The Life of Bon: The return of... WHAT WE DID IN CLASS THIS WEEK

Tuesday, September 17, 2013


Dress:  Target

I haven't written a post of this type since May, and I tell you, I have missed it!  It's been a long summer- or at least long enough to get my fingers aching to tell someone everything that we've been up to in class.  Here goes!

Seniors:  Last year I taught two senior classes- this year I'm teaching four.  My seniors are lively and rambunctious and totally smarter than they appear.  We started this year right off by teaching Lord of the Flies.  I thought this would be a great started book since it's kind of morbid and twisted and if nothing else, has the virtue of  being weird enough to keep 17 year olds interested.  This year I felt much more comfortable with the book and felt like I was able to teach it at a much higher level than I did last year.  A book is kind of like an individual class- the first time is a bit rough, the second time is better and by the time I teach it three or four times it is a freaking gold mine because I know the material so well.

***Spoilers ahead***.  We just finished reading about the deaths of Simon and Piggy.  Simon's death especially bothered the students, "But he was such a good guy!" "This author is messed up!"  "Jack needs to hang for this!"  (For those of you who haven't read it, Simon gets circled by the group of boys who beat him to death thinking that he is a dangerous beast who lives on the island.)  Simon's death sparks such fantastic conversation- Was it really an accident?  Did they know to some extent that it was Simon?  Why did no one stop it?  Once we exhausted these questions we were able to take it a level deeper as I posed the question, "Is man a natural savage?  Without laws or rules would we all turn in to this?  Are we born evil and are only good because society makes us be good or is the good innate in all of us?"  Oh these questions sure get them and I LOVED their responses.  This is one of the joys of teaching- when you can see their little minds ticking and you can tell they are processing things in there that they've never thought about before.  That, and when the big, tough football players get caught up in the discussion and raise their hand and give some crazy, insightful comment and I step back and try to not act too stupidly excited that they hit it right on.

I shared this weird little bonding moment with my fourth period class last week.  This is the class that has been the toughest for me so far... loud, rowdy, full of energy at 1:00 in the afternoon.  This is the class I had to give a serious yelling to and I even went so far as to call them the most disrespectful group of seniors I have ever come across.  After that little "chat" their behavior certainly improved and I have seen some of them noticeably trying to impress me and improve their behavior.  I had to have a sub on Tuesday last week for my district training and when I came back on Thursday I joked with them, "When I looked at my watch on Tuesday and it was 1:45 I thought to myself, "Ah, fourth period is giving my sub hell right now."  They all laughed proudly, and it was this weird subtle moment where I could feel them coming over to my side.  Almost like, "Yah, we give the sub hell now, but we're done doing that to you."  Or something?  The relationships of high school classes is just about the hardest to explain.

Funniest moment:  Introducing Lord of the Flies, I made the students brainstorm everything they would have to do to survive a shipwreck.  One socially awkward kid yelled out totally seriously, "Oh I know!  First off, is anyone in here morally opposed to cannibalism?!?"  Silence.  And then an eruption of laughter.

JUNIORS:  I'm trying to line up with the way my new school district wants things done so for the first time ever, I am teaching my American literature class in chronological order.  I have always wanted to do this, but never been able to because of lack of books at Copper Hills.  Well, the new school has books galore so I'm teaching in order, dang it!  This means after an introduction assignment and a pre test we found ourselves already starting The Crucible.  I did my classic mouse prank on them but it didn't fly over so well as we had only been in school three days when I did it.  Usually by the time I do it, the kids and I have built up trust and respect so when they find out it is all a hoax they just kind of roll their eyes and go, "Oh that's our teacher for you!  She'll do anything to get a point across!"  But, with this brand spanking new group of juniors I think more than anything they were just confused.  Oops.

That being said, I still love teaching The Crucible.  The fact that we read the whole thing out loud in class does wonders- all kids know what's going on and are caught up with the reading at all times.  This year I went all out in the scene that Abigail pretends that Mary Warren is a bird, screaming and yelling and doing whatever it takes to get those kids to understand the text.  They ate it up and when the bell rang one girl exclaimed, "I had no idea it was even close to time to go!"  SUCCESS!  The affair between John Proctor and Abigail has always led to great discussion about the nature of affairs:  When is it okay to leave a relationship, can a relationship ever heal after cheating, what is the responsibility of women when their men are involved in scandals.  This year the discussion was only so so as students kept getting more and more off track. "Just use birth control" and "Everyone should have an open relationship" were some of the comments I got from my boys.  You know 17 year old boys, they understand so well the nuances of sexual relationships...

I absolutely love teaching juniors and this year has been no different.  They have been a total joy.  I do wish I had more than one junior class.  I feel like I have just kind of gotten into "junior mode" by the time the class ends.  If it were up to me I would teach at least two, probably three junior classes.

AP LITERATURE:  This class I have enjoyed immensely, despite some of the challenges of it.  There are only nine in the class so the discussions are much more difficult than the other classes.  They are all very smart, but also modest in their brilliance.  In regular classes you've got whatever Joe Shmoe yelling his opinion about whatever topic.  Sometimes they're on and sometimes they're WAY off but it doesn't much matter for those regular kids- they're just trying to figure it all out.  I have noticed the AP students seem much more afraid of failure.  Half of the time I will ask a question to the class and they all just stare back at me with these innocent Bambi eyes- none of them wanting to volunteer an answer.  As soon as I call on one of them, they totally nail the answer, showing me both that they have completed the reading and that they are extremely insightful and bright- they just don't want anyone else to know that.  I can't decide if this is because they are humble about their brilliance or if it is because the class is so small that it feels awkward to them to always know the right answer.  Thoughts?  And any ideas from you fellow teachers (or anyone!) out there on how to loosen up a smaller class.  They are just not having the deep conversations and discussions about literature that I feel like they should be having.

I have felt a bit like I'm swimming in the deep end with AP but we're taking it one day at a time and for now it's working.  I have a one day AP conference coming up in October that I am hoping will really help me to feel a bit more like I know what I'm doing.  They have already completed two timed writes and I do feel like I will be able to get them ready to just absolutely kill it on the essay section of the test come May.  The multiple choice part of the test is much more difficult so we have been doing practice excerpts about once a week.

Right now my struggle with AP is how to cover the material and get them ready for the test AND make the class fun.  I feel like some of the fun and light heartedness is lost from my regular classes because I am so worried about getting them ready for the test.  Because this is my first year teaching AP I don't know yet how much of the fun stuff that my regular classes do I can do with them and how much I have to take out to focus on some of the heavier content stuff.  I'm struggling with the balance.  Advice from any AP teachers out there?  Help a novice out!

P.S.  Have you folks all started reading The Glass Castle yet?  We are discussing it on September 26.  It is my favorite book that we have done for book club so far.  It's a fast read and SO fascinating.  Read it!  I downloaded it on my nook for $9 and I have not been able to put it down.  You will love it!


  1. When I was in high school, there were 4 to 5 AP Literature classes and there were at least 30 students to a class. I remember everyone had a good time in that class, because the teacher would divide us into groups, to do projects together concerning the reading material. Maybe try that.

  2. I was in a dual enrollment English class my senior year, there were only seven of us and the class was amazing. I guess my favorite part was that the class was more like a discussion than a lecture class, and our teacher acted like less of a teacher and more of a mediator and allowed us to discuss the book among ourselves, occasionally prompting a question or guiding the conversaion. I'm sure it will come easier with time!

  3. I'm not a teacher yet (still in my undergrad), so this suggestion might be total crap, but one thing I found that worked well with my efy kids this summer was having them either first write about an answer or share with another youth before bringing the discussion to the whole group. With the journal idea, they definitely have an answer ready to share, and they usually seemed more willing to share it once they'd already thought it through to themselves. And with sharing in small groups first, they always seemed more talkative with each other than with me. Then I would transition the discussion to a group discussion. Depending on the group, I would sometimes have my kids even share what their partner shared with them. Anything to get them talking. Anyways, good luck! I wish I had been in your class as a high schooler!

  4. What I would do to sit in one of your classes. What I would do to have Ben sit in one of your classes.

  5. One idea is to have a group discussion where the students are sitting in a circle , but you are outside of the circle, and not leading the discussion. You can pose questions to keep the discussion going but you are not the leader. Also a helpful trick is to tell the students that they get a group grade for the discussion, so everyone needs to talk and their grade depends on how well the discussion goes and how much everyone contributed.

  6. Anonymous5:59 AM

    Let the AP kids bring in snacks/beverages. They obviously have worked hard, its only a few of them and nothing in High School says F-U-N like random snack and beverage days. Or with fancy coffee drinks (buy iced coffee in carton)- everything gets discussed better over coffee.

  7. I have a small class of 11 9th graders for literature. I guess it really depends on the group. Because they all have gone to this charter school for years, they know each other really well and aren't afraid to answer. We finished "The Lottery" last week with amazing discussions, and are starting on Lord of the Flies this week. Its great because with such a small class, everyone participates. I feel that they are willing with me because we discovered that all 12 of us have fantasy/sci-fi for our favorite genres, and I sit on a desk to have discussions with them, so I'm more at their level rather than in "lecturing" position.
    Our Fairy Tale

  8. My English literature classes go in quite same ways . Unless the difference is this all of us students wants to kill the author who writes everything in a difficult manner/language or whatever it's called ;)

  9. I LOVED Lord of the Flies. Does that make me twisted? I always need book suggestions so this is great!

  10. Anonymous6:56 AM

    Loving the book recommendations.. I may have to jump on board. Always looking for something new and good to read!

  11. I took 2 AP English courses in HS (Lit & language)and my Literature teacher was by far the best teacher ever - he conducted the class like a college class - very few tests/quizzes, mostly longer assignments, no hand raising, just a long discussion. Maybe have each person piggyback off of the previous student? Like You make a statement of analysis, and each have to agree or disagree with what you say and the previous students say?

  12. Anonymous7:20 AM

    I think sometimes with the more advanced classes, they're afraid of saying what they think because the stakes are that much higher. They're surrounded by other advanced students and being wrong will burn that much more.

    That being said, I underwent AVID training at my school that, while promoting the ideal classroom setting, it wasn't ideal for students in inner-city Baltimore where HBO's The Wire was filmed (true story). I found that some of the AVID techniques fostered deeper discussions between the students vs between teacher and students. If you want more information on this I'm sure I can dig up some stuff :)

    P.S. I totally loved reading The Crucible in high school!

  13. As a former AP student myself, yes, smart kids can be paralyzed by the fear of failure.

    In some of my undergrad history and religion classes with only 8-12 students, we were assigned to lead discussion. So you could assign a chapter to each student and have that student prepare discussion questions and lead the class discussion. You would chime in as necessary, but having students pose questions to their peers is less intimidating. Plus, you read the text in a different way if you're trying to come up with questions to ask because you want to ask questions that have multiple potential answers, which in turn helps you realize the way literature is open to interpretation.

  14. Seems like Bonnie's getting her groove back!

  15. Just put a hold for Glass Castle at my library! I'll pick it up today. :)

  16. I haven't read the comments so sorry if I'm repeating, but small classes are hard! I had a lot of small classes with my advanced interior design. The problem I notice is that with a small group it's so quiet and there is something about human nature that doesn't like disturbing those quiet times (like a library, if that makes any sense at all!) Don't be afraid to let your wait time get awkward. Just stand there and stare at them. Eventually someone will respond. Or you could do the primary thing and put all their names on popsicle sticks so you know you're not calling on one person an uneven amount.

    The other thing that will help is getting them all to be friends. Maybe start each class with a little get to know you activity or something similar. Somehow, you've got to get them so they feel comfortable talking with each person, because when a class is that small it's much more personal and if they don't feel comfortable with each other they're not going to share.

    Hopefully that all makes sense because I'm typing while trying to dress my squirmy two-year-old! Ha!

  17. When I moved back to Missouri I started teaching at a much smaller school…so all my classes were small. I found that when I pushed the material, even trying to do some fun activities with them, the discussions were harder to foster. So I started plugging in little mini lessons here and there which wouldn't help them in testing, technically, but made the class more fun, therefore we got to know each other, therefore the discussions came more naturally, therefore the depth of their lessons were better….therefore the 5-10 minutes I "wasted" on the side topic were actually quite beneficial.

  18. Ah, Lord of the Flies. I remember reading that book in high school. We had to do a presentation about the themes in the novel, and so we demonstrated it as if we were on a talk show. I played piggy and had to wear huge glasses and shoved a pillow up my shirt. Good times. Hah.

  19. I run a teen book club with a bunch of highly intelligent teens, sometimes getting them to talk is like pulling teeth! If you figure out how to get yours out of their shell, let me know!

  20. Anonymous12:55 PM

    first off, you teach some great books. I did Lord of the Flies in English Literature at school, and the Crucible in drama. I thoroughly enjoyed both of them so well done! Also, what does AP stand for?
    Ellie xxx

  21. I started and finished The Glass Castle this month already! Wow, what a book! Can't wait to discuss it.

  22. I bought the Glass Castle a year or so ago and have yet to read it. This inspired me to pick it up next! Thanks :)

  23. I've been teaching AP (US History) for 4 years now. I felt the exact same way my first year. I had not been able to go to a summer institute, so the only real training I had was the 1-day in October and whatever information a fellow teacher from another county was willing to share. Although I LOVE my smaller AP classes because they are better behaved, I too struggled with getting them to speak out more during discussions. As the year went on, it got easier with them opening up. I find that sometimes having them answer questions with a partner and then having them share what their partner says gets them talking more. They only have to share their brilliant answer with one other student and when they do have to share with the rest of the class, it's not their answer but their partner's answer that they are putting out there. Takes some of the pressure off. The more partners they work with, typically the more comfortable they get with the group as a whole and they open up more in whole class discussions.

    Another idea is to get them out of the classroom. Not sure of your school's policy, but it's a small enough bunch that you could hold the discussions outside (weather permitting, of course). Sometimes changing up the scenery and getting them out of the classroom where they may feel like they have to "perform" gets them to open up more.

    1. My AP lit teacher took us outside all the time and I absolutely loved it! We even went on a nature walk in the forest and discussed one of the books (it was relevant somehow).

  24. I loved my AP lit class in highschool and Lord of the Flies is still one of my favorite books to revisit. Says a lot about human nature.

  25. I nodded my head during so many moments of this post. I am teaching AP Lang & Comp for the first time this year, too. For seven years, my main focus was 10 Reg, a group I request EVERY year because I love them so much. Over the years, I've realized that you immediately know regs as people, but it takes awhile to figure them out as learners. As for the upper levels, where they are academically is pretty easy to spot, but figuring out who they are as people is a much longer process. Maybe it's just me? Your post makes it sounds like it's not.

    I took a four-day course this summer, and it was led by Renee Shea, one of the authors of the Lang & Comp book. Holy guacamole, that woman is eighty shades of brilliant. I felt so much better after taking that course. (I have her Wordpress site information if you want it!) I hope yours inspires you just as much.

    I try to sneak in fun through their dramatic readings (almost peed myself during the readings of "Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God"), videos (found a cool reading of The Declaration on YouTube, read by a slew of celebrities; one of my students found a Malcolm in the Middle clip that related to "Sinners"), visual rhetoric (a colleague sent me a really cool image called "Salem 1692," and they LOVED analyzing it), and, as always, my general spunk. Such a small class though. Hmm...maybe they're just getting acclimated?

  26. I was an AP/IB kid and you hit it on the money... most advanced students when in the presence of other advanced students don't want to say the wrong thing.

    Definitely infuse some fun into your lessons. I remember my AP Lit teacher had us put Hamlet on trial, and for the life of me I don't remember why, but I distinctly remember creating a song to the Gilligan's Island theme to summarize the issues of Lady Macbeth. At their heart, all AP kids love to be cheesy and geeky!

    Glad to hear things are looking up for you!