Sunday, December 4, 2011

Chapter 1

Below is the beginning of my story. I would love comments/suggestions, etc - click here

Part I - Home.

She changes her contacts on schedule - the additional pop-up notification had gently co-chimed good morning alongside her alarm. One eye out, one eye in - never both out at the same time. She makes the bed and plumps her Buttercup cushions.
As she pulls up Good Morning Yoga, the room brightens. She mimics the yoga master through their usual refreshing morning routine. Every so often the master encourages her to shift her foot or hold her core - the reminders another step in the process of getting up. The lesson over, they smile and sign off.
Ridley states ‘Time to make your breakfast order’ and Kate responds “Toast, margarine, a dash of cinnamon sugar, and tea please.” Her order runs across the screen as confirmation.
“Ready in 7 minutes. Your bath’s ready”
“Thanks Ridley.” Kate smiles at Ridley’s peach palate. She changed it a three days ago and is pleased because it matches the morning lighting and her nuovo bedspread. Ridley, a she during the day, her interface a selection of pastel sets, shifts at dinnertime to slates and blues and a deeper voice. Having both male and female presences makes Kate feel balanced. It is also nice to have his deep voice at night if she stirs and has to set a reminder - his voice so soothing as he takes care of everything and tells her to go back to sleep.
Kate slips her toalla from the closet door, reaches over and set her status as Almost Ready and smiles as it turns peach. She slips into the steam of her beauty room anticipating the luxury of the hot bath.

Returning to her main room, Kate glances over her area to make sure it is presentable, and changes her status to Visible. Anyone she has given permission to can see her putter around her apartment, going about her day. She sits and pulls up her schedule. She signs up to take a lesson on Study Skills at 9:30, selects Analysis of Images at 10:30, gives herself a half hour lunch break and one hour to prep for a lesson at 1:00 on Modern Poetry. Smiling at the splatter icon, she signs up for a 2:30 Fingerpainting Class. Already scheduled into her calendar, as they are every day, are 3:30 Nap and 4:30 Social Hour. She is devout about her me-time and her you-time and refuses to compromise on either.
Her daily choices made, she patters over to the kitchenette and picks up her breakfast. Sliding her breakfast table over in front of her screen, she settles onto her Otto and smiles at its extra-comfort cushion she had just earned yesterday. And cute too - unlike this standard breakfast table.
“Ridley - remind me this evening to research breakfast tables. Especially ones that match my bedspread and cushions”
“Research breakfast tables at 7pm”
“That sounds lovely.” A soft ding confirmed her reminder.
Sammy messages her on the right - “I’m joining for breakfast”
Kate hits “Accept” on the message and Sammy’s image fills her life size area on Kate’s right.
“I love your breakfast slippers!” Kate shrieks “You must have gotten them on the Slipper Site.”
“Oh I hunted for these - not the Slipper Site but SlipperY Sales. I got the tip from John - he bought three pairs! You can get them in so many colors but the Ruby Red just made me melt.”
Kate turns to her left “Ridley - pull up the site SlipperY Sales. Sammy should have Liked it.”
On her left (and on Sammy’s right), the site appears in a bordered screen. Kate selects her size and a train of styles pads across the screen, prancing fashionable and fun, depending on the personality of the style.
“There’s the Comfy Morning” Sammy said as she selects it on her screen. On both screens the slipper gets bigger and a fan of colors arrays under it. “I almost chose Seascape - it just fits in Furry. Oh look - and Vanscape finally made it to slippers - it’s been forever since you could choose it in Pants”
“Five days is too long for sure. Oh, I can’t choose! You choose for me - either Sky Blue or the Ruby Red to match you for breakfast dates.”
“Oh match me! Today display, and matching tomorro!”
Kate smiled, tapped Ruby Red, selected faux sheepskin to line them, added them to her cart and tapped purchase. “You kno,” she commented as she sipped the last of her tea, “Imitation is the highest form of flattery” Sammy smiles and bats her eyelashes. “Alright love, I have to go prep for Study Skills”
“And I for Setting Goals”
A muted chime as Sammy signs off and Kate picks up her breakfast plates, puts them back in the kitchenette, and pads in her old slippers to her makeup mirror to get ready for the day ahead.

Friday, December 2, 2011

How do I hyperlink?

If I want to hyperlink to Will Husted's blog post, I would do the following:
1) go to Will's blog post - copy the specific URL
2) choose a select word like 'here' to indicate where the link will be:
Read Will's story here 
3) click on the 'link' button and paste URL in

Make sure you revise over your interview post and we'll all look forward to reading it Monday morning!

Sunday, October 30, 2011

B Period Writing Triathlon!!!

Today you have a three-part writing challenge:
1) Goal: update me on your progress and get feedback
Submit your working thesis statement to the form below. I will ask questions and the feedback will show up when you refresh the page

2) Goal: To analyze as much as possible in 10 minutes
Click on this link. When the document opens, click 'file' 'make a copy'. Read the directions, set the timer, and write for 10 minutes.

3) Goal: To compile and co-write about the topic of fear
AFTER writing for 10 minutes: group leaders (in bold), create a document and invite your group members to it. As a group, compile your 10 minute free-write. Focus on including as much as possible from everyone, and on flow of ideas. This document, shared with me, titled correctly AND printed out, is due at the end of class.

Group #1 - Rachael, Bonny, Holly, Kayla
Group #2 - Meaghan, Alyssa, Emily
Group #3 - Marisa, Jenny, Greg
Group #4 - Allie, Brendan, Bethany
Group #5 - Tim, Jess, Bri
Group #6 - Steve, Morgan, Will
Group #7 - Sam, Kelsie, Merry

Good luck and have fun!

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Seventeen Continents of Experience and Feeling: LotF Outlines

Check out the shape of these Lord of the Flies paper outlines!

From traditional 'bullets' to 'snakes' of ideas, my 10th graders show the variety of their thinking through their varied approaches.

Done are my days of "teaching outlining" - look at how expressive these are.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Interdisc: BNW Final Project

Read the options below and choose one for your final project.

BY END OF CLASS fill out the survey below.

Due Friday, November 4th

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Brave New World : Why is there no God in the World State?

In Chapter 17, Mustapha Mond and John the Savage discuss religion, God, and the freedom of choice.

Here are the notes from our discussion - use them to help you answer the question 'why is there no God in the World State'?

Fly, good Fleance, Fly!

Macbeth Act 3 Scene 3

Dave, Mason, Mike, Tyler, Travis

Aiden, Amber, Kristina, Hayley

Maggie, Aaron, Gloria, Abby, Courtney

Joey, Mike, Aaron, Alexis, Jordan

Dan, Kyle, Connor, Adam

Kelli, Kate, Mitch, Coleman, Angel, Ashley 

Monday, October 17, 2011

Lord of the Flies - Collaboration on Chapter 9 Connections

Lord of the Flies
Chapter 9 Connections

In 2-3 sentences, introduce a quotation from another part of the book and write an insightful explanation of the connection. Type your name in after.

Tomorrow we will be doing a close reading of the death - pay close attention to the diction and syntax of that scene.

Good luck!

Click here to add your brilliance

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

The Voluntary Hermit

"I'm leaving"

Fed up with everyone, she decides she's leaving them all to become a hermit. Her hermitage becomes a quest as she seeks to find her place in an epic (and heavily literary) quest:

She first turns to the woods - imagine New Hampshire in the cool fall. It's amazing for awhile (think My Side of the Mountain, Redwall, Thoreau), but she decides it's not quite for her ("I left the woods for as good a reason as I went there. Perhaps it seemed to me that I had several more lives to live, and could not spare any more time for that one").

Walking to the beach (at night, Dover Beach), but aside from the great tan she gets, the peace of mind with the waves, she needs a little more excitement.

She adventures off on a sailboat, sailing south into the beautiful weather. Consider influences and reflections on sailing from Moby Dick, The Perfect Storm, and perhaps something more cheery. But when's all said and done, the boating life's not for her (too confining).

She docks in a city, teeming with sights, sounds, and (most importantly) amazing food. What better place to be a hermit - hiding in plain sight? The sights, smells, and passion of the city are invigorating, but eventually tiresome. As the city's intensity fades, picture Fahrenheit 451's phoenix city.

Walking away, the road becomes a lonely place, but one where your motion lets you ponder. Consider influences from Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, and some meditations from The Road. With any road though, you need a destination, and she'd rather be a hermit than a nomad.

She tries a different mode of transportation: she hops aboard a riverboat. She consider the river as Twain did, but also the River people in the Golden Compass series. It doesn't provide the solace she's looking for though, though she likes the fresh water the river doesn't provide the calm she seeks.

She comes home to her lake house in mountains. With the mix of of forest and calm water, and the dock as a place to ponder (and tan), she finds her inner peace.

Coming full circle, with an appreciation for place and what she has - independence, reliance, etc. - my character finds that she can't go off to chase solitude but must find it within.

"I'm home"

What suggestions do you have? Literary allusions? Questions?

(Note: my Seniors are embarking on an epic project this year: publishing their own children's book. The plots are fantastic, the ideas are bold, and I'm going to keep up with my own. Check out #pshscompass for links to their updates, reflections, etc. Thank you!)

Monday, October 3, 2011

Period C - How to grade yourself

When you have finished your story.

1. Change the title
- click on the title of the document
- add 'FINAL' to the end

2. Grade yourself on your rubric
- add 'ME!' where you think you are

When those two steps are done - I will immediately grade your story.

Ms. Kennett

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Found Poetry & Blackout Poetry

Found Poetry 
Found poetry is created by selecting words from an original source and arranging them...well, poetically. Its approach is less daunting than 'writing poetry,' and can produce some amazing (and very fun) poems. Indeed, "Pulling some words from their context and calling them Poetry is about as logical as putting a frame around a landscape and calling it Art… and just as effective." Given the words, students play with syntax and form - making poetry a game and words the pieces.

It's as easy as 1-2-3..
1. Choose a text
2. Choose words
3. Rearrange them to make a poem!

You can make found poems as a class or individually. When reading Brave New World, a novel full of challenging vocabulary, I asked my students to open up to page 6 & 7 and to start yelling out words they find. I compiled a list on the whiteboard, set the rules (in this case that we had to use word in its original form (so 'civil' couldn't become 'civility') - you can also make rules about adding 'little' words, and even about shapes of the poem). As I worked mine out on the white board, students could watch or create their own. I started playing a song, and by the time the track was finished, I had adjusted, added, erased, and re-arranged the words into a poem. To wrap up, we talked about how (and if) my final poem connected to the original text, and their homework was to make one of their own.

Blackout Poetry
A simple (and strangely satisfying) alternative to plucking out words is to cross them out. Take a black marker or pen, a newspaper or a photocopy or a printout, and get to work. This style, called 'blackout poetry,' has been made famous by Austin Kleon, a computer programmer and writer in Austin, TX.

Food for Thought
What's the point? 
- write to enjoy words (if that's not standard enough, see below)
- create a mood (creepy, thoughtful, angry)
- play with tone (joking, whimsical, satirical)
- condense to a main idea / theme
- cross subject areas (try it with a math textbook page, or a social studies primary source)

How could you approach writing a found/blackout poem? 
- scan through and note words that stick out at you
- find a specific word and then skim for words that flow from it
- read through passage/article/paragraphs well and intentionally go back for words
- cross out words at random and see what's left
- make a shape, or use white space to connect paths of words

Common Core Standards
Write narratives to develop real or imagined experiences or events using effective technique, well-chosen details, and well-structured event sequences.
- (9-10) Use a variety of techniques to sequence events so that they build on one another to create a coherent whole.
- (6-12) Use precise words and phrases, telling details, and sensory language to convey a vivid picture of the experiences, events, setting, and/or characters.

Buck, Pearl S. "On Discovering America." Portrait of America: Survey Graphic in the Thirties. American Studies @ The University of Virginia. Web. 26 July 2011. .
Huxley, Aldous. Brave New World. New York: Harper Collins, 1998. Print.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Hand in hand?: The relationship between feedback and score

I have found that the most effective feedback does not always include a score with explanation of student progress. Here is a story from an undergraduate Philosophy course I took.

Writing in Philosophy, as a freshman in college, was a daunting task. Not only wrapping our heads around the ideas themselves, our class struggled with how to frame them in the format of the discipline. Our teacher, Professor Woody, was in his last of many many years of teaching and had teaching philosophical writing down to a psychological science. We would submit a paper, and start waiting.

When we received our papers back, they came with an attached form of sorts. Typed on what appeared to be an old school word processor, there were two columns of common comments, which he would check accordingly, and a paragraph of feedback. So on mine he would check ‘passive voice’ and ‘comma splices’ and then write a paragraph addressing the ideas of the paper. There was no grade. We would trade comments with each other, guessing at what the grade would be, repeatedly analyzing the comments and feedback. Then, at the same time he gave the next writing assignment, he would give our grades, ensuring that we had the score and explanation fresh in our minds.

While agonizing over the feedback was bad for my stress level, it was the first time I paid such minute attention to what a teacher said instead of how they graded me. Now, as a teacher, I cannot stand it when a student flips past all my pages of comments to see what the grade is, then immediately puts away the paper.

I’m seriously considering a Professor Woody staggered system of feedback and score... any name suggestions?

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Six Degrees of Searching

Oh, the Research Paper. An essential requirement, but often I find the purpose - finding, evaluating and synthesizing of sources - to be lost in the process and even product itself. Too often, I assume students can (and will) search effectively among the universe of information available to them. Therefore, I wanted to construct a research paper that mimicked and enhanced search skills while broadening content. Ideally, students focus on what Renzulli (2009) calls "technological skills of inquiry" in order to make effective use of what they find. There are many good reasons to move beyond 'I'll just Google it'... hopefully this project will both necessitate and scaffold that shift.

Paper or Project? Depending on the topic, purpose, and student skill level, the iSearch-style narrative could take the form of a paper, PowerPoint, Voicethread, or other similar form. As long as students can tell a story of their research, the medium is up to you. In addition, consider using a collaborative medium, like Diggo, to create a crowdsourced base of knowledge (and use the annotations as evidence of student writing).

Students should start with a list of proposed search terms and phrases and keep running track of what they actually use as their research progresses. Regardless of the final project medium, the following six ‘degrees’ must be represented in any order (using the listed, or similar, vehicles for information):
1) Filtering Google: Twurdy for reading level
2) Audio: iTunesU, podcasts, NPR ‘Heard on Air’  
3) Visual: Flikr (captioned photos often lead to new sources)
4) Video: YouTube, Vimeo, TeacherTube
5) Crowd-Sourced: Wikipedia, Twitter 
6) Authorities: .gov/.edu/.org/journal (sometimes I will be more specific here)

In a three-part iSearch-style product:
1) relate their purpose of their research and the highlights of what they learned 
2) narrate the process and evaluate the sources using the CARS Checklist [Credibility, Accuracy, Reasonableness, Support]
3) write a metacognitive on the overall process 
Harris, R. (2007, June 15). Evaluating Internet research sources. VirtualSalt. 
Take Away Students increase their awareness of how and why they search through diverse tools, then narrate and analyze the story of their research. This process leads to more critical awareness of their process and an increased quality in their product.

For variations and more formalized versions of the iSearch paper, see Holt, Rinehart and Winston.

Renzulli, J.S. (2007). The empire strikes back: Redefining the role of gifted education in the 21st century." Investing in Gifted and Talented Learners: An International Perspective, Selected Papers from the 18th Biennial World Conference, The World Council for Gifted and Talented Children. Vancouver: August 3-7, 2009.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Nature Spots

Starting in mid-spring, I asked the students in one of my sophomore classes to choose a spot in nature where they could go to on a fairly regular basis. The first week, the assignment was to take a picture, and ensure that their spot had few if any human structures. The general requirements were that we had to stay at least 10 minutes, and we couldn't use any forms of technology (cell phones or ipods) during that time.

So started a new routine for Monday mornings. This first Monday we shared why we chose our spots, and then made personal goals for how long we wanted to sit there without technology (they ranged from 10 minutes to 3 hours). Then, we taped our pictures along a row on a blank classroom wall. As spring progressed, the columns started to grow.

Our next week? To write while we were at our nature spots (we cut paper into quarter sheets, or they could write on any paper they liked). Ally drew while she was at hers as well, and her lovely sketches were put up with everyone's writing at the beginning of the next week.

Pretty soon April vacation came, and our goal was to visit our nature spots twice, 12 hours apart (preferably on the same day) so we could see how it changed. As creatures of habit, most of us went at the same time and on the same day, so this was an interesting way to mix it up. We saw different animals, heard different sounds, saw a different sky, and sometimes (at least in Sydney's case) got a completely different dose of weather.

Warning: make sure you go at comfortable times, Merry scared herself silly walking down the path at night, and Sydney ran into dubious police at dusk! Though, if I remember correctly, Dom enjoyed exploring the woods in the middle of the night.

Next, six-word memoirs while at our nature spots. These were inspired by a writing lesson on six-word memoirs we had done that week, and I was delighted with what everyone had to share. It was an authentic extension of a writing activity - I wish I could remember Robbie's (Robbie, if you read this, add it as a comment).

And thankfully, by this time, things were starting to grow! What beautiful flowers started appearing on our classroom wall (This classroom doesn't have any windows, so it was doubly nice to have fresh, colorful pictures appearing each week).

Wrapping up each Monday, students suggested what we do for the next week. Sometimes I would ask them to write or to draw, but sometimes their suggestions were much more fun than mine. Note: if you do nature spots in your class, some of us liked having a task each week while others liked the freedom to bring in what they wanted.

A definite favorite was the week we chose 'interaction with animals in nature' - thanks Serena! The rules were that you couldn't touch native animals, and that you couldn't disturb nature in general.

For all the joy in living and springtime, we did have one quite morbid week. When we were merging Macbeth and poetry back in January, I had brought in an anthology of Japanese Death Poems - haikus written by Zen monks and haiku poets on the verge of death. We had written haikus from Lady Macbeth's point of view, and someone suggested we write death poems as if we were dying at our nature spots. Someone else suggested bringing in an object to memorialize their nature spots, and I said that was fine as long as it was not alive or previously alive (unless it was a leaf). The next Monday we dimmed the lights and stood in a circle and read our death poetry...

Honestly, it was one of the best ongoing units I have ever had the pleasure to teach. Not every student had something each week, but they owned up to it, or just shared their story (Tim was scratched by some vicious thorns one week, Kelsey convinced her brothers to hang out with her (or at least sit still while she took a picture) during 'bring a friend to your nature spot' week), and it was simply a nice way to begin second period every Monday.

If I had to justify it in teacher language, I would say it built writing, poetry, photography, and social skills, connected thematically to Fahrenheit 451, and provided a low-risk weekly public speaking opportunity.

If I were to recommend it in real language, I would say it was one of the most fun and authentic ways my students connected to me, each other, language, and nature, all in 15 minutes a week. 

Thursday, June 16, 2011

How v. Why: A Question of Audience

In my classroom, the most motivating factor for students to gain information has been, hands down, audience. If students are working towards a project that will be presented for an audience they care about, it gives them a purpose beyond performing a task for my eyes alone. In addition, the traditional audience of one does not reflect our digital 21st century. Our students can and should publish to a wider audience. This can be done through individual and class blogs, collaborations via google docs, you tube videos, skype calls with other classrooms, voicethread essays, podcasts, letters to the editor, comments on news articles, book review sites, publishing a class book, online contests - the list is endless.

To be honest though, I find that I can think of many ways to answer ‘how can students apply information?’, but always return to ‘why should they?’ If the purpose is merely to ‘gain information’ then students could just as easily read summaries of our books instead of the books themselves - in this case, information becomes a commodity to ingest and produce, no matter the audience. A paper summary is a Twitter summary is a blog summary. However, if the teacher’s purpose is to prioritize critical thinking, facilitate connections across texts and ideas, and solve problems through collaboration, then teachers need to construct the form of their curriculum to be a catalyst for these goals. The audience then becomes a meaningful context for information, where ‘how can’ is enabled by the teacher, but ‘why’ is motivated by the student.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

The Reading 'Workout'

I consider myself a struggling exerciser. It’s hard to get myself going, I want to see immediate results, I feel better after but not enough to maintain a routine, and sometimes I simply don’t know what I’m doing wrong. It’s not even that I don’t like to exercise, I just have so many excuses for why I don’t. In these ways, I feel the passive frustration of my ‘non’-readers. How can I as a teacher, knowing the multitude of benefits for reading, also cultivate the more sophisticated pleasure that comes from discipline that will help my students become lifelong readers?

By the time many of my students reach 10th and 12th grade, they have established non-reading patterns that I have to work to re-negotiate. Especially with my struggling students, the attitude ‘I don’t like to read’ becomes ‘I’ll just go on Sparknotes’ or simply ‘I don’t read.’ My goal becomes to embed motivation in what they do with the reading, with the intention that ultimately my “instruction builds the skill and desire to read increasingly complex materials” (Ivey & Fisher, 2006). For me, the ELA classroom provides a theoretical space for lifelong literacy but needs attentive construction to effectively build a culture of reading within and beyond its walls.

In the classroom, I have the opportunity to construct reading routines, especially ones focusing on the persistence, self-reflection, and pleasure in reading necessary for independently motivated readers. This year, my ‘aha!’ moment came when reading Kelly Gallagher's text ‘Deeper Reading’ as he contrasts how much scaffolding and in-class support middle and high school ELA teachers devote to writing instruction, with the homework ‘to read.’ Gallagher presents different ways to chart understanding, self-monitor comprehension, and then ‘second draft’ read to not only understand but to revel in thinking more deeply. This approach assembles a multi-layered reading process (paralleling the writing process - it seems so obvious now!), and I’m better able to work with my students to engage, encourage, and maintain their reading and critical thinking habits. And, if all goes well, everything culminates in the satisfaction we’ve all felt after a good reading workout.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Persuasive Metacognitive Letter

Use the document below as a model for your process letter. Pay close attention to suggestions for the content of each paragraph, and double check all of your formatting. Remember, your goal is to use as much specific evidence as possible to argue for your grade - good luck and have fun!

Other requirements: fits on one page, 1" margins, single spaced, Times New Roman size 12 font

Friday, June 3, 2011

Plot: The Shape of Stories

Consider how you think of a usual plot: beginning - middle - end.

Watch Kurt Vonnegut explain three common 'shapes' of stories.

What does the shape of your story look like?

Thursday, May 26, 2011

(Re)Vamping the Curriculum: Unconference Dracula!

So started today's 'unconference' of Dracula - my B Period's fantastic third round of this format in our English classroom. Working off of the successes and failures of Day #1 and Day #2, we used an hour and a half block to run a compelling student-driven conference about Dracula's implications and connections within the text and to today's world.

What students walked in with:
- most if not all of the novel Dracula read
- 15-20 pages of notes (compiled as they read and in class)
- a title / notes to lead a session
- two previous days of scaffolded 'unconference' style class

What I walked in with: 
- a box o' Joe & munchkins
- printer labels for nametags
- nervous anticipation

What we did:

Made the schedule:
Students used my computer, the classroom computer, and Greg Kulowiec's computer to real-time sign up for their sessions. I kept the schedule projected through the period so everyone could preview where they wanted to go to. One student wanted to know if they could propose two sessions! A couple of more found they had common sessions so decided to combine them. See below for the full schedule. I relished the role of organizing the desks and eavesdropping on my students craft session titles and plan which they were going to attend - the momentum had definitely already shifted to a student-run conference!

I introduced the purpose of the day, encouraged everyone to help themselves to coffee and donuts, and outlined how the sessions would work. Mr. Kulowiec explained what the 'Smackdown' looks like in an Ed Camp conference, giving something exciting to look forward to at the end of the period. Greg's excitement was an integral part of the day, especially as the kids started to see this was bigger than just my vision for them (the live tweeting and public google doc definitely opened some eyes).

And they were off! Everyone chose a session and organized desks in corresponding area of the room. The level of vibrant conversation, provoking connections, and brilliant analysis was so authentic, I couldn't believe so much was happening with so little 'done' on my part. Students wrote furiously, considering each other's point of view, challenging each other, and referring back to the text. Only once or twice was I asked to be the 'expert,' showing a greater comfort in each other as resources and the teacher as facilitator instead of source of knowledge.

Visitors (or, icing on the cake):
Other teachers and administrators came in and out, joined conversations, asked questions, all at various familiarity with the text. These extra faces added a completely different level of engagement as students talked to us as peers instead of authority figures. Mr. Kulowiec and Mr. Stanton, both history teachers, offered connections and insights across time periods and to Osama bin Laden (our other case study of demonization). Even the principal walked through, later asking "what was going on in there, the kids were so involved." A fellow English teacher, Erik Walker, made it in time for the Smackdown, where he saw the threads of his unit-opening fin de siecle lecture woven through the students' responses and insights.

I pulled everyone together, we fixed the desks, and the Smackdown began! Scroll down to read the ideas, questions, comments, and theories from the queued students, each reflecting the best from the day's sessions. I couldn't believe that students would be so willing to 'public speak' - the beast they actively avoid the rest of the year - some even going up two or three times! Students kept writing down more ideas, even though it was the last four minutes of an hour and a half long class, and kids were awe-struck to see the google doc 'is viewing' guests increase as we live-streamed the smackdown ideas. What an invigorating way to 'flip' the traditional report-out / take away / ticket-to-leave...

In conclusion: 
The 'unconference' format was highly successful for many reasons, but primarily due to the class scaffolding and requirements, individual student preparation, and participant enthusiasm. Without any of those, it wouldn't have been nearly as successful (though I'm sure the caffeine and donuts didn't hurt). Next year, I want to plan 'unconferences' at the middle and/or end of units, and hope to make them events that students look forward to (one student wore his Dracula t-shirt for today, and many didn't take their nametags off all day!). One of my students said it best when he commented that "this was one of the best classes of the entire year." I completely agree, and so I'll spend the summer searching for an alternative name to 'unschool' to welcome my students with next fall.

B Period Students
Mr. Kulowiec
Mr. Stanton
Mr. Walker
Ms. Whittle
Mrs. Fry

Please leave a comment or question below for me or my students!

Monday, May 23, 2011

Interdisc: Outlining Your Story

This week, you have to outline your story. Read the following to help you make your outline. Mr. Fust and I will be looking at them during D and E period the day they are due. By checking before 'class,' we will be able to talk to you during class and help you shape your ideas.

Based on what you have read so far, you should have chosen a character to use in your story. In your HD notebook, you have started to compile 'research' on this character - for example: things they say, do, think, look like and the effects on others. This research will make it easy for you to write your own story, as this character is already constructed for you!

You have also been doing historical research on the time period in which your book was written. This research should help you choose what 'big ideas' will be at play in your story: individual, group, power, control, fear, society, government, etc. What problems does the book deal with, and why did the author want you thinking about them? Choose one or two 'big ideas' that you want to focus on with your character. Which ones have interested you the most as we have read this year?

Now, choose a unit we have studied this year in History. Think of one that you were interested in and would like to learn more about. Get out your Year-Long Term Sheet and choose terms (5-10 would give you a good brainstorming range) that could connect to your 'big idea' - which ones connect directly, and which ones could connect indirectly?

Writing Your Story
This is where you can get creative - is your story suspensful? mysterious? comical? ironic? clever? Based on how you have combined your three 'pieces' you will start to shape a story that ties together why we even think about the ideas, characters, and events that we have this year. This is your opportunity to shine! Mr. Fust and I are so excited to have worked with you all year - we can't wait to help you shape your final story - good luck and have fun!

To Do: 
1. Read through this post
2. REQUIRED: Comment on how well you understand this post, and any questions you have
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Friday, May 13, 2011

(Re)Vamping the Curriculum: Dracula Day #2

Here's our board - and the three 'spots' where we meet. Fifteen minute time slots give the groups enough time to read through and discuss their questions.

Converging to organize and group their questions! 

Considering the board...

Off to his session!

Answering their classmates' post-it questions.

Feedback: zoom in to see what different students said

Next class:
- work on asking different types of questions
- address concerns about being in different places of the book - 'it ruins it'
- consider asking for a 'group leader' to give feedback at transition time (or, some sort of 'smackdown' at end of period to bring 'ideas of the day' together)

- silent reading as one session and use this as format to explore different aspects of the text (one-class version of this unit)
- sort sessions by thesis statements rather than questions
- how to integrate into a College Prep course? (this is a motivated Honors class)
- how effectively merge this process into final assessment? So that they become dependent on each other?

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

(Re)Vamping the Curriculum: Dracula Day #1

In the spirit of EdCampBoston, and building off of a conference-style Fahrenheit 451 unit, I decided to take a dive and set up an Un-Conference Dracula. Today was the first day - it was a fascinating learning experience as a teacher, and I can't wait for the next 12 days of class.

- 10th Grade Honors class
- previous unit, each student was assigned a 'session' they had to run based on Fahrenheit 451 - Students chose pre-determined titles ranging from "Montag's Chase" "Obsession with Image in 2011" and "What's So Important about Dover Beach?"
- Students were expected to be experts on their topic and lead a small discussion during a determined class period
    On the whole, a success, but the students tended to speak for five minutes and then sit awkwardly - not the dynamic discussion I was anticipating

    Prep for Dracula:
    - Students wrote a short story with Osama bin Laden as a vampire, listened to a lecture on fin de siecle, and received their books last week. They finished Ch 1-4 for Monday, and we spent Monday talking about the beginning of the book.
    - Monday night's homework was to make a personal reading schedule, with all students finishing the book for May 27th.
    - Yesterday, I outlined the three part assessment of the unit:
    • * Evolution of their initial short story to reflect current social anxieties in the same way Dracula reflected the demonization of the Other
    • * Class construction of a 'narrative' of the War on Terror - number of 'artifacts' to be determined
    • * 20 pages of notes as we read

    Today! Making the Schedule, or, "Ms. Kennett, it's ambitious..."
    - On the white board, I made a 3x3 grid and wrote the three time 'sessions' and asked if this would work or if we should do two sessions. There was an awkward silence, and one of my students made the comment from above. I welcome the dialogue to explore why I set up class the way I do (it usually means I haven't explained my purpose effectively) and the following list of concerns surfaced:
    - leading discussion – fear
    - having things to talk about
    - nervous about being the expert
    - we're all going to be on different pages
    - class being spread too thin if too many discussions
    - want to work in partners
    - what if no one shows up to a discussion
    - 20 pages is a lot

      In general, I sensed they were uncomfortable with this format because it was new and because it put them all in the spotlight. One student said to me that "it would have worked better with your big conference Ms. Kennett, because you all have something to say and you bring different things to the conversation" - I responded by saying that's exactly the dynamic I was searching for in this class!

      I asked why they thought I was doing this unit, and some who saw my vision piped up
      - you want us to independently think
      - you want us in charge of our own learning
      - you want us to run our own group work

        At this point, someone piped up and said "well we're going to do it how you want it anyway, so I don't know why we're discussing" which let me explain that I wanted to shift the class dynamic away from me leading the discussion to them learning and teaching themselves, and that wasn't going to happen if they didn't do it for themselves.

        What I did at that point:
        - put three topics on the board (Dracula, J.H. (Jonathon Harker), Other)
        - handed out post-its and asked students to write a thought-provoking question they had from the first four chapters
        - groups went to 'spot' in room based on their question topic of choice
        - the groups ran themselves and all took notes (working toward their 20 pages)
        - inconspicuously touched base with each group, listening and answering questions when needed

        Wrap-up Reflection:
        The Good
        + liked that you had a smaller group to talk to
        + easy to take notes on what everyone is saying
        + everyone could talk more
        + everyone was interested in a different part and knew it better so they could add
        + going to be easier to do the 20 pages than I thought
         The Stressed
        - I don’t like that there’s not a ‘right’ answer
        - What if I miss something that's happening in the group over there?
        - I like hearing you talk about it
        The Take Away
        Overall, after seeing it in action, my resistant students absolutely felt more comfortable with what it was, the ideas seemed significantly less scary, and I'm very much looking forward to tomorrow!

        Final Notes Looking at Day:
        Problems with roll-out:
        - intimidating that one person has to take lead
        - hopefully post-its will ease initiation
        - as groups see what they have in common, more ideas are bound to cross
        - ease up on time restraints?
        - Will even distribution (about 6 per group) get smaller as people get more comfortable?
        - Will time become more fluid as conversations naturally grow? (or still set sessions?)
        Future Classes:
        - give post-it when students come in
        - send to board and let them group themselves

        Saturday, April 16, 2011

        Firebooks: Books Unworthy of Burning

        In the spirit of Fahrenheit 451's quest for quality knowledge (and ultimately happiness), my students are creating 'Firebooks' as they read. Repositories of ideas, connections, insights, reflections, and personal philosophies, these Firebooks have been an honest pleasure to read. Enjoy exploring a few of the outstanding pages my students have created!

        Tuesday, April 12, 2011

        Interdisc: North v. South & Ralph v. Jack

        In History, we are on the 'Road to the Civil War' and have been considering the foundational divide of the Union and the Confederacy. As we explore the underlying issues, concerns, priorities, and ideologies of the populations on each side of the Mason-Dixon line, I wanted our students to dig deeper into what, exactly, begins to split Ralph and Jack by the end of Chapter 3. It's easy to stop at a simplistic dichotomy for both feuds: slaves v. free blacks, bully Jack v. humanitarian Ralph. However, both conflicts are more complex, rooted in and influenced by issues of humanity, autonomy, and ultimately, power.

        Flipping through 'Deeper Reading' by Kelly Gallagher, I came upon a metaphor graphic organizer called 'Open Mind' (created by John Powers) where you draw a picture of an empty head and then fill it with the character's thoughts, etc. As a brainstorming tool, this allows students to 'get inside the character's mind' and use that shift in perspective to consider their choices/actions. However, I didn't want the students to merely recap each position - to be effective the organizer needed to also evaluate the conflicts themselves.

        We use a basic journal notebook to keep and collect notes/connections/etc. Across two pages the class drew two sets of profiles. We started with the North v. South which was a nice review of the last two weeks of their notes. Then, BETWEEN THE PROFILES, they had to answer the following question: 'Why can't these two sides co-exist?'. From there, we moved to Lord of the Flies, re-capped the concerns of Ralph and Jack established in Chapters 1-3, digging into the text for quotations and analyzing characterization. I then asked for the center question 'Can these leaders co-exist?'. Overall, a very successful lesson - it hooked both those loving and struggling with the reading, connected in an interesting way to our broader themes, and students effectively evaluated the significant factors contributing to the growing divide of both conflicts.

        Saturday, April 9, 2011

        First Post

        Let us go then, you and I...

        To me, the first line of T.S. Eliot's 'Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock' heralds the cusp of any and every journey I take with whoever joins me. This blog represents another one of those beginnings. I look forward to using this space as a forum for myself, my students, and anyone else with the goal of making teaching and learning as powerful and engaging as possible. Here we go...