Sunday, September 12, 2010

Save the Words - Adopt!

There are needy words out there. Ones looking to be adopted lest they become extinct and end up in one of those esoteric dictionaries sold for half-price at used book stores.  You'll see what I mean when you visit Oxford Dictionary's website Save the Words like


Words such as these are literally screaming to be picked up and used in everyday conversation, business meetings, emails and even text messages. Try the site and you'll see what I mean (and that I used literally correctly in the previous sentence).

In my classroom, I often have a word wall composed of words from a source such as American Heritage Dictionary Editors' 100 Words Every High School Graduate Should Know. This is an informal addition to the words my students are required to learn from the textbooks my school uses. For correctly using the words from the wall in assignments and discussion, students earn extra credit or a small treat from "the treasure box" (a topic I should post on in the future).

I think this could be a fun site for students to visit when we are in the writing center lab or have a few extra minutes in class.  Maybe we could adopt an obsolete word each week to augment our word studies.  Even if students don't have 1:1 computer-to-student ratios, this could be an engaging activity on one class computer, especially if you have an XGA projector. Each we a student could select a word for the class, we could note etymology (unfortunately not provided by Oxford, but I recommend the Online Etymology Dictionary.), and pay attention to roots, suffixes, and prefixes.

Once you and your students go to the site and the words start calling out to you, it will be much like going to the animal shelter.  You'll want to adopt and take that cute little one in the window one home.

If you find a fun and effective way to incorporate SavetheWords into your classes, please share in the comments below.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Macbeth Unfriends Duncan

Looking forward to presenting at the National Council of Teachers of English Annual Convention 2010 in Orlando this November. My presentation is part of a panel session to share my Macbethbook project, a parody social network students build in a wiki that is a mashup of Shakespeare's Scottish play and Facebook.

Shakespeare’s theme of versions of reality (appearance versus reality) comes to the fore as students consider versions of self that a social network user puts online. They imagine what "versions" of characters are known among the dramatis personae of "Macbeth."

Using a wiki as the platform for this collaborative project, provides verisimilitude to the look and function of an actual site. In role, students post online journal entries, photos, videos, links, and email among characters from the play that demonstrate their understanding of characters, relationships, action, dialogue, and language. As they examine the thematic implications of appearance v. reality, they realize how social networking fosters varied representations of self in virtual and real lives today.

As recently as December 2009, researchers have noted that 93% of American teens use the Internet and of that number 73% use social networking (Lee Rainie, “Networked Learners,” Pew Internet & American Life Report, 2 Dec. 2009. Web.)

In creating a mock social network for the characters of "Macbeth," students analyze how social networks function: who sees what, what may be shared, hidden, revealed, invented, honest or hypocritical. Traditional literacy skills serve new literacies of working with digital media is a requirement as students construct a social network from the ground up, composing writing, taking photos, making videos, and uploading these to the site, and then linking to “friends” for viewing.

Session participants will be given the opportunity to imagine the social network of "Macbeth" from character points-of-view to add interaction and illustrate the students' learning process of this inquiry-based approach.

Out of a complex intersection of classic literature and contemporary technology come practical lessons of living literate lives. One lesson is the imperative that students come to understand the social relationships and multiplicities of persona in Shakespeare’s play. Next comes the lesson of how we tend to segment our “selves” among our social relationships, yet ultimately must reconcile these selves in one whole human being. Third, there is a recognition that social networks function at once virtually and in reality. And finally, students’ discover that their versions of themselves on offer to others—virtually or in reality—need to be critically selected with agency and be consistent with how they identify themselves—each as a one whole human being.

"Macbeth" is tragedy of a man and woman becoming monsters caused in part by a each separating his or her “self” until he or she became less than human. Thus, this project underscores how teachers and students may live literate and whole lives together, particularly when it comes to representing ourselves in social media.

If you are headed for NCTE 2010 in Orlando this November, look for Session I.25 at 1:15 p.m. on Saturday, November 20.