“Tell me and I’ll forget; show me and I may remember; involve me and I’ll understand.” -Chinese Proverb

Trying hard not to be intimidated by a room full of powerhouse teachers, was a lofty goal. Thank you all for participating and helping me through my lesson on Marriage à la Mode. Explaining the obvious is elusive: just when I thought I was explaining some aspect of a literary term, I realized I did not scaffold the discussion with explicit instruction, so my questions might have seemed ambiguous. In addition, I posted the assignment a week earlier than it was due, and, with so many pieces to look at, I was afraid that you all might have read it the previous week, so it would not be fresh in your minds. I apologize for the misunderstanding.

I think the lesson plan would have been more substantial had I reversed the order of my two integrative models: the concept map and the PowerPoint. Since my backend design was concept attainment, a more comprehensive plan might have begun with a quick introduction and student summary, prior to viewing the ppt. (In class, I usually go through my ppts. two times: once with the lights off, and then again, after disseminating the handouts, with the lights half on so the students can take notes on the prepunched pages.). Afterward, I would have had time to quietly assess areas of difficulty and get feedback from the class about ideas that needed further elaboration.

My assignments were buried in the presentation, and I think it would been key to be able to stop and concentrate on those, and on how they were structured. If your still have the handout, I would appreciate any feedback on the assignment (and on any other area on which you want to comment). We are constantly trying to collect a “common assessment” based on fulfilling the requirements on the SOL’s, and I wanted to see how my peers assessed the validity and value of this method.

Finally, (in a perfect universe which is currently inaccessible to me), I would have finished ahead of the bell with enough time to explain the concept map, the skills students use to decipher them, and a foregrounding of some of the major branches to get the class started. I had wanted it to be more enjoyable than laborious. I was really tickled when Todd figured out the branch for “symbols,” and some of you laughed.

[In case you are interested in seeing the fly-ins and animation, I will send the ppt. by e-mail. I am not a master of this venue, but I enjoy making them. To see all the effects, you have to be in full screen mode. I use a remote control clicker so I can be at the back of the classroom when students watch the presentation. I will also include the concept map. Schools can buy licenses, or, you can order the software from Inspiration yourself. I had it for several years and did not think I had time to learn how to use it until Professor Sample suggested the concept map as an alternative in one of our assignments. I think it is an elegant way for your brain to put ideas in place.]

The second to the last page of the ppt. has a wonderful video by Dorling Kindersley’s Publishing about the end of literature and publishing, as we know it. It takes about two minutes; I was intending to end with it as a metaphor for expecting and getting a lot more from your students than you had anticipated: http://clivemcgoun.net/?p=1924
\"Future of Publishing\"

Reflections of a First-timer

Standing up in front of the class to teach last night was definitely a humbling experience, especially after following such great (and hilarious) presentations that were hard acts to follow. Thank you all for participating! If you can tell by my blog title, I have not yet taught in a classroom before, so this was a great experience for me to see what works and what needs tweaking (like perfecting the Blau guiding questions style.)

I would’ve liked to have had more time to present my mini-lesson on types of verse, ballad form, and pastoral, but for the sake of time I glossed over it. These were also ambitious concepts to cover (I am learning about this now in grad school and did not really cover this in undergrad), but I think it’s good knowledge for students to have in analyzing a poem. I am very thankful to Beth for answering what verse “Strange Fruit” might be in, and I am impressed that she recognized it would definitely not be accentual-syllabic (I think some students believe this is the only type of verse). I forgot to mention that I would have students keep a literary terms journal all semester that would be handed in with their portfolio at the end of the year.

When I wrote my reflection for my lit analysis, I was nervous that our class would develop an interpretation too quickly as I felt I did, because at our level of study it seems obvious. However, I also questioned whether or not an AP high school student or undergraduate student would understand what was happening right away, especially without historical context. My pre-writing on literature as protest and the drawing activity was meant to guide students into the interpretation, but I wonder if it was too much of a push?

I realize with the drawing activity, I should have started with the group that had stanza 3 (who would’ve drawn more literally based on context) and worked my way back to group 1. The idea of that activity was to get across the dichotomy of the Southern pastoral scene and the lynching. My fall back plan, which I think I would go with next time, was suggested by Prof Sample in my reflection paper. This was to give students one of the lines about the beautiful South and have them write a line of verse that would come before or after it.

My expectations were right that our class developed an interpretation quickly; however, I was still very impressed with the discussion and new developments I had not considered. I definitely had one of the “you learn more as the teacher” moments when the discussion went into Biblical references of Adam & Eve (I had not thought about this before, very interesting). You all had great informal and formal knowledge to contribute from knowing it was a Billie Holiday song, to sharing experiences growing up in the South, to providing intertextual grounding for the poem.

I also forgot to mention a post-writing activity for an end-of-year portfolio with the choice of writing a 3-5 page researched analysis on the poem or creatively writing an imitation of the style using imagery (or allegory for the overachievers).

Any and all advice will be greatly appreciated! Thank you again for being great sports.

Words on Words

Well, I was really glad I handed out copies of my PowerPoint because I really didn’t explain my lesson the way I was planning. I had more to say about the unit and my full-circle learning objectives and I am not sure they came across as well as I wanted, but that’s the way presentations play. Overall, I learned a lot about how I would actually present and teach these activities. Ya’ll were a great class to start with and I appreciate your comments.

Why did I have graduate students dress up in costumes? Because I do not have high school students to dress up in costumes. Seriously, this was my only chance to see how the Ivanhoe Tableau would work out, how long it would take, if the costumes would lead to the discussion topics I was hoping for, or if it would fall flat. The costumes were also a way to force engagement with the activity and help with the on-the-spot thinking of the activity. So a huge thanks to everyone who participated!

As I mentioned during my presentation, after seeing the limitations of the tableau I would definitely opt for a full Ivanhoe and have students re-act the scene with the new characters. I was just so bent on ‘teaching’ the three new reading tools that I couldn’t get the concept of the tableau out of my head. I really wanted to share these three reading tools which help me in my own reading process. We can never have enough tools to hand over to our students and I hope you found them interesting if not useful. However, the in-class comments on the impact of the additional characters (the non-literary monkey and Shakespeare) make the dramatic Ivanhoe a success. I wish there had been time to try the Question Relay before the Ivanhoe to see if this layering of activities produced different reflections. I was also pushing the Hamlet connection, but as we never had previous Hamlet discussions it was hard to frame this connectivity. I was aiming for a better discussion of how performance inquiries lead back to deeper textual interpretation especially when dealing with texts of meta-theatre, like Hamlet.

Any comments are really appreciated. I am curious about your take on the screenplay assignment and whether a Question Relay Follow-Up hand out would actually allow me less direct involvement in structuring a discussion or if I am kidding myself. Thank you again for playing along and allowing me the rare opportunity to teach a class.

Texts from last night

Thinking about my teaching presentation last night, the one thing that bothers me is that I did not do a good job of explaining how the lesson flowed from one activity to another.  I felt that it came across as individual mini-assignments that were loosely based, but not necessarily part of a cohesive whole.  As far as the pre-writing goes, we would have spent a good amount of time discussing the conventions of the comedy genre, and I would have referred back to the list we created during the later discussion, which hopefully would have tied the pre-writing to the story and discussion.  Actual discussion would also not have been as forced, and I would have taken the time to allow for a lot more student input before telling them what was happening and how it fit into the definition of postmodernism. I like to have allow lessons to form organically in each class I teach and this loose approach may have been detrimental to the format of the presentations for 610.  Oh, and I agree with Maggie that following monkey acting activities was not an easy task.

That is just me nitpicking however, and overall, I thought the lesson went fairly well.  You guys were fun to teach to and I wish we time to actually discuss the story, because I think it is fun.  Your evites were all great, good job, and a particular tip of the hat goes out to Alicia and her naked skating.  Thank you for your input last night, and I look forward to reading your comments.


First things first, here are the PseudoTweet posts you all composed last night.  I hope you enjoyed and found some educational merit in the activity.

  • Helen Krebs:  My brother is so lazy since coming home.  I wonder what he’s going to do with himself.
  • Mrs. Krebs:  Why doesn’t my son love me anymore?
  • Helen Krebs:  Hare probably won’t ever pitch to me in the back yard anymore—he just reads and walks to town and sleeps.
  • Helen Krebs:  Don’t get why my brother is so different.  What’s wrong with him?  Can’t we just play ball?
  • Mrs. Krebs:  Harold, have you found a JOB yet?
  • Harold Krebs:  No one understands what I went through.  My parents don’t respect me as a grown man.
  • Harold Krebs:  Goin’ by the girls’ school to see sis play some ball.  She’s got a killer arm and her friends think I’m cute.
  • Harold Krebs:  Mom made me breakfast in bed again.  Love the bacon, hate the passive-aggressive convo.
  • Helen Krebs:  Is it weird to call your brother your beau?  I just want to make sure he knows I love him, even now.  Especially now.
  • Mrs. Krebs:  My son is back from war and just isn’t the same—unmotivated, not interested in girls.  Are other moms experiencing the same?  Help?!?!
  • Short-haired girl who walks down street (to BFF):  Who is that creepy man who keeps watching us walk?  He makes me nervous.  Let’s walk a different way tomorrow!
  • Helen Krebs:  Don’t think anyone’s coming to my indoor game.  They think I haven’t noticed about Harold but I have.
  • Mrs. Krebs:  I am worried about my son.  He just lays around all day, walking aimlessly.  He sleeps till noon.  I wonder when he’ll get back to normal.
  • Mrs. Krebs:  Please pray for my dear son Harold.  He’s lost and needs healing from the Lord.
  • Helen Krebs:  Krebs is being so weird lately.  I wish he’d get back to his old self; I can’t figure him out!
  • Harold Krebs:  Geez, everyone should just leave me alone!  Nothing’s wrong with me!
  • Harold Krebs:  Lies are my essence.  The world is full of ‘em.
  • Helen Krebs:  Hare is coming tonight so I better pitch like crazy!  Have to pitch an A-game, time to impress!  He taught me how.
  • Harold Krebs:  Had I known then what I know now I would have never enlisted in the war.  It’s not like had to go; I chose to go.

On to my reflection . . .

Thank you all for listening so attentively to my presentation.  I have to admit, it was actually pretty disorienting to stand up there and see that I had everyone’s undivided attention.  (Needless to say, I’m not used to that with my 10th graders!)  I felt much more like a presenter than a teacher, as I don’t feel I incorporated enough hands-on activities to keep a group of 10th graders interested, but I hope the activities I was describing (when conducted in real life) would have done so.  In comparing my presentation with other people’s, I feel like I talked/explained too much and didn’t get “students” involved enough, but I knew that was going to be the case as I was planning.  I opted for a more information-based presentation partially because I was too stubborn to let go of any of the pieces of the lesson, but also because I was confident that you all wouldn’t need to do every activity in order to understand the learning objectives I have for my real students.  In any event,  I’m not sure it mattered as much to you as it did to me, but I’d be interested to hear your thoughts.

It was very difficult to forgo the discussion sections of my lesson plan because I knew you guys would have had great points to talk about.  Unfortunately, that’s not the reality of my everyday interactions with students, so although I would have personally enjoyed the intellectual discourse, I had to refrain from indulging in large- and small-group discussions of the text.  (I had considered scripting a more realistic discussion, but I decided to save everyone the pain.  I think we’ve all been there when the crickets are chirping—no need to simulate  the agony!)

I feel like the main thing I could have done differently would be to slow down and talk about a few assignments more in depth instead of trying to race through 2+ days of lesson plans.  Were I to do it over, I think I would focus on a few specific activities rather than providing an overview of everything.  One part of me doesn’t feel like I did justice to my learning objectives with PseudoTweet and the question flood because I glossed over them so quickly; I would have liked to have had more time to talk through my rationale for each one—which, in short, was that I wanted to encourage (force) students to read, engage, re-read, and re-engage with the story.  And I wish I had remembered to mention where I got the inspiration for my activities (Blau, Elbow, Greene, and Salvatori & Donahue).  Another part of me keeps saying that I explained it all in writing and that you are intelligent people who can read, so I didn’t need to bore you by lingering over details you were capable of reading on your own.  But I still think I could have slowed down and explained better.

I also feel like I should have incorporated more hands-on activities for the benefit of the audience.  I planned to do three participatory activities, but only got to two—the question flood and PseudoTweet posts; I was also planning to have you write/discuss one of the journal responses, but that was the first to go due to time.  (Sidenote:  I keep noticing that I’m thinking of you guys as the audience more than as students because I felt like I was presenting much more than actually teaching.)  Ironically, I sped through the explanations so quickly that I ended with more time than I expected and ended up being disappointed that I hadn’t included the journal/discussion activity I had planned to include in the middle.  I tried to revisit the topic of that lost activity (the story’s title), and I appreciate you guys having something to say about it, but that conversation didn’t flow as I would have liked.

Overall, I’m pleased with the lessons I created if not with how well I articulated them.  As I think I explained last night (it’s a bit of a blur), I had already read the story with my real students, and we did some of the activities, but I tweaked my 610 lesson considerably after seeing what did and didn’t work in my classroom.  I’m looking forward to trying last night’s version of the lesson next year when I have more time to dig into the story with students.

Please share any thoughts or suggestions you have about any part of my lesson or handouts.  I’m especially interested to hear what people think about the types of activities as well as the pacing of the lesson.  I’ve never purposely avoided full-class discussions as much as I did in this lesson, and it felt risky, so if you have thoughts about that, please let me know!

If I could do it over again …..

1) I would have managed my time better. I really wanted to spend more time on the last part of the presentation where the class would put together the likes/dislikes list for Collins’ “Interpretation of Poetry”. I wanted to show that poets usually agree with readers of poetry in that poetry should be accessible and that interpretation should not be the contrived and convoluted exercises that we all seem to remember from our poetry classes. I think that the two likes/dislikes lists – ours and Collins’ – would have been surprisingly similar. Unfortunately I did not manage my time well, so I never got a chance to make the point.

2) I would have trimmed down the list of guide questions for the presentation. I used the same list I used for my class, which was obviously overkill for graduate English students. This would have freed up more time for other stuff.

3) I would have read the poem aloud before asking you guys to read it. As it was, the poem was never “presented” as it should have been. This may seem like a minor point, but I think a poem should be heard before it is read. First impressions are important.

4) I would have spent a few more minutes emphasizing the difference between ESL students and native speakers of English. Their schema makes them unique, not only compared to native students, but compared to each other.I have a student from Mongolia who was living in a Yurt until she moved to the US a few years ago and another who lived in a refuge camp in Darfur. I think this would have helped explain why my lesson plan may have seemed simplistic to some.

5) I would have sung Pink Floyd’s “Time” rather than subjecting you to my butchered reading, although my voice has been known to kill small animals.

Feedback please!

First of all, I want to thank all of you for actively participating in my presentation activities tonight. I realize that by the end of class everyone is tired and wants to go home, so your enthusiasm was much appreciated and really helped me to conquer my nerves.

Now, I’m going to ask some specific questions that I hope you will answer in order for me to learn as much as possible from this experience.

1) Pre-writing activity – When planning this lesson, I had mulled over the idea of assigning students a pre-writing activity before giving them the story to read. The idea I had was to ask students to create a pamphlet, telling them that it would need to be something that they felt could make a positive difference in people’s lives. The purpose of this would be to have them approach the story with an understanding of just how difficult that task would be. Hopefully it would help them identify with the narrator and her struggles. However, I wasn’t sure if this activity would be age-appropriate for college students. Would it? If not, do you have any other pre-writing activities I could use with this story?

2) I posted six prompting questions to generate responses (3 for each part of the story), can you think of any that would have been more productive?

3) What did you think of the technique of breaking the story up into two sections? Did it help with your understanding of the text?

4) Timing – I planned two days for this text and the activities. Is that enough time? Too much?

5) Choice of Text – Do you think “The Pamphleteer” is an effective story for achieving the three objectives I had? For a refresher, those objectives were:

  • to practice literary interpretation through written reflection and group discussion
  • to establish a classroom environment that fosters group discussion and collaborative learning, and
  • to evaluate my students’ critical reading and interpretation skills.

6) Written assignments – Were they okay? Do you have any other suggestions?

If you have something to say about anything not covered in the above questions, please say it. I am impressed with the amount of practical knowledge and experience you all have and look forward to hearing your ideas/comments/criticisms.

Teaching Presentation: Marianne Moore “Poetry”

Sorry this has taken me a few days to get up. I have to say first off that I really enjoyed “teaching” everyone. It is nice to have a group of students who listen and actively participate—and don’t stair at you blankly when you are talking. I know everyone has said that but what a change of pace!
And again like everyone, I was nervous. It isn’t often that you get to teach other experts and I was very afraid I would say something that turned out not to be true. All in all I feel like the presentation went very smoothly and it was a lot of fun to hear the poems that were read. I wish everyone had shared. I guess in my own classroom I will get to read all of them!
One thing I thought was interesting was that I accidently self edited and skipped a portion of my lesson plan. I wanted students to compare a traditional poem, something along the lines of Shakespeare, to the Marianne Moore poem. I dropped it from my presentation though and I think it worked out really well without that portion. It may have been too repetitive for my students or confusing to compare the two poems and I think the lesson at least pacing wise worked well without that section. Perhaps it is something I could go back to or add in if it seemed like students were having difficulty grasping the lesson.
I guess that is one of the things I enjoy about teaching—it is always different. I think every lesson changes depending on the class, the knowledge level, or the weather outside! I like having to think on my feet.
I did enjoy doing this run through and I can’t wait to see what everyone else puts together.

Reflecting on teaching “Sleepy”

Overall, I feel that my teaching presentation this past week went fairly well. Thank you all for being such good students. 🙂 And thank you for bringing “Sleepy” to class and staying awake during my presentation. (Lame joke, I know.)

I’m embarrassed about how nervous I get when I give a presentation in front of my peers in grad classes. I’m fine in front of my students. I’m fine in front of my colleagues at school. I’m fine in front of strangers (for the most part). I’m not quite sure what happens when I present for a class, though. I’m still working on those nerves.

I wanted to start my presentation similarly to how I might start a class period with my own students. I hoped to then give a solid  but concise overview of the background and context of the lesson on “Sleepy.” I hope that that contextual information was conveyed as I was fighting back those nerves during those first few minutes. As I mentioned, I chose to work with “Sleepy” since Chekhov short stories is a new selection in our IB English I curriculum. I’ve never taught Chekhov before, so I really used this teaching presentation assignment to help me prepare to teach Chekhov. I started with my lesson plans for “Sleepy,” and then built other Chekhov lessons around that lesson–the short story review assignment, the Chekhov research assignment, and the group presenation on a selected short story. Then I also incorporated a focus on critical reading lenses into these lessons on Chekhov short stories. So, what started as one lesson created for the teaching presentation for class ended up as a unit ready to teach this school year! I was very excited to work with incorporating different activities that we had worked with over the course of the semester (especially Blau’s ideas/activities), and I was thrilled to have a ready-to-use unit created by the time I was done. However, the lesson-turned-unit presented some difficulties when it came to a 30-minute presentation.

After introducing the background for my focus lesson on “Sleepy” and I shifted from “presenter” to “teacher,” I felt much more comfortable! I was in my element, I guess you could say. I truly love teaching, and even though teaching is in some ways like acting or putting on a show/presentation, as Professor Sample said (sorry–I don’t remember the exact wording), I feel I am truly myself when I am teaching. So when I shifted from talking about my lesson to actually leading the class in the activities, I felt much more comfortable. Looking back, I wish I would have structured my presentation better so that we could have spent more time with the activities. I wanted to be sure to explain how the lesson was situated within the unit I ended up creating, and I guess I figured that providing the handouts on the critical lenses and the critical essay would help save time for actual activities. However, I feel that I probably spent too much time with explanations and short-changed the actual activities. I really loved hearing what others thought of the story and would have liked to have had even more discussion.

The teaching presentation is a unique assignment. I enjoyed working on my presentation, and I have definitely been enjoying all the other presentations! I’m enjoying the works that everyone is selecting, and I love that we’re sharing ideas and activities through these presentations. I’m looking forward to the next two weeks!

Reflection on Teaching Presentation

Well, first of all, thank everyone for being so participative! I’m sure my 8th graders will be just as receptive (*snicker*). In any case, I’m glad to say that I have finished my presentation! And I hardly remember any of it…

I tend to do that when I get nervous: the whole experience becomes a total blur. But I will at least spell my process out for you!

I chose this piece because I have a fear of teaching Poe. I adore Poe; he’s one of my favorites, but I’m always nervous about treating morbid subjects with kids. I think they should be treated, and I think they should read Poe, but it still makes me anxious. So, I decided to do a Poe piece to sort of stretch my teaching abilities.

The work we read this semester that most inspired me was Blau. I thought his ideas were truly the best ways to get students understanding and interpreting literature; however, his techniques were geared toward college-age students, and I teach middle-schoolers, so I tried to pare down some of his ideas as best I could for my presentation/lesson plan.  A few of the ideas I used were reading together in class, using the “jump in technique” (which I have started using in my classes with some hesitation, but I have found to work extraordinarily well; it’s my new favorite way to read as a group), discussing interpretations with classmates, and allowing the students to come to interpretations on their own. I have been trying this year to stay out of the conversation as much as possible, only jumping in to restate a student’s assertion for clarification or to correct a mistaken assumption.

I also pulled from Salvatori. I liked the idea of having students “write through” difficulty, though I thought the difficulty papers might be a bit much for them. So instead, I decided to have them re-read, using a double-column notebook (something many are familiar with) to note difficulties and possible solutions. This way, it shows the student is engaged with the text by noting where they lack understanding, and trying to engage in a conversation with themselves to achieve understanding. Then, I thought a la Blau, they could share these difficulties in groups to try and help each other come to a richer understanding of the text.

Finally, I capped it with the group discussions on literary terms to help cement the various literary terms and their applications in their minds. Though, in retrospect, I think I worded some of the questions badly, and I think I could have posed better questions. But I’m not sure if that’s me being self-conscious. Any feedback there?

Someone asked me about the homework assignment at the end of class, and I forgot to mention how long I would ask them to make it: I would say about 1 1/2 pages, typed, double spaced. I would not count this as a formal essay paper, and so I would not require it to be as formal as an academic essay. I would look more for ideas and the way they present the point of view (accuracy and creativity) than the formal language; though I would, of course, check for proper grammar. In any case, I hope you enjoyed my presentation and remember more of it than I do… 🙂

Reflections on My Presentation

First—thanks everyone for participating wholeheartedly in my writing activity and in the discussion yesterday! I really appreciate it.

Now, on to my thoughts about my presentation. Overall, I’m pleased with how the presentation went. Looking back on it, I think the best part of my presentation was the actual discussion. My plan was to talk about the context for my lesson for about 5 minutes and then to devote the rest of the lesson to the writing activity and the discussion. I’ve never taught before, so I really wanted to challenge myself with this project by building at least 15 minutes into my lesson for real discussion. I also wanted to moderate the discussion in such a way that we would hit about 5 different points that I thought were important in the story. I had a little list of discussion questions that I used to sway the discussion a bit, and I was really pleased that we actually touched on most of the topics about “Death of the Right Fielder” that I wanted to discuss (the characteristics of the right fielder, the story as allegory, is baseball as a sport important to the story, etc).

I really struggled with how to open the lesson. Basically, I examined the process I went through to write my interpretation paper and that’s how I came up with the glossary homework assignment. I don’t think that this assignment would be particularly necessary or all that useful for other texts, but I think it’s necessary for a story like “Death of the Right Fielder” that has many baseball references that may leave my students clueless. I talked about this glossary homework assignment in the very beginning of the presentation, so I definitely wasn’t 100% comfortable standing up in front of everyone yet. Looking back on it, I think I may have rushed through the explanation of the assignment a little. I’m curious to hear your feedback about this particular glossary assignment. Would it be useful in a real classroom?

I wanted to incorporate a writing assignment into the presentation. I picked the baseball poem because I thought it would get everyone to start thinking about the themes that were present in Dybek’s story and how those themes run through a lot of baseball literature. I would stick with this pre-discussion writing assignment if I were to teach this again, but I think I would put some concrete directions or some guiding questions up on the overhead to help students know exactly what I wanted them to be thinking/writing about.

Since this was one of my first times “teaching,” I’d really appreciate any thoughts/suggestions you guys might have! Thanks again!

Literature teaching reflection

I enjoyed teaching to everyone last night—you’re a great class! Thank you to everyone who participated.

Overall I was pretty pleased with how my presentation went. I thought I had a good balance of discussing the objectives and methodology of the lesson and doing the actual activities. If I had more time I would have liked to hear more of the responses people had written so that I could gauge how well my 10th graders would do with the assignments. The snatches of conversation I did overhear as I moved around the room sounded pretty interesting!

I decided to not write while you all were writing. I felt like sitting down to write would leave me too unavailable for questions and unable to observe everyone’s progress. With all of you this wasn’t an issue, but I know it would be with my sophomores. I’m curious to hear from others—have any of you tried writing with your high school students? I’m willing to give it a try, but I’m not sure my students would let me put down more than a couple sentence before they interrupted me!

After I finished I found myself wondering if I had explained my follow-up assignment on interviewing a parent very well. I knew I only had 5 minutes left and I think I might have rushed my explanation. The objective behind the assignment was to have students think more about Mrs. Sommers’ identity struggles and send them back to the text with hopefully a more nuanced sense of sympathy for her as a character.

If you had any thoughts or suggestions I’m happy to hear them!

Teaching Presentation Tips

Now that we’re moving into the second round of teaching presentations, I hope you’ll take the time to read through the first group’s thoughts about their presentations.

I’ll readily admit that it’s an awkward task I’m asking you to perform: part teaching, part breaking the fourth wall of teaching in order to provide context. Another way to think about your 30 minutes in front of the classroom is as an experiment. You’re the researcher and we are your guinea pigs. Seriously. Think of the students in the class as a capable and willing audience, at your disposal to try out ideas inspired by our readings and discussions this semester. If you’re an aspiring or new teacher, think of the presentation as a chance to try out a teaching persona. And above all else, think of this as a chance to learn from each other in a constructive and inviting environment.

Post Mortem

Dang, you guys are fast!

I felt both relieved and energized after giving my lesson last night. First, I was lucky that I had made a good guess about how long everything would take. Those of us who have taught hundreds of lessons know that you can never totally predict where a conversation will go in class or how long it will continue. Sometimes you just have to be flexible enough to scrap part of your plan and invest in what is working at the moment. I think everyone who presented did a great job of that!

I actually felt oddly guilty because you all made it so easy. Like Susanna, I think that my actual students would not have made the connections you all did. I would have had to sing for my supper with the 10th grade crowd (and I had those artificial transitions waiting) but you were a spectacularly insightful and helpful audience. I felt as if the lesson taught itself!

Abbie was also teasing me about my ineptitude with the technology (she spied me trying to push “F” and then “5” when told to push F5). I am well aware that the classrooms in this area are much better technologically enabled than what I am used to. I will have to brush up when I return to the classroom next year.

Overall, I want to thank everyone in the class for encouraging me to look at the teaching of literature in a new way. When I was back in Chelsea, MA, I felt lucky just to communicate the plot and to push my way through the standards (so, to teach required concepts like figurative language and symbolism). In this class, however, we have focused on what can be savored in the language of the text – in how it is written. I am learning to think that my job includes the responsibility to communicate the ART of writing as well as the elements of fiction. This is, indeed, a change for me. I think it is a valuable one.  In the future, I will be asking more questions about why authors write things they way that they do – not just “what did this author do?”  It should make better readers and writers of my students.

And now I look forward to hearing more from the presenters who are coming up! Thanks again.

Post-Presentation Reflection

First of all, I want to just say to Abbie (and others who are not currently teachers) that you are not alone!  Even for us teachers, at least for me, it is especially nerveracking to teach adults, especially other teachers.  I think it must be frightening for anyone to stand up there in front of all those literary experts!   Thankfully, in my case, after a few minutes of sympathetic smiles and actual participation (No one cried out “But I don’t have a pen!” or “This is boring!”), it felt just fine.  And I’ve heard it said at conferences that teachers make some of the worst students– but that was certainly not the case yesterday, and as a presenter,  I really appreciate your participation and support!

Next, I want to reflect on trying to cram in days worth of activities into one thirty-minute teaching session.  It was even harder than I thought it would be!  There honestly have been so many strategies and ideas that I’ve wanted to incorporate into my teaching from this class, and I think I just was trying to fit in too much.  I didn’t say this during the presentation, but I could probably have fit most of the activities into one 90-minute block, but the project would have extended the activity for several more classes.  In terms of timing, this is more time than I would normally allow for my students to engage in a short story, but it certainly is worthwhile.  I think I will do more work like this with shorter pieces, as a way to prepare them for analyzing longer works. 

In any case, with the time constraints and my own overplanning, I think we did start to enter into really interesting conversations and then, for the sake of time, I had to move the lesson forward.  I would have loved to have made more time for those conversations, and if I hadn’t overplanned, I probably could have!  Still, it was fun to see the vast difference in an adult reading of “Hills Like White Elephants,” versus my students’ somewhat less insightful reading. (They did seriously consider a drug “operation” in both of my classes.)  I was hoping to do more in-class reading, re-reading, writing, and re-writing, with this lesson, and I hope that came across in my presentation.  That kind of reflective and transformative reading/writing really is helpful for students, and I love some of the ideas Blau and Scholes have on how to conduct those kinds of lessons.

Lastly, I was trying to explain at the end that my students are essentially doing the open-ended creative project I passed out to you right now, but that their projects are on longer works that they can write about on the AP exam, Billy Budd, Sailor (by Melville) and The Awakening (by Chopin).  Many students were really excited to see on the list of project ideas “graphic mini-novel,” a first for me, and they really are taking off with that idea, if they’ve done it.  I did not explain this well at all, but one of my students took personal family photos and turned it into a storybook version of Billy Budd.  Another student used computer graphics and re-told the story of The Awakening with only pictures and no words (almost Nat Baker-esque in that regard).  Others are turning in their work tomorrow, and I just can’t speak highly enough of allowing students to create visual representations of higher-level literature.  I love that our class discussions on Nat Turner moved me to re-design this assignment with my students’ interest in mind.  A few students even asked if they could create a video game (though they admitted they wouldn’t have the time to “perfect it”), and when I said yes, that video games really can provide intellectual stimulation and have value, they were shocked.  I’m going to show them Gee’s book and tell them video games actually are helping me to learn how to teach better!  I can’t wait to see their faces then.

I guess what I am trying to say is that, though I am not overwhelmingly satisfied with my presentation, I did want to convey that I feel strongly that I have learned a lot from reading and discussing the material we’ve covered this year.  I know that some of my classmates and I have talked about how students have seen us “shaking things up” and they like it, and I like it, too.  Maybe re-reading and reflecting should be common sense.  Maybe assessing what makes something “difficult” should also be common sense.  Likewise, it should be clear that video games and graphic novels have something to offer us teachers about learning and about teaching literature.  Somehow, it’s all starting to come together now, and though it did not really come across in my presentation, I am grateful for all of the ideas I now have floating around in my teacher brain.

Also, I just wanted to say that I really enjoyed the other three presentations yesterday, and I am planning to “borrow” some of those ideas.  I’m looking forward to more!


So, I realize this looks a little eager, but I wanted to blog while things were still fresh on my mind.

Going first was good for my presentation anxiety, but it did leave quite a few wild cards as far as expectations. Overall, I’m very happy with how my teaching presentation went. I think the discussion went well, and we touched on a lot of the things I had hoped to touch on.

When comparing myself to the other presenters today (which I know I shouldn’t necessarily do, but), I realize that I didn’t really contextualize my lesson in a greater classroom environment or teaching “unit” as some people were calling it (this from a non-teacher!). I’m not sure if you all missed this element and wished I had touched on it (let me know in the comments section if you feel so moved!), but the truth is, I was probably so nervous that I just wanted to get started!

I am glad, however, that essentially my entire period was taken up with activity (as opposed to formal presentation) — I would hope that you guys enjoyed that, too. It was a good thing for me in particular (as someone who’s never officially taught before) because it gave me some experience actually leading the discussion and activity of an entire class for longer than just a few minutes. I was actually surprised at how quickly the half hour went by — I guess you were all right about that 😉

I will admit that I was a little disappointed in myself for how I posed the discussion questions. I don’t think I was always very clear (though you guys were great and picked up the slack!), and I think my nerves got in the way of me being very articulate. I guess ease in front of a classroom of (often blank) faces is something that comes with time and practice, but I just wish I could’ve done a little better.

Also, I appreciated Kathryn’s idea about letting the students read “The Lowboy” with and without the first ‘graph or two about Richard and his “smallness” to see how it affected their understanding, and probably their prejudices — that was a good idea, and if anyone wants to leave additional ideas in the comments, I’m all ears!

Thank you guys for your excellent participation and your patience with me as such a teaching newbie!

Teaching Confessions

First of all, Fairfax County would also be covering the historical context in U.S. History, so the eleventh-grade English program would elide with the History curriculum and provide a nice basket of context in which we could carry this work.  Baker does an excellent job of presenting the Africans prior to enslavement and the horrifying events of their capture; it is a much better recounting than a text could do.

I would try to do this assignment during February, Black History Month.

My work with this piece would involve, of course, having students “read” the graphic novel and excerpts from Stryon’s book. In order to bring in students who would not have done the work, I would be especially careful to visually outline the opening discussion and give all students an outline to complete as we proceeded.

 I would open the class with an interactive discussion about the context to be sure students were certain we were talking about the  slave trade in  nineteenth century America and anchor that to politics prior to the Civil War.  I would include a brief piece about the African participation in the initial capture of their own and neighboring people (a piece omitted in the SOL’s).  We would proceed to life situations for the immigrant slaves who had no status, language equivalents, skills, or protections in order to survive in the world in which they would find themselves.  I would prepare questions to bring out students’ responses to how they would feel if this happened to them and their family and friends.

When the basic work of understanding the text visually and aurally was completed,  we would get to the best part:  the kinesthetic connection.  Students would choose parts and rotate among themselves who would be the narrator.  All narrators would have a Lunch and Learn session with me to be sure their interpretation had a grasp of the desolation the novel demands, and to be sure there is continuity in the narrative structure.

 The students would come to school in period costumes and wear them all day.  We would probably be able to take one entire combined period of History and English to practice, and one to perform the play for ourselves.  If they students were excited about this assignment and the administration gave permission, we could present the play in a number of formats:  lunchtime for the student body, evening for parents.


After reading Nat Turner I really feel that there are a variety of ways to teach graphic novels in the classroom. I feel the graphic novel could be used to teach a variety of different literary terms and ideas—metaphor, flow of a story, narrative tradition, muli-genre forms, and so many other ideas.
I think in my classroom I would really like to teach a graphic novel in conjunction with a more traditional work. Not that I could teach Nat Turner, but if I could I think it would be good to teach it with other slave narratives. I really think could enhance the students’ learning process to be able to read a typical text and then to see a similar experience through a graphic novel.
I suppose as a media teacher it would seem likely that I would promote the use of different forms of media/literature for the classroom. I think the greater variety of materials we present to our students the better they can interpret anything we throw at them. I also think it forces students to look more deeply into all the things around them. I think teaching graphic novels could expand the way students look at books and other literary materials. I believe who is to say what is literature? If material has something someone can learn from it why can’t it be taught?
I think graphic novels would be an interesting way to teach different forms of writing to students. They could play Ivanhoe by rewriting portions of the graphic novel in the same style.
I am very excited about all the possibilities that graphic novels open up in the classroom and I look forward to finding more to read that may connect with lesson plans through out the year.

Disturbing and Intriguing and, dare I say, Different?

As promised, I said I’d delay my thoughts on Nat Turner until this week. So, here they are, though I’m not sure they’re much different from the views I expressed in class last week.

As far as the actal reading (of words goes), itwas interesting, though the words, as the book tells us, come directly from The Confessions of Nat Turner, so they are not really Kyle Baker’s own words. This not only had an authenticating effect, but also made the mood of the story more eerie. The words, coupled with the pictures, had a rather chilling and horrifing effect on me. This might be due in part to my overactive imagination coupled with a visual learning style. I could see what was being said, both literally, as well as in my mind, and it brought it closer to my senses.

That being said, would I classify this as literature? I’m still going to have to go with the “no’s” on this. I strongly feel it is something else…not literature, and yet, something. I would still place it in the “art” category before the literature category, because I felt I was putting on my “art appreciation hat”as I “read” the images. I had to notice things, such as the circles, the way light was used in the hanging scene, the shaded and shadowy lines when the girl is creeping away at the end. Yes, these are analytical skills, but they are art analytical skills. As for the art telling a story, as per a novel, I have looked upside down and sideways for a painting series I studied as an undergrad, and I cannot for the life of me remember the painter (if I do, I will repost), but painting series also tell stories in a similar way. The particular series was a group of 6 paintings. They would use, what McCloud would call scene-to-scene transitions, where you have to “read” each scene to know the story before moving on to the next scene. The one I am thinking of started in a painting where some men were gathered around a table talking, while a young man and woman sat, awkwardly staring at each other on the side. You understood, from the position of the men, and the strange expressions on the couple’s face, as well as the luxurious trappings around them, that this was an arranged marraige for a young wealthy couple. There were other signs, as well, that “foreshadowed” the couple’s unhappy end. The next few paintings led you through a sad story, where the woman had an affair, the husband was killed trying to defend his honor, and the woman ended up with syphillis (as depicted by a black spot on her), and the family ended up ruined, all because of the unhappy marraige. But, as I read Nat Turner, I felt I was using similar skills to decipher the story there. Only, I had the aid of a few words now and again to help me. This painting series was from the 18th century. A precursor to comics or graphic narratives perhaps? Not sure I have enough expertise on the subject to make that call, but I do find it an interesting connection. In any case, Nat Turner was disturbing, but so are many other things I read. It doesn’t make it any less valuable. It was intriguing, and I had to use a lot of analytical muscle to “read” it, so overall, a new and exciting experience for me!

Wow…I didn’t mean to drone on that long. It just happened. Then I remembered we’re supposed to say something about teaching a graphic novel. As far as teaching one is concerned, I have actually used them for my ESL students. Not of the Nat Turner variety, but they do make graphic narratives for students learning to speak English. It’s effective because the student can match the words to the picture. You ask vocabulary and comprehension questions at the end. So, if the story is about a woman talking on the phone (a simple example–the ones the kids read are much more interesting), then at the end, you might say : Who was talking on the phone? (The woman), thus they associate an older female with the word “woman.” Like I said, simple example, but you get the idea. That being said, I think they would be very effective to use with ESL classes to not only help them learn the language, but read the language, as well.

As a middle school teacher, I am not sure I would be able to teach Nat Turner or Maus to my students, though I might, if I taught older high school students or college age students. They seem an interesting medium to explore, and I would definitely have a discussion on whether they thought such works were works of literature or not. It seems a good way to introduce the idea of a literary scholarly debate! I would probably have them do a mock debate in the classroom and teach debating techniques along with it. I think that would be fun, but I always loved doing things like that in high school. It’s a nice, healthy, acceptable way to argue!

I feel like the kid who is absent the day people pick lab partners and is stuck with the weird kid

Basically, I am saying that most of the good options are already taken by other people.  Which is great.  I enjoyed reading all of your posts and feel that there are some really good ideas out there.  My post is basically a fragmented mess of semi-formed ideas, but that is often what my units look like before I actually start teaching them.  I’ve never been a plan every second of every minute of every class kind of teacher.  I have some general points I want to hit, but am usually open to any interesting side routes that present themselves along the roughly sketched path in my brain.

One thing that I would obviously want to discuss with Nat Turner, would be the gruesomeness of it.  But I want to go beyond just what makes it gruesome? or is this necessary? or is there any place for this sort of content in a serious literature class?  I would want to focus on how the graphic novel as a form achieves this revulsion in us compared to other media.  Does Nat Turner have a more visceral effect on a person, then a description of torture/murder in a novel?  How about a nonfiction account?  And finally, what about a medium where the viewer is more passive, like film or television?  How effective is each of these mediums in making us uncomfortable and what specific techniques does each employ in the process?  This would be tough in a high school classroom, as issues would obviously arise if you were to start long detailed passages of brutal acts  of violence or showing clips from violent movies.

As I mentioned last week, I think Nat Turner would be a great companion text for the novel Beloved. Many of the same themes are explored and Beloved is as much of a stomach punch text as Nat Turner in my opinion.  Nat Turner would also obviously work well with The Confessions of Nat Turner, by William Styron.  William Styron’s novel is interesting because it elicited a response from prominent black writers such as Ralph Ellison and James Baldwin** (called William Styron’s Nat Turner: Ten Black Writers Respond appropriately enough).  The main issue was that the black writers took issue with the way that Styron (white, Southern) portrayed Turner.  Questions arise about whether a white writer has any “right” to tell a historical black man’s story, and broader issues about depictions of race, gender, sexuality, etc.  Do certain people or peoples “own” certain stories?  Is there such a thing as out of bounds in literature?  Does anyone have a problem that Kyle Baker is a white man telling this story, and telling it in this way?

Have students pull what some people are claiming Thomas Gray did and write a completely fabricated confession of a real historical (or even someone in the news today) figure.  All they would need would be some basic facts about a marginal person in a history textbook and could fill in the details themselves.   If you want to get crazy, you could have them turn it into a graphic novel.  Writing a poem helps you understand the mechanics of poetry in a way that just reading poetry cannot, it makes sense that the choices involved in creating your own graphic novel would lead to a deeper understanding of the form as well.

**Correction:  Ralph Ellison and James Baldwin actually defended Styron, I misread the information I was looking at.  My apologies.  However, there was quite a brouhaha over Styron’s novel, especially when it won the Pulitzer Prize. There is a section on Styron’s novel and the response to it in the reading on Blackboard.