Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Quit 'yer whining.

The motivations for the last question about Lord of the Flies was born out of my frustration at the booklist for my next semester adolescent literature course.  Of the 12 novels, only 5 belong to the most recent generation of YA fiction (Stargirl, Speak, Hunger Games, Monster, The Giver).  All the others are books that are at least 40+ years old, one of which is Lord of the Flies.  I am more angry than I should be at this list; most of the others I could accept, but that one just seems more out of place than the others.  I never really cared for the book myself, but I appreciate that it has some complex, interesting things to say about human nature.  I think that the intended audience is a large part of what defines the genre, and I really don't think Golding would say he intended this book for adolescents. You could argue the same about Fahrenheit 451, which is also on this list.  In fact, you could argue that F451 makes even less sense, since at least the cast of characters in Flies are actually kids.  I have to stop thinking about this.  I am too close to the end of the semester to get my blood pressure up.

If the Education course were offered next semester, the books would be more progressive/newer.  And how ironic is that?  If anything, the curriculum & instruction department would have more reason to have a syllabi of older books, since that's mostly what is still taught in schools (unless motivated teachers campaign otherwise).  The English department would be the place to explore new, emerging genres.  Unfortunately, it is exactly the opposite in this case, and I'm terribly disappointed.

I guess I feel like if this is the booklist for the class, it might be a waste of time.  I'm taking this class to help expand my understanding for my capstone project.  I want ask what makes the genre what it is, how we define it, why it's growing so quickly, and can we find YA fiction that we think deserves the designation of "literature"?  But with more than 50% of the syllabus comprising novels that are already canon  -- it's just disheartening.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Quick survey

Would you consider Lord of the Flies young adult literature?  The protagonists are youngsters, and it's taught frequently in high schools, but would you call it young adult fiction or adolescent literature?

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Keeping my head down

Just a brief update:

Life unfortunately is a bit overwhelming at the moment.  The week after Thanksgiving, I have a major presentation and 3 longish (15 page+) papers due.  As you might expect, I'm focusing on getting ahead where I can.  Furthermore, we recently had a death in the family -- a bit unexpected -- which is making it difficult for me to concentrate on the schoolwork at hand.  At this moment, I would really like to hide and just not participate in society/the world for about a month.  But, of course, real life doesn't quite work that way.

In short: as a result of both personal and professional distractions, you probably won't see me for awhile.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

And then a little of both

There's good news and bad news this week.

The good:  Schedules are up for next semester already.  This is also slightly bad because it means the semester is almost over.  Yikes.

The bad:  The teaching YA lit class is not being offered in the education department, as their catalog said it would.  The catalog listed it as a spring class, it had been taught as a spring class for 10 years...and then this year they decided to do fall instead.

The good:  There is an "adolescent literature" class being taught in the undergrad level.  I can take it as a directed reading and do a couple extra projects for the class to bring it up to grad level intensity.

The bad:  Most of the novels taught (if she uses the exact same syllabus as last time) are already canonical works.  Are you ready for this?  Fahrenheit 451, Lord of the Flies, Mockingbird, A Separate Peace, The Hobbit, and Catcher in the Rye [though admittedly, I've never read that last one, so that will be fun].  I'm pretty disappointed, though I guess I shouldn't be surprised.  In my opinion, this list represents the general attitude of skepticism towards YA texts I've experienced here.  For such a large school in a progressive area, their attitudes towards YA Fiction are anything but progressive.  There are a few more recent works: Stargirl and Hunger Games.   But the "newer" stuff is quite outnumbered.

A little of both:  One of my extra projects will be to teach a class for one day.  It will be a good dusting-off-the-ol'-teaching-chops for me

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

I couldn't decide on a title, either.

I come to you again with the discussion of my research project.  I think I'd like to tackle legitimizing young adult literature as a genre with valuable literature for study.  It's a big concept, and I'm not sure I'd be able to comprehensively address it, but for now, I'm exploring the idea.

I'd like to argue that there are Young Adult Literature texts that are good enough to teach on their own merits, without any need for legitimizing them as partner texts to canonical works.  In order to do that, I think I'll take a novel and dig into it over the course of my discussion.  I do have a couple options for this (The Hunger Games and The Book Thief first come to mind).

But since I'm delightfully indecisive, I'd also like your input (I readily admit I am nowhere near the YAL guru I'd like to be).  If you were going to choose a novel that offered valuable themes and literary techniques to teach within a high school classroom, a novel that you felt addressed not only the state standards but your own as well, which text would you choose?

Sunday, September 18, 2011

When I can't think of something to say, I let others do it for me!

I know, I'm mostly MIA.  And that's mostly because I'm in grad school.  If I do get to spend any time thinking/hearing about teaching, it's mostly about how there will be no jobs by the time I graduate, and that all teachers are horrible anyway, so I may as well just homeschool any future offspring.  Yaaaay.

But I do keep up with others' blogs when I can.  Just when you think that the media has run out of negative things to say about teachers, someone finds a way to stir the pot again.  Fortunately, The Nerdy Teacher found a way to respond to some negativity using sarcasm and wit.   Just trust me when I say, don't bother going over to the original post he's responding to -- it will just make you mad, getting you nowhere since it's obviously one of those cases where you're not going to change this person's mind through cooperative dialogue.

Instead, when you're feeling the negativity, just read Nerdy Teacher's sarcastic response  which can help you shrug it off with a chuckle.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

So here's what I'm thinking...

I've been feeling a little self-pressure lately to come up with a capstone project (i.e. the not-quite-a-thesis-but-similar-to-a-thesis required for my program).  I strongly lean towards some kind of YA Lit project, though I get the feeling that YA is not widely respected throughout the department.  I guess you could make the argument that any concentration is subject to disapproval, depending on a certain PhD's preferences.  However, I'm particularly sensitive to the looks I get when I mention YA, and these looks are decidedly different from the looks given to someone who is interested in gender studies of 18th century poetry.  Or whatever.

One thought I've had stems from the issue of the very name of the genre itself: Young Adult Literature.  Is there any other genre that is so defined by its audience?  All other genres are descriptions of a book's content: Fiction, NonFiction, Fantasy, Satire, Tragedy, etc.  When picking up a novel based on those genre descriptions, you have certain expectations, certain tropes particular to that genre you expect to see.  Young Adult Literature, however, is defined by its intended audience; within the "young adult" section, you might find any genre of fiction, from paranormal romance to crime dramas.  I find that fascinating and wonder if YAL is more shaped by its audience than other genres, and if so what does that mean for this particular niche of literature?

I also wonder about this idea of YAL as being a "gateway" for young people to other "classic" literature.  Honestly, that idea rather bugs me because the statement indicates that YAL doesn't have much substance to it on its own, it is merely a signifier pointing to something else, something "greater" beyond it.  I want to know what are the merits of this genre on its own, and what is its place in our idea of literature if that is so.

And then my final thought goes back to this issue of audience in YAL.  A connection to this might be a discussion on serialized novels: since serial novels enabled the audience to read and respond to the work in medias res, to what extent were they shaping the novel's progression, and can we see similar patterns in YAL, which, although not serialized, is a genre defined by its audience.

Some of these questions may not have any answers or they may even be too big of an issue to try and tackle in a 25-35 paper.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Starting a new semester

After all that indecision about which class to take, I ended up in a totally new class altogether.  Go figure, eh?  I got to see the syllabus for the History of the Book class and talk to someone else in it, and I started to think...this might not be such a good idea.  I had thought it would be a little less reading since it's not a literature class, but a recent grad of my program confessed that it was actually one of the more labor-intensive classes she took.  Enjoyable, but a lot of work (or at least more so than other grad classes).  When I learned that The Powers That Be added an extra shift to the buses, so the buses now run late enough for me to take just about any class I'd like.  I started putting my feelers out for alternative classes.

A friend started talking up Modern African Lit - the professor is very enthusiastic, the readings will mostly focus on 6 novels all semester, and the first reading was already quite enjoyable.  It's not a class I would have normally picked, but my fellow classmates swayed me.  I sat in on the class this afternoon; I am still a little anxious because it is completely out of my comfort zone.  Not only is it modern African lit, but it will be all female authors with a focus on gender/feminist issues, scholarly lenses which I'm not terribly comfortable with.  Right now my concern is getting the novel read by Wednesday, but I'm determined.  I might be pulling a late night on Wednesday.

Though the professor was hesitant to add me in, she did do it.  Now I have to make sure she doesn't regret the decision!

Sidenote: there used to be a National Writing Project institute held on my campus, but last January they weren't able to raise enough money, so they had to let it go.  Bummer.  Anyone else out there done the NWP and want to tell me what I'm missing?

Wednesday, July 27, 2011


I might have mentioned before that I've started listening to podcasts pretty regularly.  So much so that I'm listening to them  more now than I am my audiobooks.  Surprising, I know.

One of the podcasts I've picked up is Freakanomics; yes, it is from the authors of the book (books?) of the same name.  It's kind of fun and interesting.  One discussion point they've covered is education.  I'm catching up on the backlog, so the most recent one I listened to was from October 2010 with a discussion of Race to the Top.  Yes, including interviews and soundbites from our own dear Arne Duncan.  That one was hard to get through.  I think I strained my eyeball-rolling-muscles.  There was another, however, that discussed an interesting experimental reform program currently being tested in NY.  I plan to talk about these further, at some point, I've just been a little too preoccupied lately to sit down, re-listen, and string together some coherent responses.  In good time.

The more I listen, though, the more I want to try and use podcasts in my class.  Freakanomics could offer some interestingly weekly discussion/writing prompts, GrammarGirl some quick Grammar FAQ coverage...or have students make their own podcasts.  Is this so 2007, though?  How behind the times AM I?

Or do I really want to know?

Thursday, July 21, 2011

English Major Geek-Out

Many years ago, someone gifted me with a CD titled English Majors, which is a collection of skits/songs/stories to tickle the fancy of the literate heart.

I put it in once, wasn't quite in the mood, and it's been sitting on my shelf ever since.  On a whim, I put it in today and discovered a true gem: a track titled "Red Rose Rose."  But it is not merely a recitation of Burns' delightful verses, it is actually a mash-up of (parts of)Song of Solomon; My Love is Like a Red, Red Rose (Burns); Daffodils (Herrick); The Passionate Shepherd to His Love (Marlowe); A Drinking Song (Yeats); Time (Herrick); and (I think) Ode (Wordsworth)

It's beautifully performed by Keillor and Guy's All Star Shoe Band (are they part of the Prairie Home Companion?  I don't know) to a traditional Danish tune (no, really, it's beautiful.  Think not of clogs).  I loved hearing these pieces fold into each other so sweetly and thoughtfully.  Keillor isn't a great vocalist, but the sweet instrumentation and melody make up for it.  It's quite lovely.  And what potential for conversation about the universality of themes and motifs!

One point we discussed in my Comp class last semester was about getting readers to think of writers in conversation with one another.  I think this could be a fun (and unusual) example of just that!  Though poets may not be in actual conversation with one another like writers of scientific discourse might be, poets write to have conversation with humanity.  There's bound to be similarities in ideas, be they physical, mental, or spiritual.  Couldn't this be a fun project?  Students could do something similar to Keillor's "Red, Red Rose" and "mash-up" poems they've studied (oh, maybe bring in some Glee mash-ups!) which they think have similar themes or ideology.  They could put it to music or not, but definitely get them to talk about what their mash-up says or if the blending of poems & verses might bring new meaning to the texts.... the more I think about this, the more I love it!

Monday, July 18, 2011


Are you on LinkedIn?  Do you think it's necessary for teachers?

My husband reports that potential employers actually do look at LinkedIn profiles, which is why he keeps his updated and at 100% completion.  He doesn't use it for much else.  I'm beginning to wonder if it's a profile I need, too.

My common sense (and past experiences) tell me that so many schools & districts use their own online programs, so what's the point of this additional network?  I think I registered as a member of about 4 different online job database resources when I was on the hunt.  And that's just for one area.  Additionally...I'm a teacher.  A public servant.  How much use is it really going to be for me, networking in this venue?

Monday, July 11, 2011

I'm lazy

Have you heard of Tumblebooks?  Somehow I've stumbled across this name in a couple places, but I don't know exactly what it is, how it works, or if it makes pizzas.  I'm pretty sure not the latter, but hey, a girl can hope.

Since it's summer and I'm on semi-vacation, I'm too lazy to investigate it thoroughly.  So I turn to you.  Do you know what this resource is or how one would use it in a classroom?

Thursday, June 30, 2011

Serial Comma For the Win

I both love and despise grammar.  I love the orders and rules of grammar, which attempt to make sense of the fluid, abstract being that is oral language.  I also love playing with that grammar to add meaning to a text.  I despise when people use grammar for evil, getting their panties in a twist about grammar and using it to condescend to others.  There are some basic things that drive me crazy, sure, born mostly of a need for cogency (homophones come to mind).  But to get into a hissy-fit because someone uses the incorrect pronoun for the antecedent "somebody" -- come on now. I am happy to find I am not alone in this.

I try to be open-minded about grammar and its changes.  The serial comma is an exception to my I'm OK, You're OK grammar philosophy, and I feel a strange affinity for this blip of punctuation.  Apparently Oxford University Press has officially dropped the "Oxford comma," aka the serial comma from their PR department.   Their standard usage is now that in a series of items, a comma before the final item is unnecessary unless it is needed to avoid ambiguity (this book is dedicated to my parents, Ayn Rand and God teehee).

I shouldn't care as much as I do.  I perceive this as one more of those exceptions to our language that makes things unnecessarily difficult.  Is it really so confusing or time-consuming to put in a final comma?  I know newspapers have long dropped the serial comma, but I'd still love to see the statistics from a newspaper on how much ink they saved by dropping serial commas. Oh wait, print newspapers would need subscribers for that, anyway!*

Anyone here pro-serial-killing?  I just haven't heard a compelling argument to drop it, or maybe I'm too fanatically loyal to be swayed; I think leaving it out tends to elicit more ambiguity or at least more frequent opportunities for ambiguity than eliminating it would.  I don't really accept the accusation of "clutter" as a valid one.  Political correctness and commercialism possess more fault for our inflated purple language than the unassuming comma.

Can we just agree that either is fine, just be consistent?  I usually talk to my students about the fluidity of grammar and point out rules such as this one which change or are stylistic choices.  I tell them that grammar changes over time (e.g., "ain't" used to be perfectly acceptable during the Elizabethan court).   In fact, I think it's only a matter of time before the plural, non-gender "they/their" is acceptable for indefinite pronouns ("Somebody left their comma here.").  They may have teachers who tell them different things or prefer different styles: that's life.  They're more on board - or I like to think they are -  if I'm honest that sometimes grammar just is what the bigwigs say it is, and we have to accept that. 

What's your take?  What does your state standard guide tell you to do with the serial comma?  And do you obey or practice civil disobedience?

*ok, that was mean.  I do love newspapers and love print newspapers (for nostalgia's sake).  I do wonder about the future and relevance of print newspapers in a digital age.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Ruby Oliver, can we be friends?

Have you ever read a book where you told the fictional hero/heroine, YOU are my new best friend?

Lockhart's Ruby Oliver series is that for me.  I've often wished BFF status about a particular author, but this is one of the few fictional characters I wish I could actually befriend.  OK, who am I kidding -- I'd happily BFF Lockhart, too.  I just finished the fourth and final (I'm pretty sure) book of this series, and in my opinion it's a YA must-read series.  It doesn't necessarily have universal appeal, but if you enjoy endearing character-driven stories, it's definitely worth a look.  The books are often laugh-out-loud funny, insightful without being too syrupy, and honest without being too brutal.  I can relate to the self-deprecating, slightly cynical-yet-deep-down-romantic, sarcastic heroine.

#1 - The Boyfriend List
#2 -  The Boy Book
#3 - The Treasure Map of Boys
#4 - Real Live Boyfriends

I will say these are not books to audio.  Ruby likes to add amusing anecdotes or explanations via footnotes, which is just infinitely more fun to read than listen to.  Do yourself a favor and pick up something just plain fun for the summer!

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Summer reading

Hopefully by now you are on summer vacation.  Unless you teach at a year-round school, in which case, I don't understand you at all.  Kidding.  But really, what is the usual schedule for year-round?

I think many of us like to use the summer to get caught up on reading (in between professional development workshops) and that has definitely been the case for me.  I have loved picking up books for fun and reading them at my own pace again.  I'm relishing it until the semester re-starts.

I have a constantly growing to-read list, so I plan to tackle a few items from that, starting with some tried-and-true favs:

  1. Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins
  2. Ruby Oliver #3 & 4 by E. Lockhart
  3. Bubbles All the Way by Sarah Strohmeyer
  4. The Vanishing of Katharina Linden by Helen Grant

I've already finished Mockingjay , Ruby Oliver #3, and Vanishing of Katharina Linden.  And I'm ready to devour more.  The hard part is just deciding which ones!  What are you hoping to read this summer?

Wednesday, June 22, 2011


Thanks for the insight and sharing of my oh-so-desperate decisions.  I am strongly leaning towards HotB as of now.  The professor who teaches it has an interesting foot in both worlds: he specializes in middle ages literature and manuscripts, but he also teaches courses in digital media and book technology.  This is obviously a class he will know thoroughly and likely enjoy.  The Caribbean literature one, while interesting, I can explore on my own a bit, now that I have the list of readings.  Obviously this is not the same as studying it in class with discussions from others or a learned professor, but sadly these are the kinds of choices I have to make!

Though once a YA Lit class is offered, my choices will be so much easier.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Scheduling, teil zwei

Good questions, all, thanks!

These are classes I have to choose between as an elective for my own studies next semester.   I am trying to keep in mind the fact that I am getting my master’s degree with the idea of expanding my teaching repertoire.  Caribbean Lit seems more likely something I might be able to incorporate into a world literature or AP class, so it feels like the class I should take.

History of the Book intrigues me simply because it’s so different from the typical lit classes.  I’m interested in the book-making process from the standpoint of a writer, as I don’t really know what the editor/publisher/seller process looks like.  I’m intrigued by the idea of manipulation and the propaganda involved in sales (have I mentioned I love dystopian YA Lit?), and I would really like to know what kind of technological options are out there for books and what that would mean for the classroom.  And I may have forgotten to mention there are field trips involved to publishing houses and special collections.  Yes, I am a graduate student excited about a field trip.

I promised myself that I would take classes I want to take and scheduling be darned.  But I have to admit that a three-hour (yes, it’s just once a week, but three hours *whine*) course is a bit of a turn-off for the Carib Lit.  But one girl I met and got along with is taking it, so perhaps we could make it bearable.  However, HotB’s scheduling gives me several hours to do homework on campus before my next class that afternoon and makes parking easier (i.e., free).  It’s hard to completely discount the pragmatic scheduling issues, but I’m trying.  So, I thought I'd throw it to the public, because I dearly care what other people think.

Monday, June 20, 2011


If you had to choose between Caribbean Literature and History of the Book, which would you choose?  Caribbean Literature would include authors such as Julia Alvarez, V.S.Naipaul, Junot Diaz -- authors I (er, you) have heard of but never read.  History of the Book will not only trace the invention of the book from early manuscripts through Google Book and other digital forms, but it will also discuss the many roles involved in book-making, from author to seller.

Let's completely discount scheduling issues.  Which would you choose?

Friday, June 17, 2011

Make your own Smartboard for $45

Here's a new project for you:  make your own smartboard for $45.

Have you heard/seen what Johnny Lee can do with a wii remote?  It's pretty awesome

His website does indeed explain how to set it up and provide the necessary software to make it work.  I did notice in his instructions that it requires a bluetooth, so I suppose that's an added cost if you don't have one.  But hey, you could get yourself a bluetooth device and use it as a tax write-off!

And if you think it's too complicated, there's a video out there showing a darling fourth grader who created this interactive whiteboard as his science project.  If Austin can do it, you can do it.

I don't currently have a whiteboard to set this up on.  Someone do this and tell me how it goes.  Do it.

Monday, June 13, 2011

I would of flipped my lid

Do your kids have this problem: "would of" instead of "would have" or "would've"?  Or could/should/etc.

This slip-up had never ever occurred to me before, but then one year I started seeing it littering papers of a variety of students.  Have you seen this or is it simply localized in the South where words are cut short and allstrungtogether?

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Not productive at all

Cheerier, more exciting news.  I just found out that one of my current favorite YA authors, E. Lockhart, has a blog.  This gives me a little flutter of fangirliness in my heart, and I am excited to have one more blog to help me be unproductive.

I fully intend to read her third & fourth Ruby Oliver books this summer, and I may investigate what other gems Lockhart has in her repertoire.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Cyber-bullying... a teacher?

Here's an interesting issue:

Student Suspended for Facebook Post

A thirteen-year-old posted a Facebook status which indicated that she wished Bin Laden had killed [her teacher] instead of the 3,000 people in the twin towers.  Yikes.  Dr. Drew  -- (why him and what are his credentials exactly?  I must admit, I am a bit skeptical of any doctor who goes by "Doctor FirstName" and has TV shows on MTV.  I digress) -- Dr. Drew interviews the mom & kid and brings in a "former prosecutor" to comment on some of the legal aspects.  The prosecutor makes a point (4:00) that with issues of cyber bullying, the law right now sums up 'net issues as such: "we don't care where the bad behavior happened, we care where the bad effects land."  So, if it is going to influence the school community, then yes, the school has a right to step in.  I thought that was an interesting and seemingly fair rule.  Does the law need to evolve with the internet?  Yes, certainly, it is not perfect -- it would be nice if laws provided schools with more clear-cut and decisive action plans, but that has not yet happened.

But about 4 minutes later (8:00), the girl dissolves into waterworks, and suddenly the tune seems to change.  Now, she is the victim (Dr. Drew actually makes a statement to that effect at 10:18)! The girl tearfully defends herself saying that we can't judge her because we don't know the whole situation, and to some extent, I agree.  But from the change of tune at 8 minutes to the end of the clip, the interview takes a decidedly anti-school/anti-teacher sentiment.  No, a national news network is not the place to rub her nose in her poor choice, but still...she was the bully here!  The prosecutor changes her tune as well, rehashing issues of cyber-bullying where the school did not step in and the dire consequences thereof (10:55).  She says "Schools need to get it together" and to some extent, I agree.   Simultaneously, however, I just shake my head, wondering how much more society wants to heap on schools' plates.  When schools say they can't intervene because of free speech, they get harassed.  When schools do intervene, however, they get harassed for being too heavy-handed.  What do you want them to do?

As the clip ended, I was still just astounded at the unfairness for the teacher.  If that were a statement made by one child against another, it would be included as bullying in any pursued legal case.  So just because the teacher is an adult, it's not a big deal?  Is it really outrageous for a principal to attempt to protect his/her teachers?  Teachers aren't above the law -- we aren't saints by any means -- but at least treat us with the same dignity you would a threatened student!  The phrase may not have been a "threat" per se, but it was hateful and hurtful, which sounds a lot like bullying to me.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

No duh, Sherlock?

This article recently came across the AP wire: It's Not the Teacher, but Method That Matters

In it, Seth Borenstein reports a study that followed two different  Canadian college classes, one of which was taught by TAs with "interactive methods," the other taught by an experienced lecturer.  Surprise!  The class taught via interactive methods scored better on assessments.  The physicist conducting the study concludes "there's nothing magical about a particular person."

I have some issues with this.  My initial reaction is something along the lines of, "Uh. Duh."

Then the other part of me says, Oh holy mother of biscuits, this is all the evidence a county needs to mandate scripted teaching. I fear The Powers That Be see this study and say, "See?  Any monkey can do it, you just have to know what tools to use."

Except, correct me if I'm wrong, isn't that what being a professional in any field means?  I can't write computer programs because I'm not familiar with the proper tools.  I don't diagnose illnesses because I don't know the proper tools.  I don't extract teeth because (guess what) I don't know the proper tools.  Nothing "magically" makes a person a dentist.  Years of training and research do.  I wouldn't presume to do any of those jobs until I had the proper training to use all those tools & terminologies.

What makes you a good teacher is that you are out there, seeking, exploring, implementing new tools all the time.  This study confirms that a lecturer with 10, 15, 20+ years of experience is not necessarily a good teacher just because s/he has done the same thing for 10+ years.  S/he is a good teacher because s/he chooses to seek out those interactive strategies.  So, no, there's nothing "magical" about a particular person.  Just a lot of training, self-reflection, and hard work.

Monday, May 9, 2011

If I could dream

The last day of class, my comp professor posed an interesting question to us:

Let's say you have an entire year paid sabbatical (via grant, miracle, etc) to do whatever you want to do.  What would you do?

I wasn't sure exactly -- my first thought was read as much as I could about writing workshop so I could be an expert and hammer out a perfect (*cue laughter*) writing workshop procedure in my classroom.

But then I thought bigger.  If I could, I think I would take a year to explore all the different technology writing/composing media -- ones created for the classroom or not, ones schools could actually afford or not.  I would find ways to get my hands on the very newest stuff, to see what's coming.  I would find out all the possible ways to use Smart/Promethean boards, writing pads, movie-making media...and all those other things that I know must be out there but I have no earthly idea what to do.  I would compile my research into a giant Bible of Digital Media that cross-referenced every conceivable use of these technologies.

If there was one thing I came away with from that composition class was that I would really like to explore additional media for "composing."  I'm not sure I'd be experimental enough to give students a choice between a written or digital essay every time, but I'd like to be able to let the kids play a bit more with media than I currently do with them.  And part of the reason that I don't is because I feel so completely overwhelmed at the thought of what's out there and how little I know about it. So, there's my dream grant-funded sabbatical.  What about you?

Friday, May 6, 2011

Cover Art FTW

This might be totally superficial, but the first thing that I liked about this blog is the picture used for the profile, Fragonard's Young Girl Reading.  A friend of mine gave me a beautiful print of it as a HS graduation gift, and I've always adored it.  I would wax poetic about the picture, but suffice to say, once I saw that profile, I knew this blogger and I could be kindred spirits: OKP's Line 46.

And I haven't been far off.  I have loved to keep up with OKP for a variety of reasons.  One is that she posts pretty regularly, even if it's little snippets.  She teaches at a high-performing school, and I find it interesting to see the challenges there as compared to not only my own experiences but also those of other bloggin' teacher-fiends.  Some challenges are surprisingly universal, some are not.  She is honest about the challenges she faces, but also honest about the way she challenges her students, and I love that.  It's a nice blend of amusement, introspection, joys, frustrations.  And when times get hard, she isn't afraid to post a picture of a bunny with a pancake on its head.  I think that says a lot about a person, don't you?

Have you noticed that I tend to be attracted to blogs which have qualities I aspire to?  Guess these are more like 'role model' blogs than just "favorite" blogs!

Thursday, May 5, 2011

I like to keep you on your toes

OK, this might seem strange to you, but one of my favorite teacher blogs is actually the "Homeschooling" section on Pioneer Woman's multifaceted blog.

Yes, unconventional for a public school teacher, I know.  But it gives me a glimpse into a wonderful world where parents not only care about their students' educations (because anyone can just say they "care" Michelle Rhee), but they take active roles in it!  I also love that they are constantly exploring new media, texts, manipulatives, etc. to bring to the classroom.  Some of them are things we would be willing to spend money our own money on.  They have a level of autonomy we only dream about.  There are obviously a lot of factors that contribute to our teaching experience being so different from theirs, but this blog consistently reminds me about the magic of education -- those special "ah ha" moments of discovery for both teachers and students.

Monday, May 2, 2011

One Trick Pony

Many of you are not in this position (thankfully!) and probably won't have to be for some time, but for those who are suffering the bane of job interviews, you may encounter this question which once tripped me up: Talk about a lesson (project/etc.) that went well or you're proud of.

I don't know about you, but I'm not used to thinking about positive things about myself all the time.  If asked what are ways you would improve or things you could change, etc., I could give you quite a list of those!  I think this is true of most people -- we have a hard time acknowledging good things about ourselves.  Do we think it's bragging?  Regardless, it's not a habit we often practice.

When I had this question, I could think of only two things, and one of those I had already talked about for a previous question.  I talked about those two things, but I worried that they were going to think I was a one-trick pony!

A few weeks later, after my brain had calmed down and I was able to reflect clearly, I made up a list of possible responses to that question.  I wanted to be prepared for next time.  The list included the mock trial, literary analysis breakdown, booktalks, students-teach-the-class projects, writing workshop portfolios, reading cinema unit, and a historical timeline project. 

How would you answer that prompt?  Talk about a lesson/project/unit that went well or you're proud of.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Brought to you by...

Today's blog entry is brought to you by:  Full of Bees!

I think what I enjoy most about Full of Bees is that I can see/hear her classroom so clearly -- and not only because she is a great writer (which is true) but because I've been there.  She teaches sophomores in a rural area and many of the experiences she shares sound like something that could have (or did) happen in my classroom.  She is real but has a great sense of humor, too.  The entry I linked to is a perfect example of that -- she shares her recent updates in haiku form!

Monday, April 25, 2011

I am not good at titles

While I'm in the midst of finishing a crazy semester, I'll give you another fun blog to read!  I haven't been following this one for very long, but I have a feeling it's going to be a staple in my blogroll in no time.  You know I love YA Lit.  And if you didn't, now you know.

However, Forever Young Adult makes me feel woefully inadequate in my YA Lit love. (Sidenote: I initially wrote that as "YA love," which my brain read as the full title and not the acronym. After thinking OMG! and giggling to myself, I decided I better throw in that "Lit" after all).

I love her book reviews -- her formatting is clever and engrossing, and her sense of humor is perfect.  For a little glimpse of what I mean by this, here's a glimpse titled "What's your YA deal breaker?"
(for the record, it's paranormal.  I've tried.  Jus' cain't do it.  Or eternal teen love after one week.  *GLARES AT BELLA*  There are other things that might make me roll my eyes, but I'm willing to give just about anything non-paranormal a chance).

Friday, April 15, 2011

Another Blog I Wish I Could Be

Another blog I enjoy reading is Bluebird's Classroom.  She is a middle school science teacher, which means we have just about nothing in common.

Honestly, though, I just like hearing about classroom experiences from another world.  Middle school is, in fact, very different from high school, and I am frequently awed by the issues she meets and takes down in that world.  She also taught in a geographic area roughly near my own, so I could commiserate with a lot of the experiences based on the area's demographics.  There's a genuineness to her voice which I appreciate -- there's love for the kids but it's not syrupy; there's realism but it's not dire.  A nice balance I hope I can one day master!

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Move along, nothing to see here

In the interest of letting you know I'm still alive, here's an update:

(my) Homework has taken over my life.  I have 3 12-15 page papers due in the next two weeks.  No, I haven't started writing any of them.  Yes, I think this is a more valuable use of my time.  Why do you ask?

Perhaps what I should do is link you to a few of my favorite teachery blogs.  I'll let them do all the hard work, and I'll just link to 'em okay?  Or even better, you could link ME to some of your favorite blogs.

Here, I'll start.  I think I've linked here before, but Teenagers Are Ridiculous is one of my favorite blogs.  It's almost frightening how many truly amazing gems of teen wisdom (read: hilarity) she has.  Here's a favorite and a prime example of her quick wit which provides lots of fun banter with the kids: "It's a cause and effect thing..."

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

This is why we teach allusions

"...the Oedipal energies of Drydenesque tragicomedy lose their original usefulness as a lever against Cromwellian tyranny."
  Duane Coltharp, "Strategy and Ambivalence in Dryden's Tragicomedies"

Without any kind of context via allusions, this would be jibberish to the reader.  In some ways, it still is to me.

You know how you get to the point where you're so mentally zapped that you read the same sentence over and over, and the more you read it, the less it makes sense?  I daresay also, the funnier it gets?  I'm there.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011


If there's one thing about this research in composition class that has served me in my pedagogical outlook, it is that I feel strongly compelled to use more writing in the classroom.  I'm sure we'll never feel like we do enough, but I need to push myself (well, push the kids) to do even more.

I need to really use writing as a learning tool, encouraging students to write out ideas in order to share them or reflect on class.  I want more pens-on-paper without requiring a grade, just to practice writing with no performance pressure.  I want real, functional, writing workshops in which students learn from one another and hold each other accountable.  I want more context for their writings and a recognition of the reality of an audience: have them send letters, essays, etc. to kids in other schools or the local newspaper or somewhere it would be read.  I want to create an in-class literary magazine, where they can publish some of their favorite works and preserve them in my classroom for all time, for peers, parents and future classes.

More, more, more!  I liked that I pushed my kids to really produce some deeper literary analyses.  I like that I also allowed them to explore a variety of writing styles through writing workshop.  But I could always do so much more.  It's easy to shy away from writing because I think of how long it's going to take to grade.  But maybe I should stop taking it up for a grade, which only reinforces the idea of Teacher As Audience, and instead have them share amongst each other or parents/guardians/mentors.

I know, I'm starting to sound like an idealistic first yearsie, aren't I?  Mainly my point is: I need to have more writing.

Complete sidenote:  Someone in our class mentioned an interesting way of grading formal essays.  Give the essay two grades: one for mechanics, and one for content/argument.  I really like this idea.  Have you ever encountered something like that, either received a grade or given one like it?  Thoughts?

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Grammar Girl

I knew she was out there and had even used her a few times myself for some quick grammar references.  She has very easy-to-follow tips and her sentences are unusual (not as unusual as GrammarBytes!, but still, clever).  I want to pick up a copy of her book to put in my classroom, right next to the dictionaries and thesauruses, so kids can learn that grammar has handy reference guides, too!

I had teased the idea of using her podcasts in the classroom, but honestly I didn't quite see the point.  It felt like I would be using technology just for the sake of using technology, not because it actually enhanced any of the learning.  How is her 7-10 minute quick lesson any different from my own mini-lesson?  It's one the kids would only listen to.  Perhaps I could give them a handout or put up a powerpoint to show the sentences she makes reference to, but again how is that different from my own?

The thought occurs to me that "it's different."  Just by virtue of being not me, it could be interesting for the kids.  Other than that idea, however, I have little else that springs to mind in strong support of it.  Still, I think I'd like to use it, but I want to use it in a valuable way, not just for the sake of technology.

So, any of you used Grammar Girl or any other podcast in your room?  How did you use it?

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Must be doin' something right

In my Restoration Drama class, Aristotle's Unities/Poetics, Greek drama, and the term "catharsis" have all come into our discussions.

I confess -- sometimes I fear that I'm watering down information for my students, due to time or age appropriateness.  But I was practically glowing with pride when those issues came up in discussion because most of the questions the professor asked, my students could have answered.  Granted, whether they still remember them or not a year+ later is questionable.  When we studied Antigone, though, they could have!  It made me feel like I'd been doing something right.  In fact, when the term "catharsis" came up, there was more than a few in my class who didn't know the term or its relationship to Greek drama.  And once again, I thought to myself, My kiddos could have told you that!

Sitting there in class, I performed a little interior dance of joy.  I felt good about what I'd done.  Though I worked with time constraints, standardized tests, and over-and-around pep rallies, I managed to do something right; I hadn't watered it down as I'd feared.  I taught my kids something that they could have sat in a graduate class and answered questions about.  I'm so proud of them, and they don't even know it!

img source: kevindooley

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Say something real

My most significant frustration with my writing/pedagogy class at the moment is that all the articles we've read are mostly theory.  And those of us who have spent any time in a classroom know that theory and actuality are not synonymous.

I read these articles in which people postulate these ideas of composition, and I find myself marking the text with an all too familiar question:  "OK, so how?"  It frustrates me a bit that for all the class description threw around the term "pedagogy" we are doing little discussion of what that might look in the classroom.  The class is structured around freshman comp, as it is a mandatory class for TAs teaching freshman comp.  Even still, there aren't a lot of suggestions or strategies offered by the instructor or the readings.  If I were a TA with no prior teaching experience (as many of the TAs in my class are), I would appreciate someone handing me a recipe and saying, "Here, try this."

But my point was not to complain.  Rather, I am rejoicing in the fact that finally ONE guy said, "And if you want to see what I mean by this, check out my book [insert title]."  Now, while my gut reaction is to say, "Hello, self-promotion," my pen was finally able to stop mid-question and turn "OK, so how?"  into "OK, so check this book out at the library!"

I'm now flipping through A Short Course in Writing: practical rhetoric for composition courses, writing workshops, and tutor training by Kenneth Bruffee.  Don't you love that title?  PRACTICAL rhetoric!  Glorious.  I am looking at the original edition published in 1990, which does look a little outdated in parts.  Still, though, if it's worth it, I'm going to add it to my Amazon to-purchase list, and I'll share with you all if I think it's a worthwhile resource.

Either way, I'm just glad to finally read something real.

Monday, February 7, 2011

RIP, Brian Jacques

I will never forget the first time I read Mossflower by Jacques. I cannot even recall how I came across it, but I do remember the absolute magic that captivated me from the first page.  Absolutely riveting!  I followed that up with Redwall, Martin the Warrior, and some others.  I never read as many as I wanted to, as other books inevitably called my name, but I have always held a fond place in my heart for this master of contemporary fantasy.  The books appeal to all ages and are fantastic read-alouds (something I need to make note of for future classroom excursions!).  If you have not yet discovered one of Jacques endearing masterpieces, do yourself a favor and pick one up.  Don't be daunted by the size -- I assure you, it will read quickly.

On February 5, 2011 the world of readers lost a great man, Brian Jacques.  I plan to pick up Mossflower and re-read it again sometime this year in his honor (appropriately, I also have Castaways of the Flying Dutchman sitting in my audiobook queue).

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Irony goes to the dogs

Let me just get one thing straight:  I don't go around in my every day life and tell people they're using the word "irony" when they really mean "coincidence," "poetic justice," or some other word/phrase designating an amusing phenomenon.  However, when I teach it, I want to make sure those kids really understand the actual use of the term.  I tell them that "irony" is much like grammar:   we say it incorrectly all the time, but people know what you mean.  And that's fine.  Because if you go around correcting people when they're trying to have a conversation, you won't have many friends left.  But if you need to put it in writing and want your text to have any authority, ya gotta know.  So, I'm always on the look-out for "Real" examples of irony.  The more the better.

That said, here's a bonafide example.  My cat is micro-chipped.  As a result of her micro-chip, we subscribe to the provider's service which includes sending emails to people in your designated area when you lose a pet.  Every pair of alert eyes helps, right?  I received one such email today.  True story:

Someone in my area recently lost her bloodhound and is asking for help locating it.


For the record, I do hope those people find their dog.  But still...I'm grateful they provided me with this little gem.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Audience, or lack thereof

I'll admit, audience isn't something oft-discussed in my classroom.  The little thinking about it we do (actually, it's probably more implied than explicitly contemplated or discussed) is usually in reference to state mandated tests or future teacher-audiences my students will have.  I'm more concerned about what kind of writing they will produce for the 11th grade teachers than I am about what they produce (sorry, process) for me.

How much do you talk about audience with your students, and in what capacity?

Elbow's article, "Closing My Eyes as I Speak: An Argument for Ignoring Audience" (which you can find on NCTE, if you're a member) talks about how the concept of writing for an audience influences students, usually to their detriment: when students are too focused on audience, their ideas tend to balk and/or qualify, altogether too concerned about meeting the audience's expectations.  Audience needs to be taken into account in the revision state, but perhaps not before.  A writer should allow the draft to fully consummate without any hindrances; after allowing himself the opportunity to play with and explore his ideas, then the writer may revise his medium for the intended audience.  Several pedagogical implications weave through this article, most especially the value of student choice.  I liked his take on audience.  By and large I agree that students benefit from private, independent writing.  In my own classroom, I feel like I worked pretty well to incorporate the social aspect of composition but perhaps didn't allow for enough private audience-less writing; I believe in moderation in all things, and if I'm developing social outlets for writing, I need to make sure those private reflections are nourished, too.

Of course, as secondary teachers, our immediate reaction is, "OK, but how do I grade it?  How do I make this work?" How do we encourage (read: make) students keep private journals, a valuable writing practice, without holding a grade over their head (which would imply some level of reading, and thus, an audience)? And unfortunately, the article didn't fully answer the question of practical application for me.  He sold me the house, but didn't give me the key.

As I read, I considered my writing workshop, and I actually felt pretty good about what I managed to do in my first few years of teaching.  Though goodness knows I can see all the places I could have improved I also feel like I did well to attempt to balance the social aspect with some personal, safe writing (occasional writing workshop prompts as "bellwork" that I graded by participation - were students active during the appointed time or not?  I never read these, so there was a "safe" place for audience-less writing [which could be a possibility of student safety, maybe worth another day's discussion?]).  Interestingly enough, as I began thinking about writing workshop, I thought of additional social practices:
  • establish writing groups like literary circles, where students can approach peers and talk through an idea or ask for advice
  • leave 5 minutes at the end of class to share (no comments, just reading)
  • do more verbal pre-writing, model as a class with my own writing
The social aspect seems easy enough to come up with.  How do we provide students with opportunities for the audience-free, "safe" writing, and get them to treat it as the beneficial tool it is?

source: photo by ~Cin~

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

And this is why I am not getting an M Ed

Today my dear husband ran across some interesting dissertation titles while he was doing some other research pertinent to his own job.  He knew I'd appreciate them, so he sent them along (just the titles/summation.  Not the complete articles).  And you, dear friend also reap the benefits:

Title:  Relationships between classroom management, teacher stress, teacher burnout, and teachers' levels of hope
   -Let me sum up:  As all other levels increase, hope significantly diminishes Survey concludes that the fewer years of experience teachers have, the more likely they are to be found cowering in a corner, drenched in their own tears at the culmination of a grading period. There.  I just wrote your 50+ page paper.

Title:  A study of the relationship between teacher burnout and their tolerance of disturbing classroom behaviors
   - I'd say this is pretty straightforward.  The closer it gets to the end of the year, the less I care about classroom arson & vivisection.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Why AREN'T we teaching this in high school?

OKP, you are so right!  I initially thought of the Restoration/18thc. drama as a class only used if I were fortunate enough for an AP class, if at all.  But I was reading "The Country Wife" by Wycherley as my first homework assignment and realized these plays would be an excellent example for students to see that classic literature doesn't have to be stuffy or inaccessible.  The premise of this play is that the main character (HORNer) has passed around a rumor that is a eunuch so men about Town will trust him with their wives.  This arrangement makes it easier for him to seduce them with no suspicion!

So the real question is: why AREN'T we teaching these plays in high school?!  Teens would love these raunchy, risque dramas!

The language isn't so very different from now.  A definitive style, yes, and some words with different contemporary definitions, but that is easily glossed.  These would be great fun to do in a classroom to study word play, satire, stock characters, the evolution of drama...and that's just what comes to mind based on being in class one day!

Monday, January 10, 2011

First Day of School

Have you ever confessed to your kids that you get as nervous on the first day of school as they do?  (well, they probably don't admit to it.  They're too cool for school).

I had a flashback to first-day-of-school jitters yesterday and today...and this time, I really WAS the student!

Yes, folks, I've started my Master's degree in English Literature!  I'm pretty jazzed about this, let me tell you.  Well, in-between the jitters.  Glad that first day is done.  In undergrad, I took secondary education concentration, which meant I swapped quite a few English electives for pedagogy classes.  I have actually NEVER taken a creative writing class.  I find this ironic and perhaps hypocritical as I teach creative writing workshops with my kiddos.  For that reason (and others, but that's the best summing-up), I wanted to get my Master's and find out what else I had been missing.  What could I bring back to the classroom?

Admittedly, it's also indulgent.  I have no fantasies of bringing Restoration & 18th Century Drama back to the high school classroom.  But am I excited about that class?  You betcha.

I am not taking the Education route (for a variety of reasons, suffice to say that mostly because I find that pedagogy classes make me want to inflict homicide on any and all in the near vicinity, a'la Medea-style), but I did sign up for one class this semester specifically because the course description specified a focus on pedagogy:  Theory & Research in Composition.  I had my first homework for it tonight, and I found it...oddly...surprisingly...horrifyingly...interesting.  It gave a brief history of social context in the research of writing, and I was surprised at how very new many of these ideas or understandings about writing are.  Ideas and ways of thinking that emerged during the 1990s, for merciful heavens.  Weird.