Research Lessons From My Twitter Feed

I’ve been scrolling through Twitter a lot these past two weeks.  I can’t look away from the news and everything I read is prompting new questions and new things I need to research. Saturday, someone tweeted a poem by Naomi Shihab-Nye, Gate A-4. It’s a beautiful story of an interaction between two women in an airport, one helping the other. She ends with some words of reflection:

nye

Though I teach two classes that don’t traditionally use a lot of poetry, this text fit perfectly in my AP Seminar class because it’s nearly impossible to read it and not be left with some questions in your brain. 

In AP Seminar, a research and inquiry based course, I’ve found one of the best ways prompt curiosity and inquiry is giving my students completely un-research-y types of texts: poetry, music, paintings, etc.  The formula? Give them something high interest, let the questions fly, and then let them build the answer.  Continue reading

New Year, New Writer’s Notebook

I’m one of those New Year’s Resolvers. I love making lists. I love setting goals. I look at the New Year as a chance to reorganize my whole life. It’s a magical time in my weird little world. So, of course, I was immediately intrigued when I saw a mention of Bullet Journals on Facebook. I quickly fell down the rabbit hole of lists and codes and layouts. Apparently these have been a thing on Instagram for awhile, and I’m a little late to game. Later in the day, I spied a Twitter convo between Moving Writers’ Allison and Rebekah about a bullet journal layout that would make for writing notebook time.  And, I’d been thinking quite a bit about Tricia Ebarvia’s Writer’s Workshop blog post and how that could help me better organize workshop in my AP Seminar class. The pieces started clicking together, and my second semester writers’ notebooks in my AP Seminar are about to get a big makeover.

nb1

Continue reading

Writers Pay It Forward

A few years ago, after writing my eleventy-billionth letter of recommendation, I realized that the kids owed me. Perhaps not the most gracious response, but I had agonized over letters for a large group of past students, and I decided it was time for them to pony up. My current students were sweating buckets over revisions of their first essays and the line at my door for extra writing conferences was starting as early as 6:15am! I needed all hands on deck. In a moment of desperation (inspiration?) I dashed off a quick email to 20 former students:

Hey guys!  Any interest in coming to Academic Advisory on Wednesday to help out my current AP Lang kids with their first essays? By the way, all of your letters of rec are finished and submitted.

–Mrs. Maguire

Luckily, the thinly veiled guilt trip worked quite nicely and they all showed–some even brought friends. The next Academic Advisory, my room was packed with current and former students, paired up, perched on tables, huddled in corners, editing and discussing the younger students’ essays.

20161130_101504

Three years later, that email sent on a whim has proven to be one of my favorite traditions of fall in my class. Seniors pop by to ask, “Are you going to need us to come in and help like the seniors did last year?”  And after one go-around with the seniors, my juniors start asking, “When are they coming back??”  

Every year I’m surprised by how successful the mentoring is, but in the crush of fall and the holidays, I’ve honestly never thought that much about why it works so well. So tonight I’m thinking through some possible answers to this question:

What is it about peer to peer mentoring that makes it so successful?

Continue reading

Helping Writers Listen

I split my teaching days between AP Language and Seminar and working one-on-one as a writing coach with struggling students. Two weeks ago I got to the spend the day at the AssisTechKnow conference to learn about how we can use assistive technology to support students. It was a great conference, but one session in particular has me thinking already about specific ways to improve my practice.

Presenter Craig Steenstra (@csteenst), an Ed Tech Specialist from Kent County ISD, encouraged us to think about ways we can help students “record the storm” of ideas and phrases and words jumbling around in their heads. So many students have a hard time getting their ideas down on paper and, unfortunately, get frustrated and give up.  Craig walked us through several examples of ways to use various audio recording apps on phones, iPads and Chromebooks, and I realized quickly that this was something I could apply right away. My students are willing to listen to me when I talk to them about their writing, but I’m starting to wonder how I can help them listen to themselves as writers.

Continue reading

Moving –like really moving– Writers

When I have a rough day at school for whatever reason–a challenging meeting, a botched lesson, a tricky planning problem–the one thing that helps me think and focus is running. I know lots of people say they only run when chased, so maybe that makes me a weirdo, but running is the one thing that is guaranteed to give me some clarity.

I need to move in order to think.

This past month, I’ve been thinking a lot about my students and their need to move, too. I spent the early years of my  career teaching Spanish, so I know all about the research that movement helps students learn better. We danced the alphabet, acted out the weather, and clapped and shimmied our way through verb conjugations. But somehow, as I moved away from the world of foreign language,  my classes became more and more sedentary. Writing and reading became this calm, seated activity.  There’s certainly a need for that. You can’t exactly think and compose while you’re dancing. Or can you? I think maybe there are places for it.

Continue reading

Breaking Rules Like a Pro

Last week I participated in a Twitter chat hosted by @TalksWTeachers and this blog’s creators: @AllisonMarchett and @RebekahODell1. It was a fast-paced flurry of awesome ideas and thought-provoking questions, but one question in particular kept me thinking the next day.  Allison posed the following question:

What do you struggle to teach and how might mentor texts enable that?

I struggle with all kinds of things, but the one that popped into my head first was my struggle to wrestle kids away from formulaic writing. I thought about formulaic writing a lot this summer. In June I was a reader for the AP Language exam and read hundreds of formulaic essays. The brave essays that abandoned tired, overused formats were almost always more engaging to read. Later in the summer I read this lovely take-down of the 5 paragraph “monster” by Kathleen Duddan Rowlands in NCTE’s English Journal. So, when asked the question about struggles, my immediate response was this:

screenshot-twitter-com-2016-08-27-19-46-31

Okay. If #mentortexts show them that the pros do it, which ones will I use? Time to tackle this struggle. Continue reading

Unaware vs Careless vs Devious: Teaching Plagiarism

I coached and taught debate for almost ten years and, in the process, became a bit of a news junkie. So naturally, the political conventions were on 24/7 at my house this summer. And, naturally, like every other English teacher in the world who was tuned into politics this summer, I followed the Melania Trump plagiarism story pretty closely.  Finally, many of us thought, a perfect example of how “paraphrasing” can go so very wrong.

However, as the news coverage dragged on, I started to wonder if the general reaction and ultimate resolution may have sent a confusing message to our students. At my school–and most academic institutions–plagiarism equals a zero. Boom. Hammer dropped. But our students watching this summer learned that in the “real world”, there isn’t always a hammer. Instead, the campaign explained they were simply “common words” and “no harm was meant.”  Certainly, it was an embarrassment for the campaign, but the dire consequences of plagiarism we always warn our students about didn’t really transpire. Nobody got fired, nobody was kicked out of anything…it just kinda went away.

So how do we still use this as a teachable moment?  It’s a great example of plagiarism–it’s the ultimate “un-mentor” text– and I really want to use it. But in this contentious election season, I have no desire to turn this into a political debate with my students. I am very committed to keeping my politics out of my classroom, and I don’t want to turn this into a perceived Trump attack.

Here’s how I plan to make addressing plagiarism one of the first things I do this year:

Continue reading

College Application Essays: Using Infographics to Help Students Write Authentically

For a few years now, a debate has been simmering in my department about the college application essay: what’s our role?  Some of my colleagues think we have an obligation to help the students with this very important piece of writing, and they’re not alone. Many of the school districts around us require all juniors to write a college application essay in the spring.  Others in my department think students need to write these completely on their own. This piece of writing is a representation of who they are and how they want to be seen by colleges; teachers should keep their paws off it.

I’m somewhere in the middle. We’ve taught them that good writers ask for feedback. They draft. They revise. I think it’s appropriate to continue that process with them on this high stakes piece of writing. Still, something just feels wrong about grading it.  What does assigning a grade to a piece of writing like this accomplish, anyway? “This earned a C! Good luck getting into college!”

Last year, in response to my students clamoring for help with the essay post-AP test, I tried my middle ground approach. We worked on the essays in workshop, we conferenced, we shared portions aloud, we drafted, and we revised. I sent them on their merry way in June with essays that were well underway but had never been “finished” or graded.

It was fine, but I knew it could be better. The students struggled to write authentically. They were determined to tell colleges what they thought they wanted to hear and, in many cases, their essays struggled to move beyond cliche.  This year, I realized I needed to slow the process way down, and I attempted to do that using infographics. Continue reading

Writing Conference Realities

I spent all last week immersing myself in writing conferences with my students. We talked one on one about their writing, reflected on what was going well and what wasn’t, and made some plans for steps going forward.  I was modeling good writing behaviors for them, providing specific and useful feedback, and encouraging young writers to experiment and grow.  Birds were chirping. I think a butterfly landed on my shoulder at one point.

Ha. In my dreams.                                            

 HELLO (2)

What was really going on? By Wednesday I was driving into school wracking my brain for something–anything!–I could do in place of writing conferences. My eyes were swimming when I looked at students’ papers, I felt like I was saying the same thing over and over, and  I was concerned about the level of engagement of my non-conferencing students.  I was exhausted from the constant mental challenge of giving just the right feedback to my writers.

Writing conferences are certainly important, but they can be so very difficult and so very exhausting.  Don’t get me wrong; I’m a huge believer in writing conferences, and I know they are often the key to helping students grow.  Don Murray, one of the original proponents of teaching writing as a process, claims in his book Learning by Teaching “at least 85% of the teaching–and learning–takes place in the writing conference, not in the writing workshop or classroom.”  Continue reading