Room 313

adventures in teaching creative writing

Inclusive Dialogue Partners

No high school creative writing textbook exists as far as I know. That means for the past eight years, I’ve had to create my own curriculum, scavenge it online, borrow it from colleagues on Twitter, etc. One lesson I have to teach my students is how to write dialogue. Some tend to avoid it in their fiction pieces completely if they don’t know how to punctuate it. Even after having read lots of books, some students don’t seem to know the rules, so I teach those to my students. I also give them four different versions of a scene from Cormac McCarthy’s The Road, and they have to decide which one was published. It really freaks them out to learn that McCarthy doesn’t use quotation marks for dialogue or apostrophes for contractions with the word not. Ha!

I’m not sure where I got the dialogue activity I’m about to discuss. It might have been from a workshop from an Oklahoma Writing Project conference. Maybe I invented it myself. But after students have learned the rules of punctuating / formatting dialogue, they need a chance to practice it. I provide a list of pairs, and students work together to write a scene with some dialogue.

  1. cop and speeding teen
  2. parent and teen with broken curfew
  3. boyfriend and girlfriend break up
  4. shy boy asking girl to dance
  5. a friend confronts a gossiping friend
  6. exes assigned as lab partners
  7. coach chews out a football player
  8. jock asks a girl to dance who hates him
  9. annoying boss and teen worker
  10. teacher and texting teen who gets caught

See any trends in that list of choices? Look again, especially at 3, 4, and 8. They all deal with straight couples.

Over the past couple of months, I’ve been learning more about how to be mindful of any LGBT students I might have in class. I’ve mainly educated myself by reading articles from Teaching Tolerance, including this one: “Why Heteronormativy is Harmful.”

Heteronormative is defined as “of, relating to, or based on the attitude that heterosexuality is the only normal and natural expression of sexuality.” This definition comes from a great article from Teen Vogue about the dangers of heteronormativity, which I also suggest reading.

So when I got out my old, tried and true dialogue pairs writing activity and looked at it, I kind of gasped. I was perpetuating heteronormativy. If I was really going to take the advice of these articles, not only would I make the couples neutral, I would take it a step further and include an LGBT couple of some kind. Teaching in Oklahoma, I decided not to push the limits, but I did need to revise the three couples.

Heteronormative Chart

The writing activity still engaged my students with my newly revised couples, and I felt better not perpetuating heteronormativity. Throughout this school year, I’ll be more careful about the language I use when speaking and in the handouts and activities I provide. I want any students who are LGBT to feel like my classroom is an inclusive and safe environment for them.

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Listen Up!

The first day of my summer break, I attended an English teacher conference in Texas with Gena, one of my besties. We drove down the night before, so we would be ready for a full day at the North Texas Council of Teachers of English Language Arts (NTCTELA) conference, keynoted by two of my teacher heroes Penny Kittle and Kelly Gallagher. The topic of the day was speaking and listening, two important ELA skills that are often overlooked because they are difficult to assess. (And don’t we need to teach one more novel or write one more essay?! Why make time to speak and listen?) But if we want our students to grow in their thinking, in their reading and writing, we have to create a space in our classrooms where students can also speak and listen.

For years now I have assessed my students’ reading by simply talking with them about the books they choose to read. I call these book talks, and I’ve blogged about them before. If we are really going to get to know our students and their interests, we must talk to them, and we must also listen. Penny and Kelly reminded us of this in their opening keynote.

In her session “Teaching Poetry to Transform Thinking About Writing,” Penny showed us a spoken word poem by Ethan Smith called “Letter to the Girl I Used to Be.” Give it a watch:

I was moved by this poem by a trans young man. I’ve taught spoken word poetry to my Creative Writing 2 students, and I’ve written an article about spoken word poetry for the Oklahoma Humanities magazine. (Look for “The Poet Has Spoken.”) I know spoken word poetry, but I hadn’t seen this poem before, and I was a fan. I began to think how I could use in CW2 in the fall.

We made it to the lunch break, and I saw I had a Twitter notification. I had been tweeting about the conference, and I had been getting some likes and retweets throughout the morning. When I opened the app, though, I noticed I had a direct message. I opened it, and saw it was from a former student, now finished with freshman year of college.

Hey Stevo! This might seem super out of the blue, but I just want to thank you. Your presence in my high school career was so helpful to me, and I can’t thank you enough. You were always so positive and fun while still teaching me so much.

If you haven’t been able to tell yet, I’m a trans guy and I’m finally coming out and transitioning (starting June 21!! woah!!) and the whole shebang.

You’d always been such a positive influence overall, and I just couldn’t stop thinking about how, my sophomore year, we had a book talk in which I complained about straight people always getting what they want. You replied, “yeah! that’s so dumb. stupid straight people,” and for the first time, an adult was affirming to my identity, and it was so important to me after hearing years of youth pastors and parents saying otherwise. (Also, having a cool democrat as a teacher was always so refreshing).

So I’m going to school to be a teacher because I want to be there for the weird kids like me who need someone on their side. Anyway, all this to say, I can’t thank you enough for being such a great teacher and inspiring me to be one too.

I wept like a baby. I was filled with so many emotions: pride, humility, love, gratitude. It was like what I had heard that morning about listening to students and validating them, plus the video about the trans boy, had now combined full circle into my life’s reality. It was incredible. Neither the student nor I could remember what book we were discussing. And actually, I don’t even remember making that offhand comment to my student. It just goes to show that our students are always listening to us teachers, and that what we say matters.

I wrote back to my student, and shared how I proud I was of him and how I honored I was that he was would trust me with his story. On the off chance that he had not yet watched the spoken word poem “Letter to the Girl I Used to Be,” I sent it to him. He hadn’t seen it, so he watched it and told me sobbed and loved it.

I have more to write about the NTCTELA conference and what I learned, but I’ll save that for another post.

Teachers, how do you honor and embrace speaking and listening in your classrooms? What purposeful strategies do you use? How do you know your students are better speakers and listeners at the end of the semester? the school year?

 

Go Poems

muchwow

When I taught Pre-AP and on-level English 2, I devoted the start of each Thursday’s class to a poem. Nothing intimidating. Just some quick reading and discussion. Maybe a tiny bit of analysis. Once a nine weeks, I might invite students to imitate the poem through writing. Too many students (and teachers!) are intimidated by poetry, and I love discovering what poetry can do through only a couple of lines. I relied a lot on American Life in Poetry and The Writer’s Almanac for beautiful, accessible poems for my students.

My teacher buddy Brett Vogelsinger from Pennsylvania is a rock star. He starts every English class with a poem. He’s also currently in the midst of a special event blog, called Go Poems. Brett explains:

To celebrate National Poetry Month in April 2017, this event blog will present a poem and a “springboard” into a discussion, activity, or lesson plan each day.  These poems can be used at the beginning of class to essentially say “go!” to close reading, creativity, and critical thinking. Hence the title of this blog: Go Poems. 

Brett asked me to write a post for Go Poems. I ended up writing two. Today, Brett features my first post about a reversible poem by Brian Bilston called “Refugees.” Check it out!

Writing Retreat Excitement

3 students & teacher

OWP Spring 2016 Conference with winning writers: Andrew (short story), Taylor (memoir), Katie (poetry), & me (poetry)

I am the teacher I am today in large part because I took a chance and applied for the 2009 Oklahoma Writing Project summer institute. I was accepted and joined other teachers in becoming better teachers, better writers, and better teachers of writing. We met for a month on the campus of the University of Oklahoma, participating in workshops and ultimately creating and leading our own.

My continued involvement with OWP has seen me presenting workshops for teachers around our state. I’ve been to three of the four corners. If any of you teachers in the Idabel area need some PD from me, hit me up! Ha ha. In years past, I have also been the co-director of the summer institute, and now I’m the editor of the anthology for the summer institute. I take my high school creative writing students each semester to the OWP conferences.

For  over a year now, I’ve been in a writing group with some other OWP teacher consultants. Deb, Lisa, and Diahn are very dear to me. We meet monthly in each other’s homes to share a meal and our writing for feedback. These meetings are balm to my soul. I look forward to hearing another one of Deb’s adventures from her childhood in Colorado, Lisa’s next novel installment, and Diahn’s heartfelt pieces. I usually bring my poetry, but I’ve also shared some memoir and fiction pieces. I teased my group with the beginning of a novel project I’m calling Panhandlers. They keep asking me to write more, which is good accountability.

Tonight and tomorrow OWP is having a writing retreat at Roman Nose State Park in Watonga. My writing group is going, so we plan to meet during part of the retreat. I’m bringing two new poems and a bit more of my novel. It will be fun to be surrounded by my tribe of like-minded teachers. I’m going to soak it up. Writers write. It’s as easy as that. It will be nice to take a break from being Teacher and Student Council Sponsor, so I can be Writer, if even for a handful of hours.

Having a Summah

Tomorrow I report back to Deer Creek, my district since 2005 when I entered the teaching profession. I’m starting my new role as the secondary curriculum instructional technology integration specialist. I know, it’s a mouthful. The acrostic is SCITIS, which my funny friend Debbie says sounds like a back problem. In this new position I’ll be helping teachers at the high school and middle school levels improve their craft. Once students return, I’ll just be SCITIS in the morning, and then I’ll still teach for three hours in the afternoon: student council and 2 sections of creative writing. I’m happy to still be in the classroom with students. They are why I got into this teaching gig to begin with. It will be strange not teaching English, but I’m embracing this new opportunity. Since I won’t be in the classroom for the full day, I have to move out of room 136, which has been the name of my blog. I suppose I should change it now. I’ll have to think about that. I’m hoping this week I can move a lot of my things (including my classroom library) into my new classroom. I will also have an office in DCHS library, so I also need to get settled in there.

I’ve made the most of my summer, or summah, as Howard Kramer pronounces it on the Who Charted? podcast, which I started listening to this summer. My hobby of listening to podcasts continues to grow. I’ve also added Invisibilia, More Perfect, Beautiful Stories from Anonymous People, Revisionist History, The Sporkful, Freakonomics Radio, and Criminal to my list of go-to pods. It’s kind of ridiculous how many podcasts I listen to, but they help me pass the time on my walks and doing chores around the house. If I’m being completely honest with myself, podcasts also feed my need for conversation in the summer. As a single man, I get information and entertainment from podcasts as well as some companionship. As an English teacher, I feel a bit guilty for not reading more books in the summer and listening to so many podcasts instead. I tell myself this is okay, though, because by listening to podcasts, I am learning more about our world, which can in turn lead to writing prompts and lesson ideas for my creative writing class.

And I have read two books this summer (as well as various articles from The New Yorker). We started a teacher book club and met in June to discuss All the Light We Cannot See (New York Times‘ review), and we met this month to chat about The Serpent King (Kirkus Reviews’ review). Both of these books were excellent, and I’m glad to have emerged a bit from my reading rut. I find it all too easy to watch shows on Netflix and Hulu or play Fire Emblem on my 3DS while listening to podcasts. They are fun ways to unwind, but I know I should be reading a little bit more. I actually did read the play The Humans after it got so much buzz at the Tony Awards. I’m sure seeing the play is way better than reading it, which did not impress me a whole lot.

I’ve continued to meet with my writing group this summer as well. We started back in the fall at the start of the 2015-2016 school year, committing to meet every month to share a meal and share some writing for honest and critical feedback. This summer I’ve written some on a young adult novel about Oklahoma’s panhandle being sold off to a mysterious investor who will eventually open it up to all the anti-vaxxers in the nation. I’ve barely started, but it’s been fun to write it.

Speaking of writing, my summer would not be complete without some involvement with the Oklahoma Writing Project. I went through their summer institute in 2009, and I’ve been faithfully involved ever since. This summer I got to present two different workshops to the SI, speak at their learning symposium, and create their anthology for the summer institute. The final draft is now complete. These are good summer side-gigs to have. I also got to work with Norman teachers on two of the new English language arts standards, and I also recently attended the OWP stakeholders meeting.

On top of education-related things, I got to go on two trips. I traveled to Houston for my friend Liz’s wedding, which was lovely. It was good to be together with our crew of friends. I also fulfilled a tiny dream of visiting my grandpa’s hometown of Kirksville, Missouri. I initially planned to road trip alone, but then quickly decided to invite my mom since it would be her daddy’s hometown. Plus, she just works on Mondays, so it would be easy for her to get away. My dad decided he wanted to come too, so it became a family affair. We made sure to drive through Kansas City on drive there, so we could hit up some barbecue places like Jack Stack and Q39, both excellent. I had ribs at both places. I liked the meat more at Q39 and the sides more at Jack’s Stack. (Cheesy corn, you are bad but also very, very good.)

The Kirksville trip allowed me to explore my roots. We found the 1930 census records on microfiche at the Kirksville Public Library, and I set to work reading the cursive entries at a 90 degree angle. As luck would have it, I found my great-great-grandma fairly quickly. After a little more searching, I also found my grandpa and his family’s entry as well. This was all on our first day in town, and we’d already hit the jackpot. (I was only about 15-20% of the way through the microfiche at this point.) The next step was to look for the addresses of the homes listed on the census. Only one remained and was now a frat house for one of the local colleges. The other house (my grandpa’s rent house, which his family paid something like $16 per month for rent) was now gone, a parking lot for the college. Later on, we discovered the old high school where my grandpa attended as well as the gravestones for my great-great-grandma and my great-grandparents. We also visited the historical society to find out more about the shoe factory where my great-grandpa worked as a man and my grandpa worked as a boy. One of the final significant places we found was the old theater my grandpa used to attend as a boy, which was now an antique mall. The fancy tile work in the lobby still stood as well as the flash ceiling decorations.

With one day left of our trip and everything checked off our list, we drove the hour or so to Hannibal, Missouri, on the banks of the Mississippi River–the boyhood home of Mark Twain. It was a fun but hot day of exploring and visiting historic places, including Twain’s boyhood home. As an English teacher, I was grateful we got to see some sites. My parents were not up for exploring one of the Tom Sawyer caves, but we still got to see a lot. The town of Hannibal is very charming.

I guess this blog post is here to say that teachers need time to unwind and recharge in the summer but also time to learn. It’s a balance, and I feel pretty good about how I’ve spent my time. So teachers, how do you spend your summers? Anything you’re proud to have already accomplished? What’s on your summer list of things to do? Have you even allowed yourself to start thinking about school yet?

 

Oklahoma’s English Standards Ready for Classrooms

The newspaper I grew up reading is hostile to my profession of teaching. In an editorial today about the new state standards, The Daily Oklahoman urges lawmakers to reject them for revision based on inexpert opinion and little research.

Let me be up front and say that I served on the committee that wrote the English standards. I have taught for eleven years in seventh through twelfth grades. I have my master’s degree in English, and I’m a past president of the Oklahoma Council of Teachers of English. As an Oklahoma Writing Project teacher consultant, I’ve presented numerous workshops to teachers around the state.

Now, as to The Oklahoman’s critique of the standards:

Jenni White, a critic of public education, admits that has not read the new English standards. She has no authority on this issue. Her organization, ROPE, feels public education is not worth restoring. White’s children do not attend a public school. She has no horse in this race. Why listen to her?

Tara Huddleston, a teacher worried about the standards’ lack of substance, is not clear in what needs to be improved. What is so vague about the English standards?

As to the lack of exemplars which Huddleston claims are needed, they are not standards. Standards are clear learning targets. Exemplars are student samples that demonstrate levels of mastery of the standards. Oklahoma has not yet implemented the new English standards, so how can we have authentic student samples of work based on standards that have not yet been passed, let alone implemented? The Common Core State Standards included exemplars, but our state kicked out Common Core. Teacher can locate exemplars because they are professionals. If it is deemed important enough, I’m sure the State Department of Education could eventually release a supplemental document of exemplars, but the standards themselves should still be passed.

Dr. Stotsky, a critic of Oklahoma’s English standards who wanted to be paid to write our standards for us, is from Arkansas. Why are we listening to an out-of-state expert when there are already plenty of organizations and individuals supporting the new Oklahoma standards? The Oklahoma Council of Teachers of English and the Oklahoma Writing Projects are just two of dozens of organizations that support the new standards.

There are eight main English language arts standards with a reading and writing strand within each standard. The eighth standard is independent reading and writing, a lofty idea that I admit is not testable. But what is worthy and important is not always testable. Developing students into lifelong readers and writers can only create a better Oklahoma.

The exact language of the reading strand of standard 8 is “Students will select appropriate (emphasis added) texts for specific purposes and read independently for extended periods of time.” This language is the same for grades 5-12. Dr. Stotsky claims there is “nothing to suggest an increasing level of reading difficulty” in this standard, but isn’t an “appropriate” text (book) different for a fifth grader than a senior in high school?

Additionally, on page 12 of the final draft of the standards, it is explicitly stated that English language arts are recursive and thus will be repeatedly taught, grade after grade, with the idea that “the skills are repeated with an implied expectation that they are attributed to increasingly more complex (emphasis added) texts.” Therefore, reading material will become more challenging as students progress through school, according to Oklahoma’s new standards.

Even so, if one of my on-level sophomore students wants to read a book written at a fifth grade reading level (Hatchet by Gary Paulsen, a book that I did not read until I was a senior in high school), I am not going to discourage this young man. Sometimes readers need a challenge, but sometimes they just want to get lost in a story, a fine step in becoming a lifelong reader.

The Oklahoma English language arts standards are ready for the classroom. Our legislature should pass them, plain and simple.

Venn Diagram Poems

Without Twitter, I would not have discovered the concept of a Venn diagram poem. A couple nights ago before bed, I noticed that Joyce Carol Oates had retweeted what appeared to be a Venn diagram by Brian Bilston. Upon closer examination, it turned out to be a poem, which could be read three different ways:

At the Intersection

  1. him circle
  2. her circle
  3. the overlap

I knew immediately that I could challenge my Creative Writing 2 students with this writing task. I showed it to them on my SmartBoard and explained how it worked. Then I got a girl and a guy to come up and read the two different parts. They concluded by reading the overlapping section together.

To write their own Venn diagram poem, I told students to think about two characters who have something in common. This idea would go in the small overlapping section. From there, it was a matter of building off into two different characters. It seemed easier to me to write the right circle first and then write the one on the left. I cut students loose to begin their Venn diagram poem drafts.

Some struggled at first.

Squiggles

But then they started to get the hang of it. I really liked this poem about two friends, one of whom is about to move away.

Best Friends

One student captured the dynamic between a mother and daughter.

Mom Daughter

Even I got into the spirit of things and wrote a poem about school. I was having a bit of an Eeyore moment, and it felt good to write through my feelings–in Venn diagram form to boot!

Teacher Student

In order to type it up, I used PowerPoint, which has a circle maker. I wondered if I could just type the words and center them and add spaces, but my lines weren’t equally balanced between the circles, so I had to just space bar everything. It turned out pretty well.

Screenshot (106)

How will you use Venn diagram poetry in your classroom?

Getting to Know Students

One of the most important things I do in the first days of school is get to know my students, especially their names. My father, a pastor, is great with names. I’ve never really asked him what his secret is. Maybe it’s a gift. I feel like I’m pretty gifted too with learning names. My only downfall is that if I learn a name wrong early on, there’s a chance the incorrect name will stick. A student in my 5th hour is named Ryan, but I kept calling him Nick on the first day of school. I corrected myself, and I think I’m on the right track now.

On the first day of class, I gave my creative writing students time to compare notes in their groups on who their favorite author, book, and book series was. As they did this, I walked around the room to check in with each student–how to pronounce the first and last name and if he or she used a nickname. This is less embarrassing than calling roll in front of the whole class right from the start. After I visited with everyone, I went to the front of the room and called roll, and each student had to say one of his or her favorites. This worked quite well, and the hour flew by.

In my advanced creative writing class, I already knew each student, but they didn’t necessarily know one another. I had them tell me something I didn’t already know about them while calling out the roll.

I’ve already forgotten exactly what I did in English 2 on the first day–I think I just broadened it from favorite book or author to favorite anything. I also had students get in order of their birthdays in sixth hour, but my seventh hour students groaned at this challenge because they had done it all day in their other classes. On the fly, I had students vote with their feet to four corners of the room on our school mascot: Keep it as Antlers or change it to the Alligators, Bucks, or Ducks. I know Alligators is absurd, but I was feeling wacky. I was the only one who voted for it, but the class divided into third for the other three. The first day is always a whirlwind!

On the second day with students I still wanted to get to know them. They need to feel comfortable with one another and form a good vibe and community before any real learning can effectively take place. For my first hour creative writing class, I tried something I dubbed Inner Outer Circle. I had students write down a list of at least 10 pairs: cats or dog, Pepsi or Dr Pepper, book or movie, Paris or London, etc. We moved the desks to create some space, and half the students formed a small circle. The other students formed a bigger circle around them. To make things even, I joined in. Then I had one circle walk clockwise while the other circle walked counterclockwise. I hummed a tune and then said stop. The students had to find the nearest partner and trade one of their questions with one another. After a minute or so had passed, we rotated again. This kept us moving and talking for the rest of the hour. Once it seemed like we had talked to everyone, a student had a smart idea to have every other pair swap places, so that we could talk to new people. It was lots of fun! I had to modify this activity for my other hour of creative writing because one of my students was on crutches. For this version, one line of students remained stationary, and another line of students rotated down the line until they talked to everyone. I called this game Down the Line.

On the second day with advanced creative writing, I tried a game called Spotlight. Students made a list of 10 questions to ask their classmates. They were lighthearted and funny questions–even ridiculous (“Would you rather have teeth for eyelashes or eyelashes for teeth?”). Then we stood in a giant circle, and one student (a volunteer) stood in the middle (the spotlight). The student faced a classmate for a question, but didn’t answer it yet. The student then faced 2 more classmates (3 total) before deciding which question to answer. The student whose question was chosen then moved into the spotlight. Everyone gets a turn in the spotlight. If a student’s question gets answered who has already been in the spotlight, he or she got to assign who goes into the spotlight. My students were very creative with their questions, which were normally very entertaining and amusing. I don’t think I’ve laughed that hard in a long time, and my students were laughing too. It set a good tone for the whole year. Just as the bell rang, I remembered to take a class picture with my selfie stick, which I later posted to Instagram.

I tried versions of Down the Line and Spotlight with my two English 2 classes, but they weren’t as successful that time. We still got to know one another better, and I got to listen and learn names and personalities.

One thing I thought of after these activities was how it’s kind of a pain for students to have to rearrange desks. I normally use groups, but on the second day, we pushed desks all the way to the edges of the room. On days of quizzes and tests in English 2, I need to use rows. Then it hit me: Put some duct tape on the carpet to indicate where the center of each desk grouping belongs. I also added some tape cut into triangles to indicate where the two desks go that are in groups of five instead of four. I have yet to train students how to use the tape, but I hope it makes for easier and faster desk rearrangement later this school year.

What about you? How do you get to know your students at the start of the year? And do you have any tips for how your train students to rearrange desks into different arrangements?

Down the Line in Creative Writing 1

Down the Line in Creative Writing 1

Selfie with Creative Writing 2

Selfie with Creative Writing 2

Black tape marking the center of the desk group

Black tape marking the center of the desk group

What I’ve Been Up To

Crickets have taken up roost on my blog, but I’ve returned after a nearly year-long hiatus. The main reason for my absence is I needed to focus on completely my master’s degree in English. I took a course in block two in fall 2014 [young adult lit], a SPOC (self-paced online course) mainly over Christmas break [steampunk lit], and a course in block one of spring 2015 [Native American lit]. As part of my final master’s project, I traveled to New Orleans in April 2015 as part of the Popular Culture Association national conference to present on a panel with Dr. Laura Bolf-Beliveau and Dr. Timothy Petete on Native American literature. Then I wrote my qualifying paper on diversity in creative writing with a case study on Sherman Alexie and successfully defended it. This was a shorter paper, one that I could one day submit to English Journal as an article. I graduated with my master’s degree in English (20th & 21st century literature) in May 2015. This was a big accomplishment for me because I was teaching the whole time I was working on this degree, which I started in 2007. After I racked up all my required hours, I began work on my master’s thesis, but I hit a roadblock. Ashamed of myself, I completely quit work for a few years to focus just on teaching, not knowing I was losing credit hours because I had a limited time frame. That’s why I had to take three more courses in this past year. I give credit to Dr. Bolf-Beliveau (who wasn’t even officially my advisor but is definitely my mentor) for getting me back on track and helping me form a workable plan. Going through this long journey has taught me to be more patient with my own students.

As student council co-sponsor at my high school, I oversaw our 15th annual Wonderful Week of Fundraising (WWF) where we raised over $100,000 for Hope Chest OKC in the first half of the spring semester. This was my last WWF with my co-sponsor who has now left DCHS for Francis Tuttle. I’m going to miss him, but I’m excited to work with my colleague who is joining me this fall.

I also oversaw a student teacher from OU, Melanie McNatt, in the spring 2015 semester. She was a stellar candidate who taught the Julius Caesar unit (her request) in Pre-AP English and the scriptwriting unit in creative writing. She introduced us to the very handy, free scriptwriting software website Celtx. Her excellent work scored her a job in the English department at DCHS, so she will be my colleague this fall. In fact, she and two of my colleagues, Gena and Dionne, are coming over to my house for brunch and curriculum discussion.

This summer, I led an EF group from DCHS to London, Paris, Switzerland (Lucerne), and Germany (Munich / Munchen). As part of a training program, EF flew me and other first-time teacher leaders to Paris over Valentine’s Day weekend. My group’s trip in Europe in June was pretty fantastic. My favorite country was Switzerland because it was so beautiful, but every country offered a new view of the world. It was such a good experience that I’m planning to lead a trip to Scotland and Ireland in summer 2016.

In late June I traveled to Chicago for the Poetry Foundation’s teacher institute. This was a fantastic learning opportunity with fellow enthusiastic teachers of poetry. We attended workshops with poets like Erik McHenry, Maggie Dietz, and Carl Phillips. The evenings were ours to explore the city, so I ate lots of good food (deep dish pizza, Little Italy, Thai food, Shake Shack) and saw lots of awesome sights (a Second City comedy show, Cloud Gate, Arts Institute of Chicago with American Gothic, Nighthawks, etc.). I even got to grab dinner with a former student who is now in college in Chicago. Chicago is now one of my favorite American cities, and I plan to return one day.

Looking back over the past ten months, I’m amazed at what all I accomplished and experienced. That’s not to say I didn’t experience any setbacks or failures, but 2015 is shaping up to be quite a year. I really don’t think I will ever travel this much again in such a short time frame in my life: Paris, New Orleans, London, Paris, Switzerland, Germany, and Chicago in less than five months!

As I return to my blog, I hope to share my thoughts and experiences on teaching English and creative writing. One day I’d like to write a high school creative writing textbook. Perhaps this blog could be a place for me to try out some sections / chapters for this future textbook.

What’s App, Teach?

I’m hosting a little breakout session tomorrow at the Oklahoma Council of Teachers of English fall conference. Our theme for the conference is technology integration, so my 45-minute presentation is entitled “What’s App, Teach?”. We have around 80 teachers registered, and around six or seven sessions to choose from, so I’m curious to see how many teachers I will have attend my session. I’m up against some of my teaching heroes and colleagues like Claudia Swisher, Brook Meiller, Bonner Slayton,and Kimberly J. Stormer during Session A from 1:00 to 1:45.

I’m going to address the following apps and give time for exploration and discussion of how to use them in our English classrooms:

  • Twitter
  • Instagram
  • Classroom Organizer
  • Remind
  • tumblr
  • Pick a Student

Here’s my handout [Google upload] for my participants.

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