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!

Monday, November 16, 2015

Saying Goodbye to Year 10

This week is our last with Year 10. I was hoping to have a farewell party for my Year 10 Book Club members, but they will be doing a robotics activity in the library until well into lunchtime. Still, I've decided to bring some goodies anyway. And I've spoken to some of them already.

I remember most of them as Year 8 students - not all, because we've had new students come to us, but most. That was the last time we were able to do our Year 8 Community Project. They still have something by that name, but it doesn't involve fundraising for charity. It doesn't involve any community outside the school.

I will be sad to see them go. They're great kids!

And today was my last class with my Year 10 Creative Writing students. I still have the Year 9 kids for another couple of sessions. But I'm sad to say goodbye.

Because it was their last session, I skipped the usual group story reading and tried something else. I printed out a bunch of folk songs that had stories to them, read and discussed and pointed out that some of them had already been used in fiction, eg "Sweet Polly Oliver"(Terry Pratchett's Monstrous Regiment) and "Tam Lin"(Pamela Dean's novel of the same name). They're a great place to go for story ideas. Not a bad thing when you're suffering a bit of writer's block!

After we'd read and discussed some, I asked them to go online and listen to the songs on YouTube. Then I asked if they could do a story outline using one of those folk songs as an inspiration.

It was an interesting business. I fully expected Marwa to be interested in "She Moved Through The Fair", as it's a ghost story and she's a ghost story writer, but she chose the murder ballad "Lily Of The West", as did Tez, who so enjoyed the tune that she was bopping away to Joan Baez as she wrote her outline. Mind you, Tez being Tez, the murder didn't quite happen. Not as it did in the ballad, anyway.

Tamar went for "Sweet Polly Oliver".  She in fact listened to several versions before deciding she liked Kate Marshall's best.  She and Marwa were discussing the various versions and which they preferred.

Anthony chose "The Twa Corbies", which apparently he and Marwa had studied in English and I pointed out the difference between that and "Three Ravens".

He did fizzle out and asked if he could do something else, as I had suspected he would, but it was late in the session and I said, "Next week."

All in all an interesting session and the kids enjoyed it, I think.



Sunday, November 08, 2015

Thinking back on the round robins

So, today I typed up all five round robin stories from last week, ready to post on the blog. I can invite the students to check them out.

Typing them told me some things about the writers. There was one story I started as a romantic comedy, which ended with the characters from the date gone wrong knocked over and killed by a car. Another story which began, "Be nice," said my father. "He's your brother," told me that the authors - all of them - had pesky little brothers and had strong feelings about them. One that I finished started with a ghost eating a peanut butter sandwich, led into a memory of a childhood friend(the ghost) and went on to a scary other spirit. I finished it off with the "ghost of peanut butter sandwiches past" and suggested that the child ghost had died from anaphylactic shock.But I think it was going there anyway.

The kids had fun and they learned something - so did I.

I think they were able to relax and write because they knew they wouldn't have to write the whole thing. In some cases they would never have finished the story they started, it would have fizled out, but this way - yes, they could use their imaginations and just have fun.

It's not something you can really do more than once, but it's worth thinking about for small groups.

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

The Round Robin Story - It Worked!

This week we did a round robin story session.

Last week, I had to go to a colleague's mother's funeral and by the time I got back, there wasn't time to run a formal class, so I sat down with them individually to talk about work they had done. But clearly, some had run out of ideas.

Yesterday, we began with a story reading as usual. The story, "Andromeda" by Jenny Blackford, was a version of the Greek myth with a twist. Andromeda IS the sea monster when she gets angry. And poor Perseus is unable to rescue her because of what happens to him. It occurred to me that maybe they didn't know the myth, so the twist wouldn't mean anything and we started by talking about myths and which ones they knew. Anthony, the sole boy, did mention "Medusa" so I was able to use that as a starter. After reading the story, I told them that this was an example of a classic story that the author had been able to play with and make her own, just as they, the class, had made fairy tales their own a few weeks ago.

Then we started the writing. One of the students had something to finish editing, but everyone else just couldn't think of anything, even with the prompts I'd given them.They've done well so far, but exhaustion hits us all and the Year 10s have a lot to do before their final week of classes, then exams.

"Right," I said, "we're going to do a group story." I had found some prompts written especially for round robin stories and gave them the choice of prompt. Each of us wrote for five minutes, then passed on the paper to the next person to continue.

And you know what? It worked! Students who had had no ideas scribbled away furiously. When we had finished, each of us picked up a story to read. In fact, there were five group stories on different themes. Tez, the one who had had difficulties with ideas for the last few weeks, cheekily killed off the characters in her last slot and happily wrote "the end."

There was much laughter when the stories were read and afterwards I promised to type up the lot and post them on our blog. The kids had a ball yesterday and everyone actually wrote something! And, silly as the stories were, they were actual stories, not the equivalent of a game of Consequences.

Such a pity the subject has been given one year and dropped for next year. I have learned almost as much as the students and could have done a wonderful class next year. I have treated my students as adults and assumed they were all writers. I've kept my promise that it wasn't going to be "English extensions."

C'est la vie!

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Trying Everything! Poetry in the Creative Writing Class

I forgot to post about the other week when I got the students to write poems, using the readwritethink.org web site. It's a very useful site designed for teachers. I've used it in the past to get my class to break down their persuasive essays, but one of the other staff used it with her Year 7 students, who had to write poetry for English, and it's very good. It has some templates for different types of poems, such as acrostic, haiku and theme.

Most of the problem my students have is producing something finished. Oh, they can all do it, eventually, but I thought that doing this as an exercise would make them feel good about themselves, that would be fun and would mean that everyone could do at least one piece of finished written work by the end of the session.

Really, all I had in mind was about twenty minutes early in the class, that would get the juices flowing and help them focus on their works in progress. But somehow, after we'd read a short story together, discussed what had to be done and they had got stuck into the poems, it ended up taking most of the session. And all of them did at least two or three pieces, which we read aloud before we left. And that was fine. Sometimes you can't do everything you planned and just have to go with the flow.

I wrote some samples, myself, to show them before they started(exemplar work, to give them an idea what they had to do).
For example, my diamante poem:

                                        Books,
                                     Thick, thin,
                            Exciting, amusing, expressing,
                                 Read them and rejoice,
                                  Brooding, thinking, amazing,
                                      Sad, funny,
                                         Books!

Okay, not brilliant, but it followed the template and gave them some idea. I did a theme poem on the sun(they give you a theme and a shape to use with it.

I did an acrostic with the letters for BOOK;


Brick-thick
Old, smelling of leather,
Open with a rustle of cool pages,
Keeping joy for me.

When the Year 10 students were watching Romeo And Juliet in the library, I wrote this haiku:

Darkness, Romeo,
Nightingale or lark? The lark!
Lovers say farewell.

I know, it's supposed to be on nature and I did one of those too, but this worked well enough to show my students as an example. None of them ended up writing a haiku anyway. They did acrostics, theme and diamante. And they had fun! And they all learned that they could write something. They were happy to take away their poems with them.

I don't think this is something you can use more than once in class, but I did suggest to them that if they had a bit of writer's block this might be a way to shake up the brain cells.

Anyway, this worked, though I doubt if any of them has used it to fix writer's block.