Tag Archive for writing

Resolutions: Opposing P.O.V. Journals

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It’s hard to escape the onslaught of reminders that a new year, #2013, should mean adopting new “habits.”  Better habits for our health, personal lives, professional lives.  Ads arrive at my door reminding me that I can get organized via the Container Store, healthy via the NordicTrack and better sleep via the Healthy Back Store.  Retail outlets are desperate to help me.  However…

Winter break feels too short.  Adopting new “habits” too hard and looking ahead January and February seem endless.  Teachers need help without sacrificing mental health and student instruction post winter break.  Instead of enticing you to spend your holiday gift cards, I’m going to spend the month of January posting small things, little things that make a huge difference.  The hope being that you can adopt them easily in order to simplify your teaching life without having to completely revamp.  Make a New Year’s resolution to yourself.  Find more time in your classroom for meaningful instruction that requires less direct instruction from you.

My first resolution for you?  Create an ongoing journal assignment.  This type of journal will practice Common Core and AP English skills.  It will also give you 10 minutes at the beginning of each class to catch your breath while they find their voice.

Start with having them write a 10-minute journal 2-3 times a week.  The best way to get students in the habit of working in a journal is to keep in the room.  Think composition notebook or a cheap spiral.  However, if you are working on the cheap or you want to implement this immediately, simply create lined paper in a Word document (hit the underscore button for eternity) and copy.  Each sheet of paper represents one journal.  If you feel so inclined you can label each sheet.

Journal Type#1: The Art of Argument

Let’s start with my favorite journal.  Students read a short article.  Then, they write an entry that either qualifies the article’s argument or directly opposes it.  This will be a challenge for them since often they agree with the op-ed’s point of view.   Remind them that it helps extend their “range” as writers if they can identify other perspectives and construct response that include those points of view.  Yes, it is difficult.  But it also challenges them too. This type of journal demands they consider other views.    Below are some great articles to help you begin.  If you are pressed for time consider having students read the article outside of class and come prepared to write their challenge or qualification.

Argument Journals-Articles

Weekend Culture: Room for Debate


The New York Times
Room for Debate is a wonderful resource that advances critical thinking and writing.  Each week they cover several topics and invite “experts” to discuss their opinions in regards to a specific area of focus.  You can follow their RSS feed or their tweets.  Topics range from technology to education to government.

Instead of simply pitting experts against each other these pieces help show complexity of argument.  These topics are current and also of high interest to students and teachers.

Some favorites from the recent past include:

For each organizing question multiple voices in the form of doctors, lawyers, journalists, authors, students, parents, etc. weigh in forming a textual dialogue.  These “debaters” do not shout or wildly point fingers.  The thoughtfully engage in the topic based on their own experience and observations.

As a result they offer a strong foundation for helping students form their own perspectives.  It would be unreasonable and too time consuming to weigh an entire class of students down with only one topic.  Instead consider the following:

  • Create a list of past topics from which they can choose and then organize students into small groups based on topic/question.
  • Have them read, annotate, and create a list of observations.
  • Discuss in small groups and/or discuss as a class.
  • Have students take the role of an expert and construct their own short response to the topic.
    • Ask them to defend, challenge or qualify the topic.
    • Ask them to concede other points of view before beginning with their own.
    • Ask that they use their own reading, observation, experience etc. to inform their writing.

This type of exercise requires them to practice argumentation, concession, critical thinking, marshalling of evidence and organization.  It also requires them to read experts before “jumping” to conclusions that they cannot prove.

Tomorrow we’ll discuss how to use Room for Debate as a means by which students can respond to their peers.  Here’s a preview of the debate topic: How the Future Looks from High School

Radiolab: “Words” the Videos

Every now and again I feel compelled by some kind of video or piece of music.  Compelled and perhaps doomed to listen or watch on repeat.  I then make other people put them on repeat, too.  This is probably some kind of sickness [thanks, Dad] but I’d like to see it as critical thinking, a way to process the information until I feel comfortable.

When you work with video in the classroom, especially short video, sometimes you need to put it on “repeat” for students to understand.  It takes 2 times through sometimes, once for viewing and once for responding, to make meaning out of something that moves so quickly.

Yesterday’s post focused on how to use Radiolab’s episode “Words” for Socratic Seminar discussion.  But we don’t stop with the episode itself.  Oh, no.  It also includes the video entitled “Words” (go figure) by Everynone that was made to compliment it.

Original “Words”

Have students watch the film once just to “blow their minds.” Read more

Radiolab: “Words”

As English teachers we deal in words.  Every day I want more words, better words, more meaningful words. I want my students to feel the same way.  I want them to linger over Hemingway’s use of the word “nada” in “A Clean Well-Lighted Place” and pour over all the description of the “courtesy bay” between Fitzgerald’s dashes.

It’s not that simple.

While you can teach a series of pieces that talk about the significance of words and writing (William Hazlitt’s “On Familiar Style,” “Why I Write” by Joan Didion, “Politics and the English Language,“ by George Orwell or Stephen King’s On Writing) students still struggle to synthesize the importance and effect of language.

Enter Radiolab and the program entitled “Words.”   It’s a different angle from which to teach language.  All three stories discuss, in essence, worlds either without language or with developing language.  Whereas my desire is to throw as much language at a student as possible, this program begins with the following premise:  Do words change the world?  Literally.  Does having language change our experience, understanding, and ability to think?

The program is composed of three segments.  Each one is detailed below.   You might choose only one or assign one for homework.  They are powerful, and if you decide to use them, you will want to be able to enjoy the discussion that comes after “collectively” listening together.

I’ve offered questions to have students write/discuss.  A Socratic Seminar using these podcasts as the basis would be perfect. The questions provided could be a starting point. Read more

Radiolab: Media Literacy and Listening Skills

One of the best ways to employ Radiolab in the classroom is to treat it as a text.  The difficulty?  This text requires students to listen and respond without visuals.  This means a bit of explanation and modeling upfront.

A good opener is a Ted talk by Julian Treasure: 5 Ways to Listen Better.  In under eight minutes Treasure highlights the value of listening and skills to become better listeners.

During the video, have students watch, listen, and take notes on the following questions:

  • Identify two of Treasure’s arguments about modern society and listening.
  • List two things Treasure identifies as making listening difficult.
  • List the ways in which Treasure claims we can become better listeners.

After the video, have students examine Treasure’s arguments again.  Now, have them evaluate via writing and then discussion the validity of these arguments. Read more

Weekend Tech: Tweets are still #funny

 

In yesterday’s post I referenced The New York Times Article, Writer’s New Form: Tweet-Up Comedy.  One of the most interesting components to the piece was WitStream, an aggregator of humorous tweets.  Now I think WitStream is simply genius.  It helps that Michael Ian Black is one of the brains behind it, and I do like the idea of a “24 hour live comedy ticker.”  I am not recommending that you show the website/posts in their entirety to your students.  It can be a minefield.  Instead, take a screenshot of appropriate WitStream posts.  See example below:

Read more

QR Codes: Non-Fiction Lesson

There are a multitude of great QR classroom uses out there already.  In fact the Daring Librarian has a great post from December of 2010 about different QR codes and a great video about how they were used in one high school for multiple classrooms.

Today, I’m going to offer one approach to using QR codes in the English classroom.  This is quite simply a teacher driven, small groups at stations, QR code assignment. Keep in mind this post is quite lengthy so as to give you an activity and an example of how to use this with Fast Food Nation.

The purpose: to extend student learning on topics that relate to a non-fiction book.

Things to consider: You may, depending on  your means, want students to use ipods, phones and ipads.  A bigger screen would be useful if you plan on having students use any of the articles below.  You may also want to encourage your students to share devices.  You’ll absolutely want them to bring headphones as some of the QR codes, when scanned, link to videos and podcasts.

Non-Fiction, Teacher Generated QR Codes

This activity could be used at anytime during the study of a unit of novel. The goal: create a deeper/broader understanding of the concepts studied.  Choose a series of articles, podcasts, images, cartoons, etc. that could be easily used for synthesizing a larger understanding.  I’ve chosen Eric Schlosser’s Fast Food Nation as an example because non-fiction may be an easier way for you to attempt this type of activity.  Resources should also be easier to find. Read more

Writing & Voice: Day Four

 

The National Day on Writing has arrived!  Here is our technology driven post on voice.

Ultimately, improving student voice takes practice and modeling.  Nothing is better than having them mix their own voices with that of their peers to create a new and distinctive voice.

Have students complete a style analysis of themselves in order identify their style as authors by using the catchy checklist below or come up with your own.

Checkout the example below:

Stylewatch: It’s a Personal Thing

Be specific and detailed in your responses to the questions below. Your answers must be meaningful.  You can’t just say, “I’m not sure—umm—dashes?”

What types of punctuation marks do you favor in your writing?  Why?
What types of sentences define your voice? Long and involved?  Short and concise? What is the purpose of this sentence structure for you?
What level of language do you use in your writing?  Formal/Informal?   What purpose does this serve?
If you had to emulate one author from this year who would it be and why?  WRITE YOUR RESPONE IN THE STYLE OF THAT AUTHOR.  

Discuss as a class what this means about them, their writing style, etc.  Sort students into groups of three based upon varying style characteristics.  You will want to make sure that your small groups have three different types of student “voices.”

Now, the next step depends on what applications you already use in the classroom. You could use Edmodo or Wallwisher and modify the assignment for use in those programs.  I personally like Schoology the best.  Its resemblance to Facebook is a selling point for students and it’s so neat and tidy in organization that it makes it easy to construct separate discussion threads within the program.  This will take some outside of classroom time to set up this exercise.

Create a schoology account for yourself and have your students sign up for their own, as well.  For each class you create the program will create a code.  When students are creating their accounts they will need that “code” in order to sign up for our class.  When you’ve done all of the grunt work you/your students should see this:

You’ll want to click the discussion thread and create a discussion thread group for each group of three.  This means in each class you’ll probably have 10-15 discussion groups.  You will be given the choice for each group to upload directions as well.

The sky’s the limit.  If you teach AP students, use this exercise for voice in their AP analysis.  If you’re teaching the personal essay, give them a topic and then have them construct the response reply by reply by reply.  Of course, you won’t want to do this for the entirety of any essay, so choose an intro paragraph, a body paragraph, a conclusion, anything.

Since Schoology’s format is similar to the Facebook “wall” function, you can students in small groups reply to each other’s writing.   Have them consider that they can’t alter the line coming before theirs, they simply have to “add” to the previous line using their own writing style to inform the creation of this assignment.  When finished, have students type their replies into a new post for that discussion thread.  See the “dummy” example below.

 

Exercises like this focus on having student collaborate, write, examine each other’s voices and construct a final copy.  Less grading for you, better writing experiences for them.

Writing and Voice: Day Three

Quite often a student asks me why I can’t specifically give them a formula for how to improve their voice as a writer.  Now of course I can talk about style and formatting.  I can even discuss punctuation, sentence structure, and word choice.  But ultimately, the right answer is that there is no right answer.  This is the type of response that drives a teenager insane.  INSANE.  I know this because I’ve watched it happened directly in front of me.

The fact that everyone can have their own style/voice stymies them.  It can’t possibly be true.  It just can’t.  I must be withholding, joking or tricking them.  It’s easy to have them identify the difference in writer’s voice between Hemingway and Fitzgerald but it’s not so simple when they are being asked to come up with their own voice.   I mean, their must be some kind of surefire checklist that gets them an A.  No?

That’s why there’s nothing like This American Life.  Nothing.  It’s one of those radio shows that you don’t just listen to.  It’s an emotional investment every week.  For our purpose today it is also a lesson in teaching students about voice and point of view.  Each week the host, Ira Glass, highlights a topic and then includes anywhere from 2-8 acts from other commentators about that topic.

Some of my favorites include What I learned from Television, Return to Childhood and Notes on Camp.   Transcripts are available for all of the shows along with the audio.  All you have to is select episodes and acts.  (A whole show runs 59 minutes, and not all of it is appropriate for some students.)

What this offers you is the opportunity to provide examples of “stories” all on the same topic but wide ranging in terms of their approach.  It’s great for creating voice in personal essay, college application essays, even for working on how to create meaningful introductions and conclusions in academic writing.

 

Using only the Prologue

Annotating and Discussing

  • Each episode starts with a prologue that includes a reflection by Glass.  Prologues are short so give students the transcript and have them annotate for voice, style, and point of view.
  • Have them discuss his argument, voice, and point of view as a class.

Writing

  • Have them construct an opposing point of view to Glass’s using his voice and style. 
  • Have them add another paragraph to the argument he’s already constructed in the prologue.   

 

Using the Prologue and “Acts”

  • Each episode starts with a prologue that includes a reflection by Glass.  Prologues are short so give students the transcript and have them annotate for voice, style and point of view.
  • After students have annotated and you’ve all discussed as a class, have students write a short piece about This American Life’s theme of the week.
  • Then, have students listen to one of the individual “acts” following along with the transcript while they mark for voice again.
  • As a class discuss/evaluate the speakers voice and the format of the “act.”
  • Now, have students rewrite their piece based on some of the characteristics found in the first “act” you’ve played them.

Repeat with as many acts as you enjoy/have time to use in class.

Writing & Voice: Day One

 

I spent a large part of this weekend reading Jeffrey Eugenides The Marriage Plot.  I knew that I should grade papers, plan lessons, write college recommendations.  I just couldn’t.  The writing was so good, so immensely satisfying that it felt like I was doing something secretive and illegal.  Good writing makes us lose track of time, dog-ear pages and double underline meaningful sections.  As teachers, good writing is easier to identify than to teach.   Students need so much practice and feedback that quite often we find ourselves spent.

Every post this week will focus on how to improve voice in student writing.  It seems an appropriate way to celebrate The National Day on Writing this Thursday and a good way to provide some new approaches to teaching voice.  Jim Burke posted a tweet this past week that commented, “October is the cruelest month” and he’s not kidding.  There is something about October that reminds me just how hard it is to teach writing.   They aren’t quite ready to have individual writing breakthroughs, yet, and they are so busy with putting things in the “right” order that voice is an afterthought.

This weekend I was reminded that good writing is voice.  It is what makes students “fall in love” with an author, character, story, or setting.  It is what makes them take out their books when they finish an assignment early and read quietly.  It is what makes me, their teacher, linger over their own writing when they get it right.   So this week we’ll start with engaging non-fiction writers with loads of voice (Tan, Sedaris, Dowd, Krauthammer to name a few), work on short exercises that practice that voice, and even talk about collaborative assignments the combine multiple voices into one piece of writing.

Now, back to. . . reading.