Archives For Wamogo High School

Screenshot 2014-03-21 21.09.03Our school has been preparing for an accreditation by the New England Association of Schools & Colleges, Inc. (NEASC), and that means two things:

Housecleaning and housekeeping.

The housecleaning is the easy part. A great deal of time and effort has been spent on making the school look nice to the accreditation team. Considering that our campus is in the bucolic Litchfield Hills of Connecticut, we had a great start. Our building is extremely well maintained, and our maintenance staff has been recognized for their “green” maintenance policies. The final details to housecleaning were the addition of student art on the walls and a large canvas featuring the student designed logo that centers on the motto “Quality, Academics, Pride.”

Preparing the housekeeping was different. Housekeeping required that all stakeholders in our school community reflect on how well do we keep our “house”-our school- running. There have been meetings for the past two years: meetings with community members,  meetings with students, meetings with teachers across disciplines. There have been committees to research eight topics:

  • Core Values, Beliefs, and Learning Expectations
  • Curriculum
  • Instruction
  • Assessment of and for Student Learning
  • School Culture and Leadership
  • School Resources for Learning
  • Community Resources for Learning

After all the meetings came the writing of the reports, and after all the reports came the gathering of the evidence. Finally, the evidence sits in eight bins in a room in the agricultural wing of the school ready for the volunteer accreditation team to review.

What is most striking about the collected evidence is the variety. The evidence today contrasts to the evidence from the accreditation several years ago.  For each lesson plan on paper, there is a digital lesson plan. For each student essay drafted, peer-reviewed, and handwritten on composition paper, there is a Google Doc with peer comments, and to see each draft, one need only check “see revision history.” Whether or not members of the NEASC committee check the revision histories of individual documents is not as important as how they will check the history we have provided in the evidence bins and websites. In looking at the evidence, the NEASC committee will note our academic housekeeping, and they will make recommendations as to how we should proceed in the future.

The entire school community has every right to be proud of Wamogo Regional High School, and recommendations from NEASC will help guide us in the future. But for tonight, the housecleaning and housekeeping is over.  

A message from the Vice Principal arrived by e-mail tonight; she sums up the experience:

When driving home from school this evening, I was thinking about the arduous process we have all been engaged in over the past two years.  I don’t believe there is a single member of our school community that hasn’t played a part in this important preparation.  Many of you worked tirelessly on committees, writing reports, culling evidence, hanging student work, etc., etc., etc.  I just wanted to take a moment and  thank the entire Wamogo community for the rally we have all engaged in to prepare for this important visit.  I know that the visiting school will easily see what a special place Wamogo is and the obvious talents of our staff and students.  I am extremely proud of our school and want you to enjoy showing the visiting committee what wonderful work you are doing with our students.

Welcome, NEASC. Our house is ready.

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!

vet day

Tables sit prepped and ready for the Veterans Day crowd

I just returned from cooking several hundred eggs for the 16th Annual Veteran’s Day Breakfast, an event held at the Wamogo Middle/High School in Litchfield, Connecticut. This annual breakfast is offered by the student service groups (Student Council, Peer Counselors) for military veterans, servicemen, and their families. The food is cooked by teachers and student volunteers; even family members help out. This morning, the five-year-old son of the AP Psychology teacher stood next to me and stirred the scrambled eggs in one of several portable griddles. He had come prepared with his own chef’s apron “to cook for the soldiers”.

Screen Shot 2013-11-11 at 9.46.27 PM

Students serving Veterans and their families

The breakfast is served from 7:30AM until 10:30AM and serves large portions of the following: scrambled eggs, pancakes,bacon, sausage, hash browns, toast and baked goods. The coffee is hot and plentiful. The tables are decorated with cards from elementary schoolchildren in the district of hand-painted flags accompanied by letters thanking the veterans.

Veterans from all over the Litchfield and Northern Fairfield County area come to this event. Many wear their former military uniforms, while others wear jackets and hats bearing the insignia of a branch of the armed forces. Many veterans have patches or embroidered labels that indicate when they served (“Vietnam Veteran”, “Desert Storm”), other patches wear reminders of the continuing support necessary for POW/MIAs. Alumni who have joined a branch of the service return in their new uniforms and mingle with their former teachers and the underclassmen who remember them.

Wamogo Band performs at the annual Veteran's Day Breakfast.

Wamogo Band performs at the annual Veteran’s Day Breakfast.

The attendees are treated to performances by the school band and choir during the breakfast. Students have spent the past weeks practicing with either the chorus teacher or the band director in preparation for this event. The choir sings first with patriotic songs; some of the guests join in. The highlight of the morning, however, is the tribute to the veterans and servicemen when the songs from each branch of the service are played.

The Coast Guard march “Semper Paratrus” is played first, then, a medley of the other branches of the service theme music is played: “Anchors Aweigh” (Navy), “The Caissons Go Rolling Along” (Army), “The Halls of Montezuma” (Marines), and finally “The Air Force Song”-(‘Off we go into the wild, blue yonder…’)  As each song plays, those who have served or who are serving in that particular branch of the service, stand to receive the recognition and applause from the audience. This year, the number of Army and Air Force veterans was the largest, but when the lone Marine stood to be recognized, I overheard someone say, “That’s ok….one Marine is all that is necessary.”  Wamogo High School itself is well represented in each branch of the military; there are several students who enlist or enter an ROTC program at graduation every year, a percentage greater than the state average.

Canon Crew

Canon crew from the 1st Litchfield Artillary

To top off the morning, there is a cannon shot from the top of the hill by the Litchfield First Artillery Division whose members include some faculty. Overall, over 100 students, roughly 20% of the student body, participated today in cooking, cleaning tables, or serving food; or performing musically for the veterans. They came to school early- on a day off -to thank those who supported the United States by serving in the military in war and in peace, and who now continue to support Regional School District #6.

Those students and audience members who sang “America the Beautiful” this morning have seen, up close and personal, the faces of those who served. The students had the chance to sing to these veterans these high words of praise from this song….

O beautiful for heroes proved In liberating strife,
Who more than self their country loved,
And mercy more than life!
America! America! May God thy gold refine
Till all success be nobleness,
And ev’ry gain divine!

Thank you, Veterans and Servicemen, from Wamogo Middle/High School.

The students at Wamogo Middle/High School in Litchfield, CT, have been making “friendship and respect” videos this year at each grade level. These music video are shown at school assemblies and have become very popular with the students.

At the last assembly, one of the emcees tossed out a challenge, “Maybe the teachers will make a video next time!?”

Well, we did.

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.

These teachers bravely risked their dignity, and their secret identities, in order to bring you the following video:

Next year? The other half of the faculty!

60 of my students met their first Hamlet on stage at Yale Repertory Theatre in New Haven, Connecticut, this past week. Their Hamlet was the actor Paul Giamatti, who after speaking 40% of the play’s 4,042 lines (roughly 1,440), came out onto the stage for an audience talkback to speak a few more words to them.paul giamatti

“He looks tired,” on student remarked to me. The play had begun at 10:15 AM, and we were still sitting three and a half hours later as the actors and crew began to respond to questions.

If we thought they looked tired, the actors seemed surprised to see us still sitting there.
“Wow!” Polonius (Gerry Bamman) said as he sat, “You stayed!”

Students were curious about how the sets moved (“The stage has a large fly space.“). Students wondered how long the cast had rehearsed (“Eight weeks, a real luxury…”). Students wondered who was most like his or her character (“I understand Gertrude much more since I have a son”). Students asked about the creation of set pieces including a large portrait (“That’s an oil painting from a  photograph”).

Of course, there was no stopping the students from calling attention to Giamatti’s role in Big Fat Liar, a film from their youthOne student stood to ask, “Did Hamlet remind you of Marty Wolf?” Giamatti laughed in response, “Well, maybe,…a little… except for the blue crap!”

Hamlet is a 12th grade text, and I asked students to take a survey after they returned to the school to see what they thought of this production. While the survey indicated that the teachers in our English department had done their job, the students indicated that seeing the play performed was very different that studying the play in class:

Shakespeare was meant to be live. Although the “perfection” of a movie is enhancing to the performance, it is unrealistic. I believe that watching a play live is important to seeing the different styles and methods possible.

It was fun and a lot better than just reading it in class, it made it come alive.

I did not think it was going to be as entertaining as it was. I also did not think I would find parts humorous, but I did.

This Hamlet was part of the WILLPOWER! series (funded by the National Endowment of the Arts). The website states:

WILL POWER! is Yale Repertory Theatre’s annual educational initiative in conjunction with one of its productions and features specially-priced tickets and early school-time matinees for middle and high school student groups. The program also includes free professional development for educators, study guides and post-performance discussions with members of the company.

One of the objectives of the WILLPOWER! series is to create new audiences, specifically younger audiences, for Shakespeare. Students who have attended a Shakespeare play may be more willing to attend another play when they are older; in other words, a favorable dramatic experience will yield future audiences for Yale Drama School graduates!

Seniors at intermission watching Hamlet at Yale Rep

Seniors at intermission watching Hamlet at Yale Rep

The survey indicated that this goal is being met with the WILLPOWER! series; my students are certainly willing to try another play:

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

I wouldnt 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.

Perhaps the most satisfying moments of the actor’s talkback for teachers is hearing the actors say things that we wish our students would pay attention to in class. When Giammati was asked about how he felt about memorizing all those lines, he explained that he enjoyed learning the lines and playing on the open space of the stage.

When one student asked, “What part of the play did you like best?” Giamatti responded, “I enjoy the end, when Hamlet returns to the graveyard, until the end.” Then, thoughtfully, he added, “Shakespeare’s words begin to come through you if you let them.” (Honestly…you could hear the teachers in the audience swoon!)

But nothing was better than hearing the young Remsen Welsh (Player Prologue) explain how the director, James Bundy, had prepared her for her role. “It’s simple,” the actress gestured enthusiastically from the front of the stage. Facing the crowd of students twice her age, she cheerfully acknowledged, “He told me, ‘Suit the action to the word, the word to the action..’ and I did!”


A first Hamlet they will remember.

“[WamogoAll] If you want to see our cow give birth right now..” was the tagline for the e-mail in my in box last Thursday afternoon. I teach in a “Ag-ed” or  agricultural education school in the Northwestern Corner of Connecticut, so the contents in the e-mail were not surprising:

Screen Shot 2013-03-21 at 12.00.48 PM

The ability for me to watch the live birth of this calf from my office in another part of the building was certainly an example of how 21st Century learning is fully integrated for students and staff alike. Under the direction of our administration and with the support of our Board of Education, our small district has taken the integration of technology very seriously, and in four short years, we have gone from chalkboards to Smartboards, from pencil to netbook, and from worksheets to flipped classrooms. There is technology used in every classroom in every discipline every day.

One of the buzzwords in education is the work authentic, and teachers work hard to make connections from the content in class to the real world.

In order to be accredited as a school offering 21st Century skills, a school must offer authentic experiences. The schools are rated on:

The curriculum emphasizes depth of understanding and application of knowledge through:

  • authentic learning opportunities both in and out of school
  • informed and ethical use of technology.

Teachers’ instructional practices support the achievement of the school’s 21st century learning expectations by:

  • applying knowledge and skills to authentic tasks
  • integrating technology.

The Wamogo High School program with its chapter of the National FFA Organization and Agricultural Education accomplishes both with authentic educational experiences supported with technology.

I paid closer attention to the video monitor as the noise from the barn came over the computer’s speaker.  I watched as students gathered around the stall, and then saw Lori, the animal science teacher, jump in to calm the cow and rearrange the straw for bedding. Suddenly, three or four students and the culinary arts teacher  formed a line behind the cow, and in an unrehearsed routine, began helping Lori with the birth. I took a screen shot.

Screen Shot 2013-03-21 at 12.35.50 PM

The first “pull”!

“Pull,”Lori urged, and I saw there was a gentle movement from the line-up behind the cow. I took another screen shot.

Screen Shot 2013-03-21 at 12.35.37 PM

The second “pull!”

“Pull”, Lori cried again, and the movement became more obvious.

Suddenly there was a jostle, and the gap between the cow and the line of helpers became larger. All eyes were on the calf laying slick and newborn on the hay. I took another screen shot.

Screen Shot 2013-03-21 at 12.36.28 PM

…and the new calf sits in the hay.

A few minutes later, there was came a breathless and garbled announcement over the speakers from a student about “… here”; there was no need for clarity. Given our students’ familiarity with texting, everyone knew what had happened anyway.

The combination of technology (Ustream, screenshots) 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.

I posted several of the screen shots on Twitter. Almost immediately I was retweeted by UStream; in seconds, Wamogo had gone viral!

Cow and calf meeting for the first time.

Cow and calf meeting for the first time.

There has been a seamless integration of technology into the vocational agriculture program at my high school. The students who participate in the program are involved in a time honored occupation, an occupation responsible for civilization as humans moved from roles of hunter-gatherers to farmers. They just know how to Tweet, post, email, blog, Instagram, Facebook, Tumblr, or stream a live TV feed to show what they know as well!

Wamogo's newest "student"

King Philippe III – he is her 3rd calf and this is a royal names themes year.

PS: Oh, and the maple candy made by the students is ready to sell; they just tweeted a picture:

There are many great reasons to teach at the high school level: no outdoor recess duty, college level content, plus, a teacher never has to choose a “line leader”. Best of all, there are no bulletin board requirements.

While most elementary school classroom walls are crammed with colorful thematic cut-outs (apples, shamrocks, stars), high school walls are monochromatic. While middle school classrooms have student work displayed regularly, an essay hung in September will curl and fade on the wall of a high school classroom twisting in the air like an ancient leaf of papyrus.

Generally speaking, high school teachers do not spend a lot of time decorating the classroom. Subject content or motivational posters are the wall covering of choice, unchanged for the requisite 181 days of instruction. Perhaps it is inevitable that teachers who share classrooms do not personalize classrooms.

However, for one brief part of the 3rd grading quarter, Read Across America Week (February 25-March 1st) changed the decorating habits of the faculty at Wamogo Middle/High School.

English teacher door...a wide rang of reading complete with motivational poster!

English teacher door…a wide rang of reading complete with motivational poster!

In a collective effort to demonstrate the importance of reading to students, teachers from every discipline decorated their classroom doors with materials they have read or are currently reading.


When sharing a door meant less space, this resource room teacher used a poster.

Social Studies (Gr 7) had this door and the side wall as well!

Social Studies (Gr 7) had this door and the side wall as well! The genre range (politics-humor-sports) was astounding!


The Art teacher door centered around the command “READ”.


Health and Physical Ed teacher revealed a “retro” fondness for the books that contributed to her growing up including Erich Segal’s “Love Story”


Alternative education students had to walk through a double door display! Students selected the books they read as well in this display.


The resource room mixed decorative flowers with John Wooden “On :Leadership”


One Social Studies teacher took the assignment to heart by hanging what he reads, quite literally, onto the door and walls….He was considered the “winner!”

Admittedly, when the “Doors of Wamogo” was announced, there was a little hesitation. What would go on the door? When was this “due”?

Finally, a few brave souls stepped up. First, there was the Social Studies teacher, an Army Reserve Colonel, who started by hanging “classified” documents on his door. His display was followed by the Business and Career Department teacher, also a basketball coach, who hung sports magazines and the cover of a Bobby Knight memoir.

The English Department members, the Literary Specialist, and the media center Librarian displayed a range of the reading, from Where the Wild Things Are to Great Expectations.

As the week went on, the competition became a little more intense. Finally,  the Grade 8 Social Studies teacher simply emptied out his bookshelf and placed all his favorite texts alongside the door in addition to the door.

Side shot of the "Classified" materials read by a Social Studies teacher

Side shot of the “Classified” materials read by a Social Studies teacher

Perhaps one of the more interesting outcomes was the sharing of titles between faculty and staff. “Oh, I loved that book!” one teacher would say to another. “This is a hard book, but well worth the effort,” said one teacher. “Yes, we read this in our ‘book club’!” exclaimed another. “Who is the Jody Picoult freak?” questions a science fiction reader. “How much Stephen King can you read?” was the retort.


Math teacher places “Put Me in the Zoo” on his door; hopefully. this says more about his new baby daughter than the classes!

Students had a chance to look at all the titles: assigned reading from high school that they currently are reading (Romeo and Juliet, Animal Farm), political/history books, and sports memoirs. There were magazine covers, newspaper mastheads, and comic strips. Blogger, WordPress, Twitter, Facebook logos were prominent, social media as informational texts.

So what the “Doors of Wamogo”  created for Read Across America Day in our small rural school was a very large window. The doors provided a window into the lives of our faculty, a window for our students to see us as readers, and for our students to see what books made us successful.

These doors illustrate how reading gave each teacher and staff member a chance to at the window of opportunity; reading = individual success.

We had so much fun, we might try decorating again next year!

Happy Read Across America Day, 2013!


Taking the playfulness of a Dr. Seuss motif to heart with replicas of books shared by students.

"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.

The National Council of Teachers of English Annual Convention and the Council on English Leadership Convention begin this weekend (11/15-21) at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas, and I am so delighted to have the opportunity to present with my fellow faculty member, Stephanie Pixley, at three separate sessions. We are able to present to other teachers because of the great support and training our Regional School District #6 (Administration and Board of Education) has given its teachers in the use of technology in classrooms to improve student learning and develop 21st Century skills.

Wamogo High School in Litchfield, Connecticut, is a 1:1 Bring Your Own Digital Device (BYOD) school for grades 9-12, and we are learning everyday how our students’ use of technology has helped us differentiate our instruction, increase our students’ independence, and allow us to provide authentic tasks for our students. Last year, we used netbooks in our English and Social Studies classes and found how successfully technology could be used in reading and writing workshops at every grade level. This year, those netbooks have been moved to grades 7 and 8 for their use, and the high school students either provide their own devices or rent one from the school’s technology department..

The first session we will be offering is devoted to Cormac McCarthy’s novel The Road. We will feature work that the students have completed in using Abraham Maslow’s “Hierarchy of Needs” as a way to analyze characters in this post-apocalyptic novel. We will be demonstrating how our students, “Explore the poetic language of survival in Cormac McCarthy’s The Road the potential of 21st century connectivity and collaboration, and the use of mysteries to enhance students’ critical thinking abilities as presenters share literature experiences in three high school classrooms.”

Navigating the Mind: The Road Meets Maslow’s Hierarchy
Time:  Saturday 11/17 8:00 AM – 9:15 AM
Level:  Secondary (9-12)
Topic of Interest: Literature
Location:  Studio Room 6, Grand Arena, Main Floor by Grand Garden Arena, MGM Grand

The other two sessions will be offered to the Council on English Leadership:

You Ain’t Nothing but a Blog Hound
Monday 11/19 4-5:00 PM
D.3 Room 106

Description: You may already know that a blog platform offers students at all grade levels an opportunity to engage in an authentic writing experience in or outside the classroom. This workshop demonstrates the use of a blog platform for students to engage in thoughtful discussion on whole class or independent reading. This workshop will also feature how to organize, moderate, and assess both blog posts and comments on a variety of blog platforms. There will also be a focus on improving a student’s awareness of audience and purpose in a written response, and strategies will be provided so student comments are more sophisticated than a standard “I liked what you wrote.”

Writer’s Workshop Graduates to High Tech Literature Circles
Tuesday  11/20 10-11:00 AM
F.2  Room 106

Description: This session will feature strategies used in the teaching of writing at the middle and high school levels using a variety of 2.0 technologies, including blogs, wikis, and document sharing software. The emphasis will be on providing examples of differentiated student-centered activities that will develop independence in the writer’s transition from middle school to high school. High-tech writing provides opportunities for student accountability, group collaboration, and whole class communication

(NOTE: This session was presented this at Literacy for All Convention, 11/5 & 11/6 in Providence, RI)

We are looking forward to presenting and attending the wonderful selection of sessions over the next few days. This is certainly a wonderful opportunity for our own professional development and a chance for us to showcase our small but very forward thinking school district-Regional School District #6 !

Going back to school means that teachers and students will confront two philosophical statements. One statement is the school’s mission statement that quite literally confronts them as they enter a school building. The second statement is the statement of purpose for the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) that currently guides the curriculum for K-12 teachers in states that adopted the CCSS.

Here is an interesting exercise. Below, there are three randomly selected school mission statements plus the mission statement from my own school, Wamogo Middle/High School. These statements are generic enough to be for any grade level; they could be for any school.  You could test your school’s mission statement as well. I pasted the combination of these four statements into a word cloud generator that highlights the more frequently used terms. (illustration below)

_______School recognizes that each child is an individual; that all children are creative; that all children need to succeed. Therefore, _______ School respects the individual needs of children; fosters a caring and creative environment; and emphasizes the social, emotional, physical, intellectual development of each child.

Our mission at ____ High School is to provide individualized education that addresses students’ unique learning styles, cultivates independent thought, and promotes the building of character, enabling them to contribute to their communities in meaningful and positive ways.

The mission of _______Public Schools is to assure that, within a nurturing and stimulating environment, each of our diverse students and graduates achieves literacy and appropriate core competencies, and becomes a responsible and compassionate citizen.

The mission of Wamogo is to educate all students in a challenging, disciplined, and supportive environment. In cooperation with students, parents, and community members, we seek to empower students to be lifelong, independent learners and contributors in a diverse and ever changing society. (Wamogo Middle/High School)

Next, I selected an an excerpt from introduction that explains the purpose and goals of the Common Core State Standards; the text selected was about the same length as the mission statements. I pasted the excerpt  into another word cloud generator that highlights the more frequently used terms. (illustration below)

The standards are informed by the highest, most effective models from states across the country and countries around the world, and provide teachers and parents with a common understanding of what students are expected to learn. Consistent standards will provide appropriate benchmarks for all students, regardless of where they live.

These standards define the knowledge and skills students should have within their K-12 education careers so that they will graduate high school able to succeed in entry-level, credit-bearing academic college courses and in workforce training programs. The standards:

  • Are aligned with college and work expectations;
  • Are clear, understandable and consistent;
  • Include rigorous content and application of knowledge through high-order skills;
  • Build upon strengths and lessons of current state standards;
  • Are informed by other top performing countries, so that all students are prepared to succeed in our global economy and society; and
  • Are evidence-based.

What is immediately  apparent is that the language in the school mission statement Wordsift wordcloud is very different than the language in the CCSS Wordsift wordcloud. For example, the words education and school do not appear in the CCSS wordcloud; the words skill and knowledge do not appear in the school mission statements wordcloud. The word standard is emphasized in the CCSS wordcloud; the  word child is emphasized in the school mission statement wordcloud. The word career is in the CCSS workcloud; its counterpart is citizen in the mission statement wordcloud. The words college, consistent, informed, provide dominate the CCSS wordcloud. The words creative, environment, individual, need dominate the school mission statement wordcloud. The word student is one of the few emphasized overlapping vocabulary choices. Neither mentions 21st century skills.

I am not a fan of school mission statements. They are usually written by committee, and each successive rewrite makes the language in the statement generalized or vague or bland; I believe that “please all, please none” is the problem with a mission statement. However, one would hope that the differences in diction between a generic mission statement and the Common Core would not be so striking. Ultimately, these two ideas contribute to a common outcome; there should be some commonality other than an emphasis on the word student.

Additionally, the difference is not only one of word choice, but also one of tone. The verbs assure, become, contribute, cultivate, foster, promote, and recognize in the school mission statement wordcloud differ in tone from the few verbs  build, define, learn, live, and graduate in the CCSS wordcloud. The adjectives caring, compassionate, diverse, individualized, stimulating in the school mission statement wordcloud differ in tone from aligned, appropriate, effective, expected, higher order, global and rigorous as adjectives in the CCSS wordcloud. The words social, public and character are not in the CCSS wordcloud; the words economy, benchmark and workforce are not in the mission statement wordcloud. Perhaps it is not a surprise that the language of the mission statements is more sensitive or empathetic in tone than the businesslike language of the CCSS.

My random selection of the three school mission statement plus the statement of my own school cannot possibly speak for all school mission statements. There may be mission statements that have vastly different vocabulary.  Regardless, this imperfect comparison highlights a gap in the language of these mission statements and the language of the CCSS. The goals and purpose of the Common Core should have something in common with goals and purpose of a school.