Tag Archives: high school

Diagnosing and Responding to Student Writing

From the Dartmouth Writing Program at Dartmouth College, some great thoughts on Diagnosing and Responding to Student Writing.

By no means is this is a stylish, high tech site, but if you look further into some of the links at the top, you’ll find even more great advice on assessing student writing.

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Failing to Teach The Hobbit

Failing to Teach the Hobbit by Christina Socorro Yovovich is an intriguing vignette involving teaching the classroom novel. If you teach any novel, at any level, whether by choice or obligation, this piece is a must-read.

Thanks, Christina, for sharing. The rest of us can learn a lot through your painful experience!

(Want to avoid the same experience? Check out what Kelly Gallagher has to say about How NOT to to Teach a Novel).

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Doom, Despair, and Agony on Me

“Doom, despair, and agony on me” were the cheery words that accompanied an old HeeHaw sketch in which two old coots in a corn field tried to outdo each other with their tales of woe. Funny in its hyperbole.

But in a recent discussion on the English Companion Ning, I asked, “Why is it that so many of our novels for middle and high schoolers deal with death?” Are those the only books worthy of study, or is it some weird fixation? Even this year’s Newbery Award Winner, Neil Gaiman’s The Graveyard Book, seems to celebrate that theme (see book trailer below from HarperKids).

I received some profound and enlightening responses from my colleagues that are worth a read. If you’re not a member of the English Companion Ning yet, the sign-up is free and painless, and the collegial atmosphere is one you’ll enjoy.  And if you’re a teacher studying a novel in class that deals with death, be sure to weigh in on the discussion!

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60 Second Recap

If you haven’t checked out 60 Second Recap, you’re in for a treat. 60 Second Recap is a collection of video clips covering the plots, characters, symbolism, and more of favorite classic literature for teens. But it’s not a dry, overly-academic examination. It’s a lively conversation hosted by a real-life, somewhat zany hostess named Jenny (you can find her on Twitter).

The site’s overview gives you a sense of the tongue-in-cheek humor that’s behind this great site:

“Eat your lima beans,” Mom used to say.

And now that you’re out on your own, honestly, are lima beans a staple of your culinary repertoire?

There, in a lima bean, lies the problem confronting the great works of literature. We’re all forced to read them in school so we can get good grades so we can go to a good college so we can get a good job so we can forget all about that literature they used to force us to read so we could get good grades.

The 60second Recap™ aims to break this cycle of canonical irrelevance. We want to help teens (yes, teens of all ages!) engage with literature. We want to help them see it not as some chore to be endured, but as — dare we say it? — the gift of a lifetime. How? Through the language of our time — the language of video. Video that’s focused, engaging, informative … and short enough to hold just about anyone’s attention.

Smirk if you must. Consider this yet another mile-marker on civilization’s road to perdition. But here’s the fact: You won’t get non-readers to read by forcing them to read more. You’ll get them to read by opening their eyes to the marvels awaiting them between the covers of that homework assignment.

With the 60second Recap™, teens finally have an alternative to the boring, text-based study guides that have burdened them for generations. And — who knows? — maybe that’s just what they’ll need to begin a love affair with literature, one that will last a lifetime.

In addition to the videos on classics such as Animal Farm, Of Mice and Men, Frankenstein, Lord of the Flies, and Hamlet, users will find a section called Recap Resource which includes a Dictionary of Terms (allegory, motifs, subtext, protagonist, etc.) and How to Write a Paper (that Won’t Put your Teacher to Sleep).  Again, these are presented in video form, which them much less intimidating for the average high school user.

The site also features an area for video responses from users, and another for users to request titles for recapping.

I highly recommend you visit the site and give it a look! I’m curious to see how it will change as it grows.

Know another great site for teachers working with novels? Find me on Twitter!

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New Teacher’s Guides at Harper Collins

Looks like Harper Collins has reformatted their homepage for teacher’s and readers’ guides. Lots of great free resources here for many popular books at all reading levels.

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Don’t Know Much About Literature

This review of the upcoming Don’t Know Much About Literature by Kenneth C. Davis and Jenny Davis (Summer 2009, Harper Collins) is somewhat biased.

First of all, I was a huge fan of Kenneth C. Davis’ Don’t Know Much About History. I found that book to be equal parts entertainment and enlightment. I’m not even embarrassed to say that 50% of that book was news to me. I’d probably still be enjoying it even now, but it’s one of thsoe books that’s too good to keep to yourself. (And apparently to good to give back to its owner…)

Secondly, as a teacher, I’m a big fan of his Don’t Know Much About… series Don't Know Much About Literaturefor students. Profusely illustrated with just enough facts to get them interested in learning more. Don’t Know Much About the Presidents is one of my favorites.

Thirdly, I love literature, although judging by my poor performance on this book’s quizzes, I’m obviously not as well read as I should be!

Don’t Know Much About Literature is a fun way to assess your knowledge of literature old and new, and to gain some tidbits to share in your middle or high school class (or your next backyard barbecue). Selections are typically one page long, with half a dozen questions about authors, novels, lines, film and theatre adaptations, and literary honors.

Here are a few random questions to test your literary IQ:

1.Which Toni Morrison novel received the Pulitzer Prize in 1988?

2. Which book was the basis of the Broadway hit The Man of La Mancha?

3. Who opened their poem with this famous line: “How do I love thee? Let me count the ways”?

4. Identify this short story from its first line: “In walks three girls in nothing but bathing suits.”

5. What was the first Agatha Christie novel to feature Miss Marple?

6. Who directed the 1980 version of The Shining?

 7. In what novel does this first line appear? “You’d better not never tell nobody but God.”

Do you even need to see the answers? C’mon, they were all easy, right? Well, just to check your spellings, if nothing else…

1. Beloved

2. Don Quixote

3. Elizabeth Barrett Browning (Sonnet 13) 

4. A & P by John Updike

 5. Murder at the Vicarage (1930)

6. Stanley Kubrick

7. The Color Purple by Alice Walker

If you scored 7 out of 7, I bow to your literary prowess! I missed the Miss Marple question and I’d be embarrassed to tell you my guess for #3.

So if you want a great gift for a teacher, a book of “stumpers” for your high school AP class, or just a fun read for yourself, you can preorder now and beat the rush!

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Unpacking Passages

If you dug the idea of using Quote Analysis, or if you teach The Great Gatsby, you’ll want to see the Unpacking Passages pages over at TeachEng.us.

What I like about Ben Davis’ approach is that he created an acronym which would better help students remember the steps. Even this, however, needed some fine tuning and some scaffolding, which Ben describes in an earlier post

Okay, if you still haven’t clicked onto that blog, one more thing you’ll dig is the presentation of the documents there, as facilitated by Issuu. If you’re a blogger, or if you have a classroom site, you’ll appreciate the cool format provided by this free application. 

Interested in more ways to organize student note taking? Check out my recent post on Graphic Organizers over at Teaching that Sticks.

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A Professional Learning Community (Made Easy)

You’re reading this post at the old How to Teach a Novel site. Continue reading this post or the most recent post at the new site.

Most of us who are psyched about teaching can muster enoenglish companionugh enthusiasm to get us through the most trying times. But it’s comforting and enlightening to dialogue with like-minded individuals once in a while, and the Internet lets you reach out across the nation and the world to do that.

If you haven’t already found it, I suggest you get hooked up with The English Companion Ning. Tons of blogs, forums, and groups for seeking and sharing ideas, sites, and resources. I dare you to spend just ten minutes there and not come away with a new link, lesson, or at least a laugh. If you’re looking for an approach for a lesson or suggestions for a novel unit, this is a great place to get in touch with professional practitioners like yourself. Jim Burke does some good work!

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Handling a Group of Witch-Hunting Grown-ups

You’re reading this post at the old How to Teach a Novel site. Continue reading this post or the most recent post at the new site.

Book burning in Berlin. Lesson lost on some, apparently.

Book burning in Berlin. Lesson lost on some, apparently.

This stuff still happens? In a way. This brief article posted at the School Library Journal provides some guidance for librarians dealing with parents who want to remove “objectional” books from the library. Definitely of interest to teachers who use novels which might be deemed controversial.

Be sure to read all the entries. One parent group concerned about gang activities at the local mall wants to remove all books dealing with gang themes from the library. First of all, does this mean that modern-day classics like The Outsiders and time-honored treasures such as Romeo and Julietwill be banned for the gang-related topics? And secondly, are Bloods and Crips really turning to the public library for how-to advice?

My take on this? First, educate parents. Provide them with information which summarizes the books you’re teaching, while at the same time providing a rationale; in other words, why this book and not another? Second, have a fall-back book for those students whose parents object to the title you’re using. For example, if a parent objects to The Devil’s Arithmetic, substitute another Holocaust-related novel. The two books can address identical themes, and be assessed by nearly identical means. This respects the parents’ wishes for their children while maintaining control of the instruction and curriculum within your own classroom. Third, be sure that all books you’re using have been approved (including read-alouds and micro-texts). You want the district behind you should an offended parent come out swinging!

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When Will We Ever Use This Stuff?

You’re reading this post at the old How to Teach a Novel site. Continue reading this post or the most recent post at the new site.

“When will we ever use this stuff?” is an oft heard refrain in middle and high school classrooms, and I’ll admit I often asked that question myself (most often in Math and Science). According to Carol Jango, it’s a valid question, especially when students are asked to write responses to literature. After all, apart from college professors, who does that in real life?

In her NCTE white paper titled “Crash! The Currency Crisis in American Culture” Carol provides some answers. Jago has taught middle and high school for 32 years in Santa Monica, California, and directs the California Reading and Literature Project at UCLA. She is president-elect of the National Council of Teachers of English and has written four books in the NCTE High School Literature series.

After you check out her white paper, be sure to weigh in at the NCTE ning. The follow-up comments make for interesting reading as well!

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