cool_catThis site is both an informational and dynamic resource for students in my classes. Here you can review homework reminders, get organizers to help with writing essays, and access strategies to help you read more productively. You can chat with other students and keep up to date with learning expectations. You can also find out how to reach me and sign up for homework help. If you choose to do all your work, you increase your chances of attaining your academic goals.

I’m available for extra help during homeroom and by appointment.

It’s going to be a great year!
Ms. Fox

ARE (Acronym Rich Environment)

The most emotionally charged argument sparked by texting today is the intrusion of “textese” which is creeping into students’ writing portfolios. Truant letters, embedded numbers, and strange punctuation leave English teachers frustrated and puzzled, causing them to irritably scribble YABA (Yet Another Bloody Acronym) annotations where students adapt to these growing grammatical expressions. Due to the trillions of text messages exchanged from mobile phones today, people are communicating more and faster than ever, but some worry that as “textese” drops consonants, vowels, and punctuation, people will develop weak language skills and no longer understand how to effectively communicate. Could this English autopsy be the end of language as we know it? WDYT?

Supporting Reading Comprehension With The Arts

When reading classic literature, one of the most complicated tasks students stumble upon is the complexity of descriptive and imagery rich language. Often, they get lost in its density and as a result they zone out, which often leads to book abandonment. Reading The Picture of Dorian Gray, by Oscar Wilde is a fitting example of this occurrence, but once you acknowledge the difficulties of its descriptive language, you can work through the colorful narrative with different art forms. Hence, when Basil discusses his latest portrait with his friend, students can work out the imagery on newsprint paper, reflecting the author’s words into graphics.

A graffiti wall (a rolled out, large sheet of paper taped to the wall) proves to be a fun and creative way for students to express their understandings of a given plot structure. Together, students can draw or paint out story elements. When complete, the graffiti wall shows the complete story with graphics. Teachers can get a clear understanding of students’ comprehension, simply by looking and analyzing students’ collective artwork. Graphic response is based on the quality of effort and interpretive thought.

For students that struggle with ornate language, using art will enable them to work out the imagery in an unconventional way. For the same reason, film adaptations of literature will provide a lasting link between the text and the imagery. Playing key conflicts in a given plot structure will allow students to grasp understanding when the text proves to be challenging. The goal is not for students who struggle with the literature to develop a visual substitute for the text, but instead to encourage them to think through the text.

Dramatic reproductions or pantomiming scenes in a short story or novel is another great way to help students understand the text. Students work in small groups to collaborate and act out key scenes. Audiences can easily see and hear what story elements in a setting are being acted out, and teachers can assess how well the assigned reading was interpreted. Language and references that ground the interpretation in the text as a whole, can easily be evaluated. Like graphic representation, evaluation is based on creative interpretation and effort, rather than theatrical ability.

Literature doesn’t have to be black or white. Having students draw, view, or act out a given plot structure helps them collect and organize their ideas prior to writing about the literature. Writing becomes easier because a drawing contains the most important aspects of the scene, a film brings clarity and shape to challenging contexts, and theater emphasizes the relationships between characters and settings. Together, pulling important information from the text and reflecting these understandings with the arts will enable students to organize ideas, enabling them to write more comprehensive essays. Collectively, these exercises will help students develop the knowledge they need to work through the most abstract pieces of literature.

Great Teachers

Great teachers continuously reflect about what they are doing; they build strong behavior management within the classroom and give leadership roles to students, encouraging responsibility and accountability; they get families involved with the learning community; they maintain focus, ensuring that everything they do contributes to student learning; they carefully plan by working backward from the desired outcome; and they work relentlessly, refusing to surrender to lack of teaching materials or time restrictions.

Great educators understand that there is no magic formula to the craft. Additionally, they understand that effective teaching is not a function of theatrical performance or comedic genius. Rather it is the art of taking caring interest and executing effective teaching that measures learning, and being sure that every student understands the material. Assuring success takes vigilant planning and thoughtful implementation.

Executing well-designed lesson plans requires backward design, modeling, scaffolding, and independent practice. Hence, a wonderful strategy for effective teaching/learning is the I Do, We Do, You Do, followed with a method to measure learning, which can be as simple as asking students to raise their hand if they comprehend the material.

Ultimately, great teachers are shaped by their experiences and drive to succeed. Self-reflection is a continuous exercise that can bring clarity and excellence to almost every situation, whether positive or negative. This along with backward design, effective teaching strategies, useful assessment, and care, teachers can achieve greatness.

The Development of Language

Being able to successfully communicate with others has been essential since the beginning of time. Having the knowledge to interpret language meant that people could convey messages effectively. As humans adapted to new environments and demands, literacy changed.

Today, we gather information not only from printed material, but we also receive information through images and sounds in the multi-media world. These audio/visual messages have a language of their own. If students are to completely understand the messages that the media is sending, then we need to teach them the language of the media.

Students ultimately need to create, critique, analyze, and evaluate multi-media texts. At the core of fundamental critical thinking, they should be taught how to spot key concepts and formulate connections involving several ideas. The twenty-first century will continue to demand that a literate person possess these skills and abilities to understand language. It’s not about abandoning Chaucer for the Coen Brothers, but it’s about giving them the tools and know-how to understand what is being communicated.

Our Perceptions of Good vs. Evil

It was during the Victorian era that literature for children, often with a beefy moralistic tone, became all the rage. English authors like Lewis Carroll, Alice in Wonderland and Rudyard Kipling, The Jungle Book were greatly read and celebrated. However popular and insightful these tales were, they originated from earlier beginnings. In fact, children’s fables go back long before the Victorian era.

Victorian literature for children has its roots in the Puritan period. In fact, one can see the spread of literacy closely related to the rise of Protestantism, which urged followers to closely read the Bible and personally relate what they learned into their daily lives. Moral lessons were highlighted in compelling narrations meant to encourage spiritual discipline. Within time, literature morphed into tales that stressed the value of selflessness, good sense, and rationale behavior.

Together, evangelical and secular writers expanded messages to emphasize good moral and social behavior. These attributes have relative importance in today’s children’s literature as well. My childhood personal favorite is Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, by Roald Dahl, written in 1964. So successful, the book was adapted into two major motion pictures: Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory in 1971, and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory in 2005. The story, told in Charlie’s point of view, unravels a tale of a bright, poor boy that is rewarded for his discipline and honesty, reinforcing the messages of sin and innocence. I suppose the struggle and fascination of good vs. evil are timeless.

Mayhem, Mischief, & Revere… An Overture of Shakespeare

The idea that the world is a “wide and universal theater,” certainly was familiar to Shakespeare. Hundreds of years since Shakespeare wrote, we are still reading and performing his plays. That’s incredible success! He wrote for the masses as well as royalty. Tragedies and comedies, the plays that reflect life on its most appalling and amusing planes, are central to the examination of universal experiences. Shakespeare conveyed messages to the reader, moving them to dream, think, and laugh. Using Shakespeare’s plays and theater, audiences can move toward uncovering the themes that are still relevant today.

Whether it’s Romeo and Juliet’s struggle with love and loyalty, the complex and questionable relationship of Petruchio and Kate, or Hamlet who lacks decisive action, these plays show us basic human flaws played out in their unfortunate finale. Yet Shakespeare chooses to draw attention to these human flaws. Without a lecture, he unravels a story that allows the audience to develop their own judgment. Common themes are love, mortality, trickery, cleverness, family, insanity, and murder. These themes have been adapted in modern film and theaters – West Side Story, The Lion King, 10 Things I Hate About You, Shakespeare in Love…

Since the late 1500s, Shakespeare’s portrayals of these themes have shaped societies. My Shakespearean professor once excitedly told a story about how she was traveling in her car with her daughter and listening to the radio, when the broadcaster questioned what all the hoopla was about Shakespeare. He continued saying that Shakespeare was irrelevant in today’s society. Flabbergasted, my professor intensely continued her story, “That’s ludicrous! Shakespeare is everything!”

All the world’s a stage,/And all the men and women merely players;/They have their exits and their entrances,/And one man in his time plays many parts,/His acts being seven ages. Indubitably true – we are all just players on the stage acting out humanity, and Shakespeare was genius at telling these tales of heroism, love, comedy, and tragedy – the history of our lives.

Word Wonder

Did you know, “almost” is the longest word in the English language with all the letters in alphabetical order, and “rhythm” is the longest English word without a vowel? Anyone who is a Word Warp fanatic would probably empathize with my attentiveness to language. Who else would even bother or care about such gobbledygook? But, in the interest of self-respect, let me come to my own defense. I’m into words. Admittedly, I spend hours a day playing Word Warp and Scrabble. I can’t help myself. Driving down the highway, I find myself hopelessly unscrambling license plates, trying to decode as many words as possible with any given letters. Don’t pity me. I find it quite amusing and it helps to pass the time on the road.

I think I developed this fascination as a kid, only then it was in the form of nursery rhyme and popular insults. Three blind mice/three blind mice/See how they run/see how they run/They all ran after the farmer’s wife/Who cut off their tails with a carving knife/Did you ever see such a thing in your life/As three blind mice? Wicked! Later as a nine year, I can remember countless times I shouted the old adage, “Sticks-n-stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me!” That’s a joke. Most of the time I wished for a bruise instead because I wallowed in their insult. Bruises heal faster. How about this one, “Neither fish nor fowl nor good red herring!” I’m not sure I understand this epigram. As an English major, the phrase works on my nerves! Where’s the predicate? Can someone explain this one to me? I’m going back to my Word Warp.

For the Love of Literature

Just the other day, I was asked to recommend a good book. Having read a wide range of literature, I paused and contemplated as to what was the one book that made the biggest impact on me.  Reeling in my thoughts, I concluded that the most memorable book for me was A Prayer for Owen Meaney, by John Irving.

This mental exercise got me thinking – what makes a book memorable? Are these the same books that we would cherish and recommend to fellow readers? I do know this – a good book will suck you in, uphold your interest, and keep you excited. And being excited about the literature is what keeps the reader reading.

I could study the plot structure of A Prayer for Owen Meaney, dissecting it piece by piece, but I’m not sure if that exercise would explain the book’s magic. I could break it down into pieces and examine the parts, but if I did, the passion would be corrupted. Think about it, when you speak about your favorite piece of literature, do you begin with the expository, stating the setting and characters, followed by the first example of conflict, leading into the rising action? Come on! If you’re like me, you bust with enthusiasm about the story’s characters – their personalities and challenges.

Recently, I asked my students in class what made a book memorable? Was it the characters, the setting, the problem? Was it mysticism, or maybe a breakout from literary thinking, inducing the senses and providing an escape? The majority of the students thought that the characters made a novel memorable. Hungry for more, I continued, “What makes the characters the most outstanding part of the novel?” Their answer, “It’s like taking an ordinary problem and enabling a remarkable and unique character to unravel the solution.”  Hmmm…

All of this certainly got me wondering about the value of good books. How can one possibly shift through the abundant array of books searching for the pinnacle of fine literature? While some novels are bulky yet opaque, with little power to grab and sustain a reader’s interest (nevertheless capable of an effective doorstop), others are small and mighty, able to make a lasting impression – I hope the kids in my class remember Buddha Boy by Kathe Koja. Where do we begin with our quest for good literature? It is my hope that you will help de-clutter the shelves of literary dribble (or drivel, depending upon your view).

The next time I recommend a worthy book, I’ll simply remember the character encounter principle – did the characters have sticking power, did they take me to another place (physically, emotionally, spiritually), was I attached to them – loved them, loathed them, did they get my intellectual juices flowing? I declare- a great piece of literature has the muscle to captivate your senses, spark your imagination, and introduce you to some very special characters that transport you to another place. What novel has had this impact on you?

Hello world!

“We are not now that strength which in old days
Moved earth and heaven; that which we are, we are;
One equal temper of heroic hearts,
Made weak by time and fate, but strong in will
To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.”