Tag Archives: education

If You Liked…

In our high school literature studies, we often stick to tried and true classics, which is fine. There are very good reasons why these books are classics. But what if you want to read something newer, but somehow related to a classic? What if you want to extend learning for your students and want to choose a similar book? What if your students must read a certain number of books to fulfill state objectives (Georgia’s GPS require students to read 20 books a year) and you want to steer them toward books related to others you have studied?

I provide you with ten recommendations for extension. Feel free to share your own suggestions in the comments.

Ahab’s Wife by Sena Jeter Naslund

Read it with Moby Dick by Herman Melville

What it’s about: In a small passage in his chapter, “The Symphony,” Melville’s Captain Ahab tells Starbuck about his young wife. As God fashioned Eve from Adam’s rib, so Naslund from Melville’s brief description creates Una, who begins her own narrative no less memorably than Ishmael began his: “Captain Ahab was neither my first husband nor my last.” Una’s story is every bit as fascinating as that of her husband. She meets and rubs shoulders with such ninethenth century luminaries as Margaret Fuller, Maria Mitchell, Frederick Douglass, Nathaniel Hawthorne, and Ralph Waldo Emerson. The book is a lush garden of literary allusion, from Spenser’s The Faerie Queene to Homer’s Odyssey.

Why students should read it: Naslund’s Una is one of the literary characters you will wish you could meet in real life. She is vibrant and real. Students will learn a great deal about mid-nineteenth century life and history from reading the book, too. The prose is gorgeous literary fiction.

A Thousand AcresA Thousand Acres by Jane Smiley

Read it with King Lear by William Shakespeare

What it’s about: Larry Cook, a farmer in Zebulon County, Iowa, decides to divide his thousand-acre farm among his three daughters, Ginny, Rose and Caroline, insisting he is saving them an inheritance tax. The daughters do not want him to do this, but Larry possesses a single-mindedness that will not be crossed. When Caroline objects more firmly, she is cut out of the deal. The family gradually implodes under Larry’s seeming madness, a suit to get back his land, and Ginny and Rose’s competition for the affections of neighbor’s son Jess Clark.

Why students should read it: This Pulitzer-prize winning novel closely mimics the plot of King Lear, but gives Lear’s daughters some depth — while Goneril and Regan are “unnatural hags,” Ginny and Rose have good reasons for hating their father, and Caroline is not the unflinchingly honest daughter that Cordelia is. Students will see quite clearly how Shakespeare’s timeless stories and themes still apply to readers today. Students will be fascinated by how Smiley takes a quintessentially British author’s story and makes it profoundly American.

A Lesson Before DyingA Lesson Before Dying by Ernest J. Gaines

Read it with To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee

What it’s about: Jefferson is a young black man who is in the wrong place at the wrong time. Falsely accused of murder, tried by a jury of his white “peers,” and sentenced to death by electrocution by a dismissive judge, Jefferson believes the defense attorney’s closing argument, which compares him to a “hog.” Grant Wiggins (no relation to Grant of UbD fame!), a teacher at the black school in the Quarter, is employed by Jefferson’s godmother to help Jefferson die like a man.

Why students should read it: While To Kill a Mockingbird works because a child who doesn’t understand why certain things should be reports what she sees, this novel works because a jaded, bruised, and downtrodden teacher who is all too acutely aware of the oppression of racism tells us the story of the journey to self-discovery. It’s a powerful book, and through a study with To Kill a Mockingbird would make for interesting exploration into the justice system as it existed in the 1930’s and 1940’s, as well as questions of inequity in education and living conditions. Both teach profound lessons about acceptance and love.

The Ghost Writer

The Ghost Writer by John Harwood

Read it with The Turn of the Screw by Henry James and/or Great Expectations by Charles Dickens

What it’s about: Gerard Freeman is an Australian librarian who lives with his mother — a clingy, obsessive woman afraid above all that Gerard will leave her. His only real friend is a pen-friend, Alice Jessell, an English woman with an injury which confines her to a wheelchair. Though the two have never met, they have been corresponding since they were 13 and eventually fall in love. Intensely curious about his mother’s past after finding short fiction written by her grandmother, Viola, Gerard travels to England to see Miss Jessell and learn more about the darkest secrets of his mother’s past.

Why students should read it: If your students thought Miss Havisham was deliciously creepy and loved the haunted Victorian feel of The Turn of the Screw, they will enjoy Harwood’s love letter to both novels. Viola’s creepy short stories are as delightful as the novel itself and would be good illustrations of the “story within a story” idea that students might encounter in other works, such as Hamlet.

The Poisonwood BibleThe Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver

Read it with Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad

What it’s about: Baptist minister Nathan Price takes his wife and four daughters to the Belgian Congo [Democratic Republic of the Congo] to serve as missionaries right before that country’s independence from Belgium. The story is told through the viewpoint of Orleanna Price, Nathan’s wife, and each of his four daughters: Rachel, Adah, Leah, and Ruth May. Africa has a way of getting under the skin of the Price family women, each in a different way, and the book is a grim illustration of America’s own culpability in the devastation of colonialism on the African continent.

Why students should read it: The novel is rich in gorgeous prose and biblical allusion and shows readers a side of colonialism that is an interesting counterpoint to Conrad’s vision in Heart of Darkness. Kingsolver has a gift for creating vivid, realistic characters and bringing her setting into vivid relief (see also her novel The Bean Trees for an example set in America).

The Dante ClubThe Dante Club by Matthew Pearl

Read it with The Inferno by Dante and/or selections from the poetry of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, James Russell Lowell, Oliver Wendell Holmes, and the other “Fireside Poets.”

What it’s about: A murderer is stalking Boston. Strange and gruesome crime scenes appear to be coming right from the pages of Dante’s Inferno. The Dante Club, the group of poets engaged in helping Henry Wadsworth Longfellow translate Dante’s work, are the only ones who make the connection — which also makes them the likeliest suspects!

Why students should read it: Students studying Dante’s Inferno will gain an understanding of and appreciation for Dante’s work and the path scholars took to make it accessible for American readers. Pearl’s novel is also an interesting insight into literary Boston following the Civil War.

PossessionPossession by A.S. Byatt

Read it with British Victorian poets, such as Robert Browning, Elizabeth Barrett Browning, Alfred, Lord Tennyson, and others.

What it’s about: The relationship between Randolph Henry Ash, a fictional Victorian poet modeled perhaps after Robert Browning, and Christabel LaMotte, is uncovered by literary scholars Roland Mitchell and Maud Bailey, who turn Victorian literary scholarship on its head with their findings.

Why students should read it: I will admit that perhaps you want to recommend this one to your most voracious and enthusiastic readers because it is not an easy read, but it is a rewarding read. Students will be fascinated to learn about the dark, seedy underworld that is literary scholarship when territorial specialists are more concerned with preserving their pet theories than with disseminating the truth about their “charges.” The love story at the center will likely appeal to the resident romantic in high school and college students.

The Thirteenth TaleThe Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield

Read it with Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë, Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë, The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins, The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde, Northanger Abbey by Jane Austen, and/or The Turn of the Screw by Henry James.

What it’s about: Margaret Lea, a fan of nineteenth century fiction like Jane Eyre, turns up her nose at the popular books of Vida Winter. Until, that is, her father, a rare book dealer for whom she works, acquires a first edition of Miss Winter’s Thirteen Tales of Change and Desperation. Margaret tears through the book, dismayed to discover the title is a ruse: the book lacks a thirteenth tale. Miss Winter, impressed by Margaret’s writing, contacts her to write her own biography, tantalizingly promising the secret of the thirteenth tale will be hers if she accepts.

Why students should read it: Setterfield clearly loves gothic fiction of the 1800’s, and I have to admit, I finally read Jane Eyre this past fall because of Setterfield’s devotion to the book as expressed through the pages of her own novel. This novel will hook students with its mystery and gothic atmosphere, while enhancing their appreciation for the gothic fiction of the nineteenth century.

WicketWicked by Gregory Maguire

Read it with The Wizard of Oz by L. Frank Baum

What it’s about: Maguire tells the famous story of Dorothy’s nemesis, the Wicked Witch of the West, through her own words and in a sympathetic light. This answer to Baum’s classic becomes a political allegory in the deft hands of Maguire, who imagines the Wicked Witch to be Elphaba, shunned and rejected from childhood, and fashions a complicated past complete with Galinda (Glinda — her college roommate and friend!), the Winkies, and the Wizard himself.

Why students should read it: Most high school and college students won’t be studying The Wizard of Oz, I suppose, but they will benefit from looking at the other side of the story and examining point of view in narrative. Students will be hooked because of what they already know of this story, but they will stay intrigued by what they learn when Elphaba shares her side.

Reading Lolita in TehranReading Lolita in Tehran by Azar Nafisi

Read it with Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov, Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen, The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald, and Daisy Miller by Henry James

What it’s about: Azar Nafisi was a literature professor when the Shah of Iran was overthrown and Ayatollah Khomeini became the leader of the new Islamic republic. She was fired when she refused to wear the veil, but secretly conducted a book club for female students. This book chronicles her stories teaching Western literature both in and out of a university setting. Her focus is on the four books mentioned above and her Middle Eastern students’ responses to and connection with Western literature.

Why students should read it: Not only does this memoir give Western students a different lens through which to interpret literature, but it also gives students a new and deeper appreciation for these four books of the Western canon. The trial of The Great Gatsby was particularly intriguing to me; I shared this section with my American literature Honors students when we studied Gatsby. I also read Lolita after reading this book (thank you Professor Nafisi — it was wonderful).

Do you have other recommendations for books that can be paired with classics?

Clayton County Schools to Lose SACS Accreditation

The Southern Association of Colleges and School (SACS), the chief accreditation agency here in Georgia, is recommending that Clayton County Schools lose its accreditation. The AJC article linked focuses on the fact that loss of accreditation would strip Clayton students of HOPE Scholarship eligibility. At any rate, the real losers in this system are the students and teachers. I interviewed for a teaching post in Clayton County right out of college, and I’ve never been so glad I didn’t get a job. The stories I’ve heard from teachers in that system are upsetting. What do you do to fix an entire school district that is “fatally flawed”?

Update, 3/24/08: I know this issue makes many people angry, but I must remind you to read the comments policy before submitting comments.

Teachers Can Be the Worst Students

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I am currently taking two online professional development courses through a local school system. Both are book studies, and if you look in the sidebar, you can guess which two books. The interesting thing to me is that one group is active, dynamic, and interested in conversation about the book we are reading. Participants are posting resources. Participants are actually reading each other’s posts and providing feedback that instigates discussion. Interestingly enough, a large number of the participants are not currently teaching, but they are taking the course to keep their certificates current.

The other group does the bare minimum required. Many of the response posts are bland recapitulations of the poster’s points with a somewhat encouraging “I agree” stamped on. We’re reading a really interesting book, and the discussions are just mind-numbing. I think the majority of this group is in the classroom, too.

I really hope these teachers are not accepting the kind of work they are producing from their own students.  On the other hand, part of me wants to say that if you aren’t willing to be a good student, it doesn’t make much sense to be a teacher.  I think the best teachers genuinely like to learn.  I know, I know.  A lot of professional development is stupid.  But these two online courses really aren’t!  That’s just my opinion, I guess, and clearly the majority of the other participants don’t agree.

I find the dichotomy really interesting.

Teaching Today

Today was a professional development day, and we had an interesting guest speaker on the topic of discipline. I wanted to share part of what he discussed today with edubloggers in hopes that we can contribute to the dialogue.

Do you think teaching is harder today than it was for your teachers when you were in school?

Most of my faculty said yes, it is. So did I. Why, I wasn’t sure I could articulate, but I just knew something different exists between teachers and students today that didn’t exist when I was a student myself. Our speaker identified three cultural markers that changed schools and made teaching (and for that matter, parenting) more difficult.

  1. Columbine. If the last few days with another school shooting in the news have underscored anything, it is simply that our schools are no longer about education first. We are about safety first, and education has to come second. That’s frightening on a couple of levels.
  2. Monica Lewinsky. The dialogue we have to have with teenagers is different. A sizable contingent of our girls does not believe oral sex is sex, and, surprisingly, our boys are doing little to disabuse our girls of this notion.
  3. Technology. We can’t keep our students or children from bad information. We used to be able to control what they heard and saw a little better. Now they pick up information they aren’t mature enough to process. The Internet is an amazing, wonderful, useful tool, but we all know it has a dark side that has given our youth access to stuff they frankly shouldn’t see or in some cases (in my opinion) even know about. I wish I didn’t know about some of it, too — I was pretty happy not knowing, truth be told. Our speaker didn’t mention this aspect of technology, but every teacher knows that it has proven to be a temptation for cheating, too.

Obviously, other factors have changed our society and contributed to the way our educational system is today, making our jobs harder than our own teachers’ jobs were.

Why do you think teaching is more difficult today? If you don’t think it is, why not?

UbD Educators: Suggestions?

I have mentioned before that the UbD Educators wiki has grown quiet.  I think there may be two reasons for this:

  • We’re all busy educators who have difficulty finding the time to create, post, and/or comment on others’ posted UbD units.
  • We’re not getting what we need out of the wiki.

It’s not in my power to alleviate the first problem, and believe me, I hear you there.  However, the second problem is much easier to address.  The wiki is only as good as we make it.  If you need a feature that the wiki doesn’t have, add it.  If you have trouble keeping up with new pages and discussions, try subscribing to the site’s various RSS feeds (you can keep up with all changes or just changes to one page).  If you want to make a change, but you aren’t sure, ask the wiki members about it on the Suggestions page.  the majority of the wiki’s members have not yet contributed either unit plans or discussions.  I want to hear your voice!  I don’t mind lurkers, but we have the potential to make this wiki a huge repository of ideas and discussion about UbD, and we can only do that through teacher contributions.

Can Teaching Be Outsourced?

The World is FlatYou may recall I am reading Thomas Friedman’s The World is Flat for an online PLU course. In chapter six, he describes the kinds of people who will be “untouchable,” that is their jobs will be safe in the flat world. I admit to thinking that teaching is one of those “untouchable” jobs. However, I am also taking this course online and specifically sought out an online masters program in Instructional Technology to apply to because I did not want to schlep downtown to classes two nights a week or go to a weekly professional development class at a school across town. I wanted the convenience of learning at my own pace, in my own home. And it’s not difficult anymore for adults to find an online program of study. What about K-12? Can teaching be outsourced? If it can, what do we as teachers need to be able to do in order to remain viable in the field of education. If it can’t be outsourced, why do you think that is the case? How will education change in view of the prospect of outsourcing?

Stuff for English Teachers

I recently started using StumbleUpon (here’s my profile) in my Firefox browser to discover new sites, and I feel stupid for not trying it before now. Poking around the Internet for the last week or so, I have “stumbled” upon some good sites (and found some on my own):

  • Read Print has online books. I like the Shakespeare section. I did notice a few typos on the site (Hamnet Shakespeare died in 1596, not 1896), but the articles were interesting.
  • I’ve probably mentioned DailyLit before, but it merits mention alongside Read Print. I don’t think I could have finished Moby Dick if not for DailyLit. I am currently reading Emma. All of us have five minutes for a book each day.
  • Guide to Grammar and Writing has some interesting grammar activities; I found it via SMART’s English/Language Arts Resources.
  • NCTE Inbox is now a blog! I missed the inception when I let my NCTE membership lapse.
  • What Should I Read Next? looks like a great tool for teachers to recommend to students who are looking for books similar to ones they already like.
  • BookMooch enables users to swap books.  It’s free (except for postage).
  • Here’s a huge collection of writing resources.

Thank You, Betsy

As my husband increasingly needs to use our home desktop for his own writing, I found that I did not have enough time to work effectively from home or to pursue my various interests. I am not faulting my husband — in fact , it is precisely because I wanted to be supportive and encouraging of his burgeoning career as a journalist that I curtailed my computer use at home. I decided the only thing to do was to save money for a laptop, and I also decided that if this blog or any other information I had provided had been useful, perhaps donors would be interested in helping me save. I have been sitting on this announcement because I haven’t really set any balls in motion yet, but it is my intention to apply to go back to school and earn an masters in Instructional Technology. Therefore, it became more necessary than ever that I have a computer, preferably a laptop, in order to pursue my studies.

Several people made generous contributions, and I can’t tell you how much I appreciated them. However, a reader of my husband’s work, Betsy, had a laptop she no longer used and decided to donate it to me. I am now the proud owner of an Apple iBook G3. I believe that this laptop will enable me to do anything I might need to do for school, and it was always my hope that I might indeed be able to purchase an Apple with my savings. I had a website that sold used Apples bookmarked, and I had been saving with the goal of purchasing a used Apple — more affordable to me than a new one — from this seller. However, Betsy’s generous donation made all of that unnecessary. Therefore, I would like to tell those of you who donated towards my laptop savings that you have two options: 1) allow me to use your donation for other items I need for my classroom (supplies, decorations, etc.), or 2) request a refund for your donation. If you donated, and I do not hear from you, I will assume it is OK to apply your donation to other classroom needs.

I want to highlight a website called DonorsChoose.org. If you are like Betsy, and you have an item you no longer use and wish to donate for educational purposes, please check out this site. You may find a teacher who needs exactly what you have, and you can be helping not just that teacher, but also his or her students with your donation. You can also choose to contribute funds towards purchasing the items the teachers need. Your gifts are tax-deductible. You can also look for teachers in your state so you know your gifts will benefit students close to home. Please check out their site for more information. I would have used the site to request help, but it is limited to public school teachers at this time, and I am currently teaching in a private school.

Thanks again, Betsy for your generosity. I can’t wait to get to work!