For My AP Lang Students

When you talk to each other about a piece of writing, you reveal what you understand about the choices writers make.  When you reflect on your writing, either as you work on revision planning, or as you look back on a finished draft, you reveal what you understand about the choices writers make.

However you may think of yourself, the moment you  begin to compose your thoughts into a cohesive text — online, on a screen, on paper, in crayon on a napkin — you are a writer.  You are using a technology people invented — symbolic recorded language — for an uncertain purpose that has been evolving and expanding for thousands of years.  And that continues to evolve.  Whatever your aspirations may be with regard to writing, when you encounter a technology, you have one of two choices:  to improve your use of it, or not.  Given that you’ll  probably have to write in some form or another for the rest of your life, there really isn’t much choice.  Who wants to do something poorly their entire life?

So now you signed on for this class and your teacher has been suggesting that the best way he can grade your growth as a writer is by reading your feedback, your reflections, and your revision plans.  Maybe not what you expected.

I’ve told you what I’m looking for, and I think I’ve told you why.

The catch, the sticking point, is that for you to have a variety of things to give feedback about and to reflect on, you have to practice being willing writers.  You have to give yourselves opportunities to make choices about the writing you  do about the things that matter to you.

Imagine how intelligently you would be able to reflect on all the different kinds of choices you made as a writer if you wrote daily on your blog, read blogs by classmates, responded, joined all manner of written conversations all the time, and then at the end of the month reflected on the ways you tried to have an impact on your readers.  Imagine the different ways you might talk about your choices if I asked you to do a revision plan for one proposed post during the following month.  Contrast how you might imagine this kind of practice to doing an assignment I create every two or three week and reflecting on it when you’re done.  Imagine the different ways you could reflect on your writing all the time, the different things that you could try, the different feedback you would give and receive.

If you’re not my student and you got this far, I hope there was something of value in this for you.  If there wasn’t, I tried to warn you  in the title.  Sorry.

If you are my student, please respond and comment.



The Truth about the Dog

The embryonic dog

Developed in my

Heart, loyal but

Unnamed, nourished with

Fatherhood, the soft

Beads of its

Spine a necklace

Looped around my

Bloodstream, absorbing oxygen

And memories of

Days spent with

My sons.  On

The fading afternoon

It finally gallops

Out tail flying

Like the windblown

Golden leaves of

Autumn, it springs

To catch small

Parts of myself

I have tried

To throw away.

Boys loyal to

Addictions that destroyed

Them.  A river’s

Bend, the deep

Pools filled with

Ghosts of drownings.

How we leaned

Into the wind

Until we almost

Fell.  The chill

Of a disease

A broom of

Pain that sweeps

Clean everything but

The desire for

An end.  The

Dog holds in

His mouth the

Broken leg bones

Of my sons.

He will not

Let me close

Enough to take

Them from him,

But he will

Not hide them

Either, or run

Away without me.

Royal Oak Our Real Voices

For an antidote to the attention Royal Oak Middle School has garnered in the past week, click  go to National Writing Project’s Letters to the Next President site.  Teens from all over the country have posted their informed viewpoints and added their voices to a national conversation about issues that matter to them.  About 80 of the letters are from students here at Royal Oak High School.  The viewpoints span the political spectrum.  The site is searchable in a variety of ways, although you cannot search for specific authors.  Students publish by first name.  As long as you’re there, though, why not just browse?  It’s a great way to immerse yourself in the kind of respectful dialogue of ideas that builds bridges, not walls; that democracy craves, and which our future voters are proving they are willing to have.

For Legacy

After the power went out I promised some video footage of Finnegan playing in the leaves. My phone camera skills are pretty weak, so here’s a before (or during, I guess) and after shot.

If power corrupts, maybe it was good to have a day without. Looking forward to tomorrow when we get back to making the kind of yearbook that will make the world a better place.



A Thank You Note for Teachers

Teachers like people.  And I think that the first thing we do when we meet someone is look for reasons to like them.  How could we not?  It seems like a pretty fundamental first response for someone whose entire life’s work is based on a belief in helping people find the best in themselves and learn to make it better.  But I was reminded of this in two big ways this past month. One was the great pleasure of having guests from Germany, and the other was having the opportunity to present about the work I do with students at the #ECET2Detroit conference.  For the latter colleagues, here are the links I promised you.  Click here for my presentation on assessing peer feedback.  The rubric I shared with you was developed by Susan Golab at Oakland Schools, Dr. Melissa Meeks, and me.  Click here for that rubric.     It was a pleasure to be part of ECET2Detroit.  Andrew Henwood’s presentation on Standards based grading gave me some goals for myself, and Peter Markus’ on poetry reminded me of my roots in this profession.  I’m grateful to the organizers of the event, the teachers I met, and to all the teachers — I think I can say this without hyperbole — in the world.  We do what we do because we know there is hope for the future.  And for my friends from Germany, ein andenken.20161029_150815

The Art of Photography

To me the images developed in the anecdotes both create powerful appeals to emotion, but also support the line of reasoning. Photography after all is about images.

Lindsey's Blog

I can see the sun breaking through the trees, catching my attention, pulling me outside. The ground feels wet, and when I hit the rock path I am suddenly aware of my bare feet stinging, but easy to ignore. I can feel the strong winds, blowing my hair into a tangled mess of knots. I can sense the water poking my toes, and rushing back to the safety of the harbor. I can hear the buoy in the distance, ringing and ringing, reminding me of the vast world beyond my sight. The lighthouse light flashes a bright green, daring to distract me from the sunset before my eyes. I am alone, seeing that no one else bothered to come down to the water’s edge, where the waves are more friendly, saying a quick hello as they introduce you to the chilling temperature of Lake Superior. It feels as if I…

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The Art of Tap Dancing: My Art Argument

I found the commentary that was provided to explain non-anecdotal evidence to be really compelling.


Thorp 1

Finnley Thorp

Mr. Miller


For the first time in about 3 years I will hopefully start up tap dancing again. I started when I was 5 years old. I instantly fell in love with the noise I could make by stamping my feet on the floor and the rhythm I could create by tapping my toes. I stopped tap dancing because I had to choose between playing basketball or dancing and I chose playing basketball. But this year, the musical Anything Goes, involves a lot of tap dancing so I decided to give it a shot.

Tap dance is a form of dance characterized by the sounds of tap shoes hitting the floor to make rhythmic beats. When most people think of tap dance they probably think of the shoes that go with the dance and think that’s all there is to it. In reality tap dancing…

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Opening Day

Although ultimately excellence might be defined has having skills no one else has, I think most people are capable of doing amazing things as long as they possess the one skill of knowing when to do what needs to be done.  No one on this team has any set of amazing skills, but in my opinion this is worth watching again and again.  Each of these guys does exactly the right thing at exactly the right time.  This isn’t about soccer, it’s a writing lesson.  Think about it as we head into the year.   What are the skills you possess as a writer?  How do you know when to use them?



A Birthday Poem for Owen Turning 18

Of her teenage days without a home

the woman says, “But there were parts

I wished would last forever.  The mountains

as the sun rose, watching from inside

a moving boxcar.”


For me, it was the water

in the marl spring, that bubbled

up out of the clay within dim

shadows of the cedars

too clear to see until we bent

our faces down to drink before

we headed back to camp

on one October night.


Most people if they’re lucky

see a landscape they remember

for the moment that it made the world

seem real, a place

that they would never want to leave.


The really lucky people, I believe,

are those who find a way to

see that landscape everywhere

in each new moment of their lives.

July 3rd Poem

To paraphrase a lot of different writers, one of the tricks to writing every day is that you  have to write even when you don’t know what to write about.  The past week and a half has been my travel time for the summer.  I’m just catching up on reading all the posts people have been working on, and I’ll probably start re-posting soon so that those of you who are following me but not each other can read the things your classmates are writing.  My goal for this summer was to write a poem a day, which was an idea I got from a friend who did it for national poetry month.  I’ve been keeping up, as long as you don’t count quality.  I don’t.  If anyone needs something to play around with, this is something I started  on July 3rd.  I see it as the end of a longer poem, but I don’t know where to start.  I want it to have two more stanzas, each with six lines.  I would put them before this, but if you wanted to bother to finish it, you could put them anywhere, so this could be either the beginning, the end, or the middle stanza.

Any of you who choose to take this on will have my undying respect and appreciation when school starts in the fall.  If more than one of you does it, my favorite wins a cookie or something once we’re back in school.

The sky is white and still

water droplets cling to the empty bird feeder

falling each time the sprinkler makes another pass

the insistent cardinal calls from beyond the hedge

and I with so much to look forward to

cannot decide what I might think about.