Visual Literacy and Reflecting about Reading

Be sure to check out my new article on Edutopia.org!

 

edutopia article

 

Beyond the Book: Infographics of Students’ Reading History

Connecting High School and First-year Comp Writing

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According to an article from  Ed Week earlier this year:

survey by ACT finds that 89 percent of high school teachers report their students are “well” or “very well” prepared for college-level work in the subject they teach, while just 26 percent of college instructors say incoming students are “well” or “very well” prepared for entry-level courses.

Somewhere, there is a disconnect.  High school teachers want to prepare their students for college writing and we feel that we are doing so.  But college instructors aren’t seeing that on their end.  That can probably be attributed to the fact that high school and college writing instructors rarely interact when it comes to pedagogy.  There’s almost no line between high school English teachers and college writing instructors.  Most high school teachers I know cobble together their knowledge of college writing from their own experiences and those that alumni share with them.  But it’s time for that to change.

This summer, my colleague Michelle and I are trying to put together a writing roundtable and we need your help!  We are looking for college writing instructors to join us in a discussion about the transition from high school to college writing.  Our goal is to make that transition easier for our students and their college instructors.  We’ve all heard the “rules”: no 1st person, no 2nd person, only use MLA, only use Chicago/APA, etc.  It’s time to put an end to speculation and the broad generalizations.  So if you are a writing instructor at  the college level and can get to Freehold, NJ on July 8th, please join us!

From Text Messages to Essays….

My husband and I were out to dinner this weekend at a local hibachi restaurant and we were seated with a group of high school girls.  I would guess they were freshman or sophomores.  The girls spent the entire dinner on their cell phones or making comments about each other, which my husband could not understand. “Why are girls so catty?” he kept asking me.

I, on the other hand, was fascinated by the care they took when crafting their text messages.  One of the girls was in the middle of some sort of fight with a boy and every time he texted her they all crowded around her phone and dissected his short text messages.  But what I was intrigued by was the time they spent in crafting the perfect response.

*Imagine this conversation taking place with all four girls constantly talking over each other.*

“What should I say?” the girl with the cell phone asked her friends.

“Just say that’s ok”.

“No!  Not ok.  Say something else…”

“That’s not cool?”

“You’re an idiot? Ha!”

“Try that’s fine!”

“Yeah, that works. But don’t use an exclamation point. You don’t want him to think you’re excited.”

“Right. You don’t want to be nasty but you want him to know you’re annoyed. Not angry, just that you’re annoyed at him.”

“Ok. So I wrote ‘That’s fine.” period.”

“Perfect!”

This took about three or four minutes.  But I’ve been thinking about it ever since.  These girls took such care to choose exactly the right words and punctuation in order to convey the tone they desired.  They knew what they wanted the audience (the boy) to think when he read the words they crafted.

How do we get these girls, and all students, to care this much about the writing they do in the rest of their life?  I don’t just mean in school- having a teacher read your essay isn’t exactly a real audience. But what about the words they write online? The Facebook updates, the tweets, the tumblr posts…..all of these deserve the same care in word choice and punctuation.  We need to capture this scene and transfer it to all writing.

One way to do this in school is by providing opportunities for students to write for a real audience.  A great way to do that is publishing online. I’ve started doing that this year and the response has been great.  My students just finished writing creative nonfiction literature responses about books that have influenced their lives and in my search for the perfect online publishing space I discovered posterous.com

Posterous is a lot like tumblr but I find it to be a bit more academic.  There are more controls (moderated posting and moderated comments for instance) but the ease of use is still there, which is key.  And the best part, for teachers, is that students can email work directly to the blog account and with a quick once-over I can post them. It’s practically instant!

I gave my students the option of publishing this last writing piece and about 25% of my freshman followed through. Those who chose to publish are thrilled with the response and love getting comments.  If you are interested in taking a look, the essays can be found here.

Where online do you publish your students? I’m always looking for more outlets and I’d love to hear from you!

National Day on Writing Round-up

I am the luckiest teacher in the world.  I work with the most fantastic teachers and this year I’ve connected with some of the English teachers in other buildings in our district.  Michelle and Kelly are awesome and we are so on the same page when it comes to tech and promoting English in our STEM-oriented schools.

Earlier this year Michelle and I were brainstorming ways to do more inter-academy activities in the humanities.  Michelle mentioned that she used Googledocs to run some fun writing contests in her classes and I brought up the idea of taking that idea and extending it to all of our academies.  Thus was born the first annual inter-academy writing contest!

We ended up holding a flash fiction contest.  Students were charged with writing a 6 sentence story (no more, no less!) and were give about two weeks to enter.  All entries were collected via the Googledoc survey.  Students could enter as often as they wished until the deadline and we advertised the contest in all five of the academies.  Within just a few days we had entries from every school!

After entries closed, we all popped into the Googledoc to choose the finalists.  We wanted two finalists from each school and we were able to hide the column showing the name of the student who submitted the entry, so we were able to judge “blind”.  Using the chat feature in Googledocs, we were able to discuss our choices as we made them.  We ended up with 160 entries, which was INSANE.  It took us a lot longer than we planned to narrow down the choices so we didn’t have the finalists chosen for the National Day on Writing, as planned.  However, I’m ok with that because we managed to get so many students involved in the contest!

Our finalists have been chosen and the anonymous stories are now posted in a single googledocs survey.  We posted the survey tonight and students are able to vote until Wednesday.  The winner will receive two trophies- one for them to keep and one for their school trophy case.  The school trophy will be passed to the winning school every year, like a Super Bowl trophy.  Yay for writing!!

How did you celebrate the National Day on Writing?

#WhyIWrite

I write because I have always written.  I write because it feels strange not to write.  I write because I want to write.

 

Why do you write?  Today is the National Day on Writing and thousands of people all over the world are participating in #whyIwrite.  The National Writing Project has compiled a list of the following ways to participate today:

Participate in Why I Write

Here are different ways you can participate or celebrate “Why I Write”:

Submit student essays to Figment.com: Figment will be accepting submissions from September 28 through October 29. Since “Why I Write” is a celebration of writing, there are no prizes, but a curated anthology of selected submissions will be available as an e-book later this winter. Submit to Figment.

New York Times Learning Network: The New York Times Learning Network will present a series of interviews with reporters who cover a range of beats and explore their writing process. These interviews will serve as the basis for lesson plans, prompts for students, discussions, and inspiration.

Edutopia: Edutopia will be celebrating “Why I Write” with a series of blogs by NWP writers. Each blog will then invite readers to share why they write with others in the Edutopia community. These conversations will take place on the Edutopia.org website and within our communities on Twitter and Facebook.

NWP Radio: On October 20 at 7 p.m. EST, the National Writing Project will air a live radio show to celebrate the National Day on Writing with interviews with New York Times education reporter Fernanda Santos, New York Times Learning Network editor Katherine Schulten, Figment founder and New Yorker staff writer Dana Goodyear, Figment teen writers, and NWP teacher and author Ashley Hope Perez, among others.

Tweet #whyiwrite: Tweet why you write and include the hashtag #whyiwrite so that everyone can see the many reasons people write.

Post on Facebook: We’d like everyone to post why they write on their Facebook pages on October 20 and encourage others to do so. Let’s create a national dialogue about writing!

 

Visit Why I Write for more information and links to essays from tons of authors about why they write.

They Say/I Say: The Moves That Matter in Academic Writing by Gerald Graff and Cathy Birkenstein

If you teach writing at the secondary level, you need to order this book immediately.  I ordered it on a whim last year and couldn’t believe my luck when I read it.  It was like I stumbled into a gold mine, full of little nuggets of writing genius.  I started using it with my freshman writers and their analytic writing improved dramatically.  They referred back to the lessons all year long and I was stunned by their growth.  The ideas really stuck with them.

They Say/I Say: The Moves That Matter in Academic Writing is intended to guide writers away from the pre-packaged five paragraph essay. Instead, it leads students into deeper analytical thinking by having them respond to the ideas in the text they are reading. It’s full of sentence starters that help kick off writing, but then the students have to carry it the rest of the way. It’s the perfect blend of a template and the freedom to write. And it doesn’t encourage a five-paragraph essay! Instead, it encourages essay writing. That’s it. Just writing. No silly length requirements. And I love it.

Highly, highly recommended to writing/English teachers.

*copy purchased by me

Alyssa Sheinmel Interview!

Today I am very happy to welcome author Alyssa Sheinmel to the blog.  Her realistic fiction books always grab me so when I was offered the opportunity to speak with her, I jumped on it. Her new book, The Lucky Kind is the story of Nick, a teen in New York who’s world is turned upside down when he learns that his father had a son whom he gave up for adoption. Suddenly, Nick doesn’t know who he is, and if he can trust his parents.

Thanks so much for agreeing to be interviewed at thereadingzone, Alyssa! I read and loved The Lucky Kind  and I can’t wait to share it with my high school students. When you first got the idea for The Lucky Kind , what came first? Did characters come to you first, or was the concept/plot the first thing?

Well, first and foremost, thank you for reading and for sharing it with your students! I’m thrilled that you like the book.

The idea for this story had been percolating in my imagination for a while before I sat down to write it. From the beginning, I knew I was going to tell the story of someone on the periphery of adoption; not the person who gives up a child for adoption, and not the person who was given up. The story in my head was of a boy just outside of the experience of adoption, but who was nonetheless deeply affected by it. As far as Nick’s character, I didn’t really get to choose it; as The Lucky Kind took shape in my imagination, Nick’s voice – and through it,his character – came right along with it. It was always Nick’s story.


The Lucky Kind  and your previous book, THE BEAUTIFUL BETWEEN, are both set in New York City. What made you choose NYC as your setting?

I’m a big fan of writing what you know – or at least, writing some of what you know – so I always try to ground my stories in real details. For me, that meant placing The Lucky Kind in New York City. That’s where I went to high school, and those are the restaurants and movie theaters that I grew up going to, the subway I grew up taking, the streets I walked with my friends. That’s not to say I’d never write a book that takes place anywhere else. (I hope that I will!) But New York seemed like the natural setting for this story.


What is your routine like? Do you write everyday? Do you have a specific writing schedule?

I don’t write every day. Right now, writing fits into my life in bits and pieces – I fit it in around my day job, around walking my dog, even around silly things like the TV shows I want to watch and the friends I want to meet for dinner. So, I’m pretty flexible when it comes to when I write; though my favorite time to write is in the morning.


What type of writer are you? Do you plan ahead/plot or do you simply fly by the seat of your pants?

Somewhere in between. I don’t outline, but I do make a lot of notes, from the minute I get an idea for a story. I generally begin with an idea about where my story is going to start, and where it will end, and a few of the plot points in between. But as I write, some of those plot points are almost always abandoned in favor the ones that manage to pop up along the way.

Your books are so perfect for teens of both genders. What inspired you to write for teens?

I never intentionally chose to write for teens; I just wanted to tell the stories that came to me to tell. But I do love writing for teens. I know it’s a bit of a cliché to say this, but I truly think that no books stay with you like the books you read when you’re young. I still remember the first chapter book I ever read (The One in the Middle is the Green Kangaroo), and I still remember how proud I was when I finished it, exactly where I was sitting in my grandmother’s house, my father at my side. I considered myself a reader from a fairly young age, but never more so than as a teenager. The books that I loved then are the books that I read over and over; I can recite passages of those books from memory to this day. Now, I try to write for the teenager that I was, who loved her books so much that she begged her mother for bookshelves the way most girls beg for clothes. (Though, I begged for plenty of clothes, too.)

And the most important question- what is your favorite go-to snack when you are writing?

Does gum count as a snack? I chew a lot of gum while I write. Sometimes I can’t start working until I have a piece of gum in my mouth (though I spit it out after about 60 seconds).


Thanks so much, Alyssa!  Readers, be sure to pick up a copy of her new book, The Lucky Kind , in bookstores today!  It’s fantastic and you can count on a review very soon.

Writer’s Notebooks: Literacy Outside of School #sas2011

Many children love to doodle, write stories, and decorate empty notebooks found laying around the house.  How can we capture this energy and help kids develop their literacy skills outside the classroom?  We know how important it is to read, and we’ve talked a lot about reading this week. But what about writing?

There is nothing better than a writer’s notebook!  Every child should have a notebook, that they can decorate, doodle in, write down their stories, and cherish.  This should not be something that is graded, checked by mom or dad, or made to be a burden in any way.  A writer’s notebook is a special place, and individual place.

A writer’s notebook isn’t a diary.  It isn’t a journal.  It’s something different.  Something special.  A writer’s notebook is a place to jot down ideas and sketches, to write stories and paste in ephemera.

And the best part?  Lots of published authors cherish their writer’s notebooks and use them daily!  Some of those authors have been kind enough to share a photo of their notebook(s) and a little bit about how they use them.  I hope they inspire you to start keeping a writer’s notebook, and to hand a writer’s notebook to a child in your life!

Courtney Sheinmel:

Like most authors I know, I write my books on a computer.  The problem is, some of my best ideas come at completely inconvenient times – like when I’m on the subway and nowhere near my computer, or when I’m in bed with all the lights turned out.  Late at night, so warm and snug under my down comforter, the last thing I want to do is turn on my computer.  I used to think, Well, this idea is so good there’s no way I’ll forget it.  I’ll just write it down later. And then, invariably, I’d forget my brilliant idea.  In the morning, all I’d remember is the fact that I’d had a brilliant idea, and it would leave me devastated that the book would have to exist without it.  So I started keeping a notebook by my bed, and carrying it  around with me when I left the house, small enough so it fit in my purse – the book under the BlackBerry in the picture is one that’s all filled up now.  My handwriting is especially messy in it, since so often the notes were jotted down in the middle of the night.  Now I’ve graduated from an old school notebook to something way more technological, i.e., the “notes” application on my BlackBerry (that’s why the BlackBerry is atop the notebook in the picture).  I’m completely addicted to the device, so it’s never too far away.  Not sure you can see it in the picture, but I have all sorts of categories, and I’ll type in whatever idea just popped into my head.  They’re certainly not all brilliant, but at least there never has to be another idea lost.

Megan McCafferty:

I did research for about a year before I began writing Bumped. I jotted down passages from relevant books in my black and white speckled composition notebook and ripped out dozens of articles and put them in this “IDEAS” folder. On the clipping titled, “16 & Pregnant: No Fairy-Tale Ending” I wrote,”What if society DID encourage sex? Why?” These are the questions that inspired the novel. The whole story can be traced back to that torn piece of newspaper.

Mitali Perkins:


I start the mornings with a good cup of coffee and a time of reading and reflection through journaling. My preference is a standard composition book and a good, fine-tip pen. I write only on one side of the paper, avoiding backs of pages, always in messy, free-flowing cursive. What do I write? Poetry, ideas for stories, prayers full of angst and anxiety, gratitude and celebration. My journal is supposed to be as private and safe as a fire escape, and one of the reasons I like to use that metaphor in my online life. Recently, however, my dog Zipper (with my son as scribe), violated that privacy to leave an interesting request (see photo).

Barbara Dee:

I have a blue 4X6 spiral notebook that I bring along most places, because you never know when you’ll have your next idea for a book! Here’s what I scrawled one day on a bumpy train ride into New York City: the inspiration for my new tween novel, TRAUMA QUEEN. On the upper left, you can see the names of the characters (the main character is Marigold, but apparently I was also considering Zinnia.) Below it is the plan for the first chapter, which is pretty faithful to what actually got written. On the right page, I’d started to work out Marigold’s/Zinnia’s mother, a performance artist in the Karen Finley mold who “teaches improv workshops-colleges.” After that it gets weird– I’ve written “thumb/bendy straw/ self-esteem.” Huh? I’m completely baffled by these scribbles. Maybe they reflect some idea about where I meant to go in Chapter Two, and the train arrived at Grand Central Station before I could flesh out my thoughts. That’s one of the hazards of writing on trains, I guess: you can lose things even when you write them in your notebook.

Jonathan Auxier:

The first is just my closed Journal. I’ve been using one type for the last ten years (Canson 7×10 field sketch) and same pen (pilot v7

clipped into the spine).  I’ve got about 25 of them now on a shelf.

The second picture is putting down an idea for a book character. I happened to tap
e some old paintings I found online in the corner (which I often do). This character — like many I draw — didn’t make the cut.
The third pic is an example of what I like to do when I read . I take down quotes, new vocab and images that struck me. These notes are all from Roald Dahl’s TALES OF THE UNEXPECTED.

 

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As you can see above, writer’s notebooks are differentiated and individual  Each person treats theirs differently, so there is no right or wrong way to use your writer’s notebook.  It is a great habit for kids to get into, and a great one for adults, too.  If you are interested in learning more about writer’s notebooks and getting some additional ideas, you must check out Ralph Fletcher’s A Writer’s Notebook: Unlocking the Writer Within You!
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Do you have a writer’s notebook?  I would love to see some photos in the comments!

Learning to Take Risks- Jumping into Literary Analysis With My Freshman

A few weeks ago, I participated in the English Companion Ning‘s Webstitute “Work with Me”. (By the way, if you teach English and are not yet a member of the Ning, get yourself over there ASAP and sign up. It is free and full of ideas, networking, and just plain fun.) The best session in the webstitute, for me, was Penny Kittle’s “Craft Analysis”.  This year, I have been struggling to get my freshman to take risks in their writing.  I teach at a math, science, and technology magnet-like school and all of my students are brilliant.  However, many of them are very analytical and black-and-white when it comes to writing.  They tend to write a lot of plot summary and avoid any type of analysis.  I figured out that they were afraid of being wrong and losing points, but nothing I tried was working- they were still regurgitating plot and not analyzing and thinking on their own.

Lately, I have also been reading a lot about our students’ deficits with close, deeper reading.  (Too Dumb for Complex Texts?)  Colleges have been lamenting that students are unable to read complex texts and end up in remedial courses.  I want to make sure that my tech-driven students are readers who are ready for the rigors of the rest of high school and college.  I have spent weeks (maybe even months!) brainstorming ways to bring this to the forefront in my classroom, too.

Then I participated in Penny’s portion of the webstitute.  She shared a craft analysis project that she did with her students and I was immediately inspired.  It was exactly what I had been trying to come up with, but had been unable to pull together in any type of organized manner.  Penny was kind enough to share her handouts and I immediately downloaded them.  Over the past few weeks I have been working on tweaking the project for my particular students while also working through the project myself, in order to model it for them.  I am rereading Judy Blundell’s National Book Award winner, What I Saw And How I Lied. I’ve storyboarded about half the book while also writing my thoughts, noticings, and questions. It’s really made me work hard and notice Blundell’s craft moves, things that didn’t jump put at me on my first-draft reading. I was so excited to share this with my students and see what they came up. This past week, we started the project.

I am so thrilled with what is happening in my classroom right now!  We started with storyboarding earlier this week and it really clicked with my kids.  While they were hesitant at first (rolling eyes, mumbling about how it was for little kids), it was fascinating to watch them storyboard William Maxwell’s “Love” and then share their pages with the class.  Not one page looked like any other student’s page.  They all thought differently and displayed their ideas differently.  It was so cool to see them standing at the document camera and explaining their thinking, engaging each other. Later in the week, one of my students met me at lunch for some writing tips/help and he told me that storyboarding is really helping him because, “it’s making me stop and think a lot, and when I think about the story it’s easier to have ideas about it. Then I don’t have to just write what it’s about.”

Right now, each student should be working on storyboarding the book(s) they chose to reread.  I had each student respond to an assignment on Edmodo telling me what book they would be analyzing.  They picked some great ones!  Examples include The Book Thief, The Shadow Children series, Between Shades of Grey, The Knife of Never Letting Go, The Thief, Impulse, Paper Towns, The Hunger Games, And Then There Were None, Ender’s Game, Twelfth Night, Of Mice and Men, The Outsiders, Thirteen Reasons Why, North of Beautiful, and so many more great books!

Next week, I will have them working on the project in-class one day, sharing their craft noticings with other readers and comparing their books.  I am dying to know what they are coming up with and I can’t wait to see their storyboard notebooks.  I will be sure to share their progress here!  By the first week in March, each student will produce for me a 2-page paper analyzing the author’s craft and sharing their analysis with me.  Absolutely no plot summary is allowed!  They will use their text notes/storyboarding to draft the paper, along with any notes they take from their peer discussions.  They will share drafts with each other on Google Docs/typewith.me, assisting one another.  Spending the next four weeks doing this will hopefully help them to become better risk-takers in their writing.  I am so looking forward to the results!

Spilling Ink by Anne Mazer and Ellen Potter

Every middle school and high school teacher should go out and buy Spilling Ink: A Young Writer’s Handbook RIGHT NOW.  For years I have been looking for the “Ralph Fletcher” books for my middle schoolers.  I have used Ralph Fletcher’s A Writer’s Notebook: Unlocking the Writer Within You for years but it seems that many of the primary teachers also use it, so I struggle to make it relevant to my middle schoolers. Well, my problem has been solved. I can not wait to share Spilling Ink: A Young Writer’s Handbook with my 6th graders!  Potter and Mazer have put together a fantastic guide to the craft of writing that doesn’t actually feel like a guide.  There is no textbook-feel to this book.  Instead, it feels like two friends sitting down over coffee and spilling secrets.

Throughout the book, I found myself wanting to stop reading and try out some of the ideas and suggestions.  This isn’t a book that teaches grammar and conventions.  Instead, it teaches the nitty-gritty of writing, like how to actually sit down and get words on paper.  Each chapter is filled with practical advice and “dares” that push the reader to sit down and start writing.  At the same time, there is tons of practical advice.  I found myself learning things as I read without feeling like I was being hit over the head with boring writing talk.  In other words, if it worked on me, it will be awesome for my 6th graders.

Spilling Ink: A Young Writer’s Handbook is an inspiring book that is perfect for aspiring writers of all ages.  I would hand this to middle schoolers, high schoolers, and their teachers.  I wouldn’t hesitate to hand it to adults looking for a little inspiration, too.  And make sure you check out thecompanion website.  It’s full of fun ideas and extensions of the book!

*ARC courtesy of the authors

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