Category Archives: Literature Related

National Write-A-Poetry-Paper Month!

IMG_20180406_125134

April is National Poetry Month and with a bit of scheduling luck, I find myself knee-deep in Harlem Renaissance poetry. Let me be upfront: I love poetry.  (I make no claims of ability to write poetry. )  I love that a line break can mean so much more than the return stroke on a keyboard; I love deciphering how one writer selected this adjective, that phrase, these punctuation marks.  I love teaching the Harlem Renaissance greats: Langston Hughes, Angela Weld Grimke, Claude McKay- their works answer tradition with a mixing and reinventing so unique to their experience of the 20th century.

I. Love. Poetry.

Many of my students, however, struggle to find the same comfortableness in poetry that they have in novel study.  This is not particularly a new truth for teachers; many students report poetry analysis as the most difficult or elusive task.  A quick google search will yield thousands of worksheets, methodologies, acronyms, and suggested poems for implementation.  For years, I’ve proscribed to the the TPCASTT method (Title, Paraphrase, Connotation, Attitudes, Shift, Title, Theme) and in the last three, I’m not entirely sold on its effectiveness.  Understanding connotation means understanding the intentional inferences of a word; attitudes relies on knowing the difference between tone and mood.  In this method, all of this happens before a realization of theme.  This year, I decided I would do a study of comparison.  I used TPCASTT in the early modules of the Modernism class and in these last modules, I am implementing my own poetry toolkit for classroom use.

Scaffold

Scaffold Technique for Poetry

My early Modernism modules demonstrated exactly what I feared: my students did not identify poetic terms or differentiate their use from novel study and their annotations focused too much on basic understanding of figurative language.  Many of my students felt so overwhelmed by the TPCASTT system that their thesis compositions included every device, rather than selecting the best use of that term according to their claim.  I knew that in developing my own annotation system, I wanted some kind a scaffolding, a way for my students to feel the move from simple annotation to complicated analysis.  I knew that the first scaffold would be an exploration of the poem and its meaning.  The second scaffold would narrow a literary analysis to just the essentials.  The last step would involve syntax focus and claim development.  The difference has meant a much more organized approach to annotating yet still relies on the student to understand and select poetic devices; the chart has greatly improved the evaluation of syntax.  As seen in the student artifact below, leveling the scaffold asks the student to evaluate the intent of the poem before a dive into syntax; the syntax progresses into a thesis or claim about the poem.

Student Scaffold

Student Artifact of Claude McKay’s America”

Implementation is just one part of re-inventing how I teach poetry (more soon on helping students categorize kinds of literary terms).  I am hoping the third tier in this technique will push them into a thesis development.  Since I am a firm believer in providing examples or demonstrating active practice, we reviewed Langston Hughes’ “Advertisement for Waldorf-Astoria” using this technique and then color coded parts of the chart used for introductory paragraph building.

Capture3.PNG

Using the tier system to move into introductory paragraphs

I’m anxious to see how this system helps move them into analysis and paper construction.  Mostly, I’m excited to explore poetry during National Poetry Month!

Stay tuned for Part II: The Poetry Paper Outline.

Advertisements

Leave a comment

Filed under Literature Related, Teaching Methods, The Write Stuff

A Book Review!

downloadSometimes, I can write for fun- so excited that H.P accepted my book review for Octavia Butler’s Fledging.  Find it at his blog, Everyday Should Be Tuesday!

Leave a comment

Filed under Literature Related, Uncategorized

How My AP Literature Teacher Crushed My Post It Note Dreams (And Taught Me How to Annotate)

What makes a good reader?

I’ve spent the last two years of teaching juniors trying to answer this very question and each year I arrive at some same things and some different.  This year I taught a class of freshman for the first time.  While I learned many things while teaching freshmen, the course itself demanded that both student and teacher have a clear understanding of what exactly is a good reader.  In fact, one could argue that freshman year objectives are centered around habits of a good reader.  So how do teachers answer that question?

If taking 9th grade “Coming of Age” Module, it means reflective interaction with the text.  Don’t be fooled; this is just a fancy way of saying good annotations.  I was somewhat suprised that most freshmen do not know how to annotate.  Only somewhat surprised because I did not know how to annotate well until college.  But what exactly are good annotations?  And do annotations make strong readers? The short answer is yes and no.

Stick noteGrowing up, I was never allowed to mark in my books.  Books were assigned and the classroom copy recieved was kept in near pristine condition despite years of use.  My teachers threatened us with hefty fines if a book dare have a stray pencil mark.  This was problematic; I am a visual learner who needs a tactile experience to remember things.  I need to write in books.  I need to ask my questions in the moments I read them.  (And believe me, sticky notes and the book are not the same thing. ) My senior year in high school, my mother decided she was through buying massive amounts of sticky notes.  She bought my books for the AP Literature and AP Language classes.  The struggle then was not “could I write in a book and get away with it” but “what do I write in the book now that I own it?”  My current color coded system seemed out of place.  The pink sticky notes that indicated a vocabulary word or the blue sticky notes that indicated a good quote lacked the immediate silent scream they once had when they hung over the page edge. “This page, right here, this page” became very irrelevant when I could write in the book.  But what would I write?

I started the AP course and the first thing the teacher told me was that I did not know how to annotate, that it didn’t matter if I used sticky notes or if I wrote them in myself: it was not annotating.  (I’ll spare you the grief-striken two days I spent moping over sticky notes.)  I’ll never forget that moment, the teacher looking at my highlighted, color coded inked notes while we read Hamlet, Act I, Scene 5.  Lady Macbeth musing over a letter from Macbeth, newly Thane of Cawdor:

Yet do I fear thy nature;
It is too full o’ th’ milk of human kindness
To catch the nearest way.”  (Shakespeare I.V)

“That’s not annotating.  Where are your questions for Lady Macbeth? Your own reactions? Why is that word important?  How do know that quote means more than a series of phrases?”

When I teach good annotations, I start with this story.  I think my students feel the same I did all those years ago; they know to define words that are new to them.  They know how to identify strong passages.  But like me, they don’t know why they are important or how to use annotations to breathe into a text, to let the story completely overtake your thoughts (or corrupt your thoughts in the case of Macbeth). They don’t know how to interact with both story and their own curiosity.  I knew enough to highlight Lady Macbeth’s famous lines, but I didn’t know to engage them.  I had to learn, to be pushed into what I’m calling annotation justification.  I had to ask myself why that word, that phrase, that moment was important to both me the reader and me the audience.  One digests information; the other reacts.  I had to learn how to change my annotations from “this is Lady Macbeth commenting on Macbeth’s inability to act on his ambitions” to “fascinating that Shakespeare makes a woman the villian, and that she is labeled such because she chooses to aggressively pursue power through her husband.”

Capture3

Annotating for intent, Maya Angelou’s I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings

 

It didn’t happen overnight.  It did happen though.  My teacher spent the first ten minutes of every class sharing her annotations, quite literally, under a document camera.  She justified each notation.  And when she couldn’t, she asked questions about why that seemed important; she predicted why it might become crucial to a character.  She did this every day of the six months I spent in her class senior year.  Did I still define words for clarity? Yes.  But I hunted down better words, words that pushed on the text (“the milk of

human kindess” instantly feminizes Macbeth).  And it changed the way I read.

Capture 2

Annotating The Alchemist by Paul Coelho

 

I provided the same courtesy to the freshman.  Under a document camera (even old technology can be the best for a particular purpose), I justified every annotation of mine for Maya Angelou’s I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings and for Paul Coelho’s The Alchemist.  And I let them ask questions, interrogate my selections or sometimes dialogue about the questions we shared as a class.  Will it make them better readers? Maybe. Do I worry they will create systems of organizations so complex it will overwhelm more than help? A bit.  But at the end of the day if the only lesson learned is that becoming a good reader is hard work, I’ll take it.  If at the end of the day, they find value in their own questioning and engage words that push through meaning, then I know I’ve created readers who will keep reading.

And I’m wondering what that might look like when I see them again as juniors.

Leave a comment

Filed under Literature Related, Teaching Methods, The Write Stuff

“Nolite te Bastardes Carborundorum”

I love it when the seniors leave little gems in their OneNotes for me to find.  Especially when in the midst of The Handmaid’s Tale by Atwood.

IMG_4949

Leave a comment

Filed under Literature Related, OneNote Teaching, Uncategorized

Life is Not a Solo Act. [Nor is teaching.]

My 11th grade English teacher had one motto and one motto only for nearly every inquiry or sought after advice: life is not a solo act.  A high school me understood that as the importance of friends but, while a true sentiment, not quite how I understand that motto now.  In fact, my previous understanding rings a bit false; we all need friends but that doesn’t always guarantee you are not a solo act.  Friends are often our most forgiving audience.  No- I think Mrs. Isenhour’s motto was about something slightly different than friendship, something the adult me recognizes immediately as a cornerstone of many successful relationships: collaboration.

Teachers are the stuff of collaboration.  The vocation almost demands it, whether collaborating with a student to master an objective, working with another teacher to develop interesting curriculum, or simply attending professional development with a team.  Collaboration might be my favorite thing about teaching, especially any collaboration that allows for interdisciplinary design. And if by chance lunch happens at a table with a diverse crowd, collaboration can be organic as it was the day Ms. Mattox introduced Dr. Ward and I to Kara Walker, a silhouette artist that focuses on the American South as a medium. We spent lunch discussing visual arts and the profound effect visuals have in moving others into action or reflection. And later, when meeting in the Madeira art studio to view Walker’s work, I could easily see the Southern Gothic influence in her art and I couldn’t help but recall the Gothic module in the American Literature curriculum.

It’s very tempting to write an entire diatribe about the Gothic tendencies in the Puritans and the arguably unavoidable connection to a Gothic inheritance in antebellum Southern society, exactly as we did that day.  I’ll spare the reader this in service of staying on topic.

Gothic3What happened next is, quite frankly, my favorite collaboration of this year.  Using Walker’s medium, Ms. Mattox, Dr. Ward and I crafted a project for the Gothic module in which I am affectionately calling “A Light in the Night.” We prompted students to remember their Slavery to Civil Rights module and connect the grotesque displays of racism during that era to Walker’s intent in some of her pieces; we then ask them to recall their current study of the Gothic grotesque.  In many ways, these two courses are the shifting notion of a very literal darkness for the Puritans trying to settle a nation in the wild woods and the very metaphorical darkness found in even the most democratic hearts and minds.  Students then channeled Walker, Gothic motifs, and their own “darkness” to create silhouette candles.  The results were sublimely fantastic, scary even: Mallie’s created a candle that reflected the electric chair and the horrors associated with the death penalty.  Katie’s candle reflected the damsel in distress motif and the fantastical dangers surrounding femaleness.  Ally’s candle watched you, quite literally, behind two demonic eyes. For all students, it was clear how art could channel the feeling of a time period, past and current, to move some into action and some in reflection.

Gothic1As for our own reflection, it’s a project that speaks to the testament of collaboration.  Perhaps Ms. Mattox coined it best, “[Collaboration] provides teachers a new opportunity to view their subject matter in a different light and lens, and share ideas for engaging students on multiple levels of learning.”  Essentially we become students too, waiting for that moment when the interdisciplinary design becomes alive in the mind of others.  While my favorite part was designing the project, there was some shared sentiment for Dr. Ward’s favorite moment: “seeing each little success: the right cut, the design that came out “just so,” the happy accident—each one a lively little moment of insight.”  I think that’s an elegant way of saying that collaboration is very much a reminder of how shared experiences are often the most insightful; that while individuality is indeed a solo act, life is not.

Leave a comment

Filed under Literature Related, Reflection, Uncategorized

My Rorschach Happy Moment (Not even kidding.)

Many teachers cite student growth as their favorite moments in teaching, moments when an abstract idea clicks or a student begins to connect the dots between disciplines.  These are all noble moments.  Mine is not so noble.

Two years ago, I created a sci-fi course as a senior English elective.  While I admit that a lot of my motivation stemmed from my own love of sci-fi and speculative fiction, I do also recognized the immediate importance of teaching this specific class at an all girls school.  Not only is literature (arguably of almost any culture) dominated by male protagonists, but male dominated worlds.  Men, both in an authorial context and a literal one, are allowed to create, design, and experiment.  Women protagonists must inspire.  Women authors must role-model or journal.  Women are often expected to be caretakers.   And, while sci-fi is not a exception to any of this by far, it encourages the reader (female or not) to engage someone’s creation (Frankenstein), someone’s design (The Matrix), or even someone’s experiment (The Giver).  Science fiction will even allow its writers and worlds to have female badasses, female problem solvers, and female leaders.  For the sci-fi teacher, the classroom conversations shift in ways that just aren’t possible with classic literature.  And in a STEM/STEAM world, science fiction engages any reader in ways that intersect literature with math, science, and engineering.

I’ve somehow started to launch into a diatribe about why science fiction is a necessary study in the modern day high school.  I’ll save this for another post.

IMG_20170406_163827My favorite moment. Two years ago I created a sci-fi course intended to push girls into interdisciplinary thinking and into conversations about ethics, justice, physics, and civilization building.  And while I’ve had many amazing moments, my favorite one (so far) happened today.  When I teach scifi, I begin by teaching both Campbell’s Hero with a Thousand Faces and the lesser known archetypes via Jung. Both are easily rooted in psychology, but many times its hard for the students to grasp at the idea that opposites exist as a means of balance; balance is a basic principle of physics.  (We get very meta quickly here, so I’m sparing the non-literary reader as much as I can.)  This is often times when my dry-erase boards look the most aesthetically pleasing. I do this lesson as a two part introduction to Alan Moore’s Watchmen and for good reason: in creating an alternative history, Moore has to offset the reader’s discomfort of both recognizing and not recognizing that world with the familiar, sometimes relate-able journey of very defunct characters.  Both Rorschach and The Comedian have to feel at once familiar and not; we recognize their plight by unconscious familiarity with the hero’s journey.  Who your hero is becomes the novel’s great crisis; Moore’s deconstruction of the superhero is ultimately commentary on our own need for a superhero.

Hence, when paper time comes around for Watchmen, I’m often met with two kinds of responses: “how am I going to write all my feelings about this in an analysis” or “oh my god I have to write all my feelings about this in an analysis.”  This is so often true that I rarely expect anything different.

So, when a student met with me today, I was completely blown away.  “Can I write about how the archetype of the Joker becomes the truth-sayer and how problematic that is for the reader?  Or even for other characters? Am I remotely close?  And have you read Moore’s The Killing Joke?  My dad gave it to me when he heard we were reading Moore.  Ms. Heishman, are you ok? ”

Yes. Very.  I spent 45 minutes today waxing poetic about Jokers, the hero’s journey, Watchmen’s Comedian, physics, and how justice is a social construct.  With a student.  With another girl (I’m really just a grownup fan girl.)

Let’s all teach science fiction.  I mean that.

 

 

 

 

Leave a comment

Filed under Literature Related

Harry Potter, Huck Finn, and HellaGoodProjects

Whew!  The school year FLEW by- before I could collect my thoughts, the juniors were now seniors and the seniors were, well, gone.  So was my time…

I have so much to reflect about the year- the OneNote introduction to the junior class, the changing curriculum to come, moving The Adventures of Huck Finn to AP English…and that’s just the beginning.  I have all summer to share the year, starting with some amazing project examples.  I started the year dedicated to open projects, meaning that no project had a list of “things” it had to be.  More like each project had a list of objectives and meanings it needed to express.  It was a bit scary at first- letting the students take the wheel on how and what their final products would be- and there were some failures.  But I’m a proponent of failure in the classroom as well as letting the student set their standard.  Most of them will set it higher than a teacher ever would.

I did this project with two different modules; the first round you can read about in my previous post. The second time around wasn’t much different save for this: it had to be a product. (No emojii comic books, please.)  Same rules- the chosen annotations/project had to be from either Toni Morrison’s Song of Solomon or Mark Twain’s Huckleberry Finn. For project completion, each student had to complete an “interview” about their project (click Project Annotation for the questions). This module did not disappoint- many of them developed projects so innovative and creative, I plan to use several as examples next year.  So, with much ado, here is the first of many showcases.

This is a Marauder’s Map of The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn: 

IMG_20160626_160800.jpg

The Map Sleeve

IMG_20160626_160822.jpg

Portaits of Huck and Jim frame the center; framed on each side by important quotes from each character. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

IMG_20160626_160841

The entire sleeve opens up to reveal a map of their journey; the top right and left wings of the title are explication of the quotes found below each one.  On the bottom and to the right of “Map” is prediction for next chapter and how this student feels Huck grew in the chapter.  In her interview, she explained that the night scene was a metaphor for Huck’s moral compass as evident in this chapter.  

Pretty amazing, yes?  I’m excited to see what this could look like when applied to Song of Solomon.  I’m pretty excited in general that Harry Potter found a way into my classroom…stay tuned and I’ll share the Tarot Cards next!

Leave a comment

Filed under Literature Related, Uncategorized

Becoming an Active Reader

*Note to reader: the original published version is here.*

body_reading“Learning to love reading is easy; learning how to be an active reader is not,” I say often to my students. I hope they start believing me because this is precisely what Madeira English is about: active reading. From the moment they start ninth grade, we push students to articulate the why or significance of a text. By sophomore year, we ask them to expand their ability to express how a writer’s technique creates shades of meaning. In junior year, we inch toward research mode by asking how that significance might correlate to a movement, a historical time period, or even an abstract concept. It is a process and it begins with active reading. But what does that mean?

This is the question asked most often in my classroom usually in some form of “How should I read this?” or “Am I doing annotations the right way?” From a teacher’s perspective, there are many answers to those concerns. For some, annotating means a highlighted, scribbled-in-the-margins book. For others, it means a Cornell-style note page. Last year in my class, it meant a presentation of insights in a shared document. The teacher in me loved this; the reader in me started a rebellion. After all, isn’t part of the assignment how you enjoyed the novel? Why you may not like it? Aren’t annotations a little too forced? I am trying to read, after all.

I really began investing how to join those two things- how to move my students to both a personal response and an academic view of a novel.  I spent the summer like most English teachers, reading, only this time, I really tried to examine how or when my love of the book merged with my thinking about the book. And, while I may be closer to an answer, I do not have a perfect one. I did, however, emerge with new thinking about annotations. When we began Toni Morrison’s Song of Solomon in the junior English Slavery to Civil Rights module, I asked students to do two kinds of annotations. The first is what I’m coining “commitment.” The assignment was simple: pick a chapter you liked, a chapter you felt connected the reader to a bigger idea, then organize your annotations for sharing. Not much different than last year; the significance here is “pick a chapter you like.” I’m coining the second collected annotations “invent.” I asked the students to do the same thing except, this time, they were to take the annotations and make something. Anything except notes. Make something that illustrates understanding and demonstrates why they liked the book.

The results were incredible.  See them here: https://vimeo.com/142632023

 

 

 

 

1 Comment

Filed under Literature Related, Reflection, Uncategorized

OneNote is a sketchbook?

This week in my OneNote English adventures…

I’m still trying to convince my students, particularly my art afficionados, that OneNote is an amazing tool for graphic drawing. So when I said, “Your OneNote is a sketchbook- use it!” for one of the activities this week, my artists looked at me a bit skeptical.

Let me explain.

Some of my classroom activities involve creating a graphic organizer of sorts; this week it was to create a visual infographic that demonstates gothic elements in the short stories of Edgar Allan Poe.  I started small- you can use any platform.  Paper, pen, marker, computer, performance- any and all modes were available to them.   Much to my dismay, most of them chose paper, pen, marker, crayon.

Now, while I don’t fault anyone for this (I love the feel of a gel pen on a moleskin myself), in the process of trying to convince the students that OneNote is much more viable and much more than a simple organizational tool, I was failing.  On one hand, I was getting good work:

0202161500a

C.’s amazing “The Black Cat” graphic

On the other hand, they weren’t realizing they could transfer the same techinique to OneNote.  In fact, this is what happened when I told them to think about doing their graphic digitally:

CaptureInfographic

Admittedly, not a bad start, but not quite the same as the first attempt.

Part of this is that we are a bring-your-own-device school.  I was asking girls who didn’t have a surface to work with the draw function and a mouse.  I was also expecting girls who hardly ever touched a surface to fight at the opportunity to use mine-many remain unconvinced it could do the same thing.   I did have three takers though.  Here is the beginning of a different “The Black Cat”:

BlackCat

After watching and seeing P. create this, I turned over at least six.  Only time will see if those six establish a sketchbook via OneNote.  I’m at least happy they are fascinated by the Surface computer.

So, while I have convinced five of six in my department to switch to OneNote and two in the History department, I’ve still got some ways to go with my students.  Ultimately, I think a rotating set of Surfaces, a classroom set so to speak, might be the best route.  Now, I just have to find the money…..

Hang tight, my teacher friends.  I promised a OneNote present soon- it’s coming, and I still have yet to tell you about the Socratic Circle done in OneNote!

 

 

Leave a comment

Filed under Literature Related, OneNote Teaching, Uncategorized

Why OneNote makes my (snow)day

It’s day five of the snow apocalypse in Northern Virginia.  Snow days can be a teacher’s wish come true and their worst nightmare all in one.  A former me would be scrambling to piece together an email, maybe some way to scan something in pdf form, and then hoping my students had both a computer and a printer at home.

Not this year and never again.

Not only am I on schedule with my lesson plans but in our five days off, my students have completed a quiz, a timed essay, and three collaborative activities that correlate to the reading.  I’ve even sent a link to help a student who left her book at school, all via OneNote.

The beauty of OneNote is realtime- things move in OneNote immediately.  When my students take a quiz, they can take it at the same time as normal class.  When they take a timed essay, I use OneNote’s time stamp to track when completion happened and page history to tell me when they started.  I dropped my audio lecture and powerpoint in the class content library so I could introduce Poe and start reading him as soon as we return.

While this is all good, the one thing I really love about OneNote is the collaboration space.  For example, yesterday we did a group scavenger hunt for details about Edgar Allan Poe’s life.  A simple table grid helped organize the data.

Scavenger Hunt

Poe Scavenger Hunt

In another class, we used the collaboration space to generate a chat board, a way to post questions about their reading of George Orwell’s 1984.

chat space

Chat Space for Reading Help! 

 

And today, I’ve been dropping in on each student’s outline page in their own personal notebooks to answer outlining questions.

Outline

Outline and Rough Draft Help in OneNOte

Makes me think that you could almost do an entire class virtual in OneNote….

Lord, I might be turning to the dark side.

Leave a comment

Filed under Literature Related, OneNote Teaching, Teaching Methods, Uncategorized