My British Literature and Compositions are going to study the sonnet next week, and my department chair and I collaborated on a SMARTBoard Notebook file. I do not think she would mind if I shared our work here, and a couple of people have expressed interested after I sent messages to Twitter and Facebook about it. So, here is the file. If someone could download it and let me know if the embedded videos are all intact, that would be great. I love YouTube, but our connection at school is shaky when so many people are logged on to our network, so I have taken to embedding these videos in the Notebook files. It’s also nice not to have to switch programs to show different media.
Our goal is to ask students to memorize and perform a sonnet. I like Matthew Macfadyen’s interpretation of Sonnet 29 by Shakespeare that’s embedded in the file.
One of my favorite stand-by fun lessons is to allow students to create Shakespearean insults. The Folger Library’s Shakespeare Set Free series volume with lessons on Romeo and Juliet has a handout I’ve used since 1997, when I first taught the play, to create insults. Though I consider myself fairly technologically savvy, I found out today the handout may almost be obsolete.
Within moments of my introducing the assignment, my students were happily mixing and matching words to create insults and hurling them at each other (without my prompting, even). I have only two copies of C.T. Onion’s glossary left (I used to have five; what happened to them?), so we were trying to share, when I remembered the Shakespeare Pro app on my iPhone has a glossary based on David and Ben Crystal’s Shakespeare’s Words, so we added my iPhone into the mix, and before long, I was telling students about the app and suggesting that if they had iPod Touches or iPhones, they might like to talk their parents into letting them purchase the app. Within moments, one of my students with an iPod Touch found a Shakespearean Insult generator (iTunes link) app and had downloaded it. He showed me some more apps, including this one (iTunes link), which looks similar to what I was asking students to do today. Several students had their iPods and iPhones out, checking out Shakespeare, and one of my quieter students pointed out to her classmates that they could download the text of Romeo and Juliet (iTunes link) as an app. One student asked excitedly if they downloaded the app, could they ditch their heavy books? I said sure, as long as they wouldn’t have trouble finding their place, and I pointed out that in fact, one of my eleventh graders did just that last semester when his class studied Macbeth.
All of this might sound really obvious in schools where technology is wholeheartedly embraced, but it was interesting for me to watch the students using these tools to study a text I studied in high school. I remarked to my department chair the other day that I wished we could forego books if we wanted and allow students to download their books, including those fat, expensive anthologies, onto a Kindle or iPhone/iPod Touch using a Kindle app. Think about how much less it would weigh, not to mention texts can be more interactive, and students can annotate them and keep them.
I have been lying in bed all weekend, trying to get over a bout of the flu. I decided to preview a video I asked our media specialist to buy for our library: Great Books: Wuthering Heights. If you are unfamiliar with the Great Books series, they are actually fairly good documentaries about books produced by Discovery Schools. Back in the day when TLC used to be an acronym for “The Learning Channel,” and as such, actually produced educational content, the Great Books series could sometimes be caught on broadcast on that channel.
I disagree with a few conclusions drawn in the Great Books episode on Wuthering Heights. Emily Brontë is known to have been an intensely private person. She was furious when her sister Charlotte read poetry Emily had written. When Anne and Charlotte went to London to reveal their identities to their publishers, Emily refused to go and insisted upon remaining anonymous. She was again angry with Charlotte when Charlotte revealed that “Ellis Bell” was her sister. However, the DVD conflates this desire for privacy or perhaps even shyness (although I admit I don’t know enough about Emily to determine if she was shy) with “madness.” At one point, the video points out, rather boldly and without explanation or foundation, that because Emily enjoyed writing about her fantasy world of Gondal, she was “in danger of losing her mind.” Later, the video concludes that she based her character Heathcliff on herself, again without presenting evidence or explanation.
My first thought was that if I were a student watching this video, which seemed authoritative and informative, I might take these statements at face value rather than question them. After all, they are produced by Discovery School, so one can infer they are accurate, reliable, and educationally sound. I suppose if I’m going anywhere with this thinking-aloud exercise, it is here: it’s critical for teachers to evaluate materials they are thinking of presenting to their students, but more importantly, it’s critical to do your own research as well. If I had seen this video ten years ago as a relatively new teacher, I might not have questioned some of the conclusions drawn by the video’s producers because I myself didn’t have the slightest knowledge about Emily Brontë’s life, and while I’m far from an expert now, I have at least learned enough both in content and as a critical thinker to discern the accuracy of materials I’m previewing. Instead, I came away from the video feeling that the producers had not given Emily Brontë much credit for possessing an imagination that allowed her to write fantasy stories without necessarily living in a fantasy world or to create a character purely out of a talented gift as a writer. Of course, not wanting to give Emily Brontë much credit for her imagination is not new, but one would hope educational materials produced in 2005 would be more enlightened in their view. If I were to use this video with my students, I would challenge them to locate evidence regarding the conclusions drawn in the video. It might be a good critical thinking exercise for them. However, my instinct says not to show it. With no abundance of time and no shortage of materials, it is not the best course of action, in my mind, to use class time for materials I find misleading at best, erroneous at worst.
Apture works with any publishing platform, and it’s easy to install. It allows you to make your site more interactive. For instance, you can embed popup links to Wikipedia articles and Amazon merchandise. This site uses Apture. What do you think?
- Delicious or Diigo
You can share your links with readers by programming your Delicious or Diigo account to post links to your blog. Although I have my Diigo links in the sidebar, many readers who only read my posts via RSS might not see them, so I decided to start posting them to the blog. I hope the links will prove helpful and interesting. You can find instructions for posting links via Diigo here and for Delicious here (you’ll need to be logged in to your Diigo or Delicious account).
- Share What You’re Reading
Many reading social networks have widgets you can embed in your website. For instance, I am a fan of Goodreads and have a widget on the left that displays the last few books I’ve read along with my starred rating of that book. However, other networks like Shelfari have similar widgets. I also have a plugin called Now Reading, which only works with WordPress, that displays what I’m currently reading in the sidebar.
It’s easy to leave a comment and forget to check back to see if you have a response, but coComment can help you keep track of the comments you leave and the responses you receive. If you use Firefox, you can download a browser extension that will make using coComment even easier.
- Photo Dropper
If you use WordPress, Photo Dropper is a plugin that allows you to easily find Flickr photos with Creative Commons licenses to share in your posts.
Many ways of integrating Twitter with your blog exist. I use a WordPress plugin called Twitter Tools that is flexible. It allows users create blog posts from my tweets (I choose not to), display tweets in my sidebar (which I do), and notify via Twitter when I update my blog (which I also do). Twitter also has instructions for badges and widgets. TwiTip has gathered together some resources for other Twitter badges.
- iPhone Apps
Google’s Feedburner gives you more control over and information about your RSS feeds. You can find out how many subscribers you have, what RSS reader they use, and the Feedburner Feedsmith plugin for WordPress will help you integrate your Feedburner feed seamlessly.
If you have a favorite blog tool, please share it in the comments.