From October, 2013

One Creative Project : Eight Core Curriculum Standards

Carrie Eneix and I worked on a long-term project with ninth grade students referenced in the following posts:

To briefly summarize the process, here were the stages:

  1. Introducing research in creative writing in conjunction with The Secret Life of Bees
  2. A creative writing assignment incorporating research with a focus to either,  A. use an animal or creature as a metaphor or B. to write as a member of a “self-selected” community
  3. A writer’s workshop to share work and receive feedback
  4. Performance of the final work in front of the class

While this assignment was inherently about “creative writing,” it met many of the Core Curriculum Standards while also engaging students enough to create some of the very best writing and research I have seen in a classroom.  Some of her students’ work literally gave me chills.  I would love to post it here, but alas, I am not able.  I do have many of them recorded and can show them to any interested teacher in the district.

Here is a list of all of the standards addressed by the three-week unit:

  • CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.9-10.3 (Substandards A-E). Write narratives to develop real or imagined experiences or events using effective technique, well-chosen details, and well-structured event sequences.
  • CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.9-10.4 Produce clear and coherent writing in which the development, organization, and style are appropriate to task, purpose, and audience. (Grade-specific expectations for writing types are defined in standards 1–3 above.)
  • CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.9-10.5 Develop and strengthen writing as needed by planning, revising, editing, rewriting, or trying a new approach, focusing on addressing what is most significant for a specific purpose and audience. (Editing for conventions should demonstrate command of Language standards 1–3 up to and including grades 9–10 here.)
  • CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.9-10.7 Conduct short as well as more sustained research projects to answer a question (including a self-generated question) or solve a problem; narrow or broaden the inquiry when appropriate; synthesize multiple sources on the subject, demonstrating understanding of the subject under investigation.
  • CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.9-10.8 Gather relevant information from multiple authoritative print and digital sources, using advanced searches effectively; assess the usefulness of each source in answering the research question; integrate information into the text selectively to maintain the flow of ideas…
  • CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.9-10.9 Draw evidence from literary or informational texts to support analysis, reflection, and research.
  • CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.9-10.10 Write routinely over extended time frames (time for research, reflection, and revision) and shorter time frames (a single sitting or a day or two) for a range of tasks, purposes, and audiences.
  • CCSS.ELA-Literacy.SL.9-10.1 Initiate and participate effectively in a range of collaborative discussions (one-on-one, in groups, and teacher-led) with diverse partners on grades 9–10 topics, texts, and issues, building on others’ ideas and expressing their own clearly and persuasively.

From going through this process, I think I learned how assessing and teaching the skills in the standards can be a rich, creative experience.  It also confirmed for me that students are willing to do amazing work and put in the hard hours if the task is worthwhile and engaging to them; the concepts of rigor and relevance really are entwined.

Overall, I would say working with Eneix and her students was one of the most rewarding and enjoyable experiences I have had thus far as a coach.  Eneix was willing to take a number of risks in the classroom with me- which is not an easy thing to do.  In addition, because I was in her classroom for a longer period of time, I felt I really got to know her style and her students; it became a true “co-teaching” experience.

TEDTalks: Using SOAPSTone Note Taking Method for Speeches

“TED is a nonprofit devoted to Ideas Worth Spreading. It started out in 1984 as a conference bringing together people from three worlds: Technology, Entertainment, Design. Since then its scope has become ever broader…TED conferences bring together the world’s most fascinating thinkers and doers, who are challenged to give the talk of their lives (in 18 minutes or less).” 

-“About TED,”  TED wesbite

TEDTalks are an engaging way to examine elements of speeches, but also elements of non-fiction, information-based texts.  The speech to text conversion is easy because on the TED website, there is a place to “show transcript” for many of the popular speeches (they even offer them in different languages).  Then, the speech can be copied into a Word document.  It might have to be reformatted a little, which I was able to do in five or so minutes.  Once this is done, the speech can be looked at in a number of formats and more easily “read closely.”

This is what Melanie Begley and I did with the Kelly McGonical speech “How to Make Stress your Friend” referenced in a previous post.  We combined this TEDTalk with the SOAPSTone method of note taking.  In the method, students are asked to identify and provide textual evidence for the following: Speaker, Occasion, Audience, Purpose, Subject and Tone.  There is a Power Point and handout (“notes sheet”) for introducing this concept attached at the end of this post.  Here are the learning targets for the lesson:

  • I can define and identify speaker, occasion, audience, purpose, subject, and tone in the context of text analysis.
  • I can analyze texts (in this case speeches) to better understand the author’s message and intention.
  • I can evaluate the effectiveness of a piece of writing (or speech) based upon these factors.

Students had already watched the speech and been given a transcript the previous day, so I introduced the parts of SOAPSTone to them and then gave them time to work in groups on identifying the elements.  Here is the lesson plan we used:

SOAPStone Lesson Plan

  1. Pass out the “SOAPSTone Notes” handout with terms to students and review the learning targets with them, connecting learning to the long-term goal of evaluating sources and using persuasion in their own writing
  2. Using the Power Point, review all elements of the SOAPSTone method with students
  3. Pass out the large SOAPSTone papers to the groups and read the “Activity: In Groups” slide in the Power Point
    1. At this time, let them know they will need the SOAPSTone information and they should either plan to take a picture of it with their phone or copy the group’s work to the graphic organizer provided as they work
    2. Allow students 15-20 minutes to work in groups (depending upon time left in class); While students work, circulate and assist, focusing on the groups identified as needing help from the formative assessment
    3. Stop groups and read the “Rotate” slide
    4. Have students move to the next group’s work and evaluate the analysis using the prompting questions on the slide
    5. In the last five minutes, pass out and explain the exit ticket- due tomorrow

*On an  additional note, we added some time for reflection at the end of the class period, prompting students to consider what they had learned from examining another group’s work.  This was very successful.

While both Melanie and I liked the lesson, activity and materials quite a lot, we both agreed that more time would be needed to really flesh out the details of the process with students.  For example, we only filled out three sections of the SOAPSTone instead of the whole thing.  In addition, they only rotated once to see another group’s work.

Ideally, they would comment on two group’s work and fill out the whole SOAPStone.  Then, we would have them go back to their own paper and revise the notes sheet to reflect what they had learned.

On a sub-note, we did try grouping homogeneously by ability level based upon a formative assessment.  We were not sure how well it worked for this particular activity.

Here are the resources for the lesson:

Technology Post: Feed your Brain with Feedly

RSS Feed

This is the symbol to get the link for RSS feeds. Most blogs (websites with content added regularly) have a link that will either look like this or have the text “RSS Feed.” You can click on these links and get a web address to add to your “feed.”

I recently learned what an RSS feed was.  According to, an RSS (“Real Simple Syndication”) “is a content delivery vehicle.”  A “feed” is when the content is disseminated to an audience.

Why is this interesting?  You can load these “feeds” into a “feeder,” and you don’t have to visit all of the websites to get the information any longer.

I have started using one of these recently that I LOVE.  It is called Feedly. If there are already sites and blogs you check out regularly add those, but they also offer categories of information with lists of suggested sites.  For example, my categories include: writing, teaching, cooking and news among others.  These are some of the sites I have in my “teaching” feed:

This is the website where you can load your feeds:

Feedly JPEG

Really, the best thing about using Feedly is that it can be downloaded as an app, and then you can quickly review the headlines, read the articles, and save/email/post the ones you want from your phone.  the app looks like this once you download it:

Feedly App JPEG

It is very appealing aesthetically, but it is also very user friendly.  After you review the articles automatically fed into Feedly, you can mark the list as “read,” and they disappear.  In addition, you can also place the articles in a “Save for Later” category by holding down on the headline until it blinks.  Then, you can go back and decide what to do with them, whether it is print, post, read or email, all of which could be done from a smart phone.

I have learned a lot of new information about technology and resources for education through using Feedly.  It is a fast, easy way to process information.

Mapping Out Narrative Structure and Author’s Intentions

I had previously posted about the use of the intentional, emotional and physical arc to analyze literature.  I used these concepts, with the addition of the “reader response” arc, with Susan Turley’s HTS 11 class last week to analyze “Where are you Going, Where Have You Been” by Joyce Carol Oates.

The learning targets for the lesson were as follows:

  • žI can identify how writers engage readers through their purposeful development of narrative structure.
  • žI can analyze a text using the arc structures and share my findings with a group in a meaningful way, tying my arguments back to textual evidence.

We began by introducing the concept of the arcs via a Power Point and a diagnostic/notes sheet of narrative terms (see the bottom of this post for resources).  Fortunately, the students were engaged by the ideas presented, and while introducing the emotional arc, the class had an interesting conversation about the possibility of a “flat” character who was also “dynamic.”  Unfortunately, the lesson probably should have been stretched out over three or so days, and we tried introducing it and working with the arcs in the same class period, so we really didn’t get to flesh out the process.

After the initial introduction, students were all asked to define and plot out the intentional arc first, and then also plot an additional arc (reader response, physical or emotional) over top of it.  The students struggled using the arcs because no one was really sure what it should “look like” when they were put on paper.  Since then, I have thought of some ideas that might make this easier.  For example, plotting out five pivotal plot points on the bottom axis and then using them as anchors to graph the changes in emotional or intentional arc as they are relevant in time to those points.

In the long run, the goal of the lesson would be for students to “share out” their arcs and justify their choices with evidence.  We did not get this far, but I think this would be an interesting conversation because the intentional arc for each of the groups will be different.  This being said, I think a debate could even ensue on which narrative arc structure is most accurate or logical.

I would really like to do more work with these in the classroom.  I think they are an interesting tool that has a lot of possibility.  In addition, I have been fortunate enough to be in direct contact with their creator, William Kenower, and he has created some short videos for us about the teaching the intentional arc in literature.

Here is the first of the three videos:

The rest of them can be viewed on his Youtube channel.

Here are the resources for this lesson:

Uniting Against the Stress

“Chasing meaning is better for your health than trying to avoid discomfort… Go after what creates meaning in your life and trust yourself to handle the stress that follows.”

-Kelly McGonical, TED Talk “How to Make Stress your Friend”    

Teaching can be an incredibly stressful profession these days.  I have talked with a number of talented, dedicated educators recently who feel overwhelmed because of the testing, paperwork, and changing expectations in and out of the classroom.  With all elements combined, the unintentional message from the world can overwhelmingly sound like, “You are not good enough” to many teachers.

This is unfortunate.  Teaching is a profession of passion.  Every teacher with whom I have the privilege of working is in the classroom because they care about young people and want to make an impact.  They work hard; they make sacrifices; they show compassion.  Even in the best of times, teaching is a difficult job.  The grading, interpersonal challenges, and long days all make it so.  In the article “Why They Leave” on the NEA website, it states that on any given year, “one-third of all new teachers leave after three years, and 46 percent are gone within five years.”  The ones who stick around do so because they have the resilience, talent, and heart (excuse the cliche) to keep going for the sake of the young people they serve.

The good news for teachers is that according to health psychologist Kelly McGonical, we (humans) can change our stress responses and avoid the negative health benefits simply by changing the way we feel about stress.  The even better news is that anxiety can bind us together and make us all stronger.  In times of tension, we need one another to confide in; this releases positive chemicals.  Furthermore,  “caring creates resilience” to the emotions we experience when under pressure, and I don’t know anyone who cares more than teachers.

This TED Talk shown to me by Rachel Lang (the coaches’ coach) outlines these ideas about stress and others.  It is fifteen minutes, and according to McGonical, watching it could save your life.

I hope you enjoy it on this Friday before you take the weekend to catch your breath, regroup, and remember all of the good things you do for your students every day; you are appreciated.

The Changing Demands of the Technological World

“The shape, structure and hierarchy of the corporation has not responded to the huge flow of information that companies now have at their fingertips…  They had computerized their 20th Century shape rather than responding to how the computer network was upending much of what they had been set up to do decades before.  It was one of the many things they don’t teach you in business school.”

-Peter Day, “Imagine a World Without Shops and Factories”

In this article by Day, given to me by my husband, a director in the customer analytics area, he talks about how companies have yet to respond to changing dynamic the internet has introduced into the business world.  The article discusses  how industry came to be what it is today with Ford’s manufacturing model and how the individualization of today’s society has made that model irrelevant to the modern consumer in the developed world.

I could not help but find parallels between this dialogue in the business world and that in the field of education today.  We, too, are trying to respond to a changing landscape- and ultimately preparing students for the environment Day is predicting for the future.

We, too, have more information about those whom we are serving than ever before and are struggling to figure out how to use it.

We, too, know that the internet and technology are paramount to students’ success but are in uncharted territory when it comes to how we can harness, and help students harness, this power.

Writing Better Assessments

According to Batelle for Kids, teachers spend 25% to 33% of their time on activities related to assessment.

To improve the product of this time, Batelle provided a professional development opportunity in conjunction with ODE for learning how to write better assessments.  Here are some take-away items I learned from the PD:

Better multiple choice questions can be written by avoiding the following:

  • “NOT” or “EXCEPT” options
  • Incomplete question stems that create repetition in the answer options
  • “Cuing stems” (the use of articles or pronouns that give clues to the answer)
  • Phrases repeated in each answer option
  • Answer options that are not “plausible” (can be avoided through process of elimination)
  • Answer options that are of varied lengths (avoid students choosing the “longest answer”)
  • Answer options that are not similar to one another
  • Too many of the same answer options (the use of “B” as the answer for a majority of questions)
  • Direct replication of content from instruction (which encourages rote memorization)

Good multiple choice options should:

  • Have at least 4 and up to 5 answer options
  • Include plausible answers
  • Include options based on students misunderstandings or faulty logic about a topic
  • Be similar in length and require “discrete discrimination” on the part of the student
  • Present opportunities for critical thinking

Good constructed response questions should:

  • Not provide multiple answer prompt options to test understanding of the same content

Good performance tasks should provide:

  • Multiple and  strategic steps, stages or processes to complete
  • Data for multiple learning objectives that make the time investment worthwhile
  • The opportunity to approach the task in a variety of means
  • Opportunities for revision
  • Opportunities for reflection

Good rubrics should:

  • NOT include elements unrelated to task mastery (such as elements of effort or aesthetic qualities)

Lesson on the “Unknown”: Visual to Text Literacy

Susan Turley wanted to do an extended looking lesson for her AP classes focusing on the theme of the “unknown.”  To this end, we used the Extended Looking Learning Targets and Reflection and paired them with this image:

The Unknown

After we went through the extended looking process, we immediately transferred the skills to text the next day using the following poem:

From Space to Time

By Carolyn M. Rodgers


on a day when

we were dark

and not so full of


we met

    what did we find?


everything, when we closed

our eyes

which anyway

had never been open.


once, we thought we

loved each other

       who can reverse


we tried.

we stepped out

of space

into some new

step of distance

and fell—

and not in love.

Taken from Poetry Foundation:

Carolyn M. Rodgers, “From Space to Time” from The Heart As Ever Green (Garden City: Anchor Press/Doubleday, 1978).

Copyright © 1978 by Carolyn M. Rodgers.

Here is the worksheet we used to guide through the extended looking process after students had read the poem.

The students began with seven minutes to fill out the “observation” part of the chart.  In the seven minutes, they wrote down observations from the poem about the following independently:

  • Context (are there stated characters, setting, dialogue, action, audience?)
  • Surface features (sentence structure, punctuation, word usage)
  • Literary devices (simile, metaphor and imagery)

Afterward, they worked in small groups to come up with their “meaningful connections,” “questions,” “theme statements” and “supporting evidence of theme.”

Susan and I will be reflecting on the learning targets and extended looking process for text later this week.

Science, ELA and Art: CAWP Presenter

“Learning can be transformed into understanding only with intrinsic motivation.  Learners must make an internal shift; they must choose to invest themselves to truly learn and understand.  This need for creative engagement applies to all fields…  In the arts, teachers specialize in creating environments that encourage learners to set aside the usual rules of school and invest themselves intrinsically.  It requires an act of courage.”

Creating Innovators by Tony Wagner, taken from Caren Truske’s 2013 CAWP Fall Conference presentation

Caren Truske is a chemistry teacher and member of Project Aspire (an arts integration based inquiry group) who had her her students work displayed at the Columbus Arts Festival this year.  She presented at the Columbus Area Writing Project fall conference and modeled for teachers some of the techniques she used to engage and motivate her students in the thinking and research processes for science.  Caren was a member of my CAWP cohort two years ago.

Here is a summary of her process with students:

  • Product: Research, create and present a written and visual interpretation of the important aspects of an element from the periodic table.
  • Students research an element of the periodic table and then “mind map” the phrases and terms associated with it on paper
  • Students use the mind maps and their research to create different forms of short poetry or other creative writing
  • Students create a visual representation of their element using a “stamping” process where they first create a Styrofoam stamp and then use it to create a reverse image
  • Presentation: These projects were displayed at the Columbus Arts Festival

In her presentation, we used the same process without research, and I worked with one of her students.  He “mind-mapped” music, so I mapped poetry on the same paper.  As we did this, we circled and connected our common words.  Then, she gave us some short form poetry examples to use as a model.  The student and I both had the word “rhythm,” so I used an acrostic poem (a form I usually don’t like) to write about that:

Repetition of sounds- thumping and

Humming with the beat

You find your own

Tapping, rapping on the table

Human noises

Make music

We practiced another poetry form with the same topic, and then created our stamps to go with either work and made the final product of writing and visual combined.

Truske asked me how I would imagine this in the ELA classroom.  I think that the “stamping” process would be a good way to introduce symbolism of abstract concepts to students.  I think that the mind-mapping free association is a good way to start that process, too.  In addition, I think short poetry forms are a great way to address content issues and use formative assessment.  For example, I could see teachers asking students to write:

  • a haiku about claims
  • a definition poem about “connotative meaning”
  • a senryu describing the theme in a story

Truske said any teacher can ask to have their students work displayed at the Columbus Arts Festival.

She referenced the work on Tony Wagner in her presentation, so here are some links to his work:

Doing What We Teach


Being a teacher, especially the first years, gave me a chance to explore, and exhaust, my mental facilities and creative energies.  Teaching is rewarding, but it can sometimes (especially with grading) leave little “mind” to explore other endeavors.

However, most English teachers began as writers, or at least great appreciators of the art of writing, and my guess is what we wrote, read, and loved was not a non-fiction, primary source text about the creation of the Declaration of Independence.  Not that this information isn’t important, exciting or worthwhile, but most teachers of English began the job because they love art and the emotional and intellectual benefits it brings.

As a teacher, I think I had forgotten the initial spark that brought me into the English classroom.  However, after my first couple of years, I got involved in an arts integration program for my students that reignited my love for creative expression.  That summer, I applied and was accepted into a Columbus Area Writing Project cohort, which is an organization under the umbrella of the National Writing Project.

In the two and a half weeks that I was part of the program, I connected with other professionals who were also passionate about education, innovation, and writing.  I was inspired, and still am, by all that I learned from them.

In the program, I learned the power of meaningful modeling at the teacher’s level.  It only really  works when the teacher can have an “aha” moment that is as meaningful as the students will have in the classroom.

I learned the power of reflection.  When we learn, it needs to be discussed.  It needs to be processed.  That is how we know we have learned; it is when learning becomes meaningful.

In addition, I wrote.  So much… Too much.  It helped me to connect to the part of myself that I want to bring into the classroom.  The part of me that does what I teach.

CAWP offers summer programs every year that result in “teacher-consultant” certification (respected and well represented within the NCTE community), I would be happy to share more of my experiences with that.  In addition, they offer a fall conference which I just attended.  This is my second year as an attendee and presenter.

This week, I will post some of the insights and resources gained from this conference in additional posts.