Category Archives: Honors

The PAC-10, the SEC, and the SAT

I’m a college football fan who watches every Saturday, and I love it (even though a playoff system is sorely needed). I also admit that I’m a West Coast kid who loves PAC-10 football and who tires of having to hear SEC fans always claim their conference is tops. I live in a time zone where our games frequently begin after the East Coast has gone to sleep, and I live in a region where the teams are spread far apart and must travel great distances unlike the East where teams are bunched. And, I hate to admit it, the SEC has faired very well in the BCS era of football championships.

However, there is an argument I have yet seen an SEC fanatic counter. Each PAC-10 team plays nine conference games while the SEC plays only eight conference games. Why does this matter you ask? Well, let me tell you this: this means the PAC-10 will incur 5 more losses than teams in the SEC. The conference is guaranteed that more teams will end the season with no shot at a national title and most likely will be eliminated from any BCS contention.

This means that a team like Florida (who has done this multiple times recently) will schedule four patsy non-conference games usually at home, play their 8-game conference schedule, and attempt to schedule their toughest 2-3 games at home. This is quite an advantage over the PAC-10 whose non-conference schedules are generally tougher, whose teams play an extra in-conference game against a tough opponent and whose conference will be adding a conference title game soon (which will again guarantee a top-conference team suffering a season-ending loss).

Granted, the SEC has its share of good and very good teams; however, when a team plays more tough games, it is more likely to lose more games. This makes titles more difficult to win.

This relates to the SAT (and AP testing for that matter). I was at a meeting where my high school was critiqued for having the average SAT score dip slightly in the last three years. Apparently, a sign of success at a school is to track the SAT scores of its students–even though the SAT has no correlation to any state standard or state test used–and then compare those scores to classes of years past. In fact, my high school has eliminated the only class designed specifically with SAT success particularly in mind in its quest for all block classes.

To a degree I agree with score comparisons. However, what I pointed out is that we are testing 15% more students than we did 5 years ago, and most of those students are from the poverty and ELL cells in the measurement matrix. If we aren’t only testing our best students, of course the scores will fall. Some may say that I’m making excuses, but I don’t think so. Having a larger, more diverse pool of students taking the SAT is absolutely going to affect the results.

I’ve made the same argument about the AP tests our students take. We have more students taking AP English (my department’s sole AP option), and more of those students have never attempted any sort of honors class previously. We are not seeing as high of a percentage ofย  students scoring a 5 (the top score), and more students being tested means the average score has dropped slightly. I’m fine with this. (I have also noticed that the AP essay questions have altered slightly and the scoring appears to have changed a bit too, but that’s an entirely different discussion.)

But again, if more students from a broad spectrum of backgrounds are involved in the testing, the results will be different than when it was easier to achieve higher average scores with only the best being tested. We probably need to adjust our expectations if we want to test everyone.

More tough games played results in more losses. More students tested results in more lower scores.

And besides all this, no SEC team wants to play Stanford in the postseason this year.

Upcoming in January

I just finished planning for January, and I’m going to be teaching the following this month.

American Literature: First, we’ll review the Edgar Allan Poe writings (“The Raven” and “Masque of the Red Death” and “The Tell Tale Heart”) as well as Nathaniel Hawthorne’s “Dr. Heidegger’s Experiment.” I actually used an excerpt of Stephen King’s Danse Macabre, which is in our textbook, as an introduction to the Poe unit. King’s piece is great for explaining how people’s curiosity is virtually uncontrollable and how the unknown is the scariest of all scares. This was a fun unit, and the kids loved it. It was the most energetic and intrigued they had been all year.

In January we will be reading Stephen Crane’s The Red Badge of Courage and looking at Impressionism, Naturalism, and Realism. Then, we’ll follow that up with Nathaniel Hawnthorne’s “The Minister’s Black Veil” and “Rappaccini’s Daughter.”

Mythology: We almost finished our examination of Greek mythology but need to finish The Fall of Troy and the tales of Odysseus. That should take us the first week of the month.

Then, we’re going to read Beowulf, compare and contrast Norse Creation with the Greek version and then read some Norse tales. This will finish the semester. We completed our major project this semester, so we have a fun finish to the class. I will probably show a couple films after school and look at how the myths are changed for films (maybe Troy, the early 80s Clash of the Titans, The Odyssey, or the new animated Beowulf).ย  Sometimes I show the kids the documentary about the mythology of Star Wars if time permits. It’s one that the students like (especially when the film director Kevin Smith says “of course” Annakin is the perfect villain to ruin the universe since Annakin is “an emo kid”).

Sophomore Honors: We finished up Ender’s Game before the Winter Break, which the students really enjoyed. Most of the class went out and purchased or shared the sequel during the vacation time. I got a number of e-mails regarding the Ender and Bean books. It’s nice to see the kids inspired to read more.

This month we’re looking at classic fairy tales and then reading William Goldman’s The Princess Bride. We’ll compare and contrast the film with the novel, and we’ll look at how Goldman satirizes fairy tales and contemporary society. We may even compose an ABC story which I’ve blogged about in the past.

That’s all for now. TTFN! ๐Ÿ™‚

First Day of School: The 2009 Edition

Today was the first day of school, and we had a distinctly shorter day than we normally do because of a new effort. The school was for Freshmen only in the morning to attend 20 minute classes, and the second half of the day was for upperclassmen to attend 20 minute classes while the Frosh had some separate activities. My school has put an emphasis on the 9th grade transition in school, so this fits that effort.

Thus, my activities were curtailed quite a bit, so I split my opening day activity into two days. While I still used my question and answer activity from last year, we will have to do the answer session tomorrow. The seniors generated about 40 questions as a class, the juniors submitted about 60 questions per class, and the sophomores asked over 100 questions. Whew! I will have to spend quite a bit of time answering questions, but it will be worth it. I really like letting them tell me what they want to know instead of reading a syllabus to them.

This year I’m teaching a Sophomore Honors English class (using World Literature), two Mythology courses for seniors, and two College in the High School courses (using American Lit.) for juniors. No new preps means I will really be able to focus on being as creative and energetic in class as I can be. Refinement is my key word this year.

My goal this year: to have at least three distinct sections to every lesson in order to keep the classes lively.

Reading Statistics

Is teaching reading, and more particularly literature, a losing prospect? There are days when I feel this way. Yesterday I took an anonymous poll and found that 1/3 of my College in the High School students were behind in the current reading and 1/4 admitted not finishing at least one of the books read in the class.

Is something wrong when even the highest level students aren’t finishing their reading assignments? Are they too busy with other activities? Do they put the assignments involving “just reading” last on the priority lists? Is it the literature taught (though 85% of the students in my classes said the books we have read were at least “interesting or enjoyable”? Here are some reading statistics to consider.

From The Literacy Company:

  • 46% of American adults cannot understand the label on their prescription medicine.
  • It is estimated that as many as 15 percent of American students may be dyslexic.
  • 50 percent of American adults are unable to read an eighth grade level book.
  • There are almost half a million words in our English Language – the largest language on earth, incidentally – but a third of all our writing is made up of only twenty-two words.
  • In a class of 20 students, few if any teachers can find even 5 minutes of time in a day to devote to reading with each student.
  • Out-of-school reading habits of students has shown that even 15 minutes a day of independent reading can expose students to more than a million words of text in a year.
  • The average reader spends about 1/6th of the time they spend reading actually rereading words.
  • When the State of Arizona projects how many prison beds it will need, it factors in the number of kids who read well in fourth grade.

Those are some sobering stats! How about these I got through this site’s search function:

  • 1/3 of high school graduates never read another book for the rest of their lives.
  • 42 percent of college graduates never read another book after college.
  • 80 percent of U.S. families did not buy or read a book last year.
  • 70 percent of U.S. adults have not been in a bookstore in the last five years.
  • 57 percent of new books are not read to completion.

Thank You

Thank you to those of you who gave me some ideas for teaching To Kill A Mockingbird. Even though I have not settled on what I will do this time, I do appreciate the suggestions. I’m thinking about some type of cross-discipline project which includes different types of technology. Or, maybe I’ll create something with multiple options. We’ll see.

I’m still open to more suggestions. Send ’em my way if you would like to share.

Teaching Antigone

I started my Antigone unit, which is the first one where I really make the kids be independent; their autonomy is important to me. I want to see that my Sophomores are learning how to learn without my guidance. For me, independence is key. However, I do start them with some guided instruction.

First, I did provide the vocabulary for the week. Admittedly, this is a bit guided, but the kids truly do take over once I initiate the day. Here is our usual routine. Here is a bit more on our vocabulary lessons.

The last part through which I guide the students is the background information about Antigone. Since this is the third play in the Oedipus Cycle, I use a PowerPoint in which I tell the history of Oedipus (the story of Cadmus is on a poster outside my classroom), and the students take notes while looking for literary devices employed in the storyline.

Once this concludes (and the students are very excited because of the “eww” factor of Oedipus’ marriage), I ask the students to draw a family tree using the story’s characters. Eventually, they agree as a class after sharing their trees, and they always seem to get it right. ๐Ÿ™‚

Then, I put the kids into group of four. I pick the groups; the kids do not. This way I get them to mix it up, and I try to spread the dramatically inclined kids throughout the groups. Then I have the students choose to be an A, B, C, or D. This way the students, by chance, have picked their parts in the play. A = Antigone and Haemon, B = Creon and Ismene, C = Chorus, Teiresias, and Eurydice, and D = Choragos, Sentry, and Messenger.

I then have the kids spread the groups throughout the classroom (3 max in class) and into the halls. They have their parts and read/perform the play in their groups. Some take notes while others do not. Regardless, once they finish the play I have study guides for the kids to use to review the play. I walk among the groups during the periods to answer questions and clarify difficult passages. Really, the kids just take over and get to work.

Typically, the kids finish the play in about 3-4 days and need an additional 2 days to complete the study guide questions. They “correct” the study guides by debating in class and asking each other questions. I stay out of the discussion and only intercede if they aren’t being respectful or starting to get off-task. By this time, the kids have identified the literary devices used and have explored the major themes of the play.

Then, I assign a thesis paper or a presentation comparing and contrasting a character in this play with one from The Tragedy of Julius Caesar, or I assign the same paper/project using The Long Walk Home. I generally prefer using the film rather than the Shakespearean play for the paper/project because it leads us to the race relations in our next novel, To Kill A Mockingbird.

This is one of my favorite weeks because I get to watch the kids take over the reading, comprehending, and exploring. Fun times and always a confidence builder for them and me.