Friday, December 1, 2017

CREATING CHARACTERS: Fantastically Flawed, Beautifully Broken, & Readily Redeemed

What is it about a character that makes him or her so memorable?

Hero or villain, damsal or duke, rebel or royal, the characters in a story are the author's greatest assets in the quest to win the heart, mind and soul of the reader.

How that character is manipulated by the plot, and how he/she in turn manipulates it right back, that is the key to story telling.We have been exploring characters in our close reading and class discussions, and we will also, from different angles and approaches, analyze how stories impact readers and how the author creates a unique story to entice and inspire the reader in our Written Task assessments. Each one of you represents a very unique and original set of backstories and experiences.  You bring these in to each new experience you encounter, including reading a novel. Because of that, how you interpret stories and respond to and relate to characters will always be different.  Your culture, your virtues and values, your personality and preferences and past experiences will color the lenses through which you read and interpret literature.

I will admit that I have always rejected "Prince Charming" type romantic heroes.  I liked fairy tales, but there were times that I found myself more interested in the villains than the heroes; why were they the way they were?  Did they have a backstory that explained their choices, perhaps?  Some dark and tragic experiences that formed them into the so-called witches, monsters, and evil stepmothers they seemed to be?  I fell in love with the Rhett Butlers, Heathcliffs, Rochesters, Darcys and Edmond Dantes of literature.  There was just something alluring to me about the not-quite-perfect-and-sometimes-even-jerkish-more-accurately-described-as-anti-hero type heroes.  Their flaws were
fantastic.  Their brooding? I found it beautiful.  And the fact that they were in desperate need of redemption or restoration?  Relatable!  Many readers, however, do NOT find solace in these so-called "Byronic" heroes.  They prefer the sensitive more thoughtful types who sacrifice for the greater good; never compromising their ethics and values, but instead, choosing always to stand for right in the face of evil and temptation.

Okay, I like them too.  But given the choice between reputable and the rakish?  I'll go with rakish every time; both as a reader, and as a writer!

Recognizing your own leanings as a reader is, in fact, the first step in becoming a thorough and credible literary critic (critic in this case meaning someone who engages in the act of dissection, evaluation or appreciation of literature).  We must acknowledge the fact that we do look at everything through a unique perspective that can and will color our evaluation.  That is not a bad thing, it's a human thing.  Recognizing it and graciously allowing for other possible interpretations is a professional thing.

Okay, so we've acknowledged that we do have a limited view--a unique and valid one, but limited as we, in each of our own unique perspectives, are limited.  Now; how do we become more comfortable and confident in that adventure that is dissecting, exploring and detecting as readers?

You know the answer.  It's the same answer for everything you seek to do well:  you practice.

We have learned in class that there are various, set ways that authors can reveal characters to us in literature:  1.  By showing us what the character says  2.  By showing us how the character behaves in a situation 3.  By allowing us to hear the character's thoughts and 4.  By letting us hear what others say or think about that character.  Depending upon the genre and the point of view chosen, the author may not have access to all of these methods.  So...how do the great authors put these tools into action? How have you seen Markus Zusak and Charlotte Bronte use these methods as they have brought their characters to life on the pages you are reading in The Book Thief  and Jane Eyre?  Both of these books have MEMORABLE characters, that is for sure!  But what makes them so memorable?

Below, I have included a link to a blog called Now Novel.  It outlines seven character lessons we can learn from seven great novels.  Read over it carefully.  For your blog response, you will do the following:

1.  Read the article CAREFULLY.  Here is the link:  https://www.nownovel.com/blog/character-description-examples-famous-authors/
2.  Choose one of the main characters from the novel you are currently reading in class (Seniors:  Hans, Rudy, Liesel, Death, Rosa, or Max  Juniors:  Jane or Mr. Rochester)
4.  Pull text from your novel that you believe really "shows" that character.
5.  Using the blog article as a guide, explain how Zusak or Bronte is bringing that character to life in the example you chose.

Voila!  By reading and understanding how characters are developed in well written stories, you not only learn how to analyze literature more insightfully, you also learn how to write characters better in your own creative work...should you desire.

Who are your favorite characters in literature?  What makes them so special?  Certainly, an effective writer helps bring them to life for us on the pages (and perhaps, eventually, on the big screen) but remember: reading is an interaction.  Sometimes, who a character is to us as we read has more to do with who we are as the reader.  Perhaps a more poignant question to explore is, what is it about ME that makes me drawn to specific types of characters and repelled by others?

Happy reading!






Sunday, November 5, 2017

UNSUNG HEROES: A TRIBUTE ON VETERAN'S DAY

In Flander's Fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard among the guns below.

We are the dead, short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
in Flander's Fields...(Major John McCrae, May, 1915)

In just a few short days, on November 11, 2017, America will once again observe Veteran's Day, or as it is known across Europe, Remembrance Day.  It is one day: twenty four hours, 1,440 minutes,  or 86,400 seconds; that we are to stop and remember those who sacrificed all for our freedom.

For most of us, Veteran's Day is a happy relief from school and work--a day to sleep in, binge watch your favorite programs, go out and play a game of tackle football with your friends, or just enjoy a BBQ in the yard and the beautiful Arizona weather we are so blessed with this time of year.  It is a day we celebrate, in our own way, our freedom to do the things we like to do, or take a well needed rest from our responsibilities.  I have always had a very deep appreciation for our Veterans as I come from a family of people who served their country with great pride.  However, I don't believe I ever truly felt the weight of what that day means until 2013, when I stood in the Globe Theater in London on Remembrance Day with my Will Power Cast.

Every November 11th in London, during the 11th hour of the day, everyone stops:  pedestrians, cars in traffic, people going about their business in the office or at school.  All of them stop and offer two full minutes of silence, and then the church bells chime, all throughout the city, to remember the dead.  Our tour guide at the theater that day told us this would occur, and so, in the middle of our tour, we did as Londoners do:  we stopped.  We stood silently, many of us wearing our poppy flower remembrance pins.  We waited in that silence, bowing our heads, until the chimes reminded us wistfully of the wondrous gift of our lives and our freedom.


Every time we visit London with Will Power, we visit Westminster Abbey which is located near Big Ben and Parliament. During the entire month of November, surrounding Westminster Abbey, there are small crosses decorated with red poppies with names on them.  They fill in the grass all around the large cathedral, each bearing the name of one who was lost.


In 2014, an artist was specially commissioned to create glass poppies to fill the grassy moat around the Tower of London-- one poppy for every British subject who served and gave his or her life in all of the battles since WW1.   With my Romeo and Juliet cast that year, I had the incredible honor of seeing that sight.  I have included pictures here because this is one of those times when words truly cannot capture the magnitude of such a sight.

For this blog, I wanted to take the time and honor some of the heroes--some of the lost.  I have chosen four.  They are not all Americans.  They fought in different battles and in different ways.  They are not well known or widely celebrated, but they are, most certainly, heroes who offered great sacrifice--one of them, the ultimate sacrifice.  They are but four of thousands of these such unsung heroes, and they deserve our reflection.  I hope that after you learn about them and read a little bit about their contribution to our world and our freedom, you will give them a few minutes of your time and remembrance this November 11...

JOHN ROBERT FOX: The ultimate sacrifice

The 92nd Infantry Division (segregated African American soldiers) also known as the Buffalo Soldiers, was a division that fought in WW2.  First Lieutenant John R. Fox was a member of the 366th Infantry Regiment when he sacrificed his life to defeat an enemy attack and save the lives of others.  In December of 1944, Fox was a part of a small party that volunteered to stay behind in the Italian village of Sommocolonia.  American forces had been forced to withdraw after that village had been overrun by the Germans.  From his position on the second floor of a house, Fox directed defensive fire.  German soldiers were attacking, and they greatly outnumbered the small handful of Americans.  Fox radioed the artillery to bring its fire closer to his position.  As the attack continued, he ordered fire directly onto his own position.  The soldier who received the message was stunned, as there was little if any chance that Fox, himself would survive the offensive strike.  When he questioned the order, Fox simply replied, "Fire it.  That's an order."  His sacrifice gained time for the US forces to organize a counterattack and retake the village.

After the war, the Italian citizens of Sommocolonia erected a monument to honor the men killed during the artillery barrage:  eight Italian soldiers and the American, Lt. Fox.  Fox was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor on January 13, 1997.

NANCY GRACE AUGUSTA WAKE:  Code Name, "The White Mouse"
Nancy Wake was a British Special Operations Executive agent from Australia during the later part of WW2.  She became a leading figure in the maquis groups of the ferocious French Resistance or "Army of the Shadows" that fought against Nazi occupation; she was one of the Allies' most decorated servicewomen.  After the fall of France in 1940, she became a courier for the French Resistance and later joined the escape network of Capt. Ian Garrow, helping Allied pilots who were shot down over enemy territory secretly escape through the Pyrenees Mountains from France into Spain, where they could be flown out to rejoin their troops.  Just three years later, Wake was on the Gestapo's most wanted list, with a five million franc bounty on her head.  On the 29th day of April in 1944, she parachuted into occupied France near Auvergne, becoming a liaison between London and the local maquis group headed by Capt.  Henri Tardivat in the Forest of Tronçais.  From April 1944 until the liberation of France, her 7,000 maquisards fought 22,000 German soldiers, causing 1,400 casualties while suffering only 100 among themselves.

Nancy's husband George was tortured to death in 1943 by the Nazi Gestapo for refusing to disclose her whereabouts.  Nancy Wake was awarded the George Medal, the US Medal of Freedom, the Médaille de la Résistance, and, three times, the Croix de Guerre.

VASILI ARKHIPOV:  The Man who Saved the World

Vice Admiral Vasili Arkhipov was a Soviet Navy officer credited with casting the only vote that prevented a Soviet nuclear strike and all out nuclear was during the Cuban Missile Crisis.  Such an attack would have caused a major global thermonuclear response which could have been our WW3, destroying much of the world.  As flotilla commander and second in command of the diesel powered submarine B-59, only Arkhipov refused to authorize the captain's use of nuclear torpedoes against the United States Navy, a decision requiring the agreement of all three senior officers aboard.

Apparently, on October 27, 1962, during the Cuban Missile Crisis, a group of eleven US Navy destroyers and the aircraft carrier USS Randolph located the B-59 near Cuba.  The Americans started dropping signaling depth charges, which are explosives intended to force the sub up to the surface for identification.  There had been no contact from Moscow for a number of days, and those on board the Russian sub had no idea whether or not war had broken out.  The captain of the submarine, Valentin Grigorievitch Savitsky, decided that a war had probably already started, and wanted to launch a nuclear torpedo.  As such a decision required the three top in command to unanimously agree, Arkhipov was the one voice that saved the US Navy and probably, the world that day.

LARRY FROST:  Vietnam War Veteran and My Friend
You have all come to know Larry Frost as the author of Conversations in the Asparagus Patch.  He is a dear friend of my family and the husband of Sherri Frost, a woman I am proud to call my best friend--literally since birth.  Sherri is that type of friend who stands with you through it all in life: the storms and the celebrations.  They are an incredible couple of great faith and grace who are truly an inspiration.

Larry is a man who has been a great leader in business and his community and a mentor to many over the years.  He has shared with us, personally, some of the most remarkable stories I have ever heard from his own war experiences as a Vietnam Veteran.  If you are not someone who believes in miracles, you most certainly would change your mind if you heard Larry's stories from Vietnam.  Larry doesn't consider himself a hero, but his wife and his friends most certainly do.  He is a man who deeply loves his country and would willingly lay down his life for another in a time of great crisis or peril.  While very humble when it comes to his own accomplishments, Larry does, however, consider those amazing young men with whom he served as heroes, and probably none more than his best friend, Shelby.

My family had the honor of finding Shelby's name on the traveling Vietnam Memorial
Wall a few years back, and I hope to have the chance to find it again someday on the real one in Washington DC.  I want to share a poem, with Larry's permission, that he wrote for his friend Shelby with all of you.  I have included a link to that poem at the bottom for you to read.  I think you will learn that Larry has forged an eternal bond with his young friend from so many years ago, and that his very deep and strong faith has seen him through some horrifying tragedies he experienced when serving his country in the United States Army.

War is ugly.  It is a monster that steals away the best and brightest, and leaves the rest haunted by misery and images too horrible to speak--too ghastly to forget.  It represents the very worst human beings can be; that ugly, selfish, hatred that seeks only to avenge, kill, take, and destroy.

But on Veteran's Day, we are not honoring the wars, themselves; we are honoring the heroes that dared to face the plague of battle so that we would not have to.  They represent the other side of human beings--the extraordinary and unbreakable spirit that longs for life, beauty, freedom, love and opportunities for happily ever afters.  I am going to quote my friend Larry Frost here to sum it up:  "Where do we get such men and women?  Only a loving God could ensure that in each generation there will be people with this level and courage and strength."  Larry also shared with me that Lt. Col. Dave Grossman, in his book On Combat once said, "If we were to go but a single generation without such men and women, we should surely be both damned and doomed."

I will be flying across the country and the Atlantic this year on Veteran's Day; off to London with
Will Power Junior for their debut on the stage.  I am excited to journey back to see the poppies surrounding Westminster Abbey; to once again look out across that sea of crosses and red flowers in complete and utter awe at the brave souls that dared to stand up against the evil that threatened the freedom of their time and generation.  I will, in that moment, reflect upon the extraordinary: those who were willing to lay down their lives so that I might stand there on a day of rest and relaxation and freely express my gratitude to them.  Wherever you are on November 11th, I hope you will take the time out to do the same.

Please watch these two videos (links below) explaining the origin of Veteran's Day and honoring American Veterans.  Then, click on the link to read Larry's tribute to his dear friend Shelby and the baby girl his friend would never meet.

In your blog response, comment on your own reflection as we come towards Veteran's Day, November 11, 2017.  I conclude this very special blog with this, one of my favorite poems.  It was brilliantly used by President Ronald Reagan as he stood where I will be standing in just a little over a week, on the shores of Normandy in France, honoring the men who stormed those very beaches to liberate France, and Europe in 1944:

Oh!  I have slipped the surly bonds of Earth
And danced the skies on laughter-silvered wings;
Sunward I've climbed, and joined the tumbling mirth 
Of sun-split clouds, and done a hundred things
You have not dreamed of--wheeled and soared and swung
High in the sunlit silence.  Hov'ring there,
I've chased the shouting wind along, and flung
My eager craft through footless halls of air.

Up, up the long, delirious burning blue
I've topped the wind-swept heights with easy grace
Where never lark, or ever eagle flew--
And, while with silent, lifting mind I've trod
The high untrespassed sanctity of space,
Put out my hand, and touched the face of God. 
~ John Gillespie Magee, Jr.


Video One:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SvkrwxsLXAw

Video Two: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dQUxu9uyyBs

Larry's Poem for Shelby:  https://docs.google.com/a/topamail.com/viewer?a=v&pid=sites&srcid=dG9wYW1haWwuY29tfGNhcmF3YXlsYW5nLWxpdHxneDo1ZmEzYzhhNjcwZWM2ZGQx



Friday, October 13, 2017

THE CONTEXT KEY: OPENING THE DOORS TO DEEPER UNDERSTANDING

You have probably heard it said (often, if you are in the second year of my class!) that context is everything.  Okay, so I admit, it is definitely a cliche, but I would also like to suggest that it is a whole lot more than that.

I recently read a blog post in which a woman detailed a story about attending a church service that was very "charismatic."  In other words, people were very vocal and enthusiastic in their worship style.  She was okay with that, at least at first.  But it really started becoming annoying to her when a woman behind her started yelling "Glory!" and sometimes, "Glory, Glory, Glory!" during the service and the preacher's sermon.  Once was fine.  Twice or three times was pushing it.  But when it became constant, the blogger had enough.  She had formed a judgment about this woman and it wasn't a complimentary one.

After the service, the blogger stopped to speak with the pastor's wife, who was a friend.
The pastor's wife asked, "Did you happen to notice the woman who sat behind you today?"  The blogger commented that yes, indeed, she had noticed her, but she stopped herself from saying anything negative or judgmental that she might regret (she was in a church, after all!). That was when the pastor's wife said, "Her son was killed just last week in a drive by shooting."  The pastor's wife went on to share what an inspiration the woman had been to everyone at the church in the way she had clung to her faith through her pain, "It's truly beautiful," she said.

In that moment, everything changed.  No longer did the blogger see the woman as an obnoxious, over zealous church goer.  The woman calling out, "Glory!" had suffered unspeakable loss and tragedy; she was a human being who was bravely confronting her pain and suffering.  The blogger posted these words:  "When we know context, we are slower to judge, slower to write people off, slower to feel disdain, and slower to puff ourselves up in self-righteous [or indignant] pride."*

Communication and social interaction processes are an integral part of our every day lives;  at school, at work, and at home.  In each of these situations, both our culture and the unique context of our individual lives and situations play a role in how information is communicated, received, and most importantly, understood.  This is such an important revelation as you take in the flurry of information hurled in almost rapid fire succession at you everyday. Whether in watching the news, paging through advertisements, engaging in hallway gossip, or just making your own observations, you must always consider the role that the larger context of that message or sound bite is playing.

This should inspire this question in us all:  Who is judging you without a context today?  All of us can
do only so much to allow others to see the "bigger picture."  But ultimately; in a world of Snapchats, Instagram, Facebook Posts, short tweets and snippets of time that people may see us in the grocery store, hallway, or out on the field, they are going to see what they want to see, make of it what they will, and form an instant judgement.  This shouldn't surprise us; after all, we live in a hurried, "instant" world.  Personally, I'd like to hope that people who see me out and about, at my best and my worst, will give me the benefit of the doubt...

I have attached a video link here that highlights the results of a very interesting experiment.  Several photographers were hired (unaware of each other) to photograph the same man.  Each photographer was given a simple background or "context" of their subject.  None of them were true, and all were very different from each other.  It's very interesting how it affected even their artistic choices!  Please watch it by clicking this link:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=F-TyPfYMDK8   
Share what you learned in the video, and what your own life experiences have taught you about the importance of context.

We live in a fast moving, rapidly changing world of quick reactions and snap judgements.  Maybe it would do us all good to stop, take a deep breath, and consider all the experiences, emotions, interactions and relationships that have brought us to this very moment.  Maybe it would do us all one better if we took the time to stop and consider all the possible factors that have brought each individual we encounter to this moment, as well...

(*Booker, Adriel.  "Context is Everything," I Still Belong blog, 2017)


Friday, September 29, 2017

THE ASPARAGUS PATCH DIALOGUES: A Life of Limitless Learning

These past few weeks, we have been talking about the power of our language.  As juniors, we are looking at the language of persuasion, and the power of language to educate and influence others ideologically and politically.  As seniors, we are looking at influential and instrumental power and propaganda, and how the language we use and meaning we construct is largely shaped by the structure and content of the message AND the culture and beliefs of the recipient.  In both cases, it is very important to take a leisurely stroll back through the "asparagus patch..."

Juniors, you have just "met" my friend Larry Frost through his writing, and learned of his deep desire to look beyond the messages and into the hearts of the messengers.  Seniors, you first read this piece last year and have heard me make reference to it since then from time to time.  But in both of our studies, the message of Mr. Frost's reflective narrative, "Conversations in the Asparagus Patch," is very appropriate and worthy of our ongoing consideration.

We are currently living in an environment of deep division and polarization.  Even though we have been given the gift of free speech in our country, a truly precious gift bought at a very high price, we are often afraid to use it, or we find ourselves wishing we could stop others from exercising it.  Living in a Democracy requires a GREAT deal of emotional maturity, and a commitment to staying active and informed in the events that shape our lives and history.  Because our views are so closely tied to our emotions, it is very hard to discuss, listen to, understand and accept opposing or opposite points of view without feeling "attacked."  Unfortunately, we cannot look to our leaders as shining models and examples.  They often seem more concerned with winning votes and gaining power than creating solutions, cultivating productive discussions and achieving unity.  So what do we do? 

There is a well known piece of advice  that goes:  "If you want to keep your friends, don't talk religion, politics or finances."  I believe that in many contexts, that is very good advice to be heeded.  But problems don't get solved if nobody talks about them.  In fact, often they grow.  So...maybe the problem isn't WHAT we talk about, maybe it's in HOW we talk about it.

Grace Bronder recently shared a Ted Talk with me that really connected to another Ted Talk we watched in year one last week called "Dare to Disagree."  You probably remember in that talk, the speaker proposed that it is in learning how to face and welcome conflict in problem solving and discussion that we discover new ways to inspire creativity.  It even suggested that asking for and offering constructive criticism or opposing points of view in a spirit of respect is, in fact, a form of love!

I have provided a link here for you to watch the Ted Talk Grace sent to me:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qty0NjF3pdQ&feature=youtube

It is a very specific personal story of a unique friendship that really could and should become a model for all Americans. Watch the talk and then respond in your blog by addressing the following points and questions:


1.  What is your reflection on the message of the friends?
2.  Do you have a friendship like that?  What is your strategy to keep it?
3.  How will you challenge yourself to practice open, respectful dialogue that welcomes conflict and/or challenges to your own viewpoints?

 I am here to tell you, learning to listen to other points of view on the touchy subjects is a lifelong
lesson, but it is one we MUST agree to pursue with great determination and passion.  I am still learning how to do this, that's for sure--and probably will continue learning and trying to master it up to my last breath!  Language is powerful, that is for sure, and it is often wielded as a lethal weapon.   But as Americans, we owe it to those who came before us--to those who fought and died for these precious and rare freedoms we enjoy--to master the art of listening, questioning, and considering other ideas and points of view.  It means we learn to use our language to break down barriers and heal the wounds of misconception.   It doesn't mean we are wishy-washy or changeable.  It doesn't mean we lack conviction.  It means we care about and value each human being's right to learn, to seek and pursue truth, and to develop a sense of purpose.  We put people before politics and policies.

We are SO unique!  Let's celebrate and embrace that! We are a country founded on a principle of welcoming and even encouraging diverse ideas, not stifling them.  Whatever our problems or issues may be, we certainly cannot untangle them by ignoring or silencing them.
We must be brave; we must listen to each other, with open minds and open hearts...

We must be willing to take a stroll through the asparagus patch.


Sunday, September 17, 2017

KNOW THYSELF....2017

Communication break-down can occur at any time and in many different settings.  There's Group Project Anxiety: everyone has great ideas at discussion meetings, but you feel like the only one with a sense of urgency to get any actual work done.  There's Discussion Frustration:  whenever you engage in a discussion with your group, you feel as if your thoughts and ideas are not valued or brushed aside with no regard to your feelings.  And finally, there is just sheer information overload: why is it that after a full day of school, you feel completely zapped of energy, consumed by an overwhelming need to be where people are not?

We all realize that we are social creatures.  We seek out and thrive within interpersonal relationships. We long to be heard and appreciated, to create and explore.  This is probably not new information.  Rewarding as they may be, however, relationships of every type are complex and not without their
difficulties.  People are different.  Where we come from, our experiences, our beliefs, and our DNA all go into who we are, how we see and interpret the world, and how we communicate.

Many corporations have invested large sums of money on consultants with one goal in mind:  to improve inter-office communication and efficiency.  Where do you begin?  The communicators, themselves!  Knowing who you are helps you to better understand how and why you communicate the way that you do.  Knowing who your co-workers are can help you better understand how to communicate with them more effectively and efficiently.

So, as Aristotle taught centuries ago, we will begin by seeking the wisdom that comes from knowing ourselves.  Here is a link to a personality inventory:  http://www.16personalities.com/free-personality-test  Once you complete the test, you can have your results emailed to yourself and you can read all about your personality type: how you relate to others, how others see you, how you work, etc.

The test takes about 20 minutes, but it provides a wealth of information as it analyzes four distinct areas of personality and then adds a fifth area that analyzes overall identity.  It is created from a combination of the infamous Myers/Briggs and Carl Jung's Theory of Psychological Types.  The four areas are explained as follows:

1.  Introversion vs Extroversion: (I vs. E) This is more than just "shy" vs. "outgoing."  In fact, according to Jung, it is really not about that at all.  It has to do more with where you get your energy.  Do you find yourself getting energized when you are around others, or do you find that you need to be away from people to re-energize?
2.  Intuitive vs. Sensing: (N vs. S) Intuitives are creative, imaginative and curious individuals who are open-minded.  They tend to go with novelty over stability and see/feel possibilities.  They tend to have strong discernment in new situations.  Sensing or Observant individuals are practical, pragmatic and down to earth.  They tend to have strong habits and rather than going with their gut, they are more focused on what has happened or what is happening.


3.  Feeling vs. Thinking: (F vs. T) Feeling individuals are sensitive and emotionally expressive.  They are more empathetic and tend to be less competitive than T's.  They tend to focus on social harmony and cooperation.   Thinkers focus on objectivity and rationality, prioritizing logic over emotion.  They tend to hide their feelings and value efficiency over cooperation.


4.  Judging vs. Perceiving or Prospecting: (J vs. P)  Judging personalities are decisive, thorough and highly organized.  They value clarity, predictability and closure preferring structure and planning to spontaneity.  Perceiving individuals are good at improvising and spotting opportunities.  They are flexible, relaxed, non-conformists who prefer to keep their options open.

Identity Variables of Assertive vs. Turbulent: (A vs. T)  Assertive types are confident, self-assured and pretty resistant to stress.  They do not push themselves too hard.  The turbulent types are self-conscious and sensitive to stress.  They are perfectionistic types who experience a wide array of emotions.

So, test away, and then....
1.  IDENTIFY YOUR FOUR LETTER PERSONALITY, then put a dash, and A OR T.
2.  COMMENT ON ANY SURPRISES OR EXPECTATIONS.
3.  NOW, as a BONUS, click this link, and find out if you are more left or right brained, and let me know your results!  https://www.arealme.com/left-right-brain/en/

 For example:  I am an INFJ - T.   This was absolutely no surprise to me, but a big surprise to those who know me, as I come across as an extrovert (SO not true!)   I think this is because I am a people pleaser, a trait I am working hard on to mellow.  I am also a J, but BARELY.  I need to feel organized in my environment, but DO NOT open any drawers!  They show my true, right-brained, messy creativity!  Now, it's your turn!

Friday, September 1, 2017

TRUE GRIT

A very long time ago, in a state not so far away (California), I was beginning my teaching career at a very innovative school in Turtle Rock, a community in the city of Irvine.  When I assumed my brand new position, we had a training in a relatively new program that had been launched by parents and educators that was born out of the "Self-Esteem" movement that had first blossomed in the late 1980s. 



As I learned about the program, and how it
would be integrated into our teaching and classroom management and philosophy, which proposed lavish praising of kids and handing out trophies just for "trying hard," I felt myself inwardly cringe.  At first, I wasn't sure why.  I mean, isn't cultivating a "positive" self-esteem a good thing?  You would think so, but that still, small voice inside of me, you know the one? That sort of sixth sense or inspired discernment that just "knows" things to be true or not, whether or not you have concrete proof?  That's the one.  That voice whispered to me "bad idea."  While I couldn't articulate exactly why at the time, I just knew this was not the right approach to cultivate the dedication and enthusiastic engagement of young learners.

As time passed, I learned that low and behold, that voice was right.  It turned out that subsequent studies showed that kids did NOT try harder as a result of the program.  In fact, it was the opposite: coddled kids became softer, slower, and less likely to persevere.  Why?  Because there was one very important characteristic that past generations knew about and encouraged that was NOT fostered and learned in the process:  GRIT.

Carolyn Adams Miller, an author and speaker on the topic from Bethesda, Maryland, said, "This is not a gritty generation.  They become overwhelmed and stressed easily because they have been protected from failure."(1)  Like Miller, Psychologists now assert that grit, not a positive self concept, is the best predictor of future success and overall happiness.

So...what, exactly, is grit?  According to the dictionary, it is, in this sense, "courage and resolve; strength of character." (2)  It is a passion and perseverance in the pursuit of long term goals.  It is what determines survival of the West Point or Naval Academy student or who makes the cut for the Olympic team; in other words, it sifts out those who can ultimately make it to the finish line of hard goals in life from those who cannot.  Miller says that talent can only get you so far.  It is really your grit that determines whether or not you make it.

In fact, research has shown that grit is completely unrelated to talent. (3) At times, it is even
inversely related!  Those who are not blessed with talent discover they must work twice as hard, and with grit, they develop the skills of discipline and perseverance.   Grit is contagious.  It is inspiring.  It CAN be taught and fostered.  In a Washington Post article, Miller proposed some steps to cultivate Grit, and they largely relate to our thinking and how we view and approach challenges:

1.  When you face a tough problem, don't tell yourself "this is too hard."  Instead, ask, "Why not me?"

2.  When things get hard and you want to quit, mentally change the channel.   Focus on a spiritual phrase, mantra, or image that encourages you on.

3.  Build a team around you.  Encourage each other.  Be sounding boards.  Connect positively as you pursue your long term goals through the achievement of smaller goals.

4.  Instead of offering empty praise and pity in failure, parents should coax their kids through failure.  Point out the lessons and praise the efforts to keep on going through pain and failure.

5.   While it is tough for parents to let their kids experience failure, it is actually the most important KEY in developing Grit!

Back in the 1980s, many communities opted to "soften" neighborhood parks so that kids could fall into a pillow of wood chips.  This seemed, in many ways, very prudent, but as it turns out, it has made kids "softer" as a result.  Creeping grade inflation, allowing kids to take and retake tests that they "bombed," has also shown to erode the development of grit.  Alternately, participation in true, competitive sports and auditioning for roles (and experiencing the disappointment of not always getting the role you want) in theater arts has shown to cultivate grit.

This all really seems to put a spotlight this week on the IB profile attribute of risk taking.  We have learned through hard experience here that playing it safe, and protecting ourselves and our kids from failure doesn't seem to net anything but more anxiety and cowardice.  But taking risks, watching and learning from those who never seem to quit, that will actually encourage curiosity and feeling truly alive.

Nancy Wake, an Australian woman who went to fight with the French Resistance against the Nazis during World War Two, once stated that while she was incredibly grateful the war ended as it did and freedom was restored, she never felt more alive and like she was living in her true purpose than during those long, fearful months she spent with troops of thousands of men hiding out in the forests.  At a time of great danger, Nancy chose not to listen to the cautionary pleas and warnings of those around her.  She learned to fight like the men she ended up ultimately leading.  It turns out that her being a woman was not a "weakness" after all; in fact, it made her less likely to be seen as a threat by the enemy!  Several of her fellow fighters were quoted as saying that having one woman named Nancy Wake was like having "five additional men" in their ranks!

Kids with Grit are finishers.  They are the tortoises in the race that keep on
moving towards their own established finish lines.  You may trip and fall in life.  You may experience heart breaking defeat and failure.  But the kids who ultimately succeed are the ones who take risks and feel alive.  They are the ones who get back up after a blowing disappointment with a sparkle in their eye, and that sparkle? That's GRIT!

Here is a link to a Ted Talk by Angela Lee Duckworth.  Listen carefully to all she has to say, and then comment below on what you have learned, and how you are going to apply it to your life.  Don't be afraid to get GRITTY!!

Link:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=H14bBuluwB8

(Footnotes:  1.  Holland, Judy.  Washington Post, "The Key Ingredient to Your Kids' Success."  March 9, 2015.  2. Merriam Webster Dictionary  3.  Holland, Judy.  Washington Post, "The Key Ingredient to Your Kids' Success."  March 9, 2015.) 







Friday, May 5, 2017

WORDS TO THE WISE: Sage advice from our Seniors to the Next Generation of IB Lang and Lit Scholars...

Well, it is hard to believe, but we are almost to the close of another year at Odyssey.  Soon, our second graduating class, the Class of 2017, will be zipping up their gowns, donning their cords, and looking forward to the next phase of their exciting life journey:  college, career, military service...wherever their dreams take them...

They have, no doubt, learned a great deal over these past four years; not just academically, mind you, but also in the realms of life skills, cultivating and nurturing relationships, and learning from both mistakes and triumphs.

It is for this reason that I thought reflection was in order:  reflection that can help our next generation of upperclassmen, juniors and seniors, as they navigate through similar waters and build upon their knowledge as IB scholars.  So, here it is:  advice from your seniors to you...those who have successfully reached the summit of IB Language and Literature in the DP program.  They were the "official first" to finish it, so really take their words to heart!  And to you seniors who are quoted here, please know that I have learned just as much, if not more, from working with you as you did in this classroom.  I will miss you terribly, but I am ALWAYS and FOREVER in your corner, cheering you on, through all of life's challenges and celebrations!  LOTS of love, gratitude, prayer and pride to YOU from me!

Buckle up, here we go...

To the kids who have not yet been through their first year of IB Language and Literature, and those about to begin their second, we have some advice that will help you get through the two years…

First and foremost, DO YOUR WORK ON TIME.  Some credit is better than no credit/getting points docked for it being late. But do try your best. I find it great looking back on my written tasks, projects, and other assignments. You can really see your growth by doing that, so save your work and keep it organized. 

Try to relax and have fun. I'm not just saying this to make you feel better, it's true: I really enjoy DP Language and Literature. Don't make it stressful, and it doesn't have to be. Just do your best, and you'll make it through just fine :)

Although we write many written tasks over the two years, appreciate them.  You get to be creative with them and pretty much have your own structure.  Also make sure you use the in class time.  That is a whole 65 minutes to help get a start on your written task.  The time Mrs. Caraway gives in class helps tremendously, but only if you use your time correctly!

Learn to love "Critical Friends."  Although the first time doing it can be hard and scary, because who am I kidding, who wants to sit in silence and listen to your friends tear apart your essay?  But with all the great feedback they give, it is something you most likely would never have thought to add.  Therefore, you are able to add to your word count and come out with a better written task.


Listen in class.  Although Mrs. Caraway doesn't yell at students for being on their computers in class and for not really paying attention like most teachers do.  The things you learn in IB language and literature build on knowledge that you can use in other classes, at home, and definitely in college or the work field.  We don't just discuss books, but culture, and the history behind these cultures, novels and plays.

A piece of advice I would like to give to the incoming juniors is to be prepared to be challenged because language and literature is not just about reading books or writing essays, it involves critically thinking about pieces of text and applying that into a bigger context.

My advice to the future year one and year two DP language and literature is to not procrastinate when it comes to writing your written tasks.  It is a lot less stressful to write the written tasks in sections.  Also, make sure to actually read all of the novels and plays.  You will definitely be missing out if you don't!

Make sure you're extremely interested in whatever you pick for your Written Task One.  It's much easier to write a thousand words about something you're passionate about.

Put your best foot forward on all of your QPA's.  They may seem restrictive, but you'll learn to love the structure. 

Make a template for the QPA so you never forget the structure!

Always ATFQ.  ALWAYS.  Don't worry...you'll soon learn what that means!!

Read books you're interested in for your summer assignment.  Like with the WT1, it's much easier to read a book you're interested in.

Start your summer assignment early.  Don't be the kid who has to spend the last week of summer inside on your computer, writing!

TAKE GOOD NOTES!

Make sure you mark in your text, especially parts you go over in class.  You might even want to invest in a digital copy of the book to type in notes you take.


If you're having trouble with one of the books, read the chapter first, and then go over the Shmoop or Sparknotes.  Not the other way around.

Ask questions! Seriously!

Try to find ways to see the characters in modern day, it'll help when you are trying to go over their characteristics. 

I want to tell you to buy all of your books during the summer and to put them in your backpacks.  Trust me, if you don't, they WILL magically disappear.  Also, plan out how you're going to write your written tasks before you even read your novels/plays.  It may sound ridiculous, but get a good feel for the book.

As you are entering the second year, make sure to keep up on all of your assignments. Senior year goes by extremely fast, enjoy it, but do not forget about your responsibilities! Senior ditch day is extremely fun, but make sure you have everything ready beforehand, so you do not fall behind.

These blogs are actually fun!  Seeing that I love to write casually, the blogs are a free space to respond in anyway you would like!  There's not a set structure, and you can honestly say anything you would like.

The blogs are easy points!  They will add up quickly and can make or break your grade.  Just do them.  AS SOON AS POSSIBLE.  They don't take up much of your time.  Just take the points.

Read the book.  Even when you think they are boring.  If I had a penny for each time I wanted to fall asleep while reading Jane Eyre, I would be a billionaire.  However, I wouldn't have passed my written task if I didn't push through.  The books can be boring, but Mrs. Caraway has this amazing way of talking about the books in a totally different way!  She makes you want to know more about the story, she makes you feel a part of the story.

There is no "busy work."  
Everything that is assigned to you
has a purpose.  Remember that.

HAVE FUN.  Throughout all of my years at Odyssey, I never quite felt like I was having fun while learning through multiple subjects until this class.  Mrs. Caraway is funny, and often lets us discuss things as a class to help with understanding.  We often turn and face each other and talk about our experiences with whatever subject is being taught.  This helps tremendously....
and we almost always end up in a class full of laughter!

So if you decide to stick with IB Language and Literature for the full two years, I promise you that it will become one of your favorite classes!



Now...FUTURE seniors, and those scholars just about to begin the journey that is IB Lang and Lit, DP, it is your turn to comment. What are you MOST excited about? What are your fears? OR, what words of advice really helped soothe your fears or inspire you? I cannot WAIT to begin and continue the journey with YOU!