Category Archives: Boys & Literacy

Popular Titles for Middle School Students

Lately I’ve seen several twitter and facebook posts asking for “must-purchase” titles for classroom libraries and book clubs. It’s that time of year – the time when we order for next year and cross our fingers that it all arrives by the first day of school.

Ordering titles for our classroom libraries is no joke, so I love seeing how thoughtful people are about it.

I thought I’d check in with my students to find out how they might answer that question, so I asked them what their best books of the year have been so far. They wrote about it and talked about it, and then I had them publicly post their titles so that other students could get inspired to read new titles, add to their next reads lists, or think about new titles for summer reading.

Here’s what we came up with:

Block A Best Books

Bad Kitty, Norse Mythology, Pugs of the Frozen North, A Wrinkle in Time, Hitler Youth, The Martian Chronicles, To the Field of Stars, All Fall Down, Echo, Auggie and Me, Our Surprising Love Story, The Boy in the Striped Pajamas, Long Way Down, The House of the Scorpion

All Fall Down by Ally Carter has been a big hit with several of my seventh grade girls. All Fall Down Cover

It’s the first in a mystery series, and three of my seventh-grade girls have read all three of the books in the series since I added it to my classroom library in January. It’s led one of them to read some of Ally Carter’s other books, and they have had some fun and authentic discussions about these books, which is always fun to witness.

Block C Best Books

The Fault in our Stars, Twilight, Long Way Down, Memoirs of a Geisha, Turtles All the Way Down, Sarah’s Key, Everything Everything, Big Foot, Looking for Alaska, American Sniper, Smile, Booked, Guinness Book of World Records, Anne of Green Gables, Perfect, Out of My Mind, Insurgent, Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe, The Boy in the Striped Pajamas

Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe moved one of my readers to tears.

Aristotle and Dante cover

This student literally hugged her copy when she was done with it, and while she is a prolific reader, this one made it to her “top book” award. If this student recommends it, then I’m sold.

Block E Best Books

Eleanor and Park, Everything Everything, The DaVinci Code, The Perks of Being a Wallflower, To all the Boys I’ve Loved Before, 3:59, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, The Crossover, The Maze Runner, Out of My Mind, The Hunger Games, The Perfectionist, Taste Test, Love that Dog, The Alchemist, Slappy New Year, Between Shades of Gray, Star Wars, The Popularity Papers

Out of My Mind seems to be a game changer for a few of my seventh grade readers.

Out of my Mind cover

Somehow, this sweet story of an eleven-year-old girl who is drastically underestimated has reached some students who I never would have pegged as liking “this kind of book.” One boy in particular has said it’s the best book he’s ever read, and if I could translate the look on his face into words, you wouldn’t doubt it.

Hopefully these titles my students shared will help with some of your purchasing choices this spring.

One thing to notice is that these titles aren’t the latest or newest publications, but they are fairly recently published, for the most part.

I think the important piece is not that we have the newest and hottest titles (not that it doesn’t help!), but that we realize that variety and availability are what matter. To illustrate this point, I’ll share an example: I purchased about 150 “new” books for my classroom library over the winter break, brought them back to Nicaragua in my suitcases, book talked them daily, and made them available to all of my students.

Variety and availability have made a significant difference in the reading habits and attitudes of many of my students. I didn’t spend a lot of money – some of the books I purchased second or third hand for fifty-cents apiece. I’ve reinforced the paperback covers with packing tape, and it helps. The point is that the books are readily available, and I know what I have in my library, I know my readers, and I can do my best to play matchmaker between book and reader.

How do you choose books for your classroom library? What are some of your must-haves?

Julie has been teaching secondary language arts for twenty years, spending the first fifteen in rural Central Oregon, and the last four in Amman, Jordan. She’s thrilled to report that she and her family have moved across the world to Managua, Nicaragua this year, where a new adventure has begun.

Follow her on twitter @SwinehartJulie

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Utilizing Response to Provoke, Evoke, and Make Thinking Visible #TCTELA19

There’s nothing quite like presenting to a room full of educators who “get it.” You know the type:  they share similar goals for their students, they work to improve their craft as readers and writers, so they can help their students improve theirs. They know the best hope we have in our world and in our communities is a literate society. They teach literacy not just literature.

This was my experience at the Texas Council of Teachers of English Language Arts Conference in San Antonio (#TCTELA19) this past Saturday. And here’s the run down of my session: Beyond What Happened Into What’s Happening: Utilizing Response to Provoke, Evoke, and Make Thinking Visible.

If you teach in Texas, you already know we have new ELA standards coming. K-8 implementation starts next fall with 9-12 the following year. I was blessed to serve on the revision committee for the high school revisions and worked with some wicked-smart educators to craft standards that truly lend themselves to the recursive nature of literacy. And while we never mentioned methodology, I want you to know:  A workshop pedagogy is the best way I know to integrate the standards in our instruction. Many of us are already doing it.

While my session centered primarily on the Response (Strand 3), if you were there, you already know, through response –and the routines of workshop instruction— we can get our students thinking, reading, writing, listening, and speaking about topics and issues they care about in meaningful ways that lead to deeper learning. Authentic learning.

As promised, here’s the videos with the questions to spark response I shared:

Pixar’s short film “Lou”  What do you NOTICE?  What do you WONDER?

Note:  After turning and sharing our writing with a peer, we discussed how topics emerge from this kind of quickwrite. Appreciation, kindness, respect, character, internal struggle, motivation were all topics audience members wrote about in their responses. Through authentic response we help students generate personal and individual writing territories.

Infographics are a great resource for response, quickwrites, analysis, and even composition. Check out Daily Infographics and Statista.

tctela19 -- response

We read the infographic and discussed our thinking with a partner, which led to the Gillette ad. Of course, it did. (I was slightly surprised at how many in the room had not seen it.)

What do you NOTICE?

What do you WONDER?

What do you FEEL?

You probably see a theme emerging. This is how my brain works. I create a text sets — thematically. And with the new TX ELA standards, specifically, the multi-genre strand, I think thematic units make sense. In my experience, learners engage more when I’ve intentionally curated resources that invite them to make connections.

Connect this ad by Barbasol. (“Stop LOL-ing everything!” Makes me chuckle every time.) This ad was made in 2013. How might knowing that change your response?

And finally, this one — a direct response to the Gillette ad. What do you NOTICEWhat do you WONDERWhat do you want to know more about?

tctela19 -- response-2

Photo by Arnel Hasanovic on Unsplash

Now what?

If you know me, you know I am an advocate for self-selected independent reading. The new TX standards put this front and center.

tctela19 -- response-3Which also means students need access to high-interest engaging books they want to read. Lots of access. And teachers need to read these books, not just so they can help match readers with books — but to use them to teach literacy skills.

tctela19 -- response-5

Photo by Gaelle Marcel on Unsplash

I wish I’d had more time. We had so much more to talk about. Like these excerpts (The Perfect Score; The Truth as Told by Mason Buttle) from classroom library books — and the open-ended questions that show how we can utilize these books to teach literacy skills — Read like a Readers/ Read like a Writer, all the while integrating several of the new ELA standards. As they should be.

You’ll notice those excerpts both have male protagonists. Both struggling with something. Maybe things that lend themselves to the themes in those little videos.

Some titles from my classroom library I would book talk with students as we viewed, read, talked, and wrote about the sources I share here:

tctela19 -- response-6

What resources for response would you add to this text set? What question for response? What titles from your classroom library? Please share in the comments.

 

Amy Rasmussen calls herself a literacy evangelist –among other things. Wife to a lovely man, and blessed to be the mother of six and grandmother of seven (five of which are boys), she loves to read and teach and share ideas that just might make the world a little brighter — for everyone! Follow her @amyrass — and join the conversation around workshop instruction on the Three Teachers Talk Facebook page.

3TT Talks Gifts: What books will you give this season?

If you know me, you know I live by lists. I make them. I collect them. Sometimes I even stick to them. I raised seven children, you know. I had to keep track of who needed to go here, there, and everywhere and who needed what and what and what just to survive and thrive in our robust and rowdy family. Christmas shopping, often on a bone of a budget, gave me hives.

Gift-giving has never been my strong suit. Perhaps my practicality, and my history of stretching dimes into dollars, gets in the way of thoughtfulness. (Not even kidding, my kids got socks and underwear wrapped in cute paper. To their credit, they never complained–at least not to me.) I know it is possible to be both practical and thoughtful, but I am still working on that balance.

So what does any of that have to do with a blog about teaching readers and writers? Not a lot — except, I asked my fellow writers to help me craft a list for literacy teachers. Maybe you’ll find something to gift yourself, a colleague, a friend, or a perfect stranger. (I like the idea of gift-wrapping a book and giving it to one of the Salvation Army bell-ringing volunteers and saying, “This is for you.”)

Part 1 of this literacy teachers’ list is below. I’ll post about professional books, and favorite writer’s notebooks, pens, and other clever things for literacy lovers over the next few days.

BOOKS. What are the top titles students love in your classroom library right now? (Remember, we work with a range of readers from middle grades to AP Lit. There’s old and new, non-fiction, YA, and just some really good recommendations here, in no particular order, that would make great gifts for any reader or want-to-be reader or you-want-them-to-be a reader in your life. )

The Poet X by Elizabeth Acevedo
Long Way Down Track Series (Ghost, Patina, Sunny, Lu) by Jason Reynolds
Ready Player One by Ernest Cline
The Hate You Give  by Angie Thomas
American Street by Ibi Zoboi
Graphic novels (Ghosts, Smile, Babysitters… by Raina Telgemeier
Love that Dog/Hate that Cat/Moo by Sharon Creech
The 57 Bus:  A True Story of Two Teens and a Crime that Changed Their Lives by Dashka Slater
Love, Hate, and Other Filters by Samira Ahmed

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Just Mercy  by Bryan Stevenson & the version adapted for YA
Lies My Teacher Told Me by James W. Loewen
The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood & the graphic novel version by Nan A. Talise
The Last Black Unicorn by Tiffany Haddish
The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah
Ghost Boys By Jewell Parker Rhodes
The CrossoverBooked & Rebound by Kwame Alexander
Children of Blood and Bone by Tomi Adeyemi
The Greatest Stories Never Told:  100 Tales from History to Astonish, Bewilder, and Stupefy by Rick Beyer

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An Ember in the Ashes by Sabaa Tahir & the whole trilogy
Looking for AlaskaTurtles All the Way Down by John Green
My Bloody Life: The Making of a Latin King by Reymundo Sanchez
Twisted by Laurie Halse Anderson
Dear Martin by Nic Stone
The Marrow Thieves by Cherie Dimaline

NOTE: Get this book free with a donation to Book Love Foundation

We Should Hang Out Sometime:  Embarrassingly, a True Story & Love and First Sight by Josh Sundquist
I am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter by Erika L. Sanchez
Because I was a Girl:  Trues Stories for Girls of All Ages by Melissa de la Cruz

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Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates
The Martian by Andy Weir
1984 by George Orwell
The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold
The Road by Cormac McCarthy
#NotYourPrincess: Voices of Native American Women by Charleyboy (editor)
All the Broken Pieces by Ann E. Burg
The Astonishing Color of After by Emily X.R. Pan
Far from the Tree by Robin Benway

For more book-gifting ideas, check out the Goodreads Choice Awards for 2018; 15 Life-Changing Middle-grade Books; and here’s the School Library Journal list of best children and YA audiobooks of 2018.

Reading without Words

Too often, the purpose of reading in school is about grammar, vocabulary acquisition, organization, structure, mechanics, conventions, punctuation, figurative language, imagery, etc, etc, etc . . . There’s always a standard, a clear purpose, a takeaway for students when they read . . . but that doesn’t always have to be the case.

There is another important purpose for reading.

Reading is about stories, about discovering and creating our own identities, about realizing that others share in the same struggles as us. Reading is about being human, and being able to touch something on a page that tells our human experience when we are unable to find the words to tell it ourselves.

Reading is about stories, about discovering and creating our own identities, about realizing that others share in the same struggles as us. Reading is about being human, and being able to touch something that can tell our human experience when we are unable to find the words to tell it ourselves. 

Some of our students haven’t discovered this yet, and the reason is often because of the accessibility and relevance of books. We’ve all struggled with finding texts that are age and level appropriate for some of our students — readers who struggle don’t want to read what they deem to be “baby books” for a variety of reasons that are fair and legitimate. They need books that they can read and books that they want to read.

Recently I’ve discovered that there are some beautiful, poignant, relevant illustrated books that are decidedly not perceived as baby books, and which take a lot of thinking and reading in order to understand. But they are wordless, or at least almost wordless.

While I’m not giving up on teaching words and all of their beauty, I also know that wordless stories have a place in my classroom.

The book I’ve recently fallen in love with is The Arrival by Shaun Tan. It’s a wordless graphic novel, and it tells the story of a person who leaves his family behind in order to create a better life for them all. arrival cover

It’s the kind of story all sorts of people can relate to: Character endures separation, loneliness, and heartache because of hope, optimism, and desperation.

It’s beautifully complex and requires some attention to detail, some hard thinking, and some rereading in order to really understand and analyze it.

I’ve book talked it to several of my classes, and I’ve gotten some puzzled looks when students try to understand how a book can be both complex and wordless.

They struggle to understand how they could find fiction signposts, discover characterization, etc, in a wordless book, that is, until they get the book in their hands.

Students who don’t always have easy access to complex texts have found success with finding the Beers/Probst Notice and Note Fiction Signposts in this complex and detailed story.

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For example, this Again and Again signpost is an easy one to spot – the main character carries a picture of his family as he travels from his home country to his new land, and the photo pops up in many of the frames. It’s significant because students realize quickly that this man’s family is the most important thing to him, which is why he carries the photo everywhere.

Both boys and girls have read this book, and I’ve overheard conversations about what it might be about as they wonder and struggle through their thinking. This is the kind of talk I love to hear.

This morning, I discovered four boys reading choice books on a bench: one was reading this wordless graphic novel, another was reading one of the Harry Potter books for the first time, another was reading The Crossover, a novel written in verse, and the last one was reading a humorous graphic novel. All different forms of books, but all legitimate books that “count.”

The point is, all of these students had texts that were accessible to them. They were curious about their own reading, and were enjoying their books. Their brains were engaged, they were talking to each other about what they were reading, and most importantly, they were fostering a community of reading as well as their own healthy reading lives.

Graphic novels, with or without words, can be excellent bridges between teacher, student, and healthy reading habits. Students can learn valuable reading skills and strategies with all kinds of books – even the “extreme” examples that don’t have words. It’s not a place where I want my students to “live” — but I don’t want my students to “live” in any one genre or form anyway. They should build skills, stretch their brains and habits, find familiar and easier books, and then stretch some more. The wordless book have a place in their learning, and will always have a place in my secondary language arts classroom.

A few wordless/nearly wordless books that are complex and relevant to secondary students:

  • The Arrival by Shaun Tan
  • The Marvels by David Selznick
  • Unspoken by Henry Cole

One final idea: It’s a bit like teaching reading strategies with the Pixar short films. My grade sevens practiced finding fiction signposts in the short film Partly Cloudy last week, and they were able to point out signposts even though the movie does not have dialogue.

Studying and reading wordless books and silent films can build confidence and skills in our readers who struggle with more complex texts, and while we can’t ignore their decoding skills, we can also allow them to grapple with the complexities of stories that are developmentally appropriate for their growing identities as readers and human beings.

 

Julie has been teaching secondary language arts for twenty years, spending the first fifteen in rural Central Oregon, and the last four in Amman, Jordan. She’s thrilled to report that she and her family have moved across the world to Managua, Nicaragua this year, where a new adventure has begun.

Follow her on twitter @SwinehartJulie

A Little Learning with Big Outcomes

Last week was tough. If you teach in TX, you probably know what I mean.

December means STAAR/EOC testing, and while I teach readers and writers in 11th and 12th grade English classes at a large senior high school, many of my students carry the label of “re-tester.” (It’s an ugly label; isn’t it?)

All week students who have yet to successfully pass all five exams required to graduate filed into testing rooms to try again. This meant many disruptions for students not testing.

All week the English hall, along with other rooms, became the testing center. Classes displaced. Students out of comfort zones. Just a bit of chaos.

We know how well this works for learning.

In an effort to get my students settled in, back in our classroom and back in our routine

Julian shares his haiku

Julian sharing his haiku

of workshop, we played with words.

Testing disrupted our writing project, a series of letters in a variety of forms with a variety of tones, all related to a self-selected thematic link. We needed a revision workshop, but my seniors were not having it. With just 10.5 days until winter break, plus 8.5 until the end of term, many are already playing XBox and watching Netflix in their heads. (Me, too, but at least I’m fighting it.)

Since we read our choice books at the beginning of every class period, and I work daily to hold students who have not read a book on their own throughout high school accountable, I am constantly trying something new.  Today the new turned pretty cool.

We wrote book reviews in the form of haiku.

The tremendous thinking about word choice — well, it was kind of magical. (If only students would always think about word choice with such care.) Here’s a sampling of our book review poetry:

A book can contain

many life lessons that we

can use in our lives.

~Cesar Perez

The Playbook by Kwame Alexander

Are her thoughts her own

or does the tightening coil

control her whole being?

~Maria Cruz

Turtles all the Way Down by John Green

my life was stolen

but after 18 years I

got to hug my mom

~Grace Foust

A Stolen Life by Jaycee Dugard

being arrested

for helping his ex-girlfriend

Being black is hard.

~Di’Myrius Owens

Dear Martin by Nic Stone

her eyes captured me

I lost myself in her heart

Owned me from the start

~Axel Ibarra

The Oxygen Thief by Anonymous

Looking for a path

Twisted and in need of help

How do I escape?

~Jesse Borjas

Dark Dude  by Oscar Hijuelos

Running for freedom

Garret escapes boot camp

Fear, risk run with him

~Cris Velasquez

Boot Camp by Todd Strasser

Black lives do matter.

Police brutality sucks.

assume all black steal

~Alondra Rosales

All American Boys by Jason Reynolds & Brendan Kiely

The first hand account

No excuses for mistakes

Kill Osama Bin

~McKenzie Bowie

No Easy Day by Mark Owen

This simple activity led to a complex discussion about the power of words and why we need to revise our writing in order to craft with purpose. We discussed adding figurative language, creating imagery, using complex sentences. I taught how to write appositive phrases, a grammar move my students did not know.

And as students moved into their writing groups, they talked about their plans for revision. Teaching writers does not get much better than that.

When our students take on the identify of writers, they talk like writers, and they write with purpose — choosing words and phrases and making moves like real writers do.

Side note:  Some of my students produces haikus that revealed needs in their reading lives. For example, one student wrote that Fahrenheit 451 was set in WWII, and another showed confusion in the change of point of view in All American Boys. Their book review haikus gave me an action plan for reading conferences. Bonus!

Amy Rasmussen teaches senior English and AP English Lang & Comp in North TX. She loves to get her students talking about the things that matter to them. She also loves to get them talking about the things that matter to us all:  books and words and poetry and writing and serving people everywhere. Follow her @amyrass and @3TeachersTalk.

“Did you know Gucci has a book?” I do now.

“Hey, Miss, did you know Gucci has a book? I want to read it.”

“Really? You are telling me you actually want to read book?”

“Yeah, but only that one.”

I go to my computer, click on Amazon, and look for a new book by Gucci. I find:

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These cannot be the books Daniel is talking about. I know this kid. He was in my junior English class last year — part of the class with the tissue issue, and now I had him as a senior.

“How do you know Gucci has a book?” I asked.

“I saw it on his Instagram,” Daniel said, showing me his phone.

Dear Reader, you are ahead of me on this, aren’t you?

I admit to being on the edge of old. I had no idea before this conversation with this student that his Gucci was not handbags and luxury leather goods. Because Daniel tends to mumble, it took me a while to figure out he was referring to Gucci Mane.

Daniel’s favorite rapper had a new book.

So I bought it.

When I first met Daniel, we had trouble. He sat in the back of the room, fake reading, sleeping, tossing pencils, goofing off so others laughed. I moved him to the front, and he slid low in his chair and sulked. Every day. And every day when I conferred with readers, I leaned over Daniel’s shoulder and asked what I could do to help him want to be a part of my class.

Eventually, he responded. He told me he’d read Gary Soto’s books in 10th grade. I wasn’t sure I could believe him, fake-reading tough guy and all, but I passed him the two Soto books I have in my library. He read them both.

Then, he started reading Matt de la Pena’s books. Ball Don’t Lie took Daniel a long time to get through, but he finished it and started Mexican Whiteboy. I’m pretty sure he read four books that semester — more than he’d ever read in his 16 years.

In conferences I asked Daniel about his life outside of school. He told me he wanted to work on cars like his brother and that he took the bus to the career center after my class every day, so he could take courses in auto mechanics. Based on our conversations, I do not think another general ed teacher had ever talked to this young man about what mattered to him:  cars.

hattie-teacher-student-relationships

Source: Hattie, J. (2009). Visible Learning: A Synthesis of Over 800 Meta-Analyses On Achievement. Routledge.

In education, we hear about the importance of building relationships a lot, and my experience with Daniel is a testament to the power of taking the time to get to know a student. Because he knew I cared, Daniel started to care about his English class. He began asking for help and coming to tutorials. He started showing up in spirit and not just as a warm body slumped in a chair. He felt like he belonged.

Did Daniel excel? Not exactly. But he passed, which was something a bit surprising to both of us after his I’m-too-cool-for-school-to-do-anything rocky start.

Flash forward to this year. I moved to senior English, and Daniel got his original schedule changed so he could be in my class. He walked in my room the first day with the same too-cool attitude. (Appearances are everything, and I know this game.) Again, I gently started conversations.

When Daniel scored an A on his first essay, he pretty much called me a liar. On his

Reading Boot Camp by Todd Strasser

Reading Boot Camp by Todd Strasser

next essay, he told me he stayed up all night so his brother could help him, so he wouldn’t show up to class empty handed. When we did a project on careers, and he presented to the class, Daniel spoke with confidence and detail about the field of auto mechanics. He’s read at least two books this fall and a lot of articles in The Wall Street Journal. This past Friday he came to tutorials for an hour, so I could review what he needed to do to pass his last state exam so he can graduate this spring. I don’t know if he will, but I sure hope so.

 

There are thousands of young men like Daniel in our schools. I wonder if teachers have the time, resources, and energy to give them the attention they need. There are 28 students in Daniel’s class this year. There were 32 in his class last fall.

There is one of me.

I cannot help but think of the famous starfish story. You know the one that ends with “I made a difference to that one.” I know I’ve made a difference to Daniel. I still call him a punk. He still mumbles when he talks to me. But he knows I like him. I really like him. And he even let me interview him, so you can like him, too. (The smile at the end is the best part.)

Choice matters! If you are reading this post, you probably already believe that as much as I do. I hope you do. Daniel’s story is not unique. We make a difference to many young people just like him when we open spaces for talk, engage in real conversations about what matters to them, and allow for self-selected reading in our instruction.

I would love to hear the stories of your Daniels. Please share in the comments.

Amy Rasmussen teaches English IV and AP English Language at a large senior high school in North Texas. She spends a ton of money on books with the hope of helping every child develop as a reader. And while she does not listen to rap, she does learn a lot from those who do. Follow her @amyrass 

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!). 

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