Literature


Spurred by my recent foray into ideas for increasing critical thinking, here’s an idea that I think combines a lot of different ideas, including critical thinking and logical inference, into a skill-building activity that engages a virtually universal student interest: music.

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I’m up late grading papers, about to quit for the night, and somehow in my distraction, I got to thinking aimlessly.

My thoughts for some reason turned back to my eighth graders last year from student teaching, many of whom I still think about and wonder how they’re doing in high school this year. And as I thought about that, I thought about the last day of student teaching and how my cooperating teacher for that group acted.

I admit that I am a little bitter still about being robbed of a final moment with a class that was a struggle to connect with. I think singing them a song they had talked about for the majority of the time I was there would have solidified the memory, and instead, the time was spent watching narcoleptic cats, which none of the students enjoyed as much as the co-op did. And the send-off that we got as a class was almost entirely provided by me, since the teacher bailed on bringing drinks as he had agreed to.

But I am a believer in learning what I teach, and this practice has affected me profoundly during the discussion I’ve had with my sophomores over To Kill a Mockingbird. The model of Atticus Finch and his saintly heuristic of “walking in someone else’s skin/shoes” provides a high moral standard, and the fact that he turns it to people in the novel that seem at first glance to be just bad people (Mrs. Dubose, for one; Bob Ewell, for another) demonstrates how difficult it is to hold it consistently.

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I got a mailing quite a while back about an interesting professional development opportunity: a workshop entitled Teaching East Asian Literature in the High School, held in July at Indiana University in Bloomington, Indiana. It sounded like a cool opportunity: pay $60 registration fee; receive a set of books to study and discuss (via Moodle) before the workshop; get put up for 5 nights with a free meal each day, study East Asian history and literature, and learn pedagogical techniques for the material; get a $300 book grant for producing a lesson plan on some of the material within 5 weeks afterwards. A great opportunity for a world literature teacher, I thought.

The problem: limited opportunities. And I happened to call just after they had filled their 25 seats, so I went on a waiting list.

But the good news is that I was informed this morning via E-mail that I had been given a placement because someone else dropped out. So I’m going now, and I’m quite excited. This will be my first professional development opportunity not provided by our district or regional office, and I’m glad to have it.

…a mask and a cape. (No, not like these guys…)

We’ll be in day 2 of talking about Hawthorne’s short story “The Minister’s Black Veil,” and instead of going with a traditional veil (which I think might be somewhat awkward on a guy – but I could be wrong, since Mr. Hooper is the veil-wearer in the story), I decided to do a mask for the de-facing effect. I actually somewhat wish I could have found a Darth Vader mask in time since I sometimes refer to the anti-transcendentalists as the “dark side of the Force” (I also compare the Over-Soul to the Force when we talk about transcendentalism), but for today, a simple black mask that covers most of my eyes and my nose will do.

The cape, of course, is flair. It also has a hood, but I haven’t decided whether to wear it or not since it’s a little small. (The whole deal was homemade but not quite custom-made.)

As always, circumspection is required before getting hopes up about possible success, but I’m not worried about that so much – I just want to shake things up a bit. We’ll see if I at least do that.

Since today was officially declared a snow day about 10 minutes ago for me, and I’m already up, here’s a rant for you on movies and books. (WARNING: SPOILER ALERT)

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This is take #2, due to a stupid browser and WP failing to auto-save properly.

My sincerest apologies to faithful readers – or perhaps in this case, wait-ers – for the absence; things have gotten a little more complicated this semester, and that’s the best excuse I can offer for my weeks-long blog silence.

One such complication – in a good way – is my own doing: getting our school involved in the national Poetry Out Loud poetry recitation competition, which I was fortunate to experience when student teaching last spring. I’m taking six students in total this week to our regional competition, three who were involved in the school contest and three other students who I’m hoping will be inspired by seeing the contest play out in person. I’m excited about going, in part because I’ll get to see my former co-op, who I have certainly missed, and perhaps (I hope) some of my former students.

This experience has allowed me to learn some important lessons about setting up extracurriculars that I will certainly remember for the next time (and certainly for POL next year, especially the importance of starting earlier). I just hope that the experience is useful for the students, that they will see the point in it. (I keep thinking of Marianne Moore’s great poem on the subject.)

Maybe eventually I’ll get back into a routine of writing; I would greatly enjoy that. For now, I’ll keep trying to get caught up and simply – to use an old cliché – keep on keeping on.

Short version: Sometimes they’re wrong.

Okay, the background – I purchased a small class set of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein for my novels class, and we’re getting through it right now. While the students are digging into the monster’s narrative about his life after being created (and rewriting/paraphrasing it), I’ve been reading ahead to have some ideas for discussion.

My students have also expressed difficulty in understanding much of this novel, which is due in no small part to the fact that all of the novels we have thus covered – Of Mice and Men, The Grapes of Wrath, and The Great Gatsby – have been 20th century American novels, and Frankenstein is early 19th century British. One of the nice things about this text, however, has been a glossary of endnotes and a vocabulary reference at the back of the book, broken down by chapter so that students can refer to them. It’s worked okay for some, not as much for others; one student has been asking me about certain words, and I’ve found that explaining some words – like traverse – takes a little more than a simple denotative explanation. Still, it’s reasonably helpful.

That is, when it’s right.

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