Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Update on Beowulf

Every so often, I receive emails in my inbox notifying me that my Beowulf lesson plans have been downloaded. (For the unfamiliar, my Beowulf lesson plans from my first three years of teaching are available here.) I am somewhat flattered that anyone would be interested in any of my work, and also surprised that there would be any use in those particular Beowulf plans. I wrote them during my first three years of teaching. They are hardly the work of a master teacher. Rather (as I stated in the podcast on the previous post, as well), they show growth of someone becoming more comfortable with his profession. The year three plans are the best of the bunch, but even they could use some updating.

Thankfully, I have not simply sat back and allowed lesson plan rot to set in. I have made changes to the plans every year I have been working. I am not going to include my materials for year four of Beowulf, but I do think it right to attach links to my Beowulf plans (and perhaps materials) from this year.

For those of you downloading (or coming here looking for material you can use), there are a few things to keep in mind. First of all, we here at Dumont High School do not attempt to teach Beowulf in its entirety to college prep juniors. Rather, we have the students read each of the three fights and then fill in some of the background information for the rest of the story. This practice predates my arrival at the school, but it is certainly not without merit (I have continued it, after all). It allows the students to understand the heroic aspects of the text without becoming bogged down in cultural references that escape them. It also brings a much faster pace to the reading and teaching of the text.

The second point to bear in mind is that the lesson plan format has changed. No longer do we compile daily lesson plans. Our school received several visits from NJ QSAC this year, therefore prompting a new standardized unit plan format. The unit plan format allows for greater teacher freedom and flexibility, while still covering at least all of the material used in previous year's lesson plans. The plans are no longer cut into exact day-by-day chunks, but this allows me as a teacher to give the students more or less time (as necessary) to grapple with and ultimately grasp the lesson (or in this case, unit) objectives.

Finally, I have added the first and last chapters of John Gardner's novel Grendel to my teaching of Beowulf. It makes for an excellent counterpoint, and the students seem to respond well to its liveliness and the lessons in perspective it creates.

Without further ado, I present the updated Beowulf plans and materials. May I continue to receive emails reminding me about how often they are downloaded.

Beowulf Year Five Unit Plan
(this is a living document, so all changes made to the document will automatically be updated on the web)

Beowulf Year Five Materials are Below

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Online Resources

When I first started teaching four years, I was in a position similar to that of just about every beginning teacher: I had a course curricula and little else. I had no materials. I had no worksheets. I had no organizational system to use while structuring my classes. During my first year of teaching, I created all of those things. Even though they were hardly of the highest quality, I at least built a base upon which I could work. Needless to say, I slaved away for many long days, nights, and weekends building that base.

At the end of my third year of teaching, I came up with an idea to help first year teachers and to promote collegiality within our English department. I wanted to create an online resource center. The idea behind it would be to have teachers post their worksheets, lessons, notes, anything that was appropriate to a secure website so all other departmental colleagues could look at them and adapt them as appropriate. It would encourage sharing of materials, help people who were new to the school or the teaching of a particular class, and hopefully result in the creation of new and even better resources, as others built upon the work that was already there.

One of my English department colleagues and I set out to make this resource center a reality. We applied for some summer hours, got them, and set out to achieve our goals. With the help of Google Documents (another vote for its greatness), we established a secure site, with materials that is accessible to everyone in our department. For security issues, I obviously cannot embed the site directly or link to it. However, you can watch the video at the bottom of this post to see how easy it is to post to the site and what it looks like.

In the summer of 2009, I applied for more hours to expand on this resource center by setting out to make a sort of online textbook of supplemental texts used in each grade level and course in our department. This site gives a broad over view of supplemental texts (and sometimes main texts, when available digitally) for use throughout our department. The project is not finished, and more information/material will be added in the future. You can view the site here.

Video (Embed Here - Still to come - These things take time)

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Plans for Year #5

If anyone's reading this (and people are at least coming here to download Beowulf lesson plans and look at the pictures), I think the year #5 goals post would be a lot more coherent if I also posted exactly what I intended to teach in each of my courses. So, here goes.

SRA English
As many reading and writing exercises and techniques as necessary to help these students pass (preferably) the HSPA test or the SRA tests.

English 3 CP
Heroic Image Unit
parts of Grendel by John Gardner
parts of La Morte d'Arthur by Sir Thomas Malory
MacBeth by William Shakespeare
the film Braveheart
Being There by Jerzy Kosinski

Human Foibles Unit
The Inferno by Dante Alighieri
The Decameron by Giovanni Bocaccio
The Canterbury Tales by Geoffrey Chaucer

In Search of Self Unit
Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut
Antigone by Sophocles
parts of Ordinary Men by Christopher Browning
Night by Elie Wiesel
Raisin in the Sun by Lorraine Hansberry

English 1 CP
Introductory Literary Terms
Various Poems
Romeo & Juliet by William Shakespeare
Writing Unit
Comparative Mythology
The Odyssey by Homer
Various Short Stories
Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck

This is the just the general overview. It does not include supplementary materials or instructions, like writing, research, etc.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Goals for Year #5

Teaching is never boring. Each day is different than the last, and each year brings with it new challenges. And each year I challenge myself to do better. So, without further (and unnecessary) instruction, here are my goals for my fifth year of teaching.

English 3 CP
This will be my fifth year teaching this course.

1). Write a challenging midterm exam while keeping a challenging final.
This will be my first year of needing a midterm exam, so I hope that I will be able to create one that is an effective measuring instrument of students' performance. I am also interested to see how much of the course I have covered by the time of this exam. I have some ideas where I will be, but I think Robert Burns once warned us all what happens to well-laid plans.

2). Teach Slaughterhouse-Five in a memorable fashion.
I lobbied for the inclusion of this text for two years. I better not ruin the experience of teaching it. I'm thinking of tying this in with the horrific events of September 11, 2001 and discussing how we deal with unspeakable and absurd tragedy. The novel has so much great material, though: the Tralfamadorian world view, how much free will we really have, the importance (or lack thereof) of words, etc. So it goes...

3). Teach the Canterbury Tales and the Decameron as social criticism.
This goal keeps popping up. Guess who keeps letting himself down? This will be better.

4). Do a real film study on Braveheart.
As opposed to those "fake" film studies I have been doing. Seriously, though, I have a plan to make a really strong film study for this film that should engage the students.

5). Teach more writing and teach it better.
My students answer almost zero multiple choice questions in my class and zero short answer questions. All they do is write. But there is still room for improvement. Especially when it comes to research or longer thesis driven assignments.

English 1 CP
This will be my fourth year teaching the course.

1). Organize The Odyssey in a more effective fashion.
I have a new textbook this year and a new version of The Odyssey. Those two things alone mean something will change. Now I have to make sure it is for the better.

2). Spend more time discussing writing and practicing writing.
This is always challenging, because there are so many ways to try to do this, and no proven way to succeed. But I will try again.

3). Teach even more excellent short stories.
I have made this unit my own and included several truly excellent short stories (that did not come from the textbook). This year I will try to include even more.

4). Incorporate more varied activities into the Comparative Mythology Unit.
Two years ago, when I last taught this, we spent a lot of time reading in class. That's not exactly the most exciting thing for twenty-eight ninth graders. Therefore, I vow that this year will be more interesting.

Goals for SRA English
This will be my fourth year teaching this course.

Only 1). Get every student through this process. The state of NJ made this process a LOT tougher this year. My goal is to try my best to ensure that each student I get finishes this course and can graduate.

I'll be back in July to check on these...

Friday, July 3, 2009

Revisiting Year #4 Goals

Now that year #4 is over, it is time to revisit what I wrote in this space in August of 2008 about what I wished to accomplish during the course of the school year. I'm going to deal with each goal individually.

Goals for English 1 CP
1). Improve Poetry instruction by making it more meaningful and accessible.
-- This still needs improvement. We have a new textbook for the upcoming 2009-2010 school year, however, and I've spent some time flipping through Classroom Notes Plus and other National Council of Teachers of English publications, so perhaps this is the year for a major jump.
2). Engage students in more meaningful discussions relating readings to their modern lives.
-- This is difficult to gauge, but I think I did a better job relating readings to what is going with my students in their own lives.
3). Teach The Odyssey in a more cohesive, understandable fashion.
-- I had a student teacher teach the Odyssey, so I will have to revisit this one.
4). Introduce some research element to the Comparative Mythology unit.
-- Same as the previous goal.
5). Spend more time discussing modern myths.
-- Again, same as the previous two. If I were an outsider reading this, I would get the impression that Mr. McGuirk just passed off his weakest units to a student teacher. Fair assumption, but the timing just worked out that way.
6). Flesh out the lessons on my two favorite stories, "The Most Dangerous Game," and "The Birds," and try to really help the students to understand the moods of the stories.
-- This absolutely worked. I did a much better job teaching these two stories this year and I think that everyone benefited.

Goals for English 3 CP
1). Read sections of The Prince during MacBeth and use them to analyze the characters of MacBeth and Lady MacBeth.
-- I did not do this. I think I still do not feel that comfortable with The Prince. I may put this on the back burner for another year or so. My MacBeth priorities have shifted for this upcoming year.
2). Find a better way to teach vocabulary.
-- I ended up teaching vocabulary exactly as I had in the past. This is still something that needs more work. I've been reading up on it, though.
3). Create more interesting lessons around The Canterbury Tales and The Decameron.
-- Both of these were vastly more interesting this year, but there is still room to grow. The Canterbury Tales in particular can be made much more interesting by focusing on how they are examples of social criticism.
4). Find a research paper topic that is interesting and challenging.
-- This was much better. Students wrote about what it meant to be heroic and I had them submit multiple drafts throughout the year. This was still not the success I wanted, but it was much, much better than previous years.
5). Find a year-long project idea that encourages reflection without being overly confusing or cumbersome.
-- This worked out nicely because I tied it in with the research paper. Fortunately, Dumont High School is moving to midterm exams for next year. Final projects will not exist next year.

Goals for SRA English
1). Differentiate assignments better based upon a particular student's needs.
-- I would say that this worked. All of my SRA students passed the HSPA test.
2). Stay organized with all of the paperwork needed to run this class.
-- I was much better with this during the past year. I rarely had to make any last minute photocopies, which was encouraging.
3). Continue to positively reinforce all student work.
-- Again, every student made it through the HSPA, so I would hope that is an indication that I am doing something right.

General Goals

1). Create better methods to teach and evaluate vocabulary skills.
-- This still needs work.
2). Encourage students to become more proficient at answering open-ended questions.
-- This is difficult to gauge. It is especially important for juniors to do well in this area, as their HSPA scores often ride on open-ended questions. Of the 44 juniors I had take the HSPA, only 2 did not pass. That is a pretty good percentage. I recognize that they have to pass it on their own, but I at least tried to make them comfortable with the types of questions that they would see.
3). Do not leave so much work for the end of each marking period or for the end of the school year.
-- Failure. Always tons to do at the end. Better than last year, but again needs more work.

Next year's goals coming soon.