7 Assignment Ideas for Movie Day in the English Classroom

moviesMovies days in high school classrooms have a bad reputation for being a waste of time or a teacher cop out, but English teachers show movies for a variety of reasons, including but not limited to:

  • Giving context to a novel unit (e.g. showing the Emmett Till biography during the  TKAM unit).
  • Helping students understand the authors behind their favorite works (e.g. showing the Ken Burns documentary on Twain before starting Huck Finn).
  • Adding to a universal theme that will help students understand literature in a deeper way (e.g. showing an American Dream movie during the Gatsby unit).
  • Helping emerging readers visualize the characters or plot (e.g. showing the 1968 Romeo and Juliet while going through the play).

Even when we have the very best of intentions, adding a student assignment is one way to make movie days even more productive.  Below are 10 ideas for student assignments during movie days.  We’d love to hear your questions, comments and suggestions in the comment section.

  • Write a critique or review of the movie or documentary.  Students can be prompted to think about arrangement/organization, costuming, or other elements of the film.
  • Create a Venn Diagram to spot the similarities and differences between the movie and the book.  This can work with the movie version of a book or a related movie if students look at the similarities/differences in context or theme.
  • Create mock interviews with characters or commentators.
  • Take guided notes. This takes a lot of preparation from the teacher preparing the guide before hand, but it can help students focus in on the important elements that you want them to pay attention to.
  • Ask socratic questions. Students can prepare questions as they watch and participate in a socratic seminar after the movie is over.
  • Write a synthesis essay in which they bring together elements of the novel and the movie to support their argument.
  • Structure a debate around questions raised in the novel and the movie.

What other questions or suggestions do you have for movies in the classroom?  We’d love to hear from you in the comment section below!

The Evaluations Teachers Should Be Getting

Teacher evaluation pin

Teachers are sick and tired of evaluations that focus primarily on standardized test scores or a short observation from an administrator who may not have a full picture of the scope and context of the class.  Most teachers take their work extremely seriously, working long hours to improve curriculum, communication, intervention, and the general quality of life and education for their students.  Below is the evaluation I think we should be getting. What do you think?  What would you add?  Let us know in the comment section below!

 

Teacher Evaluation

Teacher/Department:

Evaluator/Administrator:  

The following questions should be answered after a collaborative discussion between teacher and administrator. (Response boxes can be expanded)

1. What are you Proud of?   Please Share some of the success stories from this school year so far. How have you impacted the life of a student(s)? What creative strategies have you tried? What is going well in your classroom?

2. Let’s talk about overtime and extra-curriculars. Document the clubs, sports, field trips, and extra support services that may not be recognized by the administration or required in your contract. How are you balancing your time planning, grading, contacting parents, and preparing for class? Is there anything the school can do to support you in this area?

3. What kinds of additional support can the school provide? Do students need food, school supplies, emotional support, academic intervention services, or anything else? Do you need resources, professional development, or other work related items? How can the school ensure the financial burden is not solely yours?

Employee Signature

Administrator Signature

Date

Date

Tracking Color Symbolism in The Great Gatsby

GatsbyThe Great Gatsby is widely-regarded as one of the great American novels and many of us teach it every year to secondary students who seem to instantly get the feeling of lost dreams, the feeling of being “within and without” and the feeling that the American Dream is too good to be true.  If you are looking for thoughtful, creative, standards-based (NCTE/IRA National ELA and Common Core) lessons and assessments that will engage your students and save you a ton of time, I recommend you head over to buy it in print or pdf from Secondary Solutions!

Today, I want to share a strategy that can help students track the color symbolism as it develops in The Great Gatsby. Students will “analyze their development over the course of the text, including how they interact and build on one another to produce a complex account; provide an objective summary of the text.” (CCS 11-12.2)

I do this activity once students are finished with the novel, but it can be adapted to do half way through and then again at the end so that there is a more manageable amount of data to work with.  To go through this thoroughly, this usually takes me a couple of days in class.

Step 1: Assign students to 9 jigsaw groups. Give each group a chapter and ask them to make a list of ALL of the times anything is described by color. For example in chapter 2:

  • Valley of Ashes (men, cars, landscape)- grey
  • TJ Eckleburg’s eyes – blue
  • TJ Eckleburg’s glasses- yellow

Step 2: Create large posters for each major color. I use poster sized sticky notes so that I can easily put them around the room during the analysis phase, but any large paper would work. I make the following 9 posters (since there are 9 chapters and 9 groups):

  • Gold
  • Yellow
  • Blue
  • Green
  • White
  • Pink and Red (Separately, but the lists are short so I put both on the same poster)
  • Grey/Black (I combine them)
  • Silver and Multi-colored (separate)
  • Other (This will include brown, lavender, and everything else they find)

Step 3: Have students add their evidence, passing the papers from group to group until all evidence is added. I give a couple of minutes per color and let students know that they may not have found every color in every chapter.

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Step 4: Go through the colors, one by one analyzing the significance of the colors. I usually lead this as a whole group discussion, but it could also be done at a small group level for more advanced students.  Although there are many interpretations, I usually go with some version of the following:

  • Gold: Old Money, Class, The Unattainable
  • Yellow: New Money, Social Climbing, Fakeness
  • Blue: Illusion, Unreality
  • Green: Hope, Future, American Dream (Not purely positive connotations)
  • White: Rigidity, Lack of Substance
  • Pink: Fresh, New, Beginnings and Red: Passion, Anger, Lust, Tension
  • Grey/Black: Hopelessness, Poverty, Corruption of the American Dream, Consequences
  • Silver: Money and Multi-colored: Opportunity
  • Other: This one depends on which colors students discuss.  I only discuss these if time permits.

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Step 5: Look at the big picture. After all of the pain-staking close analysis of color symbolism, I do a think-pair-share about author’s purpose and the overall effect on the novel.

Extension/Assessment: Have students write about the meaning behind one or more of the colors discussed in class.

What do you think of this strategy?  We’d love to hear your comments, questions, or insights below!

Don’t forget to go over to Secondary Solutions for the Gatsby Reading Guide and much more!

7 Tips for Acing a Formal Observation

observatonMy school is in an accreditation year, so we have been preparing in many ways for formal observations within our school community and from the accreditation team.  (I’m on the west coast, so we are governed by WASC.) I normally really enjoy informal observations by department members and colleagues because I find that they are a great feedback tool for my own reflection and professional growth.  During informal observations, I like to try out new methodologies or focus on meeting the needs of a particular group of students. Then, I like to debrief with my observer and brainstorm ideas for future tweaks.  However, formal observations can have a very different plan and purpose.  These are the types of observations you know will occur in advance and typically are not followed by collaborative feedback.  These are the observations that you want to knock out of the park with a home run. Below are 7 tips for acing a formal evaluation.  I’d love to hear your comments or concerns in the comment section below.

7 Tips for Acing a Formal Observation:

1. Practice the Strategy: When you are trying to guarantee an observation win, it is probably best to not to schedule the observation for the first day of a complex strategy like literature circles or your first day using a particular technology.  Pick something for which students understand the expectations and you have worked out most of the bugs.  The more comfortable you and the students are, the smoother the lesson will seem to an outside observer.

2. Set out Lesson Plans and Handouts: Have lesson plans and handouts ready for the observer so that the objectives, standards, and procedures are clear even if they do not stay for the whole lesson.  I like to include the whole week’s lesson plan so that they can see how the lesson is part of a larger unit of study with multiple means of teaching and assessment.

3. Be Early: On the day of your formal observation, be early so you can put out any fires that come up and be both physically and mentally prepared for the lesson.

4. Dress for the Job: Of course, we think about this all the time as professional teachers, but be especially careful about the optics on observation days.  If your lesson involves a lot of circulating the room, are your shoes comfortable but professional?  If you need to lean in to join collaborative groups, will your choice of clothing remain modest?

5. Be Aware of your Energy Levels: Don’t let nervous energy start you off talking a mile a minute.  Also, don’t get so focused on controlling behavior issues that you forget to smile and enjoy the lesson.  No matter how you feel in the pit of your stomach, let your positive energy rub off on students and the observer.

6. Structure the Transitions: Transitions between activities are the most chaotic part of most lessons. While a minute or two of chaos does not bother me on most days, when I am planning a formal observation, I make sure that my transitions are even more structured than normal with explicit instructions and time limits.

7. Pick Engaging Lessons that are Appropriate to the Unit: You know yourself and your class best.  I don’t think that you have to include teacher centered lecture or collaborative group work, but you should play to your strengths. If you have an amazing lecture on the Trojan War that precedes the Odyssey unit, a group of students who shine in Literature Circles / Socratic Seminar, or a technology that engages students in meaningful learning, then go for it!  However, make sure that your lesson fits into the unit or flow of your curriculum schedule.  It would be really embarrassing for students to point out a lesson that doesn’t seem to flow with non-observed curriculum!

What are your questions, tips, or experiences with formal observation?  We’d love to hear them in the comment section below!

Tips for Keeping Students Healthy

HealthyAs teachers, we all know that we tend to be so much more than curriculum delivery people.  We are nurses, counselors, food distributors, cheerleaders, disciplinarians, parental figures, and so much more.  As a collective, we know that effective teaching and learning can only happen when the classroom is a safe and healthy environment.  Today, let’s talk about ways to help our students stay healthy.  Of course, we will not irradiate the common cold before our next Chaucer lecture, but we can take some steps toward healthier students without taking too much time out of our already packed agendas.  Below are a few tips that I’ve put together.  Feel free to add your tips in the comment section!

1. Clean the room. I like to stock up on the disinfecting wipes from costco or target when I see them on sale.  Then, I set a routine to clean at intervals.  Some years I have required detention students to wipe down my room and other years I have given myself the task for Friday mornings when I am less motivated by piles of paper and so a little grunt work and mental reflection time does me well.  Areas to be sure to clean:

  • Desks
  • Pencil sharpeners/Staplers
  • Door knobs/Railings
  • Phones/iPads/etc (If you have a class set of devices, it is a very good idea to clean them regularly- I read somewhere that our phones are usually dirtier than a public toilet!  I also encourage students to clean their own devices, especially when the cold and flu season hits.  Be sure that whatever you are using to clean is approved for use on electronics.)

2. Encourage good habits. We are busy with teaching, testing, and other daily classroom chores, but teachers can make it a habit to encourage healthy behavior through a quick announcement routine, poster, or a tip of the day on the board.  Some tips to include for high school students include:

  • Washing hands: This is not just a rule for the preschoolers!
  • Drinking water: Consider allowing and encouraging students to drink water in class.
  • Eating right/Exercising: Teens probably hear this from their parents all the time, but we can be another voice in their heads working for good.
  • Getting enough sleep: Staying up all night is main stay of teenage life whether they are texting, gaming, studying, or doing anything else.  Help reinforce the value of a good night’s sleep.  Some of them may hear you.
  • Coughing/Sneezing ettiquette: In my son’s preschool class, the students are well trained to avoid coughing and sneezing on each other or on their own hands.  In my high school class, not so much.  I think overall high schoolers just need a gentle reminder here and there.

3. Be mindful of stressors. We see in study after study that stress has a negative effect on health.  We cannot eliminate all stress from teenage life, but we can be mindful of the things in our control that may exacerbate the problem.

  • Homework: I saw this CNN article recently that looked at the issue of homework and sickness in students. Homework is inevitable in most secondary classrooms, but as teachers we can still be mindful of the quantity and timelines of assignments.  I do my best to give students a schedule of homework with advance notice so that they can plan their schedules accordingly.
  • Missing class: When students need to miss class for illness, sports, clubs, or other reasons, it can be very stressful to catch up on all 6 subjects while staying up on current work.  For these students, communication is key to keeping them on track.  Posting assignments on a calendar/website/social media account or answering emails in a timely fashion can keep students from falling too far behind and then falling into the cycle of stress and sickness.
  • Big projects: Some students make themselves sick with worry over big projects.  Ramping up to a major presentation or giving small steps for a larger research paper can help students manage the stress.

What do you do to help students stay healthy?   We’d love to hear from you in the comment section below!

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