Believe it or not, the school year is already 25% complete and it is all going by way too quickly. My postings have been a bit more infrequent as the increasing demands on my duties at school have kept me from Teaching Tolkien, but the students and I continue to feel support from our international readers and were pleased to see we’ve recently picked up readers from countries such as Ghana, Estonia, Chile, and Romania, just to name a few.
I wanted to take some long overdue time this week to update our readers on the status of our former fellowship. Out of the 13 dwarves that began the journey with me last year to read both The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings in one school year, only five remain under my tutelage. Gloin is still at my school, however, her recent test scores indicated she no longer needed ESL services. Although I will miss her, I am always pleased when my students no longer need me. Siblings Nori and Bombur, Ori, and Oin all moved over the summer and now attend new schools. Bombur, Nori, and Ori have all stayed in touch and I am trying to somehow reach Oin. Much like the real fellowship felt, though we have all gone our separate ways; our journey will always keep us together. Dwalin, Kili, and Bilbo, are only down the road at middle school and have all stopped by to say hello. What remains of our “traveling party” are Fili, Balin, Bofur, Bifur, and Thorin. Technically, only Thorin and Fili continue to require language support, but I volunteered to work with the other 3 to facilitate their transition as they are mainstreamed back into the general education classroom.
They have all marked their calendars for December 14, as we plan to reunite for the US premier of The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug. We are all counting the days as we anticipate a joyous return to Middle-Earth. Though they are still very interested in Tolkien, my remaining five dwarves have become very interested in a new writer, Mark Twain.
Just as our journey through Middle-Earth last year was unplanned, I have always found the most meaningful lessons a teacher can provide to be the ones that are directed by the students themselves. By remaining open and receptive to their ever changing needs, the learning process is organic and meaningful to them.
Over the summer, my dear friend, mentor, and colleague Sarah Steadman (faculty member of the English Language Institute at George Mason University) traveled to Hannibal, Missouri, boyhood home of author Mark Twain. During her travels, she purchased two picture books for me to share with my students about Mark Twain: Bambino and Mr. Twain by P.I. Maltbie and River Boy: The Story of Mark Twain by Wiliam Anderson. After reading both of these stories to my students, they became very curious about Twain. They began asking questions about his famous protagonists Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn and before I knew it, I had promised them we would read both of those books this year. I’m a real push-over when it comes to books!
Not an expert on Twain either, I am letting my positive experiences last year with Teaching Tolkien guide my instruction and give me confidence to expose my students to even more great literature. They will never forget Tolkien, but much as their interest in Shakespeare prepared them for the challenging language of Middle-Earth; so has Tolkien prepared them for today, as they attempt to traverse through the vernacular of post-civil war middle America found in Tom Sawyer. While I have no immediate plans to start a new blog called Teaching Twain, I am open to seeing where Tom takes us. Their interest in Tolkien has not waned though as Thorin said today, “Are there any other Tolkien books we can read? How about The Silmarillion?” Guess I know how I’m spending this year’s PTA money!