Archives For Ernest Hemingway

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!

According to literary legend, Ernest Hemingway wrote a six word short story in response to a bet:

Screen Shot 2013-02-26 at 3.58.31 PM

So when my Advanced Placement English Literature class was suddenly shortened one day last week due to a  delayed opening, I thought that I would do a close reading on this famous short story. After all, how long could a discussion on six words last? I was confident there would certainly be enough time for each of them to craft an essay as well.

The usual procedure for close readings in class is to have a volunteer “read aloud” while students annotate their copies of the text. The text is also displayed on the SMARTboard so that notes can be added and shared with all members of the class.

After they settled down with copies, Sam volunteered to read. We listened and paused. I started to ask, “So how did Ernest Hemingway, the author of this short story, convey his meaning?” when I was cut off.

“Whose baby died?” asked Alexis. She had no notes on her page.

“The baby died?” Connor responded, “I thought this was about a tag sale.”

“Why do you say that?” I asked, “Look at the evidence in the text.”

“Because people who have tag sales put in ads, and the ads are short,” replied Connor.

“But that is why the ad is short,” Alexis retorted, “the parents are so upset, they cannot write a long ad to sell the baby’s shoes.”

“Where are parents in the text?” I demanded.

“I agree with Alexis,” said Sam, “the shoes were ‘never worn’. The baby is dead.”

“OK,” I agreed, ” the words ‘never worn’ are in the text, but…”

“But the baby shoes could have been a gift that was the wrong size,” interrupted Natalie.

We were drifting off in our discussion. I had chosen the story because of its brevity, but I also had considered how well the text responded to the Publisher’s Criteria for the English/Language Arts Common Core Standards:

The Common Core State Standards place a high priority on the close, sustained reading of complex text, beginning with Reading Standard 1. Such reading focuses on what lies within the four corners of the text. It often requires compact, short, self-contained texts that students can read and re-read deliberately and slowly to probe and ponder the meanings of individual words, the order in which sentences unfold, and the development of ideas over the course of the text.

This was a “compact, short, self-contained texts that students can read and re-read deliberately.” The students were beginning to probe the meanings of individual words, but they were drifting.  They were bringing up tag sales, upset parents, and poor present gifting;  we were far off the four corners of this text.

For a moment, a very brief moment, I consider that we were moving away from the goals of the Common Core to work with the text. However, they were so quickly engaged, that I grew far more interested in listening to how close to they were to determining Hemingway’s purpose. Hemingway had selected six specific words to excite the reader’s imagination. My students were not wrong in their suggestions, they were using his text to understand, to create meaning. They were working with Hemingway’s language and responding to his inferences.

Their written drafts also leapt beyond the evidence, much like the discussion:

  • “They have waited nine months in anticipation for this day, and that morning a pair of shoes, no larger than the size of a plum, arrived in the mail, a gift from an aunt. They run to the hospital; they cry, they yell, they cry, but their baby is dead. ‘Get rid of those shoes.’ He writes in the paper, “For sale: baby shoes, never worn.’ Auntie will be sad.”
  • “…whether it’s a parent/ guardian or a thief trying to make money, it is obvious from the syntax that the shoes need to go.”
  • “‘For sale’ is a general coupling of words that comes from a particular type of person….a person low on monetary resources or one who wants to get rid of something…”
  • “…by saying the word ‘never’, that means the parents have never had a baby and will never have a baby…never is finite”
  • “In reality, Hemingway’s story is less of a story and more of a jumping off point. The six words are a choke point, like that of an hourglass stretching of in infinity in either direction.”

These drafts, hastily written in response to the story, ranged from 2-3 handwritten pages; far more than the six words that stimulated their ideas. The students wrote furiously until the bell rang, and then begged for more time to finish.

Certainly, their responses could be judged by the CCSS criteria, “Student knowledge drawn from the text is demonstrated when the student uses evidence from the text to support a claim about the text.” However, their responses in discussion and in essays offer significant proof that the ideas that started in text cannot be limited by clocks or “four corners”.