Thursday, January 16, 2014

Looks Like I Have to Re-Read that Darned Gatsby

There is a joy in teaching honors-level kids that are actually honors material (and, while I have a post talking about what it takes to be an honors teacher, I don't have one that talks about what makes a great honors student...hmmm, I suppose I should get on that). For now, let's just say that being a successful honors kid has nothing to do with how smart you are, but how willing you are to let your teacher push you to your limits, get you out of your comfort zone and how willing you are to learn regardless of what grade you will receive in the end. Each semester I have students transfer out of my class because they have Bs and don't want to hurt their GPAs, but I have kids who know how challenging, but rewarding it was to make a B or an A or even a C stay in the class for Round 2. I like what a kid said the other day, "I figured I made it through the first half of this class, I can make it through the second." Being an honors kid means having the right attitude and part of that attitude is this nerdy delight in all things literature.

Queue this post.

I usually teach The Great Gatsby (GG) in a broader Modern American Dream unit where kids get to choose whether they want to read The Sun Also Rises (SAR) or GG, sometimes I teach SAR or GG, sometimes I don't teach GG at all, but give it as an option for an independent read. I was telling the kids this and so many of them were so upset...'what do you mean, we aren't going to read The Great Gatsby!?' and 'please can we read The Great Gatsby!' that I spent Christmas Break revamping my units to incorporate both SAR and GG. For those of you who want to see what my 2nd semester looks like you can click on my working calendars here (January is missing, well, because I didn't need to work on it, we're already doing it and it's Ethan Frome and Our Town and Small Town America), if you have any questions feel free to ask.

Sources for my GG unit (because, um, why reinvent the wheel):
The Great Gatsby 4-Week Bundle (I love TpT)
ShareMyLesson (free site for lessons and they have some delicious ones!)
Stuff from when I taught it in years past or want to add:
Aside from that little bit with the Age of Reason/Transcendentalism/Realism-Naturalism (we are a strangely American Literature based Honors Sophomore English class-don't ask it's a long story) and May as the all encompassing month for JC, the 2nd semester is pretty Modern, and I'm OK with that!


  1. Maybe I am misreading this- but up until recently, were the only honors/advanced teachers in your building tenured teachers?

    This is my fifth year teaching- my building likes to switch it up quite frequently. You never know what you are going to teach any given year. I've taught everything from team taught, freshman english, honors freshman english, sophomore english, honors sophomore english, junior english, and creative writing. I have to admit, I like switching it up every year because I tend to get bored teaching the same books two years in a row, and by the time I end up teaching a class again, I completely rethink how I taught it before. :)

    With that being said, I will say that Honors classes are BY FAR the hardest classes I have taught. It is hard to push some of the students who are exceptionally gifted, who, when I am grading their writing, I am thinking to myself, "Geez, this kid writes as well as I do!" (That is a big taste of humble pie, right there!) I like to pull AP Guides from Prestwick for higher level thinking questions, AP timed writings, and sample multiple choice questions- but I struggle to find ways to differentiate them and really challenge them. Part of it has to do with the mastery of the material- when I am trying to teach an honors course for the first time with a book I have never read before- it is hard to challenge students when I am just grasping the book for the first time. When it is a text I have had numerous readings with, I feel more comfortable differentiating the material. So I suppose one prerequisite to teach an honors level course should be that the teacher has taught a regular level of that course for at least a few years. I am teaching Honors Freshman lit this year- never taught it before- most of the texts I haven't read since high school (1998?), and it is a struggle.

    Sorry for rambling. I read every post you write, but usually don't respond. :)

    1. "Maybe I am misreading this- but up until recently, were the only honors/advanced teachers in your building tenured teachers?"

      In my department it is that way because it happened to be turn into that. I started teaching Honors Sophomores my 2nd or 3rd year of teaching (when they took American Lit with Juniors), we eventually split up the class and H. Soph got the books (which also means that Soph got the books) and Juniors became heavily writing/reading/grammar intensive (which will work out well now with the movement to the Junior test being the ACT). Um, you know that Tamera's been there and taught myriad classes as well as well as AP Lang and Comp (AP and dual credit) and Senior Expos (dual credit). Lisa Anthony (you may remember her from the junior high) has AP Lit and Comp (AP and dual credit) and Juniors. Our Honors Frosh teacher has been teaching for 9 years, but not here. So, I think that's just how it happened to be.

      I'm going to show your 2nd paragraph to everyone I know! We switch things up as well, I don't mind the change, but some people really get aggravated by it. With PLCs the change should be relatively easy, I think and IT DOES stop you from getting bored and stagnant! :)

      Honors is HARD and we find that some can't handle kids a] being smarter and b] parents breathing down your neck 24/7! :P I think you are right teaching the reg class first does give you the necessary foundation. Last year our now Honors Frosh teacher taught Honors Soph with me, I think that helps too, she got to see how rigorous I am with the kids and she got to see what Honors kids have to be ready for their Soph year and she's pretty much rockin' that with the Honors Frosh classes. We're like a vertical Honors PLC of Awesome!

      Have you ever been to an AP workshop in the summer? I've been to the PreAP, AP Lit and AP Lang. They give you lots of stuff and they have a lot of tools. I'll have to check into the Prestwick stuff for AP, I've got some book guides from them that I really like.

      I LOVE THE RAMBLE, sorry it took me so long to respond! :)



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