Whitman, Wallets, and Writing

Great past week of teaching and writing! I was feeling a little under the weather this weekend, so I’ll keep this brief. In no particular order, here are my five favorite things from last week: 

To set up our essential questions, we had students find quotes and write them in speech bubbles. Inspired by a workshop from the Connecticut Writing Project.

To set up our essential questions, we had students find quotes and write them in speech bubbles. Inspired by a workshop from the Connecticut Writing Project.

1) Students in InLab Humanities wrote poems inspired by Walt Whitman’s “Crossing Brooklyn Ferry.” Jess and I called it “Crossing GHS Student Center” and sent them to the Bella, Clark, and Media Center stairs to record their observations—just like Walt Whitman did all those years ago on his trip across the East River. Before introducing Whitman, we talked about other people living on the eve of the Civil War who used their voice—and actions—to create change. At the end of class, students shared their favorite two lines in a read around, and it was incredible to hear how, even though they have their differences, there is still so much that unites them. I even wrote a few lines (channeling angsty high school-Mike): 

You with your head down staring at your cell phone  You with your hands in your pockets, looking like you’d rather be anywhere but here  You talking quietly to your friends, smirking-- I too walked bashful among the halls  I too wished I was anywhere but here  I too walked with my head down staring at my cell phone 

Here are the wallets. Some even had a notepad and a pencil built in, just in case I had an idea I needed to jot down.

Here are the wallets. Some even had a notepad and a pencil built in, just in case I had an idea I needed to jot down.

2) InLab students also participated in the Wallet Project, a simulation created by the Stanford d.school that takes students through each step of the design process: empathize, define, ideate, prototype, and test. Jess and I tweaked it a little and had them design wallets for us instead of each other. After all, teachers are always designing lessons with their students in mind, right? I think it really helped our students understand the importance of empathy—not only for Jess and me, but empathy in general, that when they seek to create something new, they shouldn’t only be thinking about their own experiences. It made me think: Is writing the same? It’s something I wonder about in my own process. Should you write with others in mind or only seek to capture your own truth? 

3) A group of boys saluted Jess and me as they left class on Friday. Then, for some reason, they kneeled as if we were royalty. I’m pretty sure I heard someone say, “Thank you, my liege.” My students never cease to surprise me. And I’m pretty sure that means they like our class so far.

4) The History of Jane Doe is a finalist for the Connecticut Book Award! Spreading the word about your book can sometimes feel like a Sisyphean task. Especially for someone like me who still hasn’t mastered social media: How do I know if a thought is funny and amusing? Does anyone really care about a droll observation I have during breakfast? But recognition like this makes the long uphill walk feel worth it. 

Not the most aesthetically pleasing Pineapple Chart, but still, it gets the job done.

Not the most aesthetically pleasing Pineapple Chart, but still, it gets the job done.


5) Based on a colleague’s recommendation, I drew a Pineapple Chart in the Teacher’s Lounge and have been hoping other teachers would begin to sign up. After a few days of seeing only my name, I walked in on Friday and found someone else had filled in a couple of blocks. Watching other teachers teach is the best professional development there is and I’m looking forward to learning as much as possible from my colleagues this year.

Michael Belanger