Friday, June 28, 2013

Getting Students to Participate in Class Discussion

by Rachel Carey

Participating in class discussion has never been the easiest thing for me. The ideas are normally there, but sharing them in front of a class full of my peers sometimes proves to be too daunting. I know I’m not the only student like this — the only student that would rather write her thoughts in a research paper than say them aloud to an entire classroom — and I’ve gotten better, which is good because I’ve come to realize how valuable openly discussing literature is, especially in the English classroom. Here are a few notable practices my teachers throughout the years have used that have helped me become more comfortable speaking up:

1. Icebreakers: I know I am more likely to talk when surrounded by people that I feel comfortable around. Even the corniest of icebreakers (as long as they’re not done too repetitively) can help create an environment that better fosters solidarity and individual student participation.

2. Circling up: Really, any redistribution of the desks so that the teacher is no longer in front of the students but among the students makes the setting less intimidating. I like putting the desks in a circle best because then not only is the teacher sitting down but the students are able to look directly at each other too. It makes the discussion feel less like a lecture and more like a casual conversation between friends.

3. Question and Comment Write-Ups before Class: This is a practice that most of the teachers and professors I’ve had have utilized. Instead of relying on a student’s (sometimes) faulty memory, have each student bring a list of questions and comments to class every day about the reading the night before. This worked for me for two reasons: it ensured that I read the material and it made sure I had something to contribute without having to come up with it on the spot (which was always a little nerve-wracking).

4. Group Presentations: Group presentations can be really really good or really really bad — the main reason for the bad being because they can be really distracting. But, putting the negatives aside, dividing a class up into four or five decently-sized groups is a good way in which to take the pressure to talk off of the individual. This practice can familiarize students with each other, and it’s also helpful because the students can discuss the literature and get feedback about their opinions from their peers before presenting their ideas to the class.

5. Unassigned Seats: I know this goes against the grain of a very common and understandable teaching practice — the reason assigning seats is necessary is because it helps decrease how much students talk to each other while the teacher is trying to talk … which makes sense. Take the following with a grain of salt, but I’ve found that I’m more likely to speak up in class discussion when I’m surrounded by the people I know best.

In the best-case scenario (and in the one in my head), every single student in an English class would be best friends and it wouldn’t matter where any of them sat … but in high school, especially for the quieter students among us, assigned seats can feel kind of awkward sometimes; and there is nothing worse than being stuck between a group of people that won’t stop talking when all you’re trying to do is listen.

Hopefully, I’ve been able to shed some light on the student’s side of things for all the readers out there. If you have anything else you’d like to add (or disagree with), feel free to leave your thoughts in a comment!

Thanks for reading!

Rachel Carey is a summer intern at Prestwick House. She is also a senior at the University of Delaware, where she studies English with a concentration in Creative Writing. During the school year, she is an active editor and writer for Caesura and The Main Street Journal, both of which are prominent literary magazines on campus, as well as Vice President of The Blue Pen Society writing club.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Donate Old Watches for a Great Cause!

Thanks to the efforts of Senior Editor Paul Moliken, Prestwick House is partnering with a unique non-profit charity called Kids Time.

The founder of Kids Time, retired physician Murray Moliken, takes donated wall clocks, old watches, and stickers to local elementary schools, Boys and Girls Clubs, and Boy Scout and Girl Scout troops. Here, kids are able to help create fun, interesting clocks for donation to less fortunate, hospital-bound children.

Over 3,500 clocks have already been given to ill children, who light up and smile broadly when they realize that the gift came directly from youngsters their own age. Clocks have been distributed to children's hospitals from Florida to California.

Unfortunately, in recent years wrist watches have become more difficult to come by. Over 40,000 watches have been used so far in the process of creating these clocks, and we need your help to keep the project going!

Almost everyone has broken, old, unwanted, cheap, discarded, unused watches in a drawer somewhere that they’ll never use.

Simply send them to the address listed below to help further a good cause.
Edit: 10/15/15 - Unfortunately Kid's Time is no longer accepting donations at this time.

Monday, June 24, 2013

Why Read the Classics?

by Rachel Carey

Robinson Crusoe and Shakespeare and Beowulf … cue the groans. Getting high school students excited to read the Classics has to be one of the biggest problems facing teachers today. As students, it’s easy to forget — or just ignore — the fact that the Classics actually are important — because, well, often times we feel that these works don’t have anything to do with our lives. But I am here to admit that they do, of course, have much to do with our lives (especially as informed readers) — here’s how:

1. The Classics = The Originals
Most of today’s popular literature deals with the use of themes, devices, and genres that were created by one of the medieval genius authors whose works we all love … or love to hate. Thus, these works should be read and respected for the roads they helped pave for modern literature. Think about where we would be right now if Daniel Defoe never wrote the first realistic fiction novel, Robinson Crusoe, in 1719 or how the modern love story would look if Romeo and Juliet had never graced the Elizabethan stage.

2. The Allusions!
In the same vein as my point above, a lot of really popular pieces of modern literature — even films (think the modern Taming of the Shrew adaptation, 10 Things I Hate About You) — allude back to Classics. In order to fully understand the meaning of these modern pieces, the Classics also need to be understood (and read). Even the title of Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World is taken from Miranda’s speech in Shakespeare’s The Tempest: “How beauteous mankind is! O brave new world! That has such people in’t!” (Act V, Scene 1), proving that the ideas first seen in classic literature are still viable today.

3. Universal Truths Don’t Have a Historical Time Limit
Art and literature have always been mediums through which humanity expresses their deepest desires and needs. And, while a lot of time has passed since the Classics have been written, the nature of humanity has not really changed much. In fact, connecting with these past characters helps ground the modern reader — recognizing that, while these characters lead lives vastly different from what we’re used to, their struggles come from an inner self that is not much different from their modern counterpart.

A lot has changed, but a lot has also stayed the same, and humanity’s nature — as seen through the character and conflict types we create — is pretty constant. It doesn’t matter whether we are looking at Hamlet or Harry Potter — both characters react to the death of one or both of their parents in very human, very relatable ways, and the works were published nearly 400 years apart.

These are just a few of many reasons why the Classics are so important. Perhaps Italo Calvino voiced the need to read Classics best in his book entitled “Why Read the Classics?” when he said: “A Classic does not necessarily teach us anything we did not know before. In a Classic, we sometimes discover something we have always known (or thought we knew), but without knowing that this author said it first, or at least is associated with it in a special way. And this, too, is a surprise that gives such pleasure, such as we always gain from the discovery of an origin, a relationship, an affinity.” He also said that “a Classic is a term for a book that represents the whole universe,” and I agree.

Thanks for reading!

Rachel Carey is a summer intern at Prestwick House. She is also a senior at the University of Delaware, where she studies English with a concentration in Creative Writing. During the school year, she is an active editor and writer for Caesura and The Main Street Journal, both of which are prominent literary magazines on campus, as well as Vice President of The Blue Pen Society writing club.

Friday, June 21, 2013

Does it Matter Whether You Read Print or Digital?

by Derek Spencer

Last Friday I wrote a little commentary about a Mind/Shift post extolling the virtues of "deep reading" and questioning whether this sort of engagement with text can occur when reading on electronic devices. I quoted this paragraph:
A growing body of evidence suggests that online reading may be less engaging and less satisfying, even for the “digital natives” for whom it is so familiar. Last month, for example, Britain’s National Literacy Trust released the results of a study of 34,910 young people aged eight to sixteen. Researchers reported that 39% of children and teens read daily using electronic devices, but only 28% read printed materials every day. [. . .] The study also found that young people who read daily only onscreen were nearly two times less likely to be above-average readers than those who read daily in print or both in print and onscreen.
. . . and then asked the question that came to mind: What, exactly, were the students in this study reading on their electronic devices? Novels? Tweets? News articles? Facebook posts? YouTube comments?

A recent article in The Atlantic details a study that attempts to determine whether there is a correlation between reading comprehension and the medium on which the words are displayed. Check it out (it's a quick read), then come on back.

. . .

Welcome back! How've you been? Great to see you again.

From reading the article, you now know that the experiment cited in The Atlantic asked 90 college students to read five fiction and five nonfiction passages. All of these passages were at a high school reading level. These passages were displayed on either paper, an e-ink Kindle, or a computer monitor. After reading, students were tested on their ability to "extrapolate and draw conclusions from what they had read." Students, on average, correctly answered 75% of these multiple-choice questions.

The Atlantic article posits that this study implies that the medium doesn't affect comprehension or the ability to draw conclusions from a reading. But (and there's always a 'but', isn't there?) . . .

The study examined only 90 college students, which is a rather small sample. With a sample of that size, the 75% accuracy noted in the study comes with a margin of error of ± 10.33 percentage points. This means that if we extend the results of this study to the entire population of college students, we can be 95% confident the range of student performance will be between 64.67% and 85.33%.

A range of 20.66 percentage points is, well, huge. When I was in high school, a passing grade was anything over 70%, and an 'A' was 93% and above. The range here is wide enough to cover the difference between an 'A' and a 'D' in my high school. It's wide enough to cover the difference between receiving a 'C' and failing.

So yes, while this study does seem to imply that there is little difference between reading texts in print versus on electronic devices, it's not nearly accurate enough to say we can claim (with a high level of confidence) that the medium doesn't affect comprehension. It's going to take a study with a much larger sample size to convince me of that — and I hope one follows, because reading on electronic devices is only going to become more prevalent.

Concerning these findings, however, I would encourage you to season them with a healthy dash of skepticism.

Thanks for reading!

Derek Spencer is a Marketing Communications Associate at Prestwick House. He owns a Kindle (e-ink, not full-color) and has used it to read fiction and nonfiction titles alike into the wee hours of the morning. He hasn't noticed a difference in his ability to comprehend texts, but he also doesn't believe that anecdotal evidence should be used to make statements about entire populations.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Top 5 Life Lessons from "Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass"

by Rachel Carey

"Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass" book cover
I know what a lot of students probably think when Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass is assigned in class: What are we doing reading a book published in 1845? It is true that Douglass’s narrative was written during a time when American life was very different from what it is today — the ramifications from slavery and tragedy consumed much of Douglass’s life.

However, my argument is this: just because Frederick Douglass lived a long time ago, during a time in American history that is hard to imagine, does not mean that his narrative has any shortage of lessons to teach the modern student. The reality of it is that most of Douglass’s story is centered around his difficult adolescence, being moved from plantation to plantation and master to master as he tried to learn the basic lessons about and for a successful life.

Frederick Douglass’s autobiographical account clearly illustrates the plight of a man who never lost sight of what he wanted in life. Even though students might find it hard to relate to what he went through, there is something universally meaningful about his mindset through it all. I’ve gathered five lessons I learned as I read his narrative, in the hopes that sharing them might spark more interest in your students to read his account and take it to heart:

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

The Making of "The Red Badge of Courage" Literary Touchstone Classics Cover

by Chris Koniencki

Hopefully, you have been paying attention to some of our earlier PH Blogs, giving our friends an inside look into how we go about creating new cover designs for our own line of Literary Touchstone Classics editions.

The value of a product is often reflected in the quality of its appearance. At Prestwick House, we take a lot of pride in the design and imagery on our books and feel that our creative work separates our cover art from the competition’s. Whenever possible, the option of using original photography allows us to capture the soul of a book that will stimulate a student’s imagination through a unique visual perspective.

As designers, we are allowed full creative direction throughout the process, and we take that responsibility very seriously. It’s paramount to graphically capture the essence of a book to excite and compel every student who receives one to open it and, even more importantly, to read it. I hope you enjoy reading and seeing how the magic happens behind the curtain!

Main Character
In the beginning of this year, we decided it was time to re-make The Red Badge of Courage. The biggest challenge during the creative process is usually finding the right model. This novel is about a young soldier in the American Civil War, Henry Fleming. Initially, the young boy is untested in battle, but he soon discovers the horrors of war, the indifference that the Universe has for a single individual, and how insignificant his existence is. Shedding his early unrealistic concepts of war, he first flees from it, but soon grows into a hardened veteran. The main character, Henry Fleming, wound up being an easy decision, and I didn’t have to look very far to find the ideal young man the book depicts — My sixteen-year-old son Clay was perfect!

Uniform & Gear

We needed a uniform and props. My coworker Larry mentioned that he had a friend who was a Civil War Reenactment buff and we could possibly reach out to him for help. His name is Mark Giansanti and he is a Historical Economist of Military History at the Delaware Military Academy. Mark was more than happy to supply us with a full Union Soldier uniform and equipment, including a Sharps rifle. I didn’t just want to make a cool cover; it was more important to depict a scene accurately. As I quickly found out, Mark's knowledge and experience were critical for a successful cover. Here are some pictures of Mark showing how the soldier’s gear is properly worn and some poses that a Civil War soldier might realistically make.

The Location

The next detail that needed to be worked out was the location and waiting for the proper time of year. The scene I wanted to portray was after an eight-day battle that took place in May in Chancellorsville, Virginia. I decided to do the photo shoot in a wooded area on the Perkiomen Trail located in Schwenksville, Pennsylvania, a place that I’m very familiar with.


A Family Affair

With the many small details and responsibilities to ensure getting the right shot, I turned my photo shoot into a family affair with some help from all my kids. Along with Clay, and his two sisters, Anna and Alina, we set off to get our shot. Anna, my 13 year old, whose many talents include having a sharp eye for detail, was in charge of make-up. Alina, who is twelve, was in charge of documenting our day for this blog using my iPhone camera and helping me carry my equipment and props to the different locations on the trail while also looking for the best spots.

On Location

Once we arrived, we unpacked and got right to work starting with getting our character into his uniform and strapping on his military gear. This was when I recognized how important Mark’s details about how to properly wear the uniform were... Huge!

The Small Details

The character needed to look weathered and beaten down from battle. Here’s Anna applying the makeup. She was an artist!

Anna recommends that she apply make-up to the hands to dirty them up too.

The bloody bandage on the soldier’s head wound is a significant aspect of symbolism. I knew it had to be just right. I ripped up a sheet for the bandage and applied the fake blood. Then wrapped the head.

Next I painted on some finishing touches and perfecto!

Alina was in charge of documenting our day for this blog and assisting me with the many facets of getting the different shots.

And, finally, here are some images of the actual shoot.

Final Image
Finished Cover

Side Notes
Since we had to wait for the right season we had time for Clay let his hair grow out, which did not please his mother too much. Here’s a shot of Clay the day of and the day after the shoot.

Here are some fun extra images taken of my crew from my iPhone using the Hipstamatic App with Jimmy Lens and D-Type B&W film.

Thanks for reading!

Chris Koniencki is a Graphic Designer at Prestwick House.

Friday, June 14, 2013

On "Deep Reading" and Electronic Devices

by Derek Spencer

I think we can all agree that the practice of "deep reading" — the kind of reading that takes time, engages the emotions, and makes you think about important issues — is important for personal growth. When we read deeply we immerse ourselves in the writer's words and envision ways in which we can relate what we're reading to our own lives, to the lives of those we care for, and to the world at large.

In a post on Mind/Shift, Annie Murphy Paul alerts us to the differences between deep reading and the reading we do on the web, as well as to how these differences might be influencing the reading proficiency of students who are doing most of their reading on digital devices.

A choice quotation from the article:
A growing body of evidence suggests that online reading may be less engaging and less satisfying, even for the “digital natives” for whom it is so familiar. Last month, for example, Britain’s National Literacy Trust released the results of a study of 34,910 young people aged eight to sixteen. Researchers reported that 39% of children and teens read daily using electronic devices, but only 28% read printed materials every day. [. . .] The study also found that young people who read daily only onscreen were nearly two times less likely to be above-average readers than those who read daily in print or both in print and onscreen.
The last line of that quotation is particularly troubling. However, there's no mention of what these young people are reading on their electronic devices. Are they reading news articles? Youtube comments (notoriously caustic and poorly written)? Tumblr posts? Tweets? Facebook status updates? Works of literature? Might the quality of what they're reading be a factor in at least some of this study's findings? Does reading Things Fall Apart on a Kindle Paperwhite rather than paper negatively impact the reader's ability to engage with the text? I don't know the answer to these questions, but I think they're worth asking.

One thing I don't question at all is Paul's conclusion:
There’s another reason to work to save deep reading: the preservation of a cultural treasure. Like information on floppy disks and cassette tapes that may soon be lost because the equipment to play it no longer exists, properly-educated people are the only “equipment,” the only beings, who can unlock the wealth of insight and wisdom that lie in our culture’s novels and poems. When the library of Alexandria was lost to fire, the scarce resource was books themselves. Today, with billions of books in print and stored online, the endangered breed is not books but readers. Unless we train the younger generation to engage in deep reading, we will find ourselves with our culture’s riches locked away in a vault: books everywhere and no one truly able to read them.
You can read the full text of Paul's post here (and it's definitely worth checking out):

Mind/Shift: "The Case for Preserving the Pleasure of Deep Reading"

Thanks for checking out our blog!

Derek Spencer is a Marketing Communications Associate at
Prestwick House. He's been known to pick up a book in the gloaming and relinquish it only upon reluctantly meeting the sun's luminous glance.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

My Argument *for* the Thesis Burger

by Rachel Carey

I will never forget the day during eighth grade when my English teacher brought a grill to class. She was going to cook us burgers, she said, but not just any kind of burgers. We’d just begun to learn the process of writing research papers that year, and she’d cemented the construct of the five-paragraph essay into our brains by likening them to burgers (triple-stacked, huge burgers).

Here’s how that worked: the two buns were the introduction (including the thesis) and conclusion paragraphs, then there were three burgers between the two buns which served as the topic sentences (or the three components of the thesis), and the condiments (lettuce, tomato and cheese between each of the patties) served as the respective three supporting sentences for each of the topic sentences —together the patties and the condiments created the greatest of body paragraphs. That was the way to perfectly craft the burger — that was the way to perfectly craft a five-paragraph essay — but she didn’t stop at the perfectly crafted.

Monday, June 10, 2013

The Great Gatsby film isn't great, but it isn't terrible either

by Derek Spencer

I saw the most recent film adaptation of The Great Gatsby not too long ago. Some critics have savaged it, but I didn't find it an affront to Fitzgerald's work. Of course, I didn't exactly love the film. I thought some elements of the movie were legitimately captivating, while others induced some serious eye-rolling.

Here's what I thought. Spoilers ahead, so take care.

Friday, June 7, 2013

The Most Useful Criticism I Ever Received

by Rachel Carey


The mention of the word makes all of us shiver with fear (you don’t have to deny it) as waves of low self-esteem crash and leave us breathless. Since I am a student and writer desperately trying to impress my superiors as well as keep what I know is right for me in mind, criticism is not a friend that I enjoy meeting up with often. But I wouldn’t consider it an enemy, either.

Not any more, that is.

Yes, there was a time when the mention of a meeting after class caused me to go into a cold sweat while my heart rate rose to somewhere in the realm of dangerous, but I’ve slowly learned that taking others’ opinions into account when it comes to my work isn’t so bad after all. Especially when they have what’s best for me in mind.

Below, I will recount the tale of the most useful criticism I ever received, in the hopes that it will help you help those students who are still deathly afraid of criticism come to terms with it …

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

The 5 Best (and Sometimes Hard to Pronounce) Rhetorical Devices for Winning Arguments

by Rachel Carey

Who here can say that they don’t enjoy (probably a little too much) winning an argument? It doesn’t matter what the argument is about — although I will say that one of my shining argumentative moments occurred when I successfully convinced a classmate that all of Holden Caulfield’s bad attributes are washed away at the end of Catcher in the Rye. You know the part when he tells us about how his only aspiration in life is to save all the kids that are playing in the rye field of his imagination? For me, that was a moment of, “Oh, well Holden might actually be an okay person … maybe,” after a whole novel of, “Jeeze, Holden needs to get a grip.”

Random side stories aside, it really does feel great to win an argument. Through the usage of rhetorical devices, students can learn how to (cue dramatic music) stand by their viewpoints and make rational and intellectual arguments that have the ability to sway and convince others. The following are just a few useful, fun-to-use rhetorical devices (some of which are included in Prestwick House’s Rhetorical Devices: A Handbook and Activities for Student Writers) that teachers can introduce (or reemphasize) to students when they want to put a fresh spin on persuasive writing:

Monday, June 3, 2013

Delectable Text Pairings for the Literary Palate

by Derek Spencer

French fries and ketchup; waffles and maple syrup; graham crackers, marshmallows, and chocolate: some foods just seem to be made for one another. And just as these food pairings can help reveal new flavors to the taster, so too can pairings of literary texts help your students understand “ingredients” like genre, theme, and character. Here are some text pairings that will help students learn important literary elements while adding some serious flavor to your classroom.