Revision? Pshhh…I write best under pressure.

My husband is in a grad school program that requires a lot of writing. He likes to write, and he’s a good writer, so that’s not a problem….except he also works full time with crazy hours and we have two small-ish children. He’s just juggling way too much. So I was not surprised at all when he casually informed me yesterday that his final paper for this semester (15-20 pages, a bunch of research needed) is due next week, and he hasn’t started it yet.Copy of #tweaching

Right away I felt like I was talking to one of my students: “Trust me. I work best under pressure. I can sit for hours staring at the screen and write nothing. Then when it comes down to 2am and I have to do it, I write my best stuff.”

Though I don’t doubt that many are successful following this philosophy, I often wonder how much better they could be if they’d let their ideas marinate a little. I discussed this post with fellow Moving Writers blogger and my classroom-mate @ZigThinks and he was adamant that in the last days (or even hours!) before something is due, he really “dials in” and his thinking gets sharper.  

I’d be lying if I said I hadn’t done it myself, too, but I’d also be lying if I didn’t admit that at least a little time to think through my ideas, or revise, or rethink always makes my writing better.

So how can we get kids (and my husband) to get going and give their writing the time it needs?

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Using Blogging to Grow Independent Writers (or: How to Kick Your Little Birds Out of the Nest)

Copy of wilson james

It’s second semester and my AP Seminar kids are knee-deep in their official Performance Tasks. For those unfamiliar with the AP Capstone program, that means my kids are doing giant, independent research projects and I am required to take a very “hands off” approach.  I can give general instructions to the whole class, and I can ask lots of questions, but I can’t give specific feedback on drafts or tell kids what to change or add or delete. At times (read: All the time)  it can be a little (read: A LOT) frustrating. My students have so many questions and sometimes I just want to tell them what to do.  

Though it nearly broke me last year, this year I’ve come around to this idea of independence. Teaching this course has forced me to rethink how and when I give feedback.  It’s made me consider how I prepare my students to be ready for all this independence– how I can relinquish control and kick my little birds out of the nest.

I can’t just cross my fingers and hope for the best; I need to help them build habits of good writers and researchers. How do you craft quality research questions? How can you give useful feedback to one another? How do you look critically at your own work? How do you use your own reflection to push your writing forward?

There are tons of great resources on this very blog for helping with all of those steps–the practicing and skill building steps.  This one from Rebekah gave ideas for different ways to approach writing conferences. This one has awesome suggestions for how to help students begin to be more independent and ask better questions during conferences. But that final step–the pushing them out of the nest step–that’s always just been the last day of school for me.  Until this class, I’d never considered what it might look like to step back completely and let them take charge. 

This year, I introduced reflective blogging with my students to slowly release control. They write, everyone reads, and everyone comments. Here’s how it’s made them more independent:

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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:

MP

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.

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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.

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Image Source: giphy.com

 

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.

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Low stakes writing: How I reclaimed my sanity and unburied myself from grading.

National Leave the Office Early Day!

My first year teaching AP Language, I was overwhelmed by the grading. The class culminates in a three hour exam; for two of those hours, students are writing three different essays. The amount of prep your average student needs to confidently bang out three essays asking them to do three different things in two hours? A lot.

But, I was new to the class and determined to prepare them well, so I parked myself at my kitchen table every weekend and graded. Essay after essay after essay. By the end of the first semester, all 90 of my students had written at least six process essays (Two of each kind! Gotta show growth!)  Second semester we dove into practicing timed writing so we did two EACH WEEK. There were about 12 weeks in second semester before the test so that means about 24 essays per kid.  Quick math? I easily assessed about 2700 essays that year. That’s insanity.

And it was completely unnecessary.

I know it was unnecessary because I’ve never done it again (my husband threatened divorce!) and my students continue to score better than that first group every single year. Over the years as I’ve shifted to a Writer’s Workshop format, I’ve made more and more moves toward low stakes writing because I’ve realized it’s really the most effective form of test prep.

 

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F.A.R.T.ing Around With Research

I came home from #ncte17 full of ideas, but one common theme from the weekend was…..farts. In my first session about engaging boy readers and writers, Jon Sciezka gleefully told us that he loved fart jokes and writing about silly things. Then, I stood in line to a get a book for my 8 year old–The Unflushables–and discovered it was exploding (sorry) with fart jokes.  Later I thumbed through Ralph Fletcher’s Joy Write  and there on page 61? Farts. When I got home Monday, I saw this tweet pop up on twitter:

fart

Either I was slap-happy from the weekend or the universe was trying to tell me something. I was working on a research reading lesson with a ninth grade teacher and this FART annotation thing seemed like just what we needed.

One of the biggest impediments to students embracing research reading and writing is that we don’t give them a way in–an on-ramp.  It seems so daunting, so intimidating, that many turn away before they even start.

Perhaps a F.A.R.T. strategy would be silly enough to be an on-ramp.

 

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Teaching Argument with a Side of Mental Health

teaching from twitter pic

 

Our school has committed to working on addressing mental health issues with our students this year. Our students are carrying heavy burdens and we–the adults in their lives–need to figure out ways to help them cope with them.  So, when this popped up in my Twitter feed last night, I naturally thought of my students:

mandrew

Big shout out to @bymariandrew for providing a teaching text yet again!!

It’s not a tough image to understand, but we squeezed quite a bit out of it in 20 minutes of  AP Lang today.

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3 Steps to Creating Word Nerds

When I started teaching AP Lang, we did a lot of vocab. I gave a monstrous list of “tone words” and students learned 20 each week. I quizzed them weekly, and then we marched on to 20 more.

It was not good.

Some kids adored it. It was concrete, and they could pad their grades. Other kids?  The subtle differences between the words (apathetic vs. aloof vs ambivalent? yeesh) blew their minds, and they tanked their grades.

I tried some different things–more direct instruction on the words,retakes–and eventually got to a place where they mastered the quizzes, but they weren’t using the words in their writing, or if they were, they were using them in hilariously awkward ways. I knew I was doing it wrong. They needed to be collecting words naturally from their reading and exploring vocabulary in context. So last year, we tossed the lists.

It was (also) not good.

The plan was to have kids find words in their reading and record them in their notebooks so they could build vocabulary more naturally.  A few kids embraced it because they were avid readers and already loved words. But most kids were just kinda ‘meh’ about it. I didn’t have a good way to hold them accountable, and they had no interest in becoming word nerds.

We (the three AP Lang teachers) were all frustrated, but we are trying one more new approach. One quarter of the school year down, and I’m happy to report: it’s good.

What did we do? 

3 Steps to Creating Word Nerds

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Why This/Not That? A thinking routine to move kids from identification to analysis

One of the biggest challenges in teaching rhetorical analysis is teaching kids to move beyond identification to actual analysis.  I have found over the years that when I teach kids to look for certain things, they find them!! If we talk about repetition, they can track it down. If we talk about parallel structure, boom. However, I’ve also found that many struggle to move beyond that identification.

“Oh, look!” they cry delightedly. “Parallel structure!”

And then they move on.  

I would press them when we would discuss and analyze in class, and they could usually get to something analytical, but when they would move to writing, they’d still stop at identification.  I found myself scribbling (over and over) in the margins of essays “why is this important?” and “what does this show you?”  

During a class discussion of a text a few weeks ago, I was digging for a more analytical answer and I said, “Yes, but why this word and not another one?” It was one of those teaching lightbulb moments when I realized it was a prompt my students could be asking themselves: Why this and not that?

wilson james

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Teaching From My Twitter Feed: Golf on Fire

#tweaching

Last week I started the year with my AP Seminar students talking about perspectives: our own, those of others, and the ones forgotten or ignored in texts.  Much of the success of their research will be dependent on their ability to see issues from multiple perspectives. Imagine my excitement then, when this popped up in my Twitter feed:

golf.PNG

This has been happening to me more and more in the past few years, and I’ve found myself pulling materials on the fly from Twitter to use in class.  I even wrote about it here and here last year! This year, my teaching buddy (and fellow Moving Writers blogger) Mike and I are going to do a bi-weekly column called Teaching From My Twitter Feed. We think it will be a good way to keep pushing ourselves to add relevant, current material to our class and help our students see the potential for learning in their own Twitter feeds. Hopefully you’ll follow along as we experiment and share your own #tweaching with us as well! (Use the hashtag if you do. We’d love to see what you do!)

 

Now, back to that picture. There is so much to unpack both in the image and the caption. I threw the image up on the projector at the beginning of class and said, “What do you think?”  The questions started immediately:

  • Is that real?
  • What’s wrong with those people?
  • Where is that?

 

Since we were talking about perspectives, I nudged them in that direction a little first. We talked about the perspective of the photographer and the intention of the picture. We talked about the perspective of the golfers. Are they really uncaring monsters who carelessly golf the day away while the wildfires burn? Is there a perspective missing? What would happen if the shot were widened?

 

Then we talked about research. What did this picture make them want to know more about? Not a single student in my class knew that there are wildfires blazing in the west. They were all shocked because the only weather events anyone is talking about right now are the hurricanes.

 

Finally we talked about the caption: “In the pantheon of visual metaphors for today, this is the money shot.” Vocabulary alone, this was a winner. Few of my kids knew the meaning of “pantheon” so we googled it. I had to do some explaining because the dictionary definition was not particularly helpful, so it allowed for a quick convo about sophisticated diction. After that, the class was pretty split on “money shot”; some were giggling because they knew the vulgar definition and others simply knew it meant something vaguely like “most important.”  As delicately as possible, we talked about what he meant and his implicit meaning. Was the term “money shot” effective or just crass? Who was he criticizing? Who did the golfers represent? What did the fires represent?

 

All of this great discussion only took about 15 minutes of class but it showed my students how the things they scroll past can help them think more deeply and critically about the world around them. Could I save this picture and use it next year? Maybe. The discussion about perspectives would probably be largely the same, but it wouldn’t be as relevant or fresh for the students, and I’d miss an opportunity to help them see that there are interesting things all around them to think a little harder about–they just have to stop scrolling for a few minutes.  

 

The next day a kid came into class and told me that he’d read more about the wildfires online and that it “sounds crazy!”  That was all the confirmation I needed that teaching from my Twitter feed (#tweaching! We’re going to make this a thing!) is a good use of my class time. Sometimes I find something small like this that becomes fodder for notebooks or short discussion; sometimes it’s bigger and transforms a whole lesson. Either way, I think it’s one of the best avenues for keeping my class relevant with my students.

–Hattie

Do you find yourself #tweaching somedays? Connect with us on Twitter @TeacherHattie or @ZigThinks. We’d love to know what you’re up to!