Monday, August 20, 2012

They're working! (at last)

If you have to teach English to students who have not been working the whole year, it is so nice when you think you may have gotten through, for whatever reason.

Three boys in my class had not responded at all to Literature Circles, or rather, they responded in the wrong way. They treated it as an opportunity to socialise. I have tried very hard with them. I made sure they got a book they were likely to enjoy, if they could enjoy anything, Jenny Mounfield's The Ice Cream Man. In it, three boys do something stupid in their annoyance at an ice cream man who won't stop for them one hot day and find themselves being stalked. There is a twist at the end of this tale, and basically, it's an introduction to the thriller genre for teens, with a lot of meat for discussion, because they're not bad boys, really - in fact, the author tells me her son was one of them, the one in the wheelchair, who did something dumb and luckily didn't go through what happened to the boys in the book.

I have sat down with them to discuss what had happened in the story. One of the things you do in Literature Circles is compare it to real life. I invited them to think about what resemblance they might find. When they said there was nothing, I asked, "Oh, really? These three boys don't remind you of any three boys you might know?" and got a grin from them as a reward. I asked them how they had met, seeing they spend so much time together and one of them confessed, "Actually, we met when we all got into trouble together." That made me grin.

The rest of the class, who have mostly finished their books, are working on a creative response to what they have read. Yesterday I handed them their copies of The Ice Cream Man and said, "Sorry, guys, but you can't do a response to a book you haven't read."
"Fair enough," said the boy who had told me how they met and they actually got stuck into it. He got to page 122, and when I asked him what was happening, he was able to tell me! I made sure that his literacy teacher told him today that I was pleased with himand so was she.

A survey I took a while back told me that all but one of the class wanted to learn, and the one who said no was being silly.

I just need to get through the barrier of laziness with some.

Monday, August 13, 2012

What I did at the E-literacy Conference

First published in our staff newsletter March 23 2012

Back in March I had the privilege of attending what may be the best conference I have ever done, run by the School Library Association of Victoria. I am still getting my head around all the wonderfully useful information I received and the notes I took; I have been downloading teaching apps on my iPad and started following teacher-librarians i met there on Twitter, though that's blocked on our school network. Pity - it's a useful tool. (And I encountered and started following a tech-loving ESL teacher in Canada, who shares information in his tweets).
Attendees were encouraged to use their devices – laptops, phones and iPads. I had my iPad with me and I was able to go online in the conference’s wifi connection. As the speakers shared their web sites and software information with us, I went on-line, checked and bookmarked some sites we can use in teaching. We were able to tweet on the conference’s special Twitter session; some used it to take notes, others for comments on the session. I came away with a couple of new followers and teachers I am now following.

We had a demonstration from Mill Park Secondary College, a school which had been part of a program that enabled students to use various bits of software and hardware to produce a science presentation that went way beyond the usual PowerPoint. There were also speakers from VCAA.

Dr Ross Todd of Rutgers University in New Jersey was our keynote speaker. Dr Todd had done a survey of New York school libraries and chosen twelve that had the most positive attitude towards their libraries and library professionals, considered part of the curriculum team to improve student outcomes. These were schools like ours, with very little money. They were prepared to put it into their libraries and the teacher-librarians running them. Actually, the sentence he used was "the schools where the principal had the guts to invest in their libraries did the best". That didn't go into my school report, I'm adding it here.

His talk was very inspiring, as was the entire day, and I rushed off to check out all those new sites. I've used some since then and run PDs using them.

Tuesday, August 07, 2012

Filming 8B and others

I have just spent the last couple of periods finding and downloading movie files that my student Emily took of her classmates in Literature Circles last week. There are still a few more she needs to film and tomorrow she will begin to edit it, something I did on my own last year. I will help, of course. All she needs to do for the single period we have together tomorrow is view them.

It wasn't as easy as last year. There were some good discussions going, but there were problems with students who couldn't be bothered doing anything but socialise, students who were too shy to speak up, students who didn't finish their books despite being allowed to take them home, students sick for several weeks, students who had to leave class for music or SRC, and in one case, a student who left the school unexpectedly, and he was the one leading any discussions they had, and there were only two students left in his group, one of whom was up to Page 62 on the last day of Lit Circles!

Next year I may do some short stories for the first couple of weeks as practice (I did one this year) and hope that there will be something better than this year.

And still, from what I have seen on playback (and I did help Emily with a couple of groups that needed encouraging) I think we may have some good stuff there. Where we just couldn't get a discussion going I asked the students to talk about the book - why they had chosen it and how they felt about it at the end (in one case it was "I thought it would be a romance and it wasn't!")

Another thing I found on the card I took from the camera was a stack of Harmony Day files, with students and some staff talking about their cultural heritage (nobody asked me, which is one of the disadvantages of being in the library where no one thinks to go for these things! I did offer... Oh, well...). One of those talking was Vincent, the lovely boy who went off to a boys' school, leaving his teachers and classmates devastated. I took that to add to the Literature Circles movie, even though it has no connection with the topic, because his classmates will like to have it there, and so will I.

Thing is, I don't think anyone did anything with those Harmony Day files and I'd really like to see it on DVD, edited for next year and as a record of what we do at this school. Not long ago, a former student from one of our other campuses went on national TV to perform and told the whole country that she had been threatened at school by bullies wielding knives! This was to gain audience sympathy and votes, must have been, because she was a popular girl at school, we were all proud of her and nobody wields knives here; for YEARS the school was talking about one incident where someone came from outside with a samurai sword to attack a student. And that happened well before my arrival and I have been there since the late 1990s.

So having some film with kids talking about their backgrounds with a definite sense of IDIC (check out your Star Trek references) should tell you more about this school than some girl spouting nonsense on TV and to the newspapers.

Time to go home and prepare tomorrow's classes.

Saturday, August 04, 2012

Book Week Coming

...and I still haven't read all the books and the winner will probably be one I haven't read. The shortlisted books are mostly out anyway, which I suppose is a good thing, though it meant I couldn't use them on Friday afternoon, of which more presently.
My friend Sharon Hayes, who hosted us a week ago, emailed me some photos of my students with Isobelle Carmody. I printed one of them out. There was a lot of red-eye and Braydon looked like a demon child out of The Omen. I did fix the red- eye on both photos, using iPhoto, but not till Thursday night and in one of them, the demon-Braydon stayed demonic! Is there something we don't know about him?(g)

 Braydon didn't turn up to book club, where I showed the photos to his friends, and later came to ask me,"Miss, is it true I look weird in the photos?" I told him yes and he wanted a look and then he wanted the photos as they were! Seems he likes looking scary.;-)

Anyway, at the book club meeting on Thursday we discussed Book Week. No real plans for the week beyond the usual trivia quiz ( and Braydon said later he wanted a Readathon, perhaps a bit late to arrange, but we could have readings at lunchtime or I could film them reading aloud from favourite books). But as the theme is "Champions Read" I asked them who would be okay with being photographed for a library display doing sport while reading a book. My class were finishing the week with PE so it was a perfect opportunity. Most of the shortlist books were out, so I decided just to get a pile of books they could choose from. Natasha suggested a podium with readers holding books and wearing gold, silver and bronze medals, a great idea if we can get something to pretend is a podium. I will check tomorrow with the woodwork teacher, whom I am pretty sure has a step somewhere, and there are a couple of library steps to shelve books from. I will have to find some way to fake the medals, perhaps get the students to make them in cardboard. Dylan and Kristen suggested table tennis tables with readers playing but holding books ( Kristen wanted to slump over the table with her book).

Friday afternoon I took my camera out to the basketball courts where 8B were throwing frisbees ( it was a lovely sunny afternoon) and Natasha, Karyn and Braydon happily posed with frisbees and books. Ann-Marie and Nusaiba thought it looked like fun and joined us. Nusaiba did ask if she could hide her face behind her book lest someone laughed at her, but I pointed out that with her headscarf people would recognise her anyway. She had to concede that and agreed not to hide.

Hopefully this year we will have a good Book Week.

Wednesday, August 01, 2012

Year 8 Community Project 2012

And so it starts again, the community project which we've been doing since one of my colleagues and I returned from Term 3 holidays after the tsunami in Samoa with the same idea - to get our kids to raise money and goods for relief. We joined forces and had a huge success, because it's the sort of task that any student, academic or not, can get something  out of. And as word has spread, each year the Year 8 students ask,"When are we starting?" They can't wait!

Today I was checking a boy's work, advising him that if he wants anyone to be convinced that they should choose his charity for the fundraising,he needs to give them the right information and show a little passion for it. And he shrugged and said that he didn't actually care much about charities or see any point in them, since there wasn't much that could be done and there were so many problems, what was the point in trying? I was shocked. I hadn't expected to hear that from this student in particular; even the worst-behaved students make an effort, usually, and are ashamed of themselves if they realise later that they didn't do much. Heck, there were two of my laziest students sitting side by side and preparing their presentation for Save The Children! And when we actually do our fundraising they will have the fun of arranging a sports event. Some kids choose a charity because a member of their family is affected. And here was my nice quiet student saying he didn't care.
I gave him a talk about making a difference, even if it was a small difference, and when I said that Make A Wish couldn't actually save children's lives but made a difference, he said he'd seen a case during his research in which it had. I said,"Well, use it! Look it up again!"

Hopefully, he will.

It's early in the piece and my colleague and I are still having meetings to discuss what is working and what needs fixing, but it's great to see that there is already enthusiasm showing among our students, and each year when we do this I feel just a little proud of their achievements and ours.