My 30-Day Writing Challenge Reading List

I’m 9 days into a 30-Day Writing Challenge on Medium, and I thought I would share my reading list with you.

I’ll be back on WordPress regularly at some point. The conversations I have had on Medium have been so compelling! Perhaps my journey on Medium will teach me a thing or two about engagement that I can replicate here.

How Will You Change the World?

The name of the final unit in my classroom this year is “How Will You Change the World?” I approached this with my students by saying how much I wish someone had asked me that when I was considering college and career options. I also said we needed to end this dreadful year with an uplifting and confidence-building activity.

In my Junior and Senior sections, this unit combines college and career exploration with an exploration of how individuals can make a difference using their talents, skills, and education. The culminating activity is an essay entitled, “How I Will Save the World.” Students could use this essay in future college or scholarship applications, if given an open-ended option.

In my Sophomore and Creative Writing classes, this unit combines an interest inventory and career exploration with writing a superhero story or poem as the culminating activity. Each story should be entitled, “[Character Name] Changes the World!”

What’s the POINT?

In a previous post from what seems years ago, I talked about an acronym, the POINT, and how it was helping me to structure units and lessons. I am revisiting that now for this unit and post.

  • Purpose (Goals)
    • We all need to regain a sense of agency. So many students are struggling right now, often believing they have no control over what happens to them. Many adults believe they have lost control over their lives too, after being under tight restrictions for over a year. We did just turn a corner on a pandemic in this country, after all. Therefore, we all need a reminder that we, as a collective, need each of us to bring our gifts with us as we work together to create positive change.
  • Objectives (SWBAT/Standards)
    • Students Will Be Able To
      • Describe their current interests and abilities, and how they will use them in their future educational or career opportunities.
      • Report on their current concerns about society.
      • Connect their interests and abilities to their concerns to describe how their education or work experience will help them do more in their communities.
      • (11th and 12th Grade English): Create an essay of 500 – 650 words on the topic, “How I Will Change the World.”
      • (10th Grade English and Creative Writing): Create a superhero short story or poem with the title, “[Character Name] Changes the World!”
    • Students Will Also Be Able To
      • Use the writing skills practiced this year to create a well-organized and well-written essay, short story, or poem (depending on the class).
      • Integrate new vocabulary as assigned into their writing.
      • Analyze and appreciate poetry shared
  • Indicators of Learning (Diagnostic, Formative, Summative)
    • Diagnostic assessments include grammar and vocabulary assessments to determine readiness for writing on the topic.
    • Formative assessment includes free-write responses to mini-lectures and completion of profile documents after interest surveys.
    • Summative assessments include an essay or short story/poem, as described above.
  • Negotiables for Differentiation
    • Some students will need graphic organizers and templates to help them craft their text.
  • Tasks/Steps
    • Rather than provide a step by step description, I will include here the resources consulted by the class to develop our thoughts on this topic. Please see the next section.

Resources and Materials

Inspirational Poetry

  • “Thinking” by Walter D. Wintle
  • “Opportunity” by Berton Braley
  • “The Builders” by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
  • “The Hill We Climb” by Amanda Gorman
  • “On the Pulse of Morning” by Maya Angelou
  • “The Psalm of Life” by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
  • “It Couldn’t Be Done” by Edgar Albert Guest

Websites for College and Career

  • O*NET
  • My Next Move
  • Career Finder from the College Board
  • Big Future from the College Board
  • CommonApp
  • FSA (Federal Student Aid)
  • Writing a Personal Statement (Purdue OWL)

Technical Resources

  • Schoology
  • Google Docs
  • Quizlet
  • CommonLit
  • YouTube
  • Poetry Foundation

Sample Assignments

Free Write

Now that we have explored careers and majors in AP Lit and Applied English 11, and the notion of the superhero in English 10, Creative Writing I, and Creative Writing II, contemplate this statement, which I concocted on my own.

Many poets have discovered their role in the world.  Not only do they entertain, but they use their gifts to speak out about current and past events, to comment on what is admirable and what needs to change.  This role is not limited to poets, of course.

Those in other professions can do something similar.  Either by setting a positive example, having the courage to work for change, or speaking out directly about change, every person can join the effort to effect positive change.  

Think about those professions you are interested in and how you think you can make a difference.  Write for 10 minutes and submit your thoughts to this assignment.  You can submit a Word document, a PDF, or submit using the submission text box.  Please do not submit Pages documents.  Thank you.   

Quizlet Creation Using Vocabulary Words (Discussion)

Create a Quizlet to help students study the vocabulary words we have chosen for this unit.  The word should actually be a sentence with the vocabulary word missing.  Below is a link to an example Quizlet you can use to model your own.  

AP Lit and Applied English 11

Create a Quizlet using the words for College and Career Exploration, and any words not on the list that you have chosen for your essay.  Your sentences should reflect the major you have chosen.

English 10, Creative Writing I, and Creative Writing II

Create a Quizlet using the words for Superheroes and Villains.  Your sentences should reflect the short story you are going to create.


To Fulfill the Requirements of this Assignment

1. Share the link to your Quizlet in this discussion and answer this question: How difficult or easy was it to create sentences using these words? 

2. Examine two of your classmates’ Quizlets.  Test yourself.  Comment constructively (kindly) on their Quizlets.

Once you have completed this exercise, you may have several sentences you can use in your essay or short story, depending on which class you are in. 

Final Essay

Your final essay will be due June 1, 2021.  Please do your best to turn in this assignment by the deadline, as Senior grades are due June 7, 2021.  Thank you.

Please review the rubric attached to this assignment.  You can evaluate your essay against the rubric.  

Requirements (Please read and ask for clarification, if necessary.)

  • An essay of 500 – 650 words (it would be helpful to include your word count at the top or bottom of the document) that responds to the topic, “How I Will Change the World.” 
  • Demonstrate how you evaluated the career and/or major you are going to pursue, and how you will use the skills and your interests to make a difference.
  • Use at least 5 of the vocabulary words from our Quizlet list.  Ensure you are using the words properly.  Highlight the words you have used. 
  • Do your best to check the grammar, spelling, and punctuation used in the essay.  Use the grammar and spelling features available in word processing software to check your document.
  • Upload a document produced in word processing software, please.  Do not upload Pages documents; instead, convert these to PDFs and upload.  Do not add links to Google Docs; instead, download the document as a PDF and upload that.  Word documents can be uploaded.

If You Would Like to Know More about This Unit

Please leave me a comment if you are interested in learning more about this unit. Thank you!

Under construction: What’s the POINT?

● Purpose (Goals)● Objectives (SWBAT/Standards)● Indicators of Learning (Diagnostic, Formative, Summative)● Negotiables for Differentiation● Tasks/Steps

I recently read a response to a question about schooling that indicated the student felt the assignments were randomly assigned and for no purpose.  It is a bit easier to explain why concepts and skills are important in other subjects.  In English classes, it may indeed seem random sometimes.

This  [passage/poem/novel] addresses a fundamental truth about the human condition, namely… 

Great Literature Rocks Our World

We study great literature to better understand the human condition and our place within human society.  Novels, plays, poems, and other texts maintain their hold on our imagination because their essential messages transcend time, touch our mind, and take hold of our hearts.  They help humans make connections between prior knowledge and new, vicariously-acquired knowledge, even if it takes 20 or more years to realize it.  They infiltrate our understanding of  everything, and change that understanding forever. 

Eventually, as we learn the art of social communication through language, our internal thoughts and language become inextricably linked.  So said Vygotsky, in my interpretation of him.  Language is a social construct, and we develop as human beings using language as a tool to learn and to emulate those who are older.  The more we understand language, the more we are able to acquire the tools we need to survive.  Although we might claim independence and independent thinking at some point –  as we all must to evolve into responsible adults – the fact is that we will always be somewhat interdependent because we share language with our society.  That isn’t a bad thing; after all, your thoughts and observations are just as important as everyone else’s.  The only way for humans to progress as the years pass is to work together.  That is actually quite beautiful: We grow, determine our purpose, and set out to realize it in a way that not only sustains us, but the world itself.

Great writers know their role and use the tools at their disposal to contribute to human progress.  In “Digging,” Seamus Heaney had his speaker say he would use his pen as his forebears used their spade: to dig, to nourish, to help humans find sustenance, but with the written word.  Through independent thought and decisions, the speaker came to the conclusion that he was not on the same path as his father and grandfather and yet, he was at the same time, just using a different tool.  All those words are shared with everyone else who speaks English, but he arranged them and applied his syntax to them to create a poem replete with meaning that addresses an essential part of being human: growing up and realizing one’s role in the world.  His gift to us, then, is a chance to internalize his poem and ask ourselves, “With which tool will I dig?”

Communication Can Be Muted by Confusion

Some great writers craft their texts to avoid confusion from the outset.  Hemingway, for example, would agonize over sentences, wanting them to be just right.  As a journalist and a fiction writer, Hemingway combined both genres to create texts that represented his generation and that would influence, entertain, and induce thought for years after his death.  He wrote for the “everyman.”

Shakespeare also wrote for the masses, using well-known stories to craft plays that would draw crowds and resonate with them.  I’m not sure if he intended those plays to continue to attract performers well after his death or not, but they have because of their structure and their message.  When we remember that he was not nearly as confusing then as he is now, we see the beauty that comes forth from the lines he penned.  Although we need to study and research before we experience the play, his contemporaries didn’t.  Through iambic pentameter, memorable syntactical arrangement, and meticulous word choice, Shakespeare created some of the most cited lines of literature.  Why?  Because they address what it means to be human – both in terms of audacity and cowardice.  In his day, Shakespeare was quite specific about that, both in his plays and his poetry.  

The Struggle Is Real, but Absolutely Necessary

Poetry often gets short shrift.  It’s too confusing.  Its message seems muddled and muted by confusing syntax, weird word choice, and unfamiliar figurative language and imagery.  Humans have to work for it, and seriously – who has the time?  Readers of poetry are often led to it, figuratively kicking and screaming, by teachers who might even be intimidated by it themselves.  In “Introduction to Poetry,” Billy Collins’ speaker states,

I ask them to take a poem

and hold it up to the light

like a color slide

or press an ear against its hive.

I say drop a mouse into a poem

and watch him probe his way out,

or walk inside the poem’s room

and feel the walls for a light switch.

I want them to waterski

across the surface of a poem

waving at the author’s name on the shore.

But all they want to do

is tie the poem to a chair with rope

and torture a confession out of it.

They begin beating it with a hose

to find out what it really means.

I’m not afraid to admit that  I could have been the speaker’s student myself.  In high school and college, the poetry unit terrified me.  With everything else I was struggling with, I felt I did not have enough time to truly figure a poem out.  Scansion, stanzas, figurative language, sound devices – who cares?  All that work done, and I’m still confused.  Just tell me what it means so I can answer the question correctly on a test.  I think some of my teachers felt the same way.  Let’s get through this and move on to a novel or short story that makes more sense, like one by Hemingway or Orwell.  

One of my professors in college approached literature differently.  While sitting in the pretzel position on top of her desk, she waxed poetic about poets, novelists, short story writers, and essayists in a way that held our attention as a snake-charmer holds the attention of a cobra.  Heads bobbing with hers, bodies swaying back and forth to her verbal metronome, Dr. Michael would regale us with biography, recitation, and interpretation.  While I loved listening to Dr. Michael and found her fascinating, I often came away confused and unable to put her words into my own.  In other words, I’m not sure how much I actually learned, except as a history major, I was able to regurgitate what she told us for the test because I was taught to memorize, so at least I could remember enough for that. 

The issue was – and this is not intended to be critical of Dr. Michael’s teaching methods – I was being a passive “learner.”  College professors can create that atmosphere, I’m afraid.  I listened, but did not take the chance to apply her enthusiasm.  Fear kept me from being a risk-taker.  Heaven forbid I was wrong!  Therefore, I instead took in how she interpreted something and applied it in such a way that it might appear I understood.  It was not until I was in senior year, doing my thesis on Hegel (of all people) that my advisor, Dr. Riley, admonished me: “Why can’t you think for yourself!?”  I received a big, red F on that thesis and needed to do it over.  He admitted that the original was actually worth a B or B+, but he was so mad at me for not thinking for myself that he did what he did.  He also wanted to be able to justify having me redo the assignment.

(Aside: As a teacher today, I may ask that question as respectfully as possible, but I will never do what he did.  Actually, I want to structure my classes so I never have to.  It was a mortifying experience.)

Perhaps what I was experiencing back then was the inability or unwillingness to relinquish the idea that I had no answers to anything, but that I was good at finding answers from straightforward content.  I wanted to continue to trust the authority figures in my life, instead of  questioning and making decisions.  I did not want to struggle. Rather, I did not want to struggle that way, for struggle I did in high school and college.  

There is a hard truth we must face, however: A significant part of becoming a self-actualized adult involves struggle – and protracted struggle at that.  The teen years are the perfect time to struggle, but for many, childhood is so busy they have few opportunities to engage in it.  These years are the perfect time, also, to question everything, to come into your understanding, bolstered by learning and enculturation, but born from individual intellectual struggle that fortifies your cognitive development.  

Who wants to take those risks, though, when so much hinges on being “right”?  When so much hinges on needing to “ace” that exam?  When your future hangs in the balance, and that scholarship is within your grasp if only you get a certain GPA and have 25 activities you can add to your transcript?  We act like we are all running out of time, but that there will be time for deep thinking later, simultaneously.

When?  Will your experience be like mine?  Will you be approached by a person you admired, respected, and idolized with the rude question in their mouth, posed in a terrifying way: “When will you think for yourself?”  Will you have to learn in trial-by-fire ways, as I have all my life?  Gosh, I hope not.  Not if I have anything to say about it.

So, here is an exercise to try that might combine a favorite activity with a deeper understanding of the purpose of poetry. 

Write a poem about your favorite sport.  How is football like life itself?  How is volleyball, softball, wrestling, cheerleading, martial arts, etc?  Look at the imagery you invoke in the poem.  Who cares if it’s any “good” or not?  Look at the imagery – those words that touch the five senses.  That imagery communicates well to others that have similar experiences.  Did you try to create memorable lines using sound devices?   Did you use allusion to, say, a famous coach to limit how much you needed to write to get your point across?  Did you rhyme lines internally and/or at the end to make your poem feel more like a poem?  

That’s poetry, my friend.  With that poetry, you reached out, put your spade in the ground, and dug a hole into which you planted a seed that will nourish someone’s soul.  That’s a testament to the interdependent nature of humanity, too, and our reliance on common symbols, images, and experiences to communicate.

Now read a poem by a famous rapper, Tupac Shakur, who communicated a message about life using the rose.  This is what he knew, and he shared it  with the world. 

The Rose That Grew From Concrete

Did you hear about the rose that grew

from a crack in the concrete?

Proving nature’s law is wrong it

learned to walk with out having feet.

Funny it seems, but by keeping its dreams,

it learned to breathe fresh air.

Long live the rose that grew from concrete

when no one else ever cared.  

When you keep in mind that most poetry is personal in nature, does it help you to give it a bit more grace, to try harder?  I hope it doesn’t take you as long as it took me to give it a chance.  (No, I’m not going to tell you how long.)

Lauryn Hill wrote the following song.  She was a member of the Fugees, a group which was popular in the 90s.  

Everything is everything

What is meant to be, will be

After winter, must come spring

Change, it comes eventually

Everything is everything

What is meant to be, will be

After winter, must come spring

Change, it comes eventually

I wrote these words for everyone who struggles in their youth

Who won’t accept deception, instead of what is truth

It seems we lose the game

Before we even start to play

Who made these rules? (Who made these rules?)

We’re so confused (We’re so confused)

Easily led astray

Let me tell ya that

Everything is everything

Everything is everything

After winter, must come spring

Everything is everything

I philosophy

Possibly speak tongues

Beat drum, Abyssinian, street Baptist

Rap this in fine linen, from the beginning

My practice extending across the atlas

I begat this

Flipping in the ghetto on a dirty mattress

You can’t match this rapper slash actress

More powerful than two Cleopatras

Bomb graffiti on the tomb of Nefertiti

MCs ain’t ready to take it to the Serengeti

My rhymes is heavy like the mind of sister Betty (Betty Shabazz)

L-Boogie spars with stars and constellations

Then came down for a little conversation

Adjacent to the king, fear no human being

Roll with cherubims to Nassau Coliseum

Now hear this mixture, where Hip Hop meets scripture

Develop a negative into a positive picture

Now everything is everything

What is meant to be, will be

After winter, must come spring

Change, it comes eventually

Sometimes it seems

We’ll touch that dream

But things come slow or not at all

And the ones on top, won’t make it stop

So convinced that they might fall

Let’s love ourselves and we can’t fail

To make a better situation

Tomorrow, our seeds will grow

All we need is dedication

Let me tell ya that

Everything is everything

Everything is everything

After winter, must come spring

Everything is everything

Everything is everything

What is meant to be, will be

After winter, must come spring

Change, it comes eventually

To Be or Not to Be Part of the Solution? There Is Only One Answer to That Question.

If asked to be, the answer is ”Yes.” If not asked, that is still the answer.

Isn’t it weird how Shakespeare still entwines himself into our collective consciousness through lines such as those from Hamlet? After being dead for centuries, William Shakespeare still has such a profound influence on us. We are still able to take almost any play he wrote, update clothing and props for the times in which it is performed, and make an impact. It is profound for two reasons. The first, because it demonstrates the lasting power of his arrangement of the alphabet. Second, it shows how little has really changed in the human psyche, and how much we are more alike than we are different, among nations and across time.

This year, it is difficult to find precedents for most things until we start digging a little.

We rely now on historians, with their treasure trove of information, to lead the way. We rely on authors and teachers of literature to help us make sense of things, too, as they scour works to find the right quote, plot line, character, or other element to ground this situation in the “human condition.”

Politicians with a sense of decency and who serve the public are relying on millennia of rhetoric and logic to help them navigate this narrative that seems to spin out of control, sometimes on an hourly basis.

Science relies on the past to inform the present. What worked before? Will the same process work now? What do we have in our arsenal of remedies that might help us heal others? Where is our foundation?

One historian who influenced me greatly in college was Sister Patrice Fehrer of Holy Family University (then Holy Family College). One day, as I was speaking with her, she said to me, “Heather, all of us are absolutely necessary, although none of us is indispensable.”

I have gone to that line hundreds of times since 1992 or 93. Most of the time, it comes to mind when someone declares they are the current Messiah, whether they say that, or use another term.

It speaks to our interdependence. Each human needs the others. We cannot survive unless we all work together. Since we are all fallible, each of us brings to the situation a gift someone else doesn’t have.

Together, we become part of the solution. If we try to go it alone, we often become part of the problem. If we dismiss the good advice of others, we become part of the problem. If we refuse to hear others, we become part of the problem. That is how we end up on what has been called, “the wrong side of history.”

If we want to be part of the solution, we must – to paraphrase the great Maya Angelou – believe people when they reveal their character to us, embrace those who are ethical and humane, and reject those who are not. We must also recognize our interdependence and trust the trustworthy.

We need to stop giving oxygen to the words of those who consistently think they know better than anyone else and who do not act for the good of the rest of us. If someone reveals to you, time and again, that they are narcissistic, I say you need to run. One who is confident and knows his or her capabilities will help the rest of us. One who believes that only they can fix “it” should be avoided. Cult leaders should be avoided at all cost; cult leaders never serve their people, only themselves. History tells us so. Dictators gain followers by presenting their intentions falsely. Once their followers believe him or her and relinquish their power, that person can do almost anything and get away with it. We cannot let that happen.

As teachers, we need to lead the charge to lasting, sustainable change. We need to continue questioning everything and teach our kids to do the same. Look at the history of the world. Prove me wrong.

Alternative Assignments and Assessments during the COVID-19 Crisis and Beyond…

Bike Monologue 2 – July 22, 2020

The first four miles of today’s bike ride was devoted to discussing alternative assignments and assessments; helping students learn how to question themselves, each other, and the world around them; and some flowery comments about how we can protect our nation’s precious First Amendment.

If you don’t want to watch the video, see the following paragraphs for the highlights.

We Need Alternative Assignments and Assessments Now and in the Future

I said before that if necessity is the mother of invention, then it is going to reinvent the nature of assignments and the notion of assessment during this crisis because we need, desperately, to redefine what good assignments are and what good assessment is. I mentioned in the video that cheating is already a big problem, but with virtual learning it can become more common (if that is possible). Therefore, we need to eliminate the opportunities to cheat as much as possible.

Yesterday’s post delineated the suggestions I am posing. They included portfolios, projects, essays, design-your-own products, research papers, seminar development, and quiz design. I discussed them briefly in today’s monologue, but veered off onto another topic: the importance of questions.

Help Students Learn How to Ask Good and Great Questions

Think back to high school. Did you learn more about how to find “the answers” or did you learn more about how to ask the right questions of the text in front of you? It was a mix for me, but I learned more about questioning from rigorous electives like “Contemporary World Conflicts,” in which we wrote our hands off every day, than I did in U.S. History II, in which we took Scantron test after Scantron test. In English class, we spent most of our time finding answers in the text or copying the answer down that our teacher gave us. Research papers afforded us the opportunity to expand our thinking, but they were assigned once a year. In the late ‘80s, education looked dramatically different from what it does now.

In the core courses, there were few discussions, no Socratic seminars, little differentiation, no personalized learning… You get the picture, I’m sure. Today, these teaching techniques are used regularly to help students deconstruct what they knew, integrate new knowledge, and build a new knowledge base. Constructivist principles are more prevalent today, for which I am thankful.

We need to spend more time helping students learn how to ask good questions, and the techniques mentioned above DO help. Yes, it takes longer to “grade” the work product that results, or the “grade” might be more subjective than the results of a multiple choice and short answer test, but that forces me to question what the purpose of education is. Is it data collection or student development? Data collection is important, but student development is more important.

Help Students Have Difficult, Yet Constructive, Conversations

When students are able to create good questions, they can engage in conversations with others that might become difficult but can remain constructive. We need to be able to do this today, in this polarized, politicized, environment, or we will continue to see videos of Karens who have lost their grip on reality. We will continue to see protests devolve into something decidedly NOT peaceful. We will see more Federal officers descend on cities to “maintain law and order.”

We will see this happen because people cannot control themselves.

They cannot control themselves because they do not have the confidence and the tools to support their position.

They cannot engage in nondestructive confrontations because they do not have the confidence and tools to be restorative.

When people have the tools: questioning expertise, restorative practices principles, deescalation techniques, and confidence girded by deep thought about their values, then we will no longer need “officials” to manage our behavior. We can manage it ourselves. We can protect our First Amendment rights.

Teachers can help students learn how to protect their First Amendment rights and the First Amendment itself. Teach them how to ask good questions and have constructive conversations. Teach them to check their impulses to lash out at those who disagree with them and instead engage in peaceful dialogue. Teachers can partner with other adults in this effort too: parents and other older family members, clergy, community leaders, and behavioral health professionals.

Necessity is the mother of invention. We NEED help.

To get students engaged, teachers have to answer one very important question: “Why does this matter?”


But the most unexpected benefit of helping to create “software for humanity” is that it likely improves students’ learning. An emerging body of research demonstrates that students who find meaning and relevance in their studies are more engaged and motivated to master the material. Students must recognize the value of academic work themselves, however—it can’t simply be pointed out by an instructor.

See on Scoop.it21st Century Learning and Teaching