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.

https://genius.com/Childish-gambino-this-is-america-lyrics#

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.

https://mrskellylove.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/07/face-in-the-waves.mov

Work in progress:

 

Posted in being a better colleague, Being a better teacher, Best Practices, Big Questions, Wish I Had Written That

Dowry.

Back in April 2015, Love, Teach wrote a blog post that has been widely circulated, What I Wish I Could Tell Them About Teaching in a Title I School, and it is solidly one of those I wish I had written.

My district is in flux now, and I don’t know what exactly is going to happen next. I am learning that in times of chaos babies do, indeed, get thrown out with the bath water. (Forgive me, Sharon.) I’m resigned to whatever happens as long as I can keep teaching. I have invested in myself on behalf of my students, and I want to keep a positive net balance.

So when I move ahead, sideways, or upwards, what will I bring with me?

  • A robust classroom library I’ve spent years curating and refining.
  • A process of planning instruction that meets the needs of the students with forethought and deep reflection, in the moment, and processed over time
  • Binders full of lessons, units of study, scope/sequence curriculum maps
  • Technology skills galore
  • Ability to connect with students and parents
  • A love of working with teams of teachers to collaborate
  • A strong mentoring background to help new teachers
  • Deep devotion to teaching writing and helping students find their paths
  • Strong and innate desire to support the administration and colleagues
  • A supportive PLN across the country, and world
  • A sense of humor

And I’m also taking and knowing everything Love, Teach wrote, too.

As well as cups full of pencils.

I belonged in my building when I belonged: there is no gauzy film of nostalgia over my years in my first teaching job: it was and continues to be hard. Now, perhaps I don’t belong or am included. And that’s okay. I’m not going through the growing pains many newcomers experience in a tough school such as mine. When I was a new mother, I didn’t want the advice from older women, I just wanted them to tell me I was doing a great job.

And even though the difficulties and challenges, however, have shifted, the students still need the same from me: someone who knows them and cares about them and likes them enough to set high expectations grounded with deep empathy.

How do I know I’m helping? When a student asks me three tough questions about police violence and #BLM for her passion project. When a student is having a bad day and then brings me a flower the next day because I was kind. When I tell a student that dangerous behavior is first my problem, and he says, “too bad for you,” and then I tell him, well, now you know, so it’s your responsibility now….he got it. It’s not all on my shoulders, and that’s heaven: when colleagues I know and trust share the support and love for our students, I know we’re doing it right.

I still have a lot to learn, as do we all.

Why Took Much Experience Can Backfire by Francesco Gino, in Scientific American:

By contrast, when we’re reminded that the more we know, the more there is to learn, experience opens our minds to the fact that there are multiple ways to approach the same decision or task—even those that start to feel monotonous over time.

Consider views that do not align your own:

As Porter has found in her research, it’s an important realization: Higher levels of intellectual humility are associated with a greater willingness to consider views that don’t align with our own. People who have higher intellectual humility also perform better in school and at work. When added experience is accompanied by awareness that we have more to learn, we are more apt to see that the world keeps on changing—and that we’ll have to change along with it to thrive.

 

Posted in Being a better teacher, Big Questions, Wish I Had Written That

Cereal and roses.

It’s been a long time since I posted a “Wish I Had Written That” post, but this one came along at a perfect moment. This week is our spring break, and while my current professional life is a bit surreal, breaks are breaks, and I want to focus my energies on productive acts and thoughts.
Before the break, I asked for one more observation. My evaluator wrote in her scripts that one student sat in the back, disengaged from the class. Until we meet at our post-observation conference, I can’t tell her the student’s whole story–that she posted on the class blog her own, well-written Humans of Mill Creek story, and although she’s often withdrawn she does great work and we have a strong relationship. I went over to her to check to see if she was all right, and she assured me she was, so I let her be.
The next day, she quietly hands me this flower. No drama or presentation.
Genuinely, I have no answers to these questions: what do people not understand about high poverty schools? What do they assume? What is the guiding principle all leaders of a building adhere to in order to support teachers, students, and parents of a high needs school?
Children from underserved backgrounds are some of the kindest, funniest, most interesting students a teacher will ever work with. Despite odds being stacked against them, there is often a spirit of hope in children that does not seem to match the horrific conditions that may physically surround them in and out of school.
As a teacher, I have relished in academic successes, inside jokes, and laughter with these students, even as the challenges seem insurmountable at times.
Every teacher at some point must question her place in a building. I don’t really want to leave my school. What I want is for my relationships with the adults in the building, to be just that– adult, mature, professional relationships. No cliques. No personality grudges. Our school doesn’t need heroes, empire builders, saviors, martyrs or drama queens. No passive aggressive, gaslighting or undermining. It needs equitable leadership, shared, inclusive vision building, and peace ambassadors. My colleagues are capable of this level of expertise and dialogue.
However, the more I learn about the systemic conditions that have created and continue to sustain rampant poverty and racism in America, the more it seems absurd to expect my students to bring their best everyday with NO EXCUSES and then solely blame them if they do not always succeed. Books such as “American Apartheid” by Douglas Massey, “The Color of Law” by Richard Rothstein, “New Jim Crow” by Michelle Alexander, and “Origins of the Urban Crisis” by Tom Sugrue told me about how Blacks and Whites were deliberately separated from one another in America in the post-Civil War era, with a set of laws and public institutions that intentionally made it more difficult for Black people and poor White people to succeed in America. Regardless of any recent progress achieved, the bitter truth is that 21% of all children in America grow up in poverty today. We know that the effects of poverty on children are absolutely crippling.
Our building understands this, and the administrator and staff do their utmost to serve our population. What I am wondering, however, is does the blame shift to the teachers when the students require extra support? When Rita Pierson gave her famous Every Kid Needs A Champion TedTalk, we all believe that we are that champion: what we didn’t agree on was that students can have more than one. In fact, the more the culture of school shifts to shared service and support, everyone benefits.
Of course, as a teacher, I must put aside the problems of the world each day in order to bring out the best in young people and create an effective learning environment in my reality, no matter what that reality gives me.
But as the words of Jonathan Kozol invite us to ask, why should that reality for teachers and students in Detroit and America be so bleak?
Yet, as a teacher, I cannot help but be inspired by the outliers, the success stories, the majority of students who make my life whole with their kindness, humor, and hard work. I work tirelessly to improve the outcomes of my students, no matter what their backgrounds and circumstances are. In the classroom, I am no cynic- I inspire and I encourage students to achieve as best I know how. Still, as a “woke” teacher, I will always have the dilemma of how to reconcile the cruel world with my warm classroom.
What I have settled on is:
1) Listen to the stories of my students and always have empathy for them.
2)  Show students where they can have control in their lives that can lead to positive changes and successes.
3) Resist oppressive teaching practices that perpetuate the school-to-prison-pipeline.
4) Actively participate in the political change that I seek; ally with other teachers to fight for what we deserve (see Oklahoma and West Virginia).
5) Model self-care for my students; intentionally take time for myself and be kind to myself despite having a job that requires so much.
Kozol finishes his book by remarking that “(American children) are all quite wonderful and innocent when they are small. We soil them needlessly.” [2]
Sadly, his words ring true nearly 30 years later. In order to create meaningful change, we in education must look boldly in new inward and outward directions.
I couldn’t have said it better myself. (Thank you, Renegade Teacher.)
Oh, and we had “cereal day” on Friday in my fourth period, per their suggestion the week prior. This is something I could get behind!
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Posted in being a better colleague, Being a better teacher, Big Questions, Wish I Had Written That, Writing

WIHWT: Why I write.

This Wish I Had Written That is inspired by Rebecca Solnit.

Sometimes the artmaking stalls out.

Sometimes I’ve written my truth and it conflicts with someone else’s narrative. Writers step on toes, cause disquiet, and challenge ideas and status quo: and yes, I count myself in that group.

And when I stall out it’s because of fear. Fear of reprimand, unwarranted criticism, or being misunderstood.

But I suppose if I want to write, reflect, question, challenge, and process I must let go of any naivety and just write. Let go of the belief that all my words and ideas will be welcomed as a first-grader’s art project stuck on the fridge with a souvenir magnet.

It’s fun when there are over 1,000 hits and views on this blog. I realize other writers get tens of thousands a month, but for now, I’m satisfied with whoever takes the time to read.

There are too many fascinating and amazing miracles happening every day not to take snapshots of them, and curate the wonders of this world, and let fear get in the way. This age demands transparency and questioning. Carry on, be brave.

From:

https://www.facebook.com/plugins/post.php?href=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.facebook.com%2Frebecca.solnit%2Fposts%2F10155696952865552&width=500

Focus:

“You make art because you think what you make is good, and good means that it’s good for other people, not necessarily pleasant or easy, but leading toward more truth or justice or awareness or reform. I write nonfiction and know a lot of journalists, political writers, and historians, whose efforts tend to be more overtly geared toward changing the world but I believe this is true of poets too. This weekend a friend sent me a Neruda poem to celebrate the king tides—the exceptionally high winter tides we get here—and though it’s hard to say the way this might help someone, it helps me to read:

the disdain, the desire of a wave,
the green rhythm that from the hidden bulk
lifted up a translucent edifice

Because pleasure is part of what gets us through and helps us do what we’re here to do. Because the political struggle is to protect the vulnerable and the beautiful, and paying attention to them is part of the project.”

Posted in Being a better teacher, Wish I Had Written That

Saving Summer: WIHWT: The Promise

I haven’t done a “Wish I Had Written That” in awhile, and this came across my view today:

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Currently, I’m framing my Canvas classes for next year, and the overarching concern/message, (the thing that maybe someday will be the cornerstone of my doctoral thesis) is how to help students support their own learning, and not accept negativity or peer negativity/learned helplessness. Or something like that. The subtle and not-so-subtle messages students press on one another may be one of the most damaging and obstructionist practices I’ve witnessed. The illuminating moment flashed when a student asked me last year between the difference between the tech academy students and “regular” students: when I realized that the tech academy kids never made each other feel bad for wanting to learn something. That simple. And how do we build those communities when the community rejects being built? All the ice breakers and relationship building in the world won’t help unless there are cohorts of students/teacher teams, and the feeling of belonging. The ‘academy’ students move through their years at my school as a community, a family, and when the ‘regular’ part of the school had teacher teams, it helped build that, too, when the teams were allowed common planning or encouraged to meet. Things have gotten much more isolating over the past few years, so here is looking forward to those changes. (Is it a change when we used to have something and then get it back? Question for another time.)

And how do we build those communities when the community rejects being built…if the ‘community’ simply sees working together more like gentrification than a Seedfolks moment? All the ice breakers and relationship building in the world won’t help unless there are cohorts of students/teacher teams, and consistency in scheduling. The past two years, we have students changing core teachers mid year now, and it’s really hard on them. If Hattie says relationships impact student learning, then we need to listen to this and take steps to protect the bonds that students and their teachers have: we’re moving back to teams, thank heavens, so hopefully some of the issues that were solved once at our school will be solved again.

Source: Hattie, J. (2009). Visible Learning: A Synthesis of Over 800 Meta-Analyses On Achievement. Routledge.

Circling back to the spark: before I saw Tom Rademacher’s tweet, on my Canvas page I crafted this draft of the promises we need to make to one another in my class this year:

It is a draft: it gets a little wordy and mixes messages of both attitude and product. I’m still processing the 40 Book Challenge and using Three Teachers Talk as a guide and trying to figure out the most important ingredients for next year’s secret sauce.

For now, I’ll let this percolate for a bit, and enjoy a beautiful Saturday…any ideas are welcome!

PS

You have the right to be an introvert, as long as you feel that your voice is heard.

You have the right to be an extrovert, as long as you allow yourself and other mental oxygen.

…thinking of more….

Posted in Media and Mischief

The first rule of write club…

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Must give credit to John Spencer once again for this idea. He tweeted:

tweet

Now the thought of Chuck Palahniuk writing the back story for a cartoon intrigues me, and I began to think of multiple mash-ups of writers and stories. This morning I envisioned a complete Nathanial Hawthorne Scarlet Letter version of Rugrats, whereas every time Angelica attempts to bully the babies she must wear her insignia “A” embroidered on her chest, serving multiple purposes. The adults are the villagers, of course, standing firm in judgment. Well, it played out better before I had coffee. Now I’m not so sure.

But what about Stephen King and a treatment of Roadrunner? I think Kurt Vonnegut could do justice to Bugs Bunny. Or as John quoted, ‘create sad backstories to all the Animaniacs.’ Brilliant. This, of course, is the essence of fan fiction, with a hefty side of writer’s craft, style, and voice for good measure.

zim

Allow me to meander a bit:

Ayn Rand takes over an episode of Invader Zim.

Neil Gaiman rewrites a ‘Hey, Arnold’ episode.

J.K. Rowling takes on Powerpuff Girls.

G.R.R. Martin rewrites Dexter’s Laboratory.

Dr. Seuss: Ren and Stimpy, of course.

Suzanne Collins and Foster’s Home for Imaginary Friends.

Okay, I could go on all day. I am seeing a really fun lesson idea here: D&D dice with each number associated with an author and then a second roll for the cartoon episode. 

What other ideas come to mind?

Postcript:

 

Now–parents–think for a second. When I was growing up Bugs Bunny and his ilk alluded to operas, literature, film, etc. I know there are ‘jokes for grownups’ in current children’s media, today, too, but I am a bit out of touch with the ten and under crowd these days. My sons are 18 and 21, and they share gritty, funny binge-worthy media. We are long past the Rugrats days. If you’re a parent of kids under 10-11 and let them watch tv, what do they watch?

 

 

Posted in Wish I Had Written That

WIHWT: Octavian Nothing

octavian

This Wish I Had Written That is a novel I’m about 65% through: Octavian Nothing by M.T. Anderson.

Did you ever buy a book, tried to engage, and then put it down? This is one such novel: I’ve had it for years (6 years? 8 years?) on my nightstand, and somehow it shimmied back up to the surface, and yes, the timing is perfect.

The narrative flawlessly stitches together constructs from the pre-Revolutionary period: from the Age of Enlightenment to the burgeoning economic and social demands of the Colonies to England. The mythic narrative told to me while I was in high school included a one-direction, one perspective: England/King = Crazy: Patriots=Good and Righteous. They lost. We win, and then sing a song with a weird F sharp. (But modern singers get over this hurdle with their flourishes and trills.) Women and slaves are not represented, except by the odd, racist background chorus of servants, and the token Betsy Ross or Dolly Madison mention.

This novel made me research: willingly and joyfully. There is much mentioned where my background and knowledge is lacking. Does everything come at a cost? Every piece of enlightenment that betrays humanity, is that the price?  Making the connections between when England began its emancipation process and abolition, and concurrently as the suspicions and fear of the Colonists grew over the slaves in their midst, it stands to reason that the U.S. would never willingly give up control over other human beings, and created a legacy we may never shake, and perhaps nor should we.

“…boots us nothing to feel rage for things that long ago transpired. We must curb our fury, and allow sadness to diminish, and speak our stories with coolness and deliberation. “Animum rege, qui nisi paret, imperat,” quoth the poet Horace. “Rule thy passion, for unless it obeys, it rules you.” I ask the Lord God Jehovah for strength to forgive. Whatever I have felt about those men, I have much to thank them for. They lavished luxuries upon me. They supported my every interest and encouraged my curiosity. They instructed me in the Christian religion. They taught me the tongues of the Greeks and the Romans and opened for me the colonnaded vistas of those long-forgotten empires, in this, the dawning of a new empire. They schooled me in music, which is my greatest delight. These are not little things.

I do not believe they ever meant unkindness.”

Anderson, M. T. (2011-01-25). The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing, Traitor to the Nation, Volume I: The Pox Party (p. 13). Candlewick Press. Kindle Edition.

There is disturbing irony in this idea, of not intending harm.

This has my full attention now, in between grading, preparing for conferences, and relatives coming over to our broken-down house for Thanksgiving. But I am grateful for my home, and for my family, and those who strive for peace and equity.

The novel may be too much for my seventh-grade students. The voice is 18th Century Enlightened Man With Classical Education, a voice in a modern work I’ve never been exposed to  until now. But this isn’t just any Enlightened Man, it’s Octavian.

Thank you for voices as of yet unheard.

Posted in Being a better teacher

WIHWT: Preparation Heck No.

This Wish I Had Written That comes courtesy of Emily St. John Mandel, the author of Station Eleven. Granted, again I am sharing a novel with a few adult/mature audiences overtones: when I search through my Kindle and look for profanities, a few bubble up, but nothing I noticed while reading. Not sure what that says about my numbness to vulgarities. There is a tame love scene, but many allusions to much more difficult ‘trigger-warning’ level events. Hey, it’s the end of the world as we know it–people who didn’t behave pre-post-apocalypse sure aren’t going to be better post-post-apocalypse.

station-eleven-logoI include this as my WIHWT, however, because it struck me how much and how little all of us are prepared for world’s end, both literally and figuratively. How much we encourage our students to do “maker spaces” and “genius hours,” to construct whole notions of thinking based off of the borg known as the Internet, encourage them not to learn how to write by hand but by keyboard, yet cherish and make precious artisanship. We send so many mixed messages. Learn to code, but forget teaching math basics: Project-Based learning of ‘real world’ problems but don’t teach them fundamental sciences such as the process of cell division or photosynthesis. Students look at my “teacher” handwriting with such longing, as if I know how to bake a pie from scratch and deny them this knowledge.

They are not prepared.

What the heck are we doing anyway?

When the machines are no longer ghosts, but taking over every aspect of our purposes, how will we adapt? Just what are we making in our maker spaces?

I realize at this point you’re fashioning a lovely tin-foil hat for me, and I’ll take it and wear it with pride. That’s what a good story does: makes us take long, painful looks at the current situation and consider other possible worlds. Perhaps these quaint ‘how to’s’ will serve our future well. In the meantime, I’m thinking of converting all my e-books back to paper and ink ones. Those things are going to be worth something someday.

Posted in Book Reviews, Wish I Had Written That

WIHWT: Americanah

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(Note to self: ask Cult of Pedagogy if she makes any cash from her links to Amazon.)

This “Wish I Had Written That” is stretching a bit here — this novel is meant for grown-ups. This is not a recommendation for secondary students, although if seniors in high school, or even my own children, wanted to read this novel or anything by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, I’d be proud. (As it is, my older son is trying to get me to read Goncharov and my younger one understand the mastery of Dungeons & Dragons, and geological surveys–good luck with that, kids.) But it does need a little life experience under one’s belt. A little bit of context. And full disclosure: I couldn’t have written this. The protagonist has her own story, and for me to make even presumptions or connections about race, love, family, or hair would be disingenuous. (The protagonist is a blogger, but makes a living from it. I’m also not quite there yet!)

But I still think it should be required reading. Wait–scratch that. Read if you want to know about race, love, family, and hair. And surviving yourself through your twenties, and finding your way. Or, if you’re beyond your twenties, how you found your way, which you surely did.

Tomorrow night is night I look forward to–it’s Book Club night. This month’s selection was my choice–I chickened out and gave the ladies a choice, between this book and J.K. Rowling’s The Casual Vacancy. When the book club members overwhelmingly chose Rowling’s book, at first I was a little disappointed because I really want to read Americanah. (That’s what I get for my chicken-ness.) However, I was not disappointed after reading Rowling’s first ‘grown up’ book. I loved it. She is a master of characters, connections, and layers of plots that are never ‘sub’ to anything, but partner plots that hold the whole story together. The only thing I may regret is that I will not have another grown-up to talk about Americanah with.

And what a concept: that I’m truly sorry I have no one in real time to discuss a great book and author. And that–that is what I want to ignite in my classroom. Not just “read it” –but read it so you can talk about it. A book shared is a gift from our inner lives, our inner thoughts: what others come to believe or interpret about literature is sublime and…it’s love.

Last night I was out to dinner with my husband, and telling him about my Renaissance with ‘The Raven‘ by Edgar Allan Poe and 7th grade students. I am not the same teacher I was so many years ago, and have learned over the past four to five years to let the students do most of the heavy mental lifting. Being in on their discussions as they grapple with stanzas and translate early 19th century gothic poetry is so fun. My husband brought up that Poe was not a favorite of his until he heard ‘Annabel Lee.’ Being the modern woman I am, found the poem on my phone, and he looked it over again, and offered new insight to the beauty of some of its lines…how beautiful a concept that angels, who are supposed to be so beatific and perfect, could be jealous of  humans’ love…

The angels, not half so happy in Heaven,
   Went envying her and me—
Yes!—that was the reason (as all men know,
   In this kingdom by the sea)
That the wind came out of the cloud by night,
   Chilling and killing my Annabel Lee.

By talking about a poem, I learned something new about my husband, even after 23 years.

Now I’m not sure how to tell students what this all means, how to show them what’s in front of them, and what beauty is around the corner for them, too. I’ll try to figure out a way though–look through my old scrolls and tomes of quaint and curious lore, of long forgotten lesson plans of book talks and sharing of tales, and see what they create. These experiences, too, add to their own stories.

https://embed-ssl.ted.com/talks/lang/en/chimamanda_adichie_the_danger_of_a_single_story.html