February 3, 2014

We are currently in week three of #WalkMyWorld and I’ve really enjoyed participating in the twitter conversations and the learning events.  Last week Ian and Jax put out a call for renditions of the ABC song.  Favoriting Ian’s tweet was obviously not enough, so I called in some help.

Ian Twitter

Jax, greetings from Ohio. This song is for you :)

March 7, 2014

To celebrate the poetry of Robert Hass, this week in class my preservice teachers and I created found poems from Letter to a Poet, Seventh Night, and Meditation at Lagunitas.

We began silently rereading the poems that we have been introduced to over the past month.  This gave us the opportunity to revisit some of his work. I then asked my preservice teachers to underline or mark words or phrases that resonated with them. I instructed them not to overthink their word selection, but just to mark the text.  We then gathered our words together and from there tried to create a new poem.  One interesting parts of the activity was hearing how they took Robert Hass’ words and created new and personal meanings. These discussions often lead to deeper conversations about language and authorship.  After the activity we each shared one word from our poems and wrote those on our boarour wordsd.  And from those words we created a collaborative poem.

The found poetry was a great way to get us rereading Robert Hass’ poems and creating meaning from his words.  Coming together to write a collaborative poem was also nice way to start our day’s work together.

Found poetry isn’t a new approach to teaching poetry – in fact, I stumbled across The Found Poetry Review. But in my work with writers found poetry seems to be an effective way to get students composing, remixing, and talking about writing.  Plus, I love the opportunity to write with my preservice teachers and to share our writing. They are beautiful writers and I am constantly in awe of the work they share.  I have been enjoying watching them grow as writing teachers.


March 2, 2014

Yesterday I had the opportunity to attend and present at the 2014 OCTELA (Ohio Council of Teachers of English Language Arts) Conference.  I was fortunate to be joined by five of my preservice teachers.  The goal for our presentation was to facilitate a conversation about digital texts and digital tools in the English language arts classroom.

Digital Texts

We began our presentation with overview about some of the digital texts young adults read on a daily basis – such as websites, blogs, and social media.  We introduced multi-platform books, literature told across multiple formats including, print, video, audio, and image.  For the past couple years I have had a growing interest in multi-platform books and I read them with my students in the YA literature course I teach.  There are some multi-platform books, such as 39 Clues, Warriors, and Cathy’s Book, that have collectible cards, online games, discussion forums, and social media sites; however, Skeleton Creek is a multi-platform book that integrates videos into the story line. Readers are introduced to the story by reading Ryan’s journal (print-based) and then approximately every 20 pages they are given a password to access videos from his friend Sarah.  This creates a dual narrative as Ryan narrates the print version of the book and Sarah narrates the videos. Readers also have the opportunity to watch specific scenes from the book involving the two characters.

Multi-platform books offer interesting ways for readers to transact with the text and raise interesting questions, such as:

  • What are the affordances and constraints as readers are moving back and forth between modes while reading?
  • What are the pedagogical affordances for teachers incorporating multi-platform books into the English language arts classroom?

These were some of the questions we posed in our session and this is also work I have explored with colleagues (Pytash, Ferdig, Kist, & Kratcoski, 2013).

Digital Tools 

When we structured the presentation, we decided that my preservice teachers would feature their favorite digital tools. My preservice teachers have various experiences using digital tools as both learners and teachers.  They were first exposed to a variety of digital tools in the fall when they participate in the K-12 Teaching in the 21st Century MOOC.  During this experience they conceptualized and designed lessons integrating digital tools and social media. Their learning has continued in their two methods courses (Multimodal Literacies, taught by Bill Kist and Lisa Testa and Teaching Language and Composition, taught by myself and Lisa Testa).

During our presentation we formed small group discussions focused on each tool. Then we posed the following questions to the group:

  • What are your instructional goals?  Hutchison, Beschorner, & Schmidt-Crawford (2012) recommend that digital media and tools should be used for curricular integration, rather than technological integration.
  • What are the affordances and constraints of the tool?  What is the purpose of the tool?
  • What pedagogical decisions will have to be made?
  •  While teachers might have specific learning objectives, we also recommend opportunities for students to self-select the tool they would like to use.

One of the teachers in the audience asked specifically about Twitter and how to talk to parents and administrators about their concerns about social media in their classroom.  We provided specific thoughts and also opened up the conversation to the audience. Some of the ideas discussed were how to teach students how to interact in online forums and in social media and asking parents/administrators to be active participants in the learning experience.

I always enjoy my experience at OCTELA – it is wonderful to see so many great Ohio educators come together and discuss their teaching and learning.  I also enjoy this conference because I can bring my preservice teachers so they can have their first professional development experience.  One of my goals as a teacher educator is to expose my preservice teachers to our professional organizations (OCTELA, NCTE, IRA, LRA) so when they leave our program they have knowledge of the professional networks that will help them continue to grow and learn.  If you are interested, you can access our PowerPoint and our Handout.


February 23, 2014

I started this poem last weekend but have been revising this piece all week.  There were certain events that really shaped my writing and thinking.

First, I grew up swimming competitively – during childhood, high school and college I spent endless hours under water. Although I still love the water and take my boys to the pool at least once a week, last Saturday was the first time in a while that I did a full workout.  Being in the pool felt comfortable and it brought back many memories.

Second, I had two conversations about time with colleagues this week.  The first was a conversation about growing up a competitive athlete and learning to push your body to accomplish certain goals.  I still challenge myself by participating in races (running/sprint triathlons) every couple months.  Nowadays, it isn’t as much about my “times” as it is doing these activities because I enjoy them.

The other conversation focused on meeting the many deadlines we have looming and the additional time we wish we had. Talking about my current responsibilities and my future goals is really a conversation about the priorities in my life. What things do I want to spend my time on?  What are the things I value?  What is “worth” my time?

As a mom of a 3 year old and a 5 year old, with a full time job, and various responsibilities, I don’t have many moments of quiet.  It is often some sort of noise (e.g. squeals of little boys’ laughter or the “ping” of my email) that reminds me I am in a constant competition with time.  My poem this week ties together all these thoughts and ideas.


Since 5 years of age
time has been my competitor
Surrounded by water
Noise signaled time
It came and went in intervals
A second of quiet
A second of noise 
And then plunging back into the silence

Still my competitor
The noise has changed
No longer the quick intervals
But rather long stretches
The plunge into the silence is startling


February 18, 2014

For this week’s learning event we would like you to read and consider The Seventh Night by Robert Hass. We are encouraging everyone to collaboratively annotate the poem on Poetry Genius.  In your responses this week, please explore some, all, or none of these prompts:

What is Robert saying about the act of construction, and deconstruction?

Should we consider the social context when creating? How does this “translate” into the social contexts in which you exist?

In considering these aspects (construction, deconstruction, and the social context) how can you “write yourselves into a poem” and connect with others in the #WALKMYWORLD project? 

You can find more details about this week’s learning event on Ian O’Byrne’s blog.


February 16, 2014

Participating in #walkmyworld and analyzing Robert Hass’s poems have prompted me to reread some of my favorite poets and their works, particularly, Walt Whitman’s Leaves of Grass and Mary Oliver’s A Thousand Mornings: Poems, Why I Wake Early, and House of Light.treesandsun

I have been reminded of lines, such as “I am large, I contain multitudes” (Leaves of Grass, section 51) and “That you are here – that life exists, and identity; That the powerful play goes on, and you will contribute a verse” (Leaves of Grass, section 166).  And lines from Mary Oliver’s The Fish, “Now the sea is in me: I am the fish, the fish, .. glitters in me.”


Hass, Whitman, and Oliver touch on our interconnectedness to nature. In Oliver’s poem, the act of catching the fish, killing the fish, and eating the fish connects her to the fish in a very real and powerful way. Literally, she is consuming the fish establishing an intimate connection to the fish and the sea.

During last week’s learning event, Greg McVerry posed the question, “how do your walks demonstrate a connection or isolation to the natural world”.  PNP

For me, #walkmyworld and analyzing Robert Hass’ poetry has allowed me to do a more nuanced exploration of the places I live and how I live in the world.  I am not simply connected or isolated from nature, but rather I am a part of nature. I am most often reminded of this when I am with my 2 little boys. They so easily flow into the natural world due to their curiosity. It is seeing the world through their eyes that I establish (and re-establish) these connections with all kinds of natural wonders.




February 11, 2014 

The #walkmyworld learning event for this week is to read and reflect on the poem Letter to a Poet and to consider some, all or none of the following prompts:

  •  What words or phrases spoke to you and influence the overall meaning of the poem?
  • What does this poem suggest about human connections and isolation?
  • What does Hass suggest about the ways we are, and are not, part of the world?
  • How do your walks demonstrate a connection or isolation to the natural world?

For more information about this week’s learning event, please visit Greg McVerry’s initial blog post, as well as Ian O’Byrne’s blog post.  You can also go to Poetry Genius if you are interested in annotating the piece collaboratively.

Letter to a Poet 

A mockingbird leans
from the walnut, bellies,
riffling white, accomplishes

his perch upon the eaves.
I witnessed this act of grace
in blind California

in the January sun
where families bicycle on Saturday
and the mother with high cheekbones

and coffee-colored iridescent
hair curses her child
in the language of Pushkin–

John, I am dull from
thinking of your pain,
this mimic world

which make us stupid
with the totem griefs
we hope will give us

power to look at trees,
at stones, one brute to another
like poems on a page.

What can I say, my friend?
There are tricks of animal grace,
poems in the mind

we survive on. It isn’t much.
You are 4,000 miles away &
this world did not invite us.

February 5, 2014

When I think of identity, I think of myself as a small child holding two mirrors in my hand and angling my head to view myself in all different directions.  I could see the familiar face as I stared at myself in the mirror, this was truly who I was.  But then I could turn my head and see the less familiar self, my profile.  I would call this my marginal identity, the one even I knew less about than my friends across the aisle from me in first grade.  Sometimes even to ourselves this is our unexpected self, and we only catch glimpses of this reflection.  In the sharing of our stories on #walkmyworld, I feel I am sharing those childhood mirrors and catching glimpses of others reflected selves through images and words.

As I look in the mirror now, I squint and the image of that little first grader comes into focus.  As I see her, I can see reflections of myself through the years, and have, thus, decided to share reflections in the mirror of my history.

One of my most interesting parts of #walkmyworld have been the conversations about identity, how we reveal our identities, and the parts of ourselves that we choose to share. Ian O’Bryne and Molly Shields have lead this conversation, as Molly offered a “Call to Action” and asked participants, to “share a piece of your world with the #walkmyworld participants, a piece that isn’t expected or safe. In other words, share a marginal piece of your identity with others so they in turn can share a piece of their own.”

These conversations have made me consider my role in this work – particularly knowing that this project would include studying the poet Robert Hass and thinking about questions (posted by Ian and Greg McVerry) such as,

  • In what ways are you establishing your own identity through your naming of things?
  • In your naming of things in the #WALKMYWORLD project, how are you sharing your own private history?
  • How does your naming and identification of your world separate you from the world?

The reflection I see is last Christmas Eve Mass at the downtown cathedral in my hometown, the same church my grandfather attended as a boy.  As I knelt, I tried to imagine the 1920’s when my grandfather, his brothers, his sisters, and his Italian parents filled an entire pew, maybe, the pew where I was kneeling.  I wondered what my grandfather prayed for on a Christmas Eve long ago.  This memory started me to think about the spaces we occupy, how we live in these spaces, and with whom we share those spaces.  I decided to create a video composition of key places of my childhood and adolescence.

I have to give a big thank you to my brother, David, who was visiting my parents and volunteered to drive around our small town taking pictures for me.  Included in this composition are pictures of my parents’ front door, elementary school, church, and high school.  You will see places where I hung out with my friends, the pool where I spent many hours at swim practice, and my grandparents’ home.   These pictures reminded me of important people who shared those spaces:  an elementary school teacher who encouraged me to write and to create; the high school swimming and track coaches who taught me how to challenge myself, work hard, and persevere; my parents and brothers who have always been a constant source of support and love; and my childhood best friends who are still my closet friends in adulthood.

John Mellencamp’s Small Town always reminds me of my hometown, but in the years since I left for college, many changes have taken place. Steel mills have closed, businesses have changed, and schools have new names. This reflection on the past and present is why I decided to end my piece with Bastille’s Pompeii.  Because it is true, whenever I am home, “If I close my eyes it seems like nothings changed at all.”  I am immediately taken back to driving to high school with my brother Joey, running “the course” with my best friend and members of my track team, and eating breakfast with my grandfather after Sunday morning mass.


January 21, 2014

Father Gregory Boyle’s book, Tattoos on the Heart (2010), is a memoir of his life and work with Homeboy Inc., a gang intervention program in Los Angeles. When he speaks about the youth and the stories he presents in the book, he writes, “If there is a fundamental challenge within these stories, it is simply to change our lurking suspicion that some lives matter less than other lives.” Since my reading of Tattoos on the Heart, I am always looking for opportunities to learn more about Father Boyle’s work. I was thrilled to have the opportunity to hear Father Boyle speak at the Chautauqua Institute last summer, and I regularly listen to his Thoughts of the Day videos. His work continues to make me pause, and it reminds me to ask myself: who am I, and who do I want to be in this world; what are the ways I hope to give youth a chance to recognize and appreciate their voices; and what are the ways I help prepare preservice teachers to work with middle and high school students?

This weekend I stumbled upon a Thought of the Day created in June of 2011. In this video, Boyle encourages listeners to tell their stories. He reminds the people of Homeboy industries who have gathered around him and those listening to this video that everyone has a story to tell. And he encourages us to recognize ourselves as the hero of our stories. It seemed fitting that I was listening to his thought of the day while I was getting ready to upload my #walkmyworld picture to twitter.

#walkmyworld is a project created by Ian O’Byrne, Greg McVerry, and Sue Ringler Pet. Each week participants document through commutes and lives using Instagram, Vine, and other forms of social media. Participants then share these visuals via twitter.

At the 2014 Literacy Research Associate conference, Ian and Greg told me about this project, and I was immediately intrigued. I asked if I could join with my preservice teachers, who would be taking my Teaching Language and Composition course during the time the project was taking place. I find many aspects of this project quite powerful; particularly, sharing stories via images through social media as well as the work we will be doing later in the semester as my preservice teacher and I tie #walkmyworld to our writing.

Father Boyle’s Thought of the Day reminded me of #walkmyworld because both are acknowledging the power in the stories we chose to share, how we chose to tell our stories, and the ways we make ourselves known to one another. But there is also power beyond the conversations about the “what,” “how,” and “why” people share. The true power of #walkmyworld is the community being built, the kinship being created. Just as Father Boyle calls for people to “delight in one another,” for me #walkmyworld is a reminder that while we each walk our own worlds, we also walk this world together.