Enhanced English Teacher

A blog about using technology in an English classroom

Entries Tagged as 'To Kill a Mockingbird'

How to Introduce Nings in the classroom

October 7, 2009 by Tara Seale · 4 Comments · 21st Century Literacy, English Resources, Nings, Romeo and Juliet, To Kill a Mockingbird, Web 2.0

I was recently interviewed by Tim Walker for an article in the NEA Today titled, “Students live in a Digital World.  Are schools ready to join them?”  I have had several requests asking me to share how I introduce Nings in my classroom.

Creating a Romeo and Juliet Ning with Students

Last school year, I used two different nings in my 9th grade English class.  I created the first ning to engage students as they read Romeo and Juliet, and then I created another ning to accompany the novel To Kill a Mockingbird.  Before we began reading Romeo and Juliet, I discussed how a ning has a format similar to Facebook and told students that they would join the ning in character.  I then modeled what I expected by joining the ning in character as The Bard.  I wrote my responses to the profile questions as if I were Shakespeare joining the ning.  I told my students that they would answer the same profile questions but from the perspective of their character (we drew names).  I divided up the characters in Romeo and Juliet and then added a few extra main characters to cover all of the students in my class, so we had a Romeo 1, 2, and 3, for example.  I gave my students a planning sheet to fill out as we began to read the play.  Students connected with their character so much that my plan to listen to the play on CD went astray.  Students wanted to read the parts of their character.  I believe showing the students the ning before we began reading the play and modeling how to create The Bard profile page enticed students and inspired them to create worthy ning profile pages; I know it definitely kindled their interest in reading the play.  Although we were almost finished with the play when we actually created the ning profile pages, we continued to post on the ning as we went back and closely read certain acts, and this greatly added to their overall understanding of the tragedy.

Creating a To Kill a Mockingbird Ning with Students

I decided to introduce the To Kill a Mockingbird Ning before we began reading the novel.  I set up this ning differently by focusing on connecting outside literature, text, and videos to the novel.  I used the event tab to write up assignments and due dates for posting to the ning.  Students’ posts reflected their understanding of the universal themes presented in To Kill a Mockingbird and how those themes were connected to the other media introduced in class.  Although this ning was introduced differently, it also engaged students because the ning guided their reading and provided a way for the students to digitally respond to the novel’s themes and further the discussions started in class.

Creating a ning for the entire 9th grade class

Ambitiously, our high school created an entire 9th grade class ning for this school year.  Our lead 9th grade Keystone teacher, Tim Hall, wanted to add a technology element to Keystone that included all 9th grade students and teachers, so we created a Class of 2013 Ning.  We are using the ning to connect 9th grade students with each other and their teachers as they transition to high school.  This is our first year to use a ning with an entire class, and so far, in addition to using the ning as a communication tool, it is also allowing us to open discussions about posting responsibly on the web, introducing effective online discussions, and creating a positive web presence.

Where to start?

To create a ning, I first watched Steve Hargadon’s recorded webinar on Building a Ning from Scratch.  Follow the link to the Ning in Education webpage and look under Highlighted Resources in the lower left corner.  The Ning in Education is also a great community to join if you are looking for more resources and information about how to use a ning with students.  I also belong to several other educator nings.  If you are an English teacher, I recommend that you check out the English Companion Ning if you want to connect with other English teachers.

Other ning examples in the English Classroom

I would also like to recommend that you check out these nings: James Miscavish’s classroom ning: LHS Freshman English and Candace Follis’s blog page that has links to her classroom nings.

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The Rest of the Story, a video novel project

July 27, 2009 by Tara Seale · 2 Comments · 21st Century Literacy, English Resources, Technology Resources, To Kill a Mockingbird, Videos and iPods

I recently joined the We Are Teachers website which offers grant opportunites and information related to organizations that assist teachers in implementing engaging lessons in their classroom.  I applied for a micro digital learning grant that provides a flip video camera and $200 to the teacher that wins the grant.

My grant proposal title is The Rest of the Story, a video novel project. I wrote about my idea in an earlier blog post, titled Using Video to Teach Character Perspective.

My class reads To Kill a Mockingbird in my 9th grade English class.  I hope to divide the class into groups and have each group create a video from the perspective of different characters in the novel.  The assignment will engage kinesthetic learners who benefit most from a hands-on approach to learning.  Additionally, the project will help students who struggle with a lengthy novel by providing a focus to closely read and discover the motivations and view point of their character.

I recently read Teaching the New Writing by Herrington, Hodgson, and Moran.  The authors point out that the NAEP framework requires that writing standards incorporate digital composition by 2011.  Therefore, It is important that English teachers implement lessons that utilize digital skills not only because of the NAEP standards, but because students need to be able to produce “the New Writing” to become successful in a digital connected world.

Winning the grant is not exactly based on the merit of the grant proposal.  All grant ideas are posted on the We Are Teachers website, and visitors at the website are encouraged to vote on the best idea.  Unfortunately with so many ideas to read through, I believe many voters will vote for either someone they know or the first good idea they read.  So if you think my idea has merit and will benefit the students I teach, please visit the We Are the Teachers Voting Page and vote for Tara Seale.  I on the 18th page because the grant proposals are listed in alphabetical order by the author’s name.  Last time I checked I was in the top 15, so I appreciate all of you who have voted for my grant idea.

Voting ends on August 10th.

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Reflections Regarding Student Writing

May 13, 2009 by Tara Seale · 1 Comment · English Resources, Mythology, Poetry, Romeo and Juliet, To Kill a Mockingbird, writing

My district asked that all English teachers turn in writing samples and the prompts that we used in our classrooms.  I decided to create a portfolio binder and write a reflection of how the year went.

I teach regular 9th grade English students.  If you are interested in reading my reflections, click this link:


At the end of my reflection, I listed my classroom websites.  Most of the prompts I discussed and the student writing samples can be found online at those websites.

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Using Nonfiction texts with Novel Assignments

April 17, 2009 by Tara Seale · 8 Comments · 21st Century Literacy, class assignments, English Resources, To Kill a Mockingbird, Twitter, Videos and iPods

I am trying to introduce nonfiction text with each novel that we are reading in 9th grade English this year.  It is not always easy because I have to substitute the time we would use for close reading of novel passages to cover the nonfiction texts that complement the novel.  I always feel short of time to cover all that I need to cover.

Mortimer Adler said, “In the case of good books, the point is not to see how many of them you can get through, but rather how many can get through to you.”

I like to think of Mortimer Adler’s quote when I am stressed that my class may not cover all required readings for the year.  This quote becomes my litany to allow myself and my class to enjoy the novel and absorb it slowly as we spend time considering the significance of specific words, sentences structure, meaningful paragraphs, and thematic chapters in the novel.

We are currently reading To Kill a Mockingbird (TKAM), and I have selected key passages to delve into to and connect to nonfiction text.  We read the start of Chapter 4 in which Scout deliberates over the inadequacies of the Alabama education system.  Students understood the themes present in the passage as they identified with Scout’s description of “endless Projects” and her account of “inch[ing] sluggishly along.”  We also looked up educator John Dewey and the Dewey Decimal System to understand the allusions and references to “Group Dynamics.”

After exploring the passage and discussing its purpose and tone, we related the chapter to an excerpt from Malcolm X’s autobiography called “Learning to Read.”  Although, we read a longer excerpt than the one I have linked.  First, students looked at the date that Malcolm X was born.  They quickly realized that it was most likely the same year that Scout was born.  We discussed the difference and similarities between our fictional white protagonist and what we could infer about a young Malcolm X.  The discussion was rich as I watched my students make connections with the novel and the life of Malcolm X.  We discussed the irony of Malcolm X’s new world of learning opening as he served a prison sentence.

I plan to continue adding pieces to the education theme.  I have asked students to keep their notes, and we will create a class Google Doc next week so that they can compile what they have learned from our class discussions to share with one another.  We watched Sir Ken Robinson’s TED Talks video “Schools Kill Creativity.” Students took notes on the video, and we discussed major points of Robinson’s presentation.  I am leading up to a synthesis essay in which I will ask students to pull from all of the sources we have used to write about the relevance of their education in today’s world.  With all of the 21st Century jargon and discussion on the web of how education must change, and we are cheating our children, I would like their opinion.  I think it will be interesting to find out what they have to say.

For once, my students who do not like to read are actually perking up because they may get to fight back by collecting ammunition that is relevant to their lives and frustrations with school… and just maybe I can get them to think critically, read closely, and produce great writing.

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Why Won’t You Read?

April 13, 2009 by Tara Seale · 13 Comments · class assignments, English Resources, Nings, To Kill a Mockingbird, Web 2.0

I teach two regular 9th grade English classes.  I have some smart students who could be in Pre-AP classes if they pushed themselves, but that is the problem, lack of motivation.
We recently had a three day weekend for Easter.  I assigned two chapters in To Kill a Mockingbird (TKAM) over the long weekend.  My students know that I like to begin class with a short pop quiz just to make sure they read, but most of the class decided not to read anyway.
Unfortunately, I pulled a back muscle over the weekend, so I was not at school.  Instead I was lounging in bed, taking Doans, and using a heating pad.  The quiz went on as planned because I had already created the quiz in Google Forms and e-mailed it to my 2nd and 3rd block students.  I decided to check and see how the students did on the quiz from home.  Considering I was in pain and not exactly myself, this was probably not a good idea.

The quiz was one simple question about Chapter 10, the second of the two chapters my students were suppose to read.  See a screenshot of the quiz below.

If you have not read TKAM, Atticus shoots a rabid dog in this chapter, and his children find out that his nickname is One-shot Finch.  Not bad for a feeble old man.

Some of the answers I received:

Atticus does something that Scout didn’t think he could do.

Scout thought that Atticus was old and old people are always tired, but Atticus proved to them that he was never too tired to play a little game of keep away with them.

Scout thought her dad was a very old and boring person.  He did not do anything fun.  He just read and stayed at home, but he was a very good player at checkers.

I was not happy that it appeared a majority of my students did not complete the reading assignment.  I immediately shot off an e-mail to my students, and I believe I strained my back a little more as I beat on the keys.

I am so frustrated with you guys.
I can tell that the majority of you did not read the assigned reading.  Maybe I should make this quiz worth 100 points.  Would you read then?
Mrs. Seale

Some of the responses to my e-mail.

If you make it worth 100 points, I will start reading.

Mrs. Seale… I’m very sorry for frustrating you.  I’m not having a very good day either, and I promise I’ll read the rest of the book.

My favorite came from a student who is not passing my class anyway.

Yes, I would.

Do I really need to make pop quizzes worth 100 points to get my students to read?
I decided to e-mail 3rd block as well.  I explained what happened to my 2nd block students.  After several 3rd block students admitted to not completing the reading, I further expressed my frustrations in another e-mail.

Why not read it because it is an American classic?  Do you really want to grow up and NOT be considered well-read?  Do you really want to be left out of intellectual conversations because you have not developed a reading habit that engages and expands your mind?  Is it really that inconvenient to read a chapter or two each night?

And still, their main concern was whether I planned to count the quiz for 100 points or 10 points.

So, my question is this…. is it that important that my students read every chapter of TKAM by the assigned day?

I think it is.  Even if the student is not a born lover of books, a student still has a responsibility to come to class prepared.  Although I do use many Web 2.0 tools to spice up our lessons, we are currently contributing our thoughts about TKAM on a class Ning, the Ning is just a tool.  The real learning occurs when the student picks through the passages and studies the arrangement of each word that Harper Lee uses to effectively communicate.  Without learning how to read closely, my students will not understand how to use words to write persuasively or informatively or even understand when someone is using words to persuade or manipulate them.   It is imperative that my students study the art of writing through reading great writers.

That is the real power that I want to give them, and it starts with To Kill a Mockingbird.

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