I never thought the day would come…

…when I was finally able to successfully transform the words of a modern pop song into something educationally relevant, and yet, after 1.5 hours of work, hyped up on green tea, I finally did it. With the inspiration of Kim Bearden and Ron Clark at the Ron Clark Academy in Atlanta, I was able to transform the lyrics of “Replay” sung by Iyaz into a song about the 8 parts of speech. That’s right. It’s back to basics as we start off the new year and a new semester. On top of our usual Word Study routines and our foray into the world of Anne Frank, we’re going to get up close and personal with grammar. I’m working towards a more organic, holistic study of grammar (a la Image Grammar; Mechanically Inclined; and Sentence Composing) lest we inadvertently learn to isolate what grammar pieces we learn and lose sight of the bigger puzzle of writing and writing well. But before we can get there, I’ve opted to review each of the building blocks. We’re reviewing a new part of speech – in all its glory – each week until we have enough to build up towards putting together phrases and sentences. There’s a certain mathematical quality to English mechanics and grammar, if you stop to think about it. I’m hoping to capitalize on that to help show my students how writing well is not just a product of “being smart” or “not hating writing,” but rather it’s actually quite formulaic. And once you know the basic pieces, anyone can write advanced sentences.

Speaking of the new year, my first day back to school was a bit disorienting. I felt rusty. Luckily, things went really smoothly. We spent some time talking about what we did over break and then I got right down into my new routines. I spent some time over the break thinking about some of the feedback my students had given me on my “report card” that I designed for them to fill out for me. One thing I realized is that I’m not very good about handing back graded work. I tend to just grade, put the grades in the gradebook, and then accumulate piles and piles of paper in my home office. To me, this was merely a survival tactic. Sometimes I put off grading things until the last minute. Sometimes I didn’t want to take up class time to pass back work because I knew that half of what I passed back would just end up on my floor or in the trash can. And sometimes, I think, I was protecting myself from any unexpected wrath or confusion that I feared would erupt from students who didn’t understand their grades or got down on themselves for not trying hard enough on an assignment. But, after some reflection, I realized that I may have been hurting the classroom dynamic more than helping myself. Without any sort of positive feedback or anything by which to judge their work, my students had no idea how they were performing in my class! Sure, the enthusiastic student would occasionally ask if they could see their current grade in the class, but for the most part, my students were clueless! So, in order to ensure that handing back work is not just a task but a form of feedback, I’ve established a new system: About once a week I will file students’ graded work in their personal folders. (I have a basket with those green hanging file folders for each class–each student has a folder). At an appropriate time during class (say the last 5 minutes of class), students may check their folders for any returned work. They may keep these papers or leave them in the folder if they just want to check the grade. If they have a question about a grade, about a comment I wrote, or would like to see if there is an opportunity to re-do the assignment, etc. they will fill out an “Inquiry Form” and staple it to the work in question, and place it in the “Inquiries” box on my desk. Then I can meet or contact each student and arrange a time to chat about the work or answer their question. Additionally, I intend to print “missing work” reports every 3 weeks and place them in these folders so that students can see what work they may have forgotten to turn in. Though it is county policy to not accept late work after 5 days, I have extended that period until the day before interim reports go home, and the day before final grades are due, such that students can turn in any work assigned prior to those dates and still receive credit.

…I also thought the day would never come when I was finally able to perfect a loaf of artisan bread. I received a baking stone for Christmas–basically a huge, porous stone tile that you place in a regular home oven to lend a brick oven taste and flavor to your baked goods, as well as a new kitchen cookbook essential: Artisan Bread in 5 minutes a Day. The concept behind the book is that you can make bread dough in huge batches and then refrigerate it until you are ready to bake off a loaf. When that moment arrives, simply tear off a chunk of dough, shape it quickly into the desired form, let rise, and then slide onto the preheated baking stone. Well, I’m embarrassed to admit that my first batch contained about half the flour it was supposed to which led to an extremely wet, undercooked dough. Once I figured this out, the second batch of dough was better, though perhaps not as thoroughly mixed as it should have been. Nevertheless, I was finally satisfied with the crust, the crumb (the interior), texture, and color (and taste!) of this basic white boule:

Now I can experiment with other doughs and shapes. While I do that, I will be working on creating a moodle for my class and thinking of its various uses as well as possibilities for twitter as an educational supplement. Suggestions welcome?

P.S. I will post the lyrics to my grammar song as soon as zamzar finishes converting the document.

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