Posts in The Teaching of Writing
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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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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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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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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