Friday, December 17, 2010

How shall we beguile this lazy time if not with some delight?

Shakespeare.  The mere mention of this esteemed writer brings chills or cheers to a potential reader.  In my case, it was mostly chills as my students were faced with reading A Midsummer Night's Dream.  But I changed my approach this year and I think it went fairly well.  In years past I'd spent about 3-4 weeks reading through the text with student voices, stopping occasionally for lessons about subtext, meter, language, and the like.  But this year I decided, in the interest of time and student attention spans, to listen to a full cast recording of the play complete with sound effects and decent mood music.  Wow, what a difference!  Rather than trudging through the thick plot and antiquated langauge, we blasted through the book in 7 days!  Now, I have a feeling that very few of my kids actually read every single word along with the audio recording, but I think they got a better gist of the story than if we'd read it ourselves.  Admittedly, it was easier on my ears too!  So, with a two-week break ahead of us, we can come back and spend some quality time on those lessons so I'm sure the students can really appreciate the story and the language. 

Monday, November 29, 2010

Identity Crisis

My kids are amazing.  No, really.  I handed them the mask and project assignments two weeks ago and the finished products are incredible.  I cannot wait to look closer at each of them but for now, click here to see the kids and their new faces.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Fabulous Faces

Now I know I'm nuts.  I'd always wondered as a high school English teacher how gutsy I would be when it came to creativity and moving beyond the reading and writing that is required of me and my students.  So when brilliant ideas come to me, I often hesitate presenting them to my kids for fear of of "the stare."  Eyes glaze over, faces are expressionless as students are surely thinking "she's got to be kidding!"  Most of the time, I am not.

One of these brilliant ideas worked two years ago when I taught Animal Farm for the first time.

"Wouldn't it be fun to build replicas of the farm," I thought to myself one early, early morning.  So I made some notes and approached my senior students.  A few of them had "the stare," but more than one simply needed more information and then they were all for it.  So after brainstorming guidelines and presenting edited versions of my plan, they got to work and pretty soon my room was littered with farm animals of all shapes and sizes, glue guns, craft sticks, plywood, poster paint, stones, straw, and barns.  It was creative chaos at its best. And the end results were amazing. 

That has now become a traditon, only three years old, and my kids hear legendary stories of these farms.  I hope these African masks will become such legend. 

I look across my desk to the 50 or so faces molded in soggy newspaper that line my room and think "We're nuts!"  But you have to be to survive these days. 

Students, how's it going?  What are your plans to personalize these masks?  Do you think it was worth it?

We shall see...

Friday, November 12, 2010

Mask Madness

It worked!  Paper mache mix seemed to work and the kids molded faces in foil.  Then, laying strips of dampened paper across the form, faces emerged!  I now have 23 faces lining my room - kind of creepy.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Culture Club

The madness continues.  We're beginning our creative projects based on Africa and Achebe's novel.  Kids are going to start making paper mache masks on Friday and are also working with a partner on another project - should be exciting to see the finished displays.  I often get these fabulous ideas for class at odd times - the 2:19am trek to the kitchen for juice to calm a child; the 11:45pm restlessness stemming from too much Pepsi; the 6:15am lunch-packing ritual; the 4:32am rocking of a sleepless child.  And what is in my head doesn't always work in real life, but the students give it a whirl anyway and I am always impressed by what they create.  And I thank them for jumping on board even when they give me the puzzled expressions of "you want us to do what!?"

TFA Projects

So, keep earning those cowries with blog comments:
  • How's the project coming?
  • What great ideas do you and your partner have?
  • What fabulous websites have you found?
  • What suggestions do you have for a grading rubric and requirements?
  • How can we display these around the school?
  • Are you learning anything !?!

Friday, November 5, 2010

Finally Finished

Whew!  We've successfully finished reading Things Fall Apart!!  While it may have been a bit dry and the character names hard to pronounce, overall I think the students eventually had a good grasp of the culture and daily life of Okonkwo and his clan.  As the Christian missionaries slowly infiltrated and tribal life deteriorated, more and more of us understood how things were falling apart around Okonkwo and why that ultimately led to his suicide.  I, for one, thought it was a wimpy way for him to die considering his violent tendencies.  A few kids voiced their disappointment that he didn't go down without a fight and others mentioned that perhaps he figured he was going to die anyway, having killed one of the missionaries, so he may as well do it himself.  Good insights.  Now, on to our creative projects!!

I'm thinking paper mache masks...

History and Examples of African Masks

Your thoughts about the novel in general, Okonkwo as a character, his demise and reactions from his clansmen?

Keep those cowries safe!

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

To Change or Not To Change...

The cowry economy is in full swing, including payments for hall passes and earnings for blog comments.  I'm anxious to see where this goes and if it is something I will attempt next year.  We're collecting ideas for how to "spend" cowries when we're finished so keep 'em coming. 

As for plot, the missionaries have come to Umofia and caused quite a stir.  Okonkwo just wants to take a machete to them, but is advised not too.  The poor guy is just itching to kill someone and his eldest son might want to watch his back since his conversion to Christianity.

We've had some great discussions about Okonkwo's situation and more insights should be evident in the essays that are due on November 3 (click the link below to get the assignment sheet; you're welcome).

Essay Assignment Sheet

Consider this:
  • Why do you think Nwoye converted?
  • What do you think about the spiritual beliefs of the Ibo tribe set against the ideas set forth about God by the missionaries?
  • Do the women play a subordinate or supporting role to the men in this culture?
  • How do you predict Okonkwo will handle all of these changes and new ideas?

Monday, October 25, 2010

Crazy for Cowries

Greenbacks. Moolah. Dough. Sawbuck. C-note. Cowries?  Yup, cowries.  In true African style, we established a cowrie economy in class today.  Students received a small amount of genuine money cowry shells (straight from Florida!) and have a chance to earn more and spend some as class continues.  They can earn cowries by making insightful comments, earning high grades on weekly quizzes, and keeping up with class work.  There are also costs for borrowing books, complaining, and making irrelevant comments. Students will be able to cash in their cowries for valuable items at the end of it all.  So, it should be interesting. Within 15 minutes of placing value on these small shells, emotions were high and kids got very protective of their "money."  The psychology student in me would really like to dive into this one!

We also had a great discussion today.  Keep it up.

As for the novel, things are certainly collapsing around Okonkwo.  Currently he's in exile in his mother's village and trying to get a grip on his life while his oldest son has converted to Christianity thanks to the white missionary church leaders who have come to the area. Predictions?

  • Do you think Okonkwo has made this life for himself because of his attitude and arrogance or is it all just coincidence?
  • Do you feel sorry for him in any way?
  • Will he and his clansmen survive the influx and influence of the white men?
  • What parallels are their between gender roles in Okonkwo's tribe and gender roles in our American culture?

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Culture Clash

We've begun Achebe's novel "Things Fall Apart." Okonkwo and his world are beginning to take shape for us.  What is interesting for me as an instructor is to watch my students' reactions to a culture that is so vastly different from ours.  We had a great discussion yesterday about gender roles in our society and in the Ibo tribe.  Maybe it's not such a bad thing that parents monitor their children's activities and are involved in their lives...And the support system around us needs to be strong - neighbors, friends, grandparents - in order to thrive and find our place in this world.

Okonkwo rules his family with an iron fist and no one is sheltered from his wrath.  His wives carry out the daily chores as do his children and Okonkwo tends his large farm, making sure the staple crop of yams thrives.  Whether you believe he is run by his vices (abusive, selfish, arrogant, short-tempered, macho, cold-hearted) or his virtues (respected, successful, confident, manly, unemotional) there is no doubt his is an impressive figure.

Don't forget to keep up with the reading schedule and take note of those proverbs.

Friday, October 8, 2010

Our Eyes Are Watching the Film

Whew!  We are officially done reading Hurston's novel, but the fun isn't over yet!  As we watch the film version, it's interesting to see what is eliminated and what is embellished in the name of entertainment.  For one, I think the details in the book about Nanny's relationship with Janie is severely lacking in the film.  And we don't get near as much about Janie's inner thoughts on screen like we do in print.  But overall, I think it's worthwhile to see the film.  However, as is usually the case, the book is highly recommended and a much better story than the film. 

Off to read the fabulous essays...

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Media Madness

Class work today focused on analysis of print ads in magazines looking specifically at how the images of men, women, and families are portrayed.  What message does that send to a) consumers and b) society at large?  Who has the power - the product companies or the consumer?

Don't forget, essays due on Oct 6.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Power or Personality?

Power. Control. Authority. Command.  Control.  Influence.  Oppress. 

No matter how you say it, having power can be tricky business.  There are those that use their power and influence for the good of others and those that abuse their position and authority.  We've all met people in both of these categories.  We've responded to these powerful people in various ways.  Regardless of your experience, it is safe to say we can't get away from them - parents, peers, teachers, celebrities, government officials, school administrators, police officers, and bosses to name a few.  And to quote a popular country song, "Sometimes you're the windshield, sometimes you're the bug."

For Janie, power and control come in the form of her Nanny and her husbands.  To varying degrees and with mixed results, each person exerts physical, emotional and/or psychological pressure on her to conform to their ideas about her behavior and role as a woman.  She continues to struggle to discover who she really is beneath all of the outside forces.  Tea Cake, I believe, gives her a glimpse of that person, but she hasn't completely emerged yet.  And when she does, what sort of power will she have?

  • Do Tea Cake and Janie have a strong relationship?  What makes it so or what are they lacking?
  • Does Tea Cake treat her well?
  • What is the difference between Eatonville and the Everglades in terms of lifestyle and such for Janie?
  • Mrs. Turner is clearly a racist.  Why would Hurston include her and her ideas in this novel?

Friday, September 24, 2010

Let the Games Begin

Good stuff in class today.  According to our online poll, the majority of readers approve of Janie's relationship with Tea Cake and think she deserves the happiness and fun she's experiencing.  Quiz scores were great.  Looks like kids are keeping up with the reading and enjoying the story thus far.

You've been introduced to this blog so now start your comments!  Remember, you need to post at least one by midnight next Friday.  Here are some things to ponder and discuss:
  • What is the difference between mourning and grief?
  • How does Tea Cake endear himself to Janie?  Does she buy it?
  • Janie's hair once again figures into the story.  How?
  • Why does she push Tea Cake away from her?  Is that weakness?
  • Do you think this relationship will last?  Explain.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Lead, Follow or Get Out of the Way

Admit it.  There are people in your life that are born leaders.  Wherever they go, they command a crowd and whenever the speak, the masses listen.  You may not agree witht their tactics - intimidation, manipulation, bribery, arrogance - but you cannot argue they fact that they lead and others follow.  And then there are those that lead by example, never demanding to be heard and always in the background.  They, too, lead and others follow.  Whichever style of leadership, it is effective one way or another.  During our reading of Hurston's novel, we had a great discussion today about both leadership styles.

This is one of my favorite parts of the novel.  Janie, the protagonist, finally realizes how domineering her husband is and she finally speaks up for herself.  It is quite a turning point because it starts her down the road to discovering her true self.  I know, that sounds like something right from but it's true.  And I can't wait for my students to read on and discover where she ends up next.

Thursday, September 16, 2010


Welcome to Lit and Laughter, a place where teacher and students can read, reflect, and write together.  My goal is to provide information about our literature class, solicit responses about readings and class activities, and hear from you about any number of things.  That being said, I hope you've been keeping up in class because here we go!