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Saving Summer: Rethinking Themes, Essays, and Media

I’m about to do a dangerous thing: post a document long before it’s “ready.” It is not even close, and I think–that’s where it should be. A finished document would mean there is no room for growth or adaptation; it’s a sketch. Flipping my thinking around about the silo type of units, students would be better served if we took a gravitational, or centrifugal force idea. While we’re spinning, we stay connected and use metacognition to be cognizant of what draws us in. Choices are key, here, with a map for guidance. In essence, every UBD and essential questions demand a variety of genres and modes of texts. We think about big issues in a kaleidoscope way, not linear. I started thinking about units I’ve created in the past, and some of the theme topics, and came up with this document:

Ethical ELA is a huge influencer, and sites such as

Nothing should be off limits: essays, short stories, podcasts, films, novels, poetry, letters, texts, tweets, news, classics and modern re-tellings, pop culture, graphic novels, series: sources for texts and media are bordering on the infinite. If you can write it or read it, it belongs.

Oh, and for the curated list, a wonderful collection of essays that may come in handy:

10 personal essays that will teach you how to write

What big questions are ones you come back to again and again in your teaching? No matter how many times I watch Descendants, I see something new.

Descendants from Goro Fujita on Vimeo.


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Finding the exits.

Through the door…

Did you ever hear a buzzword or jargon from an evaluator or someone in an evaluative role and while you’re nodding your head, you have the realization that it’s meaningless without context? (That’s a nice way of saying baloney.) Recently the idea of ‘students not having a sense of urgency’ was attributed to my practice, and this made my hackles rise. I’ve been reflecting on what part is defensiveness, irritation, etc. for a few days now. The notion of ‘urgency’ connotes panic. Fortunately, I had read Andrew Miller’s article, The Tyranny of Being On Task before this jargon was laid out there, so I felt prepared to counter with research. But it also is about processing and allowing for confusion.

In any case, reflection is a two-way viewpoint. There are times we all want our students to feel, well, maybe urgent is too potent of a word but compelled to find out something new or talk about things that affect them, their families and world. Sometimes I wonder if I provide too much high cognitive demand–is there such a thing?  With Burning Questions and other rigorous thinking tasks, if one only sees a slice of a room during the process, no fair or accurate evaluation is possible.

In any case, here are some curated questions. Some of them were time-bound, and the topics aren’t relevant any longer. (I am not sure anyone cares if Mitt Romney was a bully in high school. Or maybe they do. *shrug*).

From the New York Times Learning Network:

163 Questions to Write or Talk About

55 Questions for Students

183 Questions for Writing or Discussion

Urgency, or passion, shifts and changes for us all. For example, by the end of this lesson, a reluctant writer wrote a delightful story. Many stepped up, took risks, and tried something new. When I see them again, they will all hear positive feedback on their growth in the process. And with that, I do have a sense of urgency.