Saturday, September 18, 2010

Son of Contemporary Lit

A week-and-a-half in and I am starting to get a pretty good sense of where these kids are ability-wise. My ESL kids speak and write well, and struggle mostly with English idioms and figurative language in general. The students who receive special education services are pretty well all over the place. I sprung the first longer writing assignment on a bit too early. I would like for them to write a short memoir-style piece, but we began before I did any mini-writing activities. Scaffolding FAIL!!! I'm currently trying to work out the best way of backpedaling out of the assignment.

Yesterday we read Sandra Cisneros's A House of My Own and I had the students use it as a model to express their desires for the future. They shocked me first by really enjoying the short poem and then by really working on the modeling activity. I saw teenagers smiling proudly over their writing and really struggling to get the words right on the paper. I almost never get to see that. In a few days I'm going to try a similar short writing activity with students sharing their writing in small groups and talk with them about ways to read their own writing out loud. I want to know what they like about the assignments and see about doing it more with longer assignments later in the semester. We're getting to the bottom of this "Mister, I like this writing thing" thing.

Monday, September 6, 2010

Contemporary Literature: The Saga Begins

Each year I teach the only section of a Junior/Senior class that started out being called "Science-Fiction Survey." The idea was that there were a handfull of students at our school that were not fully served by regular English classes. They were not intrinsically motivated enough to do well in their regular senior year English class and were not students for whom special education classes were appropriate. So well pulled together some resources for teaching a class with higher interest reading materials, doing more hands-on work, but still getting at the skills needed for senior English. This plan began to erode almost immediately.

My first group contained some students who were also taking the regular senior English class. They were doing fine in this class and did not need any extra services. The second year's group also contained some students who were additionally taking special educational English classes. The third year, many of the students signed up for the class without meeting any of the stated prerequisites at all. All three years over half of each class had no interest in science-fiction in the least. So, like any good adult presented with an impossible task, I did my best to change my goals.

The class is now called "Contemporary Literature" and the oldest piece of writing that I am teaching is Stephen King's The Shining. We will read at least one graphic novel as a class. My textbook is the last few year's The Best American Nonrequired Reading anthologies. We are going to read investigative journalism and listen to The Moth podcasts. When we are done they will recognize Frank McCourt, Nikki Giovanni, and Billy Collins as the badasses that they are. They are going to creative write their backsides off. I am friggin' terrified.

This year I am looking at a roster of incredibly disperate students. They are all either high school Juniors or Seniors. There are nineteen of them. About five receive special education services. One has never taken a single mainstreamed English course. I know that at least two are listed as English Language Learners. Two of them I have had previously in an honors level class that I also teach. Five have been suggested for honors level classes. Seven have not met the prerequisites for the class. This is going to be a hard group.

We are two days away from starting class. I'm still reading through a book on developing effective group work strategies because I know that pulling these kids together as a cohesive social whole is the only way this class is going to not crash and burn. I'll spend this semester trying to post at least weekly about how things are going.