Posted in Mythology, Units of Study, Writing

Move heaven and earth…

What feeds your soul?

If I didn’t know about The Odyssey…or ancient storytelling, what would my relationship with incredible texts be with N.K. Jemison, Junot Diaz, Adrianne Huron, Neil Gaiman, Naomi Alderman, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Colson Whitehead…and on and on. Writers from a variety of backgrounds, ethnicities, and experiences, all weaving grand stories…if I didn’t have exposure to canon, would the texts and discussions be as rich?

The Battle of the Canon by Amber Counts from Three Teachers Talk created a little bristle in me at first, but then reading further I understand her opinion. Student choice is valuable.

My students regularly start with more contemporary books like The Help or The Road and then choose, for various reasons, to explore books from the canon. Often, they have built confidence due to the work we do together in class with shorter texts and from their own choice reading, and they feel comfortable taking on a challenge. Sometimes, they decide that they want to read books they’ve always heard about. I currently have students who have chosen to read Wuthering HeightsOliver Twist, and Les Miserables on their own. When we have book talks and the students begin speaking with excitement about the books they’re reading, you better believe that others will want to read these books, too. I’ve seen it happen for several years in a row; students read more canonical texts due to choice than they ever would if the books were strictly assigned.

(And I hope she really doesn’t believe ‘rigor’ means ‘old.’ Perhaps I am overly sensitive to ageism.)

But here is Helen Mirren, bringing Stephen Colbert to tears, reading Tennyson’s ‘Ulysses.’

Why is there a battle at all? How would I frame this in the similar situation and privilege of teaching AP students? I am not sure. Until I am teaching ELA again do I put these ideas away like wooly sweaters when spring arrives? So perhaps it comes down to this: forcing students to read without purpose or relevancy because it’s always ‘been done this way’ is the most surefire way to demotivate anyone. Encouraging my students here, now, no matter the subject, that ‘it’s okay to be smart’ may be the best way to launch them. Every day my message is: it’s okay to be curious, it’s wonderful to be curious– it makes life AMAZING to be curious!

Since I am not that familiar with Tennyson’s work I looked up the poem, and listened again, sparked by what brought Colbert to tears.

I get it now.,%20Lord%20Tennyson%20-%20The%20Poetry%20Foundation.pdf


Posted in Being a better teacher, Big Questions

Bluebird of happiness

I ordered this five minutes ago, (because it’s payday, and these things must wait for paydays) and even indulgently asked for free same-day shipping. I am so grateful for Three Teachers Talk for promoting Newkirk’s new book.

My great and burning question may be answered by this text: How do we help students look past their peers’ acceptance and gain self-respect and confidence? 

After I receive the book, I’ll follow up on my tweet: the ideas he put forth are the ultimate playlist of pedagogy –putting these concepts into practice will be the trick.

Looking for theme teaching ideas? Check out this great post by Gwen Flaskamp: she provides the step by step path using the greats: Notice and Note, Book Love, and Falling in Love with Close Reading.

Posted in being a better colleague, Being a better teacher

the perils of control


My head hurt all weekend since an odd idea came to me late last week. Did you ever get an off-hand comment that seemed vaguely critical and out of context the only explanation could be it was growing in the background for a long time? Writing is processing, and thinking about how to frame bizarre moments on this rainy Sunday afternoon solved the pain.

The best thing about my PLN is that we all understand that sharing, curating, and responding are part of the culture of being a creative collaborator. There are no egos, no “stay in your lane’s” or titles and job descriptions that prevent us from sharing our ideas and resources freely and kindly. From Notice and Note Facebook page and other groups that share ideas and insights I have made new friends. And–never doubt it that it’s a small educational world after all. A good friend and former colleague who moved back to Florida last year is friends with a teacher who’s become a good professional friend via these channels. You just never know.

But what I do know is good work is good work: the younger teachers I work with, even though I’m not officially in the ELA group/department anymore (insert long trombone sound here) they continue to work with me, and we seek out ideas and resources. Which is why I was perplexed last week. What is expected from a staff in terms of sharing? What if a teacher decides she is not going to share her resources? What if, like I am simply because I’ve been in my building so long, should not be the Keeper of Continuity and Nooks and Crannies Resources? For one thing, that title doesn’t fit on a business card. Quite impractical.

One of the…trends?…I’m hearing and seeing is this idea that more seasoned teachers aren’t supposed to share their expertise. It’s curious and confusing. We, teachers, are constantly asked to wash and rinse a laundry basket full of mixed messages:

  • Share your resources and time!
  • Take on a student teacher!
  • Mentor younger teachers!
  • It’s not your job anymore, so don’t share!
  • Keep your advice to yourself!
  • You’re (fill in the blank: overwhelming, emotional, fractured, walking wounded)
  • Too many emails
  • Not enough emails
  • Too passive
  • Too aggressive
  • If you send it, no one will read it
  • More training
  • Less training
  • Walk on eggshells
  • Stand up to bullies
  • Let her do it
  • Open your classroom door!
  • Keep your door shut!
  • Don’t smile!
  • Welcome them!
  • Open your heart!
  • You’re bleeding on the carpet!
  • You do it.
  • Stop doing that.
  • Can you?
  • Will you?
  • Just….

How do we shut out the static and tune in to what’s essential? How do we enjoy our days at our jobs? Our professional, heavily invested-in, challenging, humanly flawed jobs?

Yes. Shut the door. Temporarily at least. And just listen to students. Whatever the grown-ups are saying or thinking doesn’t matter too much on the periphery. When we work together instead of working outside-in to inside-out, perhaps some authentic professional relationships will grow.

Read Stuff Students Say by Alice T. Rust.

Follow Jackie Gerstein and feel her joy in her teaching.

Follow John Spencer and see how a creative fellow nerd brings passion and respect to new and seasoned teachers alike.

Follow Three Teachers Talk and Sarah Donovan/Ethical ELA.

Thank goodness there are folks in my real and virtual worlds who do appreciate what I offer and encourage and support me. It is through that love, and it is love and not control, that sustains us all.

PS This is the best advice of all:


Posted in Being a better teacher, Connections, Creativity, Critical Thinking, Design Thinking

beautiful framing…

Amy Rasmussen wrote a piece for Three Teachers Talk:

What if We Teach as if Teaching is a Story?

And this–

Last week I attended a professional development meeting with George Couros, author of the Innovator’s Mindset. I jotted tons of Couros’ quotes in my notebook, all important to the kind of teacher I keep striving to become:

“How do you cultivate questions of curiosity and not compliance?”

“Data driven is the stupidest term in education.”

“Your childhood is not their childhood. Nostalgia is what gets us stuck.”

“Relationships matter! Nobody in this room is as interesting as YouTube. If you are all about the content, you are already irrelevant.”

“You need to make the positives so loud that the negatives are hard to hear.”

“Would you want to spend the whole day learning in your own classroom?”

“Every day is where your legacy is created.”

Once I got over my fleeting envy at her having the opportunity to hear George Couros speak, the overwhelming sense of luck and joy that someone captured these thoughts and framed them in a way that speaks to me, and encourage me to be better–forgive myself of missteps and be better. Every day.

The only one I may disagree with is the nostalgia piece. It requires more nuance. A few years ago students started a Flashback Friday, where they asked me questions about my child-teenage hood, and I answered as honestly as possible. Agreeably, getting bogged down in nostalgia isn’t healthy for anyone. I’ve often said nostalgia is a heckuva drug. It’s the Mirror of Erised. But a relevant story in the context of a teachable moment is not the same as nostalgia. Just yesterday I explained why there are the terms “cc” and “bcc” on emails.

And yes, I do try to make my classroom one I want to be in. I heard the phrase ‘dogfooding” years ago, and took it to heart: basically, eat your own product. Yesterday I was frustrated with one class because they could not stop side talking. I told them what they were learning (about Outlook email–poor little future borgs, as my cohort member from WABS/STEM, told me) wasn’t the most exciting, but they had to listen and follow along step by step. That may be the hardest thing about computer instruction, and I’ve been very honest with them. Everyone in that class is all over the map, and sometimes we just have to keep in step.

Today I’ll take with me these words, and try to do better. And laugh to myself about the data-driven line.

Follow George Couros @gcouros

Follow Three Teachers Talk @3TeachersTalk

PS Newkirk is AWESOME.

Posted in Being a better teacher, Connections, Creativity, Language News, Lesson Ideas, Literary Analysis, Workshop


Ah, all of this:



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Response to Literature

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Posted in Being a better teacher, Lesson Ideas, Summer Series of Saves

Saving the Slipping Summer: First Days

Three Teachers Talk just posted the superlative just-in-time idea. Go through the post which wanders and meanders through their thinking process which all of us teachers are going through now: just what would be the best, most important, bang-for-the buck first days lessons, and get to their landing place: User Manuels. 

Our Day One Writing: Personal User Manuals

This is really a great idea: it’s a personality/reading/writing inventory as well as deeply personal and engaging. I have the composition notebooks, I have the pencils. Now all I need are some students. But this is my last week of summer break, and I’m not quite ready yet. Maybe I should create my own “Mrs. Love’s User Manuel” first.

Posted in Being a better teacher

Love for all.

We’re on SnowDay 3: our district may have been overly cautious for today because the roads are fine. No matter, today it’s time for some titanic-sized focus, clearing and cleaning up, and I’m all for it. Started posting on the Poetry Club site for students, and next, thinking about how to confer with all students on what they need most: feedback.

Once again, Three Teachers Talk come up with a comprehensive list of how to give feedback in a timely and accurate way. The value of using Canvas cannot be overstated. Being able to communicate with each student with feedback makes this important practice easier and in real-time. One drawback is, however, that big, visible space that students are doing things–if evaluators can’t see it, they often don’t recognize or realize, or even respect, that it is happening.

Just things I’m thinking about today…so I don’t think about other things. 

Posted in Being a better teacher

The longview.

Dangit, accidentally turned on my alarm this morning. I was in the middle of a deep, twisted dream, probably a result of too much homemade corn chowder and Series of Unfortunate Events before I fell asleep. It had a very vampire-steampunk-elitist quality to it.

Reading Three Teachers Talk, “10 Things We Did that Invited Initiative and Growth” I felt I could have written this article. Many of the things they mentioned were things I’ve tried to bring to my students this year, too, such as reading at the beginning of class, etc.

Here is their post with my annotations and thoughts:

We read at the beginning of class every day (almost — we had about six days throughout the semester when something somehow got in the way of that, i.e., fire drills, assemblies, wonky bell schedules, my car dying on the way to school).

We started reading at the beginning of class, too, and that routine has been compromised. A few students have asked if we’re bringing it back. I’m expected to “do” something with this–use it as a chance to teach a reading skill, etc. I’ll bring it back when the new semester starts. Right now we’re reading Part-Time Indian, and we should go slower and dig deeper with that focus for now.

We talked about books A LOT. Book talks, reading challenges, reading goals, tweeting book selfies, and more.

I’ve done the “Books I’m Thankful For” book share project every November but this one. Again, not sure what happened. Many cooks in the kitchen, perhaps? This is something that requires my flexibility and bring back anytime. This summer I bought one of those little Polaroid cameras that takes tiny Polaroids, so perhaps it’s time to get that off the shelf.

We wrote about our books enough to practice writing about our books. Theme statements, mirroring sentences, analyzing characters and conflict and plot — just enough to keep our minds learning and practicing the art of noticing an author’s craft.

We’ve been focused on Claim, Evidence, and Reasoning paragraphs on varying texts, but I gave students a month off because they’re writing them in all their other content areas, and they’re sick of them. I don’t want any skill to be warped into something that creates resentment opposed to efficacy, etc. 

We wrote about topics we care about. With the exception of the first essay students wrote, which was all the junior English teachers committed to as a pre-assessment, students chose their own topics or wrote their own prompts. Donald Murray in Learning by Teaching says the hardest part of writing is deciding on what to write about, yet we so often take that hard thinking from our writers. The worst essays my students wrote was the only one in which I gave a prompt, and before you think it’s just because that was their first essay, nope, I asked them. They just didn’t care — and that is the worst way to start off the year in a writing class.

We haven’t been writing as much as we normally do. I keep harping on myself “normally by now…we would be….” and I need to stop. Writing teaches everything else, which is why it’s so important. We’ll get there, though. Maybe I’ll just do something simple like on Wednesdays start off with a choice of two prompts and go from there. 

Let me take a moment and mourn great projects that didn’t materialize this year: the Fear Unit normally produces great writing–we were focused on theme–the Drabble-A-Day produces great shared writing — we had multiple days of testing, interruptions, etc. –so February — will try to get to the gods/goddess Valentine’s prompt….or how to convince someone to fall in love with you (thank you, Sharon) –

We read mentor texts and learned comprehension skills and studied author’s craft. I chose highly engaging texts about current events in our society:  police shootings and being shot, taking a knee during the national anthem, race relations, our prison system, immigration issues — all topics that make us ask as many questions as the writers answer. Inquiry lived in our discussions.

We read Snowy Woods and walked through mood and imagery together, and I’m proud of that shared reading experience. I am proud of the mentor text lesson, but it was only one. Not nearly enough.

I’m sensing a theme here: No time. No time. No time.

We talked one-on-one about our reading and our writing. I conferred more than I have in the past, taking notes so I wouldn’t forget as students told me about their reading lives and their writing woes. We spoke to one another as readers and writers. We grew to like each other as individuals with a variety of interests, backgrounds, ideas, and dreams.

We shared a bit of ourselves — mostly in our writing — than we ever thought we would. Abusive mothers, alcoholic fathers, hurtful and harrowing pasts and how we grow up out of them. We talked about respect within families and how we can hurt the people we love the best when we ignore their love because it’s masked in fear and strict parenting.

This is just beginning: this will continue throughout the rest of the year. Part-Time Indian is a great place to begin to share personal stories.

We celebrated our writing by sharing what we wrote, by performing spoken word poems, reading our narratives, or reading our quickwrites. We left feedback on sticky notes and flooded our writers.

We’ve been through one gallery walk and wow’s and wonders–we’ll get there.

We grew in confidence and that showed in our work. I held students accountable with high expectations — and lots of mercy. Most rose to the challenge, even those in their first AP class and those far behind who needed to catch up. Most exceeded their own expectations.

Not there yet.

We joined communities of readers and writers on social media, building a positive digital footprint that shows we are scholars, students who care about their literacy and want to go to college. We wrote 140 character book reviews and explored Goodreads and shared covers of the books we were reading. #IMWAYR #readersunite #FridayREADS #FarmersREAD

Again, not there yet.

What have we been doing?

  1. Some shared readings
  2. Question Formulation technique
  3. CERs (Claim, evidence, and reasoning) structure
  4. Friday Five vocabulary
  5. Shared discussions with short films
  6. Started ‘project Tuesdays’ this month — will reflect on that at the end of January.
  7. Promised them February would include Box of Destiny
  8. Am working with a colleague’s idea about zombies…