Crowds Pack In for Panel on Literature Circles

November 24, 2008

It was 8:30am on Sunday, the last day of sessions for the 2008 NCTE Conference in San Antonio. Despite the fact that many English teachers had either slept-in, took the day to sight-see, or left the city to begin the trek home, a sizable crowd still materialized at Conference Center room 006A to hear Harvey Daniels and his panel of colleagues present “25 Years of Literature Circles.” So many came, in fact, that sitting space on the floor even ran out, and latecomers participated in the session from the doorway. Convention Center Room 006A

 Nancy Stieneke started off the session with an overview of why it is so important to create what she called a “positive academic community” in order for Literature Circles to work. At first I was thinking, “Why is this even an issue for discussion?” but it makes perfect sense. I’ve often placed students in cooperative groups that didn’t work well together simply because they didn’t have the social skills needed to work as a team. Furthermore, just because students are friends does not mean that they would naturally be able to work well together. I liked Nancy’s idea of “Home Court” and think it is important to devote some class time to build a community of trust and respect among the students. I can think of at least two of my classes where I have students that don’t really socialize with each other, even when I give them some free time to do so. These are the kids that are going to need to work on some team-building activities to get them talking to one another and, more importantly, trusting each other.

Another panel speaker that I really liked was Stephanie Harvey, and I look forward to reading more about her and her work as I become a little more fluent in the Best Practice titles out there for English teachers. Stephanie Harvey was definitely one of my favorite presenters at the conference, and I am drawing inspiration from her presentation on Inquiry Circles to design this year’s research paper unit for my 10th graders. Basically, Inquiry Circles rely on cooperative group work among students to focus on a common topic or question for research. They develop a line of thinking through their questioning, and this come up with a topic that is worth researching (rather than being forced to choose from a list of topics, which can sometimes be overwhelming). I’d like to have my students write a research paper in a small group, which is something I have never done before. Even as I write this blog, my head is spinning with ideas of other things I can incorporate into this unit (specifically things I learned from Prensky, Wilhelm, and the presenters at session G.36: The Power of Persuasion) I suppose I’ll have to develop those thoughts later… ONE THING AT A TIME!!

At various points during the day today, colleagues have been approaching me and asking what I thought about the conference. I keep saying that I loved it because I learned so much from the sessions, and it’s true. I have immense respect for these men and women for devoting their careers to sharing their knowledge and experiences with the rest of us. I suppose the reason that the room was so packed on Sunday morning had something to do with Harvey Daniels’s English teacher-y celebrity status, but he is a celebrity in his on right based on what he has done for our profession. I think every English teacher should know who Harvey Daniels is and read at least one of his published works. In fact, I’ll go out on a limb and suggest that English teachers who are looking to read a trade book to improve their pedagogy should start with him and then move on to the many others. I myself have generated an expanded reading list based on some of the sessions I participated in at the conference. I can’t wait to get started!

Isn’t learning fun?


A First-Timer in San Antonio

November 21, 2008

I’m awake, and I’m amazed. I must be running on some sort of fuel reserve tank stored up specifically for the purpose of powering an incredible English-teacher geek for her first national conference!

Seriously, however… As I “pen” this blog, I notice that the clock has crept to 12:24am. I should be sleeping… but I had a few ideas that I wanted to share.

I decided early on that I wanted to spend some time blogging to document my learning process during this convention. I feel very lucky to be here, and in the short time since the 98th annual convention commenced, I feel like I’ve learned a lot. I found Gary Knell’s address this evening to be particularly inspiring, and I would like to reflect on that a little later on (perhaps when I’m not so overtired).

I spent a good hour in the lobby of the Marriot Rivercenter mapping out my day tomorrow. I chose two workshops for every session (a first choice and a back up). I’ll be in sessions from 7am – 5:15pm, and I’m not sure when I will have an opportunity to update. In order to keep all of my thoughts together, I purchased a brand new composition notebook and plastic expanding file for use at this conference alone. Indeed, I’m ready to soak everything in.

On a random side note – I ate more Mexican food today than I have ever in a 24 hour period. It was delicious, but probably not very healthy (Pork Tamale, anyone?). I noticed that the hotel has a very nice-looking fitness center on the 4th floor. Let’s just see if I have enough discipline to get a quick workout in before tomorrow’s sessions start.

Go ahead and bet against me. The spirit is always willing… but the flesh hits “snooze.”

I’ll be at the “First Timers” session tomorrow at 7am – I hope to meet some great new people! Thankfully, in addition to the fitness center, the hotel also has a Starbucks in the lobby.

Until next time…


Hyper Poetry – A project for 12th Grade

November 5, 2008

My 12th grade elective class called “The Novel” is in the midst of reading Sylvia Plath’s The Bell Jar. We’re supplementing our reading of the novel with some of Plath’s poems – many of which are intriguing and seemingly bizarre. What follows is an example of one project my class is doing with her poetry. It’s called “Hyper Poetry,” a name derived from the act of hyper-linking to other sites on the World Wide Web.

This assignment was partially inspired by this and this, which I saw at the 2008 LILAC Conference. However, instead of linking only to photos, song lyrics, and videos… I also wanted to link to biographical information of Plath and relevant literary criticism of her works. Although some might disagree, I think that a thorough understanding of Plath’s background is essential for fully understanding her work.

The assignment- Take 10 lines of text (per person) to illuminate. This project can be done independently or with a small group (no more than 3-4 people).

Below is a partial markup of Lesbos by Sylvia Plath. It is my intention to connect particular words and phrases from the poem to Internet sources used to assist in its understanding.

Lesbos – Sylvia Plath


Viciousness in the kitchen!
The potatoes hiss.
It is all Hollywood, windowless,
The fluorescent light wincing on and off like a terrible migraine,
Coy paper strips for doors —
Stage curtains, a widow’s frizz.
And I, love, am a pathological liar,
And my child — look at her, face down on the floor,
Little unstrung puppet, kicking to disappear —
Why she is schizophrenic,
Her face is red and white, a panic,
You have stuck her kittens outside your window
In a sort of cement well
Where they crap and puke and cry and she can’t hear.
You say you can’t stand her,
The bastard’s a girl.
You who have blown your tubes like a bad radio
Clear of voices and history, the staticky
Noise of the new.
You say I should drown the kittens. Their smell!
You say I should drown my girl.
She’ll cut her throat at ten if she’s mad at two.
The baby smiles, fat snail,
From the polished lozenges of orange linoleum.
You could eat him. He’s a boy.
You say your husband is just no good to you.
His Jew-Mama guards his sweet sex like a pearl.
You have one baby, I have two.
I should sit on a rock off Cornwall and comb my hair.
I should wear tiger pants, I should have an affair.
We should meet in another life, we should meet in air,
Me and you.Meanwhile there’s a stink of fat and baby crap.
I’m doped and thick from my last sleeping pill.
The smog of cooking, the smog of hell
Floats our heads, two venemous opposites,
Our bones, our hair.
I call you Orphan, orphan. You are ill.
The sun gives you ulcers, the wind gives you T.B.
Once you were beautiful.
In New York, in Hollywood, the men said: ‘Through?
Gee baby, you are rare.’
You acted, acted for the thrill.
The impotent husband slumps out for a coffee.
I try to keep him in,
An old pole for the lightning,
The acid baths, the skyfuls off of you.
He lumps it down the plastic cobbled hill,
Flogged trolley. The sparks are blue.
The blue sparks spill,
Splitting like quartz into a million bits.

O jewel! O valuable!
That night the moon
Dragged its blood bag, sick
Animal
Up over the harbor lights.
And then grew normal,
Hard and apart and white.
The scale-sheen on the sand scared me to death.
We kept picking up handfuls, loving it,
Working it like dough, a mulatto body,
The silk grits.
A dog picked up your doggy husband. He went on.

Now I am silent, hate
Up to my neck,
Thick, thick.
I do not speak.
I am packing the hard potatoes like good clothes,
I am packing the babies,
I am packing the sick cats.
O vase of acid,
It is love you are full of. You know who you hate.
He is hugging his ball and chain down by the gate
That opens to the sea
Where it drives in, white and black,
Then spews it back.
Every day you fill him with soul-stuff, like a pitcher.
You are so exhausted.
Your voice my ear-ring,
Flapping and sucking, blood-loving bat.
That is that. That is that.
You peer from the door,
Sad hag. ‘Every woman’s a whore.
I can’t communicate.’

I see your cute décor
Close on you like the fist of a baby
Or an anemone, that sea
Sweetheart, that kleptomaniac.
I am still raw.
I say I may be back.
You know what lies are for.

Even in your Zen heaven we shan’t meet.