January’s Literary Whiteboard Lettering: New Year, Old Plays, Fantastic Discussions

January was a time to set the stage for the new year, a fresh start at the semester, and to delve into my favorite genres to teach: drama and poetry! I loved guiding my kids through difficult texts–and I always love a good excuse to say Don John the Bastard or gush about Lady Macbeth!

Day 54: “Burning the Old Year” by Naomi Shihab Nye

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What It’s About: This is a poem about burning the minutiae of the previous year and holding on to the few things that last.

Read it Online.

Day 55: Macbeth

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What It’s About: My favorite Shakespeare play! I’ve already summarized it, I believe, so here’s an explanation of this line: Lady Macbeth is coaching Macbeth to commit evil acts by looking sweet, but being venomous. Gah. Love that woman.

Day 56: You Can’t Take It With You

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What It’s About: This is a depression-era play that is a basic meet-the-parents dilemma with a rich, conservative family and a tax-evading family of misfits. Think “The Birdcage,” but for the Depression. The lesson? You can’t take “it” (money, fame, glory) with you, so you might as well enjoy the little things and avoid taxes. A good story for those struggling with money.

Day 57: Much Ado About Nothing

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What It’s About: Don John the Bastard’s first speech. I love thinking of Keanu Reeves performing this in the Kenneth Branagh version — he is such an emo Don John!

Day 58: Twelfth Night

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What It’s About: One of the big themes in Twelfth Night is a question: how much do we really know the people we fall in love with? In this excerpt, Olivia hints at her love for Cesario (Viola disguised as a man), and Viola hints back that Olivia is barking up the wrong tree.

Day 59: “The Danger of a Single Story” by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

What It’s About: OK, this isn’t a book or a poem, but Adichie is a writer so I’m counting it as literary. In this TED talk, she speaks of a “single story”–when people go by the one-sided narrative that they have been fed about a people, instead of understanding their complexity as human beings.

Watch it online. 

Day 60: The Kite Runner

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What It’s About: This poignant novel tells the story of Afghanistan through the friendship of two boys. I can’t say too much without spoiling it. It will make you cry.

Coming up in February: World literature and more poetry! Hopefully. If I don’t get so stressed by my to-do list that I neglect my book talk goals.

Literary Whiteboard Lettering, Week 3

It’s always the short weeks that feel the longest.

With Labor Day off, I only had 4 boards to do this week. And I felt rushed through 3 of them. Now that we are getting deeper into the school year, I’m feeling time and obligations pulling me in every direction. The time I spend lettering in the morning is helping me stay grounded.

This week’s boards:

Day 11: Flowers for Algernon 

Day 12: Oliver Twist

Day 13: The House on Mango Street

Day 14: The Princess Bride

The Princess Bride board was the only one that I actually had time to perfect this week! Love that one!

Favorite thing this week was hearing students and teachers share their opinions of the books and authors they’ve read from this week’s boards. I’m loving how much this project is encouraging discussions about Books! 

Literary Whiteboard Lettering, Week 2

Even though I had only been whiteboard lettering + giving book talks for a week, I’m already seeing an impact: the world studies teacher gave her own book talk to start a lesson, and students and teachers alike are getting interested in learning lettering! Here are Week 2’s boards:

Day 6: The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time

This was for the day I was paired up with the Math teacher, of course. 

Day 7: Lord of the Flies

Day 8: The Glass Castle

The night before,  I had resolved to finally learning the art of the flourish. 

Day 9: Night

I caught a few reluctant readers with this book talk!

Day 10: 1984

Unfortunately, we had a gas leak scare (it wasn’t a gas leak) on Friday that disrupted our schedule, so I didn’t get to give a book talk to 2 classes… good thing I chose a book that they’ll read in 10th grade anyway!

On to week 3! Posting these all on @nerdladydraws on Instagram with #literarywhiteboardlettering. 

Whiteboard Lettering: Week 1

School started, so now I’ve got 135 students standing between me and lettering practice. To keep up my daily lettering goal and build on my practice as an English teacher, I have a new project for the school year: whiteboard lettering with literary quotes.

Part of the new Texas teacher evaluation system requires that teachers have a professional goal that they actively work on throughout the year. Mine is to incorporate a short book talk and 10 minutes of reading time at the beginning of every class period as a way of encouraging reading in my classroom, and my school. That’s where the lettering comes in. To start my book talks, I share an essential quote from the work–a quote that I have lettered on the board. Because my school is a strange one that has no walls and no assigned classrooms, I get to leave literary quotes throughout the building, hopefully getting not just my own students curious about a book, but the others at the school. In about a month or so, I need to start turning over book talks to the kids, so I may have to adjust my goal. But for now, I’m loving it. Here are this week’s boards and a little of my experience so far:

Day 1: Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone

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I have ALWAYS wanted to say Dumbledore’s words at Harry’s first Hogwarts feast on the first day of school, and this year I got the chance! Very few students admitted to knowing the quote on the first day. Three days later, after I had thoroughly shown my nerdy side, the majority of the students were proud to raise their hands and admit that they knew the story of The Chosen One.

Day 2: The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde

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I got the idea for daily book talks from the NTCTELA conference in June–basically, a huge gathering of North Texas English teachers. The keynote speakers were Kelly Gallagher and Penny Kittle, celebrities in the ELAR world. Gallagher led a session about guiding kids through confusing pieces, and used Jekyll and Hyde as an example. Hearing him speak about the continued relevance of classic literature, when I feel like I am stuck in a world that is emphasizing only vocational reading and writing, was absolutely refreshing. Most of my book talks this year will be classic pieces because I want my learners to be aware of literary works that have and continue to influence our modern culture.

Day 3: Not really CS Lewis

This was to get kids started on reading an essay that I hoped they would be able to connect to. It was also a good chance for me to talk about Google quotes–this one is often attributed to C.S. Lewis, but it’s actually from Shadowlands, the biopic about him.

I found out that I could play with filters on my phone to clean up the glare and grime from my whiteboard, but then it looks like digital lettering… so I’m choosing the #nofilter route to show that this is, in fact, lettered on a whiteboard.

Day 4: The Namesake

Because I draft and practice the night before on paper, the whiteboard lettering process has only been taking me about 10 minutes. It’s still a fifth of my planning time in the morning, but it’s also 10 minutes of “zen” time that helps me calm down and get in the zone for teaching.

Day 5: The Lord of the Rings

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At this point in the week, the kids were comfortable enough with each other to raise their hands when I asked if they had read The Hobbit, and even give a little exclamation of nerdy excitement to see that I was going to talk about Lord of the Rings.

This project has been fun and scary… When there are no walls to hide behind, it’s scary to think that your work is valuable enough to share with a whole school. Stay tuned – I plan on sharing my boards and reflections every week (as long as grading doesn’t get in the way)!

The Time for A New Obsession

As a teacher and mom to a 10-month-old, it seems like it would be impossible to find time for a new pursuit. I don’t even have enough hours in the day to sleep! But with the stress of teaching and parenting, art and lettering are what keep me sane. I make time for it, and I take advantage of natural lulls to nurture it.

Right now, I’m writing at 3am, sitting on the floor of the nursery, as my daughter finally dozes back to sleep after 2 hours of playing with my hair. During those two hours, in between a diaper change and sleepy attempts at coaxing her back to sleep, I was building relationships and studying artists on Instagram. Before going to bed at the very grown-up bedtime of 10pm, during the short time I get with my husband when we’re both awake and the baby’s asleep, I got a quick sketch in while we watched TV. For the past three months, I’ve been learning tips and practicing during conference periods, pumping sessions, nap times, and late night feedings.

That’s pretty much the way of it–as I wait, as I try to be patient, as I force myself to stay awake so I can be with (physically, if not mentally) my family, I create. Summer’s been good to me, giving me time to practice every day and start to find my own style. Now that school is starting again, I’ll have to play with time some more. 

I think that’s the nice thing about finding a new obsession: the passion fuels you to stay awake, urges you to ignore the dishes and the laundry, and instead do this thing that is so much more fun. The challenge now is to keep this passion going as more obligations come up, and to remember to not just make time for my passion, but to make time work for me. 

Find your passion. Obsess about it. Bend time to your will. And ignore the dishes just a little longer.