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End of Quarter Reflection Benefits Students—and Teacher


By Elizabeth Jorgensen

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


A Creative (Writing) Approach to Assessment

bubbleBy Elizabeth Jorgensen

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

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

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

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

Here are two screenshots of feedback I provided students:

EJ 1


Jorgensen sijo presentation

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

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

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

Where Do We Go From Here?

sunset-1207326_640By Stephanie Nicoletti

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

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

Authentic Writing Opportunities for Your Students

wallpaper__book_by_analaurasam-d6cak0wBy Elizabeth Jorgensen

Stephen Bonga Award in Poetry and Prose.

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

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

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

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

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

Profiles in Courage Essay Competition

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

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

New York Times 2017-2018 Student Contest Calendar

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

Six Word Memoirs.

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


The Cost of Telling the Truth

truth-257160_960_720By Sabrina Bartels

Throughout my (several) years of education, I’ve been blessed with a wide variety of amazing teachers. And when I really think about what makes some of these teachers stand out in my memory is the fact that they built a relationship with me. The things they may have done and said may have been small to them, but they meant the world to me. They showed me how much influence and power simple words, actions, and caring can have on a student.

Here’s one example: during my junior year of college, I fell ill with the dreaded “swine flu.” It was right before midterms, and it was awful. I had emailed the professors whose midterms I hadn’t taken yet, explaining my situation and how I was leaving campus early. My wonderful philosophy professor (Dr. Theresa Tobin) emailed me back, telling me to take care and that we would figure out the midterm situation when I returned. It was such a relief to know that I wasn’t going to fail my midterm, or that me being sick would count against me. I am not sure she knew exactly how much peace of mind she gave me that day I went home.

All relationships are built on trust, and I unfortunately had to break the trust of one of my students recently. In terms of confidentiality and mandatory reporting, I had to report the situation. The student begged me not to, even though we had talked about how I had to. Despite all that, it didn’t make anything easier. And with how the situation is unfolding now, I wish things could’ve been different.

It’s taken a lot of discussions with my coworkers to come to grips with the fact that I had to report the situation the student told me about; even though I know I did the right thing, I still worry about my students and the situations they must face. I am also sad, confused, and frustrated by the fact that my connection with this student may be permanently affected as a result. I am worried that this student will not talk to me at all anymore, or may refuse to meet with me and discuss his concerns. I worry that his trust in me is broken. My relationships with my students are precious, and I do not take the fact that they confide in me for granted. Even though my students know the limits of my confidentiality, it doesn’t make things easier when I need to report something that they say.

I’ve talked a lot about the hard aspects of my job, and this is definitely one of them. And of all the difficulties I mention when it comes to counseling, I believe that this is the part I struggle with the most. It’s not easy to feel like you’ve “betrayed” a student’s trust in you, especially when the majority of your career is spent building trust and relationships with your students. It’s even harder when that student actively resists meeting with you, which makes it much more difficult to follow up.

I’m still figuring out how to proceed from here. This isn’t the first time that I’ve had to report something, and it sadly will not be my last, but it is one of the first times a student has resisted talking to me as a result of my reporting. I keep telling myself every day that I did what was right, even though it definitely wasn’t easy or what I wanted to do. My hope is that the situation will work out for the best for my student, and that he is able to go forward living a happy, safe life.

Changing the Game: How Julia Magnasco Has Redefined What Teaching Looks Like Outside of the Classroom


Julia Magnasco, Education Director for First Stage

In March 2017, Marquette University’s College of Education launched its new undergraduate major and minor, Educational Studies. To highlight professionals working in the field, the college profiled Community Advisory Board Member Julia Magnasco of First Stage. For 30 years, First Stage has been transforming lives through theater. As one of the nation’s most acclaimed children’s theaters and the second-largest company in Milwaukee, First Stage runs academies for children and schools while also producing plays and musicals for the city’s entertainment.

Julia Magnasco serves as First Stage’s Education Director and is a member of the College of Education’s Educational Studies Community Advisory Board. A program for students interested in education but not the traditional licensure of a classroom teacher, Educational Studies will prepare graduates to work in non-profit organizations or informal learning institutions such as First Stage. We sat down with Julia to learn more about her day-to-day life both on and off the stage along with her insight into what this new program could mean for our students and Milwaukee.

I’m very excited for this new major. There is a great need for educators outside the normal realm, whether it be an artist in schools or in community centers.

College of Education (COED): Thank you, Julia, for joining us! Can you tell us a bit about First Stage, your role in the organization, and what your day looks like?

Julia Magnasco (JM): I feel very lucky because my world is play! I’m the Education Director for First Stage. We are a professional theater for young audiences in Milwaukee. We are the second-largest theater company in the state and one of the largest theaters for young audiences in the nation. We have this incredible commitment to our community, but also to the field of theater for young people and families.

At First Stage we say we have three pillars. We have our productions where we put on shows for young people and families from three years old all the way through high school. Something we do that is really unique is “age-appropriate” casting. We use young performers side by with professional actors. It’s important to us that when young people are watching a show that they see themselves and their stories. They’re able to do some social bridging and social bonding from the experience of seeing productions. Young people have to see themselves on stage. Part of that is the need to see someone their age playing that character.

JM5The second pillar is theater academy. Our motto is teaching life skills through stage skills. The real goal of all of our programming in the academy is to nurture those socio-emotional abilities, EQ skills.

Our third pillar is education. We go into schools and community centers throughout the Milwaukee area with different workshops and opportunities right within that setting. We primarily use a method of teaching called “arts integration.” The idea of arts integration — and in our case, it’s drama — is looking at the process and actually teaching the standards that go along with it. The arts, like every other curricular subject, has its own set of standards and skills that need to be learned, and they need to be taught appropriately with that. We’re teaching the drama process while simultaneously teaching another curricular or social subject.

COED: How many students do you interact with in the course of a year? How do you work with schools and with community organizations?

JM: We end up facilitating over 2500 workshops every school year in over 750 classrooms, so we reach about 20,000 students. We want our students and community to have three touchpoints and come into the First Stage family. You might enter from coming to see a show, you might enter from First Stage coming to your classroom, you might enter by taking an academy class, but the idea is the connection with all these different levels in First Stage.

COED: How do you think our new program can be effective for tomorrow’s educational landscape?

JM: How do you look at education in a nontraditional setting? We’re looking at what the educational mandates are, what the new, exciting initiatives are — how we connect with those and how we can be game-changers both in the local community and on a national level. I think now more than ever our classrooms are so diverse, and it is important as educators to acknowledge that. We need to be responsive in our teaching and use the proper tools, giving opportunities to acknowledge and embrace that diversity — and to take the next generation to that level.

I’m very excited for this new major. There is a great need for educators outside the normal realm, whether it be an artist in schools or in community centers. This opportunity for engaged conversations and art has great power; art has the power to change. K-12 education for me looks different from what I experienced to what my daughter is experiencing now. There’s not a lot of art specialization right now in education, but that does not mean art is not present. We’re looking at it from a different lens. There is an opportunity to partner with school, teachers, and other organizations to bring these experiences to our community.

Want to learn more about the College of Education and its undergraduate educator preparation programs? Visit us online today!


Advice for New Teachers

Community-ImageBy Elizabeth Jorgensen

Throughout the past 13 years, I’ve taught English at Arrowhead Union High School. During this time, I’ve taught nearly 4,000 students in my Composition, Advanced Composition, Creative Writing, College Strategies, and Journalism classes (in person, online and hybrid form). After all of those students, all of those sections, and all of those years, what have I learned?


  1. Teaching gets easier. It does. Just hang in there. Connect with your school and students. And have fun. When I coached track and cross country and advised the literary magazine and school newspaper, I not only learned more about my students, the community and our school, but I also began to love and appreciate being a part of my school. And each year, it really did get easier.
  2. Communicate with parents. Focus early in the year on creating positive interactions. When students know their teacher and parents communicate—and that you are all on the same team—they will respond positively to your united front. After students share a piece in class or help a classmate, I’ll send a quick email home. This builds trust and the students (and their parents) will thank you. Your students (like you) will respond better to positivity than criticism, nagging and negativity.
  3. Make friends. When the copy machine jams or when you accidently hit “reply all,” your teacher friends will be there to not only pick you up, but also encourage you to keep going. Be nice, show gratitude and have fun.
  4. Stay connected. I am part of several professional organizations and through these, I’ve had opportunities to speak at conventions and publish articles. Keep yourself professionally active and connected. It will energize you and remind you why became a teacher.
  5. Share your passion. During your first year of teaching, expect to be bombarded with lessons, videos, ideas, printouts, articles and plans. Take your colleagues’ suggestions and be thankful. But then find a way to infuse your curriculum with things you’re passionate about. Make each lesson, assignment and activity your own. Copying what someone else has done will feel inauthentic to your students (and you). If you’re excited to teach each day, your students will be excited to learn. One of my co-workers has this posted in his cubicle: “You can only expect your students to be as excited as you are.”
  6. Learn with your students. Cindy O’Donnell-Allen wrote in “The Best Writing Teachers are Writers Themselves” that “The best writing teachers are writers themselves. Why? Because we know the writing process inside out [and] we can support our students’ work in authentic ways.” This goes for reading and physical education and art and music. Whatever your students do, do the same alongside them. You are your students’ model. The more you do, the more they will. Share your love of learning with them and they’ll love learning with you.


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