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Subscribe to this list via RSS Blog posts tagged in literature

Posted by on in General

Celebrate your freedom to read. Read a banned book! That's right, celebrate your freedom to read. It's an important freedom, and it's protected by the First Amendment. Celebrate the right to read which books we choose. Censorship is censorship. There's a fine line between challenged and banned books. Sometimes it's fine and, sometimes not.

Banned Books Week, promoted by the American Library Association and Amnesty International reminds us freedom is not easily maintained. We must retain our ability to think, reason and have access to thoughts different from our own.

Banned Books Week, Sept. 23-29 '18, is really about perspective. What you think is offensive, may not offend me, and vice-versa; who decides? I mean, who decides what we can read, as children and later as adults?

Books are still being banned. In 2018! Really. As of this writing, I have not been able to find a simple definitive figure for the number of books challenged and banned this year, on the ALA website, which I find disappointing. 

Well, in truth, the law actually already decided this very issue. Based on the First Amendment, librarians may not restrict any materials; in regard to children, only parents may do so. In Texas v. Johnson, ('89) Justice William J. Brennan gave this opinion: "If there is a bedrock principle underlying the First Amendment, it is that the government may not prohibit the expression of an idea solely because society finds that the idea itself is offensive or disagreeable..."  

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Posted by on in What If?


When teachers assign student reading, it’s not usually the social-emotional domain that’s the focus of the activity. But if we’re to address the whole child, we have to be aware that books have an impact on students’ hearts as well as their heads.

That’s the focus of an article titled “Literature’s Emotional Lessons,” written by teacher Andrew Simmons. In it he tells the story of a 10th-grade student whose emotional reaction to Piggy’s death scene in Lord of the Flies caused her to flee the room. He writes

In my experience teaching and observing other teachers, students spend a lot of time learning academic skills and rarely even talk about the emotional reactions they may have to what they read—even when stories, as they often do, address dark themes.The Common Core Standardspush students to become clinical crafters of arguments and masters of academic language. While these are essential skills to possess, the fact that my other students appear perfectly comfortable not acknowledging and discussing emotional responses to literature may be as revelatory as this one student’s teary dash from class. Inundated with video games, movies, and memes, teenagers often seem hard to shake up. Characters are fictitious abstractions, and, without actors to bring them to life and makeup and digital tricks to make the drama feel real, students may strictly do the analytical work teachers expect without the interference of a significant emotional response. That’s a bad thing. An emotional response should be part of the curriculum.

Most likely, there’s some concern among teachers about the time such emotional explorations would take, considering there are standards to be met and tests to be passed. But there are standards for the social-emotional domain as well and literature provides a perfect jumping-off point for addressing them.

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Posted by on in School Culture

Little Prince

I've loved The Little Prince since I was a child, and with each reading or exposure, I get something more out of it. As a kid, I'm certain I missed some of the symbolism or allegories, but I'm sure I empathized with the fact that I felt adults didn't always understand me, or have the right priorities.

This summer, I re-read The Little Prince for the first time since becoming an educator, and below are my three take-aways for educators:

1. On Authority

On one planet, the prince meets a King, and

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Posted by on in Teaching with Rigor
High School students have seldom come in contact with absurdist theater, but can really get a lot out of it. Since it seeks to explore many philosophical questions they ask about life everyday.
High School students have seldom come in contact with absurdist theater, but can really get a lot out of it. Since it seeks to explore many philosophical questions they ask about life everyday.

So we've just finished Hamlet and at the beginning, students struggled (they usually do when encountering Shakespeare), but ultimately appreciated Shakespeare's ability to create a character of depth and a play that makes inaction complicated and worthy of their time.

As we move away from the traditional, we will now embark upon the world of absurdist theater created eloquently by Tom Stoppard in his play Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead, an adaptation of sorts of Shakespeare's classic. Taking the point of view of lesser characters and showing the story from their perspective offering depth and greater understanding of the comedy in Hamlet.

Unfortunately, the humor of absurdity can be lost on students if they aren't properly prepared.

Here are some easy tips for teaching something that's so complex, it looks easy on the surface.

  • Preteach the ideas of absurdist theater and existentialism by providing easy to understand non-fiction articles that can be scaffolded and jigsawed in class.
  • Provide specific features that the students can look for while they read that make the play absurdist (some examples from Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are: the play refers to itself and the audience often, dialogue is "strange" and many thoughts are left unfinished)
  • Identify the big questions the play seeks to answer. For example, how much control do we have over our lives or are we guided by destiny?
  • Read aloud with students, in the beginning, helping them by explaining the humor -
  • Try to avoid proscribed meaning - explore the idea that there are many ways to understand what they read, none being more "right" than another.
  • Unlike Shakespeare, the language is deceptively easy, make sure you show and explain the layers and nuance in the diction.
  • Define anything that can be misunderstood ahead of time and in the context of the reading when it comes up. Make kids write it down when you go over it.
  • Show them the movie, so they can place the humor in its context (I usually show the movie after we are done reading) - Ask them to take notes on what they notice when they watch that they missed while they read. Discuss what they notice.
  • Offer students the opportunity to grapple with the big questions offered by the text, practicing using evidence, but also employing their own philosophical views
  • Anchor ideas in by comparing and contrasting to other drama students have read (in our case Shakespeare's Hamlet)
  • Let students work in pairs to examine the text closely using double entry journals
  • Create a project that explores the style of writing and the philosophy that drives the unit - I have students write a 1 Act play in either play's format and/or style HamletRosencrantzandGildensternassignment
  • Provide students a model and/or exemplar that really addresses the core of your expectations: LaertesAbroad-1Actplay
  • Give students opportunity to revise and conference in order really show what they know about the genre
  • Create opportunities for multiple interpretations and discussions.
  • Develop a lit circle for other absurdist authors like Samuel Beckett or Harold Pinter

How have you taught absurdist theater? Let's collaborate. Share you ideas and challenges.

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Posted by on in Early Childhood


I believe that all children deserve to grow up with the opportunity to love books and reading. They won't actually all end up as dedicated readers, of course - kids have all sorts of unique preferences and learning styles. But there are countless gifts that stem from growing up with an enjoyment of reading, from a strong vocabulary to a heightened degree of empathy. Basically, kids who enjoy books and reading will choose to spend some of their time reading. Reading will become easier and easier for them, and they will enjoy it more and more, and thus spend more time at it. There will be a positive feedback cycle that leads to improved test scores, strong verbal skills, and most importantly, many hours of enjoyment. 

BOYBOOKHere are some tips for parents who would like to nurture the love of reading in their children. These tips were originally published on my personal blog several years ago, and are updated here for EdWords. 

1. Read aloud to your children from (or even before) birth, and keep reading aloud to them even after they can read on their own (for as long as you can). This has been shown to have a huge impact in raising readers, and is the number one thing that parents and other concerned adults should do to help grow bookworms. By reading to kids in a comforting environment, you help them to think of reading as a pleasurable activity. You also increase their vocabularies and attention spans, and show them that books are important. And with all of the many wonderful books out there, this should be enjoyable for you and the kids.

2. Read the books that your children read, even after you are no longer reading aloud with them (or along with books you're reading together). Talk to them about these books. Let them recommend books to you. By reading the books your children read, you show them that you value them, and the books, and you open up untold avenues for important discussions. I personally think that if more parents and other adults did this, there would be less of a drop-off in reading for pleasure as kids get older (though I have no formal data to back this up). I wrote about this in more detail here.

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