Notes from the Ground

by Mr. Sheehy

A student said his mom’s favorite book was The Great Gatsby and his Dad’s is The Catcher in the Rye. I teased him about the contest–which parent did he love more?–but also mentioned I hoped he’d read both books someday. This quarter he chose to read The Catcher in the Rye. After reading page one, he turned to his classmate. “Hey, there are like three swear words on this first page.” He’ll probably like it, but I doubt he’ll get it.

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Slightly more than half my ninth graders actually read today when given a chance in class. The assignment will be due anyway (read a book during the academic quarter). It does make me doubt them when they claim they read it that last week before the assignment was due. “So you couldn’t stay awake and read one time through the quarter, but you suddenly found the tenacity to read the entire book outside of class?” It’s a modern miracle I witness every quarter.

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For my health screening this morning, given for free if we are on the company health insurance, the nurse missed my veins, twice. This I do not understand, as my arms look freakishly veiny at the slightest exertion. Yet here is the lesson for my students as I teach them effective speech communications: little comments and non-verbal clues carry great power. When someone is not too comfortable with needles (like me), it is amazing how disconcerting it is to hear a nurse mutter while drawing blood, “Now, how is that possible?”

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My sophomores are writing feature articles for the school newspaper. They are required to use four sources, and one must be an interview. Their topics are quite interesting, ranging from the destruction of the rain forest to tattoos to a preview of the basketball team, and their interest in the project is quite high considering their usual interest level in my assignments (which is, um . . . not high). I’m planning on making them insert citations into their non-published draft, which means it may end up being their research paper. They do not know this yet, but my guess is they’ll be thrilled when I tell them afterward. It’s like hiding medicine in juice.

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Shakespeare students recently completed a project on archetypes and As You Like It. The task was to show how archetypes used in As You Like It are present in other stories (be they movies, books, or whatever). The material I used to introduce archetypes came from my favorite professor in college, Dr. Leland Ryken, and out of respect for him I won’t republish it here. He constructed a fabulous table of images and experiences in literature and organized them under “Archetypes of Ideal Experience” and “Archetypes of Unideal Experience.” It makes archetypal analysis wonderfully accessible for students, and not surprisingly, my students’ work was some of their best this semester. The task of connecting three dots, three elements of commonality, seemed to be the key to raising the bar on their comparisons. They didn’t have to think of just one random comparison from As You Like It to something else. They had to think of the archetype, the use of it in As You Like It, and then the comparison to something else. The end result was a straighter line and a firmer claim than a two-dotted connection would hold. This is one project I’ll be keeping around for next year.

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As always, thanks for reading.

 

Underwood Typewriter II on Flickr by: Geof Wilson

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