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Category Archives: Modeling

3 Ways to Utilize Audio and Visual Recording with our Readers and Writers

There is much debate regarding the use of digital technology in the classroom. For teachers, cell phones and other technology are both frustrating helpful when it comes to student use. They have the potential to be distracting and disruptive, as we all know, but tech is useful when it comes to some classroom activities, such as keeping a next reads list, or looking up word gaps. I love the idea of using them for the powers of good, so recently, I tried asking my students to use their mobile phones just for the purpose of recording, and to try to ignore the notifications that might come across as they used them.

I’m always looking for new strategies to help the readers and writers in my classroom, and in the past few weeks I’ve tried a couple of different applications. Using cell phones and iPads is simple, and it meets one of the simple rules I am trying to follow when it comes to working with students: meet them where they are.

Recently, while my grade nine students were in the thick of drafting informational essays, I asked them to read their essays aloud, and listen to the flow, the choppiness, the parts that sound great, and the parts that “just don’t sound right.” While I’ve asked students to read their own work aloud before, this time I asked them to record themselves, and then after, to listen to their voices while reading, keeping a pencil in their hands, pausing the audio and editing and revising as they go.

My students were reluctant at first, but once they got over the initial awkwardness of listening to their own voices, they indicated that it was a simple and useful strategy for revision. It’s one that can be used in other classes, and doesn’t require any other tools or even other people for help.

Another strategy we employed using recording technology was focused on the use of video recording. Before my students had started writing informational essays, we studied informational texts, using the Nonfiction Notice and Note signposts, along with the Book Head Heart strategy found in the works of Kylene Beers and Robert Probst.

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When students learn reading strategies and skills, it’s important to be able to see just where they are in the learning process, but it takes time to thoroughly check in with each and every one of them. So with this unit, our ninth grade English teacher team decided that it would be great if students could demonstrate their learning through a think-aloud. Doing this in class would take a lot of one-on-one time, so we asked students to demonstrate their thinking and reading skills on their own, and to use the video recording capabilities on their iPads and cell phones.

videothinkaloud

A screen shot from a video-think-aloud

Because we, as teachers, had modeled the think-aloud strategy in our classes many times, students knew exactly what we meant, and were able to demonstrate their understanding of the strategies and skills necessary when reading magazine articles. They annotated, exposed their initial confusion, shared their process of finding understanding, and demonstrated a multi-draft reading of the articles they had chosen. It was a successful method of assessment, and I plan to utilize it again. Students had a chance to showcase their thinking and understanding, and it wasn’t a one-off opportunity. They had the chance to try multiple takes with their recordings, so the pressure was off and they could easily share their thinking.

Our most current rationale for the utilization of video in class is with our new short novel unit, in which we formed book clubs. We are squeezing in a shared text at the beginning of second semester with Of Mice and Men. While all of my students are reading the same text, they are split up into groups of three and four so they can form their book clubs. One of the summative assessments with this unit is a small group discussion that they will record. They will need to demonstrate some academic, sustained, literary discussion in their videos, and are practicing in class, leading up to the recorded discussion. I’ll be able to have five small-group discussions going on at the same time in my class, which means precious class time isn’t frittered away with transition times between discussions, for example. Students will be thinking, reading, and discussing, and I’ll be able to watch the video later, when the pressure is off, and I can truly assess the conversation. I’ll try to remove the guess-work because I can slow down the speaking and listening assessment portion of it all.

annotation OMAM

One student has heavily annotated in preparation for the recorded small group discussion.

These are just a few ways to allow students to use the simple technology that is available to them. Kids know how to make movies and to splice audio, so there is little need to instruct regarding the technical details. They can use the audio and video to showcase their skills.

It’s also a timesaver as far as the classroom goes, and it takes some of the stress off of students who have test anxiety or who struggle when it comes to on-demand assessments.

While it’s not a student-recording, I will share one last recent use of video in class. I played the video in this NPR article about a murmuration of starlings as an inspiration for a quick write this week. I played it without sound, and hit replay several times. My students were fascinated and wrote some fun responses. One was even moved to write music: img_5972.jpg

I love how my students are constantly surprising and impressing me. They are unexpected and wonderful.

I’d love to hear more about how teachers and students are using laptops and cell phones for the power of good in the comments below!

Julie has been teaching secondary language arts for nineteen 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 will be moving across the agua to Managua, Nicaragua next year, where a new adventure will begin.

Follow her on twitter @SwinehartJulie

Follow her blog https://adventuresinhighschoolworkshop.wordpress.com/

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Collaboration 4 Ways

The Classroom

It had been a great week in the classroom: we had shared our stories, written in our notebooks, and analyzed Queen’s awesome “Bohemian Rhapsody” (if that’s not a “fun on a bun” way to dive into rhetorical analysis, I’m not sure what is!). But despite my best intentions, I had not faithfully modeled engagement with writing mini lessons (ML’s) and folded in collaboration the way I intended. Okay, or much at all. You know how it goes . . . you nibble some off this end and things slide a little at the other end.

So, I found myself without time–as I so often do (Help Pacing Gods and Goddesses! Help me learn to be less thorough already!)–and wondered if/how I could efficiently address the 4 ways writers can collaborate. My colleague and I believe writers collaborate with mentor texts, people (teachers via ML’s and conferences and peers), materials, and themselves. How could I satisfy this need, this craving to model these fundamental skills in a totally wholesome way without cramming it down their throats?

Thus, Collaboration 4 Ways was born. Reminiscent of Steak ‘N Shakes’ Chili 5 Ways, I quickly figured out how to model what I wanted to do by synthesizing the 4 collaboration skills into a one-plated ML, focusing on the 6 Word Memoir, which is our lead into application essay writing for our seniors.

  1. I modeled collaborating with a mentor text, using an online sample off NPR’s site, taking note of what worked. I annotated interesting arrangement of words, varied syntax, clever pairings of language and visual, and more. Then I thought aloud regarding what I ought to “throw into the mix”–measuring out words that helped to build meaning.
  2. I modeled collaborating with the teacher; and, pulling the picture of my sweet and silly Ingrid as a unicorn, used the ML strategy of writing about what the picture encapsulated in 17 words or fewer. Ideas first; concision later.
  3. I modeled collaborating with materials (AND my students): gathering small thumb drive size sticky notes, I wrote each word and
    IMG_1142 (1)

    Here’s what I mixed up–with student collaboration–on the doc cam. The whole sticky notes reflect student suggestions and “drafts.” Note to self: they do sell thumb sized sticky notes . . .

  4. piece of punctuation on one and with student help, moved the words around and changed/added punctuation to truly model that sentences are made of moveable parts and that punctuation DOES matter (what taste it adds, darn it!).
  5. Finally, I modeled collaborating with myself, thinking aloud and reflecting to create my final piece. Does this arrangement of words build meaning? Does it build power? Should I revise the punctuation? Etc.

And, I did this all in 10-15 minutes (what I had originally allotted each day to teach each one of those separately).

Discovery:

Served early in the course, this lesson acted as a catalyst for many of my students. Some use the 6 word memoir approach to generate topics or meanings of topics; some manipulate syntax via sticky notes for their purposes; some spend more time talking through ideas; some realize then and there the value of a mentor text.

As for me, I discovered that maybe, just maybe, I needed to shift my thinking. Because it will shift my students’ approach. ML time has been about modeling what to do and getting help from my students, too, discussing and processing. To me, the ML steps have seemed a recipe for success–a thorough list of ingredients and instructions to follow as they work at isolating and problem-solving a certain challenge in their writing. With someone modeling it all for them. Collaboration 4 Ways allowed me to model possibilities . . . instead of the way, one way with an intended outcome.  Serving up Collaboration 4 Ways reminded me that students need to see what’s possible. And how even a seasoned cook needs to test and try.

Truth: Possibilities precede problem-solving.

Giants whose shoulders I stood on:

Many a giant supported me on this one  . . .

  • My Directors of Teaching and Learning who reminded us before school began that we have more freedom than we are using. And, what opportunity really means.
  • Angela Stockman’s Make Writing 5 Teaching Strategies That Turn Writer’s Workshop Into a Maker Space for inspiring me to experiment more with making writing.
  • My colleagues for holding me to the fire with how I ML because sometimes there’s not much mini about it.
  • Three Teachers Talk Mini Lesson Mondays!

Kristin Jeschke, in addition to enjoying Chili 5 Ways during late night study sessions back in college (too many years ago to mention here), appreciates constraints, good talk, and post it notes (lots of them, in all sizes) when writing. Follow Kristin on Twitter @kajeschke. 

What do colors have to do with teachers writing? Today, a lot.

When I read You Don’t Have to Say You Love Me by Sherman Alexie, I knew I’d found mentor gold. Infused with stirring poetry, this memoir tells the story of Alexie’s less than ideal relationship with his mother and how he grieves the loss of her, what was, and what could have been.

I reached for this book Monday as I began a session of PD. On a whim, I flipped the pages and landed on the poem, “Ode to Gray,” thinking it may spark some kind of response in my audience. It’s simple enough. And lovely.

Ode to Gray

This isn’t the complete poem. I just wanted you to get the idea. There’s one more stanza. Really, get this book.

After I read the the poem aloud, I asked listening teachers to write in response.

“Think of a color, and write about that. Write your own poem, or a paragraph. Doesn’t matter. Just write about your color.”

After writing five minutes, which is rarely long enough, I asked these writers to read over their words and do a bit of revision, challenging them to add an appositive phrase somewhere in their writing. This is a directive I often use with students:  We write. We read our work. We revise, often with a singular purpose that ties to a specific skill or craft move.

I walked the room, peeking over shoulders, listening to conversations — and noticed about a third of the group didn’t write a thing. Funny how some teachers are so much like some students, huh?

Maybe they didn’t get the simple task. I guess that makes sense if they’ve never been asked to write like this. I do not think that’s the case though. I heard one too many sigh and saw one too many eye roll to know I wasn’t the first presenter to ask this group to think and write.

It didn’t matter. We cannot make people eat. We can keep inviting them to the table.

Writing teachers should be willing to write.

Accountability in RWWorkshop

Some teachers in that session wrote a lot — and they wrote beautifully. Adam showed me his piece about the color black. I should have asked for a copy. All I remember is the line “Little black lies.” It’s a great line.

Of all I wrote, one line holds a bit of promise:  “Orange, the color of sunsets, why are you so lonely?”

And then there’s Mary. She took that little quickwrite and turned it into something tender, touching, real. She published it on Facebook and said I could share it here:

An Ode to Red
Workshopping With Amy Rasmussen
1.15.18
Red is the fire of your cheeks as you demand to be heard in the morning before school, on a day I was supposed to get to sleep in late. Red is the fire of mine as I scream back, frustrated, unsure of how to solve this trembling toddler enigma. You want red grapes, I gave you purple. In your mind, they are not the same.
“What’s your favorite color, Mommy?” you ask. You expect an answer.
“Purple,” I say, knowing the question that comes next. We do this daily dance, aware of each other’s rhythm.
“And what else?” you ask.
“And orange.”
“That’s good, Mommy. Mine’s red. Red and blue. I love red and blue.”
Red is the sucker, no, the second sucker you negotiate for after getting your hair cut. Just one of the many tricks/bribes that I’ve learned along this short parenting trip we’re on together. Sticky, stained red lips, sticky, stained red teeth and sticky, stained red fingers.
“Go wash your hands before you hug me!” I yell as we walk in the house. “5, 4, 3, 2, 1…”
Red is the color of the bath water after you dump the entire bottle of finger paint into the tub.
“Bubble bath!” you shriek excitedly, giggling, red steaks strung along the sides of the just-washed tub.
Red is my heart each time I leave, and each time I return. Red is the love. All of the love, engulfing me in flames.


I see red a bit differently today.

Thank you, Mary. My kids are grown, and now I get to watch them practice parenting. It’s hard and noble work, and you will feel every color of emotion — sometimes all on the same day and sometimes more than once. But it’s that “love. All the love” that turn these emotions into rainbows. And sometimes just writing about them helps us see every moment just a bit more clearly. Thank you.

In an article by Tim Gillespie, published on the National Writing Project website, he sums up what I believe and have experienced myself as a teacher writer.

Accountability in RWWorkshop (1)

Here’s the thing, you teachers who refused to even try:  It doesn’t matter if you think you can write. Just write.

What does matter is that our students see us working at it. Just like we must be readers in order to help our students find the “just right” book, we must be writers if we want to know the struggle our students face when writing.

We learn when we are vulnerable. We learn when we practice.

So I am challenging myself as much as I am challenging you:  Write beside your students more. Let them see your thoughts, your mistakes, your struggles. Ask them for feedback.

If I truly want a community, where we all work to grow as readers and writers, I need to do more to get us there.

Amy Rasmussen began writing in journals at age 8. In addition to this blog, she now writes in notebooks and on sticky notes. A lot of sticky notes. She also tries to write the assignments she gives her students. She wishes she would have had teachers who wrote with her, but she does not remember one K-12 teacher ever doing so. Follow Amy on Twitter @amyrass and @3TeachersTalk

Every Teacher a Reader. Every Teacher a Writer.

Do any of you follow the Middle and High School Secondary ELA group on Facebook?

Now, I am not trying to pick any fights, but I’m just going to say it:  Some of the comments drive me straight over a rocky cliff. Honestly, I tend to get a little snarky if I spend too much time there. (Sorry, not sorry.)

Today an ELA teacher posted “Writing sucks.” What?! I sure hope a student never hears her say that. Yesterday a teacher posted this question:

“Silent reading…have you built it into your routine? For how long? Do you find your struggling readers or non-readers (at home) love this time? I currently have built it in for the first 15 minutes since I know many of my 6th grade sts do not read at home. I think it works, but just brainstorming other ways to do things for next year. Just curious what you all do! I would be curious if HS teachers still give time to silent read, too.”

I had a hard time reading the thread with comments like “They won’t read, or forget their books… It turns into wasted time.”

Of course it does, if teachers do not establish the all out importance of reading, the benefits of reading, the time commitment to grow as readers; if teachers do not walk the talk of readers, share their reading lives, promote books and match books to kids and beat the drum of reading. Every. Single Day. We have to help students value reading.

The same holds true for writing. We have to help students value writing. We have to help students value the struggle of writing well.

Are we teacher-writers who model the difficult task of writing? Do we share the struggle of getting thoughtful ideas on the page and revising and revising and revising to convey the meaning we intend to the audience we intend? Writing well means we make intentional choices and we develop the habits of writers. Read Donald Murray’s “Habits of Writing,” and then internalize his last line: “Consider my habits of writing, but develop your own by studying what you did when the writing went well, and make what you discover your own writing habits.” (If you really want to build your writer-mojo, I suggest Murray’s books, The Essential Don Murray:  Lessons from America’s Greatest Writing Teacher, and Learning by Teaching.)

We can learn to write well. We can learn to teach writing well as we discover our own writing habits and guide students into developing their own. But this will never happen if we do not write.

readerswriters

I’ve written about walking our talk before — and I believe it more every day. I think we owe it to our students to be actively engaged in the learning process the same way we ask them to be actively engaged. I can never be a good enough reader. I can never be a good enough writer.

So, this summer I commit to keep working on my craft. I will read. I will write.

If you are reading this post, I know I am preaching to the choir. I know you already share at least some of my beliefs about reading and writing. Thank you for that!

I invite you to share your reading and your writing, to amplify our collective voices as teachers who read and write, and walk our talk — even during the summer. Shana posted our summer posting plans yesterday. I hope you’ll join us on our Facebook page, our Instagram feed, and on Twitter. And as Austin Kleon famously asserts:  Show your Work!

Let’s spread it far and wide!

Amy Rasmussen lives in north Texas and teaches AP English Language and English 4 (new prep in ’17. She loves talking books, daughters’ weddings (two this year), and grandbabies (five). She also loves facilitating PD for other teachers making the move into a workshop pedagogy. Amy adheres to the words of Emerson: “We aim above the mark to hit the mark,” and Jesus: “Love one another.” Imagine a world if we all aim higher. Follow Amy on Twitter @amyrass. And she really hopes you will follow this blog!

Stay Gold, Ponyboy. Authentic Literary Analysis: Poetry in Two Voices – Guest Post by Elizabeth Oosterheert

Over the past several months, social media has been a buzzing hive of Tweets, articles, and teaching resources for The Outsiders, as S.E. oosterHinton’s beloved classic celebrated fifty years of resonating with readers of all ages around the globe.

In using The Outsiders as a whole class text this spring with a seventh grade class composed of nearly all boys, I began to explore juxtaposing the beauty and power of poetry during National Poetry Month, and authentic literary analysis. How could I use poetry as an analytical catalyst?

The answer came in an approach that I love because it promotes several of the pillars of writing workshop:

  • Student agency/ownership of the writing process
  • Collaborative writing and thinking
  • Mentor texts as models for writing craft moves
  • Opportunities for teachers to participate in workshop as writers

Poems in Two Voices are an excellent way to invite creative literary analysis, since by definition, they challenge student writers to take on the personas of fictional characters and to look at a literary work through the lens of their chosen character’s perspective.


As an invitation into learning about Poems in Two Voices, I shared a poem that I wrote from Johnny and Pony’s point-of-view during our workshop time, as well as poems written by former students.

Seventh Grade Literature
The Outsiders
“The End of Innocence: A Poem in Two Voices” by Mrs. O.

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Ponyboy Curtis Johnny Cade
Nature’s first green is gold, her hardest hue to hold. Nature’s first green is gold, her hardest hue to hold.
Gold was my mother. She was beautiful. Nothing gold can ever stay. My life has been black.
Gold is my brother Soda. Movie star handsome. He kind of radiates. I pulled a silver switchblade, thinking it was for the best. Disaster from then on.
Beauty was the sunrise in Windrixville. There was a silent moment when everything held its breath. I did, too. I remember Pony’s voice as he read Gone With the Wind. Dallas is gallant, going into battle like those Southern gentlemen.
I thought things could only get better, but we went from ice cream sundaes at Dairy Queen to the red Hell of the church on fire. We started it with our cigarettes. I was a hero for a moment. Instead of being beaten down, I was giving life. Pony said Jerry thought we were sent from Heaven.
Johnny never thought of himself. We can’t live without him. The gang needs him. I don’t want to die now. Sixteen years ain’t long enough.
Sixteen years on the street, and you can learn a lot. But all the wrong things, not the things you want to learn. Sixteen years on the street, and you can see a lot.  But all the wrong sights, not the sights you want to see.

 

Then leaf subsides to leaf… Then leaf subsides to leaf…
We had a rumble, but in the midst of the fight I realized, I don’t hate the Socs anymore…None of us should have been there, throwing punches with a gang of future convicts. Useless…fighting’s no good. I tried to tell Pony that. I have to get the words out while I still have a pulse.
Johnny was so quiet, I thought Dallas and I were too late. I thought Johnny was already dead. “We’re all proud of you, buddy.” That’s what Dallas said. I loved Dallas. I wanted to die with his words in my ears.
Johnny was trying to talk to me. I leaned in,  close to his burns, his closed eyes. “Stay gold, Ponyboy. Stay gold.”
The pillow sank a little, and Johnny died. I see something on the horizon. Light.
So Eden sank to grief,

So dawn goes down to day.

Nothing gold can stay.

So Eden sank to grief,

So dawn goes down to day.

Nothing gold can stay.

After sharing my poem, and giving students the opportunity to read several student written poems aloud, we wrote the following list of writing craft moves:

Writers of Poems in Two Voices…

  • Look back at passages in the text where the characters they’ve chosen are actually speaking, or where they can “hear” their thoughts.
  • Base their poems on a specific passage in the book, or make their writing a more general reflection of everything that they’ve read so far.
  • Might give a voice to a character who doesn’t speak often or is silent. This allows creative license as a writer. For example, what would Bob say if he could speak to Johnny or Pony about what happened in the park? What would Johnny say to the children he rescued from the church in Windrixville?
  • “Steal” lines or word choices from the book such as a favorite Again and Again, or golden line
  • Sound like the character being represented
  • Decide which lines will be read in unison, and which ones will be read individually
  • Include important details from the novel to illustrate close reading
  • Practice reading poems ALOUD with coauthors to work on timing and inflection

 


Two voice poetry allows students to powerfully express how a text has changed their thinking about the world, gives them the opportunity to write with a coauthor, and to present their poetry to others.  It works beautifully with any book. My students loved revisiting favorite scenes in The Outsiders, and we’ve also written narrative poetry, found poetry, and whipstitch poetry together.

The end of the year is the perfect time to utilize poetry as an analytical tool.

How do you use poetry with your students? Please add your ideas and questions to the comments below!


Elizabeth Oosterheert teaches middle school language arts and directs the 8th Grade Theatre Troupe at Pella Christian Grade School in Pella, Iowa.

She loves reading and writing with middle schoolers.


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Care to join the conversation? We’d love to add your voice! Please email guest post ideas to Lisadennibaum@gmail.com.

Author Bios – A Follow-up

I collected these papers 20 minutes ago, and I am smiling so hard that my second period class coming in asked me what was going on.

A few days ago, Amy wrote a post about students writing their own author bios. It was an idea that snuck up on me a few weeks back when Amy Poehler’s author bio made me laugh out loud.

Following much the same format that Amy detailed earlier this week, I introduced the idea to my students of writing our own author bios by reminding them of what they have heard from me one thousand times before over the course of this year:

“We are readers and writers.”

To reflect this persona, I shared with my AP Language students a quick writing prompt that is turning out to be one of the best writing assignments of the whole year.

When Brianna turned her piece in this morning, she had a huge smile on her face. “I had SO much fun doing this.” Brianna, as studious, driven, brilliant, and stressed out as they come, was beaming ear to ear. What a testament to the power of writing with self reflective purpose.

To facilitate this assignment we:

  1. Looked over several sample bios from our book club books, some texts off my shelves, and a few internet suggestions.
  2. Students talked at their tables and came up with a list of “look fors” in this type of writing. I was impressed by not only the length of the list, in terms of what they noticed, but some of the insight. “If you are going to write a funny book, be funny. If you’re writing about the Nazi’s, that’s not a good idea.” True, true. Style and form must match purpose. I love it.
  3. Students then drafted both a current and a future author bio. The future bios were far and away the best. Students really embraced how wildly accomplished they will be as readers and writers after college. Additionally, this group is apparently going to rule the world.
  4. Peer feedback came next, with an inclusion of Shana’s “Push and Pull” feedback strategy. It was wonderful to see the details and voice emerge from their pieces. Celina had a line about winning the Nobel Prize, an Oscar, and a Grammy. I suggested she tell us what she won the Nobel for, who she co-starred with for her Oscar win, and how many albums she sold for the Grammy. “Oooo! I helped kids in the Sudan by supplying them with books (Mrs. Dennis swoons), Brad Pitt came out of retirement to play my dad in the movie, and I sold a record to every high school student in America, Spain, and the Ukraine.” Yes, yes, yes!
  5. Students took the peer and teacher feedback, went off to polish one of their bios, get an author picture, and turn in a final draft.
  6. These are HOT off the presses and I am so proud of their voice and creativity.

If you only look at one example, check out this first one. Brianna had me laughing out loud. No wonder she was beaming ear to ear.

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From line one, this piece had me laughing out loud. Brianna could not be a more serious student, but this work let her voice shine. I LOVE it from start to finish. 

Connor is a pretty quiet kid in class. His writing fluency has improved A LOT this year. And look at that smile! 

Charlie just won the most prestigious scholarship Franklin offers, because of his service, incredible heart, academic achievements, and being an all-around amazing person. He really opened up in his one pagers this year. I could not be more proud of this young man. 

Tahseen is a very serious young woman, but the little quips in here brought out her true voice. 

JJ too had a ways to go with his writing fluency and voice development. I’m seeing it now! 

Errin is a young woman whose name you will know someday. I am SURE of it. She had this shirt on in class this morning. The picture was taken before 7:00am. 

Lisa Dennis teaches English and leads a department of incredible English educators at Franklin High School near Milwaukee. She delights in writing in the third person, claiming it’s akin to an existence in parallel universes. Follow Lisa on Twitter @LDennibaum 

An Idea: Author Bios and Some Focus, Wit, & Polish

I stole this idea from Lisa. She said it was okay that I write about it first. Bless her.

I finally feel like I’m getting a little of my writing mojo back. If you’ve been following my posts lately, you know I’ve had a hard time. I loved my student teacher, but I missed my students and how they inspire me to want to write and share.

It hasn’t been easy taking back my classroom. I am much more intense than Mr. G, and this translates to mean for some of my students. It’s true I grade hard, expect a lot, teach bell to bell. It’s not that he didn’t — maybe it’s just that I’m 50+, and he’s close to half my age. Whatever the reason, reinvigorating relationships hasn’t been easy.

Kind of casually one day, Lisa suggested she wanted to write author bios with her students next year. She said she’d read a few she wanted to use as mentor texts, thinking this little writing task would be a way to help her students develop their identities as writers. What a fantastic idea!

So last week for our writer’s notebook time, we wrote author bios, short, little, quippy, quirky writing that states who we are and why we write. (We still need work on the why we write part.)

booksforauthorbiosI prepared first by reading the inside back covers of some of my hardback YA literature. I chose four bios with similar elements:  Andrew Smith, Winger; Julie Murphy, Dumplin‘; Heather Demetrios, I’ll Meet You There; and Jason Reynolds, All American Boys. {Bonus: four book talks, along with the author intros. Boom.]

I explained the task:  We’re going to read four short author bios and then write our own. Listen to each one carefully, so we can pull out the similarities within each one.

We charted the elements of the bios on the board and then drafted our own.

authorbio

We spent five minutes on the writing, two minutes on revision, and six minutes sharing with our peers. We laughed. We wondered if the authors wrote their own book cover bios. We discussed our writing process.

“It would have been easier writing about someone else,” one student said.

“I need more time to think of how to say things,” said another.

“This would be fun to do at the beginning of the year,”

“I don’t do anything!”

“I’ve never won anything!”

“I cannot write that I am interesting when I am not interesting.”

“Can we write about what we want to do in the future instead?”

Oh, yeah, we stirred the pot, and ideas bubbled out. Throughout their questioning, my response remained:  Be creative.

One of the best books I’ve read on writing is How to Write Short: Word Craft for Fast Times by Roy Peter Clark. I marked it up with lesson ideas:  “the whole chapter would make a great lead in rhetorical analysis” and “on annotating: read before starting 1st book club” and “use b/f narrative –teaches analysis with song lyrics” and “parallel structure & compound sentences!”

This paragraph from the introduction is a great reminder for all types of writing — and writing instruction:

How to Write Short

Focus, wit, and polish. My students and I talked about our identities as writers. We talked about the time it takes to develop our voice, our craft, our meaning.

As they read their author bios to one another, the cough of community clamored just a bit, and in a few minutes the whole classroom caught it.

MariaLauthorbio

MariaCSkyauthorbioMicaelaauthorbioTreyauthorbioI reminded students as they write over the next few days — finishing their multi-genre projects, their last major grade — to write with intention, to write in a way that shows the answer to the last question I’ll write on the board this year:  How have you grown as a reader and a writer?

In the fall, I will do this exercise again. We will write our author bios at the beginning of the year, on day one, maybe. We will spent a good deal more time on them, and we’ll return to them again and again as we practice the moves all writers make to produce effective, convincing, creative writing. We will publish our writing with our bios. Hopefully, this will help us keep our sights on Focus, Wit, and Polish in all aspects of our writing.

How might you use this author bio writing activity? What tasks do your writers do that help them take on the identities of writers? Please leave your ideas in the comments.

Amy Rasmussen lives in north Texas and teaches AP English Language and English 3 at Lewisville High School. She loves talking books, daughters’ weddings (two this year), and grandbabies. Facilitating PD for other teachers making the move into a workshop pedagogy delights her. Amy adheres to the words of Emerson: “We aim above the mark to hit the mark,” and Jesus: “Love one another.” Imagine a world if we all aim higher. Follow Amy on Twitter @amyrass.

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