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Disrupting Texts as a Restorative Practice

One of the wonderful things that the #DisruptTexts chat has brought is opportunities to talk with teachers about what disruption can look like in the English classroom. Yesterday was one of those days as our team was invited to talk with teachers at an NCTE Summer Institute workshop run by Ken Lindblom and Leila Christenbury called “Continuing the Journey: Becoming a Better Teacher of Literature.”

Yesterday at the workshop, Ken opened with the question, “What does it mean to #DisruptTexts?” My initial response was to frame it within the context of our classrooms. And so #DisruptTexts for me involves at least two related and necessary moves: Read More

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A thought experiment on our reading lives (part 1)

I‘ve been in a serious writing slump over the last year or longer. I don’t know what it is. I joked with a friend that since I’ve been engaging and thinking more on Twitter that I’ve only been able to think in 240 characters at a time. It’s become a real problem.

But someone suggested seeing the micro-writing I’m doing on Twitter as small, rough drafts—pieces of thinking, some scrappier than others, that I might be able to reflect upon, cobble some thoughts together, and then explore a bit deeper. A few days ago, I posted a thread reflecting on the diversity of my own reading life, so I want to include those thoughts and expand a little on them here.   Read More

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Leaning into Difficult Topics: Toward an Informed Stance

After the Parkland school shooting in February, we witnessed something tangible shift in our discourse about school safety and gun regulation.

Nationally, we saw and still see young people like the Parkland student survivors stand up and make their voices heard, including the CNN sponsored town hall with Florida politicians and a coordinated student-led walkout on March 14 in schools across the country. With the increased attention to issues related to gun control and gun rights, we’ve also seen some (though not enough) discourse around the history of activism among students of color regarding school safety and gun reform.  And this weekend, millions are expected to gather for March for Our Lives events around the country to advocate for gun reform.

But something shifted, too, among my students. All politics is local, and the fears and challenges that have increased in the wake of the Parkland shooting has become personal for many of my students. In fact, shortly after the shooting, several of my own students asked me to sponsor a new club, Students Against Gun Violence. They hope to not just increase awareness through greater education on gun control issues, but to also advocate for change that will keep students safe in schools. They want change, and inspired by their fellow young people at Parkland and across the country, they don’t want to wait for the change to happen—they want to do something.

Yet in my actual classes, students didn’t bring up Parkland and many seemed content to go on with class, business as usual. But as a teacher, it seemed strange to continue with the lesson of the day with so much happening in the world affecting our students’ lives. Perhaps it was me: maybe students feel comfortable with me leading us through these messy conversations. I know the routine and ritual of school can also be comforting for kids. Or perhaps it was a lack of awareness or disinterest. But no, I knew that wasn’t true. You could hear their conversations in the hallways, on social media, and in the library. Students were already talking about these issues, which made me wonder: How? Who was leading them through these difficult conversations? If school is any kind of reflection of the outside world, I wondered, how many of their conversations included multiple perspectives? How critical was their media consumption? How were they processing the endless stream of noise? How were they distinguishing the shouting from the dialogue?


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Slice of Life 1: Is it March already?

This is my fourth year doing the Slice of Life Challenge. Even though I’d been planning on participating again this year, I almost forgot about it until someone (thank you, Aeriale!) asked if I was slicing again this year. Is it March already? 

To be honest, I thought about not participating. Even though I’m always telling myself I’m going to be better at managing my commitments, it’s really hard to do. Unfortunately, in the busyness of life, writing is usually one of the first things that ends up pushed off for another day and then the momentum is lost. I try to do the weekly Slice of Life throughout the year, but the last time I wrote for that was back in November, and before that, I think it might have been sometime last summer. It’s okay, I told myself. Just make it up in the March challenge.  Well, it’s March, and here we are.  Read More

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Slice of Life: Insomnia

My 7-year-old currently claims that he has a hard time falling asleep. He’s not lying exactly. The other night, I sat next to his bed in the too-small-for-a-grown-up beanbag chair, waiting for him to nod off. He tossed, turned, tossed some more. Finally, I squeezed in next to him. He cuddled into the crook of my arm; within minutes, he was asleep—and so was I.

Last night, the same thing happened, except that I woke up at 1:36 a.m. and then couldn’t go back to sleep. Groggy, I trudged down the hallway in search of the comfort of my own bed, my familiar pillow. Yet as my husband snored peacefully, I tossed, turned, tossed some more. I remained awake for the rest of the night.  Read More

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Slice of Life: Write—just write.

It’s been a while since I did some writing for myself. I’ve written for Moving Writers and for a few others blogs, but I haven’t really written for myself in a while. The last time I really wrote anything meaningful was back in July. It was about an incident that happened at the pool that included my son, a bully, and a hope that the next time, things will be different. I still think about that piece.

I’ve often heard of reading and writing compared to breathing—when we read, we inhale, and when we write, we exhale.

I’ve been holding my breath for a while now.  Read More

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Oh the Places You’ll Go: Mentor Text for Writing About a Meaningful Place

Each year, my students compose a series of brief writing pieces—each one describing a person, place, or thing. Currently, students are working on their “person” essay—a personal essay inspired by the beautiful mentor text, “The Stranger in the Photo is Me” by Don Murray. The essay is a meditation on memory and identity, and as students write their own essay, like Murray, they look at photographs from their own lives to help the unearth and reconnect with the people they once were. Students also read Joan Didion’s “On Keeping a Notebook” as an additional mentor text for looking at the way memory and identity can be explored in writing.

So while students draft this essay, I’ve been looking for additional mentor texts for their next piece, the “place” essay. While both Murray’s and Didion’s essays include places—both physical and emotional—I wanted a few more mentor texts that really focused on defining a place through rich and vivid description. By writing about a meaningful place in their lives, students might also sharpen their observational and descriptive writing skills. My hope is that by focusing on how to write about a person, place, and eventually, a thing, students can then draw on these writing experiences and synthesize these skills when writing longer pieces later this year.

The only problem was that I was I wasn’t sure which mentor texts to use for place. Although I had a few I’d used in the past, my collection felt a little stale. So I put a call out on Twitter with this simple request:

As you can see, I posted this Tweet at 3:15 on a Saturday afternoon. I wasn’t sure what kind of response I’d get—it was the weekend, after all—but I should have known better. Within 24 hours, I had dozens of responses, many from the Moving Writers team, but many others from wonderful teachers from across the country. Suggestions included passages from non-fiction, fiction, poetry, and children’s books. The generosity of teachers to share their expertise, their time, their love for their work and their students—it will never cease to amaze me.

While you can explore the thread on Twitter, I decided to compile the list here in this post for easier reference. Below are the mentor texts and the teachers who shared them. (I’m also currently in the process of copying them into the Moving Writers Mentor Text Dropbox—some of the texts are linked to where I’ve saved them so far. When images were shared of mentor texts on Twitter, I linked to those Tweets, and if the text was easily available online, I also linked to those texts.)


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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