Learning Space: Think, Believe, Share

Students are beginning to work on This I Believe essays.

In this image, students have paired up with a partner from across the room to discuss the strengths/writing strategies of their favorite This I Believe essays from the NPR site. Over the weekend, students read at least five essays, and from those five, chose their favorite, and will write an analysis paragraph about the organizational or stylistic strategies they saw the writer using in the essay. Students will post these observations to an online discussion, identifying and gathering the strengths and strategies we found present in the NPR essays, to build a rubric for our own This I Believe essays.


-Tom Hering

Additional Publishing Opportunity for Students (Emerging Writers)

We will see the performance American Power  in late February, and this is a submission opportunity for unpublished writers to submit creative writing that deals with the subject of fracking. It’s in the media and the politics surrounding the practice is complex and polarizing as it has wide environmental and economic implications. If students are inspired, they can submit their creative written work to an upcoming anthology of writing on the topic. Here’s how:

Fracture: Essays, Poems, and Stories on Fracking America is seeking the best, freshest, and most insightful new writing that considers the implications of fracking. The editors seek prose and poetry that speaks to the complexity of fracking, conveys a sense of place, and includes personal experience. Published by Ice Cube Press, Fracture: Essays, Poems, and Stories on Fracking in America will be the first anthology of creative writing to explore fracking in the United States. The editors seek provocative prose, rooted in story, and compelling verse that takes readers to new depths of perspective.


Submission Guidelines:

Deadline: June 1, 2015

Estimated publication date: March 2016

*The editors are only accepting unpublished writing.

Simultaneous submissions are accepted; however, the piece must first appear in Fracture before appearing in any other publication.

A cover letter should accompany the submission, complete with contact information. Upon acceptance, the editors will request a three-sentence bio of each author.

The author’s name should not appear anywhere on the submitted manuscript.

Submissions must be in a Word document; if the author wishes that the editors see correct formatting of a piece, then the author may also submit their writing in a PDF file to ensure correct formatting.

Poetry: Submissions of up to 5 poems are accepted. The editors reserve the right to select one or more poems for inclusion in the anthology.

Prose: Submissions up to 4,000 words are accepted.

Please label your submissions file, as well as subject line of your email, as last name, title, and genre. (Example: Smith, “Fracking Fluid,” Poem.)

Email submissions to fractureanthology@gmail.com

“Extended Looking” – Close Observation of a Text

In our recent classroom visits, we talked about how art can document history, place, the evolution of culture or community. New York City, as with many US cities, is in constant flux (evolving infrastructure, construction, gentrification). In NYC, artist Hedy Pagremanski, is closely observing the changes in her community, documenting, communicating those details in her work.


Extended Looking Exercise: If you’ll remember over the summer we did an “extended looking” exercise with former PAGES partner Brandi Lust, where we first looked at a minor detail in an image, gathered details, then zoomed out, and repeatedly gathered details. We saved discussion on meaning and analysis until the very end, allowing ourselves time to look and think. This exercise was borrowed and adapted from Harvard’s Project Zero, research in arts integration, and “visible thinking” in teaching and learning.

Use the above image by artist Hedy Pagremanski, from the recent NYTimes article: An Artist Is Chronicling a Disappearing New York City, One Painting at a Timeas a platform for your “extended looking” (remember, extended looking is just close, deep observation of a text). You can zoom in, and slowly zoom out, allowing students to piece together the work, detail by detail, or you can look at the entirety of the painting. Either way, “extended looking” is great training for close observation of text, point of view, framing of an argument or stance – critical thinking. You can start with an “extended looking” exercise and branch off into other related topics within the curriculum, or like some teachers, you can do an extended looking exercise weekly or monthly to keep those observation and critical thinking skills sharp.

If you need a refresher on how to do this exercise, let us know!


Need Ideas, We’ve Got ‘Em


Credit Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images and Jose Luis Magana/Associated Press

50 Ways to Teach With Current Events is a mega idea list compiled by the New York Times to engage students in literacy and writing using current events. The news is a timely beginning resource for research, discussion, and writing. There are not only great examples of good nonfiction writing in journalistic publications, but there are myriad topics of interest for students to thematically intersect with what’s going on in the classroom.


Found Poetry: Chiseling Creatively

After a tip from Gary Liebesman, we discovered Srikanth Reddy, an assistant professor of English and visiting University of Chicago poet. After experiencing a drought of inspiration subsequent to the publication of his first book in 2004, Reddy discovered a vast opportunity in paradox as he began to sift through the words of Kurt Waldheim’s political memoirs. As an  international statesman, possible accomplice to Nazi war crimes, 1986 Austrian president Waldheim, was criticized for his omission of personal involvement with a Nazi storm-trooper unit.

Srikanth Reddy. .

Srikanth Reddy. <http://magazine.uchicago.edu/0904/investigations/found_poetry.shtml>.

Seizing this tactic of omission, Reddy began to surrender words of Waldheim’s memoirs in a process of editing superfluous language to uncover an entirely alternative meaning in his culminating literary project Voyager. Through submission, he found poetry; a process of creativity engaged by excavation as opposed to manifestation.  And thus, in a paradoxical avenue toward creativity, Reddy unmasked a certain beauty once immersed in the unsettling.

As Reddy describes, “The great thing about working with a literary technique that’s extremely difficult,  is that your intentions are continually thwarted. You have to surrender to the text and find meaning in what’s there. And often the meaning you find accidentally is far more interesting and [more] beautiful than what you originally wanted.”

For the full article, read The University of Chicago Magazine’s Found Poetry.

“Schools are only a piece of an ecosystem of learning”

Screen shot 2013-10-13 at 11.41.50 AM

Connected Learning: Relevance, the 4th R

“Connected learning” seeks to look in and around the school to leverage opportunities to learn. Schools and other such learning environments need only look around the community, the world, for questions to ask, problems to solve, and streams of information to engage in.

Connected learning should balance human-centered with tech-based learning to create an environment where all five senses are active in the learning process, and where learners spend more time engaged with each other and with the world around them.


Teachers, for Students: 2013 Nation Student Writing Contest

Please pass along to students who might be interested…

This year, Student Nation, a division of The Nation magazine is looking for original, thoughtful, provocative student voices to answer this question: It’s clear that the political system in the US isn’t working for many. If you had to pick one root cause underlying our broken politics, what would it be and why?


Essays should not exceed 800 words and should be original, unpublished work that demonstrates fresh, clear thinking and superior quality of expression and craftsmanship. The Nation magazine will select ten finalists and two winners total—six from college students, six from high schoolers. Each winner will be awarded a $1,000 cash prize and a lifetime Nation subscription. The five finalists will be awarded $200 each and subscriptions. The winning essays will be published in The Nation magazine and featured atthenation.com. The ten finalists will be featured at thenation.com.

Entries will be accepted through Saturday, June 30, 2013. Winners will be announced by Monday, September 9.


The contest is open to all matriculating high school students and undergraduates at US schools, colleges and universities as well as those receiving either high school or college degrees in 2013. Submissions must be original, unpublished work (the writing can have been published in a student publication). Each entrant is limited to one submission. Past and present Nation interns are ineligible.
Submissions and questions can be e-mailed to studentprize@thenation.com. Please include the essay in the body of the e-mail. All e-mailed submissions will be acknowledged. Each entry must include author’s name, address, phone number, e-mail and short biography and school affiliation—and say “student essay” in the subject line.

StoryCorps wants your lesson plans, educators!

April is Celebrate Diversity Month and StoryCorps is looking for help to create lesson plans about culture, diversity, and identity based on their animations produced by their team.

The animation for April is a precious clip about a Mexican American named Ramón. Here is the summary of the short clip:

Ramon “Chunky” Sanchez was raised in a small farming community in southern California in the 1950s. As was common practice at that time, teachers at his local elementary school Anglicized the Mexican American students’ names. Here, Chunky remembers a new classmate who proved to be the exception to the rule.  

StoryCorps is not looking for a curriculum that is extensive or lengthy. They are curious about hearing from teachers to find approachable, engaging, and interactive ideas & resources to teach students about the material presented in the video. The completed plan will then be posted through sponsorship by TED-ED and can be used and shared via social media.

For Black History Month, StoryCorps used the short “Eyes on the Stars,” to educate students and received great responses. Follow the link here to see a sample and get an idea of how these videos and plans will be used.

**If interested, contact Jeremy Helton (jhelton@storycorps.org). He can answer questions and share details.

“Shakespeare Uncovered” on PBS offers other resource for 12th Night

Shakespeare Uncovered: The Comedies was a great reason to be inside on a snowy Friday night. Joely Richardson is the host with a look at Twelfth Night and As You Like It. Richardson interviews her mother, Vanessa Redgrave, and takes us through a look at various incarnations of both plays.  It’s a great resource that also examines the role of Malvolio in the greater context of his play and all of Shakespeare’s works. Luckily for us, the whole episode is available online. I also thought Ethan Hawke’s look at Macbeth was a fascinating as well. Plus, there are teacher resources available as well.

What do learning and freestyle rap have in common?

Yes, I am a lover of hip hop (mostly old school), and in working with and observing some of your students, I’ve come across quite a few of them who write their own rhymes, lyrics, and of course poems, and many of them also freestyle and/or “battle”. Freestyle or “battle” is common in hip hop circles where MCs “spit” (speak) lyrics back and forth off the top of their head. Freestyles are free form and are often improvised, never written down. That is one of the measures of true ability of the MC in hip hop culture, when an artist can speak from the top of their head with intention and clever lyrical agility. Freestyle and “battles” or “cyphers” have been happening in hip hop circles for over 40 years. Similarly, poets and spoken word artists also freestyle and “battle” of a certain sort, which we got a glimpse of in Louder than a Bomb. Poets however, as do MCs, often take it one step further and write their ideas down, carefully crafting their writing on the page.

Freestyle battle scene from the film 8 Mile, by Director Curtis Hanson

Below is an article in Scientific Reports highlighting a study of creative behaviors where scientists looked at the brain when in generates improvisational material. Different from the rote learning happening in many classrooms (not yours of course!) today, improvisation is a creative skill, an ability that is as important in the process of learning as it is in the application. This is why, though students grown, free-writing exercises are so important in sharpening students’ writing abilities. Improvisation is often associated with creative gestures and behaviors, but it is an applicable skill that can serve students beyond their formal educational years for college and job interviews, for correspondence of all forms, for interpersonal conversation and public speaking, and of course for dynamic and interesting writing.

Spitting Rhymes and Firing Synapses: Freestyle Rap Battles Could Boost Student Creativity