Adding a little lit to my nonfiction

Image attributed to

An icy wind tickles the inside of her hooded cheek. To protect her hands, she tucks them in her defiant pockets. She is resolute. Relentless lights sear her eyes, and it is not his absence she regrets. No, it is not his absence that makes tears well up, that adds weight to her steps and folds the collar of her coat up to her chin. It is merely the chilling reminder that winter is not yet over.

The above represents a literary nonfiction exercise, where my students use sensory details, imagery, simile, metaphor, and personification to make a photo come alive. Since they are interviewing a person in the community and writing an analysis of how well that community has survived conflict, and because I do not know the people that they plan to interview, this description will become vital to “hook” me into their writing. I can’t wait to read what they write!


Innovation in Writing Conferences

As part of my quest to improve my teaching and stretch my horizons, I am taking part in a Voxer book discussion. This blog post represents my reflection on Chapter 1 of George Couros’s Innovator’s Mindset.

First, a little background. Although I am in my seventeenth year of teaching, this is the first year I have taught College Composition. For those of you that are not Ohio teachers, there is a push for high school students to get college credit for the classes they take. Teachers must be certified to teach these classes, are observed by the college, and must submit college aligned course syllabi in order for students to receive credit.

As a first time Composition teacher, I knew that one of the best ways to improve as a writer is for students to not only write frequently but also to receive quality, individual feedback. The traditional way is through a face to face conference, but with 60 students in my composition classes, I found this difficult. I tried group conferences, peer revising, and other more traditional methods, but I was unhappy with the quality of student writing. So I tried something new: using TechSmith’s SnagIt Chrome Extension to screencast my comments about their papers.

Here’s an example of two screencasts, recredited in WeVideo to protect student anonymity:

Using the rubric I provided them, I explained WHY their organization was lacking. Because they had submitted their assignments via Google Classroom, I could highlight one of their sentences and make suggestions to help them improve. While the screencast lacked the “back and forth” that a traditional conference provides, my students found these videos transformational. Their writing improved by leaps and bounds. When offered the option of having me write on their printed papers in place of a video, only three of 60 students opted for the traditional way. When they reflected on their success for the year, many students shared that my videos helped them know how to improve.

I have since heard that many of my fellow high school composition teachers are not commenting on student papers. Instead, they are asking students to peer revise & edit each other’s work, and requiring students to meet face to face in order to resubmit a paper. This, they assure me, saves them time and energy.

Let’s be honest, here. It took my entire Thanksgiving break, my entire Spring break, and untold afternoons and weekends in order to screencast. I had to read students’ papers multiple times. Was it worth it? Well, my students improved amazingly.

Now I have to decide: do I continue to innovate and screencast, or do I require students to work together and abandon my innovation?


Addicted to Statistics

I admit it. I do it every night and sometimes even at school. The longer I do it, the deeper the obsession becomes. I’m obsessed with stats on WordPress.

I only started writing this blog because I planned to ask my students in my Social Media class to follow suit. It’s the same reason I joined Twitter, because how can you teach something without actually done it yourself first? And, like the newbie blogger I am, no one read it. I was shouting in Plato’s cave about the shadows I saw every day, and the rest of the world shook its head and ignored me. And then NaBloPoMo started.

Free confession time. I’m a procrastinator. I enjoy the adrenaline of deadlines, of the axe waiting to cut off my metaphorical head. Although my creative writing teacher in college loved my poetry, the only time I really wrote it was when I was under the gun. Something about the feeling of pressure inspires me. And committing to blogging every day in the month of November sounded right up my alley.

And something strange happened. As I blogged every day, sometimes poetry, sometimes confessionals about my classroom, people started reading. They viewed my posts and even sometimes liked them. Maybe not enough to write a comment, but that’s okay. And then I noticed the little symbols on the top of the admin page, and I was hooked.

It’s fascinating to see how many people poked around at this blog, sometimes just viewing one post and moving on, sometimes lingering and looking around. And it’s addicting. And I don’t even like numbers for the most part. Give me a juicy language puzzle, or a brand new book, an intriguing poem or a moving short story, and I’m your girl. Hand me a pile of data about my classroom and I don’t know what to do with it.

Here’s hoping I can avoid the sports stats’ addicts need to memorize and share what I’ve found. Way to go, WordPress, you’ve actually got this addicted to words women addicted to stats.

Haze of exhaustion

Exhaustion sweeps over me. Normally, I’d be tweeting at #flipclass, but I can barely keep my eyes open. Plus, there’s this new book by Robin McKinley, Shadows, that is sitting next to me on the couch.Typically, I resort to poetry as a blog post when I’m too tired to write longer pieces, since the November writing challenge doesn’t seem to have word count attached to it, but not tonight. Before I say goodnight, a recap of some of my educational day.

I thought I’d finally gotten caught up. I worked like crazy this weekend, finally grading my stack of creative writing prompt responses from my students. I’m hoping to use our schoology site to differentiate for my students in their revisions. I figured out one strength and one weakness, as well as resources to help students overcome their weaknesses. While 1/2 the class is working on a video, the other 1/2 will be working on revising their papers. But then I realize that I only have journals for a handful of kids in my 7th period class, and I ask them about it. It takes several hours of being at home to remember that they might be in a plastic bag at school. Sigh.

In addition, I duked it out with my new assistant principal about the advisability of sending a disruptive, swearing student back to my room after I’d kicked him out. After talking it over with the Intervention Specialist, I made plan #3 for how to accommodate several of my IEP kids who are lost. I posted to our school’s Facebook page about the latest student triumphs.  I met with my mentee about the forms she needs to fill out.

So I’m missing flipclass tonight. And I truly miss my PLN. They pick me up when I am too tired to face Tuesday.

Student Centered Video Projects

To teach my students about indirect characterization, I created this video. In it, I discuss characters from The 5th Wave. This next part we’ll read, Wonderland, introduces a new point of view right, and I plan to ask my students to create their own videos. They can use our class novel, or another novel that they feel passionate about. I think this’ll be really powerful for them. It could be awesome!

Date Night Dissolves

Today, we discussed weighted grades. I offered retests and saw at least one student finally get what we were doing in our novel. I saw my spontaneous project bear intriguing fruit, and waited in vain for a disgruntled parent to come berate me.  I listened to my daughter beg to stay home from dance, and then share how happy she was to go. Whip lash, anyone?

Date night dissolves
into parallel play
as we cordially ignore
one another for
the saturated siren song
of a brand new book.