Monday, March 31, 2014

Harry Potter Jr. and Torok the Troll

A troll sits on a log, agog, in Harry Potter's attire.
Harry Potter, Jr., of Course!

Did you know Harry once saved his sister from an evil wizard-turned-troll named Torok who was holding her captive in a magical trance?

No, not that Harry. Harry Potter, Jr.

If you have been missing the witches, trolls, magic, and classic story of good versus evil, try taking an adventure with Harry Potter, Jr. by watching the 1986 family adventure, Troll, directed by John Carl Buechler.

The Original Harry Potter

In September of 2009, Buechler announced in an interview that he was planning to remake Troll, his 1986 film (Gilchrist, 2009). Curious about the correlation that might exist between the original, big brother Harry Potter, Jr. from the 1986 film and J.K. Rowling’s boy wizard, Harry Potter, I watched Troll with a critical eye, trying to imagine if or how Rowling had been, even unwittingly, inspired by this earlier story.

When Troll first came out, I did not see the film, and I had very low expectations up until the moment I pressed “play” on the DVD player. I was pleasantly surprised, however, and I found Troll charming, albeit eerie. Charmingly, for example, Harry Potter, Sr. dances to a punk-rock version of "Summertime Blues" while worried about his daughter’s odd behavior. Eerily, on the other hand, during a family dinner sequence, the shot transitions from the family to singing trolls, to a kindly witch and her magical mushroom, and back to the family dinner. Throughout, the puppet-prop trolls and the magic mushroom sing a choral called Cantos Profanae while yet another character recites Spenser’s "The Fairie Queene."

Harry Meets Harry

Yet, in spite of the obvious differences in storytelling (Rowling's Harry Potter doesn't have a sister he thinks is an alien pod from Mars, for instance), Troll’s Harry Potter, Jr. and Rowling’s Harry Potter share an archetypal similarity. As I watched this film I was reminded of the feelings I had when first reading, then watching, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone: feelings of discovery, innocence, and stubborn resolve.

Troll is the story of a boy named Harry Potter, Jr., a dark-haired boy with a sensitive and caring nature. A malevolent troll takes his sister captive and magically disguises himself as the girl. Harry, Jr. sees through the disguise, but he is reluctant to confide in his parents. He allies himself, instead, with a kindly neighbor, who happens to be a witch, and together they foil the troll’s plans of taking over the world by building an army of magical creatures spawned from unwitting neighbors.

Similarly, the Harry Potter books and films are the story of a boy named Harry Potter, a dark-haired boy with a sensitive and caring nature. A malevolent wizard kills his parents and then attempts to kill Harry, and at one point even takes his future-wife captive after magically controlling the girl. Harry, reluctant to confide in the adults who surround him, eventually allies himself with a kindly professor, who happens to be a wizard, and together they foil the evil wizard’s plans of taking over the world by building an army of magical creatures, including trolls, giants, gigantic spiders, dead bodies, and other witches and wizards.

Hero-Harry, A Familiar Motif

Although the stories differ radically in their lengths and breadths of expression, the motif of each story is familiar; a boy becomes a reluctant hero by demonstrating radical self-reliance and willpower in the face of seemingly insurmountable evil. No matter their differences, 1986’s Harry Potter, Jr. has at least that in common with Rowling’s unforgettable boy wizard, Harry Potter.


Gilchrist, T. (2009.) Creator plans a remake of the first Harry Potter movie: Troll. Retrieved from

Copyright Amy Lynn Hess. Contact the author to obtain permission for republication.  Originally published Sep 28, 2011.

Monday, March 24, 2014

Presenteeism and Sick Time Math

A doctor checks the health of a workplace while sick employees line up outside.
Which is More Costly?  Sickness Absenteeism or
Sickness Presenteeism?

The issues related to raising the minimum wage have been hotly debated in recent months.   Closely related to that hot-button topic is paid sick leave and presenteeism, and President Obama's proposal for a required 7 days of paid sick-leave for workers has taken the debate all the way to Congress.

Luckily, many of us already benefit from paid sick leave throughout the year;  however, many others do not.  An employer's refusal to pay for sick leave leaves an employee's coworkers at risk from contagious viruses and the company at risk from low morale and a lingering loss of productivity.

What follows is a simple example of how the math works, comparatively, when an employer pays sick leave and when an employer does not.  Please note that these numbers are neither arbitrary or made up: They are based on common sense (the flu lasts 3 days), countless conversations  and research about low morale (10 - 20% reduction in productivity when morale is low), and a review of the literature pertaining to the issue of sick leave (20% decrease in productivity when sick).

A Hypothetical, But Realistic Case Study: WidgetMakers

WidgetMakers is a company owned by Scroogie MacBottom.  Mr. MacBottom has 5 full-time, hourly employees.  He pays his employees $10.00 an hour, but he does not pay for sick leave.    

Happy and Healthy Employees

When MacBottom's employees are happy and healthy, they can each produce 10 widgets per day for a total of 250 widgets per week.  He sells those widgets for $50.00 each, leaving the company with a revenue of $12,500 per week. His weekly payroll, when everyone is happy and healthy, is $1750.

Four Sick and Sad Employees

When one of MacBottoms's employees is sick, say with a mild case of the flu, that flu will last about about 2 - 3 days.  That employee, perhaps because he is afraid of losing his job or because he needs the $70.00 per day just to make ends meet, will come to work all 3 days; it will last the full 3 days because the person is getting no extra rest.  That flu will spread to other employees.  They, too, will come to work.  All of them will work more slowly, spend more time in the bathroom, and spread even more germs.

There's no question about it: Sick employees do not demonstrate full productivity.  They lose about 20%, or 12 minutes per hour.  On top of that, however, they are resentful, and that resentment turns into low morale.  They know coming to work with the flu is not in the best interest of their own health, their co-workers' health, or the company, but they feel they have no choice but to be there - well, at least until they can jump ship and find another place to work, which generally occurs as soon as possible when morale is low and employees are highly dissatisfied. That turnover just adds to the problem . . . and potential costs.

Employees can lose up to another 20% productivity when morale is low.  Just because MacBottom has hired responsible people, however, his employees will only lose another 10% productivity, or 6 additional minutes per hour, because of their low morale.  All told, then, 4 of his employees get sick, each for 3 days, each at a loss of 30% productivity.  At the end of the week, MacBottom is 36 widgets short and only makes $10,700.  Payroll remain the same, $1750.

One Sick, Not So Sad, Employee

On the other hand, if MacBottom paid sick leave, that same employee would probably stay home, get lots of rest, and only be sick for 2 days.  He would not be resentful or demonstrate low morale.  He would not pass the flu to his co-workers.  

Because that person is home for 2 days, instead of sick at work for three days, the loss of widgets at the end of the week is only 20 widgets, not 36.  The weekly revenue is $11,500, $800 more than if the employee had come to work.  The $1750 payroll remains the same.

In Conclusion

Scroogie MacBottom has a real sickness at his company, WidgetMakers.  That sickness is called presenteeism, and he brought it on himself.  His employees, for one reason or another, feel they must come to work when ill.  The number one reason is that they need the money, followed closely by the fear of losing their jobs.  This, in turn, makes everyone sicker, reducing productivity by 10% - 30% at any given time; either from illness or low morale.  That loss of productivity, in the end, costs more than simply paying for sick leave.

There is, of course, a formula for when sick time becomes excessive, and employers can work out for themselves that number of days or hours for sick leave or personal time, as many already do.  There is not such an easy formula for low morale, though.  Not paying for sick time at all is a costly risk.

Want to read more about presenteeism?  Try

Irvine, A. (2011). Fit for Work? The Influence of Sick Pay and Job Flexibility on Sickness Absence and Implications for Presenteeism. Social Policy & Administration, 45(7), 752-769. doi:10.1111/j.1467-9515.2011.00795.x

Leslie, K. E. (2006, Dec 09). Dedicated or dangerous -- why do people come to work sick? McClatchy - Tribune Business News. Retrieved from

Noguchi, Y. (2014). Obama's Big Bid to Change Sick-Leave Laws May Hinge on Small Business.  Retrieved from

SG, Geuskens, G., Hooftman, W., Koppes, L., & SNJ. (2010). Productivity Loss at Work; Health-Related and Work-Related Factors. Journal Of Occupational Rehabilitation, 20(3), 331-339. doi:10.1007/s10926-009-9219-7

Want to share your own story?  Please feel free to leave a comment.

Copyright Amy Lynn Hess.  Please contact the author for permission to republish.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Lion Brand Yarn or "Eleggant" Ergonomic Crochet Hook Set

The wood and metal construction of the ergonomic crochet hook set, pictured here, makes it stable and durable.
Lion Brand Yarn's Ergonomic Crochet Hook Set
The Lion Brand Yarn Company was recently kind enough to send me, per my request, one of their Ergonomic Crochet Hook Sets for review.  

I had specifically requested this particular set because I was attracted by the promise of less pain in my hook hand while crocheting, and this egg-shaped wooden handle seemed more stable and durable than other, plastic handles I had seen and used in the past.

After using it for three different projects over the past several days, I must say that overall I am pleased with the ergonomic crochet hook set's performance.  

UPDATE: As of May 2018, I see this ergonomic crochet hook is no longer available from Lion Brand. However, I do see that it is available, but it is listed as an "Eleggant Hook" on Amazon.  Lacis is also selling a similar item as an egg-shaped wooden handle for Boye crochet hooks.

First Impressions

As you can see in the images, this particular ergonomic crochet hook set is a very attractive set, and it is also small enough to easily fit in a travelling bag or handbag. The handle, sans hook, measures 3 inches long by 1 3/8 inches across at its widest.  Relatively speaking, it looks very similar to an awl.
The Lion Brand Ergonomic Hook Set is pictured here with Lion Brand yarn, "Sock-Ease" in dye color "Root Beer."
Six Interchangeable Hooks
The set came with 6 interchangeable hooks: 1.25 mm, 1.75 mm, 2.25 mm, 3.5 mm, 5 mm, and 6 mm.  It also came with rubber "O" rings for setting the larger hooks into the chuck securely.  All came in a little plastic packaging case that can be reused for storage.

Wanting to test the different-sized hooks for all types of projects, I used the set with Lion Brand fingering yarn, pictured here, a Caron Super Soft yarn, and a Red Heart bulky yarn.  

Assets: Durable, Stable, and Reduces Hand Pain and Fatigue

In the past I have used an ergonomic handle set that came with two different plastic handles and several interchangeable hooks.  The problem with that set was that the hook shapes forced me to hold my hook in such a way as to feel unnatural. This did not happen with the small, wooden egg.  I could hold the hook in "butter knife" position just as easily as "pencil" position, the only difference being that I didn't have to hold as tightly, thereby reducing stress on my thumb and pinkie finger.  My muscles didn't seize up on me, in other words.  Success!

Pictured here are the interchangeable crochet hooks, rubber rings, and crochet handle.
All Metal Threaded Chuck

Furthermore, my previous, now donated, plastic ergonomic set was plastic - even the threads on the interchangeable hooks were plastic.  It was very difficult to get them to fit into the handles smoothly.  It took a few frustrating attempts every time.  However, this is no issue with the Lion Brand set.  The threaded parts are metal.  The chuck is textured and easy to turn. There are no threads on the interchangeable hooks, and the hooks never came loose while I was crocheting.  Yet, the hooks are very easy to swap out!  Hurray!

In short, the hook set delivered on its promise to reduce hand fatigue and pain, even when using fingering yarn and a 2.25 mm hook.

Drawbacks: Replacement Parts and Hook Design

Although I do recommend this product because it certainly delivers on its promise to reduce hand pain while crocheting, I did find two weaknesses.

First and foremost, I was a bit confused about who makes these hooks and how I can order replacement parts or hooks.  A small card that came with the set states that replacement rings and additional hooks are available at the Motion Magique Web site.  However, when I used that Web address, I was forwarded to a very unprofessional-looking site that announces the retirement of the previous maker.  I would urge the makers to revise the card that comes with the set, and the Web site, as soon as possible.

Pictured here are the tapered and pointed hook heads on the various sized hooks.
Tapered and Pointed Hook Heads

Secondly, I must admit I was disappointed in the hook style, especially of the larger hook sizes with the higher-ply yarns.  I have always preferred a flat  throat versus a tapered throat, and I have always preferred a rounded hook head versus a  pointy hook head.  I find that the pointy, tapered hooks are difficult to use with any speed because I'm constantly splitting my yarn when trying to pull back through loops.  To  make up for the change in the hook style, I found myself twisting my wrist a lot more than usual in my attempt to push and pull the point straight through the work instead of on an angle like I can do with my preferred hook style.  It will take some getting used to.

All in all, however, the weaknesses I've listed here are based on personal opinion, and in the end, the hook set did indeed do as it promises to do.   It does it in a lovely, wooden, egg-shaped style.  I think the set would make an excellent gift or addition to any hook collection.

Want to read more about crochet?

A Brief Introduction to Crochet Hooks
Making Crochet Sushi Toys
Crochet Christmas Tree Ornaments
Discounted Online Crochet Course Link!  - Crochet for Stress Relief with Patternless Projects

Copyright Amy Lynn Hess.  Please contact the author for permission to republish.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Sentence Diagramming for Haptic Learners

A construction worker wheels new bits and pieces of language and diagrams to the work area.
Constructing a "Hands-on" Lesson
According to The Institute for Learning Styles Research, haptic learning "refers to the sense of touch or grasp."  The Institute also offers examples of the traits of haptic learners, such as "Likes a 'hands-on' approach to learning," "Likes to piece things together," and "Is successful with tasks requiring manipulation."

Mostly, it sounds like this type of learner would love art classes, shop classes, home economics, and science labs.  But wait!  Don't count out English and Language Arts for these learners just yet!

With a little art and crafting, sentence diagramming can be a method of language study that, once shaped into lessons, will be engaging for haptic learners.

Planning a "Hands-on" Lesson

The most important idea to remember when gathering materials for teaching sentence diagramming to haptic learners is to make the learning tactile and to find a way to let the students use their hands.  This is more than writing on the board or completing exercises in a notebook or on a computer; it requires the students to "piece things together." What we can do as teachers, then, is to decide what we want the students to learn, then provide either the pieces, or the pieces to make the pieces.

Creative Sentence Diagramming Options

During short lessons, you can provide pieces of diagrams and vocabulary for students to use to create three dimensional diagrams.  For a longer lesson, students could create their own pieces.

For example, in a small space or setting, you could use "Magnetic Poetry" words and magnetic strips on a magnetic white board to create diagrams.  In that case, you could use a set of "Magnetic Poetry" (in your choice of languages), or you could make your own by purchasing magnets and magnetic materials from a craft store.  If the lesson objective is to teach sentence patterns or the parts of a sentence, create "subject," "predicate," "modifier," "phrase," "clause," "complement," and "object."  If the lesson focuses on the parts of speech, create several of those pieces, instead.

Another way to create your diagramming pieces is to use felt and sandpaper.  Felt will stick to sandpaper, so you can cut your long, rectangular shapes for diagramming, pin or glue a variety of words to rectangular shapes, and have students make or create original or given sentence diagrams.

Other materials could include natural items, like sticks or twigs, or malleable materials, like sand, modeling clay, or pipe cleaners.  No matter what you choose to use, be sure to practice a few times on your own to be sure you don't leave out any important supplies (like having a vacuum cleaner on hand if you decide to use sand).


When it comes time to assess student work, the assessment is immediate, as is review and correction when necessary.  Because the work students are completing is in an impermanent state, be prepared to watch the students as they work, checking in with them frequently to get an idea of the success of the lesson.  Assessment results can be documented as the students work, photographed, or more traditional forms of assessment can be used later in the unit.

Want to learn more about diagramming sentences?  
Sentence Diagramming: Diagramming Appositives
Diagramming Sentences for Visual and Kinesthetic Learners
Compound, Complex, and Compound-Complex Sentences

For an in-depth study of sentence diagramming, refer to my text, Diagramming Sentences: A Playful Way to Analyze Everyday Language, or my online course, Sentence Diagramming; From Beginner to Expert in 12 Lessons.  If you want to take my online course, use the coupon code link "Blog" to receive $15.00 off the regular price!

Copyright Amy Lynn Hess.  Please contact the author for permission to republish.

Monday, March 3, 2014

The Benefit of "Play" in the Composition Classroom

A giant hamburger leads sleepwalking students off the edge of a cliff.
That Third Grade Graphic Organizer is Leading Students Astray!

When students stop writing, they stop learning how to write. Students oftentimes stop writing because they are not learning anything new. Make it new!

The most effective way for any student to learn to write is for that student to practice writing. As faculty, we must find ways to inspire and encourage both writing and learning.

The Failure to Learn to Write is the Failure to Write

One reason students fail to learn to write in the college composition classroom is that oftentimes they are not “learning,” in the truest sense, but merely reviewing methods, formulas and structures they have been taught in the past. One ramification of that review process is that students do not become engaged with the assignments or the lecture material, and therefore they either do not complete writing assignments, or they take shortcuts and skip steps in the writing process. They stop writing effectively, writing instead to merely fill in the five-paragraph essay model. Uninspired, they stop thinking about their writing. Eventually, they stop writing.  When they stop writing, they stop learning. They stop writing because they are not learning.

It’s a vicious cycle.

Writing Creatively Addresses the Failure to Write

To address this problem, faculty can present ideas about writing that are new to composition students: writing that goes beyond the basic five paragraph essay. Granted, students must know the rules before they can break them. However, at some point, they should not only be allowed, but encouraged to explore methods outside and beyond the five paragraph essay format they have been taught since grade school.

In order to prevent a stagnation of writing in college composition classes, faculty must open the door for students to play with language and ideas just as students play with these ideas in creative writing workshops.

Franz Andres Morrissey, an English professor at the University of Berne, states in an article published in Teaching English that although creative writing is playful writing, it is also “rigorous work with language” (2002). Yet, as “rigorous” as it may be, the sense of play that accompanies creative writing instills in the student an innate desire to write.

Proven Results when Students Write Creatively

Although the idea of teaching concepts related to creative writing in the composition classroom may send up red flags for those unaccustomed to what creative writing entails, it is an idea that’s been tested and proven effective.

Danita Feinberg studied the effects of using creative writing lessons in one of her composition courses.  She wrote an article detailing the results of her study entitled How Creative Writing and Composition Pedagogical Approaches Can Benefit A Writing Classroom: The Ethnographical Study of an Upper-Level Expository Writing Class. In this report she mentions giving students “room to ‘play’ with their writing” as a way to help the students come to conclusions about their audience’s needs (2006). “I would give them room to 'play' with their writing,” she says, “to take it in different directions without form, before offering different types of genres in which they could decide to ultimately shape their writing, based on what an audience would need and expect” (para. 7).

Allowing the students to play with language while, in Morrissey's words, “rigorously working with language,” paid off. She proudly reports seeing her students smile while working and is even prouder to quote positive reviews of her class by her students.  In short, the students enjoyed the process and were more encouraged to practice writing. . . 

thereby breaking the vicious cycle.

In summary, the most effective way for any student to learn to write is for that student to practice writing. This means, however, that faculty must teach beyond the basic five-paragraph essay. Students must be encouraged to play with language, test the limits of their writing ability, and remain active and engaged in their composition class. The results of such teaching strategies. combining elements of creative writing with composition, have proven effective.


  • Feinberg, D. (2006). How creative writing and composition pedagogical approaches can benefit a writing classroom. Writing Macao, 4, Retrieved August 24, 2011, from
  • Morrissey, F. A. (2002, November 25). Write on! Creative writing as language practice. Teaching English, Retrieved August 25, 2011 from

Want to read more about pedagogy or playful classroom activities?  Try
Sentence Diagramming for Visual and Kinesthetic Learning
Motivate the WIIFM Student with a Learning Audit Assignment
Paranormal Reality Television: A Lesson in Critical Thinking
A Playful Lesson for the Composition Classroom

Copyright Amy Lynn Hess. Contact the author to obtain permission for republication.  Originally published Aug 25, 2011.