Thursday, March 29, 2012

From MUSE: Teaching Mechanics

I've been reading my new favorite book, Interactions: Teaching Writing and the Language Arts, which suggests teaching "Parts of 'Speech'" by looking at the position they fill in a sentence, at the roles they play in sentences.  They suggest having students identify the role of a certain word and practice swapping a word with other words that could play the same role.  It also suggests sentence writing practice that causes students to concentrate on, for example, what a noun does in a sentence (e.g., Think of a six-word sentence in which there is a noun in the fourth position; think of a sentence that uses rain as a noun.)

Then, I came across this list of poems that students love to read aloud, which included the following entry:

4. “Jabberwocky” by Lewis Carroll
What can syntax tell us? Carroll’s Alice says of “Jabberwocky”: “Somehow it seems to fill my head with ideas—only I don’t exactly know what they are!” This quote has always stuck with me, and I often repeat it when I use this poem to review parts of speech with high school freshmen. The poem reveals how syntax—the way words are structured to form phrases and sentences—fills our heads with ideas about meaning, even the meaning of nonsense words, as in this from the first stanza, which also serves as the last: “All mimsy were the borogroves, / And the mome raths outgrabe.” Playing with the syntax of this poem can provide a keener sense of its drama. 

And I thought, how fun to practice with parts of speech this way, to deepen your knowledge about how they work in sentences by thinking about how we know that mome rath is a noun and outgrabe is a verb and mimsy is an adjective! What does it do to a sentence to place the adjective before the noun it modifies? To end a sentence with an intransitive verb? What meaning does the placement add?

This post was also published on MUSE '13

The sameness and otherness of language, the oneness, the great divides

 From Someone is Writing a Poem, by Adrienne Rich
But most often someone writing a poem believes in, depends on, a delicate, vibrating range of difference, that an “I” can become a “we” without extinguishing others, that a partly common language exists to which strangers can bring their own heartbeat, memories, images. A language that itself has learned from the heartbeat, memories, images of strangers.


I read a news story today about the death of Adrienne Rich and was overwhelmed by a memory of two friends, older than I, discussing feminism.  I was twenty-four, and they were younger than they are now, probably younger than I am now, though they seemed impossibly older and wiser. They bantered about "Betty Friedan" and "Gloria Steinem" and "Adrienne Rich," and I strained to remember what I had learned of these women in college, which I had just left.  And I strained to keep up with the conversation, as they argued about the various strengths and weaknesses of "second wave" and "third wave" feminism, thinking, this is what it means to be an adult, and wanting, so badly, to be there.  And I went with them to the bar after work.  And my vodka soda came out next to their bourbon, which I had not yet learned to love.  And I piped up periodically with my thoughts on the politics of the day, my questions about feminist theory, my laughter at jokes I was only beginning to understand.  But mostly, I watched, wide-eyed.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

More Word Play

The History of English in 10 Minutes

AND... got to 16

Salvo (Salve)
Sassafras (Sagacious, Soporific, Sasquatch, Sectarian)
Sustaining (Stentorian, Slatternly)
Sententious (Scattershot, Superlunary)
Supercilious (Sarsaparilla)
Sexagenarians (Somniloquence, Socioeconomic, Superstitious)

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Word Play

Salvo (Salve)
Sassafras (Sagacious, Soporific)
Sustaining (Stentorian)
Supercilious (Sarsaparilla)

Words can be placed in an infinite number of positions.
A word can be moved around without changing the sense of the sentence.
Sometimes, though, word order can make such a difference,
As when a word must change form from noun to adjective to accommodate placement.
I have lost a word on many occasions.
I struggled with my memory, words bombarding my brain in numberless configuration.
Sometimes, only silence is there, no word at all.
Then, out of nowhere it comes, my word.

Monday, March 12, 2012

How to Write About Africa

A Room of One's Own

"[I]t is necessary to have five hundred a year and a room with a lock on the door if you are to write fiction or poetry."
According to this calculator, five hundred pounds a year in 1929 is about $30,000.00 a year today.  In 2010, the San Francisco Examiner reported that $27,282 per year was "the bare minimum a single senior citizen [living in San Francisco] needs to cover rent, food, transportation and out-of-pocket medical bills, according to the center."


Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Teaching, that is, promoting learning

Good teaching ...

- causes students to PAY ATTENTION by being compelling and focusing on the right content: People learn what they attend to, and they will concentrate if 1) they know that concentrating will reduce their uncertainty, 2) they know that it will enable them "to do something they think is important," or 3) they "know from their own experience that concentration itself is rewarding."

- promotes the CONSTRUCTION OF MEANING BY STUDENTS: Perception, meaning-making, "occurs when learners make their own meanings on new stimuli  . . . and prior knowledge."

- causes students to effectively STORE and ACCESS MEMORY: Since meaning-making requires prior knowledge, i.e., learning stored in memory, students must be able to access it efficiently.  It is easier (more likely to be automatic) to access memory that has been stored because you created the meaning for yourself than to access the meaning of others that you stored through memorization.

- promotes practices that will lead to AUTOMATIC application of what has been learned: Behavior becomes automatic through repetition and practice.  We must promote the repetition and practice of the behaviors we want to become automatic, i.e., the relation of words to one another, not the recitation of a dictionary definition.

Fearn, Leif and Nancy Farnan. Interactions: Teaching Writing and the Language Arts. 2001, Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 23-28.

Creativity, deconstructed

According to relevant research,
Because creativity is often hard work, it demands EFFORT.
Because creativity is purposeful, it results from PREPARATION.
Because creativity does not occur in an intellectual vacuum, it requires KNOWLEDGE.
Because creativity means difference, it requires COURAGE.

Creative people think of multiple possibilities.  Researchers have called this FLUENCY.
Creative people view problems or questions from more than one persepctive.  Researchers have called this FLEXIBILITY.
Creative people embellish on problems and questions.  Researchers have called this ELABORATION.
Creative people wonder about and ponder the world around them.  Researchers have called this CURIOSITY.
Creative people often find that they have developed something they hadn't thought of or seen before.  Researchers call this ORIGINALITY.
Three dimensions of creativity:
1. Collecting data or information (KNOWLEDGE, FLUENCY, FLEXIBILITY)
2. Managing data or information (PERSEVERENCE, ELABORATION, ORDERING CHAOS)

Fearn, Leif and Nancy Farnan. Interactions: Teaching Writing and the Language Arts. 2001, Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 29.


According to Virginia Woolf, before World War I, a hum, like music, persisted behind conversation.  Men hummed this poem by Tennyson, women these lines by Rossetti.

Christina Georgina Rossetti. 1830–1894
A Birthday
MY heart is like a singing bird
  Whose nest is in a water'd shoot;
My heart is like an apple-tree
  Whose boughs are bent with thick-set fruit;
My heart is like a rainbow shell         5
  That paddles in a halcyon sea;
My heart is gladder than all these,
  Because my love is come to me.
Raise me a daïs of silk and down;
  Hang it with vair and purple dyes;  10
Carve it in doves and pomegranates,
  And peacocks with a hundred eyes;
Work it in gold and silver grapes,
  In leaves and silver fleurs-de-lys;
Because the birthday of my life  15
  Is come, my love is come to me.

by: Alfred Tennyson (1809-1892)
      OME into the garden, Maud,
      For the black bat, night, has flown,
      Come into the garden, Maud,
      I am here at the gate alone;
      And the woodbine spices are wafted abroad,
      And the musk of the rose is blown.
      For a breeze of morning moves,
      And the planet of love is on high,
      Beginning to faint in the light that she loves
      On a bed of daffodil sky,
      To faint in the light of the sun she loves,
      To faint in his light, and to die.
      All night have the roses heard
      The flute, violin, bassoon;
      All night has the casement jessamine stirred
      To the dancers dancing in tune;
      Till a silence fell with the waking bird,
      And a hush with the setting moon.
      I said to the lily, "There is but one,
      With whom she has heart to be gay.
      When will the dancers leave her alone?
      She is weary of dance and play."
      Now half to the setting moon are gone,
      And half to the rising day;
      Low on the sand and loud on the stone
      The last wheel echoes away.
      I said to the rose, "The brief night goes
      In babble and revel and wine.
      O young lord-lover, what sighs are those,
      For one that will never be thine
      But mine, but mine," so I sware to the rose,
      "Forever and ever, mine."
      And the soul of the rose went into my blood,
      As the music clashed in the Hall;
      And long by the garden lake I stood,
      For I heard your rivulet fall
      From the lake to the meadow and on to the wood,
      Our wood, that is dearer than all;
      From the meadow your walks have left so sweet
      That whenever a March-wind sighs
      He sets the jewel-print of your feet
      In violets blue as your eyes,
      To the woody hollows in which we meet
      And the valleys of Paradise.
      The slender acacia would not shake
      One long milk-bloom on the tree;
      The white lake-blossom fell into the lake
      As the pimpernel dozed on the lea;
      But the rose was awake all night for your sake,
      Knowing your promise to me;
      The lilies and roses were all awake,
      They sighed for the dawn and thee.
      Queen rose of the rosebud garden of girls,
      Come hither, the dances are done,
      In gloss of satin and glimmer of pearls,
      Queen lily and rose in one;
      Shine out, little head, sunning over with curls,
      To the flowers, and be their sun.
      There has fallen a splendid tear
      From the passion-flower at the gate.
      She is coming, my dove, my dear;
      She is coming, my life, my fate.
      The red rose cries, "She is near, she is near;"
      And the white rose weeps, "She is late;"
      The larkspur listens, "I hear, I hear;"
      And the lily whispers, "I wait."
      She is coming, my own, my sweet;
      Were it ever so airy a tread,
      My heart would hear her and beat,
      Were it earth in an earthy bed;
      My dust would hear her and beat,
      Had I lain for a century dead,
      Would start and tremble under her feet,
      And blossom in purple and red.

"I haven't lost one single chance, Lord, to make matter for You to pardon."

The Day of Gifts
by Paul Laudel, trans. from the Frenchby Jonathan Monroe Geltner

It's not true that Your saints have won everything: they left me with sins enough.
Someday I'll lie on my deathbed, Lord, ill-shaven and yellow as a lifelong drunk.
And I'll make a general examination of myself, looking back over all my days,
And I'll see that I'm rich after all, ripe and rich with evil in its unnumbered paths and ways.
I haven't lost one single chance, Lord, to make matter for You to pardon.
Now I hearten myself with vice, having long ago sloughed off virtue's burden.
Each day has its own kind of crime, plain to see, and I count them like some paranoid miser.

If what you need, Lord, are virgins, if what you need are brave men beneath your standard;
If there are people for whom to be Christian words alone would not suffice,
But who know rather that only in stirring themselves to chase after You is there any life,
Well then there's Dominic and Francis, Saint Lawrence and Saint Cecilia and plenty more!
But if by chance You should have need of a lazy and imbecilic bore,
If a prideful coward could prove useful to You, or perhaps a soiled ingrate,
Or the sort of man whose hard heart shows up in a hard face--
Well, anyway, You didn't come to save the just but that other type that abounds,
And if, miraculously, You run out of them elsewhere . . . Lord, I'm still around.

And what kind of man is so crude that he hasn't held a little something back from You,
Hasn't in his free time fashioned something special for You,
Hoping that one day the idea will come to You to ask it of him,
And maybe this little that he's made himself, kept back until then, though horrid and tortuous, will please Your whim.
It would be something that he'd put his whole heart into, something useless and malformed.
Just like that my little daughter once, on my birthday, teetered forward with encumbered arms
And offered me, her heart at once full of timidity and pride,
A magnificent little duck she had made with her own two hands, a pincushion, made of red wool and gold thread.

Poetry, March 2012 (532-533)

Sunday, March 4, 2012

From MUSE: Why Post?

I was just doing dishes and thinking* about teaching and thinking about actually integrating all the things I think about into my practice, and I realized that what helps me (will help me) to do this is articulating my thoughts and then going back and reminding myself of them.  And I realized that this is one of the reasons I post so much here**: It is helpful for me to be able to review the thinking that I have done on a subject.*** 

I used to just take notes on the random things that came into my mind.  Without a purpose, these notes would generally remain half-formed.  Posting on a site like this gives me the impetus I need to think through things a bit more without the requirements of a formal essay. Especially with practice, this more-but-not-full thinking through doesn't take much time, and it gives me something to look back on, to pull from, in a way that random notes in journals and on paper scraps does not do.  I still take those notes, and sometimes I incorporate them into posts, essays, but often, now, I start here.

The looking back is sometimes, like the blogging itself, just totally egocentric, like looking at baby pictures of yourself.  But it's not all that, and I have found that my former thinking starts conversations with my current, challenging and expanding it in a really helpful way.  Maybe I'm just absent-minded and other people can do this without writing down their thoughts, but I find that I lose the old stuff if I don't write it down.

Anyway, just some thoughts. I'm headed back to the dishes now.  Would love to hear what you think, though.



*Doing dishes is a great time for thinking, especially when, as is the case at my house, you can't really hear what's going on outside the kitchen, including on the stereo, while the water is running

**And on my other blog, which I am always scared to share with people, but here we go.

***Another reason is that I want to share and am hopeful that others will have thoughts on these topics to stretch and challenge my thinking.

This post was also published on MUSE '13

Friday, March 2, 2012

From MUSE: Some thoughts on averaging . . .

This is one of the reasons I think we should be required to take a statistics class.  This, and understanding better the studies we read.

I need to learn more about it.  But there is definitely some food for thought here.
This post was also published on MUSE '13

From MUSE: Text Complexity

Kansas has created a process for determining the complexity of a text that uses quantitative data such as lexile score as one part in a multi-part consideration. From what I have seen, some people are concerned that low-lexile texts will, under the more expansive considerations, be categorized as more complex and more appropriate for older students, thus dumbing down the curriculum.

Those fears seem short sighted to me.  The complexity of a text certainly depends upon more than lexile score.  As we know, knowing the words in a text does not necessarily mean that you can understand the text.  

This process takes into account a lot of important considerations, which are divided into three categories: Quantitative, Qualitative, and Reader/Task, as described in the image below.  The full presentation is attached.

This post was also published on MUSE '13

Thursday, March 1, 2012

I want to be Neil deGrasse Tyson's parents

Who do you look up to most?

[–]neiltyson[S] 1952 points ago
My parents. Married 60 years. Rational. Curious. Considerate. Sensible. Moral.

Pretty Fun: I am NdGT, Ask me Anything

From MUSE: Radio Lab

I love Radio Lab. I've listened to ALL of them.  I'm probably a little bit obsessed. 

Because of that love, I of course want to bring it into the classroom.  The question is, how?

Generally, I think it is good for students, EL or not, to practice aural comprehension.  Something like Radio Lab is great for that.  The hosts stand in for listeners, asking questions that listeners might ask: clarifications, mostly.  It's pre-scaffolded.

Specifically, the one I listened to this morning, Killer Empathy, I think might be good for a variety of contexts and theme explorations: the nature of violence, empathy, objectivity.  It could be used in an academic literacy class to discuss scientific disciplinary modes of thought (specifically, objectivity).

Just some ideas.  Any others?

This post was also published on MUSE '13

From MUSE: Word Trends and Gender

This is an interesting article that uses Google ngrams and the Corpus of Historical American English (COHA) to look at word trends.

Google ngrams charts the frequency of words in Google Books on a line graph.  For instance, here is a chart of "grammar" and "rhetoric" between 1600 and 2012.  I really which I could figure out how to embed the chart.  I'll work on it.

COHA has more fields, more possibilities.  It will do collocations, which is awesome (see the article).  I need to play with it a bit more though to figure it out. (whoops!)

These might be really interesting in a class discussing connotation/denotation, and there are probably a lot of other possibilities.  What do you think?

This post was also published on MUSE '13