Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Organizing a Journalism Class

Well my students and I got our wish today. We have a snow day! I was super nervous about having to commute in this weather, so I was very relieved when I got the call just after 6 this morning. Right now there is a lull in the snow and sleet, but it's supposed to get worse again this afternoon. My day so far has consisted of drinking coffee, watching Netflix, and lounging on the couch with my dog.

Doesn't she have a rough life?

Today while I'm home and pittering around on our new school newspaper online, I thought I'd post about my experience building up our journalism program and give some of my tips for ensuring a smoothly-run paper that is still fun, but productive for kids.

A little background: I was pretty much thrown into being the newspaper adviser (which is a class at my school) 3 years ago with absolutely zero journalism and/or graphic design experience. I had to teach myself InDesign, teach myself about journalism out of our text, and be ready to run with it come August. If I can do it, anyone can!

Mrs. L's Tips for a Journalism Class:
1. Have students apply for the class (if your school allows it).
My first year taking this over, anyone (sophomores and up) could be in this course, and I ended up with a lot of seniors taking it for a "blow off" class and not taking it seriously. Honestly, my first year doing the paper was really, really rough because of it (and because of my lack of experience). So now I have a brief application the students must fill out that isn't so much work it turns them off to the class, but separates the ones who are serious from those who aren't.

It basically asks for their current teacher, grade in school, and then a few short answer questions:
  • Why do you want to take journalism?
  • What do you hope to get out of the class?
  • A short writing sample of a practice news article
I also talk to their teachers about grades, work ethic, teamwork, etc. Each year, there are usually a few who don't make the class because of failing regular classes, poor reviews from teachers, etc. I typically have a newspaper staff of 9-15 kids, which I think is a great size.
2.  Have a clear set of established rules and policies from the get-go, everything from camera usage and checking them out, computer usage (I have 4 Mac computers in my room for journalism), leaving the room procedures, etc.. My students get their own newspaper badge with name and picture that functions as their hall pass during my class. I have 3 different spread sheets to keep track of students and hold them accountable:
-One for computer usage: name, computer #, purpose, and time on and off
-One for checking out cameras (we have 2): name, date, purpose, date returned
-One for leaving the room or building (for interviews, pics, sponsors, etc): Name, destination, time in and out

I find this holds them accountable but is little to no work for me. Win-win.

3. Have a system of organization.

At our paper, we do have an editor or co-editors (typically seniors who have been on the staff before and/or strong writers/organizers) and each student is assigned a beat (A&E, Local News, Opinions, etc.). The process of writing an article from conception to publishing goes like this:

  1. Each student has a weekly deadline (they write one story per week, which I find manageable but enough to keep them busy all the time).
  2. A week ahead of time (or when they finish prior article), they brainstorm ideas for this week's article. I have them turn in 2-3 ideas to me, and I'll let them know which ones I think will work best.
  3. Once approved, they turn in an article plan to me, which is a basic outline of their article, work schedule, interviews, pics, etc.
  4.  Each day during that week, they are working on their article and turning in daily progress (I give grades weekly and have a spreadsheet for each day of the week where I record absences, what they worked on, etc).
  5. When they are at the point where they have a draft typed up, they give it to the editor. S/he looks at it, makes suggestions, and hands back to author (each student has a mailbox in my room for returning work).
  6. The author makes any corrections, turns back in to editor, and this continues until the editor thinks it is ready to publish.
  7. At this point, the editor gives me the "final" copy, and I do a once-over. I often times find small errors that need changing, and in that case, it goes back to author to fix. When I give it the stamp of approval (I use the stamp below for this and other assignments in my classes, and the kids LOVE it!), the copy goes to the editor to publish online.
    I only use the "Like" stamp at school. Purchased from ThinkGeek.com for $12.99

  8.  Right now, only my editors have an account on our paper's website to publish articles and pics. In the future, I may make contributor accounts for my other staff members so they, too, can upload just their own articles, but for now, I like to have limited access to it (I am an administrator and have more control than editors, who have more control than authors, etc).
  9. Students save articles and pics to our file on the computer, so editors can have access to everything when the time comes to publish.
  10. Doing it this way, we publish about 3 new articles each day to our website. I also have my sports writer in charge of uploading new sports scores daily and inputting events into our online calendar.
4. Sprinkle in content assignments
We do have a journalism book, and while 90% of our time is spent writing, reporting, and publishing, most of my students have zero journalism background when they get to me. We spend the first few weeks of the school year writing practice articles, working on headlines, interviewing (I have teachers who volunteer to come in on their prep and get "interviewed"), writing leads, taking good pictures, writing captions, discussing journalism ethics, etc. They must know the basics to be able to write halfway decent articles. I hold them to these expectations whenever they write content to be published.
Throughout the year, we will visit other chapters when necessary and revisit concepts they still struggle with (such as writing a good lead). If that means we get one day behind in publishing, so be it. Our quality has to be there.

5. Get the student body interested
When I inherited this paper, it was mostly for teachers and adults in the community to read (it was distributed in the local paper as well). Our students weren't that interested. So we brainstormed and found a couple ways to get our student body more interested in reading:
-We started an advice column. I put a box in the library where students can anonymously submit advice questions (of course, I have to weed through some inappropriate ones always!), and each month or week we run one question with an answer from our staff.
-We've started a "Guess the Teacher" competition. Each month we interview a different teacher and post their answers online. I collect answers in my room and draw for the winner. The winning student gets a $20 gift card to any local business. This drums up interest in reading and also benefits our community.
-We are in the beginning stages of setting up a FB page for our paper. I will be the one running it (which I would HIGHLY recommend-don't let a student do this), where we will link to new articles published online. If you can garner interest and get student "likes," you can even run contests through FB, and they will always know when new articles are published. I'll report back when this is up and running for a little while to evaluate how beneficial it is.

Running a student newspaper can be a LOT of work, but I think it's worth it. It is enjoyable for the kids, they get real-world writing skills for a true audience, and it is great practice for those students wanting to pursue journalism or communication. I also think it helps drum up school spirit to report on school events, highlight students doing awesome things, and it also may be the only current events our students get, since we do cover local, national, and international news as well.

It can be overwhelming, especially if you're a journalism novice like me, but if I can do it, so can you! Within three years, I would say I have built up the program, gotten students more interested in it, made it more current by taking it online and made it more selective by requiring an application.

Sorry this post got so long-I tried to keep it brief. If you've got other questions about journalism classes/programs, feel free to leave a comment. I also plan to do another post that focuses just on online journalism, how I decided to go online, how I decided which site to use to host us, and problems/solutions to online journalism in a HS classroom.

Monday, February 25, 2013

Breaking down the Bard

One of the most difficult units for me to teach sophomores is Julius Caesar. In general, Shakespeare is difficult unless they are really advanced readers because the language is so vastly different. There are many different activities I use to make Shakespare more fun, more current, and easier to understand, and I will post more ideas in other posts, but today I wanted to focus on an activity I did at school today--breaking down some of the longer speeches in Shakespeare and working with them.

If you are familiar with JC, you know in Act III there are two major speeches at Caesar's funeral: Brutus and Antony, with Antony speaking the most. Not only is this a great activity to teach the content, but also persuasive techniques and the use of ethos, pathos, and logos (more on that in another blog post because I do a LOT with it!)

I got some great ideas from the Folger Shakespeare Library, which is a great resource for all things Shakespeare, and made them my own.

I broke up all the big speeches into sections of about 20 or so lines. I copied them onto paper so I could blow up the font and also so students could annotate on them and mark them up; however, I had them keep their lit. textbooks open because they have some excellent vocab. definitions and footnotes in there to help with comprehension.

I broke the students into groups of 2-3 and each group got one of the sections of a major speech. They were given about 20 min. and asked to do the following:

1. Paraphrase this speech in your own words (we have been working with paraphrasing all year and I modeled it for them last week, so they are familiar with it. We also paraphrased a speech together in class on Friday).
2. How persuasive was this character? Point out examples of ethos, pathos, and logos with textual evidence (hello, Common Core!) Like I said earlier, we already would have covered these terms in an activity previously.
3. How did the commoners react to after this section of the speech was given? Whose side are they on currently (the conspirators' or Marc Antony's)?
4. When everyone was done, each group performed their speech in the tone and manner they imagined it would've been performed by this character. They then shared their answers and analysis with us.

Tomorrow I am going to show these speeches performed in a film version of the play to compare their interpretations and so they can see a fluent and dramatic reading of it.

Honestly I was so impressed with them today! When we read aloud as a group and I stop to ask questions and recap, they look at me like lumps on a log. This has proven to me they CAN interpret the meaning on their own, but just choose not to at times because it's convenient. Pretty much every group was right on in their paraphrase and correctly answered the questions, even using textual evidence well. 

Honestly, with difficult texts, you sometimes have to go line by line in order to get it, and the students need to be taught it's OK to spend a lot of time on a small piece of literature and really take your time with it. They are so used to getting everything yesterday, that it frustrates them :) Bonus for teachers: close reading is emphasized by Common Core!

Well the kids are hoping and praying for a snow day tomorrow. We're supposedly getting 6-8" and it may start around 5 AM. I am packing a bag tonight in case I can't make it home after school (I commute 50 min). So I might be hoping a little bit for a snow day too!

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Technology in a not Smart classroom

Browsing other teaching blogs, I get so envious of everyone who has any technology they could want at their fingertips. I don't have a Smart board in my classroom, and we don't have laptops for every kid. Those things will hopefully appear down the line, but in the meantime, how do you incorporate some technology into lesson plans?

I try to use it whenever possible and have so many different things I try, but below are some of my favorites and most common uses.

For one, I have my College English student use a Wikispace page. 
It's basically like a class blog or message board, similar to Blackboard that many colleges use. I will post announcements, assignments, and hand outs on there, as well as host different discussion threads they have to respond to.

For instance, they may post a paper proposal and have their peers comment on it. I have also started doing online peer reviews with them where they post their rough draft to a thread and their peer reviewers write them a peer review memo and post it as a reply. It's easy for me to grade then because I can open up the post and see the original paper with both memos right below it. They enjoy doing things electronically as well.

This is the first year we have taken the school newspaper online (VERY new in fact, as we just transitioned last week), and after browsing online for hosting options, we settled on School Newspapers Online. This site is run by two high school newspaper advisers and is extremely user-friendly, which I wanted since this is an English class, and most of us don't have graphic design background. I have a very limited knowledge of HTML from a Grad school course I took and have no interest in revisiting that! Yikes.

It is $600/year for the first year and then $300/year for subsequent years, which is about $1000 cheaper than getting our paper printed in hard copy through the local city newspaper. This way we can also update content daily and run more up-to-date news stories instead of putting out an actual paper monthly.

For my sophomores, I wanted to try taking an assignment online that I did before. In the past, I would type up a handout that resembled a Facebook profile and have the kids make a FB profile for a literary character from a book we were studying or an author we read. It was fun, but I wanted something more interactive and more FB-like, without actually being on Facebook.

Enter Fakebook!
It looks almost like a real Facebook page and is interactive. If you type in a famous person's name, like Shakespeare, their picture will even pop up from Fakebook's database. You can add other famous friends, like statuses, post statuses, post pictures, videos, etc. and comment on others' statuses. I had my sophomores do this for Santiago from The Old Man and the Sea last fall and they had a blast with it! So much better than doing it on paper.

These are just a few ways I try to incorporate technology into my classroom, though there are many others. I will try to have one post each week where I highlight technology or online resources I bring into my class.

Does anyone have other ideas for a non-technology/non-Smart classroom?

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Meet Mrs. L.

Hello, friends!

I'm Mrs. L. and a fifth year English teacher at a mid-sized rural high school in IL. I decided to claim this little space of the Interwebs as my own to share lesson ideas, activities, helpful resources, websites, links, questions, and stories from my time teaching English.

I love reading other teachers' blogs to get ideas and share resources, so I decided to return the love! A little about me in the first post....

Like I said, I'm in my fifth year (wow!) teaching high school English. Man, this time has flown by! I have been in the same school all 5 years, and it's actually the school I student taught at in college.

I went on to get my Masters Degree in English in 2011 because I wanted to expand my knowledge in my subject area, and I'm also a huge nerd who loves being a student, going to class, discussing with other nerds, etc. You get the idea. I actually cried on my last day of class because I would miss it. Ha!

I have taught a variety of classes during my 5 years here: English I, English II, honors English II, English III, English IV, Senior Lit., English 101 and English 102 (both dual-credit courses with a local community college). I am also the adviser for our high school newspaper.

This year, I am also one of 2 English dept. members on a Common Core Committee. Can we just get a big scream out right now and a good hair pull over Common Core? So much to do. We're in charge of basically becoming the experts on it so we can teach it to our other English staff next year to start implementing. Because of that, many posts on here will revolve around CCSS. What I have found is that, while there are many great math CC resources and elementary ELA resources, there seems to be a scarcity of secondary ELA resources, so one of my plans is to scour the Web for whatever I can find that is helpful. If you have any great websites, please do share!

Outside of school, I love to read (especially suspense novels), go hiking, bike the trails, drink coffee, and play with my dog, Roxie. My husband and I recently adopted her from a shelter, and she has taught us a lot about patience and unconditional love. The poor girl was abused early in life and is terrified of people because of it, along with many other things. But she brings so much joy to my days, and I really feel like we adopted her for a reason. As much as we rescued her, I feel like she rescued us a little bit too.

She's approx. 1.5 years old, a black lab mix.

 I'm a semi-newlywed, married since 2011. Technically, we're probably not newlyweds, but I still have days where I see my ring finger and go, "Holy cow! I can't believe I'm married. I feel old," so we'll say semi-newlywed. We also bought our first house last August, so besides Rox, we keep ourselves busy doing things to the house.

That about sums it up. I hope to post at least thrice weekly, hopefully more, and look forward to meeting some other fellow teachers and learning more about this crazy-wonderful profession we call teaching.

~Mrs. L.