like to be sure of the reason for doing that particular lesson!

The unit required reading some Australian stories and poems. Some of those suggested were in a book called Growing Up Asian In Australia, which we don't have in the library. I did have it in ebook, but you can't print out from an ebook, so I bought a copy on the weekend.  I found one of the stories was just too long to photocopy for a class and would probably lose their interest before we'd finished reading it.

In the end, we just read some poems. I chose two by Oodgeroo Noonuccal aka Kath Walker, one by Sean Wright on the subject of a massacre of Indigenous Australians and a couple of classic traditional poems - "Clancy of the Overflow" and MacKellar's "My Country". The first two were "No More Boomerang" and "Battle Of The Totems", a wry tongue-in-cheek complaint about the changes in Indigenous life and a funny one about her father's totem carpet snake which her mother hated and eventually got revenge on.

I'd hoped to have them write something before the end of the period, but there was another class in the library watching a movie, so hard to focus, and a couple of my students had headaches. We couldn't go back to the classroom because I had the EAL class to look after, so we just finished the poems in an office off the main library, discussed them a little and I showed them a picture of  the painting "Collins St At Five PM" which made me think of the last part of "Clancy" and I played a YouTube video on my iPad in which the elderly Dorothea MacKellar read her poem, with appropriate accompanying pictures.

We will have to do some writing on Thursday afternoon instead.

Thursday, July 14, 2016

Term 3 Year 8 - and Changes!

This year, our English co-ordinator retired and the new one decided that instead of gathering in groups according to year levels, each campus would be put in charge of working on the curriculum for a year level. Mine got Year 9. I contribute what I can, but I don't teach Year 9. The last time I did it was Year 9 ESL, about 2006-7. And that was different from now. Very different! However, not a lot of change was made here, just some work done on what is already being taught.

Another campus was put in charge of Year 8.

Now, we had planned out this year's program. In Term 3, we would spend part of the term doing Literature Circles. This is a program where students get into groups to read a book, depending on their reading levels, and the reading is followed by some writing, in our case a creative response to the text studied. It has worked very well - kids get to discuss and contribute and be marked on their contributions. We were also going to do plays - the last time I did that I ended up having to write a play, comparing it with the short story from which it was taken, followed by students doing podcasts of the play. The school hasn't got much in the way of class sets of plays and other campuses had borrowed the few we had. But it worked.

Then there is essay-writing or story-writing or both.

Not any more. The staff from the campus doing Year 8 completely rewrote the curriculum for this term. I mean, completely! And we first got to see it a few days before the end of last term. It involves "what it is to be Australian" and "how good are you at listening?" and preparing a presentation using something called Powtoon, to which the school has to subscribe(as far as I know, that hasn't happened yet). It involves the students preparing an animated presentation with their voices over, stating what being Australian means to them.

The problem is, apart from a two-week trial, there was no way to learn how to use it until the school subscribes, so I asked if I might, instead, use iMovie, which is easily available on the school's iPads, and which I know how to use and can teach the kids. It's not really much harder than PowerPoint and looks a lot more impressive. I was given permission, after making an iMovie and showing them.

But the people concerned have prepared an entire unit of work, complete with lesson plans and support material. You just have to teach it, it seems.

So I made a start on Monday. I fiddled a bit with the lesson plan, as I do with my Literacy classes, because not everything will work with every class and the unit's writers had forgotten that not everyone has access to an interactive whiteboard in every classroom, as they do at that campus. I had to book our interactive whiteboard room, which just doesn't have space, short of moving the tables and chairs around, to form a line from "Not at all Australian" to "Aussie, oy,oy,oy!" and then explain why you chose as you did. The thing is, I have a very small class and and, to be honest, while they would co-operate, most would cringe. I know the teacher who probably designed this bit and she could certainly get the kids going with her enthusiasm for it, but I don't think I could.

The kids did co-operate, did help me out with it, but I'm not sure how many of them enjoyed it.

I also found that not all the details fitted into one period. It involved showing them a Youtube video, doing some moving around, discussing, brainstorming and finishing with a written activity.

I managed to get most of it done, but not the written activity. There just wasn't time.

I was supposed to mark them on their speaking, but didn't have time for that either, and some of the rubric points were a bit puzzling. I mean - what do we mean when we are deciding if a student has spoken "sensitively"?

I really need to sit down with the whole unit and rewrite it so it will work for my students. That's going to take a lot of work!


Louise Rennison Is No More!

I just heard the news. ANOTHER terrific writer bites the dust - in the course of about three days!

I have no idea of the details. There are plenty of articles that say she's gone and talk about her life, but none of those I've read so far says how. I mean, Umberto Eco and Harper Lee were both in their eighties. Sad, but not unusual. It happens.

But this lady was only in her early sixties. Not an age for "natural causes", surely? If anyone reading this knows the details, please do let me know in the comments.

Louise Rennison was a British YA novelist who wrote funny books for girls. The best known is Angus, Things And Full Frontal Snogging, which I believe was made into a film(haven't seen it), but she wrote plenty, and I have several on my library shelves - the kids love them! There was a whole series about heroine Georgia Nicolson.

I'm currently reading Withering Tights, about Georgia's cousin Tallulah Casey, who has travelled north to Yorkshire to do a summer school on the arts. I'm only about a hundred pages in and Tallulah is already surrounded by a bunch of over-the-top characters, from her kind but zany host family to the  loopy woman who runs the school.

We'll have to have a chat about this at my lunchtime book club on Thursday. 

Sunday, February 28, 2016

Year 8 and Indiana Jones

It's amazing how quickly the term goes - and this one is short! Only three weeks to go and we have Labour Day Monday week and Easter the week after, followed by the school holidays.

I've taught the film UP! as a film text a number of times, so as I now have the option of doing one of the Indiana Jones films instead, I decided to go for that. I have chosen Last Crusade because it has a bit more meat for class discussion than the other two. And it's such fun! You find out Indy's real name. You see his hat come floating back up the cliff he has fallen down, while he waits for it. You find out how he got his hat, his whip and how he became scared of snakes. Unfortunately, some of the in jokes will go over the heads of kids who haven't seen these films before. But there's plenty to enjoy, and you get to meet his father, who is a delight!

One of my students this year is a sort of male Hermione Granger, whose hand always shoots up and who is usually correct. I have some other good students, but they are so quiet! I can't get them talking unless I ask them and then they will reply in a soft, timid voice. I can't work out, yet, how to encourage them to talk - and it's really such a small class that I have to get people to participate.

And then there are a couple of difficult students. One of them is a young man who suffers from ADHD. He was in my literacy class early last year, before being promoted to a higher group, and livened it up no end. But in English, it is hard to get him to focus for more than a few minutes. And when he does, he will write about three lines and delete them before I can read what he's written. Or he'll just refuse to let me read his work.

Other times, he surprises me pleasantly, such as today, when I was talking about one's personal Holy Grail and mentioned Heinrich Schliemann and his discovery of Troy. "Wasn't that Homer?" he asked. He was listening in last year's history classes(as I knew from having covered that class once when he was arguing with two other boys about the relationship between Zeus, Hades and Poseidon - and getting it right) I explained that yes, Homer did write about Troy, but nobody took him seriously until Schliemann followed his own Holy Grail and found it.

Then he said something silly about Homer Simpson, no doubt to show off to his two equally difficult friends. Heaven forbid they should find out he knew something!

I have to prepare special, focused tasks for him and not let him type them till he's hand written them, so that he can't delete them. He might still tear them up - must avoid that somehow!

We're going to start on character dolls on Thursday afternoon, after a discussion of the characters themselves. I find character dolls are a good way to keep the kids focused on the characters and what sort of people they are, then you can put them up on the classroom wall.

I still haven't had a chance to make my class do some writing, apart from the initial blog post designed to find out what they know - next week?

I haven't yet talked to the class about the Hero's Journey, something I'd like to do before they start the assignment. Will I ever get the chance?

So much to do and so little time!

Wednesday, December 02, 2015

The Year Winding Down... Year 7 EAL

This year I've had an EAL(formerly ESL) class, once a week while the other students are doing Italian and Vietnamese. It's a good opportunity for them to focus on their English while the others are doing something there's no point in their doing.

The EAL teacher asked me to do grammar and even supplied a folder earlier in the year. That, of course, ran out and I borrowed some of her grammar books and taught them about everything from nouns to conjunctions and finished classes with a speed spell or a board test to see how they were going, played as a game.

But the year is nearly over. And the kids have different reading levels, from the girl who is with me in the decoding literacy class to a student who is in the Grade 5 literacy group and has read and loved my YA novel! (Yes, it's a YA novel, but a readability test showed that kids with a Grade 5 reading level can still enjoy it). No point in trying to read something together unless there's a follow-up. The second half of the class we go to the library together and watch Behind The News, for which the teacher has provided worksheets at their different levels; I hand those out, but the students don't use them till her class on Friday. They just watch and discuss.

So, what to do this late in the piece? Only one more session together, next week.

I have learned a lot from Creative Writing. I also learned something from doing a workshop with eighty primary school students the other week. That is that there are some things that can be done, and enjoyed, in less than an hour.

We did acrostic poems. First, I gave a demonstration on the board. They liked the word "Summer", so I invited them to think of words connected with summer. After they had suggested quite a few, we did the poem on the board together. I even had one protest at the last line. "How can you ride boats? Make it bikes!"

Then I handed out paper on which to write their own, telling them they could do them in pairs or alone. There are three girls whom we have had to split because of their bad behaviour. They complained, but they did their own.

And you know what? When I put the poems up on the wall later, one of the badly behaved students asked if she might take hers home. I said yes, at the end of the day, as I wanted everyone to see she could do this. She doesn't know how she delighted me by that request!

The work was not exactly professional standard, but it was important to me that they enjoyed and learned something. Acrostics are good because most people can do them. I did have to go around the class and help those having a bit of trouble finding appropriate words. I think it I were to do it again, I might make it a bit more organised - there were some who had a bit of trouble with it. I would lay out coloured pencils to give them a chance to decorate before putting them up on the wall.

But in the end, everyone produced something, which was the main thing. Some produced two or three poems! On the whole, fairly successful.

Sunday, November 22, 2015

The Year 12 Formal!

I don't normally do Friday nights. It's Shabbat. It's family time. Usually the Year 12 Formal is on a Thursday, sometimes a Wednesday, the last day of exams.

But the school was late in booking and that was what they could get. And I had to say goodbye to my students. There were a lot of my favourite students who graduated this year. Okay, I say that every year - and to be honest, my all-time favourite class graduated last year. But this was a very good class, with only one student who was a bit difficult and even he was only a bit naughty - I use the mild word for a good reason. Naughty, not impossible. And he handed in his work and did some good stuff during Literature Circles.

And there he was, a young man with a beard, a gentle smile and a twinkle in his eyes! That twinkle reminded you of his past, but it had become something positive.

We have our formal (the Senior Prom to my US readers)at what used to be the Hilton on the Park. It sounds swish, especially for a poor school like ours - and certainly the students have to pay quite a lot to dine there, but they're given a chance to pay it off, and on the night, the boys hire suits, the girls dress up stunningly and get their hair done and they arrive in shared stretch limos. We go there because it gives us the best deal - believe me, we have been to other hotels, one of which, a big chain I won't name, but which you'd know if I did, made things difficult for the SRC students who were making the arrangements at the time.

I go to say goodbye to kids I've known since they were in Year 7, and taught in Year 8. It's always just a bit sad for me, though for them it will be exciting - the whole world is about to open to them!

One of the students I hadn't taught, but whom I knew fairly well, through his siblings, was dancing joyously on his own on the dance floor. He didn't think he'd done well in the exam and so I told him that even if he didn't get what he wanted, there was always the next best thing and sometimes you can use that as a back door to what you do want. His family has had a very hard time, so I'm not surprised he was distracted this year, but I have no doubt he did his best.

Another student, who had always had his nose in a book when he was in my class, told me he was still researching and considering his options for next year. I suggested librarianship or at least an Arts degree, which he would handle well. This boy discovered the joys of ebooks when he was in Year 10, so he's still reading, he's just doing it on his Kindle. I remember when his group was doing Dragonkeeper in Literature Circles and the other students asked me if I'd mind asking him to read something else till they caught up with him, as he was way ahead in the novel. He didn't mind a bit! We were in the library and he cheerfully headed for the shelves. Needless to say, this boy is now towering over me.

I saw a young couple who were already an item  when I taught them in Year 8, still together and very sweet they were.

I saw some of my most faithful Book Clubbers. I barely recognised them, so grown up!

I will be looking out for what tertiary courses they have been offered, in January. Can't wait!