The diamante final exam: a lesson worth remembering

I taught middle school early in my career, at the beginning of the movement to “mainstream” students receiving special education services, moving them from a self-contained classroom environment into the general classroom population.

Jeff was a sixth grader in one of the classes I team-taught with the Special Ed department chair.  Try as we might, we couldn’t get Jeff to participate in class assignments.  We couldn’t get him to pick up a pencil, much less the curriculum-required blue or black ink pen.

We couldn’t get him to dictate a story or a response to a question.  We tried modification after modification, parent conferences, team conferences.

We worked hard to get a computer so that he could use a word processor. Even bribery (yes, it’s in the teacher bag-o’-tricks).  Nothing.

He wasn’t a bad student, or a bad kid. He just didn’t want to do anything – seemingly because we wanted him to.  We sensed he was probably fairly bright, but we were locked into a “Do it. / I Won’t” cycle that had probably been a pattern for him for years. (Apparently there had been a BIG power struggle – not just for Jeff but also for many of his peers  — with their fifth grade teacher over writing in cursive. )

We could tell by watching him that he was taking things in and had some thoughts about it all.  He just was not going to share and we couldn’t find a way to make it worth his while to do so.

I  experienced many moments of feeling like an abject failure, and if it hadn’t been for the highly skilled, seasoned professional with whom I worked, I might have arrived at that conclusion early on and given up on both Jeff and  on myself.

Although she felt the same frustration, my co-teacher had been through many similar challenges, so we didn’t give up on him. We did come to accept that we weren’t going to get much, if anything from him, but still we tried, hoping that some day something would click, even if we weren’t there when it happened.

Traditional diamante template from

The final unit of the year included figurative writing and formulaic poetry forms.  There had also been a year-long cross-curricular initiative in learning the eight basic parts of speech.

I combined these in one “take home” element of the final exam:  students were to prepare a self-descriptive “diamante,”  a form poem so named for its diamond shape.

For assessment purposes, the final exam diamante differed from the traditional form in that it had to include a metaphor, a simile, three verbs, and a summarizing statement of fact, all describing the writer.  To achieve the diamond shape, the diamante began with the writer’s first name on line one and ended with the writer’s last name on the final line.

Exam day came, and Jeff showed up without a pen or pencil, much less a diamante.  He sat through the entire session with the Scantron (“the bubble sheet”) in front of him.  I don’t recall whether he even bothered to write his name.

He turned in a sheet with a few random bubbles filled in, left the room, and that was the end of our time together.  There wasn’t much for my co-teacher and me to do or say about it. That was that.

Then, at the end of the day, I found a crumpled up piece of paper tossed on my desk at the back of the room.  I opened it to find this diamante, which I have kept ever since in a little frame on whatever desk where I find myself.

Although I’ve altered the names for privacy’s sake, it is written in ink and was signed…in cursive. . . by someone who taught me a lesson worth remembering:

You never really know what’s going on with a person and people will surprise you in the nicest ways.



Diamante links:

Read. Write. Think. (An interactive diamante generator).

University of Oregon


A traditional diamante begins and ends with nouns that are opposites.  The poem can be used in two ways, either comparing and contrasting two different subjects, or naming synonyms and antonyms for another subject.

The subject is named in one word in the first line. The second line consists of two adjectives describing the subject, and the third line contains three verbs ending in the suffix -ing which are related to the subject. A fourth line then has four nouns, again related to the subject, but only the first two words are related the first subject. The other two words describe the opposite subject the lines then are put in reverse, leading to and relating to either a second subject or a synonym for the first.


I’m not really a hoarder.

I am a proud member of a village that has successfully raised two village people.  Somehow they managed to survive  bandaged knees and chicken pox,  lost lunch money and forgotten field trip permission slips, losing seasons, winning seasons, stage fright, mean girls, puppy love, and broken hearts.

By now we’ve been through the stages of separation necessary for them to go off on their own to do the things that young villagers do. Still, one part of the child-rearing process lingers:

The village is starting to pile up with shoeboxes.

Every time I buy new shoes, I put them neatly on the shoe rack in the closet, and start to break down the box for recycling.

Free to a good home. No, wait. Someone might need these.

Free to a good home. No, wait. Someone might need these.

Then I freeze. And a slight panic sets in.

Someone might need this box. . .

You know how that always goes. . .

 As soon as you get rid of it, someone will need a shoebox.

After a lifetime — two lifetimes, actually — of looking at shoeboxes as vessels to hold sidewalk chalk, finger paints, scissors, glue, Barbie clothes, baseball cards, rocks (not the pretty ones — the dirtiest, grungiest ones he could find), Happy Meal toys, squirreled away allowance money (we’re certain my son is already well on his way to a secure retirement) and things I’m probably better off not knowing, I can’t look at a shoebox as just a shoebox.

Nor can I reason with my more altruistic self that cutting it down and putting it in the recycling will help the box find its way into serving some other village in some other helpful way.

No, not me.

I look at a shoe box and imagine that at just about 10:30 pm, someone’s going to call to tell me they just remembered that their Social Studies diorama project is due tomorrow morning. You never know.

Maybe they’ll want to paint them and turn them into colorful “bricks” to build a living room fort. You never know.

Or maybe this year they’ll start waxing nostalgic and will want to make a gingerbread village for Christmas. You never know.

And so the boxes pile up, because once you’ve been a responsible member of a village, you understand that it takes a lot of shoeboxes to raise a child.

A quasi-hippie attempts to accessorize

Somewhere in a law school classroom, a lovely young woman with a funky, contemporary fashion sense shifts uncomfortably in her seat, unaware of the drama that is unfolding . . . and refolding . . . and unfolding again some thirty miles  away. She is not aware of any cause for concern, yet  there is this slightly nagging sense that the delicate balance of the universe has been set askew.

Fig. 1: Funky, contemporary fashion accessory.

In her world everything is as it should be. She is prepared for today’s lecture. The sun rose this morning. It will set this evening. When she left home, the  neighbors were lined up awaiting the opening of the liquor store near her apartment. They will be there when she gets home. The bus came on time. It dropped her off on time.  Down the road a-piece,  her  mother is preparing for work,  probably wearing black. Again. The Orioles lost last night. A day like any other.

Still there is this uneasy feeling, this sense that something in the universe is not as it should be.

In her ever-optimistic  perspective,  today is another day for The Birds, and come next Tuesday she’ll either be cheering her heart and her voice out at Camden Yards or going to the theatre with her mother, who always wears  black. All is well. Except for the black. Why must she always wear black?

I know two things that this lovely young woman does not yet know.

I know that she has inherited a keen and heightened intuition that the women in her family have possessed for at least three generations. It will grow stronger as she gets older and it will, to employ the vernacular,  freak people out.

She’ll be hoppin’ on wavelengths, having odd dreams that come true — although none of them ever involve anyone winning the lottery or coming up with a cure for cancer or

anything . . . noooo . . . because that would be just too darned useful. And she will have this sense that creeps up on her, which she will shrug off each time, until the reason for it later reveals itself. It will bother her because she will understand that  it’s a pretty nutty thing to talk about and people will wonder about her sanity. But they’ll also be wondering how she knew to say X or do Y, when she didn’t know to say or do those things. It just happened.

This is why some time before the end of the day, without knowing why, she will feel compelled to call her mother, wherein she will learn the second thing I know that she doesn’t yet know.

And that is this.

The second thing.

Somewhere down the road, her mother is taking to heart the gentle criticism this lovely young woman with the funky, contemporary fashion sense offered the last time they were shopping together.  It went something like this. . .

NotReallyAHippie Mother:  What do you think of this blouse?

Fig. 2: What’s with the hatin’? It’s beautiful and versatile and, most important, slimming. Look how svelte that letter A is . . with no cosmetic enhancement!

Funky/ContemporaryFashionSense Daughter: Love it! My favorite thing about it is that it is not black.

 Thus the lovely young woman’s mother is dismayed, looking at the only thing in today’s wardrobe line-up, a plain black dress. With the weather finally cool enough,  tomorrow is going to be the first official donning of The Uniform (black turtleneck, jeans, and black boots), which will be standard for the next several months.

She recalls yesterday’s black slacks. Three consecutive days of black are too much even for her, especially this early in the cool months.

She decides to take a page from her daughter’s book and add a scarf. A pink scarf. A bright pink scarf.  The one she bought because it reminded her of her daughter’s contemporary fashion sense. The daughter rocks pink. She rocks scarves. Maybe that’s why her daughter is so cheerful. Maybe it’s the pink. . . or the scarves. She decides to give it a try.

Fig. 3: Seriously, how hard could this be?

The NotReallyAHippie mother wraps the scarf loosely around her neck, the way she has seen the lovely young woman wear hers. The look does not translate when she checks the mirror. She unwraps, tries folding it a little, re-wraps. Lather. Rinse. Repeat.

She thinks to herself that somewhere up the road in a law school classroom, her daughter is probably sitting uneasily in her seat, with a cute scarf wrapped perfectly around

her neck, wondering why she has this uneasy feeling that something is wrong in the universe.

 The end. Or so I thought.

I Swear I Am Not Making This Up.

In the middle of the afternoon, the NotReallyAHippie mother is surprised to receive an email from her lovely, yet very busy daughter.  This is a verbatim excerpt from that email:

P.S. I am dressed like a hippie today. Flowing shirt, moccasins, and new turquoise necklace [boyfriend] brought me from Turkey. I thought you would approve.

Fig. 4: Some thirty miles away, a law student is dressed like a hippie.


September needs a beverage.

The plan was to leave the mids dancing on my screen for the week. I wasn’t going to post today or tomorrow or all week and if I have any self-discipline at all, might check in once a day at most.  There’s a bike that needs riding and some rooms that need painting and you don’t need to know about any of that.

For this one last check in, I read today’s post at Teachers and Twits (aka Renee, whose new computer has arrived and isn’t that a wonderful thing?). She wrote  something that spoke to my inner summer girl, which I read while sipping coffee and watching the sun rise over the marina, where the coming days and weeks will see the slips empty and the shrink wrap appear on those that remain, confirming the approach of winter.

I, too, am a summer girl. Over the past few years I have come to like fall, except for the dread of winter that lies just beneath its surface.  This year that dread crept in in August and I almost skipped the beauty of September, my favorite month. I’m spending this last week reminding myself to live in September.

Tastes best with two straws.

The first boy I  truly loved I met at a football game in the early fall, but my favorite memories of him are from the summers that followed. The day trips to the beach, the pink teddy bear he won at the arcade, the mock argument over what her name would be, the lemonade with two straws, his vegetable garden that grew waaaaay too much zucchini, which he then made into all sorts of zucchini dishes, his homemade apple pies, the boat he built by hand and named for his mother, the maiden voyage of the Margaret Ann, the time he walked me to the door, kissed me goodnight and did cartwheels back to his car, every single Christopher Cross hit.

I’ve been looking forward to the pumpkin spice latte days, but I already miss lemonade.

How many days until June?

Peace. Love. Hitchcock’s chin.

Today seemed like as good a day as any to bring back the idea of peace.

For whatever reason, I recently stumbled across two videos of Cat Stevens / Yusuf Islam’s “Peace Train.”  I was fascinated at the difference between the two and how very moved I was by both versions.

My favorite comment from that  post explained that the first was from a time of celebration and the other was a prayer.

I love the youthful joy of the first version and the sweet silliness of the line where he explains the song’s origin, being on a train and thinking about Alfred Hitchcock’s chin:

If everybody could, you know, love Alfred Hitchcock, I think it would be a better world, don’t you?

I’m intrigued by the stories artists tell of where particular works came from and it gives me hope to know that he created such a timeless piece from a seemingly idle thought.

A timeless peace would be nice, too.

I love the quiet maturity and hopefulness, however measured, in the later / latter version.

Wherever you are when you read this, whatever you believe or don’t believe, who(m)ever you love, whatever is your joy, here’s wishing you peace, love, and music. And maybe a little Hitchcock.