I don’t know about you, but I have struggled to write since Covid-19 hit. While my lack of productive writing has been noticeable, the presence of vivid dreams has been increasingly notable. Sometimes, we can recall dreams in great detail and convey them like stories. More often, we remember fragments, images, feelings. Thus, dream recollection lends itself to poetry.
The idea of keeping a dream journal is nothing new; I have even tried to remember to do this before. However, the pressure of writing about a dream in a linear, prose style proved difficult and even cumbersome. Thus, I have started recording my dreams as poems. There is no pressure to make sense. I am free to incorporate snapshots. I don’t need to provide context.
Always the lesson-planner, I began to think about how I could adapt this for students. While I won’t require my students to keep a dream journal, it could be an interesting activity to explore poetry structure, imagery, and so many other topics based on the course. Ultimately, I decided on a few basic goals for introducing this to students:
Modeling is key, so I will introduce this with a mentor text that I’ve written and that is appropriate for the class. I will talk through how I translated the memories/images/feelings into words. Even better, I will recall a dream and craft the poem in front of the class!
I will urge the students to simply write, reminding them that they do not need to craft in full sentences, add punctuation, etc. unless it feels right.
When they finish, I will ask that they look back over their writing and see if they can substitute any more specific words, if they want to add or remove line breaks, and think about how they have arranged the words on the lines. I show them my revisions and edits in my writer’s notebook.
Once students have their final drafts, I will ask them to reflect on why they made the choices they did. Why, for instance, did they add breaks between stanzas (or not). Did they add punctuation or not, and why? In this way, we will talk about the writing craft, and they will more readily make connections between other writers and their craft choices.
I hope some of you try this out – please let me know in the comments. I am filling up my notebooks with poetry once again, and it feels wonderful! After writing the poems in my journal, I put them in Canva so I could add graphics. Here are a couple of poems from recent dreams:
Amber Counts is an AP Literature teacher, graduate English student, and lover of the humanities. She’s enjoying life as a grandmother while trying to stay young at heart. She wants every student to know the power of their voice.
As teachers of writing, it can be tempting to jump straight into a big, meaty composition or class discussion to get a feel for where our students’ skill levels are at the beginning of the year. High expectations, planned scaffolds, but somewhere it takes a left turn in a very different direction because the students do not feel confident enough to fully participate.
When I was a brand new baby teacher, I had no idea there was another way to gauge my students’ skills. So we jumped in the deep end, feet-first, and had a collective sink or swim moment. They sank. I sank. Life preservers all around.
In a previous post, I wrote about ways to address perfectionism in student writing. We write daily in my classroom because quantity leads to quality. Sometimes the prompts are in response to quotes. Other times, I have my students respond to something completely bonkers. Oftentimes, these prompts are used to prime a lesson that builds the skills they need for something bigger.
One of the best ways to build skills and confidence in the classroom is to embrace silliness. Here are some tips and perks.
1. Plan Backward
This isn’t new and I’m sure we’ve all heard this at some point, but the reminder doesn’t hurt. Work backward from your end goal as you plan.
My seniors have been working on social commentary and I knew that I wanted them to craft an original piece of social commentary in addition to being able to engage in academic discussions about their topics.
By the end of their time with me, they will have one of my catch-phrases permanently embedded in their brains- if you can talk about it, you can write about it. Unfortunately, they weren’t ready to talk about such intense and heavy topics in a way that was constructive.
2. Back to Basics
Don’t get me wrong. I love a good, well-crafted student composition. But I like to walk it back and work on the skills needed to complete that task so students have the confidence to actually begin. By “walk it back”, I mean waaaaay back. Sometimes, taking baby steps early in the year means major leaps and bounds later.
This is where you ditch the worksheets and other skills practice that robs the joy from your practice. Gamify it. Be ridiculous. Have no fear.
For my purposes, a silly writing prompt.
Students came in at the beginning of the unit to the following prompt: Is a hotdog a sandwich? Craft an argument to convince someone else.
They gave me All. The. Side-Eye. They wrote. They giggled. But they wrote.
It took me a little while to come around to the understanding that extremely low-stakes practice is often the best way to reinforce old skills and to introduce new skills. If we make it fun and create a positive association, that skill is going to stick.
3. Chunk It
When fully embracing silliness in skills practice, be prepared for a slow release. The goal is for content mastery, not speed. You can adjust your pacing to your students’ needs.
My aim is to find that balance between skill-building in a low-stakes environment and making it a positive experience. Laughter is a bonus.
The path from silly writing prompt to final class discussions and original social commentary took several class periods, but oh my stars was it worth every additional, hysterical second.
4. Facilitates Easy Modeling
If the practice is goofy but engaging, it gives you the opportunity to model the skills or behaviors you are attempting to have students master. In my case, it was academic discussion and reinforcing the use of evidence to support a viewpoint.
I gave my students a set of sentence stems to help foster civil discourse in an academic discussion. So far, so good. Then, I paired them up and tasked them with using the stems to discuss their responses. Easy peasy. I simply had to float around the room while these awesome humans carried out their discussions.
When I tell you that I did not expect the levels of investment from students over a discussion about hotdogs, I am not kidding. Did you know that the US Department of Agriculture has an official definition of a sandwich? I didn’t either, but I do now.
5. Tie It All Together
As with any new skill, we want our kiddos to own it and use it well. This is the moment we’ve been coaching them for. This is where you shift from low-stakes practice to linking the skills back to your end goal.
My kids researched and wrote and crafted some fabulous original pieces of social commentary. Then, they engaged in discussions in groups of 8 to 10 students. I was absolutely blown away with how well, even the most timid, students were able to share their thoughts about some pretty heavy topics.
These kids were able to disagree, ask clarifying questions, and offer different opinions better than many adults I’ve seen. No raised voices. No tears. No ad hominem fallacies.
In the spirit of adding a little laughter and some extra eye-rolling to break up the seriousness that is a group of high school students in English class, consider a silly song for a transition or brain break. A personal favorite is “It’s Raining Tacos” by Parry Gripp.
Dance parties are highly encouraged.
How can you bring some silliness into your skills practice?
Samantha is a wife, mom to three tiny humans, high school English teacher, perpetual student, Texas transplant, and lover of beautiful stories. She spends her days seeking levity in the chaos, sharing her passion for writing and storytelling with students, and searching for her constantly misplaced cup of reheated coffee. You can follow Samantha on Instagram and Twitter @SimplySivils or on her terribly neglected blog http://simplySivils.wordpress.com/.
Today I read a Facebook post from Nanci Steveson, one of my favorite middle-grade authors. She asks us to remember that we have so many important and wonderful things that happen outside of our “daily grind.” Like “skies to gaze at, ponies to pet, stories to write, children to hug…ice cream to savor, music to dance to…toasted marshmallow, letters from home, and dancing naked in the rain.”
Although this is part of Nanci’s personal list, I think we could all make a list of those important things. Today I wrote about buying a dress. I have not bought or worn a dress in many years, so buying one was a huge step for me. I worked hard this summer on taking care of me, and buying this dress was a little reward for my accomplishments and an act of bravery.
I invite you to take some time this weekend to explore those important things in your life. Or maybe something on Nanci’s list has sparked writing idea for you. Whatever you write, I hope you come back and share your thoughts with us.
Leigh Anne is about to start her 15th year of teaching, her 8th year as a middle school language arts teacher. As her summer winds down, she is looking forward to meeting and sharing books with her new students.
In the early days of my teaching practice, I struggled with wanting my students to keep a portfolio that would house writing practice, quick writes, pre-writing, formal writings, and even some interactive notes. All the things! I went down a rabbit hole of research and found binder organization or the typical “interactive notebooks” which were a bit too elementary for my high school classroom needs. They had some great qualities I wanted to incorporate, but didn’t quite check all of the boxes. In the process, I stumbled onto a more grown up Writer’s Notebook.
When researching Writer’s Notebooks and seeing the innovative ways teachers were using them in their classrooms, I found wonderful ideas for activities to put in them, but wasn’t finding guidance that would help me shift from a hodgepodge notebook of miscellaneous writings and notes that students don’t revisit easily to the tool I was imagining for my students. Over the course of several years (and tons of trial and error), I honed in on a few basic “rules” for notebook setup in my classroom.
If you are new to using Writer’s Notebooks and desperately seeking some guidance on where to begin or an experienced notebook Rock Star just looking for some new ideas, here are my setup basics:
Use a Table of Contents
Anyone who knows me will tell you I’m a big fan of the bullet journal. I absolutely love the flexibility it provides me as a “pen and paper” type of person who loves to keep different types of lists, but doesn’t want to keep multiple planners or notebooks. As long as I utilize the Table of Contents, everything is easily found.
This seems like such an obvious thing to incorporate, but none of the online resources I viewed talked about using one. After all, I wanted my students to use their notebooks as a writing tool, to revisit resources we’ve glued in, review previous writings, annotate short texts, etc. It’s so much easier when the kids can flip straight to the page they are looking for instead of making ostentatiously dramatic page turns to locate something. (If you know, you know).
Because I couldn’t find an example of what I wanted to use, I pulled from my bullet journal and added some additional information I wanted students to have to create my own print out. On Day 1 of notebook setup, each student receives two copies to glue into their notebooks (front and back) on the first page. It has space for them to include the date, page number, name of the entry, and even a space to enter grades.
Click here if you’d like to make a copy of the Table of Contents I created. You can customize it to your needs.
Pro-Tip for printed notebook resources: Knock down the sizing of any full page copies to 85% and they will fit perfectly on the pages of a composition notebook.
Number ALL Pages
Again, this may seem obvious, but I make my students number the pages of their notebooks after they’ve glued in their table of contents. Every. Single. Page. I used to let students number as they go, but my experience has proven that, more often than not, kiddos will forget. When their pages aren’t numbered, that information doesn’t make it to the table of contents, and then the whole logic of having the organization starts to crumble. I promise it’ll only take about 5 extra minutes during your setup, but the payoff is priceless.
Everything Is Written in Ink
I love a freshly sharpened Dixon Ticonderoga pencil as much as the next teacher, but follow me around the room on this one. How many times have you seen a student take a pencil and begin to write only to pause, panic, and frantically erase whatever they’ve just written? Write. Erase. Write. Erase. Eventually, that student has erased a hole straight through their paper.
My students hear my spiel every year: Write with conviction. Mistakes will happen. Writing is a process. Put a line through it and keep going.
I know it may seem odd and I’m not saying that this is the hill I’m going to die on if a kiddo starts writing in pencil, but it does serve a purpose in writing instruction. It may take some time and some cajoling, but even my most tentative kiddos eventually come around to writing confidently in ink. After a week or so, I don’t even have to remind my kids to use a pen. This leads to my next guideline.
Whiteout or Removing Pages is Outlawed
The explanation for this links to the guideline above- writing is a process and mistakes will happen. We all know that as we draft, we change bits and pieces along the way. It helps me coach students when I can see the evolution of their writing. Part of my practice is to teach students to review their own pre-writing and “ugly” drafts to look for parts that may work better during a later revision. Being able to see where they’ve been can help them figure out where they’re going more times than not. If a kiddo has erased, used whiteout, or torn out pages, we no longer have that roadmap.
The end result of not allowing erasures or removals of student writing from their notebooks means that it becomes a living timeline of their growth as writers.
Decorate and Make it Yours!
This is not so much a hard and fast “rule” as it is a solid nudge for students to really take ownership of their notebooks. I give students permission to decorate the outside (and interior) of their notebooks with anything that sparks joy for them. Enjoy the creativity they bring to their notebook decorations! I have so much fun decorating my notebook alongside my students and it gives me a chance to get to know them in those early days together. Win-win!
When students take the time to fully complete their notebook setup, it’s unlikely they will lose it because they don’t want to repeat the process and attempt to recreate all of their hard work. BONUS!
At the heart of it, a Writer’s Notebook is intended to be a space for students to build fluency, play with language, explore the writing process, and own their voice as a writer. The beauty of this basic setup is that you can build in space for as much or as little structure as your students need.
What are your best tips for setting up Writer’s Notebooks in your classroom? Share in the comments
Samantha is a wife, mom to three tiny humans, high school English teacher, perpetual student, Texas transplant, and lover of beautiful stories. She spends her days seeking levity in the chaos, sharing her passion for writing and storytelling with students, and searching for her constantly misplaced cup of reheated coffee. You can follow Samantha on Twitter @SimplySivils and on her blog http://simplySivils.wordpress.com/.
This week I spent some time rereading parts of Tom Romano’s book, Write What Matters. This book is an invitation. An invitation to seek advice about creating a writing habit, to find ways to build your confidence as a writer, and to find your voice through writing activites and examples.
I want to share a few thoughts from the chapter “Seek Surpise.” Tom suggests to “take note of surprise in your daily living.” He encourages us to “be alert to surprises, however subtle. Life, relationships, work, and writing itself increase in pleasure and purpose when we take note of surprises.”
Isn’t summer the perfect time to seek surprise? Maybe it is sitting on a porch or patio and watching nature. Maybe it is lauging at the antics of a young child or an elderly person. Maybe it the surprise in our thinking as we put words down on the page.
In the book, Tom states that his notebook has a place to record the surprises he encounters. I decided to create a similar space using some “creative journaling.”
Leigh Anne lives in hot and humid southern Indiana and teaches 6th grade language arts. She is looking forward to some beach time, and maybe…just maybe she will find a few surprises along the way.
And, that very night She danced, Like She had never danced before Like she knew She would never Dance Like that, again
Poem written by Athey Thompson
After reading this poem several times, I began to see a metaphor for life. When were the times I “danced” in my life? (Metaphorically because I don’t dance!) Danced like I had never danced before? Like I knew I never would?
This poem took me to how my parents divorce affected me and how my husband was a gift because marrying him was when I truly learned to dance again. The poem led to the notebook page, which led to the blog post – The BIG Dance.
Where does this poem, or any of the poems from the blog, take you? I would love for you to write with me any time this week and share your thoughts or your process. Happy Writing!
Leigh Anne teaches 6th grade ELA in southern Indiana and is trying to beat the heat by spending time in the pool and sipping sweet iced tea! You can find her on Twitter @Teachr4 or on her blog, A Day in the Life.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.