Sunday, August 28, 2016

It's Time to Focus

It has been an honor to have participated in Coffee County High School’s first faculty show, Arsenic and Old Lace. Frankly, a school the size of the one I teach at should have an active theater program, and I am glad that I have played a part in helping make that happen. When I took theater in high school, it had a profound effect on my self-confidence and I credit that experience for beginning to bring this natural introvert out of his shell. I want to thank everyone who came to see Arsenic and Old Lace. The audiences have been wonderful, and the cast has had fun feeding from your energy.
With the play now behind me, it’s time for me to do what I hope I do best: plan lessons and focus on my students. I surveyed my students in the first week of school so that I can learn about their likes and dislikes, as well as their access to internet and technology outside of school. In this survey, I learned that most of my 11th grade students are into music, animals, and sports, followed closely by nature, video games, and watching TV. When I asked them who are their heroes, real or fantasy, moms and dads made the top of the list--and it wasn’t even very close. If given a choice, they’d mostly prefer to read mystery/suspense or horror/thriller stories and two-thirds of them are returning from summer break not currently reading a book for pleasure. My students come from a background of strongly disliking reading. Unfortunately, school does that to students, and I am hoping to change that. In terms of technology, 86% report having reliable internet access at home, with another 5% who claim they will have it soon, and of the 9% who do not have reliable internet at home, half of them are capable of going somewhere that does have internet.
All of this information is crucial for me to know as I plan my lessons. There are many things that I can’t control in my classroom, like the bell schedule, the state standards, and for which state and national tests I must prepare my students (if it were up to me, I would have them take either TNReady or ACT, not both, but that’s another discussion). I have complete control over how the information is presented to my students and, because I want them to grow as learners and as human beings, I need to present the information in such a way that allows them to connect this new information to something they already know. It’s not an easy task, but this challenge is part of what draws me to the classroom and it’s absolutely what makes educators the professionals that we are. Differentiating lessons goes beyond changing the difficulty of the content for different learners. It also includes changing the activities based on their interests.
Every good teacher will also find a way to include their own interests into the lessons. When students see my own passion for the content, it increases their enthusiasm, even if they’re not inherently enthusiastic in the topic. Something that I have always been passionate about is current events. Ever since I was a young boy, I have always been interested in what’s going on around the country and around the world. I strongly believe that my students need to know current events, because they are mostly oblivious to them and they are a year or two away from becoming registered voters. Therefore, I will start something new this year called “Article of the Week.” I will seek out current events articles for my students to read that thematically relate to the content of the course at the time. The students will read, annotate, summarize, and provide their own analysis of each article. At the end of the week, I will facilitate a short class discussion over the article so that they have an opportunity to learn from each other.
Thomas Jefferson believed that “An educated citizenry is a vital requisite for our survival as a free people.” My overall goal is that, by the time my students leave my class and graduate into society, they will have a rekindled spirit for learning new things, which includes reading books for pleasure.

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