Archive for the 'Alumni Voices' Category

A Get To Know You Poetry Activity: TWO-TONE POETRY

leaves-fall-colors-rainbowBy Elizabeth Jorgensen

Most English teachers have heard of the Where I’m From poem activity based on George Ella Lyon’s professional example. I begin my Creative Writing class with this exercise each year. But as the school year progresses and students become more comfortable sharing, I encourage them to try Two-Tone Poetry.

I start by discussing how we all have multiple sides to our personalities. I am, of course, different with my friends than I am with my students. And I’m different at parent teacher conferences than I am at The Band Perry concerts.

“Most of us are at least two-tone,” I tell my classes. Then, I encourage my students to talk about the different sides of their personalities.

We also discuss how colors can trigger feelings or moods. Moods—like colors—can be warm or cool; they can attract attention or blend in. I tell my students how we interpret and analyze colors, combined with our self-knowledge, can be a good place to start a Two-Tone poem.

I ask students to write a Two-Tone poem that speaks of their two tones and at least two different sides of their personality. In these drafts, I ask for stylistic devices, action verbs, a purposeful structure and original names for the colors (elephant grey, sunset pink, pickle green). I tell my students they could also choose to work with a pattern (chevron, argyle, plaid) instead of a color.

Here are three student examples:

Most of the time, I am eggshell white—

whispered answers hidden beneath books,

innocent gazes given from across rooms.

I am invisible:

blended behind schoolhouse walls,

left unused in paperback Crayola boxes.

But when she sees me, I am electric blue—

squeals of laughter spew in heartbeats,

and secret adventures hide in memories.

I am both eggshell white and electric blue:

swimming through a sea of wonder,

gabbing jaws beneath black knit stars.


Part of me is lemonade yellow—

sporadic and spunky,

loud and lively, and

in people’s faces.

But deep within, there’s another side no one sees—

ash black, like the tip of a charred marshmallow,

hurt and resentful,

damaged and filled with hate.

My heart screams, telling me to hang on to the yellow.

But, they both are who I am.


so me.


Most days, I am amethyst purple—

            go with the flow,

            under the rainbow,

            unnoticed like a shadow.

I go about the same routine,

            wake, work, watch, repeat,

            riding down the road of life from the backseat.

            My spunk…it’s obsolete.

But on some days, I am ruby red—

            rebelling against reality,

            laughing carefree,

            swinging from the fruit tree,

            drinking iced tea,

            singing like a bumblebee.

That’s when my spunk returns

to me.

How to host a Career Fair

office-2065542_960_720By Sabrina Bartels

Every year, my school hosts a career fair for our 8th grade students. Around 30 individuals coming from a wide variety of careers take time out of their busy days and spend time in our school gymnasium, talking to students about their careers and what to expect for high school and beyond. It is an exhausting process every year, and one that leads to a lot of stress and frustration. And yet, every year, the excitement on our students’ faces puts everything into perspective. Despite all the tears and anxiety (on my part,) it always turns out pretty well, and our students learn some valuable lessons.

If you are interested in starting a career fair at your school, here are some tips and tricks that I’ve learned throughout the years!

  1. Start recruiting early. It sounds ridiculous, but we are calling people months in advance to see if they are available for the career fair. People’s schedules fill up fast, and the sooner someone is able to let work know that they are taking a day off, the better. This also allows you more time to find people for each career. It’s always going to be hard finding someone in the medical field, since so many offices book out appointments several months out.
  2. Decide on what style works best for you. What we do at my school may not work for everyone, but it definitely works for us. We used to schedule students for three “mini-classes” and they went to those classes and listened to the presenter talk for 20 minutes. Just last year, we switched to an arena style career fair, where students are able to roam the gymnasium and speak to whomever they wish. While we still set a time limit (45 minutes,) we found that students were much more engaged if they could visit with multiple individuals about their careers. This also led to less chaos if a presenter called in sick, or was unable to attend that day.
  3. Represent as many career clusters as you can. This year, we have all 16 career clusters represented by different individuals from a wide variety of careers. You never know when a career that isn’t as “popular” or “typical” might catch a student’s interest!
  4. Displays are key. We encourage our presenters to bring some sort of interactive display for our students to view. And what a turnout we had last year! A group of tile setters came in with a wall that students could place tiles on using their equipment and grout. A warden brought in animal pelts that the students could touch. A veterinarian brought in her dog, and taught students how to check his ears. The sky’s the limit! And the students were talking about all of these experiences for hours, days, and even months after!
  5. Set a timeline and stick with it. Our team tries to do as much as we can in advance. We are doing table layouts and name tags as soon as we have presenters confirmed. While there are some things that you won’t be able to do until the day before, having things done early will help alleviate a lot of the stress. Along this line, make sure you stick with the timeline you set!
  6. Send out thank-you notes after. We send out an email thanking all of our presenters for their time, in addition to a handwritten thank you note. We are lucky to have so many different people from all over the Milwaukee area who volunteer their time to visit with our kids, so we want to make sure they know how much we appreciate it!
  7. Ask for business cards, or interest in next year’s career fair. We’ve been doing the career fair for several years now, and each year, we make sure to record everyone’s name, business, and either email or phone number. This helps us grow our career fair each year, while also helping us maintain that connection with the individual. Many of the presenters enjoy the feedback we receive from students!

Is Your Compassion Fatigued?

13-heart-shape1By Elizabeth Jorgensen

As graduation nears, student excuses amass, skipping increases and academics succumb to prom plans and dorm decorating. The school days drag and the problems compound. And when students want exceptions or extensions, I’m less likely to budge. But a few weeks ago, I realized my post-spring break impatience has a name—and, it turns out, seniors aren’t to blame.

As I sat in Arrowhead’s back-to-school teacher in-service, our school’s Director of Student Services discussed Compassion Fatigue. According to the Compassion Fatigue Awareness Project, “Day in, day out, workers struggle to function in caregiving environments that constantly present heart wrenching, emotional challenges. Affecting positive change in society, a mission so vital to those passionate about caring for others, is perceived as elusive, if not impossible. This painful reality, coupled with first-hand knowledge of society’s flagrant disregard for the safety and well-being of the feeble and frail, takes its toll on everyone from full time employees to part time volunteers. Eventually, negative attitudes prevail.” That’s it! That’s what happens to me, I thought.

The Director of Student Services recommended battling Compassion Fatigue with mindfulness, meditation and yoga. He recommended proper exercise, nutrition and sleep. He also reminded my school’s staff of the importance of self-reflection and supportive relationships.

He warned that Compassion Fatigue could lead to burnout, emotional exhaustion and negative feelings. I wondered how the increased challenges teachers face impact Compassion Fatigue. I also wondered how pervasive this feeling (in teachers and in our school)—especially considering he started the school year with it.

Then, a few weeks later, DPI sent an email. The email stated that “A DPI-ConnectEd subscriber requested help for ‘the emotions and stress that teachers go through,’ which are ‘getting dangerously’ out of balance for many educators. ‘I am concerned that these incredible, dedicated people will step away from teaching. Some of them already have.’” DPI recommended self-care, awareness, balance, connections, and “small, manageable steps.” DPI, like my district, provided resources, “as part of the self-care module, including a step-by-step guide for developing a plan and a sample self-care plan.”

For me, knowing I’m not alone—and being able to identify and name my feelings—makes me feel better. This year, I’m prepared for what feelings might come, especially as second semester nears. I’m planning to take DPI’s suggestion and follow the ABCD’s of self-care: awareness, balance, connections and develop a plan. I hired a personal trainer, I’m making time for myself, and I joined professional organizations (including Marquette University’s College of Education’s Alumni Board).

Although there’s no quick-fix cure to Compassion Fatigue, I’m hoping my patience and compassion will increase this spring. And if (or when) Compassion Fatigue sets in, I know I’m not alone and I know what I can do to minimize its impact.


End of Quarter Reflection Benefits Students—and Teacher


By Elizabeth Jorgensen

The end of first quarter at Arrowhead Union High School was Friday, November 3. On this day, I asked my students to reflect on the progress they’ve made during the first nine weeks of school.

Students started by re-reading their six major pieces of writing. Then, they wrote a letter to me. I provided the following questions as guidance:

  • How have you grown as a writer/person because of this class?
  • What assignments pushed you?
  • What have you learned about yourself?
  • What did you learn about writing?
  • If you had to do first quarter over, what would you do differently?
  • How has my feedback impacted your writing or writing process?
  • In which ways have you applied the concepts of this class to other classes?
  • Which pieces are you most proud of?
  • What was your biggest struggle?
  • How does the writing in creative writing compare to the writing you do in other classes?
  • What did you wish you had the opportunity to do, but didn’t? What do you hope we work on during second quarter?
  • How did your expectations of creative writing compare to the course so far?

Not only did students reflect on their progress, but they also provided me with powerful, valuable feedback. Three common themes permeated the letters: teacher feedback, personal growth and the writing process (specifically composing multiple drafts). I was shocked by many of the responses. I had no idea the impact my feedback had on my students. With 180 students each semester, too often we don’t get the time to connect one-on-one. However, these letters revealed how each student felt about the course, their progress and my teaching.

I hope you consider asking your students to spend time reflecting, not only for them, but for your insight into them and their learning. Here are excerpts from my students’ reflections:

“I think that this class has improved my writing entirely and has made me both a stronger writer and a person. A significant part of my improvement came from your end, as my teacher, commenting on my work and helping me to improve each and every piece to perfect it any way possible. I think that every teacher should provide feedback to their students like you do because it is extremely helpful and has taught me how to write more efficiently.”

“The advice you have given me and even the compliments on my writing has allowed me to discover how much I love to write. I am still going through a lot of things personally including my adventure in discovering who I am. I have shared multiple pieces we have written in class with my therapist and she used the word catharsis to describe what writing has done for me. This was a powerful moment for me as a person because in my mind all I was doing was doing what was asked of me, when in reality it was much more than that. I realize now that having an outlet that wasn’t self-destructive gave me opportunity to feel proud of how I was coping with a situation rather than regretting a behavior I normally would use to cope with stress or anxiety.”

“Before this class, I never proofread my work and I would never compose multiple drafts for a single piece of work. This class has shown me the importance of proofreading and creating more than one draft. All of pieces have been edited, proofread, and peer edited. For me personally, I found that getting feedback and having someone edit my work helped me revise parts in my work that I might have overlooked otherwise. These edits made me realize how importing editing is in the process of writing.”

“Writing in this class is different than other composition classes I have taken. In past classes, we have wrote just essays and focused on the topic and didn’t dig deeper into the meaning of it. In creative writing, we dig deeper into the origin of a writing where it came from. It helps me have a better understanding of the work I’m composing. This class more than other composition classes has help me improve my writing…This class is challenging but in a good way. If this class was super easy then I don’t think I would take away as much. I like how you comment on our papers very quickly. No teachers have done that before for me and it really helps me see from a different point of what a certain piece of writing needs.”

“Creative writing does not compare to the other writing classes I have taken. In the other classes you are just expected to write papers. In creative writing, we learn more about the type of writing and we go further into detail about the piece. I have learned more in creative writing than in any other writing class. Creative writing is one of the best classes I have taken because I have become a better writer and learned new techniques to tighten up my writing.”

“The revisions are the most helpful part to me in this writing process…Writing my other essays, teachers gave me feedback after I already turned in the paper. When the teachers passed my paper back, I saw my grade and didn’t try to understand why I received that grade. This is why the comments during the writing process make me think how I can improve in this piece. In the long run, I will become a better writer because I will try not to make these same mistakes again. These comments helped me see many problems in my writing that I don’t see.”

“Getting constant feedback from you on everything that we write I am sure takes a good chunk of your time but I am thankful you do it because it definitely helps me going back into a piece multiple times and being able to change things and just make the piece better. I feel like you actually care about us and our writing and want to make us better which is not a feeling that I can say I get from every teacher.”

“I’ll admit, before this class, I was the person who would always type their essays the day of, rushing through what I now realize is a process of contemplation, reflection, and constant editing until a state of perfection (or however close one can get) could be reached. However, I feel that with each project I learn to respect that process even more, and have actually begun to value my writing, and to feel an obligation to take care of it, so I actually can feel proud of it.”

“[This class] has helped improve skills that you wouldn’t normally associate with writing such as problem solving, thinking out of the box, self-reflection and time management. These skills can relate to many different activities besides writing as well as assisting me in being able to be clear and concise in my work. Even if you don’t want to be a writer, I would recommend this class because of the different forms of self-improvement it can offer. This class has met my expectations in being able to make me feel like a better writer.”

“Your philosophy that writing is an art form and not a specific science really resonated with me. I also believed that before this class, my writing could not have gotten any better, but without a doubt, it has improved more than I could have imagined.”

“The writing in this class has challenged me the most, by far, than any other class I have taken. I thank you for showing me how better of a writer I can be.”


A Creative (Writing) Approach to Assessment

bubbleBy Elizabeth Jorgensen

Assessment and grades in my creative writing class reflect progress, improvement and growth. Over the course of each assignment, students complete at least three drafts. After each draft, I provide students with feedback, suggestions and corrections. To complete this, I use the “suggesting mode” on Google Docs.

After each draft, students receive points (which reflect the student’s ability to address my feedback and elevate language choices, the plot or writing quality). For a grade, I look for improvement, specifically assessing if today’s draft is better than yesterday’s. Grades in my   creative writing class reflect the work a student does to update his or her draft and make intentional and purposeful choices.

Each assignment, task or draft is worth four points. I remind our students—through words, practice and assessment—that each part of the writing process has equal importance. In my classroom, the brainstorm is worth as much as the first, second, third and final drafts, and is worth as much as peer editing or submitting a piece to a writers’ market. Through this grading system, I encourage students to value each part of the writing process.

I expect each student to hand in something (anything!) each day. I remind students that writing is not about being perfect on the first try—and that if they put something (anything!) down on paper, they will receive not only feedback, but also points. This system allows for not only differentiation and personalization, but also student success in developing writing skills and confidence.

Here are two screenshots of feedback I provided students:

EJ 1


Jorgensen sijo presentation

In the classroom, I focus on building confidence through affirmation and skill development. Mini lessons encourage students to implement stylistic devices or action verbs or varied sentence structures. Peer editing provides an additional resource. Because my students are juniors and seniors, I encourage them to assume ownership of their writing, grade and performance.

There are, of course, students who fail to complete daily work. In these instances, a conference is the first step. Often, this initial contact propels the student into action. Losing four points day after day can also motivate (as students see how quickly not doing daily work can dig an academic grave they can’t escape). If the student remains resistant, a phone call or email home can be the impetus needed. If a student continues to refuse, connecting with a previous teacher or guidance counselor can provide insight (what motivated a student to work in a previous class can often continue to be a motivating factor in creative writing). Additionally, everything students do in creative writing is sent to a writers’ market. This authentic writing—with hard deadlines and strict requirements—works to motivate students through the allure of purpose, publication and monetary awards.

This blog was taken from an article I wrote (“Accommodating All Students: A Co-Teaching Approach to Creative Writing”) for the Wisconsin English Journal’s Creative Writing issue.

Where Do We Go From Here?

sunset-1207326_640By Stephanie Nicoletti

It seems like every time you turn on the news or log onto any social media outlet you find out something terrible has happened in the world. Whether it be a terrorist attack, gun violence, gang violence, the list goes on and on. It seems like we all want to solve these problems but the only way we know how to is by arguing, belittling on social media, or just talking in circles.

Every day I greet my first-graders and think this is my chance to make a difference in our world. I may not be able to make a political difference other than voting, but I can do something even more powerful– I can shape our future. Teachers have the opportunity to teach children empathy and problem solving. We are in charge of making sure our future world is a safe one and better than the one we are living in now. It just starts with our children.

Authentic Writing Opportunities for Your Students

wallpaper__book_by_analaurasam-d6cak0wBy Elizabeth Jorgensen

Stephen Bonga Award in Poetry and Prose.

This award is given annually to two high school students in memory of Stephen Bonga (an Ojibwe and African American fur trader, interpreter, and founder of United Methodist Church in Superior, WI). Students living in Minnesota, Michigan or Wisconsin can submit poetry or prose. All winners and finalists will receive a year subscription to Up North Literary Journal.

Deadline: November 15, 2017.
Prize: $125 and publication.
Find out more here:

Teen Ink Essay Competition: “If I Were Mayor of My Town…”

In this competition, students are asked to address the following prompt: If you were mayor of your town, what issues would you address and why? Share your vision for the future of your community. The essay needs to be 1,000 words or less and submitted to the Opinion section.

Deadline: November 30th, 2017
Prize: 1st Place: $500; 2nd & 3rd Place: $100
Find out more here:

Profiles in Courage Essay Competition

In this contest, students are asked to “write an original and creative essay that demonstrates the understanding of political courage as described by John F. Kennedy in Profiles in Courage. The maximum word count is 1,000 with a minimum of 700, not including citations and bibliography.”

Deadline: January 4, 2018.
Prize: Winner receives $10,000. The winner and his/her family are invited to the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library. Travel and lodging expenses paid. Second place receives $1,000 and five finalists each receive $500.
Find out more here:

New York Times 2017-2018 Student Contest Calendar

The New York Times offers a variety of authentic writing opportunities to students throughout the year.
Find out more here:

Six Word Memoirs.

Students are asked to write memoirs in six words.
Find out more here:


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