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Metaphorically speaking…

At one point my life, I self-applied the moniker “Queen of the Metaphors.” Perhaps my crown tarnished a tad due to adjusting verbiage to suit more concrete/sequential folks, including differentiating for students who may not understand the nuances of abstract thought. In other words, I was tired of people saying they needed a translator.

Metaphorical thinking and creating are pinnacles of new thought and ideas. Our ability to communicate precisely and clearly hinges on figurative language: it is a paradox. The more abstract one wordsmiths, the more concrete and accessible an idea may be. However, many don’t feel this way. They don’t see the necessity for poetry or art. Perhaps some feel as if they “should” like it, like a kale or IPAs. Has hating on metaphors become a trend, it’s cool to hate the “A” in STEAM?

In a 2013 Scientific American article titled, “In Defense of Metaphors in Scientific Writing” by Caleb A. Scharf, 

“The problem is that while a specific metaphor might work for some people, it won’t for others. This is especially true for scientists themselves, who sometimes lack a sense of humor, or even just common sense. I once wrote about a dying star as being ‘bloated and gouty’, as its outer atmosphere inflates and blows off to interstellar space. I rather liked this. ‘Gouty’ has always made me think of Willam Hogarth, or James Gillray, and their satirical drawings in the 18th century, filled with wonderfully appalling characters. It seemed like a good way to evoke the sense of an aged and, ah-hem, rather flatulent stellar object. But no, for at least one scientist this was all wrong. Stars, they pointed out, can’t possibly be gouty because they don’t produce uric acid…”

Sigh.

Come on, nerds. Get it together. Be cool.

If you want to be heard, speak in the language of poetry. Tell the story. Share the parable. Observe. Look. Speak.

“If you want to communicate facts or information, then stories are a powerful vessel to do so.”

The Power of Storytelling, with Sir Ian McKellen from Catsnake on Vimeo.

What to do with this thought? What lesson plan to package, what standard to dissect?  Not sure. Since this idea of telling stories to share information is as old as the human voice, as old as instinctual, creatureliness* for survival, perhaps my gift is to allow the evocation of ideas.

I estimate there are about 1,000 ideas in this brief director’s showreel.

Edward L Dark Director Showreel from Catsnake on Vimeo.

Allow our young writers to follow an illuminated pathway to their own stories–add points of brilliant light, and also, don’t be afraid of the shadowy parts, giving them a chance to find ways to illuminate their journeys. Whether it’s math, science, history, physical education, band, language arts…whatever the course and content…stories connect us all.

Ideas:

Teach poetry in another content area

Have students share three things: a song, a poem, and a piece of artwork that’s connected. When framed this way, boys and girls alike had no issue in sharing. It took off the gender factor.

Challenge their thinking. Thank goodness one of my students spoke up and questioned the title of this piece, and then we had a great teachable moment in analyzing his real message:

Her initial reaction was that she would not listen to him because of the title of the video. The rest of the class shouted out, too, once they saw it, so I asked them to wait. Based on the other video we just watched, we shouldn’t assume anything but listen.

They were glad they did.

I think I’ll share this one, next:

 

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Series: Elements of Structure Part 4: Documentary Resources

NO INTERNET WEEK: FULL DOCUMENTARY from Mother on Vimeo.

Documentaries are non-fiction with bias. At least that’s how I define it…because documentaries are so much more than just presenting facts. Sheila Curran Bernard says it better:

“Documentaries bring viewers into new worlds and experiences through the presentation of factual information about real people, places, and events, generally — but not always — portrayed through the use of actual images and artifacts. But factuality alone does not define documentary films; it’s what the filmmaker does with those factual elements, weaving them into an overall narrative that strives to be as compelling as it is truthful and is often greater than the sum of its parts.”

–Sheila Curran Bernard, Author of Documentary Storytelling

If you’re interested in sharing documentaries with students, here are some good resources:

Films for Action

Top Documentary Films

Documentary Heaven

PBS 11 Documentary Sites

Added: Frontline

Documentaries must not stay in the domain of history or social studies but extend far into all content areas. Moreover, students creating their own documentaries may be the most powerful voice and tool of all. If you’re heavily embedded in fiction and literature studies, consider documentaries that discuss the lives of the authors, or take on a meta-fictional approach. 

And what a grand opportunity for students to explore and analyze sources:

Original Post
Original Post

I would love to know what documentaries you’ve shown, and if you’ve tried having students create their own. How did it go, and what went well?

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The Case of Kelly’s Curious Curation

Note: Here is the challenge: take one hour on a Saturday or Sunday and curate your own list of three things you could make into a mini-unit, writing prompt, etc. 

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Simon Warmers

“Alice laughed. ‘There’s no use trying,’ she said. ‘One can’t believe impossible things.’

I daresay you haven’t had much practice,’ said the Queen. ‘When I was your age, I always did it for half-an-hour a day. Why, sometimes I’ve believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast. There goes the shawl again!” – Lewis Carroll

How many times in a school year do students hear the word ‘authentic’ but have no idea of what that means? My sense is that I’ve said it myself in a somewhat precious tone, and I catch myself because it sounds a tad pretentious. In fact, I could probably erase that word from my pedagogical discourse and we’d all be better for it, at least until we get our sea-legs with writing. Maybe it’s the Glenda the Witch approach: you had the power all along, my dears, and you’re writers! But I tell them they are writers from the get-go, and attempt to give context to authenticity.

So just what is authenticity?

It’s important to remember writing and reading are not in competition in a zero-sum game. Authenticity grows from every source: lies, truth, and the devil in the details in between. Our continuum of existence demands a story. How our parents met, and what legacies we leave after we’re gone. Our ancestry, and our ‘wishful thinking’ as we explore our singular and collective identities.

Authenticity lives at the highest source of Blooms: Creativity. We hear something, see something, use our senses and ideas, and then it is our job as teachers and parents to guide our children towards creating something new out of the world’s gifts. We provide the guiding thoughts so students can find their own. It can be a phrase or an idea that we hear, and then we ask the powerful question, “What if?”

trapped

This morning a McSweeney’s article had me laughing, the concept of “What if” Lovecraft was a substitute teacher at a junior high school? I know of Lovecraft’s writing, but have never read his work. (I should, maybe I will, but….the cultural references and allusions feel like ‘enough.’ Just like not actually reading Shelley’s Frankenstein feels shallow but ‘enough.’) So if I were to use a writer unknown to students, a little background knowledge would be in order. But that’s doable, and certainly not impossible.

H.P. LOVECRAFT’S FIRST DAY AS A SUBSTITUTE TEACHER AT ARKHAM JUNIOR HIGH SCHOOL

I take this idea, and then think about how I could apply it to writing prompts for students. What am I actually asking? I’m asking them to think about things a different way, with my core value belief that everyone can be creative, if you just show them how.

Another example is I was listening to this podcast this morning, and a dozen ideas popped in my mind –ways I could use this grand information for discussions about argumentative writing, reading, memes, digital citizenship, and human history/sociology. And ultimately, is everything or nothing a lie? 

My next is this:

In San Lorenzo, California, on May 5, 1942. The last laundry drying in the sun before the mass removal of Japanese Americans during World War II. Famed Dust Bowl photographer Dorothea Lange documented the process of internment for the federal government.

Credit: Dorothea Lange/War Relocation Authority

What stories can be told from an object?

From PRI - Dorothea Lange
From PRI – Dorothea Lange

Quick videos provide deconstruction of RAFTS:

Pinterest Board of Writing Image Prompts

Quick RAFTS overview:

Parallel Story Telling:

 

 

Now clearly this is very much from a narrative perspective. If you’re looking for non-fiction resources, NewsELA, Kelly Gallagher’s Article of the Week,  Smithsonian, and Actively Learn (all genres) are reliable and inspiring resources.

I would rather use ‘real’ things to inspire than prescriptive formats, (which are not all bad–they give a place to start.)

Tanbar, Australia Google Earth View
Tanbar, Australia Google Earth View

Here is a series on making learning visible — the students look a little uncomfortable, but I’m going to take the big ideas and make them my own, and more importantly, my students’ own.

Does this video inspire or is it a buzzkill for creativity or authenticity?

Contrasts and Contradictions in Nonfiction – Video Exemplar Lesson – Thinking Made Visible Series from HISD Professional Support & Deve on Vimeo.

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Write-It-Right Wednesday

IMG_3371
Anything, and I mean anything, can be a writing prompt. While waiting for a friend the other day, this Pokestop popped up on my screen. What other amazing things/places are out there in the world I never saw before?

We are writers.

Writing serves my creative mania. In my classroom, historically, we write more than we read. Do I love books? Of course! Am I passionate and excited about passages, excerpts, themes, patterns, characters, and juicy plots? Naturally! But in my experience, if you truly want to a student, a person– to engage, spill their guts, bare their soul and express themselves, writing is it.

Write-It-Right Wednesdays are mini-lesson moments and writing workshop days. Mini lessons are those quick, here is a “thing you need to know” thing. Writing Workshop is a very different animal, and all I’ve learned is from my mentors Holly Stein and Kim Norton through the PSWP (part of the National Writing Project). The Puget Sound Writing Project is no longer, unfortunately, but Holly and Kim began a new venture, PSW Consortium.

Here is Writing Workshop:

  1. You write.
  2. Your students write.
  3. What do you write about? Whatever is on folks’ minds, part of the content, etc. Or what my friend Holly calls “Rule #10: write what you want.”
  4. Use images, news stories, personal anecdotes, objects, postcards, whatever.
  5. Writing is sacred time.
  6. If someone comes in the room to observe during this, they are asked to write, too.
  7. In small groups, each person takes a turn to read their writing. Nothing is in the listeners’ hands. Nothing.
  8. Second read: the listeners give feedback. Never, ever hand your writing over to someone else to read. Yes, it can get noisy. This is not about spelling or editing.
  9. The listeners take a few minutes to verbally give feedback, and hand over the feedback slips to the writer.
  10. The writer says “thank you.” That’s it. They can choose to take the listeners’ advice or not. This is important to teach in terms of preparing writers for criticism and to understand their own craft.

 

This is Holly’s Power Point. I hope she doesn’t mind me sharing it.

Writing Partner Feedback Sheet I have a format in Publisher where I put these two up on a page, and double-side photocopy. This document contains the essential information.

Two Writing Teachers

WriteAbout

For the grammar lessons, I may try to use Grammarly in the classroom.

Here is an example from a student from a memoir unit:

7 feedback
This was from a modeling portion where I wrote the story, and students acted as my writing partner for feedback.

And for heaven’s sake, start a writing blog for your students: http://poetryclub.edublogs.org/

Update: Two Writing Teachers wrote a great piece on Writing Workshop. Read and keep.

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…the unbearable lightness of knowledge…

My dining room table will be spotless by day's end. This is phase three of the GREAT BINDERING of '15
My dining room table will be spotless by day’s end. This is phase three of the GREAT BINDERING of ’15

There is a popular how-to book going around the ‘net now titled The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing by Marie Kondo. Since I have invested a lot of time and energy in breeding and care of dust bunnies, this topic doesn’t interest me. When the dust bunny farm goes south, perhaps I’ll give it another look. I kid, I kid. A synopsis spiraled around, and the one thing that stood out for me is the concept is don’t clean by area, clean by topic. For teachers, this is huge, and something I’ve always practiced: when moving or cleaning out a classroom, things go in categories: book genres to supplies, etc. It tends to work. Only when cleaning out the BOOK ROOM (this is a big deal) over my years as curriculum leader (aka department head in some academic circles) did I ever trash a few titles that were truly pulp, and not worth the paper they were printed on. I would have like to have gotten ride of Jackie’s Wild Seattle (ugh), but kept it in case it was anyone’s pet book. So far it has about as much charm as a dust bunny with fleas.

But here is something I did not expect: a debate about a classic title such as Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle.

And do NOT comment on this full disclosure: I haven’t read the book (yet). Bet I’ve read a few books you haven’t. This one missed me because of my age and place in school–and that is the moral of this post.

This isn’t about my life as a reader, but our students’ lives.

I know this book meant a lot to a colleague of mine, and shaped her thinking about science. She is one of the exemplary science teachers I know. She introduced me to Ray Bradbury’s story, The Veldt, one of my new favorites to use with students.

To share the conversation, consider your own practices of purging through the mindset of “decluttering” —

book discussion 1 book discussion 2

 

I found one commenter’s remark curious, about ‘supporting’ my friend’s decision to purge this title. It ignited so many thoughts:

  • I’ve had six new administration teams and this will be my tenth year of teaching. Each admin team has a vision and new ideas, and we as a staff have had to adjust to the new ‘house rules’ every time, layered with change of guards in professional development focuses, and all the other changes inherent in modern teaching practices. This is my clutter I purge every year. Not books. Yours may be books, or dried up markers, etc. 
  • I have my own ideas about ‘reading lives,’ and considering a time-line of my own reading life. Are You There God, It’s Me Margaret, Blubber, and Forever by Judy Blume were transformative texts for me; their relevance to students now may seem laughable. But that’s not the point: when I share Harriet the Spy to students, explaining what happened to me, more than one student would ask if I had a copy of it.
  • We all worry about stamina, that students do not pick up books. If we don’t open them for them, they never will. They will see them as traps. How do we break this notion that time spent with a book is wasted, that they have something ‘better to do?’ 
  • Do you know that movies now have a different frame rate than in years past? So much digital and media noise comes at our students constantly, no wonder they can’t sit and read a book. By the time many of my students are in 8th grade, they are not embarrassed at all by stating they do NOT want to read a ‘chapter book’ –and where are the pictures.

What went wrong?!

Nothing, really. Many students DO read, ask me about books, will not only finish a novel, but read it again (talk to me about Ready Player One by Ernest Cline). The trick is not to purge all the reading from all the students: like the Japanese decluttering books, look at readers as topics -help them craft their reading life, and recognize not every reader will be a reader of novels. Offer interest surveys, genre options, and let the book fit the reader, not force the reader to the book. Those are ideas that are timeless and sustaining.

And thank God for Judy Blume.

Postscript: I’m moving classrooms this year. More floor space, but no cupboard space, and there are no existing whiteboards. I’m going to have to change a lot to make it work.

*no whiteboards*

via GIPHY

 

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