Monday, December 26, 2005

Pushing the Button

As I landed in Columbus a few days go, I found myself unable to resist my superstitious act of raising my feet off of the floor just before the plane touched down. A friend of mine taught me to do this when I was eight years old; she told me it would help the plane land safely and gently. I have done it on every plane ride ever since, even after my high school and college physics classes verified that the weight of my two feet could never impact the landing of a Boeing 747. Yet, at the age of 28, I cannot stop my feet from rising into the air as the ground rises to meet me.

This time as I landed, I thought of the show Lost. A month or so ago an episode aired in which the main character, Jack, discovers an underground cove that has been housing an ongoing science experiment for years. The sole remaining "guardian" of this experiment has to push a button every 700 minutes (I can't remember the exact amount of time). He does this because he was instructed to do so by a video; he has no idea what the button does, or what will happen if he fails to push it. When he meets Jack, he runs away, leaving Jack to take over the task. At first, Jack finds it ridiculous to push a button that may be meaningless, and it becomes clear that science experiment may simply be a test of human nature--how far will we go to protect ourselves from the unknown? When does habit take control of our reactions and decisions? I wonder how many times I "push the button"...what do I do out of habit, or out of fear of the unknown? What do I do in my profession solely because I did it that way last year? Sometimes I feel passionately about things that I keep from my students for fear that I'll fail, for fear that I'll somehow lose a piece of something I love. I hate to fail, and and I absolutely hate to be out of control. Perhaps this is also why I raise my feet--it makes me feel like I'm playing an active part in landing the plane. Because of our team, I keeping trying more and more new things in the classroom, and though they've gone well, I know that something's going to fail at some point. The hard part for me will be to try it again, knowing that it might fail again, instead of falling back into my safety net. Not that everything old is bad--it's just that I need to keep questioning myself.

Luckily, our students seem to be game for change.

Unluckily, at the end of the show, Jack pushes the button.

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

End of Semester Reflections

I think I'll use my last blog entry before winter break to consider what's gone well this semester and what needs to be changed. Let's start with the good, and then we'll explore the bad and the ugly.
The Good:
1. Philosophy books
2. Essay tests instead of scantron (They better assess whether or not my students are improving in their "essential learnings")
3. The blog--both academic entries and random ones (Gives us time to discuss extra issues, to get to know each other, to pose questions, to give voice to quiet students, and to put students in the driver's seat)
4. Including my students' voices in discussions of what's "best" for them (Why speculate on what they want and need when they are capable of telling you themselves?)
5. The remote mouse with laser (makes me feel like I'm on Star Trek: The Next Generation)

The Bad and the Ugly
1. Grades, grades, grades
2. Vocabulary (I'm up to my chin in fun vocab. activities, but it still doesn't feel like an integrated part of the course)
3. Grammar/Spelling (Why don't they learn this in elementary and middle school?)
4. Writing in my regular classes (I need more of it, which means I need to find a more efficient way to grade)
5. Finding thematic connections in English 10 (Fahrenheit 451, Of Mice and Men, and A Midsummer Night's Dream don't naturally click together, somehow)
6. ALIS (it somehow devoured at least a third of the semester, chewing up and spitting out some excellent short stories and poems as it marched its way to the finish line)

I took so much away from yesterday's discussion...As a final thought here, it is an honor to be part of a group that gets me excited about changing and improving the strucutre of my classes (and, I might add, it's not too easy to get me excited when I'm as stressed and sleep-deprived as I am this week). So, thanks!

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Following Through...

I posted earlier this year that my students were working on philosophy books with the goal of making personal and meaningful connections to the units we've studied in class. I took a "constructivist" approach and allowed them to design their own projects to fit their individual methods of learning and making meaning. In class yesterday they presented their philosophy books, and I was both blown away and humbled by their talent. Moreover, their presentations gave me sense of what part of each unit they had connected with, reminding me that what I find important is not necessarily what's going to captivate them (no matter how passionately I present it). For The Crucible, for example, one of my students composed a song about loving someone you can't have. As she sang this and played her guitar, I realized that I had dismissed this facet of the play altogether; I have always seen Abigail as a wicked manipulator of power, not a lovesick teenage girl. Viewing her as a victim gives my students something to relate to and gives me a new perspective on a play that I've read one too many times. I need to get more specific feedback from my students, but the general consensus so far seems to be that they've enjoyed this project. It's also helped me get to know them a little better, which is always an honor.

Monday, December 05, 2005

I Will Teach You To Write, Dammit!

In my English 10 class last week, I had my students write anonymous reflections in which they commented on what they would like more of or less of in the last three weeks of English class. About 90% of them stated that they would like less writing and more group projects, but I am still quite worried about the overal low level of their writing. If I'm going to be a constructivist, can I still dictate what my students' needs are, whether they like it or not? I know that what students say they "want" is not necessarily what they "need," but if they don't care about improving their writing, can I still help them become better writers? I devoted 15 hours of this past weekend to writing feedback on their essays, and it frustrates me to no end that the majority of them will never bother to apply my suggestions. I keep thinking of that quotation about how school is a place where teenagers come to watch adults work, and I know that constructivism has helped me flip this around in my Honors classes. I am still, however, in desperate need of some fast inspiration for my English 10 class. Should I just have them make posters or whatever for the rest of the semester? At least maybe they'd walk away from the course without a hatred for books.