Archive for August, 2016

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.

Screen Shot 2016-08-08 at 11.30.06 PM

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.

So, I’ve been thinking about curious conversations with #CLMOOC. It’s been about close listening, digging into an idea, narrowing in some ways. I post about it. I plan to talk more with Scott Glass about what he does with his students so that I can maybe use it to improve my podcasting ideas, which so far have refused to take off despite serious and quality attention from me and others.

Then, everything turns upside down and I’m thinking about the big picture of connections and community rather than the small, one-one conversations. Here’s how it happened.

I headed over to my #CLMOOC column on Tweetdeck to reply to a few tweets and see what was happening before the day got away from me and I saw this.

Game over. No work is happening. (But it’s good. I mean it’s learning, right.)

I followed the link, read the brief post, and then went to the real data cloud. Go look at it now! The data cloud in action is amazing. It’s mesmerizing. I love the idea of making ideas, thinking, and connections visible. But then, to do something about it, to aim to make an introduction or pathway for someone on the edge to connect? Fantastic. This is what we as teachers try to do all the time with students. We want them to be able to connect with their classmates, connect deeply with ideas, listen to each other. But, do we have the data to know not just who talks, but with whom, who connects and who needs an introduction? I can look around my room, listen, and look and get a sense of who is participating and who isn’t. I try really hard to know how my students learn and to push and support them. But, this dynamic map of the conversation, it’s a game changer.

Here’s what I’m thinking about at the moment:

  • Similar kind of conversation mapping is done sometimes as part of formal observation or research and is time-consuming to do. What could I learn if I record my class and then go back and make a similar, but not dynamic, map. I’m sure I would discover something new.
  • What about in larger, community spaces? Which students have expansive social networks that go across sociocultural groups, and which don’t. For those who don’t, what does this mean in terms of the range of ideas and opinions they hear from peers? How many of our students are in idea bubbles? What data would we need to learn this and what could we do if we had that data?
  • Same for colleagues in the school. Who keeps the his or her department? How does that impact his or her greater understanding of the school, the curriculum, the student experience?

Since the world of classroom and teacher conversations do not happen on Twitter, I won’t be able to use tag explorer. And, classroom observation is not new. However, I do think that thinking about classroom observation not as an evaluative event, but as a way to gather data about connections is different.

Then, before I could even post this, I tweeted a little about how interesting the connection visualization is and wondered about classroom use and got a couple of replies including this one.

Read the post. It’s about seeing which student to student connections are there and seeing which student to student connections are NOT there. I saw it a while ago, and it does really connect to this connections puzzle.

So, what am I going to do about this? Well, first off, I am definitely going to do some conversation mapping of my own classes. In particular I am going to try to do this when we talk about non-controversial topics and then more controversial ones. I suspect there will be plenty to think about with that. Second, I am going to talk to a group within my school who was doing research on sociocultural identifiers and their connection to a lot of things. I think combining this with classroom conversation maps could be really interesting and important. Of course, all of this will take time, lots of time. I’m still looking for that extra hour in my day. I think it’s hiding with the cleaning fairy.

Oooh, I am so excited about this, which meant I had to talk about it. the first victims lucky winners to hear about these ideas were some colleagues at lunch on that very day.

Who should I talk to next?

So, I’ve been thinking about curious conversations as part of #CLMOOC. One of the “dive in” suggestions for this week is to think about Curious Conversations. There was a lot to think about with the examples, links, and audio.

In addition, I really appreciated Kevin Hodgson’s wordcloud-thinglink combo that he made the other day from my post that was in response to his post. He posted it in the comments of my post and on Twitter.

So I am trying it out myself.

Here’s what I did. (This is just what I did. Insert “thinking” in and between each item.)

  1. I read the Make Cycle 3 newsletter and was particularly interested in the description of Kevin’s and Scott’s curious conversation. I went to the links, read, listened.
  2. I went to the Institute of Curiosity website and read their page on how to have a curious conversation.
  3. I copied their content into tagul, a word cloud generator. I messed around with the formatting options, chose a speech bubble for the shape and a more free form font and organization since I think of conversations as being more random (not in a bad way).
  4. I uploaded the image to Thinglink and added my comments.


I’m excited to combine some of Scott Glass’ ideas (all here on the newsletter) with my earlier attempts at podcasting. Maybe I was aiming for too much with the podcasting. Small, curious conversations might be just right.

Summer Reading

Posted: August 1, 2016 in Uncategorized
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So, I’ve been thinking about my summer reading. I am prone to compiling huge lists of reading and doing for the summer. I somehow think that I have 36 hours in the day in addition to being more productive, all evidence to the contrary.

Last summer I read a lot of books, which was great. I also got into a regular blogging habit. This summer I am trying to keep up the blogging, the reading, and add more making. Oh, and pie, and lounging with my family. You can see that I am perhaps a bit too ambitious in my plans.  However, here’s what I’ve read since June 10th, which was graduation day.

Screen Shot 2016-07-31 at 10.20.14 PMFeathers, by Jacqueline Woodson. I was looking for another book by her for my YA Literature class. I’m keeping HUSH, but might drop Brown Girl Dreaming. Feathers is an interesting story, very short, probably too young for the group, and doesn’t fit in with the other titles, but could make for some good discussion.

Screen Shot 2016-07-31 at 10.48.03 PMInterdicsiplinary Curriculum: Design and Implementation by Heidi Hayes Jacobs. I am part of an interdisciplinary task force that is beginning at my school. This is our summer read. Lots of great info and some solid examples. Also, helpful ways to think about curriculum. Another ASCD winner.

Screen Shot 2016-07-31 at 10.22.27 PMThe Golden Compass (It’s Dark Materials #1) by Philip Pullman. I had not read this before and decided it needed to rectify that situation. I enjoyed the book, but have to say that I did not love it. The story is just getting started by the last third of the book. There are two more books in the series; I’m curious as to what happens, but maybe not curious enough.

Screen Shot 2016-07-31 at 10.22.56 PMMosquitoland by David Arnold. I got this at a sidewalk sale for a great deal at my local indy children’s book store. I think I also had read about it on some list or other. Had some thoughtful things to say about mental health and families. It did not fall into a perfect ending.

Screen Shot 2016-07-31 at 10.24.00 PMMarch, Book One by John Lewis, Andrew Aydin, and Nate Powell. Graphic novel by congressman and civil rights activist John Lewis about his early life. I can’t wait to read book 2. Book 3 comes out tomorrow. I missed him when he was in Philly at Amalgam Comics for a reading. That will teach me not to check if the event requires tickets.

Screen Shot 2016-07-31 at 10.27.38 PMThe Outsiders by S. E. Hinton. I don’t know why I had not read this book either. I can see why it’s a classic. My daughter and I both read it while we were on a family trip. I think it would be a great one to pair with something contemporary that deals with racism.

Screen Shot 2016-07-31 at 10.49.55 PMZero to Maker: Learn (Just Enough) to Make (Just About) Anything by David Lang. Make: magazine publishes a lot of maker guides and resources. I enjoyed David Lang’s story of becoming a maker. Towards the end it got to be more about the business options, which is not as interesting to me. However, reading about how he found his way to a community, knowledge, and a new mindset about making was interesting.

Screen Shot 2016-07-31 at 10.52.45 PMThe Nest by Cynthia D’Aprix Sweeney. The cover intrigued me and there was a positive comment on the back from Jami Attenberg, author of The Middlesteins, which I really liked. This was an interesting story of a family of four grown siblings. A good page turned where I wanted to know what happened. A neat, though not necessarily predictable, ending.

Screen Shot 2016-07-31 at 10.34.04 PMAnd, I have been trying  to get through Gilead by Marilynne Robinson. The writing is lovely, and I am finding lots to ponder in the narrative. Yet, I can neither make progress nor keep reading for any length of time. Ugh!

I have a few other school/education titles in the cue along with books that I will be teaching next year. However, I think that I can give myself another week to read non-school books. I need to find a title or two that I can’t put down. Has anyone read Homegoing by Yaa Giasi, or Two Years, Eight Months, and Twenty-Eight Nights by Salman Rushdie or H is for Hawk by Helen Macdonald?


Any other suggestions?