August 16, 2007

Rambling Yearbook Reflection

The major thing I regret not doing this summer is tweaking my publications curriculum. I hate to admit that although we've put out a good book the last two years, the curriculum hasn't been rigorous enough. In the first couple of months I am able to do direct instruction, but once we start having deadlines, the class time is short for me. It's also pretty short for students who have deadlines, but they meet deadlines at different paces. So, it's not uncommon that there are students who are sitting around doing nothing. I know. It's terrible. I never allow that to happen in my English classes. It's my own stinkin' fault. I get buried with deadlines, and the lumps in the corner become my last concern for the moment.

Unfortunately, that laziness breeds laziness and I can't get many of them to do anything when I do need them. Some of them are so undependable that I can't trust them when I do need them in a crunch, so they've just scored more free time.

So, in the eleventh hour I am working on structuring much of the class so students have to work independently on a variety of modules when they aren't working toward deadlines. At this point I seem to have plenty of materials, and for the first time ever in my career, I will have a class set of textbooks--at their grade level--to use. (I don't know when they are arriving, though...) I am working on deciding what should come first. What will hook the students to be interested? (Most of the students I had last year didn't care about journalism and were there only for yearbook.) What essential skills and concepts do we need to get the newspaper off the ground and the yearbook a running start? What skills can wait?

You see, it isn't until about 3/4 through the year when students have explored the different issues in journalism, written different types of stories for the newspaper, practiced elements of photography, and designed yearbook pages that they truly understand what we are trying to accomplish in our publications class. My students are unskilled and unexperienced as we stumble our way through the year producing things that represent our school. Yikes! Once I have them fully trained, the year has ended, and they move on to high school. It seems quite unfair, doesn't it?

When I taught high school, I usually had students for two years, and the editors generally had been there for three. It makes the biggest difference if I have people on staff who know what they are doing and can help train new staff members. I don't have to begin from scratch each year that way--not to mention the amount of time I save establishing who is capable and willing on the staff.

Don't I have students who return for a second year? The majority of my students are 8th graders. Last year I had four students in my class who had taken the course in 7th grade, and this year it looks like I have four again. (I had more, but some aren't invited back.) I suppose is enough that I can assign each one a team to look over, but only one of the four is going to do any good. The rest will be like the near-sighted leading the blind.

And it is what it is.

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