Recommended Reading: Intention

One of the greatest things about being active online as a teacher is that you get to interact with, and learn from, a lot of different people. I would never go as far to tell anyone that they absolutely have to be on Twitter to be a good teacher, but I can comfortably say that it’s a good way to engage and learn.

A pair of my favorite Twitter follows, Amy Burvall and Dan Ryder regularly drop bombs of goodness into my feed, and have had positive impacts in my classroom for the last few years. Dan gave me one of my favorite student response formats, and Amy has inspired so many creative activities in our work.

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My copy of Intention, proudly on my desk

 

Naturally, when I found out they had written a book together, it became a must buy. Intention: Critical Creativity in the Classroom has taken a place of honour on my professional bookshelf.

 

The core idea of the book is that we work to focus on the intent behind the things that we do in our classrooms. It is not necessarily the what we do that matters, the products, but rather the why we do it, the intention. This focus allows us to explore things more deeply, and allows us to let students create new things, hopefully breaking the cycle of reading and writing in response.

This book was like reading something that my heart wrote without me knowing it. Continue reading

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“Word by Word”: Thinking About Close Reading, Revision, and NCTE

The title of Anne Lamott’s book on writing, Bird by Bird, comes from a family story that a favorite colleague of mine also liked to tell when she was helping students get started with their writing. As Lamott tells it, when her father saw her brother overwhelmed by the task of a report on birds that was due the next day, he sat down next to his son and told him to take the work “bird by bird.” Similarly, Lamott suggests that writers use short assignments (think about a paragraph rather than a chapter, a description rather than a character’s whole story) to overcome writer’s block or dispel writing fears.

This fall, I’ve been thinking a lot about taking writing and life bird by bird. As I’ve mentioned in some previous posts, I made a big move in August, and life in a new city and a new school often forces me to live and work from moment to moment. I can’t do the kind of long-term planning I used to because I’m living a new routine for the first time. And in the classroom, I’ve recognized that my savvy students are very good at seeing the big picture–the “flock,” if you will–but they need more practice with recognizing and appreciating the finer points of a writer’s style, so I’ve started to implement some strategies that help my students read and write “bird by bird,” or, more accurately, “word by word.” Serendipitously (I mean it! This synergy wasn’t planned–such is the “bird by bird” life!), these strategies will also be on my mind and my presenter’s podium at NCTE later this week!

Words in Action: Learning with the Body

When I attended the Folger Library’s Teaching Shakespeare Institute in 2014, one of the most surprising and exciting lessons I learned was how I could engage my body to learn language. I am not an athlete, nor am I very coordinated, so my feelings about my body were a lot like those that Shonda Rimes describes in her encouraging memoir The Year of Yes (if you need a boost, I highly recommend it!): my body was “just the container I carry my brain around in.” But then Caleen Jennings–a professor, playwright, and actress from American University and one of the best teachers I’ve seen in action–challenged our cohort to learn a monologue. She gave us strict instructions to learn the first five lines by creating a different, deliberate action for every word in every line–even the articles!

At first, I felt like a goofball, walking the campus at American University, my home during the institute, and reciting my lines while flailing about, but soon I could put my script away and recite my monologue easily as my limbs moved slowly and carefully through each action! As Caleen had promised it would, my body knew the words; they had been sculpted into muscle memory. And physicalizing the words made them realer to me. I could physically feel the difference between Juliet’s “joy” in Romeo and her fear about his “rash” and “sudden” vows of love at her balcony.

With memories of that miraculous memorization in mind, I’ve incorporated similar strategies into my Shakespeare lessons. This week, I started a study of Hamlet’s act four soliloquy by handing out some of the “juiciest” words and phrases from the speech to my class. First, students spent a minute or two walking around the room saying their words with different tones and pitches. Then, I asked students to create an action to represent their words. They could also take a moment to look up their words in the dictionary for clarification. Finally, we stood in a circle and spoke our words while performing our actions. After we had shared around the circle twice, I asked students to reflect on how it felt to say their words out loud and how this collection of words shaped their understanding of the context of Hamlet’s speech and their perceptions of his character. As we read the whole speech together, I saw students sit up a little straighter or repeat their actions when their words and phrases were spoken. The words anchored them to the text.

In retrospect, I wish I’d done this activity earlier, because my students had just handed in a writing assignment that also asked them to approach the play “word by word.” In that assignment, students wrote a defense of a particular performance of Hamlet or a “mash-up” soliloquy script of their creation by grounding that defense in specific evidence from the text. It’s easy to get swept up in the plot of Hamlet, so I wanted students to dig deeper and think about how particular words (rather than melodrama) shape an actor’s performance. I’ve been delighted by a number of their essays so far, but I think earlier physicalization could have made thinking “word by word” even more natural for them.

In the future, I’d like to incorporate more word physicalization in my senior class and freshman writing workshop. Here’s what I’m thinking about trying:

  • Repeating this “words in action” activity with words and phrases from poems before reading the whole poem
  • Asking students to physicalize a word they’re currently using and an alternative word or phrase; when they compare the two actions, which is more robust, more exciting, more engaging? Use that word.
  • Asking students to assign an action to each vocabulary word–I’ve tried this before, and it has worked really well for some students! Perhaps I could pair this with Hattie’s fun word nerd work!

Want to see this lesson in action? If you are headed to NCTE this week, come to the session I’m presenting with Jacqueline Smilack and Corinne Viglietta on Friday, November 17, at 3:30: “Students Close-read Hamlet by Putting It on Its Feet.”

Words in Transition: Revising with the Stars

While my seniors close-read Hamlet, my freshmen in Reading Writing Workshop are shifting toward nonfiction and continuing to close read their own writing. They are a very talented and imaginative group of writers, so my challenge will be teaching them new ways to revise their work (my seniors could use practice with revision, too). I would like them to recognize how a word or phrase can reshape a draft.

Since my freshmen are learning new writing moves from mentor texts, I thought I would try to gather some mentor texts with revision moves. A quick Google search can yield a wealth of resources, like this draft from Gary Soto (his “Oranges” was a favorite during our poetry unit), or this list from LitHub, or a teacher Twitter favorite from August, The New York Times Book Review special feature on “Poetry in Action.” (Another great resource I can’t wait to check out? The NY Times headline-charting Twitter feed Michael mentioned in his recent “Teaching from My Twitter Feed” post.)

The Soto draft, like the “Aha! Moment” column from Poets & Writers Magazine shows on paper how a writer’s work interacts with the reader.

screen-shot-2017-11-14-at-6-18-52-am-e1510658653320.pngSoto’s draft includes edits made by a good friend who is one of his favorite first readers. The draft offers an opportunity to talk about the difference between a “chum” and a “comrade,” or “remarkable strength” versus “overwhelming duty.” Also, how can adding one ingredient like turkey to a “dry sandwich,” suddenly render a more vivid scene?

Putting a draft up against a final copy shows students that revision is more about word work than fixing spelling or punctuation. (At NCTE, I’ll show you how you can compare Shakespeare “drafts,” too!) Once students study these revision mentor texts, we can try mimicking some of their moves:

  • Change or swap a word
  • Cut or move a phrase
  • Remove a paragraph from an essay or a stanza from a poem
  • Rearrange stanzas
  • Cut more small words
  • Delete a favorite line (ahhh!)
  • Expand analysis/condense evaluation

If you’re interested in learning more about “Revising with the Stars” and are going to NCTE, don’t leave St. Louis without attending “Bust a (Writing) Move,” the session led by the Moving Writers team on Sunday, November 19, at 12:45.

How do you encourage students to read and write “word by word”? How do you remember to take life “bird by bird” amidst the zaniness of second quarters and holidays? I’d love to hear your ideas and examples in the comments below or on Twitter @MsJochman. Hope to see you at NCTE!

 

Archives of 11/12 #movingwriters Chat

It’s #NCTE week, and the #movingwriters team couldn’t be more excited!

Because we pretty much can’t take our mind off of #NCTE, we had a little pre-NCTE celebratory chat last night exploring some of the themes we’ll be uncovering in our presentation on Sunday at 12:45!

Here are the questions we considered:

Screen Shot 2017-11-13 at 1.45.42 PM

Missed the chat? Want to review and take notes? Click here to view the full transcript!

See you at NCTE!

Love,

#movingwriters

 

Extreme Classroom Makeover: Student Writing Portfolios

I have been using writing portfolios to assess my students’ writing in December and June for as long as I’ve been teaching. Portfolios are wonderful for so many reasons: they invite students to compile a body of work, encourage revision, show growth over time, and so forth. But sometimes they feel a little stale, a little boring, a little manilla-foldery.

Even when I switched from printed portfolios stacked in folders to Google Drive portfolios complete with hyperlinks and images, they left something to be desired. Many of them were thrown-together, lackluster, blah.

Over the past two years I’ve been searching for ways to make students’ writing portfolios more exciting, authentic and meaningful. As usual, when I confront a problem in my writing classroom, I ask myself, “What do real writers do? What do portfolios in the wild look like?” Well… real writers don’t have portfolios. Not really, anyway. In my research, the closest thing I’ve found to portfolios are author websites and author readings, and each of these “formative assessments” contains several components that can be adapted for writing portfolios. Continue reading

Truman Capote’s “A Christmas Memory” as Mentor Text

We’ve been excitedly sitting on today’s guest post for nearly a year! We are so happy to finally share this lesson with you — perfect for the late fall and early winter as you scramble to engage your students in meaningful work before Winter Break!

 Adrian Nester is an AP English teacher and journalism adviser at Tunstall High School in Dry Fork, Virginia. After 16 years of teaching, she is thankful to have met her AP Lit Help teaching community when entering into her mid-career crisis years.  She is the mother of two, wife of one, and teacher of many.

 

screen-shot-2017-01-08-at-2-31-48-pmEach year at the end of the first semester, I reward my juniors with a day of reading Truman Capote’s “A Christmas Memory” and a slice of sub-par store bought fruit cake. That was it. Although my intentions were good,  I did a disservice to Capote, my students, and definitely the fruit cake.

This year with four days left before the scheduled exam review, I decided to take a different approach with “A Christmas Memory” and use it as a mentor text for crafting personal narratives.  

I became familiar with using mentor texts this summer after reading Allison and Rebekah’s Writing with Mentors and used the concept with some nonfiction pieces, but would it work with fiction?  Fiction is so unique to each individual writer, could it work as a mentor text? Would it be so impactful that it would help them borrow the writer’s moves and become more like “real writers” as with Karla Hilliard’s post on The House on Mango Street.

The plan for reading and writing

Day One: Continue reading

Moving Writers at #NCTE17

It’s hard (and exhilarating!) to believe that one week from today, many of us will be traveling to St. Louis for NCTE, a.k.a. the Best Weekend of the Year.

For the first time ever, members of the Moving Writers team (Karla, Mike, Hattie, Tricia, Stefanie, Megan, and Rebekah) are presenting TOGETHER! A grab bag of writing strategies to move writers from planning to publication!

We’d LOVE to see you while we are there!

To help you plan is a guide to where to find members of the Moving Writers family during #NCTE17.

Where to Find Moving Writersat NCTE17

 

We hope to connect with you as we learn together!

GRIT: A Reflection Protocol for Risk-Taking

GRIT ReflectionAs a Curriculum and Instruction Consultant in my district, when I’m not working with students as learners, I’m working with their teachers. Over the past few years, we’ve been digging into some really hard work. I mean really hard. We’re working on moving away from teaching novels to teaching reading, away from prescribing a formula to analyzing mentors, away from grammar workbooks to grammar in context. Like I said, it’s hard, hard work.

Throughout the process, I’ve come to realize that we as teachers aren’t all that different from our students when it comes to digging into new, hard learning. We come with diverse experiences and understanding, and we learn at different paces and in different styles. And, when something is especially difficult or unfamiliar, it terrifies us. Some brave souls embrace the fear head-on while others avoid it or deny it or deflect it. (You’ll usually recognize that approach when you hear, “but that won’t work with my kids” in the break room.) Most teachers, though, fall somewhere in the middle: willing to try it out, but with a healthy dose of skepticism.

One teacher bravely confided in me about letting go of control and allowing students to make observations in a mentor text. “Megan, I feel like I’m jumping off a cliff, here.” My initial reaction was to assure her that I, and the rest of her PLC, were there to be her parachute, but the more I thought about it, the more I realized that metaphor wouldn’t hold up.

When we’re taking risks, learning something new, making big changes, a swan dive off of a cliff is sometimes what it takes to get things moving. More often, though, what it takes is the kind of grit that gets you to the top of the cliff in the first place.

Now, grit has been an awfully buzzy word lately, and usually I do my best to avoid that kind of buzz. But, in this case, it has helped me to embrace and support risk-taking by encouraging thoughtful, honest reflection that is grounded in learning. The following is a protocol I’ve used with myself and with teachers in my district whenever it’s time to embrace risk-taking and move forward.  Continue reading

Mentor Text Wednesday: Dead Game

Mentor Text: Dead Game by Andrew Vachss

Writing Techniques:

  • Using Story to Explore an Issue
  • Foreshadowing
  • Personification
  • Focusing a Narrative

Background:

I pulled this story out in my class this week, not as a mentor text, but as a tool to help us discuss our writing variables. There is a question on my Grade 12s’ upcoming provincial assessment that asks them to explain the writing variables they’ve chosen for their writing task. They need to explain how their central idea, form, purpose, audience and context are connected. In past years, students have faced some challenges in answering this question. My hope was that in discussing this story, we could look at Vachss’ variables, and discuss what the connections are, hopefully seeing how we could do the same.

And then I remembered how much I love giving this story to students, and watching them react to it. As we discussed it, we also talked about how a piece such as this one could be a good mentor text for them as they wrote their assessment. They’re asked to write a piece that explores a central theme, and this piece could certainly allow them to do this.

vachss

Best Author Photo Ever via nndb.com

I used to read a lot of Vachss. He’s a very visceral writer, and pulls elements from his work as a lawyer in his work. It can be a tough read. He’s also an advocate for the “bully breeds” of dogs, and firmly believes that dogs are only a danger when they are trained to be. We talk about this belief as we talk about the story.

 

Though it may impact my ability to use this story to talk about the writing variables in the future, I plan to use this piece as a mentor text. Continue reading

3 Steps to Creating Word Nerds

When I started teaching AP Lang, we did a lot of vocab. I gave a monstrous list of “tone words” and students learned 20 each week. I quizzed them weekly, and then we marched on to 20 more.

It was not good.

Some kids adored it. It was concrete, and they could pad their grades. Other kids?  The subtle differences between the words (apathetic vs. aloof vs ambivalent? yeesh) blew their minds, and they tanked their grades.

I tried some different things–more direct instruction on the words,retakes–and eventually got to a place where they mastered the quizzes, but they weren’t using the words in their writing, or if they were, they were using them in hilariously awkward ways. I knew I was doing it wrong. They needed to be collecting words naturally from their reading and exploring vocabulary in context. So last year, we tossed the lists.

It was (also) not good.

The plan was to have kids find words in their reading and record them in their notebooks so they could build vocabulary more naturally.  A few kids embraced it because they were avid readers and already loved words. But most kids were just kinda ‘meh’ about it. I didn’t have a good way to hold them accountable, and they had no interest in becoming word nerds.

We (the three AP Lang teachers) were all frustrated, but we are trying one more new approach. One quarter of the school year down, and I’m happy to report: it’s good.

What did we do? 

3 Steps to Creating Word Nerds

Continue reading