Today, I universally implemented student-centered learning in the reading discussion class. The students took most of the class to discuss the issues in their discussion questions, and then we went over the answers at the end of class. Not only were there more answers, and more original answers, but many students were capable of ... I kid you not ... three times as much talking as they would get under the old teacher-centered system. Still having trouble getting some students engaged in the discussions, but it may take time and a little motivation on my part. Wish me luck.
Last week, one of my third grade students asked if she could have a list of due dates for the homework. It seemed like a tall order, but I decided to give it a try ... and I'm glad I did.
I made a list of all the readings, and all the homework, and all the quizzes, and speaking activities and writing and so on ... I'm sure that not only will the students be more organized, I think I will be more organized too.
I've already laid the first groundwork for diversifying the oral communication speaking activities too! I'll let you know how it goes.
The fact that I'm already updating much more than in the past is positive proof that the NELP program is finally coming together the way I want it to be.
As of now, I'm 95% planned through the next three weeks, and one of my four mid-term tests is already finished (and two of the others are about 40% finished!) I'm way ahead in the game, which is good, because I still need to make the review sheets for the mid-terms and get to work on preparing the readings for the second half of the term.
I especially want to find some interesting (and scary) videos to show for Halloween, and I'd like to update the pictures I'll be using for my Halloween slideshow after school! Yahoo! Halloween is my favorite holiday.
投稿者 nelp : 20:09
Just as our reading classes have been going through an overhaul, I'm now turning my attention to my oral communications classes in the hope that we can fix some weaknesses there as well.
I've added variety to the reading classes by introducing a broader variety of reading: poetry, fiction, non-fiction and current issues. I'm now laying the foundations of a similar revolution in oral communication. Up to now, my speaking tests have focused almost exclusively on presentations. We've dabbled in discussions and debates, but to be completely honest, I've had a little reluctance to giving up control of the class.
However, I've recently noticed a weakness in the curriculum. My students have become fantastic speakers. Their presentation skills are progressing wonderfully. Unfortunately, they are becoming proficient at only ONE kind of verbal communication. What I want to do is give them more opportunities to speak, more opportunities for EACH student to speak, and that's going to mean giving up some of my control and moving the oral communication classes to something a bit more learner centered.
I've already experimented in that direction, and the results were VERY well-received by the students, and the activities were very productive.
A few changes ...
One, there will now be a greater variety of speaking assignments. Some of these will be assessed by me, but others will not. These will consist of presentations to the whole class, presentations in small groups (that will include question and answer sessions, feedback sessions and so on), class discussions, discussions in small groups (including topic-based brainstorming sessions), and so on. One of my second graders REALLY, REALLY wants to do debates, and I somewhat hesitate because some students are not entirely comfortable with the adversarial nature of debates ... but I think we're going to do it anyway. Agreement and disagreement is an area of communication it wouldn't hurt to look into now and then.
In addition, I'm going to add more opportunities for students to speak amongst themselves. This week, I tried letting the students answer their reading questions in small groups, then checking their answers quickly in the last five minutes, rather than the previous style of checking the answers in class (in a more traditional teacher-centered style). It went over wonderfully. Students were speaking actively to one another in English in my second grade class.
As well, in the independent reading class, I set aside fifteen minutes for students to talk to one another about the books they are reading and/or books they recommend. This went over very well, for the most part, with my first grade reading class, but there was a little stress there, so I'll have to perhaps guide the students through the process a little more.
In my first grade writing class, I added fifteen minutes of cooperative learning. I use my Thursday writing class as an independent writing time, where students can do brainstorming and work on their rough drafts for their essays. This time, I had students show their work to one another and asked them to explain their essay topic (they had a choice of three), go over their development, and then get suggestions from their groups about how to develop the essay, things they could explore, some group brainstorming and more. It worked so well, that I wonder why I hadn't done it all along!
As I see it, the biggest weakness in oral communication, in a nutshell, is that my students are improving in presentation, but not conversation. I want them to be able to speak, listen and respond to questions and comments in a less formal task than simple prepared presentations.
I think this will be a very good addition to the speaking curriculum.
In the future, I may give a little thought to the first grade writing curriculum.
投稿者 nelp : 23:05
This week, we studied fiction in all three junior high NELP classes.
The first grade studied "Gonzalo" by Paul Fleischman. This is from our Visions textbook. It's about a boy and his family who come to America from Guatemala, and especially about the problems Gonzalo's Great Uncle, Tio Juan, has in adjusting to his new life so far from his home.
The second grade studied "Rikki-Tikki-Tavi" by Rudyard Kipling. This is quite ambitious, as it is one of the longest stories in our curriculum, however, the students really enjoyed it. It's about a mongoose, a small weasel-like animal, named Rikki who goes to war against two cobras, snakes who are trying to kill the family that adopted him.
The third grade just finished "Buried Poems" by Terry Tempest Williams. This is a story about an archaeologist who gets the whole town talking about its past by leaving mysterious poems all over town. Unfortunately, the students had a very difficult time, as many of our reading questions were about motivations. This was quite a difficult story in terms of age-appropriateness, and I'll be giving consideration to replacing this story with something else in the future.
Next Week: Non-fiction.
The first grade will be reading about fashions in the 18th and 19th century from a selection from Grammar Sense from Oxford.
The second grade will be reading a true story about trading and friendship between enemies during the US Civil War in "Blue and Gray Fraternize on the Picket Line" by Alexander Hunter from the book The Blue and the Gray by Henry Steele Commager.
The third grade will be reading a selection written by me about the Mausoleum of Theodoric: an amazing and nearly indestructible piece of ancient architecture.
I'll let you know how it goes.
Wish me luck!
投稿者 nelp : 19:49
I figure we're overdue for some pictures ...
It's been a little difficult to take picture. Some of my students don't want their pictures taken. Maybe it's because I always take pictures that embarrass them. This time, I'll try to protect the innocent ... and the not so innocent ... with a few smiles.
Mimi is quite popular ... in a way ...
Students were supposed to use this time to chat in English. I've been trying to create more opportunities for students to talk to one another in English ... not working out so well here.
I blocked out pencil cases, watches and so on to prevent kids from getting in trouble with Mom and Dad ... after all, it was only a minute or two before the end of class on a rainy day, and we all know how sleepy we can get on days like this ...
Students frequently need dictionaries in my class.
A student is doing her vocabulary homework. I believe using the words in sentences is more useful than memorizing the meanings. I encourage my students to use the word to describe something real, something personal, something from experience, in order to tie the word into the memory. It's a kind of 'learn by association' approach.
Here, one of my first graders is working on an essay.
Here, another student is working on an essay.
Here is a student preparing for a speaking test.
Here, my high school students are being taught by a professor from a local junior college.. (I would put both her name and the name of the junior college here but ... is it okay?) I'm not sure, so I'll err on the side of caution.
The professor brought an interesting magazine, and the students had a nice discussion about appearance, and the singer Joss Stone.
One of my high school students fills in a chart on the board.
My first graders want to put a column in the newspaper about Mark's Neckties.
投稿者 nelp : 10:03
I haven't updated in a little while, as usual. My NELP blog is starting to sound a little like my letters to my grandmother: "Sorry I haven't written in so long, but I've been very busy."
I've been working on the new NELP curriculum and have now, other than a few snags, pretty much hammered it into shape.
Each half-term, students will have one poem, one short story, one non-fiction article and one current issue. In addition, I've updated the guidelines for new words and other vocabulary exercises. In the past, my rule was that students had to give me two new words every Monday, and that the second Monday after receiving a new reading packet, students would give me ten sentences using vocabulary from the reading. However, we've had a problem remember what's due and when. So starting this week, new words and vocabulary exercises will be a part of the packet, and each one will be appropriately labeled. This will make it a lot easier to remember when stuff is due. I write due dates on the speaking assignment sheet.
Also, I've been working on the new English reading tests. From now on, readings will come from a variety of sources, including our Progress in English book. Each test, the students will have three readings: a poem, a short story, and a non-fiction article or current issue article. These will be given to students in advance to study, but they won't see the questions until the day of the test. Also, the study packets will have vocabulary, but the real tests will not.
This means that each term, students will get a minimum of four poems, four short stories, and six non-fiction articles and current issues. Not bad at all.
The poems will also include music lyrics, and I've had some fun finding real poetry among song lyrics, both old and new.
This means that students will have a greater variety of readings in their tests. Although the tests will be much harder, I hope they will also be more interesting. I also hope this will finally put an end to students finishing my 50-minute readings tests in 20 minutes.
Finally, I've decided to start updating the NELP blog from home so that I'll have more chances to keep this blog up-to-date.
投稿者 nelp : 21:54
In the hope I can do this more often, I'd like to give a bit of a more mundane rundown on what we're doing this week.
In first grade, we read and discussed a poem called 'An Easy Decision' by Kenneth Patchen. The students enjoyed it enormously. The students made short presentations about unusual people they've seen.
In second grade, the students read and discussed 'When I Heard the Learn'd Astronomer' by Walt Whitman. That, likewise, went over very well. They students made quite good presentations about art vs. science, enjoying a thing vs. studying it.
In third grade, we tried to read 'Ulysses' by Tennyson. I realized that it would be difficult, but I thought the story would get them going. Unfortunately, even though we went over the vocabulary, the abstractness of some of the lines made understanding next to impossible. It's a lesson for the future: poetry is a real challenge when it's not in your native language. So, instead, we're replacing that with 'Acquainted with the Night' by Robert Frost. I'll let you know next week how it goes.
Next week, the first graders will work on their Special Project. The second graders will review verb tenses with me. The third graders will read a new poem.
The following week, the first graders will read a short story called 'Gonzalo' by Paul Fleischman. The second graders will read Rikki-Tikki-Tavi by Rudyard Kipling. I'm a little worried about that one, but again, I'll let you know how it goes. The third graders will read 'Buried Poems' by Terry Tempest Williams. They've already responded favorably, and I think it will prove easier than Tennyson!
投稿者 nelp : 15:37
Well, I had meant to update a little more often, but I haven't done it. Here's why. I've been busy updating the curriculum.
See, I realized at the end of last term that, although things were not going badly in the NELP program, they weren't going as well as they could be.
Originally, we had a literature textbook. Unfortunately, half the students said it was too easy, and half said it was too hard and about 75% of them said they just didn't like it.
So after that, I started using newspaper articles. The newspaper articles were good because they were challenging, and they were fresh. I could choose articles that matched the students' interesting, and that was a good thing.
However, as I said, I began to realize that something was missing. Newspaper articles, I told my students, have a lot of vocabulary: but they only have ONE KIND of vocabulary. They only have ONE KIND of grammar. In real life, there are many kinds of vocabulary and many varieties of grammar, and this was something that I knew we had to address a little better.
So I decided to expand the curriculum, give it more variety. I have, in essence, reestablished my reading classes as LITERATURE classes. I could not find a satisfactory textbook, and considering the nature of NELP, that is perhaps a good thing. Instead, I am MAKING a textbook for my students in the form of an online reading curriculum.
Each half-term, the students will have one poem, one short story, one non-fiction article, and one current issue from a newspaper or magazine. I can already see that this is going to reinvigorate the students.
We have everything from Shel Silverstein to Isaac Asimov. We have the humor of James Thurber, the adventure of Rudyard Kipling, the suspense of Edgar Allan Poe, as well as more recent works of fiction by authors such as Kelly Link and Jeanne Wakatsuki Houston.
Our non-fiction likewise is diverse, including recipes, fashion, psychology, history, architecture, technology, great speeches (including three wonderful Native American speeches), stories of modern-day pirates, and lost gold mines, massive volcanoes to haunted hotels.
The volume and variety is really exciting for me. However, we've already had a few bumps in the road. I was perhaps far, overly ambitious in attempting to teach Tennyson. It wasn't merely the vocabulary, but the structure of the poem itself. I've therefore already replaced some older poems with more contemporary works, including modern music lyrics and a very nice Robert Frost poem. I hope these will be received a little better.
Any curriculum is a work in progress, but I hope this work will be, with a few exceptions, enduring.
投稿者 nelp : 15:23
Summer Homework went splendidly!
All of the students did their homework ... although some did more than others. Of all my classes, the first grade students did the most work. One student went far beyond the call of duty and gave me FIFTEEN pages of writing.
I was really amazed. Naturally, many of my students did a great job on their homework. Some students showed significant progress in their writing. However, overall, the first grade students did the most work.
投稿者 nelp : 15:16
Well, it took a long time, but the first grade class finally finished their project for first term. It's a book: a very impressive book. I think in the 15 years that I've been teaching, I've never had a project turn out so well. The students put SO much effort into their project. I'm really, really proud of them.
Here's a look at the cover:
And even though my students will kill me, here's one of the pictures they drew for the book.
The book has 14 chapters, and is 12 pages long, not including the wonderful illustrations at the end. I asked the students what they want to do for their next project, and they said they want to do a newsletter! They are already deciding what columns to put into the newsletter and talking about who's going to do what!
They've really done a fantastic job on this project, and it's something I plan to keep forever!
投稿者 nelp : 15:10