Blog #7: Thirteen Reasons Why Complete Book Talk

Last week, I began book talking Thirteen Reasons Why  before I had finished it. I completed the novel the day after my previous blog, and I feel Thirteen Reasons Why deserves a complete book talk. Before beginning this blog, I looked at multiple reviews online to make sure I didn’t miss anything about the book, and they couldn’t be more mixed. Some believe it to be a dangerous book for young adults and say Jay Asher should be ashamed of himself while others believe it to be educational and say every teenager should read it. Since finishing the novel, my opinion has remained unchanged. I read the book in a couple days. I would be lying if I said I wasn’t intrigued by the story because I was, and I think the book was written well. That being said, I don’t think it is the most appropriate method to bring attention to suicide for junior high or high school students.

The novel’s chapters are split up by different tapes, one for each person Hannah Baker believes led her to end her life. The person on the first tape was instructed to send the tapes to the person on the second and so on, and Hannah warns listeners that the tapes will be released in a public fashion if her instructions aren’t followed. The novel follow’s Clay Jensen’s experience listening to the tapes, and he is confused why he is included because he doesn’t believe he could have led Hannah to kill herself. I won’t give away any more spoilers for those who are interested in reading the book!

I think Jay Asher’s intention for the book was to make people aware of how avoidable suicide is, and I think he does that to some extent. The novel does show how immature actions can affect someone immensely, but he fails to show how avoidable it is on Hannah’s end. The story is tragic, but I think is because Hannah Baker’s suicide is about her getting revenge on the people she believed to have caused it and because her death is treated like it was an inevitable ending to her life. Again, the story was well-written, but I don’t believe this is the appropriate message to send to extremely impressionable students about suicide.

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Blog #6: Book Talk (Wonder and Thirteen Reasons Why)

Sitting in my kitchen finishing other homework shortly before midnight, I realize I need to pick up my blogging game. We’re just about halfway done with the semester, and I am not just about halfway done with my blogs. Because it is way past my bedtime and my brain is worthless after about 9:00 PM, this blog will consist mostly of book talk. The last book I read was Wonder by Raquel J. Palacio, and I walked away from this book feeling, for lack of a better word, warm. The book switches narrators, but the story is centered around Auggie Pullman who looks very different than all of his classmates. The novel follows Auggie’s fifth grade year, his first year in “real” school. Until this point, Auggie has been home-schooled mostly because of his frequent surgeries, and he struggles to convince his teachers and peers that he is just like anyone else. I promise Auggie’s jokes will have you laughing out loud, and his hard days at school will bring tears to your eyes. It’s a very quick but very worthwhile read.

The movie also looks absolutely adorable, so I attached the trailer below for all who are interested!

 

I have begun reading Thirteen Reasons Why because one of my coworkers read it in middle school and suggested it to me. I haven’t watched the controversial Netflix show, but I wanted to make up my own mind about it. I haven’t quite finished reading the book (I have about sixty pages left), but I’m not currently the book’s biggest supporter. It seems to shine the wrong light on suicide. It glorifies the act of killing oneself, and the whole book is the process of Hannah Baker rationalizing her decision to do so. While the story draws me in, and I read it speedily to find out what will happen next, I don’t think its content is beneficial for adolescent students, especially those who may be facing the same problems described in the book.

Blog #5: The Magic of Feedback Letters

Immediately after class today, I sat down at work (the IT help desk in the library) and began reading the feedback letters I had just received in class. Do I still have hours of homework to finish for tomorrow? You bet, but the most important thing to me was reading everyone’s responses to my writing. A few minutes after I began reading, I had to sneakily wipe tears away from my eyes. I was completely overwhelmed by the amount of kindness I felt radiating from those letters. Here are a few of the lines, from multiple people, that hit me the hardest:

“”Thank you for sharing, Timmi.”

Are you okay? I had no idea that you were struggling so bad with all of this. If you ever need anything I’m here just so you know.”

“I’m here if you ever need someone to vent to.”

“it made me want to hug you.”

“You can do this girl, I believe in you.”

Honestly, when I wrote my piece, I wasn’t too concerned with its form. I had been bottling in so many emotions for so long, and I just wanted them to be somewhere else besides my head. I feel like I can’t talk to many people about this, so I was extremely nervous about sharing this piece with the class. I didn’t know if people would think I’m whiny.

I’ve written a whole blog post about the power of these feedback letters, and haven’t even touched the wonderful feedback I received on my actual writing technique. Because of the kindness I felt through all of these feedback letters, I absolutely cannot wait to begin revising. Reading everyone’s support really made me want to improve this piece. It sounds really cheesy, but knowing my peers care about me made a huge difference in my writing experience. Unfortunately, revising will have to wait until hours of Lit of the Bible and Lit Crit homework is finished.

For those of you who wrote me feedback letters, thank you. I appreciate all of the kind words more than you know.

Blog #4: Business Practices Teachers can Steal

 

Every TED Talk I’ve watched for a class has directly involved ways to improve the classroom, but the two we were assigned this week were about an educational experiment and running a business. What does that have to do with my future as an English teacher? It turns out, a lot. One of the first things Sugata Mitra said was, “children learn to do what they want to learn to do.” I didn’t learn mathematical equations and scientific vocabulary in high school. I simply memorized what was necessary for the necessary amount of time. In my prior schooling, I learned that I loved tor read, and this has made the biggest impact on my life.

While a (public) school isn’t a business, many of the Pink’s points are applicable to the classroom, especially an English classroom. Pink discusses that extrinsic motivation destroys creativity and narrows focus. In my high school English class, if we scored over a 90% on our vocabulary test, we would get a piece of candy. I’m not going to comment on how vocabulary tests did or did not improve my vocabulary, but for me, the added possibility of embarrassment if the class saw that I didn’t receive a reward made the test a more stressful experience. It was about the reward, not about the learning. Although many classes don’t use physical rewards like candy, grades are a reward. If students do something “well” they get an A. Students are likely to do the least amount of work to achieve a grade they find acceptable. That’s exactly what I did in high school and still in some classes in college. Grades are the biggest reason most of the information students learn goes in one ear and out the other. Their main focus is on the grade not on the learning.

I think grading is one of the biggest parts of the traditional classroom that need to be changed, especially in an English classroom. I understand that grades will not be completely taken out of education in the near future, but we as teachers cannot make them the main focus in our classroom. Students feel value based on the letter we assign them, so we must tread on these waters lightly.

Mitra also said “A teacher that can be replaced by a computer should be,” and I completely agree. If teachers aren’t pouring their entire selves into their teaching, the students deserve better.

Blog #3: My (Pathetic) Life as a Writer

Something that has been weighing on my mind this week (and honestly since the beginning of last semester) is my life as a writer. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again. I decided to be an English teacher based on my love of reading. I wrote, and I write, but only when I have to. After my high school graduation, I started writing in a journal but slowly stopped making time for it. However, I haven’t ever and won’t ever stop making time for reading. Reading novels of my choice is the best part of winter and summer breaks. Even though I’m going to teach the subject, the writing I do when I’m not forced to consists of texting/social media and thank you cards.

For me, writing creatively is still unexplored territory. It’s a scary place with failure around every turn. When I read outside of class, I don’t think about how good of a reader I am or how I compare to others in my reading comprehension abilities. I do it because I love to read. When I write, even in my writing journal, I can’t help but be my own toughest critic. I feel a rush of excitement during the couple seconds in between hearing/reading the topic and beginning to write. But this slowly fades as I write, and somehow, all of my ideas don’t sound so brilliant when I write them down.

Georgia Heard said in “Querencia”, “for writers, that burning urge to write is our querencia. In order to feel at home we have to be writing. We feel awful if we haven’t written in a week, if we don’t write in our journals every day. Writing is a way of finding and keeping our home.” Going by this quote, I wouldn’t describe myself as a writer, or anything near. Right now, writing isn’t my home but still an unfamiliar place, and I think most (non-English major) students would agree with me. Writing is scary and uncomfortable. It doesn’t have to be this way though. Every day I write in my journal, my creativity is being nourished as my fear is (very) slowly losing its spot in my place of writing. I’m not a writer, but I am seeing growth in my writing. This process is gradual and awkward, but I know it will be worth it.

Blog #2: “When will I ever use this again?”

When I was younger, I was one of those students who constantly wondered, “Why am I learning this?” I wondered when I would ever use trigonometry or physics ever again in my life. Although I never asked myself this question in English class, many students do. Too many kids won’t ever pick up a book once they’re no longer forced to. As a teacher, I will be asked a plethora of questions on a daily basis, but the most important one that I must have an answer for is, “Why are we doing this?” If the activities done in my class are not to further students’ lives as readers and writers, than I’m just wasting my and my students’ time.

One of the quotes that stuck out from this week’s readings is, “My reading says to the students, there is nothing more important that I, or you, could be doing.” I believe a teacher’s passion is directly reflected in his/her students. If a teacher shows his/her love for reading and writing, students will begin to do so as well. For reading and writing to be enjoyable for students, they must do what makes them enjoyable- in the real world. Readers and writers read, write, and talk. They aren’t quizzed on specific aspects of a test and don’t write essays on a novel’s symbolism. They read books, they write about them (and write about other topics too), and talk about them. I am the only one from my class majoring in English, but I will never again make a diorama of a scene from A Christmas Carol. What I will do is read novels from a genre of my choosing, journal about them, and recommend them (if they’re enjoyable) to a friend.

Another crucial aspect of students seeing value in their learning is also taking ownership of it. This won’t happen when students are forced to read and be tested on “classics.” They must have the opportunity to explore their identity through Language Arts. Students may learn about themselves through reading, but students will discover themselves in their writing if they open themselves up to it. This makes me wonder if I have truly opened myself up to having a life as a writer. The answer I don’t want to admit to myself is obvious: no I haven’t. For the sake of my students and myself, I need to develop my life as a writer just as much as my life as a reader.

I believe the most important thing you can teach your students is why what they are learning is important, and this can’t be done by simple explanation. Teachers must show their students every day. But once students truly believe that their reading and writing is important, there is no telling how far it will take them.

Blog #1: What is the Purpose of Required Text, and When is Group Reading Beneficial?

Photo CC By: Agriculture and Stock Department, Publicity Branch
Something that has heavily been weighing on my mind since our last class period is the topic of required texts in an English classroom. All through my prior schooling, I liked everything we read as a class. To be honest, I’m not sure if I actually enjoyed what we were reading or if I was just thankful I wasn’t learning about math or science. My one exception to this, however, was The Red Badge of Courage by Stephen Crane. My class read it in middle school, and the language was much too complex for our current reading level, making all of us hate the book. I realize now, however, that many students hate all of English class’s required texts and reading in general.First week of classes is officially over. While the initial first-day nerves are gone, school-related stress is reclaiming its place in my life for the semester. Although this semester will be filled with the constant thought of what is due in the upcoming week and many late nights, I am looking forward to the promise of learning my busy, intimidating schedule promises.

If our goal as English teachers is to make students readers and writers, why are we making them hate reading and writing? If these required texts aren’t actually required, what is the point of them? I think the word “required” lessen a student’s motivation as well. For this class, we get to choose what we read, giving us (students) a more active role in our learning. If I get to choose what I read, I can make sure I enjoy my learning.

One question I did have after this class discussion is whether or not class readings are beneficial. In all of my English classes, a portion of the class has always been the class reading a text as a group. Obviously, not everyone will like the text; however, I think there is some major benefits from group reading, the biggest one being discussions about the reading.

Reading and writing, for the most part, are individual activities, but I think class readings (liking writing workshops) can help students recognize a reading and writing community. What determines what students read as a class then, what is already available? My high school English teacher has endless copies of The Scarlet Letter, All Quiet on the Western Front, Of Mice and Men, and many other classics, but that disregards the rest of my blog post. My biggest question from my first week of this class is: How can language arts teachers teach group reading in a way that is enjoyable for students?