Monday, September 30, 2013

Funeral for the Five-Paragraph Essay

Friends, Romans, 8th graders, lend me your eyes…and common sense. From a young age, adults instruct us not to hate. Yet, some things affect us so deeply that we are challenged to find the words to adequately define it. The word hate rises from the steam of our boiling blood and is exhaled in one hot breath and explodes.

The term five-paragraph essay boils my blood.

Taught at the younger levels to help children see the parts of a composition as one sees a hamburger, it does little to draw adolescents any closer to the real-world writing they need in their lives.  The five paragraph concept was developed by a teacher over fifty years ago and has lingered over many decades for two reasons: it is easy to teach a part-part-whole structure, and it is easy to grade.

I’ll agree that breaking things down into parts is an effective teaching method. The method carried me through a coaching career that started in middle school, moved to high school, and then through college. I succeeded teaching young men to play a specific position by breaking everything down into parts every day long before the larger plan was executed.

However, the time comes for people to move on from the parts. Entering the 8th grade, students should be challenged to no longer lean on the five-paragraph essay because it will do more harm than good to their writing. Too often, students come in being trained to ask how many words or how many paragraphs they need to write. Focusing on the number of words or paragraphs one needs to write does little to make someone think about and develop their writing.

Five paragraph essays can both constrain writing and dilute writing. What if I can express my point, powerfully, in two hundred and fifty words? Writing an additional two hundred and fifty does not guarantee any deeper thinking--more words does not equal more meaning. Conversely, what if my chosen topic is focused and vast? What if five paragraphs just isn’t enough to allow me to find meaning, make connections, and show the reader why something matters? Sometimes, the restrictions we build as teachers can prune a student’s potential too closely to the bud.

Young writers need the skills for deeper revision. Focusing on the numbers (words or paragraphs) drives writers to worry about milestones, not message.  Good writing is not incumbent on hitting five hundred-words or any other marker. Yet, some adolescents remain distracted by these markers.

I would rather read two hundred words that says something.

I would rather read eight thousand words that says something.

So, I apologize to you if you came here expecting me to praise Caesar, not bury him. You will not find any trace of the five-paragraph essay out there in the real world or in my classroom, for the five paragraph essay is dead.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Preparing a Draft for English Journal

While crafting my portion of a collaborative draft for English Journal, I asked for student feedback to help guide my writing. As part of a team of five contributors to an article, I have taken on the theme of teachers positioning themselves as writers for the benefit of one's pedagogy.

So, I asked my students for honest, written feedback through the following prompt:

What difference(s) or effect(s) does it have when you see me as a writer?

The following 8th grade student feedback is in their own words, spelling, and punctuation. I don't include it as a gratuitous reflection of me, but as the support and value of teachers bringing writing into their personal and professional lives. Any I did not copy into the document were almost verbatim repeats. Our of 125 students I had one who gave me what I would consider negative feedback (and something I need to follow-up on) when he/she wrote, "I do not feel I have improved as a writer."

The word cloud reflects the common words that the students used the most. The words beginning to stand out to me are comfortable, encouraged, and like. So many began a thought with "I like"...


  • When I see you as a writer, I feel as though you are connected with me as a writer better as well as a student. (JC)
  • Your writing has affected me because it has made realize that good writing doesn't have to come from a published author. Also, it takes time and effort to develop a well-written essay or piece. Your writing allows us to see who you are and in a way lets us in your life. It helps keep the idea of you being our mentor. (SJ)
  • When I see you as a writer it works. It works because I can come to ask you questions and it is easier to ask you. (MW)
  • I believe that seeing you as a writer has a great effect on me. It makes me feel like you're going to be completely honest with your feedback for me.
  • When I see you as a writer it's easier to understand how I can become a better writer...I hear what sounds good and it's just easier and there's less pressure. (DH)
  • When you be a writer with us it makes it seem like arent judjmental. (CK)
  • I like it that you show us your writing. I see the way you have combined words to make it sound really neat, and I try to remember that to use it in my own writing. It also makes me feel more connected, like you are not just another teacher in my life, but a fellow writer. (Anonymous)
  • I like the fact that you are not only our teacher, but a writing mentor. It makes me feel like you aren't just saying what's wrong or right because we all have a style. (ES)
  • It makes me want to learn from you more and makes me want to write like you. (MD)
  • When I see you as a writer it soothes me. (Anonymous)
  • I think it would impact me more if you shared some of your novel. (NW)
  • Seeing you as a writer actually makes me more comfortable sharing and writing on my blog. It inspires me to try. Try harder and maybe even step outside my comfort zone sometimes. (EM)
  • It makes me more comfortable sharing my writing because I don't view you as someone who will judge me, but more as someone who will help me grow. (Anna)
  • 2nd period feels more like a connected, close-knit group where we can share or bring up anything. (Anonymous)
  • When I see you as a writer your so deep and in the zone kind of. When you read your writing I like I know what/who/where your talking about. (IU)
  • It gives me lots of emotion. It gives me lots of encouragement to keep going with my writing. (AA)
  • It makes me feel connected because when we write in our notebooks, you write, too. (HB)
  • I feel inspired by you as a writer and I really like that you are very involved with us when we are writing...makes me feel comfortable, like you care that we become successful. (MC)
  • I see you write, often, in class, and when I see the final product I am inspired to write more.
  • I feel that it lets me be connected to you on a more personal level. I would feel more comfortable talking writer to writer rather than writer to teacher for feedback... (Ryan)
  • Seeing you as a writer makes me see that this isn't just your job, but that it is your passion (DK)
  • Seeing you as a writer has effected me in a positive way...It allows me to be connected with you and improve my own writing through yours. (LEJ)
  • The effect of your teaching has encouraged me to write things I have never written before. Also encouraged me to dig deeper in my thoughts. (V.V.)
  • I like it when you share your pieces because I feel like since I know who you are I can be more connected to class. I like seeing your work. (C.A.)
  • I learn by experience and visuals. It's like we're reaching for the same goal, to become a better writer, all together. (S.P.)
  • I have more appreciation for writing in general and it also makes me look deeper into my own writing. I would also make me more comfortable with confrencing with you about my writing. (M.B.)
  • You make everyone in the class feel like they're the students and you are too. (C.Y.)
  • It makes me feel like I have the ability to become a great writer someday. (E.S.)
  • I feel like you actually know how to write and how the little things can change your writing (Leah)
  • You effect me by making me feel as if we are all the same level of writer. (KL)
  • It's easier for me to figure out what the assignment is and what the expectations are (S.P)
  • It makes me feel more like you understand writing and it is as or more important to you as it is to me. (RL)
  • It helps me see what is important to you and what some of your thoughts are. (HN)
  • I think that seeing you as a writer encourages us, since it shows us how good of a writer we can be if we practice. (BN)
  • I truly think it helps. It creates a stronger student vs. teacher bond. (Alex)
  • Well, you give me inspiration on how I should write my own things. (MK)
  • It gives me greater confidence. (DL)
  • (it) encourages me to write more interesting and detailed sentences. (FH)
  • I think that it helps me because it makes me more comfortable to write honestly. (Melissa)
  • I feel encouraged about writing and read more. (ZH)
  • I think it has encouraged us to write more openly. I think seeing you as writer, a person, that is honest and is comfortable with showing something more personal, helps us feel more comfortable. (Ethan)
  • It's nice that you try to connect with us, most teachers don't, but it just is what it is. (KG)
  • I already have respect for you because you're my teacher and all, but when you share your writing and things with us it gives me so much more. It's nice to know that you actually want to share it with us. (Maddie)
  • I feel like you are a part of the class when you write with us. (JL)
  • When you write with us it shows us that you are experienced and that you care. (MC)
  • It is easier to ask someone questions when they are a writer, not a teacher. (SS)
  • When you are a writer, it makes me feel connected with someone who writes. (BK)
  • Having you as a writer feels very supportive. (MS)

Monday, September 23, 2013

Podcast: A Boy's Life - Episode 2

The second episode, The Boxer, of my (experimental) podcast A Boy's Life is now available for download. My intentions are two-fold. First, working on a monthly podcast is giving me a better handle on what I can realistically expect from an 8th grade student--producing a podcast is not easy. Second, it gives me someplace to revise and publish many short pieces I have written about my adolescence.

This episode is about the fighting and violence I was exposed to on regular basis from about 6th grade through my Junior year of high school. Fighting was just a matter of life. Behind the narratives are the decisions we made as kids--to start a fight, fight back, to stand and take it, or to run. It has been interesting to look back at that social order taking shape--in some respects, aspects of it were really quite dangerous and threatening.

As far as the technical side of podcasting is concerned, I have learned just how deliberate sound is. My struggles run the gamut from decisions on music (how much; when do I lead it in; when do I fade it out) to creating an easy delivery--trying to sound conversational while reading from a script does not come naturally.

Writing for sound is also a very different animal. While composing this episode, I found myself writing in two voices--the style I have come to develop as a writers, and the persona (a work in progress) who comes out as a reader. Suddenly, my voice takes on an edge and my old speech patterns from those days returns.

The music has become one of my favorite parts of writing and producing the podcast...and it isn't even mine. National Writing Project Fellow, and friend, Ben Smith is a young, brilliant musician. He teaches high school English by day, and must spend a large portion of his other life immersed in music. I enjoy his style and voice, and had to laugh when he suggested his song "I Recognize Your Fist" as the music for this episode.

Use the link below to access a direct link to it:
A Boy's Life: Episode Two - The Boxer

Or subscribe to get each monthly episode through iTunes
A Boy's Life Podcast (iTunes)

Folders of the Week (FoWs)

Considering many teachers have adopted the Article of the Week (AoW) format for classes, why not try using a Folder of the Week (FoW) concept if you have access to technology?

FoW builds on the model I learned about through Kelly Gallagher's challenge to his students to read more than novels:

To help build my students’ prior knowledge, I assign them an "Article of the Week" every Monday morning. By the end of the school year I want them to have read 35 to 40 articles about what is going on in the world. It is not enough to simply teach my students to recognize theme in a given novel; if my students are to become literate, they must broaden their reading experiences into real-world text.

Concepts built on digital read and writing is not an either/or proposition, but an also/and shift in education.

My use of a digital folder on Google Drive includes short videos, articles, podcasts, and infographics. This morning I cobbled together a folder on Somalia for any students who wanted to read and explore this issue.

The idea gives students additional exposure to various models and mentor texts of expression and information. As Troy Hicks puts it in Crafting Digital Writing:

To help Instead, I argue that the types of craft elements we insist our students create in the alphabetic texts can be complemented--or, better yet, extended--by the types of craft elements we can use given the availability of digital writing tools.

Of course, anyone who teaches or studies writing knows, Hicks' assertion includes into digital reading as well. Good readers are good writers.

These types of digital texts brings real-world issues to students where they have some control to explore and access the information in an order that best suits their needs. I have seen and heard this encourage further exploration. Students have told me that by looking at an infographic or two that they are more inclined to perform a close read of an informative or persuasive article of the same topic.

As the FoWs are becoming established in my classroom, I will encourage students to contribute their own polished products to the folders (blog entries, essays, videos, presentations, etc). So, if you subscribe to any, you will see the folders grow with a combination of professional and student-generated texts throughout the year. Currently, students are writing about the issues in their notebooks or on the classroom blog--these options will expand and grow throughout the year.

So far this year I have created FoWs on P.E.D.s in baseball, issues with the coral reefs, and Syria. Access to those are listed below--feel free to use the links for yourself or your students.

List of Folders of the Week


Coral Reefs


Baseball and P.E.D.s

Saturday, September 21, 2013

Let it Come

When I adopted Dublin in the spring of 2000, it came with a price that I had not anticipated.

Found along the side of Route 7 in Delaware, he suffered from malnourishment and several bruises. He had been abused and left for dead.

The SPCA technician shared that the woman who pulled over in the rain first dragged his body to a safer distance from the flash and whirr of traffic. She had been only inches from him as she zipped along with the flow of almost bumper-to-bumper traffic.

As he recovered physically at the SPCA until he was well enough to be rescued, he showed all of the signs of a dog who did not know who to trust or believe. The staff laughed and shared their frustrations at trying to perform simple tasks such as giving him water or putting a collar around him. They reported he ran from people, or jumped into them full force, or writhed and urinated at any new approaching human. While I pet him in short clips with only the tips of my fingers through the cyclone fencing, the technicians pointed out his healing bruises, the paperwork detailing all the medicine and treatment that had gone into him, and then she detailed the growing issue--he was approaching being unadoptable.

His energy was unmatched and bordered on intimidating. In his SPCA pen, his frantic pace and frenetic yapping had turned all families away to other (deserving) dogs. But the longer I stared at him I saw things I hadn't noticed for the past thirty minutes.

His body trembled when he paused to sit or lay down for a moment.

He winced and cowered at sudden movements, a lift of an arm, or flick of a hand in conversation.

He sat in corners and only with his back facing humans.

And when I walked away, he stared at me. I felt his eyes on me. And I adopted the unadoptable.

Dublin lived with me for thirteen years. I estimate he just made it to his fifteenth birthday before succumbing to canine cancer--an aggressive tumor on his spleen and stomach. It appeared less than two months ago.

I think of the imagery of a locomotive in the distance--an old iron horse from the turn of the century--a single headlight burning--black smoke and white steam hissing and puffing--that is how I think of Dublin's cancer. It was the unwelcome machine in the garden laying its own track, cutting its path, coming for a dog I came to adore.

Dublin challenged me--to his dying breath he challenged me and often outfoxed me.

He learned to open a trash compactor by standing on the release and pulling at the handle with his teeth.

He opened the refrigerator--even unlatched a baby lock--and unscrewed jars of pickles and peanut butter; he unwrapped cheeses and meats--leaving the paper--and left no trace of meat or brine behind. For over a decade I had to block the fridge with a heavy kegerator.

Dublin opened pantries and the lazy-susan; he could unfasten bungee cords securing closet doors. Once, he opened an oven and used the open door to stand on to tilt the appliance towards him as a blueberry pie slid to the floor. I later found the pie tin perfectly polished, not a crumb remained. The only trace of blueberry pie was the deep blueberry stained tongue and the blue roof of the mouth he later smiled at me.

Once he experienced a home burglary; another time, he ran away in the morning to sit in the middle of a dozen elementary school children and their parents at a bus stop a couple of miles from my house. They pet him and fussed over him as only noisy young children could. He sat still and smiled and loved it.

Slowly, he recovered from his fear of sudden movements. But it took years. He flinched so much those first few years that I found myself comforting him as much as anything else. Obviously, for those who know canines, he suffered from separation anxiety--during good weather when I had the windows down in my car, I would hear him howl after I left the house and headed for work. 

He grew out of destroying things and loved clomping around the White Clay Creek when I had a Jeep and didn't mind how wet he got it afterwards.

When our black lab, Rain, passed away in 2010, Dublin looked for him for weeks. Whenever he went outside, he would stop and turn and look behind him--Rain often trailed Dublin in his later, slower years. 

He was a smart dog who was branded with issues he never asked for or deserved. I would tell students that even though Dublin had a tough first life, I wanted to be sure he had a perfect second life.

The price I had to pay for helping Dublin through all of that was saying goodbye. It was a hard one to pay, I'll be honest.

As I mentioned, saying goodbye to my first lab, Rain, in 2010 was difficult. He died at my feet as we discussed what to do in the vet's office--I hadn't seen it coming even though Rain was old.

This time though, with Dublin, I could see that train coming. The closer it chugged towards us the larger it became--and there was no avoiding it and no preparing for it.

I found him after work on Thursday with blood leaking down his back legs. A puddle had formed beneath him. He made it outside to walk beneath a tree where another one of our pets, Smudge (a cat), is buried. Dublin flopped down and stared at me.

He had not eaten anything for four days and had not taken a drink in over 24 hours.

He was suffering. I knew it. The train had come.

After speaking to the vet, and after my wife had a chance to spend some time with him, I scooped Dublin up like a child--his blood smeared all across my forearm and settled him in the back of my car on an old, clean sheet.  He laid down out of my vision and I talked to him out loud on the five minute drive to the vet. I told himself everything I remembered that we did together, and that I didn't think our current labs would ever be as smart as him--so we can unblock the refrigerator now.

When we arrived, two technicians helped me carry him in on a soft gurney. I laid down on the floor with him. A sedative calmed him even though he was not moving much--he seemed to relax his muscles and was more comfortable than I had seen in months. He folded his paws beneath his snout and his eyes fluttered, half asleep, half still with me.

When I nodded that the time had come, I started talking to him again. This time, a line from Jane Kenyon's "Let evening come" fell out of me over and over. It was a complete surprise, unrehearsed, and comforted me and I hope comforted him. Again and again, as I held his face by mine (the whirr of the instruments working on his rear leg out of my vision) I caressed his muzzle and face and whispered "Let it come, as it will, and do not be afraid. For God does not leave us comfortless, so let evening come...Let it come, as it will.."

I felt his breath on my face and recited those lines. I consciously held my face close to his so I could feel him breath and he could smell me. His exhales were cool and relaxed.

And then. Nothing.

His face was peaceful--so peaceful that it caught me off guard. The past two months had taken a toll on him, and my friend was tired. I had not realized just how tired he was.

When I stood, I thanked the vet and the technicians and left the building. I sent a text to my wife and my parents: "He's gone."

And then I drove home thinking about the unadoptable dog. 

And just how fast time truly is.

Cen'tanni to a Family Gypsy

Cent’anni, to a Family Gypsy

Drawn to a line about memories and photography in the short story Clean Sweep by Joan Bauer, I am reminded that I often reflect in silence over photographs of my ancestors. In the story, the narrator, Katie, says, “you can hold a photo of a person you loved, but it isn’t alive.” In isolation, the line is sobering and cold; however, it does not change how I feel about my family photographs. It only makes me cherish them even more.

In them, I see my grandparents and their tired postures but content and happy eyes. They pose side by side, forcing themselves to stand without ache or fatigue, but it is there. Yet, joy radiates from these Italian farm people turned into new American city people. Having food and opportunity had that effect.

True, photographs are not alive, but that does not diminish their power to remind me, to make me painfully aware, of my life, how I continue to live it, and the people I come from.

When I look at a previously unknown (to me) photograph of my young aunt, Conchetta Quattrone, in a modest white traj de flamenca, I see a part of her I never knew. Sitting on a wrought-iron railing, her gypsy’s posture and wickedly fun smile compliments the hint of bare leg exposed beneath the ruffled dress hem.

A single image—a thousand unuttered words—gives me pause, and makes me miss her.

Like a mosaic, we are all made up of many pieces.  The best any of us knows of another are only fragmented, single pieces. It is what makes long-lasting and committed couples so special—they grow to see the myriad of colors and shapes take form—they see the entire portrait of pieces the man or the woman in their life.

Of my aunt, I knew the fragments of her only from when I was born (1968) until she passed (2005). Looking back, her portrait is one of great contrasts.

She helped raise me. Lunch waited for me as I walked to her house everyday from elementary school—we did not stay at school for lunch. Often, she toasted tomato sandwiches with a little vinegar and oil soaking through the hard, crusty bread.  When I returned home for the day, later in the afternoon, she sat on a folding chair on the front stoop and watched for me in the distance through the traffic, brick, and asphalt of city streets.

I knew the sad parts of her, living alone in a row house that once bustled and burst with the noises of five brothers and sisters along with the aromas of herby, Italian cooking—I remember seeing her white hair as she sat alone at the front window as I shot bottle caps or swung a broomstick at a rubber ball with friends. In her 60s, she passed the hours completing crosswords or watching the passersby until family returned to the house.  Now, I see her as the young woman on the railing who simply grew old passing the hours between meals when she would rejoin her brothers, nieces, and nephews around a table of good food.

I knew the active and selfless part of her that volunteered for politicians she believed in, and good causes that moved her. She wanted me to find a record of Happy Days are Here Again so she could play it again and again and again when a fellow Italian, Frank Rizzo, was re-elected for a second term as mayor. Oh, would she have loved to share a braciole with him!

I knew that part of her that argued with her brothers, and that same part sometimes grew sour at me and my mother.

I knew the piece that protected our loving cousin, Josaphine, her neighbor, dearest friend, and closest loved one. They ate at least one meal together every day for more than fifty years.

I knew the part of her that aged and that loved the color red and always embraced her loyalty to the United States Navy and the United States Marines where she made a career, friendships, and a brief marriage.

I knew her when she spoke her mind or sometimes spoke without any mind at all—her bawdy outbursts making a room of family simultaneously blush and burst with tears. I knew that part of her because it was so bright, and red, and gleamed with her name and face. That part of her is forever washed onto others—that part of her still makes family remember her with wry smiles. We remember her for being able to make us exasperated and amused—and that made us feel very alive in our skin. She was honest as daggers and as loyal as a book.

And I knew the part of her who spoke hard and pointed words aimed right between the eyes, and her stubborn, tough Italian shell, impossible to penetrate--but the complimentary side of her was there too.

I love having lived to see the fragment of her that I saw smile, genuinely happy to see family, often around a meal around two tables pushed together around neighbors popping in and being invited to sit and join us around her yelling over the cinder block walls of her yard, to her neighbors, and passing plates of pasta and meat, sharing what she had made and served to a house full again—she loved that—around and around and around—food and family, family and love, and the power of sharing what you had and passing it on to everyone and anyone, around and around and around.

So, I am not quick to dismiss a photograph—any one photograph could be a fragment of her that I did not know, a fragment I can polish and set into place in my life with the other colored stones of my memories.

Otto Frank once said of Anne, “I only came to know my daughter through her diary.” Similarly, a photograph is a diary entry—a thousand unspoken words. In this case, those words are captured above in soft grey, satiny white, and a smile.

We are more than the sum of the memories of others—we are the shattered fragments spread throughout all of our relationships—no one person can sweep together all of our shards and dust of life into one complete portrait. Yet, this photograph of my aunt is an artifact I am proud to hold and read and wonder and love.

Translated, Cent’anni means a hundred years—often used as a toast, loved ones say it as a wish that they may share another 100 years together. With writing, I toast the memories that my family shares of our aunt, and I toast the fragments of her still alive within us as we walk our own paths across the countryside and around the world.

With eyes wide open, I understand that I too am a varied and complex collection of fragments—some in the form of words as I continue to grow as a writer. And, like the joy in my aunt’s face, I spread my written fragments willingly and freely without regret or fear. Cent’anni, Conchetta—Cent’anni.

Real World Writing: The use of expression and reflection

Subscribing to the notion that teacher modeling along with professional samples is the most effective way to teach thirteen year-olds how to write, we took a look this week at an opinion posted on CNN: Thank You, Miss America by Roxanne Jones.

Since the skills expression and reflection are up first this year, the Miss America piece provided a timely sample that not only demonstrated the main tool of reflection (looking back so one can move forward) but also opened the door for students to actively reflect and express on the topic of diversity during the activity.

While reading the article aloud together, students used post-its to mark lines or ideas that confused them, made them think, or inspired them to debate, cheer, or wonder. As we finished, I asked them to write a note on the post-it that highlighted their thoughts--one post-it would be placed on a classroom poster framing a copy of the article, and the rest would be placed in their writer's notebook (for possible future reflection). Of course, I wrote and shared my own post-its.

Expression and reflection are the two places I began with this year because, after rereading my notes from Kelly Gallagher's Write Like This, these specific components of writing exist within most types of writing students will do: informative, narrative, evaluation, argument, judgment, and persuasion.

As my 8th grade students read about some recent American failures of diversity, they also saw Jones use both expression and reflection to lead the reader forward into a proposed better future--a future that they have the power to affect and change right here in their own classrooms and homes.

From her personal experiences, Jones shared:
The beauty pageant circuit is a tough act, as I learned early from my fleeting experiences as a teen who participated in several pageants. Don't laugh, that college scholarship money is no joke. Back then, there were no other brown girls on the stage. No matter. My family and friends cheered me on and told me how beautiful I was -- and I had the audacity to believe them.

Looking forward, she opened the eyes of my young readers with information few realized:
Miss America, I hope you use your crown and platform well and that you have the courage to amplify the voices of those women and girls back in your ancestral home, India, who are valiantly fighting for full equality and the right to live without fear of the brutal sexual violence that plagues that nation.

Truly looking back so that we may look forward, Jones' essay prodded more questions from my kids:
Reject the critics -- men and women -- who bash women like television personality Julie Chen for getting plastic surgery after being told by her bosses nearly 20 years ago that her Asian eyes would hurt her career. Chen made her choice back then, and brava for her for starting a public debate now about Asian beauty standards.

Digging deeper, and sharing why these points matter not only to us but also to the writer, she writes:
Was it an awful message to give women in the workplace? Yes. But it's no different from the countless occasions throughout my career that I've witnessed women being told that they are too fat, too black or too Latina to succeed. In my first television job, the news director told me that I should study Diane Sawyer's look and voice in order to be better at my job -- like I was ever going to look like Diane. Thank goodness Oprah came along.

Finally, the conclusion offers a point of view that inspired my classroom of readers to reflect upon themselves--and their own possibilities:
But to succeed, we must deal with it; work to improve the environment for the women behind us, and move on with our lives. There's room on the stage for all types of beauty.

The post-its generated by my students are possible topics for an upcoming draft focused on expression and reflection. Ten student comments and questions from the post-its:

  • It is amazing how many people feel that they have make insults about people of another race to feel good about themselves.
  • It is difficult to put yourself out in a place of such vulnerability and share your talents just to be judged by so many people.
  • I adore this line where she said "There's room on the stage for all types of beauty." This really made me think about how many people get turned down from being on stage just because of how they look, not for their pure talent.
  • I like how the author said "beauty was Nina Davuluri." The wording was so powerful and made a strong point.
  • Why should a woman have to change her look to be on T.V.?
  • Why are some people so mean about other people's looks?
  • Since when does beauty depend on skin color. Beauty comes from within. Nina has put up with a lot of hate, just because she won a Miss America pageant, why? She is still American.
  • I enjoy that more children are able to relate to her, and that she, above all, still thinks of herself as American.
  • I like "There's room on the stage for all types of beauty" because it meant to me that you don't have to be the prettiest person and that not only one person should be thought of as beautiful.
  • There will always be haters, don't keep your head down, and stand up, and rage on.

And then some used our classroom blog as a forum to continue their expression and reflection. In this piece, my student, Suchi, reflects that she used to wonder what it would be like if she weren't Indian, but never uttered those words because of the disrespect it would bring to her culture.

At the end, she expresses pride...and gives a nod to the celebration of diversity and strength brought into the light by the crowning of Nina Davuluri.

All of this discussion, reflection, and expression was generated from one shared lesson. The day's work will be an option for a more formally developed and polished essay at the end of the month, but even if some students never revisit this specific celebration and challenge to American diversity, this modeled and practiced skill will serve them all well as they move forward to our next article, their next class, and the rest of their academic careers.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Google Hangout...for Homework?!

Tomorrow night, on Google Hangouts, I will be leading my classes through a 20-30 minute review of fragments and run-ons before their quiz on Thursday. 

Yes, I said "night."

Completely experimental, I am hoping to find some success with Google Hangouts from home so that I can open it up to other opportunities for the students. Part of my vision is having an occasional guest speaker for the kids to listen to some nights. I can imagine another teacher, an author, an artist, or historian, sharing a few anecdotes that may help enhance something we are discussing in class. I see using it 1-2 nights per month this year.

Perhaps one of the next nights will feature several of us reading some Civil War letters or poetry or original texts the night before our field trip to Gettysburg?

While Google Hangouts only allows a few people to actually be in the room, it does permit everyone (as long as they have an invitation when it is private) to watch the discussion. 

In the future I can see myself using "Today's Meet" or even my classroom Twitter account as a backchannel to enable contributions from the kids watching.

It isn't mandatory and I am not offering a homework grade or points for it--I am simply offering the help for those who want it. Those who want to come, can come.

In the future it will be used for enrichment, or engagement with a writer, sor omething to make their experience as an 8th grader in my class a little richer and little more interesting.

To set it up, I used the "Events" feature in Google+ to schedule the video chat and to send out invitations. Also included on my invite list were my principal and IT professional for our building.

In addition to my talk, I shared the upcoming Google Hangout scheduled by New York Times best selling author Lauren Oliver. She and a panel of writers will be hanging out to talk about banned books, censorship, and writing about difficult themes. Several of my students are excited to listen to an author they read and know speak about such an important subject.

These kinds of opportunities were not available to me as an adolescent...heck, they were not even available ten years ago...three years ago? 

Stay tuned...