Mentor Text Wednesdays: Let’s Rank The Things We Love

Mentor Texts: All 115 of Taylor Swift’s Songs, Ranked by Rob Sheffield

School Days and Parisian Nightsuits: Every ‘Freaks and Geeks’ Episode, Ranked by Jennifer Wood

Writing Techniques:

  • Criticism
  • Considering Appropriate Length
  • Recognizing good writing

Background:

 

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Love this minimalist Freaks and Geeks poster via Etsy

One of this week’s mentor texts was a total must read for me based upon the subject material. My Grade 12 classes study Freaks and Geeks as part of our look at Identity, Individuality and Independence. It’s a wonderful text, giving us lots to ponder, and explore, while being entertaining and engaging. There’s a reason you’ve seen it on so many lists of the shows you must watch.

 

The other was a must read for me as well, but because of the writer, not the subject material. I am a huge fan of Rob Sheffield’s writing, having devoured his memoirs and beautiful book on David Bowie in the last year or so. He’s a music fan, and writes about it so unabashedly that I will gladly read any of his writing about music. This is significant, because I am not a Taylor Swift fan. I do enjoy her songs as performed by others, and I’m listening to Ryan Adams’ wonderful full album covering of 1989, but her music doesn’t do it for me.

I’ve long been fascinated by these epic rankings of the creative works of people. Every special edition that Rolling Stone publishes featuring an artist I love has one of these features. I read the lists fanatically, in my head reordering my own personal list. I’ve never actually taken the time to put pen to paper, but I’ve solidified a few Top 10 lists while killing time.

We live in a pop culture saturated world, as well as a world which is constantly ascribing value to things. Top 10 lists are standard fare, and there are those among us who may still apply Casey Kasem’s American Top 40 to our appreciation of music. If you’re a fan of anything, you are expected to be able to name the favorites – songs, albums, episodes, seasons, games, levels, novels, scenes, comics, artists, or whatever it may be. Continue reading

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Teaching From My Twitter Feed: Golf on Fire

#tweaching

Last week I started the year with my AP Seminar students talking about perspectives: our own, those of others, and the ones forgotten or ignored in texts.  Much of the success of their research will be dependent on their ability to see issues from multiple perspectives. Imagine my excitement then, when this popped up in my Twitter feed:

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This has been happening to me more and more in the past few years, and I’ve found myself pulling materials on the fly from Twitter to use in class.  I even wrote about it here and here last year! This year, my teaching buddy (and fellow Moving Writers blogger) Mike and I are going to do a bi-weekly column called Teaching From My Twitter Feed. We think it will be a good way to keep pushing ourselves to add relevant, current material to our class and help our students see the potential for learning in their own Twitter feeds. Hopefully you’ll follow along as we experiment and share your own #tweaching with us as well! (Use the hashtag if you do. We’d love to see what you do!)

 

Now, back to that picture. There is so much to unpack both in the image and the caption. I threw the image up on the projector at the beginning of class and said, “What do you think?”  The questions started immediately:

  • Is that real?
  • What’s wrong with those people?
  • Where is that?

 

Since we were talking about perspectives, I nudged them in that direction a little first. We talked about the perspective of the photographer and the intention of the picture. We talked about the perspective of the golfers. Are they really uncaring monsters who carelessly golf the day away while the wildfires burn? Is there a perspective missing? What would happen if the shot were widened?

 

Then we talked about research. What did this picture make them want to know more about? Not a single student in my class knew that there are wildfires blazing in the west. They were all shocked because the only weather events anyone is talking about right now are the hurricanes.

 

Finally we talked about the caption: “In the pantheon of visual metaphors for today, this is the money shot.” Vocabulary alone, this was a winner. Few of my kids knew the meaning of “pantheon” so we googled it. I had to do some explaining because the dictionary definition was not particularly helpful, so it allowed for a quick convo about sophisticated diction. After that, the class was pretty split on “money shot”; some were giggling because they knew the vulgar definition and others simply knew it meant something vaguely like “most important.”  As delicately as possible, we talked about what he meant and his implicit meaning. Was the term “money shot” effective or just crass? Who was he criticizing? Who did the golfers represent? What did the fires represent?

 

All of this great discussion only took about 15 minutes of class but it showed my students how the things they scroll past can help them think more deeply and critically about the world around them. Could I save this picture and use it next year? Maybe. The discussion about perspectives would probably be largely the same, but it wouldn’t be as relevant or fresh for the students, and I’d miss an opportunity to help them see that there are interesting things all around them to think a little harder about–they just have to stop scrolling for a few minutes.  

 

The next day a kid came into class and told me that he’d read more about the wildfires online and that it “sounds crazy!”  That was all the confirmation I needed that teaching from my Twitter feed (#tweaching! We’re going to make this a thing!) is a good use of my class time. Sometimes I find something small like this that becomes fodder for notebooks or short discussion; sometimes it’s bigger and transforms a whole lesson. Either way, I think it’s one of the best avenues for keeping my class relevant with my students.

–Hattie

Do you find yourself #tweaching somedays? Connect with us on Twitter @TeacherHattie or @ZigThinks. We’d love to know what you’re up to!

Punctuation Study: A 5-Day Writing Study to Set the Tone for the Year

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This year, I am teaching two new grades in a new classroom in a new school with new colleagues and a new schedule. And with all that comes the delightful insecurity that comes with every new school year to some degree — the feeling that I’ve never taught anyone anything before, the fear that I won’t know what to say, the general conviction that I have no idea what I’m doing.

And sometimes that isn’t a bad thing.

Teacher insecurity can breed productive reflection and experimentation and letting go. Often, not knowing what’s going to happen next leads us to something new.

This month, after a few weeks of getting-to-know-you-and-getting-to-know-mentor-texts, not knowing what was going to happen next lead me to a new writing study that I’ve long wanted to try but never before attempted: a whole study just about punctuation.

Here’s what I taught, what students did, how I assessed it, what students thought, and why this worked so well:

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Required Reading: On Mandated Texts

If you’re a regular visitor to Moving Writers, you’ve seen the Behind The Scenes series of posts throughout September related to organizing the year. Earlier, throughout August, the Ask Moving Writers series had this team sharing answers to readers’ questions.  I have an obvious bias, but what a wonderful thing to have a community of teachers sharing their experience and insight.

In the spirit of this, I’d like to address a question that came up as we prepped for the Behind The Scenes series. Britt Decker asked about mandated novels within the workshop model. Although I don’t necessarily work in the workshop model, the idea of working with mandated novels got me thinking.

 

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via the TEDEd blog

I’m lucky enough to not have to deal with mandated novels. My team and I have great flexibility, and have novels that are loosely attached to a grade, but little that is set in stone. We communicate to make sure we’re not stepping on each other’s toes, and make an effort to complement what each other are doing with the texts that each of us chooses.

 

I’ve been open about my affinity for the whole class novel. I think a community of learners, exploring a text, creating some common experiences and knowledge is a powerful thing in a classroom. The whole class novel has been tarnished by the image of repetitive, mindless busywork. The mandated text compounds this distaste for us, because it feels like our freedom is impacted. We have to teach a book we didn’t choose, and we think of how we likely did a whole class novel as students, that mindless busywork hamster wheel we felt trapped on. Continue reading

Organizing Instruction for Effective Feedback: Strategies for Teachers and Students

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As any writing teacher knows, one of the hardest things about teaching writing is getting meaningful feedback to students. And in a writing workshop model where students are constantly writing, the task can be even more daunting.

But as Kelly Gallagher has reminded us, our kids need to write much more than we can grade. If they only write as much as we can grade, then they simply can’t write at the volume they need to in order to improve as writers. How can we organize our writing workshops, especially at the beginning of the school year, to provide more meaningful feedback for the months ahead?  As I thought about this question, I realized that this was ultimately a question about conferring, since talking about our own writing is the most effective way to get feedback. We learn best in the context of our own writing and our learning can be enhanced through meaningful talk. Continue reading

Mentor Text Wednesday: Studying Structure & Genre Mixing with Nicola Yoon

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Photo via The Guardian

Today’s Mentor Text Wednesday post comes from Amy Estersohn, a middle school English teacher in New York.  She blogs over at teachingtransition.wordpress.com and tweets @HMX_MSE.

Mentor Text: “We don’t make princesses in those colours” by Nicola Yoon in The Guardian

Writing Techniques:

  • Structure

  • Craft

  • Genre mixing

Background:

The Guardian is one of my favorite online magazines for its English take on the world and, of all things, for its sports analysis pieces.  Nicola Yoon is a well-known author in my classroom, and I enjoy collecting stories of race-based microaggressions, like the story here, to share with students for reflection.

I haven’t used this one in a classroom yet, but if I do tie it into a unit on fairness, I want to make sure I let the piece breathe before I dive into a mini lesson.

How We Might Use This Text:

Structure – Nicola Yoon sets her piece by establishing her character as a protective mother first.  It’s an unusual choice, as most writers might want to start off by describing the birthday party or even with the announcement that she’s the first black female to hit #1 on the New York Times Young Adult list.  Why does she make that choice?  Why does the “story” only start halfway through the piece?  What would your piece look like if you established and described the characters first?

Craft – I used Yoon’s last sentence and did some sentence mimicking in my own notebook:

Here’s another thing I know: It’s 2017 and teens shouldn’t cyberbully each other.  It’s time everybody knew that.  It’s past time.

Here’s another thing I know: It’s 2017 and racism is wrong.  It’s time everybody knew that.  It’s past time.

Here’s another thing I know: It’s 2017 and global warming is a major issue.  It’s time everybody knew that.  It’s past time.

Here’s another thing I know: It’s 2017 and there are no such things as girl books or guy books.  It’s time everybody knew that.  It’s past time.

By using Yoon’s words I was able to think about the how she uses repetition to make her voice stronger, and her tone balances between a gently admonishing “c’mon you guys” and an outraged “I can’t believe this still happens.”  The “it’s 2017” gives the call to action a sense of urgency because we’re all writing in the here and now.

Genre mixing – Is this piece memoir?  A call to action?  Both?  Neither?  I’d say it uses the techniques of a memoir to serve as a persuasive piece to agitate and inform a mostly white readership about the realities of living as a Person of Color. Another writer might say it’s a memoir with flecks of a call for justice, because there’s a focus on Yoon’s personal growth.  Whatever we decide to call it or not call it, it’s a good example of how pieces in the real world don’t always neatly conform to elements of a single genre.

Organizing to Communicate: Open the Door of Your Writing Workshop to School Families

I’ve just moved to a new city, and with a move comes lots of conversations with strangers, small talk with new people who I hope against hope might become new friends. Inevitably, that small talk turns to work, and when I tell those potential new friends that I teach high school, inevitably someone in the new crowd shudders a bit and says, “Teenagers? I could never do that.” The shuddering stranger doesn’t get to see or hear what many of us witness every day–kind, compassionate hearts; eager, hungry minds; goofy, geeky abandon; dogged, unflappable determination–no, the shuddering stranger doesn’t know that the people I’m most anxious to face are actually…teenagers’ parents.

Sound familiar?

I’ve spent each of my ten years of teaching wondering why, when most of the interactions I’ve had with parents have been incredibly positive and encouraging, I’m still sometimes reluctant to reach out or make contact. I revert back to my timid, first-year teacher self. My best guess comes down to communities and borders: each year, my students and I build a community–we all know the rules, expectations, and customs, so we’re comfortable with each other–but then those students go home to family communities with their own sets of rules and expectations, customs I must learn when I venture into those communities.

What’s unfamiliar can be scary; I’m a daughter and a sister, but I’ve never been a parent, so I always feel a little out of my depth in these conversations. Perhaps some parents feel a little apprehensive because they’ve been students but not teachers. No matter what’s provoking our nervousness, it’s clear that diplomatic communication can strengthen community partnerships, creating more places for our writers to thrive. Writing workshop needs some neighborhood buy-in to succeed.

Now that you’ve followed advice from the previous posts to create a wonderful writing workshop, it’s time to organize so you can share what’s great about that writing workshop with parents and families.

Let’s start by planning backward and anticipating the questions parents and guardians might ask. Here are some frequently asked writing workshop questions from parents and strategies for answering them.

  • Writing workshop? What’s that?
  • What are the benefits of writing workshop? Where’s the rigor?
  • How will my student be assessed? 
  • How can I help? 

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How to Make Blogging a Core Practice in Your Writing Workshop

A few months after Rebekah and I started Moving Writers in 2015, I knew blogging was something I needed to bring into my classroom. I was undoubtedly behind the curve — lots of teachers I knew were already blogging with students, and every year at NCTE, I circled multiple blogging sessions in my program but never attended them. 2015 was going to be the year.

But I struggled. Only two years into using the writing workshop approach, I was still trying to find my rhythm — the perfect balance of depth and breadth. Writing studies took a long time, and I was trying to fit 6-8 studies in over the course of the year. In addition to these studies, how would I be able to successfully integrate blogging into the classroom? How could I make it MORE than a single writing study without sucking all our writing energy and precious time? Could I make it a core practice in our workshop — one that could magically run itself?

It took me a few tries, but last year I feel like I finally got into a groove with my eighth graders. Here are some considerations for making blogging a core practice in your workshop: Continue reading

Organizing Instructional Time

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food organization

I don’t know about you, but I feel much better now that the slice-able carrots are in the same bin as the plastic bok choy.

Organization. When we first kicked around the idea of organization being a common thread for our first series of the school year, I had to take a few deep breaths to keep from panicking. As I racked my brain for something I could write about, I was coming up empty. Well, unless you count Organization or Procrastination: You Decide as a worthy topic, in which case I could write all day. Take for instance the deadline for this blog entry. Before finally sitting down to hammer it out, I didn’t just tidy up my kids’ toys, I organized their pretend kitchen by food group.

 

Aside from this particular habit, anyone who has seen the mountains of file folders on my desk could probably attest that organization is not exactly my area of expertise. In nearly every case of organization I could think of as a possible topic, I found more questions than answers. How we organize our instructional time is no exception, but it is one that I’ve been especially invested in lately.

How we organize our instructional time is a big question in itself, or rather, it is comprised of several smaller questions:

  • How do we strike a balance between reading and writing?
  • What about the speaking and listening standards? Where do those fit?
  • How much time do we devote to reading shared vs. choice texts?
  • What role does independent reading have within the class structure?
  • How do we gradually release responsibility so that students can confidently take on the lessons independently?

These questions have been churning around in our department over the past few years, but this year, they’re mixed in with another big one:

How does lesson planning change between a standard period and a block?

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Mentor Text Wednesday: The Poetry of Small Moments

Mentor Text: The Taco Boat by Al Ortolani

Writing Techniques:

  • Idea Generation
  • Memoir
  • Poetic Form
  • Voice

Background:

In  Twitter edchats, I’ve been part of discussions about what should be part of a teacher’s Twitter feed. One of my go-to recommendations is always poetry. Following poets, literary magazines and other sites that focus on poetry. The wealth of poetry this puts into your feed is good for your soul as a human, and a vital resource as an English teacher. My screens feed me poetry daily.

I’m a huge fan of poetry as a mentor text, as the texts I’ve shared on Mentor Text Wednesday would attest. Often, it is my Twitter feed that puts these poems in front of me, such as this week’s poem. Al Ortolani’s The Taco Boat was one of those poems that you read and instantly know has a place in your classroom.

Whaaaaat

The poem, as retweeted by Rattle magaizine, in which it appears

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