British Literature

I have been given a tentative teaching schedule for next year. While this schedule has not been confirmed, I wanted to start thinking about what major works I want to teach in case the schedule becomes a reality.

  • 9th Grammar, Composition, and Literature
  • 10th American Literature and Composition
  • 10th Writing Seminar
  • 11th British Literature and Composition
  • 12th Drama and Composition/Short Story and Composition

I have taught all of these classes before with the exception of British Literature, and that is a class I have been itching to teach for years. A love for British Literature influenced me to become an English teacher in the first place. You may not know it, but I wrote a teachers’ guide for Beowulf for Penguin-Putnam. I am an Arthurian legend freak. I am a fiend for the Romantic poets.

These are some of the works I’m considering:

  • Beowulf: This is a given. What I haven’t decided is whether to go with the textbook’s excerpt or a copy of the Seamus Heaney translation.
  • The Canterbury Tales: My sophomore-level Brit. Lit. course professor required to read this in Middle English, but I have no plans to do this with my own students. I think a study of the original language of Beowulf and The Canterbury Tales might be interesting from the perspective of language development, and I may do some lessons on that subject. I think it would be fun to ask that students read selected blog posts from Geoffrey Chaucer’s blog.
  • Hamlet and Macbeth: I should pick one or the other, but I’m not sure I can, as I think both are important. Something to think about.
  • Pride and Prejudice: The ninth grade Honors students read this for summer reading, but the class I’m teaching is College Prep, so there might not be a conflict; however, I am of the opinion that the novel is more appropriately placed in the 11th grade British literature curriculum.
  • Frankenstein: Students have heard so much about this book in our culture; they might enjoy actually reading it and comparing it to the popular vision of the Frankenstein monster.
  • Wuthering Heights: I read this one in British Lit. in high school, and I liked it.
  • Jane Eyre: This would be an either/or prospect. If students read Wuthering Heights, we wouldn’t do Jane Eyre.
  • The Importance of Being Earnest: I think I would opt for this over The Picture of Dorian Gray simply because it’s a play and I’d like a balance of drama and novel.
  • The Lord of the Flies: The other Brit. Lit. teacher has made this one a staple of the curriculum. I wouldn’t have to teach it, but I have to admit I would like to. It’s a great book. I think a lot of schools do it in 9th or 10th grade rather than in Brit. Lit.

Despite the fact that I am a huge Arthur nut, I have decided not to do Sir Gawain and the Green Knight mainly because I don’t want to overkill with the Middle English literature in a high school course. I also don’t want to do Le Morte D’Arthur, mainly because while I enjoyed the hell out of it, I’m not sure the students would appreciate it. And since I don’t think any other Arthurian material approaches Malory with the exception of Marion Zimmer Bradley’s The Mists of Avalon, which was written by an American, I will probably content myself with a unit on the Matter of Britain starring some of the shorter works by both medieval writers and nineteenth century writers like Tennyson.

If you have taught British literature, which of the above books have you had success with? What would you teach? Obviously, I’m not choosing all of it; I just mocked up a list to start from.

[tags]British literature, education, literature selection[/tags]

Paper Company Writing Instruction?

Can anyone remember those little one-page dittos or handouts created by a paper company for high school teachers to share with students?  They were pieces written by professional writers (I remember James Dickey and Kurt Vonnegut).  The writers shared interesting information about their writing processes and advice for writers.  Do you know what paper company it was?  Are the handouts still available?

[tags]education, writing instruction, paper company[/tags]

Shakespeare with the Lost Boys

The Lost Boys (MySpace) are a popular attraction at the Georgia Renaissance Festival. Billing themselves as Renaissance rockers, they often record traditional music and filks about Renaissance subject matter.

The Lost Boys

I never miss the Georgia Renaissance Festival, and when I go, I have to see the Lost Boys at least once.

The Lost Boys have recorded two songs written by the Bard (a third attributed to Shakespeare in their liner notes has also been attributed to Richard Barnfield, and because the authorship is uncertain, I decided not to include it here).

Download link

“Who is Sylvia” appears in Two Gentlemen of Verona, Act IV, Scene 2. If you decide to teach this play, your students might enjoy hearing what the musician might actually have sounded like.

Download link

“The Horn” appears in As You Like It Act IV, Scene 2. Again, students might appreciate hearing the song.

If you like these traditional versions of Shakespearean songs, you might also like Songs and Dances from Shakespeare.

What I find more fun, however, are the Lost Boys’ filks based on Shakespeare’s plays. If your students are reading Hamlet, they might enjoy “Hamlet Blues.”

Download link

Students will probably recognize a few bars of Jimi Hendrix’s “Hey Joe” and Guns ‘n’ Roses’ “I Used to Love Her, But I Had to Kill Her.”

My personal favorite, however, is “Desdemona,” set to the music of “My Sharona” by the Knack.

Download link

O you dirty ho, Iago, he done told me
you doin’ Cassio, but not no mo’
O why did you have to lie,

I think the songs are fun, and perhaps your students will enjoy them. I will enclose one last song that has nothing whatsoever to do with Shakespeare, but is a great favorite of mine:

Download link

If you would like to purchase CD’s, the Lost Boys are selling their wares at their website.

[tags]Lost Boys, Georgia Renaissance Festival, filk, Shakespeare, education[/tags]

“Helping” Student Visitors

I have had to make a revision to my policies. I want to make it clear to any student who happens by here that the purpose of this website is not to help students who are unwilling to read their assigned reading, do their homework themselves, or apply themselves to their study. I am happy to answer questions for students who have tried these things and are genuinely stuck, but I am starting to receive requests from students who have not done their work and are panicking the night before it is due. I cannot give you a list of all the [insert literary device here] in [insert work of literature here]. I cannot write your essay for you. Students who happen by here looking for ways to weasel out of assignments should know that the purposes behind this blog are to reflect upon teaching practices, discuss issues in education, and share ideas with teachers. I hope you understand, and I also hope in the future that you will try to do the work yourself first. I don’t mean to be unhelpful or rude, but you must understand that I have a conscience, and it won’t allow me to help you cheat.

[tags]education, student assistance[/tags]

Transparency in Education

When my husband was interviewed by Wired regarding some cyber-sleuthing he had done in connection to a crime and MySpace, he was given a subscription to Wired by the reporter, Noah Shachtman. I think I have been reading it more religiously than Steve has. Despite the fact that some true techies in their blogs complain that real techies don’t read Wired anymore, I have to say it rarely fails to make me feel inadequate about my technological knowledge. No matter — I enjoy the content.

The article that caught my eye in this month’s edition, entitled “The See-Through CEO” (written by Clive Thompson), begins with a discussion of Glenn Kelman, CEO of an online brokerage firm called Redfin. Kelman began blogging about his company in what some might term a revolutionary way:

He denounced traditional brokers, accusing them of screwing customers with clubby closed-door practices. (“If we don’t reform ourselves, and take out all the sales baloney, too, people will come to hate real estate agents the way they hate tobacco companies or Big Oil,” he wrote.) He publicized Redfin’s internal debates, even arguments about the design of its Web site. He mocked himelf: One post described how he had sat at a college job fair for hours, waiting in vain for a single student to approach him. (136)

In other words, he openly discussed his personal opinions about the way his business should be run, he talked about the kinds of internal struggles most companies try to keep quiet, and he even dared to share stories that might not cast his company in the best light. A remarkable thing happened: his business grew. It turns out that customers liked this new open model.

The article goes on to describe how other companies are adopting similar tactics, mainly based upon the notion that nothing stays private anymore, so we all may as well discuss everything — whether it’s a problem or brewing scandal or a product in development — before others beat us to the punch. Much of this new model seems counterintuitive. What kind of sense does it make to allow or even encourage employees to blog about products in development? Won’t rival companies steal ideas? As it turns out, this method has helped companies generate excitement about products before they come out. And why would anyone want to openly blog about problems in one’s company? As it turns out, the thinking behind this sort of openness is that the truth will out anyway, at least in this modern age of bloggers who “rely on scoops to drive their traffic” and make “muckraking… a sort of mass global hobby” (137). My husband has benefited from this sort of blogging, so far be it from me to knock it. I think blogs have been great for forcing out the truth in many arenas, from politics to pop culture.

What I wondered as I read the article is how would this model would work in education? Are we honestly living in times in which teachers can feel free to blog openly about problems in education? What about talking about exciting developments in the works? Unfortunately, while we are encouraged to share the good news, I still don’t think it is safe for a teacher to blog about negative issues in education without using a pseudonym, and I can think of only a few teacher bloggers who blog openly. Some school districts actively discourage blogging, even going so far as to ban access to sites such as Blogger/Blogspot, arguably the most popular blog host. In fact, in many instances, teachers who did blog about problems under a pseudonym and subsequently “outed,” have lost their jobs and been roundly criticized for their lack of team spirit and general meanness.

I think it would be interesting to see education embrace this sort of openness, but I contend that educators are not ready for the consequences. Are principals and superintendents ready to open up and possibly receive criticism from parents and students who comment on their blogs? No way. What would happen if a faculty had a model similar to that of Zappos, whose CEO Tony Hsieh encourages employees to post to a “company-wide wiki [that] lets staff members complain about problems and suggest solutions” (138)? Hsieh figures that “it makes his employees, suppliers, and customers more forgiving of everyday snafus” (138). I would venture to guess that most school administrations across America don’t even encourage that kind of “complaining” about how the school runs in faculty meetings, let alone on a wiki that anyone can view.

Thompson argues that Google is quickly becoming a “reputation management system” and that secrets will be uncovered no matter what cover-ups are attempted (138). In illustration of this thesis, Thompson discusses Jason Goldberg’s troubles after hiding the fact that his company was planning lay-offs. In retrospect, Goldberg said “It’s the nature of Web 2.0 and new media that if you don’t embrace openness, it will come back and bite you.” On the other hand, when Richard Edelman’s firm created fake blogs praising his client Wal-Mart and the cat was let out of the bag, Edelman owned up to the mistake and apologized for his lack of judgment all over the place (139). As bloggers linked to the stories on the Goldberg and Edelman, eventually the opinion of the ‘net at large began to even out into a formal consensus:

[I]f you’ve got hundreds or thousands of sites linking to you and commenting on you, the law of averages takes over, and odds are the opinion will be accurate: The cranks will be outweighed by cooler heads. Again, the Net rewards the transparent. (139)

This is true in Amazon customer reviews or eBay seller ranking. When Southwest Airlines received criticism for their treatment of an overweight passenger, the company addressed the issue in its blog and issued an apology. The result? People accepted the apology and a potential public relations nightmare was turned into a positive (139). Somehow, I don’t see schools being bold enough to try such tactics. I realize not everyone is comfortable with this level of openness, but as Thompson posits, the negativity gets out somehow anyway. What is our opinion of a company that denies problems and shoves them under the rug versus openly discussing them and seeking input? I don’t know yet, but I know I like honesty.

Let’s cook up a scenario. What if test scores were low at a certain school? What if NCLB regulations dictated that the next step in sanctions for said school were to allow students to transfer to other schools in the district? What if the principal addressed the issue head-on in a blog posted to the school’s website, explaining why the school had failed to make AYP an eliciting parent and student help in improvement? In our fictional scenario, let’s say that the issue facing the school was something like low math scores. Perhaps knowing what was happening and where the system was breaking down would encourage parents to ensure their children studied math at home. What might happen to test scores, then? I have the feeling, however, that almost all principals would feel discomfort at the prospect of openly discussing such issues with their school community.

An interesting side note: Clive Thompson shared the development of his product — the article — on his own blog, Collision Detection. I think his own openness made his article better — he obtained feedback regarding the issue of transparency from comments from readers, and he incorporated their ideas into his article.

Thompson closes his article with words to ponder:

The future could be a brushed-chrome machine made of truth and honesty — or some gothic nightmare in which the whole economy is driven by gossipy high school dynamics. Either way, there’s no use trying to resist. You’re already naked. (139)

Interesting word choice — “gossipy high school dynamics.” While I think Thompson was referring to the way students pass news, he might just as well be talking about the faculties of many schools where I’ve worked, too.

Of course, transparency is fraught with some problems, too, but my post is already so long you probably haven’t read it all anyway, and I think we can save that discussion for the comments. Let’s go!

Source: Thompson, Clive. “The See-Through CEO.” Wired. April 2007. 134-139.

[tags]Wired, radical transparency, See-Through CEO, Clive Thompson[/tags]

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Great Gatsby Scavenger Hunt

This morning when I arrived at school, our receptionist, who is currently getting her degree in English Education, told me that her class had to do presentations on teaching one of two novels. I can’t remember the title of one, but the other was The Great Gatsby. She dug in her bag and pulled out a handout that her classmates who presented Gatsby had distributed. It had the URL to my Gatsby Scavenger Hunt, noting the activity was a really good introduction to the novel. I have to say that it is, and I can say that without being too boastful because I didn’t create it. Valerie Arbizu did. I have encountered problems with her site, namely that some of the links she created were dead. She thanked me for pointing out the dead links, but I think that she has decided not to update the page any longer. I recreated it, giving her credit of course, with all the links fixed.

Our receptionist’s reminder (I haven’t got to Gatsby yet this year) prompted me to check the page for dead links, and lo and behold, all the links to Valerie’s pages no longer work, so I had to recreate all of those, and the 1920’s slang page and one other site were all dead. One page was a little too complicated to recreate, so I simply linked to the Internet Archive Wayback Machine cache of the site, which my husband assured me would probably work unless the site’s author wrote to Internet Archive and asked that the site be removed. If you are unfamiliar with that site, you should really check it out. It is extremely useful when websites go down or are taken offline. So now my Gatsby Scavenger Hunt is in working order. Please check it out if you teach that novel. I’ve had great success with the activity. And thanks to Valerie for sharing it with us in the first place!

Update: Well, I got all excited and created all those pages for nothing; Valerie’s page seems to be working fine. Tell her how great her Scavenger Hunt is if you get a chance.

[tags]Great Gatsby, F. Scott Fitzgerald, teaching, education, webquest, scavenger hunt[/tags]

A Question of Honor

A Question of HonorAfter over six years of sitting on a finished book without time to shop it to agents and publishers (aside from the odd submission here and there), I finally decided to publish my book with

A Question of Honor is a young adult novel set in medieval Wales and Scotland. Gwenllian has been accused of a horrible crime; she’s not even sure she is innocent herself. How can she resolve this question of honor?

Support independent publishing: buy this book on Lulu.

Books America Can’t Live Without

On World Book Day in the UK (March 1, 2007), over 2000 Britons voted for the books they couldn’t live without.

I don’t remember any such research done for our own counterpart in America, Read Across America (March 2).

While this blog doesn’t generate enough traffic to consider the question resolved scientifically, I thought it would be interesting to find out what books America Can’t Live Without.

In the comments, leave your list (try to do at least five or ten books). Once I have a fair number of suggestions, I’ll put together a poll, and we’ll vote. I will post the results here. What do you say?

Update: Thanks to everyone who has commented so far. I wasn’t clear on several points. First, the books don’t have to be American; however, I was hoping that respondents would be. I don’t mean to discriminate, but what prompted me to wonder about this was a list of the top 100 Books the Nation [UK] Can’t Live Without that was published in conjunction with World Book Day. Also, I don’t mean the books “America” can’t live without — I mean the ones you can’t live without — you are America, all added up together, aren’t you? Think of it like this. Which book would you have to have, no matter what? Read this passage from Diane Setterfield’s The Thirteenth Tale. Is there a book you’d shoot someone over if it meant saving that book from destruction? Maybe don’t answer that… just tell me what books you can’t live without:

“Picture a conveyor belt, a huge conveyor belt, and at the end of it a massive furnace. And on the conveyor belt are books. Every copy in the world of every book you’ve ever loved. All lined up. Jane Eyre, Villette, The Woman in White.”

Middlemarch,” I supplied.

“Thank you. Middlemarch. And imagine a lever with two labels, On and Off. At the moment the lever is off. And next to it is a human being, with his hand on the lever. About to turn it on. And you can stop it. You have a gun to your hand. All you have to do is pull the trigger. What do you do?”

“No, that’s silly.”

“He turns the lever to On. The conveyor belt has started.”

“But it’s too extreme, it’s hypothetical.”

“First of all, Shirley goes over the edge.”

“I don’t like games like this.”

“Now George Sand starts to go up in flames.”

I sighed and closed my eyes.

Wuthering Heights coming up. Going to let that burn, are you?”

I couldn’t help myself. I saw the books, saw their steady process to the mouth of the furnace, and flinched.

“Suit yourself. In it goes. Same for Jane Eyre?”

Jane Eyre. I was suddenly dry-mouthed.

“All you have to do is shoot. I won’t tell. No one ever need know.” She waited. “They’ve started to fall. Just the first few. But there are a lot of copies. You have a moment to make up your mind.”

I rubbed my thumb nervously against a rough edge of nail on my middle finger.

“They’re falling faster now.”

She did not remove her gaze from me.

“Half of them gone. Think, Margaret. All of Jane Eyre will soon have disappeared forever. Think.”

Miss Winter blinked.

“Two thirds gone. Just one person, Margaret. Just one tiny, insignificant little person.”

I blinked.

“Still time, but only just. Remember, this person burns books. Does he really deserve to live?”

Blink. Blink.

“Last chance.”

Blink. Blink. Blink.

Jane Eyre was no more.

Margaret!” Miss Winter’s face twisted in vexation as she spoke. (240-241)

[tags]World Book Day, Read Across America, literature, reading, books[/tags]

Weber Israel Experience ’07

Seniors at our school have the opportunity to study in Israel for part of the school year. One of our students has decided to blog about her experiences and share with faculty, students, and parents at home. You can follow our students’ experiences at Jamie’s blog: Weber Israel Experience ’07.

I can’t resist the opportunity to plug another blog by my students.

[tags]blogging, education, Israel[/tags]

So What Do YOU Do About That, Um, Scene?

Censored Romeo and JulietMy students finished watching Franco Zeffirelli’s Romeo and Juliet today.

My personal decision regarding what to do about the infamous nude scene? I show it. Way back when I was in seventh grade, I had this great language arts teacher named Mr. Schmeisser. We read Romeo and Juliet and watched Zeffirelli’s film. I will never forget one of my peers noting that Romeo was a “hunk” (how dated does that sound now? I believe in today’s parlance, he’d be a “hottie”). In retrospect, despite my admiration and respect for Mr. Schmeisser, I have to say I don’t agree with his decision to teach us Romeo and Juliet in seventh grade. At the risk of drawing the ire of my middle school teacher friends, I have to say I don’t think middle schoolers are ready for it. My students who read it invariably say they didn’t understand it when they read it in middle school, and I don’t remember understanding it much either.

OK, before I went on that tangent, I was discussing the nude scene. Before the scene, Mr. Schmeisser gave us a talk. He said that we would be seeing a nude scene. Likely, it wasn’t anything we hadn’t seen before, and he trusted us to be mature; however, if his trust was proven to be misplaced and we giggled, we would not watch the rest of the film, and we would be doing grammar exercises instead. None of us even breathed during the infamous scene.

In all the years I have taught Romeo and Juliet, I have done just what Mr. Schmeisser did. Before we viewed the scene, I always talked frankly with my students about what they would see, why I thought they could handle it, and what I expected. Only once have I had to stop the film. And I stuck to my guns despite the fact that an assistant principal tried to intervene on the students’ behalf and asked that I show the rest of the film. Nothing doing. A deal’s a deal.

I knew we would be watching the scene today. I had heard through the grapevine that this group had watched this scene in middle school and not handled it well. This suspicion was confirmed when during our preliminary discussion, a student noted that her class watched it in middle school, and it was “a disaster.” I told the students they had seen nudity before; furthermore, they had seen nudity in a theater, most likely, and not giggled at all. I shared the interesting fact that though Olivia Hussey was fifteen when she made this film, Zeffirelli had obtained special permission to film her nude, and as a consequence, Hussey was unable to attend the movie’s premiere due to her age — even though the nudity was her own. The A-rating given to the film at the time meant that only people aged 18 and older could see the film.

As I predicted, my students were just fine during the scene.

I have heard stories of teachers lamely trying to hold objects in front of the screen or skipping the scene altogether. I think the need for this kind of behavior could be avoided if you just talk with students and treat them as if you can trust them to be mature. Most of the time, in my experience, they want to keep your trust, and they want to demonstrate their maturity.

[tags]Romeo and Juliet, Olivia Hussey, Franco Zeffirelli, education, teaching[/tags]