Category Archives: Revision

A Day in the Life: Re-Starting with Narratives

The start of the second semester has been refreshing–maybe it was the two-week break that felt indulgent and a shuffling of students, or the fresh snow that sweeps over the Wasatch mountains weekly, perhaps the feeling that it is “August” in room 104 and we creating a rhythm with new workshop routines.

After attempting a balanced approach in a new school, giving students only glimpses and tastes of workshop, I have fully shifted gears for the second semester now that I know this school wants the creation of readers and writers, not compliance or approval seekers.  This semester, I plan to take laps around narrative, informational, and multigenre writing, and although each genre study will be faster than ideal, it is better than sticking to the old ways. 

Starting with narrative in a new year, several quick writes and write besides in our notebooks invited students to notice the rich source of their own lives.  As a “first lap,” as Penny Kittle and Kelly Gallagher term craft study in 180 Days, with narrative, I asked students to craft or select a picture that symbolizes their lives as second-semester juniors. I asked, “What is your life like now?  Who are you today, a junior in 2019?” Students are at a transitional time in their lives– they are looking ahead to the next step, making choices about what direction to go and who to be. I want them to show, tell, explain, and reflect.

My students needed a change.  My logic, like so many of you exploring and diving into workshop, was this:

Discussions as Readers x Discussions as Writers / Mentor Texts = Authentic Writing

  • We need to get back into our notebooks.  As we explore narratives, taking “laps” around mentor texts and reading like writers, students will write beside these texts. Rooting into what students know, themselves, will offer an access point to workshop writing.

Years of traditional English classroom expectations + My misguided start to the first-semester x The 3 by 5 Paragraph Essay = Is this what you wanted?

  • My students need to be challenged with choices and the decision-making process.  Majority of students see writing as an English-only endeavor and are hesitant to break from “Is this what you want?” to “I made this decision here because ___,” putting their choices and ideas at the center.

Required Curriculum + Low Classroom Investment = Disengaged Environment

  • Asking students to select a picture that reflects who they are in this moment, their fears, challenges, what makes them feel successful and unique, is another way to connect to students, as well as create space for student voice and individuality. The task mirrors notebook writing “beside” or “around” a picture, poem, or mentor text, which we spent time doing sporadically last semester and daily this semester and challenges students to be the creator and curator, making editorial decisions as an artist, then explaining as a writer.

As we have drafted, revised, and share I have learned more about my students and they are finding a cathartic release.

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Abraham reflected on the importance of animals to his culture:  I also love farm animals and horses. These are important not only to me but also to my parents because they grew up with farm animals and they helped nourished them and their families. All these animals have become a major part of our culture, specifically the horse used for work or transportations and rodeos. Then we have other farm animals that shape our traditional dishes.

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Ronata’s picture showed the importance of art in her life: I like to think that justice is an art. A piece so beautiful and unique, it is impossible to recreate. I’ve been taught about justice all my life, that it’s about people being treated equally. BSU has helped me realize how unjust the world’s ways are, and what ways I can help people understand that everyone needs to be treated with the same respect. Everyone has the same rights, yet society makes it seem as though people of color’s rights have no meaning at all.

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Katherine is seeking balance: The presence of my phone indicates a contrast between stereotypical adolescent behavior and my reality. As many teenagers utilize their iPhones and Macs to pursue recreational avenues such as social media or Netflix, I spend the majority of my time enveloped in the educational bubble. Rather than Snapchat or Instagram, my school email is open. Each unopened tab represents something I have to do.  This chaotic nature is indicative of my own thoughts, in which I endeavor to maintain a semblance of control.

(portions of pictures used with permission)

 

So my life now? A desk full of post-it notes with mentor texts, a dog-earred copy of 180 Days that is being read for the umpteenth time, a continuously revised calendar, a check list of students I have conferenced with, all next to a coffee cup.  We are off to a great “re-start” with workshop.

Maggie Lopez is enjoying ski weekends in Utah while pretending it is August in her classroom.  She just finished Killers of the Flower Moon and is currently reading Beautiful Boy to convince a student that it will not be “boring” compared to Tweak. You can follow her at @meg_lopez0.

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A Friendly Resource for Revising and Editing

The current version of my instructional practices, philosophies, and beliefs was born a couple of years ago. Word spread that our new curriculum coordinator was a “workshop” guy and, coincidentally, I was in a place where change was on my mind.

Traditional “drill and kill” methods heavily supplemented with canonical whole class novels and their hip-tied reading guides left me unfulfilled in my “teacher feels” and I knew there had to be a better way.

Serendipity through reader’s/writer’s workshop…

Much of the credit for the strengthening of my instructional practice can be attributed to the people I’ve met who provided me the opportunity to explore and improve my craft. Teaching next to brilliant people and participating in our Literacy Institute are invaluable experiences. Much of my improvement can be traced to those teachable moments.  Other sources of wisdom came in the form of “Hey, have you read anything by [insert important name here]?”

That spring, many quiet lunch periods were spent hunkered over a professional text, sweating from having just walked off the football field, highlighting brilliant thoughts, taking notes, absorbing as much knowledge as I possibly could.

Lucky for me, one of the first places I visited was Everyday Editing by Jeff Anderson.img_5011

Our upcoming (and ongoing) revising and editing emphasis leads me back into one of my favorite books over and over.  I just can’t stay away from the wisdom contained in this book and the lessons it possesses beyond writing instruction.  This book outlines a path for exploring any skill that students need, and I found that the wisdom contained there-in reaches across the areas of emphasis in our workshop.

I love so much about this book.  Not just the content, but the craft, as well, is brilliant. Anderson breaks the teaching cycle down into nine parts, and, while at first wrapping my head around that many ideas felt daunting, eventually, this book helped polish my teaching methods to a point where I felt very comfortable.

The idea that I need to “invite” my students to join the process of editing is, I think, what this book is really about.  This shift in focus, from teacher to student, is one that proves difficult for many teachers, myself included.  Anderson explains, “I invite students to notice, to read like writers, to come into the world of editing – a friendly place rather than a punishing place, a creational facility rather than a correctional one.”

This right there!!! That sentiment that we can let the students tell us where they are with their understanding and where they need support is what left me gobsmacked.

Anderson repeats this idea over an over using several editing lessons. He takes the reader through the instruction of serial commas, appositives, paragraphs and dialogue.  We learn about using colons, apostrophes, and several other skills. But really, we learn that giving students the space and encouragement to explore their own learning is the best way we can build writers.

He breaks the process down into nine parts and they are so fully explained that even a football coach like me can employ them in a writing workshop. They are:

  1. Invitation to Notice
  2. Invitation to Imitate
  3. Invitation to Celebrate
  4. Invitation to Collect
  5. Invitation to Write
  6. Invitation to Combine
  7. Invitation to Edit
  8. Extending the Invitation
  9. Open Invitation

The first part, invitation to notice, provides us the opportunity for formative assessment right at the jump, and saves time in the lesson cycle. Too often, our assessment focuses on where they are in their learning at the end of the lesson and not on the growth in their understanding.  How can I optimize my instruction if I don’t measure how far they move in the time we work together?  I can’t, and if I don’t, then I’m just throwing out lessons and moving through lesson cycles robotically without any opportunity for the students’ powerful voices to be heard. Also, if I allow them to show me what they notice, I might learn something from them.  A scary thought.

The second part, invitation to imitate, teaches the writers to hang their own ideas on someone else’s frame.  I’m an old man and, more than ever before, I look at texts as mentors not just in content, but in craft.  Our students need that experience as well.  If we show them that mentors are everywhere, we open them up to worlds outside the four edges of a text and the four walls of our classroom.  So much of what we learn about life comes from the people we see and hear. That sentiment should inform our writing instruction as well.

The third part, invitation to celebrate, is one I didn’t understand well, even after reading this book. This one required a great deal of thinking for me to fully understand its importance.  Anderson makes it clear that correcting the writing of our students doesn’t make them better writers. He tells us, “In fact, correction may even stifle, crush and suffocate celebration” (32).  Instead of tearing our writers down, we should share in the joy of the successful writing experience.

Just those first three moves are incredibly important in our work. I’ll write about the next three parts in two weeks. Until then…


Charles Moore is blown away by how quickly the students in his classroom jumped back into their routines this semester and their joy in learning about reading and writing together.  He loves seeing their faces scrunched as they struggle through revising with purpose.  He loves this work and is massively thankful that he has the opportunity to share in the growth his students are experiencing. 

Beginnings and Endings

Regarding leads, or “introductions,” my usual advice to students as they draft is NOT to start with the beginning. Many have difficulty doing so, but it’s ok — our revision process always includes a reconsideration of the lead and, by turn, the conclusion, so that the two are stylistically and thematically connected. I’ve turned to many mentors for showing students how it’s done. For the purposes of most readers of this blog, Beyond Literary Analysis by Allison Marchetti and Rebekah O’Dell offers practical and student-friendly approaches to leads & conclusions for analytical writing. I used these lessons with my sophomores, who are writing media reviews.

Today, though, I want to offer an approach to beginnings and endings in writing that I used in my Advanced Writing class — specifically for short-story writing — but I like it because I think it is highly adaptable for writing experiences in many genres and at many levels.

I borrowed the content from articles in The Writer’s Notebook II: Craft Essays from Tin HouseAfter students had a draft of their short story (many of which were sans endings), I presented the content from articles by Ann Hood and Elissa Schappell about beginnings and endings, respectively. In these essays, these two writers examine beginnings and endings in the short story genre and present their findings to readers — who, given this publication, are also writers. Here’s the slide we discussed in class about “Beginnings:”

3TT_beginnings and endings - Google Sl_ - https___docs.google.com_presentatio

Many of these beginnings I’m sure you will recognize, and so did several students! For our purposes, I asked students to experiment with three alternate beginnings that were different than the way their story opened in their drafts. Students then shared their options at their writing tables to determine which worked best.

The “Endings” slide was a bit less specific in that it did not cite word-for-word examples. Still, as many (read: most) students hadn’t written any ending at all to their short story drafts, they found the suggestions useful. In a move that is contradictory to true workshop form, I required students to identify one of these approaches to the beginnings and endings of their short stories. And in keeping with the best paradoxes, these limitations have allowed their sense of choice to flourish rather than flounder among too many possibilities. (Mariana knows about my unapologetic “taking the ‘creative’ out of ‘creative writing’ approach this year). But in a school system that seldom allows choice, for many (read: most) students, I have found that “choice among several options” is more productive than choice that is infinite. And I’m more than ok with that.

3TT_beginnings and endings 2- Google Sl_ - https___docs.google.com_presentatio

So, I hope you find this framework useful.  You can find the Google Slides document here, if you would like to use my clumsy boxes and improve upon it for your own use. (I hope I did the sharing settings correctly — if you cannot access, let me know).  If I had it to do over again — which I will, because I plan to use this approach regularly — I might combine it with Marchetti and O’Dell’s sticky-note activity, in which students write several different beginnings and endings on sticky notes and stick them at the beginning and end of a printed essay. Then they can try out a few options next to each other, which even further reinforces the construction of a piece of writing as a series of conscious choices on the part of the writer.

Guest Post: The Authentic Writing Process

Writing is one of the biggest struggles among the students who visit my classroom each year, much like many classrooms across America. The traditional, sterile way students are taught to write stifles the authenticity of what writing is naturally. The writing process is often the most confusing because the students are told they can only write one way through a certain formulaic expectation. Instead of teaching a formula and using a one-size-fits-all graphic organizer, we need to teach students how to write authentically; teach them the process of writing, not the product. By teaching a student how to master the process of writing we teach them how to overcome the struggle that so many of our students experience.

This summer I excitedly attended the Summer Institute with some of my fellow Clear Creek ISD English teachers and was able to really absorb and practice the writing process through Reader Writer Workshop.

The writing process began when the class was tasked with mimicking a mentor text. Students need to see the moves that writers are making in their own pieces and use what they have seen and learned to inspire their own writing craft. Using mentor texts is a great way to help students improve their writing through reading. We read a few texts, responded with writing about those texts and then briefly discussed in our groups what we had written, then moved on to our writing task. We were given about 8 minutes and told to respond in writing to a piece we felt a connection with, to not worry about the way we began, but just to write. I chose to write alongside The Poem Mami Will Never Read from The Poet X by Elizabeth Acevedo. Something about the way she wrote the poem for someone who, for one reason or another, would never read it, really spoke to me. For the last two years I have been dealing with grief over the death of one of my best friends, so I decided to write a poem to him that he would never read.

I began by mimicking the line from the poem, “You will never read this poem that…” and took it from there. I poured my heart onto this page in my notebook revealing all the pent-up emotions I have been pushing to the back of my mind and ignoring in my heart for two years. Quite possibly, it could just be that it took this long for my heart and mind to process the shock and grief that came with his death. I wrote about a page and a half before the class moved on and I was able to come up for air and let the poem be. Having permission through the process to just write without a formula is what gave my piece the ability to become something great.

The next class day we were given time to draft more on our piece. I began by reading back through what I had written and began adding to it. At the end of the writing period we were encouraged to share with a peer at our table what we had written so far. Fear surged through me, I could feel my heart begin to beat so quickly I was sure everyone at my table cold hear it or see my shirt move up and down with each beat. I reminded myself that as a teacher, I will ask my students to do this. How can I ask my students to share their vulnerable hearts with me, if I do not do the same. At the beginning of Summer Institute, I vowed to dive in 100% with the Workshop process and way of teaching, so I shared my piece with a partner at my table. I immediately felt fear but also a feeling I didn’t expect; liberation. Handing him my notebook, with my heart on the page, was like handing the emotions over and validating that they are real; my first step to find healing within myself, and my first big leap in the writing process.

I remember feeling anxiety begin to pour into every crevice in my body as I watched him read every word on the page and begin to make notes about my writing, my feelings, my emotions. I remember being scared as he handed back my notebook with a look I could not discern on his face. As I read through the notes I began to feel empowered, my writing was validated by my partner and friend as a touching and creative. He pushed me to write more specifically and pour more of myself into this piece. Sharing became a significant and empowering tool in my writing process. By seeing what others thought and how readers read my writing, I was able to revise and edit my piece in a way that ensures my readers hear what I am wanting them to hear and learn what I want them to learn.

I intentionally took a day away from my piece after sharing and revising for a bit. I think this is one of the most important things I did in the process. It allowed me to step back and process my feelings and thoughts and let the piece breath for a bit before I dove back in. I felt refreshed and was able to refocus when I came back to the piece. I worked on this piece for another three or four days before sharing again to learn more about what was lacking in my piece for my reader and continuing in the process of writing.

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During my revision of my third draft, I heard the terrifying words, “Let’s all share with our groups our best lines.” I had to remind myself that I committed to fully experience this process; what I ask my students to do each day in my classroom. I shared. I cried. I kept writing. My face flushed with heat and my voice shook as the words were spoken aloud for the first time, in front of other people. It felt as if the world stopped and all eyes were peeking into my soul. I hated it. But loved it at the same time. I loved it because I saw the process working. I didn’t stop writing, in fact, I wrote six more pages. Six. More. Pages. Imagine if we model with our students with as much vulnerability and dedication as we ask them to share. Imagine if we give ourselves over to this process, as scary as it might be for some. Change is never easy but almost always, in my experience, worth it.

On the last day I was to present my piece. When it was my turn in the circle I pulled on my memory of the last three weeks and the process I took to get to get this “final” piece. I channeled the empowerment I felt through sharing and after about 60 seconds of steady tears and intentional calm breathing, I read my whole piece aloud for the first time.

I sobbed as I read, remembering how death stole from me. I shook at the overwhelming feeling of grief’s grasp on my heart. I breathed through the memories of never getting to say goodbye to someone I loved so dearly for more than 16 years. Each exhale taking with it another line from the poem, another piece of my shattered heart. I painted a picture with words of my precious best friend’s soul, smile and life that I never thought I would be able to. At the end, when I was done, the room was silent for a many long seconds and I remember feeling the weight and shackles of grief release in the slightest bit. A start to more healing; therapy through writing.

My experience this summer was messy, beautiful, difficult, liberating, scary, healing and most of all empowering. Reader Writer Workshop allowed me to experience the writing process in a way that renewed my love of writing and freed my creative mind previously bound by the limits of traditional, templated writing curriculum. The whole writing process gave me so much confidence in myself and my writing and I can’t wait to instill this same confidence in my students next year.

A few things I took away from my time as a Workshop student about the writing process:

  1. The writing process needs to be authentic and organic. It is different for each writer.

  2. Being a reader is so important. Reading as a writer is what helps the writer find their voice and authentic process of their own writing.

  3. The writing process is not a one size fits all formula. It is far from that, so throw away your essay outline template and let your students follow your lead on becoming a true writer. The writing process is something that happens naturally, authentically, differently, for each writer.

  4. Authentic writing is not a formula. I have found that I don’t really “brainstorm” or “pre-write” or make webs and charts… I just write. Whatever it is I feel, whatever it is I want to say – or sometimes what I don’t want to say.

  5. My first draft is often messy and there is so much beauty in that mess. It is often unorganized, drowning in imperfect sentences and awful cheesy metaphors, and that is okay. Our students need to know this as well, that as writers, we are never going to get it on the first try. That is why this is called the Writing PROCESS. There are many steps to writing an essay, a story, anything at all, and if we are to do it well we need to be 100% committed to the Workshop Process.

  6. Sharing is necessary. This was the most difficult part for me and my writing piece this summer. Letting others read my scorched and broken heart on a page was not something I was immediately ready to let happen, but without it, I would not have gone through the writing process and created my piece with the depth I did. The piece I wrote is raw and full of anguish. It was, and still is, terrifying to share but more therapeutic than I could have imagined. Hearing what my friends and peers had to say was encouraging and gave me confidence that what I was writing and what I was writing about was important to more than just my healing, but others’ as well. Knowing this is what made the tear stained pages a little easier to share.

  7. Revision is a balance. Knowing when to resurface before diving back into the emotions and write more, write with deeper purpose and meaning is essential to a successful writing process.

  8. Writing is never really done. I read my “final” piece aloud in our read around on the last day of this class and I still find myself wanting, needing to dive back in a make it more than it was.

Although a piece may never feel “finished”, knowing when to leave well enough alone is important.

  1. The writing process gave me power and bravery to keep writing. I feel like more of my heart is ready to pour out into this one piece, but maybe that means there is another piece lying within me. This is the beauty of this process, seeing clearly what the purpose is of each piece and moving on to another when you need to.

  2. Our students need to experience this each and every day in our classrooms.

This next year I will continue my growth as a writer alongside my students in the Reader Writer Workshop classroom by modeling what true writers do. I will be sharing my experience with the writing process and encouraging my students daily to find their voice through this beautiful, necessary process. Yes, it is less conventional, but so are our students. I hope to free them from the traditional approach to writing and watch them create and find empowerment in their creations. It is up to us, their teachers, to model and write alongside them vulnerably and intentionally, showing them what real writers and readers do. They deserve the chance to learn in a way that will empower them for the rest of their life. Imagine the writing we can experience from our students if we let them find their writing process.

Sarah Roy is a mother to three amazing, energetic, creative little boys and wife to a Marine turned Texas State Trooper who is braver and more selfless than anyone she has ever known. She is a Disney addict and is excited to surprise her sweet boys with a trip to Disney World in 10 days. Her passion for reading and writing overflows into her students each year and she loves watching them grow on their journey to be readers and writers.

Pop Up Peer Editing Lab

I am always striving to have students meet the standard for writing volume Kelly Gallagher challenges teachers to assign students.  Gallagher argues that students should be writing FOUR TIMES the amount that teachers are grading.  Between quick writes, timed essays for AP, work-shopped poems, creatives pieces, blog posts, reflections, and topic journals, you’d think we would all come pretty close to that ratio.  And I bet most of us are.

A colleague who teaches history has been striving to also be a teacher of literacy (YES!) which has lead to great conversations and collaboration.   In the fall, as his students were drafting research papers, he said, “How do you do it? I can’t give them all the feedback they need.”

I chuckled to myself, thinking of all the paper-management survival tactics we English teachers have.  Then it dawned on me–I have classes of talented, capable writers, why not allow my junior and senior students give feedback to lower classmen?  Wouldn’t that be another form of workshop writing?

Thus the Pop Up Peer Editing Lab was born in Room 20.

Thankfully my school is service-minded, so students readily agreed to be the outsourced editors for teachers.  I let teachers know that we, the English students in Room 20, would be happy to help revise and suggest edits on any writing as a way to improve our skills as writers and give back to our school community.  All we requested from teachers was a bit of turnaround time and paper copies (I know–paper! Who knew that is what these digital natives would prefer!  When asked, many students echoed the belief I likely share with many of you:  paper feedback is more authentic and creates connections).  To date, my students have edited lab reports, history research, art analysis, even middle school writing, in addition to what we do during our time together.

And you know what, it is actually easier DONE than said.  Yep, you read that right!

I think of the Pop Up Peer Editing Lab like a pop up restaurant or store around Chicago, opening when demand is high before closing to move on to a new location, during which demand increases again.  To make this happen, I frame 10-20 minutes, depending on the writing type and how many drafts we have, where I can in our workshop schedule.  Some days this counts for our writing mini-lesson or writing time if we are between class drafts.

As a community of writers, we begin by reviewing the actual assignment students received and the rubric which leads to us generating a list of essential “look fors” and suggestions we are likely all going to make.  To workshop writers, this is like a reverse-mentor text where students are thinking of what an exemplary draft would look like and contain based on the rubric.  After students edit, I merely give the annotated drafts back to the teacher. Voila! As a colleague, I am helping my peers become literacy teachers while my students are helping their peers become better writers.

Peer editing, as we know, helps student writers to develop writing and revision skills through a different lens, taking on the role of an editor and teacher of writing.  The Pop Up Lab has been a useful formative assessment of writing skills for my students because they need to understand the content to teach it through feedback.

 

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A Lab Editor’s suggestion to an ESL student which includes a notice of passive voice, something the Lab Editor Kelsey has been working on in her own writing.

Additionally, the Pop Up Lab edits have given me formative data about what students are noticing and the moves they’re making in their own writing to elevate it.  I often circulate multiple copies of the same draft, then compare the edits and note trends.  The trends help me determine mini lessons or concepts to review, as well as what is sticking with students from modeling and practicing in our notebooks.

We have played around with revision and editing using discipline-specific teacher rubrics, Kelly Gallagher’s RADaR model of revision from Write Like This, Bless-Press-Address from the NWP, Push & Pull, but many times students edit and suggest revisions based on our initial list and their own knowledge.  You could, of course, always ask teachers precisely what they want to get out of the outsourced feedback.  To build this community of peer editing, my upcoming goal is to collaborate on scheduling so my students and their peer writers can hold a conference, supporting talk around writing and revision while strengthening our writing community.

Would outsourced editing and revision suggestions work in your school?  How would you adapt this “pop up” college-style writing lab to suit the needs of your colleagues while challenging your students?

Maggie Lopez is almost done editing her English III, English IV, and AP Language & Composition students’ essays for the year, and just when she finally mastered reading each students’ timed essay handwriting.  Follow her as she moves to Salt Lake City to start a new adventure @meglopez0.

Revision Strategies that Make the Cut: Helping Students Be Incisive

I learned to be more incisive as a writer as an AP Language and Composition student (somewhere in between rocking flannel and rocking out to Pearl Jam). My perspicacity heightened with my argument research paper, which I had written by hand. Yes, by hand. We owned a computer, but I still expressed myself better pen to page (I’d make the case that writing by hand is still important for our students. Um–notebook time, anyone?). As I read what I had written, preparing to make revisions, I knew I wanted to rearrange the sections. So, I reached for scissors and tape. And–gasp–I cut up my essay, by paragraph, by sentence even. Sprawled on my bedroom floor, I spent the rest of that evening moving parts around until satisfied the parts built toward my whole.

My students’ body language says it all when I offer this story as the lead in to cutting up their own writing. They lean back, raising eyebrows, looking at me quizzically. I imagine their thoughts: “We have cut and paste for that, Mrs. J. You know, on our smartphones.” “Oh rats (emphasis added), I didn’t print my paper. Ha! Now I don’t have to do that.” “I like the way it is. Why would I want to cut it up?” This last query I think is most important. Writing is an act of making, of creation. As humans, we typically get attached to the things we make; we grow to love our words and the way we’ve orchestrated them on the page. Some students need to wrestle with this implicit bias more in order to discover the gaps in their writing. By making my students cut up their drafts, giving them a different kind of constraint, I’m helping them to engage in cognitive conflict, the kind of disequilibrium they need to continue their work revising and to move forward as writers.

These are 5.5 of the strategies so far (I’m always culling) that have made the cut in my classroom.

1. For Invention and Structure

Process: During the planning phase for their argument research papers, I offer old books and magazines to my students, directing them Disney Imagineer Style to cut words and images related to their issues and then arrange them on the page, keeping their audiences in mind.

Benefits: This kind of gathering, cutting, and moving allows for intuitive structuring of their papers AND sometimes engenders creative analogies within their justification (warrants).

2. For Structure

Process: To further gather ideas for structuring, I direct students to cut apart mentor texts to see how they are structured. Typically, I advise them to start with paragraphing but then encourage them to make further cuts and move text as needed in order to discover the ordering of the text and to label and note for themselves what moves the writers made.

Benefits: This exploration compels students–because they must analyze the implications of how the writer arranged the text–to more purposefully arrange and connect their own ideas.

3. For Development

Process: Students begin by cutting up their papers by paragraphs. They then label the purpose of each section or determine what question each paragraph answers, keeping a post-it with the thesis/theme/point near to see if each paragraph aligns. They can then begin moving paragraphs or parts around to see how to manipulate time, to see if there can be greater logical interrelatedness, or to see if parts require more information.

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This student sample shows a narrative cut up and labeled.

Benefits: Cutting apart their own texts challenges students to determine the efficacy of development in their writing, especially because this compels them to examine one section–in isolation–at a time (something more difficult to do digitally). Here is one of my students talking through how he used the process and what he discovered.

4. For Purpose

Process: Here the cutting gets more minute: I ask students to cut out the center of gravity sentence (their thesis, claim, so what, point, etc.) to see if everything really does rest on it. After cutting it out (and sometimes just transferring it to a post it), students can move it next to different parts of their paper to see if the parts not only relate but if they build toward this.

Benefits: Sometimes the benefit here comes in the realization that they need a so what or that the parts don’t align or that the sentence itself lacks strength.

5. For Style

Process: Cutting out where they used a mentor text move and seeing if they applied that move to their own writing gets students looking at sentence construction.

Benefits: If we ask our students to “lift” a move from a mentor text, can’t we also ask them to lift their text and compare it back to the original, moving them side by side to determine how effective the application of the mentor text move is after all?

 5.5 For . . .?

Possible Processes: Cut away what tells instead of shows. Cut out all of the comparisons in the text to look for patterns, connectivity, etc. Cut out the best sentence from each paragraph to look for ways to build meaningful repetition.

Benefits: I don’t know yet. These are half-formed ideas right now. But I know they could help my students become more discerning as writers.

Amy Estersohn wrote in her recent post about the tools she relies on for workshop. I’d like to add one more tool: scissors. This tool inspires strategy, and thus, our writers. I frequently tell my students that writing is made of moveable parts. So, let’s get our students moving it!

Kristin Jeschke frequently finds scraps of paper and post it notes around her house–writing that may or may not have made the cut of her budding cartoonist nine-year-old and her emerging storyteller six-year-old. Of course, on days when her students are armed with scissors, her classroom looks similar. Follow her on Twitter @kajeschke. 

Finding Teaching Inspiration in the Dark of Winter

I love to spend big chunks of my summer planning ways to revise and improve my practice.  The season is always so full of hope, with opportunities to reframe my thinking and help my students be more successful.

But when the school year actually begins, it can be overwhelming to attempt anything from a major overhaul of your teaching to a few key shifts in practice.  Every year, I read books, take classes, and obsessively jot ideas that never see the light of day when I’m faced with the reality of a fall full of fresh faces, administrative initiatives, and new courses to teach.

And now, in the dead of winter, I’m exhausted. It feels like I have no ideas. I’m looking for inspiration in my teaching, my reading, and my writing–inspiration I never seem to be able to come up with on my own. So I’m going back into my notebook and re-reading my summer entries, where I was full of ideas and energy.

This summer, I worked with a group of amazing teachers in Pipestem, WV during a National Writing Project summer institute.  As we read and wrote and thought and planned about argument writing, I jotted down two things in my notebook I could do that would withstand the crush of the reality of our profession and inspire me all year long.

Embrace the Wobble

Ounnamed_origne of our central texts for the institute was Pose, Wobble, Flow by Antero Garcia and Cindy O’Donnell-Allen.  This text makes lots of wonderful arguments for teachers to inhabit “poses” as more thoughtful, authentic practitioners through the metaphor of yoga.  The idea is that when we try new things as teachers, we are trying to get into a pose.  We inevitably wobble as we try to master this new stance, but eventually attain the flow characterized by doing this pose without thinking.

GODA (as one of our teachers refers to Garcia and O’Donnell-Allen)’s key argument is that the wobble part of this process is not only a necessary part of becoming a better teacher, but a desirable one–we must live in the gray area, a zone of proximal development, disequilibrium, or whatever else we might call it.  “The P/W/F model is not about an endpoint,” GODA vehemently asserts; “it is a framework to help acknowledge how one’s practice changes over time and requires constant adaptation” (4).  It’s only by being uncomfortable, by trying new things day or week or year in and out, that we can improve as teachers.

What this looked like in terms of our theme of teaching argument writing was revising the way we think about the writing process to start from an inquiry-based place of research, then claim development, then argument articulation.  This new mindset required all of us to “wobble” as we tried to conceive of it, and we wobbled in even our understandings of its many moving parts–what revision is, or what an argument can look like, or how we can use argument as a genre for developing our opinionated writing voices.  As we were flooded with unconventional ideas, mentor texts, thought processes, and assessment measures, we all wobbled with the confidence we’d eventually reach flow.

This semester, as I wrestle with finding energy and inspiration in the wake of having two small children, the new pose I’m trying out is going gradeless. It’s reshaping the way my students and I dialogue about their work, but it’s still an uphill battle to wrestle them away from the temptation to wonder what their grade is…or my own inclination to compulsively give my opinion on their work in the form of a letter or number. I’m definitely in the midst of the wobble, but I’m hopeful that by the end of the semester, I’ll get closer and closer to the state of flow.

But whenever things do start to (finally) go smoothly, I’ll need to yank myself out of my newly-found comfort zone and get into a new pose, embracing the wobble of new learning once more.

This constant revision of our teaching is a simple way we can always strive to be better teachers–just embrace the wobble of continuous improvement.

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Become a Writer

Garcia and O’Donnell-Allen strongly advocate for the many student-centered benefits of writing beside our learners, but there are so many benefits beyond the classroom that become possible when we simply write.

Outside the classroom, GODA suggest that teachers might become more engaged in improvement by:

  • Sharing articles with colleagues
  • Commenting on education blogs
  • Participating in Twitter chats about educational issues
  • Joining organizations like the National Council of Teachers of English
  • Participating in local workshops

Taking one or more of these eminently doable steps can help teachers “enact agency and make an impact on the profession” (27).  These simple activities will not only expose you to ideas to keep you in the “wobble,” but they’ll let you meet and engage with like-minded colleagues as interested in improvement as you.

Within your classroom, becoming a writer is equally valuable.  If you read nothing else of Pose Wobble Flow, I encourage you to read the chapter on “Embracing Your Inner Writer:  What It Means to Teach as a Writer.”  These pages are chock full of suggestions for not only reasons to write, but ways to do it.  From a survey designed to help you find your identity as a writer, to practical methods for joining writing communities on Twitter, Facebook, and even NaNoWriMo, to the ways the act of writing beside our students changes our teaching, this chapter is awesome:

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Because “the changes that come about within our classrooms and with our students start with ourselves,” (80), writing is a necessary first step to becoming a better teacher.  It is a fight, with two kids under two plus a job and a household to keep up with, to find time to write, to read, to engage. I can’t even count the number of times I’ve missed a Twitter chat or skipped notebook time to tend to a crying child, fold some laundry, or cook a meal. But I find that whenever I can eke out 10 minutes of writing time, meaningful Twitter conversation, or professional reading, I feel better. I feel inspired.

I hope, like me, you’ll make an effort to keep a writer’s notebook, blog regularly, and write beside your students every time you see them in class.  Beginning to inhabit the pose of a writer–although I experience wobble within this identity almost daily–is doubtless the most helpful thing I’ve done to improve my practice as a teacher.

As you find yourself wondering, in the dark of winter, how to get excited and inspired once again, try these two things: wobble and write. Here’s hoping for a speedy end to winter and all the joy and optimism the spring always brings…as we work to become better teachers every day.

Shana Karnes teaches in the College of Education at West Virginia University, writes in her notebook whenever she can squeeze in the time, mothers two daughters under the age of two, and reads voraciously at the oddest moments–at the gym, during middle-of-the-night feedings, and at stoplights. Find Shana on Twitter at @litreader, or read more of her writing at the WVCTE Best Practices Blog, where a version of this post originally appeared.

 

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