Thursday, August 12, 2010

In Praise of the New Jersey Council of the Humanities

I spent this past week at Stockton University learning about Adolescent and Young Adult Literature with teachers accross the state of New Jersey.  Nearing the end of the summer, I couldn’t think of a better way to refresh and prepare for the school year than to spend this week with librarians, reading specialists, and fellow English teachers who are passionate about their work. 
The reading list was incredible and varied.  I was able to reread books that I love, like Pam Munoz Ryan’s Esperanza Rising and Laurie Halse Anderson’s Speak.  The reading list also exposed me to new books and helped me sympathize with reluctant readers when I struggled through my reading of Watchmen.  One quote that stayed with me was, "Everyone's a struggling reader when given the right text."
During one of our early discussions about Laurie Halse Anderson’s Speak, we compared her book to the movie version.  We agreed that we preferred the book mainly because the book’s language entailed more humor and sarcasm.  We had concerns about the movie’s representation of “IT” (Melinda’s rapist in the novel) because the movie seemed to humanize him more than the book did.  The best part was that I was able to ask Laurie Halse Anderson what she thought of Andy Evan’s representation.
@halseanderson We talked about the rep. of Andy Evans in the movie vs. "IT" in the book...What did you think of the movie's version?
@michelleleandra I think the movie nailed him; an avg. entitled guy who knows what he did is wrong but doesn't want to believe it.
It was great to have the author’s take on our discussion and we appreciated Laurie Halse Anderson’s willingness to respond to our questions.  Later in the day, Carol Plum-Ucci spoke to our seminar about her book Streams of Babel.  I enjoyed our discussion and decided to write my follow-up paper for graduate credit on her book and the way she empowers her young characters in their fight against bioterrorism.
Jennifer Rowsell visited our seminar later in the week and encouraged us to think about the different types of learners we have in our classes and how we can incorporate multi-modal texts.  Her presentation made me consider ways that I could incorporate students’ interest in video games to build problem-solving and collaborative skills.  Her idea was to take a movie like The Princess Bride, watch it in class with students and have discussions about setting and characters.  The challenge for students would require them to switch genres and make the movie into a video game by developing avatars and obstacles to move up levels.  Her presentation made most of us rethink what texts and how students’ reading abilities are limited if we confine reading to the traditional word.
Yesterday was our last full day of the seminar and we visited the Rosenbach Museum in Philadelphia.  It was great to see dime novels and first edition copies of works by Cooper, Melville, and Dickinson.  I was particularly interested in the display of Maurice Sendak’s work.  Sendak based a lot of his work on Grimm fairy tales, and believes that children love the stories because there’s truth behind them even if they’re grim or dark.  
The learning opportunities the seminar afforded were incredible.  Although I recognize it sounds corny, I acquired the best resources by talking and collaborating with other participants.  I had great discussions with other teachers about books and professional development experiences they’ve had.  The seminar’s participants shared many resources on a Google Site and with Google Groups and I look forward to collaborating with new colleagues throughout the year. This year was certainly a difficult year for many NJ teachers and national education budgets; I am so appreciative that the New Jersey Council for the Humanities was still able to support this invaluable program. I encourage NJ residents to support NJCH and teachers should consider applying to an institute next summer.


  1. Sounds like an enthralling week! I want to learn more about the video gaming idea - let's chat soon!

  2. I have been visiting various blogs for my research papers writing. I have found your blog to be quite useful. Keep updating your blog with valuable information... Regards