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Ask Moving Writers: Mentor Sentences

Hi, Beth!

Thanks for asking. As you know, mentor texts can be incredibly powerful tools to help students see the beauty in our language—and studying mentor texts at the sentence level can help students see what happens when we craft together the best words in the best order.

I almost always use mentor texts to teach craft at the sentence level. We start each day with a notebook prompt, and I often use brief excerpts from essays or novels that illustrate thoughtful sentence crafting. 

When I use mentor texts to teach at the sentence level, I focus three different elements: diction, syntax, and punctuation.


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Ask Moving Writers: In Pursuit of Meaningful Feedback

Hi, Elizabeth!

First, thank you for asking this important question! We know how important it is to find ways to give meaningful and timely feedback to students. But we also know how limited our time is—there are only so many minutes in a day, in a class, during prep periods, after school, before school. Finding time for effective feedback is the holy grail of English teachers everywhere. 🙂

Second, just a warning that this response is much longer than I initially intended—but when it comes to feedback there is just so much to say! I’ll be going into my 17th year of teaching this fall, and in those years, I still haven’t found the answer when it comes to giving effective feedback. But every year, I think I get a little closer. So much of teaching is just a series of relentless tweaking, here and there, to make our practice just a little bit better from one moment to the next, all in the service of our students.

This (long) post is a result of all that relentless tweaking.


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Slice of Life: The next time…

At an ILA panel on Saturday, graphic novelist Gene Yang shared how much superheroes and comics meant to him and for his reading life when he was growing up. The panel, titled “Disrupting a Destructive Cycle,” focused on how we can work to disrupt the systemic inequalities in our schools. I didn’t get a chance to go to ILA this year, so I’m thankful that this important conversation was livestreamed (you can view the archived video here).

During the panel, the moderator, journalist Nikole Hanna-Jones, asked each of the panelists to talk a little bit about the value of seeing themselves (or not) in the books they read. Yang’s response (emphasis added):

“When I was kid it was hard to find stories with characters who looked like me or lived like me in the books that I was reading, in the shows that I was watching, in the movies I was watching. And I think you just gravitate . . . grab what you can.

I am a lifelong superhero fan. I think one of the reasons I love superheroes so much is because every superhero has that dual identity. They are negotiating between two different ways of being. And as an Asian American, that was my reality. I had two different names: I had a Chinese name I used at home and an American name I used at school.  I spoke two different languages, lived under two different cultural expectations. So when I watched Clark Kent change into Superman in my comic, somehow that felt familiar. I tried to find what I could.”

There is so much in Yang’s response that resonates with my own experience—and I’m going to guess likely resonates with the experiences of many POC. I could write a whole post and then some on this (and I will). But that’s not what this post is about—not entirely. Read More

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Slice of Life: Embarrassment

It was the first day of class, and we talked about embarrassment.

Not in the “share your most embarrassing moment” get-to-know/team-building exercise way. One of the most embarrassing moments of my teaching was when I went to school with two different shoes on. And as you can see in the picture at the right, they were really different. But after laughing about it with  my students—and getting teased a bit from my colleagues—everything turned out okay. The world didn’t end and now it’s the story I tell when someone asks us to “share our most embarrassing moment.”

But that’s not the embarrassment we talked about yesterday. The embarrassment we talked about is more powerful and pernicious, permeating our practice, often without us even realizing it.  Read More

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How do we challenge our students—and ourselves—as readers?

Like most English teachers, one of the things I love most about the summer is time to read for pleasure. While my favorite reading spot in the winter is that comfy corner on my sofa, in the summer, nothing beats sitting poolside, the sun warming my face as I escape into another world.

I know many of my students feel the same way, which is why giving students opportunities to read for pleasure during the school year and during the summer is so valuable. Choice matters. There are too many books in the world for students to be limited by the choices their teachers make for them.

Now, to be clear, I’m not suggesting that teachers are trying to limit students’ experiences. After all, the foundation of our work is to broaden our students’ horizons. And when we assign this book or that, it’s usually because we believe that the texts we choose will do exactly that—broaden their experiencesespecially if it’s a text students might not otherwise choose for themselves.

But what if, instead of choosing a specific title for students to read, what if we encouraged them to broaden their horizons by making choices for themselves.


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4 Ways of Looking at a Mentor Text: Incidental Comics

The school year is winding down—and I find myself thinking more and more of warm poolside days—yet everywhere I turn, rich mentor texts seem to come my way. I’ll find something and think, “Oh, that would have been perfect to use with ____” or “That would have worked great with ____!” Although it may be too late to use these ideas this year, I click my bookmark button and tuck them away for next year.

One mentor text I can’t wait to use is Grant Snider’s Incidental Comics. Although I’m usually suspicious of most social media “suggestions,” I have to thank Facebook’s algorithm for introducing me to Snider’s work. I’m surprised that I hadn’t come across Grant Snider’s work before. As someone who loves the way words and pictures can work together, whether it’s through infographics or graphic novels, the moment I started browsing Snider’s work, I fell in love. And once my teacher-brain took over, I couldn’t stop imagining the possibilities for reading and writing for next year.

This post was originally published on Moving Writers. CLICK HERE TO CONTINUE READING.

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Fearless Reading (and Analysis)

Ever since the NCTE Convention in November, I’ve been thinking a lot about the theme of advocacy. How can we advocate for our students—and the teaching practices that we know will best serve them? How can we help students advocate for themselves—on their own behalf and perhaps more importantly, on behalf of others? How can we help students advocate for issues that can help make their world and our society a better place?

As educators, we know the power of empathy. Just yesterday, as we finished up our unit on Adichie’s Purple Hibiscus, my students and I discussed how important that novel is to our understanding of others around us who may be feel vulnerable or disempowered. Literature has the unique power to allow us to walk around in another character’s point-of-view, to broaden and deepen our own experiences so that we can become, ultimately, more understanding fellow human beings.

But lately I’ve been thinking that literature, by itself, may not be enough. If we read books, no matter how rich and wonderful and engaging they are, but we fail to expose students to study today’s relevant social issues, we miss an opportunity to help students to read the world. And in this era of #fakenews, reading the world may be more important than ever.

This post was originally published on Write. Share. Connect. at the PA Writing & Literature Project Blog. CLICK HERE TO CONTINUE READING.

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Argument in the Wild: Reading & Writing from Media-Rich Texts

The idea that “everything’s an argument” seems almost too obvious these days. After all, talk to almost any adolescent today and it’s clear how aware they are of the ways in which they are constantly being persuaded, whether it’s an editorial from the Wall Street Journal or The New York Times, the latest newscast from CNN or The Daily Show, or the pop-up mobile ad for an item students were browsing earlier.

That said, we all know that as tech and media-savvy our Generation Z students seem to be, students may still lack the close reading, analytical skills necessary to understand not just that they are being persuaded, but how that persuasion is happening. And because “everything’s an argument,” the sheer volume of messages can be overwhelming.

This post was originally published on Moving Writers. CLICK HERE TO CONTINUE READING.

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Slice of Life 30: Almost there

This is my thirtieth consecutive day blogging. I am exhausted. It’s my third year finishing the Slice of Life challenge, but this year feels different. I wonder if it’s because spring break is so much later this year; even without the work (and joy) of daily blogging, I’m pretty sure I’d still be this spent. But tomorrow is the last day (I think I can, I think I can). Almost there…

A colleague today said to me, “You must be exhausted.” She was referring to the work I’m doing in a new course I’m teaching this year, but really, she could have been talking about any part of my life. I am exhausted. But it’s all my own fault, really. When I think about all the things going on in my life, I chose every single one of them. It’s hard to complain when you’re in a hell of your own making (okay, hell is too strong a word, but somehow the expression fits). Read More