For the second summer in a row now, I have had the distinct privilege to run a summer enrichment course on writing. Last summer, I hung out with 10 teenagers for two weeks as we wrote memoirs together. This summer, I again got to hang out with 10 teenagers, this time for 8 days, as we wrote anything our hearts desired.
We were even lucky enough to score a visit from a up and coming new author, JD Spero. Her novel Catcher’s Keeper is one of the coolest books I’ve read all year. She gave up a morning to hang with my enrichment class where she discussed her writing process, walked us through the process of outlining a novel and even got the kids working on show vs. tell. It was quite an experience.
Perhaps one of my favorite things about running this class though is the work produced. Take Morgan for example. Morgan was in my Honors English class all year. She was a very polite, quiet young lady all year. Your typical teenage writer – competent but not overly fond of writing. This all changed over the past 2 weeks. Morgan found poetry. There’s not a whole lot of time in the year for poetry writing and because this enrichment class is wide open, I like to bring in everything I can’t do over the year. Like the poem “How to Live” by Charles Webb. We read the poem, broke it down into categories and then we wrote our own. Below is Morgan’s poem. And it’s stunning.
For more information on what we did as a class feel free to browse our website.
How to Live
Eat anything you want, whether you gain a few pounds or not.
If stuffing yourself with chocolate truffles makes you happy,
Unwrap each delicacy and let your taste buds go wild.
You are valued more as a well rounded, kind person rather than your waistline.
Eat, eat, eat, if it makes you happy.
Walk along the beach as often as you can and feel each
grain of sand squishing between your toes with every step.
Feel the shocks of electrically charged emotions run through your body
when he holds your hand and smiles at you
as the sun fades into the salty ocean.
The blue water will reflect reds and pinks, the same colors on your face when
he kisses your cheek and calls you beautiful.
Learn that heartache is inevitable.
That special someone who made your stomach tingle on the beach,
and widened your smile
is not guaranteed to stay a part of your life.
When your heart feels broken, stuff yourself with more of those chocolate truffles,
that makes you happy.
Make time to listen to your mothers lessons in life.
She was the umbrella, shielding you from the tears of your
very first broken heart. She knows best.
Listen to your daddy when he says
that the boy you brought home is no good.
Chances are, he is probably right.
Create as much art as you can.
Leave your mark.
Take that paint brush and rub that canvas until all inspiration has run out
of your soul and you feel content.
Write all the words you could never say in figurative language down on some
tea scented parchment, and bind each page together with your
Love every ounce of yourself, from your head to your tip toes.
Ignore that blemish on your face, it does not define you neither does
that one strand of hair that is too stubborn to stay down.
Rejoice in your quirks and be proud that you are you.
On Thursday, we had a visit from Lisa Luedeke, author of Smashed, a beautifully written YA novel about a young field hockey star, Katie, who has a questionable relationship with alcohol and who makes bad decision after bad decision. Katie quickly falls for bad-boy Alec, and things spiral out of control.
I first met Lisa two years ago at UNH’s Literary Institute. Friends with Penny Kittle, Lisa was there promoting her new book. I was lucky enough to win an autographed copy of her novel. I started reading instantly and quickly realized that the power of this YA hit lies in the believable and complicated characters. It is a gripping story one I fell in love with instantly.
After our success with Stephen King last year, I figured why not ask Lisa to come for a visit. And she said yes! Not only did she agree to an author talk, she agreed to three! That’s right – we got her for the whole day. And she was fantastic! It was obvious
that she was a former high school English teacher — only a handful of people are capable of captivating an audience of teenagers for 100 minutes. She engaged the kids throughout the whole novel – getting them to think, talk and even write! What a day! Students were even able to purchase a copy of the novel and Lisa autographed it for them.
We were very lucky to land a visit from this upcoming YA rock star and wish her luck on her newest novel! Thanks Lisa!
Stay tuned for next year when we meet JD Spero, author of Catcher’s Keeper!
At the end of my first year teaching one student informed me that he learned nothing in my class because all he needed to do to get an A was memorize Sparknotes or reword what other students said during discussions. He explained that he was not challenged because all I cared about was that they had the “right” answer. I was crushed. And exhausted. And seriously doubting my career choice. I had earned a Masters in the art of teaching the year before for crying out loud. What happened? After several days (okay, weeks) of wallowing in self-pity I decided he was right. I taught like I was the most important person in my classroom that year and what I said (or rather, what my teacher manuals said) was the only correct answer. I felt like (still do if I’m being honest) I owed every one of those students an apology. I let them down. I let myself down.
That summer changed everything. I was introduced to the Workshop Model at UNH. And little by little over the past 5 years I have incorporated bits and pieces of this model into my teaching.
And then at the beginning of this year, in walked my past self, only she’s a lot stronger than I was as a student teacher: her name is Tori. She’s bright, fresh-faced, and eager and she challenges me daily by asking me what she probably considers easy questions.
This post is my attempt to answer her questions.
Check out the rest of my post on Teacher’s Podium. http://teacherspodium.wordpress.com/
Semester 2 always brings with it a few things: snow days, exhaustion after exams, a desire for some change and poetry. Several of those things I cannot control, but poetry is one of those that I can. Each year, our poetry until runs for about three weeks and centers around the national Poetry Out Loud Contest. I’ve been an advisor for this competition for the past 5 years. And loved every bit of it. Recently, one of my colleagues shared with me that each time he asks his seniors why they hate poetry so much, they tell him that the Poetry Out Loud unit ruins poetry for them. We as teachers have to walk a very fine line of giving our students things that they like and things we know are necessary for them because those things are often times not the same. But, I do have to wonder if the skill of memorization and recitation is a necessary skill any longer. Will my kids need this in the future? Am I just doing this unit because I love it?
The unit asks students to select a poem from the POL database, commit it to memory and participate in a class run contest. This is usually done with some whining and groaning, but each and every student completed this task. The winners from each class then move on to the school round, which we had last night. We had a total of 30 kids participate and it was probably the best contest I have seen. A few parents approached us afterward and thanked us for helping them to see their kids in a new light. I also love the fact that the students that win the class contest are not typically the top in the class. In fact, this year, one of my autistic students won and a young girl in one of my honors classes who has been in tears and struggling to maintain a C- all year won for her class. I’ll never forget the moment I told her the good news – the (good) tears in her eyes and the look she gave her best friend (who has had an A all year). She owned it and deserved it and I wonder if she would have had her moment if I cut this unit.
But is all that reason enough to require it of all my kids?
I suppose the easy answer could be that it meets several sections of the Speaking and Listening strands in the CCSS. I just cannot help but feel that this is the unit many kids simply jump through hoops during. Maybe using poetry to teach writing like we do in semester 1 is enough. Or, my colleague proposed a solution this other day: require students to recite something in front of the class, either a poem they wrote themselves or a POL poem. Maybe that’s meeting them halfway. Maybe that’s enough.
When I first became a teacher I distinctly remember being told that what my kids read doesn’t really matter as long as they are thinking “critically” and using “higher-order” thinking skills. And I thought to myself okay, I can do that. And I did. I taught novel after novel. I created (or borrowed or begged and sometime stole) worksheets, tests and projects that I felt taught “critical thinking skills.” But something was off.
That first year was a blur. I never felt ready for the next day’s lesson. I never felt like I was on top of the various initiatives and expectations. I never felt caught up on grading. In the spirit of full disclosure, I don’t think I’ve ever felt “caught up” on grading.
That year I was focused on one thing: surviving…
Read the rest HERE at Teacher’s Podium.
Check out this wonderful post from a colleague about the importance of teaching our students instead of content.
When I pick up my 2-year-old Colette from daycare, she usually asks what I “taught the kids today.” For my own amusement I always tell her exactly what we did: “We read some Ralph Waldo Emerson and Daddy asked the kids what they thought about it; We discussed the nature of ‘coming-of-age’ as defined in an essay by Pico Iyer; We explored the cyberpunk sub-genre of Science Fiction in both print and film.” I just like to hear what she says, how she processes, what she picks up. And one day she picked up on something that reminded me of a recurring conversation I used to have as a first year teacher. When I told her, “We wrote about Walden by Henry David Thoreau and shared our responses,” she replied, “No, Daddy. What did you teach?”
Click HERE to read the rest of his post.
Yesterday’s lesson was pure magic.
There I was, standing in the center of my classroom at 7:45am. Coffee thermos in hand, jeans and school t-shirt on (who doesn’t love casual Friday’s?) and words were flying around my room. Students were reading their personal narratives out loud to each other and I could hear snippets of their workshop: I really like your craft here. Consider showing this detail instead of telling it. I like the structure of this sentence here, what if you repeat it here? I think you lead is great; it really pulls me in. I love your voice! It’s so sarcastic.
I walked around my classroom, eavesdropping on each group, checking for errors or questions and realizing, slowly, happily, that they didn’t need me anymore. After two solid weeks of busting my butt with this narrative unit, it was over. They knew the craft. They knew the language. And they could articulate it with each other.
So I stayed out of the way.
I repeated this in all my classes and not a single class needed me. My administrator even walked in during one of the afternoon classes and I had that panicked moment: She’s not going to see me teaching! In fact, I was sitting on my stool in the front of my room just watching the workshop. She came over and asked what they were doing and as I explained the process of the workshop I realized that she was seeing my teaching; she was seeing the culmination of the past two weeks of my teaching.
Two weeks where I wanted nothing but sweat pants and wine when I got home from work. Two weeks where I was in bed, asleep, by 9am each night. And two weeks where I taught these kids how to write.
Teaching writing is darn hard. Assigning writing is a heck of a lot easier. I’ll be honest, sometimes (usually while in sweat pants) I long for the days where I used to assign a novel within the first few weeks of school and assign a 5-paragraph essay, a test, and a project. It was easier back then. But I never had days like Friday. I never had days where I knew they learned a skill that was not only useful, but magical. When Stephen King visited my school last May, he said that if students can learn to read and write well then they could own the world. What a huge task we are challenged with. How can we help our kids realize the power of language?
I start with the personal narrative. And I teach craft, not content.
Here is my two-week unit in a nutshell.
Day 1: Topic Selection: I like Nanci Atwell’s “Writing Territories” for this. Though for some reason I thought it was Writing Landscapes, so I call it that.
Day 2: Mentor 1 and Craft Mini-Lesson: I love mentor texts. Thanks to Penny Kittle’s and Kelly Gallagher’s work, I use mentor texts with everything. I choose my mentors based on the craft marks I want my writer’s to use. In this case Ideas/Organization, Details, Voice/Dialogue, Word Choice, Sentence Fluency, One Sentence Paragraph/Italics for Effect, Conventions. So, I organize each mentor with the craft marks that the writer uses (strong leads, voice, varied sentences, great word choice, details, etc.) and these “craft marks” are the categories of my rubrics. I start off with a great piece by Neil Gaiman called “The Flints of Memory Lane” from his book Fragile Things. It about a time when he thinks he saw a ghost.
Here is my process:
- I give each student a highlighter and identify the 2 or 3 craft marks I want him or her to annotate (highlight and label). In this case it’s details, sentence variety and word choice.
- I then read the piece out loud and have my kids mark for the three craft marks I’ve chosen for this piece.
- Then, we have a discussion. I always start with small group talk because I feel like this allows for 2 things:
- 1. The groups to start trusting each other and relying on each other and
- 2. If a student is confused or unsure, they can see what the other students say before embarrassing themselves or not participating.
- Then, we have a whole group discussion where I make notes on the board.
- And finally we emulate Mr. Gaiman by pulling a line from his piece (There were places I believed to be haunted as a child…) and we quickwrite for a while.
Day 3: Mentor 2 and Craft Mini-Lesson: This mentor is called “The Magic Marble” by Jimmy Santiago Baca in Stories from the Edge. The details in this piece are wonderful and it always grosses the kids out (he swallows a glass eye!). We follow the exact same format as I outlined above only this time we quickwrite from this one about childhood pranks we pulled or saw.
At this point, students should have a topic in mind and were drafting. We go through 4 drafts over the next few days.
Day 4: Mentor and Craft Mini-Lesson (Draft 1 is due). We focus on details here. I book talk If I Stay and pull a scene from the car accident. We discuss details and word choice. Then, there’s this great book Guys Write for Guys Read and I use a piece in there called “The Crossing”. Again, we discuss the craft marks, but instead of emulating the writers, we enhance out own draft 1 through RADaR and looping (see Kelly Gallagher for this) in class.
Day 5: Mentor and Craft Mini-Lesson (Draft 2 is due). We focus on voice and dialogue here. I used “The Truth About the World” from Guys Write for Guys Read for voice and a piece called “Walk Softly” for dialogue. Again, we discuss, then RADaR and loop in class.
Day 6: Workshop Day (Draft 3 is due). My students are freshmen and I have no idea if anyone has ever taught them to workshop. I have been slowly modeling workshops over the past few days because after I read each mentor out loud, we discuss the craft. But they need to see it in action. So I use a student mentor from the previous year for this. We pull all the craft techniques we’ve been working on together (on a rubric) and we use the rubric to annotate the student piece. Again, small group talk then large group talk. Next, I ask them to actually put a letter grade on to the piece and explain where and why she lost points. Then I show them how I graded it. This allows for several things: 1. They can see how the rubric really works (and they are forced to actually read it). 2. They see how I grade and 3. They experience breaking down a student piece into craft categories and rating it. Then we discuss the word choice that was used during the discussion: would they say the same thing they said about the student mentor to a student sitting in their group? We make rules for the following workshop.
Day 7: aka the Magical Day. I only have one rule for workshops and that is the students must come prepared. I expect them to print out a 4th revised draft at home and carefully select 3 craft questions that they believe they need help with. They are required to write these questions down on the top of the draft and make copies of their 4th drafts for each member of the group. In class, the read the drafts out loud to their groups and the group members annotate for craft (like we’ve done each day in class). Then they discuss the craft (like we’ve done each day in class) and try to answer the three questions the writer had.
That’s it. And that’s where the magic lies.
I am not saying that this is the only way to teaching writing, or even the best way to teach it. But it works for me. Especially since I realize I have become what I’ve always wanted – their coach. I was their writing coach and today, game day, they didn’t need me. I could stand on the sidelines and watch them do their thing. Watch them hit that ball out of the park. And take pride in knowing that not a single one of them asked me to look at their fourth draft that day.
I truly cannot wait for Monday when I get to start grading narratives. I never thought I’d say that.
Man! The first month of school just flew by. Actually, it’s kinda crashed and smashed on by. This year feels different from most. And I don’t think it’s the new batch of kids. I have an intern and a very good friend of mine is taking a year off to be with her baby, so things are different.
In good news, we’ve tweaked our activities a bit this year after I read THIS article over the summer. We morphed his idea a bit and we introduced our freshmen to Rhetoric (Ethos, Pathos and Logos) in the reading and writing. It’s tough stuff and some kids are already pros at it and others are still struggling. This week I asked my Honors kids to analyze The Pedestrian, The Obsolete Man (a Twilight Zone Episode (if you haven’t tried incorporating TZ into your classroom you are missing out!)) and an article from my favorite columnist, Leonard Pitts called “Crime isn’t limited to certain aspects of society”. They had to use Ethos, Pathos and Logos and write me a “So What Statement” proving the claim that our place within society defines who we are. And they struggled. They are idealists and don’t want to think that the claim is true. It took a bit for them realize the assignment is not about what they think (they are very good at articulating their own thoughts). I want to know what happens when all three texts are synthesized together. So they jigsawed. They already sit in groups of three (Writing Groups) so they divvied up the texts: one student because an expert in “The Pedestrian” the other on the Pitts article and the third on the Twilight Zone. They met in “expert groups” and together they analyzed the texts. Then went home for the night and wrote an analysis paragraph. The next day in class they jigsawed their analysis paragraphs within their “home groups” and tried to discover something new about the texts once they’ve been synthesized. Many told me they discovered English was hard and gave them headaches! Analysis and synthesis is not easy stuff and I’m proud of their thinking and effort. Their statements are due Monday – I’ll let you know how they turn out. And feel free to email me if you’d like to see the assignment.
Parent night is Thursday and we have 10 minutes with each class (of parents) to explain everything we need/want to. It always takes me 11 minutes (if I don’t breathe). There’s so much information to get across: the thematic quarters, grading policies, whole class novels vs. independent novels, the Writer’s Notebooks, my kick-a$$ website, and my intern…I don’t know what to leave out. Sure, I send home a course prospectus that all parents sign, but they cannot be expected to remember everything from every teacher.
And my goals are due Monday. I’m having a hard time writing them this year. With my intern and the new teacher I’m mentoring, I’m finding it difficult to articulate what I want to improve about my own craft. This is what I have so far for my personal goal:
“I will meet daily with my UNH intern and weekly with (the new teacher). In an effort to enhance the current curriculum and my own teaching craft, I will use these meetings for the following:
- I will keep a log of meetings with the new teacher and what we discuss
- I will work with my intern on enhancing the current curriculum and the method of delivery
- I will journal in my own Writer’s Notebook about ways working with both are enhancing / challenging my own pedagogy
- I will attend the NCTE convention this November and reflect on new ideas or approaches to student learning with the larger community by using Teacher’s Podium.
That’s it for now folks. Thanks for reading and please don’t hesitate to shoot me an email if you have any questions or leave comments below.
Elizabeth Peterson, the founder of The Inspired Classroom and the Teacher Art Retreat discusses the workshops and fun you will experience when you sign up! Don’t miss out – August 5-7, 2013.