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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Plan for Multi-Genre Project: Novel Reflection

Looking at these documents, you may think I am a little bit crazy. I am okay with that. However, I am excited to have a go at this project with my third hour group. I am constantly evaluating how I end a novel unit, and I enjoy reflecting on the type of paper writing I express as important to my students. When my grade-level colleague and I attended MCTE in October and listened to Kelly Gallagher, we got excited about the idea of a multi-genre project with our sixth graders. We teach a variety of paper genres throughout the school year, including the five-paragraph essay, but we wanted students to get a chance to be innovative and inquisitive about the world around them.

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All About Narrative Writing: Pacing, Strategies, and Mentor Texts!

I am pretty sure that October may be one of the toughest months to teach in considering that it consists of conferences, the end of the first marking period for my middle school, the flu starts circulating, and it is my birthday month. The last part is not a bad thing, I just find it easier to resent less “me time” with all of the to-do lists piling up. I have been sharing my mentor text work on the blog, but I also wanted to take a minute to share how I completed our personal narrative writing units this year so far, and also the changes I made from previous years. What you take away from this may be a sneak peek into how I teach personal narrative writing or how perhaps you can spice up a unit with some mentor text writing.

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Mentor Text Warm-Ups: How I Started

I am not sure I have ever enjoyed teaching grammar this much. Would it be too much to say there is joy in grammar? The journey with mentor texts began back in the summertime when my main focus for summer reading was around the works of Kelly Gallagher, Penny Kittle, Rebekah O’Dell and Allison Marchetti, and Linda Reif. I was intrigued by the idea that this often used strategy happens at the elementary school level with picture books and at the high school level with higher-level writing craft and organization moves. But, where were my middle school student examples? My middle schoolers were coming to me without basic grammar skills and therefore lacked some key moves in their writing.

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Plan for Mentor Text Warm-Ups

After reading Linda Reif’s The Quickwrite Handbook: 100 Mentor Texts to Jumpstart Your Students’ Thinking and Writing this summer, I knew I wanted to incorporate more mentor text work into my classroom this year. This was my ONE thing that I wanted to add that would change up a major system as to how I taught students writing. I also read other texts over the summer that supporting this mindset. It was clear to me: I want my students to call themselves authors.

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Summer School Round Up: Week 2

Week two flew by without even slowing down to catch a drink of water. It was tough this week to balance wanting to do the things that summer allows like landscaping, working on an assortment of house projects, leisurely drinking coffee, and writing. I was having some jealousy over those that got to have the time off. My goal was to make it to the beach at least three times. Let's just say my fingers are crossed. 

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Summer School Round Up: Week 1

I can't believe the whirlwind of the first week of summer school is over. There always seems like there are two camps in education: Those that can see why people work summer school and those that think we are crazy. The former camp has been refreshing to return to after working writing camps at the university for the past few summers. And really, teaching is teaching. Isn't it? That depends on who you are talking to. I wonder sometimes if why we all often get into teaching is something we feel renewed with on a day-to-day basis. Do I have to remind myself, what is my why for teaching? Yes. And often. 

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Using Visual Thinking Strategies for Writing Workshop

Coming off of the 2017-2018 school year, one of the areas that I know I need to read more on, reflect on more, and gain strategies on is working with my English Language Learner students. I attended a SIOP or Sheltered Instruction Observation Protocol training last week and took away a few strategies. I was also left with wanting more areas of ESL instructional strategies to be taught more directly to teachers; this will be more to come in another blog post. One strategy that I immediately took away from the training was the use of Visual Thinking Strategies. 

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5 Ways to Respond When You Are Asked to Censor Classroom Material

Imagine the plate spinner at a circus performance. So many intricacies of hand-eye coordination, focus, and practice have gone into making sure that the plates don't fall to their demise and break into thousands of pieces. Censorship in the classroom is best described as the plate spinner. There is an intricate balance that goes into contemporary content, current events and issues, parent and family input, school curriculum, administrative support, and more. Sometimes, you will find teachers not wanting to put themselves in that fight. All of these factors lend to the dizzying effect of plate spinning, but the question is what breaks when we don't present this content to students? Controversial content comes with major risks and rewards. The American Library Association has put together a pretty cohesive timeline of banning content in the past 30 years. Words like "censorship" and "banning" are used with intention in this purpose because often we are asked as educators to keep information from our students. 

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10 Criteria for Choosing Diverse Texts for Your Classroom

Can you hear me clapping? Can you hear me screaming in happiness? If you can't, imagine one excited English teacher from Kalamazoo, MI that is proud and excited her district is approving thousands of dollars in research to help infuse the curriculums and classrooms in it with diverse literature in grades Kindergarten through 8th grade. Currently, I am working on a team of teachers to read, research, and review hundreds of diverse texts. 

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How to Do an Essay Workshop for Struggling Writers

I would like to take a second to pause out of all of the hustle and bustle of testing and the end of the month of May to realize that it is really, the end of the month of May. I have spent 9 months with my students. Thinking back about accomplishments, it is easy to see how far they have come. Then, I do what all teachers do, and I focus on what they don't know. My missteps, my come-up-shorts, my "yes, you tried, but you didn't quite make it" mentality. This is the ugly stepsister of make-up or catch-up growth: Realizing you still have a long way to go.

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