Tuesday, December 26, 2017

Transitions #SOL17

December 15 marked a significant transition in my husband’s life—Retirement. Officially, Ken’s retirement begins on January 2, 2018, but he’s using his final vacation days these last two weeks of December. 

Ken has been working since he was 15. He turned 70 in September. Fifty-five years is a long time, and Ken has spent these years working in the agricultural industry, first managing a fertilizer plant and the last thirteen years working for the Idaho Department if Agriculture as an enforcement agent. 

As the current administration rails against all regulation, Ken and I have had long conversations about the ways regulation of agriculture benefits growers and citizens. For growers regulation protects them from unsupported accusations. Ken has investigated many of these and has fascinating stories about the ways farmers’ beighbors lay blame when a tree, for example, dies. 

Similarly, regulation offers a way to mitigate disputes between growers, such as accusations of overspraying from aerial application. And regulation protects consumers from unscrupulous business practices, such as the improper application of herbicides and chemicals.

Last trimester one of my students interviewed Ken about banning chlorpyrophos. Despite the recommendation of the scientific community, Dow Chemical has successfully lobbied the EPA, under the head of Scott Pruitt, to continue allowing this harmful chemical’s use on food-based plants. Chlorpyrophos is particularly dangerous for children.  Ken supports banning chlorpyrophos. 

While we were out shopping a couple weeks ago Ken was approached by a lawn care specialist who thanked Ken for helping and teaching him over the years. 

It’s this service mandate with an emphasis on  teaching rather than punishing that Ken is most proud of during his time with the IDA. 

For both of us Ken’s transition into retirement scares us a little, but he has a long honey-do list that will keep him busy. Yet retirement is also a tangible reminder that life is fleeting and temporal. 

Saturday, December 23, 2017

Photo Journey: Reading "Obama: An Intimate Portrait" by Pete Souza

Reading Obama: An Intimate Portrait by Pete Souza I am able to gather round myself the iconic presidency of Barrack Obama through the photographer's perspective, and if there's a theme to this intimate look at President Obama's tenure in the White House its about the power of perspective, and Barrack Obama's view of America, a view defined by hope and dreams. 

"Dream big dreams," Obama advises children and young men he mentors. Souza reminds his readers of these tenants that defined Obama's presidency both through his lens and through his words accompanying each photo. This idealism tempered with realism permeates this photo journey. Even the glossies of Obama in the Situation Room during the attack on Osama bin Laden's compound and those with wounded soldiers at Walter Reed Medical Center embody a haunting beauty that contrasts with the serious and gory reality they represent. 

Organized into two parts, President Obama's first and second terms, Souza begins each chapter with a short essay offering both context and observation, about himself as White House photographer and Barrack Obama as president. These essays serve to build trust in the story we read through the photos. Part of the narrative Souza constructs tells the story of Barrack Obama looking in on America and the world. We see this in several images, one in which Obama holds Souza's camera and peers through the viewfinder. Another tells the story of Obama as a reflective individual as we see him gazing in a mirror. These images tell an everyman story of Obama's presidency. 
Souza's narrative encompasses the e pluribus unum theme of American life in its inclusivity of people from all walks of life. Thus, the collection's subplot is one of our story, too. Souza juxtaposes the story of 44's time in service with the multitudes through images of young and old, men and women, civilians and service members, and the myriad races who still embrace this president and his quiet, cerebral, polite demeanor. Ownership of Souza's book gives the reader a way of owning pieces of the past that was President Obama's Presidency. "To collect photographs is to collect the world," says Susan Sontag, author of On Photography.

Such is the intimacy of Obama: An Intimate Portrait, that my eyes welled with tears as I ended my journey thorough the collection and read President Obama's last words as Souza snapped an aerial photo of the White House on their final flight out of Washington D. C. "I used to live there." In a sense, so did I; so did all who miss the presidency of Barrack Obama.

*Follow Pete Souza on Instagram for more glimpses into the presidency of Barrack Obama. 

Tuesday, December 19, 2017

Use Your Words--All Seven #SOL17

Silence is the residue of fear. It is feeling your flaws gut-wrench guillotine your tongue. It is the air retreating from your chest because it doesn't feel safe in your lungs. --Clint Smith

I spend my days guiding students to find their voices, both in their writing and in their speaking. 

Today, students in my junior English classes shared personal narratives in peer evaluation sessions. Some wrote about school days using Sherman Alexie's "Indian Education" from The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven as a mentor text. Others modeled their narratives on The Declaration of Independence as they declared their freedom from strictures in their lives. Still others shared stories of their personal struggles with "The First in the Family to be Supresized," a personal essay from Newsweek published in 2006, as a mentor text. The essay is as relevant today as over a decade ago.

In my Communication 1101, Introduction to Speech, students paired up to discuss the differences among propositions of fact, value, and policy as we gear up for argumentative speeches. 
During out previous class students began discovering their dissenting voices in a group discussion activity in which they were asked to choose a $5,000 scholarship recipient. I set this discussion up to illicit push back against each group's choice since this ability to dissent is inherent in argument. 

Meanwhile, AP Lit and Comp students sat in circle toady and shared their formal analysis of a universal idea in The Tragedy of King Lear. After each student's reading, we voiced our ideas about how the writers can improve their analysis. Student essays were at various levels of completeness and sophistication, but together we converge to support one another through difficult writing tasks. At these times students observe my struggles to find the right words of critique and validation. 

During each class, we use our words. We use words to support and critique and encourage  and validate and question. We use words to experience literary worlds and to find meaning in our own. 

The value students place on words grows as they explore syntactical structures, as they experiment with organizational patterns, as they experience the power of diction and rhetorical strategies. 

During peer evaluating I overheard a student reading a part of her personal narrative in which she describes a personal struggle as not being as big a deal as other cultural issues. This presented an opportunity for me to explain litotes to her in an informal way. 

I think about these worded worlds in which I live with students. I want my students to expand their personal lexicons, not shrink them.

Thus, the idea of banning words prompts me to shout


To all who value words, use them. Use words responsibly and appropriately. Choose words appropriate to the audience, the purpose, the occasion, the subject, the speaker, and the tone of the rhetoric. 

Thus, I implore the CDC to push back against the administration's ban on seven words. These words are your words. Use fetus, diversity, evidence-based, transgender, entitlement, vulnerable, science-based and any other words the professionals at the CDC deem necessary and appropriate in their  discourse. Do not capitulate to the silencers. Do not give in to those who would steal your words. 

My students, some of whom may be transgender, were once fetuses who entered the world as diverse sentient beings who now live lives vulnerable to those who deny the legitimacy of science-based policy positions, who prefer conspiracy theories and empty rhetoric to evidence-based decision-making, and who question the entitlement of all but the top economic tier of society to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. 

Now we must contend with those who want to take our words. Such is the danger and the importance of words. 

We need the CDC to challenge the word ban, whether it's an implied ban as in a wink and a nod, or a policy position as reported in the Washington Post. When the guardians of our public institutions succumb to censorship and political pressure, when misguided and ignorant politicians steal our words, how am I and other teachers to empower our students with words? 

At the end of his empowering 2014 TED Talk, poet Clint Smith makes a promise to use his voice: 

I will live every day as though it were a microphone tucked under my tongue, a stage on the underside of my inhibition. Because who has to have a soap box when all you ever needed is your voice.

Yes, all we ever need is our voices, our voices and our words, so let's use them. 

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Homeschooling #SOL17

Sunday one of those "genius" quizzes popped up on my Facebook feed. This one baited vulnerable members of the FB community by saying, "No American Has Ever Scored A 20/20 On This Quiz Without Cheating." A former student challenged this claim and indicated she learned the facts from the quiz her senior year in government, for which she thanked her teacher.

Curious, I opened the quiz and soon realized the questions posed represented basic information about American history; the quiz even included a question about Mike Pence, our vice president, and one about what we call the first ten amendments to the constitution--The Bill of Rights. A question about Abraham Lincoln claimed he "had great taste in hats." 

Clearly, this quiz is one of those click-bait things, but the responses of former students to it as well as the questions themselves prompted me to think about how and when I learned this basic factual information. Except for the question about Vice President Pence, I learned the history necessary for answering the questions long before my senior year in high school, which is when my former students take government. Indeed, much of what I know about U.S. History and our government I learned in my eighth grade U. S. History class. 

The rest, particularly the history of each state, I learned at home. But my "homeschooling" did not exist within the confines of a designated "classroom" in our house. Homeschooling as we think about it these days did not exist during my childhood. My homeschool classroom occupied a small area of the dining room floor beside an old bookshelf. That shelf housed several sets of specialized encyclopedias purchased by my father. 

We had a set of medical encyclopedias designed for home use. I imagine they function the way Web MD does now. I sat for hours reading them to see if I had an undiagnosed illness. Driven by middle-child-syndrome, I learned about the skeletal, circulatory, and muscular systems in my quest for a disease to match my symptoms. 

We also had a set of state encyclopedias. That's how I learned Hawaii was the last state admitted to the union, a question on the FB quiz. But I also studied the state flags, each state's journey to statehood, their manufacturing and agricultural makeup, and the state flowers, birds, and mottos by reading those colorful books. 

Similarly, I read the Bible Story Books, another set of encyclopedias on the shelf, and they helped me understand the KJV version of the bible, which has informed my reading of Shakespeare over the years. They also cemented my understanding of faith

Sometimes I read things my conservative father preferred I not know. Such is the case with an article in Life Magazine about tribes in South America or Africa. I fixated on the pictures of painted and naked bodies. I didn't try to hide my curiosity as I read my way through a cultural awakening, but my father became angry when he caught me with the magazine. 

One of the biggest struggles I face as an educator is the absence of homeschooling among my students, particularly those in my Communication 1101 and speech classes, both of which require knowledge of current events and government policies for successful completion of the class. Sadly, most students have little prior knowledge about issues that impact their lives. Simply, most don't read the world. They only read what school mandates. 

They lack the homeschooling experiences I had as a child. Homeschooling lays the foundation for knowledge acquisition. Without homeschooling, the kind that promotes curiosity reading, most students are adrift.  

I filled my homeschooling time reading, and I had a particular lust for historical and scientific knowledge during my elementary years. Moreover, my father insisted I listen to the news, so I knew about the Vietnam War while it was happening, which doesn't mean I understood all the political and cultural implications of it, only that I had a foundation of knowledge. These days parents shield their children form bad news in a misguided attempt to protect them. Consequently, many students lack sufficient coping skills for dealing with complicated personal and world problems.

It's this knowledge foundation that a recent article in The New York Times extols as vital to students' reading progress. Reading well extends beyond the mere decoding of words. Students' "factual knowledge" informs their reading comprehension. Surface knowledge is one thing, but filling in the gaps when reading complex information necessitates knowledge of subtext. As Daniel T. Willingham explains, we can't expect writers to include ALL information necessary for understanding a text: "That would make prose long and tedious for readers who know the information." 

We expect to struggle when reading obscure texts, such as some of Shakespeare's plays and his archaic allusions. This is why glossing matters. But we can't expect every news report or essay to include glosses. As a nation we need some cultural narratives that unite us. At one time our founding documents offered this glue, but many students have little knowledge of these until they take government their senior year, which explains why my former students thanked their government teacher for lessons about the basic knowledge they acquired their senior year.

My takeaway from both the NYT article and the FB quiz is this: What we learn at home, our homeschooling, either establishes a foundation of knowledge on which we build additional knowledge and understanding or puts us at a life-long disadvantage that effects our reading comprehension, and by extension, our ability to think critically, for much of our lives. 

Daniel T. Willingham claims we should "blame ignorance" for poor reading habits and says, "turning the tide will require profound changes in how reading is taught, in standardized testing, and in school curriculums." 

I contend the real change must occur in the home because even when parents aren't teaching their kids in a designated room with a canned curriculum offered through a homeschool consortium, each child gets homeschooled, and passing a Facebook quiz designed to bait those naive enough to think only geniuses score 20/20 won't stem the tide of ignorance or improve reading habits. Only the homeschooling filled with curiosity and books will do that.
It's Tuesday, and that means Slice of Life
Story Challenge w/ the team at Two Writing Teachers. 

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

Fact Over Fake: Teaching Students to Navigate the Fake News Landscape #SOL17

Tuesday means it's time for the Slice of Life
Story Challenge sponsored by the team at
Two Writing Teachers. Thank you, TWT, for promoting
authentic writing for students, teachers, and other members of this community.
A couple of weeks ago my colleague Debbie Greco and co-presenters Ami Szerence and Cherylanne Schmidt presented a session addressing the #FakeNews obsession that has transformed our political conversations and presented unique challenges to those of us teaching students to vet research in academically responsible ways. 

Ami suggested the session and submitted the proposal. Since our initial foray into the Fake News landscape, we've been inundated with materials that others who share our commitment to teaching students to consume research ethically and responsibly. 

Last fall my teaching devolved into lecturing about Fake News, the result of my own frustrations and sense of dismay after the election. 

This year I've taken a much different approach to teaching students about Fake News, and this is what I shared in session J.37 at the NCTE Annual Convention in November. Debbie and I had already shared some lessons during our district's "Pick Your Passion" inservice in November. I then expanded my unit into a bridge for teaching the persuasive speech. 


To introduce students to the unit, I gave students headlines, some of which were true but most fake. I asked students to mill around and share those headlines with one another and discuss. In the session I shared these headlines, which I've compiled in a living Google Slides presentation. 


Next, I introduced my students to the issue of Fake News with a Google Slides presentation that includes some short videos. The version I'm linking to includes learning intentions and my teaching plan. These can be omitted when sharing with students. 


Since I used these resources in my general speech classes, I shared a hyper doc with students, grouped them in ability-balanced groups, and instructed them to use the hyper doc to plan, outline, and present a persuasive speech on Fake News. While I organized the hyper doc to work with a persuasive speech presenting a problem and a solution, it will also work for either expository or persuasive writing. 

To assist students with their collaborations, students worked in a shared Google doc on Google Classroom. During their speeches, students shared speaking duties and were required to attribute their sources. 

One of my classes struggled to organize their thoughts for the group speech, but they all improved their performances during their individual speeches. My other general speech class presented amazing group speeches, and when I thanked them for getting my vision for the assignment, they did something I've rarely seen a class do. They applauded the lesson. 

More than a year ago Donald Trump began screeching "Fake News" whenever he saw or heard a report that raised issues of national and international concern. This past week he began claiming the "Access Hollywood" tape we all heard last year is "fake," that it's not his voice we hear on the tape. Billy Bush responded with a harsh rebuke in the New York Times. 

Meanwhile the December 11, 2017 issue of The New Yorker features a story by Steve Call in which the author contends that the president's attack on the media has strengthened news organizations. Certainly, I've felt compelled to subscribe to some of the publications Trump regularly attacks. 

CNN, the news organization Trump loves to call "fake," pushed back in a clever ad that went viral. It's a stark reminder that "a rose by any other name..." is still a rose, and so is the news. 

And for those looking for more resources designed to help teachers teach students about the landscape of real and fake news, check out THE SIFT.  

The venerable Kathryn Graham, owner of The Washington Post during the Watergate years, spoke about the responsibility of the press in watching over Washington politics:

If we had failed to pursue the facts as far as they led, we would have denied the public any knowledge of an unprecedented scheme of political surveillance and sabotage.

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Honoring the Navajo Code Talkers: Remarks from President George W. Bush c. 2001 #SOL17

When I learned about President Trump's disrespectful remarks, his disparaging Pocahontas joke on Monday, I felt numb. That I no longer respond to this man with rage speaks to the frequency with which I and many others endure his inelegant rhetoric, his tangled syntax, his tone-deafness. 

I want to lash out at this man and his bull-in-a-China-closet ways. I want to make him listen. I want to shake some sensitivity into his thick, selfish skin. I can't. 

Instead, I decided to do the only thing I know to do: teach. Use this moment as a teachable moment. Honor my Native American students by allowing them to hear the story of this important moment in history. I decided to drown Trump's words with those from a more presidential president. 

On July 21, 2001 President George W. Bush honored the Navajo Code Talkers. His remarks deserve revisiting. They are touching. They are kind. They are respectful. They are presidential. 

To accompany President Bush's speech, I'm also giving students a transcript of it. It's part of the White House archives. Understanding the historical and present context of both presidents' remarks moves students to a vital understanding of public rhetoric, so I'm asking students to SOAPS-Tone  analyze this brief speech. 

I have not yet decided whether or not to have students do this with Trump's speech, but I will show them a clip of his most egregious comments that have garnered widespread condemnation, including from the Native American community. The link from NPR addresses not only Trump's comments but also his repeated disparaging of Pocahontas and Elizabeth Warren.

Additionally, showing students a still from Monday's Oval Office event, which was staged in front of a portrait of Andrew Jackson, the president who signed the Native American Removal Act that ushered in the era of Native American genocide, further informs Trump's tone-deafness and the general cultural insensitivity and ignorance that engulfs the current White House. Again, NPR provides an excellent image from the event and Andrew Jackson's role in The Trail of Tears. And the National Humanities Center provides a good entry into such discussions of "art," including photography. 

Getty Image of Code Talker Oval Office Remarks
For a little fun and to give students a realistic code-talker experience, I may supplement the lesson with an activity from the CIA page on the Navajo Code Talkers Unbreakable Code. 

I hadn't planned to teach a lesson on Navajo Code Talkers to my junior English class, but when ignorance comes knocking, which it does nearly every day Trump tweets or speaks, it's time to break the planned lesson and decode the not so subtle racist rhetoric coming from the White House. 

Tuesday's Slice of Life Story Challenge
is brought to readers and writers by the
team at Two Writing Teachers.

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

Language to Object: Reading "My Life had stood--a Loaded Gun" by Emily Dickinson in the Aftermath #SOL17

In the aftermath of yet another uniquely American trope, a mass shooting, I found myself thinking about Emily Dickinson's poem #754, "My Life had stood--a Loaded Gun--." The poem's words haunt me, especially the last two lines:

For I have but the power to kill, 
Without--the power to die--

In one of the most poignant critiques of Dickinson's #754, the poet Adrianne Rich contends, "The poet experiences herself as a gun."

Think about that for a moment. In the Nineteenth Century Emily Dickinson, a poet most revered for the ways she redefined American poetry through her use of unusual punctuation, through her free verse structures, and through her themes of nature, love, and God, constructs an extended metaphor of herself as a gun.

My Life had stood--a Loaded Gun--
In Corners--till a Day
The Owner passed--identified--
And carried Me away--

Not only is the speaker in this poem literally a gun, she also possesses power equal to that of a gun. Again, Rich offers an interpretation I find most satisfying in her description of the poem as one "about possession" and "about the danger and risks of possession." 

In Rich's reading, we find a sensual subtext. Our speaker and the gun are one, but the hunter has the power to carry both away.

The poem progresses with this gun-woman and the hunter roaming the woods and experiencing physical awakenings that rival the eruption of Mt. Vesuvius. For the hunter, the woman becomes a protector from his enemies. 

That is, the woman's power far exceeds that of the hunter. Remember, she is the gun. She makes the choices regarding its use. The final stanza clarifies this enigmatic point: 

Though I than He--may longer live
He longer must--than I--
For I have but the power to kill,
Without--the power to die--

In the wake of yet another mass shooting, another suicide by mass killing--for the killer almost always ends up dead, leaving men scratching their heads and pondering his motives--I'm reminded of the power of art as I read #754.

As a poet, Emily Dickinson's art lives on. Today a poem reminds me that it is our artists who own the most power. "This woman poet also perceives herself as a lethal weapon," argues Rich. 

Will we continue to allow an object, a gun, to "have the power to kill, without the power to die"? Or will we embody our power, the power of art and of women who know language is more powerful and love a superior protector. 

Emily Dickinson speaks to us from the Nineteenth Century. A gun will never die, but we can give art more power to live. A gun is nothing more than an object that once possessed has the ultimate power to kill, and in Dickinson's imagination, the gun and its possessor are one, inextricably linked in a uniquely American pattern. 

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Tipping Points in Teaching: A Reader Response to "Purple Hibiscus" #SOL17

Things started to fall apart at home when my brother, Jaja, did not go to communion and Papa flung his heavy missal across the room and broke the figurines on the etagere. 

Reading the opening sentence of Chimamanda Ngozi Adiche's first novel, Purple Hibiscus, transports readers to an earlier novel by another Nigerian writer; Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe also resonates with common post-colonial themes in its critique of religion, language, violence, traditionalism, family life, etc. 

Nevertheless, it's the idea of tipping points within the novel's circular structure that concerns me as I write this post. As does Achebe, Adiche draws on "The Second Coming" by William Butler Yeats to signal readers her characters will reach a limit, and so our narrator, Kambili, a fourteen-year-old Nigerian girl, returns to Adiche's opening idea that "things fall apart" near the novel's end: 

The next day was Palm Sunday, the day Jaja did not go to communion, the day Papa threw his heavy missal across the room and broke the figurines. 

In the interim, readers learn that both Kambili and Jaja, as well as their mother, have endured physical abuse from their father, Eugene, for many years, but on this Palm Sunday, these characters reach a tipping point. Their lives consumed with fear and silence and secrets, "the center cannot hold." 

The novel resonates with the normalcy of abusive relationships. As one of my students noted in our discussion Monday, we expect Papa to react with violence each time Kambili or Jaja break one of his rules. We've witnessed violence beget violence. Each incident moves readers toward numbness. My student said that the normalcy causes him to begin not caring. I understand his impulse to detach from these characters. We know that abusive relationships embody cycles, and breaking the cycle poses untoward challenges for both victim and abuser. 

At some point in a novel and in life characters and people reach a tipping point, a moment when change is inevitable. This happens in Purple Hibiscus. Our narrator tells us that "things started to fall apart" that Palm Sunday, but Kambili is an unreliable narrator. Her family was on the brink of anarchy long before Palm Sunday, and readers witness Kambili's lost innocence in the ceremony of ritualistic violence.

Today I'm wondering at what point things fall apart for teachers. When do we pass through the ceremony of innocence in our careers? We experience the "turning and turning in the widening gyre," as Yeates describes the movement toward chaos, almost daily, more when we feel overwhelmed by the demands of our jobs. It's during these difficult fall days I ponder: At what point do "the best lack all conviction"?

When Eugene exacts his most violent act against Kambili she curls onto herself: 

I closed my eyes and slipped away into silence.

Silence permeates Purple Hibiscus. Kambili struggles to find her voice. I see this silence in my colleagues. I sense a tipping point when a colleague shares: "I feel like it's never enough." 

Indeed, our profession demands more than expertise in our curriculum and knowledge of pedagogy. We must be all things to all students. Sometimes we're asked the same for and from colleagues.

We talked about efficacy in our most recent PD, but our discussion did not center on what I deem the most important element of efficacy: mastery. Instead, we focused on the cause du jour. Later I learned a colleague had also marked mastery on the handout we'd been asked to read and discuss. During both exchanges--the one during PD and the one with my colleague--I thought about Kambili's silence. I thought about the consequences of silence, both in literature and in our collective teaching life. 

There was so much I wanted to say and so much I did not want to say.  

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Sunday, October 29, 2017

Teaching Argument Refutation Using the Twitter Thread [Lesson Plan: Part 1]

As part of the dual credit Communication 1101 class I teach, students must construct refutation for two of their three speeches. Idaho State University, our partner in the Early College Program, requires students to follow a tightly structure method of refutation. 

This 4-Step Refutative Method poses significant struggle for some students. First, they have little experience addressing positions in opposition to their own. Second, they often get confused about the format of their refutation and the necessity of identifying the methods they use to respond to counter-arguments. Finally, students sometimes think their job is to build an argument agains their own position rather than reconstruct their own argument. 

In my early days of teaching the course, ISU required four speeches of students. I wrote about the refutative speech in an earlier post.  This is a common approach to teaching refutation, as an online guide from the University of Pittsburgh shows.

I use a couple of activities to teach refutation, including an improvisational game; however, recently I've notices an uptick in Twitter threads that incorporate not only the characteristics of good argument but that also embody almost all the characteristics of refutation I require of students. 

To see what I mean, let's first take a look at the 4-Step Refutative Method my students use in their speeches. Since students use a traditional outlining structure, I'll stick to that here. Refutation is part of the third contention in the outline:

III. Statement of opposing argument.
      A. Method of response to the opposing argument.
      B. Research supporting the student's position and that clashes w/ the opposition. 
      C. Impact statement. 

Sometimes students name the position they're refuting in the transition leading to their response. The outline may take on a slightly different structure when students take this approach. This is fine as long as students have all four parts and construct their speeches in such a way that the audience can follow their reasoning. 

Twitter threads also follow the 4-Step Refutative Method when the write of the thread seeks to construct a cogent response to a position s/he wishes to refute. Adam Khan used this method in his response to Sean Hannity's tweet Saturday about the bogus Russian uranium deal. Here's Hannity: 

Guess;Mueller and Media working hand in hand Media to be tipped off. Mueller was FBI Director Who knew of Russian crimes before Uranium one

I've typed Hannity's tweet exactly as he constructed it. As Twitter users know, to respond to a tweet, either when agreeing or disagreeing, one retweets and comments. That results in the response appearing on top of the first tweet, making the original tweet take on a form of hanging indentation. 

A thread will appear in reverse order in its original form. When a Twitter user wants to construct a thread, s/he generally numbers the tweets to aide others in seeing the chronology. This is important because it's common for a thread to be interrupted by others chiming in. Fortunately, this did not happen with Khan's thread.

Khan's response to Hannity does not give his refutative method, but I'd call this initial response denial of Hannity's claim. This is the first tweet in the thread.

But Khan hasn't finished building his response. His second tweet reads:

2. Obama locked down the contract-didn't give Russia a Nuclear Export license-so Putin just can't take the uranium, which is of poor grade. 

Khan implies something important in this tweet: Claims that we sold uranium to Russia are overblown in their impact. He minimizes Hannity's claim, and her offers supporting evidence to support his contention. I particularly like the use of Forbes here because it's a publication that tends to lean a little conservative in its stance. 

Here are screen shots of this and the rest of the thread, which contains eight tweets, and my analysis of each:

I'd characterize the third tweet as an impact statement. That is, why does Khan's response to Hannity matter? What's the ultimate consequence? 

3. The work Mueller and Comey put into nailing Mikerin mean that any Russian attempts to bribe officials will be met with consequences.

Again, Khan offers evidence to support his claim. This time he turns to the Department of Justice for official word on the Mikerin sentencing to emphasize the hardline stance the Obama White House took on this issue. 

But Khan hasn't finished with Hannity, although he could have ended his twitter response after the third tweet since it offers a sufficient counter to Hannity's conspiracy theory. Instead, Khan drives his point home by employing one of my favorite methods of refutation. He turns the tables on Hannity.

4. Mueller's extensive experience with Russian schemes to influence U.S. NatSec is precisely why he was picked to lead this Russia probe.

It isn't clear what source Khan uses here, but it's probably the Forbes article. 

The next two tweets pre-empt a possible Hannity response: 

5. Did Mueller alert CFIUS members reviewing UraniumOne deal about Mikerin? Based on how the contract is structured, it would appear he has.

6. If Mueller didn't alert CFIUS officials, it's possibly because he wanted to quietly trap anyone he suspected of involvement with bribery

Khan recognizes the short attention span Twitter users have as they quickly scroll through their feeds, so he does something every teacher does and something every high school debater does: He reminds us of an earlier tweet and his evidence by retweeting his second tweet in the thread. Again, we see what looks like hanging indentation. 

7. UraniumOne deal happened during US-Russia "reset"-if Putin had any larger plans, contract's language thwarts that

This reminder of the language of his earlier tweet is something I want my students to do in their speeches. That is, I want them to remind students of their logic and reasoning. I want them to use language to connect the dots, so to speak. Often they refer to ideas in their classmates speeches to reenforce their own arguments. That's when I know authentic learning is happening.

To end his twitter rant with a real impact, Khan reminds his followers of the need to attend to our dealings with China as well as Russia. This final tweet signals followers to pay attention to Russia but also to notice what's happening in the Donald Trump White House. 

8. If anything is begging to be looked at more closely, it's why Trump nixed TPP, giving China regional supremacy.

That retweet of himself is from August, but it's a potent reminder to follow the money. And that's how to flip an argument on Twitter and in the classroom.


To reteach the 4-Step Refutative Method, I'll give students a handout with the twitter thread. Next, I'll ask students to turn-and-talk to a partner about the methods of refutation Khan employes. We'll then discuss these methods, as well as the evidence to see if it says what Khan says it says. This is important. Finally, we'll talk about Khan's sources since I expect students to use quality sources of information. 

Since Khan's thread obviously leans left, it's important to give students a chance to talk about how Hannity might respond. The Russia uranium deal reappeared last Sunday when The Hill published a lengthy news article on it. Since that time, the issue has become a favorite diversionary talking point in Trump's tweets and on right-wing talk radio and news shows, such has Sean Hannity's.

As a final classroom talking point, I'll emphasize to my students Khan's retweeting Hannity's claim. I'll draw their attention to this as the only acknowledgment of Hannity's position. This matters because some students think refutation is about offering lots of evidence in response to the opposing position. 


As a baby-boomer, I recognize the clipped nature of a tweet. I acknowledge its inherent limitations as a platform for constructing essays and fully-fleshed arguments. However, my students use Twitter. It is a ubiquitous part of their days. They read the claims of many and give little thought to whether or not the tweet passes the CRAAP test. As a twenty-first century educator, I must find ways to use the tools students love while also teaching them how to construct academic rhetoric that echoes Aristotle's use of ethos, pathos, and logos. 

Wish me luck. I'll let you know how it goes in my next blog post and, of course, in a tweet! 

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

Because Nice Matters #SOL17

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In our often unkind world, a gentle reminder that small acts of kindness matter can make all the difference in the lives of both students and teachers. Our student government chose BECAUSE NICE MATTERS as the all-school theme this year. 

During our student advisory time Monday, we were tasked with showing a short video created by student government and introducing their peers to this week's focus on the theme. We'll have three week-long theme focuses this year, one each trimester. 

At the end of the video, students were given a "kindness" task to complete. Today's directive asked students to introduce themselves to someone they don't know. In a school of over 1,500 students, this should be an easy task. However, new students often struggle to find a niche in our school. This reality makes me sad, but it is a reality. 

As someone who was once new to Highland, I experienced my own challenges getting to know my colleagues. When I first started at HHS in 1989, only the men spoke to me. I felt like the student in the old film Cipher in the Snow for a long time. All but one of the women in my department refused to speak to me. Years later, I learned why: They thought I'd be one in a long line of debate coaches whom they saw as not doing what they needed to do. I had to prove myself. Only after I stopped coaching did I learn this. It was during a conversation with my department head. She apologized after confessing. 

My early experiences as a new person in my school and community have heightened my sensitivity for new students. Over the years I've tried to offer them words of encouragement and have tried to help them find their place in the school community. 

Jacqueline Woodson's Each Kindness illustrates the importance of showing kindness to new students. Woodson tells the story of a girl who found herself isolated and bullied in her new school. When the teacher demonstrates the ripple effect a small act of kindness has on the world by having students drop a pebble in a pool, the narrator realizes she has no act of kindness to share with her classmates. Her lack of kindness to the new student haunts her, and she looks for an opportunity to rectify it. That opportunity doesn't come. I reviewed the book in this space back in 2012 and return to it often as a reminder that each kindness mattes.

I read Woodson's book to my group of advisory students. One commented, "That's something she'll have to live with all her life." Yes, we have to own our failure to practice kindness. I know this is something I fail at often, and I told my students this. I shared a story from my college days when a friend called me out for it. She was right, and I admitted this to students Monday. 

These days I'm appalled by the meanness I see in the comments on social media and seeping from DT's Twitter feed. I'm appalled by the ad hominem attacks that spew from his mouth. Since the last election cycle, I've thought often about my own failure to be nice all the time, especially since I don't want to be anything like DT. Hate and vitriol also produce ripples. 

"Each little thing we do goes out, like a ripple, into the world," writes Woodson. Imagine the force of those ripples when we all drop a pebble of kindness onto someone every day. 

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Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Me Too: Every Woman's Story: #SOL17 #MeToo

Where do I begin to tell my "Me Too" story? 

Do I start with the boy who stood on his porch every day as I walked home from school in seventh grade so he could cat call, "You have really big boobs. You should be in Playboy"?

Maybe I'll tell about my boss at Tastee Freeze who wanted me to kiss him on my 16th birthday: "Give me a birthday kiss," he said over and over, even while his own child stood near the ice cream machine, even as my classmate, a co-worker, told me it was no big deal and she had done it. 

That story about S. D. G. climbing on me in the back seat while our friends made out in the front might be a good starting point to this narrative. I felt embarrassed walking into the dorm with blue velour threads all over my white sweater and one earring missing. I showered and cried. The phone rang. S.D.G. didn't mean it. He didn't know "no" meant "no." He wanted to make it up to me w/ dinner and a movie 30 miles away. NO!

I could start with the first story I recall. It's about a relative who liked to have children sit on his lap as he used one hand on top and the other down south. I'm not the only one who whispered, "stop." I felt embarrassed about getting caught. I thought I had done something wrong. Over. And. Over. And. Over. Until caught happened that day I lay in the bedroom napping at the relative's house and two someones walked in and chased him away as I tried pushing him away with my hands and my "NO," still a whisper. 

We so called "full-figured" women are asking for it, we're told. Maybe that's why a co-worker thought he could grab and grope. It was in the lounge. There were colleagues present. He was subtle. I walked away, a smile on my face.

On a trip to Kansas City the guy I was dating thought it was okay to persist, to hound, to cajole, to insist. I was sick with a fever. I'd driven him to K.C. for reasons I no longer remember. The rest of that memory isn't so easily dismissed. Some trips are like that.

"I don't know a woman that hasn't happened to," my gentle husband said when I read this post to him. His words made me cry. I released tears I've let build up from these memories, these "me too" moments. 

Me Too. It's a single story almost all women share, but we are not the sum of this one story. We contain multitudes of stories. Stories of strength. Stories of accomplishment. Stories of survival. These too are part of our "Me Too' moments. 

*Learn more about the origin of the #MeToo hashtag in the wake of the Harvey Weinstein Sex Scandal and the hashtag's creator, Alyssa Milano, on Know Your Meme.

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Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Collegial Conversations through an All-Staff Read #SOL17

Every good rowing  coach, in his own way, imparts to his men the kind of self-discipline required to achieve the ultimate from mind, heart, and body. Which is why most ex-oarsmen will tell you they learned more fundamentally important lessons in the racing shell than in the classroom. --George Yeoman Pocock

Our principal at Highland, Brad Wallace, speaks often about grit and persistence. Brad is a reader. Brad lives and breathes the power of words. He reads more than any administrator I've known, and he wants all the teachers in my building to read with him. I get giddy thinking about this reading mission. 

Brad models reading, so I felt a tinge of pride when he called me during the summer to talk about books and get my input about the book he'd choose for our staff to read. In fact, we're reading two books: Formative Assessment and The Boys in the Boat. 

I knew some of my colleagues would not share my excitement about reading and chatting about a book that isn't specifically pedagogical. I shared this with Brad, so when he mentioned TBItB, I mentioned that my husband had read and loved the book. I also know men often prefer nonfiction.

We had our first staff discussion about Part 1 of the narrative this past Friday during our fall inservice. We gathered in the choir room as our building was hosting the state math and science conference. That meant I had to venture to a part of our cavernous building I'd rarely entered. I saw one of my colleagues try a wrong entrance as she mistook the band room for the choir room.

If Brad decides he no longer wants to occupy space in the big office, he should teach English because he knows how to facilitate a book discussion. I'm sure Brad considered the possibility that some teachers would not read. Indeed that was the case. Even so, Brad set up our discussion so that even those nonreaders among us could participate in the discussion.

Since our building growth plan centers on Individual and Collective Efficacy, Brad had us define Efficacy based on passages in the book. We broke into small groups to do this so that our conversations would be more intimate and inclusive.
Our second round moved beyond self-efficacy to collective-efficacy. We were able to examine the relevant passages in the book and fill in the gaps for those who had not caught up with the reading as we focused on the specific lines Brad chose. 

As we neared the end of the discussion, Brad asked us to read a page about developing self-confidence. Self-confidence comes from accountability, initiative, and collaboration. These ideas transported me back to ninth grade and a lesson from my speech class. My teacher, Nydia May Jenkins, taught us that self-confidence comes from learning to do things well rather than vacuous praise. I shared my memory with my group. 

I'm in my 37th year teaching, and this is the first year I've read a book that is not specific to eduction as part of an all-staff read. 

I've worked for many administrators over the years. Most articulate expectations to staff, but with Brad we have authentic conversations about student growth and staff goals, and these conversations are grounded in reading. Brad goes beyond voicing the importance of literacy, he rows with us into the book, and he's not the only one. Three of our four administrators love reading. I'll be writing about my AP Lit and Comp class's discussion of Purple Hibiscus, which our assistant principal Jena Wilcox will be reading with the class.

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Tuesday, October 3, 2017

Considering "Citizen" in Response to Las Vegas #SOL17

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We have all the answers. It's the questions we do not know. --Dostoyevsky

I revisited Claudia Rankine's Citizen: An American Lyric after a student suggested I write about Sunday evening's massacre in Las Vegas. 

My husband and I said "I do" to one another in Las Vegas at the Little White Chapel, and we visit LV at least once a year. The city holds a special place in our hearts. We grieve for Las Vegas and her citizens. 

This world we live in makes little sense to me these days. My fragmented thoughts can't form words, and I find myself numb. Each act of man's inhumanity to man contributes to my desensitization. That scares me. 

How difficult is it for one body to feel the injustice wheeled at another? 

Rankine poses this question as she writes about the Rodney King riots, but her inquiry points to an absence of empathy in our world. 

Are the tensions, the recognitions, the disappointments, and the failures that exploded in the riots too foreign? 

Change one word--riot--and it's easy to apply the question to the LV massacre, and before that the Arianna Grande concert killing, and before that the Orlando Pulse nightclub shooting, and before that the Sandy Hook slaughter. Of course, these bloody events stand out for their massive carnage, yet other shootings fill the blank spaces between each.

In an unintentional ironic twist, Sunday's edition of "60 Minutes" featured an interview with Congressman Steve Scalise, the NRA supported Republican Majority Whip who was critically wounded during a baseball practice this past June in Alexandria, Virginia. 

The "60 Minutes" story was a piss-poor piece of journalism, a fluff piece that focused on Scalise's wounds and recovery. No discussion of his support for NRA policy positions. No discussion of gun violence in the U.S. and the government's failure to treat it as a health crisis. 

Before it happened, it had happened and happened, says Rankine of the riots. 

She could easily say this about mass shootings. Still, we narrate the same fiction: Guns don't kill people. This latest carnage will likely make little difference in public discourse. We'll hear the platitudes and pretend public safety depends on arming of citizens. Pretend that the only defense against a bad man with a gun is a good guy with his finger on the trigger. If the near fatal shooting of a Congressman won't change the narrative, certainly the gunning down of country and western concert-goers won't alter the story arc. 

We're told authorities have no answers for why a 64-year-old white man toted 42* guns and thousands of rounds of ammunition into a hotel and massacred Jason Aldean fans. We're told the gunman had no prior legal problems, had no ties to terrorists. These "facts" make the gunman's actions no less terrifying. What label do we stick on a man who killed 59, maybe more, revelers from the thirty-second floor of a casino if not terrorist? Does not an act of terror merit that label? Certainly lone-wolf, a euphemism, diminishes the citizen victims. 

The insidiousness of our national denial reeks. Perhaps white America will in time live the reality Rankine explores in Citizen as she describes the lived reality of black people

And where is the safest place when that place must be someplace other than in the body?...When you lay your body in the body entered as if skin and bone were public places, when you lay your body in the body entered as if you're the ground you walk on, you know no memory should live in these memories becoming the body of you. 

I wonder: Will mass violence in public places define my students' teen years? Will they recall their homecoming in conjunction with the Las Vegas massacre? Will the collage of memory form from the shrapnel of a lone gunman's final violent act against innocent citizens? 

*Last edit: 8:50 MST to reflect 42 and not 10 guns.

**Dedication: For Ashley Nicole Hitchcock and Cade Brown, Citizens of Las Vegas. Ashley is one of my favorite Highland graduates, and though I've not met Cade, I know him through Ashley's stories. 

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Monday, September 25, 2017

The Ones Who Walk Away... #SOL17

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Happiness is based on a just discrimination of what is necessary, what is neither necessary nor destructive, and what is destructive.

The people of Omelas, the utopian city Ursula K. Le Guin describes in her short story THE ONES WHO WALK AWAY FROM OMELAS, live idyllic lives in a picturesque city. They walk around town in an utopian stupor, unaware of their own power to effect change. With intent they walk away from the one child whose existence embodies misery, hunger, sadness, want.

This child of ten---a significant age in its biblical implications---looks much younger for "it" lives in a small room, isolated from the utopia Omelas enjoy. It knows no beauty. It experiences no joy. Yet the child's presence, its suffering, anchors the city, perhaps functions as its cornerstone, a foundation on which all that's good in the city depends on this one child.

In Le Guin's visioning, the people know the child suffers. They've made a conscious decision to allow the child's suffering. Their comfort depends on the child's discomfort:

Some of them understand why, and some do not, but they all understand that their happiness, the beauty of their city, the tenderness of their friendships, the health of their children, the wisdom of their scholars, the skill of their makers, even the abundance of their harvest and the kindly weathers of their skies, depend wholly on this child's abominable misery. 

On both a micro and macro level this story grows more relevant to me as I contemplate life's moments. I live comfortably. I do not want for food, clothing, transportation, medical care, housing. The "necessities" I take for granted come to me in ways I'd rather not think about too much: child labor in third-world countries provide my technology and clothing; migrant farm labor puts cheap food on my table. I have employee-provided health care and don't need insurance through the ACA.

The people of the town would like to do something for the child. But there is nothing they can do.

Too often we react to the suffering around us as though we, too, live in Omelas. What can we do? We feel sadness when we hear about national tragedies, such as racial profiling and natural disasters, but like those in Le Guin's story, we feel anger, outrage, impotence... 

This past weekend I, along with the rest of the nation, watched as the social movement Colin Kaepernick started in 2016 exploded into a full-blown protest, one sparked by President Trump's offensive rhetoric. I see Kaepernick as a symbol in the way Le Guin's child is a symbol. As long as Kaepernick and his NFL colleagues stay in their lane, to use contemporary parlance, they merit the admiration of the fans. Those who denigrate the kneelers expect Kaepernick and those who have joined him to sit in the detritus of racism just as the Omelas leave the child in excrement.

The fans may "brood" or "mourn" or cry for a moment over Charlottesville or Ferguson or any number of white on black abuses, but little changes, especially with the current administration in power.

Their tears at the bitter injustice dry when they begin to perceive the terrible justice of reality, and to accept it. Yet it is their tears and anger, the trying of their generosity and the acceptance of their helplessness, which are perhaps the true source of the splendor of their lives. 

At the end of Le Guin's story we're offered a glimmer of hope. Some walk away from Omelas. They walk away from the town. That's one reading. I think there's another. What if Omelas isn't simply a town? What if Omelas is the child? Does it matter? Isn't the point that some walk away? And in walking away from this vision of a utopian existence they walk into darkness.

Where will we walk when we take the next step in our national journey?