Archive for September, 2015

So, I’m still thinking about the taxonomy project that my colleague talked about at a faculty meeting. I know, still thinking about something from a faculty meeting is pretty big.

Screen Shot 2015-09-25 at 9.16.13 AMAnyway, after my first set of things (painted horse shoe crab shells) I thought about keeping with the idea of altering found objects. Because I am not really a good enough artist to be able to create from scratch quickly enough to maintain this project, and I have a day job, altering found objects seemed like a good way to keep with the creative, multiples, and quickness aspects of the project while giving myself a break on some of the technical art skills. I took a quick look around my house and thought about what objects were around and staring me in the face. All these bread bag tags stared back at me, or at least I thought they did.

I started thinking about what to do with all of these little, multi-colored pieces. However, what came to mind was tiny paintings on them. Too much skill required for that. Turning them into something besides the equivalent of a macaroni necklace wasn’t very inspiring either. I still think there is an idea to be had with these things, but I have put them aside for the moment.

Instead I turned to paper and collage. Working with one Sunday edition of the New York Times and the Financial Times and their respective Sunday magazines, I made small collages or back out poetry with words and images. Each finished little image has words or images from only one section of the paper. I focused on the Magazine and Arts & Leisure sections for the most parts. Here are a number of images. Each one is 5 3/4 x 8 1/2 inches, because that is the size of the paper in the little sketch book I found in my art closet.

FT Magazine

FT Magazine

I love the word “flâneur”. The text is from an Hermès ad, the sheep are from an ad for wool something.

Arts & Leisure

Arts & Leisure

These three images are all collections of image bits from the New York Times T Magazine, September 13th, 2015 edition. I just kept cutting out rectangles until I didn’t want any more and then grouped them. #1 consists of all home images from one story. I realized I had a lot of white images and so sewed a piece of vellum that I painted with watercolor as a background for those. The final set is “this and that.”


NYTimes Magazine #1

NYTimes Magazine #1

NYTimes Magazine #2

NYTimes Magazine #2

NYTimes Magazine #3

NYTimes Magazine #3

Finally, I tried a black out poetry idea, but with an image blacking out the words rather than marker. I chose the words I wanted to keep, made a template from which to cut any other image, and looked around. They don’t really need a wider audience at this point, but once there are more, maybe.

One of the things I like about this project is the fact that there are constraints which provide some structure. Not everything is an option, which is fine. If I stick with the newspaper as a starting place, I may use the crossword puzzles next or do more with blackout poetry, always a favorite of mine.

So, I’ve been thinking about Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut. I am teaching a senior English elective called Truth and Fiction, and Slaughterhouse-Five is our first book.

When I was talking with the class, preparing them to read the first chapter, I of course mentioned that this is not a linear story. Some students spoke up right away to say that they found this type of narrative hard to follow. It is handy that Mr. Vonnegut put in ” *  *  *” between sections; however, I wanted the students to be able to see the big ideas being carried through these non-linear vignettes. Also, I am a fan of diagrams, charts, color coding, and other Making Thinking Visible ideas. Finally, I thought about a piece of art that I saw at the Student Exhibition at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts in June.


I shared this image with the class because I think it is an interesting visual, but also because I think it is so neatly organized and effectively shows complexity, connections, and organization all in one. My thought was that we would create something similar from the first chapter.

The first chapter is 28 pages and has 22 little sections ranging in length from a brief paragraph to several pages. I copied all the text and cut and taped it into sections. Each section went on a 11×17 piece of paper and students annotated the sections, highlighted key text, and thought about themes. Then, we spread out the sheets in order, took string and used it to show when particular themes appeared. Here’s what we came up with.

S5 ch1 copy

It could be neater.

I think what I wanted to show was that even in this choppy, nonlinear narrative, there were themes and big ideas emerging.

This task could definitely use some improvement. I did something similar on a smaller scale when my 5th graders read Tuck Everlasting, by Natalie Babbit. It that case, we had only 3 story lines we were following and for each chapter we either put the string that represented the story line on top of our little card or behind it. Ultimately we had a row of 25 slips of paper/chapters with the 3 strings going in and out, in front and behind, to show which story line was “in the spot light” in that chapter. For those 5th graders, it was important to represent visually that the other story line(s) had not disappeared; they were simply not our focus. For seniors discussing themes, the task was more complex, as it should be. A couple of things were not necessarily perfect about this iteration of the task. First, there were a lot of little pieces to deal with all at once and yet, we have only read the first chapter. Second, while I wanted us to start with this task for some legitimate reasons, it might also be something that would be better if started midway through the book. In this version, we used all the text. However, what if we started midway through, after having a sense of what ideas we really want to follow, and were more selective in terms of the pieces of text that we pulled out? I suspect we would be better able to see connections between and among sections as well as themes.

Ooooh, what if when we get to the end and students are writing an analytical paper, they make a visual representation of their thoughts before they begin to write? Is this too abstract for the non-visual learner? Thoughts?


Posted: September 20, 2015 in Uncategorized

 So, I’ve been thinking about how to give compliments to colleagues. Sometimes it’s easy, so I have no problem there. But, what if the compliment has potential to lead to a seriously weird conversation?

Here’s my situation. I noticed that someone I work with was making a real effort in leadership. I noticed serious attention to all sorts of dealings with individuals and groups, an attempt to be clear, to be firm when necessary. I see this person working to lead in a way that is calm and does not become frantic in the midst of a contentious discussion. And, I know how hard many of those things can be, not because I have mastered them. I know because I am working on some of these things myself.

When I am in meetings and can look around, I take a lot of mental notes about who says what, who reacts in what way, who gains attention, who earns respect sometimes begrudgingly. I also watch to see how opinions line up. Depending on who expresses an opposing view point, who piles on, and who holds back, the whole thing can either get nicely wrapped up or get shot to hell. As someone working in EdTech, I am frequently in the position of being seen as the spokesperson for Change or in some peoples opinion the end of education as we know it. I have had to take the long view on more than one occasion. I remind myself that I am playing the long game, and I’ll be back tomorrow. I don’t like to lose. So, I’ll come around from another direction, I’ll find another person to voice some key ideas, I’ll schmooze.

Back to my colleague who has been working hard. I thought about sending an email saying I notice and appreciate this. However, this  is someone with more experience than I have, and there are some confusing lines between our various positions based on my multiple roles. I worried that I would sound somehow supervisor-ish, when I am not, or like I am the voice of experience, which again I am not. Ugh.

Problem solved when my colleague asked for feedback! I then got the chance to say how much I had been thinking about and appreciating all the effort and did not know how to pass that on. However, I am interested in thoughts on how I could have proceeded if I had not had the opening. Any recommendations?


p.s. Already got an email thanking me for the feedback. We are all doing the happy dance, for the moment.

  So, I’ve been thinking about a colleague’s summer professional development. I know I should be thinking about my own professional development, and I am, but this other summer work just got me thinking.

My colleague is an artist and art teacher who has just started the Low-Residency MFA program at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts. Awesome! At our opening faculty meeting she shared a little about a particular project from one of her courses this summer. It was called the taxonomy project. Make 10 works in each of 10 categories, all small in size, no time to be super careful or precious, come up the categories, no changing, and get busy.

As my colleague shared both her work and the lessons she learned from the project, I thought about how this related to writing. I’m thinking a lot about making time for a lot more writing in my English class and the idea that many small art works would push creativity resonated with me. Doing more short writing (that may not even be graded) seems analogous to the taxonomy project. In the summer teaching writing course that I took, several of the instructors spoke about what improves writing–a lot of writing improves writing, not a lot of teacher correction on a little bit of writing. (Really why should this not be the case? A lot of what makes kids better readers is reading, reading a lot. So no surprise.) Just doing a thing over and over, I believe that would be called practice, works. Another thing that my colleague noted was that with the 10 categories, she was forced to come up with a lot of potential ideas rather than commit to one, even one that she thought was going to great. And, in doing so, she found other ideas that were really interesting. How will my still inexperienced writers find new paths and new techniques if they don’t ever have to push through “I’ve got nothing.” 100 pieces of writing in my one semester course seems somewhat unrealistic. I mean the kids do take other classes besides mine. So more, reason to stick to my goal of more writing.

And, I totally want to do my own taxonomy art project. There is no way I have the time or skill to do that, but here’s my first set of 10 objects.

I may work on several collections of slightly altered objects, seems a good fit for my level of artistic ability. What other objects should I consider collecting and altering?