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!


Creating meaningful student blogs

Yesterday, we created definitions of community, the theme of my composition classes. When I asked students to think of what constituted a successful community, many wonderful words came through. Communication, respect, trust, (not) isolation to name a few. I left with a warm glow: this year is going to be epic.

Have you ever gone to the gym, or tried to go to sleep, and the ideas just don’t stop coming? Well, it hit me like a lightning bolt on the arc climber yesterday: their definitions of successful community are my solution for how to solve last year’s student blog problems.

First, some small background: I’ve been blogging off and on for several years now, and I’ve had students in my creative writing class blog for two of those years. Creative writing students understood the purpose behind their blogs, and the connections they made with other writers was meaningful and pretty amazing. So last year, when I decided to use blogs with my high school composition classes, I thought they would be even more powerful. I was wrong.

Students did not understand the reason behind our publishing. I had asked them to reflect on their own learning and demonstrate their progress towards a particular Common Core standard, and I even had a parent who came in all hot about how terrible Common Core is. I talked him off the ledge when I showed him the standards, but my students did not buy in to the whole concept of reflective blogging anyway.

So now it’s this year, and I have a clearer purpose for their blogs. Less about standards based grading, which I love but the district doesn’t use (yet), and more about building a community of writers. I had planned to require students to comment in a meaningful way on each other’s blogs, and to have them blog fairly frequently. My ideas were reinforced by by the voxer book club that Paul Bailey invited me to join this summer. We’re reading Innovator’s Mindset together, and they have been wonderful to get to know using this new to me technology.

So how will the definitions come into play? Well, blogs are one way to communicate with others beyond our classroom. We can break our isolation from the world, show mutual trust and respect, and learn how to appropriately communicate online. I can’t wait!

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