Monthly Archives: July 2010

Want a Project?

So, here’s the story; I’ve been given 100% free rein to do whatever I want in building, from scratch, an entire English department.  From scratch, People; I have absolutely no constraints – I can pick whatever books I want and teach them in whatever order I want using any projects and assessments I want and….

You get the idea.

While I’m in love with the idea that this is entirely mine to create – how many of my colleagues fantasize about being able to teach the books they love instead of the books they’re ordered to read by the administration or the state? – I’m also here to tell you that absolute freedom isn’t necessarily conducive to creativity.

I need edges.  I need guideposts.  I need something.

When I met with Mike the other day to talk about getting the planning started, I told him that I was almost paralyzed by all my freedom; I had no place to put in, I said, and I found myself staring at a blank computer screen, wondering just where the hell to start.

That’s when he suggested that we create a canon.  We’ll compose a list of books that we feel deserve a quasi-permanent place in the various curricula.  The idea is that we’ll have a list of books that we go to whenever we’re teaching, say, a freshman core class, and choose some anchoring texts from among that list that fit with whatever the school-wide theme is for that year (as opposed to teaching the same books every year – if it’s freshman, it must be Romeo and Juliet! – which, frankly, we teachers just don’t want to do).  That way, we figure, we’ll never teach a book to a junior class that already read it as freshmen and, in the process, we make sure we hit at least some of the more widely-read novels that colleges expect students will have some passing familiarity with (and that we either love or never got to ourselves in our own educations).

So, I’ve got this list.  It is by no means a complete list, and I’m leaving it entirely open to revision and/or suggestion, so that’s the first part of your project; if you see something on the list that shouldn’t be there – or there’s a book that is dear to you that you think should – speak up.

The second part of my request is a bit more involved, though; I’m going to ask you (especially you English teachers) where in the course of four years you’d place a book.  It’s pretty much decided that freshmen will get To Kill a Mockingbird and The Book Thief, and that seniors will get Frankenstein and Beloved – and there are a couple of other novels that will sort themselves out simply because of their subject matter or their voice – but I’m really interested in finding out what you all think about where the books should go.  You don’t even have to take on the whole four years; if you teach sophomores, for instance, tell me what books you either teach or wish you could teach to that bunch.  If you teach college, tell me which books you want your incoming freshman to know in order to have discourse about the novels that you teach at your level.  I’ll take any and all input any of you wants to offer up… and thanks!

To Kill a Mockingbird
The Book Thief
Native Son
Invisible Man
The Sunflower
Ender’s Game
The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian
King Lear
Much Ado About Nothing
The Taming of the Shrew
The Great Gatsby
The Things They Carried
The Kite Runner
Watership Down
Fahrenheit 451
The Giver
The Color Purple
A Christmas Carol
This Boy’s Life
The House on Mango Street
Oliver Twist
Catcher in the Rye
I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings
Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde
Adventures of Huckleberry Finn
The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time
As I Lay Dying
A Farewell to Arms
Brave New World
A Member of the Wedding
The Bluest Eye
Cry the Beloved Country
Things Fall Apart
Pride and Prejudice
The Scarlet Letter
Lord of the Flies
A Clockwork Orange


Filed under colleagues, compassion and cooperation, critical thinking, Dream Course, great writing, I love my boss, I love my job, lesson planning, Literature, reading, Teaching, winging it

Wordy Wednesday: Will

He’s doing his 24 hour reading!  Go here and check him out (and, if you can spare it, toss them a few bucks so they can fund their team’s trip to the national competitions)!

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Filed under admiration, colleagues, fun, Poetry

Film and Literature

I’ve been a busy girl lately.

For the last few weeks, I’ve been turning around in my head the courses I’m going to be teaching next term.  Since we’re essentially starting the English department from scratch, I’ve had a lot of freedom in putting together new syllabi and curricula for these courses.  With all that freedom comes an almost crippling absence of guidelines, though; I fear that, without boundaries, I’ll go too far afield.

That’s where you all come in, Dear Readers.  I’m planning to post the syllabi for each class I create here so that I can get your input, questions, comments, or suggestions before I print them up to submit to my director.  The fine print of each course is going to be the same – I have identical expectations for attention and productivity for each group of students – so I’m more interested in what you think about my content; am I missing something rich or vital or just fun?  Do you have any winner lesson plans to share that have worked for a course like this?  If you were taking this course, what would you expect to emerge from the other side knowing, having experienced, or understanding?

Aaaaannnnd, GO!

Film and Literature
Charter High School
Fall, 2010

Course Description: Stories are an essential part of every human culture; they help us to make meaning and to understand ourselves, each other, and our place in the world.  The means by which these stories are told – whether they are written, spoken, or acted on stage or screen – influences the way we approach and interpret them.  Film, while it may be influenced by written work, should always be considered an entirely unique piece of art for the purposes of critique and analysis. This course explores the complex interplay between film and literature. Selected novels, short stories and plays are analyzed in relation to film versions of the same works in order to gain an understanding of the possibilities—and problems—involved in the transposition to film.  We will also investigate films that do not have written work as their inspiration to discover the ways in which these stories work in terms of our understanding of the nature of literature and the role it plays in our lives.

*Students are cautioned that this course requires extensive reading and writing in addition to viewing films and taking part in class discussions. Students not prepared to read (up to 150 pages/week) and to write on a regular basis and to take an active part in class discussions should not consider taking this course.*

Objectives: In this class, students will;

• Enhance their ability to understand, appreciate, and discuss works of literature through extensive reading and discussion of short stories, novels and plays.

• Analyze works of fiction and drama for plot structure, setting, characterization, theme, and narrative point of view.

• Develop an understanding of critical analysis of film through careful examination of  adaptations of literary texts, focusing on character development, dramatic structure, and performance.

•  Learn and utilize the terminology of film analysis, both those terms shared with literary discussion (character, plot, theme, setting) and those specific to cinema (lighting, dialogue, special effects, etc.).

•  Demonstrate an understanding of the possibilities and problems involved in the transposition of literature to film, applying terminology and critical skills acquired during the semester to analyze a cinematic adaptation of a text not discussed in class.

Texts, Materials & Films:
Required Texts:

•  Monk Kidd, Sue.  The Secret Life of Bees
•  Lewis, C.S.  The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe
• Grisham, John.  The Client
• Rowling, J.K.  Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix
Access to a good dictionary (online is fine)

*A note about texts: I have no investment whatsoever in how you access these texts; you may buy them (new or used), you may borrow them from friends or the library, or you may obtain them online or as e-books.  If you choose to go the electronic route, however, please understand that you must – must! – have the text with you in class; excuses about computer or printer problems will not be accepted.*


•  The Secret Life of Bees. 2008; Gina Prince-Blythwood, dir.
The Kite Runner. 2007, Mark Forster, dir.
•  The Sixth Sense. 1999, M. Night Shyamalan, dir.
•  Willow. 1988, Ron Howard, dir.
Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix. 2007, David Yates, dir.
The Chronicles of Narnia; The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. 2005, Andrew Adamson, dir.
Empire of the Sun. 1987, Stephen Speilberg, dir.
The Client. 1994, Joel Schumacher, dir.
•  Finding Nemo. 2003, Andrew Stanton and Lee Unkrich, dirs.
•  Karate Kid. 1984, John Avildsen, dir.
•  Hook. 1991, Stephen Speilberg, dir.
* this film list is subject to change and/or addition.

Expectations: There are certain things that I will expect from you and, likewise, there are a number of things that you can expect from me. First and foremost is respect. As a community of writers and thinkers, we must be able to trust one another. Writing (and thinking) is a process that most often involves missteps and risk-taking. We need to create an environment where it’s okay to express half-developed ideas, where we won’t feel ridiculous if the thought we started chasing turns out to be silly or unsupportable, and where we challenge each other to expand thinking beyond the safe and expected. To that end, it is vital that we approach this class – and each other – with a high level of respect. We’ll learn a lot from each other – this class is not about me imparting learning on you, but rather is a collaborative effort on all our parts – and we’ve got to be able to trust that we’ll support one another in the process of learning. Everything else that we do at a community of writers and thinkers will expand from that sense of trust and respect; without it, we’ll get no where.

Beyond that, there are certain day-to-day expectations that need to be made clear. You can expect me to be in class every day on time and prepared. You can expect me to take you seriously and to be entirely supportive of your own learning process. You can expect me to be clear about what I want from you in terms of work, both in class an out of it, and you can expect me to assess your work according to those standards. You can expect me to respond to your questions and concerns (whether they be class related or not) in a timely and respectful way. In short, you can expect me to be present and mindful and wholly engaged.

I expect you to be in class every day on time and prepared; that includes having completed any assigned reading and having all necessary materials with you in class. I expect you to be present and engaged in class and to take the time we have together seriously. I expect you to complete all the assignments I give, to participate in group activities, and to be a careful and conscientious participant in workshops with your classmates. I expect you to ask questions, to stretch beyond what you think are the “safe” answers, and to take full responsibility for your own learning. I expect you to come to me with any questions, problems, or concerns you have and, if your concerns are about an assignment, I expect you to come to me well before that assignment is due. I expect you to behave in a mature and respectful way toward the material, yourself, your classmates, and me. In short, I expect you to be present and mindful and wholly engaged.

*A word about participation: please be aware that my definition of participation does not include hiding behind a computer screen or a doodle pad.  Unless we are actively working on a writing or research project, computers are to be completely closed and put away altogether.  There will never be a time during class discussion that it’s okay to have earphones in your ears.  Finally, while I understand that some people are able to focus better on what they’re hearing if they’re drawing or doodling, if I feel that your participation while you do such things is suffering, I will ask you to put them away.*

Assignments: As a practice, I don’t map out an entire course on a syllabus; I feel that limits the class too much and stifles our ability to follow fruitful tangents that may come up as a result of our thinking. That does not mean, however, that you won’t know about assignments in plenty of time to complete them. For day-to-day work, I will usually write the assignment on the board or simply tell you what we’re doing for the class. All homework is always posted on our class Haiku page. For major projects, I will print out an assignment sheet with detailed instructions and the assessment standards I will use to grade the work. These things will also be posted on the class webpage. It is your responsibility to understand the assignment completely before you begin; telling me that you “didn’t get it” is not an acceptable excuse for not having completed an assignment or for doing it poorly.

Unless you are absent from school, work not handed in on the due date will not be accepted and will count as a zero in your grade. If you are absent from class, it is your responsibility to find out what, if any, homework was assigned that day and to have it ready when you return to school. I do not offer make-up or extra credit work; I do, however, negotiate due dates with students who have legitimate reasons for not being able to complete an assignment on time. If you think you’re going to run into trouble getting something in when it’s due, let me know and we’ll come to an agreement that meets both of our needs. I will make every effort to have your work graded and returned to you in a timely fashion. Please keep in mind, however, that you only had to write one paper; I’ll have to read and assess everyone’s work.

Books and Permission Forms: All students must have all required texts by the second week of class.  Failure to obtain the texts will result in your being administratively dropped from the course.  Permission forms for the entire semester’s film schedule must be signed by a parent or guardian and returned before the first scheduled screening (likely the third class of the term).  Failure to return the permission slip will result in your being administratively dropped from the course.  Please email me directly if there are any questions or concerns about the films we’ll be viewing; I’ll be happy to address specific goals and objectives for the film(s) in question.


Filed under film as literature, great writing, I love my job, lesson planning, Literature, popular culture, Teaching

Support the Arts!

I’m going to sacrifice a little anonymity here, but I promise you that permission was asked for and given.

Beau (aka Will), my beloved former student and now-TA, is a very accomplished poet. He’s earned himself a spot on the team going to the national competition, and he and his crew have devised an incredibly ambitious method of fund raising. If you’re so inclined, please help them out – and check them out; I think you’ll understand pretty quickly why I’m so proud of him…

On Wednesday, July 7 at 7am the 2010 Slam Free or Die team will attempt a never-before-achieved marathon of wordplay. Each reading in 24 hour shifts, the 5 team members and the coach and assistant coach will read for 7 days straight. This will be, as far as Google can tell, the longest continuous reading of poetry, prose, and fiction ever attempted! THIS ENTIRE EVENT WILL BE BROADCAST LIVE ON THE INTERNET, SO EVEN IF YOU LIFE FAR AWAY YOU CAN STILL TUNE IN AND PARTICIPATE! We will post the url of the stream the day of the event. (Chili’s note; I’ll make sure to post that here as soon as I get it!)

Our love of poetry aside, this event is a fundraiser for the 2010 team. For different donation amounts, viewers and audience members can make requests or even decide what will be read next. We love the poetry and spoken word community that has supported us from our humble beginnings and want you guys to be as involved as possible in this event!

You can either watch online or show up at The Colonel’s kitchen and watch any or all of the event in person!

Poets will have a break every 2 hours for 15 minutes; during these breaks, anyone can sign up to read so the event will remain continuous. You will need to be there in person and you can read anything you want (please, nothing intentionally offensive) during your 15 minutes. And yes, you can sign up for more than one slot if you wish. Slots that fall between 7am and 6pm require a donation of $1, slots that fall between 6pm and midnight are $2, and between midnight and 7am are free! You can sign up by emailing We will update the schedule accordingly.

Donations can be made at:
Menu of Donations:
$1 a page – poet will read whatever you present to them either in person or via email
$.50 – to have a poem repeated that has already been read
$10 – have a chapbook, yours or anyone else’s, read cover to cover
$100 – in the first 12 hours for a poet to go ‘no repeat’ for the remainder for their section
$50 – in the second 12 hours for a poet to go ‘no repeat’ for the remainder for their section
$500 – at any time to have the reading from that point on to be entirely poetry
$1,000 – at any time to have the reading from that point to be ‘no repeat’
$1,500 – at any time to have the reading from that point on be ‘no repeat’ and entirely poetry
$50 – Beau will do his entire 24 hours shirtless, with your chapbook or local business or organization name written on his chest
$10 per hour – for “this hour brought to you by” your business or organization name, location, and info
$100 – for a full day “brought to you by” your business or organization name, location, and info
$20 – The Colonel will perform a full hour of Chuck Norris facts
$25 – for one hour, any of the following: Beau will not smile. JeFF will not move his arms. Tim will not do a funny poem. Mckendy will read in a falsetto. Krista will read only ‘male’ persona poems. Sam will read in a British accent. The Colonel will dance while reading.
*and we are open to other ideas and donation suggestions. Just let us know.

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Filed under colleagues, compassion and cooperation, fun, great writing, I can't make this shit up..., I've got this kid...., Poetry, speaking, success!, the good ones


How to Attend a Writing Workshop in New England in the Summer:

Come unprepared,
because nothing that you could write
before you get there will make
you ready for what you’ll learn,
and nothing you can
imagine will tell you
what it will be like,
but for God’s sake,
bring a sweater.

Don’t imagine for a second
that you’re going to have
a decent shower,
so if a decent shower
is something you need
to be a writer,
(or a decent human being)
for God’s sake,
rent a hotel room.

You’ve got to be willing;
to eat brown food,
to trust that the strangers
on day one will be
respected peers
on day six, and
thank God,
that you aren’t
nearly as sucky
a writer
as you think you are.

Don’t ever
make it about the money
you paid,
or the hassle
of the train schedule,
or the brown food.
If you come at it right,
you’ll see that you
would have gotten a bargain
at twice the price,
that you got where you needed
to be in the end,
and that salad
thank God,
was always an option.

Open up.
Let go of the fact
that you think you always
write about,
dear God,
dead people
and ruined relationships.
That you write at all
is what really matters;
the rest, as they say,
is fussy details.

for the love of God,
keep at it.
Do whatever you’ve got
to do,
call whoever you’ve got
to call,
run in the woods
or walk on the beach,
or hide in the library
or sit in your car,
just keep writing.


Filed under about writing, colleagues, Learning, Mrs. Chili as Student, Poetry, writing