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A Helpful Tool for Parent-Teacher Conferences

Slide1Last week, in preparation for our parent-teacher conferences, I had students do a self-evaluation of their work in my course. You can see it here in the pics.   I asked them to reflect on the feedback I have given them, and to explain what they feel they do well, as well as what areas they need to improve. Then, I had them rate their work ethic and make suggestions for improvements for the remainder of the course.   We have also been working on building their reading stamina and some have not been doing too well in that department. They had to reflect on that as well.

I was very impressed with how honest they were. especially as they knew I would be Slide2showing the evaluations to their parents.  Most were bang on.  It was a great exercise because the kids had to reflect on their progress, and it gave me a powerful too to have when I met with their folks.  I was able to discuss my observations of their children and then I gave them the forms their children had filled in.  It worked really well, so I thought I would share it.  You can get an editable version in my store.  Just click on the image!self evaluations letter

Is Shakespeare Still Relevant?

shakespeare-big-willy-funny-posterOk, so the plays are over four hundred years old and the language is difficult.  Kids will let out an audible groan whenever the teacher announces that Shakespeare is next.  So why are Shakespeare’s plays still on almost every high school English syllabus?

It’s a question that a colleague of mine asks on a regular basis.  He is a fabulous English teacher who loves to teach poetry. He is also our drama teacher.  Not a likely candidate for someone who would like to remove Romeo & Juliet from his to-do list, eh?   His problem with the bard, and his omnipresence in our curriculum, is that there are so many good modern plays out there that are so much more accessible.  The kids find Shakespeare difficult and inaccessible, so why not make a change?  I agree with him on most counts–there are other great plays out there.  The kids do find it difficult.  But I still think we should teach it.

The fact that the kids find it difficult is a non-starter for me.  We want to give them challenging work so they can reach beyond where they are; if we don’t, there is no growth.  We don’t keep lifting the same five pound weights at the gym if we want to get stronger, and we can’t expect our students to become better critical thinkers if we don’t add some mental weight to their tasks.

However, his point that students find Shakespeare inaccessible is the one I have the biggest problem with.  Every year when I start Macbeth,  I hear the groans.  But I don’t let them throw me off.  I ask my students to give me–and the play– a chance. I think one of the biggest problems with the study of Shakespeare is in the way it is delivered. Pages and pages of scene questions and quotation analysis are not going to do much to help students fall in love with Shakespeare.  Instead, we need to find ways to make the story relevant to their lives.  I mean, really, how many of us have struggled with temptation? How many of us have made a mistake that we regretted later?  And, how many of us have succumbed to outside pressures, doing something that we know we should not?  Poor old Macbeth is definitely someone a modern-day teenager can relate to!

When I teach Shakespeare, I use an inquiry approach, asking a question before we start, one that students will use for their investigation of the play.  The question is this: What can we learn about human nature and how can we apply these lessons to our own lives?   We will still do some traditional activities, like looking at quotes, understanding character development, etc., but with everything, we will be looking through this lens: how can we learn from Macbeth?  Then, when we are finished, students will complete writing assignments and projects that illustrate their learning.  They will still read, write and present. They will still need to use quotations from the play.  But they will do so in a way that is much more relevant and interesting.

Now, I can’t say that I win them all over.  However, every semester I hear students tell me that they liked the play a lot more than they thought they would.  What more can a teacher ask for?

I’m starting Macbeth today (I’m so excited!!) and will begin with this case study .  I don’t tell the kids what it’s for; we just read it and discuss the questions at the end.  Then I tell them that Jarrod’s situation is exactly like Macbeth’s, minus a murder or two.  It’s a great hook to start the play.  You can also find my complete inquiry unit for Macbeth here.

So what do you think?  Is Shakespeare still relevant?  If you think so, how do you hook your students?

This Week in 213

this week in room 213

Before I get to my week, I want to let you know about two amazing giveaways that you can enter.  Both launch today with winners announced on November 16th. Both offer over $150 of awesome TpT resources.  Head on over to Danielle Knight’s blog to check out the prizes and to enter!

This week, my grade twelve academics are continuing to work on the art of persuasion; however, this time we are going to use the media as our text.  I present them with the idea that we get lots of negative ideas and values in the media and then I use Disney as an example.  You can read more details about this lesson in a post I wrote last spring, called teaching critical analysis with Disney.  Once I’ve presented the students with my ideas, I want to hear their responses, so I have them “pretend” there has been controversy in the media over Disney’s messages, and write a letter to the editor in response to it.  I love this activity, not only because it’s fun, but also because it’s one that requires them to listen, speak, read, view and write–almost all of the ELA strands in one!

My general grade twelve class has been looking at the concept of happiness and last week we read “The Singing Silence”, a story about a poor old man who is incredibly happy–because he has a purpose and passion in life.  We also read a Reader’s Digest article about Steve Irwin, the Crocodile Hunter, who ends his interview saying he is “bustin’ to get out of bed” every morning to get to his job. So, this week, they are going to do research on their dream jobs.  I encourage them to start with their passions and interests, and not to think about obstacles–what job would have them “bustin’ to get out of bed” in the morning?

Finally, my IB class is in the middle of Pride & Prejudice.  It was the least favourite of their summer reading; in fact, any mention of it brought about groans and eye rolls.  However, now that we are into it–and discussing it– they are coming around.  Who can resist the pull of Mr Darcy anyway?  This week the class will be doing a  group assignment.  I divide them in groups, assign them a section of the novel to deep read and discuss, and then they have to “teach” that section to the class.  They are working toward doing written commentaries for a section of prose, and these group assignments help them practice the skills they need to do so.

That’s my week!