Tag Archives: Teaching Writing

X-Ray Reading

51jx5cfdmql._sx330_bo1204203200_

Roy Peter Clark’s X-Ray Reading: How the Secrets of 25 Great Works of Literature Will Improve Your Writing is a must read for teachers. Clark, a senior scholar at the Poynter Institute, has taught for more than 30 years and authored or edited 18 books. In this X-Ray Reading he encourages his readers to “put on their x-ray reading glasses” along with him and undress the text. This experience leads to deeper reading knowledge and deeper writing knowledge. Beginning with The Great Gatsby and working his way through contemporary literature, Clark spends time with the fine details and its literacy effects. He writes, “writing is a game of language connection and meaning.” Let’s play.

George Orwell said, “Good writing is like a window pane, a frame for seeing the world, a boundary that is hardly noticeable.”

What should we stop, notice, and note?  Here are some places to pay special attention:

The Opening Passage & Treasured Endings- These foreshadow the rest of the story. Great beginnings arc and hint at great endings with foreshadowing details. Clark utilizes The Great Gatsby to illustrate the strategic treasures of powerful endings and beginnings.

Lyrical sentences – “Long sentences that take us on a journey” (pg 46) whereas short sentences are the “gospel of truth.”

Intentional elaboration and Cliffhangers that propel the reader.

Symbolism –  Geography, names (“names are a tool to project and overview character”), and common objects with deeper meaning and or religious references. There is so much religious symbolism in literature and Clark tells all his readers to read the Bible to notice and note the religious symbolism.

Repetition or the “echo effect” – Not redundancy, but purposeful repetition and the variation of a word, object, and idea. Clark mentions language clubs and word associations to help be creative with repetition. Similarly, tropes and motifs that show up again and again are significant. Think of the powerful image of the green light in The Great Gatsby that emerges throughout the story with its literal meaning and connotations.

Word Choice, Punctuation, & Diction – “Structural, architectural concerns – the ways in which the patterns of language and imagery create the backbone of a narrative” (pg 22). Then look at “the feel and the effect of the writer’s vocabulary as a whole.” Clark references  American Scholar’s 10 Best Sentences in Literature as a place to begin studying the master craft of authors. The difference between “just the right word and the almost right word is the difference between lightning and the lightning bug.”

Nature, Setting, and Landscape – Places in the text where authors harmonize nature with narrative action and emotion and then places where nature is indifferent. Weather is part of the setting of the story and can be used symbolically. Weather is a character and metaphor that provides tension with the plot. His example of Zora Neale Hurston’s passage under the pear tree in Their Eyes Were Watching God transforms language and images of nature into symbolically rich passages.

Characterization – Clark says that it is important to torture your main character and make them suffer. He gives permission to his writing students to kill someone at the end. Details reveal the complexities of a character’s inner life. What characters are not doing is important, often more than their direction actions. Referring to Kurt Vonnegut’s advice  on the relationship between plot and character in narrative writing, “Give the reader at least one character he or she can root for, every character should want something, and be a sadist. No matter how sweet and innocent your leading characters, make awful things happen to them” (pg 126). Harry Potter is one example of this test of character.

Time – Stories are about time in motion but there are moments when time seems to stop. As a writer you can freeze time or slow down time as with To Kill a Mockingbird during the court room scene and again with Atticus shooting the rabid dog. Look for places where the readers is eased into the complex because the author’s purpose is to make us see.

Titles – Clark cites as the most important element of stories

Clark wants us to OVER READ. He writes, “literature is about movie making with your notebook and choreographing a dance.” He is all for reading like a writer. He states, “To grow as a write, you should read the words of the writers you admire and look for ways to imitate that work” (pg. 184). Plus, incorporate the “reading of poetry to examine the beautiful compression of language, meaning, and emotion.”

There are specific chapters in the book that I will be sharing with my students to help them undress and close read the text. His chapter on Shirley Jackson’s “The Lottery” is great to read in conjunction with the short story and when my students begin reading To Kill a Mockingbird, I will share Clark’s x-ray chapter with them. If we expect students to read like writers then we must give them models what that looks like. They need opportunities to trace symbols across a text and see how writers play with words. Starting small with sentences, poems, and then short stories can help students crack open the masterful elements writers design.

Want more? Check out this podcast with Roy Peter Clark on Book Titans

 

Tagged , , , , ,

Multi Genre Writing To Deepen Student Understanding – #TheEdCollabGathering 2019

the-educator-collaborative-gathering-logo

#TheEdCollabGathering is a free virtual conference hosted by the Educator Collaborative on September 28, 2019. Founded by educator and author, Christopher Lehman, The Educator Collaborative provides K-12 literacy professional development to schools across the United States and around the world. For a complete schedule of presentations, click here.

Below is my slide deck presentation on Multi Genre Writing to Deepen Student Understanding.

Multi genre projects are layered with poetry, letters, songs, lyrics, narratives, and news articles created in response to information found through research.  Utilizing higher level thinking skills, students research, summarize, analyze, and synthesize information to create scenes that illustrate a topic or time period. Working across social studies and English, my 8th grade students read and research primary and secondary sources about topics related to World War 2 and then create a multi genre text about a particular aspect of the war.

As Tom Romano writes in Blending Genre, Altering Style (2000), “In multi-genre papers writers can combine fact with imagination to invent scenes that illustrate truth . . . or to render scenes that actually happened but whose details have been lost. Imagination, after all, is a powerful way of knowing” (page 68).

 

Tagged , ,

Writing Memoir

Virginia Woolf once said, “A memoir is not what happens, but the person to whom things happen.”

Whenever we return to a remembered place, catch a whiff of a childhood smell, feel nostalgic over a photograph the seeds of memoir are there. When we listen to stories and say, “That reminds me of when . . .” or “Once when I was little . . .” we are unlocking forgotten memories that resonate and fill us with stories. Memoir is not only about emblematic moments, it is also about the themes that run through our lives.

Memoir is a great place to start writing with students because it allows us to use our lives as a catalyst for writing and storytelling. Memoir is shaped by feelings and exploring a memory includes looking back at what happened AND also how it impacted you.

In Ralph Fletcher’s A Writer’s Notebook (2003) he writes, “Memories just may be the most important possession any writer has. As much as anything else, our memories shape what we write. Memories are like a fountain no writer can live without.”

Here are twelve writing prompts to help students get started writing:

Savor a remembered image

Collect favorite lines from memoir texts and then have students write off these lines or write similarly to the writer

Interview or research your family members

Write about a time in your life when you say, “I can’t believe that happened to me . . . ”

Write a double entry on the “you now” and the “you before”

Zoom in very close to a remembered scene from your life

Start with:

I remember . . .

When I  . . .

I always . . .

I used to . . .

Experiment with voice/perspective/structure

Use a memory box to help you write and let artifacts fuel your writing

Use a photograph to help you write and let the photograph fuel your writing

Make a family tree and let the branches become stories

Document your most sensory memories of home

Once students start writing and begin to revise their writing, here are twelve revision strategies for memoir:

Write 5 possible titles for your memoir

Write 3 different beginning paragraphs

Write 3 different endings

If you have sections or vignettes, take them out and make one long continuous flow

If you have one piece, divid into vignettes with individual titles

Choose a memoir except to mentor you

Take one section and write it in 3rd person

Take one section, write it from the other person’s point of view

Twist time around and backwards, inside and out, weaving all about. Give it a precise day, time, minute

Take one section, climb inside and write from the “inside out”

Look for words and phrases that could be more alive, more sensory based (the smell, taste, sensation of the memory)

Write about the person in your memoir as if s/he is a character. Who is she? What kind of person? What are her likes and dislikes? What does she want? What stops her from getting it?

 

 

 

 

Tagged , ,

5 Chrome Extensions to Boost & Empower Writers

What is the intention for writing: to learn, deepen our understanding, emphasize skills and strategies, to deepen thinking, look for clarity of ideas, and a tool box for our thinking. Writing is utilized to focus our investigations of what I think I know, what I want to know, to state a hypothesis, accumulate evidence, and help us prepare for conversations and discussions. Writing connects new understanding to larger issues in the world and reflect on how it changes our understanding.

All teachers are responsible for being teachers of reading and writing. Here are five Google Chrome extensions that support and transform writing to increase student engagement and communication skills.

Form Publisher – When my colleague, Jules Csillag (@julesteaches) showed me how she uses Form Publisher to scaffold writing for her special ed students I immediately began adding it to my Google Forms. Some students may need scaffolds during the writing process to support their thinking. These scaffolds may include graphic organizers, revising and editing checklists, sentence starters, lists of transition words and phrases, and vocabulary lists. With Form Publisher you can convert a graphic organizer into a Google Form scaffolding the elements of the writing task. Then, the Form Publisher lets you generate files to present your data in a more suitable way i.e. a paragraph or constructed response. Using this add on breaks down the writing process for struggling writers into a manageable and less daunting task.

IMG_4303

Citthisforme – Writing a research paper or including testimony and evidence from other sources, this citation generator is easy to use and offers APA and MLA citations for a footnote or bibliography. Whenever you are on a page you wish to use as a source, simply click the Cite This For Me extension button to generate a citation for it. It’s quick, easy, and free.

Grammarly and NoRedInk– When it come to grammar, these Chrome extensions use artificial intelligence to help students compose bold, clear, mistake-free writing. NoRedInk helps students improve their grammar and writing by adapting to their abilities with instant feedback and actionable performance data. Students can edit their work before they submit it for evaluation. Think of these extensions as a virtual peer editor.

Speakit  and Announcify– I always tell my students to read aloud their writing before submitting it for evaluation. When we read aloud our writing we are able to hear our mistakes. Both these extensions will read back your writing and help students catch any errors during the editing and revision process.  Announcify will read aloud any webpage in your browser with a single click.

hqdefault

WriQ – A new product from Texthelp, WriQ boasts, “WriQ is an extension for Google Docs that automatically grades papers digitally. It’s faster, more accurate and consistent then traditional manual and subjective grading.” Now, for any ELA teacher with a mountain of essays to grade, this sounds like a dream. Actually, the teacher is not off the hook to completely leave grading to a computer algorithm. What WriQ actually does is help students meet learning targets and offer guidance where they can improve with their writing before a final submission. WriQ will assess for students their vocabulary, spelling, sentence length, grammar and punctuation correctness. Students can see when they overuse a word or if their word choice is below grade level. Students have the option of revising their writing for a stronger outcome. WriQ provides rubrics alongside of the student writing to help students improve their writing in real time. These rubrics are based on the student’s grade level and the genre of writing, measuring everything from plot, narrative techniques, language and more. In turn, this extension can accelerate writing proficiency and provide a consistent benchmark for fair grading.

Tagged , , , , , , , , , ,

20 Revision Strategies: Make Writing Better

“For me, writing is never linear, though I do believe quite ardently in revision. I think of revision as a kind of archeology, a deep exploration of the text to discover what’s still hidden and bring it to the surface.”

~Kim Edwards

Revision is about going back to your writing to make it better. I was recently going through some old papers from my graduate school days and came across my notes from The Teachers College Reading and Writing Project specifically on revision. Below is a bulleted list of revision strategies compiled to help students dress up their writing to make it stronger and more clear.

  • Add more – look at your writing piece and name two things you can do to make it better.
  • Reread to see if it makes sense – is it clear? How can you make it sound better?
  • What’s the most important thing you want to tell your read about your topic?
  • Write the external and internal story (what you think, wonder, and feel).
  • Observe and reflect.
  • Use your senses.
  • Talk to a friend or writing partner about your piece and then write. Think aloud.
  • Storytell it and then write.
  • Focus in on something small connected to your topic.
  • Zoom in on a moment.
  • Underline an important line and say more about it.
  • Sketch then write.
  • Try starting your piece by writing the lead differently.
  • Play with the form or genre – turn into a letter, a poem, a song.
  • Find a book you really like and see if you can write like that. Model an author you admire.
  • Ask, “What have I left out?”
  • Take a sentence and turn it into a page (lift a line or word).
  • Try starting the piece in a different place, chronologically.
  • Write endings several different ways. Ask, “What do I want my ending to do?”
  • Reread asking, “Is this really what I have to say? What’s the most important thing I want my readers to know?”

 

Tagged , ,

Teaching Writerly Craft Moves with Movies

Great writing is artistry. Helping students to read like writers and notice the nuances that writers do is a close reading skill. This layer of reading for craft and structure includes word choice, sentence structure, literary devices and figurative language, point of view and author’s purpose. Craft is the deliberate writing technique and skills to communicate a message in few words and subtleties.

It is one thing to say that while students are reading text, they can record evidence of word choice (including unknown words, determining technical, connotative, and figurative meanings — to analyze how specific word choices shape meaning or tone); text features (and the impact it makes on the text); author’s purpose or point of view. But for many students, these writing moves are subtle and a difficult concept for students to recognize.

Movies and movie clips are one way that I help my students notice craft in writing.  If students can observe the symbolism, point of views, and tone in a movie, I can help them to see these deliberate moves in writing as well. Visual storytelling has a language all its own. Filmmakers create meaning and emotion all through images, by choosing and composing them with care.

We start by viewing a video clip like Alfred Hitchcock’s Stairs to Suspense Montage

Hitchcock uses stairs in his movies to set the mood, build suspense, and for symbolic purposes. After viewing this clip students respond to the question: How does Alfred Hitchcock use stairs to draw suspense for his viewers?

We look at other trademarks of movie directors like M. Night Shyalaman. He is known for directing and writing The Sixth Sense and Unbreakable. His newest film is Glass. Shyalaman’s unique visual style threaded through his disparate supernatural, thriller, and genre films that goes much deeper than his surprise endings.

 

Here’s a third example of a director’s craft. James Cameron’s films examine Person versus Nature/Humanity conflict in his films. In Titanic, Cameron explores the confidence in which mankind has regarding their technology. The ship was billed as “Unsinkable,” yet nature proved its power over mankind’s technology.  Avatar is Cameron’s most obvious effort to explore the conflict that can arise between technology and nature, taking an environmentalist tone. In this film, mankind is using their technology to mine a precious mineral on Pandora. While this activity is of benefit to humanity, it threatens the existence of the Na’vi and causes harm to the Pandora’s plants and animals. This conflict ultimately leads to a deadly conflict between the two species.

Directors, like writers are deliberate in the choices they make to convey the story. If students can see and recognize these trademarks in movies, they might be able to see these same trademarks in writing.

JT Bushnell writes in the essay, “Realism in Action: The Art of Invisibility in Amy Tan’s Rules of the Game, “…the writer’s job is, first, to write about questions complex enough that they avoid simplistic answers or easy moralizing and, second, to demonstrate such questions with precision and accuracy.

Let’s help our students find these complex questions embedded within the text with precision and accuracy before we ask them to answer them for themselves.

Tagged , , ,

Haiku: Teaching Japanese Aesthetics Through Its Poetry

An old pond:

A frog jumps in —

The sound of water.

by Matsuo Basho (translated by Harold G. Henderson and Geoffrey Bownas

Many students have been introduced to the poetic form of haiku in elementary school. It is a deceptively simple form which constructs an entire poem with only 17 syllables organized in three lines of 5, 7, and 5 syllables, respectively. Typically, if you ask students of any grade or ability level what they know about haiku, they will tell you about the 5-7-5 structure. Perhaps they will have some idea that many haiku are about nature. I like to start a haiku lesson or unit of study from that point from the students’ perceptions that haiku are mostly about their form, to the reality that haiku are perfectly distilled representations of several aspects of Japanese aesthetics: an appreciation of simplicity, of impermanence, of suggestion, and of nature.

Criteria for Haiku:

17 Syllables

3 Lines

5-7-5 Form (traditional Japanese haiku poets count “sounds,” not syllables. 

Doesn’t rhyme

Usually about nature (not required)

Shows change or contrast

Can go from the general to the specific or vice versa

Very Condensed form: suggests rather than tells

Seems simple, but makes you think or evoke feeling

Emphasizes impermanence, the quality of things which do not last. 

Almost all haiku contain a seasonal word or phrase which indicates the season, like “spring rain.” In Japanese, this seasonal word is called a “kigo.” Additionally, the poet usually introduces an image in the first line which he then illustrates or contrasts in lines two and three, or he develops an image in lines one and two which he then summarizes or contrasts in the final line. Haiku cluster the image at the beginning [5-7]-5 or the end 5[-7-5] of a haiku. This technique of “cutting” – the Japanese term for switching from the general to the specific, or from one image to another related one. Haiku are written in present tense. A haiku freezes one moment in time the way a snapshot does. There is no firm rule regarding capitalization and punctuation in English haiku nor as to whether haiku comprises a complete sentence. These things are decided by the poems themselves, on a poem to poem basis.

Haiku began in Japan during the 17th century. A haiku should share a moment of awareness with the reader. Peace, sadness, mystery – these are only a few of the emotions that evoke haiku and which we can feel when we read haiku. The key to our feelings about the things around us and to the feelings we have when we read a good haiku, is the things themselves. The things produce emotion. The words of the haiku should create in the reader the emotion felt by the poet, not describe the emotion.

Before trying to write haiku, it is a good idea to look over some examples. Think about each one. What makes the moment it talks about special? What word or phrase tells you the season? How does that affect the meaning of the haiku? Notice how many haiku create emotions by connecting two or more images together in a strange, new way.

Because haiku have an alive now quality, most haiku do not have any metaphors or similes. For the same reason, haiku poets do not use rhyme unless it happens accidentally and is hardly noticeable. In making haiku, try to present something in the more direct words possible. Haiku are about common, everyday experiences and avoid complicated words or grammar. As one expert on the Japanese haiku called it “a poem recording the essence of a moment keenly perceived in which nature is linked to human nature.”

between the pages

of a favorite book I find

squashed fruit crumbles

— Annie Wright

Tagged , ,

Sentence Frames to Guide Student Writers

Helping students build their writing repertoire and vocabulary acquisition requires teachers to model what good writers do. When my students are working on a short response or extended response, I offer graphic organizers and sentence frames to help my students write and revise their writing to meet learning targets.

Particularly for my ENL students who might not have the words or academic language just yet, providing these scaffolded strategies can help to develop students’ writing muscles and vocabulary necessary for academic writing.

Depending on the writing task, the graphic organizers are adapted to help fit the prompt. For example, wrote a short response to meet CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RL.8.9 – 
Analyze how a modern work of fiction draws on themes, patterns of events, or character types.

The prompt stated: Choose a quote from Gandhi  that you feel best exemplifies the protagonist and his/her journey midway throughout the text.  Be sure to include two (2) or more textual details (direct quotes) to support your claim.

Students were given a bank with ten Gandhi quotes:

 “A man is but a product of his thoughts. What he thinks he becomes.”

“Be the change that you want to see in the world.”

“I will not let anyone walk through my mind with their dirty feet.”

“Strength does not come from physical capacity. It comes from an indomitable will.”

“An ounce of patience is worth more than a ton of preaching.”

“In a gentle way, you can shake the world.”

“Without action, you aren’t going anywhere.”

“Continue to grow and evolve.”

“An eye for an eye will make the whole world blind.”

“Nobody can hurt me without my permission.”  
Providing students with a graphic organizer can help students tract their thinking, make connections, and outline their understanding. This graphic organizer helps direct students what to write about.

IMG_3207

For my ENL and ELL students who are developing academic language and vocabulary to  articulate their thinking about the text, offering sentence frames provides the necessary format and language needed to meet the learning target.

IMG_3208

What looks like Mad Libs can give students the confidence to show what they know and develop their written communication skills.

For more ideas for sentence frames and scaffolding student writing from other teachers, check out this blog post from Larry Ferlazzo.

Tagged , , ,

All these Wonders: Teaching Storytelling with The Moth

Today I had the privilege of attending a storytelling workshop presented by NCTE and The Moth, at Penguin Random House Books in New York City. The Moth Radio Hour, produced by Jay Allison at Atlantic Public Media and presented by PRX, highlights personal narratives and storytelling of ordinary people. In addition to listening to the Moth Radio Hour, there is a Podcast and published collections of the stories told.

51fq2btanw2l

Today’s workshop, lead by The Moth Education Program, provides a framework for eliciting stories and personal narrative with students. There was a lot of talking and interacting before we even started to write. The first hour was spent meeting people and developing possible seed ideas where stories might be hiding. The first introduction required participants to complete the sentence, “I’m the kind of person who . . .”

There was lots of oral drafting before we ever put pen to paper, and this might be a great entry way for the reluctant writer/student who is more willing to try adding to or subtracting from their stories than when they physically write a draft. As teacher Tara Zinger and moth curriculum partner states, “Hearing a laugh or a gasp from a peer can be just what a student needs to know they are on the right track, and that just doesn’t happen as easily with a more traditional writing process.”

Presenter and The Moth Storyteller, Micaela Blei shares five techniques of storytelling and what makes a story compelling?

Change – Change is what separated a story from an anecdote. From the beginning to the end of the story, you’re somehow a different person, even if in a small way.

Stakes – We like to define stakes as what you have to win or lose in the story. Or, alternatively, what MATTERED to you?

Themes – Choosing a theme can help a storyteller decide how to shape this particular story. Deciding what thread or theme you want to draw out for this particular 5-minute version can help you make critical choices of details that pertain.

Show Us vs. Tell – A story is most effective when you have at least one really vivid scene: with sensory details, action, dialogue, and inter thoughts/feelings.

Be Honest/Be Real – There’s no one right way to tell a story. Be yourself.

The Moth stories online and in the published books are great for studying author’s craft and the craft of storytelling. This helps to meet the standards for Craft and Structure:

CCSS ELA Literacy. RL. 11-12.4 – Determine the meaning of words and phrases as they are used in the text, including figurative and connotative meanings; analyze the impact of specific word choices on meaning and tone, including words with multiple meanings or language that is particularly fresh, engaging, or beautiful. (Include Shakespeare as well as other authors.)

CCSS ELA Literacy.RL.11-12.5 – Analyze how an author’s choices concerning how to structure specific parts of a text (e.g., the choice of where to begin or end a story, the choice to provide a comedic or tragic resolution) contribute to its overall structure and meaning as well as its aesthetic impact.

After analyzing the stories, students can use these same stories as models and mentors for their own personal narrative writing and storytelling. To get started, try out one of these Moth-style story prompts:

A time you did something you never thought you would do.

A time your relationship with someone your love changed – a little or a lot.

A time that you took a risk – or decided NOT to take the risk.

A time you tried to be something your weren’t.

Tagged , , , , , , , , ,

Effective feedback improves student learning with Google Add-ons

Effective feedback improves student learning. 

In a 2012 article in Educational Leadership,  Grant Wiggins writes, “Helpful feedback is goal-referenced; tangible and transparent; actionable; user-friendly (specific and personalized); timely; ongoing; and consistent.” As a middle school English teacher I spend many hours reading and evaluating student writing in order to help them improve as writers and articulate their thinking. I offer A LOT of feedback, both positive and constructive to help, support, guide, and meet learning targets for written communication. Wiggins goes on to say, “Effective feedback is concrete, specific, and useful; it provides actionable information. Thus, “Good job!” and “You did that wrong” and B+ are not feedback at all.”

I have found two Google Add On tools to help provide more specific and effective feedback. As John Hattie states, “To make sure that feedback is effective, teachers must know where their students are going, how they are progressing toward the goal, and where they need to go next. Because all messages are filtered through the students’ perceptions, what works as good feedback for one might not work for another.”  With these thoughts about feedback fresh in my mind, I am using the Google Add On Read & Write for Google Chrome from Texthelp to offer verbal feedback in addition to written comments on student writing. Using the the “Voice Note” feature in Read & Write I am able to record spoken feedback up to a minute in the document up to one minute. And the students do not need the add on to access the voice comments, they are given a link in the comments section to access the feedback. Additionally, the Voice Notes can also be used to 

  • Read the directions aloud for students who may have difficulty reading.
  • Provide additional clarification beyond the written directions.
  • Add a personal touch to the document by adding your own voice.

When reading many class papers in one seating, often times students might be making similar errors and rather than typing the same comments over and over again, Checkmark by EdtechTeam is designed to offer common edit and usage comments for quick commenting. This add-on saves time for teachers by clicking the appropriate comment automatically when highlighting a word or phrase in a Google Doc.

If we want our students to succeed, teachers need to be clear of the learning goals, strategies and moves to help students meet those goals, and articulate in the feedback we offer.

How to get both these Google Add Ons and use them to work smarter when it comes to giving effective feedback to our students is presented in the slide deck below.

 

Tagged , , , , , , , ,