Thursday, March 3, 2011

One Sweet World

"Nine planets around the sun
only one does the sun embrace
upon this watered one
so much we take for granted
so let us sleep outside tonight
lay down in our mother's arms
for here we can rest safely"
-Dave Matthews

...Yet we are so very divided.

A little over a year ago, I started a group called The Global Poetry Project. The goal is extremely idealistic and I know it, but I was thinking one day that perhaps if more people saw that human beings all over the globe are experiencing many of the same things: love, loss, births, deaths, war, struggle, and happiness, just to list a few, maybe, just maybe, this understanding could bring some walls down.

The overall goal of The Global Poetry Project is to bridge gaps in cultural understanding through poetry. This is a space for people to post their own work and respond to poetry. I know that it's understood that people everywhere deal with the items that I listed earlier but the GPP offers a real connection to the people experiencing them. What I like about the particular format of the GPP is that it offers a two way street. When I read Billy Collins, I often find myself wanting to e-mail him and ask him a few questions about his work. The GPP provides a connection between poet and reader. Granted, Billy Collins is not currently contributing, but give it never know.

This project has received its share of criticism as well. One blogger stated that projects like this, that offer the immediate gratification of publication, cause people to lose respect for the masters of the art of poetry. That isn't what the GPP is about. It's another way to communicate.

It's not perfect, but it is my vision, and it is something that I feel passionately about. If you're reading this, I urge you to take a look at what is happening on the GPP. Join the movement! Spread the word. Technology today has made the world a much smaller place...poetry has the ability to make it more intimate.

Monday, February 28, 2011

Burning Down the House

Ray Bradbury's Fahrenheit 451 always gets me thinking.

Of the things that Bradbury targets, my personal television consumption is what I always end up thinking the most about; and it's what I ask my students to reflect on as well.

To introduce Fahrenheit this semester, I have broken my classes up into eight different groups. Each group will be responsible for researching a particular topic that I have chosen that in some way relates to the novel. Groups will consist of no more than three students and the topics include: American Television Habits/History, Reality Television, Social Networking, Violence and Sexuality on TV, and Censorship in America. Each group's task is to become the "in-house expert" on their particular topic. As they research their topics using both the web and the various databases provided by the school district, they must populate a wiki page dedicated to their group with credible information on their topic.

Here's why I like this activity:
  • Students are creating content that will be viewed and read by their classmates.
  • Students are relatively interested in the topics that this novel relates to. I find it interesting that a novel published in the early 1950s sparks discussion about MTV's Jersey Shore.
  • I don't have to prepare and deliver eight different lectures on these topics. This activity allows for an alternative to the Transmission theory.
  • This causes students to think critically about information that is available to them on the web.

I created the groups so that they were small. Partners would probably work the best but I began to experience difficulty coming up with topics after eight. Wikis are an important tool in my teaching. I have found that when used, wikis can provide one place, a neat place at that, for information that is directly centered on what I'm teaching.

Here's the link to one of our class wikis.

Students will work for about a day and a half (about 120 minutes) on populating their pages with information. They will spend an additional 40 minutes looking at the pages that their classmates created and responding to discussion questions that have been posted. At the end of two days, students will have been exposed to various topics that relate directly to the literary quest that we are about to embark on. It's like taking a day to plan the various routes that are available before a road trip.

This novel is one of the reasons that I decide, each year, to go without television for a few months. Each year it's the same. I dread the period that will be spent without the parlor walls and by the third day, I'm wondering why I own a television in the first place. In these times, solitude sometimes needs to be a conscious choice.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Learning to Fly

Joining the 101 English Blogs movement was just the motivational boost that I needed to get blogging. I've put it off and put it off and I'm glad to get this ball rolling! I'm not sure where these blogs will go so I'm excited to see the results myself.

As of right now, I have been teaching English for the past four and a half years. I work with great people, I teach great kids, and I can say that I truly love what I do every single day.

What I love about teaching English is that the subject matter is actually life. We talk about love, hate, birth, death, good, evil, and so much more. The subject matter is constantly changing and this remains constant.

One method that I put to use in my classroom, specifically in my AP Literature and Composition classes, is the Socratic method. I have found Socratic Seminars to be fun and insightful while being extremely successful in helping my students to construct meaning and grapple with texts on a deeper level.

One of the keys to a productive Socratic Seminar discussion is a hands-off, no meddling approach from me. Early on, I found myself hoping that students would take the discussion in a certain direction , so I would push them there. Once I stopped urging, pushing, and manipulating the discussion, they got a lot better. In fact, the very best discussions are the ones that I take no part in at all. I used to serve as the discussion director or group leader and recently, I've given this title to a different student for each discussion. Now, in the beginning, when students are getting used to the format, it was necessary for me to be a bit more vocal, but at this point, I run the risk of just plain getting in the way. Every time I've let my students go, they've soared far past where I hoped they'd go.

We started a discussion about Heart of Darkness by talking about the difference between Marlow and Kurtz and ended by discussing what good is and what evil is and how the two are ever changing and not absolute. Just the other day, we were discussing Christina Rossetti's "The Goblin Market" and we ended up talking about whether one's innocence can ever be re-gained. These topics were no where to be found in the lesson plan, they just happened spontaneously. I guess the Socratic method has taught me that letting go can be very good.