Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Reading Assignment!

Please read two Delta plays:
Cat on a Hot Tin Roof
Summer and Smoke
for our next meeting
February 14, 2009

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Letter Writing Lesson

I think you all will love this video!!! The descendants of Frederick Douglass and Booker T. Washington write to their ancestors on the eve of the inauguration of America's first black president. I think it can be used if students are given an activity to write to a fictional character or real individual. ~Shelia Bonner

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

March of the Phoenix!

Listen to the music, and see if you can visualize Phoenix marching back to the house with the pinwheel raised in her hand!

I got this video to showcase the Turner family, but I started crying when Little Man spoke. Drash's grandfather was one of the nicest to me when I first moved to Mississippi. I sat with him and the other Democrats at Rotary every Wednesday for nine years. He died four years ago, and the point that made me emotional was Little Man's voice. I could close my eyes (meaning no disrespect to Little Man or Mr. Taylor) and hear Mr. Taylor's voice. The pauses, the Southern drawl, the chuckles could be Mr. Taylor, and I miss him so. To me it is proof these men coexisted with mutual respect. ~Enjoy Maggie

Monday, January 19, 2009

Oh, Happy Day!

Happy Martin Luther King, Jr. Day!

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Racial Ambiguity Reading Lesson

The realization that Welty does not tell readers the racial makeup of “missy” as in, “Please, missy, will you lace up my shoe?” stunned 4W participants in attendance last Saturday. I remember Josephine’s reaction as she thumbed back through A Worn Path to reread the passage. It was true we got hints of missy’s character such as, “gave off perfume like the red roses in hot summer,” and the use of Grandma to address Phoenix; but these clues could suggest any woman or Uncle Rondo.

In an instant, I was back in my Multicultural Books for Young Readers class, and Dr. Joan Atkinson sat leading a book discussion on Make Lemonade by Virginia Euwer Wolff. In this graduate level course we read a discussion book every three weeks and sat through different formats one might use to present them.

Make Lemonade is the story of 14-year-old La Vaughn and her relationship with unwed, teen-mother of two, Jolly, for whom she babysits. Both La Vaughn and Jolly live in the inner-city, but their lives are totally different with La Vaughn having a stable family and supportive mother, but Jolly is living on her own and making numerous bad decisions.

The book is written in free verse, and within the 66 chapters readers will find slang and irregular English. I remember thinking this is a great book for reluctant readers; although, it contains numerous chapters, they are small and easily digestible.

After we discussed characterization, plot, symbolism, and theme, etc. Dr. Atkinson surprised us by asking the race of each character. True to Eudora Welty’s “missy”, we assigned race to all the characters. Unlike Saturday's discussion, we did not agree on the race, for example some assigned an all white cast, some an all black, and some–self included–made La Vaughn’s family black and Jolly’s family white. Dr. Atkinson smiled as she pointed out that Wolff did not describe any characters by race.

In an interview with the author, Roger Sutton asked, “One thing people have talked about with Make that we aren’t told the race of the people in it. I assumed they were white; colleagues have assured me that they are black.”

Wolff replied, “I was very careful of not having them be any race, any particular ethnicity. I had hoped that the readers of Make Lemonade would have the characters be whatever ethnicity they needed them to be. I have on my wall a drawing, made by an eighth-grader, in which Jolly and LaVaughn are clearly Asian. That was the sort of thing I had hoped for. It’s true that their language is not the language of any ethnic group, and you could call that a virtue or a flaw, depending on how you look at it.”

Could this be the book a teacher uses to enter into a non-threatening discussion on race? The book is best for seventh and eighth grade classes, and might be the perfect precursor to Wright and Welty’s work.

I’ll leave you with a quote from my classroom text Against Borders: Promoting Books for a Multicultural World by Hazel Rochman. “A good story is rich with ambiguity. You sympathize with people of all kinds.” (20) ~ Maggie

Note: The cover above for Make Lemonade was the book most of us held in class. I used the cover to argue Jolly white, but one could argue it is La Vaughn at the window. Dr. Atkinson was afraid we would all use the cover in that capacity, but it turns out to be just as ambiguous as the characters in the story. This cover is no longer printed. It is now a bright slice of lemon dripping from a blue sky. ~Maggie

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Richard Wright Trip On Teacher Tube

Here is the video from our trip. It has been posted on TeacherTube. TeacherTube is a great resource for teachers to use in the classroom. You can sign up for a free account. Enjoy!

Eudora Welty Meeting January 10, 2009

On January 10, 2009, we concluded our intense discussion on Eudora Welty. It was fun to discuss our thoughts and turn to experts on Eudora Welty. How could I tell we were in the presence of intellectuals? No one stormed out when we referred to the "N" word. Everyone shared their personal and professional experience with handling personal connections to stories. There was even assignments brainstormed on how to handle personal connections, which cause unwanted outbursts in the classroom.

For me, I was concerned with Eudora's usage of the "N" word. I am proud to say that my colleagues explained the paramount meaning Eudora was trying to convey. Her ability to use it in Why I Live at the P.O. further exploits the type of family being depicted during the setting of the short story. Her decision not to use it in A Worn Path is to emphasize more of the journey of life, rather than the time. I was just amazed at how we could have a discussion on race at such a time of racial sensitivity.

After we watched the movie, which Maggie has already posted, race became a big part of the discussion. However, one of the teachers pointed out that in the tale the race of the lady, whom Phoenix asked to tie her shoe, is not mentioned. We are only assuming the lady's race and assume that the movie adaptation is correct. This point lead to a discussion that we must teach our students to rely on the text and not on the movie adaptation.

This list includes other ways to teach Eudora Welty's text.
  • Discuss the baggage associated with using race-related words, like "black" and "white."
  • Before beginning a text, which can have a negative impact on the discussion, a teacher should emphasize the power of words.
  • Focus on the sense of family and compare the types of family Eudora tends to write about.
  • Look at A Worn Path, remove the aspects of "having a purpose from the story. Have students rewrite the story by creating a parable.
  • Emphasize the historical background of each text before teaching a specific text.
  • Identify a character in one of the text, like the nurse in A Worn Path. Using the character sketch created by the author, have students create a new story from that character's point of view.

Friday, January 16, 2009

2009 Presidential Inauguration Lesson Plans

Thanks goes out to Shelia Bonner for finding these lesson plans and sharing them with our 4Ws group.

The resource website states, "On Jan. 20, 2009, Barack Obama will be sworn in as the 44th president of the United States. Teachers across the country can bring this historic event to life in their classrooms using a wide array of free resources and technologies. The American Federation of Teachers (AFT) and the National Education Association (NEA) have jointly developed a series of general instructional activities to give teachers lesson ideas to help their students understand the historic significance of this presidential inauguration."

Lesson plans cover grades K-12 and are broken into three sections: Learning History, Making History, and Living History.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Eudora Welty's Snapshots

Who remembers our informative tour at the Mississippi Department of Archives and History (MDAH) in September? It feels like it was a million years ago. Oh, okay, I exaggerate, but who can forget the use of passwords, the typing of secret codes, the passing through locked steel doors, and an x-ray room. It felt like we were going into the U.S. Treasury vault; instead, we accompanied friendly librarians into the lair of Mississippi treasures. Among these treasures resides the Welty collection of manuscripts, photographs, letters, and first edition books. Once in the lair, we faced a sampling of such materials.

I'm not sure which librarian told the story concerning Welty's snapshot titled "Spank," but I culled the following books (below in the picture) in search of the photo. I found it in Eudora Welty: Photographs as number 38; unfortunately, it is much smaller than the MDAH librarian’s example. As the story goes, an author asked to use "Spank" for a collection on corporal punishment and Miss Welty said no. She said the woman posed showing Welty the size of fish caught that day. It was only after developing the photo that Welty thought it looked like the mother might be spanking her child.

Later in the meeting room, someone suggested a writing assignment using her photography. Students can write fictional stories based on a single work of their choosing and be graded on grammar and content. Looking for an easier assignment? Ask the class to analyze one of Welty’s snapshots. What is going on in the picture? What are the people feeling? Is it a negative or positive situation? Then give them a picture such as on the cover of A Known World and (just for fun) let them shout out titles. Afterwards, let them pick their own photo to title and write a short paragraph explaining the name.

As I gaze through her collection on my desk, it is easy to imagine Miss Welty writing her short stories with these images in mind. Thanks to all the MDAH staff for an enlightening tour and chance to see Welty’s work up close. ~ Maggie

First photo from left to right: Eudora Welty: Photographs with foreword by Reynolds Price, One Time, One Place: Mississippi in the Depression with opening remarks and history on snapshots by Eudora Welty, Welty: an exhibition at the Mississippi State Historical Museum, Jackson, Mississippi (catalog) with introduction by Patti Carr Black, and Country Churchyards with an essay by Hunter Cole and introduction by Elizabeth Spencer. ~ Maggie

Sunday, January 11, 2009

The Jackson State University
Margaret Walker Alexander National Research Center
40th Martin Luther King Birthday Convocation

“From King to Obama:
New Challenges for the 21st Century”
Friday, January 16, 2009
10:00 a.m.
Rose E. McCoy Auditorium

Dr. Dolphus Weary,
President of Mission Mississippi
Dr. Mark Henderson and MADDRAMA
The Award Winning Jim Hill Choir

11:45 a.m.
The Isaac Byrd “For My People” Awards
Jackson State University New Student Center, Ballroom A
Luncheon Speaker
Dr. Ronald Mason, Jr.,
President, Jackson State University

Award Recipients
Mr. Fred E. Carl, Jr., Founder of Viking Range Corp.,
Dr. Dolphus Weary, Author of I Ain’t Comin Back,
Mrs. Okolo Rashid, Co-Founder Intl. Museum of Muslim Culture,
Mr. Jimmy Travis, Chairman,
Mississippi Civil Rights Veteran Documentation Project,
IMS Engineers

1:00 p.m. – 2:00 p.m.
Robert G. Clark, Jr. Symposium
Jackson State University New Student Center, Ballroom A
The Honorable Robert G. Clark, Jr.,
MS House of Representatives, 1968-2003
Mississippi Politics:
King’s Dream, Clark’s Reality and Obama’s Fulfillment

Mrs. Elise Winter, Mississippi First Lady, 1980 -1984
Dr. Hilliard Lackey,
Historian & President Jackson State National Alumni Association
Judge Bob Waller, Jackson Municipal Court
~ Shelia Bonner

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Not Writer's Block Per Se

My Book Talk column this week features Eudora Welty! Something so easy to write, but it took all morning. Not writer's block per se, I experienced a case of information overload having read oodles of Welty in two months. My quandary was either write a little about the short stories read, or concentrate on one. I decided to go for the one story concept and did A Worn Path.

While verifying the O. Henry award, I found the movie I talked earlier about in the "
NewTube Your Classroom!" post. Unfortunately, I do not have sound on my computer at work. That means my article is off to the presses with a big-old-mistake! I swear! I read she saw the woman while traveling on a train, but you will hear in the following interview this is not the case. I see an erratum in my future.

The movie is broken into two parts of equal time. It takes a little over 20 minutes to watch them both. The last video is an interview with Miss Welty by Beth Henley, a Pulitzer prize playwright, concerning A Worn Path. Enjoy the movie and sorry for the poor sound quality in advance. ~ Maggie

Saturday, January 3, 2009

Teaching A Worn Path & Why I Live at the PO

Reading the first paragraph of A Worn Path I was completely curious to know why Welty chose to describe the woman as a Negro, instead of using the N word. She used the N word twice in Why I Live at the P.O. Having the best opportunity ever to use the word, what do you think her reasoning is to use Negro instead of the most damaging and crude word possible to describe a human being?

This thought about her usage of the N word prompted me to think of how I could incorporate these two stories into an essay assignment for students. I would have my students create a critical analysis on the depiction of African Americans in these two short stories. I think it would be interesting to read what the students discover.

Friday, January 2, 2009

Who is Jack Robinson...

And what makes him so speedy?

Last night while reading Petrified Man, I ran across this phrase, "and it goes out to his joints and before you can say 'Jack Robinson,' it's stone--pure stone." (27) I remember reading it in Why I Live at the P.O. earlier and went back to find the passage. Sister comments on her Uncle Rondo running for the hammock, "and before you could say 'Jack Robinson' flew out in the yard." (59)

This isn't the first time I've seen a variation on the "before you can say Jack Robinson" line. In one of my favorite juvenile books, Bud, not Buddy by Christopher Paul Curtis, main character Bud says the line. At the time, I thought he meant to say Jackie Robinson and shortened the name as slang. By Welty's usage, I realize the phrase is older than originally thought.

Here is the perfect opportunity to teach idioms to a class. Like my thought of Jackie Robinson, idioms have a time setting and are hard to understand if taken out of context. I correctly assumed (duh) that the saying meant fast, but completely missed the "what or who" makes it fast. Here is a nice explanation provided by Wikipedia. ~ Maggie

I finally finished reading Welty's short story, Why I Live at the P.O. Trying to catch up on my readings for our meeting next week, I started with this story first. The story of how an entire family "turned against" Sister is vividly told from Sister's point of view, who remembers everything that happened on the Fourth of July and the days following it. Sister elaborately explains what happens with each family member. Welty makes clear how dysfunctional the family is including Uncle Rondo's drinking problem, Stella's failed marriage, Papa Daddy's huge ego, and Mama's naive beliefs.

Stella's and Sister's apparent rivalry escalates into Sister's living at her workplace, which just happens to be a post office. I did some research on this short story. I noticed that many of them commented on the humor. It was hard for me to see the humor. Maybe it's because I tend to be more serious or something. I just didn't get the humor. It was just more chaotic and dysfunctional for me. Did anyone else feel this way?

Thursday, January 1, 2009

I Love Book Covers!

I actually did this! I bought The Ponder Heart because of the book cover in the 1990s. The seersucker gentleman in watercolor screams Southern, and I had to have the paperback!

Have you thought about using book covers to get students thinking about the content; possibly, ask the class to write a 10 word sentence using the cover illustration before reading the story? Might be fun to review the sentences and see if anyone gets close to the plot or a character after the reading. Many authors draw inspiration from art such as the popular Girl with a Pearl Earring by Tracy Chevalier. She actually studied the portrait and the artist Johannes Vermeer before writing a word of her story.

These illustrations are by artist Barry Moser. A Chattanooga, TN native, he first drew airplanes as a boy then graduated to "nekkid women." Now his bread and butter is the portrait.

From upper right, reading clockwise, covers include The Robber Bridegroom, The Golden Apples, Thirteen Stories, A Curtain of Green, The Collected Stories of Eudora Welty, The Ponder Heart, and The Bride of the Innisfallen. I am missing his Delta Wedding cover that features three southern ladies. ~Maggie