Vocabulary Videos

My English II students recently made vocabulary videos. I was impressed by their products, slightly in awe of their process, and thrilled that they had fun. I’ve been reflecting on why this was a good project, thinking about how I could make it better, and wondering how I could use it in more sophisticated ways. In this blog post I give background on the assignment and work through some of my reflections.

What I Wanted 

I watch a lot of Sesame Street–I have a five-year-old daughter–and one of our favorite segments is the word-of-the-day skit. Here’s an example:

These videos are instructional and funny. They define a vocabulary word and use it (a lot), usually in silly ways. The guest stars seem to have fun. Elmo is–well–Elmo. What’s not to like?

Or, the question I ask as a teacher: how could my students do something like this?

Continue reading

The Simplicity of a Difficult Text

In my last post I argued that while easier texts often seem more accessible, a difficult text can be more empowering because of how it challenges students. Below I write about how teacher and students can meet the challenge of Macbeth by recognizing it as a surprisingly simple story. 

The other day I was meeting with a student to help him prepare for an in-class essay on masculinity in Macbeth. We talked a lot about how Macbeth behaves both in the lead-up to killing Duncan and after he becomes king. The student had a good grasp on the character–how he changes over the course of the play, how he compares with other characters. But then, before leaving, he remarked that the play had a lot of unnecessary characters. He took a moment, counting on his fingers, and told me that there are really only six important characters in the play. “Only six?” I asked. “I don’t even think there’s that many. Listen to this.”  Continue reading

The Challenge of a Difficult Text

Over the past few weeks, my tenth grade class has been reading Macbeth and the AP literature class has been reading Heart of Darkness. Both of these are difficult works, and so I’ve been reflecting on the why’s and the how’s of teaching difficult texts. What follows is the first blog entry in which I share some of these reflections.

Several factors go into selecting a text for class. Accessibility is one of the most important. I can choose easily accessible texts, texts that students will quickly understand, texts that are easy. Then we don’t have to use up class time just to make sense of a text. Instead we can figure out how to work with it–incorporating specific details and quotations into classroom discussion, debating interpretive questions, developing essays. These are all important skills, and it’s easier to work on them with relatively accessible texts. The easier texts empower students to enter into the conversation with authority. That’s the theory, at least.

The danger, though, is that the whole experience will feel inauthentic. Continue reading

Adrienne Rich’s “After Twenty Years”

Adrienne Rich published “After Twenty Years” in 1971. A meditation on what it means for woman to be defined as mother, the poem also worries the fact that after 20 years a woman could be released from this definition. We discussed this poem on June 1, 2012. The podcast closes with Tori Amos’s cover of Stevie Nicks’ 1975 “Landslide.”

Read the poem… Continue reading