Tag Archives: Writing

Series: Elements of Structure Part 2: Shock and Awe

Part 2 of the Elements of Structure Series

When I clicked on this link this morning, I did not know who the producers were. I had no idea about bias, message, or author’s purpose. I just sat and watched it, thinking it a sweet narrative.

Normally I’m not so blinded by the surprise, the hidden but the overarching message. I didn’t think I was susceptible to misdirection: why? Because I know what it means–how can we be tricked when we invented the magic?

But I was, and the effect was devastating.

No spoilers here. I’ll allow you the same effect–would love to hear your comments, though.

Series: Elements of Structure Part I: Effect

the-story-coaster-grant-snider

As we weave in the CCSS into our instruction, create engaging work, etc. it’s my nature to dive deeply into the subject area–to me, that’s what great teachers do, even if they know a subject intimately. It’s the artist in me: there’s always more to observe and try. With that in mind, I am writing a series on structure, craft, and style.

The first idea I want to share comes courtesy of my intelligent and wonderful colleague, Tami Gores. She and I are both working with coaches, and also have a common ground understanding of my friend and mentor, Holly Stein. (I mention this because it’s refreshing to work with someone who understands me, and I hope she feels the same. In this world, having any shared history with a colleague is a gift.)

She is the Queen of Co-Constructed Anchor Charts. The first ah-ha moment she provided me was the idea of how structure influences effect:

Courtesy of Tami Gores
Courtesy of Tami Gores

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We ELA teachers understand the rudimentary plot diagram:

From Chalkboxtales.blogspot
From Chalkboxtales.blogspot

But structure is so, so much more than this. This is the little engine that could, and while important to teach, it’s a place to start. This series will explore these ideas. With Tami’s help, and working with other ELA folks in my building, I’m sure we’ll come up with wonderful shared instruction for our students that’s relevant and empowering.

To me — there are few things more empowering that understanding another’s story. Stay tuned.

National Writing Day: October 20

Post from the NCTE about National Writing Day on October 20, the question being, just what am I doing on National Writing Day?! 

Um, gee, I don’t know! Not sure where writing fits in with the reading skills focus our district has taken. Intended to be transferable, skills hold the place of being the ‘how to learn’ idea. They are the workhorses of education: many educators feel once a skill is taught, it can be liberally applied to cure any ill. Alas, they are not a panacea, but the good intentions are there. If skills are too much the focus, they become the leech or bleeding, and knowledge building misdiagnoses may occur. Point being: many good ELA teachers are confused by a skills-only focus. But that’s a conversation for another time.

One thing I can focus on with students is the ability to write comments. Found this video in my edublogs feed:

If third-grade students can figure out how to be nice to one another, then it is my hope that we can learn how to again, as well. Maybe on October 20 we can have a classroom discussion on what comments do to us emotionally and psychologically. Stay tuned.

The Case of Kelly’s Curious Curation

Note: Here is the challenge: take one hour on a Saturday or Sunday and curate your own list of three things you could make into a mini-unit, writing prompt, etc. 

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Simon Warmers

“Alice laughed. ‘There’s no use trying,’ she said. ‘One can’t believe impossible things.’

I daresay you haven’t had much practice,’ said the Queen. ‘When I was your age, I always did it for half-an-hour a day. Why, sometimes I’ve believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast. There goes the shawl again!” – Lewis Carroll

How many times in a school year do students hear the word ‘authentic’ but have no idea of what that means? My sense is that I’ve said it myself in a somewhat precious tone, and I catch myself because it sounds a tad pretentious. In fact, I could probably erase that word from my pedagogical discourse and we’d all be better for it, at least until we get our sea-legs with writing. Maybe it’s the Glenda the Witch approach: you had the power all along, my dears, and you’re writers! But I tell them they are writers from the get-go, and attempt to give context to authenticity.

So just what is authenticity?

It’s important to remember writing and reading are not in competition in a zero-sum game. Authenticity grows from every source: lies, truth, and the devil in the details in between. Our continuum of existence demands a story. How our parents met, and what legacies we leave after we’re gone. Our ancestry, and our ‘wishful thinking’ as we explore our singular and collective identities.

Authenticity lives at the highest source of Blooms: Creativity. We hear something, see something, use our senses and ideas, and then it is our job as teachers and parents to guide our children towards creating something new out of the world’s gifts. We provide the guiding thoughts so students can find their own. It can be a phrase or an idea that we hear, and then we ask the powerful question, “What if?”

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This morning a McSweeney’s article had me laughing, the concept of “What if” Lovecraft was a substitute teacher at a junior high school? I know of Lovecraft’s writing, but have never read his work. (I should, maybe I will, but….the cultural references and allusions feel like ‘enough.’ Just like not actually reading Shelley’s Frankenstein feels shallow but ‘enough.’) So if I were to use a writer unknown to students, a little background knowledge would be in order. But that’s doable, and certainly not impossible.

H.P. LOVECRAFT’S FIRST DAY AS A SUBSTITUTE TEACHER AT ARKHAM JUNIOR HIGH SCHOOL

I take this idea, and then think about how I could apply it to writing prompts for students. What am I actually asking? I’m asking them to think about things a different way, with my core value belief that everyone can be creative, if you just show them how.

Another example is I was listening to this podcast this morning, and a dozen ideas popped in my mind –ways I could use this grand information for discussions about argumentative writing, reading, memes, digital citizenship, and human history/sociology. And ultimately, is everything or nothing a lie? 

My next is this:

In San Lorenzo, California, on May 5, 1942. The last laundry drying in the sun before the mass removal of Japanese Americans during World War II. Famed Dust Bowl photographer Dorothea Lange documented the process of internment for the federal government.

Credit: Dorothea Lange/War Relocation Authority

What stories can be told from an object?

From PRI - Dorothea Lange
From PRI – Dorothea Lange

Quick videos provide deconstruction of RAFTS:

Pinterest Board of Writing Image Prompts

Quick RAFTS overview:

Parallel Story Telling:

 

 

Now clearly this is very much from a narrative perspective. If you’re looking for non-fiction resources, NewsELA, Kelly Gallagher’s Article of the Week,  Smithsonian, and Actively Learn (all genres) are reliable and inspiring resources.

I would rather use ‘real’ things to inspire than prescriptive formats, (which are not all bad–they give a place to start.)

Tanbar, Australia Google Earth View
Tanbar, Australia Google Earth View

Here is a series on making learning visible — the students look a little uncomfortable, but I’m going to take the big ideas and make them my own, and more importantly, my students’ own.

Does this video inspire or is it a buzzkill for creativity or authenticity?

Contrasts and Contradictions in Nonfiction – Video Exemplar Lesson – Thinking Made Visible Series from HISD Professional Support & Deve on Vimeo.

Write-It-Right Wednesday

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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:

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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.