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In the spirit of all end of the year reviews, I have condensed the year 2013 by offering month by month posts from this blog that illustrated the best student (and subsequently, teacher) learning:

January 2013: A Freshman’s Modern Odyssey in the Style of Homer

"Dawn spread her rosy fingers..."

“Dawn spread her rosy fingers…”

The Freshmen final project after reading The Odyssey is a narrative that students complete called “The Wamogossey: A Day in the Life of a Freshman at Wamogo High School.” Writing narratives are once again favored in  Common Core State Standards, and this post explained how students made their own attempt at an epic adventure.

February 2013:  Spilling Over the Corners of a Six Word Text

Short Story in 6 words

Short Story in 6 words

This exercise proves that keeping students “within the four corners of the text” is impossible, even when the text, attributed to Ernest Hemingway, is only six words long. This post also serves as evidence that that admonitions on best practices should be limited to those with actual classroom experience, not to the “architects of the Common Core.”

March 2013 If You Want to Watch the Cow Give Birth

Watching the arrival of our latest calf

Watching the arrival of our latest calf

Yes, “If you want to watch the cow give birth, turn on U-stream now!” was an announcement over the PA system. Normally, I am irritated by interruptions to class time, but this announcement cued students about opportunity watch the birth of a calf in the Agricultural Science wing of our high school. The combination of technology in broadcasting and recording the birth of the newest member of the agricultural program with old-fashioned “hands on” physical labor illustrates 21st Century authentic learning.

April 2013 You Never Forget Your First Hamlet

Members of the senior class were fortunate enough to see Paul Giamatti’s “Hamlet” at Yale Repertory Theatre. I’ll let their words speak for the experience:

The performance was a wonderful experience, especially since it was my first time to see Shakespeare.

I wouldn’t mind going to another because it was so enjoyable that I didn’t even realize the 4 hours passing by.

I like the way that a play has a certain kind of vibe. It’s like a live concert, where there’s a certain kind of energy.

It was like seeing a live performance of a film. I would especially like to see another Shakespeare because it is the way that he intended his works to be portrayed.

After seeing Hamlet so well done, it would definitely be worth going to see another one whether it be Shakespeare or a different kind of performance.

May 2013 Kinesthetic Greek and Latin Roots

Spelling "exo"=outside

Spelling “exo”=outside

Understanding Greek and Latin roots is critical to decoding vocabulary, so when the freshman had a long list of roots to memorize, we tried a kinesthetic approach. The students used their fingers to spell out Greek roots: ant (against), tech (skill), exo (outside).  They twisted their bodies into letters and spread out against the wall spelling out xen (foreign), phob (fear). They also scored very well on the quizzes as a result!

June 2013 Superteachers!



At the end of the 2012-2013 school year, teachers rose to a “friendship and respect” challenge to make a video. With a little help from a green screen, 27 members of the faculty representing a wide variety of disciplines jumped into the nearby closet wearing the big “W” (for Wamogo). Students in the video production class watched and filmed in amazement as, bearing some artifact from a particular subject area, each teacher donned a flowing red cape.

July 2013 Library Book Sales: Three Bags Full!

The original purpose of this blog was to show how I filled classroom libraries with gently used books. The Friends of the C.H. Booth Library Book Sale in Newtown, Connecticut, is one of the premier books sales in the state: well-organized tables filled with excellent quality used books, lots of attentive check-out staff, and great prices. This year, I added three large bags of books to our classroom libraries for $152.00, a discount of 90% off retail!

August 2013 Picture Books Are not for Kindergarten Any More!Cat in Hat book cover

At used book sales, I am always looking for picture books I can use in high school classrooms. For example, I use The Cat in the Hat to explain Freud’s theory of the Id, Ego and Superego . Thing #1 and Thing #2 represent Id, and that righteous fish? The Superego. Yes, Dr. Seuss is great for psychological literary criticism, but he is not the only picture book in my repertoire of children’s literature used in high school. This post features a few of my favorite picture books to use and why.

September 2013 Close Reading with Saki and the Sophomores

Saki’s short stories open our World Literature course in which our students will be reading complex texts required by the English Language Arts Common Core State Standards (CCSS). After a “close reading” the conversations in the room showed the text’s complexity. Saki’s The Interlopers has all the elements suggested by the CCSS:  figurative language, the ironic wish, and multiple meaning in the revenge sought by man versus the revenge exacted by Nature. Our close reading should have been “textbook”. The evidence proved the characters’ demise…or did it? The ensuing discussion forced the class to consider other positions.

October 2013 Close Reading Art

The Fighting Temeraire

The Fighting Temeraire

After “close reading” short stories, the sophomores were asked to use the same skills to “close read” several paintings that thematically connected to the Industrial Revolution. They studied a Constable pastoral painting, before J.M.W. Turner’s famous painting, The Fighting Temeraire. While some called attention to the the dirty smoke stack, others saw the energetic paddling as a sign of progress. They noticed the ghost-like ship hovering in the background, the light created by the sunset which gave the painting “warmth”or “light extinguishing”. When they were asked to use these elements as evidence to determine the artist’s message, there were some succinct responses to the painting’s “text.”

November 2013 Thanks for the NCTE Conference

Five members of the English Department attended the conference and selected from over 700 sessions at the National Council of Teachers of English and the Conference on English Leadership.  District support for such great professional development is truly appreciated. We are also 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 in this post.

December 2013 Drama Class Holiday Miracle

Cast photo!

Cast photo!

An ice storm two weeks before performance caused a car pile-up, and the drama club teacher was left with a concussion. She could not be in school; the students were on their own, and I was left to supervise their performances of Snow White and the Seven Dwarves at three local elementary schools.

Their “dress rehearsal” was a disaster, but, as the adage says, “The show must go on!” and once they arrived at the elementary schools, the students were anxious to do well. They naturally changed their staging moving from gym floor to library floor, the Evil Queen tossed her hair with anger, and the Prince strode onto the stage with more confidence. The dwarves were a source of comic relief, intentionally or not. I watched the holiday miracle of 2013 repeated three times that day. The students in drama class at each school were applauded, with congratulatory e-mails from the principals that offered praise.

End of the year note:

I am grateful to be an educator and to have the privilege to work with students that I learn from everyday. In this retrospective, I can state unequivocally that 2013 was a memorable year… as you can see from many of the reasons listed above.

Welcome to 2014! May this coming year be even more productive!

Screen Shot 2013-12-22 at 10.51.28 PMSeveral of the 12th graders had taken the elective of Drama Class for their English IV because they did not think they would have to read. They were wrong; they read Our Town. A few of the 12th graders had taken the elective of Drama for their English class because they did not think they would have to write. They were wrong. They had journals. What was most surprising was the number of 12th graders who did not think that they had to act…or memorize lines.

As a precaution, the drama class teacher chose the play Snow White and the Seven Dwarves as their final production in the hopes that since the students already knew the plot, “They could always ad-lib.”

The play was cast with some additional dwarves (“Shorty” and “Weepy”) increasing the company to accommodate the number of students in the class. Rehearsals began, but the progress was slow. The principal parts were invested, but the dwarves were not, and their large numbers cluttered the small classroom stage area. They missed entrances, missed cues, missed lines, and when they were on set, they stood swaying or whispered so loudly as to drown out the lines of others. They were collectively the most awkward set of gigantic dwarves ever to inhabit a stage.

Nevertheless, the production was scheduled for appearances at three local elementary schools two days before the winter break. Props were prepared, costumes fitted, and sound cues burned onto a CD. Then, an ice storm two weeks before performance caused a car pile-up, and the drama club teacher was left with a concussion. She could not be in school; the students were on their own, and I was left to supervise.

There was a “dress rehearsal” the morning of the show; it was, as all dress rehearsals go, a disaster. “I don’t think you should take them,” advised a student who was watching. I had a sinking feeling; perhaps she was right. But, as the adage says, “The show must go on!”

Our first stop was in the elementary school gym, a cavernous space.
“You are going to have to be loud,” I cautioned, as members of the cast set up the magic mirror. Just then the announcements came on.

“Good morning,” chirped a little voice over the speakers, “Today is Thursday, December 19th…..” The announcements continued with students from the elementary school listing off birthdays, lunch menu details, and finally, the Pledge of Allegiance.

“Guys,” interrupted the most uncooperative dwarf to the other cast members, “listen to them….I mean…they’re so innocent! We can’t screw up now!” The others looked startled. There was no turning back; there was only forward movement, and that forward movement was going to have to be kid-friendly. For the first time since the auditions, they were quiet, and in that moment of recognition, the 22 students in drama class became a theatre troupe. I was certainly not a factor; this was entirely their decision. They had been prepared by their drama teacher for this moment, but they had never truly risen to the occasion. As they watched the audience of elementary school students file in, the gravity of their roles became real. The show was going on…

“Once upon a time….” the narrator began, and each cast member found their place on the gym floor stage. They recalled lines locked in the file drawers of recent memory or ad-libbed as needed. The Mirror told the Evil Queen she was no longer the most beautiful, the huntsman let Snow White run away, the dwarves found Snow White in their cottage, and the Evil Queen tricked Snow White with a poisoned apple.

There were plenty of errors. The sound cue for the Evil Queen (never used before) drowned out her entrance, the poisoned apple rolled into the hands of some smaller audience members, and when the Prince first kissed Snow White on the hand, there was a critique from an audience member who called out, “Now, that was lame.” But when the Prince finally kissed Snow White with “love’s first kiss”, there were cheers from the crowd, and an astonished cast stood together, hand in hand, taking their first (and again, unrehearsed) bow.

Piling on the bus to perform at the next elementary school, the cast was all business. During the 30 minute ride, they practiced lines and advised each other on what should happen for the next show. They were serious.

The next two performances at other elementary schools became more polished as students internalized their roles. They naturally changed their staging moving from gym floor to library floor. The Evil Queen tossed her hair with anger and the Prince strode onto the stage with more confidence. The dwarves were still cluttering the stage, and each time Doc announced the “death” of Snow White, they were unconcerned. While they were not “actors”, they were a source of comic relief, intentionally or not.

So, I watched the holiday miracle of 2013 repeated three times that day. The students in drama class at each school were applauded, and later that afternoon there were e-mails from the principals that offered praise.

The holiday season is a time for miracles. Their drama teacher should have been there to witness this one, but for now the videos will have to suffice. The end of 2013 has ended on a high note for those seniors. Heigh-ho to 2014!

Cast photo!

Cast photo!