So much for my new year's resolution to blog everyday. Most of my spare time the past few weeks has been used to set up my new class website. I used the name one of my students, Autumn Mauller, came up with, room210.com, and employed a design chosen by another student, Sarah McDonough, and Autumn.
The web site has been on line for about 10 days now and it appears to be going over well. I have finished with the home page, though there will be changes on it from time to time. I am about two-thirds of the way through the student links page, which is designed for research and enjoyment. I have just started on the About Communication Arts page, which will let students and parents know about the class, find out what homework has been assigned, keep up with the writing prompts, and detail the research project and the extra credit project.
The extra credit project has been one of the most rewarding experiences I have had in my five years of teaching. It began in November. I modified an idea used by Renee Jones, an English teacher at Diamond Middle School. Last year, she assigned each of her eighth grade students to write a novel. It was part of the regular grade in her classes, but I decided to make it an extra-credit project. Students who wanted to earn extra credit had several options. They could write a novel, write a book of short stories, write a book of poetry, write a two or three-act play, or double their Accelerated Reader goal.
I have had about 80 to 85 percent participation in the project and the kids were enjoying it so much that we decided to continue it into the third quarter.
If the students show progress during the weekly checks, 25 points is added to their cumulative point total. Most of the students in my morning block opted to do read for extra credit, which is fine, and they have kept reading each week. One or two are writing novels and a few others are writing poetry.
In the afternoon block, the extra credit project has taken on a life of its own. A few are doing the reading, but several are well into their novels.
It was difficult for me to keep up with their work last quarter, because of my poor health, but I have been able to read over their work since the Christmas break and offer some hopefully helpful suggestions.
Last Thursday was a wonderful day for me, as a teacher and as a human being.
The extra-credit project, mentioned above, was part of it. I picked up the students' work to take it home and read it. Previously, I had just made sure they were working on it via a cursory glance, then returned the material to them. I was surprised when Lindsey Hamm, one of the best writers, in my class, had indicated to me a few days earlier that she did not want me to take her novel home with me. It had nothing to do with a lack of confidence in the novel. She simply wanted to keep on working on it at home. Finally, we reached a compromise. I would read it during my planning period and return it to her by the end of the day.
The other surprise came from Jordan Harmon, one of the quieter students in my afternoon block. She handed me 115 handwritten pages. That would have been enough of an accomplishment, but that was just the beginning. Those 115 pages began with Chapter 34 on page 559 and ended with page 673. I counted the words on three pages and estimated that so far she was written approximately 67,000 words, or about two thousand words more than I wrote in my novel...and she is nowhere near done. The novel read well. Jordan is talented, as well as being an extremely hard worker.
Other students also showed excellent writing promise. This project has been a success. It shows that if you challenge students, they will usually respond, and there are many teachers at South who do that every day.
The positive feeling I had after looking over my students' extra credit project was only the beginning of the good feelings I had last Thursday. I had finally decided that I was going to make my long-delayed return to Diamond Thursday night. It was the next-to-last home game for the seventh and eighth grade basketball teams and I wanted to let those kids know that I hadn't forgotten them.
At the same time, I was somewhat concerned about what the response would be to my return, especially considering some of the anonymous comments left on my website, some of which allegedly came from students, but which I believe were actually written by adults.
I walked in the door, paid my $3, which I probably shouldn't have since I am technically still on the faculty there (I was placed on an unpaid leave of absence about three weeks before school started.)
When I went to the concession stand, Mr. Towers already had my Diet Dr. Pepper and bag of popcorn ready for me. (I am so predictable.)
Then I walked into the gym, I saw a look of recognition on the face of little Sheena Chung, a seventh-grade cheerleader. She immediately began sprinting across the gymnasium and didn't slow down until she almost knocked me over, jumping at me and hugging me. She was almost crying, and to be honest with you, so was I.
She was followed quickly, by three other cheerleaders, Eris Baker, Kelsey Henson, and Hannah Carr. Then the basketball guys started coming up to me. I had high schoolers talking to me, parents, and one time when I went into the commons area, I was greeted like a long-lost relative by three janitors, who proceeded to talk to me for more than 15 minutes. About the only people who did not come up to me during the two hours I was there were the three board members in attendance.
Thomas Wolfe was wrong. You definitely can go home again, but only for a visit. From what the kids and the teachers tell me, the Diamond R-4 School District, is not a place in which you would want to live, at least not if you have an interest in quality education.