I go back and forth between which of my preps I like the best. This week, I love the 9th grade (as I jokingly told a colleague today, "I just can't like 9th graders and 11th graders at the same time. My heart is just not big enough.") I've spent this week having a series of serious talks with them about the expectations for high school. If reading is assigned, you must do it. The quiz average on last Friday's quiz was under 50%, and a huge chunk of kids obviously were not reading at all. They are now.
I've also spent a considerable amount of reflection about my practice this week. It's pretty clear to anyone who is around me that I hate the way we do summer reading in the 9th grade. Assign it over the summer (hopefully they get the assignment in the mail), expect them to read and understand it (hopefully they know how to read a novel), and quiz them to death when they start the school year. If I have anything to do with it, we won't do the same next year, but I still have to deal with the issues revolving around it. And there are many, because many kids just can't read a novel.
Now, clearly, a large chunk of kids were not reading. That's okay - they should fail. I can try to inspire them, but they have to make the choice to do the reading. But another large group of kids were reading it, but just not getting it as well as they should. I'm sure, with some, it was a question of skimming it, or trying to Sparknote it, but with others, I'm sure it is a comprehension issue. So, after a couple of shitty lessons last week, I figured out that I need to do a better job of teaching, and not assigning. This week has been a return to that. Instead of assigning reading and giving check quizzes, I've slowed down quite a bit, concentrating on analysis of small chunks of the book. I've concentrated on textmarking and thesis development based on textmarking.
It's been a joy. Today - and this amazes me every time it happens, which is all the time, so it should stop amazing me - a little girl made me think about a passage from To Kill a Mockingbird a little differently than I did before. She backed it up well. I got goosebumps.
One class, decimated by a field trip, turned into a discussion about the Jena 6. It literally went like this:
Brittany: Can I say something? I don't like this book. I don't like how they refer to us as Negroes.
Me: Well, I can understand that, but that was an acceptable term then. The other n-word, now that one was offensive then as it is now, but the word Negro was just like the word Black or African American today.
Brittany: Well, I still don't like it.
Me: Okay. You're allowed that.
Keon: Can I say why I do like this book?
Keon: Because I think we can take lessons from it for ourselves. I mean, they did Tom Robinson just like that 17-year old boy down Atlanta who got ten years for messing with that 15-year old girl.
Me: Interesting connection. Can you explain how it's similar and how it's different?
And it then went into a discussion of the Jena 6, and they even matched up characters from the novel with figures from that trial. Tomorrow, most of the class (and me) are wearing black to support the cause. I have some discomfort with making these kids into martyrs, but much more discomfort with a system that would try (any) 15-year old kid as an adult for beating someone up.
In other news, I'm really exhausted, and my eyes are killing me. I tried my best to leave school today right when the last chime rang, but it didn't happen, so I found myself leaving at around 4pm, and then racing up to Towson University for class. I had a four-page paper due, a review of a research article, and I did it all this afternoon - found the article, printed it out, read it, analyzed it, and wrote the stupid review. I got to class at 7:14, only fourteen minutes late, and proceeded to nearly doze through the lecture, which thankfully ended at 9:10 instead of the prescribed 9:40.
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