Tag Archives: Writing

Mrs. Stuart Goes to Washington: Policy Brief, Assessment and Back to School

Project: Policy Brief

Oh, the wonderful world of writing policy briefs. This week was spent working on a piece for the National Council of Teachers of English. We are trying to uncover who is teaching English and how these educators feel about a range of topics. There is data on teachers in general, but not a lot on teachers of English specifically. As an organization, we wanted to learn about this critical group of educators. Here are some questions that arose during my research:

  1. What might the race and gender of our teachers tell us about the ways we connect with our students?
  2. Why is it important to look at the levels of education a teacher has achieved?
  3. In a post–Common Core world, have levels of job satisfaction changed?
  4. What are the professional learning needs of teachers of English?

The most glaring fact so far has been the lack of current research on teachers. The U.S. Department of Education is set to release the next set of data end of summer/beginning of fall.

You know what they say about assessment …

I took a break from writing and research to meet with Miah Daughtery, the Director of English Language Arts and Literacy at Achieve. A fellow Wolverine, Miah and I discussed everything from ideas for getting kids to read—The Reading Minute by Kelly Gallagher—was new to me! to understanding why standardized assessments are so long (if you don’t know what a psychometrician is, then you probably don’t know the answer). One thing that was suggested in my district was that we write our own district-wide benchmarks. It was such a casual comment to our little department of 10 teachers that it seemed like a simple idea. Miah and I discussed how complicated writing assessment is, especially if it is assessment that you are going to use to make claims about student achievement. Miah has a presentation called “The Top 25 Ways a Test Item Can Be Flawed.” There are more than 25? The moral of the story is, folks, we need to revisit our benchmark plan. Miah suggested checking out the assessments from Achieve the Core, so I’m going to start there.

Oh and I’m back in the classroom on Monday

When my eyes got tired of looking at data, I turned my attention to my classroom. I have 6th and 8th graders reporting to me, excited yet sleepy, Monday. As most teachers do, I have grand plans for the year. These include, but are not limited to

  • infusing global education in all of my units, and building a website for my students to interact with me while I am on my study abroad, probably on Facebook or a page on my personal site
  • getting my kids to enjoy reading (also, getting them to actually read)—this means getting my classroom library in order, which terrifies me
  • doing daily read-alouds and maybe the Reading Minute
  • pairing contemporary texts with my mandated curriculum

I’m open to ideas!

 

Seriously, need to get it together! What a mess.

The Ten Journals of NCTE

journalcoversAs a teacher, I often spend the summer getting caught up on things I set aside during the school year. When I am busy teaching, I might skim my professional journals but not read them deeply. But in summer, I enjoy spending time immersing myself in professional publications.

Did you know that NCTE publishes ten peer-reviewed journals? They offer the latest in research, classroom strategies, and fresh ideas for educators at all levels.

  1. College Composition and Communication
  2. College English
  3. English Education
  4. English Journal
  5. English Leadership Quarterly
  6. Language Arts
  7. Research in the Teaching of English
  8. Talking Points
  9. Teaching English in the Two-Year College
  10. Voices from the Middle

Journals are available in print and online, along with an extensive archive of past issues. To access back issues, click on the “Individual Issues” link in the left menu of each journal. Make sure to dig into the additional online content that many of these journals have to offer!

Interested in submitting to a journal? Check out these calls.

What are you reading professionally this summer?

Can Poetry Help Us To Shape a More Just World?

This is the fourth installment of the NCTE Citizenship Campaign, a blog series sponsored by the NCTE Standing Committee on Citizenship. This month’s theme is using poetry to spark civic engagement. It is written by Duane Davis.

My first instinct as a teacher of English and longtime member of NCTE was to put this month’s theme together through song lyrics.  This would likely have resulted in a deconstruction of the work of Kendrick Lamar, Tupac Shakur, and certainly a mention of Nikki Giovanni’s Poem, “For Tupac.”  I also considered an exploration of poetic justice through the lens of the current political assault on education.

Instead, I decided to ditch both of those ideas and use this space to discuss the work and life of the recently fallen poet, Derek Walcott.  In the proud tradition of “artist on the margins,” Walcott embarked on a journey to create a myth on the level of Beowulf and Virgil, in his epic poem Omeros. I have been fortunate in my life to have English instructors who exposed me to art that challenged my view of the world, my community and myself. In Walcott I found someone who spoke to the ideas that were circulating in my head: global racial formation and its effects on space, language, and identity.  If you don’t know Walcott already, here are some links to explore:

Walcott’s poem is epic and Afro-futuristic and magical realism and intersectional rolled into one.  Ultimately, he reminds us through his work that with art at the center, understanding and acceptance can be the norm and not the outlier. It is not enough to observe and comment on society. You have to enact and activate in order to seek the justice necessary for equity and equality.

As educators, we have to remember that our daily choices, from the greeting at the door (for all levels), to the selection of text, to the type of assessments we give, illuminate our beliefs about the world—who we read, how we interact and what we say.  To that end, I am also including a few links to national poetry organizations that encourage student voice and often through the subject matter explore issues of equality and justice.

While it is not our job to imbue students with our personal ideology, it is our job to give them the tools necessary to critically understand, reflect, respond and evaluate their world and their own ideology.  Poetry is a vehicle for reading and learning the views of others and exploring our own ways of seeing the world.

More Poetry Resources

Writing Lessons from a Shopping List

The following is excerpted from Jonathan Bush’s “Lessons on Writing from a Clueless Shopper” at Writers Who Care.

jonathanbushI’m a pretty good teacher of writing, but I am one of the worst grocery shoppers. I often have an interest in unique and useless items, and I’m apt to buy things close to what we need, rather than the exact item.

Luckily, I am married to one of America’s greatest shopping list writers. And, like a good writer does, she uses her writing to solve problems and create solutions. She has produced some of the most rhetorically savvy and smart pieces of writing the world has ever seen (and targeted at one of the worst audiences, too!).

Effective writing is, first and foremost, about audiences: how to interact, teach, and reach those audiences, no matter the situation or context.

How then does my wife effectively use rhetoric to write a shopping list that will help me come home with a can of chicken broth, rather than a whole chicken (they’re pretty much the same thing, right?)?

  1. Through effective organization. All items on the list are written exactly in the order that I will encounter them while I shop. This is genius. Not only does it keep me on track and focused on what we need, but it also provides navigational triangulation. Each item geographically follows the previous item. If I encounter an item two-down on my list and I see that there’s a missing item in between that and the last item I picked up, I know that it is somewhere between those two items. Thus, the hunt begins, with the quarry cornered into a small area of aisle ten – between bagels and hamburger buns.
  2. Through short and focused messaging. The use of words on her lists is minimal. Only one verb is needed – and it’s only implicit – “shop!” Every phrase or word is precious and meaningful and detailed.
  3. Through research and knowledge. There is little guesswork in these lists. She knows the layout of our local store in intimate detail. She knows what items are on sale and which ones have coupons attached (which she helpfully marks with an asterisk).

These shopping lists, then, exemplify some of the core concepts of rhetoric, along with the communication tasks they entail. In many of our classes, we talk about these rhetorical ideas as Genre, Audience, and Purpose, commonly shortened to “GAP.”

This concept of “GAP” can be used to analyze my wife’s shopping list, and why it has been effective with its intended audience. For example:

Genre (the type of writing). My wife understands the context in which the shopping list will be used (mainly balanced on a shopping cart after being rumpled in my jeans). The list must therefore be easy to interpret and read, and things like efficiency and concise language are important, as is organization. Likewise, it needs to be a list, not an essay.

Audience (who will be reading it). Using her knowledge of her audience, she crafts the list in a way that works for me.

Purpose (what the writer wants to accomplish). She has a goal: this list is meant to accomplish an identifiable task. The effectiveness of her list is easy to assess. If there is fresh food in the house, it worked. This is the measure by which all rhetorical writing can be judged – did it cause the action or response the writer was attempting to create? If so, it’s effective writing.

No matter how humble or common the task, good writers know their audiences and know that effective writing depends on the author’s understanding of the entire writing situation – the audience and purpose, and the most appropriate genre to be used. These are also the things teachers value in authentic writing classes, and they present the ideas that can be emphasized by parents or community members who mentor children when they look at any and all types of writing, asking questions such as:

  • Why do you think they wrote that?
  • Who do you think they are writing to?
  • Why did they write that way?

These all provide means for starting this conversation about the complicated and exciting nature of writing and communicating.

A Collaborative Effort

This post is written by NCTE member, Lauren Petri. 

LaurenPetriI have not spoken for almost ten entire minutes in my classroom, and it is both uncomfortable and humbling. They don’t need me today. My seventh hour is participating in their third Philosophical Chairs Debate, and buried underneath my anxiety is a well of pride bubbling over as my students create a deliberative discussion about the prosecution of child soldiers. While I certainly am not the facilitator of this conversation, I can see my thumbprints in their words. More specifically, I can hear the insight and language I gained in Teaching Deliberatively: Writing and Civic Literacy, a 2015 summer graduate class offered through the University of Northern Iowa and Iowa Writing Project, becoming part of my students’ academic and interpersonal interactions.

Many of my students are not tactful. They’re eighth graders and they’re nearly always ready to battle with their words. Their worlds revolve around hallway exchanges and social media sparring. When I started to delve into classroom discussions, I was abruptly met with an uphill battle. My students had plenty of disagreements, but few had the vocabulary to sort through their conflicts productively. So, I started small. I worked with one of my classes to create a list of “sentence starters” to use when in a discussion that involved conflict. We practiced, and practiced, and got better each week. A classroom initially fraught with haphazard comments slowly became one where words were chosen with care and purposeful thought. I began to trust them, and as their positive experiences in my classroom piled up, they began to trust me.

Following Teaching Deliberatively last summer, I was adamant that my classroom would nurture a climate of conversation. As I anxiously anticipated my first year of teaching, I envisioned lively discussions and intrinsically motivated students. However, that is not quite what reality placed in my lap. I was, and still am some days, frustrated with the lack of buy-in from my students. Developing those sentence starters with my class was a huge step toward creating a community of students who are willing to take risks. When my students became more willing to take academic risks, I started to see growth.

In the process of trying to create learners, I can easily forget that I am one as well. In the days following the Teaching Deliberatively course, I realized that I needed to be part of a community of learners if I ever hoped to create one. Follow-up sessions with other cohort members helped. The time I spent engaging in civic discourse with colleagues renewed my own sense of curiosity. So, instead of bulldozing through content, I always stop to ask my students what they think of a particular lesson or activity. Their input has become an essential component of my daily planning. They know that whether the lesson goes without a hitch or flops, we’ll discuss it together. I ask for honesty, and they are experts at being honest with me. We craft the kind of language we need to let us communicate in a way that propels us forward, and I am certain that I am a better teacher because of it.

Lauren Petri is a first year middle school Language Arts teacher in Des Moines, and is a graduate of the University of Northern Iowa.