- How many words are in the longest sentence in Victor Hugo’s Les Miserables?
- Which well-known 20th century, British author was a member of the Inklings, a group associated with Oxford University, alongside other pertinent authors such as C.S. Lewis?
- Which English author, poet, essayist, literary critic, and playwright enjoyed taking off his clothes and climbing mulberry trees?
- What Alfred Hitchcock movie title is drawn from Shakespeare's Hamlet? In what year was the first English-language Encyclopaedia Britannica published?
Tuesday, December 27, 2011
Tuesday, December 20, 2011
- Which gothic writer was better known during his lifetime as the personal assistant of actor Henry Irving and business manager of the Lyceum Theatre in London?
- The moons of Uranus are named after characters from the works of which two famous writers?
- Washington Irving got the idea for the story of Rip Van Winkle from which ancient poet?
- Which author’s genius work ignited a scientific revolution, but failed financially — going out of print for many years after its initial publishing in 1543?
Tuesday, December 13, 2011
- What was Pulitzer Prize-Winning author John Sanford’s reason for deciding to become a writer?
- Which author gave his 1949 Nobel Prize acceptance speech and was met with only a smattering of polite applause because it was virtually impossible to understand what he was saying?
- What was Judy Blume's maiden name?
- Which poet was returned to his city of birth upon his death to be buried but was hidden in a wall to prevent anyone from stealing the corpse — a hiding place was forgotten until 1865, when a construction worker unearthed it during church renovations?
Friday, December 9, 2011
Tuesday, December 6, 2011
- Which famous sci-fi author’s father choked to death in a restaurant while on a business trip and when his mother was unable to tell him, she hired someone to inform him of his father’s death?
- Which famous author was both born and died on a Halley’s Comet year?
- Which author died while on a tour of the White Mountains in1864 and is buried in the Sleepy Hallow Cemetery in Massachussetts?
- he epitaph 'Blest be the man that spares these stones, and curst be he that moves my bones,' was written by whom?
Tuesday, November 29, 2011
- What was George Eliot's real name?
- Which young adult author is the grandmother of controversial musician Courtney Love?
- Where does the “Hey Diddle Diddle” nursery rhyme come from?
- Which U.S. President was a Finalist for the National Book Award?
Tuesday, November 22, 2011
- Which author was married on April 1, 1993 — a deliberate play on her husband’s belief that only fools get married in the first place?
- What is the title of Shakespeare’s lost play?
- What English literary classic was inspired by the adventures of Scottish pirate Andrew Selkirk?
- Which word was accidentally omitted from a 1631 publication of the Bible, therefore encouraging readers to commit adultery?
Last Week's Answers
Tuesday, November 15, 2011
- What was the occupation of author Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, author of the Sherlock Holmes series of mysteries?
- What do Laura Ingalls Wilder, Kenneth Grahame, Richard Adams, The Marquis de Sade, and Raymond Chandler have in common?
- When was the first novel written?
- What does Jane Smiley say she would be doing if she were not a writer?
Tuesday, November 8, 2011
- Which American short story writer and poet continually called the name “Reynolds!” the night before his death?
- How did Voltaire rid himself of tiresome guests?
- The average person uses a vocabulary of approximately 8,000 words. How many did Shakespeare use?
- What first name did Arthur Conan Doyle give to his famous detective before he came up with Sherlock?
- What famous writer claimed she did most of the plotting for her books while sitting in a bathtub munching on apples?
What French novelist inadvertently provided actress Ruth Davis with her stage name, Bette Davis?
Honore de Balzac. Davis took her stage name from the title of his 1840 novel Cousin Bette.
Which piece of American literature containing over 50,000 words does not once use the letter “e”?
American author, Ernest Vincent Wright wrote Gadsby: A Champion of Youth, which, except for the introduction and a note at the end, does not use the letter “e.” Every word is properly spelled and all narration is grammatically correct. He actually taped down the letter “e” on his typewriter to avoid accidentally using it.
The high-speed ferry between Dublin and Great Britain, across the Irish Sea, is named after which 18th-century satirist?
Which author once ate an apple under the Arch de Triomphe to try to overcome his insomnia?
What book was once banned by the Eldon, Missouri library because it contained 39 "objectionable" words?
The American Heritage Dictionary.
Tuesday, November 1, 2011
- What French novelist inadvertently provided actress Ruth Davis with her stage name, Bette Davis?
- Which piece of American literature containing over 50,000 words does not once use the letter “e”?
- The high-speed ferry between Dublin and Great Britain, across the Irish Sea, is named after which 18th-century satirist?
- Which author once ate an apple under the Arch de Triomphe to try to overcome his insomnia?
- What book was once banned by the Eldon, Missouri library because it contained 39 "objectionable" words?
Last Week's Answers
Who is the most successful textbook author of all time?
Elements, by Euclid, was written circa 300 B.C. and has gone through more than 1,000 editions since the invention of printing.
J.K. Rowling’s short story, “The Tale of Three Brothers” is based on which famous tale?
“The Pardoner’s Tale” by Geoffrey Chaucer in Canterbury Tales.
Which famous writer was buried in the Fluntern Cemetery, Zurich, Switzerland, and is so close to the Zurich Zoo that the zoo's lions can be heard from his grave?
James Joyce was buried here and shares his plot with wife Nora and son Georgio.
What best-selling author opened the first Saab auto dealership in the United States?
Where does the phrase “often a bridesmaid, never a bride” come from?
The phrase "Often a bridesmaid, but never a bride," actually originates from an advertisement for Listerine mouthwash from 1924.
Monday, October 31, 2011
OMG! It’s time for NaNoWriMo again!
For several years now, Prestwick House has been a strong advocate for the entire concept of NaNoWriMo … just a fun and furious way to get your kids writing, thinking like a writer, excited about literature—the potential benefits are limitless.
Do you have younger students? Don’t forget that there is a Young Writers’ NaNoWriMo, too!
It’s not too late to register and get your kids writing! More important, it’s not too late for YOU to register and get writing!
Thursday, October 27, 2011
Wednesday, October 26, 2011
This week, I sat down with Prestwick house General Manager and Head of Prestwick House Digital Resources, Keith Bergstrom to learn a little bit about Prestwick House’s digital learning tools and the new Vocabulary Power Plus Online program released earlier this month.
To schedule a web demo of Vocabulary Power Plus Online, click here, and Prestwick House will contact you in 24-48 hours.
Prestwick House has been selling their reproducible products as downloadables for years. What is your new focus on digital products and how is it different from what we’ve already seen?We’ve been a leader in digital distribution because we’ve always been focused on how teachers can use technology in the classroom. In the past, we’ve focused on using the power of the internet to make it easier and cheaper to get ready-to-use resources into the classroom, but we’re finally reaching a point in which access to computers is pervasive enough that teachers will be able to make technology a core part of their classroom.
We certainly don’t believe that books are dying—they’re certainly a fantastic way to deliver information to students, and I don’t think they’re going away anytime soon—but beyond the page there are tremendous opportunities to empower teachers to have a more dynamic classroom.
So, beyond these downloadables, what has Prestwick House Digital been working on?Well, over the last few years we’ve been expanding our delivery methods to a variety of ebook readers. You can now find Prestwick House books on Apple iPads, Amazon Kindles, Sony Nook’s and other popular eBook platforms. While these are not yet available in most classrooms, we’re starting to hear rumblings from teachers, so we’ll be ready when they are.
In terms of mobile platforms, we released our first iPhone/iPad application last year to help students study for Vocabulary Power Plus for the New SAT, and we’re working on developing more apps for other popular series.
The tool that I think is developing the fastest is the use of digital whiteboards and presentation technologies. We’ve released a variety of ready-to-use Power Presentations to teach grammar, introduce new novels, and help teachers with lectures. We’ve been creating new presentations to accompany each resource book that we’ve released this year. We want the classroom teacher to have a wide range of materials available to teach the books in any way he or she sees fit, without needing to spend hours preparing slides.
Finally, I’m really excited about our new online extension to the Vocabulary Plus series, Vocabulary Power Plus Online.
Vocabulary Power Plus Online is a digital version of our best-selling program, Vocabulary Power Plus for the New SAT. It’s our first foray into a completely digital arena, and we’re really excited about the possibilities this opens up.
It includes all of the exercises and resources from the series in an easy-to-use cloud-based program that puts an interactive version of the books directly onto student screens. Students can securely log in to an online program and see what’s been assigned, do their homework, practice for tests, and even take quizzes and tests online. Teachers can manage grade books, make assignments, and see reports on student progress. The system will automatically grade student work and give them instant feedback on where they need to improve. Teachers should really appreciate the automatic grading of multiple choice and fill-in-the-blank exercise while students will love having the ability to do their homework online.
So, does Vocabulary Power Plus Online supplement the books, or replace them?
We designed the program with both methods in mind. We know that many teachers will be hesitant to replace the book in their classroom. Those teachers can just use the online program to manage assignments and grades, but teachers that are ready to go completely digital will find all of the resources from the books available online.
What kinds of assessment materials are available with Vocabulary Power Plus Online?
We’ve turned all of the weekly quizzes, unit tests, and pre- and post-tests into online assessments. All of them are included with a subscription. Teachers can proctor the exams in a computer lab because all of the answers and questions are scrambled to keep students from cheating, and all of the assessments are instantly graded.
Where can our readers find out more about Vocabulary Power Plus Online?
I’d love to schedule demos for any readers that are interested in learning more. Click here to sign up for a free web demo.
So, what’s on the horizon for Prestwick House Digital Resources?
As I speak with teachers, I’m learning a lot about what they’re looking for in terms of online resources. Many companies are making online programs full of cute animations that may entertain students, but they’re not actually teaching students. We’re focusing on developing pedagogically sound resources that empower teachers to do what they do best – make a personal connection with students and foster learning. We believe that a teacher will always be the center of a classroom, so we’re at work developing tools that make teachers’ lives easier and their classrooms more effective. Right now, we’re evaluating tools to improve a teacher’s ability to use our curriculum resources, and we hope to unveil more online resources in the coming year.
Tuesday, October 25, 2011
- Who is the most successful textbook author of all time?
- J.K. Rowling’s short story, “The Tale of Three Brothers” is based on which famous tale?
- Which famous writer was buried in the Fluntern Cemetery, Zurich, Switzerland, and is so close to the Zurich Zoo that the zoo's lions can be heard from his grave?
- What best-selling author opened the first Saab auto dealership in the United States?
- Where does the phrase “often a bridesmaid, never a bride” come from?
Last Week's Answers
Which great author received the meager sum of 10 pounds for his greatest work of literature?
John Milton sold the publishing rights to his epic verse work 'Paradise Lost' to a Samuel Simmons in 1667 for only ten pounds.
As far as number of lines is concerned, which is the most demanding of Shakespeare’s roles?
Hamlet is the most demanding of Shakespeare’s roles with 1,422 lines or roughly 36% of the total number of spoken lines in the play. Hamlet’s role is made up of 11,610 words. The character Falstaff has the most lines of any character in all of Shakespeare’s plays combined with 1,614 spoken lines in three different plays: Henry IV, Part I; Henry IV, Part II; and The Merry Wives of Windsor.
Which writer’s common-law wife was the madam of a Jacksonville brothel called the Hotel de Dream?
Which winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature was born in a ladies’ room during a dance?
Tuesday, October 18, 2011
- Which great author received the meager sum of 10 pounds for his greatest work of literature?
- As far as number of lines is concerned, which is the most demanding of Shakespeare’s roles?
- Which writer’s common-law wife was the madam of a Jacksonville brothe called the Hotel de Dream?
- Which winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature was born in a ladies’ room during a dance?
Last Week's Answers
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 famous American playwright choked to death on an eye drop bottle cap?
Tennesee Williams’ cause of death was choking on an eye drop bottle cap in his room at the Hotel Elysee in New York. While holding the cap in his mouth, Williams leaned back to place eye drops in each eye and accidentally swallowed the cap. The police report suggests his use of drugs and alcohol contributed to his death by diminishing his gag reflex.
Which famous author was both born and died on a Halley’s Comet year?
Mark Twain 1835 - 1910
What did writer Edgar Allan Poe and singer Jerry Lee Lewis have in common pertaining to their choice of wives?
Both married a 13-year-old cousin.
Tuesday, October 11, 2011
- 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?
- Which famous American playwright choked to death on an eye drop bottle cap?
- Which famous author was both born and died on a Halley’s Comet year?
- What did writer Edgar Allan Poe and singer Jerry Lee Lewis have in common pertaining to their choice of wives?
Last Week's Answers
In the book Gone With the Wind, how many months actually pass during Melanie's' pregnancy?
Approximately 21 based on the battles mentioned in the text. When this was pointed out to author Margaret Mitchell, she reportedly replied that “a Southerner's pace is slower than that of a Yankee.”
What book was Mark David Chapman carrying with him when he killed John Lennon on December 8, 1980?
J.D. Salinger's The Catcher in the Rye.
Which female author was also considered the world’s first computer programmer?
Augusta Ada King, a writer and the illegitimate daughter of Lord Byron, was known for her work on Babbage's analytical engine. Her copious notes on this machine that would become the precursor to the modern computer include the first algorithm intended to be processed by a machine — making her the world’s first computer programmer.
What writer contemporary to T.S. Eliot nicknamed him "Old Possum"?
Ezra Pound, a poet, critic, and a major figure of the Modernist movement, famous for his work with major contemporaries such as Robert Frost, William Carlos Williams, Ernest Hemingway, and especially T. S. Eliot gave Eliot the nickname “Old Possum.” Eliot later used the nickname in his work Old Possum's Book of Practical Cats.
Which word in the English language has the most definitions?
Of all the words in the English language, the word ’set’ has the most definitions.
Tuesday, October 4, 2011
- In the book Gone With the Wind, how many months actually pass during Melanie's' pregnancy?
- What book was Mark David Chapman carrying with him when he killed John Lennon on December 8, 1980?
- Which female author was also considered the world’s first computer programmer?
- What writer contemporary to T.S. Eliot nicknamed him "Old Possum"?
- Which word in the English language has the most definitions?
Last Week's Answers
Which French author was shot in the leg and left with a permanent limp by his nephew, a young man who suffered from paranoia?
On 9 March 1886, as Jules Verne approached his own home, his twenty-five-year-old nephew Gaston, who suffered from paranoia, shot twice at him with a gun. One bullet missed, but the second entered Verne's left leg, giving him a permanent limp. Gaston spent the rest of his life in an asylum.
True or False: Heath Ledger was named after Healthcliff in Emily Bronte’s Wuthering Heights.
True. Heath was named after Healthcliff, and his older sister, Kate, was named after Catherine Linton nee Earnshaw. Both are names of characters in Wuthering Heights.
Which 16th century Italian painter was considered by his contemporaries to be one of the greatest poets of all time?
Though it is not widely known, the Italian painter Michelangelo (1475-1564) was considered by his contemporaries to be one of the greatest Poets of all time. About 250 of his Poems and sonnets have come down to us today and are still read by scholars, historians, and Poets.
Which of Shakespeare’s close friends and fellow authors is buried in a standing position in Westminster Abbey?
To save costs, the body of Shakespeare’s friend and fellow dramatist, Ben Jonson, was buried standing up in Westminister Abbey, London in 1637.
Which 20th century French Journalist wrote an entire book one letter at a time — indicating the next correct letter by blinking only his left eye?
Jean-Dominique Bauby, a French journalist suffering from “locked-in” syndrome which paralyzed his body but did not affect his mind, wrote the book The Diving Bell and the Butterfly solely by blinking his left eye. When the correct letter was reached by a person slowly reciting the alphabet over and over again, Bauby would blink to indicate his choice —composing and editing the book entirely in his head.
Tuesday, September 27, 2011
- Which French author was shot in the leg and left with a permanent limp by his nephew, a young man who suffered from paranoia?
- True or False: Heath Ledger was named after Healthcliff in Emily Bronte’s Wuthering Heights.
- Which 16th century Italian painter was considered by his contemporaries to be one of the greatest poets of all time?
- Which of Shakespeare’s close friends and fellow authors is buried in a standing position in Westminster Abbey?
- Which 20th century French Journalist wrote an entire book one letter at a time — indicating the next correct letter by blinking only his left eye?
Last Week's Answers
Which American fiction writer began his writing career while working as a pencil sharpener wholesaler in 1911?
Edgar Rice Burroughs
Tybalt, in Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet is named after which anthropomorphic character?
Tybalt is named after Tybalt/Tibert, the Prince of Cats in the Reynard the Fox stories. Mercutio alludes to this connection between characters when he says that Tybalt is “More than Prince of Cats” in Act II, Scene iv.
The word “girl” appears only once in what world-famous literary work?
The word "girl" appears only once in the Bible in Joel 3:3. The word “girls” appears once in Zechariah 8:5.
Which children’s author wrote his first book in 1936 while crossing the Atlantic on a luxury liner?
Dr. Seuss wrote his first book on the luxury liner Kungsholm. The sound of the ship’s engines annoyed him, and his wife suggested that he use their rhythm to help him write a book in rhyme. The book, And to Think That I Saw It on Mulberry Street, was rejected by publishers 27 times before Vanguard Publishing took a chance and accepted the manuscript.
What was the first book Amazon ever sold?
The first book Amazon.com sold was Douglas Hofstadter's Fluid Concepts and Creative Analogies: Computer Models of the Fundamental Mechanisms of Thought.
Friday, September 23, 2011
Consider the following writing prompts:
- Study the following passage from chapter IV and write a coherent, well-written essay in which you argue whether or not Lord Lordly and his wife, Lady Lordly, articulate conventional attitudes toward gender roles in marriage. ***Be sure to establish a clear thesis early on and support your ideas with references from the passage.*** Do not merely summarize the passage.
- Arthur Sname’s novel not only presents a frank account of a soldier’s experiences in combat, it also highlights the difficulty of reconciling the life of the soldier with the life the civilian life left behind and eventually returned to. Write a well-organized essay in which you describe the trauma soldiers experience when moving between their lives on the battlefield and their lives at home before or after the war. You may want to focus on one particular character, if you choose to do so. ***Considering Namuv Kairkter’s story in “This is the Title of His Story” is one possibility, but you may choose any character(s) in order to formulate your ideas.***
- Authors frequently use irony in order to reveal their attitude toward the subject and characters and to enable readers to evaluate plot developments and characters’ actions effectively and critically. Write a well-organized essay in which you explore the central irony of the novel by ***analyzing the protagonist’s belief that his life will be better if he can only retain his youthful appearance when, in fact, the degeneration of his soul and the confusion of his sense of right and wrong drive him deeper and deeper into a state of despair and anguish.*** Additionally, you may want to consider other instances of irony in the text.
Now, they display a fairly vast array of language and organizational problems (which we can tackle on another day), but today I’m asking you to pay particular attention to the portions between the asterisks (***).
Remember, we’re talking about rigor.
See the problem?
Okay … I’ll tell you (if you’ve already discovered it, please remain in your seat and do not blurt out the answer), but before I do, let me assure you that these are all “real” prompts from “real” sources like a not-yet-published teaching guide, a twelfth-grade English final exam, and a prospective writer’s writing sample. They’re real, and they were all submitted as good and workable.
So … here’s the problem with them.
If we’re talking rigor, we have to allow the kid to do some thinking for himself. We have to be willing to let the kid be “wrong,” and we have to then help the kid learn how and why he was “wrong” in this instance so he can be “more right” the next time.
Every single one of the above prompts does some degree of the kid’s thinking for him.
Prompt #1 is the least problematic. All it does is remind the kid to “establish a clear thesis early on and support your ideas with references from the passage.” [Of course, they would be references _to_ the passage, but what’s a few grammatical errors among friends?] If this were a prompt on a large-scale assessment with lots of stress, it might be nice to remind the kid that he’s writing an essay and that an essay needs a thesis and support.
But in a rigorous classroom, to remind a kid about to write an essay that he needs a thesis and support is a little like reminding a kid about to take his road test that he’s supposed to try and not hit pedestrians or other vehicles. I mean, it pretty much comes with the territory. The prompt specifically tells the kid to “write a coherent, well-written essay.” Try to write that “well-written essay” without a thesis and support? Well, here’s your D. Next time you’ll remember.
Prompt #2 is even worse, less rigorous. Assuming part of the prompt’s intent is to assess the kid’s knowledge of the novel, the statement, “Considering Namuv Kairkter’s story in ‘This is the Title of His Story’ is one possibility” pretty much tells the kid what to write about. _Don’t think about the book, kid, just repeat what we said in class about this particular chapter, and you’ll do fine._
Prompt #3 is the worst of the bunch. “[A]nalyz[e] the protagonist’s belief that his life will be better if he can only retain his youthful appearance when, in fact, the degeneration of his soul and the confusion of his sense of right and wrong drive him deeper and deeper into a state of despair and anguish,” doesn’t leave the kid a whole lot of room to determine a central irony, formulate a thesis, and support that thesis with references to (or from) the novel. Of course, the prompt does continue, “Additionally, you may want to consider other instances of irony in the text,” just in case you know any. So there _is_ some room here for the kid to actually think.
But he doesn’t have to in order to get a decent grade for this essay.
Now … before you start blubbering your protest (but, but, but, but), let me remind you that I have been the twelfth-grade teacher reading the last-essay-of-the-year papers and the final exams less than forty-eight hours before graduation. I have read “essay” after “essay” in which kids who should have known better just string along a series of sentences—maybe even not really sentences. The “essays” have no discernable thesis, they refer neither to nor from the text, and they do choose unlikely or inappropriate aspects of the literature to discuss. They miss the point of the question.
After enough essays and enough years, the temptation to write the “foolproof” prompt is almost irresistible:
Make sure you have a clear thesis. Don’t forget to indent your paragraphs, and to quote from the story whenever possible. Be certain to discuss both language and theme and to use the word _foil_ at least once. Use the correct name of at least one rhetorical device, and make certain you underline any words or phrases of foreign origin. Mention both the protagonist and antagonist …
After all, we want our kids to do well.
But if I _never_ take my hands off the back of my daughter’s bicycle, she’s _not_ riding well. Seriously, how many pairs of training wheels do you see in bicycle rallies and races?
Yes, kids occasionally fall. Yes, they occasionally fail. (See that kind of clever play on words?) And I am not advocating watching them fall and then simply walking away. I am not removing the teacher and the role of instruction from the equation. But I _am_ reminding you that, if you want to “do rigor,” you have to change the kinds of questions you ask and how you ask them. You have to remove the training wheels and let go of the back of the bike.
Look at _these_ prompts:
- Study the following passage from chapter IV and write a coherent, well-written essay in which you argue whether or not Lord Lordly and his wife, Lady Lordly, articulate conventional attitudes toward gender roles in marriage. Do not merely summarize the passage.
- Arthur Sname’s novel not only presents a frank account of a soldier’s experiences in combat, it also highlights the difficulty of reconciling the life of the soldier with the life the civilian life left behind and eventually returned to. Write a well-organized essay in which you examine the anxiety the soldiers experience moving between their lives on the battlefield and their lives at home.
- Write a well-organized essay in which you explore the central irony of the novel.
They might not be wordy enough to suit your taste—I myself have to admit that especially #3 seems to want some kind of introduction and conclusion—but they are far, far better than their originals because they at least do not do the kid’s work for him.
After all, if you have to remind the kid he needs a thesis, is he _really_ “well-educated”_?
If you have to lay out the essay for the kid, then what are you assessing when you assign the essay in the first place?
All in all, it’s not really all that difficult to “do rigor” in your classroom. Depending on the grade level you’re teaching and your school and district’s curriculum, it’s often simply a matter of changing your approach, broadening your assumptions, trusting your colleagues, and holding the kid responsible for his share of his education.
Stop introducing everything every year.
Don’t even waste your time on comprehension—except in those rare cases when comprehension might really be an issue.
And don’t do the kid’s work for him.
That’s pretty much it.
Want to read more? Check out Part I and Part II of this article.
Tuesday, September 20, 2011
- Which American fiction writer began his writing career while working as a pencil sharpener wholesaler in 1911?
- Tybalt, in Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet is named after which anthropomorphic character?
- The word “girl” appears only once in what world-famous literary work?
- Which children’s author wrote his first book in 1936 while crossing the Atlantic on a luxury liner?
- What was the first book Amazon ever sold?
Last Week's Answers
This little book was the first and most famous of a series of five that included The Chimes (1844), The Cricket on the Hearth (1845), The Battle of Life (1846), and The Haunted Man (1848).
A Christmas Carol
What book was the best-seller of the year in America in 1794?
Benjamin Franklin's Autobiography, which had been published in England the year before--three years after his death.
Which author entered the University of Montpellier to study for a doctorate in medicine, but was expelled because he had previously been an apothecary?
Nostradamus was expelled from Montpellier shortly after they discovered he had been an apothecary, a manual trade, which made him ineligible to study at the university.
Who was the inspiration for the popular sixteenth-century nursery rhyme Little Miss Muffet?
Patience Muffet, the daughter of the poem's creator, Dr. Thomas Muffet, and entomologist who wrote about spiders more often than he did about his little girl.
Which author stood trial in Mexico in 1951 for shooting his wife?
William S. Burroughs stood trial in Mexico in the early 1950's for shooting his wife during a drunken party game. He spent 13 days and was charged with culpable homicide.
Monday, September 19, 2011
by Douglas Grudzina
A few weeks ago, Prestwick House had the privilege of hosting an “externship” in cooperation with the Delaware Business and Industry Education Alliance. On the final day, one of the points our teacher-extern made was that, for the past two decades, everyone has been clamoring about (re)introducing “rigor” to the curriculum and to routine teaching and testing practices. Both an experienced Advanced Placement and a relatively new International Baccalaureate teacher, our intern observed that many teachers simply do not know how to “do rigor.” The models of rigorous instruction are few and far between, and often what is labeled “rigorous” is actually the same, old stuff repackaged with a DVD instead of a filmstrip.
At Prestwick House, we like to think that many of our materials do indeed model rigorous instruction and assessment, and we do support initiatives like the National Governors Association and Council of Chief State School Officers’ Common Core State Standards Initiative, which is all about rigor. So…to honor our former extern’s request to help her colleagues know “how to do rigor,” here is the second of a three-part series.
Part II: Enough with the comprehension questions already!
In preparation for this blog post, I did a little homework (actually a _very_ little homework). I went to the shelves about seven feet behind me and grabbed an anthology from one of Prestwick House’s competitors.
It doesn’t really matter _which_ anthology because as student and teacher (40+ years all told) I found all the “big book” anthologies to be pretty much the same. Maybe the literature included changed from edition to edition, but what they did with the literature never did.
Trust me, though, that the questions I am going to cite come from an anthology that is _not_ the fifth-grade-level in its series, and it is _not_ a remedial or introductory level in its series.
One of the poems in the poetry section is Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Bells” (the one with all the onomatopoeia). The text of the poem ends on the right-hand side of the book (even numbered page), and the questions appear on the left (odd numbered page).
The first section of questions, labeled “Recall”1 (and I’ll rant on that in a minute), include:
- What do the bells in the first two stanzas foretell?
- What bells are introduced in stanza 3?
- What bells does the speaker describe in stanza 4?
(Do you see a possible trend developing here?)
The second section is labeled “Analyze”2 and includes this:
- Identify the different meanings bells have for the speaker.
And the “Evaluate”3 section boasts this:
- Decide whether or not there is a pattern to sentence and stanza length in the poem.
Here are my rants, and then we’ll talk about how to do rigor.
1. If the question comes _on the absolute next page_ after the poem (on the _same two-page spread_ as the poem), we’re not asking the kid to “recall” anything. At best, we’re asking him to flip back a page or two and find the answer.
1. a. Even if we asked the question in an appendix at the end of the book, is the ability to identify “silver bells,” “golden bells,” and “iron bells” the reason we’ve had kids read this poem? Do we really suspect that such identification was the motivation for Poe’s _writing_ the poem?
1. b. Even if we assume that we _must_ ask a certain number of _comprehension_ or “basic, surface understanding” questions (and I think this is a thoroughly anti-rigor assumption), will a march-through-the-chapter series of questions really do what such questions are supposed to do?
2. A question that begins with the verb “identify” is probably ¬_not_ an analysis question—and this one certainly is not. It’s comprehension. It translates into nothing more than, “Go back and paraphrase the word or words the poet uses to describe the feeling he gets from each kind of bell.” Or something like that.
2. a. In a poem that _is_ a huge, extended metaphor; in a poem ¬_full_ of onomatopoeia and other sound effects; in a poem in which the shifting and deteriorating rhythmic pattern _absolutely mirrors the poet’s deteriorating emotional state_, this is the best attempt at “analysis” we can make?
3. This is not an “evaluation” question. It _might be_ an analysis question. It is very close to a comprehension question.
3. a. In this case, the kid doesn’t get to decide anything. Poe already decided that there _would be_ a “pattern to sentence and stanza length,” and he decided what it would be. All the kid needs to do is figure out what that pattern is, and then maybe _evaluate_ the extent to which this pattern helps or hurts the poem (and why).
The first thing you have to do if you want to “do rigor” in your classroom is change the kinds of questions you ask. Everyone talks about Benjamin Bloom. If you’ve been teaching for any length of time, you probably can’t count the number of times you’ve sat through a workshop in which you were told about Bloom as if his first book or article only just came out last week, and memorizing a list of five or six verbs were really going to revolutionize education.
(And among those verbs are indeed, “comprehend,” “analyze,” and “evaluate.”)
Because this is a Prestwick House blog, and because I am a Prestwick House employee—but also because I am very proud of this product and would use it if I were still in the classroom—I’m going to insert this one bit of shameless marketing:
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End of shameless promotion, we now return to our regularly-scheduled blog post.
So the first thing you have to do is change the kinds of questions you ask. Why must the majority of every unit plan, every study guide, every … whatever … simply be a “march-through-the-chapter”? Unless I’m in the Cash Cab or playing Team Trivia at a local restaurant, it doesn’t matter whether I remember silver, gold, iron … or whatever. In a poem like this, indeed in most literature (including nonfiction), there are more important things than checking to makes sure the kids know Hester’s hair color and whether the hump is on Chillingworth’s left or right side.
Comprehension is indeed on Bloom’s taxonomy, and it is true that you can’t really analyze the finer points of an argument if you don’t understand the argument … but that does not open up every single trivial detail to scrutiny. In fact, I’d go so far as to say …
... There are only two suitable reasons for asking a comprehension question:
1. Is it a hard, complex, or complicated fact (something the kid might actually misunderstand)?
Let’s face it; the kid’s not likely to mistake an iron bell for a platinum one. He’s not likely to confuse a wedding with a funeral.
Some facts, however, _are_ potentially confusing:
Linton (first name) is the son of Heathcliff (no last name) and Isabella Linton (last name). He is the nephew and heir of Edgar Linton (last name), Isabella’s brother. Catherine Linton is the daughter of Edgar Linton and Catherine Earnshaw. She is, therefore, Linton (first name)’s cousin.
In order to understand how Heathcliff ends up owning both Thrushcross Grange and Wuthering Heights, these family relationships are pretty essential, but since the names are so similar (i.e., identical), even a good and careful reader needs to pause and make sure he’s/she’s understanding the basic facts of the story.
But to waste the kid’s time and mental energy reciting the names of the two houses, or how Heathcliff came to live at Wuthering Heights, etc., is … uh … a waste of time and mental energy. Some comprehension simply needs to be assumed, or we’ll never get any further up the scale.
But there is another reasonable justification to work with the kid on the comprehension level:
2. Is it important? Must the kid be especially aware of this fact in order to understand something deeper or something important that will happen later?
This is what I call—feel free to use it, but do give me credit—“the gun in the desk drawer.” In the final pages of the book-story-play, the protagonist is trapped in the study with no hope of escape. The antagonist breaks in the door and rushes toward the pro, who takes cover behind the desk. _If the pro is going to reach into a desk drawer and pull out a gun with which to shoot the ant, that gun needs to be placed in that drawer in Chapter 2._ (or Act I or some time earlier in the story.) Because you want the kid to be able to anticipate pro’s using the gun, because you want pro’s finding the gun to _not_ be a _deus ex machina_, when your student reads the chapter or act or whatever in which the author establishes the presence of the gun, it _is_ worth the time and mental energy to pause and point it out. Just to make sure.
The flip side of this is, if the gun is in the drawer because the anti-gun pro took it from his/her son because the son was being careless, and if pro’s using the gun to shoot ant establishes the author’s pro-gun theme, it’s probably worth a minute to make sure the kid does note the gun in the drawer, even if it’s not an obscure or complicated story fact.
And that’s it. Why else would you want to dwell on the surface … What did she do? What did he say? What color was the red jacket? and so on …
Comprehension is not all that hard. It’s ¬_certainly_ not hard to peruse “The Bells” and find “silver = sleigh ride = merriment,” “gold = wedding = happiness,” “brass = alarm = fright,” and so on. Is that _really_ what we want the kid to get out of this poem?
So get rid of the comprehension questions already! If you want to “do rigor,” then when the kid reports to class, you have to hit the ground running … how do the synesthesic adjectives contribute to the overall feeling of the poem (crystalline delight)? What’s happens to the established rhythm pattern as we proceed through sections III and IV?
How do tone and mood mimic meaning?
That’s the good stuff.
It also helps if you’re honest with your kids about what you’re asking them to do. One of my big gripes with the anthology (and it is a real, honest-to-goodness anthology used in many a high school classroom) is that it misidentifies a comprehension question as “analysis,” and it calls something “evaluation” which is not the least bit evaluative. It happens a lot in this particular book.
It’s pretty much the opposite of rigor.
--Want to read more? Check out Part I and Part III of this article.
Thursday, September 15, 2011
Share with your students the rich culture of a variety of Hispanic nations by sharing new stories and authors. Check out sites like GetCaughtReading.org for a list of influential Hispanic authors, the Educator Page at Thinkfinity.com, and a wide variety of multicultural books and teaching materials available at PrestwickHouse.com.
When I Was Puerto Rican
A universal coming-of-age story, this autobiographical memoir tells of Santiago's childhood in Puerto Rico and subsequent move to America. Her process of acclimating to a new culture and language — all while undergoing adolescence — is an experience your students will find both compelling and resonant.
Teaching Unit | PDF | Class Set Package
Pam Munoz Ryan
Believable, insightful, and sincere, the emotional quality of this “riches to rags” story will captivate you and your students. When tragedy strikes Esperanza’s wealthy and respected family, they must start anew, working hard and struggling to make a living. Winner of the Pura Belpre Award and Publisher’s Weekly’s Best Book of the Year.
Paperback | Spanish Version
PowerPack | PDF
How the Garcia Girls Lost Their Accents
Yolanda's father is a wealthy man who provides his family with a comfortable lifestyle until the political situation in the Dominican Republic forces them to flee to the safety of New York City. Yolanda and her three sisters must adjust to a new culture and a reduction in their lifestyle. The sisters, torn between two cultures, struggle to establish their self-identities in their new home.
Teaching Unit | PDF | Class Set Package
The House on Mango Street
This modern classic, rich in Latino heritage, tells the story of Esperanza, a young Hispanic girl living in the Latino section of Chicago. Using poems and stories that lend themselves to classroom use, Esperanza gives insight into the modern Hispanic-American experience.
Paperback | Complete Teacher's Kit
Teaching Unit | PDF | Class Set Package
Activity Pack | PDF | Class Set Package
Response Journal | PDF | Class Set Package
Multiple Perspectives | PDF | Class Set Package
Bless Me, Ultima
For those seeking ethnic diversity in their literature curriculum, Rudolfo Anaya's Bless Me, Ultima, a classic of Chicano literature, is a superior choice. While Anaya's novel explores many universal themes, including the struggle of good over evil, it is, essentially, a tale of the loss of innocence.
Paperback | Hardcover | Complete Teacher's Kit
Teaching Unit | PDF | Class Set Package
Activity Pack | PDF | Class Set Package
Response Journal | PDF | Class Set Package
Other Great Multicultural Reads Available at PrestwickHouse.com:
Before We Were Free
One Hundred Years of Solitude