anyone can teach english

Rebecca Mead describes an actual English landscape which Goerge Eliot once wrote about, today tranformed by the addition of trees, which have newly risen due to the absence of shepherd boys and sheep. She writes that it is  now “a landscape changed by books, reshaped by reading, transfigured by the slow green growth.” (My Life in Middlemarch, “Finale”)

I love the language of transfiguration Mead uses here, and also Eliot’s repeated usage of related terms of conversion throughout Middlemarch. I enthuse over such things, even to the point of making it the topic of a round table session on close reading of Chesterton and Eliot this fall. Besides liking the words themselves, though, I like Mead’s use of this particular term to describe the complete change – a glorification, if you will – of the landscape of reading after the Education Reform Act of 1882. More children than ever before were given an education, were taught to read and write. Such a fundamental and democratic alteration of the fabric of life was necessary and beneficial. It didn’t require English teachers as we know them today. 

What if every word that came out of an English teacher’s mouth was exclusively at the behest of a learner? 

For all the good we literacy specialists (for that’s what English teachers and reading & writing teachers are) do, I wonder if we wouldn’t be doing the world a service by just turning kids loose in a big public library and hanging out with them there as accessories to their curiosity. 

We experts would spend our entire day at the library, familiarizing ourselves with branches of knowledge, and with new and older titles in the catalogue, from YA to Wittgenstein. We would become resource specialists who could channel our expertise into guiding each child to join The Literacy Club (as Frank Smith calls it) and then to discover the more challenging and interesting books, articles, art and music that standardized classrooms haven’t {usually!} time nor individuality to offer. 

Every student would be required to leave school and go to a library for 2 and a half to three hours daily, which would be staffed by a host of language arts educators. No longer would we have to face the sometimes embarrasing act of grading young readers and writers, nor of manufacturing “evidence” of their progress toward problematic standards. 

I see learning materials still being advertised to English teachers today which diminish a poem by asking pedantic questions about it, labeling it, putrefying it before it has a chance to be lived through, savored, digested, and felt. I would hope that by taking the English teacher out of the school system, the true enjoyment of learning and reading could be coupled with the good that language arts experts want desperately to give to all young people. 

The title of today’s blog occurred to me as I strolled along the Pacific coast on a clear Easter morning, watching waves, cormorants, and harbor seals. There is an immediacy which classroom teaching cannot replace: a learner of any age must only be caught up, surrounded by events (natural phenomena, books, art, music), stimulated to enjoy and learn. I know full well such statements are naive, yet on this first Monday of spring break, after celebrating resurrection and rebirth, and following a week of experiential learning with a group of 21 students and adults on nature walks, in a theater, & making meals at hostels, I envision celebratory learning. 

I really think that with coaching, all content area teachers can help students read and write for school. What we English teachers truly offer is something meta-school. Transfigurations. We want to actually see kids change because of their enjoymemt of STUFF! We know that reading and writing both contribute to such change and also grow as results of it. 

YES, the humanities are crucial for the development of young minds and hearts — of “souls”, as George Eliot might put it, though her complex shades of meaning for this term deserve more space — but when I watch the harbor seal pup following close beside its mother, it learns to swim, feed, climb without a specialized teacher. She is specialized: who better to show her young exactly what it needs to survive in the wild? She provides about a month of such imposed closeness, then he is on his own to continue the learning process. 

I don’t propose to reduce all instruction to 30 days per lifetime. But I do think much of what I do in the classroom is common sense. Seriously, I didn’t need a college degree to help someone read a poem, tell a story, or write a letter. 

But I do use every bit of my classroom teaching experience and pedagogical reading when I have a writing conference; I summon my knowledge of books and people when I discuss books with students. I listen as well as I can. Putting me where I belong, in a library, would ideally pair the thought of luxury (a treasure trove of books!) in a learner’s mind with the adventure of self-improvement, of choice.

I suppose I end up as always, seeing that as long as I am called classroom teacher I will always have a type of authority which be inauthentic. My authentic authority is as an experienced reader and writer. But when I choose to share authority with my students for their learning decisions, it is I who share with them. If I were not associated with a school, but were instead a fixture at the library, readers would see me as a resource at their service, an authority like a text, to be used, questioned, resisted, or enjoyed rather than a teacher who exists to grade them and assign homework.

What if every word that came out of an English teacher’s mouth was exclusively at the behest of a learner? I think of the way I check out music, books, DVDs from my library. I check out only what I want to. 

Of course I am half playful here, knowing that such a system would be dependent on county taxes, and a host of HR (human resources) issues. But when we step back for a minute and ask how we can actually contribute to new life in young people or adults ready to catch the fire of literacy, such invention and playfulness are needed.

Maybe it could be treated like Driver’s Ed: everybody wants to learn how to drive, right? If literature reading and writing were seen by kids as the class you go OFF CAMPUS for, that demands a road test in the real world, that’s worth paying extra for, and signifies a rite of passage, who knows? Instead of a set of keys at graduation a student gets the key to the executive washroom at the public library, or the unlimited items at checkout; kids would, instead of a parking space, get their own study carrel! They could help select the books displayed in the “new arrivals” shelf, and receive an allowance to apply toward new acquisitions. 

Think how they would transform the landscape of their library, their learning, their lives.


Sinking ships (Part 2 of “Canon”)

Our mini StuCamp offered students voice and choice last Friday. Authentic dialogue, engaged students, inquiry.

Will the dynamic duo save Common Core, Imagination, or Tech Tools? 

If we save only tools, we can ask learners to create anything, but we may sacrifice adherence to a shared set of standards. 

If we salvage only standards, we risk a product of our education system who can think and do, but who may be limited in ability to use tools and imagination;

If we rely on creativity we may open a door to wonderful innovations and new solutions to problems that arise; but we could lose the security of knowing that all children are absorbing similar content and using like strategies. 

Erasmus: I know where we have looking at this problem from the wrong angle. Instead of saving the methods of education, we must all make way toward the School of Athens and save the pupils themselves. They are equipped with imaginations of their own, and we and they together possess creativity and resourcefulness enough to invent tools for learning. Rather than import standards the way Don Corleone imported olive oil — an enterprise shrouded in mystery and suspicion — the local institution and stakeholders might continually write, examine, and re-evaluate their own. 

Captain: But what about the cost? The loss of the shipment? 

E: Perhaps from this new perspective we can see the fortuitous scattering of your cargo as gain. Its loss invites new collaborations, demands individual and group deliberation, and guarantees reforms as well as resistance. A truly democratic education will build both confidence and resistance. 

A: Yet won’t we risk watering down the stringent guidelines of thought and rigorous canon established once and for all? There are some things simply worth knowing, and others not worth spending time over. 

E: You sound concerned that the tools of thinking, and of imagination may somehow fall out of practice and be lost with the jetsam. This is an argument from the authority of tradition. I say, let the gods protect and preserve those divine traditions they want kept alive; it is for teacher and learner to weigh the traditions of humankind as part of their instruction. We cannot shed our innate capacity for learning, nor the acquisition of knowledge to appease our passion for discovery. If there truly are laws of logic which govern good thinking, the downing of one ship will not stop future generations from practicing deliberative and contemplative thought, nor from deducing rules of logic. 

C: Are the schoolmasters at Athens the preservers of all wisdom? The city itself bears some responsibility for inspiring its youths to attain wisdom. By maintaining a library, it too will be engaged in protecting and preserving the ancient texts it values while considering new acquisitions from every field: from philosophy to the popular novel.

A: You expect a bit much from citizenry, pedants, and children. With all of this thoughtfulness going on, how will there be any time for studying, commerce, and politics? 

E: I am afraid Time is the one commodity your ship, good Captain, was not licensed to import. We can merely point out, Anthony, upon our arrival, that time and persons are the only resources which cannot be replenished. Once gone, they will not return. 

C: Then we are agreed. I sail with you to Athens, with my crew, but we must let my ship and its educational cargo come to rest beneath the waves. 

A: Then our deliberations have been for nought? Nothing is saved.

E: Correction, Boy Wonder. Inquiry survives. Our disequilibrium led to the investigation of a problem we had not considered before. Perhaps the inquiry at Athens will begin and end with imagining what was left at the bottom of the sea. But I am hopeful today that we import something more valuable than a filebox, a toolkit, a playpen. This whole time we have been wondering what a school ought to be, but we should be asking what learning seems to be. If each interpretive community took up such an inquiry, it may even begin to pursue such questions as whether children learn best in schools, who is qualified to instruct, whether effective instruction actually molds character, and so forth. An inquiry process doesn’t ask which type of fuel to feed a dying fire, but whether it is light or heat we demand of the flame. Open the Trade routes to inquiry! 


Canon of communication

Erasmus: Do you see that burning boat, the Emile?
Anthony: See it!? Its smoke is clogging (sputter!) my lungs.
E: Let’s steer toward her and offer assistance.
A: We are nearly there.
E: Ahoy, there. Is anyone hurt?
Captain: We have lost our compass, and don’t know which direction to take.
E: Whither are you bound?
C: We have been foundering on the Sea of Learning, but are destined for the School of Athens to replenish their supplies, and to carry tidings of recent innovations. To be blunt: they’re doing it all wrong.
Erasmus: Wrong? This is serious. How may we help you?
Anthony: Your vessel is taking on water. Be brief or risk losing the entire cargo.
Captain: We bear three great chests, each filled to capacity with valuable books and instruments.
E: Our boat is small, and yours will rapidly vanish beneath the waves under excess weight. Quickly explain the provisions you bear to Athens, and we shall determine which may be thrown overboard in order to save the rest and transport you to safety.
A: I see that one is stamped FRAGILE. What does it hold?
C: That most precious of cargoes is the sea chest of common core standards. We can’t get rid of them. Without such standards, each tutor in the School of Athens might be subject to her or his own whims. Aristotle, that infamous pupil of Plato, is said to have become so independent that he prefers to found his own academy on different grounds! Such independence and strong-headedness in a pupil defeats the purpose of the school. It is beneficial to require uniformity and conformity with a proper set of standards so that all the educated people of Athens may enter into dialogue about ideals, politics, religion, literature, and philosophy. In truth, there is a rising fear in Athens that if we cannot supply the relief that these standards represent, the administration risks students making their own uninformed decisions about learning, the tutors risk losing resistance to the growing student forces, and the parents — adamant that their children grow up to become well-remunerated and famed gladiators in the Arena; or masters of practical arts such as accounting and reinventing wheels — threaten to remove their children from the School of Athens and place them in trade schools!
A: Such fears are not without foundation, Erasmus. Clearly, Captain, you cannot do without that chest.
E: We shall see; it certainly appears important. What about that trunk off to the starboard, which looks a bit like a theater trunk. Are those handbills pasted on it?
C: Certainly! Handbills from recent productions of Antigone, The Frogs, Oedipus the King, and Medea. You also might see a few smudges of theatrical powder, greasepaint, and the soot from a stage explosion or two to set off the imaginations of the audience, slightly singeing the back portion of the dancers’ costumes. This trunk comes direct from the Fringe Festival at Thebes with the most recent imaginative writings, paintings, scultures, masks, and poems; traditional and recent musical instruments are included, along with plans for creating one’s own. The trunk also contains pigment, parchment, canvas, clay, textiles, and toys. Its direction label reads simply PLAY.
E: I am surprised your crew has not been tempted to open the trunk and inspect its contents to relieve the boredom of a long voyage.
A: Is that a feather boa peeking out from under the lid there?
C: May I say, sirs, the evenings do get long, and the men need a bit o’ fun. No harm done to the contents, mind you. In-tact! In-tact.
E: It certainly seems a shame to cast that trunk overboard.
A: What is in the third and last casket, over to portside?
C: It’s a bit of a jumble, really. Telescopes, lenses, magnifiers, mirrors, measuring tapes, cooking ladles, teaspoons, beakers, scales, pencils, ink. Tools for measuring the intensity of light, of color, and thickness of the blood, one’s temperament or the temperature of the air; it contains the means for assessing, exploring, experimenting, and discovering things about the material world, and even a few spells and such for transforming elements of one sort into another. TOOLS FOR DISCOVERY it’s marked.
E: It seems we have a dilemma. If any of these chests is not delivered to Athens, we risk opening a Pandora’s box, and education might run amok.
A: It is a choice between “what is important to learn”, “tools for learning”, and “imaginative play”? It seems easy to cast away the first trunk, which contains mere standards, for it is obvious to anyone that Greek, Latin, and the modern languages are the foundation of all learning. You needn’t have a box o’ books to tell you that.
C: And as to tools, Greek and Latin again, that happy couple, taught me all the grammar and logic I ever got; I put my bid in for the trunk with the instruments, though. Where would I be without my navigation equipment?
E: It doesn’t appear to have helped you in this instance. We must think quickly. What are the true essentials of learning? What can no pupil do without, if he is to learn?
A: A pair of shoes; a good meal.
C: Curiosity, an adventurous spirit!
A: The ability to make connections between the schoolroom and the real world.
C: he should know enough about the past and present to make predictions about the future–
A: …Know who we are, where we came from, where we are headed–
C: …Ancient wisdom, new ideas, the tradewinds; if there is no understanding of tradewinds, there is no commerce; without commerce, you may as well scrap any ideas of work and finance. We’d all be slaves.
E: You are saying that a kind of freedom depends on our choices here. Without freedom, students are condemned either to serve others, or to make decisions without any knowledge. Their hands would be tied. Further, certain dispositions must exist in order to learn: a pupil is fed, clothed, and curious. Which of the trunks contain apparel, nourishment, or curiosity?
C: None, I’m afraid, except PLAY. But those are only costumes.
E: And it is Curiosity that determines whether a student opens the sea chest of learning in the first place. If we could discriminate between the items in these trunks most likely to invite learners and their pedagogues to open the lids and discover for themselves….
Captain: I have it! Rename the caskets MYSTERY, PUZZLES, and DANGER!
Erasmus: You may be on to something. But we still have too much weight; you may solve the Athens problem, but not the immediate one. See those rain clouds? In a moment they will hover above both our vessels, sinking yours and drenching everything. We must get at least one trunk stowed away in our own ship or else this entire colloquy will have been pointless.
A: What if we reorganized the caskets, so that the learning standards incorporated certain tools, and play? For instance, Captain, suppose I was curious to learn how to reach the nearest shore from here. Which equipment would I require?
C: Well, the spyglass for one. And I’m not sayin’ a well-thumbed copy of the Good Book wouldn’t harm ye none. A current map, showing the reefs nearby. Some astronomy charts, and an atlas. It helps to know which way the wind is blowin’. You also want to be able to imagine yourself arrivin’ alive. That means planning out your water usage, figgerin’ out how long the journey will take. Lots of planning involved. And teamwork. You wouldn’t want to have to do it all alone.
E: What if we send only a token to Athens. A symbol of imagination, a symbol of technology, and a symbolic standard? It seems we are saying the best pupils will make what they must out of a few ideas. Necessity and curiosity will urge them to utilize any tools and talents they can bring to a problem. Won’t the tutor offer them the incentive to learn?
A: One can only hope; my own pedagogue offered me the switch more often than the carrot.
E: We might reassemble a mixture, as you say, in a single trunk, emptying the other two. What if we labeled one TRANSFORMATIONS, filling it with costumery, cookery, alchemy, metaphysics, and Ovid?
A: I see, and another DISCRIMINATIONS — filled with tools for making fine distinctions BETWEEN books, animals, stars, and trade routes? That would teach pupils to listen to senators’ arguments and determine their validity and truth.
C: But don’t you see, we would still be missing the point of it all, “Explorations!” I would include philosophy, literature, music and art, as well as shipbuilding.
E: Effective, but we are back to the problem of 3 trunks again. It seems an impossible task.

[Part 2 to follow in the next post]


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full frontal

At the first whiff of plagiarism, I am quick to launch a full frontal assault. Check the plot summary or, for my student, uncharacteristic phrase against its occurrences online; assign a zero for the assignment, request a meeting, send a parent/guardian email, deliver the offending evidence to an administrator who can track other screw-ups by the same perp.

These are all in my arsenal of responses to the Demon Plagiarism. From there it is a short walk to sending a herd of pigs off the cliff, and having the teachers-only job satisfaction of seeing a student crumple into tears as years of bad behavior are repented of, and finally wading into the water with him, emerging with faces to the sun, both knowing that Creative Commons has our allegiance forevermore, and the laws of copyright shall remain inviolate. “from this day to the ending of the world.”

But today yesterday I brought out a new weapon; a kinder gentler means by which to assert my dominance over the spirit that bedevils young writers. In my feedback to the writer I referred not once to the “P” word. I made no mention of credit. I appealed to the writer’s sense of authority, personhood, audience and purpose. [See images below of writers at my school creating and sharing their work for a variety of authentic purposes and audiences in secondary English and science, also second-grade/tenth-grade collaboration.]

Because of my recent focus on expressing “what the words do to the reader” — both in peer and teacher response to student writing as well as mentor/class texts — my vocabulary and tools have been enlarged for responding to cutting and pasting of another’s work.

my vocabulary and tools have been enlarged

Rather than corner the student with an awkward out-of-class confrontation, I took a different approach by responding just as I would to any electronically submitted draft. Instead of using the authority of our student handbook and its policy, I appealed to the authority of the reader.

➡️Will your reader know these big words?
➡️Where does the reader hear your voice?
️➡️Why should your reader be interested?
➡️Which class discussion or personal inquiry question got you thinking about exploring this topic? If the reader can see your thinking process, you might persuade her to thoughtfully consider your point of view.

Although I have slightly modified these to protect the anonymity of the writer, they differ drastically from my typical frontal assault: Is this your own work? Where did you get it? Why didn’t you cite the source? What did you think was the goal of the assignment?

All of which are mere pretenses and preamble to the often unstated Big Gun: Whatever could have possessed you to think I, all-knowing, would not recognize this as another writer’s work? You have insulted me, broken our trust, and demonstrated that you do not value the deities of the writing process (insert constellation of choice, for me Bay Area Writing Project, Penny Kittle, Kelly Gallagher, Sheridan Blau, Tom Romano, Dons Murray and Graves to infinity and beyond)?

As I often remark, I am the one doing the learning here. Because of my interest in authority in the classroom, I see this as an opportunity to wait and observe the outcome — just as I do with every other paper at this later drafting stage. By turning the focus inward, I am able to monitor my own problem-solving process, identify the place where my own ego gets in the way, and try an innovative or at least creative solution that eases the burden for the student in one way by subtly shifting it.

The student’s responsibility would have been to justify himself (his cheating behavior) to me and to his parent, at least; but now it becomes more about justifying his writing choices to his readers. If the writer is willing to assume creative control over this writing task, the finished written product will communicate a chosen purpose clearly and strongly to a specific chosen audience, which it does not yet do.

The paper will have voice and the student will exercise choice. This is my first blog entry ending with the term “Voices and Choices.”






Strangers on a plane

How would you describe the CEL (Conference on English Leadership) and NCTE convention to others? As I traveled home, I found myself explaining it to Alphonso, a D.C. pedi-cab driver who toured me past the monuments; to strangers on a plane, a mother and daughter returning from a trip to Puerto Rico; and to a shopgirl a perfume fragrance counter saleswoman at Macy’s. Notice, I already monitored my phrase and revised it because of my audience. In what ways do we self monitor and alter our messages for specific audiences?


During the conference itself, I used persuasive terms with a college professor who was at the contemporaneous ALAN conference, and beforehand I chose humorous analogies to give my students a picture of where I was heading. For my parents and sisters, who know a lot about my 25 year teaching career, and have attended professional conferences themselves, I wrote a letter detailing particulars of my personal involvement that would distinguish this year’s conference from those of previous years.


As I had the privilege of visiting a New York publishing house office this week, I noticed this sign on an editor’s desk: “I am silently correcting your grammar”, which was hilarious to me because both English teachers and editors, whose complex roles cannot be distilled into a single phrase, are frequently oversimplified and misunderstood as grammar police. This becomes evident whenever we meet strangers on a plane or train, who suddenly feel the need to excuse themselves for speaking improperly, or for not being readers or writers.

Since all writing is language choice, we choose language to suit the occasions of our dialogue. I have never had the chance to use these words in a sentence before, but CEL made it happen: “THIS NOTE IS LEGAL TENDER FOR ALL DEBTS PUBLIC AND PRIVATE.” Can you picture me, waving my bill under the ticket window of the National Harbor Ferris Wheel, contradicting their devil-may-care no cash policy?

Tailoring our tongues to meet particular situations involves knowing something about our audience. Kylene Beers and Bob Probst insisted on this as one of the keys to adolescents understanding complex non-fiction, as they shared recent collaborative work with us on Tuesday at CEL’s closing session. “What does the author assume I know already?”

Learning to listen
As I planned this blog post, I expected to present you with a fun challenge to write about a recent event you attended — conference, performance, holiday celebration, service opportunity — for several different audiences, say: children, peers, strangers and administrators (the Oxford comma debate matters here).

“I went out to dinner with some new friends, and we rode the Ferris wheel together…”

“I spent several days with high-powered speakers on cutting-edge topics…”

“I got to go to Washington, D.C. to tell researchers about the exciting writing you guys are doing…”

But as I relive each of my actual conversations, I realize they involve not so much constructing a stance, but rather listening to the person I am interacting with. I found out from Nadine at Macy’s that she was an English major, but could not stand the thought of her love of books such as Jane Eyre being dehydrated by dry analysis; that Alphonso, a D.C. native, used to be a bike messenger and has never been to California, and will have to find different work when weather prohibits operation of his pedi-cab for the season; that the mother-daughter love reading books, which were stolen the second day of their two week vacation; that the visitor from Paris at the Blue Note jazz club believes Paris is “not what is used to be”; that the airport shuttle driver works seven days at peak travel seasons; that Audrey, a session attendee, believes collaboration can lead to shared values and assumptions about writing.

We not only enrich a conversation by knowing the people we speak with, but I learn and grow myself by hearing them. The difficulty comes now, when I ask myself if I can be as diligent, open-eared, and knowing of those in my inner circle as I am with strangers or acquaintances.

All the “out-of-town” practice, as David Perkins calls it in learning, has to be brought to bear on the big games: our marriages, families, significant friendships, and career.

What good is it if I carry on inconsequential small talk with someone I meet once a year or once in a lifetime, if I don’t apply more careful listening in my most dear relationships?

Because of this,

Sara, I want to be the best listener I can; please be patient with me. I love you more each day, and want to know you even better.

Susan, I want to be a better friend and colleague, to keep asking the right questions.

Patrick, I want to be a better friend, to offer support where you need it and receive your input when you offer it.

Tyler, I want to be the kind of encourager you are to me.

Judi and Janice, I hope to be the brother you can depend on to celebrate your triumphs and share in your disappointments.

Evan, I hope I can be a better mentor; please help me know the ways I can support you this year in your teaching.

Writing is important, and conferences are helpful; but relationships and love are essential, necessary, foundational. The purpose for communicating is understanding, empathizing, knowing and loving people: communion and community themselves.

So go ahead, know your audience. Don’t just be a clanging cymbal, Gordon; “though I speak with tongues of men and of angels…[without] charity…I am nothing.” My plea: reduce me to Love.

(me on the left, Chris Bronke on right)


mirror exercise

In drama games we play mirrors, where the goal is to “follow the follower.” First one partner leads and the other follows her/his gestures and expressions as if facing a mirror; then they switch roles: the focus is on following the leader, on close observation. But as they continue, a fluid exchange of leadership occurs, until when both members of one mirroring unit function perfectly, neither an observer nor even the twain can tell who leads. They have achieved the goal of following the follower.

In my English classroom such moments occur as frequent flashes, but just as in drama those spectacular star bursts of creative energy have brief half lives, until you look again and once more it is obvious who leads who.

I have practiced the co-leader co-learner philosophy for at least 8 years now, in class and in my St. John’s College Alumni seminars, at CEL conferences and at church book studies; it even shows up in jazz music when I try to work on songs at the piano with a sax player, and this year it adds a new focus to my Professional Development circle of 4 teachers each struggling to learn about ourselves as instructors with the observations and insights of the other 3.

Today it feels as though my English classes are one long attempt to generate more flashes of following followers. Am I wishing for more beauty in the constellation of student interactions with texts and each other? Clearly, yes.

It seems my students don’t recognize the flash, spark, beauty when I have found it.

Consider my 10th graders, who helped write stories with 2nd graders in October (at our K-12 school): when self evaluating, students didn’t feel their work merited a grade; however, I was able to see that their accomplishment had met at least 5 of our school’s major learning outcomes, in categories of service, critical thinking, and communicating. Grades themselves weren’t the issue, but even as we have begun to move toward narrative feedback of student progress, the language of standards and Envisionment learning (Langer) is not yet adequate to meld in student minds with what they actually accomplish: they do not see reflections of themselves in words yet, but still see themselves as grades.

My seniors notice the problem with being identified as grades, numbers, ACT scores. They desire to be known by colleges for their interests, skills, and personalities; what’s more, they dream of a higher ed experience that they can tailor to their own needs and interests–one that won’t kill off their love of learning things.

I am now focused on starting a Utah StuCamp, modeled on the EdCamp movement, in which a half-day of free meetings with other teens, without an agenda, affords students the opportunity to express themselves and have their voices heard by others, including teachers who assist in the logistics of the operation. I think students need to hear other students, in order to figure out whether they experience learning as more “doing” or “done to”.

Creative problem solving

Continue reading ‘mirror exercise’


kicking the habit of lethargy

I know what bothers me about this subject: Genius Hour, MakerSpaces both involve students to the point where they become authors of their own learning – exactly what i am after.

So where’s the beef? I want to transfer the self-directedness, inquiry, problem-solving, and energy of curiosity to English Language Arts classroom.


Re-enactment of Sybil’s {spoiler alert} death in Picture of Dorian Gray. Do not attempt this at home. No students were harmed during this activity.

Not that it never appears there – far from it! Yet there are some days or weeks where it can feel like the sparks of creative thinking have sputtered and died before many students enter my room.

It is clear from much that I learn from my students that they do relate what they are working on – a class novel, for example – to real world issues, their life experiences, and to other learning. Yet when it comes to making decisions about their own learning, they take a back seat, leaving others to make decisions for them.

Admittedly it is easier to have another person — teacher, peer — decide for you; but when you resign your own right to choose in class, you also abdicate responsibility for learning.

Some students act as if they would rather be told what to do and how to do it every time, which gets old before a child hits third grade. By middle school it has become habit; by high school an addiction.

No wonder I feel like Sisyphus.

I am tired of pushing. Let someone else pull the weight for a while.

rapt: an answer to prayer

This week I saw surprises leap out at me from the embers of lethargy.

  • In an impromptu moment, one student began reading aloud from Thomas Hardy and held classmates in rapt attention for easily ten minutes, using voices full of expression, pausing occasionally to think aloud;
  • One class performed Shakespeare scenes after having planned and rehearsed, narrowing & selecting them from a play before choosing volunteers to direct and choreograph; 
  • Widely varied student interests and curiosities were shared about To Kill A Mockingbird;
  • Freshmen had fun speaking in varieties of dialect as they read Dickens



Gordon’s Tweets

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    Magical Ms. M
  • Teachers Love Tech August 3, 2013
    My love for tech begins at a personal level.  I plan my life (and my lessons) on iCalendar. I create invites, worksheets, game handouts and more with Word and/or Pages.  All of my music comes from the web (check out … Continue reading →
    Magical Ms. M
  • I Want PD. I Need Time and Choice May 8, 2013
    The best teachers are learners.  They consistently seek ways to improve.  For me, blogging and connecting with educators online has been an inspiring source of daily professional development – until it became too much. Where is the time? I want professional development, … Continue reading →
    Magical Ms. M
  • Math Game: Hangmath October 8, 2011
    What is it? Hangmath is paper and pencil game similar to Hangman.  Players take turns creating two-digit addition problems, which the other player guesses. Rationale: Hangmath reinforces place value concepts because the Magical Minds must ask questions about the digits … Continue reading →
    Magical Ms. M
  • Studying Systems October 7, 2011
    SYSTEM: a set of connected things or parts that form a complex whole. The Magical Minds are investigating different kinds of systems.  We started by looking at smaller systems, things we could find in the classroom. We began to expand … Continue reading →
    Magical Ms. M
  • Reading: Understanding Genre Help Us Make Predictions October 6, 2011
    Today we began to think about how to use what we know about genre to make predictions about our books. To illustrate this point we compared nonfiction and fiction books. We already know that nonfiction books are full of information, … Continue reading →
    Magical Ms. M
  • Math Game: Foreheaded (place value) October 5, 2011
    What is it? In this game each player receives a mystery three-digit number, which they place on their forehead.  Using a guide sheet (below), players take turns guessing the digits in their numbers. Rationale: This game allows the Magical Minds … Continue reading →
    Magical Ms. M
  • Roman Numerals, Invisible Ink and Chemical Reactions October 4, 2011
    The best part about Roman Numerals? Its like a code.  Codes are cool. You know what else is cool?  Invisible ink.  Even better…chemical reactions. It all began with a math puzzle.  During snack, each Magical Mind was give a number, … Continue reading →
    Magical Ms. M


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