Friday, April 30, 2010

National Poetry Month: An Excerpt from "The Canterbury Tales: General Prologue"

An Excerpt from "The Canterbury Tales: General Prologue"

Geoffrey Chaucer

WHAN that Aprille with his shoures soote
The droghte of Marche hath perced to the roote,
And bathed every veyne in swich licour,
Of which vertu engendred is the flour;
Whan Zephirus eek with his swete breeth
Inspired hath in every holt and heeth
The tendre croppes, and the yonge sonne
Hath in the Ram his halfe cours y-ronne,
And smale fowles maken melodye,
That slepen al the night with open ye,
(So priketh hem nature in hir corages:
Than longen folk to goon on pilgrimages,
And palmers for to seken straunge strondes,
To ferne halwes, couthe in sondry londes;
And specially, from every shires ende
Of Engelond, to Caunterbury they wende,
The holy blisful martir for to seke,
That hem hath holpen, whan that they were seke.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

National Poetry Month: An Excerpt from "The Wasteland"

An Excerpt from "The Wasteland"
T.S. Eliot

APRIL is the cruellest month, breeding
Lilacs out of the dead land, mixing
Memory and desire, stirring
Dull roots with spring rain.
Winter kept us warm, covering
Earth in forgetful snow, feeding
A little life with dried tubers.
Summer surprised us, coming over the Starnbergersee
With a shower of rain; we stopped in the colonnade,
And went on in sunlight, into the Hofgarten,
And drank coffee, and talked for an hour.
Bin gar keine Russin, stamm' aus Litauen, echt deutsch.
And when we were children, staying at the archduke's,
My cousin's, he took me out on a sled,
And I was frightened. He said, Marie,
Marie, hold on tight. And down we went.
In the mountains, there you feel free.
I read, much of the night, and go south in the winter.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

National Poetry Month: Always Marry An April Girl

Always Marry An April Girl

by Ogden Nash

Praise the spells and bless the charms,
I found April in my arms.
April golden, April cloudy,
Gracious, cruel, tender, rowdy;
April soft in flowered languor,
April cold with sudden anger,
Ever changing, ever true --
I love April, I love you.

Attention all Delaware Teachers! First Annual Summer Institute on Instruction and Assessment Now Taking Applications

This week we are excited to announce our first-ever Summer Institute on Instruction and Assessment. This two-week (eight-day, forty-hour) institute will deal intensively and exclusively with the “how-to’s” of testing and evaluation in both classroom instruction and preparation for formal, large-scale assessments.

Participants will complete this institute having evaluated and analyzed ineffective test items—including literature-based writing prompts—and having written, critiqued, and revised their own. If you could improve only one aspect of your school’s program to guarantee increased student achievement on the Delaware Student Testing Program and other components of the Delaware Comprehensive Assessment System, classroom-level evaluation of student work is where you’d want to focus.

In addition to the benefits your students will receive as a result of their teachers’ participation, this institute has been approved by the Delaware Department of Education for 40 recertification or relicensure hours. All participants who successfully complete the two weeks will receive the necessary documentation.

There is no cost to participants, their school, or their districts. All necessary materials will be provided by Prestwick House. The potential benefits to participants, their schools, and their districts, however, are virtually limitless.

Prestwick House is also seeking to expand its stable of freelance writers, and participants who successfully complete this institute may be offered the opportunity to write for any of our numerous lines of educational reproducibles and downloadables—for pay, of course, on a per-project basis.


June 28 – July 9, 2010 (Monday – Thursday; Tuesday – Friday)
9:00 a.m. – 3:00 p.m. (one-hour lunch break each day)


Prestwick House Café
58 Artisan Drive
Smyrna, Delaware


There is no cost to you, your school, or your district for participation in this institute.


Because we are able to offer participants 40 hours toward their re-licensure requirement, we are unable to pay them for their participation in the institute. However, any participants who afterward elect to write, edit, or proofread for PWH will be paid on a per-assignment basis.


40 clock hours toward the Delaware Professional Standards Board’s 90-clock-hours-in-5 years licensure requirement; Potential employment as freelance, offsite Prestwick House writer, editor, or proofreader.


Prestwick House has made it a priority to ensure that its products address the Council of Chief State School Officers and the National Governors Association’s Common Core State Standards for English Language Arts, which are at the heart of Delaware’s successful Race to the Top application. Participants will gain important skills and information to help their schools and districts meet the state’s goals for student achievement and reporting of progress.


Broadened awareness of Prestwick House and its products in Delaware; Expanded “stable” of potential offsite writers, editors, and proofreaders.


Click here to download a copy of the agenda.


Simply click here to download an application form.

To mail in your entry:
ATTN: Mr. Doug Grudzina
PO Box 658
Clayton, DE 19938

To fax your entry:
(888)-718-9333, attention Doug

To scan and email your entry:

Because this is our first annual institute, we are limiting participation to 10 applicants, so don’t delay!

Tuesday Trivia

  1. Which author’s wife died as a result of her dress catching on fire as she sealed their child’s hair in a scrapbook with hot wax?
  2. Which author commissioned a portrait of himself as he expected to appear when he rose from the grave at the Apocalypse?
  3. Which female author was also considered the world’s first computer programmer?
  4. Believed to be an alcoholic and opium addict, which poet and author most likely died (prematurely) of a brain tumor?

Which author was so in love with his young bride that he visited her grave and opened her coffin nearly two months after her death?

Ralph Waldo Emerson was married to Ellen Tucker who tragically died just seventeen months into their marriage. According to a diary entry dated almost two months after her death, Emerson not only visited her grave site, but opened the coffin to be closer to his bride.

Which poet was sent to Russia to mediate with Nikita Khrushchev?

Robert Frost was sent to Russia as a mediator, but was so ill upon arrival that Krushchev had to come to him.

Which poet pleaded insanity to avoid criminal charges when police found that he was hiding a friend’s stolen goods in his college dorm room?

Allen Ginsberg ended up being committed to a psychiatric hospital because he did not want to face criminal charges.

Which poet compared love to a compass (the tool used to draw arcs and circles in geometry)?

John Donne, a lover of metaphors, refers to “stiff compasses” with fixed feet in his poem “A Valediction: Forbidden Mourning.”

Which poet is buried at Poet’s Corner in Westminster Abbey sans his heart (which resides with his wife’s body across town)?

Thomas Hardy wished to be buried alongside his first wife but also wanted to receive the honor of being buried at Poet’s Corner. A compromise was made and Hardy’s body was sent to Poets’ Corner while his heart was buried next to the grave of his wife.

Monday, April 26, 2010

National Poetry Month: Over The Land Is April

Over The Land Is April

by Robert Louis Stevenson

OVER the land is April,
Over my heart a rose;
Over the high, brown mountain
The sound of singing goes.
Say, love, do you hear me,
Hear my sonnets ring?
Over the high, brown mountain,
Love, do you hear me sing?

By highway, love, and byway
The snows succeed the rose.
Over the high, brown mountain
The wind of winter blows.
Say, love, do you hear me,
Hear my sonnets ring?
Over the high, brown mountain
I sound the song of spring,
I throw the flowers of spring.
Do you hear the song of spring?
Hear you the songs of spring?

Sunday, April 25, 2010

National Poetry Month: Just Before April Came

Just Before April Came

by Carl Sandburg

THE SNOW piles in dark places are gone.
Pools by the railroad tracks shine clear.
The gravel of all shallow places shines.
A white pigeon reels and somersaults.

Frogs plutter and squdge—and frogs beat the air with a recurring thin steel sliver of melody.
Crows go in fives and tens; they march their black feathers past a blue pool; they celebrate an old festival.
A spider is trying his webs, a pink bug sits on my hand washing his forelegs.
I might ask: Who are these people?

Friday, April 23, 2010

The Birthday Bard

by Douglas Grudzina

Happy Birthday to you!
Happy Birthday to you!

Happy Birthday, dear Billy!
Happy Birthday to you.

Except it isn’t really his birthday, and he might not even be who we think he is to begin with.

William Shakespeare, aka The Bard of Avon, is one of those GREAT WRITERS whose life is shrouded in mystery, doubt, innuendo, and lack of real evidence—so anything anybody says is true.

No one knows when Will was born. The third child of John and Mary Shakespeare (nee Arden), he was baptized, according to the record of Holy Trinity Church in Stratford-on-Avon (sometimes Catholic and sometimes Anglican, so W.S. could have been either), on April 26, 1564. Since they baptized kids young back then, the popular speculation is that little Bill was born three days earlier, on April 23.

April 23 was also the date of Will’s death (but not the same year), so having him born and die on the same date (but several years apart) is kind of fun. So much fun, in fact, that some scholars believe that that is how the April 23, 1564, birthday rumor began.

When he was eighteen, randy Will married the much-older Anne Hathaway (eight years back then was a pretty big age difference—actually, it’s nothing to sneeze at today, especially when it’s an older-woman-younger-man couple—why do you suppose we have such a double standard, anyway?).

Most scholars agree that Shakespeare’s wife is not the same Anne Hathaway as the twenty-first-century American star of Get Smart and The Devil Wears Prada. There is no evidence to suggest that Anne Hathaway ever appeared on stage in one of her husband’s plays. So adamant was he about his wife not being in show business (sort of like a ramped-up Ricky Ricardo) that there was a complete and total ban on women appearing on stage in all of England!

Actually, according to Tom Stoppard and Marc Norman, Shakespeare was really in love with some rich guy’s daughter who had to marry a Virginia plantation owner before there were Virginia plantations.

During the course of his prolific career, William Shakespeare wrote 37 plays. Or 38. Or 39. Or 40.

Or none, depending on who you listen to. (Depending on to whom you listen.)

He disappeared from Stratford-on-Avon in 1585 and stayed missing until he popped up in London in 1592. One thing is certain, however, and that is that he died on April 23, 1616, at the age of 52. Or 51, depending on when he was born.

There is no evidence to support the contention that Anne tried to return his un-opened birthday presents.

There is no one alive today who is a direct descendent of William and Anne Shakespeare (nee Hathaway). His sister, Joan (Hart), however, has numerous living descendants.

So, Happy Birthday, Bill … whenever it is and whoever you are.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

National Poetry Month: My April Lady

My April Lady
by Henry Van Dyke

When down the stair at morning
The sunbeams round her float,
Sweet rivulets of laughter
Are bubbling in her throat;
The gladness of her greeting
Is gold without alloy;
And in the morning sunlight
I think her name is Joy.

When in the evening twilight
The quiet book-room lies,
We read the sad old ballads,
While from her hidden eyes
The tears are falling, falling,
That give her heart relief;
And in the evening twilight,
I think her name is Grief.

My little April lady,
Of sunshine and of showers,
She weaves the old spring magic,
And breaks my heart in flowers!
But when her moods are ended,
She nestles like a dove;
Then, by the pain and rapture,
I know her name is Love.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

National Poetry Month: April's Charms

April's Charms

by William Henry Davies

When April scatters charms of primrose gold
Among the copper leaves in thickets old,
And singing skylarks from the meadows rise,
To twinkle like black stars in sunny skies;

When I can hear the small woodpecker ring
Time on a tree for all the birds that sing;
And hear the pleasant cuckoo, loud and long --
The simple bird that thinks two notes a song;

When I can hear the woodland brook, that could
Not drown a babe, with all his threatening mood;
Upon these banks the violets make their home,
And let a few small strawberry vlossoms come:

When I go forth on such a pleasant day,
One breath outdoors takes all my cares away;
It goes like heavy smoke, when flames take hold
Of wood that's green and fill a grate with gold.

Plain English: Cussing just isn't what it used to be...

Cussing isn’t what it used to be. In fact, cussing has fallen on hard times. Words that used to be reserved for moments of anger or insult have migrated into everyday conversation. Are there no forbidden words left? Movies can still earn a PG-13 or an R rating for language. The FCC polices the broadcast airwaves only, ensuring that you won’t hear any of the “Seven Words You Can Never Say on Television” in prime time or on broadcast radio. But switch to a cable channel and watch an independent film on IFC or reruns of The Sopranos, Deadwood, or Nip/Tuck and you will hear all seven words used over and over again. You can also get an earful of profanity from rappers or Howard Stern on satellite radio.

When forbidden words make their way into everyday usage and song lyrics, they lose their power to shock, insult, and repulse. The predominant swearing pattern in vogue is the use of the adjective form of the F-word, as in Chase Utley’s description of the Philadelphia Phillies as “World f-ing Champions.” When a forbidden word becomes a compliment, it is no longer profane.

Once cursing makes its way into everyday speech, it is drained of its ability to hurt and harm. It either takes on a new meaning or falls out of usage. That doesn’t mean that profanity will disappear. Human beings need forbidden words they can use to express anger and insult.

Profanity will always be with us, but the words will change.

Today’s profanity consists of five basic words. We are definitely in a rut and far from the golden age of cursing when Shakespeare wrote the following colorful insults for King Lear . . .

What a brazen faced varlet art thou . . . You whoreson cullionly barbermonger . . . Thou art a boil, a plague sore, an embossed carbuncle in my corrupted blood . . . False of heart, light of ear, bloody of hand, hog in sloth, fox in stealth, wolf in greediness, dog in madness, lion in prey . . . From the extremest upward of thy head to the descent and dust beneath thy foot, a most toad spotted traitor.

Maybe cuss words and insults from the past will be a clue to how new words will be formed. The Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue published in 1785 had these listings: fusty lugs (sluttish woman), plug tail (male genitals), apple dumplin’ shop and Cupid’s kettle drums (female breasts). A fool was a nincompoop and an expression of surprise was zounds!

By 1743 people were avoiding blasphemy by using the following words for God: golly, gosh, ye gods, by George, and doggone. In an attempt to disguise the word Jesus in cussing they used Jiminy and Jiminy crickets. Shucks, sugar, heck, darn, and Sam Hill were other expletives.

When the American West opened up, the language became wilder. Mark Twain observed that “when it comes to pure ornamental cursing, the American is gifted above the sons of men.” The use of pshaw, drat, durn, dash, gee, jeez, and land’s sake are from this era. Dang and gee whiz came into usage around 1914.

Early TV westerns captured Old West cussing with insults like yeller, sidewinder, and polecat, along with Gabby Hayes throwing his hat on the ground and yelling, “Dagnabbit Roy.” Characters like Matt Dillon, Wyatt Earp, and the Maverick brothers didn’t curse, but sidekicks often spewed insults like “that sorry, rotten, no good, low-down, good-for-nothin’ skunk.”

So far the first sign of the cursing renaissance is a text abbreviation (OMG), a censoring sound (bleeping) and a phonetic spelling (eff). Maybe in the future we will be hurling abbreviations, sounds, and phonics at each other. “OMG! What a bleeping snafu! We are effed!”


Mary Jane McKinney is the creator and owner of LLC, publisher of grammar, style, and proofreading exercises that use sentences from literature.

She is a former high school English teacher and dedicated grammarian whose column Plain English appears in several Texas newspapers. LLC, P.O. Box 299, Christoval, TX 76935,, 325-896-2479.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

National Poetry Month: An April Night

An April Night

by Lucy Maud Montgomery

The moon comes up o'er the deeps of the woods,
And the long, low dingles that hide in the hills,
Where the ancient beeches are moist with buds
Over the pools and the whimpering rills;

And with her the mists, like dryads that creep
From their oaks, or the spirits of pine-hid springs,
Who hold, while the eyes of the world are asleep,
With the wind on the hills their gay revellings.

Down on the marshlands with flicker and glow
Wanders Will-o'-the-Wisp through the night,
Seeking for witch-gold lost long ago
By the glimmer of goblin lantern-light.

The night is a sorceress, dusk-eyed and dear,
Akin to all eerie and elfin things,
Who weaves about us in meadow and mere
The spell of a hundred vanished Springs.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Tuesday Trivia

  1. Which author was so in love with his young bride that he visited her grave and opened her coffin nearly two months after her death?
  2. Which poet was sent to Russia to mediate with Nikita Khrushchev?
  3. Which poet pleaded insanity to avoid criminal charges when police found that he was hiding a friend’s stolen goods in his college dorm room?
  4. Which poet compared love to a compass (the tool used to draw arcs and circles in geometry)?
  5. Which poet is buried at Poet’s Corner in Westminster Abbey sans his heart (which resides with his wife’s body across town)?

Which American writer and literary critic learned Yiddish and literary Hebrew before learning any English?

Harold Bloom

Which children’s author was also a co-creator and head writer for the Nickelodeon show Eureeka's Castle which ran from 1989 to 1995?

Goosebumps author, R.L. Stine

Who is F. Scott Fitzgerald named after?

F. Scott Fitzgerald (full name Francis Scott Key Fitzgerald) was named after his famous second cousin, three times removed, Francis Scott Key, an American lawyer, poet, and writer of the lyrics to the Star Spangled Banner.

Which American novelist and poet’s gravestone is inscribed with the name “Ti Jean” meaning little John?

Jack Kerouac

When their 1812 affair didn’t work out, Lady Caroline Lamb continued her pursuit of which notable British author by calling on him at home, sometimes dressed in disguise as a page boy?

Lord Byron

National Poetry Month: A Calendar of Sonnets: April

A Calendar of Sonnets: April

by Helen Hunt Jackson

No days such honored days as these! While yet
Fair Aphrodite reigned, men seeking wide
For some fair thing which should forever bide
On earth, her beauteous memory to set
In fitting frame that no age could forget,
Her name in lovely April's name did hide,
And leave it there, eternally allied
To all the fairest flowers Spring did beget.
And when fair Aphrodite passed from earth,
Her shrines forgotten and her feasts of mirth,
A holier symbol still in seal and sign,
Sweet April took, of kingdom most divine,
When Christ ascended, in the time of birth
Of spring anemones, in Palestine.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

National Poetry Month: April 19

April 19

by David Lehman

We have too much exhibitionism
and not enough voyeurism
in poetry we have plenty of bass
and not enough treble, more amber
beer than the frat boys can drink but
less red wine than meets the lip
in this beaker of the best Bordeaux,
too much thesis, too little antithesis
and way too much New York Times
in poetry we've had too much isolationism
and too few foreign entanglements
we need more Baudelaire on the quai
d'Anjou more olive trees and umbrella pines
fewer leafless branches on the rue Auguste Comte
too much sociology not enough Garcia Lorca
more colons and dashes fewer commas
less love based on narrow self-interest
more lust based on a feast of kisses
too many novels too few poems
too many poets not enough poetry

Thursday, April 15, 2010

National Poetry Month: So sweet love seemed that April morn

So sweet love seemed that April morn
by Robert Seymour Bridges

So sweet love seemed that April morn,
When first we kissed beside the thorn,
So strangely sweet, it was not strange
We thought that love could never change.

But I can tell--let truth be told--
That love will change in growing old;
Though day by day is naught to see,
So delicate his motions be.

And in the end 'twill come to pass
Quite to forget what once he was,
Nor even in fancy to recall
The pleasure that was all in all.

His little spring, that sweet we found,
So deep in summer floods is drowned,
I wonder, bathed in joy complete,
How love so young could be so sweet.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

National Poetry Month: Absent Place -- an April Day --

Absent Place -- an April Day --

by Emily Dickinson

Absent Place -- an April Day --
Daffodils a-blow
Homesick curiosity
To the Souls that snow --

Drift may block within it
Deeper than without --
Daffodil delight but
Him it duplicate --

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

National Poetry Month: April Rise

April Rise

by Laurie Lee

If ever I saw blessing in the air
I see it now in this still early day
Where lemon-green the vaporous morning drips
Wet sunlight on the powder of my eye.

Blown bubble-film of blue, the sky wraps round
Weeds of warm light whose every root and rod
Splutters with soapy green, and all the world
Sweats with the bead of summer in its bud.

If ever I heard blessing it is there
Where birds in trees that shoals and shadows are
Splash with their hidden wings and drops of sound
Break on my ears their crests of throbbing air.

Pure in the haze the emerald sun dilates,
The lips of sparrows milk the mossy stones,
While white as water by the lake a girl
Swims her green hand among the gathered swans.

Now, as the almond burns its smoking wick,
Dropping small flames to light the candled grass;
Now, as my low blood scales its second chance,
If ever world were blessed, now it is.

Tuesday Trivia

  1. Which American writer and literary critic learned Yiddish and literary Hebrew before learning any English?
  2. Which children’s author was also a co-creator and head writer for the Nickelodeon show Eureeka's Castle which ran from 1989 to 1995?
  3. Who is F. Scott Fitzgerald named after?
  4. Which American novelist and poet’s gravestone is inscribed with the name “Ti Jean” meaning "little John"?
  5. When their 1812 affair didn’t work out, Lady Caroline Lamb continued her pursuit of which notable British author by calling on him at home, sometimes dressed in disguise as a page boy?

While at a party in Panama, which author choked on a toothpick which caused an inflammation of his abdominal passage and killed him?

At age 64, Sherwood Anderson author of Winesburg, Ohio and a major influence on Hemingway and John Steinbeck, choked on a toothpick causing death by peritonitis.

What world-famous poem was originally titled “He Do the Police in Different Voices”?

T.S. Eliot used “He Do the Police in Different Voices” as a working title for “The Waste Land.”

Where did Aldous Huxley borrow the title Brave New World from?

Shakespeare’s The Tempest, Act V, Scene I

Which American poet, novelist, and children's author was the daughter of a biology professor at Boston University well known for his book about bumble bees?

Sylvia Plath

Which German-born children’s author and illustrator came to New York with only $45 in his pocket and began his writing career by landing a graphic designer position in the promotion department of The New York Times?

Eric Carle, author of The Very Hungry Caterpillar and other famous children's books.


Image courtesy of

Monday, April 12, 2010

National Poetry Month: APRIL


by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

TELL me, eyes, what 'tis ye're seeking;

For ye're saying something sweet,

Fit the ravish'd ear to greet,
Eloquently, softly speaking.

Yet I see now why ye're roving;

For behind those eyes so bright,

To itself abandon'd quite,
Lies a bosom, truthful, loving,--

One that it must fill with pleasure

'Mongst so many, dull and blind,

One true look at length to find,
That its worth can rightly treasure.

Whilst I'm lost in studying ever

To explain these cyphers duly,--

To unravel my looks truly
In return be your endeavour!

Local Publishing Company Announces the First Annual Prestwick House Delaware English Teacher of the Year Award

Prestwick House publishing announces a new award to recognize excellence in teaching secondary English/language arts in the state of Delaware. Top prize includes an Apple iPad fully loaded with digital versions of Prestwick House educational resources.

Smyrna, DE (PRWEB) April 12, 2010 -- This week, in the spirit of recognizing excellence within Delaware’s teaching community, Smyrna-based publishing company Prestwick House, Inc., will begin accepting nominations for the first annual Prestwick House Delaware English Teacher of the Year Award.

“As an educational publishing company, we know firsthand that there are many dedicated English teachers in the state of Delaware,” says Prestwick House CEO, Jason Scott. “With this award, we are proud to recognize individuals who are not only dedicated and highly skilled in their field, but who go beyond what is required to motivate and challenge their students and inspire excellence on a daily basis.”

“With this award, we are proud to recognize individuals who are not only dedicated and highly skilled in their field, but who go beyond what is required to motivate and challenge their students and inspire excellence on a daily basis.”

Each secondary school within the state of Delaware is invited to nominate one 6th – 12th grade English teacher who has gone above and beyond in dedication to helping students. Nominations by department chairs will be accepted until May 15th, 2010, and can be e-mailed to keith(at)prestwickhouse(dot)com. Entries must include a letter of recommendation explaining why the nominated teacher is both innovative and effective in the classroom. Candidates should be individuals who demonstrate outstanding leadership, a thorough knowledge of their subject matter, and an understanding of the individual needs of their students.

“Delaware has some of the most innovative, exciting, and caring teachers in the country, and we want to recognize the best of the best,” says Prestwick House General Manager Keith Bergstrom. “We’re looking for the teacher that takes teaching beyond the book and inspires his or her students with a love of learning and the drive to achieve their dreams.”

In addition to a plaque commemorating the achievement and recognition at a performance of Macbeth by the Delaware Shakespeare Festival, the winning teacher will receive a new Apple iPad fully loaded with Prestwick House digital teaching materials. “Prestwick House has been a leader in developing ways for teachers to effectively use technology in their classrooms, and we’re excited about the possibilities that the iPad offers teachers and students,” says Scott. “We know that getting teachers the latest technology will help them engage and reach today’s students.”

Finalists will be announced during the first week of June 2010 with the winner announced later in the summer at a performance of the Delaware Shakespeare Festival. All finalists will be featured on the Prestwick House website, blog, and in the Footnotes monthly email newsletter. For more information on the Prestwick House Delaware English Teacher of the Year Award, please contact Keith Bergstrom by phone at (800)-932-4593 x131 or e-mail keith(at)prestwickhouse(dot)com.


About Prestwick House - Founded in 1983 by a Dover High School administrator, Prestwick House is a leader in educational publishing. With a focus on helping English teachers in grades 9-12, Prestwick House publishes the largest selection of literature teaching guides in the country, a line of classic novels, and hundreds of other educational products. Find out more at

In Defense of Wikipedia

by Douglas Grudzina

When I retired from teaching (after 25 ½ years) to work at Prestwick House, teachers who taught research were still quibbling about whether to (1) require their students to use “one or two Internet sources” in their research projects (the rest being, of course, print sources), or (2) forbid use of the Internet because, after all, the sources were unreliable and the whole World-Wide-Web fad would die out eventually.

I confess that, as an over-forty-five-years-old teacher, I was more closely allied with the latter group—not that I absolutely forbid use of the Internet, but I was very careful to explain to my students the benefits of the strenuous vetting process most print sources undergo between the writer’s keyboard (okay, I probably used the word typewriter) and the researcher’s eyes. (Who knew the print media were so close to crashing and burning?)

Anyway, today Internet research is pretty much a given—guess it wasn’t such a fad after all. Still, interesting enough, the use of the Internet for research still involves a list of prohibitions—now, however, specific sites are banned.

Lately, the forbidden source of choice seems to be Wikipedia.

As a former Internet-distruster, I’d like to say a few words on behalf of “The Free Encyclopedia.”

The most common complaints I’ve heard and read—there are entire chapters of research books dedicated to trashing Wikipedia—are that it’s anonymous; it’s unauthoritative; it’s too easy for students to cut-and-paste and, thus plagiarize; and the information is too basic or general. These are the points I’d like to address and, in the process, maybe raise some essential questions about our assumptions about research and our teaching of research skills.

Wikipedia is anonymous.

I think it’s probably important to discuss the difference between “anonymous” and “unsigned.” It is possible—and not really all that difficult—to track down the identities of a writer/poster of a Wikipedia article and all those who have edited it. One can actually learn quite a bit about a topic by examining the editing history and reading the discussion board postings. If at least one goal of research is to collect a wide array of information from a variety of sources, reflecting multiple viewpoints, then these discussion boards are gold mines. The fact that the actual article might be unsigned should be more an invitation for the student to dig deeper than to avoid the article altogether.

Wikipedia is unauthoritative.

Again, we must be very careful not to confuse “unsigned” with “unauthoritative.” Wikipedia is, after all, an encyclopedia, and most encyclopedia articles—while certainly authoritative—are unsigned.

True, non-authorities can upload anything they want as a Wikipedia article, and pranksters can “edit” all sorts of untruths into an article—indeed this has happened in more than one well-publicized incident—but this phenomenon is certainly not unique to Wikipedia. (In fact, the lack of a vetting process was one of my original concerns about Internet research “back in the day” when I was still in the classroom, my computer had a dial-up modem, and the monitor screen displayed flickering green letters.) Wikipedia is, however, monitored. Articles are sometimes “closed” to comments and editing while some verification procedure is performed, and many of the posters and editors are, in fact, authorities in their fields.

So, it’s not altogether accurate or fair to dismiss all of the site’s content as unauthoritative.

Wikipedia makes it too easy for students to plagiarize.

Well, this is probably true. But it’s no less true of any other digital or electronic source from which all the student has to do is copy and paste. That potential simply highlights our need to teach our students why not to plagiarize and then provide them with effective techniques how not to take credit for someone else’s work.

(Not to mention imposing severe penalties on the student who knows better and still insists on cheating.)

The information on Wikipedia is too basic or general.

This is also a partially valid criticism. After all, Wikipedia does bill itself as an “encyclopedia.” The issue for our students, however, should not be whether they consult a basic source, but whether they then go any deeper. Granted, I might question a graduate student’s having to consult Wikipedia for a report on his or her major field, but a high school junior just being introduced to the subject? Why not?

As a writer, I consult Wikipedia a lot. In fact, it’s often the first source I look at, especially if all I need is a quick date or factoid—What year was William Wordsworth born? How did Josiah Wedgwood (no middle “e”) spell his name?

More often than not, however, Wikipedia is only the first site I visit. I get the overview, the basic info; then, I know what I need to look at in greater depth. So, the issue isn’t necessarily did I use Wikipedia, but did I use only Wikipedia?

I think our attitude toward individual sources—print, online, living, mystical, whatever—has a lot to say about our attitude toward the process and purpose of research itself. If the research project is simply a collecting of facts and then a recitation of those facts, then it might be perfectly appropriate to dictate what sources can and cannot be used.

If, however, we want our students to learn how to find information, pull from multiple sources, evaluate the sources they use and the information those sources offer, and synthesize it all into a coherent argument, then it probably does our students a disservice to outright forbid the use of any source or type of source. Certainly we want to teach them to see the benefits and disadvantages of any potential source. We want to teach them to step back and determine the value of whatever information a source provides. We want them to, eventually, understand what good research is and to conduct that good research more or less independently.

Utterly prohibiting the use of any source is more likely to hinder our attaining those goals than facilitate it.

There is, also, a strong benefit to allowing your students to consult an encyclopedic source like Wikipedia—especially in grades in which the students are first being exposed to the concept of research, self-teaching, and reporting on what one has learned independently. Theoretically, we want our students to know something at the end of the research process. We want them to be sort of mini-experts in their research topic.

If not, they why not simply let them copy and paste from a few Internet sources and call it a day?

Wikipedia articles are supposed to referenced, documented—whatever you want to call it. Whether the article is written by a Ph. D. or a fifth-grader, the site’s standards require notes and references—not unlike the ones you’ll want your students to include on their research papers. So seriously do Wikipedians take these standards that readers are warned when an article is not properly cited:

This article needs references that appear in reliable third-party publications …

This article is missing citations or needs footnotes …

Other notifications on Wikipedia articles include:

This article includes a list of references, related reading or external links, but its sources remain unclear because it lacks inline citations.

In other words, there is a “works cited page,” but no in-text documentation to verify any of the individual claims.

The neutrality of the style of writing in this article is questioned.

The very fact that the neutrality has been questioned suggests that neutrality or objectivity in source material is valued. Those who monitor this site are actually reinforcing some of what you’ve tried to teach your students about evaluating sources and being aware of issues like bias.

Indeed, some of the articles read like drafts of student research papers, complete with teacher comments identifying the problems and requesting solutions. Rather than forbid my students to look, I think I’d almost be tempted to require them to examine these flawed articles, help to fix them, and then avoid the problems in their own papers.

Even individual bits of information within articles are noted as questionable (citation needed). Readers are warned to beware of uncited claims. A number of options are then offered the researcher: delete the questionable information (if it is indeed inaccurate), edit it for accuracy, or provide a source to verify the accuracy. In other words, the lack of proper citation could be viewed as an invitation for your students to become—more than merely consumers of information—part of the conversation.

And isn’t that one of the reasons for teaching them research to begin with?

Like any other tool, then, the Internet’s “Free Encyclopedia” has its place in the researcher’s tool kit. Before we forbid our students to consult it—and, let’s face it, do you think our prohibition really stops any of them?—we should make certain we’ve examined exactly what it is we want our students to do and to learn in this research project and how consulting Wikipedia is likely to thwart their meeting those objectives.

We might be surprised to learn instead that it’s just what they need to get started in the right direction.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

National Poetry Month: Dream Song 47: April Fool's Day, or, St Mary of Egypt

Dream Song 47: April Fool's Day, or, St Mary of Egypt
by John Berryman

”Thass a funny title, Mr Bones.
”When down she saw her feet, sweet fish, on the threshold,
she considered her fair shoulders
and all them hundreds who have them, all
the more who to her mime thickened & maled
from the supple stage,

and seeing her feet, in a visit, side by side
paused on the sill of The Tomb, she shrank: 'No.
They are not worthy,
fondled by many' and rushed from The Crucified
back through her followers out of the city ho
across the suburbs, plucky

to dare my desert in her late daylight
of animals and sands. She fall prone.
Only wind whistled.
And forty-seven years with our caps on,
whom God has not visited.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

National Poetry Month: April

by Louise Gluck

No one's despair is like my despair--

You have no place in this garden
thinking such things, producing
the tiresome outward signs; the man
pointedly weeding an entire forest,
the woman limping, refusing to change clothes
or wash her hair.

Do you suppose I care
if you speak to one another?
But I mean you to know
I expected better of two creatures
who were given minds: if not
that you would actually care for each other
at least that you would understand
grief is distributed
between you, among all your kind, for me
to know you, as deep blue
marks the wild scilla, white
the wood violet.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

National Poetry Month: 6th April 1651 L'Amitie: To Mrs. M. Awbrey

6th April 1651 L'Amitie: To Mrs. M. Awbrey

by Katherine Philips

Soule of my soule! my Joy, my crown, my friend!
A name which all the rest doth comprehend;
How happy are we now, whose sols are grown,
By an incomparable mixture, One:
Whose well acquainted minds are not as neare
As Love, or vows, or secrets can endeare.
I have no thought but what's to thee reveal'd,
Nor thou desire that is from me conceal'd.
Thy heart locks up my secrets richly set,
And my breast is thy private cabinet.
Thou shedst no teare but what but what my moisture lent,
And if I sigh, it is thy breath is spent.
United thus, what horrour can appeare
Worthy our sorrow, anger, or our feare?
Let the dull world alone to talk and fight
And with their vast ambitions nature fright;
Let them despise so innocent a flame,
While Envy, pride, and faction play their game:
But we by Love sublim'd so high shall rise,
To pitty Kings, and Conquerours despise,
Since we that sacred union have engrost,
Which they and all the sullen world have lost.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

National Poetry Month: April Is The Saddest Month

April Is The Saddest Month
by William Carlos Williams

There they were
dog and bitch
halving the compass

Then when with his yip
they parted
oh how frolicsome

she grew before him
dancing and
how disconsolate

he retreated
she following
through the shrubbery

All Reading is Good Reading

According to Neat-O-Rama contributer, Ms. Cellania:

In 1931, a schoolboy wrote a fan letter to his favorite author, Edgar Rice Burroughs. It said, in part:

I am a fourteen year old boy and am a low Junior in High School. Today at school our teacher was discussing “good literature.” I asked if Edgar Rice Burroughs was all right for a book report. I knew she’d say “no” (teachers always do) but I didn’t expect her to lecture to the class for the whole period about how terrible your books were!

The author of the Tarzan novels wrote back, in part:

My stories will do you no harm. If they have helped to inculcate in you a love of books, they have done you much good. No fiction is worth reading except for entertainment. If it entertains and is clean, it is good literature, or its kind. If it forms the habit of reading, in people who might not read otherwise, it is the best literature.

Which explains why I bought the Twilight books for my youngest daughter. The 14-year-old boy who wrote the letter was Forrest J. Ackerman, who grew up to coin the term “sci-fi”. Ackerman was a film producer, actor, and the editor of the magazine Famous Monsters of Filmland, and made a name as the biggest science fiction fan ever.

Tuesday Trivia

  1. While at a party in Panama, which author choked on a toothpick which caused an inflammation of his abdominal passage and killed him?
  2. What world-famous poem was originally titled “He Do the Police in Different Voices”?
  3. Where did Aldous Huxley borrow the title Brave New World from?
  4. Which American poet, novelist, and children's author was the daughter of a biology professor at Boston University well known for his book about bumble bees?
  5. Which German-born children’s author and illustrator came to New York with only $45 in his pocket and began his writing career by landing a graphic designer position in the promotion department of The New York Times?

In 2004, which world-renowned author’s daughter discovered a 5,000-word story entitled "The Incident of the Dog's Ball" in the attic of her home?

Agatha Christie’s daughter found this 5,000 word story in 2004, and had it published in Britain in September 2009 by The Strand Magazine.

Which young adult writer is the brother of the man who invented the sole of Sperry Top-Sider shoes?

Armstrong Sperry. His older brother, Paul, invented the sole of the Sperry Top-Sider.

Which American fiction writer began his writing career while working as a pencil sharpener wholesaler in 1911?

Edgar Rice Burroughs

Which young adult author did not begin writing children’s literature until the age of 47?

Theodore Taylor, born in 1921 did not begin writing books for young adults until 1968.

Under nom de plume Ashley Cooper, which American author wrote a long-running column for the Charleston Post Courier until 1993?

Frank Gilbreth, Jr.

Monday, April 5, 2010

National Poetry Month: Calmly We Walk Through This April's Day

Calmly We Walk Through This April's Day
by Delmore Schwartz

Calmly we walk through this April's day,
Metropolitan poetry here and there,
In the park sit pauper and rentier,
The screaming children, the motor-car
Fugitive about us, running away,
Between the worker and the millionaire
Number provides all distances,
It is Nineteen Thirty-Seven now,
Many great dears are taken away,
What will become of you and me
(This is the school in which we learn...)
Besides the photo and the memory?
(...that time is the fire in which we burn.)

(This is the school in which we learn...)
What is the self amid this blaze?
What am I now that I was then
Which I shall suffer and act again,
The theodicy I wrote in my high school days
Restored all life from infancy,
The children shouting are bright as they run
(This is the school in which they learn . . .)
Ravished entirely in their passing play!
(...that time is the fire in which they burn.)

Avid its rush, that reeling blaze!
Where is my father and Eleanor?
Not where are they now, dead seven years,
But what they were then?
No more? No more?
From Nineteen-Fourteen to the present day,
Bert Spira and Rhoda consume, consume
Not where they are now (where are they now?)
But what they were then, both beautiful;

Each minute bursts in the burning room,
The great globe reels in the solar fire,
Spinning the trivial and unique away.
(How all things flash! How all things flare!)
What am I now that I was then?
May memory restore again and again
The smallest color of the smallest day:
Time is the school in which we learn,
Time is the fire in which we burn.