Sunday, May 06, 2007

I'm a good but subversive teacher

Somehow, I'm known as a really good teacher at my school and in my department. I think I've duped somebody somehow, but I suppose I don't really mind. After all, I'm not an idiot, I know my content, I'm very stubborn, I insist on high standards, and I have occasional interesting and creative lessons.

What I don't do, however, are mini-lessons.

Take Friday, for example. I think it was a fun and effective day, but according to balanced literacy theory, it was crap.

After doing a quick review of limericks (in which I solicited the rules from the students), I read The Ballad of the Pirate Queens by Jane Yolen aloud to the class. (Teachers, also check out Encounter for a moving twist on the Columbus story.) While I read, I stopped to ask questions and point things out.

The governor has sent his ships
With cannon all a-bristle
And on the silver sea they sail
Just like a stinging thistle.

Hey, what's that? The students fairly easily identified the alliteration in the third line and the simile in the fourth.

Now one small sloop that flew the black
Was Rackham's Vanity,
And it was manned by twelve brave lads
Upon the roiling sea.

I told them that a sloop is a kind of ship. But what does "flew the black" mean? They understood it was referencing the black pirate flag. And isn't it so much more poetic to drop hints and descriptions like that, instead of simply saying, "There once was a pirate ship"?

When it was far and far from shore
Those twelve brave lads were ten
For only on the sloop was known
That two of them weren't men.

The story continues by telling about these two female pirates and what happens to their ship. One stanza ends with the line, "The rest, below, did play." Once again, I pointed out the word rearrangement to allow for rhyme and for prettier construction. Another few stanzas reference "maids." Does that mean they're housekeepers? No, and the students totally understood that it was another way of saying girl or woman. Isn't it much easier to rhyme, too?

At the end of the story, I asked them what they noticed. They noticed that it rhymed, that it was written in stanzas, that it had repetition (I'd already had them practicing looking for rhyme, repetition and syllable patterns in poetry), and that it was a story about two people. (They needed some guiding through this; for example, I showed them a page again and asked, What form is it written in?) Et voila, these are all characteristics of ballad poetry, which is right in the title! Ta da!

I gave them some notes to take about ballads, and that was about the end of the time. To continue, I will do a guided reading of Casey at the Bat, several actually. First mostly to read and then again to ensure comprehension. Together, the whole class will read the poem aloud, to continue getting a feel for how poetry should sound, and wrapping their mouths around big words and long stanzas. I found another baseball ballad to echo Casey, called Dorlan's Home Walk. We'll all read that one too, and I have a couple other random ballads I've found. I also have a ballad that I started writing about Little Red Riding Hood. It's only four stanzas, and it's all exposition and foreshadowing. It won't be easy to have the students write a complete ballad, but I think they could get started at least, especially if they do what I did, and use an existing character and story.

Anyway, my point is that this was nothing like a mini-lesson. It wasn't purely a reading workshop, and it certainly wasn't a writing workshop. But the students got to hear a fantastic story, they discovered a ballad through listening, they learned some new words, and they heard poetic language and rearrangement. In Bloom's Taxonomy, they observed, they interpreted and inferenced, classified and explained, and next week they will create their own work, applying this knowledge and experience. While writing their own ballad, they will have to assess their language, select words, and arrange rhymes.

And these are all pretty entertaining and educationally demanding lessons, don't you think? Yet no mini-lesson in sight.


Katie said...

Here's a cute realtime video clip of a 6th grader reading Casey at the Bat. I used it when I taught this poem, just for a little audiovisual flavor. Thought you might want to check it out.

Ms M. said...

I don't do mini-lessons usually either. I am certified Social Studies, but teach Humanities so I the whole reading/writing bit as well. Mini-lessons/workshop model stuff is ok for some things, but really, it's hard to do for thick content. It works for basic skill lessons like map reading etc, but otherwise, I do a wierd mush of reading, activity, and discussion. I know we're supposed to use all workshop all the time, but I'm not going to strap myself down to a pattern that doesn't fit everything. I'd be willing to bet your students got a lot out of your lesson no matter what the format.

ms. v. said...

I always sort of loosely interpreted the workshop model idea and adapted it to many different time frames. Sometimes you do many little cycles of teach-practice-share in one class; sometimes it takes a week to complete one cycle. If all the elements happen eventually, I'm not stressed by whether they all happen every hour.

Just saying... said...

I like The Cremation of Sam McGee...

There are strange things done in the midnight sun
By the men who moil for gold;
The Arctic trails have their secret tales
That would make your blood run cold;
The Northern Lights have seen queer sights,
But the queerest they ever did see
Was that night on the marge of Lake Lebarge
I cremated Sam McGee.

17 more years said...

I would say you're a good teacher because you DON'T do mini-lessons.

Schoolgal said...

This may be an active read-aloud which is part of balanced literacy.

Forget the format. Lucy Caulkins is rich enough. The bottom line is that the students understood and enjoyed the lesson.