Tag Archive | writing

Year in Review

Well, time just totally got away from me at the end of the year.  Preparing for Prom took over my life at the end of April and beginning of May and then we were in the home stretch of the end of the school year.  Now I am on the other side and phew!  I am so glad to say I have made it.  I want to reflect on some amazing things that went on this year and my hopes for the next school year.

The 2011-2012 School Year

We went through A LOT of curriculum changes this year.  I don’t think we had any idea exactly how many changes we were making until we were right in the thick of it.  That made first trimester really hard.  First, the research project was rough.  I always knew research should be in all grades but I was kind of hiding in tenth grade saying there was no time for it.  Well CCSS did not allow for that anymore!  The projects and presentations I got that first trimester were a little…less than par.  However, I learned a lot about teaching research and helping students not feel so overwhelmed with it.  I also focused a little more on presentation skills.  The projects second trimester were a little bit better.  I am also pumped to go with a new twist on the project for next year that I will explain later.

The other big change was choice books and literature circles in the classroom.  I was pumped to do this but I had no real idea exactly how hard it was going to be.  You know, they make it seem so easy in those books and in my grad classes.  However, again, first trimester was a learning expereince.  I learned the students do not have to meet in groups every day and reading together every day is not the most productive outcome.  Second trimester went a little smoother, more so in the B section than the A section.  Then I really felt I had much more of a handle on it third trimester in the B section.  I really focused on mini-lessons to build up the discussions groups were having.  This showed better notes from the students and deeper conversations.  I was really excited about the deep conversations groups were having over two paragraphs we read for a mini-lesson on follow up questions.  Two paragraphs!  There is still some improvements I can make but I am still proud of the way things turned out by the end of the year.

Writing has also seen changes in my classroom.  We are not just doing persuasive essays!  Yay!  I loved reading my studnets’ work in the narrative unit and with doing more of the other genres of writing, voice started to show up more in persuasive essays and other formal writing pieces.  And students can write a lot more in a short amount of time.  The writing fluency is getting there and students are being more focused.  I literally saw a number of students mature in their writing between the A class and B class and was able to tell them so.

Reading is also something I am very proud of.  First of all, my classroom library has exploded!  My first Donors Choose project was fufilled last summer which brought in almost 50 YA books for my students.  We were also blessed through grant money $1,000 each to build up our personal libraries.  I filled it in with many titles from a number of genres.  I am continuing to see more and more students reading.  Students who told me they hated to read were reading their first books since elementary school.  One girl who also fought about reading chose to read on her own when she was done with a test.  I saw more students showing habits of life-long readers by carrying books with them everywhere they went.  Some students have friended me on Goodreads and actually use it.  I am thrilled to be building a community of readers.

I also had some pretty amazing opportunities this year.  Jeff Anderson came to our district for a special PD session with our teachers.  I attended MRA in March and learned amazing things as well as hung out with some of the most amazing teachers from around the state and country.  I also finished my Master’s program and am now a K-12 Literacy Specialist.  All in all, a lot to be proud of.

Looking Toward 2012-2013

I am really excited for next year.  I get to teach 10th grade classes again so I can really step up what I started this year.  The research project will give students more choice in that they will choose a historical fiction novel to read and research that time period to analyze how well the novel portrays the period.  I have started a new Donors Choose Project for this project:


I am also looking forward to seeing how the choice books evolve this next year.  As students have more expereience, and I do as well, it can only get better.  More changes will continue to come but I really believe they are for the good of our students. 

This summer, I plan on a lot of professional reading as well as YA reading.  I will share titles and insights here.  I hope everyone has a great summer!


Trimester Reflections

So another trimester has come to an end.  Seriously, where is this year going?!  Before I know it, Prom will be here and then graduation and then the wedding…but I am getting WAY ahead of myself.  The end of the trimester and all that I have been learning this year leads me to reflect on what I have done and what I want to do.

Things I am proud of

I am proud of a number of things I have accomplished in the last 12 weeks.  First of all, I loved the narrative writing unit in 10 B.  I have written about this before.  It really pushed students in a good way to start thinking of other types of writing besides persuasive (THANK GOODNESS!) and I think the long-term effects are more voice is coming out in my students’ writing.  Plus, it was a great way to get to know my students more.

I am also happy with how the research project in 10A improved this trimester.  While there is still room for improvement (and more ideas to come) I think it was much more successful this trimester than first trimester.  Teaching research is HARD, there is no other way to describe it.  But with anything, the more practice I have at it, the stronger the unit will become.  I also know that my students need these skills.  That makes it worth it, no matter what happens.  At least I know they have learned something.

I have also incorporated more informational texts in the curriculum and am becoming more comfortable teaching them.  I have been modeling for students how I approach these texts more and more and incorporated the Close and Critical Reading Questions to help students get to that higher level of thinking.  Again, it will take more practice – for me and my students – but I have been pleasantly surprised with how insightful the responses have been and where some students have been taking the synthesis of text and comparing across texts.

Finally, I had much more success in the choice book unit in 10B this trimester than I did in 10A first trimester.  Students for the most part really got into the books, especially The Pull of Gravity by Gae Polsnier.  I became more comfortable in my mini-lessons and conferencing with the students.  I observed deeper conversations in the groups as well.  I am hoping for more success in this as well.

Focus for Third Trimester

This trimester, I am single prepped with 10B and I have a lot of ideas for what I want to do.  My major goal is to conference with students more, especially reading conferences.  I have been doing some writing conferencing but have avoided reading conferences, at least in a more formal way than just chatting with students before or after class.  I think there are two main reasons why.  First, I felt it would interrupt the students too much during SSR.  Second, I was kind of selfish (*looks down ashamedly*).  I wanted to read during SSR time and didn’t want to give that up.  However, I am much more aware of how important that time can be in a conference.  And I also can’t wait to see the new information I will gather from my students this way.

Second, I want to balance out my units more.  I think there can be a healthy balance of reading and writing every day and not keeping them in such isolation.   For example, just because we are working on the narratives does not mean that is the ONLY thing I can focus on.  There can still be time for writing workshop as well as dedicating time to reading.  This will give more time for the choice book units and independent work for students.

Finally, I want my students interacting more.  Jim Burke stressed the importance of talk in the classroom at MRA.  I think that the more the students talk, the richer choice book discussions will be and the more independence students will have in the class.

I am looking forward to see what this trimester brings and what else I will learn this year.

Narrative Writing

I will admit that over the last few years I have been bogged down in teaching persuasive writing.  The stress on test scores and bringing them up has made this type of writing a major focus.  Finish a novel?  Write a persuasive essay!  Have some extra time?  Teach about the counterarugment and how important it is!  Final exam?  Include a persuasive essay!

This is an important type of writing to be sure.  You should be able to take a stance, support it, achknowldge the opposing viewpoint, and still stand by your stance.  And it is fair that students should be able to practice and learn the skills they need for this type of writing.  However, so many other types of writing were being ignored.  Not that I never taught them, but they did not get the attention of the persuasive essay.  And the poor students could probably recite the format of a persusaive essay in their sleep.

Many changes have been happening to my curriculum.  I am excited and terrified at the same time.  The CCSS are the main focus of our changes.  We also are incorporating different curriculum programs in writing and reading.  My knowledge of the CCSS and the use of new units brought narrative writing to my attention again.  Of course we will write some persuasive essays (and on demand to!) but I saw a way to devote two weeks to narrative writing.

The unit introduced students to and helped them write memoirs.  After reading strong mentor texts, we brainstormed ideas and started writing our own memoirs.  I think the amount of freedom students had with the assinment scared them at first.

“What does it have to be about?”

“Anything you want.”

“I can’t think of ANYTHING!”

“How long does it have to be?”

“As long as you need it to be to tell your story.”

“So, how many pages is that?”

But as students started writing, some of them really took off with the assignment.  We practiced “Exploding the Moment” and adding dialogue to enhance our writing.  We discussed the importance of the beginning to really bring a reader in.  I loved reading the snipits as students worked in class.  Now that I am grading the final products, I am amazed!  Each memoir shows a unique side of my students. I have read of love and loss, vacations and friendships, and just about everything in between!  I get to know my students in a way I haven’t been able to before.  Students really have opened up.  They also get to be creative.  So far, two students have chosen to tell their story using poetry.  I also had a very successful journal format that told of one student’s adventure learning to play the piano.  I also learned that one of my students has a strong command using the semi-colon in writing.

This has been a very successful unit and I am looking forward to using it again.  I think narrative writing gets overlooked a bit too much in high school if it is not a creative writing class, but it could really build confidence in students.  I have read some of the best introductions and conclusions I have come across in my career…and these are parts students tell me they can’t write!  I am glad this trimester has started off strong with such a great assignment.