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!

Sunday, August 07, 2016

Week 5 - Year 8

Today I did two more periods of the required program on "Australian Identity."

The kids are working on their iMovies. They're at all different levels and today two students were absent - one not at school, one doing bin duty, so they will be behind everyone else anyway.

I was hoping to be ready for presentation, but it wasn't to be. The two students I thought were going to take about fifteen minutes out of two periods to finish took the entire double period and there is still a small amount of work to do, but they're pretty much there. I gave them all a rubric to follow and young Dylan must have taken a good look at it, judging by the variations of voice he did.

I asked him and Allan, the other lad, to make their scripts more personal, because the idea was "what does Australia mean to me?" . Dylan's was a travelogue, complete with shrimps on the barbie, and Allan's was a mini-documentary. They did rewrite a bit and I can't ask much more of them.Small as my class is - and it's tiny - I found myself having to look after the two students who were making the most noise instead of those who were not making a fuss.

In the end, I ignored them and went over to help the young lady who had done what I asked and needed help finding her way into the school's network; when I returned, one of the boys had actually gone as far as putting the photos on the iMovie and recording his voice. He still needs to write text on it, but his voice over the pictures sounded good. - I told him so, but pointed out that there would have been fewer "ums" and "ers" if he'd written it down. His friend, however, who had done as I asked and printed out the pictures and put them in order, hadn't gotten any further.

The rubrics had to be simplified, because the ones I had been given, for the three levels, were too elaborate. Kids need something they can follow.

Wait till they find out they have a rubric for listening. Also complicated and needing a rewrite.

Oh, dear.

Is it working? Well, we'll have to see. Someone else has written the lesson plans; in theory, all I have to do is teach them. But it's not quite working for me.

Tuesday, August 02, 2016

Week 4 - "Being Australian" iMovies - not yet!

Despite all my efforts to get the kids to understand why I want them to collect the photos they need in their Public Share folders for the time being, before attempting to make their iMovies, I had one who insisted on going straight to the iPad, another couple who said they had made a start and there were specific iPads with their pictures on them and others who decided to write their scripts without actually having collected any photos yet. Fortunately, we had one of the iPads that had someone's photos on it - they're not supposed to save them there, but he had done a test run for me when I wanted to see if my instruction sheet was able to be followed. And it was unlikely anyone else would play with the photos, but it would have been safer in the class folder on Public Share.

And the one who insisted that his "being Australian" video would have to be all about beaches. Yes, I told him, beaches are very much a part of Australian life, but - is that all? And how do you go about thinking of sound, smell, taste, feel?

He argued that there was the taste of the salty water, the smells of the sea, the feel of the water, the sound of the waves... I sighed and ended up agreeing, provided that his voice track used all that. It wasn't a dumb thing to say, but I am likely to have to sit down with him and talk him through making the film yet again.

I am glad it's such a small class, because I may have to sit down with all of them when it gets to the point where they have to save their iMovies to Public Share. Some of them got the hang of it when they did the test run, but not all.

Tomorrow I have had to book a computer room because the library is unavailable. If any of them are ready to record their voices, I'll need to send them to a corner where it's quiet.

When I did my annual review the other day and showed my own iMovies as "modelling" and "exemplar work" the Vice Principal said he'd love to see the students' work when it was done. Hopefully there will be something good to show him,at least with some of them!

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Fun And Games With Scholarship Applications

My boys Simon and Loc have received their well-deserved scholarship renewals, so I decided to nominate another couple of students. They're wonderful girls, whom I'm nominating for their leadership abilities. Both of them have stacks of award certificates, no problem there.

When I first discussed the matter with them, one wanted to be an events organiser, the other hadn't made up her mind.

Now the girl who hadn't decided wants to become a social worker. Her choices are mostly straightforward, though she has now decided to do Maths and Psychology, both expensive subjects. History would have cost $63 for the textbook. Maths will cost $88 plus, possibly a $200 calculator - I'm checking whether she needs the special one for General Maths. I may be able to arrange for tutoring if WC has some reconditioned computers, which they didn't have last year, but might have this year - the lady told me they were speaking to some potential donors. But she doesn't need Internet support, as her guardian has it bundled with the phone bill. Psych will cost $108 for the textbook and student book.

But her application is manageable.

The young events organiser has decided to become a secondary teacher, possibly a Foods teacher. So she's chosen the Hospitality subject, which will cost a bundle. I've emailed the Hospitality teacher to confirm. And Psychology. And Maths. Thank heavens the English books shouldn't be too dear. I was going to ask for help with the home Internet connection, but may have to drop that.

I am going to have to do some serious juggling here! There's a limit to how much you can ask. The charity relies on donations. So far so good, but I have to be reasonable.

Fingers crossed!

Sunday, July 24, 2016

Term 3 Year 8 - Week 3!

And another lovely session trying to get my head around the new Year 8 program...

Today wasn't the best. I had it planned out, the beginning of their iMovie presentation. I had the checklist of things they needed in it and the "how-to" sheet of making an iMovie on the school iPads and saving it into Public Share.

I had to wait for some to turn up. They had legitimate reasons, but it was not helpful. My best student didn't turn up at all; she was doing SRC work, involving going around to classes to take money for the SRC fundraising barbecue. She will catch up, if anyone does, but it interrupted my lesson. The students did tell me, though one thought she had gone to the wrong room(we were in the library). Another student had been in trouble and had to stay back to speak with the teacher. The two weakest students, who are not bad kids, spent the time giggling and chattering, interrupting me. By the time they were settled, I decided there was no point in trying to run the class as originally planned. Two students who had finished all their work so far were allowed to start collecting pictures for their presentations. The others were behind in the last piece of work, poems, so I sent them to the computers to complete. One, who had been absent that day, I sat down with and explained. She managed to complete an acrostic poem, on Koalas, by the end of the period.

I tried again after lunch. This worked somewhat better, though the SRC rep was still off collecting money. We went through the checklist sheet, discussing the tastes, smells, feel, sounds, sights of Australia. They did come up with some of each. Then I asked them to write down any words they might find helpful in looking for photos for the iMovie. I think that helped, but by then there were twenty minutes left, do I let them just start, telling them to save the jpegs into a folder with their name on it. Some seemed to have got the idea, but my two struggling students lost track

Not sure how I can deal with this. I need time to sit down with individual students, but those two keep me busy disciplining them, which takes time. And how much better are they? Well, one of them has actually written and finished something... But not today.

Sunday, July 17, 2016

Term 3 Year 8 - Second Week

Okay, I had to do a session on "Listening". And "How good a listener are you?" I told my students it was because this term's theme is "Listening and speaking" (The others are "reading" and "Writing"). This may be the case, but I don't know for sure that was what was intended by those who wrote this unit. It didn't do them any harm, though, to be honest, it was more like the Pathways - homeroom - subject than English, while in this morning's Pathways, the kids were given journals in which they were supposed to write about the things that happen to them, something that has in the past been a part of English, to get them writing by doing something that was easy for them. The closest I've come was in the blog posts, though there really hasn't been time to do it regularly and I have mostly used it for getting their work in one place.

Still. We did it and the kids co-operated and might even have enjoyed it. They started off with a survey on "how good a listener are you?" which I asked them to be honest about. It was like one of those things they have in a magazine, where you give yourself a score. Some of them were more honest than others. The student I KNOW has the most trouble paying attention gave himself a higher score than he really should have.

We discussed it. I even admitted that I'm not a very good listener myself. I told them that when I phone my mother every night I have a tendency to be reading while I listen to her and then she will say irritably, "I asked you a question! Didn't you hear what I said?"

I wrote on the board some of the ways we could improve our listening skills, using student suggestions, and asked them to write them into their books.

We will have to follow up on it at some stage.

I'd still like to be sure of the reason for doing that particular lesson!

The unit required reading some Australian stories and poems. Some of those suggested were in a book called Growing Up Asian In Australia, which we don't have in the library. I did have it in ebook, but you can't print out from an ebook, so I bought a copy on the weekend.  I found one of the stories was just too long to photocopy for a class and would probably lose their interest before we'd finished reading it.

In the end, we just read some poems. I chose two by Oodgeroo Noonuccal aka Kath Walker, one by Sean Wright on the subject of a massacre of Indigenous Australians and a couple of classic traditional poems - "Clancy of the Overflow" and MacKellar's "My Country". The first two were "No More Boomerang" and "Battle Of The Totems", a wry tongue-in-cheek complaint about the changes in Indigenous life and a funny one about her father's totem carpet snake which her mother hated and eventually got revenge on.

I'd hoped to have them write something before the end of the period, but there was another class in the library watching a movie, so hard to focus, and a couple of my students had headaches. We couldn't go back to the classroom because I had the EAL class to look after, so we just finished the poems in an office off the main library, discussed them a little and I showed them a picture of  the painting "Collins St At Five PM" which made me think of the last part of "Clancy" and I played a YouTube video on my iPad in which the elderly Dorothea MacKellar read her poem, with appropriate accompanying pictures.

We will have to do some writing on Thursday afternoon instead.

Thursday, July 14, 2016

Term 3 Year 8 - and Changes!

This year, our English co-ordinator retired and the new one decided that instead of gathering in groups according to year levels, each campus would be put in charge of working on the curriculum for a year level. Mine got Year 9. I contribute what I can, but I don't teach Year 9. The last time I did it was Year 9 ESL, about 2006-7. And that was different from now. Very different! However, not a lot of change was made here, just some work done on what is already being taught.

Another campus was put in charge of Year 8.

Now, we had planned out this year's program. In Term 3, we would spend part of the term doing Literature Circles. This is a program where students get into groups to read a book, depending on their reading levels, and the reading is followed by some writing, in our case a creative response to the text studied. It has worked very well - kids get to discuss and contribute and be marked on their contributions. We were also going to do plays - the last time I did that I ended up having to write a play, comparing it with the short story from which it was taken, followed by students doing podcasts of the play. The school hasn't got much in the way of class sets of plays and other campuses had borrowed the few we had. But it worked.

Then there is essay-writing or story-writing or both.

Not any more. The staff from the campus doing Year 8 completely rewrote the curriculum for this term. I mean, completely! And we first got to see it a few days before the end of last term. It involves "what it is to be Australian" and "how good are you at listening?" and preparing a presentation using something called Powtoon, to which the school has to subscribe(as far as I know, that hasn't happened yet). It involves the students preparing an animated presentation with their voices over, stating what being Australian means to them.

The problem is, apart from a two-week trial, there was no way to learn how to use it until the school subscribes, so I asked if I might, instead, use iMovie, which is easily available on the school's iPads, and which I know how to use and can teach the kids. It's not really much harder than PowerPoint and looks a lot more impressive. I was given permission, after making an iMovie and showing them.

But the people concerned have prepared an entire unit of work, complete with lesson plans and support material. You just have to teach it, it seems.

So I made a start on Monday. I fiddled a bit with the lesson plan, as I do with my Literacy classes, because not everything will work with every class and the unit's writers had forgotten that not everyone has access to an interactive whiteboard in every classroom, as they do at that campus. I had to book our interactive whiteboard room, which just doesn't have space, short of moving the tables and chairs around, to form a line from "Not at all Australian" to "Aussie, oy,oy,oy!" and then explain why you chose as you did. The thing is, I have a very small class and and, to be honest, while they would co-operate, most would cringe. I know the teacher who probably designed this bit and she could certainly get the kids going with her enthusiasm for it, but I don't think I could.

The kids did co-operate, did help me out with it, but I'm not sure how many of them enjoyed it.

I also found that not all the details fitted into one period. It involved showing them a Youtube video, doing some moving around, discussing, brainstorming and finishing with a written activity.

I managed to get most of it done, but not the written activity. There just wasn't time.

I was supposed to mark them on their speaking, but didn't have time for that either, and some of the rubric points were a bit puzzling. I mean - what do we mean when we are deciding if a student has spoken "sensitively"?

I really need to sit down with the whole unit and rewrite it so it will work for my students. That's going to take a lot of work!


Louise Rennison Is No More!

I just heard the news. ANOTHER terrific writer bites the dust - in the course of about three days!

I have no idea of the details. There are plenty of articles that say she's gone and talk about her life, but none of those I've read so far says how. I mean, Umberto Eco and Harper Lee were both in their eighties. Sad, but not unusual. It happens.

But this lady was only in her early sixties. Not an age for "natural causes", surely? If anyone reading this knows the details, please do let me know in the comments.

Louise Rennison was a British YA novelist who wrote funny books for girls. The best known is Angus, Things And Full Frontal Snogging, which I believe was made into a film(haven't seen it), but she wrote plenty, and I have several on my library shelves - the kids love them! There was a whole series about heroine Georgia Nicolson.

I'm currently reading Withering Tights, about Georgia's cousin Tallulah Casey, who has travelled north to Yorkshire to do a summer school on the arts. I'm only about a hundred pages in and Tallulah is already surrounded by a bunch of over-the-top characters, from her kind but zany host family to the  loopy woman who runs the school.

We'll have to have a chat about this at my lunchtime book club on Thursday. 

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!