My Name

My name is pretty boring. Jessica. Two syllables, that’s all. Very common. It doesn’t roll off the tongue in a beautiful manner.  If I go by my full name, I feel like I’m getting yelled at when people say it. If I go by Jesse, I feel like a kid, and if I go by Jess, I just feel eh about it. If I was living around Shakespeare’s time, it wouldn’t have been a common name, so I might have liked it, but there are just tons of Jessica’s out there. In Hebrew it means “rich” and “G-d beholds.” That does make my name somewhat interesting, but not super interesting. Fun fact, it was also used in Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice.

  My middle name is equally boring. Beatrice. Three syllables this time though! I take more pride in my middle name, which I used to hate when I was younger. I thought it was ugly and I was embarrassed to tell people what it was. I remember in 8th grade French class, we had to pick our names in French. My teacher said that Jessica wasn’t French enough, so she made me go by my middle name which, in her mind and accent, had a more “French ring” to it. So there I was with everyone knowing my middle name. I always felt badly about being embarrassed by having Beatrice as my middle name because it’s my dad’s mom’s name. I should’ve been proud to have that. It wasn’t until I got older that I realized how special the name Beatrice is. My dad’s mom passed when he was eight, and I never met her, but on my 20th birthday, my dad told me he’s glad they gave me her name because I look like her. It was at that moment I felt proud to have my middle name as Beatrice.

I love my Hebrew name. Chava Batya. It’s interesting and exotic to me. The way you pronounce Chava is very icky to explain. You take the “c” and the “h” and make the sound in the back of your throat like you’re REALLY phlegmy. Batya doesn’t need an explanation. It’s spelled how it sounds. So this is where the name Chava gets pretty cool. The meaning in Hebrew is Mother of All Life.  Eve’s English name was Eve, but her Hebrew name was Chava.  I thought that was really interesting.  Batya means Daughter of G-d. I never knew that until just now and that’s pretty nice to know.

But, no matter what, my name is Jessica and one day I will find the beauty in it. It’s what my parents chose to name me and I’m going to stick with it. I like knowing that I have a little exotic secret when it comes to my Hebrew name. 

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Teacher/Practice Spotlight

Reading Inside Out, even two chapters of it, has been a really big eye opener to me and so has my visit to Upper Dublin. When I was teaching English in the charter school, I would have to cover everything, and writing was the one thing I really thought I knew something about. I mean, I thought I had it down, and that I was a great teacher. I’m not saying I wasn’t a great teacher at all, but what I will say is that I knew nothing until reading the book and spending time with Mrs. Kaplan. 

I followed a structure in my teaching of writing that I made my students follow. I did word webs, and I did free writing, but I always made my students fix something. I thought that was the only way they were going to learn, even with free writing. I never thought to just let them go, how that would be the best way to teach them.

Letting the student go to do their own thing is a common theme I’ve seen throughout the chapters. The priority is to get and keep a student writing and by allowing them to write without any constraints seems to be the best way to do this. I observed this with Mrs. Kaplans 11th grade track 2 students, as I stated in my previous blog. When I was observing, they were free writing on the books they read over the summer, and Mrs. Kaplan made it a point to let them know that they shouldn’t worry about sentence structure, punctuation, spelling or grammar. She just wanted them to write. 

I think that’s one of the best things a teacher can do for his or her students. Even if the student doesn’t know what to say, we shouldn’t pester him or her to start writing. We need to let the student feel comfortable with his or her thoughts in order for them to get on the paper, no matter how long it takes. This shows the student that we, as teachers, trust them and have faith in them.

In part of chapter two I read that we should share our writing with our students. This is something that I have done before, and I hope to do again, and hopefully I’ll see it this year or be able to do it this year. When I showed my students a piece of my writing from when I was in 11th grade, I don’t think I’ve seem them laugh so hard and I don’t think I’ve laughed so hard. I really liked doing this because I wanted them to see that I don’t take myself too seriously, and again, there is a certain sense of trust involved. What I really liked about this lesson was that I didn’t tell them it was my writing until the end of class. I had them read it, talk about what needed to be fixed and then they fixed it. I think that’s great practice for students, and it does keep teachers humble as well.

Making our students feel comfortable should be our number one goal when it comes to teaching writing. Allow them to free write and reinforce that mistakes don’t matter. 

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Fist Day of Observation

I had my first day of observation at Upper Dublin High School today, and I have to say that it felt great to be back in a classroom, even though I wasn’t the one teaching. I’m doing my observations with a 10th grade honors English class and an 11th grade track 2 English class. I’m not used to the term “track” when it comes to schools because when I was in high school there weren’t tracks, and when I was working at the charter school there definitely weren’t tracks, there were just two sessions that were made by age and grade level. I learned today that track 2 basically means a group of students who are on their way to college. I also found out that UDHS has a 98% graduate to college rate which I find amazing. I also find it amazing just how engaged the students were in class today.

This morning for when I was observing the honors class, the teacher had each student take out a piece of paper and start writing the Pledge of Allegiance and they were to keep passing their papers so everyone in the class would write one word per paper, and everyone was able to participate. The students absolutely loved it and they were so engaged, noticing other peoples errors, laughing nicely with each other not AT each other, and just having a great time. They went over the mistakes they saw for only a few minutes, and then the teacher showed them a clip of The Jimmy Kimmel Show when he went to the streets to ask people to say the Pledge. It was great to see their reactions because they saw that they weren’t alone in not knowing the Pledge; I had to really think to myself how the Pledge goes too. Then the teacher did a short quiz on citizenship (not graded), which is what they went over the previous day. The reason she did this is because I believe she’s going to be doing a writing project with her students in regards to citizenship later on.

The 11th graders had computer lab today which was interesting to observe. This summer they each had two books to read, and they’re typing logs on the books. Today they had to pick a quote from one of the books and log about what it meant to them, how it spoke to them. Some of the students were very nervous. There’s this one student Steven who was very nervous that his work wasn’t good enough, and from what I saw, he’s an amazing writer. He is extremely eloquent, but so nervous about getting his work up to SAT standards. Mrs. Kaplan told me later (after I mentioned this) that she had to reassure him that these logs didn’t have to be SAT quality, that he shouldn’t worry about spelling or punctuation. What I liked seeing with the students is the freedom they had in what they wrote, and even what they didn’t write. There was one boy who was just having an off day and couldn’t think of anything to write. Mrs. Kaplan gave him the freedom to not write. In the end, he wrote, but he seemed to feel the need to reassure that he’s not normally like that and that he loves to write. 

It was nice to be able to walk around and sit with the 11th graders, especially Steven, and to reassure that it’s ok if you don’t think your writing is good enough, and it’s ok to be nervous. 

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Twitter!

You can follow me on Twitter @jbg10678

I will be posting my blogs there!

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Author Talk Reflections

Watching the TED talks videos on creativity, and reading the articles by Dean Keith Simonton and Jonah Lehrer made me think about where I find creativity in my life, not just my writing. After reading these articles and watching the videos, it’s easy to see how creativity doesn’t just fall into the aspect of writing, even though many people would view it that way. Language and creativity do go hand in hand, but there are many things that can be considered “language.” For example, I have a friend who is amazing at math and can read a word problem and automatically get the answer. To me, that is creative, because when I look at math I don’t see anything. I get tense and confused and frustrated. It takes a strong type of mind to do that, and all people who are creative are strong individuals with a strong mind. This can go to a question of: Are all people creative? YES. I believe that every single person is creative in their own way, whether they realize it or not. The mind can’t function without any type of creativity. Daydreaming is a form of creativity in its own right.

In Lehrer’s introduction, he states that “the hardest work always comes after, when you’re trying to make the idea real.” (Lehrer, 1) This goes for everything: science, math, history, writing, art. Making an idea real, and making it for someone to see is extremely hard. The person has to believe in themselves and what they’re doing. This is huge for a classroom. The teacher has to make the work real and imaginative for the student in order for him or her to learn, and in turn, the student has to believe that he or she can learn, regardless of the subject matter. Amy Tan, in her TED Talk, stated that “creativity is everywhere and uncertainty is in everything.” This is absolutely true. Take art for example. Obviously, Van Gough, Monet, or Manet had creativity but in the beauty of their art, if you look deep enough, you can see the uncertainty. The beauty of their work shows the uncertainty that they may have felt while painting.

Simonton stated that “creativity is certainly among the most important and pervasive of all human activities.” (Simonton, 151). He goes on to explain the psychology of creativity and how teacher just expect students to show their creativity. I don’t think teachers should expect this at all. If a child is uncertain in him or herself, there is no way that any type of creativity will show through in their work. It is our job, as educators, to foster the creativity of our students. Just like it’s important for our students to know that we as teachers have some fears (writing for some), it’s important for them to see and understand how a person can become creative when they don’t think they are. If we expect our students to be a certain way, then we are setting our own expectations of our student’s way too high.

One thing I will remember from listening to Amy Tan is what a man who was piling stones in China said to her: “With everything in life there is a place of balance.” I think it’s up to us to find this balance and share it with our students.

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Introduction

I never paid attention to how I learned to write when I was growing up. I just know I had good teachers, I wrote a lot throughout school; it seemed that it was subtly drilled into my head how to write considering the amount of writing assignments I had when I was going throughout elementary – high school. It didn’t matter if it was History, English or even Science, I was always writing something and always learning something throughout my writing.

When I write for other people, a great sense of fear appears inside because writing seems to be one of the true abilities to communicate. Not only throughout school, but throughout life. A person can be a great speaker, but in my mind, in order to be a full communicator, a person has to know how to write properly. This fear was completely justified in my mind when I was reading Our Lives as Writers: Examining Preservices’ Teachers Experience and Beliefs about the Nature of Writing and Writing Instruction. This article talks about how important writing is, not only in school, but in the workplace, and regardless of how important writing is in a person’s life/career, children are still struggling in regards to the quality of their writing. Teachers need to be taught how to write just as much as students. How can we be perfect if we make numerous mistakes as well?

I think this article is what makes me sympathetic to students when I’m trying to teach them how to write. Writing seems like it would be so easy, but in all actuality, it’s one of the trickiest parts of teaching English.  A teacher wants to be able to teach, and teach well, without having to worry about testing. This is where our children are falling barely in the middle in regards to testing. I think if we, as educators, can free our mind of the fear of testing, we could probably teach more effectively.

When I was teaching at risk students, I would always have them free write first. I didn’t care if there was any punctuation or any of the capitalization was correct, I just wanted them to start writing. This was good for them to do, because a lot of their levels weren’t grade level. There were some that I would have to teach how to read before I could even attempt to have them construct a sentence. After that, with the students who were able to participate,  I would have them read whatever it was they wrote to themselves and see where punctuation should belong. Then they would give me their rough drafts and I would go over them with each of my students. I didn’t want them to worry about paragraph structure or anything like that in the very beginning. What I liked about this method, is that it was an assessment of where each student needed help. This way, when I would go over paragraph structure, I wasn’t boring half of the class because that was the main thing my students needed help with.

The mark of a good teacher is the constant wanting and willingness to learn, and in order for us to be able to teach those who will become our future, we need to learn more.

 

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