Success with Independent Reading: making me smile

I just received a note from one of my “cyber-colleagues” on the English Companion Ning, and part of it was about Independent Reading:

I also want to thank you for some advice you have given me last year regarding Independent Reading – I have taken some of your ideas, changed and implemented them in my […]

Reading (Again): great advice for literature students

I just came across this blog post by Barbara Kerley. Although aimed at people learning to write fiction, it matches exactly the advice I give to students in my literature classes, especially at the IB Diploma level, where they need to analyze how the authors’ choices and techniques produce the effects we see in the […]

Does reading great literature make us pessimistic?

Here’s what David Carl, a teacher at St. John’s College, answered in an email message to one of his students:

In general, our encounter with great works should tend to make us hopeful, and therefore optimistic. I have the words of several authors in mind when I assert this, such as Montaigne (“The profit […]

Do university students learn anything? It depends.

I am usually wary of stories in the U.S. media about education issues—almost always I find distortion and oversimplification.

This piece by the Associated Press is no exception, but it caught my eye, particularly these two findings from the report it cites:

_Students who studied alone, read and wrote more, attended more selective schools and […]

3 Reasons I Love Class Blogs

Reason #1: They show me what students are thinking.

Here’s a recent post from one of my Grade 9 students about ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’:

Response to chapter 12

The main event in chapter 12 is that Jem and Scout follows Calpurnia to the church where Cal goes. They experienced some uniqueness in ‘blacks’ church. […]

Larry Ferlazzo: What Was The Best Education-Related Book You Read In 2010?

Larry Ferlazzo asks that question, and many others reply: a great resource if you are looking for valuable education books to read. Thanks, Larry!

We get mail . . .

I received this email message today—

I am an ESL Instructor at [redacted] and I came across your blog and website. I enjoyed reading it and want to try some of your ideas. I also believe in independent reading (I call it extensive reading). Each student reads different books to the ones we read as […]

School reform: you want ideas? we got ideas

In September Tom Whitby proposed that educational bloggers counterbalance the negative press in the U.S. about schools and school reform by agreeing to post their positive suggestions for improving education. All the posts were to be published on Sunday, October 17, with links added to a Wallwisher page that Tom created. Below are almost all […]

School reform: Change the culture!

Nearly a month ago Tom Whitby called for educational bloggers to take back the (mostly U.S.) debate over school reform by posting reform ideas simultaneously on October 17th. Here’s my contribution to the cause.

Most problems faced by schools are not educational, but cultural. Once a positive culture of learning is in place, needed improvements […]

Alfie Kohn and I disagree, for once

I’m a big fan of Alfie Kohn. He’s deeply humane, unafraid to disagree with commonly accepted ideas, always on the side of students, tireless in his advocacy on their behalf—and he grounds his opinions in research. I often recommend his books—especially The Homework Myth and Punished by Rewards.

Recently, however, he posted a piece titled […]

The Blue Pencil Online: a literary magazine for students, edited & published by students

High school writers looking for a place to publish their work should have a look at The Blue Pencil Online, a project of the Walnut Hill School for the Arts, in Natick, Massachusetts (USA). Their standards appear to be quite high, so for a young writer of real talent and ambition, the Blue Pencil just […]

China going to the dogs

I lived in The Netherlands for two years before moving to China. Walking down the street in The Netherlands required serious training in modern dance to avoid stepping in ubiquitous piles of dog poop. A video of ordinary pedestrians would resemble a mass outbreak of St. Vitus’ dance. (Indeed, Aachen wasn’t far away.)

In 2004 […]

How to improve your English


Students sometimes ask, “Mr. MacKnight, how can I improve my grammar?” Here’s how. 1. Read every day!

There is no substitute for daily reading. Choose books you like: if you don’t enjoy it, you won’t read. Students who are non-readers will never become fluent writers, because only through years of reading do we develop […]

SSIS Garden Project nostalgia

I’ve created a new page on this wiki, here—

SSIS Garden Project

—that gives a bit of history and points to a growing collection of photographs dating from late 2005, when we began creating the Garden Project at the new SSIS campus on Zhong Nan Jie. If you were there, you will recognize some faces […]

Edublogs Challenge: great school blogs

The other day my English 9A class blog was named by Mrs. Burton and her class as one of their favourite ten school blogs, and now it’s my turn to pass on the accolades as part of the Edublogs challenge. So here’s my list of 10 great school blogs, in absolutely no order whatsoever:

1. […]

Questions, not answers

People want more of the story; they want answers. [But] it’s not a position paper. It’s an “issue” novel, but it’s a story. And so, what I hope to offer people are questions, as opposed to answers.

—Heidi Durrow

Interviewed by Leonard Lopate about her novel, The Girl Who Fell From […]

“Study is only a serious form of gossip.”

“The personality of a writer does become important after we have read his book and begin to study it. . . . We can ask ourselves questions about it such as ‘What is the author’s name?’ ‘Where did he live?’ ‘Was he married?’ and ‘Which was his favourite flower?’ Then we are no longer reading […]

Forster on Van Gogh (and Picasso)

E.M. Forster on the Van Gogh exhibit at the Paris Exhibition of 1937:

Van Gogh . . . is housed in the corner of another palace between maps of Paris and intellectual hopes for the future, and the space suffices him. Well content with his half-dozen rooms, he displays his oddness and his misery to […]

Sending the Right Message About Literature

By constantly encouraging students to explore the questions raised in a text—instead of searching for its ‘messages’—we will help them learn to be sensitive, perceptive readers.

A great work of literature, as evocative as a tree or as the world itself, invites us to respond with our minds and our hearts, but it does not […]

The Class of 2010

Click on the photo to see it full-sized.

The Class of 2010

12E in caps and gowns :)

How to fix America's schools

America needs a culture that respects education. A culture in which learning is admired. A culture that honors the achievements of educated people and recognizes their importance to the entire society.

Anti-intellectualism has deep roots in American history and culture. Educated people are far too often subjected to suspicion and ridicule. These are the names […]

Organic farming in China

Just came across this very nice article about an organic farming project in Shandong Province:

I’ve been out of the gardening thing for a while now . . . this makes me want to get out there and “make the grass say beans” again.

The case for literature: Nancie Atwell

Nancie Atwell, author of In the Middle, makes the case for teaching literature in ‘Education Week‘.

Needless to say, I agree with her.

Don't use study guides!

We’re talking about SparkNotes, Cliff’s Notes, York Notes, and all such similar shortcuts used by lazy and/or desperate and/or insecure students.

Inspired partly by an online discussion among IB English teachers and partly by my own students, I’ve added a page to my English A1 class blog that makes things as clear as I can […]

Not an Option, Not a Frill: Literature at the Core of Learning

[An open letter to my fellow English teachers near and far.]

Thought flows in terms of stories – stories about events, stories about people, and stories about intentions and achievements. The best teachers are the best story tellers. We learn in the form of stories.

—Frank Smith, Canadian […]

From a former student

Pete Kittle, who was a student of mine in the early part of my career, has written a beautiful piece concerning the death of his father which I hope you will take a few moments to read.

Sue Waters on educational blogging

Sue Waters has a good post outlining her recent presentation on educational blogging. Teachers—especially those who are new to blogging, or interested—should have a look.

'The Decline of the English Department'

William M. Chace, professor of English and former president of two U.S. universities, tells the sad tale in The American Scholar.

University students who major in business are so misguided: every intelligent and successful businessman or -woman will tell you that a broad knowledge of literature, history, science, people, and the world—in other words, a […]

Anne Frank's Diary as a work of art

Everyone who teaches Anne Frank’s Diary of a Young Girl will be interested in Leonard Lopate’s interview of Francine Prose, whose new book is Anne Frank: The Book, the Life, the Afterlife, in which she argues that the diary was not simply a diary, but a heavily revised work of literature that Anne hoped to […]

ATL, TOK, MYP, DP: What's the MYP analog to Theory of Knowledge?

A query on Twitter caught my eye this morning:

#MYP DP Theory of Knowledge … where is it in the MYP? Is it missing? Is it necessary? [from @krea_frobro747]

I replied, “ATL should be taught as a weekly or biweekly pre-TOK class.”

TOK is a great course, and the concept behind it is compelling, but […]

WordPress worm strikes

Most of my WordPress blogs have been hacked by the worm that is running wild through even slightly out-of-date WP installations, so if weird things are happening when you try to read or click on links, please accept my apologies. I’m working on it!

SAT scores: not the last word

This may surprise you:

[Students who don’t submit SAT scores when they apply to university], with significantly lower SATs, earn [university] G.P.A.’s that are within five one-hundredths of a G.P.A. point of submitters, and graduate at rates within one-tenth of 1 percent of submitters.

This comes from the former head of admissions at Bates […]

Billie Holiday, d. 17 July 1959

I don’t know how I managed to miss the 50th anniversary of Billie Holiday‘s death, but as partial atonement here is Frank O’Hara‘s poem about the day she died. I’ve also uploaded a short podcast about her which you can find here. The path is Podcasts / Misc / Billie Holiday. If you don’t know […]

My Modest Proposal for School Improvement . . .

. . . is laid out in a modest (22 slides) and minimalist (black & white, mostly) presentation that you can download either as a Keynote file or a Powerpoint document (click on the one you prefer).

Like Ric Murry, I’ve been reading Daniel T. Willingham’s book, Why Don’t Students Like School?, in which he […]

Lopate & Lopate

Phillip Lopate, the writer, is interviewed by his older brother Leonard, the former painter and longtime broadcaster on WNYC in New York, in a podcast from ‘The Leonard Lopate Show’ that will fascinate and entertain anyone interested in literature, the arts, and brothers. Both students and teachers will enjoy it.

Two books underlie the interview. […]

Great Podcasts #4: BBC World Book Club

Harriet Gilbert hosts monthly interviews with contemporary authors that feature questions from both a live audience and BBC World Service listeners from all over the world. Recent programs have featured writers such as Nawal El Sadaawi, David Guterson, Toni Morrison, Derek Walcott, Alice Walker, Annie Proulx, and Chinua Achebe. Highly recommended!

As always, you can […]

Summer writing help

All of my Gr. 11—>Gr. 12 students in English A1, and all Gr. 10—>Gr. 11 students going into English A1 are invited to work on their writing this summer through email tutorials.

Just send me a paragraph as an email attachment. I will mark it up with comments and suggestions and send it back to […]

The irony of Twitter . . .

is that whereas I thought at first it would be an unending avalanche of trivia and nonsense, instead it is an unending avalanche of useful and interesting links and ideas.

The trick is, I only follow people whose tweets relate either to education or to China or and have real value. Result? More unpaid professional […]

In defense of the 5-paragraph essay

The usual attacks on ye olde 5-paragraph essay are a bit like attacks on the sonnet. Are formal constraints really the problem? After all, the vast majority of sonnets ever written—the ones that have mercifully made their way into Time’s recycling bin—were undoubtedly very bad pieces of writing. Instead of criticizing the 5-paragraph essay, shouldn’t […]

Good Habits, Good Students

"It’s simply awesome and highly inspirational. Thank you so much for this book." —Student in Grade 9.

Click here for info. Available now from most online booksellers or by special order from your local bookshop.



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