i’ll do it my shui

When I first heard of feng shui, I thought the idea was laughable. An ancient Chinese secret says the direction my couch is facing could change my life? That’s a good one. Years later, I can’t say I believe in qi or polarity or the eight trigrams, which are a few things that Wikipedia tells me I know nothing about. And although I still get a kick out of the fact that the term’s pronunciation sounds like something fabricated by Harvard undergrads during their rambling conversations in the course of an all-nighter marathon beer pong tourney : “Oh, yeah, feng is pronounced fung and shui is pronounced shway – I SWEAR,” I am prepared to say of this exotic room layout hocus pocus: umm, maybe… maybe there’s a kernel of truth in it.

You see, I’m old enough now to have lived in enough homes and experienced enough furniture shuffling to know that it feels different to sit on a couch when it’s pointed east than when it’s pointed west. The phenomenon is even more pronounced, for me at least, with the direction of a bed. Maybe it’s my internal compass that senses direction and then somehow influences my thoughts and feelings. Maybe the tug of the earth’s magnetic field affects my moods depending on my alignment to it. Maybe it’s only the change in perspective and the different angles of light. I just don’t know. But the point is that somehow I can tell the difference.

Students can, too. And since my students and I spend hundreds of hours in my classroom each year, I think it’s important to maximize our experience with respect to environment as well as content. Continue reading


synthesize me

These days when teachers teach concepts and facts and skills they do so in the service of required learning standards. One of the standards particularly important to the subject of Literacy (English Language Arts) is synthesis.

According to, the definition of synthesis is:

the combining of the constituent elements of separate material or abstract entities into a single or unified entity

The photo above might be said to demonstrate synthesis in its artful (subtle, nuanced, clever, careful, cohesive) union of the literal (the eyes) and the abstract (the blotches).

In my classroom students synthesize by, for example, writing a narrative that demonstrates an understanding and combination of several previously taught elements (such as exposition, rising action, climax, falling action and resolution; such as the Six Traits of ideas, organization, voice, word choice, sentence fluency, and conventions). Or they might research a controversial issue, take notes and synthesize by demonstrating their command of the material (combining all that they’ve learned into a cohesive whole) in a debate.

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imitation is underrated

Have you ever spent time with art-minded intellectuals who wax snobbish about the primacy of originality? For some people, anything that is not pushing the boundaries is pathetic because it is “derivative,” “vanilla,” and “insipid.”

I get where these people are coming from, I think. Our human nature is to seek the next new thing, to the point of distractibility – “squirrel!” And presumably we gain perspective by looking at ourselves and the world from unique perspectives. Finding new angles means charting new territory, right?

Still, it’s annoying. Continue reading