Tag Archives: middle level

5 Easy Steps to Create a Successful Story This School Year

Dru Tomlin, director of middle level services for the Association for Middle Level Education (AMLE), is a great believer in the narrative as “an act of restoration and rejuvenation.”

In fact, he claims that the classic plot diagram is the perfect tool to help us examine our own school and classroom stories as well — to both “look back and plan ahead.”

Skeptical? Read his “five easy steps to create a successful story” for this next school year and decide for yourself!

laptop-books_iStock_000015527009_MediumSTEP 1: Highest Point of Action

Every good story has a climax (a dangerous word in middle school, so be careful). This is the story’s highest point of action. In terms of classroom and school improvement, this would be a goal or an aim.

What do you want to achieve as a classroom teacher next year? What do you hope to achieve as a school administrator? What is a goal you have for your interdisciplinary team?

Pick one goal and make that the highest point of action in your story. And if you can determine the month when you want to achieve that goal, that’s even better (and also important for step 3).

STEP 2: Characters

Every good story has a setting and characters. The setting for classroom and school improvement can be very broad or very specific, depending on your goal in step 1.

For instance, if your goal is to improve vocabulary acquisition in every seventh-grade science class, the setting is going to be fairly broad—those classrooms—and the characters are going to be all of the seventh-grade students. However, if your goal is to engage reluctant readers by building a classroom library in your sixth-grade ELA class, the setting and the characters are more specific.

For the characters in your story, there are other vital considerations. As you try to reach the goal you’ve chosen, you will have the support of protagonists (helpers, heroes, positive folks) and the challenge of antagonists (detractors, villains, negative folks) along the way. There will be people who believe in your goal, and those who may want to tear it down. As you plan for classroom and school improvement, it’s critical to identify those people now so you can figure out how you are going to work with both your protagonists and antagonists. . . .

STEP 3: Rising Actions

Every good story builds with rising action towards the highest point of action. These are the internal and external conflicts, the plot twists, and the unexpected triumphs that make a story cook leading up to the high point or climax.

When planning ahead toward your goal for next school year, you can anticipate what these rising actions may be, and because you have your characters in mind, you can anticipate with whom they may happen, as well. And if you’ve chosen the month or date you want to achieve your goal, you can plot out these rising actions on your school year calendar.

For instance, if you are trying to win over reluctant readers with a classroom library by November, what do you need to do by September—and what challenges do you think you’ll face and from whom? If you want to get all science teachers on board with vocabulary acquisition by January, when are you going to introduce them to Frayer Diagrams—and who will resist you in that effort?

Plotting out the rising actions towards a classroom or school improvement goal is a great way to build a successful story for you, your students, and your school.

STEPS 4 & 5: Falling Actions and Denouement

Every good story has time for reflection and celebration. Once you’ve reached the climax of your story and you’ve achieved your classroom or school improvement goals, the next steps are also essential parts of a successful story—though they sometimes are forgotten. The falling actions and the denouement of a story help us see the “so what?” elements. This is the time in a story when characters look back on their achievement to wonder, celebrate, and consider what went well and what went wrong along the way.

In terms of classroom and school improvement planning, it’s important to think ahead about those moments in your story too. When and how will you assess and celebrate your achievement? For whom will you raise the praise? Where will these assessments and celebrations take place? If things did not go well, how will you keep your characters hopeful for the future? What enduring themes do you hope to learn and for your students, content area teachers, or team members to learn?

Asking these questions after reaching your goal is not just a nice thing to do; rather, it is a vital action. It will help you, your students, your team, and your school become more reflective, and it will help them set goals and plan more effectively in the future.

This text is excerpted with permission from the blog Your Class and School Improvement: Plotting it Out, by Dru Tomlin, director of middle level services for the Association for Middle Level Education. @DruTomlin_AMLE.

Why We Need to Talk about Gender in Our Teaching




“English language arts classrooms can be significant sites for combating homophobia and heterosexism in schools, and reading LGBT-themed literature is one of the best ways to do this work.”

Yesterday NCTE posted a new NCTE Guideline, Diverse Gender Expression and Gender Non-Conformity Curriculum in English Grades 7-12, developed by the members of the Gender and Literacy Assembly of NCTE (formerly known as the Women in Literacy and Life Assembly (WILLA) of NCTE).

In keeping with the NCTE Resolution on Strengthening Teacher Knowledge of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender (LGBT) Issues, the new document suggests that in our classrooms we focus on texts representing a diverse range of people including those who are LGBTQ and/or gender non-conforming. The guideline advocates that by doing this we’ll meet all students’ needs and help all students develop complex ways of understanding gender through an “equitable focus on issues honoring a range of diverse expressions related to gender and gender non-conformity.”

Caroline T. Clark and Mollie V. Blackburn note in their English Journal article “Reading LGBT-Themed Literature with Young People: What’s Possible?” that while scholars urge us to teach LGBT literature, doing so is not as easy selecting a text with a gay protagonist for a class read. They suggest that  heterosexism and homophobia are already part of the classroom, so we’ll need to use a variety of strategies to counter these beliefs as we introduce LGBTQ texts:

  • Position your students as LGBT people or their straight allies. They are likely being positioned as straight and/or homophobic in most other parts of their lives (e.g., the English teacher who describes to her students the male protagonist in a story as “every girl’s dream,” or the football coach who refers to his players as “a bunch of girls”).
  • When students position themselves as homophobic, introduce them to other possible positionings by reading LGBT-themed literature with them.
  • Read LGBT-themed literature with students across the school year in association with a variety of topics and units.
  • Include a wide range of literature that works to serve as mirrors and windows for diverse students.
  • Choose literature that does not just make homosexuality visible, but also shows queer people in queer communities; young people need to know that being gay does not mean being alone.
  • Choose high-quality, pleasurable YA literature, and involve students in making those choices.
  • Invite a wide range of ways to respond to this literature.
  • Work with like-minded colleagues to recognize and challenge each other’s biases and to support one another to use LGBTQ literature.
  • Engage in the perpetual process of making educational contexts more LGBTQ-friendly every day.

Along with this advice, find more resources on these lists which accompany the guideline for ideas to apply to your own teaching: Websites for Lesson Plans for Gender Representation (Grades 9-12)   and Selective Bibliography on Gender in the Classroom with Emphasis on Gender and Media Literacy .