Multigenre Research Project

Essay time (Postmodern Feminism): My Desk

My juniors don’t know it (unless they read this blog, in which case, hi students! Surprise!), but they are going to begin a multigenre research project in a couple of weeks.

I first learned about multigenre research papers from Buffy Hamilton—I had heard of multigenre research papers before I attended Buffy’s session at the annual GCTE conference, but I hadn’t learned about them. In that session, she recommended Tom Romano’s book Blending Genre, Altering Style, which is still the gold standard for multigenre research writing. I walked out of the session very excited to try this kind of writing with my students, but I needed some time to figure out how to do it and what I wanted it to look like.

Buffy exemplifies what is best about Web 2.0 in her willingness not only to share her presentations, but also her materials with teachers who might not have been fortunate enough to attend her presentation (and, of course, those who were). Here is a link to her wiki page with her presentation and materials. I adapted the materials, and in accordance with the Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike license under which Buffy shared her materials, you can download mine under the same license. Note: These files are PDF’s. If you just want to print, click the link and click Print. If you want to save the files, right click and save the link (save link as, save target as). You should be able to download them that way. If not, let me know.

The twist on the assignment for me, and the main way I changed Buffy’s materials, is that I want my students to share their projects using a Google Site. Our school has Google Apps, and I think using Google Sites will be a good way for students to learn a little bit about online publishing but still maintain control over who sees their work—Google Sites can be shared only with others on the network.

You can create multigenre research projects on anything, but I want my students to research a British author. Because I think a model is essential in undertaking an assignment like this one, I created a model for the assignment. Here is my Jane Austen multigenre research project. My angle is that in the last fifteen years or so, we’ve seen Jane Austen’s impact on pop culture grow, well, I don’t want to say exponentially because it might not be quite that profound, but you get the idea. Math folks? Exponentially or not? Anyway, I attribute a lot of this growth to the 1996 BBC film of Pride and Prejudice starring Colin Firth (congratulations, Colin Firth!) and Jennifer Ehle.

Feel free to download and adapt the materials I shared, though original portions of the Jane Austen project are copyrighted by me (portions of the work owned by others are cited on the Works Cited page). You can share the project with your students, but please do not duplicate it on your own website.

Creative Commons License photo credit: Tim Riley 澳大利亚

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Teaching “A Modest Proposal”

A Modest ProposalI enjoy teaching “A Modest Proposal.” I think in many cases it’s the first time students have been introduced to satire on that level. Sometimes my students are appalled at Swift for even suggesting such a thing—and that’s the point, isn’t it? To be appalled?

I don’t do anything magical when I teach it, and it’s certainly not creative or new, but maybe sharing what I do will help along someone whose never taught it before, and others of you who do fun things with it—feel free to share your ideas in the comments.

First, I think you need to introduce the concept of satire. I share an article from The Onion without telling students that’s where it’s from. You can take your pick, but one of my history teacher friends gave me this one that she has used for DBQ’s in AP European History: “Industrial Revolution Provides Millions of Out-of-Work Children with Jobs.” The themes of both this article and Swift’s essay are similar—the exploitation of children for the benefit of adults, the loss of childhood innocence, harsh conditions for children.

Read the article and generate discussion. Ask students if they agree with it. They’ll probably say no. Ask why. What’s wrong with it? If they don’t figure out it’s satire, you need to lead them toward that conclusion. Then ask them to generate a definition for satire based on their understanding of what it is. Compare that definition to the one provided by your book or dictionary of literary terms. Ask what is the point of satire? Why not just present the problem and the solution in a realistic way? Why not just directly present an issue? What does satire accomplish? Have them list forms of satire they’re familiar with—mine shared mostly TV, but some of your students will know about The Onion or maybe even M.A.D. Magazine.

Next we look at the argument The Onion article made by analyzing the subject, occasion, audience, purpose, and speaker. I use the acronym SOAPS. Subject: What is this article about? Occasion: Why was it written? What is going on at the time that the author is mocking? Audience: Who is this article aimed at? Purpose: What does the author hope to achieve by writing it? and Speaker: How does the author establish himself/herself as an authority on the subject?

My students told me that the subject was children working in the industrial revolution. The occasion was the current economy and large number of out-of-work adults—they felt perhaps the author was drawing attention to the fact that times have been worse. Audience they felt could be virtually anyone living through our current tough economy. They felt the purpose was to give the reader historical perspective, to think about the difficult lives of children in the past. Finally, they felt using quotes from fake historians and the overall tone of the article established the speaker as someone to listen to. Of course, we talked about the rhetorical triangle in context of this analysis, too.

After we analyze The Onion article, we begin “A Modest Proposal.” I think the vocabulary is fairly difficult, so I read it in class with students. We stop and talk to clarify and define vocabulary. After reading the first few paragraphs, before Swift makes his proposal, I ask students what they think he will suggest. How would they solve poverty and hunger? They offer suggestions, and no one in my class at least thought of cannibalizing babies. After reading and discussing the entire essay and analyzing it as we did The Onion article, discussing the article’s effectiveness in drawing attention to the issue, discussing some of Swift’s better barbs, and in particular, drawing attention to the paragraph in which Swift reveals several reasonable solutions to the problems—taxing absentee landlords, manufacturing luxury goods in Great Britain, etc.—I suggest students write their own modest proposal modeled after Swift’s. It’s not the most creative assignment; I did the same assignment myself in high school, so I know I’m not the first person to come up with it. However, it remains my favorite assignment from high school, and I think it gives students free rein to go kind of crazy with their writing and still exercise persuasive writing skills.

We start by generating a list of social issues. Students should think of an outlandish solution to that problem. They should include a paragraph like Swift’s in which they introduce solutions that are actually reasonable and workable only to explain why the reader should not speak to the writer of such untenable solutions. Swift’s essay makes an excellent model for how to proceed. Students may need to do some research about their issue, too. Students usually have a lot of fun with this essay, but it’s also a great assignment for teaching rhetoric and argumentative writing.

Oh, and I still remember what I wrote about for my own essay in high school. Some of you older teachers remember the garbage barge full of NYC trash that had no place to dump? It was an issue in the news when I was in high school. Well, if we have no place to dump our trash, we should dump it in developing countries. Perhaps the toxicity of living with our trash would cause the inhabitants to die off, solving two problems in one: we would have a place for our trash, and we could stop supplying aid to developing countries and use the money for ourselves (preferably luxury goods).

Creative Commons License photo credit: Charlie & Kasie Bennett

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Blogging Teachers: Some Advice

Through the Lens

The investigation into the blogging of Pennsylvania teacher Natalie Munroe has generated a great deal of discussion about whether teachers should blog or what they should blog about, while Munroe contends she’s done nothing wrong and hopes the attention her blog has received will encourage debate about the more difficult aspects of teaching. I have read some of the cached comments Munroe made on her blog. My own advice would have have been not to express such sentiments in a public forum, such as a blog.

Teaching can be frustrating, and I think it does help to vent sometimes, but it’s important to remember that even if we feel our blogs are small and unlikely to attract notice, as Munroe did, or even if we believe we are anonymous, we are putting information out there into the ether, and I think Munroe would certainly agree that once it’s out there, it’s hard to erase it, especially as caches and archives make it difficult to ensure no copies exist somewhere.

One of the more frightening responses I can imagine administrators might have to this story is to ban their teachers from blogging lest they lose their jobs. I think teachers need a voice to talk about education and to share their ideas. If you are considering blogging or are already blogging and are now hesitant to move forward after hearing about this story, I would advise the following:

  • Don’t count on remaining anonymous if you choose a pseudonym. In fact, I have long contended that teachers should blog under their real names.
  • Don’t blog negatively about your students. However frustrated you may feel, think about how you would feel to read a teacher’s disparaging remarks about you online, even if no names were used.
  • Don’t blog negatively about colleagues or administrators. I think that’s just asking to get fired.
  • Pay attention to language, tone, subject matter—fair or not, teachers are held to a higher standard regarding public persona.
  • Don’t give up. Building a readership takes time. You can encourage others to check out your blog by commenting on theirs and linking to their blogs in posts and/or blogrolls.
  • Try to update consistently, but don’t stress out if you can’t. I know I’ve lost readership as my posts have become less regular, but I had to cut back for a variety of reasons.
  • Figure out what you want to do with your blog—reflect? share? interact with others? Blogs usually do better with some sort of aim or niche, but you need not feel confined to discussing only that subject.
  • Keep the conversation respectful. Making a lot of noise and attacking other bloggers might get you attention. The wrong kind, in my opinion. People won’t listen to you if you’re rude and nasty.
  • Trust your common sense. If you wouldn’t say it at work in front on colleagues, students, administrators, or parents, you should probably not say it online.

Should Natalie Munroe lose her job over her blog? Well, indications are that her school had no blogging policy that she violated. I’m pretty sure they will now, and it’s likely to be a draconian one that prevents teacher voices from being heard, which is unfortunate. I don’t know the context of the comments she made, but on the surface, it’s an issue of professionalism. That said, I’ve had my own comments taken out of context and exaggerated, and I really wish I’d never made them in the first place, but I own up to having made some of the mistakes I’m advising you to steer clear of. Not all of them, sure. And that’s perhaps why I’ve managed to stay out of trouble at work.

What advice would you give? What did I miss? If you’ve been following the Munroe story, what do you think?

Creative Commons License photo credit: davidz

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Mubarak Resigned

Protestors“Mrs. Huff, Mubarak resigned!” Jacob said.

“What?” I wasn’t sure I understood him correctly.

“Mubarak resigned. Egypt.”

“Really? No way.”

In moments, my Newspaper students were attempting to find the best coverage. We pulled up Twitter to see what people were saying. We read the Wikipedia article just updated. One student was shocked to learn there was an entire article devoted to the current events in Egypt. I said it might be merged into the larger Egypt article once the crisis died down. Jacob complained about the coverage in The New York Times. I said to check The Guardian—they usually had pretty good world news coverage. I pulled out my iPhone and opened my Guardian app. Sure enough, updates every few minutes or so. I read some of them to the students.

“He was president for 30 years, wasn’t he?”

“I think so.”

“Egypt is free,” Jacob said.

I have to say it was a really cool moment to be teaching Newspaper.

Creative Commons License photo credit: darkroom productions

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Technology Integration Specialist

NewspaperMy school will have a Technology Integration Specialist next year.

Me.

I was offered the position a few weeks ago and readily accepted, but I waited until the announcement was made to my colleagues at work before discussing it here.

I will still teach English part time (two classes), which I view as a good thing because I love teaching English and also will be able to stay fresh as a classroom teacher. The rest my day will be devoted to professional development in technology for my colleagues and team teaching or working with colleagues integrating technology into their lessons.

I have no plans to change my domain name to reflect my new role, but you might find more technology around here, and you can expect that I’ll broaden my focus to include subjects aside from English from time to time. I hope you’ll stick with me on this new journey.

Creative Commons License photo credit: just.Luc

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My Ongoing Search for the Perfect Twitter Client


I am growing increasingly frustrated with my Twitter client, but I can’t find one I like better. Here is what I need:

  • Mac compatibility.
  • A color scheme that isn’t too dark or too bright (both versions of the Tweetdeck theme are out as a result).
  • An unread messages count. Really I need this. It’s a deal-breaker, and it’s one of the reasons I’ve stuck with Nambu despite being unhappy with their progress and development.
  • Multiple columns.
  • Notification of new tweets. I prefer Growl, but Air is OK.

Things I’d like to have:

  • Syncing across devices (an iPhone app, so my unread count is same on both).
  • Client rather than web-based (not a deal breaker—was checking out Hootsuite, but not a fan).

I wondered aloud to my husband a few minutes ago just how hard it would be to create a Twitter client that did what I wanted. I have never designed software before, but I am willing to learn. I have rolled up my sleeves and made myself learn HTML and Flash (though I can’t say I’m a proficient in Flash at all).

Out of curiosity—what would you want in a Twitter client?

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Assessing Learning

Exploring an ideaI had an idea today, and I decided to try it out and see if it would work.

Teachers use Bloom’s Taxonomy to construct assessments for students, but I don’t think students have ever heard of it. I know I never thought to share it with students. And why not? It’s not a great big secret.

We finished studying Macbeth in one of my classes, and so I decided to let the students essentially create the test, which is not a novel idea. Other folks have done that. What I did, however, was share the various levels of Bloom’s Taxonomy with the students and ask them to think of questions that they felt addressed each level. We began with remembering or knowledge and reached analysis before the period ended and we had to table the discussion for tomorrow. Here are some of the questions the students came up with in the level of Bloom’s that the students placed them:

Knowledge/Remembering

  • How many witches?
  • What happened in the play?
  • Describe the setting of the play.

Comprehension

  • How is Lady Macbeth the more dominant partner in the relationship?
  • How should an actor interpret a given passage of the play?
  • Give examples of how Macbeth misinterprets the witches’ prophecies.
  • Explain how Macbeth changes over the course of the play.

Application

  • Show how Macbeth is still relevant to a modern audience (Why do we study it? What can it teach us?)
  • Show how Macbeth is similar to a modern teenager.

Analysis

  • Compare how Macbeth felt after killing Duncan to how he felt after having Banquo and the Macduffs murdered.
  • Why did Macbeth kill Duncan? Banquo? The Macduffs?
  • Why did Macbeth listen to the witches?

I think some of these questions are really good and really interesting. I’m not generally a fan of using the lower level questions, and in my mind it is those few knowledge/comprehension questions that are weakest. Beyond identifying how many witches are in the play, it might be more interesting why there are three witches instead of two or four, for instance. I might also have placed some of their questions in other categories. For instance, I think the question about Lady Macbeth’s dominance is more of an analysis question than a comprehension question. Same with the question about Macbeth changing over the course of the play.

Some of their higher order questions are questions I wouldn’t have thought of—showing how Macbeth is like a modern teenager (they mentioned “peer pressure”). I really like the question about why Macbeth listens to the witches.

It was a good assessment of my teaching to hear what the students were telling me they had learned from studying the play. I think it will be interesting to see the assessment that they craft—the assessment that will tell me what they consider important and worth assessing about their study of Macbeth.

Creative Commons License photo credit: JJay

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