Archive for the 'Stories from the classroom' 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.

 

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.

The Last Day of School

1000w_q95By Stephanie Nicoletti

On Friday there was a certain buzz going around the school, the kids came in with happy faces and even teachers were grinning ear to ear; it was the last day of school. During our closing circle on the last day I told my students that I enjoyed every minute with them and absolutely loved watching them grow over the school year.

Each year I always get sad during our last closing circle, your students become a part of you after spending a year together. This year I even had a little one who had tears streaming from his face when the bell rang, he was so upset he did not want to leave the classroom. This made me sad of course, but it also made me realize that all of the work teachers do over the summer to prepare for the following school year does not go unnoticed.

I was making a list this morning of all of the things I wanted to accomplish this summer before the school year starts. The list is long and daunting, but then I remember the tears that were in my classroom on the last day and remind myself that everything teachers do, no matter how daunting it may seem, is always for the students. While this summer will be fun, relaxing and refreshing for students and teachers alike, do not forget to remember your students who are itching to come back to school!

What I’m doing This Summer

summer-still-life-785231_1280By Elizabeth Jorgensen

I hear in the media, and from professionals outside education, that teachers “have the summers off.” But this couldn’t be further from the truth.

In 2007, I searched WECAN for summer employment opportunities and noticed Kettle Moraine High School’s extensive listings. When I interviewed, I learned about the state’s largest summer school program. With a five period day, students from kindergarten through the 12th grade, attend classes ranging from camping to everyday math and from golf to Disney mania. After an interview, I accepted a position with KM’s Summer Academy. Throughout the next decade, I taught online classes and in-person classes to both elementary and high school students. Learn more about Kettle Moraine’s Summer Academy here.

Working in a different district energized and encouraged me. I saw firsthand the positives of my district and I picked up innovative ideas from KM teachers to help advance my AHS curriculum. This summer, I’m slated to teach two sections of ACT Prep online to KM juniors and seniors.

Then, in 2013, one of my colleagues at Arrowhead asked, “What do you do on Saturday mornings?” She proceeded to discuss Dr. Donnie Hale and his work in the pre-college program at Carroll University. Again, after an interview, I accepted a position to work with Project Pioneer. “Project Pioneer is Carroll University’s Saturday pre-college enrichment program which focuses on helping high school students build the skills, knowledge and mindset necessary to succeed in college and beyond.” On Saturdays, fifty high school students from Waukesha and Milwaukee engage in month-long academies “that will lead them through exploring their community and identifying a challenge within it, researching that challenge and finding solutions, and taking action. During this process, students will address a real challenge that their community faces while also building skills around the 4Cs: Critical Thinking and Problem Solving, Creativity and Innovation, Communication and Collaboration. Students will learn that their voice matters and that when they speak up and take action, they can make positive changes in the world around them.” Although Dr. Hale left Carroll a few years later (to become Florida International University Faculty Director of the Education Effect at Booker T. Washington Senior High School), I stayed on to work in the pre-college program (now under the direction of Maria Ramirez). Learn more about the program here.

My work at Project Pioneer led me to Horizontes en Carroll: “a program which welcomes upwards of 50 high school students from Waukesha, Milwaukee, Racine, and Harlem (NY) to campus each summer to experience university life and gain academic, social and life skills…During this week long residential program, students in grades 9-12 take part in several learning experiences that allow them to understand all aspects of higher education.” At the week-long summer camp, students develop career and college readiness skills and a better understanding of the college experience. Last summer, I facilitated a poetry reading and Horizontes en Carroll literary magazine. This summer, students will produce and publish the second annual Horizontes en Carroll Literary Magazine: A Collection of Creativity. Learn more about the program here.

This summer, I am also teaching online English classes for Arrowhead Union High School. Learn more about Arrowhead’s summer school offerings here.

My summers are, in fact, busier than my school year. I’m not sure who perpetuates the “teachers have summers off” stereotype, but it surely isn’t me.

What are you doing this summer?

Celebrate. Get Sleep. Be Proud.

– By Claudia Felske

Celebrate. Get Sleep. Be Proud. Anyone who reads my blog with regularity will know that this is worlds away from my previous post: Worry. Lose Sleep. Be AnxiousThe simple reason for this 360? We’re done with our collaborative novels. Done!

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Our 4th hour novelists: Epoch

So, how does it feel, this collective exhale? How does it feel to be click-ready published authors on Amazon.com? First, a glance inside, a peek behind the curtains. As you’d expect, we didn’t go directly from bile-inducing anxiety to euphoric celebration.  There were more than a few bumps along the way.

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Our 1st Hour Novelists: First Draft

Mantra time. I opened the next class period by scrawling my favorite writing mantra on my board as students watched: “An author is a writer who didn’t give up,” a sentence which remained on front board for the duration of the project. I then openly shared my anxiety with them, I shared my sleeplessness with them, I shared my own publishing experiences with them. I explained the level of precision required for publication. I told them that we could get there, but it wouldn’t be easy.Our first sizable hurdle was a sobering reality check after first drafts were turned in. Student writing was not at the caliber I had hoped; rather, it was at a caliber, to be truthful, that terrified me. The prospect of getting these chapters from their current state—underdeveloped and error-laden, in other words, fiction written by freshmen in high school—to publication seemed inconceivable. That night, sleep eluded me. Getting from point A to point Z would require much more than wishful thinking.

After our heart-to-heart, I gave them a survey, asking for their honest feedback. The result (see graphs) is what pushed us ahead. Ninety percent said they felt like with the help of their teacher and editors they could do this. Only three students said they weren’t sure (but they’d try); and only one person said they weren’t interested. Buy-in was apparent. I knew that if we had the mindset and the work ethic (which we clearly did) we could do this. I could pull in the naysayer and provide a structure that would support my writers and get us across the publication finish line.

1 graph graph 2b

Then came the delegation of work. This was a critical step. Yes, I’d be editing each story, but many rounds of editing would have to happen before publication.  I needed help. Recruiting student editors would also give my strongest writers a challenge worthy of their skills. However, it would, of course, mean more work for already busy students. Would students be interested in being editors? cover artists? organizers? Again, the stars seemed aligned: my strong writers seemed to naturally self-identify and volunteer to be editors, my artistically-inclined students started working on cover art they’d submit for a class vote. And the momentum began.

editors

Blanket-wrapped editors on a late-night editing session (the heat was turned off).

What happened in the two months that followed was writing, revising, mini-lessons, pep talks, Saturday and Spring Break work sessions, and did I mention writing? What did not happen was “point mongering.” Not a single student asked “What’s my grade?” They were, as educational researcher Alphie Kohn calls it, intrinsically motivated learners. Remarkably, as freshman in high school, they were determined to write stories worthy of publication, to achieve a degree of excellence that transcended grades. And that, I’m deciding right now as I type these words, is the true indicator of authentic learning, the mark that what we’re doing is truly worthy of my time and theirs. That is the new standard I will hold myself to.

 

boardNow, instead of subjecting you to all of the sordid details of our writing and editing process, I will pass the ball to my students, in their own words. Here’s what they wrote in their blogs the day after our book signing event. I asked them to reflect on the unit and offer advice to next year’s novelists: 

  • I’m a published author! It’s so worth it so look at the experience as a lesson that sometimes you need to do what you find uncomfortable and make it into something fun and worth it in the end. 
  • The biggest thing I learned was I have a vivid imagination that I am really good at putting it on paper. I couldn’t stop writing and I won’t.
  • It was amazing to see people reading and buying OUR book. Just seeing it on Amazon was really cool.
  • I was an editor for my classmate’s chapters and I think I learned more editing than I did writing. I already knew how to write decently, however, I had never critiqued and changed other’s fictional works before. I learned about writing in different voices than what I write in and how to give positive feedback mixed with critiques.
  • Here’s my advice: Treasure and appreciate extraordinary experiences. This really just sunk in for me. I collaborated with a number of very creative and intelligent people and in the midst of that collaboration we created something awesome. 
  • Some people are really bull-headed, others shy, some just don’t like to work with others. People can be difficult. They are difficult because everyone is different. But when making the book we somehow made the book happen. I gained knowledge on how to work with other people and how to deal with things that I really don’t agree with.
  • I am a published novelist! That’s right, you read that correctly! Our English class decided to do something a little different. You might have read books, but we wrote one.
  • It sure was a ton of stress and lots of hard work and many hours spent on this project. I remember how crazy our English teacher sounded when she told our first hour class that WE were going to be writing and publishing a book. A legit, freaking, book!

And my reluctant novelists? The ones who weren’t sure they could do it? Here’s what they wrote:

  • Writing a chapter allowed you to stretch your creative muscles and learn something about yourself that you didn’t know. 
  • All I can tell you is that it takes work to get there, but it’s worth it.

My “not interested” student?

  • The writing process wasn’t my favorite but seeing the connection between stories of completely different people in completely different places in the world was amazing. Overall, I learned a lot from the experience, about myself and about writing. I usually hate the idea of short stories but this story is something I am sort of proud of. Writing is not my dream, but it is definitely be a good skill to have.
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Students proudly signing copies of their novels

Finally, what about me, their “fearless” (a.k.a “fearful”) leader? As one of my students duly noted: I think that this novel really took a toll on our teacher, but it all worked out in the end.” Yes, and yes—a worthwhile toll, I would add. None of it was easy, all of it was worth it.

And now, through it all, we are bound together for 70 years past my death (copyright law, the great uniter).

 

Clearly, it’s time to celebrate, get sleep, and be proud.

Students Try on a Different Writing Style with Their Voice

writer-605764_1280By Elizabeth Jorgensen

To encourage my students to write in a different style, I first have them read a chapter from House on Mango Street titled “Four Skinny Trees.” We read and discuss this chapter. Then, I tell students to try on the author’s style of writing to see how it fits with his or her voice. I instruct students to adhere to Sandra Cisneros’s sentence structure by going word by word, keeping her structure, but changing the words.

First, students look at the title: “Four Skinny Trees.” In the title, Cisneros has a number, an adjective, and then a plural noun. Students then write their own title, complete with a number, adjective and plural noun.

Example: Four Skinny Trees could become Three Bulbous Rocks or Five Insecure Boys or Three Broken Feet.

Students continue through Cisneros’s “Four Skinny Trees” chapter, keeping her structure but telling their own story. I remind students that they should have the same number of sentences and paragraphs as Cisneros. If she repeats a word, I remind the students they need to repeat a word. If Cisneros states her title, the student should state his or hers.

Cisneros: “Four Skinny Trees”

Jorgensen: Three Bulbous Rocks

Cisneros: “They are the only ones who understand me. I am the only one who understands them.”

Jorgensen: They are the only ones that irritate me. I am the only one who kicks them.

Cisneros: “Four skinny trees with skinny necks and pointy elbows like mine.”

Jorgensen: Three bulbous rocks with dirty bellies and snowy caps like glaciers.

Cisneros: “Four who do not belong here but are here.”

Jorgensen: Three amongst a million more in my yard.

Cisneros: “Four raggedy excuses planted by the city.”

Jorgensen: Three infuriating rocks there to trip me.

Cisneros: “From our room we can hear them, but Nenny just sleeps and doesn’t appreciate these things.”

Jorgensen: From my porch I can see them, but my boyfriend just sighs and says I’m hallucinating.

I provide a model as well as student and teacher examples. You can see my worksheet and resources here. At the end of the exercise, students have a poetic, entertaining and interesting vignette. This exercise also prompts a plagiarism discussion, students debating if a writer can copy another author’s structure.

Student vignettes are often published. Teen Ink published Nate Ferro’s vignette and Megan Rutkowksi’s vignette.

I encourage you to use this exercise with your students or to modify it to better align with your curriculum.

 


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