So, I’ve been thinking about the fun things I can do with the lasercutter in our makerspace. I had planned to spend Mondays in the Makersapce over the summer. #MakerspaceMondays was my idea. It was a good idea, but it didn’t happen that way. I’m now trying to make up for lost Mondays.

I had in mind a lot of natural shapes–trees, leaves, plants, etc. I imagined cutting these shapes in felt and then maybe leather, because I saw  some really lovely work by a crafter at a local festival. She hand cut leather into necklaces, using great patterns–everything from natural shapes to pirate ship. However, I had already spent my money by the time I got to her booth. Time to improvise. I figured I could start in felt and see in anything deserved to move up to leather.

I searched for pubic domain images in vector graphic form on Pixabay and went from there. My first attempt was a tree that was a very complex. Then, I went the other extreme and tried some very simple shapes: teacups.


Then I tried a group of trees in several colors. I also tried remixing the trees and backgrounds. This is definitely not a final product, but I’ll keep them around for something.

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Then, I tried combining images into big panels. First I tried this strategy with snowflakes. My plan here was to make a large bib sort of thing. I cut both white and black felt. Not bad. There’s something to work with there.

Finally I decided I should go back to leaves, but start with the real thing. So, I stepped outside, collected a few leaves, arranged them in an arc, and then traced it in a good, dark sharpie so that I could take a picture, put it into Adobe Illustrator, and then cut. It’s a good start. Too wide, but I can adjust the shape.

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I used the StichPic app to combine the images.

And in keeping with my previous projects (my taxonomy projects), I have five versions of similar work. I am definitely finding that keeping this habit of making 5 of something to be really helpful. It keeps me working on a particular idea longer, which of course means that I make more progress either in my understanding of a tool, my thinking about an idea, or my ability to combine them both.

Hooray for making.

 

 

So, I’ve been thinking about commonplace books. However, I have to admit, I wasn’t even sure what they were until recently, which is odd because I have been making my own collections of words and favorite bits and pieces of this-and-that forever. I am a collector at heart. (Doesn’t collector sound better than hoarder?)

I decided that my students need to start their own common place books. But, let me explain the entire thought process.

First, I was at the Ann Hamilton installation at the Fabric Workshop Museum in Philadelphia, habitus. (I am a total Ann Hamilton fangirl. She does amazing work that really speaks to the way I like to think about things. Her the event of a thread installation at the Park Avenue Armory in NYC in 2012 was one of my favorite things.) Anyway, habitus investigates strands of fabric and text. Part of the display included commonplace books as well as fabric sample books, collections of fabric scraps from museum collections. In addition, Ms. Hamilton created a deconstructed commonplace book of her own. She had a selection of passages from various texts (all about clothing) lined up on a shelf. There were many copies of each, and viewers were encouraged to take copies of passages that they particularly liked.

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As my husband and I were waiting to go to move along, I got to thinking about how collecting bits of ideas is such a great habit. It means that the collector is constantly engaging with ideas and should he or she want or need to write about those ideas, so much of the thinking work is already underway. Time to find patterns, be original, and come to some conclusions. However, too often student writers start with deciding on their conclusion and then look for proof rather than really engaging with topic, wrestling with the content, and then deciding on their conclusion. I thought about this same idea two summers ago during my teaching writing course, which confirmed my thoughts that students need to do more looking at the evidence before deciding on their point, rather than deciding on their point and then looking for proof.

The habit of making a commonplace book could help here. Then, as I was wandering around the interwebs and thinking about this, I came across this post about a modern commonplace book-keeper. So, now I’m thinking about how to incorporate this idea into my English class. I have a lot planned for our next book, but our big book (The Art of Fielding) might be the perfect place to give this a try. Because it is a long book, students will really need to keep more notes and thoughts as they read. Also, that gives me some time to make a plan.

I can’t wait.

 

So, I’ve been thinking about team building activities. Into everyone’s professional life a little team building must fall. The question is will it just happen to you or will it be useful? I have certainly been a part of both sorts of team building. Really, anyone who had been employed for more than a nanosecond could probably say the same thing.

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public domain image

I thought I would chat a bit about  a recent exercise I participated in that I thought was likely to be useful.

I am part of lots of groups and committees. One of them had a team building type session the other day. We realized a little while back that while we knew in general what each of us did, we had some gaps, some gaps that were not helping us work well together. After batting around a number of ways for us to get to know each other across subgroups, we landed on a session organized by a consultant we work with frequently. We met in pairs to have a short conversation, the goal of which was to get “behind our walls”. The walls we were to get behind were walls that separated our position and responsibilities from those of others, nothing personal. There were a set of questions for the interviewer to ask the interviewee. Many of them were what you might expect.

However, there was one question that really hit me:

What can I start doing, stop doing, or do differently to support your leadership?

There are so many things that I love about this question.

  • It asks me to take some responsibility for the success of the other person as a leader and vice versa.
  • It is not about taking part of my colleague’s job responsibilities, but rather about potentially small changes in what I do and say to more clearly support my colleague.
  • It puts me in partnership with my colleague and he or she with me in terms of leadership not just being generally nice at lunch and chatting at events.

Of course, I already knew we are all in it together. This was not news to me. Still, this interview made me more aware of my role as leader who actively supports other leaders and who can and should expect this in return. And it made me wonder how can I help others support me?

This particular group is full of leaders who have different, sometimes very different, areas of expertise. So, in order to help others help me lead, I have decided that I will be more aware of when I might need to do some education in conjunction with presentation when I am engaging with the group.  Might I need to give some pedagogical background or explain in more than passing summary a particular teaching strategy? Would it be worth sharing a particularly helpful article or video? I don’t want to overwhelm people, but I do want to build our shared knowledge base.

I am reminded again, that I am a teacher, no matter what title I might have.

So, I’ve been thinking about reflection. Again. Always. It is going to be a theme for the year at my school.

See, how that is working out? I slowly got more people on board, kept talking about how it was connected to whatever anyone was talking about. . .

Anyway, I had planned to start off with some get to know you/reflection form with my senior class. However, with this and that getting in the way, my questionnaire was incomplete and I was about to scrap it. Then, I ran into a colleague who was also asking her class some basic questions, and I was reinspired. I’m so glad I was.

I thought about what I would really need to know and what would be helpful for my students to think about. I also thought about those posts going around the interwebs at the moment about asking students what they wish their teacher knew about them. Here’s what I came up with.

 

Nothing fancy, but seemed reasonable.

Once again, I am so glad I asked. How often will I say/write this before I stop being amazed? Hard to say.

I learned lots of interesting information. Several students noted that they are visual learners. Right away I altered the product options for the first assignment. Rather than everyone having to make a rubric, which is not all that interesting visually, I made a flow chart/infographic an option as well. My goal for the work is for students to consider the characteristics they do and do not appreciate in ‘good reads’ and then to create a tool to use in measuring these same qualities.I’m looking for sophisticated comparison and evaluation along several characteristics. A rubric will work, but honestly it’s not the only thing that will work. And, rubric making is not the skill I am looking to improve so no one has to do that for me to get the information I want. A well done if-this-then-that chart with plenty of options and alternative routes will show me just as much of the student’s thought process and let me evaluate the complexity of their evaluation just as well.

The added bonus of giving additional product options is that if one particular product is more to a student’s liking, then I am more likely to get better work and work that more accurately demonstrates the student’s understanding. What teacher wants to spend time evaluating something that isn’t a good representation of a student’s ability or knowledge? Not this teacher.

I haven’t seen the products yet. And, I may need to give a little class time for tweaking as I did not do much explaining of the assignment, although it was described on the assignment sheet. (How much should I have to explain an assignment such as this to seniors, if I linked to examples of rubrics? A post for another time.) However, I am going to put this in the win category in terms of using student feedback to inform my teaching. I hope the products are good too.

 

 

 

 

 

So, I’ve been thinking about the power of the pile, that stuff that accumulates and starts to matter. I first was thinking about student reflection adding up. Another thing that I think about piling up in this way is the sexual violence in the novels we have students read in English class. I am a regular broken record on the topic.

I’m against any kind of violence in real life. And, I understand that books include violence in many forms and for many reasons. But, as I said in my first power of the pile post‘, one is just one, two makes a line and any more than that and we have a pattern forming. But what pattern do we have? What I worry about is the pattern about relationships that we normalize when so many of the relationships we read about revolve around sexual violence against women. We’re not spreading the violence around. Would that even be better? It’s pretty well concentrated and aimed at women by men. I know we as teachers can say that this is unhealthy, that this is not what we should tolerate in our own lives. And we do that. And then, kids go on and hear or don’t hear that message and go on a read or don’t read the book.

The pile grows.

What other piles need to be ready to provide another point of view? No one book in the curriculum is an issue; it’s the pile. Do we have enough works that have other stories, other relationship patterns? As I spoke with a few colleagues about this the other day, it was this idea that we could all agree on–the idea that we can’t put a single story out there, over and over, so that it piles up and makes the only pile. Having these conversations with my colleagues, when the bell isn’t about to ring, is such a gift. The discussion helped me think a little differently, with more complexity, about the issues, let me practice making my point and refining it, and allowed me to gain perspective. Just another time that reaffirmed for me the awesomeness of the people with whom I work.

Back to the topic.

I also wonder: Does the pile start to say this is what real literature is about or this is what you need to be a grown up book or this is what contemporary works are or that these are the kind of relationships that are exciting to read about? Ultimately, does this become not only normal but to be expected?

Screen Shot 2016-07-31 at 10.15.09 PMPart of what makes me worry about this is an experience I had last year in my YA literature class with seniors. We read Two Boys Kissing by David Levithan. This is an award-winning YA novel that centers around characters and their relationships most of which fall into the gender and sexual diversity category. There is nothing graphic about the situations or relationships that are described. There is kissing. There is a wandering hand or two. There is a lot of hand holding. There are bodies close together. Everyone keeps their clothes on, all the time. And yet, more than one student used the word graphic to describe the book. However, these same students think the rape of a female character in another book was graphic. That was a ‘relationship’ they were familiar with in literature.

I have passed this book around to get some other reactions to it. Maybe I am missing something. Nope. I’m not. It was recommended to me in good faith and was awarded prizes for good reason.

So, this coming year in my YA class, I’m adding this book to the ‘everyone reads it’ book group, rather than a choice book. I will of course help students think about their reactions to the book, its characters, and relationships. Time to add to a different pile.

So, I’ve been thinking about learning walks. Learning walks were a topic of discussion in #clmooc a while back. I did not exactly get on it at the time. However, the other day, I was walking around school looking for potential images to turn into patterns with one of my new favorite apps, Adobe Sketch.

I wasn’t really thinking about it as a learning walk at the start. Then, I was looking at something not through the camera and when I looked down my camera was focused on the patterned carpet and my toes. It turned out that image was more interesting than what I was seeing up at eye level. This got me thinking about what other patterns there might be around school. So, I went on a walk around school looking for different floor surfaces. I kept my toes in each image, because toes are summery. But also, schools are learning spaces for people, and people have toes. Not everything is so serious.

Here is a collection of some of the different floors I found. (Images combined with Pic Stitch) This lead me to think about the learning spaces associated with the various floors, which I tweeted to #clmooc.

Some of them certainly look more inviting to me. Some of them also look like they would be part of rooms that would be more conducive to learning, rooms that would be come comfortable, rooms that would be more informal. Loud rooms, quiet rooms, even outdoor rooms with no walls.

My picture then needed some more commentary. I used Adobe Spark to add text.

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I have some follow up questions for myself:

  • Could students at my school identify the various rooms or areas based on the floor?
  • What choice do we give students about the spaces in which they learn?
  • What sort of images would students take from a school learning walk?

So, I’ve been thinking about weaving and my ongoing taxonomy project. (I started these sets of works after hearing a colleague talk about her MFA program assignment in which she made 10 sets of 10 works. I am going with sets of 5 and using the term ‘works’ very loosely.) My most recent set of works for my taxonomy project was weaving with sticks and yarn. At the end of my post about it, I thought about doing something with words next as I have been doing quite a bit with blackout poetry this past year. And, that is what I did. I combined weaving, blackout poetry, sewing, and some loose pieces (stamps) to create this set of works.

Each image is a combination of facing pages torn from The Adventures of Ulysses by Bernard Evslin. I have a very hard time destroying books, but I am getting better at it. The first tear is the hardest. This particular book was not in good shape, pages taped it, very discolored, etc. Anyway, I started with a page of text and cut each line part, keeping the very left hand side uncut. Then I found other paper, brown craft paper, music score, magazine images, and patterned paper, and cut a similar sized rectangle with wide vertical strips. I wove these together. That was step one.

For step two I decided to take the facing page and make a blackout poem.

The next step was creating dome sort of unified image with both pages and some other bits and pieces. I have a lot of Greek stamps, so I got those out first. Since I had heavy white paper as my background I thought about painting some of the backgrounds. However, in the end I didn’t like most of the painted backgrounds and swapped them out. The light water color colors were not working for most of the images.

Finally, I sewed on top of everything. Sometimes the sewing related to the words or image, other times it did not.

Now for the images.


This is one of the images that started out with a watercolor background. I think the white is much better, especially with the red stitching, which I did with a sewing machine.


The music score makes the right hand side very busy, but the poem side is minimal. I had another watercolor background that I decided not to use for this one. I like the free form swirls on on both sides. I had a stamp that I was going to put on, but I forgot and decided that it is fine without it, for the moment anyway.


I wanted muted colors for sleep, hence the gray edge and blue stitching. The image on the stamps seem sort of dreamy. The image on the right has a picture of kids on one of those swing rides at an amusement park.


This is the only image where I like the pastel softness. The last line of the poem reads, “she did not flinch.” So, I like the combination of the lily on the stamp, the lavender stitching, and the strong words. The image woven into the text is a woman standing next to a battered boat, which I thought was particularly good since the books pages were from the Circe chapter.


This one has the most going on. Between the patterned paper on the weaving page, the multicolored background, the writing, the stamp (the ‘and yet’ part come to life as the men return to fighting) and the sewing, there’s a lot to take in. And yet, (ha!) I don’t find it overwhelming. I really like how the yellow swirling stitching connects the two sides of the image.

What a great way to spend a staycation day.