Dissecting Trolls

Most readers of this blog probably know that in Internet parlance, a troll is a person, usually partly or completely anonymous, who posts off-topic and usually really vicious or mean comments. Karl Fisch tweeted yesterday about the depressing nature of the comments left on a recent Huffington Post article about his influential “Did You Know?” video. I responded that I created a writing assignment based on some poor argumentation I found in YouTube.

I was looking for videos to share with my Hero with a Thousand Faces course students, and the first video I came across was one in which Tolkien discusses how he began writing The Hobbit. Essentially, a poor argument (on both sides) has developed in the comments on that video that Star Wars is a ripoff of Tolkien’s work. I read through most of them, and while I don’t advocate actually responding to comments of this sort, I did find that the argument on both sides was essentially composed of a series of ad hominem attacks. Neither side offered any support for their argument, and I kept reading to see if someone—anyone—would mention that the similarities that exist can be attributed to the fact that both stories involve heroic journeys and can be analyzed using Joseph Campbell’s theories regarding the monomyth. No one said any such thing. My own students have already studied Star Wars. They are currently reading The Hobbit. I knew that any one of them could explain the similarities between the stories based on solid evidence, which is something the commenters on YouTube either can’t or won’t do.

I created a writing assignment based on this idea, and I have full confidence that my students will be able to argue their points better than Internet trolls, but I cautioned them not to actually try it. Real Internet trolls don’t listen to reason. Or much of anything really.

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Interactive Notebooks: Professional Development Goal

My school has an interesting professional development program. The first year of the program involves exploration of a topic, and choices include educational research and reflection, general teaching practices, and career and leadership development. During the second year of the program, we can either 1) write one or two goals based on Charlotte Danielson’s domains as described in Enhancing Professional Practice: A Framework for Teaching or 2) work on a project that relates directly to an improvement in instruction of our students. In year three, the focus is on teacher observation and evaluation based on Danielson’s Framework and especially focused on instruction (Domain 3).

I decided that my goal would be to increase students’ critical thinking and engagement through Interactive Notebooks. It seemed a worthy goal because I am already using the notebooks, and now I will be collecting data and analyzing their effectiveness. I have collected all my students’ notebooks for the first time over the last couple of weeks with the following observations:

  • My students in British Literature and Composition (juniors) are really getting the idea behind the notebooks. They are naturally a pretty organized group, and they remind me if I haven’t told them that I need to indicate which section items go in and whether the assignments should be on the left or right. Thus, I was pleased with what I saw when I examined their notebooks. I still need to remind students about fleshing out the left with their own ideas.
  • My ninth grade students had major confusion about the notebooks. They are not as naturally organized as my juniors, so it stands to reason they will need more help, and if I am honest with myself, I haven’t given them all the help I think they need after looking at their first notebook checks as a baseline. I would like them to make more connections, but they need more help. I am also not giving them enough assigned left-hand side work.
  • My seniors seem to understand what to do, but many of them didn’t do it. I don’t think I have buy-in with that group because they have all, except for one student, had my class before, and they liked the notebook checks I used to do. I think they liked them because it did involve a little bit less work for them. They didn’t need to make the left-hand side connections. I had assigned a reading journal for the left-hand side for this time, and only a few students completed it. I think they just weren’t reading. It’s an elective class, and I hate to go the reading quiz route, but I may have to. Seniors are kind of a different animal in terms of engagement, and I suppose I can expect they won’t necessarily be invested in trying something new.

What I need to do to improve is give my ninth graders more opportunities for connection and reflection on the left and work with my elective students to convince them of the value of the notebooks. I could supply models from my juniors so that they could see the notebooks at work. Models actually wouldn’t hurt my ninth graders either. Even with my juniors, who are doing well, I can improve by suggesting ideas and opportunities so that the notebooks, particularly the left-hand side, are on their minds as a natural part of learning.

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Macbeth Unit Plan

I have not been happy with my Macbeth unit for some time. I sat down with my department chair today and brainstormed, and I have come up with a new plan that includes some serious tweaking and a performance task that I’m in love with (I only hope the students will be, too). I have left my old unit plan up for comparison.

I spent most of the evening reading through Shakespeare Set Free: Teaching A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Romeo and Juliet, and Macbeth, and I have decided that most of the unit will consist of lesson plans from this text. Even if you decide not to use all the lessons in this book, it’s an invaluable resource and perhaps one of the single most important additions to your professional library if you teach Shakespeare. Almost all of my learning plan consists of lessons from this book, and because of copyright restrictions, I have provided only the page numbers for your reference.

I used Wordle to create the Macbeth Wordle/word cloud I reference in the learning plan. You can easily create one, too. I would advise taking out words like “exit, exeunt, Macbeth, and lady” as well as other character names as they will skew the word counts in favor of character names instead of common words, such as “blood, night, sleep, and hands.”

The lesson I called “If it were done” comes from Joe Scotese and can be found at his site A Way to Teach. You will need to register and earn at least five points before you can download this lesson. Joe has a great site, and I highly encourage you to join up, particularly if you teach British literature or Shakespeare in any capacity. Essentially, the lesson involves a close reading of Macbeth’s soliloquy alongside a version from Shakespeare Made Easy; students learn that Shakespeare says a great deal on many levels with his word choices (this activity will really blow their minds; it blew mine!), and that modern translations cannot adequately substitute for the original.

Finally, you can download a PDF of my performance task. It is customized for my class. If you would like, you may keep the PDF I created for my class, but you won’t be able to make changes to it.

Addendum: I can no longer customize these handouts. Please feel free to use the one I shared here.

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Grendel’s Ima

I have been doing some tweaking with my Beowulf unit. In the past, my performance task has been to compile an annotated résumé for Beowulf. It’s good practice for their own résumés; my students have to compile résumés for college applications toward the end of their junior year, the year in which they study Beowulf at my school. It’s also a close-reading exercise, as each item on the résumé must be supported with an annotation. What has bothered me about it is that I want it to include more writing. Sure, it’s a specific kind of writing that I think is important. Suffice it to say something about it was bugging me, so I tweaked it this year. Instead, I will ask my students to write a letter of recommendation for Beowulf. The purpose is still the same: to analyze Beowulf as an epic hero. The assignment just looks different in the end. If you’d like to download this new essay assignment, here it is: Beowulf Letter of Recommendation. You might try this PDF converter if you want to make changes.

When I read Beowulf in high school, I didn’t like it much. Well, I hated it, if the truth be told. I took a sophomore level class in college on British literature up to 1700, and we read Beowulf again. I have no idea why, but this time, I loved it: perhaps a really good teacher, a different time of life, whatever. I have loved it ever since. It’s one of my favorite works to teach, and I enjoy being able to start the year with it. I am completing a unit on Beowulf and the Anglo-Saxons this coming week. My students, for the most part, seem engaged. I won’t fool myself into thinking all of them love it as I do, but certainly they seem interested and are participating. One of the classes I teach began referring to Grendel’s mother as Grendel’s ima. This term makes sense if you know a bit of Hebrew, for it is the Hebrew word for mother. I work at a Jewish high school, and I loved it that my students made this fun connection, so I started using the term, too.

I just collected my students’ interactive notebooks for the first time, too. It was really interesting. The two British literature classes did a good job on the notebooks. I saw real reflection and thinking. I am hoping the notebooks will become a more natural reflecting tool as the year wears on. I really liked a peek at their thinking. The connections they make and the ideas they are putting down in their notebooks are insights into what they see as important. I suppose that’s why I liked the Hebrew connection to a piece of Anglo-Saxon literature.

My department chair has talked me into using the Interactive Notebooks as my professional development exploration/goal this year. It’s new, and it can be something that I can pilot and perhaps present to my colleagues after I’ve tried them this year. My goal is to help students improve critical thinking and make connections. So far, at least based on what I’ve seen in my British literature courses, it’s working. On the other hand, I have some work to do in the other courses I teach. First of all, I don’t think all of my students have buy-in. They’re used to my old notebook checks, and they’re balking at change. Second, it’s new to me, and perhaps because it’s new to me, I haven’t found that balance of support and freedom that my students need. At any rate, I’ll talk about notebooks next week, and now I have some good models to share for students who might need them.

I’d like to be able to tie all this back to my title again, but everything I keep thinking of sounds cutesy and forced, so I’ll cop to it: I really just wanted to title this post “Grendel’s Ima.” L’Shanah Tova.

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Designing Writing Assignments: Preparing for Standardized Testing

Book Cover of Designing Writing AssignmentsTraci Gardner begins her fifth chapter of Designing Writing Assignments, “Preparing for Standardized Testing,” with a sentence that sums up my own feeling about standardized writing assessments: “The prompts that students face on standardized writing tests are the antithesis of effective writing assignments” (67). Seeing as how they haven’t contacted me about it in a few years, I suppose it’s safe to disclose that I graded for the SAT in the first year that the essay portion of the test was added. I did it because I wanted to know what the College Board was looking for. I can tell you that the prompts are almost universally broad and, in my opinion, bad. Students’ guidance on using examples instructs them to draw from their personal experience, studies, and history. The prompts were often a quote from a famous person, and the student needs to respond either agreeing or disagreeing. In addition, students have 25 minutes to craft a well-developed essay. I know more than once I have told my own students, sadly, that in order to do well on the SAT essay, they need to forget the most important thing I’ve taught them about good writing—that it’s a process that requires planning and revision and, most importantly, time.

Gardner quotes Gregory Shafer1, who describes the effects of such testing as causing “students [to] abandon certain ideas about writing and embrace more reductive and less active approaches” (67), which is certainly what I’ve noticed about these kinds of essays. After a while, there was a sameness that crept in that ultimately made it impossible for me to do the job. I was not grading fast enough, and my accuracy (my score compared with the score given on random graded essays that were included to improve score validity) dropped.

Now that I’ve read this chapter, I will have a different and much better approach to helping my students do well on the SAT. Gardner has students discuss their experiences with timed writings first. The next step is to discuss other types of writing and their processes so they can “identify writing strategies they can use in test situations” (69). In scaffolding the process for standardized test writing, Gardner guides students to see that they “always have a process to compose their texts” (69). Obviously much more helpful than telling them to forget what they’ve learned about good writing!

Gardner’s suggestion of taking class time to understand the prompts through exploring samples in class is excellent. I’ve done that before, and it was great for helping students unpack the prompt so they could figure out what they were being asked to do. Her process for unpacking the question is great:

  • asking students to identify the audience and purpose behind the prompts (going beyond the simplistic answer of the testing company, of course)
  • having students identify what readers will look for and how they can present themselves as experts on the issue
  • demonstrating how to search through each writing prompt for significant words—both those that give clues to the content expected in response and those that suggest the structure and genre required
  • showing students how to find clues to the content and scope required by each prompt as well as to the organization and development that will be necessary for the response (70)

Gardner also includes a great handout that she gives students to help with this process. I would also suggest a book I’ve used in the past that does a good job helping students in this area and also has lots of sample questions on the usage portion of the SAT as well: Sadlier-Oxford’s Grammar and Writing for Standardized Tests.

Gardner also suggests exploring rubrics with students and reading models, discussing the ways in which the models successfully meet expectations set forth in the rubrics. The College Board Web site has sample papers for students to explore for these purposes, and it was a great exercise to discuss rubrics and read model papers when I did it with my class.

Gardner describes helping students construct their own “mental writing kits” for the test situation. They should include what they need, so each student’s writing kit will differ. She shares one student’s writing kit on p. 73. It contains items such as “Begin with attention-getter and end with ‘So what?’” and “A/an for count and the for noncount.” Gardner also suggests that if students are given space for prewriting or notes or are allowed to write in the test booklet, they should write their writing kits down in that space and circle key words in the prompt, which is a another suggestion the Sadlier-Oxford book I mentioned has students employ as part of an exercise. I really do love this idea of a sort of Swiss army knife or toolkit. I created a presentation as part of a Schools Attuned workshop I participated in that uses a similar strategy for helping students be successful in language arts.

In all, I think the processes Gardner describes for helping students prepare for standardized tests are sound and helpful, even if the writing tasks themselves are not. I don’t imagine that standardized tests are going anywhere, and students do need to prepare for them. I would hate to see writing instructors focus on formulaic writing so that students are prepared for standardized tests at the expense of really learning how to write well, and I feel Gardner explains how to avoid that pitfall well. I have one more chapter in this book, and I hope to be able to read it and reflect on it here tomorrow.

1Shafer, Gregory. “Standardized Testing and the College Composition Instructor.” Teaching English in the Two-Year College. 32.3 (Mar. 2005): 238-46.

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Designing Writing Assignments: Designing Writing Assignments

Designing Writing Assignments Book CoverThe title of this post is not a typo or hiccup. The third chapter of Traci Garder’s book Designing Writing Assignments is titled “Designing Writing Assignments,” too.

In this chapter, Garder addresses the reason why students might fail to meet our expectations: we didn’t communicate what we thought we did. I am guilty, as Gardner says, of simply trying to provide an assignment sheet, but we need to do more. First of all, when I define tasks, I’m not sure I have thought of “suggest[ing] steps in the process that students can complete” and “indicat[ing] different ways that students can work,” though I do usually “schedule multiple opportunities for students to write as they complete the assignment,” particularly if it’s a lower level or lower grade—9th graders versus 11th graders, for example (36). I think I should give all of my students more opportunitys to write in class than I currently do. It’s all about the balance of time, isn’t it?

In helping students comprehend our expectations, Gardner suggests we

  • unpack the meaning of the assignment, as described by Jim Burke, by explaining the assignment to create a shared understanding of the activity
  • provide model responses and demonstrate how to read and compose example texts
  • share rubrics, checklists, and other resources that highlight the requirements and goals for the assignment (36)

I do share rubrics, but I need to be more consistent, particularly as I use rubrics to grade. Checklists, my students also have. Models are an area in which I feel I’m weak. I do some modeling, but usually after the first draft. When I asked students to write a poetry explication, they asked me for models, and though I pointed them to one I found on the web, it didn’t appear to be enough. Over and over students told me they weren’t sure what to do. Jay McTighe describes a teacher who had a target on her bulletin board. A-papers were in the middle of the target, and B- and C-papers were farther out. Students could see exactly what they needed to do to earn the grade they wanted. On the other hand, does that encourage too much imitation and not enough creativity? It’s something I wrestle with when I use models.

Next, Gardner describes the importance of support and resources. When I have designed UbD units, my performance assessments have typically been really good in terms of support and resources, but I haven’t done it for all of the essays. And why not? I have a blog and a wiki! I can gather all kinds of resources for students to use with Web 2.0 tools.

Gardner models the process for creating three types of writing assignments, ending each vignette with an assessment of how well the assignment meets the criteria set forth in the General Writing Assignment Design section (defining task, expectations, and support and resources). In the vignette on expressive writing, Gardner mentions blogs. It sounds like she has used LiveJournal (she describes being able to add emoticons and what music the writer’s listening to, both LJ features) with students, but Ning would be great. It can be closed or open, and students can all be blogging in the same space. I can’t decide if I’m going to do some blogging with all my classes. I am already launching interactive notebooks, and I just don’t know. I don’t want to do too much that’s different or I’ll go crazy, but Gardner makes a good point about the audience for expressive writing being narrow if it’s just the student and me who read it. I really like commenting, too. Now if my students all had the same note-taking tools (like Curio, perhaps), we could probably make the interactive notebooks more of a shared item. I don’t know. I’ll have to think about it.

As I read Garder’s process for reflecting on how she has met the criteria for designing assignments in each of the vignettes, I’m reminded again of the UbD process for designing any assignment—the filter in particular. If you want to see one of my filters, I created one for Beowulf when I wrote my UbD unit plan. As a side note, what’s great about the essential questions for that plan is that when I discovered Joe Scotese had some good close reading assignments for Beowulf, I was able to use them to explore the same questions even deeper. I need to revise my unit to include Joe’s ideas. I actually had an idea as I read Gardner’s description of her persuasive writing assignment. I have asked students to write Beowulf’s résumé in the past; I think a persuasive essay in which they are trying to convince someone to hire him on as a hero, perhaps even written from the viewpoint of King Hrothgar? Something’s always niggled at me about that résumé in the past. I worried that though it’s an authentic task, it wasn’t all that challenging, which is why I added annotations. A persuasive essay would definitely make me feel better about the performance task and make it more of a writing exercise. What do you think? If I remember right, Jim Burke even has a great graphic organizer for constructing an argument that would work well.

Let’s see, this kind of assignment would include an authentic audience—someone in need of a hero who has asked Hrothgar for a recommendation. Students are experts: they’ve read Beowulf and seen him in action (of course, he dies, so I could ask students to complete the assignment before we get to that part or they’ll bring it up for sure). Then again, I might be able to get around that snag by having Hrothgar write to the Geats to explain why Beowulf should be made king. It will set the letter more firmly at a certain place in the story. What do you think? They’ll need to interact with the text to provide examples of Beowulf’s heroism. How about choice? Well, they need to decide which acts are heroic enough to include and leave out things they don’t find heroic. Models. I don’t have any models on this particular assignment. I could provide them, but given the narrow scope, could I get away with sharing recommendation letters? I can include suggested steps in the process on the assignment sheet, and I can create peer review sheets that help the students with structure and audience/purpose. Graphic organizers and a cheat sheet for the grammar handbook students use might be helpful support as well.

I think I have just begun planning a writing assignment.

P. S. If you are a regular visitor or even a vistor whose been here before, you may notice a few differences in this site’s functionality. I was going to tack the description of some changes I’ve made to this post, but I decided they really merit a separate post, which is forthcoming.

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Interactive Notebooks

Although I think a system I’ve been using to encourage students to keep good notebooks works really well for me, and might even work well for students, I am not exactly sure what they’re writing down and whether or not they are truly using their notebooks to the greatest capacity. Therefore, I am going to try Interactive Notebooks next year. In case you haven’t heard of Interactive Notebooks, they are a system for taking notes developed by Addison Wesley as part of their History Alive! program. Teachers quickly adapted the resource to other subject areas.

What are they?

Essentially, Interactive Notebooks (INs) are a format for taking notes that encourages organization, making connections, and interaction. The Interactive Notebooks Wiki describes them as a way “to enable students to be creative, independent thinkers and writers.” The beautiful part of the IN to me is that students are encouraged to do assignments as part of the notebook, which will mean I will have fewer smaller assignments. For example, I frequently ask students to do close-reading assignments with questions in small groups. With an IN, the assignment can be part of the notebook. When INs are collected, I can assess the assignment as part of the overall notebook, which should cut down on some of the time I spend grading.

What do they look like?

Greece Central School District, as always, has wonderful resources related to INs, including a picture of what a language arts IN might look like (click to see a larger image):

Interactive Notebook

How do you set them up?

Students should use the right side of the notebook pages for testable material: notes from class and group discussions, reading, video and audio presentations, and lectures; literary terms; vocabulary; and assignments. The left side is for reading responses and journals; graphic organizers; songs, pictures, cartoons, and poems; connected or related ideas; reflections, quotes, perspectives; and mnemonic devices and memory aids. Take a look at the sample page above, and you’ll see it action.

What materials will I need?

Depending on how you want your students to organize their notebooks, you will need different tools. For instance, most teachers discussing INs seem to loathe 3-ring binders. To me, it makes more sense for organizational purposes to have a 3-ring binder as opposed to a spiral-bound notebook or composition book—there would be less need for pasting, for one thing, and it would also lie flatter when closed because 3-ring binders are designed to hold a lot of paper. Here is my list of supplies:

  • 3-ring binder (1-1½ inches)
  • notebook paper
  • highlighters
  • colored pens or pencils
  • subject dividers
  • a glue stick or tape
  • a pencil bag (or students can keep tools in backpack or purse)

The binder, paper, and pencil bag are probably self-explanatory, but highlighters and colored pens/pencils are used to underscore ideas or add color, both of which seem to help students when they are studying. The subject dividers are optional, but if you divide your course into units based on either a textbook or curriculum, you might consider them. The glue stick or tape is for affixing materials into the notebook.

Where can I learn more?

Start with the Interactive Notebooks Wiki, but be sure to check out Greece Central School District’s information, too. I also created this presentation for my own students that you are free to read, download, and adapt for your own purposes (it is licensed under a Creative Commons License).

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Accepting Late Work

I want to thank everyone who responded to the poll about late work, and especially those of you who elaborated about your views in the comments on that post.  I posted that poll because I’m currently struggling with my own policy, and I needed to hear your thoughts.

Eighty-seven people responded to the poll.  Of the respondents, 62% said they take late work at a significant penalty to a grade.  I didn’t specify in the poll, and truthfully, the word “significant” could have different meanings to different people.  Some of us might consider 10% significant, while others might interpret that to mean 30%.  Another 18% of respondents said they take late work at no penalty, while 20% said they take late work only in rare and extenuating circumstances.

Currently, I fall within the 20% who only take late work in rare and extenuating circumstances.  What I mean by that is that if a student has a prolonged absence, I have taken work late.  If a student had a death in the family, I also take work late.  However, other extenuating circumstances arise for which I’ve not taken work.  Computers break, files get corrupted, printers don’t work, assignments are “forgotten.”  Sometimes teenagers are just teenagers and make poor decisions about managing their time.  I do that, too, and I’m old enough to be their mother.  Considering all I’m juggling this year, I have had more empathy with flaky reasons for not getting work done than I have in the past.  I have been grateful for the fact that my ITMA program does not have hard and fast due dates and that if I have an insane week, I don’t have to worry about the fact that I’m turning in my assignment late.  However, I have to admit that there are real-world repercussions for turning in work late.

The poll reflects my own struggle with taking late work, and some of the commenters made really good points.  I am not planning to change my policy in late March in the middle of a school year, but I am thinking that for next year, I will take late work at a penalty.  I don’t want students to feel it’s OK to turn their work in whenever they can because I will become disorganized, and I will be overburdened.  In fact, one of the reasons I decided not to take late work was that I couldn’t keep track of when it was turned in.  Of course, that’s stupid because I could just write it down when it’s turned in.  I have a make-up work policy in effect, too, and I have a hard time keeping track of how many days it’s been since a student returned.  I do it, but it causes no end of frustration on my part.

I would love suggestions for a late work/make-up work system that works.

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Late Work

I am curious as to your policies regarding late work.  Will you take a moment and answer this poll (if you are so inclined)?  Feel free to elaborate on your answers in the comments if you wish.  The poll expires Monday evening.

Do you accept late work?

  • Yes, at a significant penalty to the grade. (62%)
  • Only in rare and extenuating circumstances. (20%)
  • Yes, at no penalty. (18%)
  • Never. (0%)

Total Votes: 87

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Week in Reflection: February 23-27

This week I am caught up on grading.  I’ve seen lots of talk out there among the English Edublogosphere and Twitter about feedback on student writing.  Something I do about once a semester is type comments as I read a student’s writing.  I usually wind up with about a page when I’m done.  It’s like a written conference.  I wish I had more time for writing conferences in my schedule.  I tried recording my feedback, and it felt like an awkward additional step.  Because I have smaller classes, I am able to give substantial feedback on writing and still ask my students to do plenty of writing.  That’s not to say it’s not a challenge to grade, but it’s such a reward when I can compare students’ progress.  It’s really evident when I compare ninth graders’ writing to eleventh graders’ writing.  It’s not that eleventh graders necessarily are inherently better writers, but I can see the growth that has taken place because I know they were writing like the ninth graders two years ago.  Another thing I have done is allow students to revise for a higher grade.  I gave my students a handout with Seven Deadly Sins — seven common grammatical issues I see in their writing — and a point value to be subtracted for each instance of the “sin” in their paper.  They can erase their sins by figuring out what they did, correcting it, and attaching an explanation of their errors and corrections to the second draft.  All is forgiven.

Right now my juniors are writing poetry explications.  I don’t think I was asked to write an explication until I was in college.  My freshmen are busily writing argumentative essays.  My sophomores are in the midst of a research paper.  Lots of writing going on!

I have really been enjoying the conversations with my department this week.  Teaching can be so isolating, and it is good to connect and discuss with those who share the same burdens and joys that we do as a result of working in the same place.  I feel sad when I hear stories of departments that aren’t close and refuse to collaborate.

My juniors read poetry (John Donne to John Milton) this last couple of weeks, and I was pleasantly surprised by the number of positive comments regarding the readings that they were making on the classroom blog.  My students are generally, I believe, fairly honest about their likes and dislikes.  When I was first exposed to these writers, I admit I didn’t care much for them.  In fact, until college, I didn’t much care for writing before about 1800 or so.  All that changed, and I actually find I like the older literature more now (go figure), but I have to admit that my teachers in high school did very little to engage me in that literature.  I had one excellent English teacher in high school, and the rest of my English classes are a blur.  I remember a lot of what I did with her because it was engaging and interesting.  I hope I am not flattering myself too much to think I have actually engaged my juniors in Late Renaissance/Restoration poetry, but it feels good to read such positive comments.

What this post lacks in coherence chalk up to the fact that what I share is more or less stream of consciousness.  Grad school is starting to get challenging.  I’m learning, and I am enjoying my classes, but I can’t pretend it’s not difficult.

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