The Best of 2013-2014: Trust Thyself, Trust Thy Student

In general, I tend not to trust my students.  I trust they want to learn.  I trust youths in general.  However, I recognize that taking the easy way out is a pretty tempting option.  During tests, I take a lot of procedures to avoid cheating: testing folders, hand and arm checks, different versions of tests, putting all phones at the front of class, etc.  I usually level with them, make it a comical routine we go through, and hope that it avoids some sort of cheating.  Even my best students will take the SparkNotes way out, so I tend not to trust them and attempt to anticipate where they will try to cut corners.

However, today I want to talk about a time this year when I trusted students and it paid off immensely.

I taught Speech and Drama for the first time this year.  I had an exceptional class of kids who really put themselves out there in class.  They impressed me all year, and, so toward the end of the year, I made a ballsy decision: their final would be a one-act production (2 in all) that will be in front of the entire school.  The students would direct the production, cast it, memorize the lines, make the scenery…the whole shebang.  I gave them complete control of the class for about a month, and observed their progress.

Now, to give background, the Speech and Drama class was historically a blow-off class at my school.  They had people out of licensure teach the class, had few expectations for students, and most students didn’t take it seriously.  To go from that to what I expected the kids to do was quite a big step.  So, I took the leap, and crossed my fingers.  Now, the kids did a great job during class, but they were rusty even in the final week before the production.  We had no outside rehearsals, no outside prep time other than our in-class work.

 

I can’t tell you how many times I wanted to pull the plug—to say that we would just do it in front of each other.  Even up until the Wednesday before the performances (performed on a Friday), I didn’t know if we would go on.  I kept thinking that maybe I expected too much out of them.  In the end, against my “better” judgement, I trusted them.

They killed it.  Kids who had never set foot on stage brought the house down.  Even when we had some extra time at the end, they played rounds of the improv game “Party Quirks” to entertain the crowd.  They knew all the lines, acted with confidence, and handled themselves like professionals.  I made the stakes high, and they exceeded my expectations.

It’s teaching moments like this that make me so happy to be a teacher.  Sure, I didn’t have a huge hand in what they learned throughout this experience, but I afforded them the experience.  I trusted them.  Sometimes that’s all you need to do.  Students are so brave, so powerful, so capable, and sometimes you just have to trust that they will come through, that they will be extraordinary.

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The Best of 2013-2014 Series

To kick off this summer of blogging, I thought I’d look back a little at quite possibly the best end to the year I have ever had.   Sure, it was intensified because my students knew I wouldn’t be back the next year.  However, I really think I did a great job of closing my year off with all my students.  There were some great culminating activities in all my classes.  What were your best moments?

One School, One Book

I just finished R. J. Palacio’s Wonder, and I couldn’t be more please with this cute, moving novel about a young boy with a face abnormality.  Written at a middle school level, August’s struggle through fifth grade was not “babyish” as some may think, but actually an engaging tale of heroism and friendship.  My school is using this novel as their first “One School, One Book” initiative, and I couldn’t be more pleased.  As an adult I was engaged in August’s story, and could see all students 9-12 being engaged and empathetic for this young man’s struggle.  Told from many perspectives, this novel is an “easy-read”, but one that will stay with you.

I thought I would post some of the resources in case other people may want to use it.

Bad Blogger

…And, then I started my school year.  It has been very successful, but one of great stress and change.  I got a new job for next year, and hope to upload some of the things I will work on over the summer.  I like to think that I can keep up a blog and teach, but this may just be a summer thing.  Next year, I’ll be teaching British Literature and Honors English 9 at my dream job.  I’m excited to get some things together and post more on this puppy!  New creations and work to come!

Be Careful Whom You Learn From

That’s my Six-Word Memoir.  Ominous, yet thoughtful.  That is how I like to think I am as a teacher, as a person 🙂  This is how I started my year in all of my classes.  My students had to write their Six-Word Memoir on a slip of colorful paper, illustrate it and staple it to one of my bulletin boards.  They shared their memoirs with the class to let me get to know them at this stage in their lives (most of them I have taught previously because it is a small school).

I love the Six-Word Memoir format, because not only does it ask students to say something honest about themselves, but it also requires students to be purposeful with their diction. The students seemed to really enjoy it, and actually labored quite diligently to ensure that they captured themselves just right. It was such a great activity, that I thought I would share my materials.  I know that Six-Word Memoirs are nothing new, but I can’t help but sing their praises.

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Literary Quote Chalkboard Printables

So, I looked at my classroom yesterday (pictures to come) and realized it was a bit boring.  I recently switched from desks to tables and did a few pinteresty activities to spice it up.  However, there were just not enough posters.   I refuse to buy super expensive or outdated posters, so, I decided to make my own.

I went to How to Nest for Less‘ site and downloaded their free Chalkboard Background.  Then I went to town. Using free fonts from dafont.com and MS Word,  I create these twelve printables for my classroom.  Here are 12 FREE Literary Chalkboard Printables that you can download at the bottom!  Enjoy and happy start to the school year!

Angelou Chalk Bradbury Chalk Carroll Chalk Emerson Chalk Fitzgerald Chalk Green Chalk Rowling Chalk Shakespeare Chalk Shaw Chalk Twain Chalk Whitman Chalk Wilde Chalk

Download PDFs Here and Enjoy!

Maya Angelou: chalkboard sign Angelou

Ray Bradbury: chalkboard sign Bradbury

Lewis Carroll: chalkboard sign Carroll

Ralph Waldo Emerson: chalkboard sign Emerson

F. Scott Fitzgerald: chalkboard sign Fitzgerald

John Green: chalkboard sign Green

J.K. Rowling: chalkboard sign Rowling

William Shakespeare: chalkboard sign Shakespeare

George Bernard Shaw: chalkboard sign Shaw

Mark Twain: chalkboard sign Twain

Walt Whitman: chalkboard sign Whitman

Oscar Wilde; chalkboard sign Wilde

First Impressions: Revamping the Syllabus

Probably because it’s boring.  Earlier this summer I read an amazing blog post from Tona Hangen on giving your syllabus/course expectations a makeover.  It inspired me to make my syllabus awesome this year.  But first, let’s look at the past.  This is my AP Literature and Composition Syllabus from last year:

AP Syllabus Page 1AP Syllabus Page 2AP Syllabus Page 3

SNOOZE FEST!  I barely want to read it (although it is pure teaching gold).  So, I set about to change the look of my syllabus.  In a world so filled with stimulating visual media, I figured it was high time that the introduction to my class looked a little snazzier.  Tona used a mac (that lucky devil), but I was stuck with using Microsoft Office 2007.  So I simply downloaded a newsletter template from the MS Publisher online resources (they already had one with books) and went to work.  Sure doing this took me a while, but I am so please to pass these out to my students.  What it turned into was basically a handbook to my class instead of simply a set of rules and expectations.  Although the page size went up, I feel like there is more room to breathe with the new one.  This really was a fulfilling project and I hope that if you have the time that you will think of restructuring your syllabus to make it more appealing to the eye!

Reasons I love this:

  1. Allows me to personalize and add some spice to my syllabus.
  2. Allows me to set the tone for the year right off the bat (the tone of awesome).
  3. Keeps students interested because it is less dense and has visual stimulation.
  4. Sets my syllabus apart from all the boring ones.
  5. Has a table of contents, so students can easily find information at a later date.
  6. It is easier to keep track of than a normal syllabus because it is unique.
  7. It’s just so darn pretty.

With that said, Here is my new AP Syllabus 2013:  

Page 1: Contact Info, Course Description, Course Goals, Table of Contents

Page 1: Contact Info, Course Description, Course Goals, Table of Contents

 

 

Page 2: Rules, Expectations, Materials, and Schoology.com

Page 2: Rules, Expectations, Materials, and Schoology.com

Page 3: Homework and Late Work Policy

Page 3: Homework and Late Work Policy

Page 4: The Writing Portfolio

Page 4: The Writing Portfolio

Page 5: Grading and Independent Reading

Page 5: Grading and Independent Reading

Page 6: Wicked Word Wall, Major Works Data Sheets, Extra Credit and Vocabulary

Page 6: Wicked Word Wall, Major Works Data Sheets, Extra Credit and Vocabulary

Page 7: Discussion, Discipline, Plagiarism and Cheating

Page 7: Discussion, Discipline, Plagiarism and Cheating

Page 8: The AP Test

Page 8: The AP Test

Page 9: Course of Events by Theme

Page 9: Course of Events by Theme

Page 10: Teacher Profile, Note to Class, Awesome John Green Quote

Page 10: Teacher Profile, Note to Class, Awesome John Green Quote

I always expect so much out of our students, and I love how I can show them right off the bat that I am willing to work hard for them as well.  If you are a teacher and would like an editable copy of this, just comment below with your email or email me at The WordyTeacher@gmail.com.