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September 2013 entries

Fall Fun

We Connors have a very busy schedule, but we try our hardest to keep at least one night open for family fun. It helps us stay close and helps us remember the fun of summer. We actually spend a lot of time together, despite our busy schedules. We might be busy… But we are busy together!

This weekend brought a trip to Ard's Farm Market, just outside of Lewisburg. We love fall!

Fall Fun

Fall Fun

Fall Fun

Fall Fun

Fall Fun


Week 4?!

It's been a month since school started. How that happened, I don't even want to know. Indulge me in some self-reflection of the year thus far.

Honors English 11 -- This year, I decided to start with the text Freakonomics. The kids are really connecting to it, and I have used literature circle roles to facilitate group discussions. Discussion Dictators come up with open-ended questions like, "What would you do if your teacher posted answers to a state exam on the chalkboard while you were taking the test?" to go along with the chapter on unethical teachers. Passage Pirates (eye patch optional) bring passages to the group for closer analysis. The group's DJ comes up with a playlist that accompany the chapter, while defending their song choices. The visionary creates some sort of visual representation of the reading: a collage of images, an original drawing, a storyboard which shows how the book could translate into film. The Word Wizard makes a list of at least 10 new words and their definitions, while analyzing the effect of the diction on the text and the reader.

While the students complete outside reading, we've been learning logical fallacies in class. Right now, my students are designing, filming, and editing bogus commercials, incorporating as many logical fallacies as they possibly can. And I keep hearing, "Mrs. Connor! Last night, I was watching TV and a commercial came on, and I was like, 'That's ad hominem! That's post hoc! That's appeal to authority!'" Yep, that feels good. I've created at least 45 more critical consumers. I'll take that!

AP English Language and Composition -- After analyzing Erik Larson's The Devil in the White City, I've started prepping the students for argument, anaylsis, and synthesis. This year, I've decided to try blogs with my AP kids. We use our school-sponsored Google accounts to create Blogger accounts. I am using Kelly Gallagher's Articles of the Week as a starting point for the first marking period. Kelly Gallagher, author of the provocative book Readicide, insists on helping his students become cognizant of the world around them. You can read more about the Article of the Week here: http://kellygallagher.org/resources/articles.html

As the students created their blogs, I was pleased to see them visibly aware of their persona as writers and aware of the relationship between the speaker/audience/subject. They agonized over the title of their blog, the template, the font style. Their grammar and sentence structure has been impressive -- all because they know others (namely, their peers) will be able to see what they are writing. Talk about a social incentive! Students have also remarked that they appreciate the Article of the Week reflections because it "helps us become more aware of things going on in the world." Again, I'll take that!

Intro to Drama: I have 23 freshman in an Intro to Drama class. These kids are enthusiastic, creative, and fun! I usually prefer upperclassmen, but these students are really great. I've started with observation as the foundation of drama. Great actors are people watchers, they are in tune with the world around them, and thus, they connect with their audience in an effective way. Next week, professional storyteller Fiona Powell is coming to the class as a guest teacher. I've primed the pump for her this week: What makes a great story? What happens when stories get passed on from one person to the next? Why are stories so important in our culture? I had them write collaborative stories last class. Each student wrote for 3 minutes, then they had to pass their paper to the next student, who had to pick up the story line and move it forward. Next class, I am going to give them pictures of cave drawings and ask them to act out the stories depicted there. After Fiona comes, we will research folk tales and work on presenting them.

Drama (Grades 10-12): With the older students, I have started by establishing a habit of journaling in their Actor's Journals. We have been analyzing the monologue form, first by examining great monologists (Bill Cosby, Ellen, among others) and then critiquing monologues I had in books. Last class, I gave each student a picture of a pair of shoes, and I explained that as actors, we often have to walk in someone else's shoes. They had to create a character profile based on the shoes, then write a monologue that their character would deliver, all while keeping in mind the elements of the monologue we have been discussing.

Today, we shared our monologues, and WOW! I was really impressed with their creativity. For example, one student was given a picture of a glittery pink heel. She created a monologue about a girl who was so excited for a special date with her boyfriend...until she couldn't stop him from getting behind the wheel after drinking. The monologue ended with blood splattered on the shiny pink shoe.

I have decided that these kids need to perform more often, and we are shooting for an afternoon of monologues held in our school cafteria, which should allow for a more intimate setting than our large auditorium. I'm thinking cookies, coffee, and creativity abound! The students will perform either original compositions or monologues they find in my books or online. We'll start in October, then graduate to dialogues/short scenes in November. I have a one-act of James and the Giant Peach planned for January, and we'll attempt an improv show or two in the spring.

The Brothers Grimm Spectaculathon is going extremely well, also! The cast of 19 kids is energetic and enthusiastic. And there is no drama...you know, the bad kind. :) When a student succeeds in a scene, the entire cast rejoices. I really couldn't ask for more than that! The show is hilarious, and we have a blast at rehearsals.

Thanks for indulging my assessment of the goings-on in B206. I couldn't be more fortunate to work where I do, and I am excited to see what the rest of the year has to offer!


Liam Grayson Connor

In 2010, Michael and I travelled to Italy (I was 8+ months pregnant and made everyone on the plane nervous -- too many "my water just broke" jokes, maybe?) and shortly after we returned, we welcomed Liam Grayson into our family. It was the year that I directed "Our Town," and even though I was on maternity leave during the day, I brought Liam to rehearsals with me at night and he became known as the Our Town baby.

"This time three years have gone by, folks." (And I'm fairly confident that Jake Russo could pick up his monologue from here.) Liam is a miniature person now. I know it sounds silly, except to the parents out there. Liam isn't just a baby. He has a distinct personality and a lovable charm. He's smart and funny and knows he's loved.

When I was pregnant with him, I couldn't imagine having three kids. Now, I can't imagine life without him. Happy Birthday, Liam! We love you!

Liam Grayson Connor

Liam Grayson Connor

Liam Grayson Connor

Liam Grayson Connor


Visual Rhetoric

I know that in some circles, "rhetoric" is a negative word, a way for politicians and slimeballs to swindle and trick the masses, but at its core, rhetoric is simply the way that we communicate, using the "available means of persuasion" (Aristotle). As a teacher of rhetoric, I see it as effective communication strategies. Communication and expression take on a variety of forms: written text, spoken word, gestures, dance, music, art, architecture.

My AP students' summer assignment was Erik Larson's The Devil in the White City, a nonfiction journey through the building of the World's Fair in Chicago in the late 1800s. Larson alternates between two narratives: one centered on Daniel Burnham, the chief architect and designer of the Fair, and one centered on Henry H. Holmes, America's first serial killer. While most students (those not planning on majoring in engineering, that is) found the serial killer storyline much more intriguing, the history of the Fair is fascinating and richly informative. Throughout my reading of the text, I kept noticing the emphasis on the symbolism of the Fair. The buildings -- "The White City" -- represented all that is good and possible in America. Our greatest engineers and landscape designers and inventors came together in an unparalleled example of civic pride. The Ferris Wheel was designed to "out-Eiffel Eiffel" and millions of Americans travelled across the country (no small feat in the 1800s) to be part of the magic.

(Holmes, too, had a symbolic building. His "castle" took up a city block and masqueraded as a storefront pharmacy during the day and a hotel of torture by night.)

An early lesson in rhetoric includes the rhetorical triangle: the relationship between the speaker, the audience, and the subject. The designers of the Fair are considered the speakers, the entire world was their audience, and their subject was that America in general and Chicago in specific exemplified greatness and ingenuity and success. For young writers, being aware of the rhetorical situation is crucial. They adopt various personas and tactics for communication quite naturally in real life (buttering up Mom for the car keys, for example), but they tend to neglect rhetorical awareness in their writing. I find that starting with visual rhetoric helps to imprint the concept.

And so, today I took my classes on a bit of a field trip. We walked to the Memorial Garden for the Flight 800 Victims (1996) on the school property. The Angel statue, the 21 trees, the memorial inscribed with names and history and words of comfort from Isaiah (in English and French) -- none of these beautiful symbols of peace and hope were lackadaisically constructed. Each of the three designers (landscape, memorial, and sculpture) carefully considered their audience and sought a meaningful way to convey a reassuring message. Rhetoric.

My students respectfully walked around the garden, reading inscriptions, looking up at the trees which were rustling in the breeze. I didn't intrude on their thoughts. I simply let them write in their journals until we needed to go back to the next class. We will talk about their observations tomorrow, and I am looking forward to hearing their perspectives on the garden.


Visual Rhetoric

Visual Rhetoric

Visual Rhetoric

Visual Rhetoric

Visual Rhetoric