Growing up poetry was never my favorite thing to read. I liked Shel Silverstein and Jack Prelutsky, but in my mind I also never considered their writing poems. What they wrote was fun. It made me laugh and made me think. Poetry was what I read in school. It was boring and meant virtually nothing to me. I read it because I had to, not because I wanted to. And for a really long time that was the only relationship I had with poetry.
Things started to change my senior year of college. I found poems that sparked something inside me. Stray Dog Cabaret was a collection of poems by Russian authors, and reading those poems something clicked. Poetry, I realized, could be magical. Fitting words together like puzzle pieces could be something really really cool. I loved reading and I love writing and I loved this new way this all fit together.
Even though I had discovered how amazing poetry could be, I didn’t run out and buy a ton of poetry anthologies. I didn’t know where to start. Poetry had been foreign to me for so long that even though I had a new appreciation for it I let it stay a pretty big mystery. I didn’t know what else to do or how to do anything else.
That has started to change. In my job as a literacy tutor I have the opportunity to work with some amazing Language Arts teachers. One of the bigger pushes at the middle school level has been to incorporate more poetry. I’ve been able to see how poetry can be made fun and accessible and how my students can respond and connect to it. I’ve seen them love poetry and struggle with poetry, but it’s been made much more accessible to them than I feel it was made to me when I was going through school.
I’ve been spending a lot of time lately collecting poems that I like. I’ve been combing through Goodreads and looking for other sources. I want to make poetry accessible to all of my students. I want to show them that it doesn’t have to be something that is stuffy and inaccessible. Poetry is alive and well; we as teachers just need to find ways to teach our students that.
To me, grammar is one of the more complicated parts of English. There are a lot of rules, a lot of very specific tiny things that are easily forgotten, and it’s something that always caused me problems as a student.
Grammar also wasn’t something that had a lot of focus put on it while I was in school. My grammar education came and went, and I think eventually my teachers thought that I had already learned what I needed to learn. (But I hadn’t.)
I took a couple of grammar courses in college, and I’ve tried to learn everything I can in grad school and in my tutoring job. I want to be able to provide my students with a well-rounded and understandable grammar education. I don’t want them to think that grammar is something elusive and incomprehensible.
I’m not saying that grammar is the coolest thing ever, because that might be pushing it just a little. But I am willing to say that grammar is incredibly important. Without a good grammatical foundation it can get progressively harder to communicate ideas.
And grammar isn’t all bad. I’d even venture to say that sometimes grammar can be fun. There are ways to make grammar something special, and I’m looking forward to exploring all those opportunities in my classroom.
The simple truth of the matter is that at some point, everyone has to write. Maybe it’s writing a paper or a dissertation. Maybe it’s a blog post. A letter. A grant proposal. A journal entry. A note for a roommate. Everyone has to write something at some point. Therefore, everyone has to know how to write.
It sounds simple enough. Put words together. Use correct punctuation. Share thoughts. At its very most basic level, that’s what writing is.
The truth of the matter though, is that writing is a lot more complicated than that. Sometimes there are a lot more rules.
So how does one teach writing?
The decision can be made to use mentor texts. These are texts that are in the style that is being taught that can be shared with students. They’re model texts. They show how one can write a poem or a personal narrative or a short story. They help to familiarize students with what they’ll be doing. They show different ways to set up the structure or use point of view or use figurative language. They can be a huge tool in a writer’s toolbox.
Break writing down into manageable chunks. Have students use planning sheets or create outlines. Have them put their piece of writing together piece by piece rather than all at once.
Make sure that students have checkpoints and deadlines, otherwise a piece of writing can be wildly out of control, and it might be too late to fix it. Have days where students and teachers can touch base. Have deadlines so that writing is making forward progress and isn’t stalling out.
Make writing accessible and something students can connect with. Writing in any form is about sharing stories. It’s about connecting with other people. Don’t make writing something that seems so academic students aren’t interested and can’t connect with it. Let students tell their stories. Set parameters for the form students should be writing in, but let them soar and tell their stories.
I don’t think there’s one right way to teach writing. Everyone uses different processes to write and be successful at writing. I think one of the most important things is giving students the space they need to find their voice.
I love movies. And I love comparing books to their movie counterparts. I find it really interesting to make comparisons between books and movies, and I want to share that with my students. I think that doing so could lead to a lot of discussion and great analysis. I also think it’s important to know why you are showing a movie in class and what you want the end result to be.
Let’s take a minute to be honest. In my experience, there are two main reasons to show a movie. The first is because it’s right before a vacation and students are too hyped up to focus and get work done. The second is for a comparison or another educational activity.
If you’re showing a movie before a vacation, your goal is probably to show a movie and keep students mildly entertained. And that’s OK. That’s what will happen, and everything will work out the way it’s supposed to.
However, if you’re showing a movie to students so they can make a comparison or learn something, they need to have a reason to pay attention. There needs to be buy in, or students aren’t going to give the movie their full attention. They’ll find something more interesting or something they feel is more important to give part of their attention to.
Create some buy in. It can be simple. It can be a comparison chart they need to fill out. It can be questions they need to answer. It can be a big overview question they need to be prepared to answer. But give students a reason to pay attention. Set some expectations. Then everyone is on the same page, and no one needs to be fighting with anyone else.
Originally I meant to write this post at the beginning of the month, but then among other things I got distracted and didn’t. I haven’t written any posts this month because I’ve been finishing up all the classwork for my masters, and life has just been crazy. But I’m actually really glad I didn’t write this post sooner, because it will be a much better post now. Instead of writing about how I’m going to start a reading journal, I can write about how yesterday I did start my reading journal.
To be honest, I got the idea from a blog post I read last month and reposted to this blog. I want to be able to keep track of what I’m reading, and I find that I need a pen and paper method over a digital method. Digital is great, but I simply don’t spend enough time on my computer to keep up to date with such a method. I always have time for paper and pencil, and there’s no booting up required which is good when I’m short on time.
So, yesterday I grabbed a blank composition notebook and some colored pens. The composition notebook because I’m hoping to have many reading journals and I want them to be uniform in size. The colored pens because color coding is obviously important always. And with materials in hand I started writing.
I wrote about my relationship with reading and thoughts I have regarding reading first. Such writings are just done in black pen because that’s easy. Then I wrote about the books I’ve read this month. Books I read for personal enjoyment I wrote about in pink. Pink is a happy color. And books for student teaching I wrote about in green because that’s how I color code work in my planner.
I recorded the month and the year I read the book; no dates because honestly that’s getting too complicated. What if I don’t write about a book for a week, and I forget when exactly I read it? Then I wrote the title and the author of the book. And then I wrote some of the thoughts I had about the book. If I liked it, why I liked it, etc. This was I can talk about books with my students if I want to, and I know what I’m reading and how much I’m reading throughout the year.
I’m really looking forward to keeping up with this project and eventually sharing my reading with my students. What are your thoughts on reading journals?
Annotation is something tricky, and it’s something that everyone has to develop their own style for. We as teachers can provide different samples and guidelines of annotations for students to look at and use as they see fit, but students need to find a method that really works for them, or they won’t use it and the point of annotation will be defeated.
I think that annotation is an important skill, so students developing their own effective and understandable method is important. Annotation ties in closely with close reading, which I’ve written about here and here.) And I think it’s becoming increasingly difficult to be in any level English class and not know how to annotate. We are constantly asking students to talk about the text, relate to the text, cite the text, and for them to do that well they need to be able to refer back to the text and know what spoke to them. What made their hearts sing and what made them cringe? Annotation is important for this.
Because of all of this, here are some different annotation techniques. Feel free to share your techniques with me in the comments. I’m always looking for new and exciting tips and tricks to use in the classroom and share with my students!
- Highlighting key words and phrases. Be careful not to overhighlight though. Your page will end up covered in highlighter, and you’ll have no idea what you actually wanted to remember.
- Margin notes. This is one of my preferred annotation techniques. I like to write my thoughts and questions in the margins so I can remember them later and use them in discussions.
- Symbols. A lot of people come up with a system of symbols to show what they liked, didn’t like, found interesting, etc.
These are just a few options of what you can do with annotating. Teach your students, but also allow them to teach you and show you what works for them.
I think that writer’s workshops are very important. I also think that there are a variety of ways to implement writer’s workshops into the classroom and that writer’s workshops need to be implemented correctly or so much chaos could ensue.
First I want to talk a little bit about why I feel writer’s workshops are so important. I’m fairly certain that not everyone likes or will like them. And that’s OK. But hear me out before rushing towards an opinion. Writing is and of itself a very solitary activity. It’s possible to write in groups and whatnot but basically it’s the person writing, the paper, and the pen. It’s not a partying activity. But in writer’s workshops, you get to interact with people. You hear feedback and opinions and get a fresh perspective. You get to talk to people. It’s really kind of a big deal. Plus, your writing grows and develops and gets better because of everything you’re hearing.
So now that I’ve explained why I think writer’s workshops are so fabulous, I want to talk about how I think one should be run. This isn’t a time for absolute chaos or for a free for all or to just talk about anything. Writer’s workshops are about discussing writing, your writing, and how to make it better.
There are a couple of ways I think a writer’s workshop could be run. You the teacher can work individually with students while the rest of the class works independently. You can work individually with students and have the rest of the class work in partners or small groups. You can have the class work in pairs or small groups and you can float around the classroom. Any of these methods will work, depending on the makeup of your classroom, your own personal style, and the goal you are working towards.
Go forth and try something new. Maybe it’ll work and maybe it won’t. But at least you would have been bold and tried.