The Re-Write Blog

Feedback 2.0: Using Digital Resources to Give Better Feedback, Faster

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I am a luddite in so many ways. I don’t own an e-reader, I prefer vinyl to my Alexa, and I look forward to the times where I can hike or travel far enough away for my phone to get no reception.

This tendency sometimes follows me into my classroom as well, as I find that while we are often quick to proclaim technology a universal savior, there are plenty of places where it can be an unnecessary complicator that detracts from the core work of the classroom—namely reading, writing, and thinking. 

The one area where I am utterly convinced that technology is an unequivocal upgrade, though, is in responding to student work.  

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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.”

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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.

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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.

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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:

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

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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.

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