As we approach the end of the semester – finals are next week – I find myself in panic mode, with that old question cropping up in my brain late at night when I am trying to fall asleep…what have my students learned the last eighteen weeks?!
The pessimistic me thinks, “Not a lot,” especially due to my taking the first six weeks off, but the optimist in me thinks, “More than they knew in August when school started” – and that is good! While I feel like we are weeks behind where we were last year at this time, that is partly due to maternity leave and mostly due to how I reorganized my syllabus, so some stuff we read in the spring last year we read in the fall this year, and adding other readings.
To help make me feel like we’re accomplishing stuff, here’s some cool stuff happening at school:
– My AP kids just began looking at the rhetorical analysis essay on the AP exam, and using close reading skills to analyze a text deeper than “It’s about…” I put together a mini-project for them this week I’m pretty excited about. Since they are learning about the Civil War in their US History classes, I chose four different primary source texts from the time period:
- The Gettysburg Address by Abraham Lincoln (speech)
- O Captain, My Captain! by Walt Whitman (poem)
- Battle Hymn of the Republic by Julia Ward Howe (song)
- “My very dear wife” – Last letter of Major Sullivan Ballou (letter)
Students choose a text, do a close reading of the various rhetorical strategies used by the author and the effect of those strategies, and then use our new database JSTOR to find literary journals discussing these texts and cite other authors to help inform their understanding of the text. Eventually they put it all together into a 2-4 page paper. They are a little perplexed by the open-ended nature of the assignment, but it is very much like the papers I wrote in college on a weekly basis. They must use analytic skills, learn how to research on massive databases, include a works cited page, and produce something mildly useful to the academic world, in the space of a few days. Plus, it links up with their history class, reinforcing other concepts they are learning there with regards to the historical context of the text.
– I love JSTOR. Here is a short haiku I wrote showing my love for JSTOR:
You saved me at 3 AM
So, so many times
If you’re not familiar with JSTOR, it is a massive electronic database of hundreds of thousands of academic journals, articles, and studies. I used it for virtually every paper I wrote in college, and was actually pretty sad to lose access after graduation. I never had to go to the library, because everything I needed was on JSTOR. For my senior thesis for sociology, I pulled one book from the library on my topic, opened it to the bibliography at the back, and literally pulled up dozens of studies that were referenced in that book on JSTOR. On occasion, I see friends on Facebook put out requests to a friend who still has JSTOR access, to find a hard-to-find resource that isn’t free on the internet. Anyway, it came up in conversation with our librarian at my school last spring, and she being the fantastic librarian she is, found budget money and added it to our research tools (it helps that we are considered an extremely “at risk” high school and got a serious discount). So long story…not very brief, I am so excited to have my students use this database I used in college, combined with Google Drive – two skills that were instrumental in my college success.
– My English 3 kids are reading a memoir called Fist Stick Knife Gun (2010) by Geoffrey Canada (bio). Canada grew up in the Bronx in the 1960s and ’70s, one of four boys of a single mom, writes about his childhood of learning to fight to survive, and parallels his education and eventual teaching career with the sociological history of America’s war on drugs, advent of crack cocaine, and proliferation of handguns. Several of my male students, many of whom proudly say they have never finished a book, are devouring this nonfiction text. They beg me to read it aloud, mostly because there is a lot of swearing in it. We are pairing it with current event discussions about Trayvon Martin, Eric Garner, Michael Brown, and Tamir Rice, and reading academic texts about broken windows police theory and the effects of stricter drug laws on crime. They were shocked to find, after reading about NYC police commissioner William Bratton in our book, they could find articles he wrote on JSTOR. We are finishing the book this week, and their final exam for the course will involve analysis of excerpts from the book, current events, and scientific articles.
– Last week, my world history students had the privilege of two guest speakers on our unit about Africa and the beginnings of Islam. My friend Rebecca, with whom I went to college, is currently doing a PhD at Stanford studying Tunisia, and studied in Jordan during her undergrad. She speaks Arabic, and happened to be in the area over Thanksgiving and consented to drive down to speak to several of our freshman world history classes. She talked about her various experiences with women wearing a veil, being an American in Jordan and Tunisia, and cultural differences she encountered. The students were very interested.
After Rebecca on Monday, my friend Sarah, who I actually haven’t seen since high school but we went to middle school together, talked to my students via Google Hangout. We set up a laptop so she could see my kids, and hooked her up to the projector and sound system. Using Google Hangout, she was able to show them pictures from her computer of her experiences – she taught English for two years in Indonesia through the Peace Corps. I know she’ll be furious with me, but this was the only picture I took – I didn’t realize until later how unflattering it was, but you can see our setup.
Both of my friends emphasized the wide variety of cultural norms in Muslim countries; they can’t take what they learned about female genital mutilation in Egyptian culture and think that’s the norm in Tunisia, or assume that if women cover themselves in Saudi Arabia, all Muslim women do that. My students’ takeaway points were that
A) There are lot of majority-Muslim countries, not just in the Middle East (since there are few Muslims in their small town, my students think of them as rather exotic, not realizing in a generation that Islam will likely be the largest religion in the world)
B) Arabic is written from right to left
C) Stereotypes are rarely true or helpful (Rebecca talked about how many people she encountered assumed all American women are like the women on MTV…um, no).
Basically this post is to help me see all the good things going on in my classroom to help me feel better about all the crazy stuff that takes over my daily thoughts. Eight more days until Christmas break!