Tuesday, May 29, 2012


I've developed the Culminating Activities for the course. 20% will be attributed to Blogging. See ACTIVITY here:

The other 10% will be a 90 minute exam where you will be asked to write creatively and examine a piece of creative writing. Date to be determined.

Please comment on this POST if you have questions or want to invite me to check out your blog.

For a list of student blogs go here:

Student Blogs- March 2012

Brighton Beach Memoirs

Brighton Beach Memoirs Test

1. Coming of Age theme- use Eugene specifically.
2. The stage vs. the screen. Major differences from the perspective of actor, writer, audience.
3. Write a scene using the proper screenplay writing format. I will give you the scenario.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

How I Tricked Myself Into Being Awesome

Through social media, by following certain educators and leaders in educational reform, I found a guy, who found a guy, who found a guy, who wrote 3 books by deciding to learn about a topic and blogging about it every day. To me, this is what SELF DIRECTED LEARNING looks like:

How I tricked Myself Into Being Awesome

I hope you are inspired by this as much as I am. Hmmmm... what else will I learn today?

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

What Does Learning Look Like?

What Does Learning Look Like?
Tom Johnston April 18, 2012

All human beings have the same three fundamental experiences. We experience BODY , MIND , and SPIRIT(defined as a strong sense of connectedness to others and world).

Look down at your body. Now look around. If you focus on your physical world right now you are having the BODY experience of being human. Our experience of BODY includes our actions, the objects around us, the food we eat, the emotions we feel, all the physical sensations we have of being alive in our bodies.

We also have the experience of MIND. This is the mental stuff- talking to ourselves with that inner voice, logic, thinking through things, reason, creating with ideas, brainstorming, and discussing anything with others. Without MIND, BODY would just be instinctual. MIND transcends BODY and carries BODY into the world of understanding and wisdom.

Of course there is no separation between BODY and MIND; but we experience it that way.

And there's no separation of SPIRIT either- but we experience it that way.

SPIRIT is experienced in our sense of connectedness to people, to our humanity, to the earth, to the universe, to source energy that seems to bind us all together. All generations past, present, and future, experience SPIRIT (no organized religion has a monopoly on SPIRIT)

Using this approach I will offer a definition of:  WHAT LEARNING LOOKS LIKE:

LEARNING is an experience where we are interested, engaged, and curious about something, and as a result of our actions, we grow in some aspect of BODY, MIND, SPIRIT. We can see it, we can feel it; but we can't measure it. Learning is qualitative, not quantitative.

All learning has an emotional content. Engaged, interested, passionate, motivated, excited, curious- this is what learning would look like at the BODILY LEVEL. We see it in children all the time. It's one of the most natural experiences we can have. Learning would probably not look like sitting-in-a-row-quietly-hands-folded-on-the-desk-everyone-writing-the-same-test, for example. Learning at the BODY level definitely requires humour and laughter.

Learning would look like a MIND that is asking questions, interacting with others, being puzzled, being shown how to do a skill, processing, and being highly interested and motivated to do these mental exercises. The motivation comes from having a sense of purpose and direction that is both felt and thought to result in our PERSONAL GROWTH. Learning at the MIND level would question the value of tests and rooms and rows and subjects and teaching walls.

The SPIRITUAL experience is similar to school spirit. It's people being together and sharing a bigger collective experience. Being a part of something bigger, our school, our family, or our community,  ultimately our humanity, and beyond. Learning at this level would look like a group of students collecting money for Trayvon Martin's family because they thought it was important to help someone in need.

Each of these levels of learning experiences are hierarchical: BODY is lower than MIND. MIND transcends and includes BODY. In other words, we need to have a great experience at the BODY level before MIND can work at its most efficacious. When we're sick, learning slows down. When MIND finds greater purpose and connectedness, it reaches SPIRIT and then anything is possible. BODY and MIND are greatly enhanced when infused with a sense of purpose. At the SPIRITUAL level, learning looks like joy- or play.

Learning looks like a curious, interested and motivated human being putting effort into finding out new discoveries, doing new skills, creating new results, engaging with others, and doing all of this changing because of a higher sense of purpose and human connectedness.

Have you ever watched a child play with a toy? Have you ever been curious about something and pursued your quest (ions) because it seemed more important than writing that essay for English? Have you ever felt passionate about what you are doing because it connects you to a greater purpose?

The human experience can be understood in terms of BODY, MIND, and SPIRIT. When we respect and nurture all three of these experiences in our learning and in our lives, we nurture our humanity.

Thursday, April 12, 2012


Screenplays in Tom (omally176)

Screenwriting Activities
Screenplays really need to be typed. They should use 12 point Courier (not Courier new) or Prestige Pica. These are fixed-pitch fonts that yield ten (10) characters per horizontal inch and six (6) lines per vertical inch.

Activity #1-- Pairs-A skit that could be filmed and uploaded to YouTube
Let’s get our feet wet. Write a 3-5 page (3-5 minutes) screenplay ‘short’. You can use ‘Park Bench’ as a model. Come up with a skit that begins quickly and ends quickly. It could be funny or suspenseful or whatever you want it to be. Use the handouts and follow the format given. Practice writing in the camera angles and scene directions. 

Activity #2--- Individual Screenplay-- A Short Film by YOU
This is the major activity for this unit. Write a 10-15 page short (10-15 minutes long) screenplay that has an introduction, rising action (suspense- something that engages the viewer), a climactic moment and a resolution (think of ‘In God We Trust’). Again, use the format we’ve learned for writing screenplays.

Submit a page explaining the premise for your screenplay (activity #1 and #2. You could use a short story graph to explain your premise)


You are all invited to the live stream Poetry Slam Festival at Park Street Orillia

So, the link that we'll use is going to be: http://connect.scdsb.on.ca/pscislam/  For the EXTERNAL link.

If the folks are on a SCDSB Networked computer they can use the internal link at: http://scdsbstream.scdsb.on.ca/module.php?mod=mod_live&task=live_play&port=1801  . This will be better quality.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

POEMS- 3 Found Poems

To begin the POETRY UNIT, I want you to CREATE A BLOG. On this blog you can make your FIRST POST entitled: 3 FOUND POEMS.

  1. Your task: To find 3 poems that you appreciate in some way.
  2. Create a blog (if you haven't already) and on the first post, copy 3 poems you like (no songs yet!). Be sure to give credit to the author and the website. (give the link and author for example)
  3. You could include Slam poems and videos of poetry readings, but I would like to see the words on the page written out so we can use it for discussion.
  4. You may also include pics that somehow represent your poem; but again, please give credit to sources. Copying things onto your blog is fine as long as you don't make any profit from your blog. 
  5. Also, use first name only and no personal pics or personal videos please. 
  6. After each poem include a short personal essay about why you chose that poem. A personal essay is simply your reflection on the process you went to find poems and the reasons you chose each of your 3. I say 'essay' because you want lots of paragraphs for ease of reading. You may use first person, of course, but use good sentence formation. Consider spelling and communication. After all, people are going to read this!!!!  No text shortcuts and put capitals where needed. May I suggest you find a good proof reader for peer editing.
  7. Email me the link to your blog. And make sure your blog allows other people to make comments on your posts.
  8. In class we can create a rubric together on how I will evaluate these blogs.
Terminology in Poetry:

POEMS- found- Dylan Thomas

Dylan Thomas (1914-1953)

Do not Go Gentle into that Good Night

              1Do not go gentle into that good night,
              2Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
              3Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

              4Though wise men at their end know dark is right,
              5Because their words had forked no lightning they
              6Do not go gentle into that good night.

              7Good men, the last wave by, crying how bright
              8Their frail deeds might have danced in a green bay,
              9Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

            10Wild men who caught and sang the sun in flight,
            11And learn, too late, they grieved it on its way,
            12Do not go gentle into that good night.

            13Grave men, near death, who see with blinding sight
            14Blind eyes could blaze like meteors and be gay,
            15Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

            16And you, my father, there on the sad height,
            17Curse, bless, me now with your fierce tears, I pray.
            18Do not go gentle into that good night.
            19Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

I came across this poem years ago when planning a poetry unit. Previous teachers' lessons often included this poem. I also took it at university. I was always intrigued by this poem but it took me a while before I really appreciated it.

I used to dislike poetry, or any writing, that I couldn't immediately understand. I changed profoundly in my 30's when I realized that poetry and language are all about the subjective interpretation and not the "school idea" that there is only one answer to all questions and students can get those questions right or wrong. I believe we do a great injustice to the mystery, intrigue, and love of learning when we objectify it in this way.

I have re-read stanzas 3 and 4 probably hundreds of times over the years and never get tired of them because their meaning is just slightly out of reach for me. I think I enjoy more the 'not-knowing' exactly what his metaphors are saying because it just keeps drawing me in. And while I have come to 'understand ' the poem very well over the years, I've also seen students get drawn in to this one.

Maybe that's why it continues to be read by people even after 62 years of existence (published in 1951).

Wikipedia offers an analysis of the poem but I'm deliberately avoiding it for the above reasons. 

In the past, poetry in school was always ANALYZED, and in our left brain madness, we looked for the right and wrong interpretations of poems. We can be mistaken about authors' intended meaning of their writing, but if we find a poem and like it for whatever reason, that 'FINDING' and 'LIKING' of a poem is neither right nor wrong- it just is.

This is called "READER RESPONSE": reading poems and appreciating them for a variety of reasons. That is what we will do in this class. We will find poetry and respond to it (as well as writing it). Let me know if I get too analytical (I do like to do that sometimes) and remind me that POETRY IS ABOUT APPRECIATION and SUBJECTIVE NTERPRETATION, and NOT about correct and incorrect meaning.

Have you noticed that I haven't even discussed this poem in this blog? 

Poetry requires you to:
  1. Sit with a poem for awhile. Don't just read it quickly and hit the like or dislike button.
  2. Appreciate the poem for sound, rhythm and rhyme of the words it uses, the meaning you come away with, and experience you have with this poem. Poems have changed my life- SONGS and SLAMS can make you laugh and cry and experience the breadth of feeling in this thing we call life.
  3. Respect the fact that poets (and you are one as well) have offered their hearts and souls to us as readers in their attempt to tell us something significant or insignificant about being alive.
What does Dylan Thomas tell us about being alive in this poem? (theme)


3 Protest Poems document

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Poetry and SLAM

We'll be practicing some poetry writing after March Break and looking at some sample poems. If you have any favourites, please feel free to share with me. Here are the handouts. I'm posting this early for people who may miss a few days before or after the break. If you know me, then you know that these documents could change a little.; but, for the most part, this is what we will be doing:





Sunday, February 19, 2012


The next major activity is to write a short story. It is due on the Friday before March Break (Fri. March 9). The activity is explained in the Google Presentation and the rubric below:

The Craft of Story Writing/Telling  

Short Story Rubric

Short Story Plot Graph

First I will collect a SHORT STORY PLOT GRAPH completed by you in point form on a graph showing me your plan. (Due: Fri. March 2nd or before)

SUSPENSE is the most important element I want you to experiment with.

Friday, February 17, 2012


Hi Everybody,

The journal for today is listed in the Journal Post. I also put Tuesday's journal. Normally, I won't post them ahead of time but I thought it might get you started on thinking about a story that will be due Friday, March 9, 2012. That story starter, Ït was a dark and stormy night"is a cliche. A CLICHE is an overused piece of language. Usually, it is good to avoid them because they get tired in their over usage. Other examples: 'kick the bucket", "You can see the writing on the wall", "let sleeping dogs lie" "teach an old dog new tricks", "you made your bed, now lie in it". 
Link to Cliche info.

IDIOMS are similar. They are just popular sayings that are usually metaphors (like cliche). The only differnece is, as writers, you don't want to use ready-made sayings all the time. Come up with your own unique use of language. Don't rely on idioms and cliches too much.

Link to Idiom info.

By the way, "It was a dark and stormy night" was an infamous phrase by Edward Bulwer-Lytton around 1830. It has since become renowned as a cliche and an example of 'wretched writing"

Since 1982 the English Department at San Jose State University has sponsored the Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest, a whimsical literary competition that challenges entrants to compose the opening sentence to the worst of all possible novels. (great idea here for a journal entry)


This weekend start thinking about a plan for a short story. I will be collecting your PLOT GRAPH CHART for your short story in a week or so.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Descriptions- Some things to keep in mind

1. Adjectives and adverbs
2. Past tense Present tense- be consistent in the description
3. Passive voice =I had given-- active voice-= I gave
Link to verb tenses (Purdue)
4. Metaphor, simile, personification- figurative language
5. Onomatopoeia, alliteration, hyperbole

(A) Here is a Sample Description with Examples from Above

I walked (past tense) slowly and lazily (adverbs) through the dark green (adjectives) forest at the hour of twilight. It seemed(past) as though a billion(hyperbole) chirps, squeals, and skitters (onomatopoeia) were (past tense) all sounding out at the same time. An owl hovers and hoots, then hides(alliteration)(also present tense- don't change tense like this) in the tall, straight towering oak(adjectives) tree above. The forest is an alien world (metaphor) at this time of night, the darkness leaving just enough light to make my view hazy and uncertain(adjectives). It's like another world(simile) is descending(metaphor) and not just night. I had walked(past tense and passive voice) about an hour when I noticed a distinct grey (adjectives) shadow hovering beside the trunk of a large, old, dead (adjectives) tree. It looked as though the tree was guarding(personification) it or this shadow was using it for protection.

(B)Read each pair of descriptive sentences and decide which is more of a 'word picture:

Descriptive writing is an art form. It's painting a word picture so that the reader "sees" exactly what you are describing. To see for yourself what this means, read the following passages carefully. The same scene will be described twice. A quiz follows, so be sure to concentrate.
      #1: The sun was going down beyond the lake. The sky was beautiful. Shades of purple and pink, orange and red, a few really dark blotches, and a bit of yellow were reflected in the water.
      #2: The sleeping water reflected the evening sky. The angels must have spilled their jam, because the sunset was a mixture of grape with strawberry, apricot and raspberry, clumps of blueberry, and a little melted butter.

* * *

      #1: There was a rock sticking up out of the river, and a bird was standing tall and straight on it. Early morning mist was swirling around it.
      #2: In the middle of the misty river, an egret stood at attention on a rock. The movement of the mist made it appear as if the bird were gliding down the river on the back of a baby whale.

* * *

      #1: It was hot. It was too hot. The girl stood beside the road and waited. She was so uncomfortable that she lifted her hair off her neck to cool down. She began to sweat.
      #2: Humidity breathed in the girl's face and ran its greasy fingers through her hair. As she stood looking down the long, deserted road, she could see heat vapor rising in the distance, creating a rippled, watery effect. She frowned and lifted her hair off her neck. A drop of perspiration slid down her spine.

* * *

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Journal Reflection

Sitting by the fire all day Saturday and watching time go by. I noticed the day slip by and then around 5 O'Clock the night began to descend and I got to thinking that all anxiety is due to one thing and one thing only: time.

Now I don't have an anxiety problem but I do notice once in a while I feel a little stressed- marking to do, or meetings to go to, and when I watch the day descend today I got to thinking that time just keeps on sliding by. It never stops.

It's incessant. It just keeps sliding ('sliding' is the best metaphor I can think of right now- or slipping) and slipping and even if I wanted the day to last forever it just keeps slipping away from me.

If I started thinking about how I'm getting old and eventually I am going to lose all my faculties and slip into that great void we call death, then once again I can experience that in the fact that the day slips slides away.

And if I project out there to anyone who has anxiety- ie- worries about the future a lot- then I think the essential worry is that time is out of our control. We can't manipulate time.

We can manipulate a lot of things and we can be control freaks about a lot of things but time will not be controlled; but we can be at peace in  the present, let go and relax into this time we have.

It takes practice. And the same thing that makes life so awesome- TIME- is also the thing that slides away from us as we sit by the fire and observe the night descend...
Outside my house