This is my first attempt at the blogging meme entitled “It’s Monday, What Are You Reading?”  My focus for this post will mostly be the book Chains by Laurie Halse Anderson with information about some other things that I am working on.

To start with, I recently finished the book Chains, and I don’t exactly know what to make of it.  On one hand, I greatly enjoyed the themes of love and family.  I especially liked how the main character, Isabel, was determined to protect her younger sister, Ruth.  Isabel did not care about the Revolutionary War insofar as trying to find out which side would be more likely to help her and her sister attain the freedom they had been promised.  However, I felt that the entire book was problematized by a white woman writing about the experiences of a young black girl.  To some extent, I get that Anderson was trying to write about a period of history from the perspective of a marginalized group, but this could have been done in a different way.  Anderson could have written the book from the perspective of a woman who had formerly been an indentured servant, and in fact has such a character in Chains.  However, she did not do that.  Instead, Anderson took a personhood that was not hers to characterize.  I really have issues with people trying to just use a character like Isabel without being part of the centuries of culture and history that she tried to depict so… I don’t want to say ignorantly because Anderson seemed to have made an attempt to do her homework, but without being part of the culture herself then how could she ever truly understand?  Either way, I would recommend this book for its interesting take on history, but I would have to warn against it for its blatant appropriation of culture, history, and personhood.


Other than that, I have yet to start The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie, but I will be doing that soon.  Also, I am still working hard to get through Forbidden Language: English Language Learners and Restrictive Language Policies by Patricia Gandara and Megan Hopkins.  I have also accrued quite an extensive PRO/TBR List that spans almost five pages in my notebook.  It includes titles from multiple different sources and genres that I have found from reading Book Love and the fantastic blogs and Twitter accounts that we have been exposed to throughout this class.  I am quite excited to start working may way through it even after this class ends.

absolutely true diary of a part-time indian

Literacy Skills and Social Media

For this week’s blog post, I have titled it with the exact words that I conducted my Internet research under.  I found many interesting articles, but the one I wish to focus on in particular came from The Alberta Teacher’s Association.  It was called Can Social Networking Boost Literacy Skills?

This article, as it included information primarily from two different studies in the first part, did admit that recent numbers show that students are picking up books less and less.  However, students are still reading.  Each month, week, day, whatever, students are reading innumerable emails, tweets, blog posts, status updates, etc.  What does this mean?  This means that students are reading.  Not only that, but this social networking is also fostering a new generation of confident and capable writers.

The article, in part, focused on blogging for further elucidation upon this point, but the information is still valid for other social networking platforms.  Other studies found that students who actively blog are more likely to keep journals, write short stories, etc. outside of the blogosphere as well.  Not only that, but posting their work on social media allows for feedback potential that they might not have otherwise.  Therefore, students are being influenced by other writers and readers and thus showing definitive signs of writing improvement as well as boosted self-confidence in the practice of writing itself.

Continuing from this premise, while it can be said that students are less likely to pick up a physical copy of a book, maybe we should stop considering that the “be all, end all” of literacy.  Students are reading more digital copies of things, being exposed to more forms of information media, and listening to audio formats of works from around the world.  For many, social media is the first step where they are exposed to these new things and then are spurred to go out and look for more themselves.  As such, maybe it is time to start moving towards patterns of thought and teaching that align with this paradigm shift.  If we do so, then we are more likely to not only recognize social media’s educative potential for literacy, but to also more successfully implement it for our students and ourselves.

There is so much potential for teaching and learning through technology and social media.  All we have to do is reach for it.

social media
Sourced from mkhmarketing on Flickr

Twenty Better Questions: Looking for Alaska

1. What character(s) was your favorite? Why?

My favorite character in the book was probably Mr. Starnes, aka the Eagle.  He is so under-appreciated as a character.  It seemed as though, consistently throughout the book, he was genuinely concerned with the safety and well-being of the students.  He formed personal connections with the students to the point where they even gave him a nickname, regardless of the fact that it was supposed to make fun of his alertness in regards to mischief and mayhem.  He also seems to understand that these youths are attempting to find their identities and explore their individuality, so his main focus is allowing them to do so in a safe and secure environment.  However, this is never fully, or even partially, explored so all of this is just my personal take on the whole situation.

2. What character(s) did you dislike? Why?

The character that I disliked the most was Miles “Pudge” Halter.  I felt as though the book was written to make Miles out to be the victim of bullying, teases, and losing the love of his life.  I have some issues with this.  To start with, I could understand the writer wanting to make Miles the victim of bullying to emphasize his status as an outsider who connects with other outsiders and they rail against the world.  However, that’s it.  That’s the only thing I can get behind with this character.  Everything else is absolute trash, and not even the good kind of trash where I read it for the pure enjoyment of it being trash.

3. Does anyone in this work remind you of anyone you know? Explain.

Miles Halter, also known as Pudge, kind of reminds me of every so-called “nice guy” I have ever met in my life.  They have one skill that they believe sets them apart from others and their status as non-jock, non-popular, non-conformist, whatever, somehow gives them magical powers of “classiness” that every girl in the entire world ever is somehow unable to see.  They choose one girl to focus their creepy obsession on, are upset every time she dates anyone that is not them because “why can’t she see that I’m here” when, ironically enough, they have shut out every other girl ever because they weren’t pretty enough, smart enough, whatever enough, to be worthy of the “nice guy”‘s time.  In reality, they are just a guy, who really isn’t that nice, and feels as though he is owed the attention of the girl of his choice regardless of the fact that she is an independent person who does not owe him anything.

4. Are you like any character in this work? Explain.

Chip Martin, also known as the Colonel, reminded me of myself.  The reason for this is because he works very hard and refuses to be pushed around.  He does not let himself be saddened by his socioeconomic situation and is unashamed of where he came from and who he calls family.

5. If you could be any character in this work, who would you be? Explain.

I would not want to be anyone in this book.  Ever.  I would not want to Pudge because of reasons mentioned above.  I would not want to be Chip, even though I do relate to him, because I have no desire to be friends with Alaska Young at all.  The Eagle would not be a good match because I would not want his job in the slightest.  Everyone else in the book is exceedingly flat and boring and I could find nothing to make them relatable let alone someone I would wish to be.

6. What quality(ies) of which character strikes you as a good characteristic to develop within yourself over the years? Why? How does the character demonstrate this quality?

I think, if anything, I would want to develop the Colonel’s self-confidence.  This is because I myself lack self-confidence and I feel that this trait is important to make connections with people, try new things, go to different places, and essentially get the most out of life.  Chip demonstrates these qualities through his determination to be himself even when he wants to impress his girlfriend’s parents.  He refuses to be made ashamed of his background and even invites Pudge and Alaska to his house though they come from middle-class backgrounds compared to his own background of poverty.  Lastly, he does everything he can to find out the reason behind Alaska’s death, even if it is not perfect, because he understands that he and Pudge both need that closure.

7. Overall, what kind of a feeling did you have after reading a few paragraphs of this work? Midway? After finishing the work?

To be honest, I hated the book.  I felt that the writing style was boring and difficult to read at times.  It was not any sort of complexity that caused a challenge, but rather the fact that he would use the most ill-fitting synonyms of words and I could not understand why.  This did not change once I reached the midway point.  I despised how he, the author, seemingly kept trying to make the reader feel sorry for Pudge because Alaska was such a cock-teasing bitch even though she was in a relationship with another person, had no inclinations towards polyamory, and really owed none of her time and attention to him.  After finishing the work, I had entertained hopes that Pudge would come to the realization that friendship is not a consolation prize but a prize in and of itself and he should be happy that he had the chance to have that connection with Alaska before she died, but that never happened.  He ended the book, sans realization, with Pudge coming to the conclusion that he would always love Alaska and that she forgave him for letting her drive that night and that he forgives her for never giving him that “to be continued” that she promised.  Seriously, it was awful.

8. Do any incidents, ideas, or actions in this work remind you of your own life or something that happened to you? Explain.

The only idea that reminded me of my own life was that one should not be ashamed of where they come from.  There is no shame in coming from a background of poverty and becoming friends with those from different socioeconomic strata than your own.  Beyond that, there was nothing else that sparked any reminders.

9. Do you like this piece of work? Why or why not?

Nope, I did not like this piece of work at all.  By this point in the Twenty Better Questions, I think I have covered most of the reasons.  However, there is another reason that I strongly disliked this book.  This is the fact that none of the characters seemed to really grow or change as people in any substantial way.  I spent 221 pages hoping that some great realization about human connection would happen, but nope.  Instead it just worked to undermine female independence and personhood.  Fantastic.

10. Are there any parts of this work that were confusing to you? Which parts? Why do you think you got confused?

I was confused with John Green’s word choice in places.  In one bit he says that a character’s hair “was perennially wet”.  Nope, just… nope.  All of the nope.  “Perpetually” would have been a better word choice and is just as many syllables and letters as “perennially” so why?  This was not the only time that this happened in the book, but this is one of the most memorable.

11. Do you feel there is an opinion expressed by the author through this work? What is it? How do you know this? Do you agree? Why or why not?

I feel that there is a message of love and forgiveness being pushed, but I don’t agree with it at all.  As previously mentioned, the author is pushing the love between Alaska and Pudge, but she doesn’t love him like he loves her, and that really sets up the message of forgiveness later.  Her death keeps her from ever consummating that (nonexistent) love between her and Pudge, and he finds himself unable to forgive her for that.  This is in conjunction with how he believes that she blames him for not keeping her from driving while drunk and thus causing the fatal accident.  I could sort of get behind the whole “I blame myself for kinda, sort-of causing your death so I can’t forgive myself because I think you blame me” if it wasn’t so heavily intertwined with the “you were in a happy, stable relationship with another person but you owed me your love because I loved you” thing.

12. Do you think the title of this work is appropriate? Is it significant? Explain. What do you think the title means?

The title of this work is appropriate in that Miles is always chasing after Alaska, and it is significant because he is looking for her love in the first part and then looking for her forgiveness in the second part.  I think it means that Miles, who is miles away from Alaska in life-experience, coolness, whatever, is looking for her love, her approval, her attention until her death in which case he looks for absolution and her forgiveness.

13. Would you change the ending of this story in any way? Tell your ending. Why would you change it?

I would change the ending of the story to make it so that Pudge realizes how childish he was being by devaluing the worth of her friendship like that.  She was a beautiful soul, both inside and out (at least in his opinion when he wasn’t too busy hating her for not being with him romantically), and he should have been glad that she had chosen him to form an interpersonal connection with.

14. What kind of person do you feel the author is? What makes you feel this way?

I don’t really have a good basis on which to determine what kind of person I believe the author to be considering I have only read one of his books. However, I do get the sense that he is trying to write what he thinks people want to read. I felt this way because the book seemed almost ridiculously formulaic, even for him. Even though I haven’t read any of his other books, I do know the premise of The Fault in Our Stars. Essentially, bot and girl meet, they fall in love, tragedy strikes, and the relationship is broken. Boohoo, sob sob. He is even more formulaic with how he writes in Looking for Alaska that boy meets girl, he falls in love, she is sadly with someone else even though she could do so much better with someone like say him, girl does something unforgivable and has to make up for it, and guy graciously forgives her for it.

15. How did this work make you feel? Explain.

This work made me incredibly angry. The reason for this is that it only perpetuated the notion that guys are somehow victimized when a girl only wants to be friends and nothing more. The fact of the matter is that friendship is awesome in and of itself. That’s that.

16. Do you share any of the feelings of the characters in this work? Explain.

As mentioned previously, I share the Colonel’s refusal to be shamed by his background.

17. Sometimes works leave you with the feeling that there is more to tell. Did this work do this? What do you think might happen?

This work did not leave me with the feeling that there was more to tell. In fact the ending left me feeling that had Alaska survived, she would have left her boyfriend for Pudge even though there was no reason to do so because “Pudge really loved her and it wasn’t just infatuation and hot and cold feelings depending on how willing she was to pay attention to him”. I want absolutely none of that ever.

18. Would you like to read something else by this author? Why or why not?

Nope. If he wishes to write books that perpetuate harmful ideals such as the “friend zone” and that women owe men their time and attention for meanly putting them in the cold, cruel world of that “friend zone” then I have no desire to read anything else by him.

19. What do you feel is the most important word phrase, passage, or paragraph in this work? Explain why it is important.

I feel that the most important word in this work is “looking”. This is because the characters all seemed to be looking for something whether it be the “Great Perhaps”, connection, love, friendship, absolution, meaning, truth, etc. Everyone was looking for something.

20. If you were an English teacher, would you want to share this work with your students? Why or why not?

Nope. As I mentioned previously, the work is sort of poorly written, perpetuates harmful ideals, and really has nothing else to offer students or adults for that matter. If anything, the easy language and simple syntax would be good practice for struggling readers and ELL students, but that’s it.


The Importance of Communication

For this week, I read chapters 5 and 6 in Penny Kittle’s Book Love.  She had some amazing things to say about both book talks and writing conferences.  For me, the two practices are so interconnected that it is difficult to separate them in such a manner, but I understand that she was differentiating for a reason.  Therefore, for the purposes of this post I will do so as well before discussing their synergy.

Book talks, in my opinion, are one of the most important things a teacher can do in the classroom.  To clarify, I mean this as not only presenting new books to the class, but also letting students do so and speaking to the students on an individual basis.  This creates a sense of give and take between the students and the teacher, and it lets them know that you care about their interests, likes, and dislikes.  The camaraderie can only be supplemented with the individual meetings because you are getting to know your student personally and are taking the time to hear their thoughts and opinions.  This shows that you respect the students on an individual level and proves to them that you care about their identities.

Writing conferences work much in the same way.  Without writing conferences, there is a large chance that the subtle nuances of meaning injected by the student into their work will be lost.  When you take the time to speak with them and listen, you get valuable context that helps you to understand their work and their thought processes on a deeper level.  This aligns with the book talk points as you are getting to know their identities and individuality and thus have an insight that is priceless.

In essence, both book talks and writing conferences give you the chance to demonstrate that the students are more than just faces in a class.  They allow you to show that you see their individuality, you hear their voices, and you care.  Understanding, companionship, connection, and community are all ideals that I wish to encourage in my future classes through the utilization of book talks and writing conferences.

book love




Picture This: Little Peach


Recently, the Avengers book club decided to read the book Little Peach.  It was a very intense read, but I believe it was well worth it.  One scene in the book describes how a young girl, Michelle, is tattooed to show that she belongs to a pimp called Devon.  All of his girls are tattooed in this mammer.  However, his possessiveness goes even further in that once he gives them a nickname (i.e., Little Peach, Baby Girl, and Kitty Kat) he rarely if ever uses their real names again.

I decided to create a combination sketch of the images from the girls’ tattoos combined with their nickname in a script that I pictured being similar to the one proclaiming their status.  This is because all of ot, the tattoos and the nicknames, combine to form this new identity that centers around Devon, makes them dependent on him, and forces them to bow to his will.

My sketch helped me to understand that one cannot just walk away from such a life.  Devon was part of a gang, and the combination of his ownership and the tattoos made the girls gang members as well.  If they were to attempt to leave or get help, then death would have been a mercy compared to what Devon and his gang would do to get retribution.

A question that it raised for me was what was going to happen to Michelle, also known as Little Peach, since she did go to the police.  Were the police going to help her, or were they going to force her to fend for herself since they seemed to believe that she asked for everything that happened to her?

What It Means to Read Diversely

In this week’s lesson, we were asked to consider a few different questions:


What does diversifying your reading life mean to you?

Diverse authors, topics, genres?  Something else?

Diversifying my reading life means many different things, at least in my opinion.  It means all of the above: the diverse authors, the different topics, the varied genres.  However, it means more than that as well.  It means consciously making an effort to read books, short stories, poetry, whatever that have been written by diverse authors about diverse people.  It is one thing to read an author’s attempt at portraying a diversity that they have no personal knowledge about, but it is something else completely to read it from a truly up-close-and-personal standpoint.  Diversifying means making a conscious effort to step outside my comfort zone to power through the new and like-new books that the students of this day and age and reading and absorbing.  If I do not do that, then how am I to have any sort of conversation or dialogue with them about it?  How am I to capably do research to discover whether that book is fairly and accurately portraying diversity in a respectful and healthy manner?  How am I to truly educate?


What are your goals for diversifying your reading life?

My main goals for diversifying my reading life are research and the dissemination of knowledge.  Therefore, as mentioned previously, it is essential that I am not only reading many different books by different authors, but I must also make sure that I am consciously making an effort to read diversely following the points I mentioned previously.  Along that vein, I am also going to make an effort to connect with my local library more and keep a variety of books within my own personal library.  At this point in time, most of my books have come from the free book shelf outside the English and Humanities offices because I had to leave the rest of my books at home.  My goal is to bring up the rest of my books once I get settled into a space for the long-term.



What challenges have you already experienced or foresee?

The challenges that I have already experienced are the issues with publishing and inauthentic representation.  Far too often have diverse characters been used as plot devices or the token “diverse” character.  This is definitively not authentic representation as the diversity is not being represented accurately or respectfully or even as a true character in the sense that they have a personality and place within the world built throughout the story.  Some challenges I foresee are the continuation of such behaviors towards diverse characters.  I also foresee people who are not actually part of the demographic being represented attempting to write diverse characters with minimal research and input from that demographic just for the sake of selling more books or being able to beef up their author bios..


What would a diverse reading life look like for you?

I have mentioned previously that a diverse reading life means trying to read widely.  This means that I wish to read about different cultures, different belief systems, different lifestyles, and different demographics in order to learn about those groups and give them the respect and acknowledgment that is their right.  However, I do not wish to do this in a superficial manner.  It is also important that I read deeply into these different groups so that I have more than a “skin-deep” understanding as I have never encountered anything that can be truly understood when given just a cursory glance.  As the world continues to grow and change, it also becomes important to read about the past and the present in order to prepare for the future.  Essentially, I wish to have a four-dimensional reading life of sorts.


How important do you think it is for our students to have diverse reading lives?

I think that it is crucial for our students to have diverse reading lives.  When students are not given the opportunity to read diversely, it is all too easy for stereotypes and biases to be perpetuated and even worsened.  This is dangerous for individuals, communities, and the world as a whole.  Students need to understand that the world is a diverse place with diverse people, and such knowledge will allow them to traverse the global community successfully as will be required of them in the near future.  As such, they will have the potential to change the world, whether that be on a small scale or a large scale, for the better.


What might you do in the classroom to invite students to read more diversely?

I would stock my shelves with books of all types and genres that have a more global view being depicted.  This is because I believe that the first step is presenting them with the materials to capitalize on the opportunity being presented.  Next, I would try to build my lesson plans so that it aligns more with a diverse worldview as well.  It is critical that students see why they are being asked to do something as choice and autonomy is of the utmost importance to them.  I would also read alongside them so they can see that I am not just blowing smoke.  Solidarity and cooperation has the power to make or break student willingness and interest in the goals being encouraged.

Sourced from Pardesi* on Flickr