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Thursday, October 30, 2008
The second book in my Amazon package was a new book about teaching grammar written by one of the presenters at the conference I went to in July. It's called Engaging Grammar, and I'll probably be tackling it this weekend, so I'll share it with you then. (I know you're on the edge of your seats.)
Also arriving in my mailbox was my new Portland Monthly, the Restaurant edition. Although it makes me sad that I do not live in Portland, I love pouring over that magazine and dreaming of the future, when, ostensibly, I'll make frequent trips to expensive restaurants in that city with my cadre of rich and beautiful friends. Someday.
Last in the mail haul was my new edition of Books and Culture, which is a Christian book review magazine. I've only really read about two editions of it so far (not counting this one, which is at the bottom of my reading stack at the moment), but I quite like the articles and reviews. They seem fair and academic and entertaining, and not too preachy or full of academese (that's my new word for the pompous, unintelligible jargon of university professors who want to sound too smart for their pants*).
Oh, but that's not all, my friends. Oh no. I'm also listening to Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, by Barbara Kingsolver--a book that I've been wanting to get to for awhile, but wasn't willing to shell out hardcover price for. But I found it on the audio rack at the library, so it's all on my iPod, and I've been listening to it doing dishes, raking leaves, getting ready in the morning. I won't go into a whole summary of this book, mostly because Jen already talked about it pretty extensively, but I will say that it makes me want to can things, make my own cheese, and plant heirloom tomatoes.
I also found on the audio rack A Thousand Splendid Suns, which I've been promising my aunt I'd read for ages and The Inimitable Jeeves--a Wooster and Jeeves book by P.G. Wodehouse. I've been intrigued by Wooster and Jeeves since Kandice got me watching the BBC show, featuring a young Hugh Laurie and Stephen Fry. But when I read the young adult book The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks (a really great read on its own, by the way) and the main character starts intentionally mixing up words--playing with prefixes and suffixes--because she saw Wodehouse do it in his novels, I knew I had to try the real thing.
ALSO, *deep breath* I'm also reading Ever by Gail Carson Levine--I think it's her newest. I was expecting a fairytale remake like her others--Ella Enchanted and The Two Princesses of Bamarre, but instead it's a mythological Greek-and-Roman-gods-type story. Not bad so far. Not quite up to the standards of Ella Enchanted, which I truly loved, but fun and fluffy and all that.
Wow, ok, that really is the end. I think. (I won't count the September and October Harpers that arrived last week and I'm still working my way through.) People sometimes ask me how many books I read per week, and I can never answer the question. There are sometimes weeks like this, where I have half-finished books coming out of my ears, and then there's times where I'm stuck on one book for a long time--like with Anna Karenina. Or (more rarely) weeks when I'm busy or preoccupied and don't really read much at all. If I were a very organized and disciplined person, I'd keep track of all the books I read in a year and find out my average. But then again, I'm kind of glad I'm not. It's more fun not to know.
*Aw, sweet. I thought I made that up, but apparently someone else did first. And put it in the dictionary. 3 comments
Wednesday, October 29, 2008
The great thing about 8th graders is that they're still willing to buy into whatever teaching situation you want to create. For example, today we were working on revising the poems they've been writing about turtles. (We watched an amazing clip about baby turtles from Planet Earth last week.) Many--maybe most--of them are still pretty fuzzy about what a poem is, exactly, so I wanted to show them how poetry condenses images and ideas. This is how the conversation went.
Me: How many of you feel like your poems right now still sound like paragraphs?
Class: (with sighs of relief) yes! Me! Mine does!
Me: That's probably because you have too many extra words in your poem. Look at this example. [I had rewritten a poem about Giraffes, adding extra unnecessary words--mostly making it sound like prose.] Look at these emphasis words--"so" and "very." They just get in the way and are distracting. We don't need them. [I erase them.]
I went on and took out repeated subjects and verbs, pronouns... basically everything that I had added to the original. The class's response? "Wow, that's SO much better." And then they busily went to work doing the same thing to their own writing.
This is a pretty mundane example, but it illustrates my love of junior highers. High schoolers could have still gotten something out of a group lesson like that, but the dynamic would have been very different. When I ask a question that is obviously contrived (like the first one above), high schooler's know it's contrived and don't deign to answer it. Or if they do, it's with an obvious air of "playing along." Plus, they're unwilling to admit that their work has a specific problem--certainly not a problem that I, the teacher, could anticipate. They'll say, "I suck at writing poems" or "My poem sucks," but the intended implication will be that they didn't really try all that hard anyway because they have better things to do.
And even though my eighth-graders knew that the final result of my modified poem would be better (I had read it to them before), they were willing to buy into the concept that it was a bad poem that I had just made better right that very minute, and they were surprised and pleased. If it had been a high school class, some smart alec would have made a sarcastic comment to the effect of "Oh look, it's back to the way it started" and taken the steam right out of the example.
Now, I do like teaching high schoolers too, and I definitely don't think that all high schoolers always act like bored know-it-alls all the time. But the general atmosphere is much more reserved, much more tentative in a high school classroom. Older students are constantly evaluating their peers and you, unwilling to be taken in. Maybe this comes from fear of being strung along by Socratic questions, or --I don't know. But junior highers are still blessedly free of it and, to me, that's worth any amount of the hyperactivity or immaturity that you also deal with at that level.
**Update: I started this post two days ago, but haven't gotten around to finishing it until tonight. So I wanted to include that I received the final drafts of the poems today. I skimmed a few and they are just so awesome--I can't even tell you. Maybe I'll see if I can get a couple students' permission to post them online. We'll see. 0 comments
Monday, October 27, 2008
Children's Books That Didn't Make It
1. You Are Different and That's Bad
2. The Boy Who Died From Eating All His Vegetables
3. Dad's New Wife Scott
4. Fun Four-Letter Words to Know and Share
5. Hammers, Screwdrivers, and Scissors: An I-Can-Do-It Book
6. The Kids' Guide to Hitchhiking
7. Kathy Was So Bad Her Mom Stopped Loving Her
8. Curious George and the High-Voltage Fence
9. All Cats Go to Hell
10. The Little Sissy Who Snitched
11. Some Kittens Can Fly
12. That's It, I'm Putting You Up For Adoption
13. Grandpa Gets a Casket
14. The Magic World Inside the Abandoned Refrigerator
15. Garfield Gets Feline Leukemia
16. The Pop-Up Book of Human Anatomy
17. Strangers Have the Best Candy
18. Whining, Kicking, and Crying to Get Your Way
19. You Were An Accident
20. Things Rich Kids Have, But You Never Will
21. Pop! Goes the Hamster.and Other Great Microwave Games
22. The Man in the Moon is Actually Satan
23. Your Nightmares Are Real
24. Where Would You Like to Be Buried?
25. Eggs, Toilet Paper, and Your School
26. Why Can't Mr. Fork and Ms. Electrical Outlet Be Friends?
27. Places Where Mommy and Daddy Hide Neat Things
28. Daddy Drinks Because You Cry
Labels: books1 comments
Sunday, October 26, 2008
I also have to share a great overheard quote at the Saturday market. We were standing in front of the booth that sold home-sewn heating pads for back, neck, and shoulders. A pair of older ladies walked by, glanced at the signs for that booth, and one turned to the other to say, "If you have a pain in the neck, just divorce 'em." 2 comments
Thursday, October 23, 2008
She followed the road until well around the corner, then she stopped
and sat on a grassy spot, laid her books beside her, and opened the
lunch box. Last night's odors had in a measure prepared her for what she would see, but not quite. She scarcely could believe her senses. Half the bread compartment was filled with dainty sandwiches of bread and butter sprinkled with the yolk of egg and the remainder with three large slices of the most fragrant spice cake imaginable. The meat dish contained shaved cold ham, of which she knew the quality, the salad was tomatoes and celery, and the cup held preserved pear, clear as amber. There was milk in the bottle, two tissue-wrapped cucumber pickles in the folding drinking cup, and a fresh napkin in the ring. No lunch was ever daintier or more palatable, of that Elnora was sure. And her mother had prepared it for her! "She does love me!" cried the happy girl. "Sure as you're born she loves me, only she hasn't found it out yet!"
Of course, a mouth-watering description like this is not written for its own sake, but to indicate some kind of meaning for the plot or a character's emotional development. For Harry, the piles of delectable dishes at the school feasts show us that Harry has found a home at last, where his needs --both emotional and physical--will be met (unlike at the Dursleys). For Elnora, the amazing lunches show that her cold, distant mother does harbor some feeling deep down for her neglected daughter.
Later in the book, Elnora begins to make friends at school and takes her turn among them "treating" to a special after-school snack. Rather than indulging in store-bought candy, cookies, or soda, she gives her town friends a taste of country life:
She led the way through the city to the grocery they patronized when they had a small spread and, entering, cme out with a basket, which she carried to the bridge on her home road. There she arranged the girls in two rows on the cement abutments and, opening her basket, she gravely offered each girl and exquisite little basket of bark, lined with red leaves, in one end of which nestled a juicy big red apple and in the other a spicy doughnut not an hour from Margaret Sinton's frying basket.
Another time she offered big balls of popped corn stuck together with maple sugar and liberally sprinkled with beechnut kernels. Again it was hickory nut kernels glazed with sugar, another time maple candy, and once a basket of warm pumpkin pies. She never made any apology or offered any excuses. She simply gave what she could afford, and the change was as welcome to those city girls, accustomed to sodas and French candy, as were those same things to Elnora, surfeited on popcorn and pie.
[And one afternoon, when her mother makes the treat...] She lifted the cover and perfumes from the land of spices rolled up. In one end of the basket lay ten enormous sugar cakes the tops of which had been liberally dotted with circles cut from stick candy. The candy had melted in baking and made small transparent wells of waxy sweetness, and in the center of each cake was a fat turtle made from a raisin with cloves for head and feet. The remainder of the basket was filled with big spiced pears that could be held by their stems while they were eaten. The girls shrieked and attacked the cookies, and of all the treats Elnora offered perhaps none was quite so long remembered as that.
Mmm... 2 comments
Tuesday, October 21, 2008
Not good. 0 comments
Now, tell me you didn't laugh at that. (In fact, you want to see more, don't you?)
So, first of all, this woman is completely humorless, which isn't a crime. (And in the grand tradition of Laura Mallory and others, she admits to not having actually read the book through). But she's refusing to return the book to the library for review, which will result in her kid being banned from checking any books out from the library. And she's threatening to burn it (and any future copies the library buys), which is sooo twentieth century. And then there's just this whole thing about one person thinking they have the right to be everyone's parent.
Well, Andy Riley, welcome to the Banned Books List. The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Macbeth, Catcher in the Rye, and...uh...Bunny Suicides.
Sunday, October 19, 2008
Tuesday, October 14, 2008
Labels: art1 comments
Monday, October 13, 2008
A) I spent about twenty minutes prying two jammed staples out of the mouth of my classroom stapler today. I have been driven to severe frustration by this tedious task in the past, but today I found it oddly calming. And very satisfying when I finally got the stapler to work again.
B) Sunday morning, I ate breakfast at a little diner in town and ordered the "French Toast Crunch" out of curiosity. What I got was french toast, rolled in cereal and deep fried. It was quite tasty, but a bit like eating Churros for breakfast... with syrup. And although I scraped off the giant dollop of butter and only ate about half of the meal, I'm pretty sure I consumed 80% of my calories for the day. Yeesh.
C) On Saturday, I went to Corvallis to a wonderful cafe on King's Street, which I discovered has free wireless. It was the first time I had ever brought my little refurbished laptop anywhere besides school. It looked a little shabby beside all the OSU students' Macbooks and HPs, but I didn't care. I wrote a good 4 pages of my 5 page minimum ACSI paper, so woohoo me. I had to laugh though, because unbeknownst to me, there was an OSU game that day and I got caught in pre-game traffic (behind hundreds of little waving orange and black flags) both to and from Corvallis. I was feeling all superior and non-football fan-ish, sitting at my little cafe bar by the window, when I happened to look down and realized I was wearing the precise shade of OSU orange. Dang it.
D) I've assigned an essay called "The Ways We Lie" to my College Writing class this week. It's basically just a classification of different kinds of lies, like "stereotypes," "omission," and "deflecting." There's one section where the author brings up Lilith (Adam's mythical first wife) as an example of a "lie of omission." Generally, my junior and senior students have never heard of this character, much less the feminist interpretation of her (that she refused to submit to Adam, left the Garden of her own free will, and became a goddess/demon/example of female power against the patriarchy, etc.), so this essay generally spins them a bit. It's pretty shocking the first time you come across something that just comes right out and contradicts what you believe as though it's a matter of course--that's not something that our kids are exposed to much. That is, they occasionally read anti-Christian works--or, less often, works from unorthodox traditions--but it's always cushioned and couched with "Now, this is wrong for these reasons, kids," before they read it. Otherwise, they generally come to anything they are given to read with an expectation that it will align with their beliefs. And since the evangelical church doesn't really study Jewish mythologies--or any apocryphal writings--and since most high schoolers haven't studied
I remember once or twice in high school and numerous times in college and grad school being pulled up short mentally when I read something stated as fact that contradicted my beliefs. You sort of gasp and think, "What? This seemingly intelligent, good-hearted person thinks that?!" (A bit of a sidetrack: I think we undermine our students' preparedness in these situations when we portray the "other side"--whether that means atheists, evolutionists, or any other -ists--as weak-minded, intentionally self-deluded, or liars. One of the speakers on evolution at the ACSI conference did this, and it infuriated me. 90% of the country's scientists can't all be morons. People can be sincere, intelligent, and wrong.) Anyway, I'm curious about my readers (and also jealous of all of Steph's surveys)--so I put the question to you: What do you do when you're reading and come across an intelligent, thoughtful author who wins your intellectual sympathies and then presents something as fact that you've never heard of and which contradicts what you believe? (I'm talking about things that seem more or less reasonable--not, like, "My bookshelf spoke to me.")
I'm not in love with the whole getting-ready-in-the-humid-locker-room thing, but it does have some compensations. For example, I get such a kick out of listening to the conversations of the aforementioned old ladies as they come in an out of the pool. They all know each other and are intimately acquainted with the events of each other's personal lives:
"Morning, Jan. How's your back doing today?"
"Oh, good. You know, I couldn't come last Friday, and I was in pain all day, but whenever I can get down here to swim, I feel better, you know. I see you missed a couple days this week too?"
"Yup, Ed and I went to see our daughter--"
"She's in Seattle, isn't she?"
"Yup, she's got a new grandbaby for me. Little girl."
And so on. The shower room conversation also covers such topics as the latest episodes of CSI and the recent fires in Lebanon. It's like a cute, little, half-naked community. :)
Labels: exercise1 comments
Saturday, October 11, 2008
We here in the Willamette Valley have woken up to foggy skies and near-freezing temperatures this week. I'm sad for the green tomatoes in my garden that will probably never ripen, and I'm sort of grumpy at the thought that it will be nine months before I can lay out in the sun or have breakfast on my patio again. But as much as the thought of upcoming months of endless rain and cold depresses me, I can't help feeling a thrill of excitement at that October bite in the air. It makes me think of baking holiday foods and Christmas shopping and icicles and peppermint hot chocolate. So I'm trying to keep all those good things in mind as I bid goodbye to my favorite season and remember that it will return eventually and that, like vacation, it's only enjoyable if it's temporary.
So, this morning, I've been wrapped up in the afghan I knitted last winter, drinking my coffee and contemplating the many many things I should really get to today:
- grading the College Writing narrative essays
- writing my own essay for my ACSI accreditation (hmm, it does seem to me that I swore to myself I would have that sucker finished before summer vacation was over. *sigh*)
- writing discussion questions for Acts 4&5 of Romeo and Juliet
- planning the curriculum for the Elective English class I'll be teaching next semester
- grading Geometry corrections
- sending copies of those oh-so-lovely school pictures (which I thought I was free of when I graduated 12th grade) to grandma
- cleaning my bathroom
- actually, cleaning all my house
- doing some personal writing
- paying my credit card bill
- folding laundry
- planting tulip bulbs*
- return library books
But, instead, I spent the first two hours of the morning adding feeds to my Google reader. Want to see what I'm reading these days?The Pottercast Blog
Out of Ur -- the blog on the Christianity Today website
Living the Romantic Comedy
Jane In Progress -- the blog of Jane Espenson, a script writer for Buffy, Firefly, and BSG, among others
Hatrack River -- blog of Orson Scott Card
Harry, A History -- updates from the writer of this book, which chronicles the HP phenomenon
Geoffrey Chaucer Hath a Blog
And speaking of reading, I've started subscribing to a few more magazines lately in an attempt to introduce some variety into my reading (lest I lapse completely into the world of YA fantasy fiction). Books and Culture, The Atlantic, and Portland Monthly, among others. I'm trying to keep close track of which ones I've ordered and paid for, because I'm finding that magazines will send you a bill saying "YOUR SUBSCRIPTION'S ABOUT TO RUN OUT!!!" with lots of big scary fonts, when you really have six months to go. And I'm absentminded enough about bills that I'll totally fall for it, and end up paying my subscription through like July of 2014 without even realizing it. Plus, having ordered a few new magazines, I've been getting all this junk mail (ha! I just typed "junk male") for more--way more than I want. I am gratified to find, though, that I've been targeted for Harpers, New York Book Review and The New Yorker, rather than Us Weekly or Cosmopolitan. So that makes me feel, you know, all cultured and snobby.
And lastly, since we're all over the lists today, a quick list of the books I got at Powell's a couple weeks ago, that weekend I went to ACSI
- An American Childhood, by Annie Dillard
- Rebecca, by Daphne DuMaurier
- Inkdeath, by Cornelia Funke
- Seeing the Blue Between, a book of advice for young poets (along with a number of great poems)
* I had to add a little note about this-- a couple weeks ago my mom and I went to Garland's nursery in Corvallis (which is a customer of my parents') just to look around, and I bought a whole paper bag full of bulbs to plant this fall. Mostly tulips, a few daffodils and some other ones that I don't really remember and can't pronounce, but they're going to be bee-you-tiful next spring! 3 comments
Friday, October 10, 2008
Sunday, October 05, 2008
Anyway, I thought I'd give them a little press here, since they entertained me twice in the same week and they are a local band and all. They're called Intervision and they're a kind of pop/jazz/fusion-type band. My friend bought their CDs, but they're much better live, in my opinion. Those of you who live in Boise are hereby commanded to go see them perform on November 7 or 8 (or, hey, both!) at a place called Tom Grainey's (haven't heard of it myself, but that's what Mapquest is for). You can hear one of their songs on that website above, and a few more on their Myspace page.
Other than going to listen to awesome music, I did actually participate in some conference-related activities at ACSI. I attended a couple of seminars about teaching abroad; ACSI has connections with a number of Christian schools all over the world--some that serve MKs, some for business people's kids, ambassador's kids, military kids, and so on. I'm kind of interested in the possibility, although not right away or anything. I understand that there might be occasions to go somewhere for a few weeks in the summer and teach in-service seminars somewhere to teachers abroad or give one of them a furlough to come home and raise support for a few weeks. So I might try that this summer or next. See if I like it.
Another seminar I took was titled "Real Men Hate Poetry?" I was hoping for some suggestions of good, contemporary, teen-friendly poetry to lure my reluctant readers. What I got was a guy who was of the real-poetry-is-old-poetry camp. Now, his main seminar topic was the idea that classic hymns and other religious poetry has an important place in our curriculum and can be inspiring and fun, even for high school kids. Now, I'm all on board with that, and if he had stuck to his topic I would have been his biggest fan. But instead he had to spend the first half of the class telling us the following:
- The movement to legitimize minority literature is a ploy of the secular humanists
- All non-Western literature is actually culturally homogeneous, since it all propogates the philosophy of those secular humanists
- Reading non-Western literature doesn't expand our minds because it simply reinforces believes we already hold
- Real poetry is rhymed.
- That is, it has traditional rhyme and meter.
- Free verse is A) lazy, B) cheating, C) just a rough draft of "real poetry"
- Real poetry is didactic
- That is, it directs our minds to contemplate the highest ideals and ethics of Western culture
- Walt Whitman is a bad poet
Those of you who really know me will have guessed that it was #9 that really ticked me off, although all the others are embarrassingly retrogressive as well. I'm kind of surprised that this guy was willing to get up in front of a bunch of English teachers and vilify half of what we teach every day. And it's really sad to think that his students are going to go off to college to horrify their college professors with their ignorance. I was hard-pressed to sit through the whole thing, but I did. I left feeling like even his good ideas of using George Herbert and Caedman's Hymn and others were tainted by the rest of the drivel. Bleh.2 comments
Thursday, October 02, 2008
Wednesday, October 01, 2008
We're about a third of the way through it now, and the class is enthralled (which I find gratifying, of course), but it has also sparked some great discussions. See, one of the weaknesses of the book is the author's tendency to caricaturize Christianity as an empty solace for the weak-minded, Marx's opiate of the masses. The one "Christian" character in the book is preachy, deluded, and martyring and her pastor (who only makes a brief appearance) is hypocritical and corrupt. It's not so dominant, though, that it spoils the book, in my opinion--in my own reading, I just wrote it off as a somewhat typical secular arrogance. Exasperating, but not particularly interesting. But my students have really engaged some of the questions that the author's portrayal raises. Is the Christian friend really a Christian? Is her faulty theology a function of being an emotional teenage girl or is it indicative that she might be part of a cult? Where might the author have gotten the idea that this is what Christians are like? What would be a truly Christian response to