The Myth of the Poetry Prompt

AP Lit Reader Reflections-Question 1

After last year’s challenging Q1, where students found themselves faced with a most unusual juggler, students seemed much more confident with this year’s poem, Rachel M. Harper’s “The Myth of Music.” This beautiful poem is brief and seems easy to read but offers students an opportunity for in-depth analysis. Spending a week with this poem and the student responses to it has given me new insights and some simple tips to help students write more effectively about poetry. It also reminded me that accessible poetry does not equal easy poetry.KEEP READING

Back to the Future: The Rise of Dystopian Literature

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One of my favorite novels to teach is Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World. I have taught it twice a year for at least nine of my fourteen years teaching, and it remains a fresh favorite for me. The majority of my students typically enjoy it, as well; but until recently, most of my avid readers did not connect Brave New World to other books they were reading. Enter The Hunger Games and Divergent series. Finally, students are talking about and making connections to dystopian literature! Below are three reasons dystopian literature has a distinct place in the modern classroom.

  • Dystopian literature is the “it” item in modern YA.

If you ask a classroom of high schoolers how many of them have read The Hunger Games and/or the Divergent series, you will find a majority have read (or at least seen the movies) one, if not all, of the books. Even most of the non-recreational readers in the class will know what you are talking about when you reference these series. They read what captures their attention, and reading dystopian literature is now at the top of the list. If we want to continue to engage our students, we must give them what they want, and right now, they want dystopian literature. Many of them will be surprised that classics such as Orwell’s 1984 and Huxley’s Brave New World can go toe to toe (and surpass, even) their current literary flings.

  • Dystopian literature has characters and situations to which students can relate.

Tris and Four in Divergent, Katniss and Peeta in The Hunger Games, these characters connect with high schoolers because they are close in age and go through some of the same emotions and troubles in which current students find themselves. From the older novels, John and Lenina in Brave New World, or Winston and Julia in 1984 share similar struggles. Same song and dance, and students still connect. Winston and Julia may be a bit more mature in years, but the mentality and the struggle are the same. While our students may not be battling the government and the injustices prevailed upon them by that government, they are dealing with fitting in, being the new kid, having a crush on someone, or facing a friend who has a crush on them. Maybe they’re dealing with parents who are absent (1984) or embarrassing (Brave New World) or abusive (Divergent) or any other combination found in these modern novels. The point is: students are relating, and students are reading. Avid readers grow into more articulate students, both in speech and in writing. Our goal as English teachers is to mold students into creative thinkers, effective communicators, and lifelong readers. Dystopian literature can help encourage this and maintain that spark of interest that could fuel a fire for a lifetime.

  • Dystopian literature links students to the issues of today.

Today’s high school students can be quite vocal about their opinions on today’s social, economic, and political milieu. These dystopian novels put into perspective the elements of their world that make them relevant. While they may feel like they’re having to rid themselves of all competition around them or form alliances to make it through a tough class in one piece, students see their environments in these stories. The safe space of the future helps them to displace some emotions, but many of them will see the connections between the ruling classes in these novels and the ruling elite of our present day. It opens the conversation across curriculums, from history to science and technology to sociology and psychology. When they address the same issues in the older dystopian novels, they are often surprised at the “predictions” that have come to pass. Some of my best classroom discussions come from these dystopian worlds connecting to our own little dystopias.

One of the things I love about teaching and referencing dystopian literature is the awareness it brings. These novels always have a way of reminding my students how important — and easy — it is to be kind, helpful, and honest; that is okay to be unique and to stand up for what is right and just.

What is your favorite dystopian novel to teach and why?

Jill Massey teaches AP Literature at East Wake Academy outside of Raleigh, NC. In addition to being a lover of all things British literature, Jill enjoys directing her church choir, cheering for NC State, and updating her dog Titus’ Instagram account. 

It’s Poetry to Me

It's Poetry to Me-Using Post-it Notes toOpen the Dicussion of a Poem1

Understanding poetry can be such a daunting task for so many students — and so many teachers. As AP Literature teachers, we have the ultimate of challenges in equipping students for poetry analysis on a high-stakes examination. One of my most successful classes (like so many) was inspired by an AP conference I attended at Wake Forest University. It’s a simple concept that allows students to exercise the freedom of poetry. I often use this lesson sporadically with several different poems to remove some of the anxiety of poetry and allow students to take ownership of the poems. KEEP READING

Literary Criticism for the Student’s Soul

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One of the biggest challenges of the high school English teacher is teaching literary criticism. It can be such a subjective mystery for so many students, even the brightest. I have found over the past few years that having students take ownership and responsibility for not only their learning but the learning of their classmates pushes them to a level of understanding and communication that is far more engaging and often easier to grasp than my method of presentation. … KEEP READING

Get Dialectical!

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For fifteen years I’ve been trying to make my students active readers. I’ve used study questions; I’ve used critical thinking questions; I’ve used annotation rubrics. While all of these were successful on some level or another, and while I still employ guided questions, especially with struggling readers, annotations have been my “go to” for the past five years. The problem I was finding with my students’ annotations is that many of them were flat: they would underline or highlight, and they would write a word or two in the margin sometimes to clarify why they underlined or highlighted, but true analysis was missing. It would peep up during our class discussions, but we spent precious minutes trying to remember exactly why they chose a particular quotation. I knew there had to be a better way.

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Student Accessible: A Promise to My Students

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All too often, teachers get the reputation of being unavailable after they leave campus. Granted, there are many teachers who do not leave campus before 6:00 pm or later; but after that, their students are on their own. On the first day of each semester, I make a promise to my students:

If you have a question or a concern, you have two main outlets through which you can reach me (Twitter and email), and I will always respond to you within thirty minutes up to 10:30 pm. If you haven’t heard from me within thirty minutes, check the email address to be sure you typed it correctly, and email me again. Technology willing, you will get a timely response from me.

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Close Reading: Let’s Make an Ordeal

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For many of us, the word “ordeal” connotes negativity, and we’re all trying to keep that out of our classrooms. I have used of one of my favorite college reads, Wuther Crue’s 1932 Vanity Fair phenomenon “Ordeal by Cheque,” to put a positive spin on the word and teach the art of close reading. I remember having to review each check and come up with “the story” when I was in college and  I love it. Here are a few reasons why it works just as well today. … KEEP READING

5 Things You May Not Know About Hamlet

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Hamlet: a rite of passage for most high schoolers. The play, and the madness surrounding it, has become a phenomenon in the high school classroom. As a British literature teacher and a lover of all things Shakespeare, I look forward to teaching Hamlet every single semester, and I find myself disappointed if someone has already taught it to my  seniors. As Shakespeare’s longest play, it lends itself to deep complexities and interesting historical elements, many that are easily passed over or just mentioned in passing for the sake of time. Since time is irrelevant in the world of trivial information, here are five things you may (or may not) know about Hamlet.

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