Searching for the perfect…

I can’t tell you how many times I have had a perfectly fine lesson in front of me and and looked at it and thought, “This could be better?” or “It needs something else?” or “How could I throw some technology in there?” Fortunately, or unfortunately this happens to me quite often. I say fortunately because I am usually looking to make any lesson better.  Unfortunately, because it takes time and work to reconfigure “my” lessons. That time usually takes away from grading or the current coursework. It’s like I get stuck on making something different, I would say better here, but sometimes it doesn’t always end up better. Sometimes I have too much going on too fast and sometimes it’s over before I know it.

There are usually two results that are most noticeable and my best immediate indicators of a solid lesson:

1. Students either look like they are melting…into phones or desks or each other.  IMG_0864

OR

2. Students are up and moving, talking, questioning, gathering, laughing.

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I prefer the latter. Actually, once I got used to my classroom being noisy and busy I began to dread the stillness. Not the stillness of work or reading, but the stillness of teenagers entering the dead classroom zone.  I could go on for days about different classroom tempos and volumes, but this post is supposed to be about searching for the perfect…

My current driving force to continue my search for the perfect…is the fact that the high school where I work does not assign homework.  To clarify:  We do not assign large chunks of work do be done at home.  This sounds great, at first, but try reading even a short novel or play with your class entirely out loud. It presents a problem of time. If we read something of length it takes forever and by the time we are finished reading well, we are all DONE with it. That leaves very little time to “do” something with what we have read.

For me, lesson design comes down to this: how can I gnaw off large portions of text, big ideas, and go deep when it ALL has to be done in the classroom? After pondering that question, I decided to do something different this week. Instead of reading “1984” I decided to basically teach around it.

Now, let’s get real for a minute…how many English Lit majors actually read ALL of the lit we were supposed to read? Kudos to you if you did, but I was part of the population that sought outside sources before the internet made it so easy. My first resource was my mom, an Eng Lit teacher for life and knows everything. Second source was the library and reference books, essays and critiques written about the reading I was supposed to be reading.  Basically, I read everything I could about what I was supposed to read before I actually read it.  My third source was my fellow classmates. Lost and confused we bled together and figured it out.   Looking back it gave me a more complete picture of the literature, I learned different perspectives, and learned by working and thinking with others.  It actually seemed like a pretty natural way to learn.

So, when I was putting together this new “1984” unit, feeling sad I was not going to read the entire novel with my students, I realized what I was going to do with them was emulate what I did in college. Plus, add a Twitter chat using TweetDeck.  I decided to use a variety of text and multi-media sources.  I searched out summaries, news clips, articles, music, exceprts and all things related “1984.”  I realize I could have let my students do the digging and maybe next time I will, however, this time I was not ready to release that control.  I was afraid of what the results would look like, I was afraid of time wasted in class, I was afraid it wouldn’t be considered teaching.   I was not willing to let go, this time.

Here is a google doc of my tentative plan: 1984.

This time in my search for the perfect…I realized that the perfect lesson is illusive.  Just as I change, so do my students.   Somedays they are up and bright and somedays they aren’t.  Just like me.  What worked for Period 1 might need to be adjusted by Period 2.  The perfect is perfect in its imperfection.  There really is no perfect…

Salvador Dalí“Have no fear of perfection – you’ll never reach it.” –Salvador Dali


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Handball: Vocabulary in Action?

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Handball is big. Really big, if you’re seven,  and most likely, if you’re a boy. Well, I’m 38 and a woman and handball is still big…because I have a seven year old son.

So, the other day when I was playing handball with my son it made me think about a couple of things.  This was not the first time I have played with him, I mean, come on, I have to help him hone his handball skills in order to dominate on the playground.

Like any sport handball is a highly competitive game.  Even between a mom and a son.  I cut him no slack and give him no breaks.  We play to win.  We play hard. We sweat, shout, argue points, laugh and never give up on a win.   I know that one day soon he will surpass me with his speed, strength, and skills. You see, he is a kid that is not bogged down by adult responsibilities and to-do lists. He can spend all day, if I let him, playing handball.  I need to play with him while I can still win.

Anyway, besides being a seriously competitive sport, handball has about a million rules and moves. Some of them I already know, but some I get informed of on the spot.  Because I do not speak seven year old playground, it seems like the game changes constantly.   I feel lost in the vernacular of elementary school handball.  I am impressed by this foreign language.  Not so much the moves or the rules, but the names for them.
My son’s vocabulary has grown just by playing handball. There will be many opportunities for him in life to use words like black magic, white magic, red magic, slicey, super slicey, supersonic serve, sling shot, under doggie, liney, people killer, and the one I came up with, skid mark. I just wonder where all of these words came from and what 1st grader knew them first?  My son didn’t even know this game existed before 1st grade and now it seems as if he can’t live without it.

Of course, this made me think of education and how if we were able to teach students vocabulary in the context of a handball game or something similar how much faster and proficiently they would learn it.  There is something to be said for learning with your whole body and the mind body connection and learning in a real world context.  I mean, how much more real does a game of handball get?

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One Piece

The puzzle is a great metaphor for figuring things out…life, school, relationships, health.  There always seems to be something that people are trying to figure out, just like a puzzle.  Sometimes it seems that there are so many pieces to figure out that it can be overwhelming.  I see this all the times with my students.  They fall behind on their school work, they have family or relationship drama, they have social media misuse issues, drug issues, life issues and pretty soon the puzzle of their lives is unmanageable.  Instead of all of this stress propelling them to be productive, it has the opposite effect.  They get paralyzed. And do nothing.  Absolutely, nothing.

So, I was thinking…what if all they needed was one piece of the puzzle to fit instead of trying to figure out all of the pieces?  It just seems like a teenager trying to figure everything out is counterproductive… when all they are really trying to do is figure themselves out.

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Furniture — Fugazi

“How many times have you felt like a bookcase
sitting in a living room gathering dust
full of thoughts already written?
(how ’bout now?)” — Fugazi

Okay, so this is my first blog post.  I’m not too sure how this goes but I’ll wing it.  I guess I’ll write about why I chose a Fugazi song as my first blog.  For those of you that don’t know, Fugazi was an American post-hardcore band that was known for their DIY ethical stance.  Back in my day, any show they did only cost 5 bucks…no matter where the venue! If nothing else, Fugazi was cool for that reason alone, but there was something else.  Their lyrics and music spoke to me as a disgruntled youth.  I got lost in their music and somehow found myself.

Why Furniture?  While I love the music in this song, the lyrics speak to me.  I see this song as a wake up call to think!  As a teacher so much of what we teach is defined by a textbook, novel, outside piece of writing, and that’s great, but I feel like if I am not challenging my students to think on a daily basis, I am not really teaching them.  Sure, there is some pre-loading of information we have to do, but how about letting them go once in a while and think?  And, of course, there are the students that have to be taught to think critically, but those are the ones that will teach me more about teaching.  They will be the ones that create the rub for me. 

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