3 Strategies for Students Who Say, “I’m Finished” After Writing a Paragraph

 

I grew up in Connecticut, so the old southern phrase “Bless your heart” isn’t a part of my everyday vocabulary. However, I’ve caught myself saying it a few times, in identical situations. Here’s the scenario:

Student: Ms. Marchetti, I’m finished.

[I look down at the student’s paper, see a few sentences scribbled. The mentor texts            we’ve been studying are pages long.]

Me: Bless your heart.

OR

Student: Ms. Marchetti, I have nothing else to say.

[I look down at the student’s paper, see a few sentences scribbled. The mentor texts           we’ve been studying are pages long.]

Me: Bless your heart.

My southern friends have taught me that “bless your heart” is the phrase you say when  you’re trying to be nice. But there’s an edge to it. A bit of sarcasm or exasperation or maybe even pity. It’s the phrase that comes to mind when a student thinks she’s done writing, but I know she’s only just begun.

How do we help these writers — the ones who honestly believe they’re done, that they’ve written into all of their ideas, that they can call it a day? How can we literally bless their writing hearts and help them along on their cut-too-short writing journey?

There have been times when I’ve pointed to a sentence or paragraph and said, “You need to add more here” and left it up to the student to figure out what that means. These are not moments I’m proud of. I’d rather look back on the times when I’ve given the student a strategy to try, one they can use not-just-this-time but over and over again, whenever this problem of “I’m finished” presents itself.

Here are a few techniques I’ve shared with students that have helped coax them back to the page to do some more thinking and writing — to help them deepen and extend and thoroughly develop their ideas.

Strategy #1: Explode the Moment

I first learned about this Barry Lane technique at the Writing Project Summer Institute. The idea is simple: take a short phrase, sentence, or paragraph and explode it into more short phrases, sentences or paragraphs.

Here’s an example I wrote together with my students a few years ago. We pulled a sentence from a student’s draft and imagined all of the things happening in and around that particular moment; then we fleshed it out.

Screen Shot 2017-12-10 at 9.47.10 PMExploding the moment is typically used to help students flesh out a piece of narrative writing, but it can work just as well in informational or analytical writing; a lot of informational and analytical writing depends upon a strong narrative introduction or thread anyway to hold the reader’s interest and add texture to the piece.

Strategy #2: Mirror a Mentor Text

Whenever I can, I use mentor texts to help my students work through writing problems and puzzles. I like to ask the question, “What did the mentor do?” and help my student describe the work of the writer so he can try it in his own piece.

In this technique, you help the student find a mentor text that is like the writing they are doing, and you invite them to see what content the writing has that their piece may lack.

I love the example Rebekah shares in some of our workshops about her student Josef, a 9th grader, who was writing a persuasive piece about “must-see” bands in 2016. His draft looked a little something like this:

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Josef had written 10 nearly identical paragraphs for the different bands he had chosen for this piece. And for Josef, ten paragraphs was a big accomplishment — surely he was done. But they all lacked something major, something that held his writing back from being a substantial piece of analysis. Each paragraph lacked the reasons and evidence needed to support the claim that the band was worth seeing live!

So, Rebekah shared a tiny excerpt from the mentor text 25 Best Things We Saw at Bonnaroo.

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Then she asked Josef, “What does this mentor include that isn’t yet in your piece?” A light bulb went off. Josef immediately realized that he had failed to talk about the music itself. So he went back to the drawing board and added another paragraph to each section. Here’s the paragraph he added to the bottom of his Catfish and the Bottlemen section:

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With longer mentor texts, it can be helped to have students create a true mirror in their notebooks by cutting the mentor text into chunks — chunks that represent different sections or topics — and pasting them onto the left side of their notebook. Then, on the right side, they can experiment with adding similar sections to their own writing.

Strategy #3: The Braided Paragraph

The Braided Paragraph is a variation of the Braided Essay in which writers weave together different “threads” of a topic, resulting in a beautiful and nuanced mishmash of genres and thinking and moments of revelation. Here are the directions I give my students for trying the braided paragraph:

  • Draw a line down the middle of a fresh sheet of notebook paper. On the left side, copy what you have written, putting one sentence on each line (or skipping lines in between sentences).
  • On the right side, create new but related content by trying one of the following:
    • Write the opposite of the line on the left.
    • Write a related detail, fact, or piece of evidence.
    • Write a surprising line to go with the line on the left.
    • Write the word “but…” and continue the line on the left.
  • After you’ve written a new line for every original line in your piece, braid these two columns of writing together into something bigger, better and more interesting than what you had before.

Sometimes the Braided Paragraph technique produces amazing results. Sometimes, like a good exquisite corpse, it makes for really wacky writing that sometimes inspires something new in the writing and sometimes dies right there on the page. What matters is that you’re inviting students to write in and around their original thinking, to play with it, stretch it, and contort it into new possibilities.

How do you help your writers move past a paragraph into more developed writing? How do you entice the writer who says “I’m finished” back to his notebook? 

 

 

 

 

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Mentor Text Wednesday: Creepy Pair of Underwear!

Today’s post comes from Amy Estersohn, a middle school English teacher in New York and a 2016 recipient of the NCTE/ALAN Gallo Grant.  She writes comic book reviews for noflyingnotights.com and blogs on books and teaching at teachingtransition.wordpress.com

Mentor text:

Creepy Pair of Underwear! by Aaron Reynolds and Peter Brown

Writing Techniques:

  • Elaboration
  • Story Structure
  • Effective Repetition

Background:

Whether it’s Goosebumps or Neal Shusterman’s Unwind, readers love creepy stories.  Creepy stories seem just that — designed to entertain and delight readers, not to Teach Something Important or Convey an Idea.

Spoiler alert:  The picture book Creepy Underwear isn’t all that creepy.  And it Conveys an Idea.  But it also provides several entry points for older readers and writers.

Elaboration: I asked students to brainstorm possible objects that would make good “creepy” stories.  Their responses: apples, pencils, fidget spinners, toys, coffee, books, and more.  After some brainstorming, I shared my own creepy story-in-progress with them:

Yeah…. I wrote a story about a creepy fidget spinner.

I showed students how I was inspired by the details about the Creepy Underwear (not to give too much of this story away, but let’s just say Creepy Underwear has a talent for glow-in-the-dark and reappearing in strange places) to make sure I centered my creepy fidget spinner in my story.  I even borrowed the phrase “ghoulish, greenish glow” from the story.  I also gave students a list of questions I had considered while I was writing my own creepy story:

  • What does my creepy object look like?
  • Does it talk?  If so, what does it say?
  • How do others react to seeing or hearing the creepy object?
  • Does my creepy object have any best friends? Worst enemies?
  • Where did my creepy object come from?

We can inspire students and ourselves to give these figments of our imagination developed histories.

Tone: This story is wonderful for teaching and discussing the slippery nature of tone.  At one point in this story, Jasper Rabbit determines a second creative way to dispose of the Creepy Underwear, and the narration says, “He was still a big rabbit.  He wasn’t scared or anything.”

A younger reader in a read-aloud shouts at this page, “No, look at him!  He’s still scared of the underwear!” while a more mature reader might parse this moment for analysis, since the image and gestures in the illustration suggest the opposite of the text.  I’d also pay attention to voice and word choice here, since the inclusion of words like “still” and “or anything” suggest the kind of “Am not/Are too!” defensiveness that younger children are known for.

Writers can practice using this tone by mimicking the sentence structure  and substituting in examples from their own lives, like:

“Sally was just going to check her Snapchat for a few minutes before starting her homework.  She wasn’t going to start obsessing over her followers or anything.”

“Brian was late to school for the fifth time this month.  The line at Dunkin Donuts was longer than usual — it wasn’t his fault or anything.”

Effective Repetition: This book uses repetition, symbolism, and place to show how Jasper Rabbit’s grows up  and how his attitude towards the Creepy Underwear change over time.  At the beginning of the story, Jasper goes to the underwear store with his mother.  At the end, he returns by himself with his own allowance money.  At the beginning of the story, the narrator describes the underwear’s “ghoulish, greenish, glow.”  At the end, the underwear has a “gentle, greenish, glow.”

We see this kind of trick in music all the time – in Taylor Swift’s “Look What You Made Me Do” the last repetition of the chorus layers in beats that were present elsewhere in the song.  (In classical music, this moment is called a fugue, but I hesitate to bring up classical music and Taylor Swift in the same sentence.)

In writing, it’s a little trickier, because we have to be intentional about what words we’re repeating and why.  Perhaps the easiest way to practice this technique is to have writers make their last sentence the same as their first sentence, but with one small change.

I hate to break it to readers that Creepy Pair of Underwear isn’t actually *that* creepy, but readers young and old will get a kick out of using this story to improve and reflect on writing.

 

 

3 Techniques for Students Who Know What They Want to Say But Not How to Say it

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Can you picture the student who has just said this in a writing conference? He smoothes the pages of his notebook to reveal countless scribbles and doodles that he has spent the past few days getting down. He has generated multiple ideas for his next writing project. He has done his homework. But he sits here on Flash Drafting day, staring at a blank screen, the cursor mocking him.

“You doing okay?” I ask.

He sighs. “I know what I want to say, but I don’t know how to say it.”

I sympathize with this student. He’s a perfectionist. He writes one sentence and then the next, slowly building the perfect essay in the same way my son arranges his animals in his crib at night: one after the other, each in its place; snug, tidy, perfect.

So much depends on what I say next. And when I say “so much” I mean: this student’s stamina, his self-confidence, his writing future.

It would be easy to look at his notes and suggest a starting line — to “put words in his mouth.” And while this may help him get started on this particular paper, it’s also where the help ends: here. Next time he can’t figure out “how to say it,” what tools will I have given him? How will he move forward without a teacher whispering in his ear?

Here are three strategies you can share with the student above to help him move past his current state of stuck and any stuckage he may encounter in the future.

Strategy #1: Loop Your Thoughts

Looping is a strategy I discovered in Kelly Gallagher’s Teaching Adolescent Writers (my favorite book of his!) that helps students in myriad ways: land on a topic, narrow the focus of a piece of writing, or figure out “how to say it.”

The steps:

  1. Write your topic or basic idea at the top of the page.
  2. Then write as fast as you can for 2 to 3 minutes, jotting down whatever comes to mind on this topic. Let your ideas flow onto the page without judgement.
  3. Read over what you wrote, either out loud or in your head.
  4. Choose one thing resonates with you — a word, a phrase, or a line.
  5. Skip a few lines on your paper, and write this new idea on a clean line.
  6. Repeat steps 2-5, writing from your new idea each time, until you figure out what you want to say.

Strategy #2: Write In Between The Lines

Often when a student tells me she knows what she wants to say but not how to say it, she has a draft in front of her. She just doesn’t like how it sounds. And while there are times when scraping a draft makes sense, when starting from scratch can provide the clean mental space a student needs to find momentum again, but I usually encourage the student to try writing in between the lines first.

The steps:

  1. Start with a draft, even if it’s yucky, even if you hate it.
  2. If it’s on the computer, double or triple space it.
  3. If it’s in your notebook, type it up and double or triple space it. Print it out.
  4. In a colorful pen, write in between the lines, or in the white spaces, to flesh out and extend, or question and contradict, the existing writing.
  5. Type up everything you’ve just written in the different color.
  6. Read what it says. See if it moves something in you, or if it better expresses what you were trying to say.
  7. Consider blending the first draft with this “in between” draft for the perfect expression of your ideas.

Strategy #3: Start Talking

James Britton must have been thinking of the writers who can’t find the right words when he wrote that “writing floats on a sea of talk.” In the past I rarely made time for writing partners and groups to get together and talk about their ideas: I worried it would fester into chit-chat and what-are-your-weekend-plans chatter all too soon. But the more I realized the power of conversation as a writing tool, the more room I left in our schedule for regular meetings between writers. This talk strategy can be used in writing partnerships, writing groups, or in a writing conference with your student.

Steps:

  1. Grab a buddy.
  2. Talk to them. Tell them what you’re thinking. If you’re trying to write a scene, close your eyes and tell them what you see. If you’re writing about an opinion you have, tell them your opinion and why you feel that way and why it’s important to talk about. If you’re writing something informational, tell them what you already know and what questions you have and what excites you about the topic. Just talk. For a few minutes.
  3. Buddy: Grab some sticky notes. Write down words, phrases, and lines that resonate with you as the writer speaks. Then tell the story of your sticky notes, and hand them back to the writer.

    Screen Shot 2017-11-26 at 10.31.07 PM

    Notes from a writing conference: The students’ handwriting (left) and mine (right)

  4. Writer: Put these sticky notes in your notebook. Ponder them. See what additional thoughts they may yield. Note how powerful it can be to see your words staring back at you.

How to use these strategies with students

Rewind to the moment when my student tells me he doesn’t know how to say what he wants to say, and keep in mind that conferences should be short, instructive, and transferable. In this particular moment, I have three options:

  • If I had taught one or more of these strategies as a minilesson in the past, I could direct the student back to his notes, review the steps with him, and watch him get started.
  • If I had never taught one of the above strategies, I might choose in my head the one that I think would best fit his purpose or writing style and do a quick 30-second demo in my own notebook in front of him.
  • If there were other students in the class with whom I had shared these strategies, I might form an impromptu writing group in the corner and ask each of these students to share one of the strategies with the writer.

Over time, as you teach minilessons that help students solve writing problems, you might consider helping them create glue-ins or classroom anchor charts that remind them of the different tools at their disposal. Here’s an example of one:

It’s tempting in a conference to help the student “fix” the paper in front of him, but if a larger goal of our teaching is our students’ independence, we have to help him solve his problem now and in the future. In other words, we have to give him a tool — or a few — that he can keep in his back pocket for the next time the same problem presents itself.

What strategies do you share with writers who struggle to find the words to express their ideas? Let’s add to this list of strategies together! Find me on Twitter @allisonmarchett or email me at movingwriters.org.

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

 

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

yoon

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