Sunday, October 5, 2008

Week 2

Yes, I am the slacker. It should surprise no one. It should also surprise no one that it does not at all reflect the environment or structure of the class. Really, I swear it doesn't. And to prove it here is a summary of all the work Tom and I have done.

So Tom and I were given two classes to teach once a week. Both classes are 8th graders who are do it in lieu of their language arts class on Mondays (as a side not, what is with all the frivolous names given to English classes in this day and age). The first class is 11 students that are enrolled in the Ingenuity track of Roland Park Middle School. Apparently there are 3 distinct tracks that Roland Park kids get placed on in middle school. The Ingenuity track is a track that the kids have to test into in order to take advanced math and science classes. They are the cream of the crop and they all end up going to Baltimore Polytech or whatever the good magnet school is called and they go on to good colleges and obtain employment as doctors and lawyers and all the other society building good Samaritan vocations that Tom and I will never hold. The second class is full of the more remedial kids. There are only 8 of them so there are less to handle but they have not been exposed to a lot of the stuff Tom and I have been trying to teach.

The structure Tom and I have been imposing on the class is as follows. We are spending the first 5 weeks on poetry where Tom is taking the reigns, and then the last 5 weeks are for fiction where I will be taking over. Each class we start with workshopping what their assignment was the week before. Then we lecture for a little. Then we discuss the reading they were assigned in terms of the lecture information we have given them and then at the end we try to do some more writing and give them their reading and assignments for the next week. Our goal is to have them do a small amount of reading and a small amount of writing each week while also trying to provide them with concrete information in class time that they can use for their own work.

The first class we explained Haikus, read some examples and then had them write their own. We assigned them two Robert Frost poems to read (After Apple Picking and Stopping By Woods on a Snowy Eve). The second class we workshopped their own haikus and then did a small lecture on meter and rhyme. It was good because none of the kids had read Frost and they seemed to enjoy it (albeit to varying degrees). We assigned them two Shakesperean sonnets and asked that they write 4 iambic pentameter lines and that they scan their own lines for correctness (i.e. illustrate the stresses and divide the feet). We will see if they actually partake in this or if they finally develop the courage to blow us off.

The advanced class that we teach is great. They are like little college kids. They sit around quietly when we lecture and generally humor us in all our ridiculousness. They raise their hands when they want to talk and they are getting over the shyness of reading their own work. Also, there is this really quiet girl who sits in the back who is a poetry all star. The Haiku's she wrote were amazing and she seems to know everything we teach her. She is really reluctant to participate however, as it seems that she gets made fun of in class. We learned this in the first class when she said her favorite books were on necromania and once I stupidly explained what this was to the class (I told them it was books about zombies) they flipped and we had to lecture about class respect. Tom and I have been trying to get her engaged, and hopefully she will come out of her shell once we get to the serious writing. Tomorrow we are going to talk about sonnet structure and have them write their own, and assign them some free verse and prose poetry to read in order get a few more styles in.

The second class is a little more difficult for us. They have a much shorter attention span for our lectures so we try to fill more of the time with workshopping and writing in class. The problem is that only 2 or 3 regularly do their work so we don't have anything to workshop. We have been flirting with introducing some positive reinforcement to get them to do work (like candy, the great equalizer) but we are going to decide after we see how many did the writing for tomorrow. They don't do the reading as much as the first class, but they aren't nearly as shy. They fight to read out loud and to read their own writing out loud. The enthusiasm is there, just not the discipline. We are also going to try to bring in more poetry to read in class because that really really gets them excited. The struggle is keeping them engaged and we are flirting with the idea of changing the subject matter with them, but neither of us like the idea of teaching down to them because they definitely understand what we are saying, they just don't really care about it.

All in all it has been a blast so far. No disciplinary problems and we are getting better at keeping their attention each week. Everyone seems to enjoy it and they have a great creative spirit where they feel free to write about anything and everything, no matter how crazy. My only hope is that they don't get it beaten out of them by the time they finish high school like I did. I remember my first foray into creative writing was in 9th grade where I wrote an opus about a kid who gets stranded in Antarctica and when I turned it in, the teacher said, "Aidan, the number one rule of writing is to write what you know." I vowed to these kids on the first day I would never say anything like that to them because in my opinion that makes for insanely boring writing, as evidenced by the number of teenage love stories that I read for workshop, and it has been great so far. One kid wrote a Haiku set about a sinking ship, one kid wrote about playing football, one girl wrote about dating Obama. It's great to see that creative energy that hasn't gotten coopted by talk of 'realism' and 'veracity.' It's been very encouraging and hopefully the rest of the semester goes as well as it has so far.

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