Category Archives: teaching

The Power of a Bedtime Story

6th March 2013

pg1Oh, reading aloud. You were my blessing and curse in school. I was that kid squirming around in English as we read Flowers for Algernon, desperately hoping the person reading would just. read. faster. Those days of reading aloud were torture and sheer bliss. Because as that person struggled over the pronunciation of words (my 6th grade inner snob appalls me), I was reading way ahead, only turning back when the person in front of me began their page. Then I’d go through my page, looking for any words whose pronunciation I was unsure of and getting ready for my moment.

Dorks are easy to please.

And my moment would come, and I’d read my page, my cheeks hot from the pressure, pacing myself, thinking of how I could make this story sound better before the page would turn and the yoke would pass to the student behind me.

When I taught ESL, those days came back to me. The first semester, I thought I would die of boredom as students slowly, painstakingly read through the class readers. And believe me, I know how horrible that sounds. I absolutely adored those students, but I didn’t magically have more patience with slow reading, though I tried. My saving grace was seeing how much they enjoyed reading. And suddenly I could pick out the “me” in the classroom, that fidgeting student, flipping through the book, glancing around with a pained expression as someone mispronounced a word, volunteering to read if I ever asked. We’d wrap up a chapter, and I’d give them their outside reading assignment, but one particular day, they all groaned. Thinking they were upset with the homework, I asked, “What?”

“We want to keep reading.”

That, my friends, is the power of a good book.

Like many of you, bedtime stories were my first introduction to the world of reading. My mother had a cache of books tucked away, special books for which she would produce voices and sound effects. One of my favorites at that young age was The Monster at the End of This Book, a fantastically fun children’s book featuring Grover. She has since passed that book on to my cousin, who, for weeks, walked around saying the last line: “Oh, I am so embarrassed,” mimicking my mother’s intonation perfectly. Goodnight Moon, one of the most famous children’s books, was foremost on the shelf in my bedroom for many, many years. Then there were the Berenstein Bears, a small bear popping too much popcorn on Halloween, and Clifford. One of my favorite baby shower presents is a combination of these books, ready to be read to a new little one.

But the act of reading to children isn’t as common as most readers would think. Ask any elementary school teacher, most children love story time, craving it, sitting with crossed legs, leaning forward, swaying tiny bodies to and fro to catch every last glimpse of the illustrated page before the teacher turns it to the next. Many of those children don’t have parents who read to them, who make sure each night ends with an imaginary world. And how can I criticize? I don’t have children, and they seem endlessly exhausting. These days, I barely have time to read my own bedtime story before my eyelids begin to droop.

But those bedtime stories have stuck with me the last few weeks, in part because today is World Read Aloud Day. But I also read two essays in the last few weeks that brought about the theme for this post, one by Cassandra Neace, “Remembering They Were Readers” about going through her father and grandfather’s bookshelves and another by Rainbow Rowell, “Learn to Read, Kid, But Don’t Fall in Love.”

Both are beautiful testaments to the reading life.

My own reading life has been a beautiful thing, and I’ve often said that just as you have great writers, you also have great readers. I am the latter. (There’s that snobby 6th grader again.) I say this, though, because I can’t take credit for it. Those bedtime stories weren’t just picture books read to me when I was 2 and 3.

During summer breaks, Mom would take us to the library where we’d load up on books, me taking pride in bagging the limit. Summer reading contests? Please. The Ravey family had those all tied up. But even more memorable was the one book we’d choose to read as a family at night, Dad included. We’d sit in the living room, Mom and Dad on the sofa, my brother, sister, and I sitting at their feet. They’d take turns reading to us. The books we read as a family have stayed in my memory, redolent of safe, fun evenings, the smell of soap and strawberry shampoo filling my nose. Madeline L’Engle was a favorite. I first read A Wrinkle in Time on my own, but we read it as a family later. The Emperor’s Panda- though I can’t recall anything of the story (scenes flit through my head, but I can’t make any connections) – I remember adoring it. James and the Giant Peach. Just as now, the books and stories were important, but more important was the time we spent, no television on, no cell phone interruptions (if you called after 8 p.m., you were either rude or had an emergency).

My family is still close, and we still share books. We don’t sit together and read them aloud (we’re not that dorky), but we pass them on to one another, my sister berating me when I haven’t read a book she just loved, my dad telling me he doesn’t have enough time as I hand him a book and then raving about that same book he had absolutely no time to read. My brother bemoaned the decline in his own reading, and my parents got him a Nook Glowlight for Christmas, for long subway rides. He’s the one who handed me The Talented Mr. Ripley last summer. My mom and I have remained the biggest readers in my family, and discussing books isn’t anything out of the ordinary.

I feel imminently blessed by this. I know plenty of people started their blogs because they had no one bookish in their own lives. I know some readers don’t discover the world of books until much later in life. My own ESL students shared their experiences, telling me that in some of their countries, fiction just doesn’t exist, and they certainly aren’t encouraged to read it. So stories like The Tale of Two Cities, which most American students would abhor, are magical to them, and I came to treasure the days we read aloud in class, watching their faces as the story unfolded.

And that magic is what it’s all about. As Rainbow Rowell said in her post, “People who fall in love with books never really stop falling.”

Thank God.

Help share the love of reading by making a donation to LitWorld.

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… 🙂

Judgy McJudgerson

9th February 2012


I don’t often read the posts on Book Riot, but today I noticed Amanda from Dead White Guys had a new post up on Book Riot titled “Confessions of a Newbie Independent Bookseller.”

The article discusses quirks of working in such a specialized place and the types of books people come in requesting. She shares one particular confession I loved:

I Don’t Judge Your Taste in Books
When I get a customer who wants a recommendation, I usually ask what the last book was that they loved so I can see what they’re looking for in a book. Sometimes there’s a pause, an embarrassed shifty-eyed gaze to the floor. A mumble of, “well, I read a lot of teen books, like, Hunger Games and stuff…” Independent bookstores can have a reputation for being snobby places where the books are “curated” out the ass- where you won’t find a best seller anywhere, but where you can definitely find the collected works of David Foster Wallace. I’m sorry if you’ve had that experience at other indies, but honestly- I don’t care what you read. If you want to add to your collection of mermaid erotica, I’ll help you. You want to read the next Twilight? I’ll help you. Looking for a how-to on building your own yurt? You’re the coolest! Let’s do this. There’s no judgment.

However, one person in the comments talks about how he or she does judge a person by what he or she reads. Unfortunately, this type of book shaming is not confined to bookstores. Frankly, I experience this all the time, and I’m sure it’s partially because I am so plugged in to the bookish world and bookish people. More often than not, this judgment comes from someone without a literature degree, someone who is very serious about serious literature.

Please understand I am not saying that an individual without a literature degree cannot criticize books. What I am saying is I do have those qualifications, and I still don’t feel the need/desire to lecture people about their reading choices. I have two degrees in English, one undergrad, one grad. I’ve read most of the big guns. I know literary terms many people do not. This does not make me cool; in fact, it puts me in a very low wage-earning category. I can talk a book to death if I want or need. But here’s the truth: that ain’t fun. I know I’m playing fast and loose, using “ain’t” and cliches and telling you this, but come on: Reading should be the least judged thing we do. We’re reading. In 2009, I remember reading that the average American reads one book a year. If you’re here, you’ve probably already hit that number this year. Whether that one book is a Harlequin romance novel, Charles Dickens’ Bleak House, or James Patterson’s newest, it’s better than no books read this year.

I’ll level with you: I read, no, I devoured the Twilight series. Granted, I knew they weren’t quality writing, but I didn’t care. The story drew me in, no matter how ludicrous parts of it were. I mention this because this is the most criticized reading choice for many. You may not like it, but guess what? Those books enticed people who had never read an entire book for fun to read several – several long books, no less.

My best friend reads at least 80% paranormal romance. We were talking about Goodreads the other night, and every single time she mentioned what she had been reading, she explained her choices away. This is an intelligent teacher and mother of three. The fact that she does read with all that going on is impressive to me. I know she isn’t a big fan of mysteries just like I’m not a big fan of paranormal romance. When we do read the same book, it’s that much more fun. We are diversifying our book stock, making us more interesting.

My reading list includes classics, contemporary literary fiction, an occasional chick lit, and tons of mysteries. I love mysteries, and sometimes even if I know it’s not the best mystery I’ll ever read, I keep reading. Why? Because it’s still enjoyable. The act of sitting down with a book is pleasurable and calming to me.

Maybe part of my ire has built up because I have seen non-readers turned into readers using books others might discount. Most of the students who have entered my classroom have told me they hate reading. They don’t dislike it or find it boring. No, they tell me they hate it. I make it my mission to turn at least one of them on to reading. How do I hit that target? I find out what they enjoy, and I give them a book that aligns well with those interests. Nine times out of ten it works, and I love being part of that person’s life in some small way. If that means putting The Hunger Games in the hands of one student and Madame Bovary in the hands of another, I’m perfectly ok with that. For those of us who truly love books and reading, why would we have it any other way?

So my big question is, have you ever felt judged for your reading choices? And WHY are we allowing others to guilt us? I won’t be had. Come look at my bookshelves and judge away. I dare you.