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:

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

See you at NCTE!

Love,

#movingwriters

 

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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

6 Halloween-Infused Writing Ideas for Tomorrow

Lately my son’s favorite activity has been our daily Halloween Walk in which we start at the top of our block and stroll from house to house snapping pictures of all the Halloween decorations we see with his Fisher Price camera. Today we saw spiders and pumpkins and ghosts and skeletons and scarecrows and orange lights and witches hanging from doorknobs. IMG_5930These afternoon walks have spawned two reactions in me:

1) We need to step up our Halloween decoration game big time…

2) We should do something fun and festive and Halloween-y with our students on Tuesday. If your school is like my school, only seniors are allowed to dress up. Aren’t 9th, 10th, and 11th graders entitled to some fun, too?

On Valentine’s Day last year I had similar feelings, and I found myself googling “Valentines’ Day activities” at midnight on February 13. This year, I’ve compiled a few Halloween-infused writing activities ahead of time.  Continue reading

A Tour of Mentor Texts for Middle Grade and High School Boys

On weekly visits to the library with my two-year-old son I often find myself browsing the periodicals in the children’s section. From there I can spy my busy toddler as he moves from the play kitchen to the dinosaur section to the puppet show.

Recently I found myself drawn to magazines geared for boys and threw a few in my bag to take home ans peruse: Boys’ Life, Sports Illustrated for Kids, and Ranger Rick.

When my brother was a kid, he used to hoard issues of Sports Illustrated for Kids. I remember a distant aunt sending us annual subscriptions to Ranger Rick. But I hadn’t seen these ancient periodicals in years. In fact, I was kind of surprised they were still in existence!

Turns out they supply some pretty decent mentor texts for our students, texts that may specifically be of interested to the boys and young men in our workshop. Below I take you on a tour of the three magazines I toted home and a few of their regular features to get you started.

Unfortunately a lot of the content I describe below is not accessible online…so get yourself to the nearest public library and fill your bag with the gorgeous slippery pages of these beloved childhood magazines!

Ranger Rick

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What it is: A children’s nature magazine published by the US Wildlife Federation. 

Target readers: Ages 7 and up

3 Features for Teaching Writing

  1. Ask Rick 

A question-and-answer column featuring questions from real readers about science and nature. The answers present information in a kid-friendly, easy-to-understand tone and format.

How to use it:

  • Mentor texts for a genre-driven study: Q&A Columns 
  • Summative writing assessment: At the beginning of a new unit, students might list wonderings they have in a KWL chart. At the end of the unit, students can study “Ask Rick” mentor texts and craft responses to their initial wonderings using the knowledge they gained during the study. Bonus: nwf.org/rangerrick offers an interactive Ask Rick feature on their website.
  1. The Buzz 

two-page spread featuring highly-visual blurbs about current science and nature events.

How to use it:

  • Mentor texts for a genre-study: Science-y current events writing 
  • Mentor sentence study. Here are a few sentences culled from the September 2017 column–note the interesting use of colons and em-dashes!

Here’s a creepy way to think about it: Pound for pound, [spiders] could eat every person on the planet. (Page 13)

Now here’s the happy truth: Spiders don’t eat people (Page 13).

But next summer, [the wild bison] will be released to roam free–just like their ancestors once did! (Page 13)

  1. Ranger Rick Feature Article

The main feature in each Ranger Rick issue combines a multi-paragraph introduction with a strong hook and a two-to-three page visual spread presenting the rest of the content. For instance, in the September 2017 issue, the feature article looked at the “super (small) heroes” of the ocean: plankton (14). The two-page infographic spread showcased craft-ful facts printed on colorful shapes against a black background with images of different kinds of plankton floating around the word bubbles.

How to use it:

  • Mentor texts for Genre Study: Infographics
  • Mentor texts for Technique Study: Strong titles and captions
  • Mentor Texts for Technique Study: Powerful leads. Here’s the lead from the September issue:

They’re not faster than a speeding bullet. And they could never leap tall buildings in a single bound. Yet all the living things you see here are superheroes, just the same (15).

  1. Ranger Rick Adventures

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A cartoon strip that explores a hot-button environmental issue using the beloved characters Boomer Badger, Ranger Rick, and Scarlet Fox. The three-page cartoon closes with a helpful sidebar: Ranger Rick’s Field Notes (shown here as “More Facts”).

How to use it:

  • Mentor Texts for Genre-Driven Study: Informational Cartoons
  • Mentor Texts for Purpose-Driven Study: Writing Our Way Through Problems to Solutions
  • For teaching a minilesson on using sidebars, pull-out quotes, and other text features

Boys’ Life

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What it is:  Magazine of the Boy Scouts of America.

Target readers: Ages 6-18

3 Features for Teaching Writing

  1. Heads Up: Fast Facts

A vibrant one-page infographic presenting facts on a simple concept like “The Human Body” or “Golf.”

How to use it:

  • Mentor Texts for Genre-Driven Study: Infographics
  • Mentor Texts for Technique-Driven Study: Presenting Numbers and Facts in an Engaging Way
  • Summative writing assessment: Students present information learned in a conceptual unit in a highly visual and engaging way.

2. BL Workshop

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Image from David J. Brooks’  (Illustrator) Pinterest page

A two-page how-to spread, featuring a range of DIY crafts and projects. Recent examples include “How to Make a Shoebox Solar Viewer” (August 2017, Page 44-45)) and “How to Make a Twig Number Sign” (September 2017, Page 56-57).

How to use it:

  • Mentor Texts for Genre Study: How-To Pieces
  • Mentor Texts for Technique Study: Presenting information in a list

3. Gear Guy Update

A semi-regular column that offers short, blurb-y reviews of gear readers’ might want to take on their next backpacking trip, paddle boarding adventure, fishing excursion, and so forth. This column has an online version, but doesn’t have the same impact as the visually engaging two-spread spread in the actual magazine.

How to use it:

  • Mentor texts for Genre-Driven study: Short Critical Reviews of Products
  • Mentor texts for Technique-Driven study: Persuasive, concise language

Sports Illustrated for Kids

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What it is:  A monthly kid-version of the sports magazine for adults.

Target readers: 8-15

3 Features for Teaching Writing

1. Prime Time

A medium-length profile of an athlete with section headers and images.

How to use it:

  • Mentor texts for Genre-Driven study: Profiles
  • For teaching a mini-lesson on using section headers to break up a longer piece of writing into meaningful chunks

2. Freeze Frame

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A hot-off-the-press news-worthy image, accompanied by a caption and super-short paragraph explaining the photo.

How to use it:

  • Notebook Time invitation: Project a relevant, engaging sporty image, and invite students to caption it with bold, concise language.
  • For teaching a mini-lesson on strong caption writing
  • For writing about images

 

3. From the pages of Sports Illustrated

Sports Illustrated for Kids used to print a multi-page insert with bonus material for older readers. In 2010, they scrapped this insert and replaced it with a carefully selected full-length feature article from Sports Illustrated.

How to use it:

  • For differentiating reading and writing in your classroom — inside this magazine, there’s something for everyone, including your more experienced readers and writers
  • Mentor texts for Genre-Driven studies: Feature Articles & Profiles

With the ubiquity of digital texts, we may rarely finding ourselves looking for mentor texts inside books and magazines. But these gems are surely worth a trip to the library. Do you study magazine writing with your students? If so, which magazines have you found particularly helpful and inspiring? Which regular columns do you turn to for writing instruction? Tweet me @allisonmarchett.

 

The Golden Writing Workshop: Yay or Nay?

No matter who you ask, most writing teachers will say that what they need more of in their workshops is exactly what they need more of in life: Just. More. Time.

I personally spend a lot of time thinking about how to find writing time where time doesn’t exist, how to add minutes back into the period, how to make each and every second in the workshop count.

This week I listened to a podcast by the writer/podcaster/traveller Tsh Oxenreider about morning and evening Routines, Golden Hours, and Makers Schedules, and, as whenever I hear something that changes the way I think about my own life, I start thinking about all the ways it might also shift the way I teach. Here’s what happened while I was listening to Tsh and Erin talk (and while the vegetable burned in the oven):

I saw a vision for an alternative workshop flow, one that would incorporate individual students’ routines and golden hours, as well as shift the classroom towards a maker schedule. First, let me take 30 seconds to define these terms:

A morning/evening routine is the series of things that you do at the beginning and/or end of a day, or in our case, a class period to help you “settle in”.

The Golden Hour is your most productive time of day. For some it’s early morning, with the coffee machine whirring in your dark kitchen for one, long before you can hear the pitter-patter of toddler’s feet on the wooden floors upstairs. For others it’s the exact opposite: the after-dinner smell of a lemony-clean kitchen filling your nose as you set up at the dining table for a few hours of hard thinking and writing.

A Maker Schedule is one that features large swaths of time for the hard thinking and creating work essential to a writer/maker/artist’s life…as opposed to a manager schedule (think: meetings, interruptions, announcements, too-short classes, etc.) which is how most professions/jobs/lives are designed.

The vision Tsh gave me for incorporating these elements into a writing workshop can best be illustrated in the visual below:

to our dear matthew (1)

 

A few general thoughts:

  • Research tells us that students’ attention is sharpest at the beginning of a class period, and that it continuously wanes as the period goes on. This places most students’ “Golden Hour” at the beginning of the period, so doesn’t it seem counterproductive to leave the hard thinking and creative work of writing for the end of class? The alternative flow places sacred, uninterrupted writing time at the beginning of the period.
  • The main difference between the two “flows” is the number of minutes allotted to writing time. After a few years of teaching in the workshop approach, I finally figured out a way to give my students 20 minutes of writing time (on most days). But I actually think I can do even better. The alternative flow allows for 25 minutes of uninterrupted, sacred writing time, with an additional 10 minutes for conferring and notebook writing/ play. In other words, it shifts our class period from a manager schedule to a maker schedule.
  • In the alternative flow, the mini-lesson is pre-recorded by the teacher and assigned as homework. The idea of flipping mini-lessons is not new, but I have never done it with any kind of consistency or routine before. I have never made it a core practice in my workshop to the extent that I am freeing-up more writing time on a regular basis. If some of your students’ Golden Hours are at night, then you could give them the option of doing the mini-lesson during class time and writing at night…it’s all about when they are most productive and creative, and it might take some time and some experimentation to figure that out.
  • There is a 5-minute review and Q&A period built into the alternative workshop flow: students can ask questions about the mini-lesson, and the teacher can offer clarification. It’s shorter than a mini-lesson because the learning happened the night before; students start writing a lot sooner in the period.
  • I love the Notebook Time/Conferring combo at the end of the alternative flow period. How many times have I avoided conferring with a student because he was just getting started on writing, and I didn’t want to interrupt his time…but I only had 10 minutes to squeeze in 20 conferences? Since conferring is placed after sacred, interrupted writing time, conferences can be more productive and built around work a student has actually had time to produce.

Thoughts on the Soft Start

The soft start is like your best kind of morning where you get your cup of coffee before your kids (or pets or spouse or roommate) wake up and you have time to greet the day and breathe and collect your thoughts…how much better do you feel on days like these? Now think about what a soft start might do for students.

In her new (FABULOUS!) book Project-Based Writing, Liz Prather writes, “For years, I was a bell-to-bell advocate, and I still feel strongly about engaging students immediately, but now I employ a soft start to each class that signals the shift from the hustle-bustle hall to the serene, creative space necessary for writing.” She uses an online stopwatch to alert students to the three minutes they have to “take care of business” or get themselves set up for writing that day. During this time, Liz gives announcements, takes attendance, posts or announces the conferring schedule for the period, and invites other students to make announcements too. Within three minutes, most if not all, students are “settled in” and ready to write.

How much fun would it be to teach a mini-lesson on “morning/evening” routines for writers? What are some possible ways our students might choose to begin their class period? Brew a cup of coffee? Find a seat by the window? Set up their desk space? Plug in their new Aura Cacia diffuser and spread some citrus oil goodness around the classroom (just kidding about that last one… well, sort of)?

What I love about the soft start is that is gives every student a little bit of time to perform their “morning ritual” in whatever way they want. When the timer goes off, students are ready to enter the creative and energetic space of the classroom and write, write, write.

Final Thoughts

On those rare-but-amazing nights when my son decides to quietly play with his firehouse or train table and let me prepare accidentally burn dinner in complete silence, or with the soft murmurings of a podcast in the background, I am reminded what a gift 30 minutes of uninterrupted, sacred time can be…and even more determined to pay this gift forward to my students. I think the Golden Writing Workshop might be a way to do that.

~ Allison

Are you game for trying this alternative flow? I’d love to see how it might help shift your students’ writing habits and routines and ultimately help put more writing time back into your workshop! Find me on Twitter @allisonmarchett.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.

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

Behind the Scenes: Organizing the First Weeks, Semester, and Year…It’s Not What You Think

1It’s the first faculty meeting of the year. A few teachers gather in a corner to show off their new Erin Condrin planners…and as they energetically flip through them, I can see that the first days, weeks, and months are penciled in with big ideas, writing studies, and lesson plans. Then I look down at my own planner and peek inside, expectant… its pages are bright white. Blank. Empty. I don’t even know what I’m doing on the first day of school, and it’s tomorrow…

This is the dream nightmare that plays on repeat during the last few weeks of summer. It’s a nightmare, but it’s also real, because I am faced with a blank planner and the same ginormous question every single August: Where do I begin? What comes first, and then next? 

The curriculum doesn’t answer this question for me. Neither does Common Core, or whatever standards are relevant, or pacing guides. What I did last year doesn’t help either. No. All of these resources are merely guides. The decision of where to begin and where to go next THIS YEAR is ultimately up to me.

Or is it?

Continue reading

Behind the Scenes: A Moving Writers Series for a New School Year

 

1Every August, when I enter my classroom for the first time I begin in the same way: I open all my cabinets, desk drawers, and shelves, and dump everything out into the middle of the room. Then I begin sorting. I organize, toss, refile, reshelve, donate, upcycle, recycle, declutter, reclutter, etc. You get the picture. Meanwhile my colleagues next door are lesson planning and making copies and putting finishing touches on their classrooms. And this is when it dawns on me, mid-sorting, that this might not be the best place to start. That there are 1,000 other jobs that need doing, and throwing everything into a giant pile Marie Kondo-style may not be the best use of my time. After all, I have a lot to do to get my classroom organized for a new class of writers!

So why do I do it? Beginning is scary. What to do first, next, last? The miles-long to do list begs to be prioritized but its length and depth overwhelm. So, this year I asked for a little help from my Moving Writers friends.

What’s the first thing you do to get your writing classroom organized?

That’s the question the Moving Writers team will answer over the next month as each of our writers takes us behind the scenes and shares ideas for organizing the classroom for our writers at the beginning of the year:

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We hope you’ll join us as we kick off a new year in the writing classroom!

~ Allison

 

 

Best of the 2016-2017 School Year: 3 Reasons Literary Analysis Must Be Authentic

There is a a common thread that runs through many of our most-popular posts from the 2016-2017 school year: authentic analysis.  We are all hungry for something more. For something more than poorly-crafted already-been-said-before five-paragraph essays about the same old topics. And if your and your students’ disdain for reading and writing these kinds of essays isn’t enough of a reason to abolish them, Rebekah explores three other reasons why the literary analysis we teach must be as authentic and real world as any other genre of writing we teach. 

 

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Hello, friends! Oh, how we have missed you!

Allison and I are still in the midst of finishing our new book on teaching analytical writing, but we couldn’t resist a quick check-in with you to share some of what we have been up to!

Yesterday we had the great fun of doing an hour of virtual professional development  via Google Hangout with a department of teachers from Farmington High School who are searching for better, deeper, more meaningful ways to engage their students in writing literary analysis.

We all know that traditional, academic literary analysis — the kind of 5-paragraph themes you and I wrote in high school — don’t really work. Students hate writing them. We hate reading them. At best, students have successfully followed a formula that has allowed them to regurgitate what they have heard and discussed in class. At worst, students limp through the motions, inserting ideas pilfered from Spark Notes and badly-written Internet essays.

So, that doesn’t work. What does? Continue reading