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Nailed it.
Nailed it.

Yesterday I spent 15 minutes searching for a website/resource I want to use this year. I couldn’t find it in my bookmarks, or remember its name, just that I discovered them at NCCE, and could have sword that I wrote about them in a post-convention post. Nope. Nowhere. But I did find it in my bookmarks, (forgot which browser I had it on), and gathered the needles and built a new haystack for colleagues.

(I really need to do a better job of tagging these posts.)

In my head:

From The Story Grid by Shawn Coyne
From The Story Grid by Shawn Coyne

You need this book.

And links:

Actively Learn


Artifact (DiscoverArtifact)


Podcasts for teaching (link to fictional podcasts — but there are many to choose from for informational/argumentative topics)

And solid books in print:


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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. 

IMG_1215 (1)
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?”


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.


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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WIHWT: Taking Sides

Gustave Dore hercules

I wish I had written this: Taking Sides: Revolution or Oppression.

Our children’s fears indict us all.

Teaching critical thinking skills is not an option. It never was, but seemed to be kept for the elite or college-bound.

One cannot teach a skill in isolation. It cannot be a stand-alone, one-off concept. Skills must always ALWAYS be connected to a bigger understanding and knowledge building. Silo teaching “may help teachers, but does nothing to help students.” It’s imperative to make the distinction between the skill, its assessment, mastery and its application.

About three years ago many teachers collaborated to create a unit on water. Coincidentally, in Ainissa Ramirez’s article “Smashing Silos, water is also used as a cross-content topic: 

One question you might have is: “How do you apply these new ways of teaching to the standards?” There are many topics that can be taught by showing the interrelation and complexity of issues while still teaching the fundamentals and linking to the standards. A key topic in the 21st century is water. This is a challenge that our children will certainly have to face. The topic of water does not fall under just history, science, math, political science or economics — it falls under all of them. As recently as 2012, The Economist2 wrote a special report entirely on water. Why not prepare students now for problems with complexity?

But I cannot explain my abstract pedagogy to others sometimes. That I have the expertise, the volume of work — units, lessons, ideas, texts, etc. I don’t speak the same language, and it gets lost in translation.

But allow me to strive for clarity: skills are critical to teach. The direct instruction of teaching even the deceptively simple task of finding a central idea cannot be separated from content. But it is our job as ELA teachers to teach and assess the skill, and then by grace, goodwill, or sheer determination the other content area teachers will understand it’s not optional. 

Someone asked me a fantastic question today, and asked specifically what and how I teach ‘central idea.’ I have many lessons for this, but I couldn’t answer, because my instruction evolves with new information and learning all the time. It’s like trying to pinpoint the moment where a snake decided to become a skink.
oh hai der

After careful study and reading, my interpretation: 

Main Idea: topic.

Central Idea: topic and author’s purpose – thesis

Theme: complex, universal truth and exploration

Some suggest central idea is intended for informational text, while them is intended for literary works. Some even use these terms interchangeably, which makes teaching it difficult. 





Okay. I’m home now.

My apologies: the gravitas that this post demands slipped past me. It’s still summer, after all. I have one more week, kind of, sort of, but not really.

Here’s where I landed:

The work of a PLC is to focus, with laser intensity, a few things and teach them exceptionally well. Preferences and bias for instruction matter only in the instance of what do they do when they ‘get it’ and when they don’t. And it all matters. My life as a reader and writer serves my students well. It provides authenticity. Someone else’s choice of text is just that: their choice.

I cannot teach without the support and collaboration from other content areas. I cannot teach in isolation. The compelling urgency to make connections and allow for talk lightens the shadows and the burden.

A mentor said to me years ago that their grades can’t be more important to me than they are to them. I finally really understand that now. It’s not about ‘accountability’ or ‘responsibility’ –two words that are used as code for ‘lazy’ and ‘poverty problems.’

It is my job to make the learning important to one and all because it is their life.

Their life.

That’s the only side.


PS “Kick these instructional strategies to the curb.”


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Speakers’ Corner

Every year about this time friends/colleagues start sharing their new school year nightmares and anxieties. Mine come in the form of “new” every year: new admin, new expectations, new district requirements, new ideas, new colleagues, new coaches and structures. I have sat in my little world creating masterpieces of curriculum and ideas to find that they’ve shrunk over the summer. I am feeling overwhelmed and bombarded by other’s opinions and structures on how to build a year right now. It’s all I can do to remind myself I too, know a few things, have a few tricks up my sleeves, and have expertise and knowledge about my school and students that no one else has. But that’s not the message I’m hearing, and I realize it’s up to me to change the filters, get some clarity, and open up my mind.

It’s the time before the school year when I need to take a deep breath and calm down. What exactly is the issue right now? 

Same thing that always causes me anxiety: people assume things about me, my students, or my school and then I feel like they’re coming to ‘fix it’ without a diagnosis. It’s threatening, and it doesn’t need to be this way. Simple fixes: ask questions. Listen. Ask more questions. Listen again. And note to self: calm down. Power pose, woman!

Rick DuFour shared his cancer journey with the auditorium during the PLC Summit. He shared his story not because he sought pity, but because he genuinely wanted us to know the power of professional collaboration. He talked about the teams of medical professionals who, along the way, discussed, conferred and collaborated to try to save his life. And unfortunately, since what they thought was a collapsed lung turned out to be lung cancer, it spread, and is now in his liver, he’s sharing his life with us now, educators who need to hear his calm strength tell us what is right by our students.

And that we can’t do it alone.

But just how do we share, so we truly learn to let go of the personal agendas, yet keep what is important to our personalities and characters? We can and should teach the same standards and give common assessments, so where does the threat of loss of autonomy bloom? I’m feeling like this “your choice of style/materials” is still greatly misunderstood and bordering on disingenuous.

When we get a document from another teacher or professional of ‘how things might be done’ perhaps we interpret that as “how it must be done.” And we balk. We lose our motivation, our agency. But how do we clear the fog and smoke and see things with clarity?

It’s really difficult to get something from another source, for me, without changing, blending, moving, or creating something new. It’s in my nature. I am a writer and artist. One cardinal rule is that you never take the paint brush out of someone’s hands and paint over their masterpiece. Or their sketch. Or crappy doodle.

But here is my new and reminded knowledge of life, self, and teaching:

label stuff

  • Keep my sense of humor –we’re all trying to be awesome, and we are…even when we’re not
  • Room at the table for everyone
  • Everything is a work in progress: what works for one moment, one group of students, may not work again. If teaching was exactly like replicable science we wouldn’t need human teachers anymore and could be robots. Blip. Bleep. Blorp. We keep our humanity in our professions by discovering new things, and using big meta data/research to keep grounded. (Thanks, Hattie!)

And I love this idea of the Speakers’ Corner — a soapbox, where we can all stand up and say our piece. 

This blog is my processing place — if something resonates with you, too, let me know.


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We need a new story.

alba book

This past week we spent three solid, enlightening, and inspiring days at the PLC Institute. I have many practical ‘put it to use immediately’ ideas, as well as a boost on the emotional side of teaching. It takes this level of inspiration and a lot of cantaloupe fruit trays to take three days from summer break and make it seem like a vacation–it was wonderful.

But then the last day, during Mike Mattos‘s keynote speech, we heard the speech from John Kennedy and going to the moon.

That speech is older than I am.

And I’m left asking:

Why don’t we have new stories?

Please don’t misunderstand me: the Apollo missions launched my childhood: civil rights, feminism, space, science, accomplishment. I, or anyone I knew, could do anything, including children of color: we were Americans, and we were smart and awesome. We had just saved the world from the most evil man in history, after all.

There is an inherent ageism in teacher conversations about change, mindset, etc. Referring to a ‘veteran’ teachers is often code for “old.” The truth is many of the same tired and over-used standbys come from younger teachers who were perhaps raised in traditional households, who took hold of some practice, and now don’t remember why. It’s that old ‘bacon in the pan’ story. They were taught how to teach a certain way, and then only listen to the presenter elders when told to mix it up. An older colleague doesn’t always carry the same veneration.

And why should it?

What have we done since we landed on the moon? Why aren’t we not only watching Kennedy challenging the nation, but Obama inspiring us with our Mars colonies? Or our cures for cancer, or diabetes? In listening to a doctor speak to cures about Parkinson’s he noted the stem cell research was halted by non-scientists. We all know someone who “doesn’t believe” in climate change as if it’s a religion and they are free to believe as they wish. Those people may even be in our close families. We have done great things, to be sure, but it all feels so singular, individualistic, and narcissistic. We create for our own emotional stages, and don’t wait to listen for applause in the silenced theatre.

There is not one damn thing to do about it, either. We live in an age where we are not only polarized politically, but the never-ending tug-of-war of ideologies and entrenched concepts mire all of us in the present tense. We all want to be right. We think the other is stupid, wrong, and even dangerously ignorant.

Cult of Pedagogy posted on Facebook a blog post she found inspirational: Of Leaders, Followers and the Self by Sherri Spelic. If I take anything away from the PLC summit, it’s that teamwork is hard, but the most important thing of all, including in our grander scale of families, friendships, and nation.

Spelic writes:

In my classes as well as in my meetings, I want to work with group members who

  • manage to listen and think before speaking,
  •  extend the respect and consideration they also hope to receive,
  • can stay open to ideas which are not their own,
  • are present with positive purpose and intentions,
  • can respect and adhere to constructive group norms,
  • can admit mistakes as well as celebrate successes.

As a teacher, these are my objectives: the skills and competencies I want to develop in my students as we go about the business of learning all things PE. My kids are great at giving me the answers they think I want in response to the question: “What made you successful as a group?”


Not everyone can be the leader. But let’s start with the hard conversation about what makes a good leader, and more importantly, what makes a good follower. It’s the shift toward member. It’s the nuance of ego and efficacy. It’s okay to have beliefs and biases as long as those don’t become an obstacle.

When I am in a reflective place, as I am now, I smirk to myself at other administrators or colleagues who have mocked me for wanting “assume good intentions” as a norm long before I read this was a good thing. It was intuitive to me. It came from a place of life experience, intelligence, and personality. But because I wasn’t offering it from a place of power, it didn’t hold value. I would challenge all collegial conversations to check your perceived value biases at the door. The brand new teacher will have something amazing to offer if you’re quiet for a moment. So might the veteran. So might anyone for that matter — the custodian, the parent, the office secretary. Each member offers insights that cannot be manufactured or crafted. That is truthful authenticity to doing, and accomplishing, anything hard.

Ready when you are.