Hitting the Reset Button: Writing Rhetorically

In May of last year, I calculated my retirement date. It was the first time in 20 years of teaching that I’d done that because I’ve always really just enjoyed my job.  But like many, many teachers, the last 18 months almost did me in. 

Clearly, I got over it because here I am, writing for a teaching blog on Labor Day weekend. It was not just a summer of relaxing and disconnecting from school that got me here, though. That was certainly a big part of it, but if that was all I had done, I don’t know that I’d be ready to start again.

Surprisingly, it was the teacher-y things (reading a few books, a book study, leading some PD) that helped me hit a reset button this summer.  Not a single one had anything to do with virtual or hybrid or masked or socially distant teaching, but each was a wonderful return to what I love about my job: 

How can I help my students think like writers? 

How can I choose texts that nudge them to see beyond their own experience? 

How can I make what we do meaningful and useful for them? 

How can I get them invested in their own growth? 

I know it’s no longer summer, but I suspect some people are still in need of a reset button. This semester I’m going to focus my posts on the rethinking and resetting I’m doing in my classroom as I deal with figuring out what this past 18 months has meant for my students and my teaching. 

Up first? I want to share one of those teacher-y things I did this summer that help me hit my reset button:

I was eagerly anticipating Writing Rhetorically because Jennifer Fletcher’s Teaching Arguments has long been one of my favorites. Our county ISD set up a summer reading/study group, and I signed up with four of my colleagues. I will be honest; I did not attend the first meeting in June with a lot of pep in my step. 

However, by the end of that short afternoon session, I knew that this book was going to be a good fit for me for a number of reasons.

  1. It is beginning some much-needed discussion in my department about rethinking our vertical alignment of writing instruction.

One of my twelfth grade colleagues explained that the book is helping her feel “comfortable making her students uncomfortable when tackling a writing prompt.”  This ended up being the bulk of our discussion when we talked about the book. In the last ten years as our department has worked so hard to better align vertically, we’ve probably over-scaffolded just about everything. And when our colleagues in other departments started complaining that kids “couldn’t write” in their courses, we started creating scaffolds for them, as well! This book is a lovely blend of philosophical bombshells for us to discuss, mull over, and work with all year and ALSO concrete, practical ideas to test this type of thinking in our classrooms right away. 

  1. It is helping me rethink my approach to research writing.  

sI originally read this book thinking it aligned perfectly with AP English Language and Composition (it doe) but then I got to chapter 4 and realized that the middle chapters of the book are chock full of ideas to shift how I approach reading academic research, citation, and synthesis of ideas with my students. I’ve been teaching research writing since the beginning of my career (first Debate, then ELA 10 with The Research Paper, now AP Seminar), and Fletcher has managed to nail some of my biggest challenges. I don’t want to give away all the good stuff, but just know that if you’ve ever struggled with getting your students invested in citation, you need to buy this book and flip directly to page 82 where she starts to give concrete ways to help your students actually listen to their sources. 

The activities suggested in the book come with printable appendices that can be accessed here.

AP Seminar teachers!! I suspect this would be a fantastic resource for helping students think through the stimulus materials.
  1. It focuses on writing for transfer. 

I’d heard this term and certainly thought about what my students need beyond my classroom, but Fletcher gives concrete strategies to examine your practice around this concept. She continuously circles back to the idea of how we frame assignments and skills with our students. Is the framing bounded–tied closely to the needs of just our class or my expectations as a teacher–or expansive–connected to the students’ broader needs and goals as learners and thinkers? I know this question is going to help me teach and plan more reflectively this year. 

This one is going straight into the hands of the seniors in my Incubator (problem based learning/innovation/entrepreurship class). It’s *exactly* what I never knew I needed for that class.

My copy of the book is already marked up with post-its sticking out of it. I won’t get to all of it, but I’m so excited to start. And THAT, my friends, is what I so desperately needed this summer: something to get me excited to hit the reset button and come back ready to go. 

–Hattie

What are you doing to hit your teaching reset button this year? Tell me in the comments below or on Twitter @TeacherHattie. If you’re reading Writing Rhetorically and looking for someone to chat about it with, let me know! I (and my colleagues, too) would love to connect.  

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