Saturday, May 30, 2009

Down the hatch

Another school year down the hatch, at least with regular classes. And not a moment too soon... today, I actually screamed curse words at a colleague. Really. That is not me, although I was really mad, for good reason. The heat didn't help. Even though it was quite palatable outside, the temperature reached 92 in my classroom, where I have a thermometer, and even hotter in non-windowed areas.

Final exams start Monday. I have to revise mine and then get in extra early on Monday morning to run mine off. Time kind of got away from me a bit. There will be a stampede on Monday morning, probably, so I'm going to have to get there real early.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Perspolis Final Project

Persepolis Final Project

Phew! You are almost done for the school year! Just a little bit more until you can enjoy a couple of months of relaxation during your summer vacation… make sure you work hard in these last two weeks so you have earned your break and so you can go into that summer with your head held high!

You have two more at-home assignments this year: your Persepolis Project and your Final Exam Review sheet. You’ll get your review sheet next week, and it will be due on Thursday. Your final project will be due on Friday (no later). You must turn it in (hard copy only) with the MYP Rubric attached.

Options for Persepolis Project
1. Being Marjane Satrapi: Write your own graphic novel!
This is the one that I hope a lot of you are brave enough to do! Marjane Satrapi wrote a graphic novel about her childhood. It is humorous, dramatic, and imaginative, and divided into short 8-10 page chapters (with titles). Your job is to write your own graphic novel chapter about your own childhood. You may imitate Satrapi’s style or create your own. Artistic talent does not count, but I do not want stick figures. Caption quality does count. You will include a title for your chapter, and use elements of the graphic novel that we have studied. Lastly, you must include a brief ‘Statement of Intent’ that explains the choices you made while creating your graphic novel – use graphic novel vocabulary.

2. Rewriting Persepolis: Create a non-graphic novel out of a graphic novel
For this assignment, you will take a chapter of Persepolis and re-write it in ‘regular’, non-graphic prose. Remember, you cannot just write what everyone says, but also describe everything in the pictures. It might take several pages to capture all the meaning! Afterwards, write a few paragraphs about what you noticed while re-writing Persepolis – what were the advantages and disadvantages of writing it out versus viewing the pictures as well as the words?

3. Rewriting a novel as a graphic novel
Choose a short section of something else we have read this year (summer reading books, Mockingbird, Romeo and Juliet, Odyssey, Fences, “Marigolds”, Lesson Before Dying, “The Scarlet Ibis”, etc.) and re-write it in graphic novel form. Afterwards, write a few paragraphs that analyzes how the meaning changes when you write it in a different form.

4. Persepolis graphic analysis
Choose five pages of Persepolis from which to analyze all the choices Satrapi makes in those pages. Using graphic novel vocabulary, analyze each of the panels within your chosen pages for the meanings and themes that Satrapi is attempting to express. This project should 3 pages (typed) of analysis, with copies of the pages you analyze attached and text-marked.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

HSAs and Summer Reading

I don't know why or how I do it every year, but I actually expect my students to come to class after taking the HSA, and they never do, yet I'm always surprised. 6 today in 1st period, 5 in 2nd period. I'm probably one of the only teachers who required attendance, and that didn't get me very far, apparently. Bummer. I had a great lesson planned.

Weird, weird week. There are no more regular days this year. HSA week all week, then a 4-day week next week because of Memorial Day, and then finals. This year is gone in the snap of fingers.

I'm really thinking about summer reading assignments right now.

Current choices (for advanced rising seniors):

What is the What by Dave Eggers


Going to Meet the Man by James Baldwin (the collection of short stories including "Sonny's Blues," my favorite short story of all time)

Here are the justifications:

* I want authors that cannot be taught in the course otherwise. Neither Eggers or Baldwin are on the IB list for fiction.

* Eggers' novel is really good, and it's an accessible, moving world literature story. The course is a world literature course so that helps. I don't really like summer reading too much, but the Eggers book is one I think the kids will like. That's important to me.

* Baldwin's stories are ripe for passage analysis, my primary goal for this unit. Additionally, I (currently) plan on teaching Baldwin non-fiction during the year (he's on the list for non-fiction, and I think the students would be very much into him), so I think reading some of his fiction will be an interesting setup for that. Additionally, everyone should read "Sonny's Blues" sometime before they die. Wow.

The drawbacks are that both are U.S. authors, and my course is already fairly heavy with U.S. authors. I haven't decided for sure what I'm going to teach, but I have 8 texts to choose from a complicated and rather restrictive list that IB provides. I have to center the texts around a theme, and they have to be from certain genres, and certain authors within those genres. I've decided on some of the works (Richard III will be my Shakespeare, almost certainly, and I really want to bring Song of Solomon back, and I believe Baldwin will be my non-fiction - really want to do some Steinbeck, too, because the teacher that shares the students is going to a Shakespeare Institute this summer), but need to figure out how they all work together and need to do a lot of reading this summer. I think the Eggers and Baldwin texts are adaptable to whichever way I decide to go with the curriculum (not that summer reading needs to relate that much, anyway).

I'm certain there will be plenty of posts about curriculum planning in the upcoming weeks. I have all summer, luckily, but need to figure out a summer reading assignment ASAP. Obviously.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Taking Mom to Senior Prom

My mom was in from out of state for the last five days, her first visit in a few years and first solo visit since my big eye surgeries about six years ago. We had a great time, setting up my house and such, but one of the highlights was taking her to Senior Prom on Saturday at Ravens Stadium. I didn't really want to disrupt my tradition of stopping by Senior Prom to see the students for the last time before graduation, and mentioned it to my mom on a lark; she seemed excited, so the plan was made: we would go to prom.

We only stayed for about an hour, but we were able to see most of the students. This is the first year ever that I taught a class three years in a row - as 9th graders, 10th graders, and 11th graders. They weren't the same students, necessarily, although two students ended up students in my class three years in a row, just an amazing fact to me. If they're screwed up in writing and reading, there's no one to blame but me. Truth be told, I'm only close with one of those students, but seeing her last night was a joy; she is so grown up, and on her way to McDaniel College. The decision was a hard one for her. She requested extensions from both, and just made the final decision on the last possible day last Friday. I think she's nervous (the school is small, white, and isolated, a complete reversal of Baltimore) but excited, and I think she made the right choice.

Prom was fun, the hour or so we stayed. I gave a lot of hugs, ate some crabcakes, saw my baseball players, talked to kids about colleges, and was surprised a little by the musical selections (I know it's a big hit right now, but is "Blame It On the Alcohol" really an appropriate selecton?). And then we were off, me and my prom date, my mom. She had fun, too.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Education Reporter Sara Neufeld Leaves The Sun

I'd be remiss if I didn't mention something that anyone in the world of Baltimore City education already knows: Baltimore Sun Education Beat Writer Sara Neufeld is volunteering to be laid off, in a show of solidarity with colleagues losing their jobs. Besides being a quality reporter, she is the driving force behind InsideEd, the Baltimore Sun education blog, which has built in size and influence in the last two years to become one of the heartbeats of the BCPSS community.

I once read that Ms. Neufeld - who I have never met, but feel like I know from her writing over the years, and one phone conversation - was inspired by Jonathan Kozol, the legendary author and education equality activist. Indeed, her work here in Baltimore has helped to showcase the challenges in urban public eduation, as well as its successes, thrills, and heartfelt moments. Her impact on the City Schools has been strong, and her use of her position as a check-and-balance on the disparity, injustice, and occasional lunacy of the BCPSS - plus, never hesitating to its biggest cheerleader and supporter when warranted - is exactly what one should hope for from a journalist.

Just look at the thread of comments below her blog entry announcing her leaving: With Heavy Heart, Volunteering to Go. David Simon is among the commenters, plus many teachers around the city and area.

Neufeld's 3-Part Series on Dr. Andres Alonso is Pulitzer-type stuff. Really an amazing read about an enigmatic and dynamic man.

We'll really miss her here in Baltimore. She leaves huge shoes to fill, and I wish her nothing but the best in her future pursuits (and hope she stays in the field and writes some great books).

Thursday, May 14, 2009

The background in my mouth

The young man has not done a great job of planning for the future, nor much guidance for it. But he's a nice kid, and a hell of a baseball player, and we're doing our best to get him into a college baseball program somewhere. He had his last day of classes in high school today and hasn't applied to college yet.

I got off the phone with the coach, who was immediately calling him. I sent a text-message as quickly as I could, one last word of advice: "Coach calling u now. Be professional and go somewhere quiet b/c it's always so loud in the background whenever I talk 2 u."

The kid called me about 15 minutes later. We talked him up good enough that they're giving him a special tryout. He talked quite a bit more, but, of course, it was loud in the background, and I couldn't hear him very well. I said "yes" and "I'm proud of you" and "Are you excited?" and stuff like that, and looked forward to talking to him in person so I could hear more about what he was talking about. I generally hate talking on the phone to begin with, and, with the background noise, it was especially unpleasant, despite the good news. I made a lot of agreeing, happy replies to the noise, and soon our conversation was over.

The next day, though, I heard what I apparently agreed to: I'm driving him down to Virginia State University next month to have him try out for their baseball team.

Hmmm. It's pretty cool I guess. It will be an odd weekend. But pretty exciting, no?

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Persepolis and The Children's Bookstore

I'm in the midst of teaching Persepolis with my 9th graders again, and I couldn't be happier. The books were a gift from The Children's Bookstore here in Baltimore; as part of their Educational Foundation program, which donates class sets of books to teachers and students (once a year per teacher), they granted our school around 350 copies of the text, one for every 9th grader. In other words, if you are looking for a great charity to support that directly puts books in the hands of Baltimore City students, then this is one I can vouch for. This is the second year in a row that they have supported me in the teaching of this book. A big public "thank you" to everyone involved over at The Children's Bookstore Educational Foundation!

Anyhow, as with last year, my students are really enjoying the book. Many came in the day after I had passed it out, proud of themselves for having went home and completed the entire book in one night. It's so neat to hear them analyze books using new terms, but fitting those terms into our standard "author's technique and effect" conversations about literature. I started off the unit by using much of this excellent lesson, which links to a fairly extensive list of graphic novels terms that we have been using. Never a comic book reader, I have learned a lot in the teaching of this novel, easily as much as my students have.

So far, we're only about five chapters into the story, but today we had an excellent little Socratic Seminar about chapter 3, and the students really did a good job of grappling with Satrapi's techniques and what effects they brought about. Tonight, students are choosing one panel in each of the next three chapters to write a paragraph of analysis about any three panels, using the vocabulary and technique/effect language. That will be a springboard for tomorrow's discussion.

********** Below is my proposal to The Children's Bookstore, which I think is pretty good but I can't quite believe I used the phrase "common humanity that links us all" twice in it... a bit cheesy************

January 29, 2008

The Children’s Bookstore Educational Foundation

737 Deepdene Rd.

Baltimore, MD 21210

To whom it may concern:

Last year, The Children’s Bookstore generously provided a copy of Marjane Satrapi’s Persepolis to each of my students. The experience was an enchanting one for my students and me. We learned about the culture of Iran, and about the troubling experience of coming of age in a society as repressive as that one. We learned about the structure of graphic novels, and analyzed how authors use pictures and words to tell a story. Most importantly, we learned about the common humanity that links us all, and saw how growing up in an unjust world has common threads across cultures. Students found the graphic novel style fresh and engaging, and the story captivating.

The unit was so successful that we are expanding it to all the ninth grade classes and, as chair of the ninth grade team, I am requesting Persepolis I for all ninth graders at ______________.

The following details the unit, goals, and projected activities and projects of the unit, which we are planning on teaching in April of 2008.

Teaching Unit: Coming of Age in the Middle-east: Examining the Graphic Novel

Curriculum Goals:

Throughout the course, students have examined coming-of-age stories from around the world, including the 1930s Alabama (To Kill a Mockingbird), 1500s Verona (Romeo and Juliet), 1950s Pittsburgh (Fences), 1980s Chicago (House on Mango Street), and ancient Greece (Telamachus' story in The Odyssey). Students have studied how injustice affects the growing up process, and how our response to injustice helps define how successful our coming of age is. This examination of these characters from different cultures, ethnicities, eras, genders, and perspectives will help students develop empathy and navigate their own coming of age in an unjust society. Persepolis details this same theme, in war-torn Iran in the early 1980s. We will use the text as a springboard for cultural connections, in order to examine the common humanity that unites us all.

Currently available texts and resources: None. Students are required to provide all of their own materials for English class.

Related activities and projects:

The study of the graphic novel as a relevant literary genre, including guest speaker experts in the genre
* Researching history and politics of middle-east and how it affects the people living within the area
* Examine universal themes and connections between cultures
* As a way of exploring effects of genre: Re-writing a section of a previously-studied novel as a graphic novel; writing portion of Satrapi’s graphic novel as prose
* Presentation on setting of Iran, including guest speakers from the country

Thank you so much for considering my proposal.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Ring Dilemma

A couple of months ago, one of my players asked me to hold his class ring during practice. Players often do that; it's usually not rings, but sometimes it's cell phones, or keys, or something else. I put it in my bag and didn't think anything else of it.

The player didn't ask for his ring back after practice. And I forgot about it. A few weeks later, the kid failed off the team. I don't even have a failing-off conversation with him, as he just left his uniform with another player and I don't often run into him. I like the kid, but I'm not particularly close with him, and I kept him on the team hoping that I'd be able to get through to him somehow; as for baseball abilities, he'd picked up his first baseball glove at 17.

About a week ago, he came up to me in the hallway and said, "Hey, _______, you still have my ring?"

I didn't remember anything differently, so I said, "Yeah, I guess so. It's gotta still be in my bag."

Well, you guessed it, the ring isn't in my bag. I don't remember giving it back to him, and I don't think he's taking me for a ride. But the ring is $450.

My first instinct was, "Dang, I guess I've got to pay for that whole thing." Then, I got another opinion from a colleague and another player, who both said that no way I was responsibile, that kids assume risks by giving me things, and that I only agreed to hold onto it for practice, not for weeks afterwards. He forgot to ask for it back, so it's his fault more than anyone else's.

Tonight, the young man's mother called me. She's cordial, but it's very clear she wants me to pay for the ring, the whole thing.

As for me, I'm no longer sure. One issue is certainly ability to pay. I have three more paychecks before the summer, and not quite enough money to make it through the summer as it is (putting a downpayment on my house was the priority with my summer money, though I'm hoping to amend my taxes and get the tax credit soon). Paying for the ring would take quite a bit of saving, and I just couldn't do it before the summer.

I do feel guilty about it and want to do the right thing. I just don't want to be taken for a ride in the process. I think I'm going to talk with my principal about it tomorrow.

I'm still holding onto shreds of hope that it will turn up as I unpack things. I did just move, after all.


[I am kind of curious, especially now that it's over with, about whether you all think I would have had to pay all $425 to replace it. Legally Required vs. Ethically required?)

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Rain, rain, go away

I have not been blogging much lately. It's been hard. Baseball season has been keeping me plenty busy, as well as frustrated because of all the rain, and busy-ness and frustration are not catalysts for writing.

However, after a couple of weeks of complete exhaustion in the classroom, I'm starting to feel my mojo again, and that makes me more excited to share stories and such. My 9th graders are working on an A Lesson Before Dying essay, and it's going well. My 11th graders are finishing up essays over The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle and beginning Frankenstein.

But the rain... the rain... it has rained out so many games this season that we didn't meet the 14-game minimum to be seeded for playoffs. The MPSSAA offered no flexibility in its seeding for playoffs, which I think is just wrong; the city teams were screwed over because we just don't have the staffs and facilities that county schools have to fix up fields. Thus, we're playing a pretty tough opponent in the opening round of playoffs, not to mention a number of games were canceled with no makeup, including the game with our big rival.

It's tough to keep the kids (and their coach) focused, but I'm going to do my best tomorrow, with our last practice before the playoffs, which start on Friday. I'm trying to ignore the loud storm outside my window right now. This has been an absolutely unbelievable spring.