Childish Gambino’s “This is America” and Junot Diaz’s “The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao”

We have a new lesson available in our Teachers Pay Teachers store that uses Childish Gambino’s “This is America” as part of a larger teaching unit on Junot Diaz’s “The Brief and Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao”.

Students will examine Donald Glover’s video, “This is America” and close-read its authorial choices, looking for examples of subversion and dictatorship–themes aligned with Diaz’s own work.

Students will create a brief presentation examining how these themes become apparent, while discussing their importance.

Symbolism, Diaspora, and Binaries in The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao

We have a new lesson on The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz available in our Teachers Pay Teachers store.

The lesson includes two major assessments:

One, a 24-hour project for applying knowledge of major concepts in the book, such as diaspora and binary oppositions.

The second, a group presentation wherein students create a rigorous lesson to be presented on one of the symbols in the text. Students will have to trace their assigned symbol throughout the text in order to create sufficient arguments.

Bildungsroman in The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao

We have a new lesson available in our Teachers Pay Teachers store. It is titled: Bildungsroman and Oscar Wao, and it is part of a larger unit on Junot Diaz’s The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao.

This is an assignment in which students get to reflect on their own personal moments of bildungsroman–where they grew up and couldn’t go back. A powerful assignment in appreciating both the necessity and tragedy of growing up.

The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao Midterm Exam

We have an exam on Junot Diaz’s The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao available in our Teachers Pay Teachers store.

The exam can be given orally or in written form. Students will need to show a depth of understanding of tricky subjects in order to score well. The teacher can allow them to use their texts during the exam in order to supply sufficient textual evidence.

The Great Gatsby Teaching Unit

We have a complete teaching unit for The Great Gatsby available in our Teachers Pay Teachers store.

This unit can be used over the course of 4-6 weeks. Students will close-read, do a ton of writing, and apply nonfiction research to the study of Fitzgerald’s masterpiece.

This hits all Common Core Anchor Standards and provides excellent skill development for your students.

Romeo and Juliet: The Tragedy of Growing Up

We have a new PowerPoint lesson available in our Teachers Pay Teachers Store. It is titled “Romeo and Juliet: The Tragedy of Growing Up.”

Focusing on the more universal tragedies within the text, this lesson examines growing beyond your friends and family–a more accessible aspect of the tragedy within the play.

CATE Conference 2018

A few weeks ago, Liz and I flew down to San Diego for our second CATE (California Association of Teachers of English) Conference.

 

Last year, the conference was in Santa Clara (a not-too-long drive for us), and we gave a presentation based on a chapter of our book, Method to the Madness. The presentation was titled, Creating Critical Thinkers through the Study of Literature (which is also our book’s subtitle).

 

This year, our presentation was based on another chapter of the book and was titled, Contemporary Short Fiction: the Key to Unlocking Potential and Leveling the Playing Field for Students of All Ability Levels (long title). We had given a longer version of the presentation to Tracy Unified School District in January.

 

The presentation began with the rationale for building curriculum centered on quality literature (fiction, poetry, drama, creative nonfiction). There was (still is?) a misperception that Common Core equals less literature in the English classroom and more “informational” reading. This, of course, is a misunderstanding that the framers of the standards have addressed: “Said plainly, stories, drama, poetry, and other literature account for the majority of reading that students will do in the high school ELA classroom. […]The Standards could not be clearer: ELA classrooms must focus on literature — that is not negotiable, but a requirement of high school ELA.” (David Coleman & Susan Pimental)

 

Next, Liz gave her pitch for using contemporary short stories in the English classroom, particularly as an opening unit, such stories being accessible to a variety of students (including those with attendance issues). These high-quality stories can be taught in a single class period (or two), and they offer students the opportunity to engage with a wide variety of voices while allowing the teacher the opportunity to establish (or remediate) essential skills.

 

We had prepared to use three short stories—Sticks by George Saunders, The Flowers by Amy Walker, and How to Talk to Your Mother (Notes) by Lorrie Moore—but we only got through the first two.

 

Each of those stories (Sticks and The Flowers) fits onto a single page, but each story is very meaty. We asked our participants to read and annotate each story, and, despite (as mentioned) each story being only one page, they each led to a wide-ranging academic discussion of the significant choices being made by the author.

 

(Note: all of the above was great, great, great, and a lot of fun, because our participants were so great, and also because Liz is so great at this.)

 

We ended with a discussion of narrative structure (the traditional plot curve, which is sometimes incorrectly perceived as a restraint to creativity and voice [a view I once embarrassingly held] but that instead allows for infinite variation).

 

We were getting short of our time, there were several slides to go, and I was sort of floundering, describing the plots of Pixar movies. Liz would later say that when I gave a third such example, she knew I was in trouble.

 

But a participant saved me by asking if, when learning about this narrative structure, which is so obvious in Pixar movies, students can apply the elements (ground situation, inciting incident, conflict, complications, climax, resolution) to something like The Flowers, which is so short and describes a single event.

 

This was exactly where, despite all floundering, we were supposed to be headed, and, as a group, we tried it. It turns out, despite being only one page and describing only one incident, The Flowers “fits” the narrative structure perfectly (infinite variation).

 

So, we modeled lessons on two one-page short stories (Sticks, by the way, Liz describes as the only “magic bullet” for English teachers: a two-paragraph story that students always like and always have so much to say about). Each story is accessible to a variety of students, and each story provides the opportunity for critical reading, critical thinking, analytical writing, and academic discussion.

 

Several people came up at the end to buy books (which was very nice), and a few told us that it was the best presentation they had been to all weekend (but maybe they say that to all the presenters).

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!!!”