cricketmuse

a writer's journey as a reader

Archive for the tag “education”

A Few Words to the Wise


It’s not news that the American education system is not working well. I came across an article that made me stop and think about whether my own teaching techniques are contributing to the problem. My paradigm got a bit nudged. One thing I do agree with Hirsch is that vocabulary is an important aspect of student success. If you are interested in reading one man’s opinion about how to overhaul the education system I suggest you sit down with a cup of java or tea and take time to peruse and consider. It’s long, but chock full of thoughtful considerations:

E. D. HIRSCH, JR.
The key to increasing upward mobility is expanding vocabulary.

E. D. Hirsch, Jr. is a professor emeritus of education and humanities at the University of Virginia and the founder of the Core Knowledge Foundation and he is smart. The kind of smart that makes me feel a bit more brainer after reading most anything he writes. You might have heard  of these titles, and even if you haven’t you will want to reflect of this pithy quote:

  paperbackswap.com

amazon.com

A Post About Something I Remembered About Memory Loss…I Think


Memory loss. It’s really become apparent I’m losing it. Yes, I’m losing my memory. And I don’t consider myself that old–at least I don’t think I’m old enough to be losing it, at least not completely. It’s not like I had a huge memory reserve on hand. I am and have remained absolutely terrible at memorizing words. I gave up thoughts of trying the stage, because memorizing my lines prived akin to storing apple cider in a sieve. I have given up on dazzling people with my ability to quote Shakespearean sonnets and lines from Hamlet, because it’s not and has yet to happen. I’ve accepted that part of life. Yet, lately I’ve had times when I’m staring out the copy machine and for all the tea in China–make that all the chocolate in Willy Wonka’s factory–I can’t remember my code. Yeah, the one I’ve used practically everyday for the past five years at school. *sigh*

Fortunately, a Ted Talk on memory loss popped into my email box before I began the search for a comfortable home for worn out teachers. I will go with the one with the birdfeeders outside the window. Nice Care will have to wait, because Ted and his Talk has confirmed that I’m losing it because I’m stressed out and trying to survive. Who thought teaching would rob my brain of trying to remember stuff?

If you are beginning to lose it, check out this Ted Talk. I feel much better about losing my memory. Wait, did I already post this blog earlier?

image: morguefile/dodgerton skillhouse My memory card is crashing…

NPM: #13–how history does not sit still


I think I missed an opportunity. Had I known I would be teaching English, especially British literature, I would have minored in history. One cannot properly elucidate on the fineries of poems, prose, and short storis without dipping into the times of the work. There is a definite “why” as to “why” something is written. A mathematical equation of History times People to the greater value of Events–something like that. Which is why I didn’t get on so while in Mathematics.

Howard Altmann explains history’s restless nature. I almost imagine it as a cat that tiptoes around the room, exploring its way about. Or as that sunbeam or shaft of light that panders its way from the chair to the floor to the wall. Here’s the poem and here’s what he said about it:

About This Poem

“This short poem was conceived in Lisbon, where the light never rests on its laurels. It was put to bed a few years later in New York City, where the light crowds out the stars.”
—Howard Altmann (www.poets.org)

 

image: paulabflat/morguefile

Adieu, Adieu Sweet Month of Muse


national-poetry-month

I agree with Juliet, “Parting is such sweet sorrow.” April is a busy, busy month with its heralding of spring, removal of snow tires, paying of taxes, celebrating Billy Bard’s birthday, prepping for AP exams, and musing upon poems. I started loading my April blog calendar back in December as I discovered poems and poets I would pre-schedule them and now the days are spent and I am a bit bereft as I head into May. Whatever shall I fill my May days with?  It is ever so nice to have a theme for a month, like poetry for April. May will probably become my mish-mash month. I have several posties that I’ve been saving that don’t relate to anything except that I like them–sorta serendipity finds.

As I bid adieu to April I shall reflect:

  • Gathering poets for most of the year is akin to Saturday yard sale mornings as I scout for treasures to stuff in my bag
  • I appreciate poetry more and more as I become more and more involved with the reading of it
  • Having Billy Bard’s 450th birthday in the middle of National Poetry Month was absolute icing on the loveliest of cakes
  • Passing out poems to my students on April 24 for National Poem in Your Pocket Day is a blast–reactions range from excited anticipation of reading their poem to leaving them on the floor–which is about par for poetry (love it or leave it)
  • My school superintendent emailed me that I encouraged him to read a sonnet in my postscript to enjoy Shakespeare’s birthday
  • I decorated my hallway in recognition of Shakespeare’s birthday and convinced the journalism department to put it in the school’s daily video. Well, it’s not everyday a person is 450 years old…

 

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I look forward to May. School is winding down, weather is heating up, and the countdown to summer break begins.  Here is to May and all its blooming good days

24112-teacher_at_desk

Waiting out the days of May to slip into June

The Fiction of Common Core


  • image: Pinterest.com

Common Core State Standards may or may not rock your world, but it has affected you in someway if you are any of the following:

  • Educator
  • Parent
  • Writer

As an educator it has already affected your world. I’m not going there at this time. I feel your pain, and rejoice in your triumphs as we plod our way through this new-to-us (for the most part) curriculum.

As a parent it will affect your kidz education. In a good way. For the most part. Trust me, the CCSS is not as bad as you’ve heard. The main aspect of Common Core is getting our students to understand their world better through the development of critical thinking skills. A very good thing.

As a writer, I’m not sure how it will affect you. That depends if you write fiction or non-fiction. Non-fiction is getting the big focus in the CCSS makeover. If you think about it, most of what we read is non-fiction, ranging from the back of the Cheerios box to the science textbook to the summons to appear in traffic court. Learning how to break down the text, to synthesize it, paraphrase it, and process the information is indeed an important skill, one needed to be successful in this crazy info-laden world of ours. And yet And yet, we need to feed our minds with the language of fiction as well.  That’s where you come in as a writer of fiction.

You might have heard the doomsayers extolling the death of fiction by the hands of those horrible, terrible, no-good eduniks who dreamt up the CCSS curriculum. Meh. Don’t let them worry you. Keep writing about neverlands, tomorrows, pasts, and todays.  Here’s why: there are specific standard built around students reading fiction, specifically stories, fables, folktales, and myths from diverse cultures (ELA Standard RL 3.2) Common Core comes down to caring about  how students develop their critical thinking skills, instead of focusing on the content. Teachers can switch up the reading offerings as long as the material meets the standards–at least that’s what we are doing in our district.

  • image: teacherscount.wordpress.com

In fact, to be fair, much of the past English reading/language curriculums dwelt heavily on fiction selections. As in most paradigm shifts, we are now swinging towards the other direction. Non-fiction is now going to be more in the spotlight as  a result. It will all balance out, but give a couple of years at least. After all, skirts have risen and fallen with the times, and so shall reading content in the classroom.

Eyre of Distinction


Soon we start our AP novel unit, Jane Eyre. Charlotte Bronte’s novel is one of my favorites, which means I will infuse as much of my appreciation for it as I do for my other favorite classics like Hamlet.  While many wax profoundly about Jane Austen, I think Miss Bronte gets overlooked. Jane Eyre has the distinction of being one of those novels that set things of literature memes, tropes, and motifs in motion by becoming a template for other stories. Consider:

  • she is plain in looks, but beautiful in spirit
  • her intelligence is valued by others, at a time when women were not widely educated
  • she values family over fortune
  • she easily speaks her mind
  • she is independent and finds a way to survive
  • outwardly she is calm, yet ripples with passion underneath her facade of restraint
  • she is perservering, sourceful, and a woman of strong morals
  • she stands up for herself–no doormat dame here

My opinion: Jane rocks. Over the years there have been several film adaptations of the novel.  I binged on JE films over the weekend and came up with my ratings:

1971: Starring George C. Scott and Susannah York
Verdict: skip.

George, too familiar with his Patton role, brought it to his interpretation of Rochester.  He railed and ranted in a very American accent and I gave up after he meets with Jane after their encounter on the road. Besides York’s Jane being too old and much too pretty I couldn’t sit through the poor film quality. The video transfer was so muddied I felt as if I were watching the movie through an unwashed glass.

image: eleganceof fashion. blogspot

1983: Timothy Dalton and Zelah Clarke
Verdict: one of the most faithful and watchable versions

Being a BBC production, I had initial trust it would be a quality adaptation, after all these are the folk who brought us Colin Firth as Mister Darcy. The sets, the important scenes, those inscrutable nuances of the original story are all contained in this mini-series. Timothy Dalton definitely understands the Byronic hero that Rochester embodies and has even said in interviews Rochester is one of his best roles. Clarke, while a bit older than the required 18 year old fresh from her Lowood imprisonment, captures the Quakerish passivity and ethereal nature of Jane Eyre.  The scenes between Dalton and Clarke are melt-in-the-mouth truffle satisfying.  Their version is what comes to mind most often when I return for a refresher novel read. I really did believe a heartstring developed between them. The agony of Dalton’s Rochester when he realized his Jane was leaving him forever kept the tissue box occupied.

1996: William Hurt and Charlotte Gainsbourg director: Franco Zefferilli
Verdict: passable, but strayed terribly from the novel

William Hurt seemed on the verge of understanding Rochester, but kept the bitterness too diminished, too washed out. Charlotte G as Jane got her part right. The plain, passionate young actress  imbued the paradoxical spirit of Jane Eyre. Sadly, there existed no believable passion, that needed kindred heart-string spark, between Gainsbourg’s Jane and Hurt’s Rochester. This spark is the very core of the novel. Without that essential core the movie floundered about like a fish hoping to get back into the water to have a proper swim. The director who brought us Romeo and JulietTaming of the Shrew, Hamlet, and other great stories of passion missed the mark with this adaptation by rushing the story and taking way too many liberties with the plot.

2006: Toby Stephens and Ruth Wilson
Verdict: enjoyable, even if a bit too contemporary in approach

image: writingbar.com

Admittedly, I had started watching this version years ago when it first came out, but found myself so disenchanted with the cutaway flashbacks, I couldn’t get past the Lowood scenes and it wasn’t until recently I returned to another viewing.  I did like the lead actors portrayals, and yes, there was a definite spark between them. I thought Toby Stephens got off easy with his fire wounds, unlike Hurt and Dalton. His rugged looks only appeared rather marred, instead of being ruined. The rolling around, ankle rubbing bit at the end seemed a bit too lenient for true Bronte style. Then again, there are leniences throughout this adaptation I willingly overlooked since the production quality proved so high.

2011: MiaWaikowska and Michael Fassbender Director: Cary Fukunaga
Verdict: Admirable

The first scene makes a diehard JE fan sit bolt upright and ask, “What? Wait–did the movie skip! because the opening scene is starting right off with Jane making her mad dash from Thornfield, which usually means the film is winding up to the grand finale.  Instead Fukunaga gets a bit artsy and dips in and out of Jane’s childhood days in flashbacks, with a quick glance at times at her more recent history.  Artfully done, but a bit disconcerting for those who prefer the linear progression.  Fassbender and Waikowska do provide a sumptuous Rochester and Jane.  Looks, mannerisms, nuances, smoldering passions–it’s all there.  That’s why it the ending is so absolutely frustrating.  I could not understand the need to transform Rochester into a Tom Hanks Castaway lookalike.  Maybe trading out the maimed hand for a beard was a contract compromise. Also, there should have been another 20 minutes of wrap up, yet we are whisked away much too soon.  It’s like being served the most savory dessert and having it taken away after a couple a bites–“Yo, I wasn’t finished.” Apparently Fukunaga thought the audience needed no more indulging and wanted us to move away from the table.

Overall: If a dedicated JE fan go to one of the series adaptations, such as the 1983 or the 2006.  It appears that only when given the proper amount of time (3-4 hours) can Jane’s story be told sufficiently. However, if thinking “book or movie first?” and movie wins out–get the 2011 version.

Further notation: I thought about finding the Ciarin Hinds version, especially after watching him in Austen’s Persuasion with Amanda Root.  Our library no longer has it and after reading the widely mixed reviews of loving it and hating it, I thought I will stick with my picks of 1983, 2011, and 2006 for classroom clips.

Any readers have their own picks of fave JE adaptations?

Life Long Loving of the Library of Congress


Main Library of Congress building at the start...

Main Library of Congress building at the start of the 20th century (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

And yet another reason I continue my praises of the Library of Congress. In recent Internet research sleuthing I stumbled across their Festival Author Booklist. Yippee! I love bookish gatherings, especially when I don’t have to do much traveling to enjoy it.  If you do want to travel, then get your arrangements made for Washington D.C. because that’s the happening spot. Last year the festival ran the weekend of September 21 and 22.  For more information: National Book Festival

Author and Reading Celebration

Since 2001,  authors, illustrators and poets make presentations on the National Mall in various pavilions. In 2013 over a 100 authors represented  Teens & Children, Fiction & Mystery, History & Biography, Contemporary Life, Poetry & Prose, Graphic Novels & Science Fiction and Special Programs.

Library of Congress Pavilion

If a person has longing to know all about the Library of Congress, then a visit to their LOC Pavilion is in order. There is so much moAt the Library of Congress Pavilion than books.

Wait!

There is more bookish good stuff from the LOC. Want handy access to classic reads? Then you need to click on the Read.gov link and start enjoying a range of reading from the John Carter series to Aesop Fables and what lies in between.

Contest!

Are you a teacher, a parent? If books are an important part of your education input, you will want to perk up and take time to read the guidelines about the LOC contest Letters About Literature.  Prizes too! I look forward to introducing this to my students.

Stay tuned for more love notes about the nation’s library.

Happy Sites for Smiles


Eagle Eyed Editor recently posted some thoughts on social media and it poked my brain into reflect mode. While there are many things I don’t like about the influx of social media–decline of manners (I’m here to watch the movie, aren’t you?); bullying (mean girls rule the airwaves); meaningless blurbs about mundane aspects of everybody’s life (celebrity haircuts make the banner-really?); and the instant shock news (the ceaseless exploitation of tragedy is morbid, not informing). HOwEvER—— Some people have figured out that social media platforms are amazing ways to promote happy thoughts, to interject some meaning to our day, to enlighten and amuse. Some are simply fun. Here are a couple of favorite finds: Puppet Guy at Vine Puppet Guy is a little yellow fellow with a big heart, a smallish brain, an a beguiling personality. His clips ranges from his rendition of Kermit singing to the “Rainbow Song” to being scared of virtual fish tanks to claiming Bill Cosby is his dad.  These short looping clips are mesmerizing.  Whenever I need a quick laugh I click hoping for a new adventure.  I guess I never outgrew the Muppet Show. You’ve probably discovered Kid President on your own.  My students begged me to play one of his episodes as our icebreaker.  I’m hooked. This kid reminds me of Gary Coleman (remember him?). Maybe even a much younger Erkle. Not only are his messages inspirational, but his life is inspirational. Robby Novak, aka Kid President, is a TED speaker, and has interviewed President  Obama, Beyoncé, and others. His winsome personality and impromptu dance moves and off-the-cuff remarks spell G-E-N-U-I-N-E.

What are your favorite upbeat sites that add a smile to your day?  I’m always looking for icebreakers for my students, so keep those suggestions family friendly, if you please.

A Bit of Bard for the Kidlits


List of titles of works based on Shakespearean...

How well do your kids know this guy? (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Shakespeare. He probably isn’t on most parental to-do lists when it comes to childhood enrichment items. Then again–why not? We trot our kiddos to soccer practice, piano lessons, and the library to enrich their lives, why not foster the love of the Bard at an early age?
Acclaimed playwright Ken Ludwig believes infusing the Bard into our children’s lives is an essential, endearing adventure to undertake. His How to Teach Your Children Shakespeare is both inspirational and inventive in its approach. Although I no longer have kidlits at home since my progeny are now building their own nests, I can still adapt Ludwig’s methods by amending them to classroom instruction, especially since the ninth grade Common Core curriculum has a Romeo and Juliet section.

Teaching Shakespeare to our children is a notable endeavour. Ludwig states a few of his goals as to why he taught Shakespeare to his children on page 11:

  • giving them tools to read Shakespeare’s works with intelligence for the rest of their lives
  • enriching their lives
  • exposing them to literature to inspire them toward achieving great lives as they grow
  • providing meaningful shared experiences

Cool. Those are pretty much my intentions when I teach Shakespeare to my classroom kiddos.
Ludwig hits all the essential values of the “why” of Shakespeare:
1. The richness of imagery
2. The lilt of rhythm
3. The nuances and playfulness of language
4. The importance of memorizing and tucking away forever a few exceptional passages to pull out and nibble on throughout life
5. The joy of exploring character

Shakespeare’s plays showcase poetry at its best. Why wait until the kinder are all grownup before relishing the richness of English language? I am always amazed when I get a ninth grader who states, “Shakespeare? Who’s Shakespeare?” Admittedly that confession is rare. Unfortunately, the only Shakespeare most students know is Romeo and Juliet. On the other hand, by the time they leave high school they will become acquainted with at least three plays and a a handful of sonnets.  Sadly, I didn’t have any Shakesperience until I began teaching it.  That’s nearly thirty years of being Bardless.  Shocking, I know.  Now I’m a professed Bardinator and hope to put my acquired knowledge to page, one of these days.  We’ll see.  I have too many books in want of writing as it is.

For now, I am thrilled to introduce Shakespeare to my freshmen and strive to induce appreciation for his words and wit.

Mass-produced colour photolithography on paper...

Anyone out there have the Bard on their parent list? Is it squeezed in with ballet and soccer?

The Morphing of the Omni Narrator


Right now we are toughing out poetry with my freshmen. *sigh* “We study poetry because oral storytelling came before the written language came into existence, plus many of the elements we study in poetry exist in fiction–you know, like imagery, diction, syntax, metaphors, analogies–so get to know poetry and you’ll understand and enjoy fiction that much more.”  And the question? (Jeopardy music, please)

Why do we study poetry?

Returning to the anticipated second quarter…(quick, quick, I’m losing them)

Once I get to short stories in the curriculum it’s pretty easy sailing, since my students are versed in plot, characters, setting, and such. Theme sometimes throws them; however, point-of-view gets them pondering. For instance, trying to explain the omniscient narrator is tricky these days. Back when, I used to say, “The Omniscient narrator is a lot like God–you know, everywhere and knowing everything about everybody.” I’m getting less comfortable about using that analogy in such a forthright manner.  I still believe it’s a valid analogy, yet don’t want to offend any of my students.  Let alone get the ACLU or other NSA types coming after me.

Cover of "The Long Winter"

Cover of The Long Winter

Another problem with trying to explain the omniscient narrator is that the old-fashioned version of the narrator filling into the details has changed into something quite different. For instance, I recently reread The Long Winter by Laura Ingalls Wilder (don’t snicker, it’s a great read, besides it’s for research–really) and Wilder includes in the story what’s happening to the town’s people and to Almanzo and Cap who are all caught up in a grueling blizzard, in an inclusive fluid manner.  I rarely come across this type of narrative style today. As Bob Dylan once said, “Times they are achanging.”

In the last few years I have noticed a trend where the omni narrative is now designated as separate chapters.  This at first proved quite annoying because the point-of-view kept changing. One chapter would be one character, the next a completely different one.  I felt like I was juggling characters to the point of wanting to run an Excel sheet to keep it all straight.

The last few novels I’ve read have run this narrative style, and every new book I’m pulling from my suggestion list and review newspapers seem to be pandering this new style. I keep checking them out though.  I’m either getting used to this new kaleidoscopic style of story-telling or I’m so starved to read I’m willing to put up with it.

Here are some examples of recent titles with the switch-hit character changing technique. Enjoyable reads all, but fret and nuisance, doesn’t anyone write in the old-time omni narrative style anymore?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Any thoughts, Book Boosters?

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