Saturday, November 30, 2013


The last session I attended on Sunday at NCTE  was exciting  and thought-provoking, not just for the content, but for the presentation format, as well.

It was an Ignite Session..

Like its older sister Pecha Kucha, Ignite is a presentation structure which limits time and forces the speaker to carefully consider what points are presented. The result is a finely polished offering of bare-bones wisdom and quotable gems in each bite.

An ignite session is 20 slides, each showing 15 seconds for a total of 5 minutes with commentary fitting into this same time frame.  (Pecha Kucha is 20 slides, each showing for 20 seconds.)

I  love both of these formats and wondered how to harness this power.

What might it look like in writing?

As I reviewed my copious notes from NCTE it occurred to me that I might cull one or two memorable statements,  important ideas, or overarching themes from each session and  presenter--creating a written ignite session.

Then I decided to further cull and reduce each of these brief statements to one word or brief phrase to create a very short slide presentation of 20 slides lasting 60 seconds).

As I began to think more about this process,  I realized it would work well for any learning situation-- conventions, conferences, meetings, and other professional development settings.

This process of review, analysis, summary, and synthesis will also work for writers as they consider their reading, research projects and more.

By adding additional layers to this reconstruction of ideas, understandings can be deepened and learning extended. Additional layers might include intentional animations and transitions, music, narration, and other effects that enhance, support, and further illuminate  learning.

I am continuing to think about "igniting" learning in this way, both as a process, and also as a  final presentation or publication structure.

Your may choose to view my final presentation before or after (or without) reading the  process notes included below.
Click here to see my  IGNITING NCTE 2013 Slide Presentation.
Click "Present" at the top right corner once the link opens.


First Wave

This group ignited my mind and heart- preparing me for all the learning to come at NCTE.
Five spoken  word artists from The University of Wisconson-Madison surrounded our senses and  delighted our sensibilities as they turned the prism of learning and life to every angle, reflecting new images and metaphors .  I was surprised and proud to see Shameaca Moore of Columbus, Ohio among this amazing group.   She is a former student  one of our CAWP Teacher Consultants,Wyk McGowan.  This award-winning group is a must see. WOW!

Slide 1   Word

Keeping Poetry Central to Our Core

Georgia Heard
It is essential for students to connect to poems-- to find themselves and their lives inside the poem.
Borrowing from Celtic thought, she insisted that all teachers are poets. Why? Knowledge that does not pass through the heart is dangerous.

Slide 2   Heart

Tom Romano
In writing, if there is not surprise for the writer, there is not surprise for the reader.
Poets write ourselves into realization, using simple precise language.
Possibility is enough start for anyone.

 Slide 3 Possibility

Linda Rief
Recognizing the importance of choice, her students created Heart Books, beginning with Georgia Heard's Heart Maps.  Choice of poems to collect for their books was a major force in fostering connections and personal responses.
For each poem they asked themselves: How does this poem speak to you? what does this poet say about writing?
Quoting Ted Kooser:  You have to read 100 poems to to write one poem.

Slide 4  Choice

The Persistent Call of Stories

Ralph Fletcher
Narrative is foundational, the mother of all writing. Story is the way we think and make sense of the world.

Slide 5  Narrative

Tom Newkirk
A sense of story is essential to our well being.  Those who knew their family stories are psychologically healthier. Narrative is how we explain causality.  Paul says in the Bible Now we see dimly.  Tom says Now we tell stories.

Slide 6  Story

Not All Bad Girls are Bullies: Using Literature to Introduce Perspective About Women's Roles in History

Heidi Stemple

Context is important, the context of history.  It is not just how we look at the women, but how they looked at themselves.

Slide 7  Context

Jane Yolen
All writers are mired in their own history.  I can't help as a writer, no matter what I am writing,wrestling with the things I am wrestling with in my mind and my century.  I can only write from my own center.  I look at who I am,  in the context of what I stand for and the questions I am raising.
Writers are in the constant process of discovering themselves.

Slide 8   Center

Burleigh Muten
We owe it to our students to stay current with the books they are reading.

Slide 9  Current

This Time It's Personal

John O'Connor
Tell the truth slant. Sometimes we need to turn something upside down to see more. (We had just created a collective group poem by listing what Capital A looked like--standing up,turned on each side and upside down, then listing our 5 most interesting A words)  This is what we do with creative nonfiction-- we mine our lives for riches.
Creative nonfiction always aspires to truth, although it may use tools of the literary novel.  As we keep writing, we begin to discover  patterns.

Slide 10   Mine our lives for riches.

Have You Wondered Today?: Using Wonderpolis In the K-12 Classrooms

Emily Kirkpatrick
Wonderopolis is not a website but a state of mind.

Maria Caplin
Gretchen Taylor
Paul Hankins

Each shared practical ways to use this amazing site and the nonfiction resources there, as they shared how this developmentally appropriate site fit demands of Common Core Standards, as well as supported the natural curiosity and wonder with which our students come to elementary school, nurtured the growing inquiries of the middle schoolers, and nudged the wonderings of secondary students.

This site can help combat a culture of coverage and lead to a community of curiosity.

Slide 11  Wonder

Toward a  Deeper Understanding : Models , Structures and Strategies for Student Conversations

Ellin Keene
Any child whom can use oral language to communicate by age five can think and learn at the highest levels. Every child deserves impeccable examples of oral language.

Nancy Steineke
We must be taught to be good partners and how to take active roles in conversations.

Harvey Daniels  and Elaine Daniels
It is important for every kid in the room to be talking at the same time through written conversation.

Jim Vopat
Conversation does not happen because you say so.
Collaboration is powerful. Collaborative intelligence is higher than individual intelligence. 

Each of these speakers engaged us in the collaborative conversation models, structures and strategies they were describing.

Slide 12  Oral language,  Conversations, Written Conversations, Collaborative intelligence

Core Standards: Minding The Gaps ( An IGNITE session) ( the session that inspired this post!)

Sandy Hayes
Multitask the standards.

Slide 13  Mulitask

 David Finkle
The standards do not tell us how to make things interesting.

Slide 14  Make things interesting.

Penny Kittle
How do we motivated or change the trajectory of our students' reading lives?
Start where they are and build their stamina

Slide 15  Change the trajectory of a reading life.

Kevin Hodgson
Enter into their pop culture lives to harness the collective power of gaming.

Slide 16  Pop Culture

Troy Hicks
All children want to write, but the writing we have them do is not circulated far enough.    We want them to Do, Share and Send out, Present or Publish and then Repeat.

Slide 17  Do, Share and Send Out, Present or Publish,  Repeat

Andrea Finkle
Poetry surrounds us.  Poetry creates writers, creates memories and makes us better humans.

Slide 18  Poetry creates writers, memories ..better human beings.
 The student is the costar

Scott Finkle
Text is not the sole star.  The student is the co-star. Caring begins with engagement.

Zanetta Robinson
Incorporate pop culture along with the classic. We do not have to choose either/or.

Sara Kajder
We need technology in reading and writing, not only in productions but for process, as well, thinking intentionally about the work we must do.

Slide 19  Technology in all 

Sarah Brown Wessling
Our readers need spaces not gaps.  This is where teachers live.

Donalyn Miller
What texts/ type of reading are students avoiding?  We must add what they don't read.

Slide 20  Spaces, not gaps.  What are we avoiding?  What are the students avoiding?

Click here to see my IGNITING NCTE 2013 Slide Presentation
Click "Present" at the top right corner once the link opens.

Today's Deeper Writing Possibilities

Review your notes for your most recent conference, convention, presentation or meeting.

Instead, you may want to review notes or marginalia from your latest reading or research or project.

Cull 20 main points, statements, ideas or over-arching themes and list those.

Reduce each of these to just one word or brief phrase.

You may want to write an essay around your results, or you may want to create a slide presentation or some other visual presentation to synthesize,  represent  or present your work.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013


We can't work in a vacuum.
We don't work alone

We need new ideas and fresh perspectives.

We want to know what important work our fellow teachers and colleagues are doing.

We want to hear about the wonderful things they are discovering  about and with their students.

And we simply need to be in the company of like-minded colleagues (and the not so like-minded, as well) to talk and think and wonder, to learn and  laugh together.

I just got back home from NWP/NCTE 2013.

I am dead tired (and returned to a flat tire--that's another story)-- yet I am refreshed, renewed and excited about new learning, new contacts, and the many conversations in which I was able  to be a part.

I was privileged to lead a session on mentor texts at NWP with three amazing new friends and colleagues: Rose Capelli, Lynne Dorfman, and Carla Truttman.  The collaborative conversations around mentor texts were rich and thought-provoking.  Teachers are using all sorts of texts in remarkable ways.

We began this session by writing, talking and sharing in response to the following quote:
You can’t write until you have been flattened by a book.

Stephen King. On Writing 

Here is my poem written around this quote:

Flattened by a Book
with thanks to Stephen King

The words don't come unless I remember
that one time
that last time
the book I was reading stole my life
and reproduced it on the page.

I can't write  if the sun in Chapter 6 from yesterday's book
doesn't rise again

If your words cover my sadness
or narrate my joy
then there is space for me to write...

If your story meets mine
then I can discover my story...

The book that keeps me up still
opens the door to more
than I could have possibly said.

My words hang on your ribs and your breath...

Today's Deeper Writing Possibilities

What does Stephen King mean by 'flattened by a book'?
When was the last time you were flattened by a book?  

Think about your response to a particularly memorable book. Which book comes to mind readily?
How did this book affect you at the time?  How does it still affect you?

What other "texts" have flattened you?  (Other texts might included film, theater, songs- lyrics and/or music, art and so forth)

Write a poem in response to the text that flattened you.
Write an essay exploring your response to this text.

Monday, November 18, 2013


Who are the people in your city?
What images best show their character, their resilience, their passions, their fears?

What are their stories?

Brandon Stanton set our to answer these questions.
In photography.

More than three years, several thousand miles, and some ten thousand portraits later, he has created --is creating-- an amazing visual census, a photographic directory of the people of New York. He tells us how it began:

 I arrived in New York in early August.  I planned to spend a week in the city before hopping on a plane for the West Coast, but I ended up staying for the rest of the summer.  I remember the moment my bus emerged from the Lincoln Tunnel and I saw the city for the first time.  The sidewalks were covered with people.  The buildings were impressive, but what struck me most were the people.  There were tons of them.  And they all seemed to be in a hurry.  That night I created a photo album for my New York photos. I called it "Humans of New York."

A friend sent me a link to Stanton's amazing blog about 6 months ago.
I was hooked immediately.

Each day the photos he presents enlarge my conceptual image of people, expand my vision of our world, and stretch my view of the  human spirit---- and entertain and delight my senses..

You can see his compelling photographs on  his Facebook Page and his comprehensive Website.

In addition to simply photographing, Stanton also began to interview his subjects and pair his photos with a story or quotation.

His work became an instant hit. Hundreds, thousands of new fans began to follow his blog.

He now views this project not as an album to complete, but an ongoing endeavor to provide his fans with several amazing portraits each day.

This file has now become a book, Humans of New York,  offering 400 color photographs from this file.

Yes, I am hooked.
But why?

I began to consider what it is about Stanton's photographs and  accompanying quotes and stories that prove so fascinating.

First the composition and artistry of  his images are compelling, thought-provoking, and often startling.
We simply cannot look away.  We continue to consider and ponder the images long after we  have turned the page, scrolled to the next post, or closed the book.

The images haunt us, grab us, inhabit us.

 In addition, while presenting Everyman and Everywoman, at the same time we are transported to another dimension of human life, one just beyond our own,  where the people are bigger than life.

And finally, aren't we all voyeurs at heart?
Most writers are.
I am.

I am hooked.

As I browsed the images in Humans of New York, I remembered another book--the first book of photographs which fascinated me in the same way.  I ran to my basement and found my tattered copy of The Family Of Man .

This volume, published in 1955, includes over 500 black and white photographs from 68 countries.  People from all walks and corners and curves of our world.  It is tattered and falling apart because it was much loved by my students over the years. They pored over the images of people it contains-- strangers, yet somehow familiar in their shared humanity.

And for those who want more photographs of people, as well as creative and technical strategies, a new book that features the iconic images  by Gregory Heisler was published last month.  His controversial portrait of George W.H. Bush  cost him his White House clearance.   His images have  graced the covers of most mainstream journals.  You have seen his photographs even if you don't know his name.

In his new book,Gregory Heisler: 50 Portraits: Stories and Techniques from a Photographer's Photographer, he shared the story behind each image,  his thought processes, and some of the techniques utilized.

What images represent the people you met today?
What images represent the people you meet everyday?

Today's Deeper Writing Possibilities

Select a photograph of a stranger.
You may choose your photo from one of the books above or from a magazine or online source.

You may also choose to  follow Brandon Stanton's  lead and photograph a stranger or two in your own city.  (Please don't forget to ask permission first.)  If possible you may also want to interview the person.

Create a written portrait to accompany the image of the person  in your photo.

You may want to present your portrait in a poem or essay.
It may simply be a reflective description of what you observe and feel about the image you chosen.

Thursday, November 14, 2013


Reading and writing float on a sea of talk
                                                                James Britton

I was first introduced to Britton's quote when I was in graduate school at The Ohio State University.
It still proves true in my teaching and learning encounters and in my reading and writing experiences.

Today, however, I would modify Britton's quote to read :
Reading and writing, and community float on a sea of talk

We are growing  readers and writers and learners in our classrooms-- they  flourish in community.

The glue that holds communities together is shared practices, protocols and language that support  each member of the community and also promote  the common good all members.

It takes time to develop the conditions of trust and caring in which our writers can share their finished work, works-in-process, and potential writing ideas.

Our writers are entitled to both an authentic audience and honest feedback.  Sharing their work provides affirmation of their ideas and process, opportunities to hear what is working in their piece, as well as suggestions for revisions.

In addition, the work shared by our student writers becomes models of writing for other writers-- and enters the community collection of  mentor texts.

For more on  practices and language support writing communities and  undergird sharing writing, see an earlier post,  Responding to Writing.

As we foster supportive communities what are the  conversations we need to have?

What are the discussions in which  we must engage our students?

How do we facilitate the discourses in our classrooms and other learning communities?

Although I knew about Britton's sea of talk, I first realized the power of language to mediate learning as I trained to be Reading Recovery teacher.  I witnessed the miracle of  well-chosen words and strategic conversations to accelerate  learning.  I marveled each time my words produced an immediate positive response. For information about Reading Recovery, click here.

I was hooked on the power of language.

I began to carefully consider language and conversations  in my classrooms.
I began to develop intentional language and initiate strategic conversations..

Several recent publications support us as we consider the sea of talk we facilitate in our classrooms.

Peter Johnston has given us two treasures which highlight the importance of the language we use ( and foster) in our classrooms ---and any time we have conversations.

In Choice Words, he examines how  effective teachers  use language,  not only to teach, but to also build  powerful relationships,  create supportive learning communities, and  foster strategic and critical thinking.

Teachers play a critical role in arranging the discursive histories from which these children speak. Talk is the central tool of their trade. With it they mediate children's activity and experience and help them make sense of learning, literacy, life, and themselves.

Opening Minds: Using Language to Change Lives extends this conversation about the power of language. demonstrating how we create, expand or restrict the worlds of learners.
Sometimes it is just one word that makes all the difference....
Introducing a spelling test saying, "Let's see how many words you know" is different than saying, "Let's see how many words you already know" It is only on word, but the already suggests that any words the child knows are ahead of expectation, and most important, that there is nothing permanent about what is known and unknown.

 We create, open  (and reduce) worlds with  the words we choose.
As teachers, we choose our words and, in the process, construct the classroom world of our students and ourselves. The worlds we construct offer opportunities and constraints....
Teaching is planned opportunism... When we  put our plans into action, children offer us opportunities to say something,or not, and the choices we make affect what happens next.   Teaching requires constant improvisation. It is jazz.
We create the communities the lead ultimately lead to trust, growth, intellectual maturity and conversations at the highest levels.  This begins with our youngest learners, continues through the university, and carries into our world and everyday life.

 I recently received a big box of Amazon books--a common  and  frequent occurrence in my house--and among the treats was Academic Conversations: Classroom Talk that Fosters Critical Thinking and Content Understandings .

 Building on the notions that intentional language is important, Jeff Zwiers and Marie Crawford introduce us to the academic, intellectual aspects of discourse in shaping who we are, what we know and what we believe.
Conversations strengthen our comprehension of new ideas.
Conversations are also powerful sculptors.  They shape our identities, thoughts, beliefs, and emotions. We have all had intense conversations from which we walked away ( or lost sleep)  mulling over the ideas that we discussed. Conversations leave us pondering and processing ideas for hours,days, and even years. These ideas in turn, contribute to the inner dialogues that we hold in our heads throughout each day. (Vygotsky,1986), which sculpt our thoughts--whether we like it or not.
More than we realize we are the product of thousands of conversations.
Academic conversations, or sustained conversations in which we learn from each other and gain new understandings and ideas, are critical for our learners. In order for this to happen, we  have to be able to make the verbal and intellectual moves that foster and further these conversations.

We learn to paraphrase, negotiate ideas, clarify and extend our thoughts,  and support our thinking with details, examples and instances.  We must also learn to challenge and oppose ideas, agreeably. And most importantly, we must be able to critically analyze ideas and synthesize new thinking.

We learn the moves of academic conversations

What are the words that will foster new worlds?
What conversations will open a young--or old--- mind?

What conversations do we need to have to create community?
How do we respond to the many important conversations that we witness? In which we participate?

Click here to read my Haibun written in response to the many rich conversations in which our CAWP Teacher Inquiry Group engaged.

Today's Deeper Writing Possibilities

Think about the last important, sensitive or meaningful conversation in which you participated.
This can be an intimate, friendly, business or academic conversation.

Recall as much of the exchange as you can.
What words stand out from that interaction?

What were the effects of the words you selected?

Write an essay about the importance of the conversation or the selected words.
Write a poem capturing the mood of the conversation.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013


What if we could simply draw our way into our next delightful adventure?

Wouldn't it be nice if we could use a crayon or marker to create a new door, a different path, a way out of a hard place or a current troubling fix?

What if  you could write yourself a new narrative?  What if  you could pick up a pencil to write new elements -- new verbs or adjective,   a new setting, a revised plot --into your life story?

Isn't this every child's dream?  How many adults still secretly harbor this desire?

In Journey, a new wordless book by Aaron Becker, his bored and lonely protagonist uses her red marker to draw the door that begins her remarkable journey into a new land, where her quick thinking and drawing abilities save her more than once.

Her marker creates a boat, a balloon and a magic carpet, all taking her further into her created world and fantastic journey. Her courage and kindness, along with that red marker save her from eminent danger.  In the end she meets another drawing friend, with a purple marker (a friend foreshadowed on page one and throughout the book)  and the adventure continues.

I first saw this book at one of the booths at the OCIRA conference.  I fell in love with the detailed drawings--the little girl's red drawings standing out on each page.  I love the interaction, autonomy, and  creativity the red marker bestows on the protagonist.

I thought immediately of Harold and the Purple Crayon  by Crockett Johnson. Published in 1955, this classic picture book was the first that I remember to give its main character control over his setting with a crayon--a purple crayon.

This was a favorite of mine when I was a kid, and  a favorite of my own children, as well as my students over the years.  I love how there is a reason given for each line or item the little boy draws.

One evening, after thinking it over for some time, Harold decided to go for a walk in the moonlight. There wasn't any moon, and Harold needed a moon for a walk in the moon light.
And he needed something to walk on.

This book (and idea) has stood the test of time--there was a fiftieth anniversary edition published in 2005-Harold and the Purple Crayon 50th Anniversary Edition (Purple Crayon Books) 

Check out the entire series of Harold Books.

In The Line,  a wordless book by Paula Bossio, a little girl stumbles upon a line that is already drawn. Throughout the story, she manipulates the line--shaking it into a slide, looping into a loop, twining it into a vine.  When her line takes an ominous shape she is saved by a gentler line.

 What if the story hinges not on us drawing or manipulating a line, but on writing the words to create and change the narrative?

 In Little Red Writing  by Joan Holub and Melissa Sweet,  a red pencil engages in an assignment from her pencil school teacher--writing a story.  A clever retelling of Little Red Riding Hood, one of my favorite tales, as well as a tale like those   above-- being created  as we go--the variety of illustrations, including graphic novel style, conglomerations of words, lots of suggestions for how to tell a story, and the story itself will delight readers and writers.

Also relying on Little Red Riding Hood as a reference point and example,  Picture This: How Pictures Work  by Molly Bang shows us the principles of illustration--how we can manipulate perception, impression, and emotion through manipulation of  lines, shape and color.  What happens if we use bold angles? soft curves? hot reds? cold blues?  How does this affect our perceiving and our feelings about our story?

If you want to create your own illustrations, this is your book.  If you want to draw your own story in which your character controls his destiny, it may be helpful if you also are able to control the effects of  the illustrations.

What if we could  draw a line to launch our next adventure or save us from our latest trial?

What if adding entertainment to our day or solving our current problem was as simple as drawing a line or rewriting the narrative?

Today's Deeper Writing  Possibilities

What is the story in which you are currently involved?
What object or line would you like to draw to change your story?

Sketch a setting for your story in black and then add your story additions in the color of your choice.
Did you use lines or shapes or colors in a deliberate manner?

Write words to accompany your story.

Or write a reflection on the images and story you have created

Friday, November 8, 2013


What do we see when we look at images?
How do images speak to us?

How do images speak to other images?

Discourse studies, with its roots in classic rhetoric, has traditionally been about speaking well, and thinking and talking about texts.  Now, however, this area of study also includes multi-modal, multi-disciplinary, and contextual considerations--and images.

According to Teun A. Van Duk in the introduction of Discourse Studies: A Multidisciplinary Introduction
Discourse is no longer just conceived of as verbal text and talk, but also encompasses the nature of context…(xvii)    
Contemporary discourse studies now also involve many disciplines-- anthropology, sociology, linguistics, psychology—all areas of the humanities.  According to Van Duk: 
Research into discourse today... combines the study of language use, verbal interaction, conversation, texts, multi-modal messages, and communicative events (2)  
As we think about text and talk there are several fundamental properties we must consider.  Van Duk asks us to think about discourse, variously as:   

  • Social interaction
  • Power and domination
  • Communication
  • Contextually situated
  • Social semiosis
  • Complex layered construct
  • Sequences and hierarchies
  • Abstract structures vs. dynamic strategies
  • Types of genres
So as we interact with, question, and analyze texts, we might examine each of these properties within the text and in relation to other texts.

There are many forms of writing that embody the talk in which we engage with others, our talk about texts, and also the talk we have around images.  As we interact more frequently and critically with both texts and images, we find that texts can “talk” to other texts.  See related post, Strange Bedfellows: Texts Speak to Texts.
As we transition into thinking about images and how we respond to such, an excellent resource is Twice Told: Original Stories Inspired by Original Artwork by Scott Hunt.  In this collection of YA fictional stories, pairs of well-known writers each write  in response to a single image, which allows us to recognize that images speak to us in individual and differentiated ways.  I have successfully used the paired stories by Jaime Adoff and Margaret Haddix Peterson to initiate conversations about how we see images.

Likewise, images can “talk” to images---supporting, complementing, supplementing, augmenting, illuminating, diminishing,  pushing, or opposing each other.  

And I suggest that the fundamental properties of discourse listed above also can be applied to images. We can ask the same questions of images that we might ask of  texts or other discourses.  
How is the image contextually situated? What sequences and hierarchies are represented? Absent? 

One example of an image talking through another image is The Periodic Table of Poetic Elements by Jeffrey Skinner He has humorously represented poetic and literary elements  in the format of the traditional scientific Periodic Table.. (Skinner's Periodic Table is also available in in The 6.5 Practices of Moderately Successful Poets: A Self-Help Memoir 
What conversations does this unique poem initiate? What questions does it force us to ask?

What do we see and hear as we talk with images?  
What do we see and hear as we allow the images to talk to each other?

Juxtaposed images can create tension and demand we enter their conversation
An article by Tom Roston, On Pinterest and in Documentaries, Don’t Judge a Killer By An Image,  provides two pairs of images that will generate conversation around the topic George Zimmerman and Trayvon Martin. These images present negative and positive images of both Zimmerman and Martin.  This alone fosters discourse around these images.  

However,  the article discloses that the negative image of Trayvon Martin is falsified--- it is not really him, but had been posted on Pinterest by a white supremacist Several news sources confirmed the lie.  What further conversations are generated as a result of that new knowledge? 

This article itself becomes a mentor text of discourse around images and, depending on the age of your writers, you may want to share it with them after discussion of the images. 
In addition to your observations related to the chosen images, you may also want to use Van Duk's discourse properties listed above to further analyze and question the images.

On a related note, I gasped out loud when I saw the first iconic picture of Trayvon Martin in the red shirt.  He so eerily favored Emmett Till, a fourteen-year old boy who was murdered/lynched  in Mississippi in 1955 for supposedly whistling as a white woman.

Images don’t necessarily have to be controversial to create tension. Critical thinking and conversation may result from the juxtaposition, context, symbolism, surprising elements, or some other  focus in the image or set of images.
Joel Robinson’s images depicting the joy of reading can also talk to us and each other. These are available on one of my favorite blogs, Brain Pickings by Maria Popova and will also foster critical discourse.

Today's Deeper Writing Possibilities

Take your  own photographs or  locate in magazines or other sources, including the Internet, two or more images that in some way “talk” to each other.
The images may complement, supplement, augment, diminish, or oppose each other.

Write a reflective response or essay to these images, describing and representing the relationships to each other and perhaps also to yourself. 

Write a poem capturing the conversation you had with the images-- or the conversation you imagine between the images.

Monday, November 4, 2013


The Artist's Garden at Giverny (1900), oil on canvas
Claude Monet.
Located in the Yale University Art Gallery.
Image in the public domain-copyright expired
 I love going to our local art gallery.
 I love going by myself and just hanging out.
The creativity of others always amazes and inspires me.

How many ways can you portray an object, a person, or an idea?

The  images and installations I see each time I go spark my own desire to create.
But I can't paint or draw or sculpt beyond the just- for-fun-elementary level.
So I write-- in response to, because of,  beside, and before the works displayed.

Going to the art gallery was also one of my favorite field trips with my students.
Some of my students were talented illustrators, painters and artists.  But many, like me, were not.
Even though we could not paint or draw or even understand some of the pieces before which we stood, we could all view the work with pleasure or displeasure or bewilderment or amazement.

Before each trip to the Columbus Museum of Art, we would receive resources to introduce our students to the process of observing and appreciating art-- including a PowerPoint that taught us how practice "artful reading" which included observing, describing, interpreting and supporting our interpretation with details or elements from the painting or work to proving what we think.  We would also receive a CD of 12 paintings on which we could practice our new "reading" skill.
Click here to access these 12 paintings in pdf format. 
Click here to access information and lessons related to the 12  paintings. 

My students could not help but notice  similarities in artful reading to the process of using evidence to prove and inference or conclusion when reading a  written text.

In addition,  a docent would come to our classes and share works that were currently on exhibit that we would be seeing, and also provide additional practice in observing and "reading" art.

"Writing to art" quickly became  a favorite expression of creativity in my classroom.

The above 12 paintings were always available on one of our computers so that students could "read the art" and then write.

The students also quickly located other online sources for additional  paintings and pieces of art.

Books featuring art quickly became the books of choice in my room-- to pore over at recess time, to "borrow without my knowledge" for an evening of art at home, to keep in one's desk for a rare moment of free time, to share with a friend.

Several excellent books of art and accompanying ekphrastic poetry (poetry inspired by art) are available. Here are three of my favorites.

 In Heart to Heart : New Poems Inspired by Twentieth-Century American Art, Jan Greenburg, editor (or curator), has selected amazing 20th century works of art by some of best-loved American artist-paintings, sculptures, prints and photographs-- and commissioned original poetry to pair with the art by some of our best-loved  20th century American poets. Biographical information for both artists and poets is included in the back matter.

My students' favorite pairings included Ringside by Ron Koertge written to George Bellows's Stag at Sharkey's

My personal favorite--although I could think of a reason for identifying each pairing as my favorite --is America Talks by Peter F. Neumeyer written to Barber Shop by Jacob Lawrence.

What Heart to Heart does for 20th century American artists and poets, Side by Side: New Poems Inspired by Art from Around the World does for  international artists and poets. Again Jan Greenberg has paired through-provoking and amazing art with poems written to or inspired by each work.

A painting that has always fascinated me, The Scream by  Edvard Munch is included in this volume, along with a poem by Gunter Kunert ( translated from the German by Gerald Chapple).  Through this poem I was made aware of two figures that I had never noticed in the margin of the painting. (See related post The Margins of Our Lives.)

In each of these companion volumes Greenberg has organized the pairings into four categories or types of interpretations which suggest to us types of writing we might also do in response to art.

  • Stories in which the poet looks at an artwork and imagines a story.
  • Voices in which the poet enters the work and speaks in the voice of the subject depicted there.
  • Expressions in which the poet focuses on the transaction between the art and the viewer.
  • Impressions in which the poet identifies and describes what she sees in the elements--line, shape, color, texture.

Long before I was aware of the term ekphrasis or ekphrastic poetry, I loved Words with Wings: A Treasury of African-American Poetry and Art edited by Belinda Rochelle and  shared these unique pairings  with my students.

My favorite in this compilation is Women by Alice Walker written to William H. Johnson's Harriet Tubman, which blesses the cover of this book.  These works of art and poems explore many themes and aspects of African American history, culture, and life- family love, slavery, racism, pride, education and more.

Which piece of art speaks to you?
Which work of art is begging you to write?

Today's Deeper Writing Possibilities

Select a piece of art--a  painting, sculpture, photograph or other form.
You may locate your piece in one of the texts above, online, or you may visit you local art museum

Check your local art museum website or these resources for more art selections:
 As you observe a piece of art you may want to follow the "artful reading" steps that my students learned from the resources at the Columbus Museum of Art.

  • Observe the art.
            What do you see? What do you notice?
  • Identify specific features, elements,  and subjects.
           What do you notice as you look closer?
  • Interpret what you see.
          How do you interpret the art? What does this piece mean? Why did the artist make particular                       choices?
  • Support your interpretation with evidence.
        What details or elements of the work support your interpretation?

Use one of Jan Greenberg's  four categories for ideas about how to approach your poem or writing:
  • Stories--looks at an artwork and imagine a story.
  • Voices-- enter the work and speak in the voice of the subject depicted in your piece of art.
  • Expressions-focus on the transaction between the art itself and you ( or someone else) as the viewer.
  • Impressions - identify and describe what you see in the elements--line, shape, color, texture.