On Writing and Ojibwe: Teaching Jane Johnston Schoolcraft in Writing Classes

PALS is once again excited to announce a guest postthis time by Sonya Lawson-Salmasi, a lecturer at Ohio State University. Lawson-Salmasi writes about using Jane Johnston Schoolcraft in the composition classroom. Find out more about Lawson-Salmasi’s teaching here.

Dr. Yvette DeChavez’s call to decolonize our literature syllabi is particularly relevant in 2019. As DeChavez says “if academia continues to uphold white men as the pinnacle of literature, they’re also upholding white supremacy.” However, such work shouldn’t stop in the literature classroom. We can best serve students in other courses, particularly writing courses, by introducing and analyzing texts that they rarely encounter and issues they often do not consider. This is where Jane Johnston Schoolcraft comes in for me.

PALS has already published an excellent piece on teaching Schoolcraft in 19th century literature classes, and I have taught her work in a variety of literature courses myself. This particular post outlines how I have integrated Schoolcraft into my Second Year Writing courses. In thinking about teaching American Indian writers in composition courses, I relied heavily on the edited collection Survivance, Sovereignty, and Story: Teaching American Indian Rhetorics. Jessica Safran Hoover’s “Rhetorical Sovereignty in Written Poetry” was exceedingly helpful for reframing Schoolcraft in a rhetorical mode, as it describes how code-switching and translation in poetic works represent survivance and autonomy for American Indian writers. This essay helped me situate the Ojibwe language and the act of translation within a rhetorical context and gave a great theoretical foundation for understanding the importance of translation and language for American Indian culture and literature.

With this theoretical backing, I developed a three-day sequence for two different versions of Second Year Writing. Because these were writing courses, the study of literature needed to serve the efforts of writing instruction. I chose to couple Schoolcraft’s work and my overall discussions on American Indian language and U.S. history within the framework of exploring how claim-evidence-warrant structures work within argumentation. Adding Schoolcraft adds diversity, yes, but also adds an opportunity for students to think through complex cultural assumptions and new forms of argumentation while also giving them an opportunity to tackle big ideas like the way history is written and erased and the place of language in a diverse conception of American culture and history. In working toward decolonizing my writing syllabus, I also expanded critical thinking and understanding of rhetorical situations and argument structures, making such inclusion doubly beneficial for my writing students.

Now, for the nuts and bolts of how I use Schoolcraft in class. Day 1 is all about introducing both Schoolcraft and American Indian poetry in translation. The readings for the day are two poems by Schoolcraft titled “To the Pine Tree on first seeing it on returning from Europe” and “On leaving my children John and Jane at School, in the Atlantic states, and preparing to return to the interior.” These poems are copied from Robert Dale Parker’s edited collection The Sound the Stars Make Rushing Through the Sky: The Writings of Jane Johnston Schoolcraft (2008). I use this edition specifically because of Parker’s focus on translation and his extensive editorial commentary. Students are asked to read the Ojibwe and English versions of the poems along with Parker’s notes for each.

To begin this day, I give a little lecture where I focus on who Schoolcraft was and her identity as a metís Ojibwe in early 19th century America. Having a very brief intro to the concept of metís culture in early America situates the linguistic, rhetorical, and historical stakes of Schoolcraft’s poetry while introducing the idea that, in some places and at some points in the past, American Indian culture was not always thought of as outside or apart from American culture. However, the bulk of the class is spent on a Think-Pair-Share activity. I use translation as the focal point and ask students to respond with their initial reaction to reading in an unfamiliar language and list some ways they can pinpoint differences between the Ojibwe and English versions of each poem visually.

Just viewing the first stanzas of each poem and translation gives a number of visual clues about meaning and intention in translation. Schoolcraft constructed “Pines” first in Ojibwe then in English. As writer and translator, the intention behind the meaning and form of the poem appears to be similar in both the Ojibwe and English versions. You can visually see the similarities in structure and grammar even if you do not know Ojibwe:


Shing wauk! Shing wauk! nin ge ik id,

Waish kee wau bum ug, shing wauk

Tuh quish in aun nau aub, ain dak nuk i yaun.

Shing wauk, shing wauk No sa

Shi e gwuh ke do dis au naun

Kau gega way zhau wus co zid.


The pine! the pine! I eager cried,

The pine, my father! see it stand,

As first that cherished tree I spied,

Returning to my native land.

The pine! the pine! oh lovely scene!

The pine, that is forever green.

“On leaving” was only written by Schoolcraft in Ojibwe, then translated into English by her husband, and translated differently for Parker in his edition. Each version varies in length, grammar, and structure, which is clearly visible to readers:

JJS Ojibwe Version:

Nyau nin de nain dum

May kow e yaun in

Ain dah nuk ki yaun

Waus saw a kom eg

Ain dah nuk ki yaun

HS (JJS Husband) “free” Translation into English:

Ah! when thought reverts to my country so dear,

My heart fills with pleasure, and throbs with a fear;

My country, my country, my own native land,

So lovely in aspect, in features so grand,

Far, far in the West. What are cities to me,

Oh! land of my mother, compared unto thee?

Newer English Translation (2005) by Dennis Jones, Heidi Stark, and James Vukelich:

As I am thinking

When I find you

My land

Far in the west

My land

Seeing how translation by the author verses translation by others differs can point students toward an understanding of how connections with theme, intention, or audience change depending on who is writing/translating and how they are writing/translating. Both poems touch on issues of home, love, and family, yet the varied specific subject matter and personal issues at the center of each could mandate how and why Schoolcraft decided to construct the poem in a given language(s). In seeing her choices (and non-choices) in language on the page in front of them, students begin to think through the ways Schoolcraft’s Ojibwe/English usage may reflect what she valued in each poem and why, rhetorically, she would decide to translate or not translate.

Day 2 introduces argument structures in connection with our understanding of Schoolcraft and the work of centering American Indian language and literary history. The readings for this day are a brief outline of Claim-Evidence-Warrant structures I created and a short book review of Parker’s edition by Margaret Noori – “Bicultural Before There Was a Word for It.” This review focuses on how language is used, discussed, and presented by Parker, Jane Johnston Schoolcraft, and Henry Schoolcraft (her first editor). It presents a clear argument about the value of the recovery work Parker did in order to create this unique collection.

We begin the class with a review of what constitutes a good claim, how evidence should concretely connect to a good claim, and how implicit/explicit warrants function. We then use Noori as a way to think about these new argument concepts. I give students 10 minutes to review their Noori article, asking them to find as many claims as they can. We then, as a class, list claims on the board and break each down, seeing what evidence is used and how they are connected through warrants. This is a day where argument is the central focus, and it shows how writing instruction can still include examples and texts that value the work of indigenous voices and present indigenous issues that may be ignored in the writing classroom.

Day 3 is about dictionaries, language, and history-making – something students don’t often consider. The reading is light, just a short, translated Ojibwe story from Schoolcraft – “The Origin of the Robin.” We start with a lecture on the creation of English and American-English dictionaries in the 18th and 19th centuries, connecting each to concepts of nationalism and exclusion through language. This leads into a viewing of “Marie’s Dictionary,” a 2015 short documentary (9:36), which follows Marie Wilcox, the last fluent speaker of Wukchumi, in her efforts to create/record Wukchumi stories and a dictionary so her American Indian language can potentially survive after her. After viewing the film, we discuss Schoolcraft’s work in translating Ojibwe stories into English and how the two projects highlight language, history, culture, and preservation.

Afterward, we do a quick Pass the Claim activity. Students create claims regarding the subject matter for the day then think of possible concrete evidence from the texts (story, editorial notes, and film) to support the claim created by a fellow classmate. Finally, they pair up and discuss how the evidence works with the claim and what implicit and explicit warrants would function within that structure. For example, one student could make a straight-forward claim like “Using language helps preserve culture.” The second student could then point to particular moments in Wilcox’s story of dictionary creation and Schoolcraft’s practice of translating Ojibwe stories into English as two different ways in which this claim could be supported with concrete evidence. Paired conversations about implicit warrants could then focus on particular cultural beliefs we have today about language and culture or the importance of preserving forms of both for future generations. The explicit warrant discussion would require the pair work together to literally put claim and evidence in writing to see what logical moves, explicit explanations, or style issues are needed to make such evidence connect with the claim. By using Schoolcraft and Marie’s Dictionary for an activity that could actually be done with a wide variety of different texts, they not only become familiar with these complex and diverse language issues, but also become acclimated to creating arguments about such issues and using a variety of sources that show differing ways of knowing/arguing in an academic context.

Doing work with and through a figure like Jane Johnston Schoolcraft in the writing classroom refines and complicates assumptions about what American language is and who has and does participate in creating and sustaining literature and culture in America. All of this brings diversity in text and thought while reinforcing issues of language, style, argument, and textual creation central to a writing classroom. My process of decolonizing my courses is a continual process. As a white woman, I have a responsibility to use my privilege to open space for other voices that are not privileged in our society and to, as De Chavez states, “push against whiteness as a default” in all classes, whether it is a literature or writing course.


DeChavez, Yvette. “It’s Time to Decolonize That Syllabus.” Los Angeles Times, 08 October 2018. https://www.latimes.com/books/la-et-jc-decolonize-syllabus-20181008-story.html. Accessed 9 August 2019.

Hoover, Jessica Safran. “Rhetorical Sovereignty in Written Poetry: Survivance through Code-Switching and Translation in Laura Tohe’s Tséyí/Deep in the Rock – Reflections on Canyon de Chelley.” Survivance, Sovereignty, and Story: Teaching American Indian Rhetorics. Lisa King, Rose Gubele, and Joyce Rain King, eds. Utah State UP, 2015. 

mhrange. “Teaching Jane Johnston Schoolcraft.” Pedagogy and American Literary Studies. 25 September 2017. https://teachingpals.wordpress.com/2017/09/25/teaching-jane-johnston-schoolcraft/. Accessed 9 August 2019. 

Noori, Margaret. “Bilingual Before There Was a Word for It.” Wellesley Centers for Women. Update 2019. https://www.wcwonline.org/WRB-Issues/bicultural-before-there-was-a-word-for-it. Accessed 9 August 2019. 

Parker, Robert Dale. The Sound the Stars Make Rushing Through the Sky: The Writings of Jane Johnston Schoolcraft. U Penn Press, 2008. 

Vaughan-Lee, Emmanuel. “Marie’s Dictionary.” Global Onenesss Project. Accessed 16 September 2019. https://www.globalonenessproject.org/library/films/maries-dictionary.

Bio: Dr. Sonya Lawson-Salmasi received her MA in English Studies from the University of Louisville and her PhD in 17th-18th Century Transatlantic Literature from Miami University. She is currently a Senior Lecturer in the Department of English at The Ohio State University. There she occasionally teaches literature courses when needed, but the bulk of her teaching work is in First- and Second-Year Writing courses. She has presented on her teaching at a wide variety of national conferences such as the Conference on College Composition and Communication, the American Society for Eighteenth-Century Studies, and the Multi-Ethnic Literatures in the United States conference. When not teaching, Sonya enjoys spoiling her cat, reading romance novels, and watching horror films. You can learn more about her teaching here.


Reflections on Teaching Moby-Dick Through Collaborative Digital Annotation

PALS warmly welcomes Nadhia Grewal to the site for a guest post on Moby-Dick. Grewal explains how she helped her students tackle reading the book through a digital annotation activity. Find other PALS Moby-Dick content here, here, and here.

In ‘Inventing the Nation: Mid-Nineteenth Century American Literature’, an undergraduate class in the English and Comparative Literature department, we examined nineteenth-century American literature from authors such as Ralph Waldo Emerson, Harriet Jacobs, Frederick Douglass, and Henry David Thoreau. Throughout the year, I incorporated digital activities in and outside of class in order to build community and provide a useful resource to catalogue the day-to-day learning. For example, when studying Thoreau’s Walden, students created personal photographic reflections that they posted to the class Padlet. This was coupled with an in-class activity that began with watching two videos of Walden Pond from Christina Katopodis’ The Walden Soundscape that led to think-pair-share where students could tie together their responses to both the photographs and the video before beginning discussion questions. These two activities were used to prompt students to think creatively by creating a personal and communal experience that then lead to dialogue and reflection during the seminar discussions. Because of the success of these activities, I decided to further explore using free digital tools when tackling Moby-Dick later in the year.

How to approach teaching Moby-Dick?

Having taken this class myself as an undergraduate, I remember the anxiety induced panic that came from not only getting through the weekly assignments and reading but also from the final exam which counts for 50% of the final grade. Reading Moby-Dick towards the end of the year means that the anxiety keeps building. From the first weeks of the class students were already asking, “We are going to be reading Moby-Dick, right? That’s like 800 pages.”

After the Thoreau class, I knew that I wanted to make some of the in-class learning interactive. I, also, considered that interactive group work might assuage some of their trepidation about the book. And I hoped that group work would make Moby-Dick a more enjoyable and fun (dare I say it) experience.

Taking cues from Jesse Stommel’s ‘Hybridity, PT.2: What is Hybrid Pedagogy’ and Mitchel Resnick’s ‘Sowing the Seeds for a More Creative Society, my aim was to create interactive active learning opportunities in the seminar that could be continued virtually outside of class. So, for the final learning activity for Moby-Dick, I decided that the task would be to collaboratively digitally annotate a selection of critical extracts. I intended to broaden the conversations we were having by including critical texts for the students to analyze. 

Because of the vast amount of material on Moby-Dick, I wanted to narrow the topics of the critical extracts for the students. In order to do this, I needed to know specifically what my students wanted to explore. So, I created an online poll using PollEverywhere where I was able to ask them to consider the following questions: what theme /character/chapter of Moby-Dick would you like to cover in greater detail? and what questions do you have? The results from the poll provided me the information that they wanted to explore the parallels between Ahab and the whale, homosexuality and male eroticism, individuality and nonconformity, and the question of whiteness. One student astutely posing the question: ‘Why is the whale called Moby Dick?’

Using these results, I went on to construct a google doc with a focused set of critical secondary material. Because the students were also giving presentations, I did not have them create or add to the google doc prior to class. Along with the data from the poll, I also added in excerpts from: ‘Red Blood, White Bones: The Native American Presence in Moby-Dick’and Birgit Brander Rasmussen’s Queequeg’s Coffin: Indigenous Literacies and Early American Literature to add some interpretations that took into account Indigenous imagery in the text

The digital annotation task first began with a question guide from Robert Paul Lamb’s ‘Fast-Fish and Loose-Fish: Teaching Melville’s Moby-Dick in the College Classroom’. Lamb’s question guide visualizes thematic oppositions in the text and presented an opportunity for students to explore these tensions in Moby-Dick. Each student group was given a different color to highlight the chart with. They were also instructed to type in the color they were assigned. I first asked them to highlight three pairs of opposites that they thought were the most important in Moby-Dick. They were next instructed to highlight and annotate the pairs in response to these questions: Which ones does Melville deconstruct or uphold? and How is each set connected? They also were instructed to annotate by creating comments on the pairs they highlighted. Thus, they were pushed to explain why they highlighted a specific opposition.

See an example of a filled out question guide below. A sample blank question guide is at the end of the text.

The students were particularly motivated by the other students’ comments as they were added. They were very excited that they could see each other’s work in real-time. As I visited each group, the students were discussing what other students were highlighting and commenting upon the different perspectives.

After this part, students were prompted to choose a topic from the outline in the google doc. These were the topics that they brainstormed ahead of time that they might be interested in. The topics were matched to critical extracts which were posted after the question guide in the google doc. They were instructed to read through a critical extract in a similar manner as they did with the question guide. They annotated the extract comments and questions. I also sprinkled my own questions throughout the doc to further prompt them if discussion slowed.

What did students really think?

To get some idea of what the students really thought about the class I provided them with a survey where they could rate out of 5 if they were able to explore what they were interested in and whether the poll made them feel their learning needs were taken into account. Overall, the class gave a 4/5 to the experience. I, then, asked students to answer how the poll affected the class and if the tasks supported their learning. Despite one student declaring that it was difficult to answer since they did not like Moby-Dick, students commented that liked that they could revisit the google doc to re-read the comments and how it “lead me other interpretations and interests that in turn informed my own, allowing for a richer perspective overall”. They also felt that the poll, where they got to rate their interests, was helpful because it provided a structure to the session and encouraged preparation. This learning activity helped students see the novel in a different way and by making the activity interactive it also made the experience more fun. 

As I continue to reflect on and respond to this experience, the impact these classes had was clearly valuable to myself as an educator and to my students. I was able to get an insight into my students critical responses and empower them with tools to enhance their learning, which made for a rewarding teaching experience. My advice: start with free tools and listen to the responses from your students. Perhaps studying Moby-Dick can be seen as an opportunity rather than a chore. 

Nadhia Grewal is a Ph.D. candidate in English at Goldsmiths University of London. She has recently taught courses on nineteenth-century American literature. Her dissertation studies young adult perspectives on hunting, horror, and the environment in twenty-first century American and Native American literature.

Blank Question Guide

humans/naturecannibalism or capitalism/communalism
land (lee shore)/seameditation/action
individual/societytrue Christianity/sham Christianity
religion/economicscommercial desires/spiritual desires
head (thought)/heart (feeling)real nobility/social status
human society/the extra-human worldslavery/democracy
innocence/experienceowners (capitalists)/workers (producers)
isolation/communitythe “Me”/the “not-Me”
agent/principalnecessity/free will
marketplace/domestic hearthsubmission/independence
civilized hypocrisies/Highest Truthchance/necessity