Finding reward in the hard work of revision

I’ve been thinking a lot about writing lately. Particularly revisions. While I’ve been thinking about this, one moment from when I was writing my dissertation and turning in draft after draft keeps coming to mind.

IMG_8634It was one of the many nights a friend and I met at coffee shop to work for hours upon hours. I was reading the notes from my chair and researcher and making revisions. At one point, I looked at my friend and said, “I just wish they would tell me exactly what they wanted.”

The words caught in the air and I laughed. I was pretty sure a student or two of mine had made a similar plea to me when talking about their writing in class.

To be clear, my committee was awesome. I don’t have the horror stories I’ve heard from so many others. They were just pushing me, making me take ownership of my own writing and my own thinking. That is hard. And downright frustrating at times, to be honest.

The hard work, though, is the rewarding work.

While my own experience made me more compassionate, it also made me more determined to help students understand the value in the struggle.  When the work is hard, when they may be a bit frustrated, when they just want us to tell them exactly what to do, that is when they are right on the brink of meaningful work.2015-08-19 12.09.55

We can’t mark up students’ papers and tell them exactly what they should change.  Then the work becomes ours and it takes away the student’s voice.  We can’t ask leading questions in writing conferences that encourages only our thoughts about how the student should write his or her paper. Then the student is more worried about doing it the way the teacher wants instead taking risks and finding their own voice.

We have to let students struggle, so that they can be empowered as writers. I know because I’ve learned this lesson as a writer too.

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Recap of GCTE in Tweets

IMG_9156.JPGThis weekend I got to spend time with some fabulous Georgia educators at the Georgia Council of Teachers of English conference at gorgeous Lake Lanier. Learning with a community of passionate educators is inspiring and revitalizing!

As our conference was ending, the Dublin Literacy (#dublit) conference was beginning. Kylene Beers, one of the keynote speakers, started with praising Twitter as one of the best free professional developments out there. I know this because I saw it on Twitter.

So in that spirit, I’m recapping GCTE with my top ten tweets and the top ten tweets of other attendees.   I hope you find some inspiration as well as something that makes you reflect and question.  And maybe you’ll find some innovative educators to join in the Twitter community as I have.

Tweets are in no particular order.  You can view more by searching #gcte16.

My Top 10 Tweets from #GCTE16

  1.  Celebrate diverse authors bc they write from rich tradition & provide uniqueness to landscape of Am lit – not just bc of the “month” #gcte16
  2.  Diversity does NOT mean a diverse character used for “decoration” in story. Look for complex, central diverse characters-Dr Flowers #gcte16
  3.  Find what’s alive on the page. That’s what you keep. Dr. Judson Mitcham, GA Poet Laureate #gcte16IMG_9159
  4.  I can’t wait to tell my Ss that the GA Poet Laureate has been working on a poem for over a year! #gcte16
  5. Students can’t develop style, voice, or craft if the only writing they do is a major paper once every 6 weeks. @cwatersELA #gcte16
  6. Change in education can’t happen w/o Ts in the classroom. No ivory tower posses this power, only Ts have that power. @cwatersELA #gcte16
  7. By focusing on writing, Ss will have to read for deeper understand bc u can’t write on it unless you’ve read it deeply. @cwatersELA #gcte16
  8. Use film as an intro to teach Ss to ask why the author/director does what s/he does? w @spruillschool #purposeful #authorscraft #gcte16
  9. Film in class is text and should be purposeful. @spruillschool #gcte16
  10. If we don’t teach Ss to critical evaluate visual literacy, we are doing them a disservice. -Kyle Jones #gcte16

 

Top 10 Tweets from Awesome Attendees of #GCTE16

  1.  Dr. Sylvia Spruill ‏@spruillschool:  “Poetry Props” w/@susanclaireb “It’s ok to walk away from a poem with questions.” She encourages us not to kill poetry for our Ss! #gcte16
  2. Dr. Sylvia Spruill ‏@spruillschool:  “We can’t ask students to leave who they are at the door. If we do, we’ve lost the battle.” Powerful reminders @GCTEnglish conf! #gcte16
  3. Dr. Sylvia Spruill ‏@spruillschool:  “All language is anchored in a moment.” – Darren Crovitz #gcte16
  4. Julie Rucker ‏@jrucker8:  Poetry reading is a performance… Provoking a desire in listener to experience the poem in silence, on the page–Judson Mitcham #gcte16
  5. Julie Rucker ‏@jrucker8:  What is important is that somehow, writing can be learned.–Judson Mitcham @GCTEnglish #gcte16IMG_9169.JPG
  6. Julie Rucker ‏@jrucker8:  “English teachers, you are necessary, you are valuable, you are doing vital work!” Judson Mitcham GA poet @GCTEnglish #gcte16 @ncte
  7. Steven Landry ‏@horsesandwhales:  “Remixing is writing. Writing helps students share the silence of their voice.” – Ana Martinez @GCTEnglish #gcte16
  8. Krista ‏@englishkunkle:  #gcte16 @ncte Addressing needed skills will spark a fire students didn’t know they possessed.
  9. Susan Barber ‏@susanclaireb:  Sometimes you have to do what’s wrong if it’s what’s right for students @ncte #SusanHouser #gcte16 #studentsbeforepolicy
  10. Marla ‏@MarlaDelores:  When teachers give each other supp help &love they grow in their ability to change not only the lives of students, but their own too #gcte16

Bonus Read:  YOU MUST READ THIS POST!  Jennifer Serravallo totally nails it with her powerful post, Supporting Independent Readers and Independent Reading.  She challenges us while providing practices to support readers with independent reading time.  YES to everything in this post!

Please, please, please. Enough with the multiple choice quizzes. There are other ways to check in with readers in ways that holds them accountable while also supporting** them and making them more excited about reading. Instead of outsourcing this to a computer program, teachers can regard independent reading time as instructional time. -J. Serravallo

Students give advice to us (English teachers)

2016-02-09 10.08.13I’m at the Georgia Council Teachers of English Conference (#gcte16) this weekend (more to come on that next blog post). As I was telling my students yesterday, I was going to be out for a conference, I had an idea. I asked them to write what advice they would give if they were speaking to a room full of English teachers.

That’s it.

It was one of those on the spur-of-the-moment ideas—just meant for me to see what they thought was important. But as I began to read them, I realized the power in what they had to say, and I wanted to share.

Here are a few of their responses for your enjoyment and reflection. (I’ve only edited for clarity or to remove personal information.)

  •  Don’t kill good books by overloading them with assignments.
  • We’re all young people trying to find ourselves. Nothing hurts more than to hear or feel that our opinions don’t matter. Let us know that our opinions count and you’ll be amazed at how many people raise their hands when questions are asked.
  •  English teachers need to know that not all of us have time to read but still love to read.
  •  Some students are introverts, so I think school should be open to different personalities rather than having everything to the advantage of extroverts. I think there should be more ways to showcase your thoughts without having to embarrass yourself.
  •  We sit the whole day listening to teacher after teacher. Most students would like a change in routine. My advice is to not always talk and we listen, change things up a bit.
  •  Reading is amazing and we need more ways to get involved, such as book talks and more time to really enjoy books!
  •  Literature is a blessing. It helps us understand the meanings of life and many students neglect that. Help make literature interesting so students don’t take it for granted.
  •  The books we are forced to read only appeal to a small minority of us dependent upon the book. I hated Of Mice and Men and loved Fahrenheit 451. Other people had different opinions. Since you can’t make everyone happy reading the same material, allow them to pick the book they read. It’s more difficult to grade but it produces better writing because students actually care. Also, let students pick their own writing prompts when analyzing literature. Everyone has unique thinking when they read the text, so they can best come up with an essay displaying their actual thoughts if they’re allowed to. Prompts limit thinking.
  •  Teach by example and give choices.
  •  We don’t come to school knowing how to write a perfec2016-02-09 12.38.21t paper. We need step-by-step guidance and useful tips in order to write successfully.
  •  Allow students to rewrite papers so we can learn from our mistakes.
  • Remember that students have other classes and homework, so don’t give too much homework because they can become overloaded.
  • Sitting in groups everyday helps me brainstorm and ask questions with other students.
  • Writing a paper with a bod prompt is miserable. Choices are good and good choices are great. Writing a paper about a topic you don’t hate is much more enjoyable.
  • Show students that you are willing to put in the same amount of work as you assign your students. I know I would stay up to 5 am if necessary to write a great paper or create a meaningful project if I know the teacher puts in the same effort to grade and give feedback on my work.
  • Give students room to be creative in their writing.
  • I really enjoy learning so sometimes I feel like if we rush through lessons or books the importance of learning is no longer there and it is as though teachers are more concerned with meeting the deadline than actually getting us to learn.
  • We’re not professional writers and you’re going to have to help us.
  • We like to read and write about what we actually want to write and read about. It is no fun being forced on books that bore us.
  • Teach advanced concepts but use simple vocabulary. We want to learn but sometimes it is hard for us to understand.
  • To really teach us it is so important to give us time to get things done. Without time our work won’t be good.
  • Teachers must let students read individual novels more.

Bonus Read:  Amy is always challenging.  Many of the things I try in my classroom are sparked by her honest reflections of her own classroom.  This post titled, “Choice Doesn’t Necessarily Mean Personal Connection: A reflection for a do-over,” is no different.  I think any teacher who has every tried choice or wants to try choice needs to read this.

When we fail. . .

2016-02-09 09.53.18I took a hiatus from my blog during January to work on my dissertation. My chair told me I needed to have a complete draft by the end of January to graduate in May. I didn’t make the deadline. (I am now shooting for completion by April to graduate in July.)

This is the season for college applications, which means the season of writing lots of recommendations and editing lots of admission essays. A question I see that keeps popping up for college applicants as well as job applicants—in some manner or another—is name a time you’ve failed and how you overcame.

In my English 10 classes, we are working on our Shakespeare themed units. I wanted to do something different with this unit, and I wanted to provide choice. I planned what I thought was a great structure to do that. I would be lying if I said this unit had been a success. There was something lacking in the unit.

Failure has been on my mind.

What do you do when you are a teacher and you feel like you didn’t succeed, or more 2016-02-09 10.58.18bluntly put, failed at a lesson or unit? Reflect, self-assess, make notes and adjustments, learn, and do better.

But also, be okay…no be more than okay, be proud that you took a risk, you tried something new, you learned, you grew as an educator (and probably as a person) and your students will benefit from this. Celebrate that!

We have a responsibility to our students, to our profession, and to our future to reflect on our practice. We have a responsibility to make sure that we are reading current research, engaging in proven professional development, and learning from a community of leaders in our field.  We have a responsibility to make sure that we are growing as educators and we are putting that into practice so that our students are growing as learners and citizens.  But if we are doing that, if we are measuring ourselves by the best education has to offer, if we are stepping out of our comfort zone to do what is right, then we also have a responsibility to let ourselves fail, reflect on our learning from the failure, and go back the next day ready to try (with tweaks) again.

I was quite bummed about my unit. I had been so excited about it, and I was frustrated that it didn’t come to fruition as I had envisioned. I was talking with a colleague about my frustrations with the unit. She asked me why I thought it didn’t go like I had envisioned. I responded with something like, “I don’t know. Something just isn’t right.”

The question haunted me. I needed to really reflect: What was it that specifically that went wrong? What was I not happy with? Why did it not go like I wanted? How could it have gone different? AND what did go right?

I realized timing was a bit of an issue with this unit. Since timing became an issue, I didn’t focus as much on reading and writing skills to make up for loss of time. Choice was another issue. Although I didn’t dictate how students wrote in this unit, I felt I forced them into the box of one particular lens for too long. I should have started with the teacher-directed lens and then let them explore others on their own.

Now that I named the failure, I know what to do differently, what to do better next unit.

But I also had to think about what went right. Students’ final tasks as well as their online discussion about the texts showed a real sense of understanding—way beyond the surface level. Students weren’t just reading a Shakespeare play because we always teach a Shakespeare play. They had purpose and direction. Students were able to discuss themes across texts—they talked about the impact of the theme of deception not only in the play they studied for this unit, but also in their independent novels, informational texts, and other Shak2016-02-10 11.14.40.jpgespearean plays.

[Side note: One thing I did make sure we did was have 10 minutes of class reading time for independent novels three to four and sometimes five days a week. After I commented on how I loved seeing a particular student with two books in hand, she said, “It’s because of you. You made us read, and now I can’t stop.” That’s a success.]

Mary Ehrenworth once said something to the effect of it is worse to keep teaching as we’ve always taught than to try to do right by students and not be perfect. I was far from perfect in this unit, but I know I tried to do right by my kids, and in doing so, the failure unit helped my kids grow more as readers and writers than by not doing anything different.

If you want to see some of the end results from this unit, look at these examples and this student created music video.  The final project (which accompanied a paper, a online Socratic discussion, and reading journals) was a creative piece on how a character they studied viewed deception presented from the character’s point of view.  This part of the unit was successful.  Many of them also discussed other themes in their interpretation.

Bonus Read:  Pernille Rip seems to continually challenge me with her thoughtful posts.  And she always seems to know what I’ve been discussing with my colleagues.  I love her openness to conversation about hot topics and her fearlessness in tackling them head-on.  If you have found yourself in a discussion on whole class novels, I suggest you read her post, “So You Teach a Whole Class Novel – A Small Idea to Help.


Thankful for an authentic audience

IMG_8276

I sit here on a Saturday with five school days left in the semester, reflecting over yesterday’s class.

Here’s what happened:

Students, in groups, presented their social issue speeches. Each group had a special guest, someone from central office, an administrator, or an educator, to give the students feedback. Students were excited and nervous about presenting in front of special guests, but as the process began I watched amazed as students greeted the guests, presented speeches, gave each other feedback, and intently listened to feedback from the guests.

This idea was inspired during the Teacher’s College Argument Institute I IMG_8298attended last year. They talked about having guests come in for a debate panel to give students an authentic audience. I’ve talked about my quest for authentic class experiences since then in another blog post. When it came time for students to give speeches on their social issues, I wanted to try to do two things: (1) Give students an authentic audience and (2) Have the speeches delivered in groups in one day (instead of hearing 30 speeches in one class over the course of a week).

I cannot express the gratitude I have for all the Central Office folks, administrators, and educators who listened to students’ speeches and gave them feedback yesterday. I cannot say how proud I am of the students—their work, their willingness to take a risk, their feedback to each other, their professionalism.

IMG_8284But what I might be most proud of was listening to students and the guests talk after the speeches were all delivered. The students asked questions, the guests shared personal stories and bits of wisdom. There was laughter, and as Lester Laminack says, if there isn’t laughter, there isn’t learning.

For the students, they felt special.  “Important people” (as they called them) were taking time out of their busy schedules to come listen to them, really listen to them, and to talk with them-not to them, but really have discussion with them.  The students had worked hard on these assignments, and they wanted honest feedback.  They wanted to know what they could do to become better.  We talk in class all the time about how their voices matter.  Now they had to chance to talk to people who had some experience with public speaking to get insight in to how to make those voices that mattered heard.

One guest asked how much I had prepped the students for the after speech IMG_8271discussion, and I confessed I didn’t. The first time doing this, I hadn’t thought that it might go faster than my carefully planned out schedule. After I realized we had some time at the end, I asked the students to learn as much as they could from the guests while we had them here. And that’s what they did.  In a way that came naturally from a curiosity and a quest for knowledge.  What students learned yesterday was more than just about public speaking. They learned a little life. And I’m so thankful for all those who had a part in that.

If you are interested in doing something like this, here’s a little more on what we did:

  1. Students had already been working on their social issue assignments. They had completed research, conducted an interview, and wrote a proposal. For more on that, read this.
  2. Students wrote and practiced speeches after studying speeches through mentor texts, specifically focusing on audience, purpose, and delivery.
  3. Our literacy coach helped me conference with students about their speeches, an invaluable piece.
  4. I sent out invitations for our presentations and made a schedule, trying to have groups with a variety of topics.
  5. Students volunteered to be a part of a hospitality team. They set up a IMG_8252hospitality room for the guests, greeted the guests, and directed as needed. They also made thank you cards.
  6. Our principal’s administrative assistant helped me gather things we needed and went over what we might need that I was forgetting.
  7. Our media specialist and media clerk let us take over the media center and sat in on speeches as well.
  8. Students made name tags and worked through logistics the day before.
  9. The day of the speeches, students had the schedules and assigned spots. They gave their speeches and then received feedback from students and guests. I had them write feedback too, which I will compile and give them to keep.
  10. Clean up and then go to sleep. Wake up the next day and reflect on what happened. Or maybe that is just me. It was a lot of work but incredibly worth it!

Bonus Read:  We all do reflecting at the end of the semester.  I found this Three Teachers Talk post Writing my wrongs: How I’m learning from my mistakes to be beautifully honest and encouraging for us all, as we get ready to end one semester and begin another one.

All I can promise my students is that I will continue to reflect, move forward, and become the teacher they deserve.  But alas, growth takes time, trial, and error.  It requires me to unravel years of traditional education, analyze what works, what doesn’t, what I should carry with me, and what I can discard.  It will take time for me to unwind my own brain just as I ask my students to unwind theirs.  I am still learning to be a writer, a reader, a student, a teacher, and that takes time, time that sometimes feels all too precious when I only have one year with my kids.  Fortunately, teaching is like writing.  Every day, I begin the process of drafting a new story, and every year, I get the chance to revise my work.

I could have written a better paper

2015-12-02 15.15.29I’m in the middle of grading 152 literary analysis papers. As I’m reading these papers, I’m proud. Not because they are perfect—they aren’t. This isn’t even the best set of literary analysis papers I’ve received from 10th graders during my teaching career.

No, the best literary analysis papers I’ve ever received may have been from those students years ago who I heavily guided (probably somewhat mercilessly) with preselected text, a thesis developed by the class and then tweaked by me, and a plan I had constructed for them to flesh out the predetermined structure. But why shouldn’t they have been the best? I was the best writer in the room, and I did most of the thinking work in writing the paper.

There are numerous problems with this teaching practice, which I have worked relentlessly to change over the years.

Chris Lehmann, the founding principal of the Science Leadership Academy, says, “If you assign a project and get back 30 of the exact same thing, that’s not a project, it’s a recipe.” I think the same is true for student writing. We can’t keep giving our students all the ingredients and the recipe for their work. They don’t have to think, or at least not a lot, 51yvxpuquxl-_sx258_bo1204203200_when we do this.

Right now our ELA department is doing a book study on Reading and Writing Project Staff Developer Christopher Lehman’s Energize Research Reading and Writing. He talks about research being “messy and exciting” (9) and says that

“handing students topics and preselected sources removes a natural and important step of learning to do anything: making errors. If we are developing students to be creative, flexible, independent learners, then we cannot scrub away opportunities for mistakes to be made and corrections to be learned” (10, emphasis added).

While literary analysis may not be considered traditional research, Lehman’s challenge here was at the heart of designing this unit. (For more on this unit, see literary analysis post and writing boot camp post.)

Students had almost complete control over their choice of short story to analyze. While during the reading part of the unit I gave students many lenses on how to analyze a text, they decided which ones they wanted to 2015-11-16 09.52.08use in their writing. We looked at tons of mentor theme statements and practiced finding themes, but they developed their own theme statements for their papers. They were never locked in—several students completely changed their story and many changed their lenses as they began to work out their thinking in their writing. One student remarked, “I have to go back to my text because now that I’m writing I realize none of evidence I collected really works.”

This type of learning takes courage—for me and for my students.

I’m not a parent, but I imagine the feeling of not wanting to see your own child fail is similar to the feeling I have about my students. It was hard not to jump in and tell them that I thought they were going to have a hard time with a particular story, or lens, or the evidence gathered. It was a bit scary having students write in such a formal manner about stories that I had not read.

It took courage for the students to work as hard as they did on 2015-11-18 13.40.32independent reading and writing. They were brave in the way they rehearsed their thinking and changed their ideas about the literature and their writing as they went through the process. There were no right or wrong answers to make them feel safe.

So as I sit here grading the 152 literary analysis papers that I could have done a better job writing, I am beaming with pride. I have that “mama pride.” I see their authentic work, their own thinking and voice coming alive on the paper, their depth of understanding that went so much further than when asked to simply plug and play. Not to mention, I was not bored by reading the exact same thing over and over in slightly different words.

Most 2015-12-01 16.20.30importantly, though, my students are proud. Many have said they are turning in their best paper they’ve ever written. Some commented on how they finally figured out how to write about literature. One student, who I’m often lucky if I ever get his work by the due date, turned in his paper on time proudly, saying he even skipped playing basketball to work on his writing.

There is power in giving students choice and ownership. There is power in allowing students the freedom to make mistakes. There is power in students finding their voice through independent writing.

Bonus Read: If you are like me and could not attend NCTE this year (or even if you did and you want to relive it), there are lots of blogs worth checking out. Sarah Zerwin’s daily NCTE blog with an additional top takeaway post is a great place to start. Thank you, Elizabeth, for introducing me to this blog on your Links I Loved Last Week.  Also, check out her Top Ten List about NCTE15. To Make a Prairie gives thanks to NCTE with a beautiful post of inspiration and challenges.

I survived writing boot camp!

2015-11-16 09.48.58This week all my students are participating in writing boot camp during class. What makes writing boot camp different than just a week of writing instruction? It’s very focused. It’s intense. It’s about the mindset.

Doing a little internet research, I found several keys to running a successful fitness boot camp. I think these apply to an academic writing boot camp as well.

  1. Research: Spend time finding out what skills students need additional focus and which ones they already know how to do.
  2. Start with good management: Figure out how to divide the skills across the week, how much time to spend on the skills, and what resources are needed.
  3. Craft the boot camp so it offers something new or different: This week 2015-11-16 10.47.31has to feel different from the other weeks in class; it has to be special. It may be that students are allowed to bring in snacks/drinks or spread out on the floor. It may be that all instruction is focused on this type of writing. It may be that music will be playing while they write.
  4. Focus on quality class structure: Students have to buy in to the boot camp. The first day is the most important. They have to feel like they really accomplish something and are encouraged to do the hard work in the days to come.
  5. Invest in marketing: Build it up in the weeks prior to the boot camp. They should know a challenge is coming but feel excited to meet the challenge.
  6. Invest in resources: Make sure there are mentor texts, access to writing materials, and other handouts for quick teaching of a skill.
  7. Start small: Students have to feel that they have accomplished something (as do you!), so start with something small on the first day that they can use to build on the rest of the week.
  8. Time class properly: Boot camp has to be structured. Time every part of it so that the pace is consistent. Use phrases like, “You have 10 minutes! Ready! Set! Go!” It should feel like a mental workout!
  9. Create a feeling of camaraderie: This is a group experience. The teacher should be walking around reading, encouraging, guiding, gently correctly. The class should celebrate each others work and 2015-11-16 10.02.12improvements.
  10. Structure class like group personal training: Make class adjustments for each class period: change length of times, resources, or focus skills as necessary. Give as much personal and small group attention as possible. Reflect not only on each day but each period.
  11. Reward: Make a big deal about completing boot camp and the accomplishments/growth made during the week.

This is a general overview of our writing boot camp.

We have 50-minute class periods (except Wednesday which is 45 minutes).

Previous to Boot Camp (see more about this in last week’s post):

  • Read three short stories (of your choice, must be approved) and write journal entries on each.
  • Choose one short story and complete close reading lens analysis with six lenses.
  • Establish a theme statement for the short story.
  • Write a 100-words on author bio, context, and summary of short story.
*The minutes indicate quiet student work time and do not include the instruction time in between.

2015-11-18 13.00.27Monday
1. Collect and review all previous work, data, evidence. (2 minutes)
2. Write a flash draft (or quick write) about theme in the short story. (5 minutes)
3. Revise or reword theme statements, as needed. (5 minutes)
4. Deciding on best lenses to prove development of theme (all analysis is a form of argument). Choose three out of the 6. (5 minutes)
5. Write a thesis statement; focus on active verb. (7 minutes)
6. Gather information for context in the introduction. (5 minutes)
7. Write a working introduction (subject to change). (10 minutes)

Tuesday
1. Finish introduction– make it tight. (3 minutes)
2. Focus on one lens and gather appropriate evidence. (10 minutes)
3. To use a quote or not to quote? Summary, paraphrase, and quotations (mid-workshop teaching point)
4. Flash draft for first lens. (5 minutes, 1 minute break, 6 minutes, 1 minute break)
5. Writing partner review. (10 minutes)
6. Brag about something your partner did.

Wednesday
1. Look at mentor text for writer’s craft moves for literary analysis. Chart.2015-11-18 13.02.24
2. Discuss possible structure of body paragraphs (write about each lens separately or blending lenses).
3. Work on body paragraphs (7 minutes, 1 minute break, 10 minutes, 1 minute break, 12 minutes)
4. Share out best sentence.

Thursday
1. Discuss strategies for conclusions.
2. Continue writing paper—work on whatever is needed. (10 minutes, 1 minute break)
3. Work with a writing partner to discuss writing and trouble shoot problem areas. (10 minutes)
4. Continue writing. (15 minutes)
5. Make a goal list for final boot camp day.

2015-11-18 13.40.32Friday
1. Discuss revision and proofreading strategies.
2. Write independently. (10 minutes)
3. Work with peers and conference on final touches. (30 minutes)
4. Reflect on boot camp and name the one thing you are most proud of from this week.

 

What my students said:

Overall, students appreciated the experience, even if they didn’t all love it. Some really struggled with the timed parts. Next time, I will be clearer of how they can use their time and that they can finish later what they don’t finish in that timed session. However, I will not change using timed writing sessions. Our students have to practice timed writing and many of students will take AP the following year. It’s good practice for them, and I believe it kept my students more focused and productive.

Another concern several students raised was that they felt unsure about what they were supposed to be writing. I think this came from not being given a formula to follow. I will not give a formula, but I may do more small group sessions during some of the time writing stages or offer small groups before or after school for more direction, in the future.

As for the positives, I’ll let you hear their voices:

  • I loved that it pushed me to do more in my writing than I ever thought I could.
  • I liked the examples and text given to us in order to aid in our writing.
  • I liked how it pushed me to think faster and write more thoroughly.
  • I’m learning to fix mistakes that I habitually make in my writing.2015-11-16 10.48.04
  • I liked having the option of asking any question right when I had the problem in my writing.
  • I am most proud that I have been about to identify errors in my own paper and identify good things in my own paper.
  • I liked that we had the opportunity to revise our papers as we were writing them.
  • I have learned to weave lenses into my writing the correct and efficient way.
  • The fact that I was able to write for a long time made me happy.
  • I liked the freedom of choice.
  • Writing boot camp has helped me know how to analyze a piece of text.
  • Writing boot camp helped me realize that I could do a lot better.
  • Writing boot camp has helped me understand my strengths and weaknesses in writing. It has also helped me learn to pull information from text.
  • I think writing boot camp was great! At first, I thought it would be just terrible, but it turned out to be really fun and challenging in a good way. I love that we had a chance to really analyze a story.

I think this idea is a keeper. Now just to get some “I survived writing boot camp” t-shirts…

Bonus Read: I really liked Katy’s post (Not) Going Fishing on the Turn and Talk Blog.  One, I am just a Katy fan, and I really liked her voice in this blog.  But most importantly, this post challenged me to think about how and when and why I question in the class.  One thing I learned through this writing boot camp process was how much time I actually do have in the classroom.  Now that we are finished with boot camp, I want to make sure I keep maximizing my time.  Becoming effective with questioning is a way to do that.  Effective questioning is purposeful.  Thanks Katy for the fun metaphorical reminder!

Literary analysis through close reading of picture books and short films

A month or so ago, I was fortunate enough to hear Lester Laminack at the Georgia Association for Curriculum and Instruction Supervisors Fall Conference. He is brilliant and I could write about all I learned from him for many blogs. At the heart of Lester’s presentation and his new book, Writers ARE Readers, was the message that every reading lesson can be flipped into a writing opportunity. Brilliant, right? But also, so common sense…when he says it! 🙂

A few week ago, I attended our system ELA Vertical Team meeting, where the amazing Cheryl Daniels, our system’s 6-12 ELA Instructional Coach, presented on how to use picture books in centers for theme work. It was beautiful. The picture books were powerful and had layers of meaning. The task cards gave students enough scaffolding to help them do the work in groups, but also enough depth to encourage rigor in student thinking. Cheryl graciously agreed to let me share a sample of what a station task card might look like. You can see that here.

2015-11-09 12.01.22As my colleagues and I sat down to plan our literary analysis unit, these professional development opportunities were at the forefront of my mind. I knew I wanted to give students tools to help them learn to do the work of literary analysis independently. But to do that I knew I couldn’t start with hard, inaccessible text. I needed to teach the ways to analyze text. I needed to give students a reason to go back to the text. I needed to give them a protocol so they could learn to do it independently. (See my last posts on how anchor charts support independence.)

So here’s what we did:

  1. We started with an argument protocol from Teacher’s College. You can read more about that here (be sure to check the links at the bottom). Our last unit’s focus was argument, so this felt like a good way to introduce the new unit. We debated whether the theme of Margaret Wild’s Fox was more about loyalty or overcoming obstacles. (I’ve also used the short film Mr. Hublot and debated whether the theme is more about sacrifice or friendship.)
  2. This led into a discussion on how there are certain lenses we can look through to discover the theme of a text, and the closer we look through the lens the more we will understand about the text.
  3. Then, I introduced the close reading protocol from Christopher Lehman and 2015-11-03 15.20.36Kate Roberts’ Falling in Love with Close Reading.
  4. We decided to look through the following lenses in our unit of study (in no particular order): setting, symbolism, characterization, diction, mood, perspective, and figurative language.
  5. I did a mini-lesson on each lens, practicing with short videos and picture books. Cheryl Daniels was incredibly helpful in helping me find texts. The ones I used plus other options are listed below and on my Pinterest board.
  6. We are still working on lenses right now, but the next steps for us will be writing a literary analysis on a short story of their choice. They will do a little research on the author and context for the story, and then choose three lenses to 2015-11-10 13.17.58analyze their story. This will be the pre-work and thinking before beginning the writing process.

What I like about this is that the students are learning ways to analyze text on their own—they have tools. Then they will be able to choose which tools are best to analyze a story of their choice. They will be building independence instead of the teacher telling them what to write about and how to format their papers. They have ownership. And that ownership will help them far beyond the time in my classroom.

Lenses and Possible Texts(for links to all books & videos and other resourc2015-11-10 13.15.18es, see Pinterest)

Thank you, Cheryl Daniels, for providing picture book titles. 

Starred titles are what I used for mini-lessons. 

Setting

  • Jane Cutler’s The Cello of Mr. O
  • Jacqueline Woodson’s The Other Side
  • *Chipotle’s The Scarecrow

Symbols

  • Patricia Polacco’s The Keeping Quilt
  • Eve Bunting’s The Terrible Things
  • Sherry Garland’s The Lotus Seed
  • *PSA: The Bystander

Point of View/Perspective

  • *Donald Hall’s I am the Dog; I am the Cat
  • Anthony Browne’s Voices in the Park
  • Cris Van Allsburg’s Two Bad Ants

Characterization

  • Kevin Henkes’ Chrysanthemum
  • Mem Fox’s Wilfred Gordon McDonald Partridge
  • Joan W. Blos’ Old Henry
  • Ellen Levine’s Henry’s Freedom Box
  • *Joseph Oxford’s Me + Her (short film)

Structure of Text

  • *Allan Ahlberg’s Previously
  • Melanie Watt’s Scaredy Squirrel
  • Christopher Myer’s Wings
  • Allen Say’s Grandfather’s Journey

Diction

  • Debra Frasier’s Miss Alanius
  • Graeme Base’s The Sign of the Seahorse
  • Julius Lester’s John Henry
  • *Christopher Myer’s Wings

Figurative Language

  • *Robert Burleigh’s Langston’s Train Ride
  • Julius Lester’s John Henry
  • Avery Wood’s Quick as a Cricket

Tone and Mood

  • Margie Palatini’s Piggie Pie
  • Judith Viorst’s Earrings
  • *Movie Trailers & Recuts – see Pinterest for examples

Bonus Read:  Friday our school received some test scores from a high-stakes, statewide test given last year.  The conversation about test scores and what they mean and don’t mean buzzed.  I was reminded of Amy’s post 7 Reasons to Stop Asking about AP Scores.  I loved what she said in this post about student learning and test scores.  This is a must read and reminder for all educators, not just AP teachers.

I have nothing to wear (aka Why anchor charts matter)

2015-11-03 15.20.36It was Sunday night. I was getting everything ready to start a new week at school—packing lunch, gathering papers, and finding an outfit. Laundry was done, and all my clothes were hanging in my closet. There were a lot of clothes, but I still stared at my closet thinking I need to go shopping because I have nothing to wear.

I finally decided to take out each pair of pants and each skirt, one at a time, and match it with a top. Turns out, I had plenty to wear. I just needed a system, a way to look at what I had, to find what I needed.

It made me think of my students. They learn a lot of skills and have lots of tools to access those skills. Sometimes this comes in a piece here and a piece there; sometimes we give several tools for the same skill. And then we, as teachers, ask them to use these tools and skills throughout the year again and again—using the tools or developing the skills with different text or different writing assignments (building different outfits each time).

I think students can often feel like I did standing in front of my closet. Overwhelmed. Having no clue where to look or what to look for. It’s not that they 2015-11-03 15.20.31don’t have lots of tools or lots of practice with the skills. It wasn’t that I didn’t have lots of clothes. They just need a system, a way to see what they have and access the tools when needed.

For me, this is the purpose of the anchor chart. It helps my students access the tools they need to do what they need to do.

I didn’t always use anchor charts. It wasn’t that I didn’t like the idea of anchor charts. I just thought they took too much time (It was easier to use PowerPoint); I thought they were too difficult to display (that chart paper never sticks to my painted brick wall); I thought I didn’t have room (I have to display all my pretty, colorful posters and sayings); I thought it was a little too elementary (I teach those very grown up 10th graders).

This year I’ve used them, but most importantly my students have used them. I see students pointing to the anchor chart that helps them when they are working in groups, or I hear students referring to it during discussion. I can direct them to anchor cha2015-11-04 15.42.20rts, and then they can do it themselves. It builds agency in the students.

All the reason I didn’t use them seem silly. Why wouldn’t I give my students a way to access the tools to use the skills I spend so much time helping them learn? Why wouldn’t I help them figure out that they have outfits they can wear, instead of leaving them overwhelmed thinking they have nothing to wear?

Someone once told me that my walls should be useful for my students or its wasted space. I think my walls are finally starting to talk the right talk.

I challenge you to try it, if you don’t already. Just do one or two and see how it works out. Maybe your students will be like mine and realize just how many tools they have at their disposal.

PS– These pictures of anchor charts are from my current literary analysis unit.  My next post will be on this unit, but the lens idea and structure is from Christopher Lehman and Kate RobertsFalling in Love with Close Reading.  A must have in your professional library!

Bonus Read:  Two Writing Teachers are doing this amazing blog series on Diving into Informational Writing.  Each post is incredibly helpful, and they provide lots of information, helps, and resources.  Two of my favorite from the series are Using Qualities of Informational Writing to Guide Students to Set Goals and Allowing Student Choice Within Informational Writing.

Rising above the rubric expectations

2015-09-28 12.09.14I believe in giving students mentor text. I believe in modeling skills. I believe in setting goals and using progression charts. I sometimes do not believe in the effectiveness of rubrics.

Don’t get me wrong—there is a time and place for rubrics. I use them for some assignments. But I’ve also seen where rubrics have crippled creativity and making in a classroom.

Unless the rubric is crafted well, it can often be read as the least you need to do to get a certain grade. I don’t want my students thinking in those terms. So for some assignments, I set out my expectations in a different way. In a way that allows students to know what they need to do without putting them (and myself) in the “least you have to do” box.

For example, recently we studied logos, pathos, and ethos, and their use in argument. I wanted to know if students understood logos, pathos, and ethos, and I wanted to know if they could use each effectively in an argument. There were lots of ways this could have been done, but, for fun, I created a scenario about the world ending (see below), and they had to take on the persona of a superhero and argue for the honor saving the world. In their arguments, they had to effectively use pathos, logos, and ethosUnit 2, as well as some of the other elements of argument we had learned.

I could have created a rubric for this assignment, but instead I asked the students to be very convincing and surprise me in a good way. We have built a culture of high expectations in my classroom. Students know that I expect quality work. But how do you put creativity or leadership or collaboration or curiosity or self-efficacy or so many of those other skills that are hard to quantify on a rubric? How do you put going above and beyond on a rubric?

So I didn’t make a rubric. It wasn’t a major grade in the grade book. I just wanted the students to have fun and show me what they learned (the quantifiable stuff) in a way that worked for them.

When they presented their work. I was amazed. I would have never even thought to ask them to do the things they did in the ways they did it. They did surprise me in a2015-09-28 14.18.29-1 good way, because they had the freedom to do so. Here’s one example:  Superhero News Cast

I’m not saying do away with rubrics for everything, but I am saying maybe we should consider the boxes rubrics can create.

Bonus Read:
Sometimes I get frustrated just when I hear the word differentiation.  It’s not because I don’t value it, use it, or believe in it.  It’s just become one of those educational words that is overused and often not used correctly.  It was refreshing to read Pernille Ripp’s An Easy Yet Powerful Method for Differentiating Instruction. Even more than that, I felt challenged to allow my students to make differentiation choices for themselves.  And perhaps best of all, it is something that I can use immediately in my classroom.