From my new book (Home Study Projects)

My new book is now available on The full title is “Home Study Projects and New Ideas for English Language Arts”. This book is a compilation of much of the experimenting I did when I taught high school English. Fortunately there wasn’t much of a curriculum that I had to teach. As I thought back on my own schooling (grades one to twelve) it occurred to me that it did not help me to understand myself or the challenges that fell to me to deal with. This made me determined in my teaching to seek out learning activities that would help students to become aware of themselves and the problems that they had to deal with in their lives.

I found that this could be achieved in several ways: teaching them how to write a movie report on compelling movies such as Blackboard Jungle or The Breakfast Club; teaching them how to write a book report and movie report in tandem on inspiring works like Alex Haley’s Roots or Michael Moore’s Dude, Where’s my Country?; analyzing in class a few pages of Shakespeare about an adolescent in conflict with parents (Juliet and her father in Romeo and Juliet); showing students how to analyze a thought-provoking painting such as Norman Rockwell’s Girl with a Shiner. These are just a few of the activities covered in my book.

Chapter Six of “Home Study Projects” focuses on seven of Normal Rockwell’s paintings e.g. fighting at school (The girl with the shiner); the experience of leaping into the unknown when one leaves town to study in a distant college (Breaking Home Ties, 1954);  being in a family where there is religious dissent (Sunday Morning in America, 1954); being in a family where Mom is a Democrat and Dad a right wing Republican (Election Day, 1948), and so on.

In this chapter I explain the method that I developed for analyzing a painting. Once students learn the technique they can use this knowledge when they do a research project at home. (If they do a project on Van Gogh it could include a book report on a biography, a movie report on “Lust for Life” and an analysis of a few of his paintings. A large section of “Home Study Projects” explains how to write book reports, movie reports and song reports as well. If they do a report on Napoleon they could include one or two analyses of portraits of Napoleon, e.g. Napoleon crowning himself emperor in Notre Dame.

I think it is unlikely that your students will know how to analyze a painting so I recommend that you model an approach for them (You might want to use my own approach which you will find an example of below.) Once you model an analysis (or two) for your students they should be able to work on painting analyses at home. Another way to show them how to analyze a painting would be to invite a guest speaker in. I wonder if the art teacher at your school would be a good bet.

The Girl with the Shiner (see the photo at the top of your screen)


How much does the painting tell you about her? What does she seem to be feeling? What do her clothes reveal? What does the black eye reveal? What about her body? How many other details can you find that are revealing? What emotions does the girl seem to be feeling? What is going through her mind?


It seems to me that she is very happy, maybe pleased with herself is a better way of putting it. She has a black eye so she has received at least one good blow but the smile on her face is gleeful and self-satisfied. This suggests that she has given a good account of herself in the fight and knows that whoever she fought will think twice about tangling with her again. Her performance in the fight has confirmed that she is brave and will stick up for herself. That she is tough is attested to by her body, which isn’t really skinny; it’s wiry and wiry people are often surprisingly tough and strong. I imagine that she inflicted better blows than she received. She has a strange incongruous smile on her face. It looks a bit like she is winking at you.

Many details suggest a wildness about her: her hair is dishevelled; her shirt isn’t evenly tucked in and the sleeves seem to be rolled up (always ready for action); one shoelace is undone (maybe indicating that she is restless and doesn’t care much about appearances and the little details in life). The band-aid on the left knee probably has nothing to do with the fight she has been in; it is probably from one of the other scrapes which her proud, restless, energetic nature gets her involved in. Overall, she seems like the kind of person who likes to take risks and doesn’t mind danger. She is the very opposite of
the principal. What matters is to get as many ideas as you can from your students.
Doing this validates their perceptions and shows everyone the considerable power of their collective brain.

Move on to discuss the principal.

The Principal


(End of my quotation from chapter six of “HOME STUDY PROJECTS”)

Rockwell is a significant figure in American painting and I think it would be a shame to go through twelve years of public school and not be familiar with his work. Also, by learning  to appreciate some of Rockwell’s paintings students will get more out of the time they will spend travelling in Europe later in life. I was fortunate to spend my junior year in Florence and spent many hours in her churches and galleries. That proved to be an experience that enriched me throughout my life.

 In my next blog I will enclose a detailed table of contents for “Home Study Projects and New Ideas for English Language Arts” and you can get a good idea of the many ways in which my book looks at the problems of teenagers.  The great thing about these teaching projects and ideas is that by working on them young people grow in self-awareness and becomes better equipped to deal with issues in their life.

Try googling some of the Rockwell paintings that I list above. They really are very good.

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