What are we telling our children?

What do we want our children to learn from this election?

*content warning non-graphic references to sexual assault and racial violence*

First of all, please watch this. Michelle Obama has articulated what I have been wanting to say over the past week most clearly than I seem to be able to. (I wish she would run for president.)

Now. To anyone who thinks staying home for this election is a sign of protest against a corrupt system or a showing of solidarity with a third party candidate, please realize: Staying home on November 8th is an act of complicity. For anyone who believes abstaining from voting would send a message, you’re right. But it may not be the message you want to send. Not electing Hillary Clinton would be a message to politicians, to our children, and to the rest of the world that the majority of adult United States citizens are willing to give the most powerful position in our government to a publicly racist man who is proud of sexual assault. It would be telling our kids that as much as we say social justice, human rights, bodily autonomy, respect, and basic human decency are important values, what really matters is being a wealthy, white cis-het man who is comfortable doing whatever it takes to get himself ahead. It would be teaching our kids that the things he has said and done claiming women’s bodies as his playthings and endorsing public violence are somehow excusable. Handing this man the presidency would be telling the world that the basic rights and safety of women, people of colour, Muslims, immigrants, and children mean nothing us. His most recent comments are alarming, but not surprising. As others have said again and again, his most recent comments are exactly consistent with whom he has shown himself to be for years.

Every time there is an election with a particularly onerous candidate getting a lot of press, I get upset and discouraged, but something about this candidate, as Hillary Clinton said clearly in the last debate, is different. We do not just disagree on certain issues; he is injecting so much bigotry and fear into the public sphere that I have not been able to find the words to express myself, and as a writer at heart, that terrifies me. That said, I’ve been silent on this blog for too long as some sort of act of self-preservation, because it’s all too painful to think about for long enough to put words down, and that is not okay. If with all my cis White American privilege, I can’t even bring myself to make a public statement, then I feel like I’m just rolling over for him. We need everyone in our country shouting from the rooftops that this man does not represent us. We are not complicit.

Unfortunately, we do not have the choice of whether or not to give this man power. He already has taken it. We do have the choice of how much more power to give him. Please ask yourself what you want to tell your children, your siblings’ children, and your friends’ children when they ask you what you did to stop this man from becoming president. We are not complicit. Please vote. Please vote. Please vote. Please vote. Please vote. Please vote. I don’t know how else to plead. A missed vote for Hillary is a vote for her Republican opponent. Please vote.

Stop, Pause, Inquire

Sharing this thoughtful post from Inquire Within, a great education and question blog I read regularly.

Inquire Within

Just recently, I’ve had to stop and pause in our mad rush to get everything done: the rush to bring the students up to speed in their conceptual math understanding; to read with passion, to engage in our calming, writers’ workshop flow and to kick off our new unit.

But stop and pause…There’s some authentic inquiry and action happening and I’m not listening…

My teaching partner told me in passing that the students had been complaining about the cafeteria food. In their mother tongue, Bengali, they had been thinking about how the food isn’t good and how there’s so much food thrown away. They thought maybe the cafeteria was loud because students weren’t busy eating the food.  They even thought they might write a letter to see if they could take some action about it.

When I heard about it, I was in a rush. We were on our way…

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“Māra,” by Moira Wairama

During the last week of term, I introduced many of my E.S.O.L. students to “Māra,” a poem published in Issue 52 of the New Zealand Junior Journal, a journal of writing geared towards students working in level 2 of The New Zealand Curriculum. The full journals, with illustrations and audio recordings, are available here at no charge: http://literacyonline.tki.org.nz/Literacy-Online/Planning-for-my-students-needs/Instructional-Series/Junior-Journal.

A pēpepe I met in the Auckland Domain


In a smooth blend of English and Māori, the speaker invites us into her māra (garden) to meet all of the insects she meets there. The (free) audio recording available on the educators’ resource site highlights the poem’s magical, musical quality, capturing students’ attention in a way that simply handing them the poem as a silent reading assignment could not.

Though the poem is a great example of how students can use imagery, rhyme, and meter in their poems, I find one of the most important things this poem does is highlight the bilingualism and biculturalism that is so important to New Zealand. While I am an American citizen teaching English to non-native speakers, I feel a responsiblity to honour and lift up Te Reo wherever feasible in my teaching as well, and to set a norm in my classroom that all languages are equally precious. Of course, though the poem incorporates both languages, I don’t know if it actually tells us anything particular about Māori culture, so I should be on the lookout for more poems that do this. Learning English is never about replacing what one has grown up with but about adding something new. This is a topic for a future post, but does anyone have suggestions of other poems appropriate for young children that incorporate multiple languages fluently? I’d love to start a solid collection. Thank you!

Most of the articles in the journal come with teacher guides, but the poem does not, so I’ve written up some activities and prepared a vocab sheet for pre-teaching the Māori words and some of the Tier 2 English words that non-native English speakers would need support with. I included some questions to prompt a discussion about the concept of being “special” and what it means to consider something or someone special. My sessions with these students are each quite short, so we don’t have the opportunity for full on CoI, but as always, I’d love to hear of your students’ responses – just hit “reply” below! Adjusting for your students’ needs, I would discuss the unfamiliar words first, so that they have context. Then listen to the poem, giving each student a copy of the poem (from the journal) to have in front of them. Then proceed with the discussion and writing activity.

The guide is available here: http://tinyurl.com/maraguide

After a few drafts, I publish the students’ poems on the wall and give them a chance to read their poetry to each other. It gives each student a chance to showcase their own work and be publicly proud, to review what they have done vs. just turning in an assignment and never seeing it again, to recognize their own work as publish-worthy art, and to learn from and about their peers. I’d love to hear your experiences, successes, and challenges of young students writing and sharing their work!

What colour is “cold”? 

Yesterday I hosted a little poetry lunch with my students. I brought in sandwich makings, and they shared their own writing with each other. Each student was proud to perform their own work, and we gave everyone snaps and commented on parts of the poems that resonated with us or asked about parts that made us wonder. When everyone had read their identity poems that they had written with me, I suggested they head back to the larger group to make sure they had time to play before the next class, but they all chose to stay and read more🙂 One girl read a poem she wrote inspired by the colour blue, and her classmate wondered why she had included images of snow and ice in the poem. We talked about why that might make sense and how colours are often used to symbolise temperatures and feelings even if they don’t always actually look that way in real life. 

  • Do different types of weather have colours?
  • Can you feel a colour? What does it mean to feel blue? How might that be different than feeling like green or yellow?
  • What makes us associate certain ideas and feelings with certain colours? 
  • Can personalities have colours? 
  • Could you write a poem from the point of view of a colour itself? Try it out🙂

I have minor synaesthesia,  which for me just causes me to have strong associations between certain numbers, letters, and words and certain colours. If you or your students experience colour connected to other senses too, it can inspire insightful poems and new ways of seeing the world. Fun to get different kids’ perspective on how they experience and conceptualise colour in different ways. 

Do you or your students have some colour poems or questions/muses to share? Pop them in the comments. Thanks and have a beautiful weekend!

“The back of the world”

Hobo-Dyer Equal Area - Two-sided: North-up Africa-centered/South-up Australia-centered
Hober-Dyer South Up

The other day we were talking about geography, and one of my young students asked casually, “The poor countries are on the back of the world, right?” Wow. Ouch. “It can seem that way, huh?” I said after collecting myself. “Because we often see more wealthy countries highlighted on the map. But check it out.” I spun my globe beach ball that I had brought in from home. “The earth is a sphere, so there actually is no back, front, top or bottom.” We talked about north, south, east, west, the equator, and hemispheres. I try to use the globe for accuracy whenever possible and avoid the terms “above” or “below” when referring to locations, but doing geography with my kids has brought my attention to how difficult it is not to let those phrases crop into my daily speech.


The Mercator Map I grew up with privileges the Northern Hemisphere and particularly North America and Europe, front and centre. It certainly has its place, but since most people today use world maps not for direct navigation purposes but for global awareness and understanding relationships between countries, I find it curious that the Mercator has remained so overwhelmingly dominant in classrooms and homes. The Oxford Cartographers write that “Maps not only represent the world, they shape the way we see it.” They go on to say:


Five thousand years of human history have brought us to the threshold of a new age. It is an age typified by science and technology, by the end of colonial domination, and by a growing awareness of the interdependence of all nations and all peoples. Such a moment in history demands that we look critically at our view of the world as portrayed by the World Map. Surprisingly, to a significant degree this view is based on the work of cartographers from an age when Europe dominated and exploited the world.

Traditional map projections, of which the Mercator is one example, have tended to show countries incorrectly in proportion to one another, exaggerating the size of high latitude countries such as Canada and making tropical regions such as Africa appear much too small.

Read more at http://www.oxfordcartographers.com/our-maps/peters-projection-map/.

Hobo-Dyer Equal Area

I also love the Hobo-Dyer equal area and “South Up” maps available at ODT Maps. ODT has published a great little article with some history of different map orientations and projections and a discussion of some of the limitations of flat paper maps, particularly if we are familiar with only one type.


“Up” is over our heads, and when we mix “up” with “top” and “north” we do ourselves a disservice. We confuse all the other things we associate with “up” and “top” (like “good” and “heaven”) with north; and all the things we associate with “down” and “bottom” (like bad and hell) with south. So Australia is “down under” (under what?) and Antarctica is “the bottom of the world.” Antarctica doesn’t even show up on this “What’s Up? South!” map of the world. Some world! But then … it’s hard to show the whole planet — which is after all a three-dimensioned sphere — on a two-dimensioned piece of paper. Along with that extra dimension a lot of other things have to go. A map can show one or more — but not all — of the following: directions the way they are on the globe, distances the way they are on the globe, areas the way they are on the globe, or shapes the way they are on the globe. When maps show things the way they are on the globe it’s common to say they’re true, as in; “This map shows true directions.” But the language of “true” and “false,” like that of “top” and “bottom,” carries so much extra baggage it’s not much use. It’s more useful to be familiar with many different kinds of maps, each with its own slant. It’s like getting to know a poem in a language you don’t understand. Each new translation reveals a facet the other translations ignored. The more translations you read, the surer your “triangulation” on the poem you’re trying to get to know. The best way to understand our world is to view it through as many lenses as possible, to see it from as many vantage points as we can.

(…)  Each projection translates the globe from its own unique perspective . The equal-area Peters is often contrasted to the constant compass-bearing Mercator because they are so glaringly different. At ODT, Inc. we appreciate this contrast because it shocks viewers into questioning their assumptions about maps in particular and life in general. It helps people to “think outside the box” by exploring how what they see is predicated on what they expect to see. The “What’s Up? South!” map is similarly shocking though in another way. The continents are actually shaped much like they are on a Mercator but look unfamiliar because we’re not used to orienting our maps to the south. But sometimes all we need to do to solve our problems is turn them upside down.


Why are all sorts of different kinds of maps not more widely accessible and seen today? Think about your own upbringing: Where did you grow up, and and how did you see your country represented in literature and the media? How did this impact your identity and ideas about your country’s place in the world?

Muffins, Maths – and Poetry?

This week one of my students baked carrot-apple muffins as part of his maths lesson. Finding the recipe, discussing each ingredient, sounding out the words and copying down the ingredient list was all part of English study. The project doubled as practical maths as he developed literacy around fractions and figured out how much we’d have to make in order to have enough for each child in his class plus staff. “You do baking for maths?” a classmate exclaimed. “Baking is also science!” another teacher pointed out. I wish we had the resources to have every lesson for every student have a practical component! Unfortunately our kitchen isn’t big enough for more than a couple of people at a time, and it makes me think about how privileged we are to have kitchen access at the school at all. 
The whole class is working on cinquains and other poetry this week. They are tying this into their unit on the Olympics, and some wonderful imagery around sport is coming out of this study. They began by looking at photographs of athletes and brainstorming words they would use to describe the image. Does anyone have suggestions of some fun baking poems to connect it all together? They should be short and straightforward enough for a kindergarten student to make sense of and read most of the words with help within a few minutes, and fun enough that it will keep their interest (think Shel Silverstein or Jack Prelutsky-esque). Thanks!
For any bakers out there, here is the recipe we used! A gem from The Minimalist Baker, one of my standby recipe blogs. Vegan, of course. http://minimalistbaker.com/easyrecipe-print/8877-0/
It is also gluten-free, but if you have only wheat flour on hand and no one you’re serving is gluten-intolerant, that works just as well. Pretty customisable. We didn’t have any walnuts and just left them off, no harm. Easy to do with a group of kids and/or in a small space because there are lots of little things to prep (the flax egg, grating the carrot) but only requires one large mixing bowl.