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Saving Summer: Graphically speaking.


Back in April, my buddy Sharon and I went to the local National Consortium for Teaching About Asia weekend workshop, “Graphic Novels and Cultural Authenticity” class about graphic novels, and the Freeman Choice book award winner came to speak, too. It was a wonderful day, with some of my favorite people. All of the books except for Teaching Graphic Novels by Katie Monnin were included in the small admission price. I HAD to buy the Katie Monnin book after I saw the visual graphic organizer (see image) turn my head around about teaching theme.

Other titles to consider…
…and a few more.

The books:

Are You An Echo? The Lost Poetry of Misuzu Kaneko: Narrative and Translation by David Jacobson, Sally Ito, and Michiko Tsuboi, Illustrated by Toshikado Hajiri

American Born Chinese by Gene Luen Yang

We watched this TedEd talk, too:

Pyongyang: A Journey in North Korea by Guy Delisle

The Little Monkey King’s Journey Retold in English and Chinese

Hearing the writer speak about Misuzu Kaneko’s life and her gentle, powerful work haunted me. One caveat: the writer said something about the poet’s life being ‘tragic.’ One woman in the group pointed out that her life was not tragic, but the circumstances surrounding her death were, caused by an abusive husband. (This LitHub article about Sylvia Plath reminded me of this tendency toward dismissing women writers as tropes, swooning victims that one ‘grows out of.’) Kaneko’s life was joyous, creative, powerful and beautiful. Her estranged husband’s behaviors were tragic and awful.

The question of authenticity is framed as “cultural authenticity comprising not only of the absence of stereotypes but also the presence of values consistent with a particular culture and accuracy of cultural and historical details in the text and illustrations” by the NCTA facilitators, and it is through that lens that all teachers may consider when they approach diversity and voice in our classrooms.

For some other graphic novel resources, check these out:


Graphic Novels in the Classroom: A Teacher Roundtable



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Saving Summer: Book money.

This is a “before” picture while cleaning up my classroom before summer break. This represents about 1/3 of my classroom library. It did get organized, eventually.

I buy books. I buy too many books — well, there are never enough books, but yes, I do wish my district would buy more. The tug-of-war between the decision makers and the stakeholders (teachers and students) never seems to end. And while I scour for on-line freebies, curate as many titles as I can, nothing beats a new book, and especially, the right book, in the hands of a student who says they don’t like to read.

This thread on Twitter got my attention:

This idea that children want their own things shouldn’t be overlooked or dismissed. It seems parents hand them cell phones instead of books. Understandable. I have no issue, nor should anyone, ever say one word about a student having things that make them feel special, included, and just plain good: cell phones, new shoes, the right snapback or glitter pens. This isn’t about how parents spend their money. Or teachers. It’s about how districts view books and book lending. It becomes punitive and constrictive. How many times have I heard “I hate to read!” when it may be more of a function of “I hate worrying about other people’s *!*$!” It is the NEW book, the ownership of a book, that makes a huge difference. No one to boss or manage the time spent reading, or being given “responsibility” of reading in class, bringing the text to and fro, possibly being charged a fine if it’s lost or damaged. (I have had countless copies of Cut by Patricia McCormick go missing.)

Next year I’m looking at spending around $180 on enough copies of Lord of the Flies. I can go to Donor’s Choose and maintain that post, and jump through new bureaucratic hoops my district set up. I can ask GoFundMe for some money, which feels awful since the last GoFundMe I gave to was a young man murdered by police. Yes, he was one of ours.

So, tell me, this community of mine, how do I get new books that children can choose, keep, and read without operating in my own bank account in the negative (yes, I do). Is it possible to change the mindset of the spending at the district level to alter how they distribute funds for books? Am I just asking naive and pointless questions? Probably.

It’s easier just to fill up the Amazon cart with what I want and move on. And I know why I’m always broke. But hey, if that new copy of The Hate U Give I gave to a student before the summer showed her how much I adore her, it’s a small price to pay.

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Saving Summer: The Raven and Sunshine

It is a balmy 71 degrees Fahrenheit, 22 Celcius, and there is nothing but blue skies and Palamino ponies as far as the eye can see. Admittedly, a bit difficult to get my head back to a dreary, dark December, and knocks on chamber doors, but if I don’t do this now, I might lose the moment. Recently on the Notice and Note Facebook page, there was a wonderful thread on how to teach theme. This question provided a chance to go through some of my previous research on this question, and see other’s grand ideas. One thing I didn’t get to share was what my coach Vicky walked me through last fall: it was a new way to teach one of my favorites, The Raven, and though I need to modify the lesson and add a bit more of my personality to it, this is a wonderful approach.

Here are two previous posts:

Thematic Thursdays, published July 27, 2016

Stitching Together Themes, published November 3, 2015

Let’s walk through it:

  1. Read the text first. Sounds like a no-brainer, but sometimes we all need this reminder.
  2. Develop a few possible investigative questions for students:
    1. What is the conflict?
    2. What does the character want?
    3. What are they afraid of?
    4. What do they love?
    5. What sensory details show us possible seed ideas?
  3. Have anchor charts ready to go!

This is Vicky’s lesson plan:


The If/Then Chart: project and share
Have multiple copies of the text and display on an ELMO type device: go through the text with each class.

(I cannot find the anchor chart with all the students’ thinking…ugh: but it had words like:

  • nightmare
  • bad luck
  • loneliness
  • despair
  • loss
  • sadness

And if you need an If/Then chart for when students are finished, what they might want to do next:

And a classic:

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Summer Series of Saves: Can we talk about this?

Trying something new: let me know if this works:


Lots of good stuff in here — keep scrolling!

Questioning and Discussion go together like:


Cult posted a comprehensive list of discussion ideas and asked for additions. As I scrambled through my Binder of Power, Volume III, Section 8.5, 2ii, ready to scan and share, this article in Medium popped up by Jon Westenberg, “Do you have a Protective mindset or a Proactive mindset?” 

Oh, no. It’s too early for this level of heavy-duty self-reflection. Oh. No. I could predict with sharp accuracy, which side of the line my mindset would sit: I mean, who has huge binders full of teaching ideas, ideas and handout from almost every PD session, curriculum maps created and abandoned, ledgers of standards and learning targets? This girl. And I would bet most teachers worth their salt do, too.

But what excellent timing: cleaning out my binders and virtual digital works is daunting. I’ve been on break for almost two weeks, and it’s one chore I have completed.

However– protective and proactive may not be a fair case when it comes to educational “wheels.” We are constantly told not to ‘recreate the wheel’ but I strongly encourage to make better wheels.

Taking the wheel cliche too far: we still need the wheels–how to make them better?

The Westenberg article made me think: what do students need to build strong foundations, and what can be trashed or treasured in this process?

One area the 8th grade PLC decided to focus on for next year, and I’m saving this so I won’t forget, are the ‘grand discussion’ techniques and tools.

Whole Class Discussion Types of Talkers Smartnotebook in a PDF form:

TownHall Meeting format (from Puget Sound Writing Project PD on ELA/SS)

Discussion Checklist sheets:

Substantive Partner Project Talk organizers:

Writing Workshop Feedback forms

And don’t forget, if you use an LMS like Canvas, to dive into the Discussion on line, and teach those protocols, too.

There’s more, but I’m going to go play now.


Here are a few snapshots from the binder:

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Summer Series of Saves: S.O.S.

I am going on my twelfth year at the same Title I middle school. That is not said as a martyred projection or badge of honor, but a statement of fact, circumstances, decision making, and choices. Every teacher I know has had a rough time this past decade. Some have gone to “easier” schools, or districts, where they found a comfortable home. Some have expressed to me survivor’s guilt, and some have ‘ghosted’ our friendships, probably because working at a school like mine is hard, and it takes an emotional toll, causing me to leak out stress. Occasionally those leaks become straight-up tsunamis. I don’t blame them for not wanting to be around me: I don’t want to be around myself sometimes.

This video got to me. She maintained her composure while rubbing her hands, refocusing on her paper, and staying the course, to its climatic ending of her resignation. Her paper may well have been a white flag, and her hands in surrender. When my husband watched it, he commented how he knew I had felt this same level of pain.

No one is to blame for this: administrators do their best, district-level personnel want and desire excellence. However,  in the championed cause of “students come first” the heads of teachers become the stepping stones across this mighty gulf. Teachers are sometimes not considered the human connection between student and world, but merely the middle management, with no real authority. And some teachers do not deserve respect. I would wager, though, that any social-emotional well-being for teachers is considered superfluous. Teachers should just ‘have it.’ If you’re a parent, you know that the hardest job in the world is given to amateurs, (as my dad likes to say), and so is teaching. We make mistakes: but dang, so do our students. So how do all of us learn to do better?

We are never to take anything personally, always build relationships, and create safe places. And we do. Or we try to. But being human, we have amygdalas, too: keeping in control of our frontal cortexes in the moment is challenging. The smatterings of misogynistic, sexist, ageist, and disrespectful things said to me by a small group of students is nothing compared to the national stage of police violence, political decrepitude, and social media bruising. But I am still charged with teaching ‘soft skills’ in a world so racist and vile it hardly seems to matter.

We were all feeling something this year. No matter who you voted for, or if you didn’t vote at all, something shifted, violently and without justice.

Maybe it’s time we’re honest with one another. If we reach out for help. platitudes and trope quotes won’t help. Prayers and thoughts are sweet, but not helpful. Listen. Truly listen. Good advice: click the link.

One of my favorite episodes –not so much hope, but we are all of us in this together: