Can you imagine making this when you were in school?

Watch this first (and comment), then come back.

I ask the question for two reasons:

  • I can’t imagine being bold enough to tackle the topic of this documentary while I was in high school in rural Illinois. Our history curriculum rarely, if ever, stepped outside of a study of the wars. This is to say nothing of its almost total ignorance of marginalized groups and the completely blind eye it turned to LGBT history.
  • The quality is pretty wonderful. I’d use this in my classroom to intro any of the topics listed above (probably  not war), and generate class conversation and questions about marginalized and untaught histories. Max and Sam are working with a brilliant script, mined excellent primary sources, and kept a close watch on the final product. I may have had their taste in school, but I didn’t have anything that looked like their abilities. Maybe I was an underachiever.

Pretty tremendous.


What I Read: ‘You Are What You Speak’ by Robert Lane Greene


One of the reviews of this book faults Greene for writing about linguistics without being a linguist. I don’t find the same fault in the pages here. Certainly, this has the density one would expect from an Economist writer, but don’t let that fool you.
As an English major and English teacher who has been thinking about these things for some time, the initial introduction to prescriptivism and descriptivism did much to act as a refresher for the topics and lay the foundation of the different global perspectives of the book.
From a historical understanding of the resurrection of Hebrew to the formation of modern Turkish (an subsequent distance from pre-1930 Turkish texts), I’m walking away from this book with much richer and deeper understanding of language and it’s formation around the world.
Perhaps most helpful for me was Greene’s clear love of language. If there were any impediment created by his lack of training as a linguist, his love of language makes up for it handily.
Reading about language from the perspective of one who is so clearly curious and in love with language shapes the book as a tool for infectious love of language.
If you’re curious about language, read this. If you’re passionate about language, read this. If you are hungry for a appropriately-dense text acting as a primer to understanding linguistics, read this. It’s not a book for everyone, but it’s definitely a book for those who love and are fascinated by language.

cross-posted at

Things I Know 303 of 365: Teachers have grandteachers

For a while, I thought a lot about lineage. Where do I belong? Who am I standing next to?

– Jim Hodges

As I’ve said before, I was entrusted with the supervision of several pre-service teachers when I was in the classroom. Last week, I sent the following email to Marc Engel who did his student teaching in my classroom:

you have a blog yet?

Katie Sauvain, who student taught with me the year prior to Marc blogged privately while completing her student teaching. After our official roles had finished, Katie opened up her blog for me to see how she had been processing her experiences. They opened up my understanding of how my guidance was heard and which points landed most saliently.

Though she had been blogging for her own reflection, Katie’s posts served to inspire my own reflection.

The role I played while supervising Marc’s student teaching was refined because of Katie’s thoughts. She had not been writing to me. Her posts were not course evaluations or any type of evaluation, really. She was reflecting and I (and hopefully Marc) benefitted from that reflection.

Marc started blogging last week. He’s in his second year at the head of his own classroom and the pressure I put on him to engage in a semi-transparent reflective process is the result of having a limited understanding of my own learning from that point in my teaching career. It wasn’t until my third or fourth year in the classroom that I began blogging. The slings and arrows of my earliest practice exist only in a smathering of journal entries I wrote alongside my students as they wrote. They are Polaroids compared to the mural of practice I’ve come to consider this space to be.

For now, Marc’s blog is private. I’m uncertain whom else he’s opened it to, but I feel privileged he’s opened to me this new window into his practice. I’ve commented on every post. I’ll keep doing so as long as he’s writing.

Reading Katie and Marc’s thoughts as they reflect on their teaching and the learning of their students helps me to continue to feel connected to the teachers I had a hand in preparing. It is continued affirmation of my belief in building community and ritual in the teaching profession.

A year or two ago, my sixth-grade language arts teacher, Mrs. Haake, commented on a couple posts I’d written. In the space between my transition from middle school to our connection in this space, we had become peers. I’m uncertain if she still stops by to see what I’m thinking, but I choose to believe she does. I like to think of the lineage of practice that connects Mrs. Haake, Katie, Marc and me. Mrs. Haake is Katie and Marc’s grandteacher. The work she did to prepare sixth-grade me has ripples she’ll never see in the work Katie does each day in California and Marc does in New York.

Perhaps that’s why I look to Marc and Katie’s blogs. Teaching is heinously isolationist. Teachers in the same school oftentimes have no mental picture of the practice of their peers. This is to say nothing of those who have come before. The longitudinal connection I feel when I read what Katie and Marc are doing continue to inform my practice and understanding of education. I am learning from and with them with each post. And, of course, I’m incredibly proud.

Things I Know 275 of 365: I’m from around

You can’t go home again because home has ceased to exist except in the mothballs of memory.

– John Steinbeck, Travels with Charley

A friend of mine was explaining her family’s Thanksgiving spread the other day, “We’re Italian,” she began and then described the menu.

It got me thinking about how I would start that explanation. My forebears got around. While I’ve always had a twinge of jealousy toward friends who can trace their lineage to one or two countries, I’ve also felt a sense of pride when I explain my mixture of heritages.

I can certainly take it back to pre-American roots and examine the tour of Europe. I don’t feel tied to those countries though. Growing up, there were no traditions rooted in my German or French ancestry. No big family meals featured foods of a specific culture on the table.

My most immediate sense of where I’m from comes from where the last five generations of my family found their homes. The Oklahoma Territory, Colorado, Missouri, Illinois. These places signify the geography to which I find myself most attached. They are where I consider myself to be from.

My dad, grandparents and great uncle live in houses dotted on what, a generation ago was our fully functioning family farm. Rusting on a sign post along the road is a sign, now nearly 20 years old, certifying the land as a sesquicentennial farm. Before it was the Land of Lincoln, and not long after it became a state, Illinois was the place of my people.

A stone in my dad’s back yard bear’s a plaque noting where my ancestors built their first cabin upon arriving in Illinois.

While my roots are somehow in the soil of far-off lands, it is in these more local spaces that I feel most planted.

Some friends took a year or a summer abroad after graduating college. They backpacked through Europe and got to know the cultures and history of spaces unknown.

To me, this is odd.

Much of this country to much of its people is made up of spaces, histories, and cultures unknown.

A person could travel from Chicago to Birmingham or vice versa and find they’ve crossed tremendous boundaries.

This is lost on many.

We speak of America as a monolith, which is what I suppose comes of naming them the United States.

The paradox of it, though, is the pluralism of our unity.

Often I read of schools whose missions are to take their students to several countries or continents before they graduate.

Think of the education possible in the goal of ensuring all students visit each of the 50 states before they graduate. They would graduate not only with a high school diploma, but with a certificate in advanced citizenship as well. They would carry with them an understanding of the complexity of democracy few could match and one sadly lacking in much of our national discourse.

The threads that tie me to my ancestors of other nations are gossamer. Those that tie me to where I’m from are those that matter most.

Things I Know 220 of 365: There’s history here


My first trip to Philadelphia to interview at SLA, I arrived a day before the interview. I wanted to walk around a bit and get to know the city that might be my home.
Walking around without yet having my bearings, I turned a corner and there was Independence Hall. Right there.
My first inclination was to turn to the strangers walking down the street next to me and shout, “Do you know what that is? Do you know what happened there? And they just left it out in the open for everyone to see. That building is where we took some of our first steps to being what we are!”
A moment’s glance revealed that these folks were more concerned with their current conversation (which I assumed to be ahistorical) than they were with recognizing the past Winthrop which their presents were being presented.
I get that same feeling, still, when I visit home in Springfield and am confronted with all things Lincoln.
However imperfect, these places hold my attention as fixed moments in time when the impossible was made possible.
I hadn’t had such a moment hear in Cambridge.
Even sitting in Harvard Yard last week, watching tours of prospective students on tiptoe rubbing the boots of John Harvard’s statue, it didn’t occur to me.
I was in the middle of moving and course shopping and figuring out where to eat.
My present was cluttered.
This morning, it is dark, cloudy and drizzling in Cambridge.
The high temperature is not expected to head north of 65 degrees.
I decided to walk to campus. The walk is almost exactly the same distance I walked each day from my house to SLA.
As I rounded Memorial Hall, among the throngs of other students making their ways to class, the bell of Memorial Church sounded the hour.
I stopped.
I stopped to be in and of a moment.
No matter the work being done here now, no matter the imperfections of the system, I am of this place now.
However tacitly, I am connected to its thread of history.
Christian advised me to keep the “wide eyes” as long as I can.
I think I’ll do that.

Flash Assignment: History

The Gist:

  • We have 1:1 laptops.
  • I’m using the laptops to have kids jigsaw an understanding of the world in which Henry V exists.
  • It’s putting their research and reference skills to use in a way that will prove valuable in the immediate future.
  • They’re owning the learning (wouldn’t November be proud?).

The Whole Story:

My Shakespeare course just finished up The Tempest. It was fun, they created audio versions of the play which will be posted for other teachers to use soon. (Silly editing process.)

Our next work will be the first Shakespearian history they’ve encountered whilst at SLA. We did a minute of historical interpretation of the other works we’ve looked at so far this semester (King Lear and The Tempest). For Henry V, I want to make sure they leave with a better understanding of what was what during and leading up to Shakespeare’s day. Here’s what we did:

  • One person from each table group came up and pulled a slip of paper from the Coffee Can of Fate.
  • They read the slip of paper aloud and either kept it or gave it up.
  • If they kept it, all was set.
  • If they gave it up, another team would steal it and be set and the team that actually pulled the paper would wait for the next round.

Eventually, everything worked out and each table group had a paper.

The topics:

  1. Theatrical History (1400 A.D. – 1650 A.D.)
  2. The 100 Years War
  3. Social Classes
  4. Daily Life
  5. Henry IV (the plays)
  6. Technology of Warfare
  7. Divine Right of Ascension
  8. Feudalism

They have today to use their laptops to research their respective topics.

Next class, they will teach the class about their topic for approx. 7 minutes. They’ll have to create something that allows the rest of the class to take notes, is a physical handout or is a digital handout. I’m planning of posting what they come up with for anyone to use.

Based on what they present, I’ll make a quiz and incorporate the new knowledge throughout our unit of study.

This assignment would be possible without the laptops, but it’s so much better because of the laptops. It will also be a better class for their uses of multiple platforms to present their lessons than if I were to attempt to put together the same material in a small window of time.