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by Renee Shea

 

Organizational psychologist Adam Grant advises to “argue like you’re right, but listen like you’re wrong.” And he’s not advising our budding rhetoricians in AP® Lang but high powered leaders of business, industry, and government. His message is the same, though: listen to multiple perspectives and listen to learn, even when it’s not what you expect or want to hear.

 

A Grant google will yield multiple books, podcasts, Ted Talks, and publications you’d expect from a professor at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School of Business, but I met him when I watched a Brief But Spectacular segment on PBS. He’s just there on the screen in a gray t-shirt telling his story, yet it’s a terrific little story that demonstrates in its own way the ethos, pathos, and logos introduction in the opening chapter of TLC3e. The bonus is that it strikes the right chord for all of AP® Lang when it comes to paying attention, thinking straight, and listening actively.

 

He starts out by citing a study that shows “that highly creative adults grew up in families where their parents argued in front of their children.” Counterintuitive? You bet. But the research leads to the conclusion that if you never hear your parents argue, you think there’s only one right answer; seeing them argue helps you see multiple perspectives.  The caveat: all depends upon “how constructively they argue.”

 

So, he says: “argue like you’re right, but listen like you’re wrong” – and you might become better at hearing criticism in the bargain. At this point, he’s using logic, logos, and bringing reason into his story.

 

He continues adding some pathos by telling stories about Facebook’s COO Sheryl Sandberg, who, he says is “obsessed with feedback.” (Full disclosure: she’s his coauthor on a recent book.) Anyway, he describes some of her strategies for eliciting feedback, and it’ll be the rare one of us or our students who doesn’t hear some resonance in Sandburg’s behavior.

 

I like Grant best, though, for the ethos. He introduces the research at the outset by referring to his own experience as a dad, so already we have some shared values. The last story, though, is a clincher. He recalls leading a motivation seminar when he was 26 for generals and colonels in the Air Force. By his own admission, it was disastrous. One of the feedback forms declared, “I gained nothing from the session, but I trust the instructor gained useful insight.” Ouch! Most of us have been there, maybe not in the military but with our colleagues or classes. Grant returned the next day – and changed his approach after having “listened” to those feedback forms. Take a listen to how he did it and what he learned by “admitting [his] limitations.”

 

Explicitly, it’s a Brief But Spectacular lesson in giving and receiving feedback; implicitly, it’s a study in that triumvirate of rhetorical appeals. And it’s only four minutes long. Who knows? It might inspire your students to do their own Brief But Spectacular episodes.

 

Links:

Grant bio:  https://mgmt.wharton.upenn.edu/profile/grantad/

PBS Brief but Spectacular:  https://www.pbs.org/newshour/show/how-to-give-feedback-so-people-hear-youre-trying-to-help

Sometimes it seems that the only bright spot in March is March Madness, the NCAA men’s basketball tournament that runs for about three weeks, but begins with compelling pre-tournament tournaments. Equal parts bonding and competition, March Madness brings esprit de corps to school and the workplace and even those of us who follow college sports hardly at all join in by filling out brackets and watching the results, if not all the games, avidly.

 

It might not be the best time to think about the question of whether college athletes should be paid—we’re having too much fun—but if you’re looking for an opportunity to practice synthesizing sources, consider assigning an essay in which students are asked to examine the question of whether college athletes should be paid using the sources in the Conversation section of the Sports chapter in The Language of Composition (TLC) 2e or 3e. We have a good suggestion here for how to prepare for that essay and how to engage your students in the sources. This activity will help them understand, appreciate, and use the various arguments in their essay, even if they don’t agree with them.

 

We suggest a Roundtable Discussion in which small groups of students take on the voice of the writer of a piece to which they’ve been assigned.

 

Here’s the procedure:

 

1. There are 8 selections in TLC 3e and 7 in TLC 2e — each one commenting directly or indirectly on the issue of whether college athletes should be paid — so create groups and assign each group a selection. Give the students time to read and discuss their source.

 

2. Ask them to be sure they know where the writer stands on the issue of paying college athletes but also to get a sense of the speaker and audience. They will be taking on that speaker’s voice and may have to reconsider audience as they respond to questions.

 

3. Provide the prompt:

Although the big question here is whether college athletes should be paid, we’ve found it more productive to refine and focus the question, so that it’s more like a writing prompt (which could then be used in a writing assignment). President Obama spoke recently about college basketball and the NCAA, so here’s a writing prompt that could be interesting—and timely—for your students to focus on:

In a talk at the MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference in Boston in February 2018, President Obama said, “Everyone acts shocked that some kid from extraordinarily poor circumstances who’s got potentially 5 or 10 or 15 million dollars waiting for him is going to be circled by everybody, in a context in which people are making billions of dollars. . . If you’re Bryce Harper or Aaron Judge, then you make that leap [to the professional level]. Even if you’re not ready for the big leagues immediately, at least it’s clear that this is going to be your profession. You start getting paid, the professional organization is on the hook, there’s clarity. If you’re not Bryce Harper or Aaron Judge, then you go to college, but you’re signing up for a certain amount of time.”

Write an essay in which you consider the pros and cons of President Obama’s suggestion that basketball should have a farm system much like baseball does. That way, everyone not ready to go professional would go to college and get an education. The NCAA should not be the farm system.

 

4. Give the students time to discuss in their small groups how the writer of their selection would respond to the question of making basketball more like baseball by replacing the NCAA with a farm system. They will prepare their speaking points for their turn at the Roundtable.

 

5. Sitting around a table, if possible, a spokesperson from each group shares his or her response to the question in the voice and philosophy of the writer, considering audience in the form of the other writers. After each group has shared, the other groups can ask clarifying questions.

 

Challenges and tips:

  • Since this is a subject that may be dear to the hearts of your students, taking the voice of a writer with whom they disagree can be very challenging. It’s important to remind them of the importance of understanding—and using in their writing—the counter-argument.
  • You may want to try this in a Fishbowl setup, with the speakers in the center and note-takers and observers around the perimeter. The students on the outer perimeter can also provide textual support for the speakers in the center.
  • Try to keep the discussion focused on the prompt, but be sure that the speakers are using information, ideas, and arguments from the text to which they’ve been assigned. This can be a tricky balance, but it will help students learn to use sources to both bolster their own arguments and refute the arguments of others in speaking or writing situations.

 

 

We’d love to hear if you use this in your class. Don’t hesitate to comment or get in touch.

 

Best,

Robin D. Aufses

Co-Author of The Language of Composition

Tiffani Tang

NCTE 2017 Recap

Posted by Tiffani Tang Dec 4, 2017


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It’s been about a month since we saw you at the annual National Council of Teachers of English conference in St. Louis, Missouri, and we’re already counting the days until NCTE 2018!

 

In the meantime, check out some of this years NCTE highlights!

 

 

BFW kicked off NCTE by sponsoring the Secondary Session Get-Together. The session briefly workshopped how to discuss difficult topics in the classroom and then broke off for the main speaker. Lois Lowry was scheduled to speak, but there was a last minute change and Laurie Halse Anderson stepped in. She gave an amazing lecture on her best seller Speak and what the book means to students, how to talk about it, and why it’s important to discuss uncomfortable subjects with students.

 

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Over 200 teachers stopped by the BFW booth to check out our newest books! With our brand new 9th grade Pre-AP® English text Foundations of Language & Literature publishing early 2018 and a forthcoming updated third edition of The Language of Composition containing approximately 40% new content, we proudly revealed our complete Pre-AP® to AP® English program covering grades nine to twelve.

 

If you missed the chance to sample our ELA materials, feel free to reach out to your sales representative. We’re more than happy to help you advance your course!

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Did you get a chance to meet one of the BFW English authors? Authors, English extraordinaires, and AP® experts John Golden, Tracy Scholz, Larry Scanlon, and Megan Pankiewicz stopped by the booth throughout the conference and led helpful and engaging sessions on Friday, November 17. They talked about how to tackle the threat of fake news in the classroom and how to utilize appropriate sources. John and Tracy helped teachers use nonfiction to support the study of literary texts, and Larry analyzed some of his favorite poems in-depth with a hundred teachers. John also discussed how to utilize documentary film to teach contemporary social justice issues.

 

If you’re interested in the materials for the listed NCTE sessions, email hsmarketing@bfwpub.com and let us know which session materials you’d like to receive.

 

Session TitleDescriptionLeaders
Strategies for Teaching the Real Threat of Fake NewsParticipants received ideas for teaching students to understand the concept of fake news. We analyzed texts to determine “red flags,” supply writing prompts to generate discussion, and share materials and resources for discussing the role of the 4th estate and social media in American politics.

John Golden

Megan Pankiewicz

Larry Scanlon

The Fiction of Real Life: Using Nonfiction to Support the Study of Literary TextsToo often in the secondary English classroom, we segregate our text types into separate units or we focus on a single work, missing out on opportunities for discovery across modes. This session presented a model unit that uses multiple text types to sustain student engagement.

John Golden

Tracy Scholz

The Joy of Poetry: From Creativity to AnalysisThis session brought joy to the teaching of poetry. It’s for English teachers who wish they taught more poetry, for those who admit they don’t teach it, and for those who teach it and love it and are ready for some new ideas.Larry Scanlon
Reading the World Around Us: Using Documentary Film to Teach Contemporary Social Justice Issues

In this interactive session, we explored ways to teach the critical viewing skills students should employ when looking at documentary film. Specifically, we saw how recent documentary films, such as 13th, Baltimore Rising, and True Believers, examined important issues like criminal justice reform, social protests, and our current political landscape.

John Golden

 

Not to mention, St. Louis had some fun places to visit. The Arch was within walking distance of America’s Convention Center, and there was a giant adult playground at the City Museum for those who are more adventurous! And don’t even get us started on how amazing the food is. Pappy’s Smokehouse, Landry’s Seafood, and Sugarfire are where it’s at!

 

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With all the fun we had meeting you in St. Louis, we can’t wait to see you at NCTE in Houston next year!

Until then, feel free to reach out about our books, teacher support, digital platforms, samples, or just to say ‘hi!’

 

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*AP® and Pre-AP® are trademarks registered and/or owned by the College Board, which was not involved in the production of, and does not endorse, this message.

Throughout the fall, we've encouraged you to use the rhetoric from the 2016 presidential election in your classroom. In our author event (watch it here: Balance, not Bias: Maintaining Civil Discourse in this Year's Election), we talk about ways to keep the discussions balanced, and how it is applicable to AP* Language students.

 

This article continues this discussion. What are the pros and cons of discussing politics with your students? How does not discussing politics affect your students' development as a well-informed member of society? What are some more ways to bring politics into the classroom without causing issues?

 

Read more here: https://www.fastcompany.com/3061993/most-creative-people/have-politics-become-so-ugly-that-educators-are-afraid-to-teach… , and tell us how you effectively teach politics in your classroom in the comments!

Today we're going to take a look at the syntax of our presidential candidates. Kenton Murray, a PhD student at Notre Dame University, analyzed all the presidential candidates speech patterns during the primary debates. He looked at their use of imperatives, indicative and conditional phrases. He also provides visuals for other parts of syntax: syllables, periodic sentences, and sentence types. Kenton provides graphs for each of his analyses. You can read the article here: A Computational Linguistic Analysis of the 2016 Presidential Candidates

 

You can use this with your students in a variety of ways:

  • Jigsaw -- split your students into 3 groups: syllables, periodic sentences, and sentence types. Ask them to analyze and share with their students
  • Writing -- assign your students to write a speech mimicking certain speech patterns, then ask them to read them in front of the class
  • Media -- find clips and transcripts online of the candidate's speeches that Kenton examines. Split your students into groups and assign one to analyze the syntax through listening to the audio, and the other to analyze through reading the transcript. What are the differences in their analysis?

 

If you've done this with your students, let us know in the comments below!

Curriculum Connection:  Japanese Internment, Reparations, and Otsuka’s When the Emperor Was Divine.

By David Hillis, Portland Public Schools

 

Rationale: In 2016, President Obama became the first sitting president to visit Hiroshima, the site of the first-ever atomic bombing. The visit was monumental in the context of US and Japanese relations, inspiring several books in Japan, including “The Day When President Obama visited Hiroshima,”  which details the United States evolving attitude toward nuclear weapons evidenced by Obama’s call for a world without nuclear war within this speech.   This speech has many different audiences and makes for a rich cite of discourse. Obama must diplomatically walk the line between a number of historical narratives.  He knows that many Americans will be incensed by an apology for an act that they feel saved more lives than it took, while many Japanese citizens will see nothing short of an apology as acceptable.  From the perspective of the Chinese Government, Japan was a perpetrator who brought this upon themselves.  An apology to Japan before Japan makes redress for World War II, could damage US and Chinese relations, especially considering Japans movements toward militarization.  The context of the speech is made even more complex by the bitter irony that the US has seen a slowing in nuclear disarmament under Obama, and Obama has announced plans to spend one trillion dollars on nuclear energy as well as the construction of small nuclear weapons over the next thirty years.  In short, this speech makes for a great opportunity for students to look at the implications of diplomatic language.

Goal: Students will work to understand how audiences respond differently to the same text based on historical and political context.

Academic Vocabulary: Framing, Staging, Atmosphere.

  1. Pre-reading:   Distribute copies of the transcript. Consider watching the speech with your students. Have them look at a still frame from early in the speech to talk about the staging of the speech and the framing of it.  Consider using “Image A.” Who is on Stage?  Why? Where are they? Do they notice the ruins in the background?  You may want to get familiar with the Hiroshima Peace Memorial.  Ask your students to describe how the staging of the speech and the framing of this historical moment develop our sense of the atmosphere. After you watch a few moments of the speech, you might ask them to comment on the sound and atmosphere as well.  
  2. Check for understanding (Level 1):  After vividly describing the bombing of Hiroshima, Obama poses and answers the question, “Why are we here?”  What are his answers?  Then point out that Obama asks “Why do we come to this place?” and while he provides some answers, they are not the only answers (Be sure to point out that this is a rhetorical strategy. Notice how Obama frames the discourse in a way that is safe for him).  Ask students, what may be some other reasons “Why we come to place” that he doesn’t give voice to?  See what your students come up with – to seek peace, to mourn the dead… If they don’t get there, explain that many people came to see this speech hoping for an apology. 
  3. Developing Background: Point out that Obama announced prior to the trip that he would not be offering an apology.  Some students may not understand the complexity of an apology from a head of state.  See if anyone in the class can explain why the President would not apologize?  What would an apology mean?  Do a quick temperature check to see if they feel an apology is appropriate.
  4. Close Reading: After you establish the central tension of conflicting historical perspectives on the event, namely, an American perspective that the bomb saved more lives than it cost and was a necessary response to Japanese aggression, and the Japanese perspective that this was an inexcusable atrocity, an act of evil.  You can ask students, if Obama isn’t offering an apology , then what is he doing?  As you read and/or listen to the rest of the speech, ask your students to mark language that seems especially defensive of American policy and language that is sympathetic or apologetic.  They should also track points of curiosity and confusion with question marks in the margin.
  5. Reading / Viewing: Chunk the text in portions suitable to your classroom and pause to first address any of those points of confusion and curiosity and then to hear the language and arguments that they found either defensive or apologetic. Help them go deeper into these moments. If you’ve taught them the three appeals, ask them to identify the appeals being used in each of these circumstances. For the first chunk, do this as a whole class.  For the second chunk, do this is pairs or small groups.  After the first chunk, as a class see if you can outline the purpose of this speech.  As a class you could try to bring it to a sentence.  This sentence can be revised after subsequent chunks.   You may also do this as a list.
  6. Check for understanding: What does Obama call “Humanity’s Core Contradictions.”  Do you agree with the way he framed human nature?
  7. Extension: If you want to present the conflicting historical narratives detailed in the rationale of the lesson, you might ask students to keep track of where Obama is making statements that diplomatically address one group or another.  Afterwards, you can give students the task of finding an article that analyzes the speech. How was it received in Japan? China?  America?  Look for both positive and negative responses.  In this search, students should identify the evaluation given by the analyst, what details they seized upon in Obama’s speech, and the historical, cultural, or political perspective that the analyst represents.

Materials Needed:

Connections to Advanced Language and Literature:

  • If you are reading When the Emperor Was Divine, you could use this lesson in conjunction with TOPICS FOR COMPOSING: Research / Argument at the end of that section.  There, students are given a research task to think about Ronald Reagan’s formal apology to victims of Japanese internment and legislation that paid reparations to survivors.  If so, add to this lesson a deeper conversation about why Obama does not offer an apology here.   Students should compare and contrast the moral implications of internment and bombing.  Our nation has officially decided one deserves an apology and the other doesn’t. Why?  Is it citizenship that changes the attitude of the US towards the atrocities? Something else?  Do they agree or disagree with the stance the government has taken.  Encourage them to use their experience with Otsuka’s text to explain their position.
  • This text also makes an excellent companion to Truman’s statement following the bombing. Use this text after completing the lesson on Truman’s speech.  Then complete the lesson outlined above.  After both texts have been carefully studied on their own and within their original context, students should be prepared to compare and contrast subtleties of style and tone.  List the important shifts in attitude (tone) and perspective.  How do your students account for the change in perspective?   This may also be a good companion for the Otsuka unit.

     

IMAGE A: Taken from http://www.nytimes.com/2016/05/28/world/asia/text-of-president-obamas-speech-in-hiroshima-japan.html

This week was the first presidential debate; it was schedule 46 years and 1 day after the first televised debate -- the now-famous one between Nixon and Kennedy.

 

You can download a Debate Scorecard to use with your students here if you'd like to give them a rhetoric assignment for the next presidential debate. Or, you can use the Debate Scorecard to look back at time to that first televised debate. Find a video of the debate on YouTube here, and then tell your students to analyze the candidates. Here are 3 ways to use this video with your students:

 

  1. Split your students into 2 groups. Ask one group to watch the debate with no sound, ask the second to listen to the audio only while they complete their scorecard. Compare their answers and discuss.
  2. Split your students into pairs. Ask one to focus on Nixon, and the other to focus on Kennedy. What are the differences in their scorecard?
  3. Ask your students to watch the debate, and write a quick reflection it; then ask them to read this article from the National Constitution Center on how it changed history. Tell them to continue their reflection after knowing more on the history of the debate.

 

Did you use the debate scorecard with your students? Let us know how it worked in the comments!


In honor of Banned Books Week 2016, we continue our examination of banning books. Yesterday, we looked at the Banned Books Week 2016: The Most Frequently Challenged Books. Today, we take a look at the history of Banned Books.

 

A quick search of "the history of banned books" brings up tons of resources -- but which are best to use?

 

PBS provides activities and lessons to use with students in high school. One even includes a letter about censorship of a piece in an AP* English course. You can check them out here: The history of book banning in America – Lesson Plan | Lesson Plan | PBS NewsHour Extra

 

 

The Huffington Post provides a short list of significant moments in the history of banned books -- have you read any of these titles? 6 Historical High Points For Book Banning | Huffington Post

 

 

This infographic from Electric Literature provides a timeline of banned books, and gives the reasons why: https://electricliterature.com/infographic-banned-books-through-history-993ff0e65f2f#.zctrts5ew

September 25 through October is the annual ALA Banned Books Week. To celebrate, we'll be doing a post every day this week on banned books. Below is a list from the American Library Association of the top Banned & Challenged Classics. What books have you used in your classroom? Let us know in the comments!

 

  1. The Great Gatsby, by F. Scott Fitzgerald
  2. The Cather in the Rye, by J. D. Salinger
  3. The Grapes of Wrath, by John Steinbeck
  4. To Kill a Mockingbird, by Harper Lee
  5. The Color Purple, by Alice Walker
  6. Ulysses, by James Joyce
  7. Beloved, by Toni Morrison
  8. The Lord of the Flies, by William Golding
  9. 1984, by George Orwell
  10. Lolita, by Vladmir Nabokov

 

Check out the full list from the ALA here: Banned & Challenged Classics | Banned & Challenged Books

This article is a great jumping off point when talking about persona. A social media profile is the very personification of the concept of "persona." Tell your students to examine recent tweets from presidential candidates (maybe without showing which candidate has tweeted!) - what are the differences between the two persona's? Look at some celebrities, authors, and other common figures - what does each their social media say about their personality? Ask your students to think how characters in recent novels would portray themselves on their social media accounts. How does that persona differ from their personality?

 

ARTICLE: http://nyti.ms/2byeLqe

The New York Times

Bedford, Freeman, & Worth author Renee Shea recently interviewed Ohio's first poet laureate, Amit Majmudar for World Literature Today. You can read Renee's interview here: http://www.worldliteraturetoday.org/blog/interviews/poet-radiologist-and-007-wannabe-conversation-amit-majmudar-ohios-first-poet

 

Nathan Odell

Jamaica Kincaid's Antigua

Posted by Nathan Odell Aug 29, 2016

CLASSROOM COMPASS LESSON PLAN

Curriculum Connection: CHAPTER 10 UTOPIA / DYSTOPIA - Central Text A Small Place by Jamaica Kincaid

By David Hillis, Portland Public Schools

 

 

Essential Questions:

● What can lead a utopia to become a dystopia?

● How do you travel ethically?

 

Rationale:  After reading the excerpt from A Small Place, the central text for Chapter ten.  Invite your students into a story of travel to Antigua that attempts to show how to visit the island without being an “ugly,” unethical tourist. It is an opportunity to practice principles of postcolonial literary theory as well as explore of style and diction shape meaning.

 

Learning Activity #1: Monica Drake, “Jamaica Kincaid’s Antigua”

  1. Identify the source of the article: New York Times Travel.  Written by the travel editor, Monica Drake. 
  2. Activate prior understanding: What are the purposes of articles in the travel section?  Who is the audience of the travel section of the New York Times? Answers: It is written for potential tourists around the world. They may also point out that it is written for travelers, explorers, and travel enthusiast.  Ask your students to disambiguate these terms.  Are some of these travel identities superior to others? Do some of them THINK they are superior to tourists?  Are they? Discuss.
  3. Read the first paragraph of “Jamaica Kincaid’s Antigua” where Drake quotes Kincaid, “An ugly thing, that is what you are when you become a tourist…”  Hopefully your students notice the irony that this is in the travel section. Certainly, after reading the excerpt from A Small Place, many will.  For those who don’t, is it odd to read a travel article about Antigua after reading our central text? Ask students to explain why.  Then ask: what is the writer doing here? Does the title of the piece help us understand the writer’s intention?  Throughout the article the writer will make many intertextual gestures to the work of Kincaid.  Some of these come in the form of allusions.  Others will come out through the emulation of writing strategies found in Kincaid’s work. Work with the students to identify the various ways Drake calls to mind our reading of Kincaid’s text. 
  4. Close Reading Activity: Ask students to read for ways that the writer successful visits Antigua without becoming the ugly thing that Kincaid has warmed us about.  As they read, they should mark those places in the margins with a brief summary of what they writer is doing.   For example, paragraph five begins with “I explored Antigua.”  How is that different from visiting? Touring?  What is the writer implying?
  5. Close Reading Activity: Close read paragraphs 8 - 10 for language that alerts us to the atmosphere and setting.  What do these details convey about the land and its people.  Note the contrasting images of decay and abundance. What is implied?
  6. Returning to the essential question of “What can lead a utopia into becoming a dystopia?” consider asking students to evaluate the impact of the next “round of change” coming for the island.  How are these investment ventures similar to or different from the colonization of the island?  Can students point to any phrases that help them understand how Drake feels about the next round of change? This is a great opportunity to point out connections between this text and Kincaid’s text.  Example: Note the satirical intent of the line, “To get there, skip the road and land your private jet…”  How would we read that line differently if we had a private jet? 
  7. Broader discussion: how does present the people of Antigua?  How is that different from the way the tourist in “A Small Place” sees them?
  8. Analysis of Style: As the article concludes, the writer shifts to the second person voice.  Read the section again and discuss the impact of this choice.  They should immediately notice how this is similar to Kincaid’s piece. Yet, different.  Ask your students to evaluate the claim Drake makes, “You laugh when the emcee peppers her monologue with words like “stush” for “stuck-up” and when someone onstage apes a tourist, because that’s not you.”  Is she a tourist? If not, what does this article say about ethical travel? How does one travel ethically? This is a good time to check in with the close reading task you gave them at step 4.  Make a list of the things she does differently than the tourists that Kincaid blasts.
  9. A final point of review may be to recap the various connections you found in style to Kincaid’s piece.  Where does she quote Kincaid? Where does she make allusions to language, style, characters, or ideas in Kincaid’s A Small Place?  Where does she emulate Kincaid’s style?

 

Materials Needed:

● Shea, Golden, Balla, Advanced Language & Literature

● Monica Drake, “Jamaica Kincaid’s Antigua”

 

Other Connections to Advanced Language & Literature: This text could be used as part of the conversation on the Pursuit of Happiness. Many feel luxury and travel are part of the pursuit of happiness.  At the conclusion of this essay, the writer seems very happy to not be among the tourists on the beaches or at a luxurious resort.  What then is implied about ethical and joyful travel?  This could shape an entirely different approach to this essay that looks more closely at family and history. 

This post was originally published on the HS Bits Blog, which was active from 2008-2013.

 

Many of us got into teaching English because we love literature.

 

I'm sure if you polled  high school English teachers, the vast majority have literature degrees, read novels in their (limited) spare time, and can wax poetic about which authors and poets they most love teaching in their courses.

 

There are, of course, many English teachers who came to the job via some other profession, but a good chunk of them still identify as bookish types.

 

Which is why, I imagine, when an English teacher inherits an AP® Language course, he or she might experience some dismay at discovering that it's not a course that is meant to involve novels or poetry at all, but nonfiction instead: What do I know, after years of becoming an expert in the field of literary works, about nonfiction?

 

I wasn't ever much of a nonfiction reader myself. Memoirs and biographies? Eh. History and philosophy? Read 'em for school, but that was it.

 

But now I've found myself more interested than I used to be in nonfiction, in part because I've spent more time with it in the classroom, but also maybe because I find it interesting and relevant in my own life, whereas before I guess I just didn't see the point.

 

In the past year, I've found, with much more time on my hands, I've been more or less alternating between fiction and nonfiction reads. Faithfully recording my reading list on Facebook, I've tallied Three Cups of Tea, The Last Seven Months of Anne Frank, Going Solo, Ambivalence, and The Tipping Point alongside the thirteen fiction works I've finished since starting my sabbatical (gotta love the reading time a year off affords!). Before leaving on my trip, I'd read an Oliver Sacks, a couple of Michael Pollans, a Bill Bryson---hey, this nonfiction stuff is neat!

 

I just finished reading Daniel Pink's A Whole New Mind: Moving from the Information Age to the Conceptual Age, and it resonated with me for several reasons.

 

It's a bit rambly, so I hope you'll bear with me as I try to synthesize everything that's been tumbling through my mind since about half-way through the book.

 

It's OK to like nonfiction, lit-geeks!

 

Pink's argument is predicated on the concept of the two "halves" of the brain---left (analytical) and right (creative, empathetic)---working together to form "a whole new mind," one that is adapted to face the challenges of a world and job market where knowledge-based tasks are increasingly automated and no longer define the elite. Instead of relying solely on "left-brain-directed" skills like analyzing and calculating, those who wish to succeed will need to integrate those skills with "right-brain-directed" aptitudes, which Pink identifies as "Design, Story, Symphony, Empathy, Play, and Meaning."

 

Pink doesn't insist on those aptitudes taking over to the exclusion of the analytical ones, as some previous gurus have done. Becoming a "new-minded" person involves no longer suppressing those aptitudes, as we are so often encouraged to do to achieve success, but fostering them in conjunction with the left-brained ones.

 

So, what does this have to do with being an English teacher? Well, it occurred to me as I was reading, isn't literature kind of "right-brained"? I mean, so often we defend the importance of reading literature because it fosters empathy, creates a kind of symphony of words, provides meaning, and, yes, is all about story. Very right-brained. But we're supposed to integrate the two, right? So having some left-brained, analytical-thinking stuff thrown in there is good for my brain!

 

Well, that was a no-brainer (sorry).

 

Not really a revelation, after all. But it did get me thinking about other things.

 

Yes, Virginia, there is a Right Brain.

 

So teachers of English literature deal largely with material that's supposedly heavily right-brain-oriented, right?

Then why do so many of the assignments we give our students, especially in AP®, reflect solely left-brain-oriented skills?

 

Think about it: we teach students how to analyze literature. That's to say (simplifying greatly, yes) that we teach students to apply left-brain thinking to right-brained material. In some cases, almost exclusively. I remember a thread on the AP® English listserv in which a particular teacher excoriated others for even daring to think that anything that wasn't analytical work belonged in their classes. No photo-essays, dioramas, or PowerPoint slideshows based on novels. No tea parties in-role as literary characters. The only purpose of an English class, as he saw it, was to produce analytical thinkers, readers, and writers. And that meant analytical writing. Lots and lots of analytical writing.

 

I don't think anyone agrees that analysis and the production of analytical thinking are the only purposes of the literature itself. That's why lots of English teachers try to incorporate more "creative" techniques into their teaching and assignments.

 

But Pink's thesis suggests that such techniques shouldn't play second-fiddle to the analytical stuff, as it does even in classrooms where teachers develop creative means of instruction and evaluation. He suggests that really, there should be little distinction between work that comes out of left-brain, analytical thinking and right-brain thinking:

 

Not just function, but also design

Not just argument, but also story

Not just facts, but also symphony

Not just logic, but also empathy

Not just seriousness, but also play

Not just accumulation, but also meaning

 

We need to see that second set of aptitudes not as a subsidiary set, and not to be engaged only as a "trick" to get our students to do the hard work of analysis, but as valuable in and of themselves, working in concert with the first set to develop students who have this whole new mind, and who value the skills that will prevent them from becoming statistics in a world of offshore knowledge-based jobs.

 

Also, with the idea that both sets of skills are equally important, AP® Language teachers can start to think of teaching nonfiction as teaching students to see as much meaning in nonfiction works as they might in fiction ones. Thinking this way can also help the teachers get their own heads around reading material they might not have tackled before teaching the course. After all, what is rhetoric but the efforts to engage story, empathy, and meaning, often through skillful application of design, symphony, and sometimes a bit of play?

 

Free your mind, and the rest will follow.

 

I could go on at greater length (and maybe I'll come back to some of these ideas in another post), but by now I'm sure there are some of you who are saying, "That's a whole lot of theorizing. Where's the practical stuff?"

 

I can't answer (yet) any questions about how to evaluate non-essay assignments objectively; I'm still grappling with that myself.

 

But one of the handy things about Pink's book is that each chapter ends with a "Portoflio" of activities that are designed to develop each of the six "right-brain-directed" aptitudes, many of which are highly adaptable to classroom use. I read the hardcover edition; apparently the paperback version has even more.

 

Some examples:

DESIGN: Keep a design notebook. Pink recommends making a note each time you see a cool design or a bad one. Many teachers ask their students to keep notebooks of turns of phrase they happen across---in books, in TV shows, on the street---that have attracted their attention. You could start a wall of them in your classroom. Discuss them or have students add their observations to them using Post-it notes. Or collect them online as a discussion board or Twitter feed. In the SYMPHONY section, Pink also suggests keeping a metaphor log.

 

STORY: There are tons of useful suggestions in this section, from writing a mini-saga to enlisting in StoryCorps to attending a storytelling festival. All of them have obvious applications in a writing classroom. And in an AP® Language classroom, the stories need not be fictional---there is a lot of persuasion to be had in the telling of a good story. Teaching students to master anecdote will serve them extremely well in developing a voice.

 

SYMPHONY: Listen to the Great Symphonies. I took an "Art of Listening" class as an elective in university, and it was great. The guided listening helped me understand better what I was hearing, and why it worked. And it's perfectly analogous to understanding what works in writing, with the added bonus that for some students, music is more visceral than words. Ask students to bring in their own favorite pieces of music and perform a "guided listening" tour of them, explaining what to listen for and what it contributes to the work as a whole. There's that dreaded phrase from the AP® Lit Open Question! Might students understand it better if we give them an analogous activity?

 

EMPATHY: Play "Whose Life?" In this game, you take someone's bag or purse, remove anything with the person's name, and then look through all the items to reconstruct who the individual is from the clues offered by the contents. Obviously, this would be a good starter for a writing activity. But it can also be an exercise in understanding context, bias, and synthesis, if you discuss what is fact and what is speculation as you sort through the items, and how to put them all together to create the persona behind the stuff, thus engaging both sides of the brain at once!

 

PLAY: Play the Cartoon Captions Game. Pink suggests using de-captioned New Yorker cartoons for this game, but there are tons of great cartoon resources available online too. If you're trying to get your students to look more closely at visuals, this is an entertaining and challenging way to do it.

 

MEANING: Say thanks. This exercise involves writing a detailed letter of thanks to someone who has greatly influenced you and then reading it aloud to them. I can think of many permutations of this exercise, which makes good writing meaningful in a personal way to both the writer and audience. Meaningful assignments are where it's at, in a Pinkian "new-brained" world.

 

So what would you do in your practice to help students engage this "right-brain-directed" aptitudes along with those school is already so focused on developing?

 

As teachers, we're charged with preparing our students for their futures, and I think Daniel Pink does a good job of articulating what that future will look like and need. If you've got some time for some good non-fiction, I recommend checking out his book.

 

®AP is a trademark registered and/or owned by the College Board, which was not involved in the production of, and does not endorse, this product.

American Rhetoric

Posted by jodi.rice Apr 15, 2016

This post was originally published on the HS Bits Blog, which was active from 2008-2013.

 

If you haven't yet discovered AmericanRhetoric.com for use in your AP® Language class, you have been missing out.

 

Not only does this Web site include an exhaustive repository of speeches from American history—many of them in audio or audiovisual format—and supplemental indices of movie speeches and Christian rhetoric (including non-American examples), but it also has some thought-provoking definitions of rhetoric itself and an interactive quiz.

But perhaps the most useful feature available on this site is the "Rhetorical Figures in Sound" section, which not only defines terms but provides examples from speeches in history and film. This demonstration of these techniques in such a memorable way makes the site worth showing to your students.

 

Whenever I want the text—and in many cases, the accompanying video—of a major American speech, this is always the first place I go. Often even the most current speeches are posted within hours of their delivery, depending on their significance and/or copyright permissions. The morning after Barack Obama's victory, we were able to watch both Obama's victory speech and McCain's concession speech, following along in the transcript that appeared in tandem with with the video clips.

 

Obama's first address to Congress is not posted on the site, but there is a commentary about it at Time Magazine's Web site, focusing on its tone and modeling some of the language of rhetorical analysis expected from our students, extended to an analysis of what we see as well as what we hear/read:

 

He had just read a letter from a South Carolina schoolgirl, pleading for help with her dilapidated school. "We are not quitters," the girl had written. The President's eyes brightened as he repeated that phrase, and he seemed barely able to control his joy and confidence as he attacked his peroration: that even in the toughest times, "there is a generosity, a resilience, a decency and a determination that perseveres." This was the chord that had been missing in the first dour month of Obama's presidency — not so much optimism as confidence, the sense that he was not only steering the presidency, but loving the challenge of it.

 

(ETA: Obama's address is now available at the American Rhetoric site.)

 

Time Magazine also has its own compilation of the "Top 10 Greatest Speeches" (although the jump from #1 - Socrates to #2 - Patrick Henry is a bit of a leap; apparently nobody said anything worth including in the Top 10 in the intervening time) with brief introductory commentary.

 

(h/t to Rolf Gunnar for the Time Magazine article)

 

 

®AP is a trademark registered and/or owned by the College Board, which was not involved in the production of, and does not endorse, this product.

 

Be the Synthesis Question 2

Posted by jodi.rice Apr 15, 2016

This post was originally published on the HS Bits Blog, which was active from 2008-2013.

 

Earlier I outlined how I asked students to analyze the elements of the synthesis question: the information provided in the introductory instructions and the types of sources that are provided. The next step is to have students create their own synthesis question, designing their own task and finding the sources that provide a balance of perspectives for someone who would argue any given position. By creating their own synthesis question, students better understand what purpose the source materials serve and also how the question might be approached from different positions.

 

Students better understand the synthesis question if they realize that it is essentially just another form of argument question. So first, they should create an argument question. This is actually harder than it sounds. Many students struggle to create a question that is open, yet focused, and that invites arguments from different positions. They need to test run thesis statements that take different positions. They may have to do so after trying to find source material, since they may not be able to imagine what the other side would say until they see some examples.

 

John Brassil, a Language teacher and College Board consultant, outlines the process of putting together a synthesis question from the teacher's perspective in his article "Developing a Synthesis Question" in the Special Focus package Using Sources. In it, he says:

 

Writing a question and selecting sources is an organic activity. The question and the sources interact, and the entire task is subject to revision throughout the development process. As the whole task takes shape, the assignment and its introduction can evolve during the search for and work with the sources. Although the question appears on the task page and thus precedes the sources, it doesn’t necessarily come first in the making of a synthesis question. A good question can spring into being from one or two engaging sources just as a good question can spark a search for sources.

 

So, with their draft argument question in mind, they can now set up a "wish list" of sources, just as they did for the existing prompt. In doing so, they will need to go back and tweak their question, depending on what they find. Then they will have to go back and tweak their source selection, ensuring balance and a range of information.

 

Choosing sources involves evaluating each one, so I ask them to create a source annotation for each source too. Evaluating the source ensures that they are selecting items that don't simply provide the same information over and over, which is what I've found students tend to do when "researching"—they like to find sources that reinforce their existing ideas. Finding many sources that say the same thing and then using the same basic point from each isn't synthesis; instead, they need to find sources that say different things so that, as a writer, they would be able to bring them together to "talk" to one another in the essay.

 

Having generated a basic question, found a variety of sources and evaluated them, the students assemble all the parts using existing synthesis questions as templates. Ideally, I would have liked to have students test-run the questions and then critique their peers' success in creating a balanced, accessible, and interesting question, but this was the first time I tried this particular exercise, and I underestimated the amount of time they would need to run through the entire thing: We worked on this whole process for about 3 or 4 periods of 75 minutes, and students also researched their sources for homework. The collaborative effort of writing argument and synthesis prompts was the culminating activity in our study of 1984, and you can find my handout for the activity here. Each class did get to write one argument and one synthesis question that had been created by students in the other section, so it was good practice overall.

 

In generating a synthesis, if you want to start with some smaller steps, you can't ask for a better grouping of sources than the series often created by newspapers like the New York Times. Renee Shea points to this series on the life and role of the immigrant in today's America, complete with visuals like interactive maps and charts. The "Room For Debate" blog entries linked to the different sections in the series suggest possible topics, which students can use as starting points for wording of synthesis writing prompts. They also model the kind of civic discourse that we want students to appreciate through the process of understanding the synthesis essay.