Tag Archives: teaching

The Impossible Knife of Memory, an SCBWI Book Review

You know what I did immediately after I promised not to read the PTSD novel?  I went ahead and read the PTSD novel.  Good thing school started recently, so I haven’t had time to blog.  We’ve all had a sufficient break from the depressing, unjust world, right?

Good!  Let’s dive back in.

Impossible Knife of Memory

Click the image to go to the Amazon page

Book: The Impossible Knife of Memory, by Laurie Halse Anderson

Genre: Young Adult, Realistic Fiction

Recommendation:  Um… honestly?  Eh.  It’s just… you know, it’s good.  It’s okay.  I much prefer Speak.  You should read that one for sure.

Run-on Sentence Synopsis: Hayley is a high school student who classifies the whole world into either “zombies” or “freaks” in a way that seems like a forced quirk because it does very little to further the plot and her dad has PTSD in a bad way and she falls in love with a boy and she has to deal with her dad’s issues and her own issues.

Positive Feedback: Anderson is always successful at characterization in her own way.  There were some really solid emotional moments that gripped me and made me feel the characters’ pain.  As a fan of psychology, I was very interested in delving into this world of trauma and the psychological ramifications of same.  The material is handled with respect and has an appropriate weight to it.  It’s obviously not a lighthearted novel, and that’s good.  You can tell Anderson has a vested interest in representing trauma and related mental disorders accurately.

Constructive Criticism: Given my interest in psychology, I was kind of disappointed when the father’s PTSD kind of became a subplot rather than the main story.  In the end, I felt like I was reading yet another “F-the-World-Girl meets Quirky-Sexy-Boy” teen romance.  Even worse, the pacing of the romance  felt off to me.  There wasn’t a lot of chemistry between the two characters, and they fell for each other way too quickly in my opinion.  A large struggle many children go through is finding themselves parenting the parents.  That should have been the meat of this story, and I just wasn’t getting that.  This is weird, but I feel like Sarah Dessen would have written this book better.  If you want a book that touches on tough psychological issues and abusive relationships (I mean, you wouldn’t want that, but you know what I mean), then go pick up Dreamland.  Yeah… this book review just became a recommendation for another author and book.  I guess that pretty much sums it up.

I still have to read Caraval, but I don’t know when I’ll do that.  I have a baby, five classes to teach, and boxes to unpack.  But I will try my best!

Advertisements

Leave a comment

Filed under books, Humor, psychology, reading, writing

Your Lyrics Will Be Graded

I’m not a stranger to song/singer analysis.  You’ll recall I had a particularly scathing post about John Mayer a while back, and my friend, Liz, analyzed the nuances (or lack thereof) of Taylor Swift’s character.

As some people know, I am currently studying to become a high school English teacher in Texas.  This involves a lot of repetitive reading about how we should probably focus more on engaging students in school, and less on lecturing at them.  Turns out they learn more if they’re emotionally invested.  Who knew?

Anyway, as a fun activity, I decided to grade a couple songs as if they were student essays.  Starting with Katy Perry’s “Firework.”  Click to enlarge!

Firework001

I didn’t bother doing the rest of the song because it’s just “Boom boom boom, even brighter than the moon, moon, moon” repeated a bunch of times.

So the thing is that – while that was fun – I haven’t graded any other lyrics.  I was going to do Taylor Swift’s “Shake It Off,” because no one who can easily shake off negative comments goes on to write an entire song about all the “mean” things that are said about them for the world to hear (Irony!).  But that seemed like low-hanging fruit.  Ol’ Tay-Tay’s already suffered our wrath, as you saw above.

This activity left the subject of education knocking around in my brain.  It feels important to get a few things written down, even if they’re obvious.  At the end, as a thank you for reading my wall of text, I have presented you with a drawing of an Ice Chinchilla, which was commissioned by my friend, Liz.

  1. If the goal of schooling is to increase student knowledge and understanding, then the current model is waaaaay off base.  A fifteen-year-old can memorize all the significant dates related to the American Revolution.  S/he can regurgitate facts onto a test and get a good grade, but that does not mean that s/he understands this conflict.  The student likely has no feelings about the American Revolution one way or the other.  Because s/he has learned that the goal of school is to get A’s, not to understand the content.  Along those lines…
  2. Our methods of assessing students are crap.  We live in a country where C is average, but only A’s mean anything.  That means we are pressuring our students to jump through as many hoops as necessary to get top letter marks.  As I said in point 1, this rarely requires genuine understanding.  Just look at the term “Standardized Test.”  It is literally a test that measures students’ abilities to fit into a mold.  At the beginning of the year, all students start with an A in their classes.  The best thing that can happen for them is for their grade to remain exactly the same.  Most likely what will happen is their grade will drop.  This is expected to motivate them.  All I see is a practice in futility, neatly packaged with buzzwords.  “If you don’t do well here, you won’t get into a good college.”  How about this?  How about every student starts with a zero.  Not an F, mind.  A zero.  As they do assignments, they get points.  At the end of the year, the number of points they have can be translated into a letter grade.  It’s not a perfect system, but you’ll notice with this design, the only direction students can go is up.  Instead of losing, they’ll be working to gain.  Every day, every semester, every class.
  3. It turns out that every person learns in a different way.  This means that a significant portion of “Special Ed” students might not need drugs or a psychological diagnosis.  Maybe all they need is someone to approach teaching in a different way.  It’s hard to cater your teaching methods to suit the needs of a fifty-student class, but we can start by abandoning the “Sit still, shut up, and listen” model.  From where I’m sitting, “Special Ed” is a lovely euphemism for “We’ve given up on you.”  That probably does wonders for kids’ self-esteem.
  4. You’ve heard this all before.  Studies that prove kids aren’t learning in school have been coming out for decades.  Kids aren’t learning.  Kids aren’t motivated.  Kids aren’t supposed to be put through test after standardized test.  It’s common knowledge at this point.  As far as I can tell, we as a country have gone, “Oh, look.  Schools are failing our children.  What a shame,” and then moved back to reading the morning paper or whatever.  Just shrug and move on, America.  Your education system is a mess.  Oh, well!  It happens.  Right?  No!  No, damn it!  I have read paper after paper from people saying we’re in the middle of a “paradigm shift” and “we need school reinvention, not school reform.”  (See writing by Ornstein and Hunkins for more details about school reinvention)  By “paradigm shift” do they mean that about 0.5% of the schools in this country have made changes to the way education is accomplished?  That’s not a shift.  That’s not even a blip on the radar.  So why aren’t we seeing real change?  Well, for one, politicians love using education to boost their numbers.  They throw out buzz words, cite the studies that I’ve been reading for my classes, and promise change.  Then they introduce new standardized tests or cut more music programs.  Meanwhile teachers are left floundering in a system that forces them to dish out education like it’s a punishment.
  5. No more complacence.  Educators need to band together.  Families need to support them.  We need a separation of school and state in a lot of ways, because educational policies are being instated by people who have never stood in a classroom full of bored sixth graders.  As an individual, all I can do is try to beat the system one classroom at a time.  And write ineffectual blog posts about it.  Hopefully one day I’ll be able to do more.  If enough individuals decide to make real changes, maybe it’ll have a ripple effect.

I don’t know.

Here’s a chinchilla.

Ice Chinchilla

Leave a comment

Filed under education, Humor, Language, Music, Politics, reading, writing

Words and Other Things

My best friend, Liz, and my best-friend-in-law, Martyn, loaned me a bunch of books the other day.  I just finished one of them.  House of Leaves by Mark Z. Danielewski is a book about a guy who finds a book written about a documentary that doesn’t exist, that features a house that doesn’t exist, that was filmed by a man who doesn’t exist.  House of Leaves is a work of fiction, so technically if you read it, you are reading a book about a guy who doesn’t exist, who finds a book that doesn’t exist, written about a documentary that doesn’t exist, which features a house that doesn’t exist, that was filmed by a man who doesn’t exist.

You should read it.  It’s pretty good.  But very intense.  Not for the young of heart or the young of age.  Ye be warned.

The next book is The Gargoyle, by Andrew Davidson.  I’m still working on it, but so far as I can tell it is about a porn star who gets into a terrible car crash after combining cocaine, bourbon, and driving.  The crash results in lots of fire burning him all over his body, and then he has a chat with a crazy lady while in the hospital.  The chat is the thing I wanted to quote here, because it made me giggle with disproportionate glee.

I indicated the little statue on the bedside table.  “I like the gargoyle.”

“Not a gargoyle.  It’s a grotesque.”

“You say oyster, I say erster.”

“I ain’t gonna stop eating ersters,” Marianne Engel replied, “but that’s a grotesque.  A gargoyle’s a waterspout.”

“Everyone calls these things gargoyles.”

“Everyone’s wrong.”

The Gargoyle, pg. 81

See?  It proves something that was never called into question in the first place.  I once did thirty seconds of research on Wikipedia and now, years later, I’m reading a book that confirms my research and I’m all, “Yay!  This makes me happy.”  I just thought I’d share.  It’s a good read so far.

Finally, my computer broke recently.  I have the worst luck with computers.  But this time I don’t mean it crashed or it got a virus.  I mean it literally broke.  It started coming apart at the seams.  It’s currently being held together with duct tape and binder clips.

So I got a Mac.

Good news: I came up with a new comic idea.  I was inspired by English class and Shakespeare, since lately I’ve been working toward getting my teaching certification so I can teach high school English.  Without meaning to, this comic became a bit of an homage to Kate Beaton’s comic, Hark!  A Vagrant.  Though it was not intended, I am in no way sorry.  Beaton’s work is some of the funniest I’ve ever seen.

Bad news: My copy of Photoshop Elements is for PCs only.

Results: I drew the comic and then took pictures of each panel.  Enjoy!

Writer’s Block
11/11/15

WB Panel 1_1
WB Panel 1_2
WB Panel 1_3
redo 2_1(1)
WB Panel 1_5
WB Panel REDO

Leave a comment

Filed under books, Comic, Humor, reading, writing