Things have been busy lately. You know how that goes, I'm sure. One of the things I do when I get stressed is start LOTS of things without finishing ANY of them.
For example, I open fifteen tabs on my computer and leave all of them open, desperately rifling through the files to try to figure out which one to do first. As my mind races, I find that I continually think of new items that must be completed; with each new thought, a new tab opens. On particularly anxious days, I switch back and forth between the computer and my desk, making notes and sorting through papers (there are ALWAYS lots of random papers on my desk on days like that) as I struggle to make sense of my life.
So it goes with my blog from time to time. I now have at least five drafts going on this page at once; most have been open for at least a couple of months--some of them have been open since before I went back to work post-maternity leave in September (was it really so long ago?). I've been desperately trying to post more frequently, but the whole month of December already slipped through my fingers, and now I'm at the end of January.
Anyway, I'm super excited about two things that we're doing at school right now, and both of them are ideas that you could implement right away if you felt so inclined.
The first idea is using YA literature for text pairings:
With our English 11 classes (and, to a lesser extent, with my AP Lit class as well in the form of lit circles), we're pairing "traditional" (think canonical, in anthologies, mostly by dead authors, largely DIFFICULT and somewhat antiquated) texts with passages from young adult novels. It's been great so far.
For example, we paired a close reading passage using the beginning of "The Fall of the House of Usher" with the beginning of a spooky novel by Rin Chupeco called The Girl from the Well. We paired a passage from The Life of Olaudah Equiano about being kidnapped and the slave ship journey over with a passage from Sharon Draper's Copper Sun about the slave auction.
It's been really successful, and it's been a great way to introduce students to more YA literature while also exposing them to the classics and more traditional texts.
The second idea is focusing on social issues as a way to create units:
We decided to make our units revolve around social issues. We came up with a list of social issues--15 of them--that we thought might interest students, and then we used Survey Monkey to let students quickly vote on their top issues. It surprised me to find that bullying was the winner by a landslide--well over 50% of the students voted for that issue. The other winners were hate crimes, human trafficking, and violence in schools. It was great to use the survey because I would've been reluctant to choose some of those issues on my own, but with student input, it invited me to have space to talk through issues that are relevant to the students' lives. We're creating mini-units focusing on each of the issues they selected. So far, we've worked through human trafficking and are currently studying hate crimes (including racial and religious crimes as well as crimes related to sexuality). I've been amazed by the maturity and passion students have shown as we have dealt with difficult texts and topics.
I'll write more about the framing of those units in the future, but I wanted to throw these ideas out there in case you're looking for some new things to try. I've needed a bit of revitalization with lessons myself, and these two ideas have done a lot to enhance the lessons I'm making.
Happy New Year! Although I've enjoyed my brief respite from blogging, I'm excited about the upcoming year and upcoming posts!
Recently, I've been getting a flood of emails commenting on posts and requesting materials. Thank you all so much for reading and for taking the time to contact me! Although it sometimes takes me a little while to respond, I do read and respond to each email, so if you don't get a response, please check your junk mail to see if it got filtered (I send them from a gmail address). Feel free to contact me again if you don't hear back from me within a couple of weeks.
One teacher who emailed me recommended The Book Thief by Markus Zusak and mentioned that she plans to teach it with advanced readers this semester. I have heard so many amazing things about that work and had a student do an awesome Prezi book talk on it last spring, but I have yet to read it! It has now been moved to the top of my list (I'm reading Champion, the end of the Legend trilogy by Marie Lu, at the moment and LOVING it). The Book Thief will be one I pick up here in the next couple of months.
What are you planning to teach this year? Please leave comments telling about your latest young adult reads and the ways that you are considering incorporating them into your classes. I'm loving the emails that I am receiving, but comments would be an awesome way to share some of your great ideas!
In other news (I've been working on this segue for a while, and it's still the best I've got...), I am pregnant! Strange thing to say on here, I know. I only mention this here (though I will probably write more extensively about it on my writing page) to say that I'm still (at the beginning of my second trimester) struggling to function like a normal human being (hence the long break between posts). Both because I love collaborating with others and because of my own utter exhaustion, I would LOVE to feature some guest posts in the coming months, so if you have an idea that you'd be willing to share with the teaching community, please email me (through the contact tab at the top of the page) and let me know what you'd like to share! Posts with information about how to teach/ discuss specific young adult works are the ones that get the most readership, but I'm happy to share any innovative teaching ideas that you've tried in the classroom!
Please comment below with YA lit titles that you are loving and/ or teaching this year! I know that my school is considering incorporating more YA lit into our curriculum, and many of you are in the same situation at your respective schools. Thank you for reading and for sharing your ideas.
Greetings and Salutations! It's been a while. As you've noticed if you read these posts frequently, I've been taking a bit of a vacation from blogging. It began in November as I worked frantically to meet my NaNoWriMo word count goals (more to come on that soon!). My husband graciously filled in with a couple of amazing guest posts on memoir and teaching Bless Me Ultima while I was busy increasing my word count. I also attended the NCTE national conference, which was phenomenal--there's a post forthcoming about that experience as well.
I found that even after the November madness had ceased, I still needed a little more time away. I will return with regular weekly posts after the holiday season. Thank you, as always, for reading, and please contact me with any requests or ideas for posts that you'd like to share or see.
Our students come back on Tuesday! We've had meetings since last Tuesday, so at this point, the thought of having class, and of getting into the normal routine, seems exceedingly blissful. I intended to post about back to school/ first day activities today, but after staring at my screen for a while, I decided that is a post for the near future. Today, I'd like to reflect on young adult literature that I discovered during summer reading this year.
This is the list of what I read from YA Lit this summer:
I couldn't say that I didn't enjoy any of these. They were all excellent novels. In fact, I was beginning to worry that I would reduce my credibility on Goodreads with my recent high ratings. I've given pretty much everything I've read this summer four or five stars. However, I realized eventually that the seemingly inflated ratings come from the fact that all of those books were recommended to me by a friend with excellent taste.
That brings me around to recommendations. I've discovered in the past year that talking with kids about books is the number one way to get them to read. I read things and tell my students about them; the next thing I know, they are reading them for themselves. They make their own judgments--I particularly enjoy it when a student plows through a book that I loved and then tells me that s/he did or did not particularly like specific things about it.
My thoughts about the books from this summer:
Lauren Oliver is brilliant. I've thoroughly enjoyed discovering her writing this summer. Her narrators are complex and challenging, and she moves forward at a riveting speed that leaves the reader breathless. I think (despite my initial doubts during the first 100 or so pages) I ultimately liked Before I Fall better than the Delirium series, but both were amazing reads that have been enjoyed by my students as well as me.
Saenz is a phenomenal writer and his story poignantly and directly attacks the struggles that teenage boys encounter when they discover that they are a bit different from their peers. It's a story of loneliness, self-discovery, and compassion, and I loved every minute of it.
Me, Earl, and the Dying Girl is a hilarious, insightful story with a brilliant narrative voice. It moves quickly and is a great read for teens navigating the complex pathways of social networks in high school, as well as those who are struggling with the illness of a friend or family member. It's honest and sheds an authentic light on the hilarity and absurdity of life as well as the complexities of the human experience.
I just finished Bitterblue, and I can't say enough about how much I love the world that Kristin Cashore created. She thoroughly engrosses her reader in the fantasy world of seven kingdoms (with another world accessible only through tunnels). What I particularly like about those books is the continuity of progressive thinking and strong female narrators throughout each of the novels. I also love the way that the novels complement one another while telling unique, fascinating stories. Though I loved all three novels, I found Bitterblue the most powerful as Cashore reveals through that novel the long lasting impact of a devastating tyrant and the challenges that people face in the aftermath of such a horrible experience.
John Green's novel was brilliant--funny, moving, and perfect for teen readers who are feeling alone and learning to relate to the world and their friends. This is an awesome story about the unlikely meeting of two very different teenage boys who discover that they have some things in common. It's an excellent book for teenagers who are dealing with relationship issues, loneliness, sexuality issues, or depression. It's simply a great novel for readers who are looking for a fun read about the struggles of "normal" teenage life.
Marie Lu's series is AWESOME! I love the alternating narrators and the way that their lives intertwine. The story itself is compelling, and Lu unveils her post-apocalyptic, dystopian world bit by bit in a way that keeps the story ever suspenseful and intriguing. They are excellent reads and are among the best of the genre that I've read so far.
I loved, loved, loved Hold Still. It was raw and honest about the devastation that people experience in the wake of suicide. However, what makes it remarkable is the way that LaCour shows with candor and authenticity how art and love and reflection can bring about healing and remembrance. It is a story of bravery and hope, and it addresses mental illness and self harm in a way that is approachable for teen readers as well as adults.
Finally, I will end with the book that began my summer. The Dog Stars is a phenomenal book. It took me quite a while to get into that one, but it was well worth the wait. It is a brilliant book that shows the desire to keep living in a post-apocalyptic world where virtually nothing is left. The narration is powerful with curt, broken syntax and sharp realities depicted in single word phrases. “Life and death lived inside each other. That's what occurred to me. Death was inside all of us, waiting for warmer nights, a compromised system, a beetle, as in the now dying black timber on the mountains.” This is a remarkable story, and it would be a good one to teach in an advanced or AP class.
Well, this has turned out to be longer than I anticipated... I loved the novels I read this summer (almost as much as I loved the summer itself), and I can't wait to share them with the students this coming week. Best wishes to all of you fellow teachers as you settle in to a new year with your students.
Warning: If you are squeamish or like swimming in lakes blissfully unaware of the dangers that lurk below the water, you may want to skip the details included in the first Google search that I mention below.
Disclaimer: The brain sucking and flesh-eating amoeba that I mention below are discussed solely for the purpose of addressing what happens when you use keywords. The scientific facts are not studied and serve to illustrate a point about research, not to comment on the state of amoeba in southern lakes.
As you other educators have doubtlessly discovered, many students struggle with research. There are many reasons for this, but one that continually surprises me is the fact that they often do not know how to enter search terms. They will be researching an author, for example, and they will type the author’s name, but they will never consider the possibility of adding other words to the search or using a title or other descriptor in place of the name. They also struggle with scanning information and selecting the best hits, but that’s a struggle for another post. This post will focus on using search terms (and the horrifying amount of information that is available on the internet).
So, here’s the story. Yesterday I embarked on a water skiing adventure for the first time in about 20 years. Consequently, my first couple of attempts, I was slow to get out of the water. As you know if you’ve been dragged along by a boat without actually making it up to standing, the excruciating time from the initial motor rev of the boat until you pathetically let go of the tow rope involves mouthfuls and mouthfuls (and, in my case, nosefuls and nosefuls) of water.
The second time that I wiped out prior to standing up, I felt a full liter of water go down my left nostril. As a result, I could feel my left nostril begin to clog up (once I paused long enough to quit choking on the water that remained in my mouth and gushed down my throat).
By dinnertime, I felt congested enough to be mildly concerned. Still, I showered and went to bed without much worry. I fell asleep dreaming of skiing.
As often happens, I woke up around 2:00 AM. After I woke up, I found myself more concerned about the building congestion in my nose. It was then, after about thirty minutes of failed attempts to blow my nose and fall back to sleep, I did what all desperate people in the age of the internet and smart phones do: I reached over, opened up Safari on the phone, and then clicked on the search button. I typed in the following search on Google: getting lake water up nostrils.
This is the point where I encountered the brain-eating amoeba (Naegleria Fowleri). I know it sounds like some sort of horror movie absurdity, but at 2 AM when the internet tells you that it is a real problem, it seems nothing short of terrifying. Essentially, what I learned is that the amoeba attacks are extremely rare. (Did you get that, people who read the disclaimer, but are both squeamish and curious? They are EXTREMELY rare--you should keep swimming in lakes.) Additionally, the ideal water conditions are around 115 degrees Fahrenheit. However, they happen when the host (in this case, me) gets warm water (from southern lakes or thermal springs) up the nostrils. The amoebas settle in your nostril cavity and then pave their way from the nostrils up into the brain, where they feast on your brain matter until you die. Of all of the people that have had this happen since it was first recorded in the 1960s, only 1 person ever has survived. The time from initial contact to death is generally somewhere between 7 and 14 days, and in the meantime, the host experiences nausea, vomiting, headaches, neck stiffness, and loss of memory.
(As a point of reference in the category of research/ scanning/ paraphrasing, I paraphrased all of the above information from a quick scan of several sources. The information is an amalgamation of what I gleaned from my quick 2 AM perusal.)
As you can imagine, I instantly found myself worrying less about my nasal congestion and more about whether I had other symptoms of the amoeba invasion. For the record, anyone who has ever attempted water skiing knows that a stiff neck, potential headache, and pain in all other muscles seems to be pretty standard.
The prospect of sleep dissipated into oblivion.
Part of the problem with this particular search was that ALL of the top hits were about the brain-eating amoeba. I did what good researchers do (though somehow this post is becoming more about brain eating amoeba and less about research) and tried another keyword search.
This time I tried lake water causing sickness. Big mistake. That one looked even scarier, so I went back to my original search. I scanned the relevant information before selecting hits to actually read. I also managed to ignore all of the articles about the amoeba (I feel the need to reiterate that they are brain-eating each time I mention them) for quite a while. I even exited the search, realizing that it was not relevant and would not help with the real problem I was having.
However, as often happens, once I saw the terrifying lines and the abundance of similar hits, I was intrigued and had to read everything. I tore into the graphic details of several of the hits—I had plenty of time since sleep was impossible. I finally read a PBS article in which the author kindly tried to minimize the fear, ending with the statement, “know your risks, make sure water isn’t jammed up your nose [easy for you to say when you aren’t the one getting pummeled by a ski wipeout!], and enjoy the warm weather.”
When I found myself unable to feel assured enough to drift back to sleep, I finally wandered into the living room. Fortunately, insomnia runs in my family and this was a family visit, so my father was still up. I eventually admitted my tragic discovery and he assured me that the water was not in fact warm enough to end my life through a brain-eating smorgasbord. However, he then went on to say, “I don’t mean to scare you, but…” (I should pause here to explain that one of the first lessons I learned in life was that when my father says that statement, whatever comes next will undoubtedly terrify me.) “There have been several reports of flesh-eating amoeba in the lakes.” He went on to describe in vivid detail an incident with one particular victim, which I will spare you here as I attempt to return focus to the merits of keywords when doing research (though I’m sure you could find the account, and lots of others, with a quick Google search).
Charming, Dad. As you can imagine, my terror moved from terror about my brain to terror about the flesh that houses my brain.
Anyway, I assured him that I was feeling better and that I’d go back to sleep.
After another twenty minutes of staring at the ceiling, I finally reached over for my phone once again. (I can sense you groaning as you read this statement, for by now we all know how these kinds of searches, especially the ones in the middle of the night, turn out.)
This time, after careful reflection, I considered what I truly wanted to know and typed stuffy nose after skiing.
Ta-da! After that search, I found tons of information about people who had experienced similar aftereffects post-skiing and lake swimming. These articles and chat forums focused on using saline solutions to clean out the nasal cavity, and many people discussed the pros and cons of nose plugs.
While I know that this seems far removed from student research, it led me to an important realization about the importance of search terms in the research process. Although my first search accurately described what happened, my later search focused on the effects of the incident, and therefore provided the information that I most needed to know.
Overall research lesson? Modify your search terms and keep looking until you find the information most relevant and useful to you. And above all, DON’T PANIC.
(Image above comes from AnimalShak)
K. Ashley Dickson-Ellison is a former high school English teacher (who is now an instructional technology teacher) interested in exploring the integration of trending young adult literature into the English classroom experience. Ashley is also a member of the podcast Unabridged; check out the podcast site below.
Please note: All ideas and opinions are my own and do not represent my current or past employers.
© K. Ashley Dickson and Teaching the Apocalypse 2019. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without written permission from this blog’s author is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to K. Ashley Dickson and Teaching the Apocalypse with appropriate and specific direction to the original content. All thoughts and ideas are the author's and do not represent any employer.