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…

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Absolutely True Attempt at Journey of the Hero

Illustration by Ellen Forney Students decided she was one part of supernatural aid on advice.

Ah, the never-ending struggle, challenge, and balance with what has proven to work with what’s new.

Teaching Joseph Campbell’s Journey of the Hero structural pattern works — it works because students understand truly what plot is, they can apply it to multiple mediums, stories, and their own lives, and wait…no more needs to be said. They can apply it to their own lives.

Having to let go of my curriculum baby — you know that baby–the one you work on for months, craft, shape, support with standards and engaging lessons, scope-it, and sequence-it and tie it all up with a bow, and share it with the world, only to have the world think it’s slightly funny looking or outdated. Well, I still think this baby, the Journey of the Hero unit, has merit and value, so thought I would try something different a few years ago and ‘chunk the Hobbit.’ No, that’s not some new Lord of the Rings drinking game, but I broke down the Hobbit into bite-sized pieces for groups of three chapters each. It kind of worked, but kind of didn’t. (Recently, though, I had a sibling of one of my former students ask me on behalf of her sister if I was still teaching that — she loved it.)

We have a full class set of The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, so this month I’ve devoted time to reading this extraordinary novel through the idea of the monomyth.


So far…it’s kind of working. I say kind of because there have been some obstacles, our own Road of Trials:

  • Too quick of an introduction of what JOTH is and entails
  • Jumped right into reading, and students not getting the message they need their books with them every day, to class and to home. They are allowed backpacks in my room so the carrying of a $15 paperback may be too much…but they have all gotten the message again.
  • We had two mornings of ice delays, so that threw off our schedule a bit.
  • Students are still not looking to Canvas for work, or at least the majority are not.
  • Students are still expressing too much “learned helplessness” (and it’s making me a little crazy). In fact, I gave students their first quote as scaffolding and one student stopped dead in her thinking tracks and said “I don’t get it” and then kept talking over me when I said let’s work this out. So now I need to go back and teach a lesson on what ‘central idea’ is. Never again will I not have multiple lessons on the basics at the beginning of the year. 

Here is what is starting to work:

We walked through the first three sections together, scaffolded and intentional:

Smartnotebook file (which I can’t embed here, but if you need it email me or contact me in the comments)

JOTH Reader Response Tracker

After we worked on it by hand, this weekend I’ve given them a scaffolded digital version that displays the work they’ve come up with : JOTH Part Time Indian Support

Laura Randazzo’s Prezi:

So we’ll see. We’re on our own journey through the novel, trying my best to allow them to discover what they think and find. I’ll keep you posted.


PS It’s not an accident that Penelope is named Penelope. Think about it.

Google Docs Links:

Journey of the Hero Support Doc

Journey of the Hero PowerPoint

Archetypes PowerPoint




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Elements of Structure Series: Part 11: Tough questions: students and humor

This video is PG-13. And no, the number doesn’t work.

A student shared this with me a few weeks ago. To spark a conversation, I thought it would be interesting to see what other students thought about it, too.

Students also watched this one, too. No commentary from me, just questions.

As this writing, they’ve only seen it once in the context of notes, but haven’t had a chance to do a QFT or discussion about it.

But — I have my own questions. A lot of them.

  • Would I have shared this with students who were predominately white? Or would it just increase potential racism?
  • Who owns humor?
  • If some students understand parody, and that not all parody works — and what is the function of parody?
  • Does this ‘punch up, down, or in the middle?

Molly Ivins articulated the distinction in a 1991 People magazine interview:

“There are two kinds of humor. One kind that makes us chuckle about our foibles and our shared humanity — like what Garrison Keillor does. The other kind holds people up to public contempt and ridicule — that’s what I do. Satire is traditionally the weapon of the powerless against the powerful. I only aim at the powerful. When satire is aimed at the powerless, it is not only cruel — it’s vulgar.” [1]

  • Are these ads “foibles and our shared humanity?” or something much deeper, or worse?
  • Is it racist?
  • Is it funny?
  • Can something be racist and funny?
  • Is humor inherently classist, racist, bigoted, and if not, what are the characteristics of innocuous humor?

As a teacher, how do you address when a student brings humor to the classroom — determining these questions? Do you encourage students to discuss it?

From Nerdy Feminist: 

It reminds me of an awesome Fresh Air interview with Hari Kondabolu that I caught recently. Kodabolu is a comedian (check him out, if you’re unaware) who is able to make his audiences roll without playing to oppression. Definitely a student of the “punch up” philosophy. One of the things he discussed with Terry Gross was how he no longer parodies his father’s accent on stage. He said,

The idea that when maybe my father says something and he walks away, the idea that people are laughing because what he said is funny to them because of how he sounds crushed me when I thought about it. And the idea that I was contributing to that, it was hard. 


A few years ago the Youtube meme was the young boy who mistakenly answered a math question with “21.” Kids in class would pop up and say “21” at random, or if the number 21 came up would parrot it back. (Click at your own risk — this is a mocking song of the original video.) I told my students that particular meme wasn’t allowed in my class, just like the words ‘ghetto’ and the ‘n’ word. It’s just mean-spirited, and making fun of a kid saying the wrong answer doesn’t make us better people.

If students see humor used in a racist and bigoted way, what effect does it have on them? If they identify with the person depicted (race, gender, sexual orientation, etc.) are they offended, try to save face, do they speak up?

Well, currently probably not. Anyone who challenges offensive or racism is called a “snowflake.” But another damning idea is the one of ‘inspiration or poverty porn.’ Is not addressing worse, in other words?

Which leads to another question: how do we learn to speak and challenge while someone is attempting to gag us?

From Does Racist Humor Promote Racism?

Second, humor is not always positive and fun. We tend to think about humor as something that is innocuous, something that might be good for our health, moods, relationships and so on, but humor also has its dark side, and we should all be aware of it. Sometimes humor can lead to negative and harmful outcomes against others, and we should be conscious of when and how it can happen.

Some articles (note: not posting because I agree or disagree, just reading)

Punching Up and the Rules of Comedy by Liz Labacz

When Did We Lose Our Understanding of Satire? 

Does racist humor promote racism?

Punching Up/Geek Feminism Wiki

Truth In Comedy; Or, The Myth of ‘Punching Up”


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Don’t be afraid.

“Lead by example of hope, and never fear.”

Fear: fear, an anthropomorphic, personified monster, has been the tool of many politicians for decades since we were told “The only thing to fear is fear itself” by Roosevelt. We were brave. We were strong. We may not have agreed, but we began the hard work on building again. But now that’s all torn and shredded apart. We have a president-elect whose social media use is as immature and disgusting as any #gamergate troll. And now, once again, it’s up to teachers to support parents whose job it is to raise moral, know-right-from-wrong humans. Just like we can’t assign credit, we can’t assign blame, either. Something, however, is going on and has been for some time. Students have been taking videos of fights and uploading them to Youtube, and other social media outlets, for years.

These aren’t ordinary schoolyard turf wars. These are marked by an exploitive purpose and showmanship.

Recently I’ve been posting how-to videos on a Youtube channel, and my students gently tease me about how many subscribers I have, and are very interested in making me ‘famous.’ (I’ve gone from 4 to 23 in a week—woot!) It’s all about the points, the numbers, the amount, the likes–that’s all that seems to matter to them. And why wouldn’t it? That’s what they’ve been raised on; video games and school for points points points points. More points = Success.

The beating was captured on cellphone video by one of the assailants and has since been viewed millions of times on social media. The footage shows the suspects taunting the victim with profanities against white people and President-elect Donald Trump.

Prosecutors offered new details of the assault, explaining that one of the suspects demanded $300 from the mother of the victim, who is schizophrenic and has attention-deficit disorder. They also said the beating started in a van when the same attacker became angry that the mother had contacted him asking that her son be allowed to come home.

So when a terrible story comes to light, and everyone is blamed, everything is blamed, I’m asking for one light to shine — please — please stop making everything about points.


If we need to help our students find their voices on social media, can we please show them a hundred positive examples, and show them that when they film fights they are exploiting themselves? Teach them about how they can control their reputation, their narrative, and their emotions. No one at the top of our government is going to do it for them, in fact, they will be working hard to do the opposite. They will promote and normalize racism, sexism, and hate.  It’s not amorphous or abstract. The men in charge have clearly stated their positions on their white privilege. We need to put a name on fear– when Michelle Obama asks us not to be afraid — we need to help our students name their fears, identify the monsters, and make a plan. And this plan never includes beating each other up.

More of this, please:

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Locus of control…

In my never-ending quest for better questioning techniques, I’ve been packing up some new resources. My VideoScribe video is based on the Harvard Educational Publication guide for QFT.

  1. Teaching As Dynamic “4 Strategies to Ask Better Questions”
  2. Harvard Education Publications on the Questioning Formulation Technique

Encouraging students to talk more, question more, take chances more has proved to be a big challenge this year. I’m not sure why. I think some of our instruction was turned upside-down, so the foundation of being comfortable with one another, questioning, taking risks, etc. wasn’t laid down at the beginning of the year, but it’s never too late to correct course. I’m writing this to remind myself that next year the flow should be Who we are as readers/writers >Asking and generating questions >claim, evidence, reasoning. If students know how to ask solid, open-ended questions that engage them, they’ll have ownership as to the “why” and the “reasons,” therefore will be more engaged. That’s the idea, anyway. 

Here are some slide links I created to help you get started with your own QFT:

QFT ideas

Here are possible Learning Targets and Success Criteria you may want to use or modify for a QFT lesson:

  • In order to think critically about any subject, we must first learn how to question and challenge that subject or topic. This way, we can think about a topic from multiple ideas more deeply.
  • Success: By the end of _______, I will be able to generate up to _____ (number) of questions, and prioritize into the 3 most important open-ended questions about a topic. This task will enable me to demonstrate higher level thinking about this topic. (Refer to DOK chart)


Here are the CCSS and the TPEP rubrics that mandate student questioning:

Common Core addresses questioning:

Comprehension and Collaboration:

Engage effectively in a range of collaborative discussions (one-on-one, in groups, and teacher-led) with diverse partners on grade 8 topics, texts, and issues, building on others’ ideas and expressing their own clearly.
Come to discussions prepared, having read or researched material under study; explicitly draw on that preparation by referring to evidence on the topic, text, or issue to probe and reflect on ideas under discussion.
Follow rules for collegial discussions and decision-making, track progress toward specific goals and deadlines, and define individual roles as needed.
Pose questions that connect the ideas of several speakers and respond to others’ questions and comments with relevant evidence, observations, and ideas.
Acknowledge new information expressed by others, and, when warranted, qualify or justify their own views in light of the evidence presented.
Analyze the purpose of information presented in diverse media and formats (e.g., visually, quantitatively, orally) and evaluate the motives (e.g., social, commercial, political) behind its presentation.
Delineate a speaker’s argument and specific claims, evaluating the soundness of the reasoning and relevance and sufficiency of the evidence and identifying when irrelevant evidence is introduced.

TPEP (many Washington State schools use this teacher evaluation system).

One of the most subjective and potentially damning of the criterion is the ‘student engagement’ piece.

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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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