A Simple Definition For Poetry

A Simple Definition For Poetry

by Terry Heick

As an English teacher, my students would ask me ‘what a poem is’ and before I could get two sentences in their eyes would glaze over and I’d have lost them talking about language and literary devices and the human soul and suffering and beauty.

And it’s really not simple to say what anything ‘is,’ What’s a story? What’s a song? What’s a life well-lived?

Part of this is due to the subjectivity of meaning, but we also have to consider the inherent limitations of language. It’s amazing that everything in the universe was made up of only 26 letters in different combinations and the ‘everything’ is really in our capacity for metaphor and abstraction.

Compared to the sheer enormity of our capacity to understand (or believe we understand), the letters are inadequare; they necessitate our imagination and genius like kids that roll up old socks and tie them together to make a soccer ball and kick it around a dirt lot full of broken glass and rubble, laughing and thriving–that’s a human being using language to express themselves.

And it’s especially true when you’re seeking to really examine and understand a thing.

The Definition Of Poetry

Then there’s also that ‘subjectivity of meaning’ thing but that’s beyond the scope of this post. The point is, nothing is simple and language is limited. And that’s where poetry comes in.

Britannica says that poetry is ‘literature that evokes a concentrated imaginative awareness of experience or a specific emotional response through language chosen and arranged for its meaning, sound, and rhythm.’

Wikipedia says that poetry is “is a form of literature that uses aesthetic and rhythmic qualities of language—such as phonaesthetics, sound symbolism, and metre—to evoke meanings in addition to, or in place of, the prosaic ostensible meaning.”

So what about something simpler that you can explain to a child? What is poetry? The best definition I’ve heard is that poetry is the extraordinary perception of the ordinary.

Obviously, that’s not quite detailed enough because it misses a lot of bits and pieces of language and mechanics and syntax that separate poetry from anything else in the world–even music, one of its closest genres. But if you want a simple definition for poetry, I haven’t heard a better one.


Don’t Teach Kids How To Read, Teach Them Why

Don’t Teach Kids How To Read, Teach Them Why

by Terry Heick

Preface: I’m writing under the assumption that the ‘child’ in question has access to some form of mobile technology, and that’s a problematic assumption that causes problems for my thesis, here. Nonetheless, addressing both ‘sides would require a far more extensive essay than I have time to research and write. Keep this distinction in mind if socio-cultural paradigms tangle the extraction of ideas for you.

The discussion around literacy is an ongoing storm that pulls in classic tenets like literature and modern ideas like digital reading and coding.

As always, language is a factor. We use the word ‘reading’ when we sometimes mean ‘decoding.’

And sometimes we mean the practice of reading and sometimes we mean the process of reading. And sometimes we mean close reading–the ongoing critical scrutiny of a text and its author and context and form–but instead, call it ‘studying’ or ‘reading carefully.’ Yet, when we create programs or think about curriculum, we lump it all together in one word. Reading.

One thing, however, seems clear to me: Two decades into the 21st-century, it’s time to stop teaching kids how to read.

It’s Time To Stop Teaching Kids How To Read

If you’ve watched a child operate an app you’re not familiar with, two things should become immediately clear:

1. Children are a lot more capable than modern academic work can make them appear (or think of themselves) at times.

2. The psychology of learning is everything. Motivation, emotion, self-image, and social norms all play major factors in a student’s ‘literacy skills’–and thus if they ‘do well in school’ or not.

If a child is motivated to do something, they are capable of magic. Creativity and self-imposed quality standards and passion just pour out effortlessly. There’s very little coaching or teaching necessary. Few academic standards to ‘unpack’ and skills to break down into knowledge and competencies. They just do it.

And in this context, a teacher’s role changes and different forms of support become useful to that child. Modeling. Examples. Probing questions. Helping them create healthy self-talk and finding opportunities to transfer what they know and are able to do into their life so they can make live better and create a better world for and with the people around them.

In the ‘modern circumstance’–one increasingly or abbreviated texts, orality, and passive video consumption–pushing children to ‘read more books’ isn’t wrong, but it’s wrong-headed. Children have a nearly infinite number of choices of media forms. Increasingly, books aren’t thought of as alternatives to video (that is, a legit and authentic alternative to YouTube) or even as ways to learn about themselves and the world around them; rather, they are thought of in terms of their form as books.

A lot of this has to do with reading as a practice: reading as a personal practice and reading as a social practice.

It’s often said that ‘these kids can’t read,’ and in many cases that’s true. But why? Why can’t they read? We can’t possibly teach them to read if we don’t understand why they can’t read and why they don’t read with automatically connecting the two. That is, without automatically assuming that if they can read, they will.

What kids need to learn isn’t something to teach but rather something they should come to understand: Reading is simply a process of translating single-media symbols (text) into accessible ideas. If students ‘don’t like to do that,’ perhaps we should look at why. Why don’t students like to read?

Consider the difference between ‘why don’t they like to read?’ and ‘why don’t they like translating single-media symbols into accessible ideas?” The word ‘reading’ has a lot of baggage attached to it. Translating symbols into accessible ideas is something they do with every digital gesture, notification, form, and modality. Every time their friend raises an eyebrow or a parent changes the tone of their voice.

So why not books? And that’s not a rhetorical question. Truly, scientifically, and as a matter of precision exactly why not books? Too many words? Too few pictures? Not social enough? Not enough free time?

(We could even push the conversation further and ask if it matters that they don’t like to ‘read books’ and instead considered what other forms (and I don’t mean YouTube videos) might be a more seamless ‘fit’ for them, but that’s another topic for another day.)

It doesn’t matter if they can, it matters if they do.

The Relationship Between Reading & Critical Thinking

As far as I can tell, close reading is a lot like critical thinking. Not only is it difficult to teach but even if it wasn’t, teaching students how to think critically is less important than teaching them why to think critically–and both are less important than creating feedback loops in their life so that they do think critically.

Let’s think of reading for a moment as a matter of hierarchy–of levels:

word part level

word level

phrase level

sentence level

paragraph level

section/chapter levels (doesn’t always apply)

paper/book level

idea level

author level

(We can also keep going–social levels, historical levels, literary theory levels, and so on, but this becomes more of a reading [and reader] perspective thing.)

We Teach Reading All Wrong–Backwards

Like a lot of ‘things’ (skills, competencies, content, ideas, concepts, etc.), we teach reading all wrong, and the only proof we need that this is true is to look at the effects of how we teach reading now. We start with the process and hope we get to the purpose and gifts of reading, not to mention how it trains students to think critically–which leads to critical literacy, the ability to change the world.

Decoding doesn’t have much to do with thinking critically, but the ongoing process of meaning-making immediately after decoding a text requires a variety of critical thinking skills. When thinking of the ‘levels’ above, once readers start reading at the ‘phrase level’ and beyond, critical thinking is increasingly embedded in the process of reading–and this is still thinking of reading as a processReading as a practice is another matter entirely; here, critical thinking abounds:

What to read.

How to know if what they’re reading is credible, accurate, biased, and/or worth the investment of their time.

When to read.

How to share what they’ve read.

Why to read.

What to do with what they read.

How to ‘think of’ reading and of themselves as readers.

It’s difficult to ‘start’ with these kinds of ideas because they’re complex and nuanced and difficult to grasp for younger readers. So that’s fine–we can continue to start with reading as a process. Decoding and reading strategies and the like all matter. But at some point–with great ferocity and compelling pathos, ethos, and logos–we have to help students transition to reading as a practice.

And when we do, we’ll again create a generation of readers.

Learning Models Literacy

21st Century Literacy: A Framework For Merging Classic Literature & Modern Technology


A Framework For Merging Classic Literature & Modern Technology

by Terry Heick

Why do we need a framework?

Literacy instruction has done a relatively poor job of keeping up with the urgent pace of change in the ways people read and write.

What’s the big idea?

Media evolves. New modalities emerge. All media are connected. Scaffolding the analysis of these relationships can promote critical literacy of critical texts and related media forms. This can serve as a foundation for modern literacy.

Quick Background

The forms most commonly used to communicate (texts, emails, music, articles, video, and film) have increased the quantity of communication. (The cost to quality is subjective, but worth examining further.)

This may be creating a delineation between the “old” (e.g., a novel or poem or essay) and the “new” (e.g., an interactive graphic novel or tweet or video stream). Further, this obscures the connection that exists between all media forms–they all represent the need for humans to communicate–to hear others, and be heard themselves. As technology increases the tools available to meet this need, the communicate patterns may continue to become more nuanced and distinct. This risks cultural devaluation of that which is seen as “old” and unfamiliar.

A Definition for Modern Literacy: The ability to both create and extract communication through prevailing local media forms

A Definition for Modern Literacy Pedagogy: Helping students create and extract communication through prevailing local media forms

Media (plural form of medium): The forms we use as a culture to communicate ideas

Examples of “media forms”: novels. video. social streams. blogs. books. poems. letters. essays. editorial cartoons. sketches. video games. music. paintings.

What about the simple…complex part?

The idea of the simple thinking about simple media–>complex thinking about complex media spectrum is to first and foremost, make the analysis of any media form accessible in some way, shape, or form. Students needn’t be pushed to ‘think critically’ about media forms–or their inherent themes–without being given strategies and practice to do so.

What are modalities?

Modalities are the unique methods a given media communicates ideas.

The modalities of drama/plays include: stage presence, dialogue patterns, language, music, scenery, etc.

The modalities of poem include: line breaks, imagery, figurative language, etc.

The modalities of a video game include: music, a digital avatar, light, a clear narrative, a character’s interactions with a hostile environment, etc.

The media form–in terms of its structure and modalities–is decentered in this framework. The focus is on the interpretation of the symbols–modalities of light and color and sound and text and moving image, for example–to clarify an author’s message, and then taking a tiered approach to extracting any complexity within.

In short, this is about seeing literacy as symbol decoding, seeing those symbols as modalities, and scaffolding the analysis of it all as a matter of medium/media design.

Stage 1: Simple think about simple media design

Example: In Looney Tunes, why does Wile E. Coyote chase the Road Runner?

Stage 2: Simple thinking about complex media design

Example: How do characters communicate in Shakespearean plays?

Stage 3: Complex thinking about simple media design

Example: What might we infer about Wile E. Coyote’s own interpretation of cultural norms? How does he adapt–or refuse to adapt–those norms through his observable behavior?

Stage 4: Complex thinking about complex media design

Example: How does Shakespeare use diction to establish a unique tone within each individual scene, and how do those scenes collectively establish a theme for the plays themselves?

A Handful of Underpinning Ideas

  1. Literacy is a matter of decoding, comprehension, and transfer.
  2. The traditional media forms of books, poems, letters, and speeches is increasingly supplemented by diverse and technology-based media.
  3. There is a clear and direct relationship between a poem, an essay, a tweet, and a video game.
  4. Understanding that relationship can help leverage modern digital technology and forms to interpret classical structures, and vice-versa.
  5. Scaffolding the analysis of these forms and structures can make anything more approachable.
  6. It can also provide opportunities for differentiation, self-directed learning, and extended critical thinking about critical media.

A Framework For Merging Classic Literature & Modern Technology; A Universal Framework For Modern Literacy Pedagogy

The Future Of Learning

Teaching Digital Students Non-Digital Things

Teaching Digital Students Non-Digital Things

by Terry Heick

Like thinking, reading in the 21st century is different than in centuries past, endlessly linked in an increasingly visible web of physical and digital media forms.

As symbols and their referents change, so do the cognitive processes and habits. So in this context of media abundance, what does the modern, 21st-century “reader” look like?

How can we appeal to their interests? Or, more precisely, what does it mean to ‘read’? What does a reader, today, look like?

How can you teach digital students non-digital things?

Media Design in the 21st Century

There is an art and a science to media design.

Media (singular medium) is/are simply a method for the intentional communication of a thought or idea. In this way, tweets and novels are both media, as are poems and interactive timelines, websites and short stories, paintings and graffiti, speeches and YouTube channels.

The differences between these media lie in their purpose and audience, duration and intensity, tone and structure, along with countless other obvious and less-obvious components that can be artfully manipulated in matters of design. One of the most visible transitions to a ‘21st Century’ Reading and Writing curriculum (or authentic curriculum) involves an evolution of the perspective of media.

Media is, and always has been, central to an Reading-Writing curriculum. Moby Dick, The Road Not Taken, To Kill A Mockingbird, etc. These are often referred to as “touchstone” texts that can act as anchors for so much. An initial, basic recommendation then would involve how teachers select that media that ends up center stage in so many lessons and units.

This is important to clarify: the media is the star here, and an educator’s goal is to support students in processing that media: identifying, analyzing, evaluating, revising, re-purposing, and so on up Bloom’s ladder. (We’ll skip, for now, the potential for learners to be in control of the media they consume.) Beyond that basic, tell-me-something-I-don’t-know recommendation to be intentional in choosing powerful, relevant, and “fertile” media, there must first be a necessary paradigm shift in how we consider the term media.

Moby Dick is dead.

What It Means To Be Authentic

While the novel has a place in a Reading/Writing/Literature-based curriculum, it has to happen in new forms, with new support systems, with new-found and increasingly visible relevancy.

Maybe Moby Dick isn’t dead as much as it is opaque to a connected generation of readers.

Somewhere along the line, however, Reading/Writing/Literature stopped simply leveraging these classic texts, but seemingly became characterized entirely by them. Class reads of Fahrenheit 451 transitioned into Literature Circles reading The Giver, book reports melted into PowerPoint presentations or even web quests, but the central kernel was still a text written generations–even centuries ago–in a form by people from a time much different than the one learners use information in today.

This is not to say that such media are impotent, but merely out of focus, and so must be leveraged in new ways while seeking out relevance with an innocent audience disconnected from its forms, its structures, and its media “patterns.” Changing forms of media are a byproduct of rapid technology progression, and this is certainly the case over the last 25 years. In the last 5 years, the emergence of social media has added an additional wrinkle (and countless teaching opportunities) to the mix, yet with these transitions and this constant evolution, the red herring here involves the misleading concept of technology.

We will have a look at the changing media forms, especially the phenomenon of social media in a separate piece, but for now consider that technology is a tool that enables new forms of media to evolve, challenge our collective creativity, and push the boundaries of idea exchange forward. However, it is simply that–a tool.

While it is tempting to become enamored with the glamour of the tool itself, it is the cognitive and creative work and design that really demand our attention as educators. If mankind walked away from technology tomorrow, to maintain authenticity in learning would require adapting our curriculum, our instructional strategies, and so on to eliminate technology; rather than teach technology then, we teach with technology.

That is to say, educators use technology because those we wish to educate use it, which brings us to the idea of schema.

Media as Schema

There are staggeringly interesting philosophical treatises and cognitive psychology analyses from Kant to Piaget that deal with the concept of schema. A (sometimes frustratingly) ambiguous term (that Marzano addresses briefly in “The Art and Science of Teaching,” (p. 59-60), schema refers to a cognitively native framework for making sense of ideas; that is, roughly put, existing “stuff in our head” helps us to make sense of new stuff. (A tangent concept is one of prior knowledge.)

That is, we cannot make sense new ideas unless we can assimilate them with what we already know–by observing, analyzing, merging, comparing, contrasting, categorizing, relating, or otherwise forming some relative relationship.

In this way, a square helps us understand a rectangle, Cat in the Hat providing a sort of early framework to help us make sense of Flannery O’Connor’s Everything That Rises Must Converge. This constructivist line of thought reveals that, at least to some degree, learners continually build on existing ideas through the aforementioned observing–>relating process, even when ideas and concepts may seem divergent (verbs and allegory).

So what does this have to do with media and ELA? Simply put, we’ve gotten behind the curve in terms of how we view media, and, on a broader scale, how we view the purpose of English-Language Arts.

In Developing Minds: A Resource Book for Teaching Thinking edited by Art Costa, Barry Beyer explains:

“Because thinking skills are tied closely (in learner’s minds) to the context or content in which they are first encountered, their application is not readily transferred to the other, especially remote contexts or content.” (398-399)

Beyer goes on to discuss the practices of “Continuous Bridging” and “Direct Transfer.” Here, Beyer is trying to underscore first transfer as a pedagogical reality, and then finally begin laying the groundwork for teaching students so that they are able to do it themselves. While this is part and parcel to all learning, formal and informal, it relates to our concept of media in English-Language Arts in that we often ask students to “walk too far” in this “transfer.”

Why not “dwell” in their native media? If we can for a moment resist making this a generational argument where we browbeat texting and cell phones and glorify novels, but rather, in the ultimate “meet them where they are,” rethinking and re-approaching roles so that students don’t have to radically repackage information that they learning in school on a daily basis to make it relevant to their personal lives. Admonishing that a student learn math so that they can “balance their checkbook” is a vacant argument.

Moby Dick’s themes of introspection, intellectual struggle, and religious doubt are all indeed relevant if we can just give them a chance. So then, we may consider Moby Dick a single image in a rich tapestry, rather than a single image and a single goal. In this way teachers can use the interdependence of all media forms to their advantage–one form to illuminate another,

Structure. Theme. Bias. Syntax. Diction. Author position. Supporting evidence–all universal components of media design.

And we should do this not simply because teachers can then use these forms to trick students into learning what we want them to, but because we’re actually teaching what matters. (Teaching What Matters by Silver, Strong, and Perini remains what should be considered a seminal, prefacing work on all matters of curriculum mapping and instructional design.)

That is, we can support students in identifying media forms and structures, concepts of audience and purpose, thesis and thesis development, language choice, tone and mood–all classic literary tenets–but rethink our how we use the concept of media to make that happen.

What “21st Century” Literature Teachers Do

The 21st Century Reading/Writing/Literature/Literacy teacher does not blindly adopt technology, nor do they reject Shakespeare, but rather consistently seeks out authenticity in everything, beginning with curriculum.

They seek to creatively leverage–through merging old and new in novel ways, through project and problem-based learning, or any number of other approaches–to not simply “engage” learners, which is insufficient, but rather immerse learners in intellectually rigorous and interesting media-centered environments where relevancy is immediately visible, transfer is persistent, and students move away from traditional roles of passive recipient to adopt new perspectives as active and self-monitoring, self-serving users of varied information on a global scale.

Moby Dick–or any classic novel for that matter–isn’t so much dead as eagerly seeking an audience with the 21st Century learner, and it is our charge as educators–through technology, a new emphasis on schema, and a new purpose for intellectual, cultural, and media diversity and new knowledge demands–to creatively accommodate that. If this happens, school will stop becoming “school,” a sterile domain of formal thought and content, and become a flexible system that will support learners in becoming media-proficient–that is, curious and literate users of information.

Something that seems to be forgotten in the content versus skills, 21st century versus core or “classic” education argument is the learner, and their native context. The core strategy of teaching inherently digital students nondigital things may have something to do with that native context, and the seamless transfer of non-academic understanding to a decidedly non-academic world.

Digital is a space. Digital is a tool. Digital is a process.

What it teaches is not.

Image attribution flickr users flickeringbrad, davidniksonvscanon and opalsonblackdotcom


Nas Breaks Down Hip-Hop Classic ‘It Ain’t Hard To Tell’ With Harvard Poetry Professor

Nas Breaks Down Hip-Hop Classic ‘It Ain’t Hard To Tell’ With Harvard Poetry Professor

by Terry Heick

In April of 1994, Queens artist Nas released what would become one of the most iconic hip-hop albums of all time.

‘Illmatic’ contained 10 tracks, including ‘One Love,’ ‘Halftime,’ ‘Memory Lane,’ and ‘NY State of Mind.’ With legendary producers like Large Professor, Pete Rock, Q-Tip (from A Tribe Called Quest), and of course DJ Premier, the album instantly captured what had emerged as a then-modern east coast hip-hop sound.

Nas’ considerable talent for creating authentic vignettes that are easy to visualize, through hooks and wordplay that is easy to remember, gave the album instant-classic status.

Working with producers like Large Professor, who had helped establish the east coast scene and sound, there was a tension between Illmatic’s aesthetic and the booming west coast p-funk infused, ‘gangster rap’ which was perfected in Dre’s ‘The Chronic’ released in 1992.

The video above explored ‘It Ain’t Hard To Tell,’ a track full of ranging similes and metaphors delivered with a pace that required 50+ plays before you could begin to appreciate it all, and even then only ‘getting it’ insofar as you realized you’d never entirely grasp the place the rhymes were written from.

There is a ($499) Harvard University Course on Poetry in America, which sounds suspecially similar to a course I was teaching 10 years ago in rural Kentucky for free, but Ivy League academia don’t come cheap these days.

‘My poetry is deep, I never fail…’

Nas Breaks Down Hip-Hop Classic ‘It Ain’t Hard To Tell’ With Harvard Poetry Professor


How My Students Organize Their Language Arts Binder


How My Students Organize Their Language Arts Binder

by Terry Heick

For many humanities teachers, how you have students organize their class binders–or if you have them keep one at all–says a lot about how you view that content area.

Like an architect’s drawing table or a painter’s palette, for a teacher of any humanities course–especially one involving substantive literature and thus necessitating strong literacy skills–the “journal” is a metaphor for how you see the craft of teaching. Even what you call it says a lot.


Academic Journal.

Writing Journal.

Writer’s Toolbox.


And do you have one for each “portion” of your class–academic notes, writing, graphic organizers, and so on? Do you let them take the binders with them? How do you respond if students can’t afford a binder, keep it poorly, or lose it?

For me, the binder is essential. I call it a “journal” even though it’s really a journal + a lot of other stuff. In my English-Language Arts classes (most recently an 8th-grade class), It’s a 3-ring binder, with dividers, arranged in 4 sections as follows.

And its apparent organization belied the frantic, right-brain creative and intellectual chaos my class otherwise suffers from.

Reference Sheets

Reference sheets refers to all of those go-to sheets that students find themselves going to time and time again: Greek & Latin roots, prefixes and suffixes, graphic organizers like Frayer models, writing strategies for each stage of the writing process, definitions for literary terms and devices, etc.

The first year I used this, myself and another ELA teacher got together and laminated 5-6 of these for each student (125+ each), but that got out of hand quickly after students lost them, the laminating machine broke, etc. Fun.


This is where the student’s track their own performance, recorded self-assessment data, documented performance on formal and informal assessments, and so on. Also listed here is a basic reading inventory, reading level and reading level growth, biographical info, and so on. Data is made to be as visual as possible, and focuses on the process of learning as much as the content.

Doesn’t mean it always work, but that’s the goal.

Journal Responses

Daily bell ringers, journal responses, etc.

Academic Notes

Based on reading, or 3 minute “notes blitz,” collaboration, research, or other needs to document learning.

How Does It Work?

How does it work?

As with anything, it depends on the student. For students that keep their binders well-organized–and more critically, bring them to class–it works well, but this is usually a “straight A” or A/B female student who reads way above grade level, speaks out in class, studies without being required to, and generally can do no wrong in the classroom.

For other less organized students, it usually works well too, but it takes some time. At the beginning of the year, the approach seems to lack credibility with about 1/3 of the students who’d rather carry nothing at all, but by December, I usually catch most students using the reference sheets without being directed to, asking me for replacements because they lost it and actually need them, and in generally flipping back and forth throughout class based on the mini-lesson or project-based learning activity.

For the 5% that it doesn’t work well for, I’m not sure there is a design other than their own internal “system” that would work.

I have intended for years to “progress” this to something that doesn’t sound so dry–maybe something more conducive to creativity, innovation, and self-direction. I’m also curious how tablets, BYOD, apps, and other learning technologies factor in. Have they made the binder obsolete? Can Evernote, Google Drive, the Purdue O.W.L., and the cloud itself replace a well-stocked hold-it-in-your-hands journal?

Should students be given a choice–simply tasked with “finding what works for them,” or is it part of our jobs as teachers to model how to organize what and how they document their progress through your class? Never being quite sure, I continue to use the above model. As far as what it says about how I see Literature, the Writing Process, and other bits of content from the class I teach, I’m not sure.

The closest to a takeaway I can come up with is that, if the work is appropriately rigorous enough–and hopefully sufficiently personalized–students will need a lot of support to demonstrate understanding, see themselves as learners, and ultimately grow into their own potential.

Image attribution flickr user dfkid; The Metaphor Of The Classroom Journal


‘The Objective’ As Read By Wendell Berry

‘The Objective’ As Read By Wendell Berry

by Terry Heick

I recently attended a screening of a documentary on Wendell Berry at the Louisville Speed Art Museum.

TeachThought Professional Development Director Drew Perkins and I took in what was then called ‘The Seer’ back in July. Now titled ‘Look & See” out of, if I’m not mistaken, Berry’s reluctance to be the centerpiece of the film, by far the most moving bit for me was the opening sequence, where Berry’s sage voice reads his own poem, ‘The Objective’ against a dizzying and fantastic montage of visuals attempting to reflect some of the bigger ideas in the lines and stanzas.

The switch in title makes sense though, because the documentary is really less about Berry and his work, and more about the realities of modern farming–key themes for sure in Berry’s work, but in the same sense that farms and rustic settings were key themes in Robert Frost’s work: visible, but most powerfully as symbols in pursuit of broader allegories, rather than destinations for meaning.

See also Learning Through Humility

Anyone who has read any of my own writing knows what an extraordinary influence Berry has been on me as a writer, educator, and father. I created a kind of school model based on his work in 2012 called ‘The Inside-Out School,’ have exchanged letters with him, and was even fortunate enough to meet him last year.

Right, so, the film. You can purchase the documentary here, and while I think it misses on framing Berry for the widest possible audience, it is a rare look at a very private man and thus I can’t recommend it strongly enough if you’re a reader of Berry.

The problem of combining consumerism (ads, selling DVDs, selling books) isn’t lost on me here, but I’m hoping that the theme and distribution of the message outweighs any inherent (and woeful) irony when all of the pieces here are considered in sum. Also, there is a stanza that seems to be missing from the voice-over that I included in the transcription below.

The poem is taken from ‘A Timbered Choir: The Sabbath Poems’ 1979-1997 published by Counterpoint Press in 1998.

The Objective

by Wendell Berry

Even while I dreamed I prayed that what I saw was only fear and no foretelling,

for I saw the last known landscape destroyed for the sake

of the objective–the soil bulldozed, the rock blasted.

Those who had wanted to go home would never get there now.

I visited the offices where for the sake of the objective,

the planners planned at blank desks set in rows.

I visited the loud factories where the machines were made

that would drive ever forward toward the objective.

I saw the forest reduced to stumps and gullies;

I saw the poisoned river–the mountain cast into the valley;

I came to the city that nobody recognized because it looked like every other city.

I saw the passages worn by the unnumbered footfalls of those

whose eyes were fixed upon the objective.

Their passing had obliterated the graves and the monuments

of those who had died in pursuit of the objective

and who had long ago forever been forgotten,

according to the inevitable rule that those who have forgotten

forget that they have forgotten.

Men and women, and children now pursued the objective as if nobody ever had pursued it before.

The races and the sexes now intermingled perfectly in pursuit of the objective.

The once-enslaved, the once-oppressed,

were now free to sell themselves to the highest bidder

and to enter the best paying prisons in pursuit of the objective,

which was the destruction of all enemies,

which was the destruction of all obstacles,

which was to clear the way to victory,

which was to clear the way to promotion,

to salvation,

to progress,

to the completed sale,

to the signature on the contract,

which was to clear the way to self-realization, to self-creation,

from which nobody who ever wanted to go home would ever get there now,

for every remembered place had been displaced;

every love unloved,

every vow unsworn,

every word unmeant

to make way for the passage of the crowd of the individuated,

the autonomous, the self-actuated, the homeless with their many eyes

opened toward the objective which they did not yet perceive in the far distance,

having never known where they were going,

having never known where they came from.

From ‘A Timbered Choir: The Sabbath Poems’ 1979-1997, by Wendell Berry, Counterpoint, 1998

‘The Objective’ As Read By Wendell Berry


How I Use Data To Motivate Students To Become Better Readers

How I Use Data To Motivate Students To Become Better Readers

contributed by Kelley Spencer Adcock

I have a lot in common with my struggling readers.

I don’t have trouble reading, but I do know a thing or two about trying to succeed at something that does not come naturally. Throughout my childhood and school years, I was not athletic in any sense of the word, and I was cut from every team I ever made.

But somehow, as an adult I became a runner. I run several 5Ks, obstacle runs and sprint triathlons a year.  I am not as regimented or disciplined as other runners, but running has become an enjoyable, integral part of my life. How did I get here? It was the realization that I don’t need to compare myself to anyone else. I set my goals and my own race schedule to do what’s right for me.

The same mentality can be applied to student learning as well. Every student starts as a beginner, but many quit before becoming experts. Equipping them with the right tools and providing them with the proper support can set struggling readers up for success.

Here’s how I apply this approach to my classroom.

See also: 15 Of The Best Educational Apps For Improved Reading Comprehension

Step 1: Find a consistent, easy way to measure progress.

The cool thing about running is that it’s easy to measure. All you really need is a stopwatch. Reading is a much more complex task, but modern technology offers us a variety of easy measuring tools. We use a tool called Star Assessments which allows us to treat assessments more like a 5K than a marathon.  It only takes 20 minutes for a student to take a quiz that gathers valuable data about their reading skills and comprehension throughout the year.

Step 2: Share data with students.

There are countless apps I can use to track my finish times, but if I never looked at these times I wouldn’t get better. The same goes for students – how often are we sharing data with students? In our classroom, we show students their reports and talk about what the numbers mean for them and their individual reading progress.

Step 3: Help them set meaningful goals.

For my first 5K, my only goal was to run the whole race without dropping to a walk. Alternatively, a friend’s goal was to break 20 minutes. We clearly run for different reasons. The same goes for students – no two students have the same goal. In our classroom, we help students set attainable goals that allow them to grow and succeed.

Step 4: Work with students to establish a “training routine.”

Outside demands on my life determine my running schedule; the same is true for our students’ study habits. Many don’t have the time or quiet spaces in their lives to read outside of school. Some don’t like long stories. Others struggle with ADD, ADHD, or TSAL (too soon after lunch).

In our classroom, we speak honestly about our limitations and habits. We provide students with half of their required reading time in the classroom and offer them the option to complete the other half in a variety of ways (homework, tutoring, free choice time) so that they can personalize a routine that works for them.

Step 5: Hold students accountable for their progress.

I pay to run in races, so I have a vested interest in showing up. The same should be true for students. Their progress is related directly to the performance expectations in our classroom. Every student is required to demonstrate that they are 1) reading at grade level and showing progress or 2) showing significant progress toward reading on grade level.

They also are responsible for documenting effective reading practice through points and/or completed reading logs and projects.

Step 6: Evaluate the effectiveness of their training routine.

If I run a race at a much slower time, or end up with an injury, I review my training regimen to see what I need to adjust. The same should be true for students. We teach our students to look at data which compares their growth to others across the country of similar age and ability.

If a student is not growing, or not growing at an acceptable rate, what roadblocks are the student is facing? Are they not practicing frequently enough? Do they need additional support? These are all questions we consider.

And when they make progress, celebrate it! This can start with the quantification of that progress (improvements reflected in data), but should extend as well to the utility of that improvement in their literacy skills, and what it might mean for them throughout their life.

Step 7: Select new and improved tools when they are needed.

In the same way that a snazzy new pair of running tights can motivate me out of a slump, changing up the reading task can reinvigorate student progress. We use technology that helps students choose books that they love, so they stay motivated. We also have regular literature circles that allow students to talk about different ideas and learn from others.

We also teach our students how to use websites like,, and ReadWorks Digital. When they want to read a book that is longer or at a higher reading level than they are used to, we help them access an e-reader, an audiobook or MP3 players from our public library. Giving them a variety of resources and texts allows them to stay motivated and keep progressing.

When they want to read a book that is longer or at a higher reading level than they are used to, we help them access an eReader, an audiobook, or MP3 players from our public library. Giving them a variety of resources and texts allows them to stay motivated and keep progressing.

Every time I finish a race, I feel good about myself for many reasons: I finished something that doesn’t come easy to me. I’m taking better care of myself. I’m being a good role model for my children and students. As much as possible, we try to create this same experience for the students in our classroom.

They don’t have to finish first, they just have to run believing they can.

Kelley Spencer Adcock, NBCT, is a Reading Specialist and English teacher at Ripley High School in Jackson County, West Virginia. 


Owl Eyes: 12 Ways To Use Digital Text Annotation


Owl Eyes: 12 Ways To Use Digital Text Annotation

by TeachThought Staff

Owl Eyes asked us to let us know about their (free) digital text annotation tool they created for mobile reading. So what is it?

Owl Eyes was designed to offer an improved reading experience for students, teachers, and everyday readers. They wanted a clean, smart eReading and annotating tool, and when they couldn’t find one we liked, they created their own. Their mission is to bring reading to life and to to create the best tools to help people read and learn–and enjoy doing it.

The premise is minimalist and easy to use–read on any device while adding annotation, or viewing those created by others, while also providing a library of texts for use in the classroom. They also have free classroom assignment tools to support teachers, allowing educators to create a virtual classrooms, add students, and assign annotation, reading, and quizzes.

Below we’ve offered 12 ways to use digital text annotation (a form of marking the text, another strategy we love at TeachThought). These strategies are best suited for middle and high school (as is the Owl Eyes library), but could be used in an elementary school classroom with some modification–maybe reading excerpts from Huckleberry Finn?

You can check out the text annotation tool here.

Owl Eyes: 12 Ways To Use Digital Text Annotation

Basic Text Annotation Strategies

1. Assign a reading to students for make-up work, extra credit, or as extensions for gifted and highly motivated readers–or let them select a text themselves.

2. Have stronger readers read ahead and annotate higher level vocabulary in the text with definitions paraphrased in student-friendly language.

3. Create reading groups within a classroom–different groups reading the same book, or different groups with different books.

4. Have students create quizzes for self-assessment. Self-assessment is especially useful because rather than simply focusing on the accuracy of the responses or the quality of the writing, self-assessment focuses on the quality and depth of the questions students ask.

5. Assess student understanding of vocabulary with the quiz feature.

6. Annotate the text with !/?/–> for surprising/confusing/connected ideas.

Advanced Text Annotation Strategies

7. Have students read in a Literature Circle format with specific roles created that can be carried out by highlighting and marking digital text. These can include Text Questioner, Vocabulary Detective, Creative Visualizer, and more.

8. Have students keep double entry journals based on a given criteria–passages they like, sentences they feel are important to the theme, dialogue that allows the reader to infer a character’s motivation, etc.

9. As the teacher, before key text events, annotate texts for different reading levels with questions, insights, vocabulary, etc. This can take a lot of time, but used selectively, can make reading more personal and accessible for students.

10. Create custom bookshelves for individual students.

11. Question the text through annotation, where students mark phrases or passages that make them curious or confused by adding questions. Teachers can then use these questions not only to asses comprehension, but to use select questions for classroom or group-based discussion.

12. Have students annotate the text by highlighting key events that drive the narrative in fiction, or supporting details that develop the main idea in non-fiction text.

About Owl Eyes

Why “Owl Eyes”? Owl Eyes is a character in The Great Gatsby, whom Nick discovers in Gatsby’s library. Owl Eyes is poring over Gatsby’s large collection of books, and is amazed that they are real (and not fake books designed to create the illusion of knowledge). We hope Owl Eyes will inspire you to read…anywhere and on any device.

How Much Does Owl Eyes Cost?

It’s free!

How to Read

  1. Sign in to Owl Eyes or just browse our library and begin reading a book.
  2. Choose from a selection of hundreds of works. Dive straight in with “Continue Reading” or “Add to Your Books” to move the work to your own personal Owl Eyes Library where your progress will be saved.
  3. To view annotations, click on the page icon to the right of the text, and click again to select the annotation you want to view.
  4. To skip from chapter to chapter, choose a book in your library and make a selection from the Table of Contents.
  5. Happy reading!
Disclosure of Material Connection: This is a “sponsored post.” The company who sponsored it compensated us via payment, gift, or something else of value to write it. Regardless, we only recommend products or services we use personally and believe will be good for our readers. We are disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.” Owl Eyes: 12 Ways To Use Digital Text Annotation

Kurt Vonnegut Describes The Shape Of A Story


Kurt Vonnegut Describes The Shape Of A Story

by Terry Heick

The ‘narrative arc’ is a way of describing the traditional rising and falling of action in a story.

Most stories are built around a character that wants something–Shrek wants his swamp back, Cinderella wants love, Woody wants to be played with (Toy Story). This character motivation is usually a matter of ‘conflict,’ and the the story, then, allows the character to seek out what they want, in the process overcoming challenges, creating relationships, and going on a (sometimes literal) journey of self-exploration and discovery.

The best way I’ve heard a story described is that it’s the tying and untying of a knot (conflict–>resolution=character growth). In the video below, Kurt Vonnegut adds to this conversation in a very Vonnegut–through the lens of human suffering. Every story, Vonnegut playfully asserts, can be ‘shaped’ on a Y-axis of Good Fortune & Ill Fortune extended along the X-axis of Time. Where the character begins and ends–and what they overcome in between–creates a shape of a story that can be “fed into computers.”

Computers, he presumes, should be able to make sense of the different shapes of human suffering.

That he thinks they can and should is why I love Kurt Vonnegut.

Kurt Vonnegut Describes The Shape Of A Story


What To Read Next: 100 Timeless Books, Poems, And Essays

what-to-read-next-fiWhat To Read Next: 100 Timeless Books, Poems, And Essays

by Terry Heick

This collection was put together by a good friend of mine, Nicholas Rudolph, who I pushed and pushed to give me a reading list for months until this showed up in my inbox.

He’s the ‘best reader’ I know. Seamless comprehension. Perfect taste. Reads with pace and urgency and love. Talks about what he’s read, but it’s never about him or the book, but the logic and affection and importance of the text. I’ve never suggested a book he hadn’t already read. He actually inspires me as a reader, and I am–by previous craft–an English teacher of literature and writing.

So below is a reading playlist of sorts–a mostly universal collection of ‘the best’ books, poems, and essays. I’m not going to qualify it any further than that because I didn’t ask him to when he made the list–just asked for a reading list of ‘good stuff,’ and this is what I got. Some of the links below may be affiliate links. You can read more about affiliate links here and can always avoid using any affiliate links but searching your favorite book sources yourself without using the links.

Now, on to the list.

What To Read Next: 100 Timeless Books, Poems, And Essays

Prose, Fiction

  1. J.D. Salinger, The Catcher in the Rye
  2. Antoine de Saint-Exupery, The Little Prince
  3. George Orwell, 1984
  4. George Orwell, Animal Farm
  5. Aldous Huxley, Brave New World
  6. Ray Bradbury, Fahrenheit 451
  7. Kurt Vonnegut, Player Piano
  8. Kurt Vonnegut, Slaughter-House Five
  9. Kurt Vonnegut, Slapstick
  10. Kurt Vonnegut, God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater
  11. J. R. R. Tolkien, Farmer Giles of Ham
  12. J. R. R. Tolkien, The Hobbit
  13. J. R. R. Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings
  14. C.S. Lewis, A Horse and His Boy
  15. Brian Jacques, Redwall
  16. Madeleine L’Engle, A Wrinkle in Time
  17. Richard Adams, Watership Down
  18. Douglas Adams, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy
  19. Orson Scott Card, Ender’s Game
  20. Orson Scott Card, Ender’s Shadow
  21. Franz Kafka, The Metamorphosis
  22. Franz Kafka, In the Penal Colony
  23. Tobias Wolff, This Boy’s Life
  24. Jonathan Safran Foer, Everything is Illuminated
  25. Jonathan Safran Foer, Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close
  26. F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby
  27. Chuck Palahniuk, Fight Club
  28. David Foster Wallace, Brief Interviews with Hideous Men
  29. Haruki Murakami, Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage
  30. Lois Lowry, The Giver
  31. Ayn Rand, Anthem
  32. Mary Doria Russell, The Sparrow
  33. Jack Kerouac, On the Road, the Original Scroll
  34. Jack Kerouac, Big Sur
  35. Hunter S. Thomspon, Fear & Loathing in Las Vegas
  36. Richard Brautigan, Trout Fishing in America
  37. Ernest Hemingway, In Our Time
  38. Fyodor Dostoevsky, Crime and Punishment
  39. Fyodor Dostoevsky, The Brothers Karamazov
  40. Albert Camus, The Stranger
  41. J.M. Coetzee, The Life & Times of Michael K.
  42. Herman Melville, Moby Dick
  43. James Joyce, Araby from Dubliners
  44. John Okada, No-No Boy
  45. Karen Tei Yamashita, I-Hotel
  46. J.K. Rowling, Harry Potter & The Sorcerer’s Stone
  47. Tim O’Brien, The Things They Carried
  48. Ralph Ellison, Invisible Man
  49. Jhumpa Lahiri, Sexy
  50. Ursula Le Guin, The Ones Who Walk Away From Omelas

Verse, Fiction

  1. Allen Ginsberg, Howl & Other Poems
  2. Allen Ginsberg, Kaddish & Other Poems
  3. Gary Snyder, Riprap & Cold Mountain Poems
  4. Gary Snyder, Danger on Peaks
  5. Lawrence Ferlinghetti, A Coney Island of the Mind
  6. Lawrence Ferlinghetti, Pictures of the Gone World
  7. Diane Di Prima, Revolutionary Letters
  8. William Blake, “Auguries of Innocence”
  9. William Blake, Songs of Innocence & Experience
  10. Gerard Manley Hopkins, Poems & Prose
  11. Christina Rossetti, “Goblin Market”
  12. William Wordsworth, “I wandered lonely as a…”
  13. S.T. Coleridge, “Kubla Khan”
  14. S.T. Coleridge, “This Lime-Tree Bower My Prison”
  15. Percy Bysshe Shelley, “Ozymandias”
  16. Rainer Marie Rilke, Duino Elegies
  17. Rainer Marie Rilke, The Book of Hours
  18. Khalil Gibran, The Voice of the Master
  19. Khalil Gibran, The Prophet
  20. Walt Whitman, Leaves of Grass
  21. T.S. Eliot, The Wasteland & Other Poems
  22. Linh Dinh, “Eating Fried Chicken”
  23. Li-Young Lee, “Persimmons”
  24. e.e. cummings, Selected Poems
  25. Charles Bukowski, Love is a Dog from Hell

Prose, Non-Fiction

  1. Wendell Berry, The Art of the Commonplace
  2. Wendell Berry, Citizenship Papers
  3. Tony Judt, Ill Fares the Land
  4. Henry David Thoreau, Walden
  5. Henry David Thoreau, Civil Disobedience
  6. Annie Dillard, Pilgrim at Tinker Creek
  7. Annie Dillard, For the Time Being
  8. Annie Dillard, The Writing Life
  9. Alain de Botton, The Architecture of Happiness
  10. Joan Didion, The Year of Magical Thinking
  11. Diane Ackerman, Deep Play
  12. Rainer Marie Rilke, Letters to a Young Poet
  13. Leo Tolstoy, A Confession
  14. Thomas Merton, No Man is an Island
  15. Jeremy Rifkin, The Empathic Civilization
  16. Thomas Cahill, How the Irish Saved Civilization
  17. Benjamin Hoff, The Tao of Pooh
  18. Anne LaMott, Bird by Bird
  19. Theodor Adorno & Max Horkheimer, The Dialectic of Enlightenment
  20. Ralph Waldo Emerson, Self-Reliance
  21. Siegfried Zielinski, Deep Time of the Media
  22. Ralph Ellison, The Invisible Man
  23. Immanuel Kant, “What is Enlightenment?”
  24. Jane Jacobs, The Death and Life of Great American Cities
  25. Maya Angelou, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings

What To Read Next: 100 Timeless Books, Poems, And Essays


12 Literary Road Trips In A Single Map

literary-road-tripsExtraordinary! 12 Literary Road Trips In A Single Map

by TeachThought Staff

Richard Kreitner and Steven Melendez over at atlasobscura recently shared a map you might want to take a look at.

The map–and its hand-typed notes–represent an enormous effort, and the selections themselves some mighty fine taste in recent literature. There are over 1500 entries on the map, with map coordinates for the lifelong learner in you yearning for a last-minute summer road trip.

This would make a great model for an English-Language Arts, Literature, Geography, or US History class project. Change the reading list, add a little Google Maps, differentiate it by reading level, or even offer scaffolded prompts of varying complexity, and you’ve got yourself a unit.

From the atlasobscura site, the novel list is shown below.

Extraordinary! 12 Literary Road Trips In A Single Map

Wild, Cheryl Strayed. 2012. After a series of personal crises, the author hits the Pacific Crest Trail and walks from Southern California to Portland. Self-actualization ensues.

The Cruise of the Rolling Junk, F. Scott Fitzgerald. 1934. Scott and Zelda’s wacky adventures along the muddy, unkept roads of the mid-Atlantic and the South, as they drive from Connecticut to her hometown of Montgomery, Alabama.

Rolling Nowhere: Riding the Rails With America’s Hoboes, Ted Conover.1984. Conover, our most accomplished method journalist, studies with a merciful lack of sentimentality a subculture of transients that has long been mourned and romanticized more than it has been loved or even tolerated.

A Walk Across America, Peter Jenkins. 1979. Jenkins and his dog Cooper hoof it to New Orleans from upstate New York; along the way they encounter poverty, racism, hippies, illness, hateful cops and—at least for one of them—violent vehicular death. Oh, and in Mobile, Alabama, God.

Cross Country: Fifteen Years and 90,000 Miles on the Roads and Interstates of America with Lewis and Clark, Robert Sullivan. 2006. As much a free-association history of the American road trip as the chronicle of one in particular, Sullivan’s book is rare in that it documents a time-restricted straight-shot across the continent, interstates and chain-motels and all. Abandon nostalgia, all ye who enter here.

The Lost Continent, Bill Bryson. 1989. A sneering account of this exile’s return from abroad and his re-acquaintance with his native country. Bryson seems to be reminded on almost every page of why he chose to leave it, and we of why we let him.

Blue Highways: A Journey into America, William Least Heat Moon. 1982. Not less critical of America and Americans than Bryson but more interestingly so, the author takes his van on the road for three months after separating from his wife and sticks only to smaller highways while avoiding the cities. He has long debates about local history and current affairs with people on the road and pays especial attention to quirky place-names–a traveler after my own heart.

On the Road, Jack Kerouac. 1957. Sal Paradise and Dean Moriarty search for bop, kicks, speed and the night.

Roughing It, Mark Twain. 1872. Twain’s book about his journey west by stagecoach a decade earlier is a incredible account of transcontinental travel before the railroad made it infinitely easier; his sections about the early Mormons in Salt Lake City, the mining settlements in Nevada and the pre-Americanized Sandwich Islands–aka, Hawaii–are also well worth the read.

Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, Robert Pirsig. 1974. The author and his son ride by motorcycle to California; Profound Philosophical Ruminations ensue. Very 1970s.

Travels with Charley, John Steinbeck. 1962. The aging novelist, his black-poodle pooch and Rocinante, the customized van named after Don Quixote’s horse, light out for the territories; Charley discovers redwoods, which depress him; Steinbeck discovers that you can’t go home again.

The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test, Tom Wolfe. 1968. Ken Kesey and the highly-acidic Merry Pranksters take the bus Further across the country to “tootle” its citizens out of lethargy. Neal Cassady rides again.”

12 Literary Road Trips In A Single Map


Redefining What It Means To Be Human In The Absence Of The Humanities


Why We Need The Humanities

by Terry Heick

The world is swirling in winds of digital code.

The humanities provide a kind of embedded moral code that force us to confront our own habits, trends, and notions of recreation. In an age of shifts and fluidity, this is definitely a ‘thing.’ Within the immense gravity of Google, Apple, and data mobility, the shift away from the humanities is accelerating. According to the New York Times, Stanford University has 45% of its staff in its Humanities department, but only 15% of its students. At Harvard, there has been a 20% decline in humanities majors in the last ten years and the Washington Post reported in October of 2019 that overall, English degrees…

That’s a lot. Who cares?

If literature provides a kind of shared framework for what people are “for” and how we might act and what we should tend towards or resist, it is not a huge leap to believe that without humanities, we are then redefining what it means to be human in the absence of the kind of sustained, millenia-long reflection the humanities represent.

This should make us at the very least uncomfortable.

The Stories That Linger

Let’s define the humanities as “the study of ourselves through our collective human expression.” In education, these expressions—what makes each one of us unique, expressive, and capable of giving and receiving love are curiously gathered under a single content area or, at best, department—Humanities. Practices here include literature, art, design, music, and philosophy—activities that elevate our lives beyond mere survival.

It’s easy to spot right away, however, that the ‘non-humanities’—science, technology, engineering, and math—also have roles to play in the humanities. We don’t stop being human because we test theories or require data or perform calculations, nor are these “industries” any less human than writing poetry or composing music.

The humanities then, provide extraordinarily diverse modeling of human trials, failures, humility, and triumph. Ezra Pound’s “Literature is news that stays news” is a useful line. Out of the billions of episodes of published media, the things that linger—for whatever reason—tend to be useful, like a trail of bread crumbs back to ourselves.

Humanities as a term has become opaque and abstract, which can be seen in how casually we treat it in education (see the Common Core Standards). The artificial categorizing of the universe into narrow sects of knowledge (narrowed further by standards) is partly to blame here, which is another article altogether. For now, let’s define the role of the humanities. 

What should they ‘do’?


What Should The Humanities Do?

In a digital age of connectivity, data, and access, at first glance the purpose is not much different than it has ever been. More than anything else, the humanities provide for us with a shared moral and cultural memory.

Mark Twain provides an archetype for the wildness of childhood, while leaving a picture of slavery and the moral impossibilities it brought with it.

Flannery O’Connor’s work to make sense of Southern American ‘traditions,’ or Shakespeare’s struggle with the overlapping consequences of action and inaction act as a kind of echo, or endlessly looping gif animation that acts as a cautionary tale. Closely studied, these ‘memories’ can lead to self-knowledge and inform morality and ethics while promoting affection, faith in one another, and compassion.

What is worth understanding?

What should I accept, what should I question, and what should I resist?

What system of ethics do I use, where does it come from, and how does it change?

What are ‘people for’?

What should I ‘do’ and where and with whom should I do it?

In short, we learn what it means to be human. Is this not even more immediate and useful in an era where every digital discovery is an ‘opportunity’ for substance or distraction? When students are too quick to Google without fully understanding what exactly they’re looking for and why?

Mitigating The Thoughtless Ambition Of Technology

As a system preoccupied with endless assessment, data, utility, research, and ‘career readiness,’ Education has become incapable of using abstraction to understand. Death of a Salesman, The Scream, Oedipus, King Lear, Chopin, et. al, all provide models of morality, rebellion, self-criticism, and propriety, but these ideas are all package in forms and structures very different than those many students read and use themselves on a daily basis.

Students accustomed to actuating learning through YouTube channels and learning simulations and apps may naturally resist the ‘dwell-time’ necessary to distill the patterns embedded in the humanities. And even those students naturally interested or disciplined enough to try will often hear these pursuits discredited by those asking if such knowledge will lead to ‘a job,’ missing the fact that it should illuminate the kind of work and jobs worth having.

In modern education systems, we are more interested in helping students process endless streams of often useless data—which seems practical until we measure that practicality by what it fails to do—i.e., help a student understand their own citizenships, legacies, gifts, and opportunities for meaningful actions and relationships in their own community. Education trains students to be better at education.

The humanities are interested in what is uniquely possible in each one of us, suggesting the work we might do, and the place we might do it in. How one can be ready for a career without being able to answer these kinds of questions isn’t clear.

The ultimate distinction here then is one of affection and needs. Technology needs the humanities more than the reverse is true. By bridling technology’s thoughtless ambition, the humanities can let us prove—to ourselves—that we are not confused about what we are slowly becoming.

Humanities Not As Content, But A Sequence

Another way to contextualize this age of information is as an age preceding one of wisdom or true community. Information has always existed. It now comes oddly packaged and fragmented–briefly in tweets or tags, or search results 46 pages long. This means it’s always out of context. Properly applied humanities, then, provides that context. They can make information whole again, causing impatient would-be Googler’s to extend their thinking just a bit more.

To refine their questions.

To search for people and communities and primary source documents rather than the misleading and superficial distillations that Google all too often retrieves because it’s just a search algorithm and it doesn’t ‘know’ anything.

In part, this is why students should read.

Mastering technology requires us to know what we need, the kinds of questions we should ask, the kind of work we are called to do, and the demands placed on us simply by being alive. This is why we need to teach the humanities. The humanities are not simply colors and sounds and stories and dances and ethical frameworks, nor are they self-indulgent reflection; rather, they represent our documented collective expression over thousands of years! Here is who we are and what we’ve done and the mistakes that we’ve made and what we value in a hundred different forms and languages and patterns! What a miracle!

In an increasingly urgent and immediate and even illusory digital world, the humanities will show us where we’re going if we’re willing to read them as something other than ‘stories,’ and teach them as something other than ‘classes’ and ‘content areas.’ These ‘stories’ are artful and often troubling demonstrations of who we are by framing where we’ve been, every single time paralleling the trouble we’ve already seen and pain we’ve already felt. Nothing new ever happens. You want to see the future? Let’s trace our collective arc.

How might wearable technology might impact our identity and affections? What could mobile devices do to our physical interdependence? What does it mean to know or understand something? Want to see the thin, blurry line between modern medicine and bio-engineering? Wonder what a culture seized by apathy or fear looks like? This what literature, music, art, and other forms of human expression can help us understand.

The humanities precede technology just as you and I must always precede the tools we create.

Adapted image attribution flickr user nickamostcato and brioso; Redefining What It Means To Be Human In The Absence Of The Humanities


The Difference Between An Initialism And An Acronym

the-difference-between-initialism-acronym-fiThe Difference Between An Initialism And An Acronym

Initialisms and an acronyms are often confused, not so much that one is mistaken for another, but rather that initialisms aren’t usually named at all.

To many, every series of letters (that function as initials) are called “acronyms.” The distinction, while primarily an academic distinction, has become a bit more relevant in the age of texting and social media. New language and phrasing is injected on an almost daily basis into our vernacular. LOL, OMG, and IDK are paired with “fails,” “YouTubers,” and “trolls” to give us new characters to communicate with.

With this upheaval and chaos in mind, falling back on rules of language can help us properly classify new ideas so that, you know, we can continue to actually understand one another.

The Difference Between An Initialism And An Acronym

The difference between an initialism and an acronym is simple: The latter makes a word you can say, while the former does not. Some examples?

5 Examples of Initialisms

  • NCAA (National Collegiate Athletic Association)
  • NFL (National Football League)
  • CIA (Central Intelligence Agency)
  • SAT (formerly Scholastic Aptitude Test–since changed))
  • ACT (formerly American College Testing–since changed)

5 Exampled of Acronyms

  • NASA (National Aeronautics and Space Administration)
  • Laser (Light Amplification by the Stimulated Emission of Radiation)
  • NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organization)
  • OPEC (Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries)
  • Scuba (Self-Contained Underwater Breathing Apparatus)

The Difference Between An Initialism And An Acronym


24 Entertaining Short Stories For Middle School

24 Entertaining Short Stories For Middle School

Reading in middle school is tricky, and it’s not simply a matter of decoding and fluency.

Middle school students are an interesting bunch, with rapid brain development, emerging identities, and a varied assortment of readiness, background knowledge, and maturity in any given classroom.

This can make selecting short stories for middle school students a challenge. The following graphic may help., a treasure trove of teachers resources, put together the image below to help jumpstart your thinking. It is mostly classic stuff, but there are literally zero missteps here, with every story having literary value, from the suspense of “The Lottery” to the memorable characters of “Flowers for Algernon.”

As for additions, we might suggest “Everything That Rises Must Converge” by Flannery O’Connor, though it’s likely better suited for 8th graders and above. Let us know in the comments what else you’d include!


24 Entertaining Short Stories For Middle School

1. All Summer in a Day

2. Flowers for Algernon

3. Harrison Bergeron

4. To Build a Fire

5. The Ransom of Red Chief

6. A Sound of Thunder

7. The Tell-Tale Heart

8. The Lady or the Tiger?

9. There Will Be Soft Rains

10. The Lottery

11. Hearts and Hands

12. The Rocking Horse Winner

13. Miss Awful

14. Charles

15. The Moustache

16. Young Goodman Brown

17. The Most Dangerous Game

18. The Black Cat

19. The Sniper

20. An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge

21. The Veldt

22. The House of Stairs

23. The Landlady

24. The Fun They Had

24 Entertaining Short Stories For Middle School

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42 Idiom Examples And Explanations

42-examples-of-idioms42 Idiom Examples And Explanations

Oxford Dictionaries offers the definition of an idiom as “a group of words established by usage as having a meaning not deducible from those of the individual words (e.g.,rain cats and dogssee the light).”

A drop in the bucket.

To beat a dead horse.

Bring home the bacon.

Go against the grain.

These interesting phrases are metaphorical, and usually specific to certain culture of geographical region (which means strictly translating them into other languages is confusing).

The video below from Mental Floss quickly goes through 42 idiom examples in video form, making it a great introduction for your students. But the best part is that it also explains the origin of each phrase–and many of the explanations may surprise you.

42 Idiom Examples And Explanations


The Best Thing To Ever Happen To Google Drive For Teachers

The Best Thing To Ever Happen To Google Drive For Teachers

First came cloud-based word processing in the form of Google Docs.

With cloud-based word processing in education, teachers could remotely access student work, students (provided they had internet access and had a Google account) could retrieve their work from anywhere, and writers could collaborate in real-time with their peers to double-team the pain-staking work that is the writing process.

Then Google finally delivered on the long-rumored Google Drive, giving teachers and students the ability to store both documents and images, pdfs and presentations, video files, and more, turning Google into a cloud hard-drive of sorts. Further, the change to Google Drive brought with it access to apps to bolster what Google Drive could do.

Which brings us to the latest–and perhaps best–evolution of Google Drive for teachers.

Kaizena voice feedback.

To be clear, this isn’t a Google project, but rather an app that integrate with Google Drive to work its magic. But what (simple) magic it allows: cloud-based, tablet-friendly voice feedback and commenting for documents, allowing you to provide thorough feedback and guidance for writers without making endless notes in tiny margins on papers that can get misinterpreted or lost.

In our limited use, we haven’t come across any hiccups, but have read some users in the comments section of the Chrome Store are indeed reporting some problems. Let us know in the comments section if you give it a try, and what–if any–issues or successes you might have.

The Best Thing To Ever Happen To Google Drive For Teachers


The Difference Between Inference & Prediction

reading-childThe Difference Between Inference & Prediction

by TeachThought Staff

Reading comprehension is a core tenet of schooling. The new Common Core Standards in the United States pace an increasing emphasis on reading, requiring for it to be taught across content areas, rather than simply in English-Language Arts classes. (Or through Reading comprehension apps, for example.)

This means math, science, social studies, and even technology teachers will soon be in on the challenging–and rewarding–task of helping students better understand what they’re reading.

Which made the following anchor chart from pinterest user teachingwithamountainview immediately relevant to almost any K-12 teacher.

The Difference Between Inference & Prediction

Understanding the difference between inference and prediction is one of classic challenges in literacy instruction, in addition to the difference between main idea and theme, mood and tone, and reading versus deep reading, and so on. Some of it is a mater of jargon. An argument could be made that, like main idea and theme, that distinguishing between the two is more trouble than it’s worth.

But if we are truly teaching students to close read a variety of texts and digital media, understanding the nuance of reading ourselves as teachers of all content areas is important.

So what’s the distinction? Ultimately, the difference between inference and prediction is one of fulfillment: while itself a kind of inference, a prediction is an educated guess (often about explicit details) that can be confirmed or denied, an inference is more concerned with the implicit.

In general, if it’s discussing a future event or something that can be explicitly verified within the “natural course of things,” it’s a prediction. If it’s a theory formed around implicit analysis based on evidence and clues, it’s an inference.

Both inferences and predictions require students to combine clues, evidence, and background knowledge to form a theory.

This has always been our understanding of things anyway. Let us know in the comments section if you think of it differently.