Monthly Archives: September 2007

Recommended Reads # 3


On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft by Stephen King

This book is part autobiography part writing manual. It is an excellent read for anyone who anyone who writes. King shares his story and advice on how to write. He examines many aspects of writing that he finds essential to the craft. I learned a lot from this book and his advice.

I highly recommend it for anyone who writes. You don’t even need to be a fan of his fiction to enjoy this book. His advice fits for any genre of writing and is perfect for any aspiring writers out there.

Bloggers Against Abuse

I got an email notifying me of this campaign and I decided that it was something that I wanted to be a part of. There are thousands, if not millions of blogs out there. What if we all stood together and spoke up about abuse? Maybe just maybe, we could make a difference. Today is the day to do so as it is “Blog Against Abuse Day.”

One form of abuse that I think is overlooked is what sometimes can happen after a divorce. Divorce hits children really hard. I think that it is important for parents to continue to work together after a divorce. They need to continue to love each other and be friendly. They need to keep any hurt they have from touching on the children. They need to be careful not to bad mouth or put the other partner down in front of the kids. They need to encourage the children to continue to have a good relationship with the other parent. This is vital.

My parents divorced when I was about fourteen years old. They both sat down with me and explained why they were separating and that they would continue to love me just as much as ever. They remained friendly to each other and got along. I had a great and open relationship with them both after the divorce. That is important for every child, unfortunately divorce doesn’t always seem to be this smooth.

I think it is abusive to keep children away from a loving parent. I have seen parents using children as pawns and as tools of punishment to hurt their ex-spouse. This is unacceptable and should be treated as child abuse. When a parent and child love each other and want to spend time together, a divorce or separation shouldn’t impede that desire.

Members of my family and friends have gone through horrible battles just to see their children after a divorce. Dads seem to get a bad rap. It isn’t fair. I know people who have gone months or years without seeing their children and for no good reason. This lost time can never be regained. This is both child abuse and parent abuse. It hurts everyone.

I hope that spouses will come to realize that this is abuse. Keeping a parent and a child away from each other because you harbour hurt and pain towards and ex-spouse is unacceptable. Divorce is hard. I won’t argue that. But if you have children you have a responsibility to them to make the transition as smooth as possible. Both parents need to be there, continue to work together and be supportive. It is hard being a team after a break-up but you will always be connected. Accept it and work for the best. Stop the abuse.

Joan of Arcadia (in reverse)

I watched a television show last night that I can only describe as Joan of Arcadia in reverse. The show is called Reaper and it revolves around a young man who discovers that his parents sold his soul to the devil before he was born. The devil comes to collect on his twenty-first birthday and wants him to become a bounty hunter to return escaped souls to hell.

The show’s premise sounds ridiculous and I didn’t really have much desire to see it. That being said, I’m glad I did. It was a riot. It was hilarious and well written and left me wanting to see more.

The show really owes its concept to Joan of Arcadia. That is one of my all time favourite shows. The show revolves around a teenage girl who is approached by God. He talks to her every week and asks her to do something. He is usually cryptic but when Joan obeys good things happen. It was dark at times but very well written and a great dramatic show. It was a travesty that it only was on the air for two seasons.

Since the demise of Joan of Arcadia, a slew of shows have come out that really owe their existence to it. Ghost Whisperer, a horrible show about a girl who talks to ghosts is one example. Reaper is another. And there is another show coming out this year about a man who can bring back the dead with a touch.

I have watched several new shows this season and so far this is the only one that I think is good enough to be written about here. I should be mad that it is a rip-off of one of my favourite shows but it has such a different tone and it doesn’t come off as a cheap clone like Ghost Whisperer does. It is one of those shows that crosses genres and avoids easily categorization. It is part drama, part comedy, and part light-hearted romp. And although this theme has been tackled before on television with shows like Brimstone and The Collector, I think this new show has potential. Check it out!

Commonplace Book # 3

“He’s like a lot of men. They’re horrible until they fall in love.”
When Harry Met Sally. DVD commentary to the film.

When Harry Met Sally is probably one of the best films ever made. I can watch it over and over again. I love absolutely love it. I watched it with the commentary on one day and I heard this line. I knew I had to include it in my collection. I’m not quite sure who said it. I think it was Rob Reiner but I could be wrong.

Time Poured In

It is amazing how much work needs to be done right at the start of the school year. I have been so busy inside the classroom. It took me a while to set it up and get my routines running smoothly. In fact, we are still figuring out what works best for this new crop of students and me. As a teacher, I have learned that I need to reinvent the classroom every year. I build on what works, improve on what didn’t last year, and try to get things working smoothly.

I thought having a computer in my classroom would mean that I could spend more time blogging. It turns out that it has been completely the opposite. In the summer I spent an hour a day on the computer reading and writing blogs. Now when I get in front of the computer I seem to be writing lesson and unit plans, managing my classroom blog, or finding a million other things to do related to school.

I miss spending all that time reading the amazing blogs that I know are out there. I know that I will find my rhythm soon and that the classroom won’t require as much work as it has done lately. Then I will be posting more comments on my favourite blogs out there.

Make sure you check out the side bar for my blogs of note. I visit those blogs every day and I really enjoy reading and responding to their entries. Click on the profiles of anyone who leaves a comment here. I haven’t linked all the regulars yet. I know I really should. I appreciate every single comment I get. Please keep them coming!

Thanks!

Hate Me and Blame Me

I caught a song on the radio quite some time ago that has stayed with me. It was called “Hate Me” by Blue October. The song is poetic and really got me thinking. The singer is speaking from the heart and he is basically giving an ex-lover permission to hate him.

He sings,

“Hate me today.
Hate me tomorrow.
Hate me so you can finally see what’s good for you.”

This is a very powerful song. The speaker is an alcoholic who is trying to put his life back together. He is trying his best. He is moving on and even though it is hard, he is accepting blame. I appreciate that. It’s very touching.

Akon has a new song out called “Blame It On Me.” The song is autobiographical and touches on some of the public problems that he has been going through. I saw the video this weekend and it is brilliant. At first it seems that he is deflecting blame away from himself but it soon becomes clear that there is enough blame to go around. He questions why no one else is accepting any blame and I think that he leaves us with a great message.

He sings,

“Even though the blames on you,
I’ll take that blame from you”

These two songs seem to work together to give us one message. We need to accept blame when it is on us, and we need to let people deal with their own feelings in their own way. If my ex wants to hate me, I will let her. She might need that hate to get over us and move on. If she wants to blame me, she can. I refuse to take all the blame however. I am not an alcoholic. I didn’t do anything to her that deserves her hate but I will take it. She needs to realize that she needs to accept some of the blame as well, but if she doesn’t, that’s fine with me too.

Hate me and blame me, if it works for you. Just remember that these feelings are only a short-term solution. You cannot hold onto hate and blame and be a healthy and happy person. So hate me and blame me today and tomorrow if you want; if it helps. Just don’t sustain it indefinitely.

Make a Difference

Music Videos are great. I can sit there and watch them for hours. And I did just that on the weekend. I flipped around from Much Music, BET, and Much Vibe for a few hours and then kept Much Vibe on as I did housework.

I caught a great video from DL Incognito called “Make a Difference.” This guy is from Canada and he actually talks about things in his raps. Anyone who thinks that there is no substance or meaning in rap music needs to look closer. There are some amazing artists and some amazing songs out there that touch on real topics.

DL talks about why hip hop was created in the first place. It was created for social awareness. It was a voice for the voiceless. Chuck D of the legendary group Public Enemy once said that hip hop was the black CNN. Ideally, that is the power of rap music. It can be a great force for change and education. It can spark a revolution. It can fuel debate. And it can open our eyes to all sorts of issues. In the early days of rap music, it truly was a rich source of inspiration and information.

Hip hop seems to have forgotten its roots. There are so many songs being made these days that it has become watered down. Many people making the music today know nothing of the rich history of the music. They are doing what they “think” is hip hop music. They are making records and videos to appeal to an audience that they see as being inferior and stupid. Hip Hop fans need to stand up and stop accepting this lowest common denominator rap and demand substance.

Commonplace Tuesdays

Commonplace books used to be a lot more “common,” for lack of a better term. It seems that they have fallen out of popularity. However, many of the famous quotation sites on the Internet are really just digital commonplace books.

In the dictionary a commonplace book is defined as “a book of memorabilia.” Commonplace is defined as “an obvious or trite observation.”

My commonplace book is a collection of thoughts and ideas that I have taken from anywhere I find something meaningful. I will attribute the quote to whoever said it, or the source I took it from whenever possible.

Today is the start of Commonplace Tuesdays. I will try to post an interesting quote or passage that I have collected in my commonplace book here every week. My collection is continuing to grow. If you would like to add a quotation that is meaningful to you or one that you would like to share, please post a comment or send me an email. Thanks.

Here is entry # 2

“If you want to have a happy marriage, be the kind of person who generates positive energy and sidesteps negative energy rather than empowering it.” – Barton, Bruce. The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People Calendar. Sept 2004

Hip Hop at the Emmys

The Emmy Awards were on television last night and they tried a few new things in the telecast. They had the cast of each show sitting together encircling a round stage. It was an interesting concept that didn’t really seem to work. The show looked great on television but half of the audience was always staring at the back of whoever was on stage.

The most surprising thing about the event was when Wayne Brady came out as a presenter. He hosts “Don’t Forget the Lyrics” and started to call two “random” members of the audience to compete in a lyric contest. He called on Rain Wilson and Kayne West. That latter was a real surprise since the Emmy Awards don’t usually have any hip hop artists in attendance.

Wayne Brady then announced that they would be competing to see who would present the next award. He said that they would be singing the lyrics of Kanye West. Kayne went first and started to sing along with his own song “Stronger.” The last line of the song was, “that’s how long I’ve been on ya,” but Kanye said, “that’s how long I’ve been on you.”

Wayne Brady looked surprised and told him that he was wrong. It didn’t say “you” at the end of the lyric, it said “ya.” “You didn’t choose a good time to start speaking proper English,” he said.

When Rain Wilson won, he started to sing the rest of the Kayne West song. He sure did not look like your typical hip hop listener, which is great because hip hop is now a universal music form that appeals to a lot of people. The sales of Kayne and 50 Cent definitely prove that this week.

I thought that this Emmy moment was absolutely hilarious. Kanye West is getting great promotion for his new record. It looks like he is in the lead and sure to beat 50 Cent in sales.

I like the fact that hip hop was represented at the Emmys and that it was done in a great and humourous way. Way to go!

Cheer Each Other

ECD continues to influence me in surprising ways. He started up a second blog, a sister blog as he calls it. He wrote about the idea of it two weeks ago. He wanted to have a community blog where women could all contribute. He seemed to get a lot of support for his idea and the second blog is now a reality.

I thought about starting a community blog myself after that idea and am in the process of setting it up. I wanted to use the computer lab time my class gets more effectively this year and I wasn’t sure how I was going to go about it. ECD starting a second community-oriented, blog really got me thinking.

I could make a blog for my class. I could set up each student in my class as an author to the blog. I could post assignments right on my blog and they could answer by posting up to it. I thought that it was such a great idea; I started working on it last weekend.

I entitled this new blog “Cheer Each Other” because I believe that we as human beings should cheer each other up and cheer each other on. This has become a class motto for us. This blog will probably be boring to anyone who isn’t in my class and for security reasons I will not be allowing any outside comments. It will also not appear on my profile.

I think my “Cheer Each Other” blog will be a great tool in my teaching toolkit. I can assess computer assignments without having to print anything out anymore. I can design webquests, mark work without having to print anything, and use it to teach and assess computer skills with ease.

Thanks for the idea, ECD. Cheers!

Commonplace Book # 1

I started a commonplace book a few years ago. In it, I collect quotations from things I have read or heard. I now have 245 entries in it, little tidbits of wisdom and information.

I have actually put DVDs on pause so that I could write down some of the dialogue. When I read a work of fiction, I use a piece of paper as a bookmark. When I come across a phrase or passage that I like, I write the page number down and the first few words of the sentence. This way it doesn’t really impede my reading. I read the entire book before I comb through it and type out the passages or tidbits of wisdom that I want to add to my commonplace book. If I own the book, I make underlines with a pencil.

I would like to share some of my entries with you and am launching a new feature here. Here is the entry that started it all. I caught it on one of those page-a-day calendars. This phrase just resonated with me and started my collection. So here it is entry number 1 of my commonplace book.

“Sometimes when I consider what tremendous consequences come from little things . . . I am tempted to think . . . there are no little things.” – Barton, Bruce. The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People Calendar. Aug 28/29,2004

What a Night for Music!

Yesterday was the day for music television. I rushed home from work to see the hip hop battle on 106 and Park. 50 Cent and Kayne West both came off as real down to life guys. It felt like a copout though when they announced the number 1 video at the end of the show and they called it a tie. I guess we will have to wait and see who pulls in the most sales at the end of the week.

Kayne always manages to impress me. His new song “Big Brother” was awe-inspiring. He did a great job holding down the stage as well. I really hope that he sells well.

50 Cent actually surprised me last night. He comes off as extremely likable. His new video had a smooth groove and a different vibe than what I would’ve expected. That being said, his breath control and delivery when he is performing cannot compare to Kayne. Kayne sounds the same on record as he does on stage. That is an important aspect of performing. In that sense, Kayne wins hands down.

I spent the rest of the night watching music television. I flipped around from Much Music to Much Vibe to Canadian Idol. Normally I wouldn’t bother with any of the Idol shows but this one was different. I wanted to watch this final battle between two talented performers for one reason. Brian Melo is from Hamilton. I had to cheer on the home team.

I hadn’t watched an episode all season but you can’t live here in Hamilton without knowing about Brian Melo. The whole town seems to be behind him. Hamilton Place, a concert hall, was full of people watching the show with baited breath. I flipped around a lot, watching music videos on other networks, but I always came back. I really like the fact that they had Avril Lavigne performing two of her new songs on the show too. I love Avril!

So my night was full of music television and it was great. It came to a great end too as the Hamilton boy, Brian Melo, made us all proud by taking the title of Canadian Idol. Way to go Brian! Let’s hear it for my hometown. Hamilton rocks!

Clash of the Titans

Two of the biggest names in hip hop right now are coming out with albums today. It’s been billed as the Clash of the Titans. Two giants in the industry competing over sales. Kayne West vs. 50 Cent.

I can’t remember something like this happening in recent memory. I know that artists have to compete for sales all the time. But it seems that big name artists in hip hop strive not to share release dates. This one is being propped up for some reason. It has become an event.

Both of these artists have several albums under the belts. Both have enjoyed crossover success. And both have already released successful singles and videos from these albums. 50 Cent has even reportedly stated that he would quit if Kanye West out sells him.

I really want to see how this plays out. I love Kanye West. He has produced some of the best songs in the past several years and was well known in the industry before he even dropped his debut album. 50 Cent also became well known in the underground scene before being picked up by a major label. The success stories are very similar.

I personally don’t like 50 Cent. I like that Kanye writes songs that say something. He has clever rhymes and word play. His production skills are amazing. 50 Cent does not impress me at all on the mic. His lyrics seem simple and contrived. His topic choice also leaves much to be desired. But that is neither here nor there. He sells records. Lots of them.

One interesting thing is how the media has been covering this. Both artists will be taking over BET’s 106 and Park tomorrow. The main event. The Clash of the Titans. I will be tuning in for this event for sure.

50 is outspoken and has a charisma that draws people in. Kanye always speaks his mind and is known to be cocky and arrogant. This seems like a perfect battle. 50 vs Kayne. Who do you vote for?

Test the Nation

Last night, I was one of many Canadians to take part in the largest interactive language test ever in the country. It was shown on the CBC and viewers could take the test with pencil and paper, a scorecard out of the newspaper, or live online. I watched the show with a teacher friend of mine and we quietly recorded our answers down in a friendly competition.

There were 70 multiple-choice questions broken down into several different categories. The public broadcasting station tested us on our knowledge of spelling, language terms, modern language, text messaging, common mistakes, plurals, Canadian terms, the arts, nursery rhymes, euphemisms, and word origins.

Here is what I found out.

1. I didn’t know how to correctly spell liaison.
2. I didn’t know the correct term for a period of 1000 years.
3. I didn’t know the author who first used the word “go” instead of “say.”
4. I didn’t know which was proper “between you and I” or “between you and me.”
5. I didn’t know how to spell the term meaning you get what you deserve.
6. I didn’t know that hat-trick wasn’t originally a term in hockey.
7. I didn’t know what a “vamp” was.
8. I had no idea what chronologically gifted meant.
9. I didn’t know the origin of “leisure”
10. I didn’t know where the word “ketchup” originated.

I got a few other questions wrong but these are the ones that stood out for me. How did you do on that list?

Here are the answers.

1. liaison – the extra “i” threw me off
2. millennium – I picked millennia in err
3. Charles Dickens first used “go” as “say”
4. “between you and me” is the proper form
5. “just deserts” isn’t spelled like it is pronounced.
It is an old English term that means things deserved.
6. “hat-trick” was originally used in cricket
7. a “vamp” is a short, thick sock
8. “chronologically gifted” means old
9. leisure means “school”
10. and finally “ketchup” originated in China

How about that? It was fun to take the test and learn a few things along the way. I ended up losing to my friend. I got 45 out of 70 and he was able to get four more questions right than me. Not too bad though. We both passed.

The audience in the television studio was split into distinct groups; ad writers, word gamers, English teachers, comedians, celebrities, and fraternities. The best group in the studio turned out to be the ad writers. I was really pulling for the teachers. At least we held our own.

Recommended Reads # 2

Recommended Reads is a series of this blog where I share with you some of my favourite books. You can keep track of all the recommended reads by clicking on the label on the sidebar.

I know that there are thousands of good books and that there is no way you can possible read all of them. But maybe we can narrow our selections down with some good reviews. Here goes, book number 2 on my list;

Ender’s Series by Orson Scott Card

The first book in the series is called Ender’s Game. This book is a science fiction classic and the follow up Speaker for The Dead is equally amazing. Card has written seven books in this series and they have all been produced as stunning audio books. The audio books have sound effects, music, and full cast narration. He lists those audio books as the definition collection. He believes that they are the best way to enjoy this series, and I totally concur. They are spectacular.

The books in the series, in order, are;

Ender’s Game
Speaker for the Dead
Xenocide
Children of the Mind

Card, then goes back to the first story and focuses on a different character this time. The series still takes place in what is known as the enderverse. This series is known as the Shadow series and includes the books;

Ender’s Shadow
Shadow of the Hegemon
Shadow Puppets
Shadow of the Giant

And don’t worry, if you don’t want to get involved in such a lengthy story, the first novel Ender’s Game stands on its own as a complete story. It sounds amazing and you really should check out the audio book. It is available on CD or from the Itunes store. I am sure you will enjoy this book and series. Check it out!

Free Preview

I was flicking through the television stations aimlessly the other day. Nothing was on. I searched in vain to find something worth watching. It’s been a tiring week and I needed to just kick back and relax, but nothing was on.

As I channel surfed, I noticed that I seemed to get a few channels that I don’t normally get. I found out that it is “Back to School Free Preview Month.” Yes! What a great back to school gift. Thanks.

When nothing is on, I can put on Much Music and watch music videos all day long. I can switch to BET when videos come on that I don’t like. Unfortunately those are the only two music video channels I get. But during this free preview I can get Much Vibe. I wish I could get this channel all the time. It shows hip hop, R&B, and reggae videos all day long. It is great!

The best thing about Much Vibe is that they show a lot of videos that you would never see on BET. They show conscious rap that actually carries a good message. They show little known Canadian talent. They play the kind of hip hop music that I really enjoy. It is great to have this video channel, even if it is for a short amount of time.

I plan on taking full advantage of this free preview month. Real hip hop lives!

How to Listen

Believe it or not, students need to be taught how to listen. Here is a poster I made up, (well actually I borrowed the idea from somewhere) to help focus on what we should do to listen well.

Once again, being succinct is key. We listen with out eyes – look at who is speaking. We listen with our mouth – by being quiet. We listen with our ears – by paying attention. We listen with our hands – by not playing with anything. And we listen with our feet – by not moving around.

Here is another poster I made up to help the students remember how to build a good paragraph. I borrowed this idea from somewhere as well, but it works really well.

This helps us focus on five sentence paragraphs. I think 5 must be a magic number. I think it works for so many things in class. I count to five to get attention because it reminds them of the five points of listening.

So far, the year has started off great. I hope things continue to go this well when I start covering the curriculum next week.

Digital Woes

I took pictures of my first day of school that I wanted to post up here. After school was over and the students had left, I tried hooking my camera up to the computer to download the photos. I got an error message that said there was no data to transfer.

I said, “What?!!?,” unplugged the camera from the computer and tried it again. I had nearly 300 photos in the camera; it must not be hooked up correctly.

I waited for the system to boot up again but was perplexed to get the same error message. I then unplugged the camera and checked it. Sure enough, there weren’t any photos on it.

Zero. Zip. Nada.

Damn!

So my first day memories are gone. I had transferred most of those images onto my flashdrive earlier in the summer so I didn’t lose a lot of photos. Still though, there were some there that I really wanted.

Anyway, I took a few photos of the classroom tonight. Here are a few images of the banners and posters I made up for the walls.

I shortened up this banner to make it more succinct this year. Last year it read, “Be in the right place, at the right time, doing the right thing.” I use it as the class motto. I really like how it can apply to almost any situation.

I like this one too because sometimes doing the right thing takes effort. It isn’t always easy.

I wanted to quote Steve Brown, who said, “We are supposed to be cheerleaders for one another.” I thought it was a beautiful sentiment that should be in the classroom. Making the banner more succinct gives it another meaning I like as well. We can cheer each other up and cheer each other on.

I will add some more photos tomorrow.

It Starts Again

It’s the last long weekend of the summer. The final hurrah. And what am I doing? Spending the majority of it in the classroom. I have to get ready for the first day of school tomorrow. It starts again.

One interesting thing about teaching is that you need to constantly reinvent yourself, your routines, and procedures. What works for one class might not necessarily work for the next year’s class.

The good thing is knowing what to expect. I have the same grade, the same room, and the same resources as last year. I got to know most of the kids in the school last year so I will know most of the kids in my class by name. I won’t know their ability, reading level, and classroom behaviour for a while but it feels like I have a bit of a head start this year. That is nice.

For some reason though, I always seem to have a hard time sleeping the night before school starts. I am going to spend most of the day here in the classroom so I will be prepared. But I have found from experience that you can never be truly prepared for teaching. You need to be like one of those improvisational comics, ready for anything, and ready to invent things right on the spot, to keep the room from falling into chaos.

So am I ready? Yes and No. See you tomorrow.