Room 313

adventures in teaching creative writing

Archive for the tag “education”

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?

 

Advertisements

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.

Blackout Poetry #engchat

The weekly #engchat Twitter discussion will focus on blackout poetry on Monday, March 17, from 7-8pm EST. I will be co-hosting the chat with my Twitter pal Lesley Mosher. We’ve been planning some blackout poetry events for a while now to take place in April, which is National Poetry Month. Austin Kleon, author of Newspaper Blackout as well as the books Steal Like an Artist and Show Your Work!, has agreed to try to drop in for part of the #engchat. We’ll be discussing what blackout poetry is, how to use it in the classroom, and what successes we’ve had with it, among other topics. I hope you’ll make time to join us!

Weekly Poems for Spring 2014

After the December #titletalk chat on Twitter, I cemented my resolution to introduce more poetry into my Pre-AP English 2 classroom. I am going to modify my weekly schedule of how I start each class with a literacy activity. Instead of giving two book talks a week, I will now just give one on Tuesdays, and Thursdays will now be reserved for a weekly poem.

Looking back on the fall 2013 semester, I’m not happy with how much poetry I shared with my students. In late September we studied three poems all titled “Mockingbird” at the start of our To Kill a Mockingbird unit.  In the middle of October we studied “Miscegenation” by Natasha Trethewey as part of our examination of TKaM‘s Dolphus Raymond. In November we read “The Black Walnut Tree” by Mary Oliver as a model for an AP-style essay over “Those Winter Sundays” by Robert Hayden and “My Papa’s Waltz” by Theodore Roethke. Additionally, one of the ten required genres students read was a collection of poems. They had to find at least two poems they liked/understood and one poem they disliked/did not understand for our book chat. That’s quite a few poems, I suppose, when you count the poetry collections (if students got around to them), but I want to share more poems as a classroom community.

For spring 2014, students will get a weekly poem, which is something I can’t say for last semester. Most of the poems I selected are fairly easy to understand, but they do great things with figurative language and have a lot of heart. I can’t decide if I will just display them on the SmartBoard or if I will make copies for all students to have and annotate. Since I have some students also enrolled in my Creative 1 and 2 classes, I chose poems I have not used in those classes.

Without further ado, I present in order the 19 weekly poems of the 2014 spring semester in Pre-AP English 2:

I have around 275 poems saved in a folder on my laptop that I’ve collected over 9 years of teaching. Many of the poems from my list above come from The Writer’s Almanac, whose podcast I listen to regularly. You’ll notice that in general the list is in alphabetical order by poem title, which is how the poems are organized in my folder. I placed “It’s Raining in Love” around Valentine’s Day and “Shakespearean Sonnet” during the Julius Caesar unit. Otherwise, the poems don’t really tie to a particular time of year, at least intentionally.

Unintentionally, I selected 12 poems by men and only 7 by women. Perhaps I can help balance things out when I continue the weekly poem in the fall. I already have my eyes on Rita Dove’s “First Book,” Jill Osier’s “Requiem,” Naomi Shihab Nye’s “Torn Map,” and Lisel Mueller’s “Things.”

What about you? How do you use poetry in your classroom? Do you save it all up for April, National Poetry Month? Or do you, like me, try to pepper in poems throughout the year? Or do you avoid poetry altogether?

First Lines Writing Game

My parents have hosted dinner parties for as long as I can remember. Dad cleaned, Mom cooked, and my sister and I mainly stayed out of the way. Usually the families we invited over had children around the age of Lynn and me, so we kids entertained ourselves after dinner by playing outside or invading the play room. The adults usually just visited, but sometimes they played a game they called Dictionary, which you might know better as Balderdash. In Dictionary, one person flips through a dictionary and finds a word whose definition escapes everyone. That person copies down the actual meaning on a slip of paper while everyone else writes down a definition that will fool everyone. The more people you fool, the more points you get and win the game. Sometimes the game devolved into writing down humorous definitions instead. I observed this game, and  as I got older, I eventually got to play. I recall sometimes playing just with Mom, Dad, and Lynn.

Imagine my delight when I heard of a similar game but with first lines of novels. I’m a regular listener to the Book Riot podcast, which shares news about all things bookish in the world, including this First Lines game. The person who created this game focused mainly on genre fiction–romance, mystery, etc.–but I think almost anything could work.

Procedure

  1. Show participants the novel’s cover.
  2. Give participants the title of the novel.
  3. Give participants the summary of the novel from the jacket flap or back of the book.
  4. Have participants write down the best first line that fits with the title and summary while you write down the actual first line.
  5. Collect all the slips of paper and shuffle them. Read them aloud.
  6. Have participants vote for their favorite line. The participant with the most votes wins that round.

I decided to try the First Lines game with my Creative Writing 2 students. For the book, I chose The One I Left Behind by Jennifer McMahon.

Summary from the back of the paperback:

The summer of 1985 changes Reggie’s life. An awkward thirteen-year-old, she finds herself mixed up with the school outcasts. That same summer, a serial killer called Neptune begins kidnapping women. He leaves their severed hands on the police department steps and, five days later, displays their bodies around town. Just when Reggie needs her mother, Vera, the most, Vera’s hand is found on the steps. But after five days, there’s no body and Neptune disappears.

Now, twenty-five years later, Reggie is a successful architect who has left her hometown and the horrific memories of that summer behind. But when she gets a call revealing that her mother has been found alive, Reggie must confront the ghosts of her past and find Neptune before he kills again.

First lines from my students:

  • Today is Mother’s Day. [This line was ultimately chosen as the winner.]
  • Reggie sat up quickly, hands shaking from the reoccurring nightmare of that day in 1985.
  • Summer of ’85 was hands-down the worst summer of my life.
  • It was the summer of 1985 that my mom’s hand appeared on the step.
  • I’d never smoked pot before the summer of ’85.
  • He had a hunger that only hands could satisfy.
  • I have a weird face.
  • I try to forget what happened so long ago.
  • Nothing could ever be so horrifyingly unforgettable as the sight of her mother’s severed hand.
  • It was a dark and stormy night, when suddenly, all hell broke loose.
  • What’s worse than a bee sting? Seeing your mom’s severed hand. This is my story.
  • Cereal [sic] killers, to your surprise, do not kill cereal; they kill people.
  • Ever since my childhood passed, life was great.
  • Where are my hands?
  • Ring! Ring! Reggie’s phone began to ring.
  • Just one call and the nightmares resurface as I remember the one I left behind.
  • I had hoped to forget these things, along with my mother.
  • I guess you could say things got a little out of hand that summer.
  • I’m a cold, sassy tree.

The actual first line: It began with the hands. [No one chose this line as the actual first line, so I fooled all my students.]

I think this game offers students an opportunity to study the elements of different genres. It can also generate interest in the book being used for the game. If you’re ever at a loss for what to do in your English class or need something for a light day when half the students are gone, give the First Lines Writing Game a try.

Mockingbird Poems

HANDOUT: Mockingbird poems

My Pre-AP English 2 students are almost finished with Part 1of To Kill a Mockingbird. Before we even read the first chapter, though, we worked with some poetry. Knowing that my students rarely have the enthusiasm for poetry that I do, we began with a discussion of our beliefs and experiences with poetry. The responses I recorded fell all along a spectrum of YAY! and BOO! I only have two sections of English this year. I think you’ll recognize some of your students in these honest responses. I sometimes paraphrased what the students said, but other times I recorded what they said verbatim.

2nd Hour

  • In 8th grade, we wrote poetry. We were given rhyming and syllable restrictions.
  • Don’t like reading old poetry (could barely understand vocabulary)
  • Sometimes we have to read too much into a poem (grass is green, sky is blue—What was the poet really thinking?)
  • Studying poetry felt required. The teacher wasn’t excited. It felt like the teacher didn’t really want to explain it because the students had little experience.
  • Overused: “What is the author thinking?” Should be more like “What do you think?”
  • Don’t like long poems
  • Reading poetry  > Writing poetry
  • Don’t exactly like analyzing. Vague. Seems like you have to make things up.
  • Don’t like poetry. Sucked at writing them. Not that deep for analyzing. Feel okay with comprehending.
  • When you try to analyze, you get counted off for trying. Feel like there’s only one answer that the teacher got from the book.

6th Hour

  • Poetry is great because it soothes the soul.
  • Don’t like poetry because it’s hard to understand
  • Kind of confusing, written in stanzas
  • Writing poetry can be easy because you can make it rhyme.
  • Like the symbolism of the poem: each word represents something
  • Format has imagery, lots of description
  • I don’t connect with poetry on a personal level with the poems I’ve read.
  • I’ve written poetry for Valentine’s gifts and they’ve all failed. One girl crumpled up the poem and threw it in trash.
  • Poetry can be interpreted in lots of ways. There’s more one right answer when it comes to analysis. We get counted wrong for our interpretations.
  • Our teacher in 8th grade taught us how to write different formats of poetry.
  • We did not really read or write poetry in 9th grade.
  • Don’t like slam poetry.
  • Don’t like rhyming poems. (Too Dr. Seussy / elementary)
  • Poetry is a challenge. You have to think.
  • We like to use rhyme when we write.
  • Sometimes old poems have difficult vocabulary and the focus becomes more on the words than the actual poem’s meaning.
  • Poetry seems old.

After our discussion about our beliefs and experiences with poetry, I told my students that they were going to read three poems, which all shared the same title. Before anyone could groan, I explained that the main goal was to simply read the poems and decided which one was their favorite and why. The focus would be comprehension and enjoyment (plus a little deeper thinking with rationalizing their choice). I encouraged students to read the poems aloud and to use the dictionaries on their smart phones if they encountered any words that stumped them. (Perhaps I should have provided some footnoted definitions for some of the words in Kay Ryan’s poem.) Since my students blazed through the poems quite quickly, I added another task of identifying a different poetic device in each poem.

My students read three poems, all titled “Mockingbird,” by Judith Harris, Carol V. Davis, and Kay Ryan, a nice connection to To Kill a Mockingbird. I like integrating poetry throughout the school year instead of saving it all for a huge unit during April, which is National Poetry Month.

Overwhelmingly the students selected the Davis poem as their favorite because it told a story. “But it’s so much longer than the other two!” I goaded my students. “But we understand it the best,” they countered. I explained that the Davis poem was the only narrative poem from the bunch.

The other two poems, which are more lyrical, were not chosen as favorites as often. The Harris poem was sometimes selected for its nice imagery and its concision. Kay Ryan’s poem, while very short, had the hardest vocabulary–distempered, pastiche, capriccios, dispatch, and brios–and was only selected by one group as being the favorite. They liked it because it was difficult. Remember, these are Pre-AP English 2 students.

Overall, I was pleased with this first activity with poetry for the school year. It was not intimidating, nor formulaic (TPCASTT, anyone?). How do you use poetry in your classroom? How do your students respond to poetry?

HANDOUT: Mockingbird poems

Visual Reading Biographies

On the first day of school on Thursday, August 15, I introduced myself to my sophomores through a visual reading biography. I displayed it on my SmartBoard and briefly talked about each book. My most influential (and favorite) professor in college introduced me to One Hundred Years of Solitude. I devoured all the Ramona Quimby books as a kid. My second grade teacher, Miss Rice, read Charlotte’s Web aloud to us in 2nd grade, and I’ve reread it on more than one occasion. The funniest book I read over the summer was Jim Gaffigan’s Dad is Fat. And one of my favorite YA authors is A. S. King. I think my students quickly caught on that I loved books and reading, and that I would expect them to be readers in Pre-AP English 2 with me. I wanted to use this assignment as a way for my students to start thinking of themselves as readers.

august_2013_reading_bio

I told my students that they too would be creating visual reading biographies. This was the first homework of the year: tell me about yourself as a reader. I did not supply a rubric for this assignment, but I did provide these guidelines:

  • Use plain 8.5 x 11 computer paper
  • List your name on the poster
  • Choose 3-5 categories and label them on the paper
  • Find images of the books or create your own (a lightning bolt for the Harry Potter books works)

The reading categories:

  • Book I’ve reread
  • Book from my childhood
  • Book I want to read
  • Book I read this summer
  • Favorite series
  • Favorite book
  • Favorite author
  • Book I wish more people knew about
  • Book I was surprised I liked
  • Book recommended to me
  • Book I like more than the movie
  • Book I like less than the movie
  • Book I abandoned or struggled to finish
  • Popular book I haven’t read

(Notice I did not encourage my students to be negative. Least favorite book, author, and series were not listed as choices. This did not stop one of my students from sharing his least favorite book.)

The second day of school, a few students already had their posters ready. This was a Friday, and the assignment was not due until Monday. I kept their posters, so they wouldn’t lose them. On Monday, almost every student had their poster, and we took time in small groups to share our reading histories. This built community and reinforced that all students were readers at one time if they currently weren’t. Then every student picked one book from their poster and quickly shared it (along with their name) with the class.

By parent night, I had put up all visual reading biographies on the front wall of my classroom. For this blog post, I used pixlr to edit the posters to remove the students’ last names. I hope you enjoy their posters!

How do your students share their reading lives with their classmates?

collage

tylermasenhaydendestineenassershelbeeellinoahabbriellecorrinecameronjosh

Self Assessment with Google Forms

On the third of class in Pre-AP English 2, I had my students assess their English skills. I had created a Google form to do this, and I knew the vast majority of my students would have smart phones. They took the survey in class in just a few minutes. I was hoping to display the link to the survey in large text on my SmartBoard, but I had technical difficulties, so I just wrote the survey link on my marker board. Thankfully, I had thought ahead to create a tiny url out of the long Google form website. If you aren’t familiar with tinyurl, it’s a free, helpful website that converts long, bulky web addresses into much smaller ones. I had also thought of converting the website into a QR code, but most of my students don’t have QR code apps on their phones. Anyway, I’ll include the survey below, so you can see it, followed by some of the results and my thoughts on this activity.

I’ve done an activity like this before on paper, but using a Google form allows me to see and compare the results so much faster. I get a quick snap shot of where my students think they are at in their English skills.

student_survey_snapshot

When I looked at my students’ responses, I wasn’t too surprised. These Pre-AP classes are filled with many high-achieving students, and many of them rated themselves as 4 or 5 in most categories. I did notice, however, that some students were either very honest or very hard on themselves by ranking some of their skills as 1. I know now in advance to give them extra help and support. I can also use this data to form writing groups for my students comprised of students are strong, medium, and weak in their skills.

How will use Google forms in the classroom?

The Dot Insights

On the very first day of Creative Writing 1, I read The Dot by Peter Reynolds aloud to my students. I did my best to show them the pictures too, even though they’re in high school. My classes have students from all four grades, and this read-aloud was our first step toward building a writing community. I love this story for many reasons, and I highly recommend it if you’ve never read it. The audience is everyone, not just children.

dot august 2013After I finished reading the book, I asked students to think about the story. What lessons did it offer? How might it connect to this class? Why would I select this book for the first day of school.

I was so impressed with what my students came up with. I gave them time to discuss with a partner or a small group, but then we shared out as a whole class, which was made easier by our circular seating arrangement. I got so caught up in the discussion in 5th hour, I didn’t document what my students said. I knew it would equally good in 7th hour, so I used the talking feature on my smart phone to record my students’ responses. I’m posting them below in the order my students said them. Each student contributed and tried not to repeat any students before him or her. One of the best insights came at the very end.

  • You can always fix it and make it better
  • The dot represented the creativity
  • Pictures equal imagery
  • Be an original
  • The more you try, the more creative you get
  • You’re more capable than what you believe you are
  • Sometimes when you finish something, it’s not how you had planned it
  • Sometimes all it takes is a start
  • Inspiration can come from different people and different things
  • Put in the effort to try something even if you don’t think you can
  • It’s yours, put your name on it, make it your own, it’s your writing
  • Something may not mean a lot to you, but it could mean a lot to other people
  • She started with something simple, and it turned the something big because of her ideas
  • Don’t give up on a piece if it seems too simple at first
  • Don’t doubt yourself, be proud of your work
  • You can always start at the bottom to make it to the top
  • Our ideas grow because we brainstorm
  • Sometimes all it takes is trying/you can’t fail until you try
  • The best standard you can reach is trying your very best
  • Something little can open doors to a whole new meaning or something bigger than you thought it was
  • Big things with small beginnings

Favorite Books: 2012-2013

At the start of this school year, I challenged my students to read 20 books a year, 10 books per semester. To wrap up this school year, I asked my students to choose at least one favorite book of the entire school year, not just this semester. Some students just gave me one title, but quite a few gave me multiple titles, which made me happy. A few students had to rack their brains to land on a title, but others knew immediately which book was their favorite.

I put all the titles into a PowerPoint. I initially had students add their own slides, but some of my sophomores could not handle such a responsibility. One student, instead of getting the image of his favorite book, opened my My Photos folder and inserted a picture of me that I had on hand for a bulletin board. I was working on other things in the classroom, and students were supposed to just go up one at a time and add their slides. Anyway, I quickly retook the reigns and was able to power through all my students and their titles in about two class days at the start of class. Of course, some students were absent, so I had to wait for their return and for their titles. I didn’t want to leave anyone out. Then I found this helpful video on how to convert a PowerPoint 2007 into a video.

Basically, I had to save all the slides of my PowerPoint as JPEGs and then import them into Windows MovieMaker. I did all this on my school’s computer because my laptop is way old and needs replaced. Besides, I had already created the PowerPoint during class time. It only made sense to finish the video at school. I typed up a script for the introduction to the video and recorded it using Sound Recorder, found in the Accessories > Entertainment folders. It took me a while to realize I needed to zoom in on all my slides to make the audio last the perfect length. Anyway, here’s the result, which I will share with my current and future students:

Note: My school computer could not link up to YouTube, so I had to save the MovieMaker file to my flash drive, move it to my laptop, and upload it to YouTube from my laptop.

Post Navigation