Category Archives: Kristin Jeschke

The Role of Play: Discovering a Structure for Writing

Having grown up in the home of a preschool teacher who has always taught in a play-centered classroom, I’ve witnessed the importance of play in the physical, social, emotional, and cognitive development of a young person. Mom and I speak frequently about our concern for the lack of play at all levels of education. Kenneth Ginsburg, in an article for Pediatrics, reinforces that highly-scheduled children (which so many of our students are!) have had less time for free, creative play and therefore have built fewer coping mechanisms for managing the effects of pressure and stress. Of course, I can not wholly mitigate this; but I can help students harness (thanks Amber!) their creative potential to not only foster cognitive growth but also social-emotional well-being. I can help them use play as a means for creation.

Compelled to prioritize play as a creative force, inspired by Angela Stockman’s Make Writing, driven to help students find intuitive ways to structure their argument research writing, I use this lesson to help students move beyond the perceived rigidity of the research paper.

Objectives:

  1. Understand the roles of tools and of play in the act of creating;
  2. Discover a possible structure for the argument research paper that serves both purpose and audience;
  3. Inspire confidence in students’ own decision-making skills as writers.

Lesson:

Step 1: For my AP Language and Composition students, many of whom are used to the highly analytical, “academic” environment (indeed, the one I–along with others–foster), I begin by positioning the learning opportunity. I show them pictures of my own children: in one, they play with cardboard boxes, making their own spaceships, dressed in costume for the occasion; in the other, swirling words and designs into shaving cream, using fingers and forks and Duplos. This is critical! These pictures evoke memories of their own childhood, priming my students’ imaginations. Then I share words from Kenneth Ginsburg: “play helps children develop new competencies that lead to enhanced confidence and the resiliency they will need to face future challenges. …When play is allowed to be child driven, children practice decision-making skills, move at their own pace, discover their own areas of interest, and ultimately engage fully in the passions they wish to pursue.”

Step 2: Purpose articulated, I give the a tour of the “Play Stations”:

    1. Imagineering: Disney Imagineers cut out a collection of images they find interesting and then they start to arrange them to see if they can blend ideas. At this station, students find old books and magazines, paper, scissors, and glue so they can imagine away.
    2. LEGOS and Duplos: At this station, students find these toys for building; considering the size, shape, and color of the LEGOS/Duplos, students experiment with the structure of their piece.
    3. Pipe Cleaners and Beads: At this station, students are encouraged to consider the size, shape, and color of the beads and to talk through their ideas as they string the beads. When they finish, they look for patterns.
    4. Comic Book Templates, Receipt Roll Paper, and Craft Paper: At this station, students use the comic book templates provided to craft the “story” of their argument. They may also choose some receipt roll paper to work with the “story” in more linear ways or craft roll paper to make “cave drawings” or other illustrations of their ideas.
    5. Painting:  At this station, students use watercolor paints or paint pens along with paper plates (this offers a different constraint) or paper to paint their arguments.
    6. Play dough: At this station, students use play dough (homemade is the best) to mold and shape their argument. Sometimes I encourage multiple buildings since the joy of play dough is how easy it is to build, destroy, re-build.

Step 3: Before freeing my students to play, I ask them to consider this question: “What can you build that will meet the needs of your audience and purpose?”. I also direct them to review their work plan, their issue, claim, and a list of topics they’ll address in their papers.

Step 4: Play. “Confer” (I ask students to tell me about what they are making. I offer observations about their creations. I exclaim over the cool things they invent.).

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Step 5: Reflect. On post-its, students describe what they made, what they discovered, and what they may do as a result.

Follow-Up:

Following this lesson, I share other ways to arrange or format an argument paper, including Persuasive, Rogerian, Pro Con, Problem Solution, Problem-Cause-Solution, Top 5, Monroe’s Motivated Sequence, and others. When my students ask if it’s okay if they use the structure they invented or if it’s okay to combine what they invented with one of these structures or even if they can combine these new structures, I see the value of play. I see my students combining, adapting, modifying, synthesizing, and harnessing their own potential to discover–for themselves!–how to shape their writing.  

Kristin Jeschke helps her students–in AP Language and Composition and College Prep English at Waukee High School–harness their intuition through play. She doesn’t even mind the chaos and inevitable mess that follows (as long as it leads to creation). She thanks her parents for free time to play in the dirt and the sand. Follow her on Twitter @kajeschke. 

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First, Love

Wisdom to Stand On

On a gray, rainy October Monday in central Iowa, Penny Kittle and Kelly Gallagher came to town. And, friends, I got to spend a day with them (in an intimate ballroom at the Sheraton stuffed with many other teachers and coaches and administrators). Did I fangirl? Of course I did. But not for long. Their struggles with technology, their comedic timing, their gifts as storytellers–these transformed them. These giants in our field morphed into humans in front of me: mentors with experience, mentors with ideas about volume and choice and feedback–wisdom to stand on. Even now, nineteen years in, I still need that kind of mentorship. Perhaps that’s why one of Penny’s principles about feedback lingers, even now, weeks later: The first teacher interaction with writing should be love.  

I’ve worked hard over the years to provide the kind of feedback that sets my students up in hope. Yet I wondered–have my first interactions been love? No. Not consistently. While conferring, my leading questions are “How’s the writing going? What roadblocks are you running into?”. These certainly help conferences stay focused and solutions-oriented in those precious few minutes. Love, though? No. When providing feedback on drafts and best drafts, I’m certainly identifying and encouraging strengths; and I’m taking the time to respond as a reader, too, with what I love and appreciate about the writing. Is that very first interaction, are those words in the first comment bubble, love, though? No. Not regularly. How does it feel if what’s first heard is or read is criticism?

In Tom Newkirks’ Embarrassment (pretty sure I’ve referenced this in each of my blog posts this school year. Like Penny’s words, the book lingers. Read it.), he mentions the “close association of writing and shame.” On some level, writing means rejection. Our ideas, our words, our rhythms–all can be rejected. For students, this feeling of rejection–linked with shame!–comes from us, especially, as Newkirk notes, because of the power dynamic in the classroom. But we can learn to look at the love-first interaction as a tool for more productive feedback.

My colleagues will remind me of the challenge, at times, of the love-first interaction. Indeed, it may be challenging to find what’s working in the piece, and there’s danger in seeming disingenuous. I tend to agree with Newkirk, though, who explains that in most writing, there is something to like: “a word choice, an image, a bit of humor, a good detail, a sharp verb, a telling fact or statistic, a fine bit of logic.” Still, there’s also danger in love that’s not balanced with constructive criticism, which is why we can use the love-first interaction to set the stage for that constructive criticism.

In the days following the conference, I tasked myself with love-first interactions, while conferring and while scripting feedback. To do so, I prioritized strategies already in my repertoire.

Ways to Interact with Love

  1. When a student shares a concern, I scan the paper and look for a place where the student successfully handles the skill. Then I say, “Look what you did here! More like this!”. Following this approach in a recent conference, the student commented she worked hard on the section I pointed out, and if she just needed to do more of that, then she could. That conference ended with smiles.
  2. Sometimes it’s about giving love through curiosity. When I read a student’s paper and realize a deficit of details, I re-frame it with something like this: “Wow. I really want more of this. I’m so curious about …”. This reinforces that what’s written has value and then showing where they can build more value.
  3. Other times, it’s about saying YES!  I’ll say, “YES–I notice that you recognize the need for justification here and use the “this shows that because” strategy. Now the next step is to . . .”. The love first interaction allows me to set the student up in hope through the small victory.
  4. Occasionally, I focus love to the idea or topic. I confess–sometimes I might even squeal. “Ohh. I really like this idea of comparing grief to a pinball machine. There’s a level of unexpectedness there that will engage the reader.” I’m loving and reinforcing what good writing does for audiences.  
  5. And, finally, my new favorite: asking my students what they love. Some students still don’t believe in my genuine praise; I get the side-eye, the nervous giggle. So, encouraging them to share what they’re loving allows me to affirm their observations and shift the power dynamic.

Why Prioritizing Love First Matters

We all need the shoulders of giants to stand on: as I need the steadying wisdom of Penny Kittle, Kelly Gallagher, Tom Newkirk, Peter Elbow, Don Murray, and so many others, our students need our strong shoulders to hold them–no, LIFT THEM–higher. Love first interactions set up our students to persist. Love first interactions set up our students to take risks. Love first interactions set up our students to silence their own inner critics. Love first interactions set up our students to hope.

Kristin Jeschke teaches AP Language and Composition and College Prep English in Waukee, Iowa. She’ll need to remember the love-first mentality as she helps her nine year old practice cello and her six year old practice violin. Follow her on Twitter @kajeschke. 

Writing Conferences: Stories, Schemes, and Strategies

Conferring is hard brain work. When do I listen? How do I listen? When do I talk? How much? How do I anticipate what a student needs? When do I step back and let them problem solve? Am I even conferring right? (Maybe not. So put your Judge-y McJudgers pants away while you read this.). As Shana explained in this post back in January, there’s so much value in talk, in engaging our students in conversation, in encouraging them–as Amy framed here— to tell the story of how their writing is going.

Because (as Tom Newkirk suggests) we have minds made for stories, over the years I’ve begun to recognize some common schemes while conferring. Recognizing these patterns frees me to listen and to respond. Perhaps you’ll recognize the stories of your own students in the stories I share. Perhaps you’ll pick up a strategy or two. 

The What-Did-I-Do-to-Myself Conference

This conference may typically begin from a position of fear–mine because my student’s eyes have suddenly become two daggers, piercing my helpful, loving heart. This occurred in a recent conference, where my student who chose ice cream as her multi genre research project topic hurled at me these words: “I don’t know how I’m supposed to write an argument about ice cream.” Was she complaining about lack of direction? Instruction? I took a deep breath to let go of any defensiveness I felt. Then I reflected on her question. Oh. Oh! The fear was not mine to have.

My student needed:

  1. to hear that to write about this is, indeed, possible.
  2. to understand the possibilities for executing the writing.

Conference next steps:

  1. I confirmed the correctness of my reflection by paraphrasing (So, what I think you’re saying is that you’re feeling pretty uncertain if you can, and if you can, what it looks like?).
  2. Once confirmed, I chose another seemingly tiny and narrow topic like tacos and verbally processed some options for how I could craft an argument for an audience on tacos. I did not do any written modeling or reach for any mentors at this point. My role in this early phase conference was to dispel fear, to affirm possibility, and to confirm faith in my student’s ability.

Student next steps:

Following this verbal modeling, my student disarmed with affirmation and a smile, she continued working in her notebook, mapping her argument and the rest of the multi genre.

The I-Need-to-Change-My-Topic Conference

This conference may typically begin from a declarative statement: “Just so you know, I’m changing my topic.” I’m being put on notice here.  But I delight in these William Carlos Williams “this is just to say” moments almost as much as ripe-n-ready plums. So, curious now, I say, “Tell me about why you abandoned the old topic” (I’m always thinking we can learn something from discarding topics) and “Tell me about the new topic.” That’s when my student in this case explains that the topic is music but that’s all he has. Hmm.

My student needed:

  1. To narrow his topic by sinking his teeth into the best tidbits of it.
  2. To get moving. And fast. IMG_2711.JPG

Conference next steps:

  1. With the topic so broad, I asked the student to tell me a story that shows his relationship with music.
  2. Once the student shared his story–one that involved him writing his own music and performing several songs at a local concert venue (Our students do amazing things!)–we mapped out a plan for the different parts of his multi genre text.

Student next steps:

With a story in his head (and probably a song) and a general plan mapped out, this student left for the day, ready to focus on more specific planning.

The So-Can-I? Conference

This conference may typically begin and end within a very short burst of time; a meteor shower during the Perseids, this conference starts with a short burst of light from the student, a recognition of how to apply a resource. In a recent case, the student examined a resource on possible argument structures I shared with the class, and ingenuity bursting forth, queried, “So, I can use the pro/con structure? And, can I make this modification to it?”

My student needed:

  1. To know that he has more freedom than he’s using.
  2. To have the affirmation necessary to keep burning bright.

Conference next steps:

  1. I replied,” Tell me a little more about that” and followed that with paraphrasing, “So, what you want to do is . . .?”
  2. Then I simply said, “Yes.” 

Student next steps:

Following this all-of-sixty-seconds-conference, the student returned to mapping out writing, synthesizing his own ideas with the resource. And, I spent five minutes with the next person instead of three.

The I-Know-I-Need-to ______ , But . . . Conference

This conference may typically begin with candor from the student. Like the first sip of lemonade on a hot summer’s day, it’s so refreshing to hear in response to my opening questions (How’s the writing going? What roadblocks are you running into?), “I know I need to _______, but I’m having a little trouble.” Ah. This can become an opportunity to model for the student or offer a micro-lesson; sometimes–like in a recent conference where my student wanted to build a more humorous tone–I help the student find or use mentors. **Note to self–I should probably start asking my students to tell me about mentor texts they’ve turned to when they’re tackling challenges. 

My student needed:

  1. To resolve gaps in skill level (impressively, one’s the student recognized).
  2. To access additional resources  for strategies.

Conference next steps:

  1. For this student working on narrative writing, I pulled David Sedaris’ “Let It Snow” and a couple of others.
  2. Then we talked through typical strategies a writer uses to develop humor.

Student next steps:  

Time well-spent, smiling now, my student worked on reading and studying the mentors.

 
The I’m-Avoiding-Letting-You-Read-My-Writing Conference. May also sometimes appear as the I-Don’t Have-Any-Writing-to-Show-You-Yet Conference

This conference may typically begin, well, haltingly–like a first time driver slowly circling around the empty high school parking lot. I’ll ask, “How is the writing going? What roadblocks are you hitting?” “Doin’ fine. No roadblocks.” Okay. Next approach. “Why don’t we look at a section together? Show me a section you feel really good about. Let’s celebrate what’s working!” Sometimes that gets us turned in the right direction (a smile and an oh, sure and we’re underway); sometimes we skid (uh, so, um, I don’t really have much yet. Uh-oh.). When I most recently tried this approach, my student offered, “Well, I really like this paragraph; but I’m not sure about how to develop it more.” 

My student needed:

  1. to feel safe enough–safe enough to embrace the opportunity or safe enough to admit to lack of progress.
  2. to have re-direction for what conferring might look and sound like. Sometimes they just don’t have the mechanisms down.

Conference next steps:

  1. In the first situation, I generally point out the parts that are really working in the section the student chose to share. I thank them. Then I ask if there’s anything else they want to share or questions they have. And, sometimes I get to look at more writing. I did in this particular case. And, had I not pressed gently, I don’t think I would have (I was kind of impressed that it actually worked!).
  2. In the second situation, I paraphrase what they might be feeling. I might say, “I imagine you might be feeling ___________ (stressed for not having more done; frustrated by how to begin; confused about the direction of your writing; etc.). They typically correct me if I’m wrong and we work together to plan next steps, even if it’s breaking down the process further.

Student next steps:

In the first situation, the student began applying feedback; in situation two, the student typically articulates what’s getting in the way and what resources are needed and then begins tackling a small goal (drafting a paragraph versus drafting the whole thing).

When I’m conferring, I’m listening, paraphrasing, questioning, re-teaching, modeling, affirming, finding resources, building possibility, and showing my students that what they write matters. No wonder my brain hurts.

Kristin Jeschke remembers with fondness the many teachers that encouraged her writing but especially Greg Leitner who always listened more than talked. And who always inspired her to keep writing. Now as an AP Language and Composition teacher and senior English teacher, Kristin appreciates the gift of moments spent conferring. Follow Kristin on Twitter @kajeschke.  

 

 

Saying Yes

Over the last several months, I’ve been learning how to say yes. I know, I know. I should be learning to say no, right? When I run a Google search for articles about just that, it returns 571,000,000 results. Pressure, amiright? But I’m not talking about the kind of yes that over-commits me and zaps my time and energy. I’m talking about the kind of yes that disrupts the status quo, altering the time space continuum of my classroom. Here’s the snapshot of HOW I’ll be saying yes. 

Day Structure Notes
Mon. Deep Dive (1) with Reading: 40 minutes free reading, 40 minutes deep reading instruction Maybe start with a thinking puzzle or something that gets their brains going for a Monday.
Tues.-

Thurs.

Typical: Individual Writing Goal Work; Notebook Time (2); Reading Instruction; Writing ML; Independent Writing (3)

Special: Watch/discuss Othello, reading assessments, etc.

This is flexible.
Fri. Deep Dive with Writing: 40 minutes of writing, 40 minutes of collaboration (4) and reflection, 10 minutes of celebration (5) Maybe start with a class meeting or something that sets the tone of reflection and looking ahead.

Specific Ways to Say Yes

(1). Independent reading is important in my classroom: student reflections indicate the time dedicated to this reading helps some of my seniors (and my AP Lang. and Comp. students!) fall into books again. Recently, though, my students have clamored for more time. While ten minutes daily can significantly impact students’ reading skills, it is difficult for students (for a variety of reasons) to get into a state of flow with their books.

The yes: So, this fall my colleague and I are saying yes to Deep Dive Reading Monday’s, where students read independently selected books while we confer with them. We believe this may help us improve reading conferences as well (where I’ll continue to practice yes by not looking for correctness but rather conveying openness. Tell me more about that, I’ll say.). Deep study of reading skills–like closing reading a text or looking for dissonance in the text–follows. We want their thinking to flow

(2). Since we teach on the block schedule, too many transitions in a block prevent students from reaching a state of flow on anything. It’s a reason why I’ve struggled to integrate notebook time meaningfully and consistently. Embarrassment and the Emotional Underlife of Learning by Tom Newkirk along with Gallagher and Kittle’s 180 Days and Linda Reif’s Quickwrite Handbook challenged us to invent a schedule that allows for both deep flow and quick bursts. In particular, Newkirk notes the importance of thresholds, moments where we can invite our students to enter into writing without worry. If we want our students to build writing and thinking skills, we need to write– sometimes quickly and without censor.  

The yes: consistently integrating notebook time into our class schedules (I’m trying this for the first time, too, in AP Lang. Maybe it will help them generate ideas for Question #3 on the AP exam.).

(3). Of course there’s extended time for writers to write and for us to confer. Of course! Typically, I feel satisfied with the nature of conferences. An early stage conference this past spring gave me pause, however. When conferring on this student’s topic, I challenged the student to demonstrate his authority and knowledge on the topic, wanting only for him to successfully grapple with it, but mostly thinking to myself NO, NO, NO. He pushed back (NO, NO, NO.). I relented and said yes. Conferring a few days later, the student confessed he was in over his head and began a more open dialogue with me about next steps.

The yes: saying try it, try it and see what happens. In this case, the student discovered for himself, testing for himself whether or not his idea would work. There’s so much more power in that.

(4) Feedback is a critical part of empowering my writers. Yet with class sizes swelling, providing that nourishment becomes a greater challenge. I need to help my students improve the quality of the feedback they provide one another.

The yes: Friday Feedback groups. I’ll place my students into writing groups where students will choose some work from the week to share, critique, and ultimately celebrate. Yes, my students will receive feedback from others and from me, yet I’m optimistic that this consistency of the grouping will lead to feedback that truly feeds writers.

(5). In my last post, I wrote about ways to celebrate writing and reflected that I needed to regularly celebrate the progress of student writers, especially in the small moments. I intend to verbal high-five my way through conferring with students this year, yet I also want them to celebrate each other. We’re a family of writers, after all.

The yes: celebration. On Friday’s we’ll have students celebrate their writing–their words, phrases, moments. We’ll recognize the power and beauty and vulnerability in what they share, appreciating their progress, hearing how it starts to come together, in concert. 

The biggest yes, though, isn’t visible in this framework. This year we’re asking our seniors to create a multi genre research project. That in itself isn’t novel, not a new way to saying yes to possibilities for our writers. What we are saying yes to is time on the calendar that is only loosely planned by us, time for us–as Allison Marchetti notes in this post–to listen to our students. This is time to help them ideate, to help them plan, to help them read, to help them write, to help them think, to help them grow. How could we say no to that?

Kristin Jeschke actually says yes a lot, too much, in fact. She’s working on that. In between, she teaches College Prep English to seniors (soon to be re-named English 4) and AP Language and Composition. Follow her on Twitter @kajeschke.  

3+ Ways to Help Writers Recognize and Celebrate Their Growth

The challenge?

I’ve always enjoyed our end-of-the-semester portfolio in College Prep Senior English. It’s where students typically celebrate their growth as writers. However, with a This-Is-the-Winter-That-Never-Ends leading to loss of instructional days compounded by fewer days for seniors in the spring, my colleague and I knew we couldn’t maintain the portfolio in its current form.

The solution?

So, we opted for celebration days for our writers to reflect on their writing journeys this semester. Their reflections will address the four key concepts of our course: process, purpose, audience, and collaboration. Inspired by Jennifer Serravallo’s The Writing Strategies Book and a few ideas of our own (sometimes constraints really do elicit creative problem solving!), we selected three ways to celebrate our writers, spread out over the last three classes. Each selection involves preparation and presentation (process and product, right?!).

Screen Shot 2018-05-09 at 10.34.19 PM.png

This chart contains the nutshell version of each day. On day 3, we’ll use FutureMe to have them craft their emails to their future selves. 

How will the celebrations go? Why will this matter, right now, in May?

Oh, I think that the students will benefit from feedback from an intended audience; I think they’ll laugh while they toast their pieces; I think making their process visible (as Shana discussed in Artifacts of Our Learning) will reinforce their learning; I think–given some of the relationships built in the classroom–that they’ll enjoy leaving their fellow collaborators love notes; I think that reflection at this threshold moment could help my seniors grasp the significance of their learning journey.

Why will this matter . . . in August?

I’m looking forward to this. Mostly. I’m also looking beyond it, thanks to Nathan. 

Through conferring with Nathan over the last two weeks, I realized that celebration–feeling happy about an occasion and engaging in fun related to it–is not enough. Nathan reminded me that my students also need recurrent recognition–admiration and respect for accomplishments. Yes, I recognize and celebrate strengths in student writing regularly via written feedback. Yes, I do recognize and celebrate application and growth while conferring. But not as consistently as I should. And, I’m certainly not doing a good job of prioritizing recognition and celebration as a whole class community of writers. If I recognized and celebrated successes more, would Nathan have said to me (while working on his final writing for the term), “Can you help me with this so I can produce the kind of writing you’re looking for?” Instead of the kind of good writing needed for the situation, he was still aiming to produce writing to please his teacher. What if I had shown greater recognition–with him while conferring–of progress before this moment? Would our impending celebration matter more? Yep. 

Through the rest of my conferences with Nathan, I tried to shift the conversation toward his audience. I pulled in mentor texts. I modeled some revisions I would make to voice and imagery. And over the next several days and a few conferences later, his piece began to transform, leading to this: “You know, Nathan, I think this has the possibility of being your best piece all year if you keep working at it.” I’m sure you might guess what I’m celebrating here: yes, Nathan sat up straighter, smiled wider, and, ultimately, revised more. He began really crafting. Later he reflected, “It’s like with the other pieces we really had to learn the basics. And this is getting into what really matters.” His words show his own recognition–his understanding and respect–for how his skills built in the course. There’s something to celebrate! And the genesis of this larger realization might be that small moment, that moment of affirmation.

Big celebrations are important. But life is made in the small moments. And, next year I want to consistently recognize and celebrate the good times (anyone else flashback to ’80’s weddings?)–big and small, in big and small ways.  

Next year I will . . . try to have students share lines from their notebooks more. I’ll probably need to schedule it!

Next year I will . . . try to make their successes visible. Maybe I’ll try Penny Kittle’s and Kelly Gallagher’s Beautiful Words Google Doc idea.

Next year I will . . . have my students reflect on and admire moments of growth during the celebrations portion of our weekly class meeting.

Next year I will . . .

It’ll be a dedication to celebration to last throughout the year (my apologies to Kool & the Gang.).

Kristin Jeschke’s life was made in the not-so-small moments of her children’s births. Happy Mother’s Day to mothers of all kinds, everywhere!  She also needs someone to get married soon so she can dance with her mom and her aunties to Kool & the Gang’s “Celebration.” Follow Kristin on Twitter @kajeschke. 

Growing Writers: Making Use of Student Mentors

My mentee Sarah, a new-to-the-district teacher in the midst of an intense co-teaching experience (where on an average day seven adults supported thirty students with an expanding continuum of needs), was filling me in on the narrative her students would be drafting. Support for students while drafting is critical. Sarah’s students would need questions answered, ideas suggested, and gentle encouragement: just-in-time support. Which is why I blurted out, “We should see if the AP Lit. kids will help!”.

Why AP Lit. kids? Why not?! By the time they reach AP Literature in our building, these students have completed two advanced English courses and a college level composition course (AP Language). Skilled, these students know what good writing looks like and how to produce it. But more than that, the AP Lit. kids could be–as Shana coined and Amy embellished on–living mentor texts.  

As living mentor texts, the AP Lit. kids’ stories differ from the current story of this particular classroom and the many stories of the students in it; the AP Lit. students are further along the learning journey. No one would be comparing the writing generated by Sarah’s students to these mentors, and there’s comfort–safety–in that. 

I did worry a little, though. While our AP Lit. students successfully provide feedback for writers in the advanced sophomore course, routinely mentoring them, I didn’t know how this would translate to a co-taught classroom. Would our living mentor texts help the sophomores optimize their skills and ultimately their stories as writers? 

Steps of the Experience

Before escorting the seniors to Sarah’s room, I briefed them on the parameters of the narrative writing assignment. After coaching the seniors to listen, paraphrase, question, ask to look at the writing, offer suggestions, and celebrate strengths, we headed to Sarah’s classroom. Following introductions, the seniors began moving about the room, neatly engaging the sophomores in conversation about their writing, inviting them to story-tell. Of course, my worry was needless. 

 

Reflections on the Outcome

Sarah certainly saw the power of their interactions:

“I saw my students open up so much more. Students who were nervous or uncertain about asking me questions or getting feedback were so much more willing to talk to peers. The students seemed to look up to these upperclassmen. Even if the seniors said the same thing I did as a teacher, the students took the senior’s perspective so seriously and really engaged with the process fully. Even if it was only a few minute conversations, the students really appreciated having someone who could check in with them right away. A lot of the base level questions could be answered more efficiently since there were more “experts” to share. Especially in a large class of 30 like mine was, it is hard for the teacher to get to spend quality time each student. This allowed for more contact time with each student.”

When Sarah later collected her students’ reflections on what type of feedback they found most helpful for their narrative essay, so many noted their living mentor texts.

“The AP people helped a lot. They just were there when I needed help or was stuck.”

“The peer mentors helped me see where I could transition or use better words.”

“Having an upperclassman helped me see how other people might do the essay which helped me think of new ways to write.”

“The AP students were new eyes and that helped me get over my writer’s block.”

“I liked that other students from another class saw my paper. It wasn’t pressure like a teacher grading but I still got feedback.”

Wanting to know what impact being a living mentor text had on the senior volunteers, I asked them to reflect on the experience.

Emily felt both “inspired to stop taking her English skills so lightly” and “inspired to use [her skills] to their full potential.”

Claire noted that “[the students] seemed really appreciative of [her] help, and seemed like they really wanted to talk about their writing. In helping and talking to them, [she] realized that [she does] have the ability to be a writer.”

Kyler reflected that “[t]he goal is getting students to revise and revise until they feel they’ve created something great. The smiles that came across some students’ faces when [he] told them [he] loved a part of a sentence or a comparison were fulfilling…The world of writing is something [he] really enjoy[s], and to share that joy by helping others consider the impact they can have is always a joyful experience.”

Screen Shot 2018-04-14 at 10.21.43 PMWhile Sarah and I loved the story of her classroom those two days, we experienced less success the next attempt. But we’ll try again. We’ll schedule the AP Lit. students more specifically, we’ll partner students according to need, we’ll invite the AP Lit. mentors to support the sophomores throughout the writing process. We’ll even explore digital mentoring through Google Docs. Sarah’s optimistic that increased access to our living mentor texts would increase confidence in her writers, helping them to grow. And, I am too.

Next Steps

 

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Ap Lit. students work with Honors II sophomores. Also pictured my teaching partner Amanda who teaches AP Lit. and one of my mentors Ann who first began the practice of AP Lang. and AP Lit. students mentoring honors students. 

My fellow AP and advanced teachers plan to expand the current mentoring as well. AP Lit. students and AP Lang. students will continue to guide our advanced sophomores; yet starting next fall we hope our advanced sophomores will mentor our advanced ninth graders (who are in different buildings). What a way to use writing to  foster connection!

 

I know there are exceptional peer writing tutor programs out there. But in these times of budget cuts and burgeoning class sizes, tapping into resources like Emily, Claire, Kyler, and the others who serve without expectation of reward is powerful. Many of the students–mentors and mentees–recognized the value in the stories of others and in their own. Their perspectives on writing, on others, and on themselves shifted, ever just so slightly.

It’s a small way to change the world. Or at least grow writers.

Kristin Jeschke teaches AP Language and Composition and College Prep seniors at Waukee High School in Waukee, Iowa. She loves when her former students eagerly volunteer their services for the underclassmen yet upstream, and she loves serving as mentor to her two favorite mentees, Abbie and Sarah. Follow her on Twitter @kajeschke. 

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. 

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