Sunday, December 14, 2008

Grammar Girl

Meet my new hero, Grammar Girl.  Check out her podcasts for grammar tips.  I have added her to my itunes and get a weekly updated podcast for free.  You should do the same.  

Grammar Girl logo compliments of:  Grammar girl (online image)., December 13, 2008.  

Work Over Break

I am going light on the homework over break for several reasons.  One being that by definition, break implies a rest from work.  Reason number two is purely selfish; I do not want to come back from break and have to correct a ton of work.  Reason number three is because I would like to see all of you read for enjoyment over break.  If you are looking for any book recommendations you can check out what I am reading at shelfari or goodreads.  Sign up and add me as a friend.   I would LOVE to set up another page on our wiki for book recommendations and discussions if enough of you are interested.    

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

The final book in the Twilight series

For all of you Twilight fans out there- here is a partial draft of the final novel in the series- Midnight Sun

It is a retelling of Twilight from Edward's point of view.

Monday, November 24, 2008


Under the recommendation of several students I have been reading the Twilight series. I have read the first two and am sort of stuck on the third. I see the appeal for students, forbidden love is always a good story. However, I have some issues with the protagonist. She always is in need or rescuing. Come on ladies, we don't need a man to rescue us, even if he is a dashingly handsome vampire. I want a strong protagonist who rescues the guy for once. If you really want a story of forbidden love, read Romeo and Juliet or for a lighter approach try A Midsummer Night's Dream.
This weekend I went to the movies to see The Changeling, but somehow messed up the times and ended up going to see Twilight. Just another case of the book being better than the movie. The actress who plays Bella only seems to have one expression and relies on it, no matter what the circumstance. Her character seemed just as weak in the movie as it does in the novels.
I heard on the radio this morning that the movie quickly hit number one this weekend, with a primary audience of young women ages 15-25. Who else saw this movie? What are your thoughts?

Movie Poster Compliments of: Twilight Movie Poster (Online Image)., November 24, 2008.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

The Politics of Language

After reading Orwell's essay "Politics and the English Language"
and discussing it in class, I have come to several conclusions. The first one being how smart all of you are. I thought this essay would be more troublesome reading for all of you and you proved me wrong. Your ability to draw out the main points and understand some of the complex ideas Orwell discusses amazed me. As far as what Orwell is discussing, I keep coming back to a line from Hamlet, "Brevity is the soul of wit." Of course, it isn't quite so simple, but the ideas are similar. Say what you mean, mean what you say. There is no need to flower our ideas with big words or unnecessary adjectives in an attempt to make ourselves sound smarter or worse yet, to conceal the fact we might not be saying anything at all.

Orwell's six rules are:

Never use a metaphor, simile, or other figure of speech which you are used to seeing in print.

Never use a long word where a short one will do.

If it is possible to cut a word out, always cut it out.

Never use the passive where you can use the active.

Never use a foreign phrase, a scientific word, or a jargon word if you can think of an everyday English equivalent.

Break any of these rules sooner than say anything outright barbarous.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Identify the Propaganda Techniques

What is being implied in this ad? What is the effect of the statement "Big Brother is Watching You"? What sort of technique is the creator using to influence behavior?

What is being implied by "Victory Waits on Your Fingers"? Does this make absolute sense? What technique is being used here?

Appealing to patriotism is a technique, what is it?

Works Cited:
Save food (Online Image). Available November 18, 2008.
Victory Waits (Online Image). Available November 18, 2008.
Big Brother (Online Image). Available http// November 18, 2008.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

1984 Introduction

The image “” cannot be displayed, because it contains errors.
1984 cartoon (online image) Available:
November 11, 2008.

Propaganda is all around us. This year's election was no exception. In the week prior to election day I received at least one "robo-call" a day, in an effort to influence my decision. In The Fine Art of Propaganda, the IPA stated that "It is essential in a democratic society that young people and adults learn how to think, learn how to make up their minds. They must learn how to think independently, and they must learn how to think together. They must come to conclusions, but at the same time they must recognize the right of other men to come to opposite conclusions. So far as individuals are concerned, the art of democracy is the art of thinking and discussing independently together." This year National Honor Society conducted a mock election. They are now in the process of conducting a survey to figure out what influences people to make decisions. Are we adequately informed? Are our thoughts and decisions controlled by what we see in the media? Turn on the television, what do you see? Go online, what happens? Read a magazine or newspaper- is the information you are receiving completely unbiased? It is hard to avoid being bombarded with messages in this technology age we live in today. Look around you. In what ways is the media trying to influence you? Check out this site on propaganda for more information.

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Poetry Speaks

I just bought this new book Poetry Speaks (click on posting title for product description) to use in my classroom. I can't wait to use it with my students. It has recordings of poets reading their own poems, including Sylvia Plath, Gwendolyn Brooks, Jack Kerouac, Tennyson, James Joyce and Robert Frost. What a way to for students to hear how a poem should be read! I am hoping this may increase student involvement in the Poetry Out Loud competition this year.

Monday, November 3, 2008

The Humble Farmer

Today I took the Young Writers to Bates College. What a fantastic day. We arrived early and had just seated ourselves on the couches, when an older gentleman in coveralls walked into the room. With a scowl on his face (he later explained that he never smiles when first meeting people), he walked straight up to one of our students and stood about two inches from said student's face and said "Who are you? What are you doing here?" in a very thick Maine accent. As the student stumbled over an explanation, the man cupped both his ears and got even closer. At this point I had a sneaking suspicion that this might be the writer for the day. My instinct proved right. The man in coveralls was none other than Robert Skogland, aka, The Humble Farmer. He was quirky, somewhat rude and absolutely hilarious.
When all the students arrived, one young woman was reading an article he had left on the table. "What are you doing?" he demanded of her. "Reading your article," she responded hesitantly, as we all squirmed in discomfort for her. He walked to the table, grabbed one of his cds out of box and threw it to the girl, congratulating her on showing an interest.
He was an absolute riot. He kept both the teachers and students engaged and laughing all day. As he read students' work he would be struck by something funny and the room would fill with his booming "HA! HA!" He talked about the difference between a humorist and a comedian and explained that sometimes a punchline need not even be delivered. My personal favorite was his commentary the Bangor Daily News refused to publish. He stated that when a group of men from Saudi Arabia attacked New York City, we proceeded to invade Iraq. Ecuador responded by saying they were sure glad that Peru hadn't chosen to start a war with the U.S. This is the kind of humor I crave. For Skogland's thoughts on dry humor, click on the title of this post.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

The Weight of Grades

As the first quarter comes to a close, I have been thinking about my current grading system. In all my classes I weigh homework as 10%, classwork as 20%, quizzes as 30% and tests, projects and essays as 40%. I am not happy with this system. In my sophomore English class, if a student did not hand in his/her final essay on The Catcher in the Rye, they could not pass the class for the quarter. Considering we spent over a month on the novel and two entire class periods writing these essays, there really isn't too much of an excuse for not completing this. On the other hand, if a student read the novel, understood its themes and participated in class discussions, is it fair that they don't pass the class because they didn't write an essay? I have not made a decision on this yet, but I am considering switching to a total points grading system, with major projects and essays being worth more points than say, a regular homework assignment. Thoughts on this are welcome.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Hamlet Re-telling

Originally uploaded by l_mazzola
I found this book today. It is a modern telling of Hamlet, with an intended young adult audience. I might check it out and see if I should offer it as an outside reading for my AP seniors. Here is what Amazon has to say about the book:
Denmark, Tennessee, stinks. The smell hits Horatio Wilkes the moment he pulls into town to visit his best friend, Hamilton Prince. And it’s not just the paper plant and the polluted river that’s stinking up Denmark: Hamilton’s father has been poisoned and the killer is still at large. Why? Because nobody believes that Rex Prince was murdered. Nobody except Horatio and Hamilton. Now they need to find the killer, but it won’t be easy. It seems like everyone in Denmark is a suspect. Motive, means, opportunity— they all have them. But who among them has committed murder most foul?

The Stanford Prison Experiment

Originally uploaded by l_mazzola
In Advanced English 2 we watched a video called "Quiet Rage" which was about the Stanford Prison Experiment. In the early seventies. a psychology professor at Stanford decided to conduct an experiment to see what happens to people when they are either given power or stripped of all their power/control. He asked for 14 male volunteers to play either the role of a prisoner or a guard. All 14 volunteers underwent a psychological evaluation to determine they were "fit" to participate in the experiment. The men who were assigned the role as guards were told they could use whatever means necessary (other than physical abuse) to keep the prisoners in line. The experiment was set to last 14 days, but was called off after only six. For more information on the Stanford Prison Experiment, go to

There are so many connections between this psychological experiment and themes in Lord of the Flies. Some major connections were between the quiet rage discussed in the video and what Simon refers to as "mankind's essential illness." Also, the psychologist who conducted the experiment discusses the "power of the situation" and how the situation has control over the individual. We looked at the scene in the novel where the boys are acting out the pig hunt and discussed how even Ralph gets swept up in "the power of the situation."

What I think is most fascinating about this experiment is how quickly these young men believed themselves to either be prisoners or guards. Within a few days they had succumbed to their position and acted accordingly. Those who were guards didn't think twice about exercising absolute control over their prisoners. The quiet rage, which Golding argues we all possess, surfaced quickly and took over these young men's minds. The comparisons between the SPE and LOTF are undeniable.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Lord of the Flies Connections

Advanced English 2 is currently reading Lord of the Flies and looking at the essential question of "Is mankind inherently good or inherently evil?" I have found a couple of poems that connect to this theme and have pasted them here:

-William Butler Yeats

Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.

Surely some revelation is at hand;
Surely the Second Coming is at hand.
The Second Coming! Hardly are those words out
When a vast image out of Spiritus Mundi
Troubles my sight: a waste of desert sand;
A shape with lion body and the head of a man,
A gaze blank and pitiless as the sun,
Is moving its slow thighs, while all about it
Wind shadows of the indignant desert birds.
The darkness drops again but now I know
That twenty centuries of stony sleep
Were vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle,
And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,
Slouches towards Bethlehem.

-William Blake

O Rose, thou art sick!
The invisible worm,
That flies in the night,
In the howling storm,

Has found out thy bed
Of crimson joy;
And his dark secret love
Does thy life destroy.


I have just found this new book network called Shelfari (notice it on the sidebar). In the past I have used GoodReads as my book network. However, I think Shelfari may meet my needs in a more satisfying way. I invite you all to join and add me as a friend, of course. Currently, I have the three books I am reading right now displayed. If you read my previous blog, you can see that every day I find another book I want to read. Yes, working part-time in a bookstore is adding to my book ADD.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

The Hour I First Believed

Wally Lamb has a new book coming out in November titled "The Hour I First Believed". It is about a teacher who moves to Connecticut seven years after experiencing the tragedy at Columbine. I have read all of his other novels and enjoyed them immensely. It doesn't hurt that as an undergrad. student at UConn I waited on Mr. Lamb every morning at the coffee shop, where he would drink his coffee and work on his novels. I am more than excited to get my hands on this book as soon as possible.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Precision of Language

As my seniors are reading Pride and Prejudice, I am reminded of how we have become so lazy with our use of language over the years. When you read novels written in the 1800's you realize how people used to say exactly what they meant. When Mr. Darcy refuses to dance with Elizabeth it is because she "is tolerable enough, but not nearly handsome enough to tempt him". Such precision and so insulting. They thought carefully about what they said and chose the appropriate word for the occasion. Conversations weren't filled with "whatevers, likes and you know what I means". While I am all for the use of technology, I feel in many ways it has made us lazier, dumber and so much more vague and ambiguous. We speak in generalities, we use vague nouns such as "things and stuff" when we are at a loss for words. We resort to three letter abbreviations rather than writing in complete sentences. I have, on more than one occasion, received papers from students that are written in IM language. Why would someone think this is acceptable for an English class? Because this "dumbed down" way of writing and speaking has become the norm- I receive emails from teachers who write this way. It is appalling and embarrassing to see a fellow co-worker use "lol" or say "gonna". Really? Is this what we have become? We have become a nation of people who have resorted to monosyllabic grunts followed by some cute little punctuation that is supposed to resemble a smiling face or some other emotion. We need these symbols because what we have written is so vague that without the winking face following it, nobody would be able to infer we were making a statement in good fun. As an English teacher, I find this whole situation very depressing. I was gonna like insert a sad face here, but didn't know how to, oh well, whatever.