What a Sonnet Might Look Like

October 24, 2011

The one rotated piece represents the volta of the sonnet, the moment at which the poem pivots from exploring a dilemma to developing a resolution. Volta translates from Italian to turn in English so the physical translation of that structural device is quite literally done.

— Bert Geyer (2011).

Bert Geyer's visual representation of the form of a sonnet. (Photo by Bert Geyer).

Last year, my middle school class spent a fair amount of time looking at sonnets: pulling them apart; comparing similarities and differences; discovering their poetic form; and then each creating their own.

Bert Geyer took this type of analysis to the next step. He created a visual translation of a Petrarchan sonet using color and shape to represent the patterns of the sonnet.

An excerpt. Image by Bert Geyer.

The artist’s description of the piece is quite fascinating.

The varying stains at the ends of the lines indicate rhyme scheme. I chose to use the Petrarchan format–abbaabbacdcdee. Overall, every feature of the piece takes precedent from the composite structure of a sonnet (not any specific sonnet). But the piece isn’t an exact analog. My aim through this piece is to observe the nuances and complexities of translating from one medium to another. How certain features may be reproduced in another medium, albeit differently. And how translation to a new medium has limitations and new opportunities.

— Bert Geyer (2011).

I particularly appreciate that the statement so clearly demonstrates the care and effort that went into the details of the piece. The illustration that the creation of art requires just as much thought and energy as in any other field.

This should make an excellent, spark-the-imagination, addition to any discussion of sonnets. Indeed, it can also serve as a template for how to analyze different types of poetry to look for their forms. And the meaning of all the different parts should just jump out to Montessori (and any other) students who’ve used geometric symbols to diagram sentences.

Citing this post: Urbano, L., 2011. What a Sonnet Might Look Like, Retrieved January 21st, 2018, from Montessori Muddle: http://MontessoriMuddle.org/ .
Attribution (Curator's Code ): Via: Montessori Muddle; Hat tip: Montessori Muddle.

The Difference Between Plagiarism and Repurposing

September 30, 2011

There’s not much of a difference between what’s being called repurposing as opposed to plagiarism, at least as far as I can tell. Andrew Sullivan excerpts from an essay to highlight Kenneth Goldsmith’s “Uncreative Writing” class where:

… students are penalized for showing any shred of originality and creativity. Instead they are rewarded for plagiarism, identity theft, repurposing papers, patchwriting, sampling, plundering, and stealing. Not surprisingly, they thrive. Suddenly what they’ve surreptitiously become expert at is brought out into the open and explored in a safe environment, reframed in terms of responsibility instead of recklessness. …

After a semester of my forcibly suppressing a student’s “creativity” by making her plagiarize and transcribe, she will tell me how disappointed she was because, in fact, what we had accomplished was not uncreative at all; by not being “creative,” she had produced the most creative body of work in her life. By taking an opposite approach to creativity—the most trite, overused, and ill-defined concept in a writer’s training—she had emerged renewed and rejuvenated, on fire and in love again with writing.

The essence of Goldsmith’s article, however, is that creativity, these days is more built upon the work of others than ever before. No longer does the picture of a lonely, isolated artist, creating truly original work, seem to fit. Creativity these days is much more often found (and rewarded) in people who are rearranging, reimagining, and repurposing the work of others. It’s the “unoriginal genius”.

Citing this post: Urbano, L., 2011. The Difference Between Plagiarism and Repurposing, Retrieved January 21st, 2018, from Montessori Muddle: http://MontessoriMuddle.org/ .
Attribution (Curator's Code ): Via: Montessori Muddle; Hat tip: Montessori Muddle.

Molly Backes on How to Be a Writer

July 21, 2011

Molly Backes, an author of young adult fiction, considers the question from a mother about her teenager, “She wants to be a writer. What should we be doing?”

Her first answer was, “You really do have to write a lot. I mean, that’s mostly it. You write a lot.”

But then she thought about it, and that’s where it gets really interesting:

First of all, let her be bored. …

Let her be lonely. Let her believe that no one in the world truly understands her. …

Let her have secrets. …

Let her fail. Let her write pages and pages of painful poetry and terrible prose. …

Let her make mistakes.

Let her find her own voice, even if she has to try on the voices of a hundred others first to do so. …

Keep her safe but not too safe, comfortable but not too comfortable, happy but not too happy.

Above all else, love and support her. …

— Bakes (2011): How to Be a Writer

At the end she posts a picture of her collection of forty-two writer’s notebooks.

It’s a wonderfully written and well considered post that I’d recommend to anyone trying to teach writing and language, particularly if you take the apprentice writer approach. And, I’ve always been a great believer in the power of boredom.

Backes’ advice more-or-less summarizes my interpretation of the Montessori approach: create a safe environment and give students the opportunity to explore and learn, even if it means a certain amount of struggle and failure.

Jungle play area at the Skudeneshavn Primary School in Karmøy on the west coast of Norway is another great example of creating an environment that offers students the opportunity to explore.

It’s also interesting to note how differently writers and other experts think, yet how much their practices overlap. Mathematician Kevin Houston also recommends writing a lot when he explains how to think like a mathematician, but his objective is to use full, rigorous sentences to clarify hard logic, and less to explore the beauty of the language or discover something profound about shared humanity.

Citing this post: Urbano, L., 2011. Molly Backes on How to Be a Writer, Retrieved January 21st, 2018, from Montessori Muddle: http://MontessoriMuddle.org/ .
Attribution (Curator's Code ): Via: Montessori Muddle; Hat tip: Montessori Muddle.

Call of Duty Poem

May 24, 2011

I encourage my students to write what they know.

Bullets flying past my face,
After the enemy like a chase.
Grenades landing right beside me,
I’ve now deployed my RC-XD.
Staying camouflaged on my hands and knees,

A silenced weapon keeps me stealthy,
Kill the enemy, with my Valkyrie.
Dolphin dive onto the ground,
My magazine is almost out of rounds.
I get shot with a pistol,
In the back of the head.
My teammate tries to revive me,
But it’s too late, I’m already dead.

— Harrison Hill

Citing this post: Urbano, L., 2011. Call of Duty Poem, Retrieved January 21st, 2018, from Montessori Muddle: http://MontessoriMuddle.org/ .
Attribution (Curator's Code ): Via: Montessori Muddle; Hat tip: Montessori Muddle.

Writing should first focus on the text

May 1, 2011

I have a great antipathy when my word processor tells me what to do, or, even worse, “corrects” my writing without my permission. So I avoid MS Word like the plague. OpenOffice is little better. Now I’ll admit that my writing is usually in great need of a good editor, but not looking over my shoulder, inserting little, irritating suggestions while I’m caught up in the turbulent rapids of self-expression. Getting into the flow of productive writing is difficult enough; I don’t need the extra distraction.

Instead I much prefer the plain text editors; Smultron has been a favorite of mine since I’ve been using Macs, and I spend a lot of time writing on the class Wiki (MediaWiki) and on this blog (WordPress), which both have very simple text-entry boxes.

WordPress and MediaWiki also process the text and make it presentable. Like most websites these days, this blog has a theme that tells it where to put the text, how to format it, what background to have, where to insert images, what to have in the header and footer, …. The theme I use was created by Karen Blundell and adapted to put in a couple of my own details, like the little citation thing, and the ability to name the reviewer and editors at the bottom of the post. I did spend a lot of time getting these things to work, but I did learn quite a bit about the inner workings of WordPress and CSS in doing them, and once they were done, I could forget about them entirely and just focus on the writing.

Similarly, with LaTeX, although it’s much more of a pain to figure out how to use. On the Muddle I use LaTeX to add mathematical equations, but it really is a fully-fledged typesetting program, designed for professionals.

Two pages from a booklet my class and I put together about a display of fossils. I used LaTeX to typeset.

My class recently created a little display of fossils collected from Coon Creek for a school fundraiser, and we put together a booklet for it. I had the students write their essays and put them up on our Wiki. Then I copied and pasted their text into a LaTeX document, added a couple chapters from some of my blog posts, and it did the rest to create a very nice looking book, complete with title page, table of contents and bibliography.

Setting up the LaTeX file was not trivial, since I’ve not used it in a number of years, and this was the first time I tried to format a book. But it creates beautifully looking documents, without all the mysterious formatting features that inevitably show up if you tried something this complex with Word.

There are, I’m sure, other software for publishing documents like this. However, LaTeX is free and so is the old version of Smultron. Smultron’s new version costs $4.99, but is probably worth it.

Citing this post: Urbano, L., 2011. Writing should first focus on the text, Retrieved January 21st, 2018, from Montessori Muddle: http://MontessoriMuddle.org/ .
Attribution (Curator's Code ): Via: Montessori Muddle; Hat tip: Montessori Muddle.

The Challenge of Assessing Good Language

April 22, 2011

Middle school is where you learn the conventions of language: comma placement; who versus whom; and things like that. But language, and even its conventions, are ever evolving. Stephen Fry makes the case that we should be a little less pedantic.

Citing this post: Urbano, L., 2011. The Challenge of Assessing Good Language, Retrieved January 21st, 2018, from Montessori Muddle: http://MontessoriMuddle.org/ .
Attribution (Curator's Code ): Via: Montessori Muddle; Hat tip: Montessori Muddle.

Learning is Fractal: “It’s boring,” does not compute.

April 9, 2011

Fractal trees.

The more you learn about something, the more detail reveals itself. It’s a bit like walking down a single path of a fractal pattern. Wherever you go, no matter how much you know, new branches open up before you. Within every little thing is an infinity of discovery.

It’s one of the reasons why I don’t accept, “It’s boring,” as an excuse for not wanting to do something. Boredom is when you don’t use your imagination. You can never get bored because of all of the interesting things in world.

To see a world in a grain of sand,
And a heaven in a wild flower,

— from William Blake (1863): Auguries of Innocence, via Art of Europe.

I still have not tried my fractal writing exercises, but I think I’ll try to work one into the next cycle. Perhaps start with describing a tree, then a leaf (or a section of bark), then cells under the microscope.

Or perhaps a better subject, since we’ll be looking at organ systems, would be a fish.

Citing this post: Urbano, L., 2011. Learning is Fractal: “It’s boring,” does not compute., Retrieved January 21st, 2018, from Montessori Muddle: http://MontessoriMuddle.org/ .
Attribution (Curator's Code ): Via: Montessori Muddle; Hat tip: Montessori Muddle.

Interning at the Muddle

April 4, 2011

One of my students, Ms. Piper Ziebarth, had the audacity to agree with me, enthusiastically, when I mentioned that my writing could do with a little editing. She also had the temerity to call one of my more artistically designed paragraphs, “boring.”

So I offered her the chance to intern at the Muddle as an editor and reviewer.

This week, most of my students are off seeing a little of what it’s like to have a real job. Apart from getting them out of my hair for a week, the internships are intended to allow them to build some self-esteem by contributing to society (internships must be unpaid), practice speaking and acting in formal situations, and exercise the most interesting and challenging aspect of learning by applying their knowledge in new areas.

Piper's hand at the wheel.

I offered Piper the chance to work with me because she’s a gifted writer, from whom I would do well to learn. Unlike my own, her writing is clear and concise, with strong emotional subtexts that draw the reader in. She’s also internalized the lesson that the revision process is essential, so her work benefits from a strong, critical eye.

Piper’s also one of my more prolific student bloggers.

I’ve not worked at a newspaper or magazine, so I’m only vaguely familiar with their traditional editing process. I have seen both sides of the scientific peer-review process, but there, the focus is more on making sure the end result is scientifically accurate. There, the use of scientific jargon is essential for clarity when communicating among scientists working in a specialized field. While I greatly enjoy the freedom of blogging, I often find myself being pulled into that careful style of scientific writing.

Hopefully, Ms. Ziebarth can help pull me out of it.

Over the next week, my challenge will be to not mention schoolwork, and all the other things we have going on in the classroom, and let Ms. Ziebarth focus on editing and revising.

Ultimately, what shows up on the blog is my responsibility, and I can be quite stubborn. But, hopefully, I’m old enough to learn how to use a good editor and reviewer well.

Citing this post: Urbano, L., 2011. Interning at the Muddle, Retrieved January 21st, 2018, from Montessori Muddle: http://MontessoriMuddle.org/ .
Attribution (Curator's Code ): Via: Montessori Muddle; Hat tip: Montessori Muddle.

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