Category Archives: Teaching Literature

“To End Where I Begun”: Backward Design and Shakespeare

I am presenting at NCTE tomorrow morning at 9:30 at the Yacht and Beach Club in Grand Harbour Ballroom South. You can download and/or view all my session materials here.

Note: I think if you visit the presentation on SlideShare and download it, you can get the notes.

Here is my handout for my Macbeth performance task that I discuss as an alternative to a performance.

Here is a graphic organizer for my comparative video exercise for Act I Scene 1. I use the filmed versions of Macbeth directed by Jack Gold, Roman Polanski, and Geoffrey Wright for this activity.

Here is a Wordle made from the text of Macbeth that I use to introduce students to themes in the play.

Chris Shamburg’s radio play of the “Double, Double, Toil and Trouble” scene.

If you want to explore the UbD Educators wiki (Understanding by Design, ® ASCD) for a variety of resources, feel free to check it out. You don’t have to join to lurk; you have to join to contribute your own work.

Links to my previous work aligning Folger methods with backward design:

Blog posts about Folger/teaching Shakespeare:

Links to other helpful resources:

If you would like to see the Shakespeare Made Easy activity I mentioned, please visit and join A Way to Teach. You’ll find a lot of great resources there.

If I can think of more stuff to add later, I will, so bookmark this post if you’d like to access it more easily.

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Risha Mullins and Censorship

Banned Books Week 2010 PosterDrop everything and go read this post at Risha Mullins’s blog.

It is amazing to me that with the evidence in their hands that what Mullins was doing was working, the principal and superintendent—and even department members—railroaded Mullins into quitting. She is a brave person, and I admire her grace under fire. If I were a school administrator, her willingness to stand up for her kids and their learning would make we want to hire her.

I have never been in her shoes, and I pray I never will be. Donalyn Miller said last week on Twitter that she noticed it seems to be parents who don’t read who challenge books, and I think it’s very true. The parents at my school are very literate and supportive of their children reading. I am grateful every day for the place where I teach, the students I teach, and the parents that support my students’ learning.

Creative Commons License photo credit: ALA – The American Library Association

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Speak Loudly: Banned Books Week

SpeakLaurie Halse Anderson’s novel Speak has recently been the focus of a new attack by Wesley Scroggins, associate professor of management at Missouri State University. He describes the novel as “soft pornography” and apparently levied a formal challenge against this book in addition to Slaughterhouse Five, which he also deems inappropriate because of its language and its description of Jesus, and Twenty Boy Summer. He also has complaints about Republic School District’s (Missouri) sex education program, teaching of evolution, and teaching of American government and history. School Library Journal interviewed Halse Anderson about this latest attempt to ban her work.

I think parents have every right to decide with their children what is appropriate for their own children to read. Note I think the child has a voice and should have some stake. My nine-year-old became interested in the Salem witch trials after we visited Salem this year, so we checked out library books, and she learned more about them. And the facts in that case are not pretty, nor are they easy even for adults to understand, much less children. Man’s inhumanity to man is tough. But I will not shield my child from it because it exists. Not to allow her to learn about difficult subjects is to shackle her education. She can be a part of a better future because she will have learned about the mistakes of history. She will, I hope, recognize a witch hunt when she sees one. Like I do.

Parents like Scroggins are dangerous because they seek to promote an agenda with their challenges—their own. They have decided that the way they parent and their choices are the best and are more beneficial for your children than the choices you would make. They would seek to educate your own children in they way they think they should be educated. They seek to take away your right to make choices with your child.

I wish Speak had been around for me when I was in the ninth grade. It was something I needed. It’s something many girls—and boys—need. I was pleased that my own daughter read it for her English class in ninth grade. I was glad that she could learn about the trauma of rape in a book, that it happened, and that boys you liked and trusted did it—not just strangers—instead of experiencing it firsthand.

Paul Hankins has rallied around Laurie Halse Anderson’s novel with a Twitter-based campaign called #SpeakLoudly. He has also started a Speak Loudly website. We all also need to rally around Slaughterhouse Five and Twenty Boy Summer. Do not let anyone tell you what you and your children can read. Speak up! Speak loudly! Let your voice be heard this week, during Banned Books Week.

Check out these links for more on what you can do during Banned Books Week:

Feel free to share additional resources in the comments. I can add them to the list.

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Summer Reading

This post started with a tweet from Gary Anderson about what his daughters were reading:

Gary Anderson tweet

Donalyn Miller shared how sad that tweet made her in a reply. I jumped in and later Paul Hankins, Karen LaBonte and Kim McCollum joined the conversation. A few others dipped in and out. The bottom line. What is the purpose of summer reading? How do we assess it? Should we even have required books or should we let students choose?

My school requires students read three books (four if you’re in AP). Of those three, one is a required book, one is a choice selected from a list of about ten books, and one is a faculty seminar book—students sign up the previous spring for the book they want to read. We have everything from The Eyre Affair to Hunger Games to Bringing Down the House. The students seem to like it, and there is sometimes a mad rush to sign up for first picks.

When students return, our first unit of study is the required book. I usually ask students to create a project for the choice book. The seminar discussion is the only assessment for the faculty book.

Basically, our conversation last night centered around whether we should assign summer reading. I admit I’m torn. I want students to read over the summer, and I want them to pick up books they want to read. I think we try to have some balance in the way we do it at Weber, but I admit some students still grumble. And what we are doing now is a big improvement over what we were doing when I started: three required books, some type of assessment over two of them without discussion (usually a test and an essay). The kids hated it.

I will go on record as saying the chapter summaries deal that a lot of schools do is just painful, and it kills books. My daughter has had to do that for summer reading, and I have watched it destroy any interest she had in the book. She had to do it with Speak, and not only did it frustrate her because she couldn’t tell what constituted a chapter in that book, but the directions given by the school were also no help. Once school started and the teachers recognized this, they backed off on the requirement, and my daughter, who had done a whole lot of work, just felt resentful. Last year, her teacher required these study guides for each book they read. It’s painful! And no choices at all!

I know we have some students who wouldn’t pick up a book all summer without a summer reading requirement. Truth be told, some of them don’t anyway. So what’s the solution? What do you think of summer reading? What should schools do?

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I’m Still in Salem

At least in my mind. The visit actually ended a week ago. The first thing I wanted to do when I came home was read my favorite books set in Salem. If your students read The Crucible and The Scarlet Letter (yes, I know that one’s set in Boston), and they’re looking for more books about Salem, you might try steering them toward these books.

The Physick Book of Deliverance DaneKatherine Howe’s novel The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane begins on the cusp of the Salem witch trials. Deliverance Dane is a healer, a wise woman accused of witchcraft. The difference between Deliverance and others accused is that Deliverance actually is a witch. This novel follows the stories of several of Deliverance’s descendants, including  Connie Goodwin, the protagonist of the story. Connie is a history graduate student, and we first meet her during her oral examination. The novel is highly readable. Howe has clearly done her research, and she’s truly writing what she knows—she herself is a doctoral student in history and the descendant of two accused witches—Elizabeth Proctor, who survived the trials, and Elizabeth Howe, who did not.

The Heretic's DaughterKathleen Kent’s novel The Heretic’s Daughter is billed as “a gripping and original first novel based on family history from a descendant of a condemned Salem witch.” Told from the point of view of Sarah Carrier, daughter of Martha Carrier, who was condemned and hanged during the witch trials, the novel vividly explores the events of the trials. Kent herself is a descendant of the Carriers. This novel is geared toward a young adult audience and might be perfect for literature circles about the Salem witch trials (and I think I just had a really good idea for American literature this year after typing that sentence).

The House of Seven GablesFewer people read Nathaniel Hawthorne’s House of Seven Gables than its more famous counterpart, The Scarlet Letter, but some readers, including poet James Russell Lowell, felt that Seven Gables was even better than The Scarlet Letter. The house that inspired the story is a tourist attraction in Salem. Hawthorne’s birthplace has been moved to the same grounds. After visiting the house, I feel there is little wonder why the home inspired Hawthorne. The novel tells the story of the Pyncheon family, cursed because of the role an ancestor played in the witch trials. Fun fact: the Pyncheon family actually existed and are the ancestors of writer Thomas Pynchon, so you get a two for one connection.

The Lace ReaderBrunonia Barry’s novel The Lace Reader is more of a modern novel of Salem, but readers are treated to descriptions of the kitschy embrace of its witchcraft history that can be found in modern Salem. The novel centers around Towner Whitney, who is returning to Salem upon the death of a beloved aunt. Towner shares her aunt’s ability to read the future through patterns in lace. Several Salem landmarks are depicted, including the statue of Roger Conant and Red’s Sandwiches. The novel explores Towner’s quest to save herself and figure out who she is. It might be more interesting to more mature female students as opposed to male students, but I enjoyed it when I read it some time ago.

The Map of True PlacesBrunonia Barry’s second novel The Map of True Places is also set in Salem, where the author lives. This novel explores the long-term effects of the suicide of protagonist Zee’s mother. Perhaps because Barry herself returned to Salem after an absence, her novels explore characters who also come back to Salem and the complex psychological associations we have with place and home. The title is drawn from a Melville quote: “It is not down in any map; true places never are.” Isn’t the cover gorgeous?

So, if you fancy a visit to Salem, give one of these books a try. If you’ve read them, feel free to share your thoughts in the comments.

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Salem Visit

We returned home from Salem late Friday night. I had a great time, and I want to thank Destination Salem, William Morrow, and Brunonia Barry for the great trip!

We were waylaid for five-six hours in Pennsylvania when our car broke down. Our radiator cracked and we overheated. However, I have to hand it to Karl’s Towing in Saylorsburg: they fixed the problem and we were on our way. They charged us a fair price, too. I think given the circumstances, they worked as quickly as they could. It was a rotten situation to be in, but they made it bearable.

It was late at night when we arrived in Salem, so we didn’t get to look around as we had planned. The next day we started out with a ride on the Salem Trolley. We walked around town, looking at everything. We went to the kitschy Salem Witch Museum I took pictures of the Witch Trials Memorial at the Old Burying Ground. We visited the House of Seven Gables. We visited a wonderful old candy store near the House of Seven Gables called Ye Olde Pepper Companie. We had a wonderful dinner at Sixty 2 on Wharf.

The next day we started with a wonderful breakfast at the Hawthorne Hotel and went to the Peabody Essex Museum and rode the schooner Fame. We only had two nights in the hotel, so that evening we visited my friend Ha in Concord. We spent that night in her condo in Cambridge, then left the next day. All in all, we needed more time. I really think that six hours would have made a difference, but c’est la vie, and we had a great time anyway. I would love to go back and visit any time. We had a wonderful time. Everyone was so friendly, and it was amazing to be in the presence of so much history—literary and otherwise.

Here are some pictures from the trip. All of them are licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution Share-Alike license, so if you want to use them for your unit on The Crucible, feel free to grab them.

Created with Admarket’s flickrSLiDR.

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The Crucible

Salem Massachusetts 011-300As I prepare to visit Salem, Massachusetts for the first time early next week, I thought it would be fitting to share some of my lessons for The Crucible in case you haven’t seen them before.

In Witch Hunt: A Web Scavenger Hunt for The Crucible by Arthur Miller, your students will learn about the inspiration for Arthur Miller’s play, including the Salem Witch Trials, McCarthyism, and possible scientific explanations for the hysteria.

In Crucible, Act Two, Scene Two assignment (RTF,  PDF) your students must consider whether Act Two, Scene Two, added by Miller later on, is materially necessary to the play. Some argue that it changes Abigail’s motives from desire for John Proctor to madness.

In “Half-Hanged Mary” by Margaret Atwood (RTF,  PDF—credit Jana Edwards) students read a poem based on the true story of Mary Webster, accused of witchcraft in the 1680’s. It would make a good introduction or companion to The Crucible.

I most likely will not be posting next week while I am on vacation.

Creative Commons License photo credit: Paul-W

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The Unquiet Library

The Unquiet Library, run by media specialist Buffy Hamilton at Creekview High School in Canton, GA., has a wonderful writeup in American Libraries.

The students are skeptical when the librarian says, “I want everyone to take out their cell phones and check to see if you can get reception in the library.” The young scholars hesitantly pull out their mobile devices unsure of what to make of this request. “Your assignment is to charge up your phones for class on Friday.” This wasn’t like any librarian they had met before.

Here’s how much of a library nerd I am: I teared up as I read the last paragraph. Good for you, Buffy! And for Creekview and its students and teachers.

Buffy does some amazing things. I’m so jealous of Creekview. Check out her online presence and enjoy learning from her:

An April morning in the Unquiet Library

Creative Commons License photo credit:  theunquietlibrary

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Pretty British Literature Handouts

Partly because I am trying to show off the pretty handouts I have created using Apple iWorks’s Pages, and partly because I wanted to try out Issuu, here is a collection of handouts for British literature.

What a pretty way to share handouts!

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Teaching Schedule

Material escolarI received my teaching schedule for next year. I am stepping back into some comfortable areas as well as taking on some new challenges.

I will be teaching two sections (two levels) of British Literature and Composition, same as I did this year, and I will also be teaching my Hero with a Thousand Faces elective first semester and Writing Seminar II second semester. I have taught Writing Seminar II for at least second semester, if not for the whole year, ever since the course was created. The reason for that is the academic research paper is assigned for all tenth graders, including those in that Writing Seminar class, during second semester. Teaching the research paper is one of my areas of expertise, which sounds really self-congratulatory, and I’m not usually like that, but I do understand why I am consistently given the task by my principal.

I am returning to American Literature and Composition, which I haven’t taught for a few years. I already used this word, but that curriculum feels comfortable to me. It will be good to get back into again. I really did kind of miss it.

I am taking on the new challenge of teaching Journalism and running our school paper. I have taught a Journalism course before in middle school, and I feel the course was great considering the lack of support I received by the administration and the lack of materials I received. Aside from getting a local car dealership to underwrite a two-day a week subscription to the newspaper, I had no teaching materials. In my new position, I will have computer access and software, a few seasoned newspaper veterans in the class, and I would wager I’ll have all the support I will need to make a go of it.

As I gave the teacher edition of one of the 9th grade literature anthologies to the teacher who will teach the class next year, I remarked to her that I had taught that course (Grammar, Composition, and Literature CP2) since its inception at our school. Wow. That has been for the last six years. I have taught ninth grade for every year of my high school teaching career. That means teaching Romeo and Juliet and The Odyssey every year for 10 years. It was wearing thin, and when I realized a couple of years ago that I was no longer enjoying teaching even these favorites, I knew I needed a break. Maybe I won’t mind coming back to it after a rest.

I think I have decided not to buy a Teacher’s Daybook this year. I find Jim Burke’s planner to be the best I’ve ever used. It’s flexible, but one struggle I’ve had is that I have a lot of preps and a strange alternating schedule, and in my search for a planner that works better for me, I found this: Planbook by Hellmansoft. The video demonstration gives you a good idea of all the planner can do, but here’s a great description from the site:

Planbook is a lesson planning application developed by Jeff Hellman, a high school science teacher. Planbook is designed to completely replace your paper plan book with an intuitive application that lets you harness the power of the computer to make your lesson planning time more productive. You can enter the schedule that you teach (rotating and A/B schedule are easily handled), quickly enter lesson information, attach files to lessons, track standards, print hard copies of your plans and publish your plans to the web for students, parents and other education professionals and more.

Planbook is simple enough to use that you’ll get going in no time, but robust enough to deal with schedule changes, days with abnormal schedules and just about anything else that comes at you.

Given the price, and given all the strangeness in my schedule, as well as all the features and the fact that its on the computer, it just makes sense. I can use iCal or Things to manage any reminders for non-instructional tasks (such as due dates for college letters or recommendation or meetings).

I’m looking forward to next year. I think it will be a good year.

Creative Commons License photo credit: sergis blog

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