Posts Tagged 'writing'

The Wisconsin English Journal: A Call for Manuscripts

getting to the pointBy Elizabeth Jorgensen

The University of Iowa’s Writers’ Workshop says that “writing cannot be taught” but that “writers can be encouraged.” Whether or not literary creativity can be taught, certain skills can certainly be enhanced. Students can acquire insight into what constitutes effective or realistic description, style, narrative, characterization or use of language. They can also learn about voice, diction, plotting, setting and figures of speech as well as how to craft dialogue that gives clues to a character’s personality, social position, values and character.

In order to initiate this discussion, the Wisconsin English Journal invites you to share successful, inventive instruction, lessons, assignments and perspectives that teach facets of creative writing. For example,

  1. What’s the impact, possibility or pedagogy of teaching and assessing creative writing?
  2. How do you incorporate creative writing into teaching expository writing?
  3. How do you view creative writing in the greater context of literacy instruction?
  4. How do you implement technology or social media into this instruction?
  5. With the recent push toward STEAM education (emphasizing science, technology, engineering, arts and math), are there new roles creative writing might or must play in the rapidly changing landscape of K-12 and higher education?
  6. What do you see is creative writing’s role in the common core?
  7. How do you teach critical thinking through creative writing?
  8. How do you build, run and maintain successful writers’ workshops? What’s their purpose in your classroom?

Submission Guidelines

  1. In general, manuscripts range from shorter articles of 1,000 words to longer pieces of 5,000 words prepared following guidelines established in the publication manual of the American Psychological Association.
  2. Submit manuscripts to the editor, John Pruitt, and the guest editor, Liz Jorgensen, of Arrowhead High School, at wi.english.journal@com.
  3. First Drafts Requested by August 1.


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.


Writing, Rubrics, and the College Application Essay

Blank notepad and pencilBy Elizabeth Jorgensen

Adam paces the back of the room, struggling to come up with an idea. “Do you think I can take a walk around the building?”

“Yes, good luck,” I say. “Maybe a change of scenery will help.”


Adam sighs, takes his notepad and pen with him and paces his stress in our high school’s hallway.

In the middle of Arrowhead High School’s College Essay Workshop, each student’s stress shows in a different way. While Adam paces, another student finds comfort in procrastination and college essay YouTube videos; another student reads excerpts from 50 Successful Harvard Application Essays; a group of girls discuss life-changing moments they might write about.

“I wish there were a rubric for this,” Adam says when he returns.

I cringe, as he reminds me students are taught—by teachers of all subjects—that good writing can be accomplished by checking boxes on a grid. “Adam, you don’t need a rubric. You know what you need to do. Just tell a story that shows your positive qualities. Take your best attributes—your humor, your helpfulness, your patience—and find a story that illustrates that.”

I remind Adam and the 84 other students in the workshop what they know about good writing: “Good writing is not the five paragraph essay, with the thesis at the end of the first paragraph, followed by three body paragraphs and a concluding re-statement. Good writing isn’t formulaic.” But I know that’s what students learn when each assignment in elementary, middle and high school comes with a rubric.

Arrowhead High School’s College Essay Workshop is not graded. Students attend to receive guidance on how to produce an essay that stands out in the pile of writing on a college admissions counselor’s desk. Students are nervous and unsure—and they want a rubric to ease them.

I say, “You’re in control of your own story. You can do anything you want. Your story could be one long extended metaphor. You could write your essay in poem form, or maybe as a graduation speech or even as a conversation. Do something that will make your essay unique. Let’s start with some examples.”

I show the class Justin’s essay that was read to all incoming freshmen during the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s Welcome Week. I show them Molly’s essay that received a $5,000 scholarship. We read Ashley’s essay that earned a handwritten note from Marquette University’s president commending her writing, inviting her to be part of Marquette’s 2015 class with a scholarship. “What are these authors doing? What do you notice?” I ask.

Students instinctively recognize Justin, Molly, and Ashley’s good writing. The students respond: “Small paragraphs.”—“Stylistic devices.”—“They all tell an interesting story.”—“I see dialogue.”—“I see characters and a climax.”

Then the students take their observations and apply similar devices to their own words, sentences and stories.

To improve the students’ writing, my co-teachers and I read, comment, re-read, edit, and provide feedback on the drafts. We discuss, we interact, and we collaborate. The process can’t be reduced to boxes on a rubric. Because the writing is purposeful and authentic, students are invested and do A quality work (even though the workshop isn’t graded).

As Adam shifts his laptop into his backpack, he clutches his notebook. “I am really excited about my ideas. I know what I want to write about.” Adam struggles with autism and says he will write about how he uses movement to aid his learning.

“I’m really excited to see your first draft and talk about it,” I say.

“Me too,” he says as he walks out the door. “I want to hear what you have to say tomorrow.”

If you’re looking to read more about rubrics and writing, feel free to check out the following resources:

  • Broad, Bob. What We Really Value: Beyond Rubrics in Teaching and Assessing Writing. Logan: Utah State UP, 2003.
  • Kohn, Alfie. “The Trouble With Rubrics,” English Journal. March 2006, Vol. 95, No. 4.
  • Mabry, Linda.  “Writing to the Rubric,” Phi Delta Kappan, May 1999, pp. 678, 676.
  • Tchudi, Stephen, ed. Alternatives to Grading Student Writing. Urbana: NCTE, 1997.
  • Maja Wilson, Rethinking Rubrics in Writing Assessment (Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann, 2006).
  • Maja Wilson, “Why I Won’t Be Using Rubrics to Respond to Students’ Writing,” National Council of Teaching English. English Journal. March 2007, Vol. 96, No. 4.


New Semester, New Role: Becoming a CET at the Writing Center

writing-828911_960_720.jpgBy Amanda Szramiak – As my blogs have shown, I am truly in love with working at the writing center here at Marquette. Not only is the work of helping someone with their writing rewarding, it is also intellectually demanding. I find myself using parts of my brain most campus jobs don’t require. I am constantly brainstorming new ways to get my thoughts across, developing a trusting enough relationship with writers where they are comfortable sharing their writing with me, and gaining immense opportunities to develop myself professionally. This semester, I have become a course embedded tutor (CET) for the writing center.

The CET program at the Ott is fairly new, and it is my first semester being involved in the program. Where some professors require their students to come to the writing center for assignments, this program offers something much more. The professors of the CET courses find the process of going through revisions imperative for developing writing skills. As a CET, I am extremely excited to work with a professor who values writing just as much as I do.

Different than a writing center appointment, the CET program receives the students’ drafts ahead of time. The CETs have about a week of reading and commenting on the drafts before returning them to the class. After the drafts are returned, the CETs conference with their students individually. From there, the students can make any changes to their drafts and turn them in the following week.

I am the CET in a criminology research class. The students will be writing a research proposal in which I will meet with them at two different times during the semester. There are three CETs in the course, so we each have about eleven students. One of my favorite things about the writing center is communicating with students from a variety of backgrounds, getting to know their specialties, as well as them as a person. I am really eager to work with the same students over the course of the semester. I think it is going to be a very valuable tool for their educational experience as well as mine.

While I am immensely excited about becoming a part of this program, I am a little nervous. The thing I am most apprehensive about is the number of schedules I need to juggle. With the professor, students, commenting mentors, librarians, and my own schedule, my organizational skills need to be spot on throughout the semester. Luckily, I have an incredible boss who is a great support system and my fellow CETs to keep me afloat during this chaotic semester. I will be sure to keep you updated throughout!

How I Came to Love Writing: A Thank You to Those Special English Teachers

4762384399_9f80ff4168_oBy Parker Lawson – Since I’ve been in college, I’ve found that I LOVE to write. How cool is it that we can put what’s in our heart into WORDS?! Like… uh that’s amazing!

Words are so COOL! Words can dictate our mood, they let us communicate, and they are an invitation to expressing ourselves (Wow, how nerdy did that sound?). Back in school, I never really understood the power of words. There is so much that we can gain from hearing others’ words and from expressing our own. I am no perfect writer, but I don’t think I became fully appreciative of the ability to write until this year, after reflecting back on my old English teachers.

My writing is better when I am able to write about what I find most passionate. Creative writing is something I’ve come to love, and I’ve found that when I write about what I want to write about, I become a better writer. The only way to become a better writer, is to sit and WRITE. I think so many people wonder why kids hate reading and writing, and I’ve realized that this is because kids aren’t learning how to LOVE writing or how to LOVE reading.

In order for any passion to be sparked in these kids, they should be reading and writing things related to what they love and with no restrictions. Now, I understand the importance of a class curriculum, but I do think that if more teachers integrated personal techniques that would engage students in writing, we could change kids’ mindsets on writing completely.

English teachers are so cool. The majority of my previous English teachers have been beyond amazing, and I will forever be grateful for their enthusiasm for English. Some of the most passionate teachers that I’ve ever had were the ones that taught English. For a while, I always wondered how on earth they got so excited for words… for heavens sake; it’s just a book! I used to think that in order to be an English teacher, a bubbly attitude, and obsession with books was an absolute requirement. Now, I completely understand their love and need to write.

I had my okay English classes, but then I had my AMAZING English classes. What separated the two was the teacher’s passion. The classes that I loved had teachers who wanted us to love writing too. I’ll never forget the first time I think I really learned that I had a love for writing. My 7th grade English teacher did an activity every so often that was beyond cool. She would turn off the lights, and play music. She then prompted us to write what we felt: a memory that reminded us of that track, specific words… anything that was in our hearts at that moment. I’ll be honest, that activity has stuck with me for years. THAT is how we learn to love writing. THAT is how we engage students in the art of words.

I love writing for ME. I think journaling is one of the best ways to become a better writer. Not only is it refreshing, but journaling is also a constant expression of imagination. This is what we need in our essays, and our assignments. One of the best pieces of advice that I’ve ever received was to put yourself into everything that you do. This absolutely applies to writing.

I struggled with this idea during those long nights of procrastination, when my King Lear essay had eaten me alive, but I’ve come to realize that even though we cannot submit our daily journal as our essay, we can use experiences in our lives to help us grow as writers. If there’s a particular part of a novel that spoke personally to you, write about that! If you’ve had experiences that have lead you to compare to that piece of writing, write about that! If there’s a certain format or style that you like to write in, practice that! By simply placing yourself into everything that you write, writing becomes enjoying. I heard that piece of advice from a previous English teacher whose love for writing was like no other, and whose contagious passion has forever stuck with me.

I am no brilliant writer, but what makes writing so exciting for me is the ability to express my ideas with creativity and passion. I am an awful speller and make multiple grammatical errors as I write, but the excitement and the joy is there. If it weren’t for those amazing English teachers that gave me this excitement for writing, I think I would still dread writing essays and would have never even thought about daily journaling.

To those rock star English teachers: Thank you for teaching with excitement and for teaching with passion because that is how I came to love writing, and I hope that one day I can show my students the value that words have in our hearts, the way that you have showed me that love. You ROCK.

Windows and Mirrors: Two Views for Readers


By Peggy Wuenstel – Reading is a complex process that needs to be learned and nurtured. Most people can identify the key components of recognizing letters, understanding the relationships between letters and sounds, developing skills such as blending and segmenting sounds, and knowing the key elements of how print works in their literary environment. Globally, we don’t all read left to right, top to bottom, or with symbols that represent sounds. What we sometimes forget is that our literacy starts in the brain and not on the page.

Writing, and its companion, reading to decode that writing, are our attempts to put our ideas on paper, to preserve them for posterity, and share to them with the larger world. It is the way that students can express their content mastery to teachers, by which lovers convey their deepest unspoken feelings, and activists and social commentators call others to action. Therein lies the problem – the ideas generate the words. What happens when the experience base is limited, the interests are narrow, or the motivation to know more is absent? Reading and writing are then a chore, not the joy that every teacher hopes to give to a child.

I cannot appropriately credit the person that put me on this path to thinking about reading and writing instruction. I heard this wise person toss off a statement that children need windows and mirrors in what they are offered. He or she was referring to the content of what we offer students to read. This is an important issue on many fronts. Gender equality, racial diversity, socio-economic differences and the varied cultural and societal backgrounds of our students must all be considered and factored in when we design lessons, assign reading lists, and conduct assessments. The mirror aspect requires us to select literature and non-fiction materials in which the child can either see or envision themselves interacting. I need characters that look like me, think like me, feel like me and behave like me for me to understand what an author has in mind.

Much has been made of how national assessments do not equally reflect all of our students, and that this may partially explain performance gaps among certain segments of our classroom populations. By thoughtful, sensitive instruction we lead readers to broader understandings of others, compassion for those who are different and paradoxically a stronger sense of ourselves when we learn about the “other”.

In addition, the use of the mirror metaphor calls us to do something that is critical to learning and to teaching. We must continually reflect on what we see and determine how to proceed from this point forward. And the images that are important are not just the ones of ourselves. The setting in which we find ourselves and our students, the level of illumination we provide, the clutter in the background, the change or lack of change over time are all things worthy of note for the reflective teacher. Whether we journal or just keep these things clearly in mind, reflection is a crucial piece in modern teaching, and something we must model for our students. It is also necessary that we advocate for the time to reflect with legislators, administrators and policy makers. If we are running as fast as we can just to deliver content, the reflection that makes it true learning rarely occurs.

It is also a key role of literacy instruction to provide windows to the world. Those who have unlocked the code for reading and writing have an amazing passport to places, things, and relationships they will never experience directly. Some of the most gratifying experiences that an instructor can have are when a child is transported by a book and wants to take you along on that journey. Our ability to steer developing readers into new genres, to meet new authors, and to encourage deeper dives into content of high interest is one of the greatest gifts we offer to those in our charge. Finding that student who will truly appreciate the key books of our past is a gift to us as teachers and as readers.

I love the concept of “Book Love.” When you like someone, and you give them a book that you think they would like, it is based on your knowledge of them and your shared history. It is rare to find a connection deeper than that. I knew I had succeeded in passing this on to another generation when my grandchildren started asking “What book did you bring us?” at each visit. One caveat, however, is to make sure that readers (and writers) don’t get “stuck”, reading the same genre, author, or topic over and over again. Even mirrors can have many faces, and our reading habits should as well.

I have expanded this kind of thinking to include the writing process. Writers also need to look through windows and into mirrors to generate the ideas, words, and writing pieces that display their feelings, their questions, and their skills. We are a society that loves to measure things, and it is very difficult to measure this foundation-laying aspect of writing and teaching, so often we skip over it to getting things on or off the page depending on which part of the lesson plan we are addressing. For our youngest students and for those of differing cultural or linguistic backgrounds, engaging topic selection is key.

Many famous authors have been quoted giving the advice, “Write what you know.” For developing writers I would add, “Write what you want to know.” Check your reflection in the mirror, get inspiration from looking out your window, and go!

Learning About My Kids: Rules, Writing, and Breakfast

By Stephanie Rappe — It is nice to see that my kids are starting to get into the routine of our day. I’ve found that it is important to have classroom rules, but even more important to stay consistent with them. The kids don’t ever forget anything you say and if you don’t follow up on it they will remember.

Currently, the two subjects that my students have been struggling with the most are Grammar and Writing.

They understand the concepts and can verbally answer a question when asked, but when they translate their thoughts into words grammar is a huge burden. Many of my students have a hard time understanding the concept of past, present, and future tenses because in the Hmong language there is only one tense. Therefore, all of their writing is in present tense. Writing is frustrating for some students because they have a vault of great ideas, but don’t know how to translate their ideas into English.

I’ve found it helpful to show them examples of well-written papers to use as models, and to have one on one conference with each student so that they will eventually be able to write independently. It has also been helpful to do partner work because more often than not a student that is not on task does not understand the English directions I gave and needs a partner to help explain it to him or her.

One of the really amazing days that I had at my school was the day of our Family Breakfast.

We invited all 800+ student’s parents and family members from kindergarten through high school to come to our school to enjoy rice soup with their classmates and teachers. The preparation for this event was very rigorous and required all of the staff to get hands on and work late in the kitchen and cafeteria. In the Hmong culture, big celebrations are always home cooked and catered by the family that is hosting, therefore many parents came in and helped cook and set up. It was nice to see both the parents and the students comfortably talking and enjoying each other’s company, and there was plenty of food to go around! Overall, the turn-out was spectacular and the event was a huge success. Seems like our community building efforts are off to a great start!

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