Three Lessons to Build the Confidence of Young Writers

One of my first writing assignments of the year is I ask students to tell me their stories as writers. I want the whole thing: the ups, downs, frustrations, inspirations, breakthroughs, and breakdowns.

And while I know what is coming, every year I can’t help but be a bit blown back by what I receive. While some students come in glowing with confidence and ready to gush about their rich writing lives, most students, year after year, have a clear message for me:

“I am not a writer.”

Continue reading “Three Lessons to Build the Confidence of Young Writers”

September is For Stories

Last week I was in need of some inspiration to start the school year, and so I picked up Linda Christensen’s Teaching for Joy and Justice, one of my go-tos for centering myself and finding inspiration. Teaching for Joy and Justice was the first book that helped me peer beyond the old orthodoxies of the language arts classroom–the grammar worksheets, the endless succession of five-paragraph essays, and the practice of attacking student papers with pens of any color–and towards the world of possibilities that this blog explores.

Continue reading “September is For Stories”

Five Ways to Spend Less Time With Papers This Year (Without Sacrificing Your Impact)

Last week I tweeted out a simple question in preparation for this post: How many students do you have on your student load for ’19-’20?

I tweeted this because while teachers struggling under massive student and paper loads is a pretty well-documented problem (the very first English Journal from 1912 opens with a discussion of this; see below), I wasn’t sure how big student/paper loads across the country were. I know how things tend to work in my little part of the world (130-160 students spread across five sections is a full-time load for most Southeast Michigan districts), but I had no idea what the national scene looks like.

Continue reading “Five Ways to Spend Less Time With Papers This Year (Without Sacrificing Your Impact)”

My Favorite Grammar Hack

My last post was about how if we want grammar to stick, we need to do two things:

  1. Teach it in the context of student writing
  2. Approach it as a study of opportunities that enhance our writing, not errors we need to avoid

When it comes to doing this, I have found no tool more useful than the sentence. While on the surface the definition of a sentence is rather dull…

…in practice, sentences can be gorgeous laboratories of nearly infinite variety. They can be extended, cut down, puffed-up, moved around, mixed-and-matched, and generally treated like Playdough. And in the process one can teach nearly any grammatical rule and tool imaginable. Here are the top three ways that I use the humble sentence to help my students learn and learn to love grammar:

Continue reading “My Favorite Grammar Hack”

The Key to Teaching Grammar? Make It About Opportunities, Not Errors

Photo by Jessica Lewis on Pexels.com

My most popular posts have been the ones on grammar. This is not surprising, as grammar remains one of the most maddeningly frustrating problems of the writing classroom. We know from over 60 years of research that teaching grammar out of the context of student writing (aka, in stand-alone worksheets, diagramming, term memorization) doesn’t work and can at times make students worse at grammar.

At the same time, teaching it in the context of student writing is tricky because students tend to have wildly different understanding of grammar. In any given class, I will inevitably have some students who will use a term like subordinate conjunction without hesitation sitting right next to others don’t use periods or capitalization regularly.

And, just to make it even trickier, the stakes concerning grammar also tend to be really high. While much of writing is so subjective that it is difficult to assess on standardized tests, basic grammar is quite concrete, meaning that it is often disproportionately represented on the exams that our students (and often us) are often disproportionately judged by.

Continue reading “The Key to Teaching Grammar? Make It About Opportunities, Not Errors”

I’m So Sorry About the Rain: How to Significantly Improve Relationships With Students in Four Seconds

Photo by Bob Clark on Pexels.com

Teachers tend to be both helpers and problem solvers. In fact, if a random group of teachers were polled, my guess is that those might be the two most common traits found, as to be called to the classroom generally means you like to both help others and tackle major problems.

And being helpful and a problem-solver are generally positive traits for educators to have, but there is one moment where these mostly positive traits can become liabilities: when we sit down with students to give them feedback, either in person or on the page.

As I’ve discussed before, I’ve observed that when teachers give students feedback, they almost instantly enter let’s-fix-it! mode. Considering the sheer number of students we often have, this doesn’t seem like such a bad thing, but as Daniel Coyle shares in his book The Culture Code, there is a simple experiment out of the Harvard Business School that shows that maybe there is a slightly better mode to enter first, if only for four or five seconds, before entering fix-it mode. Here is how he introduces it:

Continue reading “I’m So Sorry About the Rain: How to Significantly Improve Relationships With Students in Four Seconds”