Mentor Text Wednesday: Parents

Mentor TextParents by Julius Lester


  • Poetic Form

Background: Last April, my co-worker Ashley and I went to see Penny Kittle speak. As is standard, we walked away inspired, full of ideas to try, and thoughts on how we could improve the program that we offer to our students. Penny is the best kind of presenter, openly sharing a plethora of great ideas.

One idea she shared wasn’t in the package she gave us, and I’ll admit to some minor Twitter badgering to get my hands on it. She shared Parents a found poem that Julius Lester created using a New York Times article. What initially hooked me was the use of the article, rearranging it to form a poem. As she shared, the poetic form changes the emphasis on certain words and phrases, and changes the impact of the words.

My initial use of the poem was as a mentor text while my students were creating zines related to social justice issues. It was with my Grade 12 class, a group used to my giving them something like this to work with, and I didn’t do a lot of direct teaching with this piece. I gave them the sheet featuring the article, pointed out what had been done, and set them to creating a version of their own.



The visuals from the slopestyle final were inspiring as well. via The Toronto Star

A month or so later, in the second semester, I found myself using this piece again, with much greater effectiveness in my Grade 10 class. We were studying the Olympics as they happened, looking at how they highlighted elements of our course theme, Facing Adversity and Being a Hero. Pretty much whatever captivated a teacher came into the classroom. There was controversy about the women’s slopestyle event, which was held during heavy winds. The thing is, Canada medalled in that event, partly because the winds cancelled the qualifying rounds, giving Laurie Blouin more time to recover after a crash in training. We watched footage of the event, and all the crashes, and read an article about the controversy. The goal we had in mind was to use Parents as a mentor text, and turn that article, or another one, about hockey, because, well, Canada, into a poem. (Obviously, this is insanely adaptable to whatever you might be studying by giving them related articles!) I also made sure that they had copies of Swim Your Own Race, a poem we had already looked at as another example of poetic form.


With better planning, and well, better teaching on my part, it went so much better than the first use of this piece. Continue reading


Teaching From My Twitter Feed: Two different Modest Proposals

twitter feed


Twitter never ceases to amaze me for its ability to come through with exactly what I need at the right moment.  This week my students are studying Jonathan Swift’s “A Modest Proposal” and my colleagues and I wanted to pair it with some modern satire. Though Swift’s text certainly has some shock value (eating babies?! Gross!), it takes awhile to get there and we knew our students needed an on-ramp into that challenging piece of satire.


We wanted something the students would latch onto, but we were struggling to find just the right piece. Satire only works if the reader has the background knowledge to recognize the target. We sifted through a bunch of things and found something we liked well enough, but then Sunday morning, this popped into my feed:


Really?? Seemed too good to be true, but it wasn’t.  It was perfect.  AP Literature teacher Roy Smith (@english_roy) wrote my lesson plan for me without even realizing it.


    • It’s current. It sharply targets recent calls to arm teachers. Even my least aware students know about the proposal to arm teachers.
    • It’s accessible. It is short enough that my students will engage quickly. The list formatting appeals to readers with low stamina. 
    • Its structure mirrors Swift’s.  The opening reels the reader in, there’s a sharp shift to the proposal, and then the argument is laid out logically.



Here’s what I did with it.

Continue reading

What Article of the Week is Adding to My Writing Instruction

Article of the Week

Kelly Gallagher is well-known for a lot of reasons in our English teacher world.

Killer writing activities.


Clark Kent vibe.

(Allison and I once stalked him around a breakfast at NCTE. Remind me to tell you that story sometime.)

But I would argue that the thing most frequently associated with Kelly Gallagher is the Article of the Week. So much so that it has become a beloved institution. Google it and see how many versions of it live in classrooms and schools and whole districts all over the world. It’s stunning.

And yet, until six weeks ago, I had never tried it with my own students.

I’m still figuring out this middle school thing (truth: I’ll be figuring it out for awhile to come), and with the sudden realization that my students needed more nonfiction reading experiences before high school, I added the Article of the Week when we returned from winter break.

Article of the Week is a part of reading instruction, right? Students are reading an article, turning it over in their head, annotating it, and then crafting their own response. But I am a sucker for an instructional practice that does double-duty. So while my students are working on comprehension, Notice & Note signposts, and interacting with a text as a reader, I am also using Article of the Week to boost writing instruction in four ways:

Continue reading

Memoir Remix: Writing

The remix of our Memoir Study focused initially on  the reading of memoir. Writing needed a touchup too. Last April, long after we were finished the semester we taught our Grade 12s, the students who studied memoir, in, my colleague Ashley and I were driving to the city to see Penny Kittle. An hour in a car with another English teacher is always productive.

We got talking about the writing of memoir. I have traditionally had students write a wide variety of smaller pieces, responding to various prompts. The intention was always that they compile the pieces they liked best into a single memoir piece, but for some reason, I was never able to make that happen. Ashley told me about a strategy she had played with from a workshop where students wrote on note cards, writing various aspects of a memoir piece, which they then arranged to create a draft from which they’d write their memoir piece.

You know that cool thing that happens when you get two solid collaborators together, and elements of what each suggested become defining aspects of a cool new thing? It happened that day. We loved the idea of writing a lot of different things. We loved the idea of writing on note cards, giving students a manageable space in which to capture thoughts that could be expanded upon later. Memoir Cards became the new thing.

In September, when we got our new Grade 12s in our classrooms, we began. Ashley and I began sharing the prompts that we used with our students. Some prompts were the ones we already had, typical memoir writing things around names, places, memories and such things. The practice of writing only on note cards seemed to revive these prompts. In quickwrite mode, the note cards gave me what I like best – this was a writing task that looked easily manageable for a reluctant writer, and a limit of sorts to challenge, and focus, those who find writing easier. Continue reading

“Listening Is an Act of Love”

Full confession: I wanted to say something profound, to share some brilliant new teaching strategy that had emerged from my classes over the past month, but as I sit down to write on one of the first sunny days of a very gray February, I’m feeling a little tapped out of great ideas. Like Hattie, knowing that I have just two months to get my IB students ready for their spring exams is making me feel a little white rabbit-y, and I think all the newness of a new school, new students, and a new city has made me stick to familiar lessons rather than pioneer new ones. Though I haven’t invented any new lessons, in the past week, I did re-learn an important one: to borrow from the title of The Princess Diaries’ Lily Moscovitz’s cable access show, I’ve been reminded to “shut up and listen,” because–to quote another public broadcast show host, StoryCorps’ Dave Isay– “listening is an act of love.”

The lesson began when my freshmen held a Harkness-style discussion of The Catcher in the Rye. I’ve not taught the novel before, so I didn’t have many resources to draw from and I worried all month about what I should have been doing differently. Should I have asked more questions about symbols? Should I have reviewed comprehension questions after each assigned reading? Should I have shared more instructions about how to find and think about Notice and Note signposts? And should I have guided our first big discussion of the book so that I could make sure students were probing deeply and thinking critically?

The students’ mature, compassionate, and well-mannered self-guided discussion on Tuesday and Wednesday gave me my answer: “No…you should shut up and listen.” They didn’t need me to make magic happen. For two days, students talked thoughtfully about Holden, challenged each other to support ideas with evidence, and coaxed each other to speak when some classmates sat silent for too long. And as I listened to my students, I realized that they had listened to Holden Caulfield in a way I never had as a student. When I read the book during high school, I couldn’t get past Holden’s rough shell to appreciate the “catcher in the rye” inside, but my students “got” him, and they appreciated the way Salinger seemed to “hear” people their age decades ago.

As I read some revised paragraphs from the freshmen later in the week, I tried to listen again. The ninth graders’ revisions showed me that they had heard my questions about which pieces of evidence supported their ideas, and their writing told me we needed to talk some more about building momentum and ending with a “click.” As I listened, I learned that these revisions didn’t need grades yet, they just needed feedback, more questions that showed I was still listening.

Standing in the eye of a group-work hurricane during my IB classes was also a time to listen. As students worked together to put scenes from The Merchant of Venice on their feet, I sat at my desk or wandered around and listened in on conversations. The project’s assessment depended on that listening. I looked forward to final performances, certainly, but the skills I was really looking for were demonstrated during planning. As they brainstormed and rehearsed, students justified their costume choices, their sets, their props, their gestures, and their expressions with evidence from the text. To the passerby who just looked inside my room, it would appear that I had given the class a day off, but a good listener could hear how much the students knew and understood about Shakespeare’s problematic play.

And then I greeted my seniors on Wednesday, the day when we learned they had lost a classmate in an accident, I knew it was also time to listen. A day intended for more scene work was instead a time to talk together or be quiet together or find comfort in a routine…a time to listen to each other–to memories, to questions, to the little funny stories anyone tells when they’re trying to cut the silence and the sadness.

And then I came home Wednesday night to news of more students, miles away, who had lost classmates, too. And the next day, those students channeled their anger and fear and sadness and frustration and mourning and love into a powerful political voice. Emma Gonzalez, David Hogg, and their classmates in Parkland are making the world shut up and listen. Sometime, somewhere, someone else must have listened to those students, listened to the point that it empowered them and assured them someone would always listen.

And so I will keep practicing the lesson I re-learned this week, all the while hoping that listening is just the first act of love I can offer communities who are hurting. Let the next act be action, changes that protect the young voices demanding to be heard. 

What’s the best thing you heard (or overheard) this week? When have you felt listened to? How can we teach our students to show each other that they are listening? How can we help our students be heard? Please share your thoughts in the comments below or on Twitter @MsJochman. 

Beyond Literary Analysis – Free Study Guide


Whether you are interested in studying Beyond Literary Analysis on your own, with a teacher buddy, or as a department, we have written a study guide to facilitate your thinking and discussions!

You can find it FOR FREE (along with a sample chapter from the book!) on Heinemann’s website!

Permission to Play

The other night, my four year old broke my heart. “Why don’t you ever play with us?” he asked.

“What do you mean? I play with you all the time!” I responded, obviously feeling defensive from the sting of his question. My kids are the loves of my life. I try to spend as much time with them as is humanly possible for a mom who’s also a teacher.

“No,” he pushed back. “You are always makin’ dinner or doin’ somethin’ else.”

I paused and, in my head, did a quick inventory of what I’d done during the time we’d spent together recently:

  • prepare meals
  • empty and reload dishwasher
  • pick up mess
  • schlep the kids to the store to pick out a birthday present for their cousin
  • read stories

He was right. I was with them, but I was so busy with the day-to-day work of being a parent that I wasn’t doing what they really needed: spending time with them doing what they were doing.   

This struggle reminds me of one I’ve noticed in the classroom, too.

My students regularly keep track of how they spend their workshop time, but aside from conference notes and formative data, I hadn’t really been keeping track of how I’d been spending my own time, so I challenged myself to start. In a week, my inventory for how I spent my workshop time included:

  • Conferences – lots of them
  • Get kids caught up after absences
  • Pull small groups for guided instruction and re-teaching
  • Answer emails
  • Read over a mentor text I plan to use the next day
  • Pretty up an anchor chart
  • Enter notes on goals into the online gradebook

I’m sure that inventory looks familiar to you. But there’s a big, gaping hole there. My students were hard at work writing. Why wasn’t I? I see myself as a writer, but I wasn’t actually spending my time that way. Sure, I was busy. We’re teachers. OF COURSE we’re busy. But I worry that sometimes I get so wrapped up in the work of being busy that I neglect what’s really important: playtime.   Continue reading

On days like these, write. Just write.

EACH MONTH ON MOVING WRITERS, I try to share something writing-related happening in my classroom that might be interesting or helpful to fellow teachers. As I sat down to write this month’s post, however, news of the Parkland school shooting was just breaking—how 17 individuals died today in yet another mass school shooting.

Suddenly the ideas I’d brainstormed for this blog post didn’t seem appropriate or enough or, well, anything. Tips about conferring, strategies for prewriting, scaffolds for organizing ideas—while all these are valuable and important components of the writing process, I know that none of them are as important as the most valuable component of all—our students.

What do our students need from us right now? In challenging times—and unfortunately, there seem to be many more these days—what can we do as teachers in our classrooms to help students find their way? How do we help them find answers that we don’t have ourselves? As teachers, we often pride ourselves on being professionals, experts, the ones in the room with the answers. We think students look to us for answers, but the longer I teach, the more I think that’s wrong.

I don’t think students look to us for answers—at least not for the most deeply human issues we face in life, like love, grief, sorrow, pain, or anger. I think they look to us for the questions—to ask questions and to give them time and opportunity to ask their own, to process, to think, to wonder, to talk, to stumble, to discover, to figure out for themselves. Continue reading

Mentor Text Wednesday: Swim Your Own Race

Mentor Text: Swim Your Own Race by Mbali Vilakazi


  • Form
  • Purposeful Use of Figurative Language
  • Exploring Clichéd Sports Metaphor
  • Using Contrast


I love the Winter Olympics. I’m setting my alarm to get up in the morning before school to watch sports that I normally dismiss. The excitement is so infectious. Especially fun this time is watching events with my oldest, this being the first games she’s really aware of.

The games also coincide with our new semester. As my coworker Alicia and I were talking plans, talking Olympics, we realized that we had a perfect subject to explore within our Grade10 theme of Facing Adversity and Being a Hero – the Olympics. The next couple of weeks are going to be focused on Olympic adversity and heroism.



Image via

One of the first activities we did in this was one of my favorites, the Poetry and Image Pairing, or PIP. As is the case whenever  I’m putting together a PIP, I opened Google and looked for “Olympic Poetry.” After I learned that there was a time that poetry was an actual Olympic event, I came across NPR’s Olympic Poetry contest results from 2012’s Summer Games. The winning poem, “Swim Your Own Race.” gave me my poem. This beautiful poem, by South African Mbali Vilakazi, was written about swimmer Natalie du Toit. After losing a leg, du Toit continued to swim, not just as a para-athlete, but also qualifying for the 2008. This kind of story is what makes Olympic viewing so damned compelling, and if we’re using the Olympics to explore a theme of facing adversity, well, what a perfect story for that! Continue reading

Taming the White Rabbit and Making Time for Talk

Around this time every year, I start channeling my inner white rabbit.  As of today, I have 3 months until my kids will sit for their end-of-course exams.  If you subtract a half week for mid-winter break, a week for spring break, three days for state testing, and another three for a giant field trip that will take two-thirds of my class, I’m left with closer to two months.

giphy (9)

Image Source:


There’s no way they’ll be ready. We have so much more to do.

Yesterday I was feeling particularly white-rabbity.

I missed Monday because I was out with a sick kid, and there were rumors of a snow day for today (which came true! YAY!), so the five days of teaching I had planned became three.  I stood in my classroom trying to rethink the day’s plan to cram more stuff in, but, luckily, my gut told me to slow down. My kids were *hopefully* heading into a three day weekend. I needed them to leave excited about their new writing projects and ready to spend a little of their snowy Friday writing.

Generating excitement, though, takes time.

This writing piece we’re starting is the most choice-filled thus far. Some of my kids have an idea and are running with it. Many, though, need some help. I decided to scrap the day’s plans and instead do some purposeful talk about our writing.

Continue reading