Sunday, July 02, 2006

Over the course of summer school we were supposed to videotape ourselves teaching and then react to what we saw. I thought it was a pretty solid idea, given that perception and reality are two completely different things when it comes to public speaking.

I decided to videotape my first of three 50-minute lessons on Wednesday. I had conceptualized my day as "the essay as a museum," and used an extended metaphor about the planning and building of an art museum to get across the main points of "building" an essay: outlining as the blueprint, museum patrons as your audience, etc. The first period - the one I videotaped - was all about the planning/blueprint of an essay, and we spent all 50 minutes designing an outline to answer the following question:

"A group of local parents has become concerned over the content of your class after they learned Mr. E. had assigned “The Tell-Tale Heart” for reading. The school board will meet tomorrow night to decide whether or not “The Tell-Tale Heart” should be banned from local schools. You have been asked to make a presentation at that meeting so that the members of the school board can hear a student opinion. What do you tell them?

"Please outline and write a well-developed essay that makes a strong, clear, and well-supported persuasive argument either for or against banning the short story from school. The essay should be in the traditional five-paragraph format: An introductory paragraph with a good topic sentence, three body paragraphs giving evidence and support for your argument, and a closing paragraph that provides a good review of your argument."

Given that we had read "The Tell-Tale Heart" a week earlier, I thought the lesson topic tied prior knowledge together with a somewhat new approach (most of these kids had never encountered the 5-paragraph essay before this summer school).

To be honest, I thought my lesson plan for that day was the best I had developed the entire summer, and looked forward to viewing the film of myself teaching it. I immediately noticed that I continue to stumble over numerous words, use horrible grammar at points, and commonly make some words run into each other. This, more than anything, is what I must work on. Every time I pause to say "umm...", to think of a good example, or to plan my next move, my students have the opportunity to do thinking of their own, which is commonly along the lines of, "what should I do Friday night?" instead of, "is the 'Tell-Tale Heart' really that violent?"

Moreover, I am not as exciting as I thought I would be. I constantly try to alter my voice, sing, dance, and yell to keep my students involved. Perhaps that lesson did not lend itself to such theatrics, but I found that I bored myself. After a month of teaching high school I realize this: if I had to go back to high school and be a student again, I'd go insane. Paul Simon had it right: "When I think back on all the crap I learned in high school, it's a wonder I can think at all..." (Kodachrome is a great song, but I think I'd take the Boxer over it any day. My Dad used "I Am A Rock" to teach metaphor when he was teaching high school English. I think I might have to try that, though my students would probably think I was alive when the song was penned.). Speaking of high school: even my extremely limited experience teaching high school has shown me bunches about my own high school teachers. Ms. Moynihan (sophomore and senior year English) was excellent. A little quiet and not as demanding as I would have liked, but really a great teacher. I remember a ton from her two classes, and I actually read the books we were assigned. On the flip side, I was right about Mr. Welch, my junior year English teacher. He really was awful, just a terrible, terrible teacher who thought he was great. At least Mr. Cowie knew he was a poor excuse for a teacher and had no qualms about the fact that he had been phoning it in since 1973.

Anyway, why don't we get back to the original point? What I enjoyed about my teaching style was the fact that I tried to involve every student, made it a point to walk around the classroom and talk to all my students while they were completing their outlines. If you can get to a kid, look him or her in the eyes, and show them that you're willing to work through whatever problems they are having, they'll put their faith in you and actually learn something. In this sense, I will try to envision my class as a series of 1-on-1 interactions, not a 1-on-30 interaction. I thought I also did a pretty good job with classroom management; there was very little chatter and nobody fell asleep.

As far as my persona in the classroom and my ability to speak more clearly, I am not sure how to go about improving. However, I hope that an awareness of the problem will lead to an implicit improvement.


Blogger Mr Khaki Pants said...

That museum-essay-Poe lesson plan is one of the best I've heard in a while! I'm totally stealing that sucker.

Presentation comes with practice, and you'll find that students'll enjoy your genuine nature; you'll hit your stride before you know it. Also, LET THEM fill your "thought pauses" by asking them to jot down some quick questions or quick notes (They'll do this if you promise to give 100s for anyone doing the daily work). I suppose this is a conversation, rather than a comment, but if we have to compete with video games and 10-second tv soundbites, we're never going to "entertain" our students; we're never going to win. No matter how entertaining a music video is, people change the channel once they become inured. Eventually, we lose. I guess the key is to make them care enough to invest THEMSELVES in the lesson -- making a shutdown impossible. Sometimes that means dancing around like a crazy man, but -- often, actually -- it just means giving them something meaningful to explore and letting them investigate for themselves. Again, let them do the work (for you). That is: your Poe plan sounds fantastic!

FYI: I successfully taught Billy Joel, Lynyrd Skynyrd, and Janis Joplin last year; I'll do my best to bring S&G into the mix next year...

1:26 AM  

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