Okay, since the thing I tried yesterday was a bust, I decided to start over today. I handed each kid a copy of the story, “Thank You Ma’am,” the writing prompt and a yellow highlighter. I read through the prompt with them, and on the board I wrote, “What did Roger learn from Mrs. Jones?” I told them I would read the story to them and we would highlight any place something happened that might demonstrate Mrs. Luella Washington Bates Jones teaching something to Roger. I began to read, and every so often I’d say, “I am so highlighting this part,” and they all eagerly highlighted those places. For some reason it kept their attention through the whole story. When I explained that the idiom “blue-jeaned sitter” meant the boy’s butt, in a pair of blue jeans, except we would not use that word in our essays, someone asked, “Can we use a**?” “No, you can’t.” “Why not? That’s what we say.” That brought up a mini lesson about spoken and academic language, school and not-school language. It was easily the favorite part of the morning. The thing about seventh graders is that even at their most frustrating, they are so funny. Well mostly. Anyway…
After the first time through, and the morning break, we were interrupted by a total breakdown of two girls who felt threatened by the gossip and rumors of two others. As I stood outside with two sobbing girls and two others in varying stages of denial or sullenness, giving them some heartfelt advice about being leaders and not gossipy trouble starters, and while I could hear the students inside the class scampering around, I heard a P.E. teacher announce over the loudspeaker, “There is a difference between a duck and a beaver!” Hmmm…this place is surreal sometimes.
Eventually we got past the drama and were able to get the class back on track and finish reading the story. The criers continued to sniffle, the sullen one went home and the denier stayed in denial, but swore she wouldn’t hurt anyone. Whew. Good news there!
The next step was to reread the prompt. It says that students will be scored on their familiarity with the characters, so we began to talk about characterization. Without going into greater detail, I will end by saying that it went well today, and I am daring to be hopeful. At least we had one day that feels productive and collaborative, never mind how the essays actually come out! So yeah, forget about the pacing guide. Just slog through the practice essay. Just in time for the District essay, which will be just in time for the state essay. But, we will somehow teach all the stuff in the “Contextualize this!” post. Um hmm.
Addendum: I learned later in the morning that when I was outside with the criers and gossipers that some students were stealing candy from the backpack of a student in another class of mine who had left his things in the classroom while he was out at P.E. He thought his belongings would be safer in my class than out on the blacktop. So today I’ll have to deal with the theft issue. He saw two boys from the earlier class eating his candy at lunchtime. Dang it. I’m disappointed.