Character Trading Cards: ‘Gotta Catch ‘Em All!’

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Okay, okay–I can’t take any credit for this idea, but it was so awesome when I saw it and it’s been so awesome in my classroom that I have no choice but to share it with the world! I originally saw this great website and activity while visiting a professor of mine’s master’s course. I was there to present a little bit on my zine exploration this past year, but I was lucky enough to participate in the activity they were engaged in, which centered around making trading cards of various characters from three texts they had read. What ensued were fun, engaging, and difficult small group discussions about each major character from the stories in an effort to be ready to participate in some friendly competition using their self-generated trading cards. Continue reading

On Reading: Changes in Practice

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If you haven’t picked up this so far by reading recent posts, I love me some Sheridan Blau. I didn’t know anything about him until I was told to read his book The Literature Workshop (2003) during my research in literature course this past fall. Reading about, discussing, and even practicing some of his workshops from that course has changed my teaching practice forever. Continue reading

Blogology: Lets Get Students Reading Again

Here’s my new brainchild–Blogology.

It’s an activity in getting students to buy into reading and then responding to that reading weekly and, in some cases, daily. I won’t fool myself into believing I’m the only educator who has thought of this, but when the idea struck me it felt like a true ah-ha moment. It was one of those moments where you feel like an answer has been under your nose the entire time but hidden just enough from view that you couldn’t see it.

I defined blogology for my students as the process of studying blogs, their writing, and media usage. In a nutshell, I’m allowing students to choose a blog of their interest (with guidelines and examples) and asking them to follow the blog faithfully for twelve full weeks. At the minimum, students are to read at least one post during the week and follow the reading up with a reflective post about what they’ve read. I’m using Google Docs to keep up with their own postings. They all have set up a document and shared it with me. They have until Sunday at midnight to give a thoughtful response to their reading each week, and I check the postings every four weeks to assess their progress and provide them with a formative grade. Admittedly, the process at its start can be cumbersome as students forget how to access their documents, don’t read instructions, or can’t settle on a blog; but after about a week of working the kinks out, students are going full steam ahead, reading outside of class, writing outside of class, and actually enjoying what they’re reading and writing about! Novel, right?!

I won’t know the extent to which this assignment is successful until after the twelve weeks are over, but I have a strong inkling that this will be one of my more successful efforts at independent reading. I also like that this causes students to be more aware of what is being written and shared on the internet. If all goes well, second semester we’ll take this activity to the next level and begin developing critical responses to the posts they read. The vision is to give students honest autonomy to critique, assess, praise, or condemn what they read using not only their sole opinion, but their knowledge of what they’ve been reading.

I’ll give a status update in a few weeks.

Here’s to reading outside the confines of what we label school. Cheers!

The Narnian

I wrote in a previous post on how my wife and I had made a renewed pact to start devouring books from our local library during which I also mentioned my intention of reading a biography of renowned fantasy/sci-fi and Christian apologetic writer, C.S. Lewis. The book, The Narnian: The life and Imagination of C.S. Lewis, is written by Alan Jacobs a professor of English at Wheaton College in Illinois, and paints a fascinating picture of a man whom I have always respected and enjoyed his fiction. It is not often that I pick up a biography and admittedly I digested this one rather slowly, but I almost had no choice as Jacobs pulled me into Lewis’ world in a way I had never known.

Jacobs doesn’t pull any punches when it comes to “Jack’s” life. You can certainly tell that the author is enamored by his subject, but he does a good job of balancing his praise of Lewis with the realities that plague many of us in this life. Lewis faced a great deal of hardship in his life, as we all do, but to read of his conversion from atheist to Christian and how he was able to rapidly develop prose using parchment and an inkwell pin (he never learned to type) when he had done nothing but struggle with his true love of writing poetry was nothing short of fascinating for me. I found myself empathizing with Lewis’ life as I felt so much of it mirrored parts of my own. My hopes to be a writer and be recognized for it, loving and loathing teaching at the same time, and balancing a life that we are not always prepared for.

The biography has re-inspired in me a desire to read and reread many of Lewis’ work as well as write more of my own. I highly recommend the book to anyone who has read and enjoyed any of his work.

 

Shakespeare: The Biography

In an attempt to rev up my personal reading, my wife and I have decided to start using our local public library on at least a bimonthly basis and start expanding our reading repertoire. I’m a big fan of owning books, but that gets down right expensive and really limits what one might read otherwise. We started this little journey yesterday.

I grabbed three books: Shakespeare: The Biography by Peter Ackroyd, The Narnian by Alan Jacobs (a biography on C.S. Lewis), and First Meetings by Orson Scott Card.

Now, I’ll be the first to admit that I am not the quickest of readers. I actually appreciate this fact about myself as I feel it makes me more in-tune to my students who despise reading in part due to their inability to read a page quickly. My wife, on the other hand, can devour a book in day two leaving no morsel of a word behind. All that being said, I picked those three to read in three weeks and my wife chose five.

I’m starting, as the title of this post suggests, with Ackroyd’s Shakespeare: The Biography. I’ve always wanted to read a full biography about the man who over time has won me over as an avid fan and believer in his unquestionable reign as the greatest English writer of all time. In college, I took a Shakepeare course where we read several plays and analyzed them; we even read a book focused on the design of his staging and how plays translated to his audience, but never have I read more about the man than besides a few pages of curtailed information on the man. I’m only partially into reading the book, but already I’m fascinated by his lineage and childhood. Ackroyd tries very early on to convince the reader that those who detract from Shakespeare being the true author of his plays are foolish to believe such as their is just too much evidence to the contrary. There are times already I find myself thinking that Ackroyd is reaching with a few of his conclusions, but admittedly there are more than enough clear facts to support Shakespeare’s education and his clear familial connection with his own plays.

I’ll give an update once I’ve finished the book, but in the meantime trust me when I say it really is a fascinating read.

Here’s for reading more books this year!