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Posts Tagged ‘writing strategies’

How to Grade Writing

How can we effectively assess student writing? Should we grade upon effort, completion, standards, achievement, or improvement? Is our primary task to respond or to grade?

Here’s my take. We should grade based upon how well students have met our instructional objectives. Because each writer is at a different place, we begin at that place and evaluate the degree to which the student has learned and applied that learning, in terms of effort and achievement. But, our primary task is informed response based upon effective assessment. That’s how to grade writing.

For example, here may be an effective procedure for a writing task as it winds its way through the Writing Process: Read more…

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Standards and Accountability

A recent discussion on my favorite site, the English Companion Ning, made me take a critical look at just what has engendered the recent demands for increased accountability in our public schools. Both Democrats and Republicans are playing the blame game and teachers are the easiest targets. As a public school teacher, my initial response has been defensive; however, upon a bit of reflection I’m thinking that teachers may well largely be to blame–not for the “sorry state of public education” as our critics claim, but for the very accountability movement that is being used to attack us. We teachers are often our own worst enemies.

A bit of history helps put things in perspective. Back in the 1970s and early 1980s teachers felt that our norm-referenced testing, such as the ITBS, SAT, CTBS, MAT, provided data that did not measure what we are teaching. We used sophisticated psychometric criticisms such as sampling and measurement error and socio-political criticisms such as bias to largely rid ourselves from the nuisances of these exams. We teachers went wild. Authentic assessments, multiple-measure assessments, and no assessments ruled the educational landscape. I once taught a sophomore world history class for an entire year without giving any traditional tests.

However, with teacher-created assessments, testing manufacturers lost money. Educational Testing Services and others do not like to lose money. So, the test manufacturers changed tactics. They asked for and gave teachers what teachers said they wanted–tests that purport to test what we teach. In other words, criterion-referenced standards tests. And the standards-based movement was born.

Teachers were even asked to develop their own subject area standards. A seemingly bottom-up initiative. How inclusive! Each state department of education, county office of education, and most school districts funded the creation of these subject area content standards documents. I joined other colleagues in spending countless hours developing the English-language Arts Standards for my own school district.

Now the test-makers were happy. They had the basis of a new revenue stream. And, now because the tests ostensibly test what teachers teach, administrators, politicians, and even billionaire do-gooders can hold us accountable and measure teacher/school/district/state performance. The zenith? Our Common Core National Standards.

Teachers helped create this mess. We enabled the accountability movement that is choking teacher creativity, teacher autonomy, and teacher initiative. And our students are the ones who are paying the greatest price. In replacing normed-reference testing with criterion-reference testing, we replaced something bad with something worse. “Meet the new boss.” Not the same as the old boss. Apologies to Pete Townshend.

And now the standards-based movement is so endemic that any challenges to teaching to the test or resisting accountability standards are viewed with wonderment by many in our profession. The standards-based movement with its frame of accountability is fully entrenched. Newer teachers have known nothing else. With the new PAARC and Smarter Balanced Common Core assessments, the tail is wagging the dog once again. Teachers are spending valuable class time test prepping and changing instruction to be more test-friendly. The tests themselves take an inordinate amount of class time. Last year at my middle school, we English-language arts teachers had the task of testing all subject area. It took two weeks out of our teaching schedule to administer all of the tests.

Sigh. More on Valerie Strauss’ Washington Post site.

Response from Maja Wilson, author of Rethinking Rubrics in Writing Assessment (Heinemann, 2006) and the recent article, “First blame the teachers then the parents”  in the Washington Post.

Mark,

This is why I argue that trying to get and maintain a “seat at the table” is ultimately counterproductive. The meal served at the table of power is unhealthy, the conversation is stilted (actually, there isn’t much conversation–lots of orders given and followed) and those who partake leave with indigestion. That’s what happened when teachers created standards–following orders at the table–that were then used against them as the basis first for high-stakes standardized tests, and then as a springboard for national standards created by a corporation created by governors and business interests (Achieve Inc).

Instead, we should create, set, and decorate another table, then serve a tasty and healthy meal there. We could invite as many people to join as possible, and then enjoy a rich conversation and lots of laughter together as we dine.

Michael (another poster to Maja’s initial post) may be right that the problem is that we can’t agree on what to serve at that table. But hey, even a potluck would be tastier, healthier, and more socially edifying than the cardboard and nails currently on the Department of Education’s menu.

The author of this article, Mark Pennington, has written the assessment-based Grammar, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary (Teaching the Language Strand) Grades 4-8 programs to teach the Common Core Language Standards. Each

Pennington Publishing's Grammar, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary (Teaching the Language Strand)

Grammar, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary (Teaching the Language Strand)
Grades 4-8 Programs

full-year program provides 56 interactive grammar, usage, and mechanics and include sentence diagrams, error analysis, mentor texts, writing applications, and sentence dictation formative assessments with accompanying worksheets (L.1, 2). Plus, each grade-level program has weekly spelling pattern tests and accompanying spelling sort worksheets (L.2), 56 language application opener worksheets (L.3), and 56 vocabulary worksheets with multiple-meaning words, Greek and Latin word parts, figures of speech, word relationships with context clue practice, connotations, and four square academic language practice (L.4, 5, and 6). Comprehensive biweekly unit tests measure recognition, understanding, and application of all language components.

Grammar, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary (Teaching the Language Strand) also has the resources to meet the needs of diverse learners. Diagnostic grammar, usage, mechanics, and spelling assessments provide the data to enable teachers to individualize instruction with targeted worksheets. Each remedial worksheet (over 200 per program) includes independent practice and a brief formative assessment. Students CATCH Up on previous unmastered Standards while they KEEP UP with current grade-level Standards. Check out the YouTube introductory video of the Grammar, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary (Teaching the Language Strand) program.

 

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Free Reading Intervention RtI Resources

Teaching Reading Strategies and Sam and Friends Guided Reading Phonics Books BUNDLE

Teaching Reading Strategies and Sam and Friends Guided Reading Phonics Books

As the mandates of the Response to Intervention (RtI) process continue to transfer to public schools, special education and classroom teachers are hurrying to find appropriate resources to differentiate literacy instruction for their students. What these teachers find is that one-size-fits-all canned reading, writing, and math programs simply do not match the needs of all of their students. Additionally, many intervention teachers find that scripted programs tend to ignore teacher experience, judgment, and expertise. Instead, RtI teachers need the resources that will allow them  to differentiate literacy instruction without becoming robots. The three-tiered RtI model looks good in the triangle diagram, but quality resources are essential to make these delivery models address the needs of their students.

Most special education and classroom teachers are very prepared to teach the reading and writing content of their courses. They know how to teach. Their undergraduate and graduate courses have adequately prepared them for these tasks. However, most teachers are less prepared to teach reading, writing, and math intervention classes. For example, most credential programs require only one or two reading strategy courses. So, choosing appropriate instructional resources that will facilitate differentiated instruction, according to diagnostic and formative data are critically important.

Following are articles, free resources (including reading assessments), and teaching tips regarding how to teach reading and writing intervention within the RtI process from the Pennington Publishing Blog. Bookmark and visit us often. Also, check out the quality instructional programs and resources offered by Pennington Publishing.

Response to Intervention

Free Whole Class Diagnostic ELA/Reading Assessments

https://blog.penningtonpublishing.com/reading/diagnostic-reading-and-spelling-assessments/https://penningtonpublishing.com/

Download FREE phonemic awareness, vowel sound phonics, consonant sound phonics, sight word, rimes, sight syllables, fluency,  and spelling assessments. All with answers and recording matrices. Most even include audio files for easy test administration. Elementary, secondary, and adult English language-arts and reading intervention teachers need comprehensive literacy assessments to pinpoint strengths and weaknesses for individual students and their classes. These reliable and valid reading and spelling assessments which perform the dual function of placement and diagnosis.

Do’s and Don’ts of  ELA and Reading Assessments Episode 1

Do’s and Don’ts of  ELA and Reading Assessments Episode 2

Do’s and Don’ts of  ELA and Reading Assessments Episode 3

Do’s and Don’ts of  ELA and Reading Assessments Episode 4

Do’s and Don’ts of  ELA and Reading Assessments Episode 5

Do’s and Don’ts of  ELA and Reading Assessments Episode 6

Eliminating the Trust Factor with Diagnostic ELA/Reading Assessments

https://penningtonpublishing.com/blog/reading/eliminating-the-trust-factor-with-diagnostic-elareading-assessments/

In summary, trust the science of comprehensive, diagnostic ELA/reading assessments to inform your instruction. Using this objective data will eliminate the “trust factor” and guess work and enable effective ELA and reading teachers to differentiate instruction.

RtI Reading Assessments

https://blog.penningtonpublishing.com/reading/rti-reading-assessments/

Why should I have to give and grade all these normed tests when I already know which kids need help in their reading? The tests don’t tell me what exactly I need to teach. Give me an assessment that is teachable and I’ll give it, grade it, and teach to it… but I want the instructional resources to do so. A fair question and legitimate request.

Should We Teach Reading Strategies?

Should We Teach Reading Strategies?

Reading Fluency ILA Position

Misleading Educational Malpractice

Phonetic Dyslexia

Phonetic Dyslexia

Reading Flashcards and Games

Reading Flashcards and Games

Orton-Gillingham Review

Orton-Gillingham Review

Summer School Reading Intervention

Summer School Reading Intervention

Ten Reasons Teachers Avoid RtI Collaboration

https://penningtonpublishing.com/blog/reading/ten-reasons-teachers-avoid-rti-collaboration/

If your school and/or district is moving toward a Response to Intervention (RtI) model, knowing the ten reasons why some teachers and administrators avoid RtI collaboration will help those committed to the RtI process make fewer mistakes and get more buy-in from stakeholders.

Are You Ready for RtI?

https://penningtonpublishing.com/blog/reading/are-you-ready-for-rti/

The RtI model presupposes collaboration from all stakeholders in a school and/or district. All-too-often, this presupposition has doomed RtI at some school sites and in some districts from the get-go. Jumping into RtI and the three-tier instructional delivery model without first addressing legitimate concerns and before gaining stakeholder consensus has given a black-eye to a promising means of delivering a truly first-class education to all children.

Level Books with Word Recognition

Level Books with Word Recognition

Put aside the Lexiles, the DRA, F&P/GRL, and ATOS levels and let go of the Lucy Calkins and guided reading assessment-re-tells. Use word recognition. The five and ten-finger methods for book selection are quick, accurate, and easy to apply. Also get a wonderful FREE resources to boost your students’ reading comprehension.

Response to Intervention and the Common Core

https://blog.penningtonpublishing.com/reading/common-core-di-rti-and-ell/

RTI (Response to Intervention), ELL, ESL, and ELD (English Language Development), and DI (Differentiated/Individualized Instruction), instructional strategies are all validated in the Common Core State Standards. Common Core writers have clearly gone out of their way to assure educators that the Standards establish the what, but not the how of instruction.

Teaching Reading Strategies Audio Resources

https://blog.penningtonpublishing.com/reading/animal-name-sound-and-spelling-chants/

The 13 classroom-tested diagnostic reading assessments provided in the Teaching Reading Strategies program are administered in the first two weeks of instruction and assess all reading skills—each in multiple choice format. That’s right. No individual time-consuming testing—use Scantrons® or Grade Cam® if you wish. Plus, 8 of the 13 tests include convenient audio files for easy test administration. Each of the 13 assessments is comprehensive and prescriptive. Unlike most reading assessments, none of the assessments (other than the phonemic awareness tests) is based on random sample. Everything you need to teach (or not teach) is assessed. Download these mp3s to up the level of your assessment-based instruction and get corresponding activities and worksheets in Teaching Reading Strategies and the Sam and Friends Phonics Books

What to Teach in Reading Intervention

https://blog.penningtonpublishing.com/reading/what-to-teach-in-reading-intervention/ 

Key instructional components are needed in any successful Tier II and III reading intervention programs. A balanced approach of decoding, encoding, syllabication, vocabulary, comprehension, and fluency development will achieve significant results in minimal time. Check out these instructional resources and improve the quality of reading instruction in your classroom.

Flexible Phonics Instruction

Flexible Phonics Instruction

Reading Program Placement

https://blog.penningtonpublishing.com/uncategorized/reading-program-placement/

Far too often grades 4-12 students are placed in reading intervention classes where they don’t belong. Far too often students are not placed in reading intervention programs where they do belong. In the following article I will discuss a common sense criteria for reading program placement and a few pitfalls to avoid. I will also provide three complete reading program placement assessments with audio files and recording matrices.

How to Teach Reading Intervention

https://penningtonpublishing.com/blog/reading/how-to-teach-reading-intervention/

Teaching reading intervention is qualitatively different from teaching beginning reading. By definition, the initial reading instruction did not “take” to a sufficient degree, so things must be done differently this time around to improve chances for success. This article defines the key ingredients for a successful reading intervention program and provides an instructional template.

Dyslexia Is Not Real

Dyslexia Is Not Real

Student-Centered Reading Intervention

https://blog.penningtonpublishing.com/reading/student-centered-reading-intervention/

So many teachers look at the Response to Intervention literature and try to apply Tier I, II, and III models to their own instructional settings. Square pegs in round holes more often than not lead to frustration and failure. While reading specialists certainly support the concept of tiered interventions, the non-purists know that implementation of any site-based reading intervention is going to need to adapt to any given number of constraints.

Instead of beginning with top-down program structure, I suggest looking bottom-up. Starting at the instructional needs of below grade level readers and establishing instructional priorities should determine the essentials of any reading intervention program. In other words, an effective site reading intervention program begins with your students.

Teaching Reading Strategies and RtI

https://blog.penningtonpublishing.com/reading/teaching-reading-strategies-and-rti/

The Teaching Reading Strategies program provides both Tier 2 and Tier 3 reading intervention to struggling readers in a half-year intensive program (70 minutes per day, 5 days per week) or full-year program (55 minutes per day, 5 days per week. Students receive whole class direct instruction, as well as small group and individualized instruction based upon assessment-based needs. The Teaching Reading Strategies delivery model is teacher-based, not computer-based (except for the online modeled fluency readings).

Schoolwide Independent Reading Program

https://blog.penningtonpublishing.com/reading/schoolwide-independent-reading-program/

I take a balanced approach and recommend such in the development of a schoolwide Independent Reading Program (IRP). On the one hand, we want our students to become lifelong readers. We want them to intrinsically enjoy reading and choose to read on their own. However, I do see the value in some marketing and promotion of a schoolwide Independent Reading Program (IRP). Students work well when pursuing goals and everyone likes rewards. No, I’m certainly not advocating the AR program: See my The 18 Reasons Not to Use Accelerated Reader article.

High Fluency Low Reading Comprehension

https://blog.penningtonpublishing.com/reading/high-fluency-low-reading-comprehension/

What can we, as parents and teachers, do for children with high fluency, but low reading comprehension? Check out the six actions steps designed to address this problem and download the helpful instructional strategies and free resources.

Read 180 Foundational Reading Assessment

https://blog.penningtonpublishing.com/reading/read-180-foundational-reading-assessment/

The Foundational Reading Assessment (designed by Dr. Richard K. Wagner as a K-2 test and published as such for another program) consists of a short random sample 12 rhymes, initial, final, and medial sounds (3 each). I can hear kindergarten teachers cringing at the sample size and components. The take-away from my article is that the test assesses only part of what constitutes phonological or phonemic awareness and is not teachable because it is not comprehensive.

READ 180 and Phonemic Awareness

https://blog.penningtonpublishing.com/reading/read-180-and-phonemic-awareness/

In this article I’m taking a look at the phonological awareness component from one of the two assessments in the Scholastic Reading Inventory (SRI): The Foundational Reading Assessment. The second assessment is the Reading Comprehension Assessment. In my first article on these two reading intervention programs, I noted my concern that no encoding (spelling) test was included as part of the screening and placement assessments for READ 180. Jane Fell Greene’s encoding test has always been part of the competing Language!® program.

Comparing READ 180 and Language! Live

https://blog.penningtonpublishing.com/reading/comparing-read-180-and-language-live/

As money has finally started to creep back into education, districts are now turning their attention and dollars into purchasing reading intervention programs. My district has decided to “speed pilot” two reading intervention programs for our secondary schools: Language!® Live is the re-vamped Language!® program from Voyager Sopris with new contributing author Louisa Cook Moats; and READ 180 Next Generation is the thoroughly revised offering from mega publisher Scholastic/Houghton Mifflin Harcourt with new contributing authors Kevin Feldman and Kate Kinsella. Which is better for your students, and are there any low cost alternatives to these expensive computer-based programs?

Word Families (Rimes) Activities

https://penningtonpublishing.com/blog/reading/rimes-word-families-activities/

Learning the common word families (rimes) can help beginning or remedial readers recognize common chunks of letters within words. For example, if students learn to recognize the “ack” rime, they will be able to use that chunk to learn words with different single consonant onsets, to form “back,” “hack,” “jack,” “lack,” “rack,” “sack,” “tack,” as well as words with different consonant blend onsets, such as “black,” “crack,” and “stack.” Check out the most common rimes and some fun rimes activities to use at home or in the classroom.

Sight Word Activities

https://penningtonpublishing.com/blog/reading/sight-word-activities/

Most every reading teacher places some value onsight wordsinstruction; however, just what teachers mean by sight words varies more than the flavors at the local ice cream parlor. Reading specialists describe two methods of “word attack”: word identification and word recognition. Sight words are the word recognition side of the coin. These words break the law, that is they break the rules of the alphabet code and are non-phonetic. Words such as the and loveare Outlaw Words because readers can’t sound them out. Unfortunately, many of our high frequency and high utility words happen to be non-decodable, so they need to be memorized. Here is a list of the essential Outlaw Words with some fun practice activities and an Outlaw Words reading fluency to assess mastery in the reading context.

Phonemic Awareness Activities

https://penningtonpublishing.com/blog/reading/phonemic-awareness-activities/

Phonemic awareness is the basic understanding that spoken words are made up of individual speech sounds. We call these speech sounds phonemes. Both beginning and remedial readers may need to learn these phonemic awareness skills: rhyme, alphabet, syllable, phonemic isolation, blending, and segmenting. Check out the list of phonemes, six whole-class phonemic awareness assessments, and six corresponding activities to teach phonemic awareness in the home or in the classroom.

How to Teach Phonics

https://penningtonpublishing.com/blog/reading/how-to-teach-phonics/

Teaching phonics is an essential ingredient to effective reading instruction. Learning the phonetic code teaches the beginning or remedial reader to make efficient and automatic judgments about how words are constructed. Mastery of the basic sound-spelling correspondences will also pay significant dividends once the student begins reading multisyllabic expository text. Check out the colorful Animal Sound-Spelling Cards, the Names, Sounds, and Spelling Rap (Mp3 file), the Consonant Blend Cards, whole-class phonemic awareness and phonics diagnostic assessments, the Sound by Sound Spelling Blending Instructional Sequence with accompanying teaching script, and some great phonics games ALL FREE in this article.

What Effective and Ineffective RtI Look Like

https://penningtonpublishing.com/blog/reading/what-effective-and-ineffective-rti-look-like/

Response to Intervention (RtI) is a K-12 site-level decision-making process designed to facilitate and coordinate early and flexible responses to student’s learning and behavioral difficulties. RtI promotes data-based decision-making with respect to service placement and on-going progress monitoring. Following are a few indicators of what effective and ineffective RtI can look like.

Eight RtI-Reading Intervention Models

https://penningtonpublishing.com/blog/reading/eight-rti-reading-intervention-models/

As administrators, special education teachers, EL coordinators, reading specialists, and teachers are scrambling to see how new Response to Intervention (RtI) guidelines will work with resources, personnel, schedules, and student populations, it may be helpful to examine eight of the many intervention models with proven track records. After all, why re-invent the wheel? Each of the following models is described and analyzed in pro-con format.

Response to Intervention: What Just Won’t Work

https://penningtonpublishing.com/blog/reading/response-to-intervention-what-just-wont-work/

With the newly released RtI document and as states and districts scramble to conform to Race to the Top carrots and sticks, voices of experience need to begin shouting quickly and boldly to be heard. Although I commend the International Reading Association (IRA) for assigning reading assessment a prominent role in their Response to Intervention (RtI) document, the language of the document betrays certain pedagogical presuppositions and is, at points, flat unrealistic.

r-controlled Vowels for Big Kids

https://blog.penningtonpublishing.com/reading/r-controlled-vowels-for-big-kids/

Although r, l, and do control (change from the usual) the vowel sounds, most phonics programs only include the r-controlled vowels. Download the entire set of r-controlled vowel lessons and assessment at the end of the article. Plus, get the complete set of FREE diagnostic 13 reading assessments to see which of your BIG KIDS need help with which phonics elements.

Diphthongs for Big Kids

https://blog.penningtonpublishing.com/reading/diphthongs-for-big-kids/

Response to intervention reading teachers know that phonics instruction is critically important to fill in the gaps for older readers. Teachers use a variety of approaches to determine which phonics skills are missing from older students’ reading strategies. Diphthongs are quite often among these phonics deficits. Unlike vowel digraphs, which say one sound, such as with “ai” as in train, a diphthong says two sounds, such as with “aw” in hawk. A full set of five diphthong workshop lessons with a formative assessment is provided absolutely FREE at the end of this article.

Fluency Assessment Problems

https://blog.penningtonpublishing.com/reading/fluency-assessment-problems/

The heart of effective reading intervention, whether in a comprehensive Response to Intervention (RtI) program, individual remedial reading classes, reading tutoring, or in-class literacy centers, guided reading, readers workshop, etc. is assessment-based instruction. The devil is in the details, especially with respect to the diagnostic (and placement) reading assessments. This article focuses on problematic reading fluency assessments and provides Pennington Publishing’s FREE multi-leveled Pet’s Fluency Assessment.

Reading Fluency Norms 

https://blog.penningtonpublishing.com/reading/reading-fluency-norms/

Reading fluency assessments are universally recognized as important initial looks into how a reader processes text. Unlike other measures, such as comprehension and vocabulary assessments, reading fluency assessments give the classroom teacher and diagnostician not only qualitative, but also quantitative data. We love numbers! Most reading specialists recommend using the updated Hasbrouck and Tindal (2017) fluency norms. Check them out!

Books for Struggling Readers

https://blog.penningtonpublishing.com/reading/books-for-struggling-readers/

Despite the apathetic “I don’t care” self-defense mechanisms of most struggling readers, they really do care that they aren’t like the rest of their peers. No one want to stand out as a poor reader. I’ve never heard the most unreachable fourth grader, middle schooler, high schooler, or community college adult (and I’ve taught them all) say, “I’m a poor reader and proud of it.”

My main point in this article is to get reading teachers to be hypersensitive to the effects of motivation on learning to read. Specifically, we have got to stop unintentionally tearing away at the self-esteem of our struggling readers. Take a moment to look at your teaching resources. Do they match the age of your students?

Mastery Learning in RtI

https://blog.penningtonpublishing.com/reading/mastery-learning-in-rti/

What if a shaky foundation is what we’re dealing with now? We can’t do anything about the past. Teachers can start playing the blame game and complain that we’re stuck teaching reading to students who missed key foundational components, such as phonics. All-too-often, response to intervention teachers are ignoring shaky foundations and are trying to layer on survival skills without fixing the real problems. Instead, teachers should re-build the foundation. Teachers can figure out what is missing in the individual student skill-sets and fill the gaps… this time with mastery learning. Get Pennington Publishing’s set of diagnostic reading assessments absolutely FREE with the link in this article.

Reading Intervention Program Politics 101

https://blog.penningtonpublishing.com/reading/reading-intervention-program-politics-101/

We teachers love to whine. It’s a staff room staple and a good coping mechanism. However, when we turn simple whining into a political action plan it becomes productive whining. Teachers need to be more assertive on behalf of our neediest kids. We must learn to work smarter, not harder. Following are three (of many) ideas as to how to take a friendly, but tough stance with administrators to meet the needs of struggling readers.

Digraphs and Diphthongs | Academic Language for Reading Instruction

https://blog.penningtonpublishing.com/reading/digraphs-and-diphthongs-academic-language-for-reading-instruction/

I, like most teachers, am always looking for a way to simplify our language of instruction for our students. However, in a recent revision of my Animal Sound-Spelling Cards, I’ve decided to drop the “vowel teams” and classify as the more precise “vowel digraphs” and “diphthongs.” When we simplify instruction, we create confusion for students later on. After all, phonics is all about sound-spellings. To be able to properly blend sounds and words, readers have to be able to hear, break apart, and write the sounds. Download Pennington Publishing’s FREE Animal Sound-Spelling Cards.

FREE Phonics Practice!

https://blog.penningtonpublishing.com/reading/how-to-teach-phonics-to-big-kids-and-adults-long-vowels-2/

Teachers leading Reading Intervention classes for older, struggling readers know that a primary reason for reading deficits is the sound-spelling system. Download my FREE Animal Sound-Spelling Cards and Practice Video for Beginning Reading Instruction and RtI.

Long Vowels for Big Kids

https://blog.penningtonpublishing.com/page/3/

Get the FREE five Long Vowel Phonics Lessons for Big Kids with a short formative assessment and the Animal Sound-Spelling Cards to check out Pennington Publishing’s comprehensive Teaching Reading Strategies reading intervention program.

Consonant Blends for Big Kids

https://blog.penningtonpublishing.com/reading/how-to-teach-big-kids-phonics-consonant-blends/

Get the FREE five Consonant Blends for Big Kids Lessons for Big Kids with a short formative assessment and the Animal Sound-Spelling Cards to check out Pennington Publishing’s comprehensive Teaching Reading Strategies reading intervention program.

Consonant Digraphs for Big Kids

https://blog.penningtonpublishing.com/reading/how-to-teach-phonics-short-vowels-4/ 

Get the FREE five Consonant Digraphs for Big Kids Lessons for Big Kids with a short formative assessment and the Animal Sound-Spelling Cards to check out Pennington Publishing’s comprehensive Teaching Reading Strategies reading intervention program.

Silent Final e for Big Kids

https://blog.penningtonpublishing.com/reading/how-to-teach-phonics-short-vowels-3/

Get the FREE five Silent Final e for Big Kids Lessons for Big Kids with a short formative assessment and the Animal Sound-Spelling Cards to check out Pennington Publishing’s comprehensive Teaching Reading Strategies reading intervention program.

Short Vowels for Big Kids

https://blog.penningtonpublishing.com/reading/how-to-teach-phonics-short-vowels-2/

Get the FREE five Short Vowels for Big Kids Lessons for Big Kids with a short formative assessment and the Animal Sound-Spelling Cards to check out Pennington Publishing’s comprehensive Teaching Reading Strategies reading intervention program.

More Articles, Free Resources, and Teaching Tips from the Pennington Publishing Blog

English-Language Arts and Reading Intervention Articles and Resources 

Bookmark and check back often for new articles and free ELA/reading resources from Pennington Publishing.

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Pennington Publishing’s mission is to provide the finest in assessment-based ELA and reading intervention resources for grades 4‒high school teachers. Mark Pennington is the author of two Standards-aligned programs: Teaching Essay Strategies and Grammar, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary (Teaching the Language Strand)Mark’s comprehensive Teaching Reading Strategies and the accompanying Sam and Friends Guided Reading Phonics Books help struggling readers significantly improve their reading skills in a full-year or half-year intensive reading intervention program. Make sure to check out Pennington Publishing’s free ELA and reading assessments to help you pinpoint grammar, usage, mechanics, spelling, and reading deficits.

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Free Writing Style Resources

The Teaching Essay Strategies Program

Teaching Essay Strategies

Writing style is an umbrella term which includes writing rules and conventions, the voice or personality of the writer, how the writer interacts with his or her audience, what the author says, his or her purpose for writing, and how the author says what is said (including form, word choice, grammar, and sentence structure). Writing style also includes the personal agenda and collective experience of the writer. Writing style is all about the writer and his or her choices.

English-language arts teachers tend to argue about whether writing style is caught or taught. In my mind it’s both. Exposure to and recognition of unique writing styles through wide reading of a variety of prose and poetry provides a context for developing writers to experiment with their own voices. Teaching accepted writing rules, practicing sentence combining, requiring different grammatical sentence structures, etc. all impact what and how students write.

Following are articles, free resources, and teaching tips regarding how to teach essay strategies from the Pennington Publishing Blog. Also, check out the quality instructional programs and resources offered by Pennington Publishing.

Writing Style

How to Improve Writing Style

https://penningtonpublishing.com/blog/writing/how-to-improve-writing-style/

Writing style is personal, but also follows a traditional, widely agreed-to form. Indeed, good writing style does have objective rules to follow. Here are the key rules of writing style, written with tongue-firmly-planted-in-cheek examples. This article lists 24 writing style rules in a truly memorable way.

Writing Style

https://blog.penningtonpublishing.com/writing/writing-style/

Although teachers exert considerable effort in showing students the differences between the narrative and essay genre, the both stories and essays do share some common writing rules. Among these are the accepted rules of writing style. Different than grammar, usage, or mechanics rules, the accepted rules of writing style help student writers avoid the pitfalls and excesses of formulaic, padded, and contrived writing. Additionally, using proper writing style helps students improve coherence and readability.

How to Improve Writing Unity

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Writing unity refers to how well sentences and paragraphs stay focused on the topic sentences and thesis statement. From the reader’s point of view, writing unity means that there are no irrelevant (off the point) details and that the tone of the writing remains consistent. This article gives good and bad examples of writing unity and provides strategies to improve your writing.

How to Improve Writing Parallelism

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Writing parallelism refers to the repeated pattern of words and grammatical structures. Parallel structures assist the comprehension of the reader and provide a memorable rhythm to the writing. Improve your writing style and readability by incorporating parallelism in your writing.

How to Improve Your Writing Style with Grammatical Sentence Openers

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To improve writing style and increase readability, learn how to vary sentence structures. Starting sentences with different grammatical sentence openers is the easiest way to add sentence variety. This article lists, explains, and provides clear examples for grammatical sentence openers.

Using Music to Develop Authentic Voice

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Music creates the passion, commitment, and authentic voice that we want to see in our students’ writing. Connecting to student experience with their own music can transform the way they write essays, reports, narratives, poetry, and letters.

How to Develop Voice in Student Writing

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For students to develop voice, they need to practice voice in specific teacher-directed writing assignments. Here are 13 teaching tips to help students find their own voices.

Teaching Essay Style: 15 Tricks of the Trade

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“Never start a sentence with But.” Countless middle school and high school English-language arts teachers cringe when their students faithfully repeat this elementary school dictum. “Never use I in your five-paragraph essay.” Now university professors similarly cringe and shake their heads at the straight-jacketed rules placed upon their students. However, maybe there is a method to our madness. Perhaps these writing absolutes serve a useful purpose for developing writers. Perhaps the little white lies that we teach our students are actually our tricks of the trade.

How to Teach Rhetorical Stance

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Students need to practice the elements of rhetorical stance to improve their writing. This article provides clear definitions and a great sample lesson with useful links to learn how to teach voice, audience, purpose, and form to your students.

Ten Tips to Improving Writing Coherency

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Writing coherency refers to how well sentences and paragraphs are organized into an understandable whole. Good writing coherency is reader-centered. From the reader’s point of view, the train of thought must be connected, easy to follow, and make sense.

How to Eliminate “To-Be” Verbs in Writing

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Every English teacher has a sure-fire revision tip that makes developing writers dig down deep and revise initial drafts. One of my favorites involves eliminating the “to-be-verbs”: is, am, are, was, were, be, being, and been. Learn the four strategies to revise these “writing crutches.”

How to Teach Helping Verbs

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English teachers learn early in their careers that strong nouns and “show-me” verbs are the keys to good writing. Of these two keys, verbs give developing writers the most “bang for their buck” in terms of writing revision. As a plus, revising weak and imprecise verbs, such as helping verbs (also known as auxiliary verbs), with active “show-me verbs” is quite teachable and less vocabulary-dependent than working with nouns. Learn when to use and when not to use helping verbs and how to eliminate them to improve writing.

The Seven Essay Writing Rules

https://penningtonpublishing.com/blog/writing/the-seven-essay-writing-rules/

Essays have certain traditional rules that help maintain a fair and balanced writing style. This article details the seven key essay writing rules with clear examples.

More Articles, Free Resources, and Teaching Tips from the Pennington Publishing Blog

Bookmark and check back often for new articles and free ELA/reading resources from Pennington Publishing.

………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………

Pennington Publishing’s mission is to provide the finest in assessment-based ELA and reading intervention resources for grades 4‒high school teachers. Mark Pennington is the author of two Standards-aligned programs: Teaching Essay Strategies and Grammar, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary (Teaching the Language Strand)Mark’s comprehensive Teaching Reading Strategies and the accompanying Sam and Friends Guided Reading Phonics Books help struggling readers significantly improve their reading skills in a full-year or half-year intensive reading intervention program. Make sure to check out Pennington Publishing’s free ELA and reading assessments to help you pinpoint grammar, usage, mechanics, spelling, and reading deficits.

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Free Resources to Teach the Writing Process and Writer’s Workshop

The Teaching Essay Strategies Program

Teaching Essay Strategies

The Writing Process and Writers Workshop are not simply processes by which students explore and refine their writing on their own. The teacher plays an active role in teaching and modeling the writing strategies that students need to acquire to become coherent writers. Both explicit and implicit instruction have their appropriate roles within writing instruction. Creating  and maintaining an experimental community of writers is no easy task for the writing instructor. However, the pay-offs are certainly worth the effort.

The diverse classroom provides unique challenges for both students and writing instructor. By its very nature, much of writing instruction is differentiated instruction. Classroom management and creation of a workable writing climate are essentials to successful learning.

Following are articles, free resources, and teaching tips regarding how to facilitate the Writing Process and Writers Workshop from the Pennington Publishing Blog. Also, check out the quality instructional programs and resources offered by Pennington Publishing.

How Much and What to Mark on Essays

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Many teachers take pride in red-inking student essays: the more ink the better. Some “grade” essays without comments by using holistic or analytical rubrics, but do not mark papers. For those who still assign writing process essays and/or essay exams and believe that students can and do benefit from comments, the question of How Much and What to Mark on Essays is relevant. Work smarter, not harder, while focusing on efficiency and outcomes.

Writer’s Handbook | The Pennington Manual of Style

https://blog.penningtonpublishing.com/grammar_mechanics/writers-handbook-the-pennington-manual-of-style/

I’ve noticed a new and developing interest in writing style and I don’t think it’s a nostalgic homage to Strunk and White’s The Elements of StyleIndeed, our collective writing craft has diminished over the years, but when I see twenty-something teachers driving a return to grammar handbooks and style manuals I see more than a glimpse of hope. Pennington Publishing’s The Pennington Manual of Style enables teachers to download a comment bank of 438 Essay e-Comments into the Autocorrect function of Microsoft Word®. Then, teachers type in the assigned alphanumeric code and the entire formatted writing comment appears in a comment bubble where desired on the student’s essay. Teachers can save time, yet do a more thorough job of essay response. It’s simple to add in personalized comments.

Teaching Essay Strategies

https://blog.penningtonpublishing.com/writing/teaching-essay-strategies-2/

Pennington Publishing’s Teaching Essay Strategies is the comprehensive curriculum designed to help teachers teach the essay components of the Common Core Anchor Standards for Writing. This step-by-step program provides all of the resources for upper elementary, middle school, and high school teachers to teach both the writing process essays and the accompanying writing strategies.

How to Teach Writing Skills

https://blog.penningtonpublishing.com/writing/how-to-teach-writing-skills/

Two time-proven solutions to these problems take little time, but do necessitate some instruction and practice: sentence revisions and literary response. Writing teachers (and writing research) have found these tools to be especially helpful for developing writers.

By sentence revision, I mean the word choice and structure of our language (the grammar, usage, and syntax). It’s the how something is written (and re-written). Think sentence variety, sentence combining, grammar and proper usage in the writing context. The skills of sentence revision are primarily taught.

By literary response, I mean writing style: primarily the style of literary mentors, who not only have something to say, but know how to say it in both expository and narrative writing. Think mentor texts and rhetorical stance (voice, audience, purpose, and form). The skills of writing style are primarily caught.

How to Write Effective Essay Comments

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Conscientious teachers know that merely completing a holistic rubric and totaling the score for a grade is not effective essay response or writing assessment. Teachers may choose to grade and/or respond with essay comments after the rough draft and/or after the final draft. Using the types of comments that match the teacher’s instructional objectives is essential. Additionally, keeping in mind the key components of written discourse can balance responses between form and content. Finally, most writing instructors include closing comments to emphasize and summarize their responses. Here’s how to write truly effective essay comments.

Why Using Essay e-C0mments Makes Sense

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Good teachers know that students need detailed, prescriptive, and personal comments on their essays throughout the writing process to make significant improvement. However, the process can be time-consuming and frustrating. Check out a common sense approach to save you grading time and do a better job of writer response.

How to Save Time Grading Essays

https://blog.penningtonpublishing.com/grammar_mechanics/how-to-save-time-grading-essays/

Good teachers learn to work smarter not harder. We also learn how to prioritize our time, especially in terms of managing the paper load. Most of us would agree that we need to focus more of our time on planning and teaching, rather than on correcting. Here’s one resource to help you save time grading essays, while doing a better job providing essay response.

The Difference between Facts and Claims

https://blog.penningtonpublishing.com/spelling_vocabulary/the-difference-between-claims-and-facts/

This article discusses the important differences between a fact and a claim. Plus, learn how knowing the differences should affect your teaching the argumentative essay.

Using Evidence in Writing

https://blog.penningtonpublishing.com/writing/using-evidence-in-writing/

Teaching students to use appropriate evidence in argumentative essays is a difficult task. Students generally understand how to use textual evidence in direct and indirect quotations, but are less adept at creating reasons apart from the text itself. Teach your students the eight types of essay evidence with the memorable FE SCALE CC strategies.

438 Essay e-Comments

https://blog.penningtonpublishing.com/grammar_mechanics/438-essay-e-comments/

The Pennington Manual of Style, sold as a separate product and also as part of the comprehensive Teaching Essay Strategies program, enables teachers to download the entire comment bank of 438 Essay e-Comments into the Autocorrect function of Microsoft Word®. Then, teachers type in the assigned alphanumeric code and the entire formatted writing comment appears in a comment bubble where desired on the student’s essay. Teachers can save time, yet do a more thorough job of essay response. It’s simple to add in personalized comments. Here are the 438 Essay e-Comments.

How Much and What to Mark on Essays

https://penningtonpublishing.com/blog/grammar_mechanics/how-much-and-what-to-mark-on-essays/

For those who still assign writing process essays and/or essay exams and believe that students can and do benefit from comments, the question of How Much and What to Mark on Essays is relevant. Working smarter, not harder and focusing on efficiency and outcomes over pedagogical purity are worthy mantras for effective writing instruction.

How to Dissect a Writing Prompt

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Knowing exactly what the writing assignment requires in terms of the audience, role of the writer, topic and its context, purpose of the essay, essay format, resource text, and key writing direction words are all necessary components of this task. Following is a step-by-step procedure for dissecting a writing prompt.

How Many Essay Comments and What Kind

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So, to summarize how many essay comments and what kind, writing research would suggest the following: Comment on rough drafts, not final drafts. Limit the amount of comments and individualize those to the needs of the student writer. Balance the types of comments between writing errors and issues of style, argument, structure, and evidence. Hold students accountable for each mark or comment. Comments are better than diacritical marks alone. Comments should explain what is wrong or explain the writing issue.

Computer-Scored Essays

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Teachers recognize the value of essay compositions as vital tools for learning, self-expression, and assessment. However, essays just take too much time to read, respond to, and evaluate. As a result, computer-scoring of student writing is being actively marketed to K-12 schools and universities. But teacher organizations, such as the NCTE and CCCC adamantly oppose machine-scored writing. Is there a middle ground that uses technological efficiency and maintains teacher judgment?

Writer’s Workshop Mini-Conferences

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With Writer’s Workshop, teachers typically organize a one-hour workshop so that at least half of the time is devoted to writing, peer conferences, and writer-teacher mini-conferences. Properly managed, the writer-teacher mini-conference can be a key ingredient to the success of developing writers. Here are some tips to make the most out of Writer’s Workshop Mini-Conferences and some great attachments, links, and free downloads as well.

Differentiating Instruction in Writer’s Workshop

https://penningtonpublishing.com/blog/grammar_mechanics/differentiating-instruction-in-writer%E2%80%99s-workshop/

Critics of Writer’s Workshop often complain that Writer’s Workshop can be inefficient and/or a class management nightmare. Some teachers have tried Writer’s Workshop, but have given up because the workshop is interest-based, not standards-based or because it is student-centered, not teacher-centered. Neither of those criticisms concerns me greatly. However, I do feel that the traditional model of Writer’s Workshop is not as conducive to differentiated instruction as it could be. Specifically, tweaking the mini-lesson will allow teachers to better differentiate instruction within Writer’s Workshop.

Essay Comment Excuses

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Teachers know that detailed essay comments are keys to effective writing instruction but are adept at creating essay comment excuses to avoid the time and energy it takes to do the job. But, how can we do a great job with essay response and still maintain some semblance of a life outside of work? Canned comments. Ones to cut and paste from your computer. But… really good ones.

Analytical Rubrics

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Teachers use two types of rubrics to assess student writing: holistic and analytic. Of the two rubrics, the analytical rubric offers both teachers and students much more to work with to improve student writing. Here are five reasons why using analytical rubrics makes sense.

What’s Wrong with Holistic Rubrics?

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It’s a relatively easy task to criticize any measure of writing assessment. This is my chore in What’s Wrong with Holistic Rubrics. We should use holistic rubrics for many writing assessments. However, we shouldn’t use holistic rubrics to teach writing. Holistic rubrics are, by design, summative assessments. Summative assessment is limited to evaluation, and evaluation is not instruction.

20 Tips to Teach Writing through Music

https://penningtonpublishing.com/blog/writing/20-tips-to-teach-writing-through-music/

Students have internalized the structure, syntax, and rules of music far more than that of any writing genre. This prior knowledge is simply too valuable for the writing teacher to ignore. Analyzing the songwriting composition process will enable students to apply the relevant strategies to their own writing of narratives, poetry, essays, and reports (and maybe even songs).

How to Teach a Balanced Writing Program

https://penningtonpublishing.com/blog/reading/how-to-teach-a-balanced-writing-program/

Teachers see more value today in an eclectic approach to teaching writing. We embrace both part-to-whole and whole-to-part instruction. No one wants to throw away explicit grammar, spelling, and writing strategies instruction or the writing process. In a previous article, I have made the case that a balanced writing program makes sense. Learn the six steps to take to develop a balanced and effective writing program.

Using Music to Develop a Productive Writing Climate

https://penningtonpublishing.com/blog/writing/using-music-to-develop-a-productive-writing-climate/

Using the craft of songwriting as a guide, the writing teacher can develop a productive writing climate. Combining resources, collaboration, and competition with an atmosphere of social networking can improve student motivation, commitment, and end product.

Using Music to Develop a Creative Writing Culture

https://penningtonpublishing.com/blog/writing/using-music-to-develop-a-creative-writing-culture/

Music, and songwriting in particular, can help teachers develop a creative writing culture. Learning the lessons of musical composition can improve student writing.

Ten Tips for Coaching Basketball and Writing

https://penningtonpublishing.com/blog/grammar_mechanics/ten-tips-for-coaching-basketball-and-writing/

Learning to apply the coaching techniques of an effective basketball coach will significantly improve your ability as a writing coach for your students. Learn the ten tips to change from “the sage on the stage” to the “guide on the side.”

How to Write an Effective Essay Prompt

https://penningtonpublishing.com/blog/writing/how-to-write-an-effective-essay-prompt/

Writing effective writing prompts that will engage writers and produce the best written responses can be challenging. This article shares the best tips for writing good writing prompts that will allow room for creative interpretation and analysis. The article also defines the common writing direction words that inform and persuade.

How to Teach the Writing Domains (Genres)

https://penningtonpublishing.com/blog/writing/how-to-teach-the-writing-domains-genres-and-rhetorical-stance/

Teaching the writing domains (genres) and rhetorical stance are two essential lessons for developing young writers.

Process vs. On Demand Writing

https://penningtonpublishing.com/blog/writing/process-vs-on-demand-writing/

The advent of timed writings on high stakes tests, such as the new SAT 1, high school exit exams, and standards-based writing assessments, has placed teachers in the difficult position of choosing among three instructional approaches to help students learn to write and succeed on these tests: process writing, on demand writing, or a mix of the two. All three approaches share the same challenge: little time is allocated for writing instruction.

Ten Tips to Teach On-Demand Writing

https://penningtonpublishing.com/blog/writing/ten-tips-to-teach-on-demand-writing/

On-demand writing assessments are here to stay. Teachers do a disservice to their students by not preparing them for the on-demand writing tasks that they will face throughout their academic and vocational careers. Here are ten practical tips to teach timed, on-demand writing to ensure success for your students.

Eight Great Tips for Teaching Writing Fluency

https://penningtonpublishing.com/blog/writing/eight-great-tips-for-teaching-writing-fluency/

Similar to reading fluency, writing fluency is the ability to write effortlessly without interruption. Writing fluency is developed through concentrated practice; however, some practices are more effective than others. This article shares the best writing fluency strategies.

How to Teach a Write Aloud

https://penningtonpublishing.com/blog/reading/how-to-teach-a-write-aloud/

Research shows that the best writers have learned how to creatively multi-task, problem-solve, and interact with the anticipated reader. This is a skill that can be effectively taught by using the Write Aloud strategy.

Twelve Tips to Teach the Reading-Writing Connection

https://penningtonpublishing.com/blog/reading/twelve-tips-to-teach-the-reading-writing-connection/

Educators often talk about the reading-writing connection. Teaching reading and writing strategies concurrently allows teachers to “kill two birds with one stone.” The following twelve techniques to teach the reading-writing connection will enhance students’ facility in both disciplines.

More Articles, Free Resources, and Teaching Tips from the Pennington Publishing Blog

Bookmark and check back often for new articles and free ELA/reading resources from Pennington Publishing.

………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………

Pennington Publishing’s mission is to provide the finest in assessment-based ELA and reading intervention resources for grades 4‒high school teachers. Mark Pennington is the author of two Standards-aligned programs: Teaching Essay Strategies and Grammar, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary (Teaching the Language Strand)Mark’s comprehensive Teaching Reading Strategies and the accompanying Sam and Friends Guided Reading Phonics Books help struggling readers significantly improve their reading skills in a full-year or half-year intensive reading intervention program. Make sure to check out Pennington Publishing’s free ELA and reading assessments to help you pinpoint grammar, usage, mechanics, spelling, and reading deficits.

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Why ELA Teachers Burn Out

Teacher Burn-out

ELA Teacher Burn-out

Teacher burn-out is real. We begin with high expectations of ourselves and idealism; however, after a few years the drudgery sets in. ELA teachers seem to burn-out more often than their colleagues in other disciplines. What causes burn-out and how can we work through this phase in our teaching careers?

None of us gets into the teaching profession with the hopes of being mediocre. All ELA/reading teachers want to do their best for their students. But how can we give our best when so many impediments stand in our way? I’m not talking about the usual ones we discuss in the staff room: discipline problems, overbearing administrators, bothersome parents, lack of materials. I’m talking about the all of the stuff that reductively minimizes our opportunity to be our best. In other words, if we could just rid ourselves (and our students) of… XXXX, we could truly be the teachers we want to be. So, let’s explore the impediments many ELA/reading teachers that keep us from teaching how and what we need to teach, the solutions as to how to reduce or get rid of these in our teaching repertoire, and most importantly what to teach now that the impediments have been removed.

10 Causes of ELA Teacher Burn-out and Solutions

1. Standards

Impediments: Although most teachers support the notion of an instructional scope and sequence, district-state-national standards were not delivered at Mt. Sinai. Some ELA/reading standards are more important than others and we ultimately and practically teach our students, not the standards. Our students are an unruly lot, refusing to progress at exactly the same rates and generally making a mess of our year-to-year academic standards.

Solutions: Establish priorities in terms of instructional time. Does anyone think that an identifying author’s purpose standard merits the same amount of attention as a reading comprehension standard? Develop a balance between teaching grade-level and review standards, according to the needs of your students indicated by diagnostic data.

2. School Culture and Interruptions

Impediments: At the middle or high school level, the ELA classes check out all books in the library, get student identification pictures, get picture re-takes, listen to counselor career presentations, and attend discipline assemblies. Daily announcements, spirit assemblies, guest speakers, phone calls interrupt all teachers. Not to mention the usual bathroom/counselor/nurse passes.

Solutions: Be assertive and learn to say “No.” Get other colleagues on board, work through the appropriate channels, and be willing to compromise; but guard “time on task” and re-visit these impediments regularly—they have a habit of sneaking back in.

3. Traditions

Impediments: 3rd grade silkworms and the reading incentive program, 4th grade dioramas and animal reports, 5th grade sugar cube castles and state reports, 6th grade science projects and PowerPoint® presentations, 7th grade African masks and oral reports, Martin Luther King, Jr. essay contest and 8th grade U.S. Constitution graduation requirement. You get the idea.

Solutions: Develop the mindset that any instructional activity that can achieve the same objectives in a more efficient manner than another instructional activity should be the one you choose. Don’t confuse content and process objectives.

4. Colleagues

Impediments: “We all teach XXXX. It’s a team decision—there is no I in team.” Disagreement is perceived as personal attack. Gossip, friendship, even romance. And colleagues tend to prey upon our good natures to get us to follow their agendas.

Solutions: Affirm your colleagues’ agendas, but don’t get sucked in. Always run a cost-benefit analysis when changing instruction. Being a team player doesn’t mean sacrificing your autonomy. Do what makes sense for you and your students.

5. Scheduling

Impediments: Advanced band is only offered this period, the special education pull-out study skills program, the reading intervention program, the remedial-basic-advanced-honors ELA classes, and the computer lab. And others.

Solutions: The needs of the students should dictate schedules; however, well-intended interventions, pull-out programs, and tracking can reduce the amount of core instructional time each student receives and/or change a teacher’s instructional plans. Insist upon differentiating instruction within the scope of the core ELA curricula and the confines of the regular classroom to address student needs.

6. Pigeonholing

Impediments: Shouldn’t the ELA teachers teach XXXX? Reading (literature and reading skills and SSR), writing, listening, speaking. Note-taking. Critical thinking. Problem-solving skills. Study skills. Career exploration. And let’s add on basic parenting.

Solutions: Preach “all teachers are teachers of reading, writing, and thinking.” Get to know the process-oriented standards of your math, social studies, arts, foreign language, physical education, and science teachers for ammunition and encourage everyone to share the load.

7. Educational Fads

Impediments: Learning styles, rigor and relevance, multiple intelligences, small learning communities, tribes, Cornell notes, reading fads, levels of questioning. And a few hundred more.

Solutions: Before jumping onto bandwagons, talk to veteran teachers for their “what comes around, goes around” perspectives, search the Internet for the real research on any educational fad, and take all professors’ and presenters’ information with grains of salt. Stick to the basics when in doubt.

8. Bureaucracy and Paperwork

Impediments: Progress monitoring charts, skills documentation, reading logs, independent learning goals, student evaluations. Staff meetings. Department meetings. Grade-level team meetings. Cross-disciplinary meetings. Vertical articulation. The mind boggles.

Solutions: Veteran teachers know how to cut corners when they need cutting. Ask them. Insist upon written agendas with time allocations and a time-keeper for meetings. Push to get everything in writing that can be written on an agenda and e-mailed in advance. Hold colleagues accountable for “birdwalking.” Keep business meetings all-business, and schedule personal hang-out/discussion time prior to or after meetings.

9. Testing

Impediments: State testing, district testing, diagnostic assessments, formative assessments, summative assessments. Standardized test preparation. Unit test review.

Solutions: Select colleagues committed to protecting teacher instructional time as district representatives on testing committees. Minimize isolated test preparation. The best test preparation is good teaching in the core ELA instructional components.

10. Ourselves

Impediments: I love to share my personal life with my students. My students love my stories. My students love my jokes. I just enjoy talking with students. I go with the “teachable moments.” I teach more of this because I like it better. I hate teaching, never liked, or I’m bad at XXXX… so I don’t teach it.

Solutions: We are often our own worst enemies. Ask a trusted colleague to observe you, your personal idiosyncrasies, and how you waste instructional time. Video-tape yourself. Don’t confuse your own teaching style with poor time management. Teach all the core curricular components and work on those in which you are weak.

Instructional Priorities

There are curricular priorities that most ELA teachers would agree to teach “if only they had the time.” To be practical as possible, here are the specific “Big Six” ELA instructional components with percentages of instructional time that make sense to allocate to each. Having taught at the upper elementary, middle school, high school, and community college levels, I believe that the core instructional components and allocations of instructional time should remain constant across those levels. Take stock of what you teach and how much time you allocate to each instructional component. And feel free to disagree.

The Big Six

Common Core Standards Time Allocations

Time Allocations for the Common Core Standards

1. Word Study (Vocabulary and Spelling) 16%

2. Grammar and Mechanics 16%

3. Reading Strategies 16%

4. Literary Analysis 16%

5, Writing Strategies 16%

6. Writing Process Papers 16%

That leaves 4% for the impediments that you cannot remove. Such is life.

*****

Teaching Grammar and Mechanics Programs

Teaching Grammar and Mechanics

 

I’m Mark Pennington, author of the full-year interactive grammar notebooks,  grammar literacy centers, the traditional grade-level 4, 5, 6, 7, 8 and high school Teaching Grammar and Mechanics programs, and the value-packed Grammar, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary BUNDLES.

Teaching Grammar and Mechanics includes 56 (64 for high school) interactive language conventions lessons,  designed for twice-per-week direct instruction in the grade-level grammar, usage, and mechanics standards. The scripted lessons (perfect for the grammatically-challenged teacher) are formatted for classroom display. Standards review, definitions and examples, practice and error analysis, simple sentence diagrams, mentor texts with writing applications, and formative assessments are woven into every 25-minute lesson. The program also includes the Diagnostic Grammar, Usage, and Mechanics Assessments with corresponding worksheets to help students catch up, while they keep up with grade-level, standards-aligned instruction.

Here’s a great example of how to manage time and avoid teacher-burn out with this full-year grammar and mechanics instructional plan:

Get the Grammar and Mechanics Grades 4-8 Instructional Scope and Sequence FREE Resource:

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20 Tips to Teach Writing through Music

There is no doubt that popular music transcends arbitrary barriers of age, culture, and language. My students and I share the same passion, although not the same music. Music speaks to their generation just as must as it has to mine. In fact, most students probably listen to more music than I did growing up. As a result, students have internalized the structure, syntax, and rules of music far more than that of any writing genre. This prior knowledge is simply too valuable for the writing teacher to ignore. Analyzing the songwriting composition process will enable students to apply the relevant strategies to their own writing of narratives, poetry, essays, and reports (and maybe even songs).

As an amateur songwriter and English-language arts teacher, my experience in learning the craft of songwriting has constantly informed my writing instruction. Here are 20 tips I’ve picked up over the years about how to apply the techniques of songwriting to writing in any genre.

Background: Paying Your Dues

1. Experience Matters

You don’t have to become a heroin addict to play the blues. However, knowing that blues usually follows a twelve-bar (measure) pattern provides an important foundation for a songwriter. Knowing the different blues genre of Chicago Blues, Delta Blues, and Texas Blues will help the songwriter follow the rules and stylistic features of the chosen genre.

Prior knowledge in writing content, genre, and style informs composition. For students lacking this experience, it is essential to “frontload” as much as possible to provide an equal playing field and give these writers what they need to be successful in a given writing task.

2. Reading to Write

Bob Dylan (Zimmerman) graduated from high school in a small town in Minnesota and moved to Greenwich Village. During his apprenticeship, Dylan played clubs and learned a catalog of folk and blues songs; however, he spent much much of his time reading everything that he could lay his hands on. In his autobiography, Chronicles Volume One, Dylan comments on his reading: “I was looking for the part of my education that I never got (p. 36).” His body of work shows the impact of this reading on his music.

 

Dr. Kate Kinsella of San Francisco State University summarizes the reading-writing connection research as follows:Reading widely and regularly contributes to the development of writing ability. Good writers were read to as children. Increasing reading frequency has a stronger influence on improving writing than does solely increasing writing frequency. Developmental writers must see and analyze multiple effective examples of the various kinds of writing they are being asked to produce (as well as ineffective examples); they cannot, for example, be expected to write successful expository essays if they are primarily reading narrative texts.

Teaching the reading-writing connection will help your students significantly improve both their reading and writing.

3. Learning the Tools

You’ve got to learn the tools to practice the craft. Not every instrument is conducive to songwriting. It’s hard to play the trombone and sing at the same time. Tools are the means to an end and are self-limiting. Having written songs with the guitar for years, I know that there are limitations to the instrument. Learning piano has expanded my songwriting potential. Some tools fit some genre and some don’t.

Teachers generally do a fine job of teaching the structure and identifying characteristics of the various writing genre. Teachers generally do a poor job of teaching writing strategies, sentence structure, grammar, usage, and style.

4. Learning Writing by Writing

Burt Bacharach: “Music breeds its own inspiration. You can only do it by doing it. You may not feel like it, but you push yourself. It’s a work process. Or just improvise. Something will come (https://isound.com/artist_blog/quotes_from_the_best_songwriters).”

It’s simplistic, but true: you get better at something by practicing it. And this includes writing. Practice needs to be regular with both subjective and objective feedback. Writing fluency comes from daily writing practice, not from occasional on-demand writing assignments.

Brainstorming and Prewriting

5. Content is Writing

A songwriter with nothing to say cannot write a song. Even the most simplistic love song says something. What the songs says must ring true, even if it is completely fictional. Successful songwriters study the content of songs, newspapers, poetry, literature, and life. Paul Simon: “It’s very helpful to start with something that’s true. If you start with something that’s false, you’re always covering your tracks. Something simple and true, that has a lot of possibilities, is a nice way to begin (https://isound.com/artist_blog/quotes_from_the_best_songwriters).”

Studying literature, history, and science is all writing instruction. A student with nothing to say cannot write a poem, an essay, or a story.

6. Location Matters

Jimmy Buffet: “You know, as a writer, I’m more of a listener than a writer, cuz if I hear something I will write it down. And you find as a writer there are certain spots on the planet where you write better than others, and I believe in that. And New Orleans is one of them (https://isound.com/artist_blog/quotes_from_the_best_songwriters).”

The collaborative classroom can be ideal for creating a productive writing climate. All of the resources are there: computers, dictionaries, thesauri, the writing teacher, the peers. Rarely do students compose as well at home as they do in the classroom. The classroom can be optimally suited to the social nature of the writing process.

7. Emotional Connections

Bono: “You can have 1000 ideas, but unless you capture an emotion, it’s an essay (http://blogs.myspace.com/index.cfm?fuseaction=blog.view&friendId=464409330&blogId=481041893).” Sting: “Songwriting is a kind of therapy for both the writer and the listener if you choose to use it that way. When you see that stuff help other people that’s great and wonderful confirmation that you’re doing the right thing (https://isound.com/artist_blog/quotes_from_the_best_songwriters).”

All too often, students mimic their teachers in order to please us and demonstrate that they have harvested our pearls of wisdom. Students often have little understanding of audience and even less passionate commitment to their writing subject. Developing the emotional connection to their writing in an authentic voice is key to connected and committed writing.

8. Titles and Hooks

Most all songwriters begin their songs with a catchy or meaningful title-one that provokes curiosity. A writer on a songwriting blog comments, “After you answer the question, ‘What is the title of my song going to be?’, your next job is to think about hooks. Here you need to decide what the central point of your song is and create song hooks around this thought. Briefly, a hook is anything that will help the listener remember the song. With many songs, it’s the melody, the chorus or even some of the lyrics. It might even a be a sound effect added to make the song more interesting (http://hubpages.com/hub/How-To-Write-A-Song-Title).”

Teach how songwriting titles and hooks capture the essence of the writing topic and thesis statement. Every stream flows from the one source. Good writing is essentially deductive in both narrative and expository forms.

9. Self-Questioning

Many songwriters flesh out the lyrics by asking questions of their song title. After coming up with the title “I Won’t Back Down,” Tom Petty could have posed the following questions to develop his lyrics: Why won’t I back down? What’s happened in the past to make me have this attitude? Are there exceptions?

Student writers can use the process of self-questioning during brainstorming. Using the topic or thesis as a prompt, students look at the direction of their essay from a variety of points of view. Using the conflict as a prompt, students look at the direction of their narrative from the major and minor characters’ perspectives.

Drafting

10. Structural Foundations

Songs follow well-established organizational patterns. Verses (same melody, different words), choruses (same melody and words), perhaps a bridge (a different melody and lyric), and perhaps a pre-chorus (a short section at the end of a verse leading into the chorus) are the songwriters’ foundational structures. Robbie Robertson: “It would be nice to abandon the verse-chorus-bridge structure completely, and make it so none of these things are definable…Make up new names for them. Instead of a bridge, you can call it a highway, or an overpass…Music should never be harmless (https://isound.com/artist_blog/quotes_from_the_best_songwriters).”

Similarly, narratives follow the elements of plot and essays have introductions, body paragraphs, and conclusions. All good writing has structure. Even most all poetry follows prescribed structures.

11. Flexibility

Some songwriters write the lyrics first, then follow with the melody. I tend to write both lyrics and melody together, though I have completed songs in many different ways.

Beware of straight-jacketing students with the components of the writing process. Some students prefer to spent significant amounts of time pre-writing; others would rather jump right in and draft. Some students revise and edit as they draft; others like to do multiple drafts and/or edit at the end. Word processing enables many options.

12. The Rules Do and Don’t Apply

The Beatles’ “A Day in the Life” follows the structure of many pop songs; however, it breaks every rule of chord progressions. “Each verse sung by Lennon follows the same basic layout, but each has a different way of ending. The first verse, which is twenty measures, ends with a repetition of the F major chord progression before returning to the home key. The second verse, two measures shorter than the first, ends on the C major chord rather than repeating the F major progression. The third verse is the same as the second, except that there is one more measure (to accommodate the ‘I’d love to’), and the verse does not return to the home key. Instead it leads to a bridge, a 24-measure long glissando-like crescendo starting from low E to an E several octaves higher. Random cymbal crashes are interspersed near the end to ‘challenge your sense of meter’ (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/A_Day_in_the_Life).” Paul McCartney instructed the accompanying orchestra musicians to play notes beyond the range of their instruments to intentionally break the rules.

Each writing genre has its own rules. A Shakespearian Sonnet has its own rhyming pattern, a persuasive essay has a counterargument, and a story must resolve its conflict. However, knowing and applying the rules permits intentional deviations for special effect.

13. Mimickery

Songwriters advise aspiring musicians to study the techniques of those they admire and emulate their styles. Because everyone has his own unique voice and experiences, no two compositions will be the same. Chord progressions are not copyrighted. The chords for “Louie, Louie,” “Wild Thing,” “I Like it Like That” and hundreds of other hits are all the same.

Some English-language arts teachers believe that discovering one’s voice is the result of a self-guided journey. I would argue that for students to develop voice, they need to practice voice in specific teacher-directed writing assignments. It is not plagiarism to mimic the writing style of good authors. Additionally, teachers need to help students practice different voices for different purposes.

14. Time to Percolate

Carole King: “If you are sitting down and you feel that you want to write andnothing is coming, you get up and do something else. Then you come back again and try it again. But you do it in a relaxed manner. Trust that it will be there. If it ever was once and you’ve ever done it once, it will be back. It always comes back and the only thing that is a problem is when you get in your own way worrying about it (http://www.buffalostate.edu/library/rooftop/past/docs/2008-10-15_Songwriters_on_Songwriting_excerpts.pdf).”

Neil Young: “I don’t force it. If you don’t have an idea and you don’t hear anything going over and over in your head, don’t sit down and try to write a song. You know, go mow the lawn…My songs speak for themselves (https://isound.com/artist_blog/quotes_from_the_best_songwriters).”

We live in the real world. Our students do as well. The SAT 1® allots 25 minutes for an essay that counts 240 points out of the 800 overall writing score. College professors give timed essays. Bosses want that report due by 3:00 p.m. or else. We need to equip our students to face these time constraints in their writing. Certainly, some on-demand writing practice makes sense, but the best practice to develop writing fluency remains untimed, day to day writing practice in a variety of writing genre. Good teachers provide time for writing reflection and revision. Good teachers allow students to face writer’s block and practice problem-solving.

15. Let the Writing Write

John Lennon: “Song writing is about getting the demon out of me. It’s like being possessed. You try to go to sleep, but the song won’t let you. So you have to get up and make it into something and then you’re allowed to sleep. It’s always in the middle of the night, or you’re half-awake or tired, when your critical faculties are switched off. So letting go is what the whole game is. Every time you try to put your finger on it, it slips away. You turn on the lights and the cockroaches run away. You can never grasp them (http://home.att.net/~midnightflyer/jl.html).”

Good writing instruction provides students with enough practice so that a degree of automaticity has been achieved. Writing fluency is familiarity with the structures, rules, and patterns of writing. Writing fluency is the conversation between author and the writing. Writing fluency does not mean effortless writing; sometimes content knowledge and writing dexterity can challenge the writer as much as would sheer ignorance.

Revision and Editing

16. Read the Writing

Tom Petty: “You’re dealing in magic–it’s this intangible thing that has to happen. And to seek it out too much might not be a good idea. Because, you know, it’s very shy, too. But once you’ve got the essence of them, you can work songs and improve them. You see if there’s a better word, or a better change (https://isound.com/artist_blog/quotes_from_the_best_songwriters).”

“I edit as I go. Especially when I go to commit it to paper… I edit as I am committing it to paper. I like to see the words before me and I go, “Yeah, that’s it.” They appear before me and they fit. I don’t usually take large parts out. If I get stuck early in a song, I take it as a sign that I might be writing the chorus and don’t know it. Sometimes,you gotta step back a little bit and take a look at what you’re doing.” — John Prine, quoted by Paul Zollo in “Legends: John Prine,” (American Songwriter, Jan / Feb 2010).

Revision is the hard work of writing. It involves a conversation with the text and audience to ensure coherency. It appropriates everything in the writer’s tool kit. It also necessarily reaches out to others for feedback. Frequently teachers expect that inexperienced writers will be able to revise with little guidance. Simply modeling how to add, delete, substitute, and rearrange a paragraph does not mean that a student will be apply to apply these skills to her draft. Young writers need objective and subjective feedback from both teacher and their peers. Writers conferences and response groups at all stages of the writing process will provide the feedback necessary for revision.

17. Grunt Work

Neil Diamond: “Performing is the easiest part of what I do, and songwriting is the hardest.” George Gershwin: “Out of my entire annual output of songs, perhaps two, or at the most three, came as a result of inspiration. We can never rely on inspiration. When we most want it, it does not come (https://isound.com/artist_blog/quotes_from_the_best_songwriters).”

Writing inspiration is an unfaithful friend. Mature writers certainly welcome her visit, but the more we depend upon her, the less gets done. Much of any writing is simply grunt work. The more experience and tools that a writer has acquired, the more choices are afforded to the decision-making process. The grunt work of word choice, transitions, examples, and more are the last few puzzle pieces that just don’t seem to fit. I, personally, take more satisfaction out of placing these puzzle pieces (even if I have to shave off the edges to make them fit) than the ones that come without effort. Still, no writer is completely satisfied with his own writing. Indeed, few writers ever revisit their own works after publication.

18. Collaborative Competition

One of the reasons that John Lennon and Paul McCartney enjoyed such a fruitful songwriting collaboration was because John was right-handed and Paul was left-handed. Thus, both songwriters could sit facing one another, eye to eye, without the guitars banging up against each other.

Teachers can do much to establish a collaborative writing culture. The Web 2.0 culture provides both vulnerability and anonymity that writing teachers can use to motivate students in their writing. Most all writing is a social venture and teachers can appropriately guide this experience in and out of the classroom. Online postings afford students the opportunity of time and reflective thought through the students’ own self-regulated filters. Students can choose what to and what not to share. However, in-class face-to-face time is necessary to provide the unfiltered audience and conversations that balance the ones on the web. Teachers control the climate of in-class writing and can model and sometimes referee the collaborative efforts.

19. Publish to Write

Hearing the final audio guides the songwriting process, but the studio experience and interaction of the musicians can certainly change the composition. Keith Richards of The Rolling Stones says that he never finishes a song before entering the studio, in order to allow some room for creativity in the recording process. There are also happy accidents. John Lennon accidentally left his volume turned up on his guitar and leaned it against his amplifier while tape was rolling. The screeching feedback began and Lennon kept the mistake as the introduction to the Beatles Number One Hit: “I Feel Fine.” This was the first time that feedback was incorporated into a song.

Teachers need to let students in on one of the secrets of successful writers: writing rarely turns out precisely as planned. The variables of the publication process often determine the end results. Some things are simply beyond the writer’s control. Constraints of time, mistakes, and misunderstandings contribute to the final writing product. Students will be frustrated at times by their published work, or by fellow students’ responses, or by the teacher’s grade and comments. Writing is about as subjective as we get in academia, despite our analytical rubrics and our objective pretenses.

20. Writing for a Pay-off

Paul McCartney: “Somebody said to me, But the Beatles were anti-materialistic. That’s a huge myth. John and I literally used to sit down and say, Now, let’s write a swimming pool.

Our students frequently write only to please an audience of one (their teacher), and the resulting pay-off is simply a grade. Hardly motivating and largely perceived as being irrelevant to their lives. No wonder there is often little authentic voice, creativity, or passionate commitment in our students’ writing. The solution is to make the pay-off a motivator for student effort. Survey students to find what publishing ends would motivate their best efforts. Online postings, video reads, peer reviews to name a few.

Check out this complete writing process essay to see a sample of the resources provided in Teaching Essay StrategiesThe download includes writing prompt, paired reading resource, brainstorm activity, prewriting graphic organizer, rough draft directions, response-editing activity, and analytical rubric.

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Using Music to Develop Authentic Voice

A few years back, I sat down at my kitchen table on an early Saturday morning to begin the arduous process of grading a set of seventh-grade persuasive essays. I had postponed the task for too long and grades were due on Monday. Why did I dread the grading so much?

I knew what to expect. I would see the results of my instruction and significant improvement. I would feel self-validated and be able to give myself a well-earned pat on the back. The essays would sound like miniature versions of me. No doubt my essays would make me look good that week during our department read-around. However, I knew what would be missing in my students’ writing: Soul, Passion, Commitment, Connection. No… it was not the fault of the writing prompt. There were several to choose among, and they were intrinsically motivating for my students. There was something else.

As many teachers naturally do, I reflected back to my own successes as a writer. I drifted back to my own junior high experience. Mr. Devlin was an odd teacher with horribly worn black shoes. He was odd, even by English-language arts teacher standards. However, his writing assignment is the only one I’ve saved from my entire K-12 experience.

Mr. Devlin gave us a journal assignment with no rules. No, I’m not advocating this kind of unstructured experience, per se. After all, I’m still assigning those argumentative essays, right? In fact, it was not the assignment that was meaningful at all; it was what I did with it.

My room was my personal sanctuary. I’m dating myself at this point. My room was covered with psychedelic rock-art posters-each painted/printed in luminescent color. Yes, I had a black light. Yes, I had a strobe light. I begged my parents for black-out drapes, but olive-green was their choice. My stereo was bitchin’. I burned incense, even though I hated the smell. It was 1968.

I played the Beatles’ Sgt. Peppers and Magical Mystery Tour albums non-stop. One of the most irritating memories I have is that of my father, a professional musician, saying that the flutes sounded like cheap recorders on Paul’s “The Fool on the Hill.” He said the song was garbage.

I listened-no… I felt the music and I wrote. As I read the journals today, much of the writing is juvenile and prurient—a budding Steinbeck I was not. However, my analysis of lyrics, wanna-be girlfriends, my parents, comments and warnings to Mr. Devlin to hold true to his promise that he wouldn’t read the journals rings true to my age and experience. The journal had what my students’ persuasive essays lacked-an authentic voice. With all of the Soul, Passion, Commitment, Connection.

I graded the argumentative essays, and as I expected, most were technically very good. But, I vowed to do things much differently with their next persuasive essay. I was going to Mr. Devlin their writing by allowing my students’ cultures to create their own voices. Music would be the transformative medium. Connecting to student experience with their own music can transform the way they write essays, reports, narratives, poetry, and letters. Music was just as influential, just as pervasive, for my students as it was for me. I knew what I was getting into. I hate their hip hop, new R&B, metal, and rap. It really is garbage.

Music, and songwriting in particular, can help teachers develop a creative writing culture. Learning the lessons of musical composition can improve student writing writing. Read how teachers can develop a productive writing climate by learning a bit about how the music business operates.

Find essay strategy worksheets, on-demand writing fluencies, sentence revision and rhetorical stance “openers,” remedial writing lessons, posters, and editing resources to differentiate essay writing instruction in the comprehensive writing curriculum,Teaching Essay Strategies.

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