Author Archives: deb56

“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:
\"Future of Publishing\"

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.

Graphic May Be The Way To Go

Deborah Kogon                                              

ENGL 610

Blog:  Nat Turner

March 31, 2010

            This is the first graphic novel I have read and I have to admit, I grouped this genre with comic books, or at least “No Fear Shakespeare.” Therefore, I approached this assignment with reluctance about the topic and immense curiosity about the format. Kyle Baker delivers the message in a powerful visual representation I could not have imagined.

            I had attempted to read the Confessions of Nat Turner for a Southern History course while I was at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro, but passed it up because the violence in the text was so graphic. In addition to the gruesome content, it was incomprehensible to me that a slave would have had access to the education, vocabulary, and tone Thomas R, Gray attributes to Turner. I did not care for William Styron’s 1966 Pulitzer Prize winning The Confessions of Nat Turner, as it seemed racially biased.

            I do not know why this approach worked for me except that I am extremely visual and the story, while horrifying and almost unbelievable, seemed to become hard-wired directly to my brain. There was no time to turn away; I just kept turning the page. 

           The most striking aspect of Baker’s Nat Turner is the way the novel set the piece in context. The brutal capture was more stunningly laid out in the visual format than any eloquently, terrifying syntax could. The reader empathizes with the African woman who desperately protects her child, then thinks death must be better than what life was to become. When I saw that noose thrown over the side of the cliff to catch her foot as she was falling, I was genuinely horrified and surprised. Baker does the same thing with the baby thrown to the sharks, with amputations, and with the final skinning of Turner’s body. I could not have read those passages, but seeing them was even worse. I will not be able to forget them.

Kogon 6 Blogging: Yes; Boring: No

Admittedly, someone of my generation is by habit, reluctant to expose their deficits of knowledge and their inadequacies of skill to their peers and the public. Seeing my name in the formal tapestry of the samplereality blog almost gave me a nervous breakdown when I realized what I wrote was up there forever.

The torture has served its purpose, however, and continues to demonstrate that, after I read the other posts, I am not so different after all. I admit to vicariously enjoying and tremendously benefiting from my classmates insights and references; I could never begin to discern all that is collectively known in this class, yet, I can now add it to my own accomplishments.

I have noticed that

1. In Magic of Teaching – I am honest about what I do know and hungry for what I do not.

2. In Risk Taking Made Easy – I wished very much to have had more hands-on experience of a             video/techno/graphic nature, and should have seen it coming when I bought a comic       book about Pope John Paul in the 1990’s.

3.  In The Obvious is the Most Difficult – I found out that there is an instruction book on how to    do the unknowable:  read.

4.  In Baldwin Redeems His Characters -I was able to use Biblegateway (a double whammy of     public education filtered through religion).

5.  In Williams and the Struggle of Paradox -I bravely brought out dark meaning in one of my      favorite poets, and managed to respect myself in the morning.

As for rookie mistakes, I had lots of them. The most obvious is my misspelling of “obvious” in the title of Blog #3 and, my favorite, using my age in my username when I signed up for Twitter, not realizing it was visible to everyone. I am not nervous about that anymore, either.

Williams and the Struggle of Paradox

Placed and prized ever since in the 1938 publication in the book Life along the Passaic River, my favorite William Carolos Williams’ short story “Use of Force” is a first-person exposition with very little dialogue. I am comfortable with the tension created by the lack of quotation marks, as I like reading in a smooth steam, and Williams’ intensions to tell the story appear to be clear. Focusing on his profession, Williams is recounting a story from the medical practice in which he started out.

The words are important in social discourse and we discover as the narrator draws our attention to the uncomfortable welcome the mother into her house, that the doctor is an important guest whose presence is crucial. The object of the visit is her sick daughter. Williams describes the daughter as “One of those picture children [sic blue-eyed blondes] often reproduced in advertising leaflets and the photogravure section of the Sunday papers” presuming the readers’ familiarity with reading and with these American publications (22). This identifies his audience but puts distance between them and the characters in the story.

Doctor, father, mother, and the beautiful Olson child are afraid because cases of diphtheria have been found in the local school district and its contemplation, embedded in the social context of life in the poor industrial towns of New Jersey, was too awful to even be spoken about out loud. The child says her throat does not hurt, she has a fever, and she will not let anyone look at her throat. Here we have to defer meaning of the title “Use of Force.” Who would want to force something on a very sick child? The examination becomes a test in several layers.

The most obvious area to look for closure is in how the doctor has to eventually force her mouth open in order to see her secret: “both tonsils covered with membrane” (24). I see meaning in a more disordered sense of the title, however. Deferring until I had reread and highlighted the sexual and physical terms in the story, I also see another struggle or use of force.

Observing moments of difficulty when the narrator’s description, which if taken out of context, could be mistaken for a physical act of abuse, we hear that he “had already fallen in love with the savage brat” and that “her parents were contemptible to [him]” (23). He “wanted “to kill” her father over his behavior and word choice (23). When the doctor first tried to see inside the child’s mouth he says “…I coaxed, just open your mouth wide…opening both hands wide…just ….let me see” (22). He thinks of her as a heifer (22). Her magnificent blonde hair…is in profusion” and he wants to “expose her throat for inspection” (22, 23).

Likewise the child looks at her adversary with “cold, steady eyes, and no expression to her face whatever” (22). She pounces on the doctor with catlike movement[s], knocking his glasses off (22). She “fights valiantly” to keep him away (24).

These major clues of dysfunction in the natural order of caretaker and innocent could actually describe a rapist’s behavior: “I could have torn the child apart in my own fury and enjoyed it. It was a pleasure to attack her. My face was burning with it (23). Why else would he make an “unreasoning assault” and “overpower the child’s neck” (24)? The concluding evidence implies her rage and downfall as she attacked him again with “tears of defeat blinded her eyes” (24).

Baldwin Redeems His Characters

Isaiah 51:17-22 (New International Version)

The Cup of the LORD’s Wrath

17 Awake, awake!
Rise up, O Jerusalem,
you who have drunk from the hand of the LORD
the cup of his wrath,
you who have drained to its dregs
the goblet that makes men stagger.

18 Of all the sons she bore
there was none to guide her;
of all the sons she reared
there was none to take her by the hand.

19 These double calamities have come upon you—
who can comfort you?—
ruin and destruction, famine and sword—
who can [a] console you?

20 Your sons have fainted;
they lie at the head of every street,
like antelope caught in a net.
They are filled with the wrath of the LORD
and the rebuke of your God.

21 Therefore hear this, you afflicted one,
made drunk, but not with wine.

22 This is what your Sovereign LORD says,
your God, who defends his people:
“See, I have taken out of your hand
the cup that made you stagger;
from that cup, the goblet of my wrath,
you will never drink again.

23 I will put it into the hands of your tormentors,
who said to you,
‘Fall prostrate that we may walk over you.’
And you made your back like the ground,
like a street to be walked over.”


Baldwin’s  1957 short story “Sonny’s Blues” is rife with Biblical imagery.  Told in the first person, as if God was speaking, Sonny’s brother has all the information at his fingertips, if he only knows how to use it.  Often stories written from no-name points of view are set up that way because the audience does not really need to know any more about the narrator than that he is the person in the best position to tell the story.  Baldwin finds Sonny to be the main character in the story and the one who learns how to survive the hard way. The older (nameless) brother is along for the ride while picking up essential life skills he did not know he needed.

Based on Baldwin’s tough life in Harlem’s mean streets, the narrator could be Baldwin himself, although it is an unacknowledged assumption.  He is supposed to take care of his younger brother, Sonny, after his mother dies.  Accomplishing this by moving Sonny in with his wife Isabel’s family while he goes off with the military gives us the foregrounding for the older brother’s sense of responsibility.  The plot continues along describing Sonny’s Bebop haunts and the narrator’s school where he is a teacher, until Sonny’s arrest for heroin possession and distribution.

Ending the pleasure and beginning the difficulty, we begin to see why we have arrived here:  why isn’t the older brother taking care of Sonny?  What are Sonny’s vulnerabilities?  How did the older brother become so strong or was he always invincible?  Finally we want to know how redemption will be included in this history of misery.  Sonny is certainly miserable in jail, but what of his brother, never seeing his own misery or understanding how others can be helped out of their torment?

We can hypothesize that like Isaiah and Ishmael (and blindly assume) the brothers come to an understanding.  This would make sense as Baldwin often has Biblical themes about favored sons in his work; Sonny is repeatedly held out as the favored son, while the narrator is left to deal with a far more ominous father, even though Sonny wants to follow in his uncle’s musical footsteps.   The story alludes to Biblical passage of the man lying in the street which refers to the uncle’s tragic death after being run over while walking with his guitar.

Appropriately during this Harlem Renaissance scene, Sonny redeems himself through his music when he finally plays with meaning and spirit all that has been pent up inside him.  Prior to this the narrator distains the new Bebop sound Sonny loves, for the higher plane of Jazz.  As his older brother has a glass of milk and scotch (“a cup of trembling”) placed on top of the piano where Sonny is playing, the narrator show he understands that music is lifting his brother up, regardless of what kind of music it is; and, it will save him.


“The burden of the word of the Lord for Israel, saith the Lord, who stretcheth forth the heavens, and layeth the foundation of the earth, and formeth the spirit of man within him. Behold, I will make Jerusalem a cup of trembling unto all the peoples round about, when they shall be in the siege both against Judah and against Jerusalem. And in that day will I make Jerusalem a burdensome stone for all peoples; all that burden themselves with it shall be cut in pieces, though all the nations of the earth be gathered together against it.” (biblebb)

Works Cited,+Biblical+phrase+in+Zechariah&cd=8&hl=en&ct=clnk&gl=us

Kogon 3 .610 Risk Taking Made Easy

Kogon 3.610 Blog 


Risk Taking Made Easy

Shuffling together (like cards before they are dealt) Schulman’s piece Taking Learning Seriously and Gee’s What Video Games Have to Teach us About Learning and Literacy, and eloquent comprise between how intellectually understanding and accessible knowledge emerge.  Schuman argues that we teach too wide a variety of subjects which disallows the opportunity to go deeply into any one major concept (8). This shocking revelation surfaced during the comparison of results between US and Asian/European AP test scoring.  We were woefully behind. 

It appears our standards-based learning model goes broad but not deep into subject matter; we try to cover everything but, in essence, giving students a smattering of knowledge misses the mark.  A better way to learn is to focus on major, but fewer, bodies of work in each subject area, delving deeply into those pieces for building blocks on which the student can base queries on works yet to be taught.  In other words, once taught to fish, the student can then feed himself (or figure things out) in the future.

Pointing out that girls stop playing video games and enjoying math (and I would add,  participating in sports) around the time of middle school, Gee indicates concern that they (girls) might be left without not only technological skills, but without the confidence to see and solve problems using visual and multi-modal texts (13, 16).

Maintaining that we are always learning, and that all information is connected, Gee shows how the semiotic, “’an area or set of activities where people think, act, and value in certain ways’ –an area like video gaming…”, areas fit into the semiotic domain, or “practices that recruits one or more modalities…to communicate distinctive types of meanings” (19).  Drawing attention to the need for teenagers to practice real world skills, Gee explores the connection to great amount of time well spent on video games with the principle Erik Erikson identified as the crises of psychosocial moratorium (59, 69).

Erikson stresses the adolescent’s need for a “sense of identity through [their] accomplishments (Crain 282).  Within the world of video gaming, the student is enticed to try and take real world risks that can and will result in empowerment with no threat to status or embarrassment (Gee 61, 64).  This author maintains the ”Psychosocial Moratorium”  as Principle #6 in the steps toward efficacious learning with cognitive skills (64).  Now we can see a brighter future for the girl who sticks with the 30-100 hours of video play in order to enter and succeed in the world of gaming (Gee 2).  We can almost hear her as she stands up indignantly and “demand[s] to know who told [Gee that] girls don’t play video games” (14).

 Works Cited

Crain, William.  Theories of Development, Concepts and Applications.  4th ed.  Upper Saddle River:  Prentice, 2000.

Kogon, Magic: Learning To Teach How To Teach

610 Blog  2/3/10/10

 Kogon, Magic:  Learning To Teach How To Teach

 “The Reader’s Apprentice:  Making Critical Cultural Reading Visible” sounds like a magical work, and, it would be magic if I knew how it worked.  Metacognition, the process of knowing what you are thinking while you are thinking it, is a skill I can barely demonstrate while not speaking my thoughts out loud.  Teaching this concept is the beginning point in including high school students in the world of deeply understood text.  How to know how to teach them is beginning point of my exercise here.

 Linkon demonstrates how teachers introduce students to the text by using background information including the historical frame of the piece, the point-of–view generated by this context, the literary form and genre of the text, and, the she tops it off with genre placement and critical interpretation.  We all understand the problems in student work generated by this in-and-out process: they paraphrase or go off on an undesirable tangent, and they do not make effective use of their outside research or the content resources we give to them (253).

 So how do we incorporate the solution to what we know will happen with what we want to happen?  The Experts vs. Novices challenge is a good place to start.  We’ve learned that experts differ in how much they know, how they categorize this information, and how readily accessible their facts and analyses tied to their prior knowledge are.  Modeling basic strategies while prereading, reading, and rereading texts allows students to acquire and access the skills to decode the work they are reading.

 One of the links on the Visible Reading Project website links to a poster by Randy Bass of Georgetown University:   In the middle column is a paragraph titled “Learning Activity Breakdown.”  Click on the link and you will see a table on: “reading a text to generate researchable questions.”  It is a two-entry notebook graphic that allows for three levels of reader accomplishment.  The strategies and their correlating obstacles form the basis of what we know and what we would like to know.  Now, if I could only do that in my head without talking aloud.

The Obvious Is Often the Most Difficult to Discern

After this week’s readings I can see why a well-thought out lesson is not always a success.  Frequent questions and frustrated quips stop the lesson such as “I don’t understand,” and “How am I supposed to ask you a question about something that’s too hard to know what to ask?” As in Salvatori and Donahue’s The Elements (and Pleasures) of Difficulty, it is obvious that one of the difficulties I have is gauging my audience.  Prior to engaging students in learning, the challenge appears to be preparing them for the opportunity that they may not understand the material, and letting them know that we have a plan for that circumstance. 

 During a lecture to a multi-education [level] public high school class, I present material by going for the “Big Picture” first, as an objective.  After accessing prior knowledge to foreground the material and exploring who might have a particular claim on the information, I tell my students that at any point in the class they can come up and write a question or observation concerning what I am saying on the board.  Then, using an outline, illustration, or graphic, I delineate the facts I’m offering in the lesson.  My plan is to conclude with the classes’ questions, based on what is not understood, interspersed with observations of what does not make sense, and (hopefully) form a common consensus of the material.  Co-operation works both ways. 

 It is obvious to teachers and parents that even the most motivated students can become complacent at times.  My favorite: while in a room with an 18” diameter clock:  “What time is it?” 

 You cannot observe the internal process of understanding or questioning.   In Difficulty, the authors point out that the student should realize that textbooks and literature are the results of a vast body of well thought-out work (6).  This appropriately implies that an equally vast effort might be required to understand the text.  Students rarely seem to have time to do the work required to unpack this suitcase of knowledge, because they are off to the next lesson: Math after English, PE after Physics.  This disruptive pattern of exposure to themes, coupled with a three-month gap in the re-enforcement and progression of information and ideas, stresses retention ability and the development of learning.

 Drawing attention to the importance of how the material is framed in “How People Learn:  Brain Mind, Experience, and School” is the graph of a chess board memory test.  Players of high, intermediate, and limited experience with the game are show the board for several seconds and asked to recreate (23).  Eventually, they all did quite well.  The difference in how long it took the subjects to accomplish the task with accuracy lies in the chapter title, “How Experts Differ from Novices”; experts notice patterns and can organize and interpret the information using their ability to remember, reason, and solve problems; novices look for one particular fact or formula they can grasp and apply.  This results in a lower quality of choices on the novices’ part (19).

 In addition to the effect prior knowledge has on learning and interpreting material, is the frame in which the material is placed.  In the chess example above, the experts did not always do well in remembering the game board.  This occurred when the pieces were placed with no recognizable pattern.  We can apply this in a multitude of both common and demanding circumstances such as peer patterns, cultural norms, language barriers, and learning differences.   With this is mind, reading strategies such as foregrounding the material and analyzing what makes it difficult for you to come to an understanding of it, demonstrates where my future focus should lie.