Author Archives: Jacque

Like Riding a Bike

When I designed this lesson, I knew I was taking a risk. I was putting into practice a theory of theories. Can you take what does it say/mean/matter? and make it work with text within/upon/against text? Blau seemed to think so, but the what does it matter/ text against text is tricky.

If I were to do this microteach again, I would have students read “Girl” in advance to save time. I’d considered having students tweet their most thought-provoking line so that I would come in knowing what lines were ones we could discuss. I didn’t because I liked the idea of a raw reading so that students had to work off their initial reaction. In hindsight, though, I don’t think I got enough time to focus on my main objective, which was really to think about text against text.

Despite our brief discussion, I still feel like there is a missing step to this lesson. I think it is still a stretch to ask high school seniors to get to text against text simply by asking ‘so what?’ I tried to get around this problem by showing my what does it matter? example. When I teach this lesson in the future, I will definitely have to consider some more specific questions first. I might first take an old fairytale, Cinderella, for example and to a practice run with it. I’d then do a Says/Means/Matters chart for the class and do perspectives that way and discuss family dynamics or socioeconomic obstacles for Cinderella. That way, when we do “Girl” students will have a better idea of what I mean by What Does it Matter? Then again, I won’t get as honest, for lack of a better word, answers for Means/Matters… Hmm… maybe that’s worth it for high school students?

Where I felt the weakest with this lesson was the part where I categorized student answers to what does it matter? into Perspectives. I’m weak with critical theory anyway, but that’s also why I love the idea of this lesson–it’s a challenge, both for me and for students. I felt like that with freshman grammar my first year!

Overall, I loved this project. It proved to me that when I do get back in the classroom in a few years, I will be ready to ride that bike! Thanks everyone for being such a great audience.



Applying Fink’s Guide to the HS Level

Backward design based curriculum isn’t a new practice for me, but the readings for this week made me realize that I was not exactly designing my class backward and that could have had an effect on my students’ understanding of the material. Of course, I was also teaching high school where you have to meet grade level requirements, department requirements, administrative requirements (those damn several survey forms!), state requirements (love those SOLs) and day-to-day responsibilities (attendance, homework checks, general classroom behavior management). With all that’s demanded of you and the seemingly constant interruptions (fire drills, student rights and responsibilities mandates, elections, club fairs, pep rallies) it felt impossible to fit everything in!

Since I plan on going back to work in a few years, I was curious to see if Dr. Fink’s essay, “A Self-Directed Guide to Designing Courses for Significant Learning,” could be adapted to use in high school. His essay makes it clear that his approach is geared toward a college-level course, but backwards design is used in high school too, so I was most interested in whether or not his techniques were applicable to 9-12 courses. I decided yes and no.

Yes, you could take major topics in the course and spread them out throughout the year, but I feel like most teachers do that; we call them units. It got me thinking though, that my units were based on core literature readings. I’d have a To Kill a Mockingbird unit and an Of Mice and Men unit and center activities around the literature. What I think Fink was getting at was that perhaps the “Learning Goals” should drive the coverage rather than the literature driving the course coverage.

One of the main problems with applying his step by step process is that it is so in-depth that it would be really difficult to plan out an entire school year. A college semester is about 15 weeks whereas a k-12 school year is about 40. You could plan quarter by quarter or semester by semester, but there’d still be a level of planning for the next quarter/semester involved; it’s hard to do one without the other.

There are other issues with applying his course design plan (FIDeLity assessments for 150 students?) to a high school class that I won’t get into, but I appreciate his approach. It’s clear (well, clear-ish. what’s he mean by an authentic project on page 19?), it has charts to help plan, and it makes sense.

A Masterful Assignment, A Haunting Portrayal

I think the way the readings were organized was masterful, really. Since reading Sheridan Blau’s book, I HATE having any contextual information given to me before reading *literature*. I like being able to piece together the story on my own and later learn about the author’s life and the historical context because I feel like I can get a clean, raw reading and not have it tainted by any other knowledge. I wish I would have read Thomas Gray’s Confessions  and looked at all the pictures before I read Greenberg’s essay. Having read all the essays before re-reading Nat Turner caused me to question how Kyle Barker portrayed Turner. Just because he didn’t use words to narrate the story, doesn’t mean he didn’t use some artistic liberties. I would argue that he used more because he narrates a story, but also paints the picture visually as well. Is Barker guilty of being what Greenberg described as a “grave robber” for his interpretation of Nat Turner (26)?

One of the hardest aspects of reading Nat Turner is seeing the visual depiction of men killing innocent children and knowing that it all happened to 31 infants and children. Having a two year old son and a six month old son, I am really sensitive to the slaughter that Barker displays in the book. So much so that I cried after the baby was thrown to the shark and again when the baby was killed in his cradle. After re-reading Nat Turner, I noticed how the killing of the babies was based on presumptions that they were both doomed. The black mother on the ship assumed her baby was doomed to mistreatment. The rebels assumed the white baby would grow up to be a slave master. In either case, the innocent children were not given the benefit of the doubt and those images will haunt me. 

Even though I’m scarred for life from this assignment, I think it’s hammered home to me of the impact that graphic novels can have in the classroom, especially when used in conjunction with other texts. I will definitely jump at the chance of using graphic novels… just maybe not Nat Turner.

The Importance of Graphic Novels and Pretty Resumes

When I took Professor Tamara Harvey’s class for English 701, I had to read Scott McCloud’s Understanding Comics. It absolutely made me think differently about comics and the graphic novel, but I still wasn’t sold on their usefulness in the classroom.

What’s ironic about my dismissal of using graphic novels in the classroom is that I was a yearbook adviser. I went to countless workshops all over the country to learn how to get students to READ the yearbook and every workshop stressed using modular coverage (a “mod”). A mod can be a graph or a little side story with a photo or statistics or something like that– think pictures and infographics. The point is that it breaks up a story into bite-sized chunks to make the information more palatable. I knew that if I wanted students to read the yearbook, I’d be more successful in my pursuit by using mods.

Three years later this pin on Pinterest, combined with this week’s reading, finally sold me on why it’s perfectly acceptable to use a graphic novel in the classroom:


The caption for this picture says, “This is what you’re competing with, people. If you don’t know how to make a pretty resume—outsource it to someone who does”. It made me realize that just as language changes, so does its presentation to people. I don’t care how old you are, sometimes “pretty” language, complete with pictures, is the most effective way to communicate something; this week’s readings are an example of this.

Joy explained it well in her post. Unlike Joy, I read (or re-read) McCloud’s chapters before reading the other articles. I thought it was almost hypocritical for the authors to laud the picture book or graphic novel and yet describe the importance of lines, for example, using words. McCloud’s work shows just how much work and thought goes into the creation of comics. Rather than only using words, the author uses pictures as well to communicate. That is talent.

If you are like three-years-ago me, and you are still on the fence about using graphic novels in the classroom, consider reading Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi.


I read it for Professor Harvey’s class and learned more about Islamic culture and the revolution than I’d ever learned before (and yet I still questioned the presence of graphic novels in the classroom!). I could have read a memoir on her, but it probably would’ve taken me a longer time to read it, and I wouldn’t still remember it, that’s for sure.

I guess what I’m trying to say is that comics, graphic novels, infographics, mods– it’s where we are going. Just pick up a newspaper! Think about how much more you learned from textbooks when they used pictures. Thinking back to one of our first readings from Lee Shulman’s article, “Taking Learning Seriously,” he said “If we take learning seriously, we must take responsibility for the ubiquity of amnesia. We need to reexamine much of what we teach, and how we teach it” (13). Graphic novels definitely deserve a place in the classroom because if this sleep deprived mom can remember comics and a graphic novel from three years ago, I’m pretty sure a teenager will as well.


Thanks for Playing, but…

Like Megan, I really wanted to like this book. In my experience as a high school teacher, I saw the affect video games had on my students’ work habits and was hoping to come away from the reading with some strategies to get my students as interested in Steinbeck as they are in Sims.

Unfortunately, I did not find any “ready-made” strategies to use. Instead, I have 36 principles that I’m going to have to stretch my mind in order to make these principles apply. I know that Gee didn’t have to have classroom application examples for every principle, but he hardly had any at all. When I did see some application tips, they were usually for math and science classes. I’m really hoping we have a discussion like we did last class on possible ways to put theory into practice

This book read like a book about video games with some references to teaching rather than a book about pedagogy with some references to video games. For me, it was the most difficult reading we’ve been assigned because there was so much of it, and I just didn’t always see the point, honestly. I busted my ass this week trying to read this book, hoping at some point to glean something useful, but Gee spent too much time explaining video games instead of how to use video game principles into practice. I started seeing red every time I had to read about another video game summary.

What he SHOULD have done was take his principles and write a few paragraphs about how to use the techniques in class to help kids learn using video games as examples as how the principles work to engage kids. I don’t think his readers needed to be convinced about why video games are an okay place to look for teaching inspiration. Kids like video games, but I am never going to be able to compete with a video game unless Fairfax County hires me a pyrotechnics crew.

One activity I used that might fit a few of Gee’s principles* is one I used for Romeo and Juliet. I divided the class up into two groups, the Montagues and the Capulets. Every day I would keep track of who had his homework, who was on time to class, even who got good scores on assessments. I would award each team points based on their efforts. The teams were highly competitive and wanted to beat the other team. It created a rivalry similar to that in R&J while also bolstering interest in a subject that was sometimes stale (Shakespeare is not as interesting as Sonic). Team members also encouraged one another and texted to remind each other about assignments and screamed to get people to come to class.

The downside to this assignment is that it felt like my workload doubled. It was a lot of work to plan and even more work to count points. When it came time to teach R&J the next year, I opted not to do the assignment because I just couldn’t muster the energy to do it again.


I think good teachers are going to try to make their class engaging and in doing so, yes, their class might contain elements that good video games do, but I don’t think using video games as a model is necessary. Thanks for playing, Gee.


*Semiotic domain principle, identity principle, text principle, affinity group principle



I have a lot of comments and questions, so I thought it best to bullet everything in order to stay within the word count.

• I love the idea of the “Constructing Reading in a Literary Community” Workshop from chapter 6. Pointing would be an awesome low-risk activity to get all students involved in the reading, but my question for the whole workshop is how you’d go about doing this when discussing a major novel? Have students pick a line from a chapter every few classes? That’s a hefty amount of text to sift through, but I guess it could be done. Choosing a passage for students to pull a line from seems like a very un-Blau thing to do.

• I’m impressed at how quickly Blau takes student “one-lines” and helps word them into perspective “camps” or “lenses” for students. I am sure I’d be able to prescribe responses too, depending on the quality of student response, but it would take some time for me to get comfortable.

• His efferent vs. aesthetic reading and testing problems really struck a chord with me. I’d never heard of efferent vs. aesthetic reading, but reading for pleasure and reading for scholarly reasons was touched upon in an earlier article we read. I agree that efferent testing is not the most useful in the English classroom when it comes to literature, but there does need to be some kind of reading check to encourage students to keep up. I used to pull quotes from chapters and have multiple-choice quizzes asking students to match the line with the character who said it. I’d also ask the significance of the line and have them match it. I don’t think Blau would agree with this method of quizzing.

• Grading in general was an area that Blau didn’t spend much time on. Meghan touched upon it in her entry this week, but I felt dissatisfied with the portfolio approach. I like it, but not putting a grade on a paper is not acceptable in the public school system.

• The thesis-argument essay was a paper I was guilty of assigning and I don’t think it was necessarily a bad one. Like Meaghan, I was also guilty of saying no “I” or “you” in papers, but that was in part because I got “I think” and “I believe” 24 times in 150 papers.

• Plagiarism- I caught students every quarter plagiarizing. It got to the point where I started requiring some papers be handwritten and even that didn’t help. I assigned reading logs, and I caught students plagiarizing those! Programs like have helped take the detective work out of grading, but it by no means deters all students from cutting and pasting ideas.

There is so much more I want to write and cover, but suffice it to say that this half of the book didn’t sit as nicely with me as the first half, especially with, as Christy touched upon in her post, the idea that we get the papers we deserve. Um… good thing I’m over my word count limit. Looking forward to our class discussion of this.


Your Pappa’s Waltz, My Humble Pie Poem

So here I was all proud of myself for doing something different when I ‘taught’ poetry and, come to find out, I was doing it all wrong. If I were the type to be embarrassed, I’d be really embarrassed about that blog entry. To add insult to injury, I was teaching the wrong interpretation of “My Pappa’s Waltz”! Dagger. I am one of the 85% that thought the poem was sad and that the father was an alcoholic. I gave the students the poem after we read the trial scene in To Kill a Mockingbird and read Mayella testify against Tom Robinson. Of course none of my students interpreted the poem as a happy poem because when read directly after reading about Mayella’s relationship with her father, the poem is tainted! I got the idea that “My Pappa’s Waltz” was a poem about an abusive father because that’s how it was presented to me when I first read it.

I can’t help but wonder then, how do you present poems to students in such a way that they aren’t tainted? Do we bring back the dreaded Poetry Unit? If you weave poems into classroom units like I did, do you run the risk of giving students context that can alter the interpretation they might have had if read independent from another text? I used to open class with a warm-up– grammar or quickwrite. Would a poem be a good addition? Maybe even one that a student has brought in that I’ve never seen before?

One thing I noticed about Blau that I will definitely have to work on when I go back to teaching is how masterful he is at conducting workshops. He’s like a traffic cop, coordinating the discussion in efficient and effective directions. He also reels back his own opinions. If a student had told me that “Pappa’s Waltz” was a happy poem, I don’t know that I would have shot him down, but I may have said something like, “Oh! Well, isn’t that a *neat* interpretation?”

I am guilty of feeding the English teacher machine in that I teach texts the way was taught them and have assumed that there are many ways to interpret a poem, but really there is only one right version. I have to confess that it is going to be really hard for me to let go of the idea that several ‘correct’ reading possible, but I think his workshop discussing Pat Mora’s “Sonrisas” is a strong argument for accepting different interpretations.


The very first unit my host teacher gave me to teach as a student teacher was a poetry unit. Formidable, yes, but I was a young, idealistic student. I was Robin Williams in Dead Poets’ Society. I was ready!  To this day, I still remember the students’ underwhelmed expressions after I was done with my lesson. I just figured they were pretending not to be impressed. At the end of the day, my host teacher said, “That was great, but you never told them what a poem was.” Hmmm. That was enough for me to go make copies of the booklet I had been given in high school with all the different types of poems and examples from the poetic canon. I completely scrapped my “cool” unit, and taught out of the book because I figured I didn’t know what I was doing.

Over the years, I quietly snuck in some “cool” lessons: Reading and discussing Babette Deutsch’s “Ape” and Theodore Roethke’s “My Pappa’s Waltz” while reading To Kill a Mockingbird, comparing Taylor Swift’s “Love Story” with Romeo & Juliet (stop groaning, Ben!), stomping out the rhythm of iambic pentameter, assigning memorization for R&J and Juiius Caesar, writing  found poetry, and a lot of other really “cool” lessons. I knew other teachers had poetry units, but I did my own thing based off of what I’d read in journals and what I felt would be effective.

Turns out that my internal teaching compass had led me correctly. Stanley Fish’s position on poetry seems to be ‘a poem is a poem if you think it’s a poem’. I could’ve kept my “cool” unit during student teaching and just had a little discussion with the kids about poetic context. According to Elaine Showalter, what I was doing with poetry as an experienced teacher was fine too. I thought for sure that the teacher gods were going to strike me down with lightning every year for still assigning poetry memorization. (FYI: I did give students my rationale behind the assignment).

Showalter’s article was my favorite of the readings for this week. Obviously, I liked it because it gave me some confidence in how I handled poetry, but also because it gave me ideas in how to improve my teaching when I go back to work. (I hate reading pedagogical articles that give vague ideas of how to teach, but are quick to point out ineffective teaching methods). It was interesting to see that some of the professors seemed to disagree in methods. For example, Donald Howard doesn’t like having students read in his Chaucer class, but Diane Middlebrook has students read aloud. Both have sound reasons, and it seems to work for their courses.

I am going to use some of the teaching ideas, but more importantly, I want to emphasize to students that poetry demands to be re-read because every choice is deliberate– including punctuation. I also want to reiterate “the accessibility of poetry rather than its difficulty” (64). I’m not sure I did this before.


Pope De/Re Centred

I love Bean’s article, “Helping Students Read Difficult Texts”; his analysis of student writing problems are accurate, in my experience. I especially liked his ideas for helping students understand what they’re reading. Too often, articles point out problems or suggest ideals and give vague one-liners on what teachers are supposed to do to help students. (I feel that the “How People Learn” article was guilty of this).

I also liked Salvatori and Donahue’s article and how it also gave a few examples of tactics to use to help students with difficult texts. I realized that I was sometimes guilty of just spelling it out for my classes when we read texts, especially pieces by Shakespeare. When I read, (forgive me for not couching my quotation), “If [students] move away from those difficulties, or opt for somebody solving them for them, chances are that they will never know the causes of those difficulties, and the means to control them”, I realized that it’s part of my job to let them struggle, just as it is to let my 3 month old struggle to roll over in order to eventually crawl and someday walk and run (3).

I was surprised to be so delighted, though, by Pope’s article. I agree with Alicia; it was definitely a more difficult text to read, especially when you can only find ten minute chunks to read such a formidable text. However, I really loved his ideas. There’s a great balance of creativity with analysis and research in the de/recentring example he uses with Robert Browning’s “My Last Duchess”.

By taking a piece of prose/literature/poetry/drama through his text, context, cross-text, re-textualise, and commentary steps, students can understand texts more deeply. The De-Centring and Re-Centring a Literary Classic section starting on page 14 really got me dusting off my teacher brain and imagining how I’d use his techniques for AP English.

As Bean points out, one of the problems students have with reading is they have no prior knowledge. In addition to, perhaps inadvertently, learning how to become new-historicist critics, Pope’s suggestions can help students gain prior knowledge by understanding a text’s contextual underpinnings.

All the articles are very interesting and I gleaned something from each of them, but the main tools that will help students with difficult reading are adequate time to spend on readings, persistence in tackling a text, and intellectual curiosity, which I hope we will discuss more in class.