Living in the past… maybe not such a bad thing after all

Photo courtesy of thehpalliance.org

Photo courtesy of thehpalliance.org

By Kelly Bunte, MHS History teacher and former Writing Center coordinator

I’ve been feeling nostalgic lately. Despite the fact that most of my being is aching—deeply—for June 9th, I can’t seem to stop looking back over my shoulder.  I long for the youth of my three children, now in middle and high school. The days when they saw me as their heroic team captain. When my announcement that  “Today….we’re going to the nature center!”  was met with high fives and fist pumps.  When walks around—and around—the block were epic journeys.  I miss the years when my family operated as one sovereign unit, moving together through life with a common, daily agenda:  get a good night’s sleep, rise early, eat well and often, get dirty, ask questions, read, laugh, and snuggle.  Go to bed with a good book.  Although simple, this daily itinerary had great purpose.  And it was enough for all of us.

And now, as I march my classes dutifully through their last unit (It’s really just a mini unit!), and just one last summative assessment (Just 5 points—think of it as a summative quiz!), I can’t help feeling nostalgic for things from MHS’s past too.  A time free of iPads and iPhones, hashtags and twitter feeds, Schoology and Google Drive, video announcements, and TurnItIn.  When students in the hallway were looking at each other, instead of down at a glowing screen.  When reading A Catcher in the Rye meant holding a weathered book with a history of its own.  When teaching with historical documents meant opening my heavy metal file cabinet and pulling out carefully laminated political cartoons, historic photographs, and manifestos that were passed, from hand to hand, around the room.

Perhaps most of all, I am nostalgic for my work in the Minnetonka Writing Center.   In my over 15 years in education, never have I felt such purpose than when I was one of its coordinators.  Despite the fact that writing centers too have had to adapt to the digital age, what happens in them harkens back to an older time.  It promises three simple things to students:  careful readers, a compassionate ear, and thoughtful questions.  Everyday students have the opportunity to talk with someone—a teacher or a peer—who is genuinely interested in listening to their ideas and helping them express them in the best way they can. Kind of old fashioned.  But pretty awesome too.

So as we all race towards summer, by all means, “Finish strong.”  But then take a step or two back.  Rise early.  Read a book.  Leave your phone at home. Get dirty.  Look up.  Ask questions.  Listen.  And when the days get shorter,and the nights begin to cool, and you find yourself back in these tree lined hallways, try walking into Minnetonka’s Writing Center.  You might find that “old school” is just what you need.

May is quite the month

By Bastien Ibri, Senior Writing Coach

May is quite the month. Prom, the Swing Dance, probably something else, and tests. Yeah, tests. I’m going to try hard not to make this post a rant about testing, because we’ve all heard those. I’m just gonna try to give you a rundown of how May goes for me, because it’s been pretty constant over the years.

There is nothing I love more than not studying when I should be. While I haven’t done heroin (S/O to Jack Kerouac), I imagine this is what the effects are similar to. Somehow, avoiding doing this one thing makes me really good at sitting down and doing something I don’t make enough time for: reading.

Source: realitystudio.org

realitystudio.org

Trust me; I love reading. But during the regular school year, I seem to not be able to get in the mood for extended 5 hour reading sessions. Without fail, as soon as testing “season” (apparently it’s a season now) even begins to come around, I’ll find myself a big stack of books, sit myself in a comfy chair, and read for as long as I can stay awake. And I know that this sounds like it’s my way of escaping from studying, but it doesn’t feel like that. To me, it feels like every May I see things with a little bit more perspective. A whole class, sometimes two years long, gets reduced to a couple days of testing. While this should make the tests sound even more important, it doesn’t. The important parts of whatever you’ve learned are done. So instead of stressing about what I’ve already done, I spend my time doing what I love and wind up feeling a hell of a lot more productive at the end of the month.

I have no regrets about reading three Vonnegut novels instead of reviewing math problems. I wouldn’t trade Camus for Kepler no matter how many times someone tells me that his laws will be on the test. Reading these books makes me happy—I enjoy it. With normal schoolwork declining, I want to read more. It makes sense to me that I would do this. So whether you spend your time staring at the clouds, designing chemistry labs, or anything in between, don’t forget that May might just give you more time to do what you find fulfilling.

Are my test scores going to be the best they could be? Maybe not, but with the certainty of becoming the cliché I said I would avoid, you are more than your test scores. May, although it’s almost over, isn’t a time to not do anything because of tests. It is exactly the opposite. Tests relieve some weird stress in me because they are so small compared to what we’ve all done over the years.

This whole thing really might not make sense at all, and if I’ve just confused you even more, sorry. But try to be productive in a way that makes you happy whether it’s in the month of May or not. That is my attempt at some sort of senior wisdom, even though that is a strange concept that doesn’t really make sense to me. See you guys around; enjoy what’s left of your year.

 

 

 

Why do we do literary analysis?

By Anna Barnard, Sophomore Writing Coach

We all experience it at some point in our high school careers: literary analysis. This realm of writing examines plot, characters, metaphors, and many other techniques utilized by authors to create meaning in their texts. My general perception of literary analysis is that it is loved by few, feared by many, and most often looked down upon. What some people characterize as “English class stuff” is often criticized by students as analyzing too far, or making some huge stretches, or not letting us think for ourselves (and I’m guilty of these criticisms too). But if we look at it from a few different perspectives, I think we’ll come to see the importance of this underrated process.

I came to thinking about this when I was watching a vlogbrothers video in which John Green was discussing The Catcher in the Rye. After talking about the book specifically, he pointed out that, in general, literary analysis is indeed very important. Because without literary analysis, Holden Caulfield would just be a cynical teenager that many would find irritating. And many do. But if you can look past this and think a little deeper about why J.D. Salinger characterized Holden the way he did, and how you can relate to Holden, and what Salinger is trying to say through Holden, and what the red hunting cap symbolizes, etc… you develop a much greater appreciation for the book.

So, I am going to try to convince you why, if at least literary analysis isn’t fun, it is important because:

  • Readers write. By exploring the author’s potential ideas and style, we learn to develop our own style and learn how to use a variety of ways to get our points across. No matter what, you’re gonna write quite a bit in the span of your lifetime. Writing is required for nearly every job, and you need it in day-to-day interactions as well: sending emails, writing letters, you name it. Looking more in depth into authors’ writing style lets us develop our own voice and find new ways to convey what we want to say. And yes, you can argue that there is no such thing as finding “author’s intent” that many English teachers require of us. While the fact remains that we can never know for certain why an author may include something in his or her work, certain parts of an author’s writing are going to affect readers differently. We can analyze how an author does this the best we can, and use this as inspiration in our own work. I know that with my own writing, what has really influenced my own voice is the works of others that I read. I write because I read, and reading for depth is always going to make you a stronger writer.
  • We delve into the beautiful world of figurative language that does not often exist in oral communication. Because let’s be real: you probably can’t remember the last time you used a metaphor or an allusion when you were talking to a friend. Writing gives us a chance to use figurative language, something we don’t always get the chance to do. And with figurative language, we have so many more options in portraying what we want to say. We can interpret things differently, say things in a way that has more meaning to a reader, create relatable images in a reader’s mind that they’ll never forget. Analyzing this gives more meaning for us to this literary devices as well. So, if anything, literary analysis opens the door for some pretty sweet metaphors.
  • Above all, we learn to empathize with both the characters and the author. Empathy is an incredibly powerful tool that we have to understand both others and ourselves better. When we use literary analysis, we dive deep into the mind of the character and look at character personality and motivation. By reading deeply, we learn to put ourselves into characters’ shoes, and by way of this, the author’s. We not only feel for others and sympathize with them through this, but we also learn to see from different perspectives. Reading and analyzing literary works is one of the best ways to develop and practice empathy, and it gives us a new view on the character’s world as well as our own. This idea of empathy really came to light for me when I was watching John Green’s video about The Catcher in the Rye. What made me appreciate that book the most was the fact that I could empathize with Holden and put myself in his place in order to see things from his point of view. As the character Atticus Finch said in To Kill a Mockingbird, “You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view…until you climb into his skin and walk around in it.”

So, I hope you can see that, in fact, you do need literary analysis. Even though it can be boring, or even slightly painful, this process ultimately allows us explore and use devices and techniques that we’d never develop just by living our day-to-day lives. Next time you’re doing literary analysis in class, don’t approach this seemingly tedious task negatively; just remember that it’s letting you make new connections and opening new doors for you in your own world.

Here is the video where John Green discusses The Catcher in the Rye:

You have to have something to say.

By Sue Sinkler, 12 Honors and IB Literature HL Year 2 teacher

I’ve always thought of myself as a reader (and a talker) but not a writer. In the heat of the moment – teaching, talking, joking – I sometimes find the right words. I am delighted by such moments, but a clever way with words now and then does not make me a writer.

Stringing words together into clear sentences is a skill I much admire. I’ve read enough student writing to understand how difficult this is. I’m reminded of this aspect of writing now as I write. I know that students also fuss about how to organize their papers – how to begin and how to end. But the thing that makes writing valuable is the same thing that makes it hard. You have to have something to say.

There are two difficulties here. To say something and to say something. It may be a feeling or a fleeting impression you want to corral or it might be an idea you want another person to understand. But you need to feel that what you say is yours and that it is worth saying.

If students believe that their job is to read and observe so that they have something worth saying, the other hard parts of writing might feel more natural. The exciting essays I’ve read this year are written by young minds who have discovered something. They’ve noticed that Hamlet abandons his ideals before he sails for England. They discover a kinship with Annie Dillard. They want to feel what Sethe and Paul D feel for each other, the thing that makes the ending of Beloved hopeful. They have something they want to tell me.

When I read books I will later talk about with students, I read in a more engaged way because I want so much to see and experience something worth sharing. On my own, I’m a lazy reader. The burden of needing to have something to say worth saying has been one of the gifts of teaching. I think you will read and write well if you too feel this urge to discover something worth saying.