The Power of Project-Based Learning–and Prezi

Hello, parents,

I am so excited about a project that we are working on in CP American Lit and Comp, that I’ve just got to share.  While we are reading Steinbeck’s classic novella, Of Mice and Men, the class has been “hired” by the American Library Association to create materials that they can use during their annual Banned Books Week to support the reading of the novella in schools and libraries.  The materials students will be creating will be a Prezi–an online, innovative presentation that far exceeds what can be done in a typical presentation, like PowerPoint. After watching a few sample videos on how to create a Prezi and after viewing the Prezi that I created with the details of the project (“Saving Of Mice and Men: It’s Up To You!”), students were given a set of guidelines, divided into sales teams, and they have been collaboratively creating persuasive and creative Prezis. This activity requires students to use higher levels of thinking, employs a real-life scenario, and gives students hands-on experience with a creative software tool. These students will be able to transfer what they are learning to future classes and to their lives beyond high school. To quote Mr. Canady, students today need to become “agile technology users” and this project-based learning activity will help them to do just that. I hope that you’ll ask your son or daughter to see the Prezi their team created, ask him or her to show you how it’s done, and what choices they had to make in the design process.

School Supplies

Dear Parents, Guardians, and Students,

With the school year just around the corner, many of you are, I’m sure, wondering what supplies will be necessary for the American Lit. and Comp. class.  In order to assist you, I’ve listed what is needed below.

1. One three-ring binder with at least a 1 1/2 inch ring used exclusively for American Lit. Binder need not be new (but should be sturdy.)

2. 10 dividers, five for the Daily Notebook and eight for the Research Paper Notebook.  These must have tabs that extend beyond the papers in the notebook.  Dividers need not be new.  They may be recycled from previous courses or made from something sturdy like file folders. Think Green!

3. Several pens and pencils with which your child likes to write.  (Writing with tools that
work well are more helpful than you might imagine.) (Note: I have ample highlighters and erasers, if that helps!)

4. 200, 3 x 5 inch index cards for vocabulary/exam review.

5. A book cover for a large textbook.  Paper bags work the best.

Optional, but extremely helpful: A portable flash drive (preferably on some type of
lanyard.) I have seen these as inexpensively as $10, but you may be able to find an even better deal out there.)

NOTE: Sometimes purchasing supplies presents a financial or logistical burden.  If either one is the case, please let me know so that we can work something out. Please contact me before the due date.  Thank you!


This Just In:

The Lititz United Methodist Church is holding a school supplies and clothing tomorrow, Saturday, August 21, from 7 – 10 a.m. The contact information is:

Lititz United Methodist Church

201 E. Market Street, Lititz PA 17543

717-626-2710 Phone

I hope this information helps you plan and prepare for the new school year.

Maryann Saylor

The Real Power of Books

Dear Parents and Students,

I just read a wonderful op-ed piece in the Lancaster Intelligencer Journal that had been reprinted from The New York Times.  If you’ve ever wondered  about the differences between reading a print book and reading something online, this article makes the distinctions clear.  Parents: Those books you’ve been filling your homes with for years and years have made a significant positive impact on your child’s perceptions of him or herself as a reader and a learner. And Students: Every Friday you spend reading a book, every summer day, every weekend or evening–all of that reading makes a difference. Think of all of the books your parents have purchased for you or you have purchased for yourself.  What does your own personal home library consist of?  You are fortunate to belong to the “club”–the club of people who read BOOKS.  I hope you enjoy the article as much as I did.  Let me know!

Keep filling your summer with reading!

Maryann Saylor

The Medium Is the Medium


New York Times

Published: July 8, 2010
Recently, book publishers got some good news.  Researchers gave 852 disadvantaged students 12 books (of their own choosing) to take home at the end of the school year.  They did this for three successive years.

Then the researchers, led by Richard Allington of the University of Tennessee, looked at those students’ test scores. They found that the students who brought the books home had significantly higher reading scores than other students. These students were less affected by the “summer slide”–the decline that especially afflicts lower-income students during the vacation months.  In fact, just having those 12 books seemed to have a smuch positive effect as attending summer school.

This study, along with many others, illustrates the tremendous power of books. We already knew, from research in 27 countries,  that kids who grow up in a home with 500 books stay in school longer and do better. This new study suggests that introducing books into homes that may not have them also produces significant educational gains.

Recently, Internet mavens got some bad news. Jacob Vigdor and Helen Ladd of Duke’s Sanford School of Public Policy examined computer use among a half-million 5th through 8th graders in North Carolina. They found that the spread of home computers and high-speed Internet access was associated with significant declines in math and reading scores.

This study, following up on others, finds that broadband access is not necessarily good for kids and may be harmful to their academic performance. And this study used data from 2000 to 2005 before Twitter and Facebook took off.

These two studies feed into the debate that is now surrounding Nicholas Carr’s books,  “The Shallows.” Carr argues that the Internet is leading to a short-attention-span culture. He cites a pile of research showing that the multidistraction, hyperlink world degrades people’s abilities to engage in deep thought or serious contemplation.

Carr’s argument has been challenged. His critics point to evidence that suggests that playing computer games and performing Internet searches actually improves a person’s ability to process information and focus attention. The Internet, they say, is a boon to schooling, not a threat.

But there was one interesting observation made by a philanthropist who gives books to disadvantaged kids. It’s not the physical presence of the books that produces the biggest impact, she suggested. It’s the change in the way the students see themselves as they build a home library. They see themselves as readers, as members of a different group.

The Internet-versus-books debate is conducted on the supposition that the medium is the message. But sometimes the medium is just the medium. What matters is the way people think about themselves while engaged in the two activities. A person who becomes a citizen of the literary world enters a hierarchical universe. There are classic works of literature at the top and beach reading at the bottom.

A person enters this world as a novice, and slowly studies the works of great writers and scholars. Readers immerse themselves in deep, alternative worlds and hope to gain some lasting wisdom. Respect is paid to the writers who transmit that wisdom.

A citizen of the Internet has a very different experience. The Internet smashes hierarchy and is not marked by deference. Maybe it would be different if it had been invented in Victorian England, but Internet culture is set in contemporary America. Internet culture is egalitarian. The young are more accomplished than the old. The new media is supposedly savvier than the old media. The dominant activity is free-wheeling, disrespectful, antiauthority disputation.

These different cultures foster different types of learning. The great essayist Joseph Epstein once distinguished between being well informed, being hip and being cultivated. The Internet helps you become well informed — knowledgeable about current events, the latest controversies and important trends. The Internet also helps you become hip — to learn about what’s going on, as Epstein writes, “in those lively waters outside the boring mainstream.”

But the literary world is still better at helping you become cultivated, mastering significant things of lasting import. To learn these sorts of things, you have to defer to greater minds than your own. You have to take the time to immerse yourself in a great writer’s world. You have to respect the authority of the teacher.

Right now, the literary world is better at encouraging this kind of identity. The Internet culture may produce better conversationalists, but the literary culture still produces better students.

It’s better at distinguishing the important from the unimportant, and making the important more prestigious.

Perhaps that will change. Already, more “old-fashioned” outposts are opening up across the Web. It could be that the real debate will not be books versus the Internet but how to build an Internet counterculture that will better attract people to serious learning.

A version of this op-ed appeared in print on July 9, 2010, on page A23 of the New York edition.

A New Blog for CP American Lit!

If you are reading this, you are, more than likely, one of my future American Lit. and Comp. students or one of their parents.  Welcome!  This blog is in its infancy now, but my goal for it is that it will become a very useful tool for all of us during the upcoming school year, so check back later in the summer.

In the interim, make sure that you are spending some time on your summer reading–The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald.  Make sure to read this novel as you would read all academic material: with a pen or pencil in your hand.  Be sure to note interesting elements of the plot; the development of the main characters by focusing on what they say, what they do, how others interact with them and what the narrator tells you about them; and the interesting setting that Fitzgerald has used as a backdrop for the events that occur. You can keep a separate reader’s log as you read or you can make notes in the book itself (using post-it notes if you are reading a borrowed book) or both.  If you read this novel as you would a “beach novel”, you will likely miss the some of its key ideas.  We will be working with the novel’s major themes throughout the semester, so enjoy the novel, but read it closely and take those notes so you can refer to them (and not have to remember the entire novel after weeks and weeks of summer fun!)

I look forward to meeting all of you students in August (and meeting parents at Parents’ Night in September.)

Have a wonderful summer.

: )

Mrs. Saylor