Archive for September, 2016

OCO Public Domain image. I don't know where this is, but I want to go.

OCO Public Domain image. I don’t know where this is, but I want to go.

So, I’ve been thinking about reading, my reading. Since I am an English teacher, among other things, this is not that surprising. However, after some thought, I am wondering if I read like a grown up, or like a serious, English teacher grown up (use deep, serious voice when reading that).

I mean I can read like a grown up. I can read big words; I can read long, serious books (use a deep, serious voice when reading that too); I can read books that have been critically reviewed. Also, I am not good at reading a little bit each night before I go to bed, which seems like another grown up thing to do. Again, I do sometimes do this, and I appreciate books with good resting/pausing places so that I do stop.

Of course, during the school year, I read and reread books in chunks and in parts. I read carefully and underline. I think a lot about what I read, what it might mean, and how best to talk about that with my students.

When I read just for myself, I am good at is reading for hours at a time and ignoring other things when I am enjoying a book. I like to find a book (critical acclaim is fine, but not required) and then inhale it. This means that there are times that I read a lot, and there are times that I don’t read as much (or not as many books anyway). Since my office is pretty much in the library at my school (yay!), I take out a lot of books. Sometimes I take out books with attractive covers. Sometimes, I just check out a stack of books I’ve been meaning to read. I return plenty of them unread, but I can always try again.

Does this make me not a grown up reader?

Do I care?

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.


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.


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.


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.

public domain image

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.