We’re the November Classroom of the Month!

Thank you to Six-Word Memoirs for selecting my Honors Modern Fiction and Nonfiction class as their Classroom of the Month! Their feature article describes our use of six-word stories as an ice-breaker activity on the first day of school. (For additional information on this assignment, see “Even Reluctant Writers Will Love Six-Word Memoirs.”)

Here’s some student pieces highlighted in the article. Click the stories themselves to see the full compositions published on the Six-Word Memoirs site: [ . . . ]  Read More

12 Ways to Enjoy the NCTE Convention (Even From Afar!)

The NCTE Convention is consistently one of the best professional development experiences of my year. But a conference of this size can be difficult to navigate–especially for new attendees–and unfortunately, not every interested teacher is able to attend.

Here are 12 ways to enjoy the convention, even if you can’t attend in person:

P.S. I am so excited about next month’s conference that I drew sketches (below) to accompany my tips. (Educator and author Tanny McGregor inspired me to start sketching at the 2016 NCTE Convention.)

If you’re thinking about attending:

It’s not too late! Ask your institution to sponsor your attendance. NCTE offers talking points, testimonials, budget spreadsheets, and sample letters to help you get approval to attend. [ . . . ]  Read More

Even Reluctant Writers Will Love Six-Word Memoirs

Six-word memoirs were a quick and excellent way to get students writing, revising, and crafting digital texts.

At the start of every school year, I look for a fun way for students to introduce themselves to each other and to me. Last year, I asked students to craft visual autobiographies on Padlet. This year, since I’m teaching a course for 11th and 12th graders on Modern Fiction and Nonfiction, I also wanted a quick activity to get my students writing their own modern stories. Enter the Six-Word Memoir! (Just in time for the National Day on Writing! #WhyIWrite) [ . . . ]  Read More

Let’s Annotate the Web! Meta Digital Writing with Troy Hicks

For this month’s Digital Literacies Collaborative (DLC) social reading, I invite you to read and annotate Troy Hicks’ (2018) excellent piece from Voices in the Middle on “The Next Decade of Digital Writing.” In addition to joining the ongoing discussion throughout the article, I especially invite you to think publicly about your next steps or goals as a teacher of digital writing.

In the article, Hicks reflects on the evolution of digital writing instruction and highlights five educators’ innovative practices. Hicks describes his purpose as follows: [ . . . ]  Read More

A Transmedia Writing Project by Global Collaborators

Thanks to a series of well-timed clicks on social media, I recently became one of twenty, international co-authors of a collaborative digital writing project, the NetNarr Alchemy Lab.

How I Got Involved

Scrolling through social media, I was intrigued by a playful invitation that teased the possibility of a transmedia, collaborative story.

“Come. Join us,” the invitation stated.

“Take a chance. We’ll be right there with you. Together, we hope to create something magical.”

The sign-up sheet made the following, modest offer: [ . . . ]  Read More

Mindfulness & Social and Emotional Learning in the Classroom

Are you looking to add mindfulness or social and emotional learning (SEL) activities to your teaching?

My two latest publications discuss mindfulness and social and emotional learning in the English classroom. Both articles share tech-free lessons that can be adapted across grade levels and content areas.

“Mindful ELA: Lessons from a Grassroots Wellness Initiative” (see below) tells the story of a teacher-led movement to increase wellness in a high school, and then zooms in on several mindfulness lessons from two English teachers’ classrooms. [ . . . ]  Read More

Sketchnotes: An Educator’s Adventures in Visual Notetaking

Glancing over my shoulder during a session at NCTE 2016, I spotted the following notes:

While I knew I could never create notes as beautiful as Tanny McGregor’s (above), I realized immediately that her method could revolutionize my own notetaking. A quick Twitter search led me to the name of the method: sketchnoting. Sketchnotes are “rich visual notes created from a mix of handwriting, drawings, hand-drawn typography, shapes, and visual elements like arrows, boxes, and lines” (The Sketchnote Handbook). [ . . . ]  Read More

Reading Graphs and Economic Trends: The “Great Gatsby Curve”

When I spotted the following preview of a discussion thread on NCTE Connects, I had to read more:

Vermont educator Donald Tinney was looking for short companion texts to teach in conversation with The Great Gatsby. I had just finished reading Fitzgerald’s novel with my 10th grade students, and was curious to learn how other educators help students relate its themes to present day.

In the discussion that followed, several educators shared texts and tips (including P.L. Thomas’ post, “The ‘Vast Carelessness’ of White America”). [ . . . ]  Read More

Teens and Libraries Reunite via Virtual Field Trips

At the beginning of the school year, I asked my students to obtain or recover their public library cards. Since my students commute from several towns, this involved three local libraries. I hoped the assignment would encourage students to take advantage of the many resources available through the library.

I asked students to upload a photo of themselves with their library cards, and offered additional points for photos that conveyed “a love of reading.” Here are some examples (shared with permission). [ . . . ]  Read More

Get Your Public Library Card!

The start of the school year presents an opportunity to encourage a new group of students to fall (or stay) in love with reading.

To kick off our yearlong independent reading unit, my students are signing up for library cards at the local library. As a homework assignment, students will obtain (or dust off) a library card, and snap a photo of themselves holding their cards. After talking it over with students, I decided to offer additional points for photos that convey enthusiasm for reading. Check back for an update of student photos posted with permission. [ . . . ]  Read More

Experimenting with Digital Badges in ELA

I’ve been tinkering with digital badges for a few years, but this spring marked my first effort to test them in the classroom. I’m still in an exploratory stage, but I wanted to share some initial reflections.

What are Digital Badges?

In a nutshell, badges are digital ways of recognizing accomplishments or skills. Open badges are tied to evidence of learning and designed to be shared, so recipients can showcase their skills across digital platforms (e.g., Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn).

If you’re new to badges, check out the Open Badges website and this article on badges in the classroom. The graphic below illustrates the elements of an open badge. [ . . . ]  Read More

What Reading Looks Like

When we think about what reading looks like, we might picture someone curled up with a good book in a comfy chair with a hot beverage nearby. We might picture someone perusing the news over breakfast, or reading an e-book during the morning commute.

If you ask someone outside of the education field what teens’ reading looks like, however, they might not picture anything. For example, when I mention to someone that I’m researching teens’ reading, many lament, “kids these days don’t read anymore!” [ . . . ]  Read More

Poetry for the Reluctant Poet

In honor of National Poetry Month, here’s a poetry lesson that can inspire writers of all ages.

On Valentine’s Day, a day when emotions are heightened in high school, for better or worse, I trotted out an assignment that would invite students to have fun writing poetry. These were ninth graders—generally willing to play along when I call something fun even if they don’t think it is—but I did my best to present them with options they’d find inherently appealing. They even laughed politely when I joked that if they wanted, they could write their poem on colored paper and cut it out in a heart shape. [ . . . ]  Read More

Using Literacy for Advocacy

In honor of Advocacy Month, the Writers Who Care blog has invited educators to talk about literacy and advocacy by posting a 90-second video on Flipgrid. My students decided to tweak their prompt to reflect on how we use literacy for advocacy.

Here is the video response from my classroom.

From Of Mice and Men to Advocacy

After students finished reading Of Mice and Men, I challenged them to investigate a contemporary issue raised by the classic text. Students researched and wrote about issues such as sexism, racism, ageism, and ableism. Then, they researched advocacy organizations that aligned to their arguments. Some students reached out to their advocacy groups to learn how to get involved. [ . . . ]  Read More

Students’ Writing Goes Viral

The search for an assignment that makes second-semester seniors want to read more is like the hunt for a unicorn—a noble quest that’s likely to fail.

But this year, my students and I captured the unicorn with a project that invited them to research the benefits of reading and share their findings with a global audience.

Over 1000 people read my seniors’ writing over a three-day period this month. And after the assignment’s conclusion, several students reported that they read more now than ever before. [ . . . ]  Read More

Guest Speaker Offers a New Perspective on Mental Disability

Last month, three of my classes were treated to a visit by our Student Assistance Counselor, Mr. Jason Grabelsky, a social worker whose role is to offer students support and counseling.

Fiction Helps Us Confront Discomfort

Though I’ve taught Steinbeck’s novella Of Mice and Men for nearly ten years, I’ve never been comfortable with how my students talk about one of the main characters, Lennie, who is cognitively impaired.

Steinbeck introduces Lennie in a comic fashion—he gulps water from a pond so excitedly that he dunks his head underwater, “hat and all” (p. 3)—so it’s natural that students are amused by his childlike behavior. Students often ask if Lennie is “all there in the head,” “stupid,” or “special.” My students were doing exactly as I’d trained them to do: reading closely and analyzing the character’s words and actions. But I had not equipped them with the appropriate language to talk about Lennie’s deficiencies in a sensitive way. [ . . . ]  Read More

Fun with Infographics: Gearing up for the NCTE Convention

I leave tomorrow for the Annual Convention for the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE). With the excitement building on Twitter, I came across a post that inspired me to do some digital writing. English educator and author Kylene Beers (@KyleneBeers) created an infographic to announce her presentation schedule for the conference.

Inspired by her post, I used Adobe Illustrator to create an infographic (pictured below) to share my presentation schedule, and shared it on Twitter. To create the graphic, I used a “snipping tool” to take screenshots of the presentation schedule, and then added my own call-out boxes, graphics, and text. [ . . . ]  Read More

Print vs. Digital: Students Choose How to Write

Now that all my students have a school-issued Surface tablet, I let them choose how they want to take notes. When we were reviewing literary terms last week, I instructed students to take notes and snapped a picture of this tableau:

  1. A student taking digital notes with the stylus and touch screen (using the highlighter tool to emphasize key words)
  2. A student taking notes by hand in a spiral notebook
  3. A student typing notes using the keyboard

While some research worth sharing with students suggests that handwritten notes may be better for learning, I’ve noticed that now that they have the option to type, my students are less reluctant when I ask them to take notes, and even more likely to start taking notes on their own without my prompting. [ . . . ]  Read More

Authentic Writing: Turning Heads and Saving Necks

They hurtled into the room, grabbing the thickest, most neglected books from my shelf—titles like The Reader’s Encyclopedia of Shakespeare and The American Tradition in Literature—rushing them into the hallway, returning for more, until they’d built a wobbly skyscraper of books. What kind of assignment could spark such enthusiasm?

When educators talk about authentic writing, they are talking about assignments written for real audiences—not just for the teacher—that provide students with opportunities to make choices and write about ideas that matter to them. Ken Lindblom argued in a recent Writers Who Care blog post that good writing instruction offers opportunities for students to write in a variety of genres, invites students to write for real audiences and make meaningful choices, and incorporates feedback from multiple audiences throughout the writing process. [ . . . ]  Read More