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.


New Speaking Curriculum


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.


Readings This Week


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!




I figure we're overdue for some pictures ...

09-26-08 empty room.JPG

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.

09-26-08 mimi.JPG

Mimi is quite popular ... in a way ...

09-26-08 nap time.JPG

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 ...

09-26-08 dictionary.JPG

Students frequently need dictionaries in my class.

09-26-08 vocab.JPG

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.

09-26-08 essay-dictionary.JPG

Here, one of my first graders is working on an essay.

09-26-08 essay.JPG

Here, another student is working on an essay.

09-26-08 speaking test prep.JPG

Here is a student preparing for a speaking test.

09-26-08 k1 teacher.JPG

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.

09-26-08 k1 magazine.JPG

The professor brought an interesting magazine, and the students had a nice discussion about appearance, and the singer Joss Stone.

09-26-08 k1 board.JPG

One of my high school students fills in a chart on the board.

09-26-08 tie.JPG

My first graders want to put a column in the newspaper about Mark's Neckties.