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Learning and Growing

Posted by on November 19, 2008

After three overwhelming and discouraging weeks, I walked into my classroom with confidence yesterday. I went on a college retreat this past weekend, which was such a refreshing break from my worries and fears of teaching, and I came home with a different perspective on life. Larissa, one of the leaders, told me that she was often scared to go to school her first year of teaching. That was encouraging to hear because I was starting to think it was because I was teaching middle school instead of elementary. I talked to Rob, the youth pastor, about FCS (Fellowship of Christian Students, a group that meets at my school every Thursday morning–Rob comes and teaches from the Bible) and what else I can do to share Christ with my students. He encouraged me to pray for opportunities to share Christ with my students. He said that if students ask me questions I can answer as thoroughly or simply as I want to. The whole weekend was on the providence of God, and it helped me realize that God has placed me at North Valley Middle School for a reason. My purpose there is not simply to teach; it is to be an example for my students and to share Christ with them as the Lord gives me opportunities.

I have learned that the students really benefit from knowing why they are doing an activity. Yesterday I started class by asking them to tell me the purpose of reading mystery stories like Edgar Allan Poe and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes. For one thing, they are fun, but the students also realized that they are good examples of mystery literature that include the main elements of a mystery story. After Thanksgiving the students will each be writing their own mystery stories and will engage in a step-by-step process of planning, revising, and writing their stories. Reading and analyzing these mysteries will help prepare them for their own writing.

I surprised myself yesterday by turning a student’s negative comment around. We were discussing Edgar Allan Poe’s “Murders in the Rue Morgue,” and one student said, “I thought this story was SO boring!” I said, “What makes you say that?” She said, “Well, he just went on and on and ON when he could have just told the solution.” Addressing the entire class, I said, “Why do you think Poe wrote this way? What was his purpose for explaining detective Dupin’s thought process in detail?” This got the students to think about the importance of the thought process in this mystery and what it tells us about the character of the detective.

I am having my 7th graders read the same story, but we are reading it together in class so that I can help them with understanding since it is a difficult text. I found a sound recording of the story, which helped a lot because on their own the students stumbled over so many of the big words. By listening to the entertaining, thick British-accented voice read the story, the students are able to follow along and gather the main idea of the story much easier. Plus they really enjoy the authenticity of the British accent. :)

I enjoyed all my classes today, especially my 8th graders, which is ironic because over the past couple of weeks I have been most intimidated and most afraid of my 8th graders. After discussing our second mystery story, I handed out a Sherlock Holmes mystery–“The Red-Headed League”–for them to read by Thursday. I explained the typical flow of a Sherlock Holmes mystery:

– The story begins with Sherlock Holmes and his sidekick Dr. Watson, who is documenting the adventure. Someone comes to Sherlock Holmes with a mystery that needs to be solved.
– Dr. Watson then records every move of Sherlock Holmes in detail, though he is often confused by Holmes’ actions. As the detective traces the mystery, his actions often seem irrelevant and strange.
– These strange actions obviously have meaning to Sherlock Holmes, and he amazingly announces the culprit and solves the mystery.
– Dr. Watson, however, is still confused. The story concludes with a detailed explanation from Sherlock Holmes, where he explains the steps he took in solving the mystery.

I passed out the mystery to my students and told them that the last page of the story–the detailed explanation of how Sherlock Holmes solved the mystery–was not included. I explained to them that we would read the explanation on Thursday in class, but I wanted to give them a chance to try to figure it out on their own. I told them to highlight or underline all of Sherlock Holmes’ strange behaviors throughout the story as they read and to really think about why he does the things he does in tracing clues to the mystery. My students were so excited about this task! I gave them the last ten minutes to begin since we finished early today, and it was dead silent in the room! They were all eagerly delving into the mystery, and it made me so happy to see them underlining and highlighting things as they read. :)

My 7th graders came in excitedly today. They had loved listening to the British reading of Edgar Allan Poe yesterday and were eagerly telling a student who had been absent yesterday about it. I was amazed at their participation when I asked them to fill him in on what happened yesterday in the mystery–they were all interrupting each other and adding in details from the story. Oh, the things that bring joy to a teacher’s heart!

The warm-up today was really fun, as well. I first reviewed “red herrings” with the students (a person or thing brought into the plot to confuse and distract the detective and reader). I then explained the origin of the term “red herring.” During fox hunting contests, dried, smoked herrings (fish that were red in color) were dragged across the path of the fox to distract the hound dogs from the trail.

I showed the students the following statement: “The police shot at him as he made his getaway, but he never even slowed down. They didn’t bother pursuing him. Why not?” The answer is that the police were using a radar gun to check the speed of this driver, who was going on vacation. Since he wasn’t speeding, the police did not pursue him. The students had to ask me yes or no questions about the situation to come to this conclusion. Because of the vagueness of the statement, it took them a while to get on the right track of what the situation actually was. They LOVED it, and begged me to do another one. “Another day,” I said. :)

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