2nd Semester gets off and running

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My last post was before the Christmas break. I enjoyed the holiday and spent quality time with family and friends. I also worked on a few personal projects.

More importantly, though, is the fact the second semester of the school year is well underway. In the month and few days since it began, my classes have been busy. In the past I have primarily discussed my Junior English class. For this post, I’m going to briefly touch on all of my classes, one at a time.

Before I get into it, though, I must say I have been doing a lot of soul searching of late. I always strive to do my very best. Because of this, I reflect on what I’m doing constantly. Sometimes my pondering gets in the way of tasks such as grading. Obviously that isn’t ideal, but I feel it is justified.

What I’ve come up with thus far is that I want to change everything next year. Sure, there were a few projects and whatnot that I’ve had my students do that have worked. I will keep those, but I want to restructure everything. I want to push going completely paperless. I want to make my classes better. All of them. I’ve already been planning in my head. Soon I hope to start turning those thoughts into words and actually write them down (well, type actually because I struggle to read my own hand writing). My first order of business will be to write my teaching manifesto because, according to Dictionary.com, a manifesto is “a public declaration of intentions, opinions, objectives, or motives,” and I think having it all spelled out will keep me focused and on point.

That’s for a later post. Now let me get into what’s going on in my classes right now.

Junior English: American Literature

As juniors, one of the objectives for my students is to work on persuasive writing. This year I was informed the students would be taking part in a writing assessment, and it was slated to cover persuasive writing.

The method this assessment was to be administered was via the Kansas Writing Instruction and Evaluation Tool (KWIET). I went to a conference to learn about it. It looked pretty cool. The best part of it was that it was paperless.

I’ve never dealt with state assessments before as this is my first year teaching English, but I was working on getting ready for my first foray into it.

Then, just as I was trying to schedule a time to administer the assessment, the state decided there was a glitch. Something wasn’t right, or something was wrong. Whatever. The point is, the assessments didn’t need to be administered.

I have to admit I was a bit relieved.

I carried on, though. I have spent the entire semester up until this point on a Persuasive Writing Unit. First we read some persuasive writing out of the textbook and completed brief assignments over those readings. Then we broke down President Barack Obama’s Inauguration 2013 Speech, looking for rhetorical devices. Finally, we wrote persuasive essays. The students had the freedom to pick their own topics, but I threw a wrench into it. I made them cite source using Modern Language Association (MLA) citations, which is a citation method used in academic writing. Granted, this isn’t exactly necessary for a persuasive piece, but I wanted them to get used to it for the upcoming Research Paper Unit.

Speaking of the Research Paper Unit, it begins on Tuesday (we don’t have school on Monday). It is going to be intense for my students, especially since I’ve had seniors tell me I’m making them write more than they did when they were juniors. I’m OK with that. I love writing, and I like the idea of pushing what my students believe are their limits.

Oh, and this is another good time to mention my paperless initiative. And it really is an initiative because even though I love technology, I enjoy holding a piece of paper or a book. However, I want my students to be well-versed in technology and not rely on paper. Therefore, with the help of one of the school’s tech guys, I found a script that let me automatically create folders in Google Docs. This script made a folder for each student. This is their dropbox where they turn in assignments. Only the student and I have access to this folder. Also, the script made shared folders for each class. I can drop support materials into these folders and each student instantly has access. It is great! I’m going to implement it in each of my classes next year, instead of just for my English classes.

A/V Production Fundamentals

This is my freshman class. It is technically only a semester-long course, though the students have been in my room during that period all year, just under a different class name the first semester. This is thanks to Career and Tech Education (CTE). I will have to explain this more fully in a later post, but the short of it is my journalism classes receive extra funding because they follow specific guidelines that aim to prepare the students for careers in the field. The goal is to have them job-ready should they choose not to attend college.

Anyway, the students have been learning about broadcast terminology and history. After getting through all that, they recently produced their first podcasts using Apple’s audio production software, GarageBand. The students did well. Tomorrow, they will begin working on their second one.

My goal by the end of the semester is for them to produce a full, 30-minute news broadcast, which I will of course post to my YouTube Channel.

Photo Imaging

Again, this class goes by many names thanks to CTE. Basically, it is the class period where the yearbook — The Cub — is produced.

The book is coming along nicely. My editor has developed a very unique theme, and the book itself is going to be something few have ever seen. I’m excited to see the final product.

Currently, the students are working feverishly on contest entries. The contest is the Kansas Scholastic Press Association Regionals. Finish in the top six gives them a birth to the KSPA State Contest in May. It’s a big deal. I have high expectations.

We will compete on Friday in Wichita on the beautiful campus of Wichita State University. Their entries are due tomorrow.

Otherwise, deadlines have been met, and I have made more of an effort to make the class more fun. See, I find journalism fun in and of itself; however, the students, though they may enjoy yearbook, need more than the glow of the computer screens to warm their hearts. I’m working on that. We went out to eat just the other day. As a staff. It was a good time. It was a helpful and needed respite from the grind.

Beat Reporting

OK. This class is not officially called Beat Reporting. It has a couple names because some of the students are in “one” class and others are in “a different” class. Again, it has to do with CTE nuances.

In any event, for this class the students have been assigned beats. They are reporting on those beats every week.

What is a beat? It is a particular area the students cover exclusively. They become experts. Beat Reporting is, therefore and according to a very astute Wikipedia.org entry, “a genre of journalism that can be described as the craft of in-depth reporting on a particular issue, sector, organization or institution over time. Beat reporters build up a base of knowledge on and gain familiarity with the topic, allowing them to provide insight and commentary in addition to reporting straight facts. This distinguishes them from other journalists who might cover similar stories from time to time.

At first, the students were tentative, but I truly believe they are starting to see the fun in it, especially since their articles are being published.

See, I set up a website for them. It is a My High School Journalism site. My HSJ is powered by the  American Society of News Editors. Through the organization’s high school journalism initiative, schools can set up online news outlets . . . for free.

It is awesome, and it is giving my students an outlet. The website is updated every Friday. Tomorrow will be the second time the site has been updated. Already the stats show we are getting several unique visitors, and we have barely begun to promote it.

Check it out: http://my.hsj.org/sterlinghighschool

Also, to help promote this new website and the yearbook, we have set up a Twitter account, from which, I hope, the students will be able to begin publishing news instantly, as it happens.

Follow us: @SterlingCub

The students will all have access to the account by way of a Group Tweet account I set up. This allows the students to tweet from their own accounts and have those tweets show up as though they are from @SterlingCub if they follow a few simple steps. To keep everyone accountable, their initials will be attached to each tweet. This will prevent anyone from post malicious content without being identified. Also, in order to take part in this, they have to be added to the list of contributors on the Group Tweet account. This is a helpful safety measure for the account. It is a pretty sweet deal.


So basically a few cool things are happening in my classes. I’m stoked. Also, I’m excited about the self reflection I’ve been doing. I’m already excited for next year. It is going to be totally different, but it will be a good different.

As always, thanks for reading, and if you feel inclined, please leave a comment. 

Stay tuned for a post about how today’s students are part of a digital generation, what CTE is and my manifesto.