Be sure to check out my new article on Edutopia.org!
According to an article from Ed Week earlier this year:
A 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!
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.”
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!
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?
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.
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
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!
Filed under: classroom projects, teaching resources, visual literacy, writing | Tagged: And Then There Were None, Between Shades of Grey, Craft Analysis, Ender's Game, english companion ning, Impulse, North of Beautiful, Of Mice and Men, Paper Towns, penny kittle, The Book Thief, the hunger games, The Knife of Never Letting Go, The Outsiders, The Shadow Children series, the thief, Thirteen Reasons Why, Twelfth Night | 4 Comments »
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