What to do with Parts of Speech

Glazed eyes often accompany my unit on Parts of Speech and I don’t think it is my teaching style (he says, confidentally). It’s that the concept of how words act within the structure of a sentence is so incredibly abstract for my sixth graders that they can’t connect it with their own base of knowledge. I’m not sure how learning about nouns, verbs, etc, helps them progress as writers. Yet, it is part of what I need to teach, so we do activities (such as using a Nerf Brain Ball as a devise for showing prepositions – I threw the brain ball across the room and hit Mr. Hodgson in the head, etc).

Our final project is to write a short piece about themselves and then use color-coding to identify a set number of Parts of Speech within their own writing. I hope this brings some ownership to them, but I am still not so sure. (They also can do a bonus of writing and performing their own Grammar Rock song, which are still underway).

Here is a student sample of a Parts of Speech project:

Nouns are blue
Verbs are red
Adjectives are yellow
Adverbs are green
Conjunctions are orange
Prepositions are pink
Pronouns are purple
Interjections are brown

Feel free to use my project handout, if it interests you.

Peace (in dissecting our language down to its bare bones),
Kevin

Quickfiction: chapter 4

I was able to write and podcast two more pieces for my ongoing Quickfiction Project during a Pink Eye Sick Day on Tuesday. One story is inspired by a student from years past and the other, by my own experience as a teenager.

Bridge
Listen to story
You wish you had been honest. Instead, there they wait. On the other side of the river, urging you on. Between you and them is this log, a slippery bridge over a raging gorge that barrels down from the mountains to the town below. If you had been honest, and owned up to your fears of heights and crossing these logs, you would not have all five of them staring at you, cursing at you to get moving before the sun goes down. If you had been honest, you would not be frozen here. Immobile. Honesty was never your strong suit, anyway. You think of this as you inch your left foot forward. There is green moss on this tree and the bark is crumbling. This tree has been here for a long time. It has witnessed much in this world and it cares not one whit about your fear. It is only there. Last night’s rains make the bridge even more treacherous. The path seems slick. They’re talking to themselves. One shakes a head and begins moving on. The others look back at you, wave their hands and then, in disgust, follow the path into the darkening woods. You remain, now alone, on the other side of the gap, wondering how this will end. Will you retreat? Or move forward? Your right foot crosses your left. You are leaving the solid world behind but the fear races through you. You can’t do this. You can do this. Voices compete in your head in a battle against the sound of the rushing water. Don’t look down. Whatever you do, don’t look down. They are now long gone. The woods are silent. It’s your decision — move on or go back. Forward or retreat. At long last, your inability to be true to yourself is at hand and you realize that you are not ready. No one ever is.

Test
Listen to story

She had no doubt that she knew the answer to every single question on the sheet in front of her. It had always been this way. The trick had been how to hide it so that others would not know. She glanced down, her eyes following the questions and the answers dancing in front of her mind. 24. A equals 56. Square root. Isosceles Triangle. It would be so simple just to fill in the ovals with the answers and just be done with this nonsense. Yet, she didn’t. She couldn’t. She remembered third grade, when she never even opened the test and instead, she had illustrated a picture of her kitten by using the bubbles as dots that could be connected. It was a very beautiful rendition of Scuttle but the results landed her in the Resource Room for the entire fourth grade. She learned to tune them out. Her teachers. The other students. Her parents. Why? they would ask.Why are you here? they would wonder. Tuning them out made everything so much easier. She was feeling worn out by the game, though, and the question of why had begun to creep into her dreams at night. Why, indeed. And why not? The answer sheet crinkled in her hands. The pencil felt cold. Her mind raced on, finding solutions as if it were not part of her entity at all. As if she were separate from her mind. One-million-twenty-five. Radius of a circle. Flip the diagram and slide it right. Parallel lines. She laughed at the thought of what they would all think if she did this test the way they wanted. If she followed the rules. They would be stunned. No doubt, they would imagine that it was somehow a mistake. Some error of the computer system. They would not suspect a thing. She thought of her cat, all curled up at home in the warmth of her bed, and she started to write.

Peace (in stories),
Kevin

PS — I just posted a piece on data collection over at Ben’s blog collective (he is still looking for writers — how about you?) called Teacheng.Us.

Day in a Haiku (!)

This week’s Day in a Sentence comes from Larry, who has been asking for a little taste of poetry with our words. He suggested that we use a Haiku to write our sentence this week. Let me forewarn you: I won’t be counting syllables, but a typical Haiku is 5-7-5.

Day in Sentence Icon

Here is my Day in a Haiku:

I am not a twit
But I’m taken with Twitter
warm words in winter

Just a reminder:

  • Boil down your day or week into a haiku
  • Use the comment link on this post to add your writing to the mix
  • I will collect and publish them all on Sunday
  • You can always podcast, too. Feel free to email me an audio file through dogtrax(at)gmail(dot)com or provide me with a link. Your voice is important!

Peace (in poetry),
Kevin

A Second Place Poem

I found out last week that a poem I wrote during my OnPoEvMo project last year (one poem every month) garnered second place in a writing contest hosted by our Western Massachusetts Writing Project. The poem is about race and prejudice, and trying to investigate why our skin makes us feel so different from others.

Here is the poem and here is the podcast:

Like Birds in Flight

I can’t crawl inside your skin
I’m claustrophobic with the fingers of history wrapped around my neck
and, besides, your black doesn’t fit with my white.
We clash.

Or so I have been told, not in so many words, of course, but in so many looks.
Which leaves us both here with this sense of intense misunderstanding

and missed opportunities that come from rage at the ways of this world.
No one ever told me that you were always the same as me,
with the same dreams,
the same heart,
and you, with your ancestors on an timeline that intersects with mine only in pain and infinite sadness,
you look so different from me — on the outside.
Your black doesn’t fit with my white.

I often wonder how it would be if we had a covering of feathers instead of skin
and you were to become haloed in a rainbow
with hues casting deep shadows that I could just swallow up like worms on a summer day after the storms have cleared away,
filling me whole with experience and reality,
and then maybe — maybe — I could finally feel your light, your strength, your sense of being you.

Just you and nothing more.

Your black would fit with my white.
We would no longer feel tethered by this solid Earth
and instead, as one, we would rise to the clouds on the upward draft of hope
and avoid the fears that keeps us rooted so firmly in our own minds.
I look at you.
I don’t see you.
Instead, I only see skin.

Peace (in understanding),
Kevin

Twittering Around on 2008-02-11

  • @murcha: Yep – vocals are me, such as they are. #
  • 7 degrees outside. Indoor recess? ahhhhhhhhh. #
  • Students busy with Parts of Speech project and I wish we were writing short stories instead (their wish, too). #
  • Darn I think I might have pink eye (which a colleague explains is the best of the sick worlds — you get to stay home but little pain) #

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Writing a Song (without touching an instrument)

I like to consider myself a songwriter, although the creative spurts come and go through the years (during one three-year stretch, I was writing three to four songs every month). Many of my songs go forward to my band, The Sofa Kings. However, many songs don’t go much farther than the sun room of my house where I often compose.

This week, I started to tinker with a site called JamStudio and composed two songs: one for the band and one for my young son, who was playing in the room as I was writing the song and he asked me (in his three year old voice) if I would write the song for him. So I did. Yet, it felt very strange to be writing a song without having my guitar in my hands (I wrote this in one of my first Tweets, too) and I am am wondering how authentic an experience this really is as a musician and a composer.

I took the instrumentation from JamStudio and brought it into Audacity, where I then recorded my voice. Then, I used Creative Common photos from Flickr to create this little photo (with Photostory3). I converted the video to Shockwave, uploaded it to a video account I have and then moved it into my blog. One of the reasons is to keep getting practice with this process.

Anyway, here is the song and video, called In You:

[kml_flashembed movie="http://dc15.4shared.com/download/37411478/420c01f2/In_you__rowans_song_.swf" width="400" height="350" wmode="transparent" /]

Peace (in love and children),
Kevin

Twittering Around on 2008-02-10

  • I am just now starting to Twitter. A true Twitter newbie. #
  • Composing (?) a new song on Jamstudio — thinking how different a writing process it is without guitar in hand — is it authentic or not? #
  • @drg: Not far east of you in WesternMass — snow and whiteness all around. But ready for spring. #
  • Good lord — the wind is ripping outside my house right now. I feel sort of like Dorothy. I hope that witch doesn’t float by on her bike. #

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Rock On, Dan Kennedy

I just read the book Rock On by Dan Kennedy, which is a humorous and scathing look at the music industry from inside (Kennedy worked for a major music company as a mid-level manager). It is a fun read and full of interesting bits and pieces of humor writing (such as top lists, such as Ineffective Names for a Hardcore Death Metal Bank — ie, Light Tropical Storm). He includes his email address at the end, so I wrote and sent him this letter:

Feb. 8, 2008

Dear Dan,

Thanks for writing the book, Rock On. It made me laugh until I realized that what I was laughing about was the complete commercialization and destruction of the music industry that was my lifeline as a kid. Like you, I remember sitting on the floor with my old vinyl albums on the Radio Shack stereo, looking over every last bit of the cover and even reading the names in fine print at the lower right hand corner. Photographer, engineer, snack-man, whatever. I read them all as the tunes were blasting. Imagine seeing your name like that on a Led Zep album? Even if you were a water carrier, it would still be a thrill. Today, there wouldn’t be room for those names and if the names were there, they would be so friggin’ small in print that you would need to steal your grannie’s eyeglasses just to read it. And let’s face it – no one bothers to read the fine print on anything anymore anyway. I don’t consider myself a craggy old dude but I do miss that feeling of discovering rock and roll. I know there is still great music out there but it is not in the halls of the office building where you found yourself working for those 18 months, that’s for sure.

You know, it amazed me that you put your email address in your book. How many people have written to you? And do you write back? I ask this because I read through John Hodgeman’s book, The Areas of My Expertise, and he gave out an email. When I wrote him a letter (I was arguing that his name and my name are close and that maybe we were related somehow — not really, but, you know, all in fun) and I never heard a peep out of him. Maybe he thought I was just another nut job (I proclaim: I am not a nut job).

Back to your book: I was really struck by two images. The first is the entire Iggy Pop show. Man. That must have been something and I got great joy out of visualizing that madman stomping into the corporate seats and just going crazy on them and then leaving such chaos and wreckage in his midst. There was a ferocious energy about him that you captured in your writing. (Don’t you wish you were on the stage, with your camera, for that one, Dan? Instead, you were stuck with the spandex boys). And then there was the ending, with Jimmy Page, walking in a suit and his helpful assistant carrying his guitars. I agree that we expect our heroes to stay the same and never change. Reality is different. Still, it was a symbol for the industry. Like you, I remember watching every note in The Song Remains the Same movie (in a smoky movie theater, at the midnight showing) and thinking, these guitar soloes are like a symphony in itself. And you are right, Dan. Page would never be allowed to let rip such solos these days. Crap, his solos are longer than most songs (not that I am against short songs — Elvis Costello did it magnificently).

I really loved your final email that you never sent and I kind of wished you did send it (don’t you? Why not send it? Were you still hoping to make your way back into the business?). You bluntly put the difficulty of the entire industry on the place where it belongs — in the upper management of the big companies. You know they are desperate when they start paying people to be “cool barometers” in the world. Cripes. Maybe they should just kick back with a six pack (I would have Sam Adams, but they would prob have wine coolers) and put on some of the crap they are putting out in the world and get numbed over like the rest of us. The radio sucks, doesn’t it? It’s like strip malls — every suburb you go to looks exactly the same. And every radio station in big markets seem to sound exactly the same. (Thank god for smaller stations in smaller markets). I am thinking of this as I hear yet another commercial for the Grammy Awards, which have to be one of the biggest crocks of crap to ever infect our ears. Sure, a few artists who are really musicians slip through now and then, but the Grammy is not even on my musical radar. I see it for what it is — another shilling of product by the corporate entities (notice, I didn’t use the word “people” there).

Anyway, I will keep an eye out for your byline in the various McSweeney family publications (sounds like a mob, doesn’t it) and I wish you best with whatever venture comes your way.

My top five list for why the current music scene completely sucks:

  • DRM (digital rights management)
  • Are you telling me it costs a company $18 to produce a little metallic circle of data? Please.
  • Producers who put together bands based on marketability and not musicability
  • No patience to allow a band to build a following — it’s “get a hit” or “hit the road” and not much in-between
  • Artists who don’t write their own songs

My top five reasons why good music will still survive:

  • Low cost of recording software and music publishing
  • Pirate radio stations
  • The need of kids everywhere to hate the expected and rage against the machine
  • Friends talking to each other (yep, it still is the most effective marketing)
  • Ability of musicians to collaborate on the Web

Thanks for reading my letter, Dan.

Sincerely,

Kevin

PS — the book group questions at the end were a nice touch.

So I send the email last night and Dan Kennedy (give him credit for replying at all) sent me back this reply via email:

Kevin — what a great note to get, I’m damn glad I put my email address in the back of my book. I

I also have to tip my hat to you for using the word “cripes” in your note; it made me feel like maybe we grew up in the same damn family.

At any rate, glad as all hell that you got something out of Rock On. Thanks for your time spent reading it and glad it was worth it.

Goodbye from a damn internet cafe thatch hut thing off the coast of Honduras, where I’m writing something new amidst a thick school of sunburned and leathery desperados next to bon fires and the whole thing feels like every Steely Dan song I’ve ever heard.

OK-

My response back to Dan:

Hi Dan
Thanks for the reply.
Instead of hearing Steely Dan in my head, for some reasons, I had the Eagles. That happens every time I hear or read the word Deperadoes. (not really my favorite song, either, but it gets stuck like velcro).
It’s nice to know that your writing is taking you to some different places other than NYC (on vacation? or on a book tour? either way, have fun) and I will be sure to pass along the praise for your book to friends.
Peace,
Kevin

Peace (in music and in writers who make themselves accessible to their readers),
Kevin