Wednesday, May 28, 2014


In Metaphors We Live By, George Lakoff  and Mark Johnson consider metaphors as:

     … a fundamental mechanism of mind, one that allows us to use what we know about our physical and social experience to provide understanding of countless other subjects…     Metaphors structure our most basic understandings of our experience ….shape our perceptions and actions without our ever noticing them.

The part that immediately captures my attention is without our ever noticing.

What does this mean for us as we live our daily lives?
What does this mean in our classrooms and our workplaces?

What metaphor might right now be shaping my perceptions?

One common metaphor routinely defines America.
We often hear America  referred to as a melting pot.

What does that mean?  Well, first it connotes assimilation, conforming, and....  melting away,  disappearing to create a final product.

More recently educators, social scientists, and others have preferred to speak of America as a salad, in which we each retain our distinct qualities, while visibly and identifiably contributing to the deliciousness of the final dish.

Other alternatives to the melting pot, which also suggest retaining our individual characteristics, are a mosaic, quilt or tapestry.

Is one metaphor wrong and another right?

What does each metaphor lead us to assume?
Who is empowered or privileged?
Who is omitted or disregarded or discarded?

These are questions we need raise with all metaphors.

As we raise these questions-- and think about the America metaphors and how they might shape our country in which we theoretically and metaphorically live, how they shape our thinking about each other-- a small research intelligence agency of the US government is quietly asking the same questions,

The Intelligence Advanced Research Project Activity (IARPA) wants to use our metaphors to determine worldviews and, perhaps, ultimately to shape our thinking and actions.  This project is analyzing the use of metaphors in ordinary daily conversations of four groups: speakers of English, Farsi, Russian and Spanish.  The thought is to understand the beliefs and thoughts of the respective cultures by understanding the common metaphors employed regularly.  Where will this lead?

For more on this fascinating spy endeavor, see Why are Spy Researchers Building a 'Metaphor Program'? in the Atlantic May 2011.

Metaphors do, indeed, influence how we think, and more importantly, the policies we may create and the actions we may take based on these metaphors. The work of Paul Thibodeau and Lera Broditsky affirms this notion.

Their research shows that when groups of people were introduced  to crime as either virus or beast,  and then later given identical crime scenarios and statistics for a specific city,there were definite differences in each groups' suggested solutions.  Those considering crime as a virus suggested preventive, rehabilitative,  or educational interventions, whereas those considering crime as beast suggested capturing, caging, punishing, or even killing as solutions.

To read more about their work, see Metaphors We Think With: The Role of Metaphor in Reasoning at  PLOS One.

Metaphors determine not only how we think, but what we do-- what we will do, what we suggest others should do.

As we teach, what metaphors rule our thinking, our classroom, and our curriculum?

Think about the metaphors that are suggested by these movie titles:

  • Blackboard Jungle
  • Dangerous Minds
  • Up the Down Staircase
  • Freedom Writers
  • Lean on Me

If we think critically through each metaphor, what thinking... and actions does each title and extended metaphor suggest?

In the news and other media, in current professional literature, and in ordinary conversation, teaching is variously depicted as a science, an art, a craft, a business, and a clinical institution.

What does each metaphor mean for teachers, students, classrooms, curricula and the larger community?

In To Teach: The Journey of a Teacher,  Bill Ayers, additionally, depicts teachers as midwife, captain of the ship, or savior, as well, as performer or entertainer.


How do these ways of thinking position teachers and students? What actions and processes are suggested?

The metaphors we use determine how we think.

As educators, the metaphors we use determine how we think about our roles as teachers, the purpose of school, the nature and scope of the curriculum,  the way we arrange and manage our classrooms, and when, where and how we intervene in learning and behaviours.

These two excellent resources that will foster thinking about metaphors for you and your students.

What metaphors are running your classroom, managing your place of business.... controlling your life?

 See related post, Metaphors We Live By, Metaphors We Teach By Part 1

Today's Deeper Writing Possibilities

Create a word cloud of all the words you associate with education, learning, teaching, the classroom, school and so on. (You may also choose to think about your place of business or another institution.)  Write as many words as you can think of all over your page with no consideration for order, placement, or correctness.

Do you notice patterns in your words?  Group related words together and assign labels to your groups.

Notice and name any  metaphor(s)  which emerge.

Discover, identify, define and describe your metaphor for teaching/education. (or other institution)

How does this metaphor determine your thinking and your behavior?

Write an essay, narrative or poem reflecting your thinking?

Monday, May 26, 2014


We live and breathe and think through metaphors.

Understanding the metaphors that we (and others) use, consciously and unconsciously, leads us to deeper thinking, deeper writing, and intentionally deeper teaching.

If we identify and define metaphors in action-- in our classrooms, our society. and in our lives,  we better understand ourselves and the world.

Some metaphors follow the X is X formula we all learned in school and are easy to identify. (This formula is distinguished from the formula we all learned for similes--X is like X)
The whole world is a stage.
My heart is a lonely hunter.
Life is a box of chocolates.
Life is a journey.
We find metaphors not only in literature and movies, but embedded in our everyday conversations:
We fish for information. 
We feel blue. 
Lately, it has rained cats and dogs.
And we all kill time.
Metaphors are everywhere-- we all use them.

Through metaphor, we make sense of our world and articulate our understandings.  We symbolize, illustrate, and clarify concepts, beliefs and issues. Metaphors enable us to talk about the abstract and complex, through the familiar and concrete.

They help us to define ideas and situations, and are indispensable tools of learning and discovery.

In the History Alive program, the Revolutionary War was presented to my fifth-graders as a parent- child relationship.

Despite my scepticism in presenting the complex relationships between the colonies and our founding country in this way to my special education and second language learners, there was not one student who did not get this metaphor.  The students returned to it again and again, extending it to include each new piece of information, each new related concept.

And to my surprise and delight, not only did this metaphor scaffold their new learning about the Revolutionary War, but it also led to a deeper understanding of the familiar parent child- relationship.

Metaphors can also be introduced in the books that we read in our classrooms.

Each of the following books presents a much larger unit  as a smaller unit-- making huge concepts and relationship (the world or our country, all the water in the world) more manageable to think about (as a village or one well.)


Several of my favorite books introduce metaphors about writing-- considering the rivers that run through the lives of Langston Hughes and William Carlos Williams, as well as metaphors related to acting, dancing and cooking shared with Eva by her neighbors, as she writes her school assignment.

These all inform how we think about writing.


And finally our students can consider metaphors about school and learning.  What does it take to make an extraordinary learning experience?  How do we learn and how do we demonstrate our learning? And just how much time do we need to spend in school to learn sufficiently?

These questions are explored - delightfully and metaphorically -in the following texts.

    I n

We think and speak and learn through metaphors.

How is your world shaped by the metaphors you encounter?

What are the metaphors you use saying about you?

Read Metaphors We Live By, Metaphors We Teach By  Part 2

Today's Deeper Writing Possibilities

Make a list of overt and obvious and embedded and more complex metaphors which you encounter in conversations and reading in the next few days.

How do these metaphors shape your thinking?

What do they say about your world and life?

Write an essay detailing your thinking.

Tuesday, May 20, 2014


In the news,  in popular publications, and  in other media in general, teachers are often categorized as practitioners.

 A variety of models and metaphors are routinely applied to teaching and include education as a science,  an art,  a craft, a business or a hospital or place of healing.  All of these models speak  to us and offer ways of organizing our thinking about our work as teachers. All of these models position us and our students in various ways, both negative and positive. (Metaphors we live by as teachers and as people will be the topic of an upcoming post.)

In the Columbus Area Writing Project  2014 Summer Institute, as we work with a new cohort of educators, one of our goals will be to help them see themselves, not only as practitioners, but also as intellectuals--as scholars.

Teachers are not usually referred to as intellectuals or scholars, unless we teach at the higher-education level  and our work is accomplished on a university campus.

So what does it mean to be an intellectual?
What does it mean for a teacher to be an intellectual?

Considering the role and work of teachers,  wrestling with these questions in a previous post, I Used to Think... Now I Think, I wrote:

I  now understand that teachers are intellectuals--I am an intellectual.   And in that capacity and role, I must gain and maintain knowledge of scholarly and professional literature, engage in action research, critically analyze any policies--classroom, district, state and federal--that affect education, my teaching, and, most importantly, my students. I construct my knowledge through dialogue with other educational professionals and colleagues, and must make a commitment to political and social action.

Henry Giroux, in Teachers as Intellectuals: Toward a Critical Pedagogy of Learning,  pushes us toward a pedagogy that is "not only about teaching practices but also involves a recognition of the cultural politics that such practices support." He calls on us to examine knowledge and the context in which it is situated:

...the teacher as transformative intellectual must be committed to the following: teaching as an emancipatory practice; the creation of schools as democratic public spheres; the restoration of a community of shared progressive values; the fostering of a common public discourse linked to the democratic imperatives of equality and social justice.  (Giroux, 1988, xviii-xix)

He further challenges us as teachers not just to enter the conversation to criticize others, but to critically evaluate our own work and actions, as well:

The political and ideological climate does not look favorable for teachers at the moment. But it does offer them the challenge to join in a public debate with their critics as well as the opportunity to engage in a much needed self-critique regarding the nature and purpose of teacher preparation, in-service teacher programs, and the dominant forms of classroom teaching .  (Giroux, 1988 121-122)

Although Teachers as Intellectuals was published in 1988,  Giroux's ideas are applicable in today's education situation, and could have been written yesterday.

For  more discussion of  Giroux's work, Nancy Lester's article Teachers  Becoming "Transformative Intellectuals" (English Education, Dec. 1993) is helpful, as she discusses how his work influenced her own, and how she provided for her students moving toward taking on the role of intellectuals with the hope they will do the same for others:

The assumptions, recognitions, and connections which ( my students) have exposed and created from searching their own learning histories form the basis of their growing educational philosophies or ideologies. These will, no doubt, contribute to how these "transformative intellectuals" will understand and work with their students. 
Through powerful small group discussion, autobiography, consideration of the hidden curriculum, the language of schooling and the inevitable "yes, buts", Lester encouraged her students to engage in the thinking and talking and writing that set them on their way to becoming intellectuals.

Lester's article can be accessed through NCTE files or through JSTOR.

What does it mean for a teacher to be an intellectual?

Much of writing, particularly scholarly or academic writing (as well as reading and talking), calls on us to respond to the ideas, the theories, the arguments of others-- to respond or address what others have said.

As scholars, as intellectuals, we want to be aware of and enter into this ongoing conversation.

Joseph Harris, in Rewriting: How To Do Things With Texts, expresses this idea as follows:

In the academy you will often be asked to situate your thoughts about a text or an issue in relation to what others have written about it.  Indeed, I'd argue that this interplay of ideas defines academic writing--that whatever else they may do, intellectuals almost always write in response to the work of others.

As we enter the ongoing conversation, perhaps for the first time, in both oral and written discourse, it helps to know the moves that others are making as they present their ideas, issues and specific points.

Resources are available that help us make the intellectual moves that will allow us to enter the ongoing professional, academic, political, and social  conversations that surrounds us. Knowing these traditional moves used by those participating will allow us, not only to enter into the dialogue, but to actively participate, as well.

Several of my favorites will be great starting points:


Teachers are intellectuals.
Everyone can be an intellectual.
Join the conversation today.

Today's Deeper Writing Possibilities

One way  to think about your work is to consider how you entered your profession, your current beliefs and stances, your model of working. Reflect on these and write a  exploratory essay of reflecting your thoughts.

If you are a teacher, think about your own schooling experience.  How does this history inform your own beliefs about teaching and your current practice? Write a personal narrative or short autobiography connecting your experience with your current practice and professional life.

If you are not a teacher by profession, think about your own schooling experience and consider how this history informs your beliefs about educational systems and current educational policies.
Write a political essay  or short autobiography connecting your experience to current educational (or other) policies.

Choose a current issue in which you are interested.  Research this issue, locating articles, texts, and online resources.  Write about this issue, responding to what " they say" with what "you say."

Tuesday, May 13, 2014


Knowledge never stands alone.  It builds upon and plays against the knowledge of previous knowers and reporters, whom scholars call sources. 

Thus begins Writing with Sources: A Guide for Students by Gordon Harvey of  Harvard University. ( This booklet is also available in PDF format.)

This slim  handbook for Harvard students became my initial source, my introduction and entrance to an 18- month journey, accompanied by other Columbus Area Writing Project teacher consultants,  into the world of teacher inquiry and research.

I very soon after also discovered what seemed to be the most popular and comprehensive text on the matter, Writing from Sources by Brenda Spatt, now in its eighth edition.

Our teacher inquiry group originally set out to discover, study and define writing with or from sources, examine related writings-- both theory and research, practice and apply new learning in our own writing, as well as explore  both teacher and student inquiry-- how it looks and how it best happens-- in our classrooms, and then, finally, present our work and findings to a larger group or in a larger setting.

(This larger setting in  which we presented ended up being a session at NCTE 2012, but that jumps ahead of the place in the story where we now stand.)


 What is writing with sources?

This was the focus of our first exploratory writing  in the second of our twice-monthly sessions.

(We wrote in every session- at the beginning and at the end. We wrote before we came to each session. And we wrote after each session. Writing was the foundation of our thinking, and sharing,  our processing and learning.)

What is writing with sources?
My own response at that time ( see below)  included lots of wonderings and questions:

As I currently understand writing with sources, it means writing that involves using multiple texts, media, people and artifacts as sources of information and ideas to help frame my own  thinking and writing.
These sources help me know facts, information, and knowledge bases that are available, what others have thought and said and discovered about my topic in the past, and what they are currently thinking, saying and doing related to my topic.   Information sources will also help me learn what has changed and what is disputed involving my area of interest, as well as what is not known—gaps in understandings or available knowledge in both the community of practice and myself, as well.
I see using sources as a process of thinking about what I already know, and making connections to what others know and have learned before me.  How do I fit in with what I am finding? Where do I stand on past and current ideas?  I see this as a process of understanding what I think about what they think.
Discovering which sources will address my personal wonderings, my burning desires for knowledge or reasons, principles or theory is crucial to research.  Who has wondered this before me?  Who else agreed?  Who moved the ideas in a new direction, for a new purpose, a new population?  And most importantly, where and how can I enter the conversation?
Being able to not just articulate the literal information I find in and through various sources, but to interact with it,  implement and apply it, transform it, and make it my own, while realizing where the initial ideas originated and giving credit where credit is due is an important part of writing with sources.  What can I contribute to the larger conversation?  How does it affect what I do from this point ? Where do I go next?
 I expect that in this process I will be led recursively to more wonderings, further research  and discovery, and to more sources--- and ultimately, reenter old conversations with new sources,   and perhaps, even begin, new conversations.


What is writing with sources?

Members of our group shared their responses addressing this question and as we listened we pulled out several words or phrases from each piece that we thought  important for or added to our understand of writing with sources.

Each new piece shared sparked new words and ideas---and inspired the following poem:

As we search for and sort through
thinking critically, taking notes, synthesizing so
we can share
wondering how to present
our new understandings
we evaluate sources
credible or not
similar or different
looking  beyond our own personal
and experiences
creating something new
formal and informal.

As we use other people's work to answer
our own
refined and refined again
taking risks
and living with the questions
with no answers in sight
we lean into the search.

As we think
what they think
as we think about
what they think
as we seek a position within
as we sit positioned within
these ideas
we find ourselves a/part
of the conversation.


Each piece read also raised  new questions :

How do we balance creativity with what students have to be able to do?

What is writing without sources?                      
Is a mentor text considered a source?           
Is the age and times in which we live a source? 
Could books that present many perspectives be a way to introduce students to the notion of a variety of sources that may or may not agree? 
How do students make the knowledge their own?
What is writing with sources?

Today's Deeper Writing Possibility

Write your own response to the question What is writing with sources?.

Write an additional response in another genre or form--- a poem,  a narrative, a list of keywords or questions or understandings.