Category Archives: literature

The Great Ideas

I just started reading a book that’s been on my Shelfari “Plan to Read” shelf for about a year. It’s called Six Great Ideas by Mortimer J. Adler. As I started reading this book, I realized that it touches on both of my academic passions: literature and philosophy (more of the latter, to be sure). I also realized that I would want to respond to it. A lot.

Solution: Online Reader’s Journal. I plan on posting some key quotes and my responses to the text as I read through the book. Hopefully it’s not too tedious to read, especially since I’ll start it now.

o  o  o

Reader’s Journal, Six Great Ideas, chapters 1-2


  1. “It cannot be too often repeated that philosophy is everybody’s business. To be a human being is to be endowed with the proclivity to philosophize. To some degree we all engage in philosophical thought in the course of our daily lives.
    Acknowledging this is not enough. It is also necessary to understand why this is so and what philosophy’s business is.
    The answer, in a word, is ideas. In two words, it is great ideas – the ideas basic and indispensable to understanding ourselves, our society, and the world in which we live.”
  2. “Ideas, as objects of thought, do exist. The idea of truth or of justice does not cease to exist when I cease to think about it, for others can be thinking about it when I am not. However, unlike the chair I am sitting on or the book you are holding in your hand, which does not cease to exist as a perceptible object when no one is perceiving it, objects of thought do cease to exist as intelligible objects when no one at all is thinking about them…Ideas exist objectively, but not with the reality that belongs to physical things.”


  • Adler’s comments in the first lines of his book (Quote 1) line up very well with what I continue to believe – that everyone should “do” philosophy. Philosophy covers the most elemental aspects of what it means to be human, and requires developing strong thinking skills and good habits of mind – exactly why I’m trying to put together a course curriculum for a Philosophy class.
  • The 6 great ideas, which he mentions in the first chapter, are truth, goodness, and beauty (the ideas we judge by) and liberty, equality, and justice (those ideas we act on). These strike me as being very elemental ideas and very much worth studying/discussing in school
  • While I found Adler’s discussion of the nature of “ideas” and the two types of ideas (subjective ideas and objective ideas) interesting, I’m not sure a lot of people would feel the same way. The writing is definitely slanted towards those with a predisposition to philosophical thinking and reading
  • The final idea, though (Quote 2) is fascinating to me. What is an “idea”? Is it a “real” thing, or just something that doesn’t really exist? Adler makes an interesting argument – that there are two distinct kinds of ideas. The first, subjective ideas, are those thoughts that only I can have. The second, objective ideas, are those “big ideas” that everyone can think about (like truth, justice, etc.). I like this distinction, though again, it might seem boring and meaningless to the average reader.

So far, pretty interesting book.

Edumacation Greatest Hits

Have you ever watched a new episode of your favorite TV show, only to find that it was a compilation of clips (usually “flashbacks”) from old episodes? The Simpsons, my favorite TV show of all time, certainly had its share of clip shows. Since it’s wise to emulate success, and imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, consider this post (which arrives at the one-year anniversary of this ridiculous blog) an attempt to reach that level of quality. So without further adieu, I give you Edumacation’s Greatest Hits (A Clip Show):

1. Whale Rider Teaching Resources: A collection of links to online and print resources for those who are teaching the novel, The Whale Rider. How ironic that my most popular post is one that I haven’t yet gotten to use myself. In any case, it’s rewarding to share something that a great many people are excited to read and use.

2. Short Story Mentor Texts: A collection of links to short stories that teachers can use as both reading material and as mentor texts for writing workshops. The idea hinged on Penny Kittle’s Write Beside Them, which has since inspired a great many posts.

3. Google Lit Trips: My first “huge” post (I couldn’t believe 50 people had visited my blog that week) was an introduction to a great resource that combines literature with the amazing Google Earth – always worth checking out. This was my first foray into sharing the cool tools I’m trying to use.

4. Government and Education: A surprising member of the list – a probably weak summary of the history of the U.S. government’s role in the education system and how it has evolved. I include this in spite of my regret for having written it – in retrospect, it seems like such a waste of time.

5. In Search of Hope: The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian: The first post I ever wrote that got past 20 visitors (what a huge deal that was). Really it was just a book review I wrote as part of our Reader’s Workshop unit last year. It turned out to be the start of a long, painfully reflective journey.

One observation I had from looking over these posts should have been obvious, but somehow wasn’t: people gravitate towards resources, not opinions. I don’t know if it was the tags, the content, or something else, but every one of these posts was attempting to share resources I had discovered for myself. As I move into Year 2 of Edumacation, the single goal I have for this blog is to provide more resources and less personal opinion and commentary. The way I see it, there’s a lot of good stuff out there that I’ve found – why not share it with people?

Review of The Great Books Core Sequence

I recently had the privilege of attending a Junior Great Books Training Core Sequence (courtesy of our building/district). The primary focus of the three courses is learning about and practicing the Shared Inquiry discussion, which is a Socratic-style model for discussing literature and other texts. I might post my notes here, but after taking 3 courses over 2 days, there’s a lot of them. That said, here’s a quick summary of the basics.

  • Shared Inquiry is all about students interpreting a text and sharing their interpretation – and the evidence they find to support that interpretation – with their classmates
  • Every SI discussion begins with a single interpretive question – an open-ended question that asks students to provide an interpretation of the text
  • In a SI discussion, the teacher’s role is to come up with a genuine interpretive question and facilitate the discussion with authentic follow-up questions that are raised by genuine interest in the response
  • Both teacher and student focus the SI discussion on the text – the text is the one thing everyone has in common, and a good text can more than adequately lead a discussion into other realms without students bringing in personal beliefs or experiences
    • This does not mean you avoid connecting texts to personal experience. There are other times that are perfect opportunities to discuss evaluative questions, such as “Do you think X is right or wrong?”
  • Shared Inquiry is not a curriculum in and of itself – just part of a larger picture. This sort of discussion will fit in perfectly with whatever else you are doing in your classroom.

My overall perception of this program is overwhelmingly positive. I’ll admit that I’m a little biased – I am a big fan of the Great Books series (though I don’t have a GB bookshelf…yet). However, this training actually had little to do with the literature. Rather, it was a great introduction into the style of Socratic questioning and discussion. As a young teacher, this is the sort of training I wish I’d had in my teacher preparation courses. I feel more confident and competent to lead text-based discussions, and I have resources to share with other young teachers who might want the same. Definitely glad I took the time out of my summer to attend.

Whale Rider Teaching Resources

A couple of posts ago, I made a call for resources on teaching The Whale Rider, by Witi Imahaera. Unfortunately, my impression is that few people are teaching this novel (not all that surprising), thus don’t have a lot of resources. In fact, in searching, I found many more resources for teaching the film than I did for teaching the novel. I think the sources I’ve found should help spark some ideas as I plan for this unit.

I did notice, however, that several recent hits on my blog came from people looking for resources on this novel, so I thought I’d share what I’ve found, hopefully to provide resources and/or inspiration for others. If you find other resources, please feel free to share them – I’ll gladly post them up here in an edit or follow-up. 

Teaching Resources

  • By far the best resource I found is the Heinemann Teacher’s Guide [pdf] for the novel. Includes teaching strategies, activities, and a few lesson plans. Though I wish it was longer, this is a nice resource.
  • Another great resources for those teaching the novel: Rowan Pita at English Online shares a unit plan for teaching the Whale Rider, including assessments and activities related to the novel.
  • The Trinity College Library has a nice list of resources about the author, the novel, the film, and Maori culture that is worth checking out. Most of the links are to reviews and articles about the book/film, but those could easily be used as additional sources in a unit.
  • Fiona Murray, Winifred Jackson, and Brian Finch at Massey University College of Education [pdf] produced a brief guide to teaching the film. However, this guide discusses themes, motifs, and main plot points that apply to the novel. There are also a couple of additional resources mentioned.
  • Though it focuses on the film, Cambridge Park High School’s Whale Rider Curriculum Unit [doc] is so nice, I had to include it in this list. Focusing on the cultural and gender issues in the film, this unit seems like it could be easily adapted to the novel.
  • Sarah Mornston shared her Antigone/Whale Rider Unit on Curriki, which includes a number of activities and documents she uses in her unit, several of which focus on gender issues in both works.
  • MediaEd – Teaching Whale Rider. Another film resource, this site notes a couple of main themes and images.

Hopefully those of you out there who are teaching this novel will find these resources helpful in trying to build your unit. Best of luck!

Ideas for “The Whale Rider”

First of all, thanks to ggratton and Tammy Gillmore for the tips on short stories! On top of their suggestions on the post on Short Story Mentor Texts, I discovered a couple of sites that might be helpful if you’re looking for short stories to use in a high school classroom:

Now that I have abundant short story resources from which to select mentor texts (I’ll be sure to share what stories I’ll be using as we get closer), I’m beginning to put together our first reading unit of the year. We’ll be using The Whale Rider to review basic literary elements such as plot, character, etc., and begin touching on symbols, motifs, and most importantly, theme. Part of my planning for this unit will involve Shared Inquiry, which I’ll be learning about at the Great Books Training I’ll be attending next week. I’m also hoping to figure out a couple of ways to begin integrating technology a little more completely by using SurveyGizmo or Google Docs for reading quizzes, and possibly trying out Animoto for Education (more on this another time). However, apart from those two elements, I’m struggling to come up with purposeful activities and meaningful assessments for this novel.

Since the last request went so well, I figured I may as well ask again: if you teach the novel, The Whale Rider, what sorts of objectives, assessments, and activities have you found work really well?


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