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Posts from the ‘Reflective Practice’ Category

From the Classroom: Looking Back to Look Forward

Each year, as the new year approaches, my husband and I sit down to both reflect on our past year and set goals (not resolutions!) for the upcoming year. While for many the distinction between resolution and goal may be minor, for us it makes a big difference. A resolution is a decision to either start or stop doing something and, as we all know, they can be very easy to break. Goals, however, provide a clear view of where we want to go, what we want to accomplish and they enable us to begin to develop a pathway forwards.

For example, after reflecting on our past year and how busy our lives seem to have become – both working full time while raising our daughter – we realized one of the goals we wanted to set for the upcoming year is to spend more quality family time together. With this goal in mind, we set up mini goals for each month: no technology on Mondays, extended-family dinners every other Sunday, take at least one nature walk/hike a month, etc. Since our goal was clear, it was easy to develop concrete ways towards accomplishing it. We also take the time to write our goals out and keep them posted in our kitchen so that we are reminded of what we hope to achieve and continue working daily towards that direction.

So, as I’ve been sitting this week watching my students take midterms, I’ve been thinking about how I can help them start the new year and new semester fresh. Like my husband and I do, I want them to take some time to both reflect on their past in order to be more thoughtful when looking forward.

Accordingly, I plan to start next week by looking back. To begin, we will read and discuss “Dear Past Self” by Isbella Fillspipe (found in #NotYourPrincess).

Dear-Past-Self-1

After noticing what she does in this mentor text, I will distribute the letters of introduction students write to me at the start of the year in order to give them a direct portal to their past selves. In these letters, students tell me whatever they think I should know about them as their new teacher and outline their hopes, fears, and expectations for the new school year. To end the lesson, students will write a private letter to their past selves in their writer’s notebook.

goalsAfter we’ve spent some time in the past, I will invite students to start looking forward. Using my goals as a model, I’ll ask students to set goals (not resolutions!) for the second half of the school year by thinking about what they want to accomplish personally and academically.

To solidify these goals we’ll spend some time reflecting on why they matter and how they can be accomplished. And we’ll put it all in writing – displayed in the front of our binders – so we have a regular reminder of where we want to go and how we plan to get there.

Finally, as a wrap up, using Futureme.org I will have students write one more letter; a letter to their future selves. In this letter, I’ll invite them to reflect on what they hope they’ve accomplished, figured out, done, etc, by the send date – the last day of school.

How do you start fresh with your students? How do you set your own goals and encourage your students to set their own? Please share any ideas, mentor texts, or resources that you’ve found helpful!

From the Classroom: Moving Beyond Lit Analysis

For years I struggled with the need to teach my ninth grade students how to write a standard five-paragraph literary analysis. I knew I was responsible for moving them up to their future English classes with this skill, but it was also torturous teaching the formulaic approach to this writing task.  As we moved through the lessons, students eyes would glaze over, my eyes would glaze over, and we all generally lost interest in writing. To make modeling easier, the essay prompts were all dictated by me in response to texts also selected by me. The result was bland, repetitive writing that lacked creativity or thought. This also made grading torturous.

Then, a few years ago when I started the C3WP approach to teaching argument and research writing, I experimented with applying this method to literary analysis writing as well. Accordingly, rather than reading one text together as a class then writing an essay analyzing some literary element within that text, we started to read many texts centered on a common motif and write in short bursts about the texts daily. After we had read and discussed around a topic for a while, we would revisit the texts as a whole and ask ourselves “so what?” These responses turned into a literary analysis that was developed after many days of thinking and pulled from several texts. As a result, the writing process and lessons got a lot messier, but the engagement and thinking grew exponentially.

Around the same time I started experimenting with this new approach to teaching literary analysis writing, I stumbled across this quote from Kelly Gallagher:

Reading helps us to enter the feelings, imaginings, and thoughts of others. We temporarily leave our world for theirs, and when we return, we hope our thinking will be expanded and strengthened. We hope to be enlarged intellectually and/or emotionally.

Now, whenever my students are gearing up to write a formal literary analysis, I share these words with them and prompt them to write about how the texts have enlarged them intellectually and/or emotionally. This prompt has much less structure than previous writing prompts that read something like “How does the plot development of this story communicate theme?” or “Identify a dynamic character and explain how their change influences the downfall.” As a result the thinking and writing is all over the place and the students are the ones putting in the hard work, with me there in the background to confer and support them along the way. I still model how I would approach the writing task, but my model often varies greatly from their writing and only serves as a support rather than a strict structure.

For example, we are just wrapping up a unit in which we studied a series of pieces dealing with the transitory nature of home for many people. While digging into this idea, we thought about and discussed a variety of texts: a poem called “Home” by Warsan Shire, a chapter from The Circuit by Francisco Jimenez, a short documentary called “Border Purgatory” from The Atlantic, and a book called Dreams and Nightmares: I Fled Alone to the United States When I was Fourteen by Liliana Velásquez. Students were also invited to find and read texts dealing with the topic on their own and to write and reflect on their own personal experiences with home.

The following is how one student, a recent immigrant from Venezuela and an emerging English language learner, introduced his essay:

sample intro paragraph 1.JPG And here is the introduction from another student in the same class:

intro 2.JPG

Both writers have made insightful observations and crafted well-written introductions to their essays. Rather than the dread I used to feel at taking home a batch of essays to grade, I am excited to read these and to see what everyone else’s takeaways are.

What are some ways you move your students beyond the basic literary analysis?

 

 

Wet Paint

Writing prompts to incite sparks to start a writer’s engine is a challenging teacher’s task. Too narrow of a prompt, and the engine remains cold. Too broad of a prompt…and the engine remains cold. 

Recently, I needed a prompt to transition students from writing a personal memoir to writing narrative nonfiction (aka creative nonfiction). In an effort to be clear, I kept the prompt lean: Write a true story as story

Turns out, clarity is contextual. The same prompt can be a springboard for some and an abyss for others. Part of our work is to meet students where they are–adjust the task, the prompt, the context to fit the need.

In my case, mentor texts and discussion clarified the prompt for some. However, narrative nonfiction isn’t fiction conjured up inside our heads. It turns out, tapping into lived experiences or research is only a piece of the process. Yes, we can list and accumulate pieces in our writer’s notebooks; however, converting those experiential fragments or bits of research into a story is challenging! 

Neither my prompt, class discussion nor mentor texts fed into one student’s particular strengths as a writer. Conferring with Jane (pseudonym),  she opened her draft and shared that she gathered a lot of information about Mary Shelly, but she did not know how to convert the information into a story.

In other words, Jane took steps forward under the guidance of the prompt and by reading a couple of books about Mary Shelley, but she still could not convert all of the amassed information into a story, and then THIS happened:

In the middle of conferring, Jane asked, “I made an OC this weekend. Want to see it?”

IMG_3600

“Whats an O.C.?”

“An original character.”

Jane retrieved her private journal–filled with sketches–and explained the O.C., named Autumn. Jane knew a lot about Autumn’s “story” just from a sketch. She has yet to write any words about Autumn.

This moment sparked me to make the decision to revise the prompt for Jane. Until now, I had been trying to adjust Jane’s thinking to work within my prompt, the class discussion, the mentor texts,  rather than adjust the prompt so that it worked for her thinking. So, I asked Jane if I could revise the prompt right inside her Google Doc:

 

What makes Mary Shelley a likable person? What does she do that makes us want to keep watching her, listening to her? Could you bring that to life in a sketch? Could you sketch a scene with Mary in it (and then write it as a story).

 

Jane read as I typed and she nodded with enthusiasm.

“I can do that.”

IMG_3599After ten minutes, I circled back to Jane.

“I drew Mary tough–in boys’ clothes. She’s really tough and has to be to stand up for women’s rights.”

“Could you write a scene? A moment that brings this sketch to life too?”

“I can do that.”

I hadn’t explicitly thought of prompts as fluid or permutable. So often, prompts in education feel fixed and I wonder how much I have contributed to that feeling in my classes. At the very least, today, I am grateful that my mentors (in person and in text) have given me the guidance and confidence to learn to be responsive to the writer while the paint is still wet. And maybe that is the best way, for me, to think of writing prompts–wet paint as opposed to chiseled stone.

 

When Rubrics Reign is it Time for a Coup?

By Mary Buckelew

41G46TubLhL._SS500_“Rubrics make powerful promises. They promise to save time. They promise to boil a messy process down to four to six rows of nice neat, organized little boxes. Who can resist their wiles? They seduce us with their appearance of simplicity and objectivity and then secure their place in our repertoire of assessment techniques with their claim to help us to clarify our goals and guide students through the difficult and complex task of writing” (2). Rethinking Rubrics in Writing Assessment (2007), by Maja Wilson

How many points is this assignment worth? How many lines do I need to write? How many pages? Where’s the rubric? Why did I get a 3 in organization? Why didn’t I get full credit? How do I get an A?

Students enter my college freshman writing classes with the above litany of questions, sometimes spoken, sometimes unspoken, but ever present. These questions are as natural as breathing and begin early in students’ K-12 school careers. Read more

Snorkeling and Scuba Diving in an Undergraduate General Education Literature Course: Diving into the Educational Theory Behind “Next” Practices*

 by Mary Buckelew

Student Voices
“Before choosing
The Glorious Heresies by Lisa McInerney for my self-selected book, I figured that I’d be reading aesthetically as I wanted to read for entertainment.  After reading, I can say I read mostly with an aesthetic lens, but I did read efferently at times to soak in new information regarding my major.” (Ethan, undergraduate criminal justice major)

“I wish I’d known about the different stances of reading long before this, and I wish my high school teachers hadn’t focused solely on the efferent aspects of reading and books. I only read books in high school to pass tests, write required papers, and other test oriented stuff . . . I don’t think my teachers knew that the aesthetic stance existed. Even summer reading was always selected for us and then we were tested – efferent all the way.” (Sarah, undergraduate biology pre-med major)

“I now like to think about how I am reading, why I am reading, and I even apply efferent and aesthetic to other classes and life in general.” (“Honest Anonymous Feedback” from the end of the semester evaluations, Lit. 165 2:00)

Sarah, Ethan, and the anonymous student were enrolled in my Literature 165 classes this past spring semester. They shared these ideas in their final reflections and in final evaluations. 

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The Struggle Can Be Wonderful

Here is our truth. Students need our help. We need help. We need each another--everyone in the classroom and everyone in our buildings. And we need the humility to know that our best teaching years may never be realized because of the hundreds and thousands of unreported moments that matter to the young people we mentor.

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