Blog #13: My Friend Dahmer

Last Thursday, I made a mistake (according to my bank account) during my trip to the Black Hills to visit my grandpa. He recently broken his femur from falling off of a horse. Don’t worry, he’s perfectly fine, and his doctors are impressed by the speed of his recovery. Afterwards, I drove into Rapid City to go shopping and get a haircut. One of my shopping stops was Books A Million. I hadn’t ever been there before, but I love going to new book stores (who doesn’t?). While I was browsing the seemingly endless bookshelves, I came upon the graphic novels and noticed a sign saying “Graphic Novels: Buy 3 Get 1 Free.” My mother’s daughter couldn’t resist a good deal. All of the books probably would have been cheaper on Amazon, but the excitement of the sale got the best of me.

Three of the books I bought are ones that have been book talked in class. The fourth one was My Friend Dahmer. A few months ago, I watched a movie trailer for the film that is soon to come out. At the beginning of the trailer, it said “Based on the graphic novel by Derf Backderf,” and I’ve wanted to read it since. This book follows the teenage life of serial killer Jeffrey Dahmer from a classmate’s (Derf Backderf’s) perspective. I read the entire book in one sitting, and if nothing else, it was sad. Really sad. In the beginning, Backderf says that he believes this tragedy could have been avoided if the adults in Jeffrey’s life had paid more attention to him. He was left completely alone for a time when his parents got a divorce, and he was constantly drunk at school without any teachers noticing. Backderf says repeatedly that when interviewing people for this book, teachers said they didn’t notice anything wrong with Dahmer. Throughout the book, Dahmer slowly became the killer he was to become. Dahmer did go to prom, but Backerf said, “For Dahmer, this universal teenage rite was an anemic grab at normalcy. But he couldn’t pull it off. He was too far gone” (160). I haven’t read too many graphic novels, so I didn’t know how the pictures compared to others, but I thought Backderf’s writing was beautiful and and truly encapsulated the tragedy that was Jeffrey Dahmer’s life.

I went into reading this book wondering what age group the novel would be appropriate for. It definitely isn’t appropriate for middle school. Jeffrey Dahmer mutilates animals and is sexually attracted to male corpses. Depending on the school, it may be allowed in a high school classroom. I do think that teachers should read this book though. Throughout the book, I kept wondering, “How did no one notice this kid?” Maybe Jeffrey Dahmer’s life would have been a lot different if the adults in his life showed him some compassion.


Blog #12: The Book Club Companion

This weekend, I finished my first professional development book of the semester. I chose to read The Book Club Companion: Fostering Strategic Readers in the Secondary Classroom by Cindy O’Donnel-Allen because I had previously chosen book clubs as the topic of my unit of focus. I didn’t have the opportunity to participate in anything like book clubs in high school, and it sounded like a fun unit to teach! O’Donnel-Allen is also teaching at CSU in Fort Collins (about an hour and a half from my hometown), so I thought that was cool too! Its short length was just an added bonus. I was excited to read this book because I was very excited about the idea of incorporating book clubs into my future classroom, but I needed help with the logistic planning of it.

I can’t attempt to discuss everything in this book, so I’ll point to what helped me the most. One was the part about book selection. O’Donnell-Allen discussed that she always wants to give her students power in their learning. However, certain restrictions (like budget) can limit these choices. She said, “To meet these constraints in my high school classroom, I selected five to six books that were varied enough to appeal to a wide range of kids yet had enough in common to cohere around a particular theme… Then I offered a brief book talk on each book and asked kids to list for me their top three choices” (4). She would then assign book clubs based on the students’ choices. I think this is a brilliant way to organize book choosing. She still gives students the opportunity to choose what they want to read, but she also organizes the class’s reading so they can study a similar topic even while reading different books.

The most helpful part of this book was probably the tools she included at the end. My favorite of these tools was a detailed list of book suggestions. She has different lists for different themes and possible author and genre studies for sixth through twelfth grade. She also includes example pages for a book club’s goals and ground rules, a record for discussion, and a sheet to take organized reading notes on. She has TEN different example sheets for reader response as well as tools for assessment including cultural studies projects and a censorship scenario assignment. I read and agreed with what she said throughout the book, but the tools at the end are what helped me the most in visualizing my unit in a logistic way. I will definitely include this book in my next amazon shipment, and I would definitely suggest it to anyone else interested in learning more about teaching book clubs!

Blog #11: Eleanor & Park

This morning I typed in “Blog #11:” and then stared at my computer for a few minutes. There wasn’t really any new material I had a strong desire to discuss from the last class period, and I have yet to read our assigned articles, but I am determined to stay on top of these blog posts for the second half of the semester. I glanced at Eleanor & Park sitting next to me. I had about fifty pages left and an hour to kill. Like any rational English major would, I decided to put off my other reading so I could finish the novel. Although part of my reason for doing this was to procrastinate reading Shakespeare articles, I can now book talk Eleanor & Park for this blog post.

Anyone close to me knows that I have an addiction to ordering books off of Amazon. My mom will frequently ask about my latest “shipment.” About a month ago, I ordered Eleanor & Park in one of my shipments because a coworker suggested it to me. After finishing my last novel, I flipped a coin to decide what book to read next. Insignificant Events in the Life of a Cactus lost but is up next!

Eleanor & Park follows the journey of teenagers Eleanor, the bullied new redhead who is self-conscious of her weight (“Big Red”), and Park, a half-Asian, comic book loving boy. This book is beautifully written, and I know I would have loved it in middle school and high school. I’m a sucker for a good love story, but Rainbow Rowell also touches upon issues that many teenagers can relate to: divorced parents, bullying, abuse, mixed families, pressure to fit in, etc. And those are smaller details of the novel in comparison to the love story of Eleanor and Park.

To me, endings are everything, and I’m not easily impressed. I’m not satisfied by a predictable, sappy ending. I won’t give anything away, but I think Rainbow Rowell ended Eleanor & Park beautifully.

Blog #10: Response to Tuesday’s Discussion

Yesterday, Methods class had a visitor speak that currently teaches in an extremely low-income area. For an hour and fifteen minutes, she described her teaching experience to us, and much of what she told us amazed me.

When I was a freshman and Intro to Teaching, I observed a high school English class in Oelrichs, South Dakota. Only a few students in the classrooms I observed were not Native American, and the environment was similar to that which she described. Students didn’t want to learn, or they wanted to make it seem that way. They were extremely distracted and disrespectful towards the teacher and each other. A student even walked out of class while I was observing. Needless to say, I was relieved when my ten hours were completed. Just a freshman, I was extremely overwhelmed by that experience. Prior to attending Chadron State College, all of my education occurred in the same building, and the behavior was nothing like what I observed. Students at my previous school wouldn’t have dreamed of acting the way these students were. This experience was very eye-opening for me. Not every school is like my small, traditional school, and that’s something I was going to have to accept if I wanted to be a teacher.

People in class asked our guest some pretty tough questions. How do you get students to read? What are your goals for your students if they probably won’t go to college, and after graduation, they will be more focused on getting enough food than leading a literate life? These are really tough questions. If students come to school hungry and are constantly faced with home life issues, how can they see that reading is important? All of the thinking and talking we have done in this class, we have been assuming our students will be present and turn work in. How are teachers supposed to plan for that or teach students who have been present less than half the time?

Blog #9: Grading

Last week, we finished our big grading exercises. For this exercise, we were given a student paper and told to give it feedback and then write a five-page paper describing what we did and why we did it. Honestly, I thought this assignment would take a long time and procrastinated doing it longer than I should have. We’ve done so much thinking and talking about grading students’ work, so it was exciting and nerve-racking to put that into practice. Along with writing minor notes on the student’s paper, I also decided to give him a three-part paper. The first section was entitled “What I Loved!” and in this section, I wrote the student a paragraph about all the things I loved in his paper including specific sentences and phrases and overall voice. The next section was entitled “Tell Me More!” where I asked the student to write more about people/details in his paper. Dr. Ellington said this was the nice way of telling student to use more detail, and that was my sole purpose in doing so. In high school, teachers would make a note on papers saying “more detail,” but that’s not motivating to students at all! Students want to tell more of their story when they know people want to hear it, not when they are demanded to. For the last section of the student’s paper, I chose what I thought to be the most prominent grammatical error in the paper and wrote a small paragraph explaining the error. I underlined the first few examples in his paper, but I wanted the student to be able to pick out the rest. I thought this method would work better than marking up every little mistake because it would be less overwhelming, and the student would learn to look for mistakes in his paper. For future papers, I would give him a paper with the same sections. I would obviously write completely different paragraphs for “What I Loved!” and “Tell Me More!” but I would keep the previous error section and add to it as necessary. Keeping this error wouldn’t necessarily mean the student made it in the new paper, but I thought it would be a helpful reminder.

I didn’t give the student a grade. I forgot to address this in my five-page paper, so I’ll address my reasoning now. Giving grades in the classroom are unavoidable, but I want to avoid them  as long as I can. No matter how much feedback a teacher gives me, when I get an A, I’m done. When I get a B, I get frustrated and question why I worked so hard writing the paper in the first place. For this reason, especially on a student’s early draft of a piece, I don’t think letter grades are beneficial.

Blog #8: Reading is Contagious

Something amazing happened the other night. Well, it all began a couple days before. For as long as my boyfriend and I have been dating (almost three years) I have unsuccessfully tried to convince him to read. He always says that he doesn’t like to read or that he’d rather just watch the movie. I know. It drove me crazy too. I’m thankful we started dating before his hatred of reading would have been a deal-breaker. However, a couple days ago, he told me that he was going to bring a book over and whenever I was reading for fun, he would read with me. I didn’t really believe him, but after a couple of days passed where I didn’t have time to read, I finished my homework early and asked if he wanted to read with me. He slowly looked up from scrolling through Facebook on his laptop and said, “I’ll read with you next time.” I pleaded for a few minutes, and he eventually agreed to read with me for twenty minutes and then set his timer. The book he chose to read was Haunted by Chuck Palahniuk. He said he started in high school but never finished. Twenty minutes flew by as I was lost in the world of Eleanor and Park. When I heard the timer on his phone start to ring, I finished my page and grabbed the remote because I assumed we’d be watching Parks and Rec in about thirty seconds. I watched as Tyler finished his page… and then started reading the next page… and then finished that page and still kept reading. I’m glad he was so entranced in his book because he would have looked up to see my jaw on the floor. He eventually came to a stopping point and actually showed lines from his book! I swear this is not a joke, and I am not exaggerating any of this story. Tyler Lewis, who swears he hates to read, read past the timer.

This occurrence obviously meant a lot to me as a girlfriend, but it also brought me back to Methods class and our discussion a couple months ago about class reading time. Dr. Ellington discussed how when she gave her class time to read, she always read with them to show them how important it was. I’ll be the first to admit I’m not the best reader during the school year and don’t normally give much time to free reading. Because of Methods, however, I have had the opportunity to read books that I actually want to read. It’s been a big priority of mine this semester, and Tyler can see that and wants to be a part of it. I believed Dr. Ellington that setting reading as a priority made a huge difference in her classroom, but it was amazing for me to witness a version of it firsthand!


Also, Tyler noticed I was taking his picture right after I took it, and I think he was a little confused when I excitedly said, “I have to blog about this!”

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.