My Literary Whiteboard Lettering Project: Spring Semester and Final Reflections

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I started off the 2017-2018 school year frustrated and motivated–a dangerously good place to be. I was frustrated because the current trend in language arts education seems to be moving away from literature. Nonfiction is more valuable in the real world, they say. It probably is, but I like fiction.

I was motivated, though, after attending a conference featuring the English teacher gods, Kelly Gallagher and Penny Kittle. Gallagher, especially, was arguing for the value of fiction and literature. He proposed daily book talks and reading time to allow kids to build on their reading skills. Prepared for the usual teacher counterargument of “But we never have time,” Gallagher and Kittle even shared a daily time plan that outlined exactly how to make it work.

Gallagher and Kittle’s plan went something like this (sorry, I’m currently moving into a new home and my conference notes are packed away in a box somewhere):

  1. Opening 2 minutes: Book Talk
  2. 10 minutes of Self-Selected Reading Time (Students read independently while the teacher has private reading conferences with individual students, coaching them through their texts)
  3. Work on the current unit in 10-minute chunks of lecture, discussion, and independent work time
  4. Final 2 minutes: Share a strong sentence or excerpt written by a student.

I felt vindicated because they vouched for poetry and fiction in a modern world. I felt empowered because they gave me a plan to make it work. So I tried it out for a year. I edited it a bit to make it work for me, and to build in one of my new hobbies: handlettering. Going into the 2017-2018 school year, my goal was to start each day with a handlettered quote to start a book talk, then go into at least 10 minutes of reading time a day. I wanted to expose the kids to as many books from different time periods, genres, and types of writers as possible. I wanted to encourage reading, and I wanted to show my administration that fiction does matter.

I logged my lettered quotes on Instagram for a while, using the hashtag #literarywhiteboardlettering. I also kept a log on this blog, as well. I wasn’t really consistent with how I formatted the Instagram log and blog entries… that wasn’t the point. If you missed my earlier blogs on my Literary Whiteboard Lettering project, here they are:

And here’s my final set of literary whiteboards for the 2017-2018 year. I tried to mix it up with canon texts, fun reads, and necessary books for modern readers in a global, political world. I gave a few more book talks than this (e.g., Ready Player One; The Hate U Give; Love, Hate, and Other Filters), but spring semester got hectic and I didn’t have time to letter it all in the morning before class started. For the sake of avoiding information overload, I’ll restrain from giving synopses here. Check out these awesome books if these quotes entice you!

Day 61: Things Fall Apart (Chinua Achebe)

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Day 62: The Brief and Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao (Junot Diaz)

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Day 63: Pride and Prejudice (Jane Austen)

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Day 64: Rebecca (Daphne DuMaurier)

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Day 65: Every Day (David Levithan)

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Day 66: Stardust (Neil Gaiman)

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Day 67: Author Feature – Rainbow Rowell

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Day 68: Julius Caesar (William Shakespeare)

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Day 69: A Tale of Two Cities (Charles Dickens)

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Day 70: The Tempest (William Shakespeare)

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Day 71: Othello (William Shakespeare)

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Day 72: Medea (Euripides)

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Day 73: Wuthering Heights (Emily Bronte)

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Day 74: American Gods (Neil Gaiman)

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Day 75: The Goldfinch (Donna Tartt)

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Day 76: Animal Farm (George Orwell)

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Day 77: All Quiet on the Western Front (Erich Maria Remarque)

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Day 78: Children of Blood and Bone (Tomi Adeyemi)

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Day 79: Great Expectations (Charles Dickens)

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Details: All of these were done on whiteboards, using Expo or some other whiteboard marker brand. Most of the lettering varied from 2-4 feet (0.6-1.2m) in length and width, with the exception being the Goldfinch quote. That one was on a ten foot whiteboard wall. I completed all of these in whatever time I had in the morning before class started. Sometimes that was 30 minutes; usually, it was only 10 minutes.

You’ll probably notice a bit of a trend as you go through the school year. My compositions got really intricate and experimental during periods when I didn’t have many assignments to grade or my administration decided not to have so many meetings… and then at the end of the year, things got pretty simplistic and I started relying on my regular handwriting. At first, I hated that I was “giving up” on my handlettering goal, but then I had to remind myself that that wasn’t the point. The point was to give my kids a chance to hear some cool stories, and inspire them to read. And I think it worked.

I saw ninth graders who challenged themselves with Jekyll and Hyde, Catcher in the Rye, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, Pride and Prejudice, Sherlock Holmes, and The Great Gatsby. I saw kids who went out of their comfort zones, and others who were just trying to get at least one book read. I saw myself growing as a reader and a teacher. I wasn’t able to keep up with reading conferences this year, so instead, I decided to read with them and share my reading journey with them. I felt better as a teacher because, for at least 12 minutes a day, I was doing what made me want to become an English teacher in the first place: escaping into other worlds through the pages of a book… before I had to snap back into the reality of being an English teacher in Texas in 2018.

I have 180 school days in a year. I didn’t have a book talk every day. I didn’t have SSR (self-selected reading) every day. I only got 44% of my goal, maybe 47% if you give me a little grace for a few book talks without lettered quotes. But this is where math doesn’t really help me.

I’d rather look at it as 79 days I hit my goal. Seventy-nine days of reading and talking about books that I didn’t give myself before. Seventy-nine days when I got a little closer to the English teacher I wanted to be when I started teaching.

This next year’s going to be a bit more challenging for me. I’ll be teaching 10th and 11th grade, the years that mostly focus on nonfiction. I’m also starting at a new school… so I’ll be the new kid all over again. I’ve already told my team lead that I would like to continue my book talks and SSR time. I need it. It has helped me focus my classroom, and has even given me new energy to read for myself. I hope I’ll be able to keep it going during the nonfiction years. I think I can.

5 Instagram Accounts to Improve Your Handlettering Game

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I realize I sound a little snooty when I say I’m a “self-taught artist.” But the truth is, I’m cheap. I’ve seen plenty of lettering workshops in my area and online, and I’ve heard plenty of artists saying, “Invest in yourself! Take a class!” But. I don’t have the time or money for that. What I do have time for, however, is mining through Instagram during my spare time. It’s where I learned the basics of handlettering and calligraphy, and where I continue to learn and hone my style. Here are my favorite accounts to learn from:

#1: Andrea Fowler (@calligraphynerd)

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On Tuesdays, Andrea hosts “Tuesday Tip Time.” She shares short Instagram videos that address common beginner mistakes, like writing too fast or not taking breaks. Her video on the “wedge of space” between strokes completely changed my style of lettering! In addition to great tips, she’s a diehard Potterhead and caffeine addict, so her posts are always relatable and entertaining. Search #tuesdaytiptime or #calligraphynerdttt to go straight to her tips.

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#2: Lise (@inkandlise)

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Lise is the definition of versatility in handlettering. She has so many different styles, and she records herself writing. I am a visual-kinesthetic learner, and I have learned so much from just watching videos, then trying it myself. @inkandlise is the perfect place to start. She’s strong, she’s empowering, AND she even started an alphabet series tagged #inkandlisealphabets. It’s so easy to get stuck in the basic modern calligraphy style — Lise shows all the potential that handlettering has!

 

 

#3: Letter Archive (@letterarchive)

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What an amazing resource for lettering artists! This isn’t merely an account; it’s the collective work of hundreds of artists. If you search #letterarchive_[insert desired letter], you will find hundreds of different styles of writing that letter. I have gone here when my style doesn’t fit the composition that I’m doing, and I need ideas. The account itself features the best of the best, but I like looking through the hashtags for each letter to find what I’m looking for.

 

 

#4: Stefan Kunz (@stefankunz)… and a few others

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I’m attracted to typography and composition. When I started handlettering, I didn’t understand how artists like Stefan Kunz, Alyssa Robinson (@arobinsonart), Stephanie Baxter (@stephsayshello), and Dan Lee (@dandrawnwords) figured out how to make different sizes and fonts of letters fit together into one cohesive piece. But Stefan Kunz is gracious enough to show the secret behind the magic: grids. He has a few composition grids that he’s shared for free through his own account and through @goodtype, and you can buy sets of composition grids through his website. When I want to play with composition, I like to scroll through his, Alyssa’s, Stephanie’s, and Dan’s feeds to get in the zone.

 

 

#5: Lauren Hom (@homsweethom)

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Lauren is my inspiration for finding my own style as a lettering artist and social media content creator. Her account is a must for artists who are hoping to start their own business. In January, she launched #homwork, a weekly handlettering challenge designed to foster originality and freshness in the lettering community. She offers real advice on how to find your own voice and style instead of being just another picture of the same ol’ inspirational quotes on Instagram. I’ve only gone through her free coaching tools—her email newsletter, her Instagram stories, and her features on other lettering accounts like @goodtype—but she does also offer workshops. Hers is the only one I would consider paying for… and if I still feel like I’m serious in a year or so, I may actually cough up the money for her “Passion to Paid” online workshop.

 

I dream of the day when I’ll have enough expendable income to spend on an art class. But until then, I’ll keep digging through Instagram videos and accounts to figure out the magic.

If you’re into handlettering, art, or small business, comment and share the social media handles that inspire you!

 

The Only Three Forms of Hemingway I Can Tolerate.

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Bradley Cooper and I have one thing in common: we both threw A Farewell to Arms across the room when we finished it. OK, it was Cooper’s character from Silver Linings Playbook, but still.

 

I’ve tried to like Hemingway. I tried hard enough to finish A Farewell to Arms, even though with every turn of the page, I felt no connection to his simplistic writing style, his flat females, his bland trudging through the mud. I’ve attempted Hemingway since then, and I still don’t care for him.

Although I’m not a Hemingway fan, as an English teacher, I cannot avoid him. And even though I don’t want to sit through another one of his novels, I still bring him up in my classroom. I like Hemingway in abstraction. I like Hemingway the idea. Here are the only forms of Hemingway I can tolerate:

 

#1 The guy from Midnight in Paris

 

I love that he speaks in that monotone, trudging tone. Because that’s what it’s like reading Hemingway. And if that cutie sat in front of me and read out an entire Hemingway novel, I might be tempted to finish the whole thing.

 

#2 The six word story

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Teachers love this story. It’s a great way to encourage kids to be choosy about their words, and to see the power in each little word. English teachers have been using it as a warm-up for years: Tell the story of Hemingway’s bet, then ask students to write their own six-word story. I recently heard of technology teachers using it to structure an autobiographical short movie assignment.

 

#3 The Hemingway App

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Hemingway’s writing style is not my favorite. I prefer long, poetic sentences that flow into one another. However, his writing style is what my students need. Adolescent writers tend to ramble and try too hard to sound academic. I have had to tell so many of my bright students that it’s better to use simpler language than to sound like you used a thesaurus for every word of your essay. They don’t believe me. They tend to think I’m another stupid teacher who doesn’t understand Art. So I refer them to the Hemingway app as evidence that I’m right, and as a tool for them to clean up their writing. But I also want to empower them as writers, so I remind them that the final call for the style of their writing is theirs.

I would close with my favorite Hemingway quote: “Write drunk, edit sober.” But I just found out that there’s no real source attributing him to this quote. It’s one of those apocryphal quotes circulated by unknowing nerds and Google search engines. Go figure. Of course my favorite Hemingway quote wouldn’t actually be by Hemingway. So I guess I really don’t like him at all.

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C is for Chopin: The Awakening and Why Fiction Matters

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One of those embarrassing pictures of my youth held hostage by the Internet featured The Awakening. My senior year of high school, I posted a series of selfies (before selfies were cool, of course) of my reaction to Kate Chopin’s classic to that early social network, Friendster. Mildly pleased at first, then bored, then scandalized and confused, and finally, empowered and satisfied.

Years later, when I went through my internet photo purge preceding my first year of teaching, I contacted Friendster and asked them to take down the pictures. I had long forgotten my email and password, and I needed their help. They asked for pictures of my driver’s license and other personal information to confirm my identity. Too much work, I thought, mostly because I didn’t have access to a scanner. I crossed my fingers and hoped my students wouldn’t find those pictures and turn me into a meme.

They didn’t. And now Friendster is dead, and I assume, so are my pictures. Alas. I did actually like those goofy selfies.

The Awakening has slipped into my life at infrequent intervals: first during my senior year, then during a college class on feminist literature, then as the literary analysis piece for my ELAR teacher certification test. Now that I am a wife, a mother, and a teacher, I think of it constantly. Particularly, I think of this passage, the one that stuck with me the longest after high school, and consequentially, the one that showed up on my teacher certification test:

 

“It would have been a difficult matter for Mr. Pontellier to define to his own satisfaction or any one else’s wherein his wife failed in her duty toward their children. It was something which he felt rather than perceived, and he never voiced the feeling without subsequent regret and ample atonement.

If one of the little Pontellier boys took a tumble whilst at play, he was not apt to rush crying to his mother’s arms for comfort; he would more likely pick himself up, wipe the water out of his eyes and the sand out of his mouth, and go on playing. Tots as they were, they pulled together and stood their ground in childish battles with doubled fists and uplifted voices, which usually prevailed against the other mother-tots. The quadroon nurse was looked upon as a huge encumbrance, only good to button up waists and panties and to brush and part hair; since it seemed to be a law of society that hair must be parted and brushed.

In short, Mrs. Pontellier was not a mother-woman. The mother-women seemed to prevail that summer at Grand Isle. It was easy to know them, fluttering about with extended, protecting wings when any harm, real or imaginary, threatened their precious brood. They were women who idolized their children, worshiped their husbands, and esteemed it a holy privilege to efface themselves as individuals and grow wings as ministering angels.”

 

When I was a child, my mother would mourn for my future husband, saying I was too strong-willed to be a good Indian wife. When I decided to become a teacher, my friends and family questioned me, wondering aloud whether I was nurturing and gentle enough for the field. When I became pregnant, I worried for 9 months that I couldn’t be like my Facebook friends who had transformed into Chopin’s “mother-woman.” 

But it is because of Kate Chopin and Edna Pontellier that I learned that I did not have to lose myself to be a good wife, mother, or teacher. I love and find joy in my husband, daughter, and students, but I do not worship them or see them as infallible. (Although I must admit, my daughter is a toddler and I am fully enjoying these adorable years before she becomes an awkward, intolerable adolescent.) I have a life outside of them, and that is OK. In fact, I find that my ability to set boundaries allows me to be more fulfilled in my roles as wife, mother, and teacher.

This is why fiction is important. It shows us possibilities, allows us to see what we can be, especially when the people around us do not. Through fiction, we can imagine solutions and make them a reality. Were it not for Kate Chopin, my struggle to maintain my individuality and identity through marriage, motherhood, and employment would have been much greater than it has been. Edna Pontellier’s story may not have ended perfectly, but through her I was able to create a better story for myself. Stories have that power. 

If one of my students digs through Google Images and stumbles across my selfies from years ago, I won’t be ashamed. That was the moment that a book sowed seeds of strength within me, and of that I am proud. I may look like a doofus, though. Alas, even the most empowered women can’t change those awkward adolescent years.

 

Title: The Awakening

Author: Kate Chopin

Published: 1899

Category: Literature; Feminist literature

What it’s about: Edna Pontellier struggles to maintain her individuality in a society that insists that a woman’s identity should be limited to her duties as wife and mother.

Read online

 

The C for Chopin image is part of my new project, AlphaLit Books. I am currently featuring women writers for each letter of the alphabet. I will be posting these on Instagram using the hashtag #alphalitbooks. Let me know if you have ideas for writers that I can feature!

 

The Cover of My Imaginary Memoir

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“If there was a book about your life, what would the title be?”

This was the prompt for this week’s #goodtypetuesday, a 24-hour lettering and typography challenge hosted by @goodtype. Although this week’s a bit busy for me, I couldn’t pass up the chance to combine lettering and books, as well as the opportunity to imagine the realization of my dream: writing a book!

If I wrote a memoir, I would begin with my first-generation experience: the challenges of straddling two cultures, constantly trying to please parents while still trying to fit in. My biggest challenge as a first gen kid was telling my traditional parents about my white boyfriend (now husband). I wrote about this on OneFifty years ago; it was one of my favorite pieces on that blog. Since I have gotten to know a whole new circle of creatives after starting my lettering/Instagram journey, I used today’s Goodtype challenge to introduce my new community to my story.

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The design I created is a simple one; I didn’t have a lot of time to figure out how to doctor an image to make it look like an actual book cover. I just wanted to doodle for the night. I tried to channel some of my favorite simple book covers: Americanah and Eleanor & Park.

I love their distinctive type, but more than that, I love that something about their design lends themselves to a soft book cover. I love books with soft covers and thick, jagged pages. If I ever got myself to complete writing anything beyond a blog post, it would be bound with a soft, cuddly cover and roughly-cut pages.

What about you? What would the cover of your life story look like?