Daily Archives: October 2, 2007


Since F. Scott Fitzgerald is one of my favorite writers, I took Tyson’s discussion on The Great Gatsby in chapter 5 to heart.  Tyson focuses largely on Gatsby’s longing for future fulfillment, but I believe that students can go deeper than this, because the novel is not just about Gatsby.  The novel was published in 1925 and certainly introduced love affairs, unhappiness, and longing to its readers.  However this was a year of great importance to Fitzgerald, who had been married for five years to Zelda Fitzgerald, or “Daisy”.  Zelda had just ended an affair with Edouard Jozen in France, and the couple had returned to America as an escape.  The Fitzgeralds drank heavily and partied to mask their problems, and Zelda was already exhibiting glimpses of mental illness.  They suffered financial strains and Fitzgerald’s hatred of the rich was masked further by his turbulent hypocritical lifestyle.  Zelda, however, thirsted for riches and demanded nothing less of her husband.

What would Tyson say about this angle in the New Critical Reading of Gatsby?  Aren’t we missing something?  I have always felt that Gatsby, like other works by Fitzgerald, is a memoir of his marriage and personal life.  When discussing the New Critical Reading of the novel, this must be taken into account.  If the text must focus on one single meaning and one single interpretation, the question I would ask my students in their search for this identification would be something like: “Is the universal theme of Gatsby unfulfilled longing?  If so, who is the main character in the novel who defines longing for the course of the story? Or, is longing ever marginalized by any other force in this novel, such as compulsion?  What do you think?”  I really don’t feel that unfulfilled longing as the one theme of the novel can be talked about without questioning Fitzgerald as the main character in the novel.  Also, I feel a little disappointed that Tyson did not take that into account in his discussion.  Finally, I do not think that the answer of “longing” can be arrived at without looking at and questioning the weight of other forces in the novel.

I hear Tyson’s appreciation of New Criticism as a replacement for biographical-historical criticism, which looks at the author’s life, but I disagree with it.  If we are to teach students that writing is intimate and highly depended upon an individual’s view of the world, how can we tell them that there is only one best accurate interpretation of the text, which does not take into account the experiences of the author himself?  I think text should be open to multiple interpretation that goes outside of the text, as well, because we can never truly know what our authors were thinking at the time they wrote their novels.  In order to journey into their heads, we should journey outside of just one question or one meaning, like universal longing.  There is more.  What about compulsion?  What about resentment?  What about fear?  -Sofia


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Motivation to Read & What Young Adults Are Telling Us

The following is my response to “What Young Adults Tell Us About Books, Reading and Educators” and “Assessing adolescents’ motivation to read”:

The MRP Reading Survey: 

After reviewing the MRP reading survey and thinking about students’ self-concepts as readers, I agree that students are mislead on what makes a good reader a good reader.  Take, for example, the eleventh grader who wrote on his survey that he was a poor reader who did not read very often, yet the most interesting book he ever read was by Michael Crichton.  On his own, the student read reviews on this book, read it in full, and can speak on what the novel was about in mature terms.  This is a poor reader only by school standards, who are telling kids that they must read the specific books assigned in class, or else.   I find the boy’s mixed responses on his survey to be only symptomatic of the larger problem, which is that school practices act as disincentives when the focus of “reading” becomes so narrow.  Not only is this boy not reading his dull school assignments, but he has taken it upon himself to go out and find adult novels that speak to him and interest him.  He is quite the reader, in my opinion.  He is also a great critic.

Translating this same idea to “What Young Adults Tell Us About Books, Reading, and Educators”:

One of the best statements written in this article is, “There is no one template for a reader.”  I completely agree that one book will not fit the entire classroom.  When we try to make this stretch, we result with kids like the one mentioned above who walk away thinking they are poor readers because they cannot relate.  The best “new idea” presented in this article to open up the scope of classroom reading is, “Kids judge a book by its cover.”  I have been thinking about the cover of one classic high school novel, The Great Gatsby.  While the story is rich and thought provoking, the simple cover does not truly excite you enough to open up to page one, does it?  I think a great class project after reading Gatsby would be to assign each student to create a new cover for F. Scott Fitzgerald’s masterpiece.  I think a set of sad eyes overlooking the bright lights is rather boring now.  So much more can be uncovered about Fitzgerald’s motivations for writing the novel based on his own home life, and kids should be looking into that.  The cover of the book should reflect Fitzgerald and his characters, since it was such an intimate novel for him to write. 

Going back to the 11th grade boy who was reading Crichton, he mentioned that he first saw the book on a stand in his local bookstore.  Could it be because the cover was glossy, bright, and eye-catching?  Most likely this is the case.  -Sofia

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Unit Plan

I have not yet blogged on my unit plan ideas, so I wanted to take a moment to share some of my ideas with all of you. 

My main question is, “Who are teenagers?”  Subquestions of this main question include:

  1. Where are teenagers in TV, music and advertising?
  2. How is adolescence constructed in text?  Magazines, novels?
  3. How do parents and family define their teenagers?
  4. How do teenagers express themselves on the internet?
  5. What kinds of people are teenagers aspiring to become?
  6. What kind of social and political change are teenagers capable of creating?

Thinking in terms of the backward design framework, the following pieces answer the question, “What should students know and be ale to do?”

  1. Students should be able to define their roles in society
  2. Students should be able to see the challenges they face as young adults
  3. Students should be able to see the community, national, and global differences they make
  4. Students should see themselves from the points of view of their peers and elders
  5. Students should feel empowered to be more influential in their worlds

 My Unit Text Set (still growing and evolving):

  1. Just Listen, by Sarah Dessen, 2006 – Work the questions How do parents and family define their teenagers and Where are teenagers in music
  2. Tears of a Tiger, By Sharon Draper, 1996 – Work the question What kind of social change are teenagers capable of creating?
  3. She’s Come Undone, By Wally Lamb, 1999 – Work the questions How is adolescence constructed in text and What kinds of people are teenagers aspiring to become?

Class projects working with a range of medias (Choice of three. One should be chosen.):

  1. Spend two hours observing teenagers at the Starbucks in Barnes and Noble on a Friday or Saturday night.  Note what they are reading, who they are socializing with, what they are wearing, and how they conduct themselves in a public social atmosphere.  Are they using laptops or cell phones?  Are they alone or in large groups, and what are they talking about?  Do they seem happy, depressed, anxious?  Now create a wiki that gives an educational tour of teen reading, teen clothing, teen attitudes, teen socializing tools, and more.  Create a separate wiki page that links one of the class texts to this educational tour, and write how the main character(s) in the novel are similar or different to the young adults in Barnes and Noble. 
  2. Write your own fictional story of a day in the life of the average teenager, and turn it into a short audio book by podcasting it.  Create a podcast that includes musical introductions or interludes worked into your story.  The podcast audio book should be no longer than eight to ten minutes, so only include what is most important in that teenager’s life.  Be selective with the main ideas you want to convey.  Supplement this podcast with a written essay to be turned in, which explains your objectives and goals in creating your story and audio book.  Include which class text inspired you most, and how your story is similar or different to that class text.
  3. Create a series of TV commercials targeted to teenagers your age, ranging from commercial products, social issues, politics, music, and family issues.  To speak on family issues, for example, you might want to create a commercial that promotes a nonprofit organization geared toward helping teens at home.  In five commercials, paint a picture for your classmates of the issues that teens face in media, home, school, and social settings.  Now make one additional commercial on one of the class texts and promote its influence in the life of teen readers.  Supplement this set of commercials with a blog that you create for the class, where they can post their feedback to your online video.

By the end of the unit, students will have tackled my main question using both the class text set, written essays or scripts, and electronic tools.  How am I doing so far?  -Sofia

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The Intellectual Life! 541 and You!

“Children grow into the intellectual life around them.” — Vygotsky

Please remember to bring your book club selections for discussion tonight, and return any books you have had out for review.

We’ll be discussing the McKibben lecture in relationship to the Vygotsky quotation, the Atwell chapters, Tyson, 5 (posts on both?) chapters from the Beers anthology and our unit planning. We will also see the K. Gallagher classroom dvd–postponed from last meeting.

Please bring the books you will need tonight which includes Appleman and any young adult title you have picked up recently and may focus your theory paper on.

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