Category Archives: Readers Writers Workshop

You Tell Me You Know What It’s Like To Be A Teacher In A Pandemic

You tell me you know

what it’s like to be

a teacher in a pandemic.

Yes, you’ve had zoom meetings, too!

You worked from home as well, juggling

kids, work, health, social isolation.

You were also scared, but somehow

somewhat relieved because of the freedom

from hectic schedules.

You, too, weathered the pandemic.

But were you forced back

to in-person work while the government

officials declared that you were essential

not for educating children, but to get the economy

back “up and running”?

Were you forced to do your job twice over

in-person and online at the same time?

Were you also given new duties of nurse,

custodian, and therapist for the inevitable trauma?

Were you constantly gaslit, told to “smile,

the kids need to see that everything is okay,”

yet you went home and often cried because

no one was assuring you?

Were you then told that despite

your hard work and grueling year,

“the students are behind” and

you must find a way to “catch them up”?

You tell me you know

what it’s like to be

a teacher in a pandemic,

and you may have lived through

this historical event at the same time

as us, but

you will never truly understand

what it has been like

to be an educator in this time.

Find the artist on Twitter @alabbazia

One of my favorite Quick Write lessons of all time was when I showed my students this video of Darius Simpson and Scout Bostley performing “Lost Voices,” and then we responded with our own poems, starting with the line “You tell me you know what it’s like to be…” From there, students could choose any identity they had that they felt people often acted like they understood or could relate with, but it was too deeply a personal experience that those outside of that identity could never understand. This idea came from Penny Kittle and Kelly Gallagher’s 180 Days in the Narrative section where they provided all sorts of mentor texts for “swimming in memoirs” to encourage students to address their own story from lots of angles.

When I did this lesson with my students in my second year, they soared. I got quick writes that started with “You tell me you know what it’s like to be autistic,” “You tell me you know what it’s like to be an assault victim,” and “You tell me you know what it’s like to be an immigrant.” Each story, each window into those students’ lives were so powerful. I often did not know what it was like to be what my students were writing about, but their willingness to be vulnerable in their writing helped me see from their eyes and understand just a little more.

As I recover from this year of teaching in a pandemic, my mind wandered back to that activity, and I began writing the beginnings of the poem above. As I mentioned in my previous post, I struggle with finding time/space/ideas/willingness to write. I keep having to learn that it often only takes a strong mentor text and I am off to scribble in a notebook. This remembering will play a huge role in my teaching this coming year. I am also having to constantly re-learn/remind myself how powerful a tool writing is for processing things. It has been an almost impossible year for many teachers, including me. It is only the beginning of summer, but I have had all sorts of reflections and emotions surface. I hope, if you want to get into more writing as well, that you will take time to soak in the words of these poets and write your own “You tell me you know what it’s like to be” poem. Maybe it’ll help you process the emotions and experiences of your year, too.

If you do write using these ideas, please share in the comments or tweet it tagging @3TeachersTalk.

Rebecca Riggs is a writer (or tricking herself into being one the same way she does her students- by just declaring it so). She is currently reading The Girl Who Smiled Beads: A Story of War and What Comes After by Clemantine Wamariya and Elizabeth Weil. Her current obsession is trying out new cookie recipes and working hard to not fill up her entire schedule so she can actually rest this summer. You can connect with her on Twitter @rebeccalriggs or Instagram @riggsreaders.

Friday Night Quickwrite 6/11

Welcome to Friday Night Quickwrite! Each week I will share something that has sparked my writing and hopefully will spark yours as well.

I struggle with finding balance in many areas of my life. It seems I overdo one thing and neglect others, whether that is a balance between work and home, time with family or by myself, or even a balance between time spent reading or writing. Does this sound familiar?

This week I ran across a blog post from Stephanie Affinito, A New Perspective: From Balance to Beats. She explains how there is no such thing as balance, and she shifts the thinking from balance to beats. (Before writing today, I encourage you to take some time to read her post.)

She further explains “If we think of teaching and learning as a melody played in our classroom, then we would naturally expect variation in the beats over the course of the song. The rhythm might shift from fast to slow, gain intensity and then dissipate and even have a repeating chorus. The point is that the variation is what makes the song a song and the varied practices in our teaching are what make a classroom a classroom.

I have also included Stephanie’s sketchnote to get us going. There is so much to think about and unpack from this blog post, quote, and sketchnote.

Although this is designed for thinking in the classroom, I took some time to write questions about my life in my notebook. These questions led me to some answers and some goals, which I have chosen not to share.

What melody are you creating in your classroom? In your own life? Please take some time to think about this week’s prompt and share your your thoughts and where your writing took you. If this prompt inspired a blog post, then please share the link in the comments. As always…I look forward to writing with you this week.

Leigh Anne is a 6th grade ELA teacher in southern Indiana and is trying to find a new summer melody by focusing on and taking care of her. Follow Leigh Anne on Twitter @Teachr4 or on her blog, A Day in the Life. She would love to connect with you.

My Top Ten Books of the 2020-2021 School Year

This year has been a long one, but one thing that went well is the amount of reading my students and I did. As of today, I have finished 69 books, and I still have about three weeks to go. Find calling a title a “favorite” is difficult for me, I have narrowed down my list to a “top ten.” The order below depends on the day. (I’ve already changed it at least 12 times, and there are other titles I’m reading now that could have made the cut.)

10. Starfish by Lisa Fipps (realistic fiction in verse)

“Whale.”

“Splash.”

 These are just some the awful nicknames Ellie hears often from an early age, even from her own mother. It seems almost everyone in her life believes her weight is a problem, except her father. Her mother hides her food and makes her try various diets, and even considers bariatric surgery. At school, no one sticks up for her, especially after her best friend Viv moves away. Ellie knows she must follow her self-created Fat Girl Rules if she wants to survive, and she does. Ellie has her pool, where she can be a starfish and just float, a place where she’s weightless. After a particularly horrible incident at school, Ellie’s dad takes her to see a therapist, who helps her begin to heal, as well as use her gorgeous, powerful voice.

I’ll truly never forget Ellie. She’s a beautiful human being, inside and out. An empowering book to teach all readers that size doesn’t matter, as well as how debilitating words can be.

9. Grown by Tiffany Jackson (mystery)

17-year-old Enchanted Jones wants to be a famous singer, so when the legendary R&B superstar Korey Fields sees her audition one night, he immediately takes her under his wing. Months later, Enchanted wakes up groggy with blood all over her, and Korey Fields is lying next to her, dead. What follows is what happened before the murder: an inside look into what Enchanted thought would be her dream come true. Instead, she was sucked into a hell she couldn’t get out of, no matter what she, or her parents, attempted to do.

Another gripping read from Tiffany Jackson! This story was oh so difficult to read, for Jackson doesn’t hold back on the descriptive details when it comes to the horrific abuse Enchanted suffered through. But, this story must be read. It must be shared. Time for some tough conversations about rape culture and older men who prey on teenage girls.

8. We Are Not Free by Traci Chee (historical fiction)

14 Japanese American teens weave a story together, starting three months after the bombing of Pearl Harbor. 14-year-old Minnow begins with the harsh, appalling racism that many Japanese-Americans faced during this time. Soon executive orders are given, and anyone of Japanese decent, including those that look Japanese but aren’t, are rounded up and sent to internment camps. At times, the teens stay strong, for they have each other. Other times, they witness such atrocities that they don’t know how to go on.

This book taught me so much, from the stories, to the photos, to the author’s note. Yes, I knew about the internment camps, but Traci Chee made me feel like I was there. I cried, I laughed, and I even felt anger and shame, for so many Americans committed such horrific acts against their own people.

7. Stamped (for Kids) adapted by Sonja Cherry-Paul (nonfiction)

“RACE. Uh-oh. The R-word.” This nonfiction title, which is adapted by Sonja Cherry-Paul from Jason Reynolds and Ibram X. Kendi’s Stamped, tells the 400+ year story of racism in America in a way young readers can understand. My son, who’s 11, and my daughter, who’s 9, both understood the majority of it and had a lot of great questions. By the end, it was my children telling me they learned so much. More importantly, they want to learn more.

6. Four Hundred Souls edited by Ibram X. Kendi and Keisha N. Blain (nonfiction)

It began in August of 2019, when the first 20 enslaved African men and women were delivered in Jamestown, Virginia. What follows in 400 years of true African American history, oppression, struggles, and achievements, from the British ships that stole Africans from their homeland to the Black Lives Matter movement of today. This collection of 90 essays and poems–edited by Ibram X. Kendi and Keisha N. Blain and written by many famous historians, scholars, and poets–tell the real stories. The ones that our white-washed history textbooks left out. “But as the narratives in Four Hundred Souls reveal, Black people have never stopped dreaming, or fighting for those dreams to become a reality.” These stories capture “a spirit of determination,” as Blain stated. These 90 powerful pieces share how much Black people have overcome, as well as how much work still needs to be done.

5. Flight of the Puffin by Ann Braden (realistic fiction)

Meet Libby. She is a budding artist who is tired of most people–teachers, classmates, and neighbors–assuming she is a bully just like the rest of her family. In fact, Libby is far from it, and she knows it. To prove this to herself, she uses her artistic ability to make colorful notecards with positive messages on them, and leaves them for others to find. Little does she know that her words set off a chain reaction that will lift up three other kids who need her encouragement at that time.

Libby and the three other children are all unique and imperfect, but there’s so much to love about each of them. This powerful book that will encourage readers to pay it forward. My own two children created notecards just like Libby did and posted them around our neighborhood.

4. The Sum of Us: What Racism Costs Everyone and How We Can Prosper Together by Heather McGhee (nonfiction)

Heather McGhee, an expert in economic and social policy, shares why the economy often fails its people. After extensive research into many aspects of it, she found one root problem: racism. Though many of us may not realize it, over centuries, racism has seeped into every aspect of our lives. They’re all interconnected, from public education, to integration, to the housing market. The question is, can we fix this? McGhee argues yes. She introduces the zero-sum policy–the idea that progress for some must come at the expense of others–and proves it wrong. McGhee’s compassionate, yet honest account introduces us to the tremendous challenges our country still faces. Racism has cost us so much, but reminds us that there is reason for hope. We can still prosper together, and honestly, we have no other choice right now. As McGhee says, “We need to refill the public pool of good for everyone.”

3. Concrete Rose by Angie Thomas (realistic fiction)

17-year-old Maverick Carter is the proud son of King Lord legend, Adonis Carter. Life in Garden Heights isn’t easy, but Maverick has a smart, beautiful girlfriend, and a cousin who is more like a brother. He doesn’t want to sell drugs, but when he finds out he is a father himself, he doesn’t have a choice. He’s got to provide for his son, for money is tight at home, even with his mother working two jobs. After getting a part-time job at a local store, Maverick begins realizing that being a King Lord is keeping him from being the man, boyfriend, and father he needs (and wants) to be. But you can’t just leave the King Lords, and his part-time job doesn’t pay what selling drugs does. But just when Maverick thinks he has the right plan, a murder in the Garden changes everything.

I finished this book within 24 hours! Maverick’s story is beautiful, powerful, and oh so important. I loved seeing all of the connections to The Hate U Give, and even to another YA author’s book as well (see if you can find it!). You’ll fall in love with Big Mav all over again, and you’ll have that much more sympathy for him when he makes mistakes, and sometimes learns from them.

2. Caste by Isabel Wilkerson (nonfiction)

Award-winning author Isabel Wilkerson introduces readers to the American caste system, “a rigid hierarchy of human rankings” that’s hidden under race and class. Wilkerson masterfully links our caste system with those of Nazi Germany and India, often showing how the American caste system influenced theirs. She explains the cruel logic of caste, for there must always be a “bottom rung” that’s subjected to little respect, and rarely gets the benefit of the doubt and access to important resources. It’s a cruel system that shows what Black people are truly up against.

Wow. Where do I even start? Wilkerson’s research is quite extensive; she weaves facts in with engrossing stories from real people, like Satchel Paige, Dr. King, people she interviews, and many of her own, showing the numerous ways caste is experienced every single day. Oprah’s right: “This is required reading for all of humanity.”

1. In the Wild Light by Jeff Zentner (realistic fiction) 

Cash Pruitt lives in Sawyer, Tennessee, a small town filled with gorgeous rivers and rolling hills, but also addiction. He already lost his mother to drugs, and his Papaw is dying from emphysema. The only positive that addiction brought into his life is Delaney Doyle. She’s a scientist at heart who teaches Cash so much about the world. They provide one another distractions, and are each other’s lifelines.

On one of their trips into the wild, Delaney makes a scientific discovery that changes their lives: she earns both Cash and herself full scholarships to a Connecticut boarding school. Deciding to go, Cash can’t help but wonder what this school will do for him. His experience ends up being more than he could ever have imagined.

This book truly has it all! I laughed, cried, and took about eight pages of notes because of all the beautiful language I wanted to save. Jeff Zentner has a remarkable talent for creating realistic, lovely, unforgettable characters. I fell in love with so many of them for the oddest of reasons. Zentner has truly outdone himself, for this is a literary masterpiece. Be sure to grab a copy when it comes out in August.

So that’s my top ten of this school year. I would love to hear what others are reading (and loving), so please share your favorite(s) in a comment below.

Sarah Krajewski teaches high school English and Journalism near Buffalo, New York.  She is currently in her 19th year of teaching, and is always looking for new, creative ways to encourage her students to read and write. At school, she is known for helping students become lifelong readers, and for being a devoted reader herself who “knows her books.” You can follow Sarah on Twitter @shkrajewski and her blog can be viewed at http://skrajewski.wordpress.com/.

Micro-writing for the Win

Sometimes it takes a lot of patience. That was my first thought when I read Sarah’s post last month The Hits Will Come. She shares how baseball and writing have a lot in common–both require a lot of practice. And sometimes the “hits” come quickly for student writers. Sometimes they don’t. Sometimes we have to help students want to even try to write a hit.

My thoughts turned to a student I taught last year. I’ll call him Dan. The very first day of class as I made the rounds, trying to speak to each students individually for just a moment, Dan said to me, “Miss, I know you just said we were gonna write a lot in this class, but I gotta tell you, I can’t write. I mean, really, not even a decent sentence.”

theofficeofficequotes.com

Of course, I appreciated the honesty, and that Dan thought enough about how I started the class to tell me straight up how he felt, but inside I was thinking, “Dude, you are a senior about to graduate high school in a couple of months, what do you mean you can’t write a sentence?” Of course, I didn’t say that. Instead I asked him why he thought he couldn’t write. His answer still makes me angry.

“My teacher last year told me,” he said. “I failed every essay. I just couldn’t seem to write what she wanted me to write.”

So many thoughts.

Over the course of the first several days of class, I made sure to find the time to talk with Dan. I learned that he had plans to go into the military as soon as he graduated. I learned that the only book he’d read all the way through in his 11 years of school was American Sniper by Chris Kyle.

And during the next few weeks, I learned that Dan could write–when he chose what he wanted to write about, and when his peers and I gave him feedback that made him feel like he was a writer. This took a lot of time and patience.

First, Dan had to want to write. He had to know that I wasn’t going to judge whatever he put on the page. He had to trust that I was sincere in 1) wanting to know what he thought, 2) helping him string sentences together so they said what he wanted them to say.

Reading helped. Since Dan liked Chris Kyle’s book, I helped him find other books written by those who had served in the Armed Forces. Lone Survivor by Marcus Luttrell and No Easy Day by Mark Owen were ones my own soldier son had read. Then, I found the list “Best Modern Military Accounts” on Goodreads.com and the article The 13 Best Books the Military Wants Its Leaders to Read. Dan didn’t read any of these books (not for my lack of trying to get him to choose a book), but during independent reading time, he did read about them–and this was enough to give me talking points to help him understand why growing in his confidence as a writer might be in his best interest– and topics for him to write about that semester.

Relationships helped. Since Dan had been so forthright with me about his experience with writing, I asked if he’d share his thoughts about writing with the peers who shared his table. He was all too eager! I’m pretty sure he thought his peers would share his writing woes. But like a miracle from heaven, Dan happened to have chosen to sit with two confident and capable writers. These students did not know one another before my class, but they grew to trust each other as we followed the daily routines of self-selected independent reading, talking about our reading, writing about our reading (or something else personal or thematically related to the lesson), and sharing our writing with our table groups.

Prior to independent notebook writing time, sometimes I’d say, “Today as you share your writing in your groups, let’s listen for just one phrase or sentence that you think holds a punch. Talk about why you like what they wrote.” This instruction gave students a heads up. Oh, I need to be sure to write at least one pretty good sentence.

One pretty good sentence was a good starting place for Dan. This micro writing gave Dan his first “hits.” And once he started to gain some confidence, he started to write more. Once Dan started to write more, he started asking for help to make his writing better. I think that is what it means to be a writer–wanting to improve your writing.

I think sometimes we get rushed. We expect more than some students are able to give. When I first started teaching, I assigned writing instead of teaching writers. Thank God I learned a better way. I would have missed out on a lot of joy in my teaching career.

I don’t know that Dan will ever have to write in his career in the military. It doesn’t matter. What matters is that he can write, and he knows he can. Even if it’s just a pretty good sentence and another and another.

Amy Rasmussen lives in a small but about to burst small town in North Texas with her husband of 35 years, her poison dart frogs Napoleon and Lafayette, her Shelties Des and Mac, and her extensive and time-consuming rare tropical plant collection. She believes educators should Do Nothing all summer. (Affiliate link, so you buy, 3TT gets a little something.) You can find Amy on Twitter @amyrass, although she rarely tweets anymore, or on IG @amyleigh_arts1, where she posts about grandkids and grand plants.

Tried and (Still) True: An Architectural Approach to Writing

Helen Becker

If you know me, you know that I am a Brene’ Brown fan. No, take that back. I’m a huge Brene’ Brown fan. Brown helps me make my life make sense, both personally and professionally. Brown’s work as an ethnographic researcher influenced my research in educational best practices. As I began my doctoral research in self-efficacy and perceptions of college and career readiness among high school students, I gravitated to Brown’s experiences in grounded theory. Grounded theory, she writes, evolves from people’s lived experiences rather than from experimentation to prove or disprove theories.

Brown adds, “In grounded theory, we don’t start with a problem or a hypothesis or a literature review, we start with a topic. We let the participants define the problem or their main concern about the topic, we develop a theory, and then we see how it fits in the literature.”

Reflecting on these statements, I had an “A ha!” moment: much the same happens in the writing process when a teacher allows students to authentically express their thoughts and ideas. We create opportunities for our students to start with a topic – maybe a person, place, or a moment – and see where the writing takes them. Then we add layers and layers of instruction to shape the first draft into new drafts and eventually, maybe, into various writing products. A poem? Perhaps. An essay? Form follows function.

We teach writers how to bend their writing into new and different forms rather than generating prompt after prompt after prompt for students to write in circles of nothingness.

So how does Brene’ Brown fit into this blog post? Brown’s May 4th Dare to Lead podcast features author and leadership expert, Douglas Conant, and his new book (with Amy Federman) The Blueprint: 6 Practical Steps to Lift Your Leadership to New Heights. Conant’s book, like many featured by Brown, has high priority on my “To Read Next” list. In the podcast, Conant discusses the importance of a strong foundation to guide us through times of uncertainty. Times like now. Our experiences, Conant states, are a blueprint for our future.

Brown and Conant’s discussion intersected my own thinking as I pondered the next installment of “Tried and (Still) True” for Three Teachers Talk. What came to mind? Blueprinting.

Blueprint writing from an equity stance means considering spaces other than the “traditional” blueprint layout.

Tried and (Still) True – June 2021

This month, I’m sharing The Blueprint, modified from a lesson learned by many Abydos teachers, with credit for the original lesson going to Dr. Joyce Armstrong Carroll in the first edition of Acts of Teaching and Peter Stillman in Families Writing. While the original lesson described in Acts of Teaching calls for a house-esque foldable, over the years, I modified the lesson to have students think about any dwelling space (a home, a basketball arena, a car) where they could envision a blueprint. Modifying the lesson in this way meets the needs of students who may not have a place to call home but rather a place where they feel at home.

Here’s a rough sketch of The Blueprint lesson cycle:

We begin with the concept of a blueprint: what is a blueprint, who uses it, what it communicates, and why it is important? We look at sample blueprints and engage in some inferential thinking based on what the blueprint communicates between and beyond the architect’s blue lines.

Then I invite students to think about a space that is important to them. We might draw on previous pre-writing activities such as “People, Places, Moments” or an A to Z list. I encourage students to think about spaces other than a house: one student drew the dashboard of his beloved vintage (beatup) Camaro while another chose the principal’s office because he spent a lot of time there. Before students land on a place to sketch, I model how I sketched the blueprint of my grandmother’s house in Longview, Texas. I tell them how the details you can’t remember don’t matter. What matters is what you remember. I also remind them this isn’t Art class. I’m not grading the accuracy of the drawing.

Once students get their own blueprint generated, I have them focus on one aspect of the blueprint where they can add more detail: what is on the walls? Is there furniture? Plants or trees? Photos? This line of inquiry generates more details to add to the blueprint.

For example, some student-writers feel more comfortable on the basketball court or soccer field.

Then I invite students to write about the connections they feel to this space or to one aspect of the space they just drew. These connections may turn into a narrative or an informative piece or a poem. Form follows function.

One year, a student blueprinted my classroom. He wrote, “In Mrs. Becker’s classroom, I can be myself. I can walk in the door, sit in my desk, look at the pictures of her family, and I feel like I am part of her family too.”

Carroll says in Acts of Teaching, blueprinting “allows students to recreate places that hold memories worth writing about” (18). It is in these memories that stories come back to life from the perspective of the writer, now a few years older and hopefully wiser. Collecting these stories on paper, what Brene’ Brown calls “storycatching,” becomes a means to understand our past and use our memories, both positive and negative, to guide our writing and shape our future selves.

About the author:

One time I blueprinted my Moscow kitchen and wrote about scorching quinoa and testing the bounds of international relations.

Dr. Helen Becker has used blueprint writing as a pre-writing vehicle in nearly every high school ELA course she has ever taught, accounting for roughly 16 years of her own blueprint stories! She has blueprinted about life in her tiny Moscow apartment (pictured here) with her husband as well as the layout of the #8 hole – her nemesis – at Leland Country Club. In her current role as a Research Data Analyst for Clear Creek ISD in the Houston, Texas, area, she is more likely to blueprint her two-screen Excel spreadsheet dashboard than the dashboard of her car.  Her newest blueprint story though? Designing the guest room of her new home to welcome her first grandson for a visit at the end of June. The library of children’s books continues to grow by the day.

Friday Night Quickwrite 6/4

Welcome June! And welcome to Friday Night Quickwrite where I give a prompt each Friday and invite you to write along with us anytime this week.

Today’s prompt is a tweet from Alan J. Wright. Alan wrote this poem while in the middle of the pandemic, but I think we can still take his wise advise on any given day and at any time in our lives. Read his words and let them take you to a time, a place, or a moment in your life that was stormy. What jewelled fragment did you find? How did you resist the tempest? Where did you find the strength? You could even take a line or a word and write off of it. The important part is that you free your mind and let your words flow.

The line “resist the tempest” is what was speaking to me today. I have so many temptations that are keeping from doing things I need to be doing. I am trying to take care of ME this summer, and there are too many temptations. I am searching for that “jewelled fragment” that is being offered. As I wrote in my notebook, I realized that maybe I am searching for the whole jewel and not just a fragment. Maybe I am wanting too much, too soon.

Please share your writing or your process with us in the comments below, and please spread the word with your writing friends. We welcome all writers!

Leigh Anne jumped into summer today, as today was the first pool day of the season. When not teaching 6th grade ELA, she enjoys reading and writing poolside.

Researching conspiracy thinking

I’ve never felt super-confident about teaching research. I often feel like it’s a made-up genre, that research manifests itself in so many different ways that teaching it in isolation is a little bit like eating the ingredients of a cookie without mixing them. But when I read a book like On Immunity by Eula Biss that beautifully blends genres as she researches vaccinations, or when I read Eating Animals and follow along as Jonathan Safran Foer breaks into a chicken farm, I’m enthralled. They don’t seem to care about synthesizing sources or MLA formatting, though they do both things. Their content is king, and their structures are malleable. They seem to live and move in the spaces that overlap between narrative, exposition, argument, and analysis. They write with heart and voice and objectivity that creates clarity even while including subjective experiences that add authenticity. So we set about to try some authentic research during second semester, and though our products may not measure up to Biss or Foer, we made steps in their direction. There is nothing new about the topic or process below. I’m just sharing how the puzzle pieces came together this year (we were fully in class from the beginning) because it might spark an idea for your classroom. 

A framework: truthiness v. factfulness

We started the unit by thinking about what Stephen Colbert called “Truthiness” in 2005 (see the original clip from his show or a good article about it), which was his way of describing the kind of information problem that arose when the internet and cable news usurped traditional media. Those issues have only been exacerbated by the rise of social media since then, so we set out to define the difference between truthiness and factfulness (using some of Hans Osling’s Gapminder resources). This gave us a pretty simple lens to use to evaluate sources (is it truthy?), and it gave us a way to talk about what kind of information we’re consuming. 

We used the following essential questions to guide our work:

  • In what ways does “truthiness” interfere with our culture?
  • In what spaces would “factfulness” improve our culture?
  • Are we living in a “post-truth” culture? Do facts matter?

Students did a small team task where they found examples of truthiness in their social media feeds and we discussed the relationship of misinformation, disinformation, and propaganda. It felt like a pretty organic way to begin thinking about research, and it gave me some language to use as they began doing some writing.

Some examples that a group from 4th bell used to illustrate the prevalence of truthiness in their feeds.

I also had them take an argument essay they had written during first semester, choose one body paragraph, and make it more factful. It was fun to see them recognize the truthiness in their own writing, which set up some expectations for our writing later. You can see an example of a student from my 4th bell below:

An angle: conspiracy theories

One of the other challenges about research writing is the topic generation process. I see value in letting students choose a topic. I’ve also seen the frustration of a kid who genuinely doesn’t know what to do and has options paralysis. So I chose conspiracy theories for the class because it’s a place where truthiness and factfulness intersect. I envisioned students reading what conspiracists think and say, and then reading the evaluations and rebuttals of those conspiracies. It’s a natural way to explore several perspectives.

An individual task: choosing a research path

We did a series of Deep Dives to start the research, one that focused on conspiracy theories broadly (why people buy in, what some common and obscure ones are–some sources we used), then students chose one conspiracy to dig deeper into. We never really called it research, which I think made us all feel better. We were just learning about chemtrails and the Denver International Airport. Students built a 2-3 page paper that used the sources to help us understand the conspiracy. We used a section from Eula Biss as a mentor text, then I gave them some structure options, basically a really loose outline, hoping to help us think more like Biss and Foer, more like writers making choices. Some took risks, some played it safe. But our goal was to let what we had found in the deep dives dictate the structure. Topics ranged from celebrity deaths (Michael Jackson, Princess Diana) to QAnon, from assassinations (MLK and JFK) to animals (birds aren’t real).

A team task: defend a conspiracy theory

The final piece was to share out because the topics were so interesting. Each student shared an overview of their research with their table teams, then the teams each picked one and were tasked with convincing the rest of the class that the conspiracy was true. This forced them to think a little bit differently, to do some additional research, and to help us have a little bit of fun before the deluge of spring standardized testing hit us. 

Takeaways

  1. De-emphasizing the research aspects and emphasizing the content questions enabled us to actually do better work on the research aspects. By not frontloading information about MLA format, embedding quotes and citations, or other general research expectations, we were able to better discuss those elements as they more naturally arose and students felt a need for them.
  2. Me choosing a topic is okay if there are still opportunities to personalize the pathways. Student ownership over the subtopic and paper structure seemed enough to keep interest and ownership high. 
  3. Conspiracy theories are a rich opportunity to think about the misinformation epidemic. While some are political, my students veered away from those. With that little bit of distance we could talk about the challenges of navigating our feeds, of considering sources and modes, of being more conscious citizens. They found it to be a topic worthy of researching.

Check out some good posts from TTT on research to kickstart some more ideas:

Nathan Coates teaches junior English at Mason High School, a large suburban district near Cincinnati, Ohio. His favorite conspiracies are sports ones, like the NBA suspending Michael Jordan for gambling or fixing the draft for the Knicks to get Ewing.

Friday Night Quickwrite 5/28

Many of us are enjoying the beginning of summer, while others still have a few weeks of school left. No matter where you are in the end-of-the-school-year process, I hope you take some time to write. Writing and journaling have so many health benefits, which is why I extend this writing invitation to you each week.

Although it is titled Friday Night Quickwrite, you can join us and share anytime during the week. I will provide a spark or prompt with some kind of inspiration to get your mind going, and when you are ready, just write and share.

This week I am sharing a text from Encyclopedia of an Ordinary Life by Amy Krouse Rosenthal. This book is full of short entries organized from A to Z that captures moments, observations, and emotions from her life. This book is full of writing ideas and inspiration. The one I used tonight is filed under “Childhood Memories” and includes a table with the heading of “What My Childhood Tasted Like.”

In my notebook I made a table similar to AKR’s with food items and a little snippet of what they remind me about my childhood. It was fun to recall these special memories. I even texted my siblings and asked them about foods, and we share many of the same memories.

I am always intrigued how foods, smells, and songs attach themsleves to memories. Many of these food items on my list could be written as a memoir, a poem, or even a short story. Full of writing possibilities!

Please join me and writing about your childhood tastes and share it with us below. Happy writing and enjoy your long weekend!

Leigh Anne is currently on summer break and is waiting for the water temperature to warm up so she can read while relaxing with her sister and daughter (both teachers!) in the pool. When not on summer break, she teaches 6th grade ELA in southern Indiana.

I’m About to Get Bossy

It’s been a year.

Now, just to be clear, when I say year I mean about a decade’s worth of exhaustion, emotion, and uncertainty rolled into 180ish days of tough.

And as this crazy school year comes to a close, I reflect on everything we’ve accomplished as educators, not least of which has been literally surviving and I’m happy to report I hear the distant rumble of a slow clap. The steady drumbeat of solidarity, growing ever louder as more and more educators join the chorus of almost disbelieving hands clapping…for each other and for ourselves. We. Did. It.

Let’s be real a moment. Not our usual humble selves, but really, real.

You deserve a standing ovation. You deserve pots banging in the streets. You deserve sweet cards, and smiles, and thank you’s, and sincere gratitude from communities overwhelmed by your sacrifice for their children.

Most of all though? You deserve a break.

Photo by James Wheeler on Pexels.com

I know our realities are as varied as our geographic location and preferred book genre, but our difficulties are often the same. Many have to work more than one job to make ends meet. Some continue to work through vacations to make up for lack of preparation time just to be ready to start all over again next year. We see our own kids less than the children of other people. We watch weekends fly by from behind our computer screens and buried under piles of papers. Stack on top of this the fact that the impossibilities of modern education are often met with either toxic positivity or a “this is what you signed up for” attitude, and we can all be left feeling like we apparently deserve to run on empty.

This isn’t true.

You deserve a break.

Please go back and read that one more time. You deserve to unplug from all things school. You deserve to feed the parts of you that get neglected in the service of others. You deserve so much, but a break you can actually take. Lengthy, short, in snippets here and there, with a good book, a favorite beverage, those you love, or completely on your own, step back. Disable the notifications on your phone (I’ve actually contemplated chucking mine out of a moving vehicle lately) and nap. Often. Stare into the summer sky and know you likely did more this year than you ever would have thought to be possible in this profession…and you made it. Your students are so blessed that you did. Now is the time to ensure you can return to them next year, a more complete and mentally rested person.

So this summer, as we step away from our classrooms or computers, please know that we here at Three Teachers Talk see you.

We see the commitment.

We see the work.

We see the struggles.

And we want you to know you are not alone. Take as many steps back this summer as you responsibility can. Whether it be moments to read fluff or planning work put off until fall, slide your attention back to yourself. We do what we do for our students, but we will in fact be better for them if we work to heal what this year has done to and taken from all of us.

Take a break, dear friends. You deserve it.

And if you hear strange banging noises this summer, it’s me, banging like a loon on a pot to herald all your hard work, because you deserve that too.

How are you taking time for yourself this summer? What message of solidarity do you have for fellow weary educators? Comment below!

Lisa Dennis spends her school days teaching AP Language, English 9, and Virtual Film as Literature while also leading the fearless English Department at Franklin High School, just outside Milwaukee, Wisconsin where she lives with her husband Nick, daughter Ellie, and beagle Scout.  She now tries to live life based on the last pieces of advice her dad gave her –
Be kind. Read good books. Feed the birds. Follow Lisa on Twitter @LDennibaum

Friday Quickwrite 5/21

Welcome to the weekend and another Friday Quickwrite. Remember you can come back and write any time with us. It doesn’t have to be Friday night (it just rhymes with quickwrite!)

I saw this post by Tera Jean Elness on Instagram last week and it got me thinking, and of course, it got me writing, too.

To honor is to revere and to revere is to regard with respect tinged with awe.
(and big thanks to dictionary dot com cuz I really LOVE that definition)
Yes.
Tinged with awe.
Pretty awesome, amen?
Honor your brave Beloved.
Hold it in high regard and give it the weight it deserves.
Honor your brave.
Your brave in staying.
Your brave in going.
Your brave in trying despite the risk.
Your brave in holding on.
Your brave in letting go.
Your brave in finally – FINALLY – living fully and freely as YOU.
Yes.
Honor your brave Beloved.
Your brave in the heartache.
Your brave in the tears.
Your brave you’ve been hiding all of these years because you believed that your voice was simply one of many and not one that needs to be heard.
What a lie amen.
Honor your brave Beloved.
Honor it.
It deserves it.

The words “honor your brave” really spoke to me, and I began to think about the times when I didn’t think of myself as brave. The brave in holding on and letting go and living fully.

I made a list in my notebook and was led by an item on that list. An item that is too private to share but one that needed to be written. I hope you find some inspiration in Tera’s words this weekend, and I would love to hear what path these words led you.

Happy Writing!

Leigh Anne finished up her 14th year of teaching today. It was a wild and wacky one but amazing nevertheless. She is looking forward to some summer reading and writing time by the pool.

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