Over the past two years I’ve been very purposeful in what I’ve consumed as inspiration, also known as the background noise that I fill my vessel with. This letter turned project is perhaps the manifestation of watching the Jean-Michel Basquiat documentary Radiant Child. Part of the film highlights Jean’s unique note taking style. I was always amazed at how different his notes were, they reminded me more of a newspaper than… an artist’s notebook. It’s said that he liked having his notes like this because it helped him cross pollenate his ideas. I think that’s a word I stole form my nonprofit days by the way. Cross-pollenation is when two completely dis-similar things (we’ll say ideas here) come together to create a baby. Most of the time the end result would be non-sensical rambles. But in the rare occasion that the lines meshed the result would be utter brilliance.
*First 5 minutes suggested*
Throughout the years I’ve talked about some of the different types of inspiration I’ve consumed and learned from including life-coaches, mentors, books, historical figures, my students, my peers, my family, art, the list is never-ending. I’ve actually started using audio versions of motivational and commencement speeches to give me that extra boost in the mornings or when I’m feeling sluggish. There’s nothing like an Eric Thomas or Oprah Winfrey speech to give you some clarity on why you’re doing whatever the hell you’re doing. The Purge, as an #Artsperiment, as I’ve deemed it, is the subconscious result of all of the stimuli I’ve consumed intentionally and not.
This project is probably a sum total of things I’ve seen from Basquiat, Beyonce, Kanye, Kendrick Lamar, Eric Thomas, Jullien Gordon, W.E.B. DuBois, Dr. Boyce, Dr. Ivory, Dr. Jawanza, Baruti Kafele, Oprah, Pharrell, Mark Ecko, Malcolm X, artists and writers alike around the world. This collection is a sort of manifestation of historical letters I’ve fumbled through time and time again by scholars from around the world. I see specks of Kanye – God symbolism, bits and pieces of Malcolm’s homemade education theory and hopefully molecules of his passion as well, packaging and audience consideration courtesy of Beyonce and my PR Professors, and definitely fragments of motivation and inspiration from Jullien and Eric Thomas.
The project itself germinated from the need to express myself, but I also am really interested in this idea of viewing myself as a vessel that projects the energy I consume.
Like a star, that energy radiates bits and pieces of what it consumes. Your mind, as the great canal, controls the gates to what comes in. Have you thought about what your gates have been accepting into your system? It’s empowering and a bit freaky to see the remnants of my inspirations present in my thoughts and ideas.
How can you use this to help you achieve your goals and desires quicker?
There’s a lot of shit going on and history being made right now, this second, in the world. 80 years from now people will be reading about these current times in whatever newspapers, books, or blog posts there are in the world or beyond. During these, future times what do you want people to read about humankind, humanity? Some bull-shit about you making Fool’s Gold in a global economy!? Or stories about you inspiring your peers and community by trying to enduce and inflict the positive impact that that time needed!? Time will judge what that calling will be.
At the end of the day, my observation as a teacher is that we need all strong citizens to feel compelled to reach back into their communities to teach and support those that need it, which is really everyone. No matter where you come from, if you’re of able body and mind, you should feel obligated to do what you can to (over)fertilize that ground and village that you sprouted from. It should be inherent in you to leave the ground more plenteous for whoever comes after you.
Support, lead, guide, nurture, develop, fertilize, choose whichever word carries the most meaning to you. I can accept initial ignorance, and in response, I will inform you now! Teaching and learning are the nutrients and the duties we all carry as a burden if weare to complete our most basic of civic duties. If you’re reading this, I will repeat again, (your interpretation of) teaching and learning are the nutrients and investment you must see fit to return once you reach individual success.
Change would be instantaneous in communities around the world if people began to purposely mentor the youth they touch (family, friends’ kids, neighbors, church family, students, friends, co-workers… whatever.) And also chose to view these as learning experiences more so for your for your own sake just as much as your mentee’s. I think this is a vital step toward beginning to build strong communities of worldly citizens, importantly strong Black, Brown, urban, marginalized, (insert label here).
As Dr. Kunjufu says, no one gets to success without stepping on a few backs intentionally or inadvertently along the way. Even people that believe they achieved success through their own grit and control – You owe it to that very alignment of the stars-esque luck to actively help align the heavens for someone else. Once you know these gates exist, they are easily out-maneuvered. However, the cost of this privileged-knowledge burdens its users with a debt of eased-maneuverability and flexibility: often forgotten, and never paid back in full with interest.
My strong Black and Brown citizens, it takes a new level of arrogance and disconnect to believe that you, yourself, have found success without having received uninitiated support and guidance from a community elder during your youth. Remembering the context that this is the same world where the verdict in the George Zimmerman Trial could have been anything but not-guilty. This argument instantly puts my emotions into over-drive – filling my body with the passion that leaks out of my eyes and mouth – words and motions spilling out on the floor faster than I can process or recall for all that matter.
No string of language(s) exists that can begin to describe the institutional webs that block the natural and otherwise promised progression of young people of color, specifically males. And to be clear and fair, there is no amount of studying that will ever make me believe I know all the ways these (plural) institutions affect our daily lives for better and forthe worst.
At the end of the day, really all I wanted to say was this. HEY YOU, do your job homie! If you can read this ask yourself are you purposelyteaching and learning? If you are not, for the sake of your ideals on equality, justice, humanity, love, whatever – Start. If you don’t know how, ask someone to help you start. It’s that simple. You can ask me and I’ll brainstorm with you. Yes, it’s that simple.
Re-reading these observation notes is a bit misleading. This was by far one of the 3 worst class sessions I’ve had this school year. Made exponentially worse by the fact that I had an official observation with my Grad school coach. I remember a few times thinking about either blowing up, or shutting everything down and having the class sit there on “punishment” while we all calmed down enough to continue. BUT, since my coach was there I had to keep powering through and trying to just let the minutes on the clock tick away as I tried to get us to learn the material. Anywho, here are the notes. This observation happened on March 6, 2013.
Description of Class
When our students entered your classroom, you asked one of the boys to distribute the folders. A girl asked what you were doing today and you said you were doing “Just Words,” and you had a jam-packed lesson. You asked your students to take out their journals.
You said, “Hello, Everyone. Welcome to Wednesday.” You told them that you had projected a picture of a golden retriever and began reading the text, but Natasha asked why you didn’t do the one about the man who fell into the hole and died. She began explaining what had happened to the man in Florida and you asked her to explain what a sinkhole was. She did and you added to her explanation. The class was very interested in what Natasha had said and wanted to know more about sinkholes.
You projected a picture of a sinkhole on the SMARTboard. One of the girls said she was scared and wanted to know if it could happen in New York. Janae tried to explain how sinkholes happen by talking about volcanoes. You said that she was partially correct and explained tectonic plates and how the earth is constantly moving and that what more than likely happened is that one of the open spaces below the ground shifted and the earth got weak and it opened up.
Marsha said if you stare into the sky you could see movement. The phone rang and you answered it. You then said that they had their geography and science lesson for the day and that you would try to find something like this for Friday. You then projected the Launch and said that they had two different prompts. You asked them to either:
1) Write about your last trip. Where did you go? What made this trip memorable for you? If you haven’t gone on a trip recently describe your dream trip. Where would you go? What would you do? Who would you see?
2) Draw your own skyscraper. What will it look like on the outside? How many floors are there? What types of businesses are there? What types of people live there? What outrageous features make your skyscraper better then others?
You read the prompts and said that you were setting the timer for five minutes.
At 10:37, Juan came in. He asked you for a piece of paper and said he is staying but he is not doing this work.
While students were working, you went over to one of the boys and talked to him about how he has been a little drowsy for the last few classes and you were not going to accept it. You wanted his head up and you wanted him to do work. He sat up in his seat.
Natasha was talking and not working and you asked her to work. She asked why she should work since it was Wednesday. You thanked her for voicing her opinion and asked her to begin working. Natasha then asked why you weren’t writing. You said that you had to walk around and make sure everyone was working. The phone rang and you answered it but it was the wrong number.
The alarm went off and you asked if someone wanted to share. Marsha said that she went to the Dominican Republic. She went to different hotels and three different water parks. And she had to hear her family talk “a whole lot of shit”. You paraphrased and said she heard her family talk crazy. You asked her questions about her trip and she replied.
Cassie shared next. She said she went to Holiday Hills and it was a lot of fun. There were some “big-assed” pools and she went canoeing. You asked her when she went and she said in June. You responded by saying that there were a lot of summer trips.
Cassie added that she also went camping in Connecticut and you asked if it was this summer.
Katrina shared next. Her last trip was to Bush Gardens in Virginia. She explained that it was like a water park and had lots of buffets.
Janae shared next. Two weeks ago she went to Atlantic City. She went shopping and she went on the boardwalk and in the pool. And they went out to eat every morning and they also had dinner out. She added that what she liked best was the shopping.
After Janae shared, you thanked your students for sharing. You said that you really couldn’t remember the last trip you went on. Natasha asked you where you wanted to go and you said Tokyo, Japan.
Next you flashed a slide on the SMARTboard with four words. You quickly took the slide away, but Marcus said the words he had seen: could, would, should, and been. You asked the class how to spell those words. You said that on the last progress check, some of the class got these words incorrect, so you wanted them to write would, could should and been in their journals. Most of the students began writing. You went over to a girl on the side, asked her to open her book and write the words. You told the class that in their mind, they should be thinking about sentences that they could write with those words.
You projected the four words again and told them that they should check to see that they wrote the words correctly in their journals. You projected, ”plant,” and asked Cassie what the word was. Then you projected, “plant er” and asked what the base word was. Your students said plant. Marcus said –er was a suffix and you asked if it was a vowel suffix or a consonant suffix. He said vowel. You asked Cassie how you know if it is a vowel suffix or a consonant suffix and she said “e” is a vowel. You showed them how you wanted them to mark the base and the suffix and wrote the word “planter,” on the dry erase board. You said they should underline the base word and circle the suffix.
You said that today the class was gong to be learning a lot of new suffixes – six new vowel and consonant suffixes. You asked what suffixes they have learned so far and Janae said, “est, er, ed, ing, es, s. Marsha called out ld and ost, but you explained that they were not suffixes.
Marsha kept calling out letters. Janae asked what you call sh or st but it was difficult to hear because of Marsha.
You projected the word thankful and said that there was a base word and a suffix and asked Janae what the base word was. She said thank. You asked what the suffix was and she said ful. You said you wanted them to turn to a new page in their journals and Natasha asked why you were wasting paper.
The next slide was “thankless.” You asked what the base was and what the suffix was.
The next slide was shipment. You asked Kareem what the base word was. He said ship. You said suffix was ment. You added that they should write ment in their journals – and they should have full, less, and ment.
You asked Juan if he could cooperate and he said.no. You made a phone call (but I could not hear what you said.)
The next slide was kindness. You asked what the base word and suffix were and said to write ness in journal.
The slide after that was childish. After students told you the base word and the suffix, you told them to write ish in their journals.
The final slide was freshen. A woman came to the door. Juan said something under his breath and you said that was not necessary. He got up to leave the class and you went outside the room and spoke to the woman and Juan.
You came back and asked if they got freshen. They said yes. You then told them what you wanted to do. You wanted them to pair up and asked if Natasha and Cynthia could be a pair. You asked Trevor to come up to sit with Katrina. Natasha didn’t want to move. Trevor didn’t want to move. Someone asked you to start the lesson, but you asked how you could start the lesson if two people didn’t want to move and two people had their heads down. You asked them what they think you should be doing and said, ‘you guys are really frustrating me today.” You went over to Kareem and Phillip and said you needed them up. Phillip got up and left. At 11:04, you went to the phone and made another phone call.
You said that for each suffix, you were going to give them 60 seconds to come up with as many words as they can with that suffix. When you started the timer you said you wanted to see how many words they can come up with.
Marsha called you over and said she wanted to ask you a serious question. She began giggling and asked you if you know the muffin man. You ignored her question and went over to another student. You asked who had written down 3 words? 5 words?? Students began sharing words. Sometimes they said a word that was not a word – like chestful – and you corrected them.
You then gave them 60 seconds for “less” and then asked them to share. You then moved on to “ment” and started the time. You asked who had three words and several hands went up. You asked who had more than three and Cassie raised her hand and said she had four. Janae had basement and punishment. When Cassie said comment you wrote it on the board and explained why it wasn’t. You asked what was the base word? Com wasn’t a base word. You then said you were going to give them three minutes to do the rest of the words – ness, ish and en.
The door opened at 11:14 and Phillip came back into the room. You asked him to step outside and went outside the door to talk to him. Natasha got up and went over to Kareem’s desk and threw his book and paper on the floor. She went back to her seat and he went over to her and threw her pen on the floor. A woman with a radio and a man came in to the room. The man looked through the folders in the bookshelf on the side.
When you came back into the room, Natasha said that Kareem threw her pen to the floor and you asked them to go outside to talk to you. Before you went out, you said that you wanted the class to add as many suffixes as they could to the words on the sheet that you would collect it at the end of the period. They would receive credit for doing it.
When you came back into the room, you gave Natasha something to write with because she said she no longer had a pen. The bell rang and you reminded your students to put their names on their papers because you were collecting them.
Strengths/ For Further Understanding
Even though the Just Words class is scripted, you began your class with a picture you thought your students would find interesting and a Launch that invited them to write about themselves and share their thoughts, ideas, etc. You projected a picture of a golden retriever, but when Natasha began talking about sinkholes and the class expressed an interest in hearing about what happened in Florida, you allowed that discussion to take place and googled a picture of a sinkhole to show your class. By doing this, you showed your students that you value what they are interested in and also took the opportunity to clarify some of their misconceptions about sinkholes. The launch also showed an interest in them and their lives, and gave them an opportunity to communicate with each other before settling down to business.
It is wonderful that you give your students an opportunity to write about and share their experiences. I am not sure that all of your students wrote in their journals before sharing. Since the Just Words class is not a place where they do self-generated writing, it is a good idea to ask them to write in their journals at the start of each class. Continue to encourage them to write first and talk afterwards, instead of just talking about the prompt. The more they have the opportunity to write informally about themselves, the more comfortable they will feel about writing in general.
Throughout the period, you gave your students directions for breaking down words into the base and suffix, and then generating lists of words which include suffixes. Your students all had a handout and you also showed them a series of slides. I want to suggest that when you switch to a new activity, you always model what you want the to do. For example, towards the end of the lesson, you gave them a list of words and wanted them to add all of the suffixes that work with those words and some of your students were not sure of what to do. By writing the word “rest” on the marker board and thinking aloud as you add all of the suffixes that work, your students would clearly see how they should proceed.
I want to commend you on the professional and caring demeanor which which you conduct your class. During our debrief, we talked about how you were frustrated with your class this period. When you wanted them to work in groups and Trevor and Natasha didn’t want to change their seats, you told the class that they were frustrating you today. I want you to know that I think you handled all of their frustrating behavior (Juan who did not want to cooperate today, Phillip who left the room when you asked him to pick up his head and work and then came back later on in the period, Marsha asking you if you knew the muffin man, and Natasha complaining that Kareem took her pen) in a very calm manner. You did not let your students get a rise out of you and you dealt with each situation appropriately. When necessary, you took the student out of the room to talk to him/her. You let your students know when their behavior was not appropriate, told them what you expected and continued the lesson.
Your students are very fortunate to have you for their teacher. You clearly take an interest in who they are and what they need in order to be successful in school.
I arrived to your class as you and your students were entering. You asked Martin to give out the notebooks which were stored in the classroom. You projected a slide on the SMARTboard and said hello to your class. One of the girls said she missed you very much and you said you missed her to.
You then said that you had projected a picture of Right brain, Left Brain, and you also had copies for them to keep. You wanted them to have this. One of the boys asked you if you were encouraging them to drink and you said, no, you were just showing them the right brain/left brain and they could interpret it on their own.
You called Marsha and Renee to attention because they were chatting. You projected the Agenda (Unit 5 Day 2) on the screen and said that this was a short lesson and if they did everything, they might have free time at the end. You then told them about their launch: Describe a time when you helped out someone in need. What did you do? Why did you decide to help this person? How did helping this person make you feel about yourself?
Students started working. You asked Jaleel to take out his book. He said something about never helping people. I asked him if he might have helped someone without even realizing it, and he thought for a second and said, “Probably.” He began writing.
You told your students when there were three minutes left. You added if they like, they could share out, but they do not have to. You told them when there was a minute and a half remaining and said that you were very excited about hearing their stories. You told Kenny that you saw he had written a nice amount but wanted him to write for another minute.
You asked if there was anyone who wanted to share out. Marsha said she did and you said that everyone was going to listen to Marsha. She read about seeing a bum on the train when she was going to 42nd Street. She said she noticed that no one else had given him something and wondered why they were so selfish. You asked her how it made her feel, and she said it made her feel like she wanted to keep her ass in school, because she didn’t want to see herself doing that. A discussion ensued about how some people who beg actually have money. You asked how they know and one student said you could tell by the clothes – like wearing Jordans.
Janae read next about walking down the block, seeing a woman and her daughter coming out of the liquor store, and being asked by the woman for money for food for her daughter. The daughter said that she wanted a doll and one of Janae’s sisters gave her a doll. Janae found out a week later that ACS took the little girl. You asked her how she felt and she said she felt bad about that. You said something about her giving the girl a little positivity before this happened.
Another girl told a story about her mother giving someone who needed clothes some new clothes and the person returned the clothes to the store and got the money. You told her that her mother sounded very nice – like a very giving person.
Next, you told your students the purpose of this activity. You connected it to the launch theydid on Monday, writing about something they were thankful for. You thought that the more they surrounded themselves by positivity, the more positivity will affect them.
At 10:45, you started the Syllable Review. You asked what they know about syllables and the boy near me said they come in all shapes and sizes. You said that people have different tricks for being able to break the syllables down. You asked how do they know when a word has more than one syllable. Marsha said it takes more time to say it. It sounds like more than one word. You agreed with what Marsha said and said that every time you have to take a separate breath, it is another syllable. You said any time your jaw drops, it signifies a new syllable.
You projected cabin onto the SMARTboard and asked how to separate. Marsha said ca- bin. Janae said cab –in. You asked how they know which one is the correct way to break down the syllables. You asked them to raise their hands if they think cab – in is the correct way. Nine students said it was. You asked about ca-bin and three students raised their hands. You told the class that the first one was the correct one – cab – in. You asked them if they remembered what a closed syllable was – any time they had one vowel closed in, followed by one or more consonants. That is a closed syllable. You said that whenever they are breaking a long word down into syllables, the first has to be a closed syllable.
Next you projected “locket,” and asked how to separate it. One boy said loc –ket. Three agreed. You asked Cassie and she said lock –et. You asked Mounique if she had something to add. Seven agreed. You asked Phillip what ck was and he said it was a diagraph. You asked what they know about diagraphs and someone said they stay together. We can never separate diagraphs. That is why the one on the right is correct. You projected five diagraphs: wh, ch, sh, th, ck.
Next you projected “public,” and asked who can break it up. A student said pub-lic. You said that whenever they have a multisyllabic word, and asked if anyone knew what it means. You said it means more than one syllable. You also explained that in a multisyllabic word, if it ends in the sound “ick” it is spelled “ic.” Phillip gave maverick as an example – and found a word that broke the rule.
You projected three words: upset; pocket; and tonic: and asked them to divide the words into syllables. You asked for someone to come up to the board and asked them to break the word up into syllables. Phillip did the first one—upset. He wrote up/set and you said he did it correctly. You asked if up was a closed syllable and your students said yes, it was. Phillip “scooped,” each syllable and marked them as closed. He also put short vowels sounds on top of the vowels. You said that this is how they should mark their syllables from now on, so they should take this in.
Marsha did pocket. She wrote pock/et. She marked the diagraph. You asked her to mark both the first and second syllables as closed. You also asked her to write in the short vowel sound above her vowels.
You asked who wants to do tonic and Whitney said yes. She wrote ton/ic. You said it was correct and asked her what was her next step. You asked if ‘ton” is closed and she said yes. You asked how she knows it is closed and she explained about the vowel in between two consonants. You asked if “ton” was a long or short vowel sound and she said short, so she wrote in the sign. You turned to the class and told Kareem to pick up his head because his head was down. Whitney then wrote in the closed syllable and short vowel signs for “ic.”
You said that they were almost done with the lesson today, but you needed them to pep the energy back up for you. You gave them a handout. When you gave the handout to Phillip, you said you liked his participation but he needed to get it together. He agreed. You asked Marsha to take her feet down. You said you would give her ten seconds, but she needed to take her feet down. When ten seconds passed, Marsha did not take her feet down. She sat there and looked at you. You continued the lesson. In a few minutes, she took them down.
You gave then directions. You would say twelve words. They would spell it correctly and break it into syllables. Then they would scoop and mark the short vowel sounds. You said you would do the first word as an example for the. The first word was mascot. You wrote: mas/cot. You showed how you broke it up and added that you wanted them to mark it as well.
You said that you understand that they may not know how to spell these words, but the way that they learn if by sounding them out and try. You want to see something in every box on their paper.
9. disrupt 10. nutshell 11. exit 12. Index
You said that you will quickly go through the numbers again and catch them up. You read the twelve words over again. You projected the correct spelling on the board so they could correct their spelling (if they had gotten it wrong). You added that you wanted them to mark them correctly. Show the closed syllables and whether or not the vowels are long or short.
Throughout the lesson, students asked to go to the bathroom. You asked them to be back in three minutes and they complied. When it was Phillip’s turn to go, you asked him to finish his work first and he did.
As students were working, you walked around the room to see how they were doing. AT 11:22, you said there was five minutes left and if they were completely done, they should close up their folders.
Students brought up their folders and chatted with their classmates until the bell rang.
Strengths/ For Further Consideration
I like how you are using your launch to help your students focus on what is positive in their lives. You chose a prompt that everyone in the class could write about, and that was thought provoking for most of your students. I also like the way you told them that you were excited about hearing their stories. You made them feel like what they had experienced and were writing about was valuable. When students read, you asked them how the experience made them feel which opened up a discussion in the class. You obviously do a lot of sharing out in your class and have put in place good procedures for sharing because your students were very respectful when their classmates were reading.
During our debrief, we talked about the value of the Just Words class. We both agreed that the skills your students are learning (spelling, sounding out words, breaking words into syllables) are important skills. I wondered, though, if your students are becoming better readers as a result of this. You told me that next year, when they are sophomores, there is more of a reading component to the class, which makes more sense to me. We also talked about how the content of this class allows your students to feel successful.
I think you have a wonderful way of interacting with your students. In a calm tone, you clearly let your students know what you expect of them and why. You are positive, supportive and caring. When Marsha had her feet up on the desk, you told her she needed to take them down and told her to do so in ten seconds. When she didn’t, you didn’t confront her, but gave her additional time, and she did take them down. When Phillip was attracting attention, you went over to him and in a quiet but firm manner, told him how you wanted him to act. You also spoke to Kareem at the end of class in a caring, concerned way, telling him that he needs to come to school every day.
Your students are very fortunate to have you for their teacher. It is obvious to met hat they enjoy being in your class and are focused and engaged on their work.
It was a pleasure observing this class. I look forward to observing you again in the near future.