ICYMI: Reading is Cool

ICYMI: Reading is Cool, originally posted on April 10, 2017, examines how beneficial reading is to vocabulary acquisition, oral articulation, and writing. While it took me a while to realize its merits, I constantly reinforce the importance of reading to my students.

But reminding them about it over and over again makes you little more than a glorified nag, the droning teacher with the trombone sound in Charlie Brown. Instead, we work intensively with context and deciphering words based on it.

Furthermore, I model challenging vocabulary words in class and on their exams. This process, I believe, not only adds to their working vocabulary but also gives them the courage to try using heightened, nonstandard vocabulary.

Because that’s how you improve your vocabulary. By reading, identifying, and using.

Go figure.

Throwback Thursday: The College Essay Drive

Originally posted on December 15, 2015, “The College Essay Drive” calls out high school seniors who dawdle and drag their feet with their college essays, letter of recommendation requests, and college apps while everyone around them does all of the work.

And, no, I’m not bitter in this piece; I’m actually quite proud of them. 

Letters of recommendation.

College essays.

Edits.

Rewrites.

Deadlines.

Deadlines.

Deadlines!

This is the life of a teenager in the fall of his/her senior year when it seems as if there’s not enough time to breathe let alone satisfy all the obligations of academia.

Add to that the never-ending demands of a social life and the rites-of-passage activities that usually characterize senior year – we’ll leave those unstated but understood – and possibly even a part-time job and it’s no wonder kids are walking around school looking like zombies these days. Unfortunately, the real reason they’re slouched over and barely conscious probably has more to do with playing video games than it does interacting with actual humans.

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The Overlook Journal Rises

To express how proud I am of my journalism students, I wanted to share a letter I sent out this week:

Hello again,

Following up on my previous correspondence, I wanted to direct the Thornton-Donovan School community’s attention to T-D’s student newspaper, ‘The Overlook Journal’.

After attending the Columbia Scholastic Press Association spring journalism conference in March, Editor-in-Chief Quincy Campbell ’19 and his staff committed themselves to covering more events specifically relevant to Thornton-Donovan. The results have been impressive to say the least.

I commend Quincy, his Assistant Editor-in-Chief Cecile McIntosh ’18, and the rest of ‘The Overlook Journal’ staff for their continued efforts to produce the best newspaper T-D has seen in its illustrious 116-year history. Keep up the phenomenal work!

Regularly check www.overlookjournal.com for stories that are updated weekly. Leave comments, share them with friends and family, share them on social media – share them anywhere and everywhere – for these kids deserve all the praise for a collective job well done.

I hope everyone has a restful, safe break and look forward to seeing you when we return.

Take care,

Mr. Chapin

‘The Overlook Journal’ Moderator

This is How We Do It

My unpublished manuscript ‘Knowing When You’re Too Young to Grow Up’ chronicles Andrew Brown’s struggle to reconnect with his best friend Pete Goodman as a lurid secret Andrew has never told threatens to break them apart for good.
As I mentioned in “A Reintroduction: The Prologue,” I intend to post edited chapters every few weeks. Here’s a sample from Chapter 11. As always, feedback is STRONGLY encouraged via the contact tab or comments section.

On the roof, looking at the highway I light a cigarette. A car’s broken down next to a guardrail. The owner, a woman sitting on the hood with a smoking hand, doesn’t appear concerned. A street lamp begins to flicker; she throws her cigarette in a puddle.

Now, another car is pulling up. A diminutive man exits and she gets off her hood and goes to him and he holds her firmly, like a man who knows even at one in the morning, even after his lady’s shit stack’s finally crapped out and just as the rain begins to fall on them, that he will do anything for her; he loves her.

Love, that familiar word I hate. I think I had it once with Antoinette. Maybe I’ll get it back. Maybe I won’t. Pete thinks he has it too, but he doesn’t know her like I know her, like others like me know her – that she’ll walk away and find some other Pete and keep on doing what she’s been doing without any consequence, without any justice. And I can’t let that happen.

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Throwback Thursday: Positively Reinforcing Negatives

Originally posted on October 14, 2015, “Positively Reinforcing Negatives” challenges parents who protect their children from criticism and instead demand positive reinforcement that the kids have not earned.

Not everyone can win.

And that’s a good thing.

A few years ago, I was sitting in a meeting with a student and a parent.

The girl was in seventh grade.

Her mother was a teacher herself.

She looked over the essay her daughter had sworn to her she had received a strong mark on (because why wouldn’t a parent believe every little thing a child tells her). In reality, this girl earned a generous 44 on the paper that was littered with spelling and grammatical mistakes and was frankly could’ve been written about an entirely different topic it was so incoherent. Worse was that the kid didn’t produce an outline or rough draft, so she didn’t satisfy even the slightest requisite preparatory work for the assignment.

Thus, it would lead you to believe that everyone sitting around that table – the parent, her daughter, my middle school supervisor, and I – understood where this young lady faltered and what needed to impressed upon her in order to induce improvement, right?

Instead, as the vaunted educator next to me wrote down the explicit instructions I had given her child for two weeks in how to construct the essay, how to format the essay, and how to edit the essay, the kid sat there disinterestedly picking at her nails. The best, however, when the mother asked me why I did not write many positive comments on her daughter’s paper and how positive reinforcement in this case could have inspired the student to improve her work.

I remember smiling an absolutely disingenuous smirk, for I feared blurting out some of the obscenities that were smacking against my teeth just dying to come out. I wanted to tell this woman that that’s the problem with this new line of kids entering schools each year: Everyone’s so afraid to offer constructive criticism and even authentic grades that might be lower than the child and his/her family’s expectations.

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Reading is Cool

I was at a wake this past Wednesday when my buddy’s sister’s fiancé – nicest guy – struck up a conversation with me about writing. Specifically, we discussed generating original ideas and weaving them into a narrative.

Then, he told me he writes on his free-time, which I love hearing because you can’t be a writer unless you actually write – a great lesson I learned about seven years ago. He was messing around with a screenplay at first and now has arrived at a Go Ask Alicelike journal.

But he had reservations: his vocabulary was too limited, in his opinion, nothing like mine, he said. That comment, besides flattering me, led us to discussing narrative voice and how an extensive diction can actually hamper a writer sometimes. It certainly did when I initially wrote Knowing When You’re Too Young to Grow Up. Teenage narrators only know so many words. Humans, in general, only use so many words.

Depending on the speaker, I constantly have to remind myself of the limits of working vocabularies. Very few use heightened diction for a myriad of reasons – namely, lack of knowledge or care and fear of the stigma of arrogance.

It got me thinking. How did I come upon my expansive vocabulary that drives my wife nuts when I use a word like lugubrious instead of sad?

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A Reintroduction: Chapter 10

My unpublished manuscript ‘Knowing When You’re Too Young to Grow Up’ chronicles Andrew Brown’s struggle to reconnect with his best friend Pete Goodman as a lurid secret Andrew has never told threatens to break them apart for good.
As I mentioned in “A Reintroduction: The Prologue,” I intend to post edited chapters every few weeks. Here’s a sample from Chapter 10. As always, feedback is STRONGLY encouraged via the contact tab or comments section.

On the couch and all alone again, I scroll to Ant’s number. She put it in my phone last night. I should tell her, I think, not about him and Benevo, but about me and her. She’d understand. She always understood even when I didn’t. Maybe. Maybe she won’t.

I feel my eyelids getting heavy. They flutter down, down, down like an angel on high descending. And I’m seeing through fewer and fewer crevices, fading into the shadows that surround me in my life, in my dreams – the ones that offer me no reprieve from the present. Then, I’m not on the couch. I’m somewhere else I can’t see. It’s darker than a cave without a torch, a church maybe. Yes, it’s a church. And it seems familiar.

St. Peter’s, that’s where, and someone’s running for the bathroom. Without the sensation of my limbs moving, I’m following him. And I’m there and he’s rubbing his flushed face with running water, water as red as wine. He’s covered in it.

Under the incandescent lights that are uncomfortably bright, like we’re on a stage with the spotlights turned up, I see that the beads streaming down his face are glass. And although it’s blank, I recognize his face from somewhere.

He’s mounting the sink now and throwing his belt over the labyrinth of exposed pipes. What is he doing? I think, but I know what he’s doing with the strap fastened around his neck and when he jumps it snaps taut – the same sound my uncle’s did before he belted me.

Wheezing, gasping, and flailing, he squirms and kicks and tries to reach the sink behind him, but his legs aren’t long enough – only a few inches away, a chasm that could’ve been miles. The fear of the unknown bulges from his eyes. After one final heave, his arms fall slack and his feet dangle like a mobile from a crib.

His imperceptible face, lifeless and limp, is coming into view now. And those eyes with their sickly pallor, those eyes looking back at me are mine.

I blink.

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Throwback Thursday: Hail to the Chief

Originally posted on September 24, 2015, “Hail to the Chief” is the eighth and final letter in the series of letters I wrote to my first eighth grade class as they graduated from high school. And I still do not know why my boss endearingly referred to the boy as the “Chief.”

You are a testament to what kind of student Thornton-Donovan School strives to educate, but you are the one who deserves the plaudits for becoming the young man you are today.

Through your tireless work ethic, you’ve managed to become better than proficient in English, which as you know, in relation to your own language, is not the easiest translation. I commend you for all that you’ve been able to accomplish and look forward to all that you will accomplish.

You should be proud of what you have done, for I know you’ve made your family proud and you will continue to. I know I am.

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Repetition for Long Term Memorization

The following is a guest post from blogger and essay writer Lucy Adams of buzzessay.com. See her bio and contact at the conclusion of this piece.

Repetitio est mater studiorum (Repetition is the mother of all learning).

Human memory is dynamic and can be modified over time. And the time for which we store data is closely connected to the repeated reproduction of this data.

Repetition is one of the main conditions of memorizing and learning the material. It influences the long-term memory, helping to assimilate the information for the longer term. Therefore, the correct repetition of learned material improves its retention and facilitates its subsequent reproduction.

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A Reintroduction: Chapter 9

My unpublished manuscript ‘Knowing When You’re Too Young to Grow Up’ chronicles Andrew Brown’s struggle to reconnect with his best friend Pete Goodman as a lurid secret Andrew has never told threatens to break them apart for good.
As I mentioned in “A Reintroduction: The Prologue,” I intend to post edited chapters every few weeks. Here’s a sample from Chapter 9. As always, feedback is STRONGLY encouraged via the contact tab or comments section.

“Man, need to smoke, need to,” Tommy had pleaded and pleaded until he got his way and in the process completely disproved his longstanding contention that weed isn’t addictive.

So here we are in the hallway outside our room where Tommy and Candace are rolling all over each other like marbles. Everyone’s pretty belligerent and giggling from all those bottles of wine.

I can hear a low moan droning on like an old, overworked dryer. Except this one isn’t that old, I think, as I slide the card into the door.

The light turns green.

Click.

On the other side, it’s as loud as a slaughterhouse. And they don’t even know we’re there. Not yet.

“P-E-T-E?” Marie timorously mouths to herself.

It’s Pete, indeed. And his drawers are down to his ankles. He’s bucking Ms. Benevo from behind, her Tiffany necklace in her mouth like a horse’s bridle. And the only mouth that isn’t wide open is mine.

“No fucking way, man.”

Our teacher yelps, trying to cover herself, trying to hide herself, rolling around like a dog on her back, crying out these painful, wounded sounds – trying to do anything to get away from us. But she can’t. And it’s then her students finally see her for what she is, what I have always known her to be.

“Get out! Get out! Get out!” Pete screams. He’s throwing his hands around, grabbing at pants and shirts and bras and skirts, whatever clothes he can throw at us – in vain.

We just stand there, unable to move – me for my own reasons, the rest of them captivated by this seemingly anomalous student-teacher sexual relationship because they think it only happens on the news, but there’s one happening right in front of them, us, now and nobody knows what to do.

Ms. Benevo rushes past. We slide out of the way. Each of the girls has a disgusted, protective look on her face. Pete follows, his face lobster red, his eyes chary.

The bathroom door slams shut.

The door locks.

Then, there is nothing.

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