Monthly Archives: March 2013

Reflections on Domain 3: Instruction

3a.  Communicating with students

At the beginning of a new unit, students are given a calendar and a schedule of due dates for homework, tests/quizzes, and classroom activities.  In this way, students can organize their own schedules and plan to have work competed on time.  Also, in the event of an absence, students know what has to be made up. 

Students are also given a study packet for each unit as well.   These packets include: introductory information pertinent to the unit, vocabulary word lists, reading/study questions, literary analysis questions, and any supplementary materials that we may need in the unit (poems, stories, articles, worksheets, etc).  All of my unit packets look alike, so students come to know where to find certain materials in them.   The expectation is that all study questions will be answered in 3-5 varied sentences (as a way to improve the development of a response) that include a properly cited embedded quotation from the text (as support).

My quiz formats are all alike as well throughout the year.  Keeping quizzes in a familiar format creates a sense of comfort in the students as there are no surprises.  All reading quizzes are comprised of ten multiple-choice questions (text-based and also related to literary analysis) and three short responses (taken directly from the homework questions).  I tell students that the homework is a dry run for the quiz.  The better job they do on the homework, the better it will stick in their memories as they answer the same questions on the quizzes. 

All vocabulary quizzes also follow a similar format: I read the definition, and students write the appropriate word and spell it correctly.  Students earn ten points for appropriate, correctly spelled words.  Five points are given to responses that are 1-2 letters off in spelling (including a capital letter for what are not proper nouns), and anything more than 2 letters off is marked wrong.  Students are often given bonuses of past vocabulary words or using the words in complete sentences that demonstrate they know what the word means. 

By being upfront with students about quizzes and keeping up with the schedules in the study packets, this helps to alleviate the stress of wondering what’s coming next.  I give as much advance notice for all assignments as possible to allow students to adapt to their personal schedules, which include sports, music and other activities.


3b. Using questioning and discussion techniques

I ask higher level questions both on quizzes and in the classroom.  I want students to be able to back their responses up with textual evidence, so I follow their answers with, “So how do you know?”  or “What makes you say that?”  Also, when a student responds to a question, I ask others to add to the response.

Students also work in cooperative groups throughout the year.   I mix up the groups so that they get to work a unit with everyone in the class at least once.  I pose questions to each group, and they work together to come up with an answer, which they then present to the rest of the class.  This works especially well with the literary analysis questions that I give in each unit.  For example, during the Shakespeare unit, I divided a list of twelve questions among the six groups.  This allowed the groups to focus in on two particular literary devices in depth (because was group was responsible for only two questions).  When a group presented to the class, the listeners were responsible for writing down what they heard.  During the presentations, I would interject with, “And….” or “Soooo…” or “But…” and students would then elaborate on their responses.  This continued until the question had been thoroughly answered.  By the time we were finished, each student had an answer to all of the questions. 


3c. Engaging students in learning

For some assignments, I allow students to create the questions from the reading.  I tell them that the questions have to be text-based, but without obvious, fact-level, “point to it” answers.  We work on inferencing with the reading to create higher level thinking questions.  For example, when the enriched students worked with Every Bone Tells a Story (a non-fiction piece they’d read over the summer) during quarter one, they were placed into cooperative groups (one for each of the four hominins discussed in the text).  Each group had a series of tasks to perform, including creating study questions for their assigned section of the book.


3d. Using assessment in instruction

I followed the categories of the PARCC framework for my grade book categories this year.  They are as follows:

Reading (30%):  This section includes all reading tests/quizzes and homework assignments;

Analysis (20%):  This section includes literary analysis essays, critical thinking writing assignments done online (Reader Response Questions), and literary analysis questions from the units;

Research (20%):  This section includes all the steps of the research process for the main research paper, as well as smaller research projects throughout the year;

Routine Writing (10%):  This section includes journal writing in response to Visible Thinking exercises as well as any writing exercises we do involving grammar/sentence structure;

Narrative Writing (10%):  This section includes personal responses to literature or Visible Thinking exercises in their journal, as well as the enriched short story project and the 60 Day Sojourn done online in conjunction with the Hero’s Journey lessons;

Vocabulary Work (10%):  This section includes the Greek or Latin Root of the Week posting done on the classroom websites as well as all vocabulary quizzes for the unit.

Students are able to monitor their own progress via the Parent Portal online.


3e. Demonstrating flexibility and responsiveness

I have made it my practice to eat lunch in my classroom in order to be available for students on a regular basis.  They can come to me during period 5 for make-up quizzes, to ask questions, or to seek help with homework/assignments. 

In the event of a student struggling with material, I have been willing to work with that student to help him/her succeed.   I gave a “medical incomplete” on a report card to accommodate a student who suffered from the flu at the end of the second quarter so that he wouldn’t feel stressed in trying to catch up in his missed work.  I have also extended deadlines to students who come to me and ask for help. 


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Filed under Domain 3: Instruction, Reflections on the Danielson Framework

English 9 Regents: Power in a Blank Sheet of Paper– An Anti-Bullying Exercise

First of all, I want to admit that I got the idea for this exercise from a teacher on FaceBook.  Secondly, I want to say that this was probably the most powerful lesson in Symbolism that I have ever given in my 15 years of teaching, and I intend to use this from now on to introduce the concept.

I teach 9th grade English, and I’ve been working using Visible Thinking tactics to better reach my students.  As a lead in to the short story “The Scarlet Ibis” by James Hurst, I wanted to find an exercise that would teach students about the power of symbolism in literature.   Who says that FaceBook has no value other than social networking?

I had students take out their writing journals and a clean sheet of paper.  In the journals, they had to put the heading “Symbolism” at the top.  They were then instructed to look closely at the clean sheet of paper sitting on their desks and to write (in the journals) anything that they saw about the paper.  They had to preface the notes with “I see…”.  I then asked them to preface a few sentences with “I think…” as they continued to look at the blank sheet of paper.  The kids looked at me like I was nuts, but they wrote in their journals anyway.

As soon as they finished writing, I told them to take the sheet of paper and crumple it up.  They could stomp on it, they could pound it, they could bite it… but they just could not tear it in any way.  That they got into.  Kids were balling up the sheets, throwing them on the floor and jumping on them.  One put the wad of paper into his mouth and chewed on it (I had to tell him to be careful about ripping it).  Then I had them put the wadded paper on the desk in front of them and repeat the writing exercise.  They had to preface each section with “I see…” and “I think…”.  They seemed to have more to say this time because it took them a bit longer to do the writing piece.

Once they finished that, I asked them to very, very carefully (so as not to rip it) unfold the crumpled ball and flatten it out as best they could.  While they were doing that, I instructed them to say, “I’m sorry” to the piece of wadded up paper.  Ok, so some kids got silly with it and started kissing the paper while apologizing, but they managed to get them opened up without tears.  Some were trying to use the edge of their desks to run the paper along it to try to flatten it.  Once they were ready, I had them repeat the writing exercise, prefacing with “I see…” and “I think…”, but this time I added the extra component of “I wonder…”.

After they finished that portion of the exercise, they then had to write their own definition of Symbolism… whatever they thought that Symbolism meant.   As a sign that they were completely done writing, I told them to hold their symbols high in the air (the pieces of paper).   When all students had the papers over their heads, I told them to now hold the paper right in front of their face and look at it while I talked.

As they looked at their papers filled with creases and footprints and, in some cases, saliva, I told them that they were looking at a symbol of a bullied person.    The creases in the paper symbolized the effects of bullying, and even though the paper was still whole and as completely usable as its unmarred counterparts still in the notebook, it will never be exactly as it was before it was crumpled.   I told them to remember that even though they said, “I’m sorry” to the paper as they were unfolding it, no amount of apologies could take away the scars left behind.  The creases may lesson over time, but they will never fully go away… much like the hateful behavior left behind by bullies.  Unkind words and brutal actions leave their mark, even if the one who did it says, “I’m sorry”, or “I was just kidding…”.   Kids sometimes just do not realize the power of words, especially negative ones.

I then asked them to write on the crumpled sheets of paper about the exercise.  I wanted them to write once more, “I see…”, “I think…”, and “I wonder…” after they were told about the meaning of the symbols.  I also asked them to not only explain how the exercise was carried out, but to write about the effectiveness of symbolism based on this exercise.

As I explained this, some kids laughed.  Some kids got very quiet and then hurriedly picked up their pens and started writing when prompted.  Some put their crumpled papers down and just looked lost in thought for a bit.

One in particular hung his head down, staring at the blank paper.  It was a boy who had been bullied by many of those same kids sitting in that room at the moment, and I’d had all four administrators come to the room to address the issue.  Of course, I’d made sure that the young man was not in the room at the time they came in.    I knew going into the exercise that this was going to impact him, but I felt it was an important lesson, especially the part about still being whole in spite of the creases.   I also asked the students to carefully fold up the pieces of paper and put them in their pockets to take with them and to look at from time to time throughout the day.  That one boy was very meticulous about folding his paper and putting it in the pocket of his binder.  I also asked that they share the exercise with their parents and ask them to sign the paper so that they could be returned to me the next day.

Bullying 1Bullying 2

I have been holding onto these signed pieces of paper for five months.  Many may have forgotten about the exercise, so I will remind them when I return the pages to them before Spring Break.

All in all, I felt that it was a very powerful exercise.  Sometimes people don’t realize just how much power their unkind words can carry… and now I hope that some will make that connection and stop the crumpling.  Even if only a couple of kids got the message, that’s a couple fewer potential bullies for the time being.

I hope and I pray, though, that there will be a whole lot fewer for life.

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Filed under Domain 1: Planning and Preparation, Domain 2: Classroom Environment, Domain 3: Instruction, Domain 4: Professional Responsibilities, English 9 Regents, Visible Thinking

English 9 Regents: Persuasive Writing Related to The Odyssey

This is the research unit that I did with my Regents students.  We took ten class days to prepare for writing the research paper.  The first class was for explaining the process in advance, and the remaining nine classes are outlined below.

Research Paper: War and The Odyssey


Your assignment is to create a critical thinking paper; a thoughtful answer to a question of your own devising (which you have cleared with me in advance), based on your own interpretation of specific passages in your research articles and The Odyssey.   Your interpretation should be defended with logical arguments. Clarity and organization in the presentation of your argument are crucial, both to the persuasiveness of your paper and to your grade.


You will have a choice between the two following general topics:

  1.  Soldiers returning home from war (any war except the Trojan War)
  2. Loved ones and families of those who went to war and either have yet to return (MIAs and POWs) or who never returned


Your task will be to narrow down the topic to a specific war in history, and then create a specific “yes” or “no” question about that topic (see later in these notes for examples).  Once you have the questions formulated (to which the answer is either “yes” or “no”), take your position (in other words, answer your own question).  Once you have your position, you need to come up with three reasons why you answered the way you did (these will become your signposts).  As soon as you finally have your question, your position, and your reasons for your position, you are ready to write your thesis statement.


Class activities preparing for writing the paper:

Activity 1:  Writing three questions to which the answer is either “yes” or “no” that relates to soldiers returning from a specific war, or families who await(ed) word on loved ones in a particular war

Activity 2:  Library visit to find sources that will provide information about the selected war as well as finding both “yes” and “no” answers to their questions.  They will then have to decide which of the three questions will be the focus of their paper.  Students need five sources that will both support and provide a counter argument against their position on the question.  No more than two sources may come from the World Wide Web; they may use the electronic databases that the school purchases, or they may use books (but NO encyclopedias of any kind, either print or electronic).

Activity 3:  Taking a clear position and creating a thesis statement with three solid signposts.  Students are then told that they will have a body paragraph for each signpost as well as one body paragraph that will give background information about the war they have chosen (for a minimum of four body paragraphs for the essay).

Activity 4:  Using the five sources, students will create five bibliography cards and number them in the upper right-hand corner.  Students will then put the cards in alphabetical order, therefore creating a preliminary Works Cited list.

Activity 5:  Students must create 50 note cards, taking ten concrete details from each source.  If they cannot get ten details to support and/or argue against their position from a particular source, then the source isn’t strong enough and they have to find another one.  Each note card must contain a direct quotation (concrete detail or CD), and the corresponding number from the source’s bibliography card also goes in the upper right-hand corner of each note card.   Students must also mark in the upper left-hand corner which signpost paragraph the CD supports/argues against or if it goes in the “war background” paragraph.

Activity 6:  Connections to The Odyssey.  For those writing about a soldier returning home from war, the students must find connections to the journey home for Odysseus and relate it to the soldiers returning from war that they are targeting in their paper.   For those writing about loved ones waiting for the return of a soldier, you may focus on either Penelope or Telemachus.   Make note cards for each connection (copy lines that you could possibly embed).  These will be new CDs (at least ONE per signpost).

Activity 7:   Students will divide their 50 note cards into 4 piles (one for each of the aforementioned body paragraphs) based on the notations in the upper left-hand corner of the cards.   By doing so, they will see if they have unbalanced details/research based on the number of cards per pile.  If they have no cards for a particular pile (because they have no CDs to support that particular signpost or information about the war), they know that they will have to return to the research process to find information and make additional cards (including a new bibliography card, if necessary).  They will then choose one of the four piles pile and lay the cards out in front of them.   From there, students must discard 50% of that pile’s CDs that they had originally come up with.  This is where they have to be more discerning about the details that will ultimately end up in the paper (BUT they must keep all cards to show the process they went through).  Repeat for remaining three piles.

Activity 8:   For all the “keeper” cards in the Note Card piles, students will go through and highlight the key phrases from the sentences they’d copied (CDs) to use as embedded quotations.  There will be no “sentence plops” in the paper!

Activity 9:  Students will create a topic sentence outline for the overall paper.  First, students must come up with a “hook” to use as an opener for the introduction of the paper…they must get the reader’s (my) attention and make me want to read what they’ve written.  Choices of hooks include: imagery, an anecdote, a pithy quotation, or a shocking statistic.   All that has to go on the outline is the first sentence or two that they are thinking of using as an opening.  They must then include their improved thesis statement.  From there, they have to outline the body.  They will provide the topic sentence for each body paragraph as well as the sentences embedding the choice of concrete details from their Note Cards (see example below):

A.  Topic Sentence for first signpost

1.   Sentence with embedded quotation of strong support for argument as CD1 (cited).

2.  Sentence with embedded quotation of strong support for argument as CD2 (cited).

3.  Sentence with embedded quotation of counter argument as CD3 (cited).

4.  Sentence with embedded quotation refuting counter argument as CD4 (cited).

5.  Sentence with embedded quotation from The Odyssey making a connection to the topic as CD5 (cited).

Concrete details from Note Cards will have been further pared down to a minimum of five CDs per paragraph.

Once students have finished with their topic sentence outlines, they go on to finish writing the essay by filling in the paragraphs with their commentary.  Final essays due in four weeks, which gives students plenty of time to see me with any questions or problems.

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Filed under Domain 1: Planning and Preparation, Domain 3: Instruction, English 9 Regents

English 9 Regents: Plato’s “Apology”

Odell LogoOdell Education has created model Making Evidence-Based Claims units for ELA grades 6-12.  For English 9, the chosen work of informational text is Plato’s “Apology.”  The link to the left will take you to the files for this particular unit, and I will be working with my English 9 Regents students on this piece in the 4th quarter.

The unit includes day-by-day lesson plans for close reading and is broken into five parts, each with a suggested number of classes for implementation:

Part I:  “Understanding Evidence-Based Claims”  (1-3 classes)

– Activity 1: Introduction to the unit

– Activity 2: Independent reading

– Activity 3: Read Aloud and Class Discussion

– Activity 4: Model Forming EBCs

Part II:  “Making Evidence-Based Claims” (1-3 classes)

– Activity 1: Independent reading and finding supportive evidence

– Activity 2: Read aloud and class discussion

– Activity 3: Find supporting evidence in pairs

– Activity 4: Class discussion of EBCs

– Activity 5: Forming EBCs in pairs

Part III:  “Organizing Evidence-Based Claims”  (1-3 classes)

– Activity 1: Independent reading and forming EBCs

– Activity 2: Read aloud

– Activity 3: Model organizing EBCs

– Activity 4: Organizing EBCs in pairs

– Activity 5: Class discussion of student EBCs

Part IV:  “Writing Evidence-Based Claims”   (1-3 classes)

– Activity 1:  Independent reading and making EBCs

– Activity 2:  Model writing EBCs

– Activity 3:  Writing EBCs in pairs

– Activity 4:  Class discussion of written EBCs

– Activity 5:  Read aloud and class discussion

– Activity 6:  Independent writing of EBCs

Part V:  “Evidence-Based Writing” (1-2 classes)

– Activity 1:  Independent reading and making EBCs

– Activity 2:  Class discussion of global EBCs

– Activity 3:  Pairs discuss their EBCs

– Activity 4:  Independent writing of the final piece

– Activity 5:  Class discussion of the final writing pieces

In all, the suggested unit length is 5-14 full classes focusing on a 17 paragraph passage.    I think this unit would be better served at the beginning of the year when I am targeting particular writing skills overall.  The skills are the key here, not this particular text selection.

One issue that I would like to address is that of spending 5-14 classes on one particular short passage.   While close reading is key and students need to pay attention to what they read, standardized testing does not reflect this practice.

According to test previews that we have been allowed to peruse, the upcoming exams look like they will be given in 90 minute increments over a three day period.  If the high school tests are going to be anything like the middle school tests being administered April 16-18, 2013, then the format looks as if it will be as follows:

Day 1:  (Test Book 1) reading followed by 42 multiple choice questions (I have heard, but it has not yet been confirmed, that the readings will be an excerpt from a novel, a poem, and an informational piece);

Day 2:  (Test Book 2) reading followed by 21 multiple choice questions AND (Test Book 3) reading and writing with three short-response questions and one extended-response question (I have not heard yet what the day 2 readings will be);

Day 3:  (Test Book 4) reading and writing five short-response questions and one extended response question (again, I have heard that the students will read five articles, respond to each, and then use information from the articles to write an essay… in other words, a Document Based Question (DBQ).

My concern is that with all the time being asked for close reading in the classroom (5-14 DAYS for “Apology”… I think 4-5 DAYS were set aside for Lincoln’s 278-word “Gettysburg Address” in the earlier model units), the students will come to expect that kind of time to spend on reading.  When they are faced with multiple passages in a 90 minute time frame, I am wondering how they will handle the time-added pressure on an already high stakes test.  While it is important to read closely, students also need to learn to read and comprehend in shorter time periods, mirroring testing situations.  To consistently do close reading at a snail’s pace gives students a false sense of how long they will have to complete tasks on standardized tests.   It seems as if we are sending mixed messages, and the students will be the ones who suffer from it.

Just my opinion.

However, I will try Odell’s unit and work with my Regents students on Plato’s “Apology” in an effort to enhance evidence-based writing skills.

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Filed under Domain 1: Planning and Preparation, English 9 Regents

2012 International Symposium on Mythology

We’re All In Myth Together

Symposium for the Study of Mythology, August 2012

Pacifica Graduate Institute

Santa Barbara, California

Susan R. Woodward


“Throughout the inhabited world, in all times and under every circumstance, the myths of man have flourished; and they have been the living inspiration of whatever else may have appeared out of the activities of the human body and mind.  It would not be too much to say that myth is the secret opening through which the inexhaustible energies of the cosmos pour into human cultural manifestation.”

–          Joseph Campbell, The Hero With a Thousand Faces


In August 2012, I had the privilege of presenting at the International Symposium on Mythology in Santa Barbara, California.  For four days, teachers, authors, story-tellers, and mythologists from more than half a dozen countries shared their experience, knowledge, and talents within the realm of myth.  I was fortunate enough to be selected, along with co-presenter Michael Lambert from Long Island, New York, to share our experiences with students in the classroom.  We worked as “bookend” teachers, me with freshmen and Michael with seniors.  We had them coming and going within the realm of high school.


The following outlines the topics I addressed in my part of the presentation as how I incorporate mythology into my curriculum:



When we read Great Expectations or The Hunger Games, we examine the individuation process of Pip and Katniss Everdeen.   As these characters grow and change, we also follow the growth of Theseus, Cuchulainn, Seigfried, David and Joan of Arc.


While tracking the trials along the journeys of Phileas Fogg in Around the World in Eighty Days, Odysseus in The Odyssey, and The Hobbit’s Bilbo Baggins, we also examine the character traits exhibited by Hercules, Kutoyis, Gilgamesh, Quetzalcoatl and Faust as they go through their own trials.  How these characters overcome their obstacles speaks of the values of the culture embodied by these heroes.


When Odysseus descends into the Land of the Dead, we also examine the descent of Innana, Wanjiru, KuanYin, Hermodor & Balder, and Izanagi & Izanami.   Students look for common motifs in the tales that demonstrate how the various cultures honor the dead through the performance of certain rites.

In each case with these stories, students create posters to share their findings.


The connection of these motifs in literature to the world of myth allows students to compare and contrast the heroes of old to their more modern counterparts.  We also break down each story into the culture’s values and beliefs that shine through, and students realize that these core beliefs actually permeate their own experience.  Values like courage, honesty, cleverness, honoring the dead, and overcoming obstacles speaks as much to their own lives as it does to both mythic and modern literary characters.


The Sixty Day Sojourn:

From November 1 through December 31, students participate in the online Sixty Day Sojourn that I created for them.  During The 60 Day Sojourn, we work through each of the steps of the Hero’s Journey a few days at a time.  In 9th grade, I provide a step-by-step approach as an introduction into the work of Joseph Campbell in the hope that they will continue on their own in the future.  My website, Sharing in the Journey of the Hero, can be found at

In class, students build a bulletin board that remains up for the remainder of the year as a point of reference.

The first day a step is discussed, I share examples from movies, television, mythology, poetry, novels, etc. These are listed in the Forum where students join in the discussion and respond with examples of their own. The idea is to create a vast pool of examples to draw from when we move on to the next phase.

The second day offers a quotation from Joseph Campbell and a guided visualization that is intended to lead students to discover specific examples from their own lives.  This is also in the Forum where they are able to share their experiences with the guided imagery. The Forum discussions are meant to be a sharing of examples that came to mind while reading or listening.


The third day is for the blogs. I ask introspective questions so that students can examine where they are on their own journey and share their insights with the community. As we are all the heroes of our own life stories, these stories deserve to be heard. The more we share, the more we will see how much we all have in common.


The 60 Day Sojourn is an effort to draw people of various nations, cultures, ages, and genders together to examine the things that make us similar. So much effort is spent on diversity (which is a good thing, don’t get me wrong) that we are more conscious of how we are different from one another than of how we are alike.


The New York Odyssey:

Students mirror the journey of Odysseus in a modernized version of a haphazard voyage from Troy, New York to Ithaca, New York while making various misadventured pitstops to five New York towns.  Students must use maps and must research the various towns in order to add local color to their writing as they re-work the tales of five of the places that Odysseus visited on his long journey home.  Students work in cooperative groups to create a compiled travel journal.  Each team must begin with a logical reason for why the group is in Troy, New York and why they must return to Ithaca.  Each member writes one leg of the journey, modernizing Homer’s original, and all the tales must work together to create a cohesive whole.  Students must work together to map out the entire journey and make logical transitions from one adventure to the next.   At the end of the project, each group must submit a travel journal that includes each student’s submission, as well as pictures and maps that outline the journey.  Then, in the spirit of Homer’s oral tradition, the groups tell their tales.


The Creative Writing Project:

Students write their own myths that utilize the Hero’s Journey pattern.  Each year, I choose a piece of literature that we have read in class and then create the prompt that will inspire their stories.  All students work through the writing process online and receive feedback from other students.  At the end of the project, the students vote on the top stories and those are published in a short story anthology.

inthefootstepscoverWhen, in 2009, we read a series stories of true life heroes, we were inspired by the then-popular television show Heroes.  Students selected one of the real life heroes, and then created a modern superhero character complete with superpowers.  Those stories became the anthology, In the Footsteps…



weremembercoverThe following year, we read Douglas Adams’ The Long Dark Tea-Time of the Soul in which humans created immortal characters through their stories, but once the humans started to forget about the immortals they created, the immortals (who could not die) were forced into an invisible existence such as the homeless on the streets.  Their task was to create a near-forgotten immortal character and then tell his/her story so as to give him/her a purpose to exist.  The tales of these immortals can be found in We Remember…

Altered Reflections cover RESIZED

AForgedThroughTrialsCoverfter reading The Hobbit in 2011, students created their own stories of journeys and trials in Forged Through Trials.  And in the current spirit of modernizing myths, legends, and fairy tales, this year’s project was to modernize a fairy tale or myth.  We read The Hunger Games and compared certain aspects of the plot to the trials of Theseus, as well as analyzing the film Percy Jackson and the Lightning Thief alongside the tales of Perseus.  The result was Altered Reflections.


This year, with the introduction of informational texts mandated by the Common Core State Standards, we read Every Bone Tells a Story.  Students have selected one of the hominin discoveries and have been researching the cultures that once lived in the areas where each was found.  Using their research findings, students will attempt to put flesh on the ancient bones and tell a story about their selected hominin.  Two of the finds, Turkana Boy and Lapedo Child, are of young boys, so some students have elected to write tales that include rites of passage and individuation.   Kennewick Man has inspired tales of the long journey.  As for The Ice Man, the world’s earliest known murder mystery, a couple of students are creating tales of the Land of the Dead.   Although the project is still considered creative writing, it is steeped in research and so meets the standards of the Common Core.

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Filed under Domain 1: Planning and Preparation, Domain 4: Professional Responsibilities, English 9 Enriched

A Plug for my Friend, Charlie Bethel and his Version of The Odyssey

My students were already introduced to the work of Charlie Bethel when we were preparing to read The Odyssey.  A performer of epic tales, Charlie tours the country giving presentations of such classics as Beowulf and Gilgamesh, but he can now add Homer to his repertoire.


When we were beginning The Odyssey, Charlie graciously accepted an impromptu telephone call from me in class.  He spent nearly 30 minutes listening to my students give feedback on a Visible Thinking exercise involving a portion of his performance of Gilgamesh, and he patiently answered all their questions.  We had to do this on my speakerphone, which has a limited volume, and the room was as silent as a tomb as they strained to hear Charlie’s replies…I hadn’t seen them that quiet prior to the call nor have I since!  He had them captivated!

I hope that Webster Schroeder will consider bringing Charlie Bethel to our stage in the future so that he can share his latest production of Homer’s epic poem!

Congrats, Charlie!

Charlie Bethel The Odyssey

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Filed under Domain 4: Professional Responsibilities, English 9 Enriched

English 9: English Speaking Union Shakespeare Competition

English Speaking Union competition

Each year, regional branches of the English Speaking Union holds local contests in preparation for the National Shakespeare Competition held in Washington, DC.

This year, I held a Shakespeare contest at Webster Schroeder, and students had to memorize and perform a 20 line monologue or soliloquy from one of the Bard’s plays, as well as one of his sonnets.  Sadly, because we found out about the local contest late and had to rush to hold a school contest, our competition was not as successful as I had hoped (attendance-wise).  However, we did have a winner, Stephanie Bertman go on to represent Webster Schroeder at the regional competition held in Rochester.

While Stephanie did not win the regional contest, she did gain some wonderful experience in both public speaking and familiarity with the language of the Bard.  She did credit to Ophelia’s mad scene in Hamlet, Act IV, scene v, and she worked very hard on Sonnet #71.  I am hoping that she will continue to work on her familiarity with Shakespeare and try out again next year!

The contest was covered by the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle, and their article specifically mentions Stephanie’s performance (click on our picture below for the link)!  Way to represent Schroeder, Stephanie!

Stephanie is one of my English 9 Regents students!

Stephanie Bertman and Me

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Filed under Domain 1: Planning and Preparation, Domain 4: Professional Responsibilities, English 9 Regents