May 30, 2006

Reading for teaching

Posted in Uncategorized at 8:44 pm by mrsmauck


I’m reading this highly educational, but only marginally engrossing epic about slaves during the Civil War. It’s truly an eye-opening look at slavery–the main character is the illegitimate daughter of the plantation master and his “slave wench” who is mistaken for an identical twin of the master’s legitimate daughter as a child. Her auntie takes her to “bush meetings” as a little girl. There, she learns that her people are waiting for a Moses to come and rescue them from their bondage. Even so, she never believes freedom could be a reality, even when she marries a free black man. When I started reading, I got all these lightning bolts of inspiration for teaching this: I hopped onto my favorite scavenger hunt website, Wikipedia, and found articles on liberation theology and African-American spirituals, and even found some sound bites and info from the Jubilee singers on the PBS website. But I must confess, the book is starting to drag a bit. What I would think should be the primary relationship-the love story between our main character and her free black man-comes off as perfunctory and almost unimportant in their lives. And as important as the themes are, I just don’t know if high school students could stay engaged for all 500-some-odd pages. The characters are interesting, but none spring from the page, living and breathing. Walker switches points of view so often that we never can get inside one character’s head very well. I keep thinking back to Gabo’s One Hundred Years of Solitude, where the characters were all so lively and interesting, that despite the revolving storylines, you were immediately enthralled with the new character. Totally different kind of epic, I know, but an epic all the same.

So I’m trying to decide if I should labor on through Jubilee, doggedly attaching my Post-Its where the historic and literary moments of significance arise, or if I should stop, knowing as I do that I probably won’t assign this as required reading… For my own satisfaction, I will most likely finish it and file it away in my yet-to-be-compiled card catalog of possible required reading.

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May 26, 2006

Currently Reading

Posted in Uncategorized at 5:47 pm by mrsmauck

This book gets me SO excited about teaching! I love Brandvik’s idea on classroom management: Students who disrupt learning are often suffering from a lack of one of the following:
1) Survival
2) Freedom
3) Belonging
4) Power
5) Fun

This makes a lot of sense. I think this would be helpful to pinpoint which of these needs aren’t being met in problem kids (or problem classes) and adjust accordingly. Not that you have to have fun all the time, or let kids feel in control or free all the time–a small amount of those will help them feel so much better about themeselves.

As I get more great ideas from this book, I’ll post them.

I also ordered Harry Wong’s The First Days of School from Amazon–it reads like Wong decided to write a book on how to be a teacher for fifth-graders. Restates his points over and over and over with huge graphics and sidebars, randomly thrown in quotes and photos…very warm-fuzzy, but not so many practical tips for teaching.

May 25, 2006

Assigning Banned Books

Posted in Uncategorized at 2:32 pm by mrsmauck

My initial reaction to this post at Education Matters on parents’ moral outrage to required reading lists at an Illinois high school was dread. I’m planning on doing a freedom of speech unit with banned book projects, so the idea that parents could attempt to limit our reading choices is chilling. I’ve only read one of the particular books under fire at Lennie’s school–Kate Chopin’s The Awakening–but I plan on reading Slaughterhouse-Five and Beloved this summer. I come from a journalism background, but I’ve never been a bulldog reporter: I worked at the Entertainment section for most of my two-year college newspaper career, and I do freelance PR writing now. However, freedom of speech is a right I hold near and dear. Banning books obviously infringes on this right.

BUT…there’s a difference between banning a book and assigning a book in class. President Eisenhower once said,

Don’t be afraid to go in your library and read every book, as long as any document does not offend our own ideas of decency. That should be the only censorship.

Can I get an amen? Censors are taking away our right to choose. But don’t teachers possess a little of that potent power that censors claim? I want to choose books that touch the hearts and open the minds of young people, but I don’t want to offend anyone’s sense of decency. Last year in my Native American lit class, we were assigned a book that was so repugnant with dirty sex and nasty language that I felt sinful just reading it. Parts of it read like porn. (The book was Gerald Vizenor’s Bearheart). Although there were important dystoptian themes of social responsibility and environmentalism, I couldn’t process them well because I was reading in dread of the next graphic scene. I don’t want to generate that kind of response from anyone. The parents don’t concern me too much, but I don’t want to abuse my power to select what the kids read and offend someone. I checked out the ALA’s 100 most banned books from 1990-2000, and here are some of the ones I read as a young person and still feel fondness and familiarty when I read the titles. Many of these I’ve re-read as an adult. The numbers represent their ranking on the list.

9. Bridge to Terabithia: I sought out my own Terabithias after this, my own magical places of solitude where I reigned as queen.

14. The Giver: I remember looking up from the book and observing color for really the first time in my life. A world of black and white! A world of no variation in God’s great landscape! Oh, the tragedy.

21. The Great Gilly Hopkins: Sometimes I wonder if Gilly’s experience with Trotter is what inspired my mom to become a foster parent. I respect her so much for that, and I saw our most difficult foster kids as Gilly.

22. A Wrinkle in Time: I took this blog’s URL from this book! Those ghosts of stars, Ms. Which, Ms. Whatsit, and Ms. Who, were haunting and entertaining at the same time! Meg was like friend to me.

27. The Witches: Okay, I’ll admit it: this book freaked me out as a kid. But I loved it! And re-read it! And watched the TV movie version repeatedly! It was good-scary.

29. The Anastasia series: Anastasia was another of my book-friends. I kept notebooks of lists, like her, and picked up words that I liked to use in conversation. This is still where I get my mental pictures of Boston.

30. The Goats: I was probably in middle school when I read this, and the idea of being hated so much by your peers absolutely scared me out of my head. But then the idea that you can find friendship even in these horrible circumstances comforted me.

38. Julie of the Wolves: A teenager caught in an arranged marriage escapes into the Alaskan wild, thinking she’ll find safe haven in her penpal, who lives in California. Oh the irony!

41. To Kill a Mockingbird: Hands down, one of my favorite books of all time. This is how I learned about civil rights and inequality. Scout is one of my favorite book-friends.

51. A Light in the Attic: What on earth? How could this book be challenged? This was my introduction to poetry, and I devoured all of it!

So I guess what I’ve decided is there are plenty of “banned books” (which are actually technically “challenged books“) that are perfectly appropriate, beautiful to read, and meaningful to young people–evem innocent little old me. I’ll leave you with two quotes on censorship from one of my favorite YA authors, and an author whose books are frequently challenged and/or banned, Judy Blume:

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Censors don’t want children exposed to ideas different from their own. If every individual with an agenda had his/her way, the shelves in the school library would be close to empty.

But it’s not just the books under fire now that worry me. It is the books that will never be written. The books that will never be read. And all due to the fear of censorship. As always, young readers will be the real losers.

May 22, 2006

Do I dare disturb the universe?

Posted in Uncategorized at 6:18 pm by mrsmauck

I’m loving the themes of The Chocolate War. The quote from Jerry’s locker is perfect. Peer pressure, school spirit, cliques, bullying, tons of important themes. And I think it’s all delivered in a chorus of totally realistic, engaging voices. I can see why it has been banned so many times, with all the references to jacking off, girls’ breasts, disrespect and even contempt for authority, but isn’t that totally realistic? If I taught this book and the kids didn’t get into it, I would be devasted. (Can you tell I’m going to be one of those teachers who gets totally invested in whatever she’s presenting? Is that a bad thing?)

Here are some great ideas for teaching it from McDougal Littel:

  1. Groups of kids create handbooks for dealing with peer pressure, including lists of local resources.
  2. Students create a poster a character (besides Jerry) could have hanging in their locker, using a quote and their own illustration.
  3. Individual reports on Nazi Germany, and the tactics used to keep people silent, fearful, and obedient. (Brother Leon compares one of his classes to Nazi Germany after no one speaks up when he unfairly berates–and even abuses–a student.)

And one of my own:

  1. Do you dare disturb the universe? Students write a short story about how they could disturb the universe in their school. What are the structures that need disturbance? Where would the backlash come from? How would they stand up to the pressure?

Any other ideas? What kinds of responses have you educators encountered from students on The Chocolate War or works like it?

May 19, 2006

Feminism 101

Posted in Uncategorized at 7:03 pm by mrsmauck

I finished Kate Chopin’s The Awakening last night, and I don’t think I’ll be adding it to my high school reading list. If I were trying to communicate messages about feminism to my kids, I would consider it, along with Mrs. Dalloway and The Bell Jar. The novel was a great read though. I love the ideas of breaking stereotypes and the struggle of the female artist, and the whole metaphor of the sea as freedom and waking as discovering oneself and one’s place in the world. The Edna Pontelliers of the Victorian era didn’t have many outlets for creativity or passion or sources of professional satisfaction. I don’t know which is better: having so little to do that you do nothing but dream and meditate and fantasize, or having so much to do that you hardly have time to do those things (like me). Edna’s servants performed all the tasks that keep me so busy. Had the heroine had her children to care for, a house to clean, a family to cook for, and her painting to do, perhaps she would have been happier. Instead, her servants performed all but the last activity for her. Except for that darn husband–just not the right match, I’m afraid. He could never satisfy her imagination and her free spirit.

May 17, 2006

My state does have a reading list!

Posted in Uncategorized at 8:43 pm by mrsmauck

I’ve unearthed the “approved reading list” for Oklahoma! After one of my bunny rabbit webquests that pervade my largely uneventful days here at the office, I discovered the holy grail of reading lists for future English teachers in Oklahoma. Here’s how it went down: I started out at this week’s Carnival of Education over at the Education Wonks blog. One of my many reads was this post on the best sources of education news at This Week in Education. I promptly added EducationNews.org to my Favorites list after checking out a few of the articles. The most interesting one today was this one about the terrible state of textbooks in our country. Hmmm…I thought to myself. Approval committees for textbooks? Does Oklahoma have one of these bureaucratic setups? Being no bastion of education innovation, of course we do. And it has a very cryptic website. However, because of my recent experience reading The Da Vinci Code I was able to crack the Oklahoma Textbook Committee’s code and uncover the Holy Grail! By choosing an approved list of textbooks, this committe has tremendous power in determining the curriculum of our classrooms! I was surprised there was no mention of these approved texts in conjunction with Oklahoma’s PASS objectives on the State Deparment of Ed site. This is where the actual content comes from! And I would say that the people who choose our textbooks are probably education pundits, not classroom teachers. Although each district has a textbook committee who selects its school’s texts from textbook caravans, this supposed freedom of choice is really only an illusion. These texts have already been approved by a state entity to correlate with PASS standards. In the article from Education News linked above, a couple crazies are recommending that teachers and districts actually choose their own texts! As rational as this sounds, I do kind of see the state’s point in narrowing the field a bit by finding the texts that best correlate to our standards. However, even that could be a bit an illusion, as the article says textbook companies cater to their biggest customers: Texas and California, which means they end up marketing only super-conservative or super-politically correct textbooks. Hmmm…thank goodness I’ll be an English teacher, where Shakespeare is Shakespeare is Shakespeare, no matter which textbook publisher you buy him from. The generally agreed-upon classics are included on Oklahoma’s list, along with some very cool world lit (Jubilee, Go Tell it on the Mountain, Nervous Conditions, West with the Night), but what about the newest Newbery winners or modern Faulkners and Morrisons? If it’s not on the approved list, which is selected once every six years, teachers have a much smaller chance of talking the admin into buying them with school funds. In our state, school districts are required to use at least 80% of its textbook funds on approved titles.

My reading list is changing!

May 15, 2006

A well-balanced literature list

Posted in Uncategorized at 8:43 pm by mrsmauck

Onyx’s comment on my reading list post has gotten me to thinking…Kids need a well-balanced diet of literature: not all veggies you have to force down their throats (I’m thinking Dickens), or meaty classic authors like Shakespeare or Steinbeck–these are necessary, but what about the books that the kids actually relish? Don’t get me wrong; Shakespeare and Steinbeck are great main courses, but what about melt-in-your-mouth appetizers and delicious desserts? (Okay, I’m stopping with this food metaphor now…this is getting ridiculous.) My mom was just telling me about a man she knew who could barely read in high school, and then he got really into OU sports after he graduated, and started reading all the magazine articles he could get his hands on about the Sooners. Yes, most magazine articles are written at about an eighth-grade reading level, but he was reading for pleasure! I’m not saying we should hand out glamour and sports magazines for the kids to read; we just need some YA novels that really speak to the kids’ lives, that are engrossing, and that will help them enjoy reading. Thanks Onyx!

A side note on reading: I’ve finished The Da Vinci Code in preparation for the film’s release this weekend, so I’ll be going back to Kate Chopin’s The Awakening, which is not on the list below, but I saw a cheap paperback copy at Wal-Mart, and picked it up. So far, I haven’t seen much action, but Edna’s perspective is a perfect picture of what can happen to a bored female mind: pointless fantasies and insidpid crushes. Also, her prose is so much like poetry! I don’t think any high school male would enjoy this book, but I’m enjoying it so far.

May 10, 2006

Summer Reading List

Posted in Uncategorized at 9:53 pm by mrsmauck

I’ve read all my life, but now it’s time to read THE BOOKS. Those classic plays and epics and contemporary novels that high school students MUST READ and discuss. Since I can’t take Middle and High School Literature this summer, I’m doing my own independent study (for no credit-what fun!) I’m reading and re-reading works that are under consideration for study in my future English classroom. I’ll be posting my ideas on teaching these works as I go along. Here’s my tentative list. I know there are tons that could be on this list. Any glaring omissions or inappropriate choices? I’ve got a calendar with deadlines all lined out.

  1. Crime and Punishment, Dostoyevsky
  2. Heart of Darkness, John Conrad
  3. Invisible Man, Ralph Ellison
  4. Call of the Wild, Jack London
  5. To Kill a Mockingbird, Harper Lee
  6. The Odyssey, Homer
  7. Their Eyes Were Watching God, Zora Neal Hurston
  8. Flowers for Algernon, Daniel Keyes
  9. The Joy Luck Club, Amy Tan
  10. Beloved, Tony Morrison
  11. All Quiet on the Western Front, Erich Maria Remarque
  12. Islands in the Stream, Hemingway
  13. The Sun Also Rises, Hemingway
  14. The Great Gatsby, Fitzgerald
  15. The Good Earth, Pearl S. Buck
  16. A Separate Peace, John Knowles
  17. Farewell to Manzanar, Jeanne Houston
  18. Uncle Tom’s Cabin, Harriet Beecher Stowe
  19. The Fountainhead, Ayn Rand
  20. Kindred, Octavia Butler
  21. Animal Farm, George Orwell
  22. Slaughterhouse Five, Kurt Vonnegut

Did I earn my A’s?

Posted in Uncategorized at 9:03 pm by mrsmauck

I turned in my last paper for my Master’s classes Monday, and got my grade back today! That’s an A in World Lit and an A in Teaching Strategies, thank you very much! But did I earn them? (A moment of doubt shades my summertime glee…)

For all the discussion I have in my education classes about the importance of grading to communicate–using rubrics, defining assignment expectations clearly, giving ample feedback on big projects–I certainly feel as though I’ve just been assigned numeric or even a simple letter grade with very little accompanying feedback. I’ve had only one college prof who actually used a rubric to grade assignments, and the rest have stuck to the good old single score method. I would think education professors would lead the pack on accurate grading practice, as much as the wonks sit around and study education!

May 9, 2006

Round and round and round I go…

Posted in Uncategorized at 12:27 am by mrsmauck

What is the deal with older people thinking that anyone under the age of 30 is instilled with the knowledge and ability to defrag a motherboard, manage mulitiple servers, and write HTML and CSS code like it’s English? So my superintendent friend, the one who I thought might have a computer teacher job for me, is trying to talk me into taking the Tech job at his district. What on earth?! You can’t just be talked into creating firewalls and wiping viruses! People get college degrees in areas like, oh, I don’t know…computer science?! What makes him think a Journalism major currently in grad school to get an M.Ed in Secondary English would know a thing about Instructional Technology? It must have something to do with the fact that my current title is Information Technology Coordinator… Totally misleading. I write press releases, edit and design newsletters and brochures, manage our website…really it’s Information and a leeetle bit of Technology. Don’t get me wrong, I want to be in a school really badly right now, almost as much to teach as to get away from 40 hours in front of a computer screen or in meetings about nonessential educational programs, but the idea of being a school district’s authority on technology makes me feel like I’m running from an angry mob…

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