Table of Contents, Lists, Re-reading

“…those who fail to re-read, are obliged to read the same story everywhere” (Barthes, S/Z 16)

As we end the year I give students an opportunity to revise, add, re-work, any aspect of their journal work from the semester.  And I give credit for any additional authentic work they add.  All I ask is they explain what they added, where, and why.  This practice gives us both an opportunity for reflection and re-reading.

When we start journals at the beginning of the year I tell the students to save the first few pages for a table of contents, to save a couple of pages at the end for lists, and to number the pages.  Like the rest of us, they become busy and forget or I forget to remind them.  So a few weeks before the end of the semester I ask them to work on their table of contents.  This task at first seems too difficult for some, but as we talk they find ways to work. I suggest that a title for a page is like naming a poem or a movie or a chapter in a book.  As they go through their journals, they are also reviewing for their Final exam.  I ask questions on the exam about their journal work, so the task is a way from them to study while also creating their own view of the material we covered.

Each table of content tells a story. They find words to represent and signify. Sometimes the titles are pragmatic, sometimes poetic:

‘Making a Mark’



Version 2

‘Art of Story Telling’

Version 2

These tables give the students an opportunity of book-making where they are readers and writers, giving a re-reading of pages and pages of work.

In their last entry I ask the students to tell me what was their best, hardest, and most interesting work.  Reading their responses gives me insight into their experience of the year. Sometimes I miss something that was valuable to them, so I can go back and have a look.  Every year I catch something I missed in my first reading or the student reveals a discovery or the journal simply speaks for itself as something wonderfully made.



I had the students draw a painting and tell the story of the painting. This was a favorite for many and at the time I didn’t realize how many loved making up a story to go along with the image they had drawn.


Version 2


We end the year re-reading and realizing stories abound: waiting, signifying, and inviting.

–James Shivers

Poetry as Possibility

In a classroom where visual literacy is explored, poetry is another ancient art form charged with potential.  Good poems ask the reader to see and hear. From Emily Dickinson’s “I dwell in possibility” to Charles Bernstein’s “Of Time and the Line” poets see the poem as a vibrant opening of the possible.



The exercise of moving a poem to the page is not complicated.  Too often we feel intimated by poetry. We worry about students not getting the sense. Consequently, we look for ‘easy’ poems where we understand every literary element. We can treat poems too mechanistically to the point of analyzing the life out of each line.  Or choose poems we don’t think needs much interpretation, almost self evident. If poetry is an art of possibility, should it be for readers?


Throughout the year I choose different kinds of poems, depending on the class, their interests, grade level, and/or unit we are studying. I typically provide a copy of the poem to the class so we can work the text, annotating, writing, underlining, circling or doodling. I read the poem aloud, we have some class discussion, and I give some cultural context.  I encourage students to observe, interpret, and respond.  I make sure at some level they understand and experience the unique logic and beauty of poetry.


This last quarter we read T.S. Eliot’s The Love Song of J Alfred Prufrock and then I asked them to make a visual interpretation of the poem.  After some basic discussion about components of composition — such as rule of thirds, the numerous ways the page can be divided to create effects, how placement of design, color, and words work to visually persuade — I asked them to make a visual reading of the poem using both text and the page in their journals.  If these pages could sing, what would we hear?

–James Shivers


Reflecting on Their Reflections

Sylvia, my co-teacher, and I, had the children reflect back on their learning for the year. We had studied trees, birds, stars and space, flowers, and octopuses, along with the artists Henry Moore (“Bird and Egg”), Vincent van Gogh (“Starry Night”), John Hoyland (“Space Warriors”), Beatrix Potter, and Georgia O’Keeffe (“Red Poppy”). Here are some of their reflections regarding artist studies:

Henry Moore (2)

Although their statements may seem concrete and basic, the children are accurately applying new vocabulary that they learned this year (abstract, fiction).  They are also visually expressing their learning through their illustrations, which they all created first, before writing their statements. They are showing that they understand the “big picture” of each artist.

Some children wrote about other areas of their learning:

Birds use their tails to balanceHummingbirdsLeaves make food


It is interesting for us to see which facts “stuck out” for the children. We also had the children reflect on the things that they will miss about our class.

We also asked what they WON’T miss:

won't miss so much writing (1)

We were sad to see that “messy art” and “so much writing” were in this set of reflections. Ah, the realities of teaching your passion…