Ok, America. Your July 4th/Independence Day thing is coming up. Here are a few things that I think you should re-read or read for the first time. I have included audio where possible so you don’t have any excuses. 1/ pic.twitter.com/lRMiYroS1s
I sent my request out to the good educators on Twitter, tagging @ncte and @writingproject, and received a few ideas. Some switched up the medium, such as “do a video essay” and that’s partly what I was looking for, but not quite. I’m looking for essays that don’t feel like the rigid essays of “school” — one of the most unnatural forms of structured writing.
This post doesn’t have answers yet, or the curated list. It’s a start, a placeholder for the process. My goal is to encourage and foster true excitement about what essay writing is, and reading of essays. Though I have bristled over the structured, formulaic writing of essays it’s a love of reading essays that motivates me. I don’t want students to hate writing. None of us do. So why do we keep ignoring all the rich content and mentor texts that are shared? Not a single writer uses the five-paragraph structure. I can understand its use as a foundation, but we need to have some hard conversations about when to take the scaffold away.
The year, around May 2010 or so, I finished my first round of National Boards, I promised my younger son I would start playing World of Warcraft. My husband worked for a previous incarnation, Sierra Games, and his brother, my brother-in-law, works for Blizzard (on the Diablo series), so the truth is it ran in the family. My older son plays, too, but at a much more competitive and competent level than I ever will. And though I’ve held the Minecraft Club/Anime Club for years, I don’t play Minecraft, but certainly, see its value.
Over the years, I can’t help but draw parallels between this MMORPG (massively multiplayer online role-playing game, ya noob), education, and being a teacher. My main character for years was a shaman: she carried two big axes or maces with her, and with the help of her trusty spirit wolves slew giants, monsters, naga, and all manner of evildoers and bad dudes. I’ve switched to a druid, all sparkly and full of moonbeams and sun fire. Playing wasn’t always relaxing for me: there were times when it became too serious, took up too much of my head space, and the joy was gone. Yup, kind of like teaching.
Quest Lines:think about quest lines like a curriculum map that you don’t participate in, create, help forge, etc. It’s given to you as your sacred duty to save someone, something, and at the end, you get a boon, be it experience or gold. Sometimes you get gear, but the gear is always third-rate. Anytime you can participate in a quest line that needs 3-5 other players consider that your PLC time, created in the moment to conquer a bigger monster. It goes faster when you work together, and tackle those big monsters en masse.
Leveling Up: School and its trajectories are one big leveling up. As a teacher, if I don’t think I am growing, or a situation is adding toxicity to the support of students and staff, it’s like poison from a plague machine from the Forsaken. (
Area of Effect:AOE, or area of effect, is the spell power to either heal or do damage, (or both if your character is heavy into the crit thing). My mage blasts fire or ice. My druid sends waves of green healing or rains starfire from the skies. The shaman wakes the earth and the priest pulls dark shadows from the air.
In a classroom, the students sitting further in the back do not receive the full effect of teaching as much as those in the front. My way around this is to do as much walking around, and joining small groups as possible. The old “proximity” rule is valuable, but it’s not enough. If you’re casting out healing or crit powers, make sure it doesn’t overheal or crit, wasting precious mana and casting time.
Mana:Red is for health, and blue is for mana. Mana is life goo. Mana from heaven, supernatural aid, aiding in casting spells and healing. Different classes of characters need different attributes –paladins need stamina, spellcasters need intelligence; hunters and shamans need agility. These characteristics work to create a well-tuned character, making them powerful and competent.
Guilds, cliques, and NPCs (non-player characters: I’ve been in my share of dysfunctional guilds. I’ve jokingly referred to guilds as my bridge club: it’s been one of my social outlets for some time, and a fun, light hobby. There have been times it’s been a serious hobby for me, and I’ve made many life-long friends all around the world that I wouldn’t trade for anything. Guilds can be comprised of thousands of people, or like my little guild, two to three. If a guild is a raiding guild, there are different levels of those, as well. I’ve been in raiding guilds and casual guilds, and have experienced a few personalities of guild leaders.
Cliques are a natural result of alliances that form when large groups work together and can be beneficial in achieving small sets of goals. However, recognizing when cliquish behavior becomes an obstacle to the global goals is important, because undermining larger efforts may result.
NPCsare critical for success; think of the custodians, secretaries, nurses, counselors, etc. all who make such a huge difference in the lives of students and staff. Click on that NPC if they have a talk bubble: you will find out amazing information.
What do the good guild leaders do?The make sure everyone knows their role and how to work together best. They see areas of growth, and never publically criticize a team member. They don’t allow for gossip or hearsay. And they don’t play favorites. Now, if they have to sit someone out because they aren’t geared up yet, etc. they work with the teammate to assist in questing, raiding, etc. to bolster, but that commitment works both ways. The player needs to step up, too, and do what it takes to make the team. Good leaders’ tones are professional and warm. They are solution-focused and want to keep their guilds together. It takes too much time and energy to have turnover on a raid team. And they keep their senses of humor. It is just a game, after all.
Alliance versus Horde: forever and ever, Amen. In Azeroth, the Alliance and the Horde battle over, well, everything, until of course the demons from the Legion show up and ruin it all. This is why we can’t have nice things, you know. Call this identity politics — associating oneself with one side versus the other is a shortcut for understanding, or pop-psychological understanding, of someone’s preferences and personality. Don’t be fooled. Just because someone enjoys pretending to be a green Orc versus a wistful Night Elf doesn’t say too much, trust me on this. There are two sides, and both have their own narrative, allegiances, leaders of all stripes, and factions. Tribalism serves the tribe, but not the village: the more integrated and cross-content conversations happen the better we serve our students. Or destroy the Legion. Whichever comes first.
PVP: Akin to Alliance versus Horde, Player versus Player is another competitive sport that one needs to knowingly engage in, and have a clear understanding of the outcome. I have no interest in playing on a PVP server: nothing like a Forsaken rogue stabbing me in the back when I’m looking for an NPC to turn in a quest. Those graveyard-to-corpse runs are a timesink.
Dungeons and Raids: Sign up. Pick a role. Do your job. Play fair. Communicate. Don’t troll. Rinse. Repeat.
Grinding: So much in Azeroth is called “grinding” — doing the same repetitive tasks in order to gain status, reputation, or a boon. These grinding quests are the seemingly infinite gateways to “the good stuff.” It’s helpful for me to remind myself that the occasional grind of teaching does get our students to that good stuff; accomplishments and banners of awesome.
The Final Boss: in every dungeon, raid, or world quest there is a final boss. This character has been wreaking havoc for some time, destroying lives and having many vows of vengeance thrown in his or her name. (But it’s usually a “he.”) This is the moment you’ve worked toward, you’ve prepared and planned. You will have to work very closely with your teammates in order to bring down this boss: he has a bag of tricks (aka mechanics) and phases, and sometimes just when you think you’ve got him beat, the last healer steps in fire and he enrages and the whole team wipes. But: you pick yourself up, plan your cooldown spells a little tighter, pay gold for repairs, drink your potions, get your food buff, and start again.
Sounds a lot like spring break.
If you ever venture into Azeroth, remember to keep your bags free of gray items, save all the Dwarf books, and take a pet with you. And when you venture back to your classrooms, remember you are powerful: you have magic and joy no one else does. Be strong out there, for there are monsters.
Um, gee, I don’t know! Not sure where writing fits in with the reading skills focus our district has taken. Intended to be transferable, skills hold the place of being the ‘how to learn’ idea. They are the workhorses of education: many educators feel once a skill is taught, it can be liberally applied to cure any ill. Alas, they are not a panacea, but the good intentions are there. If skills are too much the focus, they become the leech or bleeding, and knowledge building misdiagnoses may occur. Point being: many good ELA teachers are confused by a skills-only focus. But that’s a conversation for another time.
If third-grade students can figure out how to be nice to one another, then it is my hope that we can learn how to again, as well. Maybe on October 20 we can have a classroom discussion on what comments do to us emotionally and psychologically. Stay tuned.
This post is getting messy. Filled with bits of type and text, like overcooked alphabet soup. Consider it a link festival, full of rabbit holes and mad hatter tea parties. The question presented is now that CCSS is established in many states, what have we lost or gained?
Reminder to read and understand how to move forward with CCSS in ELA/SS:
First, I am wondering if we even have a sense of what is ‘teaching writing?’ It doesn’t seem to exist. There is the editorial/grammatical end to the whole language approach of ‘any mark is a good mark on the page’.
Most of these fear seem to be the opposite outcome from Common Core. I’m not quite sure what the rumors were, or where the fears came from. But the testing part does seem to have some merit at first glance. Later this weekend I’ll be completing a Prezi that contains the brief write rubrics for Common Core writing assessments, and they are valuable for any content area.
Some of these fears are truly odd: since when have standards given students specific topics? And since when have standards ‘taught teachers how to teach writing?’
And on what metric is creativity? I’m not sure. I’m still a bit baffled.
New Dorp’s Writing Revolution, which placed an intense focus, across nearly every academic subject, on teaching the skills that underlie good analytical writing, was a dramatic departure from what most American students—especially low performers—are taught in high school. The program challenged long-held assumptions about the students and bitterly divided the staff. It also yielded extraordinary results. By the time they were sophomores, the students who had begun receiving the writing instruction as freshmen were already scoring higher on exams than any previous New Dorp class. Pass rates for the English Regents, for example, bounced from 67 percent in June 2009 to 89 percent in 2011; for the global-history exam, pass rates rose from 64 to 75 percent. The school reduced its Regents-repeater classes—cram courses designed to help struggling students collect a graduation requirement—from five classes of 35 students to two classes of 20 students.
The critical difference between pre-CCSS and emerging CCSS is writing argumentative and explanatory pieces.
In the coming months, the conversation about the importance of formal writing instruction and its place in a public-school curriculum—the conversation that was central to changing the culture at New Dorp—will spread throughout the nation. Over the next two school years, 46 states will align themselves with the Common Core State Standards. For the first time, elementary-school students—who today mostly learn writing by constructing personal narratives, memoirs, and small works of fiction—will be required to write informative and persuasive essays. By high school, students will be expected to produce mature and thoughtful essays, not just in English class but in history and science classes as well.
The NCTE provides their take, which correlates to the analytical approach, and appears more inclusive instruction.
Writing is not just one practice or activity. A note to a cousin is not like a business report, which is different again from a poem. The processes and ways of thinking that lead to these varied kinds of texts can also vary widely, from the quick email to a friend to the careful drafting and redrafting of a legal contract. The different purposes and genres both grow out of and create varied relationships between the writers and the readers, and existing relationships are reflected in degrees of formality in language, as well as assumptions about what knowledge and experience are already shared, and what needs to be explained. Writing with certain purposes in mind, the writer focuses attention on what the audience is thinking or believing; other times, the writer focuses more on the information she or he is organizing, or on her or his own emergent thoughts and feelings. Therefore, the thinking, procedures, and physical format in writing are shaped in accord with the author’s purpose(s), the needs of the audience, and the conventions of the genre.
And the NWP weighs in with their suggestions for ‘teaching writing.’ I’ve labeled each suggestion to make sense of what skill it may be adressing.
Evolving from the fears of the CCSS writing standards to the present, what changes do you think have been most effective, and where are some areas educators are still confused? What is most beneficial to students, or is an understanding that writing is complex, and approach with patience and grace the most important thing?
Scholarly articles if you’re really bored this summer: