“Tomorrow, we’re going to read, ‘Catch the Moon’ by Judith Ortiz Cofer,” I excitedly shared with my class as I wrote the title on the white board with a pink Expo.
“We’ll be talking about the mischievous boy in the story and how he deals with his problems.” I paced the front of the room, previewing bits of the story without giving anything away. I also pointed out the character map on the wall and explained how we would use this organizer to diagram how his relationships with other people change over the course of the story.
“Of course, we’ll also be focusing on our new lit. term: theme. Sometimes, one of the best ways to figure out a story’s theme is to analyze relationships between characters. Tonight, I want you to review your notes on theme and preview the six vocabulary terms on page 233 that go with our story.”
Popping the cap off of the pink Expo, I wrote the homework assignment on the board.
A few moans from the back of the room lingered in the air after I suggested we look at them really quick and make sure everyone knew how to pronounce our new words. The usual suspects’ eyes averted while the usual volunteers’ hands jutted high into the air.
“Alright . . . Dustin, let us hear it!”
“Harassing, dismantled, vintage, ebony, sarcastic, and relish . . . I mean relics.”
“Good! Thanks. So, are there any words here that any of you didn’t recognize?”
A few heads nodded slightly, but no one dared raise a hand. This is the tenth grade. They’re all entirely too cool to let other classmates find out they don’t know something.
“So, you know the drill; define the term in your own words. If the term is unfamiliar to you, flip through the story and read the sentence where this word appears. Then what do I want you to do?”
“Write an original sentence,” replied Noal.
“Thanks. Did everyone hear Noal?”
“Yes,” they lazily responded.
“I’m sorry, what?” I replied, cupping my hand around my right ear with the other hand on my hip.
“Yes Mrs. Walker!” came the roaring response.
“Much better! That’s all you have to do tonight. We’ll start reading the story in groups tomorrow. K?”
Saved by the bell, they grabbed their belongings and rushed out of the room. They were always in a hurry to get to the next class, all except for Noal, Rachel, and Dustin. They normally chatted with me as they slowly gathered their books and moseyed to their next class down the hall.
This homework assignment was easy and had been very beneficial for the most part. Over the course of two semesters, I witnessed some of my students using their newly acquired vocabulary in their writing. Some had even given them a try in conversations with me.
“Mrs. Walker, it’s awfully sultry outside today,” Mitchell complained as he walked in the door.
Then of course, there is my personal favorite:
“I feel deplorable,” moaned Chris.
I didn’t care if they were just trying to impress me. In fact, if they were, it worked. I was thrilled every time they used their newly acquired vocabulary.
Still, every now and then, we had a few mix-ups. Sometimes the definition was off, but the sentence was head on. Other times, the definition was great, but the sentence didn’t make sense. Most of the time, they missed the part of speech. For example: “Fiasco- screwed up. She totally fiasco my plan,” Steven once wrote.
Still other times, a few students would miss the ball completely. Scribbling little side notes on their papers, I corrected their mistakes and explained how to use the word in context. Sometimes, I got a little chuckle out of what they wrote.
The next morning, during silent and sustained reading, I decided to catch up on some grading. I grabbed my purple pen and the stack of “Catch the Moon” vocabulary work. The room was almost silent. The only sounds were the flipping of pages and my purple pen scratching away until I got to Patrice’s paper: “Dismantled- Now Separated.”
“Not a half-bad definition,” I thought. Then, I read her original sentence:
“My parents have been dismantled for almost two years.”
Hilarity ensued. I broke out in loud laughter, completely ruining the class’s concentration. For a minute several of them just stared at me as if I’d finally gone crazy. Then a couple of them begged me to tell them what was so funny. I just smiled and muttered, “Nothing.”
Silent and sustained reading ended quite early since I had already disrupted their concentration. We began reading Cofer’s story. Three pages later, when we came across the word “dismantled,” I chuckled again.
The next day, before I returned their papers, I took Patrice out into the hallway and handed her definitions to her. I pointed out “dismantled” and explained that it meant “physically separated or pulled apart.” Her eyes bulged as she laughingly assured me this was not what she meant. Her parents were still one-hundred-percent intact.