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This week in Mrs. Totoro’s Class

I thought it might be fun if occasionally I gave you an update on what is happening in my various classes, and pull a favorite quote from each of the novel readings we are studying that week. I hope you don’t mind this deviation from my blogging norm.

First I should introduce you to the term “dialectic journals” Students in all three classes (8th grade is excluded) are bemoaning the fact that I make them do this tedious chore. What is a dialectic journal you ask? It is notebook where students write down quotes from the book that they find significant – and then explain to me why they chose that particular text. Quotes can be selected for diction (eloquent word choice – which will help students become better writers themselves) – character development – theme development – possible foreshadowing (and what they predict will happen) – personal connections they see in the story – connections to other books and/or movies that they recognize – well, you get the idea. What students rarely realize is that this tedious chore is actually making them responsible for their own learning. Hopefully they will end the unit more confident in picking up any work of literature to discover meaning for themselves.

Well, now that you have had a mini-lesson on dialectic journals, let me introduce the classes.

In Brit Lit we are continuing to study Pride and Prejudice. We have just started Volume II, but I must admit that my all-time favorite quote from the first Volume is when Mr. Bennet takes Elizabeth’s side when she refuses to marry Mr. Collins:
“Very well. We now come to a point. Your mother insists upon your accepting it (the proposal). Is not it so, Mrs. Bennet?”

“Yes, or I will never see her again.”

“An unhappy alternative is before you, Elizabeth. From this day you must be a stranger to one of your parents. – Your mother will never see you again if you do not marry Mr. Collins, and I will never see you again if you do. (page 206 )”
I absolutely LOVE his quick wit!

In 9th grade English we are reading Fahrenheit 451 and I look forward to re-reading this book each year. We have just begun the novel, so we are only about half way through the first part, The Hearth and the Salamander. My favorite scene in this portion of the book is when they describe the classroom environment. It is eerily similar to what is currently happening in schools today:
“…But I don’t think it is social to get a bunch of people together and then not let them talk, do you? An hour of TV class, an hour of basketball or baseball or running, another hour of transcription history or painting pictures, and more sports, but do you know, we never ask questions or at least most don’t; they just run the answers at you, bing, bing, bing, and us sitting there for four more hours of film teacher. That’s not social to me at all. ….. They run us so ragged by the end of the day we can’t do anything but go to bed or head for a Fun Park to bully people around, break windowpanes in the Window Smasher place or wreck cards in the Car Wrecker place with the big steel ball. …..

“I’m afraid of children my own age. They kill each other. Did it always use to be that way? My uncle says no. Six of my friends have been shot in the last year alone. Ten of them have died in car wrecks….” (pages 29-30)
I am finding that more and more students just want to be told the answers to the questions; they don’t want to have to think for themselves. The incidents of road rage and school shootings has skyrocketed in the 21st Century. I find these words of Ray Bradbury written over 50 years ago to be quite sobering.

In 8th grade English we are starting to block the scenes for a final performance of A Midsummer Night’s Dream in May. Due to snow days, we are not as far along I as had hoped. We have just started working on Act I scene i when Egeus demands that his daughter Hermia be forced to marry Demetrius (she, in fact, loves Lysander) or to be killed. (as a side note – I will say that the 8th grade girls learned to appreciate their fathers after reading this).
Anyway, my most favorite line in this portion of the play is when Lysander rebukes Demetrius for allowing this to carry on:
You have her father’s love, Demetrius.
Let me have Hermia’s. Do you marry him (I i 95-96)

Finally, the 7th grade class has just started reading The Hobbit. We spent a large part of first semester studying Fairy Tales. Students learned how to discuss “literature” by reading several common fairy tales and answering questions regarding characters, setting, plot, conflict/resolution, and theme. Students even wrote their own “fractured” fairy tale – which is always fun to read. We then read the novel, Tuck Everlasting, and at the end of the book discussed whether this could be considered a modern-day fairy tale.
Now we will read the Hobbit and over time discuss similarities and differences between a true fairy tale and this fantasy novel. My favorite part of chapter 1 is the description of Bilbo Baggins – for I know deep in my soul I am truly a Hobbit too:
The Bagginses had lived in the neighborhood of The Hill for time out of mind, and people considered them very respectable, not only because most of them were rich, but also because they never had any adventures or did anything unexpected: you could tell what a Baggins would say on any question without the bother of asking him. (page 4)
I have never been fond of adventure – my least favorite Disney movie is Peter Pan for they always seem to be on the brink of death! I would much rather stay in my cozy little Hobbit hole (book nook) with my cup of tea, slice of cake, and a good book.
So there you have it — a day in the classroom of Mrs. T. Thanks for stopping by!

20 Comments

  • Kaye

    You must be the most fantastic teacher in your school. I hope you do more of these posts as I found it most enjoyable and I learned a lot. An apple on your desk today, Mrs. Totoro!

  • Nise'

    I would love to be a student now that I appreciate all these great books! I am sure that many will come to love them now (there's always hope).

    Love the quote from P & P too.

    Looking forward to dropping in again Mrs. T.

  • JoAnn

    I'd love to be in your class, Molly! It seems that Tuesday Teasers have become more of a dialectic journal for me… have gotten away from the random nature of it. I'm even wondering if I should stop linking and feature a "passage of the week' instead. BTW, that's one of my favorite quotes from P&P;, too.

  • Sandy Nawrot

    I wish I would have had you as a teacher in high school. I didn't get any of this. I LOVE that quote from Pride and Prejudice. Don't you just love the man? It is a wonder he hasn't gone mad, living with his wife and some of those daughters.

  • Vivienne

    I have never heard of a dialectic journal before, but it sounds like something I would enjoy writing myself. It would be ideal for blogging as the notes would already be there.

    Thankyou for sharing the books that you are reading at school. It must be difficult to keep track of them sometimes. I have been wanting to read Farenheit 451, for a while but can't seem to get it from the library at the moment. I might try and track it through Bookmooch.

  • Molly

    WOW — I am thrilled that you like this type of post. I would be most happy to update on a semi-regular basis what I am teaching in the classes – particularly as it pertains to literature.

    You are all very complimentary of my teaching skills – and I am deeply humbled – but I am not sure that my students hold your high opinion 🙂 Mrs. T makes us work – and think – and WRITE. I am not necessarily a favorite among the student body.

    I will confess that this number of preps is somewhat daunting. The good news, howevever, is that I have been teaching these classes for about 3 years now, so while I am constantly evaluating and adapting my lesson plans – I did not have to start from scratch this year. Also, I teach at a relatively small private school (under 200 students), so my average class size is about 16 students — much smaller than the typical public school classroom. While this does not have an effect on the number of preps — it does greatly affect the number of papers that I have to grade (my true nemesis).

  • Beth

    I was so excited to see your post about your classroom and so jealous about the books you are teaching! I love the idea of the dialectic journals. I use literacy logs in my classroom where the students have to write a letter about their independent reading each cycle.

  • Margot at Joyfully Retired

    Oh, Molly, please keep these going. Your love of books and teaching comes through loud and clear in this post. You have such a passion for it all.

    Your post prompted me to do two things: order 451 from the library and look up the word dialectic. See, good teachers can't help spreading the love of learning wherever they are.

  • Jenny

    I loved taking a peek into your classroom. I am ashamed to admit I had never read Fahrenheit 451 and my students were appauled! I finally read it this summer and just LOVED it. I too, found the similarities between Bradbury's future and our today to be eerily (I know I did not spell that right…) similar. I have asked myself several times which book I would memorize and I just can't come up with a good answer! If you are interested, you can read my 451 review here –
    http://booksjustbooks.blogspot.com/2009/08/fahrenheit-451.html

  • Molly

    Nicole and Margot – I hope you enjoy F451 as much as I do. Today's discussion in class was very engaging and there are a number of students who actually "get" it! Thinking is not a bad thing 🙂

    Beth – literacy logs sound like an interesting concept as well. I use the dialectic journals because it helps students come prepared to discuss the book ( or at least that his the theory)

    Jenny – I truly have no idea which book I would choose to memorize; quite honestly, there are just too many that are worth saving. I am anxious to read the students' responses to this question at the end of the unit.

    Jenners — you can be in my classroom anytime! I love having engaged students who can make appropriate comments, and yet keep the class smiling 🙂

    Nicole and Margot – thank you so much for the encouraging remarks to continue with these kinds of posts. I think I will enjoy that.

  • Lisa

    I think that by the time you get the kids in middle school, they are so used to being fed the answers, that they have gotten lazy. But kids are so much smarter than we give them credit for being. Keep pushing them! I blame standardized testing for a lot of this–teachers have to make sure the kids do well on these tests.

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