Up Late with Trigger Warning by Neil Gaiman

Any new book by Neil Gaiman always goes right to the top of my reading list, but it took me a while to finally sit down and read this collection of short stories, called Trigger Warning. The introduction is just as well written as the stories (and few poems). In it, he writes: “What we read as adults should be read, I think, with no warnings or alters beyond, perhaps: enter at your own risk. We need to find out what fiction is, what it means, to us, and experience that is going to be unlike anyone else’s experience of the story.”  As I read the selections, I found myself putting sticky notes on a few stories I wanted to use in class.

One story, “Click Clack Rattlebag,” I found a recording of online from the NYPL with Gaiman himself reading it. This story serves as a great reading on Halloween–or any other time you need a scary story.  I am thinking of using this along with Stephen King’s “Strawberry Spring” and some other scary stories to teach the art of the short story.

Another tale, “Down to a Sunless Sea” might work well with Moby Dick, as it tells the story of a mother who loses her son, husband, and lover to the sea.  It would work well on its own, but I’m trying next year to add in short stories to supplement longer works.

Even if you aren’t looking for stories to use in class, this collection is entertaining in its own right. I devoured it in a weekend and highly recommend it!

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Posted by Kate, VP Secondary, PCTELA

 

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Up Late with Trigger Warning by Neil Gaiman

Remembering Maya Angelou with her poem “Human Family”

Two years ago today we lost Maya Angelou (1928-2014). She lives on with us, though, through her poetry. Here’s a personal favorite:

Human Family

I note the obvious differences
in the human family.
Some of us are serious,
some thrive on comedy.

Some declare their lives are lived
as true profundity,
and others claim they really live
the real reality.

The variety of our skin tones
can confuse, bemuse, delight,
brown and pink and beige and purple,
tan and blue and white.

I’ve sailed upon the seven seas
and stopped in every land,
I’ve seen the wonders of the world
not yet one common man.

I know ten thousand women
called Jane and Mary Jane,
but I’ve not seen any two
who really were the same.

Mirror twins are different
although their features jibe,
and lovers think quite different thoughts
while lying side by side.

We love and lose in China,
we weep on England’s moors,
and laugh and moan in Guinea,
and thrive on Spanish shores.

We seek success in Finland,
are born and die in Maine.
In minor ways we differ,
in major we’re the same.

I note the obvious differences
between each sort and type,
but we are more alike, my friends,
than we are unalike.

We are more alike, my friends,
than we are unalike.

We are more alike, my friends,
than we are unalike.

Remembering Maya Angelou with her poem “Human Family”

Friday Five: Final Projects for Student Engagement

The end of the year can be a tough time to keep students engaged in learning, with the sun shining and the birds chirping and summer just around the corner. Here are 5 engaging final projects to assign your students.  Have other ideas? Post a comment!

  1. Final synthesis essay: have students bring multiple texts together in one large essay or project.  For example, what if all the characters you read about were on the same reality TV show?  Or what if they all saw the same psychologist?
  2. Writing Portfolio: have students analyze how their writing has grown, shifted, or solidified over the course of the year (or years).  As they think metacognitively about writing and reflect on what they’ve done, they can set goals for next year (or the summer).
  3. Design a unit for next year: ask students to think about what was missing from your course and design a unit for next year.  This is how I ended up teaching modern plays this year–a former student noted how she’d never read a play from the last 40 years…and suggested some I could use in class.
  4. Reading Celebration with Bookmarks: ask students to make bookmarks to leave behind for your classroom library.  It will help them reflect on favorite books and celebrate reading successes.
  5. Teach a Poetry Unit: students won’t have to read too much at home, and when they’re in class, they can focus on poetry and read deeply, and then not worry about having many chapters of assigned reading at night. Have them bring in favorite poems, write their own, and research poets. 

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Bookmark by Nahid Soltanzadeh

Posted by Kate, VP Secondary, PCTELA

Friday Five: Final Projects for Student Engagement

Leaving a Legacy with Bookmarks: How to Celebrate Reading at the End of the Year

This year, inspired by the bookmarks I received at the High School Matters NCTE session, I decided to assign my seniors to create a bookmark with three books that impacted them. They will then leave these for my classroom library for next year’s students. This is a way for me to find more books to recommend to students and also for my seniors to leave a legacy and to continue to have an impact on our school community. Plus, let’s be honest, it was an excuse to buy a laminator to use in class! We turned my classroom into a maker space for this week.

The results so far have been amazing. While it took many students a while to think of books to choose, some jumped onto goodreads and then had to pare down huge lists. The conversations surrounding selections have been so much fun.

We’re spending about 2-3 days in class making these, and day 1 has been wonderful, so far. Some students are making collages, some are drawing, and some are using software to create the bookmarks. When they print them out and/or finish them, we send them through the laminator, which makes them shiny and official and complete. Below are some examples:

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Posted by Kate, VP Secondary, PCTELA

Leaving a Legacy with Bookmarks: How to Celebrate Reading at the End of the Year

Up Late with When Breath Becomes Air

A number of colleagues recommended When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi to me, and when I saw it online for a cheap price, I jumped on it.  Coincidentally, I happened to be teaching the Pulitzer-Prize winning play W;t, by Margaret Edson when I read this, and I discovered the two were excellent companion pieces–one looks at how becoming a doctor can dehumanize you, and one looks at how becoming a patient can dehumanize you.

This memoir tells the story of a deeply literate man who becomes a doctor.  I enjoyed the book for many reasons, one was how he wove his love of literature and curiosity about human nature and how the brain works into the story of his life. Early in the novel, he writes how as a teenager, he discovered books: “Books became my closest confidants, finely ground lenses providing new views of the world.”

The writing absolutely sang, and I found myself underlining many parts of the book not just for the meaningful content, but for the style in which they were written:

  • “I can’t go on. I’ll go on.”
  • “There is a moment, a cusp, when the sum of gathered experience is worn down by the details of living. We are never so wise as when we live in this moment.”
  • “Human knowledge is never contained in one person. It grows from the relationships we create between each other and the world, and still it is never complete.”
  • “The physician’s duty is not to stave off death or return patients to their old lives, but to take into our arms a patient and family whose lives have disintegrated and work until they can stand back up and face, and make sense of, their own existence.”
  • “Before operating on a patient’s brain, I realized, I must first understand his mind: his identity, his values, what makes his life worth living, and what devastation makes it reasonable to let that life end. The cost of my dedication to succeed was high, and the ineluctable failures brought me nearly unbearable guilt. Those burdens are what make medicine holy and wholly impossible: in taking up another’s cross, one must sometimes get crushed by the weight.”

88745374e75ec2048e0f6a706700cbc9Posted by Kate, VP Secondary PCTELA

Up Late with When Breath Becomes Air

Friday 5: Reasons to Use Goodreads

Full confession, I’ve been active on Goodreads since 2007.  It is my longest social media relationship, and I’m still madly in love. First, it served as a reminder about books I wanted to read and those I’d already read. Then I realized it was a great way to connect to students and to use in the classroom.

1. You and your students can publish reviews publicly.  Having an authentic audience can help students shape writing more carefully.
2. You can create shelves (essentially lists) for yourself or your students.  For example, I have a poetry shelf, a play shelf, a shelf for books I’ve taught.  I also have a 100 books for my students to read before they graduate shelf. You can assign students to make shelves, too, which could be an interesting assignment. They could create a shelf for a literary character: what might be on Holden Caulfield’s bookshelf?
3.The quotes section for each book is so much fun–and you or your students could add quotes that you think should be on the list. This is also a great resource for writing papers–if you have students like quotes as you read a book, they can look back and use them for analysis.
4. When I first went onto Goodreads, I realized I hadn’t been reading as much as I wanted to, so I was able to set a goal for myself.  The option of having a goal for each year is helpful to keep me on track, and turn off the TV and read.
5. The updates feed with my friends’ and students’ books has been a great place to find books to read.  For example, my former students, who are now in college, are often reading books that I then put on my to-read list.  I can also follow authors and see what they are reading.

Find me on Goodreads

Image below shows some of my favorite books & shelves

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Posted by Kate,  VP Secondary PCTELA

Friday 5: Reasons to Use Goodreads

Engaging Students at the End of the Year: The Literary Road Trip

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A sunny May can make for a difficult classroom. June is close by, summer is nearly upon us, and it can be hard for students to focus. I try to channel the desire to get out of school and hit the open road by asking students about literary road trips they would take. This allows them to daydream about road trips while also considering the rich availability of authorial landmarks. I’m willing to bet wherever you live, an author lived there, slept there, or wrote there for at least a short period of time.

Some smaller ideas:
*have students research and write about a destination related to an author and find a photo of the place–they could just make one slide of a presentation about this.
*have students research and write about a destination mentioned in a book you read this year–they could do this on their own or share with the class.

More elaborate projects:
*ask students to create a website including: a roadtrip mixtape, a map of destinations, an explanation of who they might want to travel with, and a list of books they might take to read along the way.
*encourage students to plan a hypothetical class field trip to a destination mentioned in your books or discussion this year.
*assign students to create a road trip a literary character might take.  Have them decide what type of car they’d drive, where they’d visit, who might join them.

Posted by Kate, VP Secondary, PCTELA

Engaging Students at the End of the Year: The Literary Road Trip