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Abraham Lincoln – President, Rail-Splitter, and Grammar Teacher March 13, 2012

Filed under: Abraham Lincoln,Education,reading,teaching writing,Uncategorized — bvanetten @ 7:52 pm

I needed to teach a grammar lesson with two instructional constraints. Students needed a refresher in using commas in order to write thesis statements for a research paper, but the lesson also had to be contextualized in the Civil War content that they had been researching for several weeks. We began by discussing the functions of commas when speaking and writing. Students immediately noted a difference in the functions that commas serve in writing and spoken word. They emphasized that when reading a comma aloud, one should “pause” and “take a breath.” The noted that this gives the listener (as opposed to reader) time to process information and an indication of what information the speaker finds important. They were less sure about when a writer should use a comma, but agreed that it is an indicator to the reader of pauses.  I then introduced to them the idea of using commas to create a list in writing; using commas to separate individual items on the list.

To test our idea of reading commas, I gave every student a copy of “The Gettysburg Address” with all the commas removed. I then proceeded to read the speech to them without using any of the comma punctuation. This was actually extremely difficult to do, as punctuated pauses come naturally to us after so many years of exposure to speech patterns. When I asked students what they thought about my speech they told me I “did it wrong” because it sounded “weird” and “rushed.” After some discussion we were able to come to the conclusion that there were no commas in the speech and that they were the cause of the rushed feeling of the speech. I then told students that I was would read them a copy of the speech in which there were commas, and their task was to follow along on their copy, inserting commas where they heard them. I tried not to exaggerate the pauses, and I think that on the most part, I was successful. Most students were able to get most or all of the commas that were on the original copy.

What was interesting, however, is that many students added more commas than I had written on my paper. When we talked about the discrepancies, they argued that I had paused or taken a breath in certain places, and that the commas “counted.” To expand on this idea of ‘correct’ vs. ‘incorrect’ pauses, I told the students that the copy of the speech I had was not the “real” speech Lincoln gave, as there is not “real” speech. Being one of hundreds of Presidential speeches he gave, Lincoln had no idea that this particular address would become so famous. It was less than three minutes, and he wasn’t even the keynote speaker at the memorial dedication at Gettysburg. He wrote the Gettysburg Address on a scrap of paper, which he threw away after reading. The “real” copy of the speech we recognize today was recorded by journalists present at the dedication who heard the speech and reproduced it for the newspapers. There are several competing versions of the speech recorded that day with slightly differing punctuation.  The one I gave students is the most commonly reproduced because it was later signed by Lincoln as a souvenir for a friend (known as the “Bliss Copy”). Students were fascinated by the idea that although the words were Lincoln’s, the punctuation was added by the journalists listening to his pauses and breaths. They enjoyed comparing their listening experience to that of the journalists at Gettysburg.

We talked about which lines had increased emphasis when the commas were inserted. One of the most important and obvious is the final line of the speech, in which Lincoln notes that, although the cost of the War had been great, it was essential “that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.” Not only is this the most powerful line in the speech and the commas provide great emphasis to his words, they also denote a list of qualities that describe the government he argues is worth fighting to protect. This transitioned into talking about the ways in which a thesis statement is a list. Either a list of things the paper will address, or a list of qualities or examples that prove or describe a point. I projected some sample thesis statements for students to look at. They then pulled out their outline graphic organizers that we had been working on in order to identify they major ideas that should be listed in the thesis.

Students really enjoyed working with a primary document that related to the independent researching they had been doing in class. Not only exposure to the speech bring the content alive for them a little more, it was a new way of thinking about punctuation for many of them. Not only did it help them form thesis statements, but it inspired them toward more powerful voices in their own writing they were working on for their research topics. It was an inspiring lesson for me to teach because even though I taught it three times in one day, the conversations about the grammar in a two minute speech still varied in each class. It was nice to teach a grammar lesson that had a conversational element to it.

If you’re curious, below here you will find a copy of the Gettysburg Address with no commas, followed by the Bliss Copy. Read it aloud and see if you can guess where the punctuation goes.

 

 

“Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent a new nation conceived in Liberty and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.

Now we are engaged in a great civil war testing whether that nation or any nation so conceived and so dedicated can long endure. We are met on a great battle-field of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this.

But in a larger sense we can not dedicate — we can not consecrate — we can not hallow — this ground. The brave men living and dead who struggled here have consecrated it far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note nor long remember what we say here but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living rather to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us — that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion — that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain — that this nation under God shall have a new birth of freedom — and that government of the people by the people for the people shall not perish from the earth.”

The Gettysburg Address

Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent, a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.

Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure. We are met on a great battle-field of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field, as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this.

But, in a larger sense, we can not dedicate — we can not consecrate — we can not hallow — this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us — that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion — that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain — that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom — and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.


President Abraham Lincoln

Gettysburg, Pennsylvania

November 19, 1863

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How Can I Help You? March 7, 2012

Filed under: Uncategorized — bvanetten @ 10:48 pm

In every class there is at least one challenging student. Behavior, grades, attitudes, abilities, whatever it is. The immaturity and the bad attitudes I can handle. There is one student though, who baffles me. He’s not rude. He’s not loud. He doesn’t stress me out just by walking into the room. But he is failing English and as far as I can tell, he doesn’t care. There is really nothing that seems to interest him that I have found. I was so worried about this kid.

Then two weeks ago, while the rest of the class was trudging through those research note cards, we had to have a discussion about why he hadn’t even begun. He had a simple answer. He didn’t know how. In addition to the lessons I myself had given on using books and internet sources for information, I know that the research writing process the school enforces is taught in sixth and seventh grade, so I knew this wasn’t entirely new information. Planning to challenge him with this fact, I asked him who his 7th grade language arts teacher was.

“I don’t remember who my teacher was, it’s been two years since I was in 7th grade.”

The fact that this kid is repeating the 8th grade explains a lot about his motivation and behavior. The fact that I only found out because the kid told me makes no sense.

That day in class, I took the time to go over the assignment with the student one-on-one, and we set a goal for what he would accomplish in class the next day. I suggested that instead of sitting with his friends, he sit at a table with me the following day so that he could ask for help when he got stuck. To my surprise, not only did he agree, after that he always chose to sit with me in the library.

One day last week I asked him if he was in danger of failing 8th grade again. He said he was, and I told him that I didn’t want Language Arts class to be the reason he couldn’t go to high school next year where he belongs. Since the first day I took the time to encourage him, this kid has rededicated himself to the class. His work is slow. Painfully slow sometimes. He is still very far behind the class, but he is doing everything he needs to do. In the last week he has almost completely caught up on the project. After months on entering zeros in the   because he never turns anything in, I was able to give him grades on the first two parts of the research unit, which raised his grade to a 77.

The next day in class I asked him if he had checked his grades lately. He said no, because they are always so bad. I asked him what his mom thinks about his grades. He replied that she is always mad at him, just like the teachers. When I told him his grade was at a 77 in the class I thought he was going to choke. He could not believe it. Since he has seen the positive benefits of his hard work in the form of a passing grade, he has stayed committed to working on the project every day. Sitting with him has given me the chance to get to know him, and him a chance to trust me a little more. The difference that two weeks has made has astounded me. Two weeks ago this kid pretended he couldn’t hear me when I spoke directly to him and didn’t bring a pencil hoping that would be an excuse not to work. Now he seeks me out to ask questions and get feedback, and avoids his friends whom he knows will distract him.

On Friday, I asked him for his mother’s email so I could let her know how he was doing in class. He replied that he didn’t think a teacher had ever emailed his mom about something good. I told him that he had worked really hard, and that he deserved acknowledgement, and his mother would probably like to hear about it.

His mother’s reply was ecstatic, emphasizing how meaningful it was to hear something positive about her son, and how rare it is.

To date, this has probably been my best teaching moment. I know that I have made a real connection with a student that has the potential to have real positive benefits in his learning life. It’s been so long since he had someone encourage him, and I had no idea until 2 weeks ago.

On Monday morning I asked him if his mom told him that I emailed her. He said that she baked him a CAKE. That was the first time I’ve seen that kid smile all year.

 

Chicken Quesadilla Soup March 6, 2012

Filed under: cooking,Martha Wannabe,soup — bvanetten @ 4:10 am
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I was scanning my Pinterest board for a new recipe to try for dinner, and I came across this:

Mexican Chicken Lime Soup from rachelraymag.com

Since I left California I have been trying to recreate Islands restaurant’s Chicken Tortilla Soup, so far unsuccessfully. Normally tortilla soup is very thick like chili or creamy, but Islands’ is a thin broth. This picture had the right look, so I decided to try it.

Rachel’s ingredient list reads as such:

  • 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 onion, finely chopped
  • 6 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
  • 6 skinless, boneless chicken thighs, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
  • 2 canned chipotle chiles in adobo sauce, finely chopped, plus 2 tablespoons adobo sauce
  • 6 cups chicken broth
  • 1/2 cup chopped fresh cilantro
  • Juice of 2 limes
  • Salt and pepper
  • 1 hass avocado, thinly sliced lengthwise into 12 pieces
  • Crushed tortilla chips

Looking at the list, I decided to make a little change regarding the chipotle chilies in adobo sauce. I like the chipotle flavor, but the chilies themselves are kindof gross. Also, looking at the can at the store, I realized I have no idea what adobo sauce tastes like. After my Mexican heritage shame passed, I decided I didn’t want to put it in my soup. (Having done some research, adobo has a smoky flavor, if that appeals to you). Furthermore, Mexican food without tomatoes is weird and possibly unethical, in my opinion. So I bought a can of chunky salsa that has tomatoes, onions and green chilies, with little juice. Same goes for cheese. Come on, Rachel. Also, even though I’m from California, I don’t like avocados, so I ditched them too.

So I cut up some onion and threw it in the dutch oven with some minced garlic and olive oil:

Then I discovered something. Chicken thigh meat is gross. It took me forever to cut it up and remove the fat. So next time, I am sticking to breast meat. But for today, in the chicken went with the vegetables. I seasoned it with some chipotle garlic seasoning and the Big Three (garlic powder, onion powder and seasoned salt).

While the chicken was cooking, I cut up the cilantro with kitchen shears and prepared the limes. A trick for getting the most out of juicing limes I learned from my college roommate is to roll the lime on a hard surface. This softens the interior of the fruit and makes it easier to crush. You can achieve the same thing by microwaving the whole lime for 10-20 seconds before cutting it.

I can’t wait until summer and I can rejuvenate the herb garden planter LL made for me last year (I do not have her green thumb, but I can grow basil). I am tired of being at Giant Eagle’s mercy for fresh herbs.

Once the chicken was cooked, I added the salsa to the chicken. I started with half a can, but ended up dumping in the whole can.

So I stirred it in and let it simmer a minute to let the flavors mix (Remember that if you are using a ceramic dutch over, you always want the heat to be on low).

While that was simmering, I prepared the chicken broth.

Now, I have to say that I am OBSESSED with WIlliams-Sonoma’s concentrated stocks. I am so tired of throwing away half-used cartons of broth when I make a recipe that calls for it. I just don’t use broth enough to use the leftovers before they expire. These concentrated broths mix with water to make stock and the plus side is, you can add more to make a stronger flavor if you want. I always have it on hand, and you have exactly as much as you need.

For the soup, I combined 6 cups filtered water (1 1/2 quarts) with 4 tablespoons of the stock broth. I then added a teaspoon of ground chipotle to the soup to maintain that distinctive flavor.

I added the broth to the pot and let it simmer for 15 minutes. Then I added the lime juice and cilantro.

Whenever I’m making a soup or sauce that calls for seasoning with salt and pepper to taste, I add a tablespoon on Demi-Glace. It’s a rich concentrated sauce base that adds more complex and intense flavoring than salt and pepper. It brings out the flavors in the sauce, rather than makes the flavor more salty. I highly recommend having it on-hand in your kitchen.

When the soup was finished, I topped it with colby-jack cheese and some tortilla chips. Admittedly, it doesn’t look that stunning in the bowl, but it tasted AMAZING. FAB approved.

You can definitely taste the lime, and it has a nice heat to it. It didn’t exactly taste like Islands’ soup, but it does taste just like LL’s famous (among her children) chicken quesadillas, which are one of my favorite things she makes. When I was in college I think I ate it for dinner once a week.

So, here is my recipe for

LL’s Chicken Quesadilla Soup (adapted from Rachel Ray Everyday’s Mexican Chicken Lime Soup):

Ingredients:

  • 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1/2 sweet onion, finely chopped
  • 1 tablespoon crushed garlic
  • 5 boneless, skinless chicken tenders, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
  • 1 can Embassa Salsa Mexicana (even Pittsburgh grocery stores carry it)
  • 1 1/2 qt (6 cups) filtered water, 4 tablespoons Williams-Sonoma Concentrated Chicken Stock (6 cups chicken stock)
  • 1 teaspoon ground chipotle
  • 1/2 cup chopped fresh cilantro
  • Juice of 2 limes
  • garlic powder, onion powder, seasoned salt, to taste
  • Chicken Demi-Glace, to taste
  • 1 avocado, thinly sliced lengthwise into 12 pieces (optional, for serving)
  • Colby-Jack cheese blend (for topping)
  • tortilla strips (for topping)

To Make:

In a 3.5 qt dutch oven, brown garlic and onion in olive oil over medium heat (you never want to go above medium heat in a dutch oven). Add chicken pieces and season with garlic powder, onion powder and seasoned salt, as well as a pinch of chipotle. Cook through. Add can of salsa and stir to combine; cook 5 minutes to let flavors combine. Add broth and tsp. chipotle; lower heat. Simmer 15 minutes. While soup simmers, cut up cilantro and prepare limes to be juiced. Add cilantro and lime juice to broth.

If you prefer a thicker soup, you can add a dollop of sour cream or a few tablespoons of tomato sauce to thicken without compromising the flavor.

To serve, top with cheese and tortilla chips or avocado. Enjoy quesadillas in a bowl!