Monday, May 24, 2010

Outdoor Ed

My husband's bags are packed.  This morning he leaves to spend three days in the great outdoors with 150 sixth graders.  When we told our daughter about his impending trip, she cried for several hours.  The next morning she asked, "Is Daddy going because he HAS to go?  Or because he wants to go?"  Well, a little bit of both.  And isn't that how it is with so much of what we do?

Thanks to our bizarre winter weather, my husband's school district doesn't celebrate its Last Day until June 23rd.  As the fourth marking period began a mere two weeks ago, my husband said, "They're done."  A spate of spitting and binder-clip-throwing incidents this week has proved his point. A change of pace and scenery will do everyone some good. 

My husband's district has changed its curriculum substantially in the last few years.  Reading and interpreting novels has been discouraged (except as a supplementary activity) for on-grade-level readers. Most of the instruction is aimed at "reading to perform a task" (and pass a test).  Does this trend sound familiar to you classroom teachers?
Being a creative type, my husband tries to incorporate song lyrics into writing assignments in order to draw out his middle school musicians. A recent research project involved designing travel brochures for summer destinations. Thinking ahead -- to summer and beyond -- is always a good end-of-year theme.

On the other hand, my end-of-year activity for English 101 students is typically a boring (but necessary) portfolio review. 
Which was your strongest paper?
Which was your weakest?
What did you learn this semester?
What do you wish you'd learned?
What did you like about this class?
What didn't you like?

Of course the students are being graded on this assignment, so I rarely get honest answers about what they didn't like. I'll have to work on that one, because I really do want to know!

Writing Workout

It occurs to me that a really good end-of-year activity might synthesize the forward-looking and backward-looking inclinations into one assignment.  My daughter is "graduating" from preschool next week, and I must admit to feeling ridiculously sentimental about this passage. My 3-year-old son is simply graduating from one room to the next, and I feel almost almost as freklempt that wonderful Ms. Liz and Ms. Kim will never teach a Ford child again.

My brother-in-law, an English Lit major (now a computer programmer) was telling me yesterday with great intensity about his favorite English assignment, in which he was asked to write a letter applying for his dream job.  I had my students complete a similar assignment once and received mostly enthusiastic responses.  Of course there are always the students who have no idea what their dream job may be or who do not have the appropriate qualifications to list and don't feel comfortable making them up. :)


I ask my students in their research essays to write about how they'd like to change the world.  This is a daunting assignment for many.  Some ignore this aspect of the assignment and simply research a topic of moderate interest to them, such as legalization of marijuana (a very popular choice!). But then I will get the essays that move me to tears -- the student who wants to be a dentist serving kids with special needs because her brother has autism and could never find adequate dental care; the student who has struggled for years with an eating disorder and wants to spend her career working with girls in similar situations.

Ask my daughter how she'd like to change the world.  When she grows up she'd like to be a doctor, a dancing teddy bear, and well, "everything."   (This in addition to the previously mentioned goals of cowgirl and writer.) But in this year, she's already changed my world, her father's world, her brother's world, her best friend, Lucy's world.  I'd love a memory book, a scrapbook, any sort of tangible memento of this precious year that she will, a decade hence, barely remember. I'd also love a record of her future plans to see how these change as the years go by. I want her thinking each day about yesterday, today, and tomorrow, because each is an equally important part of who we are. --Jeanne Marie

Kate Ford, self-portrait (age 4)


Kelly Polark said...

My children are winding down their school year. Their only complaint is that it's so hot today! (I won't complain though...I love summer weather, though I'm hot too!) But it seems to be an overabundance of May school activities that are keeping us busy in the evenings.
My youngest is graduating preschool this week. I will certainly be tearing up.
I like all the writing assignments you mentioned.
You would think that the students wouldn't mind looking over their portfolios and reflecting. Enjoy the rest of the year, summer is near!

Carmela Martino said...

Wow, Jeanne Marie, I hadn't thought about the schools affected by the snowstorms this year. I can't imagine having to teach into mid-June. Good luck to your husband!
By the way, I've seen fifth-graders do the travel-brochure research project, only they had to present it via PowerPoint. Some of the students really got into it, using sound effects and animation to show off their vacation destination. Sort of a high-tech version of my fantasy-vacation postcard idea. :-)

Jeanne Marie Grunwell Ford said...

Kelly, I looked at your blog and saw your childhood journal entries. You sound a lot like my daughter! Good luck with the graduation -- and congrats to your little one!

Carmela, isn't it amazing what fifth graders can do with PowerPoint?

How do you teachers with year-round school manage teaching in the summertime?

April Halprin Wayland said...

freklempt is such a great word for it...for feeling choked with emotion (I looked it up to be sure I remembered what it embarrassing.

My hat's off to your husband and your continued desire to bring true literature and writing to your students!