Dawn Reader

Dawn Reader
from Open Door Coffee Co.; Hudson, OH; Oct. 26, 2016

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Word ... just a little more

In yesterday's "brief" post, I mentioned that I used to affix to my classroom wall each word-of-the-day from a tear-off calendar I kept in my classroom.  I would keep the words taped there all year--and they did accumulate.  Hours after that post appeared, a former student put up on FB this photo from 1988 that shows me with a few of my eighth grade students the last day of that school year.

Somehow, my beard and hair were darker then (was I dyeing them? I have a family history of that, of course: Dyer being an old occupational name, like Carpenter and Cooper and Falkner), though I still have the same jovial look on my face.

Anyhow, behind me on the wall: evidence of those word-a-day postings I did in pre-FB days.  You may notice that one is missing: At the end of the year I used to let kids take their birthday days home as souvenirs.  Quite a few did, actually.

Behind me on the wall I also see a couple of Charlie Chaplin posters--one for City Lights (1931), the other, above it ... I can't remember.  I think it may be just a poster advertising a Chaplin festival.  Chaplin was part of my 8th grade curriculum the final nine-week marking period of the year.  It was a term I devoted to The Call of the Wild and related subjects and activities.

We began with some historical background on the Klondike Gold Rush (1896-1899), the Rush that Jack London himself joined, the Rush that forms the setting and prompts the action in his novella about the dog, Buck, stolen from his life of comfort in Santa Clara, California, and taken north to be a sled dog.

One of Chaplin's greatest films--The Gold Rush (1925)--is about the Yukon; indeed, this photo of the miners crossing the Chilkoot Pass from Alaska into Canada inspired the opening shot of his great film--though he used the mountains near Lake Tahoe.  (As I've written here before--I scaled the Chilkoot Pass myself--in the summer, no snow--in the summer of 1993.)

Anyway, we did a bit with Chaplin, saw clips from his short films, watched all of The Gold Rush.

We also memorized Robert Service's long poem "The Cremation of Sam McGee" over the entire nine-week period (four different quizzes on successive sections of the poem--I still know it and recited it one year in a morning meeting at Western Reserve Academy).  We listened to music from the era--full immersion, man!

We did other Gold Rushy things, too, before we launched into our study of Jack London the man (John Griffith London) and writer (fifty books in fifteen years that guy wrote--by hand).
1st edition cover

And what does this have to do with vocabulary?  Well, throughout the year, I gave the eighth graders twenty lists of words--ten words per list--and almost all of them came from The Call of the Wild, a book we read in the spring.  We studied and reviewed them all year--my hope (my daft hope?) being that by the time we actually read the book, the students would find it easier going.  And I think they did.  At least that's what I prefer to remember as I gallop toward dotage.  Throughout my career I always tried to give kids words I knew they would see again instead of weird words gleaned with insidious intent from the OED.

I also added some other words to the list, words associated with the Rush--e.g., cheechako (a Chinook Jargon word meaning "newcomer") and sourdough (both the substance and its use as a name for Yukon veterans--as in, "That old sourdough who lives over yonder is weird").  Each year, I baked for each student a little sourdough biscuit using starter I'd bought in Skagway, Alaska, in the summer of 1986--it still lives in my fridge.  One of my favorite moments: taking the starter around the room and letting kids sniff it.  Oh, the facial expressions of eighth graders!

Anyway, I guess the message of all this is fairly patent: words empower.  All words, in a way, are passwords.  They let you into a text, enable you to roam around freely inside, learning, laughing, crying, aching, hoping.  And without those words you are outside--as if you've forgotten the password that boots your computer, the PIN that permits your access to unimaginable wealth.

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