The Evil Reading Check Quiz

Through the experience of some of the education courses I took in graduate school and then during my time teaching at St. John’s University, I accepted the idea that giving a reading quiz was the wrong pedagogical move. For the first time in thirteen years of teaching composition, I have a textbook for the course. I face a question a lot of we teachers face: How will I entice the students to read?
One way I try and get students to read is that I read out loud a part of the text that will be assigned for the next class with hopes this will spark some interest. If I can find the writer online saying something interesting, I show a bit of that to the class. One of the concepts in our textbook is that “texts are people talking.” In prep for reading Anne Lamott’s “Shitty First Drafts,” we watched her TED Talk. I also offer some focusing questions to give the students an idea about why I have assigned the reading. For example, we read Richard Straub’s piece about working in peer groups, and I pointed out Straub asks nine questions related to responding to others’ writing. I ask the students to try and remember two of those questions and apply what he says to what they might do when in a peer review group. Those focusing questions become the material for the reading quiz.
The quizzes are two or three questions. I am not trying to trick anyone with the questions. I have pretty much given the questions before the quiz. I hope the students will try and wrestle with the ideas in the piece. Because I believe writing is thinking and to be more literate is to be more powerful in the world, I don’t think I am wasting the students’ time with the assignments.
In grading the reading quizzes, I see some students still aren’t reading. Sometimes they apologize on the quiz for not reading, and I try to write something positive back to them. I wonder if those students not reading will start. I also learn that many of my students are reading and trying to apply the ideas in the text to their thoughts on writing.
There has been a really fun surprise in my giving of these quizzes. Because my questions require a couple sentences worth of a response, I am starting to feel like I am passing notes with my students about the subject of writing. What I’m doing reminds me a little of high school life in the 80s when classmates used to pass notes. When I respond to the students’ answers and write notes back to them, I see I am in about 90 different mini conversations with writing as the main topic. I thought responding to the quizzes was going to be something boring I did for the purpose of trying to get the students to read so that our time together in class was more interesting. It’s been a nice surprise that the pieces of paper the students and I are passing back and forth are feeling more like conversations about writing.

Thesis Statements in Stories

I had the choice of a couple of different textbooks to use for one of the college writing courses I am teaching. Today, I’m reading in it about narratives and how stories should have a thesis statement. While I do think sometimes I can point to a sentence in some of the stories I love that captures what the writer might have hoped to convey to readers, I can’t support the idea that a story needs a thesis and that’s something that can always be found in a story and marked.
I remember teaching freshman high school students in Charlotte when I thought I was ignorant because I couldn’t find all of the points in the story for a plot diagram. I had to start writing for myself before I realized that all the points on the diagram weren’t in all of the stories that were in our textbook. I hadn’t yet realized that the people who put together the textbooks and wrote the state tests didn’t really understand stories because they weren’t people who tried to write stories anymore.
I also doubt that all writers have a point or purpose to the stories they start. I have talked with a lot of writers who don’t start a story without knowing the theme of it and their reason for writing, but I have also talked to a lot of writers–and usually I’m in this camp–who discover why they are writing during the process of composition. The theme or purpose for the writing is fleshed out while writing.

Stone Mountain Loop Near Roaring Gap, NC

Torg hiking journal notes for Stone Mountain Loop Near Roaring Gap, North Carolina. There is a video at the bottom of the post. 

Sentence from A Falcon Guide’s Hiking North Carolina book:

“The premier hike here is the Stone Mountain Loop, a 4.5 mile circuit of the summit that takes in the top of the dome, a spectacular waterfall, and views of climbers scaling the rock face” (Johnson 153).

Stone Mountain from Hutchinson Settlement, Roaring Fork, North Carolina, Life in Boone

Stone Mountain from Hutchinson Settlement

Hikers: myself, wife and daughters Charlotte age 12 and Izzy age 10 and our dog Indy.

Stone Mountain from Hutchinson Settlement, Roaring Fork, North Carolina, Life in Boone

We parked at lower parking area.

Total Distance Hiked: Because of a mistake we made, 5.91 miles, 2 hrs 32 mins and 25 seconds of hiking time. With stopping at top of Stone Mountain and bottom of falls we were on the trail just over 3 hours.

Our directions from Boone are at the end of this post. We drove to Stone Mountain Park from Boone mostly traveling on 421. After our hike, we came home via the Blue Ridge Parkway. We loved the hike for the old homestead, the spectacular views from the top of Stone Mountain, and for playing in the water at the bottom of the falls.

Stone Mountain from Hutchinson Settlement, Roaring Fork, North Carolina, Life in Boone

There were several buildings at the homestead. If walking is a challenge for any reason, there is a special road that can be used to park right by here.

Highlights: homestead, interesting climb over stone using steps and cable hand rails to top of Stone Mountain, walk along falls, playing in pool at bottom of falls, and ice cream at the Stone Mountain Country Store on the way home.

Stone Mountain from Hutchinson Settlement, Roaring Fork, North Carolina, Life in Boone

Possible negatives: there were A LOT of steps and one really steep climb depending which way you go to the highlights: either up the side of Stone Mountain or up the falls. We had trouble in a couple of spots following the trail. There are a lot of other hikes and loops within the park. The trail was pretty crowded and with lots of steps, cables, and bridges, less wild than some hikers might like.

Stone Mountain from Hutchinson Settlement, Roaring Fork, North Carolina, Life in Boone

It was a tough climb to the top but even Isabel said the views were worth it.

We Torgs highly recommend this hike!

Stone Mountain from Hutchinson Settlement, Roaring Fork, North Carolina, Life in Boone

Pick your poison: up the steps to the mountain or these to the top of the falls.

We took the John P Frank Parkway into Stone Mountain Park. No charge to enter the park. Keep to the John P Frank Parkway. I saw two ways to do the loop hike. You can park at the Upper Parking area or the Lower. We drove through the upper parking area and weren’t sure what to do. It was very crowded. There was one group of kids–maybe a youth group?–that numbered probably nearly 40 people. It was a beautiful Saturday in August and the whole park was pretty crowded.

Stone Mountain from Hutchinson Settlement, Roaring Fork, North Carolina, Life in Boone

The girls and Indy the dog were glad for a chance to cool off at the bottom of the falls.

We parked at the lower area. Both parking areas are large with restrooms and water. We hiked up to the Hutchinson Homestead. This was a really neat area with quite a few old buildings that were furnished appropriate to time period. There was a large meadow and expansive views of Stone Mountain.

It wasn’t clear where we should go. There was a high school aged attendant at the house. She probably didn’t understand what we were trying to do–walk the whole loop–and she directed to a road that went right back to the parking area from where we’d come. We didn’t figure this out for a long time.

What we should have done was continue past the buildings, across a large meadow adjacent to where people were going straight for the mountain to climb, and do the loop that way. What we did was mostly backtrack on a road by the trail and walk just over an extra mile.

Stone Mountain from Hutchinson Settlement, Roaring Fork, North Carolina, Life in Boone

It took everything Charlotte had to finish this hike!

Our route from Boone, NC;

  • 421 toward Deep Gap and Wilkesboro
  • Left on 16 N Old North Carolina Highway (turn at Wilkesboro ABC store)
  • R after Millers Creek Elementary School on Pleasant Home Church Road
  • At T, left onto Mountain Valley Church Road
  • At T, right on Sparta Road.
  • After Cross Roads Primitive Baptist Church (We actually didn’t see this and I was luck to spot Yellow Banks) take a left on Yellow Banks Road
  • At the T, just after Viking Pump and Munch (didn’t see this either and as a Torgerson was looking forward to it), left onto Traphill Rd.
  • Over the Roaring River (wasn’t roaring)
  • After Billings Auto Sales, the Alleghany Spur Road, and Holbrook House, left on John P. Frank Pkwy.
  • Stone Mountain Country Store gets good reviews. It was busy and good!
Stone Mountain from Hutchinson Settlement, Roaring Fork, North Carolina, Life in Boone

Ice cream at the Stone Mountain Country Store gave us a boost!

Home on Parkway: The Blue Ridge is accessible via Traphill Road to the east and then a left on 21 North.

Lots to see heading back to Boone but we were too tired!


Profile Trail to Foscoe Overlook North Carolina

Torg hiking journal. Sunday, August 19, 2018

Hikers: Myself, wife Megan, daughter Charlotte (age 12) and Isabel (age 10), dog Indy

Parking: Profile Trail Parking Lot off of 105 between Boone and Banner Elk. Near the Pedalin’ Pig.

Profile Trail, Grandfather Mountain, Banner Elk, Foscoe, hike, Life in Boone

Profile Trail Parking off 105 Near Banner Elk

Distance and Time Hiked: 2.45 miles to Foscoe Overlook. Out and back took us 2 hrs, 18 mins, 49 seconds. We stopped to play in the water, take pictures of bugs, and rest.

Highlights:  Water crossings, large boulders, varied terrain of roots, stones, dirt path, wooden steps, great workout

Lowlights: very steep, under the trees and not much of a view at the Foscoe overlook, at least on this day

Profile Trail, Grandfather Mountain, Banner Elk, Foscoe, hike, Life in Boone, Kavu

My wife Megan and daughter Isabel show off new Kavu bags.

We’ve lived in Boone for two weeks and so as a family we know we have a ways to go when it comes to our stamina and leg strength. This hike presented quite a challenge.

We started the hike knowing that if we went the full distance to the Grandfather Trail and Calloway Gap that we’d have to turn back because of ladders that we couldn’t traverse. We have done that trail from the other side of the mountain inside Grandfather Mountain property. Note, there is a fee to hike inside Grandfather Mountain Property.

Profile Trail, Grandfather Mountain, Banner Elk, Foscoe, hike, Life in Boone

One of many water crossings on Profile Trail.

Parking area for the Profile Trail is new and large with nice restrooms. Before starting we filled out the form for registration and placed it in the box. The trail is well maintained.

The hike starts off going down for about a mile. There is a dirt trail, a bridge, and quite a few wooden or stone steps.

I estimate about a mile until the stream/river crossings begin. The water and big boulders were the highlight for us. Unless you’re planning on going all the way to the top, the largest of the boulders wouldn’t be a bad spot to turn around and head back to car.

Profile Trail, Grandfather Mountain, Banner Elk, Foscoe, hike, Life in Boone

The big rocks were a highlight.

The path winds and is interesting. There were four groups near us and waiting around near the Foscoe Overlook Sign. All were a little disappointed with that spot. It was a rainy and foggy day but there is a lot of tree cover here. I think if we could have slogged it out another mile, we would have loved the top.

We did meet a woman who lived in the area who said it was her favorite hike.


Torg Hiking Journal

John Updike’s story “A & P”: Journal Entry for July 5, 2018

John Updike’s story “A & P” is the first story I remember reading that seemed like I could have lived. It’s about a kid who works in a grocery store and three girls about his age come in wearing bathing suits. I worked in a grocery store as a teenager. It was a family owned store called Russell’s Old Trading Post, and one of the things I remember about that was almost no one my age ever came in to the store. In Updike’s story the manager tells the girls they aren’t dressed appropriately. The kid in the story tries to stand up for them, a chivalrous move probably intended to impress the girls. The girls don’t seem to notice the kid’s attempt. They leave. The kid gets fired.

John Updike A & P

Updike’s “A & P” appears in the collection Pigeon Feathers

Having read the C.S. Lewis Narnia series and a bunch of Louis L’Amour Westerns on my own and then stories like Beowulf and “The Monkey’s Paw” in school, those stories didn’t trigger anything inside me from the standpoint of thinking about the sort of story I might tell. Lewis caused me to check the inside of closets for secret passages and Star Wars prompted me to try and move objects in my room with the force. With Updike’s story “A & P,” there was just the start of looking at the world to see what stories could be told and for what reason.

7 min free write word count: 231

You can read Updike’s story by clicking here.