These pickles are about as simple as you can get, and delicioius. My yellowed copy may have come from Better Home and Gardens.

6 C thinly sliced cucumbers (3 large or 6 small)

2 C thinly sliced onions

1.5 C sugar

1.5 C vinegar

1/2 tsp salt

1/2 tsp mustard seed

1/2 tsp celery seed

1/2 tsp ground turmeric

Layer the cucumbers and onion in a glass bowl. Bring the rest to a boil in a saucepan, stirring just until sugar dissolves. Pour vinegar mixture over the cucumbers; cool slightly. Cover tightly & refrigerate. Try to wait 24 hours before serving.


Small Moment

A small moment in my career was my lunch with Peter late in the summer of 1998 in the Intermezzo Café at the University of Kentucky. I had just finished the Bluegrass Writing Project Summer Institute and was returning to the classroom that fall, having been named a full-time rather than part-time instructor. Several things were coming together. Peter was leaving and he had been my mentor who believed in my capabilities and made sure administrators knew my teaching. Becoming full time meant that I had tuition support for 6 hours a semester. And the Summer Institute had shown me that I needed to know more and read more. So starting graduate courses made sense.

I specifically remember discussing with Peter where I should head. And his suggestion that I look into Educational Policy Studies, a department that I neither knew or understood. I did know the chair through his wife so I walked across the street, past the cannon pointed at the College of Education, knocked on his door and asked him to admit me. It wasn’t quite that easy; I had to submit a writing sample which I didn’t have, but they admitted me anyway.

So here was my chance to return to graduate school. I can’t say that I had always dreamed of having a PhD or that I was driven by ambition to be a professor. No, I just wanted to pull together everything I knew and add more to the mix. Finishing a degree and having different work were not even in my mind. I also never understood what taking courses and writing a dissertation involved.

I started with reading Education on the Wild Side: Learning for the 21st Century by Michael L. Johnson. The title promised a recent and updated discussion of pedagogy, and that it was. However, the tone and language are so bloated and academic that I am giving up on it. The first chapter title, for example, is “Obverting the Ob(li)vious.” 

He presents a good comparison of pedagogy in the past and now (or now in the perfect classroom). Later in the appendix he even has a 17-page chart contrasting the two, along with the theorist who writes about the category. Most charts would be reductive, but 17 pages is a deep treatment.  He calls the “shift in emphasis” a change from teaching to instructing. I think his terms are problematic, but the shift is real. “Errors” vs “expectations–Mina Shaughnessey. Inculcating “orthodoxy” vs encouraging the student “to challenge orthodoxy”–Robert Scholes. Literature as “self-interpreting” vs literature in relation to “the larger cultural conversation”–Gerald Graff.


9 Rights of Every Writer

This book may have attempted more than it should. Each of the rights is important, vital, well researched, but the total is overwhelming. No wonder it’s so expensive.
That said, it’s a good book for us to use for the Summer Institute because it pulls together the research about writing that we think should guide every teacher—writing is social, messy, and difficult to assess. I like her inclusion of essays and quotations by practicing writers, and even other artists talking about their creative processes.
I’m thinking about this book as an elementary level book. Although I think it’s marketed that way, while I was reading it I didn’t feel that only young children were the topic. I saw my own college students throughout. They are excellent school writers who know how to play the game. They would never turn in a 5-paragraph essay for a class assignment, but they are thrown off by any variation on the researched argument essay that they’ve mastered. So Spandel’s chapter on formulaic writing still applies to them. In our tutor training class I try to shuffle the genres they write in so that they loosen their grip on a standard college essay. When they begin their qualitative research project and can’t predict their findings, they panic. But their final products and presentations have been wonderful. They learned that it’s OK and even common to say that their findings are inconclusive when their research involves people. They can’t follow the formula that has served them well since they entered school.
I also liked Spandel’s discussion of assessment. She doesn’t just dismiss it as many writers do (and many teachers would prefer). Instead she talks about assessment that is good and valuable. She also is clear about the deadening effects of traditional assessment and the dangers of ignoring these nine rights in the classroom. Are there still schools where teachers have no control over their daily schedule? That would be a big problem for writing because it would have to be relegated to a set chunk of time, if there was writing time at all. Alas, there are so many ways schools can stifle good teaching and true learning!

Our 5th Summer Institute started this morning. One good indication that we are a mature site is that we can re-juggle the morning schedule on the spot and everything can work out fine. I’m looking forward to our routine days that will start tomorrow, however. It will be fun to see everyone discovering how wonderful individual writing is!


One of the reviews quoted on the back of this book says: “a powerful piece of art . . . shocking, exciting and deeply affecting” (The Independent). Yes, it is all those thngs, and I would add “funny.”

But I can’t help seeing the “white woman saving the African girl but really saving herself” trope through it. In this story Sarah from London almost saves Little Bee. Yet she remains selfish in her refusal or inability to give up a lover who clearly doesn’t share her commitment to Bee. By the end of the book we are not sure whether she will return to Lawrence. However, she has made the strong and risky decision to leave her magazine and write a book about Nigeria, and we have to hope that will happen.

Little Bee, on the other hand, is a strong and wise character. After witnessing horrible atrocities in her home village culminating in a ghastly scene on a beach where she meets Sarah and Andrew, she makes her way to England. She is held in a detention center for two years and constantly fears that “the men” will come for her. Her adoption of the English language is impressive and gives the book some of its finest moments. Likewise her astute perspective on British culture. She frequently imagines describing England to her friends in the village and their bewildered, incredulous reactions. She works magic with Sarah’s son Charlie, calming his fears when his mother seems incapable. Charlie, by the way, wears his Batman outfit throughout the book and is treated lovingly by the author whose own son is also Batman.

This book was compiled from articles by Writing Project teacher-leaders based largely on their Summer Institute demonstrations. The actual classroom strategies they suggest are not the most valuable part of the book. Rather,what matters is the accumulation of inspiration, enthusiasm, and thoughtfulness in these stories.

Ask996 on enotes.com describes Breakthroughs as” full of essays by teachers who have experienced incredible growth in both themselves and their students in the writing classroom.” Some of them directly reference their Summer Institute experiences and conversations with other teachers that inspired them to rethink their teaching in general. In other cases, they were frustrated and desperate with a classroom dilemma. Reading and listening in the Summer Institute made them think about their practice and review their classroom strategies. The articles describe improvements they made that motivated their students.

The essays are also good examples of articles written from demonstrations. They could serve as models for our teachers to publish their demonstrations as articles for teacher journals or newsletters.

Whatever the discipline, level, or experience of the author, each article shows a reflective professional finding a breakthrough by talking to or reading other teachers and scholars during a Writing Project Summer Institute. The collection underscores the value of the professional development that the Writing Project offers.