Archive for November, 2015

So, I’m still thinking about my abbreviated and slowly progressing taxonomy projects. In addition, I’m still thinking about the #twitstedpair blogging challenge. I think this set of work for my mini taxonomy also fits the twistedpair idea.

I have been working with blackout poetry for a while. As I think about it, blackout poetry is a lot like the altered objects take on my art works; it’s creative to a point, but there’s a sizable starting block. Even if I do not like the starting block, I don’t have to make it too. So I get a little boost and take a little less credit. For me, fair trade.

My next group of works and poems, and I use those terms very loosely, is a set of blackout poem based on catalog descriptions.  I used two catalogs that were sitting around my house, found some of the wordier descriptions, and set to work. I have to admit, one set is pretty boring. So, I put them into a little book format to try to dress them up. Not sure it helps.


Poems, top to bottom, left to right, from top right: 1. Women are not all the same, for decades they rave, substantial is just right, won’t like regular labels. 2. Wicked Good, here in Maine you’ll understand imitations, you are Genuine, Imported. 3. Lined with our men selected to complement its machine. 4. Storm, the protection of rubber boots, running, feet dry. 5. True heritage split flat falls low.

The second set is a little more interesting and came from a catalog that tries to have more of a specific personality. I added some bits and bobs to the pages with the poems since they seemed to call for something more off beat.


Take transformative power and find it dark both early and late, join me (hidden in image by paper shreds).


Yarnspinner For every performance conquest is on the horizon, our skin skimming Glacier ice, the cold reflective, solid.


Baselayer the families fell in love with What was just thin enough, slides easily this year. A bit of whimsy, itch-free, wide, comfy, breathable, light on our feet.


Katy is a transplant with no perfect daily story online.


Speed and thunder, steel rail, take us beyond home.

As I think about the poetry and catalogs as a twisted pair, what I like is that both are, for the most part, about economy of words. (Yes I know there are epic poems, but they are the exceptions.) And, as I read the catalogues for words, not for meaning or content, but purely for range of words, variety of potential ideas, etc., each catalog had a personality even in very few words. One was fairly vanilla–practical clothing with functional descriptions. It was harder to work with that raw material. The words of the other catalog were more fanciful and aimed to help me imagine a situation in which I would wear item x, y, or z. Again, the pictures were not at all part of this equation. Both catalogs were for clothing and since it is fall and I live in a 4-season part of the world, keeping warm and dry were important ideas for both companies, yet their takes were very different. In looking back at my poems, you can see the differences. With so few words to work with, compared to having an entire newspaper article, it was hard to break out of the vision of the original. I think that’s what makes this combination interesting. Trying to take something functional (catalog descriptions) and make them into something that is not about function.

Often when I start with an article for a blackout poem, it is from a section of the paper that I am already interested in reading. Thus the ‘Sunday Styles’ and the ‘Arts and Leisure’ sections of the Sunday New York Times figure prominently as my starting places, even the ‘Metropolitan’ section makes an appearance. As I think about the catalog project,  I wonder what would happen if I started with the sports section. I read somewhere that some people consider sports writers to be some the best newspaper writers because they write about the same things over and over and therefore have to come up with a different way to say the same things. (I would attribute this if I could remember where I read it.) I think that is my next experiment. Will it matter what sport I choose? Will it be obvious that I started with a sports article? Should the set all be based on articles about the same sport or should they be all different. Ooh, so much to consider and on a long, holiday weekend. I can’t wait.

So, I’ve been thinking about tests and assessments in general. In particular, I have been thinking about students having choice around these tests.

I try to have a mix of assessments in my class. We write, we talk, we test. For our current book, Logicomix, we had a test. And, there were two field trips on different days, taking a few students from my class each day, and about half of my class gets extra time. What’s a thoughtful teacher to do?

I gave up having a single day for the test. We have a test and some short writing that needs doing, so this is what I put on my assignment sheet:

Due Tuesday, November 10th and Wednesday, November 11th

Over the course of these 2 days we will do the following:

  • In class you will pick one of the forum posts to expand to 400-500 words. You should have chosen what you will write and have made a plan before coming to class.
  • Test on Logicomix
  • I think the best plan, for those not on trips etc, is to do the expanded forum post on Tuesday so that there is time for review questions as well. Then, the test would be on Wednesday. If you would rather get the test out of the way on Tuesday, as planned, that is fine. I will be ready with it. IF you will be in class both days, and need extended time, plan to do part each day.

That’s a lot of options. And people came in ready to do various things. What I noticed was that each student had a plan upon arrival. Yay! Students were choosing what worked for them. Although I can make a guess at this, since I am not in their heads (and thank goodness for that), I just don’t know.

I had to make a chart to keep track of who was doing and completing what, but ok, I love charts.

Day 1:

  • 3 people out
  • 3 people doing the expanded forum post
  • 1 person starting on part 2 of the test
  • 5 people starting on part 1 of the test
    • Some of them moved on to Part 2, some will do it tomorrow.

Day 2:

  • 2 different people out
  • 1 person out for second day
  • more tests get finished and started
  • some forum posts get expanded upon

Next several days:

  • 3 other times students had to schedule to finish bits and pieces
  • several extra follow ups required by me


Part of why I could make this work is as an administrator, I don’t have a heavy teaching load. I have the flexibility to chase after people a little more and be available to supervise completing work at odd times. But, I also know that a colleague of mine who has a typical teaching load also does a lot of personal meetings with students for review and retesting. So, it is possible personalize the process.

I still liked that students owned some of the timing and decision-making around the test. It was not a secret test in that it followed a known format and review sheet so sharing information about it was not going to matter. I had already shared it. I didn’t like how much follow-up there was for me.

Would I do it again?

I think I might. However, I think I be either less or much more ambitious. Here’s what I mean. Less ambitious would be:  the test was a little shorter (it was a little long, I admit), the other work was not a turn-it-in situation, but rather a work on something that is ongoing (too much for me to keep track of), I would not do this at time when there were lots of absences/trips planned. On other hand, more ambitious would be: here are 4 days and a selection of products that need to come in. Tell me what you plan to do each day, stick to your schedule, come in and work quietly (this is key) at your own pace.

Hmmm. What do you think?

pixabay image

pixabay image

So, I’m continuing to think about encouraging all voices in student discussions. I’ve been working very consciously on student only discussions. I’ve written about my initial strategy and my revisions.

With round 1, I was working on building the stamina, community, and capacity for student led discussion where I do not participate at all until the very end where I wrap it up just so that we don’t end with the very teen “um, so , yeah.” In round 2, the goal was to go beyond sharing and to add more interaction, building off each other’s ideas, and overall depth to the discussion. In many ways both of these were successful. However, I still had a handful of students who were not participating as much as I, and they, would like. This brings me to round 3.

For round 3, I had two discussions. Same topic, different students.

In one group were all the big talkers. No need to encourage this group to participate. My specific directions to them were to ground their thoughts in the text and to balance their big picture thinking with specifics. They did exactly as I asked. It was so hard not to join in the conversation. I wanted to participate with these colleagues so badly. A time or two I asked a clarifying question. Then, having broken my silence, I tried joining in a bit. Mistake. Even though these are confident participants and I am not a domineering teacher, I could feel a difference in the conversation. I will just have to bite my tongue. If my goal is for students to lead, I have to keep out all together. There are other times that are for me to participate.

In group two were the quieter students. Between absences and a few students who had work that needed finishing, it was a very small group, and I could see the relief on a few faces when they saw the group. What a difference. One student who has come to the previous discussions with notes at the ready yet has had a really hard time getting in the conversation, jumped in right away. He began the discussion with a specific reference to the text and got us going in a good direction. Another student who is often distracted had tons to say, responded to classmates, agreeing, disagreeing, 100% engaged, which represents massive improvement. A third quieter person also had a lot to add. Looking around as the students talked (I learned my lesson with the first group and did not join in), I could see an obvious change in their body language. These students now sat, leaned in, looked comfortable in the ways that the more talkative students do in a big or small group. If an observer did not know that these students represented many who are not usually major contributors, he or she would be surprised to learn that fact. After this second in-depth, vibrant conversation, I commented on what a good job they were doing and asked if this felt better. Smiles and nods all around. (They really are just big 5th graders who want to do a good job.)

Obviously, the quieter students have to be able to participate in a bigger setting, and they can and do. At the same time, I believe that as the teacher who is planning learning experiences, it is my job to scaffold activities that support students in growing their skills across a variety of areas. So, if I have a small cohort who needs to build participation skills, I need to meet them where they are to move them forward. For my quieter students, a smaller group is a good starting place.



So, I’ve been thinking about my graded student discussions. After our first discussion and reflection, I planned a second discussion and tweaked the format a bit.

If you will recall, in the first discussion I gave the topic to be discussed the night before, set up the big table, made a chart to take notes, and did not engage in the conversation.

This time, I thought about each student and what he or she needed to work on for a next step. I created 5 roles for this second time around.

  • Major participant: please come ready to be a major voice in the discussion. This does not mean that you have to have “the right answers.” It means you have some ideas to throw out there, some passages or examples to share, even some questions you think should be explored. Come ready to say a lot.
  • Restate and Extend: your job in the discussion will be to build off of the ideas of others. Anytime you speak you must first restate (briefly) what another person has said and extend that idea. In addition, your goal is to have a slightly different opinion at the end of the discussion than you had at the beginning.
  • Connector: your job is to listen and hear the ideas that either go together or are opposing viewpoints. When you notice this, you should share this connection and ask if your connection is something the group can agree on or if the difference you have noticed is significant, etc. You are looking for the big ideas and the building blocks to get there.
  • Inviter: your job is to listen for what is not being left out. Is there a part of the book that is being overlooked? Is all the conversation around one idea? If so, please invite the group to change course, or look in a new direction. Please come with some ideas that are a bit out of the box that you can throw out there when necessary.

I assigned ‘major participant’ to students who did not join in enough last time, pretty obvious. The restate and extend folks were people who had a lot to say, but tended to say their idea and leave the discussion. The goal for these students was to force them to say what others said, thus forcing them to engage in more of a discussion rather than serial monologues. The connectors were ready to see the bigger picture and needed the challenge. In some ways they were leader voice in that when I lead the conversation, I point out the similarities and intersections between and among ideas. The inviter was a wildcard. There was only one person assigned to this job. This student made some really interesting connections last time, so I thought I would give this part of the traditional teacher role to this student.

The students did a good job nodding to their particular roles, some more so than others. Again, it was a great discussion. I wrapped it up with a few summary statements after about 25 or so minutes when it seemed the topic was pretty well played out. This time I kept track of participation and “job completion”. Here’s what my notes look like.


Conversation 2 notes

Again, I asked the students to reflect on their performance. Here are some of my favorite comments:

  • Talked a lot more this time and went off on other points.
    • My take :good improvement a student who contributed single, independent ideas last time.
  • I wasn’t as stubborn this time and I think I added more even thought I spoke a little less.
    • My take: VICTORY!
  • It was harder to be a connector, but I did my best.
    • My take: yes, connecting different and potentially divergent ideas is harder, and this student is ready to do that. I appreciate the struggle and recognition of the work it takes.
  • I think I was able to invite new ideas and move the conversation along well.
    • My take: Very true. This student did a great job brining up related ideas that needed a champion.
  • Brought ideas to the discussion, just had trouble with all the other participants trying to speak at the same time.
    • My take: yup, it’s hard for those who are quiet. I noted that this student came ready with notes and pages for reference.
  • I think that I did a lot better this time…and I respected peoples’ opinions.
    • My take: this is a big deal for this student to respect the opinions of others.

Once again, a big success. These are lively discussions that let us talk about big ideas, but at the same time use textual support. Because I do not participate, there is no looking to me to approve comments; students must take on that role. And, because I am not trying to keep conversation going, connect ideas, write on the board, etc, etc, I love just getting to sit back and listen and take notes, but I also get to watch body language, attention, group dynamic. Not only to I learn a lot by watching, but it takes me down off whatever stage I may or may not be on. (I’m really not a fan of being sage on the stage anyway, but sometimes just by being the one standing up, that’s what happens.)

I think they are proud of themselves. They should be.

We have another conversation planned for next week on Logicomix.

Twisted Pair

Posted: November 2, 2015 in Uncategorized
Tags: , , , ,
flickr photo by GenBug shared under a Creative Commons (BY-NC-ND) license

flickr photo by GenBug shared under a Creative Commons (BY-NC-ND) license

So, I’ve been thinking about teaching 12th graders and 5th graders. And, my #CLMOOC colleague @WenTale challenged me to write a twisted pair blog post. I thought these two grades that I have been thinking about would fit the bill.

5th graders and 12th graders are a my twisted pair. Maybe not very twisted since they are both groups of students, but that’s my story.

A little history first. I have taught a lot of different grade levels (3rd, 4th, 5th, 6th, 8th, 9th, 12th and assorted, ungraded informal courses that included, in addition, 7th, 10th, 11th. That covers everything from 3rd-12th grades). At my current school, I taught 5th grade in a self-contained classroom for seven years. I loved it. After seven years, I was ready for a change; I moved to an administrative position (Director of Educational Technology) in the high school. A year later teaching a section in the English department got added to my list of duties. I started with one section of ninth grade English, taught that for two years and now teach one section of senior English.

I noticed right away that my section of seniors had a very different vibe than my ninth graders. The ninth graders were new to high school, trying to find their way around the building, generally getting their sea legs. I enjoyed helping them find their way, while saying, “don’t forget to check the website for homework” for the one millionth time. The ninth graders settled in and got the hang of things. We developed a classroom community; we read Shakespeare. I felt good about what we accomplished.

When I walked in to my senior class, I could tell right away that the feel of the class was different. What I couldn’t tell immediately was why it felt so familiar. Now I think the reason it felt so familiar is because it felt like fifth grade, in a good way. One of the things about fifth grade, at least in my school, is that they are the last grade in the lower school. They are the oldest group in the division. So, while they may begin the year a little nervous to meet their new teacher, they are confident. They’ve been doing lower school for a while now; they know the dance, even if they don’t always do all the steps. The buildings and hallways are familiar, and they feel important and powerful. Even without me describing that too you, you would be able to come in to the classroom and feel that you are in a group of generally self-assured colleagues. You, our visitor, would be able to feel this from week 2.

The same has been true of my senior class, and I believe, for similar reasons. Seniors are also the oldest/last grade in the division. Again, they know the dance, may not follow the steps, but are confident in what being in upper school (high school) looks like. I know this scene; these are my people.