Category Archives: English

Day Zero: Hamlet meets Cape Town?

I stumbled upon this video today and wondered how reading William Shakespeare’s Hamlet might connect to a very real calamity in Cape Town, South Africa, where, after a three-year drought, water levels are almost at zero.

Day Zero: how Cape Town stopped the taps running dry

I had a chance to work with some wonderful teachers a few days and I wondered out loud whether students need the teacher to play the role of the ‘bridger’: Image result for hamletthat is to say, the teacher needs to show students how any lesson bridges or connects to ‘real life’  — or anything for that matter.

So, with that in mind, I wondered how might we connect Hamlet to the water emergency in Cape Town?

(The reason, for this exercise, I have chosen Hamlet is that it is used widely, usually in senior grade levels, and I wanted to explore how a ‘core’ text such as Hamlet might be used to connect to other issues and topics.)

  • Problem-solving:
    • What makes for effective problem solving? What are the criteria to effective problem solving?
    • What do effective problem solvers do when faced with a very difficult problem?


Apollo 13: Work the Problem

    • How does a person have to think, behave, interact with others, speak in order to effectively solve a problem?
    • Is Hamlet an effective problem addresser / solver? Why or why not?
    • How did the people and the government of Cape Town, South Africa handle their problem? According to our criteria, did they effectively address their problem?
    • Compare the crisis of Cape Town to Hamlet.
    • Is it possible to place both of these crises on the same scale of urgency? That is to say, is Hamlet’s personal problem as urgent or critical as Cape Town’s water problem? If we use a form of meter to ‘measure’ the intensity of a crisis, where would Hamlet’s problem fall on that meter according to a) him? b) his friends and family? c) his country? Why do you say that?

Extension:

  • What if I started off my entire unit with that essential question: What makes for effective problem solving? Or the other question: What do effective problem solvers do when faced with a major, seemingly unsolvable crisis-level problem? And then what if we used Hamlet as case-study or a base-line or a comparison in amongst other texts, such as Apollo 13 or The Martian or the Cape Town water crisis?
  • And then what if we tap into the work of Garfield Gini-Newman and The Critical Thinking Consortium who promote ‘criterial thinking’, which is making a sound decision based on criteria and evidence?
  • And once we have that thinking framework, what if students were invited to engage in free reading and they were to look for other ‘case studies’ of how people solve problems?
  • And what if I asked these students to write about how they have solved problems in their own lives?
  • Last question: Is Hamlet the best ‘vehicle’ for exploring this topic?

 

UPDATE:

  • The Cape Town water crisis video explores the impact the Day Zero water initiative had on citizens in the city, particularly those below or at the poverty line, who tend to be people of colour. An area to explore could be the potential Image result for lessons pngimpact a solution might have upon another person, a group, society in general. For example, how do Hamlet’s choices impact others? Is this solution still effective then?
  • What wisdom might we take — both positive and negative — from Hamlet’s story and the Cape Town initiative that we could use as lessons for our own lives both now and in the future?

 

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Article: Motivating Readers through Voice and Choice

“Keeping students motivated to read and write throughout the school year can be a challenge for any classroom teacher.”

This is the opening line of an interesting (and short article) by Wendy Ranck-Buhr from NCTE, the National Council of Teachers of English (in the U.S.), that I just read titled “Motivating Readers Through Voice and Choice.”

https://habitsofeffectivewritingteachers.wikispaces.com/file/view/Student2Student_Column.pdf 


After this relatable opening, the author then goes on to wonder:

“Sometimes it is not the reading or writing itself that drains motivation from middle school students but the ways we ask students to demonstrate what they know.”

The rest of this short article goes on to provide suggestions for how to engage students in writing and reading throughout the school year. Although technically aimed at middle school teachers and students, I imagine the strategies are applicable to high school English classes and students as well. 

For example:

  1. Blogs: teachers can use blogs to communicate with both students and parents, and students can use blogs to showcase work.
  2. Literary café: the teacher can host a book chat or book sharing session once in a while in their classroom along with beverages on tables covered in cloths. 
  3. Showcase: providing an audience beyond the classroom can be a great motivator for students and their writing. Teachers can showcase writing on the Internet, for example, or or in literary publications.

The author concludes by wondering:

“What would it take to make every student in your class a self-motivated reader and writer?”

Much Ado About Tweeting

How lucky am I: my friend and colleague, the uber-talented Danika Barker, invited me to take part in her project to use Twitter to explore Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing with actors speaking as

And I get to play mone other than the prickly cad Benedick, who verbally jousts with the snarky Beatrice.

 

Me in silly costume as Benedick

 
As of today, we are exploring Act II, scene 2, the masquerade ball.

How does it work? Ten or so of the major and supporting characters are being ‘played’ by ‘actors’ and we ‘speak’ in everyday language: being Benedick, my Twitter handle as that character is @2_benedick, and I tweet as if I am Benedick in his scenes.

Danika has organized this thoroughly: for example, a Google Calendar with dates for each scene; scene summaries and insight for each scene; and a Twitter list where all characters’ tweets appear in one handy place.

    
A confession: although I jumped at the chance to participate, i also felt some trepidation as the start date neared. But now that we are underway, I am thoroughly enjoying this experience.

Thank you, Danika! What an inventive way to teach Shakespeare!

Where English Teachers go to help each other…

The English Companion Ning

After allowing it to lapse, I decided to reactivate my Ning account yesterday. Ning is a site that, for a small fee, allows users to create their own social network on whatever topic they desire.  Ning originally was a free service and during that time, I created a few social networks that were contained to just a particular class. So, for example, I create a Ning site for my English Media course and because Ning has almost all of the same basic functionality as Facebook, the students were able to interact with each other in a non-traditional way. Ning eventually did become the pay site it is today and, for reasons I can’t remember, I stopped using Ning about 1 year and a half ago.

But as I was re-activating my account, I remembered the ECN — English Companion Ning — which is created by and for English teachers. In my new role as a Literacy Learning Coordinator, I plan on delving a bit deeper into this site and even suggesting it to teachers as a resource.

Here is the link: http://englishcompanion.ning.com/

Today’s Meet

What is Today’s Meet? From their website, http://todaysmeet.com/:

Imagine you’re giving a presentation where you can read the mind of every person in the room. You’d have an amazing ability to adjust to your audience’s needs and emotions. That’s the backchannel.

Using Twitter at social media conferences has become a great way to do just that. But Twitter isn’t appropriate for every situation.

  • Your audience isn’t on Twitter.
  • You don’t want the discussion to be public.
  • You need to see only relevent updates.

That’s where TodaysMeet comes in. TodaysMeet gives you an isolated room where you can see only what you need to see, and your audience doesn’t need to learn any new tools like hash tags to keep everything together.

TodaysMeet is a good way to have a quick convo in a relatively quiet place.

TodaysMeet helps you embrace the backchannel and connect with your audience in realtime.

Encourage the room to use the live stream to make comments, ask questions, and use that feedback to tailor your presentation, sharpen your points, and address audience needs.

The backchannel is everything going on in the room that isn’t coming from the presenter.

The backchannel is where people ask each other questions, pass notes, get distracted, and give youthe most immediate feedback you’ll ever get.

Instead of ignoring the backchannel, TodaysMeet helps you leverage its power.

Tapping into the backchannel lets you tailor and direct your presentation to the audience in front of you, and unifying the backchannel means the audience can share insights, questions and answers like never before.

Here’s an example of Today’s Meet being used in my Grade 12 University level English class as we navigate our way through Hamlet.

 

 

 

 

 

 

CAVEAT:

When my grade 12’s first got on our Today’s Meet ‘meeting room’, their habits of doing and saying whatever they want on the Wild West internet took over and a few of the students started writing ‘shout-out’s’ to other students — and to me — such as, “Whaddup” or “Mr. Cooke brings the boom”. And then some students started to get a little cheeky or mildly inappropriate by making jokes, including joking about the word — wait for it– ‘butt’. Needless to say, I had to simultaneously chastise them for writing that while reminding them that this is for school purposes and that it is permanent, and that I would shut it down if they couldn’t use it properly. They did settle down, and what transpired was a really interesting and, I think, powerful experience in the classroom — using the ‘backchannel’. But because their thoughts appear live right in front of them, they thought it was ‘cool’ and they were all engaged.

Will Richardson: Should We Connect School Life to Real Life?

Should We Connect School Life to Real Life?
October 5, 2012 | 6:00 AM |

Excerpted from Will Richardson’s new TED Book Why School: How Education Must Change When Learning and Information Are Everywhere. Richardson offers provocative alternatives to the existing education system, questioning everything from standardized assessments to the role of the teacher. In this chapter, “Real Work for Real Audiences,” Richardson envisions students creating work that is relevant and useful in the world outside school.

By Will Richardson

So what if we were to say that, starting this year, even with our children in K– 5, at least half of the time they spend on schoolwork must be on stuff that can’t end up in a folder we put away? That the reason they’re doing their schoolwork isn’t just for a grade or for it to be pinned up in the hallway? It should be because their work is something they create on their own, or with others, that has real value in the real world.

I’m not even necessarily talking about doing something with technology. (Let’s face it, though: Paper is a 20th-century staple that has severely limited potential, compared to digital spaces.) There’s lots of creating our kids can do with traditional tools that can serve a real audience. Publishing books, putting on plays, and doing community service are just a few examples.

But what if we got a little crazy and added some technology into the mix? We could tell our kids, “You know, in addition to taking that test on the Vietnam War, we want you to go and interview some veterans, then collect those stories into a series of podcasts that people all over the world could listen to and learn from.”

How Video Games Have Freed Storytelling

Mass Effect 3

Wow. What a cool article about how “…video game stories don’t have to follow a singular vision defined by a master storyteller.” From the perspective of a high school English teacher who is motivated to explore how to keep 21st century learners engaged, I found this article really interesting.