Sunday, September 27, 2009

An Up, A Down, A Let's Try Again...

I haven't written in awhile which does not at all fit in with my original plan, but I've had to really process this one. (That's for you Ali.)

An Up:
Two weeks ago, my class moved into Romanticism. I always begin by showing "Rip Van Winkle" and discussing the shift from logical thinking to imagination. It's a great introductory lesson. I've used the same lesson for a number of years, and I feel very good about it's purpose and follow through. I haven't ever, however, felt that way about teaching the next piece "The Devil and Tom Walker." I've tried numerous activities and methods to make this story work. The problem is that the students have to read the story - and they rarely do that. None of the activities work unless they read the story. I've tried the CD and had them follow along; I've tried having them read it aloud and/or silently; I've assigned it for homework; I've given pop quizzes; I've given read along guides - NOTHING.

This year, I decided that I was going to try yet another method to teach something I really like to kids that had no interest. I spent hours - literally - looking up different teaching techniques for this story. All to no avail. I had to dig in and rely on my own creativity. The first time period we study is Puritanism with a strong religious focus. While Romanticism is the third time period, it comes pretty quickly on the heels of Puritanism. So, I thought, "Why not let the Devil be a starting point?" I found a couple of video clips from The History Channel's documentary on The Devil and showed them in class. The main concept was that people have been making pacts with The Devil since the beginning of time. We then discussed the Faust legend and recalled recent movies with that same theme. From there, we began reading.

I had them read the first paragraph (which is kind of long) silently while thinking about the focus on the past. Then, I read aloud to them. I pulled out all of the stops - they especially liked my devil voice. I only read a couple of pages to them. Then I stopped reading and told them the next portion of the story. We skipped a page or so of reading!! They then read a few paragraphs on their own. I told the next section, and then I finished reading the story aloud.

NO ONE FELL ASLEEP! Every student that was there understood the story. I was elated. They all said they liked the story. Wow!

At first my English teacher instinct berailed me for not reading every word. I felt some guilt about it; I guess I still do. However, I feel so proud that I kept EVERY kid with me for a 90-minute lesson which was mostly devoted to literature. Usually, I try to pare down my lit lessons to 30 minutes. The nature of this story doesn't allow that luxury. It has to be read in one sitting or the mood of the story is lost.

So, I feel good. I still have it - the ability to re-create lessons to keep the kids interested.

Tune in next time for the next part of the post - A Down, A Let's Try Again.


  1. Aren't you proud of yourself??? Clap, clap, clap!!! Keep it up. Even when you have a down day, get up and try again.

  2. Mrs. E, You are brilliant. As I was reading this, I was trying to think of lesson plans that I would have used to teach the story, but yours was by far the best one. I have read your entire blog up to this point. I am enjoying hearing your thoughts and feelings. One thing I love about teaching is the idea of making a difference. That's why I am going into teaching. I always liked the idea, "be the difference you want to see in the world." It's not enough to teach to a book. You aren't teaching english anymore. Honestly, not many people will ever use what you are teaching...not if you teach from the book. I think the most valuable thing I can think to say is that...from the point children reach high school, they no longer need teachers who feed them materials. They need teachers who teach them life skills, and they need teachers who want to see them succeed. It's not enough to get them to pass the class by doing the work. Teaching should never be about getting the material into student's heads. It should be about helping someone to realize something that they never considered, or helping them gain a greater appreciation for something they didn't like before. I know that my references as "a teacher" are not high. I don't have my degree, and there is really nothing that should make you listen to me, but I promise you that the one thing that makes the difference in a "good teacher" and a "great teacher" is the how. How you teach will make the difference for you and for your students. You can make yourself love anything if you do it the right way. Be the change. That's probably my best advice. Be the change that you want to see in your students, and be the change that you want to see in the world. And after you feel that you have gotten there...then try to make your students want to build upon that. You hold more cards than you think you do. You are amazing, and I love you! I hope you find your way in the world...whether in education or not. If you ever need anything...I'm always here.