Saturday, October 18, 2014

Actually Teaching

Hopefully you read my last post about my flash fiction unit and its nice little pre-assessment. To further assess how my lesson plan would work I taught the first day of the unit. I chose to teach the lesson to the 11th grade English class at Eldorado Emerson Private School. This is a small private school in Orange, CA with students from ages 4 to 18. Because I used to teach there know many of the teachers including Mr. Kelley who teaches high school English.

I chose to teach the first lesson because it doesn’t require the students to have any knowledge of flash fiction and instead introduces them to this type of writing. Here is what my learning plan was:

1)      On the board write the following famous short-short story, attributed to Ernest Hemingway: For sale: baby shoes, never worn.

2)      When students enter, ask them to copy the story and consider and record whether or not they think it is a story.

3)      Once students have had time to record their ideas, come together as a class to discuss the following:
  • What does a story need in order to be a story?
  • What questions does this story leave you with?
  • What do you think is happening beneath the surface of these six words? 
  • Is the amount of what’s left unsaid unsettling? Interesting? Annoying?
  •  Do you think it’s harder to write a short-short story like this one or a longer work, like a novel? Why?
4)      As a class read “Flashes On The Meridian: Dazzled by Flash Fiction” By Pamela Castro out loud and discuss its ideas after each section.

I followed this plan with a few variations on the day I taught it. Because I knew I wouldn’t be teaching them again I thought I should have them read some actual flash fiction. So I changed step four and added a step 5 and 6 as follows:
4)      As a class read three short sections from “Flashes On The Meridian: Dazzled by Flash Fiction” By Pamela Castro out loud and discuss its ideas after each section.

5)      Hand out packets of three examples of flash fiction. As a class read each story aloud. Have students record their thoughts about the story and what makes is successful or unsuccessful as a story after each reading.

6)      Close by asking students to discuss what they have learned. Prompt with questions when discussion lags.

One important area of this lesson was the assessments taken. The pre-assessment of reading and responding went very well. Students wrote quite a lot and were able to express the ideas I was looking for. One student wrote, “it sounds like a commercial advertisement” when explaining why he thought it was not a story. The ongoing assessment of observing the students and engaging them in discussions went well. I quickly learned by using the ongoing assessment that much of the language and vocabulary of the article and stories was difficult for the several ELL students. Because I observed this I was able to quickly adjust my plan to include more vocabulary explanation. This helped to make the lesson accessible to all students. For example one of the examples of the form that flash fiction can take used the word epistle. I observed that students were puzzled by this word so when the student reader finished I explained what an epistle was.

Although my original learning plan did not include post assessment my edited plan did. The concluding discussion helped me to see what the students had learned, what they still needed me to teach, and importantly what they were interested in about this subject. I was pleased to have gathered this information and it made me wish I could keep teaching my entire unit to them. For example when the students were discussing what they had learned several students asked if they could do this kind of writing themselves. I assured them they could and was glad they couldn’t hear my inner voice which was shouting, “I’ll teach you! … Oh, wait, I can’t! Damn!”

This experience, of teaching my own lesson plan, was so very helpful. One big thing that I learned is that I have no concept of how long things in my plan will take. Things I thought would take 10 minutes took 5 for one task and on another took 15. This reminded me that teachers need to be flexible and willing to adjust their plans to fit each class. I also learned the real importance of assessment. If I had taught this same lesson but had not paid attention to the assessments I would have been wasting my time and the students time. Assessments are a vital part of teaching and despite the intensity and fear that the word brings it can be simple and easy. I will be sure to better plan for informal summative assessment in all my lessons so that I can improve as a teacher form each lesson.

Teaching this lesson showed me that I need to be aware of what students need (like the ELL students who needed vocabulary help). By being aware of student needs I can add it to my lesson and adjust for it on the go. 

My favorite part of teaching this lesson was seeing the students actually learn. By the end I knew that this class understood the basics of flash fiction and they were intrigued. Sharing something I love with others is a big part of why I want to be a teacher and I felt reassured about my choice after teaching this lesson. It wasn’t easy but it was fun and it was worth it. I am one happy future teacher thanks to this assignment and to Mr. Kelley and his class. 

This picture shows how I felt after teaching my lesson (it was just like that giddy feeling you get after braving a scary ride that turns out to be awesome).

1 comment:

Christina Allen said...

I had never heard of flash fiction, but this reminds me a lot of Six Word Memoirs. I'm surprised that so many of your students seemed hung up on the advertisement facet of Hemingway's story ; while it lacks a beginning, middle, and end, at the very least it seems like a catalyst for a story. It would make a good writing prompt. While my initial thought was that this prompt would naturally lead to a depressing story, with a little pondering I could imagine some humorous or even exciting tales that could result in the creation of the "advertisement".