Saturday, April 23, 2016

Traveler: Can Travel Make Us Empathetic? #AtoZChallenge Letter T

During April I'm participating in the A to Z blogging challenge.
Each day, sans Sunday, offers an opportunity to write about a
letter of the alphabet with the goal of writing 26 posts.
April is also National Poetry Month.

There is no frigate like a book
To take us lands away. --Emily Dickinson

I have the above lines from Emily Dickinson on a bulletin board in my classroom.

I love to travel.

Through reading books as a child, I imagined myself living in exotic places and having relationships with characters. Through books we imagine ourselves living as others live. We imagine ourselves having the same struggles characters have.

Canadian novelist Yann Martel explains the power of literature to develop empathy: 

If literature does one thing, it makes you more empathetic by making you live others' lives and feel the pain of others. Ideologues don't feel the pain of others because they haven't imaginatively got under their skin.

When I wrote my MA thesis, I focused on what Yann Martel calls "the empathetic imagination." Empathy, not sympathy, is something we sorely need in our world. At the national level we see politicians denigrating women, minorities, immigrants, the disabled, etc. This week we've seen a backlash agains Target's decision to make their stores' restrooms inclusive. We should demand that all elected officials and all businesses demonstrate empathy for all members of society, from the least of us to the greatest. We should insist they develop an empathetic imagination.

Martel writes that "when your own life is threatened, your sense of empathy is blunted by a terrible, selfish, hunger for survival."

Locally, we have seen a rash of violence against international students who traveled to the US to attend school at Idaho State University. Many have had their homes here burglarized; the thieves have taken electronics, text books and school projects, and valuable documents, such as passports. International students have been physically attacked. Their vehicles have been vandalized.

No human deserves the egregious treatment international students have suffered. Yet I sense only sadness and not hostility from the international students I teach. One student told me he was interviewed by the NYT for an article the paper published about the international students' experiences. My student defended Pocatello and ISU, but the reporter did not use his story as it did not fit her agenda. Perhaps had the reporter had more empathy, she would have penned a more balanced account.

Knowing first-hand the academic struggles of some international students, particularly in their knowledge of English and the rules of standard usage, I understand and share the frustrations of the campus community. I also know that some of our international students came here expecting small-town America to function like a big city. I hold the governments of international students who are unprepared academically responsible for their role in the students' struggles.

When I traveled to Europe last year, our EF guide Nikki spoke to us about being travelers rather than tourists. A traveler experiences a place as though she is a native. Travelers embrace the diverse culture, lifestyle, food, etc. while tourists remain detached from a place and often expect a local to adapt to the tourist's language and food expectations. Travelers get off the beaten path. Tourists cling to the touristy areas. 

A couple of days ago I wrote about the trip I'll be taking to Europe's Mediterranean Coast during spring break 2017. Since writing that post, I've created an Animoto video to show students the places we'll travel. As I share this planned adventure with students, I want them to embrace the traveler ideal so they can become more empathetic citizens of the world. 

There is No Frigate Like a Book by Emily Dickinson

There is no Frigate like a Book 
To take us Lands away 
Nor any Coursers like a Page 
Of prancing Poetry – 
This Traverse may the poorest take 
Without oppress of Toll – 
How frugal is the Chariot 
That bears the Human Soul –

Friday, April 22, 2016

Spoken Word Poetry: How Does Spoken Word Poetry Respond to Universal Themes? #AtoZChallenge Letter S

During April I'm participating in the A to Z blogging challenge.
Each day, sans Sunday, offers an opportunity to write about a
letter of the alphabet with the goal of writing 26 posts.
April is also National Poetry Month.

This evening the Education Department at Idaho State University hosted a performance by Utah Spoken Word Poet Darren Edwards with a teacher workshop following the public performance.

Edwards shared several original spoken word poems with the audience. My favorite is"Prodigal," a poem about his decision to leave the LDS church, which his mother learned about when she noticed Edwards stopped wearing garments, the undergarments Mormons wear after a Mormon temple marriage.

I also enjoyed "Privilege," a spoken word poem in which Edwards defines white privilege for his white, male friends. "We need to tear this system down." Yes, white males need to hear other white males speak against white privilege, especially the privilege granted to them because of "my possession of a penis," as Edwards puts it.

In "10 Lessons I Won't Teach My Son," Edwards challenged messages parents often give their children, shattering such pipe dreams as "you can be anything you want to be." Of course, not every boy will grow up to be a Yankee.

Spoken word poetry grew from a long tradition of oral tales, but today's spoken word poetry has entered the mainstream and offers a venue for students to express emotion and to challenge systems of oppression.

Through the workshop my goal is to develop a lesson plan or plans for teaching my speech students spoken word poetry. We've already viewed and discussed some performance poets and poetry teams. Poets such as Sarah Kay offer a model for students through poetry about first love and other universal themes. Here's Kay performing "Private Parts."

Thursday, April 21, 2016

Recruit: How Should I Recruit Students for a Trip to Europe? #AtoZChallenge Letter R

During April I'm participating in the A to Z blogging challenge.
Each day, sans Sunday, offers an opportunity to write about a
letter of the alphabet with the goal of writing 26 posts.
April is also National Poetry Month.
Next spring, I will embark on a trip to Europe and will travel with students, parents, grandparents, and some friends, including former students. 

I'm just getting started with recruitment, and although I'm excited about this new venture, recruiting makes me uncomfortable. I know many students will want to travel to Europe. I hear their excitement when I wear my Barcelona shoes to school, when they see my bobblehead Pope, when I speak about the trip to Europe (London, Paris, Rome, and Barcelona) last year. 

However, I also know that a desire to experience new countries, cultures, and adventures puts some parents in a precarious position. Simply, they may not have the funds to send their children to far away, exotic locals. And talking to them about money makes me uncomfortable. 

Still, to make the trip a success, I must recruit. So recruit I will. 

By now you may be wandering where I'll galavant off to next spring. Here's a link to the tour. We'll visit the following countries:

  • Milan (Italy)
  • France (French Riviera, Niece)
  • Monaco 
  • Spain (Barcelona and Madrid)
We'll add as many offered excursions as possible. Looking at images of Cinque Terre, one of our stops, I'll soon be counting the days until departure. 
Cinque Terre wiki image

  • As Homer's Ulysses, we will explore. We will be travelers, not tourists, driven by our untamed spirits and desire to know the world. 
  • Ulysses by Umberto Saba (1883-1957)
  • (Nella mia giovinezza ho navigato) 
  • In the days of my youth I sailed
    the Dalmatian coast. Tiny islands
    emerged on the face of the sea,
    weed-covered, slippery, sun-bright as emeralds,
    where sometimes a bird perched intent on prey.
    When high tide and night annulled them, sails
    downwind dispersed more widely,
    or fled from danger. Today my kingdom
    is precisely that no man’s land.
    The harbour scatters its light for others;
    an untamed spirit drives me onward,
    and a sorrowful love of life.

  • Wednesday, April 20, 2016

    Question: How Do We Know the Answers If We Never Ask the Questions? #AtoZChallenge Letter Q

    During April I'm participating in the A to Z blogging challenge.
    Each day, sans Sunday, offers an opportunity to write about a
    letter of the alphabet with the goal of writing 26 posts.
    April is also National Poetry Month.

    We often tell children there is no such thing as a stupid question only to convey the opposite sentiment to them when they ask questions we have heard repeatedly or when they ask questions about something we've moments ago finished explaining. 

    Teaching students to ask questions ranks among the most difficult concepts. We speak about Levels of Questioning: 

    • Level 1: Literal level questions.
    • Level 2: Comprehension questions.
    • Level 3: Interpretive level of questions
    Educators know these as Costa's Levels of Inquiry. 
    Today I'm thinking about how poetry can inform the way we think about questioning and have selected two to share: 

    "The Book of Questions, III"

    Pablo Neruda, 1904-1973


    Tell me, is the rose naked
    or is that her only dress?

    Why do trees conceal 
    the splendor of their roots?

    Who hears the regrets
    of the thieving automobile?

    Is there anything in the world sadder 
    than a train standing in the rain? 


    "Questions about Angels" by Billy Collins

    Of all the questions you might want to ask 
    about angels, the only one you ever hear 
    is how many can dance on the head of a pin. 

    No curiosity about how they pass the eternal time 
    besides circling the Throne chanting in Latin 
    or delivering a crust of bread to a hermit on earth 
    or guiding a boy and girl across a rickety wooden bridge. 

    Do they fly through God's body and come out singing? 
    Do they swing like children from the hinges 
    of the spirit world saying their names backwards and forwards? 
    Do they sit alone in little gardens changing colors? 

    What about their sleeping habits, the fabric of their robes, 
    their diet of unfiltered divine light? 
    What goes on inside their luminous heads? Is there a wall 
    these tall presences can look over and see hell? 

    If an angel fell off a cloud, would he leave a hole 
    in a river and would the hole float along endlessly 
    filled with the silent letters of every angelic word? 

    If an angel delivered the mail, would he arrive 
    in a blinding rush of wings or would he just assume 
    the appearance of the regular mailman and 
    whistle up the driveway reading the postcards? 

    No, the medieval theologians control the court. 
    The only question you ever hear is about 
    the little dance floor on the head of a pin 
    where halos are meant to converge and drift invisibly. 

    It is designed to make us think in millions, 
    billions, to make us run out of numbers and collapse 
    into infinity, but perhaps the answer is simply one: 
    one female angel dancing alone in her stocking feet, 
    a small jazz combo working in the background. 

    She sways like a branch in the wind, her beautiful 
    eyes closed, and the tall thin bassist leans over 
    to glance at his watch because she has been dancing 
    forever, and now it is very late, even for musicians. 

    Tuesday, April 19, 2016

    Prototype: Should Teachers Refer to First-Draft Writing as Prototypes Rather than Rough-Drafts? #AtoZChallenge Letter P #SOL16

    During April I'm participating in the A to Z blogging challenge.
    Each day, sans Sunday, offers an opportunity to write about a
    letter of the alphabet with the goal of writing 26 posts.
    April is also National Poetry Month.

    Each Tuesday the Two Writing Teachers
    Blog Sponsors Slice of Life Story Challenge.
    Head on Over for More Slices
    Last week my students participated in The Marshmallow Challenge.

    For those unfamiliar with the Marshmallow Challenge, it is an activity that requires students to work together to create a free-standing tower using 20 sticks of spaghetti, one yard of string, one yard of tape, and one marshmallow, which must be placed on top.

    After students built their structures, we had a gallery walk to admire their architectural and construction skills. We then discussed the challenges of the challenge and how working together either helps or hinders students in their efforts.

    Finally, we watch the TED talk about the Marshmallow Challenge.

    Listening to Tom Wujec's speech this time, I noticed his discussion of prototypes. Wujec explains that groups who build a prototype and learn what works and what needs tweaked through constructing the prototype build a much taller structure the second time. 

    We English teachers try to articulate the importance of constructing multiple drafts of papers. We emphasize the recursive nature of writing. I wander what would happen if we changed our verbiage and began speaking about writing prototypes rather than drafts. 

    Architects build prototypes as models for future construction. Yet the architect uses the prototype to discover what to model in later versions. Yes, a prototype is copied, but it also provides feedback about necessary changes. 

    Architects take prototype construction seriously because they don't see them as practice rounds, which students often do when composing a paper. 

    I shared my thoughts with students, but these ideas are new to me. I need to flesh them out. I need to construct a prototype of this pedagogy. 

    Monday, April 18, 2016

    Onomatopoeia: How Can We Celebrate the Sounds of Spring? #AtoZChallenge Letter O

    During April I'm participating in the A to Z blogging challenge.
    Each day, sans Sunday, offers an opportunity to write about a
    letter of the alphabet with the goal of writing 26 posts.
    April is also National Poetry Month.
    Spring blooms bring the sounds and sights of insects and birds. To celebrate O, and its onomatopoeic sounds, and to remind myself and others to care for the bees buzzing and humming among wild flowers and nursery plantings, I'm posting one of my favorite onomatopoeic poems.

    I love the puns and word-play in the poem as well as the sounds inherent in it. This week when I teach onomatopoeia as an interpretive skill in my speech classes, I'll have students "play" with Larios's verse. 

    We'll talk about how they can "show" buzzed, bedeviled, fuddled, and other words. We'll talk about the word play in Bee reaved and what they can do with that phrase. 

    Students will scratch their heads in confusion and work through the poem to created a choral presentation of it. This is a close reading activity to get students out of their desks and onto their feet. As does Bee, my students will dazzle as they buzz. 

    What Bee Did by Julia Larios

    Bee not only buzzed.
    When swatted at, Bee deviled,
    Bee smirched. And when fuddled,
    like many of us, Bee labored, Bee reaved.
    He behaved as well as any Bee can have.

    Bee never lied. Bee never lated.
    And despite the fact Bee took, Bee also stowed.
    In love, Bee seiged. Bee seeched.
    Bee moaned, Bee sighed himself,
    Bee gat with his Beloved.

    And because Bee tokened summer
    (the one season we all, like Bee, must lieve)
    Bee also dazzled.

    Wiki Image labeled for Non-commercial reuse.