Posted in #ProjectLit, Anti-racist work, Being a better teacher, Big Questions, Curriculum Ideas, ELA, Exploration, Lesson Ideas

The Words of Warcraft

Over the decade of playing World of Warcraft ™ I’ve run across a few allusions to other works in literature, music, and the arts. For fun (!) I thought I’d do some research into how many allusions appear in Azeroth.

Just the other day, I came across this:


There are also numerous puns:

Get it?

And while there are many literary references in Wow, 10 AWESOME BOOK REFERENCES IN WORLD OF WARCRAFT the pop culture ones are as valuable and endearing: List of Pop Culture References in WoW.

Winne the Pooh reference in Stormsong Valley

In a region called Bastion, which is full of angels and paragons, (it’s a little creepy, quite frankly), one of the NPC dialogues is “clear skies, full hearts, can’t lose” which I immediately recognized as a Friday Night Lights line, though I haven’t seen a single episode. I’m not a football person. How did I know it was from that show? Because popular culture exacts a toll. One of my colleagues used it on T-shirts or something for students. We know things in the moment because it’s collectively shared or shoved. I think of the groundlings in Shakespeare’s audience chatting around the village wells sharing one-liners and bawdy jokes from the plays. It was entertainment. And I realized most stories and series I watch are based on Bible stories. No one can convince me that Better Call Saul isn’t grounded in Cain and Abel. And I’m not even a Christian church person.

And I need to think more about this. Recently, #DisruptTexts was attacked. That aggression will not stand, man. I’m thinking of the disingenuous argument that people won’t know where ideas, references or allusions come from unless we muddle through language that’s over 500 years old. Yes, novels that continue to be taught do provide a cultural reference point. But whose culture? What reference point? Yeah, you know who. Allow me some time to ponder this, and work with some amazing women I know.

Posted in #Deconstruct, #ProjectLit, Anti-racist work, Being a better teacher, Best Practices, Culturally Relevant Teaching, Curriculum Ideas, History, Lesson Ideas, Life after school


How Moderate Teachers Perpetuate Educational Oppression

This is one of the most critical think pieces on education I’ve read in a long time, published in Medium by Lisa Kelly.

A moderate teacher often uses the rhetoric of maintaining high standards without interrogating themselves —holding students to high standards of what? As my comrade G.T. Reyes wrote, “Educators …if you’re still asking about how to “hold students accountable,” I would suggest you first ask yourself — accountable to what? This might sound crazy to some of you, but maybe you are wanting students to be accountable to learn their place within white supremacist, capitalist schooling.” Many credentialing programs teach that it is racist to expect that black and brown children are less capable than white children, which is absolutely true. However, this doesn’t mean that the solution is to expect any student to reproduce capitalism or whiteness.

From school uniforms to accountability, how white teachers continue to uphold white supremacy and colonialism comes in wave after wave. During this time of emergency remote learning and teaching, the number of teachers who are aghast at students turning in blank documents (they did this before, by the way), terrified of students cheating, not being accountable, on and on and on…ladies: you are exhausting. And students continue to act like, well, students. The cat and mouse game of “gotcha” is part of the teacher-student dynamic: but does it have to be?

The first answer that comes to my mind would be — schooling that is centered on relationships. Not relationships that are about getting kids to like you enough to want to produce for you. But relationships built on understanding the unique humanity and the community that each child brings to education.

Every year, sometimes at several check points, I give students surveys to express and provide confidential opinions on my teaching, what they liked, what they wish would change, etc. And overarching themes emerge: they want to wear what they want, and learn about things that will empower them in the moment, in an unknown future, and that feel relevant and worth their time. (Gee, almost like this generation understands existential crisis or something.)

As I continue to grow as an educator, I am mindful that I will always need to push against racist ideas and bias. I am fortunate to have a spot on the Wednesday webinars with Jason Reynolds and Ibram X. Kendi on their collaborative book, Stamped. I am going to ask my admin if we can use this as a book study for next year: if not the entire staff, then perhaps my immediate ELA colleagues would be interested.The essential piece of all this is as we’re reimagining schools, beware of who’s trying to hold teachers “accountable” and who is building authentic relationships. Those people service in complicity to hold teachers and students accountable, too. Look for those who include teachers’ and students’ voices, who have experience in making those connections. We cannot underestimate the danger we’re in right now. And personally I am struggling to hold onto hope. As the person said in Samantha Bee’s video, I now consider myself to be, as Meehan Crist quotes, an “Undefeated Despair.”

Keep focused: what brings us to teaching, what brings children to learning, and what are the most critical things to teach? That’s it. I am thinking about entire semester of simply reading critically for argument and bias, and how to have fluency and accuracy in detecting bias and agendas. Looking forward to digging into this resource, too:

PS Something that popped up from the past — it’s a charter school, but am wondering–you know–

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 #Deconstruct, book recommendations, Books, Connections, Curriculum Ideas, Equity & Cultural Competency, Lesson Ideas, Summer Series of Saves

The Patron Saints of Nothing

I remember how during sophomore year, my English class read Night by Elie Wiesel while we learned about the Holocaust in World History. After we finished the book, we read the author’s Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speech. I don’t remember the exact words, but I remember how he said something about how if people don’t speak out when something wrong is happening—wherever in the world—they’re helping whoever is committing that wrong by allowing it to happen. Our class discussed the idea, and almost everyone agreed with it, even me. At least, we said we did. Never mind the fact we all knew most of us didn’t even say shit when we saw someone slap the books out of a kid’s hands in the hallway. In fact, the most outspoken supporter of the idea during the discussion was a kid who did that kind of dumb stuff all the time and thought it was hilarious.

Patron Saints of Nothing by Randy Ribay

One of the countries I know little about is the Philippines, and I’m ashamed of this. The only thing I was aware of is the death toll from Duterte’s dictatorship, a man our current “president” admires. Well, makes sense: both are vile, sexual predators with a knack for domestic terrorism. My former student teacher, L, family is from the Philippines, as are over a hundred thousand in Washington State, and during the election year her fears for her family for supporting Tr*** were well founded. In other words: there are a lot of parallels.

But we all know these aren’t abstract headlines: the terror they inflict and promote affects our students’ lives in concrete and harmful ways. However, I am not a spoiler: so no more plot points, or character analysis. I will leave you to enjoy this masterful novel. What I will do, though, is gather and curate some of the other art and poetry mentioned in the novel, so if you decide to add this to your classroom library, these resources will be available:


The Spoilarium by Juan Luna, 1884, National Museum of Fine Arts, Manila

National Museum:

Books and Poetry:

A Litany for Survival by Audre Lourde

For those of us who live at the shoreline
standing upon the constant edges of decision
crucial and alone
for those of us who cannot indulge
the passing dreams of choice
who love in doorways coming and going
in the hours between dawns
looking inward and outward
at once before and after
seeking a now that can breed
like bread in our children’s mouths
so their dreams will not reflect
the death of ours;

News Stories: (graphic imagery)

Posted in History, Lesson Ideas

Backyard Civil War

In 2015, one of the best years of my teaching career, I taught 7th-grade Humanities in a tech academy setting. Part of the joy was the freedom to create curriculum. (Once in a while there is someone who thinks a teacher-created curriculum is a threat to western civilization, but those voices usually belong to those who don’t understand agency, autonomy, and professionalism.) Sitting down with a partner, myself, or a PLC we strive for engagement, purpose, and relevancy. The rigor is embedded in the engagement, and engagement doesn’t always look like what is on the evaluation check-boxes. Teacher-created curriculum is rigorous, meet standards, and is not a ‘free for all’ with loose morals and questionable, dubious pedagogy.

And though I may not necessarily be the best at holding my tongue, and I’m over exuberant and think everyone wants to be my friend, and sometimes days go sideways, I am pretty darn good at this, creating curriculum.

But my scholars are not the lottery-chosen selected students of four years ago. They’ve been through a few years of mandated curriculum that lacks representation and includes a workbook of worksheets for the work that is not working. Many still struggle with the basics: writing a cohesive paragraph, writing a short narrative, and most tragically, reading with engagement. They look at my stacks of #projectlit books and no matter what I’ve done, if they didn’t come to my class seeing themselves as a reader I failed at convincing them they are. (This failure is gnawing at me, but that’s a reflection for another time.) I have one scholar whose mother told me their house is full of books, they read constantly, and this girl has read almost every one of my #projectlit books. But she came from other schools/states and never experienced the soul-crushing death march through an EL workbook.

The Plan:

The new bulletin board is my road map for what we’re going to deeply cover. The aggregate of my history teaching philosophy is “then and now” and Zinn Education resources as well as Facing History provide ample discussion and texts.

1. Share the work of Henry Louis Gates, Jr. on the Reconstruction.

2. Focus on Frederick Douglass and his work.

3. How the Civil War affects us today (which I typed up after scholars did the work – see #8)

4. What can we do (a short list)

5. “32” curated facts and resources document (work in progress) Google doc link here. Scholars share and participate in finding resources – some we share together and others they find on their own.

6. Enduring Understandings: Civil War – a war between citizens of the same country 1861-1865: The Civil War (United States) continues to be of the most impactful events of our nation. Some of the notes on the anchor chart are captured questions from students and me.

7. Big Facts

8. Sticky note responses from scholars on how the Civil War affects us today.

But before we get to the Civil War: Studying 19th Century Societal Reformers…

We watch this Crash Course video, took Cornell Notes, and then created our own “21st Century” utopias. Students are still working on them, but the process is to combine the tenants of civilization along with our current state of technology and hopes.

Guess what? Yup – when students discussed their utopias they quickly dissolved into dystopias. But all in all, their Utopia projects are pretty cool:

Fantastic Artwork by SW

The African American Odyssey: A Quest for Full Citizenship
Abolition, Anti-Slavery Movements, and the Rise of the Sectional Controversy

Video resources:

This is one of the most important pieces to show and discuss.

I know the Ken Burns seminal work on the Civil War is amazing, but it can be a bit…boring. This is a fairly comprehensive list of resources, and my goal as their history teacher is not to overwhelm, but to allow time to process, internalize, and recognize when and how oppression occurs now so they can be guarded, skeptical, knowledgeable, informed and VOTE.

Articles for now: Poll taxes, voter suppression,

This is a work in progress: still collecting and curating resources for my scholars, and seeking their guidance, too, as they make connections.

And for that man who still has the Confederate Flag on the back of his pick-up truck: I see you. You’re on the wrong side of history. Again.

Posted in Argumentative Reading and Writing, Big Questions, Critical Thinking, Curriculum Ideas, Lesson Ideas, Uncategorized

Summer Series of Saves: Discuss, please

Twitter, well, Twitter is a lot of things but it does provide some great discussion/debate threads if you’re patient to find the gems.

Here are five threads that gave me some ideas for discussion questions:

What causes poverty: moral failures or society’s failures? (*remember, in strong argumentative reasoning there is always the third rail)

Why don’t more girls sign up for computer or technology classes? 

Is talking and learning about controversial topics more or less important than not causing conflict in school?

What is going on here?

Is it possible to stop gun violence?


Posted in Genre Studies, Lesson Ideas

Summer Series of Saves: Genre

My sweet friend posts the cutest things on social media (in contrast to my doom-and-gloom handwringing posts). This is such a great idea of how to explain genre to students–yes, the lyrics are a little spicey but rest assured I always get parent permission for my 8th-grade students.

This would be such a fun engaging activity: give student groups songs and randomize styles of music. Play examples of different musical genres and have students identify key characteristics.

I’m curious as to what some of your favorite genres might be, too:

[socialpoll id=”2512344″]


Posted in Lesson Ideas, Summer Series of Saves, Wish I Had Written That, Writing

Summer Series of Saves: Disrupt the Essay, Continued. (IV)

Three examples of how an essay structure can be dismantled and put back together:

I. Chuck Wendig retells The Three Little Pigs: #literaryanalysis essay:

Chuck uses the medium of Twitter to take on a writing challenge and analyzing The Three Little Pigs and how it relates to capitalism.

II. This is America, Childish Gambino, Donald Glover – from Genius

Think how we co-construct meaning and share insight into art and music. Quotes and sections of these insights provide help and mentor texts for students.

III. The Face in the Waves 

This is how a story can be told with imagery, compassion, and share the voices of those affected by tragedy and loss.

Work in progress:


Posted in Being a better teacher, Best Practices, Big Questions, Lesson Ideas, Writing

Summer Series of Saves: Dismantling the Essay (III)

My goal this summer includes curating a new concept of what an essay is and can be. 

I sent my request out to the good educators on Twitter, tagging @ncte and @writingproject, and received a few ideas. Some switched up the medium, such as “do a video essay” and that’s partly what I was looking for, but not quite. I’m looking for essays that don’t feel like the rigid essays of “school” — one of the most unnatural forms of structured writing.

This post doesn’t have answers yet, or the curated list. It’s a start, a placeholder for the process. My goal is to encourage and foster true excitement about what essay writing is, and reading of essays. Though I have bristled over the structured, formulaic writing of essays it’s a love of reading essays that motivates me. I don’t want students to hate writing. None of us do. So why do we keep ignoring all the rich content and mentor texts that are shared? Not a single writer uses the five-paragraph structure. I can understand its use as a foundation, but we need to have some hard conversations about when to take the scaffold away.