Teachers Act Up!

Thoughts on Teaching, Language, and Social Change from Melisa "Misha" Cahnmann-Taylor

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Language Educators Learn from Artists

img_20180717_182946At the Lyndon House Galleries, the director talked about an exhibition of photography from a local musician.  She told our group that she doesn’t use the “emerging artist” term anymore because of its negative connotations–not good enough, not arrived.  She explained, “I say that the exhibits are for artists who are inventing or launching their artistic practice or re-investigating/re-vitalizing their careers.”

Now, I have absolutely loved Ofelia Garcia’s contribution to bilingualism and language studies, shifting very disparaging terms such as “Limited English Proficient” (LEP) toward “emerging bilinguals.”  It felt right–all of us can be emerging bilinguals anywhere on the continua.

But what might it be like to talk about “launching bilinguals” for all of us, touching each word like a new star in the orbits of our widening vocabulary skies? What might it be like to “invent our bilingual selves” through travel in other lexicons or to reinvent ourselves and revitalize the language we can access to communicate that much more of who we are?

I am so grateful to the artists who never stop playing with language and image, to help us see the same things different and to see new things we didn’t see before.  I am going to launch and invent myself this new lexicon and revitalize my understanding of what it means to speak, write, listen, read, and love in more than one language.img_20180717_182951

Jerusalem 2018, Here I Come with Poetry

As I read the news about Jerusalem this week, I am also preparing to give several talks first on the arts and inquiry at ICQI (University of Illinois); then in Jerusalem to various groups of educators interested in the arts and English language teaching.  I prepare to talk about the English language as an artful resource for communicating peace and humanity; for stretching outside of oneself into another language.  I prepare for these talks on the porch where a second mother bird has recycled the hanging plant nest for another set of eggs.  I can’t help but see metaphor.

Hatching one’s way out of nativeness to one language and culture into more than one, requires learners to break holes in the shells of one’s “home” way of thinking, being, and languaging.  A hard hook on one’s beak to peck at routinized thinking, to see outside of “the daily news” (Jerusalem Post? Haaretz? New York Times? Fox?)–leaving the nest of one’s own thinking is frightening.  You can learn a second, third, or fourth language and never peck your way into a new way of thinking –bilingualism doesn’t entail that kind of power.

“The press is always against us,” writes my Israeli friend.  My Kashmir and Jordanian and Palestinian friends might write the same thing.  Now more than ever we need new approaches to language, a kind of *trans-ness that goes well beyond the translation of verbs, nouns, or syntax.  Translanguaging is a kind of restructuring of the heart and mind, to be able to -no, to have no choice but to- see and live in the complexity of both/and; to separate oneself from facile, falsely divided categories of language (English, Arabic, Hebrew) or personhood (American, Palestinian, Israeli) or “banks” that are West or East, and see we’re always beyond the safety of our first nests.  Our survival may depend on leaving the old structures behind.  Yet those structures–such fragile beauty, such holy promise–they tie us to our definitions, our rituals for marking time, our tribal kinship, our leg up, our safe house.  Who am I to say step outside yourself when there may be an explosive? Who am I to stay stop your molotov cocktails and replace them with poetry?

I don’t dare touch these eggs.  I don’t want to contaminate them with my humanness.  But I would like to learn from them.  How to occupy a nest, only briefly.  Do what the body needs to do. Survive. Move on.




Plenary Presentations and Workshops: Jerusalem schedule

Dr. Melisa Cahnmann-Taylor, Professor

University of Georgia

Invitation from ETAI [English Teachers Association in Israel] & U.S. Embassy through the American Center Jerusalem.

Talk Titles & Descriptions ~ July 2-5

 July 2: Communicative Input, Creativity and Comedy in the Foreign Language Classroom. Talk with the Chief Inspector of Israel for English teachers

July 3: TESOL & The Arts: New Metaphors for Practice (Plenary, English Teachers Association of Israel [ETAI], membership 700)

July 4: Writing the “Not Me”: Drama and Poetry in Qualitative Inquiry in Education (Workshop presentation, ETAI

July 4: Panel on TESOL in Global Communication (ETAI)

July 5: What hurts about being a Semitic educator? What doesn’t hurt? Presentation for the Diplomacy Youth program & educators (Jerusalem Center & US Embassy)

 TALK A: morning with educators of younger learners

Lunch Engagement with Whole Community

TALK B: afternoon with educators of older learners


Visual Broadsides — Naomi Shihab Nye’s Poems

Another round of wonderful & visual interpretations of poetry! Spring 2018 we had hoped that Naomi Shihab Nye would visit us in Athens and prepared by reading her poems.  Her physical visit didn’t occur, but students in LLED 7710 Poetry for Creative Educators “visited” with Nye’s poetry by responding through an assignment called the “Visual Broadside.”  Departing from purely verbal interpretations, students made visual choices to display the aesthetic process of understanding one of Nye’s poems as it sits within the body of her work.  Please see this beautiful video Kathy Barrett made as well as visual broadsides by Megan Graham, Kuo Zhang, Ming Sun, Xinyi Li, Charlee Cain, Pamela Paradise, and Yupei Tang.

Ellsworth (2005) describes how successful pedagogical [and physical] encounters with art, media, and architecture can generate for the learner “sensations of being somewhere in between thinking and feeling, of being in motion through the space and time between knowing and not knowing, in the space and time of learning as a lived experience with an open, unforeseeable future” (p. 17). Through the visual broadside assignment, these emerging poets and educators become absorbed cognitively, somatically, and emotionally within the materiality of the poem as well as thinking about their own future practices as second language teachers. These experiences invite these educators to consider the kinds of artful language teachers they might become. Here are some quick snapshots of this recent work.  To view previous “visual broadsides”–type these two words into the wordpress search engine to see the wide variety of visual interpretations students’ have used in previous iterations of this assignment.

Ellsworth, E. A. (2005). Places of learning: Media, architecture and pedagogy. New York, NY: Routledge.

You can get poems from the news.

“It is difficult to get the news from poems, yet men die miserably every day for lack of what is found there.”
― quotes from the famous American poet, William Carlos Williams

While one may not get the literal news from poetry, poets are often actively responding to the news around them through verse.  The pen, the keyboard, the performance microphone–these are some artists’ tools with which to navigate engagement in the public world. Sometimes the act of writing poetry can help one bear witness and bear the grief found in daily reports of the worst possible human behavior.  These are what I think about as I prepare a new poem this week alongside my students’ new poem drafts.  Responding to Theodore Roethke’s work as well as Larry Nassar’s abuse of young female athletes for decades, I use the poetry tools at my disposable to make artful sense of horrifying abuse and those who were complicit around him.


~after Roethke’s Dolor


I have known the dizzying rush of deep tissue

manipulations on my table; lean, muscular torsos,

young hips and barely breasts exposed, breathing

complaints of pain down sinewy calves through tiny

feet I lifted, like a god, to puckered cabin ceilings, teasing

ungloved fingers at ball and socket joints, measuring

downy beginnings with classic “thrust” techniques

to diagnose, reduce inflamation, prepare for the win.

And I’ve worn jackets in the team’s white satin, cock-

tails with coaches, university presidents, eager-to-please

parents begging for my time to poke and prod,

fill medal and trophy cases with gymnasts,

dancers, rowers, runners, swimmers, figure skaters.

Ghazal and wild language

Inspired by reading Agha Shahid Ali’s ghazals, Stephanie (Stephen) Burt’s essay on Ali, and Natasha Trethewey’s ghazal “Miscegenation,” I decided to try my own.  I invited students in my poetry class to also write a Ghazal, one that navigates any aspect of linguistic, racial, and cultural identity.

I must also add this ghazal-draft is inspired by an email I received last night from a young student from Puerto Rico who’d found and liked an old poem of mine, “What you are.”  She wrote, “honestly, you have no idea how much this means to me. There aren’t enough words in the dictionary to express my thankfulness.” And then she wanted to know: “hope you wouldn’t mind me asking but where are you from or your parents?”

“A place of universal exile,” I wrote back to her.  Latinidad is a perfect place for that, Latina or Jewish or otherwise.  Here’s my answer in a poem draft form.

Símon Manifesto

                                                  ~for Dayhath Marte-Herrera

A language you never learn in classrooms: Spanglish.

First and second language, “both/and” borders Spanglish.


Standard English, a blazer-dressed, distant uncle;

Tía Castellana, black laced aunt to Spanglish.


Puro amor tatooed on a gangster’s knuckles.

¿What recourse nos queda? Gloria asked in Spanglish.


El Paso, Los Cruces, La Brea, indelible

stains tar our place names in original Spanglish.


We’re creating languages of implied exile:

Ching, Hing-, and Kong- lish, Franglais, and, of course, Spanglish.


When certain consonants appear between vowels,

they’re left out (mojado/mojao), speaking Spanglish.


Díaz writes culocracy, governing culos,

a neologism coined in perfect Spanglish.


It defies collapse into single syllables,

but still it hurts boys and girls to malign Spanglish.


Oy vey, kinnehora, my grandmother grumbled.

Yinglish is my own variety of Spanglish.


Tranquila, Melisa, conjugating struggle’s

easy, si aprendes bien, lessons from Spanglish.


Translingual writing and Imperfect Tense (an interview)

What a lovely post to receive on MLK 2018.  This interview with one of my great anthropology heroes, Alma Gottlieb.  She asks me great questions about the links between ethnography and creative writing/poetry–here are my answers with some fun pictures





Communicative Input (CI) “Ensemble Instruction” Demo tonight, 11/6/17 630pm Aderhold 317

 We hope you can make it! If you do or if you don’t here is the presentation link and some information we will share.  Hope to see you there!

11/6/17 Presentation Link from the event “Creativity and Comedy in a Foreign Language” given by Melisa Cahnmann-Taylor & LLED 7504 Students in Aderhold 317 630-8pm


Below is a list of strategies that second/foreign language teachers often use in [Teaching Proficiency Through Reading and Storytelling [TPRS] focused on communicative input in L2 (second language) instruction. These are some of the strategies you may notice in the demo instruction tonight:


Making Everyone Look Smart in an L2

·      yes/no questions

·      either/or questions

·      one-word answer questions

·      point and pause to written words (with L1 resources) on the board

·      checking for L1-L2 understanding: what did I just say?

·      use signals to slow down or clarify meaning

·      effective use of engaging repetition

·      everything is comprehensible


Physical and/or Audible (fun) L2 Engagement

·      gestures

·      sounds

·      real “materials” used

·      elements of “play” involved in the lesson


Meaningful L2 Use

·      using an image or story

·      using personalized questions & answers

·      co-creating from imagination

·      acting language out













Where and how do I publish an academic article?

A friend of mine with a Ph.D. writes to ask my advice regarding where and how to publish articles from a dissertation. This is a good and wide question, and one that is impossible to answer simply. Here is a list of strategies I use when trying to publish my own work and/or supporting doctoral students, advisees, colleagues, and friends about where to publish and how in the academic world:


  • Read. If you are reading journals in the field then you will begin to notice which journals showcase content that is closely related to what you are interested in and get to know editors who may have similar views regarding what counts as a well written, thoughtful piece of scholarship. By reading journals you get to know the field and the authors publishing in that field.   Who else is publishing on study abroad in Tunisia? Who else has published hybrid pieces of scholarship that include poetry? What online journals embed videos and allow for multimedia technologies? Who else has published another scholar working in a similar field such as landscape ecology or classroom interior design? You get to know the journals and editors by reading other journals.
  • Search. Once you have identified a set of journals by reading them and finding matched content and/or style, then search through the most recent 3-7 years of publication to see what, if anything, has been published there that connects to your work. This is great information to put in a cover letter and shows you are familiar with the journal’s content. It also begins to train your eye and ear to the expectations of style and format in the journal so you can revise or write your own article accordingly. Notice how subheadings are used; the reference style; any patterns in content or form.
  • Themes. A wonderful way to attract an editor’s attention is to submit an article that meets criteria for a theme issue. Not all journals have theme issues but some do. It gives you a leg up if the content of your submission is connected to the editor’s topic or focus.
  • Mentors in the field. Who do you cite frequently in your own work? Where have those scholars published? Have you reached out to connect to these scholars as individuals, to thank them for their inspiration and foundational thinking which supports your own? You may have a dissertation committee or department full of mentors but another way to find additional and helpful mentorship is through the readings you do to prepare your journal article. These are real people who value knowing their work has reached and helped another scholar in the field. A simple note of gratitude or a query may go a long way to beginning a relationship that may realize itself in conference presentations and publications. Scholars are busy and you may not receive a response, but generally scholars are generous people who would be glad to know you have read their work and may share some free advice regarding places they’ve published in a similar area or experiences with journal submissions.
  • Patience. Publication takes time. You must submit and then wait weeks, often months or even a year before you hear back from the editor who has also been waiting for reviewer feedback. In the meantime don’t put all your eggs in one basket. Dissertations spawn many different articles so while you wait for reviews on the submission begin a new piece, write a book review or think piece. Stay busy and in practice and submit something to another journal.
  • Try, try again. If you receive a “reject”–read the response carefully and openly. Decide what is of value and what you may address before submitting the piece elsewhere. Get the same piece rejected twice? This may mean you need to reconsider drafting the article. Rejections can also be about how full the journal is, how busy the editor, or a personal preference so do not take a rejection as the bottom line but as a resource to inform you how the piece meets an unknown audience. If at first you don’t succeed, try again. If you don’t succeed twice or three times, then it’s a message you need to revise or start a new piece.
  • A publication by any other name. If you are struggling with longer research articles, don’t forget there are many types of publications in the academic world that can “count” on your resume. Book reviews may not be as esteemed as research articles, but they provide an important service to the field, deepen your understandings of a given text, and may connect you to other scholars and presses in unique ways. What about a think piece for a practitioner or applied journal? A poem? A news item for your professional organization? A blog post or newspaper editorial? Whatever you do, keep writing and keep your writing varied. Today, it may be just as important to have a piece that is “peer-reviewed” by a critical and scholarly journal as it is to reach a larger public audience with a piece written in vernacular language that helps real people access your scholarship.
  • Ask your mentors and friends about their experiences publishing. Where have they published? How was this experience? How long did it take to receive feedback? What cover letter did they use?
  • Collaborate. Publication can be difficult and lonely work and there are times when having a partner can help you focus, stay the course, and push one another to the finish line. You may ask a mentor or more experienced writer if they might like to collaborate. You may ask a peer who can give 50% and has as much interest as you do in publication. You may ask someone who works in a similar field. It’s wonderful if you can pitch an idea for collaboration and quickly develop a proposed outline, timeline and assigned roles. If the publication is important to you, don’t be afraid to take the lead. Maintain clear and consistent communication about the level of work each contributor provides and this should be accurately and respectfully represented in the order in which the authors are listed. When writing 50:50, the listing is alphabetical by last name.



If you are interested to learn what journals I like or where I have published recently, I give a partial list of 2015-2016 journal publications and encourage you to check out my c.v. online or “publications” at http://www.teachersactup.com


*Cahnmann-Taylor, Melisa (2017) ““I’m Not Talking to You” “You Don’t Have to!” Trans/scripting the Bland-Encinia Case,” Pedagogy and Theatre of the Oppressed Journal: Vol. 2 , Article 2. Available at: http://scholarworks.uni.edu/ptoj/vol2/iss1/2

**NOTE**This is an online journal with a superb editor who was quickly responsive and helped me improve the piece considerably through her editorial care. The journal accepts a wide range of genres including a “manifesto” and has theme issues.


*Cahnmann-Taylor, M. (2016). Robinson Jeffers, Big Read, and Me. Georgia Review.

**NOTE**This is a literary journal that also includes essays and book reviews. I was honored to publish this essay as the acceptance rate is very low. I do have a relationship with the journal editors and this was helpful to the publication of this piece.


*Cahnmann-Taylor, M., Bleyle, S. & Hwang, Y. (2016) Teaching poetry in TESOL teacher education: Heightened attention to language as well as to cultural and political critique through poetry writing. TESOL Journal, 8 (1), 70-101.

**NOTE**This is a practitioner-oriented online journal for Teachers of English to Speakers of Other Languages (TESOL). We worked as a writing team for many years and have varied publication outcomes from this project.


Cahnmann-Taylor, M. (2016). Imperfect tense: An ethnodrama of Americans learning Spanish in Mexico. The Reunion: The Dallas Review, 6 (1). http://www.utdallas.edu/ah/reunion/index.html

**NOTE** I had seen a call for the publication of new plays in this journal and I had just completed mine. This publication from submission to print took a long time but it was worth the wait.


Cahnmann-Taylor, M. (2015). Ethnographic poetry and the leaping bilingual mind. Savage Minds. Writers Workshop, Season Four blog post. http://savageminds.org/2015/01/26/announcing-the-spring-2015-writers-workshop-series/

**NOTE**This publication was queried from the editor and had a quick turn around. I enjoyed being a part of this dynamic and speedy online forum.


Cahnmann-Taylor, M. (2015). Imperfect tense: An ethnodrama of Americans learning Spanish in Mexico. Centre for Imaginative Ethnography. http://imaginativeethnography.org/imaginings/literary-experiments-in-ethnography/c-june-23-misha-cahnmann-taylor/


**NOTE** this piece was also queried from the editors and this was because we are all working in circles that braid together social science investigation with creative genres of representation.


*Cahnmann-Taylor, M., Zhang, K., Bleyle, S. & Hwang, Y. (2015) “Searching for an entrance” and finding a two-way door: Using Poetry to Create East-West Contact Zones in TESOL Graduate Education. International Journal on Education and the Arts. http://www.ijea.org/v15.html


**NOTE**This piece is related to the TESOL journal piece listed above. We wrote from similar data for different audiences. This is an audience of scholars looking at the arts in all forms of education. The other piece is more specific to second language scholarship. “One” piece of research turned into several publications for various members of our collaborative team.

pre-order discount: Arts-Based Research in Education (by M. Cahnmann-Taylor & R. Siegesmund)

Enter FLR40 at checkout for 20% discount (advance order). Course by this title will be taught Fall 2018 at UGA!
I would love your thoughts on the content–we are very proud of this book and putting out into the world for rigorous wonder and dialogue.
LINK to book
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