Managing Feedback: A Tool for Teachers

Whenever I talk to a group of teachers about writing instruction, we talk about the core elements of writing workshop: choice, time, and teaching. We hone in on this idea of how much practice writers need. As Kelly Gallagher writes in his blog post “Moving Beyond the 4 x 4 Classroom,” volume is essential:

Screen Shot 2019-04-16 at 9.21.40 PMWithin 30 minutes assessment comes up. “How do we grade all this?” teachers ask.

I think what we mean when we say this is “How do we manage all this feedback?” We know that feedback is key to supporting our writers. If we want students to grow as writers, we must figure out ways to offer them feedback that is both actionable and timely (Wiggins, 2012). 

Enter ProWritingAid  (with thanks to Jennifer Gonzalez’s post). This online platform has been a game changer for me as a writer, and I think could be for our students too. There’s a free version, along with a paid subscription. I’ve only used the free version, but even with the limitations, it has impressed me.

How it works

Writers paste a piece of writing into the text box, then run a summary. Through the magic of algorithms, the site creates a report on the writing. And I have to say, it’s a good report. You get information about the general readability of your writing, along with more detailed feedback.

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The above report is from the first draft of this essay (yikes!).  As a writer, though, I find this report helpful. It gives me a goal to work towards — I want to get those yellow scores to green, and the red one to at least yellow. I’m not recommending that these numbers correlate to a grading scale. Rather, they tell me about areas that I can strengthen as a writer.

One of my favorite areas of the report is the section on Sentence Structure. I love how this section graphs out my sentence length. I can see if I’m using a variety of lengths, as well as where I need to focus my attention if I notice an overabundance of long (or short) sentences.

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Another part of the report addresses what they call Sticky Sentences. I love the way this tool talks about the elusive fluff. We all know writers who tend to be verbose, or who fill their writing with words that just kind of take up space (apparently, First Draft Angela is one of those people).

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This overall report is only part of what ProWritingAid analyzes. Using the toolbar at the top of the page, writers can drill down into specifics.

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Based on my initial report, my Style score was pretty low, so I start there. I click on the Style button and the screen below shows up. When I hover over the underlined areas, I’m given specific recommendations. Eliminate adverbs. Change “which is different from” to “differs from”. The recommendations don’t change the message of my writing; rather, they strengthen it.

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I love this tool. I’ve noticed that the feedback it gives me as a writer is similar (if not a little better) than what I would give students. And the best part is that it puts the ownership back on students. I love that I know what to do after looking at this report. I have specific, actionable steps. And honestly, it’s fun. I like revising and then running the scan again to see if it’s better.

After I’ve looked at the suggestions from the site, I choose which suggestions to accept and which to ignore. I own my writing. I notice that most of the feedback focuses on my use of adverbs. I need to, as Tom Romano says, weed the garden. After revision, my scores increase considerably.

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How I might use with students

Conferring: I can imagine asking students to run a report on their draft and to bring it to a conference. What a great place to start talking to students about their writing. The report summary would help us focus on areas students might want to ask me about, or it might help me know what a good teaching point would be for that writer.

Reflection: I have been thinking about asking students to print their full report and attach it to the final draft of a piece of writing (or to screenshot it and insert with their doc). I would love for students to highlight places where they’ve made revisions and then reflect on how their writing changed and what impact those changes had on the writing.

Peer feedback: I think this would be a great talking point for students to talk to each other in partnerships. I struggle with peer conferencing because students don’t always know what to say to each other. With this, though, they begin to internalize a vocabulary around writing that will elevate their conversation.

Independence & Transfer: My biggest hope for our student writers is that they leave our classrooms with tools they can use their whole life. This tool gives them a place to go when they need help with their writing. Because that’s what real writers do. They’re not always going to have us and our red (or purple) pen to tell them what to do next as writers. Instead, I want them to know they have some places to go.

Try it. Before you introduce to students, take a piece of your writing and run it through the algorithm. Better yet, do it in front of students. Show them how easy yet powerful it is to utilize this tool. And then, enjoy the gift of time you have. Use that time to confer with students, to talk about mentor texts, to increase the volume of writing that’s happening in your classroom. 

Angela Faulhaber is a literacy coach in the Cincinnati, OH area, where spring is showing off every day. Currently she and her three kids are fascinated by the robin’s nest in the tree out front. It’s up to four eggs today! You can find Angela on Twitter @WordNerd.

A little bit of reflection goes a long way

 

person holding yellow and white flowers

Photo by Lisa Fotios on Pexels.com

Good morning!

I want to say that Spring had finally sprung here in gorgeous Middle Tennessee, but that’s a hard call to make. Tennessee weather is notoriously fickle – a beautiful breezy 70 degree day could easily give way to a bitterly cold 38 degree day. It’s confusing – no one knows how to dress, spring cleaners are stumped.

But for me, I know the signs of Spring. Like Lorelai smelling snow, I know when my Spring Spidey-sense is tingling: I’m chock full of ideas for next year! Now, I know for many of us we still have whole weeks of instruction left, which, TBH, yay! My students are busy little bees using modern pieces of pop culture to answer our essential question: In what ways does pop culture both create and reflect social values. (The conversations have been extremely interesting from a deep dive into the social criticism of Jordan Peele’s Get Out or how the two men of Black Panther might represent the ideologies of Malcolm X and MLK.) We’re still working -and writing – thoughtfully and intentionally in the kinds of ways that we can only really do at the end of the year.

Yet, I’m ready to start assessing what I did this year and how I can make next year even better. This week, I’d like to focus on what went well, before focusing on what still has room for improvement in my next post. Acknowledging strengths first before finding room for improvement is a pretty key part to a workshop mentality, so I’ll stick with that format here.

What have I tried this year #1: Conferences!

And they were a huge hit leading to building strong student-teacher relationships and better writing more quickly. In November, students were writing in ways that they typically don’t until March. Short, ten minute student focused conferences work! I’ll never go back. I teach AP Lang,  so a lot of our conferencing focused around the kinds of writing students do on the AP test (not all, but a fair amount). We alternated between conferencing about a piece – ten minutes of focused feedback – and then receiving just a score on a piece with no feedback from me. Well, really a symbol that represented a score. Delayed feedback is a powerful tool. These scored pieces were then used in station rotations where we looked at mentor texts, worked in small groups for writing conferences and revised. The growth and buy-in were tremendous.

How will I improve this for next year: Writing partners!

I have a pretty heavy course load – 105ish AP students – and that’s a lot of time outside of my teaching day for conferences. Next year, I want to create writing partners and build in writing partner/in class individual/small group conferencing time. I could easily give up some of our bell work to devote to building solid partnerships and shifting some of that conference scheduling burden into the school day.

What have I tried this year #2: Choice reading for units!

Last year after scoring about a million essays at the AP Reading, one of my thinking partners and I realized how often students try to shoehorn in the literature they read in class into an argument essay. Ultimately, a lot of these essays were unsuccessful. So we began brainstorming how to fix this problem. You can read about that here and here. We have seen a dramatic increase in students’ synthesis and critical thinking skills as well as engagement with the course material. After all, right now they’re ‘reading’ a piece of pop culture and pairing it with a non-fiction title in order to discuss social values, norms, traditions. For example, my student who is viewing Get Out is pairing it with The New Jim Crow. Who wouldn’t want to watch a Marvel movie and call it homework over Spring Break?? We’re engaging in such deep, student driven reading and thinking, reaching the kinds of depths I only dreamt of when studying Gatsby. I won’t be going back to whole class novels for a while. This is an experiment that has definitely borne fruit.

How will I improve this for next year: Reading conferences/more time reading!

That sentence gave me such a rush of joy! Most of our reading is done outside of class, but next year, I’m making a concentrated effort to bring some of that reading into our class time as well. Again, I could move some of the bell work around and find time to read in class. I could also find more time to create buy-in after choosing texts for our units. This year, we followed the same format every time we chose new books: we broke down the essential question, brainstormed possible universal noun/extending questions, went to the library and chose our books, then began to read them outside of class. Next year, I plan on stealing some organizational ideas from a local elementary ed teacher. She has her students glue green, yellow, and red pieces of paper into their notebooks and as they work individually, they just flip their notebook paper to the appropriate color: green – I’ve got it; yellow – I might need some help; red – HELP! This process lets her know how to spend her time. I think when we go to the library next year we might try something similar – either grouping by preparedness level for choosing books or using pages in their notebooks to signal how comfortable they are in choosing a book. I found myself just running around after kids, asking about their selections, and I know some just slipped through the cracks. This approach would allow the librarians (who are amazing!) and myself to prioritize those students who need more guidance and get out of the way of the students who don’t. Additionally, we also spent about 30 minutes in the library choosing books. I think I will extend that time next year to include reading time after we’ve chosen our new books – time to make sure this is the book for me and time to ‘fall into’ a new text.

Finally, I want to make class time available to talk to students about what they are reading. I know reading conferences can be as valuable as writing conferences, but I’m much less sure about how to proceed on that front. Good thing I have a summer and excellent colleagues to get my ducks in a row.

What have I tried this year #3: Authentic writing!

For our final piece of writing in our education unit (answer the question: to what extent do schools serve the purpose of a true education?), we noticed that a lot of our conversations centered around problems within systems of educations. This observation led us to ask students to create a problem solution piece in a genre of their choosing to an audience of their choosing – ideally someone who could take actionable steps to fixing the solutions. The results were astonishing. Students were INVESTED, researching, conferencing with each other, agonizing over word choice. I vividly remember one student exclaiming: “If I’m sending this to my history teacher then it has to be just right – I can’t just complain. I have to make HIM care about it too.” From a kid who’s struggled to see how audience can affect a piece of writing all year, the concept crystallized when the audience became a real person.

How will I improve this for next year: More authentic writing!

This one is a little tough – the problem solution piece just worked naturally with our essential question and highlighted several skills students would need on the AP test. Finding more ways to write authentically for a real audience is an idea very much in its early stages, but there’s no doubting that a real world audience coupled with passionate student writing led to some of the best work of the year.

What about you?

I don’t know where you are in your year – are you just trying to make it through until the end of May? Are you already knee-deep in ideas for next year? Regardless, I would encourage you to list and celebrate your accomplishments from this year. It’s good and healthy to remind ourselves of where we have succeeded and how far we’ve come in just a year’s time. Happy Teaching!

Sarah Morris teaches AP English Language and Film as Lit in Middle Tennessee. Currently, she’s still reeling from that final scene in the the new episode of Game of Thrones: BRAN! And! JAIME! The last time they were together was the end of the first episode of the whole season, and here they are, together again, with so much between them. I can’t WAIT until next week!

 

Managing the Paperload with Essay Edit Rotations

IMPORTANT NOTE:  I went to a session about managing the paper load in AP courses at the convention in Las Vegas in 2013, and a presenter shared different strategies for having students write more, but grade less.  This session was packed, and rightfully so. We all left with a wealth of ideas, and I  wish I could find the handouts to provide proper credit–I believe they were safely stored in my AP school box that went missing between our Houston to Chicago move.  If this was your session, you are a goddess! (Also, please message me!).

Right about now, the stretch after spring break into AP exams, I find myself wanting to provide students with as much practice writing as they feel they need to be confident in transferring their skills to the exam in May, but not bog myself down with essays upon essays to review as the weather becomes warmer and the days are longer.

Enter “Essay Edit Rotations,” a way to include timed practice but not grade every piece.  There are two simple components to this instructional pacing. Part 1: Students write. Part 2:  Students learn more about how they write.  

Here is how the rotations work:  Set aside one day a week for a timed writing session.  Students come in and write, then those timed drafts are collected and reviewed for trends/misunderstandings, but not scored.  Repeat this over the course of four weeks, so students have four essays in total to edit. That is Part 1: students are practice writing without grades.

Part 2 involves editing those drafts from Part 1.  I provide students with the same number of options for how to study their writing as they have timed writings and typically set aside 3-4 class days to dig in.  Students select which edit to apply to each one of their essays, “rotating” through their pieces, with one of the timed writings is always revised and typed to be scored by me for a stand-alone AP grade.

You can tailor the prompts/essays to what your students need practice on, just as you can create as many different edits as you need and scaffold over the course of the year.

I have utilized a variety of editing strategies over the years, including:

  • Scored Second Draft:  Students edit, revise, and rewrite one essay to be submitted as a stand-alone AP  score, graded by me. I typically always ask students to complete this edit.
  • Peer Editing/Conferencing:  This unfolds so organically as students grow in their writing–they’re able to help their peers assess and improve their writing based on experience and mentor texts/exemplars
  • Reflective Annotating or Writing:  Students can utilize a rubric or create a +/delta chart based on their noticings. Often, I ask students to assign themselves a score based only off the adjectives used on the AP scoring (see below).

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  • Analyze the Components:  Students color code and highlight each element of their essay (i.e.: Claim, Evidence, Analysis, Transition) to understand how they are layering their ideas by reflecting on the visual structure, as well as the ratio of evidence to analysis.
  • Oral Editing with a Peer:  Have students pair up and read their essay, verbatim, to one another.  Students can hear what sounds inconsistent or where a thought trails off.  Students then revise these murky areas with
  • Grammarly:  Students can upload their essay (requires typing) and receive feedback.  I typically have students reflect over the commentary and identify trends and next steps for implementations.
  • Focused Revisions: I am pinpoint a specific area we have been playing with, such as varying our syntax for emphasis or upgrading our diction, and ask students to only revise those elements.

 

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Bella used one of her Book Club prompt responses to complete an edit focused on diction and syntax. Students are asked to highlight every other sentence, list the first word of each sentence to note repetition, count the number of words in each sentence, determine their evidence to commentary ratio, find transitions, and a myriad of other tasks to understand how they craft their responses.  While tedious, this edit creates discussion points for amazing conversations!

 

You can browse a wealth of recent Three Teachers Talk ideas around editing herehere, and here! Oh, and earlier this week, too!

Rounds of Essay Edit Rotations support the foundational ideas, practices, and benefits of a workshop-based classroom:

  • Low stakes writing practice:  Students practice in a timed environment, but know they will have a chance to review and edit their essays.  This workshop approach to the timed writings becomes about the edits and what students learn from their writing versus what is produced within 40 minutes.
  • Students are writing more than we are grading:  As only one of the essays will be graded by the teacher, after revision, students are benefitting from writing practice yet we are not grading each one (I do complete a quick review the essays after each writing period and provide feedback, usually in a +/delta format, before they write again).
  • Students understand themselves as writers:  Test writing is different from regular writing.  There is a rubric, yes, and a goal, but there is also pressure.  With the opportunity to edit, students can gain insight into their habits when they write for this purpose and make improvements accordingly.  Students also have the autonomy to select what edit to apply to their writing, curating their learning.
  • Builds skills for test transference:  Timing is often the most anxiety-inducing component of any standardized test.  Students can practice writing coherent, intriguing ideas within 40 minutes safely so they can find their rhythm before exam day.
  • Creates space for writing conversations and conferences:  I typically have students do their editing in class over 3-4 days so students can ask questions, work with their peers, and meet with me.  It feels like a true writer’s workshop with students tinkering away, shuffling through multiple colored pens, highlighting, adding post-it notes, and conversing with peers.

In the past, I have had students practice Part 1 with the same style of open response question, mixed up the questions, given students choice over what question they practice with each week, and have done a full exam using the three prompts over the weeks.  After that round, students assigned themselves a formative score to use as a conference conversation to set goals for moving forward. I have also implemented this during the fall when AP writing seems scary to students, in the middle of the year for review, and in the spring for low-stakes practices.

Every time, these Essay Edit Rotations work like a charm.

So thank you to the amazing writing teacher who presented in 2013.  You have saved me hours upon hours and fostered conversations around writing in my classrooms around the country.  Thank you.

 

Maggie Lopez is saying goodbye to ski season and hello to spring in Salt Lake City while keeping her juniors focused with choice reading, low stakes writing, and student-driven conversations as we build to the end of the year.  She just finished Everybody’s Son by Thirty Umrigar, an NCTE conference find, and began Tayari Jones’ Silver Sparrow yesterday.  You can find her on Twitter @meg_lopez0.

 

Planning Time for Thinking

One thing I know for sure:  Writing is hard. Lately, I’ve been reminded how hard as I’ve tried to keep up with Sarah Donovan’s challenge #verselove2019 to write a poem a day during the month of April.

It’s only day 9, and Oh, my!

It’s not even the poetry part I’m finding difficult, which is surprising. Deciding on an idea and then sticking to it has wrecked me for eight straight days. And now I’m wondering:

How often do I expect students to dive into drafting without giving them time to talk and question and change their minds about their ideas? Do they have enough time to play and mull and sit with their thoughts before they make a commitment–or before a draft is due?

I know what so many great writers say:  Just start writing; you’ll discover what you want to say. But what if that doesn’t work for everyone? Lately, it hasn’t worked for me.

So now I’m wondering:  How can I plan for enough time to give everyone the time they need to settle in to their ideas before I plan enough time for them to write?

Now, I’m not talking about timed writing — or state-mandated test writing. Those are different (and in my humble opinion) horrible inauthentic beasts. I’m talking about the process of thought. The thinking it takes to draft with intention.

I’m pretty sure I’ve rushed it.

And I want to slow it down.

#verselove2019

Amy Rasmussen lives and writes from her home in North Texas where the bluebonnets are blooming beautifully. She thinks about writing all the time and needs to get better at getting her thoughts on the page. Writing poetry, which is far out of her comfort zone, may help. You can follow her on Twitter @amyrass

Revising and Editing with Jeff Anderson Part III

Grouped around a big table in the library, seven students looked at me as if they knew the next hour of their life would set the record for engaged boredom.  These were students who volunteered their time to get one last push towards success on our state assessment. Like dental surgery, they assumed going in, that it would be painful.

None of these students were on my rosters, thus, they had no idea who I was or of the learning vortex we were about to descend into.

We picked up an excerpt from Unwind by Neil Shusterman and jumped in with both feet, after reviewing the guidelines for sentence building. Our stated goal was to review the piece with an eye towards sentence structure, alas, what we found was much more meaningful.

I wrote about Jeff Anderson’s book Everyday Editing here and hereCheck out those posts for Anderson’s first six tenets in editing instruction.

The last three parts of this book are:

  • Invitation to Edit
  • Extending the Invitation
  • Open Invitations

Invitation to Edit:

Anderson, in this section, writes about seeking authenticity and meaning in their editing practices: developing an editor’s eye.  He shares with us an activity he calls, “How’d they do that?”  This is an exact move we practiced in my STAAR prep group Thursday afternoon. We stumbled upon a sentence that blew us away and we dissected it with a thoroughness that I’m not sure I’ve ever explored with high school students.  We looked at the way the Schusterman wove words and punctuation together to create magical meaning.

Cast your gaze on this beauty:

unwind

Consider this Anderson gem:

“It hit me as the exact way education gets editing instruction wrong. We make it about identifying what’s missing or there, and students haven’t ever met the concept or become familiar with it.  If they don’t know of it’s existence, they can’t notice its absence” (p. 43).

Extending the Invitation:

What are we supposed to do when we see an amazing sentence sitting there, minding its own business, nestled quietly in a mentor text? The answer is, we stop what we are doing and ogle it. We poke and prod it , using our editing scalpels to peel back its layers and reveal the secrets where-in.  Don’t ever be afraid to pause a reading or writing lesson that has nothing to do with sentence structure to talk about a particularly well structured sentence.  I mean, really, all reading and writing lessons connect a text’s internal and external structures.  Amirite?

Open Invitation:

This section is about removing the idea that editing lessons are their own separate learning task.  Anderson argues that they should be the basis of all writing instruction and that these lessons should creep over into all the others that we use to help our students grow in their literacy.

One more time:

“I want those boundaries muddied so that the rest of the writing and editing lessons I do, besides those start-of-class, blastoff point invitations, are mixed with mini-lessons, writing, and sharing time in writer’s workshop” (p. 46).

All this reminds me how important one-on-one instruction is to literacy instruction and I think back to the absolute necessity that is self-selected independent reading. Consider the wisdom of Penny Kittle quoting Kylene Beers:

PK2

And then what she tweeted next:

pK1

I think this “nudge” can be about craft and not just content.  This is a place into which we can extend invitations.

With you-know-what looming, a lot of what we’ve studied with our reading and writing should, hopefully, help the kids out, but more importantly, set them up for success in their literacy lives.


Charles Moore is so excited to share the last six weeks, or so, of the year with his freshman. He’s looking forward to experimenting with collaborative groups, exploring new ways for students to publish, and, of course, talking to kids about books.  If you want to reach out to him about teaching reading and writing, shoot him an email. Check out his twitter if you want to see the latest episode in dad themed humor.

In Favor of Fun

How many English classes have you been in during which students do not read or write?

Think back. Truly. How many of your own educational experiences, your own lesson plans, or classes you’ve observed contain a rich amount of student reading and writing? And…how many are filled with round robin reading, audiobooks, review games, vocab quizzes, grammatical dog-and-pony tricks?

Equally frustrating is when reading and writing is being taught in an English class, but it’s still the dog-and-pony variety: classics only. Whole-class texts only. Five-paragraph you-know-whats only. The teacher makes all the choices, and often, those choices were not made by the teacher, or he or she made them many years ago.

Day in and day out, I see these complacent practices in place–a classroom in which students see words but rarely read or write them independently; an autocratic, teacher-centered class in which students do some reading and writing but exercise no choice.

I have seen all of this in a wide variety of classrooms in just the last few weeks, as I’ve been doing some classroom-hopping in the form of substitute teaching. As I watch preservice teachers get their feet wet, as I read lesson plans left for a lowly, inept sub, as I talk to students who are unaccustomed to having the chance to speak during class, I keep returning to one question:

Where is the fun?!

Where is the talk, the chatter, the laughter, the rapport, the pure enjoyment of learning? It’s almost as though the culture of fear so common in traditional schools has permeated the student-teacher line, and made school and classroom leaders as afraid of fun as the learners are.

This, for me, is unconscionable. A deadened classroom brings no pleasure to the teacher or student, which makes for a learning environment that’s almost oxymoronic: little learning is occurring in an environment with no life.

At the end of a period in which I, the sub, have simply given students instructions to “listen to the audio” (and don’t fall asleep), “work on your online program for 20 minutes” (assuming the WiFi is working), or “complete the grammar warm-up” (that took half the class)…there is always free time. For a substitute, this is often a period of terror: untasked children, out of control. YIKES.

img_1994For me, though, this is an opportunity for some fun to finally happen. I ask questions. What do they want? What do they wish for? What would engage them?

In every instance, in every classroom–from elementary through high school seniors–students have surprised and delighted me with their creative replies to these questions. One class wrote a reading response to To Kill a Mockingbird entirely in hashtags. Another class chose to make a literary bucket list of things they wanted to do in English class before they went to high school. One group of 12th graders elected to craft a visual response to their writing prompt about what they wanted from the future.

Over and over, students proved to me that creativity, self-expression, and the desire to share their thoughts and feelings with the world was universally present. Despite their lack of recent practice, those skills were innate, and readily available. Their willingness to try was instant.

In their reflections on learning, students asked for the same things:

  • choice and challenge:  they requested to be able to choose some reading and writing topics independently, but also asked for things like “read a long book together as a class;” “do one really long writing where you help us the whole time.”
  • authenticity:  many, many requests to “be real with us,” “teach us stuff we will actually use in the future,” “teach us like you know what we’ve been through.”
  • respect:  students broke my hearts with their tales of ‘dumb-shaming,’ in which a teacher has mocked a student for not having an answer, a skill, a scholarly habit. They asked me, in so many words, to respect what students have been through and are going through, and to teach for what they will go through.

These words of wisdom–many of them from students in middle school, where I’ve spent most of my time subbing–are prescient and pressing. Engagement is universally appealing, to all students, of all ages, in all content areas. When given the chance to create, they seize it.

This indicates, to me, that if we teach in a way that prizes choice and creativity, there is little risk on the teacher’s part–we need not be afraid of students misbehaving or disengaging. It’s time to shove off the fear so many teachers have of taking a chance on a more creative curriculum.

There’s no need to be afraid of a little fun in learning.

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Shana Karnes is a “real teacher” in West Virginia, who has worked with secondary English students, preservice teachers, and practicing educators for 10 years. When she’s not in the classroom, she spends time reading, writing, and learning with her daughters, husband, and friends. Connect with Shana on Twitter at @litreader.

Can a poem be wrong? And other inspiration for #NationalPoetryMonth

I never call myself a poet, but I am in love with words.

I wrote this beside a poem in my notebook one day (I wish I could remember the poem):

Poetry is spiritual. Shouldn’t it be? It’s language laced in love and longing; purpose — and yes, peace. Sometimes. It’s also anger, anguish, sorrow, and despair. Poetry is people trying to find a place. It’s help in healing. It’s the tangle and torment of humanity shouting up and calling out. “Speak your truth.” the voices say. I’ll just play with speaking mine in verse.

Is that a poem? If I called myself a poet, I’d probably say yes. But I don’t, so I won’t.

I am like the kid too afraid to write. Too afraid to be wrong.

Can a poem be wrong?

I remember a several years ago when I first began teaching. I questioned myself a lot back then, and I had a knee-knocking fear of teaching poetry. Thinking to give myself an edge, I picked up the poetry binder the teacher before me had used. It screamed Keats and the Romantics. (Please don’t jump all over me if you revel in this era.) I’m sure the binder had other poets and other poems. I just remember how wrong it felt — how wrong I felt — trying to teach poems I didn’t love in a way my students and I didn’t love. We analyzed and analyzed. Never wrote beside a single one. I fear I passed the baton, my fear and even dislike of poetry, to my students.

That was wrong.

Thankfully, I learned to run toward the pain. I got better at teaching young people instead of teaching poetry. I learned to do more than have my students bring in their favorite song lyrics. I bought novels in verse and poetry anthologies. I read for pleasure. I wrote to discover, to wonder, to enjoy. I learned to love poets who made me think and feel and to experience language like I never had before. I shared all of this with my students.

It took me years to overcome my fear of poetry. How silly and how sad.

So maybe you are like the old me — stuck in a rut or an old binder. Maybe you dread all the talk of poetry in April because you’re stressed about test prep or whatever. Maybe you just want a little spring in your step. That’s what I now think poetry is — a pretty powerful spring.

Whether you love poetry, or not, here’s a little inspiration to get your bounce on:

 

Sometimes it’s fun to look up words we already know. Today I looked up poet.

poet

Don’t you just love the second definition? I’m thinking superhero with a pen.

 

Amy Rasmussen began writing love poems in 6th grade about her boyfriend Frankie, but somewhere along the way of life, she lost her love of poetry. She’s since read Good Poems and all the poetry of Billy Collins. Aimless Love is her favorite. She’s always on the lookout for new poems to write beside. This is a new favorite. She’s not sure why. Follow Amy on Twitter @amyrass 

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