My senior year of high school I wrote about a million scholarship essays. In nearly every single one I was asked to describe what I was planning to major in at college and why. Each time I would type out an answer describing how I was planning to major in secondary English education because I wanted to someday be able to instill a love for reading and writing in others like it once instilled in me. Though I still hope to (at least once) be the catalyst that allows a student to go on to have a lifelong love for the world of books and taking pen to paper, this semester has taught me that this won’t always be the case. English class, particularly writing, is going to mean something different for each of my students. It is my duty to respect and support that. This is just one lesson of many, however. As the semester draws to a close, here are three highlights from Theory and Practice of Teaching Writing.

1.) Learning about the (More Complete Version) of the History of Writing

In high school my two favorite subjects (besides weights class, shout out to Mr. K) were English and history, so it was quite enjoyable to blend the two together (as if they weren’t inextricably connected anyway). My area of research was 19th century rhetoric and the teaching of writing (check out A Super Niche Post, Just for You!), and it was fascinating for me to simultaneously see how far we have come in writing education while also realizing how much farther we have to go. In addition, back in January and February it was fun diving into a class where we (the students) were the one’s teaching our findings. Learning about Liberty Rhetoric from Miah, Madeleine de Scudéry from Carlie, literacy among slaves from Regan, and many other topics was a delightful experience. It not only gave each of us in the class a taste of what is to come in the years ahead with our chosen careers, but it also provided each of us an opportunity to read, support, and gain knowledge from the writing of our peers— an opportunity we may not have otherwise had.

2.) Exploring the People and Disciplines That Have Shaped Writing

Had I ever heard about bell hooks before this class? No. Am I glad that I know about her now? Yes. Is it because I will now someday write my own pen name in lowercase letters? …Maybe. Seriously, it was fascinating to learn about some of the most influential people in the realm of the written word. Whether they staunchly believed in conventions (Adams Sherman Hill), fought radically for African American women’s rights (bell hooks), or created incredibly complex theories on power (Michael Foucault) each had an impact on the world of writing in their own way. It was important for me to learn of their contributions because soon when I am making my own contributions in the classroom I can be a well-informed teacher.

3.) Discovering My Own Teaching Writing Pedagogy

This had the most impact on me. Based off of all of the information that was presented to me over the last sixteen weeks, I was able to craft my own beliefs of what the teaching of writing should look like. I know exactly why it was my favorite assignment; it is something tangible that physically shows how close I am to achieving my dream of becoming a high school English teacher. In a few short years, I will take my pedagogy (and my letter, and my principles) and use it as the foundation of my classroom. Thanks to this course right now I know more about writing education than I ever have before, and I am grateful to have gone through the learning process with so many other wonderful future teachers.

Though I no longer have the belief that all students will one day love writing like I do, I now have something that senior-year me did not have— an understanding that writing is a unique process. This concept has been demonstrated throughout the history of writing, throughout the people who have shaped writing, and now it will continue to be carried out in my future English classroom. It is safe to say my ideas on writing have been revolutionized. Soon I will take those ideas out into the great beyond, but for now I will apply them to myself in my own education… focusing on changing my own little corner of the world for better.


That’s all, folks. Photo CC by Sean MacEntee via Flickr.

Rule 24, Now and Before

Rule 24&.jpg

I dare you to say the word “squiggle” three times and not smile. Picture is my own, created through Canva.

I know I’ve said it 852 times, but I cannot sing her praises enough. My high school English teacher was the best teacher I’ve ever had the pleasure to learn under throughout my entire educational career. Since I’ve come to college to pursue my own career path in English, the great professors and classes I’ve experienced have forced me to look back and examine what exactly made her so great. I strongly believe one reason is that though she was delivering instruction within the realm of state standards, we never once felt confined. My favorite semester being her student was the fall of my senior year when she focused both quarters on composition. Sure, she taught us the basics of different genres of writing but she also let our creativity run wild. During those three months I wrote a descriptive essay on Hogwarts, a humorous personal narrative of the hell that was lifeguarding class, a research paper on Christian discipleship, and a short story about a mysterious stalker. Though I enjoyed writing before, she allowed me to fall in love with it all over again, and allowed my classmates who didn’t enjoy writing to explore it in ways that were relevant to them. How awesome is that?

This class (theory and practice of teaching writing) is quite similar, though at the opposite end of the spectrum. In high school, my teacher struck a balance with guiding us through the standards while also letting us roam the concept of writing. In college, my professor struck a balance with letting us self-instruct while still making sure we meet the standards. Like many of my fellow classmates have confessed, I did not acquaint myself with the Rule 24 Outcomes at the beginning of the semester. Each day I may not have been aware of how the work we were was meeting the outcomes, but looking back I can see clearly now (the rain is gone). 🙂

There are two standards that particularly stand out to me in regards to this course, number four and number seven. Let’s start with the former. Number four deals with creating assessments, and while we didn’t do this so much it is the first element beneath this standard that I believe applies well to this class. “Candidates use their knowledge of theory, research, and practice in English Language Arts to plan standards-based, coherent, and relevant composing experiences that utilize individual and collaborative approaches and contemporary technologies and reflect an understanding of writing processes and strategies in different genres for a variety of purposes and audiences” (Miller). Theory, research, and practice. Between learning about 19th century teaching of writing, expanding my knowledge of digital literacy, exploring the idea of writing workshops in a high school setting, and listening to the findings of my peers I feel as though I have gained invaluable knowledge that can now be translated from my mind into application for my future classroom. Even though we didn’t make concrete lesson plans, this class helped us instead to build up the experience that is the foundation of those lesson plans.

Standard number seven reads as follows, “Candidates are prepared to interact knowledgeably with students, families, and colleagues based on social needs and institutional roles, engage in leadership and/or collaborative roles in English Language Arts professional learning communities, and actively develop as professional educators” (Miller). Other classes have told me what it will be like to interact with others as an educator, but this is the first to (holy smokies) actually make it real. The way we completed our assignments, through blogging and the class Weebly site, fit this criteria to a T. This entire time we have been learning how to interact with a world that is bigger than ourselves. Going a step further, beyond simply interacting with others we have been sharing incredibly important information that other educators might be able to then apply to their own classrooms. On a personal level, one blog post in particular— Dear Students, Dear Parents— was my favorite assignment I’ve completed this entire semester because I knew that it was an artifact that I would physically take with me and utilize in the “real world.” Though at times this class made me feel like a blind woman being asked to describe in detail the colors of a painting she had never witnessed, I now feel as though I can go out and paint my own picture.

So, Rule 24 now and before (who doesn’t love a good rhyme, am I right?) My marvelous high school teacher may not have been teaching towards the Rule 24 collegiate standards specifically, but the effect was still there. I have been fortunate enough to be a part of more than one class in my life that gamed the system in such a subtle, lovely way. Not all standards are good, and not all standards are bad. Either way, they often work towards backing people into a corner they don’t belong in. As a teacher, it is important to recognize this and create a force field of creativity, curiosity, and diversity around your classroom… Like senior composition or theory and practice of teaching writing. That’s what teaching writing is all about— making small sacrifices for the future, for the creation of a nation of explorers who take in anything and everything about the world around them, for a generation who use their own thoughts and ideas to leave this world better than they found it.

Works Cited

Miller, Lee. ENG 331.0100 Theory and Practice of Teaching Writing Syllabus. 2017. English Dept., Chadron State College, Chadron, NE. Microsoft Word file.

Dear Students, Dear Parents

Dear Students (and Parents too!),

Hello! 😀 My name is Ms. Jessica Hanks, and I am going to have the pleasure of teaching English during the upcoming school year. As of last spring, I am the proud holder of a bachelor’s degree in secondary English education along with a coaching endorsement in volleyball, basketball, and track from Chadron State College. Since I was itty bitty I knew that I wanted to be a teacher (my Grandpa was a superintendent, my Grandma was a history teacher, my Dad is a high school principal) and with a longstanding love for reading and writing, it was and is clear to me that English is my passion. I am so excited to embark on this journey with you all.

Right off the bat, there is one thing I want you all to know; this class may be different from other English courses you’ve taken before. I know what you might be thinking… Oh dear, what is this wonky woman up to? What I mean is that I’m not in the business of teaching writing, but rather teaching the writer. I am a firm and fast believer that education is a living, breathing thing because of the people— like you and I— who take part in it. As a result, it is important to me to have you understand that I recognize each and every one of you as the unique, incredible individuals that you are.

Some of you already love English, and some of you love math; some of you would rather play football all day, and some of you could tell me every detail of your favorite show on Netflix; some of you might be true crime buffs like me, and others still might have passions that lie in an obscure field like horology (the art of making clocks). How AMAZING is that? Each of you will have interests that are special to you, and it is my hope to create a class that allows you to mold the English language to suit each of your individual needs.

What I want for each of you is to start on the journey of finding your own writing voice through your own writing process. In order to accomplish this, we are going to be exploring a variety of different types of writing this year. Poems, research papers, short stories, creative non-fiction, personal narratives, descriptive essays, flash fiction, journaling… anything and everything. I’m not asking you to love the assignments, or writing in general, but I will ask for you to engage with the English language. My goal is to equip you with tools that allow you to communicate your passions with the world because it is what is behind the writing that is truly important— your ideas, thoughts, opinions… you!

I will leave you all with a short list that summarizes my theory and principles of teaching writing:

1.) Everyone should have the ability to share their voice with the world through the written word because so many before us have not had that opportunity.

2.) Teaching writing is about nurturing what is already in students, the individuality that makes them human.

3.) It is fine to make mistakes, because what matters are the ideas that inspire students.

4.) Writing is messy, writing is emotional, writing is personal, writing is an art, and writing means something different to each and every person. This is a beautiful thing.

I hope each of you are as excited for English class as much as I am, but if you aren’t, hey, no worries. With the written word, it is to each their own. Please do not hesitate to reach out to me with any queries, comments, concerns, or short anecdotes. I am here for each of you, and to help each of you succeed in your own way.

Without further ado, here’s to a new adventure!

Stay awesome,

Ms. Hanks

“Teach the Writer, Not the Writing”

When I was in the 8th grade I was “dating” a guy (oh, junior high) who came from a strong science and math background. His dad played football for Colorado School of Mines, his mom played basketball for Colorado school of Mines, and it was his dream to earn an engineering degree from Colorado School of Mines as well. I had known since I was little that I wanted to be a teacher, and I remember one conversation where he tried to convince me that I could earn a teaching degree at CSM too (I’ll repeat myself— oh, junior high). After I got off the phone with him, I ventured out into our backyard where my mom was hanging up clothes on the line. She asked me how I was doing, and I told her that I was thinking about maybe becoming a science teacher. My mom was supportive, but even as the words were coming out of my mouth I knew that science wasn’t my passion. In my heart of hearts, reading and writing has always been what I wanted to share with the world.

I’m now nearing the end of my sophomore year of college. More than a half decade later I’m here, pursuing a career in English education. I’m over halfway done with my English classes, and over halfway done with my education classes. Each one has taught me something that has shaped the view of what I want my future classroom to look like. After a semester of studying the history, theories, and practices of writing, the course I am creating this post for has made me ponder my own educational views more than most.

Lucy Calkins

Sunflowers seemed fitting because in a little over three weeks a sunny summer vacation will arrive. Picture is my own, created through Canva.

My writing pedagogy can be succinctly described in the quote by Lucy Calkins seen above. It is my firm and fast belief that education is a living, breathing thing. Teachers and students are humans. The very essence of the knowledge that is transferred between these two parties is filled to the brim with a vibrancy that is humanity. Though the standardization movement has attempted to stifle this thriving exchange, it cannot be denied. To have curiosity, to pursue creativity, to have a desire to know more… that is learning.

As a teacher of writing, I want to nurture what is already there in my students— the individuality that makes them human. Writing is the way students can tap into their own unique ideas, thoughts, and opinions. If there is anything I have learned from this course, it is that everyone should have the ability to share their voice with the world through the written word because so many before us have not had that opportunity.

I understand that so far my pedagogy sounds rather abstract, so here is some application to go along with it. Rather than learning being a one-way street, in my classroom I want to equip my students with the ability to figure out their voice for themselves. I will encourage my students to explore all types of writing— poems, research papers, short stories, creative non-fiction, personal narratives, descriptive essays, flash fiction, journaling… anything and everything. I will also encourage my students to utilize the vast technology that is at their disposal, whether that means writing an essay based off of a podcast or using a computer to write emails to their favorite authors. Finally, I will encourage my students to take advantage of the world around them and the mind’s of their peers through writing workshop. I want my assignments to tap my students’ creativity and bring writing to life, showing them that it is so much more than five paragraphs.

Through it all I want to help my students understand that it is fine to make mistakes because what truly matters is that they become inspired by their own ideas. In my classroom, I desire to let students be themselves on paper. If their work doesn’t look like mine or their peers or whoever’s, the first thing I will say is, “That is a-okay.” Writing is messy, writing is emotional, writing is personal, writing is an art, and writing means something different to each and every person. This is what I want my students to take with them.

I don’t know if he is working towards an engineering degree, but I do know that my “boyfriend” of days past is now playing football for a school that, while still in Colorado, is decidedly not the Colorado School of Mines. As aforementioned, I am at a different school majoring in English education. I don’t think either of our future’s turned out to be exactly what we wanted them to be, but we are on the roads we are on for a reason. In fact, our story is a perfect example of what I want writing to be for my future students. Some of them will love science, some of them will love English; some of them will love working on cars, some of them will love painting; some of them will be indifferent, and some of them might claim they only have one true passion in an obscure field such as horology. How neat is that? Each student is their own person, with their own distinctive set of interests. Though it will be challenging, my goal as a teacher is to help each of these students mold writing to suit their own enthusiasm, vigor, and zeal. I will teach the writer, not the writing.

Writing Workshops & Gastrointestinal Bliss

College has been an era of firsts for me. First time failing a quiz, first time creating a budget, first time eating both a Subway sandwich and McDonald’s french fries for the same dinner, and first time being exposed to a writing workshop. Though a part of me might argue that the Subway and McDonald’s experience has been the most enlightening, from my very first time participating in a writing workshop I could tell that it was something important.

It was the fall of my freshman year, and the class was “Introduction to Creative Writing.” We had gone over to a museum, and our assignment was to free write a fictional story based off of an object we encountered in the building. At the time, the museum had a few cardboard displays with pictures of banned books pasted on them (very middle-school-book-review-esque) that drew me in. My eyes happened to light upon one entitled, In the Night Kitchen by Maurice Sendak. It was a children’s picture book with a front cover that depicted a man with a measuring jar on his head. That was all I needed. I ended up writing a short story about a sleepy guy baking cupcakes in the middle of the night who has everything go wrong that possibly can. The end scene is him in a heap on the ground after slipping in batter, flour is spilled everywhere, cupcakes are burning in the oven, the smoke alarm is going off and in that moment he has a realization— he had forgotten the butter in all of his batches. I loved it, and it was only made better by the feedback I received from my classmates during workshop. I’m currently in the midst of taking my third creative writing course here on campus, and it has been through these classes that the concept of a writing workshop has really solidified for me.

Butter Picture.jpg

Good job, 18-year-old me. Picture is my own. 

My experience with writing workshop goes like this: a student crafts a paper, the paper is handed out to the student’s classmates and teacher a week ahead of their workshop time, the classmates and teacher then write a short letter to the student about the paper (explaining what they believe it is about, what techniques are working, and how it can be improved), the day of the workshop the student reads a portion of their paper aloud, the class then takes turns offering compliments and suggestions in a productive and polite manner, then the student gets to read the letters after class, and the ultimate goal is that the student will use the feedback to revise their piece and turn it in again at a later date, perhaps in a portfolio.

In interest of conducting research into the topic, I explored a chapter in Nancie Atwell’s In the Middle and found that there are, in fact, more ways than one to conduct writing workshops. Her style involves four things: writing-reading handbooks, writing-in-process folders, time to write in class, and time to conduct writing conferences in class. As she states, “Your handbook is where you’ll gather ideas for writing, keep track of books you want to read someday, take notes about minilesson information or tape in notes I give you, create a lexicon of literary terms, and. . . respond to prose readings” (Atwell, page 78). I love the concept. Not only does it appeal to my organized heart, but I appreciate how it masterfully straddles the line between freedom and structure. The real magic in Atwell’s writing workshop comes in the other stages, though. Students are given guiding prompts but their writing is ultimately their own. They return to class with pieces they have crafted, and once there the students continue to work and play with their ideas. During quiet— and Atwell means quiet— writing time, she walks the room and pauses at each of her student’s desks. Atwell then asks key questions that help each student further discover their own writing process.

In my future secondary English classroom, I would like to create something of a hybrid between these two techniques. I plan to take all four steps of Atwell’s method, but also throw in the group discussion of pieces from college professor for a little spice. That way, students have the freedom to write creatively but also have the opportunity to receive feedback from their peers and not just me. Of course, I understand that it will be a process. Tweaking will need to be done each year to accommodate both the current class as well as my own observations from the last implementation. No matter what, though, I want to work writing workshops into my classroom with one thing in mind— to help students find their own writing voice, through their own writing process. That way when they are in college and eating both Subway and McDonald’s for dinner the same night… in their gastrointestinal bliss they can write about it. They can write about anything and everything. They can take in the world around them and let their voice fly.

Microsoft Word 2003 & a Ghost Baby

I have always loved to read and write. Last semester I was spending a weekend at my Grandma’s house and she brought up a plastic tub from the basement filled to the brim with my childhood work. Half of it was artwork. I was a particular fan of the “paint” application on Microsoft Word 2003; out of the tub I took with me a pink dinosaur that my Grandma told me I drew with the mouse in 12 seconds flat. The other half were writings, stories and poems of all kinds (and even a script for me as a sports anchor, detailing how far I had thrown the shot put). My favorite piece was a horror story, featuring a ghost baby that appeared in a family’s foyer and they hid behind an umbrella stand. It was complete with illustrations. My point is, I started playing with language when I was young and I never stopped.

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What a cute little creation. I think I’ll name him Noodle. Picture is my own.

Ghost Child

You might have thought I was kidding about the ghost child in the foyer. I was, in fact, not. Picture is my own.

During high school this love of mine further solidified through a wonderful high school teacher. Her influence on me is detailed in this blog post of mine that describes five moments of learning that shaped me into the person I am today. In her class I read and wrote voraciously. Books like Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card and Unwind by Neal Shusterman were taught by her, as were all kinds of papers— research papers, analysis papers, poems, descriptive essays, personal narratives, short stories… the whole gamut. Each assignment was pivotal, in its own way. In addition, each assignment helped me to become the writer I am today.

Cue now to college, where my writing skills have been honed more than I ever thought possible. While I do not necessarily agree with all of the information I have been presented one way or another about the topic of writing, learning more about the craft has helped me realize just how important it is to embrace my role as a modern writer. Though I do have ambitions to publish a short story or two, one of my main roles as a writer is situated in my chosen career path.

As a teacher, I want my students to know that their ideas are truly important. If I don’t fully understand and appreciate the fact that my ideas are important it will be quite difficult for me to be sincere in my efforts to support the kids entrusted to me. In this day and age, the sharing of ideas is a continuous cycle. Technology being at the finger tips of many, with a few taps at a keyboard voilà— the work can be shared for the world (or a handful of lovely readers, such is the way on The Joyous Life of Jess) to see. Myself and my future students will have the same opportunity, to write towards the bigger picture (though, of course, journaling for personal desire has the means to achieve the same end). To me, being a writer means valuing one’s thoughts, ideas, and opinions as well as appreciating the thoughts, ideas, and opinions of others.

I wish I could thank little me for having so much fun writing “The Tale of the Little Brown Puppy” and “The Cottonwood Tree Ghost.” I wish I could tell little me how proud I am for creating characters like sisters Josie and Zoey or Clarissa VanCronmp. I wish I could tell little me how wonderful it is that I like to create. The foundation little me laid, and high school me continued to build on, have helped the me I am now to read and write like I do. All starting with Microsoft Word 2003 and a ghost baby. Now I just need to bring my paint skills into the modern age too.

Bird by Bird

bird by bird

Take it bird by bird, my friends. Picture is my own.

Anne Lamott is a funny gal. It would take more than my ten fingers and ten toes to count how many times I laughed aloud reading through her book on writing, Bird by Bird. One of my favorite examples of her odd wit occurs during the introduction. She is working on this terrible short story about a bald psychiatrist named Arnold who is treating a depressed female writer and her younger brother, when suddenly he gives up and starts quacking like a duck to try to get them to laugh. Lamott kept sending snippets of this piece to her father’s agent, and each time the agent would reply with something along the lines of “Well, it’s really coming along now.” Shortly thereafter, her father passes away. At her father’s urging before he died, Lamott begins to write about the experience. After some work, she sends off a few chapters to the same agent. As Lamott writes, “But I think [my father’s agent] must have read them in a state of near euphoria, thrilled to find herself not reading “Arnold.” She is not a religious woman by any stretch, but I always picture her clutching those stories to her chest, eyes closed, swaying slightly, moaning, “Thank ya, Lord” (page xxiv). I think Anne Lamott and I would get along well.

As someone who is currently working on a humorous trio of short stories from my childhood that I would eventually like to expand into a collection, I found this piece relatable and down-to-earth (which is an ever increasing rarity). Though the advice in this book is much more useful when it comes to my personal creative writing endeavors, I did find myself pondering how I could apply some of her methods to my future high school English classroom. In this sense, there were two key ideas that I ran with.

1.) Shitty First Drafts

Vulgar, yes. Useful, yes. The idea of creating shitty first drafts is a prominent theme throughout the entirety of this book. Every person who has ever written some sort of paper in the entire universe knows that the first draft is (87.4% of the time) shitty. Though it sounds bad, the shitty first draft is a necessary part of the writing process. As Lamott states, “If one of the characters wants to say, “Well, so what Mr. Poopy Pants?,” you let her. No one is going to see it. If the kid wants to get into really sentimental, weepy, emotional territory, you let him. Just get it all down on paper, because there may be something great in those six crazy pages that you would never have gotten to by more rational grown-up means” (page 23). The shitty first draft is a time to get ideas on paper without worrying about how those ideas are being conveyed, and any teacher worth their salt knows that is the ideas that truly matter. One way to get kids accustomed to the importance of shitty first drafts might be something akin to a free write. Whenever we start a new writing project, research or creative or otherwise, I might have my students spend a good 15 to 20 minutes free writing about the thoughts that pop into their head. Then I might have them spend another 15 to 20 minutes focusing in on one of those brainstormed ideas, writing whatever comes to mind with that topic. It’s all about accessing thinking in its purest form, and saving the worrying of refinement for later.

2.) Workshop

In addition to shitty first drafts, Lamott dedicates a good deal of page space to both elements of story and then writing the story. These include: character, plot, dialogue, setting, writing groups, and having someone read your draft. Again, at first glance these topics seem better suited for creative writing. They are. However, their association with creative writing got me thinking about workshops. Some of my favorite courses I’ve taken in college have been creative writing courses, and in those creative writing courses my professor has implemented a technique called workshopping. Essentially, workshopping is when a handful of students at a time present one piece each to the class. The class then provides constructive feedback concerning the piece. Naturally, this is easier to implement when class periods are three hours long. However, I think it is definitely still doable in a secondary classroom. No matter what type of writing my students are working on, I would like to dedicate a few days to workshopping for each assignment. This way my students can gain insight to their writing through a valuable combination of peer and instructor feedback.

Maybe I’ll utilize more from Lamott, like having my students write about school lunches when they are stuck. Heck, I can tell you right now that I could probably write a ten page essay alone on the wonderful (no sarcasm, I sincerely love the stuff) mandarin orange chicken and homemade croutons my hometown school made. Who knows, though? I can’t guarantee any specific techniques, but there are two important concepts Lamott has taught me that I will keep forever. One, write. This goes for both myself, and my students. One can’t utilize any writing strategies if they don’t write in the first place. Take it bird by bird. The second, and perhaps most important, is laugh. Laugh at myself. Someday when I pull an Arnold at the front of the classroom, I’ll just laugh.

Works Cited

Lamott, Anne. Bird by Bird. New York City: First Anchor Books, 1995. Print.

bell hooks & Michael Foucault


bell hooks photo CC by cmongirl via Wikimedia Commons, and Michael Foucault photo labeled for reuse by the blog Philosophy, Science, and Technology via Google. A striking pair.

A French Man and an African American woman… at first glance, bell hooks and Michael Foucault seemingly have nothing in common. One was the daughter of a janitor, the other was the son of a surgeon. One excelled through school despite it being racially segregated, the other struggled with education until they were admitted into one of France’s most prestigious universities. One earned their doctorates with a dissertation on Toni Morrison, the other submitted their thesis but had it rejected initially. The list goes on. However, upon closer inspection one could easily make comparisons between the two. Their works on social theory and their pedagogies often work well with one another.

bell hooks and Michael Foucault could both be described with one word— radical. Though the focus of their beliefs and theories can essentially be boiled down to inclusion, they both have been described as “outspoken.” bell hooks is a staunch supporter of African American rights, particularly the rights of African American women. She is, in every sense of the word, a feminist. Her first major work published was Ain’t I a Woman?: Black Women and Feminism. It offers a scathing commentary on the likes of sexism and racism against black women, the devaluation of black womanhood, the marginalization of black women, and the idea of a white supremacist capitalist patriarchy. Though much of Michael Foucault’s work is elevated to the standard of academia, he has touched upon theories that are relatable to everyone, including: power, knowledge, sexuality, and self-hood . In addition, Foucault is quite politically active. Like hooks, he leans heavily to the left in his political views. Despite earning a somewhat unfavorable view because of his stances, in France he has supported prisoner’s rights and protested the Vietnam and Algerian Wars. These two people are clearly not afraid to speak their mind, and perhaps this is why they are so well known in both the writing and political spectrums.

In addition to their writing and political activism, both hooks and Foucault were teachers. hooks is an English professor in addition to lecturing and leading small group studies on topics in ethnicity and gender. Foucault was a psychology professor. As I mentioned in my earlier blog post on bell hooks, she believes in holistic pedagogy, which translates to an education that teaches students about life in addition to academics. She had an excellent elementary education where her African American teachers allowed her to explore knowledge without restraint. In high school, she was integrated into a black and white school system (literally and metaphorically) that mostly functioned to meet standards. This very similar to Foucault’s own observations on education. He believed that schools had become, “a sort of apparatus of uninterrupted examination.” It all fits into his theory that every system is dictated by subtle pulls of power. The intricacies of this theory, I must admit, are over my head, but I can completely understand where he is coming from when it comes to an educational point of view. In his idea of the educational system, knowledge has been put out of reach from students who are directed to focus on performance rather than honing their intelligence. This unfortunate methodology is still present in school systems today, as are the oppressive classrooms of bell hooks’ secondary career. Current and future teachers alike can learn from the example of bell hooks, and the warning of Foucault.

Foucault died from AIDS a few decades ago, so I’m not sure if he ever met bell hooks but I like to think they enjoyed one another’s company if they did. Though their lives were on two completely different tracks, it is apparent that they reached similar destinations. From social justice, to politics, to teaching these two have tackled some difficult subjects that the world is still wrapping its head around today. By comparing their beliefs and theories, one can glean valuable information that is applicable both in education and life today.

Nostalgic or Not, Here Digital Literacy Comes! (To be Stated Like Someone Playing Hide-and-Seek)

Each year, technology grows exponentially. In the year 2027, technology will be 512 times more advanced than it is right this moment in 2017. How does a person wrap their head around that? I know I can’t. I mean, I’m all for hover cars and time travel. Well… okay maybe I didn’t think that statement through. I am terrified of heights and having my atoms scrambled. In addition, I am an ultra nostalgic person. If it were up to me, I’d go back to the days of VHS tapes and car phones and playing kick the can in an alley outside on a summer evening instead of laying in bed scrolling through Instagram. That being said, I can acknowledge that some technological feats are both necessary and beneficial to society as a whole. The fact of the matter is whether I am a fan of certain technological advancements or not, I will need to be on board with them as a teacher in order to prepare my students to live in a world that is driven by technology. This is where digital literacy comes in.

Last semester here on The Joyous Life of Jess I wrote a detailed blog post on digital literacy entitled, Taking Off My Rose-Colored Glasses and Embracing Digital Literacy. In case you can’t tell from the title, I was also pretty nostalgic when I wrote that piece (RIP my QWERTY keyboard). However, I believe I still managed to shed some light as to what exactly digital literacy is. As I wrote, digital literacy is the ability to express one’s self, communicate, and analyze the ideas of others via multimedia. Many people’s first thought, mine included, at the sound of this definition is probably social media. That is not wrong. However, digital literacy expands beyond social media to the way people express themselves on any technological platform— be it blogging, writing a comment during a game, coding a website, or anything in between.

After reading the list I just wrote you might be wondering, “Why on Earth do teachers need to teach children digital literacy? Aren’t they already digitally literate?” The answer to that, my good friend, is twofold. One, the idea of digital natives is a myth. In the article What Digital Literacy Looks Like in a Classroom author Brianna Crowley states, “Many adults think that because children have been immersed in technology since a young age, they are naturally “literate” or skilled in using technology. . . Some research suggests this labeling is outright false— students are no more literate with their devices that their so-called digital immigrant parents.” Crowley hits the nail on the head because there is a big difference between knowing how to work technology, and knowing how to use it productively to express one’s thoughts or ideas.

The second reason it is necessary for teachers to teach digital literacy is because of a concept that goes hand in hand with it, digital citizenship. Fortunately for you (and me) I have again already written a blog post on this topic. Essentially, digital citizenship is the way a person conducts themselves on the Internet. It could be positive, or it could be negative. The concept of digital citizenship is one many children today struggle with. I believe that because they have grown up using technology, they tend to not fully understand the consequences their online decision making might have. After all, what was once on the Internet never fully goes away. This is why teachers must help students convey their thoughts in a responsible manner. Otherwise, what they do and say might come back to haunt them (like during a job interview, not a demon in the closet).

I must say, though, that the flip side to getting students to share their thoughts in a responsible manner is encouraging them to share those thoughts in the first place. The Internet is a beautiful place in the sense that it allows anyone and everyone to share their ideas with the world without having to jump through the hoops of publishing or publicity. The Internet is the student’s oyster, so to speak. The way the world is embracing technology, it is feasible to believe that the Internet might soon become the primary source for communication. As a result, students must know how to utilize it to their full advantage. The only way to do that is to educate students on digital literacy. It is up to teachers to help students get outside of their comfort zone and embrace the online written word while also maintaining healthy digital citizenship.

So what does digital literacy look like in practice? Normally, I am against standards (looking at you Common Core). However, when it comes to incorporating technology into the classroom in a productive manner, I believe that all teachers can benefit from some guidelines. The International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE) has issued a set of standards for teachers to follow in order to get the most out of teaching digital literacy. These standards can be applied in any classroom, at any level, for any subject. Pretty neat, right? One way I might teach digital literacy in my future secondary English classroom is through project-based learning (oh look, another blog post where I have already written about PBL). 🙂 I would have students take a concept, research a connection it has outside of the classroom in the real world, and then use technology as a mode to present their findings. It’s a win-win-win-win; student’s have learner autonomy, they get down and dirty with technology, they grow their digital literacy skills through a form of the written word, and they get to see how their learning applies outside of their education. Woohoo!

In conclusion, let’s not play hide-and-seek with technology. It is completely and utterly okay to be fond of the past, but it is also completely and utterly necessary to embrace the future. In this day and age it is critical for all teachers to help students be equipped with the skills they need in order to be both digitally literate and good digital citizens. I believe American financier Bernard Baruch said it best, “The ability to express an idea is well nigh as important as the idea itself.”


I took this picture solely in order for you to print out this wonderful quote and tape it to your refrigerator because why not?

bell hooks: Lowercase in Name, Not Life


Quote by bell hooks, photo by me via Canva.

The function of art is to do more than tell it like it is— it’s to imagine what’s possible.” this quote from bell hooks is unsurprising considering she is a woman who always imagines what is possible in the realms of education, gender, and culture. She imagines more, she imagines better through her teaching and her writing. For her, it is truly about the art. This is why her pen name is written in lowercase letters; she wants her work to be about the substance, not her. For a number of decades hooks has been a driving force in the classroom and on paper, firmly situating herself as an influential player in the contemporary history of writing.

Some may disagree, but I believe that her most important contribution to writing as a whole is that of her pedagogy as is demonstrated in her book, Teaching to Transgress. hooks identifies herself as an advocate for holistic education. In other words, she truly cares for her students and wants them to grow both in and out of her classroom. As she once wrote “Progressive, holistic education, “engaged pedagogy” is more demanding than conventional critical or feminist pedagogy. For, unlike these two teaching practices, it emphasizes well-being. That means that teachers must be actively involved and committed to a process of self-actualization that promotes their own well-being if they are to teach in a manner that empowers students.” This concept of hers is essential to teaching writing simply because it goes beyond writing itself. She has been calling on educators to be the best people they can be so that they might have the ability to help others become the best people they can be through the experience of taking part in an education that is freeing, rather than constrictive.

Along with her pedagogy, hooks has made invaluable contributions to writing through her feminist theory. Though it was not published until 1981, hooks wrote her first book on feminist theory, Ain’t I a Woman?: Black Women and Feminism while she was still an undergraduate student at Stanford University. Her commentaries on the marginalization of black women, sexism and racism of black women, and the disregard for issues of race and class within feminism have remained relevant nearly four decades later. As she stated here, “Feminism is a movement to end sexism, sexist exploitation and oppression.” She has never been one to shy away from criticism, and her fearlessness in the face of controversy works to show the timeless strength she possesses. Her outspokenness only demonstrates her passion for revolutionizing feminism in the world through written word.

Going hand in hand with her feminist theory is hooks’ thirst for validity of the African American culture. Born Gloria Jean Watkins to a custodian and a stay-at-home mother, hooks experienced segregation first hand as a child. However, she embodies the American Dream in the sense that she views her experience as an empowering one rather than an oppressive one. Using her past as a motivator, over the years she has tirelessly written and spoken on behalf of black women rights. In order to make change, she utilizes one of the greatest skills from her education— the power of communication.

bell hooks: lowercase in name, not in life. She is a woman who has humbled herself in her writing in order to express her pride in education, feminism, and African American culture. Above all, she has found a way to take those beliefs and imagine better, for herself and every life her teaching and writing has touched.


The force that is bell hooks. Photo CC by Montikamoss via Wikimedia Commons.