Thursday, November 27, 2014

Giving Thanks and Telling Stories

This Thanksgiving my heart is full. I returned from NCTE 2014 brimming with stories, but I'll be sharing about that experience in a separate post in a few days. 

For now, I'm thinking about my grandmother, Phoebe Cowen, and giving thanks for the stories I inherited from her, one of which I shared over on Facebook Wednesday, along with this photo of a Cranberry Orange Mold I've been making since 1982. I always put the salad in the green bowl, which belonged to my grandmother and which my grandfather gave to me when grandma died during my freshman year of college.
My grandmother and I often had a rocky relationship. She wanted me to quit school when I was in seventh grade and take care of my father, who had lost his sight the previous year from complications from juvenile diabetes. 

I kept grandma's request from my father for a year. 

Having just read Jacqueline Woodson's Brown Girl Dreaming empowers me to see the poetry in the stories from my own childhood. They, too, are best expressed as free verse. Such is the rhythm of life; it has no set meter, no constant form. 

One of my favorite pastimes when visiting grandma was dusting the furniture. As I sprayed Pledge onto the coffee table or buffet, I pledged to myself that I would one day own matching furniture, that I would have a comfy couch to sit on. I dusted away my childhood poverty as I polished grandma's furniture and dreamed of a more prosperous future for myself. 

After I learned to drive, I hauled grandma around town. She never acquired a driver's license but freely dispensed advice about driving. Her nagging made me nervous, and one time I pulled to the side of the road and scolded her: "Grandma, you have to stop nagging me about my driving. You make me nervous, and if you don't stop, I'm taking you home." She crossed her arms, scowled, and closed her mouth. 

When my niece saw the Facebook post featuring grandma's bowl, she, too, began reminiscing. "Loved grandma Cowen and her purple bathroom." I shared that I hadn't thought about that bathroom in a long time. It had a purple tub, a purple, toilet with a padded purple seat, and a purple sink. I reminded my niece that the wallpaper was actually contact paper grandma had stuck on the wall. I didn't remind her that grandma died in that bathroom. 

This Thanksgiving we'll tell stories and create new memories with family. We may not realize the significance of these stories to ourselves and to our relationships with others for many years. Jacqueline Woodson wrote Brown Girl Dreaming after turning 50, even though it's the story of her early life. 

I turned 56 last week and am only now beginning to understand the complicated relationship I had with my paternal grandmother. Only now am I beginning to understand her role in a poor white girl's dreaming and in the symbolism of a green bowl filled with those dreams. 

Sunday, November 16, 2014

NCTE 2014 "Story as the Landscape of Knowing" [Preview] Session A:09 "Blurred Lines: Landscapes of Truth and Fiction in Imaginary and Informational Texts"

For an English teacher, what excites more than a good story? We know ourselves and our world through stories. As Carol Jago says, "Literature is a mirror of ourselves and a window into other worlds." 

I'll be teaming up, once again, with my convention colleagues Ami Szerence, who teaches at Schurr H.S. in Montebello, CA; Cherylann Schmidt, who teaches at J. P. Case M.S. in Flemington, N.J.; and Debbie Greco, my colleague at Highland H.S. in Pocatello, ID to explore the ways narrative lines cross boundaries in texts of various genres. 

To start our session, I'll present a Pecha Kucha that focuses on how we define, and construct our ideas about imaginary and informational texts. I'll challenge the privilege granted informational texts and argue that truth resides in imaginary texts, too, often in ways inadequate to informational texts. 

The second part of my presentation will showcase the journey my seniors have taken this past trimester as we've examined narrative forms and frames on our way to creating digital stories that seniors may use as the starting point for their senior projects. I'll showcase at least one of the digital stories. We laughed and cried together last week as we celebrated one another's lives in story. This was a rewarding community-building experience. 

Included in my part of our session is a twelve page document w/ many of the activities students completed as part of our emphasis on telling our stories and reading the stories of others, both classic and contemporary, including YA. I've uploaded the materials to the NCTE portal but it's available on Google Drive: "Contributing a Verse: Digital Storytelling for Research-Based Writing"

My Co-Presenters' Plans:

Over on Google Drive, my co-presenters have shared their plans. Here's what those attending our session can look forward to hearing in Ami's, Cherylann's, and Debbie's own words:

I am focusing on how I create text sets that blend fiction and imaginative literature around a central question or idea.  I plan to share my Racial Profiling unit and either my Brave New World or 1984 unit.  I will focus on how I use imaginative literature to gather evidence to support argumentative writing.  I hope to have time to have one or two participants share a novel or story they teach and create a text set on the spot.  I will upload my handouts soon.  

"Blending Imaginative and Informative Texts in Argumentative Writing" (Ami's presentation doc).

Multiple Genres, Multiple Voices - How do different genres (informational text, poetry, autobiography, and photographs) tell the story of Kristallnacht, the Night of Broken Glass. I will walk participants through an abbreviated version of a lesson I do with my students when we study the Holocaust. My piece of the session will explore how each genre impacts readers differently and shapes their overall understanding of a historical event. (I’m doing an extended version of this talk at the Philadelphia Writing Project’s Fall Conference in October, so I’ll have worksheets uploaded within the next few weeks.)

My main focus will be the Heroic journey using a Document Based Inquiry approach connecting to The Odyssey and A Tale of Two Cities. I will upload the documents I will be using as well as the DBI Note catcher form. Depending on time availability (which is unlikely) I will do a side note on the use of census reports for A Tale of Two Cities pre-reading activity.  
1. Stage 1 - images and video… observations and wonders
2. Stage 2 - primary documents
3. Stage 3 - secondary synthesis documents
4. Stage 4 - Thesis statement with evidence based on observations and wonders from
stages 1-3
5. How much Odyssey & Tale of Two Cities fits fact versus fiction discussion
6. a side-by-side comparison of census reports - one from a wealthy neighborhood in
New York and one from a poor neighborhood in New York. What’s the narrative these

census records tell us?

*As Ami, Cherylann, and Debbie complete and share their materials w/ me, I'll update this post to link to their resources.

**Update: 1:14 MST.

Sunday, November 9, 2014

"A Map of the World: The World According to Illustrators and Storytellers" [Review] w/ Teaching Ideas

Maps tell stories. Sometimes those stories pretend to present objective ideas; sometimes those stories are strictly imaginative, as in maps created for novels such as "We Were Liars." 

A Map of the World: The World According to Illustrators and Storytellers conflates the worlds of traditional cartographers with imaginative storytellers and sellers of ideas to offer a collection of unique maps that help us understand and construct myriad worlds.  

Maps help us understand and navigate the world...Contemporary maps have evolved into platforms for cutting-edge illustration, experimental data visualization, and personal visual storytelling. 

It's this idea of "personal visual storytelling" that interests me most as a teacher. I first taught students to create neighborhood maps back in the 1990s, but these were generally literal rather than symbolic representations of their neighborhoods. 

Although the book is a beautiful collection, including maps created for ad campaigns, maps that guide tourists, and maps that present histories, as well as many other types of maps, it is also a subjective collection of visual interpretations. For example, on p 104 one finds maps from the Cosmographies, described as mapping "locations using personal experiences as a way to contribute to the understanding of place." The New Littles map on p 141 maps New York City's boroughs based on ethnicity. 

The landscapes cartographers create have me thinking about how mapping can promote creativity and knowledge acquisition among my students. Many of he maps offer inspiration for students mapping their school, their town, their activities, their vision for their future, their fears for their futures, their concerns about current issues that touch their lives. 

Maps function in a dimension beyond infographics. A map presents more than images and information, maps depict geography, and that geography is open to interpretation and shrouded in narrative. 

The map below depicts the ways Germans view countries from around the world. Note the dominant Facebook logo that defines the U.S.A. What meaning should we or our students construct from this image? What story about the U.S.A. does the map tell? How would our students map the world if they were to replicate the map envisioned in Germany?
"We the Bavarian and the Rest of the Earth" (132-133)
Judith Schalansky creates "atlases as works of poetry, interpretations of reality, and attempts to see the world as a whole." Schalansky's book of maps "is a book for the armchair explorer, describing places that exist in reality but only come to life in the imagination" (89) The map below is one such poetic cartographic creation: 
Isn't this true for stories as well? The reader experiences stories, and maps, and informational texts primarily through the imagination rather than in "real life." We explore our world through our senses, and, thus, map our world in our imagination.

I'm still thinking about its many implications for discussion, argument, and reading texts and plan to share more ideas as I find inspiration in the landscapes in A Map of the World.

This is a stunning collection that offers another way to bring visual literacy into the classroom. 

*Are you attending NCTE? If so, please add session A:09 to your program. I'll have more to say and share about A Map of the World: The World According to Illustrators and Storytellers as part of my panel.  In my next post, I'll preview session A:09, including my co-presenters' offerings. 

Sunday, November 2, 2014

VOTE: We Have a Choice in Lesson Plans--Jana Jones vs. Sherri Ybarra

I get a little sentimental around election day as I recall my first time voting. It was 1972; I was 14. Richard Nixon won in a landslide over over George McGovern

Nixon won 508 electoral votes to McGovern's 17. I marked the ballot for McGovern. 

I didn't want to vote for McGovern, but since the ballot belonged to my father, my role as his proxy required me to mark the ballot based on his choice. We walked to the polling place after school. On our way to Mark Twain Elementary in Webb City, Missouri, my father and I discussed the merits of both candidates. 

Mark Twain Elementary, the polling place where my father voted in 1972.
"I'm choosing the lesser of two evils," my father explained. I don't remember any of the issues we talked about, but I do hear my father's words echo in my memory as I contemplate my choices. 

My husband voted early this year as he will be out of town on business. "I didn't like three of the uncontested candidates," he explained last week, "so I put my name in as a write-in candidate in three slots." 

I suspect Ken won't get additional support for his write-in candidacy, but that three seats for state offices are uncontested this election cycle suggests we need a revival of civic involvement. 

This election day the two races that interest me most are the governor's race and the Superintendent of Public Instruction contest. 

The latter race will determine the lesson plan, the direction, Idaho takes in education policy. Our current education "leader" has embraced such wrong-headed accountability plans as Value-Added Measurements to assess teachers. 

The two candidates represent polar opposite spectrums. Jana Jones is a respected, ethical educator and candidate who understands the needs of Idaho's rural districts and the importance of building relationships with beleaguered teachers. 

*The video is the debate between Jana and Sherri in Idaho Falls.

In contrast, Sherri Ybarra is among the most unethical candidates I've seen. In addition to not having voted in an election since she moved to Idaho in 1996, she plagiarized Jana Jones's website, lied about her marriages, and, worse of all, is in our current superintendent's back pocket. She will be a puppet to Tom Luna, and Idaho students and teachers will suffer if she is elected. 

As I have told many, I don't know how I, an English teacher, am supposed to instill a sense of ethical behavior among students when the state education leader is a plagiarist. The hypocrisy is mind-boggling. 

Casting my father's vote as a 14-year old I began to understand how jaded the common person can become in an imperfect system. Sometimes I feel as though I'm left with "the lesser of two evils" when casing my ballot. Not this year. For me, the choice is clear. 

I'm choosing right over wrong, ethical over unethical, good over evil when I cast my ballot. I'm choosing Jana Jones's lesson plan for Idaho schools.