Happy (belated) Birthday, Maya Angelou!

Yesterday would have been Maya Angelou’s 88th birthday, and though she is not here to celebrate with us, she’s left a legacy of the written word that we can celebrate in her honor.


Today, I would just like to share some of Angelou’s poetry that we may not know as well as “Phenomenal Woman” and “Still I Rise” – and poems that would easily add to much of what we’re teaching:

A Brave and Startling Truth by Maya Angelou  (1995, for the UN’s 50th Anniversary)

We, this people, on a small and lonely planet
Traveling through casual space
Past aloof stars, across the way of indifferent suns
To a destination where all signs tell us
It is possible and imperative that we learn
A brave and startling truth

And when we come to it
To the day of peacemaking
When we release our fingers
From fists of hostility
And allow the pure air to cool our palms

When we come to it
When the curtain falls on the minstrel show of hate
And faces sooted with scorn are scrubbed clean
When battlefields and coliseum
No longer rake our unique and particular sons and daughters
Up with the bruised and bloody grass
To lie in identical plots in foreign soil

When the rapacious storming of the churches
The screaming racket in the temples have ceased
When the pennants are waving gaily
When the banners of the world tremble
Stoutly in the good, clean breeze

When we come to it
When we let the rifles fall from our shoulders
And children dress their dolls in flags of truce
When land mines of death have been removed
And the aged can walk into evenings of peace
When religious ritual is not perfumed
By the incense of burning flesh
And childhood dreams are not kicked awake
By nightmares of abuse

When we come to it
Then we will confess that not the Pyramids
With their stones set in mysterious perfection
Nor the Gardens of Babylon
Hanging as eternal beauty
In our collective memory
Not the Grand Canyon
Kindled into delicious color
By Western sunsets

Nor the Danube, flowing its blue soul into Europe
Not the sacred peak of Mount Fuji
Stretching to the Rising Sun
Neither Father Amazon nor Mother Mississippi who, without favor,
Nurture all creatures in the depths and on the shores
These are not the only wonders of the world

When we come to it
We, this people, on this minuscule and kithless globe
Who reach daily for the bomb, the blade and the dagger
Yet who petition in the dark for tokens of peace
We, this people on this mote of matter
In whose mouths abide cankerous words
Which challenge our very existence
Yet out of those same mouths
Come songs of such exquisite sweetness
That the heart falters in its labor
And the body is quieted into awe

We, this people, on this small and drifting planet
Whose hands can strike with such abandon
That in a twinkling, life is sapped from the living
Yet those same hands can touch with such healing, irresistible tenderness
That the haughty neck is happy to bow
And the proud back is glad to bend
Out of such chaos, of such contradiction
We learn that we are neither devils nor divines

When we come to it
We, this people, on this wayward, floating body
Created on this earth, of this earth
Have the power to fashion for this earth
A climate where every man and every woman
Can live freely without sanctimonious piety
Without crippling fear

When we come to it
We must confess that we are the possible
We are the miraculous, the true wonder of this world
That is when, and only when
We come to it.

There are many topics and “big ideas” we could connect this poem with – in order to work it into what we’re teaching about contemporary and current events or literature. We could connect it to war, the environment, the potential (and disappointment? and hope?) of people.  The repeated “When we come to it,” emphasizes our still-coming-into-itness.  What might our students have to say about this in light of other things they’re learning or reading?  Are we closer than humanity was in 1995 . . . or further away?

This poem may also work nicely paired with a poem from a previous post, Matthew Olzmann’s Letter Beginning with Two Lines by Czeslaw Milosz, which is about the violence happening in America – in schools and elsewhere.  It begins:

You whom I could not save,
Listen to me. 

I wonder what these two poems would have to say and reveal about one another. It might be an interesting discussion or Socratic Seminar.

At the time of Angelou’s death, she had been working on a collaborative project with producers Shawn Rivera and RoccStarr, who focused on original beats and instrumentals as Angelou recited her poem, “Harlem Hopscotch”:

One foot down, then hop! It’s hot.
Good things for the ones that’s got.
Another jump, now to the left.
Everybody for hisself.

In the air, now both feet down.
Since you black, don’t stick around.
Food is gone, rent is due,
Curse and cry and then jump two.

All the peoples out of work,
Hold for three, now twist and jerk.
Cross the line, they count you out.
That’s what hopping’s all about.

Both feet flat, the game is done.
They think I lost, I think I won.

The video can be seen with this Huffington Post article, “The Music Video For ‘Harlem Hopscotch’ from Maya Angelou’s Posthumous Hip-Hop Album, is Here.”


And, finally, the poem most often used in tributes right after her death, “When Great Trees Fall,” published as the last poem in the 1990 collection of poetry, I Shall Not Be Moved. 

When great trees fall,
rocks on distant hills shudder,
lions hunker down
in tall grasses,
and even elephants
lumber after safety.

When great trees fall
in forests,
small things recoil into silence,
their senses
eroded beyond fear.

When great souls die,
the air around us becomes
light, rare, sterile.
We breathe, briefly.
Our eyes, briefly,
see with
a hurtful clarity.
Our memory, suddenly sharpened,
gnaws on kind words
promised walks
never taken.

Great souls die and
our reality, bound to
them, takes leave of us.
Our souls,
dependent upon their
now shrink, wizened.
Our minds, formed
and informed by their
fall away.
We are not so much maddened
as reduced to the unutterable ignorance
of dark, cold

And when great souls die,
after a period peace blooms,
slowly and always
irregularly. Spaces fill
with a kind of
soothing electric vibration.
Our senses, restored, never
to be the same, whisper to us.
They existed. They existed.
We can be. Be and be
better. For they existed.


And if you want to participate in “Take a Poet to Word Day,” here’s your chance with Maya: http://www.tweetspeakpoetry.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/06/Take-Your-Poet-to-Work-Day-Printable-Maya-Angelou.jpg

Technology for the Teacher

This post is an idea-gathering space to expand on the thinglink infographic created for the third installment of Tips, Tricks, & Treats. Click here for access to all of the links from this workshop.

And here’s the handout Stephanie created for great websites.

Click images to make them larger.

Technology to Streamline your Life

  • Evernote (app & online)

Below is what a “shared” note looks like.  This means you can share notes and notebooks with students and colleagues. easily.

evernote share a noteBelow is what your Evernote account will look like online and from the app:

updated online


  • Notability (app)

Use Notability to take handwritten notes on your IPad or other device.  You can change the color, you can highlight, add a lined page for easier writing, and can even transfer your notes to evernote or some other source for easy viewing and organization later.  It allows you type notes as well, if you prefer.


To get the most out of Notability, be sure to click the magnifying class at the bottom, which allows you to write larger, but for it to appear smaller on your notes page.


  • Turnitin.com (app & online): Use turnitin to catch instances of plagiarism, to assign specific peer review and self review assignments, and to grade essays. You can even import your own rubric, and on the app, you can leave voice comments!!
    • Sign in to bhprsd.org and access “Staff Resources” and then “Technology FAQ” for information on how to register for turnitin.com.
      • Turnitin

Technology for the Classroom 

  • TED (app & online)
  • Thinglink (app & online): Create interactive images where you link text, videos and images from the Internet.
    • You could create one for students as a review, an introduction to a unit, or a unit-long resource.
    • You could begin one (or let students begin) and build on it together throughout a unit.  Students could be individually responsible for linking a current-event article, historical background, a song that relates, a video that demonstrates a related concept, etc . . . Together you build and learn all the connections that can be made.
    • Students build their own interactive image as a project, unit review, or even in lieu of standard notes.
  • YouTube (app & online): Use the link above to access an article on the best youtube channels for education.  Students can also use youtube to upload videos for projects that can then be easily viewed for presentations and later by you.
  • Discovery Education (online):  Stream educational videos in all subject areas from this great resource.  And never wonder . . . “Is this school appropriate?”
    • Sign in to bhprsd.org and access “Staff Resources” and then “Technology FAQ” for information on how to register for discovery education (listed as “United Streaming” on the FAQ page)
  • Prezi (app & online): Create dynamic presentations or ask your students too.  Creators can co-edit in real-time, which means students (and teachers) can work on the same prezi.  No more . . . “Well my partner has our project and he’s not here today,” and much more productivity when working in-class on presentations.
    • Another great feature of Prezi is the “Explore” tab.  Search for anything you may be teaching to see if you can borrow & steal instead of reinventing the wheel.
    • If the Prezi has a recycle symbol, you can save a copy of it into your own Prezis to make any changes or additions you’d like.

explore tab

  • Genius.com (app & online)
    • Add a text (literary, informational, musical) and have students annotate it.  They could do this individually or in pairs/small groups.  Each student might get a paragraph, a page, or a chapter of text that they are responsible for annotating.  You can add text to the site or they can.
    • Close read together, at home or in the computer lab.  Share the work; expand the understanding.

Poetry Genius

  • TedED: Find and create lessons centered around a video from TED or YouTube.  The already-created lessons could have questions (MC & open-ended) as well as resources for learning more.  You can create your own video-centered lesson so that students can learn at home (Flipped-classroom style) on their own or in class.
    • Can you just imagine the future when students have computer access when a substitute teacher is there and they can still follow your planned lesson??


TED Ed screenshot 2

  • Twitter: Use Twitter in the classroom by creating a hashtag (make sure it’s not already being used!) that your class can use when responding before, during, or after reading text, watching a video or film, listening to a song, etc . . . .  You can simply search the hashtag on Twitter to gather all of the responses.
    • Here’s an example from Jessica Evans’s and Kristy Johnston’s English 4A classes last year. Students had to tweet to #troy4A while watching Troy.


  • Piktochart: Create infographics or ask your students to as culmination of a research assignment, to re-organize notes or analysis, etc . . .
    • Combine Piktochart with Thinglink if students will be presenting!
    • Just looking to have your student analyze infographics?  Check out Daily Infographic.
  • Turnitin.com (app & online): Use turnitin to catch to assign specific peer review and self review assignments and hit writing-technology literacy standards while you’re at it!
    • Sign in to bhprsd.org and access “Staff Resources” and then “Technology FAQ” for information on how to register for turnitin.com.

Technology for Professional Development

  • Zite (app): Create your own “newspaper” on topics that meet your professional development interest.  Once you select subjects, Zite will scour the Internet for articles related to those topics and compile them neatly and nicely for you.
    • Give articles a “thumbs up” if you want to see more like them and a “thumbs down” if you don’t to see them.  This will help Zite zero in on exactly what you’re interested in.
    • Share these articles with others by posting them on Twitter.

photo photo_1

  • Podcasts: Podcasts are online “radio shows,” for lack of a better description.  You can find them on just about any topic.  Check out the thinglink for an article about which are the best for 21st century educators.
  • Webinars: Take a seminar online – often for free!! Check out the links on the thinglink for some great free Webinar options.
  • Pinterest: Collect and organize resources! Use Pinterest’s educational boards or search for your own educational-interest and start building resources on specific topics.  I have boards on literacy, Writing Workshop, Genius Hour and Project-Based Learning, that I’m slowly filling to contain numerous resources on all of those topics.

writing workshop screen shot

  • Twitter: Twitter is fast becoming the go-to place for professional development.
    • To get the most out Twitter, you need to do two things:
      • 1. Follow the right people for your interests.  (Linked the Thinglink is a list of recommended folks for educators to follow.)
      • 2. Search the hashtags you’re most interested in.  (Linked to the Thinglink is a list of education-related hashtags).

following on twitter


TED-Talk Inspired Ideas for Twitter-izing Narrative Reading & Writing

Check out this short 12 minute TED Talk by Andrew Fitzgerald, an editor who discusses the new frontier of narrative writing: Twitter (Thanks to Jordana for sharing this with me!).  In it, he discusses the idea of fictional characters engaging in the real world (like the characters of West Wing, who all have Twitter accounts) and flexible identities available on Twitter.

Here’s a screen shot from the talk, when Fitzgerald talks about an author who used different voices (Twitter accounts) to tell a story via Twitter:

Twitter fiction TED talk screen shot
There are so many ways we can bring these narratives into the classroom–as small, daily assignments or larger assessments.

Here’s a few ideas (Note: “Tweets” could be on paper, in notebooks, on bulletin board, or on Twitter):

  • “Tweet” original stories: Throughout a narrative reading and/or writing unit, have students build their own stories twitter-post by twitter-post, meaning, they “tweet” a part of their story as a warm-up and/or closing each day.  They can apply what they learned about narratives or about narrative writing in class that day or the day before to their Twitter serial-stories.  Towards the end of the unit, they could use those as fodder for a full story or performance assessment.
  • “Tweet” from a character’s perspective: Students could adopt a character they’ve read about and be responsible for “tweeting” his/her/its reaction to current events and happenings.  This requires incredible upper-level thinking but they won’t even know how much you’re stretching their brains.  It engages students in current and/or global events and puts them in the driver’s seat of a character and makes them really understand the character and his/her/its motivations.  (This could also work if you’re teaching, say, Medieval England.  As they learn about Medieval England, what would have been that character’s response to certain events?)
  • Apply narrative knowledge by analyzing Twitter fiction: Students find an example of Twitter fiction and watch it unfold live or scroll back through it.  They can apply what they know about narrative to analyze this new narrative . . . maybe even study it as a genre!  What’s different about this when compared to a story or novel?  What characteristics are unique to Twitter fiction?  Why does the author make the choices (s)he does when tweeting certain information at certain times and making the reader wait at other points? (RL.12.5) What does suspense look like in Twitter fiction?  This could be a really fun performance assessment where students go out and study and analyze a new kind of narrative.
  • “Tweet” a whole-class or small-group serial-story: Students could work together to build a twitter story (I imagine this working best on a bulletin board or Twitter account).  Different students might have different roles, like in literature circles, and might be different characters who reply to other tweets in addition to tweeting their own ideas (depending on the character).  This might be quite the experimental adventure, but I think it has great potential! Students, with your help, could analyze the story as they write it to make sure they have all the key elements of story-writing.  They could add “replies” in (after analysis) whenever something, like setting or conflict, needs to be further developed.  This might be a unit-long activity, but it would be great for reinforcing the elements of a story or the elements of narrative and pushing creative and collaborative boundaries.  With the right rubric, I think it could even be a performance assessment grade.  🙂

I’m oozing with excitement over this!  Have other ideas to share? Leave them in the comments for all to see 🙂

Slacker Poster, Time for Poetry Catch-Up, NPM Days 17-25

As I’m sure you’ve noticed (or not . . .visitor numbers are low :)), I neglected NPM postings during Spring Break.

First, in honor of a belated birthday, that of Billy Shakes:

Sonnet 55

Not marble nor the gilded monuments
Of princes shall outlive this powerful rhyme;
But you shall shine more bright in these contents
Than unswept stone, besmear’d with sluttish time.
When wasteful war shall statues overturn,
And broils root out the work of masonry,
Nor Mars his sword nor war’s quick fire shall burn
The living record of your memory.
‘Gainst death and all-oblivious enmity
Shall you pace forth; your praise shall still find room,
Even in the eyes of all posterity
That wear this world out to the ending doom.
So, till the judgment that yourself arise,
You live in this, and dwell in lovers’ eyes.

And now . . . let’s play catch-up:

1. From the Poetry Foundation (and Target, apparently), a Teacher’s Poetry Guide for Black History Month.  It deals in three main subjects: Love and Compassion, Heritage and History, and On Being Black.  It includes poems and activities for students: Poetry Foundation Black History Month.

You could use this as it is or extend the subjects out to other poems and poets – other poets writing about identity, heritage, and compassion.

2. Hit some global issues with an article by the New York Times, “Why Afghan Women Risk Death to Write Poetry” or this longer look at Afghan Women’s Poetry in this poetry foundation article (with poems).

3. Have students explore annotated poetry (click yellow text to see pop-up annotations) or annotate poetry themselves at Rap Genius’s poetry genius.

4. Check out the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame’s Lesson Plans that combine music with the social, literary, and political going-ons of its time.  Selections include Langston Hughes and the Blues, Popular Music and the Civil Rights Movement, Music and Protest, Vietnam War, Cold War, etc . . .  (remember – music as poetry totally works!),   This is one of my favorite resources.

5. A video from EduTopia about Empowering Authentic Voice through Spoken Word Poetry  that looks at one student working with YouthSpeaks and learning how to use her life as her primary text.  Great to open a discussion about poetry, why we write it and perform it and how we find ideas for our poems.  Would work as an introduction to spoken word poetry or poetry in general.

6. YouthSpeaks’s Brave New Voices (featured on HBO) includes videos (watch here) of students’ performances at the finals.  It is nice for students to see what other teens are writing about and how they are performing.

7. The National Writing Project’s long list of resources (many are articles, but the ideas may spark something!) for Teaching, Reading, and Writing Poetry.

Music & Literature Resource

Hey all.


Brainpickings.org, which I recommend for all kinds of reasons, not the least of which is because Maria Popova describes her site as “a human-powered discovery engine for interestingness” has a great page called “literary jukebox.”  It’s a “side project” Popova does in which she picks a great literary quote and matches it thematically with a song (you can play the song on the site).

I love this because it’s fun (nerd alert) and because it might be an awesome mini-activity, warm-up, closure, or home work assignment when students are reading anything in class.  🙂

You could even great a bulletin board jukebox (or Ipod), where you could keep track of your book-long, marking-period-long, or year-long jukebox selections.