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Archive for the ‘writing’ Category

It’s hard not to love the writing project. There are so many amazing ideas that get floated around, and teachers are so generous with their time and energy that it really feels like we are getting a lot done. It’s fun to watch people who have never been exposed to the writing project “model” get excited about going back to their classrooms and trying something new.

One of the new fun things that we talked about today was the six word memoir. Popularized with Smith magazine and made famous with Hemingway’s “For sale: baby shoes, never worn”,they attempt to encapsulate all (or part) of a life in just six words. You can imagine the fun. What’s mine?

Explore. Roots Stretch. Moving encourages growth.

How very zen of me.

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We had a fascinating speaker at the writing project yesterday. Erick Gordon of the Student Press Initiative spoke to us of the power of publishing and audience for student writers. Most of it was old news (the idea of publishing being motivating has been around awhile), but Erick was an engaging speaker and the most important part was not necessarily that publishing would be motivating.

It’s amazing to think of the far-reaching effects that publishing student writing can have. Not only do we give our students something, but we also give something to the world. And isn’t that one of the goals of all teachers? And isn’t touching the world something we want to teach our students to strive for?

When students begin thinking of audience (or at least of an audience beyond their teachers and best friends) the power of the writing expands to encompass the world. Teachers struggle to make their students connect to the outside world and feel as if their work matters–publishing could do both.

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I love to read and write. I love learning. I think it’s out of sight. I love the kids I have. And the ones I’ll have next year.(boom de yadda)(boom de yadda)(boom de yadda)(boom de yadda).

I love that Discovery ad–if you haven’t seen it, it’s here. I think videos like this showcase one of the most positive aspects of you-tube and other sites like it–their ability to pass the positive and people’s responses to the positive around the world.

I like using resources like this (sometimes, obviously, under the radar of those who block useful websites) in my classroom. They are inspiring and invigorating and uplifting and fun to imitate. We’ve done our own versions of the Obama “Yes We Can” video–written parodies of various “teaching” videos, watched the Challenger tragedy and responded to it and generally made writing part of the experience of watching. It’s amazing how inquisitive students are (and how much easier it is to teach analysis) when they hear the world “you tube”. I don’t let the technology take the place of the lesson, but I certainly love using it as a tool. (plus, of course, a whole class of eighth graders quietly humming “boom de yadda” while they write their poems/stories/responses is not to be missed.)

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My students turned in their Writer’s Workshops today. Well, yesterday, but I’ve been grading them fairly constantly since yesterday afternoon, so the days have blurred together. As usual, my students have delighted and surprised me.

One of my favorite aspects of Writer’s Workshop is that it allows so much student choice. A colleague of mine just gave his first ever assignment that allowed students to pick their topic, and he was shocked at the number of completed, and well-written, essays he got. I just grinned.

So far I’ve gotten letters to authors (which, if the author is living, I mail off), letters to me, letters to friends(real and imaginary) and several short stories. I’ve also gotten a few passionate essays on the dress-code and cell phones written with the pleading only present in middle school.

It’s great fun. Of course, I also included an “essay” assignment in their contract, they do have to learn to write those, but because they were able to do other things that they wanted to do; the thing they had to do was made palatable. And easier. And more fun.

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Grading is exhausting. Marathon grading (of the sort I did this weekend) is exhausting, but I think that there is a groove you get into with a solid day of grading that I never quite hit if I try to divide it up into daily manageable piles. Of course, in my defense, the previous Monday I had been all caught up–and by Friday I was sixty-four Writer’s Workshop binders in the hole.
I love Writer’s Workshop–it’s an amazing (and amazingly effective!) way to teach the art of writing to a diverse group of students. I am not the most eloquent of people–but if you’re interested in learning more you can always look at their website here .
Back to the grading, I was reading through one of my student’s “scary” stories, and he had proudly clothed his female lead in only the best fashion. What was it? You guessed it—a “satan” “goochy” evening gown. This was soon topped by the student who set her scary story in the classroom and had the desks turn into portals to “heck”–which turned out to be…her mom’s car when her sister was learning to drive.
They’ve written a piece a week without realizing it; they’ve not whined too much; it’s three weeks till break, and, fair or foul, my grades are in for the first trimester.
What’s not to love?

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Well, no one ever claimed that comma rules could be fun when I was first learning them. But, as my students and I figured out today, if you start with the right picture book–anything is possible.
Introducing comma rules to a 7th grade class is always tricky. On one hand, you want them to stretch their writing and try new things. On the other hand, they will invariably stick whatever new thing it is randomly throughout their work for awhile until they get the hang of it. With this in mind, I created a two part lesson. Part one was a funny way to remember commas. Part two was this book, which is a funny lesson in what happens when commas go very, very wrong.
The first part of my lesson was the standard “fanboys” of coordinate conjunctions. I teach the memory device “fanboys” (for, and, nor, but, or, yet, so) to introduce the idea of “magic” words that can connect two sentences (with a comma!), and yet not get you the dreaded “RO” of the run-on in editing. The kids love it because we have such a good time making up sentences and discussing their meanings: the boys are ugly, but the girls are sweet— OR, the boys are ugly, so the girls are sweet–(that usually gets a few giggles from the swifter kids)–and then they go merrily off, sticking commas in every which way until they get the hang of it.
To squash the learning curve a bit, I used Lynne Truss’ Eats, Shoots, and Leaves: Why Commas are Important picture book. It’s great! The kids’ all-time favorite is the spread comparing “Eat here, and get gas” (at a gas station) and “Eat here and get gas” (at a restaurant). What’s not to like about flatulence jokes if you’re in 7th grade? But the best part of this book is it visually demonstrates what happens when commas go wrong.
They walk into a bar, fire a gun, and leave of course!

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One of the things I love most about the internet is the surprises you can find in someone else’s list of links. Today I hopped around a few book-blogs and ended up at the Oxford University Press blog. At first, I merely stared, astonished that the company that received such a high percentage of my meager wages in college had a blog, but soon I was so wrapped up in what the site has to offer that the nostalgia faded into the background.

It’s hard to beat their guest bloggers. The writers range from NPR gurus, to celebrated writers, to two men who appear to enjoy arguing about the second amendment a lot–and all write quite articulately and with the quality you would expect from OUP. This blog does not have the “personal” element and is not tied together by the tone of one dominant writer (although several of the bloggers have regular columns). It definitely has a more casual “feel” to it than an official website would (and directs you to the offical OUP *mothership* on their sidebar). The articles are erudite, interesting, and make me smile at the memory of those “notes” I never quite got to at the end of my edition of Middlemarch.

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