Friday, March 27, 2015

The Importance of Interdisciplinary Projects

 The Importance of Interdisciplinary Projects
By Jill Jenkins
            Students who participate in interdisciplinary projects have a keener understanding of how interrelated school subjects actually are.  They also find projects more meaningful, exciting and it increases both their learning of skills and acquiring knowledge. Parents often worry that these kinds of interdisciplinary projects go beyond the scope of the responsibility of the school often teaching analysis of historical events and morality.  Some parents have complained that schools should only teach facts and only positive facts because students are too young to be exposed to the darker side of human nature. Teaching students how to think for themselves is the role of school. However, if schools are preparing students to function in the real world and eventually lead the world, they need to be aware of the mistakes people have made in the past, so they are not condemned to repeat them.
 Another problem that schools often face with interdisciplinary projects is that certain subjects are only taught to a specific grade.  For example, United States History is often taught only in 8th grade and 11th grade.  Biology and Ecology is usually taught in 9th and/or 10th grade.  If a teacher was presenting a historical perspective of The Dust Bowl to her history students, they would be in 8th or 11th grade; however, if she wanted to include the Biology or the Ecology teachers to show the scientific effects of this ecological disaster, her students would probably not be assigned to a biology or an ecology class.  Specific novels taught in the English classes that might add insight like John Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath is most often taught in 11th or 12th grade.  Furthermore, the new Common Core complicates matters even more because many school districts have adopted the Gates Foundations Units.  This means that teachers have a list of units that they have to complete during the school year making interdisciplinary projects impossible. Even if the school is not adhering to the Gates Foundation's  units, the Common Core Curriculum is massive.  Teachers have a difficult time covering all of it in the time allotted.  Adding one more project, even if it teaches skills required in the Common Core Curriculum can add stress to teachers, but interdisciplinary projects can increase many students' motivation to learn.  For interdisciplinary projects to work, administrators need to give teachers the support and the freedom to explore changes in the curriculum.

            Collaborating teachers develop more creative ideas while building a sense of community. Teachers do, however, need time during the school day to interact and develop their ideas.  Without enough time to discuss the project, stress will develop which can be counteractive.  Interdisciplinary projects can be developed on any grade level by choosing appropriate material.  Likewise, projects that connect academic subjects to character development can also be developed.  I have included an example of each. Since I taught 9th and 10th grade Language Arts, the examples are geared for those grades, but it does not mean that similar projects could not be developed for younger grades.

Interdisciplinary Project
            This project that would unite math, science, history and language arts. Students would research whether the decimation of the native populations on the Plains from 1860-1900, the destruction of the herds of bison, elk and deer, and farming practices led to the Dust Bowl.  In essence, does the destruction of an environmental niche negatively impacted the area with unintended consequences?  Students could create graphs and charts showing the declining population of Native Americans, bison, elk, and deer. There are a variety of reading material that could be used including:

·      Nonfiction
      o   Bury My Heart At Wounded Knee by Dee Brown
·      Fiction

·      Films
·      Web Sites
·      Scholarly articles

Non-fiction books could be used in their entirety or selected chapters could be read to give students some understanding of the destruction.  Students postulate a theory and write a paper using evidence from any or all of the sources and finally draw a conclusion from the evidence they have explored.  Furthermore, students could also be asked to find appropriate evidence by researching on-line or in the library.  The evidence is presented to the teacher in a research paper with parenthetical footnotes and to the class in a slide presentation using wither Google Presentation or Power Point Presentation. 

Connecting Academic Subjects to Character Education

The nonfiction books could also be used to discuss how prejudice and misuse of power can lead to more violence.  Students could research modern situations when prejudice and misuse of power have also led to more violence.  By using Chapter 15 of Bury My Heart At Wounded Knee by Dee Brown, the class could discuss the case of Standing Bear vs. Crook where Judge Dundy ruled that an Indian was “person” and thereby had all of the natural, inherent and unalienable rights including the right to choose where he lived; therefore, the military had no right to transport him to a location that he did not wish to reside.  This ruling is a decision that Judge Dundy was proud of the rest of his life and it ultimately changed General Crook’s view of Native Americans.  Afterwards, he treated them with respect and dignity. This decision could be compared to the Emancipation Proclamation that recognized similar rights to Black Americans.  However, just like passing the Emancipation Proclamation did not end prejudice or abhorrent acts connected to it, this ruling did not save Standing Bear’s brother, Big Snake or other Native Americans.  Furthermore, this decision could be a springboard to discuss the internment of the Japanese Americans during World War II. A discussion on the negative effects on prejudice is an important discussion in our classrooms today. Also, it could be used as a discussion on bulling.  Every student is a person with rights and no other student has the right to violate those right including the right to feel safe at school.

Teaching projects that connect subjects or projects that connect academic learning with character education can enhance a student’s learning and make school more interesting.  It requires giving teacher the freedom they need to connect their curriculum and approach teaching in new ways.  As a result, administrators should be prepared to explain this type of learning to parents and district administrators. Regardless, the outcomes are worth the stress they create.

Saturday, March 21, 2015

A Taste of Honey and Other Methods of Increasing Recreational Reading of Reluctant Readers

A Taste of Honey and Other Methods of Increasing Recreational Reading of Reluctant Readers
By Jill Jenkins
            Motivating struggling reading is a daunting task, but if these students are to improve their reading skills teachers need to go beyond the call of duty to make reading interesting and successful for them. Most schools strive to make students lifelong learners, but they also need to strive to make students lifelong readers.  To do this, students must develop habits of reading recreationally.  Below are some tried and tested methods that have proven successful with some students.  Keep in mind each student is different, so no one method may work with any given student

Read Books With Your Students to Connect
            Teachers are overworked with planning, correcting and a myriad of unrelated activities, but by reading books that might be of interest to your students, you’re in a better position to recommend books to students or discuss books with student thus encouraging them to read independently.  This is means that as a teacher, you need to read books beyond your interest and comfort zone.  Read non-fiction and technical books because many teenage boys are especially interested in computers and cars.  If a student recommends a book, read it.  For instance, I had a student whose mother had informed me was a slow reader and seldom remembered what he had read when he finished.  This is a common problem with reluctant readers.   If a student can no finished a book within three weeks, the book is too long, difficult or uninteresting for that student.  I noticed the young man was reading Life of Pi  by Yan Martel and asked him how he liked it.  He enthusiastically raved about the book and offered to lend it to me when he finished.  I thanked him and said I would get a copy and we could talk about it every day, so I did.  Everyday, when I stood in the hall outside my classroom, I would stop him and we would chat about the plot or characters in the book.  The young man became an avid reader anxious to discuss each book with me.  His mother thanked me at the end of the year.  To be honest, the young man didn’t lack reading skills.  He needed an adult connection.  Most of us are social readers and so are most students.  I know you think that you don’t have time because you have too many classes and too many students.  I was a teacher with seven classes a day and one advisory period, all filled with 35 to 40 students.  Obviously, you can’t read 200 books at once, but some of your students who will recommend books are the kind of readers whose parents are prying the flashlight and the book from their fingers at four in the morning begging them to get some sleep.  These students don’t need any motivating to read independently.  They are the racehorses of readers. Let them run, but the reluctant readers need your help.  

Get the Help of Parents
             In my classroom, I always provided my students with ten minutes each day of silent sustained reading and I told them each day that it is their favorite part of the day.  Repeating this every day can help them really believe that reading is an enjoyable activity, but ten minutes a day isn’t long enough to make much of difference in a child’s reading skill.  Since the Common Core Curriculum is packed with learning objectives, spending more class time seems unreasonable. Teaching a novel every quarter is also not enough reading to increase the reading skills, so it is imperative to engage the help of parents.  What do you do about the student who comes to class unprepared every day? For those students who never bring a book to class, with my own money, I bought subscriptions to a variety of magazines that were both age appropriate and interesting. Because they arrived unprepared, I did not give them full credit for the activity.  Soon all of students have a book to read in class. I required that my students read two hours a week or about 20 minutes a night.  Some of my friends required one hour five nights a week.  I encouraged my students to read longer by offering extra credit for reading four hours a week.  Each student was given a reading chart that needed to be completed and signed by the parent or guardian and returned in one week. Honestly, I got this form from my daughter’s 7th grade English teacher and adapted it for my classes.  This is it:

 Reading Record
Name ______________________
Zone _______________
Date Due__________
Period _______
Book Title
Date                Min     initial      # of pgs
Fri 11/1

Sat 11/2

Sun 11/3

Mon 11/4

Tues 11/5

Wed 11/6

Thur 11/7

*Note incomplete reading logs will not be accepted.
My son/daughter has read the book named above (not just watched the movie—if there is one).

Parent Signature

A Taste of Honey
            Students often don’t have any idea which book might be interesting to them.  The library is overwhelming to them.  One way to give them an idea is to read selected passages of the book giving students a taste of honey or a taste of each book.  Select an assortment of books from the library and either ask the librarian to present these books to your class or discuss each book yourself with the students, so they have some idea which books might be fascinating to them.
            Another method is called Speed Dating.  Spread a variety of books across the room and give each student five minutes before you ring a bell and the students move to the next book.  When they each have a chance to peruse the books in the room, let them discuss which books they found interesting and make suggestions to each other.  Students helping students is a valuable resource.

Rewarding Success
            When you complete a difficult task, you like your success to be noted, so do students.  When students successfully complete a book, let them put their name and the title of the book on a piece of paper and hang it on the wall.  I use little cut-outs of suns, clouds, trees and let the student select one.  Each quarter I established reading goals for each student based on his/her ability to read. When a student reached whatever reading goal established for him or her, he or she gets his picture taken wearing a crown and has that picture displayed in the library under the title “Reading Royalty. “ To encourage reading, catch students reading and take their picture, take pictures of teachers, administrators and staff member reading and display these on your morning news or on a bulletin board.  Most of my students loved seeing pictures of themselves, their friends and their teachers and it reinforced the value of reading. 

Guided Reading and an Inundation of Genres
            To prepare students for the future they need to be exposed to a myriad of different genres:
·         Magazine articles
·         Web sites
·         Short stories
·         Novels
·         Non-fiction
·         Technical reading
·         Poetry
·         Speeches
·         Charts and graphs
·         Train and bus schedules

Expose your students to as many genres as you can. The teacher needs to provide guided reading assignments for each genre demonstrating how to analyze including, but not limited to:
·         The organization of structure
·         How to find the main idea
·         How to find the supporting ideas
·         How to identify the supporting examples and evidence
·         How to evaluate the quality of the evidence and logic
·         How to identify the elements of literature
o   Plot
o   Setting
o   Characters
o   Themes
o   Literary Devices
·         How to Identify text features
In short, the teacher needs to model and guide students to do what good readers do when they read.  Reluctant readers often do not have a clue what to after they decode the words.  Some students even need help synthesizing the decoded words into basic ideas. 

Write to Remember
Learning Journals
Finally students need to write to remember.  This means use journals for student to record what they have discussed.  If you are teaching a novel or an article have the students discuss it and guide them through the analysis.  Finally have them record it in their learning journal.  If they are reading a book independently, have them read the same book as another student in class or ask the parent to read the book with the child.  After the two read, give them discussion questions and finally have the students record their answer in their learning journal.  You will be surprised how much their comprehension will improve after they write about it.  
Creative Projects
Although all writing will improve student’s retention, more creative forms will also pique their interest.  Some that you could use to have students write summaries of what they have read include:
·         Cartoon Strips
·          Little books
·         Movies
·         Reader’s Theater
·         Plays
·         Newspapers
·         Web pages
·         Power Point Presentations or Google Presentation
·         Story Maps
·         Podcasts
·         Children’s Picture Books

Sunday, March 1, 2015

The Importance of Teaching Values in School Part V of V

The Importance of Teaching Values in School Part V of V

By Jill Jenkins


Romeo and Juliet by William Shakespeare

     Since teenagers have a tendency to behave rashly without considering the consequences of their behavior, Romeo and Juliet is the perfect play to show the consequences of this impetuous behavior.  The character, Romeo, is heart broke as he has been discarded by the love of his life, Rosaline at the beginning of the play.  To relieve him of his grieving heart, his cousin, Benvolio, and his best friend, Mercutio, take him to the Capulet’s ball to look over other beauties.  There, Romeo spots Juliet, the only daughter of his only enemy, and falls immediately in love with her.  After chatting in her orchard all night, the two marry at noon the next day.  Of course, he doesn’t really know her and he takes no time to think of the consequences.  He doesn’t even sleep on it.  This is bad news since he was awake the night before bemoaning his lost love to Rosaline.  Coming home from the wedding, Juliet’s cousin, Tybalt insults Romeo. When Romeo refuses to fight him,  Mercutio jumps in to defend his friend’s name, but is killed by Tybalt.  Not considering murdering his wife’s cousin might put a damper on his wedding night, Romeo kills Tybalt.  Even though the Prince has threatened death to anyone fighting in the street, Romeo is depressed when he learns his sentence is diminished to banishment and threatens to kill himself in Friar Lawrence’s cell where he is hiding, another rash act.  Regardless, Juliet sends the nurse to invite Romeo to her bedroom before he rushes to Mantua.  

The entire play not excluding his suicide is fraught with impassioned decision made without forethought.  Discussions and writing assignments can help students understand the folly of such rash behavior.  Again by using a graphic organizer like the one below, students will improve their comprehension of the play and the life skill. 

    All four of these pieces of literature will increase the students’ reading skills while teaching them important skills in establishing healthy, productive relationships.  The same principles that apply to romantic love relationships apply to every human relationship.  Establishing healthy relationships can help students develop into happy, healthy adults. Teaching complete pieces of literature allows students to understand the similarities and differences between relationships.  Human being are complex so to fully understand  relationships use multiple examples, discussions, analysis and comparisons that can only occur in a complete literary work

Term Projects connected with Romeo and Juliet:

  • Love Essay: Develop 10 to 15 good essay questions about love. Remember "yes-no questions do not provide you with much information.  Make sure your questions are appropriate to ask the principal or your mother.  Interview two people between the ages of 12-14, two people between the ages of 15-20, two people between the ages of 21-29, two people between the ages of 30-39, two people between the ages of 40-50 and two people between the ages of 51 to 80.  Synthesize all of your information together into a coherent essay that includes one graph comparing the views of the different age groups. 

  • Create a Three-dimensional model of the Globe Theater.  Label the areas.

  • Memorize and perform either Romeo’s famous soliloquy from ACT II “What light through yonder window breaks….” Or Juliet’s from the same act: “Romeo, Romeo, wherefore art thou Romeo…” or if you prefer ACT IV and Act V, choose Juliet’s soliloquy before she takes the portion or Romeo’s before he takes the poison. Remember you must memorize it, block it and wear a costume for full credit.
  • Write and present a three to five minute speech using a visual aide. Consider one for the following topics:  weapons used during the period, clothing worn during the period, Shakespeare’s life, or games and amusements during that time.
  • Find a partner and memorize and perform a scene from Romeo and Juliet. Your choices include the balcony scene, Juliet trying to persuade the nurse to her what Romeo said, Friar Lawrence’s scene when he tells Romeo that he will marry him to Juliet or when he tells him to stop weeping and be a man, or the fight scene in ACT III.  Remember to wear a costume, memorize it block it and use props. 
  • Create a television news program that discusses at least five events that occurred in the play and has at least five commercials advertising items used during that time period.  The presentation must be at least five minutes long and may use up to three people.  
Discussion Questions and Writing Assignments

  •  Friar Lawrence has just been accused of complicity in the death of Romeo and Juliet. Collect information on both sides of the argument and present one as either the prosecuting or the depending attorney. 
  • Juliet is your best friend. She has secretly told you of her marriage to Romeo and of Romeo's killing of her cousin, Tybalt. Write her a letter advising her what she should do. 
  • Romeo and Juliet commit suicide at the end of the play.  Brainstorm other solutions to their problem.
  •  Identify communication problems in both households that lead to the problems with all of the characters.