Monday, February 6, 2012

Intellectual Consumerism

From Sociological Images:

"The cartoon, though, suggests that intellectuals have their own breed of conspicuous consumption, even as they criticize the Hummer drivers."

Enjoy this comic while I attempt to carve out time this week for an essay/ramble/article on the intersection of intellectual consumerism and anti-intellectualism.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

To Kill a Mockingbird

"I maintain that the Ewells started it all, but Jem, who was four years my senior, said it started long before that. He said it began the summer Dill came to us, when Dill first gave us the idea of making Boo Radley come out."
To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee

Contrasting Representations of "Catcher in the Rye"

Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Observation Day 3

Today I escaped the monotonous hours of listening to the same chapter of To Kill a Mockingbird in four consecutive class sessions. Today I…

Cut paper!

Today I….graded quizzes!

Today I…supervised lit. circles!

Today I realized, horrified, that 85% of an honors English II course did not bother to read the one chapter of To Kill a Mockingbird assigned over the weekend. Consequently, I realized lit. circles are a dreadful waste of time when hardly anyone has read the material. Instead of the higher order thinking and collaboration promised by all my teaching texts, I beheld the reality of one student summarizing the chapter while the rest frantically regurgitated the information to fill the required lines on their study sheet.

Team work meets reality. Scary.

Like every student teacher on the planet, I’ve read a lot of books on collaborative learning. I’ve written lesson plans where my future-teacher-self conducts a symphony of discovery among clusters of enthusiastic students. My file box has a section dedicated to different formats, methods, and handouts for guiding group work.

What college did not add to my idealistic file box was a battle plan for the moment I waded into those little clusters to supervise and guide their learning.

The class and I remain a little uncertain as to my status in the classroom. This immediately became apparent as I walked my rounds. The students felt no teacher-mandated need to shift their conversation back to the topic when I approached. In fact, the first group acted genuinely surprised when I asked them a question. As the hour progress I repeatedly beat my head against my limitations. For example, what do I do when a student offers a seemingly bizarre, unrelated response to a question and then asks, “Is that good?” My answer. “It’s a good start.”

And today was a good start for my teaching practice. Despite my struggles, I  saw the “lights go on” in a group of students as I prompted them to think about their own experiences with marginalized groups of people like the Ewels in To Kill a Mockingbird. It was a glorious thinking. When I told them so, two of them exchanged a high-five.

Monday, January 30, 2012

Virginia Woolf

Despite my love-hate relationship with feminist criticism and the terrible time I had reading Mrs. Dalloway, "A Room of One's Own" won my ever-lasting admiration for Virginia Woolf. It wasn't just her spot-on insight into gender politics and canon construction--though Woolf understood their connection all too well. Rather, Woolf captured my heart when she wrote,

"Thought--to call it by a prouder name than it deserved--had let its line down in the steam. It swayed, minute after minute, hither and thither among the reflections and the weeds, letting the water lift it and sink it, until--you know the little tug--the sudden conglomeration of an idea at the end of one's line: and then the cautious hauling of it in, and the careful laying of it out? Alas, laid on the grass how small, how insignificant this thought of mine looked..."

Sunday, January 29, 2012

E-Book of the Week

Every Sunday I'll post a free e-book over on the right-hand column. Keep your eyes peeled. Then each month I'll update and repost this list of featured books.

George Eliot, Mill on the Floss
Walt Whitman, "Crossing Brooklyn Ferry"

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Stephen King's N

View the complete animated series at
If you haven't geeked out on Marvel Entertainment's animated adaptation of Stephen King's N, you should do that now. Then you should read the short story in Just After Sunset.

I'm not typically a big fan of King, but my husband is. After listening to Just After Sunset on audio book, he made me a nest on the couch and wouldn't share his popcorn until I listened to 'N.' It's a brilliantly creepy story about a psychiatrist who discovers the terrible reality behind a patient's psychosis. It will leave you contemplating the nature of mental illness and wondering what lurks behind seemingly irrational fears.

'N' hit me close to the heart. Like the title character, in times of stress I pick up all sorts of weird ticks and superstitions. For example, when I cross lines on the sidewalk I have to alternate which foot crosses first. Turns out, instead of just being neurotic, I'm helping keep the world whole.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Analyzing Cover Art

We're gonna beat some sh*t up!
I'm on a mystic quest for
self discovery!
Shelving books for 3 months at the regional library introduced me to the art and science of books covers. I learned to discern branches of Christian fiction by the tilt of the cover-heroine's chin. I realized that fantasy novels that are marketed toward women readers feature soft, sketchy cover art that indicates they are "mystical," while fantasy novels targeting men are brightly colored, more realistic, and highlight action scenes.
Or at least, that's what I imagined.

Different cover designs obviously appeal to different audiences. They dramaticize certain aspects of the book. Check out these covers from different editions of Alice's Adventures in Wonderland.
Pink! Pink! Pink!
Wow! Ditching the Disney-blond Alice archetype!

I loved Alice as a child!
 Now I'll share this charming story with my own sweet children!

O.G. cover featuring Tenniel's original artwork

Questions for discussion:

  • What character made it to the cover? Why?
  • Does this depection of the character match the character you imagined? How is it different? How is it the same?
  • Does the cover depict a specific scene in the book? Why is this scene important?
  • Compare and contrast the cover with the original scene.
  • Who is the target audience of this edition? Explain.
  • What theme or mood does the covery communicate?
  • How accurately does the cover represent the book?
  • How does the title font and any captions effect the cover?

Suggested Activity:

  • Design your own cover for [relevant book]
    • Draw, sketch or paint
    • Paper collage (old magazines and catalogues are good sources for images. The Graphics Fairy has lots of free, interesting vintage images you could use)
    • Digital collage (pull together digital images or draw your own on the computer. Gimp is comparable to Photoshop and you can download it free)
  • Identify 3 characters, symbols, images, scenes, or locations from the book that you included in your book cover.
  • Write a short business memo identifying your target audience. Explain why the cover and the book itself will appeal to this audience.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Re-Write It!

I will sing you pirate songs and tell you pirate stories 
of Wendy when she'd had her fill of Peter Pan and the other Lost Boys 
Now, Wendy never was a girl to go against her friends 
But recall when Hook had kidnapped her and promised no good end 
Surrounded then by pirates and asked to join the crew, 
the story goes she told them no, but not all tales are true! 

In the Wendy Trilogy S.J. Tucker re-imagines the story of Wendy and Peter-Pan. Instead of walking the plank when Hook demands she join his crew, Wendy becomes the Red Handed Jill, outsmarts Hook, and becomes the captain of an all-girl band of pirates. Tucker exemplifies a tendency common to most readers. She continues, changes, and adapts her favorite stories. Haven't we all screamed at the pages of Romeo and Juliet and imagined all the seemingly simple things our heroes could have done to win a happy ending? Haven't we all occupied ourselves in the final minutes before sleep by spinning out the tale that follows "The End?" I think popular mash-up books like Pride and Prejudice and the Zombies illustrate our desire to transform books from finished works into springboards for our own new and innovative stories.

Del Rey's graphic novel adaptation of
Pride and Prejudice and the Zombies 

Re-writing and re-imagining popular stories combines literary analysis and creative writing in the classroom. For example, this lesson plan from Davideen “Dee” Treybig asks students to re-write the ending of John Steinbeck's Of Mice and Men. According to Treybig, rewriting requires "expanding existing ideas, and synthesizing old ideas into unique or fresh approaches; ask “what if?” and show enthusiasm for new opportunities" and results in "creative thinking, curiosity, and wonder." The lesson plan was originally designed for a contest, but could easily be used in any classroom situation. Similarly Treybig's rubric could be adapted to fit any author or text.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

One More Shakespeare Post

Because we all love the Bard, right? And we love him most when we don't take him too seriously.
By Brendan McGinley for
I thought this might be modified into a handout at the beginning of a unit on Hamlet. Students would write down where the quotes are found in the play to practice the MLA method for citing plays. Then they could explain what each quote means and evaluate how Hamlet carries out or fails to carry out each action-item.

Friday, January 20, 2012

Shakespeare A-Z

Who's your favorite? (Mine's Ophelia--glug! glug!)
What character would you add? 

FWI: You can buy the shirt, yo!
I'd love to get this as a poster to tack up in my classroom.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Don't Take My Word For It

In the English Department, we believe in intellectual discourse. That's to say we believe in debate. However, in the esoteric (mysterious or puzzling) world of English academia, that usually means a bunch of nit-picking literature geeks arguing with other nit-picking literature geeks by quoting dead poets and famous nit-picking literature geeks. Get it?

Therefore, you don't have to take me at my word when I say that you should read Shakespeare. You can take other people at their word...or even form your own opinion.

For tonight's debate, we'll begin with an argument from Shakespeare himself, followed by a rebuttal (reply) from Dr. Seuss.

Next, we have MC. Lars illustrating how interesting...and dance-able Shakespeare can be. "Hey There Ophelia" outlines the plot of Shakespeare's famous tragedy Hamlet.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Why Study Shakespeare?

Click the picture to enlarge.
Why, you ask, should you read Shakespeare?

1. He's the most influential writer in the English language. For example, look at the common expressions and proverbs coined by the Bard of Avon.

2. His plays are epic, funny, and insightful.

3. Being able to quote and discuss Shakespeare will impress your teachers, parents, and that cute nerd girl/guy who works at the bookstore. In fact, reading "Hamlet" improves your odds of gazing lovingly into his/her spectacle-framed eyes by 75%.

4. He's the most influential writer in the English language. Did I mention that already? Yes, but I found another graphic to support my claim. And trust me, you'd rather read Shakespeare than Voltaire.