Slice of Life: A Bad English Assignment Gone Nerdy

It’s Tuesday! Time for Slice of Life hosted by Two Writing Teachers Blog. Thank you Anna, Beth, Betsy, Dana, Stacey and Tara, for this space 11454297503_e27946e4ff_hto share our thoughts and our lives. Join in, share your slice of life and read more slices here.

Our family is busy and seldom together at mealtime. We understand and fend for ourselves, foraging for left overs.  The weekdays slip by.

Last Sunday night we planned a family dinner.

For many reasons, we ended up at a local Italian restaurant/sports bar. It’s one of those places where no matter where you sit you see three televisions. I don’t care or know much about football, but I was instantly memorized along with everyone else; cheering, wincing and commenting on the games. I guess that could be an acceptable family dinner if we were viewing the same game, even the same commercial. But we can’t; we all see different screens.

At some point someone, perhaps the waitress, breaks the spell and my daughter starts a conversation.

I hate it when a teacher asks for our opinion and then grades it as if there was a right answer.

Apparently, her high school English teacher asked students to write the connotation, good or bad, of certain words. The example she gave was skinny and thin and goes on to say:

He may think skinny has a bad connotation, but I’d love to be called skinny. How can he consider my connotation, my opinion wrong. How can he grade that!

She has an excellent point. First, there is a serious cultural literacy gap between a forty-something male and a sixteen-year old female with regards to the word skinny. And secondly, the idea of simply grading this kind of thinking as correct or incorrect struck me as lacking in imagination and in the belief of students’ ability to consider and debate ideas.

My son, English major cum laude, takes this complaint as an invitation to launch into a discussion about the origins of English words. “You know,” he says, “the source of the word often dictates the connotation of the word.” He goes on to talk about how there are so many words for the same thing in English because of the many languages that have contributed to English.

With this, we all jump at the challenge of naming synonyms, considering their connotations and origin: cathedral/church, swine/pig, affordable/cheap, intelligent/smart, lady/woman, feline/cat, child/kid. The televisions have lost their power.

Food is served and we talk, reconnect. Every now and then, another synonym pair pops up.

We leave the restaurant, still trying to think of words with the same meaning, discussing connotations and origin.

Who would think a badly constructed English assignment could have such a silver nerdy lining.


Celebrate: Being Nerdy

It is time to celebrate the week with Ruth Ayers on her blog. Thank you Ruth, for inspiring this weekly practice, that acknowledges the big and little things that are worth celebrating.
celebrate link up

This week I celebrate being nerdy.

I’ve been working on things for school, at home. I never really stop thinking about school stuff, but the thought process is a little more reflective and relaxed in the summer. Once I set foot in the classroom, I’m back in school mode, so I have avoided my classroom. .

I’ve been working on a classroom website I’d started at the end of last year. I was intimidated, but the tools turned out to be really easy to use and fun to play with. I sat at the dinning room table, next to my oldest who was busily typing up something.  Looking over at him, I decided to ask him if he wouldn’t mind reading through the site. I knew what I was in for. He’s a kid who discusses the nuances of words and has to explain his reasoning for every editing choice.  I decided this would be a good thing for me and my site — to have the benefit of a very critical eye.

He takes my computer, and I sit, a little nervous.

“Mom I think this paragraph should go first because it gives the purpose of the page.Then it flows into the next one with the actual nuts and bolts of what this means..”

“This edit… I can’t really explain why I like it this way, I just do.”

“This is really great. I love this part.”

“Could we change this word to …”

“Ok, let me read it one last time.”  He starts from the beginning, reading it aloud, with expression. Some more edits. Then re reads again. He must have read three more times. We talked, discussed my reasoning. Considered ideas. Sometimes I went with his idea. Sometimes I defended mine. The nerdy thing about this was that we had such a good time doing it.

“Thanks so much for helping me with this,” I said.

“Oh, I knew what I was getting into,” he responds, “this is what I do.”

We continued on for another hour. It was getting late, past noon. I had promised myself to go in to school to start on the library. I was close to publishing the website, but not quite.

“Why don’t you just finish it, and then go in tomorrow,” he says.

That was all I needed. I was having way too much fun fiddling around with words and pictures.

By dinnertime I published it. Check it out. Hopefully parents and kids will use it, and I’ll keep it up to date.

Flash forward to the next day. My room is calling, and my book-loving son agrees to come with me to help.

I have this shelf, actually three shelves, that have become the home for all books that I don’t know what to do with. The ones that I’ll deal with, later.  I decide later is now and my son can deal with them. “Just sort them by genre,” I tell him. “Use the tables.”

He gets music going and starts in.

“Oh l Poppy, I loved this book.” Time passes. He holds up the Walter Dean Myers biography of Muhammed Ali. “This was a great book.”

“I remember when you read that. Did you know Myers died in June?” I say..

“No!  Man!  First  Maya Angelou and now Walter Dean Myers.”

“It’s kind of unbelievable.”

Sorting continues. “This is the girls-who-love-animals pile, and this is the I’m-having-a-terrible-summer-but-I-find-a-true-friend pile.”

I laugh. He is micro categorizing by theme and topic. (What a great activity for students!) He remembers books. When he read them, the parts he loved, or why he didn’t care for certain ones. He stays for about three hours then takes off to spend time with a friend.

Flash forward to the evening. I’m sitting at home and he walks in. “I got the job at the library!”

“Well they would have been crazy not to hire you,” I tell him.

“Yeah, I suppose.”

Today I celebrate my nerdy book-loving son who believes re reading books is the best part because, “How else are you going to remember the best quotes.”