Thursday, July 24, 2014

Year 8 Strikes Again!

What a weird week it's been so far!

Year 8A on Monday and this afternoon... It's so hard to know what to do. The two students who plagiarised did their hand written replacements without argument, though nether of them got past one paragraph on Monday. Today I sighed and told them they could start typing. Their story starts were fairly acceptable and today the girl, at least, got well past that, but I need to read it before deciding what she can do - it was the end of the day and I had to go to a staff meeting.

One student who is perfectly capable of doing more had to be made to handwrite his first draft on Monday and came up with something acceptable. I told him, too, he could type it today, but he showed me instead a new story he was typing! That, too, was acceptable if he finishes it, though I suggested e change the hero's name because he was using his own and it was not meant to be autobiographical. Whether he will complete it I don't know. What can you do with students who won't do anything outside of class time? Not everyone has a home computer, but there's always the library at lunchtime and I open three times a week. I may have to order some of these students to come in and use the computer room to finish at lunchtime. It worked last year.

I have an integration student who has done about all I'm going to get out of him - he has no classroom support and I can't persuade him to try another piece - so today I gave him a BBC vocabulary game to play while the others got on with it. I will have to come up with something else for our next activity.

There are the ones who have written thousands of words, but need to focus now on their grammar, spelling, punctuation, etc.  How do you do this without having to mark every last missing comma and change of tense for them? And what do you do when, bless them, they want to write even more wen they haven't tidied up the six thousand word epic they've already done? My top student, the one who used The Hero's Journey to write a rather touching story about a boy searching for his mother, has now handed me another epic about a boy tangled up with the Taliban! I haven't read that yet, but did suggest she do a little research on the Taliban to make sure she was getting it right. Perhaps too much to ask of a Year 8 child? At her age I was writing dreadful historical novels I hadn't researched either.

And then there was the young lady who handed me some fan fiction... Well, she had written it herself, so I just suggested she make sure that readers like me, unfamiliar with the universe, could follow it.

And the boy with the gory story who decided not to kill off his hero after all and is up to chapter 3 of what's turning into a novel!

I don't know. I'm thrilled with the response from the keen students, but how much have I been able to teach them and the others? You spend so much time on discipline you can find yourself unable to sit down   with the students individually. It can be exhausting.

Tomorrow I am going to be with my history class as some do their presentations. Then we'll look at the iMovie trailers they did on Tuesday. More of that later.

Year 8 fiction - The Sequel! (From My Great Raven Blog


Well, the holidays are over and I've just finished reading the last of my student stories. They have ranged from a hundred-odd words to what has to be at least six thousand! Twelve pages of small print? Has to be.

Two of  them were plagiarised, word for word, beginning to end, from online sources and what I'm going to tell the students I have no idea. Clearly they couldn't handle the story starters I gave them last term and were desperate enough to pinch something. I'd love to just say, "Look, I don't CARE if your writing is bad! It's my job to help you fix it and I can't do that if I don't know how you write in the first place." If I thought it would do any good I'd say that. But I don't think it will. All I can do is offer them the chance to do it again, with a different writing prompt, by hand, in a single session.

There was a very short piece from a student who asked me for help for the first time this year. It sn't much, but it was what he could do. He did his best. I will give him some more short pieces to do. Perhaps start with a Cloze activity in which he chooses his own words to fill the gaps?

There was a story that used one of the prompts to have one gory murder after another, but the student really, really enjoyed the writing. He ended it abruptly with "and then he came back and killed my uncle and me. The End." but I think he just felt he had to finish. I went cross-eyed trying to edit all the punctuation-free sentences and the switching between tenses - finally I gave up and put in notes to ask him to make up his mind which tense he wanted and stick with it.

A lot were unfinished. I will get them to do a story outline before continuing.

I really must mention the two who used "The Hero's Journey." One was unfinished, but long, an account of a girl who is approached by a long-lost brother under mysterious circumstances, and broke off just as the siblings were about to escape from a murderous millionaire older sister... I have told her it's an exciting story and I'm keen to see how it ends. She used the basic elements - the call to adventure, the journey...

The six thousand word story was less obvious as Hero's Journey, but it also used the elements. The call to adventure was a young boy from a village deciding to go to the city in search of his mother, who was taken away for medical treatment by a doctor whose name he knew, but not much else, some time ago, also fulfilling a mission for a neighbour whose children have vanished into the city, and returning to his reward. It was written with a Vietnamese accent, as the young lady has only recently decided to join mainstream English classes, so it needs work yet, incuding some tightening, but she is proud of it, and so she should be.

I think the Hero's Journey is not a bad place to start students off and will consider using it again, but it's a work in progress, always needing adapting.

People keep telling me that because I'm a writer I should therefore be able to teach writing. I really don't think it's that simple.  There are a lot of people out there teaching creative writing without ever having sold anything. Then they sell a first novel and write in their bio notes that they teach it and I say, "Hang on, this is a first novel, not even a good one, and she's TEACHING this? How did she get the job?"

In my case, I know how I write, but that doesn't mean everyone does it the same way. For example,
I just start writing and worry about the quality later. But kids can't always do that, or they don't understand the concept of "first draft." I can't even show them my own work in drafts, because even my first draft is better than their finished products in most cases. I am never going to write a long, run-on sentence with no punctuation or change tenses and even person.

Guess I'll have to write something awful and let them crit it.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Beginning Narrative With Year 8

I'm a writer. I know how to write, but teaching Year 8 how to write stories? If it was that easy, everyone would be selling.

Yet it must be done. Next year they will have to do their NAPLAN test, designed by a former government to gain votes by making those lazy, good for nothing teachers accountable! And when they sit down to do their Year 9 NAPLAN test they will have to write either a persuasive essay or a "narrative"(that's a story to you and me) - not a choice but one or the other, you aren't told which. And the narrative may well be a prompt such as "The Box". And they will have 40-50 minutes to write it - heck, I'm still working on a story submission for "Cranky Ladies Of History" after months! And I'm a professional.

I did three things on Monday. One was to gather some copies of the school anthology, stories written by students and put together and edited by Chris Wheat, a wonderful teacher and YA novelist who works at my school as the English and literacy co-ordinator. Another was to print out my much simplified version of The Hero's Journey, which I did as a workshop at last year's Continuum convention, with Paul Collins. It makes a good adventure story outline. The third was to put together some links to appropriate movie trailers on YouTube

It was not a good start to the day. The interactive whiteboard room computer didn't work - someone had unplugged the important bits and I had no idea which they were or what to do. Luckily, the other Year 8 teacher had cancelled her booking for the computer room. So I took them there and gathered them around a computer. One of the students logged in and went to YouTube  for me. First, though, I told them the general story, about this ordinary guy who is visited one day by someone who tells him he's special and must go on a quest. Along the away, he makes friends and deals with a major enemy and comes back with a reward for all that trouble. I invited them to think of some stories that fitted that description. They did very well - Star Wars, Harry Potter, Lord Of The Rings, The Hobbit, Up, even a couple I hadn't thought of, such as Percy Jackson and Doctor Who!

We watched several trailers, both the ones I'd prepared and some the students had thought of. We discussed how they fitted the story outline I'd given them.

It was going very well, until I started trying to do a story together on the board. That has worked with other  classes and should have worked this time, but I suppose I was lucky that some of the worse behaved  students had lasted even that long.

I told them we were returning to our classroom, where they would do the rest by hand. My original plan was that after the story on the board they could get into groups to brainstorm, but it was not to be. They went ahead of me and I arrived to find that one of the more difficult students was being told off by a teacher whose classroom window he had broken by butting it with his head.

He was sent with a note and a reliable student to sub school while I tried to unlock my classroom. The door wouldn't open. Some students told me that this had happened when they were last there with another teacher, who had taken them to another room.

I had to find another room for them. We found one, where we read some stories from the anthology together, then individually, about all there was time to do by now. The vice principal brought back the boy who had broken the window and asked for information. Not being suicidal, the students kept silent, so he told them that they'd all do a week's lunchtime detention unless someone came to him and discussed the matter(that worked, by the way).

After all this disaster, you'd think the lesson would be a compete flop. It wasn't.

Even the difficult boys found at least one story that appealed, once I let them choose their own. One of them, mind you, was delighted to find a story with swearing in it - written, mind you, by a good student who was using it in context. One of the girls found a story that touched her and exclaimed, "Oh, how sad! Miss, do read this one."

And two other girls were so keen to write a story based on The Hero's Journey, they started immediately and took their English books home to get on with it. One is a student who, though she is lovely and works hard, has never been able to write a lot. She showed me, today, two pages of dense text about a Percy Jackson-style demigoddess who discovers she is the daughter of a fire god. On Thurday, while the others do the brainstorm, I'm going to let those two get on with their stories.

If I can get into the classroom.

Saturday, February 22, 2014

Reflective Journal: Yet ANOTHER Challenge!


I met the challenge of teaching Pathways, the homeroom subject, with a wonderful practical community project that appealed to even the most difficult students, who showed what they could do and had every reason to be proud of themselves at the end of the year. Last year, our Year 8 students raised $900 between them for Save The Children!

And after the feel-good ceremony we were all called into the staff room to receive our allotments for this year and I had been taken off Pathways for the convenience of the timetable and given history/ geography, a subject I'm not qualified to teach -again for the benefit of the timetable.

No more Community Project! My colleague Jasna was also taken off it and while both teachers assigned to the subject have been supportive, I doubt either of them is interested in doing this. So we'll be back to presenting one student with the Pathways award and the subject being entirely classroom-and-theory-based and no one being able to add it to the resume they have to do in Year 9 and 10. Sigh! You know, I had one extremely difficult student last year who proved to have some leadership skills and some good ideas and rated this as his favourite subject.

But I made the best of the H/G. A colleague arranged for me to see a very good junior history teacher at her old campus to get some ideas and materials. The whole thing lasted about half an hour, after which I thanked her politely, took the stuff she had given me and took public transport back to my own campus. I got hold of the then Scope and Sequence -the document that tells you what you have to get through(though not  how - it assumes you know that)-and spent a chunk of my summer  break trying to come up with something to start with.

I prepared something I thought might be a good start, according to the document I had, and might even be engaging. And as soon as we returned, we were handed a revised scope and sequence document and there has been another since then.

Still. I have done what I can. I took them through a bit of research skill, using the topic they're about to cover, so they would have something to start, plus showing them some primary documents(another thing we have to do), such as Ibn Fadlan's description of Vikings as filthy and John of Wallingford's description of them as disgustingly clean.

  I found I also had to do mapping - what do I know about maps and mapping? I asked the campus vice- principal, who himself has to do H/G. He said, "What do I know?" and told me he had had his year 7 label and colour a world map.

I decided to do the same, except I stuck to a map of the Viking world, after a map of Scandinavia, as we're about to do the Vikings. And that told me something about the class's skills - or lack, thereof - in looking things up. I had intended to spend some time working on it with them, but when I was absent on the day I was to start, someone found my photocopied maps and handed them out to start, without discussion. So they began without me there.

Some did very well and will have their maps up immediately on the classroom wall. They got what they had to do and how to look up the countries they needed to label. Others didn't. They started the colouring in before they had done the labelling. So two or three coloured in the Mediterranean green and North Africa blue! Two put the Mediterranean in the Atlantic and one labelled the coast of North America as Algeria! I photocopied them all so I could return the originals with comments, but one student - the one who labelled Algeria in North America - refused to fix it, despite only a couple of small things needing changing. I'll keep the photocopy to show his parents if necessary, when they come for PT night, and cover the mistakes in the original with a white label, to make it easier. If he still refuses, well, all I can do is keep the mixed up one to show his Mum and Dad. His sister was in my class last year and they came for her. One boy didn't exactly do what I had asked, but worked so hard on his map that I'm putting it up anyway; he is apparently a difficult student and I want to reward his effort. He got the labels right, anyway, just didn't do it as I had asked.

Anyway, last Friday, I did an exercise using Melway's Street Directory, to give them  practice in looking up; it works pretty much the same as an atlas and is clearer. I discussed it for a while, then handed them a sheet of places in their area to look up. All they had to do was look up the map numbers in the index and write it down, then mark the spots on the photocopy I'd given them. That seemed to work better than the previous mapping we'd done, in giving them an idea how to look up. The only problem is that Melway's and atlases alike go out of date. The area didn't, of course, but the edition 35 I had at home, where I prepared it, had facilities the school's edition 32 didn't, so I had to change that bit.

The atlases are another matter. The class set is so old, it still has the Soviet Union in it! The individual copies are battered and some have had pages torn out. I am going to see if a proposal for a new class set, even ten copies to start with, will get some support.

My library is gradually starting up. I am hoping to arrange manuscript reading again this year, possibly in March, according to the publicist at Allen and Unwin. The kids love doing it and I have a new member or two in the younger classes, which is good, because I'm not sure all the Year 10s from last year are interested - some of them are doing VCE Psychology, though this didn't stop my first lot. On the other hand,some kids who had drifted away are back . I have mentioned to the English co-ordinator that I'd love to do Premier's Reading Challenge, but it's a lot of work and can't be done without staff support. I've found a new children's bookshop to do displays, since the Little Bookroom emailed to say they're not doing this any more and tried to make it sound like good news! (You can now buy online - yay! Actually, we can't. I tried to explain this and that I do this for the students, who help choose new books, to no avail. Also, that I'd been a loyal customer fr many years. No use. The only visits they will make are if you're Veryrich Grammar running a book fair). Fortunately, the Sun Bookshop in Yarraville is happy to come instead, and there's always Dymock's for the specific books.

I'm discovering the students' reading levels to help them choose the right book for them, helping the literacy bunch with advice and suggestions and working out the reading less of books they buy.

Keeping busy and trying to work out how to teach a new subject!

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Literature Circles The DVD!

So, I'm sitting at home on report writing day, having done as much as I could on reports(still things to gather and marking to do anyway) and I'm working on my DVD for Literature Circles - we're going to have a showing for both classes next Friday and I must have it done and burn some copies for those kids who would like to take them home.

It's not easy. I only have one set of actual discussions - every time I tried to film a discussion at least one member of the group would raise her hands over her face and yelp, "Oh, no! Don't film me!" It's not as if I'm putting them on YouTube, I would argue - they're just for us, and for showing to teachers who want some idea of how this works. But it just didn't happen. I had one good discussion being led by Catherine, our integration aide, a multi-talented woman who is an artist and film maker (I have a film she took of the integration students building a model based on the book they had read, The Big Dig, and talking about it. Brilliant!). But for some reason, when I loaded it on to iMovie, it turned upside down, and I still haven't worked out how to right it and the one friend who could help me is in bed with stomach cramps. Even the computer technician at work said, "If you find out, let me know."

So most of the filming is of my voice interviewing the students about the books they were reading at the time and it sort of works, but I really prefer the discussions.

 Some of the students chose to do an author interview and I've arranged these with the authors, though I have only emailed one set of questions, because they really need some editing and I don't want to edit them too much or it won't be the students' questions, it will be mine. One set of questions still needs to be retrieved from our Public Share, where I hope the student who typed them has saved them. Those will go up on The Great Raven when done.

And then there were the book trailers - well, there was one quite good one based on Gillian Rubinstein's Space Demons. I don't think the publishers would use it in YouTube, but it gets the message across and persuades viewers this book might be worth checking out. It was put together smoothly in Powerpoint and saving it to Quicktime gave me no problems. Likewise, the trailer for Cirque Du Freak by Darren Shan, which was produced properly by a student who knew how to use Moviemaker and could be converted to Quicktime via HandBrake. That was a good one too, though I wouldn't post it on YouTube, because the images were copyright. The music came from Jamendo, which is Creative Commons.

I had somewhat more trouble with the book trailer for Holes. It worked fine on a PC, but was missing its music when I loaded it on to my Mac. I was told by our info tech teacher that PowerPoint doesn't work with mp3(yet it worked okay with the Space Demons trailer) and he had recommended .wav, which doesn't work on a Mac. However, I found out the music he used, downloaded it as mp3 and recorded it on my computer, on which the PowerPoint opened as Keynote and Keynote does take mp3. Then I was able to save it to Quicktime and upload it to iMovie. Yay!

The one that REALLY gave me a headache was the trailer for Jenny Mounfield's The Icecream Man, a scary thriller for teens. Despite my warnings, the students produced it in Moviemaker, which should never be used by anyone who hasn't the experience and confidence to make it work. The trailer looked fine, but the file I was given by the student who put it together was not properly saved - it was a 66k wlmp file. And the student with the finished product took it with him and went off to Bangladesh for the rest of the school year!

Fortunately, he had left me a folder with the images and even the music. No text, but I got an idea - I would put it together using their images and music, in KeyNote. And they'd done me a storyboard with the planned text.

Unfortunately, I discovered that the text was plagiarised directly from the official book trailer and couldn't allow it to be used. I just couldn't! I don't know if that was the text they actually ended up using - they finished it off on the last day of Lit Circles classes and I was running around like a chicken with its head off, helping other students, asking them to save to Public share, saving files to my USB stick...

The tune was Pop Goes The Weasel - the original trailer had that, but this version was actually better than the one on the trailer, scarier - just imagine Pop Goes The Weasel sounding scary! So I took the images, placed them in order and recorded the music they had chosen. next year, when he returns, I'll ask the travelling student if he still has the original file and as long as he hasn't used the stolen text I will replace this one on the DVD. I don't think most kids understand the concept of plagiarism. They've done their research, they've found the information, what's all the fuss about? Or they tweak a few words and say, "But Miss, I've rewritten it!" (Rolls eyes).

Anyway, it seems to work not too badly, with the combination of images and music and I have placed it on iMovie along with the rest of the files. Time for a quick lunch and then put it together into a film!

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

2013: Year 8 Fundraising So Far

Again, thus year, our Year 8 students have been throwing themselves into their annual Pathways(homeroom) fundraiser. Who wold have thought when we did an emergency fundraising and packing goods for tsunami relief four years ago that it would expand into this? Really, it is only able to happen now because two of us work very well together to make it happen and the principal supports us, knowing what the kids learn from this is far and away more important than sitting in the classroom using textbooks(though we had to do that too this year, when the senior careers teacher decided it would help to make them ready for his area). We haven't been able to spend the time doing research on various charities before the vote, it had to be cut down to three weeks on the three charities we have already done, because time was taken from a number of subjects, including ours, and given to maths.

But the magic is still there. And three weeks in, the kids have raised about half of last year's amount and are likely to top it.

Yesterday a group of boys led by one who is frighteningly well organised sold iced pop cakes. They also had icy poles, but agreed to put them away for a much warmer day. Even so, they made over $100 in profit! I shut my mouth and let them get on with it, only arranging for them to take tables from my classroom and suggesting the frozen treats be put away for a warmer day. They had it all under control otherwise.

Last week a group ran two events - iced coffee and chocolate and a dodgeball game. There just weren't enough of them to do both and so two girls volunteered to help with the iced coffees. They were needed! There were crowds outside the Foods room awaiting their preordered drinks and others keen to order. It was rush-around-like-headless-chooks time, but suddenly all the preorders were done and we'd accommodated the new orders and the students had made $100 profit and had a pile of leftover ingredients they were happy to donate to whoever needed them because they had done what we told them and spent preorder money on them. There's a group soon doing milkshakes....

This task teaches them to use their imaginations, work in a team, budget and plan(oh, and some maths too)and makes them aware of other people's troubles. And it gives them something to add to their resumes.

As always, I'm so proud of them!

Monday, October 28, 2013

Western Chances Triumph!

My girls, Haley and Karyn, have achieved their scholarships. Yay! I was finally able to tell them last Friday. The official notification hasn't come in, but the lady who has been in contact said we could tell the four girls(two of mine and two in the other Year 8, nominated by my colleague Janis, the other Year 8 teacher). She had been emailing me to ask if we wanted to request anything else.

Janis and I wanted to make a little ceremony of it, calling them into her office to make the announcement, but one of them was absent and in the end, we just told them. It was such a pleasure to watch their faces light up!

It will be a couple of years of work for us all. You can't just assume they will get some more next year. You have to apply each year. They have to write each time about what this scholarship would mean to them in their pursuit of their dreams, and you have to fill in more paperwork, and then you send it off and cross your fingers.

But it's a wonderful scholarship. It's only a few hundred a year towards their study needs, but it can make such a difference. That's one thing they don't have to worry about as they study. Bless you, Terry Bracks! And bless all the folk who work there, making it happen, and all the sponsors.

As for my students, I'm so very proud of them. They deserve it.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Thank You again, VIT. I Think.

So, yet again I am trying to communicate with my professional association without which I am not allowed to teach in this state - believe me, if there was a choice of associations, I'd be out of this one! They have no competition. At least if I contact my union, who are there for MY benefit, though I don't like what they did with the last agreement, someone would answer the phone and try to find out for me what was going on. Oh, there are a couple of human beings there. I sometimes wonder if the gentleman who has kindly and calmly answered my inquiries, some of them panicked, is currently the only staff member working there. I think I once even got through on the phone, a few years ago. No more. Either you get a busy signal or a message to tell you that all their lines are busy and thank you for your patience, even though patient is NOT how I feel. My principal told me he once waited two hours before giving up. Yet according to the blurb, they av increased their telephone staff and the "hotline" hours are 7.30 am to 5.30 pm. Of course.

I'm trying to do my registration and pay my fees.  BPay isn't available, you have to pay online, but the system isn't letting me in and I can't pay till I have registered and jumped through some hoops and I can't register or pay till I have logged in. I can't even go into the office as I did last year because you have to do it all online! Even if I did go in and ask for help logging in, chances are there would just be the lonely receptionist who wouldn't know how to help me.

Sigh!

This is how I am spending the first quiet day of my well-earned break.

Think I'll shout myself some ice cream or something equally bad for me! Coffee crime brûlée or white chocolate mousse? Hmm...