Tuesday, October 18, 2016

"A Doll House" Mentality in Presidential Politics #SOL16

During my AP Literature and Composition class's study of Henrik Ibsen's A Doll's House, Donald Trump's now infamous journey on Billy Bush's "Access Hollywood" bus has defined the news cycle. 

I could not pry my eyes and ears from the onslaught of talking heads and cable news programs loops replaying that conversation between Trump and B. Bush from 2005. It literally became my personal Groundhog Day repeated every evening when I returned home from work. 

Reading A Doll's House in the context of Trump's sexual abuse of women illuminates for me how far we have come as well as how far we have to go in our treatment of women. Ibsen's play resonates as remarkably relevant these days. 

For example, throughout Ibsen's drama, Torvald Helmer objectifies his wife Nora by referring to her with animal imagery: 

"Is that my little lark twittering out there?"
"Is it my little squirrel bustling about?"
"The same little featherhead..."
"my little skylark"
"My little songbird must never do that again."
"little singing bird"

Images of Nora as a child, a girl, an animal permeate the play to frame her as subordinate to her husband. 

Helmer lives the life of a man incapable of self-reflection. At one point he refers to the hypocrisy of Krogstad, one of his employees. Similarly, Trump has characterized his accusers as "liars" and pawns set to destroy him and deflect attention from the foibles of his opponent. Speaking to Nora, Helmer says,

Just think how a guilty man like that has to lie and play the hypocrite with everyone, how he has to wear a mask in the presence of those near and dear to him, even before his own wife and children. . . I assure you it would be quite impossible for me to work with him; I literally feel physically ill when I am in the company of such people.

Ironically, Hlemer doesn't know his own wife has a secret, one for which Helmer owes his life. It's this hypocrisy and this refusal to reflect on his own choices that speaks to me as a woman in the 21st Century. Once he realizes Nora has borrowed money from Krogstad, rather than thank his wife for her efforts to save his life, he unleashes a torrent of insults:

"Miserable creature--what have you done?. . . ."

"What a horrible awakening! All these eight years--she who was my joy and pride--a hypocrite, a liar--worse, worse--a criminal! The unutterable ugliness of it all! For shame! For shame! I ought to have suspected that something of the sort would happen. I ought to have foreseen it. . . No religion, no morality, no sense of duty------ How I am punished for having winked at what [your father] did! I did it for your sake, and this is how you repay me. . . ."

"Now you have destroyed all my happiness. You have ruined all my future...And I must sink to such miserable depths because of a thoughtless woman!"

Rather than owning his remarks and behavior, Donald Trump has insulted the women he sexually assaulted as too unattractive. His surrogates have added additional abuse by rationalizing his behavior. 

Make no mistake, Donald Trump described sexually assaulting women. He has recounted to Howard Stern walking in on young girls half naked as they prepared for the Miss Universe competition. 

For Donald Trump, women are his "joy" and his "pride." He blames women when his happiness is challenged by his own ingratitude and by his own actions. He blames women for having ruined his future. One need only listen to his conspiracy theories about the media being out to get him, about the election being rigged to know this. 

And all this misery coming Trump's way is "because of a thoughtless woman." 

Come November 8, my hope is that Donald Trump will have one more Torvald Helmer moment. That moment at the end of A Doll's House has reverberated throughout literature for more than a hundred years. It's the moment Nora leaves her husband and the audience hears the slamming of the door as she exits. 

May Donald Trump hear the slamming of the electoral door as women respond: "I believe that before all else I am a reasonable human being..." And as reasonable human beings, we will no longer sacrifice our honor for men like Donald Trump and Torvald Helmer, men who sacrifice so little for the women in their lives but expect women to sacrifice all. 

As Nora tells Helmer when speaking about sacrificing honor: "It is a thing hundreds of thousands of women have done." 

*Side Note: I began the unit by having students view a fabulous video inspired by A Doll's House. We discussed the ways Nora unmasks herself in the play. 

Each Tuesday the team at Two Writing Teachers sponsors the Slice of Life
Story Challenge. I'm grateful to these ladies for their unwavering commitment to
the power of narrative. Thank you. Head over to TWT for more slices. 

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Celebrating William Shakespeare's First Folio: Photo Essay #SOL

The First Folio on exhibit at BSU.
This artifact has been rebound.

Last spring my colleague Debbie Greco and I made a reservation with Boise State University to take our students to the traveling First Folio exhibit, sponsored by the Folger Shakespeare Library and the American Library Association as part of their year-long celebration of the 400th anniversary of the First Folio's publication.

We each chaperoned a bus of students on the trip and allowed some nerdy colleagues and an administrator to tag along on the trip a few weeks ago.

Along the day-long journey a few weeks ago, I snapped some photos of students as they

  • traveled on the bus,
  • toured the main exhibit,
  • participated in a performance activity featuring a cutting from Hamlet, and
  • learned about the printing process in Elizabethan England. 
On the bus, anticipating the adventure. 

An introduction to the First Folio, shown in the case.
Meeting the Cardboard Bard. This guy gets around.
I've seen him at NCTE Annual Convention in the exhibit hall. 

Kaden and Logan commiserate over a facsimile of the First Folio.

Supplementing the First Folio exhibit with other rare texts.

Performing a scene from Hamlet: Shakespeare on the Lawn!

Attendees at the NCTE Annual Convention in Atlanta will have the opportunity to tour the First Folio visiting Emory University and can reserve a spot on the NCTE website.

Shakespeare through the years. Part of the main exhibit. 
The day after we returned from our folio field trip, we had an opportunity to debrief. During our discussion students asked: "Can we read Hamlet?" By way of assessing the success of a lesson, a request to read Shakespeare doesn't get any better! 

Each Tuesday the team at Two Writing Teachers sponsors the Slice of Life
Story Challenge. I'm grateful to these ladies for their unwavering commitment to
the power of narrative. Thank you. Head over to TWT for more slices. 

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

House Call #SOL16

Thank you, Two Writing Teachers, for
sponsoring the Slice of Life Story Challenge
every Tuesday. Find more slices on the TWT blog.
Last night, shortly before 8:00 p.m. and fifteen minutes after I arrived home from work, my doorbell rang. Normally such unannounced visitors signal a solicitation from a neighborhood boy scout or student athlete raising money for team jerseys or equipment.

Imagine my surprise when I saw my GYN through the sidelight, especially since I'd already changed into my loungewear, baggy pants with a book and eyeglasses motif.

The doctor who makes house calls harkens to a bygone era before managed care and other artifacts of modern medicine. And even though Dr. Michael Jones lives in my neighborhood, even though his daughter Jocelyn is one of my exceptional former students, even though Dr. Jones and I have had many informal conversations, I never expected him to visit my home in a professional capacity. Yet there he stood in blue scrubs, having taken a slight detour before going home after delivering four babies during the day.

Only recently did I begin receiving treatment from Dr. Jones, and I've only been in his office one time. During that initial meeting we discussed the results of an ultrasound and biopsy I had a few weeks ago, necessary tests for a problem that manifested itself shortly before school started and that my primary care physician recommended.

Last week I had a second ultrasound. It's the results from this latest procedure Dr. Jones came to my home to discuss.

Tomorrow I will have a more through type of biopsy and exam that will give Dr. Jones a look into my inner being to see why I have a fat womb that now more closely resembles an amoeba than a uterus. These, of course, are my characterizations. Sadly, Dr. Jones said I can't blame my fat butt on my fat uterus as there is no causal relationship between the two.

I'd be lying if I said I'm not a little afraid that I won't "pass" my test tomorrow. I've never been as proficient in biology as I am in English and speech, and I don't have any way to cram for this test. I'll have to "wing it," as we say in teaching.

Last night I awoke at 2:00 a.m. and thought about life and losing life. I've always been keenly aware of the temporality of life since my father died at 39. Last spring I read Paul Kalanithi's haunting memoir When Breath Becomes Air. Sometimes books find us and speak to us when we need them most. I've wondered if Kalanithi's story is such a book, but I don't know yet.

Both during my office visit with Dr. Jones and his house call, we talked about life and the value of doing all we can in our time to make a contribution to the moment. We shared our mutual belief that the brief lives we live require us to do our best to make meaningful choices.

We live in a moment but "human knowledge is never contained in one person. It grows from the relationships we create between each other and the world, and still it is never complete," Kalanithi reminds us.

Regardless of what tomorrow brings, I'll face my own mortality again. For now all I can do is remember "the physician's duty is not to stave off death or return the patients to their old lives, but to...work until they can stand back up and face, and make sense of, their own existence" (Kalanithi). This moment allows me to recalibrate and reflect.

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Susan Glaspell's "Trifles" from the Trump View of Women View of Women #SOL16

"Come up to the fire, ladies."

The opening line in Susan Glaspell's 1916 one-act play Trifles offers a window into the current election cycle. 

My AP Lit and Comp students examined Trifles in a lively discussion on the day Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton faced off in the first presidential debate. I contemplated my students' observations about the murder of John Wright and our discussion about whether or not Mrs. Wright had reason to kill her husband. 

Together, we looked at the textual evidence supporting a justifiable homicide as well as passages that gave us pause about the murder. 

  • Did Mrs. Wright fear for her life after discovering her husband had killed her canary? 
  • Was Mr. Wright both physically as well as emotionally abusive to his wife? 
  • Why did Mrs. Hale and Mrs. Peters withhold information about Mrs. Wright's quilting from their husbands? 
  • What clues does Glaspell reveal through both stage directions and dialogue? 
Together we examined evidence so that we could unravel the mystery of what drove Mrs. Wright to kill her husband as he lay in their bed with her sleeping on the inside. 

I asked students if they know the significance of a canary in the mining industry. I shared with them the legal concept of imminent danger and how we see this working in the defense of police officers who shoot and kill unarmed African American men. 

Monday morning I had read an article in The Atlantic titled "Donal Trump's Cruel Streak" that resonated with me both in the context of Trifles as well as in concert with Trump's claim that he has the best temperament, an assertion he reiterated during the debate. Prior to offering a menagerie of Trump's cruel acts and comments and inviting us to "judge for yourself" the cruelty of Donald Trump, Condor Friedersdorf announces his thesis: 

Donald J. Trump has a cruel streak. He willfully causes pain and distress to others. And he repeats this public behavior so frequently that it’s fair to call it a character trait. Any single example would be off-putting but forgivable. Being shown many examples across many years should make any decent person recoil in disgust.

I wondered how Mr. John Wright would describe himself were he to have that opportunity. At one point in Trifles, Hale characterizes Mr. Wright as a man who wants only peace and quiet. In contrast, at first the audience is led to think Mrs. Wright fails as a wife given the unkempt state of her home. 

Many have written about Donald Trump's tone deafness to women's issues. In this sense, he's like Mr. Wright about whom Hale remarks: "I didn't know as what his wife wanted made much difference to John." Images of cold underpin this observation throughout the play.

Similarly, Hillary Clinton's powerful political ad "Mirrors" captures that paradigm, that tone of cruelty evident in Trump's treatment of women: 

This election Donald Trump invites us to "come up to the fire." But as Mrs. Peters and Mrs. Hale reject the idea of incriminating Mrs. Wright by offering evidence that she had reason to murder her cruel husband, as a demographic group college-educated women have denounced Trump's offer to warm ourselves by his dangerous, misogynistic rhetoric. 

We see through the window from which Trump views us. And through that window, we look into a mirror reflecting our future in a Trump presidency and know many of his supporters don't understand our "getting all stirred up over a little thing like a--dead canary."

Thank you to the team at Two Writing Teachers for their faithful commitment to
teachers and students. Head over to TWT for more slices. 

*The ideas expressed in this blog reflect only my thoughts, my beliefs and are in no way offered as representative of my employer or any other entity. 

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Bonding with AP Lit and Comp Students with "A Child of Books" by Oliver Jeffers and Sam Winston: #SOL16 #APlitchat #engchat

I am a child of books.

I come from a world of stories...

Thus begins Oliver Jeffers's and Sam Winston's remarkable picture book A CHILD OF BOOKS (Candlewick Press, 2016).

After several days working with students to articulate "Great Questions" in the short stories we've been reading, and after struggling to move students to a deeper understanding of how to discover these universal questions and phrase them as themes, I decided to turn to picture books for inspiration. 

We began by reading A CHILD OF BOOKS, which had arrived at my home the day before the lesson. 

As I read and showed students the pictures accompanying each page, their reaction to the book overwhelmed me. Each student sat transfixed, exclaiming how beautiful the book is and how much they love the words and images, which, for those who have not read the book, Winston drew with words. 

Still, the students could not quite settle on a GREAT QUESTION or theme. I decided to show them the book trailer, which I've included below. In it the authors state the main theme of their story. 

Books let us explore unknown places and ignite the imagination. 

This theme is one I start the year with as it articulates my love of literature so succinctly. We explore texts that draw our attention to the act of writing and telling, including poetry, short stories, novels, and plays. By looking closely it's easy to notice the myriad ways writers mention writing in their works. It's as though they honor stories this way. 

Students moved into triads and selected a picture book to read together and to practice raising questions about. They then worked to state the stories' themes, and we took turns 

1. Briefly describing the plot in 2-3 sentences,
2. Raising a GREAT QUESTION the story brings to our attention,
3. Stating a them for the story. 

We still had some themes that work more as morals and lessons, but all groups moved toward a deeper understanding of how we discover ideas in complicated literary texts. 

And it's the stories that students tell about stories as they relate to their own lives that resonate most with me. 

This Monday, the day I'm writing this Slice of Life, I received an email from a student who graduated last year and who was in my AP Lit and Comp class. 

Hey Mrs. Funk!

This is  ______  ______, I just wanted to let you know that I went in for a really good job interview this last Friday and thanks to you I was able to talk about Life of Pi with my Interviewer and talk all about all the metaphors and symbolism and it just may have gotten me a job! I just wanted to thank you for pushing me through some hard literature, that helped me grow as a person.


That's the kind of story that fills my story-telling mind with pride and wonder. And it's a pretty good way to spend a Monday! 

Happy story-telling and making week to you. May you always be "a child of books" and know the joy of reading stories, which as Oliver Jeffers and Sam Winston remind us are places 

where anyone at all can come
for imagination is FREE.

You'll find more stories each Tuesday in the Slice of Life Story Challenge.
Head over to Two Writing Teachers for your "Once upon a time" moment.
Thank you TWT for your commitment to stories and teaching. 

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Two Kinds #SOL16

Join other slicers each Tuesday for the Slice of Life story challenge sponsored by the team at Two Writing Teachers. Thank you, ladies, for your hard work and commitment to authentic PD and writing opportunities. 
As I prepared a discussion on Amy Tan's "Two Kinds" from THE JOY LUCK CLUB, I thought about teaching and the kind of teacher I am, the kind of teacher I have been, and the kind of teacher I want to be. 

In Tan's story a Chinese mother embraces the idea of the American Dream and its promise that we can all grow up to be a Yankee without pause or question

After rejecting the idea her daughter could grow up to be a prodigy, a Chinese Shirley Temple, a restaurateur, etc., she settles on her daughter becoming a piano virtuoso and hires a deaf, visually impaired instructor to teach the child, our narrator.

Only when she must play at a recital does the reality of the girl's playing become apparent to all but the teacher, Mr. Chong. 

The idea of reducing teaching to a binary by asking which kind of teacher someone is the way the mother in TWO KINDS does with daughters, seems a bit reductive. 

"Only two kinds of daughters," she shouted in Chinese. 'Those who are obedient and those who follow their own mind! Only one kind of daughter can live in this house. Obedient daughter!"

Can there only be two kinds of teachers? 

Throughout my career I've said that I want to be the kind of teacher I want for my own children. That has always framed my idea of the right kind of teacher. 

These days, indeed for many years now, I sense myself standing on one side of an invisible line that delineates one kind of teacher from the other. To illustrate, I think about the moment I was hired for my current job back in 1989. A VP at the time told my principal, "That's who you should hire if you want a winning debate team, but you need to know that she'll say what she thinks and do what she wants." 

I've spent my career fulfilling my former boss's prophecy. 

When a mandate seems illogical or unproductive or damaging to students, I look for ways to circumvent it. Nothing testifies to this as much as my rejection of test prep and canned curriculum. Yet in teaching AP Lit and Comp I must deal with a standardized test that I've come to consider vastly different from the state mandated bubbles and the accompanying materials that take the joy out of teaching and learning. 

The beginning of a new school year offers a clean slate, an opportunity to define and redefine our professional persona both in our classrooms and online. It's a time for taking stock of past mistakes, those moments that cacophony has replaced harmony in our lesson plans and units. To do that I can't be tone deaf to the contexts in which I teach. 

Today I thought about ways the political context has changed from that of last spring as my speech students learned about the nature of factual information. Although I've taught speech for many years, I realized I need to include a section of fact-checkers as it relates to political discourse. To omit this would mean I'm tone-deaf to at least one context in which I work and learn. 

As does the narrator in TWO KINDS, I'm looking back and thinking about the kinds of teacher I've been. I'm dusting off some unpolished lessons and tuning them up for a new audience, a new group of kids. I'm looking for the companion pieces that round out and complete the courses I teach. At times my students will play to "Pleading Child" repertoire and I'll try to match that with "Perfectly Contended" and we clank the keys through another school year. 

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Wacky Wednesday: Engaging Students with Poetry Line Skits #SOL16 #APLit

I may have presented a lesson to my AP Lit and Comp students on the third day of school that I'll have difficulty topping the next eight months, three weeks of school.

After seeing a tweet about Wacky Wednesday and reading a few suggestions about how to capitalize on Wacky Wednesday, and after perusing Pinterest for ideas, I used an adaptation of line-tossing to hook my AP Lit and Comp students into poetry.

We had more fun than I thought possible during the lesson, and I even heard one student tell another: "I love this class." Others asked, "Can we do this every Wednesday?" I told those students that the idea for Wacky Wednesday is to do something unique, something we normally would not do. Otherwise the wacky thing would become the normal thing.

Without further adieu, here's what I did:

First I selected poems for the activity. I like to start w/ metafictional poetry in AP Lit and Comp, so I picked poems that referenced reading and writing. Most of the poems came from our textbook: Literature and Composition, authored by Carol Jago, et al. and published by Bedford St. Martins. I selected a couple of poems from the Perrine's Literature book.

Next, I put the poems into a handout for students to annotate easily; since we have the books available to students, I see this as fair use. I then selected the lines I wanted to use for the activity. Here's a link to the document with the lines.

Next, I cut the lines and mounted them onto note cards that I distributed to students as they entered the room.

After taking attendance, I asked the students to mill around the room, sharing their lines with one another. Then I had the students write about the line for two minutes in a "quick" or "flash" write format. We repeated this step.

For the third line sharing, I instructed students to present the lines in the wackiest way possible. After all, we were experiencing Wacky Wednesday. Student wrote again.

By this time, students had worked with three lines.

Next, students paired up and created skits. Some used all their lines; others used only two. I gave students five minutes to prepare the skits and invited them to use props and costuming I have available. Most importantly, I told students to have fun and not worry about how the lines fit into the poems.

The skits were hilarious! Two students served as our directors, counting down to the performance: "Three, two, one, and action." The word action was accompanied by the smacking of a director's paddle, another toy I have in my room. Our directors stood on desks and waved pom poms attached to red pens.

As each group finished, the performers called, "scene." The class clapped in unison with our school's signature three claps.

When all groups had presented, we processed the activity with a discussion about what we noticed, what we learned, and what we liked about the experience. I then passed out the handout with the poems we would be studying, the ones from which I gleaned the lines we played with.

As a finale the students chose partners with whom to work on one of the poems, and together the pairs selected a poem.

As a follow-up, each pair has been leading the class in a discussion of a poem. This we do through a "think aloud" in which we project a poem on the white board and the students assigned it walk the class through it, giving their ideas about the poem. We eventually open the discussion up to the entire class for observation and comment.

At this juncture in the class, I don't worry about the formal considerations about poetry. Things like meter, form, symbolism, figurative language, sound devices, tone, etc. grow organically during these informal discussions and allow for a natural way of discussion a poem.

Now I'm working on a syntax Wacky Wednesday activity, but I worry I'll have a hard time topping our first foray into the Wacky Wednesday World!

The poems I used:

“Learning to Read” by Franz Wright
“Metaphors” by Sylvia Plath
“There is no Frigate like a Book” by Emily Dickinson
“A Study of Reading Habits” by Philip Larkin
The Writer by Richard Wilbur
“One Art” by Elizabeth Bishop
“The Author to Her Book” by Anne Bradstreet
“Shawl” by Albert Goldbarth

Two others I began the year with are "Introduction to Poetry" by Billie Collins and "Tell All the Truth, but Tell It Slant" by Emily Dickinson. Both poems fit the metafiction emphasis.

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