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Paul Dixon

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Everything posted by Paul Dixon

  1. Paul Dixon

    After Graduation?

    I think classically educated students should and could go anywhere and do anything. I see that as the benefit of classical education. Just as Cheryl and Karen already said, classical education makes a more virtuous, better human being. So, a student should be prepared to go to a secular university, a Christian university, or into the work force to learn a trade. What I don't like to see are students who give up the humanities altogether. Like Cheryl said, too many college programs cut out the humanities after the freshman year, which is tragic to say the least. I like to encourage students to keep taking literature or history courses even if they are going into a more technical field. Most colleges allow students to minor in something unrelated to their majors, so that's a good way to keep reading about being a human.
  2. Paul Dixon

    House System

    We started our house system this year, and, from what I can tell, it seems to be going very well. We wanted to create something to improve our school's culture and to give the students something to rally around. We named our houses after the four major epic poets: Homer, Virgil, Dante, and Milton. We have a "house challenge" every two weeks or so during the lunch hour where the students work on some trivia questions (usually pertaining to something happening in the culture at large, i.e. MLB playoffs, March Madness, the Oscars, etc.) while they eat, then there is some kind of game to go along with it. We also have had some bigger events like a poetry recitation, talent show, and short film competition that we've introduced as competitions between the houses. I'd definitely recommend it to other schools. It's a lot of work and takes a lot of commitment from the teachers (you truly have to own the process), but in our short time with the houses, I think it's brought a lot of our students out of their shells and pushed them to take on leadership roles. I'm looking forward to see how our system progresses.
  3. Paul Dixon

    Literature Teachers!

    While I don't teach literature for our Logic school, I am helping with an overhaul of our Logic literature curriculum. What books do you teach to your Logic School students? Right now we have staples like Lord of the Flies and Tom Sawyer that work well for this age group. What books have worked for you, and which ones haven't?
  4. Paul Dixon

    Can We Rehabilitate the Lecture?

    I think the best answer here is that there is room for both. I've had a lot of success with round table discussions and I've also experienced some failure, and the failure usually comes when the students arrive ill-read or when I haven't prepared quite enough to answer every question thoroughly. Similarly, lectures can be a fantastic means of imparting information and, perhaps more importantly, a way for the teacher to share her passion for the subject. Or, lectures can be incredibly boring and push students away from the discipline. Both methods require the teacher to bring his best every day, and therein lies the struggle for most of us.
  5. Paul Dixon

    Literature Teachers!

    Some of Edgar Allan Poe's stories are quick to read and provide some good opportunities for analysis. Anything by Flannery O'Connor would be relatively easy to grasp, and her stories can work on many levels. But, I'd love to hear from middle school teachers who think about these grade levels more often than I do.
  6. Now that Christmas is past and you're getting back into your routines and thinking about the next semester, what are some ways that you approach the first day back from Christmas break? The beginning of the year normally holds its own kind of excitement that doesn't need any prompting and the day after spring break is seasoned with a certain amount of relief because the days are warming and the end of the year is in sight, but the first days of January are still cold and dark. How do you bring excitement to your classes so that the students feel energized and ready to tackle a new semester?
  7. Paul Dixon

    Can We Rehabilitate the Lecture?

    This is a great point. I love round-table discussions as much as anyone, but only when the students are well-prepared for them. I've found that these discussions work the best with a well-prepared leader (teacher or student) guiding the discussion without chasing any rabbits. I don't want to waste anyone's time, and, unfortunately, I've observed some round-tables that resulted in a whole lot of nothing being accomplished.
  8. Paul Dixon

    How to jump start your classes after a break

    Yes, I struggle as well. Our first week back is usually a little slower than normal, but I think it's good to get the students warmed up a bit before diving back in. That's some good advice about taking lots of breaks. I've tried that here and there this week and it seems to help them stay focused.
  9. Paul Dixon

    American Literature Texts

    I'm in my second year of teaching American literature, and I'm curious what other classical teachers are reading in their classes. In classical education circles, we talk a lot about classic texts without much discussion of modern books. So, what books are you teaching and how do you teach them? In my classes, we just finished Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, and we're set to start Scarlet Letter next week. With Huck Finn we focused on the American identity and how it evolved through the 19th century with a focus on the movement from Romanticism to Realism. We'll revisit Romanticism with Scarlet Letter. What are your favorite American texts to teach?
  10. Paul Dixon

    Reading Recharge

    I always reach for fiction before anything else, so I've picked up A Tale of Two Cities to read over the break. It's one I've not gotten around to over the years. I simply want my students to read something, anything over the break. I encourage them to read what is enjoyable to them. Unfortunately, there isn't much of a reading-for-pleasure amongst the students at my school, but I'm trying to change that.
  11. Paul Dixon

    Teaching History - Primary Sources

    I try to incorporate both approaches to primary sources: short snippets and extended versions. Indeed, "Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God" gives a poor picture of Edwards if you don't read it until the end. A couple of years ago, I assigned an excerpt of that sermon for homework. The next day, the students were horrified at the harshness until we read aloud the last page or so of the sermon. I used it as a lesson to urge my students to take the entirety of a source in context rather than in sound bites. That said, I've always struggled with finding the time to really dwell on a primary source. It always feels like I'm being pushed into the next event or era because there's so much that is important!
  12. Paul Dixon

    Literature Catechism

    This is my first year to use a catechism in my classes, and I've written one for 10th grade Western Literature and 11th grade American Literature. I have my students read the full catechism aloud and together three days a week, and they are not required to memorize it, nor will they be tested on it. Now that we're through the first half of the year, I can honestly say this is the best decision I've made as a teacher. I first learned of using a catechism from Joshua Gibbs's Great Books course on Classical U, and at first I was skeptical. But, it's rewarding to begin a unit on Transcendentalism and when I ask the class to define the literary movement, they can recite a brief definition listing the main characteristics of Transcendentalism without skipping a beat. I must say, I'm a believer in this pedagogical tool. To those of you who use catechisms, how successful are they for you and your classes?
  13. Paul Dixon

    Teaching History - "Reading Like a Historian"

    I used this resource recently when discussing the Stamp Act. I found it very helpful to have several relevant documents compiled along with the lesson plan on guiding the students. I think it aligns with our goals as classical educators because it encourages students to contextualize the documents and the authors. I'm constantly pushing my students to adopt a historical perspective so they can empathize with people in the past. Any resource that helps with this goal is useful.
  14. Paul Dixon

    American Literature Texts

    We discussed the banning of the book at the beginning, but they didn't seem too concerned with it after that. I completely agree that he was displaying racism in the book as a means of denouncing it. Huck's struggles with recognizing Jim as a human being are especially powerful. It's a beautiful work, and I enjoyed teaching it.
  15. Paul Dixon

    Shakespeare Festival Tomorrow

    This is fantastic! Gruesome for sure, but so is the play, so I'd say it's appropriate!
  16. Paul Dixon

    Bible/Theology Curriculum

    My school has recently adopted a new approach to this question, and it consists of continuing their understanding of the Biblical story with some practice of interpretation thrown in along the way. We've shifted to teaching our students how to read the Bible as a sacred literary work, so they're learning to understand how figurative language is used in the Bible and why understanding that language is important to our interpretation. I'm not the theology teacher, but it seems to be going well with our Logic School students. From what I hear, this approach has encouraged discussion and contemplation on a level that is impressive for students of that age. As a literature teacher, I appreciate this approach because it well prepares them for interpreting the works we read for my class!
  17. I'm not sure if you're still looking for a solution, but our school uses Sign-up Genius. It seems to work well.
  18. Paul Dixon

    How do you keep school at school?

    I find that as I become more familiar with my subjects, the job becomes more comfortable. So I'm not nearly as meticulous in my planning because I have more knowledge to draw from. Teaching is a skill that must be honed in practice, so it just takes time. That said, I don't think there is any job worth the sacrifice of your family. It was much easier to spend hours and hours on school work before I had kids, but now that I have a toddler and another baby due in February, I've been much more efficient in the hours at school and only take home readings for the next day (I'm a literature and history teacher) and the occasional batch of essays to grade. For any teacher, I think we have to find the right balance for us and our families because there just isn't enough time in the day to do it all.
  19. Paul Dixon

    A Classical Study of Film?

    This is a great list. It's helpful to hear that your students enjoy the older films as I'm currently planning to launch a film elective next year. We have a similar schedule of 3 classes/week at 55 minutes, and I'm curious how you structure watching the films. Do you have enough time on the third day to discuss (as I assume it requires two class periods plus some of a third to finish)?
  20. Paul Dixon

    American Literature Texts

    There are so many great options, yet so little time! I would love to read Moby-Dick cover to cover; it's a beautiful work. In what direction do your Huckleberry Finn discussions tend to go? This was my first year to teach it, and we focused primarily on Huck's sense of morality and how his sense of right and wrong is clouded by the push and pull between his own convictions and his cultural upbringing. His rebellion against societal norms is petty at the beginning but is heroic at the end. My students had a lot of fun with it.
  21. Paul Dixon

    Rhetoric with Substance

    You're definitely not alone in this difficulty. I'm in my fourth year of teaching literature and history to Rhetoric school students, and I too struggle to guide them towards more mature content and styles. It's frustrating to read ten essays in a row that follow the same formula and simply repeat what we've discussed in class without any apparent effort to discover something in the text. As you said, they're not wrong, just a little boring. I found some reprieve via a Joshua Gibbons (he teaches the Great Books course on Classical U) blog post on the Circe Institute. In that post he describes a test that mimics the way God tests us, one where we're allowed to use our books and one where it is our character being tested. Students write an essay giving advice to a friend who can't seem to grow up once he's in high school. The advice the students give must be based on the literature covered in that unit. This kind of test helped kick my students out of the formulaic rut and encouraged some of them to dig into the text (we were studying Huckleberry Finn) with more enthusiasm. Assignments that shock my students into thinking differently can be some of the best ones. Best, Paul
  22. Paul Dixon

    Senior Thesis Ideas

    Hi Allison, I'm curious to know if you were able to permit any sort of artistic expression into your students' senior thesis projects. It's a fascinating idea, and, while I'd have the same hesitations as jlmoore, it may be a healthy extension project. Best, Paul