Making Research Flexible

My second grader came home the other day and announced he needed to do some research. He was working on an informational book about basketball, he explained. Who am I to stand in the way of a researcher?? He plopped down and got to work. Soon, he had a document filled with all of the things he wanted to know:

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(Oh, the sadness when his research revealed that Michael Jordan is retired.)

Once again, the power of choice and interest was on full display. He was highly motivated because he was researching with a clear purpose: he had lots of stuff he wanted to know about basketball.   But that’s not what this post is really about. Watching him, I realized I was watching a researcher at work. I was watching a writer who was using research as a tool to support his writing.

I think that’s a shift we need to help our students make sometimes in their writing. Depending on their experiences with research writing, many of them have learned to be students who write research papers or complete research projects. Instead, we need to position them as writers who use research to support their writing. It may not seem like a big difference, but I think it’s an important shift if we want them to leave our rooms ready to be adult writers who can apply research skills in different situations. The problem with that shift is that it takes a lot of flexibility on our part.

 

 

 

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Yes/No/So

Spring in AP English Language is always a little tricky. Stress levels rise among the students as the test looms, and they’re all desperately searching for the magical formula that will make it all click. It’s tough to keep them engaged in the hard work of revising and slowly improving their craft as writers when they want me to just tell them how to get a 5 already.

When I’m not working with those AP students in the afternoons, I’m working with struggling readers and writers as a literacy support coach.  I experienced some similar frustrations–and the same desire for a magical formula– when working with some ninth graders on a recent argumentative essay.

In both cases, the students were frustrated with building arguments logically. They knew they had to address a counterargument, but they weren’t really sure what that entailed. They knew they had to support their claims with evidence, but they didn’t know how to order their different claims in a way that made sense. They knew some of the evidence was stronger than other pieces, but they couldn’t wrap their brains around how to weigh one piece of evidence against another.

As I worked with all of them, I realized I did have a magic formula.

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Wonderfully Messy Notebooks

About a month and a half ago, I wrote a post about my plan for new notebooks in my AP Seminar class.  I was fired up. We were going to make them into bullet journals. There were layouts, there were intricate planning grids, and there were lots and lots of colored markers and pens involved. After I posted the blog, several people said, “Make sure you update us! Let us know how it’s going!” So here we are, warts and all, with my wonderfully messy, not-at-all-what-I-imagined-but-actually-pretty-awesome writer’s notebooks.

Keep reading if you’re curious about what I’ve learned about my students and their writing lives.

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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:

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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:

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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:

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