Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Oh, the drama

Tee hee, that's a double entendre, see, because today we just barely began our drama unit.

Ha ha, I'm so funny.

We began with a free write so they could get their own ideas out and I could suss out their existing knowledge. They already knew a lot, so we came up with a paragraph describing and defining what a play is and has and involves. I taught them the word "playwright." Well, I told them that the person who writes a play is called a playwright. Not sure if that counts as "teaching," but whatever. None of them knew that before, so there's that.

After the defining, I asked them about their own experiences seeing and being in plays. They brought up memorizing lines and acting like what you're supposed to be. So then I got to play. I asked, "Okay, so watch me, I'm a good actor, look, I memorized my line. 'I'm so angry.'" (while standing with a slight slouch and a dead face and a quiet voice)

The kids were all, "No way! Boo!"

I said, "What? I knew my line!" More amused cries of protest. "Okay, okay, so what do I need to do for you to believe me?"

"You have to change your face!"

"Aha! Facial expression is really important in acting. If I say "I'm so angry" like this (happy face), does that make sense?" Hysterical laughter. "Everyone make an angry face." (they growl and grimace and scowl)(which is funny, because I bet you five bucks they don't know those last two words AT ALL even though they can do them)

"Okay, so now, do you believe me? 'I'm so angry.'" (now with an angry face but still with a slack posture and dead voice)


"So what else do I need to do?"

"Make your voice angry!"

"Right--intonation! Make your voice sound like what you're feeling. Also, you have to be able to project your voice--stand up straight and use your diaphragm to use all your breath (I'm such an awesome bullshitter!). All right, so now how's this? 'I'm so angry.' (now with scowl and deep, angry voice) Is there anything else I need to do so you believe me?"

"You've got to move your arms or something!"

"Okay--body language! If I say 'I'm so angry' while moving like this (growling and hopping about like a happy leprechaun), does it match?"

More hysterical laughter.

"Of course not! I have to show the audience that I mean what I say, since maybe they can't see my face, and move like an angry person would. So how's this? 'I'm so angry!'" (finally with the voice, the face, and the body)


I like to play with my classes like this. I did more when we reviewed our verbs. In fact, and I meant to write about this last weekend, we had a good time doing verbs on Friday. For the warm up, they had to replace the boring verbs in "I walked to school" "I ran home" and "I got out of bed."

After a couple minutes, I told them, "Okay, we're going to share what you came up with, but in a different way. You'll come up here to this makeshift catwalk, and act out your verb, then the class will guess what verb you're using."

I demonstrated with a stomp, a tiptoe, a skip, and later a trudge (because they don't know that word and it's such an evocative one). And I totally exaggerated my face during each, asking them to tell me what mood I was in based on what I was doing. Explained that interesting verbs not only tell you how the person moved but also can tell you how they might be feeling.

Then it was their turn. They were so excited that a couple students wanted to go again. A couple were shy at first, but then completed their run. Many students couldn't help themselves calling out their guesses, and then a couple students did their verb and SAID what they did. Sillies.

After a litte bit of that, we got into the text and looked at action verbs versus linking verbs. Today we (tried to) review it, and I asked them for sentence examples. For each, I asked them, "And is it something I can do?" jogging exaggeratedly across the front of the room. The kids rolled their eyes but mostly seemed to get it. In fact, they even seem to mostly understand the purpose of linking verbs, which is so exciting and relieving for me. This kind of stuff is where I know I am TEACHING and they are LEARNING.

Do you know, because I keep harping on the parts of speech, bringing it up every couple months and throwing them onto poetry quizzes, just about all the students can name seven or all eight? Not necessarily define them, and they definitely can't identify them (I put application tasks on the quizzes too--identify the part of speech of each word in this sentence--they did very poorly). But! Knowledge comes first, it is the basis of everything else. I am thrilled that they are making improvements in at least this. After tomorrow we will tackle adjectives and adverbs, and that will be tricky. And actually, based on those quizzes, we'll need to do more pronoun review. Ack. Not enough time!

Anyway, back to drama. My next activity for introduction is to have them discover the elements of a script. I've done this all three years, actually. I have a class set of an old play anthology, and they work in partners to examine one of the plays and see what's there. Today each class only had like five minutes to start on that, so we'll continue more tomorrow, and they'll need heavy guidance and note-taking. The good news is that the longish play we're all supposed to read in the lit anthology (by the way, this is the ONLY sanctioned activity we can officially do with the anthologies) also makes note of these structural elements, so we can reinforce it with another example.

School's over in one month from tomorrow. Our two-day trip is next WEEK. JUNE is on FRIDAY. Holy crap! We may not have time for performing and writing and performing skits, but I'd much rather run out of time than be scrambling. Regardless, how in the world has the time gone so fast? And how in the world will we all make it for another month, since the students and teachers will just get more squirrelly from here?

Sunday, May 27, 2007

Update: Congrats, Me!

Woo! It is now twelve noon, and GUESS WHAT?

I FINISHED the poetry books!

I graded THREE sets of quizzes! (that's all I'm gonna do, folks.)

I updated and finished inputting grades, and have printouts for them!

WHEE! I did it!

Still to come: the bubbling, oh, the bubbling...

I love long weekends, but...

this time of year ALWAYS means that I have to worry about and do grading, because they're due on Wednesday. Dammit.

Right now it's 8.41, and I've been up for approximately forty minutes, reading blogs (as you do). This is not normally a bad thing (though it's probably a little sad), but actually it is, because what kept me from further slumber was the thought of all the grading I still have to do. So I decided to actually get up and start working on it...


Add to the fact that it's been a long time since I updated, which means if I have something more important to do, I'll post first, and I might have a problem for the next day and a half.

The weekend at camp was a lot of fun, and relaxing. I took a LOT of pictures. Shocker, right? And they're all with my old camera, since I bought the new one right after coming back to the city.

And now I just spent ten minutes on gmail replying to incoming fellows who want to visit. See how well I can while away the day while doing nothing of substance?

Anyway, here's the link to my camp weekend photos. That old little camera takes pretty decent pictures, but now I'm firmly in love with my gorgeous Sony, and can't think about going back. As with all big purchases, I was debating whether to keep it. (I bought a shiny new laptop two Christmases ago but took it back because it was so much money. Which it actually wasn't, for a laptop, but I talked myself out of it. Because I'm just that frugal.) But it's just so awesome, and I'm excited about learning the manual settings (the biggest reason for springing the extra money as opposed to the tiny and lovely Canon SD1000), and plus it's a great new toy. I'll have it for years, I'm sure, and it should take me many beautiful photos.

So now it's 9am and I still haven't done any work. By the way, Boyfriend helped me yesterday by inputting some of my grades! Isn't that the sweetest? I made some mojitos for us and then I worked on grading poetry projects (I've been working on them all week--I completed the first two classes' work in just two days! But the last class is the biggest and with the most actually turned in, and I also had to work on grading the three quizzes I gave to each class this week, so right now I've got fourteen more poetry things to grade, and then several quizzes for each class, and then I need to finish inputting, and then begin the bubbling. EGADS.).

So...sorry for the not posting, sorry for the lame update.

Oh, I'll leave you with an amusing anecdote. On the third day of getting a quiz, a student in my top class said, "Man, I've got to get a pop-up blocker for these!"

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

My new Significant Other

Everyone, I'd like to introduce you to the lovely and talented Sony H7. Isn't it just gorgeous?


Look what I bought yesterday!
Whee! This camera has a remote control, so I can do jumping pictures much easier now!
Check this out: the top two photos are from the new camera (8.1 megapixels and 15x zoom!). The bottom two are the same angle from my old camera (3.2 megapixels and 3x zoom). What an incredible difference, eh?

The camera was twice as much as the small Canon I was considering, but I decided to get this one so I can start learning how to manipulate aperture, shutter, and exposure manually. Plus, did I mention the remote control?

Monday, May 21, 2007


I'm back from the woods and the driving around. I'm very tired and not very excited about returning to school tomorrow. I AM excited about the new toy I bought today! I will upload photos and descriptions tomorrow!

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Looking forward to a Walk in the Woods

This weekend, I'm going to New Jersey!

Yes, on purpose, and yes, that's a good thing.

I'll be visiting Trailblazers, the decentralized camp where my AmeriCorps team worked in 2002. This is the weekend that the staff begin setting everything up for the summer. (One thousand acres of bear-populated forest; eighteen small camps that need beds, linens, canvas, bear barrels, etc; structures that need rebuilding or repairing; only two or three rickety vehicles and only one manager: it all adds up to a very Herculean task that took eleven of us two full months to work on.) Therefore, this first kick-off weekend is important, because the more that volunteers get done now, the less that they'll struggle to do later. I was realizing recently that with most of NCCC in New Orleans, camps like Trailblazers may not be getting teams. That really worries me; I don't know how they can do everything without an extra ten to twelve people!

I'll probably be taking off Monday to hang around with an out-of-town Amerifriend, which is a nice joke on my students. I've assigned a final poetry project due on Monday, so this way they'll actually get an extra free day to finish it.

Those damn Hydras have been off just enough to piss me off; I gave them a good half period today to start collecting and reviewing their work to get it ready for the final project. However, almost all the class decided that they could just talk and get up and be loud and totally off task. So, because they weren't taking their classtime seriously, I decided to make them see how important it was, and I told them the project is now due on Friday, two days from today.

See, all the poems that will be in this project have already been done, either in class or as homework. So they've gotten all their work back, and many of them did things wrong, or incomplete, or not at all. The secret is that the students who kept up and did all their work correctly will have very little work to do for the project--merely recopying or typing and putting together nicely. But many students in that class do little or no work at all, which means they'll need to do a lot of work. Which is what today was for. But they ignored it.

I had to laugh that they got all pissy in response, whining that it wasn't fair for me to change the date. I said, "Not fair? NOT FAIR?! What's not FAIR is that most of you all are STILL right now not doing ANY WORK. I'm giving you time to work on these things in class and you're deciding not to. So yes, now I'm going to move the date so you'll take this classtime seriously!"

Three or four minutes later, things quieted down--somewhat--as most of the class buckled down, going through their homework folders. Harrumph.

I *may* give them a reprieve depending on how tomorrow goes. But if they act like they did today, then Friday it will be. I won't grade the 'presentation' of the poems as harshly, but it will be due.

Take that, irresponsible ones.

See why I'm looking forward to getting away? And why it's gonna be dangerous for me to start thinking about only thirty school days left in the year?

Monday, May 14, 2007


So, like, I was totally meaning to write something. I swear. But...

I did laundry and I took pictures and then I had to keep checking for comments, and then finally eat something and then remake my whole bed and half-watch a movie, 3/4 watch a sitcom, and catch up on the Heroes recap before watching the new episode, and keep checking flickr...

and now it's already after ten!

Today I gave a quiz on the poetry stuff from the last two weeks. Even after all my prompting last week about studying, methinks they all bombed. Again. Whatever, dude. It's called LEARNING from your MISTAKES. Look into it, kiddies.

I introduced the final project for this unit, a poetry book. The last two years I've done a group book, but they no longer sit in groups and they can't really be trusted to work together very much, so I'll have to bite the bullet and grade one hundred books of fifteen poems each. Egads.

The rest of this week we'll be learning some new and interesting forms of poetry. Today was tanka, which is similar to haiku but expanded in form and in topic. I handed out old nature calendar pages to give them some inspiration, and they wrote a poem in groups, and then some had time to begin their own.

Later we'll do some odes, and cinquain and diamante (I know, but it'll be something new for them...), and perhaps something called hexaduad (six couplets that tell a complete story! interesting, right?).

The end of last week, we did simile and metaphor poems. To warm up, they had to list five things they felt strongly about and some traits of each. I put a poem up on the overhead and asked them to identify what tool the author used. They got that it was a bunch of similes, and we briefly talked about how the author felt about the topic, and how they knew. Then I put up another poem called "I am a Sword." It took awhile for them to realize that the topic of that poem was not, in fact, a sword. But they did see it was a metaphor.

Their task was then to begin writing simile and metaphor poems of their own. Easy peasy! It continued into the next day, and some of the kids' work was amazing. I really want to put some up here, but this great work doesn't always get collected, and I have next to no memory.

The field trip is coming together really nicely and we're all relieved and happy. We've already got transportation and lodging arranged and paid for, and this week we'll pay for our dining and tshirts, and that'll be just about it! Hurrah!

Last night I had this very long complicated dream that a bunch of mobsters were chasing me and trying to kill me. I kept hiding and running away, but they were everywhere. I/we could also somehow fly in the treetops. I got caught at one point and was injected by a bright blue tranquilizer. While I was nearly passed out, when there was a quiet moment the bad guys weren't paying attention, I somehow got the strength to run away and escape.

I think the alarm went off while I was still in mid-dream, so it was another very sleepy morning today and maybe that's why this stupid post is so disjointed and poorly written. At least that's the excuse I'm claiming for today. As always, check out the flickr for some neat photos.

Saturday, May 12, 2007

Boyfriend's fifteen minutes (more like twenty) of Broadway fame!

Originally uploaded by andyj682.
He got chosen to be an onstage speller at The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee. It was so exciting! He was up there for quite a while; all the other audience members got out before he did. Then after the show, random audience members as well as the cast were like, 'Hey, great job up there!'

Last June, he bought us tickets to that show as a surprise, but I couldn't go. It was the first day of that online math-for-dummies course, and there was an assignment to do. I had to drive all the way to UPS to pick up the text, and there wasn't enough time to get into the city to see the show.

It was a huge bummer, because what a lovely surprise! But we both love Mo Rocca, so it worked out very well to see the show now. And Boyfriend got to be part of a Broadway show, and take a picture with an awesome celebrity!

Friday, May 11, 2007

Friday sweetness on IM

B: hi ms just in case im not on saturday or sunday i wanted to wish u a happy happy HAPPY MOTHERS DAY!
ms: aw that's nice
ms: i'm not a mom or anything, but that's nice of you :-)
B: yes you are you are you tought alot of kids to grow up and be the very best they can be you thought me that and you was my mommy for 9 moths
B: months
ms: aw, how sweet!
ms: thanks so much!
B: your welcome you deserve it

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

I know you've been dying to know!

On Sunday, I did indeed stay in pajamas all.day.long! It was very exciting....In that, it wasn't.

Also, it came to my attention that my throat was actually hurting, and the touch of congestion meant an actual bout of illness was coming on.

Monday, teaching with a sore throat was less than ideal. I read them Casey at the Bat and reviewed some comprehension issues. They started their own ballads, but with very little time. So today we read Dorlan's Home Walk--I read it to them and then a couple times they all read it aloud together. Most of the students did well. I kept the rhythm, nice and slow, and they were able to work through all the lines, even the tough ones, like "if mischance ye fain would shun." Then they had some more time to work on their own poems, and I went around asking students to read me their stanzas while I clapped rhythm. That way they could hear if a line was too short or too long.

Naturally, there wasn't a lot of time to do the work in class, and I just know that the little work I get tomorrow will be total crap. I'd like to do another day of reading and understanding (and Sam McGee was one of the other ballads I found! I love the internal rhyme and all the repetition), and perhaps I'll give them the bulk of the class period to touch up their work if they need it. Maybe. Eh.

We can go on to cinquain and quatrain, but those are so boring, man. Who cares. Really, I want to quiz them again to make them see that they have to pay attention in class. We need to do limericks again too, and I could probably spend one day on haiku, even though they've done them before. And I really like having them read poems aloud together.

Oh, all three classes did pretty well today! Not really perfect, necessarily, but I think mostly stayed in the 4-5 range for class points. I've been keeping the lights off after lunch, and I think that really affects them. They are noticeably quieter and calmer, but I'm pretty sure most of that is because of the lunchtime outside play, and the lack of light encourages that sleepiness. Which, at this point in the year, I'm mostly okay with. Sad, I know. But I'm human too, not just a teacher robot!

Today the throat is better, and the congestion is steady. The Airborne is working decently, but all the talking during the day sort of clogs up the sinuses, you know what I mean? Somehow I feel dampness in my sinuses but my throat is dry, which is an odd and uncomfortable combination.

A number of my students are also blowing noses, and today we officially ran out of kleenex in the classroom! Whoopee! Except, not. The last couple days I've pleaded with the students to bring in some more, for all of our sakes. I hope some of them do, because otherwise we're in trouble. I'm low on paper towels, too, which is a first.

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.

go me

For the last three weeks, Saturday has been a rough day for me--I feel exhausted and run down. I actually took a nap yesterday for about half an hour. Which is unusual; half the time when I wake up to go to school and feel SO tired, I reassure myself that soon I'll be home again and can take a nap or go to sleep really early. Naturally, neither of those things ever happen. So as you can see, to actually take a nap means that I was really out of it.

Not only do I not keep those nap promises to myself on a regular basis, I also usually stay up too late on the weekends, because I'm a night owl. So last night I went to sleep after midnight.

This morning I found myself half awake at 6.45am, which is roughly my normal wake-up time. Boo! I tried to keep sleeping, but finally got up around 7.30.

Happily, I worked out for about 40 minutes soon after (Gilad's workouts are my friend!), and that makes three times in the last week. Lately I've been a bit lazy, exercising only once or twice a week. But in the last week, I've felt such a difference; I was only a little sore after Tuesday's 40 minutes, and not at all sore after Thursday's 20. And my abs come back pretty quickly; I can really feel the muscle definition!

Now it's still not even eleven, and I'm chilling in my pajamas (if I'm at home, I'm wearing sweats or pj's. Does anyone really wear actual clothes sitting around at home?) catching up on tv. It's another lovely day, and I should probably go out and enjoy it. But...I don't think I really want to. Later I may be able to convince myself to get dressed and walk the few blocks to the library, but don't count on it.

Thursday, May 03, 2007

Oh, I'm supposed to update this thing?

I'm so obsessed with flickr now that I update there every now instead of here.

Also, it's kind of been a busy week, with after school appointments and trying to finalize the field trip stuff.

We've been working more through poetry, reviewing f!glang and working on looking for patterns, then using those patterns to write our own poems. I'm keeping it slow but not exactly simple. Today I introduced limericks. The way I do that is to show them a couple examples and have them figure out what the patterns and rules are. You know, inquiry-style. With prodding, they do get all the components. Then comes trying to compose one, and that, of course, is more difficult. I think we'll need more practice with them.

The two troublesome classes have had some good days this week. Perhaps it's the getting to go outside and play, so they're a little calmer and more tired, so they're not causing as much ruckus. Which doesn't mean they've all been angels all week, but overall a little better. Sort of. Except for the two whose parents I called yesterday in class (they were better today) and the two whose parents I called this afternoon (we'll see how tomorrow goes). My point is that there have been level 5 days~two for the PM class and one for the middle class. That is significant progress!

On Tuesday, I did an hour long workout, and this afternoon I did a half-hour one. I feel good! Also, strangely, I finally decided not only to clean my bathroom, but also to clear the floor for a long-overdue vacuuming! Hurrah me!

In other news, I bought some long-lasting lipstick, because my pale-ass face needs some color after the first fifteen minutes of the day, and I don't have time or effort to reapply during a day of teaching. I tried it today, and it worked!

Hey, guess what: tomorrow is Friday! Isn't that neato?