Tag Archives: writing

Everyday Advocacy 2017

Last year I finished my 25th year as a teacher — all 25 in the same high school. It feels like a landmark and brings with it no small amount of reflection over what I have learned as a career educator. In my early years of teaching, I was not very savvy about the politics of public education. But in my two and a half decades in education, I have learned how to work within the system to support students and families, how to fight for them and give them the tools to fight for themselves. I know how to help students get the academic help they need, how to help them apply to college, how to assist them in identifying scholarships and securing funding, and I can even help them to advocate for their mental health needs. Beyond advocating for students, 25 years in, I know how to advocate for our department as we present our needs to the administration, and, from my involvement in our professional association, I’ve even learned to advocate for our teachers as a bargaining group and for individual teachers in contract matters.

Still, the last few years have proved challenging. The political landscape for teachers has not been friendly, especially in my state. So, I took up political and legislative advocacy — calling my representatives, joining political action groups in my community, and attending town hall meetings. But, quite frankly, this advocacy work has been frustrating. It’s very hard to feel that my voice matters or that anyone is listening on a state or national level. I know I am not alone in feeling this way, and one bright spot of the political advocacy groups I’ve joined is the connection with other like-minded citizens.

It was the combination of my frustration with my own advocacy efforts and my feeling of isolation in that work that led me to search for opportunities to grow as an advocate. I decided I wanted to learn to advocate more effectively for the things that matter in education and, in particular, for the effective teaching of reading and writing. Luckily for me, just as I was ready to hear the message, NWP Radio aired an episode called “NWP Social Practices Part 1 of 6: Advocacy” — clearly, this was a nudge from the universe!

Writers Write — and So Do Teachers of Writers

My writing/reading spot.

In the past couple of weeks, I’ve been working on six different writing projects in my professional life — two blog posts, two chapter proposals with a colleague, and two proposals for presentations for the 2017 NCTE Annual Convention with different collaborators. The process of writing for various audiences, purposes, and situations has reminded me not only that I enjoy writing, but that I am a better teacher of writing when I regularly write — whether for personal or professional circumstances.  I know I am probably preaching to the converts here, but being a reflective writer makes me a better writing teacher in some very concrete ways.

Recognizing the Struggle. Writing is hard. When I am writing myself, I remember what is challenging about the process, and I recognize the places where I want to quit. I am also reminded of the strategies I use to overcome difficult portions or writer’s block. For instance, I remember that I need time for an idea to germinate. Taking breaks, going for walks, and talking with others are essential parts of my process, but often, they get squelched in my classroom. I remember, too, that sometimes I just have to write through the challenges – trying to get what I can down on paper and knowing that I can improve it later. Most importantly, though, I remember that I don’t have to be alone as a writer — that I can reach out to others for collaboration and feedback during the process not just when I complete the first draft. Transferring what I know about my process into my classroom means committing to an environment that values thought, conversation, and collaboration along the way. It also means sharing my strategies more explicitly with students with my own real rough drafts.

Authentic Research, Authentic Writing

My Chippewa River Writing Project colleague, Sharon Murchie, and I are presenting this weekend in the 4T Virtual Conference on Digital Writing (#4TDW). We wrote this piece together as a preview of our session and a brief explanation of our journey toward more authentic research and writing in the classroom.


We met in 2015 at the Chippewa River Writing Project’s Summer Institute. Janet was a returning CRWP Teacher Consultant and Sharon was a Red Cedar Writing Project Teacher Consultant joining the CRWP for the summer.  When given the opportunity in the institute to fashion our own inquiry project on writing, we both identified the research process as an area that intrigued us. As teachers we have always loved research — even back to the days of card catalogs, index cards, and microfiche.

Yeah, we’re geeks like that.

In all seriousness, though, the process by which students select topics of interest to them, dig deep into sources, fashion their own opinions through their critical reading, and then synthesize their thinking and sources into an original piece is one of the most cognitively complex processes we undertake in the English Language Arts curriculum.  Yet it is also one that hasn’t experienced widespread change to match the connected world in which our students live. That summer, we found ourselves researching the research process, asking such questions as, How do we authentically teach students to be discerning researchers? and How do they write about what they have learned in a way that will have implications and applications long after they graduate from high school?

We learned that we had been taking parallel routes in our high schools in exploring ideas like blogging, website creation, wikis, and Genius Hour to encourage broader audiences for our young writers. We were pretty sure we were not alone in thinking that it was past time for the research process and product to undergo a significant revision, and our conversations with our colleagues that summer — and our larger conversations since then — have confirmed that for us.

Teaching students how to be critical researchers has to be more than just an assignment or a unit. There has to be a shift in how we teach and in how students approach “doing research.”

Classroom Tools That Work: Research Tools

The apps and extensions that help power our Google Apps for Education paperless classroom

This is the third in a five-part series about favorite apps and extensions for Google Chrome and Google Drive.

In the first post in this series, I covered some essential tools for managing the new apps and extensions that you’ll want to add to your Chrome browser. In the second, I shared tools that help writers be better writers.  Fair warning up front, though, it’s the research add-ons, apps and extensions that I really love! I am old enough to remember research pre-Internet. I recall sitting in the stacks with the Reader’s Guide, thumbing through microfiche to find articles, writing out copious notes on index cards and legal pads.  Not anymore! Since research is such an important part of the ELA curriculum, this third post will be dedicated to those game-changers that help students conduct research, capture source information, organize ideas, and cite within a research paper or project.

Classroom Tools That Work: Helping Writers Be Better Writers

The apps and extensions that help power our Google Apps for Education paperless classroom

This is the second in a five-part series about favorite apps and extensions for Google Chrome and Google Drive.

In the first post in this series, I covered some essential tools for managing the new apps and extensions that you’ll want to add to your Chrome browser. In this post, I’ll share the tools that my students and I have found to help writers be better writers.  

Four tools that help writers be better writers

Read&Write for Google

What is it?

Read&Write for Google is a Chrome Extension that is used within a Google document. Teachers can sign up for premium features free; students start with a 30-day trial; some features disappear after the trial, but many remain.

Read, Write, Repeat

After a summer off, I am returning to blogging with a new, and I hope, lasting, enthusiasm.  This summer when I wasn’t adding anything to my blog, I dedicated time to reading the blogs of other educators and thinkers whom I admire.  I guess I would say that I went looking for other mentor texts to explore a greater variety of topics, styles and techniques.  Here’s what I learned.  

Becoming Authentic Writers, Part 3

How the paperless classroom goes beyond teacher convenience

This is the third in a series of posts about the impact of a paperless approach on the writing process and product.

In the first post in this series, I talked about using technology to improve my feedback to high school students, and in the second, I wrote specifically about the growth I see in my students as a result of using the tools in Google Drive.  This post will explain how I organize a paperless classroom using Google. I delayed writing this post when I found out about Google Classroom, a learning management system to be released in the fall for schools using Google Apps for Education. Now that I have had the time to preview Classroom, I’ll explain what I do to stay organized in a paperless classroom using Google, and I’ll touch on how I anticipate Google Classroom complementing my paperless classroom next year.

Telling Our Stories: Creating Authentic Narratives of Home

Recently I wrote an article that was published in the Michigan Council of Teacher’s of English Language Arts Journal of Michigan.  The theme for this edition was Location, Location, Location, and my submission reflects the uniqueness of rural northern Michigan.  Below is the article and the appendix containing my assignment.

When I moved from the suburbs of Detroit to northern Michigan twenty-two years ago, I wondered if I was moving to the frontier.

Becoming Authentic Writers, Part 2

Image by Anasuarezrivero (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0], via Wikimedia Commons
How the paperless classroom goes beyond teacher convenience

This is the second in a series of posts about the impact of a paperless approach on the writing process and product.

In the first post in this series, I talked about using technology to improve my feedback to high school students.  My earliest experiment involved using my smart phone and using an iPad app called Explain Everything to provide audiovisual feedback for students.  My paperless classroom, though, has evolved quickly, and this year, we went Google.

Becoming Authentic Writers, Part 1

How the paperless classroom goes beyond teacher convenience

This post was featured on the Chippewa River Writing Project’s Teachers as Writers Blog this week. Check out the blog for other great posts from CRWP teachers.

This is the first in a series of posts about the impact of a paperless approach on the writing process and product.

"Stack of Papers" by Flickr user Jenni C
“Stack of Papers” by Flickr user Jenni C

When it comes to technology, I am a geek.  My students and my colleagues will not be surprised that I spend countless hours playing with technology and dreaming of ways to adapt it for the classroom.  My friends and family are not shocked when we go shopping and they lose me in the Apple Store or the Best Buy (if the local bookstore does not claim me first).