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.



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.

The name of the late Alan Turing has been popping up in a number of places lately, with a coalition of computer scientists, historians, and LGBT activists coming together to petition the British government to issue an apology for what was done to Turing. See, Turing was a brilliant codebreaker and the man most responsible for cracking the Nazi Enigma code, which undoubtedly changed the course of the war in favor of the Allies; his work with theoretical computing (such as his thought experiment, the Turing machine) is directly responsible for the rise of computers as we know them today. Turing was also gay, and he was subjected to chemical castration when this fact was discovered. Turing committed suicide two years later.

British PM Gordon Brown did issue an apology, and it’s a pretty good one as far as that goes (Geoff Pullum notes here that it’s remarkable to see a politician utter the unambiguous words “we’re sorry,” and I tend to agree). The fact that an apology was issued is remarkable and a worthy tribute, but I rather like the tribute that poet Matt Harvey gave to Turing (HT: Geoff Pullum at Language Log):

Alan Turing

here’s a toast to Alan Turing
born in harsher, darker times
who thought outside the container
and loved outside the lines
and so the code-breaker was broken
and we’re sorry
yes now the s-word has been spoken
the official conscience woken
— very carefully scripted but at least it’s not encrypted —
and the story does suggest
a part 2 to the Turing Test:
1. can machines behave like humans?
2. can we?

Can we, indeed.

NCTE has been sending me these lovely Inbox E-mails for almost a year (since I became a member last fall), and one of the things they mentioned in recent E-mails is the National Gallery of Writing, which is taking submissions right now in preparation for NCTE’s National Day on Writing on October 20, 2009. I like the idea a lot, especially the emphasis on a variety of compositional formats (not that I’m surprised that NCTE would take such a stance), and I’m thinking of contributing.

Here’s the catch: I can only contribute one piece.

So, faithful readers – help!


This weekend was my 6th wedding anniversary with my beautiful wife, and we managed to arrange an overnight stay to get away to a hotel about 45 minutes away, complete with dinner, movie, swimming, hot tub, and some shopping today (mostly for my wife). It was a good time, and we enjoyed our time away, especially since we were able to spend time together without our two boys (who stayed with my parents), something we don’t get to do often.

Now we’re home, and I need to update the blog – what better to do that with than a tale of my recent acquisitions on the literary front?


I just got perhaps the strangest spam message I have ever received (well, at least the strangest since the IRS phishing message that prompted me to click a link to tehran.ir). It is strange because it has an element that I have never before seen in the strange messages that often pop up in my inbox (or more commonly, in the university mail service’s spam filter): poetry.


A very quick note (I type this as my 2nd hour seniors are silently reading Elie Wiesel’s Night): Today has been the best start of a day since I have been student teaching. My eighth graders have been very difficult to please, and they have given me hell as a result (I guess because I’m not entertaining enough), but today, something worked!

The something was an idea I’d seen somewhere on the ‘Net, an “I Am/We Are” poem. The idea is to have students write several lines of alternating statements about themselves individually (“I Am”) and the group (“We Are”). (I encouraged students to write statements using other verbs but in the same format, e.g. “I have a great sense of humor.”) This idea strikes me as a very good one for middle school/junior high because it respects students’ individual opinions and allows a safe outlet (relatively so, at least) for expressing them.

And it worked like I had wanted: the students wrote some interesting statements about themselves and the class. To make things interesting, I had the students write 12 lines, 6 of each type, and then I had the students contribute a line each from their own poems to make a class poem; odd numbered students would contribute “I Am” statements, while even numbered students will give “We Are” statements. (I have 13 students in this class, and one was absent, so it worked out nicely.) After all of the 12 lines had been written on the board, the students wanted to end the poem on a different note, so two more students contributed an additional line, the concluding line being “We’re not weird; we’re just ourselves.”

It is a magnificent feeling after having so much trouble with this class. One student who I have had many conflicts with actually said that they were proud of me for coming up with something they actually liked, and I thanked her (privately) for saying such a nice thing to me. As a result, I’m on cloud nine – this shows that I can have success, and to a large degree, even a moderate success in a sea of failures can make the whole thing seem worthwhile.