Category Archives: Professional Learning Community

ILA 2018 Conference Run-down!!! (and an epiphany!)

Am I the only person who feels super awkward meeting new people?

So I’m standing in the “New to ILA!!!” section of the Austin Convention Center early Saturday morning.  Several well spoken women and men address the throng of newbies and supply us with important information about the conference.  Remarks concluded and we are encouraged to visit with those around us, meet new people, and hang out.

I’m there by myself waiting for Gretchen Meyer, my fellow literacy advocate, to arrive. She shared this conference experience with me and I couldn’t ask for a better guide.

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Can you imagine a more awkwardly handsome face?

So I’m scanning the crowd looking for familiar faces, assuming there won’t be one.  I’m an award winning people-watcher and for those of you who aren’t, teachers can be incredibly fun to observe.  Anyways, Marcie, an incredibly nice women with a bright smile introduced herself to me and we talked about the conference and how excited we were to listen to the speakers at the General Meeting that was to begin shortly.

Both of us, my new ILA friend and I, massively underestimated the level of brilliance that was about to wash over me.  I listened to Adan Gonzalez talk about his success in the face of poverty and bigotry and how he works to fight those demons today.  Nadia Lopez blew the crowd away with the statement, “I opened a school to close a prison.”  So…um…wow.  If that wasn’t enough, we got to experience the passion of Cornelius Minor and his charge to consider, “How can we not stand for our children…when the traumas of the world weigh them down in our classrooms?”

I had to pinch myself.  Was the rest of the conference going to be this amazing? (It was.) Was this euphoria and uplifting feeling of being re-energized going to fade as I left this hall and moved on to the other presentations? (It didn’t.) Was I ever going to see my new friend, Marcie, again? (I did, on the big screen, at the end of the general meeting.)

Marcie

Meet Marcie Post, the Executive Director of the ILA.

Even now, back in League City, I can’t stop reflecting on the lessons I soaked in at ILA.  Maybe the biggest realization I came to, and there were many, wasn’t about books or kids or literacy.  This realization encompassed all those ideas, but was really about me.

I realized that above all else, I’m a “culture” guy.

I’ve identified myself by so many labels over the years: Football guy, Coach that can teach, Book Lover, Literacy Advocate, Student First Teacher… all those things. But, when its all said and done, after 16 years in the classroom, culture means everything to me. The culture in my classroom is, obviously, important. Just as important, perhaps, and, for the most part out of my control, is the culture of the people around me.  I want to be around teachers that are happy people.  I want to feel like we are all in this together and that the kids will be the big winners in this world.

I think this seed might have been planted by this blog post by Lauren Ambeau, an intermediate school principal in my school district that posts on her own blog. Or it might reach all the way back to my first two principals, Marlene Skiba and Deanna Daws; two women that made me feel confident and valued in my teaching role.

I think, also, the people I learned from at my most recent, and longest, stay had a lot to do with it.  I have the honor of presenting with the brilliant Jenna Zucha next week and this woman took time out of her summer, twice actually, to visit with me about our upcoming opportunity to present about writing to the leaders and stake-holders of our district.  She guest posted on this blog back in May.  What’s funny about our second meeting, is that one of my best friends happened to be at the very same Starbucks. He’s a genius, and famous.  You might have heard of him… Ashton Kutcher thinks he’s cool.

bro

This summer’s Literacy Institute, our own sort of ILA, comes to mind as well.  Billy Eastman and Amy Rasmussen build a culture of respect, trust, and love that I try to recreate in my classroom.  The huge win came from spending three weeks with the beautiful souls whose teaching team I’m so looking forward to joining.   We laughed enough to get stares from the other groups and cried buckets on the last day as we bared our souls through our writing.  Sarah Roy guest posted about that process just two weeks ago and then Austin Darrow guest posted for Amy the next day!!!  Amanda Penny is one of the most fun loving people I’ve ever met. Looks like the culture I’m joining at my new place is strong, and, having gotten the opportunity to interact with the instructional leaders there, I know this is by design.

Kylene Beers, Sunday afternoon, said, “Our democracy requires that we hold onto our own literacy and not turn it over to a few pundits on this network or that one.”  This statement reminded me that I posted about this very same idea back in February.  Thus I’m reminded further that this blog, this digital workshop, is a culturally supportive space for teachers like me.

There is so much more to write about.  I plan to sprinkle those tidbits through my posts this year.

Understand this: I’ll fight for culture.  I’ll seek out good people and happy teachers for the rest of my teaching career.  The kids deserve it.

Charles Moore has his pool looking as clear as crystal.  He’s done a horrible job being a reader this summer. His kids spend most nights sleeping in a blanket fort in the boy’s room (thick as thieves, those two.)  He’s looking forward to sharing the experience of discovering a new school with the incoming 9th graders at Clear Creek High School.

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Racing to the Finish Line: What Does Your Workshop Practice Need Most Right Now?

My Spring Break brain is still turned on. Fortunately, this means I’ve been very good at sleeping the past few days. Unfortunately, it means my capacity to focus and otherwise try to be brilliant is at an all-time low for April. It would seem my enthusiasm is likewise dormant, as I’m struggling to harness my usual oompah-pah for school, running, parenting, you name it.

What to do? What to?

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The view from my driveway during Spring Break.

 

I could stare at a thermometer and attempt to inch the mercury up with nothing by my sheer will and determination to curtail this never-ending winter.

I could establish a formal countdown of the school days as I’ve noticed several students and colleagues have done. (Ok, ok. I’ve done this already. There are exactly 40 days left of school.)

I could count and recount how many summative writing assessments I have left to grade, even if it’s likely true that I’m spending more time counting than I am actively providing feedback to my students.

So. There. Where does that leave me? Counting a lot, apparently, which is something I don’t particularly enjoy.

Still Thursday. Still 40 days to go. Still staring out the window at the 42-degree rain.

So. There. Where does that leave us?

For that, I look to you, dear readership of Three Teachers Talk.

help me

This is an all call for a bump in creativity, a burgeon to our daily workshop flow, a change of pace. Do you need more book recommendations for your classroom? Workshop friendly prep for an AP test? Ideas for mentor texts in a specific area of study? Blog posts that commiserate your struggles, or successes, or both? What can the writers and contributors at Three Teachers Talk focus on to help you most in the coming weeks? How can the writers at Three Teachers Talk help make these last few weeks of the 2017-2018 school year all kinds of amazing in your classroom?

When your inbox pings with a post from 3TT, what insight would tickle your fancy, make your day, or just help ease the stress of wrapping up the year in a workshop classroom? We’ve got writers who teach from Foundational Freshmen to AP Language/Literature, coach current teachers, prepare pre-service teachers, and everything in between.

We all need a little help now and then, so we’d love to hear from you:

Please take a moment to fill out this quick survey and let Three Teachers Talk help move your workshop practice forward to round out this year and/or get you rolling for the next.

And as always, remember the rich archive of posts on a variety of topics that you can search on the right side of the screen at threeteacherstalk.com. You can search by keyword, contributor, and/or topic. The special sauce for your next few weeks of teaching may already be right here!

As a collaborative community of educators, we look forward to hearing from you and pointedly adding to the amazing wealth of workshop knowledge that Three Teachers Talk readers and writers share. Have a great weekend!


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Also, a friendly reminder, if you would like to write a guest post for Three Teachers Talk, please send your ideas to me at lisadennibaum@gmail.com. We are always looking for fresh voices, ideas, and experiences. Thanks!

Creating Magic in the Classroom

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My family and I on our last day at Disney World a few weeks ago.

I recently took my family on vacation to the most magical place on earth-Disney World! The days leading up to our travels took a toll on my anxiety, patience, and stress levels. I planned this trip several months in advance and felt prepared to ensure that my family and I were going to have the most amazing time ever, and we did. All of our reservations went off without a hitch, my children behaved beautifully (surprisingly, no meltdowns!), my husband and I worked together as a team, and we had an itinerary that helped us stay on track without feeling pressured to see and do everything. At the risk of sounding cliché, it was truly a magical experience.

After pouring through hundreds of photos and reminiscing on everything we did, I came to a realization. We had a exceptional time not because I made incredible plans (although, it definitely helped!), but because of our environment, trust in each other, ability to let go of things we couldn’t control, and simply enjoying each moment and the time spent together.

That had me thinking. Isn’t that the ultimate goal of a successful workshop classroom? Isn’t that the beauty and magic of why it works?

Trust me, teaching high school English is no walk in a Disney park (pun TOTALLY intended), but it IS an extraordinary experience. Who would have thought that what makes a successful family vacation ALSO translates into the workshop classroom? (You can find amazing resources about why it works here and here, and by exploring the Three Teachers Talk archives.)

Creating and maintaining the spark may seem overwhelming. However, based on the insight I have gained through this recent epiphany after returning from Disney, I want to share with you my top 5 ways to help you create (and continue to foster) magic in your classroom.

5 Ways to Make Your Workshop Classroom Magical:

 

1. Be prepared. It is true, in life we cannot prepare for everything. However, the confidence that is instilled when one feels as prepared as they can should not be overstated. In my classroom, I ease my personal anxiety and that of my students when we have a plan. We have clear expectations and a set plan/goal that helps us stay focused. It seems like a simple solution, but it is quite the task. Ultimately, in order to feel in control (and to provide that for my students, too) I am consistent about the following; 

Class Collage

(L to R) My objectives are written daily. I share a daily agenda on the projector and write the homework for the week on the board. (The colored calendars are the proposed plans for the grading period and are posted to my website as well) 

  • Have an agenda
  • Communicate the goal of each day
  • Inform students of major deadlines in advance
  • Plan for multiple scenarios and/or have a back up plan.

 I also provide calendars, teacher and student samples of work when possible, and an array of mediums in which students can access helpful information. Over the years, I have found this cuts down on having to explain the same items repeatedly and helps students learn accountability.

 

2. Be mindful of the impact of your environment. Ambiance is a huge part of my personal philosophy when creating the climate of my classroom. As a germ-a-phobe, I have bottles of hand sanitizer, tissue, and Lysol wipes readily available. Rarely, if ever, are the fluorescent lights on.  1.) The lights give me headaches and remind me of a doctor’s office, so I chose to use a few floor lamps in my room. 2.) I adore natural lighting, especially with 3 large windows in my room. 3.) The dim lighting helps students feel comfortable, less intimidated, and reduces the noise levels (Trust me, it does!). In addition, I am particular about the quotes and student work on display. I even have carpets and pillows to increase comfort and provide flexible seating. You don’t have to pull out all the stops, especially with teenagers, but it helps to pay attention to the vibe of your tribe.

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3. Trust in your support systems… and your kids. Lean on your admin or campus leadership, colleagues and PLC’s when you can. You never know when YOUR leadership can also serve as the support system for others as well. In my experience, I have learned something from every team and grade level I have been a part of, regardless of personalities or personal opinions. As educators, we are in the business of learning and seizing all teachable moments. This should also apply to our interactions with our colleagues.

One of the prime examples of why the workshop model works is because the focus is on the kids. As with any vacation or event for kids, we MUST keep them first at all times. Kids are kids. Yes, they will have times where it is a struggle to get through each moment, but it is worth it when the light bulbs finally turn on. All of the effort is completely worth it to see the growth and progress they make each day. My students never cease to amaze me with their stories, experiences, and development every year.

4. Prioritize. Part of planning and preparing is also understanding that you might not get to everything. Don’t stress about it, just figure out what your non-negotiables are and start there. Some reflection questions I have to help me in this process are;

  • What do I want my students to learn in this unit?
  • How will I know if they understand it?
  • What do I do if they don’t?
  • What do I do for my students who require extended learning or have special circumstances?

By keeping these in mind, I can quickly determine where we need to go, how we get there, and plan for various ways for my students to master their learning.

5. Enjoy the time together. At the end of the day, we became teachers for a reason. It is imperative that we also strive to keep that passion and excitement alive. Our love for our content and profession is contagious. When you surround yourself with opportunities to appreciate the time you spend cultivating young minds, trusting in the process, and uncovering the joy and value of each moment, that is the true magic of teaching.

I would love to hear about what has worked for you in your classrooms! What are some ways you and your students have been successful throughout your journey?

Gena Mendoza is still reeling from her recent visit to Disney World with her family over Spring Break. She is currently trying to convince her husband to agree to go back as soon as possible. In addition, she teaches High School English in Texas and is grateful for her students who kindly (and patiently) tolerate her latest obsession with all things Disney. She invites you to connect with her on Twitter and Instagram at @mrs_mendoza3.

 

Why Workshop? Because Kids Deserve It!

When I first watched the Rita Pierson TED Talk titled Every Kid Needs a Champion, I found myself shouting, “Yes! This lady gets it!”  Our job is to help kids feel connected at school- to ensure that kids feel safe and taken care of while also giving them the best educational experience possible.  This TED Talk catapulted me into thinking- How Screen Shot 2018-03-07 at 10.40.19 AMcan we do things even better? How can we reach more kids?  How can we ensure that every student feels connected to their school and their teacher? Don’t misunderstand me- I work with the best teachers around, who love kids and are passionate about the work they are doing in their classrooms.  However, we can always do more and get better, right?

I am a high school administrator, that is lucky enough to work with the English department.  We serve almost 3,000 students on a daily basis. It’s my job to ensure that every kid has a champion, someone they trust and feel has their best interest at heart.  It’s also my job to ensure that we are providing the best educational experience possible for our students because our students deserve that. James Comer said, “No significant learning can occur without a significant relationship.”  That’s where the workshop model comes in. The workshop model provides us with the opportunity to give students choice in what they read and an authentic environment to write about things that hold value to them. It provides an avenue for our teachers to get to know students on a deeper, more personal level because students are ingrained in work that matters to them.  Teachers are able to work one-on-one with students through reading and writing conferences. Teachers are able to have in depth conversations over current events through philosophical chairs and classroom debates. Students talk about what they’re reading on a daily basis. Students improve their writing because they have great mentor texts and a teacher who is writing with them and modeling writing for them.  In short, we know our kids better because we have implemented the workshop model.  We are also able to teach all the skills we need to through choice reading and providing authentic writing opportunities for our students.

I love Amy Rasmussen’s blog post, So You Don’t Think Workshop Works?  5 Reasons You are Wrong, because she makes key points about why the workshop model can and does work in classrooms everywhere.  I found that as we made the shift away from a more traditional classroom structure to the workshop model, we encountered some people that questioned its effectiveness and its validity.  Some questioned how it would impact our state testing scores (they’ve gone up and we are closing the gaps for our students), some questioned whether students would actually be reading and learning the required TEKS in our classes (they definitely do and on an even deeper level than before), some questioned whether or not you could teach a PreAP or AP class through the workshop model (I see it happen on a daily basis).  It’s important to know your why and your purpose. When you know and believe that the workshop model is what is best for students, because of the positive impact it has for them both academically and relationally, it’s easy to defend.

As the workshop model has become more pervasive, and people notice the positive results happening within our department and in our district, we have received lots of requests for campus visits (which we love!), and I get asked quite often about how and why we made the shift to the workshop model in our department.  I thought I’d share my top tips for implementing and sustaining the workshop model in hopes that it helps you carry on the great work.

  1. Teammates.  You need a team of people who “get it” and believe that building student relationships is the key to success in education.  You need a team that understands workshop and why it’s essential in the English classroom, or at least a team that is willing to learn.  Hiring and retaining the best teachers around will help make your workshop thrive.  If you have an administrator, or teachers, that don’t understand the value, send them the Three Teachers Talk blog!  Point them towards professional authors such as Kyleen Beers, Penny Kittle, Jeff Anderson, Donalyn Miller, Kelly Gallagher, etc.  Have them attend conferences so that they are able to immerse themselves in the work.  Take them on learning walks so they can see it in action, or utilize technology to view workshop from afar.  It has been my experience that you have to see it in action to truly understand the work.  You need to talk to students to understand the impact it is having on their educational experience.
  2. Professional Learning Communities.  Whether you have a team of 6, 3 or 1, PLCs play an essential role in getting the workshop up and running and then also sustaining the workshop model.  Teachers need to collaborate with others. We need to talk about the work we are doing, how our students are doing, what engages them, and even what frustrates them.  We have to learn from each other.  At my school, we team within our school, our district, and even with teachers in other districts.  Additionally, I love blogs and Twitter and consider them a vital part of my learning community. I strongly encourage you to connect with as many people as you can while you are navigating the wonderful world of workshop.
  3. Conferring. Andrea Coachman, a Three Teachers Talk guest blogger and also the English Content Coordinator in my district, wrote a post about Accountability Through Conversation which details our district’s journey of implementing the workshop through one of the most Screen Shot 2018-03-08 at 5.47.07 PMimportant aspects- talking with our students.  This area was a big learning curve for us.  The tendency is to think that having a teacher table or holding daily student conferences is an elementary concept, but in reality it’s what’s best for students at all levels.  The teachers I work with would say that conferencing with students has been a game changer.  They know their students strengths and weaknesses in reading and writing better than before, and they are able to target specific skills that each student needs.
  4. Money. Every school allots a certain amount of budget money to each department.  It really doesn’t matter if it’s a lot or a little, but you need to commit to spending your budget money on professional development for teachers and also books!  Teachers must have the training they need to run the workshop. It’s always a good idea to send them to professional development where they can learn from the experts. My teachers always come back and share with the department, so we all benefit from their learning.   If money is an issue, apply for grants and scholarships to help teachers attend professional development. There are also a plethora of professional books written to help teachers with workshop- check out 10 Pedagogical Must-Reads for Workshop Teachers.  Another important component of the workshop is having classroom libraries; they are a key component because our students must have a selection of books to choose from.  We have been lucky that our Media Resource Specialist has purchased many of our classroom libraries.  However, our teachers are also great about adding to their own libraries as well.
  5. GRIT.  Angela Duckworth wrote Grit which examines why some people fail and others succeed.  She defines grit as a combination of passion and perseverance for a singularly important goal.  It takes a lot of work to get the workshop up and running because the teacher is creating mini lessons based on their students needs, helping students find choice books, modeling writing with mentor texts, and conferencing with students.  We are in year 3 of implementation and are still learning and adjusting each day.  It’s a marathon, not a sprint.  

Workshop works and it’s worth it.  At 7:30 AM this morning, I was on hall duty, and a group of students came walking by, and said, “I love starting my day with English class.  It’s so fun- we read, we write, and we talk about it all. My teacher is the best! It’s the best way to start the day.”

 

TCTELA 2018: Professional Learning in Style on the Isle

I like to think I know about teaching.  Then I go hang out with hundreds of brilliant educators and I realize how much I have to learn.

(I hope Helen and Megan see what I did there)

Teachers

I just got home from the TCTELA Conference.  The 30 minute ride north on I-45 allowed me a brief opportunity to reflect on this weekend and think about the experiences that I encountered and the people I had the pleasure of meeting.

Collaborative Conversations:

Spending time in different sessions with different people from our District rejuvenated me. I enjoyed sitting with Adam Glasgow and taking in a presentation on curriculum development from two teachers from our district: Helen Becker and Megan Thompson.  I loved hearing them speak the workshop language.  It’s nice to take in a lunch with teachers from other schools in our district and really get to know them. There were also impromptu twitter education sessions and conversations about snacks.

Mary Margaret

Super Star Speakers:

Alfred Tatum is brilliant.  His presentation was first thing in the morning on Friday and was a perfect start to the conference.  His ideas about texts belonging to all students perfectly echo the words of Atwell, Kittle, and Gallagher.  Here is a video of Dr. Tatum talking about self-selected reading.

Pernille Ripp is inspiring and passionate.  She is one of the most ardent speakers I’ve ever heard and when she said, “Our fidelity should be to the students, not the programs. See the children and hear their voices,” I knew I had a new teacher-crush (Sorry Kelly Gallagher).

Donalyn Miller made me continue to think about my role in the classroom and as an advocate for literacy.

Chris Lehman closed out the conference this morning and his ideas about close reading should be standard practice for all of our reading teachers.

Chris Lehman

Looks like I’ll be spending money on more teacher books soon.

Harvey Panel:

Diane Miller of U of H Downtown set up this panel of amazing educators.  Unfortunately, our time slot worked against us and more people sat on the stage than in the crowd.  In that aspect, it kind of reminded me of the JV soccer game the night before.  That wasn’t really the point though.  The point was that these educators shared their uplifting stories and shared some of their emotional baggage.  It’s important to give a voice to those who are thinking and acting outside the box to help kids.

Call to Action:

Get involved.  Connect with innovative people on social media!!!  NCTE is in Houston this year.  Meet up with us!!!! If you are a Texan, Join us at TCTELA next year in San Antonio!!!

Charles Moore’s students sometimes revolt when he tells them to quiet down and all they want to talk about is their writing.  He can’t wait for the weather to warm up so that he can enjoy craw fish and his pool and maybe even devour craw fish while in the pool.  You can find his frequent thought bursts and his passive aggressive treatment of trolls by checking out @ctcoach on twitter.  His poorly executed instapoem collection can be seen @mooreliteracy1 on Instagram.

18 Quotes & a Call for Connection

We all know the value of mentor texts. We use them for read alouds, to model thinking, to dig deep and find meaning, to teach an author’s moves, sentence structure, and more. Some of us collect them, storing them safely among other valuable collections.  We keep a stash for studying craft, earmarking books in the hopes of remembering why we saved that page for later.

I have 11.8K tweets “liked” –many saved to read later and think about how I can share them with my readers and writers. I am a constant planner.

I also have a constant need for connection and a way to grow. Maybe that’s why Twitter swallowed me when I first signed on in 2011. Even my children, teenagers then, complained I was “always on the iPad.”

Sometimes it helps to take a step back. Evaluate our surroundings. Get a better grip.

Awhile ago I learned a thing or two about myself. I learned what drives me. Tony Robbins has a TED Talk called Why We Do What We Do I found helpful, as did this quiz What is your driving force? (I’ve shared both with students, and we’ve had interesting and insightful conversations.)

My driving needs are connection and growth. No wonder I have an obsession with mentors. No wonder I like to write and share what I learn and how I teach. No wonder I like you to read this blog and to share what you learn and how you teach. You are my Personal Learning Connection.

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Sometimes teachers get lucky. We work in departments that feed our needs. We find colleagues in Facebook groups and Twitter feeds. We reach out to living mentor texts (Shana coined that term a few years ago) who help us reach higher toward the goals we set for ourselves.

I am blessed to have many living mentor texts. My colleagues on this blog for sure. (We have an ongoing WhatsApp chat that keeps us grounded and sane. Mostly.) And many of you readers who’ve reached out with questions in emails, trusting that I might have answers for your questions. You’ve mentored me, too.

I am blessed to call Penny Kittle and Donalyn Miller both friends and mentors. They’ve shaped me in too many ways to say. There’s Katie Wood Ray and Tom Romano (thanks to Shana’s friendship) who’ve shared experiences and stories over meals at NCTE. There’s all the teacher-writers of the stacks of professional books that weigh down the shelves nearest my desk in my classroom and my bed. They mentor with each page.

And there’s Tom Newkirk — who, as Penny put it, is “the smartest man I know.” I met Tom at the UNH Literacy Institute when Shana, Jackie, and I took his class on Boys and Literacy. He is caring, kind, and oh, so brilliant. When I read his books, I feel his passion for literacy and learning — and I feel smarter.

I wrote last week about teaching as if teaching is story, thoughts that sparked while reading Minds Made for Stories. The sparks continue.

Three Teachers Talk will present at NCTE on Friday, November 17 at 12:30 pm. We titled our session: “Reclaiming Narrative and Amplifying Our Voices: Using Story to Invite Fearless Inquiry and Intellectual Challenge for Our Students and Ourselves.” Tom Newkirk is our chair. How amazing is that?

In preparation for our our presentation, Tom’s agreed to join us for the first ever #3TTchat on Twitter, Monday, October 30 at 8ET/7CT. We will discuss the power of narrative in all types of writing as explained in Minds Made for Stories — and Tom’s new book Embarrassment:  And the Emotional Underlife of Learning

I pulled some quotes from Minds Made for Stories last night in prep for that chat. I think you’ll see the genius in Tom’s thinking and what it can do for us as reading and writing teachers. I thank Tom, a true living mentor text, for shifting my thinking about the way I talk about writing with my students, the way I view writing with my students. The way I teach writing.

From Part I of Minds Made for Stories:

“[Narrative] is the “mother of all modes,” a powerful and innate form of understanding” (6).

“Narrative is there to help us “compose” ourselves when we meet difficulty or loss. It is there to ground abstract ideas, to help us see the pattern in a set of numerical data, to illuminate the human consequences of political action. It is home base” (5).

“Photosynthesis is a story; climate change is a story; cancer is a story, with antecedents and consequences. To the extent these phenomena can be told as stories, readers will have a better chance of taking in the information” (11).

“We don’t read extended texts through sheer grit, but we are carried along by some pattern the writer creates. Even if our goal is to learn information, we don’t do that well if that information is not connected in some way — and as humans the connection we crave is narrative” (13).

“. . . the ‘hamburger’ format with the opening and closing paragraphs being the two buns and the body being the meat. . . is a disservice to students, and to nonfiction writing, but also an insult to hamburgers. . .” (16).

“. . . when we strip human motives from our teaching, I suspect we make learning harder and not easier” (17).

“Nonfiction. . .is all about moves, motion through time. Not static structures” (17).

“Even writing that takes a form we would not call narrative (e.g., the lab report) still is built on narrative, a causal understanding of the world that is as basic to us as, well, our intestines. This claim is true for even the most specialized academic writing; even research reports must tell a story” (19).

“[Narrative] is part of our deep structure as human beings” (27).

“If we view [narrative] as a deep structure of thinking and understanding, it affects all discourse and plays a much bigger role; we have literary minds, primed for story” (28)

“Yes, we need to teach students the conventions of various genres, and we can’t assume that because they can read and write fictional stories or autobiographical pieces that they can write arguments or reports. Only a magician would think that. But it does mean that the narrative thread, the anecdote, the story of human interest, the apt metaphor are crucial tools in all forms of discourse — as they speak to our need for causality and story. They form a deep structure” (28).

“Narrative is not a type of writing, or not merely a type of writing. It has deeper roots than that. It is a property of mind, an innate and indispensable form of understanding, as instinctive as our fear of falling, as our need for human company. Good writers know that and construct plots–itches to be scratched–that sustain us as readers. We are always asking, “What’s the story?” (34).

#3TTchat-2

“Voice is a constant, a human presence, a sensibility, a character, a narrator and guide” (38).

“Openings should be read very slowly, reread if possible. So much is happening. So many commitments are being made–which is why writers often find them so nerve-racking to write. Openings establish the topic, suggest the problem to be examined, convey sense of the narration and tone of the piece, risking at any millisecond that the reader will go elsewhere” (42).

“. . .in all analytical writing there needs to be conflicting perspectives, contending solutions, weaknesses and strengths, even good guys and bad guys. If these positions can be attached to spokespersons, so much the better. Writing is dialogic, involving multiple voices, orchestrated by the author. To comprehend a text is to be attuned to this conflict” (42).

#3TTchat-3

“I am not contending that literary analysis or argument looks like narrative fiction. But arguments that sustain reading must have a dramatic core, a plot. Like a good piece of music, there needs to a be a pattern of tension and resolution, problem and solution, anticipation and fulfillment. When done well, the sensation of reading doesn’t feel like we are working in a tightly contained form, tyrannized by a thesis, the stern father who sits at the head of the table and rules over all. Rather, we feel a mind at work; the sensation is of a journey that may take us to a thesis but invites new questions along the way” (49).


I hope you will join us in our Twitter chat next Monday. Let’s value our connections and share our stories as teachers, writers, and individuals striving to learn and grow and change for the betterment of our students and ourselves. Let’s celebrate the learning we’ve experienced with our students this fall.

We need to be living mentor texts for one another.

This work is hard. When we connect and share, we make it easier.

We already know it is worth it.

Amy Rasmussen connects with friends on Twitter @amyrass and @3TeachersTalk and on Facebook and Instagram. She’d also like to connect her students’ blogs to yours — wouldn’t it be great if they read and commented on each others’ writing? (Email amyprasmussen@yahoo.com if interested.) Amy teaches senior English and AP Language at a large senior high school in Lewisville, TX (Go Farmers!). 

Teachers Are Awesome. Let’s Learn from Them.

i-love-my-students-bags-backpacks.pngToday, I’m reflecting on how much I love my students.

There are 52 of them, all pre-service teachers from a variety of content areas and grade level specializations. Despite all the ways we are misaligned pedagogically, we have fantastic discussions every Friday about the work of education–the broad strokes that define good teaching, no matter the topic, age level, or context.

My students and I have opened one another’s eyes to so many things during our time together. If there’s anything that they’ve taught me, it’s that we can all learn from each other.

I feel much more knowledgeable, passionate, and informed about teaching reading and writing now that I’ve studied with elementary literacy specialists for over a year. I’ve learned from my history teachers how to spin what seems an ageless interpretation of a text into something new and fresh. My math and science preservice teachers have shown me more about process-oriented teaching, learning, and feedback than all my disconnected reading on the subject.

In studying with these young teachers, I am reminded of how much we can learn from one another, if only we try.


I think the most frustrating thing for me about teaching is the isolation.

Not just the physical isolation of our classroom spaces–being the only one who seemingly holds our role in the room, alone as the adult–but also the way that we never get to see one another practice our craft.

We rarely get to see other teachers teach.

As a result, most of our information about what other teachers are doing comes from secondary sources–our students, their parents, our colleagues, or, more professionally, from books, articles, blogs, or journals.

What would education look like if we changed this?


In my many roles this semester, I’ve gotten to be in lots of West Virginia classrooms. As a supervisor of English Ed interns, I’ve gotten to visit 7th graders and their teachers. As a teacher of preservice teachers, I’ve gotten a glimpse inside the myriad classrooms they’ve been placed in. And as a substitute teacher, I’ve gotten to “be” ten different practitioners so far this year.

I love, love, love going into these other classrooms. From the first impression I get from the empty space, to the first students who walk in the doors, to the ways I see teachers and students interacting as I study them–I love all of it.

There is beauty in every single classroom.

Getting to see all of these learning environments supports, strongly, the idea that no two teachers will ever teach alike. There is value in that truth–if the instruction we value for our students involves choice, authenticity, rigor, and relevance, then the instruction we want our teachers making involves those things too. That means providing time and training and encouragement for teachers to design their own curricula, assessments, and and products.

Because we don’t live in a perfect world, many teachers don’t get to do those things–but what does become reality is the fact that no two classrooms are alike, nor should they be.

What we can do is embrace that reality and learn from each other. Collaboration is a goal for many of our students’ thinking; why not apply it to our teachers’ learning, too? Here are four ways you might do this with your colleagues soon.

Ask Questions. As you’re enjoying your school’s delicious lunch special in a tiny student desk with your teacher friends, don’t just talk about what happened last on The Walking Dead. Ask questions: what are you guys working on this week? How do you approach grading that? What struggles are your students having? Where do you wish you could improve?

These questions help not just the asker, but the answerer, too. How many times do we actually get to talk about the pedagogical aspects of our work? I know when I tell stories over the dinner table I don’t talk about my methodology or lesson planning. I talk about the kid who tooted incredibly loudly in the middle of an active shooter drill, causing the whole class to burst out laughing in the dark classroom (that happened yesterday). Asking questions helps us learn not just about one another, but about our own teaching, as well.

Observe One Other. It can be tough to fit everything a teacher has to do into 24 entire hours, let alone the free moments we get in a school day. But take some time, even if it’s just once a month, to pop into a friend’s classroom on your lunch, plan period, or PLC bell. Just see what they’re up to for 15 minutes and learn from them–the way they arrange their space, the precision of their language, how they have kids organizing materials, or who and what and how they’re teaching.

We can always learn from one another, even across content areas. Invite others into your room, too; you never know what good someone else’s eyes might see that yours have missed.

Share Resources. Standing in line at the copy machine? Have a glance at what your peers are xeroxing. And do steps one and two, too–ask questions about those questions, or mentor texts, or essay samples, or whatever it is you see. Get talking about the work we do on the most nuts-and-bolts level–how do you organize your planning? Are those copies for today or tomorrow or next week? How do kids turn them in? How do you grade them? Let your curiosity guide you.

Listen. The final step, of course, is to listen thoughtfully to what you learn during this process. We have to open our eyes, ears, and minds to what good we can see in one another’s practices. Don’t pre-judge the math teacher making a thick stack of copies of practice problems. Don’t assume the English teacher relying on the textbook comprehension questions has nothing for you to learn.

Every teacher does good work–young and old, new and veteran, AP and on-level, quiet worker or school-wide leader. We spend too much time assuming the worst of people in our world–we don’t need to make our jobs harder by doing this at school too. Look for the good. Teachers are awesome. All you have to do is remember that, look for it, and prepare to learn.

Imagine would education would look like if we did.

Shana Karnes is mom to 1.5 spunky little girls and wife to a hardworking surgical resident.  She teaches practicing and preservice English teachers at West Virginia University and is fueled by coffee, a pregnancy craving of orange jello (this week), and a real obsession with all things reading and writing.  Follow Shana on Twitter at @litreader or read more of her writing on the WVCTE Best Practices Blog, where a version of this post originally appeared.

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