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Saving Summer: More Good Things

Literary Analysis, Themes, and Essay Writing, Oh my!!

How did I not know about this? (probably because of PG-13 language: I’ll get permission slips, promise!)

ThugNotes is narrated by Sparky Sweets, Ph.D., and yes there is some language, but the plot summaries and analysis are epic. For a secondary audience, this modern version of CliffsNotes is helpful and entertaining. Since I’m teaching a unit on Lord of the Flies next year I am thankful for his analysis and insight.

Next: thinking about essays and writing structures differently:

An Essay Primer for Adults: Six Essay Types You Should Know by Lorraine Berry

An Essay Primer for Adults: 6 Essay Types You Should Know

Here they are to preserve and keep:

The linear narrative essay: This essay structure is self-explanatory. The story is told in a straightforward narrative, and is usually told in chronological order. Sometimes, there are flashbacks contained in the essay, but that doesn’t disrupt the forward motion of the narrative. One essay that may be of interest in the coming weeks as we approach the August 21 “Great American Eclipse” is Annie Dillard’s “Total Eclipse,” which is published in her collection, Teaching a Stone to Talk.

The triptych essay: Just as a triptych painting features three panels, so too does a triptych essay feature three separate sections that are not continuous with each other, but that may shed light on the other two parts. See “Triptych” by Samina Najmi, which was published in World Literature Today.

The collage essay: This type of essay features bits and pieces – vignettes – of prose that are collected together to form an essay. They often resemble poetry as the writing for a collage essay tends to be lyrical. One of my favorite collage essays is Sherman Alexie’s “Captivity,” which appeared in First Indian on the Moon.

The experimental essay: These essays seem to buck all known structures. One of the most unusual of these essays is “The Body” by Jenny Boully. The pages of the essay are blank – except for the footnotes, which are extensive. It turns out that the footnotes are the entire essay. “The Body” is characterized as a lyrical essay

The last two forms of essay that I wish to discuss are the “hermit crab” essay and the “braided” essay, and here I’d like to offer more exploration of two particular essays that are examples of them.

The hermit crab essay: In 1972, John McPhee wrote “The Search for Marvin Gardens,” and it was published in the New Yorker. He used the original game of “Monopoly” – the original American version that was based on the streets of Atlantic City, New Jersey – and he uses going around the board as the frame for the essay, making this a perfect example of a “hermit crab” essay.

In the essay, McPhee is playing a game of Monopoly but he is also recounting walking the streets of Atlantic City. The game is taking place at an international singles championship of Monopoly play, where it is possible for two skilled players to play an entire game in fewer than fifteen minutes.

McPhee intersperses the history of America in the details, but also how Atlantic City was the planned “invention” as a railroad terminus that would be a “bathing village.” In preliminary sketches, the village was labeled as an “Atlantic city,” and the name stuck. In the early 1930s, Charles B. Darrow took those early sketches of the city and based a game board on it.

So, as McPhee lands on each property or group of properties, he tells the story of each part of town. When McPhee’s piece lands him in jail, he uses it as an opportunity to visit the city jail, which in 1972 seemed to be chock-full of drug offenders. He also documents the “facade” aspect shared by resort towns. Once you travel off the beach-side main drag, you are in “the bulk of the city, and it looks like Metz in 1919, Cologne in 1944. Nothing has actually exploded. It is not bomb damage. It is deep and complex decay. Roofs are off. Bricks are scattered in the street.”

He walks these streets and sees long lines of people standing in line at the unemployment office. Newspapers in 2017 tell us that we have an “opioid crisis,” but a multiplicity of signs urging addicts to get help are present in Atlantic City in 1973 (perhaps another reminder that something doesn’t become a crisis until middle class white kids in the suburbs are dying).

McPhee walks through these neighborhoods looking for the one Monopoly property he can’t find: Marvin Gardens. No one with whom he speaks, those living in their bombed-out neighborhoods, has heard of it. It turns out that Marvin Gardens, “the ultimate out wash of Monopoly, is a citadel and sanctuary of the middle class.” It is a suburb within a suburb, what we might now refer to as a “gated community,” separated from the rest of Atlantic City and patrolled with a heavy police presence to keep the rest of the city out.

If you’ve been paying attention while reading, you realize that McPhee has used his hermit crab essay to write a critique of capitalism.

The braided essay: “The Fourth State of Matter,” by Jo Ann Beard is, I must confess, my favorite essay. It, too, was originally published in the New Yorker in 1996. Beard offers a braided essay – in which she is telling a number of stories that are all related to the time she spent on the editorial staff of a physics journal at the University of Iowa. Over the course of the essay, which begins with Beard’s poignant description of the daily routine she experiences as she cares for her aged, incontinent dog, the reader is braced in anticipation that the dog will die.

 

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Saving Summer: Graphically speaking.

 

Back in April, my buddy Sharon and I went to the local National Consortium for Teaching About Asia weekend workshop, “Graphic Novels and Cultural Authenticity” class about graphic novels, and the Freeman Choice book award winner came to speak, too. It was a wonderful day, with some of my favorite people. All of the books except for Teaching Graphic Novels by Katie Monnin were included in the small admission price. I HAD to buy the Katie Monnin book after I saw the visual graphic organizer (see image) turn my head around about teaching theme.

Other titles to consider…
…and a few more.

The books:

Are You An Echo? The Lost Poetry of Misuzu Kaneko: Narrative and Translation by David Jacobson, Sally Ito, and Michiko Tsuboi, Illustrated by Toshikado Hajiri

American Born Chinese by Gene Luen Yang

We watched this TedEd talk, too:

Pyongyang: A Journey in North Korea by Guy Delisle

The Little Monkey King’s Journey Retold in English and Chinese

Hearing the writer speak about Misuzu Kaneko’s life and her gentle, powerful work haunted me. One caveat: the writer said something about the poet’s life being ‘tragic.’ One woman in the group pointed out that her life was not tragic, but the circumstances surrounding her death were, caused by an abusive husband. (This LitHub article about Sylvia Plath reminded me of this tendency toward dismissing women writers as tropes, swooning victims that one ‘grows out of.’) Kaneko’s life was joyous, creative, powerful and beautiful. Her estranged husband’s behaviors were tragic and awful.

https://www.brainpickings.org/2017/03/03/are-you-an-echo-misuzu-kaneko/

The question of authenticity is framed as “cultural authenticity comprising not only of the absence of stereotypes but also the presence of values consistent with a particular culture and accuracy of cultural and historical details in the text and illustrations” by the NCTA facilitators, and it is through that lens that all teachers may consider when they approach diversity and voice in our classrooms.

For some other graphic novel resources, check these out:

http://www.npr.org/2017/07/12/533862948/lets-get-graphic-100-favorite-comics-and-graphic-novels

https://www.theguardian.com/teacher-network/2015/nov/30/how-to-teach-graphic-novels

 

Graphic Novels in the Classroom: A Teacher Roundtable

 

 

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Absolutely True Attempt at Journey of the Hero

Illustration by Ellen Forney Students decided she was one part of supernatural aid on advice.

Ah, the never-ending struggle, challenge, and balance with what has proven to work with what’s new.

Teaching Joseph Campbell’s Journey of the Hero structural pattern works — it works because students understand truly what plot is, they can apply it to multiple mediums, stories, and their own lives, and wait…no more needs to be said. They can apply it to their own lives.

Having to let go of my curriculum baby — you know that baby–the one you work on for months, craft, shape, support with standards and engaging lessons, scope-it, and sequence-it and tie it all up with a bow, and share it with the world, only to have the world think it’s slightly funny looking or outdated. Well, I still think this baby, the Journey of the Hero unit, has merit and value, so thought I would try something different a few years ago and ‘chunk the Hobbit.’ No, that’s not some new Lord of the Rings drinking game, but I broke down the Hobbit into bite-sized pieces for groups of three chapters each. It kind of worked, but kind of didn’t. (Recently, though, I had a sibling of one of my former students ask me on behalf of her sister if I was still teaching that — she loved it.)

We have a full class set of The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, so this month I’ve devoted time to reading this extraordinary novel through the idea of the monomyth.

http://writerswrite.co.za/the-heros-journey

 

So far…it’s kind of working. I say kind of because there have been some obstacles, our own Road of Trials:

  • Too quick of an introduction of what JOTH is and entails
  • Jumped right into reading, and students not getting the message they need their books with them every day, to class and to home. They are allowed backpacks in my room so the carrying of a $15 paperback may be too much…but they have all gotten the message again.
  • We had two mornings of ice delays, so that threw off our schedule a bit.
  • Students are still not looking to Canvas for work, or at least the majority are not.
  • Students are still expressing too much “learned helplessness” (and it’s making me a little crazy). In fact, I gave students their first quote as scaffolding and one student stopped dead in her thinking tracks and said “I don’t get it” and then kept talking over me when I said let’s work this out. So now I need to go back and teach a lesson on what ‘central idea’ is. Never again will I not have multiple lessons on the basics at the beginning of the year. 

Here is what is starting to work:

We walked through the first three sections together, scaffolded and intentional:

Smartnotebook file (which I can’t embed here, but if you need it email me or contact me in the comments)

JOTH Reader Response Tracker

After we worked on it by hand, this weekend I’ve given them a scaffolded digital version that displays the work they’ve come up with : JOTH Part Time Indian Support

Laura Randazzo’s Prezi:

So we’ll see. We’re on our own journey through the novel, trying my best to allow them to discover what they think and find. I’ll keep you posted.

 

PS It’s not an accident that Penelope is named Penelope. Think about it.

Google Docs Links:

Journey of the Hero Support Doc

https://drive.google.com/file/d/0ByKyQvl3l_F5Wng1M2YyaVZ3NW8/view?usp=sharing

Journey of the Hero PowerPoint

https://drive.google.com/file/d/0ByKyQvl3l_F5NVc2ZVZwbHkweGM/view?usp=sharing

Archetypes PowerPoint

https://drive.google.com/file/d/0ByKyQvl3l_F5c0pFd1dRNGh6NjQ/view?usp=sharing

 

 

 

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Series: Elements of Structure Part 9: Parody & Satire

I think I would cease to function if I didn’t have my sense of humor.

Everyone thinks they have a sense of humor, but…

Humor is one of the most difficult mediums to write. One way to allow students to access their natural silliness is to introduce them to parody and satire.

Parody: intended to spoof by using humor based on an existing piece/genre

Satire: intended to criticize something or someone, often with humor, but not necessarily.

Is Monty Python Satire? (Click for a PDF)

Malcolm Gladwell’s podcast, Revisionist History (did I list that one, too!?) did a show on satire. The upshot is we Americans do a pretty terrible job at satire–it’s McWeaksauce sometimes–but is still important. I wonder what it says about the nation who invented stand-up can’t do satire as well? Hmm. 

Media Literacy: Middle School Kids Love Parody

How would we go about introducing students to parody and satire? They are well-versed in memes and Youtube channels that provide so many examples and are masters at consuming media/humor. But how to create content? Perhaps I would pose the question to them: what angers, frustrates, or annoys them, and how would they like to create their own parodies? It’s important to point out parodies are not mean-spirited or bullying. What rules do they think are silly or goofy (I think the beloved yellow safety vest hall pass might their first target)?

And yes, while I think this is terrible, from a jester-level sense of humor, it is kind of funny:

Article Link in Cosmopolitan

From a historical standpoint, how has parody and satire changed the world? And it has, no doubt. Mocking rulers, institutions, sacred cows and laws, parody and satire help us all laugh so we don’t cry. And that makes us stronger.

Ms. Chappele’s Student Site

Examples of Satire in Candide/Seattle PI Education Site

And of course: (PG 13 language)

This is something I’m going to try on very soon. We all could use a good laugh.

But sometimes it doesn’t feel good to be the butt of a joke.

 

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Genre Lessons

 Yes, a wall of books. It took most students’ breath away, and teachers, too, who peeked in my room. I was inspired to try this real-life sorting activity and authentic book-talks because of pragmatic realities: having moved classrooms nearly every single year, I had had enough of putting books back on shelves by myself, never to have them handled again by students. So they were left in their boxes (we had school on August 30th and 31st) until that Friday afternoon, when I put boxes on every table, and then had students dump them out.

The sorting process started with background knowledge building of what a genre was, and then the over-arching ones. Already from student responses I could assess who came into the room more book savvy, and who is going to need some convincing. It was also interesting to note who stopped working because they were reading, and who stopped working because well, they stopped working. I didn’t call out the ones who were reading, but I did single out those who weren’t, saying that in my class, their brains were going to get tired from all that thinking they were going to be doing, so buck up, spunkies!

The lesson didn’t go totally as intended: class to class kept resorting what others had accomplished, and many just ended shifting one piles to the next. But, I will say overall, it was successful in that once we sifted out genres by table groups, it provided many opportunities to discuss why a book would be considered ‘mystery’ versus ‘realistic fiction’ and so forth. I would say historical and realistic were the trickiest overall. This was a week-long activity, with many stops along the way for further sifting and instruction, including a half-decent Power Point I found on the Internet, and no, John, it didn’t use Comic Sans!

Our students receive their laptops today, and so we begin our digital instruction–much more to say on this, but it’ll have to wait. I’ll leave this link in the meantime: http://www.educationrethink.com/2012/09/thirteen-thoughts-on-student-blogging.html

 

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