Welcome. My name is Corbett Harrison, and I have been an educator and a teacher-trainer since August of 1990. I specialize in teaching writing using differentiated instruction. I also focus on critical thinking techniques, especially during the pre-writing and revision steps of the writing process. Every year, I challenge myself to improve my instruction: I am curretly developing grammar and vocabulary lessons so that they're differentiated and promote deep, critical thinking skills, and I incorporate them into my classroom routines to promote a student-centered classroom environment.

The Northern Nevada district I serve has a "balanced calendar" that has me teaching from early August to early June, and during my 7 weeks of summer and during my two annual two-week breaks, I independently contract to present workshops to school districts and professional organizations around the country.

The winter and spring of 2017 are mostly booked up at this point. Beginning in mid-June, I will be available to present at summer workshops in your district or state.

You can find general information about my workshops here.

If you would like to check my availability for summer of 2017, please contact me at this e-mail address.


       Because writing--when taught right--can be the most enjoyable part of your teaching day, I created this website.

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Is this one of my students finding this page, or a fellow teacher? Either way, are you ready for a real notebook challenge?

Below you will find a special page from my writer's notebook that I don't show everyone. I only show it to my students who are ready for a real challenge. I dare you to look over the photo from my writer's notebook page below, to look over my explanation of where the idea came from, and to create your own notebook page to rival mine. You up for the dare? You don't have to perfectly copy me, but I expect both care and color on these pages you make from these challenges.

A Writer's Notebook Extra Credit Challenge: Artistic Neighbors & Critical Letters
In December, I'll be displaying (in the chalk tray nearest my desk) the book you see at right: When Pigasso Met Mootisse by Nina Laden. The author here has created two fictional artists inspired by two famous artists she knows a lot of information about: Pablo Picasso and Henri Matisse, two painters with radically different painting styles. In the book, Pigasso (whose painting style resembles Picasso) moves across the street from Mootisse (whose style resembles Matisse). The artists clearly don't like each other's different styles, and when they both decorate their houses using their individual painting techniques, a true feud ensues. Don't worry; it all ends well for both of them.

My two favorite moments of the book are 1) when the artists unveil their two newly-decorated homes to each other, and 2) I love their angry, artistically critical exchange that follows. These two moments from this mentor text are what inspired this GT challenge for December.

Before taking this challenge, you'll need to get on Google or Bing and do some research on a famous artist. I think this challenge would work easiest with a visual artist, like a painter (like Claude Monet or Mary Cassat) or a photographer (like Ansel Adams or Dorothea Lange). If you really want to practice some synesthesia skills, you can choose a musical artist (classical or modern), but I do believe this might be harder. Your choice, my gifted friends! I dare some of you to translate musical style into visual decoration.

On the top half of page in your writer's notebook, I'd like you to draw the front of a house, then decorate it in the style of your artist. Be creative. Be colorful. Use textures, lines, shapes, and images that reflect what you learned from your research. On the bottom of the page, I'd like you to pen an imaginary correspondence from a critical, angry neighbor, explaining why they find the house's decor a bad choice; the letter should reflect some of the knowledge you gained when doing research on your artist.

My process...for the top half of this notebook challenge: The two decorated homes in the book (When Pigasso Met Mootisse) are great examples, and they'll make more sense to you if you read the information in the back of that book about the actual artists on whom the characters are based. Nina Laden didn't just copy one of these artists' painting on the front of the house; she borrowed images from many paintings, and she used colors, shapes, and images commonly used by the artists she researched. Don't just find a painting online by your artist and cut out window and door holes; use images and styles found in many of the artist's work to create an original decoration for the house in your notebook. Try doing this one without magazine clippings or Internet images.

To further help your thinking, I will share the page from my notebook, and I will explain my process below.

I decided to choose the artist Georges Seurat, a French pointillist. I once saw a fun play about this artist (called "Sunday in the Park with George"), which was a fictional account of how this artist created his most famous painting: A Sunday Afternoon on the Island if La Grande Jatte). I have actually seen this very famous painting in Chicago, and I have seen several other of his paintings in Washington, D.C. He didn't often use lines when painting; he used thousands of colored dots that--when they blend together--create a person or a tree or a cloud. If you've ever seen that movie--Ferris Bueller's Day Off--there is a scene where the the kids go to a museum, and one of them looks very closely at the dots that make-up the face of a little girl in one of his paintings; as he gets closer, the image stops looking like a little girl and starts looking like just a bunch of crazy dots.

And so, I designed my Georges Seurat house to have no visible lines, just dots. I created my windows and doors with many dots instead of a line made by my ruler. I woke my wife up when I made this page, with all that dotting I was doing while she slept in. She yelled, "What are you pecking at in there?" when I woke her. My bad.

I also tried to make images made with many colored dots on the house's side. I'm not sure how effectively I conveyed a recognizable image; I found it a bit difficult to do this using a small space, like the top half of my notebook page. Seurat often used large canvases, and I understand why. If you click on the image I've embedded above, you can open a version of the house I drew that lets you zoom in pretty close.

I am a bit embarrassed to say that I thought my memory could remember how to spell my artist's last name; it didn't. My brain's getting old! On the notebook page, I spelled his name wrong twice. My bad.

My process...for the bottom half of this notebook challenge: The letter writing was pretty easy for me. I simply thought of the kind of criticism an angry neighbor would have when seeing this unusual house. I really tried to use a lot of voice in my letter. Can you see where I used the most voice?

A final challenge for my students or for my fellow teachers using this lesson idea: I know some of you will take this challenge and create a fun page in your writer's notebook that celebrates language and homophones. I dare you to take a photograph of your finished page and post it as an attachment at this page that I set-up at WritingFix's Ning. You will have to become a member of the Ning in order to post. Click here to visit the posting page I set-up specifically for this lesson! If you post it here, you could very well have your finished page seen by thousands of teachers and students who use my website every year! Make sure what you post is pretty good stuff!

Samples from my own Students' Notebooks
My 6th-8th grade girls were the most receptive to this GT Challenge of the Month this first year. No samples from my boy writers on this one. With a little encouragement, I bet the boys come forward to do January's Anagram Challenge.

Here, four of my wonderful young lady writers did a great job with this extra-credit challenge.

Sarah, one of my gifted 7th graders, took me up on the challenge of practicing synethsesia by designing a visual representation of a musical artist's home. Here is her home design for Mozart, and her letter of complaint.

Hannah, my gifted 6th grader who has now taken me up on every GT Notebook Challenge so far, also practiced synethsesia by designing a visual representation of a composer's home--Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov.

Crissey, one of my gifted 8th graders, has an aunt--Lisa Cameron--who is an artist, and her house design honors her aunt's painting style.

My delightful over-achiever, 6th-grader Mimi, couldn't narrow it down to just one artist, so she celebrated two. I know my Andy Warhol, but when I asked Mimi about artist Jasper Johns' work, she told me right where I could see some prints at a local eatery here.


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