5 Reflections and 15 Resources to Ignite Your Passion for Diverse Books

This post is inspired by Donalyn Miller after her #NerdTalk at #NerdCampMi on July 8, 2019. She is a warrior and book whisperer for reading in the classroom, but more so, she is also a person who is not afraid to “make good trouble.” She started her #NerdTalk by voicing that she was the teacher who often raised questions to the administration at the end of the staff meeting. While many of her points on reading have helped form the construct of my teaching identity when it comes to reading, I have to be louder about another element that makes up who I am as a teacher. As an advocate for diverse literature in the classroom, it is my duty to be downright rowdy when it comes to putting materials and books in my classroom and in my district’s classrooms. #NerdCamp was a grouping of largely white women, like most of the demographic of the teaching profession, and Donalyn Miller spoke to white educators directly in the call for boisterous and clear advocacy of diverse texts in schools. We all have to be a deafening, strong force when it comes to diverse texts.

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A Diary of My Day at #NERDCAMPMI 2019

#NerdCampMI in Parma, MI may be one of the best educational experiences a teacher can ask for in the summertime. Let me be clear: I was already tired from writing camp and wrapping up the school year. But, something about experiencing NerdCamp for the first time left my heart full and my mind open to possibilities in my classroom as a teacher and in my own life as a writer. It didn’t matter how tired I felt; I was ready to be a nerd.

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Reflection on the Past 10 Days: Teaching at the Third Coast Camp for Young Writers

Each summer I am called back to Western Michigan University’s campus. It seems I can’t leave. I got my Masters Degree in the spring of 2014, and I promptly started working with the Third Coast Writing Project’s Camp for Young Writers. Entering the director role in 2017, this camp has been a huge motivation and drive behind my personal development work each year not only as a teacher, but as a writer. It has also taught me a great deal about teacher leadership. My favorite part about writing camp is that each and every adult, volunteer, and student calls themselves “writer.” It is a community that is a given. What we as teachers often spend some time creating in the fall, just simply happens. It motivates me to create this atmosphere in my classroom year after year. We are all writers, after all.

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Middle-Grade Narrative Writing: Using Mentor Texts to Describe Characters

In my other post, “Middle-Grade Narrative Writing: Using Mentor Texts to Describe Setting (Snapshots)” I explained how a teacher could use examples or passages in mentor texts to help their young writers add details, description, and imagery to their narrative writing. This ability to “see” or visualize the imagery is called making a snapshot. Snapshots were first introduced to me by the way of Barry Lane’s The Reviser’s Toolbox. Characters really have five areas of focus when it comes to description: thoughts, feelings, actions, appearance, and speech. All of these areas can afford opportunities for students to learn how to do snapshots.

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In Response to Pernille Ripp's Post: "What Did You Want to Be This Year?"

Pernille Ripp asked her readers in her post “What Did You Want to Be This Year?”: “Did you accomplish the goals you set out to reach or did you realize that your life needed something else?”  Pernille Ripp’s blog is one of my favorites because she makes me think and reflect on who I am as a teacher. I love any situation that puts me in student-mode because I am ever learning. Ever since I saw her speak in March at the Michigan Reading Association Conference, I often remind myself of her words: “It is time to be reading warriors” and “for too long we have been too nice.” As I doodled these phrases in my journal during the conference, I nodded my head, I scrunched my nose, I squinted my eyes, and I did some reflecting on my own work. Now, as I close out the 2018-2019 year, I want to focus on what I wanted for myself in my classroom, in my writing lab, and in my teaching life this past year.

And to answer her main question, I accomplished some goals and I realized my teaching life needed something else.

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Emergency Calm for the Classroom Teacher

This post outlines the emergency response to helping you calm your teacher brain. This is what worked for me in a big moment like this example, and also in small moments when I feel like everything is piling up. Both types of moments can call for a teacher to scream, “TIME OUT,” and take a moment to breathe. This isn’t the first time I have written about teacher stress, but I wanted to share what worked for me when I was having a particularly difficult time dealing with the amount of stress.

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Middle-Grade Narrative Writing: Using Mentor Texts to Describe Setting (Snapshots)

I always start and end the year with narrative writing in some form. While I often focus on things like voice and ideas with this genre of writing, it really is all in the details when it comes to helping the reader see what you are talking about on the page. This ability to “see” or visualize the imagery is called making a snapshot. Snapshots were first introduced to me by the way of Barry Lane’s The Reviser’s Toolbox. I first got a hold of this text working closing with an elementary school teacher writing friend who explained to me, “You know what we do isn’t really all that different.” I have been changed ever since.

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"Why Education": A Narrative on Why I Chose to Be a Teacher (And Why It Is Still Pretty Great)

The conversation about teachers leaving the field of education is a real one. We hear the statistics early on: Teachers leave within the first five years of their career, new teachers struggle with anxiety and depression, the field of education is shrinking as a whole, and so on. The problem is all teachers feel all of these things at every point of their career. Teaching is hard. All the time. If it were easy, everyone would do it and attempt to do it well. But, we exist among those that are self-labeled as crazy for doing what we love to do. We are all going to have mornings where we don’t feel like going, where we drag ourselves to the doorstep of our buildings just to hold on to our coffee cups tighter. But the bottom line is, there are so many good things about this job that make a teacher want to keep teaching. And the truth is that the silent urge to constantly quit all the time is a friendly reminder we are doing the hard work. I often will scroll Indeed just to see what is out there or to feel like I have professional options. However, I have been faced twice with the option to leave, and I cannot do it.

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End of Year Reflection: Using Middle-Grade Mentor Texts to Teach Writing Skills

Sometimes we try something in our classrooms and we immediately toss it in the recycle bin as a really good try, and sometimes we find something that changes how we do business. Using middle-grade and young adult books as mentor texts in my classroom has completely changed how I approach grammar instruction and promoting literature in my room. I love mentor texts. I wish you could hear my screaming about mentor texts. I talk about them now all the time. The power for students to see their own writing on the page in the same manner as a published author coupled with the use of book talks in my room as a way to recommend books to others through my voice and theirs has altered the mindset about reading in my room. Reading has always mattered. Now, it it just makes sense in terms of writing. While mentor texts themselves are not a new phenomenon, the incorporation of deliberate (and fun) grammar instruction is a new addition to my classroom.

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The Power of Three-Minute Quick Writes

Whether you call quick writes your warmup, a focused writing prompt, or simply timed writing, a quick write has a range of possibilities that are just plain cool and useful in the English classroom. I adhere to the definition that Linda Reif uses in her book The Quickwrite Handbook: 100 Mentor Texts to Jumpstart Your Students' Thinking and Writing: “A quick write is a first draft response to a short piece of writing…” (3). Linda Reif uses other authors’ writing to spark ideas, but in my opinion it can also be in the form of a question or another prompt to get students thinking. The three-minute quick write as a strategy is not new. It is a technique that published authors use, screenwriters, and classrooms young and old. This post is designed to help you revisit an old strategy and maybe weave in some new techniques to freshen it up a bit.

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30 Diverse Mentor Texts for Young Activists

Where have I been on the blog? Two words: RESEARCH PROJECTS. My Advanced English Sixth Grade group is currently finishing up our Activism Research Unit. We choose topics about problems we are passionate about in the world or want to know more about and we look at the influence of that problem on society. We also work some MLA formatting, in-text citations, and embedding quotations into the works. My General English Sixth Grade group is wrapping up our “change-makers” biographical report unit where they are studying a person of their choice that made a mark on history. Both preps involve students having an option to focus in on their own topic for the research project, and both preps are exploring the idea that people can change things in history and in life. They are learning about activism and how these larger social, political, cultural, and environmental issues influence their day-to-day and can seem daunting to enact any real change. In case you were interested in my Advanced English Packet: Click here for our class research packet. In case you were interested in our General 6 Biography Unit: Click here for our class packet.

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Middle School Dystopian Book Club Checklist

Whether you call these types of groups book clubs or literature circles, the idea of building a reading community in a classroom stems from the shared experience of reading. I love trying to weave in book clubs. After reading 180 DAYS: Two Teachers and the Quest to Engage and Empower Adolescents by Kelly Gallagher and Penny Kittle last summer, I became inspired to weave these types of book clubs into my teaching more and more throughout the year. It was after I saw them present at the Michigan Reading Association Conference in March that I knew I had to change up how I implement book clubs in my classroom this year.

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Activism Research Plan: Pacing, Strategies, and Mentor Texts!

Arthur O’Shaughnessy in his 1874 poem “Ode” wrote: “Yet we are the movers and shakers/Of the world forever, it seems.” I love the term “mover and shaker” because it reminds me of dancing, but what it really lends is to people who make an impact on the world. It is no secret that one of my favorite units to teach is research. I love the choice, the process, and the hard work it takes to produce the product. I also love seeing middle schoolers wrap their brains around the formatting of this project (MLA), and how they get excited about solving problems. One of my favorite things, after all, is to solve problems.

The MLA Research Paper unit I do each winter going into spring focuses on activism. Students identify a problem in their school, community, or world and then research that problem, Inevitably, they see causes, effects, and hypothesize solutions as well. This post will walk you through some mentor texts and resources, strategies, and pacing of the overall unit.

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The Meaning Behind My Blog Name: Writing Mindset

I recently realized with the two-year anniversary of my blog this past month, I have never really explained why I chose the name Writing Mindset for this small place in the world of the internet I call my own. Each piece of writing that we put out into the universe has two meanings: the meaning for the author and their intention and the meaning for the reader and their perception. This duality is a reason why I loved English class in high school and eventually became an English teacher. There is a beauty in trying to find a common understanding between people and their ideas. The words “writing” and “mindset” can immediately strike meaning to any person who reads them; however, both of these words hold a few different meanings for me. Together, they are the reason why I keep coming back week after week to continue my work on the blog.

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English Teacher Anxiety: Using Our Own Tools to Quiet Panic

When I first started working on this post, I looked up synonyms for anxiety. Not that I needed a definition, I just was curious what would pop-up on the page. The word that stuck out to me the most was mistrust. As English Teachers and teachers in general, we mistrust ourselves based on our profession workload because it is a.) overwhelming and b.) important work. We come to grasp that we can never achieve perfection, and for many perfectionists, this means in our minds we think we are settling. Teacher anxiety does not apply to just English Teachers alone, but the volume of paper and grading that is specific to the teaching of English creates an interesting dynamic where we often feel behind, tired, and downright depressed. I am not putting on the table that other subjects do not have grading issues, but there is a special place in my soul that dies a little when I take 76 MLA research paper rough drafts home to grade.

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Martin Luther King Jr. Mentor Text Mini-Lesson

At first, I was scheduled to start testing tomorrow. But, something didn’t sit right with testing on a day to remember Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. In the world of “teacher social media,” I have been intrigued by the conversations around what we teach on this day, and what we choose to not teach on this day. On Twitter, I love following Julia E. Torres, a librarian, and she stated: “Just overheard a child in the hallway on the phone, “We are watching MLK videos again because you know they can neeeeever teach us anything new.” This was a middle school student. Let’s think about that…” And I had a nodding moment. How often do I see my colleagues teach MLK videos or don’t teach anything at all? How many times have I felt like I couldn’t make time?

Whether we feel pressured to move through content or curriculum, we have to maintain, some things just matter more. This day, it matters. So, I thought about how to include Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream…” speech into our mentor text work. This lesson will not take the entire hour. However, my goal is to have students notice different sentences in MLK’s speech, and write like him in regards to their own dreams. I went back and forth on the latter part because I thought dream writing was cliche’, but then Mary Oliver passed away this week. Something in me said…let them write about their dreams. I am calling this: Write Like Martin Mentor Text Work.

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30 Middle-Grade Novels to Add to Your Classroom Library NOW!

Give me a bookstore, a library, or a fellow reader’s bookshelf, and I will browse with wild glee. I love books. The sight of a bag full of books simple makes me happy. Reading has been something that has found its way back to me time and time again. Even when life seems too busy or too full of commitments. I always make my way back to reading.  Using the 10 criteria that I outlined in a previous post about diverse texts, I wanted to write up a blog post about 30 book recommendations I would make right NOW to any middle school English Language Arts teacher to add these middle-grade fictional texts to their classroom library. I use

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The Best of Writing Mindset in 2018

As we close out 2018, I am so thankful for this tiny blog space that I share with you all. In January 2017, I started Writing Mindset as a way to reflect on teaching; however, it has transformed how I do business. I am constantly on the lookout for writing inspiration for the blog, and how I can put new ideas into my classroom to share. I sent out a newsletter to subscribers today talking to them about 2018 accomplishments. So much has happened this school year already that it seems a bit poetic to talk about endings…when we are in the middle. However, the end of 2018 marks many accomplishments in terms of blogging, writing, and reading.

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It All Starts With The Book Talk!

Reading and writing are all too often cyclical. Everyone knows good reading fuels good writing and vice versa. As a middle school teacher, I really wish that I was able to teach reading and writing separately or even give them their own block of time, but I do also love the impossible harmony that is being a reading AND writing teacher. This post will explain how I start my week with students. I always start each hour the first day of the week with a book talk about a middle grade or young adult novel or nonfiction book. It kicks off my mentor text work with kids, and it gets them excited about a book they may or may not have heard about before.

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How to Choose and Break Down a Mentor Text

I am constantly reading books. This wasn’t always the case, and largely, I think I have to attribute my reintroduction to reading all the time to my mentor text work. I am constantly on the mission to find books to recommend to students and use in the classroom with my students for our “write like an author” study. As teachers we are bombarded with an onslaught of a million decisions, pounds of papers to grade, and work that is largely impossible to master. It’s exhausting.

But, it is also exhilarating.

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