#queercomposing: A Virtual Open Summer Institute Focused on Composing the Multiplicities of Our Experiences

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This summer, teachers are invited to join together with scholars, artists, and authors to strengthen writing and multimodal composing practices in a virtual, open institute co-sponsored by three MIchigan Writing Project sites. This NWP Radio show invited facilitators to describe how they will support participants in coming together to create brave spaces in writing instruction that centers writing and composing models at the intersections of queer, BIPOC, and feminist voices; that center intersectionality; and develop a community of folx to support these efforts and to stay committed with and alongside each other. Join us for this interview to learn more and find out how to get involved; registration is open until June 15, 2022.

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About Our Guests

Rae Oviatt, Ph.D., has nearly two decades of experience in education, community organizing, and research. She was a middle and high school English teacher and teacher of multilingual and bilingual English language learners across urban contexts in Atlanta, Bangkok, Indianapolis, and Lansing. She is the incoming Vice Chair for NCTE’s Genders and Sexualities Equity Alliance, and the 2018 recipient of NCTE’s ELATE Graduate Research Award. Her work with the National Writing Project dates back nearly a decade, and she is a teacher-consultant for the Red Cedar Writing Project. She is currently Assistant Professor of Teacher Education at Eastern Michigan University. Dr. Oviatt’s current inquiry examines the liberatory potential for centering Queer of Color literacies and epistemologies in writing and multimodal composing with youth and educators across school and community organizations.

Ileana Jiménez is a leader in the feminism-in-schools movement and is the founder of and creator of the #HSfeminism and #K12feminism hashtags. An English teacher-activist for 25 years, she has taught high school and graduate students, as well as emerging and established teachers critical feminist pedagogies, curricula, and activism. In 2011, she received a Distinguished Fulbright to interview queer youth in Mexico City. Globally, she has presented workshops for teachers in Argentina, Australia, Greece, India, Mexico, and the UK. She has published in Gender in an era of post-truth populism: Pedagogies, challenges and strategies (2022); Meridians: feminism, race, transnationalism (volume 1, 2016); Radical Teacher (vol. 106, 2016); One Teacher in Ten in the New Millennium: LGBT Educators Speak Out About What’s Gotten Better… and What Hasn’t (Beacon, 2015); SLUT: A Play and Guidebook for Combating Sexism and Sexual Violence (2015); The Feminist Utopia Project: Fifty-Seven Visions of a Wildly Better Future (2015); and Youth Sexualities: Public Feelings and Contemporary Cultural Politics (2018). She received her B.A. in English Literature at Smith College, and an M.A. in English Literature at Middlebury College. She can be found on Twitter and Instagram @feministteacher.

Get Your Ducks in a Rowe

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Interested in what writing looks and feels like outside of school in those professions that depend on writing like marketing or public relations? Join us for this conversation about writing in the work-a-day worlds of marketing and business with Jim Rowe, author of Get Your Ducks in a Rowe. Rowe, who has worked, coached, and supported writers in these fields talks about what kind of support writers need when their goals are clarity and brevity.

The Write Time with Sarah J. Donovan, Kristin Bartley Lenz, Stacey Lorinn Joy, and Jayné Penn

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Sarah J. Donovan, PhD, is a former junior English language arts teacher of fifteen years and an Assistant Professor of Secondary English Education at Oklahoma State University. She wrote Genocide Literature in Middle and Secondary Classrooms (2016) and the young adult novel, Alone Together (2018). Dr. Donovan was the Books in Review columnist for The ALAN Review (2019) and served as a state representative and board member for The Assembly on Literature for Adolescents of NCTE (ALAN). She hosts a weekly blog, Ethical ELA, and has contributed chapters to The Best Lesson Series (Talks with Teachers, 2018), Queer Adolescent Literature as a Complement to the English Language Arts Curriculum (Rowman & Littlefield, 2018), Moving Beyond Personal Loss to Societal Grieving (Rowman & Littlefield, 2018), and Contending with Gun Violence in the English Language Classroom (Routledge, 2019).

Kristin Bartley Lenz is a writer and social worker who has lived in Michigan, Georgia, and California. Her debut young adult novel, The Art of Holding On and Letting Go, was a Helen Sheehan YA Book Prize winner, a Junior Library Guild Selection, and an honor book for the Great Lakes Great Books Award statewide literature program. Her writing has been published in a YA poetry anthology (Rhyme & Rhythm: Poems for Student Athletes), The New York Times, Writer’s Digest, Hunger Mountain, Literary Mama, Women On Writing, and more. She also writes freelance for Detroit area nonprofits and teaches creative writing for teens and adults.

Stacey Lorinn Joy, born and raised in Los Angeles, is a National Board Certified Teacher, Los Angeles County Teacher of the Year, and self-published poet. She has been teaching in elementary education for 37 years. In addition to her self-published book, Naked Reflections: Shamelessly Sensual Poetry, she has poems published in Savant Poetry Anthologies, Teacher Poets Writing to Bridge the Distance, and Rhythm and Rhyme: Poems for Student Athletes.

Jayné Penn is an English teacher and cross country coach at Fairfield College Preparatory School in Fairfield, Connecticut. As a Division I Track athlete at Georgetown University, she grew interested in sports stories and community activism. She was also a recipient of the 2018 Dean’s Award for Student Excellence at Fairfield University, with a thesis focus on sports literature in the classroom. Currently, Penn has looked to the potential of Young Adult Literature, with a focus on sports in many texts, as a vehicle to explore empathy with her students.

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The Write Time with Educator Stephanie Renee Toliver and Author Natasha Bowen

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Natasha Bowen is a writer, a teacher, and a mother of three children. She is of Nigerian and Welsh descent and lives in Cambridge, England, where she grew up. Natasha studied English and creative writing at Bath Spa University before moving to East London, where she taught for nearly ten years. Her debut book Skin of the Sea was inspired by her passion for mermaids and African history. She is obsessed with Japanese and German stationery and spends stupid amounts on notebooks, which she then features on her secret Instagram. When she’s not writing, she’s reading, watched over carefully by Milk and Honey, her cat and dog.

Stephanie Renee Toliver is an assistant professor of Literacy and Secondary Humanities at the University of Colorado, Boulder whose scholarship centers the freedom dreams of Black youth and honors the historical legacy that Black imaginations have had and will have on activism and social change. She is the author of Recovering Black Storytelling in Qualitative Research: Endarkened Storywork.

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The Write Time with Educator Fredeisha Harper Darrington and Author Renée Watson

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Renée Watson is a #1 New York Times bestselling author, educator, and community activist. Her young adult novel, Piecing Me Together (Bloomsbury, 2017) received a Coretta Scott King Award and Newbery Honor. Her children’s picture books and novels for teens have received several awards and international recognition. Her poetry and fiction centers around the experiences of Black girls and women, and explores themes of home, identity, and the intersections of race, class, and gender.

One of Renée’s passions is using the arts to help youth cope with trauma and discuss social issues. Her picture book, A Place Where Hurricanes Happen is based on poetry workshops she facilitated with children in New Orleans in the wake of Hurricane Katrina.

Fredeisha Harper Darrington is an educator with the Fairfield City School System in Fairfield, Alabama and works as a teacher-consultant with the University of Alabama at Birmingham’s Red Mountain Writing Project. She is passionate about social justice as it relates to the education and literacy of all students. She works as an advocate for students with dyslexia and promotes the use of culturally responsive practices in all content areas.

Fredeisha has worked in the field of early literacy and language development as a classroom teacher and school library media specialist for over 24 years. She is currently a PhD candidate at the University of Alabama at Birmingham in the department of Curriculum and Instruction. Her work is centered around dyslexia, early literacy and language development, social justice, and equity in education.

Fredeisha considers writing, traveling, crocheting, and volunteering in her community some of her many interests and passions.

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Write Time with Peter Kahn, Natalie Richardson, Christian “Rich Robbins” Robinson, and Poet t.l. sanders

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For over twenty years, Peter Kahn has been fortunate to employ the power of poetry to help give voice to those previously unheard. He has been a high school teacher at Oak Park/River Forest High School in Chicago since 1994 and has recently also taught at Roosevelt University. Peter was commended in the National Poetry Competition 2009 and 2017. He is a founding member of Malika’s Kitchen and co-founder of the London Teenage Poetry Slam. Peter holds an MA in English Education from The Ohio State University and an MFA in Creative Writing from Fairfield University. His 2020 book, Little Kings, is a book with interconnected poems and recurring characters that feels more like a book of poetic short stories that speak to one another. His new book, Respect The Mic, is an expansive, moving poetry anthology representing 20 years of poetry from students and alumni of Chicago’s Oak Park River Forest High School Spoken Word Club.

Natalie Rose Richardson was born in New York City to a long line of border-crossers and proud people of blended heritage. Natalie is a graduate of the University of Chicago (BA), and the Litowitz Creative Writing Program (in poetry) at Northwestern University. She is a current non-fiction MFA candidate at NYU. Her poetry and prose has appeared, or is forthcoming in: Poetry Magazine, Narrative, Orion Magazine, North American Review, The Adroit Journal, Brevity, The Cincinnati Review, Arts & Letters, Emergence Magazine, Chicago Magazine, and others, along with numerous anthologies, including The Golden Shovel Anthology. She has received awards, residencies or fellowships from the Poetry Society of America, The Poetry Foundation, Tin House, The Newberry Library, The Luminarts Foundation, Crab Orchard Review, Davis Projects for Peace, Scholastic Art & Writing Awards, and the National Student Poets Program. Natalie’s work has featured at BBC Radio London, Tedx, WBEZ Chicago, The British Royal Library, The Art Institute of Chicago, and the Poetry Foundation. She is a 2020 Pushcart Prize and Best New Poets nominee.

Rich Robbins is a rapper, songwriter, producer, and educator. But more than anything, the Oak Park-born, Chicago-based artist is a world-builder. Rich’s early years as a college student in Madison, Wisconsin’s First Wave hip-hop scholarship program jumpstarted his artistry. He recorded wide-reaching tracks like “Dreams” feat. Mick Jenkins, along with records with Saba, Mother Nature, and more. He has performed at historic venues like the Apollo Theater in New York, and has done everything from music festivals, to working at Hot 97 as an intern, to teaching classrooms of high school students how to read and write poetry/songs. His work is an inward look at society’s ills and creates spaces for listeners to explore. In short, Rich’s work critiques the old while envisioning and manifesting the new. His latest releases are available on all streaming platforms.

Poet t.l. sanders is a modern-day renaissance man who lives to build minds and loves to body build. He speaks French. He plays bass. He is a cage-fighting martial artist. He educates. Give him a stage, he articulates. Lend him an ear, he motivates. As a performance professional based in Kansas City, MO, Poet has performed at the Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts (in the 2019 Lyric Opera of Kansas City production of Bizet’s Pearl Fishers), at the Nelson Atkins Museum of Art, and—serendipitously—he has performed at several venues located in Kansas City’s Historic Jazz District, 18th and Vine: the American Jazz Museum, at the Gem Theater, and in the Blue Room (which is the setting of his book, kNew: The POETICscreenPLAY). As Paper Birch Landing Art Gallery’s 2019 Poet in Residence Recipient, the Winner of the Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts’ 2021 Artful Poetry contest, a 2021 Missouri Arts Council Featured Artist, Prairie Lands Writing Project Teacher-Consultant, a Missouri Writing Project Network Teacher-Consultant, a current curriculum director, and former elementary, middle, and high school English teacher turned filmmaker, Poet embraces the value of our shared stories. In 2021, Poet delivered The kNew-Born, an art house film that explores the human side of drug addiction.

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A Love Supreme: Reflections on Why We Continue to Teach | A Special #ce14 Presentation

Source Photos: “Making model airplanes for U.S. Navy at the Armstrong Technical High School. Washington, DC.” Office for Emergency Management. Office of War Information. Domestic Operations Branch. News Bureau. (06/13/1942 – 09/15/1945) Taken March 1942.

A Love Supreme: Reflections on Why We Continue to Teach | contains a sample of “Acknowledgement” from John Coltrane’s A Love Supreme. Originally recorded December 9th, 1964. © 1964 MCA Records, Inc.

Over the Summer of 2014, we launched a meetup of self-identified Black male educators hosted at The Center for the Study of Race & Equity in Education. What began out of a friendly conversation of our relative scarcity in classrooms transformed into an interdependent approach to move ourselves and others collectively forward in our practice. We came with various backgrounds, various experiences, and various questions about our positionality and our profession. Through impassioned dialogue, we landed on what we all felt to be a generative inquiry into our motivations to become educators, recognizing the overwhelming number of educators who leave the classroom in their first five years. We investigated the interrelatedness between what brought us into teaching and why we continue to stay in teaching. We present this podcast as an exhibit of truthful self-interrogation of unfinished thoughts from a moment in these conversations. The process of recording one’s thoughts leaves a marker in time as even when reciting written words, no audio take is completely the same. We all struggled to balance our truth and its clear delivery to those that will become listeners. Recognizing our imperfections, we uphold that our strivings remain true. The same can be said about our practice as we take the necessary steps to reflect and think critically about how we can support those that we lead and learn from in the classroom. We fluctuate in our delivery daily, yet we hold fast to principles that guide us in our journey. For this illustration, Coltrane’s A Love Supreme becomes the canvas for the journey, emphasizing our supreme love for our work. [total runtime: 25:55]

00:33Brendon Jobs, Philadelphia, PA

The son of Trinidadian immigrants, Brendon currently teaches kids World History, African American History and Sociology at the Girard Academic Music Program in Philadelphia. He earned a bachelor’s degree in Political Science from Columbia University and a master’s certificate in Secondary Education from the Penn GSE as a Philadelphia Teaching Fellow. He returned to Penn, as a James Madison Fellow to earn a M.S.Ed in Teaching, Learning and Curriculum with a focus on Gender and Education. Last year he completed the National Board Teaching Certification process. Beyond the classroom, he affiliates with Teacher Action Group (TAG), a group of like minded teachers working to organize, innovate and empower other educators throughout Philly in the midst of this a politically orchestrated school funding crisis. His experience includes work as a Lehrman Fellow, National Constitution Center Annenberg Fellow, and an Education Pioneer Fellow with the SEED Foundation in Washington DC. He is an advocate for public education interested in developing structures that support diversity and student voice in school communities.

06:35Shamir Reese, Philadelphia, PA

Shamir Reese, a special education teacher, mentor, and youth advocate, is currently a special education co-teaching 7th and 8th grade literacy. He has been the only African-American  male SPED teacher in his school for two different schools within a 3 year period. Shamir has been a youth advocate for going on 10 years advocating for youth ranging from Philadelphia, to San Francisco, to Nigeria. Currently, Shamir is volunteering for several mentoring groups, one of which is at his school, Cleveland Elementary, called Men of Mastery.

09:31Kenloy Henry, Brooklyn, NY

Kenloy Henry, A Penn Alumni and Bill Gates Millennium Scholar, recently worked in the KIPP Philadelphia Schools system as a High School history teacher. Recently he moved to New York where he has been serving as an advisor and mentor to inner city youth preparing for the college application process. Kenloy is also participates in the Urban Community Teachers Project and the Black and Latino Male Initiative  at Brooklyn College. He is passionate about improving the lived experience of inner city youth. He can be reached at

13:17Christopher Rogers, Chester/Philadelphia, PA

Christopher Rogers works currently as an in-school Media and Technology Specialist, spreading the opportunity for PK-8 students to explore and investigate what the world is to move us closer to what it ought to be. In Spring 2015, Chris will be leading a course at Arcadia Universitybased on integrating community relationships in the classroom. He also is behind a new startup, JustMaybeCo. which aims to reignite teaching and learning through collaborative inquiry between schools and communities. He can be reached at

16:52Samuel Reed, Philadelphia, PA

Samuel Reed, III, a teacher consultant with the Philadelphia Writing Project, is an active member of the Teacher Action Group (TAG Philly) and has been teaching secondary students to read, write, and make sense of thew world for more than 17 years. He blogs for the Philadelphia Public School Notebook and has previously contributed to  the University of Pennsylvania GSE Perspective of Urban Education. Reed recently won the prestigious 2014 Black Male Leader Award (BMe)   He can be reached at

22:10Raymond Roy-Pace, Philadelphia, PA

Raymond Roy-Pace is a classroom teacher, mentor, and servant leader. He began what he describes as a calling into education over five years ago serving communities as an administrator and classroom teacher.  His greatest joys are working with youth in and out of the classroom.  So much so, that in 2011 he began his own non-profit, BeU365.  The mission of BeU365 is to inspire youth through creative education, mentorship and real world experiences. His passion for youth has led him to develop curriculums for mentorship programs, conduct youth engagement workshops and develop teacher trainings. In addition, Ray has served on various panels to discuss prominent issues in education and has also provided commentary, both written and orally, on youth engagement.

Bioethics, Informed Consent, and Open Networks: The Story of Bioethics Day

Last fall, inspired by our reading of The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks in Biology and English, my students put on a “day of learning” for students from two other high schools, in addition to our own. We called it “Bioethics Day.”

The impetus behind Bioethics Day was pretty simple: we had read The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks with sophomores the year before, but the Biology teacher and I wanted to do something more with it; we wanted to ask students to create something bigger with it. We asked ourselves “What is the coolest thing we (teachers and students) could possibly do with this book?” One Friday afternoon, in conversation with a colleague from a neighboring school system, we came up with the idea of a mini-conference, in which students would have opportunities to participate in labs, seminar discussions, and a variety of other activities. Ideally, we would have guest speakers, and we wanted to turn the event into an opportunity for students to network with their peers from neighboring schools, both within our system and neighboring systems.

We knew informed consent would be a big issue, as it is in the case of HeLa cells, and we wanted to link to other cases related to this issue, including our own state’s history of forced sterilization. Our students don’t have access to a lot of lab equipment, so we wanted to borrow microscopes from the community college so that students would have an opportunity to look at their own cells. Most of all, we wanted students to have an opportunity to plan and facilitate as much of the event as possible. We sketched out a rough outline in about ten minutes, and began working on implementation with students the following Monday.

Planning Bioethics Day: Promotion

The first stage of our planning for Bioethics Day was to promote the event. We wanted to make sure, early on, that students knew they had several different authentic audiences for Bioethics Day, that they knew who these audiences would be, and that they anticipated what these audiences would want to hear. We drew numbers from a hat to sign up for five different groups: Inviting Teachers and Classes, Inviting Dignitaries, Inviting the Guest Speaker, Inviting Families, and Press Releases. Guidelines and rubrics for this part of the process can be found here. Each group worked collaboratively in Google docs to craft their invitations or press releases, which allowed me to leave feedback every night (for groups who requested it) and highlight as I proofread later drafts.  One member of each group emailed the final draft where appropriate, and we printed the letter to parents on school letterhead and stuffed envelopes. The group responsible for emailing guest speakers waited about a week to send their email as we worked out which of our options for guest speakers was likely to be able to attend, and we moved on to the next stage of our process: Preparation.

Planning Bioethics Day: Preparation

While we were able to work through the Promotion stage fairly quickly (it took about a week), Preparation for Bioethics Day took a lot longer. We followed a similar process for signing up for six groups: Preparatory Materials, Seminar, Cell Lab, Center 1, Center 2, and Center 3, except that the Biology teacher identified four students to plan and facilitate the Cell Lab. Guidelines and rubrics for this stage of the process can be found here. Students again worked in Google docs, although the Cell Lab group found it easier to format their materials in Microsoft Word and then upload their work to Google Drive for sharing.

This stage of the process also involved more research: the Preparatory Materials group used some materials from our study of The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, but they also had to search for a brief article participants could read for background on Henrietta and her cells before coming to Bioethics Day; similarly, the Seminar group searched for and summarized the stories of additional victims of North Carolina’s forced sterilization program, so that participants could have a text for reference during the Seminar discussion; and the Cell Lab group drew on a variety of lab activities they found online to generate their own template for writing up a lab report. The groups for the three Center activities, which together comprised one session, also conducted research on the Tuskegee Syphilis Study and Nazi medical experiments, and returned to the text of The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks to create infographics about how far across the globe (and into space) Henrietta’s cells traveled and the impact of HeLa cells on medical research.

Planning Bioethics Day: Day Of

As we approached the actual date, we began multi-tasking: our planning shifted towards signing up for facilitative roles (again, by drawing numbers from a hat), but we also remained focused on revising and honing the materials we created, with the exception of Preparatory Materials, which we published to attending teachers. We held several dress rehearsals, during which students received feedback from both peers and teachers: the Cell Lab group facilitated their lab, students rotated through Centers, and our Social Studies teacher gave up his planning period to observe  a run-through of Seminar A while I observed Seminar B (the Seminar group wanted to split that session into two smaller groups so participants would have more opportunities to speak). Each preparatory group used this form to develop a rubric by which they wanted Judges to evaluate their work on the Day Of (our principal sagely suggested we synthesize these into a single rubric, which can be found here).

At the same time, students were preparing for the actual Day Of (guidelines can be found here): creating materials for training judges; making copies and organizing materials for Seminars, the Cell Lab, and Centers; making lists of interview questions; and organizing registration materials (agendas, nametags, and schedules). Students also identified and volunteered for additional speaking roles I had overlooked: at the beginning of the day; during lunch; facilitating a panel discussion with guest speakers following a screening of their film; and thanking guest speakers. These volunteers met with me during lunch and shared drafts of questions and speeches in Google docs for feedback during the days preceding the Day Of.

During this stage of the process (and on the Day Of), our parents and faculty also offered invaluable support by donating drinks, chips, plates, napkins, and cups; making gifts for guest speakers and organizing gift baskets; and running out to get more pizza when it became clear we were going to run out.

Bioethics Day and Connected Learning

Though we didn’t plan with Connected Learning in mind, it turns out that Bioethics Day does, in fact, meet many of the principles and values of Connected Learning:

Image originally uploaded on 2013-08-10 12:02

Our study of The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks became production-centered, in that we were constantly looking for information that we could share during Bioethics Day; our planning for Bioethics Day was driven by the interests of students (and what they perceived as the interests of their peers); students and teachers worked with a shared purpose (putting on Bioethics Day) in mind while planning, and we were pleased to see participants in Bioethics Day collaborating across barriers of age and geography; the fact that Bioethics Day was almost entirely student-facilitated promoted a culture of peer leadership within our school; and as a culminating event in a cross-disciplinary study, Bioethics Day was definitely academic in focus.


On Open Networks, Digital Standards, and Privacy Concerns

The principle that hangs me up is “Openly Networked.” If I think about networks as systems and people, I can talk for days about how Bioethics Day broke down walls between curricula, between school and home, between school and community, and allowed us to connect with neighboring schools (and school systems), not to mention a university halfway across the state. All of this took place on the campus of the community college that houses our school, which is in itself a kind of “open network.” The evidence is all right there in the video, which includes footage of: students, parents, and teachers participating in discussions and labs; students from a neighboring school system presenting their work with genetic engineering; and a student-facilitated panel discussion with film-makers enrolled in Wake Forest University’s Documentary Film Program.

You won’t see students using a lot of technology in that video – all of the tech that’s there is supporting oral presentations. I could argue the point that students shot the video, but I ended up editing it after school was out, so that feels like an implementation that’s weaker than it should be. Overall, Bioethics Day feels more analog than digital.

And while sharing the video itself might count as “open networking,” it’s really not that open. I have it set to “Private” on YouTube, which means you’re only seeing it embedded here because I provided the link. It’s not searchable; it’s part of a network that I, as teacher, have some control over – I get to choose where it gets embedded, and who sees it. I maintain that control because my students navigate a world-wide web where Predditors exist and will post pictures of teenagers, from any source, without consent, for their pervy pals. I maintain that control because YouTube commenters are THE WORST, and I don’t think my students should have to deal with that mess.

I maintain similar control over the Google Drive folder housing the Bioethics Day-related documents we created. I shared that folder for a conference presentation because (1) I trusted the audience of teachers in the room, (2) students were co-presenters, and their nametags already included first and last names, and (3) their parents gave consent, via field trip form, for their attendance, but this folder includes student first and last names as document creators, and it makes me nervous to have it out there. That nervousness is alleviated a bit by the fact that it’s not in the first five pages of Google results for “Bioethics Day,” but not enough for me to share it here without removing students’ names as “owners” of the documents – something I’m just not willing to do (Note: this is, apparently, a decision district sysadmins feel comfortable making – they’ve now deleted students as owners of some docs, they have deleted some docs outright, and the docs that remain belong to me and several different “deleted users.”). I also maintain control over the documents in the way that I’ve published the folder – interested folks can add materials to their own Drives, but they can’t make any changes to our originals.

I have mixed feelings about this kind of control. I’m controlling these resources to protect my students (as are district sysadmins), but in doing so, I’m keeping students from a wider audience. I want more people to know how awesome my students are, but I don’t want students to become targets for trolls (or worse). I could use TeacherTube or publish our documents as web pages, with authors denoted by first name and last initial, but I want my students to experience the web, and its applications, in as many authentic contexts as possible. That’s why I’m controlling students’ published experience, making it less authentic. That irony does not escape me, and I have no easy answers to this dilemma. My lack of certainty worries me: I think I’m doing the right thing, but what if erring on the side of caution means we’re not fullyexperiencing Connected Learning?

I’m also aware of the ways in which the privacy concerns I have mirror those students and I discussed in our reading of The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks: district acceptable use policies and forms are asking for parents’ informed consent for posting of student images, video, and work; in making decisions about what to share (or not share), I’m considering the permissions parents have (or haven’t) given; in areas where I may fall short in addressing these issues, district sysadmins are there to ensure student privacy is protected, a function similar to an IRB.

While I still have questions about authenticity, the process of trying to work through these issues for myself – exploring all of the different kinds of networks my students engaged around Bioethics Day (and the degrees to which they engaged digital networks), and considering issues of informed consent – is instrumental in clarifying my understanding of what Connected Learning really is: it’s not just a useful framework for meaningful use of technology in my classroom, but a framework for meaningful learning.

Teaching About the Jordan Davis Murder

[This post represents the work of a group of educators and education activists who wanted to help educators  help students process the verdict in the Jordan Davis murder trial. Many of us wrote from our experiences both in and out of the classroom, and as such, many of us used “I” statements in talking about these ideas. The writers are Melinda Anderson, Joshua Block, Zac Chase, Alexa Dunn, Bill Fitzgerald, Matt Kay, Diana Laufenberg, me, Luz Maria Rojas, John Spencer, Mike Thayer, Jose Vilson and Audrey Watters. You can also link to the Google Doc or the whole thing as a PDF. Everything written below is collaborative. This document is Creative Commons – Share Alike. I only add that as educators, this is a way we can make the world just a little bit better – by talking, by trying, by teaching. There are many other ways our society has to address the issues that Jordan Davis’ murder demands we face. But as teachers, we have our classrooms. We can all can start there. — Chris]

As educators we believe that we have a responsibility to use our classrooms to help young people grapple with and address the messiness of the world around them. In collaborating on this, what we know to be true is that there is more than a single lesson plan here. The issues raised by the Jordan Davis murder trial touch deeply on issues of race, law, social justice, and any and all of these issues could be a course of study. What we hope to do is offer a number of ways for teachers and students to think about the case while knowing that no one way, no one day can possibly speak to all of the challenges this case represents.

What follows is an attempt to organize what was a 15-hour brainstorming session into a few organizing concepts


    1. things to consider as a teacher when tackling this subject,
    2. ideas and resources around teaching about / toward the Jordan Davis murder verdict, and
    3. some concrete lesson plans that teachers could use that examine the verdict from several different lenses.


General Thoughts About Teaching Toward The Jordan Davis Murder and Verdict:


    • Many teachers are a little uncomfortable, maybe even afraid, to have these conversations, but that’s exactly why we need to have them. Importantly, these conversations also need to happen among the adults in the building as well. Many of the ideas in this post could also be used for professional development sessions with the adults.
    • Pay attention to the context of your classroom. If it is a predominately white classroom, please don’t use the minority student as the “expert informant” whose job it is to “tell it like it is.” That’s a whole lot of pressure to put on a kid. On the same note, if you teach in a school where students are mostly African-American (or students of color in general), share how you feel about it, how it makes you angry and sad. Then give them space to talk about it.
    • Give students the permission to process in a way that represents who they are. Some kids want to talk about it. Some want to listen. Some want to blog about it. I’ve had some kids sketch their ideas out in word bubbles or in art while we try to make sense out of the tragedy. Talking to Children About Violence: Tips for Parents and Teachers
    • I would caution teachers that some kids (including African-Americans) might not feel as crushed by it as they do. Some students have normalized injustice. Some students have seen things that we can’t fathom and it’s hard for them that their own stories of injustice were never deemed “newsworthy.” Some students are just not that interested in the moment in an even that feels “far away” from them. Kids don’t want to feel emotionally manipulated by any adult – especially a teacher. (very important to remember, well said)
    • I think it helps sometimes to make the distinction ahead of time that discomfort doesn’t mean “unsafe.” It might not be a comfortable conversation, but hopefully it will be a safe, trusted environment. I know that I’ve had to go over this concept when talking about racial injustice in immigration policy.
    • On issues that have significant emotional impact, I like to start the class with the opportunity for personal reflection and thought-gathering before getting into group discussion. One process I used was to open the class with a background reading, and give students blank index cards. After they have read the background piece, they write one adjective describing their thoughts on the piece. Then, the cards get collected and displayed in a publicly visible space. This process creates the room for people to all get familiarity with the issue, along with some time to collect thoughts/emotions before starting discussions.
    • Keep developmental level of kids in mind. The way I talked with my older son (3rd grade) is different from how I’ll talk to 8th graders.
    • Plan the lesson, not as scripted, because you cannot script this conversation, but be aware that just having an open-ended conversation with kids may unintentionally create the space where kids don’t feel safe or o.k. to have the conversation. Small group discussions, writing prompts, time for reflections, and the setting of norms for these conversations can help to create a place where kids feel safe to have what will quite possibly be a very uncomfortable conversation.
    • I think it’s important to say that we will not “solve” this problem in an hour-long class, and we have to be thoughtful about owning that upfront.
    • That said, it is important to really be aware of time when dealing with topics like this. it isn’t fair to kids to get so caught up in the conversation as to lose track of time and then just “dismiss” the kids when class is over without giving students the opportunity to have some closure on the conversation you are having, even if many of us are at a place where we have don’t closure on what actually happened.


Associated image: Marchers in Jacksonville, Florida, protest the verdict against Michael Dunn. (Reuters)

Ideas and Resources for Teaching the Jordan Davis Murder Verdict

Ideas and Resources


    • Apparently Don Lemon was furious about the verdict. Seems as good an anticipatory set as anything else.
    • What is the relationship between law and justice? Can be connected to excerpts from Thoreau on Civil Disobedience.
    • How do societies change? What is the role of individuals to demand change? Can connect to 198 Methods of Nonviolent Action. I find that some students respond to issues by saying, “That’s just the way things are…” I believe it is crucial to remind young people that history is filled with struggles for and periods of change. Film clips can be very helpful to remind students of historical moments when people mobilized to demand change. Here is a powerful clip from Egypt. The film The Democratic Promise has some parts that resonate with students. (It is in parts on YouTube. This is part 1.)
    • Patricia Hill Collins’ book The Alchemy of Race and Rights has a powerful section on Critical Legal Studies using the example of Eleanor Bumpers. She does a great job picking apart the way society and language can steer the conversation away from what is morally right. It is a great starting point for picking apart something like Stand Your Ground.
    • Depending on the age and the group people can consider using some of Augusto Boal’s tools from Theater of the Oppressed. This activity from Training for Change is another possibility for enabling students to explore ways to speak up against injustice.
    • Ta-Nehisi Coates has a powerful essay about the verdict in the Atlantic.
    • One thing I have been thinking about is the ease with which certain words get thrown around, like “thug”; is there a place within the conversation with the kids to talk about how the words they use matter? Perhaps finding examples in media of how language is used to support stereotypes and how language can also subvert them?
    • Another thing I have thought about is the role of schools in teaching empathy. Is it a good idea to include in the lesson a place for students to practice deep listening?
    • This could be an interesting way into the conversation… this would take some time, but if someone was interested in building this into more than a day
    • I would address some of the facts of the trial and also the humanity behind it. The CNN video where Jordan Davis’s parents talk about him is powerful, because he retains his humanity. 



    • I would make sure that some time is spent (after the initial chat about the feelings in the room) learning about the history of stand your ground laws.
    • I would make sure that some time is spent going over that terms like “murder” and “manslaughter” mean. And the choices that prosecutors make when going for each distinction — and how “Stand Your Ground” affects those choices in Florida. 



    • There is enough “living history” from the civil rights movement still around – I would find a way to bring in someone who was around for Emmett Till (Possible Resource –  (or any other such vigilante injustice) and have a conversation linking now and “then.” I am bringing in a few folks to speak to my kids about the race riots that they have witnessed – could be a similar opportunity. And if the notice is too short – there is no shortage of 1st person interviews / news reports / other primary sources to explore and pick through for similarities. No shortage of questions to ask about what they see.
    • I have had some fairly explosive conversations about my own dealings with the police / would be vigilantes / and so have many of my mentees and students. I think that any conversation has to take into account that many of them have their own stories to tell about this kind of injustice – and they need to be given the space to talk. Many of the kids have stop and frisk stories that they would be quick to relate to what happened in these famous cases. Their family members have been through it. Many opportunities for connection.
    • After the Trayvon Martin murder verdict, the QED Foundation published a page of resources for talking to kids about the verdict. Some of these links may be useful entry points for talking with kids about the Jordan Davis case:
    • I screen Spike Lee’s Do the Right Thing (a well done film review by Roger Ebert) in Senior Reel Reading and we explore how this film is a vehicle for social commentary. One character, Radio Raheem, is killed by white police after an enraged incident in Sal’s Pizzeria over the volume of his boom box. However, it’s not so black and white (pardon the pun), and there are many, many gray areas. Versions of this kind of story can be seen in the Howard Beach incident (which inspired Do the Right Thing), the Jordan Davis case, and countless cases in between and yet to come. While a 1989 film, it is still so relevant today.
    • I want them to maybe look at some key PA laws here and compare to Florida laws. “How am I in danger?” “Am I?” I want my students to see AZ laws and the fact that they’re currently fast-tracking a Stand Your Ground Law in our state.


One Possible Lesson Plan: Target Age- 7th-12th Grade

Warm up: What is Justice? Provide examples. What is injustice? Provide examples. Discuss.  Collect examples on the board or digitally.

Provide students with scenarios that allow them to take a stand on whether something was just or unjust. Suggestions – students can jot down their thoughts first and then use the ‘stand on a line’ or ‘opinion continuum’ activity for students to indicate where they fall on the just, unjust spectrum with each of the scenarios.

Scenario 1: A family is forcibly interned (confined for political or military reasons) for 2 years because they are American citizens of Japanese descent and the government decided they were dangerous. (Reference)

Just or Unjust.  Explain your thoughts.

Scenario 2: Homeowners lost their homes in order to make room for a General Motors plant to be built.  They were fairly compensated by the government for the cost of their property but were not given a choice to sell or not sell.  (Reference)

Just or Unjust.  Explain your thoughts.

Scenario 3: 16-year-old drives while drunk and kills 4 people. He receives probation and no jail time for the crime.  (Reference)

Just or Unjust.  Explain your thoughts.

Scenario 4: Children are removed from their homes and taken to boarding schools where they are taught that their native language is bad and must learn English, take ‘western’ names and adopt western customs in order to fit into American culture better. (Reference)

Just or Unjust.  Explain your thoughts.

Scenario 5: A man was released from death row after 15 years when DNA evidence was used to clear him of wrong-doing in the murder of his cousin. (Reference)

Just or Unjust.  Explain your thoughts.

Then introduce the basic facts of the Jordan Davis case, including information on Stand Your Ground and self-defense – ask students to write down questions as they hear the facts of the case.  Allow time for question and answer time.



Have students develop statements about how justice and injustice relate to this case.

Play/read different perspectives of people after the verdict.  Discuss the emotions and frustration felt by many Americans as a result of the verdict.



Talk about action steps… if one wanted to speak out against or DO something … what are options.  Brainstorm and then teachers shares ones not mentioned. Such as:


    • Register to Vote – Encourage Parents to Register to Vote
    • Letters to the Editor
    • Discussions with parents/family
    • Use social media to bring about awareness amongst peers
    • Keep up to date with current events and issues of social justice
    • Be aware of local issues of injustice
    • Lead a school wide day on issues of social justice
    • Start a youth group to discuss issues of social justice and bring awareness


Resources to continue the conversation:



Another Potental Lesson Plan: Target Age – 7th-12th Grade

I think lesson plans that bring up pertinent questions that help kids wrestle with the subject are most useful. Especially I would like the lesson plan to help kids see that Jordan Davis is emblematic of what happens in schools via zero tolerance and black males disproportionately affected by suspensions/expulsions. When does an innocent high school student become “intimidating,” “threatening” or “suspicious”? That’s why “Stand Your Ground” laws are so flawed – because its underpinning is that bodily harm or death is justified if the person feels intimidated or threatened – people can feel threatened if they are scared or paranoid about their safety. How does “intimidating,” “threatening” or “suspicious” look in their classrooms, their schools, in their daily interactions outside school – by exploring from their own experiences, that to me as a parent would be most valuable. My son has said that he notices people judge him and his friends by their appearance, depending on how he’s dressed. It makes him feel self-conscious. Maybe explore those concepts:

Journal Entry:

Have you ever had a moment where you felt that someone judged you because of your perceived race, gender, age, religion, sexual orientation and/or manner of dress? How did that make you feel? Or have  you ever judged someone based on those perceived attributes?


In small groups, have students discuss their personal reactions to the journal entry for several moments. Then ask groups to share out with the class what they discussed.

Transition / Class discussion prompt:


    • What are your concerns when people make judgements based on those perceived attributes?



Have students read the New York Times article on the Jordan Davis case:

In small groups, have students take on the following questions and then share out:


    • Why did Michael Dunn see Jordan Davis as a threat?
    • Why did Michael Dunn feel threatened by someone sitting in a car, listening to loud music?
    • Why do these kind of thoughts surface in people’s heads when they see a black person?
    • Would things have been different if Jordan Davis was a white kid sitting in his car, listening to loud music? Why or why not?


Big Questions:


    • What does it mean when institutional decisions (for example, court cases, school policies, employment opportunities, housing) are influenced by this kind of pre-judging / stereotyping?
    • How does it affect us if we believe a decision was made because of the way someone perceived us due to our perceived race, gender, sexual orientation, religion, and/or manner of dress?
    • What does it mean when laws or policies like “Stand Your Ground” or school suspension policies have a disproportionate negative impact on people of color more than whites?




    • What can be done to help people be better informed about those they see as “others” based on the perceived identifiers above?
    • What needs to happen to make sure that laws and policies do not reinforce existing inequality in our country and in our communities?
    • What can we do as a community to begin and support that work?


Potential Lesson Plan: Target Age- 7th-12th Grade

The goal of this lesson plan is to give students the chance to talk about the trial, about their feelings about it, and then do meaningful, real work that allows them to address the problems they see in the trial / the law.

Do now:

Read one of three articles about the trial:



Give students blank index cards. After they have read the background piece, students write one adjective describing their thoughts on the piece. Then, the cards get collected and displayed in a publicly visible space. This process creates the room for people to all get familiarity with the issue, along with some time to collect thoughts/emotions before starting discussions.



    • What do you think of the verdict? Was justice served? Why or why not?



Short write – Potential Topics:


    • What is the relationship between the way I feel about this personally and what I can do as a person in America?
    • How is what happened to Jordan Davis relevant to me?
    • How does this compare to my world? My experiences? What does it say about America? My city? My state?



In small groups, come up with an action plan about what can be done to make a more just society / country / community. Some potential activities include:


    • Blog post about “What should society / can we as a community do after the Jordan Davis murder trial?” – maybe even an open-ended blog post with several options (a brainstorm of blog topics crowd-sourced in small groups)
    • A letter to Jordan Davis’ parents
    • A letter to local politicians
    • An Op-Ed for the local newspaper
    • A meeting with local law enforcement to discuss concerns around the case.
    • Given that the Jordan Davis murder verdict is not something isolated, it would also be good to brainstorm with students about any plans/interest for ongoing involvement/activism.




    • How do we deal with a tragedy and work to make change?
    • How do we act in the public good when we are angry, sad, frustrated, hurt, scared?
    • How do we do it as a community and not just as individuals who feel all of the above emotions?


Final Thoughts

Thank the kids for being willing to engage in the conversation. And tell them you love them. And mean it.