Category Archives: TGS Boston

See, Think, Wonder

hpzfeaturebuttonWe have been working with Harvard’s Project Zero on integrating thinking routines  into our teaching. Melissa Rivard, Veronica Mansilla, and Flossie Chua have been working with our staff to develop what they call Global Thinking Routines, a type of thinking routine designed to make thinking more visible and geared towards an international perspective.

The thinking routine that I have decided to focus on in my class is called, See, Think, Wonder. What I love about this routine is that it forces me to be less controlling of my classroom. I have no idea where the conversation will end up or what students will learn from the prompt. In a way it forces me to let students chart their own educational course while simply engaging their own curiosity. I see many similarities in what this routine forces me to do as a teacher and one of my favorite Ted Talks by Sugata Mitra. He mainly speaks about “letting students learn” because they are naturally curious rather than ‘making them learn.’

I was lucky enough to have one of my classroom conversations transcribed and analyzed in a staff meeting. What I am most pleased with is that throughout the transcript, you can see students asking and answering questions that I would have asked them as their English teacher. They hit all the things that I would have wanted them to hit all on their own! It was less work for me, and they actually accomplished much more than we would have if it had been teacher guided. Additionally I am pleased to see that my voice is one of the least commonly noted ones in the transcript. Truly student centred learning.

You can see  a transcript of a conversation that I had with my 9th grade class following students recording what they see, think, and wonder while watching a clip of Malcolm X and Martin Luther King Jr.’s opposing ideas. 


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John Dewey, Experiential Education, and Slammed Poems with Taylor Mali

dewey 1

John Dewey said that “education is not preparation for life, but life itself.” I took this quote to heart when I planned my assignments for the Boston semester. I believe that the rational for larger assignments should not be that students will need those skills in their future lives, but that they will need those skills soon, for something real, something much more important than a grade. For my unit on poetry I wanted students to have a real life reason to learn the skills associated with this unit, and what better way of motivating students to learn the skills associated with poetry than by creating a real poetry slam, with real slam poets, at a real NYC comedy club?



mali 1mali 2Think Global School invited the four-time National Poetry Slam Winner, Taylor Mali to meet us in New York to take the poetic techniques and devices we had learned in class to the next level.

We started our unit in poetry by completing experiments or investigations into a particular use of a poetic device. Each class was centered around the central question, “what makes good poetry good?” With this mindset, we set about to break down poetry into a few key techniques and analyze each of those separately. And of course, because this is TGS, we decided to look at those particular skills while also getting a background on each of the major poetry movements that occurred in the USA.

We started by asking ourselves, “what makes good diction good?” We decided to attempt to answer this question while analyzing Edgar Allen Poe‘s “The Raven” and also making some assumptions and conclusions about the American Romantic Period of poetry.

We then asked, “What makes a good comparison?” We searched for an answer while studying the Harlem Renaissance and using Langston Hughes “Harlem” or “Dream Deferred” compared to his other poem, “Dreams.” 

Following the Harlem Renaissance, we moved into the Beat Movement and used Allen Ginesberg’s poem, “Howl” to draw conclusions about how to write ‘good’ imagery.

Finally, we looked at how to create ‘good’ sound by studying the American Hip Hop movement and looking at a song by Nas and analyzing how his use of different types of rhymes creates a type of flow.

Following all of these ‘experiments’ students had a pretty good understanding and opinion on what makes ‘good’ poetry, and we put these skills to the test by spending a few days writing our own poems. During this time students were given a lot of choice and free range on how they wanted their poems to sound and feel.

Finally, it was time for the main event. Students, poems in hand, had a chance to learn from a master of presentation, Taylor Mali. Taylor came in and did a two hour session with my students focusing on the presentation aspect of a poem when slammed.

David gestures for David & Goliath (New York City, USA)

Taylor had many valuable hints that we will all take with us for life including how to stand, how to approach a microphone, what to do with your hands, and how to end a poem.

Following this workshop, it was time for our student’s final presentations. With Taylor as host and two of his friends, Thuli Zuma and Olivia Gatwood, to help pump up the crowd by presenting some of their own poems, students presented in front of a live audience at the Gotham Comedy Club.  A review of the performance by our headmaster, Alun Cooper, can be read here, and the entire performance can be seen here. 

image from slam

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Washington D.C. Teacher’s Personal Project

While in Washington D.C. we asked our students to create their own personal investigations into issues that could be studied by visiting D.C. As teachers, many of us decided to do the same and create our own personal projects. Here is mine. 

As a resident of Washington D.C. and the surrounding area for over twelve years, I was always stumped by the question of why the residents of Washington D.C. were not given representation in congress. Every day, I would see D.C. license plates with the slogan, “No Taxation Without Representation,” but to be honest, this was as far as it went.

The irony of the situation struck me again when I lived in Argentina. I would often tell people that I was from Washington D.C. This question was often followed by, “En qual estado es que?” or “In which state is that?” Routinely, I found myself explaining that D.C. is in fact, not part of any state, and each time I bumbled through this explanation in Spanish, I became more and more aware of the irony, and each time I became more aware of the irony, I became more irritated. I felt that every attempt at D.C statehood was committed to half-heartedly, like the license plates, left to stand for something, but never move people or affect change.

I spoke with Greg Simon, the former advisor to vice president Al Gore, after he spoke to our students in Washington D.C. When I was able to get a moment to ask him a question, I said, “Why hasn’t the issue of D.C. statehood ever been seriously considered?” He agreed that every attempt had been done so halfheartedly, almost as if they had expected failure. Greg suggested that to finally make a change, the people of Washington D.C. would have to protest. The people of this city would have to realize that this issue does affect them, and they would have to “turn to the streets.” The only problem, I now realize, is that to the regular citizen of D.C. this issue is not immediate and pressing.

To solve this problem, I took the skills and inspiration from the street art and stenciling class that the 9th and 10th graders took in Buenos Aires at a gallery/bar called Hollywood in Cambodia, and as the street artists did, made a post-modern adaptation of an already existing piece of art. In this case, it is one of my favorites, located in the Adams Morgan neighborhood in Washington D.C. The piece can be seen here in a posting by one of my favorite D.C. bloggers.  

My version is an easy to print, cut, and use stencil that can placed around the city on sidewalks. The hope is to appeal to a sense of pathos rather than irony and logos and to link citizens more closely with the issue at hand and in more places. In this way, the issue becomes more present, immediate, and personal.

dc stencil

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