Post-Presentation Reflection

First of all, I want to just say to Abbie (and others who are not currently teachers) that you are not alone!  Even for us teachers, at least for me, it is especially nerveracking to teach adults, especially other teachers.  I think it must be frightening for anyone to stand up there in front of all those literary experts!   Thankfully, in my case, after a few minutes of sympathetic smiles and actual participation (No one cried out “But I don’t have a pen!” or “This is boring!”), it felt just fine.  And I’ve heard it said at conferences that teachers make some of the worst students– but that was certainly not the case yesterday, and as a presenter,  I really appreciate your participation and support!

Next, I want to reflect on trying to cram in days worth of activities into one thirty-minute teaching session.  It was even harder than I thought it would be!  There honestly have been so many strategies and ideas that I’ve wanted to incorporate into my teaching from this class, and I think I just was trying to fit in too much.  I didn’t say this during the presentation, but I could probably have fit most of the activities into one 90-minute block, but the project would have extended the activity for several more classes.  In terms of timing, this is more time than I would normally allow for my students to engage in a short story, but it certainly is worthwhile.  I think I will do more work like this with shorter pieces, as a way to prepare them for analyzing longer works. 

In any case, with the time constraints and my own overplanning, I think we did start to enter into really interesting conversations and then, for the sake of time, I had to move the lesson forward.  I would have loved to have made more time for those conversations, and if I hadn’t overplanned, I probably could have!  Still, it was fun to see the vast difference in an adult reading of “Hills Like White Elephants,” versus my students’ somewhat less insightful reading. (They did seriously consider a drug “operation” in both of my classes.)  I was hoping to do more in-class reading, re-reading, writing, and re-writing, with this lesson, and I hope that came across in my presentation.  That kind of reflective and transformative reading/writing really is helpful for students, and I love some of the ideas Blau and Scholes have on how to conduct those kinds of lessons.

Lastly, I was trying to explain at the end that my students are essentially doing the open-ended creative project I passed out to you right now, but that their projects are on longer works that they can write about on the AP exam, Billy Budd, Sailor (by Melville) and The Awakening (by Chopin).  Many students were really excited to see on the list of project ideas “graphic mini-novel,” a first for me, and they really are taking off with that idea, if they’ve done it.  I did not explain this well at all, but one of my students took personal family photos and turned it into a storybook version of Billy Budd.  Another student used computer graphics and re-told the story of The Awakening with only pictures and no words (almost Nat Baker-esque in that regard).  Others are turning in their work tomorrow, and I just can’t speak highly enough of allowing students to create visual representations of higher-level literature.  I love that our class discussions on Nat Turner moved me to re-design this assignment with my students’ interest in mind.  A few students even asked if they could create a video game (though they admitted they wouldn’t have the time to “perfect it”), and when I said yes, that video games really can provide intellectual stimulation and have value, they were shocked.  I’m going to show them Gee’s book and tell them video games actually are helping me to learn how to teach better!  I can’t wait to see their faces then.

I guess what I am trying to say is that, though I am not overwhelmingly satisfied with my presentation, I did want to convey that I feel strongly that I have learned a lot from reading and discussing the material we’ve covered this year.  I know that some of my classmates and I have talked about how students have seen us “shaking things up” and they like it, and I like it, too.  Maybe re-reading and reflecting should be common sense.  Maybe assessing what makes something “difficult” should also be common sense.  Likewise, it should be clear that video games and graphic novels have something to offer us teachers about learning and about teaching literature.  Somehow, it’s all starting to come together now, and though it did not really come across in my presentation, I am grateful for all of the ideas I now have floating around in my teacher brain.

Also, I just wanted to say that I really enjoyed the other three presentations yesterday, and I am planning to “borrow” some of those ideas.  I’m looking forward to more!

8 thoughts on “Post-Presentation Reflection

  1. nikki

    Your presentation was great! I really enjoyed the activities, and I think you did an expert job of leading the discussion (when necessary) and allowing the “students” to talk through their own ideas at other points. You struck a great balance between the two.
    Also, I love that your real students have noticed you “shaking things up” in your lessons. I’ve been doing a lot of that as well, and I was worried my students would think I have split personalities because, although I have been using many of these new ideas, there remains a certain amount of traditional instruction that can’t be avoided. I hope your students and mine can appreciate that we as teachers are doing our best to relate to their learning styles, cultural trends, etc., but that we can’t forgo traditional instruction altogether. They tend to see things in black and white (“fun” or “boring”) without realizing that there’s a reason we’re asking them to do something that might seem boring (because SOLs and AP tests aren’t really a barrel of laughs!).
    And lastly, I think it’s awesome that you’re incoroporating the ideas we’ve learned about this semester into your classes right away. Sure, there may be kinks to iron out later, but it’s clear that you realize the power of meeting students where they are and enabling them to produce literary analyses in alternative forms they are more comfortable with. I’m sure your students are benefitting from (and enjoying!) your lessons! Great job!

  2. vbartush

    Wow, you fit so much into 30 minutes! I think that the prereading writing activity for your lesson was really effective. Having students tap into a personal experience, share it, then relate it to the text worked well. I had not read that story before, so going into it knowing that there was going to be a conversation in which two people didn’t directly say what they were feeling was helpful.

    I liked the way you posted questions on the overhead and gave us a few minutes to create a written response before having the discussion. The questions were thought-provoking and gave us a good base for starting the discussion and continuing it without any intervention or feedback from you.

    Overall, I think you did an excellent job of summarizing what you would do if you were really teaching, and also incorporating some of those activities into the presentation.

  3. Susan

    All the presenters did a great job this week, especially with the task of going first! It’s difficult to jam everything into 30 minutes, especially with a short story, and in a real class setting I am sure you would take more than one period to discuss this story. I think your pre-writing exercises were spot on with the story. This is kind of a wacky idea, but you could also consider having two students volunteer to go in the front of the class and “have a conversation” or “communicate” without words and with only facial expressions and body language (although in high school that may be a dangerous suggestion). I think you hit upon the key elements of the text like overlapping dialogue with lack of tags, and ambiguity especially with pronouns. I think the question of the power shifting was an engaging way to get into the details of the story. In fact, I didn’t mention this in class, but realized later that the main female character of the story is called “girl” while the male is called “the man”. I think that says a lot about power shifts and perhaps ads a bit of drama to the abortion element.

  4. Alicia

    Throughout the semester I’ve been impressed with how good you seem to be at your job. You teach AP students (which is very scary for lots of teachers – including me) and seem to show up day after day with well-constructed, thoughtful lessons that challenge the students AND you! Your presentation felt like a lesson you would do in one of those challenging everyday classes. The conversation was genuine and your confidence with the material really showed. I had never read the story before and was so glad to have discovered it. It’s a very cool lesson in what I mentioned I want to do better – talking about HOW something is said instead of just what is said…and why is that? I will definitely be using this story in the future! Thanks for a great lesson.

  5. febencosme

    Alicia beat me to the finish line, so I’ll add that your students are fortunate to have as their teacher a person who appears by all accounts to be committed to being a reliable resource in the classroom.

    I found the activities engaging; particulalry the emphasis on creativity. Something I did with my students in the D.R. was to invite them to write adaptations of the pieces they had read in literature class. More often than not they changed the time and setting to a modern-day Caribbean island and rewrote the dialogue as it would be said in Spanish creole (translated into English if you can imagne that). My point is, honoring students’ voices was key to them producing their best creative work.

    Thanks for a great presentation I will certainly use to scaffold future activity planning.

  6. toddkelly

    “Hills Like White Elephants” is one of my favorite Hemingway stories, and I always enjoy revisiting it and learning something new. One part of your lesson plan that really pointed out something that I don’t normally notice was assigning parts to the class to read instead of the usual popcorn reading. It emphasized how dialogue heavy this short story is. Also, for some reason I kept keying in on Abbie’s narration during the story, especially the speech tags. While I’ve looked at Hemingway’s stripped down style before, I never really concentrated on the speech tags, how he never uses anything fancier than “he said” or “she said.” It is a small thing, and subtle, but it can make an impression on the reader without them realizing it. Just one more example of how different strategies can open new insights on familiar pieces of literature.

  7. afaye

    To echo everyone, your students really are lucky! Your hand-outs were awesome and I was so impressed with your project choices. I was also really impressed with the level of support and trust you provide your students. You really allowed us/them to engage our own interpretations in a non-forced teaching role. You did a fatastic job!

  8. adalton4

    I agree, teaching to adults is definitely more nerve wracking than being with our high school students! For what it’s worth, it didn’t show in your presentation style—you seemed relaxed and natural. I actually liked that we did just a bit of everything with your lesson— it gave me ideas on a wide range of activities and it was never boring! The handouts were helpful, I imagine especially so to newer teachers who are still building a portfolio of assignments and ideas.

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