Makey Makey Literacy Mashup

In my newest book, New Realms for Writing (ISTE, 2019) I have a chapter on poetry, video production, and hacking poetry with Makey Makey. Makey Makey are invention kits for people of all ages. The circuit boards in the kit mimic a key board and allow users to create circuits and turn anything into a touchpad. Check out the original Kickstarter video by inventors Jay Silver and Eric Rosenbaum.

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When I saw Colleen Graves, librarian, author, blogger, and maker extraordinaire describes her hacking poetry project with high school students on Twitter the possibilities of using this tool in my English classroom were endless.

Hacking Poetry means that students create interactive poetry experiences using different apps and makerspace materials. Colleen first had her students select a poem that intrigued them. They read and analyzed the poem by drawing the key images associated with poem. Having students create visual representations of the poem and the imagery in the poem requires them to think critically about the poem’s meaning and symbolism. Then, using the coding program Scratch, students recorded audio reading aloud the poem to convey meaning,  mood, and tone. Lastly, students programed the drawings to play the poems with Scratch and attached the Makey Makey alligator clips to the computer or a conductive item so the poems could be seen in words and images as well as heard and read back to the students.  

I wanted to do something similar with my 8th graders. Using poems and songs, students would first create found poems about themselves based on the self selected poems and songs. Then, students would illustrate their found poems before including the audio component.

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Graphite is a conductive ink that you can use to attach the Makey Makey alligator clips  right to the student illustrations and it works as a conductor passing electricity. The Makey Makey Booster pack comes with special pencils but I went on Amazon and purchased two boxes of Graphite 6B pencils, softer artist pencils for my students to use for their projects. 

Students created small booklets with their poems and illustrated the booklets. Later using Scratch we added music and audio to play back the poems. There are endless possibilities with the Makey Makey to combine making and writing. For example, I have seen students create interactive poster boards and display boards for research projects. Students can invent something to contribute to the world in a positive way in a design challenge. These projects require critical and design thinking, two important life skills. On the Makey Makey website you can find a gallery of projects inspired by educators across all content areas for more ideas.

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You Have to Be the Book: Live Action Role Play (LARP) for Learning

Live Action Role Play can be applied to any and all major works of literature as well as almost any content area (scientific inquiry, mathematical reasoning, stage play, history). The rules you make are your own or by others. In my gamification question I have learned more about LARPs and realize that much of the theater and reenactment we do in our classroom is Live Action Role Play. To heighten the stakes, engagement, and learning I was part of a workshop with the Kennedy Center and ArtsEdge Games. Here are some basic elements to get started in your classroom:

The participants

The Game Master – These are the facilitators of the game.

The Players – These individuals have active participation in the story, inhabiting a player character. Note that not all players have equal roles, some have different strengths and weaknesses.

How to Play

Player characters interact with the created world by declaring an action and then determining if that action is successful through the rolling of dice. This process is called an Encounter. Think of an encounter as a conflict between two entities, typical in any good story. Typical conflicts in literature include person vs. person, person vs. nature, person vs. society, and person vs, self. It also includes action and reaction.

Much like the story itself, a proper game attempts to tell a story through a succession of events, both heroic and tragic. Sometimes these events seem like random fortune, other times karma is at work, serving the player character he or she deserves.

An important part of role-playing is understanding your particular character’s motivations and what drives them to do what they can do. Certain characters are driven to their goals so deeply that a part of their consciousness is forever devoted to that cause. The goal with character creation is to design and shape a player-character that not only represents their persona in the subject text but also that fits into the structures of the game itself.

For example, Odysseus of the famed Odyssey – a man of great cunning and ingenuity, uses his intellect to overcome the many obstacles in reaching his home in Ithaca. However, Odysseus is merely a man and thus not without fault. As the greater mind of his era, Odysseus gains Advantage when using non-weapon tools or machines to overpower, kill, or deceive. At the same time one of Odysseus is tantalized by the pursuit of adventure and prestige. If faced with the possibility of fame, fortune, or the protection of his price, and he chooses against it, he gains disadvantages. Every merit is balanced with a flaw. A flaw is simply being an effect that grants disadvantage. Characters are incentivized to use inherent character traits and behave like the characters in the text. For Odysseus, his most common and frequent intent is simply to protect his men from the dangers of adventure. As the book is a “journey home” Odysseus’ standard goal is to make it back to his kingdom in Ithaca.

Inventory is an enhancement in the game. Inventory are usable items that can represent anything from money, to weapons, to social and spiritual representations. The crown of a king represents more than just ornate wealth, it is the very key to ruling people, governing, and influencing. Inventory doesn’t just add items to a player character, it might unlock events or areas, restrict behaviors of characters, change a character or change the surroundings.

LARPs can be open-ended adventure and are open to interpretation. Of course, there are more elements that you can add and build into the game and I have just give you some basics to begin game play in your classroom. For more information about ArtsEdge Games and resources,  click here.

 

 

 

 

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Holocaust Memorial Day: Why It Matters

Our child and students are the “last link” to Holocaust survivors. Many survivors are in their mid to late 80s. They will not live forever, but their stories will.

Technology has allowed us to capture the stories and testimony. The Jewish Heritage Museum in New York City has introduced virtual reality and virtual conversations with Holocaust survivor testimony. Dimensions in Testimony allows visitors to experience a “virtual conversation” with Pinchas Gutter, a survivor of six Nazi concentration camps. When you ask questions, Pinchas—in the form of a pre-recorded projection—provides answers in real time.

To create this experience Pinchas answered approximately 1,500 questions for the creation of Dimensions in Testimony. Your unique questions prompt his recorded responses—made possible by specialized recording and display technologies and next-generation natural language processing. As the JHM states on its website, “Dimensions in Testimony ensures that future generations will still be able to speak with and learn from survivors.”

The current Auschwitz: Not Long Ago. Not Far Away “exhibit brings together more than 700 original objects and 400 photographs from over 20 institutions and museums around the world. Auschwitz. Not long ago. Not far away. is the most comprehensive exhibition dedicated to the history of Auschwitz and its role in the Holocaust ever presented in North America, and an unparalleled opportunity to confront the singular face of human evil—one that arose not long ago and not far away.”

In conjunction with the exhibit, there is a virtual reality experience for visitors. The Last Goodbye is a 20-minute immersive virtual reality testimony experience produced by USC Shoah Foundation. It represents unprecedented advances in storytelling through technology. During the VR experience Holocaust survivor Pinchas Gutter tours the Majdanek concentration camp where his parents and twin sister were murdered during World War II. As Pinchas recounts his experiences, you walk alongside him—seeing what he sees, hearing what he hears, and learning as he guides you through an account of his own history.

Why Remember?

The entranceway to the Museum’s Core Exhibition has two biblical quotations carved into its granite walls: “Remember . . . Never forget,” [Deuteronomy 25:17, 19] and “There is hope for your future” [Jeremiah 31:16].

• What should we remember, and why?

• On what should humanity as a whole base its hope for the future?

• On what do you base your hope for the future?

 

Last week there was an opportunity for my students to hear two survivors. Henry Brecher was six years old in Graz, Austria in 1938. On March 12, 1938, German troops marched into Austria to annex the German-speaking nation for the Third Reich. In early 1938, Austrian Nazis conspired to seize the Austrian government by force and unite their nation with Nazi Germany. As a result, Henry’s parents decided to send him to live with cousins in Croatia and for six years he was sent off to live with friends and family while his parents and grandparents stayed back and were later killed in concentration camps. At the age of twelve, Henry was sent to a refugee camp in Oswego, New York. Imagine your parents sending you to a foreign place with relatives you know little about.

Marion Blumenthal Lazan was speaking in our community for Yom HaShoah Commemoration. Following Hitler’s rise to power, the Blumenthal family  were trapped in Nazi Germany. They managed eventually to get to Holland, but soon thereafter it was occupied by the Nazis. For the next six and a half years the Blumenthal’s were forced to live in refugee, transit, and prison camps that included Westerbork in Hollan and the notorious Bergen-Belsen in Germany. Though they all survived the camps, Marion’s father succumbed to typhus just after liberation. It took three more years of struggle and waiting before Marion, her brother and moth obtained the necessary papers and boarded ship for United States.

Racism and bigotry continue today. These survivors speak to students because they know that today’s generation will be the last to hear first hand accounts of the dark time in our history. If you do not have access to a survivor you might ask students to read a Holocaust memoir.

Biography, Memoirs, and Diaries

Auerbacher, Inge. I Am a Star: Child of the Holocaust. New York: Puffin Books, 1993.

Drucker, Olga Levy. Kindertransport. New York: Henry Holt, 1995.

Fluek, Toby Knobel. Memories of My Life in a Polish Village 1930-1949. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1990.

 

Frank, Anne. The Diary of Anne Frank: The Revised Critical Edition. New York: Doubleday and Company, 2003.

Frister, Roman. The Cap: The Price of a Life. New York: Grove Press, 2000.

Grossman, Mendel. My Secret Camera: Life in the Lodz Ghetto. London: Frances Lincoln Children’s Books, 2008.

Heller, Fanya Gottesfeld. Love in a World of Sorrow: A Teenage Girl’s Holocaust Memoirs. New York: Devorah Publishing, 2005.

Levi, Primo. Survival in Auschwitz. CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform, 2013.

Michel, Ernest W. Promises Kept: One Man’s Journey Against Terrible Odds. New York: Barricade, 2008.

Neimark, Anne E. One Man’s Valor: Leo Baeck and the Holocaust. New York: Dutton, 1986.

Spiegelman, Art. Maus: A Survivor’s Tale. London: Penguin Books, 2003.

Wiesel, Elie. Night. New York: Hill and Wang, 2006.

Zapruder, Alexandra (ed.). Salvaged Pages: Young Writers’ Diaries of the Holocaust. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2004.

Zeller, Frederic. When Time Ran Out: Coming of Age in the Third Reich. New York: Permanent Press, 1989.

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Purposeful Vocabulary and Grammar Instruction

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Jeremy Hyler and Troy Hicks’ From Texting to Teaching: Grammar Instruction in the Digital Age (2017) is filled with grammar and vocabulary lessons that utilize technology. Their premise is to help teachers and students learn to “code switch” between academic, formal language and cultural text speak. Each chapter illustrates how teachers can weave grammar into authentic classroom experiences, rather than skill and drill.

When speaking of grammar, this includes usage, rules, spelling, capitalization, and punctuation. Grammar matters because “it offers us options – both as speakers and writers – for creating meaning” (pg. 4) Looking at the Common Core Standards, grammar is now under the Language Standards” and students are expected to gain commands of conventions and show their knowledge of language and conventions when reading, writing, speaking and listening,

Hyler and Hicks’ approach teaching grammar with digital tools, utilized flipped lessons to learn parts of speech, utilize social media, Google Docs, and other digital tools to enliven vocabulary, master mechanics, and learn sentence style with formal and informal writing. Grammar matters because the standards suggest it, digital citizenship has become an essential skill, and revision matters.

“Technology can enhance writing instruction. Smart grammar instruction – coupled with smart uses of technology – will help improve students’ understanding of how to use various sentence patterns, phrases, punctuation, and other stylistic techniques in their own writing” (pg. 24). 

Consider the grammar lessons you teach and how you might enliven them to help students master language conventions to be effective and creative communicators. Here are three ideas from Hyler and Hicks to help you infuse grammar with technology in effective ways.

A teacher made screencast or podcast is a great way for students to demonstrate new knowledge, learn new topics, or listen to a review. Use the tool screencastify or screencastomatic to plan and script an instructional screencast or podcast. The benefit of  a flipped lesson is that these lessons are at students disposal to review when needed. Plus, the best flipped lessons have students do more than a lecture to watch, often teachers provide thoughtful, scaffolded activities associated with the video that students watch. Hyler utilizes a “Watch, Summarize, Question (WSQ)” tool or guide for students as they view the flipped lessons and utilize conventions in their own writing.

To help students learn sentence styles and study great writing, examining sentences in the texts we read help understand the nuances and beauty of writing. Posting a beautifully crafted or complex sentence from a class novel on Padlet is one way to have students analyze sentences and think carefully about writing. Or a sentence that needs revising can be posted on Padlet and students can use revising strategies to help revise the sentence.

For vocabulary building Hyler and Hicks recommend having students “create videos with web tools like WeVideo depicting a real world use of vocabulary words. If real world connections can be made with vocabulary and spelling, students are sure to retain more of the information they have learned and see the relevance” (pg.81). Students storyboard their video draft ideas and are required to draw connections between the vocabulary word and the text students are reading. Lastly, reflection is necessary to gain feedback about the process and new understanding.

Grammar should not taught in isolation. Nor should not be left by the wayside in the English Language Arts classroom. Teachers must constantly reflect on the technology and learning landscape and how we can blend the two to creative relevant and engaging lessons that help our students succeed.

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5 WRITING STRATEGIES AND TOOLS TO REACH EVERY LEARNER: Podcast with Vicki Davis

Earlier this month I had the opportunity to talk with Cool Cat Teacher, Vicki Davis for her 10-Minute Teacher Show.

Vicki Davis is a classroom teacher with 15 years of experience teaching high school and 20 years of experience teaching teachers how to use technology in the classroom. She started her blog in 2005 to learn how to blog and then teach my students how to blog too. Davis has been podcasting since 2013. She is also the author of two technology guidebooks for teachers: Reinventing Writing and Flattening Classrooms Engaging Minds.

michele-haiken-full-size-1-1-1024x576Listen to Vicki and I talk about engaging students in writing:

 

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25 Titles for English Language Arts Teachers

One of my graduate students recently asked me what are the most influential books I have read that shaped my teaching philosophies. This student is in the process of studying for her New York State Teaching Certification Exam and English Language Arts CST and is looking for additional material to help her prepare for this test.

I had to think about all the books that I have read, which are the ones that have left a lasting impression that I still refer to today when planning and preparing my lessons. Below is a list of twenty five books that have shaped my teaching and practice over the past twenty years. Additionally, these are the books that I refer to often and use as teaching tools in my graduate courses. The books below are in no particular order.

In the Middle by Nancie Atwell – This is the first book I read in my English Methods class and has left a lasting impact on reading and writing workshop in my own middle school classroom. As Atwell states, “this edition represents my current best set of blueprints for how I build and maintain a writing-reading workshop-the expectations, demonstrations, models, choices, resources, rules and rituals, pieces of advice, words of caution, and ways of thinking, planning, looking, and talking that make it possible for every student to read with understanding and pleasure and aspire to and produce effective writing.”

Other People’s Children: Cultural Conflict in the Classroom by Lisa Delpit – An analysis of contemporary classrooms, Lisa Delpit develops ideas about ways teachers can be better “cultural transmitters” in the classroom, where prejudice, stereotypes, and cultural assumptions breed ineffective education. Delpit suggests that many academic problems attributed to children of color are actually the result of miscommunication, as primarily white teachers and “other people’s children” struggle with the imbalance of power and the dynamics plaguing our system.

Teaching to Transgress by bell hooks – “To educate is the practice of freedom,” writes bell hooks, “is a way of teaching anyone can learn.”  Another book I read as part of my educational classes working towards my certification, this book shaped my pedagogy.

The Freedom Writers Diary by The Freedom Writers and Erin Grunwell – Don’t see the movie! Read the book and see how one young teacher was able to teach empathy and global awareness among her students through literature and writing.

The Book Whisperer by Donalyn Miller – If you don’t know Donalyn Miller and you are an English teacher or aspiring ELA teacher you must read this book. Miller helps students navigate the world of literature and gives them time to read books they pick out themselves. Her love of books and teaching is both infectious and inspiring.

Notice and Note: Strategies for Close Reading by Kyleen Beers and Bob Probst – In Notice and Note Kylene Beers and Bob Probst introduce 6 “signposts” that alert readers to significant moments in a work of literature and encourage students to read closely. Learning first to spot these signposts and then to question them, enables readers to explore the text, any text, finding evidence to support their interpretations.

Teach Like A Pirate by Dave Burgess – This is a mandatory reading requirement in my Literacy in the Content Areas class I teach each semester. Dave reminds all teachers to plan and teach with passion, engagement, and a love of teaching. Never have your students sit through a boring lesson when you can use one of the many hooks described in the book.

Literacy Essentials by Regie Routman – If you are looking for practical, easy-to-implement tools to help students develop as self-determining readers, writers, and learners, Routman focuses on excellence, equity, encouragement, and engagement throughout her book.

Readicide by Kelly Gallagher – Read-i-cide n: The systematic killing of the love of reading, often exacerbated by the inane, mind-numbing practices found in schools. This is a book for all educators no matter the subject area you teach to understand the depth of struggling readers and reluctant readers today.

Book Love by Penny Kittle – Following Gallagher’s Readicide, Penny Kittle sheds light on her classroom practices showing teachers ways to promote reading in the classroom as a positive and engaging activity. Students need to be able to read for pleasure and enjoy words, not just reading for textual analysis.

Shades of Meaning: Comprehension and Interpretation in Middle School by Donna Santman – This book shows you how to teach readers the skills and strategies of comprehension and interpretation within the framework of a reading workshop. Shades of Meaning takes you through Santman’s own rigorous workshop, describing the teaching that allows students to stretch and empower their imaginations.

From Texting to Teaching by Jeremy Hyler and Troy Hicks – Grammar is a part of teaching English but the traditional ways of teaching grammar have left a negative impact on people and teachers alike. Hyler and Hicks offer technology tools and teaching strategies that will help students and teachers understand the depths of grammar and become better writers.

Good Thinking: Teaching Argument, Persuasion, and Reasoning by Erik Palmer – The Common Core Learning Standards are big on claim evidence reasoning and Good Thinking provides effective exercises and templates to lead students into improvements in articulating their thinking and backing up their claims.

Teaching Interpretation: Using Text Based Evidence to Construct Meaning by Sonja Cherry Paul and Dana Johansen – Sonja and Dana also provide specific ways for teachers to introduce or review the various concepts that are essential in teaching interpretation to help our students become better critical thinkers. The design of the book allows for teachers to easily incorporate any of the ideas, lessons, assessments, graphic organizers, and list of text resources into an already existing curriculum.

Teaching with the Brain in Mind by Eric Jensen – The basic message of Jensen’s book is that we have a much greater ability to affect the learning of students than we realize. Some of the many topics covered in his book include how to prepare children for school, how to motivate students to participate, how to influence emotional states, how to design smarter schools, and how to enhance memory and critical thinking skills.

The Journey is Everything by Katherine Bomer – Katherine Bomer reclaims the essay as a tool for writing and communicating our ideas. Throughout her book she offers countless mentor texts and ways to teach writing that gets away from the bossy thesis statement and closer to poetic writing.

A Novel Approach by Kate Roberts – Kate Roberts uses the reading workshop approach to teach choice novels, book groups, and whole class novels. She gives permission to teachers to utilize whole class novels to teach key elements of literature without spending too much time teaching books, rather teaching readers.

Text-Dependent Questions, Grades 6-12: Pathways to Close and Critical Reading by Douglas B. Fisher , Nancy Frey, et al. – What does the text say? How does the text work? What does the text mean? What does the text inspire you to do? Fisher and Frey break down close reading into four cognitive pathways to help students peel back the layers of text for deeper meaning.

Teaching English by Design by Peter Smagorinsky – Teaching English by Design is practical, providing examples of units and support for how to create them.

Never Work Harder Than Your Students by Robyn Jackson – This is my philosophy: If you are doing all the hard work and the heavy lifting then you are doing all the learning. Jackson’s seven principles will help your students be the lead learners in your classroom an effective facilitator for learning and understanding.  

Using Informational Text to Teach To Kill a Mockingbird by Audrey Fisch & Susan Chenelle – The new Common Core State Standards mean major changes for language arts teachers, particularly the emphasis on “informational text.” How do we shift attention toward informational texts without taking away from the teaching of literature? Fisch and Chenelle have written four books all focusing on different core texts still taught in high schools today.

Sparks in the Dark:Lessons, Ideas and Strategies to Illuminate the Reading and Writing Lives in All of Us by Travis Crowder and Todd Nesloney – In Sparks in the Dark, Travis Crowder and Todd Nesloney share their experiences as educators who purposefully seek to spark a love for reading and writing in the learners they serve. The reason is simple: Writing and reading have the power to change the trajectory of a life.

Deeper Reading: Comprehending Challenging Texts, 4-12 by Kelly Gallagher – I will read anything by Kelly Gallagher and this is another must have book for teaching English. The book is filled with many ideas to teach literature and respond to texts. Kelly also provides guidance on effective lesson planning that incorporates strategies for deeper reading.

Do I Really Have to Teach Reading? Content Comprehension Grades 6-12 by Chris Tovani – Building on the experiences gained in her own language arts classroom, Cris shows how teachers can expand on their content expertise to provide instruction students need to understand specific technical and narrative texts. The book includes: examples of how teachers can model their reading process for students.

 

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Peeling Back the Layers: Frida Kahlo Exhibit “Looks Can Be Deceiving”

This weekend I attend Frida Kahlo: Looks Can Be Deceiving at the Brooklyn Museum.  The exhibit is packed with rooms of clothing, artifacts, and of course art, based upon both last year’s Frida Kahlo: Making Herself Up at the Victoria and Albert Museum and the original exhibit curated by Circe Henestrosa at the Frida Kahlo Museum in 2012.

Even though attendees are not able to take pictures throughout the exhibit (and my daughter requested that I not nerd out with my writer’s notebook) the clothing, art, photographs, and personal items are ingrained in my mind. There were two rooms that were the most powerful.

The first featured a series of Kahlo’s changing medical orthopedic corsets and casts. Kahlo contracted polio at age six, which left her right leg thinner than the left and left her with a limp, which she disguised by wearing long skirts. When Frida was 18 she was in a horrific bus accident returning home from school. “An iron handrail had impaled her through her pelvis, as, she would later say, piercing “the way a sword pierces a bull.” Kahlo’s pelvic bone had been fractured and the rail had punctured her abdomen and uterus. Her spine had been broken in three places, her right leg in 11 places, her shoulder was dislocated and her collarbone was broken. These experiences and events contributed to Frida Kahlo’s long term health struggles and her art.

Kahlo wore supportive corsets and casts throughout the remainder of her adult life — and she painted almost all of these while they supported her body. The room also showcases medical devices, shoes with different heights to adjust for her limp, a prosthetic leg, glass prescription bottles, and a note outlining her conditions in a plea for a doctor to understand and treat her ongoing physical pain.  

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Plaster corset, painted and decorated by Frida Kahlo, Museo Frida Kahlo. © Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo Archives, Banco de México, Fiduciary of the Trust of the Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo Museums.

Walking through the room room you wonder at both Kahlo’s endurance and ability to continue producing art in spite of and perhaps even because of the physical pain. In one of Kahlo’s many well-known quotes from a 1953 ink on paper, she asks, “Feet, what do I need them for if I have wings to fly?” Even here, just a year prior to her death, Kahlo’s resiliency is palpable and inspiring.

Whereas many would see this as a disability, her voice and social ideas about disability are shown through her writing, painting and dress. She, in fact, dressed in traditional dress from Tehuantepec in Oaxaca, not only for the socio-political symbolism and alliances she wished to forge; no, in fact she also opted for unrestrictive clothing that would conceal her limp, leg, and corsets.

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As curatorial advisor Gannit Ankori notes in her 2013 book Frida Kahlo, “any attempt simply to (re)construct a linear biography of this fascinating and innovative artist inevitably encounters a complex maze of conflicting information, documents, and memories — a weave of overlapping objective and subjective facts and fabrications.”

The last room of the exhibit showcases many of Frida Kahlo’s clothing that allow us to view of Kahlo and her many lives, incarnations, and selves. In the “From Fashioning Gender” section, the wall text addresses Kahlo’s bisexuality and famed works like Self Portrait with Cropped Hair or her family photographic portrait featuring Kahlo in a men’s suit: “In today’s terminology, we would say Kahlo rejected binary categories and embraced gender fluidity. But the language and the choices of identity available to her regarding gender and sexuality during her lifetime were vastly different from today’s.” 

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Self Portrait with Cropped Hair (1940)

As The New York Times reports, Frida Kahlo used her body as a canvas for both art and political statement. The fabrics that she chose for her dress were vibrant and gorgeous. It is evident that Frida Kahlo took great care and pleasure in her dress. Frilled shirts, heavy necklaces of jade and coral, and pinned flowers all directed attention where she wished it to fall: “The adornment is concentrated from the torso up,” Ms. Henestrosa, curator of the exhibition at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London said. “The beautiful headdresses and jewelry distracted you from her legs and her body.”

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There are many connections that teachers can help students make throughout the exhibit beyond a biography about the artist’s life. Aspects of creativity, disability and ability, fashion as political statement, and the role of culture shaping our identity are all ideas that can be addresses while experiencing this exhibit and learning more about the life and art of Frida Kahlo.

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April is National Poetry Month

I was recently going through all my teaching notebooks and I came across the poetry unit I taught my first year of teaching in New York City. On the first page of the unit was ee cummings’ A Poet’s Advice to Students. His sage advice can be applied to any genre of writing.

A Poet’s Advice To Students

e. e. cummings

A poet is somebody who feels, and who expresses his feeling through words.

This may sound easy. It isn’t.

A lot of people think or believe or know they feel-but that’s thinking or believing or knowing; not feeling. And poetry is feeling-not knowing or believing or thinking.

Almost anybody can learn to think or believe or know, but not a single human being can be taught to feel. Why? Because whenever you think or you believe or you know, you’re a lot of other people: but the moment you feel, you’re nobody-but-yourself.

To be nobody-but-yourself-in a world which is doing its best, night and day, to make you everybody else-means to fight the hardest battle which any human being can fight; and never stop fighting.

As for expressing nobody-but-yourself in words, that means working just a little harder than anybody who isn’t a poet can possibly imagine. Why? Because nothing is quite as easy as using words like somebody else. We all of us do exactly this nearly all of the time-and whenever we do it, we’re not poets.

If, at the end of your first ten or fifteen years of fighting and working and feeling, you find you’ve written one line of one poem, you’ll be very lucky indeed.

And so my advice to all young people who wish to become poets is: do something easy, like learning how to blow up the world-unless you’re not only willing, but glad, to feel and work and fight till you die.

Does this sound dismal? It isn’t.

It’s the most wonderful life on earth.

Or so I feel.

Looking through my notes and lesson I also came across the poem collection I wrote along with my students. It was called “Poem Advertisement” because that is how I started to write my poems, I searched through the magazines I had in my apartment and ripped out the funky advertisement logos I found a liking to. Yet, when I looked through and read all the poems, there is a distinct theme about escaping and not holding on to what people tell you. I wrote in the introduction that I “wrote these poems behind your back, I sat up one night and just wrote and wrote and continues to play with words trying to create poems. You keep pushing me and asking me to write and so I did, and this is what was born. It is difficult for me to pick a favorite poem because it is hard to play favorites with your feelings.”

Untitled

I.

Fire is the passion

of anger I feel for

my friends

II.

Tomorrow I will swim in

tears I cry over

many beautiful memories

III.

Doors open towards the

light gleaming off

the snow

IV.

Green grass stands

together unlike

my own solitude

which hammers

at my lonely self

 

Untitled 2

Trying

to capture

a poem

full of vivid color

and vivaciousness

I am not

going

to let it get away today

I stand

still

silently

absorbed

in this search

for

a time thought

be quiet

so it will

come to me

your noise

only scares it away

 

 

 

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Murder Mystery Short Story Editing Task Cards

For the past few weeks my students have been immersed in a reading and creative writing unit centering around murder mysteries. As my students are busy writing their creative fiction pieces, I have designed the following task cards to help them add creative elements to their stories to enhance suspense and the elements of mystery.

Murder Mystery Short Story Editing Task Cards

The four tasks or stations include:

Word Wizard – Read through your murder mystery creative fiction specifically for vocabulary. Pay attention to your word choice. If you find that your vocabulary needs a boost or you are using the same words to describe the events, setting, and characters, let’s give it a boost. Open up thesaurus.com and look to replace the overused words with stronger and more vibrant vocabulary.

IllustratorCreative writing requires vivid imagery that creates a picture or movie the reader’s mind. Read through your story looking for the strong imagery presented throughout the piece. Select one scene and draw a detailed picture that conveys the events described. This colorful picture will be included with your short story as the title page to draw readers to your story.

Red Herrings – Red herrings play two important roles in a mystery novel. They heighten suspense and add greater challenge to a mystery puzzle by misleading the reader and/or the sleuth. A red herring is a false clue that a mystery writer uses to send readers and sleuths off in the wrong direction. Try one of these ideas:

Put an innocent character at the scene of the crime. Maybe he had come to drop something off for a friend who lives across the street from the victim’s house and had parked for a moment in the victim’s driveway. A suspicious neighbor saw him pull out of the driveway. She wrote down his car license number. Bang! He is a suspect.

Or

Have the sleuth discover some items (red herrings) at the crime scene that can be interpreted in more than one way or that implicate an innocent person or are completely unrelated to the crime. The sleuth and the reader have to sort them all out.

Literary LuminaryRead through your murder mystery creative fiction. Highlight in pink the places in the story where you are using figurative language (metaphors, similes, personification, hyperbole) and literary devices (flashback, zoom in, zoom out, flashforward).  Think about what these devices add to your story for the reader. If you don’t use any of these craft moves, where are places that you can add a few of these devices to give your readers a more vivid picture of the setting, characters, and events in your short story.

Adding figurative language and literary devices into creative writing is challenging for some students so I created how-to directions to provide students with direct instruction regarding targeted skill development. Students follow the directions at their own pace, re-read as necessary, and refer to examples that have been included. Using this how-to direction sheet requires students to be active participants and help students become proficient at learning a skill (Innovative Designs for Education, 2019).

Check out this How to be more Literary Luminary designed with my students in mind:

How to be More . .  . Literary Luminary

Descriptive Writing: Building a Setting for Fiction Writing

My students have embarked on a creative writing unit, specifically murder mystery creative fiction. Last week’s blog post I wrote about the quest and the three laps students partake in to flex their creative writing muscles. This blog post dives deep in the first lap, descriptive writing and narrative of a place.

The setting is extremely important to a story. It can have immense effects on the plot and the characters. It can also establish the atmosphere, or mood, of a story or a specific scene. The setting establishing this mood allows the reader to relate to the characters within a story.

Let’s look at an example in literature. 

Hale knew, before he had been in Brighton three hours, that they meant to murder him. With his inky fingers and his bitten nails, his manner cynical and nervous, anybody could tell he didn’t belong – belong to the early summer sun, the cool Whitsun wind off the sea, the holiday crowd. They came in by train from Victoria every five minutes, rocked down Queen’s Road standing on the tops of the little local trams, stepped off in bewildered multitudes into fresh and glittering air: the new silver paint sparkled on the piers, the cream houses ran away into the west like a pale Victorian water-colour; a race in miniature motors, a band playing, flower gardens in bloom below the front, an aeroplane advertising something for the health in pale vanishing clouds across the sky.

Brighton Rock (Graham Greene)

Note the vivid imagery used to describe the setting. How does the author encompass all of our senses to bring us into the place this novel is set? 

In my classroom I would give my students this excerpt and ask them to mark up the text noticing how place, time, landscape, weather, and atmosphere are described to establish the setting. Then, students would sketch out a visual of the setting described in the passage.

We look at examples for models in descriptive writing about setting for our own writing to stretch our writing, take risks, and try something new. In mystery writing setting helps to propel the mystery and can be the best place to leave clues for readers.

Setting is important in any fictional story. Setting doesn’t just concern nice descriptive passages about houses, woodlands, mountains, roads and so on. Setting doesn’t mean merely ‘scenery’. Careful choice of setting:

  • Directs the reader’s attention to significant details of character or action. Setting can be used almost symbolically. It can stand for a mood, a state of mind, an emotion.
  • Plays off character against the environments in which they live and act. Characters (and their motivations, desires, hopes) may be juxtaposed against the settings in which they appear. They may occupy the setting comfortably, or be uncomfortable in the settings in which they’re placed.
  • Enhances the suspense and mystery (establishing mood and tone) in a piece of writing.

To help students build the setting in their own murder mystery, we looked at examples in film. Think about the opening scenes of your favorite movies and the opening shots that establish the setting. On one creative writing website, it states “Careful control of setting can be somewhat equivalent to directing a film camera. Many films begin with a long shot (distance), then a middle shot, then a close up. This threefold use of the camera is called the ‘establishing shot’ and is a commonplace of screenwriting. Beginning with a distance/wide angle ‘shot’ and then moving in to ever-closer details is also widely used as an orientation technique in fiction writing.”

To help my students write with depth and lots of description about their setting, they storyboarded the setting. This involved drawing out the setting and writing additional details to help stretch the setting details and give readers a clear sense of place.  

Setting Storyboard

 

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