ipads, take 3

ENG1P- Ipad beginning 2013


GOALS  for ipad introduction


1) initially, ipads should have very few apps


2) establish from the start that we are doing this for marks, skills


3) orient to ipad routines and attitudes


4) figure out best app for workflow, and for regular writing/journaling


eng1p- to group or not to group


what’s his name, the With All Due Respect guy says that arranging students with attention difficulties in groups is quite unfair to them, giving them too much to overcome.

I’m also so often aware of how sensitive, and socially volatile the 1ps are, not to mention vocal.

But I have also seen the power of co-operative learning in these classes in particular.

And the attractive power of the social is impressive.

Plus, there’s the teaching of socialization…

and my dream of a classroom community.

It will be interesting to see how that plays out if my classes stay as small as they were predicted to be in June…


“We need to examine every aspect of the class- room-what we teach, how we teach it, how we organize and manage students, how we re- spond to questions, how we solve problems, and how we talk about concerns. Within this framework of SociallyConsciousCooperativeLearning (Schniedewind&Sapon-Shevin,1998), children learn and live a philosophy of mutual care and interpersonal responsibility.”


eng1p-binder or no binder, homework or no homework


so, in Exceptional Learners, it talks about how homework is a significant difficulty for the LD student. Partially because of their learned helplessness. So they will often forget to do it, bring it home, bring it back, etc.

I have seen this, and it makes sense. No one can tell you you got it wrong if you didn’t do it.

But there’s another factor about homework in the 1p classroom. Socially, many of them don’t want to identify as kids who care about school. And, of course, we’ve grouped them in the class of kids who aren’t expected to do well at school. So they don’t want to be seen with a backpack in the halls, or coming too and from school. Is it reasonable for me to try to compete with that pressure?

is it necessary?

Then of course there’s the home environment. Do they have a quiet place to work? Do they have support at home?
Because of the social pressure, they’re not going to want to stay at the library, after school, or be seen to.

if they were to be given a “detention,” which was really stay after school and do your work with me… would that work? would they be seen as bad-ass, and have an excuse?
probably not with all students, but maybe?

there’s no reason to have binders if they don’t have homework. We can keep their work in duotangs at school.

But I don’t like infantalizing them that way- we start with this expectation that they won’t be “good students.”

Then again, is it necessary? what are the advantages?


purchasing power

Margaret Christakos posted the following on facebook after the “Do you Copy” event that she organized in response to the Post-Script conceptual writing show:

“last night at the Power Plant event my son and daughter staffed the book table. total book sales at this free event, 1 book. tonight at dinner my daughter said, I don’t get it, why wasn’t anybody buying the poetry books? a lot of people looked at them, they’d rifle through them and look interested, then put them down. I did my best to explain.”

i was that 1 person. And it got me thinking about the opposite question: why do I buy poetry books?

i bought Adam Seelig’s book, every day morning in the (slow), at the event because I loved what he read from it, and wanted more. And when I buy a book AT an event, that’s usually the reason, a desire to prolong the experience, to revisit what I heard and let it deepen, and see what difference the page makes. (and oooh boy- whatta difference! beautiful, beautiful book!). So, that’s why I bought that book in particular.

I probably already owned … 70% of the rest of the books on the table? I am currently re-organizing my poetry collection. It contains multitudes. I tried to do a bit of culling last night- surely, I thought, there must be some books here I can bare to part with. I found 10. 4 of them were because I had two copies.

I often feel like I’m in a bit of a unique position when it comes to the economics of the poetry world. If you cross-index lovers of poetry, and experimental poetry in particular, with income, I would be willing to bet that there’s an inverse relationship between love of said poetry and disposable dollars. I love dangerous poetry, but, as a teacher in the public school system, I have one of the most secure, and, arguably, most socially conservative jobs. And I have no dependents.   So, I’m not constrained- if I see a book that I want, I can buy it without having to do a calculation in my head about whether or not it’s prudent. I’ve only arrived at this position in my life in the past 5 years or so. And, believe me, I understand the privilege of it. It hasn’t always been like this.

I also feel secure as a reader of poetry. I’m fairly used to buying a work of experimental poetry, something that friends have been raving about, getting home, opening it up, and not having a fucking clue what is going on. I know that’s this is not my fault! That there is value in reading “the difficult poem,” or, as I prefer to think of it, poetry that confounds my readerly expectations. I know it requires work on my part-this is no easy consumer transaction. And if none of the strategies I’ve acquired in the past 15 years help me see how the poem is operating, I have time, in the summer at least, to do a little homework- read an interview or bio, read a review, find an online reading, etc.  So, if I do have this experience after buying a poetry book, I don’t feel like I’ve been had.

During my undergraduate studies, I took a course in Contemporary Canadian Poetry with the most excellent Prof. Marilyn Rose at Brock University. The syllabus consisted of 6 single-author anthologies by Ralph Gustafson, P.K. Page, Erin Mouré, Lillian Allen, Stephen Heighton, and George Elliott Clarke.  So we read each anthology from cover to cover. And we discussed the poetics of these anthologies- I began to have a deep appreciation for how a book of poetry is constructed- the value of the book as part of the meaning of the poetry inside it. The course took place in the fall- we followed the Governor General’s awards, and their coverage, and considered their critical and economic impact. I began to look at bookshop windows more critically- most often it seemed that every category of GG nominations was represented in the front window, except for poetry. I’d venture inside. Where’s your poetry section? In the back, on the bottom shelf, behind the boxes, where it can’t hurt anybody. It was then I learned that a volume of poetry is considered a best-seller in Canada if it sells 500 copies if the author is a man, 300 if the author is a woman. I don’t remember the source for that stat, and I have no idea if the numbers have changed.

I am creating a public library. Each year, I bring box-loads of my books into my classroom. There is always extended time for students to paw through these books. Sometimes the books don’t make it back into my boxes. I always see this as a sign of success. Great artists steal. So, I hunt down another copy.

There’s more to explore here- why and how people do or don’t buy poetry. And when?

Aaron and I going to explore these questions in the (as yet unnamed) podcast we’re launching in the fall. Stay tuned.




reading fur(l) 1



fur(l) parachute-
jumping. falling, but with a parachute. usually we say the parachute unfurled, yes?

we are being instructed to furl the parachute.
does this mean we are being asked to jump without one, essentially?
what does furl mean again?
“to wrap or roll (as a sail or a flag) close to or around something”

maybe this is wrapping the parachute AFTER the jump?

but this isn’t just furl. this is fur(l). so also a fur parachute?
makes me think right away of that fur tea-cup. Magritte?

so I’m thinking of female sexuality.

and what of the fact that it is both and fur and furl? both noun and verb.
although, I supposed one could “fur” a parachute.
but why one would want to…?

i am drawn to the title because of that bracketed letter- I’m drawn to the book.
it signals to me that there is language play here, that meaning is complex, indeterminate.
it is also a convention of the poets and theorists that are interested in language in the ways i am.
it is a signal- this author is part of my tribe.
this is an appeal to ethos for me.

ok. first poem.


this is a difficult poem.

I don’t remember exactly what cases are in grammar. I studied german years ago, and I know it had them.

so I feel anxious. I will not understand things in this poem.

I am trying to relax and let that be ok. PLus, I can look things up.




well, before I find out what this means grammatically, i read “noman.”
i’m also thinking it has something to do with naming?

(reads wikipedia entry)

aw, fuck. why didn’t i take linguistics?

ok. well. bracket this.

nomanitive slantorations.

slant- tell it slant.

wulf and eadwacer:Wulf and Eadwacer is an Old English poem of famously difficult interpretation.

“The short lines and refrains of Wulf and Eadwacer, along with the stream of consciousness narration have made it a popular feminist reading. These features aided by the rhythm and syntax, cause the emotional buildup of the poem.”

I misread the table of contents as a poem.


accessibility, the difficult poem, labour, pleasure, and a variety of high school students


I’ve been reading in tandem Charles Bernstein’s wonderful, and wonderfully titled latest collection of essays, Attack of the Difficult Poem, and Donato Mancini’s book on Canadian reviewing and review culture, “You must work harder to write poetry of excellence.”

It’s been a while since I’ve read any poetics at all, and I find the thoughts in my mind beginning to bubble. It has taken me a while to get to the point I’m at now- to actually formulate thoughts about this stuff, thoughts where I imagine a reader, perhaps friends, colleagues I might deliberately invite to read this, or perhaps people who will find their way here through links, and searches, etc.  And I’ve been resistant because, well, it’s work. It’s work that I enjoy, and once I get going, I really enjoy it, and feel the joy of thinking/feeling/writing/reading, and ultimately the joy of creation. But it’s work- there’s no denying it. And aren’t I supposed to have my summers “off”? I have left my house, because Skyrim is there, gone to a purveyor of coffee.

But I feel compelled.

Attack of the Difficult poem includes an essay, The Difficult Poem, that was originally published in Harper’s. I read, and find myself cheering as I do:


But I also find myself thinking of my high school students, and Bernstein audience. The reader of Harper’s, I would suggest it’s safe to assume, is one who is willing, interested in, and perhaps even eager to read what might be called “difficult prose.” It would certainly be seen as such by my high school students. While the essays in Harper’s are certainly not stylistically challenging, they use relatively sophisticated syntax and diction, they take time (and word count) to develop their arguments, and they tackle issues of politics, and aesthetics. Does it not take work to read Harper’s? And certainly a level of work that my students would find prohibitive.

Bernstein also has a classroom audience, and I should say here that I am a huge admirer of his pedagogical approaches. I have used his Wreadings in my classes as both creative writing exercises and exercises in literary criticism.  I have adapted his Poetry Profiler for use in my classes. And I feel that I am still learning from him, as he continues to generously share his syllabi, his exercises, his process, his thinking about teaching. But again, his classroom is very different from my classroom. His students have voluntarily signed-up to take his courses. Most of mine are forced to be in my presence! Even the students who take the creative writing course as a high school elective don’t necessarily take it by choice, and they are not necessarily favourably disposed towards poetry of any kind.

Their perceptions of what is difficult are so different from mine. And when I say “perceive,” I don’t mean to suggest that they are wrong. Because, if they perceive something to be difficult, then that perception makes it so.

The student, for example, who balked at Edna St. Vincent Millay’s poem, Love is not all.
I had to struggle to see what she found difficult about it.

and of course, what we are supposed to do is make things easier for students, aren’t we?

of course not. But in our zeal to remove the extrinsic difficulties in the classroom, the barriers to the texts we study, we might find ourselves removing the intrinsic difficulties of reading and writing by choosing texts that contain very little in the way of challenge to our students, and writing tasks that do the same.

and all of this is challenging enough in an ENG3U class, where just being there accords students with the seal of academic success. They are University bound. They can handle the challenge, or at least have decided that they want to, or are being pressured to. But they’ve managed to pass ENG2D.

In the Eng1p class, where writing a paragraph seems like insurmountable labour, where learning disabilities, attention disorders, and language processing issues that I am only beginning to very vaguely understand compound the challenges in the act of reading, where being there is a sign that you can’t handle the challenge of the academic class, how do you teach the difficult poem? Do you teach the difficult poem? What is the difficult poem for these students? What kind of difficulty would have value?

I feel as though I’m thinking again about discomfort in the classroom- the idea of productive discomfort.



teaching 1ps


the thought that haunts me. I don’t want the dominant mode of this class to be tricking them into learning.

is it possible to cultivate an ethos of learning and creative play in that place?
what would it take…

I dreamed about them last night. The first day with the new class. A magician showed up, unannounced, and out of the blue. I let him perform for them. I told them he was an illusionist. I made them write down this word and then asked them to brainstorm what it might mean. I did the same thing with the word “innovative,” which had just come up in conversations. These two words written clearly on the blackboard.


Continuing Teacher Education – Teaching Students with Communication Needs (Learning Disability)



I need to take this course

critical pedagogy within the spec ed classroom


is anyone doing writing about this?


conceptual writing as reading


Seeing the  descriptive camera, which is one of the coolest things ever, let’s not fool ourselves, got me thinking once more, again, and in a more urgent way about thinking about conceptual writing as a way of reading spaces.  I urgently scribbled something about this while listening to Steve McCaffery give a talk at the Power Plant’s Writing after conceptual art show.

I’ve thought about the practice of certain modes of conceptual writing being reading practices, or wreading practices (after Bernstein), for some time now. Buoyed by Bernstein, and Jerome McGann’s exploration of deformative criticism, I’ve enaged my students in these practices as alternate modes of literary criticism. But how alternate are they really?

When I think about the process I undertake when I write, say, a formal literary essay of a given image pattern in a novel, is it so very different than doing a mesostic of that text? I traverse a path through the novel that is alternate to conventional modes of reading- left to right, page after page, event to event.  I cut a violent swathe through narrative, and hop from image to image. I record the passages that contain the images in my notes. This becomes my text- these passages.

Tracing an image pattern through a text may seem less arbitrary and therefore more productive than doing an N+7, or babelfish translation of a work. Yet, when I think about these things, I’m so often reminded of another “deformative” practice I learned when I first took a drawing class. Because we filter our sensory input so as not to be overwhelmed, we make conceptual short-cuts.  So when we start to draw a chair, we start to draw what we “think” is there, rather than what is there. Solution? Turn the chair upside-down. We no longer recognize the form, and must learn to see the object again.

What are the conceptual short-cuts we use when we read texts? A good question. And one I’m still exploring. Ironically, for those of us who have been involved with teaching struggling readers, a lot of those short-cuts are what make us competent readers. There’s a lot to explore here about inferencing. that nebulous space between the lines one is supposed to read.

One of my students did a wreading of Book 3  of In the Skin of a Lion where she tracked only the pronouns. What she noticed was that during this time in Patrick’s life, where he was finally recognizing that his identity was interconnected, where he comes to understand that his life is part of a community, in a novel that describes the hero’s role as shared, and communal, the dominant pronouns being used were singular. Doing this seemingly arbitrary deformative wreading revealed to her the tensions between the story and its telling.

As for spaces…

One of my favourite conceptual poetry pieces is Neil Hennessey’s Ten Toronto Sonnets. It involves using hyrdo markings on the sidewalk to inform a reading of the text you can see around you. You generate 14 lines this way, and you’ve got your sonnet. I often introduce this text to students by presenting the Bay St, Church St, Spadina, and St. George poems without the titles, to see if they can identify the locations. They always can.