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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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Using Listicles for Literary Analysis

Whenever my students and I come to the end of any novel study, I’ve always struggled with finding that perfect and elusive “closing” activity—the lesson that can somehow do justice to our novel study before we move on to the next text. While we often do some sort of writing that helps students synthesize their ideas, I don’t think that we always have to write the traditional literary analysis paper in order to engage students in higher level thinking.

In recent years, I’ve shifted my reading and writing practices to try to be as authentic as possible. Whenever I revisit my approach to a text, I ask myself: How authentic is the learning we’re doing? In what ways is the work we do in class work that’s done only in school or work that reflects the type of reading, writing, and thinking that’s out in the world, beyond our classrooms?


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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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NCTE17: Bust a (Writing) Move with Swipe Folders

Although we’ve been sharing and writing on the same online space on Moving Writers, there’s nothing like being able to present in real life! together like we did at #NCTE17. Rebekah O’Dell compiled and posted a recap of our session highlights HERE on

Click HERE for my specific slide deck on using Steal Like an Artist Swipe Folders with students to curate mentor texts.

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NCTE17: Ignite! What does “compassion” really mean?

Ever since I attended my first Ignite session at NCTE in 2014, I’ve been fascinated by them. These intense, 5-minute presentations by some of the best thinkers in the literacy world were fast-paced and packed with so many practical, inspiring ideas. I was honored to have an opportunity at #NCTE17 to participate in my first Ignite session alongside some truly incredible individuals (special shout out to Amy Rasmussen and Susan Barber who kept me sane during the preparation process!).

Click HERE to see my slides from this presentation, in which I share an inquiry into the definition of “compassion,” including mentor texts, and culminates with students writing their own definition essay.

NOTE: Permission to use with written request and proper attribution; please email. Thank you!

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NCTE17: From Book Love to Book Action

One of my favorite things about #NCTE17 was having the opportunity to present alongside my good friends and Heinemann Fellows colleagues, Kate Flowers and Anna Osborn. Session description:

This workshop is for teachers who have decided to implement independent reading and want to extend their practice. Here, teachers share strategies, materials, and resources for creating whole-class and independent reading experiences designed for transfer; building text complexity for young men of color; and using authentic accountability to create a transformative reading experience for diverse students.

Click HERE to view the slides from our presentation.

NOTE: Permission to use with written request (send us an email!) and proper citation – thank you!

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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.)