CATE Conference 2018

We will once again be facilitating a workshop at the California Association of Teachers of English (CATE) Conference. This year’s conference is in San Diego, and the theme is “With Literacy and Justice for All”.

Our workshop is titled, “Contemporary Short Fiction: the Key to Unlocking Potential and Leveling the Playing Field for Students of All Ability Levels”.

Here’s a post about our trip to the 2017 conference.

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Testimonials from August 2nd and 3rd Professional Development Workshop at Tracy Unified School District

Earlier this month, we facilitated a professional development workshop for English Language Arts teachers at Tracy Unified School District in Tracy, CA.

The workshop was titled Creating Critical Thinkers through the Study of Literature and its focus was building literature-based units of study that meet the demands of Common Core.

The following are some testimonials from that workshop:

“Finally! A workshop that was teacher-driven by competent educators. The presenters were knowledgeable and accessible. The book is teacher-friendly and very helpful. Thank you!”

“I rarely write ‘strongly agree’! Thanks for the coaching and patience! Excellent time flow management! Great scaffolding for middle school! Wonderful content and help!”

“Very organized and practical. Everything I learned I can apply to my own classroom. Thought the ‘So what?’ phrase is great; can’t wait to see their reaction after saying it for the 1,000th time.”

“Please have the James’s come back. I was very impressed and really enjoyed having our speakers. Great job.”

“Great, useful activities and focus on rigor.”

“Time was well-spent and informative. Liked the ‘So what?’ approach.”

“Great, dynamic duo!”

“The presenters were knowledgeable and kept things interesting.”

“I learned some new ideas that I can implement this year.”

“This was quite helpful. Having actual teachers who work with students and have used these techniques was a smart choice. I look forward to using this this year.”

“Thank you for helping us enrich our curriculum w/rigor. I am looking forward to reading your book.”

“Two days in a row with lessons I can use immediately!”

“The instructors were very organized and had us active the entire time.”

“Really developed ways to promote understanding and creating connections with literature.”

“This has been the most relevant workshop in years. Thoroughly satisfied.”

“Bring Liz and Bill back!!!”

 

Teaching “Native Son” by Richard Wright, Part Two (Point of View)

This is part two of a series of posts about teaching Richard Wright’s 1940 novel, Native Son (for part one, click here). This post will share a lesson that helps students consider the effects of an author’s choices regarding point of view.

 

The essential question of this lesson is: How does Wright establish (and shift) the point of view of the novel in its opening scene?

 

First, students should review the basic points of view that a writer of fiction has to choose from:

  • First person POV (in which the narrator is a character)
  • Third person objective POV (in which the narrator is not a character and reports only what can be observed externally)
  • Third person omniscient (in which the narrator is not a character and can report on the external action as well as the internal thoughts and feelings of any character)
  • Third person limited omniscient (this narrator is basically the same as third person omniscient, but the ability to report on internal thoughts and feelings is limited to one character)

Note: students will inevitably ask about second person. The answer is that there are stories with a second person narrator (several of the stories in Lorrie Moore’s story collection, Self Help, for example), but second person narrators are much less common.

 

Once students have discussed these definitions and demonstrated understanding of them, give the following instructions (these can be completed by individuals, by pairs, or by small groups):

  • Start reading from the beginning (page 7 in most editions).
  • Identify and write down in your notes the POV at the beginning.
  • Read until you think it shifts to a different POV.
  • STOP reading and write down where the POV shifts and what it shifts to.

 

Most students will recognize that, at the beginning, the point of view is third person objective (the narrator is reporting only what can be observed externally).

 

Students will also recognize that the point of view shifts in the following paragraph, several pages in:

Vera went behind the curtain and Bigger heard her trying to comfort his mother. He shut their voices out of his mind. He hated his family because he knew that they were suffering and that he was powerless to help them. He knew that the moment he allowed himself to feel to its fulness how they lived, the shame and misery of their lives, he would be swept out of himself with fear and despair. So he held toward them an attitude of iron reserve; he lived with them, but behind a wall, a curtain. And toward himself he was even more exacting. He knew that the moment he allowed what his life meant to enter fully into his consciousness, he would either kill himself or someone else. So he denied himself and acted tough.

 

The point of view shifts to third person limited omniscient, as we now have access to the internal thoughts and feelings of a single character: the protagonist, Bigger Thomas.

 

Students should now grapple (again, individually or in pairs or groups) with some follow-up questions, such as the following:

  • What are some possible reasons that Wright makes the choice to open the novel in one point of view and then shift to a different point of view?
  • What might Wright’s choice for how to establish and develop the POV have to do with naturalism (this is a connection back to part one of this post)?

 

What students should come away with is that Wright, in the style of literary naturalism (an offshoot of realism that focuses on the effect of external forces [often inescapable, oppressive external forces] on the behavior of the protagonist) opens the novel by establishing an objective ground situation upon which to build.

 

Before bringing us into Bigger’s mind, Wright first demonstrates Bigger’s surroundings: an impoverished living with his mother and siblings in a too-small, rat-infested apartment. It is from this situation that Bigger’s fear, despair, and hate emerge, and it is also this situation that is the basis for Wright’s social commentary.

CATE Conference 2017: Creating Critical Thinkers through the Study of Literature

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Two Fridays ago (February 17th),  Liz and I attended the California Association of Teachers of English (CATE) Conference in Santa Monica, CA, where we led a workshop on creating critical thinkers through the study of literature.

We had a group of 25-30 English teachers from around the state, all of whom were very nice and very engaged (and a bunch of them bought our book, which was super nice).

[We also had a really really great time! And we would have stayed the whole weekend but, you know…babysitters and kids and all that {thanks, by the way, to Liz’s mom, Ellen, for watching our kids}. And we really really want to thank the people behind the CATE Conference for having us! It was great! Thank you!]

The workshop was based on our book, Method to the Madness: A Common Core Guide to Creating Critical Thinkers through the Study of Literature, and began with the rationale for using quality literature to meet the common core standards (and that common core in the English classroom does not mean more informational texts and less imaginative literature). Our premise is that by building units around quality works of fiction, drama, poetry, and creative nonfiction, you can meet all of the common core literacy standards (including the informational text standards).

We then moved on to an activity for introducing close reading (or critical reading) in the classroom. The purpose of the activity (which can be found in Chapter 2 of Method to the Madness) is to help students…

…recognize and identify significant choices made by an author

…analyze and evaluate the effects of those choices (that’s the “So what?”)

…use the appropriate academic language (literary terms) when discussing those choices

…prepare a text for analysis by annotating it.

The activity also helps students recognize that literary terms work together–specifically, in this case, diction and imagery combine to create a particular mood, or atmosphere.

Our next activity was centered on a short story by George Saunders (whose first novel, Lincoln in the Bardo, was recently released). The story is titled “Sticks”. It’s just a two-paragraph story, but there’s a lot packed into those two paragraphs. The story was included in Saunders’ 2013 collection, Tenth of December, but “Sticks” is actually an older story that was first published in 1995.

Here’s a picture of Liz reading the story in the workshop:

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Liz and I have been using “Sticks” in the classroom for about a decade. It’s a great teaching tool precisely because it is so short while being so meaty.

For the workshop, we read the story aloud and then put the participants into groups of four. The groups had five minutes to annotate the story and identify as many literary techniques and devices as they could (they were also given a list of these).

At the end of the five minutes, each group was given a piece of poster paper, on which they were instructed to write a statement about the story. The statement had to make a declarative claim and also had to incorporate at least one literary term.

Each group then shared their statement and supported it using specific evidence from their annotated story.

After the workshop, we had a short autograph session, and we got to browse around the exhibition hall for a while (and also pick up swag).

At the KQED booth, we got a selfie stick (I never thought I would ever own a selfie stick) plus a free tutorial on how to use said selfie stick.

Here’re two photos, one demonstrating my selfie abilities pre-stick, and one post-stick (and post-stick tutorial [hey, I just realized: sticks is a motif in this blog post]):

We were supposed to then post the picture on the right on social media with the hashtag on that card. But we’re getting old, and it was already a big day.

Testimonials from Workshop on Teaching Literature in High School Classrooms

On January 9th, we led a workshop at the University of the Pacific in Stockton on creating critical thinkers through the study of literature.

The workshop was based on our book, and focused on the following:

  • The rationale for using quality literature (fiction, poetry, drama, and literary nonfiction) in the middle and high school English classroom.
  • Strategies and activities for introducing and implementing close reading, using George Saunders’ short story “Sticks” and the lyrics of Billie Holliday’s “Gloomy Sunday” as examples.
  • Increasing the quantity and quality of rigorous student writing.

We will be conducting a similar workshop at the 2017 CATE (California Assoc. of Teachers of English) Conference, February 17-19 in Santa Clara, CA.

The following are some testimonials from our wonderful participants:

“Very engaging! I wish more teachers would attend! As an administrator, it is enlightening to see solutions to bringing critical thinking to the classroom through literature.”

 

“So many great things in this workshop. I want to try everything TOMORROW!!! Thank you so much!”

 

“Extremely informative and useful. I found and will implement at least three strategies (close reading, on-demand writing) that I will use right away. Thank you!”

 

“This information needs to be shared with our curriculum director!”

 

“Thank you for all of the methods that I can use in the classroom. As a new teacher with no experience, this information is extremely helpful.”

 

“Really effective and simple strategies. As a first year teacher, I would strongly urge my undergraduate peers to check out this presentation and the Method to the Madness book.”

 

“Informative and entertaining, with plenty that will be useful in the classroom.”

 

“Thank you. Workshop went by quickly and had great, engaging, purposeful information.”

 

“We were offered many examples/useful samples of student work and activities. We can use this material in the classroom for planning—especially how to increase writing.”

 

“Y’all are amazing.”