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On Langston Hughes – Black History Month Tribute to a Great Poet

via On Langston Hughes – Black History Month Tribute to a Great Poet

Melba posted a wonderful poem, Mother to Son, written by legendary African-American poet, Langston Hughes.

I used Langston Hughes’s poetry in our poetry unit each year. The metaphor of life as a staircase, sometimes smooth and other times unevern, seemed to fit junior high students. My students responded to it well.

Another aspect of including his work and Maya Angelou‘s poetry was around the issue of civil rights. In Grade 7, we read the book The Cay, by Theodore Taylor who dedicated it to Martin Luther King shortly after he was assassinated, about the relationship of a young white boy and an elderly black man to discuss what being well-educated meant. I included my mother’s line, which was “who would you rather be lost in the wilderness, someone who read about it or an indigenous person, with no schooling, who lived it?”

In Grade 8, we exoplored civil rights through the lens of heros. I let students choose, but some struggled with this choice. Knowing my students well, I introduced them to Jackie Robinson, Willie O’Ree, and Wilma Rudolph, if they were interested in sports. Others, who came from religious families, I encouraged them to consider Martin Luther King  and Mother Teresa. If they were interested in people who stood for the rights of the oppressed, but might not be considered a religious person we talked about Nelson Mandela and Mahatama Gandhi. Regardless, I found, when I tapped into who each student was, colour, ethnicity, and gender dissolved and wonderful projects emerged.

Another Hughes’s poem we read was Dream Deferred, is sprinked with questions from beginning to end:

What happens to a dream deferred?
Does it dry up
Like a raisin in the sun?
Or fester like a sore–
And then run?
Does it stink like rotten meat?
Or crust and sugar over–
like a syrupy sweet?
Maybe it just sags
like a heavy load.
Or does it explode?

Here, is a video of the poem read by the poet.


Dr. Seuss

Theodor Seuss Geisel, better known as Dr. Seuss, was born this day in 1904. Teachers, librarians, and parents use his books in children’s literacy, but I found children and adults never really out grow Dr. Seuss.

Several years ago, I read an article about Dr. Seuss. He created cartoons as a critical response to Hitler and Mussolini. He deplored racism and his books were a means of introducing children to diversity. Even though we think of his books as essential to children’s literacy, they are as important to social justice and equity.

It was not just his characters, but what they ate or did not eat that were part of the diversity.

Do you like green eggs and ham?

I do not like them, Sam-I-am.
I do not like green eggs and ham!

Would you like them here or there?

I would not like them here or there.
I would not like them anywhere.

I do so like green eggs and ham!
Thank you! Thank you,


The Journey

I am not sure what my schedule is like for the rest of the afternoon, so I will post earlier than I normally do. I read quite a bit yesterday and one of the books I finished was by a friend, Deb E. Berg and is called Ja-Mya and the Journey. I taught two members of the Berg family and Deb was a founding member of our small school. Much of the underlying philosophy that led to this group of parents approaching educators with their idea of a different way of imagining a school and children’s learning is reflected in this book.

The book weaves story-telling reminiscent of classics such as The Chronicles of Narnia, Peter Pan, The Wizard of Oz, and many others. The two main characters, Teagen and Andrew, search for life’s meaning as two adolescents who embark on their summer vacation with their uncle. They search for their Heart’s Desire, explore deep and timeless questions adolescents ask, and enter a fourth dimension where time is not as we understand it. They witness two opposing worldviews: one of abundance and stewardship; the other of scarcity and depletion. They learn their greatest strengths are often their greatest weaknesses. The reader embarks on a journey with Teagen and Andrew as they learn about nature, connect to a new world through their imagination, and find wisdom. In a single afternoon, Andrew “fought a war, rode a dragon, wrote and performed a song while learning about my Heart’s desire.”

This book is about finding and integrating the contemporary with the traditional. It is about a real need to see legacy not through the eyes of adults, but through the eyes of children. What world do we choose to leave for them? What is our gift to them?

I leave you with the song Andrew wrote and performed at the end of the book:

Life begins, life ends,

Struggles come and go

What the Journey holds for each

Is something we cannot know.

Friends along the way,

Providing what we need

In companionship and wisdom

With varied type of deed.

One’s Heart’s Desire can only be found

When walking the road of life

No matter what we find it is

The awareness will bring less strife.

Emotion also finds its place

Along the Journey’s way

With welcoming and firm embrace

Wisdom will guide today.

Value, meaning, the hope of life

Shows in the time we take

To listen to a kinder voice

Love’s words to never forsake.

Life begins, life ends,

Struggles come and go

What the Journey holds for each

Is something we cannot know.

I would love to use this book in the form of a novel study or a reading project with junior high students.

From Teaching a Stone to Talk

Annie Dillard is a wonderful writer whose prose has a great poetic quality. Her words ask me to find quiet and solitude provided on the Sabbath. In that quiet, I go deeper and seek peace among the turmoil.

“In the deeps are the violence and terror of which psychology has warned us. But if we ride these monsters deeper down, if you drop them further over the world’s rim, you find what our sciences cannot locate or name, the substrate, the ocean or matrix or ether which buoys the test, which gives goodness its power for good, and evil its power for evil, the unified field: our complex and inexplicable caring for each other, and for our life together here. It is given. It is not learned.”

Take care and see you Monday.

The Booker Award

I compare the world of blogging to living in a small community. We meet each and acknowledge each other. We get to know some people better than others, but recognize something unique in each other.

Mimi from Waiting for the Karma Truck recently honoured me with The Booker Award and I am grateful she recognized me.

I look forward to Mimi’s each day.  She shares various gifts and lessons from life, work, and, family. She provides wisdom drawn from those sources through her blog, public presentations, and writing.

The fun and challenging aspect of this particular award is to list my five favorite books.  Similar to Mimi I can’t do that, but I offer five books which I found compelling at some point. I enjoy reading and this list is sorely incomplete. I read very few fictional books, but that is a product of the doctoral journey I undertook.

The Alchemist – Paolo Coehlo (actually any book by this Brazilian author is a worthy read).

To Kill A Mockingbird – Harper Lee (I cheated and left this on from Mimi’s list, but it was and remains an outstanding social justice reminder).

The Executioners – John D. MacDonald (I read almost anything by this author. This book became Cape Fear, but he is famous for a pulp fiction character Travis McGee).

The Courage to Teach – Parker J. Palmer (I first read Parker Palmer’s Let Your Life Speak before returning to university for my education degree and read this author extensively.

Why I Wake Early – Mary Oliver (I could have included a number of this poet’s books or books by Wendell Berry, Billy Collins, Robert Frost, etc. I love poetry).

I nominate others who I hope can add into our libraries and expand our literary worlds. I tried to expand and move beyond those who received earlier awards from me. I think their blogs are diverse and we will receive a range of new ideas for our ‘cosmic library.’

I tap into the libraries of:

Elizabeth’s Ramblings

Nick Falkner

Thinking is Writing

Thought Baker

The Blazing Trail

Colour the Day

Katz Ideas

Practical Practice Management

Sylver Blaque

Elke Teaches

An Angry Young Poet

Each year, I spend time on poetry with the students. Two years ago, a student asked if I wrote poetry in junior high school and I was able to say, “Yes!”. He asked me to share with them. I found them in a small lock box I keep at home and shared several with the class.

I mentioned in Culture of Peace Sam Intrator. He suggested teachers expose adolescent students complex, existential questions of life as they move through those formative years. I wrote my poems in about 1969. It was a time when identity was increasingly rooted in the global nature of the world, not just immediate community and family. War, even in Canada, entered our homes via television. I found voice in poetry and expressed an abhorrence to institutional and government approved murder. What set me apart from my peers, was I took no sides. Each was equally wrong in my mind. Mr. McKenzie, an innovative English teacher, encouraged that in us-find our voices.

I shared the following poem with my students. I concede it is not exactly the original, as it was pretty angry. I hope the original message is still there. Students asked for more poems and I complied. These past few months I rediscovered my poet’s voice. It is a gentler voice, I hope.

Win or Lose: What Difference Does it Make?

 One game

If it is one

No fun to lose

No great thing to win.



Men, women, children gone

In no time

Woe! The vanquished losers;

No winner

Each, vanquished in every sense.


In ruins


On countless graves


Without pride

Beggaring citizens

Values of others

Resenting conquerors

What does war bring?

No jobs

No hospitals

No schools

No homes, but the streets

Destruction everywhere.

What does war bring?

Death of innocence

Loss even in victory

Comrades fallen

But see an enemy vanquished.


Proving nothing

What fools

Going on forever

Will we learn?

We must

I pray

For human survival.

Take care and have a great 20th of July, 2012.

Reading and Blogging

I love to read a good book. I feel I have conversation with the author. As Carl Sagan suggested, I hear the voice of the author. It is the same with blogs. Each time I read a blog, look at its pictures, or both, I feel I am listening to the person share something special about their life with me and the world. Blogs break both the shackles of time and space.

I am grateful.

One glance at a book and you hear the voice of another person -perhaps someone dead for thousands of years. Across the millenia, the author is speaking, clearly and silently, inside your head, directly to you. Writing is perhaps the greatest of human inventions, binding together people, citizens of distant epochs, who never knew one another. Books break the shackles of time.

~Carl Sagan

Words from the Wise

This arrived today. It definitely was not how a felt yesterday or when I first got up this morning. Sometimes our childhood heroes say it best and, as adults, we need to listen with a beginner’s mind.

And today I am off to see the Wizard, the wonderful Wizard of Oz.

Junior High Creative Writing Activity: A Fractured Fairy Tale

Children hear and read fairy tales at a young age. When they reach late elementary and junior high school age, they can explore and discover inconsistencies in fairy tales i.e. Goldilocks breaks into the Bears’ house and vandalizes it. Here is a creative writing activity in the form of a parody.

This is the most popular creative writing activity in our junior high class. This plan has worked well for me as a junior high teacher, but I think could be used with upper elementary students. I think it can be modified and meet the needs of younger and older students.

We use Jon Sczieska’s The True Story of the Three Little Pigs by A. Wolf as a model of a parody.

The unit plan includes:


Reading the story to the class and brainstorm differences between the original and this version? Most students are familiar with the original story of The Three Little Pigs, but have it on hand if someone is unfamiliar with the story.

What fairy tales are students familiar with? Brainstorm and create a list. What parodies of fairy tales are they familiar with? Have they seen Shrek? What makes Shrek different from other fairy tales? Students may recognize Shrek as a parody of the genre and has features and structure of a fairy tale while it spoofs the genre in various ways.

What twists can be used to rewrite a fairy tale i.e roles of antagonist and protagonists or plot events? Some examples students have shared include what if the third little pig refused his siblings refuge to teach them a lesson where would they stay?  Could the pigs organize a pig posse to run the wolf out-of-town?  Would they have become ‘ham jam’?  What about the story from the wolf’s perspective?  What if the wolf were a vegan?

What other fairy tales are students familiar with?  Brainstorm and make a list. This helps students choose a fairy tale to rewrite. Choose a familiar fairy tale and brainstorm ways to ‘fracture.’ We have used Cinderella. The list can offer starters for students and could also be used in the parody of another fairy tales. What if…

  • Cinderella has beautiful step sisters?
  • The prince cannot dance?
  • Cinderella is a homebody who likes to cook, sew, and clean and is not interested in attending the ball?
  • The magic wand is defective and does not get the spell right?
  • Cinderella does not want to get married?
  • Cinderella wants a car and not a carriage?
  • Etc…

Brainstorm elements fairy tales share and create a graphic organizer to hand out. Some features have included:

  • Once upon a time…
  • Good vs. evil
  • Beautiful heroine and handsome prince
  • Magic/supernatural
  • Personification
  • …live happily ever after
  • Etc…

Students can ‘fracture’ a fairy tale and change stories in unexpected, clever, and humourous ways by altering characters, modifying language, using a modern context, etc. The fairy tales still remain true to their original forms despite changes.

Here are sites to find fairy tales or refresh memories about the fairy tales students choose: Story Nory, Grimm’s Fairy Tales, and Ivy Joy. Some sites include other genres i.e. fables. Stick to fairy tales as they are well-suited for this project.

Students include an outline or web and a rough draft. Peers or teachers can proofread the story so students can edit.

Final Product

A picture book format is popular. The authors of the picture book can read to their stories to younger students.

Words of caution

  • This is not a yearlong project
  • Students  need to choose something of a manageable length.
  •  Usually the audience is younger. Students should use appropriate language and images, keep the book short i.e 20 pages, and use large font.


I use this activity to assess creative writing, sharing orally, and finding appropriate images for the story and the audience. As well, there are brainstorming, proofreading, and editing.


What engaging writing activities do other teachers use in their classrooms? What changes can be used for older and younger students? What other assessment purposes can you think of for this type of activity?

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