Tag Archives: multigenre

Have you asked students what they need? It is not too late

I am great at taking notes. I am lousy at looking back at them (a lot like my students).

But my student teacher is done with his semester, and am back reading and writing with my students each day. We’ve done a little AP exam crunch — our exam is today — and we are all ready for that test to be over. I’ve got 14.5 days before the summer bell rings, and my students leave me. Fifteen days to solidify my students’ identities as readers and writers, not just students reading and writing for an English class.

It’s been a hard row with this group. This group, especially my brightest students who let grades motivate their every move. There’s a disconnect the size of the Mississippi when it comes to showing evidence of learning and whining about grades.

Maybe I notice it more because I haven’t been with them every class period for the past six weeks. But something’s got to give.

So I opened up my notebooks and read notes from the class Penny Kittle taught at the University of New Hampshire Literacy Institute in 2014. Don Murray leaped from the page:

“If you understand your own process, you stop fighting against it.”

“We have to respect the student, not for his product, but for the search for truth in which he is engaged.”

“If you don’t leave a conference wanting to write more, there’s a problem with the feedback.”

“We work with language in action. We share with our students the continual excitement of choosing one word instead of another, in choosing a true word.”

“Mule-like stubbornness is essential for every writer.”

“One teacher in one year can change a child’s view on reading.”

All reminders of what I love about teaching writers and what I hope for all my students. And I’ve got 14.5 days before the summer bell rings, and my students leave me.

Recently, I read a great post by Tricia Ebaria titled “One Important Thing I Can Learn from Students.” This part resonates:

Rather than join the chorus of end-of-the-year countdowns, instead of giving in to fatigue (or cynicism), what if we reframed our thinking and asked ourselves: What’s the one important thing I can still do with my students? After all, it’s never too late to do work that is meaningful and important to our students and to the world.

Or how about this question: What’s the one important thing I can still learn about my students? studentswriting

So today I asked two questions to help me focus on students’ needs, and to help students focus on our need to keep learning:

1. Have your grown as a reader and a writer this year? And we talked about if the answer is no then we’ve both failed.

2. What’s one thing you still want, or need, to learn regarding reading and writing before your senior year and beyond? And students wrote their responses at their tables.

Some responses gave me pause. Others made me crazy. Many gave me hope that we still have time so every student can answer question one with a resounding YES.

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“Because we’ve really done nothing in class this year” is my first thought, right? But I have to wonder: Why does this students still feel this way?

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I’m celebrating the word PLAY.

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Hmmm. 

We have to be willing to be vulnerable. We have to be willing to ask our students what they need from us as their teachers. If we don’t, we may miss the point of teaching them all together.

I learned valuable things about my students and how they feel about their growth. This lesson is enlightening and humbling. And frightening.

I am almost out of time.

So we started in our writer’s notebooks. Updating our currently reading lists and talking about the books we’ve read, we’ve started, abandoned, and we’ve finished. We updated our challenge cards and checked our progress.

I book talked Goodbye Days by Jeff Zentner, my new favorite (I wrote about it here), and American Street by Ibi Zoboi, and let students know I had a fourth copy of The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas. All books I’d read when Joseph was teaching and was dying to share with kids. Students eagerly reached for them, even tussling over Zentner’s book. (TBH I shudder just a bit when I think about not getting these new books back with it being so close to the end of the year.)

Next, I showed them an idea for their end-of-year writing — a pretty monumental task for teens already dreaming of days out of the classroom. But I think I sold them on how it can answer my question #2.

Multi-genre. Thank you, Tom Romano, and Shana for showing me how a marvelous multi-genre project can light a fire within my writers and let them showcase their interest, their talents, and the learning they’ve acquired this year.

We looked at samples. We talked about topics and research and genres. We talked about how the topics we choose can potentially help us learn the things we still need and want to learn.

We got excited about writing. I think some even got excited about learning.

So with 14.5 days left in the school year, we committed to a pretty intensive end-of-year plan.

I have a mule-like stubbornness when it comes to teaching readers and writers. Certainly some of that will wear off on my students, and maybe someday they’ll look back on their notes and their writing from their junior year in high school and recognize they’ve learned and grown in their “search for truth” as a writer.

How are you utilizing your end-of-year time? Please share in the comments.

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

 

#FridayReads: Learning to WRITE WHAT MATTERS with Tom Romano

IMG_9890With the release of his newest book, Write What Matters, this year marks the tenth year I’ve been reading and writing beside the words of Tom Romano.  If you’ve not discovered his wisdom on injecting writing voice into student work, his guidance about writing to discover, or his brilliance in coining multigenre…you’re missing out.

This summer, at the UNH Literacy Institutes, Tom Newkirk talked at length about the guts it took for Tom Romano to publish Clearing the Way in 1987–the first “teacher book” of its kind.  Guided by the research of Donald Graves and his contemporaries, Romano explains the text’s origins to his reader:

“This book is born out of my own struggles to write well and fourteen years of working hard with teenage writers.  Both the writing and the working have been worth it.  They are fine passions.

Thus began my pedagogical education–I read Clearing the Way in my very first English methods course in 2005.  Chapters like “The Crucial Role of Conferencing,” “A Creative Current,” and “Literary Warnings” showed me the possibilities if I created a classroom full of passion and verve and real writers.

IMG_9889Next I happened upon Crafting Authentic Voice, in Romano’s own writing methods class at Miami University in 2007.  A quote from page five of this book hangs prominently in my classroom to this day: “Voice is the writer’s presence on the page, the writer’s DNA.”  I point to those words when I endeavor to help students develop voice.  Chapters like “Enter Craft,” “The Five-Paragraph-You-Know-What,” and “Imitation” have guided my teaching of writing, and I see in those topics the work of Katie Wood Ray, Penny Kittle, and Georgia Heard.

Blending Genre, Altering Style I read in my Master’s level writing methods course, again with Romano himself.  This book helped me flesh out the nuts and bolts of teaching multigenre, which remains to this day both the most effective, enriching work I do with my students, and their very favorite thing.  Reading and writing about chapters like “The Many Ways of Poems,” “Genres Answered,” and the practical “Evaluation and Grading” led me to present with Romano on the many possibilities offered by multigenre at NCTE13.

I’d been teaching five years and was already living in West Virginia when I read Fearless Writing, seeking more guidance about teaching writing.  Practical chapters like “Easing into Poetry Through Imitation,” “Crafting Narrative,” and “Self-Assessment: Raising the Blinds” pushed me to take my teaching of many genres to new heights, with wonderful student results.

Last year, thrashing in the throes of a difficult PhD program, I sought wisdom from Romano in Zigzag, where his chapter “Meltdown” showed me empathy, peace, and guidance.  “I’d never been more at peace with a big decision,” Romano writes of leaving his own doctoral program.  I did the same, and I’m at peace too.

Now, as I prepare to welcome my first child into the world, I’m contemplating where my career will take me.  I’ve long known I don’t want to try to sustain my level of involvement with teaching high schoolers while trying to be a mom.  But I don’t want to leave the amazing, sustaining, nurturing community of teachers and writers and thinkers I engage with here at TTT, or at NCTE, or on Twitter.  I don’t want to leave my tribe, as Penny Kittle says.

Screen Shot 2015-10-23 at 5.34.59 AMAnd, again, Romano is here to guide me through my next steps–Write What Matters: For Yourself, For Others is lately ordered from Amazon and on its way to me.  I know that chapters like “Trust the Gush,” “Risk and All,” and “Who Are You to Presume to Write?” will guide me as I wonder about my future teacher-writer identity.  I know that this book is what I need right now:

Many want to write. But sometimes they lose heart. They are cowed in the face of so many fine writers of fiction, memoir, poetry, columns, and creative nonfiction. Their confidence wanes. If you want to write, but are hesitant, let Tom Romano lift your confidence. In Write What Matters you will find discussions of writing processes that make sense, demonstrations of effective strategies to try, advice about developing productive habits to get your writing done, and examples of illuminating writing from fearless writers, both professional and novice. Your voice, your vision, your way with words matter. They are tied to your identity. You know that you are more alive when you put words on paper. Accept that you not only want to write. You need to write. Write What Matters will help you learn to dwell in your written words and craft them into writing worth reading by others.

Pick up Write What Matters, or any of Tom’s many other works of wisdom and power.  Let Tom Romano lift your confidence–in your writing, your teaching, and your passion.  His words, and he, have been my single most reliable, important mentors as I seek to be a teacher of writing, a teacher-writer, and a plain old Saturday-morning-notebook-storyteller.

#FridayReads: What do Amy Poehler and Sherman Alexie have in common?

Personifying art--one piece from a student's multigenre project.

Personifying art–one piece from a student’s multigenre project.

Both my students and I love funky writing—the weird eccentricities of modern print where authors dabble with a variety of fonts, writing styles, photographs, and formats. There’s something about that departure from the norm that draws us in, holds our attention, and keeps us reading just to see what is on the next page.

In turn, when I began the multigenre project based on Tom Romano’s book Blending Genre, Altering Style: Writing Multigenre Papers, I knew I needed a new set of mentor texts to help guide my students’ writing. I loved sitting down to stacks of multigenre papers, and my students loved reading each other’s work. The problem was my students rarely had strong examples to guide them in developing the continuity that comes with one paper on one topic written through multiple genres. And so the search began.

This year, one of my new classroom shelves includes “multigenre books.” The benefits are twofold: students will become familiar with the multigenre concept before even being introduced to the project and they will see the unique ways a wide variety of authors diversify their work. The greatest part is that multigenre writing extends across a variety of literary genres.

Here are some highlights from my new collection:

41HGJKFdW3L._SX327_BO1,204,203,200_51uJcmUm23L._SX322_BO1,204,203,200_A Visit from the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan—Has an entire chapter in PowerPoint slides. How cool!

Where’d You Go Bernadette by Maria Semple—Amusing memos and e-mails illustrate character development and voice.

The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie – Hilarious doodles, caricatures, and cartoons. One ofmy all time favorite books!

Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close by Jonathan Safran Foer—Every year I have to assure a student that the red ink wasn’t a student’s bored graffiti; it really is part of the author’s the writing.

In the Company of Whispers by Sallie Lowenstein – Includes family letters and black-and-white photographs.

Eyes Wide Open by Paul Fleischman – Great use of infographics for research.

Why We Broke Up by Daniel Handler (author) Maira Kalman (illustrator)—Not only is it written in letter form, but the letters are about individual objects, all of which are accompanied by gorgeous illustrations.

The Art of Secrets by James Klise—Letters, articles, lists, and shifting perspectives keep you interested.

Encyclopedia of an Ordinary Life by Amy Rosenthal—Rosenthal not only wrote a memoir in encyclopedia entries, but she also made reading encyclopedia entries fun.

Yes, Please by Amy Poehler—There are two pages devoted to haikus on plastic surgery. What more is there to say?

Your turn! What multigenre books might you suggest? What are some new shelves you’ll be adding to your classroom library this year?

A Yearlong Community

The sense of camaraderie and fellowship in our workshop classroom has ebbed and flowed this year.  Some days, I watch with pride as the readers and writers in the room help guide each other to a higher level of understanding, appreciation, or excitement.  Other days, I see disengaged students annoyed with one another’s antics.

Getting this community established at the beginning of the year takes time, but once the foundation is laid, it’s easy to keep it in place.

…Until you have 15 snow days in a row.

Or a student teacher.

Or a six-day block of testing.

Or 75-degree weather with sunshine, just out the window.

All of those common interruptions can derail a classroom community.  This year, though, I feel as close to my students as ever, and they are as tight-knit a group as can be.  Here are four reasons why.

Passion.  I’ve written before about how fangirling helps create a community of readers.  But it’s not just being excited about books that helps a classroom community develop–it’s passion about the work we do here as a whole.

Jordan, a student who joined our class in September, told me yesterday, “I still remember the first time I came to this school.  Yours was the first class I came into.  You were yelling and all excited and stuff.  I thought, ‘Wow, is this how this school is?’  Then I went to the rest of my classes and I was like, awww, where’s the excitement at?”

The passion I brought to teaching stuck with Jordan for nine months, especially when he contrasted it to his other teachers’. Communicating our genuine excitement to our students models for them the lasting value of our content.  Without that enthusiasm, a classroom community may not seem worth building.  With it, students come to class ready to learn, which creates the first condition for a strong community.

Vulnerability.  Around my birthday in early September of each year, I share with my students a song my friend Joey wrote and recorded for me.  About a month after he gave it to me, he passed away.  I play the song for the students and we write, then, the soundtrack of our lives–which song it would be and why.  I write about Joey, my guilt and sadness over his suicide, how I slept with the lights on for months after his death.

Chelsea recently told me that at first, she wasn’t quite sure about me.  “Then you wrote that piece with us about your friend Joey, and that’s when I started to think differently about you.”  Modeling my vulnerability with my students encouraged them to do the same–they began to write about topics they once considered very private, and to share their writing in small groups, which I rotate monthly.

Sharing this story with my students, crafting and refining it alongside them, modeled for them not just vulnerability, but the writing process when it relates to a difficult subject.  I became, in their eyes, not just a model writer–but a model thinker, with emotions and difficult memories just like them.  Shifting from not just an English geek to a real human is the second condition for a strong community.

Guts.  This spring, I had a student teacher for eight weeks.  When she left, state testing began almost immediately.  After those two lengthy periods of disruption to our established routine, my students were sluggish and disinterested–frequently unprepared for class, slacking off on their reading, unenthused about their final multigenre projects.

Then, I shared with them my own multigenre piece for this year, about the miscarriage I suffered on Mother’s Day.  As I showed them my writing, the classroom became eerily quiet.  The stillness and silence was deafening.  After lots of hugging and passing around of tissues, the students worked with energy and reverence on their own writing once again.  Their enthusiasm was back.

“I thought it was cool that you would put that out there for the students to know,” Madison told me the next morning. “I was shocked that you wrote about it.”  The fact that I not only shared such a tough subject with them, but had the guts to write about it, was powerful.  This gave many students the boost of confidence they needed to confront a difficult issue and create beautiful writing about it–the third condition for keeping that sense of community strong right up to June.

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Two of my funniest students, Troy and Logan, smirk at me over lunch.

Humor.  We’re not morose all the time–we have lots of fun.  Whether it’s a humorous booktalk, a funny poem, or just a celebration of a student’s silliness, there is lots of laughter in our classroom.

A small whiteboard on one wall of our classroom is full of quotes that have made us laugh.  A word like “clementime” can crack us all up, remembering when Troy bemoaned the book Columbine‘s length but accidentally said, “Oh boy, Clementine, here we go.”  Or “overalls,” which calls to mind Kristen’s claim that “I woke up, put on my overalls, and everything just got really weird.”  These simple one-word phrases memorialized on the whiteboard can bring a smile to our faces when we need a lift, and remind me that my students aren’t just learners–they’re people, and pretty darn cool ones, too.

Talk.  Talk is such a foundation of workshop, but it’s important to talk outside of conferences, small groups, or minilessons.  Isaac, a student who has struggled with academic success in the past, has been sitting in my room during his lunch period all this month, working on his multigenre paper.  He chats at me as he writes, asking whatever questions come to mind, writing-related or not.  As a result, he is soaring.

“This is probably the first project in school I’ve ever worked this hard on,” Isaac keeps telling me. “This project is so awesome.”  I told our principal how hard he’d been working lately, and he complimented Isaac when he saw him in the hall.

“Oh my god, I can’t believe teachers talk about students outside of class!” Isaac exclaimed later.  I could tell by his little smile that he was secretly pleased that we had said nice things about him.  Talk has an impact far beyond its transient initial utterance.

Passion, vulnerability, guts, humor, and talk–all year long–make for a beautiful classroom community I’ll enjoy ending this year with.  What do you do to keep your learners unified?

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