3 Days at UConn ECE English Summer Institute

After teaching the UConn ECE course for the first time this past year, I knew there was a lot to revise, and this three day Summer Institute helped focus some of that revision work by extending my thinking about the 1010 course, what it should be, and what were the desired outcomes.  A few of things I took away from my 3 days:


  1. First year writing is focused on preparing students for the type of writing they’ll do across disciplines in college. While this may seem obvious, it took me a while to wrap my head around this because I want students to love and find value in literature as much as I do. There’s a space for that, and ideally it should be the AP Lit classroom, and yet with few students will take literature courses beyond the high school level (even those that take AP Lit) preparing students for the types of academic writing they’ll encounter across disciplines is essential. It’s precisely what the UConn ECE 1010 course is all about and why we decided to use the film elective as a the space for the course, but thinking about what academic writing is, looks like, and accomplishes is something I’m still considering as I revise the course and think about AP Lit and Sophomore English. Most immediately, however, this means varying the types of assignment and writing students will do over the course of the year in the Honors Senior English and Film Studies UConn ECE course. While we’ll start with a scene analysis that is more familiar in its relation to the literary analysis essay, our first major essay will be more conceptual, asking students to create an argument on the power of cinema, drawing from a number of sources from the first unit.
  2. Process vs. Post-process and Assemblage Writing. It was interesting learning more of the history of process (1970s) and post-process (post 1986) writing theory. One idea that really stuck with me from the discussions I had over the past three days is that process implies formula, while post-process is looking at the way ideas, evidence, discussion fit together to suggest new relationships. In art school, I was always taught to “know the rules before you break them,” and in some ways knowing and understanding the formula (5 paragraph essay I’m looking at you!) is a way to learn how structure works and the relationship between evidence and analysis that is an excellent starting point for students, but it’s not where I want them to end. I’ve been grappling with how to break the students out of that structure, especially in this past year because it is so engrained in students by senior year, and I think post-process and assemblage theory is a way to restructure my approach. Admittedly, I have a lot more reading and thinking to do about this, but the discussions and readings from the Summer Institute definitely sparked a curiosity not just for the UConn course but for my sophomores and APLit students too!
  3. The classroom as authentic audience. So many times when I hear “authentic audience” I wrack my brain of who else I can bring in to the classroom, but this ignores the captive audience and network built into the classroom.  We create a classroom culture over the course of a semester/year, and students are participating in a classroom dialogue, so it makes sense that there should be more sharing of each other’s writing in the classroom. I sometimes have students peer review but haven’t always found it useful to the students, and I’d like to rethink how to structure it for the upcoming year. Beyond peer review I’m thinking about some sort of class repository that houses the academic work the students in my Honors Senior English and Film Studies class contribute, so that it becomes a network of ideas and an environment to participate in rather than “hand in to the teacher and the discussion ends after I get a grade.”

These are just of the few ideas swirling around my head after the institute. There are more practical ideas too like students submitting a cover sheet with their assignments that offers students a place to reflect and consider what their writing does. I also have a few assignments that I’m working on to extend our conversation in the film studies classroom: “what’s the difference between appropriation and plagiarism?” (special shout out to Kylie and Kendall Jenner for offering some material for us to consider!).

Good thing I have the rest of the summer to think, plan, and revise.

My Summer Reading List

With Manhola Dargis and A.O. Scott’s list of the films of the century (so far!) and having no assigned reading for summer courses,  I thought I’d compile a list of summer reading. There is so much I want to get to on my never-ending “To Read” list, but these are a few I’m setting aside for this summer.  We’ll see how many I manage to get to and what new discoveries I make along the way.

The List


I am perpetually behind on the latest and greatest novels.  During a lecture with Peter Kemp, Chief Fiction Reviewer for The Sunday Times, he was asked how many novels he reads a week.  The answer: an astonishing 7-10 a week.  It’s his occupation, of course, to read and champion the best new works, so it makes sense that he reads at that pace.  From what he said, it’s also an incredible gift he’s been given to be able read with such speed.

I do not read at that pace and sometimes there are precious books that I want to take my time in and linger in that world for a while.  I still haven’t read the last page of Jane Eyre in attempt to not leave that world, and there are other works I prolong finishing just to stay with the characters, setting, prose…whatever magic there is…a bit longer.

So with summer, I’m happy to have the time and hope to find a few books that make me want to stay a while.  By all accounts Colson Whitehead’s The Underground Railroad and Yaya Gysai’s Homecoming are supposed to be riveting reads.  I also picked up Chang-Rae Lee’s On Such a Full Sea and Martin Amis’s The Zone of Interest, two authors I have not read before.  David Rakoff’s Love, Dishonor, Marry, Die, Cherish, Perish has been sitting on my bookshelf for four years now.  Written in iambic tetrameter, and “insist[ing] on beauty and the necessity of kindness in a selfish world,” according to the back cover, it sounds like a book I need right now.

Before I see the film, I also want to read Daphne du Maurier’s My Cousin Rachel. I’m looking forward to being transported back to the coast and rugged terrain of Cornwall.



Last summer, I took a course in Victorian fiction and added many more titles to my ever expanding “to read list.”  I won’t get to all of these, but plan on at least getting to Collins’ The Woman in White and Hardy’s final novel Jude the Obscure. With a love of British mystery novels inherited from my mother, I feel compelled to finally read The Woman in White, which is considered to be the first mystery novels.  I’m not sure how ready I am for another Hardy novel; reading Tess of the D’Urbervilles was a difficult read, not because of the writing, but the torture that poor girl goes through!  So while “eager” isn’t necessarily the word, I am interested in reading Jude the Obscure in part to see what those late Victorians were so worked up about that it was was referred to as Jude the Obscene.

Music Memoirs

I must finish Peter Hook and Bernard Sumner’s competing New Order memoirs, Substance: Inside New Order and Chapter and Verse: New Order, Joy Division, and Me. New Order/Joy Division are my favorite band with their punk roots and dance/indie songs. They’re also fabulously ridiculous and pretentious, caught up in a larger pop narrative and Manchester music scene. They are, afterall, the band that had a high-selling single “Blue Monday,” which initially lost money for the band because of the intricate yet genius sleeve design.

Reading their books is great fun and easy reading (one is more poorly written than the other, but it doesn’t matter), and I know there’s a fall out coming at the end and each book is meant to clarify/justify his position in matter. In Hooky’s book, he lists the tracks on the albums with anecdotes about the recording and requires a track-by-track listening of the record.

Others on this list: Peter Hook’s The Haçienda: How Not to Run a Club; Lol Tolhurst’s Cured: The Tale of Two Imaginary Boys; Kim Gordon’s Girl in a Band; and Patti Smith’s Just Kids

Could I love Jane Austen even more?

The answer is yes.

Sketch of Jane Austen by her sister, Cassandra with my notes
My intention was to blog after the first week of being at Oxford, but as is the way with summer programs, my time was filled during the first week (wonderfully filled!). One of my (admittedly many) favourite parts of the English Literature Summer School at Oxford University is the morning lecture on a selected topic over the course of English Literature. While there have been some that have spoken more to my specific interests, all of the lecturers have been engaging and knowledgeable, drawing me into their area of interest whether or not it is one of mine (I left the lecture on Coleridge wanting to dive into his works!). Two specific highlights, however, have been Middle English: A 14th Century Flashpoint by Dr. Roger Dalrymple and today’s Jane Austen by Dr. Sadie Byrne.

Dr. Dalrymple’s lecture on the Middle Ages examined how different historical events of the period interacted with the texts of Chaucer and the Gawain poet. He presented the historical contexts with such texts as The Pardoner’s Tale and discussed the ways in which the Pardoner and the other pilgrims do not conform, and even subvert, the discourse of the time. I wish I had my copy of Paul Strohm’s Chaucer’s Tale: 1386 and the Road to Canterbury with me so that I could follow up on the lecture more quickly, but alas, it will have to wait until I return from this pilgrimage.

Many of my students know that Jane Austen is one of my favourite writers and Pride and Prejudice one of my favourite books. I love the book for its charm and wit; its sharp observations on a society that has many, many rules, especially where social ettiquette is involved. As a freshman in college eager to break many rules, Miss Elizabeth Bennet’s sharp critique of her own society felt was like finding a friend who shared a similar outlook. The romance between her and Darcy was also seductive at that age, but it would be on many subsequent reads where the appreciation for Austen’s writing voice and style would emerge for me. Dr. Byrne’s lecture was able to further articulate why Austen’s style is engaging and delightful; it stems not only from the clever narrative voice which is sometimes parodic and other times satirical, but it also arises from Austen’s command over her characters and who they are down to each character’s distinctive dialogue. Mr. Collins’s overly indulgent, condescending voice is perfectly encapsulated in his dialogue, as is the ironic speech of Mr. Bennet.

While these are just some of the reasons I return to this book and Jane Austen again and again, my students sometimes have difficulty in appreciating what is at stake for an unmarried woman during the Regency era when reading Pride and Prejudice. Why is it of such importance that a woman be married, especially one without a fortune and whose father’s estate is entailed away? Dr. Byrne asked what such a woman’s options were should she not marry. Where would she go? How would she live? There are not many options. She could descend in rank and work as a servant, where women were often the prey of the husband/master of the house. She could go live with a relation, if that was an option, burdening them with her room and board. A woman could write and become a novelist (difficult and not proper). She could become a mistress to a man of money, but her reputation ruined. There was also the very real possibility that she could end up on the streets in London, Birmingham, Manchester, etc. where the average life expectancy was 18 months. Given these options, Mrs. Bennet becomes more empathetic in her hunt for a husband for her girls and pre occupation with the incomes of Mr. Darcy and Mr. Bingley. Lizzy is not, therefore, a gold digger, but a pragmatist when Darcy becomes a little easier to tolerate after visiting the Pemberley estate.

After this lecture, I am excited to rethink, reshape my unit on Pride and Prejudice, where we look more closely at Austen’s narrative voice and free and indirect discourse. This will have too will be in August though!

Flipped Classroom

Why Flip?
What if a student could pause and rewind you when you’re lecturing so that they could learn at their own pace? What happens when one student understands the material immediately while another student needs you to go slower and repeat information three, four, or seven times?

The flipped classroom allows students to learn at their own pace when there is material that students need is the homework and classtime is dedicated to application and interaction.

Many of us already do this.  Any time we assign reading and note taking to prepare for a lesson the next day, that is the flipped classroom.

Sites for additional learning:  Flipped Classroom  and Edutopia Flipped Classroom Blogs

Ways I’ve used:
Overview of assignments
Covering new content
The Writing Process (step-by-step)
Review student models

Students learning at their own pace
Time in class to work with students one on one
Engaging students with how they learn

The biggest thing I’ve learned as I’ve flipped certain lessons is flexibility is key.  Being comfortable with students at different points in their learning and work completion is necessary.  Flipping a class is not the cure-all for the student who never does his or her homework, but it may engage them further and help them take better notes.

Things to Consider:
Start simple
Assessment of Content
Do you need it now or do you need it perfect?

Tools I Use:
Explain Everything
Show Me

Performing the Scenes

This past week’s sessions all led up to Friday night’s performance on The Gobe stage.  There were more rehearsals, both with our scene groups and the whole ensemble.  We had another movement and voice class, but perhaps the one that got me out of my head space the most was the Historical Dance session with Huw Prall. By no means am I a dancer (nor an actor, but I’ll get to that in a minute), but I’m interested by cultural developments and became fascinated with the relation of dance to the historical period it emerged from.  Huw also had me when he said he worked on the Colin Firth version of Pride and Prejudice.  While I still couldn’t manage to start with the correct foot or keep in time, the lesson wasn’t threatening; it was fun!  I also was able to get out of my head and the anxiety of performing our scenes for those two hours, so thank you Huw!


Historical dance at Hampton Court

The Performance Wednesday’s dress rehearsal was terrifyingly invigorating, in assembling all of the information, warm ups, and recitation of the lines on the Globe stage.  I thought I was doing relatively ok with the material and my nerves until the walk over, but my anxiety reached record levels, especially after seeing the first group’s run through.  Our scene director, the incredibly patient Fergal McElherron, had to talk me off the cliff a bit; I was working myself up so much.  I still hadn’t my lines completely down to memory, but I tried when I went up there and maybe even let an expletive (or two) out.  In the end, I knew there was nothing to be terrified about but that I had more work to do. 

Wendesday night rehearsal in the wee hours of the night
The next night the lovely Pollyanna, our scene’s Touchstone, graciously offered to run lines with me and dilgently worked with me until I had them.  In practicing with her, she pointed out I was trying too much to memorize them in order and wasn’t really listening to the conversation.  Shakespeare’s dialogue is so much about the push and pull between characters, and the lines pick up threads and play off one another. When you’re really listening, you hear that and it cues you perfectly; when you forget to listen, you’re down the rabbit hole.

After that work Pollyanna and I did and after rehearsing with my group several times, I felt ready going into the rehearsals with Fergal before our official performance.  I knew the lines for our scene, not just mine.  We were really working on tweaking the performance and further clarifying the work; the hard bits were over.

Then we got out onto the stage.  It’s London, and since we’ve had nice weather all week, of course it had to rain.  The Globe has that hole in its roof so the stage and yard were soaked. It just added to the experience.  While we were watching the other scenes and doing our tableaux before each scene, I could not conjure up a single line.  I wasn’t nervous as before, but there was an adrenaline rush that was blocking every line out.  I couldn’t find my script for one last read through, so as I stood backstage ready to emerge, it was “here goes nothing.”

I got out there and I did ok.  I forgot a few lines and lost my place.  I froze at one point let out a few expletives and asked Fergal what the line was, but he was nowhere to be found.   We made it through our scene with Ms. Emily Hernberg as a brilliant Celia.  There is no danger of my becoming an actor, nor to I desire to be one.  Taking part in this program was and is about trying and experiencing something truly out of my comfort zone, while also learning new approaches to Shakespeare to help my students.  I may have failed at being a brilliant Rosalind, but it wasn’t my goal.  I wanted to do well for my group, especially Emily so that she could do her best, especially since she is such a natural performer.  

As I tried to sleep that night, the lines all came to me and were swimming in my head as I tried to fall asleep.  Where were they earlier?  Obviously they were in there, so where were they when I needed them?

My head was also swirling trying to formulate my thoughts on the idea of failure.  Since the FIFA Women’s World Cup this summer, I’ve been trying to wrap my head around what it means to fail.  The English women’s team played a superior game to Japan, but accidentally knocked the ball in their own goal, giving Japan the win.  Other than being the only time I’ve ever witnessed the internet be gracious and supportive of the player whose boot the ball was knocked off of, it also led me to question what it means to fail.  They played superbly; was that performance undone by one second?  The team picked themselves up by the bootstraps, came back for the next game, and and won the bronze.  Is that the sign of failure?

When we started the program, Fiona encouraged us to “fail better.”  While I’m working to make Thursday’s final performance there’s no guarantee that I won’t  forget a line or forget a direction.  My goal is to really listen and get out of my head for the ten minutes we are out on the stage.  If I am able to accomplish those things, then I will have won the bronze.

Day 1 Teaching Shakespeare Through Performance 

At the end of the first day, my head was spinning, processing the wealth of information and activities that welcomed our group of twenty-five teachers.  Now, though, being day two, I’m a bit more able to reflect on it all.  

Monday morning we arrived at The Globe.  Although I’ve been to the south bank before to visit the Tate Modern, I hadn’t been here (which does seem odd given my propensity for visiting all literary sites).  We had a morning of introductions and some warm up exercises.  Fiona Banks, TSTP Course Director, set the tone well and had us engaged from the moment she said “hullo.”  Instead of writing out what we wanted from the course, we each drew a vision of what our classroom would look like as a result is having experienced TSTP.  While my drawing was just stunning (how many years of art school and I still am barely proficient in stick figures?) However, she also had us think about impediments to that vision.   My drawing (attempted) to depict a space of engagement through performance with students making decisions based on the text and their understanding rather than my dictating how scenes should be read.  With that in mind, my first thought of an impediment was the shy student. I need to continue to think of ways for all students to participate, but also think about the environment so that they feel comfortable taking risks and stepping out of their comfort zones.

Speaking of being out of one’s comfort zone…

That day we were immediately thrown into performance exercises, beginning to understand how performers understand space and think about movements.  It moved so quickly I hadn’t time to over analyze or be nervous.  There are both drama teachers and literature teachers in our group, and the drama teachers are definitely more outgoing, which is good because they set the tone and take the lead.  After seeing the Globe stage, it’s apparent that big gestures and movements are necessary so that you can reach all of the audience, while the other space we’ll be performing in is smaller and allows for a more subtle performance.  I’m looking forward to learning how to prepare and understand both.

This photo doesnt do it justice, but its the stage at the Globe
Sam Wanamaker Playhouse

It was a lot to take in the first day, so I went along the Thames to reflect and review Richard II 

North bank of the Thames and builiding, building, biuldong!

Ideas for 2015-16

This school year isn’t quite finished, and already my mind is thinking of next year based on what worked and what didn’t this year.


First unit:  Start with the Jhumpa Lahiri piece, but more specific personal essay instruction using it as a model.  The point of this unit is to find out what type of readers and writers students think they are and to reflect on the ideas that have created that construct.  This unit should lead nicely into the independent reading for the quarter.

Quarter reading assignments:

Instead of the semester reads with blog posting, changing this unit to a quarter assignment will hold students and me accountable for their reading.  It will allow more time for formative assessments, such as the bookmark assessment, tweeting, blogging, and discussion.  For the final assessment, offer a variety of ways (with the book trailer being one option) students can demonstrate their understanding.  Going into quarter reading assignments, students should set their reading goal and track progress as they continue their independent reading and short stories.

Short stories:

  • More focus on lit devices, stronger videos on lit essay techniques using models
  • RTLs on each of the questions on the benchmark-
  • Provide questions for each story for essay to focus on
  • Set writing goal at beginning of unit to follow through with in lit-essay.  A reflection of how they did on their goal should also be included with the essay.
  • Assign writing center webpage so students familiarize themselves with resources available
  • Assign writing center visit with the process
  • In assigning the lit-essay, approach with mindset of discovery; students shouldn’t have all the answers when they write, but instead, use writing as a way to continue to think about the story, the character’s change, the symbols, and the author’s purpose.


  • Work on flipping some of the close reading lessons
  • Change Faith Cavendish writing assignment to creating a script with responses of how/why she is responding in that manner

Poetry unit:  needs total revamp

Lord of the Flies:  using quote carousel: post pics online so students have access to quotes for responses and final essay outside of class.  Students could also tweet out lines with hashtags of the symbol so we can connect.

Midterm:  students reflect on goals and create flipped video on their goals.  After the midterm, have students set or revise goals.

Short story: “A Mistake” with Favorite Mistake assignment

Lit Circle: tighten formative assessments to align with concept of the journey.  Reconsider book choices.  The metacognitive questions from Oakland Schools Curriculum Plan for Independent Reading-Fiction has great questions to help students as they read:

  • Do you have to re-read constantly?
  • Do you frequently find yourself confused about what’s going on?
  • Are you imagining yourself being right there with the characters and a part of the story?
  • Do you care about the narrator/main character(s) as a person?

Research: revisit with PLC the requirement that it needs to be an essay

Macbeth:  start earlier!  Include Word Trace assignment, so students are more closely examining language.  Also, by starting earlier, will leave more time for Night.

Night: continue with image response and found poem.

Final: Love that we ended the final with their performances for Macbeth.  Should the order be reversed?  End with the Scottish play and do Night beforehand?  Need to think about the goal for the final and what students are taking away from sophomore year as they walk out the door.

Next up: Senior English & Film