A Teacher's Writes

by Geoffrey Sheehy

Category: Tidbits

Three Videos Worth Watching

My mother told me last night that she and her husband have decided to drop their cable TV subscription and instead stream programing through website services. I haven’t had TV for years–we never bothered to buy one of those converter boxes for the antennae and we don’t have any reception, and, yes, we are one of about six families left in America without a wide screen television–so I can appreciate the beauty of getting your kicks from online programming. Here are three little bits of online pleasure I’ve come across lately.

Ben Saunders Walks to the North Pole

Obviously I like adventurers, especially cold weather ones (see my obsession with Shackleton and Everest for further proof). I used Ben Saunders’s talk to fit into my character lessons for this year: greatness is reserved for those willing to endure the pain it takes to achieve it. I pointed out that a valid question is what greatness has to do with us–after all, greatness is by definition something only a few can achieve. Saunders uses the word potential, and I submitted to my students that for each of us, greatness is something we achieve when we’ve reached the top percent of our potential.


Janelle Monae Makes a Body Want to Move

I can’t dance, but I wish I could. Someday I hope to take my wife out to dancing lessons as a series of dates, but for now I’ll have to stick to spectating. Janelle Monae’s video is worth spectating . . .


Christmas Worship through Carols

I love Christmas carols and especially love concert choirs. In addition to wishing I’d learned how to dance, learning to sing is something I wish I’d learned to do. I admitted to my students today that it would have been good in high school to take choir–I truly would love knowing how to read music and simply sing the bass line. It wasn’t until later in life that I realized that my vocal range is sufficient for such singing, that music is written for “normal” voices like me to sing in parts . . . Who knew? Anyway, “Once in Royal David’s City” gets a lot of play on my computer during Advent.

Thanks for reading–and watching . . .

Notes from the Ground

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.


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.


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?”


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.


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.


As always, thanks for reading.


Underwood Typewriter II on Flickr by: Geof Wilson

One way to explain topic sentences

I can’t number how many times I’ve attempted to tell students the function of a topic sentence. I also like to challenge students to put clincher statements at the end of supporting paragraphs (or sections), and today I said it in a way that I hope will actually work:

Pretend the reader is asking you as you begin, “So where are you going with this?” and at the end of the paragraph, “So what is your point in telling me all that?” Your topic sentence answers the first question, your clincher answers the second.

Perhaps it will work. Or perhaps this student will stare at my comment on his essay like I’m speaking Bulgarian.

Aug 29 2010 010

I’ll find out when he writes his next paper, I suppose.

Affective student feedback

In writing about my classroom, I am determined never to pretend things go better than they do, or that my students are succeeding more than they really are. Thus, I present a challenge quiz I gave to sophomores recently, a quiz that preceded one I mentioned in last week’s post about the ear. Before having students write on the actual quiz, where they were to write out Puck’s final monologue from A Midsummer Night’s Dream with a number of helps (sporadically placed key words to help them regain momentum), I asked them all to take a challenge-quiz, where they attempted to write the monologue on a blank piece of paper, with no help.

One student was not impressed with this little challenge. (The smiley face is something I added.)

I’m from New Hampshire

I grew up in New Hampshire and thus I find this video thoroughly amusing. Eighty five percent of it consists of inside jokes (he mentions Canobie Lake Park, for example, which to the untrained ear is just some place, but to me is the small amusement park with a few rides that you go to for fun at the end of 8th grade, and then when your senior class can’t afford any better, you go there again for your senior trip, thinking all the while, “This is our senior trip?”), but if you’re an English teacher you’ll appreciate what he does at the 2:33 mark.


is popping out of the ground.

On an unrelated note, I highly recommend you set aside five minutes and read this article from Michael Winerip at the New York Times.

I’ll work right after I check this one thing . . .

It’s addicting, you know. A friend altered me to this visual breakdown of digital distractions. Notice the way the iPhone trumps everything. If we note in history a decline in production during the 21st Century, astute historians might tie it to the introduction of the iPhone.