being a student, being a teacher, being me, writing

With Permission

We are about to write in class.  15 minutes of free write await.  I have a prompt from the amazing The Creativity Project, I am ready with my own pencil, my notebook, the document camera.  And yet…the hesitation from students is almost palpable.  So many of them already feeling defeated.  Feeling like this will be hard.  Asking if they can read instead of write.  Despite all of their years of great teaching, of great moments with writing, so many of our kids still feel like writing is something they will never like, nor is it something they will ever master.

On our wall hangs our writing rights poster, the rights we created as a writing community at the beginning of the year.  The rights that surround us as we play with writing, as we develop our writing voice.  And yet, something is woefully missing from it.

So I add it quickly.

“You have the right to write “bad” writing.”

And I tell my students this…writing doesn’t have to be great.  Writing doesn’t even have to be good.  You have the right to write bad stories, to write poems that you never want to share.  To write a few sentences that are so cringy that you can’t believe you came up with them.  You have the right to start, to stop, to think, to write whatever pops into your mind.  Not because it is any good but because you are simply writing.

And then I share the beginning of a story I wrote that morning with my first-hour class.  A story that I knew was terrible as I wrote it, filled with cliches, overused plot points and weird sentences, but U was tired and distracted and so that was all I could think of.  I read it aloud, laughing as I go.  At first, I can see the skeptical looks – this isn’t that bad, Mrs. Ripp – but when they get to the genie in the bottle part, they are laughing too.  As I finish, I shut my notebook and declare that I will never continue that story but at least I wrote.

One child yells, “But you write books, Mrs. Ripp, how can you write bad stories?”

“My book took me a year to write..” I answer honestly because it’s true, my books take a long time because I wrote a lot of stuff that never gets published.

We turn back to the prompt.  I remind them to sink into their writing, to simply write something, using the prompt or not, and off they go.  Every single child writing something.  Every child trying.  Not because they are all trying to write something powerful but because they are reminded once again that writing doesn’t always have to be everything we love about writing.  Something you just have to write badly and be okay with that.

If you like what you read here, consider reading my book, Passionate Readers – The Art of Reaching and Engaging Every Child.  This book focuses on the five keys we can implement into any reading community to strengthen student reading experiences, even within the 45 minute English block.  If you are looking for solutions and ideas for how to re-engage all of your students consider reading my very first book  Passionate Learners – How to Engage and Empower Your Students.      Also, if you are wondering where I will be in the coming year or would like to have me speak, please see this page.

 

being a teacher, being me, writing

As We Write…

All day, writing has been calling to me.  The magic of the words unfolding, my thoughts becoming clearer, my ideas set to page, taking a life of their own.  Ideas abound, swirling until I feel unsettled, craving the peace that inevitably arrives after the writing has happened.  A picture book?  A new book for educators?  A blog post?  A poem as I prepare to advise our slam poetry club starting tomorrow (wish me luck)?  The urge to write is there even if the ideas are not fully formed, fully present, but the keys call my name as I sit in front of the fire, reflecting on today.

I wonder how many of our students have that urge?  How many are called to write as they process the world around them?  Search for their unique way to sift through the bombardment of images and thoughts that constantly surround us?  How many feel the call of a pen, a journal, a keyboard, as a way to unpack and digest?  As a way to create something that didn’t exist until they decided to create it?

I have said it before, but it bears repeating; in our eagerness to make sure that students can write well, are we extinguishing their very urge to write?  To tell stories?  To reflect?  To process somehow?

When we ask our students who they are as writers, their answers lack little surprise; I am a writer who writes because I have to.  I am not a writer.  I hate writing.  I am a writer who writes in school, that’s it.

“How many sentences do I need, Mrs. Ripp?”

“How long should it be?”

“I don’t know what to write…”

Not let me write.

Not can we write?

But why do we have to write?  I will never use writing when I am… older…in my job…when I leave school.  Fill in the sentence however you see fit.

So for the next four weeks, we will play with writing.  We will form stories, journals, poems, plays, comics, whatever strikes our fancy as we take away the assessment.  As we make a space every day to simply write.  As we make a space every day to share what we wrote if we want to.  As we make room for the conversations that need to surround the writing and the writers.  As we strip away the to-do’s and search for the to-be’s.

As we discover perhaps not just who we are as writers, but more so who we want to be.  As we search and perhaps even find a place for writing somewhere in our busy lives so that perhaps, just perhaps, their answers will not always be, “do we have to write?” but instead can be “Do we have to stop?”

If you like what you read here, consider reading my book, Passionate Readers – The Art of Reaching and Engaging Every Child.  This book focuses on the five keys we can implement into any reading community to strengthen student reading experiences, even within the 45 minute English block.  If you are looking for solutions and ideas for how to re-engage all of your students consider reading my very first book  Passionate Learners – How to Engage and Empower Your Students.      Also, if you are wondering where I will be in the coming year or would like to have me speak, please see this page.

 

Be the change, being a teacher, writing

On Writing and Spelling

White,                Black,                 Free Image

“I’m a bad writer because I can’t spell…” a student’s answer when I asked them who they are as a writer.

One of the oft-repeated conversations in room 235d is dispelling the notion that to be a great writer you must be a great speller.  While, of course, students need to work on their spelling, I spend a good deal of time helping them realize that content is different than grammar.  That sharing their words is more important than spellcheck.  Now before anyone gets upset with me, yes, I believe that spelling should be taught.  Yes, I believe that students should work on it.  Yes, I believe spelling matters.  BUT.  It can’t be the biggest thing we focus on as students get older.  There has to be a balance.

So all year we talk about how we work on our spelling but we develop our writing.  How we shouldn’t let our fears of misspelling a word stand in the way of the message we are writing about.  I cannot tell you how many students are relieved to hear that their content and their spelling are assessed separately.  That the two represent different skills and are treated as such.

So few children believe that they are writers if they are poor spellers and that’s on us.  That false notion comes directly from how we frame our writing instruction.  From what we focus on when they hand us their stories, their opinions, their words and we focus on how it was written rather than the what even though the assignment was to write a story.

What if we told kids that yes, spelling, grammar, mechanics matter, but they are not the most important skill in writing at all times.  That as a teacher we can support them through the clean up of their work.  That we want them to play with language.  To be fierce in their word choice.  To write what they feel like without the fear of judgment when we take apart their hearts with the symbolic red pen.

So we find a balance in room 235D.  We work on spelling and grammar as their ideas develop, but we give as much or if not more attention to what the idea actually is.  We celebrate the kids that try new things.  That use new words.  That stretch their burgeoning spelling skills as they reach for language they are unfamiliar with.  We look at mentor texts where words were played with, grammar rules foregone, and spelling changed to see how they used these changes to push their truths.  We make a safe space to play with language rather than be worried about what the teacher will say.  It takes time.  It takes trust.  And it takes a deliberate conversation about what writing really can be for our kids.  We need both; focused mechanics instruction but also writing for the sake of discovering who you are as a writer and while the two are not mutually exclusive, we have to be careful with how much emphasis we place on one over the other.

When students year after year tell us loudly that they cannot be great writers because of how they spell, then that should be the impetus of change that spurs us to examine what message we are giving students.  Because as I tweeted last night; when students share their truths with us and we take it as a chance to question their grammar and spelling skills instead of listening to their words, we are once more complicit in the killing of student voice and engagement with school – that’s on us, that’s a choice.

If you like what you read here, consider reading my newest book, Passionate Readers – The Art of Reaching and Engaging Every Child.  This book focuses on the five keys we can implement into any reading community to strengthen student reading experiences, even within the 45 minute English block.  If you are looking for solutions and ideas for how to re-engage all of your students consider reading my very first book  Passionate Learners – How to Engage and Empower Your Students.      Also, if you are wondering where I will be in the coming year or would like to have me speak, please see this page.

being a student, being a teacher, Literacy, student choice, Student dreams, Student Engagement, student voice, writing

Recapturing the Magic of Stories – Practical Ideas for Better Creative Writing

“Do we have to write?”  He looks at me and awaits my answer.  I know he wants me to say no, but instead, I nod.  Every day.  Just try.  It’ll get better.  “But I hate writing…” and the kids around him nod.  So many kids not considering themselves writers.  So many kids who write simply because school tells them to.  And I see it every time I assign a story project.  I see it when they write summaries of stories rather than an actual story.  I see it when they fiddle with their papers, break their pencils or write one line.  We hate writing, and there is nothing you can do about it.

And yet….writing is stories.  Writing is our past and our future.  Writing has the power to break us apart or put us together.  So when our students tell us that they hate writing, it is usually not the writing itself they hate, it is everything attached to it.  All of the tasks we add in with writing to make sure they know how to write.  To make sure they can write.  And I wonder, once again, in our eagerness to create students who can write are we, instead, producing students who won’t?

So what can we do within our writing instruction to reignite or protect the writer that lingers within each child?  What are ways we can help them see that writing is something we need as human beings, and not just because the teacher told us to?

We hear their truths.

Much like we must uncover what protects or demolishes their love of reading, we must ask the hard questions about writing too.  Why do you think you are not a writer?  When is writing hard?  When is writing amazing?  How can I be a better teacher of writing for you?  And then we take those truths with us, we unpack them and then we reflect on our teaching practices; what have we done that have done damage?  How can we navigate all of our requirements without doing irreparable harm?

We make it a priority.

I know we do a lot of writing but how much of that is process writing; summarizing, essays, analysis, informational writing.  Where is the creative writing?  I know when I taught 5th grade it was the final unit of the year.  If we got to it, that is.  Why not start with them finding their writer’s voice.  Tell them to write a story, either real or fictional.  and reconnect them with their storytelling skills.  Begin the year with free writing and maintain it throughout the year.  Don’t save it until the end of the year when we can have done so much damage already.

We give them time.

We cannot create writing opportunities in our classrooms without dedicated time.  And I don’t mean the writing instruction slot where they are working on their assigned project, but free writing time, where they are encouraged to write whatever they want.  Free writing time every day so that they get in the habit.  Free writing time so they can work through what it means to be a writer and start to see the small success that will carry them forward.  Whether it is ten solid minutes like it is in my Informational Studies class or even just four minutes like it was last year for me.  Time should be dedicated to free writing every single day, even if you only have 45-minute classes.

We give them freedom.

Every day we tell our kids to write something in their writer’s notebook.  We offer up a prompt but we also tell them they don’t have to use it.  And then we step back, encourage them to write, but nothing else.  This is about them, not us.

We tell stories.

Great writing starts with stories, so we tell our own stories and model what it means to capture an audience.  We have them share their own stories as they practice how to hold an audience captive.  We do speeches so they can see what grabs people’s attention and what doesn’t.  Through the stories we tell we encourage them to write someday, to find ideas for writing.

We withhold judgment.

Every few weeks I look through their writer’s notebooks just to get to know them.  I don’t assess, I don’t correct.  Instead, I write comments, genuine reactions to what they have written so they know I am reading.  But I do not tell them how to be a writer, not here, not now.  That writer’s journal is exactly that; a journal, not an assignment.  And so some write comics, others journal, some writ lengthy stories.  Poetry, scribbling, moments of their lives burst at me from their pages and I hope that within all of their ideas they start to see what writing really is; an extension of self, of who we are and an exploration of how we fit in.

We bring authors in.

Many of my students are under the impression that “real” writers knew they were writers from a young age.  That story ideas just come to them.  that they sit down and a whole book just flows from their fingers.  But that’s often not the case at all.  how do I know?  Because “real” writers have been speaking to my students via Skype for the last few years.  And they dispel their writing myths one at a time.  It turns out there is no one right writing process.  There is not a right way to write.  Inspiration comes from many places.  And it also turns out that writing is hard work.  That getting the idea is often the smallest part but the actual revising and cutting out and making better is where the work comes in.  They don’t believe me when I say these things always but when authors do, they start to.

We are real writers.

How many of us teach writing but don’t write ourselves?  How many of us create our modeled texts at home because we know it will be hard to do it on the spot in front of the kids?  How many of us would never consider ourselves writers but then expect our students to be?  Be a writer yourself, it doesn’t have to be published, but go through the process and do it authentically.  Share how hard writing is for you, share your bad habits of writing, give them a real role model of what writers are so they don’t think that it is something that just happens.

We ask them who they are as writers.

And we come back to the question throughout the year.  We ask them to explore what writing means to them.  We ask them what their writing process is and we share our own.  We ask them to find some sort of value in writing, not because they have to love it but because they should be at peace with it.

We have them lead the conversations.

Less checklists.  Less pre-determined goals only set by the teacher.  Less specific feedback that teaches them that this is the only thing they need to work on because that is all the teacher told them to work on.  More student reflection, more student questions, more student ownership over how they need to grow.  When we confer they should do most of the talking.  When we confer they should start to find out what they need our help with, not vice versa.  In the beginning, it is hard but it will never get easier if we don’t start the conversations and hand over the reigns.

We don’t give up.

Every day we write.  Every day we share stories.  Every day we create something.  Every day we become more than what we were.  And we don’t give up.  We hear their truths as we gently encourage them forward.  We showcase many kinds of writing.  We give them freedom, trust, and a safe space to share.  We tell them to share when they can and not when they don’t want to.  We tell them to use our space as writers would; get comfortable, listen to music, discover your writing process.  Find your writing peers so you have people you trust that will give you honest feedback.

For too long creative writing has taken a backseat to task writing and while I know we need to be able to write things that fulfill purposes, we cannot lose sight of the bigger picture here.  We have to give our students opportunities to have a relationship with writing that goes beyond what the teacher told them to do.  And that starts with the very decisions we make every day in our classrooms.  That starts right now.

 

If you like what you read here, consider reading my newest book, Passionate Readers – The Art of Reaching and Engaging Every Child, out August 2017.  This book focuses on the five keys we can implement into any reading community to strengthen student reading experiences, even within the 45 minute English block.  If you are looking for solutions and ideas for how to re-engage all of your students consider reading my very first book  Passionate Learners – How to Engage and Empower Your Students.      Also, if you are wondering where I will be in the coming year or would like to have me speak, please see this page.

being a teacher, grades, No grades, writing

A Simple Idea for Better Growth in Student Writing

For many years I have disliked grades and how they can affect the learning journey we are on.  In fact, I have disliked them so much that I dedicated an entire chapter in Passionate Learners about how to go almost grade-less, and yet, I work in a public school district that does do grades.   While my district is mostly standards based and rather progressive in its grading policy, the fact of the matter is that I still have to at some point quantify my students’ learning and assign them some sort of a number. No matter how much I detest this very thing.  And yet, having this expectation has actually allowed me to really embrace what grades can do for a conversation and how we, once again, can work within the confinements of a system and change the very conversation we are having.

One of my largest issues with grades is that it limits the very conversations we have with kids.  We end up letting the grades speak for us or we spend time leaving them feedback to only see kids do nothing with it.  And who can blame them?  If the grade has already been assigned then why should anything be taken to heart?

Therefore, I knew that I needed to change the very conversation we were having because I no longer wanted students to just ask how to get an A or a 3, especially in their writing.   I no longer wanted them to skip over their feedback and not really grow from it.  And while in my elementary classroom I was able to have a lot of time conferring with students, teaching 45-minute English classes meant that I had very little for the one-to-one.  And yet, the feedback is so very important because this is what changes the very conversation that we have with our students, especially when it comes to their writing.

So what did I change to create more meaningful learning opportunities where students actually used the feedback for something?  It is simple really, and I may be the last teacher to have figured this out but figured I would share it still.

Students turn in their rough draft a week before their due date.

Yup, that’s it.

Because my students now turn in their rough draft, I can leave them specific feedback and I also place our rubric in so they can see what they would be assessed at if this were their final draft.  They turn it in on a Friday, typically, I have it returned by Monday.  I leave them specific feedback, not “fix this…” but instead asking them questions about their writing and pointing out any significant areas of concerns.  They then get the next week to revise and resubmit.  They get the next week to ask questions.  I get the next week to confer with those that need more than just written feedback.

Does it work?  Yes!  As I assess their final writing pieces of the year, I can see just how much they have changed and refined since I left them feedback.  I can see how they have actually used the comments I have left them and have figured out how to grow their writing.  No more pointless feedback and no more feeling left out of the grading conversation.  Is it a lot of work?  Yes, I am not going to lie, but it is so worth it when it comes to seeing how they have grown as writers.  A bonus is that kids who tend to miss deadlines are now more on track since they know that they need to have a rough draft to turn in.

So there you have it, one small idea that goes a long way to give students more ownership not only over their final grades but also over the writing process itself.

If you like what you read here, consider reading any of my books; the newest called Reimagining Literacy Through Global Collaboration, a how-to guide for those who would like to infuse global collaboration into their curriculum, was just released.  I am currently working on a new literacy book, called Passionate Readers and it will be published in the summer of 2017 by Routledge.If you are looking for solutions and ideas for how to re-engage all of your students consider reading my very first book  Passionate Learners – How to Engage and Empower Your Students.      Also, if you are wondering where I will be in the coming year or would like to have me speak, please see this page.

 

being a teacher, Literacy, writing

An Exploration Into Found Poetry

My students don’t love poetry.  I know this because when I told them we would be creating poetry, the cacophony of noise that erupted was not one of joy or happiness.  It sounded more like some of them were sick.

But this is exactly why I love teaching poetry in 7th grade.  It is a chance to rewrite and reclaim the whole notion of what poetry is.  To help students see that they too can create things with meaning without feeling like poetry is just one more thing they are not smart enough to produce.

So instead of “regular” poetry, we create found poetry.  Introduced to us by the amazing David Daniel, an actor who does a weeklong poetry workshop with us every year (the kids have no idea how much they will love it).  We create poetry out of words that were not made by us.  We make poetry out of our surroundings, out of noises, out of words found in books and on books.  And I see the change, I see the spirit with which kids embrace this task.  How they all of a sudden feel like poets.

What are the different components?

Video:

Every day we share a video of a spoken word poet, some of our favorites are – if you have others, please share them in the comments:

To This Day Project by Shane Koyzcan

Knock Knock by Daniel Beaty

What Kind of Asian Are You? by Alex Dang

Somewhere in America by Belissa Escobedo, Rhiannon McGavin, and Zariya Allen

An Ode to Whataburger by Amir Safi

Why I Hate School But Love Education by Suli Breaks

Different Concepts:

There are many ways to create found poetry, here are a few of our favorites

Black-Out Poetry

Where students black the words out on pages of books, leaving only the words of their poem behind.  We use discarded library books for this.

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Found Words Poetry

Students search the classroom for words to fill out in a table on a piece of white paper.  Once they have filled all of their boxes, they cut them out, put them in the order they want and then glue them down.

Book Spine Poetry

Students create poetry using the titles of books, by stacking them on top of each other and then snapping a picture of their creations.  We shared them on social media using the hashtag #OMSreads

 

Collage Poetry (or Ransom Note poetry as the students coined it)

Using images and words from magazines, students cut out what they need and create a poem collage.

 

Conversation poetry

Send students to a busy area listening for sounds and snippets of conversations.  Write them down and then use them as lines in your poem.

Model poetry

Who says poetry needs words?  Using maker space materials create a visual poem that tells its stories using words or not.

There are many other ways of creating found poetry, if you have other ideas, share them in the comments.

While this may seem like just fun and games, it has been quite amazing to see the transformation.  We have also spoken about poetic terms that the students have been exposed to before, but may have forgotten.  This great word wall came from our 8th grade English teachers and help kids get reacquainted with terms they may either need or would like to be inspired by.

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So while my students didn’t love poetry in the beginning, and some might not still, many have realized that can be poets.  That poetry should make them feel something.  that poetry can be all around us.  I have loved this exploration so much.

If you like what you read here, consider reading any of my books; the newest called Reimagining Literacy Through Global Collaboration, a how-to guide for those who would like to infuse global collaboration into their curriculum, was just released.  I am currently working on a new literacy book, called Passionate Readers and it will be published in the summer of 2017 by Routledge.If you are looking for solutions and ideas for how to re-engage all of your students consider reading my very first book  Passionate Learners – How to Engage and Empower Your Students.      Also, if you are wondering where I will be in the coming year or would like to have me speak, please see this page.