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