Little Things


Often it’s the little things that make life in our classrooms easier.

GOLF PENCILS. One of the biggest roadblocks to getting down to business is the old “I don’t have a writing utensil” problem. Instead of getting all uptight and letting it derail a portion of a class period, I keep lots of golf pencils on hand. It removes the hassle. “I need a pencil” + “Okay here” is a lot less stressful than “Goll dangit kid! Can’t you just be responsible? I guess you’ll have to go to your locker or borrow from a friend or give me your shoe so I get it back!” (Who really wants a high school student’s shoe? I mean … really.)

CARPET SQUARES. I listen to lectures better when I am a doodling. Some people like to have something in their hands to play with to help them focus. Other people are tappers. While doodling and fidgeting are usually not distracting to others, tapping can be, so I keep carpet squares on hand. The students can drum them with their hands or a pen or pencil and it pretty much muffles the sound altogether. My tappers and the people around them can all be happy at once.

WHISPER PHONES. Reading aloud is helpful to some students. It’s one more kinesthetic layer to their learning. Obviously, if you have a room full of students trying to read, some prefer quiet though. Reading aloud isn’t quiet, unless you whisper into a whisper phone (which can easily be made with two PVC elbows). You hold it like a phone and whisper it into one end and the sound travels to your ear through the “C” without broadcasting to the room. I can have a room full of silent readers with a handful of students quietly reading to themselves out loud. This works well too for students who are checking their own writing for errors in a quiet room and need to listen for errors (because we often catch errors with our ears that our eyeballs miss).

DRUM. Reading your own writing aloud in front of peers is for some reason less scary when you have a drum accompaniment. Weird, but true. Also, if you teach English, the drum is vital for any reading of “The Telltale Heart.”

None of these ideas are mine. I’ve learned of them from other educators over the years, and like a chef using someone else’s recipe, I’ve tweaked them to make them work in my classroom.

The Relateable Prince Escalus


Bill Lile via Compfight

During 6th hour today, I read the part of Prince Escalus in scene 1 Act I of William Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet and I may have gotten into it a little too much.

It’s just that I relate to Prince E. He’s fed up with the shenanigans of his people, but when he speaks, he has trouble getting them to take him seriously, or even listen in the first place. Even with the threat of severe punishment hanging over the city, they are so wrapped up in their own affairs, they cannot be bothered to stop what they are doing to hear what he has to say. When he hears of yet another brawl stemming from the ridiculous ancient Veronian grudge, he enters the scene in a fury.

He addresses them, “Rebellious subjects!” (Everyone keeps fighting.) “Enemies to peace!” (A chicken flies past his head.) “Profaners of this neighbor-stained steel–!” (A friar gets stabbed in the eye and is wheeled out in an apple cart.) “Will they not hear?”

I mean what teacher CAN’T relate to Prince E? Maybe my students aren’t brawling in the aisles of the classroom, and so far I’ve never had a live chicken running around during class,  and the consequences I lay out are nowhere near as serious as the prince’s, but we have our moments when I want to start class and everyone else in the room has other concerns. That’s normal. Students have priorities. Teachers have priorities. Those priorities don’t always match.

As the day went on, my Prince Escalus performance became more and more passionate. By 6th period, I was really feeling it. I got louder and louder. And, now my vocal cords feel broken, but I had some fun playing the role of Prince Escalus today.

the thing about creative projects …

The responses I receive when students find out we are doing a creative project are wide and varied.

PicMonkey Collage

Some (probably obvious) observations:
1. Some students, no matter how much time you give them, will always waste it and become enraged on the actual due date, when there is a consequence for not being done. That could speak to many things — engagement, learning difficulties, distractions that have nothing to do with your class, distractions that have everything to do with your class …
2. Some students have no desire to tap into the creativity that I know resides in all people. Some just have no desire to do so in English class. These same students probably exhibit creativity in other areas of their lives or could if they tried. In fact, I’m certain of it. They might not even recognize their creativity as creativity at times.
3. Because some students don’t demonstrate creativity in an English class, many of them grow up believing that they are not creative. How can we change that? For example, my husband used to say he wasn’t creative, but after watching him repurpose thing after thing after thing that another person would probably throw out into something useful, I had to convince him that he was indeed creative. He might not write a poem, but he IS creative.
4. Some students are project-ed out. Teachers today, overall do a good job of trying to mix things up for their students, so much in fact, that students are often bombarded by projects–sometimes all at once. This is one piece of evidence that may help in proving the value of co/intercurricular projects. Why not kill two (or more) projects with one stone?


5. Sometimes I think teachers (myself included) are not as creative as we could be in offering different ways of allowing students to demonstrate creativity in learning. (Confusing! And ironic!)

Questions for other educators:

What are some ways you have allowed students to demonstrate their learning creatively?

Have you ever allowed your students to go “free-range” on how they demonstrate learning? If so, what were the results? 

What are some things that you’ve seen students do that might not be recognized as “creative” but are creative? 

How can we tap into EVERYONE’s creativity, or at least give them a fighting chance to do so? 


On The Danger of Books That Have Been Made Into Movies (and Potential Flim-Flammery)

Brookland Theatre

Bill Dickinson via Compfight

The title of this blog post is a bit alarmist, especially since I was specifically speaking from an academic standpoint. Some teachers fear that students who have been assigned to read books that have been made into movies will not read and will just watch the movies instead, presumably working under the assumption that the movie is exactly the same as the book. Alarmist indeed, especially since I don’t think there is any danger in this situation, even academically speaking.

If your student hasn’t read the book, you will know. After all, you can’t flim-flam a flim-flammer … eh? I mean we were high-schoolers once. We went to college! We know all about tomfoolery, malarkey,  funny business, and shenanigans. (I would’ve used another better-known saying at the beginning of this paragraph, but I like to keep this blog family-friendly … ish.) If your student hasn’t read the book, but watched the movie (or for that matter listened attentively during lectures or class discussions), s/he might be able to answer very basic content questions, but it will be nearly impossible for him/her to analyze or evaluate without being vague. This is when you can pull out your questions that pertain to the movie but not the book or vice versa … and BAM! you know you have a flim-flammer on your hands. Proceed according to your classroom policies regarding students who don’t do their work (which hopefully includes trying to get to the bottom of WHY the student is avoiding the work). Will there be the rare exception of the student who is so skilled in the art of bull-skooting that s/he will be able to dazzle her/his way through an assessment over a book s/he has not legitimately read? YES, but you don’t have supernatural powers, so there is nothing you can do about it, so let it go. As long as the student isn’t doing something to hurt her/his classmates, school property or you … for good gravy’s sake, let it go.

CONFESSION: I used to be one of those teachers who lived in fear of students poppycocking their way through a literary unit armed with only their cinematic knowledge of a piece of literature. What if they don’t read? What if they lie to me? What if they trick meeeee? What will my colleagues think of me? What will my principal think of me? Why am I so worried about me? Me? Me? Meeee? Why am I worrying about things that haven’t even happened yet and might not ever happen? Why don’t I trust kids? Why am I such a control freak? The older I get, the more I realize that, except for what I do and feel, I cannot control much else, which allows me to live in fear no more.  A conversation I overheard during a lit circle discussion a day or so ago helped to solidify this and I will tell you about it, but first, a digression:

In my Contemporary Literature class, one of my goals (which is-dare I admit this publicly?–NOT ATTACHED to a state standard—GASPPPPpppp!) is to take each of my students’ stance on reading and move it closer to LOVE.

Allow me to expound visually …

I'm just below considering Reading as marriage material.

Where do you fall on the Reading (the feels) Spectrum? I’m just west of considering reading as marriage material.


In other words, no matter where the a student is on the Reading (the feels) Spectrum, I want that student to be closer to LOVE when s/he walks out of my class at the end of the semester. Most kids walk into my class with a basic MERPitude toward reading. They don’t outright hate it, but it’s not something they crave. Some kids walk in somewhere between MERP and HATE. Even fewer walk in somewhere between MERP and LOVE. It is a rarity that a student is already in LOVE with reading when they walk in, but it does happen. In fact, every so often I have a student take Contemporary Literature because s/he wants to, even though s/he is already enrolled in another English class and doesn’t need the extra credit to graduate. When that happens it is a true compliment to English Language Arts–probably one of the highest.

In Contemporary Literature, (which originally was created for students who did not plan to attend a four-year college, but now has been overflowing with students of every post-high school intention imaginable … !!!) I use the following things to help move student closer to LOVE:

A. high-interest books: I do not pay attention to reading level or text-complexity. I look for well-written, interesting, books with relatable characters and topics that affect modern students. I don’t give a flying fig if it appears on some elite College Board or ACT list. I don’t care if scholars think it’s trashy, or simple, or cheesy. If it hooks a reluctant reader’s interest, I’ll take it.

B. self and group regulated activities: –like literary circles, for example. Activities like lit circles gives the students choice and independence–something that EVERYONE needs to thrive, whether they are 2 or 100. These are also elements that are too often left out of the classroom, sadly.

C. alternative texts: We dive into graphic novels, science fiction, articles from the web, podcasts, and movies. YES: Movies ARE a -visual- text.

And now back to my original topic … Sometimes books inspire students to watch movies. On the other hand, sometimes movies are the gateway drug to books. Yes indeedy: Movies can lead students to books! Sometimes a kid likes a movie so much that s/he decides to read the book. And, sometimes a kid is assigned a book that has been made into a movie, and even though the movie isn’t exactly like the book, it still helps the kid understand the book–either before the student reads or retroactively. Those are positive things!

Personally, I prefer to read a book THEN watch a movie. However, other people have different preferences. Just because that’s the way I like to do it DOESN’T MEAN EVERYONE HAS TO LIKE IT THAT WAY. (That’s hard for some teachers to grasp, I’ve noticed.) For me, once I’ve seen a movie, it’s hard for me to NOT picture the actor who played each character as I read, and I don’t like that, but not everyone has those issues. They are either able to block the actors’ images from their minds or they enjoy having a visual upon which to rest the mind’s eye.

sunny windless days

Read everywhere!


If you choose a book to teach (or allow students to choose a book to read) that has been made into a movie, will you have a percentage of kids who will watch the movie in lieu of reading? ALWAYS. Just like you will always have a percentage of kids who “replace” reading with Wikipedia or Sparknotes or LitCharts or the next newfandangled thang that comes along under the guise of helping people understand literature but which actually serves as a means for kids (and adults) to cheat on content-level tests (and book club meetings). (In fairness to the aforementioned entities, I will say that when used with integrity, they do serve as a resource for helping people understand literature–at a surface level.) That being said, if a kid is able to pass an assessment without reading the book, are you asking the right questions? (That is for another blog post, methinks.)

Now back to that conversation I mentioned earlier in the post. During lit circles the other day, I overheard students discussion the book, The Fault In Our Stars by John Green, which is not only a popular book, but also a popular movie. The group members had all seen the movie. They were comparing the book to the movie and making note of all of the differences. They were also evaluating the movie based on the book–what they liked about the book and what they thought the movie did better. They were also qualifying WHY they felt that way. This was a grown-up conversation, and they were doing this without my guidance and without micro-management of any sort. The lit circle provides a flexible structure for the students. They build outward from that structure. It is always an honor to lead a class in discussion, but it is an even more rewarding to listen to young people do it on their own. And guess what? They held each other accountable for reading. Based on my experience, students are more motivated to be prepared when they know their peers will be upset with them than they are when they just know that the teacher might be upset. And it is one thing to attempt to bamboozle a teacher. It is another thing to attempt to hornswoggle a group of your peers. They will call you out–publicly. And they will determine whether or not you read or just watched the movie and said you read. They will ask the trick questions outright!

The movie version of The Fault in Our Stars served as another point of dialogue for the students. It did not detract from the conversation. It did not demotivate them. They still read the book. They held one another responsible. They got into higher levels of thinking (analysis, evaluation) BECAUSE they watched the movie AND read the book.

Outside of lit circles, there will be kids whose interest is sparked enough by a movie that they will read the books that inspired the movies  … and they might even like reading those books … maybe even a little bit more than they enjoyed their last reading experiences.  As a result, they move a little closer to LOVE!

That is a good thing. That is what teaching is all about.

This Feels Like Failure: Why Are So Many Students Dropping My Advanced Placement English Class?

I teach an Advanced Placement English class. It’s a challenging class. It’s hard. Really. There are times when it’s not fun. High school me would’ve struggled with it. Undergrad me probably would’ve struggled with it a bit. Shoot! Come to think of it, there are days when I would struggle with it now, if I were juggling what my students are juggling.

The students have to learn difficult vocabulary–words that show up frequently in classic literature–and they have to use said vocabulary in context. They have to learn how to identify AND write in sentence structures that I didn’t learn about until college or after. They have to read challenging, sometimes dense, sometimes archaic, sometimes confusing (but beautiful! controversial! poetic! lovely! wonderful! universally truthful), texts, rife with figurative language, dripping with irony, loaded with difficult-to-decipher symbols (but that have withstood the test of time). They are in charge of leading discussions. They are responsible for analyzing literature through writing.

I view this class as not just a way to prepare for the Advanced Placement test they will (hopefully) take (and DOMINATE) in the Spring, but to prepare them for college, and more importantly, to ready them for the cruel world after college. In it, they are exposed to rich content, but even more importantly–they practice and (usually) master transferable skills that they will use for the rest of their lives: effective writing in multiple modes, critical thinking, creativity, idea generation, collaboration, decision-making, time management …

They blog. They analyze. They interact face-to-face. They interact digitally. They do or do not hit deadlines (and there are consequences for both). They write. They speak. They think. They think. They think. They think and think and think!

They are currently synthesizing their skills in the form of a mimesis–an assignment that requires them to create an original short story that mimics (in more than one way) the work of a famous author, whom they have studied in depth. It is–to use one of their vocabulary words–arduous. It is hard work. It takes time. It takes tenacity. It’s not something most people can write in an hour and half (though I have a student who claims he did … !)

And, at the end of last week and today, nearly half of them brought me paperwork to drop my class at semester.

Herein lies my feeling of failure.

Some of the students have legitimate-sounding excuses for dropping the class. Some of them do not. However, underneath all these reasons–legit or not–is a nagging question: What did I do wrong?

I want this class to be rigorous. In fact, it’s required, by College Board standards to be rigorous. My district requires it to be rigorous. However, I don’t want to be so rigid as to drive away my students. They are, after all, some of my favorite people in the whole world! Don’t get me wrong: I realize that not every students is cut out for Advanced Placement English, and it is a typical event for some of them to drop at semester, but the sheer number of drops this time around has me in a bit of a stupor.

As a result of these drops, I’m not feeling like the greatest teacher. Not that I ever feel like I am THE greatest teacher, but today, I am feeling pretty down. It is my instinct to keep these feelings to myself or maybe to whine a little to one of my mentors, but I have decided to reflect here–”out loud”–because I don’t think we lament enough in public. It’s important to put our best selves forward to the world when we can, but it’s also okay to reveal the moments that are the most trying. This week has started out with a fizzle, but this anticipated mass exodus of students has deepened my resolve to continually improve myself as a teacher. But for today, I’m going to take some time to marinate in this feeling of disappointment and to labor over my aforementioned question, along with these:

  • What can I do differently to retain more of my students?
  • What can I do to impart–to students and their parents–that what you learn in a class is more important than the almighty grade?
  • Is this class’s level of rigor befitting a entry-level college English literature and writing course or have I taken it too far?
  • Are my expectation too high? (I don’t think so–but believe me–I will think about this.)

I’m holding onto the hope that tomorrow and the next day and the next day will be better days–as a result of reflection and time. I’m holding onto the hope that next semester, I’ll be a better teacher–as a result of this semester’s events and as a result of this public reflection on some very raw feelings.




  • The HERO is an nationally (or internationally) important (often legendary or historically significant) figure who is (usually) physically imposing and/or attractive.
  • The SETTING is vast — it may span the nation, the world, even the universe (or in our case, it might be local — as in the school or Springfield.
  • The QUEST consists of good deeds, bravery (sometimes at a supernatural level), supernatural powers and interference or assistance from forces beyond the realm of humanity (“the gods,” angels, or other heavenly–or otherwise–forces).
  • The writing STYLE is one of grand simplicity and is told objectively.


YOUR story MUST have

  • a HERO (like Beowulf) and
  • a SOCIAL PROBLEM, as represented metaphorically by the MONSTER (like Grendel and his representation of the Devil or anything that worked against Biblical teachings).
  • Your HERO must accept a QUEST and
  • some sort of supernatural interference or powers must be present somewhere in the story.
  • Your STYLE may be presented objectively, or you can approach it in a more contemporary narrative style.
  • It is okay to exaggerate the social problem for the sake of increasing your story’s excitement.

The paper should be TYPED, and DOUBLE-SPACED.

Image Credit:

“The New Guy.” Florida Center for Instructional Technology. Educational Technology Clearinghouse. < 86500/86537/86537_the-new-guy.htm>. September 10, 2013.

iFixate (a post of gratitude)

When I find something that works, I tend to fixate on it. Right now I am fixating on my students’ blogs. I have a few “greatest hits” as far as things that I’ve tried that have gone over well in my career and I’m officially adding blogging to the top of that list. I’ve tried blogging or some form of it in the past and nothing has worked as well as this year’s blogs. One year I had students “discuss” novels in the comments of a blog I posted. Another year I had students respond to literature in their own personal blogs. In the grad class I teach in the summer, I’ve tried group blogging and I’ve tried individual blogging, and grad students will do pretty much whatever their instructor asks, but that doesn’t mean that they will do it passionately. (It doesn’t mean they WON’T either, but it is the exception and not the rule.) One thing that I did differently this time is I asked the students to generate their own topic based on their personal passions. This seems to have done the trick for most of my students.

PASSION was the missing ingredient.

How silly of me to have overlooked this precious commodity. I mean, I have meant well over the years. I’ve made attempts to INSTILL passion in students, but when you get down to it, passion is innate, it is familial, it is written in the unique code of our DNA. It CAN be contagious, but there must be a seed of interest there in order for it to grow. YES, I am passionate about reading and writing, and so are SOME of my students, but for those who have other interests (which would include nearly every single student I encounter), blogging provides an opportunity to dig into their interests whilst practicing invaluable skills! It’s a win-win and it’s going to help us meet and exceed some standards along the way too.

I don’t want to give off the impression that this has gone off without some hitches … In fact, NOTHING! … *REPEAT* –> NOTHING! I do ever turns out PERFECTLY … I’m convinced there is no such thing as “perfect” in education, and I do think we do not SHARE our failures and imperfections enough! I could blog exclusively on my daily fails, but it’s more fun to promote what goes well!

Some students are still experiencing a bit of writer’s block and some suffer from apathy or Senioritis, but for the most part, this whole blog thing has proven to be an effective way for students to practice their writing and in many cases, their research and to stretch their thinking and creativity. And frankly, this is more interesting for me as a teacher than reading 80+ canned responses on a piece of literature half the students weren’t interested in anyway. It’s pretty painful to read through so many similar pieces of writing only to discover they are nothing more than regurgitations of what I said in class or — worse yet — responses designed to appear as if they are regurgitated forms of MY thought, but it’s clear that the writer is just “faking” it because he or she DIDN’T read the text AND/OR DIDN’T listen in class. That’s REALLY painful.

These blog entries are a delight AND I’m learning things about the topics the students have chosen and more importantly about the students themselves.

So, I’ve been fixating on these blogs and my TEACHER dashboard lately. I’ve been tweeting out my students’ links like crazy! I’m just as excited as the kids when they receive a comment from outside of our classroom and I’m off-the-charts, over-the-moon excited when I see someone has made another post, on their own time, just because they WANT to do it. I stumbled into a Twitter chat last night on “visible learning.” Talk about visible learning! This is why I teach!  This is why I’m still learning!  My students’ PASSION BLOGS have reignited my passion for teaching writing and for someone who’s been in “the biz” for nearly 14 years, that is so valuable. My students have given me this gift and I am so very full of gratitude.


Zite in the Contemporary Literature and Writing Classroom

With as fast as the definition of “literature” is evolving and expanding, I have been looking for ways to inject relevant, current high interest texts into my Contemporary Literature and Writing classroom. Here is an assignment I’ve tried once and now tweaked (for a second go-around) for this class. I am going to model this for them tomorrow and then each student will have his or her chance to present an article once before the end of third quarter and second time during fourth quarter. We are using, not only Zite for this assignment, but also either Twitter (which MOST students have) or email (for those who have not yet made the TweetLeap). Last semester, I used this assignment, but made the silly mistake of NOT modeling what I wanted to see. This time around will be different. Tomorrow, my students will see me presenting exactly what I expect of them (or at least one variation of it).  This assignment works well in an ELA classroom, but I could see it working in ANY classroom (4th grade and up) really because Zite is so customizable and a teacher could give students a specific category in which to search to narrow the focus to the subject matter being studied.  Feel free to use this assignment in your classroom, with or without attribution. If you use it though, let me know how it goes! I’d love to hear some feedback on how to make it better.



1.  Read through some articles in your areas of interest on Zite.

2.  Select an article that you find interesting, relevant, and timely.

3.  On the day of your presentation, TWEET a link to your article ~ (You can do this directly through Zite, if you connect your Zite account to your Twitter account, or you can copy/paste the URL into a tweet or a URL shortener like ~ OR you can send the link via EMAIL, if you are not a Twitter user. (If you use the email option, just REPLY TO ALL to an email I sent out to the class, to ensure everyone in the class gets the link).

4.  When you present the article to the class, we will project the article from your iPad onto the screen in my room, so make sure you have your iPad here AND charged.  If you don’t, this will result in a deduction of your grade and you will have to reschedule your presentation, which will throw off the entire class’s schedule. Be courteous, and be prepared.

5.  During your presentation you MUST do the following:

A. SUMMARIZE the article. GIve us a nutshell summary of what this article is about (since most of us will not have read the article.

B. EXPLAIN why it is IMPORTANT and RELEVANT enough to share with the class.

C. PROVIDE your OPINION on the subject matter. (For example, if it is problem, provide a solution or talk about the root causes of the problem. If it is a human interest story, discuss why you believe it is so appealing. If it is about a scientific discovery, discuss how you believe this may change how we currently do things. These are just a few things you could discuss during this portion of your presentation.)

D. BE PREPARED for QUESTIONS from Mrs. M. and your peers. Feel free to ask your peers and Mrs. Morgenson their opinions as well, to encourage discussion.

When you are an audience member, please think of questions to ask the presenter.  Everyone should participate in this.  Some article shares may even result in a roundtable-style discussion. Prepare to respond in writing to each person’s article as well either via Twitter or email.

A Formative Assessment for Teaching Shakespeare (Hamlet Specifically) with Email Clarification

Yesterday, I was at some training, so I had my sub give the following assignment.


CHOOSE ONE PASSAGE and RESPOND accordingly to the instructions.


  • Pick one of the following monologues to dissect and analyze. In a formal written response capture the essence of the passage in a concise SUMMARY, and then analyze the passage through the lenses of EXPERIENCE, INTERPRETATION, and EVALUATION.
  • Please write four distinct, fully-developed paragraphs, one for each of the aforementioned areas of analysis (SUMMARY, EXPERIENCE, INTERPRETATION, and EVALUATION.) Note: Your SUMMARY paragraph will most likely be your briefest one.
  • Revisit your DiYanni text, if you need further guidance regarding these realms of interpretation. After reading through the DiYanni text –if needed– contact Mrs. M with further questions via email (email redacted) or in person tomorrow or Friday.
  • Also, HELP EACH OTHER! Processing through dialogue is a very valuable strategy.


Even though he is told otherwise, Hamlet suspect that his Claudius and Gertrude have sent for Rosencrantz and Guildenstern to possibly cheer him up, spy on him, or both. He finally gets them to admit this and responds thusly:

I will tell you why; so shall my anticipation
prevent your discovery, and your secrecy to the King and
queene: moult no feather. I have of late, (but wherefore
I know not) lost all my mirth, forgone all custom of exercises;
and indeed, it goes so heavily with my disposition;
that this goodly frame the earth, seems to me a sterrill
promontory; this most excellent canopy the air,
look you, this brave o’erhanging firmament, this Majesticall roofe,
fretted with golden fire: why, it appeares no other thing
to me, then a foul and pestilent congregation of vapours.
What a piece of work is a man! How noble in
reason, how infinite in faculty! in form and moving
how express and admirable! In action how like an Angel!
in apprehension how like a god! the beauty of the
world! the paragon of animals! And yet to me, what is
this quintessence of dust? Man delights not me; no,
nor Woman neither; though by your smiling you seem
to say so


As Hamlet plans his revenge upon his new “father” King Claudius, he cannot help but contemplate his own existence. In the following speech, he weighs the ever-famous question: To be, or not to be?

To be, or not to be, that is the question:
Whether ’tis Nobler in the mind to suffer
The Slings and Arrows of outrageous Fortune,
Or to take Arms against a Sea of troubles,
And by opposing end them: to die, to sleep
No more; and by a sleep, to say we end
The Heart-ache, and the thousand Natural shocks
That Flesh is heir to? ‘Tis a consummation
Devoutly to be wished. To die to sleep,
To sleep, perchance to Dream; Aye, there’s the rub,
For in that sleep of death, what dreams may come,
When we have shuffled off this mortal coil,
Must give us pause. There’s the respect
That makes Calamity of so long life:
For who would bear the Whips and Scorns of time,
The Oppressor’s wrong, the proud man’s Contumely,
The pangs of despised Love, the Law’s delay,
The insolence of Office, and the Spurns
That patient merit of the unworthy takes,
When he himself might his Quietus make
With a bare Bodkin? Who would Fardels bear,
To grunt and sweat under a weary life,
But that the dread of something after death,
The undiscovered Country, from whose bourn
No Traveller returns, Puzzles the will,
And makes us rather bear those ills we have,
Than fly to others that we know not of.
Thus Conscience does make Cowards of us all,
And thus the Native hue of Resolution
Is sicklied o’er, with the pale cast of Thought,
And enterprises of great pitch and moment,
With this regard their Currents turn awry,
And lose the name of Action …




Within five minutes of class time starting, I (happily) engaged in the following email exchange with one of my students, while I was in training.
What do you mean write a paragraph about experience, interpretation, and evaluation? Specifically experience and evaluation cause I’m guessing by interpretation you mean tell what happened in detail.

(student name redacted)

Hi (student name redacted)

Thanks for asking.

EXPERIENCE–>  How might you relate Shakespeare’s words to your own life? Do you agree or disagree with the message/sentiments of the passage? Why? Have you ever experienced something that reminds you of what is being expressed here? If so, tell us about it. If not, can you relate it to something else you’ve read? seen? heard from someone else?

EVALUATION–> Why do you think Shakespeare included this passage? Why is it important to the story? to the reader? or is it? Make a value judgment. Is it well-written? Is it poetic? Explain.

Hope this helps! If you have further questions, let me know.

Alright (sic) thanks. So the interpretation is just a detailed analysis of what happened right?

(student name redacted)
Hi again, (student name redacted)

The SUMMARY will be a brief account of what happened.

The INTERPRETATION will be where you explore the choices Shakespeare made. Did he use metaphors? similes? personification? oxymoron? etc. Why did he make these literary choices?  Was there any double meaning in what he wrote? What do we know that the other characters don’t know? Who else is in the scene? How do those characters play in? Who is the intended audience? What does this passage say about Hamlet? What does it say about the culture he lives in?

You don’t necessarily have to answer ALL of these questions, but this should get your brain working!


It is lovely to be able to clarify an assignment — even when I’m not there — through the marvel of (sort of old) modern technology. The 1:1 iPad initiative has done many things for our district, but one of the most valuable is leveling the communication playing field (as much as possible) for our students.

A Possible Solution for the Angst-Ridden English Teacher, Struggling to Provide High Quality, Timely Feedback to Young Writers

Hmmmmmmm …

… shall I give my students timely feedback …

… or quality feedback on their writing …

… or …

… shall I slip slowly into madness …

… and give them both …?

(Cue the DUNdunDUNNNNNnnnnn stinger.)

~ Jodie Morgenson (that’s me!) on many an anxiety-filled occasion to colleagues, mentors, and anyone else who would listen

A common lament of the English teacher is that she or he is not able to provide her or his students with timely AND quality feedback–that the two ideals are mutually exclusive. It has been on my chief list of complaints since I was a wee newb in the teaching profession. Of course there have been times here and there throughout my career when I attempted the timely AND quality feedback approach by going without sleep or sustenance for 48 hours at a time, but that got old pretty quickly and my loved ones suffered as a result because they had to pick up the slack at home, since I wasn’t around to help, AND when I was around, they had to deal with the mess of a woman who vaguely resembled someone who used to be their wife/mother, but more closely approximated Grendel’s mother in both temperament and appearance (and not the Angelina Jolie version, mind you).

I have favored the oral delivery of feedback in a one-on-one conference setting for the past few years. The face-to-face verbal delivery seemed to be most helpful to students, and it allowed for them to actively question my feedback on-the-spot. The downfall of this method was that I only have my students for 45 minutes per day, 40 if you slice off taking attendance and other daily minutiae. Take away at least another 5 minutes for transitioning between students and other unexpected but inevitable interruptions and we have–at best–35 minutes to conference. I tend to be an intense conferencer–maybe too thorough at times, and therefore inefficient for the group at large–and most last between 10 and 20 minutes … sometimes 25 … and usually towards the long-end of that estimate. Take a class of between 15 and 27 students (This year I have blessedly small classes, but in the years when I’ve had larger classes this gets even trickier.) multiply that times 2 major papers, and I had to find a way to carve out time for between 30 to 54 conferences or 300 to 1350 minutes. This translates into somewhere between 9 to 39 class periods. During a normal week, I see students 5 times, which would mean I need, at minimum, 2 weeks of solid class time to conference with students OR up to a month’s+-worth of conferencing at the high end of that estimate. That’s not realistic, so students would have to make before and after school appointments, give up their study halls or wait until it was almost their deadline before applying any teacher-generated feedback to their final(ish) drafts OR I would have to continually extend the deadline to accommodate those who had to wait on feedback. (I’m not even going to go into what to do with a large group, while conferencing with a single member of the class. That’s another blog entry just begging to be written.)

Usually what ends up happening when a teacher gives feedback on anything substantial, like a literary analysis, for example, she or he has several choices: A. give canned or surface (READ: not helpful) responses and return the feedback quickly B. give in-depth, meaningful feedback a week or more later or C. go stark-raving mad and do both. None of those options sit well with me, so in my eternal quest to become a better teacher AND remain (as) sane (as possible), I turned to my Twitter peops. I stumbled upon a conversation between Jabiz Raisdana (@theintrepidteacher) and Jim Burke (@englishcomp) regarding the frustrations surrounding delivering satisfying feedback to their students. (Jabiz, teaches in Singapore, and is someone I only recently discovered via Twitter, but immediately admired and Jim is an AP English teacher in San Fransciso, CA, and an author whom I’ve admired for quite some time, mainly because I have read and/or own and appreciate so many of the books he’s written.) It came up that Jim was working on a new idea for delivering timely and quality feedback to each of his students (and it sounds like he sees WAYYYYYY more students than I do in a given day) so my digital ears, naturally perked up. Eventually Jim posted this:

Responding to Student Writing Using the iPhone Memo App (Jim Burke)

Boom. My life changed.

I saw this as my AP students were in the early stages of writing first semester’s first major formal writing assignments–a literary analysis and mimesis–both of which would require some hefty feedback, and because it was nearing the end of the semester, that feedback needed to be timely. Doling out feedback via conferencing two or at best three per class period, would not cut it.

Jim’s proposed method works as follows: 1. reading student writing, 2. recording verbal comments with the standard voice memo app on his iPhone, 3. emailing the recording to students. In case you didn’t get to see the afore-linked video, in it, Jim demonstrated his process by recording himself doing it!

My process went a little something like this:

1. I use an app on my iPad called Highlight. The reason I like this app is because you can mark important points in your recording, if you so desire. It also give you the option of sharing your files via Dropbox or email. However, you can use any audio (or video) recording app on your iPad, phone, or computer, so long as you have a means of sharing the audio files with your students.

2. Highlight gives me the option to title the audio file, so I use the student’s first initial, last name, and an abbreviation representing the type of writing I’m assessing. (For example, if I was creating an audio feedback file for Mergatroid McFancyPants’s literary analysis, I would entitle the file MMcFancypantsMIM.)

3. With the student’s paper in front of me, I begin the recording, and read the paper entirely aloud*, adding constructive criticism as I go. My recordings lasted anywhere from 10 to 16 minutes, and I believe (okay I’m really really really really really really hoping) that I can streamline this process and get better at being more efficient with how long it takes to deliver information. Methinks I have a tendency to give too much information. Anyone who is still reading this blog post knows that … *rim shot*

4.  While I’m reading and delivering commentary, I mark the paper to indicate what I’m talking about during my commentary.

5.  I send the audio file to the student via email (but I could just as easily establish a shared Dropbox folder with my students and do it this way and I may do so in the future).

6. Next time I see the student, I hand her or him the annotated copy of her or his writing and encourage her or him to listen to the audio with the written version in front of her or him, and to ask me, email me, or tweet me with any questions.

*One reason I read the entire paper aloud is because I learn by doing and by reading with my eyeballs and hearing with my earholes, I am not only seeing what is good and what needs work, I’m hearing it as well, so I feel I am better able to give higher quality feedback. Another reason I do this is because I have found value in allowing a student to hear her or his work read out loud as well because ofttimes students’ ears catch what their eyes miss, AND, as a writer, I know that it is rawwwwther delightful to hear someone else read one’s work aloud, even if it is a little rough around the edges.

What follows is a sample excerpt of some audio and written feedback I provided to a student regarding a mimesis, which emulated the work of Flannery O’Connor. Note that I have cut out any references to the student’s name AND that this was the first time I’d ever provided audio feedback to this student, so there’s explanation at the beginning that will be unnecessary in subsequent audio feedback.

Excerpt of Sample Audio Feedback











As you could probably observe by listening to the audio file, since I am still feeling out this technique, *I* am a little rough around the edges. When I listened to some of them, I couldn’t help but assess my own verbal fluency. Always learning, am I.

The lit analyses’ and mimeses’ deadlines were staggered, so that they would be delivered unto me at different times. The lit analyses came in first. I experimented with the process by meeting face-to-face with some of the students and providing recorded audio feedback to the others. This year I have the luxury of teaching a small single-gender AP English Lit and Comp class, so this worked well. I informally polled the students who received audio feedback and heard things such as this:

  • I liked that I could go back and listen to it several times.
  • I am forgetful, so sometimes when we conference, I forget what you told me when I revise my work. I like that I could listen to it again.
  • I miss the instant back-and-forth question and answer of a one-on-one conference, but I still found it helpful.

The mimeses’ drafts were due after the lit analyses, so for that assignment, I decided to try exclusively audio feedback. Afterward, I polled the students via Twitter and received similar feedback to that listed above. It was encouraging to talk to them about it in class too. It was heartening to hear a student say, “I think you should do that every time,” and have the majority of the class agree. Even those who prefer the face-to-face conference still found value in the recorded audio feedback and understood (as mature seniors in high school do) the value in receiving feedback in a timely manner, even if it is not delivered in-person.

Despite the fact that I’m still spending 10-16 minutes (more really if you figure in set-up, sending emails, and imminent screw-ups on the part of yours truly) I can do it whenever I have time. It doesn’t cut into instruction time and, as a proud insomniac, this can include middle-of-the-night feedback sessions, which, for me, are the most productive ones. (Student marvel at why they receive emails from me at odd hours.) As I stated previously, I believe that I will become more efficient with my feedback as I get better at it and hope to cut down my time commitment to this arduous task.

 Thrilled is a good way to describe how I feel when I discover something that is beneficial to both teachers AND most importantly students, so thrilled I most certainly am right now. This technique is my greatest discovery in my quest to better serve students as of late. HUZZAHHHHH!