Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Doing a film tex(and more)t with EAL

This year I'm teaching Year 8 EAL. Most of them are kids I taught last year, so I'm comfortable with them and they with me. Two of them are actually in my literacy class a second time, having moved up with me, so I teach them six periods a week,

We have sent off the students' first letters to their "Literacy Buddies", a program which enables EAL students to write to adults in a business of some kind - this year, it is the local council and people who work there. We have to wait for the replies till early June and next week we're having a guest from the Hundred Story House, who will do writing activities with them - they're really enjoying that!

But this week we had a breather, so we started our film text, which is Indiana Jones And The Last Crusade. You might think that's a bit odd for a school film text, but really, there's a lot of meat in it for discussion. They did Raiders Of The Lost Ark with their other teacher last term, so apart from a new student, they are all familiar with the characters and background, which makes it easier.

Obviously, you're limited in how much you can do with a bunch of tweens(although we do have a fifteen year old international student in the group). But I did it last year with my Year 8 English class and they did very well. There are issues of family, of obsession with a personal "Holy Grail" as well as the real one, of faith - even that old duffer Marcus Brody says that at his age, one is willing to take some things on faith and is clearly a devout man. Every main character has a personal "Grail" or obsession. My English students last year got it very well - and they researched things mediaeval(they were doing mediaeval history anyway), the Crusades, religion, the legend of the Holy Grail, Nazi Germany, whatever, choosing one - and did a group presentation. I asked all of them to tell me what was their personal Holy Grail. And as we were doing the Hero's Journey to help with story writing, I did a session on how Last Crusade fitted in, which helped them understand and made their stories easier to write.

This class won't be asked for quite that much. Last term they did posters. This term we will also do a couple of character dolls to pin up and show they understand.

However, it was also interesting to see the students' reactions. One girl commented, just before Elsa Schneider betrays Indy and his father, "I don't think she's very nice, Miss." I paused the film and said, "This is interesting, so-and-so. What makes you say that?" She couldn't explain, only said, "The way she acts" but I think it was one of those times when you have reasons deep down but can't explain. That will come to her later. I continued the film and she was delighted to find she was right. However, when we got to the scene in Berlin, I paused it again and pointed out that, while she wasn't a nice person, Elsa didn't approve of the book burning. She didn't fight too hard when Indy took back the diary, either. There is at least one bit later in the film that shows she isn't quite as bad as she seems, but I left that for later. My student said, "Maybe she isn't that bad, Miss." I agreed - not very nice, but not quite as bad as you might think. So did the others.

And they picked up things last year's class didn't always, such as the meaning of "She talks in her sleep."

We will be continuing and finishing our viewing next week. Fingers crossed that it works out!

Thursday, February 23, 2017

Week 4 - Still Learning!

Today is my quiet day, with only one class. This morning's literacy class was partly word lists and then a story-telling activity. The idea was to have them practise speaking aloud. I felt I ought to demonstrate, to give them the idea of what was required. The storyteller tells a short story, only about three sentences, and the other two group members have to ask questions. The idea was that they would all take a turn at storytelling, but there just wasn't going to be enough time in the session, so after doing my demonstration, I told them that only one in each group needed to tell a story, the others had to ask questions.

I think I did the right thing to give them a demo first - it told them what they had to do, far better than if I'd just issued instructions, even if it did mean there wasn't time for them all to take a turn.

I wrote the story topics on the board and told them I'd like them to choose one of those rather than waste time trying to decide on their own. Then I invited them to choose a topic for me to tell. The vote went to the subject of "food poisoning" and I told them, in four sentences, the(true) story of my father getting sick after a pub meal where he ordered butterfish. I then asked them to ask questions and the ones they asked were generally appropriate, so I knew they had understood the task.

My concern, as I told Chris, the teacher who had devised the activity, was that some would waste their small amount of time arguing over who was the storyteller, then what the story topic was to be - and those would be the ones who were actually making an attempt at the task! There were at least three students, a group of friends, who might just spend the time chatting.

In the end, it mostly worked. There was one group where one of the girls was sulking after an argument with the other two. She refused to participate and there wasn't any point in swapping her with someone in another group, because they were all busy doing the task. Not to mention that the other two girls were doing just fine between them, as a pair instead of a group.

This is the second time that girl has had some drama. One morning, she burst into tears over some childish quarrel at the lockers, but by the time we got to the next class, she was happily sitting next to the girl she had quarreled with only ten minutes before. I'll need to think what I can do, but really, in the end, all you can say is - "Year 7! Oy!"

But for the most part, I was able to tell Chris it had worked, better than I'd expected. In one group, when they had finished, they happily tried a second topic, only a boy in the group asked if he could make his own. That was fine - I'd only asked them to stick to the topics to avoid wasting time.

The other day, in my EAL class, the students were supposed to be writing a profile as the first in a program called Literacy Buddies. One of the girls, who is in my Group 3 Literacy class, wrote that her favourite book was The Hunger Games!

"Isn't that a bit hard for you?" I asked, but she explained that she had worked out hard words from the context, then the dictionary, which is how they should do it. She had seen the film, which helped too. This is a student I trust, so if she said she read it, she did. But does she belong in my Literacy class? Yesterday I took a copy of the book into class and asked her to read the first couple of pages to me, which she did reasonably well. I suggested that she might like to be re-tested - the On Demand tests don't always get it right - but she was dismayed at the thought of leaving my class, so I suggested that perhaps she could just wait for the On Demand tests in April. If she does well in those, she will really have to move - when work is too easy, it gets boring.

At Book Club yesterday I focused on the Premier's Reading Challenge. There was a little bit of interest, not as much as I would have liked, but enough for me to consider registering my school. Then anyone else who wants to try it can. I've never done it before, but I'm not sure it's of much use to my school, which has a lot of students who are reading below their official year level. The Reading Challenge is aimed at kids who are reading at the appropriate level. The rules say that a student may read a book a year below their level if the teacher says it's okay, but they still have to read the same number of books from the official list for their level. That's not a lot of use to kids who are in Year 7 or 8 and reading at Grade 4 level, is it?

I told the group that while the only gift they would get from the Challenge for reading fifteen books this year would be a certificate, we could make a ceremony of it and perhaps I might add a book voucher, seeing it's just then. But I might see if anyone else is interested, perhaps as an English activity, or some such, and we can still do the ceremony.

I don't think I'll get much interest, but I can only try!

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Back At School - My New Classes

I'm in my third week back. My classes this year have been swapped around from last year. I was doing Year 7 EAL, Year8 English and Decoding in our literacy program.

Now I'm doing Year 7 English, Year 8 EAL (two new students and a couple who have left, but otherwise the same kids) and I've been moved up to Group 3 - Comprehension Transition - for literacy. Two of my students from last year have moved up with me. They must feel as if they haven't gone anywhere - we're even in the same room!

So, a lot of new stuff to learn. Yes, I know the subjects are the same, but still new to me. Year 7 has to prepare for the NAPLAN exam in May and until that's done, I can't do much other stuff. I adapted my Year 8 material that I used to use for "persuasive writing" and gave them a short grammar pre-test to see what they know. I've told them next week we'll do a grammar lesson on Thursday, when we have a single session. It's been years since I did actual grammar lessons as opposed to sitting down with them one at a time to discuss what they're doing, but it needs to be done. They were okay with the tenses, but I find that is the worst in general, always has been.

 Meanwhile, this morning, we had a brainstorm about whether dogs or cats made better pets. I think they enjoyed it - it's a very basic intro to "persuasion". A couple of them put up their hands to tell me about their own pets and I let them. They're barely out of Year 6, in their first three weeks at secondary school, and they were enjoying themselves. That's vital!

A very kind staff member who has retired sent me a file with a NAPLAN preparation sample. I will need to read that and see if I can fit it in soon.

So far so good, anyway - I think they're a pleasant class, fingers crossed they stay that way!

Three of them turned up in the library at lunchtime and joined Book Club - nice! I made them very welcome in hopes they will continue.

Because I'm teaching the same bunch of EAL kids as last year, I can't do everything the way we did - one session of grammar, one of Behind The News - so I've had a word with the EAL teacher and we've agreed, so far, to do a film text each.

We also have to do something called Literacy Buddies - I just got  my teacher pack today, need to get my head around it. It's a lot of work, which was why the EAL teacher had given up on it - she had too much else to do with them. But these classes are happening when other kids are doing Italian or Vietnamese, so no reason why we can't use the time for Literacy Buddies. The kids exchange letters with volunteers in a workplace, then meet them a couple of times. Two of us will be doing it this year, with Year 7 and Year 8.

Now I have a slightly higher reading level to teach, and activities that are not a lot like what I was doing before. I have had some help in adapting, both from my friend who used to teach this level and from the co-ordinator, who brought me a bag of goodies to use. I'm finding that with a bigger class - about three times the size of last year's -  I have to learn how to fit in more complex activities in the time. I used to be able to leave a reading list till the next day if the kids didn't get it, but we only do the reading lists twice a week. As a result, I'm only on to my second list in the two weeks we've been doing this. But the co-ordinator said that's fine - just take as long as it takes.

So I think I'm gradually getting there in that subject. But only gradually.

The library is gradually getting more kids coming at lunchtimes. The Year 7 kids have started to discover it. I think I have a few more kids interested in Book Club.

Now I have to find something to keep them entertained!

Sunday, October 16, 2016

Year 8 And The Hero's Journey

This week I gave my students a break from Australian Identity, which really needs to be finished, but has been rather dragging on. The kids are pretty good, but I'd rather have them doing something because they're interested than because it's compulsory. And we haven't done much writing this term - some, but not a lot. And I had to sneak it into the Identity thing.

So I decided to try The Hero's Journey, which worked quite well with a previous class. Last Thursday I gathered them in the Interactive Whiteboard Room, where we show film texts and documentaries, do presentations and such, and began by an explanation of what The Hero's Journey is - a simplified explanation, basically that a guy called Joseph Campbell said that most adventures boil down to the same story outline. We watched trailers for a number of movies that fitted the bill. I asked them if they could think of any, but only one of them came up with something that fitted. I began to wonder if I should do the follow-up, but thought, no, I had told them that today they would be doing some writing and they were going to do it! Otherwise, we might as well just go back to the unit of work we were having to do.

Today, I printed out and enlarged the template I've prepared, with elements of the Journey, simplified because I want them to be able to use it. The whole point is to write a story, with the outline to help.

I also found an example online of how you can use the Hero's Journey even for as simple and silly a story as a boy going out at night to find his lost cat and getting it down from a tree.

We spent the whole of our first session working together on the board, using our film text, Indiana Jones And The Last Crusade, as the example. They got the idea and answered how various elements of the film fitted into the elements of the Journey.

This afternoon, at our second session, I handed out templates and asked them to work in groups to come up with a story outline using them. I assured them that I didn't mind how silly the stories were, as long as they used the elements of the template.

I was pleasantly surprised to find that they really had got the hang of it. It's a small class and four boys worked together to produce a very silly story outline about Hillary Clinton and a Mexican boy who helped her win the Presidency. But it fulfilled the requirements and I told the boys well done.

The girls came up with something a bit more serious, which convinced me that when they have to do a proper story on their own, they will be able to do it.

I did one myself, but hadn't had the chance to read it when the bell went for their next class. Hopefully, Thursday they will be able to create a basic story each. Fingers crossed!

I have also handed out their class magazine, which was put together from the work they did in Term 2 and some of last term. It was not too bad, considering all the fiddling around we had to do, and that I had to make the cover and table of contents. I asked them not to take a copy unless they actually wanted it - I really don't want to find crumpled pages lying around the schoolyard. But everybody took one, so that was nice.

I haven't found any crumpled pages yet!

Thursday, September 08, 2016

8B's Aussie Identity

Last week, we went to the computer room and I asked all the students to write a blog post which would begin with "I remember..." It should have something in their memories about Australia and their place in it.

I figured that at the very least they could always write about "I remember..." - something I discovered in a book about writing by Kate Grenville. If you find yourself with writer's block there's one area where you can always get ideas and that's writing about yourself.

But just in case, I wrote a page about my own memories, to give them some idea of what I had in mind.

All but two of them wrote a decent-length piece; of the others, one was absent and the other kept changing his mind and ended up,with three lines. He was capable of doing better. I know; I've read his other work. I guess he just wasn't in the mood - and not planning on doing the "h" word either!

The rest of my class delighted me with their choice of memory. My favourite was the boy of Maltese background who was remembering his first taste of Australian breakfast foods at a school "pyjama day." And his first taste of sausages on the same day. And his reaction to mustard! With a little editing, that one is fully publishable.

Another one described the aroma of meat on the family barbecue, and the pleasure of going shopping for it with his father.

 It was a shortish piece, but said what the author wanted to say. I did edit it a little, but the rewrite he did yesterday was not quite as good as I'd hoped. Still, the boy is a good writer and I won't harass him for more.

The two boys who hadn't written their pieces were there when I took the class yesterday. One wrote his own piece about barbecues, which needs work, the other was not well and shouldn't have been at school. However, I asked him to read some of the other pieces to get some idea of what I had in mind and he said afterwards that he had an idea as a result. I will have to give him a little time on Monday to finish; he won't do it at home and really needs me to sit with him and encourage, being the weakest in the class. With help, he produced a nice recipe for hamburger in the class magazine.

Monday we need to work on "the stolen children" and "indigenous contributions to the language." But I'll try to find time!

Sunday, August 28, 2016

Week 7- 8 - Year 8 Again!

Last week's two sessions worked well enough. We presented the complete iMovies in our interactive whiteboard room in the library. They were, to be honest, the best.

But other students completed their work and presented just to me. In the afternoon, we were in the classroom. My reluctant speaker went into an empty classroom to record her voice and the music. It was satisfactory, if not inspiring, and I told her she had passed the assignment and saved it into Public Share, then into my own files, because I've known nasty kids to delete others' work, not to mention mine. It was easier when we had to ask for students to be allowed to save to Public Share!

There were still two students to finish, who were absent on Monday, so on Thursday we went to the library's computer room, where those who had finished all their work went to the web site, which gives ten grains of rice to charity for every vocabulary question you get right. One of them, bless him, tried to do some calculations as to just how much his 2000-odd grains would add up to in a bowl.

Of the last two students, the girl finished her work in one of the library offices. She declined to use music, probably wise of her as her voice would have been drowned out, like her classmate's.

The boy must be truly reluctant, because he made every excuse he could think of to procrastinate.

Today, he will have to finish it! I'll send him somewhere quiet, no further excuses!

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Week 6 - Year 8 iMovies

Here we are in Week 6 and we still haven't completed - quite - the iMovie task. On Monday, I was down to four students! Some were absent, some were on bin duty - the ones who weren't there were the ones for whom I had allowed some extra time to complete the task. One girl had started the Thursday before, then been called out of class by the Year Level Co-ordinator - "Can I see so-and-so for a few minutes?" - and not returned until the end of the session, to pick up her books. Monday she wasn't there. I had hoped to have some of the students who had finished help those who hadn't, but it wasn't to be.

Another student has begun, but needs more slides and to record her voice. She had been reluctant to do the iMovie - I had offered her the option of doing PowerPoint, on the understanding she would have to present live, because the task is about "listening and speaking", which she accepted, but changed her mind. I think there are about 21 seconds so far, and she really hasn't done what I asked, which was to prepare a script.

Another student absent on Monday - and today! - has finished, except that he had added a silly comment to the end of the presentation and had no idea how to fix it, short of re-recording. Neither do I, at this stage. I don't think the girl he called beautiful will be offended, but it's not appropriate for this, and it might be a bit embarrassing for both of them.  Probably not a good idea to show it in his absence. I need to speak to both of them. It's a pity, because it's otherwise quite good. I have saved a copy to USB stick, though, because knowing him, he may otherwise just delete the whole thing and have nothing to hand in.

The girl who was the object of his admiration has finished, but her soft, gentle voice was pretty much drowned out by the music and I have no idea how to change it for a quieter tune, though I've experimented. It will have to do as is. I will be asking a staff member from another campus for his help; I'm told he knows it better than the technician, who doesn't use iMovie.

The others have done quite well and checked their rubric to make sure they included all the senses in their "Australia means to me..." iMovie.

This afternoon I hope to do their presentations, such as they are, and ask them to assess their own listening skills - perhaps if I hand them that sheet before we begin, they will pay attention. It's a sort of follow-up to the listening survey we did tight back at the beginning.

But I still have some unfinished work from three students and not sure what to do with the others while they complete it. I can't give it to them as homework, because it's being done on iPad.

On Monday afternoon, with so few students, we just sat down with a couple of short stories - Rocket And Sparky by Edwina Harvey, from World's Next Door, and Hot And Spicy by Oliver Phommavanh, from Growing Up Asian In Australia. I hadn't realised that his novel Thai-Riffic was based on the short story, with a boy whose family run a Thai restaurant in Sydney. In this story, he has to take some Thai food to school for a multicultural day, but as far as Albert Yip is concerned, it's all embarrassing and he'd rather be eating Aussie foods like pies and chips. Even worse, to school has ordered food from his parents for the celebration. So he decides to do a bit of sabotage on the food so that it won't happen again... In the other story, a pony-loving girl is stuck out in the desert with her father, little brother and a camel - then they find an egg too big to be an emu egg. It's a dragon egg.

I invited the students to look at these two views of Australia and discuss the differences. And because none of them was Anglo, we talked about the food they had at home - and I added the European food I grew up with.

They were polite and co-operative, but dud they enjoy the stories? I don't know. Nobody smiled, though my volunteer seemed to be having fun reading aloud from Rocket and Sparky.

Still a few weeks to go and I haven't finished the it. Kids do take longer than you might think to finish things. And with a curriculum day tomorrow and a meeting today there is very little time to put together the group magazine we finished earlier this term.

Sigh! Teaching is fun!