Archives For The Odyssey

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!

"Dawn spread her rosy fingers..."

“Dawn spread her rosy fingers…”

Our 9th grade classes have been reading Robert Fitzgerald’s excellent translation of The Odyssey. At the beginning of every book, “young Dawn spreads her fingertips of rose to make heaven bright”. My students have heard this phrase so often that they chorus back to me “fingertips of rose” when we read aloud. One morning this past week, I raced up the hill to school to get my iPad so I could capture this picture of the “rosy fingers” and put it on the class wiki.

We dutifully started The Odyssey with the “Invocation to the Muse” and Books 1-4, but the Telemachus “coming of age” story did not really capture their interest. Meeting Odysseus in Book 5 did not improve their respect for the “worthy man of twists and turns.” Once we read Book 9,  the meeting with the Cyclops, Polyphemus, their interest was revived. Apparently, they enjoy a good story of man-eating monster as much as previous generations from 2020 years ago.

I have only been able to locate about a dozen copies of this translation in the secondary market, so we did have to buy a class set. These replaced a worn set of the Richmond Lattimore translation. There will be an audio version of the Fitzgerald translation available in November 2013 I will be ordering so I will finally be able to hear how to pronounce all those Greek names!.

Our final project for the Odyssey is a narrative that students complete called “The Wamogossey: A Day in the Life of a Freshman at Wamogo High School.” Happily,  writing narratives are once again favored in curriculum aligned to the Common Core State Standards:

CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.9-10.3 Write narratives to develop real or imagined experiences or events using effective technique, well-chosen details, and well-structured event sequences.

The inclusion of the narrative confirms what most writing teachers recognize, that writing a narrative gives a students a better appreciation for reading a narrative.

In writing The Wamogossey, we allow students to organize themselves as individual narrators or in groups of two or three. Our instructions to the students are based on the following premise:

You and your partners are to create a modern equivalent of The Odyssey. The setting is Wamogo High School; the hero a 9th grader – Fresheus or Freshiope.

Your character must make their way through a day at school, facing modern equivalents of the Lotus Eaters, Cyclops, Sirens, and all that Odysseus encountered. The goal is simply to get home alive, where the or she can relax and feel safe.You must mirror Odysseus’ adventures, including how he solves the problems (trickery, patience, skill, self-control, etc).  The essential nature of the obstacles must be the same, in the same order, but set in modern Wamogo.

Each student in a group working on The Wamogossey is required to write three adventures: a single narrator needs three (3) adventures; two people writing the Wamogossey need six (6) adventures; three members of the group need nine (9) adventures. This organization assures that there is an equal sharing of responsibilities regardless as to the size of the group. They compose the narrative on Google Docs; each narrator writing in a different color ink.

In addition, to assure fairness in grading, we allow students to have some feedback on the distribution of points. The project is assigned a base grade (EX: 40 points) Once the project is graded based, that number is multiplied by the number of students in group. For example a project worth 40 points may be awarded only 34 points. If there were three members of the group, then there are 34 X 3 points available, or a total of 102 points. The members of the group then determine a fair distribution of points; slackers are usually “outed” by members of their group. We rarely need to intervene.

The Wamogossey narratives must begin with an invocation to their muse. These are usually very personal and often reflect that we have a vocational agricultural program. For example, from this year’s submissions:

Sing in me, Brandon,
and help me tell the story of tractors, you, skilled in all ways of contending,
the fixing, harried for hours on end,
after the break downs and endless driving in the field.
I saw the end of the last row of corn
and learned that good crops come slowly
and weathered many bitter days
in the early morning cold, while I fought only
to save my life, to get home to the barn.
But not by will nor valor could I save all the gas I use,
Of these adventures, Brandon, tell about me in my school day, lift the great song again.
Begin when the alarm rang, calling me to adventure, when all I hungered for was for home, my  Farm All tractors, and being ready…

In addition to the modernized twists of Homer’s plot, each adventure needs an epithet (“grey-eyed goddess”) and one Homeric simile. My students call these similes “enough already; we get the point” similes.There is also extra credit for using vocabulary from The Odyssey.

So far, several of The Wamogossey entries parallel Odysseus’s adventure very nicely. One student’s encounter with “Eaganphemus” (the Cyclops/our principal) is clever:

Encounter with the Cyclops- Book 9
I was hurrying to class, I was going so fast, I felt like I was in a race car, and the people around me are in a fuzz.  All of a sudden, I saw the huge Eaganphemus standing in my way. I almost slammed into him, my wheels spinning so fast. I tried to get around him, but I couldn’t  But, I happened to have M&M’s in my pocket, so I threw them at him. He seemed overwhelmed! He tried to catch all of them at once!! Once he was trying to gobble them down I raced past, now that he was distracted. I somehow survived getting past him.

As the semester ends next week, the students will have finished their hero’s journey. Odysseus will return to Ithaka and to Penelope, and, yes, another “Dawn will spread her rosy fingers…”.  I may get to run up the hill again to snap another picture.