Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Summer Blogging

What has me writing today is the thought that school starts in about 6 weeks, and I have a ton of ideas to process before it starts. I'm teaching three different classes next year: in the fall, I will be teaching English I and English II; in the spring, I will be teaching English I and a yet-to-be-titled seminar. This will be my second year as a high-school teacher; I have been reflecting on my experience as a first-year teacher and hope to improve upon last year's performance.

I've spent a lot of time thinking about grammar this summer. I'm working on a grammar manual for the sophomores with one of my colleagues. Our English II grammar program is in desperate need of an overhaul -- the book we have been using is out-of-date and doesn't provide enough explanations. So we've been writing up a bunch of explanations. Now I'm putting off creating practice sentences. From what I understand, the grammar modules of English I and English II at my school were developed independently of the literature components; only later (and long before my arrival at the school) were they coalesced into one course. This combination has left a gap between learning grammar and applying it to writing. I'm thinking about asking my students to look at grammar not as some awful other thing, but as necessary for good writing.

But what other real-world applications can we find for grammar? It is easy to explain in terms of a foreign language: if you do not know the grammar, you will not be able to communicate effectively. Why is this a difficult idea to get across to native speakers (particularly 14-year-old native speakers)?

I'm also spurred to consider these ideas by reading Understanding By Design. Dana Huff's excellent blog turned me on to this book this summer (check out her "reading journal" for UbD here), and while I've been reading only very slowly, I can see that Wiggins and McTighe have a great system. The kinds of questions they ask us to consider are exactly the sorts of things I have been wanting to ask my colleagues over the last year: To what end are we reading the books we're reading? What do we want the kids to get out of our classes? How can we make the readings and assignments relevant?

I'm hoping to join the UbD Educators wiki with some lesson plans, as soon as I finish reading the book. I'm particularly interested in figuring out some grammar-related plans for the freshmen and sophomores.