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    29th September 2011

    This and that (things I found interesting or amazing)…

    Many marvelous things can be found on the world wide web, and sometimes there are various things that I think are pretty amazing. Here is a small collection of things that I’ve thought remarkable in the past few weeks:

    MUSIC:

    As I’ve been mixing new music that was recorded while back in Colorado for a month this summer, I have listened to a number of duet type songs to hear how they have been mixed to give myself clues about how to mix together Kristen and me. Robert Plant of Led Zeppelin and Alison Krauss of bluegrass fame created a collaborative album produced by T-Bone Burnett called Raising Sand that won some Grammy Awards and a received lot of critical acclaim. One song that I had previously missed from that collection was a cover of “Killing the Blues” that really kills me (in a good way). Listen here.

    I also recently watched Pan’s Labyrinth, a beautiful film by Mexican director Guillermo del Toro and set in Spain, 1944. It features a breathtaking, mesmerizing, and haunting lullaby by composer Javier Navarette. Listen here.

    SPORTS

    If you’re a sport nut, ESPN is one of your permalinks and you probably already know about the new Grantland spin-off website pioneered by ESPN writer Bill Simmons. Grantland features opinion-type pieces by a stable of quality writers and occasionally Malcolm Gladwell, author of Blink, The Outliers, and The Tipping Point, contributes. He recently wrote a pair of articles about some of the economic factors involved in the NBA lockout – and how the NBA owners complaints about their financial woes are bogus. For the first article click here. For the second, try clicking here.

    GEOGRAPHY

    This morning I came across a site for a ministry that is building mobility devices for victims of polio in Nigeria – a worthy cause for certain – but one thing stood out to me more than anything on that website. They said that Nigeria’s population was half that of the United States. I was shocked, once again pulled out of my little US-centric bubble. Which is not to say that I only think of American things all the time, but that I hadn’t realized that a country in Sub-Saharan Africa had a population of 158 million something. Which brought me to the Wikipedia page for the list of countries by population. Take a look. There were some surprises for me. Bangladesh – 150 mil? That isn’t a very big space. Pakistan – 177 mil? I had no idea Pakistan was so populated!

    And finally, while we are on demographics, a friend in the MAT program here at USC pointed out to my classmates and me an LA Times webpage that gives information about all of the different neighborhoods in Los Angeles. I spent well over an hour looking at statistics on different neighborhoods, from the average income in Malibu or Beverly Hills to the crime rate in South Central, Watts, or my own home neighborhood, University Park. Pretty interesting.

    Have a wonderful day and weekend and I suppose I might be posting some sort of Commonbook entry this weekend, so if you’re into English education I know you’re excited.

    28th September 2011

    No More Wheelchairs Lyrics

    I have had a lot of requests for the lyrics to “No More Wheelchairs,” so to shamelessly self-promote myself I have decided to put the lyrics up here and redirect people to this post!

    No More Wheelchairs
    by Daryl Holmlund

    When I am deep asleep
    sometimes I dream of doing things
    that I can’t normally do:
    Running, climbing,
    jumping, flying –
    and sometimes I’m dancing with you.
    But no dream ever compares
    to when I dream that there are no more wheelchairs!

    Now to really understand
    you’d have to see my dreamland
    the place where everyone feels free.
    Missing limbs are regrown,
    spinal cord patches are sown,
    and everyone walks on their own feet.
    New legs for Lieutenant Dan
    and Chris Reeves is still Superman!

    When I have that dream
    I try hard to stay asleep,
    and when I wake I don’t know how to feel
    Each night when I turn out the light
    I hope that this would be the time,
    and I pray the dream would be real.

    I pray that the dream would be real.

    Everyone could choose to use the stairs
    in a world where there is no need for wheelchairs!

    27th September 2011

    Centennial Vision

    Ok, so for any of you friends and family out there that want to see a little into my world in California – the building I live in and some of the people who live there, many of whom are now friends – there is a curious music video that I helped create with some of the Occupational Therapy students that live in the same building as I do. The building I live in is called Centennial, but the reason the video is called OT Centennial Vision is because it was made as part of a contest through the Occupational Therapy Association of California honoring some sort of hundred-year-anniversary for OT. I’m not really sure what the deal is entirely, but my friends Amy, Maggie, and Yvonne rewrote the words to a song and somehow I got sucked into singing on the recording of that – and being in a few clips for the video.

    And… it actually turned out pretty stinkin’ good. Which is to say, it doesn’t stink. Nay, it rocks. In a funny, strange way. Aj Pyatak, whose wife Beth is the Resident Faculty member in our building, helped record the vocals with his gear (it was nice to not be doing recording after a few months of working on music – still more to come about that in the near future!) – and he (AJ) did a great job with it (listen to some of AJ’s stuff here.

    So without further ado…

    24th September 2011

    Reader-Response Theory and Designing Backwards

    For some reason I am having trouble feeling multi-media-esque and creative for this post. So… I might just do some summarizing and responding to a few things I got to read in the last couple days.

    I’m adding this after writing the boring stuff below to make my post almost-sort-of-multi-media: To check out some awesome papers/test responses that teachers/students from all over have decided (probably some of them illegally) to post to the web, go to www.funnyexams.com.

    In the previous post, I introduced the first two chapters Deborah Appleman’s Critical Encounters in High School English. The third chapter focuses on different ways that reader-response criticism can be used effectively or ineffectively in secondary classrooms. Reader-response criticism focuses primarily on the pre-existing condition of the reader and that reader’s experience with and reaction to a text. It focuses on this to the exclusion of historical/biographical critiques which look at the text in terms of historical context or authorial intent, which generally limits the range of acceptable interpretations. True reader response says that it is impossible to know for certain authorial intent; all readers bring their own preconceptions and preconditions that affect the way they read the text; and therefore limiting the range of acceptable interpretations is a subjective action generally carried out by those in positions of power. In other words, reader-response theory might say that because of each person’s unique background, it doesn’t matter whether you are trying to engage an historical/biographical or psychological or Marxist approach, because you’re experiencing and responding in a unique, unduplicatable, and personal manner such that no one else will ever respond just so.

    Because the experience of any given reader of a text will be different from any other, it can be difficult to find points at which different readers/critics can agree, and it is easy for readers/critics working with reader-response to stray from a text-based approach. Appleman proposes using reader-response along with other perspectives such as historical/biographical, Marxist/social-class, or feminist/gender based criticism. This gives students the opportunity to evaluate which methods are most appropriate and fruitful for different texts. Some texts will evoke strong personal reactions from students while others will not evoke any personal reaction in a given individual. That same text might be profitably examined for the economic or political factors that contributed to its writing

    The first chapter of Understanding by Design, by Grant Wiggins and Jay McTighe, proposes that teachers create curricula using “result-focused design” rather than “content-focused design”. Content-focused design is probably the traditional model used by teachers, wherein the materials and subjects of study are chosen first and the activities for studying/learning are chosen next. After those steps, the educator then decides, based on the content covered, a fair assessment method, be it testing or projects or writing. Result-focused design goes about the process differently, instead starting the planning process by asking what results are the desired ends of a particular unit of study. What skills and knowledge do you hope students acquire? Next, assessment methods are found that will show that the desired knowledge or skills have, in fact, been learned. Finally, specific strategies and activities are planned that will prepare students for the assessments decided on.

    I could see where planning “backwards”, as the chapter calls it, could really help an educator stay on track with whatever standards they are supposed to be helping their students meet. It also appeals to me because I feel like classroom education needs to show and demonstrate how the things learned and practiced transfer to other vocations and places outside of school. Planning assessments based on desired outcomes makes it more likely that at least some of the assessment will be “real life” in some way or another.

    22nd September 2011

    How literary theory affects us (part 1?)

    It’s been a good long while since I wrote. I sort of quit the internet/social media world at the beginning of July after I had a change of relationship status. It’s been really wonderful to not have any real web presence for a few months but I suppose it’s time to return. Anyway, to recap, I’ve been living in LA doing the MAT program at the University of Southern California since May.

    Kind of.

    I say that because we had a seven week break from the beginning of August until this week when we started up again. Between then and now I went to Austin, TX for 5 days and then back to Colorado for a month. During that time I started working on a new set of musical recordings – but more on that in a later post.

    Fall 2011 – Fight On!

    One of the classes that I am taking this fall is for those of us in the program looking to teach secondary English, and in that class we are supposed to create entries for an online “Commonplace Book” – a multi-media, multi-genre collection of information, ideas, and responses to various topics that apparently has a much older pedigree (dating back to 15th C. Europe) than I realized (apologies to Dr. Carbone if she discussed this in class and I didn’t pick up on it…).

    17th C. Commonplace Book with various poems (from Wikipedia)

    17th C. Commonplace Book with various poems (from Wikipedia)

    So here is my first entry, in response particularly to the first two chapters of Deborah Appleman’s Critical Encounters in High School English: Teaching Literary Theory to Adolescents. In the first chapter, Appleman lays out her general premise that modern literary theory is important and relevant to high school students, and that educators should find ways to teach theory and enable students to use theory to make their own judgements about literature. In the second chapter, Appleman gives five classroom examples of ways that teachers have introduced their students to the the idea that there are many different ways to look at literature. Her examples include reading Sylvia Plath’s poetry with different background information (those who know her biography interpret her poems differently from those who do not); retelling nursery rhymes from the perspectives of other community members (i.e., what does Humpty Dumpty’s lawyer have to say?); thinking about the way that different family members remember past events differently by writing down a family story and then going home and asking another family member about the story; and watching Star Wars on the first few days of an advanced literature class and then discussing the merits of re-reading lit or re-watching movies and the inequities between student and teacher when it comes to engaging a class text.

    Sylvia Plath reads \"November Graveyard\"

    Two quotations from this chapter in particular stood out to me as instructive. The first, Appleman takes from Stephen Bonnycastle:

    “The main reason for studying theory at the same time as literature is that if forces you to deal consciously with the problem of ideologies… If you are going to live intelligently in the modern world, you have to recognize that there are conflicting ideologies and there is no simple direct access to the truth.”

    The second quotation Appleman takes from Applebee:

    “Instruction becomes less a matter of transmittal of an objective and culturally sanctioned body of knowledge, and more a matter of helping individual learners learn to construct and interpret for themselves.”

    The first quotation points out how important it is for students to be able to recognize what power structures might have contributed to the creation of a given text – or that might have contributed to the text becoming an accepted part of the literary canon or K-12 curriculum. The second quotation emphasizes the importance of then empowering students to understand and interpret the text on their own, whether they do so using their own experience (reader-centered), the historical background (historical-critical), gender differences and experiences, or any of the other lenses that modern literary theory provides.

    When it comes to introducing multiple perspectives, two examples from my life stand out. I worked several years for a company that contracted with various states for standardized test creation and assessment (“I Scored at Measured Progress” shirts anyone?). I worked in a warehouse where the tests were graded, first as a grader and then as a trainer/supervisor. One of the projects I worked on was reading comprehension for 4th grade, and one of the questions involved a girl whose father missed her dance recital because he had a business meeting. The prompt asked students to describe how the attitudes of the characters changed throughout the piece. A large number of girls described the father as a jerk who didn’t care about his daughter. Meanwhile, many of the boys (you can tell which is which by handwriting!) called the girl immature for not realizing the father works hard and couldn’t miss his meeting. Which group is correct in their assessment?

    Another personal experience that I think relates to this comes from my musical life. After the first Sauni’s Big Jump album, people often asked me about the meaning of several songs – or they would make speculations about the meanings of the lyrics. I wrote the song “Day Off” about three of my friends, but the situations that the three people in the song were in have consistently been interpreted differently than the situations those people were actually in. Additionally, many listeners tried to apply the lyrics to my personal biography, which would be understandable knowing some of the hardships that I’ve been through. However, even during the parts of the song that I wrote in first person, I still originally intended for it to be about a different friend. Is my original intent the gold standard for how to understand that song? Or is it possible for other people to listen to the song through their own personal experiences and come up with new and fresh interpretations? I can honestly say that as the writer, I gained from all the different ideas that people gave about the people in the song. You can listen to the song “Day Off” at the Sauni’s Big Jump website (it’s the second to last song on the player), or read some of the lyrics here:

    You look at her like it’s something she did
    When it’s not what she wanted, it’s just who she is
    And now she’s confused not sure what’s right or wrong
    She cries out to God, she’s singing this song
    Says I want a day off, a day off life
    Everybody gets a day off, why don’t I?
    A day for me to rest and not be afraid
    To be who I am for just one day

    They look away but he knows they stare
    And he pretends acts like he doesn’t care
    You know he’s tired of playing this game
    He wonders what it’s like just to be the same
    He says I want a day off, a day off life
    Everybody gets a day off, why don’t I?
    The grass is always greener on the other side
    I don’t want to stay but I’d love to try

    Now back to me stuck with nothing to do
    More bored than sad and more sad than confused
    You know the thought has crossed my mind
    Oh I won’t lie, I think about it all the time
    How I want a day off, a day off life
    Everybody gets a day off, why don’t I?
    I don’t want a second chance or a second try
    I want a day of – a day off
    I want a day off, a day off life
    Nobody gets a day off, why should I?
    Six billion other people all in need
    Man there’s got to be someplace for me…

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    Copyright 2005 by Daryl Holmlund - All rights reserved.