Making metaphor from scratch

Mary Reufle begins at the beginnings. She offers “Metaphor as time, the time it takes for an exchange of energy to occur … if metaphor is not idle comparison, but an exchange of energy, an event, then it unites the world by its very premise.”


When we make metaphors in literature, we do so to convert the abstract into the concrete, the sensory, and the tangible—how loneliness is sometimes a human-shaped crater (Haruki Murakami), and the classroom is sometimes a jail of other people’s interests (Ta-Nehisi Coates). And with matter as with language we only have so many elements at our disposal from which to incite an event, to make something happen. So many letters in the alphabet. So many noble gases on the periodic table.

But what about when, as it happened back in January, whatever committee decides these things votes to add four new elements to the table? How does language adapt, balloon to meet a world—or even a universe that becomes more knowable, and simultaneously, less familiar, or even viable, the longer people live in and of it—the more we name what these elements are and what they can be used to make, what they can be used to fuel, and who they can be used to burn?

Brian Harnetty is asking some of those same questions in Shawnee, Ohio.

What does fracking sound like?

When I was sixteen, fracking was not yet accounted for in my reservoir of words. By the time my grandfather was twenty, “atomic” and “bomb” became indelibly fused in his. Bomb for every generation thereafter as something it had never been before: building block, integral, elemental, necessary.


Material changes in the environment, technologies dividing that which was previously sutured, necessarily transform our metaphors. What students in an Ohio classroom have sensory or emotional context to add tangible meaning to fracking? To deforestation? Nuclear power plant? These concepts for many of us despite increased access to almost instant definitions remain cloaked in abstractions. We know, but do we know?

This week, I asked my roommates (who are assuredly NOT poets) to be guinea piimg_0012gs for an exercise in knowing/not knowing. I asked them to listen to four sounds I found online, a minute a piece. Each participant knew the origin for half of the sounds, but not the same half as the other participant. While they listened, they freely associated on notebook paper. I asked them to try to avoid writing “about” the sound, and instead, to write inside of it, using whatever they heard and what it evoked to fill in the gaps of sensory information. The four sounds I played were:




After the four minutes were up, we talked.

Everybody agreed that they felt their writing had “better direction” when they knew ahead of time to what they were listening. For instance, Lane, who was told that the latter sound was a recording of the atom splitting, wrote about a lesson he once sat through on Chernobyl.

Lizzie, who didn’t, wrote,

“Running rampant, earth can’t speak.”

Taking those words, voicing them aloud over the track of the detonation, sets hair on the back of my neck on edge.

A living metaphor.image1

Now, imagine having the chance to extend this lesson further, to take the knowing and the not knowing and fuse them together in the classroom.

What events could we co-conduct, I wonder?

Looking forward to your thoughts.


In the Classroom: Seven Ways Into The Media Arts Experience

We will screen Girlhood, a film by Céline Sciamma, in a matter of days, and we are busy in the classroom engaging with this upcoming experience in myriad ways. When encountering a text, or a large body of work in Pages, we try to avoid considering that text as the end all, be all, the grand moment, the point to reach, and then we’re done. Instead we cultivate conversations between the main text and other texts, sometimes, unlikely ones or weird ones; we stretch and stretch some more, the content and themes. We ask: How many different ways can we get into this work, and make connections beyond it? Below are some examples:


What’s in a name? –with Kim Leddy, Mosaic

Mosaic students are beginning a big folklore project, and with that we began to think about the narratives of our lives. We considered these tales that wave and warn our curiosities into wonder and at other times into submission.

We began with the folklore of names, entertaining why we name things, especially inanimate objects, and that led us into two nonfiction texts, excerpts of text-based journalism, about the folklore around how Apple’s iconic Siri got her name. We read two excerpted versions of the story (tech folklore if you will), then had students turn to writing their own coming-to-name narratives, a play on the idea of coming-of-age, a central theme in the film, Girlhood.


Whose life is this anyway? – with Kim Swensen, Westerville North

Students are in the thick of Toni Morrison’s Sula, so we paired that text with the children’s book, also by Morrison along with her son Slade, The Big Box, and a song in the front yard, by Gwendolyn Brooks. In those pairings we discussed identity, boundaries, oppression, and choice. Students found the characters in each of the text were seeking something, but in that seeking there were obstacles, interventions, and consequences.

After a rich discussion making connections in all three texts, students wrote in the voice of the character in the Gwendolyn Brooks piece, seeking beyond what is immediately before in plain sight. Students asked themselves what they were curious about, what spaces, boundaries, or mindset did they want to break open or expand, theme explored at length in Girlhood.


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Why don’t students read more poetry? – with Thomas Hering, Delaware Hayes

Students are reading The Yellow Wallpaper, and thinking about ideals around feminism, oppression, and voice. We wanted to explore more poetry (because students do not get a lot poetry in the curriculum), so we paired that short story text with a few poems, one we read in the pre-visit, Letter to a Friend Unsent, by Rebecca Lindenberg. We also began with a short video clip of Naomi Shihab Nye on the civic responsibility of the poet, a case for poetry to move and stir the senses, a permission to be human and to feel emotion and vulnerability, to engage with empathy.

We pulled the texts in conversation with each other, as students made connections to safe and unsafe spaces, boundaries and oppression, the stillness or the coming to voice, something the main character in Girlhood grapples with throughout the film, and themes running through The Yellow Wallpaper.


What can we learn from the artist and why is that important to our writing? – with Aaron Sherman, ACPA

We used our session to slow down and learn from the artists, using two different texts: film and poetry. We wanted to explore time and space, and as the lesson developed had the chance to explore so much more than we anticipated. We watched a scene from the high suspense film Day Night Day Night, by Julia Loktev, then listened and read the poem The House with Only an Attic and a Basement, Kathryn Maris.

Watching the film we entertained three ideas: a question for the excerpted work, what information we could gather from the scene, and considerations of before and/or after [the scene}. The point was to take an extended, close look at the film and gather ideas on what the artist was doing to pull us through the narrative. Students identified uses of color, light, sound, long close-ups on the character, limited dialogue, and the placement or use of objects in the scene to create suspense, slow down or speed up time, tension, and to build the narrative.

After the film clip, we listened to a reading of the poem by both the author and a student in class. Listening to at least two different versions of the reading is an ideal entry to the poem. Following the readings, we used the same extended looking to peel away what the writer was doing in the work. In both cases with the film and the literature, we stayed away from meaning (it’s a good challenge for students), to examine the art and what the artist is doing to convey that meaning as practice for watching a film with subtitles: following the narrative as it unfolds, and looking for clues in the imagery and context, even as the dialogue flies across the screen (this practice especially essential for slower readers of text).

Often students get stuck in only knowing how to seek out meaning, analyze the text in a way that is tunneled and limited. In this exercise we create boundaries for students to slow down and look at the work, not just for meaning (though you can build that in later), but for technique, artistic devices, choices the artist is making. Students can become better writers by learning what a writer is doing in their work, not just what the work is saying or means (though that’s important too!).

In the end we wrote for a short time taking what we learned and trying to transfer that into the writing.


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So you want to make a documentary? – with Andrea Patton, Whetstone HS

Students want to make coming-of-age documentaries. Again, the coming-of-age theme is central in the film Girlhood. However, as I’ve learned from a range of visual media artists, documentaries just don’t happen, in other words, you turn on a camera and just film. Documentaries need a premise, intention, and could use some pre-writing as a way to organize ideas, the stance, or the narrative.

We watched the documentary They Call Me Muslim Diana Ferrero, and gathered as much information as we could, forging the meaning or premise of the film (though that was tempting to many students), but rather what the filmmaker was doing to deliver or convey that meaning or premise. We considered that if they want to make documentaries, they should watch a few to learn to the craft.

With help, students did a nice job keeping their opinions of the subject matter of the film to themselves, and keeping a sharp focus on what the filmmaker did to highlight the varying points of view of the subject matter. It was important to not get burdened by whether or not we agreed or disagreed with the opposite stances of the film, but rather to consider whether or not those stances were in balance. We watched the film to learn from the filmmaker and what she did or did not do in conveying the perspectives and subject matter, resisting chiming in with our opinions on said subject matter (there will be plenty of time to debate that later).


Mastering the Argument – with Elise Allen, Central Crossing

Students will inevitably have to write persuasive pieces, argument essays, works that try to convey a notion to the reader. But before students can do that they need to know who that reader is, make a few assumptions, and then on to the persuasion of said reader. However, if students never learn to write to, or at the very least consider their reader or audience beyond just the teacher grading the essay, students will get stuck repeating the same ideas over and over again without bringing in any evidence or fact to support the stance. We encouraged students to think beyond just writing to the teacher. Who is your audience, and how will you convey your stance to that audience? If the only assumption is your audience is your teacher; that limits the risks a writer will take to convey an idea or stance.

We watched a short documentary film, They Call Me Muslim, by Diana Ferrero. The film explores two sides of an issue, and students, while watching (with subtitles – more practice for the film Girlhood), gathered information. What is the thesis or stance? Who is making the case? How is the filmmaker making that case? Who is the audience? Watching an argument reveal itself on screen, allows students to see how an artist can “show and tell”. It also allows students to have a critical eye for bias, something that will help students curb bias in their own writing.

In the end, we explored the visual argument as practice for text-based argument writing. The documentary is a good resource for exploring how-to tackle persuasion.


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All the World’s a Stage (and we wonder what it sounds like) – with Laura Garber and Sarah Patterson

With Shakespeare in our pocket and Girlhood on our mind, we explored coming-of-age in a slightly different medium – music. After viewing and listening to the BBC’s beautiful visual mash-up, BBC a lifetime of original dramaof the text All the World’s a Stage, by William Shakespeare, we annotated ideas and discussed our ideas about the themes of the piece and looked to understand the seven stages both literally and figuratively.

Students then took to creating their own seven stages, interpreting the premise of that text using musical selections to represent their understanding of each of the seven stages. Students will also do some research on coming-of-age in France, grounding them with cultural context for the film. But the pre-visit, inspired by the Shakespeare piece, enabled students to not just read the piece, but create their own stages of lyrics and sound, an engaging way to explore the text and relate to it in the contemporary. Check out the Pages Twitter feed, @pagesprogram, to see examples of songs from students’ playlists.



-Dionne Custer Edwards


The Eddies 2015

trophy 1 | the both and | shorts and longs | julie rybarczyk

After a PAGES experience last year, Forbidden Voices, my students decided they wanted to blog and I have learned it is a perfect way to have students write regularly, write what they are passionate about and have an online discourse.  This year’s freshmen didn’t have a choice and they love it too!

To jumpstart our blogs and make connections around the world, we participated in the Edublogs Student Blogging Challenge. A new challenge will start up in the spring if you are interested in participating with your students or in mentoring other students.

I am excited to announce that FIVE of our freshmen were nominated for Best Student Blog!
And my favorite teacher resource, WexPAGESOnline, was nominated for the Best Ed Tech/Resource sharing blog!
Please consider visiting and voting.
You’ll need to vote using the students’ blog site’s url, so I’m including them here:
Here is a link to our class blog site if you’re curious.  We are always looking for ways to write, collaborate and connect if you’d like:



Student Practices for Finding Inner Voice


“Let yourself be silently drawn by the strange pull of what you really love. It will not lead you astray.” 
― Rumi

Lectio Divina, or “divine reading” is traditionally a form of contemplative practice from the Christian faith tradition where one studies scripture seeking messages from God.

Today, it is sometimes used in secular ways as a contemplative practice where one meditates on a text of choice, often times a poem, seeking individual connections and meanings.


Mary Oliver (whose poem is seen above), Rumi, and Rilke would all be good choices to engage in a secular (or spiritual) version of Lectio Divina with poety. In addition, here is a Rilke-inspired poem by Natalie Eibert called “Let Everything Happen to You” that works beautifully.  I think many passages from Alan Watts prose/parables could be used, too.


I am drawn to the ancient practice of Lectio Divina for multiple reasons. The first is that articulate language, beauty expressed in the form of the written word, has always been a “strange pull” of mine. I am magnetized towards my visual and visceral response to words.  I read the words of Mary Oliver,

“let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves” 

and feel the phrases curling around me, blanketing me in relief, release, and comfort. I see myself anew, a creature desirous of the most earthly pleasures, receiving what is most needed.

Read more about a lesson using secular Lectio with Andrea Patton and a sample one of her students wrote here

– By Brandi Lust

Space, Shapes and the Silences Between


This is my silent space: my bedroom after dusk when the kids are in bed and I can have some time alone to meditate, journal, think.

“When he heard music, he no longer listened to the notes, but the silences between.  When he read a book, he gave himself over to the commas and semicolons, to the space after the period before the capital letter of the next sentence.  He discovered the places in the room where silence gathered; the folds of curtain drapes, the deep bowls of family silver.  When people spoke to him, he heard less and less of what they said and and more and more of what they were not.”

– Nicole Krauss, The History of Love

“Music was my refuge.  I could crawl into the spaces between the notes and curl my back to loneliness.”

– Maya Angelou, Gather Together in my Name

At the round table discussion with teachers, Dionne, and artist-in-residence Bryan Moss, we talked about how shape and negative space in the pieces from the After Picasso exhibition at the Wexner Center could be used as inspiration to discuss writing and the conscious use of silence, space, and the unsaid in poetry and prose.

The above quotes could be used as beginning inspiration.  In addition, here is a post called “Silence that Transforms Us.” In it, I write about silence in the classroom, and it includes a couple of really good links for more information on silence in conversation in order to listen, silence as an “endangered species,” and the disappearance of natural soundscapes because of human noise polluting the landscape.  Slightly tangential, but could maybe be used in some creative way.

-Brandi Lust

What Would You Take from the Burning House?

Burning House Photo jpeg

Joy Sullivan, poet, teacher and Pages Artist-in-Residence shared “The Story We Tell With Our Stuff” on the Pages blog a few months ago.

The On Being post features The Burning House, a project where people submit photos of what they would take with them if their house was burning down.  This inspired me to do the same and I posted the project on my blog- you can see my object descriptions and my five-year-old son’s image and list descriptions here, too.  

This project is so interesting and so much fun!  I can definitely see how it could be used in conjunction with The Object Lesson.  These photos could become list poems, snippets of narrative for each of the objects, a reflection on what is most important etc.

If any teachers are interested in doing this project with me, shoot me an email.  I can walk students through the steps, build it into a writing prompt, plan a gallery walk with you etc.  Basically whatever would be helpful.

-Brandi Lust

Blogging Challenge, Identity and Picassoheads

Task One: This week’s Edublog’s blogging challenge asks us to reflect on our online identity compared to our “real life” identity.  On my blog site and on Twitter, I tend to keep it professional.  I’m interested in education and technology and I think writing, reflecting and reading about education helps make me a better teacher.  For example, I’m completing this post because it’s something I’m asking my students to do (and if you “talk the talk” you need to “walk the walk”).  In “real life” I’m interested in my children and doing fun things outside of school.  I usually post these topics on Facebook.  My Facebook style is more personal and whimsical.

Task Two: One of our visits to the Wexner Center this year will be to experience “After Picasso: 80 Contemporary Artists.”  Some students and I played around with Picassohead when exploring possible avatars. I encourage PAGES students and teachers to take a look at the gallery; you might see some of our self-portraits and you can even make your own.  This is a fun way to introduce some of the elements of Picasso’s style!




“The Object Lesson” Writing Prompt Ideas

“What things are, and what they are doing, depends on where and when they are doing it. If, then, the definition of a thing or event must include a definition of its environment, we realize that any given thing goes with a given environment so intimately and inseparably that it is more difficult to draw a clear boundary between the thing and its surroundings.”

—Alan Watts

According to Karl Marx, human beings produce inanimate objects in order to achieve a sense of fulfillment. Marx claims we produce not necessarily due to necessity, but as a means of self-expression and self-understanding. Consider for a moment: the boxes of collected items in your closet, the memories you recall via artifacts—things as your tether to the past, things that helped create who you are in this moment.

The mental gymnastics of re-calling moments back to the present is something most of us do daily, purposefully and “accidentally” too. We’re more than our stuff, and yet we spend so much of our lives accumulating stuff–to what end? “The Object Lesson,” perhaps, endeavors an answer.

Memory is a tangible link that brings us into existence and let’s us know we matter, we’ve done stuff, we’ve had an impact. Objects are links to ourselves—and to others. Do we need objects to construct our sense of self? of home?

Opening Writing Prompt Option One.
Do you have an attic? maybe at your grandparent’s or at home?—what sort of objects, stuff, does the attic house? Choose an object from your attic (or some other) space. Write a piece from the perspective of this inanimate object endowing the object with an identity and personified sense of self. Consider documenting your choice in a creative photograph. 

I am stuck inside a musty box with three friends very much like me. Different shapes and colors, we’re unique and yet our purpose is mostly the same. We create magic and art. We are filled with limitless possibility. We sit eagerly, hoping to be chosen by the writer, by the artist, by the warm hand of our Gods. Which one of us will They want to use to describe, to draw, to capture?—I pray it be me, and not my neon rival. Without us, humans would be pent up, wishing there were something, some way to describe what they are feeling. With us, They start and end love affairs, armed conflicts, and give meaning to Their very lives. We may be unappreciated and we may be small, but we are a very important invention that has altered and will continue to alter the course of Their evolution.

Opening Writing Prompt Option Two.
In the museum of your life, what is your most prized possession and why? Pretend your artifact is on display in some future museum. Write the museum label for this item.

In a museum, object labels describe the individual object displayed. Typically the title of the work or a descriptive title phrase is given, followed by the date and place of creation, and the materials or technique of the object. There should be a brief description or commentary. An accession number is often given, and often the accession date. Some prefer in an object label a one word title followed by a 25–50 word description for the museum label. People want specific aspects of the object they might not notice at first glance or might not have already known (i.e. something unusual, material made of, date of artifact, who made). Most people want to know specifics like when it was made, why it was made, usage and when it became part of the museum.

Opening Writing Prompt Option Three.
Emma Forrest ponders, “Some people fear that they are no more than the sum of their cultural reference points: the books read, films seen, the posters on the walls, and records on rotation. I am happy to admit this. What then remains, for a vampire of pop culture when love is over? What of the books loaned, the records recommended? What gets passed to the next lover, what gets sold for cash at Rebel Rebel? When a relationship ends, I sell none of it, filing it all away for future reference, marveling at how the most dreadful person can turn you on to the most beautiful film or music. These gifts, given in ego—this is me, this is me, have some more of me—are like transferable tattoos. These books and videos, they are stronger than those ephemeral fights, even the ephemeral [lovemaking]. … When someone you love dies, it is common to take on some of their traits in order to keep them alive. The loss of love is like mourning, instead of tics you keep records, books, movies.” Write about a challenging human relationship that facilitated your new found love of some object, “gift,” or “cultural reference point given in ego.” Explore the term of this relationship and the item(s) you gained and the changes this fostered—if any—within you.

Our Messy, Creative Selves: Art, Transformation and Mindful Creativity


This week I worked with students in the Mosaic program with Kim Leddy and Steve Shapiro.  We wanted to provide students with an introduction to mindfulness and mindful creativity while also introducing the themes of transformation, identity and change.

Before I came into the classroom, Kim and Steve had used a variation on this mindfulness lesson (originally for teachers and staff) to introduce neuroplasticity and mindfulness to students.  In the lesson, they also had  students write metaphors for their brains.  Student responses ranged from “a runaway train” to “Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory.”

These activities prepared students by providing opportunities to think about what their brain is like now, and what they might want it to be like in the future- with the understanding that they can make changes with focused attention.  It was a great lead in to some creative, messy work.

Click on this link to read the rest of the article and to see many samples of students’ work.  

-Brandi Lust

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