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Category Archives: Shana Karnes

What Will You Teach Into?

I am a week away from bringing my second daughter into the world, and after yesterday’s horrific shooting in Texas, I find myself revisiting the same fears I’ve often had when I consider my progeny. Primarily, I wonder: what kind of world am I bringing my children into?

As I fretted about this to my husband last night, he reassured me with statistics about how unlikely it was that either of our daughters would ever be involved in a shooting, an act of terror, a horrific trauma.

That’s not what I’m worried about, I told him–not that they’ll die or be injured by one of these awful events. I’m much more worried about the world they are going to have to live in, day in and day out.

A world where a 26-year-old makes a conscious decision to attack a church full of people. A world where this incomprehensible event has become common enough that it is, less than 24 hours later, already being reduced to a sound bite: “This isn’t a guns situation. This is a mental health problem.” A world where a conversation about terror and murder has become more binary than complex. It is; it is not.

I don’t want my girls growing up in a world that doesn’t know how to talk about, seek to understand, or attempt to solve these unexplainable problems–problems that certainly cannot, to me, be boiled down to a single cause or effect.

do want them growing up in a world where we try to talk about these things. A world where these conversations are never taken for granted, where they continue to happen, no matter how difficult and painful, as Kylene Beers writes in “Once Again:”

“Honestly, though, I don’t want tomorrow to be easier. My fear is that this day you face tomorrow has become too easy. My fear is that your students won’t expect that this horrific killing will be discussed. My fear is that tomorrow is just another Monday.”

As a teacher, a mother, and a citizen, I cannot agree more with Kylene. I feel more powerless in the latter two of those roles than I do in my work as a teacher, though, for I feel that teaching is where I can make a difference. I feel it is where we can all make a difference.

This week and every week, I hope teachers are having difficult conversations with our students. I hope we are not shying away from the ease of ignoring our nation’s pain in favor of teaching about comma splices or symbolism or character development. I hope our time with students is deliberately geared toward talk about these incredibly complex, nuanced topics. Kylene says it well:

“No one ever told you that you’d need to know how to sit with children or teens to talk with them about people in churches getting killed by a gunman or little kids in a school getting killed by a gunman or families at a concert getting killed by a gunman. No one. And you didn’t sign up for that. You didn’t. But they will watch you and they will listen for what you say and what you don’t say.”

I hope you are grappling with this and asking yourself:

For what purpose am I teaching?

And I’m talking about a larger purpose than the day’s essential question or the target content standard. I’m talking about how the day’s lesson fits in with the culture of the classroom, the messages we want kids internalizing day in and day out, the life lessons we want them to learn as painlessly as possible.

One of the texts my students and I study that helps us learn to frame instruction this way is Peter Johnston’s excellent Opening MindsIn class on Friday, we discussed Johnston’s closing claims (p. 123-124) about research-based instructional design:

 

  1. Our singular focus on academic achievement will not serve children or their academic development well.
  2. The individual mind is important, no doubt, but as the center of the academic universe, it is overrated.
  3. We have to take seriously the fact that the adult is not the only teacher in the room.
  4. Children’s social imaginations should be taken more seriously. They are the foundation of civic society.
  5. Our interactions with children in the classroom influence who they think they are and what they think they’re doing.
  6. Making meaning is good. Doing meaningful things is better.

We spent time unpacking each claim, wondering how to apply it to our varied content areas and age groups, but dwelled on the last claim:

Making meaning is good. Doing meaningful things is better.

We were reminded that none of us became teachers so we could fix comma splices. We became teachers because we wanted to change the world–our world, and our students’ worlds–for the better.

This Monday morning, I want us to keep that goal in mind as we teach and plan and reflect on how we’ll spend our time with young people. How will we make sure that our work together is meaningful?

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If you don’t already see your work as a teacher as powerful, if you don’t see your role as one of an agent of change, try looking at this familiar work in a new way. Your interactions with children in your classroom influence them in powerful ways. You have the unique power of being able to help them develop their social imagination, their empathy skills, so they’ll never reduce a tragedy to a single cause with an unimaginable effect.

You have the power to choose: what will you teach into this week? Making meaning? Or making life meaningful?

Shana Karnes is a worrywart in the best of times, but an idealist in the worst of them. She is grateful every day to work with amazing preservice teachers at West Virginia University, to be mom and wife in a beautiful family, and to be able to write and think and learn with her friends here at Three Teachers Talk. Connect with Shana on Twitter at @litreader

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Story, Self-Generosity, & Student Success: #3TTchat with Tom Newkirk

For our inaugural #3TTchat last night, we were privileged to be joined by the great Tom Newkirk. This bright light of literacy scholarship talked with us about reading, writing, and assessment in the context of two of his most recent books: Minds Made for Stories: How We Really Read and Write Informational Texts and Embarrassment: and the Emotional Underlife of Learning.

Just as his books are, Tom’s tweets were full of one-liners of wisdom and wordplay as he engaged in the chat with teachers, instructional specialists, and writers:

Many of us, in thinking about this question, highlighted the importance of identity in our reading lives–how do I see myself in books? How do I find myself in books?

Our next question asked how we taught students to do this very thing: make connections between people’s stories and their stances and beliefs:

As we pondered this question, many of us offered up the value of having students read books that they couldn’t see themselves in–moving from mirrors to windows. We connected this to moving from recognition to empathy.

Q3 focused on specific reading practices to help students view their reading lives dynamically; Tom encourages his readers to hone in on beginnings:

Book clubs, multigenre projects, studying mentor texts, modeling our reading lives, and crafting reading and writing autobiographies were all journey-focused practices chat participants offered up.

As we shifted toward talk about writing, we wondered how we might best help students read like writers in order to strengthen their own written products. Tom offered his view that variety is key:

Avoiding becoming stuck in one genre was a theme of the night–mixing narrative with nonfiction, blending story and poetry, lab reports and literary devices, all through studying provocative, unconventional mentor texts and practice, practice, practicing imitating their craft moves.

Q5 wondered specifically about genres of writing that might help students do this, and Tom replied that any genre containing “trouble” was a good place to start:

Ideas included memoir, commentary, op-eds, origin poems, author bios, annotated lists, letters, and straightforward exposition and essays. In short, the opportunities for emphasizing narrative are endless!

We shifted toward thinking about assessment, and our conversation focused on celebrating student successes rather than emphasizing shortcomings:

We railed against grades, but honed in on emphasizing process over product, using student work as mentor texts, and teaching students to have a growth mindset when it comes to goal-setting and their reading and writing lives.

Finally, we wondered about takeaways, and Tom’s just about made us weep:

His ideal teacher voice is one of kindness and encouragement, as were so many of our chat participants’: “writing is a living process;” “your voice matters;” “everyone has something to say that matters;” “there is no one correct way to write.”

Together, #3TTchat told a story of leading students to success in reading and writing through encouragement, patience, and self-generosity.

All we can say is thank you to Tom and our many participants for helping us write that story.

We are so looking forward to talking more about the role of narrative in informational reading and writing at NCTE this year. This topic has been a long time in the making–starting with some thinking at NCTE in 2014, then growing with our reading of Minds Made for Stories, and growing some more when we took a class with Tom Newkirk at the UNH Literacy Institute. We hope you’ll join us in St. Louis for more thinking about this important topic!

Shana Karnes, unfortunately, will NOT be able to attend NCTE this year, breaking her 8-year attendance streak for the important reason of having her second baby. While waiting impatiently to meet Baby Jane, Shana teaches preservice teachers at West Virginia University, works with practicing teachers through NWP@WVU, and participates in Halloween festivities strictly for the candy. Follow Shana on Twitter at @litreader or find more of her writing on the WVCTE Best Practices Blog.

3 Twitter Genres to Try With Students

Screen Shot 2012-12-05 at 8.50.52 AMI’m always fascinated by new writing genres, and Twitter has been offering them up left and right lately. From 280-character tweets to the proliferation of threads, group chats to hashtags, and thoughtful questions posed through photo tagging, I’ve been delighted by the new things happening on Twitter.

I started thinking about Twitter-as-genre when 280-character tweets first began to appear. This delightful literary allusion caught my eye, and I would love to share it with students in the context of a discussion about the power of poetry and brevity:

What a wonderful quickwrite it would make to take some of the most-liked tweets Twitter has to offer and redesign them to be twice as long. I would also do this same exercise with powerful quotes or poems, excerpts from students’ choice reading books, or lines from pieces of writing we were trying to workshop, with an eye for editing length, diction, and tone.

A week or so after I noticed that delightful bastardization of William Carlos Williams’ work, my poor phone couldn’t hold a charge because of all the notifications my Twitter app was sending. Leigh Anne Eck tagged several workshop teachers in a question about our favorite metaphors for the writer’s notebook, and then Tricia Ebarvia wondered about mentor texts for place. What resulted were rich Q&A threads that kept me thinking about notebooks and beautiful writing for days.

Getting students to pose questions via Twitter, using a hashtag or a photo tag to ask specific audiences, could have delightful results. Lisa’s #fhslanglife has resulted in a beautiful collection of book recommendations, motivational sound bites, and literacy-related links, and the replies to the threads linked above are chock-full of some great resources and ideas. I’d love to have students pose questions related to their argumentative and research writing by tagging classmates, stakeholders, or experts in their queries.

Lately, when I scroll through my own Twitter profile, I notice a trend that shows that I’m part of certain writerly communities. Most recently, #WhyIWrite, #NaNoWriMo2017, and the ever so useful #5amWritersClub have been where I’ve spent lots of my virtual Twitter time. Not only do these groups motivate me–I’m more likely to get more work done once I’ve checked in with my early-bird writer pals–they are a study in a particular kind of writing craft.

#5amwritersclub tweets, for example, are supremely gif-heavy, while #NaNoWriMo tweets have historically been slightly frantic and often unintelligible. The #WhyIWrite hashtag spurred a wide variety of forms, from direct answers to sketches in notebooks to lengthier answers like mine. I’d love to invite students to join a regularly-tweeting writing community, but I’d also study the craft of that community’s tweets with them to see what moves make for an engaging contribution to the conversation.

Twitter is a versatile, valuable collection of writing genres–for teachers and students. I hope, if you’re not already there, that you’ll be joining us in Twitter land soon. At the very least, please join us next Monday, when we’ll be chatting with the amazing Tom Newkirk about narrative, NCTE, and his latest book, Embarrassment.

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We hope you’ll give these three Twitter teaching ideas a try and share how they go! Let us know on Facebook, Twitter, or in the comments.

Shana Karnes is getting impatient to become a mom of two girls–in three short weeks! She loves her work with practicing and preservice teachers at West Virginia University, through the College of Education and NWP@WVU. Find Shana on Twitter or at the WVCTE Best Practices Blog.

#WhyIWrite is Why I Teach

As I sat down with my notebook bright and early this National Day on Writing (well, to be honest, it was so early it wasn’t bright out at all, because it was dark), I sketched out a large “WHY I WRITE” across a two-page spread.

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As I jotted down reasons, I began to notice that my responses were synonymous with another WHY in my life: why I teach.

Why do I teach? To change the world. To make people smile. To spread the joy of reading and writing. To cultivate empathy. To get to feel good at something. To create a world that wasn’t possible before the act.

I write for all those reasons, too. Every morning at five (have you checked out #5amwritersclub?), and every time I meet with my students, and every time I feel compelled to say something to myself and no one else.

But I feel compelled, so strongly, to share a writing reason far beyond the confines of my notebook. It’s a reason I received from one of my students, in a random email just bursting with joy and passion for teaching.

Elizabeth sent me this email at 11:19 last night, gushing with lengthy detail about a series of lessons she’d just taught. She’d been experimenting with writing beside her students, leading them into writing poetry about a topic of their choice, in a poetic mode of their choice. They’d worked through a series of lessons as individuals, in pairs, in groups, and as a whole group to craft their writing, evaluate what was important about it, and teach one another whatever they felt most confident about. Elizabeth called it “the height of [her] pedagogy to this date.”

But it was the final lines of her email that propelled me out of bed, eager to grab my notebook and write. Her words made me thrilled to get to see her in class today. They made me want to bring her books of poetry to share with her students and new pens and a big hug and every other manner of teacher/writer joy I could think of.

Here’s what she wrote:

By the end, they asked excitedly to share their poems, and I knew that they had created something they were proud of. What greater measurement can there be of student investment than pride in their work? What greater hook to the essence of why we write?

It was a lesson that made me remember that they are worth this world tilting, burnt out, drudgery of exhaustion. They are worth it.

Elizabeth got to the heart of why we write, and why we teach:

It is worth it. Our students and our work are worth it. Every day.

Do not forget, when you feel like your world is tilting and you are burnt out beyond belief, that we do change lives, that we do show students the essences of why we read and write, and that we do teach children to have pride in themselves, their work, and their words. It is powerful, important work, and is the core of what we do. It is worth it. You are worth it, my friends.

Shana Karnes is so lucky to work with amazing preservice and practicing teachers at West Virginia University. She is three weeks away from welcoming her second daughter into the world, two weeks away from teaching her last class of the semester, and about a week away from no longer fitting into ANY of her maternity clothes. Find Shana on Twitter at @litreader or on the WVCTE Best Practices blog.

Too Much Measurement Is Destroying Our Students’ Potential for Growth

“How many pages does our vignette have to be?”

“Wait, how many lesson plans do we have to turn in?”

“When you say one-pager, what exactly do you mean by one page?”

QUOTE_MEASURING-TEAMS.pngMy students cannot seem to get away from quantifying their thinking, this year and every year. To some extent, I understand this compulsion: despite living in a highly individualized culture, our education system prizes standardization when it comes to measuring student achievement. My kids have been indoctrinated into a culture of numerical evaluation for many years.

This has always bothered me, and my answers to these questions have varied: “However long it takes you to make your argument.” “Just write until you feel like you’ve said all you want to say, and then we’ll revise.” “Sixteen lesson plans, Joe. One per week. Good grief.” “One page. Single-spaced. Don’t be weird with your margins.”

Lately, I’ve honed in on how often we seem to want to measure the independent reading our students are doing, perhaps to prove the rigor of this practice or perhaps because we just can’t get away from quantification. If our goal is to build fluency and have students reading authentically and for pleasure, we can’t keep grading or measuring or tracking our students’ reading lives so meticulously.

A 2012 study, summarized nicely here, showed that the very act of requiring students to track their reading made them likely to read less than they would have to begin with. In contrast, students who were offered “voluntary reading logs” were actually more likely to enjoy reading, and read more often. It seems that choice is imperative.

Similarly, this article details a 2016 study which found that “the more you quantify something that’s rewarding for its own sake, the less likely you are to enjoy it—and the less likely you are, too, to do more of it.” Reading, for me, has always been rewarding for its own sake. This is what I want for my students, too, and perhaps the very reading logs and booklists I asked them to keep prevented me from helping them get there.

We’ve been thinking about alternatives to reading logs for some time, brainstorming ways to read the room between conferences, and our readers have offered this great list of possibilities, which includes:

  • Student-to-teacher booktalks
  • Padlet reading responses
  • “Status of the class” check-ins
  • Reading “focus discussions”
  • Student-created rubrics for self-assessment

If measuring makes us enjoy things less, but we are bound by the rules of school and have to grade things, it follows that we should do lots of qualitative, formative assessment like the methods listed above. And not just in reading–across the curriculum, in writing and speaking and listening, too. We need to move away from measurement and toward a less quantifiable, test-heavy classroom culture.

In this video (which I could just watch on repeat, because she is such a great combination of brilliant and adorable), Nancie Atwell explains how she “doesn’t believe in tests and quizzes,” and rather evaluates students daily through portfolios, discussions, and one-on-one conferences:

We may not all have an entire school of our own like Atwell does, but we do have classrooms of our own, where we can strive to create communities of individualized achievement and assessment. The goals we have for our students–to be impassioned, informed, lifelong readers and writers–are not goals that can be measured easily. Let’s get away from an obsession with quantification and work to move our students toward the immeasurable joys of becoming real readers and writers.

Please share with us how you and your students assess growth in reading, writing, and thinking! Leave a comment or share on Facebook or Twitter.

Shana Karnes is so over being pregnant, and looking forward to welcoming her second daughter into the world within the month.  She teaches practicing and preservice English teachers at West Virginia University and is fueled by coffee, sour gummy worms (this week), and a real obsession with all things reading and writing.  Follow Shana on Twitter at @litreader and read more of her writing on the WVCTE Best Practices Blog.

 

When Choice Becomes an Imperative

I’ve been fascinated with the language I hear in classrooms for a long while now.

My TTT friends and I like to use welcoming, inclusive phrases to describe what goes on in our classrooms–we practice offering choice, inviting learning. But many classrooms I visit use more permissive phrases that emphasize teacher control–“I make them;” “they have to;” “I let them.” Often, without ever stepping foot into a classroom, we can make inferences about what kinds of work students are doing just by hearing a teacher describe their learning. Is the learning situated as an invitation, a choice, a welcome pastime–or a mandate?

I worry that, for many critics of the readers-writers workshop, this language might be what convinces them that student choice lacks inherent rigor, as if choice is something to be offered on a menu. A luxury. A privilege.

This article details nicely the evolution of the readers-writers workshop in the last 40 years. Veteran teacher Lorrie McNeill, after visiting Nancie Atwell’s classroom, wiped away tears and described Atwell’s students as “so fortunate.” “It makes me sad that my students can’t have this every day,” McNeill said.

Student choice is depicted this way often–as a privilege a lucky few students are given. But in an era of increased measurement, standardization, and monologic thinking, I believe choice is not something that should merely be offered to students. Choice has become an imperative if we want our students to be successful, purpose-driven citizens.

We’ve all read Robert Frost’s poem, “The Road Not Taken,” and are doubtless familiar with its final stanza–“I took the road less traveled by, and that has made all the difference.” However, I find that the first stanza is far more descriptive of the students I’ve had in the past several years:

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“Sorry I could not travel both.” Our students, often unaccustomed to making meaningful choices, are paralyzed when they come to roads that diverge in their lives. Growing up in a culture that is saturated with meaningless choices–social media, Netflix, and smartphone games come to mind, combined with an academic and social culture that emphasizes standardization and sameness–is devastating a generation.

So many of our students lack the agency afforded to them by frequent, authentic opportunities to make choices and mistakes–both low-stakes and high-stakes–at a young age. Too often, kids are paralyzed by indecision, faced with the paradox that too many choices becomes similar to having no choice at all:

I’d been thinking about this concept for a while, but it was driven home for me by one of my students, Sara.

Sara was one of my favorite kids, a secondary English major with a penchant for words and a passion for education. She seemed an indomitable force, never bogged down by her workload, her multiple jobs, or the high expectations she put on herself.

Until a few Fridays ago, when she asked to meet privately, and told me that she wanted to drop out of our education program.

Four years into her schooling as an English Ed major, and she was just now realizing she didn’t want to be a teacher–and no less, a potentially really awesome teacher?!

That was my initial reaction…until we talked, and I realized that she was just now finding the courage to decide she didn’t want to be a teacher.

“I cried when I got my acceptance letter into the program,” she told me. “I was hoping I wouldn’t get in and the choice would be made for me.”

Sara is part of a generation of students who have been shepherded through their education without getting the opportunity to make important decisions about her future. Like many millennials I know, while Sara enjoyed learning and higher education in general, she didn’t really know what she wanted to be when she grew up. How do any of us, really? Still, she toed the line, went to college, and was a senior before she realized she was in too deep.

On a large scale, Sara is one of many “college-track” students who, while in high school, have very little say in if they’ll go to college–if they’re lucky, they get to choose their major. On a small scale, this looks like a school experience that prizes correctness, conformist thinking, compliance. It looks like a school culture that positions kids in a binary: college or career-ready. It looks like a nation of kids who grow up believing in a new, sinister American Dream: that college is the path to success, despite a growing trend in research that shows it’s really not.

To help kids like Sara–and all students–we need to make choice less of an offering  in schools, and more of a necessity. How can we graduate teens who have to ask to go to the restroom on Friday and expect them to make responsible decisions about where they might live or work on Monday?

Our students need to grow up, K-12, in a culture of choice. They need to not only self-select what to read, but should be guided toward choosing their own purposes, evaluations, and goals when it comes to that reading. The same is true for their study of writing, mathematics, and the social and natural sciences.

Students should make their own choices, early and often, so that when they no longer have a parent, a school, or an institution making those choices for them, they know what to do. Making good choices is a life skill that requires practice like any other. We get into dangerous territory when we ask students to make their first real decisions when the repercussions of poor financial, employment, or relationship choices are often irreversibly permanent.

For me, this makes my quest to spread the love of readers-writers workshop even more meaningful. I believe that the power of letting students choose what, how, and when to read and write empowers our students far beyond the ELA classroom.

Don’t you?


Shana Karnes is mom to 1.5 spunky little girls and wife to a hardworking surgical resident.  She teaches practicing and preservice English teachers at West Virginia University and is fueled by coffee, a pregnancy craving of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches (this week), and a real obsession with all things reading and writing.  Follow Shana on Twitter at @litreader and read more of her writing on the WVCTE Best Practices Blog.

Snapshots from My Students’ Notebooks

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This weekend, I spent some time reading and responding to my students’ Teacher-Researcher Notebooks. These TRNs, my preservice teachers’ versions of the writer’s notebook, are where my college students’ thinking about their learning, teaching, students, and growth intersect.

Their notebooks inspired me–so much so that I began making a list in my own notebook of all the techniques and sketches and thoughts I saw so I could utilize them myself. I saw some ideas I’d given them, based on what’s in my own notebook, but I also saw some fresh genres that were new to me.

These five excerpts from my students’ notebooks illustrate that when given the choice afforded by workshop’s emphasis on frequent, low-stakes writing, balanced with the structure of routines, mentor texts, and feedback, the writer’s notebook is a powerful tool in any teacher’s arsenal. I’ll share them in the hopes that you and your students will try them out, too!

Orientation Pages. Making lists of writing territories, drawing heart maps, or tracing your hand like Penny Kittle often does are great ways to orient yourself in your notebook. I often ask students to do this both at the beginning of the semester, when our notebooks are fresh and empty, as well as periodically throughout the year to orient ourselves.

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These “orientation pages” center us, remind us who we are and what’s important to us, and double as a handy list of writing topics when we don’t know what to write. I love how Kourtney blended this technique with what she was noticing in her students.

Artifacts. Glue-ins not only serve to remind us of a particular time or place, but also act as inspiration for future writing. Many of my students glued in their name badges from their schools last year–a tangible marker of time’s passing that helped them see how much closer they were to becoming “real” teachers.

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I love that Megan glued in her Tutor badge–she’s graduated to a Participant this year, and will be an Intern next year–and how faded it is. She also glued in a final feedback note I gave her after she presented her end-of-semester research project last year. Her title “Things That Keep Me Going” is a handy thing to have around when the stress of teaching gets to be a little much.

Imitations of Mentor Texts. Like many of my Twitter friends, I am obsessed with the lovely and poetic Mari Andrew. Her art serves as a frequent mentor text for my students, and we studied this image about how we define our passions, and they don’t define us–then imitated it.

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I love Julie’s illustration, which shows not only how many “Julies” she is beyond just teacher Julie, but also serves as inspiration in the form of an orientation page and a source for high-interest lesson topics she might pull in when she’s searching for some imaginative planning ideas.

Quotes. We learn so much from studying others’ words, not just for their message, but for their craft. Gluing in quotes, poems, essays, emails, and other bits of writing inspires us, teaches us, and motivates us to put pen to paper in ways that are meaningful.

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This quote Cat glued into her notebook is a wonderful one that I copied down myself, the better to write around, be inspired by, and imitate. It’s an apt metaphor for both teachers and writers, and served for Cat as a reminder of her potential and power as a blossoming educator.

State of the Writer. I urge my students to pause every two weeks or so and create a “big-picture entry.” This could involve doing a little reflection about themselves, looking at the undercurrents of what’s going on in their teaching, synthesizing some of the learning they’re doing in their classes, or a combination of those.

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I love that Elizabeth chose to do a little sketch of herself surrounded by the myriad thought bubbles typical to a teacher’s brain. Lesson planning, fretting about money, digesting Freire’s Pedagogy of the Oppressed, and the black hole of Pinterest…I mean, how spot-on is this!? I’d love to use this as an alternative to a written quarterly reflection with high school students to illustrate the intersections between who we are and what we’re learning.

Will you share some of your students’ notebook wisdom with us? Tell us about what your students write in the comments, or using the hashtag #whatsinanotebook on Facebook and Twitter!

Shana Karnes is mom to 1.5 spunky little girls and wife to a hardworking surgical resident.  She teaches practicing and preservice English teachers at West Virginia University and is fueled by coffee, a pregnancy craving of Honeycrisp apples (this week), and a real obsession with all things reading and writing.  Follow Shana on Twitter at @litreader or read more of her writing on the WVCTE Best Practices Blog.

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