All posts by sz

About sz

I learn with my students in my English and journalism (print and broadcast) classes at FVHS in Southern California. I bike or Bug to school.

Play It As It Lays \\ Episode 7

Ramsey Lewis Trio – Do What You Wanna [Another Voyage \\ 1969]
Gershon Kingsley – Pop Corn [Music to Moog By \\ Audio Fidelity, 1969]
RJD2 – The Horror [Deadringer \\ RJ’s Electrical Connections, 2002]
Jah Wobble’s Invaders of the Heart w/ Sinead O’Connor – Visions of You [Rising Above Bedlam \\ East West, 1991]
Phoenix – Tonight (feat. Ezra Koenig) [single \\ Glassnote, 2022]
The Reds, Pinks and Purples – Saw You at the Record Shope Today [single \\ Slumberland, 2022]
Joe Strummer and the Mescaleros – X-Ray Style [Rock Art and the X-Ray Style \\ Dark Horse, 1999]
The Make-Up – I Am Pentagon [Save Yourself \\ K Records, 1999]
Autolux – Sugarless [Future Perfect \\ DMZ, 2004]
Bonobo – ATK [single \\ Outlier/Ninja Tune, 2022]
Massimiliano Pagliara, Fort Romeau, Coloray – Reset [single \\ Permanent Vacation, 2022]
Coloray – Blinded [single \\ DGTL, 2022]
Luscious Jackson – Citysong [Natural Ingredients \\ Grand Royal, 1994]
The Posies – Sideways [s/t \\ 23 Records, 2000]
Led Zeppelin – Ramble On [Led Zeppelin \\ Atlantic, 1969]
Ramsey Lewis Trio – Hang on Sloopy [Hang on Ramsey! \\ Cadet, 1965]

Play It As It Lays // Episode 6

Artist – Song [Album \\ Label, Year]

The Smiths – The Queen is Dead [The Queen is Dead \\ Rough Trade, 1986]
Mark James – Suspicious Minds [single \\ Sceptre, 1968]
Mazzy Star – Blue Flower [She Hangs Brightly \\ Capitol, 1990]
Pale Saints – Throwing Back the Apple [In Ribbons \\ 4ad, 1992]
Melody’s Echo Chamber – Looking Backward [Emotional Eternal \\ Domino, 2022]
Ladytron – Seventeen [Light & Magic \\ Emperor Norton, 2002]
Massive Attack – Blue Lines [Blue Lines // Virgin, 1991]
A Tribe Called Quest – Scenario [The Low End Theory // Jive, 1991]
Trashcan Sinatras – Lay of the Land [single \\ 2022]
Trashcan Sinatras – Obscurity Knocks [Cake \\ Go! Discs, 1990]
MGMT – It’s Working [Congratulations // Columbia, 2010]
The Three O’Clock – Stupid Einstein [Sixteen Tambourines // Frontier, 1982]
Quantic & Nidia Gongora – Se Lo Ví [Curao // Almas Conectadas, Tru Thoughts 2022]
Vulfpeck & Louis Cole – It Gets Funkier IV [Hill Climber // Vulf, 2018]
Hana Vu – Parking Lot [ep // Ghostly, 2022]

Play It As It Lays // Episode 5

Artist – Song [Album \\ Label, Year]

Four Tops – Bernadette [Reach Out \\ Motown, 1967]
US3 – Knowledge of Self [Hand on the Torch \\ Blue Note, 1993]
Bad Business Club / 79.5 – Silent Lies [single \\ Bunnyman Bridge, 2022]
Cerrone – Supernature [Supernature (Cerrone III) \\ Malligator, 1977]
Lene Lovich – New Toy [ep \\ Stiff, 1981]
Thomas Dolby – Europa and the Pirate Twins [Golden Age of the Wireless \\ EMI, 1982]
XTC – This is Pop? [White Music \\ Virgin, 1978]
The Dandy Warhols, Gang of Four – What We All Want [The Problem of Leisure \\ Gill Music, 2021]
Peel Dream Magazine – Pad [single \\ Slumberland, 2022]
Aztec Camera – The Boy Wonders [High Land, Hard Rain \\ Rough Trade, 1983
The Damned – Alone Again Or [Anything \\ MCA, 1986]
Crocodiles – She Splits Me Up [Crimes of Passion \\ Frenchkiss, 2013]
Drahla – Under the Glass [single \\ Captured Tracks, 2022]
FC Kahuna – Hayling [Machine Say yes \\ 2002]
< < Kaskade, L’Tric, feat. Sydney Streb – Birds of Paradise [single \\ Arkade, 2022]

Play It As It Lays // Episode 4

Artist – Song [Album \\ Label, Year]

Spain – Untitled #1 [The Blue Moods of Spain \\ Restless, 1995]
Luna – Fire in Cairo [A Sentimental Education \\ Double Feature, 2017]
The Beths – Future Me Hates Me [ Future Me Hates Me \\ Carpark, 2018]
Tommy James & The Shondells – I Think We’re Alone Now [ I Think We’re Alone Now \\ Roulette, 1967]
The Clash – Police On My Back [Sandanista! \\ Sony, 1980]
Germs – Media Blitz [ GI \\ Slash, 1979]
< < Panda Bear, Sonic Boom – Edge of the Edge [ Edge of the Edge // Reset, 2022]
My Bloody Valentine – new you [ mbv \\ 2013]
Grace Jones – My Jamaican Guy [Living My Life \\ Island, 1982]
Fujiya & Miyagi – Digital Hangover [single \\ 2022]
Beck – Youthless [Modern Guilt \\ 2008]
ESG – Get Funky [S/T \\ Fire Records, 2011]
Mo-Dettes – White Mice [single \\ Mode Records, 1979]
Four Tet – Mango Feedback [single \\ Text, 2022]
Yazoo – Bring Your Love Down (Didn’t I) [Upstairs at Eric’s \\ Mute, 1982]

Play It As It Lays \\ Episode 3

Play It As It Lays airs Fridays at 8 p.m. PST on

and is archived right here:

Electro-indie-hip-pop-rock ‘n’ soul 

1. Elf Power – Undigested Parts
2. Brinsley Schwarz – Cruel to Be Kind
3. The Damned – New Rose
4. The Barracudas – We’re Living in Violent Times
5. Lords of the New Church – Open Your Eyes
6. Ivy – Let’s Go to Bed
7. TR/ST – Grouch
8. Blaqk Audio – Cowboy Nights
9. Depeche Mode – Shout
10. Roxy Music – Virginia Plain
11. Ween – Ocean Man
12. School of Fish – Wrong
13. Soft Kill – Always Running
14. Turnstile – Mystery
15. Drug Church – Million Miles of Fun

Play It As It Lays \\ Episode 2

Play It As It Lays airs Fridays at 8 p.m. PST on

Electro-indie-hip-pop-rock ‘n’ soul 

Artist – Song [Album \\ Label, Year]
1. Riki – Marigold [Gold \\ Dais, 2021]
2. Pool Kids – I Hope You’re Right [ Pool Kids \\ Skeletal Lightning, 2022]
3. Ultra Vivid Scene – Blood and Thunder [ single \\ 4ad, 1993]
4. Ride – Charm Assault [Weather Diaries \\ Wichita, 2017]
5. Dehd – Empty in My Mind [ Blue Skies \\ Fat Possum, 2022]
6. T. Rex – Jeepster [Electric Warrior \\ Warner Records, 1971]
7. Poets of Rhythm – Fondle Rock [Discern / Define \\ Daptone, 2021]
8. Smudge All-Stars – Brutal Funk (Dark Globe remix) [ single \\ Pegdoll, 2022]
9. The Vapors – Crazy [ Together \\ Manmade Soul, 2020]
10. 999 – Homicide [ Separates \\ United Artists, 1978]
11. The Kinks – Stop Your Sobbing [Kinks \\ Reprise, 1964]
12. Automatic – Venus Hour [Excess \\ Stones Throw, 2022]
13. Moon Boots & Cherry Glazerr – Come Back Around [ single \\ Anjunadeep, 2022]
14. Laurie Anderson – Let X=X [ Big Science \\ Warner Bros, 1982]

Play It As It Lays // Episode 1

Play It As It Lays returns after a six year hiatus!!! New shows air Fridays at 8 p.m. PST on

Electro-indie-hip-pop-rock ‘n’ soul

1. Adrian Quesada – Hielo Seco
2. Delvon Lamar Organ Trio – Fried Soul
3. The Notwist – Al Sur w/ Juana Molina
4. Launder – Intake
5. Kitchens of Distinction – Drive that Fast
6. No Age – Turned to String
7. Bauhaus – Some faces
8. Hot Flash Heat Wave – Where I’m @
9. Pulp – Styloroc (nites of suburbia)
10. Cheap Trick – Surrender
11. Alvvays – Pharmacist
12. Sparks – Beat the Clock
13. The KVB – Unity

SQUIDD: an origin story in 10 facts

FACT 1: When I was a kid and I needed help with my homework, I’d often ask my father who would sit next to me at the table and begin fumbling for paper and a pencil. I need a pencil, he’d say. I can’t think without a pencil.

It rubbed off. I like taking notes. I love taking notes. And doodling. My father can’t think without a pencil, but whenever I’m sitting down listening to someone talk at me, I can’t focus without doodling. I mix thinking and playing, notes and doodles. Sometimes the two coincide. Sometimes not.

Definitely more doodles than notes here. An artifact from my previous career.

FACT 2: At the beginning of the year I warn my English students with an adage I heard from Marilyn Elkins during the AP training course I took before teaching the class: AP English Language is just good readin’, writin’, and thinkin’.  I don’t transmit a lot of data, facts, and information to my students. It’s a skills-based writing class and what we do is write and read. And write about what we read and read as examples of how to write. We practice those skills all year long. 

FACT 3: About five years ago one of my former students stopped by to say hello and she was eager to tell me about her first college English paper she had to write. Her class had just finished a poetry unit and she had read about 100 poems. Her assignment? Write a 15-page paper on poetry. What was the prompt? I asked. Write a 15-page paper on poetry. There was no prompt. I had spent so much time giving students writing prompts, prepping them for a prompt-based test, but I hadn’t prepared them for this: no prompt.

FACT 4: Up to a couple years ago I’d get frustrated seeing my students simply sit and watch the front of the room during lectures or discussions. I’d see very few of them write anything down, and after reminding myself that they can’t all be doodlers like me, and that there’s not ONE vocab or factual question on the AP test I’m preparing them for, I knew I had to do something. Worksheets were not an option. 

FACT 5: Thoughts and ideas are elusive creatures.

FACT 6: The Aquatic Life of Steve Zissou. Bill Murray’s character, oceanographer Steve Zissou, travels everywhere with a rag-tag film crew documenting just about every move he makes as he searches for a creature he calls a jaguar shark that ate (“swallowed whole? Klaus asks. “No, chewed,” Zissou says) his partner.

“Klaus, why aren’t you rolling? Why aren’t you getting this?”

FACT 7: Probably over tacos, my friend David Theriault and I were picking each other’s brains, looking for ideas to improve our classes. He had his struggles. I had mine—I needed some way for students to keep track of their thinking, something beyond taking notes. Something simple. Something that would provide fodder for their writing now, and something that would serve their learning well into the future.

FACT 8: David Theriault LOVES acronyms (more precisely, he hates crappy acronyms. KWHLAQ gives him hives while something like SCUBA warms his soul), and so we cobbled together S.Q.U.I.D.D., a low-fi, extremely malleable, life-long learning tool. In a nutshell, after we read, listen to, or watch something in class I ask my students to put down some S.Q.U.I.D.D. ink, a quickwrite where they focus on one S.Q.U.I.D.D. element, either in composition notebooks, or on a 3×5 card. In just a few minutes all students have thought about and responded to the work in question and they’re ready for a discussion. Then on a regular basis I’ll have them do a deep dive where they expand on one or more of their S.Q.U.I.D.D. inks.

FACT 9: David and I do A LOT more with S.Q.U.I.D.D. (did I mention S.Q.U.I.D.D. is extremely malleable and easy to use in lots of ways?), but that will have to wait for another post or twelve.

FACT 10: The bare bones of S.Q.U.I.D.D.—


Photo by Calvin Tran

We all fled to our homes, with little warning, and certainly without a clue that we’d never be gathered as a class, this class, ever again.

We spent the first few days with our families, figuring out what this new normal looks like and scouring stores for toilet paper.

Then I reached out to my students, by email, by video conference, and planned out enrichment activities while my school district figured out what schooling while sheltering at home looks like.

No one knows.

But I knew where to start trying to figure it all out—A New Culture of Learning: Cultivating the Imagination for a World of Constant Change by Douglas Thomas and John Seely Brown. I’d read the book years ago and it’s been infecting my craft in all the time since. Infecting, because it burrowed itself deep into how I teach, how I motivate my students to learn.

I worked backwards in my re-reading, starting with the last two paragraphs:

“That moment of fusion between unlimited resources (referring to the internet) and a bounded environment creates a space that does not simply allow for imagination, it requires it. Only when we care about experimentation, play, and questions more than efficiency, outcomes, and answers do we have a space that is truly open to the imagination.

And where imaginations play, learning happens.”

Right now, world, state, and local political leaders, public health officials, and the medical community should be concerned with “efficiency, outcomes, and answers,” but teachers, thrust into remote education without a bit of training, have a responsibility to the students we serve to lead them to learning by creating a flexible space where “experimentation, play, and questions” reign. 

A space where students can continue learning while living in a world upside down, radically different than any of us have ever experienced.

What might this look like?

Different for every teacher, every subject, as they respond to the needs of their students. For me, a writing and journalism teacher, I stripped down my syllabus to four lines from Mary Oliver’s poem “Sometimes”:

Instructions for living a life:
Pay attention.
Be astonished.
Tell about it.

I would hope all teachers, no matter the subject, would be able to make that subject applicable to students’ lives as they’re lived, right now.

So what might be the results of my four-lined syllabus, one that prioritizes questions? Well, I just revised it, so it will take some time to see what students come up with, but I do have a few early examples.

Camelia let herself be astonished by the sound of falling rain.

Sandra tweeted how she has “really found some courage in myself,” hoping she “can confidently express [herself] without any worthy.”

Anna wants to break out her old analog, film-based, SLR Minolta camera to “document how the world has changed during COVID-19.” You see, she’s astonished by how people have changed, how their relationship to each other and their environments have changed, and she’s going to use that camera to pay attention. I can’t wait for her to tell about her findings.

Then there’s Justin, who, upon listening to an episode of John Green’s The Anthropocene Reviewed podcast, was left “grappl[ing] with the nature of luck, merit, and fairness.” And so the 10 minutes of writing I asked students to do after listening to the podcast turned into 14 pages and 10 graphs, “pseudosystematic visuals that helped give shape to [his] ideas.”

Had I been concerned with trying to re-create an exact (and efficient) virtual replica of my brick and mortar classroom, expecting exact outcomes and answers from students, dangling a reward (points, a grade) over their head, they would’ve checked the box and moved on to what was more pressing in their life.

infinite expansion

But because I gave them, hopefully, a purpose to their learning, to live a life, their life, they experimented, they played, they learned. Learning “not as some verifiable end-form, but [learning] as growing, changing, maybe even culturally transforming” (Geoffrey Sirc).

There’s no way every student will be moved to write for hours like Justin did, and I don’t expect them to. But I hope to lead them to discover for themselves “kernels of infinite expansion” that will “flourish later in interesting ways” (Sirc) and motivate their learning for years.

Minor Thoughts

I remember the epiphany well—the look in their faces, a mix of ennui, exhaustion. Exasperation. That class of seniors, the first time I had taught that level in six years, when I was student teaching, staring back at me, beat. We had read through Beowulf, Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, Macbeth. I dutifully doled out worksheets, carefully crafted questions to help them understand these ancient texts. I quizzed them, tested them, to ensure they remembered what was important to remember: diction, tone, theme—those universal truths that have stood true for hundreds, thousands! of years.

I don’t remember who said it, or what piece of classwork or homework the student was referring to, but their question matched their bleary-eyed look, and it woke me up.

“Can you just tell me what to do to get an A on this?”

At the semester I shook things up. I dismantled the rows of desks and gathered them into groups. I gave them a reading schedule for our next novel, 1984, along with the standards, and a blank calendar that lasted through the reading dates. Their charge? Show me what you know about 1984 over the next four weeks.

In their groups they had to prepare for discussion days by coming up with two kinds of questions: questions to help them understand the novel and questions to move a class discussion forward. We discussed the novel two or three days a week—on the other days they had to plan and carry out self-generated projects that demonstrated proficiency of self-selected standards. I told them they could use any activity they’d used in the past 12 years to help them learn, or they could create their own.

A handful of students launched into the novel with giddy abandon—thrilled at the chance to do school their way. Most fell back on education’s tropes, tried and true: quizzes, tests, worksheets, essays. A few others struggled to guide themselves through the novel.

Then a third of the way through 1984 a student came up to me and said, “You’re not even teaching us anything.”

This particular jab was especially jarring since it fell from the lips of a student in my video broadcast class, a class in which students are active participants and leaders in the structure and day-to-day flow of the course. I had assumed this student was accustomed to a more collaborative, do-it-yourself learning environment. I was wrong.

Twelve years of public education had shaped most of these students into baby birds, little seagulls, taught to sit cozy in their nests until mama or papa seagull come sailing in to regurgitate their meals, their knowledge, into the youngsters’ gullets. In “The Student and Society” Jerry Farber accuses the educational system of creating “authority addicts.”

I knew I had to keep doing something different. The status quo wasn’t preparing students for much more than taking class-based multiple choice, or standardized tests. And for all the talk of gearing students up for college AND a career such tests weren’t going to cut it.

One of my first pedagogical shifts was to give my students permission, permission to question the whys and hows of their education. If we’re gonna saddle them with tens of thousands of dollars (more!) of student debt, they should know why they’re sitting in our classrooms waiting to be netted up by all those big, fancy colleges they dream of attending. So before my students open up The Catcher in the Rye, I lead them through a question brainstorming session in which they crank out a list of questions based on this statement: school is the best place to learn. They pare down their list of questions to just a couple and then explore that question as they read Salinger, Prose, Emerson, Baldwin.

The next shift was to axe cumulative finals. Instead, students write, and publish to the web, reflections on what they learned and thought during the semester. In their reflections I hope students discover what Claes Oldenburg calls a “kernel of infinite expansion.” I read about this idea in Geoffrey Sirc’s English Composition as a Happening in which he suggests we teach “writing as growing, changing, maybe even culturally transforming” (166).

Sirc’s book, a 300-page riff on Charles Deemer’s 1967 essay of the same name, supercharged my classroom practice. In the chapter titled “The American Action Writers,” Sirc argues Jackson Pollock “became a real compositionist only when he began to follow his heart: discovering he had a vision and voice worth sharing.”

Then Sirc asks this question: “Are our students searching for a way to make the world see the world their way, or, rather, do we insist they be made to show the world the way we think it’s supposed to be seen?”

I want to see the world their way. I want to teach my students to write like Joan Didion who calls writing “the act of saying I, of imposing oneself upon other people, of saying listen to me, see it my way, change your mind.” I hope you will, like I do, listen to these student statements that follow, pulled from their year-end reflections, and change your mind in some small way. Listen. They’re just minor thoughts…