Friday, May 21, 2010

My NCTE Gallery of Writing Submission

Our students are beginning to submit to our Gallery of Writing: Fredericksburg Academy Writers. Here is my submission:


I've always been told I have her hands.
My grandmother's ring twirls around my pinky,
the swirl of diamonds arranged in her jaunty style,
a sweeping crescent surrounding a single stone,
nothing staid or common.

My size eight fingers,
monstrous to my teenage eyes,
earned my acceptance
because they were her large fingers.

I see her hand as I watch the ring,
pale whiteness shot through with the purple of age,
the ring glittering as if to say,
"I have life in me yet."

We believed the ring.

I watch her ring twirl, my ring now.
It is too small for my fourth finger,
the finger she wore it on.
I guess I don't have her hands
after all.

Thank you to all of the members of the EC Ning writing group who helped me to revise this poem.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Why do we read?

My AP English Literature class spent today reflecting on our lives as readers. Above (click the map to see a larger image so you can actually read it!) is a map of all of their choices for books they value in their lives -- some could not choose just one, some chose books their parents read to them years and years ago, some chose books they read last year ... But in the end, this is what they all decided was the answer to, "Why do we read?"
  • Because we find ourselves in books
  • Because we escape ourselves in books
  • Because books, even when read alone, connect us to a larger community
In other words, books are both ours and everybody's, and that is their beauty. Thank you, APEs of 2010 -- I will miss you.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

What Is Manhood?

I have made my choice about the senior course I wrote about in the previous post: I am gearing it to works these boys will (I hope) find engaging so they find themselves reflected in an English classroom and maybe choose to read more on their own. Hence, my draft essential question as the title of this post: I am going to present this course as a study of manhood around the world with them acting as my guide. We will (I hope again!) constantly question whether what is shown as manhood is embraced or denied, positive or negative, understandable or opaque. Here is a draft outline of the course -- with VERY draft forms of questions I am considering. Much thanks to the many "boy readers" thread on the EC Ning for many of the titles I am including. I would love ideas for questions you might ask with the literature we are reading.

Summer reading: An American man takes to the world out of dissatisfaction ... Why? Do we see ourselves in him in any way?
  • Required and self-selected essays from Michael Crichton's Travels
September: Where do we begin in thinking about why the world matters to us and manhood?
  • Self-selected reading tied to an area of interest from one of Crichton's essays
October/November: The Middle East ... What is all of the conflict about?
  • Excerpts from the Koran
  • A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini
  • The Pride of Baghdad
  • Excerpts from The 9/11 Report: A Graphic Adaptation
December/January: South America ... (still working on a draft question)
  • Short Stories by Gabriel Garcia Marquez
January/February: Africa ... How does literature reflect a country's men? Does it?
  • Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe
  • A Long Way Gone by Ishmael Beah
March: India ... Where are we now?
  • Short stories from Jhumpa Lahiri's The Interpreter of Maladies
  • White Tiger by Aravind Adiga
April: What are we left understanding? What are we left wanting to know?
  • A second choice reading

Thursday, May 6, 2010

What Is Our Goal?

I have spent some time today thinking about next year. I am teaching for the first time our non-AP senior world literature course. Our core texts are: Things Fall Apart, A Thousand Splendid Suns, The Interpreter of Maladies, and The Master of Go. A blend of new and old with an eye towards different parts of the world. This course is shifting from one semester to the full year though, so there is plenty of room to grow it.

Which brought me to my question: What is my goal? Which brought me to my larger question: What is our goal as English teachers? More specifically (because that question can be answered in myriad ways): What is our goal for non-AP seniors in a required English class?

These students are not looking to be English majors. These students do not often write for fun, although I would venture to say that at least some read for fun. These students have traveled the traditional path of an introductory course, British lit, and American lit.

What should they do now?

I see two initial directions to choose between: a study of exemplary literature from different countries (The Master of Go and Things Fall Apart route) or a study of culturally-leaning yet more modern adaptations (A Thousand Splendid Suns route). Now since my course obviously has literature from both of these routes, I know it is not one or the other. But what emphasis should I have?

Oh, and did I mention that this course will be all boys?

What would you choose as your goal?

Monday, May 3, 2010

Exploring Genres

I have been looking forward to this day with my freshmen for a week now: today is when we started our final unit in Introduction to Genres. In the past, I have ended the year with a free choice reading where I suggested they read genres they enjoyed over the year, but inevitably 90% of them chose the familiar novel. This year, I shifted my guidelines to try to encourage exploration of a less-familiar genre they discovered this year. So, we began with brainstorming:

Which genre have you enjoyed reading the most this year?
A. Rank them from 1 (most enjoyed) to 5 (enjoyed but not as much!):
  • Short Stories ("The Most Dangerous Game," "To Hell with Dying," "Bluestown," "Death by Landscape," "Singing My Sister Down," "Rules of the Game," "An Occurence at Owl Creek Bridge")
  • Drama ("Trifles," The Importance of Being Earnest, Antigone)
  • Poetry (see our poems here)
  • Nonfiction/Autobiographies ("On Being a Cripple," Night)
  • Novels (Frankenstein)

B. For your #1 choice, how often have you read something in this genre entirely of your own choice?

C. For your #2 choice, how often have you read something in this genre entirely of your own choice?

D. Final question: Of these two, which genre have you learned you enjoy but choose to read the least?

Then, I asked them to consider reading in this genre that they found they enjoyed but really had never chosen to read on their own. And this is why I love my students: they went along with my suggestion. Out of my ten students (I had only one of my classes today), only 1 chose novel, and he chose it because he rarely reads them. I teased him that I would make him read Twilight so he could really get caught up on the novel genre! Of the other students, 2 chose short stories, 3 chose poetry, and 4 chose nonfiction.

I am using a modified literature circle for this unit where they will meet in genre-similar groups to compare what they are reading (since they will be reading different representations of the genre) and tease out a deeper understanding of their chosen genres. My final goal for them is to understand not only their genre but to understand why that genre appeals to them -- what style techniques and topics are common.

I always want to give my students choice in their reading, but I also really want to push them into new territory so they grow as readers and thinkers an discover new loves. I do not always strike a great balance between these sometimes conflicting pressures, but I think I have struck a homerun with this one.