Thursday, January 31, 2008

Short story blog assignment comment criteria

I would like your short story comments to answer the following five questions:

I - Describe your personal reaction to the story. How do you feel after reading it? What do you remember? What images do you see? What concepts or ideas are in your head? What did the story make you think about?

II - Does the main character change over the course of the story? If so, what is his or her great insight or epiphany? How is this change important to the story? How would the story be different if the character didn't change?

If the main character does not change, explain why it was important that he/she remain static throughout the tale. How was the story arc dependent on the main character's personality?

III. What was your favorite part of the story? Did it occur in the exposition, rising action, climax, falling action, or resolution? Pick a line that you liked, copy and paste it into the comment box, put quotes around it, and explain what it was about it that stood out to you.

IV - Overall, what is this tale's best quality? It could be its characters, the conflict, the resolution, the description of the setting, the story arc, use of dialogue, etc. Use specific details and references to the story to explain why you thought this was its best strength.

V - What is one piece of advice that the author might consider for future writing assignments? This should be phrased constructively (try doing ------- next time, consider --------) or inquisitively (what do you think would happen if you -------------?)

Comments should be two to three paragraphs (8 to 12 well-written, informative sentences). Your comments should appear below the story you are responding to. When asked to choose an identity, click "nickname," then sign your comment with your first name and last initial. Comments not posted according to these instructions will be deleted.

I would like you to respond to a minimum of two essays per class (6 total). The essays will be up by the end of school on Thursday, Jan. 31st.

* Please bring a printed copy of your comments to class on Monday, Feb. 4th, as I will check them then. Your classmates and I thank you for your valuable feedback.
Six comments = a "check"
Nine comments = a "check plus"

For general information about posting blog comments, please click here.

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Wiki wannabe

I just finished checking out some student wikis on Kristin's Blog. I had taken Kristin off my blogroll, but rediscovered her while reading of Mr. McNamar's struggles at his new job as an urban educator in Connecticut.

Kristin's last post, "The Not-So-Intimidating World of Wiki," was in October, but it is current and relevant to me, as I am looking to move my classroom integration of Web 2.o tools beyond, "OK students, here's my USB drive to save your story so I can upload it to our class blog."

Web 2.o is about control, authorship, and authority. Students aren't getting the full experience because I still hold the reigns. I suppose I do it out of caution.

I am the only teacher at my high school who is posting student work to a blog for all the world to see. I am meaning to move beyond using my class blog pages as a place for displaying student work. I'd like each of my kids to have their own space where they upload class content and harness the connective powers of the Internet to move the discourse beyond the limitations of our classroom's four walls.

Perhaps wikis are the answer.

After February break, I will be taking part in a Web 2.0 professional development workshop with 20 other educators in Western Massachusetts. As soon as my principal informed me of the opportunity, I seized it and told him I was interested.

Wikis are the next unexplored territory for Mr. B-G. I hope to use some of the examples of Kristen's students (Hannah, Madison, Brian, and Meghan) to gain ideas and structure for my foray into the wiki world. I think her students' personal philosophy statements help create a bond between them and the reader, and the option of focusing on an individual area of interest and inquiry makes Kristin's curriculum more relevant to her students, as it allows for a tapestry of learning that is rich, diverse, and, I would imagine, fun to be a part of.

While Web 2.0 technology is slow to make its way into the lesson plans of teachers at my school, my principal is a real advocate for its use, and sees the possibilities for enriching learning. What is difficult is arranging for professional development and time for teachers to educate each other on its potential.

Eventually, as a few of us are able to figure things out and have our students use the tools in meaningful ways that demonstrate learning, the allocation of resources should come, and we'll be able to get more teachers behind the Web 2.0 movement.

Sunday, January 27, 2008

The importance of ritual

At the beginning of the month, my fiancee and I drove to Northampton, MA to catch Livingston Taylor at The Iron Horse. If the name sounds familiar, well, yeah, he's James's brother, and his live performances always rise the spirits.

Liv's a good musician. He has a number of fun, quirky, folksy tunes, and also reaches deep for nostalgia-evoking ballads. He strums guitar and plays piano and an occasional banjo. Liv introduces most songs with an autobiographical story. He's honest, sincere, and projects a sense of love for his audience.

I've been going to the Iron Horse to see Liv perform each January since my undergraduate days at UMass Amherst in the 90's. The tradition started with a handful of friends. As my buddies moved away, I began checking out the annual show with whomever I was dating at the time. For the past two years, the lucky gal has been my fiancee Mary Kate, but truth be told, I'm really the lucky one.

I think traditions are important, be they Sunday rituals in the fall and winter involving a certain undefeated football team, daily routines of exercising, listening to music, or playing a game, or yearly events like catching a musician or getting away to a favorite spot.

For the past three years, Mary Kate and I have trekked north to Vermont's Inn at Long Trail for a weekend getaway inside one of the inn's fireplace suites. This past September, my friends and I ventured to Burlington, VT for a weekend of camping, cliff jumping, and revelry in the city's pedestrian-friendly downtown.

We even managed to catch a show at Nectar's, the venue where PHISH first performed before they made it big. We've already talked about going back this year.

I find that as I get older and time becomes scarce, I need to schedule almost all my activities in advance. Once it's on the calendar, it becomes "real," and demands to be taken seriously.

This isn't to say I can't roll on the spur-of-the-moment, it's just that as I've aged I've come to rely on schedules to bring order to my life.

Saturday, January 19, 2008

The end of slideshows

I don't remember where I first learned of Animoto, a web-based program that allows you to upload photos and music to create a video animation, but I am excited about its potential for use in the classroom - as well as for fun with friends and family. I hope you enjoy the above images and tune.

The Africa pictures were taken in 1998 during a safari to Tanzania and Kenya. The shot of the boys playing catch in the ocean was snapped in St. John four years ago. I took the picture of the graveyard in my hometown back in the 90's, and developed it in my high school's darkroom. I would imagine that today, with the advent of digital developing, the darkroom no longer exists.

Despite the efficiency and affordability of computer-assisted photo processing, there's something I miss about using an enlarger to burn images onto slick white sheets of contact paper.

A few of the Africa shots in the animation were stylized using Adobe Photoshop. The tune is a jazz-inspired version of "Somewhere Over the Rainbow." Click here for a soulful rendition by the late Eva Cassidy on YouTube.

Area eccentric reads entire book

This article from today's Onion can be appreciated by all lovers of literature - students, teachers, parents, authors. Enjoy!

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Writing for an audience

This morning I came across a great lesson aimed at engaging students in the democratic process called Writing Letters that Matter from The Polliwog Journal. I might tweak it a bit and do something similar with my students. I've also been considering doing a mini unit on editorial writing with my freshmen, with part of the expectation being that we will submit the editorials to our local newspaper.

In my journalism class, students write and submit an editorial each quarter. So far, four of them have been published in the paper's Student Opinion Page. Whenever possible, I try to incorporate some type of publishing component with the writing assignments I give students. Sometimes the audience is just the other students in the room, but this alone helps provide internal motivation for them to put a bit more effort in, knowing their writing will be read and heard by others.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

101 Web 2.0 Teaching Tools

While perusing teacher blogs this evening, I came across this great link to 101 Web 2.0 Teaching Tools. Some of these I have heard of and used, but many I learned about for the first time. If anyone has success or experience with any of these resources in particular, please let me know.

Thanks to Jo McLeay at The Open Classroom for the link, which I discovered by checking out the Online Education Database.

Friday, January 11, 2008

"Evening common" short story assignment

For this writing activity, we will focus on how the theme of a story can be instrumental in shaping its progression and providing an overall effect on a reader.

To begin, think back on all of the characters we have met in the various short stories we’ve read:
*The young couple Della and Jim from “The Gift of the Magi” (524)
* The ghost, Berenice, and Jason from “Sonata for Harp and Bicycle” (541)
* Doodle, his brother, and the scarlet ibis from “The Scarlet Ibis” (554)
* Granny, her husband, and the reporters from “Blues Ain’t No Mockin’ Bird” (571)
* Uncle Marcos and Clara from “Uncle Marcos” (577)
* Leon, Ken, Teofilo, and the priest from “The Man to Send Rain Clouds” (590)
* Don Trine from “The Harvest” (617).
* The girl from the girl/granny group stories.

Your task is to pick at least three of the above characters and write a 400-500 word short story that takes place (at least partially) in the setting of the above image of a town common in the evening. In addition to using characterization and setting to fuel your tale, you also want to shape your narrative around a specific theme.

Here are some “theme starters” to get you going: Ambition, Jealousy, Beauty, Loneliness, Betrayal, Love, Courage, Loyalty, Duty, Perseverance, Fear, Prejudice, Freedom, Suffering, Happiness, Truth, Greed. Remember that theme is the insight, idea, or message an author is trying to convey. The theme often reveals the author's thoughts about a topic.

Take one of the above theme starters and develop it into a message or idea that will shape your story. Examples of developed themes include “greed destroys,” “love is blind,” “loyalty is rewarded,” “never give up despite the odds,” “human nature is good,” “human nature is evil,” “things aren’t always as they appear to be (don’t jump to conclusions),” “people are afraid of change,” etc.

As with other short stories we’ve written, keep in mind the five plot points, and remember to use dialogue to give your characters voice and to keep your narrative fresh and fun to read.

This is a two-part homework assignment.

Due Friday, Jan. 16th
* Three characters selected with a two-to three-sentence justification for each
* One paragraph on your interpretation of the town common image as your setting. Will you interpret it literally or liberally? (Think back to how you reacted to the image of the horsemen. You can make a similar or different interpretative choice.)
* A theme selection, along with a two to three sentence explanation of why you chose what you did.
* A rough outline of the five plot points you expect your story to take. Please write at least one sentence for each point.

You will have time on Friday to share your ideas with classmates and further refine your story conceptions. It is OK – perhaps even encouraged – to make changes before and while you write your miniature tale, which will be due at the start of class on Monday, Jan. 20th.

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

Blog navigation

As new visitors come to this site, I hope they can figure out how to access postings and materials, and see that there is an attempt - however feeble - at organization.

Each of my posts have what I call "categories" listed at the end. Some bloggers call these "labels" or "tags." I've done my best to assign each post to at least one category. Some might have two or three, as they tend to overlap.

Students and teachers looking for assignments can click on that category. There are also a number of handouts and links on my teacher page. Most of the categories are self-explanatory, except maybe for "musings." Musings are a catch-all for anything I want to write about that doesn't fit neatly into one of the main categories.

When I first started this blog, I didn't know who my audience was. In fact, I didn't have much of one, and was really writing for myself. Now there are a number of folks who visit the blog. Sometimes my posts are written for students (usually bearing an assignment tag), others are written for teachers (with an education label), and some are written for no one in particular. I hope the blog post categories help explain some of my intentions for each post, and make navigating this site a little easier.

I look forward to comments, suggestions, and any ideas or posting requests. Thanks for visiting!

Wednesday, January 2, 2008

The Barn

Read "The Man to Send Rain Clouds" (590) from the green text. Pick any character from the story, and write your own 400-500 word tale that features that character and the above image of the barn as the primary setting for the story. The barn should play a significant role in influencing the plot, as this writing exercise is designed to illustrate how setting affects plot.

Feel free to incorporate more than one character from "Rain Clouds" into your story if you'd like. You can also invent your own characters or use characters from previous writing activities, but you must feature at least one character from "Rain Clouds."

Have fun, be creative, and be ready to share your tale in class on Friday.