Category Archives: Teaching/Tutoring

Making Maestre

Here is the slide presentation I gave with my partner this week at the Yale Institute of Sacred Music. It is based upon our primary research on the Elm City Girls’ Choir of New Haven. Photographs are my own; audio and video is not included here, but recordings of this group can be purchased through the United Choir School office. One hope I have is that the choir will continue to reach a wider audience despite the fact that the organization is unable to dedicate many funds to advertising concerts. The text that goes with the slide presentation will come along shortly.

Stacie Vos

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Chaucer’s Treatise on the Astrolabe

“I nam but a lewd compilatour of the labour of olde Astrologiens, and haue hit translated in myn englissh only for thi doctrine.”

(to his son “Lowys,” on why he wrote in English)



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Guest Post: “Dreams” by Langston Hughes

The following is a brief reflection from a student I recently worked with at the Mercy Learning Center in Bridgeport. She chose the following poem as her source:


by Langston Hughes
Hold fast to dreams 
For if dreams die
Life is a broken-winged bird
That cannot fly.

Hold fast to dreams
For when dreams go
Life is a barren field
Frozen with snow.
Kalala Mangabu
I just want to focus on the part “barren field frozen with snow.” First of all, dreams are like a mirror image of  their dreamer and are symbolic, they contain information about the unconscious mind. so when dreams die, it’s like there is nothing to life. I mean life becomes meaningless just like a barren field. What’s a field? A field is an open area, where you can plant something and expect it to grow. It’s always somewhere productive, and what happens if it becomes barren? It then becomes useless and loses its purpose.
Dreams in the author’s opinion, provide us with something to look out for and if one doesn’t hold fast to them, life will never reach its potential of becoming fruitful or turn into a beautiful thing just like a field. Its purpose is to be fruitful and produce something but when it is frozen with snow, it loses its value and purpose. I guess what the author is trying to say is that we are nothing without dreams and that is why he uses metaphors to show how serious his statement is.
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Lesson Archive IV: Shakespeare, Alliteration, 9th Grade

This is just a brief example of some of the work I was able to do with a ninth grade class at Longmeadow High School in Massachusetts. I called the warm-up exercises “Daily Fuel.”

Final Shakespeare Warm Up

featuring an image from  Heywood’s The Play Called the Four P’s:

Screen Shot 2013-07-03 at 7.46.25 PM

Lesson Archive III: Willy Loman and “Whipped” Cheese

One of my favorite high school lessons was on a strange moment in Death of a Salesman, when Willy admonishes his wife for offering him “whipped” cheese upon his return home from work. I used this detail as a way in to my unit on the play, especially as a way to model close reading, advertisement analysis, and understanding the historical background for the dramatic text.

Here are the materials I used, starting with the plan itself (Note that I did indeed bring artificial cheese in to the class):

Objective: Students will analyze the significance of the symbol of “whipped cheese,” relating it to the larger themes of technological development in post-war America.

Students will be able to define alienation and relate it to the symbolism used in the opening scene of Death of a Salesman.

Aim: Why does Willy say “How can they whip cheese?” What message can we draw out of this detail, both in the text and in our lives today?


Cheez whiz

Print outs of cheez whiz ad and tupperware ads

Technology time line/page on women’s work opportunities in 50’s (Both blocks (C has other homework but should read this as well – they have two days).

Handout (front and back) with quotes on cheez whiz (One easy, one hard)

Alienation poster


-As students work on warm up, circulate and mark in their HW assignments. (With Roster) – They should have annotations (10 pt.), chart and paragraph (15 points)

I. Warm up: read and respond to handout from The Observer. Write response in new notebooks.

II. Share responses and re-read the quote by Willy.

III. Ask students to share initial reactions to Willy thus far. What has he been complaining about? How do he and Linda interact? (Students should refer to HW for this). Ask students to notice the breaks in his speech…

What does Willy say about his son Biff? (Biff works on a farm…)

IV: Possible interpretations of the cheese comment and hist. Background: In the 50’s, women were largely expected to be homemakers first. However, there were technological advances that were presented as innovations for female homemakers, things that made their lives more enjoyable, freer.

-read handout on top of technology timeline

-Look at and discuss impressions of images

-Read closely the cheez whiz ad.

Note that one ad said “Cheez whiz changes everything” (making leftover broccoli appeal to the dad…)

(Insert another part for Block B: quotes from Biff and Happy about farm v. Workplace. Biff says “goddamit, I’m lonely” — business success and alienation)

IV. B – Define alienation.

V. Partner work: Read the paragraph from a critical essay on this play. The paragraph focuses on the cheese detail. What is the paragraph saying? You may want to use a dictionary to paraphrase this piece with your partner.

VI. Closing: in notebook, respond with your own opinion from today’s class. Go back and find one quote from the text (play, paragraph, or both) and explain why you think Miller included the detail of cheez whiz. What does it tell us about the society in which the Loman’s live, and Willy’s response to it?

Cheez whiz transcription cheez whiz ad

Cheez Whiz Quote to Analyze

Another Cheez Whiz Article

Lesson Archive II: Melville, Bartleby

I taught “Bartleby the Scrivener” to a group of 11th graders at Longmeadow High School in Massachusetts. I knew that many of them had jobs, but I didn’t expect that they would describe them with such enthusiasm in the writing exercises I designed to introduce this text. I remember in particular a very shy and quiet young man who wrote at great length how much he enjoyed working at Six Flags, how his co-workers and bosses were “cool.”

This unit came after a longer one on Death of a Salesman.

Here are some of the questions and conclusions I posed throughout the brief unit on the story:


“Bartleby:” handout I

Ask students to share their own experiences with the workplace. What things do they like/dislike about their jobs?

(Possible modern-day work settings to be used for the Wrap-Up/Homework include: the New York Stock Exchange, a doctor’s office, a lawyer’s office, a classroom, a diner, a radio station, a movie studio, a movie theater, a grocery store, a factory, headquarters of a major corporation, a museum, the White House, a taxi garage, a newspaper office, a publishing house, the cockpit of a plane, a circus, a telephone switchboard, a fire station, a police department, a laundromat, a car wash, a printing press, a forest ranger’s office, a farm, a zoo, a scientific laboratory, a hospital, a plant nursery, and a daycare center.)

Explain that we will be reading a short story this week that is set in a different time period from Death of a Salesman, but addresses some of the same issues, if very differently. One of the essential questions we will think about this week is

What is resistance? What means of resistance are most effective? What is worth resisting? What is the nature of work today?

More specifically, how is Bartleby a role model for many today? How do his words spread?

Looking ahead – we will watch most or all of the film in class later this week.

Evaluation / Assessment:
Students will be evaluated based on written journal entries, participation in class discussions, their modernizations of Melville’s passage, and annotations.

Guiding Questions

Bartleby” Handout II

A. Who is the narrator, and how does he speak?

How does he seem to feel about insolence?

B. Choose one copyist to describe in detail, explaining key lines (citing/quoting the text) about him.

C. Describe Bartleby’s working conditions. Where does he sit? Why does the boss have Bartleby sit where he does?

(Narrator is a safe man) –

(Turkey works hard in the morning but gets hasty in the afternoon. If we were to say he had a signature phrase, it would be “With submission, sir.”

-What does the narrator describe as his “arrangement” around Turkey and Nippers? (8)

-What do you make of the workers’ names being food-related?

III. Read pages 9-11 as a class, and annotate.

IV. Literature circles: assign groups and roles

V. When there is about 10-15 minutes left, turn students to the closing questions. We will share these at the end of class. I will also take any questions and ask students to share key lines from their groups. By Thursday, students should have completed the whole story (an additional 14 pages or so). We will then watch the film in class.


What do you make of the boss’s questions on the top of page 15? Why does he ask Bartleby if he “prefers not to” or if he “will not”? What is the distinction between the two?

Concluding points


1) This is a lesson about reading itself. Melville’s language is hard, and the message is not straightforward. Literary critic Barbara Johnson writes that reading is a “vertiginous” act. If you are truly reading and learning, you are necessarily uncomfortable. Another writer who teaches at the Yale Comparative Literature department tells her students that she writes her reading notes in pencil first, because she rarely understands what she reads the first time.

It is important to allow oneself to “not know,” or to be, as the definition of “vertiginous” states, unsettled and unsure. This means you have an open mind, that you are thinking. Those who always have to know or to be right will necessarily limit their own thinking and knowledge, as well as others’.

2) The work world requires that we fit into a mold – when we do not do this, we become useless and disposable, like the orange peel in Death of a Salesman. 

3) There is no real way to be an individual today – Melville describes Bartleby as being ghost-like, ethereal…

4) Even the “Boss” is unhappy under capitalism – but he wants the workers to pretend they are satisfied…

5) Words matter – Bartleby’s passive resistance through the use of the word “prefer,” his subtle critic is what works. In a way, this could be read as a general argument that subtle, artistic critique is more effective than direct political protest.

Lesson Archive I

Two lessons I wrote for a class at Smith, one of which I recently adapted for a group of women I taught in Bridgeport:

I. Kafka’s “The Country Doctor”

II. Paolo Freire and the Banking Concept of Education