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A Classroom with a View

"Educating the mind without educating the heart is no education at all" –Aristotle

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Classroom Practices

Implementing best practices and techniques to improve student learning.

Building a Culture of Reading through Choice


Getting students to read can sometimes be a monumental task. With so many other engaging multimedia entertainment options for children to choose, assigning chapters to be read for class often results in students arriving in class without having completed the required reading. I can’t say I blame them. In my own education, I’ve been assigned some texts that were real snooze-fests. And if we are being totally honest, I am much more unlikely to read a novel that is assigned–perhaps there’s a bit of passive-aggressive behavior in that. I don’t like being told to read something because it has “literary merit” and is part of the canon. Continue reading “Building a Culture of Reading through Choice”

Renovating Teaching Strategies


I have had occasion in the recent present to think a lot about renovating. In fact, I’m hiding upstairs in a small nook I’ve cleared of construction dust and grime while the flooring guys are laying wood floors downstairs. I don’t know if it’s the heady perfume of new carpet, freshly painted walls, or floor glue, but the complete renovation–upstairs and downstairs–of our 20 year old house has me waxing philosophical about many things.

Firstly, you never really fully appreciate how much stuff you collect in 20 years of marriage until you have to move every. single. bit. from room to room in the inevitable Construction Shuffle. Nothing is left untouched. Questions like “When did we get this?”, “Have we ever used this?” and “What the hell is this?” get asked often, usually by me. My rule of thumb: throw it out if it hasn’t been used or worn in a year or if the technology is obsolete. My husband, however, is a hoarder. The only people I know who Continue reading “Renovating Teaching Strategies”

Shakespeare: To Teach or Not to Teach, That is the Question

IMG_4995Speaking from experience, I can honestly say there is no job, area of study, or political camp more bloody than an English department. If you want to instigate war and ensure a battle to the death Roman Gladiator-style, simply state loud enough for four or five people to hear, “There’s no point in teaching Shakespeare anymore.” Then sit back with your popcorn and your body armor, and let the games begin.

As a scholar and PhD candidate, I’ve seen my share of in-house feuds among professors and within areas of study. You have the Renaissance and Victorians on one side of the divide and the Post-Modernists and Literary Theorists on the other. Somewhere in there, the Folklorists and Rhetoric guys are wandering the desert like the Israelites, trying to find the Promised Land. The vitriol within a university English department is quite unlike anything you’ve ever seen, and the battle for research money is indeed a nasty one. Thus, it’s no wonder there are so many turf wars; but the major battle is in deciding (or rather lobbying for) which works should be included in the Canon, and thus, which works should always be taught. Dante? Chaucer? Shakespeare? Milton? Of course. Pope? Swift? Jonson? Johnson? Yeah, okay. Barrett-Browning? Austen? the Brontes? Eh, they’re women, but I guess they can join. Woolf? Auden? Plath? Wait a minute. Let’s fight about this. Continue reading “Shakespeare: To Teach or Not to Teach, That is the Question”

Global CXN: The Technology Challenge, Part 2

Part 2: Technology and Time Difference

TOS students celebrating their first place win in Olympia Athletics, but their joy is not dissimilar to our joy in finding solutions to our technology issues.
In my last Global CXN post (click here to read Part 1), I talked about how our group started and the initial “getting to know you” stage of the interactions. Once students learned a little about each other and found a common project to undertake, work got underway and students have enjoyed their collaboration. However, getting them on a reliable, functional, collaboration-friendly platform has been a hit-and-miss operation for Vietnam GCXN facilitator Daniel Rymer and me. While we have most of the kinks ironed out now, it was off to a dubious start three months ago.

When we first started in September, I knew getting our students on a platform that encouraged discussion and collaboration was going to be a challenge. Not only were we facing a 12 hour time difference that could stymie any sort of real communication, but also The Olympia Schools is a Google platform school, whereas La Porte ISD is an Office 365 school. My school district blocks all things Google except for Google Search and previous requests to unblock Google have always been met with rejection. Too, Continue reading “Global CXN: The Technology Challenge, Part 2”

Global CXN: La Porte, Texas meets Hanoi, Vietnam, Part 1

Part 1: The Beginning

US Global Connections group.
US Global CXN group.

This year, students from La Porte, Texas, have the opportunity to correspond and collaborate with students attending The Olympia Schools in Hanoi, Vietnam, to learn about each other’s local communities, lifestyles, education, and other sociocultural issues. Initially begun as a way for US and Vietnamese students to engage in literary and cultural studies that would provide a basis for cultural awareness and allow them to interact and share their worlds, the group has moved far beyond our hopes and is now a thriving learning community of global citizens.

A few TOS students sharing a picture with us after a water fight at an autumn festival.
A few TOS students sharing a picture with us after a water fight at an autumn festival.

The idea for the group began last March when Christopher McDonald, Head of Schools for The Olympia Schools in Hanoi, Vietnam, and fellow AP English Literature grader sent me a television newscast video of the charitable work TOS was doing as part of a service learning project in their community. His students were interacting with the world around them and becoming better citizens and stewards of their community while learning valuable life skills and character development through experiences that complement the lessons taught in the classroom. While McDonald has cultivated many partner schools in the US and Canada, La Porte High School, the only high school in a suburban city of 35,000 people approximately 30 miles outside of Houston, is relatively insulated from the world. What better way to broaden my students’ worldviews than by introducing students from each school and providing an avenue for them to collaborate, as well as gain proficiency in 21st century skills and the real-world application of those skills? McDonald and I discussed the possibility of a student-led collaboration between the two schools, and with high hopes and no idea where this project was headed, we created the Global CXN group. Continue reading “Global CXN: La Porte, Texas meets Hanoi, Vietnam, Part 1”

Taking student anxiety out of writing

essay writingDuring the first week of school, I give my seniors a questionnaire that, among other things, asks them to reflect on their writing strengths and challenges. One particular question asks students to discuss how they feel when they are given an in-class essay to write, and each time I ask, the overwhelming response is always “anxious” followed closely by dread. Worse, many of them describe their physical reactions to writing assignments with symptoms that are tantamount to anxiety attacks: an inability to breathe, clammy hands, headaches, racing heart beats, scattered or blank thoughts, blurred or tunnel vision, difficulty sitting still, nausea. When I ask students to consider why they feel this way when given a writing task, many of them cite failure and judgment as the chief reasons for their anxiety.

As every writer knows, there’s an element of exposure and vulnerability when writing for an audience that can be intimidating even for the most seasoned of us, but which for novice writers can easily become debilitating. Their struggle is real and rather than risk failure or a blow to their self-confidence, some students simply will choose not to write anything, feeling Continue reading “Taking student anxiety out of writing”

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