Monday, January 13, 2014

[Mentor Text Monday] Using Photos

When I'm looking for mentor texts, I often forget to consider photos. "Reading" a photo uses some of the same skills as reading a text with words. 

One of my favorite sources for online photography is There are a variety of categories and the photos are vibrant and rich. When I look for photos to use as mentor texts I am looking for photos that encourage questioning--that aren't static or purely a still object.

For example,

I  will share how  I "read" the photo above using some of the same guiding questions I would use with a written text.

What do you notice?

blue skies
bathing suits
4 young-ish people
a shadow of the closest object/surface in the upper right corner
no boats or other swimmers nearby
hills or mountains at the edge of the water

What does that tell you about the photo and why?


  • The setting looks like a lake because the water is very still and the hills in the background remind me of what I've seen next to a lake before.
  • The weather is probably warm because the jumpers are wearing shorts and bathing suits and the sky is blue.
  • The color of the sky looks like the sky in the Spring in the places I've lived, which makes me think it isn't Summer or very hot. I would have to look up more information about the color of skies and the season to be sure.
  • The kind of vegetation showing on the hills is different from the kind I see in the places I've lived (west coast), so I think it is further east.
Point of View
  • The photographer is below where they jumpers jumped, and next to surface the jumpers jumped from because the shadowed area at the top right was in the view of the camera.
  • I don't think the photographer is friends with the people jumping because they aren't waving or acknowledging the camera in any way.
  • Right before this, I imagine the jumpers were laughing and talking loudly like people do when they are excited or nervous.
  • Right after this, after the jumpers have landed in the water, I think they will come to the surface smiling and yelling.  I think they will swim towards the shore, but they might play in the water for awhile before they jump again because it probably takes a lot of energy to climb that high.
  • At first I thought these four jumpers must be very courageous, but then I realized that not all of them have to be. Sometimes there only needs to be one courageous person in a group in order for other people to try it.
  • Where are their shoes?  Did they leave them up there? Did they climb barefoot?  Did they throw them down?
  • Is the photographer a friend of theirs?
  • Are they jumping more than once?

Simply "reading" the photo is a worthy task. Using the photo as a writing prompt is equally worthy. We can take it further though:

Geography/Setting/Expository Writing:
  • In what part of the world does this photo take place? What can you use to make your determination?  How specific can you get? What is your evidence?

Narrative Writing:
  • You are the photographer.  What's your story?
  • You are with this group. What are you thinking?
  • You are with this group and you didn't jump. Why?  What are you thinking?

Opinion/Argument Writing:
  • You are one of the jumpers. Convince the other jumpers to jump again--even if they don't want to. 
  • Make a true statement about this photo and prove it is true using online resources (example: prove jumping into lakes is dangerous using news articles that show injuries).
Fun, huh?

Herea re a couple more photos I love to use.

Try it out!

Friday, January 10, 2014

[An Abecedary of Cape-Wearing] Beat the Baddies like Batman

for Beating the Baddies like Batman
Batman is one of my favorite heroic characters. It's true, it is possible that Batman is not, technically, a superhero (wha-what???  Read here or here if you want to edify yourself), but I have decided I'm okay with his questionable status. I have decided to love him anway.

Let me be clear, this has nothing to do with the relative attractiveness or unattractiveness of the actors that have taken on the role. Trust me. I can only name one or two, and one of my favorites is the cartoon Justice Leage version. He has a kind of Wolverine-esque quality to him.

I love him because he has to work very hard to beat the baddies. He has to be knowledgable about global issues, he has to learn the newest technology, and he has to train to hone his super-secret ninja skills, he has to take care of his outfit and redesign his cape for ultimate effectiveness.  I mean no offense to the heroes who get their powers from planets, or spiders, or lanterns, or large hammers (okay, I judge the use of a hammer)--I like them all well enough. But Batman. He has to do it himself. He has to use the resources available in Gotham City and make them super (yes, with unimited wealth and jaw-dropping technology).

As teachers and teacher-leaders, we can hope for Superman's powers, Wonder Woman's jet, and Thor's Hammer (I don't really want Thor's hammer, but I'd take a jet.), but we won't get them. What we can do though is use the skills and tools we do have to do our work and beat the educational baddies we encounter

I won't spend your valuable time rehashing all of the educational baddies we encounter in our quest to educate our nation's children. We all have our own fight.  Each day we rise to continue the battle because we know it's the right thing to do.  We each have an aresenal of skills and tools that we can use to fight the good fight each day:

  • professional development opportunities
  • humor
  • respected collegues
  • content knowledge 
  • technology
  • inspiring leaders 
  • deserving students
  • dedication to the cause
  • personal health
  • professional connectedness
  • the knowledge that we are doing the right thing
Take a minute and think about some tools and skills you have already, resources you may have forgotten you have, or items from this list you'd like to explore. Batman has his batcave full of fast cars, faster computers, and, of course, Alfred. Do you have a bat cave?  What do you keep there to help you beat the baddies?  Do you need to remind yourself to Be Like Batman?

Oh yeah, and Batman wears a cape. A really rockin' cape.

Thursday, January 9, 2014

[An Abecedary of Cape-Wearing] A is for Caveat

Let's start off 2014 with an ABC book!  Let's call it the... Abecedary of Cape-Wearing! Let's start right now!
is for Caveat

Wait... what? Did I mean to do that?  Yes, and it's making me giggle. While that doesn't gurantee that it's actually funny, it does prove I did it on purpose and like it.  How, in the name of education, can I start an abecedary with the word Caveat?  How do I dare take a standardized structure like the ABCs and then start with the letter C?  For many reasons actually, but let me explain in a meandering sort of way.

Along with Mentor Text Mondays, Amy (of aforementioned powerhouse and does-what-she-says-she-does fame), and I agreed to try to post an abecedary to get ourselves blogging again. Click here to follow Amy's Abecedary of Reflection.

I ran through a variety of topic ideas over the last weeks of 2013 and eventually decided to go back to the roots of Wear the Cape--my belief in the empirical super powers of teachers. I have many (too many) opinions about super heroes and their application to education. I talk about it often enough that some folks might think I'm just a childhood superhero fan trying to thread my hobby into my work. Truthfully, I had to learn about superheros from scratch a few years ago. Click here to read about my Aha! moment while watching the Green Lantern movie. While I won't pretend it is laborious to watch movies and read comic books, this is still a learning curve for me. As I learn, I'm continually reminded that I'm right (hee). The history and mythology of superheroes has a depth to it that is often misunderstood. I recently started reading this book that relates intense philosophical ideas to superhero lore. It's a complex read!  Fascinating, to be sure, but not fluffy.

Why start the Abecedary of Cape-wearing with a caveat then? Well, it comes down to the capes. See here for a quick context-setting video:

So you see how a blog called Wear the Cape getting ready to post an Abecedary of Cape-Wearing might need to start with a caveat.

  1. 1.
    a warning or proviso of specific stipulations, conditions, or limitations.

My caveat is this. As a super teacher you  may or may not choose to have a cape--literal or figurative. While I am a fan of capes as a fashion statement, when I refer to capes I am actually referring to any symbol that reminds you (and the world) that you do indeed have super powers as a teacher of children or leader of teachers. With this caveat an Abecedary on Cape-Wearing can be applied to all super teachers--cape or not.As the Wear the Cape Purpose Statement reads:

It may be that teachers need a dose of super powers in order to truly commit to the education of children. Without this magic the daily grind can be too much. At times we may forget we are, indeed, super, and might need to don our capes as a reminder. Sometimes, it isn't enough to be the super teacher in our hearts. Sometimes you gotta wear the cape.

Teaching is a deeply personal profession. Education professionals care so deeply and for so many hours a day, that we just sort of assume they will keep on caring so deeply and so consistently for ever and ever--no matter how hard it is, no matter what the news says about us, no matter what the current political tide. And we will--it's what we do. But it's hard work to maintain such a high level of vigilance and expectation of work, of ourselves. We need to pat ourselves on the back, refresh, renew, and giggle sometimes. My solution is to wear a cape. On a daily basis, my cape is only in my head. When absolutely necessary I am not averse to putting an actual cape on to make my point--either to myself or to others, but I usually mean the one in my imagination.

So, tuck my caveat in your cape pocket and join me as I work my way through an Abecedary of Cape-wearing. If you are reading this (and even if you aren't, it's just harder to prove) you have a cape. Let's celebrate it!

Things to think about as we go along:

Who is your favorite superhero? Do you have a cape?  Do you want one?

Monday, January 6, 2014

[Mentor Text Monday] An Intriguing Lead

Thanks to a friend and colleague Amy, I've renewed my intention to post mentor text ideas each Monday. Since Amy is going to post as well, and since she is a powerhouse who does what she says she does, I'm thinking this will be a good thing!

For today's Mentor Text Monday post I want to focus on the very first passage from a book I've just started. The beauty and the curse of reading like a writer is that EVERYTHING you read becomes a mentor text. Every passage, every ad, every article, holds mentor text opportunities. Curling up with a good book must now include a pile of sticky notes or an annotation app close at hand to mark each new idea. The other afternoon, recovering from the flu, I downloaded The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman on my e-reader. My intention was to relax, rest, and recover. Within thirty seconds I had marked up the pages (using my favorite tools on my e-reader) and put the book down to try out what I had read.

Here it is:

Ask yourself, what do you notice? What is it that the author tells us in this short passage, and how does he do it?  As a lead into a story what do you learn from this passage, and what does it make you wonder?

Here is what I noticed:

The very first line gives me a setting that I feel like I recognize--I've seen duck ponds before! It gives me a sense of a small, slow-moving, simple country-side.

Then right away the picture of a duck pond is contradicted with the word ocean. My image of a countryside no longer fits, and the fast-moving, vast ocean is in it's place. This also tells me about something about Lettie Comstock--she is an unreliable source. But who is "they?" Did they cross the ocean or not?

I watch the phrase "old country" grow and change.  It was across the ocean, it had sunk, it wasn't the oldest country after all.

I learn more about Lettie Comstock as well--she has a grandmother and a great-mother who were alive at the time of this excerpt. This makes her younger than I originally thought and maybe an even less reliable source.

And then, the final line. Blown up?  The old country sunk, which is concerning, but the older country blew up? That's so intriguing!

Part of my process in breaking down a new peice of mentor text is to try it out. I thought of a short story--a memory from my childhood--and tried to use the same strucutres to introduce the story. I'll admit, this was a challenge. I wanted to keep all of the writer's craft techniques from the original, but there were so many!  Here's my attempt:

It was only an abandoned windowless house, next to the street. It wasn't scary.

Tracy Majors said it was haunted, but I knew that was silly. She said that it just rose up out of the driveway one day.

Her older sister said that Tracy didn't remember properly, and it was before she was born, and anyway, it was the family that built that house that died in it. 

Mrs. Majors, their mother, said they were both being dramatic, and that the family that built it hadn't died in it. She said she knew their grandson.

She said said that their grandson still lived in it today.

Writing this helped me to realize how many different pieces of information the author put into this passage. As a whole, this is a complex lead to write--I really had to know the story I planned to tell well. Some of the simpler structures within the whole might be more accessible--using three different persepctives (Lettie, mother, grandmother), inserting a jusxtaposition (duck pond/ocean), giving relative historical context (old country/really old country).

Either way, I can't wait to keep reading. I'll share more as I do!

*I did some searching and I don't know if the O. stands for something in a literary way, or for ocean or for zero? If you know, give me a shout-out, would ya? It looks like so: