Archives For Writing

17 minutesI was researching websites for the Film and Literature class when I first heard about the “17 Minute Rule;” a rule that suggests the real plot is revealed to the audience 17 minutes into any film.  Todd Pack’s Messy Desk Blog uses a number of examples to illustrate  The 17 Minute Rule:

George Bailey tells his father he couldn’t face being cooped up the rest of his life in a shabby little office at his father’s building and loan 17 minutes into It’s a Wonderful Life.

The rest of the movie is about everything that happens that stops him from leaving Bedford Falls and drives him to consider jumping off that bridge on Christmas Eve.

  • Luke’s uncle buys the droids 17 minutes into Star Wars. The droids are what leads Luke to Obi-Wan Kenobi and Princess Leia and, ultimiately, the Death Star.
  • Buddy leaves the North Pole to find his real dad 17 minutes into Elf.
  • The shark eats the little boy on the raft 17 minutes intoJaws. It’s the second attack that forces the town to close the beach and go after the shark.
  • The Iowa farmer is thinking about plowing under the baseball field he built in his cornfield until Shoeless Joe appears 17 minutes after the credits in Field of Dreams.

This 17 minute phenomenon was corroborated on other blogs as well.  Writer and Director Nathan Marshall posted Screenplay Structure: Three Acts & Five Points Script Frenzy! blog where he also called attention to minute 17:

3) Page 17. Next time you watch a DVD, pause it 17 minutes into the film. Trust me—any film. What’s happening at that point in the story? Most likely, the essential character conflict has just been laid out. A teenage Indiana Jones runs to his father for help, but is shushed instead. Shaun convinces his girlfriend to trust him in Shaun of the Dead. Captain Renault asks Rick why he came to Casablanca. On page 17, your audience should realize what the film is really about. It’s not about finding the Holy Grail, Indy—it’s about learning to forgive dad!

The same was outlined on the  All About Screenwriting blog. In addition to explaining the rule, this post made the claim that the ratio of screenplay to minute of film is 1:1; and page 17 will be the 17th minute of a film. The site provides a basic outline for a screenplay of the average movie made today:

FADE IN: 

  • Between pages 1-5: The HOOK, something that grabs our attention and pulls us in.
  • Page 10: At this point in your script you should have the “MINI CRISIS”. The “MINI CRISIS” should lead us into…
  • Page 17: …The DILEMMA. Creation of the team and what the movie is about.
  • Page 30: The REACTION to the dilemma or situation.
  • Page 45: First “REVERSAL” of the 17 minute point. This point furthers the characters and pushes them deeper into the situation or the dilemma.
  • Page 60: The “TENT POLE” of the movie. Where the passive characters become active or vice versa.
  • Page 75: Second “REVERSAL” to the 17 minute point. To reaffirm what the story is about.
  • Page 90: The LOW POINT of action. The place from which our main character has to rise up from.

FADE OUT.

So when I noticed students picking up books for independent reading and discarding them after the first few pages, I wondered if they were giving the book a real chance. Could a 17 page rule apply to books student might choose to read? And, if the rule applied, would a student become more engaged once he or she reached page 17?

In a short experiment, I grabbed three books off the top of the book cart, and noted the following:

The Hobbit (The Dwarves and Gandalf invade Bilbo’s home)

“The poor little hobbit sat down in the hall and put his head in his hands, and wondered what had happened, and what was going to happen, and whether they would all stay to supper. Then the bell rang again louder than ever, and he had to run to the door.”

Little Women -Marmee gives  Meg, Jo, Beth, and Amy their Christmas gifts with her words of encouragement to survive the difficulties of life.

‘We never are too old for this, my dear, because it is a play we are playing all the time in one way or another.Out burdens are here, our road is before us, and the longing for goodness and happiness is the guide that leads us through many troubles and mistakes to the peace which is a true Celestial City. Now, my little pilgrims, suppose you begin again, not in play, but in earnest, and see how far on you can get before Father comes home.’”

Lord of the Flies-The boys Ralph and Piggy discover they are on their own in a hostile environment:

“They’re all dead,” said Piggy, “an’ this is an island. Nobody don’t know we’re here. Your dad don’t know, nobody don’t know—”
His lips quivered and the spectacles were dimmed with mist.
“We may stay here till we die.”
With that word the heat seemed to increase till it became a threatening weight and the lagoon attacked them with a blinding effulgence.”

Yes, the rule was working for books from the canon. Later that same afternoon, I was working with a “reluctant reader” who had selected James and the Giant Peach as a guided reading text. I glanced at page 17 and noticed the wonderful passage where James finds the entrance to the giant peach.

James and the Giant Peach 

“Almost without knowing what he was doing, as though drawn by some powerful magnet, James Henry Trotter started walking slowly toward the giant peach. He climbed over the fence that surrounded it, and stood directly beneath it, staring up at its great bulging sides. He put out a hand and touched it gently with the tip of one finger. It felt soft and warm and slightly furry, like the skin of a baby mouse. He moved a step closer and rubbed his cheek lightly against the soft skin. And then suddenly, while he was doing this, he happened to notice that right beside him and below him, close to the ground, there was a hole in the side of the peach.”

Not every text has a page 17 moment…sometimes the dilemma is posed on page 16 or page 18 or 19. I suspect the rule holds up because the 17 minute rule/page 17 is part of a pattern in storytelling, and stories always follow a pattern.  Sharing this rule with students gives me another “tool” in my teaching toolbox, so when I see a student toss a book aside after reading only a few pages, I casually remark, “Did you get to page 17 yet? There’s a rule about page 17…. on page 17, something important always happens.”
I may get a quizzical look, but several minutes later, I have seen that same student engrossed in the text.
“The book got better,” says the student.
“Well, you got past page 17,” I respond.

I believe the author Stephen King would hate the language of the Common Core State Standards for one reason: unnecessary adverbs. His book On Writing has a section devoted to explaining why The adverb is not your friend.

Adverbs … are words that modify verbs, adjectives, or other adverbs. They’re the ones that usually end in -ly. Adverbs, like the passive voice, seem to have been created with the timid writer in mind. … With adverbs, the writer usually tells us he or she is afraid he/she isn’t expressing himself/herself clearly, that he or she is not getting the point or the picture across.

I have written about King and adverbs before. As I am implementing the standards in my high school English curriculums, I find myself agreeing with him.  Take, for example, the Common Core Anchor Reading Standard 1. The standard states:

Read closely to determine what the text says explicitly and to make logical inferences from it; cite specific textual evidence when writing or speaking to support conclusions drawn from the text. CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.R.1

The use of adverbs in this standard has led to more confusion, not less. The expression “read closely” was recoined as “close reading,” and that has resulted in parodies of teachers holding books up to their faces, mocking the standard. Why the writers of the Common Core felt the need to modify the action verb “read” at all is perplexing. Students must read to determine what a text says. That is all. The admonishment to “read closely” to determine what the “text says explicitly” infers the author is either trying to slip an idea past a reader or the author has been ineffective in communicating the idea. I am not convinced any author would appreciate this standard.

Moreover, the Common Core Anchor Writing Standards have the same problem, for example,

Write informative/explanatory texts to examine and convey complex ideas and information clearly and accurately through the effective selection, organization, and analysis of content. CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.W.2

I believe that every teacher requires students to convey “complex ideas and information clearly and accurately,” yet the language of this standard infers that students would be allowed to write distorted or inaccurate responses. The standard should read, “Write informative/explanatory texts to examine and convey complex ideas and information through the effective selection, organization, and analysis of content.” The adverbs are redundant, as King demonstrates in On Writing: (bolded words his choice)

Consider the sentence He closed the door firmly. It’s by no means a terrible sentence (at least it’s got an active verb going for it), but ask yourself if firmly really has to be there. You can argue that it expresses a degree of difference between He closed the door and He slammed the door, and you’ll get no argument from me … but what about context? What about all the enlightening (not to say emotionally moving) prose which came before He closed the door firmly? Shouldn’t this tell us how he closed the door? And if the foregoing prose doestell us, isn’t firmly an extra word? Isn’t it redundant?

The same editing should be applied to the Speaking and Listening Anchor Standards:

Prepare for and participate effectively in a range of conversations and collaborations with diverse partners, building on others’ ideas and expressing their own clearly and persuasively. CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.SL.1

In this standard, the subjective nature of the adverb “effectively” creates the same confusion as reading “closely.” This standard could be made measurable if the emphasis was on the infinitive “to persuade” rather than on the timid adverbs “effectively” and “persuasively.”  How does one measure these terms, unless by degrees? An argument is either effective or not. Readers are persuaded or not. A standard is unequivocal. The present wording could lead to much equivocating if a reader has to determine the degree of “effectively” or “persuasively.” Try this rewrite: Prepare for and participate in a range of conversations and collaborations with diverse partners, building on others’ ideas in order to persuade.”

In addition, the Language (or grammar standards) themselves contain a distracting adverbial phrase:

Apply knowledge of language to understand how language functions in different contexts, to make effective choices for meaning or style, and to comprehend more fully when reading or listening.CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.L.3

The phrase comprehend”more fully” sounds like a phrase from one of my student’s essays. I would equate the construct of “more fully” with “as a whole” or “the fact that” or the ubiquitous word “flows” found in my weaker writers’ responses. These are all phrases that receive a large NO! in red ink from me as I grade or confer. A reader comprehends or a reader does not.

King argues that writers must be deliberate in stemming adverbs in this selection from On Writing:

Someone out there is now accusing me of being tiresome and anal-retentive. I deny it. I believe the road to hell is paved with adverbs, and I will shout it from the rooftops. To put it another way, they’re like dandelions. If you have one on your lawn, it looks pretty and unique. If you fail to root it out, however, you find five the next day . . . fifty the day after that . . . and then, my brothers and sisters, your lawn is totally, completely, and profligately covered with dandelions. By then you see them for the weeds they really are, but by then it’s — GASP!! — too late.

King is proved correct about the propagation of adverbs in the language of the Common Core. Adverbs pop up in the NOTES ON sections that follow the anchor standards. For example:

Notes on Range and Content of Student Reading

Students can only gain this foundation when the curriculum is intentionally and coherently structured to develop rich content knowledge within and across grades. Students also acquire the habits of reading independently and closely, which are essential to their future success.

Notes on Range and Content of Student Speaking and Listening

Digital texts confront students with the potential for continually updated content and dynamically changing combinations of words, graphics, images, hyperlinks, and embedded video and audio.

When a reader removes the bolded words, the pedantic tone disappears. The implications that curriculum is “unintentional” or “unstructured” is removed. The confusion as to what reading “closely” means is removed. Don’t even get me started as to why “dynamically” is there, although I suspect the use is to suggest there may be some form of cool media out there that does not yet exist so the CCSS writers modified the adjective “changing” on combination with “dynamically” to cover future media constructs. The only adverb in this section that needs to be included is “independently,” and that should be an adjective. We all want independent readers, so be clear and say “independent readers.”

Stephen King has had an impact on my writing, and when I come to including an adverb I pause to think if that adverb is necessary. Would that the writers of the Common Core felt the same. The standards are riddled with adverbs. How did I find most of them? I used the “Find” option (command-F on my Mac) and put “LY” in the search box. How did I know that most adverbs end with ly?  Here, for your enjoyment, is my favorite adverb resource, a video from Schoolhouse Rock with the charming song about adverbs that remains emblazoned on my brain:

Consider how the advice from King and the lesson from this video can be used by teachers in stopping the flood of adverbs and in applying the Speaking and Listening standard in a classroom where “Digital texts confront students with the potential for updated content and changing combinations of words”….. NOTE: continually and dynamically not included.

 

theatre-stage-81d434 copyShakespeare’s sonnets are little one-act plays.
I learned this one year when I was teaching drama to grades 9-12 and I discovered Will and WhimsySixteen Dramatically Illustrated Sonnets of Shakespeare by Alan Haehnel. The short comic/poignant skits in the collection are an excellent way for middle school and high school students to be exposed to the Bard’s 154 poems.
Consequently, when I began the study of sonnets with my Advanced Placement English Literature students, I thought they might benefit from a similar technique. In addition, I considered that this could be an opportunity for them to write a narrative as required by the Common Core State Standards:

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.W.11-12.3
Write narratives to develop real or imagined experiences or events using effective technique, well-chosen details, and well-structured event sequences.

“Imagine a character in each sonnet is talking to you,” I explained, “you need to synthesize the ideas from the poem, and write that character’s story.”

Then, I handed out copies of Shakespeare’s Sonnet 29:

sonnet 29

When, in disgrace with fortune and men’s eyes,
I all alone beweep my outcast state,
And trouble deaf heaven with my bootless cries,
And look upon myself, and curse my fate,
Wishing me like to one more rich in hope,
Featur’d like him, like him with friends possess’d,
Desiring this man’s art and that man’s scope,
With what I most enjoy contented least;
Yet in these thoughts myself almost despising,
Haply I think on thee, and then my state,
Like to the lark at break of day arising
From sullen earth, sings hymns at heaven’s gate;
For thy sweet love remember’d such wealth brings
That then I scorn to change my state with kings.

On the bottom of the page I restated one simple direction, “Write the narrative.”

The results were unexpected. While my students are good at analyzing poems, I was unaware that a number of them are born storytellers. In their retellings, they captured the spirit, and sometimes the exact language, of the poem. They found ways to expand on the isolation and alienation of the speaker and incorporate the shift in the speaker’s attitude from despair to one of acceptance.

For example, Melissa used a pivotal moment in the lives of high school students…asking someone to go to the prom:

After weeks of preparation and endless nerves the day has come to ask her to come to prom with me!
I wrote her a poem listing all the things I liked about her and read it to her under the starlight sky just at sunset.
I ended the poem with “thy sweet love remember’d such wealth brings.”
My nerves ran through my body and I felt like I was going to pass out.
YES! SHE SAID YES!
I take her off to dinner and we planned for the night of prom. My dreams have come true! I am going to my senior prom with the girl of my dreams!

In contrast, Makayla began her narrative from the point of view of a frighteningly depressed teenager who observes others in a community park. The young girl’s attention is eventually drawn to one elderly couple, and their tenderness towards each other brings about an “epiphany,” a realization:

I inhale a summer thriving breathe and release the darkness out of my body. I turn to walk down the once sullen Earth path now as a gateway to sweet heaven’s gate. I take my phone out of the bag and dial my boyfriend’s number to make things right and explain myself to him. I pass the two elderly couple and smile.
In return I get a friendly, “Beautiful day, isn’t it?” and I respond, “Yes, yes ,it truly is, and I won’t beweep it again.”
As I near the running children, I pulled my bag off my shoulder and slipped it into a nearby trashcan. It’s time to change my state with kings.

Emma’s chose to use the point-of-view of an elderly woman suffering from Alzheimer’s in this poignant tale:

He doesn’t know that me is right underneath all of this forgotten memory. I’m right here, but I don’t know who I am. I bury my face in my wrinkled hands and trouble deaf heaven with my bootless cries. I can’t change. Curse my fate.
When I look up he’s standing over me. “Your appointment is at four.”
I swear I didn’t know. When I searched his face for recognition, I knew that he did not see me. He doesn’t know who I am and neither do I. He doesn’t understand that I can’t control my fate. But I am not my forgotten memory, I am his wife. That much, I know.

Finally, Jen’s story was humorous, told from the perspective of a jilted bride:

I’m sitting alone on altar steps in my once-worn Vera Wang wedding dress that’s as deflated now as I feel. My supposed-to-be husband left me for some California-toned, bottle-blond chick bustier than Dolly Parton. (Curses her and her awesome figure. I swear she was created by Russian scientists.) I all alone beweep my outcast state….

….That son-of-a-bitch should not be in my thoughts right now. Well, maybe he should considering he was a 10 thousand dollar mistake. Dammit I looked good in that dress.
Sullen Earth, why me?

What started out as an educated guess for an assignment on my part has yielded great results. Moreover, my students have written narratives based on  “this man’s art.”

“We loved writing these,” was their collective response.
Of course they did….hard to go wrong with Shakespeare as their mentor.

Continue Reading…

There is no surprise in reading the word “precision” in the language of the Common Core’s Mathematical Practice Standards. Mathematics requires precision:

CCSS.Math.Practice.MP6 Attend to precision.

Mathematically proficient students try to communicate precisely to others. They try to use clear definitions in discussion with others and in their own reasoning.

Writing requires precision as well. Proficient writers in every genre communicate precisely to others. Yet, one of the most difficult concepts to teach to students in recognizing the precision in an author’s craft. Word choice and punctuation are committed with intent by an author, yet, there are students who doubt these steps of precision made by an author. They believe that any text has stepped, as if full-formed or Athena-like, from the mind of an author. They think that novels pop into existence…unless, they are reading Toni Morrison.

Screenshot 2014-02-27 21.57.19

A “Wordsift” of precise language in Chapter 3 of “Beloved”; Denver and Sethe dominate as does the simile generator “like”.

My Advanced Placement English Literature students are currently reading Morrison’s 1988 Pulitzer Prize winning novel, Beloved. This story confronts the horrors of slavery by fictionalizing the true story of Margaret Garner who, in a failed bid for freedom, killed her baby daughter rather than have her returned to slavery.

A look at the opening two lines to Toni Morrison novel Beloved demonstrate her power as a storyteller and highlight her precision with language:

“124 was spiteful. Full of baby venom.”

An quick analysis of the specificity of language in these two short statements reveals:

  • 124 is the address (setting) where Paul D arrives looking for the run-away slave, Sethe.
  • 124 is also a combination of 1and 2 and 4…the first-born, the second-born, and the fourth-born children of Sethe. The third-born child (3), the child named Beloved, is missing numerically. That child chooses to make her presence known in more ghostly ways.
  • Morrison is exacting in her selection of word choice from her opening personification of the house as spiteful (“having or showing a desire to harm, anger, or defeat someone; malicious”) to the incongruous pairing of the words “baby” and “venom”.

So, when I asked students to write about the precision in word choice Morrison uses to craft imagery in the novel in the first 100 pages, they had much to choose from:

“In describing the choke cherry tree of scars on Sethe’s back, Morrison writes, ‘See, here’s the trunk it’s red and split wide open, full of sap and here’s the parting for the branches’(79). A history textbooks do not give details of slave wounds like that.”

“Sethe and Denver even accept ‘the lively spite the house felt for them’(3) …. Morrison utilizes this personification to show how objects took on the role of companionship when Sethe and Denver were ignored by their community.

“Sethe describes seeing the sunrise as menacing with ‘red baby blood’ with ‘pink gravestone chips’(34)  instead of seeing the colors as warm and inviting.”

In making these and other observations, students called attention to Morrison’s specific use of dialect, alliteration, hyperbole, synecdoche, repetition, smilies, symbols as well as the differences in syntax to serve her purpose in making the reader confront the irreparable harm of slavery. The closer the students read, and they were “close reading”, the more appreciative they became of Morrison’s style. They became more appreciative of her power to select specific words in creating a particular image. They had no idea they could have just as easily be applying a mathematical practice standard (“attend to precision”) in their literary analysis.

Morrison was awarded the Nobel Prize in 1993 in for her body of work that included the novel Beloved. In her acceptance speech, she addressed how precise language is used to describe; to depict [as if] by painting or drawing:

The vitality of language lies in its ability to limn the actual, imagined and possible lives of its speakers, readers, writers. … When a President of the United States thought about the graveyard his country had become, and said, “The world will little note nor long remember what we say here. But it will never forget what they did here,” his simple words are exhilarating in their life-sustaining properties because they refused to encapsulate the reality of 600, 000 dead men in a cataclysmic race war. Refusing to monumentalize, disdaining the “final word”, the precise “summing up”, acknowledging their “poor power to add or detract”, his words signal deference to the uncapturability of the life it mourns.

Morrison’s admiration for Lincoln’s precise language in the Gettysburg Address is a shared admiration. The speech is a suggested 9th/10th grade text for the Common Core Common Core State Standards for Literacy in History/Social Studies. Moreover, educators should note the literary connection between the president who led the nation to abolish slavery with authors like Morrison who use their craft in pressing the reader to face the horrors of slavery.

Finally, the Mathematical Practice Standard #6 states that by high school, students will “have learned to examine claims and make explicit use of definitions.” There could be no better claim on the damage inflicted on humans in bondage than Morrison’s story of Sethe and her Beloved.  The last lines of the novel, “This is not a story to pass on” communicates “You [reader] may not pass [or avoid] this story.” She explicitly defines the experiences of those “60 million or more” and captures their love and their longing for familial bonds by writing precisely what they could not.

In New England this winter and in many other areas of the United States, we are experiencing the Polar Vortex, a phenomenon of cold-core low-pressure areas that strengthen during the winter. That is the scientific explanation for the record cold of early 2014.

A literary lens would suggest this uncomfortable freeze is akin to Dante’s ninth circle of Hell detailed in the Inferno section of The Divine Comedy. This last inner circle of Hell is reserved for those whose sins are related to treachery. The ninth circle is divided into four sections, and all sinners are trapped in the frozen lake, Cocytus. Satan himself is frozen waist deep in the lake with an icy wind ensuring his immobility.

That icy wind sound familiar? Looking at my dashboard this morning, I noted the following temperature reading:

photo (18)Welcome to Hell!

Robert Frost, a New England man himself, considered the destructive power of cold and ice in his short poem “Fire and Ice” (read here by Richard Burton)

Fire and Ice

Some say the world will end in fire,
Some say in ice.
From what I’ve tasted of desire
I hold with those who favor fire.
But if it had to perish twice,
I think I know enough of hate
To say that for destruction ice
Is also great
And would suffice.

Frost’s association of fire with desire is recognizable. There are fires of passion or fires to make something “pure”. One symbol for knowledge is a lamp on fire, and a warm place by the fire is welcome during this recent freeze. Ending in fire may mirror the beginning, if one holds to the Big Bang Theory.

In contrast, his association of ice with hate creates a hostile tone. This association is also recognizable, describing someone as having  an icy heart or with ice in his/her veins leaves an unpleasant impression. The break-up song “Cold as Ice” by Foreigner lyrics state, “You’re as cold as ice/You’re willing to sacrifice our love…”. Economically, there is the dreaded “black ice,” a costly force of destruction on roads that sends thousands of vehicles to body shops annually. Scenes like these have played out all too frequently this year:

One final destructive power of ice to consider is the “melting” danger. National Geographic featured interactive maps in the story If All the Ice Melted  demonstrating what North America and the other six continents would look like if all the ice in the world melted. The result would increase the sea level by an estimated 216 feet.

Screenshot 2014-02-28 08.06.12

Frost’s short poem suggests that destruction by either ice or fire has the same result. However, I would like to point out that in the above-mentioned ice-melting scenario, my home would finally be waterfront, possibly with an ocean view!

Continue Reading…

January weather forecast? Frigid.
Blogger forecast? Sunshine.
Specifically, “Sunshine Awards.”
Nominating or receiving a Sunshine Award is a way for bloggers to get to know each other. There are unlimited winners to this award because this operates much like the chain letters of old. Get an award from a fellow blogger, and then nominate 11 other bloggers to participate. I suspect that sooner or later, every blogger in the world will be nominated proving the blogging universe has no degrees of separation blogger to blogger.
That said, I was delighted to get a mention….really!!
The Sunshine award does give other bloggers an opportunity to learn about each other, although I am not sure any of the following random facts on me will be useful.
There are five “official” rules (in green):

RULE #1 Acknowledge the nominating blogger:

For me, that was Vicki Vinton of To Make a Prairie “A blog about reading, writing, teaching and the joys of a literate life.” Her blog is an amazing combination of education application and literature tie-ins. Her blog looks so organized and engaging. I know if I am thinking that something might be possible, Vicki proves that what I am thinking is doable. I will reread her posts before I write on a topic (ex: Cautionary Tale Close Reading).You owe it to yourself to visit her blog.

RULE #2 Share 11 random facts about yourself.
Okay…..11 random facts about me:

a. I have 31 nieces and nephews (no twins) from my eight younger brothers and sisters.

b. I made my prom dress in high school; I thought pink calico was adorable!

c. The famous clown Emmett Kelly, Jr. patted me on the head when I was a toddler; I am terrified of clowns.

d. I learned to drive a stick shift on my family’s white 68 VW bus that we called “Moby Dick”; consequently, I also know how to jump start a car with a stick shift.

e. I have one “attached” ear lobe and one “unattached” earlobe which is not the genetic abnormality  you might think.

Kindergarten

Kindergarten narrator

f. I was the “lead”narrator in my kindergarten play which surprised my mother and father. NOTE: I am still comfortable onstage.

g. I can recite Marc Anthony’s speech from Julius Caesar III.i.253-275(“O pardon me, thou bleeding piece of earth…”) because my high school teacher made me memorize a soliloquy.

DSCN0868

Lock on the Pont L’Archevêché in Paris

h. My husband and I (married 32 years) left a lock on a bridge fence in Paris near Notre Dame in 2011.

i. I tear up at at flash-mob videos. Example? (USAirForce Band at Air & Space Museum)

j. I buy white cars because I want to be seen at night. Paradoxically, these cars always look cleaner than black cars.

Haunted House

My Halloween Haunted House

k. For many years,I had a haunted house for Halloween in my barn while my two sons were young. Now, I shut off all the lights on October 31st and pretend I am not home.

RULE #3. Answer the 11 questions the nominating blogger has created for you.

(Yikes….11 more facts? Aren’t you tired of all this?)

1. What book would you want with you if you were stranded on a deserted island?
How to Build a Ship and Navigate if You Are Ever Stuck on a Desert Island. The more romantic answer, however, would be James Joyce’s Ulysses or Ulysses S. Grant’s letters. Both are on a “to do” list that would require hours of uninterrupted reading time (the connection to Ulysses trying to get back home should not overlooked either…)

2. What did you learn from your mother?
I learned how to cook for a family of eleven; food was plentiful at our dinner table. Cooking is a great skill, but this early training resulted proportion miscalculations and substantial weight gain for my husband. I just cannot get used to cooking for two.

3. Where do you write?
There is a small table in my kitchen where I do much of my writing, but when the weather is nice, I will write on my back patio table. I imagine if I was driving by, I would think, “Oh! I would like to be writing there!”

4. Where do I find joy in my classroom or my work?
When I hear a student correct another student by saying, “a lot is two words.”

5. What do I do to recharge?
I watch movies. I am a movie addict which is not surprising given my addiction to stories.

6. What was my favorite book as a child and why did I love it?
Without question, my favorite book as a child was Little Women. I am the first born, the practical Meg, but in my heart, I am the second born Jo March.

7. If you could have dinner (or coffee or drinks) with anyone living or dead, who would it be and what would you want to ask him or her?
Sister Ella, my first grade school teacher who taught me to read. I want to know if she predicted my interest in reading. She was incredibly -almost frighteningly- tall, and I could never tell if she was smiling or not.

8. Do you have a quote that you keep (in your mind, a notebook, a pocket, your desk, etc.) that captures something that seems important to you? If so, what is it?
The most recent is by Carl Sagan, “What an astonishing thing a book is. It’s a flat object made from a tree with flexible parts on which are imprinted lots of funny dark squiggles. But one glance at it and you’re inside the mind of another person, maybe somebody dead for thousands of years. Across the millennia, an author is speaking clearly and silently inside your head, directly to you.” That’s impressive.

9. How do you feel about the age you are currently in?
Emotionally, I am fine with being 57. I have come to terms with things I will never accomplish (play piano, hike the Appalachian Trail) and still hopeful on other things I want to accomplish (PhD in English, speak French). Physically, I am surprised at how often I need to get up from reading or writing so I don’t get stiff and cramp up. Mentally, I am surprised that 57 sounds old, but 58 sounds wise.

10. What are you afraid of?
I do not like turning off the lights downstairs. To this day, I will race up the stairs as if something is chasing me.

11. If you could go back to one moment in time, when & where would that be & why?
In Our Town Thornton Wilder cautions against revisiting the past; the character Emily finds it too painful. Therefore, I would choose to relieve something I did as a child but not go as myself. I would go back to the 1964-65 World’s Fair in NYC and spend the day with all the exhibits that “predicted” our future.

Now for the fun part:

RULE #4. List 11 bloggers. They should be bloggers you believe deserve some recognition and a little blogging love!

NOTE: Should any of the following bloggers want to accept this award WITHOUT the chain letter-like activities, they have my permission. I have no demands for their participation in what could be a Ponzi-scheme of blogging. These bloggers represent a cross-section of  Bloggers and Tweeters that I read regularly.

 HOWEVER, readers who visit these blogs will benefit. I learn so much from all of these writer/educators…I feel their “love”:

1. First and foremost, my dear friend Catherine Flynn blogged so often in 2013 on Reading to the Core that I could not keep up. I walk with Catherine on the weekends (and I can hardly keep up!), so I am always interested in how our conversations show up in a post. She is a literacy specialist…and a specialist in keeping me focused on the real issues in literacy.

2. I love Bryan Crandall, Connecticut Writing Project (CWP) Director at Fairfield University. He supervised my CWP experience in 2012. His blog this year is Creative Crandall and his entry for January 1st, 2014, reads: “I will spend the next 365 pontificating what creativity means to my world, the people I love, the students I work with, and the teachers that need desperate rejuvenation. The goal is to counter the dreary, maddening, and absolutely criminal doings of governmental leaders and corporate partners who are undoing public schools.” Love that.

3.  Another amazing Connecticut Writing Project Director is Jason Courtmanche at the University of Connecticut. His blog is The Write Space. His posts on Facebook/Twitter alert me to any gem I might overlook in the news that is tied to literature/education. He has worked very hard to outline the transitions of Common Core State Standards to the Early College Experience at UCONN for hundreds of high school teachers.

4.  I met Kate Baker of Baker’s B.Y.O.D.– Bring Your Own Device, Dog, & Deconstruction of Literature in person at the Council of English Leadership (#CEL13) this fall. I had seen many of her posts/tweets. The meeting was kismet…in minutes we had covered The Odyssey, Moby Dick, and other classics. She gave a dynamite presentation of Stop Bleeding Red Ink! at the conference. (FYI: Kate already has posted 11 random facts about herself on her blog!)

5. My mom is in Idaho…and so is Glenda Funk at Evolving English Teacher. I first read her entries on the English Companion Ning; then, I stalked her at the National Conference of English Teachers in 2011.  I LOVED her post about the impact of high school sports on academics: “What We Don’t Talk about When We Talk about Ed Reform in the U.S.A.” In that post she discusses the everyday impact of sports from practice schedules to concussions. Very informative.

6. I read Judy Artz at her blog  Intergrating Learning and Technology-”Here you will find ideas for promoting literacy through the use of technology.” I met her in person also at Council of English Leadership (#CEL13) where I greeted her as an old friend. That is because she tweets (@JudyArtz) at a rapid fire pace, and sometimes mentions me!

7. I also met Daniel Weinstein of The Creativity Core at the National Conference of Teachers of English (@NCTE13) this November. I have used his ideas in my classroom, especially the semantic mapping, with enormous success. The blog is gorgeous with student work as exemplars.

8. Guilty pleasure? The observations of the Anonymous Blogger @ English Teacher Confessions. Entry “This book made me vomit” about Cormac McCarthy’s Child of God is an intriguing homage to McCarthy’s genius as well as a warning. Reading this post will give you an appreciation for this blog writer’s style…who is no slouch herself!

9. Buffy Hamilton, former high school English Teacher and current school librarian, writes at The Unquiet Librarian. She provides interesting and very practical ways to engage students in literacy (Writing Around Texts) through this dual lens. I am more appreciative of advice from educators who have actually been in a classroom.

10. I have participated in the “Slice of Life” challenge series originated by Ruth & Stacey:Two Writing Teachers this year. I admit, I do not always follow the rules (responding to others?!?), but I appreciate their tireless support of teacher writing. I have found that writing my blog (and slices) are the most educational experience I can have. They are to be congratulated for pushing teachers to engage in writing regularly.

11. Not sure where to start? Try The Reading Zone, Sarah Mulhern Gross who writes, “My blog focuses on reading, with a lot of writing and writing workshop thrown in. I also talk about my classroom and classroom projects.” What makes her blog even more legit? She is a regular contributor to The New York Times Learning Network Blog, my “go-to” spot for literacy in content area classrooms. (See how I snuck in two blogs on one entry?)

RULE #5. Post 11 questions for the bloggers you nominate to answer and let all the bloggers know they have been nominated. You cannot nominate the blogger who nominated you.

Here are Vicki’s 11 questions to me, and they are as good as anything I could design. I am plagiarizing them:

  1. What book would you want with you if you were stranded on a deserted island?
  2. What did you learn from your mother?
  3. Where do you write?
  4. Where do you find joy in your classroom or work?
  5. What do you do to recharge?
  6. What was your favorite book as a child and why did you love it?
  7. If you could have dinner (or coffee or drinks) with anyone living or dead, who would it be and what would you want to ask him or her?
  8. Do you have a quote that you keep (in your mind, a notebook, a pocket, your desk, etc.) that captures something that seems important to you? If so, what is it?
  9. What are you afraid of?
  10. How do you feel about being the age you currently are?
  11. If you could go back to one moment in time, when & where would that be & why?

So, dear selected Sunshine Award recipient, here is YOUR choice. You can answer any or all of the 11 questions listed above OR (and I am breaking the rules here) answer this ONE important question….

1. Why write on a blog?

Thanks again, Vicki of To Make a Prairie….this was fun to do on a bitterly cold winter afternoon!

Expecting allusions to Herman Melville’s Moby Dick during the National Teachers of English Conference (NCTE) is like (pardon the pun) shooting fish in a barrel. Okay, I know…the whale is a mammal, but once this white whale has been sighted, he keeps surfacing!

First Sighting: Nathaniel Philbrick’s 2011 slim book Why Read Moby-Dick?

Moby DickThe exhibitors at the NCTE conference were interested in putting books into the hands of teachers who would then put books into the hands of student readers. Once such vendor enthusiastically suggested the book based on its size; “See. you could carry this  book around the convention and hardly know it’s in your bag!”

He was right.  Philbrick’s 127 page argument as to why “this classic tale waits to be discovered anew” fit nicely in my convention bag and was perfect for reading during breaks between sessions.

The book is divided into 28 short chapters each devoted to topics such as setting, characters, or themes. Chapter titles include:

  • Nantucket
  • The View from the Masthead
  • A Mighty Messy Book
  • Queequeg
  • Pulling Dictatorship Out of a Hat

Philbrick is already familiar with the real life incident that was the inspiration for Herman Melville’s literary classic. His non-fiction book In the Heart of the Sea: The Tragedy of the Whaleship Essex in 2000 recounts the loss of the whaling ship Essex in the Pacific Ocean in 1820.  Heart of the Sea won the National Book Award for non-fiction that year, fleshing out the details of the whale attack on the boat, the fateful decision to avoid islands allegedly populated by cannibals, and the ironic turn to cannibalism that claimed the lives of several surviving crew members.

In Why Read Moby Dick?, Philbrick turns to the literary contributions Melville gave American literature, particularly in the creation of Captain Ahab, who in a pre-appearance had been rumored by other sea captains to have “been in colleges as well as ‘mong the cannibals.” In one chapter, “The Anatomy of a Demagogue”, Philbrick analyzes Ahab’s rhetorical craftiness in convincing the crew to hunt and kill the white whale. In discussing first mate Starbuck’s stunned realization that the Pequod is not out on a commercial venture, but rather a mission to settle the score of Ahab’s lost limb, Philbrick engages in a cross-culture reference that is both humorous and insightful:

Starbuck responds by asking what Ahab’s vengence will get ‘in our Nantucket market?’ It’s then, to borrow from the film This is Spinal Tap, that Ahab dials his charisma to eleven. ‘But come closer, Starbuck,’ he says, ‘thou requirest a little lower layer?’ It’s not about the money, he explains; this is personal. Thumping his chest he cries out. ‘My vengeance will fetch a great premium here!’ “(40)

Philbrick also aligns the story as a metaphor for the political turmoil of the United States. In discussing the chapter where Stubbs, the second mate, raises a shiver of sharks by cutting into a whale for a steak, Philbrick writes,

“The job of government, of civilization, is to keep the shark at bay….Here lies the source of the Founding Fathers’ ultimately unforgivable ommission. They refused to contain the great, ravaging shark of slavery, and more than two generations later, their grandchildren and great-grandchildren were about to suffer the consequences.” (78)

Philbrick moves between cultures, between ideologies, between philosophies, and theories in order to encourage more people to actually read Melville’s great American novel. A encouragement that may be necessary, because soon after I received the book, I had whale sighting #2.

Whale sighting #2:  A statement during a key note address at the Conference for English Leadership (CEL):

“We all know the opening line of Moby Dick, but how many of us have actually read the book?” posed speaker Donalyn Miller to the crowd of English teachers. There was a murmur of agreement, and more than a few guilty looks. Miller was discussing her passion and the topic of her two books: how to get students to read for school and independently.

20-minMost notably, Miller is known as the author of The Book Whisperer and the recently released Reading in the Wild. Her keynote address was to encourage students to become the independent readers that could-on their own- pick up a tome like Moby Dick. She discussed the characteristics of “wild readers” and pushed teachers to engage students in examining their reading lives. She advocated for literacy rich environments for students to develop the habits to make them life-long readers. Miller’s assertion that preparing students to read independently is the best guarantor of standardized test success was supported with the graphic she presented. (see left: Nagy & Herman study).

Her point about Moby Dick was that most people know the first line, “Call me Ishmael,” but only those who live literate lives know why the book is so critical to understanding American literature. Students who have not developed the reading endurance necessary for the book may be turned off by both the intimidating size and the 19th Century styled language of the text. Considering that most high schools shy away from teaching Moby Dick to anyone but their best students means that the novel will most likely be an independent choice book for a student who develops into a life-long reader. Miller wants them to be prepared so they can will have the pleasure of sitting back in a comfy chair, perhaps with a cup of coffee, to read.

Whale sighting #3: Coffee at Starbucks.
starbucks

Named for the First Mate of the “Pequod”

Speaking of coffee, I am not sure why I never realized this before, but this coffee company is named for the first mate of the Pequod, Starbuck. I Googled this fact while waiting in the long line of English teachers eager to fuel up before attending the day of sessions at NCTE. According to the company’s website, “The name, inspired by Moby Dick, evoked the romance of the high seas and the seafaring tradition of the early coffee traders.” How did I not put this together?

Whale sightings, continued…….

Once I returned home from NCTE and CEL, the white whale sightings did not stop. A blog post on To Make a Prairie by Edblog award nominee Vicky Vinton summarized a session she had attended at NCTE called “Reading the Visual and Visualizing the Reading” chaired by Tom Newkirk and presented by Louise Wrobleski, Tomasen Carey, and Terry Mohera. Vinton explains the ideas based their mentor text, Moby-Dick in Pictures by the self-taught artist Matt Kish were “too inspiring not to spread around.” Their presentation highlighted the amazing results in student work when students chose one quote from each chapter of the The Scarlet Letter and create an image for it. Vinton notes that, “Mohera was surprised by the depth of the students’ thinking and how, once she’d gotten them started, they took full ownership of the book, the assignments and the whole process.”  The richness of their illustrations shows how literature can inspire new creations, just as Kish’s illustrations were inspired by Melville.

As if on cue, as in the final pages of Melville’s drama, the white whale surfaced dramatically again this morning when I came across another artist who is under Melville’s spell. While perusing the December 16th issue of The New Yorker, there was Mick Stevens’s cartoon of the whale himself (p56), a cross expression behind his spectacles, with his front fins holding a copy of Moby Dick. The caption underneath read, “Oh, C’mon, I wasn’t that terrible!”

Coincidence? I think not. Melville’s white whale is everywhere, but to appreciate him? You have to read the book.

Screen Shot 2013-11-29 at 12.50.41 PMThe National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE) and the Council on English Leadership (CEL) met for a convention last week (11/21-26/13) at the Hynes Convention Center in Boston, Massachusetts. Thousands of English teachers and educators (happily) put aside their piles of essays and their red pens in order to attend to participate in a nationwide conversation on teaching English/Language Arts at all grade levels. This annual conference runs the weekend before the Thanksgiving holiday, and this year there were many reasons to be thankful that such a great opportunity exists. Here are our specific thanks to all of those who made this conference amazing.

Thanks to our Regional School District #6 in Connecticut for allowing us to attend:

Our first and most important thanks is to the administration, Board of Education, and staff from Regional School District #6 that allowed five members of the English Department at Wamogo Middle/High School to attend the conference and select from over 700 sessions offered from Thursday night-Sunday afternoon.  District support for such great professional development is truly appreciated!

Thanks to the program chairs who selected our proposals:

Members of Wamogo Middle/High School English/Language Arts department submitted a variety of proposals last year to demonstrate how we use technology in our classrooms. We are grateful that four of our proposals were chosen to share as presentations for other educators. The explanations of our presentations with links to these presentations are included below:

The Blog’s the Thing! (NCTE) roundtable discussion

This presentation demonstrated the use of the blog platform for students to engage in thoughtful discussion on characters and themes from Hamlet by having students “stop the action” of the play to offer advice to characters during different scenes.

Reinventing the Writing Workshop with Digital Literacy to Improve Student Engagement (NCTE)

Technology has reinvented the Writing Workshop in meeting the needs of 21st Century learners with the addition of digital literacies. This presentation features open source software platforms appropriate to the different tasks, purposes and audiences for writing instruction along with examples of student work and grading criteria.

How We Mooo-ved Our District from Cows to Computer (CEL)

This presentation illustrated how professional development in our district was organized on the ED Camp model to allow any teacher who would like to share their expertise or simply discuss a problem with fellow staff or faculty members.These technology initiatives have allowed members of the English Department to help teachers assess, organize, deliver context materials and related readings (fiction and non-fiction) that improve students’ digital literacy as well as foster independence in each student’s growth in reading.

Digital Writing with Collaboration (CEL)

This presentation showed how preparing students to write for the real world  (21st Century skills) must include the collaborative experience, from the initial creation to the final product. The use of digital platforms allows students to be college and career ready through the production and distribution of collaborative writing.

Thanks to the many teachers and educators who presented:

We are also thankful that so many other classroom teachers and educators from all over the USA shared their best classrooms practices. Our collective regret is that we could not attend every session that appealed to us; the jam-packed schedule defied our best attempts at strategic selection. We agreed, however, that quality of the presentations we did get to attend was amazing and relevant to what we do every day. The conference reinforced the importance of teacher-to-teacher professional development.

Thanks to the book publishers who made books available for classroom libraries:

The NCTE Convention offers book publishers opportunity to put advanced reader copies of fiction and non-fiction into the hands of teachers at every grade level. While publishers hope to catch the attention of teachers who will recommend the book to students, teachers look for books to add to their classroom library collection. Many publishers also make books available at a reduced cost  for the same reason. For example, I picked up several copies of books in the “After the Dust Settled” series (apocalyptic young adult literature) by Jonathan Mary-Todd for $2/copy, a purchase made necessary because these books keep disappearing off our classroom library shelves.

Screen Shot 2013-11-29 at 12.51.29 PM

Our “haul” from the NCTE Convention from book publishers and authors…headed for our classroom libraries.

 

Thanks to the authors who gave away signed copies of their books:

The tote bags distributed free to all registrants bore popular author Nicholas Spark’s imprimatur, a visual testament to the celebrity draw of authors at this convention. Authors are the rock stars at this convention: the children’s book authors rock, the young adult authors rock, and the educator trade book authors rock. Attendees stood in lines snaking around booths on the convention floor waiting to meet authors and have books signed. In the past, my request to an author is to have the book signed with the phrase “READ ME!” on the inside cover. I had the same done this year, so when a student asks what to read, I will point that the author has already made a suggestion to read the book.

There were also a number of authors representing a variety of genres who served as keynote speakers including: Neal ShustermanTeri Lesesne, Laurie Halse AndersonKelly Gallagher, Walter Dean MyersIshmael Beah, and Robert Pinsky. 

We are so thankful to have the opportunity to personally meet and mingle with the rock stars of the convention!

Thanks for the Tweeters:

Finally, the fingers of dedicated Tweeters attending the convention kept us abreast of all the events at the conference. There was a steady stream of information from sessions we could not attend, summaries of keynotes addresses, and updates as to upcoming book signings. The hashtags #NCTE13 and #CEL13 were invaluable sources for notes and quotes during the convention and for well after we left Boston.  For example, some Friday session tweets were archived onto the Storify platform for later use.

Next year, the NCTE Convention is scheduled for Washington, D.C., which gives me one more reason to be thankful…the convention is within driving distance!

We have been discussing loss a great deal in English class. In order to begin our  study of King Lear, students had to create lists of their 10 favorite things while I played the song “My Favorite Things” from The Sound of Music. After they made their lists, I  had them “lose” -one at a time- an item off the list.

“Cross off #7,” I announced with great seriousness.
There were immediate groans from students.
“That’s Starbucks!” one whined.
“My truck!” claimed another, “How will I drive?”
“Cross off #3,” I called out.
More protestations. More groans.
“No way I am crossing off my dog,” another retorted.

Soon, their lists were down to two items each. They stirred uncomfortably; they were unsettled by the mere thought of being separated from things or people they valued.

“Maybe I value my stuff over people too much,” mused one thoughtfully looking over her list.

In this short exercise, my students conveyed some of the same sentiments that are expressed in Elizabeth Bishop’s poem “One Art”:

One Art

by Elizabeth Bishop

The art of losing isn’t hard to master;
so many things seem filled with the intent
to be lost that their loss is no disaster,

Lose something every day. Accept the fluster
of lost door keys, the hour badly spent.
The art of losing isn’t hard to master. (continued…)

My students were struck by the repetition of the words “master” and “disaster” in the poem, a result of the villanelle* (see below) format. They noted the progression of items lost in the poem: the car keys, the watch, the houses, the cities, rivers, and finally, the loss of continents.

They noted the choice of hyphens and parentheses in the poem. The hyphen at the beginning of the final stanza was a “hesitation” according to one student, “because she doesn’t even want to write the last stanza.”

“How do you know?” I asked.

“Because she has to command herself,” the student replied, “See the parentheses and the words ‘(Write it!)’ on the last line?”

“Why? What is she losing in the last stanza?” I asked. They called out their ideas:
“Love.”
“You.”
“Her life…”

“So is the art of losing hard to master or not?” I asked them. They thought, and wrote the following in their notebooks:

  • “No one wants to  master losing things…who wants to be a loser, literally?”
  • “She is taking about the loss of physical objects in comparison to the loss of people, and no one wants to lose people…like a friend or lover.”
  • “The speaker is rushing towards the end, speaking faster with ‘shan’t’ and ‘losing’s’ as if things are slipping away, and out of control, until she writes down the losses….and commits them to memory.”
  • “She is trying to convince herself.”

Elizabeth Bishop’s poem brought my class back to the many themes we had been discussing in our unit on King Lear. We had spent several classes focused on the tragedy of a king who in dividing his kingdom, upends the order of the realm. In the process, he loses his daughters, his knights (protectors), his friends, his mind, and finally, his life. The students concluded that Lear was no “master of disaster.”

“Pretty cool that 19 lines can say almost the same thing as Shakespeare’s five act play,” concluded one student as he wrapped up his books  to leave.

Pretty cool, Elizabeth Bishop.

*villanelle: The villanelle has 19 lines, 5 stanzas of three lines and 1 stanza of four lines with two rhymes and two refrains. The 1st, then the 3rd lines alternate as the last lines of stanzas 2, 3, and 4, and then stanza 5 (the end) as a couplet. It is usually written in tetrameter (4 feet) or pentameter.

Literally….David Coleman

August 24, 2013 — 2 Comments

Literally added a new meaning this past month….literally.

A quick look at the Cambridge Dictionaries Online indicates that while the meaning of literally as ” having the real or original meaning of a word or phrase” will now include use of the word “to emphasize what you are saying”. A similar entry from an authority across the pond, Oxford Dictionaries notes:

In recent years an extended use of literally (and also literal) has become very common, where literally (or literal) is used deliberately in non-literal contexts, for added effect, as in they bought the car and literally ran it into the ground. This use can lead to unintentional humorous effects (we were literally killing ourselves laughing) and is not acceptable in formal contexts, though it is widespread.

This chatter about literally and literalness came to mind when I read the Frizzleblog on the Scholastic website ten “takeaways” from a presentation given by David Coleman, an architect of the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) and the current College Board president, to a group of New York City teachers. The blog entry was titled 10 Things Worth Doing in Your Classroom by  Suzanne McCabe, Editor in Chief at Scholastic, and she listed ten summaries from Coleman’s presentation on how to enrich classroom instruction.

Her summary statement #4 stopped me cold…literally.
4. Only draw conclusions that can be substantiated by the words on the page. Scrape away terms like “metaphorical,” and talk as simply as possible. Once you bring up metaphor and meaning, kids are out of the game.
McCabe may be misrepresenting Coleman in this statement, however, the Common Core State Standards promoted by Coleman centers on textual evidence, so the “conclusions substantiated by the words on the page” summarizes his preferred reading strategy.  In addition, his lack of classroom experience at any grade level explains why he may have said something akin to “kids are out of the game” when metaphors are discussed.
To the contrary, children of all ages understand metaphor according to Maria Popova in her post The Magic of Metaphor: What Children’s Minds Teach Us about the Evolution of the Imagination on her Brain Picking’s blog:

During pretend play, children effortlessly describe objects as other objects and then use them as such. A comb becomes a centipede; cornflakes become freckles; a crust of bread becomes a curb.

The combination of life experience and practice with similes (“pancakes are like nickels,”  “A roof is like a hat,”“Plant stems are like drinking straws,”) builds a student’s understanding of metaphors that are more complex (“”I am the good shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me” John 10:14). 

So why would a teacher want to “scrape” away metaphorical terms at this important stage in developing a student’s understanding of more sophisticated metaphors?
Furthermore, how could Coleman reconcile an author’s choice in using a metaphor if that metaphor is scraped away in order to talk as “simply as possible”? McCabe’s summary of Coleman’s position reduces students to reading “literally”, rendering them unable to appreciate an author’s craft .
For example, if students had to scrape away the  metaphorical ideas in some of Shakespeare’s most recognized literary comparisons, what would they say?

“All the world’s a stage, and all the men and women merely players. They have their exits and their entrances.” As You Like It

Students may determine through textual evidence that Shakespeare was literally referring to the stage.

Night’s candles are burnt out, and jocund day
Stands tiptoe on the misty mountain tops.” Romeo and Juliet

Students may determine through textual evidence that Shakespeare was literally writing about candles.

Smiling sunStudents are more creative than Coleman recognizes in his untested design of the CCSS. From the beginning of their academic careers, they draw their metaphors: smiling suns, hearts in hands, trees with large red dots. They start simply “Freddie is a pig when he eats,” before moving to more sophisticated constructs on their own such as “Love is a chocolate fountain that never runs out.” They are capable of sustaining elaborate metaphors to explain the writing process:

I choose my audience very carefully when playing for an audience for the first time. I want constructive criticism, and therefore I prefer to have my peer musicians as well as my conductor or private instructor hear me play aloud for the first time. . . .When I have read and reread [the paper] so many times that I am unable to find any mistakes, I then like to read my paper aloud to my family or a group of my close friends in order to get their reactions. Maria, National Writing Project website

These students knew they were not writing about a pig, chocolate fountains, or conducting music. If Coleman had classroom experience, he would have first hand evidence about student creativity.

Finally, many of the most beloved children stories are saturated with metaphor.  Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland is filled with metaphors that address life’s absurdities, and one specific metaphor brings me back to an entry I wrote titled  David Coleman, the Cheshire Cat of Education.

While I did not mean that Coleman is a cat literally, I do mean that his philosophy of education is as contradictory as the character in Carroll’s imaginative classic. “Curiouser and curiouser,” wonders Alice, when the enigmatic Cheshire Cat appears and reappears at critical moments in the story. Likewise, Coleman’s curious contradictions may be the reason for any inaccuracies in McCabe’s summary of his presentation. On the other hand McCabe may have accurately recorded these contradictions and illustrated how Coleman’s inexperience makes his statements about how to teach in a classroom ridiculous…literally.