Conversations With Literature – Using Instagram With “The Count of Monte Cristo”

So, after hearing Pop Culture Happy Hour’s show on “Required Reading,” I was struck by something that Margaret Willison and Glen Weldon mentioned. To paraphrase, they said: “Literature shouldn’t be in under glass as at a museum. It should be something students have a conversation with.”

What a reminder and revelation! I’m currently teaching The Count of Monte Cristo. I’m planning on eventually turning it into a mock trial, per this amazing lesson plan, but if you’ve read the book, you know: it starts out slow. There’s a lot to get through. It’s going alright, but that podcast specifically made me take pause and really consider what I could do as a quick, fun lesson to reinvest them a little.

I did a lesson with Tom Sawyer where I had my students make fake instagram accounts on Google Drawing as part of understanding characterization. I decided to do the same for TCoMC after Dantes’s 14 year prison stint. It also happened to be a Tuesday. This led to…

TCOMC #TransformationTuesday Assignment

Their assignment: Fill out a fake Instagram post for any of the characters we’ve met so far in the book. How have they changed since Dantes went to prison?

I give my students the templates via Google Classroom, since each student can get a copy of the template I created (templates below).

The results

Overall, I thought this assignment went well, especially as a good informal and formative assessment. This project help me realize that, with the amount of twists and turns in the book, I definitely needed to give some of my students more scaffolding (eg a character map) to remember what’s happened so far to characters.

It also helped me get a better understanding of how my students are perceiving characters, as well as gave me the opportunity to talk through some important character points they may have missed (eg Mercedes overcomes of low expectations about her ability to become educated from Dantes himself).

That said, this was another great chance for my students to show their creativity. ALL the ones they did are available here, some favorites below:

What I’d Change or Add: Due to time, I didn’t follow up beyond this assignment. I wish I had given stricter guidelines as well. Also, next time I’ll give a writing portion to ensure that they were actually focusing on characters and not just doing a fun insta post that was tangential to the book (I did this with The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and found it to be useful).

Also, to increase the conversation aspect, I think that you could make this an AWESOME long term project and assign characters to members of a small groups. Then, have them talk to each other via the fake instagram accounts! A lot of students used comments to show connections with other characters, which I didn’t even ask them to do. I think there’s something interesting there.

Alright, more to come soon, I’m sure. Hope this was helpful!


Humor, Children, and #TheDress –  Taking a Moment to Be Wonderfully Human

(Especially In the Classroom)

I’m not going to go into #TheDress debate in here, I promise. You can read what I’m talking about here (FTR: white and gold at first AND THEN IT SWITCHED BECAUSE SCIENCE?!).

Here’s the thing, internet: between #thedress debate and #llamadrama, we had a pretty fun week. And that’s great. We should have fun. 

While these things were happening, I saw a few folks take to their twitters/facebooks/even news outlets and say things like “HOW DARE YOU DEBATE A DRESS WHEN _________ (net neutrality, economic downfall– interestingly enough these were people who didn’t talk about Ferguson *ahem*) IS HAPPENING?!”

And, I guess I get that. I am certainly known to take to the internet and bring up tough conversations. I think it’s important to talk about things that are hard, or to make difficult, relevant conversations happen in my classroom. I think that, if we fixate TOO MUCH on something, we can lose sight of real, bigger issues in the world.

NOW, that said, I think there’s nothing wrong with people taking a break and laughing/being mind blown by something. The dress one was especially cool because it was about science, perception, and the brain. I have no doubt a bunch of people looked up how color perception works, why it happened, or learned something new about the brain (I know I did).

Brain space, passion and excitement are not a zero-sum game. That mentality gets us into so many problem. People can think about MANY things. We can consider the difficult conversations of race, privilege, or what’s happening in the outside world. We can also laugh at something silly, be caught up in something (and then move on), and learn something new. One of the reasons I love the #Educolor collective so much is because we can talk about all those things AND laugh and enjoy each other. Both are necessary and lovely.

I found out about Leonard Nimoy’s Passing as I was writing this piece. Star Trek: TNG was such an essential part of my childhood, and Spock’s character was always such a wonderful discovery about what it was to be human.

I push my kids to think critically. We about race, community, nature, and justice. I try and teach them how to advocate for themselves.

I also want to let them be kids and, most importantly let them learn how to be human. That means that, like all things, laughter and silliness and unabashed joy are absolutely encouraged in moderation (and maybe outside of it too). As this piece notes, “every now and again, it’s nice to talk about serious questions through a topic that’s anything but.”

So, at the end of their tough vocab quiz today, my kids have the space to write me a little note about what color they think #TheDress is, after my first period did it, we all had a good laugh about it and talked science. That seems like a pretty good Friday to me.

Activism, Poetry, and Students

Sorry for the delayed post this week! I was waiting for this assignment to be turned in from my students so I could write more about it! 

This week, I’m going to be writing a little more in depth about a lesson I did with my students around using poetry to discuss important topics and issues. I’ve broken it into four parts and linked it below.

Continue reading

Want to Know vs Want to Win: Learning to Listen

I had a whole, long thing in my head about a topic, and then brilliant thinker who I follow from afar summed it up in 140 characters:

This made me think a lot about conversation, power, and intention though, especially in the context of my own classroom. A lot of times, we taught to enter into (perhaps difficult) conversations by asking questions: why do you think that? What makes you say that? How did you come to that conclusion? etc.

I’ve come to realize, though, that sometimes people are entering into the conversation differently than I am, and sometimes, as teachers, it’s easy to default into a line of questioning that is not helpful. This leads me to ask (often myself):

Are you asking because you want to know? Or are you just asking because you want to win?

I acknowledge that fighting for the sake of fighting (or perhaps “debating for the sake of debating”) is fine. Some people love that, and I think that it can be really great. My boyfriend loves a good debate, and is the type of guy who watches Fox News just to feel riled up and be incensed at people. If that’s your thing, that’s cool.

But just because you love that doesn’t mean the other person does, and it’s important to think about that other person. Empathy matters! It’s important to respect the other person if they decide they’re not about where this conversation goes. It’s not because they’re “weak” or “scared,” they might just not be the type of person who wants to go 10 rounds for the hell of it.

My issue with it in a lot of cases though is that it I feel like rarely leads to sharing or increase of knowledge. If you are debating or asking questions just for the sake of pushing buttons, you’re not really listening to the other person. So, instead of actually taking the time to process what they’re saying or trying to hear the opinion, you’re only listening to them so you can come up with you’re next argument, so you can find the best way to poke holes in them so you can win your points.

That’s fine, I suppose. If your purpose is to win all points and ruffle some feathers (yours and your opponents), then do you. But I don’t know if it’s the best way to lead to actual conversation and intellectual growth.

Here is where it comes back to the classroom, though. As teachers, we are always in positions of power and privilege over our students. No matter how smart my students are, I am the adult in the room. I am the one (theoretically) guiding this class, and in charge.

So when I want to have a discussion with my students, I HAVE to be asking myself: am I asking them because I really want to know? Or am I asking them because I’m right and their wrong?

Clearly, the latter has some of its merits. Guiding questions can be a good way to question students and let them find their own way to the answer while providing some clues for them to follow. But I think as a teacher it’s very easy to fall into that type of questioning even when there is no real right answer, or students can be pushed to think outside the box.

If I want my students to truly reflect on something, I shouldn’t be trying to score points of them, or only half-listening because I want to prove MY point, I should be actually listening to themDoing so might lead not only to them teaching something to teach other, but teaching something to me too.

Grumpy Teacher

My students are currently typing, but I missed my normal weekly deadline (agh!) so figured I’d type along with them. I love their topic and want to explore it at some point myself (write about something you’ll never do/never do again). 

I’ve noticed lately I’ve been in such a grumpy mood at my kids. I don’t know if it was just that time of year or the honeymoon is wearing off (I suppose that more than a semester in isn’t bad for that to happen). It also tends to happen around progress reports, because they ask ridiculous questions (can I turn in this 2 month old homework assignment for late credit?) or act immature and entitled (I sent you my late homework 12 hours ago and you still haven’t graded it!). And I’m just looking at them like “OH REALLY.” Then I feel guilty for being angry at children (who I also love). Then I get annoyed and throw my phone across the room when I see their emails (props to my guy for listening to and loving me while I vent).

I still love them, though, and they still mostly crack me up and make me laugh. I’m going to try and refocus myself this week and get back in the game. It’s only four more months till summer, right? 🙂

Oh! Speaking of summer– I’ve accepted a position to teach two classes at my school and I’m so pumped. One is a “Little Journalists” class for 5th-8th graders, and one is a poetry and creative writing workshop they’re letting me design! I’m so excited to get to design my own class completely for the first time.

Okay okay. That’s all for now. Time to get them back on task too! 😉

Stargazing (A Brainstorm on Watching Children Grow Up)

A group of

A group of students looking out on a Waimea meadow.

Ok. ok. I am writing. This is a purely life-update-y get-stuff-on-paper post. I’m a little more than delayed. With Monday being Martin Luther King Jr. Day, then I got a horrible cold from students while on a speech tournament… things just got lost.

I also got to be a part of an amazing #educolor twitter chat today, which you can read more about here.

SO… things are good. No really. My friend Shuhei asked what was new with me and… I don’t have much to report. Things are good! Chaperoning the speech team was a blast! Things are generally nice and quiet.


So, my students, their speech coach, and I went Stargazing while we were in Kohala. It was absolutely gorgeous. I’m not a particular outdoorsy person (while I love hiking, I’ve never been camping), so I have very little context what it was like to be in rural anywhere, much less Hawai‘i.

It was… breathtaking. Even remembering it, I am nearly speechless. It was like looking up in a star-dome at a museum, but knowing that it’s completely real, having everything twinkle and fill the sky with a vividness never imagined is surreal. I looked up at what felt like millions of stars, and the students and I were quiet. They self-implemented a five minute silence rule, but they were quiet and contemplative for at least ten.

After, I was standing in the freezing cold with Bill, their coach and a 27-year teaching veteran. We watched the kids laugh and joke and talk about stars. They had just a complete joy in each other. In the brief time they had known me, they had made me feel like I was part of their family, like they genuinely liked me being around.

Bill looked at me and said, “This? This is why I’m still doing it.”

I looked at their backs while they were quietly looking at the stars, and completely understood what he meant. It’s easy, when looking up into the great oblivion, to perhaps feel lost. To think about what we’ve lost and where we stand in that loss, or what we are seeking and what are place in the world is. It’s beautiful, yes, but also perhaps a little terrifying. What happens now? What will this be in five years? Ten?

I looked at my kids looking at the stars and I just… knew. This was right. This was lasting. I was filled with such a sense of peace and contentment. I loved getting to just be around, watch them learn stuff, learn stuff with them and from them, talk story and just enjoy seeing them grow up.

I think beyond the whole idea of feeling good about ~sharing knowledge~ with kids, we forget to see one of the most basic and grace-filled things we have as educators: we get to see children become adults. We are witness to and take part in the actual creation of human minds. We get to watch them change and form and reform and fail and find so much beauty and life. We get to see them discover. We get to see them empowered. Hopefully, we get to help them do it.

Things, as they stand now, are right where they need to be in this moment. I am 27 and consistently on the precipice of something new and everything is in flux always. Except that it’s not. The instability itself, the moment we were in right then and even now are what stays. The stars I saw that night may grow or die out or change position in location from where I stand, but that’s okay. Things will move, but those stars were right where they needed to be for my students and I to just love them and spend some time finding joy in each other.

We are the same. Things may will change, but all we can ask is to find the peace and contentment to see how we are affecting this moment. Right now– and likely for a while– I am a teacher. I am a guide. I am (hopefully) a friend. Right now, I am finding joy with kiddos, and it’s exactly where I need to be.

#2015Goals – New Years Resolutions

I recently tweeted that my #2015Goals include being as fierce as Rosie Perez on SoulTrain.

While this is accurate (I mean, who doesn’t want to live like Rosie?), It’s not exactly what I’m thinking. I normally spend each year going back and back, reflecting on progress from the previous year

Last year, though, the only thing I wanted to do was seek joy. Some big life changes (going back to the classroom, writing more, marathon running again), have helped me really feel like I’m getting there.

So, sure, I have some race goals and teaching goals I want to make, but here’s some actual resolutions I am trying to put on paper:

1) I will be more of an explorer. When I first moved to the island almost three years ago, I didn’t know anyone outside of work, and would sometimes wake up at sunrise, hop in my car, and head to a beach. I marveled at Makapu‘u in the early morning, I grew to love the vistas of driving to the North Shore as the sun came up.

I tried everything when I moved here: body boarding (I was okay but not great), aerial yoga and performance (great, but expensive), MMA (that one kind of stuck!).

Now, three years later, I am much more settled: great job, great apartment across the street, loving boyfriend, amazing friends. Living in Hawai‘i has transitioned from being this fanciful pipe dream to a real life that I’m building.  

I love that, but I also want to make sure I never lose sight of the fact that I am so grateful to live in this beautiful place. I want to make sure I appreciate that more. So: more hikes, more spontaneous beach trips and walks, more island hopping and general willingness to not be a “townie” and head all over this beautiful land I get to call home.

2) I will love big, widen my circle, and deepen what I have. I just wrote about this, but yes.

I want to make sure to keep building and hopefully deepen some of the great connections I already have, like with NoW Hawaii, a group of twenty-something professional women. Still, I know there are all sorts of things to get involved in out here. Maybe a running club? Maybe a Triathlon training group? Who knows! Don’t worry, though. I also want to practice self-care and let me do me when I need to.

3) Laugh often. Seek Joy Always. I like this resolution. I think I will keep it for this year too. 🙂

So… there you have it! I also have some things I really WANT to do:

Teaching Goals

  • Teach the arts again, hopefully this summer! Drama perhaps, but also maybe writing? Who knows.
  • Improve my CFUs and formative assessment. Plan better so that there’s fun ways to make sure my kids and I are on the same page while we read, not just at the end.
  • Plan this summer to have next year’s kids start with a strong social media and web-savvy culture.

Running Goals

  • I JUST WANT A SUB-4 MARATHON OKAY. THAT’S IT. DAMMIT. *shakes angry fist at the sky*
    • (context: I got 4:04:49 at Honolulu this year. I never thought I’d get that close and NOW I WANT IT. I WANT IT SO BAD)
  • I want to get better about tracking my mileage. I stopped doing that and timing myself (I’ll write about why some day) over the past few years. I want to get better at being a smarter runner.
  • Speed work outs and trying to stop being such a conservative racer. Again, more on that another time.

Other life goals

  • Write more! (duh)
  • Maybe act more?!
  • Cook more!

Alright 2015. Let’s do this thing.

Over-Planning and Keeping the Adventure

Hello again. It seems like I got a few followers from my last post. Cool! Hi! *wave*

Anyway,  I just set a 5 min timer. I’m going to try and write for at least as long as my students have to. That seems like a good start (though I’ll probably go over).

I had to ignore the alarm I set on my clock to write each week because I got caught up in lesson planning. I’m pretty behind of what I thought I’d get done over the break, which I finally realized today. Definitely my own fault– I forgot to bring the books my kids are reading, which is about the dumbest thing ever. I blame the sudden and complete overthrow of productive-brain for vacation-brain.

So I started jamming today, and realized a few things:

1) The online app for student discussion I had planned on using with my students doesn’t actually fit my needs. Through a series of tweets, a facebook post, and even a G+ post, I’m trying to crowdsource the best response. BTW if you stumble upon this post and know one, I’d love to hear from you.

2) I need to give my students more formative assessment over the course of a book. They asked for it! I allowed my students to give feedback, and most of them said they want to do MORE while we’re reading. So, time to get crafty and figure out some great projects for them to do.

and finally 3)

I’m worried about over-planning, however, and ruining the sense of adventure and spontaneity that I can gain with my students.

Some background: I’ve never been great at lesson-planning, or just planning in general. It’s always been a HUGE area of struggle for me in my practice. I have the skills to create a good project plan, but when it comes to the doing of something, I’m a big procrastinator. This is actually a reason I went back to the classroom– the jobs that I had had were all fuzzy and “project based,” which I appreciate, but realized is not an environment I do well in. I am trying to own the fact that, unless I’m REALLY COMPLETELY hyped about a project, or someone is going to hold me accountable to get something done (like, say, 28 children in a classroom looking at me saying, “What are we doing today, Ms. T?”), it’s going to be completed in the 5 minutes before I need it.

Now, this has been generally fine this year. I did make a point to unit plan my year, and the school I work at has a daily English curriculum that we follow each day. Beyond believing in it as a curriculum, it makes my life MUCH easier as a teacher. That said, I am worried about getting lazy and falling back on this too much, something I think I may have done at the end of this semester, and lose out on the opportunity to do some great projects.

SO, I’ve been trying to get better about planning. What I’m worried about, though, is that if I over-plan now, I won’t leave any wiggle room for some fun projects I come up with on the fly. For example: after hearing some of my students talk about Instagram, I got the idea to have them create Instagram accounts for characters in The Adventures of Tom Sawyer (my example). I threw the activity together that morning, which was nuts but often where my best ideas come to light, and the kids and I had a blast. They also did a great write-up.

In general, I am trying to leave things more up to God to point in my direction (I think St. Ignatius called this “spiritual freedom” or “ambivalence”). This morning, for example, I had planned to do a 12-mile long run. I wasn’t feeling it almost as soon as I started, but I tried to keep moving and power through. As I was running, I realized that there was a national park open I’d never explored before. I decided to head over and check it out. Did it screw with my splits and mileage? Sure, but it was really pretty and certainly fun.

So how do you find balance between good planning and the freedom to play? How can I make sure I don’t get lazy and not push my kiddos and myself, but still let us take the time we need? In an education environment so test-heavy and over-focused on scores (which I am always worried my school will become), I want to make sure I enjoy the fact that my kids aren’t hindered by this and we can take the time to explore stuff.

Anyway, beyond that, life’s good. Planning, writing, running, napping. Ah vacation, you are great.

I also, by the way, have a 2015 Resolutions post coming. I decided to submit something to HuffPost Hawai‘i though, so we’ll see if it gets play there first.