Monday, June 15, 2015

These 16 dos and 11 don’ts form “Writing? Yes!” classrooms

Finding Forrester DVD cover
In the movie Finding Forrester, Sean Connery’s character, William Forrester, shared his philosophy on writing with Jamal Wallace, who was struggling to create an opening sentence, when he told the young man, “First write from the heart, then from the head”. Those few paraphrased words create, “Writing? Yes!” classrooms. When students write their first drafts, be they for free writing, an assigned essay, or any time they wrestle with extracting thoughts and ideas wedged like impacted wisdom teeth in the crevices of their brains, they need to feel free to share their ideas without judgment.

Although the How Students Say It - word choice, spelling, grammar, punctuation, and sentence structure - is seriously important, it should be secondary to the What They Say.  Unless students feel confident expressing their thoughts, they will never reach the point of understanding or caring about the importance of these skill elements.

To become confident and willing writers, students must consider writing as
  •  a way for them to show ownership of their thoughts, their ideas, and their own unique voices. 
  • a way for them to write from the heart.
  • a way for them to believe in their thoughts and ideas.
To become confident and willing writers, students must never
  • consider the proficiency benchmark as the means and the end to writing lessons.
  • be told, “No that isn’t right,” because their thoughts differ from their teachers' interpretations.
  • feel that finely-honed writing skills are more important than ideas.
To foster confident and willing writers, teachers should instill confidence in their students

  • by explaining that every opportunity they have to express their thoughts and ideas in their pieces, they will learn what works and what doesn’t.
  • by offered a plethora of choices as well as a choose-your-own-topic option for every analytic writing.
  •  by focusing their editing on three to four content and grammar areas only, not every single misplaced comma, misspelled word, etc.
  • by answering questions about the piece length with words such as, “Write until you have fully developed your idea.” Note: a minimum length should be required, but never a maximum. Teachers may address students’ writing verbosity during conferences.

To create a love for writing, teachers should give young people opportunities to write for fun as well as for analysis. When they enjoy writing, students will increase their proficiency, thereby meeting academic benchmarks. Students should
  • create Madlibs.
  • write scripts for favorite TV shows to act ou.
  •  pretend they are on ESPN and prepare, perform and record interviews or sports commentaries.
  •  create song lyrics and write in journals that they are confident will be read by their eyes only.
  • combine drawing and painting with writing by creating storybooks that they share with neighborhood children or at local libraries during book reading times.
  • respond to  open-ended questions about their favorite television shows  or movies to generate a discussion about plot, characters, filming techniques, and casting.
Why talk about a TV program? Because with every conversation, young people are learning how to express their thoughts clearly. They will remember this and use these same techniques when they have to write a critique or an analysis of a literary piece.

This will ward off the Dreaded Literary Demons, too. When academic dialogs evolve from engaging discussions where students and teachers reveal elements that intrigue them or where they feel free to explain why the author’s words move them or how they create word pictures, students will learn how to write with the same passion and technical prowess that they use verbally. They will develop the faith that they can proficiently identify and evaluate, in writing, examples of themes, figurative language, or any other literary facet they may be asked to explain.

To cultivate a love for writing, teachers should not
  • force students to discuss  a topic for which they have virtually no feeling
  •  mandate students to format their thoughts into five paragraphs only
  • order students to copy, “I will not…” sentences in their notebooks  500 times.
  • require students to complete essay quizzes as a penalty for not participating in class discussions or not completing the reading assignments.
  • expect students to face overly-edited papers that make them cringe instead of conjuring up an, “I can do this" attitude in their minds for the next writing mission.
  •  assign essays as a behavior modification technique
  • allow the How Students Say It overpower the What They Say.

Young people must be given a multitude of chances to write from the heart without worrying about being told their ideas are wrong, their writing has no style, or their spelling is atrocious.

Young people must be allowed to feel the flush of excitement when they string plain words into Kodak moment word pictures.

Young people must be allowed to hold onto that love for writing that they had when they were eight- years-old and the thoughts bubbled from the word fountain in their souls so they can open the floodgates to this very same passion when they are eighteen.

While you are generating your own summer Kodak moments, some of which you just might turn into Twitter, Facebook or Instagram word pictures, think about
  • what turned you on to writing, as a student, instead of blowing your desire to write fuse
  • why , as a teacher, you love grading some writing assignments and not others
  • which engaging  ideas that allow students to write from the heart before they  their head steps in, you should add to your writing collection.

Then, when your classes resume, you and your students will exclaim, “Writing?  Yes!”

Happy Summer! 


For more writing ideas, check out my store category ELA Writing Activities Grades 6-12


Monday, June 1, 2015

Teachers, Parents and Students - for a No-Bummer Summer, Try This Bucket List

Twas the Night Before Summer Vacation
Twas the night school ended, and in all the houses
Not a child was stirring-all alarm clocks were doused.
The backpacks were stored in the closets ‘till Fall
While children slept soundly - no reason to stall.

Moms and Dads tossed in their sheet-rumpled beds
While visions of chaos caromed through their heads.
Facing weeks with no schedules, nor essays to write,
Joey and Jane would probably just sleep, eat and fight.

When from their computers there rose such a clatter,
Parents clicked on the Net to tune into the chatter.
Facebook pages, Twitter and Pinterest flowed
With kudos for a Bucket List they just had to download.

The URL they copied, then they clicked on the link
Hoping for ideas so their worries would shrink.
When what to their grateful eyes did appear, but
A Summer Bucket List with awesome choices to cheer.

The thirteen suggestions would spawn stimulation,
Chasing away boredom which breeds during vacations.
Their kids’ minds and bodies would be active and aware
Even without homework and school lessons to bear.

“We must call the Timms, the Taylors and Turners!
We can’t let this wonder crouch on any back burners.”
Dads grabbed their Smartphones, their fears now abated,
While Moms sent emails and social statuses they’d updated.

As the sun rose announcing a school-free June day,
Refrigerators, world-wide, this List did display.
Not summer assignments, Oh no, not this list,
But propositions to tempt, to engage-not resist.

I offer this Summer Bucket List on TpT for free
To parents, to children, to teachers - what glee!
When asked in the Fall, “What did you do this summer?”
‘Cause of the List, no kid'll reply, “Mine was a bummer.”

(I adapted the format for this from Clement Moore’s Twas the Night Before Christmas.)
Summer Activities grades 4-12
Every summer, parents worry about how to insure that their children will not morph into the Abominable App Creature.
Every summer, kids become bored with sleeping until noon, lounging around and texting their BFFs, and crave some mental and physical stimulation-those not taking classes, working or attending various camps, that is. No, they don’t want summer assignments heaped on them, but they do want to think, to be inspired, to go places and to see people. And they want these experiences to be fun.
Over the years, I have been a teacher, a parent and a child. In all three roles, I endured the same anxiety, concerns and lethargy as summer rolled from one steamy day into the next. I remember all too well tossing around my parents’ bed while my mother ironed the family’s 100% cotton clothes. Bored to tears, I chose to irritate her with my howls of, “I have nothing to do!” And it wasn’t even the end of June, yet!
Although my two children are now grown and I no longer have to deal with the Summer Doldrums, I do have two granddaughters - ages 8 and 11- who visit me often, so I always need ideas to make our time together fun. And although I have retired from teaching, I will never turn my back on learning- no matter the season.
That’s why I created A Summer Bucket List. This FREE product offers young people from 6-16 opportunities to think, to sing, to write, to be physically active, to read, to use basic math skills, to experiment, to get involved in their communities and much more, but without the constrictions and restrictions of school. They choose, they do and they have fun. Check it out and maybe tape it to the fridge…just don’t tell your children that they will be practicing comprehension, computing, critical thinking and writing skills that they associate with school. Leave that to their teachers next fall.
Download this Free list of activities from 
Have a relaxing, restful and rejuvenating summer. You all deserve it!
connie's My Side of the Desk
ELA Teachers- Yes, I took a May vacation, but I am back at least once a week with musings, ideas and lessons on everything teaching from my side of the desk. Come on back-often.

Happy Summer,