Posted on

Miles to go.


Recently my friend John Spencer posted this lovely sentiment. I responded with a snarky comment. I’m sorry, John. You try to do a nice thing and I roll my eyes. I know you forgive me because you’re cool like that. The bigger question is, can I forgive myself?

This led me to consider well, everything. The art of relaxation, and if it’s possible for me to find this place called Relaxation: it’s just as elusive as Happiness, really good deli sandwiches on the west coast, and that other silver earring I lost. It may be hard to locate.

Peeking out from under this pile are two old Macbooks in need of refurbishing.

But telling someone to relax has the adverse effect. I knew it, and then I looked up research on why. That’s usually how I roll. Confirmation bias #FTW!

Years ago when I worked one of my many other jobs, I was a customer service rep for a credit card company. I was pretty good at it, too, and not necessarily naturally. One day I made the fatal mistake of telling a woman to “calm down.” Nope. I learned very clearly that telling anyone to calm down is the worst thing you can do. The words ‘calm down’ and ‘relax’ are triggers for PAY ATTENTION YOU ARE VULNERABLE THERE MIGHT BE AN ATTACK.

Thanks, amygdala.

Finding joy and little nuggets of happiness and pleasure are imperative, perhaps more importantly, though, is not apologizing for what we find joyful or pleasurable.

Hard to relax when students are being left behind.

I do know how to relax, and define it for myself. I understand myself pretty well, actually: I tend toward obsession, and also believing that I can affect change. Relaxation for me comes in many forms, but one recurring theme is a product: there is a scarf, a collage done in Pixelmator, a poem or another piece of writing, an idea list, etc. And if we’re all being really honest with one another: we cannot define what relaxation looks like for each other. We’re in different life phases. Now my husband and I are in the ‘two-sons-in-college-and-we-have-no-retirement-because-of-job-losses-and-can’t-get-a-home-equity-loan-because-of-a-misplaced-medical-bill-but-we’re-still-happy-anyway-and-trying-not-to-freak-out” phase. Many of my teacher friends are in varying phases of no children to small children to teenagers. In my five decades+ on this planet, in this country, the holidays have never been about anything else other than a tug-of-war between consumerism and reminders of ‘what the season is truly all about.’ Women especially are placed in the unenviable position of the producers of the season. Perfectionism and responsibility for everyone else’s happiness come at a cost.

I had a dream last night that (oh heaven help us…a dream sequence….!)

Okay– I dreamed last night that I was working, and taking a break, and my principal said an emergency call came from my sons’ old elementary school, (in another district) and they needed a half-day sub, and would one of us be willing to do it? I volunteered and went to teach a first-grade class. The room was set up as if I would be taking over permanently, and though the children were cherubic, the staff welcoming, and I was praised as a welcome addition, I wanted to go back to my original 8th-grade classroom, but wasn’t sure I’d be let back in.

No need to page Dr. Freud on that one.

So in the spirit of my warped sense of relaxation, I made some how-to videos so students can review some foundational skills/strategies. I am feeling more stressed and microscopically dissected than ever before when it comes to students’ success, but like I mentioned, that belief and confidence in my abilities to meet it sure does come in handy.

Kelly Love Creator Studio

So far:

  1. How to do a One-Pager
  2. RAFTS
  3. Short Answer Responses
  4. Formatting Word Documents
  5. OneDrive and Sharing
  6. Context Clues
  7. How to Write a Summary
  8. Friday Five Vocabulary
  9. Parallel Story Writing

To come:

Questioning: Creating Questions, Levels of Questions, and Discussion Pointers

Taking a break, a real break, is really good for our souls. A walk, a nap, trying something new or completing a project that repairs, replenishes, or responds are all good, good things.

I finished up providing feedback for students and their work/analysis of Stopping By Woods on a Snowy Evening by Robert Frost. Though I heavily scaffolded, (this was the first chance I had this year to walk them through poetry), they still managed to find and make their own meaning (thank heavens).

Whose woods these are I think I know.
His house is in the village though;
He will not see me stopping here
To watch his woods fill up with snow.
My little horse must think it queer
To stop without a farmhouse near
Between the woods and frozen lake
The darkest evening of the year.
He gives his harness bells a shake
To ask if there is some mistake.
The only other sound’s the sweep
Of easy wind and downy flake.
The woods are lovely, dark and deep,
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep.

The other night my husband and I went out, and he shared this Neil Finn podcast with me. Neil Finn and Crowded House is our soundtrack to our lives. I sang along in my terrible, flat voice, and my husband not only didn’t care but encouraged me.

Relax? Find joy? Play a song and sing–and cry a little bit if you need to, too.

Theme song: Don’t Dream It’s Over



Posted on

Series: Elements of Structure Part 9: Parody & Satire

I think I would cease to function if I didn’t have my sense of humor.

Everyone thinks they have a sense of humor, but…

Humor is one of the most difficult mediums to write. One way to allow students to access their natural silliness is to introduce them to parody and satire.

Parody: intended to spoof by using humor based on an existing piece/genre

Satire: intended to criticize something or someone, often with humor, but not necessarily.

Is Monty Python Satire? (Click for a PDF)

Malcolm Gladwell’s podcast, Revisionist History (did I list that one, too!?) did a show on satire. The upshot is we Americans do a pretty terrible job at satire–it’s McWeaksauce sometimes–but is still important. I wonder what it says about the nation who invented stand-up can’t do satire as well? Hmm. 

Media Literacy: Middle School Kids Love Parody

How would we go about introducing students to parody and satire? They are well-versed in memes and Youtube channels that provide so many examples and are masters at consuming media/humor. But how to create content? Perhaps I would pose the question to them: what angers, frustrates, or annoys them, and how would they like to create their own parodies? It’s important to point out parodies are not mean-spirited or bullying. What rules do they think are silly or goofy (I think the beloved yellow safety vest hall pass might their first target)?

And yes, while I think this is terrible, from a jester-level sense of humor, it is kind of funny:

Article Link in Cosmopolitan

From a historical standpoint, how has parody and satire changed the world? And it has, no doubt. Mocking rulers, institutions, sacred cows and laws, parody and satire help us all laugh so we don’t cry. And that makes us stronger.

Ms. Chappele’s Student Site

Examples of Satire in Candide/Seattle PI Education Site

And of course: (PG 13 language)

This is something I’m going to try on very soon. We all could use a good laugh.

But sometimes it doesn’t feel good to be the butt of a joke.


Posted on

Series: Elements of Structure Part 8: Zines and Chaps

From SheRa
From SheRa

Zine magazines and Chapbooks – two formats that have specific structures that speak to the urgency of getting something out there, fast, with beauty.

In this recent post, The Resurgence of the Zine Culture, the writer makes a strong case for zines returning popularity.

“It’s as simple as folding some paper and letting your creativity flourish. Splatter paint on it, write words haphazardly across the page, photograph everything. You can write about cats or “Doctor Who” or the ways media is suppressing black voices. There are no rules and no limits.”

Seriously: the potential for this!! Students crave a balance between making things and screentime, though these can be published on- line too, and distributed to a wider audience.  But how intimate and urgent is the passed note, the quick shout?

I am curious, though, what would be the learning target and success criteria wording?

Something to the effect, “SWBAT…

I mean, just how do I translate “But, as Rookie Magazine said, “Zine-making isn’t about rules or knowledge; it’s about freedom and power.” to a learning target?

Magical paraphrasing will come to me, no doubt.

In any case, I’m thinking this is a great idea to spark January or add to my Burning Questions unit (whenever that happens…).

But maybe that’s the point of a zine: it needs to happen right now. Maybe I’ll make one this afternoon.


Posted on

Series: Elements of Structure Part 7: World Building

Open Culture: Annotated Map
Open Culture: Annotated Map

Recently my arrival at some conclusions has left me feeling a bit off, beginning with my inability to make decisions or plan, as if I thought I knew what my destination was, only to find out I am on the other side of the rails. In conjunction with the dawning light that while I work at a Title I school, my judgment, motivation, professionalism and even integrity will always be criticized at worst, and questioned at least. Can I build up my students’ learning with the help of colleagues and collaboration, or will continue to be singled out?

Which is why I’m sitting here questioning if this idea is a good one or not. If I’ll get support or buy-in, or not. And if not, does it matter? Not all ideas are good ones.

*Inner voice: “Stop. Stop writing about your process. Just spill it: what’s the idea?”*

Okay: World Building.

Think about it.

This unit would cover every single content area, including health/fitness.

  • Social Studies: What better way to understand the world and history than to create one from scratch?
  • English/Language Arts: What better way to familiarize oneself with archetypes, monomyths, plot, setting, structure and creativity?
  • Math: What better way to understand how the boundaries and shapes of things influence our lives? Productivity, consumerism, population and exponential thinking and real-world problems?
  • Science: What better way to look at the impact of disease, oceans, pollution, land masses, air to breathe and inventions influence culture,
  • PE/Health: What better way to explore the kinetic movements of cultures, tribes, groups, cities, as well as health and well-being? Do you think for one moment Thorin Oakenshield wasn’t buff?!

(Just needed an excuse to post a picture of T. O.:)


  • Exploratory: Cooking, making, building, music, technology: all the ways we’re connected and engaged.


I read The Fifth Season by N.K. Jemisin recently, and it’s amazing. It does have some graphic sexuality, so wouldn’t recommend for anyone younger than 17-18. Her world-view and creation are sublime. It took me some time to understand what was happening, but once I fell into the setting it felt like I had lived there forever, and now. And isn’t that the true beauty of a new world, a fantasy world? It feels more truthful than the real one and helps give context to what’s known and believed.

And please: don’t forget women in your world.

I often tell students that the best thing about writing is getting to play god/goddess: you create the world and control the characters, and this is empowering. At this writing, I’m not sure what the end product will be, or the essential questions/enduring understanding. Units weren’t built in a day, you know.

One idea to help students get started is to take a few ‘micro’ pictures of land, and see if they can create a world from it:

Except for the giant beastie's leg, this might be a good place to start.
Except for the giant beastie’s leg, this might be a good place to start.

So, as I’ll map out my ideas later. The essential piece is the questions, and take a page from creation and origin myths. What needs to be made first, and how to make it?

If you have any ideas to share, please do so.

Posted on

Series: Elements of Structure Part 6: It’s like…






How do we connect with readers?

I am cursed with reading. I used to love it: diving down deep into a novel or story, sprinkling my mind with pixie dust and faraway vistas. It seems all I read lately are op-ed pieces that make my blood pressure rise. My tether to fantasy and imagination frays and twists: reading for pleasure is challenging.  A recent article in the Washington Post by Charles Lane, “Griping about the popular vote? Get over it.” Lane begins his piece as any hack, by using a sports analogy.

I hate sports analogies.

Sports analogies are accessible to the majority of readers. However, I contend that the use of a poorly-ironed out sports analogy is dangerous and defective. The sports analogy he uses doesn’t make sense: he states that the election is like giving the presidency to the yards gained, not the points scored. How about explaining the laws on the books and the Constitution? Oh, perhaps that’s too rough for his audience and his purpose: he wants to give Trump supporters the ‘feel good’ moment of a football analogy to make them feel smart and nod in understanding and agreement, not realizing how flimsy it all is. The article is embedded with links and other ideas that counter the writer’s. It’s easy to see how analogies can misdirect and overwhelm. Why look up any counter argument when the sports analogy is right there?

Today the Electoral College will decide if the president-elect is qualified or not, treasonous, or not, and fit to serve the American people. (He’s not.) And this is how using a cliche or analogy that is false can be dangerous.

One of my friends, (we don’t see eye to eye politically, but we do enjoy the conversation: a rare gift these days) asked me about what kinds of analogies are useful. I’m not sure.

My mind’s been wandering and created this list of (cliched) analogies:

  • Sports
  • Pregnancy/giving birth
  • Ship/Sailing
  • Journey/enlightenment
  • Gaming
  • Winners/losers
  • Quest
  • Family/kids
  • War/Battle
  • Magic/Entertainment
  • Cooking/baking
  • Gardens/growing

What other ones can you think of?

The difference between an analogy and an anecdote in this instance is the analogy misdirects the reader to feel that some parallel logic, while an anecdote, being personal, speaks to larger themes and questions, and in this instance would provide greater credibility and connection.

This information is from the blog:

Simile: A comparison between two DISSIMILAR things, using “like” or “as” – e.g. Her face is like an ice cream cone

Metaphor: An implicit comparison between two DISSIMILAR things – e.g. He is a warthog ***In both similes and metaphors, the second item takes the place of the first item.*** In other words, the face has the qualities of an ice cream cone, the man is a warthog. ALSO NOTE: The meaning of a simile or a metaphor IS NOT LITERAL. Her face is not triangular or cold to the touch, and he does not smell bad or have pointy teeth coming out of his face.

Analogy: A statement that shows how someone or something IS ACTUALLY LIKE a second thing. In an analogy, unlike a simile or metaphor, you do not use the second item to replace the first, but rather, to highlight some unseen quality. Instead of saying “He is a pig” (a metaphor), one might say, “Watching you eat is like watching a pig roll in mud”

Cliché: A simile, metaphor or analogy that has been overused. The reason for using the above devices is to bring some NEW insight to a piece of writing. Using old, threadbare similes, metaphors and analogies add little, if anything to the writing.

e.g. like a rock (simile), she is an angel (metaphor), dead as a doornail (analogy)

Easy, right?

The trick is to avoid using cliches, but that’s not an easy trick to pull off. (So very meta in the cliche department right now.)

Here are a few other sites that may prove useful:

When you have a purpose and message for speaking, my advice would be to use anecdotes over analogies.

We had a former admin who used to show us this scene from Remember the Titans. It was his theme “song:”

I remember this, but more importantly, I remember a personal story he shared about a teacher who held him up to higher standards and kept him accountable. I remember his personal story more.

My current admin plays us this, (and it scares the mess out of us):

We’re still in the process of getting to know one another, but the more personal stories she shares and her vision, the stronger the whole staff is. We don’t need to be scared into coming to work — it’s not motivating. We know how important it is. We just want to get to work.

Neither of these is wrong, inaccurate, or without merit and feeling. They are short-cuts to a broader message, and that’s the purpose of analogies, anecdotes, and allusions. They help connect the reader quickly to ideas. Just be cautious in that the ideas are connected well and strong.