18.7.20

Reflecting On Being A Teen Reader: A Literacy Autobiography

Thinking back on who I was as a teen reader puts into focus why adolescents need to develop steady habits of reading.

Greig Roselli as a teenager sitting in his mom's boat on the Tchefuncte River reading Catch-22.

A Photograph of the Author as an Adolescent Reader

Taking A Course at Hunter College Encouraged Me To Think About the Adolescent Reader

During the Summer of Covid-19, I was planning to go to Chicago to learn about maps. But my plan was foiled, and I have been home this Summer like most of us. So. Never to sit idle for long, I enrolled in an Education class at Hunter College. Taking Adolescent Literacy, the professor has us plunging into the myriad forms of reading that we can have our students read, dissect, decode, translate, and take to sustaining levels of engagement. I love the course. It had me thinking of myself as a teen reader. So — I took a walk down memory lane, and I tried to envision who I was as a teen who read.

My Adolescent Experience in Literacy Began With An Ugly Divorce

My earliest memory as an adolescent reader stems from the transition I went to from Sixth to Seventh Grade. At that age, I was going through the expected change from a kid to a tween, and I had just gone through my parents' ugly divorce. In Fifth and Sixth grades, my academics had suffered, and I had achieved low scores in Math. I perceived myself as an average student even though I had read The Chronicles of Narnia series by C.S. Lewis. I had devoured stories, such as Hans Christian Anderson's "The Tinder Box," which I would listen to in concert with the audio on a Fisher-Price record player. It played 45 records, and you could check them out from the library.

Reading instruction in middle and junior high school was based on reading comprehension and discussion of the book. But I would often read the entire book by myself and not pay attention to the homework and sometimes do poorly on the end-of-the-reading exam. We read Tuck Everlasting, My Brother Sam is Dead, The Witch of Blackbird Pond, Hatchet, and Mrs. Frisby and The Rats of N.I.M.H. — books I liked but I wanted to get through them so I could read other books! So when the exam came, I often forgot vital details about the "class book" because I was not in sync with the rest of the class.

Adventures in Junior High School in South Louisiana

In South Louisiana, where I am from, the school system has a separate school for Seventh and Eighth Grade called Junior High School. I don't remember being especially advanced in reading, but I do remember enjoying reading for pleasure. I kept a personal journal as a kid. I always had a book to read, and we often made trips to the public library, and I was a frequent visitor to my school's library as well. In Seventh Grade, I remember getting into trouble for reading Jurassic Park by Michael Crichton in History class. The book was propped up on my lap, and the teacher caught me with my head down too often. I often attempted to read really long, "adult" books just for fun — Stephen King's The Stand, and the Jack Ryan books by Tom Clancy (e.g., Clear and Present Danger and The Hunt For Red October).

Growing up gay, it was through reading novels that I discovered in the library that I learned that people like me existed. For example, Gore Vidal's The City and the Pillar was a thin volume I found in the library's fiction section. It's about a young gay man coming to terms with his sexuality in the 1950s and 60s. Even books that are not explicitly about being gay rang true for me nevertheless, as in Letters to a Young Poet by Rainer Maria Rilke, Fade by Robert Cormier, and Selected Poems by Walt Whitman. That began a lifelong fascination with L.G.B.T.Q.+ Fiction and with reading as a means of self-reflection and a catalyst for personal growth — a practice I still continue to this day. One of my favorite books is Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Sáenz.

Challenging Me To Read a Non-American, Non-European Author Was an Illuminating Experience for a Fourteen-Year-Old

A photograph of Greig Roselli as a teenager reading out loud from the Gospel on Christmas morning.

On Christmas Day Mom Made
Us Read from the New Testament Recounting
the Gospel Narrative of Christ's Birth

I had a wake-up call, though, in high school, when a teacher told me to more carefully choose the books I read. I did not have a model for "close reading" — but in Ninth Grade, I joined my high school's "Library Committee" — an extracurricular club where we read a novel from the library's collection every two weeks. We met as a group to write book reviews and discuss the books. I remember I was told, "Read a book by a non-European, non-American author . . ." That was an intriguing challenge, so I read Nectar in a Sieve by Indian novelist Kamala Markandaya. I was struck by the description of poverty and despair. Still, the voice of the protagonist Rukhmani — stayed with me. Being a part of a club and having reading role models among my peers and other adults helped me to create a social experience around reading that I did not have. As a result, my performance in school improved. I made better grades in English, and I was bumped up to the Honors class in my Sophomore year.

I am lucky that I had excellent English teachers in high school that encouraged discussion about books. We were prompted to make connections to what we were reading. When we read Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream, our teacher did an outstanding job of zooming out and said to us, "Okay. Don't get tripped up by the language. Well, this is a story about entering the woods, and the woods is a place of chaos, and the characters come out changed." As a teenager, I could relate to the theme of radical metamorphosis. At the end of the unit, we watched Stephen Sondheim and James Lapine's Pulitzer-award-winning musical Into the Woods. And later compared the text to Shakespeare — which turned out to be a beautiful text-to-text connection that I now use in my classroom.

As Adolescent Reader There Was a Disconnect Between "Reading for Pleasure" and "Reading to Succeed"

In Junior year, I did poorly on the standardized pre-tests in reading for the ACT., and SAT. While my classmates had taken test prep classes in the Summer, I was not prepared for the questions. My parents did not realize that I needed intervention because I was always doing something academic or doing my homework — and I made Bs and As consistently. In my parents' eyes, I was doing what I was supposed to do. I graduated from high school in 1998 with a G.P.A. just shy of a 3.5 by one-tenth of a point. I got into a small liberal arts college that focused more on writing and personality than test scores. But I sometimes wish that if I had been pushed harder in high school, my life would have turned out differently.

Who I Was As a Teen Reader Predicted Who I Became as an Adult

A Picture of the Author as a High School English Teacher (Greig Roselli)

A Picture of the Author as
a High School English Teacher

So here I am now in the Summer of 2020. My adolescence feels like a world lived in a different galaxy. And I am a teacher! As a classroom teacher, decades removed from my own youth, who I am as a teacher, surprises me. 

Working with teenagers, I put a lot of emphasis on independent reading. I use websites like newsela.com to foster a love of learning and academic choice. I can remember when I taught Sixth grade a kid told me, "Mr. Roselli — I never see you with a book. But you say you love to read." I think it's because he only saw me teaching, or grading, or talking, or going from one class to another, and he never saw me doing a silent sustained reading. And that really struck me, and it made me think, you know, we live in a society where silent sustained reading is seen as antisocial. 

In the very fast-paced world of teaching, counter-intuitively, teachers do not have time, often, to commit themselves to a meaningful text. So. Now. I do small things to show my own life in reading. For instance, I give my students a top ten list of my favorite books. Or, I do subtle stuff like actually read with them or have my current book on my desk (which is an explosive investigative report on the Matthew Sheppard murder entitled The Book of Matt)

As a teacher, I don't mind when kids go off track and read random texts independently. I keep a small classroom library, and I often use my own money to buy relevant books. For example, the novel The Hate U Give is a compelling read. It is told through the experience of a young Black girl who witnesses her best friend killed in a routine stopover by the police.

What's the takeaway? Who you were as an adolescent reader informs who you will become as an adult. And that's on period, boo.

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Stones of Erasmus TpT Fourth, Fifth, Sixth, Seventh, Eighth, Ninth, Tenth, Eleventh, Twelfth, Higher Education, Adult Education, Homeschooler, Not Grade Specific - TeachersPayTeachers.com

11.7.20

Feast of Saint Benedict — Photos of Work and Community from My Time as a Benedictine Monk (c. 2004)

Today is the feast day of Saint Benedict of Nursia, famous cenobite who, 1,500 years ago, carved out a rule for people to live together in community, living by a rule of Ora et Labora. I have been rummaging through old thumb drives, hard drives, and forgotten folders on my Google Drive and I have managed to come across some interesting finds that date back a decade or so — back when my life was a Benedictine monk in south Louisiana.
I had a Canon Sure Shot camera back then — and I would get my hands on black and white film and take photos of life in action. These photos are of jobs that I undertook when I was a relatively young monk in temporary profession (which means I had not yet made my final vows). At twenty-five years of age, I had just made my profession, and my life was caught up in the rhythm of work and community living.
We had a small barbershop in the monastery. If someone wanted a haircut they asked Br. Elias or Fr. Ambrose — and voilà you got a haircut. No need for SuperCuts.
Dom Gregory DeWitt created this painting on wood of Christ's first haircut. 

***
Ideally, everything is provided for in Benedictine communities. People who become Benedictines often bring with them their skills. We had bread makers, honey maker, vintner, pianist, writer, and farmer. Famously, the community I lived in had hosted a Flemish monk who was a famed artist. This was in the 1940s and 50s. Dom Gregory Dewitt, O.S.B. painted the murals in the monks' refectory (e.g., the dining room) and the church. But he also painted small curiosities that one could still find. In the barbershop, where I had my haircut many times, there was a wonderful painting on wood of "Christ's First Haircut." It depicts an almost Norman Rockwell-esque version of the Holy Family. Christ has placed his halo on a nail so his father Joseph can cut his hair. Mary sits in a chair nearby sewing a piece of cloth, and an angel sweeps the floor!
Often we would have to go to the nearby town to run errands, or to bring older members of the community to a doctor's appointment or to go shopping for this, that, and any other thing.
 
 I invented "Book Face Friday" way before its adoption on social media. In this photograph, taken sometime in 2004, I had Br. Bernard take a photo with a cover of a book I was reading entitled "A Brief History of Everything".
***  
Sometimes in the evening after prayer, we would have small group activities, like one night a week, we did poetry readings. I don't remember much of what we read, but I remember it was heavily attended by some of the older community members, so it made me become more familiar with caring for Senior citizens. I fondly remember Fr. Dominic and Fr. Stan who were consistent members of our poetry reading sessions. Fr. Dominic had been poised to enter the world of operatic drama and singing but he ended up joining the community in the 1950s and was a strong supporter of Civil Rights and liturgical reform. He had a booming baritone voice, that he used proudly. I took him on many outings during my time, and while we were never really close friends, I think he appreciated how I initiated creativity and sparked his more associative thinking process. Fr. Stan had lived in New York for many years as a parish priest, but when he retired he came back to our community in Louisiana. I remember he was soft-spoken, sometimes passive-aggressive, but he was a writer, especially of poetry. I wonder where his writings are now and whether any of his stuff was published?
After dinner on Sundays, it was considered a more-or-less-leisure time. We could talk at table (while eating dinner), invite guests, and have a beer or a glass of wine. After dinner, each evening, one of us was assigned to wash dishes — which was a fun job — because we used this industrial strength dishwasher!
Outside of the monastery building were a set of benches where we could relax, talk, and if people were smokers, they could smoke.
Although most of us were not allowed to smoke, because the Abbot made a new rule saying younger members had to quit smoking, but those who had already developed the habit were silently allowed. Those were the rules.
 
 In the kitchen, we had a crew of workers, some from the outside, like this woman — her name is L. and I remember we used to talk a lot about her children.
For a couple of Summers, I was part of the camp program — where we had campers from across the state come in for weeks at a time; they stayed in a campground, replete with a chapel, cabins, swimming pool, dining area, and a Pavillion — about a quarter-mile from our community, but still on the property. On Sundays, the kids would come to the church for Mass and I would give a tour of the buildings, pointing out some of the features of Dom Gregory DeWitt's artwork. I love how in this photograph I have most of the kids' attention.
Lagniappe (More Photos)

2.7.20

Feeling Sentimental About Living in New York for Ten Years: A Journal & Rant (Writer's Diary #3209)

Spilling out of the Roosevelt Avenue/74th Street Station, it feels like I am in Queen's version of Times Square.
IRT Elevate Station Roosevelt Avenue/74th Street
View of the 74th Street Elevated IRT station on Roosevelt Avenue

I Like to Walk Through Diversity Plaza
The elevated IRT line that carries the purple-signed seven train runs above on Roosevelt Avenue. In contrast, a gaggle of lettered trains, M, R, F, and E run under Broadway. The station is not difficult to manage, but the architecture is a series of green-tinted grids and overhangs, steep ramps, and an ugly bus terminal named after Victor Moore. You can Google him if you want. He was a film actor from the silent era and early talkies. Apparently, there was a business arcade where the gangly bus terminal sits. And the arcade was named after Moore, and the name just stuck.

I like to walk through Diversity Plaza. The area used to have bus traffic, but the city turned it into a pedestrian mall. Local shop owners did not like it because they felt only foot traffic would not bring in a lot of business. Jackson Heights is a neighborhood of family-run businesses — a ton of Pakistani, Nepali, Bengali, Indian and other South Asian food shops and clothiers. You can buy a wedding dress on 75th street, order a momo, or eat at Jackson Diner — an all-you-can-eat spot that has delicious Saag Paneer.

I'm More Comfortable With Difference Than With Sameness
I feel comfortable in places filled with diversity. But I grew up in a primarily white-laden suburb of New Orleans. I was just looking through my old yearbooks on a recent trip home. In 1998 in south Louisiana, no one talked about diversity unless it was in biology class. We learned about the diversity of animal life on planet earth. Pick up a glob of mud from the nearby ditch, and you can find variety, my teacher said. Life is everywhere!

I learned about difference in two ways, first — through reading. I had a teacher who said, try to read a non-European and non-American book. I read 'Nectar in a Sieve' by Kamala Markandaya. I was about sixteen years old when I read the novel, and I was struck by the description of poverty, despair. Still, the voice of the protagonist Rukhmani — stayed with me. Second — through my own coming to terms with my gayness. Growing up gay in South Louisiana was a don't ask don't tell society. Everyone knows it, but no one talks about it.

I have learned never to make assumptions about people. People have said to me, "You don't act gay." But how is a gay person supposed to act? So I understand when historically marginalized people, especially people of color, talk about microaggressions. I know what they are speaking about — because it rings true with my own experience.

Six Momos, Please
Greig Roselli Stands and Points to the Entrance of the Jackson Heights Post Office in Queens
I haven't finished my seltzer water!
I order six beef momos and a can of seltzer water for $6 from this place near Diversity Plaza. It's open late, and the dining area is small — I get a spot by the window. One thing I like about living in New York is that I can be anonymous. Or I can feel anonymous. I always felt growing up, someone wanted to know where you were from or what you were doing. Freedom is such a sweet taste in the mouth, but the flavor is so fleeting.

When you reach forty or so, they say that you begin to look for experiences that fill in the gap for things you did not get when you were growing up. So for me — it's enjoying quiet time. I was always looking for a hiding place as a kid to read a book or to be alone with my thoughts. But I was propelled to go outside! Be active. Be extroverted. Be aggressive. Play sports. Don't be such a wuss.
Once I walk beyond Diversity Plaza, Jackson Heights transforms into a dense, yet quiet residential block of six-story buildings and manicured gardens. It's funny to think that only in the early twentieth century Jackson Heights came to be. All of this where I walk was farmland. 

The advent of the IRT line from Manhattan in the 10s and 20s precipitated tremendous growth in western Queens. Queens is unlike Brooklyn — which had been its own city before New York annexed it in the 1890s. Most of what we call history is really recent. We call neighborhoods historic without realizing that time has a much more substantial, outstretched hand. I am never really tethered to a place. I keep my memories and my joys. But I am one to wander. So it's hard to believe that this month I will have lived in New York City for ten years! I moved here from New Orleans in 2010 — to pursue graduate studies at the New School for Social Research. After I finished my coursework, I just stayed. So here I am.

I'm Almost Home and My Feet Are Sore
A couple on a bike
Walking along 37th Avenue, the neighborhood opens up to a warm welcome of families, kids, people crisscrossing each other in soft, somnolence. In New York, we love how we promote unspoken conversations. A wink. A smile. A nod of the head. But a part of me often wants to join in on a conversation. Say hello. Make a new friend.

I arrive at home — it's a thirteen-minute walk from the station. But I feel tired, and my feet are sore. I love to take off my shoes and just throw them willy-nilly. What will happen when I have to share a space with someone I love? I go to sleep, and I have a mixture of dreams — one in which I am consoled and comforted; in another, I am sharing a bath with a lover — in another dream, I am running, running, running. Looking for a bus stop to take me home.

I don't want to wake up. But then I think. Tomorrow is Saturday. I don't have to work. I will stay in, eat Swedish meatballs, and watch re-runs of Dr. Who.

1.7.20

Students Are Off for Summer But Teachers Are Busy Working (Am I Right?)


Dear Followers, Teachers, Lovers, Learners, and Philosophy Sprinkles Makers! Summertime Means Busy-time for Educators (Am I Right?)

Greig Roselli does a bird's-eye-view selfie in the park
Bird's Eyeview Selfie in the Backyard

During the Summer students go on vacation, but teachers do not. How many of you are taking an extra class, learning a new skill to keep you sharp for next year, or taking on a Summer side job? I am in school so I can add to my certification! So — yeah, there is a lot of activity going on for school teachers in the Summer (even though naysayers will scoff — "Oh, teachers get two months off for Summer!".

Summer Freebie: To show you my appreciation here are two FREE quote posters to share in a Language Arts or Humanities classroom. The first is "live life to the fullest" inspirational poster from Auntie Mame and the other is more of a muse — a quote poster from Terry Pratchett's novel The Hogfather.

I am holding a sale this week on TpT to show off some new products in my Stones of Erasmus TpT store. Here's a preview of some new resources I just created:

  • Philosophy in the Classroom 16 Half-sheet "Freedom" Task Card SetEngage high schoolers with topics ranging from extrinsic and intrinsic freedoms, positive and negative liberty, and conversation starters on fighting for the right to be free (relevant for today, for sure).

16 Half-sheet "Freedom Task Cards" set on TpT

  • A Serial Killer and a Hypocritical Grandmother: Conduct a short story discussion with High School students on Flannery O'Connor's explosive short fiction "A Good Man is Hard to Find"

"A Good Man is Hard to Find" Short Story Discussion Guide on TpT

Two-product Nietzsche bundle includes "The Greatest Weight" and "The Madman"

The story of the ancient trickster hero Sisyphus who cheats death is a famous Greek myth

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