“No Dress Rehearsal…”

I do not hide the fact that I am a fan of rock and roll.

And, if you’re a Canadian of my age, that means being a fan of The Tragically Hip.

That means being a fan of Gord Downie.

Gord, as we all call him, in a very Canadian way, like we knew him personally, sort of way, passed away this week. About a year and a half ago, it was revealed that Gord had terminal brain cancer. As fans, we got to say goodbye. There was new music. There was a final tour. The last show of that tour was televised, and Canada pretty much stopped to watch.

And now, he’s gone.

It rattled me. I’m a big fan of music, and lately, that seems to mean dealing with loss after loss of artists who had given you songs that meant so much. Gord’s passing has hit the hardest of these.

 

Gord

The painting that hangs in my classroom.

A painting I did after catching my last Hip show hangs in my classroom. Gord watches over us as we work. I’ve looked up a number of times the last few days, and thought about what that means in my English classroom.

 

Like many of my favorite artists, Gord made rock and roll a literate pursuit. I’ve written here before about his lyrics and poetry. In many ways, Gord wasn’t a lyricist as much as he was a poet fronting an amazing band. The Huffington Post, this week, called him a pub-rock poet. In my classroom, he watches over young writers. As I encourage them to play with words, a master of the craft is there, I hope, in spirit. Continue reading

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“Beautiful Oops”: Another Lesson in Making the Best of Mistakes

I thought I was so clever. I thought I had saved myself some time. Survey says…I was wrong! Join me today as I learn from my mistakes and try to make a “beautiful oops.”

The Inspiration:

Earlier this semester, I noticed that my seniors seemed to struggle with on-demand literary analysis. They are perceptive readers who share complex ideas about literature during class discussion, but their analytical writing was convoluted, tortured, and, often, nonsensical. How could I help them express themselves clearly? How could I weave more writing instruction into an advanced literature course (at a new school with a new rotational schedule that I’m still figuring out) without sacrificing the curriculum hours required by the course? 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.

 

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

Continue reading

A Lesson on Beautiful Sentences

A Lesson on Beautiful Sentences

There is so much ugliness in the world. Enough to last us all for a good long while. As I was adjusting my classes this week, I thought, why not beauty?

My AP students have been fixated on the weird and wonderful language in Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse Five. And frankly, I’m not over it, have never been over it, will never be over it. Each year, I teach this novel and find some new, exciting sentence I get all shivery and weird over. Each year, my students and I tag the quotable, the tattoo-able, and the indelible.

After some student requests for mini lessons that “focus on beautiful language,” I decided that there was no better moment than the present.

So, here’s what we did…

First, I asked students: What makes a sentence beautiful?

I gave them a few minutes of notebook time to write down their thoughts. After our routine writing, turn and talk, and share out, I asked students to post their best responses on the board. Here’s what they said makes sentences beautiful…

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Next, I asked them to go digging.

I gave students 5-6 minutes to thumb through the text for examples of “beautiful language,” and then write down a few examples. We then went around the room, student to student reading aloud our beautiful sentences.

Here are some some very recognizable, albeit beautiful examples, that emerged in class:

  • “All time is all time.”
  • “And I asked myself about the present: how wide it was, how deep it was, how much was mine to keep.”
  • “Everything was beautiful and nothing hurt.”
  • “But she did look back, and I love her for that, because it was so human.”
  • “The queer earth was a mosaic of sleepers who nestled like spoons.”
  • “He has always pressed it, and he always will. We always let him and we always will let him. The moment is structured that way.”
  • “The creatures can see where each star has been and where it is going, so that the heavens are filled with rarefied, luminous spaghetti.”

After that, we read like readers and then read like writers.

Some guiding questions that helped:

  • What do you notice?
  • What feeling, idea, or event is the sentence conveying?
  • How does the writer do it?
  • Is there anything significant about connotation?
  • Are literary or rhetorical devices present?
  • Is there repetition?
  • What is special, exciting, powerful, or summoning about this sentence?

Then, we built our list of mentor text “noticings.”

From students of Room 729…

 

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Finally, we did some writing of our own.

I write about this often, but this is the beauty of literature as mentor texts. You read the literature, you practice close reading, you read like a writer, and you try your hand at crafting your own beautiful sentences by making concious choices. I tell my students over and again that this is how we become more mature, sophisticated, and intentional writers.

For this portion of this activity, I gave students a series of abstract words and asked them to conjure up a sentence or two that somehow conveyed the feeling or idea of the word. As always, I asked my students to let the mentors be their guide and to use their list of “noticings” to inspire their work.

With this scaffolding and rule of thumb in mind, we wrote about WARMTH, about HOPE, about DESPAIR, about SATISFACTION, and about INEVITABILITY.

Here are a few beautiful sentences written by a few of my very lovely students (who I am grateful to for allowing me to share here):

For Warmth by Jillian C: Warmth is something that cannot always be found under blankets, or in front of heaters, or between the arms of another. Sometimes it cannot be sold or borrowed or stolen. So ignite.

For Hope by Madison B: The potential was proven when all at once, humanity became whole.

For Despair by Sydney B: At night she navigated the den that was her mind; the wolves would arrive soon. It’s a pack mentality.

Reflections on the lesson:

– I happen to be teaching Slaughterhouse Five now, but this activity can be done with any text anywhere. There’s something fun and interesting about that for me. I suspect there’s beautiful language in unsuspecting places, and if we can get students to notice that and pay attention, that’s a win for the good guys.

– Although “beautiful” is a subjective term (in the eye of the beholder and all that), this lesson forces students’ hands in categorizing and articulating beauty in language, a frequent sentiment in AP Literature.

– This lesson hit the head and the heart. One of my favorite, favorite lines from Slaughterhouse Five that I find particularly moving, especially now, says…

“What we love in our books are the depths of many marvelous moments seen all at once…they produce an image of life that is beautiful and surprising and deep.”

– Kurt Vonnegut

Ain’t that the stuff?

How do you celebrate and call attention to beautiful language in your classroom? I’d love to find out. 

Leave a comment below, find me on Twitter @karlahilliard, or connect with us on Facebook!
-Karla

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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:

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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!

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.

Organizing to Communicate: Open the Door of Your Writing Workshop to School Families

I’ve just moved to a new city, and with a move comes lots of conversations with strangers, small talk with new people who I hope against hope might become new friends. Inevitably, that small talk turns to work, and when I tell those potential new friends that I teach high school, inevitably someone in the new crowd shudders a bit and says, “Teenagers? I could never do that.” The shuddering stranger doesn’t get to see or hear what many of us witness every day–kind, compassionate hearts; eager, hungry minds; goofy, geeky abandon; dogged, unflappable determination–no, the shuddering stranger doesn’t know that the people I’m most anxious to face are actually…teenagers’ parents.

Sound familiar?

I’ve spent each of my ten years of teaching wondering why, when most of the interactions I’ve had with parents have been incredibly positive and encouraging, I’m still sometimes reluctant to reach out or make contact. I revert back to my timid, first-year teacher self. My best guess comes down to communities and borders: each year, my students and I build a community–we all know the rules, expectations, and customs, so we’re comfortable with each other–but then those students go home to family communities with their own sets of rules and expectations, customs I must learn when I venture into those communities.

What’s unfamiliar can be scary; I’m a daughter and a sister, but I’ve never been a parent, so I always feel a little out of my depth in these conversations. Perhaps some parents feel a little apprehensive because they’ve been students but not teachers. No matter what’s provoking our nervousness, it’s clear that diplomatic communication can strengthen community partnerships, creating more places for our writers to thrive. Writing workshop needs some neighborhood buy-in to succeed.

Now that you’ve followed advice from the previous posts to create a wonderful writing workshop, it’s time to organize so you can share what’s great about that writing workshop with parents and families.

Let’s start by planning backward and anticipating the questions parents and guardians might ask. Here are some frequently asked writing workshop questions from parents and strategies for answering them.

  • Writing workshop? What’s that?
  • What are the benefits of writing workshop? Where’s the rigor?
  • How will my student be assessed? 
  • How can I help? 

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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