Friday, April 28, 2017

11/12 English: Overcoming Adversity in Freedom Writers

Discussion Question: 
Ms. Gruwell’s students endure a number of hardships in their personal lives. Many of the students come from broken families, in which they have endured physical and/or emotional abuse, substance abuse, poverty, homelessness, gang violence, and deaths of close relatives and friends. How do the assigned class books relate to the students’ lives? What are some common themes that run throughout the books they read (for example, The Diary of Anne Frank) and their lives?

Respond to the questions above in the comments section with at least 3-5 sentences.

Note: please read over your post and check spelling, punctuation, and grammar before you hit "publish." This is a summative exercise on L2, "I can demonstrate grade-appropriate command of the English language including spelling, capitalization, and punctuation."

L2 Rubric (click here)

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

English Essentials: Chris Kyle and Complex Characterization

Respond to the questions below in the comments section.  Please number your answers and write in complete sentences.  Be sure to read your post over before you hit "publish!" You will be receiving a score on L1 and L2 (capitalization, punctuation, grammar, and mechanics).


  1. Define complex characters. Then, list the qualities that make Chris Kyle "complex." 
  2. Are these characteristics represented well in the movie? Or, does he seem "flatter" or "less complex" in the movie?
  3. Why do you think the movie chose to open with Kyle behind the lens of his sniper rifle rather than his childhood?

11/12 English: Teaching Tolerance through Freedom Writers, Day 2

Teaching Tolerance: Day 2
Respond to the questions below in the comments section with at least 3-5 sentences.

Note: please read over your post and check spelling, punctuation, and grammar before you hit "publish." This is a summative exercise on L2, "I can demonstrate grade-appropriate command of the English language including spelling, capitalization, and punctuation."

L2 Rubric (click here)

Discussion Questions:
Think about your own school or out-of-school activities. Are youth respectful of each other’s differences? Are there problems similar to those in Wilson High? If so, what steps can you take to initiate change?

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Business Writing: Adjusting Your Tone (Cover Letters)

In yesterday's class, we looked at pgs. 232-33 in your copies of Technical Communication and discussed the importance of tone in the cover letters we are writing.

Here is what we learned:

Tone will always depend on—
  1. "the distance between you...and the reader" (basically, how well you know your reader); and
  2. "the attitude you show towards the subject" (232).
Our cover letters should have—
  1. a consistent tone;
  2. a formal (professional) tone;
  3. a positive, energetic tone; and
  4. an active voice.
For example, when you say, "Management responsibilities were given to me," you are making your subject ("responsibilities") your direct object.  It's the the thing receiving the action.

But if you make a simple change to your sentence, such as, "I assumed management responsibilities," you are making yourself the subject ("I") and "responsibilities" the direct object.

Looking at the cover letters you revised for today, please pick one sentence that was written in the passive voice and post it in the comments section below.  Respond to your classmates' comments by revising their sentences and putting them in the active voice. Explain why you think the sentence is better.

11/12 English: Freedom Writers and Intolerence

Rewatch the powerful scene in which Mrs. Erin Gruwell teaches her students about the "most famous gang in history," the Nazis.

Then, pick one question below and respond in the comments section in at least 3-5 sentences.  Note: please read over your post and check spelling, punctuation, and grammar before you hit "publish!" This is a summative exercise on L2, "I can demonstrate grade-appropriate command of the English language including spelling, capitalization, and punctuation."

L2 Rubric (click here)

Discussion Questions:
At the beginning of the school year, Erin is deeply disturbed by a racial caricature of one of her students that she finds being passed around the room.

  1. Why does Erin compare this drawing of an African-American student to the drawings of Jewish men during the Holocaust? 
  2. Why do you think Erin refers to the Nazis as the most famous gang in history? Why does this comparison make the students begin to listen to her? 
  3. Why are the students so unwilling to associate with anyone outside their ethnic/racial groups? Where does this intolerance come from? 

Thursday, April 20, 2017

11/12 English: What Is Brain Hacking?

While watching today's featured video, please 1) take notes on anything important, interesting, or compelling to you, 2) define the key terms below, and 3) answer the essential questions.

When you are finished, make sure to write a position statement as well as level 1, 2, and 3 questions to include in tomorrow's Socratic Circle.

Key Terms:
1) Brain Hacking
2) "attention economy"
3) "neurological response"

Essential Questions: 
1) How are companies "constantly tweaking your online experience to make you come back for more?'
2) Do you find yourself "going back for more" on certain apps? Which ones? Why?
3) Have any of the apps you use frequently changed in ways that make you want to check them more?

Thursday, April 13, 2017

11/12 English: Socratic Circle on Out of Print (2013)

For today's socratic circle we will be breaking into two groups: the first will be our "fishbowl," leading a group discussion about the documentary Out of Print (2013); the second will be our audience, observing how discussion is going and if they agree/disagree with the conversation taking place in the middle.

Audience members: in the comments section of this post, make thoughtful observations about the conversation taking place in the "fishbowl."  Good observations will do the following:
  1. Identify when you agree/disagree with observations and specifically state why (ASRApt Specific Reference).  
  2. Observe what specific group members did that helped to "propel" conversation forward, respond to their group members, and provide thoughtful observations.

Fishbowl members: Students receiving a 3, "Meets," on Speaking and Listening 1, will do the following: 
  1. Come to discussion prepared, having read and researched materials beforehand. SL1a
  2. Work with peers to promote a civil, democratic discussion, set clear goals, and establish individual roles. SL1b
  3. Propel conversations forward by posing and asking questions that probe reasoning and ask for evidence. SL1c
  4. Respond thoughtful to diverse perspectives, synthesize (combine) comments, claims, and evidence, resolve contradictions, and investigate meaning. SL1d

AP English: Some Universal Truths about Comedy

Playwright and author Oscar Wilde (1854—1900), who was famous for his use of comedy to make fun of social situations.
Writing Warmup: 
On page 6 of your Drama Packets, you will find some Universal Truths about Comedy.  Comedy...

  1. Is always at someone's expense.
  2. Binds and excludes people.
  3. Lessons social tensions.
  4. Has the potential to have real tragedy embedded within it.
  5. Gives power to those who make us laugh.
Using one or two of the universal truths above, describe a key moment in The Importance of Being Earnest by Oscar Wilde (pictured above).  How does that moment prove the universal rule about comedy?

AP English: The Reader's Theater

Beginning Activities
A Doll House and The Importance of Being Earnest

Activity One:  Reader’s Theater

1.  Before students begin reading either play, randomly assign students to read and perform the following scenes.
2.  Allow five minutes for a read through and a brief discussion among the group on how to read/perform the parts.
3.  As students watch the performances, have them record initial impressions and make predictions.
4.  As they read the plays, students should test their initial responses against their later ones.

Suggestions for Student Notes:

1.  What conclusions can we draw about the characters? Do they remind you of
                  people you know or of characters in other works?
            2.   What conflicts seem to emerge in act one?  Act three?  
            3.  What leads you to your conclusions?
            4.  If the same passages are performed, are there differences in characterization?
            5.  What commonalities do you see between the two plays?  Differences?
            6.  What questions do you have after watching the plays?

Suggested Scenes from A Doll House (Dover Thrift Editions)
Act 1: 
            Pages 1 – 2.  Beginning scene through Nora’s speech that begins with          “Whatever you say Torvald.”  (Nora, Torvald, Delivery Boy (“Porter”))

            Pages 6 – 7.  Entrance of Mrs. Linde through her speech that begins with “Your     husband?  How marvelous!” (Nora and Mrs. Linde)

            Pages 14 – 15. Krogstad’s first lines “It’s me, Mrs. Helmer” through Nora’s          speech that begins with “Oh come on Dr. Rank – you really do want to live     yourself.”  (Krogstad, Mrs. Linde, Nora, Dr. Rank)
Suggested Scenes from The Importance of Being Earnest.  1899 Google Boocs Ed.

Act I:
            Pages 1 – 5. Opening Scene through Algernon’s speech that begins with      “Lane’s views on marriage seem somewhat lax. (Lane, Algernon)
            Pages 6 – 8.  Jack’s line “I am in love with Gwendolen through Jack’s speech         that begins with “Cecily!  What on earth do you mean?”

            Pages 19 - 21.  Lady Bracknell’s line “Good afternoon, dear Algernon, I hope…”   through Lane’s exit after Algernon discovers there are no cucumber         sandwiches.(Lane, Algernon, Gwendolen, Lady Bracknell, and Jack.)

Act II: 

            Pages 55 – 57.  Beginning of scene with Miss Prism through Cecily’s speech that begins with “I wish Uncle Jack would allow that unfortunate young man, his            brother, to come down here sometimes.”

            Pages 59—?.  Begin with Miss Prism and Dr. Chausible’s return from their walk:             
            Miss Prism:  “You are too much alone, dear Dr. Chausible…” and end with Jack’s


Monday, April 10, 2017

Port Veritas: Day 5 (9/10th English)

Our 9/10 English students started the last day of our week with a performance by Jesse Parent titled, "To the Boy Who May One Day Date My Daughter."

Then, each student was given fifteen minutes to practice reading a poem they wrote this week.

Speaking and Listening Instructions:
1) The speaker should introduce themselves.  "My name is ____, the poem is titled____."  If it is untitled, just say so.
2) Each of the five students is given 15-minutes each.  3-5 minutes to perform, and an additional 5-10 for feedback and a second performance.
3) Read through once, get feedback, then repeat.

Here are some of the students we heard from today:

1) One student read a poem about fishing for lobsters.  Vivid descriptions about hauling traps and spending time with his grandfather added a level of authenticity to the poem that I loved.

2) Our next student read a poem titled, "Secret Soldier," which recounted the experience of going to war.  The poem ended with a fabulous line, "now, I make my departure."

3) Our third student presented a poem he'd worked on all week about his boat, speaking about the way he is abused by his owner and deals with crashing waves.

4) Our fourth presenter read a poem he'd workshopped about a baseball, using the image to describe time passing, age, and deterioration.

5) Our next student writer read her poem about a dusty, forgotten room that "would be destroyed by socialization, but it was already killed by it."

6) Our next writer read a poem about the Greek Titan Atlas, read from the perspective of the earth.  The poem told the story of Atlas from a perspective you don't normally hear.

7) The following student read a poem written from the perspective of a TV controller that wants to fight back from all of the treatment it takes.

8) Our last student presented a poem about pencils, how frequently they are disposed and

Friday, April 7, 2017

Port Veritas: Day 5 (AP English)

We began today's class by watching Neil Hilborn's performance of "OCD" (above) as a way to warm up our public speaking skills.

Then, each student was given fifteen minutes to practice reading a poem they wrote this week.

Speaking and Listening Instructions:
1) The speaker should introduce themselves.  "My name is ____, the poem is titled____."  If it is untitled, just say so.
2) Each of the five students is given 15-minutes each.  3-5 minutes to perform, and an additional 5-10 for feedback and a second performance.
3) Read through once, get feedback, then repeat.

Here are some of the poems we heard today:
1) One student read his sonnet on escaping the Maine winters for warmer climates.  When workshopping their poem with Robin yesterday, he put the poem in iambic pentameter! It was so cool! The sonnet was musical and punchy right when the student writer wanted it to be.

2) Our second student writer read his revised metaphor poem about a lemon, which became a personification of the bitter-sweetness of life.

3) Our third student read a poem she started last week using the Shakespearean sonnet.  The topic was about friends and dating, ending on the importance of the speaker's own heart.

4) Our fourth student read a poem about basketball and winning the state of Maine Class-D Girls' Basketball Championships.  Her rhymed coupled at the end showed how meaningful the championship was, ending with, "won the gold ball."

5) Our last student read her sonnet personifying the idea of time, using images of world clocks and people's reactions to time to stress how time affects us.

Some Tips: 

1) Look off your page! Be sure to look up as you say your lines to the audience.  Don't just read off the page.  Taking time to look at the audience and engage is an important part of public speaking.
2) Smile when it's appropriate.
3) If you have a line that ends with a single word, take a pause and deliver that word with gusto.
4) If you're going to deliver poetry that is personal and funny, and you're not sure how to deliver it, you can imagine a scenario that makes it work.  For example, delivering a poem as if the person you are talking about is at the back of the room.  Play around with your audience.
5) Always work on projection.
6) Stress words that you want stressed.  If you have trouble finding areas of the poem to stress, ask for help.
7) Don't rush off the stage after you finish reading! Pause and leave when it's appropriate.  If you are workshopping, you will need to stay "on stage" until you have received feedback and practiced reading your poem to the audience a second time.
8) Students with long or unruly hair, pull/push it out of your face so the audience can see you.

Thursday, April 6, 2017

Port Veritas: Day 4 (9th/10th grade)

Students workshopping their writing with Robin Merrill today.
Today, we broke again into three group (5-6 students and 1 poet each).  Students who shared their work yesterday read the poems they revised for homework and got feedback from their peers.

Here are some of the ideas workshopped today by our student writers:
1) One student wrote about the Greek Titan Atlas, telling the story from the earth's perspective and personifying its feelings.  The earth feels happy to be picked up and have their burdens taken away.

2) Another student wrote from the perspective of his boat and the experiences it has each day.  This topic became a metaphor for a person who works really hard and doesn't get the respect he/she deserves.

Port Veritas: Day 4

Today, we had the whole group back together for our period 2, AP English, writing workshop.  The senior who workshopped with Nate, Beau, and Robin shared the poem he workshopped yesterday and got feedback from the rest of the group.  The poem changed in meaningful ways since the last workshop, and it was a treat to hear the poem's implied metaphor from classmates.

Each student stood in front of their workshop table and read their favorite of the two writing prompts they received on Tuesday.

Samples from today's metaphor poems.  Some students chose to type or hand-write their copies.
Here are some of the topics workshopped today by our student writers:
1) One student wrote about time, aging, and decay using the image of chipped nail polish.  At the end of the poem, the word had a double meaning and "polish" became a representation of the polish of youth.

2) Another student shared a poem about "Otto," a dog who experiences loss and excitement as their owner comes and leaves.  Because the image was so easy to understand, we discussed the poem's metaphor as separation anxiety and loss.

3) A third student wrote about a tree that starts as a seedling and grows into a lush tree.  One of my favorite lines was this one: "Eventually the tiny tree / Has grown into a lush one / yielding more fruit than Eden."  The author wanted to convey a message of growth even with limitations that keep something from growing.  Workshop members, however, thought it might be a metaphor for the growth one experiences in high school.

More workshopping tips from today:
1) Cut repetition for the sound of the poem.  For example, "Those cracks and those chips" could be "Those cracks and chips."  It sounds better and has a clearer meaning.

2) You don't have to start poems with word banks.  In fact, you can do a free write on a topic, image, object, or idea, and go back and do a word bank.  When we heard about the tree that yielded "more fruit than Eden," for example, we discussed making a word bank about Eden so that the biblical imagery could appear elsewhere in the poem.

3) Write with confidence! We talked a little bit about this yesterday, but I think the discussion today was even more helpful.  Phrases such as, "almost like," should be, "like," to create authority in the writing.

Tomorrow, we will focus on speaking and reading poetry out loud to wrap things up.

English Essentials: Vocabulary Cards

For the last two weeks, we have been practicing our Language 4 standard, "I can accurately and independently determine or clarify the meaning of unknown words."

As we get ready for our first language four assessment, I wanted us to pick the best ten words and make Vocabulary Cards like the ones above.  Here are the instructions:

1) Pick three of your favorite words from the last two weeks.
2) Create one card for each word.
3) Each card should have the original sentence in which you found the word, the word's definition, and the word's part of speech.
4) On the back, use the word in a sentence that you wrote.  
5) Turn in to Dr. B with your name on it and she will make the master vocabulary list.

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Port Verits: Day 3 (9th/10th grade)

Beau Williams reading one of his many awesome poetry slam-winning poems.
Our second high school workshop today began with a real treat: original metaphor and persona poems by Beau Williams and Nate Amadan.

Then, several students shared their metaphor writing prompts from last night.  One student wrote about a leaf leaving a tree, which represented individuals following their dreams.  Another wrote about glasses, which represented  a metaphor for how we treat our friends, parents, or loved ones.

After we shared with the class, we broke into small groups (5 students, 1 poet each) and everyone shared their work.

Group 1 workshopping with Beau Williams (right).

Group 2 workshopping with Nate Amadan (left).

Group 3 workshopping with Robin Merrill.
Tomorrow, students will pick up where they left off and bring in revised copies of the work they did today.

Port Veritas: Poetry Workshop Day 3

One of our seniors working with Port Veritas poets Nate and Beau.

Unlike Day 1 and Day 2 of this week's poetry workshops, today we started with a new poet, Beau Williams, and only one student in Period 2!

It was amazing.

How often does a young writer get to work with three professional creative writers workshopping his/her own work one-on-one?

Our lucky senior started by sharing last night's writing prompt (see here).  He chose to write about the smell, feel, and experience of working down at the Vinalhaven Fishermen's Co-Op.

The poem was filled with lovely phrases like "the smell of ocean and pennies" to describe the foulness of bait.

Speared bait bags (photo © by Helana Brigman, 2012.)

Some workshopping tips:
1) Play around with a thesaurus.
2) Circle all of the adjectives in your poem and try another one.  See if you like it more.
3) Beau: "give the words the power they deserve.  Confidence is key."
4) Think about the distinction between words.  What do you mean when you say "life" versus "livelihood?"
5) Trim it up: "Rotten fish may just seem like rotten fish / but to the fishermen it's their livelihood" is much more powerful, punchy, and meaningful when condensed to "Rotten fish may seem like rotten fish / but it's their livelihood."

One definition of a metaphor Beau recently heard at a play: "Trying to say one thing by saying something completely different without lying."
Senior student reading poem.
What was great about today is that our student had a lot more voice in how his poem was workshopped.  Because he was talking with Robin, Nate, and Beau one-on-one, he got really comfortable talking frankly about how he was editing and revising his work.  My favorite moment was when our student writer said, "I don't want to criticize you on my own poem...but..." and told Port Veritas's founder, Nate, that he had made an error when reading his poem.  Of course, Nate was very apologetic, but it highlighted the democratizing effect of a poetry workshop.  Student writers, although growing, really do become poets.

Tuesday, April 4, 2017

Port Veritas: Poetry Workshop Day 2

Nate Amadan and Robin Merrill of Port Veritas lead a second poetry workshop on extended metaphor with AP English students.
Today's poetry workshop began with a question: "What is a metaphor?" Many students answered correctly and quickly, "something you use to represent something else."  We looked at an example of metaphor using Pablo Neruda's poem, "Guilty."

Robin asked the class, what do you think this poem is about? One student said, the speaker is "comparing brooms to his hands...maybe he's talking about hardship of some kind."

Robin noticed that the speaker had chances, but didn't follow through with them.  She added, what might he have wished he did during his life?

One of the poets we read today: Pablo Neruda, author of "Guilty."

One student said, "Maybe he didn't make the life that he wanted."

Robin replied, "Because he's a poet, I think he's talking about a poem.   Perhaps not making the poem that he wanted."

I asked, "how do you know it's safe to assume that the speaker and the poet are the same person?"

Robin agreed that we can't say these two figures are the same, adding, "the speaker is saying we shouldn't die without making something (e.g., a broom)."

Like yesterday, we learned that "metaphor allows you to write in code" in a way that is safer if you can't explicitly write about something.  Sometimes, there are things that are too hard to write about (love, hate, war), but if you pick something small to represent the war, you can represent it in poetry.

One literary device we discussed was the volta—a device that creates a sharp turn in a sonnet at the end.

Other readings: "The Puppy" by former Maine state Poet Laureate, Wesley McNair.

Writing Activity:
Today's goal is to work on writing extended metaphors.

Prompt 1: Pick something fascinating, small and specific that you can write about in detail such as "catfish" or "granite" or an "apple" or  a "puppy."  Don't even think about what it might represent because then you will start to force the metaphor.   You will come to class with a poem about a specific topic and read it, and we will decide if it is a metaphor for something.  So, if you write a poem about a spoon, and we hear it and think it is about heartbreak you might say, "I didn't know it was about heartbreak!"

The goal is to write and then see, upon reflecting on it, if it represents something.

Prompt 2: Pick a giant idea that is impossible to explain such as peace, love, hope, faith.  It could also be something more localized like, "living on an island," or "dealing with bullying"; it doesn't have to be universal.  Then, think about something small that you ca use to represent it.  You can say, "living on an island is like living in a fishbowl."

Neither of these prompts have to be long or "good."  You just need to write.

English Essentials: Reviewing Context Clues

Writing Warmup:
For the last week, we've been discussing our L4 standard, " I can accurately and independently determine or clarify the meaning of unknown words."  Part of this standard requires that we describe how context clues help you to come up with educated guesses about a word's meaning.

In the comments section below, please answer the following questions.
1) What is the difference between a context clue and an educated guess?
2) Why are context clues important?
3) In the following quote, what context clues help you to figure out the meaning of one of the unknown words?

"In between we'd worked on radio coms and general strategy, exchanged ideas about how to provide the best cover for the squads we'd be accompanying, and made a dozen tentative tactical decisions, such as deciding whether it would be generally better to shoot from the top floor or the one right below" (137). 
—Chris Kyle

Monday, April 3, 2017

Port Veritas: Day 1

Vinalhaven parents, families, and friends, today is an exciting day for us at the Vinalhaven School! In honor of National Poetry month, we begin with a five-day workshop featuring Robin Merrill and Nate Amadan of Port Veritas, a not-for-profit poetry group that works with young people to practice creative writing.  Both Mrs. Applegate and I are lucky to have Nate and Robin in the middle school and the high school working with students from ages 12—18.

This morning, Nate and Robin began by sharing poems they enjoy with students.  After reading, they asked each class, "Why is it important to learn to speak?" highlighting the oral nature of poetry: poetry is meant to be read out loud and for audiences.

After some discussion of the value of speaking skills, students learned about Persona Poems—poems written from someone (or something) else's point of view different from the writer's own.

Here's some of what we learned is great about Persona Poems:
  1. Persona Poems give a voice to someone who doesn't necessarily have a voice.  For example, a person who is suffering under unfair circumstances can have a voice when written from someone else's perspective.
  2. You can be sneaky! If you're mad at your husband, you aren't going to write about how you are mad at your husband.  Instead, you can write about a bird who is tired of her nest.
  3. Another reason: you get to know someone better by stepping into their shoes.
Robin shared a poem by Cornelius Eady, "My Heart" from Brutal Imaginations and discussed emotional reactions to the piece.

Nate shared a poem about his grandparents' love written, interestingly, from the perspective of his grandmother.

Then, students were given the following writing prompt.

Writing Prompt:
Create a t-chart with objects on one side and adjectives (describing words) on the other side.

Then, pick a subject (place, thing, object) and write from its perspective, linking it with some kind of modifier or adjective from the list you created.

For example:
soldier          blind

teacher         cold

island           scared

Write four or five words that relate to that thing.  Nate: "Don't try to write a poem.  Just write."
He continued, "Try to be colorful and creative with your writing.  You don't have to have certain rhymes, line breaks.  Just write."

Welcome Port Veritas!