Thursday, August 28, 2008

Discussion Boards

I use the Turn It In discussion board with my students because I really like the way it threads. Our school's website offers a blog option, but it only allows responses to the main topic so students cannot easily show that they are responding to each other and not just my topic. I thought about setting up a class blog, but then the replies get threaded off individual pages. I have heard that threading is passe, but I still really value it for my classes. I have watched the depth of these discussions over the past three years, and I just cannot replicate them in another forum. The students are reading each others' ideas and thoughtfully reflecting and responding on them. This was brought home to me by a student who told me yesterday (just the third day of school) that this discussion board work was really neat and he really liked it.

Here is an excerpt. If you are familiar with my essential question ideas for this world lit course, this post was the way I got them started thinking about it. Their thoughts about thinking in general plus the personal way they apporach each other was more than I could have hoped for.

Topic #1: Why Do You Think? (And Do You?)
starts: August 25, 2008 at 12:01 AM ends: August 30, 2009 at 11:59 PM
Created by Susanne Nobles

"We've learned to speak and think in the epistemology of television, which is essentially filled with thought-terminating clich├ęs ... There is a kind of war against self-reflection, self-criticism, and real introspection" (Whitehead).

I believe literature of all kinds, and specifically world literature, can create a culture of intellect and thought. Yet reading world literature requires “two competing [tasks]: an invitation to identify (‘This text is about you!’) and a warning against overidentifying (‘This text was never about you!’) … Far from being an excuse for passive reading, ‘This was never about you!’ calls students to attend to a material world that is not their own, which means caring enough ‘to learn it’ … Can Westerners’ confrontation of a foreign text result in genuine identification …?” (Eck 579, 582).

When was the last time you really thought about something? Be honest … what does real thought look and feel like? Okay, when was the last time you did that?

Response #6:
I actually am a fairly reflective person and fall into deep thought on a fairly regular basis. I'd say that the last time I fell into deep thought had to be over this past weekend when I was dealing with a difficult decision that I had to make. I also find myself thinking more and more about college and what I want to do where I want to go, and how those decisions will affect me during college and later on in life. I guess I never really stop thinking about that subject because I find my self often drifting off into my own little world of self reflection on the topic. I never really think about the same thing, but often times I get into deep existential and philosophical discussions with my life where I ponder things untill my head begins to swirl, and I begin to lose grasp on the topic that I am trying to understand. I usually get into real thought when I am not distracted by anything else, however I can keep on the same subject for several days "pausing" my thinking until the distractions are over. Usually it involves picking my brain appart, presenting counter points and arguments to points that I am trying to make, and it ends with analyzing why I am thinking and acting in a certain way and what the consequences of behaving like that are. It's actually all pretty exhausting. So yeah I guess I would still have to stand with saying that the last time I did that was this past weekend, because It definitely fit the description of what I just put down.

Reply #6.1 to Response #6:
I know the same feeling, and I know we have talked about some of those issues between ourselves, specifically last year. And I think that the feeling that you are losing yourself in the moment is all the more of a testimony to how deep your thinking. I feel that the harder and longer you ponder something, the more questions begin to form, and the harder you have to think. This might be why so many of us avoid hard reflecting, because we find it is to much work.

Monday, August 25, 2008

The Start of School

It has been so long since I have been on my blog that I had to sign in again. Blogger had forgotten me, as I am sure my Twitter network had too, and my Google Reader is about to explode. I have not turned on my laptop at home in over a week -- true statement. I have spent the last week and a half "back at work," which really means at an overnight leadership camp with students, in 4 days worth of meetings misnamed "teacher work week," capped off with a technology-free weekend of my own making when I spent it with my brother's and sister's families at Kings Dominion.

So how am I going to do this? In a blog posting way below, I set out a summer goal of keeping both my blog and Twitter active. That blog post is so far below because I succeeded mightily this summer, and I enjoyed it mightily too. I enjoyed most the reflection I have been able to do on my teaching through this blog, and the things I have learned from my Twitter network have only added to that.

But the irony is not lost on me. Now that I am actually back at work doing those things I reflected on all summer I can't do it all any more. How do you balance your time? What wisdom can we all share to help us be 21st century educators connected with our PLN and also be those people we were before our PLN, people with students and families and lives beyond our laptops? Or can I ask a more specific question -- should I feel so guilty because I am typing this while I am at work?

Friday, August 15, 2008

The First Day

School starts in just over a week, so I am working on my lesson plans. I never can get actual lesson planning done during what is mis-named the "work week" for teachers before school starts. After a few years, this reality finally sank in, and I aim to have all of my inital plans written prior to the work week so that I can stop being so stressed in all of those meetings.

Each time I revisit my initial plans, I find myself rethinking the first day. It is such an important day, one that I always wish I could make more interesting and interactive. I don't want to do something just because it is interactive but how can I get students to interact when they have not yet begun their studies of world lierature? Today though I came across this article, the answer to my hopes (see page 5). I plan to ask my students to discuss in small groups, "What is world literature?" And then to follow it up with, "What are good questions to ask about world literature?" This work plays right into the point I had hoped to make with them -- that world literature is not something new to them but there are still many unexamined areas to be discovered.

The best thing about teaching is finding ideas from other teachers that help you make your own ideas finally click.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Fall Rundown

In the spirit of Dana Huff, here is what is on my plate for the fall. It is great knowing what my fellow bloggers are up to, and here is my list:
  • Teaching 2 sections of AP English Literature and Composition with a focus on world literature
  • Director of College Counseling
  • Student Government advisor, including heading up our new Leadership Camp this weekend. Two days of leadership talk and work -- I am excited to see how our student leaders delve further into what leadership is.
  • English Department Coordinator (main department focus: getting our consensus curriculum maps finalized)
  • Co-chair of our 10-year accreditation visit
  • "Overseer" of our school's first curriculum guide which is at the printer as I type -- I can't wait to see it next week and hand it to the faculty. I am still unsure about what my Head of School has in mind for my role to keep it current and improving ... stay tuned.
  • My 4 1/2 year old daughter will be attending preschool 5 mornings a week -- she is VERY excited. They have requested that we send in a computer headset for her, so she is a techie in making I guess.
  • My 2 1/2 year old son joins his sister in preschool this year -- and according to him it is about time. 2 mornings a week.
  • A member of Will/Cheryl's PLP with 5 other FA teachers as well as teachers from around the world
  • Thursday night yoga classes
  • Running three mornings a week with a new mom -- she is balancing her run with feeding and clothing herself and her son all before 7:00 AM. Amazing.
  • Attending NCTE in November as a member of the Commission on Composition. The theme this year is "Shift Happens" -- perfect.

I go back to work this Sunday with Leadership Camp -- it will be a great year.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Textual Analysis and Wordle

My AP English students and I start our year of close reading with diction analysis. With diction being one of the more concrete techniques authors use, it is a relatively simple way to jumpstart my students' brains into higher level style analysis. Even my concrete readers can underline vivid words and talk about their connotations. My colleague who teaches junior year English also focuses on diction in the second semester, so I can build on her good work. I am therefore able to start the year with a high-level technique that does not make my students feel they are in over their heads -- I have not found many more better starting points for learning.

We use the first page of Brave New World as our initial practice. Before my students actually begin reading the novel, I have them underline all descriptive words on the first page only (a great grammar moment as we discuss how, while adjectives and adverbs are by nature descriptive, nouns and verbs can be too). Then, by projecting the first page (here is the whole novel on-line -- the first page is the first 3 paragraphs) on a Word document, we mark it up and see the descriptive dissonance Huxley creates through his diction. The "fertilizing room" is cold, most sterile, and nearly dead. Through his word choice, Huxley has created a window into the metanarrative of his novel. We don't yet know WHY he does not like the society he is creating, but now my students can start reading as knowledgeable readers and not be lulled into thinking Huxley is presenting his own utopia. Oh the discussions that follow.

Wordle has entered my life now though, and look at what I can do to cap off this lesson:

The word "light" is one of the biggest. How does this fit with the bleak, cold atmosphere we have just discussed Huxley creating? Maybe my students will see through this visual tool how Huxley is layering words to build both sides of his message that life is being created here, life that maybe is still very important despite this society saying otherwise ...

I set as one of my goals last year to use more visuals in my classes. I tend not to be a visual learner, but I know many of my students are. Wordle is a great tool for this. Here is more about how to use Wordle with literary analysis (this NCTE blog has lots of great tech stuff if you have time to scroll through it). I am imagining that later in this novel I will have the students create Wordle maps of their own chosen passages and talk about what they discover about Huxley's message though his chosen words. Stay tuned for lots of Brave New World maps to show up in the Wordle Gallery ...

Saturday, August 9, 2008

Henry Ford and Literature and the World

I have just returned from a tech-free, two-week vacation, so sorry for the length of time between posts. My mind is humming now though after some great reading and rereading of books. I tackled Understanding by Design for the first time (one of my summer goals from below -- I am about done with all of my goals if you can believe that), and I am just about done with rereading East of Eden, one of my AP Lit students' summer reads. Lots of great ideas from UbD of course, but those will have to wait for a later post. As for E of E, I have read this book many times before, yet I learned once again the worth of rereading (I was honestly thinking I could rely on my memory for one more year before tackling this LONG novel again ...).

I discovered Henry Ford has a recurring role in the opening of my world literature class. Odd ...

When my students and I study Brave New World as our first in-class novel, we of course talk about Ford. We use this great short article as a comparison to the novel. If you teach this novel, I highly recommend taking just 15 minutes to have your students read this article after they have read about 4 chapters of BNW and write down connections between the two. There are so many, and the students can see so clearly the impact Ford had on Huxley and his thinking. Students are struck by how this automatization and mass production was truly revolutionary -- enough so that an author predicted a whole future on it and a future that is not so far-fetched in 2008.

Then I read this passage from E of E (from Part One, chapter 13, section 1): "It is true that two men can lift a bigger stone than one man. A group can build automobiles quicker and better than one man, and bread from a huge factory is cheaper and more uniform. When our food and clothing and housing all are born in the complication of mass production, mass method is bound to get into our thinking and to eliminate all other thinking ..." If you have the book, turn to this section and read all of it as there as much more than I will quote here.

This quote gets me thinking a lot about my overall essential question for my course, and I am still figuring out how to bring all of that together. But I do know that when we discuss BNW and the Ford article, I will be reading this passage to them to show how momentous this time in the world was to two authors from two different countries. I think they will be struck by this connection across continents and see how what we are discussing truly is life-changing stuff ... at least I hope they will.