Category Archives: Essays/Readings

This category describes readings of any kind for either teachers or students.

Cultural Literacy: Franz Kafka

Last fall, while unpacking some boxes of books for my classroom library, I learned with considerable pleasure that Peter Kuper has rendered Franz Kafka’s novella The Metamorphosis as a graphic novel. Personally, I like what Mr. Kuper has done with that staple of Mad Magazine, Antonio Prohias’s Cold War allegory as comic strip, “Spy vs. Spy.” Mr. Prohias was a hard act to follow, and Mr. Kuper has done so respectably, indeed even admirably. Professionally, that the students I teach–who have neither particular nor general interest in reading for pleasure–all read The Metamorphosis amazed me. Needless to say, I recommend this book for your classroom.

To complement The Metamorphosis, should you come by a copy, here is a Cultural Literacy worksheet on Franz Kafka.

If you find typos in this document, I would appreciate a notification. And, as always, if you find this material useful in your practice, I would be grateful to hear what you think of it. I seek your peer review.


“A figure of speech which designates something by the name of something associated with it: the Crown substituting for monarchy, the stage for the theater, No. 10 Downing Street for the British Prime Minister, the White House for the US president. A word used metonymically (crown, as above) is a metonym. Metonymy is closely related to and sometimes hard to distinguish from metaphor. It has sometimes been seen as a kind of synecdoche and sometimes as containing synecdoche. Both metaphor and metonymy express association, metaphor through comparison, metonymy through contiguity and possession. Many standard items of vocabulary are metonymic. A red-letter day is important, like the feast days marked in red on church calendars. The work redcap (a porter) originally referred to a piece of red flannel tied for visibility around the caps of baggage carriers at New York’s Grand Central Station. On the level of slang, a redneck is a stereotypical member of the white rural working class in the Southern US, originally a reference to necks sunburned from working in the fields.”

Excerpted from: McArthur, Tom. The Oxford Concise Companion to the English Language. New York: Oxford University Press, 2005.


While it is far from a light topic of discussion, I nonetheless suspect that more than one teacher or guidance counselor will find a use for this reading on anorexia and the vocabulary-building and comprehension worksheet that accompanies it.

If you find typos in these documents, I would appreciate a notification. And, as always, if you find this material useful in your practice, I would be grateful to hear what you think of it. I seek your peer review.


Edward Abbey

“(1927-1989) American novelist and essayist. Abbey is best known for his celebration of southwest Utah’s slickrock country. One of the more overtly political modern American nature writers, he advocated for the preservation of the wilderness and was a tireless critic of the forces which, in his view, desecrated it. In Desert Solitaire (1968), a nonfiction account of summers spent as a ranger in Arches National Monument, Abbey portrays a starkly beautiful desert landscape that is threatened by so-called “industrial tourism.” The Monkey-Wrench Gang (1975), a novel about a merry band of eco-terrorists, was taken up by the environmental group Earth First!. Novels like The Brave Cowboy (1956) and Fire on the Mountain (1962), further explore the fate of strong-willed individuals confronting the technocratic forces of industry and government.”

Excerpted from: Murphy, Bruce, ed. Benet’s Reader’s Encyclopedia, Fourth Edition. New York: Harper Collins, 1996


“The mathematical sages of India conceived of this concept, and started on the path of the creation of zero back in the ninth century BC. The root of the word is in the Sanskrit Shoonya, meaning ‘it is a void’, which got passed on to the Arabs, who knew the symbol as ‘Safira.’

The Western world came to the concept extraordinarily late, when Venetian merchants stumbled across it and brought it back to their homeland, where it was known as ‘zefiro‘–later corrupted to ‘zero.’ The concept gradually spread through Europe, reading such far-flung outposts as the British Isles in the late sixteenth century.”

Excerpted from: Rogerson, Barnaby. Rogerson’s Book of Numbers: The Culture of Numbers–from 1,001 Nights to the Seven Wonders of the World. New York: Picador, 2013.

Term of Art: Explicit Grammar Instruction

“Instruction in the descriptive terminology and and prescriptive rules of a given language, including syntax and the function of different parts of speech.”

Excerpted from: Ravitch, Diane. EdSpeak: A Glossary of Education Terms, Phrases, Buzzwords, and Jargon. Alexandria, VA: ASCD, 2007.

Paying Attention and Cognitive Accounting

“Indeed, our inability to simultaneously think deeply about something and listen fully to someone talk is illustrative of the limitations of our attentional systems. If attention is something which truly must be ‘paid,’ then let’s examine what cognitive ‘accounting’ looks like. In this case, we need to note that the total amount of attention that we can devote is limited and largely fixed. Thus if we choose to devote the bulk of our attention to one task, there is very little ‘left over’ for other tasks.

Capacity theories (e.g., Kahneman) often use the analogy of attention as a pie (rather than as a bank account with fixed limits and a strict overdraft policy). Because both internal and external stimuli compete for the same attentional pie, if one piece gets larger (e.g. worries about an ongoing snowstorm outside), there is less ‘pie’ to divide among whatever else requires attention (e.g. the lively party discourse).

Though a number of brain regions are involved in attention, two that are central to attention are the prefrontal cortex and the anterior cingulate cortex (Sturm & Willmes, 2001). These areas help to plan our actions, including upon what and where we will focus our attention at a given moment. Both of these regions have been implicated in decision making and planning (e.g. what to wear to a party in two weeks) in general (Cohen, Botvinick, & Carter, 2000), suggesting the similarities involved in deciding where to consciously direct attention and how to direct one’s life in the long term.

These two regions also ‘mature’ more slowly than other brain regions and have not reached full potential even in late adolescence (Eshel, Nelson, Blair, Pine, & Emst, 2007). Thus challenges with getting teenagers (or younger children) to focus on or think about the long-term ramifications of their actions likely stem from the same developmental ‘lag’ in brain maturation. In contrast, areas responsible for directing attention to external stimuli (e.g. a loud ‘bang’ that grabs our attention), such as the pulvinar nucleus of the thalamus and the superior colliculus (Posner, Cohen, & Rafal, 1982), reach adult levels of functionality relatively early in development (Johnson, 2002).

Though the overall amount of attention that is available at any one time is limited, the demands upon attention, those slices of our attentional pie, are not all the same size nor do they remain the same size. Many factors influence the size of the slices (i.e. demands), including cue salience, motivation, emotions, and practice. When we consciously decide to focus our attention on a given task, we increase the size of that slice relative to the other demands that could be processed, which leaves less total attention for other demands.”

Excerpted from: Rekart, Jerome L. The Cognitive Classroom: Using Brain and Cognitive Science to Optimize Student Success. New York: Rowman & Littlefield Education, 2013.