Monthly Archives: January 2011

Can We Teach Appreciation?

I’m reading To Kill a Mockingbird with my freshmen.  For some of them, it’s going pretty well.  The rest of them, though, are just not that into it, and I’m trying to figure out, five chapters in, how to head those kids off at the Apathy Pass.

The thing is, I remember being a teenager and thinking that everything my English teachers gave me was dumb (I don’t remember if I used the word “lame” when I was a teenager, but that was the general idea I was circling around).  I remember having to read A Separate Peace, for example, and thinking that there was nothing in the novel that touched me; I had no connection to the book and, accordingly, I had no interest in it.  I started reading the novel again last month (I’ve since stopped because I switched that novel in my junior curriculum, but that’s neither here nor there), and I remember being surprised by how much I enjoyed the book as far as I read it.  I don’t know what exactly about me had changed, but clearly something had; I found myself settling nicely into the narrative and really enjoying the ride.

I’m trying to apply that to Mockingbird.  I read it as an adult, though, so I don’t have the same experience of slogging unwillingly through it as a teenager that I did with other novels.  I loved this book from the first chapter – the language delights me, the story unfolds at a perfect pace and pitch, the characters are distinct and delightful, and the payoff is complicated and sublime and gorgeous.  My kids, though, are not seeing it as I do; they’re frustrated by the language, they’re bored with the story, they don’t appreciate the subtlety of the text.

What I’m wondering is this; is it possible to teach someone to appreciate art?  I can MAKE them read it (well, to a point), but can I teach them to LIKE it?  I think that I teach best that which I love – I know that my enthusiasm has a tendency to rub off on certain kids – but I want to know if there’s more to it than just loving something; is there some way of conveying the beauty of a thing to someone through teaching?  Are there things I can deliberately do to help my kids understand and appreciate the beauty of a thing?  What do you think?

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Filed under book geek, concerns, critical thinking, frustrations, I love my job, Learning, Questions, self-analysis, Teaching, The Job

Interview With the Vampire

Actually, it’s “Interview with the Writer of Interview with the Vampire!”

You want to know how much I love technology?  Let me tell you how much I love technology, People!  A girlfriend clued me in a little while ago that Anne Rice had announced that she is willing to come to classrooms via Skype to talk about her books and the craft of writing.

She didn’t have to tell me twice!

I got right on the computer and emailed Ms. Rice to tell her that, yes, please, my seniors and I would like very much to have her “visit” our class and talk about writing.  Her assistant and I have been emailing for a while now, and we’re circling in on a date in March.

image credit

I assigned Interview With the Vampire today – the kids have to have their books by this time next week and we’ll start reading then.  I’m up against a couple of students who have pre-conceived notions of Rice and the novel, so I’m having to get them to start thinking like scholars about this novel instead of looking at it as consumers of entertainment.  I’m probably not going to hook a few of them, but I know for sure that I’ve piqued a LOT of interest in this class; my boss is tickled that this could actually happen (she wants to call the local paper), and a number of my former students are begging to come back to school so they can partake in this class, too.

Technology rocks.

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Filed under composition, film as literature, fun, great writing, I love my boss, I love my job, lesson planning, Literature, out in the real world, popular culture, success!, Teaching, writing

So. Not. Cool.

Seriously.

Grades close on Tuesday (well, they were SUPPOSED to close on Friday, but we’ve had snowstorm after snowstorm, so we’ve had to push the mid-term schedule back a bit).  I spent some time yesterday and this morning grading student papers online, and it was working just fine.  I opened a student’s work, graded it in the program (including adding comments and feedback, which is awesome), then handed it back to the student electronically.  It was working just like it’s supposed to, and it was great.

Until it didn’t, and it wasn’t.

I have 71 papers to read and grade by Tuesday.  SEVENTY ONE.  Now, I’ll grant you, these aren’t exactly Master’s theses, so it’s not going to take me weeks to get through them, but the fact that the system isn’t working right now is a SERIOUS problem.

I fucking HATE it when things don’t work they way they should, and there’s nothing I can do about it!

GAH!!

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DONE! (…for now…)

As of 5:00 this afternoon, I have finished all my grading.  All of my grade books are up to date.  Mid-terms are next week, though, so I’ll be swamped again this time next weekend, but tonight I get to sleep the sleep of the righteously caught-up!

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They of Little Minds….

Please, Everyone, go over to Mamacita’s and see what she has to say about the current love affair our culture seems to have with censorship, the dumbing down of our educational systems, and the idiocy those things inevitably bring.

I couldn’t have said it better myself.

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My Contribution

I just added up all the receipts for books, videos, furniture (bookcases), and supplies (pens, paper, ink) that I bought for my classroom last year.

My personal (financial) contribution to the success of my students amounted to $3,597.25.

I’m going to try very, very hard to rein that in this year because it just doesn’t seem right that I should be spending that much of my own money when I’m earning so little in return.  That being said, though, I’m going to continue to buy the things I need in order to do my job to the best of my ability.  Anything less would be unethical.

Now I just hope that Mr. Chili doesn’t pop a vein when he sits down to do our taxes.  Thank the Goddess that most (if not all) of those expenditures are deductible….

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What is “Reasonable”?

I’m thinking I may cross-post this on the Blue Door; it echos a lot of the thinking I’ve been doing over there, so if you read both places, don’t be surprised if you get a feeling of déjà vu.

Each of my classes is currently engaged in a unit about public speaking. My freshmen are giving purely informational presentations – I’ve tasked them with learning about something interesting and then teaching the rest of the class about it.  Since I like to do my own homework every once in a while, I’m doing this presentation with them.  Mine will be about the first round of the Nuremberg Trials.

My juniors are taking on an opinion presentation – they’ve been told to format their presentation around “here’s this thing that exists, here’s what I think about it, and here’s why I think the way I do,” and my seniors are attempting an argumentative/persuasive piece – they’re crafting an presentation that asks the audience to consider – or to reconsider – a particular topic.

Each of these presentations has three requirements – they need to have visuals, they need a written component, and the kids have to speak for 3-5 minutes or (5-8 for the bigger kids).  Additionally, they need to have at least three reputable sources, and they need to be organized such that the audiences can follow along, even if they’ve never had any experience with the topic in question.

I ended up in a conversation with my seniors this afternoon that intrigued me.  It was a bit of an offshoot of the conversation we started on Tuesday when I brought up the concepts of ethical speech and what our responsibilities are to the words that we send out into the world.  While I had planned this part of the unit to fall on this week anyway, I’m often amazed by how timely the Universe is in dropping relevant, real-world stuff into my lap at the exact time I’m teaching them in a classroom.  The Arizona shooting and the conversation about rhetoric that has inspired were just such a thing, and we had a long and interesting discussion about whether or not we can (or should) link the speech of one to the action of another.

Anyway, several of the kids came to me with topics that really weren’t appropriate for argument, and I spent a while trying to get the kids to understand that I’m looking for them to tackle the kinds of issues about which reasonable people can disagree.  It’s highly unlikely, I explained to one kid, that reasonable people are going to agree with what the Westboro Baptist Church does, so arguing against their right to do those things is kind of a pointless exercise.  So, too, is arguing against animal rights abuses; most reasonable people would agree that it’s wrong to be cruel and abusive to animals.

Just about when I thought I was getting through to them, one of my (favorite) kids piped up.  “Mrs. Chili,” he asked, “what does it mean to be reasonable?”

Yeah!  Wow!  What DOES that mean?

We spent a good long time talking about the implications of making that kind of judgment about something.  How DO we determine what reasonable means?  What are the criteria by which we judge that kind of person?

The answers the kids came up with both surprised and delighted me.  Reasonable people, they decided, are people who, by their nature, are open-minded.  They’re willing to listen to others’ ideas, but aren’t necessarily swayed by them.  Reasonable people are critical thinkers and don’t just jump on the latest and greatest ideas.  They don’t give a whole lot of credence to the people who are making the most noise, but are more impressed by the people who make the clearest and most compelling argument.  Reasonable people take the big picture into account; a reasonable person may be willing to concede to something not-so-good in the short term to ensure a positive outcome long-term.  Reasonable people are compassionate and consider the needs of others when making decisions or taking actions.  Reasonable people may well be considered unreasonable by outside observers, they decided, but it’s not one’s reputation that determines one’s reasonableness; one’s behaviors, thought processes, and actions determine this (some of my kids are very sensitive to the fact that our school doesn’t yet have a very good reputation, and they take that personally).  Reasonable people do not generally abide extremes, they decided, nor do reasonable people generally rely upon “faith” to make their decisions; they are more influenced by their own experiences and observations and the facts that they encounter than they are by scripture or the words of their particular flavor of clergy.  Reasonable people are willing to change their minds about something when they’re presented with compelling evidence to do so.

We ended the conversation by talking about the idea put forth on a church’s message board:

Learning to think for themselves, and learning to do that reasonably, is perhaps the most important thing I can encourage my students to do.  To that end, I give them every opportunity I can find, and I ask them to think in whatever ways they can, whether those ways agree with my way of thinking or not (because learning to disagree with civility is absolutely vital, and learning to disagree with those in authority is a life skill).

So I ask you, Dear Readers, what would you add to my kids’ definition of what makes one reasonable?  Do you think you embody those qualities?  If not, where can you strive to bring more reasonableness into your life?

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