Category Archives: Grade 9

Novel Study

I have had three students in the last two days finish their novel for Grade 9 English and tell me it’s the first one they’ve ever read. I cannot express to you the look in these students’ eyes: they feel proud, and smart, and successful.

There is one very powerful variable at play in this situation: student choice. The students are allowed to choose their own novel. This is our second time through doing a Grade 9 novel study like this: last year, my English co-teacher and I took the students to Chapters and they were allowed to select a novel. We purchased the novels with some funding we had applied for, and those novels ended up in our school library when students were done reading them. This year, we weren’t able to take students to Chapters again, but we brought them up to the library to do the same novel selection process. Our criteria was that it needed to be fiction, or if non-fiction, then an autobiography or biography. The way the unit is structured, students need to read something with a plot. So there is a restriction there, but most students select fiction or biography anyways.

Before selecting novels, I talked about time frame with students and ensured they knew they needed to select something they could read in five weeks. I also briefly explained to them the fact that they would be selecting their own end mark, and completing tasks to a mastery level to receive that mark. We then went up to the library where our librarian-extraordinaire had pulled some titles off the shelves and grouped them by theme, doing a quick book talk on some of the more popular titles. Students then selected what they wanted to read and started to read it.

The next day, I rolled out the specifics of the assignment. First, text coding.

Text Coding bookmark

I have done text coding many times over the past few years, and in my opinion, it kicks comprehension-question’s butt. I explain to students that they already do some of these things as they read, and what they don’t yet do as they read will improve their reading skills if they start to do it. Text coding forces students to interact deeply with a text, to create a map of their thoughts as they read, and allows them the ability to go back and remember parts of the text. If I could let them write directly into the books, I would, but the aforementioned librarian-extraordinaire would probably take issue with that, so we use sticky notes. Some students prefer to do their text coding on lined paper or in a notebook, and that works too. Yes, sometimes students end up drawing flip book drawings or making “kick me” signs with the provided sticky notes, but they get it out of their system fairly quickly. Especially when I begin to ration their sticky notes.

After a day or two of reading and practicing text coding, I lay this handout on them:

ela 9 novel study contract

The concept is not new to them, as I had explained the idea of the contract before, but I wanted to make sure students had selected novels they were interested in and could read in the time frame, and that they got a good start on the text coding.

To review: students select their own novel, percentage they want to attain, and projects they want to do to attain that mark. Does that mean every student does great in this unit? No. Some of them don’t finish their novel. Some of them don’t finish their projects. Some of them get their mark reduced for “Incomplete” projects or projects that need revision. It’s not a perfect system. But the students who are strong readers and would have done well on a more ‘traditional’ novel study still do well, and are often challenged. And so far this year, three students who have never read a novel read one. And I count that as a success.


Graduation Day

We learned about the basics of typing and saving documents, and the “new basics” of Prezi, Animoto, Glogster, and others. We learned about ways to use cell phones as educational tools. We learned about staying safe on the internet. We learned about cyber bullying and bullying. We learned that the internet is a real place, and that there are cords under the ocean connecting us. We experienced a day without cell phones. (Or, for the truly attached, one period without cell phones). It was time to graduate.

Tamara and I started by giving students Technology License Production. They chose which group they wanted to be a part of and we held quick “interviews” to choose the best fit for each student. They took two days to work on everything. I wasn’t sure how it would turn out, but it actually went really well! The “Examiners” wrote tests that the students all had to pass in order to get their license. The “License Presenters” made sparkly invitations for the principal, vice-principal, and some of their other teachers. The “Work Force” got supplies for all other groups, and jumped in to help when a group member was missing. “Human Resources” made a performance report and assessed all the other students. The “License Designers” came up with really sleek-looking business cards:


Students wrote their names on their license, and then I laminated them (for added authenticity). At the Graduation Ceremony, Tamara and I sat back and watched as students on the “License Presenter” committee made their opening remarks and then called each student up to receive their license. For period two, our vice-principal handed out the licenses and posed for pictures with the students while we played the ‘graduation music.’

The students were beaming. Each and every one of them got up and received their license, and sat down with a smile on their faces. I think they felt like they had really accomplished something. In the reflections they wrote about the process, most of them expressed that they enjoyed having a real graduation ceremony.

While I was floating on the “they actually learned something” cloud, Monday came and ruined it all with two students using their phones to text. While I was teaching. That breaks rule #1. And #4. I know, you’re shocked. After all of that learning, and having a graduation ceremony, and receiving their official laminated license with the rules and responsibilities on it, and getting their picture taken with the vice-principal, and signing a contract, they broke a rule! So, here’s how we are handling that: any time students are caught abusing technology, we punch a hole in their license. Three holes punched, and they lose the privilege of using technology, which includes school computers and iPads. They will also have to relinquish their phone to the teacher at the start of class, or leave it in their locker. They have until Christmas break as their “probation period”, in which they can still have their license and/or technology taken away, but we won’t punch holes in their license. If students make it to the end of the year with no holes punched, they will get a prize! They asked what the prize is…..we told them it was a surprise, but the truth is that we don’t know yet! It depends how many students make it. If there are 30 of them, then we might have a movie day with treats or something. But if there’s only one or two, then I’d take them out for lunch. But I suppose they would see that as more of a punishment… perhaps a voucher will have to do.

Teaching for the Real World

A part of the Grade 9 “Digital Citizenship” unit was an anti-bullying project. It’s probably easiest to explain it to you the way we {co-teacher Tamara and I} explained it to them:

“As an anti-bullying campaign, prepare a presentation for Grade 5 students that outlines what bullying is, how they can prevent it, and what to do if they witness someone being bullied.”

Students spent seven days researching, tweeting, blogging, writing, practicing skits, and making videos. {I’ll be honest. Most students spent seven days working on those things. Some students spent seven days pretending to do those things, but actually doing sweet little. And they are so shocked when I’m not impressed that they made half a poster!} A few days before presentation day, CBC happened to be in the building for a media event, also to do with anti-bullying, and caught wind of what we were doing. A reporter asked if she could interview me, to which I said yes. When she found out more about the project, she asked if she could come back to do a story on it. Result:

CBC news story!

Part of the reason Tamara and I decided to have our students present their anti-bullying units to Grade 5 students was so that the assignment would have a real audience – it wasn’t an assignment for the sake of an assignment that would likely end up in the recycle bin, it was a real presentation for other students. If you didn’t get the assignment done on time, it didn’t mean the teacher took off late marks, it meant 54 Grade 5 students were staring at you with question in their eyes. If you did a poor job of the assignment, it didn’t mean the teacher was disappointed in you {which you may or may not care about}, it meant those Grade 5 students were bored/confused/disappointed, and that matters a lot more than any frowny face I could ever make. And when CBC news cameras were there,  it changed from an audience of Grade 5’s to an audience that included parents and grandparents and friends and random strangers. If that doesn’t motivate students to do their best, I don’t know what will. And the students really did exhibit some great work. In fact, at the end when we played some music and got the students to sign the ‘Stand Up to Bullying’ sheets, and our Grade 9’s were mingling and chatting with Grade 5’s, and some of the Grade 5 students were being interviewed by CBC and saying how great the presentation was, I got a bit teary eyed. It was then I realized this wasn’t just a real audience/real world connection for the students, it was for me too.

Sometimes, I forget why I teach. I get bogged down in reports and marking and holding students accountable and redirecting them and chasing them and planning and doing it all over again. It gets frustrating. It feels like no one is listening. It feels like no one is learning. It feels like I’m out there doing the teaching equivalent of Italian fouettes and no one notices. So when CBC was interested and excited about what was going on in my classroom, I felt really encouraged. Grade 5’s learn what to do about bullying, Grade 9’s learn about presenting and deadlines, and I learn that what I does matters. Win-win-win.

A Few Updates

I should start by letting you know how the Grade 10 presentations went. I think it was great. Not because they all did an amazing job, but because they all learned something.

Most of the presentations were adequate. They made a Prezi or Animoto, as they had been instructed to. {One group did end up using PowerPoint, as they had been instructed not to do. But it didn’t go very well for them, and they afterwards acknowledged that they liked the other student’s Prezi and Animoto presentations better.} They knew the basics of their subject. They had a few pictures. It was average.

There was one really amazing presentation. He was articulate, he knew his subject inside and out, he presented the information in his own words, he was confident, made eye contact, and answered all the questions he was asked. The really amazing part was not that my teaching partner and I noticed all of this, it was that the students noticed all of this. When all the presentations were over, I made a three column chart on the board: excellent, average, and developing. We talked about what separates an average presentation from an excellent one and one that is still developing.

The students nailed it. We talked about the excellent presentation we saw, and what made it that way. The student with the excellent presentation even talked about how he got there – he used more than one source when researching, he learned the information rather than just copy/pasting, and he practiced. It was a great moment, because the students really listened to what their peer had to say and they saw the payoff of his hard work.

We’ve since started a novel study. I’m trying something new with it, and gave out these contracts.

Novel study contract

I told the students it’s legally binding.

They are reading: The Hobbit, Miracle in the Andes, The Hunger Games, The Chrysalids, and Dracula. Not all of those. They got to choose. I’m reading all of those.

In Grade 9, we are continuing on with our “Digital Citizenship” unit, which I think I will eventually post as its own page. The other day, we read this article:

“Your Brain on Computers” 

And this one.

“Trouble Sleeping?”

Keep in mind, this was after many lessons on educational uses of technology, and the point of reading these articles was not to condemn technology, but to raise student’s awareness of some issues surrounding technology. After reading the articles and discussing them, we talked about being too dependent on technology, or even addicted to it. We talked about spending a day “in the dark ages”, i.e. without their cell phones. They chose if they wanted to give up their phone for English class or for the whole day.  Result:

Some of them were getting sweaty and shaky and touching their pocket a lot. And the basket was flashing and vibrating. But they made 54% more eye contact with me. And that’s progress.