More Than Texts

As he was leaving today, a student paid a compliment to my Hero with a Thousand Faces class.  I’m not sure if I was meant to respond to the comment.  I didn’t.  We were chatting about our schedule on Thursday, which differs from a usual Thursday schedule for a lot of reasons that aren’t germane to this post.  The student said something about liking the usual Thursday schedule because he can come in late (he’s a senior and must not have a class before mine) and go to a class that’s about more than just the text.

I have not given a lot of assignments in this class, but we have engaged in some deep discussions about Joseph Campbell and his ideas, and we are delving into a serious discussion of Star Wars at the moment.  I really enjoy the class.  Even without the carrot (or the stick) of grades looming over the students, they do the work, are involved in class discussion, and are engaged in the material.  I conduct the class more like a college seminar than a standard required English class precisely because it is an elective.

The same student mentioned looking up information about Star Wars at home in his free time, completely unprompted by me, so he could learn more about it.  He was impressed by the sheer amount of information online.  Another student picked up the Harry Potter series for the first time because he was intrigued by some of the class discussion of how Rowling’s work displays Campbell’s influence.

A colleague of mine, a science teacher who often participates in the discussion and has really become a co-teacher in the class, has added so much to the class just by her enthusiasm and presence, often filling in gaps in information I have.  I am not sure how the class would have differed without her presence because she has added so much to our discussion and to our understanding of the subject matter.  She participates in the class during her planning time, which effectively causes her to lose time she could spend grading or planning lessons.  I think the students have really come to appreciate her presence a great deal, and they miss her when she is unable to come.

I’m not sure if the student realized what a compliment I considered his statement.  Some might interpret his words to mean we’re not doing enough “English” in the course, but I understood him to mean that we are engaged in larger discussions and conversations that involve the text, but also go beyond the text and are stimulating in some way he found it difficult to express in other words.

One of my goals in this class is to transform the way students read literature and watch movies, and I feel good about my progress toward reaching that goal.


One of the features that I admired in Penny Kittle’s classroom as shown on the DVD accompanying Write Beside Them is a regular book talk in which Kittle shares good books with her class and has them write down titles that sound interesting in their writer’s notebooks.  I tried it out, and realized my students weren’t getting the point.

I understand I was a very weird kid, but I liked book recommendations from my teachers.  I got what we call in my family “a wild hair” [crazy idea] about getting ready for college by reading all the recommended books.  I craved book lists.  I wanted someone to tell me what to read so that I could be ready for college. I asked my eleventh grade teacher Mrs. Patsel for a reading list.  Now that I’ve been teaching about 11 years, I totally understand her reaction.  After she picked her jaw off the floor, she promised to bring me one the next day.  When I asked for the list, I was presented instead with a box of discarded books that used to be used in the school’s classrooms.  I didn’t know what to say.  I just wanted reading suggestions, but she gave me the actual books.  And you know, if a kid asked me for the same thing I asked Mrs. Patsel for, I’d probably do exactly what she did.

At any rate, my point, and I’m getting to it, is that I decided to create a podcast to share these books instead of using the class time.  I don’t know if it’s a good idea or bad idea, but my thinking was that if you decided it didn’t suck, maybe you might want to use in your classroom, so I decided to publish the first podcast here, too.  I will recommend that you subscribe to my podcast feed f you want the whole shebang I provide for my students, including links to Amazon so you can buy the books, links to information about the authors, and other interesting links, as well as a podcast transcript.  Through the feed, you can also subscribe via iTunes or another podcatcher.  I spent an hour or so trying to figure how to create a feed just for the podcasts.  I feel accomplished, but I am also nervous it wasn’t worthwhile.

Here’s my first ever podcast, warts and all:

Mrs. Huff’s BookCast: Episode 1

I probably won’t update this blog each time I post a podcast, so check out the feed if you decide you like it and might want to be notified when it’s updated.  If you want to download the podcast, try clicking through to the feed to make it easier.  I have downloading audio disabled here on this site.

Should We All Stop Blogging?

Wired has a new, somewhat controversial article about blogging:

Thinking about launching your own blog? Here’s some friendly advice: Don’t. And if you’ve already got one, pull the plug.

Author Paul Boutin makes some valid points:

  • The blogosphere is dominated by online magazines, corporations, and paid bloggers.
  • Insult comments and trolls wreck personal blogging.
  • Text-based Web sites are sooo 2004; social networking and video/audio/image-heavy content is the thing.

It can be argued that it’s hard to compete with the likes of the Huffington Post, Engadget, Boing Boing, or the like.  This blog — and most likely your blog — will not be in Technorati’s list of the top 100 blogs.  But if that’s why you’re blogging, then no wonder it’s unsatisfying.  The first person you should be blogging for is you, which is what I intend to argue in my presentation at the Georgia Independent School Association conference the week after next.  If you are simply trying to get a big audience, I have to question why.  Sure, it’s nice to have regular readers and commenters, but if your main concern is being the most popular, most read, then I, for one, wish you wouldn’t blog or wouldn’t start a blog because I think you’re doing it for the wrong reasons.

Insult comments suck.  Trolls suck.  They’re part of the Web, and they’re one reason why despite how much I love Web 2.0, I don’t have my students establish their own blogs.  Maybe I will some day, but I know how furious it would make me if my student received a trollish comment I wasn’t able to delete first.  There are always folks who feel it’s OK to be rude jerks, and for some reason, the anonymity possible with the Web brings out the worst behavior in people in that regard.  However, what Boutin doesn’t mention is that all the blogging systems I can think of have comment moderation, and no one is beholden to publish comments at all.  A comments policy should cover anyone interested in allowing comments.

Many changes made to blogging allow for all kinds of media to be incorporated into blogs, and indeed, a lot of the posts I see (and some of my own, at that) incorporate this media effectively.  I don’t know why they should be considered mutually exclusive at all.

I have become a much more reflective person as a result of blogging, and I don’t think it’s an inherently bad idea to blog, provided one is doing so for the right reasons and has given some thought to direction, purpose, and policies with regard to blogging.  I like Twitter, but 140 characters will never be able to replace what I do with my blogs, and I enjoy Facebook, but I don’t use it for the same purposes of self-expression that I do here.  Maybe it’s because I don’t take many pictures, but even though I have a Flickr account, I am just not into it (aside from finding good Creative Commons licensed photos to use on my blog).

I guess my response to Boutin’s claims is that they’re legitimate, but that blogging doesn’t have to be defined in such narrow terms and for such narrow purposes as he proposes.  What are your thoughts?

[via Roger Darlington]


If it takes a while for your comment to appear, please be patient.  I am not receiving e-mails when I receive comments that are in moderation, and I haven’t seen them until I have logged in.  If your comment doesn’t appear after a few days, and you know you’ve followed the comment policies, you can contact me and see if I know what happened — most likely I missed it somehow.  I apologize for the inconvenience.

Grouch Alert

I am becoming increasingly irritated with requests, nay offers, from people I don’t know to do guest posts on my blog.  Let me get this straight.  You are offering me the opportunity to loan you my blog to promote your [fill in the blank] in exchange for…. what?  Decreased control over the content on my site?  Decreased respectability among members of the education blogging community?  The opportunity to look like a shill?  Let me get this straight, you want to borrow my blog, which I have built up to a fairly decent size, respectability, and readership over three and half years, in order to promote yourself because you are too lazy to do the exact same thing?  And to top it off, you have the nerve to make the request without reading my site policies, which clearly state that I do not accept guest posts?  Clearly you aren’t familiar enough with my site to make such outrageous requests, or you would have seen this policy declaration, which is not hidden.  To prove how accessible it is, I won’t even link it, and I’ll just see if any readers have trouble finding it.  If you do, let me know, and I will make it even more obvious.

Can you believe the gall of some people?  I can’t be the only education blogger who gets these requests.  What do the rest of you do?  I said I would ignore them, but they make me so mad that I respond with a link to my policies.  Should I just ignore them, or call them out on their rudeness and obvious lack of knowledge of the site they’re requesting to grace with their presence?

Practicing Teaching

My friend and fellow Folger Shakespeare Seminar participant Nicole has a new blog called Practicing Teaching.  Very reflective, and just the kind of thing I want to encourage people who participate in my GISA conference presentation to try for their own professional development.

I submitted a proposal to do the same presentation at the GCTE (Georgia Council of Teachers of English) conference in February.  I’ll let you know if it’s accepted.

2008 Education Blogosphere Survey

Scott McLeod has shared the results of his 2008 Education Blogosphere Survey:

I was a participant in the survey.  Some of the slides moved by too quickly for me to read, but interesting fact for me — the number of English teachers blogging outstrips other subjects (and math comes in second).  I imagine English teachers gravitate toward blogging because of the written expression aspect, and maybe that’s why, but it’s interesting nonetheless.

What surprised you most?

My SMARTBoard is Currently Misused as a Glorifed Whiteboard


I just realized how much I don’t know about using my SMARTBoard.  I essentially use it as the title indicates — a glorified whiteboard.  Oh, it’s great.  I save notes.  I can use them to help students supplement their own notes or download notes if they’re absent.  But I’m certainly not using it to its capacity.  I have to admit the reason is that I don’t know how.

I downloaded a SMARTBoard lesson from the SMARTBoard Lessons Podcast, and it was amazing — I think I can even use it as is in one of my classes.  But I couldn’t have figured out how to create what Ben and Joan created.  I feel frustrated by my lack of knowledge, but I’m going to try to rectify it.  One thing I did was download the SMARTBoard notebook software on my Mac, so I can play with it at home.  I also searched for tutorials, but the ones I found were fairly basic — I already know how to save notes, change my handwriting into text, and pull pictures into the notebook using the gallery or copy/paste.  I had tried to use the recorder without much success in the past, but I found this video that explains the process really well:

Does anyone know of any other sources for SMARTBoard tutorials?  I am looking to learn how to use this tool to its fullest capacity.

eChaucer: Chaucer in the Twenty-First Century

If you are like me, your introduction to Chaucer didn’t exactly warm you up to the guy.  We read the Prologue and probably a couple of the tales (whatever was clean enough for the textbook), but my teacher took no pains to engage us in the material, nor did he bother to make it interesting.  And what a shame!  Chaucer is easily one of the most entertaining poets in British literature!

When I took a sophomore-level survey of British literature (up to 1700) at UGA, I had an instructor who made this literature I didn’t think I liked — not only the Chaucer, but also Beowulf — finally come alive.  We read Chaucer in the Middle English in a text with the original and side-by-side modern tranlation by A. Kent Hieatt and Constance Hieatt that I still like: The Bantam Classics edition of The Canterbury Tales.  I had the translation to fall back on if I just couldn’t figure it out, but otherwise the strategy I used then (which still works for me now when I read Middle English) was to read the piece with the notion that the writer can’t spell a lick.  As with anything, with practice, Middle English can become easier to read.

One thing that has always bothered me, however, is that in a survey British literature course in high school, it can be fairly hard for my students to enjoy Chaucer because they have difficulty reading even the translations when they are in verse.  I do have my students experiment with reading Middle English, but I think for the levels I teach, it would be a disservice to ask my students to read it all in Middle English.  I feel differently about Shakespeare, but let’s face it — Middle English is just that much more difficult than Shakespeare that I think with high school students (with few exceptions), reading it might be more of an exercise in frustration than pleasure.  And I don’t want my students to hate Chaucer the way I did.

I was very excited to find Gerard NeCastro’s Web site eChaucer: Chaucer in the Twenty-First Century.  NeCastro provides his own prose translations of each tale in several formats (and other works by Chaucer), along with a cheat sheet for common Middle English words, and a concordance for each tale and the book as a whole.  It’s an amazing resource, and if you plan to teach any part of The Canterbury Tales this year, I urge you to check it out.  NeCastro’s translations are readable and enjoyable, and most importantly, accessible.

You can give students NeCastro’s cheat sheet and assign them to read a post in Geoffrey Chaucer’s Blogge.  I recommend the posts listed under Favourite Posts to start, but if your students are familiar with the Heath Ledger film A Knight’s Tale, they might also like “Lament for Sir William.”  If you want students to try their hand at Middle English by using Chaucer’s blog, I have a handout you might find useful.  You may also be interested in my UbD unit plan for The Canterbury Tales.  My performance task was altered based on an idea of Joe Scotese’s.

Portrait of Chaucer obtained from Gerard NeCastro’s eChaucer: Chaucer in the Twenty-First Century; from Hoccleve’s Regiment of Princes.

Embedding YouTube Videos in PowerPoint Presentations

I learned something new today.  I found a really good YouTube video about the Bayeux Tapestry.

I was sharing some historical background on England from 1066-1485 with my students, and I wanted to show them the video, but I hadn’t thought about the possiblity of embedding it, so I wound up switching from PowerPoint to the video and back.  Not a huge hassle, but later on as I was reflecting over the lesson, I wondered if it might be possible to embed a video in PowerPoint, so I did a Google search and disovered this helpful video:

Even though I have Word 2007 on my computer at work, I was able to figure out how to embed the video following the instructions.  Here’s what’s different:

You must be connected to the Internet for this to work.

Here is the PowerPoint I created.  It is licensed under an Attribution-Non-Commercial-Share-Alike Creative Commons License.

The Middle Ages in England

View SlideShare presentation or Upload your own. (tags: tapestry bayeux)

I strongly recommend downloading this presentation because it probably won’t work for you on Slideshare, or at least all the features won’t work. I cannot get embedded videos to work on my Mac.  Does anyone know why or how to make them work?  It’s not a huge problem, as my work computer is the one I use for my SMART Board, but I am curious as to how it might be done. If you have any problems downloading it, please let me know, and I can work on it from my work computer tomorrow. Our dinosaur desktop here at home won’t allow me to open the PowerPoint without freezing, my husband’s Windows laptop doesn’t have PowerPoint, and my daughter’s already let me hog her computer enough.