Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Reviving Momentum and Rookie Mistakes

Gosh. My grade 9s have had a pretty rough term so far. We had an okayish momentum going, and then the sudden and tragic death of one of the kids in the class knocked the whole class off kilter*. That week ended up being a write-off as everyone was too upset to focus on anything beyond a basic grammar exercise. The next week was cut short by public holidays, and the whole class failed their Spud test miserably (despite the week long postponement and their amazing ability to finish writing it with 25 minutes of the 45 minute lesson to spare - I am not amused).

Before everything started going wrong, our momentum looked like this:

Now it looks more like this:

The long weekend has definitely helped us all to get back on the bus, even if it's a skedonk. But how can I wake this class back up?

I decided to try the fun arrange-stuff-on-the-board exercise that is ALWAYS a favourite, giving them character names and pictures and so on to arrange in a way that makes sense. It just didn't work. They were not interested. They half-arsedly tried it, but half the girls claim to have read 60 pages of the book and yet don't know who the MAIN CHARACTER is.

On the right is one of my stronger students. Tomorrow we're going to try turning the book the right way up.

It was okay, but needed some more work. I had to move the whole paper and prestik jumble to a different board to make space for boardwork for other classes, and in the process I organised it into a doodly web diagram flow chart thing that I used to explain the novel to them in class. This should have been done in the first week! God, I'm weeks behind with them. It's ok. We'll catch up. Deep breaths.

And yet they've done so much - they've written character sketches, made facebook profiles for the characters, written letters, love letters, diary entries...

So today they asked what activity we were doing next. And then one of them said, 'Can we read the book?'


face palm of note

Idiot. Stupid, stupid, stupid teacher. After 3 years of English Lit and Philosophy, I am so used to the dynamic of reading it in your own time and discussing it in class. These are grade 9s who, judging from their spelling, are barely literate in their OWN language, let alone their second. For as long as I've been teaching them, I've been giving them activities that dip into the novel, but we have only read bits continuously once or twice. They have no cooking clue what's going on. Clearly I have fallen into the rookie teacher hole of being so excited about making it fun and interactive and relatable for them that I have missed out on the point of doing so - to get them to read and understand the story. Of COURSE the momentum has died. Of COURSE they're lost. It doesn't matter if the car/bus/jalopy is rotting in a pond somewhere. They're still waiting at the bus stop.


So today we read Spud's first encounter with Debbie, his ethereal blonde 'Mermaid' girlfriend. The love of his life (for now). His one and only (until he meets Amanda. And Christine. And...). And I even acted out some of the things. The language of the book is actually quite advanced - words like retaliate and so on that they wouldn't know as second-language speakers - so I summarised it and acted out Spud's responses as they are literally (and hyperbolically) described. 
e.g: When Spud sees Debbie, he nearly drops a tray of drinks and his leg goes numb. Then she says 'Hi' and it flattens him. 
A close approximation of Spud's reaction to the thought of the Mermaid slipping into her bathing suit in his bedroom, just on the other side of the door, while he waits in the corridor, wishing he'd bought a video camera.

 It helped that the quietest girl in the class was reading at the time, and whispered 'Hi'. I ended up sprawling wildly backwards over the desk on which I was sitting (mm, I'm not supposed to sit on desks, nothing to see here, move along), hair flying, hair band breaking, things falling on the floor, with amazement and horror that the Mermaid had SPOKEN to me (Spud). The kids fell out of their chairs laughing. 

And they loved it. The were engrossed, they were responding. They get it. They're finally on the bus.

Now I just hope I can drive it.

*Please don't think that my brushing over this is a sign of insensitivity or lack of caring. I don't think a blog is an appropriate place to talk about this, and it is not the point of this post. The student's death was a horrible, horrible tragedy and the school has been very supportive towards the student's family, teachers and all the kids who were his friends - basically the whole school. It's actually amazing how much like a family this school is, and how much they care about each other. 

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