In fact, they should be writing for anyone but you.
part 3 of 4
Let’s get real. If your students know their writing will be read by someone beyond the school building walls, they’ll sit up a little higher in their desks. They’ll be a little choosier with their words. They’ll be more careful with their punctuation, the flow of their ideas, the clarity of those ideas. I mean, we as teachers are important, but we’re not as important as people “out there in the real world.” This has been my experience anyway in my middle school ELA classroom.
So, in addition to giving my students lots of choices (read more here), and encouraging discussion of their topics (check out this post), I make sure my students know their writing will eventually be published or posted somewhere beyond my desk. As a result, I’m constantly on the lookout for destinations out in “the real world” for my students’ writing. Here’s a quick list I’ve come up with so far:
in their Kidblog portfolio (or another blog platform) which can be read by other students in our school and in other schools that we connect to. (Follow me so you don’t miss my future posts on student blogging. I’m still new to it, but I can always share my experiences.)
in a contest. Read my post about writing contests. I’ve covered five specific contests in my blog and will be adding several more. In addition to the occasional cash prize, students enjoy the validation of having their work recognized by unbiased readers.
in the hallway, on a bulletin board or my class website. The simplest way to post work can be as effective as entering a contest. Keep that corkboard covered!
on TeenInk.com. With parental permission, students may wish to publish online and receive comments back from other teen writers.
in a newspaper or other publication. Each month during the school year, I ask one student to write a short article featuring school news to our local newspaper.
in a local organization’s newsletter. Ask around in your community (check out historical societies, arts councils, libraries) to see if they have projects to which your students could contribute basic research, writing, or photography.
These are just a few ideas. As I think of more, I’ll post them. And yes, my students do learn how to write for an academic setting. After all, it’s important for them to get comfortable writing in that context. However, the academic discourse can’t be my primary focus if I want to create students who are exposed to the full spectrum of writing “the real world” has to offer.
This is the third of six posts about what works for me in my ELA classroom. I am by no means an expert in this endeavor, but want to share with and learn from other teachers about effective strategies for teaching writing.
The next steps I take with my students will be discussed in an upcoming post. I’ll be finishing that soon. Click the “like” button and share on social media if this has been helpful to you. Feel free to leave a comment (especially if you have authentic writing ideas!) and don’t forget to follow me to catch my next post. Thanks for reading!
Three days in and students are revising submissions for a publisher. Read this for the details.
I decided not to discuss class rules on Wednesday, the first day of school, because who wants to hear class rules for eight different classes in one day?
Instead, we jumped right into a writing contest hosted by Creative Communication (CC). The contest (read about it here) is one aspect of CC’s summer poetry anthology, which will print and ship in December. The primary goal is to see my students published in the anthology; being designated as one of the top ten in the anthology would be a bonus.
Next week, sixth- and seventh-graders will continue revising our poems and since the deadline for CC’s summer poetry anthology was extended from August 23 to August 31, we’ll have even more opportunities to refine them before submission.
Messner shared some teaching strategies from her book Real Revision. Her book outlines practical ways to encourage kids to revise their writing. The “one and done” mentality goes out the window when students see that revising can be how creative and fun. On top of that, these strategies have street cred because they show what professional authors like Messner do in their own writing routines. As a result, students begin to buy into the notion that “Real writing happens during rewriting.”
Students started this project by writing a few sentences about their favorite place or a place they enjoy. They described the place, the sounds of it, the fragrances, the textures. I showed them an example paragraph I had written about sitting in a swinging chair underneath a cedar tree in our yard. Then we read a poem that Messner wrote about one her favorite places: a mountain in April she had discovered while hiking one springtime day.
Students then revised their sentences into poems by adding recurring lines, stanzas, more sensory language, and imagery. At the end of class on Friday, they were still revising and working with partners, highlighting areas of strength and weakness.
It’s a fun project and results in beautiful little poems about places middle schoolers love… their bedrooms, around campfires, the woods, the beach, under Christmas trees.
I’ll be posting soon with more about our “Sometimes” poems. In the meantime, if you enjoyed this post, click like, leave a comment and share on social media! Follow my blog for more student writing contests and ELA teaching reflections. Thanks for reading!
Here’s another writing contest for you to try with your students.
The Outdoor Writers Association, based in Missoula, Montana, is an organization of writers, editors, broadcasters, photographers, film makers, and other communicators who are, according to OWAA’s website, “dedicated to sharing the outdoor experience.”
The organization is involved in many outreach activities, including the Norm Strung Youth Writing Awards, a national contest for students who submit works in prose or poetry that is outdoor-oriented. Students may enter as many pieces as they wish, but only one will be chosen as a winner.
One of my eighth-graders won the second place prize in the prose junior division in the 2017 contest. Read about it here. You can read my student’s essay here: Natural Nostalgia.
Age Range: This contest is open to students in grades 6-12. There are two divisions: junior (grades 6-8) and senior (9-12).
Topic or Prompt: Students may write about kayaking, camping, hunting, ecology, fishing, boating, just walking outdoors… really any outdoor-themed topic.
Mentor Texts to Use: At the outset of the contest, we read previous winning poems and prose pieces for examples and ideas. While I do have some copies of previous winners that I used in class last year, I’ve been unable to find those online recently. Here’s a link from Outdoor News where I was able to locate a winner from the 2010 contest entitled, “My First Deer, My Dad’s Fifth.” Leave a comment on this post so I can help you find more mentor texts for this contest.
Best Thing To Me About This Contest: Student choice. The fact that students can write about any topic, as long as it’s outdoor-oriented is a big plus for this contest. My students wrote about hiking, taking their first deer, fishing, and just climbing a tree. Anyone can relate to this topic and has an outdoor memory they can reflect on. I also like that poetry is an option, although only one of my students entered a poem last year.
Skills Addressed: This contest lends itself to narrative writing skills. Students must learn to sequence events logically, use appropriate transitions, and incorporate sensory language and imagery.However, there are other ways to approach the contest. For example, argument and opinion pieces may be entered. Again, choice is central to this contest.
Deadline: In 2017, the deadline was March 15. Make sure to adjust the deadline around spring break. Check back here to confirm the 2018 deadline date. Winners are announced in early August, which will seem like an eternity to your students! However, if one of them wins, it’s a great way to start the next school year!
Prizes: This year, Falcon Guides, a publisher of guidebooks for outdoor enthusiasts, provided prizes totaling $1,500. In addition, the OWAA eventually publishes all winning entries in its print magazine Outdoors Unlimited and on its website. So far, however, I’ve had a hard time finding winning entries from recent years.
How to Enter: Entries may be submitted online via an email address. However, entries can also be mailed to OWAA’s Missoula office, which is what I chose to do last year, my first year to try this contest. I attached a slip of paper to each entry that noted the division (junior) and category (prose or poetry). This is a required step for all entries. Next year, I may try emailing the entries.
For more information: Click here for complete rules.
Give this contest a try! I think your students will find engagement due to the wide variety of topics they can explore with this contest. Good luck!
If you learned something from this post, click like, leave a comment and share on social media! Follow my blog for more student writing contests and ELA teaching reflections. Thanks for reading!
Eli’s essay entitled “Natural Nostalgia” placed second in the nation in the junior prose category. He also received a check for $100. Eli graduated from Kirbyville Middle School in May and will attend Branson High School this fall.
For more information about this contest, please follow my blog to see my next post, “Contest #6 that Works for My Students: Outdoor Writers Association Norm Strung Youth Writing Awards.”
Yeah, it’s just a $10 t-shirt (when you buy two of these charmers), but clothing has power.
Is this shirt supposed to be funny, Kohl’s? Because it’s really just mean.
Did you know that back-to-school should be a time of building students up, not tearing them down? “Nobody cares” has no place in an environment structured for emotional growth and learning.
Do you realize the clothing you sell affects the social climate? Sure, maybe we don’t read and reflect on messages like the one on this shirt, but I think our minds do absorb its spirit.
Do you know this shirt also says “You don’t matter”? It extends the “Whatever!” attitude with an added dose of disdain and egotism.
Do you know how a message like this can harm someone who’s having a bad day? I’m a middle school teacher. Messages like this are the last thing a middle schooler needs to see.
Could you sell this shirt without the wording? Because it appears to have a nice fit and I like the longer length.
You paid a designer to design some new back-to-school fashions, and this is what they came up with? And then you put it on the cover of your catalog?
Do you know that the world doesn’t need this shirt? We’ll all get along better if we don’t cover our bodies in snarky comments.
Do you realize that people actually do care about other people? In fact, I contend there is a greater capacity for compassion among humans than there is for scorn.
Do you really want to associate your brand with such disrespect? I didn’t think so. You’re better than that, Kohl’s.
If this post made you think click the like button, leave a comment, and share on social media. Follow me to read more about my ELA classes. I’m a big fan of student writing contests, authentic writing, PBL and more. Thanks for reading!
Here’s what else I do to help students find writing topics they care about and then start writing
part 2 of 4
I know from teaching middle school (6-8) ELA for a few years that, in order for students to be passionate about their writing, they must first have a topic that they care about. When they care, they won’t mind taking the time to struggle to get their ideas expressed effectively. They’ll persevere through the thinking and writing (and rethinking and rewriting) that inevitably happens when they are truly engaged and committed to their ideas. In a previous post, I listed three ways I help my students find topics they care about. Here they are:
1) I give them lots of choices. If they don’t like any of the fifty or more prompts I offer, they can write about their own idea.
2) I regularly assign slice-of-life essays about the ordinary moments of life that, while small, reveal our humanity and common experiences.
3) I simply give students time to think.
The fourth thing I do to help students find a good topic is this: I let them talk.
Nothing builds enthusiasm as much as inviting students to share their ideas, connections, and memories. Writing ideas bubble up around the room as others share their experiences. I carry a dry erase marker on me at all times so I can rush over to the whiteboard and jot down a random idea like “snowboard life lesson thing” for Gwen or “spaghetti disaster” for Casey.
Usually, after they’ve talked for a while (about 15-25 minutes), I’ll notice students here and there pulling out pen and paper to start writing. I use that as my guide. I make a quick announcement that it’s time to start writing. I invite them to grab a clipboard and find a spot on the floor around the room or at a table where they can be productive. Many choose to stay at their desks. If they sit with a buddy, they must still be productive.
Then I turn off the fluorescent lights and flip on the white Christmas lights hanging from the ceiling. It creates an inviting glow that signals it’s time to settle in for writing.
Those kids who pulled out their paper first to write will usually be my star students. Because I know those kids can easily dive right into writing, I make sure to keep an eye on those who may need help getting started. I let everyone know it’s okay if nothing gets written down that day, but the goal for the next is to have a semblance of an idea at the beginning of class. And then I let those strugglers stare at the wall some more. I pour out the patience.
One of the most introspective pieces ever composed in my classes was written by a student who stared at the wall for most of the class period. At first, I thought Joe was just biding his time, but when I checked with him, he told me he just couldn’t think of anything. So I let him stare.
The next day, he rushed into class with a sheet of notebook paper covered on both sides with some wonderful personal thinking about being young, making choices, and about how it can actually feel bewildering to have so many options in life. A truly interesting piece with ideas I never expected this student to harbor. In fact, I still keep a copy in my “Why I Teach” binder. Rereading it reminds me that I should be patient when discussion doesn’t ignite everyone’s imagination right away. Some kids just need more time to think.
The next steps I take with my students will be discussed in an upcoming post. I’ll be finishing that soon. Click the “like” button and share on social media if this has been helpful to you. Feel free to leave a comment and don’t forget to follow me to catch that post! Thanks for reading!
I attended Branson Tech Institute, an educational technology conference, July 17-18 at Branson High School. The Branson School District extended invitations to attend the conference to area schools, including my district, Kirbyville R-VI. (Thanks to my district for paying my registration fee!)
About a dozen different classes were offered during each of nine sessions. Classes were categorized into grade level and subject areas. The district also provided a single link on Google drive for the presentation materials, handouts and links from all the sessions. A gold mine! Here’s a list and brief description of the sessions I chose to attend.
Chromebook Cart Management: This was a refresher course presented by Branson faculty member Kim Good. It showed me ways to keep my own computer cart organized in my classroom. Good news! My school already does what she recommended!
Google Forms: Quizzes, Data Collection & More: Presenter and Branson teacher Courtney Brown taught the basics of Google Forms. Even though I have attended other classes on Forms, I still don’t use it regularly in my classroom. However, I feel that this will change this year. I will be having students complete one on the first or second day of school this year. I’ll use it to give me an update on students’ writing style and interests, and home Internet access.
Curating Great Resources for ELA: Presenter Melody Alms taught this course on internet resources specifically for teaching ELA. My biggest take-away: CommonLit.org, a fantastic site for fiction and nonfiction literacy resources. So much to discover!
Twitter for Beginners: Even though I have started to more actively use Twitter this summer, this session taught by Katie Kensinger taught me some basics that I just didn’t know. By the way, I only have one Twitter account (many teachers have both personal and professional accounts). My Twitter account includes shares from this blog and my personal writing blog; my profile includes links to both blogs. I only tweet about topics related to my writing and teaching.
Social Media in the Classroom: This course focused on the use of Instagram in the classroom. Branson teacher Sarah Yocum shared her private class Instagram account and procedures. Very interesting. I had toyed with this idea previously this summer based on an Instagram post made by a former student. Read about that here. As a result, I have started my own private account for my ELA classes at Kirbyville Middle School. You can see my first four posts in the sidebar of this blog. I envision posting photos for writing prompts, writing tips, class photos (with parent permission, of course).
Parents, students, and my Kirbyville colleagues may request to follow the account; however, I don’t follow anyone in return. Students must have a parental permission form signed before they can follow the account.
Because not all students have Instagram (especially in middle school), students won’t “have to have” access for assignments; the class Instagram will be supplemental. Posts that must be seen for an assignment will be on the smartboard in class or given on a handout. This will be just a new way to interact with students in a medium they are comfortable with.
EdPuzzle: This class taught about a free interactive site that allows the teacher to select a video and then edit it, thereby tailoring it to their instruction. The program also contains analytical tools to evaluate student progress and mastery. While I found this very valuable, it seemed to require more time to learn than I am willing to invest at this time.
ESL — Modified and Meaningful Instructions with Technology: This class was focused for literacy coaches and provided a wealth of information and resources that I need occasionally as I interact and teach students for whom English is their second language. I wish I had learned this material about two years ago when a Spanish-speaking student who knew no English entered my classroom. Biggest takeaway: We must provide our ESL students with the common speech alternatives to academic terms, even going so far as providing them English vocab tip sheets for them to access when doing assignments and tests. For example, there are many synonyms that are helpful to know when we talk about addition in math class. Some of these are how many altogether, sum, plus, add it up, and others.
GoFormative: This session discussed the use of this tool that evaluates learning of all students. Found at goformative.com, this site lets teachers create instant quizzes over videos and material you select to teach. I could possibly use this for reading comprehension checks and vocabulary lessons.
Green Screen and Stop Motion: Taught by Paula Bronn and Kari Houston, this class gave teachers the basics of incorporating dynamic and exciting presentation options for kids. I can see kids producing professional presentations from exotic locales (based on the images they find to project on the screen). The possibilities are really endless and it’s hard to wrap my mind around all that could be achieved with this tool. Added bonus of this session: I learned I don’t actually need a green screen. Green paper will suffice. The only hardware I would need would be an Ipad and a tripod. They even showed us how to make stop-motion videos with claymation and Lego figures. Here’s the main site I would check out first: Doink.
Poster Sessions: On Tuesday morning of the event, all sessions hosted a table in the commons area. Each attendee was given a card to have initialed by the presenter at each table. One goal of the poster sessions was to get the initials of 15 presenters to win a door prize (I won a drawstring backpack). However, the biggest goal of the poster sessions was simply to give attendees a chance to gather information on sessions that they didn’t actually take a class for, due to time constraints. Smart idea and very beneficial!
To conclude, my greatest takeaway from the entire conference is to make sure that technology propels a student’s education forward. Technology is an incredible gift, IF teachers use it intelligently, effectively and efficiently.
In other words, technology doesn’t always win against tried-and-true tools such as pen and paper, but being informed about technology’s benefits and potential uses does help me connect better with my students who have lived their entire lives surrounded by it.