Tag Archive for The Great Gatsby

Writing Complex Theses

Let’s be honest, there are many times that I listen to my business friends talk and the casual conversation seems so full of jargon and unknown words that I easily find myself dozing off.  To my friends, this conversation makes complete sense and they actually think they are “dumbing down” the language for me.  However, it doesn’t matter how many times I hear about sub-prime mortgages or adjustable rates or amortization…I won’t get it.

I often think the same is true with my students.  That I use language that I think is clear, but, ultimately, it sounds like Spanish to them.  Specifically, thesis statements.  There are many times in which I use words that are apt, like “complex” and “insightful,” but, to my students, I might as well be saying “supercalifragilisticexpialidocious.”  The words are synonymous to my students. Read more

Art to Pair with Literature

Horace once said that “a picture is a poem without words.”  What this is really speaking to is the expressiveness of an image.  Often art can help to capture the essence of piece of writing and therefore bring out the emotions and purpose of a piece of literature.

However, I don’t think I need to convince you.  I think a primary reason why English teachers don’t use more art in the classroom is not because they don’t think it serves a purpose but because they don’t know which pieces best match the literature they teach in class.  Therefore, the purpose of today isn’t necessarily to justify the use of art in the classroom or advise teachers on how to implement art.  Instead, I’m going to suggest pieces of artwork that pair nicely with commonly known texts in an English classroom.  Tomorrow, I’ll present activities that will help students analyze the connection between the art and the texts.

Most of the artists I will suggest fall under the Cubist movement.  While not exclusive to the list, I think these work best because they are so abstract that
students won’t be tempted to connect the painting and the text by subject matter.

 

When teaching texts that involve an introspective look at the main character or

that features a character that faces internal struggles, Picasso is an excellent resource.  Picasso often features a singular subject in a distorted perspective.  Because of this, it can be explored how Picasso paintings reflect the struggles of the character.  This particular painting of Picasso’s known as El Sueno, conveys a woman who appears passive and at peace, while her head is being split in two and is surrounded by bold, contrasting colors.  This piece would work well with texts like Picture of Dorian Grey, Oedipus Rex, and Catcher in the Rye.

It is relatively easy to find images of men and women.  But, when teaching texts that portray complex relationships between men and women it is more challenging to find a painting that fully depicts the intricacy.  However, the iconic image American Gothic, by Grant Wood, is an excellent depiction of the ways in which men and women interact.  The shifting use of lines (rounded for the woman and landscape and angular for the man and house) brings out a contrast between genders and leads viewers into a discussion of power and how it is manifested by people.  This certainly works for pieces like Daisy Miller and A Doll’s House.  However, if teaching Shakespearean pieces, such as Macbeth, Romeo and Juliet, and King Lear, you might want to consider using a more connotative piece like Titian’s Venus and Adonis. Unlike the Wood piece, this painting reflects a sense of urgency and movement in the positioning of the figures.  Students might also explore the role of power within a relationship by exploring the use of coloring and skin tone for the woman, Venus, and how it contrasts the rich-colored clothing of the man, Adonis.  Also, the fact that the setting of the image takes place before Adonis is killed in a hunt provides students with context to consider the seriousness of a quest or journey that takes place within the story.

Even though they vary greatly in subject, Animal Farm, Heart of Darkness, Anne Frank, and even Mrs. Dalloway, profile an easily understandable subject matter in a very distorted way.  The same is true with the Cubist painters.  For these particular works, I would consider using pretty much any work from Picasso, or, specifically, the image from Georges Braque titled Still Life: Le Jour.  This oil painting features a still life, in which an artist has placed on a table a series of items to be painted.  However, Braque takes these common items and alters them to suggest a disfigured view of life.  While it might not explicitly connect to the pieces of fiction, students can engage in a discussion about the ways in which an ordinary details is treated in a very extraordinary manner.  Students might also analyze the perspective Braque provides the viewer on depth (especially the ways in which the table appears to “grow”), which could metaphorically represent the shifting depths of a character or plot point.

When reading pieces about revenge or discord between men, like Hamlet or Of Mice and Men, a softer, more sensitive side to death can be explored through the piece from Jacques-Louis David titled Death of Marat and features David’s constructed view of Marat’s, a French Revolutionary leader, death.  In this image, Marat is bathed in light and appears almost angelic or revered because of this.   David’s use of chiaroscuro, a shading from dark to light, highlights the vulnerability of this fallen leader and transforms the way critics see him.  This also helps establish a sense of vulnerability because of the facial features of Marat and the fact that he appears unarmed in the bath.  Students might consider how this portrayal mimics the loss of a leader.  An image like this could even work for any text when trying to bring out sincerity for a character who has fallen.

Exquisite Corpse

Finally, one of my favorite pieces doesn’t necessarily fit a theme.  It really just captures a time period:  American Modernism.  I love using the sketch from Man Ray, Joan Miro, Yves Tanguy, and Max Morise titled Exquisite Corpse when teaching pieces from Hemingway or Fitzgerald.  Specifically, the image draws a natural parallel between The Great Gatsby and the relationship between Daisy and Gatsby.  The image calls into question the role of society in a relationship and the ways in which a relationship can reflect the values of a time period.  Because of the joining of heads and the colors used, students can always engage in a really thorough discussion of how it connects to the novel or comparable works like “Winter Dreams,” or Hemingway’s “The End of Something.”

 

 

Ad Analysis: Contemporary Ads Paired With Novels

I think all teachers cringe when they hear “when I am ever going to use this again.”  I like to believe the dumbfounded look combined with annoyance is part of a teacher’s DNA.  I can’t help it.  It is unnatural for me to respond any other way.  Even though I think yesterday’s discussion of using primary source advertisements in the classroom is valid and important, I think a lot of students feel so detached from them because of their publication.  But that doesn’t mean the skills are lost.  It just means that, as teachers, we need to find current advertisements that connect thematically to the literature.  Today we are celebrating Digital Literacy Day and suggesting online print ads that are much more striking and Read more

Good Magazine: Infographics

The argument for using infographics is simple.  They’re cool.  Data and statistics never looked so good.  That’s what they said, anyway, and by “they” I mean people between the ages of 14-18. The glorious part of the infograph is that it can serve as a multi-layered argument as well as supplemental text.

Infographics are a bright idea for building student knowledge.

iStockphoto.com

One of the best resources for introducing infographics in class comes from The Learning Network at The New York Times.  Their blog post from August of 2010 is a valuable resource when introducing infographics to students.  We’ve also discussed implementing infographics when partnering Transcendentalism with Occupy Wall Street.  They are powerful classroom resources that engage students and teach them critical thinking.

One of the best features about Good Magazine is their incredible collection of infographics, both static and animated.  Teach novels about war like The Things They Carried?  Create a modern tie-in by using an infographic about Women & Combat Readiness.  Teach the American dream via The Great Gatsby or The Catcher in the Rye?  Use an infographic entitled “The United States of Unhappy Campers.”  Infographics easily partner with core texts and can also supplement student knowledge for those pesky writing prompts that require outside information.

Below are some of the most useful infographics from Good Magazine along with some ideas for how to implement them.

Infographics to teach explicit/implicit argument

Life on Less than $2 a day

Good infographic to implement when teaching current events or A Long Way Gone.  You can also use it when teaching a prompt about the moral or ethical debate about charity, such as questions three on the 2005 AP Language and Composition exam.

Have students view and annotate the infographic.  You may use the following questions as a starting place for their annotations and/or your class discussion.

  • What is the implicit argument about poverty and tourism?
  • Identify two trends you see in the infographic based on the data.
  • Explain what data you would be interested to see linked to the infographic’s discussion of poverty and explain your reasoning. Think education, jobs, skills, disease, etc. 

Educating The Future

Good infographic to use when asking students to argue about the responsibility of education. You might consider pairing this with novels like The Catcher in the Rye.

Have students view and annotate the infographic.  You may use the following questions as a starting place for their annotations and/or your class discussion.

  • Identify two implicit arguments about education over the last forty years.
  • Construct an argument about the two highest and lowest wage earning fields based on the data.
  • Explain what data you would be interested to see linked to the information provided.  Think personal satisfaction, money earning potential, hours per week worked, etc.

Animated Infograpics

Using animated infographics will require students to watch and pause the material several times.  You may decide to do this together as a class or have them do it individually on their smartphones, itouches, etc. with headphones.

Many of the SAT/AP prompts ask students to consider the moral “responsibilities” of the individual.  An infographic of this nature can help “grow” their knowledge base.

“The Volunteers”

The Volunteers from GOOD.is on Vimeo.

Have students view and annotate the infographic.  You may use the following questions as a starting place for their annotations and/or your class discussion.

  • Identify one argument each about the following categories: age, type of volunteering, number of individuals involved.
  • What data would like you to see included?  Explain how this information would enhance understanding.    Think specific types of volunteering examples, number of hours worked, etc.

Argument Analysis: Literature Connections

While the GRE prompts and suggestions for this week are great for an AP English Language class because of the focus on argument, these prompts could also work really well when partnered with literature. The pool of “Analyze an Issue” prompts tend to work better when pairing with literature because of the nature of the prompts and the brevity of the statements.  The beauty of these prompts is that they could be used at any point within a novel; however, I think they serve as an excellent way to introduce the text.  Similar to what was stated yesterday, I struggle to write my own quality statements for anticipation guides; they tend to be generic and fairly short-sighted.  Now I just use GRE prompts because they are complex enough to generate really meaningful discussion.

Consider using some of the suggestions on Tuesday and Wednesday to incorporate the below prompts as a form of an anticipation guide or use some of the suggestions from our week on anticipation guides.  You could have the students thoroughly analyze or debate one of the below issues or compile multiple statements into for students to consider the extent to which they agree with each.

TEXTS WITH MAN v. SOCIETY CONFLICT-like The Great Gatsby, Grapes of Wrath, Pygmalion, and Crime and Punishment

  • People’s behavior is largely determined by forces not of their own making.
  • Claim: The best way to understand the character of a society is to examine the character of the men and women that the society chooses as its heroes or its role models. Reason: Heroes and role models reveal a society’s highest ideals.
  • The increasingly rapid pace of life today causes more problems than it solves.

TEXTS WITH MAN v. SELF CONFLICT-like Death of a Salesman, Catcher in the Rye, Hamlet, and Lord of the Flies

  • Unfortunately, in contemporary society, creating an appealing image has become more important than the reality or truth behind that image.
  • As we acquire more knowledge, things do not become more comprehensible, but more complex and mysterious.
  • It is primarily through our identification with social groups that we define ourselves.
  • The luxuries and conveniences of contemporary life prevent people from developing into truly strong and independent individuals.

TEXTS WITH MAN V MAN CONFLICT-like The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, A Separate Peace, and To Kill a Mockingbird

  • Claim: We can usually learn much more from people whose views we share than from those whose views contradict our own.  Reason: Disagreement can cause stress and inhibit learning.
  • In any situation, progress requires discussion among people who have contrasting points of view.
  • Scandals are useful because they focus our attention on problems in ways that no speaker or reformer ever could.

TEXTS WITH POLITICAL UNDERCURRENTS: like All the King’s Men, Fahrenheit 451, Animal Farm, and Julius Caesar

  • The well-being of a society is enhanced when many of its people question authority.
  • Governments should not fund any scientific research whose consequences are unclear.
  • Leaders are created by the demands that are placed on them.
  • Claim: In any field—business, politics, education, government—those in power should step down after five years.  Reason: The surest path to success for any enterprise is revitalization through new leadership.
  • Some people believe that in order to be effective, political leaders must yield to public opinion and abandon principle for the sake of compromise. Others believe that the most essential quality of an effective leader is the ability to remain consistently committed to particular principles and objectives.

Podcasts to Use in the Classroom

When I was younger my parents used to always listen to talk radio (especially 700 WLW, a Cincinnati radio station) during long car trips.  At the time, I thought it was lame that I could identify Bill Cunningham’s voice, now it informs why I love listening to podcasts during my daily 1.5-hour long commutes.  They are nostalgic to me.  They remind me of my youth, while informing my future.  Because I’m an English teacher and love grading student writing every night for two hours, I rarely have time to indulge in topics that interest me.  I’m able to listen to news programs, book talks, psychology of art, and discussion of trends Read more

Radiolab: “Words”

As English teachers we deal in words.  Every day I want more words, better words, more meaningful words. I want my students to feel the same way.  I want them to linger over Hemingway’s use of the word “nada” in “A Clean Well-Lighted Place” and pour over all the description of the “courtesy bay” between Fitzgerald’s dashes.

It’s not that simple.

While you can teach a series of pieces that talk about the significance of words and writing (William Hazlitt’s “On Familiar Style,” “Why I Write” by Joan Didion, “Politics and the English Language,“ by George Orwell or Stephen King’s On Writing) students still struggle to synthesize the importance and effect of language.

Enter Radiolab and the program entitled “Words.”   It’s a different angle from which to teach language.  All three stories discuss, in essence, worlds either without language or with developing language.  Whereas my desire is to throw as much language at a student as possible, this program begins with the following premise:  Do words change the world?  Literally.  Does having language change our experience, understanding, and ability to think?

The program is composed of three segments.  Each one is detailed below.   You might choose only one or assign one for homework.  They are powerful, and if you decide to use them, you will want to be able to enjoy the discussion that comes after “collectively” listening together.

I’ve offered questions to have students write/discuss.  A Socratic Seminar using these podcasts as the basis would be perfect. The questions provided could be a starting point. Read more

Novel & Unit Projects: Day Four

Ah the dreaded oral presentation.  Hmmm.  I feel as if I’ve used that line before.  Oh wait I did, on Monday.  Oral presentations have been end-of-unit assignments from the beginning of time, or at least since my time, which feels as long.  I understand the appeal, but I can remember the terror.  Students aren’t kind to one another, especially when it comes to being “bored.”  Presentations have lots of room for “boredom.”  They are however an expectation.  See the common core standards for further reminding.
So, how do you approach them in a way that isn’t terrifying or tedious for all parties?The answer lies within how you set the parameters.  Speeches should be short.  Expecting them to fill 3-5 minutes can be difficult for everyone involved.  So today’s end-of-novel/unit project is something that utilizes short student speeches.It takes time to construct a meaningful speech.  As a teacher I speak everyday.  But I have a captive audience.  They can’t leave.  That doesn’t make me a good speaker.

Novel & Unit Projects: Day Three

I have this tendency to want something incredibly creative from students as we end the study of a unit.  I want something bright, colorful, thoughtful, artistic.  I want to be blown away.  I forget the following: I’m no artist and most of them aren’t either.  Drawing always ends badly in my class.  Even though we long for something “creative” that spans multiple disciplines we still have a responsibility to have students consider motivation and purpose.

The New York Times ran an article about a high school student who curated a city-wide art show for teens.  The story was remarkable. It reminded me that often we do our students a disservice when we don’t make them reach.  They are capable.  This article reminded me of a synthesis question the AP Language and Composition exam used in 2007.  The premise of the prompt was that every single exhibition depends upon a series of “decisions” made by a curator. It is in this that we have the basis of an alternative project.  This project itself asks that students identify themes.  It’s particularly good for weightier works like The Grapes of Wrath, The Odyssey, All the King’s Men, MacBeth, The Poisonwood Bible, etc. The basic premise is that you want the novel or the characters or the unit to serve as the exhibition itself.  You will have students become “curators” for their own exhibition using the microblogging platform Tumblr.

Read more

Novel & Unit Projects: Day One

Ah, the dreaded end of the novel or unit conundrum.  It’s as if I believe F. Scott Fitzgerald himself is watching me to determine if I do justice to the end of The Great Gatsby or if I cop out and just quickly talk about the importance of being “ceaselessly born back into the past” while mouths yawn and eyes roll.  Should I give them a full-length multiple-choice test?  A culminating project?  Oral presentation?  Chances are that by the time anyone gets to the end of a novel, they’ve tired (at least a bit) of teaching the text.  Does that mean quickly tie up loose ends and move on?

Most of us feel compelled to come up with some type of “fitting” conclusion when we finish teaching a book.  It seems appropriate, as if we do a disservice to F. Scott Fitzgerald, Chinua Achebe or Ian McEwan if we bow out with a brief in-class discussion.  I often feel as though I owe it to that all knowing THEM.  But do I?  Or is it all in my head?  Then there’s always the trouble with how “big” the project shoul be? How much class time should it usurp?  Should it be creative or rigorous?  Or both?

It should be clear, simply by the awful rhetorical questions, how plagued I feel by this issue.   And guilty.  I cop out, too.

Prep work for end of novel projects begins well before you even start passing out the books.  That means that even if I plan on teaching All the King’s Men two months from now, it would be helpful to figure out my “angle” now.  The first thing to do is considering making a list of all the books or “units” you plan on covering for the year.  Decide which ones need a culminating activity.  My argument this week is not to suggest that all novels must end with a bang.  Even great final projects can be wearying to students and educators if overdone.

And it’s not Fitzgerald’s disapproval that should worry me.  I mean come on.  If anything I should probably be more concerned about Edgar Allan Poe’s power from behind the grave.   Or maybe not.