Reflecting on teaching “Sleepy”

Overall, I feel that my teaching presentation this past week went fairly well. Thank you all for being such good students. 🙂 And thank you for bringing “Sleepy” to class and staying awake during my presentation. (Lame joke, I know.)

I’m embarrassed about how nervous I get when I give a presentation in front of my peers in grad classes. I’m fine in front of my students. I’m fine in front of my colleagues at school. I’m fine in front of strangers (for the most part). I’m not quite sure what happens when I present for a class, though. I’m still working on those nerves.

I wanted to start my presentation similarly to how I might start a class period with my own students. I hoped to then give a solid  but concise overview of the background and context of the lesson on “Sleepy.” I hope that that contextual information was conveyed as I was fighting back those nerves during those first few minutes. As I mentioned, I chose to work with “Sleepy” since Chekhov short stories is a new selection in our IB English I curriculum. I’ve never taught Chekhov before, so I really used this teaching presentation assignment to help me prepare to teach Chekhov. I started with my lesson plans for “Sleepy,” and then built other Chekhov lessons around that lesson–the short story review assignment, the Chekhov research assignment, and the group presenation on a selected short story. Then I also incorporated a focus on critical reading lenses into these lessons on Chekhov short stories. So, what started as one lesson created for the teaching presentation for class ended up as a unit ready to teach this school year! I was very excited to work with incorporating different activities that we had worked with over the course of the semester (especially Blau’s ideas/activities), and I was thrilled to have a ready-to-use unit created by the time I was done. However, the lesson-turned-unit presented some difficulties when it came to a 30-minute presentation.

After introducing the background for my focus lesson on “Sleepy” and I shifted from “presenter” to “teacher,” I felt much more comfortable! I was in my element, I guess you could say. I truly love teaching, and even though teaching is in some ways like acting or putting on a show/presentation, as Professor Sample said (sorry–I don’t remember the exact wording), I feel I am truly myself when I am teaching. So when I shifted from talking about my lesson to actually leading the class in the activities, I felt much more comfortable. Looking back, I wish I would have structured my presentation better so that we could have spent more time with the activities. I wanted to be sure to explain how the lesson was situated within the unit I ended up creating, and I guess I figured that providing the handouts on the critical lenses and the critical essay would help save time for actual activities. However, I feel that I probably spent too much time with explanations and short-changed the actual activities. I really loved hearing what others thought of the story and would have liked to have had even more discussion.

The teaching presentation is a unique assignment. I enjoyed working on my presentation, and I have definitely been enjoying all the other presentations! I’m enjoying the works that everyone is selecting, and I love that we’re sharing ideas and activities through these presentations. I’m looking forward to the next two weeks!

8 thoughts on “Reflecting on teaching “Sleepy”

  1. Alicia

    Honestly, I’d have had no clue you were nervous during any part of the presentation. What I recall was how impressed I was by the copious thought you had put into the lesson and how it fit into your overall program. Furthermore, I felt that the lesson flowed very naturally and that we were able to respond spontaneously without derailing you. I definitely have an appreciation for this story, now (I had never read it before) and can see how it could lead to all kinds of great discussions.

    Excellent job!

  2. abbie

    I also would never have guessed you were nervous — so don’t worry 🙂

    I enjoyed reading the Chekhov story (hadn’t read that one yet, though I am a Chekhov fan) — I think it presents a lot “difficulties” that would (and did) lead to interesting class discussions.

    I agree with Alicia — you had done very careful and thorough planning, and that showed. I loved the handout on critical lenses!

  3. toddkelly

    I agree with you Jennifer, that is a lame joke.

    No really, I don’t have much to say, your lesson was awesome. You did not seem nervous to me and I was in the front row, so you must be good at hiding it. “Sleepy” is a difficult story and I applaud you for teaching it to high school students. I think it is important to challenge them to do things that are difficult. I also could tell from your presentation that you were able to make it accessible to high school students without actually spoon feeding them the interpretation (a problem I have, especially as my kids get closer to the end of the year and check out more and more).

  4. Lindsay

    I thought your lesson was well-planned and really thorough. You did an excellent job situating the lesson within your curriculum, which was helpful for me to see because I’m not a teacher yet. I haven’t read much Chekhov before, so I was excited to read “Sleepy.” It’s definitely a provocative piece that would be good for class discussions, as others have pointed out. I was particularly interested when our class discussion turned to the symbolism in “Sleepy.” I think there is so much to be said about that. And thank you for the handout on the critical reading lenses!

    I can tell you are a great teacher. Awesome job!

  5. Susanna

    Excellent work, Mrs. Fulton! Really, I would love to be in your class. First, I really liked the warm and enthusiastic welcome. I know it’s hard to energize ourselves, and especially our students, but I really think that kind of introduction serves to do just that.

    I also have to admit that I’ve been reluctant to teach Chekhov, and your choice to teach this story has completely convinced me that I have to teach this story to my students. It provides a wonderful opportunity to have students debate what is justifiable and what is not. I have a whole unit on morality that includes The Awakening and Billy Budd, and getting students to discuss (usually pretty heatedly) what justifies killing someone can really fire them up to read, God forbid, literature! We held ourselves back a little, but you certainly had us all entirely engaged. I really liked the way you encouraged us to get into the reading ourselves, in a very Blau-esque mode.

    Also, I am totally “borrowing” your handout on critical lenses to give to my students. What a fabulous handout! I’ve tried for years to find a good way to lay out literary crtiicism for students, but I always leave something out. This handout is so thorough (and well cited!) that it really does the job.

    Overall, I just loved your lesson. It was stock full of useful ideas for teaching, and I really enjoyed being a student in your classroom, if only for 30 minutes.

  6. afaye

    I wish I could just repeat what Susanna wrote because I completely agree: you are a rocking good teacher! Your welcome was refreshing and you encouraged engagement throughout. The critical lenses in practice is so helpful! I had been reading about theory-relays and other rather cheesy methods to engage students with the concept of critical lenses, but your straight forward approach makes sense. I think your direct and clear explanation bolstered by your accessible handout will really allow students a path to the initially scary world of theory.

    I also want to jump on board with Lindsay and say thank-you for spending the extra time explaining how your unit is situated in the bigger curriculum picture. As a not-yet-teacher these bigger picture concepts are hard to imagine, so getting a sneak-peak at your class in practice is more than helpful. I loved hearing how you will use this Chekhov story in context of allowing them freedom with their own choices. Student choices in assigned readings is such a great tool, but it seems so hard to figure out exactly how to structure these choices within such large and varied classrooms. Cool idea!!

    Your students are lucky and so are your classmates. Thanks for the great hand-outs and the engaging lesson. What a story and I would have never guessed this was your first experience leading a unit on Chekhov!

  7. Susan

    I think you did a great job and reached your objective of how to come up with a reading by using evidence from the text and how to work with ambiguity. I agree that the popcorn reading (that we did not get to do in class) and pointing exercise (that we did do in class) are great activities for this story. This followed by leading questions and discussions helped us read the text critically. I like your focus on critical reading (reminded me of Linkon and Scholes articles we read at the beginning of the semester). The “critical strategies for reading” project, where each group is assigned an approach, will really prepare your honors English students.

  8. vbartush

    I have to agree with all of those who commended you on the thoroughness of your lesson. I was really impressed. My favorite part was when you had us pick a line and write about it. I remember reading about that technique (was it in Blau?) and thinking that it would be an effective way to generate discussion. I also really liked that you touched on the issue of different translations. I think it is an important issue and one that does not get discussed often. At least I don’t remember talking about it in high school English class.

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