Five Things You Probably Don’t Know About Me

Will mentioned this in his blog, and though no one’s tagged me, I decided to play.

  1. Will begins by mentioning his relation to William Bradford and John Proctor. Some of you probably know I am a genealogist, but you may not know it is a quirky hobby of mine to figure out how I’m related to famous writers. I am Mark Twain’s fourth cousin six times removed, Tennessee Williams’ sixth cousin three times removed, Jane Austen’s fifth cousin seven times removed, Oliver Wendell Holmes’ fifth cousin eight times removed, Robert Penn Warren’s eight cousin three times removed, Willa Cather’s eight cousin three times removed, Sir Walter Scott’s sixth cousin nine times removed, Ray Bradbury’s ninth cousin three times removed, twentieth great-granddaughter of Geoffrey Chaucer, sixth cousin six times removed of Emily Dickinson, and… well, I could go on, but the point is that I am just barely related to anyone famous. At least no more related than you probably are. The difference is I am weird enough to figure out the relationships.
  2. I was what is known, I suppose, as a heavy metal chick in high school. Hair bands. Yep. And I had big New Jersey mall hair. No, you can’t see a picture.
  3. My son Dylan is named for the poet Dylan Thomas — Dylan Thomas Huff. My dad’s name is also Thomas, so Dylan’s middle name serves the dual fuction of completing the poet’s name and honoring my dad. My hope is that Dylan will not emulate the poet’s lifestyle.
  4. My husband is an operatic tenor. He has had roles with the Knoxville Opera and has sung in the Atlanta Opera Chorus. I think he gave up on making it a career after he didn’t make the last round of Met auditions for which he was eligible.
  5. Elaine of Astolat as rendered by John William WaterhouseI am a King Arthur buff. A walking encyclopedia of Arthuriana. And yet, I have never had a chance to put it to much use teaching. Gawain is my favorite knight. My daughter Maggie’s middle name is Elaine for the Fair Maid of Astolat. May she not suffer the same fate.

I tag Mr. Teacher, Nani, and Ms. George. Well, really anyone else who wants to play.

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Miss Emily and Walt Whitman

I am taking Mr. Teacher’s advice and posting about some of the lesson ideas you can find on the handout page.

Arguably the two greatest American poets of the nineteenth century were Walt Whitman and Emily Dickinson, yet two more disparate poets would be difficult to find. For instance, Whitman wrote in free verse, while Dickinson preferred such rigid meter that most of her poetry can be sung to the following tunes: “The Yellow Rose of Texas,” the theme song for Gilligan’s Island, and “The Battle Hymn of the Republic.” Try it. By the way, the reason for this is that Dickinson wrote in hymn meter. That means hymns like “Amazing Grace” will work, too.

Many years ago, I traveled to Atlanta with Gerald Boyd, who was then not the Language Arts Coordinator for the whole state of Georgia, but just for our own Houston County (pronouced not like the city Houston, but like the word house + ton — no, I don’t know why). He took English teachers from two of the other high schools — I represented Warner Robins High, while the two others came from Perry High and Northside High. We were being introduced to a program called Pacesetter English, potentially to determine whether Houston County should adopt it.

I can no longer remember the names of these teachers, but I adapted an offhand comment that the teacher from Perry made about teaching Whitman and Dickinson into a project that has been successful for years.

Download Handout (pdf)What would happen if Walt Whitman and Emily Dickinson went on a blind date? For this creative writing assignment, students are asked to put themselves in the role of a matchmaker who is arranging a blind date between Walt Whitman and Emily Dickinson. The student’s composition should record the results of the date. Where did they go? What did they do? What did they say to each other? Did they make a “love connection“? Students had to integrate five lines of poetry from each poet seamlessly as part of the conversation between the poets. For example, many students who choose to depict Whitman as egomaniacal like to use the line “I celebrate myself…” when Dickinson asks him what he likes to do for fun.

Most students tend to determine that the poets are too different to make a lasting connection. It is up to your discretion as to whether you as a teacher want to get into Whitman’s homosexuality or speculation about Dickinson’s possible homosexuality. It depends upon your students. I also ask students to bold or otherwise draw attention to the lines of poetry so I can catch them more easily. This activity asks students to reach into poetry and think about what it means, to learn about two writers based upon their poetry, and to create a piece of polished creative writing about the two poets.

You can download the handout in either pdf or rich text format. Have fun!

Update: Confidential to the angry student in Chapel Hill, Tennessee who is not happy that I shared this idea because now he/she has to write a two-page paper about it: I direct you my policies and offer hope that you can get past your attitude problem and have fun with the assignment (and make a good grade).

Second Update: O, student who likes pie, You have got to be kidding me.  You are asking me for help after the comment you tried to leave me yesterday?

Nevertheless, my advice is that if your teacher wants you to do the same thing I asked my students to do, you just need to write a story.  Think of where you would like to see them go.  What restaurant?  What would they talk about?  Read their biographies, which should be in your textbook and online.  You could have them go mini-golfing.  Maybe they would go to a poetry slam and poke fun at the mediocre poets there.  Maybe they could go to Burger King and Emily could down five whoppers.  The sky is the limit.  When you revise, put in some lines of their poetry in their dialogue.  For instance, Walt might tell Emily that she’s weird for always wearing white.  Emily could counter with, “Much madness is divinest sense.”  Something like that.  You can actually have a lot of fun with this assignment.

In the future, you might want to remember you attract more flies with honey than with vinegar.

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Faculty Presentation

Most of you reading this right now probably blog already, and many of you use wikis, too.  I have given a presentation at a GISA conference on using blogs and wikis in the classroom, but I was also really sick that day and don’t feel I did a good job.  I am determined to do a better job in front of my colleagues at a presentation I will be giving on January 2.  Those of you who use blogs and wikis in the classroom might be able to help me.  What do you wish someone had told you or taught you prior to using these tools?  What piece of advice would you give educators beginning to use these tools?  If you have used blogs or wikis in the classroom, can you point me toward those resources so that I can share them?

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Blogs and Wikis

I waited until the site went live before announcing it, but I am proud to annouce the debut of my senior Short Story seminar class’s wiki for Kafka’s The Metamorphosis. It is almost complete at this point, and I am very proud of the job the students have done. I created the “portal” or start page, and they did all of the rest, including finding appropriate video and pictures and even creating an animated GIF for the title. They were enthusiastic about the project, and they were excited to share it with others in the blogging/wiki/educational community. Please go check it out! I will share any comments you make about the wiki with them, as I have password protected comments on the wiki so that only students of mine who know the password can comment. I could probably fix it so guests could comment at a future date.

In other news, a student of mine decided to do his “Moral Perfection” project on a blog, and he has now entered the blogosphere, having enjoyed the project so much that he plans to keep it up. I think it is OK to point you toward his blog, which is all about soccer (or, as he would tell you it is more properly known, football). Be sure to check out his explanation of the project. He’s already thinking about podcasting, and I haven’t even gone there yet!

Richard Beach, professor at the University of Minnesota, plans to use a screenshot of my Awakening discussion wiki (which my students did last year) in his upcoming book Engaging Students in Digital Writing, which will be published in 2007. I will give you more information about ordering if you like once it is published.

I made a decision this week. When I go back to get my Master’s, I will be majoring in Instructional Technology. As my department head reminded me, this — figuring out how to integration technology into education — is my passion. I had planned to get an advanced English degree, but I have to admit that as much as I enjoy reading literature and writing, grad school English didn’t much appeal to me. I thought about becoming a Media Specialist some years back, but I really still want to teach. I don’t want to go into administration. I’m ill-suited for it. However, I think teaching students about technology would be stimulating, satisfying, and interesting.

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Blogging Question

I have noticed that while many people link this blog — for which I am grateful — it remains low-profile.  I know the main thing I can do to change that is simply to update more.  That’s not so easy, but I suppose it is something I will have to make time for if I really wish to get this blog “out there.”

I suppose my question (here I go possibly opening a can of worms or worse) is what can I do to make this blog a better reading experience for you?  Keep in mind there are some non-negotiables:

  • I will not post negative comments about my school, colleagues, students, or their parents.  I post under my real name, and I do not wish to bring trouble upon myself in order to entertain anyone else.  Actually, to be honest, there isn’t much negative stuff to post.
  • I don’t want to feel pressured to update every day.  I am a full-time English teacher with three children, two of whom are small children, and I have only so many hours in the day.  I would like to update more, but I cannot commit to updating daily.
  • I will not post anything I would feel uncomfortable about my parents, adminstrators, students, or their parents reading.  In fact, at one time or another, I think representatives from all of those groups have visited this blog, and I am committed to representing myself, my school, and my profession in a positive light.

That said, I’m willing to take suggestions.

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The Blue Couch Club

Before we moved into our new facility, our faculty had a cramped faculty workroom/lounge which contained three computers, a long table, mail boxes, a toaster oven, a few microwaves, a refrigerator, and a blue couch.  The room was not big enough to accommodate all of us, but it was warm and inviting.  I spent a lot of time discussing ideas with colleagues.  Unlike some schools in which I have worked, the faculty lounge at my school was often a place of intellectual stimulation.

Our new facility has some amazing technology and beautiful architecture and decor; we no longer share rooms or float, which is very nice, too.  But we don’t have a blue couch.  Our administration is working on creating some space that will bring back the warmth of our old faculty lounge, but I think many of us had been missing this gathering spot.

My department head took matters into her own hands and organized a gathering she dubbed the Blue Couch Club at a restaurant near our school.  About 10 of us gathered there last night.  It was nice be social with my colleagues outside of school.  It was great to have the opportunity to talk about stuff besides school and students with my colleagues.  We had a great time.  It was so nice to get to know everyone better.

Everyone agreed, I think, that we have to do it again, soon.  The old saying goes that if Mohammed won’t come to the mountain, the mountain must come to Mohammed.  I guess if the blue couch doesn’t make it to the new faculty lounge, the faculty has to make it to the blue couch.  Or something like that.

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Marking Errors: A Research Proposal

I read a really interesting research proposal written by one of our Hebrew teachers.  Exactly which method of writing instruction works best?

  • Explicitly marking each error in a student’s paper.
  • Marking a line, indicating an error, but leaving it for the student to identify what the error is.

Which method do you use?  Which method do you think would help students learn errors and how to correct them?

My colleague’s research focused on improving writing for L2 (second language) students.  In the case of her students, the L2 is Hebrew.  I found her proposal intriguing.  Which method of writing instruction would produce better results?

I personally mark errors.  I use standard proofreading marks.  I make notation of subject/verb or pronoun/antecedent agreement issues.  My students’ papers are often quite marked up by the time I’m done.  I am interested in finding out if I am doing the best thing for my students.  In many cases, I find students making the same mistakes over and over, no matter how often I mark them.  I mentioned this idea to my department head as a potential research project for us next year in English classes.  I need to locate some research studies.  This could potentially be publishable.

Any English teachers out there interested in looking at this with me?

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If a Body Catch a Body…

It’s that time of year again. We did long chapters on phrases and clauses from Warriner’s, and we only have two weeks before finals. It’s a good time for a high-interest short novel. It’s a good time for The Catcher in the Rye. I introduced the novel today, of course telling my students about Mark David Chapman and John Hinckley, Jr. I also told them about the oddy reclusive author. The students complained. I can’t read a whole book in two weeks! I hate reading! I don’t want to read a book. There isn’t even a summary on the back of this book. Why is the cover so plain? You’re killing us, Mrs. Huff. I said, Calm down! Give this one a chance. You’ll like it; just wait.

I always like to start any book by reading aloud, so I cleared my throat and read, “The Catcher in the Rye… Chapter One… If you really want to hear about it, the first thing you’ll probably want to know is where I was born, and what my lousy childhood was like, and how my parents were occupied and all before they had me, and all that David Copperfield kind of crap, but I don’t feel like going into it, if you want to know the truth.”

As I continued reading I looked around the room. One by one, I could see J.D. Salinger winning them over. Each nose stuck firmly in this plain book with its unobtrusive cover, eyes scanning the page as I read aloud. Utter quiet. No one surreptitiously checking the clock. At the end of the period, I closed the book and asked the students to finish chapter two. I could be wrong, but it sure looked to me as though not one of them noticed the end of the period had come.

I love teaching this book. Thanks, Mr. Salinger.

You can read more about my experiences teaching this book in the past at my personal blog.

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Boys (Don’t) Read

Boy ReadingThe other day, one of my students made a special trip to my classroom to give me a folded newspaper clipping. He asked me if I had read the paper — and as I’m remembering it, I can’t recall the day he asked about — and I hadn’t, so he shyly handed me the article. If you have never been a teacher, you probably don’t realize how touching such a gesture is. It says that the student was thinking about me and thought something would interest me. It says also that it interested him, and he wanted me to know it. I can’t find the article at the AJC’s website, but I did find it here.

The gist of the article is nothing new to educators. Boys need to be enticed to read more than girls. If you are looking for good guy books, try Jon Scieszka’s site Guys Read. I told the boy who gave me the article that I think he will like our next novel — The Catcher in the Rye. A more quintessentially guy book would be hard to find. I think it will be fun to read with that class, which is predominantly male.

Image via BBC.

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