Category Archives: academia

Notes from the Classroom: Curating

11th October 2012

It’s not often that I write about what’s going on in my classroom, but this semester, I’ve spent quite a lot of time revamping certain courses and considering new methodologies. Teaching intensive English courses to foreign students and teaching American Literature at the same time is a challenge, particularly as it’s been nearly two years since I’ve taught American Lit. There’s so much background work; plus, I have to re-read everything I’ve assigned and of course add to my extensive notes with each re-read.

Do not mistake this as a complaint. I’m thoroughly enjoying it all, but education moves so rapidly, and I want to stay on top of the resources available to me. Over the summer, I researched online platforms and made the switch from Edmodo to Schoology (a change I’d like to talk more about in a future Notes from the Classroom post).

Today I discovered Storify. I should say, however, that from the different education chats I haunt (and sometimes participate in) on Twitter, I had heard of Storify but clearly had no idea how to use it in the classroom. Previously, I thought it was a way to curate Twitter conversations. So I googled “using storify in the classroom” and came up with some really interesting information. Essentially, Storify gives you the ability to collect information on a specific topic across a number of platforms (Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Flickr, and Google), pull that info to your “story” and publish. You can then share that “story” across platforms as well.

Because I feel like I have to cram in more and more information in less and less time, I thought this was kind of genius. One of my goals in my classes is relevancy – for the information I teach but also for the course itself. By pulling important and current information related to class discussions and lectures, I make it relevant in a way that tech-obsessed students “get” – and I also ensure they are using technology that makes them relevant.

This article from Hybrid Pedagogy even shows a really cool way of using Storify to assist with student research, as does ProfHacker in this cool story on Storify. There are so many arguments about student research and open source information, but I truly feel that not allowing students to use the, very often, useful and valid information available to them is a mistake. Using Storify would be a great lesson in the importance of citation from the perspective of a student who may or may not have thought of online content as authorial or worthy of source material.Here’s the story I put together on learning classroom techniques for Storify:

Using Storify in the Classroom

A college instructor takes to Storify to learn how to use Storify. Down the rabbit hole…

Storified by the picky girl · Wed, Oct 10 2012 22:17:18

Anyone out there using #storify in the classroom? Or in any interesting way? Lay it on me. #amteaching #amcuratingthe picky girl
Anyone use #scoopit over #storify? Any #teachers out there with resources? I’m not far enough in to see if either is better.the picky girl
My quest into the unknown. Thus far, no hits.
Web curation: Uses in educationtltelon
“How will students use this?” Critical thinking/analytical skills/context/writing for the web/persistence/time management “Students should be able to say why it matters.”
Using Storify: An Example, and An AssignmentThis is both a demonstration of Storify and an assignment in which students are going to be using Storify. (English 318: Writing in Digi…
A good intro and interesting way to use Storify in an actual classroom.
"A FLIPPED CLASSROOM: STUDENTS AS CURATORS WITH – Prezi2012 Presentation by Sherry Jones for CCCOnline 2012 "Recipes for Success" Conference held at Arapahoe Community College, and…
Really col Prezi explaining student curation, giving sample assignments, and providing helpful links.

So how am I planning on using it? Today I created a dummy story for an introductory discussion on Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain, which we’ll begin reading next week. That way students can check out the story and the information I’ve curated before class. Students will be expected to respond to the information in whole or in part on a Schoology discussion board. I’m hoping the result will be students who have a basic understanding of the historical context of the novel as well as the enduring controversies regarding its content. You can check out what I’ve done so far on my story.  

Mark Twain and Huck Finn

Before we read Huck Finn, I want us to a. discuss the racial climate in which it was written and in which it will be read b. talk about the differences between it and Tom Sawyer, and c. prime your expectations for reading.

Storified by the picky girl · Wed, Oct 10 2012 11:21:02

Oh Huck Finn Mascary
We are all alike, on the inside.- Mark TwainTosh Hyodo
Fiction is obliged to stick to possibilities. Truth isn’t.- Mark TwainKings Esekhile
LibriVox » Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, by Mark TwainAdventures of Huckleberry Finn (1884) by Mark Twain is one of the truly great American novels, beloved by children, adults, and literar…
In case you’d rather listen than read.
Why Bother Reading Huckleberry Finn? – Room for Debate …Jan 6, 2011 … If some teachers have the audacity to believe that Twain's work is meaningful, even absent the word “nigger,” more …
Another discussion of the n-word in Huck Finn.
Huckleberry Finn – The New York TimesJan 6, 2011 … A new edition of “Adventures of Huckleberry Finn” that replaces the word “nigger” with “slave” does the original Twain …
Discussion of the revised/censored edition of Huck Finn.
HUCKLEBERRY FINN Reeks Of The Past In A Most Glorious Way |May 28, 2012 … “Adventures of Huckleberry Finn” reeks of the past. It reeked of the past when it was first published in America in 18…
A review.
Is Huckleberry Finn's ending really lacking? Not if you're talking …5 days ago … Blogs · About the SA Blog Network. Choose a … Many readers, reviewers, and critics over the year have found fault with…
For after you’ve read…in case you don’t understand Huck’s actions at the end.
Colbert Report: Huckleberry Finn CensorshipColbert Nation
From the ever-funny Stephen Colbert…
Twain publishes The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn — …Even in 1885, two decades after the Emancipation Proclamation and the end of the Civil War, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn landed w…
Some historical context.
"Huckleberry Finn" and the N-wordcbs
Look specifically at 6 minutes in. Interesting discussion.

Is anyone else out there using Storify? Or I feel a bit like a fish out of water, but I’m definitely interested in learning. In the meantime, what other cool online tools am I missing out on?

First Day of School!

27th August 2012

School days are here! I love and hate the first day of school. I still get so nervous stepping in front  of a new class. It helps to have my first week of clothes picked out. 🙂 So here’s a close imitation of my first-day-of-school outfit. Mine is all from Marshall’s, so unfortunately, I can’t link to the pieces, but I can tell you the shirt was $14.99, skirt $20. The bag and shoes were bought long ago. But this is pretty close (except for the insane price tags on the skirt, shoes, and bag!)

First day of school
But I also wanted to take a chance and introduce you guys to a really cool website: Donors Choose. I know you guys love books and also love putting books into the hands of those who need them. This website helps you do that. Teachers in high poverty areas explain their special projects and the books they’d like for their students, and you can help them reach their goals! So often donating can be impersonal, but this isn’t. In fact, the teachers and students post an update once the goal has been reached. Most aren’t all that far from reaching their monetary goal, so check it out and give if you can!
And whether it’s your first day of school as student or teacher, or your children are going back to school, or you just like that first-day-of-school feeling, have a great day!

SuperTrash striped top
$33 -

Fendi yellow messenger bag
$310 -


In the Classroom: American Literature

17th August 2012

I taught writing and literature until last August when I finally landed a full-time job as an ESL instructor, teaching reading and writing. Though I really enjoy my job, I have missed teaching literature. Like, a lot.

Yesterday morning, the English department called and asked if I could take on an American Literature course in the afternoon, and I literally danced down the hallway to tell my co-teacher. I may have done a leap.

American Lit is my favorite course to teach because America, as an ideal/concept, is endlessly fascinating to me. I love reading something from 1852 that is still being discussed in newspapers today. The Declaration of Independence makes me beam from ear to ear, and MLK’s “I Have a Dream Speech” brings tears to my eyes always. So yeah, the leap down the hall was understatement.

This afternoon I pulled out The Norton Anthology of American Literature, shorter seventh edition, which I refer to in my syllabus as ironic, since it’s three inches thick and weighs about five pounds…

I thought I’d share with you our reading list and the overarching course question we discuss at the start of each semester:

American literature and its history are directly linked to how we think of America as a nation and ourselves as Americans – even if the two don’t always agree. Its literature is a constant conversation, evolving as time goes by while still asking the same questions of each generation. This course is designed to examine “America” as ideal while seeking links and corollaries in the literature between time periods and across gender, race, ethnic, culture, and class lines.

Because America is a composite of these components and so many more, one can argue that there is no American literature; however, these texts are all defined by a quickening, urgent sense of identity: What is an American? Countless authors still subtly and not-so-subtly explore the complex answers to this question, making the study of this literature interesting and necessary while calling for readers/students to be open minded to and critical of the ideologies put forth. So…what is America?

Background and Introduction to American Literature (Discussion of Orature/Journals):

  • Handouts on oral storytelling traditions and Native American oral literature; Native American Creation stories: American Indian Trickster Tales/American Indian Myths and Legends
  • Letters of Christopher Columbus
  • Thomas Harriot, A Brief and True Report of the New Found Land of Virginia
  • John Smith, The General History of Virginia, New England, and the Summer Isles

Conversation on Puritans/Captive Literature:

  • John Winthrop, “A Model of Christian Charity”
  • William Bradford, Of Plymouth Plantation
  • Mary Rowlandson, A Narrative of the Captivity and Restoration
  • Cotton Mather, “The Trial of Martha Carrier”
  • Jonathon Edwards, “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God” [Using Sarah Vowell’s The Wordy Shimates to emphasize importance]
  • Anne Bradstreet, various poetry

Toward Nationalism: Discussion of Age of Reason and Revolution:

  • St. John de Crevecoueur, “What is an American?” [I highly recommend this for anyone interested in the topic. Students will also examine current essays/articles responding to the same question.]
  • Thomas Paine, “Common Sense”
  • Thomas Jefferson, Declaration of Independence
  • Phyllis Wheatley, “On Being Brought from Africa to America”
  • Ralph Waldo Emerson, “Nature” “Language”

National Conversation on Equality Including Civil War:

  • Sojourner Truth, “Speech to the Women’s Rights”
  • Margaret Fuller, “The Great Lawsuit” [Fantastic piece on equality between sexes; students will examine current similar articles]
  • Fanny Fern, “Male Criticism on Ladies’ Books” [I talked about this piece here and will use various articles to discuss]
  • Harriet Beecher Stowe, excerpts from Uncle Tom’s Cabin
  • Harriet Jacobs, Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl
  • Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, “The Slave’s Dream”
  • Abraham Lincoln, “Address Delivered at the Dedication of the Cemetery at Gettysburg”
  • Frederick Douglass, “What to the Slave is the Fourth of July?” [Masterful speech]

Emerging American Literature: The Romantics:

  • Edgar Allan Poe, “The Fall of the House of Usher”
  • Washington Irving, “Rip Van Winkle”
  • Nathaniel Hawthorne, “The Minister’s Black Veil”

Discuss American Realism & Naturalism: Why the Change?

  • Emily Dickinson, various poems
  • Kate Chopin, “The Storm”
  • Walt Whitman, excerpts from Leaves of Grass
  • Bret Harte, “The Luck of Roaring Camp”
  • Mark Twain, Adventure of Huckleberry Finn [Students will work in groups on discussion questions & discuss in class]

What Is an American? Have we decided yet? How and why is “frontier” so important to America?

  • Frederick Jackson Turner, from “The Significance of the Frontier in American History”
  • Theodore Roosevelt, from “The Strenuous Life”

Discuss American Conscience and Inequality, A Reprisal:

  • Booker T. Washington, excerpt from “Up From Slavery”
  • W.E.B. DuBois, excerpts from Souls of Black Folk
  • Music as poetry: Bessie Smith, Ma Rainey, Josephine Baker

Post-World War I America: How do we continue?

  • Amy Lowell, “September, 1918”
  • Robert Frost, “After Apple-Picking”
  • Carl Sandburg, “Chicago” “Grass”
  • William Carlos Williams, “The Young Housewife” “Queen Anne’s Lace”
  • Ezra Pound, “To Whistler, American” “A Pact”
  • Claude McKay, “America”
  • Edna St. Vincent Millay, “I Think I Should Have Loved You Presently” “I Forgot for a Moment”
  • ee. cummings, “next to of course go america i”
  • Langston Hughes, “Mother to Son” “The Weary Blues” “Democracy”

The Modern Era:

  • Tennessee Williams, A Streetcar Named Desire[show the film]
  • William Faulkner, “Barn Burning”
  • Ernest Hemingway, “The Gambler, the Nun, and the Radio”
  • Raymond Carver, “A Small, Good Thing” “Careful”
  • Andre Dubus, “Killings”

Discussion of Voice: Why is it important? Who is silenced?

  • Ralph Ellison, Invisible Man
  • Louise Erdrich, “Dear John Wayne”
  • Allen Ginsberg, “Howl”
  • Julia Alvarez, “The Mother”
  • Martin Luther King, “I Have A Dream”
  • Sandra Cisneros, “Woman Hollering Creek”
  • Sherman Alexie, “Do Not Go Gentle”
  • Gloria Anzaldúa, “How to Tame a Wild Tongue” “Pawn Shop”
  • Maxine Hong Kingston, “No Name Woman”

Whew! I know that’s a lot, but we generally discuss most of it, particularly as I have different activities for different sections, and in some places, students will be teaching selected pieces, so they will not all be reading all the works. In the past, we have had some really insightful conversations. One thing I will be doing again is first day/last day material. I pass out post-it notes to students and ask them to write the first few words that come to mind when I say the word “America.” That opens up our discussion. I ask them to keep in mind the words they wrote down as we continue the semester, and on the last day before finals, I ask the same question. Seeing the thoughtfulness and intensity students put into their second post-it is so rewarding (for me, at least).

So, what do you think? I think I better get to re-reading… 🙂

Oxford Messed Up by Andrea Kayne Kaufman

2nd January 2012

*I received this book from Jillian at Grant Place Press in Chicago in exchange for an honest review.

Love is…dirty. And when you’re obsessive compulsive and steering clear of dirt is part of who you are, then love is out of the question. Gloria never thought Oxford would be the place that she could learn to leave her Obsessive Compulsive Disorder or find love, but Henry Young, a recovering drug addict dealing with his own demons will jolt her from her ordered environment. How? He’s her loomate. For a woman who waits through 15 hours of travel to get to Oxford before relieving her bladder because of her fear of germs in public restrooms, sharing a bathroom is a Big. Deal. Sharing a bathroom with a man who doesn’t have the best hygiene? Definitely not ideal. But her germ-infested loomate can also speak to Gloria in a language she understands – Van Morrison.

Gloria is a Rhodes Scholar studying, what Henry calls, ” those depressing dead women poets,” Anne Sexton, Sara Teasdale, and Sylvia Plath. Henry, on the other hand, is only at Oxford because of his dad’s ties in academia. They’re an unlikely pair, but their romance is slow and sweet, Van Morrison and his lyrics helping them each step of the way. In fact, though there is definitely attraction, each is hell bent on helping the other, and it works.

Not only does it work, but it also doesn’t feel forced in terms of the writing or characterization. Gloria isn’t magically cured by the end of the book, and Henry slips and has to have a sit down with his AA sponsor. I liked this. Too often, I think addictions or illnesses are treated as plot devices that are tied up once the couple is in love or the family is happy or whatever happy denouement the author employs. Though this book has a “happy” ending, it also comes with the understanding that this couple is real. The relationship will take work – as a couple and as individuals.

Favorite quote (about a favorite song): Gloria thought about tupelo trees; they too thrived in water, preferring the moist ground of riverbeds and creeks. Their blossoms were beautiful and fragrant but extremely delicate and vulnerable to the elements. One strong wind or harsh rain, and they were gone for good. That vulnerability and their short blossoming season made it a fucking miracle anytime one survived.

But when it did, the blossom produced sweet and delicious tupelo honey, which Gloria thought an incredible prize for the remarkable feat of holding on.

Read this: If you want a bit of smart romance or are interested in depictions of mental illness, specifically Obsessive Compulsive Disorder.

ESL: One Semester Gone

7th December 2011

16 weeks. 16 weeks have gone by since I frantically began a new semester teaching a totally new class/subject: ESL Reading and Writing. The program at my university was undergoing changes, and I was hired to a full-time position right as the semester began. I am a super-organized teacher, so the last-minute prep was really taxing. Books didn’t come in until several weeks into the semester. The other teacher and I were at our wit’s end trying to be prepared for these students.

But let me tell you, once I calmed down and realized that teaching writing is teaching writing, and hello! Teaching reading? Heck yeah. I took it in stride. It was an incredibly challenging semester, but it was also extremely rewarding, and for the first time in many years, I can honestly tell you that I love my job.

The students? They came from China, Vietnam, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Peru, Venezuela, Colombia, Mexico, Thailand, and Brazil. They are a variety of ages and cover a whole spectrum of jobs – doctors, attorneys, accountant, architects, radio hosts, entrepreneurs. The relationship I had with these students was so different from the traditional instructor-student connection. I had each student for 10 hours a week and also spent time with some of them outside of class. Almost every student was dedicated and prepared to work intensely toward their goals. I have never been more impressed and so grateful for a group of students.

Even with the rough start, we quickly settled into a routine, working on reading Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays and writing on Tuesdays and Thursdays. We read several books together and had some really great discussions. In fact, even though most students claimed to hate reading, several asked when we could continue when we were in the middle of a book. 🙂

As for me, I also learned quite a lot, as an individual and a teacher. It was difficult, at first, to slow my speech and search for synonyms and antonyms spontaneously. Seriously. Try it sometime on the spot. Your mind goes blank. Having to search for words and new ways to explain words was a challenge. As a teacher, I was a bit overwhelmed at first. I thought I would have to approach instruction in a totally new way. No. I simply had to modify. These students are so intelligent and were very eager (for the most part) to soak up every lesson. What I had to realize is that confidence is the most important skill for a teacher. I know how to teach students to write and read. I just needed to trust myself to do that.

One of the most fun parts of teaching ESL? Halloween. As a college instructor, holidays come and go without comment. These students had so many questions, specifically about Halloween. Do I have to give out candy? What if I don’t have candy? Why do the kids say “trick or treat”? I had a ball creating articles about the history of Halloween in the States. I brought in treats and got more into the holiday than I ever have in the past.

The Latin students were amazed when I could pick up on what they were saying and sometimes (roughly) answer them. The Arabic students were so generous and patient in teaching me parts of their language as well.

So…thank you guys. Thank you so much for such an amazing semester. I care for each of you so much and will miss those of you returning to your home countries. I appreciate you trusting me and encouraging me as your teacher. Be safe, and be well.

Hasta luego.


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