Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Writing Workshop

This is my third year teaching and I thought it was time that I step up my writing instruction. I didn't want the writing to be forced so I borrowed some ideas from Nancie Atwell in the structure and function of the workshop. So I began the workshop with two of my classes so far and it is going slow. I knew it would. So what am I doing and how am I assessing it?

Students are expected to 'publish' once every quarter (9 weeks) and write every time workshop meets. Grades are given for participation per workshop.

Writing Topics: Students get to choose, however, multiple writing topics are introduced via a daily journal throughout the week and mini-lesson on workshop day. Students can write just about anything they wish.

Grading: Students get a workshop grade (I circle the room and confer w/ students.) All students keep a record of work and leave drafts in writing folder. I can pull a folder at any time and see work and leave input. They also receive a grade for final draft of writing that is submitted to be published.

Publishing: is a source for publication. Students create a publishing worthy product for this magazine and must submit it. The local newspaper is a great source as well. Alterantively students can 'publish' to scholarships that require writing. I make sure to post details about these scholarships and incorporate mini-lessons that will help students write for these contests. My honors classes are required to 'publish' two times per quarter.

Mini-lessons: I borrow ideas for these from Nancie Atwell and use the OWL as a resource as well.

Conducting Workshop: FIRST: 5-10 minutes are for mini-lesson SECOND: 30 minutes are for silent writing (during this time instructor will meet with at least 10 students and read and counsel over writing) THIRD: 5 - 10 minutes Revising and/or editing

So far so good but this requires a lot of organization on the part of the instructor. I'll post a follow-up blog next week.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Summer Goal

At a teacher in TN 11th grade year includes a writing exam. There is a lot of emphasis on this exam as results are used to determine if English teachers are effective in efforts to instruct students. The test is scored 1-6; a score of 4 or higher is a passing score while 3 and below fail.

I spent a solid month focused completely on TCAP preparation prior to the exam in addition to prior writing lessons. I was happy with the preparation work we accomplished as the majority of my students were scoring 3 and 4+ on practice essays. The class read several sets of scored essays- worked in pairs rewriting low scoring essays into higher scores. My students practiced each part of the writing process. I made sure everyone knew without a doubt how much time to spend on prewriting, writing , and to allow a short time for revision. And made sure each student knew 2+ methods for every step of the writing process and that each selected one method and practiced that method 3 and 4 times during that month so they could write to his or her best potential.

I am happy with the results for most of my students. Most of my kids that scored a 3 simply cannot write well without multiple drafts and assistance. A few simply were not informed on the topic (prompt) and so could not come up with enough supporting evidence to make an essay. Others- despite repeated urging, the promise of a grade, the insistence that the exam reflected on me as much as it reflects on them simply didn’t try or care to try.

I feel after I reviewed my results that the problem isn’t that the kids don’t understand the process but they don’t execute the process with mastery. They simply do not feel confidant as writers. Despite efforts to make writing relevant students do not engage deeply enough in the writing process. Not one understands why writing is important or how it reflects on them.

My goal this year is to find more and frequent opportunities to make writing authentic and writing for an audience that will lead to publication. If a student believes his words will have an impact they just might care about what those words say.

With that in mind- I am on the look-out for authentic writing lesson plans, contests, opportunities, and ideas. Please forward me any authentic or publication possibilities my way.

Watch for comments on this thread... I will post resources I find.

Friday, June 13, 2008

Poetry Unit that Works

I can't tell you how much students groan when an English teacher mentions the word 'poetry.' It is like that simple word is enough to drive even the most calm and confident students into cold sweats and make their palms sweaty. When did creativity become scary and the imagination taboo? I'm not sure when it happened but there are people and organizations out there trying to inspire creativity into our youth again. One such organization is Poetry Foundation sponsored by the National Endowment for the Arts they hold an annual Poetry Recitation Contest and provide free lesson plans and resources on the internet for students and teachers. I've adapted one of the lessons to my style of teaching to great success. Poems Put To use is a great lesson as it asks students to find relevance and relate to classic poetry as it applies to real life. To see my assignment click on this link -> then download PoetryBook Assignment.

My students love this assignment a ton. The more classroom time you allow the better the assignment results but make that time structured with deadlines. Several students took the freedom of this assignment to dedicate the book to a family member or girlfriend or boyfriend. Others used it like a memory book and selected poems that related to events in their own life during the past year or their time in high school. This assignment is good for all grade levels although I increase or decrease the length and difficulty depending on student level and ability.

So what is it?... I ask my students to find three poems that can be put to real use in real life. Such as Langston Hughes poem "Dream Deferred" which can be used to inspire people at graduations or other occasions then this must be explained in terms of the way the poem would be used and why in no less than 100 words. The next step is for them to find a poem that reflects who they are. I call it a mirror poem. They explain how the poem reflects them. Finally- I ask the students to create four unique figurative language examples that represent who they are.

The students truly enjoyed the assignment and took them all back- the students who usually let me have their projects had to keep this one. If that isn't a sign of a good assignment I don't know what is.

Saturday, April 5, 2008

Engaging Students with Novels

Miracle of miracles happened this week... my students looked at me and said, 'this is the first book I've enjoyed in an English class since middle school.' The book is Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury and I'd say about 90% of my students are enjoying the book. I asked for a show of hands and nearly all stuck a hand and sometimes two into the air.

We began the novel by simulating the future. I told my students they had transported 50 years into the future by time machine and were stranded as the machine was now broken (think Planet of the Apes). The only direction I gave was shaping the assignment and requiring a daily journal entry about what happens each day in this future world. (I only allowed the assignment to run two days.)

Just as expected most of the classes experienced some form of disagreement. They discovered that leading is difficult and that little was accomplished. The point of the exercise was to practice assimilating new details that would be foreign and activate creative thinking before we began reading. The students were very creative in imagining the world 50 years from now. I had everything from the Russians ruling the world to something like Futurama . More importantly, students were so enthused a few continued the project on their own time for extra credit.

I had my department purchase an audio reading of the book which turned out to be very poorly read. So I've been reading the book aloud to them myself. I read with expression and have tried using voices to express the characters. I'm not very good at coming up with different male voices so when Captain Beatty and Montag speak to each other sometimes it is hard to tell who is who. The students are putting up with it though. I've had several speak to me privately about the excitement they have about what will happen next and reading ahead outside of class.

I think the recipe for success isn't that Fahrenheit 451 is a fantastic engaging book (although I think it is) but that I have a passion for it as I read it and my students pick up on that. I'm reminded of a conversation I had once... someone reflecting on how despite the English teacher's love of a novel they could never love it too despite trying to like it out of the respect they had for the teacher; despite the enthusiasm the teacher had the student never felt the same way. I think it boils down to enthusiasm modeled by the teacher helps to enthuse his or her students. Excitement and energy can be contagious! Enthusiasm doesn't work 100% of the time but it sure helps.

Saturday, December 1, 2007

Setting the Bar High

I find myself struggling with my students to reach the standards I set. I place the bar of my expectations fairly high. I expect my students to work hard, produce the best effort they can muster, and produce a product that they can hand in with pride and understanding of the concepts and standards required.

As a result a great majority of my students are failing- but not because I set the bar high. They are failing because they don't turn in the work they have been doing. Or they fail to complete the only assignment that I send home as homework and fail for that reason.

I have sent home notices to parents inviting my students who struggle to get assistance after school on missing and difficult assignments. I have allowed them to make up nearly every assignment. My students work collaboratively as often as possible. I allow class time for all work and guide them on each step. Yet they continue to drop the ball a little here and a little there. What shocks me is they still believe they should be passing class with good grades.

So here I am 3 weeks left in the semester and praying my students will wake up and pull this one out. What kills me is how close they are only 1 - 4 assignments away from passing.

So my solution: I am offering TONS of extra credit that reinforces what we are doing and mirrors the assignments they did not turn in. I'll let you know how it turns out...

Do I lower the bar? Or do I maintain my standards despite the high failure rate?

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Letters About Literature Contest

I found a great way to get my students excited about writing and reading! Inspire them to win a contest that pays money is how. This is an annual event and is available in other states as well. Details follow...


First, reflect and connect! Select a fiction or nonfiction book, a short story, poem, essay or speech (sorry, no song lyrics) you have read and about which you have strong feelings. Explore those feelings and why you reacted the way you did during or after reading the author’s work. Consider one or more of these questions when writing your letter: Did the characters, conflict or setting mirror your life in some way? What strengths or flaws do you share with a character or characters in the book? What did the book show you about your world that you never noticed before? What surprised you about yourself while you were reading this book? Why was this work meaningful to you?

Second, write a personal letter (not a fan letter or a book report!) Express yourself! A letter is less formal
than an essay or research paper. Write honestly and in your own voice, as if you were having a conversation with the author. Those are the best letters to read and the most fun to write! Keep in mind these two tips:
• Correspond, don’t compliment! Your entry should inform rather than flatter the author.
• Do not summarize the book’s plot! The author wrote the book and already knows what happened. What the
author doesn’t know is how the book affected you.

Third, prepare your letter for submission.
• Entries for Level 1 should be no less than 100 words and no more than 400 words.*
• Entries for Level 2 should be no less than 300 words and no more than 600 words.*
• Entries for Level 3 should be no less than 500 words and no more than 800 words.*
*Recommended lengths.

Please refer to the Contest Entry Guidelines in Rules #4 of the Official Rules found at
complete information on how to prepare your letter.

All entries will be judged on the following criteria:
• Exposition (the writer’s use of language skills, organization and grammar).
• Content (the writer’s achievement in addressing the contest theme).
• Writer’s Voice (the writer’s style and originality of expression).
Each criteria will be scored on a scale of zero (0) to five (5), where five (5) is excellent and zero (0) is not fulfilling the judging criteria.

Your letter must be postmarked by December 14, 2007, and mailed to:
Emily Masters
Humanities Tennessee, Tennessee Center for the Book
306 Gay Street, Suite 306
Nashville, TN 37201
Ph: (612) 770-0006 x15

Judges for each participating State Center for the Book will select the top letter in each Level of Competition (see State Level Judging in the Official Rules for more details). State Winners will receive a $50 Target GiftCard SM and will advance to the National Level Judging. Judges for The Center for the Book in the Library of Congress will select six (6) National Winners (2 per Level of Competition) and twelve (12) National Honorable Mention Winners (4 per Level of Competition). The National Winners will receive a $500 Target GiftCard, plus each will win a $10,000 LAL Reading Promotion Grant for their community or school library so that others can experience personal relationships with authors and the stories they tell. Additionally, the National Honorable Mention Winners will each receive a $100 Target GiftCard and a $1,000 LAL
Reading Promotion Grantfor the community or school library of their choice. Community or school library selected for the National Winners and National Honorable Mention Winners is at the Sponsor’s sole discretion. Refer to the National Level Judging in the Official Rules for more details.

Thursday, August 2, 2007

50 Alternatives to a Book Report

I just read a great article from NCTE's "English Journal" it is a pricey subscription but well worth every penny when I can cough up the money for it again. In the mean time- I signed up for NCTE's weekly newsletter via email. The newsletter includes links to current articles in the news that relate to Education and more specifically English Education. At the end of each newsletter are free articles from NCTE's various publications that relate to an article at the very least they have a theme. Each week I make sure to scan them over and download and save articles worth reading again. What is so great is that articles are available from each school age- elementary, middle, high, & college.

So 50 alternatives to a book report as simplified by me-
(Some of the ideas have been combined and listed as
alternatives where appropiate. You'll find 45 numbered
ideas below.)

*Imagine you are a character in the book. Jump into his or her head and tell me what they would think or feel about...
1) imagine their childhood
2) relate them to an astrological sign and prove it
3) what would their favorite superhero be and why
4) imagine they are applying for college- write their application essay
5) calls into a radio show for advice- write the script
6) create a web page for 5 characters (think myspace)
7) your character is in a chat room who are they talking to and what about
8) create an imaginary email directory for this character- explain your reasoning for each person
9) create a high school yearbook for 3-4 characters to include clubs, activities, nicknames, and 'most likely to' _____
10) write a series of letters between character and author (3 or more back and forth)
11) characters dream vacation? create a multiday travel plan and explain your characters reasoning for each step
12) create a scrapbook that your character would have made (variation memory box)
13) create a collage that your character would say represents them
14) 3 students assume the identity of 3 characters- play 20 questions to figure out who is who
15) assume the identity of a character was discriminated against- write a complaint about the discrimination
16) give your character 3 tangible/intangible gifts- provide a picture and explain your reasoning
17) create 5 unique answering machine messages for 5 characters pay attn to voice & diction
18) pretend 3 characters are being interviewed by reporter/police/lawyer create a monologue response to the same event for
each character
19) Look up several character names in a name meaning book/website explain how what the name means is/is not a
reflection of them as a character
20) Pretend your character has picked up the newspaper- select 5 articles your character would read and explain why your
character would read them.
21) Pretend your character has picked up a magazine and is looking at the ads- select 5 ads your character would consider
purchasing the product. Display the ads on a poster and underneath explain why your character would read them.
22) imagine your character is passionate about an 'issue' create a pamphlet about this issue that includes your characters
opinions on the subject
23) imagine you are having a party and can invite 5 people alive/dead/fictional to introduce to your character- why them and
what would you hope the character would learn from the introduction
24) create a family history of one of the main characters- include five memories from five different events (i.e. a family
dinner, birthday, winter holiday, and so on)
25) imagine your are friends with your character and are recommending 5 books to him or her which 5 books/movies and
26) pretend the character lives in your neighborhood and needs help dealing with their issue- create a poster on available
help for this issue in your area include brochures, ads, phone #'s, company names, professional business cards and so on
27) imagine your character is applying for a game show called 'the dating game' what would they say about themself and
what would they say about what they want out of a date
28) create a music play list or mix cd of music your character would like and have- be sure to explain each selection
29) create a photo album your character would put together based on specific events and people from the novel
30) Create an alphabet list of sentences based on your characters personality. 'A' is for the adventure Huck discovers on his
journey down the river. 'B' is for...

The last twenty ideas are written from the readers perspective or assume a role that is not a character from the book.

31) Critique the interactions in the novel from the point of view of an organization that might have something to say about it.
EX: Environmental agency, Humane Society for Protection of Animals, and so on.
32) Create a social worker's report. EX: Child Welfare department report on Huck Finn's childhood.
33) A talk show has invited your character; create the title of the show a guest list, and a prepared list of questions for each
guest. Be sure to include which talk show and why they are interested in the character.
34) Thinking of all the movies you have seen select five movies that are in the same genre of this book. Provide summaries
and an explanation of how each movie is like the book.
35) Title Acrostic: Take a large piece of construction paper and write the title of the book down the side of it. For each letter
write a sentence that provides information about the book events and characters.
36) Cartoon Squares: create six cartoon squares that shows a significant event from the novel then under each write a few
sentences that explains the picture.
37) Word Collage: Put the title in the center and then looking through magazines select words, phrases, and sentences in
various prints that illustrate your novel. Think in terms of theme, setting, plot line, and characters. Min 50 cuttings.
38) Music Soundtrack: Divide the novel into logical sections and select a soundtrack for each section, record the music and if
possible do voiceovers that explain why each selection is ideal for that section in the novel.
39) Poetry: write 3 poems in response to the novel. Consider: theme, character, and location
40) Letter to the author: Write a letter to the author or an audience that is concerned with the author be sure to include why
you think they wrote it, what they were trying to get across to the reader, and what you got out of the novel personally.
Then we mail the letter.
41) Word Test: Select 15 words that you think are essential to the understanding of the novel. Explain why you picked the
words and how you would define them in the context of the story.
42) Found Poem: Select a very powerful chapter from the novel and select key words, word phrases, and lines the evoke
strong images and are critical to the chapter events then arrange them in chronological order.
43) You are a psychologist- select five characters from the novel and write an essay about each character's fears in terms of
psychosis and what they want to avoid the most. use examples from the novel to support your findings.
44) Draw a scene: for the artistically talented. Draw a scene from the novel, include characters, and include yourself in the
picture (think what role did you feel like you held as you read that part of the novel). Then include written explanations
for why you drew the scene that way and why you assumed that role or location in the picture.
45) You are a detective and are investigating an event(s) in the novel. What are they investigating? Who do they interview?
What do they find? Write this in a short story format.

Please use the comment feature to add any additional ideas you may have.