Category Archives: Writing Project

I Have a Confession to Make

I am an English teacher. I love words. Reading them. Writing them. I would love nothing more than to sit and read the day away. Of course, I’m also a mother, which means free time is a luxury. For many years I’ve had to apologize to my students for not picking up the book they insisted I read. “But Mrs. Allison you HAVE to read it.” I would feel so guilty as the books lay comatose next to my bed, gathering dust.

But no more. Reluctantly, I entered the world of audiobooks. At first, I felt that I was cheating. I have always recommended audiobooks to my reluctant readers. In fact, my son read the first Harry Potter while listening along to Jim Dale’s narration. As an English teacher I felt a bit guilty initially. I thought that not reading books was somehow not giving the words the respect they were meant to have. Hogwash!

Now, I devour books. I listen while I’m running, brushing my teeth, driving. I always have the corresponding book on hand, too, and read intermittently, when I get a moment of quiet. I still enjoy seeing the words, but I get so enveloped in each story, I can’t wait to drive somewhere alone.

I can now read all those recommendations from students. I can recommend the latest books to eager readers. I can be a part of the book conversation and celebrate reading in my classroom.

Plus, I can still do all my mom duties.

Today this English teacher loves words: reading them, writing them and listening to them.  I’m really hoping I don’t kicked out of the club for this.

Feedback: No Time Turner Needed

I have been teaching English for a long time. A very long time. I have spent hours writing feedback, inking up student drafts with corrections as a service and gift to my students. I kid, but really, I just want them to succeed. I want them to think about where they can grow as writers and spend time considering suggestions. Most of the time, though, my students just shove their papers into the abyss of their backpacks, feeding the zippered monster of never to be be seen again assignments. Why? Because I handed those papers back with a grade.

This year was going to be different. I was going to get better at giving students feedback. I have read many articles and blog posts that referenced Butler’s study that showed  students who received comments alone demonstrated the greatest improvement (Butler, 1988), and Hattie’s study that showed student self-assessment/self-grading has the greatest impact on student learning  (Hattie, 2012). Only how was I going to get students to actually READ and DO something with the feedback? Then last June, I read Cult of Pedagogy’s post on Delaying the Grade: How to Get Students to Read Feedback by Kristy Louden. Suddenly, I had a “No, DUH,” moment. Why hadn’t I thought of this before?

Collecting the Best Draft

This trimester my students were tasked with writing an original Hero’s Journey story. They wrote (and wrote and wrote) until some had over 40 pages (double spaced). They really got into it. We went through all of my “normal” ways of teaching: brainstorming, mini lessons, sharing and revising in writing groups, and when they were finally ready to collect,instead of calling it a “Final” draft,  I simply called it their best draft. “Best draft due on Friday.”

Streamlining Feedback

Being  an 8th grade teacher, unless I had one of Hermione Granger’s Time Turners, it is impossible to find the time to give extensive feedback to every student. Instead, I created a Doc with all the comments I could possibly make to an 8th grade student on a narrative. I started with looking at the rubric, then added as I was reading stories. Under each comment, I added a link to a video, website or blog post that could reteach the concept. This way, as I came across an issue in a student essay, I would simply add a comment on the document and paste the already prepared comment with the reteaching tool.

 

Feedback without Grades

As I was reading each narrative, I wrote down a rubric score for my purposes, only. No grade was shared with the student. I simply returned the writing and asked each to revise before resubmitting. When I looked at the stories a second time, I simply looked at the grade I had given the narrative in my notes and clicked “See Changes” in Google Docs.  No need to read the whole thing again! This made the process so much faster and efficient.

As Expected 

It happened just as I hoped. Students paid attention to my feedback! Not knowing their grades made all the difference. Not all did as good of a job as I had hoped. Some only fixed the areas I made specific suggestions and not where I made general statements. That is definitely something to work on next time.

Growth Opportunities

I did find that my grade book was sparse. I had a parent ask me why I hadn’t entered any grades in such a long time. I really have no idea how to solve this issue, or even if it really is an issue. My students were learning during the process, and I didn’t want to stop them to assess, simply for a grade in the grade book.

I would also like to develop a more extensive Doc of curated resources so I could create individual playlists for each student based on what each needs to revise. I am hoping to work on that list going forward, with some help from my network of colleagues across the nation.

In a perfect world, I would be able to sit down with each student and conference on each piece of writing many times during the process. The reality is, that takes time, the most valuable and scarce resource of my classroom. For now, I’ll work on improving this process. I am sold.

Showing not Telling: Writing is a Process

I am a huge fan of teachers writing. Not just emails and the mundane reports we need to fill out, but real writing. Of course, being an English teacher, I am a bit of a writing pusher. I know how powerful journaling or even blogging can be for personal growth through reflection, but also to share ideas. I mean, it’s why I blog. It helps me focus my thoughts and share my crazy ideas with the world. It doesn’t even matter if no one reads my posts. It’s about the process.

Of course, I also know what kind of writer I am. I need a quiet comfortable place, wine in reach, with the ideas already worked out in my head. I also never show anyone my writing unless I think I’ve done my best. With that being said, my teaching partner inadvertently challenged me to break all my writing comfort zone rules.

Our eighth graders are drafting “Hero’s Journey” stories. When I walked into my partner’s room the other day, she shared how she was writing with her students. Now, I have always tried to draft a version of the assignments I give my students for a few reasons: mainly to give the assignment a trial run and to have an example to show students. Usually, I have done this in my quiet bedroom, revising over and over before even considering presenting an example in class. But in her classroom, my partner was writing at the same time as her students, and not just that. She had granted them access to comment!

This blew my mind. We talked about it later, and she shared how powerful letting her kids see her process was. She was so right. I knew I needed to try it.

So yesterday, I shared my unfinished, first draft (dribble) with all my classes. I asked them for advice and put my heart on my sleeve. I sucked up my pride and posted my story in our Google Classroom. I must say it was not easy. I am supposed to be the expert, right? Aren’t my students supposed to see me as a mentor?

As hard as some of the comments were to take, it was a powerful experience. They loved it. My students could see how I was trying to navigate the assignment, the same as them. They could see that writing is messy, even for the ones who are supposed to be “experts.” Writing is a process, and it isn’t easy, but getting feedback from others is how we grow. I will expect them to share their drafts with their peers and with me. I needed to show my students that sharing and allowing others to give feedback is valuable. Growth mindset, right?

                 

And they also had a little fun with commenting.


 

 

How Daily Writing Saved My Life

Walking on campus this past August, I made a commitment: my students will write EVERY DAY. Little did I realize how powerful this one commitment would be. Not just for them, but for me as a teacher.

Ask any teacher, there never seems to be enough time in the day to really teach every standard that is required. The answer: prioritize. I decided we would start the class period with writing. That way, it would always happen. Besides, I had some phenomenal ideas from my colleagues at the Area 3 Writing Project, the life-changing institute I was lucky enough to attend over the summer, and I was itching to implement all of it!

How I Organize

Each day has a new type of writing prompt. I set a timer and we stick to it, even if students don’t finish. The prompts range from short video clips (the students’ favorite) to different writing techniques. We will also read short articles, work on vocabulary or use the time to practice and review needed skills. However, often I tell students to ignore my prompt and write what they are feeling passionate about at that moment. After all, they are teenagers. Sometimes they just need a way to vent. Our daily writing has really become more of a writer’s workshop in only about 10-15 minutes a day.


During writing, I might circulate the room, but never read over any shoulders. That journal is theirs. Students can choose what is shared and what isn’t. It’s practice, and practice is messy.

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Writing rules written by Edna Shoemaker

What I’ve Noticed

For one, we are writing and sharing every day. YES! Our classroom is now an environment of writing. We are writers. At the beginning of the period I often hear, “What are we writing today?” Of course, their favorite part is sharing and listening to their classmates share.

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On most Fridays, my students are asked to go back and choose a piece to revise and publish on their blog. The blogs are so much better than I’ve read in years past. I believe having a journal full of rich ideas gives them a place to start. Plus, they are in the habit of writing now. It just comes easier.

When my students write, I try to write, too. Well, try. That’s the one resolution I have going forward. I know how powerful and therapeutic daily writing can be for me. Time to practice what I preach.

A Writing Affair to Remember

Dear Area 3 Writing Project Summer Institute,

Please don’t think of this as a “Dear John” letter, but it is with a heavy heart that we must part ways. Sadly, it is time for me to go back to my family and my obligations. Regrettably, back to reality. The time we have spent together has been some of the most meaningful I’ve ever experienced. The love was real. The passion, palpable. You have taught me more about myself than I could have imagined. I came here to learn how to be a better teacher, but you made me look deeper. You led me to explore myself as a writer. You pushed me, encouraged me, then celebrated me. For this I will be eternally grateful. Our time together will never be forgotten. You have changed me.

You have made me a better person. I have always thought of writing as something to DO. Something to finish. Something to publish. You have reminded me that it is far more than that. It is a therapeutic process that allows me to process my emotions, organize my ideas and sometimes just have a conversation with myself. I had forgotten that writing doesn’t always have to be published. Writing can be just for me. Thank you.

I came to you hoping to learn strategies to be a better teacher. You gave me that in spades. What I didn’t expect was you to change my attitude about teaching writing. Putting myself in my students’ shoes has given me insight to my own teaching, and how I have fallen short. I feel like I need to write a letter of apology to so many students who had a voice and I stifled it into a box, where I thought it needed to be. No more. I learned about genre blending and how to make the revision process effective. The demos were probably my favorite part. I could watch how other teachers incorporate good teaching into their classrooms all day long. I often would find myself in awe of the people in the room. I want to spend more time with them. Thank you for bringing these people to me. Thank you for your insistence on coaching each of us to shine. Your gift will fill the air of my classroom for years to come.

It is not only their teaching that has impacted me. Getting to spend time with these exceptional individuals has helped me grow personally. From my carpool group and our great conversations, to coaching groups, lunch dates and writing groups, you have given me friendships that I hope will continue to help me both professionally and on a personal level. Being surrounded by people who feel as passionately and borderline nutty about kids and teaching as I do, is a blessing. And it’s a hell of a lot of fun.

Even though we are saying farewell today, know that you are always in my heart, my soul. I will carry you with me always. You have opened my world to a network of extraordinary educators with whom I plan to stay continuously connected. I really didn’t know what I was missing, until I met you. So, this is not goodbye, but a see you soon.

Photo Credit: http://quotesgram.com/its-not-goodbye-quotes/

Love always,

Kristina