Mashups in the Literature Classroom

I’m always on the hunt for good ideas – especially those that are founded on new/21st century literacies. My friend Beth recently posted about a pedagogical experiment in her writing pedagogy class. Beth’s work was grounded in collaboration and multi-modal/multi-genre composing. Reports of such work are always interesting and helpful for teachers looking to expand their range. That’s why I was glad to see a related article in the Chronicle today.

A professor wrote about doing mashups in to help students explore literature more deeply. Doing this kind of work pushes learners into higher order thinking while leveraging the contributive and collaborative nature of modern literacies.

The best mashups juxtapose materials deliberately; they make the implicit explicit. They expose or highlight underlying features of the source materials—formal, thematic, or stylistic—that casual listeners, viewers, or readers might miss.

In my classes, I’ve experimented with mashups in order to help students think about literary style. I started doing this when I noticed that my students often sensed stylistic differences between writers, but had difficulty articulating those differences.

Read more.

A Note of Encouragement

A friend of mine is writing his dissertation. He’s in one of those difficult phases and he vented. This is what he said and what I shared in return.

I have been growing more and more unfocused and frustrated w/myself.

Please don’t do that. The more you judge yourself and become disappointed in yourself, the more of that you create. Then, the harder it becomes to overcome each little hump. Instead, I would go in the opposite direction – literally praising yourself and your efforts for every small success. This was the key to turning around my stagnation and transforming it into momentum.

I decided to pick one small, focused, manageable task each day. Not a list. Not several. Not a couple.


I made sure I could and WOULD accomplish that specific task and celebrate and praise myself for that milestone. If I had more energy, I would do other work, but there would be NO PRESSURE to do anything else that day. The next day, I did it again. After about three days I felt like I was floating on air. I had tangible, actual, forward motion. Each tiny step counts, so there’s no need to get bogged down in the “smallness” of a task.

Even if your task is revising one paragraph. Or writing a new intro to a section. Or outlining a *portion* of a chapter. You name it. It all has to get done anyway. If you truly understand the idea of a thousand mile journey beginning with a single step, you will embrace that your dissertation is nothing more than a thousand miles putting one foot in front of the other.

Even if it’s only one step in a day, it counts.

Missed You

I haven’t written in months. At least not here. I have posted a bit over here, although I was quiet there too because I wanted to post “safe” things. I’m getting over that but…

I’ve learned that I really hate separating my personal writing from my professional writing. And, in fact, my goal is to engage my profession as my spiritual, authentic self. The dichotomy seems pointless, and even unproductive. {And it reminds me a bit of this post by Sojo}. BUT, I’m job hunting. I’m wanting to show the person who matches the job description. It’s not a dance I normally do and it’s actually made me re-prioritize the types of jobs I’m searching for (again). It’s becoming pretty clear to me the kind of work I should be doing. What’s not so clear is the how or where. I’ll explain more later.

All of that to say, the fact that I felt I’ve *had* to play it so safe and separate, and the fact that I’m resisting it now, means I’m working things out…creating space for the real me. It’s a period of reinvention. I’m a little impatient about it all, but happy to reflect and refine.

Hope to see you more often.

In Between

I’m excited. I’m relieved. I’m relaxed. I’m also in between…

I successfully defended my dissertation on Tuesday, November 2, but I have a round of revisions based on committee suggestions. It’s nothing major, and I hope to be done with them in a week. (We’ll see).

My friends and family have taken to calling me Dr. It’s sweet, although I’m not really done until those final checks and signatures are filed safely at the graduate school. My friend said “You’re not really ABD any more because you’re done with the D.” Well – that’s almost true.

So I’m in between. A little more than ABD, but not quite Dr. Collier, despite the excitement from friends and family.

Graduate school at the doctoral level is definitely a process. I’m joyfully one step closer to the end, but it ain’t over yet.

Go Dawgs.

Stories of Stance

I’m presenting at the Georgia Education Research Association’s annual conference in Savannah this weekend. My presentation will be my first attempt at a Prezi – provided all goes well with the technology! I am presenting the results of my dissertation work – a narrative inquiry into how teachers facilitate dialogue as a resource in standards-based literacy classes.

Check it out below:

Schools Kill Creativity.

So says Sir Ken Robinson, creativity expert. In this 2006 TED Talk, featured below, he challenges us to reconsider the status and positioning of creativity. He says schooling tends to be about educating students from the neck up and “off to one side.” Of course he means we value and teach to the left hemisphere as though traditional forms of intelligence are the only or best kinds. I agree with him.

Schools and society miss the mark by overemphasizing the brain to the detriment of the rest. We think if we have the “best and brightest” we can compete in the global job market. (Or even in the local ones). I believe education should not be about jobs, but contribution. How can you be fully human and contribute to the world (and your own authentic happiness) in meaningful ways? An education that ignores the body, the heart, and the myriad forms of expression, is a half education at best, and a mis-education at worst.

Of course all of this assumes a dichotomy of teaching the brain and teaching for creativity, when I believe both can and should be done in concert. Schools today often reify the one right answer, usually from a choice of other answers. That’s not even educating the brain. That’s teaching how to eliminate bad answers. Can we teach our students to be thoughtful and creative? To think and be with both sides of our brain? Ken argues that creativity and literacy should be given equal status. I think he’s on to something.

An ideal education to me is one which considers the whole person, and challenges that person to think creatively and flexibly and be fully present in the world for the betterment of society. Idealistic, yes. Impossible, no. Watch:

The Danger of the Single Story

I really appreciate Chimamanda Adichie’s TED Talk: The Danger of the Single Story. She reminds us that we are all “vulnerable in the face of a story.” The lesson is that we should realize there is always more to the story or that there are other stories not represented in what we assume to be true.

We assume we understand a relationship because we’ve heard all the stories from our friend’s point of view. But that collection of stories is still a single story. It is the single view of a given situation (further, only as it is narrated by one person). And that story isn’t a permanent one as the situation or the persons in it change over time.

The same is true with our own lives. The overarching story of us, the story we tell (or understand) about ourself, is often grounded in other single stories or assumptions. This is limiting. And it’s quite possible we can never get the “whole story” as it were, but I think we can always strive to move beyond our narrow conceptions of reality through our grasp of single stories by seeking to understand (and write) other stories.

So here’s to realizing the danger of the single story, and to striving toward a broader reading of life:


Motivated by Sojo, I’m considering participating in Diva in Demand’s 30 Day Challenge. Don’t get it twisted – I have no delusions that I will write 30 days in a row, but I will work through the 30 entries suggested. The problem however, is this first entry. What to say? What to write? I really am hard pressed to share anything new or novel, so I’ll share my I Am From poem, written in class one night a few years ago.

i am from nappy hair being straightened in the kitchen
i am from the middle class
i am from weekly visits to the library, and summers in savannah
i am from running through the water sprinkler and laughing with cousins

i am from heart break – parents who loved me, loved cards, and loved a good joke

i am from grandfathers who went to college
i am from high expectations

i am from all black schools with all black teachers
i am from scrabble and monopoly, the cosby show and a different world
i am from opinionated family members

i am from shyness and introspection
i am from listening and observing
i am from writing

i am from loud music on saturday mornings – the temptations, the four tops, and studio 54
i am from track, spanish, band, cheerleading, and dance after school

i am from marshmallows in the fireplace and blinking lights on christmas trees

i am from tenacity
i am from stability

i am from love

I Am Love

The official record states May 25, 2003 as the date of death, but I know the truth. My mother took her last breath on May 24th after a heart attack earlier in the day. They thought she would make a full recovery. Doctors admitted her for a couple of days, you know, just for observation. I sat by her bedside that evening as she was supposedly sleeping, but even then I believed she had already slipped into a coma. I chanted nam-myoho-renge-kyo softly. A nurse overheard me and peeped in the room to ask what I was doing.

“I’ve heard of that,” she said. “Tell me more about it.” Just then, my mother sighed, her eyes opened, and the machine monitoring her vitals went haywire with falling digits. The nurse, unsurprisingly concerned about this turn of events, asked me out of the room and quickly urged others inside. I heard an unfamiliar voice announce code blue on the speaker. They were talking about my mother, I thought. I burst into tears. Afraid. Alone.

Her favorite color was yellow.

No one was in the hospital with me that day. My mother had insisted she was fine and didn’t want to needlessly stress anyone. I had told only a couple of friends but she was laughing and alert at the time. I’d told my dad, calming him down when he expressed too much concern. After all, everything was fine. She was admitted, but it was routine, I had told him.

A woman I’d never seen stopped me in the hall. Are you okay? She was worried I would hyperventilate because of the gasping. I mumbled something about my mother coding and miraculously found my way to a phone.

I called my father, barely able to get the words out. My mother stopped breathing, I managed to choke out. Twice, since he couldn’t understand me the first time. He assured me he was on the way. I sat in silence. Crying. Alone. I thought to myself over and over again, I’m all alone. I’m all alone. I’m all alone. I mourned for the husband who didn’t yet exist. For the best friend I couldn’t reach. For anyone who would be there with me so I wouldn’t be. So. Alone.  I remember vowing at the moment, I would not be alone any more. I didn’t have to be, I reasoned. There are people who love me. I just need to connect. To reach out.

That was seven years ago. I think about that moment today because I am anything but alone. I just left my family reunion…I was able to see branches of my family I never knew about and recognize my ancestors’ faces in cousins from all over the country. I paid for nothing – not registration, not traveling, not even coffee and treats while I was there. My family took care of me. All I had to do was reach out and go.

Leaving the closing dinner, I felt full. Loved. People told me they were proud of me and loved me; that my parents would be so proud of me. They encouraged me to continue my journey to finish my PhD and then do whatever I was called to do next. They hugged me tight and long, and kissed me over and over again, wishing me well. Some of them have known one or both of my parents for as long as 40, 50 and in some cases 60 years, and they loved me on their behalf.

I don’t know how or why my life was in such a place as to feel so removed from love, but it was an illusion. The love is always present. It always has been, and it always will be. I was never truly disconnected from spirit, from love. It was up to me to seek it. And in so doing, I found what was always there.

Failure is not an option

What would you do if you knew you could not fail?

I “happened” to be at the right place and time when I heard this question was posed. It’s not the first time I’ve heard it, although it was the first time in a while. It had the same impact it always does. It unsettled me.

When I hear that question I immediately feel a vibration. Tension. Something that lets me know I’m not quite in alignment. There’s something I should be doing, but I’m not. I always brush it off. Avoid it. Continue with whatever I was doing at the moment. Last night was no different, although I did eventually think about that question today. More on my answer in a minute.

As for the question, a friend seemed to think it’s all about fear. In other words the question really is: What would you do if you weren’t afraid to fail? But after some reflection, I’m not sure that’s all there is to it. The question I think is really: What would you be doing if you were living your divine purpose? If you were doing the exact perfect thing that only you can do? If you were contributing to the world exactly what you were born to contribute (and therefore could. not. fail.), what would it be? If there were ZERO chance of failure in an endeavor, what would you do?

#BlackGirlMagic Illustration by Vashti Harrison.

When I consider the question from a standpoint of fear or avoidance – what am I scared to do because I might suck at it – the quick and obvious answer usually comes back as something related to creative writing.  But when I think about it from the standpoint of purpose, I’m actually not so sure. I’m realizing that all of my talents and interests, although seemingly unrelated, all fit together in a perfect tapestry. I’ve spent so many years complaining I was a jack of all trades and a master of none, that I’ve never considered how they all complement each other.

I’m coming to understand, and I think deep down some part of me knows the answer, but I’ve never been still enough long enough to discover it.  My work now is to really figure out the true answer to the question, and then actually do it. After all, failure really isn’t an option, but I at least have to get started, no?