All posts by cnrandal

Back to School Adventures

Goodness, it’s been a long time! I haven’t really been working that much on education stuff for the past year, mostly because I didn’t have to take almost any education classes. But I have my Bachelor’s in English now! And somehow graduated Summa Cum Laude. Good to know that hard work paid off in the form of getting into UMD’s grad school to get my M. Ed.

Now that I’ve updated ya’ll on my professional progress over the last year, it’s time to address the present. It’s been a rather rocky road as I start my year long internship in a local high school. I was told I would be working with one mentor teacher who teaches on-level and honors 9th graders back in May, so I prepared over the summer by looking over the curriculum and reading the books on the 9th grade list. As teacher prep week approached, I hadn’t got any word back on when I should report. So I went in on Tuesday at 7am hoping I would find out what the plan was. Then I was told I would actually have to work with a different mentor teacher, who teaches 10th on-level and 11th honors, meaning I would have to prepare for two totally different curricula in a short space. I had met my new mentor teacher for a 10-second long introduction when she left for lunch, leaving me confused and unsure of what I should be doing. Only later did I find out that I was switched to the new mentor without communicating with the coordinator of the grad school. Had and anxiety attack on Thursday morning, but went in on Friday for a pretty smooth day. I’m all caught up on the plan for the next few weeks and my mentor and I seem to be getting along just fine. Not exactly the way I imagined my first week, but it seems to be settling down. Students come in on Monday, and I’m excited to meet them.

Speaking of students, I’ve adopted a cute little icebreaker for my classes. It’s a version of Tangled Web, which, if you haven’t heard of it, is a really fun way to get students to know each other while raising the energy of a class.

  1. Make a yarn ball for each class. It’s a good idea to use a whole skein for a 25-ish student class. I like making my yarn balls center pull, like the ones here. You can use a toilet/paper towel roll like in the link or a dowel rod/stick. I usually use this really awesome driftwood staff to wrap the yarn around.
  2. (Optional) Write a list of things you want the students to say when they introduce themselves. Names should always be included but beyond that it depends on the subject you’re teaching and the class. If you’re teaching a mixed-grade group, you might want the students to specify the grade or year they’re in. Then have them say some things about themselves. Some examples:
    • Favorite hobby
    • One goal you have for the year
    • A song you’re really diggin’ right now
    • Number of siblings
    • Favorite animal
  3. Explain the steps of this exercise to students before they begin. It’ll help things run A LOT more smoothly.
  4. Grab the loose end of the yarn and hold onto it while you answer the questions yourself. When a student find something in common with you (let’s say you have 3 siblings and they also have 3 siblings), they will shout “CONNECT.”
  5. Then, while holding onto the string of yarn, throw the ball to that student who shouted “CONNECT” first. They will grab the string of yarn so that it doesn’t have that much slack, introduce themselves and pass the ball to the next person that says connect while holding onto the string of yarn. (This process will eventually yield a web of string symbolizing the way the class is connected and that we have to work as a team or else the web breaks. Cute, right?)
  6. When you’ve gotten to the last person, you have two options. You can either
    • Let them all let go and collect the mess of yarn, or
    • Have students walk the ball of yarn and gather the yarn in the reverse order that they introduced themselves. That is, the last person to introduce themselves would walk to the second to last person (the one they shared a connection with) and so on.) This way you can deal with a slightly neater tangle of yarn to rewind.

And that’s pretty much all I have this week. Expect more updates throughout the coming months. I will be learning a lot and want to share my progress with you! I’ll probably also need some help, so please feel free to make suggestions in the comments!

Ciao for now!



Post-EDCI466 Reflection

It’s been a really good semester. Between my teaching assistantship and this class, I have learned a whole lot about teaching that I didn’t know before. Though I met my goal of learning more about contemporary YAL, I ended up learning more about the practical side of teaching in the classroom. I learned how to really engage students, how important it is to let the students speak more than the teacher, how to plan a unit that is flexible to students’ varying needs and learning styles. I have a much more concrete idea of the kind of teacher I am and want to be–a creative and organized constructionist who wants her students to engage in real, meaningful assignments and get engaged in the world around them.

I’ve really pushed myself in my various assignments. I figure if I will expect success from my students, I need to excel as a teacher. So in this blog I went the extra mile, making a couple non-required posts to start establishing an online presence as an educator. In my Book Report Alternative, I tinkered with a lot of ideas before coming up with one I knew my students would love; when I made an example, I added a couple extra steps to make the presentation nice and aestheticaly pleasing. In class, I tried to bring to the table something unique and listen so that I learn from others as well.

The books that I read in the course may hae been geared more toward middle schoolers, but since that’s my age group of choice, I didn’t really mind. Though some of the novels were simplistic in their language and vocabulary, those same novels dealt with very difficult themes that would lead to rich classroom discussion. I got to read a lot of texts I never was able to read when I was younger (like The Book Thief) and am now interested in reading more. I appreciated using Critical Encounters as a textbook, since it gave some very useful tips for introducing literary theory in the classroom, but I didn’t really like Literature for Young Adults. The only reason I’m keeping it is because I got the old version for $0.89 and because it has a long list of reading options in various genres that might be useful to explore in my own time.

Overall, I’m very pleased with my progress with semester and I’ve thoroughly enjoyed the class. I will be sure to take what I have learned with me in my next education classes and in my classroom. That is, when I get there. As the class has taught me, Tthere’s still such a long way to go.

Reading Response: This Title Has Been Censored

The ever-common misfortune of censorship in schools–where do I begin to tackle this issue? Perhaps first I should explain some of my biases which undoubtedly affect my position on the matter. I am not a parent, and I have not personally felt the duty or desire to protect my child from the darkness or evil in this world. I have seen my mother cry when she didn’t know how to explain why my sister’s friend got shot, so I get the feeling. I am not deeply “religious” in the common sense of the term. My morality is based instead on a unique spirituality , and I believe deeply in doing to others as they would do to you. I do, however, understand the feeling of having one’s faith silenced, since as an eclectic neo-pagan, I’ve experienced countless attacks on my person and my feelings for my beliefs. I don’t know all the experiences and convictions that motivate those who object to allowing certain books in school, but I can at least empathize with them. And as Literature for Today’s Young Adults stressed, it is important to hear them out and show them respect as human beings, though it is important to reason with them to a mutually agreeable conclusion.

Unfortunately, censors like Meghan Gurton aren’t always prepared to do the same. Her arguments in her Wall Street Journal article were downright blood-boiling. I actually find it rather amusing that she believes that books describing “kidnapping and pederasty and incest and brutal beatings” or other “pathologies” are “hideously distorted portrayals” of the real world. Oh yes, because these things do not happen commonly in the world, do they? Wrong.

I knew a girl in high school who was the survivor of a brutal gang-rape that happened just outside of her former school. While she was trying to keep thoughts of suicide at bay, her attackers were eventually allowed back into the school because of their value as athletes. During a webcam chat with my exboyfriend and a mutual friend, I watched horrified when my ex’s boyfriend’s stepdad ripped him up by the hair and kicked him in the face. He was a couple weeks from being 18, but he begged us not to call the cops anyway because he wanted to stay with his sick mother. And I was a student at a relatively prestigious public high school, who got A’s, hung out with a relatively well-behaved crowd, and lived in a pretty wealthy and safe county. If I, coming from such a background, saw all of this, what might other students encounter?

So censors that want to take books out of the school under the guise of protecting students from the ugliness, let me tell you: you are doing your children an extreme disservice. If it had not been for novels like Just Listen or The Burn Journals or Crank, I may not have gotten through my high school career with my heart intact. These books, the controversial ones, became my “weapons” to help me “fight [my] monsters,” as Sherman Alexie so eloquently put it. It is important for students at the very least to have access to these books, and it is even better if they can be allowed to study them under the guidance of a well-trained, well-read teacher who can teach them the nuances of the novel’s ideas.

That being said, I think there are a few ways as teachers that we can win more parents over to our cause. One idea I had was to have students form literature circles prior to Banned Books Week, choose a banned book, and read it with their parents while writing in a journal. This activity will probably work best with middle schoolers, but I still think it’s a good way to get parents involved in what their children read while also showing them that their children can tackle these “ugly” books and analyze them with finesse. What ideas do you have to prevent the censors from arriving?

Review: Literature for Today’s Young Adults (8th Edition)

Normally, I wouldn’t bother reviewing a textbook like Literature for Young Adults. I purchase or rent textbooks for a class, and it irks me if the class doesn’t use it, but otherwise I simply read from it to follow along with the material I’m learning in lecture. I suppose if the book aims to give “a comprehensive, reader-friendly introduction to young adult literature framed within a literary, historical, and social context,” this volume does it’s job. But throughout my reading I felt like there was something lacking, like I could have just as easily skipped its many chapters on specific subgenres and done just as well.

Its lists of YAL books in each subgenre (from fantasy to nonfiction to mysteries) do offer some good alternative reads in the English classroom. But the lists are the best part of these chapters. So often, the meat of the text merely discusses certain stories or authors that could be used, without addressing any ways of teaching these texts. There are a few exceptions to this (for example, a thought-provoking section within the Contemporary Realistic Fiction chapter on what “realism” is in a novel), but I felt like most of the subgenre sections could have been reduced to definitions of each genre and a list of books.

The chapters that did not explore differnt subgenres were much more useful. The chapter explaining the history of YAL was thorough but accessible, and taught me some surprising facts about the creation of the popular young adult book genre we know today. It’s treatment of the censorship debate leaned more in favor of allowing students to read sometimes objectionable books, but it offered many ways for teachers to combat the issue of censorship in the classroom. The technology chapter was a bit antiquated, but I also read the chapter from the 9th edition, which fixes the problems from the 8th edition. If the entire book had focused more on these types of subjects, I feel like I could have gotten much more out of reading it.

The prose was a least easy to read, and most often it was engaging. However, there were a few moments where the authors’ treatment of some subjects made my blood boil. Two of the moments I remember are found in the 6th chapter on “Adventure, Sports, Mysteries, and the Supernatural.” In describing Chris Lynch’s Inexcusable, the textbook reads “[Keir is] also apparently deaf. When he starts to rape Gigi, she says no, but he refuses to admit that he hears anyting that will stop him. Nobody says no to a football icon. So he rapes her….” The first line here is so sarcastic it makes me sick; while the authors do mention twice that this is indeed rape, they don’t treat the rape with any sort of respect to the trauma of the victim. Though their humor and sarcasm was welcome in other sections of the textbook, it should have been absent when discussing this sensitive of a subject.

The second moment in this chapter that was highly irritating is found in its section of “supernatural” fiction. After the authors give a brief synopsis of Cynthia Leitich Smith’s Tantalyze, they proceed to say that the Publisher’s Weekly described this book as “‘campy,’ more like Buffy the Vampire Slayer than like [Stephenie] Meyer’s dignified romance [the Twilight series].” Umm… excuse me? Dignified romance? I beg to differ–I’ve read a vast array of successful essays that argue that Edward Cullen borders on pathological and that the portrayal of Edward’s and Bella’s relationship normalizes psychological abuse to an audience of vulnerable young women. On the other hand, Buffy already has a large body of scholarly literature (known as Buffy Studies) that investigates the show’s deeper points. has also said that, had it not been for Buffy, their large wiki on tropes and archetypes would not exist. Sure, the show might be describe as “campy,” but it is also self-aware and plays with its use of stereotypes and tropes in a way that exercises and pleases the intellectual mind. These two supernatural works was an awful comparison, and the authors need to do their Buffy Studies homework.

Overall, this textbook was just “okay.” I might keep it just for the lists of young adult novels it has, but I will probably have better luck just consulting Goodreads lists that are continously updated. There are some good points in this book, but the authors do not play them up and waste precious paper to write about the obvious. I would not recommend this book for use, instead opting for a collection of articles or a more sophisticated book on the subject that treats delicate topics with dignity and respect.

Reading Response: Nonfiction for Young Adults

In reading a chapter for Literature for Young Adults on nonfiction, I realized that I didn’t often seek out nonfiction. That doesn’t necessarily mean that I don’t read nonfiction. Actually, I read it all the time. I’d guess that anyone under the age of 30 reads tons of it online every day. We read tutorials on e-how, consult forums to troubleshoot our computers when something goes awry, and explore mini-essays on art and politics that masquerade as blog posts. While this chapter seemed to focus on how students and teachers need to read more nonfiction, I think it missed the fact that it already happens. The only difference is that we don’t go to books for our nonfiction needs as often anymore.

I don’t really know if this is a good or a bad thing. On the one hand, materials that are published physically often go through a more strenuous process of editing. This ensures that the information is correct and offers a kind of quality control. But on the other hand, online nonfiction works offer a lot that their printed counter parts do not. As the chapter mentions, nonfiction books can quickly become outdated–information posted online is frequently added to and updated. Furthermore, using the internet to “publish” nonfiction is a way that empowers everyone. It sends a message that anyone who accesses information and has the discipline to write about it (either giving facts, narrative, or opinion) can do so, and reach an audience.

I’m not saying that we shouldn’t consult books for our nonfiction needs, but I do believe that we need to recognize other sources as legitimate and important. That being said, I want to turn this over to you: do you think that teachers should encourage nonfiction books over online nonfiction sources in the classroom? How would you get your students to think about what they read online and out in the world as nonfiction? I’m interested to see what you think, so leave a reply in the comments!

Over the last few weeks, I’ve had a couple ideas creep up on me.

  1. When I start my career as a teacher, I need to set time aside in class for recreational reading at least once a week.
  2. I need to build a library to give students recreational reading choices. Just a small one, for my class with a bunch of books on different topics for different reading levels, fiction and non-fiction that will likely appeal to adolescent readers.
  3. I want to try out reading logs with my classes, requiring students to try out different genres during their in class (and outside of class) reading. (This page seems to have a good model, but it would have to be changed a lot for middle and high school readers.)
  4. At the end of the semester or year, students should pick one book from their reading log to write a short blurb about to recommend it to another reader. Then, students will choose a book that someone else recommends for their last required recreational reading for the year. I think this is important to add to any genre study, since it helps students realize that they can connect to other readers by reading the same  books (and therefore open the possibilities of joining book clubs when they become adults).

Just some thoughts. Consider it a note-to-self that I’m sharing in the event it could help any of you. New blog post on the way

Battle of the Roots! Latin vs. German

The other day in my English Undergraduate TA class, I debated with a fellow student who asserted that she thought Latin should be a required subject for all middle or high schoolers to learn. I argued against it, since I believe our Germanic roots are equally as important.

For those of you English language nerds, I’m sure most of you are familiar with the language’s Anglo-Saxon/Germanic roots that were mixed with Old French/Latin roots sometime around the first millennium AD. Over the years, the Latin-based vocabulary and grammar has overshadowed much of the Germanic. Chances are, you probably didn’t learn about this until college or after, and while this isn’t really problematic, it does have implications for secondary education.

While the professor shut the Latin v. German debate down just as soon as it started, I gave it more thought in conversation with a friend of mine. I thought of a couple more reasons why compulsory Latin education might not be ideal.

  1. Most languages currently available in secondary schools are already Romance languages. Just learning these can teach students a lot about their own diction and grammar use in English, and often the learning of these languages is very practical. I have never met a Latin student who used it in casual or professional conversation or correspondence.
  2. Latin’s grammar rules often don’t fit together well with Germanic grammar rules and diction. Though I often write the phrase in academic essays to avoid getting points docked off, I cringe when I see the phrases “of which to be” or “to whom” just to avoid using a preposition at the end of a sentence. Latin has its place, but German-rooted languages tend to be a lot more direct and concise.
  3. Compulsory education in any language aside from a nation’s official language(s) also asserts a kind of cultural superiority, which then deems other cultures inferior. I learned both French and Chinese in high school and college. I actually felt I learned more about the English language through my studies in Chinese since it was a very different language. While requiring students to learn Latin might help them learn their English word roots which may help them take the SAT (a subject for another day), Chinese or Spanish could be just as easily required for their extended practical use in light of the US’s current economic and socio-political situation.

Personally, I would like to learn Anglo-Saxon. I think it sounds and looks cool, and would give me a new perspective on the evolution of the English language to the present. I’ve never heard of a high school that offered it, but I would have gladly taken it if it where offered in mine.

So what do you think? Do you think Latin should be a required subject in secondary schools? Should more schools offer Anglo-Saxon in high schools? Let me know in the comments!

My First Peer Review Workshop: Some Reflections

This semester I am a TA for and English literature class on Women on the Plantation. Essentially, we read works from many genres (journals, letters, narratives, etc.) from and about plantation mistresses and slave women during the Antebellum period to the beginnings of Reconstruction. Whew, that was a mouthful. Today though, I didn’t talk much, because today was the peer review workshop for their first paper.

This was a different experience for me. While I’m used to leading discussions, lecturing, or splitting up students for short group activities, I’ve never structured the entirety of class around students helping each other write. I can’t take the entirety of the credit for organizing this class, since my professor had a solid review and revision checklist. I did however, present, explain, and aid the workshop.

Usually I get really nervous when I turn students loose for too long. When you invite them to discuss, it can sometimes turn to off-topic chatter. To deal with this, I migrated from group to group to listen in (something I rarely have the courage to do), only interjecting if they were silent, had questions, or if they were having trouble. I found that with sparse but strategic involvement on my part, I could re-enliven the discussion and guide their thoughts back to the task at hand. Off-topic chatter isn’t all bad though–it allows students to get to know each other and to talk about things that interest them, which is crucial to fostering an safe environment for students to voice their opinions.

Although this class boosted my confidence as a teacher, I think there were a couple things I could do to improve the next workshop. I think I’m going to keep my professor’s suggestion of making students bring in one copy for each author to read aloud and an extra copy for two peer reviewers to follow along and make notes. Instead of letting them choose their groups every time, it might be best to assign them to groups at random or put certain students together strategically for scaffolding. This helps students learn a wider variety of writing techniques and allows them to communicate with more of their fellow classmates. I also think it might be a good idea to have each student bring in a short memo detailing their purpose, audience, main points/main techniques in with their rough drafts so that their peers can understand where they are coming from. I’ve done this in professional writing classes, but I think it could be adapted well in the English literature classroom.

Well that’s all folks. If I get another sudden burst of creativity, I’ll keep you posted.

Reading Response: The Social Construction of Gender

While the reading in Literature for Today’s Young Adults this week focused on realistic fiction, I want to focus my attention on the Critical Encounters chapter about “The Social Construction of Gender.” Overall, this chapter gave a refreshing take on how to present feminist/gender theory to the classroom. Appleman creates a variety of activities to teach students, male and female, how to look at texts and their world through a feminist lens. Probably the most unique activity put forth in the chapter is Appleman’s exercise investigating how gender role constructions affect male characters in a text.

I believe this kind of activity is crucial to open the minds of young men and women to see the point of feminist discourse. It make it painfully apparent that the dominant patriarchal worldview has disempowered everyone regardless of sex or gender identification. By acknolwedging and exploring the many ways that men are affected by the gender constructions of our society, we show that feminism does not just advocate for women’s rights. We show students, who may be afraid to advocate for feminism based on mistaken notions that feminists are man-haters, that men have a stake in this too.

Iggy has the right idea.

However, there was something that nagged me throughout the chapter. Early on, Appleman announces that she will be using feminist and gender theory interchangeably. While she concedes that “theoretical purists may rightfully object to the renaming,” she also asserts that this renaming is to ensure that “feminist theory is not limited to only women writers or women’s experiences” (67). Now renamed, “Gender theory,” she continues, “provides us with a way of recognizing and naming other visions while promoting our own ways of seeing” (68). As a woman who was raised by a strong single mother who was a staunch advocate of feminist causes to protect both women and men, this insistence on renaming was like a slap in the face. While I see that the name may be less imposing to students, I also think the point of feminism is not just to advocate women’s views, but to show how the patriarchy as a whole is a power system that corrupts and oppresses everyone. Also, by avoiding calling it feminism, we inadvertently delegitimize the feminine stake in the issue, which I feel undermines the point of the theory/worldview in favor of a still-more male-centric view.

For a male perspective on this issue, I invite you to watch this awesome TedTalk: 

I want to hear what you think: do you think we should call this lens “feminist,” “gender,” or use both terms interchangeably in teaching the concept to students?

Pre-EDCI466 Reflection

Though I have always loved English and literature, I have gone back and forth in my consideration of teaching as a career choice. I made the commitment to teaching early in my sophomore year of college when I started tutoring at the GBTLA Saturday School at Montgomery Blair High School. I loved interacting with the students and feeling like I made a difference in their intellectual development. Despite my love for it, teaching is still tough, which is why I am taking this class.

This class seems like a fun way to hone my skills at curriculum planning and literature lesson instruction. I want to be a teacher that encourages my students to engage critically with popular reading materials that they read inside and outside of the classroom so that they become every-day, lifelong learners. The focus in this class on teaching texts that appeal to young adult readers will likely help me with that. I also knew this class would offer me the opportunity to practice designing units and lessons. This is something I have not had much experience with since I was a bit late to enter the secondary education track, so I think this class will teach me some techniques in creating engaging lessons for my students. In EDCI463, I enjoyed creating a unit plan and reviewing it with my classmates. I expect that this time, I will learn even more and start to find a unique style of instruction that fits my knowledge and personality while remaining adaptable to the needs of my students.

I realize that the majority of my learning in this class is dependent on doing the assigned reading, activities, and coursework. In order to get everything done, I have to find a place to fit EDCI466 work into my daily plan. Fortunately, my schedule for school and work is fixed and regimented. I will do all assigned reading or blog post for the coming Monday and Wednesday the weekend before it is due, since I have a heavy work schedule on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Any longer major assignment (i.e. Statement of Teaching Philosophy, Unit Plan, etc.) will be completed in small increments starting the day the assignment is given. I will schedule these assignments so that I am done a class ahead of time, leaving me room to come to instructors for last minute help or questions and for revising. Aside from these measures, it is difficult to make any specific plans until I get a feel for the course, but I am confident in my ability to get the work done on time.