Monday, November 08, 2010

Romeo and Juliet and 8A

So, why do Shakespeare with a year 8 class? Why do it at all? The second, first. Because he's got something to say to everyone - or else why do they still make movies based on his plays - or inspired by them, even (and there are plenty of THOSE! I plan to try She's The Man when we've looked up background to Twelfth Night and what was Twelfth Night anyway?)? Why do we use his quotes and even his words without thinking about it, daily?

Why Year 8? Because that's what I've got, and there's no guarantee they'll ever do Shakespeare again, not a full play, though they might get a slightly more advanced intro next year. I chose Romeo and Juliet because of the Luhrmann movie and because the hero and heroine are just their age.

I started with numbers, as suggested by another teacher - they had to look up the connection between those numbers and Shakespeare, e.g. 37 plays, 1564, the year he was born, 18 - a famous sonnet. 2000 - words first heard in his plays. And so on. Then I got them to tell me one fact they'd learned that day - "Ooh, it's called 'The Scottish Play' because there's a curse on saying the name!" one of them squealed excitedly.

This is a difficult class. There are some great kids in it, but many who are very, very hard to engage. Luckily, the most difficult of them were not here today - and they're fresh first thing in the morning. I couldn't have done it on a Friday afternoon when, alas, I have them for a double period.

I decided to at least show them a few scenes of the Baz Luhrmann Romeo and Juliet because it's very fast-paced. Just the fight scene at the beginning, that's all. We began with a little pre-teaching. "So, has anyone ever had a girlfriend or boyfriend Mum and Dad don't like?"

"All the time," groaned one of the boys. When another asked why parents had had power to decide who you married, he added, "Still happens in my country."

I was in the middle of taking them through the basic storyline on-screen - thank heaven for Interactive Whiteboards, though it wouldn't show the photos I'd inserted - I had to show them separately, but that worked anyway. I'd got their attention by then. The Principal walked in, bearing electives forms for them to fill in and I worried that when he was gone I might not be able to get their attention again.

But no. They were interested. Even the group of girls who had had their noses in novels were watching.

After I'd done the Shakespeare bio and showed them pictures of the theatres,including the modern Globe, and gone through the very basic story outline, we put on the DVD. I couldn't believe who was watching! One student who has shown very little interest in anything this year was watching wide-eyed. I meant to turn it off just after the fight scene, then the scene where "Captain" Prince yells at the idiot Montague and Capulet parents, but they refused to let me stop. They watched as Romeo appeared, brooding on a girl who never actually appears in the play, then just a little more as Juliet made her first appearance with her mother and nurse. I mentioned that Lady C would have been only about 28 years old.

When I asked, "Who'd like to see some more another day?" most hands went up.

Not sure what I'll do when I have the full class. Two were doing bin duty and four were absent and some of those may show no interest at all, but stand by.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

New Schools and phone booth libraries

Today I got a link from my friend Edwina to a BBC article on a re-cycled phone booth in England, being used for an informal library. You put in any books you don't want any more and pick up something that interests you.

Sounds like what they have planned for Victorian state schools - those that are still lucky enough to have libraries at all. There was this article in the Age the other day which mentioned some school in Coburg (in Melbourne) that has scrapped its library altogether, though the Principal sneered that they had kept a few novels, for those kids who still wanted to read something that wasn't on-line. He declared that "the whole school is a library!" Translation: "Why spend money having a place for kids to go and read BOOKS, why pay for a teacher, for heavens' sake, to stamp books all day? They're all using the Internet now, aren't they?" Of course, the academic Kew High, which produces the best results, has refurbished its library and staffed it adequately. But who's interested in that?

A few days ago, my school's library staff had to go and see the so-called architects who are designing the new school. The place they had designed was half the size of my current library - just mine, mind you! It's a Commonwealth library, built in the days when the government hadn't started privatising everything. The new school will have four times the students, assuming we don't lose any.

But the architect lady told us we should be grateful to have a library at all. Seems that someone in the government is all for the idea of school without libraries - like the one in Coburg. And this half-sized monstrosity was supposed to be hosting the IT technicians, in an office that would jut into the main body of the library and make yet another blind spot. There was space for four bays of books - fewer than half of those in my library - and those were to be placed in front of a student lounge area - again a blind spot. No AV room, no library office "because everyone else has to make do with a staffroom, why not you?". They didn't even know we NEEDED a room to produce and process the library's AV resources. Andrew had to explain the difference between teacher-librarians, who have the responsibilities of other teachers plus library responsibilities and no time to leave the library to write reports, for example, and nowhere private to do their report-writing, because if you're in the library, you're on duty. We had to explain about what the AV person does and about valuable equipment.

They told us, with great pride, about their exciting new way of making the place big enough for parent-teacher interviews and information nights: just open the accordion doors on to a breezeway between buildings! How fabulously up-to-date, why didn't we think of exposing everyone to heat or cold?

No toilets, of course; said parents would have to find their way through the school buildings to the staff toilets.

There will be special areas between classrooms with class sets - nobody, presumably, responsible for these.

They said the new library would have no computers because it was the government's policy to have laptops used.

When I asked what the kids would use when they came to do homework at lunchtime or after school, there was no answer. Grudgingly, they agreed to put our computers on the tables.

No air conditioning for the school at all.

Don't get rid of the library, just work hard to make it irrelevant. Nice idea.

And this is the Labor government. What would the other side do, I wonder?

Hell, why bother to have a new school at all if it's going to be worse than the old one?

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

More reflection - and the Writers' Club

Today we had a writers' club meeting - we alternate. Next week Book Club. It overlaps anyway, though the Year 7 girls didn't turn up today. I did get Ebru, who brought her manuscript - several handwritten pages in an exercise book. She told me about it, but I suggested she come to the library at lunchtime tomorrow and start typing.

Willis began typing his entry for "Write Away Victoria". It was well-written, but unfinished and he's not quite sure where he is going with it. I told him about my method of writing the end, if known, and going backwards. On computer, it's fine.

Thando and Paige brought their re-written stories, which I think are just about ready to send, give or take a little fixing up of punctuation. Thando's first attempt was not crash hot, but the new story is very good, much better, and I told her so. Paige's story was a sweet, gentle piece, a lot like the author.

Ryan was working on his martial arts fantasy with the help of a friend - he's written a lot since last time. Dylan was working on his novel. Selena was reading a bit of it.

I need to find someone from outside the school to do a proper writers' workshop - if I can't do a writers' festival, perhaps I can at least see if someone will give us the money for a workshop. I mean, I write, but in the end all I can do is facilitate what they're already doing.

Still - this thing is working better than I had dared to hope.

Thursday, August 05, 2010

Reflective blog - um, whatever! Book Club! Sunshine College West Campus Library

I've tried this before. It never worked. But this year, apart from the usual suspects, we have a strongly-bookloving bunch of Year 7 girls. They consider it cool to hang out in the library and talk to the library teacher about books and reading. One of them even agreed with me that Twilight wasn't particularly scary as vampire books went and asked for Dracula. I couldn't give it to her right away, because it was already out. Her friend had it! :-)

So as they were coming anyway, I revived the Book Club idea. I have around ten enthusiastic young readers who turn up on Wednesday to do book things. Mostly, so far, it's been browsing through new books and choosing from book displays, but this week we actually sat around and talked about books they - and I - had read and I let them know that Edwina Harvey, author of The Whale's Tale, was coming to town and would be speaking to them. Young Willis, who has already written me a superb essay for English - a Year 8 kid! - had read it and spoke enthusiastically about the book. Selena, his classmate, borrowed it. Willis was borrrowing the four-novel volume of Hitch-hiker's Guide To The Galaxy and I told the others about that. I promised Willis I would buy Volumes 5 and 6 if he wanted me to, though I personally hate the fifth novel and the sixth is by the author of Artemis Fowl (they had heard of him!).Thando of 8B wanted to tell the others about a fabulous book she had read called Ten Things I Hate About Me (someone else borrowed that on her recommendation). Her friend Paige wanted to know about Jane Eyre, which she had picked up from the display area. I felt able to explain the concept of Gothic romance - the young woman who goes as a governess (live-in schoolteacher, I explained)to a country home and falls in love with the boss, who has a Deep Dark Secret. I told them I had bought it because I wanted somewhere for Twilight readers to go when they had finished the series. Paige borrowed it. When I saw her yesterday she was quite enthusiastic so far.

I considered it a huge achievement last year when I got Jacinta to read and enjoy two books after she had refused to read even one, and it was - but we do have to look after the good readers too. They're the ones who actually turn up in the library, willingly.

Current plans are to take them to Teen Booktalkers next term, if I can get permission.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Sunshine College West Campus Book Club

I've tried it before. Usually, it has fizzled out - and I do like to have the occasional full lunchbreak. This year, I have enough students really, really interested to make it worthwhile. Not to mention those who want a writers' club! Which means that on Tuesday I get no lunchbreak at all, because you can't have the two together.

But who could deny them? I gave out some information about a writing competition being run by the Melbourne Writers' Festival. You get a story starter written by a well-known children's novelist and use it to get started. One girl has already finished her entry! There are eleven in 7A alone. Two in my own class.

Today I invited my Book Club in. I meant to discuss the manuscript reading for Allen and Unwin (we have nine students interested - last term there were four, all back). I meant to talk about Children's Book Week. I meant to discuss what they were reading.

Well, in the end, they pounced on the new books and borrowed them - the ones they chose at the last meeting. And they did discuss those.

Not very organised, on my part, but hey, it was their club and they enjoyed themselves, so I guess it worked well.

What next, I wonder? I'm book shopping today, if I can get away on time.

Let's see, is that request "Nightworld" or Night-thingie or what?

And what next for the school? The plans for the new school incorporate a tiny library for four times the students and three book store rooms, the sort of thing they have done at primary schools to save money on staffing. There will, I suspect, be no book clubs at the new school, no one to instill a love of reading or look after those who do, no one to come up with any of the ideas I have. That's modern schooling for you.

I'll look after them while I can.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Nonsense Words and Group 2

I have a great class for my school's literacy program, Sunlit. Five delightful, hard-working students, all but one of whom is an ESL student and the fifth of whom still has an accent.

One of the things we're required to do, after going through three lists in the textbook, is a so-called nonsense word list. The idea is that if they can pronounce it in a real word, they should be able to pronounce it even if they've never seen it before. And I can see the point, but my students are still learning English and it's hard enough for them to get the real words let alone being confused by nonsense words. I have my own ways of fixing their problems. When a list is too hard, when one word is confused with another not on the list, I prepare a special list that places the confused words side by side and gives them the chance to pronounce both. That works. Sometimes I make a game of the nonsense word idea by handing them a bag of consonants and one of vowels. They choose two consonants and a vowel, which are written on the board as they sound it out, forming - yes - a nonsense word. But it's THEIR nonsense word. This works.

However. Here I am with one of the official nonsense word lists and tomorrow will be our third day on this and some of them have gone and learned them off by heart, which is not the point of the exercise. Others are still adding a letter to the word - say, an r - that isn't in the word and I have to ask them, gently, just to read what's there. Remember - much of the time it's the accents that are the problem.

Today, the problem with most of them was the nonsense word "shass". They kept saying "shash" or "sash".

So we put down the nonsense word list for a while. I asked them to think of as many words as they could ending in "ss", which they did. Then we had some good old-fashioned tongue-twisters, which a couple of them said they did in language school. There is something hilarious about five students reciting "She sells sea shells by the sea shore" to which I added, "and sits on a see-saw she saw".

By the end of the period they were in tears of laughter - but they got "shass".

Let's hope it lasts till tomorrow, when I will get them to do the tongue-twister before the nonsense list.

Friday, April 23, 2010

The Right Book For The Right Person

I deal with this every now and then: finding a book for a student who doesn't like reading. Last year, it was Jacinta and a Girlfriend Fiction Book. As it happens, she read two books, willingly, that term. Perhaps she hasn't read any more since then, but you never know. One of the books was my crime book, Crime Time.

After parent-teacher night this time, a year 10 girl came to see me. She told me, lip quivering, that she was under orders to read more. She had come to - shudder! - borrow a book.

I asked her, first, what she had last read and enjoyed, which I usually do to help me.

"I've never read a book in my life!" she wailed. "No, Miss, it's true! Well, except for primary school..."

And then she muttered that, actually, she had read something that morning, during her teacher's absence from Literacy class, that she wouldn't mind borrowing, if she had to read a book.

Guess what it was?

Crime Time: Australians behaving badly. :-)

Well, it has done very well in libraries. School libraries especially. I am very flattered to know that a girl who avoids reading is willing to read my book.

Pity bookshops didn't know how to display and promote it.

Reflective Journal again!

The thing is, you almost never see the parents you need to see. I do recall last year when one mother did turn up and I supplied her with a box of tissues as she heard from her daughter's teachers what the problems were.

The other night, we had interim report parent-teacher interviews. This works as follows: all the class's teachers have to tick boxes to say whether or not the student is up to date, is doing everything they should be doing, is co-operative, etc. Any student who gets more than a certain number of "no" responses or "sometimes" is asked to come in. Most of my class got those messages. The ones who really needed to come in, didn't, as usual - which, I guess, is why the kids are the way they are.

On the other end, I had a visit from a student and parent who didn't have to come. The boy's father suggested that maybe he needed something more challenging - and I told him, to his surprise, that his son had had the chance to do this in a recent assignment that was designed to give all students an opportunity to work at their own level, but had chosen the easier options!

It should be interesting to see what happens next time i hand out an assignment.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

SLAV Meeting March 17 2010

I hadn't been to a SLAV regional meeting for some time, because they're usually held at Landmark in Essendon and it's simply not possible to get there in time from my current campus of Sunshine College. They happen about once a term and are usually worth attending.

However, this time the meeting was going to be at Overnewtyn College, a wealthy private school out in the middle of nowhere and the decision has been made for future meetings to happen at schools in the region. This is a good idea, because some time I can offer my own school.

Meanwhile, I had to get a lift and Penny Geoghan, head of the network, organised one for me with Marion Treiber, a lady who works at a deaf school in North Sunshine.

It's always good to catch up with other library staff, something I don't have much chance to do. It was interesting to hear everyone's stories and I learned that other schools are worse off than mine, including one private Catholic school where the library was run by a technician, who has no offsider and looks after 500 students. "Lunchtime? What's that?" she quipped. Schools are really, really going cheap these days, despite their loud declarations about the importance of literacy. Bring on the Federal investigation into school libraries!

Meanwhile, I made sure I was there because the topic of the meeting was supposed to be blogs. I was hoping that my questions would be answered, because last year I attended a conference where I learned about Global Teacher, that lets you do a library blog or a classroom blog. I'd had a go, but was having problems.

Unfortunately, the subject was not brought up till well into the meeting and then mainly to talk about the SLAV blog.I'm sure it will be useful and will certainly take a look, but that wasn't what I'd gone to the meeting to do. I must have misunderstood the theme advertised and am very glad that I didn't bring along one of our English staff as I'd planned to do.

I did ask if anyone was using Global Teacher and would like to talk about it, but it was late in the meeting and Mary Manning suggested that it might be best to take on the on-line course SLAV is offering. If I do, it won't be for the blogging section, because I already have one, I just want to find out why some aspects aren't working for me. I will email around and see if anyone can discuss it.

Sunday, March 07, 2010

Latest Reflective Blog Entry: on the Ultranet in Victorian schools

Recently, we had a PD session on the subject of the Ultranet, which is about to make its appearance in Victorian state schools. The enthusiastic presenter showed us all the fabulous things you could do with the new system. "And just think," he added. "If you give them homework where they have to look up something on the Net and they tell you they couldn't do it, you can check to see if they were on-line last night!"

At this point, somebody asked what happens if the kids don't have the Internet at home, as about half of ours don't (No more than 51 % of all our students have access to the Internet at home)? The presenter seemed taken aback and muttered that if there was enough will, somehow this problem could be gotten around.

Meanwhile, we should check out iGoogle, which we can show the kids. So, in a spirit of good will, I did. I had fun adding all sorts of useful widgets to my personal Google page. And that was fine on the staff computer. Just to test it, I tried it out on the student computers, which, alas, are set up to delete anything saved to the hard drive during a work session, because otherwise the kids bring games from home and we end up with viruses. This happened a lot last year.

I added a widget or two to the Google page, then re-booted and went back. Sorry. No widgets. So, until they can think of a way around it, no point in instructing students on the joys of iGoogle.

I am also using our Pathways classes - homeroom activities - to show the students some of the good stuff they actually CAN get out of the Internet and the library catalogue. This is mostly because I can't persuade most of the other staff to let me do likewise for their own classes. We subscribe to Echo, a newspaper index which does a whole lot of other stuff, but the only response I got from discussing it at meetings was "That's too hard for our kids." No doubt it's too hard for some of them, but that's why you do it a bit at a time. And they will need it at VCE level. Year 11 and 12 will involve a lot of newspaper research.

However, at least mine will leave Year 8 knowing some of it, if not all - there is only so much you can do at Year 8 level.

Last Friday I tried it. Some of them got it right away. Others wasted time and had to be kept in after school, if only for a few minutes. At least some of them know.

I will have to try it during a morning class some time.