Classroom Discoveries | Alan Turing, Literacy Training, Graphic Poetry by Julian Peters, & Children’s Books

Comic by Buttersafe @ Imgur (I guarantee some of my students wrote something like this on their list).

Time for a story: The Poet Laureate of North Carolina, Joseph Bathanti, came to speak to my 9th grade English class last semester.  He’s actually leprechaunish, not in the way that he wears green and giggles behind trees, but in the way that he has the gifts of words hugged in his pockets.  Bathanti has done a lot of work in NC prisons, getting inmates to learn the art of creative writing, and I can only assume, with that, journaling.  He is probably one of my favorite speakers to ever enter my classroom and I appreciated him so much because he actually cared what my student’s answers were.  He asked them to write three things that they wished for themselves in the world and encouraged me to participate.  For a day, it was good just to feel like a student in my classroom, starring at my Smartboard in the diagonal rows, cramped into the tight desk, only one side open, and feeling the slight breath of the students behind me.   What I wrote was that I hope my future students are read to as children, not because they’ll be better writers and readers for me, but because my mother reading stories to me is one of the best memories that I have as a child.  My mom would scoot me into bed and pretend to sardine me in as she tucked the blanket under me like she was folding dough.  To this day as a twenty-five year old woman, I still request that my mother read a Christmas story to me on Christmas Eve.

I have no children so I can’t make an informed answer to this, but I can imagine that reading to your children is one of the best things to experience as a parent.  A child’s forehead is huddled below your chin, and you open the first page and they point one tiny finger to their favorite part of the picture.  My brother and nephew have a song for when a book has “crazy art” and my nephew will start singing, “Craaaaazzzyyyyyy art, crazzzzyyyyy art.”

The Man Who Walked Between the Towers Illustration

So this week in class, I’m reading a children’s book to my students.   Instead of having them focus all their brain power on what they’re reading and not on what I want them to do with that reading, I’m going to read The Man Who Walked Between the Towers and they’re going to create Bloom’s Taxonomy questions.  (I found out about this story in Literacy Training this week called Keys to Literacy – LOVE IT).  We will then talk about morality vs. legality and when and where they don’t match or do match.  It’s the discussion and the writing that I want my students to learn, not the reading.  However, this is one of my new favorite children’s books.   It’s a story of a man who walks a tightrope between two towers.  It’s just a sweet story with skies of illustrations and lends really well to that structure standard for ninth graders (RL5) because the author really does well with placing the pictures strategically as well as the paragraphs.

The Man Who Walked Between the Towers Illustration

“We’re starting from the bottom, now we’re here” in Drake’s words.  I think in education sometimes we focus so hard on how hard the student focus should be.  Our students should be learning calculus in second grade so they can compete with the rest of the world, only to find out that aliens were born with calculus imbedded into their antennas and so we’re further behind than we ever expected.  BAH!  I’m just not sure how much I agree with the push towards so much information at each age.  The books that I read in upper grades are being dropped lower and lower until the students won’t be able to handle the content on a maturity level.  With that being said, The Man Who Walked Between the Towers brings big concepts in a small books.  It goes with the phrase, “good things come in small packages.”

I do want to say that this book can open a great history lesson at any level, elementary math lesson and obviously any grade English lesson.  Sometimes, it’s the text that can be simple and lovely, and the lesson is complicated.   The children’s book will open our discussion on morality and legality and the differences between the two.  The evaluating question of the unit will be, “How are moral and legal wrongs different, and did Philipe do anything morally wrong, why or why not?”  There’s a good morality lesson on SAS Curriculum Pathways that I’ll be using for my students to create their own definition of morality so that they can adequately judge the story.  I would tweak this lesson before using it for any teachers that want to get on SAS.

The next thing that I really want to talk about is using podcasts in your classroom.  I haven’t actually used podcasts that often other than 3 Minute Fiction on NPR and listening to Neil Gaiman read.  However, today I was listening to Radio Lab and the show was called, “Of Man and Myth.”  They had this really awesome discussion of Alan Turing who was arrested in England for public indecency in 1952 and was forced to take large doses of estrogen to “cure his homosexuality.”  However, this is not what he should be remembered for AT ALL.  This man actually helped decode German ciphers for the British government during WWII.  He was the first man to decode the ciphers (he used a machine) and therefore an integral part of the allies trump over Germany.

Alan Turing @ The Inquirer (.net)

Alan Turing

I was shocked that this fascinating mathematician was known mostly for his homosexuality rather than his influence in winning the World War for the allies.  This is an aspect of WWII that my students may never know and a person that has an interesting biography for class discussions during a unit on WWII.  In 9th grade, we read Night by Elie Wiesel.  It makes memories of the horror of the Holocaust on every read through.  I show them the clips from Band of Brothers of the moment when American soldiers happen on the concentration camps.  I show them clips of Elie Wiesel speaking and we read all kinds of informational texts about the World War.   The thing that we don’t do is look specifically at people other than Elie Wiesel.   I fear that my students may think that there were more survivors than there were.  Maybe they don’t listen hard enough when Oprah says that Auschwitz was more than 15 miles large.  Using this twenty-minute segment from Radio Lab, my students won’t be just discussing aspects of WWII, but this man was arrested for being homosexual just seven years after WWII.  We just got through this mass genocide on specific groups of people, and yet the people who helped end that injustice were still unable to have equality in their own country.  SHOCKING. The truly disturbing thing about this whole story is that Turing ended up killing himself due to his unhappiness after the arrest and estrogen treatments.  This story just adds more deaths over a lack of empathy, lack of kindness, and pure ignorance.

Read a letter from Alan Turing signed “Yours in Distress” about his legacy here. 

Julian Peters Comics SO AWESOME

Lastly, Amy @ Lucy’s Football (and a writer for Insatiable Book Sluts) sent me a link to this SUPER COOL artist’s website.  Seriously, I’m dying.  If this isn’t the coolest thing to use with Persepolis or Maus, I’m just not sure what is.  For every teacher that was told they can’t teach graphic novels because they’re not actually literature, then teach graphic poetry from Julian Peters Comics.  It’s great for any English/History lesson.  You can teach modernism with her J. Alfred Prufrock, or Southern Gothic with Annabel Lee, or have students read the poems and then analyze the graphic novel (graphic poem) which is great for RL7.  Teachers could have them create their own graphic novel of the poem.  They could have to include historical elements, elements of that period of writing, humor, figurative language, characteristics of characters, theme through images.  I just adore Julian Peters’ art and I love that it can be transformed into the classroom.  Obsessed with the wrinkles in Prufrock’s forehead as their shaped like eastern rivers which always make me think of sadness.  They way that they flow down America and probably have a stone throw of history in each curve.  The “women talking of Michelangelo” have their hair in tight curls, wrapped in rags the night before, and they shove their palms up in speech as if they’re always asking for a handout.  Yes, Julian Peters, you’re my hero.

YAY! Share your plans with me as they come to you because I’m always looking for collaborations with other teachers.  This competitive pay in NC isn’t going to stop me from sharing, and learnin’ these beautiful little pieces of future that we teach.

Books We Fake at Dinner Parties: Installment #1

This is one of those books that I say I’ve read at intimate dinner parties where people are actually just trying to set their friends up with their eligible brother who may or may not be balding, or graying at the sideburns.  I think I’ve faked reading this book around nine times and every time it’s been with a reader I greatly respected.

Usually, people fake Ulysses or knowing the psychology behind Plath’s, “Daddy.”  Not me though, I fake with young adult novels.

Sherman Alexie

Ray Ramono

I think my love of Sherman Alexie really came full circle when I realized how much he looks like Ray Romano.  This past week at the beach, with the boy’s grandparents, it was either Everybody Loves Raymond, Gun Smoke, or Local Community Television.  I realized how funny Ray Romano really is and how odd it was that I was reading my very first Sherman Alexie book while watching Everybody Loves Raymond.  Sometimes, the Universe sends you a billboard about your bookishness.   Sometimes the Universe just sends you a Doppelganger and your strange brain makes connections.

Really, I wanted to read this book so that I could confidently put it on my classroom bookshelf for borrowing.

The Absolutely True Diary of  a Part-Time Indian is the book for all young outsiders, young dweebs, young people trying to make a small difference in their lives by being different themselves.  It doesn’t hurt my love of this book that it’s been banned in part of Oregon State, has its own ban list at Marshall University, Stockton had a public vote against the book, and this blog has a lot more references to the bannings around the US.  I also wasn’t allowed to read this for book club at the teen center even though no one higher-up even lifted up the corner of one page.

I’m always up for reading a good challenged book.  I think my dad almost had a conniption when I carried home Fear of Flying by Erica Jong my sophomore year of college.  I remember my mother having a polite conversation about my dad’s fears.  I was taking a lot of Women and Gender Studies classes, so that may have just put him over the edge.  This book has almost nothing to do with that though.  (In fact, I think some of my Women and Gender Studies professors would be up in arms over how women are portrayed in Absolutely True Diary).  Honestly, like a good Weezy song the objectification of women really didn’t bother me.  (I may regret typing that.  How did we even get on this topic).

With Comics by Ellen Forney

Absolutely True Diary is the story of Arnold Spirit Jr. (Junior on the Rez and Arnold at Reardan, his off-Rez high school).  It’s the story of the experience of the teenage heart (what a mouthful).  Junior goes through the death of his loved ones, his epiphany over his sister’s dreams of romancing her way through the English language that she isn’t exactly invited to join in on, his best friend Rowdy with a nickname as real as his fists, and his life as a part-time Indian.  While I think a Non-Native American author could never write this story, I think Alexie makes Junior and the Spokane Reservation both relevant and endearing although riddled with trouble.

I find this book so appropriate for young adults.  Yes, oh dear, there’s mentions of masturbating.  BUT, and this is a big BUT – thus the all-caps, the mention of bonors is completely relevant because it’s “metaphorical bonors over books.”  I think if you read my blog regularly you can relate to that.  There’s also mention of the bowel movement.

FINALLY THE DAY HAS COME:  I am able to add the bowel movements to the books.

“So, okay, I’m going number two, and I’m sitting on the toilet, and I’m concentrating.  I’m in my Zen mode, trying to make this whole thing a spiritual experience.  I read once that Gandhi was way into his own number two.  I don’t know if he told fortunes or anything.  But I guess he thought the condition and quality of his number two revealed the condition and quality of his life.” (Side note: Have you met my father?)

“Yeah, I know, I read way too many books.  And I probably read way too many books about number two.”

Now let’s be honest, that was probably the first time I’ve been able to capture this blog so profoundly in a book.  Alexie should be awarded all the blog awards that float around the internet and give us 97 facts about himself (how does he take his cheese; melted, microwaved, sliced thin or thick).  I am so off topic all day today.

Absolutely True Diary highlights some stereotypes about Native American Culture (drinking problems, poverty, casinos), and a lot of these problems/stereotypes really spark the emotional stride in this story.  Junior is hilarious – his cartoons are powerful to understand his vision of the world, more than just his language.  I like how Alexie uses the cartoons to really highlight the young adult mind.

By Sherman Alexie

Sometimes, language can be the epic downfall of young adult books – authors can dumb down the language, or create an unrealistic character that gets a perfect score on their SATs because they’re so ahead.  In Absolutely True Diary, Junior’s language and his comics really envelop this age of absolute terror, absolute grief, absolute embarrassment, absolute lust, and above all absolute growth and dreams.

I had my best dreams when I was in eighth grade, rolling over to ninth.  I thought beyond all my hatred of science that I would be a veterinarian and easily get over my fear of watching my mother wash my howling cat, Puss, in the sink.   I had already won a short essay contest for a mother’s day giveaway and dreamed of writing the next Great American Novel, but had already given up reading by sixth grade.   I wanted to be popular, and sit at the cool lunch table and wear shorts that came much shorter than my fingertips, and pucker red lipstick onto tissues because I was pale and dramatic.  Junior is in the dream age, when we’re still children, but we see the world tinted, like the old photograph yellow that forests become just after a heavy thunderstorm.

Comic by Ellen Forney

I think there should be more books written for this age.  I would love if more books would capture the same themes that Alexie captures with Absolutely True Diary.  We are all outsiders, no matter our geographic region, our historical background, the color of our skin, the sound of our voice, the surgeries that left us bent, broken, or changed.  We are all these terrible, vulnerable, incomplete creatures that want to be wholly original and still live in a group, as one with a community.  The beginning of high school is the age where we figure out where we fit, or if we fit at all, or if we will live lonely and shy by our lockers and in classrooms.  It’s such an experimental age and it needs to be written for and about.

Junior, and his bunch of friends captures the insecurities of this time in our lives, but he also captures the ways in which we come together, and work together and use one another as tools.  My favorite characters in this whole book aren’t the bulimic heart throb, or the star basketball player, but Rowdy – the abused, and angry best friend, and Gordy – the nerdaholic.  It’s the most broken, and the most uncherished I found myself gravitating towards.  I think a lot of us imagine ourselves as the worst of what people think of us.  I’m self-obsessed, and spoiled (according to my “haters” and my mind on a bad day, and probably somewhat the truth), but we have to remember that those are the best things about us – that we have these imperfections that glisten.

Newsday Tuesday

Favorite Tweets:

Read bottom to top:

Read normally:

Favorite Search Terms:

  • bowel movements in history: if someone hasn’t written this book, they should.  I will review it with honor.
  • ihop receipt: I just thought that this was interesting.  I must know the story of this googling.  If you are out there anonymous googler, please email.  Yes, this has become a want-ad.
  • disney princess epiphanies: I have this all the time, then I sing, “Ah-ah-ah, ah-ah-ah” like golden rays are coming out of my hair and I’ve become little mermaid, minus the fin.
  • feminist background: Is anyone really born a feminist or do they become one after many years of silent rage?
  • a re-imagined Florida in which the citizens of the state are born with magic talents: Listen, I lived in Boca until I was five and the only magic talent Florida needs is better driving schools.  My faj flew over a grassy median once and said, “it’s okay, we’re in Florida, they all do that.”
  • spark notes Claire Keegan Foster: Shame on you.  I’m guffawing.

Book News: