Posted in Discussion, Lesson Ideas, Literary Analysis, Poetry

Then and Now: what poets can teach us

I asked the question: was there a scholar who wrote about the 1918 pandemic with wisdom and guidance? I am ashamed that I looked in the wrong place, and should have been looking for a poet.

Kyrie by Ellen Bryant Voigt

From Blackbird Archive, read the curated content:

Soon it was a farmer in the field—

someone’s brother, someone’s father—

left the mule in its traces and went home.

Then the mason, the miller at his wheel,

from deep in the forest the hunter, the logger,

and the sun still up everywhere in the kingdom.

     ―Ellen Bryant Voigt, Kyrie

It’s a hard thing to acknowledge, that the country’s current administration (executive branch) is killing us. This is not hyperbole. At every turn, the executive branch failed and exacerbated the crisis. We could be so much better. We could do so much better. My hope is hanging on by a thread. We need to fight this on so many fronts: the media must do better. We must rethink capitalism. We need to strengthen our communities and love for one another. I do not share Ms. O’Meara’s optimism at this writing, but you might:

In the Time of Pandemic

And the people stayed home.

And they read books, and listened, and rested, and exercised, and made art, and played games, and learned new ways of being, and were still.

And they listened more deeply. Some meditated, some prayed, some danced. 

Some met their shadows. And the people began to think differently.

And the people healed.

And, in the absence of people living in ignorant, dangerous, mindless, and heartless ways, the earth began to heal.

And when the danger passed, and the people joined together again, they grieved their losses, and made new choices, and dreamed new images, and created new ways to live and heal the earth fully, as they had been healed.

—Kitty O’Meara

Other resources and readings:

“Invisible Bullets”

9 Ways Schools Will Look Different When (And If) They Reopen

Posted in Art, Discussion

Art Decider.

Edit: Please read this first. Her work is powerful on this topic:

@ArtDecider is a sharp Twitter user who built their reputation on deciding what is art or not art on tweets. And I have yet to disagree with their decision. And wouldn’t life be simple if we could just look to one Twitter user to determine these things? Well, simple, but boring, and disengaging. Which is why I am grateful to Alison M. Collins @AliMCollins for her thoughts and bringing this to my attention:

Who’s Even Defending the George Washington High Murals At This Point?

The murals in question are the work of the Russian-born communist painter Victor Arnautoff. Arnautoff, who lived for a time in Mexico while working as an assistant to Diego Rivera, was one of the most prolific muralists of the Depression era. He is most famous for supervising the Coit Tower mural project that showed workers of all races being exploited by the capitalist class. For the George Washington High School murals, the leftist Arnautoff wanted to show Washington for who he really was; pushing back against what was then a silence on the founding father’s complicity in slavery and Native American genocide, Arnautoff painted the slaves who worked the fields at Washington’s Mt. Vernon home and one of Washington’s soldier’s standing on top of a dead Native American.
When they were unveiled in 1937, these murals were upheld by the left as radical examples of social justice through art. Concerned parties now see Arnautoff’s work as exploitative and traumatic for the school’s minority students who have to encounter these striking scenes on a daily basis.


My question is, art to whom? For what purpose and context?

Perhaps every student who walked through the doors of that high school needed a month-long study session of the history, context, and purpose of the art. Never make assumptions about what anyone knows or doesn’t know about historical context.

Important voices on culture, race, and art:

Should Blacks Collect Racist Memorabilia? by Henri Louis Gates, Jr.

When it comes to the question of whether collecting those racist images is right, I often encounter two strong and diametrically opposed reactions from African Americans. Some can’t seem to amass enough examples of these “collectibles” or “memorabilia” (as we euphemistically call these hideous images today). Others think the whole lot should be assembled into one gigantic bonfire, incinerated, and the ashes buried in an impenetrable vault, or strewn over the broadest reach of the deepest ocean never to be displayed again. It’s as if these artifacts’ complete and total obliteration could wipe the slate clean or erase the painful memory and palpably harmful effects of seeing ourselves reflected over and over through the murky mirror of the anti-black subconscious as deracinated, gluttonous, lascivious non-reflective sub-human beasts — thieves, rapists, liars — a species apart from all other human beings, dominated and ruled like other animals by our instincts and passions and not by our (sub-standard) brains.

It’s Time for the Art World to Look At Its Own Racism by Bidisha

It is not for white people to decide what is or is not racist and it is not for them to decide what we people of colour are called. I think statues, plaques and awards paying tribute to racist men should be removed, and in their place should be a little notice naming and shaming them, and naming their prejudice. I think original racist titles can be altered and an introductory essay, as so many “classic” works have, putting that original title and content in context, can be included. None of this is difficult to do or hard to swallow.

Art/art history is full of colonizers’ stories and narratives. And though my Bachelor of Fine Arts hearts seems to understand what Arnautoff attempted to portray, atrocities to his worldview as an artist, were never explained, or seen any differently by the hundreds of white students walking through this space. Washington’s slaves and the dead Indian–most likely met with a shrug, if there was any thought at all. And the indifference is no less racist than the recent news story about white men standing with shotguns besides a shot-up Emmett Till memorial. Arnautoff may have been trying to shock and paint truth, it was always about whitewashing for the white viewers.

As for the students, no surprise, they have a better grasp of things than their liberal minders. As one ninth-grader wrote, “The fresco shows us exactly how brutal colonization and genocide really were and are. The fresco is a warning and reminder of the fallibility of our hallowed leaders.’”
Note: I am adding this counter-argumentative essay if one wishes to use it as a close reading resource.

So when should art be painted over, removed, or destroyed? When does its removal cross the line from context to censorship? I don’t know except that it can never be a single decision or point, and that includes the singularity of the white community. Voices from other perspectives in the community must be given weighted consideration.

Examples, from the big public spaces to educational spaces:

  • Confederate statues of generals, military, etc. must be taken down. Its flag must not be flown.
  • School mascots should not be indigenous peoples or representative of human stereotypes/archetypes, or historical figures (I wouldn’t want to be on a football team that fights for George Washington)

Thinking about Arnautoff’s mentor, Diego Rivera, one can see the similarities of their works. But the impact is wide and deep.

My husband said, “Art is an opinion.” He also said it’s like the ice core testing in terms of testing the layers of our culture–it also shows whose in power, whose voices are heard and seen. We are getting someone’s opinion from that moment in time. Arnautoff seems to be saying American history is ugly, painful, and filled with people of color who were abused by the white colonists. And that makes it heartbreaking that we can’t at least save this artwork somewhere…but it can’t be moved. For students to say “meet you under the dead Indian” shows how his message became warped and complicit to indifference. As Ms. Collins said, ‘it normalizes violence.”

Considering other art that’s used in schools, what kinds of imagery do you bring to your classroom, and moreover, what context do you provide? This image is used by many teachers when “celebrating” Thanksgiving. I have used it as a launch point to talk about racism in art via composition. It’s not the only conversation, and plenty of context is provided. Lies in art, and mythologizing white colonialism, are addressed, as with any conversation about propaganda.

Art to look at now:

‘30 Americans’: Art Works to Confront Racism (the writer of this article no longer has a Twitter account: not sure why)

Art educators, take note:

Ultimately, it is up to the community. Something that began as ‘look at these atrocities’ ending up in a public high school warped into normalization and complicity. I’m going to have an internal dialogue about this for a long time, and any thoughts you have about this are welcome.

Posted in Being a better teacher, Best Practices, Big Questions, Connections, Critical Thinking, Discussion

Cake in the rain.


We all know this isn’t about cake.

I’m trying to sort this out for my own sake, and then for my students’.

Cornell Law Review Link.

Amendment I

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.

Here is a chart I put together. It’s only a start, and I’m wondering what is missing:

The different spaces and places for the First Amendment

Someone sent me a full list of people who were discriminated against because of religion.  And though he didn’t mean to, he proved my point. It’s discrimination. The shop owner of the bakery and the flower shop are discriminating.

Consider providing this question to students, with a chart similar to mine: how would they discern and analyze various laws and where and when they fail or work?

Posted in Big Questions, Discussion, Summer Series of Saves

Summer Series of Saves: Can we talk about this?

Trying something new: let me know if this works:


Lots of good stuff in here — keep scrolling!

Questioning and Discussion go together like:


Cult posted a comprehensive list of discussion ideas and asked for additions. As I scrambled through my Binder of Power, Volume III, Section 8.5, 2ii, ready to scan and share, this article in Medium popped up by Jon Westenberg, “Do you have a Protective mindset or a Proactive mindset?” 

Oh, no. It’s too early for this level of heavy-duty self-reflection. Oh. No. I could predict with sharp accuracy, which side of the line my mindset would sit: I mean, who has huge binders full of teaching ideas, ideas and handout from almost every PD session, curriculum maps created and abandoned, ledgers of standards and learning targets? This girl. And I would bet most teachers worth their salt do, too.

But what excellent timing: cleaning out my binders and virtual digital works is daunting. I’ve been on break for almost two weeks, and it’s one chore I have completed.

However– protective and proactive may not be a fair case when it comes to educational “wheels.” We are constantly told not to ‘recreate the wheel’ but I strongly encourage to make better wheels.

Taking the wheel cliche too far: we still need the wheels–how to make them better?

The Westenberg article made me think: what do students need to build strong foundations, and what can be trashed or treasured in this process?

One area the 8th grade PLC decided to focus on for next year, and I’m saving this so I won’t forget, are the ‘grand discussion’ techniques and tools.

Whole Class Discussion Types of Talkers Smartnotebook in a PDF form:

TownHall Meeting format (from Puget Sound Writing Project PD on ELA/SS)

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Discussion Checklist sheets:

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Substantive Partner Project Talk organizers:

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Writing Workshop Feedback forms

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And don’t forget, if you use an LMS like Canvas, to dive into the Discussion on line, and teach those protocols, too.

There’s more, but I’m going to go play now.


Here are a few snapshots from the binder:

Posted in Art, being a better colleague, Big Questions, Communication, Connections, Creativity, Discussion

Pathos, logos, and ethos take a holiday.

Pathos, Logos, and Ethos
Pathos, Logos, and Ethos

In addition to short films, commercials can be another valuable asset. Many commercials live on multiple places on Bloom’s Taxonomy, and certainly any argumentative reading and writing unit worth its salt contains at least one or two commercials to support a conversation about pathos, ethos, and logos.

I just found this site this morning. This first ad can bring up so many relatable conversation points. To quote John Spencer,

“What’s so odd is that people have been creating art, writing letters, and talking about their food for years. Museums are filled with foodies and selfie shots. We just call them “still lifes” and “self-portraits.” The whole, “don’t miss the moment” mindset fails to recognize that it’s a deeply human need to capture and create precisely because we don’t want to forget it.”

So perhaps a contrast discussion — show a selfie and a self portrait, and ask students to discuss the possible purposes of the artist, or artistic intent. A conversation about pace, too — the speed of creation and its perceived value (in the moment and over time). I can honestly say that my photo albums are my life. One project this summer is to scan everything and save it to multiple places. (But I still have time…right?!)


This is one of my all-time favorites:

And this:

And this is PG-13, but amazing:

And speaking to our hearts, to differences, and most of all our humanity, you may want to share these:


A word of caution: advertisements intended for European markets do not have the same ratings codes as in the States. Seriously — watch everything first if you think it looks like something you want to use in the classroom. 

Posted in being a better colleague, Being a better teacher, Best Practices, Communication, Discussion, Lesson Ideas

Talk Tuesday

The intent of “Talk Tuesdays” was twofold: to use the readings/texts in a purposeful way, and invite students to think about discussion, and practice.

Well, that is the intent, and we all know about roads paved, etc. But I think I became too distracted or mired in the concept of ‘accountable talk.’ I’m not sure if you know my connotative negative bias toward the word ‘accountable’ when it comes to students. Accountable talk is a buzzkill idea. There. I said it. However, sometimes students think it’s going to be a free-for-all talk fest, and, well, sometimes it is. And that’s okay. I would rather have things turn more raucous than censored.

But somehow, and I’m speaking purely for myself, putting the descriptor ‘accountable’ on anything makes it taste like educational cardboard. If we start thinking about what are real purpose is, what we want students to be engaged, and even enchanted by, is sharing ideas in a passionate, “oh oh oh!!” way–and it’s okay if not everyone is excited about every topic. I know I’m not, and that honesty with students helps them know that sometimes they are not as emotionally invested in a topic as others.

What Great Listeners Do by Jack Zenger and Joseph Folkman in the Harvard Business Review provides clear expectations that could be easily modeled and role-played in class. The TL:DR version is great listeners help build the spark of an idea. It’s not a ‘you have a problem and I’ll fix it’ but more like an engaging gear, making an idea move forward. (Spouses take note.) This article is going directly into my teaching strategies with writing workshop, too.

Key ingredients exist in any interesting conversation:

  • An emotional stake (personal connection and empathy)
  • Ambiguous, essential questions that have kaleidoscope viewpoints
  • Allowances to shift or pivot with new information (see my substantive form)
  • Metacognition: understanding one self in order to monitor and assess how important the topic or theme is to one personally; extrapolate to a larger scale

There are multiple pathways for discussion, too:

  • Socratic Seminars
  • Town Hall meetings
  • Turn and Talk
  • Writing Workshop (next post)
  • Think, Pair, Share
  • About a thousand others (dang my hyperbole!)

The trick is to make sure students are listening, and having a chance with their say. It can come in the form of real talk, or on a class discussion board, etc. Two strategies I use are what I call the “ambassador of the table” idea. Whether or not I choose or they choose, there is an ambassador from each group who shares out what the group has said. Also, if it’s a small partner group of 2 to 3, each person has to share what the other said, and it’s always paraphrased. The person who is not speaking can then agree or repudiate what their partner interpreted.

And please– don’t force introverts to talk in class. Find another way.

How to Listen Better

Five Ways to Listen Better

Here are a few resources I’ve created or collected along the way:

Town Hall Meeting Guidelines – provided by Doug Selwyn

Speaking and Listening CCSS 8th Grade with annotations

Substantive Student Talk Graphic Organizer — I created this to help guide discussions


What do you have to say about this?