A Journey Through The Wilderness

The stepping away from composing a traditional paper and crafting a podcast allowed groups to choose and develop multiple ideas rather than being stuck to one. “The Circle of Life” by Elton John was our chosen song to fit alongside our podcast on The New Wilderness by Diane Cook regarding the significant influence of animals on the lives of Agnes, Bea, and the rest of the community. As Agnes grows up in the wilderness, she lacks a leader that is truthful to her. Throughout the story, the animals become her leader and guide her and the group in the right direction. Agnes was able to find her place through a series of heartbreak and growth just by learning to listen to her instincts and follow the animals. When she found herself motherless and alone, she finds peace in her new home of the wilderness.  

Posted in 2020 Booker Short List novels, Literature Circles aka #litcircles | Tagged | 9 Comments

The Shadow King Podcast

Nearing the end of winter term, final papers are common across many classes. Creating a podcast with this lit group allowed for discussion. This podcast was great because the groupwork and collaboration for the month of February enabled deep discussion. Hearing from members of my group not only answered my questions on the novel but inspired me to think more creatively and come up with more questions. Writing a paper would include only my thoughts, while group work allowed for a productive discussion that was turned into something greater, a podcast. 

Making a podcast was not only exciting and fun, but it also refined our perspective on the novel.  We were able to bounce our ideas off each other and enriched our discussion of the themes/symbols of the novel by each bringing a unique take on how we interpreted the story. In doing this, we were also able to better understand parts that we struggled with and create theories on how we thought the story would play out next. It made the learning process much more interactive and enjoyable, especially since we were able to celebrate our journey through a 4 minute podcast and talk about what interested each of us. I believe each of our points, while different, came together to form a cohesive idea on hybridity and the catalyst for women becoming influential soldiers and leaders during the war.  

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Diane Cook’s Fan Club: A First Look into The New Wilderness

As a group, we had collectively been extremely interested in doing a podcast. We were able to come together and discuss about something we are interested in with no pressure and complete freedom regarding what we talked about. We discussed the themes of power and leadership in the novel along with why we chose to read this book. We made this podcast by first recording the audio through Microsoft Teams, then edited it through iMovie, and finally uploaded it SoundCloud. This portion of our PBL project was extremely inclusive of those students who are remote and recording the podcast through Teams worked incredibly well.

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Student Podcast on This Mournable Body

Last Week, Max and I created a podcast, discussing Tsitsi Dangaremba’s novel, This Mournable Body.  In the podcast, we discussed the lack of care for the black female body, and how this uniquely effects the mental health of black women in a postcolonial world. We discussed the effect that colonialism has on a nation, and the lasting effects that the English colonization of Zimbabwe has on society. The idea that the black body is lesser and white people are inherently wealthier are both scars left on Zimbabwe’s culture by England and effect Tambudzai’s own outlook. Lastly, we discussed our selection of the song “Brown Skin Girl” by Beyonce as our Podcast theme. We believe that this song is a mantra for black women, telling them they are beautiful despite what society says. 


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Eyes All Around: Perspectives in and about Real Life by Brandon Taylor

In Real Life, a coming-of-age novel by Brandon Taylor, readers are presented with the character of Wallace, a graduate student studying Biochemistry and faring the obstacles of his and his friends’ approaching adulthood. In traditional bildungsroman form, Wallace undergoes a series of events throughout the course of a weekend that leaves him searching for answers, demanding “why?” from the various forms of his life. Taylor stages these events using modest language and vivid imagery as a means to shed light on the nuance and complexity of rising to adulthood, shading expectation against reality.  

The process of reading and analyzing this book and creating the podcast from an individual rather than group perspective was an interesting one. I found that, while I missed out on the discussion time that many of the groups had, I was afforded a lot of time to dive into the text, reread sections, and do research. I often searched online and found sections of the book read in different voices, such as here and here, in the author’s own voice. Not having group-mates to share their perspectives with me, I investigated other perspectives on the book, and very often listened to and read Taylor’s own explanations of the prose. This drove the format of my podcast, which, inspired by several other podcasts that cover news stories, used direct clips from interviews with Taylor throughout to introduce another perspective and to share the firsthand insight that I had been receiving while reading the book.

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Burnt Sugar Student Podcast

Suffield Academy’s English IV honors class did a deep dive into modern literature this winter! Selecting among the Booker Prize 2020 Short List of novels, our group chose Avni Doshi’s Booker Prize Listed Novel Burnt Sugar and explored themes of ailing memory, troubled relationships, communication, and the past’s connections to the present. This engaging podcast highlights our thoughts, observations, and questions throughout the story and the relationships in it in a fun lit conversation! We really enjoyed connecting virtually to create this.  

The song located at the beginning and end of the conversation is “Slipping Through My Fingers” by ABBA, a melancholy song about motherhood and letting go of youth. We feel this song underscores the complexity of mother-daughter relationships explored in the novel. Please give our podcast a listen and enjoy! 

Posted in 2020 Booker Short List novels, Book Reviews, Literature Circles aka #litcircles | Tagged | 2 Comments

Relationships in Real Life by Brandon Taylor: Wallace’s Pursuit of Happiness

We used the song “Pursuit of Happiness” by Kid Cudi for two reasons.  The first reason being Kid Cudi’s close relation to the novel. Kid Cudi will be assuming the lead role of Wallace in a television adaptation of the novel. The other reason is that Kid Cudi’s music elicits the same emotional turbulence as Real Life does. The song “Pursuit of Happiness” conveys the ultimate struggle that Wallace faces of finding himself in a world of his foils.  

While we were brainstorming for our podcast, we wanted to segue each of our topics together to form one overarching thesis. Our driving questions ranged from Wallace’s scientific nature to his unhealthy relationships and sexuality to his past. After discussing, we were able to form a natural progression from our protagonist’s difficult emotions to his past trauma to his complicated relationship with male sexuality. We analyzed these separate parts of Real Life to discover the true basis behind Wallace’s sedentary life, seemingly trapped in a racist PWI in the Midwest among false friends and toxic relationships.  

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Keeping it Real: A Podcast on Real Life by Brandon Taylor

To conclude our PBL project, we took to the mic and created a podcast centered around our discussions of Brandon Taylor’s Real Life. Listen to it here on Soundcloud.

Posted in #PBL #StudentCentered, 2020 Booker Short List novels, Community Theme, English IV Honors, Flipped Classroom, PBL Public Program, Podcast, Project-Based Learning | 10 Comments

Women, Power, and The Shadow King

In our English class, we read the novel, The Shadow King, by Maaza Mengiste. This book focuses on the Second Italo-Ethiopian War and the roles the Ethiopian females played in it. Following the completion of our single paragraph prose’s about what our biggest takeaway forms the book was, we also created a podcast that captured what these proses contained and our other thoughts.

In the proses, we fashioned a series of different topics each unique to the individual to read the book. In Joe’s prose he focused on Aster and her fight for equality. He noted that, she redefines the gender norms by adorning herself with the clothes of her husband, an officer in the army, and also with the cape of her father-in-law, a war hero. By doing this she symbolizes power and freedom and acts as an inspiration for the other Ethiopian women. Daniel, on the other hand observed the oppression of females throughout history. He delves into the actions of these females and how in a variety of different ways can gain power. In Hunter’s paragraph he centers on the sexual assault and rape of the female characters that Mengiste shows in an extremely raw and painful light.

To hear more about each students’ key takeaways from the novel, tune into our podcast which can be found on SoundCloud: https://soundcloud.com/user-729080513/the-shadow-king-podcast

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A PBL Take: Final Thoughts on Diane Cooke’s New Wilderness

Cooke’s well-developed prose drew us in from the beginning of the novel. The vivid descriptions of the nature and setting in which the characters live and battle for survival added richness to the plot and demonstrated the severity of the environment. While many people are familiar with sci-fi media, not many people are as aware of cli-fi, a genre trailblazed by Cooke through her awareness of the nature in which we live and its fragility in the face of human carelessness. The poor state of the fictional city created by Cooke demonstrates the great lengths to which humans disregard the natural state of earth in favor of a life deemed to be “better.” This sense of improvement in the quality of life proves itself to be inherently false, however, as pollution, long food lines, and children dying from the poor air conditions become the norm. Climate change to such an extreme extent is something many may scoff at and say that it is far in the future, but for people living in cities such as Beijing, China, poor air quality and its stipulations are commonplace.

Beijing, China

A second theme we immediately noticed when developing this podcast and through our reading is the theme of motherhood, which as a presence as strong as climate change. The nuances of this motherhood create an interesting dynamic between Bea and Agnes. In the beginning of the novel when Agnes is about seven, her mother begins to have issues understanding her emotional needs and desires. The height of this misunderstanding eventually turns into pure hatred when Bea leaves the Community to return to the city after her mother has died to tend to her estate. Agnes regards her mother as being dead for the next few years while she is absent. Bea eventually returns, and the hatred Agnes feels for her mother eventually morphs into a type of misunderstood love. At the very end of the novel, when the mother and daughter separate, Agnes begins to understand the decisions of her mother and love her for who she truly is. This is especially true when she “adopts” Fern as her own daughter at the culmination of the plot.

The idea of existentialism is also at the core of this novel. The Community lives with an illusion of independence in the Wilderness, as they are beyond the bounds of confined society in the city, but, in reality, they are caged by the Rangers, who dictate where they go, what they do, how they behave, and other rules that restrict the attaining of any true freedom. While the Community is able to come to consensus on small decisions such as the rationing of food, where to camp, who is to lead, and a general code of conduct, these are minor things in the face of much greater restrictions upheld by the Rangers and the government in the city. The community is presented with just enough freedom to satiate them without them becoming dangerous in their freedom.

Our six minute podcast covers all these themes and more about The New Wilderness. You can listen to it here: https://soundcloud.com/user-165142944/a-pbl-take-cookes-the-new-wilderness.

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