Taking a Mix of Terrible Ingredients and Turning Them Into Something Brilliant

stairway scen in A Matter of Life and death

When looking at the major elements that went into the creation of classic British film, A Matter of Life and Death(1946), one would never have expected it to be anything but a confusing and incoherent hodgepodge.  Let’s have a look…  Take one part Christian-based afterlife, a drop of true love and its vital importance on earth, one part straight fantasy, a good dollop of melodrama, a court scene, the possibility of brain damage to the main character, and a request from the government to create a propaganda film to foster good relations between the US and England, stir well and stand back.

But I guess one should never underestimate the brilliance of Powell and Pressburger.  The team responsible for The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp was certain to defy every expectation we had and mix this together in a completely unexpected way.  Accustomed as we are to Hollywood today creating only blockbusters with completely nonsensical (albeit entertaining) plots and predictable, formulaic tear jerkers for those of other sensibilities, watching the films that these guys made is a bit of a jolt.

Essentially, this film deals with the plight of a British aviator who, while he is supposed to be dead, falls in love with an American girl.  Since he’s supposed to be dead but isn’t because of a cock-up by a particular angel, a whole boatload of bureaucracy gets put in motion to get him properly killed off.

In the meantime, a group of people on Earth are moving to save him.


It all sounds pretty maudlin, but in practice, the filmmakers manage to pull it off, and then some.  The mixture of black and white and color footage is the best use of this technique since The Wizard of Oz, and the special effects are extremely ambitious for postwar Britain.

Also, David Niven is always worth watching, no matter if he is the romantic lead as in this case, or if he’s playing a hardened commando.

This one is a keeper – even if American audiences will have to look for it under the title Stairway to Heaven (which makes it sound even dumber.  Does anyone else remember the moronic TV show of the same name).  If you haven’t seen it go out and watch it.

The curious incident from this one is that one of the character actors, Bonar Colleano, a man who was well on his way to becoming a superstar when he died, was killed in a sportscar crash returning from a gig in 1958 at the age of 34.  As you all probably know by now, Classically Educated loves all forms of high speed motorsport, the purer the better, so we salute, more than a half-century later, the passing of a fellow enthusiast.

Classics Can Be Entertainment, Too

Quite often, when we read a classic, we use phrases such as “It was a difficult book to read, but it had such depth that it was worth it.”  The problem often seems to be that archaic language combined with sentence and paragraph structures that are no longer in fashion, as well as the fact that some of the contemporary references are obscure to modern readers make it difficult to enjoy the flow of the narrative first time around.

Many scholars approve of this.  If the classics are available to all, they think, then anyone can read them.  While we’re often in complete agreement with this point of view (we like our elitism) it’s also nice when a classic is accessible to all.

The Three Musketeers Engraving

One such work is The Three Musketeers.  It’s one classic book where watching the film becomes completely unnecessary to modern readers, as the text itself is nonstop action and adventure, wrapped in the respectability that comes with reading a 19th century novel.  And it’s French, too.  It’s the perfect way to pretend to be an intellectual without having to suffer through something like Middlemarch.  It’s not one of those books you read just to say you’ve done it.

The reasons for this are twofold…  Let’s start with the least obvious.

If you’re reading the book in English, then you’re reading a translation from the original French.  While translations can be much more tortuous than the original (read Chapman’s Homer if you don’t believe me), as the world advances, translators have realized (thank whatever deity you happen to worship) that a translation is not an opportunity for them to dazzle us with their writing but a chance to make the authors intent shine through.

That means translated books are often written in cleaner language than the original, and also in more modern form (especially if the translation is relatively new), both of which make the original more accessible.

The Three Musketeers First Edition Title Page

I think one of the great beneficiaries of this trend is Borges.  In the original Spanish, you don’t just have to deal with the difficult ideas that old Jorge Luis liked to play with, but also the intentionally erudite language he employed.  The English translations I’ve seen of his work are much more accessible.

I don’t know enough French to be able to say whether the same thing has happened to Dumas, but based on my English-language reading, I think it’s likely.

The second reason is the obvious one.  The story actually has a plot in which interesting things happen.  While introspection and character growth are very rewarding, they do not make for entertainment.  The Three Musketeers shows a lot of character traits, and even traces their evolution, but it doesn’t sacrifice a roaring good tale to do so.  Instead, it weaves these details into the tapestry of the plot.

In fact, a surprising number of the great classics–those anointed by the classicists of the prewar eras as opposed to the unfortunate and blinkered modernists, and their ridiculous postmodernist successors–seem to adhere to this formula, which begs the question: will some of the existential books we are supposed to revere today still receive any sort of recognition in fifty years time?

I doubt it.  But one thing I’m sure of is that generations of readers will be enjoying The Three Musketeers and that Hollywood will be cranking out reboots of the story every couple of years or so (happily, Brian Adams should be retired by then).

Provincial Life and My Difference of Opinion with Virginia Woolf

Middlemarch First Edition

I find Virginia Woolf to be remarkably clear-headed.  Her A Room of One’s Own is one of the few pieces of purely feminist (or purely political, for that matter) writing that I’ve ever read which feels that it was written by someone who was intelligent and thoughtful first and foremost, as opposed to someone defined by their agenda.  It is not only readable, but actually brilliant.

Unfortunately, when it comes to George Eliot‘s Middlemarch, I find myself disagreeing with Woolf violently–which is bad because I’m pretty sure most people will come down on Woolf’s side in any argument, and also because she has been dead for ages, and I can’t actually discuss it with her.

Woolf, as some of you might know, probably gave the most famous review of Middlemarch when she expressed the opinion that it was “one of the few English novels written for grown-up people.”  Writing from the vantage point of 1902, that is very dismissive of everyone from Austen to Thackarey (and let’s not forget the Bell brothers).

Such a ringing endorsement made Middlemarch a must-read.  So read it I did.  And it fell reasonably flat (which is what all the other critics were saying, but I went and believed Woolf!).

Yes, it is for grown-ups.  Of that, there is little doubt.  But it is not for every grown-up.  It is for those men and women whom earlier generations referred to as “Serious-minded”, which seems to mean earnest people obsessed with important issues and for whom smiling was something of a lost art.  Humor, of course, is for children and the unwashed masses.

A Room Of Ones Own by Virginia Woolf, First edition Cover

In that light, Middlemarch works very well.  It plods along logically and earnestly, eventually becoming a character study of many of the types of people you would have found in the English countryside in the late 19th century.  It’s not bad, but one can’t help feel that it would have benefited from having Jane Austen edit it.  Better still, Thackeray whose character studies as much more biting.  No, wait…  Best of all would have been Oscar Wilde.

What I’m trying to say here is that the book is too lineal and earnest for its own good.  Real grown-ups, no matter what Virginia Woolf said, are people who appreciate humor as well as obligation, people who understand that a good life life contains levity as well as grey porridge.

Perhaps the lucid Woolf of A Room of One’s Own wasn’t the real one.  Perhaps she really was as humorless and agenda driven as so many others before and after her have been when they dedicated their lives to a particular cause.

But I choose to believe not.

So the only thing left to do is to read To The Lighthouse, I guess.  That should settle the matter pretty definitively, and show once again how little provocation is required for me to pick up a random classic book.

At Least a Favorable Reference to the Devil

Today we present a new excerpt from Stacy Danielle Stephens monumental work-in-progress about WWII and the events that led to it.  Those of you who’ve been following along at home know that these pieces never fail to deliver – and now we’re reaching the war’s endgame… and one of its most mysterious episodes.


May 6th, 1945. London–As his capitol was overrun by the Red Army, Adolf Hitler appears to have sought asylum in the one location from which there can be no extradition. Although reports of a German surrender were only optimistic speculation, news of Hitler’s suicide has been confirmed. He named as his successor neither of the obvious candidates, Himmler or Goering, but the less widely known commander of the German Navy, Admiral Donitz. How the Admiral intends to prosecute the war is unclear. What is clear is that, regardless of the Admiral’s intentions, Germany lacks the means to continue any meaningful opposition to United Nations forces.

If there is no surrender soon, surrender itself will become a moot formality. The Royal Air Force, as well as the US Eighth and Fifteenth Air Forces, ceased all bombing of Germany two weeks ago for lack of targets. There is no traversable length of railroad still intact, no refinery still operating, no factory able to produce any usable weapons, no aggregation of rubble large enough for a group of desperate soldiers to hide behind.

And there is still no surrender.

Perhaps this reckless determination to fight on is nothing more than a desire to die in combat with a semblance of honor rather than face responsibility for what is increasingly clear. That crimes and atrocities which only one month ago would have been dismissed out of hand as too incredibly heinous be be seriously countenanced have undeniably occurred.

There has never been a military man more even-tempered or fair-minded than General Eisenhower. What he has personally observed at concentration camps in Germany is so far beyond description that it need not be described. It is sufficient to say that it has sickened and angered him to such an extent that every German, in uniform or not, knows better than to anticipate any mercy from their conquerors.

by Stacy Ketcham, Omaha Chronotype-Mercury

* * *

Bloodstains in Hitlers Bunker


The stuffiness of the room had grown more oppressive, and the shrill insistence of the slightly inadequate ventilation fan more penetrating. Or perhaps Eva had nothing better to hold her attention.

“Would you like me to go first, Princess?” Adi asked.

He had never called her Princess before.

“No,” she replied, suddenly overcome with tears. She put her head on his shoulder. Silently, she told herself that she was not afraid, and realized what an abominable lie that was. The truth? She was more afraid of living an hour longer than of dying in another minute. She recovered her nerve. She had to be steady for him. Steely. She lifted her head.

“We agreed,” she resumed. “You should wait to make sure that I am–” Her breath seemed to congeal in her throat. “–safe,” she concluded.

“Do you know, Eva,” Adi suddenly said, “when I was a child, I wanted to be a priest?”

“I’m not surprised by that.”


She picked up the brass capsule containing the bit of serious business.

“Hold out your hand,” she said. He did. She unscrewed the capsule and pulled the two pieces apart so that the ampule dropped into his palm. Tossing the shell aside, she opened her mouth, the tip of her tongue resting on the edge of her teeth, just inside of her lower lip.

He smiled, the same shimmering smile he’d displayed so shyly the day they met for the first time. He took the ampule gingerly between the thumb and forefinger of his right hand. Tenderly, he placed it onto her tongue.

One could not but wonder what that moment of transcendence would comprise. Of course, death would not be like anything. There was nothing in life that could serve as a simile for it.

She knew she should repent of this madness, and spit the thing out. Yet she knew just as well that she was able to do this with a clear conscience, because her conscience was improperly formed by years of compromise. Her faith, once white hot, had gone lukewarm and then stone cold, and was now already dead, although still as strong as it had ever been. She and Adi had never been to Mass together. In sixteen years, neither of them had said a single Hail Mary, or even once made the sign of the cross over themselves, and yet, if pressed on the point, each of them would have insisted that they were Catholic.

Smiling at Adi, she bit into the glass. He heard it cracking between her teeth. Then she was translated. She slumped over the arm of the sofa, and he saw the discolouration around her nose. That quickly, sixteen years had passed.

His pistol–the 7.65 mm Walther–was on the table. Like a chalice on the altar, he thought. He remembered the many times as a child when he stood on a chair at the kitchen table, wearing an apron as his vestment, celebrating the Mass.

Fondly recalling his first communion, he knelt at the table, then lifted the pistol to his lips. As his finger settled on the trigger, he was reminded of the delicate silver bells jingling during the Mass, announcing the descent of the Holy Spirit as it settled on the unleavened wafers and they became the resurrected Body of Christ. As an altar boy, he had held those bells, and beckoned to the Holy Spirit with this very finger. Now, as this profligate finger curled more tightly, summoning his own spirit in another direction entirely, he strained to remember the gentle sound of those tiny bells, softly resonating in the hushed stillness of the church, but could not. He only heard the harsh chirping of the distant ventilation fans, and trapped in his ears, echoing in his mind, the brutal cracking of the glass in Eva’s mouth.

The trigger at last succumbed to the pressure of his finger. He felt the action release the firing pin, and heard the shot rushing from the chamber. With it, he received no absolution, but only abrogation[1].

* * *

How does one make sense of Adolf Hitler, a peculiar but heroic soldier who earned the respect and admiration of comrades and commanders alike, then went on to take his country to the brink of annihilation with much of Europe close behind? How do we understand this little boy who wanted to be a priest, but instead became the eponym of evil at its most absolute by leading his nation in their effort to exterminate an entire people?

Millions of words have been written in pursuit of Hitler’s presumed hatred for Jews, with no evidence of his ever being so much as rude to even one Jew, let alone the discovery of a fury intense enough to bring about ten million deaths.

In the early days of the Nazi Party, another Party leader asked Hitler what the Nazis’ program would be. Hitler replied that the program was unimportant, it was only power that mattered. When this same leader argued that power must always be wielded with purpose toward a goal, Hitler dismissed the argument as pointless intellectualism.

Every Jew who met Hitler personally found him to be kind and courteous. Every Jew who knew him was convinced that the anti-semitism he espoused was nothing more than agitprop, palaver poured out to get himself and his party elected and into power, and Hitler is known to have said that everyone in Germany would recognize Jews as a common enemy, if they were arbitrarily selected by the Nazis to serve as a focus for national unity.

But if Hitler’s vaunted anti-semitism were only a ruse, why, then, the final solution?

More so than soldiers of any other nation, Americans were infused with the righteousness of their involvement in the war. From the noble clarity of their goals there followed an expected purity in their actions. They were not engaged in a war of vengeance, but a holy crusade to restore the world to justice. Yet there were occasions when these righteous crusaders would physically abuse or shoot prisoners of war. A disinterested observer could ascribe most of these incidents to anger or frustration in the heat of a few horrible moments. Some justification may be found for excusing these violations of the Geneva Convention. But the fact remains that even the best of soldiers may become murderers when circumstances permit murder.

It has been said that absolute power corrupts absolutely.

If it seems preposterous to you to suppose that a man might send millions of innocents to their deaths simply for the pleasure of doing so, then you have probably never walked among armed combatants seeking battle, and you have certainly never noticed that every word of the United States Constitution is about restraining the exercise of power.

By the time of the Final Solution, it was clear that the Soviet Union would not be defeated as easily as France had been, and evident that it might never be defeated. When the United States entered into the war, Hitler had little reason to hope that Germany would ever win. Frustrated and angry, he could console himself easily enough by exercising absolute power while it was still his.

This is not to suggest that Hitler’s decision to have eleven million[2] people put to death was made on the spur of the moment, or that the Ka-tsets would have been shut down and all the prisoners inside them released if Germany had won the war. Hitler had written about his proposed Entfernung of Jews as early as 1919.

When speaking of tattoo removal, a German will use the word Entfernung. There can be no doubt what becomes of the tattoo. How could there be any doubt what Hitler intended for the Jews of Europe as early as 1919?

When Bertold Brecht was deported from the United States, German newspapers reported his Entfernung. There could be no doubt that Bertold Brecht was alive and unharmed.

It would be both naive and asinine to assume that Hitler had not carefully chosen that word for its ambiguity. While it cannot be proven that Hitler had begun to plan, as early as 1919, for the extermination of all European Jews, neither can it be denied that this eventuality was among the possibilities he had considered at that time.[3]

* * *

As early as 1937, President Roosevelt had decided that in the event of war with The Empire of Japan, Japanese-Americans on the West Coast would be interned. It was only after this decision was made that the rationale for it was formulated. Internment, it was said, would be necessary to ensure that any disloyal individuals among these people did not escape detection, and in order to protect them from their suspicious white neighbors.

Adolph Hitler claimed that German emigrants remained citizens of his Reich, and that their children and grandchildren were German citizens as well. He insisted that all persons of German ancestry owed their loyalty to him and no one else. He believed that German-Americans were entirely German, and not at all American. The existence of the German-American Bundt would suggest that a number of German-Americans shared his belief.

The FBI, conducting the largest investigation of its kind, determined that there was no similar belief held by the government of Japan or by Japanese immigrants in the United States, or by any of their children or grandchildren. The Japanese government had never made any effort to recruit even a single spy or saboteur from among the Japanese-Americans, nor had any Japanese-American, whether resident alien or United States citizen by birth, ever made any effort to further the interests of Japan to the detriment of the United States, even by peaceful and legal means, let alone through any attempts at espionage of any kind.

Tule Lake Japanese Internment Camp

Sociologists engaged by the State Department determined that no immigrant group was more loyal to the United States than the Japanese-Americans, and no group was more truly American. In Japanese culture, emigrants are not merely transplanted into their new country, they are grafted onto it. They will retain a Japanese appearance, and they may retain the Japanese language, but they are not Japanese. Among any other nationality, as many as one-third of immigrants arriving in the United States would, within twenty years, return to live in their native country. Japanese who came to America rarely went back to Japan.

Investigating the question of conflicted loyalties, the State Department learned, as had the FBI, that Imperial Japan had no wish or intention to use Japanese-Americans as spies, recognizing first that they had no loyalty to Japan, and secondarily that they would be of no use, since white Americans would not trust them. Instead, Imperial Japan chose to rely on the already existing German and Italian spy networks.

Although he was fully aware of all these facts, President Roosevelt did not allow himself to be dissuaded by them. In 1942, he ordered the internment of Japanese-Americans, precisely as he had planned to do all along. Today, it is profoundly disturbing to see how easily that order could be given, and to see the docile facility with which it was carried out. Without investigation or probable cause, without trial or arraignment, with no semblance of due process, all persons of Japanese ancestry abiding in California, Oregon or Washington State, whether resident aliens or citizens of the United States, were simply removed in just a few days.

However plausible the justifications for this relocation may sound, whatever explanation one might wish to accept, a single photograph of any white American standing proudly beside his sign–WE DON’T WANT ANY JAPS! EVER!–looking exactly like a German standing beside his sign–JUDEN RAUS!–makes clear that this arbitrary corralling of an ethnic minority by a racially prejudiced government was, in fact, Entfernung.

* * *

Because the internment of Japanese-Americans happened in Twentieth Century America, every fact and detail of it is utterly harrowing. With each paragraph one reads about it, with each story one hears, there is a renewed desire to scream, because it was a heinous injustice perpetrated by Americans against other Americans. Yet there is one inescapable facet of the whole picture that transcends expression, a realization so horrible that one can only see it and turn away.

Of all military construction in the United States during the Second World War, only Los Alamos was more remote than the internment camps. The Manhattan Project was the only war-related activity of their government about which the American public was told less than the internment of Japanese-Americans. While one simply cannot imagine President Roosevelt authorizing a final solution to the Japanese-American problem, one must–if one is honest–recognize from the placement of the camps and the silence surrounding them that this eventuality was among the possibilities considered within the War Department.



[1] In his movie, Little Nicky, Adam Sandler supposes Hitler gets a pineapple shoved up his ass every day, but that would be letting him off easy. Hell? The Russians are approaching, Eva is dead, and the pistol won’t fire. Every day, over and over. The Russians are approaching, Eva is dead, and the pistol won’t fire. He spends the day, every day, alone in the bunker, remembering the face of every young man whom he sent to an early and horrible death, remembering every conversation with Himmler, remembering the footage of unreleased documentaries he watched with Goebbels. Then it’s morning again. The Russians are approaching, Eva is dead, and the pistol won’t fire.

[2] The Wannsee Conference planned to “involve” eleven million European Jews in the Final Solution, but the precise number of deaths that occurred in the Ka-tsets cannot be known. Although an estimate of twenty million is the largest number which cannot be discredited, it staggers the imagination. The estimate generally considered to be an accurate minimum is ten million. In either case, six million of these are known to be Jewish.

Although Common Criminals and Prostitutes were sent to the Ka-tsets with the expectation that they might die, and Gypsies, Homosexuals, Jehovah’s Witnesses and Politicals were sent with the expectation that they would die, only Jews were sent specifically for the purpose of extermination. The death of a Jew was not merely expected, it was intended.

In the moral sense of the word, each of these deaths–whether of a Jew or a Gentile–was a murder, but in the strictest legal sense of the word, they were not. Pragmatically, the millions of Germans and other European nationals who participated to some degree in every one of these deaths could not all be hanged, so it was held that these deaths occurred within the jurisdiction and under the authority of the German government. Individuals who had given orders were guilty of war crimes; those who obeyed these orders were presumed innocent, and every murder that was committed became only a death which had occurred.

[3] A plausible argument can be made that the Wannsee Protocol, Section Three, Paragraph Seven: “jews should be put to work in the East. . . . Any final remnant that survives… will have to be dealt with appropriately” was a precise enunciation of Hitler’s long-intended Entfernung.

Viewed in retrospect from this conclusion, Hitler’s actions can be generally seen as a series of planned steps moving toward that goal. Militarily, the sole object in this scenario was the conquest of Soviet Russia as a repository for Europe’s Jews, in which they could “be dealt with appropriately.” This conquest required that the bulk of the German army be deployed from Poland. The necessary encirclement of Poland required the occupation of Czechoslovakia, which was itself first encircled through the Anschluss of Austria. That France and England became combatants in opposition to Germany was an inconvenience anticipated and prepared for with the occupation of the Rhineland.

When realization of the expected repository failed, concurrent with the failure of the Soviet Union to be conquered, the Nazis adapted the plan to an accelerated schedule, intending to “involve” as many Jews as they could apprehend before the war ended.

For this argument to be valid, Hitler’s anti-semitism would have to be a profoundly irrational, superstitious variety of prejudice. Precisely that sort of anti-semitism can be found throughout the world, and is particularly virulent in Eastern Europe even today.

James Bond? Not Exactly…

I’m a fan of Joseph Conrad.  I believe that his novella Heart of Darkness is one of the greatest explorations of what really resides in the souls of men ever written.  Today, it has fallen somewhat out of favor because certain vocal literary critics focus on the colonial trappings… and thereby manage to miss the point of the book entirely.  In fact, I like this book so much that I became a bit of a scholar regarding it, and was even asked to write the introduction to the edition linked above.

So when I sat down to read a Conrad book about spies and conspirators, I thought to myself “I am in for quite a treat.”

Turns out I wasn’t.

The Secret Agent - Conrad - First Edition

The Secret Agent, a seminal book about a terrorist plot in England seemed dry and stale and boring.  The bad guys seemed painfully incompetent and unimaginative, and the plot moved at the speed of frozen molasses in quicksand, ti mix three metaphors.

This was the book that, directly or indirectly led to–or at least influenced–the spy genre as we know it?  This is the one that inspired the Unabomber?  Really?

Well, yes, and the secret to understanding what went awry in my own reading comes down to one thing: expectations.

What I was expecting was a fantastic story about glamorous spies that flirts with the edges of plausibility.  What I got was the slightly dramatized retelling of a real-life story of badly-organized and somewhat incompetent anarchists.

Let’s start with that second part, first.  The bare bones of the plot are based around a failed bombing in London in 1894 whose only victim was the bomber himself (a man who intended to plant his bomb and walk away unscathed).   Names are changed, but that is the story. Not only is the plot uninspiring, but it is also told from the viewpoint of the bad guys… which is cool if your protagonist is Al Capone, or someone equally competent, but not so motivating in this case.

So yes, the book is somewhat at fault–even in 1907 there had to be better secret villains to write about–but let’s look at my other point: fantastic vs. slightly dramatic.  In hindsight, it becomes clear that, as the secret agent novel gained popularity, more baroque and twisted stories needed to be concocted and the heroes slowly migrated from regular men in extraordinary circumstances as in The Thirty-Nine Steps (another book with an intro by yours truly… I’m beginning to sense a pattern here) to very exceptional men and women tested to the limits of their own enormous capabilities.

Joseph Conrad

When we read a book in this niche today, we expect the writer to stand on at least some of the shoulders of the giants who came before him.  Yes, the Fleming books from the sixties are tame by today’s standards, but at least some of the tropes are already present, and the cover art is marvelous.

This immediately leads to the question of who those giants are.  And that is where this volume truly comes into its own.  When you dig into the mass of names: Fleming, Buchan, Householder, standing near the bottom, holding up many of the cherished authorial heroes, is old man Conrad.

So, if you are going to read one Conrad book in your life, read Heart of Darkness.  But If you want to understand where Tom Clancy and John LeCarré are coming from, The Secret Agent is worth the effort. At the very least you will have a good example of art that was a victim of its own success.

The Good and the Bad of Critiques

This time, our columnist Richard H. Fay brings us an opinion piece–one that, as writers and editors ourselves, is close to our hearts. You’re mileage may vary but one thing is certain: you will definitely learn something about the ins and outs of the process in the piece that follows.  If you like his pieces for us, we remind you that his blog is here, and we also recommend checking out his Zazzle Store.  

Walt Whitman Manuscript

While critiques and literary criticisms often contain useful advice for the aspiring author and poet, there is a dark side to this sector of the literary realm. What I hate most about the world of critiques and criticisms are critical insults cloaked in the guise of constructive feedback. Although critiques can help a budding writer’s skills blossom, and can even help more established writers catch unnoticed flaws, some writers claiming to dish out critiques (or comments resembling critiques) miss the entire concept that personal opinions, tastes, and interpretations of what is “good” and what is “bad” differ tremendously from person to person, from reader to reader, from “critter” to “critter”. They feel that their individual opinion is literary law, and that their personal interpretation of this law is written in stone. Clearly, this is not the case.

During my quest to become a published poet, I’ve encountered some comments and attitudes that obviously went well beyond mere criticism of my poetic works. In certain circles, I’ve been called a wannabe and a poetaster, remarks that were clearly less examples of constructive criticism and more examples of critical insults – “bad critiques”, if you will. However, in different circles, I’ve been called a master poet. Some people may strongly disagree with the way I write, finding fault in my preferred choice of voice and style. Others see great merit in the way I pen my works, and applaud my cadence, verbiage, and overall approach to poetry composition. Who is right, and who is wrong? Should I change the way I write poetry because some people feel it isn’t worthy, or should I keep doing what works for me, and what works for certain editors and certain publishers (and many of my readers)?

Should a writer listen to what others have to say? Of course, as any artist, a writer should learn to grow and develop their craft. And feedback from others, both positive and negative, is a vital part of this never-ending process of growth and development. I have certainly grown as a poet after listening to what some editors have said to me in personal rejection letters and revision requests. I have often followed their advice on how to add more depth, substance, and artistry to my work. However, I don’t feel a writer should dwell on critiques. A writer is not required to act on every negative critique or criticism received. At some point in a writer’s career, they have to rely just as much on their own judgment and instincts. They have to consider the value of each critique on a case-by-case basis. They have to realize when the critique being given is truly constructive, and when it is merely counter-productive. And sometimes, even a critique given with the best of intentions can fall far from the intended mark. It can be crazy out there, and quite toxic at times, and critique is one of those areas that can all too easily slip into the toxic versus the beneficial.

In my opinion, the difference between a “good critique” and a “bad critique” can often be a matter of the difference between critiquing the written work at hand and critiquing the writer of that work. It is the difference between stating that the story or poem under question is flawed, versus claiming the creator of that piece is a flawed writer or poet. Few human beings respond positively to personal insults, no matter how eloquently worded or full of literary jargon those insults may be. And even those critiques of a writer’s general skills that avoid blatant insults may still lose sight of the bigger picture, arriving at an improper judgment of someone’s overall ability based on the paltriest of evidence.

Ideally, an editor, slush reader, or “critter” shouldn’t really judge someone’s overall skills as a poet or writer based on only one or two pieces, especially if that writer or poet has already penned and sold several works which could be used to better judge that individual’s overall skills and abilities. Such commentary becomes a general criticism of the writer or poet, instead of a specific criticism of the story or poem under consideration. That sort of attitude strays too close to those that fling about the terms “wannabe” or “poetaster” for my own personal comfort. And, it could be argued, it certainly smacks of a personal dislike for an individual’s work, whatever the underlying reasons may truly be.

In terms of the nuts-and-bolts of critiques and criticisms, I grow especially irritated when opinions and tastes are presented as literary absolutes, which often happens with such things. Differing opinions of my work from different editors and readers leads me to believe that most criticisms are not literary absolutes. I suspect that the aspects being criticized are not unalterable laws that all poets and writers must follow, or else. Plus, in terms of critiques, comments, and rejections from editors, it may be sacrilege, but I don’t feel that editors walk on water. I believe that they can be wrong on occasion, that they can let their personal preferences shade their views, just like the rest of us. And some editors may plain dislike an individual’s style, while putting an editorial sheen on that dislike to make it look like literary criticism. Does this mean that the writer must change their style because of what one editor (or one group of editors) says, especially if that very same style works elsewhere? I honestly don’t think so. It brings one back to the idea of judging the value of each critique on a case-by-case basis.

Perhaps I simply found my literary voice, and confidence in that voice, early-on. Others still finding their literary voice, still searching for a style that fits, may approach critiques and criticisms differently. However, because I have developed a confidence in my voice and style, I don’t feel the need to make wholesale changes to my preferred voice and style based on individual critiques and criticisms. I may listen, but I don’t necessarily act on what I hear. I have no desire to make changes just to fit in at a certain market, just so I can add another notch to my tally of venues conquered. In some instances, I don’t think I could change enough to fit in anyway.

Many moons ago, I came to the realization that my style may not work for all markets. It happens. Writers and poets have to acknowledge that reality sooner or later. Some places just aren’t a good fit, no matter what one does to try to fit in. However, there are other markets, other publications, out there. And some of those may be a much better fit for one’s work anyway. It may take some trial-and-error, and the use of market listings like Duotrope’s Digest and Ralan’s Webstravanganza, to find the right venue, but it can be done.

As for those on the other side of critiques; if you are addressing potential problems with the text, then you are doing your job as an editor or “critter”. After all, a writer’s work should display a functional grasp of grammar and syntax. Writers should show that they have at least some understanding of what works and what doesn’t. And sometimes you need to be a bit harsh if a written work contains many glaring flaws. However, there is a difference between a harsh but honest criticism and an insult. You don’t have to insult the writer’s abilities in general when criticizing a particular example of that writer’s work. Insults may just stir negative emotions, rather than eliciting a positive change.

Critiques, whether positive or negative, are going to be reflective of the critic’s personal preferences and biases. While writers should never let hubris blind them to the opportunities to grow found within individual critiques and criticisms, such commentary should always be seen as one opinion among many. Other critics with different tastes may evaluate the same material differently. Those handing out literary critiques should keep the same thing in mind. Never let critical insults take the place of constructive criticism. Avoid the path to the toxic.

(Originally published in the Creator and the Catalyst, August 2009.)

Acton Bell was the Best of them

It’s quite possible you’ve never heard of Acton Bell.  After all, this was a writer overshadowed by better-known siblings Currer Bell and Ellis Bell.

What?  You haven’t heard of them either?

Ah, you must not be a collector of first editions or a student of literary history.  You see Currer Bell published a novel entitled Jane Eyre, while Ellis was responsible for a tome entitled Wuthering Heights.

first edition tenant of wildfell hall

Yes, they were.  Google the first editions if you don’t believe me.

All right.  In their era, it was difficult to get published, so the Brontë sisters sold their work under male pseudonyms, Ellis, Acton and Currer being the sobriquets chosen by Emily, Anne and Charlotte.  But while even the most casual readers are familiar with the work of Emily and Charlotte–either via the written word or the countless TV and film adaptations of Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights (or, for absolute bizarreness, the music video of the latter)–very few have been exposed to Anne’s work.

There is a reason for that.  Charlotte, who was the only one who didn’t die terribly young, kept Anne’s novels from being reprinted after her death (she is also rumored to have burned a manuscript of a second novel by Emily).  So while Charlotte’s work was becoming ever more well known, Annes languished, only beginning to get critical recognition much later, with the early feminist movement.

Political use of her work aside, it’s a true pity that Anne seems to be the forgotten sister (brother Branwell, by all accounts, squandered any talent he might have had due to a dissipated lifestyle).  Judging simply by her writing, she seems to have been, by far, the best of the three.

Yes, I know. That’s supposed to be Emily, the firebrand whose prose scars you as you read.

Yes, it’s true that Emily’s writing, and her characters are both more memorable than Charlotte’s.  They are tortured, egoistic souls stymied by their preferences and circumstances and as melodramatic as it is possible to be.  Definitely better than Charlotte’s stultifying boredom (yes, I know there was a madwoman in a tower.  Still boring)…

Anne Brontë by Branwell Brontë

But Anne, as a novelist, took more risks than Charlotte, and wrote a clearer, better-paced story than Emily.

The Tenant of Wildfell Hall is the best of the Brontë novels.  If you don’t believe me, that’s because you haven’t read it.  It contains sympathetic protagonists who defy the conventions of their time enough that they feel almost modern, and the story is about the way they struggle against those conventions and the consequences of rebellion.  Also, it has an antagonist who deserves to be despised.

Though the novel’s re-acceptance into 19th century canon is cause for rejoicing, it’s a bit unfair that it’s been tarred with the “early feminist novel” brush.  That alone will keep many people from approaching this book–anyone familiar with the writing of Kate Chopin will have learned their lesson: writing that only survives because of a political push is always terrible, even if the politics are sound.  It’s a pity that this should be so because Anne’s novel is actually good literature, despite the anger that might or might not have informed some of its more memorable scenes.

Yes, the very act of writing and publishing this book was a feminist act (as was that of Wuthering Heights, which is just about the most un-feminist book I can think of), and yes, when Anne’s protagonist leaves her husband, it was the first time something like that had happened in a major English novel.

But there are more important things going on in this book, and the political significance, whether contemporary or post-mortem, was given to it by others.  It’s really just a book about characters dealing with their world as best they can.  And it excels in that light.

So go to your library and ask them for something by Acton Bell.  Hopefully, a librarian should know what you mean… if not, send them here!

What’s Going On At Oxford Tutoring

The new school year is several weeks in and Oxford Tutoring is in full swing.  Our students are receiving help for many K-12 subjects including math, science, reading, writing, history and more.  And many of our loyal customers have returned for another school year.  We wanted to take a few moments to update everyone on some Oxford Tutoring news, discounts, and processes.

Congratulations to our SAT students!

Recently, many Oxford Tutoring students who took our summer class got their official SAT results back.  Their hard work, focus, and dedication definitely paid off because their scores significantly improved.  We even had a student improve by 230 points!  Check out the chart below for more of the results.

SAT Scores Summer 2017 Email

We are very proud of our students and happy to see that they find our classes beneficial. We are currently gathering data from the ACT official test and can’t wait to share those results with everyone too!

There will be more SAT and ACT classes starting in the New Year.  Both our ACT and SAT school year classes are 8 weeks long and meet on the weekends.  They come with 2 free private tutoring vouchers, weekly practice tests, homework, practice work, test taking tips, strategies, and content coverage.  Sign up for either of these classes 4 weeks early and you will receive 15% off the cost of the class.

Practice tests are available on the following days:

Mon-Thurs: 4pm – 6pm

Fri: 2pm-6pm

Sat & Sun: 9am – 1pm

Call in to set up an appointment for taking your practice test.

Our next SAT class begins January 6 and will last until February 8.  It will be meeting on Saturday and Sunday from 9:30 AM – 12:00 PM.

The next ACT class will start on February 3 and end on March 25 .  Classes will be held from 12:30PM – 3:00 PM.

Call to sign up today! (949) 681-0388.

Follow us on Facebook

Oxford Tutoring 2.jpg

We regularly post updates, news, holiday hours, discounts and more on Facebook.  Click here to follow us. 

Refer A Friend

Orange County Tutoring

As a way of saying thank you to our loyal customers, we will give you a free tutoring session for every friend you refer.  We appreciate you recommending us to your friends.

Don’t forgot to review us on Yelp.

Oxford’s Annual Savings Bundle

Oxford Tutoring Savings Bundles.jpg

Purchase a Silver or Gold Bundle and receive tutoring at a discounted rate.  With purchase of either bundle you gain access to Bundle owner benefits.  These include, a bank of sessions, a family plan, fixed savings rate for a full year, priority scheduling, 10% savings on “a la carte” services, and forgiven no shows.

Access your invoices online

Stop Sign.jpg

Your invoices and notes from your child’s tutoring sessions are now available at scanmytests.com.

To set up your account give us a call.

We look forward to seeing you around the center!


Oxford Tutoring Logo Blog Transluscent.png

Summer Courses 2017: Math Courses with Oxford Tutoring

Oxford Tutoring is offering a variety of summer courses redesigned with your schedule in mind.  Choose from math, reading & writing, enrichment courses, or ACT and SAT courses to prepare your children for the upcoming school year.

Summer Mathematics Courses

1st Grade Math

In our 1st Grade Math class, students will use addition and subtraction within 20 to solve word problems involving situations of adding to, taking from, putting together, taking apart, and comparing, with unknowns in all positions. They will put math facts to memory and extend their understanding of number sense to complete math challenges. Request more information

2nd Grade Math

In our 2nd Grade Math class, students will add and subtract within 1000, using concrete models or drawings and strategies based on place value. Students will also hone their understanding of basic word problems and how to extract the critical information for problem-solving. They will refine math facts knowledge and extend their understanding of number sense to complete math challenges. Request more information

3rd Grade Math

In our 3rd Grade Math class, students will use multiplication and division within 100 to solve word problems in situations involving equal groups, arrays, and measurement quantities. They will commit multiplication facts to memory and develop strategies for expressing conceptual understanding. Students will not only develop the proficiency necessary for the upcoming school year, but will also be inspired to learn through interactive, exciting projects, including game theory, wherein students engage in metacognition and relate math to other areas of study. Request more information

4th Grade Math

In our 4th Grade Math class, students will find all factor pairs for a whole number in the range 1–100 and recognize that a whole number is a multiple of each of its factors. They will develop procedural understanding of the algorithms for adding, subtracting, multiplying and dividing multi-digit numbers and explore various ways of completing these operations. This course will prepare students for the new school year by incorporating both skill building and exciting, interactive activities designed to teach and inspire, including game theory, wherein students engage in metacognition and relate math to other areas of study. Request more information

5th Grade Math

In our 5th Grade Math class, students will add, subtract, multiply, and divide fractions and decimals, using concrete models or drawings and strategies based on place value. They will develop procedural understanding of the algorithms for adding, subtracting, multiplying and dividing decimals and fractions and explore various ways of completing these operations. Through this course, students will receive instruction to develop vital skills for the upcoming school year in a fun, interactive learning environment, including game theory, wherein students engage in metacognition and relate math to other areas of study. Request more information

6th Grade Math

In our 6th Grade Math class, students will understand the concept of a unit rate a/b associated with a ratio and use rate language in the context of a proportional relationship. They will review algorithms for adding, subtracting, multiplying and dividing decimals and fractions and set-up simple equations with a single variable. Students will build the skills necessary for their upcoming school year through fun, interactive projects designed to inspire them to learn, and be introduced to game theory, an exciting branch of mathematics that allows them to have great discussions, engage in metacognition, and relate math to other areas of study. Request more information

7th Grade Math

In our 7th Grade Math class, students will apply properties of operations as strategies to add, subtract, factor, and expand linear expressions with rational coefficients. They will integrate knowledge of whole numbers, fractions, decimals, ratios and proportions to solve two-step problems and tackle math challenges. In this course, preparation for their upcoming school will be presented in an exciting, interactive learning environment wherein they will be introduced to game theory, an exciting branch of mathematics that allows students to have great discussions, engage in metacognition, and relate math to other areas of study. Request more information

8th Grade Math

In our 8th Grade Math class, students will understand that a function is a rule that assigns to each input exactly one output and how the graph of a function is the set of ordered pairs consisting of an input and the corresponding output. They will hone procedural skills for setting-up and solving equations, graphing linear equations and inequalities, and expressing conceptual understanding. Students will also develop vital skills necessary for their upcoming school year, while learning through interactive, fun projects, including game theory, an exciting branch of mathematics that allows students to have great discussions, engage in metacognition, and relate math to other areas of study. Request more information

Integrated Math 1 (9th-11th grades)

In our Integrated Math 1 course, students learn to analyze and compare linear models, understand congruent figures and their properties, and apply both geometry and algebra concepts to multi-step problems that challenge their thinking and ensure they have a solid grasp of the first semester of Integrated Math 1 courses at local schools. Students will develop vital skills necessary for their upcoming school year while learning through a mix of lecture, interactive projects, exploration and analysis, discussions, and metacognitive activities. Request more information

Integrated Math 2 (10th-12th grades)

In our Integrated Math 2 course, students explore quadratic expressions, equations, and functions; compare quadratics to linear and exponential expressions; compare rational, real, and complex numbers; and utilize conditional probability and the counting principle to ensure they have a solid grasp of the first semester of Integrated Math 2 courses at local schools. Students will develop vital skills necessary for their upcoming school year while learning through a mix of lecture, interactive projects, exploration and analysis, discussions, and metacognitive activities. Request more information

Integrated Math 3 (10th-12th grades)

In our Integrated Math 3 course, students deepen their understanding of probability and statistics, compare rational and radical functions, break down general triangles, and learn trigonometry and preCalculus concepts to ensure they have a solid grasp of the first semester of Integrated Math 3 courses at local schools. Students will develop vital skills necessary for their upcoming school year while learning through a mix of lecture, interactive projects, exploration and analysis, discussions, and metacognitive activities. Request more information

Competitive Math (9th-10th grades)

High School Competitive Mathematics builds and develops the necessary problem-solving skills and mathematical knowledge required for math competitions such as the American Mathematics Competition 10 (AMC 10). Students will apply and expand on classroom learned skills involving algebra, basic geometry, area and volume formulas, elementary number theory, and elementary probability. Each class, students will expand their problem solving abilities and apply test taking strategies to problems from past exams. Request more information

Algebra I

Students will establish a solid basis for Algebra success in the upcoming year. Students will explore exponents, radicals, equations, inequalities, quadratics, and graphing. Particularly, the class will teach students the primary concepts presented in the first semester of Algebra and expose them to more challenging topics that they will encounter during the second semester. Request more information


Geometry students will prepare for success in the upcoming school year by learning to reason and problem solve based upon an understanding of the theorems and postulates of geometry. Students will learn to work with angles, polygons, and circles by using logic to solve problems. Particularly, students will develop mathematical reasoning skills. Request more information

Algebra 2 with Trigonometry

Students will solve and/or graph rational functions, irrational functions, matrices, logarithms, exponential growth and decay, conics, trigonometry, and other challenging topics. This course will ensure that they are well-prepared for the school year. Request more information


Students master trigonometric functions, the unit circle, limits, graphing, complex polynomials, logarithms, conics, and exponents. Students master the first semester of Pre-Calculus with a focus on developing problem solving skills and building confidence to tackle challenging problems. Request more information

AP Calculus

In our AP Calculus course, students learn the operations and applications of limits and derivatives, related rates and curve stretching to ensure they have a solid grasp of the first semester of the AP Calculus concepts taught at local schools. Students will develop vital skills necessary for their upcoming school year while learning through a mix of lecture, projects, exploration and analysis, discussions, and metacognitive activities. Request more information

AP Statistics

Students study the first semester of AP Statistics, specifically descriptive statistics, normal distribution, linear regression, and probability. Request more information


Sign up for any of our Math Courses today! (949) 681-0388.

Summer Math Courses Graphic

The Changing Spaces of Reading and Writing

Innovations in technology have changed the way in which society acts. As classical scholar and university librarian James O’Donnell points out in the 1999 radio broadcast “From Papyrus to Cyberspace,” one generation’s frontier becomes the next generation’s reality. One can assume that with each new frontier there are gains and losses. For example, the invention of the automobile sparked a transportation revolution, but with this improved accessibility we also implicitly accept thousands of car-related deaths each year. Advancements in writing technologies have unpredictable changes in human roles and geography. Printing presses led to the spread of unorthodox ideas across the world and new forms of democratization, while the shift from a primarily oral to literate society brought with it new lines of exclusion between those who could read and those who could not. James Engell, Professor of English and Comparative Literature at Harvard, highlights the point that such revolutions of technology do not occur suddenly but are instead a gradual shift within societies. Just as manuscripts continued to be produced well after the invention of the printing press, it is common for information from the internet to be written down on paper. Thus the challenge with emerging digital technologies is not that such societal shifts are occurring, but finding the most effective way new technologies can be integrated with the way things are currently functioning. Learn more about the impact of the typewriter on literacy in my short documentary The Shift from Handwriting to Typewriting:

Full List of References and Media Content Sources
The shift from handwriting to digital text and their associated issues continue to plague educators as one-to-one devices become the norm in schools. My English Department meetings often consist of heated debates concerning whether students should complete their coursework on paper or digitally. The topic seems to polarise the teachers within the department and we cannot collectively decide on the "correct" answer.
"students who write out their notes on paper may actually learn more" (Mueller & Oppenheiner, 2014).
In 2012, scientists find that the brains of preliterate kids respond like a reader's brain when they write their ABCs, but not when they type or trace the letters (Pauly, 2016). Another research team reports that college students who transcribed lectures on their laptops recalled more information than those who took notes by hand because the use of laptops results in shallower processing (Mueller & Oppenheimer, 2014). Across three experiments, researchers had students take notes in a classroom setting and then tested students on their memory for factual detail, their conceptual understanding of the material, and their ability to synthesize and generalize the information. The two types of note-takers performed equally well on questions that involved recalling facts, laptop note-takers performed significantly worse on the conceptual questions (Mueller & Oppenheimer, 2014). This research suggests that perhaps completing tasks on paper may be more beneficial for students.
However, sometimes the purpose of note taking is simply to collect information. During novel studies I often have my students take notes to record key quotations or details from the book we are reading under the categories of the elements of fiction (e.g. setting, characters, style, theme). When forced to write on paper, I find students’ notes quickly become disorganised and chaotic. Factor in that a novel study last several weeks - sometimes months - I find students’ paper notes become more of a hassle than helpful.
Instead of making the paper-or-digital choice for my high school students, I share research findings and we collaboratively discuss the benefits and advantages of each format. I then prompt them to make the choice for themselves and give them the opportunity to change formats if they feel they made the wrong choice. In Benedict Carey's book "How We Learn: The Surprising Truth About When, Where and Why It Happens" he refocusses attention away from a mono-solution to the learning conundrum, by prompting learners to consider the task at hand:  
"It's not that there is a right and wrong way to learn. It's that there are different strategies, each uniquely suited to capturing a particular type of information. A good hunter tailors the trap to the prey" (Carey, 2014, p. 44). 
My vision for my students is for them to discover for themselves how they work best in a time where they are living and learning during this technological revolution. The following is a lesson to prompt a discussion surrounding the ambiguity of the paper of digital argument:
While reading and writing remains at the heart of education, emerging technologies will continue to alter the concept of literacy itself. As we continue to move from written text to digitized information, educators must adapt their didactic methods to coincide with modern technologies. The technologies of handwriting and typewriting need not exist in a binary relationship in our postmodernist culture. They can co-exist, offering us a multiplicity of ways to communicate where each is geared for its own different purpose.
Mueller, P. A. & Oppenheimer, D. M. (2014). The Pen Is Mightier Than the Keyboard: Advantages of Longhand Over Laptop Note Taking. Psychological Science, 25(6). 
O'Donnell, J. & Engell, J. (1999). "From papyrus to cyberspace" [radio broadcasts]. Cambridge Forum.
Ong, W. J. (1982). Orality and literacy: The technologizing of the word. London: Methuen.
Pauly, M. (2016). A Brief History of Handwriting. Mother Jones, 41(5), 60.

Information Processing Theory and Impact on Learning

The Information Processing Theory is an approach to cognitive development that suggests a way in which humans process the information they receive. This theory contrasts a behaviourist that humans simply respond to stimuli. This theory suggests that information is processed in stages, much like the way in which a computer processes data (Orey 2002). Information enters the brain (or computer) through our senses (mouse/keyboard). Next, the information is processed in our working memory (processor/ram), where it is stored and recalled from specific areas of our long-term memory (hard drive). This recalled information can lead to an output response to the stimuli (monitor).
Turple, C. (2016).
Our sensory memory intakes information through seeing, hearing, smelling, tasting and touching. If we decide to pay attention to certain stimuli, it moves into our short-term memory, also known as our working memory as it is the place where we process information. In order for information to be stored in our long-term memory and formally learned, the information must be elaborated on through rehearsal to consolidate the new data.
Turple, C. (2016). Adapted from: Lutz, S. & Huitt, W. (2003).
We can then organize new information into existing knowledge sets (if information is similar to prior information) or create a completely new knowledge structure if the new information is unlike anything we have experienced before. Once information is stored in our long-term memory, we can later recall this knowledge back into our working memory to compare to incoming information or help elaborate on our knowledge experiences.
Many of these operations involve executive function to pay attention to new information, attend to rehearsal practices in the working memory and help consolidate information into our long-term memory. Unfortunately, new information can be lost at all stages of information processing.  If incoming stimulus is not paid attention to in our sensory memory, our brain does not notice the information. In our short-term memory, only a maximum of five stimulus can be used at once - if this information is not encoded within 15-30 seconds it will be lost altogether. In long-term memory retrieval, there are also chances of encoding failure during information consolidation if elaboration does not occur or the information cannot be properly organized in existing knowledge structures. Finally, information in long-term memory could be lost through a retrieval failure or “overridden” if new information contradicts something previously learned.
Watch my visual breakdown of the stages of the theory and applications to classroom practice:
When considering the stages of the Information Processing Theory, there are 5 easy steps teachers can take to support students in the acquisition of new information.
RECEPTION to ensure teachers gain students’ attention using an abrupt stimulus change to focus students’ sensory memory on the lesson. 
I like to use music or short video clips to gain students’ attention. Catchy songs such as this Information Literacy Song or the Literary Devices Rap work well.
RETRIEVAL educators should stimulate recall of prior learning and skills from students’ long-term memory into their working memory. 
I like to use kinesthetic warmups that gets the students moving around and talking to peers other than their elbow partner. Simple activities work great such as having the students move around the room and when the music stops (often I use the songs above), I yell out a number. Students must form a group with that many people and answer a question about the content from the previous lesson. Scholastics's Mind Up Curriculum books are full of such activities.
RECEIVE information transmitted by the teacher that should have distinctive features and suggest a meaningful organization of ideas for students. 
I started “branding” my lessons by using the same template and colour scheme for all lesson within a unit. For other skills such as the MYP Approaches to Learning, I always use the same cover slide. I have also started using less unconnected slides and utilising animations to put together the “pieces” of a slide. Finally, acronyms and step-by-step procedures have become the focus of my lessons. For example, when I was teaching my students about how to find reliable online sources, I began the lesson by playing the research song, played the kinesthetics warmup game, then introduce an acronym to help them remember the criteria for reliable websites:
RESPOND or experience the information for themselves to absorb knowledge into their preexisting knowledge sets by eliciting performance from students. 
Arguably the most important step in student learning! Students need to immediately do something with their new knowledge. When introducing the CRAP acronym for determining reliable resources, I had students decide whether example websites are reliable or not. One issue I often run into for this stage is running out of time when I have 30 minute class time blocks. What I have come to learn is it is better to break up the learning into smaller pieces where students have the opportunity to immediately respond to new knowledge, rather than using a whole block to introduce content and the following block as a work period. 
REINFORCE by providing ongoing feedback to students and especially give them additional performance opportunities to apply the feedback. 
Encouraging students to make mistakes and learn from those “failures” is key. I try to give as many opportunities for students to experiment with new ideas by offering several chances to practice new skills. I aim to give my students individual verbal feedback once a week and written feedback every other week. Since I utilise Google for Education Apps Suite in my teaching, this is often done through the comments function. I have learned to create one ongoing template my students work in throughout a unit so all of my comments and their work is in one place. This way, it is easy for both myself and students to see their ongoing progress.
Turple, C. (2016).
More than anything, learning about the Information Processing Theory reminded me of the importance of lesson warm-ups and "hooking" students into a learning activity. The theory also offers a simple explanation of how memory may work and is something I have even taught my students to make them more away of their own learning behaviours. 
Lutz, S., & Huitt, W. (2003). Information processing and memory: Theory and applications. Educational Psychology Interactive. Valdosta, GA: Valdosta State University. Retrieved from http://www.edpsycinteractive.org/papers/infoproc.pdf
Orey, M. (2002). Information Processing. In M. Orey (Ed.), Emerging perspectives on learning, teaching, and technology. Retrieved from http://projects.coe.uga.edu/epltt/index.php?title=Information_processing

Digital Literacy vs. Digital Fluency

The rapid emergence of modern technologies had drastically changed the way the world works and the way in which information and knowledge is acquired. The internet generation (net geners) have begun to absorb information in new ways and have a limited tolerance for absorbing information which they could easily find through a Google search. Growing up digital “has encouraged this generation to be active and demanding inquirers - not passive consumers of media created for a mass audience” (Tapscott, 2008, p.18). The development of of these skills has been a coping mechanism to handle the information overload in the digital age.

"If it were possible to define generally the mission of education, it could be said that its fundamental purpose is to ensure that all students benefit from learning in ways that allow them to participate fully in public, community, creative, and economic life” (New London Group, 2000).

Effectively preparing students to be successful in the twenty-first century involves a development of digital fluencies that go beyond just being able to use digital tools - they must become producers of content and be able to take advantage of peer-to-peer learning opportunities, have a changed attitude toward intellectual property, develop the skills valued in the modern workplace, and have a more empowered conception of citizenship. So what does it mean to be digitally fluent? There seems to be much discussion about digital literacy in schools today, but I don’t hear as much chatter about digital fluency. While literacy refers to knowing what tools to use and how to use them, to be considered fluent one must be able to reliably produce a desired outcome. Just like most students arrive knowing what a book or pencil is and have some idea how to use them, they still need guidance to become fluent with the tool.

Source: SociaLens Blog
An effective way to imagine the difference between literacy and fluency is to consider language. Developing fluency is like learning a foreign language: to be literate in that language means that you have learned some phrases and can share some basic ideas. However, to be fluent means the ability to create your own story and proficiently use the language in varying situations. Digitally fluent people are able create, re-mix, and share ideas through the use of technology. 
"The key idea is the ability to produce content rather than simply use technology" (Crockett, L., Jukes, I., & Churches, A. (2011).
It is important to remember that literacy occurs on a spectrum and students don't simply become fluent after a single lesson. It takes time, practice, and continuing feedback much like the acquisition of most other skill sets. The Global Digital Citizen Foundation divides digital fluency into five categories: Information, Solution, Creativity, Collaboration and Media. The organisation has developed a structured framework to model the critical skills that today's students require to become digitally fluent.
Source: Global Digital Citizen Foundation
Great - yet another set of criteria I must integrate into my teaching.  Teachers are already juggling an array of criteria that must be covered through their programs. I currently must satisfy the demands of the MYP concepts, objectives, ATL skills, a national curriculum and the ISTE Standards. The last thing I need is another set of criteria that must be infused into my program. However, what I like about The Global Digital Citizen Foundation is that the fluencies listed are easily integrated into already existing programs. Instead of restructuring my units, I simply reviewed my program with these standards in mind to see which areas I deficient in. There are many large and small scale educational activities which can be integrated into current teaching practices to promote technology competence and digital fluency. The following is a brief collection of classroom activities and technology tools I collected to encourage the acquisition of digital fluencies using the five categories identified by The Global Digital Citizen Foundation:
Curated alongside: Costello, J., Hamilton, D., Langford, C., Stigall, J. (2016)
References Briggs, C. (2012). The Difference Between Digital Literacy and Digital Fluency. Retrieved from http://www.socialens.com/blog/2011/02/05/the-difference-between-digital-literacy-and-digital-fluency Costello, J., Hamilton, D., Langford, C., Stigall, J. & Turple, C. (2016). Digital Fluency in the Classroom. Retrieved from http://digitalfluencyintheclassroom.weebly.com/toolbox.html Crockett, L., Jukes, I., & Churches, A. (2011). Literacy is not enough: 21st century fluencies for the digital age. Corwin Press.  Jukes, I. (2015). Global Digital Citizen Foundation. 21st Century Fluencies. Retrieved from https://globaldigitalcitizen.org/21st-century-fluencies New London Group (2000). A pedagogy of multiliteracies: Designing social futures in Literacy Learning and the Design of Social Futures, ed. Bill Cope and Mary Kalantzis. London: Routledge, p 9-38.