Archive for the 'Lessons I've learned' 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!

Flashback to Peru

IMG_4375Last summer, Sara Douvalakis and six other College of Education students participated in the College’s first faculty-led study abroad trip to Peru. Led by Drs. Melissa Gibson and Jeff LaBelle, S.J., the students wrote about their experience. For this #ThrowbackThursday, we aren’t going too far back in time– just to May 2017!
My name is Sara and I am a senior at Marquette University in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. I am originally from a suburb of Chicago, and in the fall I will be a senior in the College of Ed with a double major in Psychology and Elementary Education. My hobbies include cooking, online shopping, grabbing coffee with friends, and of course eating!

I am traveling to Peru as part of a first time study abroad program  for education majors. This is the first time that the College of Education at MU has offered a study abroad program. While in Peru, I will be taking two courses for a total of 6 credits; the courses focus on Critical Issues in Education and Philosophy of Education. The courses will examine the philosophical underpinnings of various educational approaches in the US and Peru, as well as the key issues, policies, and practices that are part of global debate about what constitutes a high quality and equitable education.

Day 1:
After two long flights from Chicago to Panama City and then to Lima Peru, we finally made it. Although my legs felt like Jell-O from sitting for almost nine hours in the plane, all of my luggage arrived and I am forever grateful for that. Phew! After weaving through late night Peruvian traffic, we arrived at our host family’s home. The home belongs to a family of four; MariLuz, her husband, Jose (our tour guide) and his sister Carla, who is currently in Columbia.

In the morning we were served fresh rolls and jelly for breakfast. Once our tummies were full, we headed out for our first of many walking tours. Our host brother, Jose, took us through the neighborhoods to the Jesuit University that is hosting us. We spent the day meeting locals, students, and other education students at Universidad Antonio Ruiz De Montoya (UARM). We walked around the beautiful outdoor campus, which was bustling with students from all over Peru.

During some presentations shown to us by administrators from UARM, we listened to a panel of students and professors who introduced us to some of the issues in education. The thing that most caught my attention was the fact that education is very centralized in Lima. Many people in the country do not have access to education like we do in the United States. Many of the people in the jungle and in the mountains are not able to travel hours a day for access to education. During the panel, there was a student who received the Beca (scholarship) 18, which is for students in very high poverty areas, and it provides them the opportunity to go to college on a full ride. This particular student was from the mountains of Peru without the opportunity to go to college; however, with this scholarship she is able to attend school for four years for absolutely no cost. While she was speaking it was clear that she had come great lengths to travel to the city of Lima and attend college in her non-native language. Stories like this are what motivate and excite me to be a teacher.

Once the presentations were over, Jose picked us back up at UARM, and we were off to another tour. This time he led us through the neighborhood/district, which we are staying in called Jesus Maria. Lima is split into districts and neighborhoods each with historical names. The streets are lined with panaderías and cevicherías. As well as shoe stores, hair dressers and nail salons (so many nail salons). We then made our way to the plaza of Jesus Maria where locals gather around in the town square. After a quick stop for ice cream, we made our way back to the house where we were served a traditional Peruvian dinner of garlic rice and meat stew with potatoes.

Overall today was a whirlwind. I quickly learned that my Spanish is nowhere near where I thought it was and that winter in Peru is actually nicer than most days in Milwaukee. It is past 10 pm here and tomorrow breakfast is being served at 6 am…. yikes!

Day 2:
Day two began with our alarm going off at 5:30 am (thank goodness for Peruvian coffee). After a sit down breakfast of freshly blended jugo de papaya y piña and pan we were off to MLK Socio Deportivo School to play futból with local children who live in the district of EL Agustino. This is one of the 49 districts of Lima; it was filled with abundant markets and hustle and bustle at every corner. MLK is a program founded by ex-gang members who are trying to enrich the community and provide opportunities for children growing up in this district. Although this is one of the poorer districts, it was my favorite location so far. Right away, I noticed friendly locals welcoming us, and beautifully colored homes lining the streets. Wild dogs and cats joined us on our walks through the neighborhoods, and even on the futból field.


The children of el Agustino made us feel welcome right away and were so curious about different English words and toys that we have in America. The boys were fascinated with my light eyes and blonde hair, since many Peruvians have darker hair and eyes. We were split into soccer teams and played short scrimmages against each other. I even scored a goal! Through this activity the children are taught sportsmanship, respect, and conflict/resolution. MLK Socio Deportivo School is working with the community to bring families and children together in a positive way.

IMG_4351Now for the best part of the day…lunch! The lunch we were served today was a lunch for the gods, no joke. We had fresh ceviche (which I wanted to take home in my backpack), fried fish, rice with seafood and different corn salads. El Agustino is like no place I have ever been, and I was absolutely fascinated with all of the sights before me. I could have walked up and down those streets forever.

After a long and nauseating car ride in Peruvian traffic, we went back to the host university for our first official seminar. Here we talked about our readings, reflected on our first impressions, and talked about the big ideas for our courses (don’t forget I am here for school after all). And now here I am, in the living room of my homestay writing my first blog ever with my six amigas. Soon dinner will be served to us by MariLuz, and we will finish up our very first blog posts for all the world to enjoy (or mostly my mom). I am so blessed to be here and have loved every minute; although my body and brain are exhausted, I cannot wait to wake up the next morning and have a new set of incredible experiences.


Today’s lessons:

  • “Children are seeds, who have the potential to grow into beautiful flowers and teachers are the sunlight that can get them there” –Rodrigo from the UARM Student panel
  • Do NOT flush toilet paper. It must be thrown into the trash…yeah, it is an adjustment.
  • Winter in Peru is interesting. Wear layers because one minute you are sweating and another minute you are “freezing.”

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.

Let’s Talk Reading Logs

books-933333_960_720By Stephanie Nicoletti

The 2017-2018 school year has begun, and I have had fresh, smiling, first grade faces in my class. My students have been eager and ready to learn– and their excitement is contagious! One of my favorite things about the beginning of the school year is watching how excited the kids are to explore books. It is always one of my goals to ensure that their love of reading continues.

In first grade reading at home is the most important “homework” students can have. This year we are sending home reading logs to make sure students are reading at home. My only worry is that the logs will start to make students hate reading-or are they too young to see reading logs this way? I know when I was in high school (and even now) I would never fill out a log to track my reading or reflect on it, but I still love reading. I don’t want student’s love for reading to be diminished at a young age.

Maybe the discussion should not be around holding students accountable at home, but how do we create reading environments that allow our students to be passionate readers and learners, even at a young age.

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