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The longview.

Dangit, accidentally turned on my alarm this morning. I was in the middle of a deep, twisted dream, probably a result of too much homemade corn chowder and Series of Unfortunate Events before I fell asleep. It had a very vampire-steampunk-elitist quality to it.

Reading Three Teachers Talk, “10 Things We Did that Invited Initiative and Growth” I felt I could have written this article. Many of the things they mentioned were things I’ve tried to bring to my students this year, too, such as reading at the beginning of class, etc.

Here is their post with my annotations and thoughts:

We read at the beginning of class every day (almost — we had about six days throughout the semester when something somehow got in the way of that, i.e., fire drills, assemblies, wonky bell schedules, my car dying on the way to school).

We started reading at the beginning of class, too, and that routine has been compromised. A few students have asked if we’re bringing it back. I’m expected to “do” something with this–use it as a chance to teach a reading skill, etc. I’ll bring it back when the new semester starts. Right now we’re reading Part-Time Indian, and we should go slower and dig deeper with that focus for now.

We talked about books A LOT. Book talks, reading challenges, reading goals, tweeting book selfies, and more.

I’ve done the “Books I’m Thankful For” book share project every November but this one. Again, not sure what happened. Many cooks in the kitchen, perhaps? This is something that requires my flexibility and bring back anytime. This summer I bought one of those little Polaroid cameras that takes tiny Polaroids, so perhaps it’s time to get that off the shelf.

We wrote about our books enough to practice writing about our books. Theme statements, mirroring sentences, analyzing characters and conflict and plot — just enough to keep our minds learning and practicing the art of noticing an author’s craft.

We’ve been focused on Claim, Evidence, and Reasoning paragraphs on varying texts, but I gave students a month off because they’re writing them in all their other content areas, and they’re sick of them. I don’t want any skill to be warped into something that creates resentment opposed to efficacy, etc. 

We wrote about topics we care about. With the exception of the first essay students wrote, which was all the junior English teachers committed to as a pre-assessment, students chose their own topics or wrote their own prompts. Donald Murray in Learning by Teaching says the hardest part of writing is deciding on what to write about, yet we so often take that hard thinking from our writers. The worst essays my students wrote was the only one in which I gave a prompt, and before you think it’s just because that was their first essay, nope, I asked them. They just didn’t care — and that is the worst way to start off the year in a writing class.

We haven’t been writing as much as we normally do. I keep harping on myself “normally by now…we would be….” and I need to stop. Writing teaches everything else, which is why it’s so important. We’ll get there, though. Maybe I’ll just do something simple like on Wednesdays start off with a choice of two prompts and go from there. 

Let me take a moment and mourn great projects that didn’t materialize this year: the Fear Unit normally produces great writing–we were focused on theme–the Drabble-A-Day produces great shared writing — we had multiple days of testing, interruptions, etc. –so February — will try to get to the gods/goddess Valentine’s prompt….or how to convince someone to fall in love with you (thank you, Sharon) –

We read mentor texts and learned comprehension skills and studied author’s craft. I chose highly engaging texts about current events in our society:  police shootings and being shot, taking a knee during the national anthem, race relations, our prison system, immigration issues — all topics that make us ask as many questions as the writers answer. Inquiry lived in our discussions.

We read Snowy Woods and walked through mood and imagery together, and I’m proud of that shared reading experience. I am proud of the mentor text lesson, but it was only one. Not nearly enough.

I’m sensing a theme here: No time. No time. No time.

We talked one-on-one about our reading and our writing. I conferred more than I have in the past, taking notes so I wouldn’t forget as students told me about their reading lives and their writing woes. We spoke to one another as readers and writers. We grew to like each other as individuals with a variety of interests, backgrounds, ideas, and dreams.

We shared a bit of ourselves — mostly in our writing — than we ever thought we would. Abusive mothers, alcoholic fathers, hurtful and harrowing pasts and how we grow up out of them. We talked about respect within families and how we can hurt the people we love the best when we ignore their love because it’s masked in fear and strict parenting.

This is just beginning: this will continue throughout the rest of the year. Part-Time Indian is a great place to begin to share personal stories.

We celebrated our writing by sharing what we wrote, by performing spoken word poems, reading our narratives, or reading our quickwrites. We left feedback on sticky notes and flooded our writers.

We’ve been through one gallery walk and wow’s and wonders–we’ll get there.

We grew in confidence and that showed in our work. I held students accountable with high expectations — and lots of mercy. Most rose to the challenge, even those in their first AP class and those far behind who needed to catch up. Most exceeded their own expectations.

Not there yet.

We joined communities of readers and writers on social media, building a positive digital footprint that shows we are scholars, students who care about their literacy and want to go to college. We wrote 140 character book reviews and explored Goodreads and shared covers of the books we were reading. #IMWAYR #readersunite #FridayREADS #FarmersREAD

Again, not there yet.

What have we been doing?

  1. Some shared readings
  2. Question Formulation technique
  3. CERs (Claim, evidence, and reasoning) structure
  4. Friday Five vocabulary
  5. Shared discussions with short films
  6. Started ‘project Tuesdays’ this month — will reflect on that at the end of January.
  7. Promised them February would include Box of Destiny
  8. Am working with a colleague’s idea about zombies…

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