Sturdy Structures and Tapestries


Every time I feel I have my Professor McGonagall-mojo in place, inevitably realize I am only a Trelawney. I want to be firm, peering over the edge of my spectacles, jumping in and of animal bodies with ease and precision (aka going from my awkward projector on the cart to the tiny weird screen, to the tiny space for the doc camera, etc.: the tech in my room is…uncomfortable). If I could shout out with my confident Scottish brogue, “TWENTY POINTS FOR FIRST PERIOD!” with a flick of my wand, oh what wouldn’t I give?

But alas, every day my practice leans toward the Professor Trelawney style, and unfortunately, for the Dolores Umbridge’s of the world (of education) this is –not good. For me. But like Trelawney, I have a few tricks in my sturdy tapestry bag:

  • I know my content area (even if tea leaves and tarot cards are to ELA like potions are to Science: ELA content is confusing for more linear-minded folks)
  • I love my students. And I know it takes time and the small moments that can’t be documented to build relationships and trust. Expecting it to happen overnight doesn’t honor the humanity in teaching.
  • I love my colleagues: and a huge thank you to a mentor in the building who jumped in and helped me with one particular lesson.
Tessomancy 101: your first draft will not be your best. Pour another cup.

Breaking it down:

In my new district, the first Module is about refugees and reading Inside Out and Back Again by Thanhha Lai. 

One of the cumulating assignments (not a project, mind you, an assignment) is a traditional essay. Here is the prompt:

Consider the meaning of the novel’s title, Inside Out and Back Again. How does this title relate to the universal experience of fleeing and finding home, and in what ways is Ha’s experience a specific example of this universal experience?

Essayius Patronus, yo! This is a high cognitive, rigorous and steep prompt. Deconstruct how much it’s asking for the second month of school from 8th-grade students (who are still essentially 7th-grade students): it’s…a lot.

But that’s my job, and what I love doing: how to build a scaffold so that no one falls off, or at least can get back on to meet the requirements.

Remember: this doesn’t happen overnight

  1. Throughout the course of the novel and other readings, we curated quotes and moments

    This was one interactive lesson: quote pages and comments.
  2. Provide a graphic organizer that meets two approaches: linear and non-linear. (This isn’t the best, but it was a good start for us.)
  3. Spend a fair amount of time having them just connect concepts to themselves.
  4. We wrote a hook to ease them into the larger prompt about a time they moved or transitioned. This is a human experience. Some have personal stories that are similar to Ha’s: they are indeed, refugees, immigrants, and moving closer to home, many students have encountered big transitions of emotional lives.

And this is where my occasional Professor Trelawney got something right: one of our building mentors who frequents our afternoon classes helped me model the writing: I interviewed him as I tell all students –that’s what writers do–they ask questions for themselves and put the answers–and more questions–on the page.

Mr. Sudon helped me with this:


We wrote the hook first, then spent a class on the introductory/thesis paragraph (we had talked about thesis prior), and then each day as a class decided what parts to focus on next. Here’s where we landed:


Introductory/Thesis/Claim paragraph

Body Paragraph: Focus on Ha leaving/fleeing Saigon

Body Paragraph: Focus on a speech about Refugee Transitions by Til Gurung

Body Paragraph: Focus on Ha’s life in the US and how she comes ‘back again’

Concluding Paragraph: used Laura Randazzo’s Concluding Paragraph graphic organizer (which will work great when I teach funnel paragraphs).

Every day I provided sentence starters for the paragraphs (practice and identifying what they are doing as writers helped). Students wrote a little every day, by hand, then typed up what they could in a Google Doc, and submitted what they have done so far.

I know a few fell off the scaffold.

And to get them back on, I’ll put together a paragraph-by-paragraph resource document for them, and they can finish on their own. I’m thinking of doing stations next week

  • Station Ideas:
    • If you still need to type your draft
    • If you still need to write your draft
    • If you are nearly completed with the essay, need to make a few changes, and refer to the rubric
    • Ready to move on: provide enrichment ideas (use my Reading Road Trip blog for this purpose)

I’m now thinking…when can or should I introduce the concept of dismantling an essay? 

Thinking sooner than later, because it’s time to bring some magic into the mix.


“You can laugh! But people used to believe there were no such things as the Blibbering Humdinger or the Crumple-Horned Snorkack!”
― J.K. Rowling, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix

PS: This past week was full of Crumple-Horned Snorkbacks, too:

*dog poop tracked in my already smelly room

*someone threw three students’ notebooks in the girls’ bathroom trash (I replaced them all, and am buying cool markers for the students whose notebooks were trashed)

*many confusing schedule changes and rearranging of students without consultation, discussion or teamwork –here’s to that getting better.