Category Archives: Twitter

Quick Writes That Work

QUICK WRITE

It appears daily on my agenda and often sparks great writing, discussion, and even revision. My bestie Erin said it beautifully: “Quick writes produce pure honesty and they’re a good place for me to “talk” with my students.” The writing is low stakes, the creativity can be high, and we can “talk” with our kids and provide feedback on issues and ideas, over syntax and conventions. Plus, it helps with the endless struggle for volume, volume, volume.

But sometimes, quick writes can end up feeling a bit routine, which is not cool as I am trying to keep writers excited about their writing and producing more and more of it.

writers-block

So, because I’m sometimes known to Google my life (Last weekend my foot hurt after a run and the Mayo Clinic suggested I might have cancer, so there’s that.) I often head to the internet for curricular inspiration.

There are countless sources online that will lead you to quick write topics, if that’s what you are in the market for, and I am often in the market for someone’s fresh thinking to get my students writing when I haven’t left enough time to plan or the same old quick write feels bland.

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Quick writes are just the start! 

For example, I was inspired to write this post after I saw our friend Gary Anderson tweeting a journal topic of the day on Twitter. I’ve used several, and loved writing along with my students on his thought provoking prompts.

Here are a few reflections I have on quick writes. The process, their power, and providing writing opportunities to our kids every day.

  1. Link your quick write to what you’re work on in class that day, an essential question you’re studying, or relevant topic to your study. Or don’t! Quick writes can lead naturally into a mini lesson. They can also put that mini lesson on hold as students take off into small group and then passionate/uproarious/contentious whole class discussion. I’ll often have my students go back into their notebooks after discussion to add to their thinking, so even if they didn’t share, they are working with the ideas that class is chewing on and writing more.
  2. Let students write about what inspires them. At the beginning of the year, many students balk at the “opportunity” to write about whatever they like, but by the time you’ve established a rapport and let your students know that they belong to a community of writers, many are excited to be given time to get their thoughts on paper. And when you have them take some time to revise at the end of the writing and share their ideas or powerfully written lines with others, they take more seriously the production of that work.
  3. Give limited choice to guide writing toward a necessary discussion for that day’s mini lesson or topic of discussion. When I do want the quick write to lead into the mini lesson, I try not to lead too much. I want kids to write and discover. I don’t want to slip back into old habits of guiding students to a fixed answer. They feel duped, I feel cheap, the whole thing is a mess. So, when I am heading in a specific direction, I really try to give choice in these instances. Our mini lesson in American Literature the other day was on bias for our argument writing unit. I could have had them write about where they see bias and how it impacts an argument’s credibility. Totally fine. Instead, I asked them to choose:
    • Write on any topic from the perspective of someone who is heavily biased toward a particular outcome. Then, write the same appeal from the opposing viewpoint.
    • Consider the bias of an author you’ve read or a story you know well. How did the bias serve the author? How did the bias impact the story?
    • Defend, challenge, or qualify the idea that media bias is detrimental to a functioning democracy.
  4. Early on, I stole something I heard Amy say during the professional development she and Shana ran at Franklin last year. I always remind my students to “write as much as you can, as fast as you can, as well as you can.”Amy taught me that kids need to outwrite their inner critics, and I’ve coupled that with the discovery that, often times, a student’s inner critic sounds an awful lot like…a teacher. We need to help retrain kids to see the first quick draft of anything as just that, a quick draft. I scrap half of what I write when I consider it for revision. This is something new to most kids, who train themselves to pour writing out on a page and see that as the first, last, and only draft. We work to write quickly, revise in the moment, and later, choose some pieces for further expansion, refinement, and polishing. But in the six or seven minutes I am giving them to write, their job is to write in that moment and to keep moving.
  5. Remind students to write and respond as they see fit. Students can write, jot, draw, change colors, compose a poem…Students often limit themselves unconsciously by the “rules” they have been taught over the years. Quick writes are a place to explore, not fit in the lines or a box. Unless you want to write in boxes.

  6. Have students respond to quotes, images, poems, videos, their own writing (we are doing this today!), the writing of other students, current events, lists, song lyrics, letters to the editor, overhead conversations…You get the idea. Students can creatively explore just about anything and should. Their opportunities for creative expression are often too few and far between. We can be the place where questions, emotions, fears, innovations, and discoveries find a safe place to take root.

Some of my recent favorite topics are below. These are quick writes that generated some fantastic discussion in small groups and whole class debriefs.


From Gary Anderson a few weeks back, I had students choose one and write:

Today…
I am concerned about…
I am upset about…
I do not understand…
I wish I could change…
I am grateful for…


From Austin Kleon’s blog that I started following last week, students took this image in a thousand directions and one class even had a collegiate level discussion on the implications these suggestions (directives? nudgings?) could have for society:

goethe


I will sometimes choose several images and have my students respond to one, or try to tie them together, or imagine they are the photographer, or…whatever best suits our purpose for that day. The exploration of the human condition is reason enough to put pen to paper. “Tell this story” is a great search term to yield a wide variety of results.

tell-this-story-2


Quick writes can even be 2-3 minute reflections on the simplest of reading adventures. At the start of the new calendar year, I had my kids search for what their lives would hold in 2017, according to their independent novels.

quick-write

Have a favorite quick write topic that gets the pens moving in your classroom? Please share your ideas and insights in the comments below! 

Lisa Dennis teaches English and leads a department of English educating gods and goddesses at Franklin High School near Milwaukee. She has no fewer than six quick write journals going at once, mostly due to her inability to settle on spiral vs. bound. She added to Goethe’s list that we should smile at the thought of someone each and every day. Follow Lisa on Twitter @LDennibaum 

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#PoetryChat – Boys & Poetry – Monday, August 3 8ET

IMG_8888This week, the writers of Three Teachers Talk are together in Durham, New Hampshire at the UNH Literacy Institutes.  For five days now, we’ve learned with Penny Kittle and Tom Newkirk about strengthening our practice and our thinking.

Newkirk’s class, centered around his Misreading Masculinity (2001), is focused on boys and literacy.  We’ve read and discussed issues of violence, humor, personality, sexuality, power, and more–all surrounding boy readers and writers.

Join us to continue this conversation on the topic of poetry.  The four of us will be together in Portsmouth, ready to chat on Monday at 8ET.

1. How do you notice your boys responding to poetry in your classroom?

2. Should boys write poetry in an English class?

3. How is poetry uniquely valuable for boys?

4. How do you hook boys into poetry?

5. What are your best poems, poets, or poetry resources to engage your boys?

Poetry Chat August 3

Shelfie Saturday

sticker,375x360.u1While my last name is Catcher, I’m far from a natural athlete. In fact, my high school softball career ended after I “caught” a stray throw with my forehead, landing me in the ER with a swollen eye and thirteen stitches. Still, I can appreciate a brilliant sports story, the type that moves beyond the game and captures the essence of teamwork, leadership, and friendship. The “Sports” section of my classroom library does just this.

Over the past year, I have cultivated the sports section to reflect the varied abilities, ages, and interests of my students. I teach freshmen, juniors, and seniors ranging from struggling to gifted readers. Because of my diverse students, my library must appeal to 14-year old freshmen and 18-year old seniors alike. Fortunately, sports can oftentimes bridge this age gap while also pushing students to gradually engage with more complex texts.

My somewhat anemic-looking sports section.  Many of the books (particularly the ones not pictured here) have waiting lists and won't return to this shelf until the end of the year.

My somewhat anemic-looking sports section. Many of the books (particularly the ones not pictured here) have waiting lists and won’t return to this shelf until the end of the year.

My younger students (and even some of my older) tend to gravitate towards popular young adult novels at the beginning of the year, like those written by Matt de la Pena and Mike Lupica. After they exhaust the options on my shelves, they inch towards lengthier and more complex analytical or historical books like Moneyball: The Art of Winning An Unfair Game by financial journalist Michael Lewis or The Punch by sports writer and commentator John Feinstein. More than any other genre, these brilliantly crafted pieces serve as strong mentor texts for a wide variety of mediums including nonfiction, narrative, research, and persuasive writing. This year, books like Ice Time by Jay Atkinson inspired many of my hockey players to explore their sport through personal narratives while Shoeless Joe by W.P. Kinsella served as the basis for one of my freshman student’s research papers on the Black Sox Scandal.

Sports hold leverage within our society, particularly amongst teenagers. From die-hard fans to benchwarmers, both athletes and non-athletes can appreciate a sports story, particularly when it transports us into a world packed with suspense and action.

Join the conversation by posting your own shelfies!  Share a shelfie with #shelfieshare and let us know if it’s a #classroomshelfie, #bookstoreshelfie, or other miscellaneous find.

Shelfie Saturday

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I love Monday mornings.

Monday signifies a new week, new possibilities, and new literature!  At the start of every week, I take time to display different books on each themed shelf.  This provides readers an opportunity to explore new titles on an ongoing basis.  Some books are brand new to Room 382 while other books have occupied our shared space for years; yet feel fresh and enticing when they are uniquely displayed.

Students (and guests) are continually gazing at our Francis Gittens Lending Library and enjoy, not only the vast array of literature to choose from, but how easily accessible it is to find what they are looking for. Gone are the days of ‘genre shelving’ and in are the days of ‘theme shelving’.  Whether students are just emerging into the world of literature or they are deeply rooted in their love for reading; our scholars need to feel supported.  By clustering books via theme, students (regardless of their comfortability with literature) know exactly where to go to get more of what they want!

Many students find their heritage fascinating and want to explore it beyond their current ideologies, beliefs, and familiarities.  So, they peruse the shelves in which they see themselves; racially, culturally, geographically, athletically, and so on.  They find comfort in exploring the lives and stories of those they’ve met before in history class or via conversations taking place within their homes.  They also take pleasure in learning more about who they are within the context of society, and on an even larger scale, within the world; simultaneously honing in on their more localized and individual existence.

All adolescents are searching.  They search for identity.  They seek to understand.  They thrive on building connections.  They strive to be enlightened.  And many times, students stumble upon exactly what they didn’t know they were looking for!  I love that.

Be it non-fiction, fiction, poetry, fantasy, science-fiction, auto/biography, graphic novels, screen plays, what have you; genre holds much less weight when the stories, characters, and settings transcend our students into a world full of exploration.

Here, our ever growing and ever evolving “Roots” shelves allow us to embark on a genre free yet culturally rich journey!

Some of our collective favorites include: Mumia-Abu Jamal, Jackie Robinson, Malcolm X, Betty Shabazz, Dr. MLK, Jr. and his lovely wife

 

Join the conversation by posting your own shelfies!  Share a shelfie with #shelfieshare and let us know if it’s a #classroomshelfie, #bookstoreshelfie, or other miscellaneous find.

Shelfie Saturday

One of the foundations of a strong reading and writing workshop is providing students access to a wide variety of excellent mentor texts.  You may provide access to those books through your classroom library, school media center, or public library–but how do you know which books to purchase?  How do you predict which titles will be most popular with teens?  How do you know which authors will teach your students the most about writing?

sticker,375x360.u1We hope to offer you a few answers to these questions on Shelfie Saturdays.  Here, we’ll share shots of our classroom library shelves, bookstore tables, yard sale treasures, and more.  We hope these will act as examples of which books to buy, how to shelve them, and which ones to get into the hands of your readers.

So, to get us started, here’s one of my most popular library shelves–the Award Winners shelf.  This shelf houses winners of the Printz Award for Young Adult Literature, the Pulitzer Prize, the Man Booker Prize, the National Book Award, and more.  I also include nominees for all of those awards, as well as honorable mentions.  The genres are varied–YA, nonfiction, general fiction, even multigenre.  The books are at a range of difficulty levels–some have complex narrative structures, others are very long, and others are tough only because of their dense topics.

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I asked a few students why they liked this shelf so much.  Mylana said, “I want to challenge myself sometimes.  Whenever I read for fun I usually choose fiction, so I like to pick a nonfiction book that’s long but not boring.  I know I can find that on this shelf.”

I asked Garrett how he chose books on this shelf.  He said, “I pick books on this shelf because I hear about them on GoodReads or because they’re made into movies.  So I go to this shelf and pick the ones with the coolest covers.  The length is challenging, but if I get far enough in I won’t give up as a point of pride.”

Students gravitate toward The Goldfinch, Jellicoe Road, Grasshopper Jungle, The Round House, and Why We Broke Up more than any other texts on this shelf.  Again and again, I hear the same refrains during conferences regarding award-winning books–this book was hard, but I finished it because I just couldn’t put it down.  Award winners are shelved so for a reason–they’re the best writing has to offer in a given year, and are incredibly valuable teachers for the young readers and writers in my classroom.

Join the conversation by posting your own shelfies!  Share a shelfie with #shelfieshare and let us know if it’s a #classroomshelfie, #bookstoreshelfie, or other miscellaneous find.

I’m hosting #engchat March 23 7:00ET: We’re Talking Poetry as More Than a Unit

poetry answer-quote

Before I attended The Conference on Poetry and Teaching at The Frost Place last summer, I was a reluctant, resistant teacher of poetry. Sad to say, I never had a memorable experience with poetry until I was in my 50th year.

At The Frost Place, I listened and joined in conversations with working poets about language and their craft. My heart changed. I finally understood because I lived that language for a glorious week surrounded by these people with poetic souls and a view of the White Mountains smiling down on me. Oh, Franconia, NH. (Read about my experience here.)

By no means am I an expert when it comes to poetry in the classroom; however, nobody has to be! Our job as teachers is to help our students grow in literacy skills. Poetry helps us do that.

We bring a beauty into our classrooms, a peace that our world is so often lacking, when we allow poetry to be spoken, heard, shared, and felt.

#engchat is Monday March 21, 2015 at 7:00 ET. That’s 6:00 CT for me, which is why I forget and rarely make it to this chat. The family dinner hour for me in Texas. I’m eating out and early on the 21st though.

TOPIC: Immersing Poetry into ELA Instruction

Questions for Our Chat:

Q1: What are some ways, other than a poetry unit, that you use poetry in your class? #engchat

Q2: “Play is what we want to do. Work is what we have to do,” said W. H. Auden. Poetry is both of those things. How do we use poetry for work and play? #engchat

Q3: We can teach most any skill with poetry that we can w/ prose. Agree/disagree? If agree, what skills do you teach with which poems? #engchat

Q4: Last question. What resources can you share that will help us all immerse our students in beautiful language, daily? #engchat

 

Do you have any other questions you’d like us to talk about during #engchat? Please leave a comment.

©Amy Rasmussen, 2011 – 2015

6 Ways to Spend Your Snow Day

snow-day2So it’s your fifth snow day this winter…or your fifteenth.  Either way, you’ve done all of your spring cleaning, you can’t grade or lesson plan because you haven’t seen students for a week, and you’ve completely emptied your queues on Netflix and Hulu.  What’s a teacher to do?

1. Read a good book.  If you’re anything like the hundreds of English teachers I know, you love reading.  Use the time you’ve been cooped up to read something you’ve been wanting to but just haven’t had the time to start.  I haven’t stopped hearing about Jennifer Niven’s All the Bright Places, Atul Gawande’s Being Mortal, and Anthony Doerr’s All the Light We Cannot SeeI’ll think I’ll try to tackle the last two this week.

2. Write around a poem.  Penny Kittle shared once that she likes to tape poems into her notebook and write around them–it’s one way to move toward doing your own beautiful writing, she advised.  So, I signed up to receive the Poetry Foundation‘s daily poem via email, and when I read one I love, I print it and tape it into my writer’s notebook.  I’m amazed at the nuggets of written wisdom I arrive at after responding freely to a poem in writing.

3. Read a teaching book.  I’ve been wanting to finish Tom Romano’s Zigzag and Donalyn Miller’s Reading in the Wild for quite some time now, but with the day-to-day craze of the school year, it seems like the only time I find to read teaching books is over the summer.  This is the time of year, though, that I often need a little lift in my teaching spirit, so it’s always rewarding to explore some new thoughts from some of my old favorites.  Since I’m in the middle of a nonfiction book club and writing unit right now, I think I’ll settle down today with Georgia Heard’s Finding the Heart of Nonfiction.

4. Check out that dreaded State Test.  Dana Murphy at Two Writing Teachers reminded me that when our students are accustomed to writing in a choice-based, unit-driven workshop, they are not accustomed to writing to a prompt, and that while standardized tests do leave a bitter taste in our mouths, they are a reality our students must face.  If we want them to feel confident as writers in all environments, we must prepare them for all writing situations–especially the two or three standardized writing tests they may face each year.  Here in West Virginia, we’ve elected to go with SmarterBalanced as our Common Core-aligned assessment.  Today I’d like to spend some time looking at the writing portion of that test and brainstorming some lessons to help my students feel confident writing to those prompts.

5. Catch up with your tweeps. Twitter is a bottomless pit (seriously; you can get lost in it) of resources, ideas, and inspiration for teachers.  I could spend hours perusing the archives of #engchat, #titletalk, and #litlead, just to name a few.  I’d also love to look at the archives of some chats I missed recently–#mindsmadeforstories, for one.

6. Read incredible teacher blogs. I could browse the virtual thoughts of my colleagues forever!  We have so many brilliant and inspirational people in our profession, from the genius team at Nerdy Book Club to the marvelous ladies at Moving Writers; the steady wisdom of What’s Not Wrong to the joyful inspiration of the dirigible plum.  I’ve also been loving the thoughts of Hunting EnglishThe Reading Zone, and countless more…really.  I could never list all the great teacher blogs I’ve stumbled upon.  I feel so grateful to the many, many teacher-writers who have helped me fill my writer’s notebook with thoughts and ideas on dreary snow days like these.

What are your favorite ways to relieve the restlessness of several snow days?  Share in the comments!

Heinemann

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