Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Teaching like a Pirate: Funeral for Polynieces

Last week, I began reading Teach like a Pirate by Dave Burgess.  It is a great book about engagement! I immediately connected with the theme because like Burgess, I am told how easy it is for me to be creative (yeah, real easy).  I also subscribe to the methodology that kids need to be up and around in the classroom especially after I attended the Teaching Shakespeare Institute.  Teaching through performance has become a focus for me.  As an affirmation of this, the Speech teacher at my campus told me that the sophomores (this is my second year with them) had less stage fright and were more comfortable speaking in his class (and there are a lot of introverts in the group).  Yippee!

As our beginning to Antigone, I decided to research an Ancient Greek funeral and use our abbreviated schedule on Friday to re-enact the funeral for Antigone's brother, Polynieces.

I made a program for the funeral:

Polynieces Funeral

Then I set about buying props at the Dollar store and getting my room arranged.  We had a blast!  My fellow teachers were super supportive, wanting us to stop in front of their portable for our bouts of mourning.  The students also dressed for a funeral.  One student commented that this was "the weirdest thing she has ever done in school. Ever." Well, thank you.

Here are some pics from the event.

Props for the offering include: water, milk, honey, fruit, and celery

Women pulling out their hair (extensions) in the background.

The corpse laid out with all of the offerings.
I loved how excited the students were and I also loved how the other classes were envious.  The freshman Biology teacher kept telling his students, "you will have her next year."

Dave Burgess notes that our students are plagued by boredom throughout the day.  As teachers, we have two choices: be part of the boredom, or choose to be a respite from it!  I am glad I could be a respite from it.

Blessed to be teaching,

Sunday, August 18, 2013

More Pirating: Gclass Folders

This week, I introduced my class to gClass Folders.  This is a great script from Google docs that enables the teacher to share documents with students via either an "edit" or a "view" folder.  Additionally, there is an assignment folder for each student that work can easily be dragged into.  Sounds easy-peasy, right?

More info here:

The only caveat is that my students don't know how to use Google Docs (I'm at a 1:1 campus!).  So guess who gets to teach them? Me!  Guess who gets really impatient when people can't get technology? Me!  In my quest for greatness (again thanks to David Burgess), I embarked on the lesson of a lifetime.

OK, it went pretty well.  There were some really frustrating moments (Ss putting qmail in lieu of gmail, not knowing their gmail, not checking their shared folder, etc), but in the end, it went really, really well.  The lightbulb started coming on:

"Can we use this when we have presentations together?"  YES!
"This works so much better than Word." YES!
"Wow! I can see all the changes and go back to any one I want?"  YES!

We started with an "easy" assignment.  Easy only in the part that they had done it freshman year many times.  They created a prompt book using Creon's first speech from Antigone.  It is a long-winded fifty line monologue.  We cut it down to the 25 most important lines and add in stage directions and tone words.  Oooh, sneaky close reading!  More on this in my posts below.

The students liked how easy it was to collaborate with Google Docs and I liked getting a bit closer to a paperless classroom (we only have one really horrid copy machine).

I'm leaving this post with another of my favorite quotes by Dave Burgess.  His book discusses how every teacher should aspire to be great because "in our profession, greatness is the ultimate act of unselfishness."  Think about that one. 

Blessed to be teaching,

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Greta tries out Google Scripts

Twitter PLN and Google Scripts

I follow some amazing people on Twitter.  While Facebook is my family and friends site, Twitter is my PLN. I started to see some posts about Google Scripts and how to use them to control grading and paper load in class.  I was intrigued because I have "1:1" technology at my school.  Why in quotes?  The "computers" my students have are 6 year old Dell laptops.  They are fussy, temperamental, slow, broken down, and generally suck (the computers not the kids).

The problem we encountered last year with these devices was their constant affinity for crashing and losing student work. I began to look into Google Docs as an answer to this and soon learned that Google has a whole bounty of scripts to help me (and the kids) out.

After watching videos here:  Doctopus

Now I am not, nor profess to be a computer genius.  This stuff was pretty daunting to me, but I decided to go for it.  For the Creation Myth presentations, I decided to give this little Doctupus a trial run.  I also added in Goobric to give the students instant feedback.

I started with a Google Form and ran the Doctupus script.  It did involve installing Chrome on every one of my devices, but I muddled through it.  I showed the students on the IWB how I would bring up their presentation and then grade it.  They were amazed!  Here are some screenshots of my "conjurings" with Doctopus and Goobric. It worked really well.

 Screenshot showing how I bring up a student's link and then click on Goobric (upper right).  The rubric is filled out real time with comments and then sent to the student immediately.  I can re-grade as necessary as well.

Here is a screenshot of my results spreadsheet.  I can see the average score on each category and evaluate this data for areas to address.  I also have the Doctopus script drop down showing.  A few steps, but definitely worth it.

I would like to thank Jay Atwood for answering my email about the script and giving me advice on how to use it for large assignments.  

This weekend, I experimented with another few scripts called GClass Folders, DocAppender, and Flubaroo.  Introductions to these can be found here:

For the upcoming week, we are going to do a Folger Shakespeare activity.  We will be doing prompt books with Creon's speech from Antigone.  I discussed this activity in a previous post. It is one of the best close reading activities you can do.  I plan on having the kids use Google Docs for this so I can introduce them to the sharing capabilities of their Gdrive.

Let's see how the week goes!

Blessed to be teaching,

Sophomore English:Small Group Presentations

Back to School!

I am now about to begin the third week of school with my sophomores. I have one great advantage with this group--I had them last year for English I. It was nice to not have to learn names for a new group!

Since I knew I would have the same group again, I gave them a short summer reading assignment which would introduce them to Creation Myths. As sophomores, they are taking World History and I always like to do interdisciplinary planning with the Social Studies department.  The World History teacher and I went through the Scope and Sequence for W. History, and I plugged in texts that would compliment both of the SEs for English and the SEs for W. History.

Robert Barker helped me quantify student expectations for the assignment, and I gave the students the lesson via Edmodo.  You can find it here:

English II _World History Summer Assignment

Last week, the students presented their projects in small group rotations. I am a big fan of this method for several reasons:

  1. It allows students to present more than once. I grade them on their 2nd or 3rd presentation when they have honed their time, pacing, and poise.
  2. It is easier for the small groups to pay attention to the presenter than if we were to have one presenter in front of the whole class.
  3. For introverted students, it is less daunting than doing a full group presentation.  
  4. Students are more apt to take notes during presentations because of the close proximity to the presenter.
Admittedly, it is a logistical nightmare with varying class sizes.  I assign the groups and it is easy for me to forget from class to class who was presenting (I now teach 7 of 8 class periods!).  Also, if you have 4 students presenting, they will not see each others presentation.  There was overlap in this assignment, so it wasn't a problem.

Here are some pics of the assignment in full bloom.  My principal loved it!  It really is one of those class dynamics that pretty much guarantee 100% engagement.

Five Presenters with four audience members at each station. I can walk around and remind about poise, volume, and pacing.
Students who used Popplet, Voicethread, GlogsterEDU or other 2.0 tools instead of PowerPoint or Prezi got extra points.

Presentation using Popplet

Students needed 2 instances of audience interaction. Here they complete a phone poll.

Using PollEverywhere for audience interaction.

It was definitely an energetic week. I saw so much growth in my sophomores. The introverts have learned how to come out of their shell for presenting and give it their all.  I also attribute this to the many instances of Performance-Based Learning activities we do.

We are off to begin our unit on Antigone now as they begin Ancient Civilizations in World History. We will do our engagement activity with my own version of a 32-second Antigone (a take-off of the 32 second Macbeth from the Folger)

Keep me in mind this week:  I submitted a proposal to get a sponsored for a classroom redesign! Fingers crossed!  I got the idea from here:  Rethinking Classroom Design  (This teacher has some amazing information on her site!)

Blessed to be teaching,



Monday, September 3, 2012

Putting it all together: Prompt books and Performances with The Most Dangerous Game

Hope everyone is enjoying their long weekend.  It has been a crazy week!  In addition to my regular teaching job with Freshman English, I am also an online instructor for our local community college.  I teach online Freshman Comp and Research and have four sections (that's about another 100 students).  This week was spent teaching during the day and then getting home and teachings some more.  Very busy week, but I love it.  I am an online teacher for two local high schools and have another class with just community college students.

Last week, my classes put together all their new skills of performance and prompt books together.  Each group of 4 was given 4 pages of the short story The Most Dangerous Game. They were then instructed to cut 50% of their section, complete a prompt book, add in at least 3 extras (10 sec of silence, moment of laughter, line spoken directly to the audience, etc), and finally put it up on stage. They were also required to add in one prop and one costume change.

The results were fantastic.  Not only did it give us a great overview of the story, the action really helped to reinforce the theme of the story.  Their prompt book skills have improved tremendously.  They made critical choices about what to keep and what to cut.  They also made specific choices about their staging and movement.  One cool surprise was their use of sound effects and other things with the use of laptops.  Many groups chose background music or scenes to have on their computer while they performed.

I also noticed they are a lot less shy about performing.  Everyone is comfortable and out of their shells.  They take risks in their lines and movements.  Most of them even memorized their scripts!

Here is a sample script:

Rainsford on his Yacht

Here is a pic of one of my students with their group prop.  They were so creative!!  A great success and much better than just reading the story aloud and then lecturing on it.

I will post the handout for the activity on my Wiki.  This is part of my livebinder site.

This week we will be working on a jigsaw activity of the book How to Read Literature Like a Professor.  Each student is responsible for one chapter and will be making a Pecha Kucha presentation.  Let's see how it goes.

Blessed to be teaching!


Monday, August 20, 2012

Prompt Books: Shakespeare Strategies with Prose, Week 3

Most of you are just going back to unpack your stuff at school.  I am now starting my 4th week at my wonderful school.  I am continually impressed by my students.  They are working very hard and acclimating to the demands of being at an Early College High School.

The Early College High School

Some background:  Students make a choice to come to our school.  They often leave behind most of their friends who go to our "traditional" high schools.  These students come to our school knowing they can achieve an Associate's Degree by the time they graduate and are often in their Junior year at our University when they graduate.  It is challenging and they must give up lots of things.  We don't offer sports (just intramurals) or marching band or a theater program.  As such, they can decide to return to their regular neighborhood high school at any time.  It is my job to make them feel secure, happy, and challenged as freshmen.

With that in mind, I had some mini-therapy sessions this week.  We talked about what was stressing them out.  Mostly, it is getting used to homework every night and keeping up with their agenda.  Here's the great part:  we also talked about what they liked about the school so far.  The second list far outweighed the first.  They mentioned the food, the atmosphere, the academics, no bullying, helpful upper classmen, and the teachers. Now, if I can just teach them how to do a concise summary of a short story, all will be well.

Prompt Books:

This exercise is one of the ones in the Shakespeare Set Free series.  I used the same method with the story, The Cask of Amontillado.  Here is what I did:

1.  I had the students view a promptbook tutorial that I found on youtube and complete a WSQ (WSQ is an acronym for Watch Summarize and Question that I have adapted from Crystal Kirch).  I also used the example from the SSF book and some images from the SSF jump drive.

2.  I gave each student one page of the story.  I enlarged it to about 18pt and increased the margin to about 3".

3.  Students were instructed to cut at least 1/3 of their page.  This makes them close read the selection and decide what is the most important on the page. 

4.  Students then decided how to move their characters onstage.  They had to decide where the character was at the beginning, where they moved, and where they were at the end of the page.

5.  Students added tone for any words that were spoken.  They had to be as specific as possible.

Are you seeing what I'm's called sneaky close reading!

6.  Students then added any small movements, props, and pauses.

Here is a great example:

This is the kind of close reading I had to BEG my AP kids to do when I had AP Lit.  I was really happy with the results.

There are still some challenges that I am finding with my freshman.  I am trying desperately to teach them how to do a great summary of a short story.  We are getting there slowly but surely.  It is tough though.  I am also trying to work on their levels of questions that they write.  They are so used to writing low level questions.

This week we are reading The Scarlet Ibis and The Most Dangerous Game.  I love giving them disturbing short stories (insert evil laugh).

Hope everyone has a great week getting ready for school to start!

Blessed to be Teaching!

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Second Week of School: Using Shakespeare Strategies with Prose

As the second week of school ended, I am reflecting on techniques I have started using to introduce literary terminology in short stories.

Silent Scenes with Prose

First, a Shakespeare Set Free strategy called "Silent Scenes."  I used this on the first day of school to get kids comfortable in my class.  This week, I used them to get in some higher level reading and what we call "sneaky close reading."  I used the short story, Eleven by Sandra Cisneros for my lesson.

We had already read Eleven using the Tolaydo method of reading through (read around until you reach a period, semicolon, or exclamation) and I also used the story to explain 6 different kinds of imagery for which they found examples (visual, auditory, olfactory, gustatory, tactile, and kinesthetic).

I put the students in groups of 5-6 and gave them instructions for Silent Scenes:

  1. Everyone must write a script.
  2. Go through the story and decide on the main events that happen.
  3. Figure out what can be shown to an audience and what cannot.
  4. Once you have established the main action, write your script using adjectives to describe how the action will be shown to the audience.  Ex:  Rachel pushes away sweater angrily.
  5. Cast your scene.
  6. You must use at LEAST one prop and have at LEAST one costume/hair change.
  7. You must begin and end in tableau.
  8. Run your scene.  Make sure you do not have your back to the audience--cheat out. (I am working in theater/acting vocab as well)
The class had about 45 minutes total for this exercise and then about 10 minutes on the day of performance to do final rehearsal.

Here are some pics of the exercise:

 Mean teacher making Rachel put on the sweater

 Rachel crying into her "clown sweater arms."

 Putting her arms into the sweater that "smells like cottage cheese."

 "I'm Eleven, and ten, and nine, and eight, and seven, and six, and five, and four, and three, and two and one."


I was impressed that so many groups went all out on their props (I had birthday cakes in nearly every class, lots of pillows, red sweaters, eyeglasses for the teacher, and mustaches for the father).  They were enthusiastic and great audience members.

I need to work on how they critique each other.  While they were willing to say what they liked, they were terrified to say what could be added or what did not work.  I also need to add in pauses next time; some groups went fast out of nervousness.

I also need to have an exemplar script (have one now).  Some of the scripts were not detailed as they spent their time rehearsing and not writing first.

Exemplar Script (typed for group by Ericka H.):

Parents: *put birthday ribbon on Rachel and send her off to school*
Rachel: *arrives at school looking a bit upset*
Silvia: *already sitting in seat*
Mrs. Price: *takes out red sweater and goes around showing it to everyone to see whose it is*
Everyone: *shake head no*
Mrs. Price: *insists and shows it again*
Silvia: *it gets shown to her and she shakes her head no, pointing to Rachel*
Mrs. Price: *drops it on Rachel’s desk*
Rachel: *looks at it for a bit, raises her hand to get Mrs. Price’s attention and shakes her head no again, indicating it’s not hers*
Mrs. Price: *shakes her head and points at Rachel sternly, gesturing that it is hers, even if she ‘says’ it isn’t*
Rachel: *hangs her head a bit in defeat*
Rachel: *shuts her eyes and clenches her teeth, thinking of what is to come*
Mother: *motions making a cake*
Father: *comes home*
Parents: *motions happy birthday with hands, as if ‘conducting’*
Parents: *walk away slowly, as thoughts go away*
Rachel: *opens her eyes and stares at the sweater for a moment, then gently pushes it away to the corner then moves her chair a bit to the right*

Beginnings of a Flipped Classroom:


I also began doing some flipping of my class this week.  Using Edmodo, I am posting short stories, audio links, and other videos for the students to have read/watched before coming to class.  I first just told them to read/watch and "take notes."  That was too vague and so I began using a template which combines the WSQ from Crystal Kirch and Cornell Notes.  I have two templates:  a Read-Summarize-Question for reading and a Watch-Summarize-Question for videos.  

Our first day using the RSQ was yesterday with The Sniper as their reading.  I honestly did not expect much in the way of summary as the students haven't learned this skill in previous grades.  They did a pretty good job for a first try.  I spent the period beginning a calibration process for them.  I used my doc cam to put chosen examples up on the IWB and had students rate them (again, they are terrified to rate something low).

On Monday/Tuesday, they are doing an RSQ for The Cask of Amontillado and a WSQ on a video tutorial on prompt books.  I am going to have them do a prompt book for Cask next week (More Shakespeare strategies with prose). I have time allotted to continue the calibration process.  I will use some Kagan strategies for revising with a partner and hopefully, by end of next week, we will know exactly what is needed to have a WSQ and RSQ.

It was a great week where I learned as much as the students!  Tonight, I am off to the Texas Region 19 Teacher of the Year Banquet where I will represent my district.  I am very nervous!

Blessed to be Teaching!


Monday, July 30, 2012

First Day of School--Comedy of Errors

For those of you who have been reading my TSI updates, you are probably wondering--is she back at school?  The answer is YES!!

We are on year round school, so today was our first day back with students.  I missed 5 days of staff development while I was in DC.  I am at a new campus this year as well.

So, I felt like Dromio in Comedy of Errors (shout out to Kim Dickstein in Jersey)!  I had no idea what was going on.

Here are some funny moments from the first day:

1.  We have no bells because we are housed in portables.  I have no idea when classes start or end!  (problem resolved at 10:30).

2.  My Promethean board was not mirroring my desktop and when I reset it, it showed the desktop upside down!  This is after I tell the kids about my blog, twitter, edmodo, and livebinders.  They were probably thinking, "this lady can't even use a smartboard!"  (problem resolved around 11:30).

3.  I get an email from a friend who wants to call me in-district, and asks for my phone extension.  I don't know it!  It's not on my phone!  I have to email my secretary and ask for my phone number! (problem resolved around 11:00).

4.  I only know about 5 people at my new campus, so I am perpetually introducing myself to people and acting like a complete dork!

5.  I don't know where the bathroom is!  (Resolved at 12:05)

My new school is an Early College High School, so the students are given quite a bit of freedom because they are taking college classes and we are a small campus.  Students must apply to come to our school and we have a population of 500.  It is great to have class sizes of 25 or below and have students who really want to be there.

Here are the things that went well today:

1.  My lesson!  Today students wrote letters to themselves.  They addressed their educational and social goals.  I am keeping the letters for the week before they graduated.  I made sure they added in their favorite music, crushes, etc.  These things will be really humorous when they read them in 2016.

2.  My Shakespeare Set Free lesson!  I did silent scenes today and taught kids about tableaux.  They had a great time getting up and acting out scenes.  When they were done, I asked about some basic relationships they saw in the scenes.  When I told them they were all from Shakespeare, they couldn't believe it.

That's my day.  Amidst the chaos, Master Shakespeare did not let me down!

I miss my TSI friends and faculty, but I am so happy to be back in the classroom.  I love the new year and all its possibilities. 

Blessed to be Teaching!