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November 2010

October 2010 entries

Friendly Neighbors

We have some wonderful neighbor-friends who have kids the same ages as Aidan and Gabrielle.  The kids all LOVE to play together, and my kids are constantly asking if they can go to the Folmar's.  But after seeing this photo, I am starting to wonder if my kids have Stockholm Syndrome.


I think they are identifying with their captors...I mean, why else would they keep asking to go back?

Smile Categories

Aidan and Gabrielle have been yelling, "Mom!  Mom!  Liam's doing a cannonball smile!"  for a couple of days now, and I asked Aidan to explain what they meant:  "A cannonball smile is when Liam smiles really big and happy."  Exhibit A:

"Are there other types of smiles?" I asked.  "Yes, the mouse smile," Aidan told me, "is when Liam just has a little smile and isn't really happy, just sort of happy."  Exhibit B:

"Any others?"  Aidan answered, "Yes, his whiny-bucket face...that's when he's going to cry." 

(Liam has asked me to protect his privacy by not sharing any such photos.)

"An unexamined life is not worth living." -- Socrates

Recently, my AP English students wrote position essays on capital punishment, using Truman Capote's In Cold Blood and various articles (provided by me) as source material.  The essays were strong for high school students, but of course, since this course is designed to be akin to a college freshman composition class, I have a responsibility to push my students far beyond the high school level.  And, not surprisingly, my "brutally honest" comments on their work do not sit well with these high achieving students at first. In order to help my students objectively assess their work and skills, and in order to help them cope with "low" grades (mid-80s, most of them), I designed a reflection assignment for each graded essay. 

The reflection serves several purposes -- some are even selfish reasons.  English teachers constantly lament (dare I say whine?) about the amount of time it takes to grade writing.  We also complain that most students seem to put our assignments off to the last minute, at which point they type their essays without doing a shred of pre-writing, then click "print" without doing a shred of editing.  Once submitted, these hastily crafted essays endure close scrunity and written comments by the teacher.  After we pain-stakingly grade the essays, we return them to students who largely ignore our rubrics and comments, skim to see their grade and toss the papers aside.  So, it should be apparent, one of the selfish reasons for having students reflect on their graded essays is to validate my own time and energy spent on their work.

In addition to asking my students to respond to my marginalia, I ask them to tell me the amount of time they spent on the essay (average of 3 hours for this last assignment) and I require them to make concrete goals for the next essay ("I see now that I need to work on transitions to make sure my essay flows from paragraph to paragraph.). 

After reading the reflections on the recent capital punishment essays, I am so very glad that I created this assignment.  My students were honest with me -- some thought they deserved higher grades, some admitted they procrasinated, a few said my comments seemed harsh at first but after cooling off and reading their essays again (to complete the reflection paper), they understood why I said what I did and appreciated my criticism. 

Essentially, I've forced my students to do self-reflection -- a crucial element of my own educational philosophy.  I am constantly evaluating myself as an instructor: "How can I make that lesson better?"  "How can I meet those kids where they are and help them without discouraging them?"  And I firmly believe that self-assessment is vital to success in any endeavor.  I can't wait to see these students develop as writers this year!