Posts in The Teaching of Writing
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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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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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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My Plan to Get Through May State Testing...Alive

It is always good practice to revisit experiences that are similar from year to year. I wanted to look at the Testing Post from last year to see what I did to survive, and what my new additions are for this year.  The goal here? My students and I make to June with our sanity, AND we still are pushing ourselves to learn new information each day. 

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10 Ways to Use Your Cell Phone to Make Your Teaching Life Easier

The title of this post is also what I named my This I Believe Personal Narrative assignments in the fall. Let's talk cell phones. I would like to start this post by recapping every single conversation I have ever had with a new teacher, a seasoned teacher, or an intern about the use of cell phones in the classroom.

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How to Rock a Focused Writing Warm-Up

I am not sure what I did before warm-ups. I think what I did before warm-ups when I was first starting out was make a warm-up activity that was catered to each and every lesson. As a new teacher, this was exhausting. After doing some research a couple of summers ago, I moved to canned warm-ups, and I have loved every minute of them. What I mean by canned warm-ups is that each day has a theme and each week uses a specific form. In other terms, there is a plan. 

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Slow Down to Go Faster: Handy Tips for Individual Student Writing Conferences

I just finished 95 student writing conferences on Friday. Besides going through my fair share of coffee and green ginger tea, I have come out on the other side a bit more reflective. This whole process started with a student comment three weeks ago, when students were getting ready to turn in their first draft of their research papers.

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Smart Strategies for Student Research Source Pages

In one of my more recent posts, I outlined how to make a research unit in just a few hours. I was in a crunch that was unexpected and I wanted to showcase my process for freshening up a unit from year-to-year. One of my favorite parts of the research unit teaching students MLA format and also teaching them how to use source pages to take notes.

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Weekly Blog Roundup: Teacher Bullet Journaling

I stumbled upon bullet journaling one day on Pinterest when I was looking for a new planner. As a middle school teacher, I, like many others, am addicted to office supplies. I know what pens I like, I know what size sticky notes I prefer, and I know that the idea of a fresh new notebook makes me almost giddy. I even started making my own notebooks with my dad as a hobby because I love notebooks so much.

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How to Make a Research Unit Plan in Three Hours

Whether you have one of those moments where you decide to change your whole game plan up, or if you have something (like I did) that caused you to go into an unexpected mad scramble, sometimes it is helpful to know how someone else tackled a difficult task in a short amount of time. Research is the mother of all daunting tasks that may be the hardest thing to accomplish imaginably...in a small amount of time. 

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Weekly Blog Round Up: Growth Mindset

...Her concepts of the growth mindset and fixed mindset were not new, but the way they were phrased was profound and interesting to the English educator giving feedback. I initially keyed in on the type of feedback I was giving students. I wanted to make sure I said more than "good job." I was also saying things like, "I love the way you added detail" and "great job revising your paper" to give specific feedback. This idea of rewards and feedback was just one single aspect of growth mindset studies; it does not capture the entire picture. The best way to describe growth mindset is how you build new pathways to learning...without giving up. I have adopted this mantra with the teaching of writing.  I mean...my blog is called writing MINDSET after all. How we think about teaching, writing, and learning. This is what matters. It would be negligent to not discuss growth mindset in my practice as it has directly impacted how I think about teaching outside of the classroom in meaningful and significant ways

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How Hop-Checks Keep the Writing Teacher Sane

I first starting calling these things labeled "hop-checks" as a joke. I was talking with my teaching buddy on our plan time, and she was telling me about her "class list" system that she uses during class. "So, you just hop around with a pen and pencil and check off what they are doing?" I asked. Her response was "Absolutely, I do." Little did I know that hop-checks would become not only common practice- but exemplary practice- in my writing classroom. 

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Weekly Blog Round Up: Grammar Instruction

For the first every weekly blog round-up, I wanted to start with one of the hardest and most controversial topics to teach when it comes to English Language Arts and writing instruction: grammar. Understanding grammar is essential to understanding how to put thought on paper, and yet it often falls off to the side of any planbook because we get stuck on ideas, content, voice, and organization. Even with my new rubric coding following the six traits of writing, I grade voice, organization, and ideas first, and only then do I go back in and help students edit and revise in terms of conventions, grammar, word choice, and sentence fluency. 

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The Best of Writing Mindset in 2017

Last year at New Years, my friends and I dubbed 2017 the #yearofselfish. What this meant was engage in more awareness when it came to self-care, workout, invest in personal opportunity, meditate, seek out a work to life balance, and try new things. I definitely tried new things. Writing Mindset was a leap out of nowhere that constantly challenged me on one end because I thought of it as a personal business move, but I also saw it as a way to reflect on teaching. Writing Mindset simply was a way to connect to my teaching and share my teaching with others. I set up my LLC, invested in a website hosting platform that I thought was aesthetically pleasing, and then tried to write a lot. Then, I realized that writing and working full-time were more difficult than I ever imagined. 

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Update and Reflection on Using Rubric Codes

My #goals are constantly around trying to get unburied from a stack of paper. This week, I got through 64 argumentative essay rough drafts. I spent three hours total. Insert dramatic pause for reflection, thought, and awe. For any English or writing teacher, this may be making your brain go all fuzzy or blurry because before rubric coding I was spending 5-6 minutes per paper. That would have been 6.4 hours. How did I cut this time in half you ask? The power of rubric codes. 

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Journal Entry: Reflection on Routine Paragraph Warm-Ups

Observation #1: This writing every day thing is more difficult than imagined. Even if it is a quick write. 

Observation #2: I am to the part of the school year where I am evaluating on a macro level what strategies and routines are working...and which ones are not. 

One of the changes I made this year was to routine paragraph warm-ups. I was sitting in a professional development in August, and the facilitator asked the question, "who uses warm-ups to start class?" I had decided to change, but the overwhelming majority of people do use warm-ups. My question, as a person who never used warm-ups and had anticipatory sets for all lessons for each day, I was curious as to what was working and what was not. Many people use Daily 5, etc. However, I was interested in having all students write a paragraph-no ifs, ands, buts, about it. 5-7 sentences is the expectation for the daily warm-up, and all students, I repeat, all students are hitting this benchmark at this point in the school year. Routine paragraphs are expected routines on a given thematic concept for each day. They involve note-taking, opinion, or critical-thinking.

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Research: Closing the Gap with the Gutter (Graphic Novels in the Classroom)

Today's research quick post is about comics and graphic novels. I am a comic fan. Graphic novels, comic books, images and words put together on the page...you name it. I like it. Yesterday, I picked up Marvel's Black Panther for library day today. The appreciation I have for Coates' writing and the illustrations in this text are nothing short of a work of art. Amazed. However, the whole time I was reading today I had a bugging/nagging/tingling feeling in my mind about my struggling readers that may gravitate to this genre, but may not understand the words. Considering that the ever popular Diary of a Wimpy Kid Series by Jeff Kinney is a 950 Lexile (Above 6th grade level), many of my students are reading around the 3rd-4th grade level range. Yet, they are able to make sense of these images with the pictures. They beg for these books to the point where the small graphic novel section is always checked out. Why? And why is this section sometimes scary in education?

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