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.