Tag Archives: Teacher Stuff

Re-reading Things Because I Must: “The Odyssey”

I had the opportunity to teach [excerpts of] The Odyssey to two separate classes this past school year, so I had plenty of opportunities to experiment with secondary sources and supplemental texts. One text I want to go right ahead and endorse is Gareth Hinds’s graphic novel of the epic poem. It can be difficult to teach from a text when you don’t have one-to-one copies for all students, so I could only scan the chapters we read and project them as we read along with the poem. It wasn’t ideal, but it often helps striving readers to have visuals (besides the 90’s movie we watched), and it’s just a more modern medium. I adore this adaptation!

As with the previous units, I focused on an overall idea or theme, this time being “heroes;” the texts and discussions included in the unit led students to question the traits and actions that typically lead to the title of “hero,” as well as challenge whether someone can still be a hero if s/he occasionally acts in ways that go against those traits/actions. Odysseus is a perfect character upon which to focus these questions, since he is generally considered one of literature’s great heroes, but also does a great many things that challenge that title.

My main goal in this unit was to present the students with materials and questions that would force them to practice looking at events and actions through various perspectives and determine whether that perspective change affects heroic status. As with all my units, I want this to make sense on a literary level (obviously), but I also want it to make sense in the everyday lives of my students. I want them to practice seeing things from various perspectives. I want them to understand how those perspectives lead people to have different opinions of who is heroic and who is not. We live in difficult times. The more we equip the future generations to be compassionate, understanding individuals, the better our chances of creating a society in which we all treat each others with kindness and respect, and one way to gain respect for others is by making the effort to see his/her perspective.

savI challenged the students to begin by attempting to assume how the perspectives might have varied between the Greeks and the Trojans during the Trojan Horse episode, as a bit of background. To Greeks, it was a witty and brave action to infiltrate the walls and capture the city, thereby winning the war. To Trojans, though, the same actions look more like being tricked and massacred by an invading army. Similarly, students challenged Odysseus’ actions on the isle of the Cyclopes and his interactions with Polyphemus. Using a chart, students recorded the moments in which Odysseus acted civilized vs. when he acted savage, as well as when Polyphemus acted civilized vs. when he acted savage. The result was that both parties were clearly to blame for the death of Odysseus’ men and the delay in his return to Ithaca.

circeWe continued the challenge on perspective by pairing modern works with the ancient poem. Margaret Atwood is a pioneer of feminist perspective and often writes accounts of historical stories from the point of view of a minor character. After completing Book 10 and discussing Odysseus’ account of his time spent with Circe, we read and excerpt of Atwood’s “Circe/Mud Poems,” in which we get an interpretation of Circe’s negative opinion on Odysseus’ year-long visit. Students spent time reflecting on how this perspective conflicted with Odysseus’ account and in what ways the change in perspective affected Odysseus’ status as a hero in this particular Book.

pennyOur final perspective challenge was that of Odysseus’ wife, Penelope. Since women’s points of view were rarely included in ancient texts, Atwood takes the liberty to give voice to the voiceless, daring to reveal that Penelope might not be as chill about Odysseus’ 20-year absence and multiple affairs as Odysseus would have us believe. Since The Penelopiad is a full-sized novel, I gave students a handout containing the intro (from a dead and pissed Penelope) and first chorus (from the maids Odysseus slaughtered for “befriending” the suitors), and were again given time to reflect on how these perspectives challenge Odysseus’ account and his status as a hero.

Unsurprisingly, these brilliant students picked right up on the fact that the point of view was pivotal to heroic status. Most students finished the unit with powerful and passionate opinions on Odysseus’ heroic status, opinions which they argued and defended in final persuasive essays. We ended the unit by re-addressing the status of “hero,” as well as by briefly analyzing two antiheroes (Sir Ballaster Blackheart from the graphic novel Nimona and Dr. Horrible from “Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog”) who often act more heroically than the heroes they fight. Going forward, if I get the chance to teach The Odyssey again, I’d love to spend more time with each of these, really digging into why the heroes in these accounts fail to to actually be as heroic as the “villains,” as well as what that means and how it applies to real life.

I truly hope that I get to teach The Odyssey again. As old as it is, I have no doubt that this unit was the most interesting and the most relevant for my students. I’d love to hear what others have done to teach it, or just what anyone thinks might help make it more meaningful and fun for 9th graders!

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Review: “Babylon’s Ashes” and “I’m Just A Person” + Summer Reading Update

That’s right, two reviews and an update; I’m jamming all my info into one post because I’m too busy-lazy, or buzy (PRONOUNCED: boo-zee – adj: the state of having so many things to do that elective pastimes fall by the wayside).

The other reason I’m jamming these two reviews together is because I don’t actually have a ton (good or bad) to say about either. The first book was on my summer reading list (I’ll have more to say about that later), so one down, and the other totally counts towards my goal of 10, so two down.

Babylon’s Ashes – James S. A. Corey

Anyone who has spent some time reading this blog (first of all, thank you! Also, wow I have a lot of asides going on in parentheses today!) will know that I’m a big fan of what some call the “space opera.” The hubs and I both got (deeper) into Scifi lit after reading The Martian years ago and that led to a rabbit hole of books about space travel, exploration, colonization, political strife, and so on and so forth. So anyway, I found the Expanse series back in 2015, started it, introduced Hubs to them, and we’ve never looked back. Book 6 of that series, Babylon’s Ashes, was the most recently published and I finally broke down and bought the hard copy [which messes up my series of paperbacks aesthetic (other volume reviews here)]. This one took me almost a month to read for two reasons: 1) it is 600 pages and 2) I’m buzy.

 

Now, concerning the book. As previously implied, I’m obsessed with this series. In fact, I just sent the first and second volumes off with friends this week in the hope of recruiting more geeks. So why, then, did I only give it 3 stars on Goodreads? Generally speaking, it was satisfying and it gave me some time *cough*a month*cough* with characters I consider to be old friends. However, also generally speaking, it felt like this volume was a filler. Have you ever read a volume in a series that felt as thought it was just there to connect the books before and after it? That was this book for me. A lot happened in this volume, don’t get me wrong, but nothing of the caliber of the other volumes. Giving a synopsis would either be a spoiler for those who will read the series or would be pointless for those who will not, so I won’t. The good news, though, is that this volume insinuated that big things are coming in future books (of which there will be 3, I think), so that pleases me. It was meatier than it needed to be, but it was fun to get lost in space again.

I’m Just A Person – Tig Notaro

I don’t know if I’ve mentioned on here that I love the podcast Professor Blastoff. It’s hosted by Tig Notaro, Kyle Dunnigan, and David Huntsburger, all successful comedians who have a direct line to my funny bone. In the midst of hosting that podcast, Tig had an earth-shatteringly, record-breakingly bad year, in which (no spoilers, don’t worry) she found out that she had pneumonia, which led to C-Diff, then she endured a breakup, then her mother died unexpectedly, then she was diagnosed with breast cancer. All of this she related – with great poise and often even humor – on the podcast. She did a stand-up show in which she told the crowd about her cancer but still managed to be funny, and she was later nominated for a Grammy for the recording of that show. She had an HBO special and an Amazon Original show, she’s been on all the late night shows, and she wrote a book.

 

As I wrote in my brief Goodreads review (gosh, I’m just a living plug for Goodreads today), I’d be curious to know for whom this memoir was written. For PB fans like myself, or just general Tig fans, none of what was in this book was news. I not only knew about her many trials and tribs of 2012, but I had already heard podcast episodes in which she related the news to her fans, still finding ways to weave in jokes about how her boobs must’ve gotten tired of her making fun of how small they were for the past 40 years, so they’re rebelling from the inside. I much prefer the podcast format, since it was raw and real; nothing had been thought out over years or filtered by 5 editors before reaching me, someone who cares about her. This memoir was more formatted as her ruminations on her childhood, her relationship with her family, especially her mother, her emotions, her “impostor-syndrome” at being called brave, and so on. I think it is meant to be more personal, in that we get to the root of her thoughts and feelings. Going back to my original question about audience, oddly enough, I think this book is perfect for anyone who is a casual fan, or even a complete stranger to Tig. Anyone dealing with death, tragedy, illness, or just plain old growing up will find value in this memoir. Tig manages to find humor in strife, and I think more people would do well to emulate that. However, being a big Tig fan, I found this book to be a watered-down version of the podcast. I knew it all already and, whereas the book makes you feel like an audience-member to her one-man-show, the podcast makes you feel like a friend in a room with a friend who is dealing with something really big. I prefer the latter. Somehow, this became a plug for Professor Blastoff.

Summer Reading Update:

So, I went to do some pre-planning yesterday with my 9th grade team and we realized we hadn’t read several of the works that were often taught at this school in 9th grade. Thus, my summer reading list has morphed slightly. I warned you all that this might happen. I must say that I’m far from excited about most of the texts, which I’m letting be a gauge for how the students will be even less excited. Off to a bad start.

I’ll show the texts below, in case someone has happy, blessed things to say about any of them, but before I do that, I’ll say that we want to tie in all the works to the theme or topic of “growing up.” We’ll definitely be reading To Kill A Mockingbird (YAY!!) and Romeo and Juliet (ugh, teen “love”), but we also need to tie in some non-fiction, short stories, articles, diversity, juvenile justice, etc. If anyone has any suggestions, they will be most welcome and appreciated! 

 

 

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Re-reading Things Because I Must: “Jekyll & Hyde”

I went back and looked; I wrote four papers with four different arguments on The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. I think my attraction to Gothic literature meant I was already inclined to like the story, but I also assume that dissecting it in order to argue those various points forced a familiarity with the text that borders on friendship.

When I realized I would be teaching it this year, I immediately began wondering what overall “unit idea” I could apply to J&H so that I could start planning supplementary texts. “Gothic lit” was an obvious choice, but so what? Like with the Brutality unit, I wanted an idea that would matter on a larger scale; thus, this unit became the Unreliable Narrator unit. As always, the goal is not only that students learn from and analyze the text in ways that prepare them for tests and cultural references (after all, J&H has been adapted over 100 times), but I also want to ensure that students find larger meaning that applies to their lives and places within society. It was easier to lead them to find relevance with the brutality unit, but I had to work harder with the Unreliable Narrator unit.

Like with the Brutality unit, I had one mandatory primary text, but could weave in assorted secondary short stories. We started with Truman Capote’s “Miriam,” but they read it on their own time and had to include annotations. The intention was that they annotate on the first reading, postulating on what will happen and then after they read the big surprise ending, go back and re-read, annotating again, but this time noting the moments that foreshadow or reveal who or what Miriam is. We finished that work with a Socratic Seminar, which lead to some awesome conversations from the class. At the end, I asked what made the narrator unreliable, if anything. Unanimously, the students agreed that they weren’t sure what it was, but something about Mrs. Miller that isn’t quite right or trustworthy. Mental Illness of some sort was the ultimate popular vote.

We read Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Cask of Amontillado” in class. This one was difficult for them. The language is old and elevated, so we listened to an audio version (alleviating the risk of round-robin mispronunciations or listening to my man voice the whole time) and I frequently paused it in order to deconstruct some of the more confusing moments. This just reminded me that my love for Poe is not universal and maybe (definitely) it would be beneficial to spend a day going through Poe’s language, giving examples and having them break them down into current translations, as is often beneficial with Shakespeare. I think if we had been able to lessen the intensity of the language, they would have liked it way more. In order to impress upon them how much perspective changes the story, I had the class complete a worksheet that would analyze how certain moments would change if told from Fortunato’s perspective instead of Montresor’s. This actually ended up being more difficult for this 9th Honors group than I had thought it would be, but I think that could be alleviated with more practice within more works.

They all agreed that Montresor was unreliable since he showed clear bias, was blinded by revenge, and might also be mentally unstable. Perf. That’s when I hit them with Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s “The Yellow Wallpaper.” I didn’t have hard copies and I didn’t want to murder a million trees, so we utilized ActivelyLearn.com. This was my first time using this website and I really liked it. They offer a lot of the classics for free and you just set up a class, import some notes, links, and questions (some works come with them already), and assign it. They read at their own pace, answering questions as they went along, and I was able to see all their answers, give feedback, or prompt them to think harder and re-answer, as well as grade quickly and easily.

Everybody felt strongly about this text, but in what way varied. Some didn’t understand it and were frustrated by it. Some appreciated the articles and questions about women’s roles that I embedded, and were similarly frustrated. Others loved the evident downward spiral of the narrator’s sanity and enjoyed it thoroughly. I enjoyed being able to track their understanding of the narrator’s reliability through their answers to my questions. Some read the story at face value, believing the claims that the room was a nursery, despite the fleeting mentions of bars on the windows, rings in the walls, and the bed being nailed to the floor. That’s fine. We never truly know otherwise. But through discussion, they were able to identify why the narrator’s assumptions might not be reliable and what the other evidence might imply.

Artifact 5Actively Learn #2

The unreliability of Gilman’s narrator was obvious. But what about J&H? Mr. Utterson narrates a large portion of the tale and his mental capacity is never called into question. However, when I opened this question to the class, they pointed out that the point of view meant that the events were being delivered from an outsider’s perspective. We only know what Utterson knows about Jekyll and Hyde, so we see it as he sees it. Some information is missing due to that simple fact. These kids are so smart.

Ultimately, I got to the end of the unit and asked, “ok, so what? Why talk about this? How does your understanding of the narrator affect the overall story?”

I was stared at for a very pregnant pause (something I’m learning to allow, since it benefits no one for me to ask a question and then answer it myself since they’re taking too long). Eventually, students began to propose answers to the question: some suggested that they read these works in order to better understand others’ perspectives; another postulated that I wanted them to consider how a person’s experiences may affect his or her point of view and, thus, the story; ultimately, I finished by encouraging them to question everything, taking in all the details from all the perspectives in order to form their own educated opinions. Each of these overall lessons shows me that these students finished the unit more thoughtful and understanding than they began it. In and of itself, that is a tremendous success. Yes, they can pass the tests. Yes, they’ll understand that calling someone “Mr. Hyde” is a literary insult. Yes, they’ll identify the good side vs. evil side trope in popular culture. But they’ll also, hopefully, think for themselves and do their research before just believing something they’re told. It’s an all-around success.

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Re-reading Things Because I Must: “Lord of the Flies”

Many years ago, not long after Hannah and I started this blog, I ruminated on how the simple task of assigning a text to a high school student pretty much guarantees that said student will HATE said book, not because it is particularly hatable, but because it is mandatory. Interestingly enough, I wrote this long before I decided to become a teacher, so not only do I now think I have some level of prophetic ability, but 40+ hours a week, I’m just swimming in the relevancy of that statement.

Everything I got to teach this year, I had read previously. See my Re-Read or Not post to review my feelings on this. We started the semester talking about To Kill a Mockingbird, which was as heavy as ever. We then moved on to Lord of the Flies, a text about which I blogged and faithful readers might recall that it ended with the statement, “I’ll never pick it up again.” PSYCH! I did pick it up again, but only because I had to do so in order to make sure that when my students had questions, I was able to answer them. When my students didn’t understand the text, I was able to explain it. When they didn’t see the point in reading it, I was able to prompt them to think about it another way.

I’ll go ahead and say that I still do not like this book. Most of the kids did not like it, either. HOWEVER, through teaching it with a central theme and alongside supplementary texts, I truly do see why it is still relevant to be read by young readers. Students started the unit reflecting on the prompt, “all humans have the capacity for brutality.” They placed themselves on a Story Spectrum based on where they fell between totally agree and totally disagree.

While reading LotF outside of class, we read “The Lottery,” “Harrison Bergeron,” and an article about the Stanford Prison Experiment in class.
Each time we finished one, they moved their name on the Spectrum to match how/whether their opinions on the prompt had changed. As you can see, there was a massive amount of movement and progression of thought, and I’m THRILLED with the amount of meaning that the students extracted from the unit.

 

spectrum

The final project for this unit was for students to get into groups and record a podcast where they discussed their progressions of opinion. These podcasts were some of the most profound discussions I’ve ever had the pleasure to hear. I’m honored to have been a part of those insights.

I’ve completed two other units this semester, both of which had primary texts that I had to re-read, as well as supplementary texts that I added to the unit in order to enhance an overall central theme. I’ll work on posts for these units in the next few days, because I’M ON SPRING BREAK!!! I’ve also recently been addicted to a book, so I need to spew about that, and I also completed a book that was on my New Year’s Recommendations post. Plus, we’ve graciously been nominated for a few awards, so I need to get to those. Hopefully, lots to come, folks!

 

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Teachery Style

Remember a few months ago when I detailed the many Teachery Tools that I fully intend to include in my future classroom? Well, even more than having cool things, I love wearing cool things. There are WAY too many amazing garments out there, so I can’t waste my time wearing basic crap! Thus, my Teachery Style post. See below and covet, or just buy.

 

 

I wear a lot of dresses, but modesty is the name of my game, so I have a lot of patterned and colored tights. I cannot fathom a better addition to my collection than these Where the Wild Things Are themed tights. Yes, please, now.

 

 

 

 

LOOK AT THESE SHOES!! I mean, can you please?! They’re pricey and shoes are not my weakness, but if they were, I’d be broke but so teacher-chic! Also, I’ve bought a million dresses (there’s that weakness) from Modcloth and I can vouch for the quality & customer service. These things matter when you spend good money.

 

 

According to legend, this company is capable of getting nearly a whole text on a shirt. This is Beowulf. I own the shirt for Frankenstein and, I have to admit, I have not done the research to see whether it is there in its entirety, but I actually don’t care either way. Regardless, these shirts are cool, unique, and cool again. They have shirts, posters, and tote bags in about a bajillion texts with unique images for each. ALSO, for every shirt purchased, Litographs donates a book to a community in need. Buy one. No DUH!

 

This scarf is on my Christmas list. We all know how I love classic covers and warmth.

 

 

 

 

Sometimes, it’s winter and you just need some Poe socks. Also, I got a Gatsby sweater from Out of Print Clothing and I get compliments every time I wear it, not to mention that it feels like wearing a cloud. Again, highly recommend.

 

 

 

 

 

This most beautiful bracelet, featuring the infamous Moby Dick. This shop has a lot of quality jewelry with amazing quotes!

 

 

 

Guys, I know as well as anyone what it feels like to be strapped for cash. I mean, I’m in Grad School… to be a teacher. But that just means that when you spend money, you need to get quality items that will last you a long time and will bring you years of joy. I have bought from many of these shops and I plan to buy from the rest, so I can vouch for the fact that these shops are cranking out quality items that will help you feel as beautifully unique as you undoubtedly are! I’m putting these items on this blog because we, the bookish, understand each other; we know how good it feels to geek out over our favorite works, and how much better it feels when someone says “Oh, cool Smaug” about your tattoo, when most people guess it’s a snake or seahorse. Please. No. I appreciate my bookish people and I appreciate the shops that exist to help you and me geek out as hard as possible. Now let’s show some love!

 

 

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Teachery Tools

One day, I get to decorate a classroom. Most classroom spaces are blank canvases, with concrete blocks, MAYBE carpet instead of cement, and a bulletin board space. Sorry, that’s not going to cut it in my classroom. I’m excited to share some of my plans with you guys, because I know that no one will appreciate my decorative aspirations like my blog friends!

hogwarts map

Click here to buy on Etsy

westeros map

Click here to buy on Etsy

Maps on maps on maps! I’m automatically inclined to like a book if it has a map in the front, because that means I’m about to be transported to an exciting new place. I have always known that I’ll have maps of my favorite literary places on my classroom walls. Hogwarts, Middle Earth, & Westeros = entirely necessary.

middle earth

Click here to buy on Etsy

In high school, I loved sentence diagramming! This poster shows diagrammed formats of famous first lines from Classic texts, combining two things I love!

Click here to buy

Click here to buy

Click here to buy on Etsy

Click here to buy on Etsy

Please look at these stamps. We’ve been talking a lot about grading in my Grad classes and how certain feedback can really shut down budding writers, so my plan is to give feedback that stimulates students and encourages them to keep going. My ultimate goal is to replace failing grades with “keep going” grades, and I think I can use this Gandalf stamp to tell them, “let’s stay here and work on this a bit more.” I understand that that is not the intended purpose of the stamp, and yet, it will be my purpose.

Click here to buy on Etsy

Click here to buy on Etsy

This one would be used for the opposite purpose! I don’t want to say Pass/Fail or A+/F-. I think throwing in this literary reference could make it seem less serious, and hopefully could reduce the stress students often feel to succeed.

sting

Click here to buy on Amazon

Please look at this letter opener!! I mean, how many unopened letters will I receive as a teacher? Probably not many. But when one comes along every now and then, I’ll be so ready.

mug1

Click here to buy on Etsy

And here is my Stark mug.

 

clock

Click here to buy on Etsy

 

A Deathly Hallows clock? Yes, please.

 

 

Click here to buy

Click here to buy on Etsy

Look at these adorable stamps! These could really help with my plan to give feedback that is constructive & requires follow up so they can correct mistakes, but the monsters are totally cute. Maybe a little juvenile for late middle and high school, but I do what I want.

Click here to buy

Click here to buy on Etsy

I love burying my nose in an old, musty book. Library books also have a very endearing smell. For that reason, I will one day buy one of these candles and, depending on the authenticity of the scent, I will constantly have one blazing in my classroom.

Click here to buy on Etsy

Click here to buy on Etsy

This calendar has different literary quotes for each month & really cool graphics. Need.

 

Guys, I’m just so excited to one day have a space that I can make my own. Most of these things, aside from the posters, don’t take up much space, so that leaves tons of wall space to leave for my students to decorate with displays of success. I think a unique and personalized space feels less sterile and makes teachers and students feel more comfortable in a learning environment. The more receptive we are to the space, the more we might absorb. Regardless, I want my classroom to be a space where all my kids feel safe to engage and be themselves, so I’m setting the example by being my own nerdy, book-loving self.

I hope you all enjoyed looking through these things and I encourage you to click on the pictures and support these creative individuals. I plan to do another post about “Teachery Style” soon (I have to buy several of these things before I reveal my amazing finds to the bookish public), so stay tuned for that!

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