Suggestions needed

It's August again. And you know what that means: school starts in two weeks. I went to my new classroom last week and set everything up. Last year I had the smallest classroom in the school. This year, I have the biggest. I'll be teaching Broadcasting/Journalism and Honors (and Regular) Modern Lit this year, so I get the largest classroom with all the expensive equipment. All I have to do now is learn how to use all the expensive equipment.

I'm hoping to retire after this year, so I want to make this year count. I plan to set up a blog for each of my classes. This is where all of your ideas would be really helpful. If you were using a blog for your classroom, how would you do it? I plan to assign something to the blog every Friday, and then the students have until the following Friday to post and comment on another post. My problem is knowing what to assign. I've though of having a short story for them to read and then respond to or maybe write their own original piece using that same style. Maybe I could leave a thought/quotation that they should respond to. Please help.

Also, what are your favorite short stories/novels for a high school level? Basically, since there are so few English classes offered, my modern lit curriculum doesn't have to be me teaching lit from the modernist period. As long as the students can relate to it, I can teach it. Neat, I know.

Thanks in advance for your help.


Sky said...

This will be a good semester for you--great curriculum. It sounds exciting, though I'm nauseated to think school is so close. We just got out, or so it seems. Meghan will be in her own new classroom this fall also.
Notice how our blog works best when we respond to each other instead of responding to a text-- though a text can start things off--even a parable or Zen Koan. Pick something short that stimulates thinking. Blogs work when they're more like a community discussion. They help with writing skills when there's a sense of peer audience.

Hey, help EmPo out. What short stories or poetry besides "Richard Corey" touched your heart or brain in high school? (If you remember any off the top of your head, they had an effect--doesn't matter if it was good or bad--just so they activated your brain cells a little, which is what she needs.)Any ideas for her?

Jami said...

Robert Frost was the catalyst for my love of poetry. Where the Red Fern Grows was the first book I cried in (potentially lame, I know).

EmPo, I am so excited for your schedule and for all of the technology you have access to. Is there a reason why you're retiring after this year? Does that mean that you'll never teach again? Was it that bad?

I've been hesitant to announce this becausee I haven't signed the contract yet (delayed PA certification crap), but I have a job offer for this fall and once I sign the contract it will be for sure for sure. The start date is in two weeks and I'm in panic mode. With the Lord, all things are possible, though. I've felt that more now than ever before.

I love your idea for a class blog. I'll try and keep the ideas coming! Heavens knows I'll need it soon!

Chan said...

Hmm, I'll think about ideas for the blog, but as for books, have them read Travels With Charlie by Steinbeck. Why teachers insist on making 16-year-olds read things like Grapes of Wrath and The Sound and the Fury is beyond me. If you haven't read it, T with C is funny and very enjoyable and has meaning. It's a travelogue of a roadtrip Steinbeck went on in his fifty's (or so) to "reacquaint himself with America," so it talks a lot about homogenization and sterilization and integration and nuclear holocaustification (had to keep up the -tion trend), etc.

Why is it that school reading seems to jump from My Side of the Mountain to Death of a Salesman? I think there should be more transition.

Or they could read Cry the Beloved Country. I love that book. I loved it when I read it in highschool, and I love it even more now. Joseph Kumalo is the man. I like him as much as I like Aragorn and Gabriel Oak. C the B C takes place in S. Africa, so it's about apartheid and stuff. Both books I've mentioned are clean as a whistles.

If you want a short story, "Trifles" is always good for an energetic discussion. And I had a teacher compare and contrast "My Kinsman Major Molineux" with "Young Goodman Brown" (both Hawthorne) to explore how disillusionment, and that was real cool.

Love, love, love Death Comes for the Archbishop, but it doesn't have a very linear plot, and some people hate it because they don't think it goes anywhere (I think it goes somewhere).

This might be pushing it, but I actually really like Heart of Darkness. It's an enjoyable read for me, and it makes me think. I don't know if that's modern or not.

I really liked Bean Trees by Barbara Kingsolver when I read it in high school. Also, she has some essays that are enjoyable and thought provoking (two collections: High Tide in Tucson and Small Wonder. I haven't finished that first one, but so far I like the essays in the second better).

Do you think it would work if students were in charge of coming up with prompts for the blog? Like they would choose a favorite excerpt or quotation from a story and people respond? Maybe not. Just a thought.

Sky said...

Great idea about the blog, Chan. Also, don't forget Dicy's Song if you go for a a novel.

Emily Goodsell said...

Oh I love this. Keep the good ideas coming. I collaborate with a lets-just-use-the-textbook-and-give-the-students-some-worksheet-packets teacher. We are scheduled to collaborate on Tuesday of this week, and I told her I plan to steer clear from our silly textbook to find real stories with real meaning. She didn't like it, but now she's telling the other teachers she's going to just follow my lesson plan throughout the year, so I'm trying to show her some good stories. This is awesome.

Jami, I don't hate teaching. I love the students. They come from all walks of life and need someone to love them, and even if I can't be a super-duper teacher, I like to love people, so this is a good job for me. (Public education is awful, but the kids make it worth it, especially when they get it and learn to love learning.) But, I think I want to retire--hopefully at least for a while--so I can be a mom.

And Chan, thanks for so many suggestions. Some of them are on our list for AP (Heart of Darkness for one), but lots of them I haven't read, so I'll get started now. I'm currently reading a Kingsolver novel called The Poisonwood Bible. It's incredible. Put it on your list to read if you haven't already.


E. Anona said...

Ah, The Poisonwood Bible...I had it recommended to me a few times, so I finally went to the library and pulled it off the shelf...the book was huge! Way thicker than a King James Bible. I usually avoid commitments to long series and large thoughtful books, but I must admit it sucked me in. (I only started it because I read her essays.)

Sky said...

Poisonwood affected me like a Faulkner novel affects me. It echoed our guilt-ridden Mormon culture so much that I remember crying in recognition, but I also loved the life affirming parts. I want to make a plea for Cynthia Voight--even though she's a young adult author, she deals with good stuff. And if you're thinking of Heart of Darkness (which I also love; couldn't agree more with Kurtz's last words before he dies), you might as well go with Kite Runner--same intensity but more contemporary. Plus, how nice it'd be to see some younger students realize there's life OUTSIDE the U.S. But, I thought you wanted short stores? And . . . mom-stuff? Do you have any news to tell us?

Sarachel said...

Some books I liked in high school were Flowers for Algernon, The Chosen, and Of Mice and Men (to tell the truth, those were the only assigned books I read in high school).

In one of my classes, we were required to have one response to the text and one response to another student. Because we responded to each other, it generated a lot of content.

Emily Goodsell said...

Sis. Morgan, I have no news about being a mother, but I want to be one someday, so I need to prepare for retirement now. Besides, it's so much easier to make good dinners and keep the house cleaned when I'm not at school.

And yes, I am looking for good short stories, but I'm eating up all of these novel ideas, too, in case our school has enough money for more books this year.

Eric James said...

When you asked for short stories, these are the ones that immediately came to my mind that I enjoyed reading throughout my education.

"Teaching a Stone to Talk" by Annie Dillard.

"Shooting an Elephant" by George Orwell

"Such, Such Were the Joys" by George Orwell (this is a really cool essay about bed-wetting)

"The Allegory of the Cave" by Plato

As for books, I really enjoyed The House on Mango Street by Sandra Cisneros; and The Stranger by Albert Camus, both fairly quick reads. The House on Mango Street can be done in chapters because none of them really relate, but do have a common thread. (Sorry, I don't know how to italicize the titles).

Good Luck! This sounds extremely fun by the way.

Julie M said...

I'm so excited for you EmPo! I'll have another go this year myself...this time in 2nd grade and not kindergarten. Maybe I'll be lucky and not have a mental break down on the first day.
I'm also very happy for you Jami. Very cool and very exciting. How's the pa cert stuff going?

What's this nonsense about "even though she's a young adult author," Sis. Morgan? Granted many of them make me want to gag, but there are lots that have a good hands as well. I totally back you up with Voight. I love her stuff, and that's a good transition into high school. Books I read my sophomore year in English and loved:
Count of Monte Cristo (abridged--it's too long for those kids otherwise)
Ayn Rand's Anthem
Summer of My German Soldier (didn't like that one too much) The Hiding Place (beautiful)
Tale of Two Cities (every girl in my class was weeping at the end)

Short Stories/Poems that are good for conversations:
The Lottery (ooooo)
The Fall of the House of Usher
Journey of the Magi
Anything be ee cummings
The Rocking Horse Winner
The Story of an Hour

As far as how to use your blogs, I'm inclined to agree with Sis. Morgan. Long pieces that you want people to comment on may not be the way to go with high school students. But in one of my college classes, we would read a piece and then the professor would want us to write a piece either with similar style, similar subject matter, etc. But this was creative nonfiction. It might go a little haywire with fiction. I don't know. Anyway, good luck. You are going to do great.

Sky said...

EmPo, I agree with Sara Lee about the blog. It'd get them to respond both to the text (be sure to rule out "I liked it; I didn't like it")and to each other. Also, Julie's list is great. We may be tired of the "Lottery," but there are certain stories we need shared to use as sort of cultural references. I'd add "A Good Man is Hard to Find" and maybe "Yellow Wall Paper." (I had a tough time discussing Ethical Criticism with Karli because she hadn't read "A Good Man is Hard to Find.")What have these students already read?
Also, I like Of Mice and Men more than Travels with Charley. Sorry, Chan. Travels is a more classy book, but these kids are too addicted to adrenaline--enough said. Or if you want Steinbeck, why not choose The Pearl? It's a sad insight into how sneaky and destructive greed is and also reads like poetry. Can we add more? Or have you got enough?

Chan said...

Sis. Morgan, Of Mice and Men or The Pearl over Travel's With Charlie for highschoolers? Do you mean, with the adrenaline comment, that they need something with more killing than Travels with Charlie? T with C was one of the most entertaining books I read in college.

Before you knock that one off the list, EmPo, I'd like to say that Travels with Charlie strikes me as being roughly a billion times more engaging for a high schooler than other Steinbeck stuff I've read (which, I'm a little embarrassed to say, is only The Red Pony, Cannery Row, and East of Eden). This may not be true for most high schoolers, but at that age, my threshold for nuance and/or despair was pretty low.

I second motions for The Chosen, Shooting and Elephant, Frost Poetry, and PoisonWood Bible (though it is big, and Bean Trees is a nice shorter alternative). Also, if we're suggesting cultural conversation pieces, double plug for Trifles. I've read that more times than anything else at school. Oh, and Red Wheel Barrow and that poem about the plums by William Carlos Williams, and Station in the Metro(or whatever it's called) by...shoot, you know, the fascist...Pound, that's right, and My Papa's Waltz. Read those poems a lot too. They might actually like My Papa's Waltz.

Emily Goodsell said...

This has been helpful in so many ways. Thanks everyone. For one, looking at all this literature gets me excited to go back in a few weeks because I'll have fresh literature to use. I spent all night sitting on the couch, finding the pieces on the internet, and then reading them out loud to Brad. So far his favorite is "Such, Such Were the Joys."

I put together a tentative schedule for Modern Lit (that includes many of these pieces), so if any of you teachers/someday teachers want a copy, I'll send it your way.

Also, here's a list of the stories I taught in one unit last year that the students loved (Jami, I don't know which grade you'll be teaching, if you decide to do so, but these created TONS of discussion.)

"Happy Endings" Margaret Atwood
"Sure Thing" David Ives
"Videotape" Don DeLillo
"How To Tell A True War Story" Tim O'Brien
"The Revolt of Mother" Mary E. Wilkins Freeman
And Chan's favorite, "Trifles" Susan Glaspell

Thanks again.

Jami said...

I'd love a copy of your list, EmPo. I'm so amazed at how much FREEDOM you have as to what you will teach. I don't think my school will be that way.

I'm teaching 10th grade British Literature, a grammar class for 9th graders that is required for all to graduate and basically no one wants to take it :S, and I'm co-teaching a humanities class with a history teacher.

My British Literature class I will have some freedom with when it comes to having them read certain books/short stories that are more interesting as long as they're British. (I will definitely add new ones because they have a heavy year with Canterbury Tales, Beowulf, Macbeth, etc.) Any favorites?

Sky said...

Yahoo, so glad you're getting rid of Beowulf. But, that's a great line of classes, Jami. You are blessed. Be sure to throw in Bronte sisters, Jane Austen, Tess (Thomas Hardy) is a great classic, and Dickens (my favorite is Bleak House but probably too long for HS.) Plus Turn of the Screw by Henry James is a great ghost story and very accessible for Henry James. And Wilkie Collins was a friend of Charles Dickens and wrote the very first who-done-it novel ever recorded: Moonstone.
And the poets! Oh, those lovely British poets! I envy you sooooo much.

Assignment for Chan. Read The Pearl and Of Mice and Men--both very short and very classic Steinbeck. You'll love them. I promise.

Emily Goodsell said...


What's your email so I can send the list your way?

Jami said...

My email is jamijoy@gmail.com. Thanks!

Jacob said...

This is a bit late, but The Ophelia Syndrome is a great essay that might get your students in the right mindset before they dive into all of these great works. It helped me quite a bit the first time I read through it.

Also, I know it doesn't rank with some of these other books, but Tuesdays with Morrie really got me thinking a lot about my relationships I had with my family and friends.