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Best laid plans.

We broke rain records this year, no small feat considering the Seattle area maintains a well-deserved reputation of one of the soggiest places around. Drizzles, downpours, drenching or dollops–no matter the size of the drop, it’s wet. Personally, my older son and I share the love of the gray, goopy clouds. Whenever I think of our rain, inevitably Tom Robbins’ thoughts on rain come to mind. (Some works of fiction stain a lifetime.)

“And then the rains came. They came down from the hills and up from the sound. And it rained a sickness. And it rained a fear. And it rained an odor. And it rained a murder. And it rained dangers and pale eggs of the beast. Rain poured for days, unceasing. Flooding occurred. The wells filled with reptiles. The basements filled with fossils. Mossy-haired lunatics roamed the dripping peninsulas. Moisture gleamed on the beak of the raven. Ancient Shaman’s rained from their homes in dead tree trunks, clacked their clamshell teeth in the drowned doorways of forests. Rain hissed on the freeway. It hissed at the prows of fishing boats. It ate the old warpaths, spilled the huckleberries, ran into the ditches. Soaking. Spreading. Penetrating. And it rained an omen. And it rained a poison. And it rained a pigment. And it rained a seizure.”
Tom Robbins, Another Roadside Attraction

Imagine the first clear, bright May day. A day after two days’ of testing. More days of testing to come. A moment in time–brief and elusive, but there. When we went outside for zombie tag, students felt so free they asked me to go outside again. Knowing I had hit on a currency I could use to all of our advantages, sure. In years past, we’ve gone outside for a Writing ‘rally,’ or as dubbed this year, a Walk’N’Write.

Here’s how it is supposed to work:

Students grab their composition notebooks, something to write with, a writing prompt slip (printed out and cut into strips). The ground rules are laid out clearly on the board, and repeated:

  1. Do not in any way cause any disruption. I don’t want to see my name in an email, hear from other staff members, see a passive-aggressive post on Facebook, be mentioned in ANY WAY, SHAPE OR FORM. Some student asked in disbelief if other teachers put other teachers “on blast” — yes, sadly. They do.
  2. Stay within earshot: I must be able to see you in the courtyard or the small field at all times.
  3. Try the prompts. Move after around ten minutes.
  4. They were allowed to take their cell phones if they wanted to take photo notes.
  5. Be prepared for an exit ticket (writing a reflection or expanding on an idea).

And, by golly, the majority of students did exactly all of these. They knew that the reason they were going outside was because they were so awesome during the zombie unit, and they earned trust to go outside again. 

Here’s how it worked:

During the first class, one student found some chalk, and one drew a penis on the ground. I don’t know who it was, and I didn’t have anything to clean it up or didn’t think quick enough to grab a cup of water and wash it away. I saw it at the end of the time outside. Middle school students draw graffiti, and genitalia is one of their common art forms. Like cave paintings of beasts and hunts, their choice of symbolism and pictographs trend toward the representation of middle school angst and Maslow’s lowest levels of the hierarchy. Watch ‘Superbad’ if you don’t believe me.

The second misstep was in not confiscating the chalk. From what I saw, there was a small piece of it, I didn’t know where it came from, and moved on. I wish I had thrown it away because other students found it and drew more…things. Pentagrams. Hearts. Butterflies. Initials. And yes, from what admin told me, more genitals. I received an email rightly advising me to make sure students did not do this in the future. But I am still not clear whose students drew all of the drawings.

So now I’m left with the unenviable task of telling my students what happened and consequences. That they have to keep themselves in check, or we can’t go outside again. Some of my fourth-period students waved in other teachers’ classrooms, and when I reminded them that that was a disruption, one argumentative young man justified it by saying the other student waved first.

Sigh.

However, there was far more positive than not. Students wrote. The noticed details, the trash, the good, ugly, and emotions tied with their surroundings. They struggled and grappled with worldly metaphors. Many saw the courtyard with new eyes. They looked up from their phones or used them to take pictures for later writing. They enjoyed the sun on their faces and breathed fresh air. It gave them one of the most important strategies for creativity: look up.

 

Just…

 

…look up.

 

PS If you look closely at the picture, there is a big white square of chalk. Someone drew over the drawing. They had better things to draw.

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Structure Series: Essays for the 21st Century

 

Writing a quick paragraph on social media is good practice.

The five-paragraph essay is likened to learning the foundations of structure and organization critical to being able to write other organized pieces. There may be merit to this, however learning how to write something no one reads anymore may only serve to rust and crumble authenticity.

Might I offer some suggestions, or additions to the five-paragraph essay, especially for secondary students?

Consider these sites/links as mentor texts as well as powerful places to publish essays. Use examples of the essays written here and challenge students to compare their essays to these.

Some close reading/close writing ideas:

  • Read for anecdotes: these may be strewn throughout the piece, or used in the beginning to provide humanity and context.
  • Read for truth (personal truths), opinions (things that strive to persuade) and facts (quantifiable data)
  • Read for thesis (claims)– but more importantly, read for ‘what question the writer is ‘answering’ — identify what prompted the piece, and what happened before and what might happen after is critical to consider the context of any essay.
  • Identify where the author broke away from the standard “five paragraph essay” and where she may have taken some key pieces for organization — how does it begin? How is it concluded? What points are made in the middle?
  • In the conclusions: analyze how the conclusion stacks up with leaving the reader with the desired outcome, whatever that may be. Does the conclusion provide wisdom, more questions, a summation of ideas? How? Why or why not?

Quora

Medium

Flipboard

Op-Ed Pieces from NY Times, Washington Post:

The Right Call: Yale Removes My Racist Ancestor’s Name From Campus

No, Robots Aren’t Killing the American Dream

In contrast, posted in Medium:

A warning from Bill Gates, Elon Musk, and Stephen Hawking

There is always more to the story. Consider what perspectives or voices are not being heard, what are the perceptions, and what is ‘stochastic terrorism’ —

From Quora:

Read Chris Joosse‘s answer to What is it that conservative voters just don’t get yet? on Quora

 

These sites allow for curation and dialogue. Challenge students to find pieces that bounce against one another, the claims and counter-claims of 21st-century discussions. We are not sitting around dinner tables anymore, we are sitting in a web of ideas, and sometimes we are the prey: in this day and age, it is critical to not gloss over what is fake news, but to empower our students to consider and weigh the entire issues at stake. It is a monumental task but may mean life or death. Hyperbole? Not when others are reading conspiracy theories and threatening lives. Even if this isn’t factual–consider that some do believe it, and act accordingly.

 

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Series: Elements of Structure Part 9: Parody & Satire

I think I would cease to function if I didn’t have my sense of humor.

Everyone thinks they have a sense of humor, but…

Humor is one of the most difficult mediums to write. One way to allow students to access their natural silliness is to introduce them to parody and satire.

Parody: intended to spoof by using humor based on an existing piece/genre

Satire: intended to criticize something or someone, often with humor, but not necessarily.

Is Monty Python Satire? (Click for a PDF)

Malcolm Gladwell’s podcast, Revisionist History (did I list that one, too!?) did a show on satire. The upshot is we Americans do a pretty terrible job at satire–it’s McWeaksauce sometimes–but is still important. I wonder what it says about the nation who invented stand-up can’t do satire as well? Hmm. 

Media Literacy: Middle School Kids Love Parody

How would we go about introducing students to parody and satire? They are well-versed in memes and Youtube channels that provide so many examples and are masters at consuming media/humor. But how to create content? Perhaps I would pose the question to them: what angers, frustrates, or annoys them, and how would they like to create their own parodies? It’s important to point out parodies are not mean-spirited or bullying. What rules do they think are silly or goofy (I think the beloved yellow safety vest hall pass might their first target)?

And yes, while I think this is terrible, from a jester-level sense of humor, it is kind of funny:

Article Link in Cosmopolitan

From a historical standpoint, how has parody and satire changed the world? And it has, no doubt. Mocking rulers, institutions, sacred cows and laws, parody and satire help us all laugh so we don’t cry. And that makes us stronger.

Ms. Chappele’s Student Site

Examples of Satire in Candide/Seattle PI Education Site

And of course: (PG 13 language)

This is something I’m going to try on very soon. We all could use a good laugh.

But sometimes it doesn’t feel good to be the butt of a joke.

 

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Write-It-Right Wednesday

IMG_3371
Anything, and I mean anything, can be a writing prompt. While waiting for a friend the other day, this Pokestop popped up on my screen. What other amazing things/places are out there in the world I never saw before?

We are writers.

Writing serves my creative mania. In my classroom, historically, we write more than we read. Do I love books? Of course! Am I passionate and excited about passages, excerpts, themes, patterns, characters, and juicy plots? Naturally! But in my experience, if you truly want to a student, a person– to engage, spill their guts, bare their soul and express themselves, writing is it.

Write-It-Right Wednesdays are mini-lesson moments and writing workshop days. Mini lessons are those quick, here is a “thing you need to know” thing. Writing Workshop is a very different animal, and all I’ve learned is from my mentors Holly Stein and Kim Norton through the PSWP (part of the National Writing Project). The Puget Sound Writing Project is no longer, unfortunately, but Holly and Kim began a new venture, PSW Consortium.

Here is Writing Workshop:

  1. You write.
  2. Your students write.
  3. What do you write about? Whatever is on folks’ minds, part of the content, etc. Or what my friend Holly calls “Rule #10: write what you want.”
  4. Use images, news stories, personal anecdotes, objects, postcards, whatever.
  5. Writing is sacred time.
  6. If someone comes in the room to observe during this, they are asked to write, too.
  7. In small groups, each person takes a turn to read their writing. Nothing is in the listeners’ hands. Nothing.
  8. Second read: the listeners give feedback. Never, ever hand your writing over to someone else to read. Yes, it can get noisy. This is not about spelling or editing.
  9. The listeners take a few minutes to verbally give feedback, and hand over the feedback slips to the writer.
  10. The writer says “thank you.” That’s it. They can choose to take the listeners’ advice or not. This is important to teach in terms of preparing writers for criticism and to understand their own craft.

 

This is Holly’s Power Point. I hope she doesn’t mind me sharing it.

Writing Partner Feedback Sheet I have a format in Publisher where I put these two up on a page, and double-side photocopy. This document contains the essential information.

Two Writing Teachers

WriteAbout

For the grammar lessons, I may try to use Grammarly in the classroom.

Here is an example from a student from a memoir unit:

7 feedback
This was from a modeling portion where I wrote the story, and students acted as my writing partner for feedback.

And for heaven’s sake, start a writing blog for your students: http://poetryclub.edublogs.org/

Update: Two Writing Teachers wrote a great piece on Writing Workshop. Read and keep.

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CCSS + Writing Instruction Reflection

If you read one article this summer, my mentor Holly might suggest this one:

Are modern standards breeding a decline in cultural literacy?

I highly recommend it, too.

Sylvia Plath
Sylvia Plath

This post is getting messy. Filled with bits of type and text, like overcooked alphabet soup. Consider it a link festival, full of rabbit holes and mad hatter tea parties. The question presented is now that CCSS is established in many states, what have we lost or gained?

Reminder to read and understand how to move forward with CCSS in ELA/SS:

CCSS

Back in 2013, Dr. Gentry published an article, “Will Common Core Wreck Writing in Schools?”

First, I am wondering if we even have a sense of what is ‘teaching writing?’ It doesn’t seem to exist. There is the editorial/grammatical end to the whole language approach of ‘any mark is a good mark on the page’.

Some of the fears:

How Common Core Might Not Support Real Writing

The worry among good teachers of writing is that if interpreted and implemented incorrectly, Common Core Standards might put an end to many of the practices espoused by Graves and in effect, destroy real writing in schools. Here are some of the concerns and quotes teachers share with me:

Writing is shifting back to a product approach.

Students aren’t given choice of topics.

Children are forced to write from rubrics or templates that stifle creativity.

Ownership for children is out the window.

Common Core says every teacher is a writing teacher but we haven’t been trained to teach writing.

Teachers neither have the time nor the training for teaching the writing process.

Too much test prep and testing take time away from time for writing in school.

Our state writing test is based on strict rubrics and products—creativity doesn’t count.

Our state writing tests are scored by computers—add more sentences and the score goes up.

Teachers no longer teach conventions like spelling and handwriting.

One teacher told me, “It’s hard to see the ‘vibrancy of life’ in children’s writing when all we care about is the score on the state writing test. That’s a product.”

Most of these fear seem to be the opposite outcome from Common Core. I’m not quite sure what the rumors were, or where the fears came from. But the testing part does seem to have some merit at first glance. Later this weekend I’ll be completing a Prezi that contains the brief write rubrics for Common Core writing assessments, and they are valuable for any content area. 

Some of these fears are truly odd: since when have standards given students specific topics? And since when have standards ‘taught teachers how to teach writing?’ 

And on what metric is creativity? I’m not sure. I’m still a bit baffled. 

Contrasting to Gentry’s article, the Atlantic published an article about how the CCSS revitalized and revolutionized writing in schools by Peg Tyre: 

New Dorp’s Writing Revolution, which placed an intense focus, across nearly every academic subject, on teaching the skills that underlie good analytical writing, was a dramatic departure from what most American students—especially low performers—are taught in high school. The program challenged long-held assumptions about the students and bitterly divided the staff. It also yielded extraordinary results. By the time they were sophomores, the students who had begun receiving the writing instruction as freshmen were already scoring higher on exams than any previous New Dorp class. Pass rates for the English Regents, for example, bounced from 67 percent in June 2009 to 89 percent in 2011; for the global-­history exam, pass rates rose from 64 to 75 percent. The school reduced its Regents-repeater classes—cram courses designed to help struggling students collect a graduation requirement—from five classes of 35 students to two classes of 20 students.

The critical difference between pre-CCSS and emerging CCSS is writing argumentative and explanatory pieces.

In the coming months, the conversation about the importance of formal writing instruction and its place in a public-school curriculum—­the conversation that was central to changing the culture at New Dorp—will spread throughout the nation. Over the next two school years, 46 states will align themselves with the Common Core State Standards. For the first time, elementary-­school students—­who today mostly learn writing by constructing personal narratives, memoirs, and small works of fiction—will be required to write informative and persuasive essays. By high school, students will be expected to produce mature and thoughtful essays, not just in English class but in history and science classes as well.

The NCTE provides their take, which correlates to the analytical approach, and appears more inclusive instruction.

Writing grows out of many purposes

Writing is not just one practice or activity. A note to a cousin is not like a business report, which is different again from a poem. The processes and ways of thinking that lead to these varied kinds of texts can also vary widely, from the quick email to a friend to the careful drafting and redrafting of a legal contract. The different purposes and genres both grow out of and create varied relationships between the writers and the readers, and existing relationships are reflected in degrees of formality in language, as well as assumptions about what knowledge and experience are already shared, and what needs to be explained. Writing with certain purposes in mind, the writer focuses attention on what the audience is thinking or believing; other times, the writer focuses more on the information she or he is organizing, or on her or his own emergent thoughts and feelings. Therefore, the thinking, procedures, and physical format in writing are shaped in accord with the author’s purpose(s), the needs of the audience, and the conventions of the genre.

And the NWP weighs in with their suggestions for ‘teaching writing.’ I’ve labeled each suggestion to make sense of what skill it may be adressing.

NWP: 30 Ideas for Teaching Writing

Table of Contents: 30 Ideas for Teaching Writing

  1. Use the shared events of students’ lives to inspire writing. brainstorming/ideas
  2. Establish an email dialogue between students from different schools who are reading the same book. literary connections
  3. Use writing to improve relations among students. audience/purpose
  4. Help student writers draw rich chunks of writing from endless sprawl. organization
  5. Work with words relevant to students’ lives to help them build vocabulary. vocabulary/word choice
  6. Help students analyze text by asking them to imagine dialogue between authors. RAFTS (role, audience, form, topic, strong verbs)
  7. Spotlight language and use group brainstorming to help students create poetry. revising/craft
  8. Ask students to reflect on and write about their writing. self-assessment
  9. Ease into writing workshops by presenting yourself as a model. craft
  10. Get students to focus on their writing by holding off on grading. self-assessment
  11. Use casual talk about students’ lives to generate writing.  brainstorming/ideas
  12. Give students a chance to write to an audience for real purpose.
  13. Practice and play with revision techniques.   grammar/revision/editing –conventions/mechanics
  14. Pair students with adult reading/writing buddies. workshop/mentor
  15. Teach “tension” to move students beyond fluency. craft
  16. Encourage descriptive writing by focusing on the sounds of words.
  17. Require written response to peers’ writing. workshop/craft/revising
  18. Make writing reflection tangible. annotating, self-assessment
  19. Make grammar instruction dynamic. grammar/revision/editing –conventions/mechanics
  20. Ask students to experiment with sentence length.
  21. Help students ask questions about their writing. self-assessment
  22. Challenge students to find active verbs. RAFTS (role, audience, form, topic, strong verbs)
  23. Require students to make a persuasive written argument in support of a final grade. audience/purpose
  24. Ground writing in social issues important to students. audience/purpose
  25. Encourage the “framing device” as an aid to cohesion in writing. structure/craft
  26. Use real world examples to reinforce writing conventions.
  27. Think like a football coach. RAFTS (role, audience, form, topic, strong verbs)/mentor texts
  28. Allow classroom writing to take a page from yearbook writing. mentor texts
  29. Use home language on the road to Standard English. word choice/sentence fluency
  30. Introduce multi-genre writing in the context of community service. audience/purpose

Evolving from the fears of the CCSS writing standards to the present, what changes do you think have been most effective, and where are some areas educators are still confused? What is most beneficial to students, or is an understanding that writing is complex, and approach with patience and grace the most important thing?

old scholar

Scholarly articles if you’re really bored this summer:

http://www.albany.edu/cela/publication/article/writeread.htm

http://writing-speech.dartmouth.edu/teaching/first-year-writing-pedagogies-methods-design/integrating-reading-and-writing

http://readingandwritingproject.org/about/research-base

http://blog.penningtonpublishing.com/reading/twelve-tips-to-teach-the-reading-writing-connection/

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