Saturday, February 25, 2006

WebQuests Are So Cool!

It's been almost a year since Terry Deniston, one of the coolest educators I will ever know, told our class how great WebQuests were.

I tried them once in my 450 High School practicum, but with little success. Many of my links were a little lame, and some of the essays I sent them too were a little more advanced than what they were prepaired for.

Friday, I finally understood what Terry was trying to tell us.

My students are starting on Night by Elie Weisel. Surprisingly, many of them don't know about the holocaust (world history is next year). So I put together a WebQuest, or page of previewed links, so that students can spend one quick period on research rather than sifting through the credible and uncredible information on Google.

Going in on Friday morning I was contemplating how I was going to keep my eyes on the screens of the whole class when half my desks face the other half. I was sure partners would have trouble staying on task.

Instead, I hardly did any classroom management. In what is normally my craziest class, the students who normally do nothing were finishing their worksheet before some of my brightest students.

I knew technology increased student interest and introduced relevancy. But I hadn't truely seen it in action until this week. It was amazing. I wish I had a video camera.

Oh my . . .

It was this Friday that I realized I've been at Boltz for seven and a half weeks.

And it was just now that I realized while I've been doing a lot of reading on other teacher's blogs, I've posted three times to mine since this whole thing began.

So here's a recap of the last six weeks:

We began with some classroom community building. At the end of the fall semester, student services juggled students around so the classes were a little more even, which was great since it would have meant a 30+ student period and an 14 student period on either end of the extremes. I wish now I had gone all out on community building and spent the first two and a half weeks on it instead of the first three days. Group work remains shaky on many fronts and there's plenty of unfriendly ridicule to go around some periods.

Book clubs are ever so slowly improving. My original plan was to practice book clubs with The Pearl and Night, then move to a real book club unit where students get to choose the books. However, there is a major lack of motivation factor when you hate the book, as I posted earlier. The other problem that has arisen is that I have eight weeks left at Boltz and just started Night. I don't see myself completing two units in that much time, especially when we only have enough copies of the book for one period to use.

I've just revised Writing Workshop for the second set of portfolios. The first set had some really great stuff, but a great deal of procrastination was involved. Some students didn't turn in all three pieces and others threw something together and didn't get it revised. I ended up giving a completion grade just so my rubric grading wouldn't burn half the students who turned it in.

My biggest fault in Writing Workshop was that I expected myself and my students to get all writing instruction one-on-one. Duh, impossible. So this week I started minilessons on Writing Workshop days and upped the ante - 5 writing projects and a draft is due every Thursday. I hope I'm not setting myself up for failure, but I can always bring the requirement down, much harder to increase it.

So that's the first half of my student teaching in a nutshell. I've learned a lot about two methods I plan on implementing for years to come and I think it will help my first year go smoothly.

Wednesday, February 8, 2006

A Beginner's Book Club Observations

I decided to experiment with book club a little bit this semester during my student teaching. One of the big ideas behind book clubs is that they are what adults do: choose a book they want to read, talk about it together, and figure out what it means together.

I decided to see what would happen if that first piece wasn't there. I like the idea of students coming to their own conclusions, and a small group that requires more than a select few students to speak.

To allow some flexibility in the subjects they hit on during discussion while still attempting to get them deeper into the book, I used these book club discussion sheets, which are similar in design to those we used at the university in our own book clubs.

To my dismay, book clubs have not been that effective yet. The motivation does not exist.

I'm not so arrogant as to think that none of this is my fault. I'm sure with practice I might be able to construct leads, work with groups one on one, and teach minilessons that create the desired results. However, for a district to require 8th grade students to read The Pearl is a little misguided in my opinion.

There is a very large Young Adult genre. Why don't we use it more? Students are not going to relate to a native Mexican from the colonial era as easily as a character their own age. Building relevancy is important, but it's an uphill battle if the students don't see any relationship to begin with.

Through Bud Hunt's blog I cam across this discussion on canonical books at Tim Fredrick's blog. It's made me think about choosing books for our students to read (and you can read my initial response there. My response hasn't changed much, though it might be expressed more mildly).

So in a little over a week we start Night. Again, required by district curriculum. I want to continue trying to make book clubs work. Are they tools just for books that students choose, or are they adaptable to required reading as well?