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THE PSYCHE AND PSYCHOLOGY OF AN AMERICAN TEACHER: A Depth Psychological Approach to American Education

By
Dr. Deborah E. Louis
February 26, 2022

“If there is anything we wish to change in the child, we should first examine it and see whether it is not something that could better be changed in ourselves.” C.G. Jung, (Collected Works, Vol. …

“If there is anything we wish to change in the child, we should first examine it and see whether it is not something that could better be changed in ourselves.” C.G. Jung, (Collected Works, Vol. 17, para. 287)

Introduction

For the past sixty years, my life has been a part of the psyche and psychology of the American teacher in public education, and particularly, in the English language arts classroom. I was born in the 1950s to high school teachers: my mother taught high school English language arts; my father was a Physical Education teacher, as well as a tennis coach, football official, and basketball referee. At ten and for the next twelve years, my father hired me as a swimming instructor, teaching students whose ages ranged from two years old to seventy.

At twenty-two, I lost my mother; at thirty-two, my father. So my journey continued without the two greatest teachers in my life.

I worked as a high school English teacher for fifteen years, an adjunct professor on occasion, and a consultant for the College Board, Advanced Placement Strategies, Laying the Foundation, and others. Today, I have an educational consulting firm, Louis Educational Concepts, which provides professional development to elementary and secondary teachers. I am a Teacher. And as a Teacher, I believe that changes and challenges in education are normal in an industry that revolves around what is best for children, what is best for our future.

However, over the past two decades the acceleration of changes and unrelenting challenges to teachers are telling signs of a period of struggle which historically precedes transformation while also manifesting clearer and discernible phenomena that typically lie beneath the surface. The purpose of this 2022 blog series is to analyze the current state of flux in both the macrocosm of American education and the microcosm of the English language arts classroom and, from an archetypal and depth psychological approach, to provide insight into the underlying causes of the flux and solutions to the challenges that it poses for teachers.

Tangible and Intangible Standards: The Argument for Teaching Novels and Dramas

By
Dr. Deborah E. Louis
January 28, 2022

Dear Dr. Louis, I need your insight and expertise. As so much continues to shift and change in our district, we have had more and more questions about all things related to English Language Arts (ELA) and literacy. Some folks …

Dear Dr. Louis,

I need your insight and expertise.

As so much continues to shift and change in our district, we have had more and more questions about all things related to English Language Arts (ELA) and literacy. Some folks believe that by teaching a novel, students have more difficulty practicing standards multiple times. They believe that passage work might be more effective for multiple practice opportunities with ELA standards.

I believe that I am not an “either/or” but more of a “both/and” kind of teacher and coach. I think a novel has its place, and I think good instruction (multiple practice opportunities) can still happen with a novel. I also think that shorter passages can be studied while exploring a novel.

With all the ELA teachers you have encountered (across states and continents) is this issue becoming a dilemma with which folks are wrestling? Could you offer insight regarding how ELA teachers approach this question about reading novels in ELA classes vs. shorter passages in order to “prep” students for state assessments (at the same time, providing more skills practice)?

Thank you,

Kristi C.

Dear Kristi,

Thank you for your question. I am seeing this dilemma on a regular basis. And here is my response and my “not so humble” opinion. Nothing can replace the journey of a drama or novel. The benefits are more than I can name, but here are some of them:

  • We read literature in order not to feel alone, to feel a connection with humanity, and to learn from other generations and cultures. We discover characters who struggle with similar heartaches, joys, vices, virtues, depravity, goodness, epiphanies, weaknesses, and strengths as we. You might say, “Short stories provide the same.” To a certain extent, they do, but not to the degree and to the depth with which a novel or drama provides. The ebb and flow of life is played out in a novel, whereas a short story is – well – short and does not have as much time to delve into the inner recesses of the human condition. The journey of life is filled with ups and downs; so is the journey of a masterful novel and drama.
  • Reading a significant novel or drama builds stamina. In our current era of the need for immediate gratification, settling into a novel or drama teaches students that gratification also comes with hard work, serious study, and commitment. I find myself a little disappointed when I finish a novel or drama in which I have been immersed. I guess, in some ways, I have become one of the characters, as I have learned about the characters, their lives and struggles, and feel a part of the story through my imagination. I become part of the text.
  • I remember coming home after earning my undergraduate degree years ago. I visited my mother in the hospital. Before she died, my mother said, “Debbie Dear, I’m not going to leave you anything but this ring your father gave me and your education. Because no one can ever take away your education.” I think the same when reading a great novel. It’s always there. No one can ever take away what I enjoyed, what I experienced, and what I learned. Reading a novel or drama yields a sense of accomplishment, a sense of self. No standard or test score can measure this enlightened feeling.
  • Teachers and students become closer when they read novels and dramas together. They experience and share the journey and enjoy the exploration and discussions. Students practice critical thinking skills as they grapple with conflicts and the resolutions of those conflicts. Teachers learn so much about their students’ ideas and heartstrings; and, in return, students gain respect for teachers who have done their homework and are able to provide insight that no one else would have imagined! I am reminded of Sharon, an integral mentor in my teaching life. She was presenting a workshop on Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter. Sharon said, “Why do you think Hester sewed such an elaborate and baroque letter ‘A’ on the bodice of her gown? Wouldn’t you think she would want to make it small so it would be hidden from view?” Some in the group talked about her being defiant. Others murmured among each other what they shared about this part of the novel with their students in their classrooms. But none of us really knew how to answer Sharon’s question. Sharon then reminded us of when we were all in high school and artfully drew the initials of our boyfriend(s) on our notebook(s). We looked at her inquisitively, and then we all realized that the “A” that Hester had so eloquently sewed stood for Arthur, her great, secret love. That’s why she had sewn it so ornately and so beautifully. Those moments make us smile and last forever! Another time, I was watching The Simpsons on television. Lisa and Bart had gone down to the dock to look for the missing Krusty, the Clown. When they entered the pilot’s cabin, the old sea captain was on the phone. And he said, “I’ll call you back, Ishmael!” When I shared that with the students, they looked at me with confusion and said, “So?” We opened Herman Melville’s Moby Dick and read the classic line “Call me Ishmael,” and I discussed “allusion” and the importance of cultural literacy. That’s why we study long works. We should expect our students to be thinkers and philosophers and thoughtful people. And to get the intelligent jokes! Long pieces teach them to develop these lifelong skills, appreciations, and standards.
  • With regard to standards and students practicing those standards and skills multiple times, any great classic has multiple opportunities to practice English language arts standards. In fact, look at your standards and select a handful to practice in any given novel. When I was a vertical team coordinator, we looked at our core literature and determined which specific skills and standards would be taught in the novels and dramas. Then we found dozens of opportunities in each novel. A team of teachers will find them. Divide and conquer. Determine the skills, divide the chapters among the group of teachers, and find those skills. They are there! Trust me. And feel free to contact me and ask for my novel skills spreadsheet!

Finally, like you, I recommend that we integrate short pieces, both fiction and non-fiction into the teaching of long pieces. With regard to writing, create a prompt that asks students to write short literary analyses and long expository pieces or vice versa. For example, in John Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men, teachers have many opportunities to teach many standards and ask students to write in the various modes of discourse:

  • Prompt #1:
    The Great Depression brought many unlikely people together. Carefully read about the Great Depression. Then, carefully read John Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men. In a well-developed  multiparagraph essay, explain why this historical era brought unlikely characters together (1-2 body paragraphs; 2+:1; 1-2 chunks) and analyze how George and Lennie’s relationship evolves over the course of the novel (2-3 body paragraphs; 1:2+; 1-2 chunks per paragraph).
  • Prompt #2
  • Before you read — Of Mice and Men is about dreams (e.g., goals, hopes, and aspirations) that we have for our lives. In a well-developed multiparagraph essay (2-3 body paragraphs; 2+:1, 1-2 chunks), describe one dream of your own or of someone you know; explain how the dream was or will be brought to reality; and discuss the significance of that dream.
  • Midpoint of the novel — Of Mice and Men is about dreams that we have for our lives. Read the novel carefully. Then, in a well-developed multiparagraph essay (2-3 body paragraphs; 1:2+, 1-2 chunks), trace one of the character’s dreams; explain how that dream will be brought to reality; and discuss the significance of that dream.
  • Prompt #3
  • Before you read — The belief in the American Dream–the belief that anyone can achieve a better life through hard work–has always been an important part of the American character. John Steinbeck, however, is questioning the reality of this belief in his novel Of Mice and Men. Consider your own opinion. Then, in a well-developed multiparagraph essay, analyze the current status of the American Dream. Determine whether it is still possible and, if so, discuss the dreams Americans have these days that might differ from previous years. (2-3 body paragraphs; 2+:1, 1-2 chunks).

Thank you for reaching out! Keep reading and writing!

All the best,

Dr. Louis

Argumentation: Introduction to The Framed Thesis vs. The Open Theses

By
Dr. Deborah E. Louis
December 27, 2021

Thesis statement options

A thesis statement is a writer's promise that every word the writer uses supports his or her thesis statement. In argumentation, the thesis statement is critical.


When we first teach our students to write a thesis statement in an argumentative essay, we ask them to place their thesis in the first paragraph of the essay, the introduction. 


In argumentation, the thesis has two parts, a subject and a claim. The subject is the topic or issue of the argument. The claim is the writer's assertion regarding the subject. Some writers also include the counterclaim in their thesis statements.

A thesis statement may also be written as a framed thesis or an open thesis, which is the topic of this month's Vlog.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=80dY9q_l4G0

The Best Laid Plans: Literary vs. Expository Prompts

By
Dr. Deborah E. Louis
November 1, 2021

Glasses on a book

Good afternoon, Dr. Louis:

Please see below a prompt that I made for our students this week on Chapter 6 from Of Mice and Men. If you have time, let me know what you think and what changes need to be made to make this an effective writing prompt. Thank you.

Tim B.

Los Angeles County Office of Education

WRITING ACTIVITY 

Of Mice and Men / Chapter 6 

Original Prompt: George and Lennie had a friendship that was rare during the Great Depression as it was every man for himself.  Think about the dream George and Lennie shared of having a farm. How did this dream keep the two men going during a difficult time? In a (2+:1) expository paragraph explain what the dream of owning a farm meant to George and Lennie. 

Dear Tim,

I love your background sentences in your prompt and the trigger sentence, the sentence that focuses the students' reading and leads to the task. Here’s my question: Isn’t this a literary analysis? If it is, the ratio would be 1:2+. This prompt gives me a perfect opportunity to illustrate the difference between literary analysis and expository writing!

LITERARY ANALYSIS

Let's start with LITERARY ANALYSIS, also known as RESPONSE TO LITERATURE. We'll focus on your prompt, and I'll guide the thinking behind creating a sample one-chunk response to literature paragraph with a 1:2+ ratio.

TS: The dream of owning a farm meant a sense of freedom to George and Lennie.

CD: Here, the students open their novel to Chapter Six and find discussions between George and Lennie, which provide evidence of their dream to own a farm.

CM: What does the evidence above (CD) say about the characters' attitudes. What tone is created within their discussion?

CM: Why is it important for George and Lennie to dream?

CS: Thematic – Why is setting their sights on this dream about owning a farm important Steinbeck's purpose and/or themes in this novel?

­­­­­ EXPOSITORY WRITING

An EXPOSITORY piece would ask students to explain a concept (e.g., the meaning of success; the importance of having a dream; how perseverance can make a difference in a person's life). The students would need one or more examples to support their thesis statement. They would also need to write more sentences to explain their selection of evidence within their body paragraphs, and for that reason the ratio for Expository is 2+:1. We train students to access their knowledge or research evidence from history, entertainment, literature, people, sports, or science (HELPSS).

Perhaps, one student decides to use his or her knowledge of how dreaming was an important theme in Of Mice and Men to explain the importance of having a dream.

TS: Dreaming gives a person hope for the future. (Notice how this sentence is about life, not OMM.)

CD: In John Steinbeck's novella Of Mice and Men, Lennie and George dream of owning a farm. They discuss what will be on the farm, including rabbits . . .

CD: Even Candy, the old ranch worker, considers investing his own money to help buy the farm. He and George put pencil to paper to determine how much they will need.

CM: The dream of owning a farm in gives George, Lennie, and Candy something to think about and hope for during an era filled with struggle and defeat.

CS: Dreaming helps people to get through the mundane and difficult times in life in hopes of a better today and tomorrow.

Next, the student decides to access his or her knowledge of a famous person in history to support the idea in a second body paragraph:

TS: Furthermore, many important changes in history started with a dream.

CD: On August 28, 1963, Martin Luther King, Jr., gave the historical speech, “I Have a Dream” in front of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C.

CD: In this speech, he discusses (create a list of what he discusses).

CD: Add more evidence from the speech.

CM: King’s dream was so vivid and convincing that we as Americans believed in it and embraced it.

CS: Sometimes people with dreams can significantly change history.

A NOTE ON LITERARY PRESENT TENSE

The final suggestion for high school writers is to teach them how to use the literary present tense when they are writing about literature. Longfellow said, "Time is fleeting/Art lasts forever." So, one hundred years from now, George and Lennie will still be discussing their dream in Chapter 6. So, you might consider writing your prompt in the present tense.

REVISED PROMPT

Prompt: George and Lennie have a rare friendship during the Great Depression of the 1930s because this difficult period in history left almost every man for himself. Think about the dream that George and Lennie share about owning their own farm in John Steinbeck's novella Of Mice and Men. Consider how this dream keeps the two men hopeful during their struggles throughout this harsh economic time in history. Then, in a one-chunk literary analysis (1:2+), analyze what the dream of owning a farm means to George and Lennie. 

_____________________________________

So, Tim, the difference between literary analysis and expository writing is that in literary analysis the writer focuses on plot, conflict, setting, social mores, characters, and style devices that reveal the author’s purpose and message. Whereas, expository writing occurs when the writer uses examples from HELPSS to define a concept, in this case -- the importance of dreaming.

Thank you, again, for an important question!

Keep reading and writing!

Warm regards,

Dr. Louis

Does Your Prompt Actually Prompt?

By
Dr. Deborah E. Louis
May 17, 2021

Pen writing on paper

DECODING A WRITING PROMPT

We have all heard students exclaim, “I don’t know how to start!” The Jane Schaffer Writing Program® (JSWP) was designed by Jane to remove that thought from their minds. From the prompt to the final draft, JSWP teaches students the cognitive thinking process behind the execution of writing.

Let’s start with the prompt.

We have found that students encounter difficulty in writing because they do not understand how to “decode” or “deconstruct” writing prompts. Once students understand our color-coding system, we teach them how to use it to comprehend what a prompt is asking.

Guidebooks 2.o Sixth Grade Prompt Hatchet

Select an event from Hatchet. What did Brian do to aid or hinder his survival? Does Hatchet have instructional value as a survival guide?

Write a multi-paragraph report explaining how Brian was successful and/or could have improved his situation if he had followed the steps provided in the article case studies. Conclude the report by making a claim and providing clear reasons and evidence about the instructional value of Hatchet. Be sure to use proper grammar, conventions, spelling, and grade-appropriate words and phrases. Cite several pieces of textual evidence, including direct quotations and page numbers.

"What Are They Asking Me to Do? Decoding the Prompt"

Introduction and Thesis Statement: In the JSWP, we teach students to start with a broad, thematic, universal idea about the human condition. For example, what is meant by success? Start your introduction by answering that question. Then, narrow the introduction, observing the fictional idea and nonfictional texts that deal with the concept of survival as success. The thesis has the potential of being two-fold: Was Brian successful and/or could he have improved his situation? This is the key question, and from this question the student will derive the first part of the thesis statement. The second part of the thesis statement will defend or challenge the idea that Hatchet is of instructional value. Because of the complexity of the questions, the thesis should probably be a compound sentence (a compound-complex sentence, if the teacher wants a counterargument regarding the argumentative portion of the assignment). The thesis may be a framed thesis in which the writer names his/her reasons, which will lead to the topic sentences or an open thesis that “hints” at the topics. We teach all of this in the Jane Schaffer Writing Program.

Topic Sentences (TS): Topic sentences provide reasons that support a writer’s thesis. From where in the prompt could topic sentences come? Options abound: (1) each body paragraph could begin with a TS that names different successes that Brian experiences that aid his survival (beginning writer); or (2) perhaps the student would like to focus on what Brian did that hindered his survival and how he could have improved on that situation (intermediate writer); or, (3) perhaps a student wants to approach main ideas that emerge from the article case studies and use that concept to lead the discussion (advanced); or (4) a combination (highly advanced).Since this prompt requests two different modes of discourse, literary analysis and argumentation, the student will end his report with one or two body paragraphs. In that case, each TS will be the writer’s claim with a “clear reason” about the instructional value of Hatchet.

Concrete Details (CDs): In this assignment, concrete details (evidence) are derived directly from the multiple texts (not other forms of evidence which we discuss in our trainings). That evidence will come from Hatchet and the articles. Using the “Evidence Chart,” students will write the concrete details in red. We recommend teaching students how to embed quotations while they read rather than paraphrasing at the 6th grade level. You’ll also notice that we place the prompt as well as key ideas on the “Evidence Chart” to keep the students focused. Once the reading has been completed, discerning which pieces of evidence are the most important is an essential skill that we teach.

Commentary (CDs): Commentary is always the most difficult to teach because it asks for students to give insight into their reading and provide interpretations about life and the human condition as well as the significance of the evidence as it pertains to the thesis and the topic sentences. Thus, it must be both insightful and logical. We teach students how to take the ideas of a prompt (abstract nouns, powerful verbs, etc.) and Web-off-of-the-Word™ in order to make inferences about the selection of evidence and how those inferences relate to the prompt, the thesis, and the topic sentences.

Concluding Sentence (CS): In an academic body paragraph, each body paragraph must have a concluding sentence. Concluding sentences come from commentary ideas that provide a finished feeling to the body paragraph. For 6th graders, we tell the students that the concluding sentence is a reflection of the topic sentence but does not use any of the same words.ArgumentationThis particular assignment has an argumentative piece in the final section, so we must teach students how to take the different parts of an academic body paragraph and build the claim, concession, counterargument, and refutation. The latter three may not be necessary at the sixth grade level.The ConclusionThis particular assignment does not end with a traditional, classical conclusion since it combines two modes of discourse. If we were to teach the conclusion, we would start with a restatement of the thesis (not a repeat) and broaden the idea to the significance of the assignment. That task is actually being accomplished in the second half of the assignment through argumentation.

Generating Commentary with a WOW Factor!

By
Dr. Deborah E. Louis
April 10, 2021

Smiling/writing student

Dear Dr. Louis,

What is a WOW sheet?

- A. Stout,

AP® English Literature Endorsed Consultant, Boise State Writing Project Fellow

Dear Mr. Stout,

Thank you for your insightful question!

"WOW" stands for the "Web-off-the-Word"™." It is one of the steps and graphic organizers in the JSWP thinking and writing process, developed by Jane to help students generate commentary. It was originally designed for the Analytical Response to Literature and Style Analysis workshops although it has evolved and is now included in Expository, Argumentation, and Narrative.

On the WOW sheet, a student starts with a single word that gives insight into a text and addresses the prompt's request. Often, the word is a tone word or an abstract noun. Next, the student provides a synonym -- one with the same tone or feeling. The student then moves to the two cloud images, and here s/he provides "lofty thoughts," phrases that develop the single words into ideas. Once the student has generated these single words and phrases, the final step is to "pick-n-stitch" the selections together into insightful sentences of commentary (analysis).This method prevents the redundancy we so often see in students' commentary; they come to us simply not knowing how to produce analysis from their analytical mind, their heart/soul, their gut, instincts, and intuition. The WOW sheet teaches them how to give life (form) to their inner thoughts.

Here is how our leadership and program coordinator, Mr. David Dorn describes it: "The WOW sheet is designed to guide students to “dig deeper” or broaden their vocabulary development in order to build their commentary sentences and revise their topic sentence and concluding sentence based upon the prompt and text- based details. In essence, it is a graphic organizer for students to utilize, which enhances word usage, stretch their thinking and structure their thoughts.

Keep writing and reading!

Dr. Louis

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