Archive for the 'Tips and Tricks' Category

Writing Opportunities for Your Students

iStock_000005182627XSmall-Chapter-One

By Elizabeth Jorgensen

 Story Monsters Ink

  • About the publication: “Story Monsters Ink is a free, subscription-based magazine that gives parents and educators the latest news about award-winning and debut books, profiles on both renowned and newly published authors, upcoming book events, author presentations and more.”
  • About the contest: If you have a special teacher you’d like them to know about, email a letter to “Cristy@FiveStarPublications.com explaining why your teacher is the best, and we may choose him/her as our Teacher of the Month! It could be a principal, librarian, paraprofessional, etc. If your teacher is chosen, we will send him or her a Story Monster t-shirt and they will also get to choose a free book from our Little Five Star Bookstore. We will also print your letter along with a photo of you and your teacher in Story Monsters Ink!”
  • To find out more, go here.

Autism Society of Wisconsin

  • About the society: The Autism Society Affiliates in Wisconsin are hosting the 12th Annual Autism Essay Contest, a program designed to assist all students in gaining a deeper understanding of autism and how their peers with autism experience the world.
  • About this contest: “This essay contest is a wonderful opportunity to create an open dialogue about autism, how it affects students in your school and why celebrating differences is important. We hope that you will welcome this opportunity to promote understanding and acceptance of differences in your school.”
    • Divisions: Division 1: K-2nd grade; Division 2: 3rd-5th grade; Division 3: 6th-8th grade; Division 4: 9th-12th grade
    • Prizes: 1st Place Winners in each division will receive a $100 Amazon gift card; 2nd Place Winners in each division will receive a $75 Amazon gift card; 3rd Place Winners in each division will receive a $50 Amazon gift card.
      • All 1st place winners will be honored at and invited to the Family Reception at the Autism Society of Wisconsin’s 28th Annual Conference in Wisconsin Dells on Friday, April 28, 2017.
  • To find out more, go here.

Girls Right the World

  • About the writers’ market: “Girls Right the World is an international literary journal advocating for you, female-identified writers. We believe in the power of young women, sisterhood, and creativity through writing. The editors of this journal are students at Miss Hall’s School in Massachusetts.”
  • About this contest: “Girls Right the World is a literary journal inviting young female-identified writers and artists, ages 14 and up, to submit their work for consideration for the first issue. We believe that girls’ voices can and do transform the world for the better. We want to help expand girls’ creative platforms so that female-identified people from all races, religions, and sexual orientations can express themselves freely. We currently seek poetry, prose, short-stories, and lyric essays of any style and theme. We like powerful, female driven writing and work inspired by beautiful things in life. Writers keep the rights to their pieces, but we ask to have the right to first publish your works in North America. After publication, the rights would return to you. We publish annually. Send your best writing, in English or English translation, to girlsrighttheworld@gmail.com by April 1, 2017.”

To find out more, go here.

A Chance to Say Thank You and a Shot at Publication

060417-N-8157C-162By Elizabeth Jorgensen

As a teacher, my goal is to offer students authentic writing opportunities and the chance at publication. Last year, I found a project called “Defining Freedom” through the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, the Stars and Stripes Honor Flight and Milwaukee Brewer Jonathan Lucroy. For 20 weeks, the MJS published a different student essay in the Sunday newspaper. Each 200-word essay defined freedom. According to the MJS, the goal of the program was “to connect our greatest generation, and their stories to the youngest generation, and what freedom means to them.” My students participated, and 10 were published. This year, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel is again publishing essays.

In this year’s Milwaukee Journal Sentinel project, Adam Weidman, a Marketing Project Manager at the MJS, who helps coordinate both programs, said, “The program is called Mail Call, and once again, it’s another writing based initiative to honor veterans. We’ve renewed our partnership with the Honor Flight, and on return trip of every Honor Flight there is the ‘mail call’ portion of the flight where veterans receive letters from loved ones. Through this program we are extending the opportunity to anyone to write to a veteran (non-specific) and send them a personal letter, thanking them for their service.”

The week before Thanksgiving break, my students drafted letters. The servicemen and women will benefit from their writing, but so did my students: 1) Each letter had an authentic purpose, as each went to a veteran on the Honor Flight; 2) For each letter received, the MJS made a $10 donation to the Honor Flight; and 3) Students had the chance at publication in the MJS.

My students took the letter writing seriously. Students wrote about how thankful they are for service members; they wrote about sacrifice and patriotism; they wrote about freedom and liberty. Because this year’s program is not limited to students, I also wrote a letter. When I wrote alongside my students, not only did they see an example, but they also watched me work through the writing process. After students drafted letters electronically, I provided feedback and suggestions. Then, students finalized letters and decorated and hand-wrote final copies.

Additional details can be found at http://jsonline.com/mailcall.

My students’ examples:

Writing Opportunities for Your Students

Power of WordsBy Elizabeth Jorgensen

  1. Wisconsin Aldo Leopold Writing Contest
  • To learn more, go here.
  • Topic: “Tell us the story of a local leader who exemplifies Leopold’s land ethic. You may interpret local as someone who lives as nearby as your own neighborhood, or who resides and works elsewhere in Midwest region of the United States. To be successful, you will need to read and understand the ‘The Land Ethic’ essay in A Sand County Almanac and convey that understanding in your writing. Participants are also encouraged to explore other writings by Aldo Leopold.”
  • Deadline: 11:59 pm on March 17, 2017.
  • Who’s eligible: Wisconsin students in grades 9-12.
  1. John Stossel’s Tech Revolution Essay Contest
  • Who’s eligible: students age 12-18.
  • Deadline: February 17, 2017.
  • Topic: “Technological innovation has changed our lives, mostly for the better. But some innovation raises safety questions. Some threatens existing businesses. What should America do about that? John Stossel raises a few such issues in his TV special, Tech Revolution, but there are probably many others. After watching these five segments from John’s special, write a 500-1000-word essay on this topic, making a case for how you think government policy should deal with innovation in order to bring the greatest gains to society. Include your own examples of innovation at work, innovation that is being stifled by government rules, and/or negative results of too much or too little government oversight to bolster your argument, and make at least one reference to the TV special.”
  • To learn more, go here.
  1. LSSU High School Short Story Prize
  • Who’s eligible: high school students residing in the Midwestern United States and Ontario, Canada.
  • Deadline: April 30, 2017.
  • Topic: “The theme of the contest this year will simply be realistic fiction. Any form of realistic fiction will be accepted as long as stories are set in the real world…This year, our judges are looking for a realistic short stories written in a compelling voice with a well-developed story, character depth, a detailed setting, attention to language, and a deeper meaning.”
  • To learn more, go here.
  1. Wonders of Plastics Essay Contest
  • Who’s eligible: Wisconsin high school and elementary grade students living in all counties served by the SPE.
  • Deadline: February 28, 2017.
  • Topic: Students should write a 500-1000 word essay on the wonders of plastics. Topics to consider: “Advantages of plastics in food packaging; Creative use of recycled plastics; How plastics benefit humankind; How plastics improve our lifestyle; Plastics in the environment; Plastics usefulness in society; What plastics has done for me; Why the bad reputation of plastics is wrong.”
  • To learn more, go here.
  1. Write A Story Contest (through Scholastic’s SCOPE Magazine)
  • Who’s eligible: students in grades 4-12.
  • Deadline: March 10, 2017.
  • Topic: “Pick your favorite line (Despite its location, Dot’s Donut Shop was about to get famous; I thought it was a costume party; The new coach seemed peculiar, and it wasn’t just because of that third eye). Write a short story starting with your chosen line. Stories must be between 800 and 3,000 words.”
  • To learn more, go here.

 

 Building A Better Bulletin Board

language_bulletin_board_ksuBy Peggy Wuenstel

In these days of Facebook, Pinterest and Instagram, none of which I am very proficient in using, the old-fashioned bulletin board seems like a dated if not obsolete concept. Users today seem to feel a need to record every aspect of their life, meals, fun with friends, and exotic vacations, all carefully edited for public consumption. I would argue against the retirement of the traditional bulletin board. There are two distinct camps in the bulletin board debate. There are those who love to create, display and use them. There is a team in my building who create amazing art that makes students, teachers, and families feel valued and welcome. There are also those who hate them and think of them as a waste of time better used for direct instructional activities.

There is also the demarcation between the pre-fab vs. the personally created. Our favorite teacher resource books and websites offer lots of choices for those short on time, talent or inspiration. Some educators see the bulletin board as a chance to display student work, create a gallery, track progress, and provide cues for schedules, expectations or timing in their classrooms. Things posted on a board rather than delivered verbally can help build independence and responsibility in students.

This month I am celebrating a different type of corkboard, the kind that we use to attach new thinking, to record experiences, opinions, visual memories, graphic organizers, and memory aids. The larger the board we create for our children, the more new knowledge that they each can attach. With the right kind of encouragement we can help transform them into vision boards, those images that move us, inform us, inspire us to reflect and create.

Every teacher has at least one bulletin board. It might be cork, fabric, magnetic, or digital. It is also always mental. It’s that place where we keep all those things that we can’t afford to or don’t want to forget. You might have caught on to the fact that I am no longer talking about the classroom version that includes the lunch menu and tomorrow’s homework. I’m talking about the personal one.

I am appreciating my bulletin board before it is gone. I have begun the winnowing process, but there are a few things that will always remain pinned there until the very last days. My calendar, a paper version that allows me to smile at puppies every day sits at the center. Just like an analog clock, a paper calendar with its rows and columns is essential to teach kids about the systematic passing of time in ways that our digital tools cannot.

There are the assorted “love notes”, pictures, valentines, and other student created mementos tucked into the frame, expressions of affection that everyone needs to see now and then. There are pictures of my grandchildren, my niece in full combat gear, a vacation snapshot to remind me that not everything I love is here in this building. There are the magazine photos of sea otters that remind my students that I have favorite foods, colors, songs, and animals just like they do and the fact that we know that about each other makes us better at working together.

There are the utilitarian pieces, the contact lists, phone numbers, important dates, and meeting reminders. These change with the seasons, and the reasons for teaching. There are a few inspirational quotes, and always, my theme quote for the year front and center. This year’s version is “Live as if you will die tomorrow. Learn as if you will live forever” from Mahatma Gandhi.

There are the things I need help to remember, along with those that I know I will never forget. The handmade library card holder made of foam and duct tape, fashioned by a student who knows how often I go to the library, the photo of colleagues sharing a laugh, a cherished thank you note. There are also things that are not there, because they are private and would be hard to explain to students and parents. Things that make me laugh, and things that make me cry, including funeral cards for students who left us too soon. There are the cartoons meant for adult eyes, evidences of my political leanings, the talismans of the faith that guides my steps and my educational practice. And because I want no one to think I am anxious to leave here, there are no vision board pieces on this school board, no New England fall foliage or cherry blossoms in Washington D.C. No baby turtles struggling to get to the Atlantic Ocean or tombstones on the fields of Gettysburg because these are the things I hope to see in the first year of retirement. I have a vision board at home that includes these images as well as a tentative itinerary for a year of travel in an RV following the last days of school.

I have plans to send progress reports back to school, possibly labeled “Where in America are the Wuenstels?” but those reports will be on someone else’s bulletin board. I’ll likely post more often on Facebook, but not much more. There won’t be nearly as much that I need to remember, except maybe where we parked the RV.

 

 

A Quick Guide to Graduate School Applications

graduates_of_brunswick_high_in_2007By Nick Rocha

Applying for graduate school is often a daunting task for students who are attempting to balance work, school, and family life.  Submitting an application, asking for letters of recommendations, and writing an essay takes both time and energy.  Students who are currently working on applications or students who are interested in attending a graduate program after their undergrad might benefit from these 4 tips.

  1. Ask for letters of recommendations early. Professors and academics are often busy on their own work and responsibilities, so it is imperative that you ask for letters of recommendation early on in the application process.  Some experts recommend giving professors at a minimum three to four weeks to write a letter.  Many graduate school applications require the professor to submit the letter on to their website or complete additional questions about the applicant.  Make sure to send a resume to the professor detailing your relevant experiences and why graduate school is the next step for your career.  In addition, it is okay to contact your professor to ask about the status of the letter of recommendation when the deadline is approaching, but do not constantly ask them if they have submitted it yet.
  2. Establish a hook. When you are drafting your essay, it is important to spend a considerate amount of time on your first few sentences.  A hook simply means that you engage the reader in a meaningful way to encourage them to continue reading.  Students can talk about a powerful interaction with a teacher or a professor.  Some students can talk about the first break through that they had with a difficult student during their student teaching experience.  What is important is that you develop a narrative that captures the reader and provides a sense of mystery.
  3. Look for application fee waivers. This is something that is often overlooked by students.  When submitting applications to different graduate school programs, the application costs can add up quickly.  Many graduate school programs offer some information on their websites on how to apply for application fee waivers.  Students who have completed service work such as AmeriCorps and Peace Corps are sometimes eligible for a waiver.  If you are low-income, participated in summer research programs, a McNair scholar, or demonstrate economic hardship you may qualify for a fee waiver.  It is important to note, however, that many graduate schools offer application fee waivers on a first-come first-serve basis so it is important to look for opportunities long before the official deadline.
  4. Establish connections with professors you want to work with in graduate school. Who you will be working with in graduate school has a significant impact on your overall experience and your retention in the program.  Spend some time finding professors at your dream graduate school who are conducting research in an area that you want to get involved with.  Don’t be afraid to ask your current professors if they know anyone from those schools! Academia is actually quite a small place and you may have someone you know who can get you connected to someone at your graduate school.  If you have the opportunity to visit the prospective graduate school prior to applying, I encourage you to do so.  That will give you the chance to see not only if you are a good fit for you, but if the school is a good fit for you.

Finding and applying to graduate school is like dating.  Not only are you being assessed on your ability to contribute to the graduate school, but you also have to make a decision on whether that particular graduate school program is right for you and whether you want to pursue it further.  Finding your niche is not an easy process, but once you have found it things become that much easier.

 

Wearing My Team Jersey: It’s the People, Not the Program

football-1206741_960_720By Peggy Wuenstel

There is a constant drive in education to find the magic bullet, the secret recipe, the cutting edge approach that will magically turn a failing school into a flourishing one. Just like the late night commercials that advertise miracle weight loss solutions, I believe that if there were a magic formula for either, we would all be using them. What I have also come to understand is that it is the people, not the programs that make schools work. I have been blessed to work in one of those places where the team truly comes together. The team jersey I wear as a Washington Golden Eagle is the next of those things that I know I’ve got before they’re gone. People often ask me: “What makes your school different?” After all these years it has become evident to me. It is the teaching team with which I suit up for the work of guiding children every day.

There are two other elementary schools in my district. One is much smaller, with a much more homogeneous student population and laudable student performance measures. The other is very similar to my place of employment, with similar enrollment, demographics, challenges, and surrounding community. Where we differ most is in the longevity of the “team” in place and in the consistency of the instructional approaches in play in the two schools. In an effort to raise student performance measures, the dedicated staff of that building has gone through many incarnations, including an inquiry-based charter, and a new foray into a reading program that is much more structured than the one in use in my school. I wish them well in their quest to improve student learning, but am grateful that our building focus has remained on the people vs. the implementation of programs. We’ve had little staff turnover in my 15 years here, and many of our new “draft choices” have been transfers from within the district. These are teachers with which we had already established working relationships.

I work with educators who have already made the mindset shift to the absolute necessity of individualizing instruction. What happens when a child fails to learn here is not seen as a lack within the child, but within the range of approaches that we have attempted thus far. Resource and child assistance teams are not just the doorway to referral services (guidance, tutoring, reading or math interventions, or special education) but a way to problem-solve and enhance universal classroom instruction. Lack of benchmark attainment does not mean NOT, it simply means NOT YET. Our building goals have consistently targeted our highest need populations through good instruction and appropriate small group interventions. When teachers are committed to assisting children with performance gaps, instruction improves for all students because it is systematic, purposeful, and directly tied to assessment.

The environment is highly inclusive at Washington Elementary. Students with challenges (English Language Learners, Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, Autism Spectrum Disorders, children who have experienced childhood trauma) are fully integrated into classrooms. The techniques and supports in place to aid these students in meeting grade level expectations improve classroom climate and create access to learning for all. We have moved past the point of accommodating differences to valuing and celebrating the diversity that our students bring to their classes.

We have had the luxury of administration at the Board of Education, superintendent, and principal levels that understands that this willingness to take responsibility for enhanced classroom learning requires quality professional development along with the time and support to implement it effectively. It also necessitates the planning for assessment of its effectiveness, and the need for tweaks, additions, and deletions over time, and modifications when incorporated by different staff members. If we want custom-fit garments, we have to be willing to pay the tailor or the seamstress.

Another key piece is the continual improvement mindset we have adopted for ourselves and others. Getting better is what the process of education is all about, and we must be models of that for our students. Where we often differ is in how best to document that growth and forward movement. How delightful it is when it is evident in the accomplishments of our students and the pride of the community we serve!

My fellow teachers have also demonstrated their willingness to choose strategies for their efficacy for students and alignment with classroom practice, district vision and standards rather than for convenience or ease of implementation. The art of teaching still lies within our ability to make those good instructional decisions. The best way to know that a program is not for me is when the sales rep tells me, “It’s so easy to use that you don’t even have to think about it.” I always used to say that when I got to that point it would be time to retire. I’m delighted to say that I’m ready to retire and still actively thinking about what I present to students each day.

My principal is also our district’s head football coach, and sometimes he can overdo the sports references. We tend to prefer the family metaphor to the team moniker. It’s more like wearing the t-shirt at the family reunion than suiting up for the big game. It’s not as much about the competition and winning, or even about getting better, harder, faster or stronger. It’s about being a contributing member of the team, and knowing your role in the play we’ve called for the day. I’ve earned my team jersey. I wear it with pride, and I’m definitely packing it for the next leg of my journey.

 

 

Writing Opportunities for Your Students

parker-big-red-duofold

By Elizabeth Jorgensen

Are you looking for authentic writing opportunities for your students? Here are five writers’ markets to get you started:

 

  1. The Milwaukee Public Museum’s annual poetry competition.
    1. This year’s theme is food and students are “encouraged to write poems exploring the ways in which food, culture and history intersect, finding connections between what we eat and who we are, and how culture and identities are formed through food.”
    2. Deadline: April 14th, 2017.
  1. The Sejong Cultural Society’s annual sijo writing competition. Sijo is a Korean poetry form.
    1. The Sejong Cultural Society, in in collaboration with the Korea Institute at Harvard University, provide lesson plans, videos and teaching guides if you’re not familiar with sijo. You can learn about sijo and how to teach it here.
    2. Deadline: 11:59pm on February 28th, 2017 (CST). Students submit sijos here.
    3. Top prize is $500; second place is $400; third place is $300; and honorable mentions receive a Friends of Pacific Rim Award ($50 each).
  1. Barnes & Noble’s annual My Favorite Teacher
    1. Students are asked to “write an essay, poem, or thank-you letter (500 words or less) sharing how a teacher has influenced their life and why they appreciate and admire them.”
    2. Deadline: March 1, 2017.
  1. The Wisconsin Fellowship of Poets Annual Student Poetry Contest.
    1. Students may enter one poem. Maximum length: 24 lines (which includes stanza breaks, but not the title).
    2. Deadline: Saturday, January 14, 2017.
  1. The Fleet Reserve Association’s annual essay competition.
    1. This year, students are asked to write (in 350 words or less) about what Memorial Day means.
    2. Deadline: December 1, 2016.
    3. “The grand national winner will receive $5,000, with additional prizes for the top three essays in each grade category ($2,500 for first place, $1,500 for second place, and $1,000 for third place). Additional prizes may be awarded to students winning at local and regional levels of competition.”

 


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