Thursday, August 31, 2023

The Shape of Stories

 I like to use this to introduce to my AP Lit kids the patterns that stories follow.  I usually pair it with this article "The Seven...Actually Nine Basic Plots According to Christopher Booker" by Glen C. Strathy.  The video is from a talk Kurt Vonnegut Jr. used to give on how stories follow the same patterns.

When I teach AP Lit, we go over the basic tenets from the book How to Read Literature Like a Professor, which is an interesting book for any teacher of English to check out.  It will tell you what you are most likely already doing while reading, but by brining it to the forefront of your mind, it helps you to focus better.  Some AP teachers assign this book to their kids, but I would rather spend our time reading with reading literature and I can lecture in class on what is in the book.  I use this particular video when I start with the Memory, Symbol, Pattern chapter.  

Tuesday, August 29, 2023

Tech Tuesday: Making a background image on multiple pages of a table in Google Docs - or - Use the Page Break!

 So I had this idea to make a chart for my students to fill out on how Heathcliff is a Byronic hero in Wuthering Heights.  I also wanted them to find two other Byronic heroes from sources of their own choosing.

I chose to use Google Docs for this mainly because my new school computer does not have Microsoft Word and I am too cheap to buy it.  I will throw in a plug for Open Office which is a decent free alternative.

Creating the table is no problem, but I wanted it to look fancy, so I imported in an image for the background of the first page.

Getting this image to fit here was not much of a problem either.  I set the image to be behind the text and I selected FIX POSITION ON PAGE in the edit box that appeared under it (though sometimes it appears above).

That was the easy part.  The problem I had came about when I tried to put an image as the background of the second page.  For some reason, every time I tried to move a new photo into the table, it would eventually jump to the top of the first page.  I tried:
1. changing where I was importing the image
2. deleting the table that continued onto the second page and creating a new table instead for the rows on the second page
3. creating the second page as a separate document and then copying and pasting it into the original document

All of these resulted in either the image jumping to the first page or disappearing altogether.

I did get it to work, though.

I was about to give up, but I tried one more thing.  I went back to each page being a separate table rather than just wrapping over to the next page.  Then, between the two, I selected INSERT then BREAK then PAGE BREAK.  This puts an automatic stop and will always make the next page its own page.  

An odd thing to make a blog entry over, but if you like to play around with the background images then maybe this will help you out in the future.

Thursday, August 24, 2023

The Daily Dose

The following can apply to any state reading test though it was designed specifically with the NC EOC in mind.

The Short:

If you could use some simple, quick reading comprehension questions that gets updated daily, go here!

The Long:

When I switched schools about 17 years ago, I was hired specifically to work with kids who were destined to not pass the English I EOC.  For those of you not in North Carolina, an EOC is just our state exams.  Students need a 3 out of 4 to pass it and my students were predicted to make a 1 (based on previous state tests from elementary and middle school).  I did have a few 2s.  My principal flat out told me when he hired me that my job was to get these kids to pass the test.

Back then, if you failed the state exam, you failed the entire course.  Lots of pressure for kids who struggle with reading.  Lots of pressure for the new(ish) teacher.  I started looking for samples, test specs, etc. and ran into a brick wall. I managed to pick up a few scraps from here to there.

I also realized that having the kids read a whole passage was one task and having them figure out how to answer a reading comprehension was a completely different task.  The biggest problem with the second task was that I was struggling to get them to complete the first task.

So I started writing short reading passages on the white board with multiple choice questions.  Super short reading passages.  Super super short reading passages.  That way we could spend time focusing on how to break down that question, how that literary term worked, etc.

But I'm lazy.  It's rule #1 in my class.

Ok, there is a story behind the "Lord Alford" thing that I do not have time to get into now.  Maybe later.

I didn't want to have to keep writing those on the board.  So I began putting it on a blog so that I would have it year after year.  Then I realized that other teachers were finding it and using it because there was just NO RESOURCES FOR THE STINKING NCEOC! 

The test has changed, somewhat.  It is now in the 10th grade (poor kids who had to make that transition and get it two years in a row) and students no longer need to pass it to be promoted.  I also no longer teach the test, but I have decided to keep the blog going.

Over the years I have had quite a few people tell me they are happy that the blog is there.  Some shoot me emails when I forget to update it (I do it in chunks, recycling the questions each semester), and some who have sent me questions to add to the mix (I love those teachers!).  I also have quite a few that have seen fit to get mad at me because they didn't like the answer or do not like the daily format because they wanted to find one specific question or other.  People like to complain. I also got reported to my principal, superintendent, and state superintendent for "teaching to the test" by some person I've never met, but that's a story for a different time too.

So, take some time to enjoy the questions (or send me a nasty email about the way I am doing it), make some of your own and share it, or have your kids create some themselves and share with me the good ones to be immortalized forever and ever.

Tuesday, August 22, 2023

Hills Like White Elephants

 I just finished this with my AP Lit class, but I have had a lot of fun with this story and this exercise with honors and regular level classes as well.

If you are not familiar with the story, you are welcome to read my file on it here.  It is slightly altered, but only in formatting to make it easier for the students to read.  I broke up the dialogue into separate paragraphs. It is also color coded by speaker.

A day or two (or more) before we read the story, I have already gone over my archetype notes with them.  I feel that archetypes are often easy gateways into breaking down meaning in poems or stories.  However, I have done this successfully without the notes and either way, before we read the story, I give them no heads up that this is going to be an archetype/symbolism lesson.

In fact, the only thing I tell them beforehand is that Hemmingway was known for writing on a fourth grade reading level, so this shouldn't be a strain on them (this is because I am a mean teacher).

Then we read the story and I ask them what is is about.  Only once has someone guessed the true nature of the "operation".  I entertain all possibilities (even the correct one should someone guess it) and then say, "Well, let's see if the setting can help us out."

Students are instructed to go through and find any details about what this place looks like.  There are some potentially conflicting details on tree placement, but we just make a judgement call and go with it.  I have students tell me what they see.  Each time we get a slightly different image, but the gist of it always looks like this:

But at this point, just the image, not the words.

I will acknowledge what you are all thinking right now.  I could have been an art teacher.  I do agree my skills are quite above par.

Once we have the setting, I ask them if this changes anything.  Of course, it doesn't, so it is time to reveal the wonders of symbolism.  We break it down usually from top to bottom (but waiting on the hills for last):

Sun - truth, life, goodness

Shade - lies, death, evil

Trees - happiness, life, paradise

Ebro River - time passing, life changing

Grain - happiness, life, paradise

But the grain is dry - sadness, hopelessness, death

Warm Breeze - warning, inspiration

Train Tracks - major life decision

So we understand now that this is a decision that deals with life and death, but the girl can choose one way or the other, so, maybe not her life or death.

Usually someone picks up on this being a choice about an abortion.  That opens discussion about a great many things - his attitude, her attitude, etc.

Finally we will reveal that a 'white elephant' refers to a story (maybe factual) of a Chinese emperor that would gift a white elephant to nobles that caused him problems.  Social expectations require that the noble take care of the gift; however, care for an elephant is too expensive and would often ruin the troublesome courtier.  So today, a 'white elephant' means something unwanted.  The White Elephant Christmas game is played after the holiday by people taking gifts that they do not want and wrapping them back up for the game.

If students have not gotten the abortion aspect, they will now.  

The only thing that remains at this point is one student will raise the question of why they are drinking so much alcohol if she is pregnant.  The story was written in 1927.  People didn't understand fetal alcohol syndrome until 1973.