Archive for the 'In case you were wondering…' Category

In-Class Brainstorms Can Prevent Writer’s Block

Veteran_and_FlagBy Elizabeth Jorgensen

Every year, the Fleet Reserve Association asks students to compose an essay (in 350 words or less) on an Americanism theme. This year, the topic was “What Patriotism Means to Me.” This topic could have been daunting or overwhelming to my juniors and seniors. But I used a brainstorm over several days to excite students about both about the topic and writing about it.

I’ve found a thorough brainstorm—including videos, discussions, and music—prevents students from saying “I don’t know what to write” or “I have writer’s block.”

As we began our brainstorm, I told students about StoryCorps. Its mission (according to their website) “is to preserve and share humanity’s stories in order to build connections between people and create a more just and compassionate world…to remind one another of our shared humanity, to strengthen and build the connections between people, to teach the value of listening, and to weave into the fabric of our culture the understanding that everyone’s story matters.” I found a variety of StoryCorps videos featuring veterans. After each clip, we discussed what the video suggested about patriotism or what the students thought patriotism meant to the veteran featured.

Then, students watched country music videos, noting references to American culture. After each video, I asked “How did this video show support for our country?” and “What does this video suggest [insert the singer] loves about our country?” and “What iconic American references did you notice?”

In our discussion, students shared stories about family members in the military, about Fourth of July celebrations and about freedom.

I then had students brainstorm a list of what patriotism could mean. We talked about how patriotism’s meaning could be expressed literally or metaphorically. Students came up with 50-plus words including freedom, peace, opportunity, protection, liberty, unity, sacrifice, bravery, honor, perseverance and prosperity.

During our brainstorm, students also referenced American moments that reflected patriotism. We discussed both inspiring and tragic events.

My junior and senior students—born in 1999 and 2000—were too young to experience the emotions, devastation and patriotism 9/11 triggered. I shared with them my 9/11 experiences and memories, and then students made connections to recent events and their own patriotism. Students referenced the feelings football players kneeling (or linking arms) during the National Anthem stirred in them. They talked about the shooting in Las Vegas. As an English teacher, I encourage students write about what they are interested in or what triggers their emotions. This often means helping them process and make sense of the world around them.

Our discussion spanned several days and although this may sound like a long time, each student left empowered and ready to write. In the end, all of my students composed a creative, personal and specific essay—and all were able to define what patriotism meant to them.

To conclude the unit, we sent student essays to the Fleet Reserve Association, Teen Ink (a national teen publication) and our school’s literary magazine—and now we wait to see the results. I am optimistic the creative, personal and specific essays will be rewarded with publication and prizes.

Assessments, Assessments, Assessments!

parker-big-red-duofoldBy Stephanie Nicoletti

Assessment is a major component of teaching and learning but in order for the assessment to be productive in terms of student achievement, the teacher needs to think about the purpose of the assessment. A summative assessment is considered assessment of learning and is given to identify what students have learned. In an interdisciplinary approach the assessment could be performance based, or in more traditional settings, a general end of unit test.

Education has shifted over the years to assessment for learning and assessment as learning. These types of assessments have increased student test scores but challenged teacher practices over the years. Assessment for learning allows the teacher to screen the specific skills students need and determine what the next steps should be. Assessment as learning puts the students in charge of their learning through self-reflection and self-assessment. When teachers think about the reason for their assessments, student learning is much more successful.

All three assessment types can be crucial to student achievement when done correctly. After reading our text and other outside sources, what I am finding is that it does not seem that one type of assessment process, whether it be as, of, or for learning, is better than the other, but what the teacher does after or during the assessment process is most important. After research and reflection, these three types of assessments can work off one another to provide ample student success.


Battling Burnout: Tips for Self-Care During a Stressful Year

ginko-49880_640By Sabrina Bartels – I hate to admit it, but after five years as a counselor, I’m a little burned out.

Don’t worry, I’m not burned out in the sense that I want to stop being a counselor. Even though I may occasionally joke that I want to go into the business world, I know that I wouldn’t love it half as much as I love being a counselor.

No, my burnout is more of an emotional thing. Some days, I get mentally exhausted when I hear what my students have to deal with on a daily basis.

People talking negatively about each other on social media. Absent parents who never call. Single parents who are giving it everything they have, and then some, to make life good for their kids. Parents in prison. Families torn apart by violence. Families separated because of immigration. Combine this with the typical middle school struggles (trying to fit in, discovering yourself, starting to realize what you want to do,) and it leads to some very confused, very emotional students.

And unfortunately, it’s things that I don’t always have a good answer to. I am a whiz at providing suggestions to students about taking tests, dealing with friends, and being patient with siblings. I can talk about why attendance at school is important, and how certain actions of ours can lead to people having certain beliefs about us. However, it is nearly impossible for me to explain to a student why dad doesn’t call, even if my student made the first attempt to contact him. I can’t explain why an older sibling got shot and killed. I can’t even begin to provide an explanation as to when mom will get out of prison, or why she made the decision that got her in prison in the first place.

I know I’ve talked about self-care a lot, but I am realizing its importance more than ever this year. As I hear about more and more trauma that my students are experiencing, I begin to “take on” that trauma. I cry with them. I laugh with them. I obsess about how I can help them. I worry about how to improve their situations, and then take that worry home with me at the end of the day.

Some of you may be experiencing the same thing as me, so here are some tips for self-care:

  1. Do something for yourself. It’s not selfish, I promise. It feels really selfish sometimes; there are days when I come home and read my favorite book, instead of throwing laundry in right away, or starting dinner immediately. After all, what will we wear if I don’t do the laundry right now? What will we eat? Will we eat at all? Then I remember that A) my husband is pretty good at doing laundry and making dinner, and B) if I am not in a good mindset, I won’t be as able to help others. So really, take time for yourself doing whatever it is you LIKE to do.
  2. Forgive yourself. Easier said than done, for sure, especially since we are our own harshest critics. But sometimes, we need to be kind to ourselves. We are not perfect beings, no matter how hard we try, and we need to accept that we have limitations. Deep breath. It’s okay to not have it all together. This does not make you less of a person.
  3. Walk away. Mentally or physically, sometimes you need to step away from the situation. It’s okay to leave your stress and problems at the door. This doesn’t make you a bad counselor. Promise.
  4. Be mindful. Mindfulness is a huge part of our school’s culture, and a practice that I have adopted into my personal life. Mindfulness can be something different for every person – meditating, visualization, relaxation, etc. I know a lot of people who use specific visualization techniques to focus their breathing and their mind. For me, mindfulness is simply being in a quiet room on my own for 10 minutes. It gives me time to recharge my batteries before starting my next task.
  5. Have a partner to vent to. Sometimes, you just need someone to hear you and acknowledge the stress you are feeling. Whether it’s your significant other or your best friend, have someone who can be that sounding board for you.

Korean Culture Opportunities

fountain_pen_ink_pen_business_document_writing_office_signature-673659By Elizabeth Jorgensen

Your middle and elementary school students will most likely be familiar with haiku. But if you’re looking to include additional types of poetry in your classroom, I encourage you to consider sijo. Whereas haiku is Japanese, sijo is Korean. I tell my students sijo is haiku’s older, more mature cousin. I published an article in the Wisconsin English Journal last year about teaching sijo to high school students. The article includes practical tips as well as student examples. You can read that article here.

If you’re interested in learning more about sijo and Korean culture, the Sejong Cultural Society offers a variety of opportunities each year. Here’s what’s coming up this year:

Sejong Benefit Dinner
Sunday, October 15, 2017
Drury Lane
Oakbrook Terrace, IL

Keynote Speaker: Linda Sue Park
Linda Sue Park is a New York Times bestselling author and recipient of the Newbery Medal for A Single Shard. Among her other works are When My Name Was Keoko and Project Mulberry. Her keynote speech will be “Sijo Makes You Smarter.

The benefit will additionally feature Yerin Yang, winner of the 2014 Sejong Music Competition piano senior division, and a raffle including Blackhawks tickets and cash prize.

$125 per person
RSVP requested by October 1, 2017 | RSVP online
For more information, please visit our website.

Please email with questions or call 312.497.3007.

Music Inspired by Korean Poetry
Sijo Poems in  Settings from Classical to Hip-Hop
Saturday, October 21, 2017
Poetry Foundation
61 West Superior St., Chicago, IL
Free admission

This performance explores music inspired by sijo through traditional Korean music, jazz piano, piano/violin and cello/flute duos, and a hip-hop performance by Elephant Rebellion.  A post-concert reception will serve Korean food and wine. Hosted by the Poetry Foundation. | more information

Sijo Workshop for Educators
Comparison of East Asian poetry
Saturday, October 21, 2017
Newberry Library
60 W. Walton St., Chicago, IL
This workshop will cover how to write and teach sijo, as well as comparisons to Chinese quatrains and Japanese haiku.  Faculty includes David McCann (Harvard University), Daniel Hsieh (Purdue University), and Elizabeth Jorgensen (Arrowhead Union High School).  | more information

Co-organized with the East Asian Studies Center at Indiana University. Professional Development Credit is available from Indiana University.

2018 Sejong Writing Competition
Submission deadline: February 28, 2018
Open to residents of US and Canada age 25 years and younger
Essay Category

Senior Division (grade 12 and younger) and
Adult Division (age 25 and younger)

An Appointment with His Brother by Yi Mun-yol
Topic: Although it was written in 1994, Yi Mun-yol’s An Appointment with His Brother is still highly relevant today, particularly with North Korea’s almost continuous presence in international news headlines. What does the novella say about the complex issue of reunification and the potential problems it raises for both North and South? What does it reveal about North Korea that may be different from what people might imagine from the media coverage of the country? | more info

Junior Essay Division (grade 8 and younger)
Select one of the Korean traditional folktales available on our website and write your essay in response to one of three prompts.

Sijo Category
Sijo Poetry Category (grade 12 and younger)
The sijo is a traditional three-line Korean poetic form organized technically and thematically by line and syllable count.  Using the sijo form, write one poem in English on a topic of your choice.

Exampleswriting guides, and teaching materials are available on our site.

Competition Information

Guidelines:  All entries must be written in English, and only one essay and sijo per applicant are permitted.  A full list of guidelines and rules can be found on our website.  essay | sijo

Submission deadline:  11:59pm CST, February 28, 2018.  Applications and entries must be submitted through our online submission system.

Adult essay: First ($1,000), Second ($750), Third ($500)
Senior essay: First ($500), Second ($400), Third ($300)
Junior essay: First ($300), Second ($200), Third ($100)
Sijo category: First ($500), Second ($400), Third ($300)
Honorable Mentions: Friends of Pacific Rim Award ($50)

For more information, please visit our website.


New School Year, New Writing Opportunities

pencilsBy Elizabeth Jorgensen

As the 2017-2018 school year begins, here are five writers’ markets for your students:

  1. The New York Times.

Check out this article for their 2017-2018 competition calendar.

2. Yes! Magazine.

According to their website, “The YES! National Student Writing Competition is an opportunity for middle school through university students to write about something meaningful, and a chance to write for a real audience…Each quarter, students are invited to read and write an essay on a selected YES! Magazine

You can find out more here.

3. Fleet Reserve Association.

This year’s theme is “What Patriotism Means to Me.”

You can find out more here.

4. Teen Ink.

You can find out more here.

5. Canvas Literary Journal.

You can find out more here.

If you’re interested in sharing writers’ markets, please email me (, and I will feature them in an upcoming blog.


Remembering 9/11

“We do not remember days, we remember moments.” Cesare Pavese


Change is good, right?

-By Claudia Felske

Change is good, right?

That’s what they say.

Well, I’m changing…

I’m changing from a teacher-blogger to a teacher-novelist. I am here to announce that I will no longer be blogging directly about educational practices, policies, and trends not because there’s nothing more to say (not even close) and not because I’ve exhausted all the topics (even less close)!

Let me explain. If you will, indulge me in a momentary forray into my personal life: a trip into the biggest single piece of procrastination in my life. I’ve been intending to write a novel…for the last 25+ years.

Sure, I’ve had fits and starts, ideas and sketches, but nothing resembling a novel ever materialized until this July when I sent an email to a friend.

It all started at the beginning of summer. I was on a walk, listening to a podcast. Gretchen Rubin was describing what she calls the 4 tendencies, a framework she uses to describe personality types. I’ve always been a sucker for frameworks and surveys and opportunities to reflect, so I took the survey and discovered that I’m an “Obliger”: that is, I will go to great extremes to meet the expectations others have for me. Outer expectations (degrees, certifications, presentations, committees, and yes, blogs) are dutifully met. Inner expectations (writing that novel, losing that last ten pounds, daily dental flossing—you laugh, but I’m serious) are a different story. Things I want to accomplish just for my own sake take the back seat, every time.

So that day at the start of summer, while I was walking in the woods with my headset on, a caller (I should find this caller and thank her) self-identified as an Obliger and asked Gretchen Rubin for a solution which would allow her to achieve her personal goals. The answer, Rubin explained, is to create outside accountability. Find someone to hold you accountable, she suggests, a spouse, a friend, a coach—someone to answer to when trying to achieve your goal. Obligers will disappoint themselves 9 times out of 10, but rarely will they risk disappointing someone else.  

It sounded so simple, but it made so much sense. That was me. And so when I returned from our family vacation, it was time. I drafted an email to my friend. I explained my goal—to finally achieve the habit of daily writing, a habit that would allow me to finally write my novel. I asked if she could help.  

Since that email:

  • We’ve met once per week to strategize, and review, and check in.
  • I email her daily about my writing progress (outside accountability).   
  • I’ve turned my fits and starts into….THE FIRST THIRD OF MY NOVEL (excuse me for text-screaming, but this has been a long time in the coming).
  • I’ve simplified my life, bowing out of a number of obligations— worthwhile groups  and activities that I’m confident will continue their worthwhile work without me. 
  • I’ve established and kept the schedule that I’ve wanted for the past 25 years: I write every morning from 5:15-6:15 a.m.; I write every night (usually from 7:00-8:00). Writing now marks the bookends of my day, every day, whether it’s summer, a school day, or a weekend. It’s what I do.

I don’t know why it took me 25 years to reach this point. I don’t know why I heard that podcast on that day. I don’t know why it led me to email that friend (the right person at the right time). I don’t know why my stars have now aligned, and why they hadn’t earlier.   

Now, before you accuse me of delusions of grandeur, let me assure you that I am under no illusions of the difficulties that lie ahead. I do not have an agent, I do not have a book deal, I do not have a completed novel, but what I do have is a daily writing habit, what I do have is one third of a completed novel, and what I do know is that THE most essential prerequisite to writing a novel is ACTUALLY WRITING THE NOVEL!  And that, I am ecstatic to say, is finally happening.

So what does any of this have to do with this blog, with teaching, and with you, my dear readers?

Well, since I’m changing, so is my blog.

I’ve blogged monthly for the Marquette Educator for 6 years; I’ve blogged on my own a touch longer than that. It’s been a good run. I appreciate the opportunity it’s given me to reflect on my field and on my classroom. I love that it’s made some people reconsider the state of education. I love that it’s helped family and friends know more about what I do and why I do it. I’m still humbled that on February 9, 2015, my voice made it to the national stage and I learned what it’s like to have a blogpost “go viral.”

But, as the adage goes, “change is good,” so as I morph into novelist territory, my blogging will morph into a writer’s reflections on writing.

Of course I am still a teacher (I will always be a teacher) so I my posts will inevitably refer to teaching and learning, particularly teaching and learning about writing, but instead of being the thoughts of a teacher who blogs about education it will be the thoughts of a teacher who writes fiction.

My plan is to reflect on writing—-the discipline of doing it, the challenges of teaching it, the frustrations and joys of being immersed in it.  So who might want to read this morphed blog? Anyone who writes, anyone who wants to write, anyone who wants their students to write (not just English teachers), and anyone who is mildly curious about the goings on of this writer.

So now, onto part two of my novel and onto part two of my life.

Change is good.

What is a Marquette Educator?

Follow us on Twitter