The Life of Bon: What we did in class this week Round V

Thursday, March 07, 2013

What we did in class this week Round V

These pictures of me are so incredibly awkward.  And I'm too lazy to tell you where I got any of my clothes.  If you really want to know ask me.  How do you like that?!?

What we did in class this week:

We finished Lord of the Flies, and much to my surprise we all (more or less) liked it! One of my favorite things to do with the novel was to study this case about the shootings in Jonesboro in the 1998.  An 11 year old and a 13 year old shot and killed four classmates and a teacher.  Both boys were in jail until age 21 and then were released.  As a class we discussed: Was that punishment fair?  Should children be punished less severely?  At 13 years old do you know what you are doing when you take a gun to school and shoot your classmates?  We talked about this case in conjunction with the killings that happen by children in Lord of the Flies.  At what level should these people be punished?

I won't deny that Lord of the Flies lagged at times, but the types of discussions it encouraged were so great that I see myself returning to teach this book for years to come.  Overall it is a fascinating study of our society and the darkness of man's heart.  I love these discussions with my seniors and they are able to go quite deep.  My moments of "you're doing something as a teacher" come when students bring up profound and insightful ideas that I had never thought of.  Yes.  They are smart cookies.

In a lesser brilliant moment, we studied and tested on the parts of speech.  I became aware that my 18 year old students were still struggling identifying parts of speech during a riveting lesson on the difference between affect and effect.  I told them all they had to do to remember the difference in effect and affect is to remember that effect is a noun and affect is a verb.

Blank stares.

I tried again.  "For example, if I said "It affects the class when you arrive late" is affects in that sentence a noun or a verb?

Blank stares.

"Is it a thing or an action?!?"  I pressed.

Blank stares.

And so we embarked on a giant exploration of the parts of speech.  We studied, reviewed, learned and memorized.  We played games and did presentations, it was a parts of speech fiasco in the class!

We played this game where four students had a yardstick.  I would say a word and then they had to race to hit the part of speech on the board.  That was my first clue that they were failing miserably.

Then we tested.  And they all bombed the test.  I'm talking scores of 32% bombed.  And so we will reteach, restudy, and retest.  Isn't school such fun?!?

How would YOU do?  Here is a sample sentence.  They were required to identify every part of speech in the sentence:

I have had a couple of chances to teach AP Lit, but I have turned them down because I just can't do that to my family--too many hours grading essays.

Would you ace my parts of speech test?

I kind of hate teaching Scarlet Letter.  I'm so conflicted!  The reading is so dry and hard to get through that teaching the book in its entirety feels like going in for a root canal with my students every day for a month.  But I can't justify taking it out of my curriculum completely.  I feel like Scarlet Letter is the cornerstone of American Literature and to not teach it in an American Lit would be doing a huge disservice to the students.  The book is referenced like crazy in our culture and the themes apply on such a huge level to high school students.  (Reminds me of when I was at the mall with my BFF, "Hey look!" she pointed out, "That girl has a red A on her shirt.  Just like in To Kill a Mockingbird!"  That's when I knew I had to keep teaching the book.)

 SO... last year I decided to do Scarlet Letter in a week.  That way they are still familiar with the book and its themes, but don't have to endure the cruel agony of wading through Hawthorne's writing.  Every student is assigned a group with a few chapters and they have to read and present to that class only on those chapters.  Each group presents in order of their chapters, and together we get an overall summary of the book.  Easy peasy.

The book is all about judging and labels and how our society alienates people who don't fit our certain "mold".  So students do an activity similar to what Michael Scott had his staff do in the Diversity day episode of the office.  Students get a card stating how they contribute to society, but they don't get to see what their card says.  They stick that card on their forehead and then have conversations with their classmates, trying to figure out who they are.  Classmates are supposed to treat each other in accordance with the card on the forehead.  Some students are thieves and pedophiles, some chew their own toenails or spy on their neighbors (I went wild making up these cards!)  Others are grocers and bankers and successful businessmen.  I always LOVE the discussion after this activity.  I ask them questions like:  How did knowing this one fact about that person change the way you treated them?  What inhibited you from actually getting to know this person?  How does our society alienate and label people?  The conversation turned to our own school and we talked about the labels and groups that exist here at the high school and why.  Lots to think about.

Then it was onto ACT Prep.  Every junior in the state took the ACT on March 5, so we did a lot of prepping.  Practice tests, reading strategies, watching the clock.  Not fun, I admit, but when a student came in to me after the test and thanked me profusely saying he felt comfortable and prepared during the English and Reading parts of the ACT... well, the torture was worth it.


Students just finished reading October Sky.  I have to admit that I struggle greatly with that book.  Students love it so I have kept teaching it, but I will hope that California has some different sophomore books to choose from.  I don't know that I could do another year of October Sky.  The writing is just not good enough to keep me interested.  I feel like I am apologizing to my students the entire book for the writing being so boring.  That's what happens when a science guy tries to write a book.

The highlight of the unit was the students' mini memoirs.  They were to write a memoir of their own most important life experiences up until this point.  Year after year, this assignment shocks me.  Last year after I read my students' memoirs I wrote this post.  I guess I am just shocked at everything they have had to endure so far in their lives, and also surprised and pleased with how much they will open up to me.  Students tell me about being bullied for being gay, painful parents' divorces, and even losing their virginity.  They are personal and vulnerable experiences, but it makes for great writing.  These are the things that shape these students' lives and I feel like it helps me as a teacher to understand them better.

We are doing some intense work on argumentation papers.  They have struggled learning how to do a rebuttal and how to argue with specific evidence.  So one day we role played.  Students were given different real life arguments- a kid trying to get his mom to give him a later curfew, a student trying to convince a teacher to bump his grade up at the end of the quarter, a wife wanting permission from her husband to try to get pregnant.  The wife and husband argument was particularly hilarious.  We practiced arguing styles and tactics (logos! pathos! ethos!) and most importantly, rebuttals- being ready for the others' arguments before they even bring it up.  The kids roared with laughter as they watched their classmates try to argue/ get their way.  Undoubtedly their favorite moment was when I was trying to convince 15 year old Paul that we needed to get pregnant and start our family.  He burst out, "But I'm sterile!"

Ah, you never know what those young bucks are going to say!

Now, on to Ender's Game!  My least favorite book to teach all year.  I would give it up except for that the 15 year old boys can't get enough of it.  I wish they didn't love it so we could all quit, but alas, I'll keep on teaching it just for them.

Anyone got any ideas how to spice up a little Ender's Game?


  1. I SERIOUSLY WANT YOU TO MOVE TO TEXAS AND BE MY ENGLISH TEACHER. Really, this is awesome. I have never had an English teacher so creative. You seem to really care so much about your students. That's really fantastic. Having a quality teacher is one of the best parts of school. I know your students love you.

  2. Oh, Bonnie, I teach developmental courses at a community college, and it is soooo frustrating for students to have no idea about the parts of speech! I love grammar, but I try to teach it more from a descriptive (rather than purely prescriptive) perspective to show how they really do change our meanings. I think they have come to understand the parts better--BUT THEY STILL CAN'T IDENTIFY A PREPOSITION! ACK.

    Looks like your class is a blast!

  3. I LOVE how involved you get with your teachers, it really will make a difference! My English/History teacher (she did both) was AMAZING at making learning fun! She'd come in wearing a full Renascence garb when we were discussing that time period, gave extra credit for eating a veina sausage after reading excerpts from the Jungle (easiest five points EVER) and just overall made it fun to pay attention in her class. Your students WILL remember you!

  4. And clearly by teachers I meant students...

  5. Rad! I teach English at CSUF, and I know a few students in the credential program right now, doing their student teaching in English classes. What school/district are you in? (If you'd rather not say, I totally understand.)
    XO, Rachel
    With Love, Rachel

  6. Reading this made me miss and appreciate my English classes in high school. They were easily some of my favorites and I love the way you are teaching those students. I'm recently trying to get back into reading (crazy, I know) because I love the way the characters and lessons become personal. Man, books for life! Anyway, any recommendations for a 21 year old single student? Thanks for the post!

    In closing, Hester Prynne was my arch nemesis junior year, I STILL am in love with Andrew Wiggins (But not like, creepily), and just watch the October Sky movie in class. It has Jake Gyllenhaal. Nothing boring about that. :)

  7. It seems there is a learning curve in education... I had to memorize all the prepositions in 6th grade, and read Lord of the Flies in my 9th grade english class!

    I agree with Hannah. You would have rocked my socks off as my high school english teacher. Those are some lucky kids you got there!

  8. ok, I just have to say hi to a fellow "Bon" blogger:-) Any time I can meet a Bonnie under the age of 65 is a good day! haha. xoxo

  9. ummm yep parts of speech just don't stick in student's heads!! same issue here in CA...but different reading lists unless it's part of the common core now. Can't wait til you get here to meet up!! I can pick your brain on some teaching anything for where the red fern grows?

  10. OK, I think I got them all. Love me some grammar!

    Subject/pronoun, verb with helping verb, determiner, pronoun/direct object, preposition, noun, preposition, verb, proper noun/direct object, conjunction, subject/proper noun, adverb, compound verb, pronoun/direct object, preposition, determiner, noun/indirect object, adverb, adjective, noun/subject, verb, noun/direct object.

  11. I haven't read Ender's Game, but a lot of guys like it. Aren't they making it into a movie? And I must be the one and only person who loved the Scarlet Letter! It was an easy read for me, but interestingly enough I did not like Lord of the Flies. haha!

  12. Sounds like you are a great teacher Bon.

    We never got SciFi books when I was at school!
    I'm sure I read Enders Game many eons ago.
    If it's the one I think it is doesn't it bring up lots about nature versus nurture and the "hand that rocks the cradle" etc


  13. The fact that you all get to read Ender's Game in class is AMAZING. It is my all. time. favorite. book. (Tied with To Kill a Mockingbird, of course.)

    But I feel sorry for you having to read The Scarlet Letter every year. I recognize the importance of it, and I do think there are a lot of great themes through it. But reading it once was enough for me. :P

  14. You sound like an amazing teacher. Your students are lucky to have you. I used to play the same game when I was teaching but instead of yard sticks I used flyswatters. We played it as a vocabulary review. They always had so much fun!

  15. Whaaaaat???! I LOVED Ender's Game. I had to read it my sophomore year of high school and I was absolutely obsessed. I still read it about once a year and I've read other books in the Ender's series because of it.

    I actually really like reading these posts, even though you lose a follower every time you post one. They remind me of my years in English class, some years with fantastic teachers and some with terrible teachers.

  16. Haha! I teach parts of speech Crikey! I have no cooking clue how some of my students managed to make it to matric and still not know them, or even figures of speech for that matter. I love the way you teach the setworks! Brilliant ideas!

  17. Aw man I love Ender's Game!! Great book. So many philosophical themes. One of the sequels, Speaker for the Dead is even better.

    I love what you did with the notecards. How fun!

  18. This just kills me because even though you're a high school teacher and I'm an elementary school teacher...we have the same problems. Darn those parts of speech. I blame it primarily on the focus on identifying the parts of speech at TOO young of an age before they actually realize how these things influence written language. But that's just my two cents. I gave your sentence to my class. I drew sticks and as a class we scored a 75%...of course I removed some of the words that I knew they would not know because we haven't covered them, but still. They loved the little quiz. Told me I should do it every time. You are so cute in your work clothes.

  19. I just had to comment because I also LOVED reading Ender's Game in high school. I couldn't get enough of it! I forgot the title for the longest time and just remembered it a couple of years ago and was so happy to find the book again! The Giver and Ender's Game were my all time favourite books to read in school (elementary and high school respectively).

  20. I feel the same way with my middle schoolers sometimes not remembering or grasping the simplest of concepts. Reteaching is a pain.
    I agree with you on the Scarlet Letter--it is very important to the American Lit canon, but I hated reading dry and boring and it dragged on.

  21. Thank you so much for mentioning what you do in your classes. :) My oldest is 13 and I am always curious what they do in schools now...since I am all old and such, lol. Your classes always seem so fun!!

  22. So, a) I love your teaching outfits...ADORABLE; and b) you kinda make me want to teach high school instead of 1st grade (my current fave.)

    Oh! I would totally have bombed that test as well:)

  23. That's such a fun game! And i love love love your outfits! I love that polkadot skirt hun :)
    Messy Dirty Hair sent me btw.


  24. I would completely, completely fail at your "parts of the sentence" test. I learned "grammar" (yes, in quites), spelling, and writing from reading. So, I have no idea why things are right and wrong, just that they are. I also realize that some things are just differences in style, but yeah . . . I have no idea how to break down a sentence. I really wish I did, though!

    Gayle | Grace for Gayle