Text to Text: A Strategy for Common Core Close Reading

The-Scarlet-Letter-1917The NY Times Learning Network has just launched a new series of lesson plans called “Text to Text.” It’s a simple approach that pairs two written texts that “speak to each other.” I think it’s a Common Core close reading strategy that could be easily replicated by teachers across the curriculum – great way to blend nonfiction with fiction and incorporate a variety of media with written text.

Each lesson includes a key question, extension activities and additional resources to expand the basic lesson. Here’s two graphic organizers to help student organize their “Text to Text” thinking. (free PFD downloads)
Comparing Two or More Texts
Double-Entry Chart for Close Reading

The NY TImes plans to continue the series at the Learning Network – tagged Text to Text
To date they have created three sample lessons:

“The Scarlet Letter” and “Sexism and the Single Murderess”
Key Question: To what extent is there still a sexual double standard, and how does that double standard play out in contemporary culture?
It pairs a passage from “The Scarlet Letter” with a recent Op-Ed article that, together, invite discussion on societal attitudes toward female sexuality.

“Where Do Your Genes Come From?” and “DNA Double Take”
Key Question: How are recent advances in science changing our understanding of the genome, and how might this affect fields like forensic science or genetic counseling?
It matches a Times article with often-taught scientific, historic, cultural or literary material. This edition is about new findings in genetics.

“Edward Snowden and Daniel Ellsberg”
Key Question | Is Snowden a Hero, a Traitor or Something Else?
It pairs two Times articles that capture parallel moments in history: Daniel Ellsberg’s surrender to the police in 1971 after leaking the Pentagon Papers, and Edward Snowden’s public admission in June that he leaked classified documents about United States surveillance programs.

Image credit: 1917 Film version of ”The Scarlet Letter” – publicity still (cropped)
L. to R Stuart Holmes, Kittens Reichert & Mary Martin Date

Romney vs. Obama Wordle Smackdown

Here’s a Wordle comparison of the top twenty words used in the each candidate’s speech to their conventions. Font size represents frequency that the word appeared in their speech as prepared for delivery. Seems to be “America” vs “new.”

Sources: 
Romney’s Speech to the Republican Convention NY Times
President Obama’s Prepared Remarks From the Democratic National Convention NY Times

What is Writing For?

Question: What is Writing For?
Answer: Writing is for making assigned writing.

Students everywhere are asked repeatedly to write papers that are inherently insincere exercises in rearranging things they’ve read or been told…

That’s the response given by Verlyn Klinkenborg in his thoughtful NY Times essay Where Do Sentences Come From?

He writes, “What is writing for? The answers seem obvious — communication, persuasion, expression. But the real answer in most classrooms is this: writing is for making assigned writing. Throughout their education, students everywhere are asked repeatedly to write papers that are inherently insincere exercises in rearranging things they’ve read or been told — papers in which their only stake is a grade.”

Instead of being motivated by autonomy and choice, students are routinely assigned to write responses to prompts they have no interest in. The tacit audience for their work is the teacher, the purpose is a grade.

Over time students learn that the only information (or ideas) worth knowing are those that come from the teacher or the text. The lesson learned?  Since student contributions won’t be tested – they’re not worth knowing. “Mr Pappas, will this be on the test?”

As Klinkenborg observes, [writing] “is harder than it seems because first you have to find a thought. They may seem scarce because nothing in your education has suggested that your thoughts are worth paying attention to. Again and again I see in students, no matter how sophisticated they are, a fear of the dark, cavernous place called the mind. They turn to it as though it were a mailbox. They take a quick peek, find it empty and walk away…. Sift the debris of a young writer’s education, and you find dreadful things — strictures, prohibitions, dos, don’ts, an unnatural and nearly neurotic obsession with style, argument and transition.”

Read Klinkenborg’s essay for some interesting prompts for activating the writer’s voice. I’ll offer three considerations for assigning and evaluating writing in the classroom. For an example click here.

  • Let students make some choices about their writing.
  • Let students write for a more authentic audience than the teacher.
  • Use more peer evaluation and self reflection. 

Worried that students won’t take more responsibility for their writing?
Don’t worry, that’s what they’ve been doing with their friends on Facebook.

Image credit: Flickr/Nesster

Texting While Walking: Video Guide for Safety and Etiquette

Here’s a clever video by Casey Neistat. Using an novel combination of live action and animation, he tell the story of the dangers of texting while walking. Casey notes, 

By mastering the etiquette of texting, I hope we can gain more control over our increasingly electronic lives.  Let’s stop acting like hollowed-out zombies, with BlackBerrys and iPhones replacing eye contact, handshakes and face-to-face conversations.  It’s time to live once again in the present and simply be where we are. More

As someone who lives in downtown Portland Ore (without a car), I’m always trying to improve my pedestrian etiquette. It might be nice if the drivers stopped texting, as well.

This video is part of the New York Times Op-Docs series – short, opinionated documentaries. 

Texting While Walking
Texting While Walking

Abraham “Abe” Rothberg: Author, Professor, Friend

Abe-rothberg Two weeks ago, I lost a very important person in my life. For more than 25 years Abe Rothberg served as friend, mentor, surrogate father and personal curmudgeon. Over long lunches in diners or late afternoons in his study we’d discuss politics, history, literature, journalism and gossip about everyone we knew. 

By the time I met Abe in the early 1980’s he had many achievements – a distinguished career as a journalist, university professor and author of thirteen novels, two books of history, a collection of short stories, two children’s books, and a volume of literary criticism. Abe was the most learned (and opinionated) person I ever knew. While I never saw Abe in the classroom, he was beloved or feared (or both) by legions of English literature students from his days teaching at Hofstra, Columbia and St. John Fisher.

For more on Abe’s accomplishments see the New York Times obituary 
Abraham Rothberg, Who Wrote of Golem and Stalin, Dies at 89 

Rothberg-nyt
Following his retirement from teaching, I knew Abe hoped to devote more time to his writing. There were some successes – like an occasional journal piece,  but many of our lunches were punctuated by his growing disappointment that yet another book manuscript had been rejected. So beginning around 2000, I began to try to convince Abe that we could use new print-on-demand technology to by-pass the big publishing houses and do it ourselves. “I will never stoop to vanity press,” he’d bellow.

I pressed on and a few years later (did I say he was stubborn?)  I convinced him to let me publish The Holy Warriors a novel that had been rejected by a few publishers despite the fact that it had, in a way, anticipated 9/11. “OK Abe, let’s get this started – give me the Word doc of the book and I’ll get going on design.” Abe replied, “What’s a word doc?” (Did I mention that Abe refused to even LOOK into a computer screen?) So before beginning work on book design, step one was finding someone who was willing to scan / proof  his typewritten and heavily edited manuscript into OCR. 

Eventually the book was finished and sent off to Lulu for publication. I’ll never forget bringing the finished paperback to Abe. He took the book in his thick hands and kept turning it over  - like a baker patting down dough. His face beamed as he asked,  “So when do we get started on the second book?” 

Over the next six years we published another twelve books. (That’s right – all 12 started as typewritten manuscripts.) The scope was a remarkable testimony to the breadth of Abe’s interest and expertise – collections of  short fiction On A Darkling Plain, essays and literary criticism What Time Is It Now? novels set in Japan The Torii Gate and the Soviet eastern block The Former People. Subject ranged from a children’s story - Pinocchio’s Sister ~ A Feminist Fable  to an exploration of the justice system through the lens of a serial killer The Trials of Arthur John Shawcross.

In 2010, a group of his friends held a tribute to Abe  - the man and his writing – as part of a Jewish Book Festival. Here’s an excerpt of the reflection that Abe shared with us. (I learned he always liked the last word) 

… Serious fiction is a lie that tells the truth. Fiction can introduce you into the lies and truths of other people’s minds and hearts, to your own country and time, or strange, foreign places and other eras, into the most public forums and the most private scenes of human intimacy; it can make you see, hear, feel, love, hate, forgive, judge, understand, and yet not be bound by the consequences of all those activities, though you are there as a participant-observer in the most personal and informed ways. … And so, tonight, you will hear some of the lies I have written I take to be important truths, serious fictions about our lives and times. I thought my books might contribute to the cultural and political conversations and dilemmas of our epoch. If that has not taken place as I wished– and I am sorry to say it has not–it was not for the want of my trying.

To read more about Abe, download or order his books click here.

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