Series: Elements of Structure Part 3: Plodding Plots


This upcoming January-February I’ll return to the Journey of the Hero unit. It’s been tossed, denigrated, punched, and still, it comes up standing, ready for more. Joseph Campbell never fails me. The ginormous binder tome that contains its massive and timeless information, and look forward to those ah-ha moments when students recognize nearly every single story, movie or tale is indeed, a monomyth.

The CCSS which specifically address Journey of the Hero or monomyth are not under the heading of Craft and Structure, but these:

Integration of Knowledge and Ideas:

Analyze the extent to which a filmed or live production of a story or drama stays faithful to or departs from the text or script, evaluating the choices made by the director or actors.
Analyze how a modern work of fiction draws on themes, patterns of events, or character types from myths, traditional stories, or religious works such as the Bible, including describing how the material is rendered new.
But I can’t help but think the good people at the CCSS got it a little wrong–patterns are structure.
There is nothing new under the sun. When considering structure, scholars propose that there are no new stories, not really, and we can find stories fitting into a minimum amount of plots:
But this analysis or categorization creates inherent boredom in our content area, so I caution all of us not to get into the systemic drilling of parts, and forget to put back together the whole.
Maybe that is really the theme of Shelley’s Frankenstein: the man could not make better what the gods created, and putting it back together makes it awkward and angry. When analyzing plot and the various types of plot, make sure to step back and look at the whole map, and allow students moments of many personal connections. A story is only as good as we hear it.
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Series: Elements of Structure Part 2: Shock and Awe

Part 2 of the Elements of Structure Series

When I clicked on this link this morning, I did not know who the producers were. I had no idea about bias, message, or author’s purpose. I just sat and watched it, thinking it a sweet narrative.

Normally I’m not so blinded by the surprise, the hidden but the overarching message. I didn’t think I was susceptible to misdirection: why? Because I know what it means–how can we be tricked when we invented the magic?

But I was, and the effect was devastating.

No spoilers here. I’ll allow you the same effect–would love to hear your comments, though.

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Series: Elements of Structure Part I: Effect


As we weave in the CCSS into our instruction, create engaging work, etc. it’s my nature to dive deeply into the subject area–to me, that’s what great teachers do, even if they know a subject intimately. It’s the artist in me: there’s always more to observe and try. With that in mind, I am writing a series on structure, craft, and style.

The first idea I want to share comes courtesy of my intelligent and wonderful colleague, Tami Gores. She and I are both working with coaches, and also have a common ground understanding of my friend and mentor, Holly Stein. (I mention this because it’s refreshing to work with someone who understands me, and I hope she feels the same. In this world, having any shared history with a colleague is a gift.)

She is the Queen of Co-Constructed Anchor Charts. The first ah-ha moment she provided me was the idea of how structure influences effect:

Courtesy of Tami Gores
Courtesy of Tami Gores


We ELA teachers understand the rudimentary plot diagram:

From Chalkboxtales.blogspot
From Chalkboxtales.blogspot

But structure is so, so much more than this. This is the little engine that could, and while important to teach, it’s a place to start. This series will explore these ideas. With Tami’s help, and working with other ELA folks in my building, I’m sure we’ll come up with wonderful shared instruction for our students that’s relevant and empowering.

To me — there are few things more empowering that understanding another’s story. Stay tuned.

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Question Everything.


A student who’s in the AVID program at school recently asked for ‘help’ in writing some “Level 3” (based on Costa’s work) questions. Having taken AVID training myself a few years ago, and created Levels of Questions work, he knew I was a go-to source. However, what he was not understanding that “giving” him questions was not appropriate nor was it helpful. But at least he’s honest–he just wanted the “answers” in the form of questions. He didn’t want to do the mental heavy lifting. And he’s not alone–far from it. Students have been parroting their purposes for learning things like pull-string talking dolls:

Me: “Why are you learning CERs?”

Them: “So we can get a good education.”

Me: “No–how do they help you learn?”

Them: “So we can learn.”


There are several factors I can think of why the wheels are off the bus, but the wheels are off indeed. So time to figure out how to get some traction going again.

No more Mrs. Nice Teacher. (If I ever was.)

Back to foundational lessons, and the one that gets the most learning mileage includes questioning strategies. In order to be an independent learner, we must be able to ask questions.

Here are some good resources I’m digging into, and you might find useful, too.  Some I’ve created, and am happy to share.

Mix Things Up: 3 Student-Centered Approaches that Balance “I Do, You Do, We Do.”








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Numbers game.

Cassandra based on Anthony Frederick Augustus Sandys, 1904.
Cassandra based on Anthony Frederick Augustus Sandys, 1904.

None of this is new news.

We are hurting.

Our economy, our growth, our creativity: we see it, we call it out, and we try, desperately, to avert the tsunami. And it feels as if the invisible force of money drowns us, like a force of nature, pressure systems, and earthquakes shaking us little humans and dumping us on our heads.

I constantly think about…

coal miners.

People who’ve worked in the ground for centuries and what they dig from the earth no longer matters. And everyone knew it. So they equate the people who dig as the ones who don’t matter.

I’ve thought this since I was in second grade: why don’t the big companies shift and switch and do research into energy and food that’s sustainable and gives people the jobs they need?


Don’t they want to stay in business?

Don’t they want to make a profit and have people buy their stuff?

Seemed to me the best way to prevent revolutions and bloodshed is to be real, mature, and functional about the realities of how the world works.

But now I don’t know how the world works anymore.

My childhood questions echo back.

I need to know where good is. Where growth and prosperity are.

I don’t need America to be #1. This is not a zero sum game. I want all of us to get what we need.


Things may get worse, again, before they get better. We can’t seem to move forward without burning it all down.

PBS produced a show about childhood poverty in the U.S. six years ago. Here are some of the highlights:

More than 16 million children, or roughly one in five, were living in poverty in 2011, according to the U.S. Census Bureau’s official poverty measure (pdf). That is higher than any other age group. Among 18– to 64-year-olds, the poverty rate was 13.7percent, while among seniors the rate was 8.7 percent. (Nov 20, 2012)


Only three other countries in the developed world have a higher child poverty rate (pdf) than the U.S., according to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. Mexico leads all nations with a rate of 25.79, followed by Chile (23.95), Turkey (23.46), and the U.S. (21.63).

Financial experts have been writing about education and income for years, too, along with research and data:

Eduardo Porter wrote an article for the New York Times, ‘A Simple Equation: More Education  = More Income.’

But in the American education system, inequality is winning, gumming up the mobility that broad-based prosperity requires. On Tuesday, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development released its annual collection of education statistics from around the industrialized world showing that the United States trails nearly all other industrialized nations when it comes to educational equality.


Nate Silver, love or hate, is a statistician. Here are his latest numbers about education and voting trends:

Education, not income, predicted who would vote for Trump.

But since education and income are so closely connected, I’m not sure if his thesis is whole. Yet.

And now we have this horror show.

So money, education, and politics. Oh, my.

But: I have to keep hope alive.

Who gives me hope?

To be clear,  I never think one man or woman is a savior. Humans are all flawed. With those flaws, come some genius moves.

Who inspires me now?

Elon Musk

Ira Glass

Sarah Vowell

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

Malala Yousafzai

Malcolm Gladwell

Steven Colbert

John Oliver

Jon Stewart

Samantha Bee

….still thinking.

And recently I described our nation has millions of tiny little needles. Guess I wasn’t the only one seeing it.

Postscript: Thanks, Kid.


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"Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?" (Mary Oliver)

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