Launching into Poetry with “Love That Dog”

Notes from the Classroom

As a 5th grade teacher, I would always have students moan, eyeroll, and state either dramatically or smugly, “I’ve read that book,” when I would pull out Love That Dog, by Sharon Creech.

“Yes, I’m sure you have,” I would reply sweetly. “But never the way you are going to read it with me.”

An Adventure in Reading and Writing

I always tried to carve out two weeks in the spring for this text, and use it as a reading and writing experience.

As readers, we were able to infer quite a bit about our main character, Jack, and his teacher, Miss Stretchberry. We could easily select character traits and defend them with evidence from the text. We were able to think deeply about Jack and the changes we saw in him as a learner and a person.

We also got to experience poetry in multiple ways: from our own experience and Jack’s experience, and using poems as mentor texts for writing. I will tell you this: No matter if they had read the story before, or even heard it before, my students always ended up loving this experience.

How It Works: Reading

If you are not familiar with this story, it is a must read. But please, please read it this way:

When Jack first mentions a poem within the text, stop immediately and read the poem. (As a teacher, I would project the poem at the beginning of our Language Arts time, read it aloud, and then immediately go into the text to hear what Jack had to say about it.) Then process as readers what is happening in the story and the poem. I had post-its throughout my text about the poems, as well as the stopping points where I wanted students to reflect.

Surprise–Writing!

After each day that we read a new poem, my students would be tasked with using the poem as a mentor text. We would spend some time talking about the structure and meaning, and because I taught students with a wide range of abilities, I would always have scaffolds in place to make these structures were accessible for all students.

The kids loved this. We would write multiple versions using the same mentor text and they were excited to publish and share their writing. Many would ask to publish theirs on their blog pages or to hang theirs in the hallways. This excitement was contagious and carried throughout the month.

A Springboard

This text was a great springboard into exploring a variety of poetry styles. I also used A Kick In The Head, An Everyday Guide to Poetic Forms  and A Poke in the I, A Collection of Concrete Poems to further our study and writing. There is a little something for everyone in these books so it is easy to bump things up for students who need a challenge.

Spring is a great time to explore Haiku as well. Take a walk, notice some things in nature, and write! The structure is a good way to talk about word choice as well. (It doesn’t hurt to review syllables either!) There are many examples of haiku out there. I stuck to making them about nature but you can do what works for your students!

There are so many resources out there to explore poetry with your students in April. Check out 30 ways to celebrate, the Poetry Foundation, Scholastic Poetry Resources, and listen to ordinary Americans reading poetry at the Favorite Poem Project. (Be sure to preview first.)

I hope that you will dive in and explore this month–there is so much to discover. You’ll be amazed what you find.

beth Beth Rogers (@bethann1468) has taught in the elementary setting for the past 11 years. During this time, she earned her Master’s in Educational Technology from Michigan State University. This year, she is in a new position: Instructional Technologist K-12. This gives her the unique opportunity to work with teachers and students, district wide, to incorporate technology into their teaching and learning, in ways that engage, enhance, and extend the learning. She has already already begun to work with multiple classrooms to engage students in blogging, and to help teachers understand the power of this platform. At home, she lives with her husband, sons, and an anxiety-ridden German Shepherd who requires inordinate amounts of time and attention.

Bringing Warmth into These Last Cold Weeks

Notes from the Classroom

Here in Michigan winters are long–seeming to last well into spring. And in the classroom winter can feel eternal. The grey outside is often reflected in the moods of the students, and to be honest, ours too.

How to combat the cold-month blahs? Here are a few ideas to help you through:

Pull Out Poetry

One book that I use all year long, but which is especially effective this time of year, is Red Sings from Treetops, by Joyce Sidman. This book is wonderful for teaching the power of language, and for inspiring kids to think outside the box.

I use Red Sings as a mentor text and have kids write poems inspired by it. We brainstorm, choose a color to focus on, do some quality writing, and then spend some time working on our illustrations. If you have time and patience, true collage is a fun way to go. We usually use colored pencils, and I am always pleased with the result. We hang these in the hall and it is so nice to be greeted by springtime images every morning.

Share Your Favorite Books

There are always books that I don’t have time to read to my students but want to share. So, it’s important to set aside a few minutes each day to book talk your favorites.

If you have them available, hold them until the end of the week and have students enter a lottery to check them out. Pull names and make a big deal out of it. Let students put their names on waiting lists too–they will badger their classmates, which just might inspire them to keep reading!

This is also a great time to talk about realistic time frames for finishing a text. I have a colleague who does this with new books from book orders. It generates a ton of excitement and puts some life into conversations about books.

Check Out “Breakout”!

If you are not familiar with Breakout EDU, the educational-gaming platform, you must check it out! Most people won’t have the resources to create actual breakout boxes, but you can use the concept and create a “breakout” with clues in envelopes, forcing students to solve clues in order to get to the end.

There are many breakouts already created that people have shared online. Students work in small groups, so we make six sets of clues for a classroom. You can create a breakout around any content: I have designed them around books, social studies content, and math. We are also creating them for March is Reading Month and Leader in Me. Students apply what they know to solve clues, and they love the challenge! This is a great way to extend the content and get kids excited again.

Whatever you do to get through the last cold weeks, remember to focus on what you love and what brings you joy. Your students will feel your enthusiasm and they will catch it too!

beth Beth Rogers (@bethann1468) has taught in the elementary setting for the past 11 years. During this time, she earned her Master’s in Educational Technology from Michigan State University. This year, she is in a new position: Instructional Technologist K-12. This gives her the unique opportunity to work with teachers and students, district wide, to incorporate technology into their teaching and learning, in ways that engage, enhance, and extend the learning. She has already already begun to work with multiple classrooms to engage students in blogging, and to help teachers understand the power of this platform. At home, she lives with her husband, sons, and an anxiety-ridden German Shepherd who requires inordinate amounts of time and attention.

Fostering Social Justice in the Classroom

Notes from the Classroom


“The function of education . . . is to teach one to think intensively and to think critically . . . . Intelligence plus character–that is the goal of true education.” – Martin Luther King, Jr.

It used to be that every February, we broke out our collection of books celebrating the contributions of black Americans, our videos of Ruby Bridges and Martin Luther King, Jr., and we felt satisfied that we were doing a good job including this critical content in our teaching. Thankfully we have come to realize that this is not enough.

Social justice and equity demand more of us. This definition of social justice, which my district is using, reveals why:

Social justice is evident when an institution or a society tries to expand equal opportunities and outcomes for all members of society; challenges inequities and discrimination; and promotes participation of all people.  

It’s a broad challenge, and one that many people struggle with. So, where can we begin when teaching for equity?

We can start by using texts that reflect our students’ experiences.

A few years ago I had two students of Chinese heritage in my class. They were so excited to see The Year of the Dog in my regular classroom collection; it helped me realize how powerful it is to have books that reflect students and their experiences, and how it is critical for students to see themselves in the classroom texts.

While this can be a challenge, the payoff is huge for our students. That’s because having texts that reflect our own story validates our experiences, and communicates that we are valuable–and important enough to write about.

Our classroom lessons should also focus on a variety of people and experiences.

This is critical for the texts we choose, and during read alouds and mini lessons. We need to bring in the people that are often left out: women and minorities in science, history, and mathematics.

A treasure trove of primary resources, music, images and documents are available online. To find these materials, you can use the links listed at the bottom of this post.

Still, it’s not just about text selection. To foster social justice and equity, we also must foster critical thinking in our classrooms.

The authors of Rethinking Our Classrooms argue that teaching students to think critically is key to developing citizens who question, analyze, and ultimately make change.

One of the finest resources I have used comes from Ron Ritchhart and his “Cultures of Thinking” resources. His thinking routines uncover student thinking and push students to deeper understanding. Some routines that would be particularly effective for digging into ideas and issues of social justice would be:

  • The Story Routine: Main, Side and Hidden
  • Unveiling Stories
  • Step in, Step Out, Step Back
  • Beauty and Truth
  • The 3 Ys
  • Making Meaning 

Remember to keep moving forward.

The resources below are truly just a beginning. Teaching for social justice begins with creating a learning environment where students’ cultures are not just celebrated, but made relevant in the context of the learning. It continues with the purposeful inclusion of resources that give a broader context, and it finds its peak when students can critically analyze content, ask questions, and plan and effect change.

This is a never-ending process and one that we must always be cognizant of so that we do not become complacent.

Resources

Social justice in the classroom: teacher and classroom resources

  • This short excerpt from Volume 2 of Rethinking Our Classrooms explains beautifully what it means to teach for equity and social justice.
  • These 25 short films from The New York Times help students explore race and bias.
  • The Anatomy of an Ally toolkit helps social justice educators develope their identities. The toolkit comes from Tolerance.org, which includes a wealth of resources (and goes well beyond just tolerance).
  • “All that we share,” a video on YouTube, reveals that people can have much in common, even if outwardly they seem very different.

Multimedia resources

  • Digital History: I have used this site often to bring social studies to life in my 5th grade classroom, and I share it widely with everyone I can, as the resources span K-12.
  • Women in mathematics, from Agnes Scott College, provides many female mathematicians’ bios.
  • This article, from Smithsonian.com, details five accomplished women in mathematics.
  • This article, also from Smithsonian.com, details ten accomplished women in science.
  • Discovery Education provides numerous classroom resources about women and minorities in STEM fields.

beth Beth Rogers (@bethann1468) has taught in the elementary setting for the past 11 years. During this time, she earned her Master’s in Educational Technology from Michigan State University. This year, she is in a new position: Instructional Technologist K-12. This gives her the unique opportunity to work with teachers and students, district wide, to incorporate technology into their teaching and learning, in ways that engage, enhance, and extend the learning. She has already already begun to work with multiple classrooms to engage students in blogging, and to help teachers understand the power of this platform. At home, she lives with her husband, sons, and an anxiety-ridden German Shepherd who requires inordinate amounts of time and attention.

How to Combine Service Learning and Persuasive Writing

Notes from the Classroom

In this season of giving, it can be challenging to get students to think beyond themselves and their list of wishes.

That’s why an Academic Service Learning project is one of my favorite things to do. This project, part of my district’s initiative to connect learning and community service, allows me to combine persuasive writing with student choice, in a way that produces lots of great ideas for a class project–and guarantees family involvement from the start.

Our Service Learning Begins with Reading

I start by reading students several books over the course of a week, asking them what they notice, and charting their thinking. At the end of the week, we start to look for common themes that emerge. This helps to launch the conversation about our project. Books I have used include:

Some other books that may be helpful are:

Students Propose Actual Service Projects, via Persuasive Essays

After we have read the books and discussed themes, I reveal the assignment to the students: they must come up with an idea for our class ASL project and write a persuasive essay about why we should do their project.

I send home a letter to families asking them to have a conversation with their child, and to help them come up with some ideas for our project. Students bring back their ideas and then they choose one to use as the basis for their persuasive essay.

This makes the writing so much more purposeful. Students know that they have to convince not only me, but also their classmates, in order to do their project.

Then We Vote

Once all essays have been submitted, I begin the task of choosing five to six for the students to vote on. (Side note: if you haven’t used Google Classroom before, you should try it for writing assignments! Life changing!) I try to find a nice variety of ideas as well as essays that are well written.

After this is done, I read the finalists out loud to the class. I always stress that they are not to tell who wrote what; this needs to be about the project and the writing, not a popularity contest. Once the votes are in, we begin the process of planning and implementing our ASL project.

And Finally, We Take Action  

This project has been a great way for me to get kids engaged, help them find passion, and get them to think outside of themselves. We have raised money for local animal shelters, sent money to WWF for elephants, made blankets and games for children in local hospitals, and purchased books for children in a nearby school. The reward of seeing my students feel so successful goes far beyond what I could have imagined. I will never teach persuasive writing any other way.

beth Beth Rogers (@bethann1468) has taught in the elementary setting for the past 11 years. During this time, she earned her Master’s in Educational Technology from Michigan State University. This year, she is in a new position: Instructional Technologist K-12. This gives her the unique opportunity to work with teachers and students, district wide, to incorporate technology into their teaching and learning, in ways that engage, enhance, and extend the learning. She has already already begun to work with multiple classrooms to engage students in blogging, and to help teachers understand the power of this platform. At home, she lives with her husband, sons, and an anxiety-ridden German Shepherd who requires inordinate amounts of time and attention.

How District Staff Can Best Work with Schools

Notes from the Classroom

This year I’ve begun to work in a new role, as an instructional technologist. This is not only a new job for me, but it’s also a new position in my district. I am lucky, though, to be part of a team. I have others with me as we figure this out. We also have a great boss, who understands that the following are key when you’re working with schools.

You Have to Build Relationships  

This is our #1 goal this year. There are seven of us and twelve buildings, so this is definitely a challenge. We all have buildings where we are the “key people,” but we also all go where we are needed and where we have experience to meet the needs of the staff.

Not only do we work with teachers to help them effectively integrate technology into their teaching, but we are also responsible for delivering Information Literacy curriculum to all students K-5. This means we are getting to know people, and they are figuring out who we are, what we do, and how this is going to work. It is critical that the staff see me as helpful, reliable, flexible, and useful.

That’s a tall order! We all know that working with technology comes with lots of hiccups along the way, so having a good relationship is key when the inevitable happens and the technology doesn’t work.

Learn, Learn, and Learn–and Let It Be Known

I knew going into this job that there was a lot I didn’t know. Yet, until I was in it, I didn’t have any inkling just how much I didn’t know!

So I’m learning. Every. Single. Day.

I love it, which is the good news. I’m super excited about so many things, and I know that the teachers I am working with can see my excitement. I am very up front about not knowing everything, and most people are good with that. They are learning that if I don’t know something, I will find out, or I will bring in someone who does. I’m participating in lots of professional development opportunities (yes, some on my own time) because it’s what I need to do, and I’m loving what I do. (That loving-what-I-do thing is really important to me, and it’s what I tell my students: love what you do and it will never feel like work.)

Give Yourself a Break

For me, this is both figurative and literal. It is very hard to be on a tech team with people who have better tech skills than you; teachers as a rule tend to never want to admit that they don’t know something in the professional realm. I’ve had to embrace this reality and stop beating myself up about it. Instead, I am using it as motivation to learn. There is something very freeing about saying, “I have no idea, but I know who does, and I’ll find out.”

The literal part of taking a break is pulling myself away from the computer at night, when I need to be spending time with my family. Of course, this is the life of a teacher–always doing school work at night, after working eight, nine, even ten hours at school during the day. Go figure.

I know that this year will continue to be a year of amazing learning, foibles and falls, and lots of triumphs. It is a new, crazy journey, and I am so happy to be on it.

beth Beth Rogers (@bethann1468) has taught in the elementary setting for the past 11 years. During this time, she earned her Master’s in Educational Technology from Michigan State University. This year, she is in a new position: Instructional Technologist K-12. This gives her the unique opportunity to work with teachers and students, district wide, to incorporate technology into their teaching and learning, in ways that engage, enhance, and extend the learning. She has already already begun to work with multiple classrooms to engage students in blogging, and to help teachers understand the power of this platform. At home, she lives with her husband, sons, and an anxiety-ridden German Shepherd who requires inordinate amounts of time and attention.

Why Interdisciplinary Units Are So Powerful

Notes from the Classroom

Examples of students’ character cutouts

I have a love/hate relationship with this time of year.

We’re in full swing with the end-of-year craziness. Yet this also is the time when I teach the American Revolution in social studies. I’m able to combine the content with our historical fiction unit in reading, and our opinion unit in writing. This is a wonderful opportunity to combine content areas and provide a truly immersive experience for my students.

It is so nice to have a seamless day of reading both fiction and nonfiction texts around this topic, and having conversations that span reading, writing, and social studies. I find that I am excited about teaching, and students are excited about learning. It’s no small feat at this time of year!

What The Unit Looks Like

Right now in the hallway are cutouts of characters from our read aloud and our book club books. Within the cutouts are character traits and reflections about critical choices, power, and how these characters were shaped by the times in which they lived. Connecting all of the characters is a red string, and tomorrow students are going to spend time reading the cutouts and making connections. Then we will write them on paper that will hang from the string, making our thinking visible. This is a new project but one whose outcome I am super excited to see.

Another project that I always do during this time of year is a thinking routine from Ron Ritchhart called a “step inside.” This writing project combines the best parts of narrative writing, yet allows students to use their imagination to step inside the life of a slave from the 1500s. As students examine the three phases of slavery as outlined in our text, they attempt to step inside and develop empathy for the experience of these people. This is a lengthy writing assignment and yet one that is incredibly powerful. I have had students tell me it is their favorite writing assignment of the year.

I find that students actually are able to bring more elements of narrative writing in this assignment than they sometimes are able to do in their own pieces. I think this is because of the scaffolding required for the assignment. Also, the assignment requires that they pay attention to a number of details, which enables them expand their normal writing habits.

Integrating Opinion Writing

The opinion writing comes very late in May and in early June. This is when students have to take a side in the American Revolution. They are assigned either the Patriot side or the Loyalist side, and they have to defend their side based on evidence from their historical-fiction text. They also rely on the supplemental reading we do with nonfiction texts.

The opinion pieces have to include a counter argument acknowledging the position of the other side. Yet they also have to defend their own positions and attempt to persuade the reader to agree with them. All of this is used in a real-life debate with a student moderator, and the kids absolutely love it!

As I write this we are at the end of an unusually warm (86 degrees!) day in May. I have a huge to-do list and yet I am still excited about all that is going on in my classroom. All of this gets me wondering how I can channel this same type of integration and excitement into the rest of my year. Perhaps this will become my summer project: examining my curriculum to find better connections and texts that will lend themselves to this cross-curricular type of integration. My wheels are already spinning.

beth croppedBeth Rogers is a fifth grade teacher for Clarkston Community Schools, where she has been teaching full time since 2006.  She is  blessed to teach Language Arts and Social Studies for her class and her teaching partner’s class, while her partner  teaches all of their math and science. This enables them  to focus on their passions and do the best they can for kids. Beth was chosen as Teacher of the Year for 2013-2014 in her district. She earned a B.S. in Education at Kent State University and a Master’s in Educational Technology at Michigan State University. 

Easing M-STEP Stress

Notes from the Classroom

M-Step-Logo_473059_7While all eyes are on spring break, just behind it lurks the dreaded, gray fog–the time when the use of technology in our building becomes dedicated to one purpose: M-STEP.

Our online standardized testing begins right after we return from a much-needed respite. However, as we are frantically wrapping up our informational unit of study and preparing for parent-teacher conferences, who has time to prep?

Thankfully, most of the “prep” for my students has already happened, thanks to our use of online reading and writing resources. Still, though we’re just two school weeks out, there is much that can be done in terms of online practice.

Reading 

Early in the year I created an account at ReadTheory for all of my students. This is a great online program that provides students with an experience that is very much like the M-STEP format: students read a passage and answer multiple choice questions.

What I love about ReadTheory is that it is computer adaptive when students pretest. It also gives them an explanation as to why an answer is incorrect. ReadTheory also offers free, printable assessments that can be used in the classroom if paper-and-pencil practice is needed. (Blogger Jianna Taylor describes how Edulastic addresses many of these goals as well.)

Newsela is another great resource for leveled passages. With Newsela, students can read passages online and answer questions. There are abundant resources on this site, which is also searchable by topic and grade level. (For more on Newsela, check out Amy Gurney’s post from 2016 about the site.)

Often, I find inspiration on other teachers’ sites. Mr. Nussbaum is one of them. His site is full of resources, and the reading passages are not only leveled, but they look very much like the screen that students view when taking the M-STEP.

Between these three sites (and in addition to the actual M-STEP prep site) students should be well prepared for the format, and comfortable with reading and answering questions in this online format.

Writing 

These days, there are many resources available for online writing. Many students at the elementary level are using Google Docs–sometimes even in kindergarten. Other online story creation sites have exploded over the years as well.

11454297503_e27946e4ff_hOne of my favorites–and, for my students, most beneficial–is blogging. Blogging is something we do all year long, but in the spring we also participate in the Two Writing Teachers Slice of Life Classroom Challenge. This challenge changes the game because now there are real people–not just teachers and classmates–reading our writing. Students begin to care more about how they write, what they write, and what other people think of their writing.

This lends itself very well to M-STEP. I tell my students to imagine they are writing for their blog audience. The feedback, I tell them, will come from your score. So use everything you know about good writing.

Bottom Line

I am so fortunate to teach in a district that does not place great emphasis on these tests. Our superintendent is very clear that this is one score, on one day, and does not begin to tell the story of who the child is as a learner. We all know that the true “prep” is in the good teaching that we do day to day.

However, ease of use with technology will allow my students to relax and get down to the business of showing what they know, the best that they can. To me, this is the perfect combination.

beth croppedBeth Rogers is a fifth grade teacher for Clarkston Community Schools, where she has been teaching full time since 2006.  She is  blessed to teach Language Arts and Social Studies for her class and her teaching partner’s class, while her partner  teaches all of their math and science. This enables them  to focus on their passions and do the best they can for kids. Beth was chosen as Teacher of the Year for 2013-2014 in her district. She earned a B.S. in Education at Kent State University and a Master’s in Educational Technology at Michigan State University. 

 

 

Student Portfolios: A Proposal

Notes from the Classroom

shutterstock_422892943Student portfolios are a buzzword in education right now. The idea isn’t new, as many educators know. What is new is the idea of digital portfolios. Many software companies are jumping on board and offering some user-friendly options, which are perfect for many classrooms and families (these include Seesaw and Sesame).

As a fifth grade teacher, I am focused on providing my students with a tool that they can use and manage independently throughout their school career. Enter Google.

As a district, we use Google for all of our email and applications. Each student has a Google account that is assigned in elementary school, but for which the ability to use email is turned off. Students are still able to use Google Docs and the other applications in their Google Drive, and beginning in kindergarten, they create docs and save them in a folder.

My vision for my students’ portfolios extends beyond this, into a format that I used during my graduate program: a website.

Though this may sound daunting, I actually teach my students how to create a basic website during our informational unit of study. Google allows us to download a template and edit from there. This works extremely well and helps to engage, enhance, and extend student learning. (See Triple E Framework for more information.)

Students are more engaged in the task; the use of technology enhances the learning (takes it to levels paper and pencil could not); and they are more likely to extend their learning beyond the school day. That is, they work on the task at home, when they don’t have to, but want to!

These websites are all shared with the teacher “as owner,” which ensures that anything that may need to be edited can be done quickly, by an adult.

The Vision

If students were taught to create a website for their portfolios, the possibilities would be endless.

Students could have a page for each subject area. There, they could upload their best pieces of writing, pictures of projects, and even videos of presentations and performances. The site could grow with them throughout their school career and into college and/or work applications. Students could easily capture community service and extracurricular activities, with pictures, reflections, and uploaded certificates. The site could be held “in house” to address privacy concerns until the student turned 18.

Considerations

Theme selection in Weebly. Click to enlarge.

Theme selection in Weebly. Click to enlarge.

Of course, Google is not the only platform students can use. There are many great options out there (Weebly, Wix, and WordPress are a few of the top ones). There would be several factors that would need to be considered for those, including: management (ease for teacher), cost (upgraded sites cost money in order to have certain features), and privacy (having sites as part of a district account allows for greater overview).

Still, no matter what the vehicle, online portfolios increase student agency and have the potential to transform student learning. If our students were constantly thinking about how they could demonstrate and capture their best learning, and they had the power to design and showcase that learning, how powerful would that be?

beth croppedBeth Rogers is a fifth grade teacher for Clarkston Community Schools, where she has been teaching full time since 2006.  She is  blessed to teach Language Arts and Social Studies for her class and her teaching partner’s class, while her partner  teaches all of their math and science. This enables them  to focus on their passions and do the best they can for kids. Beth was chosen as Teacher of the Year for 2013-2014 in her district. She earned a B.S. in Education at Kent State University and a Master’s in Educational Technology at Michigan State University. 

The Words We Carry

Notes from the Classroom

shutterstock_323200592Sixteen years ago I wrote a book.

I was inspired by my then-three-year-old son, who asked the innocent question, “Won’t the school be lonely this summer?” That question sparked something in me and I quickly drafted a story about a new school being lonely over the summer. My children enjoyed it immensely.

A few years later, I went to a children’s book writing conference and I paid extra to have an editor review my story. I will never forget sitting across from her as she told me that the concept of a school with thoughts and feelings was “creepy.” She told me perhaps I should rewrite it from the perspective of the school’s friend, the janitor. I never did. It didn’t feel right. I put the book away in a drawer and deferred that dream.

Two weeks ago I began to gather books to do a Mock Caldecott unit with my students, inspired by a teacher’s blog I found through a Twitter post. Imagine my shock when I came across School’s First Day of School, a story about a new school that has thoughts and feelings. A new school who talks to the janitor.

I was dumbfounded. I thought, “This could have been me. I could have gotten my book published. But I quit trying.”

The takeaway for me was immediate: the power of our words. I let someone’s negative words stop me. I knew all of the stories about authors who were rejected many times. But there was something about her words that struck me and made me feel so bad about my writing that I just quit. As a teacher, it made me think: have I done that to a student? Have I ever said something carelessly, even jokingly, that has caused a student to quit writing, quit trying, to defer his or her dream?

I hope not. But I know now I will not.

The Power of Negative Thinking

Coincidentally, last week my principal showed us a video from Tedx, where Alison Ledgerwood talks about getting stuck in the negatives. The research is absolutely astounding about the power of negative thinking, and how negative experiences are often stronger than, and not offset by, positive ones. Wow.

I believe this experience came to me for a reason. Multiple reasons perhaps. But the biggest for me is this: I must always, always, find something good to say to my students. I must encourage them as writers, as readers, as people, so that they never defer any dream. I must find ways to help them not let the words of others get them down, as I did.

Perhaps I should blow the dust off of another manuscript I have in that same drawer and send it out into the world. Then keep sending it, no matter what. For now, I will pledge to myself and to my students to be the voice of encouragement and praise in their heads, one that will hopefully shout louder than any critic they will ever hear.

beth croppedBeth Rogers is a fifth grade teacher for Clarkston Community Schools, where she has been teaching full time since 2006.  She is  blessed to teach Language Arts and Social Studies for her class and her teaching partner’s class, while her partner  teaches all of their math and science. This enables them  to focus on their passions and do the best they can for kids. Beth was chosen as Teacher of the Year for 2013-2014 in her district. She earned a B.S. in Education at Kent State University and a Master’s in Educational Technology at Michigan State University. 

Improving Peer Feedback in Blogs

Notes from the Classroom

shutterstock_535675201In the beginning of our blogging year, I always tell students to wait to comment on each other’s writing. There are always those who ignore me and add all sorts of silly comments with emojis. What they don’t realize is that I have to approve all comments first. I control this intentionally because I want to teach them how to comment.

This may sound super controlling, but there is a reason for this. I teach my students to comment on what the author did well as a writer — focusing on the lessons we have worked on in class. I tell them to leave the constructive criticism to me — that’s my job. They need to read for what was done well and highlight that. The results have been more than I had hoped for.

The Benefits of Positive Feedback

My students’ comments are truly insightful:

  • “I really liked how you put show not tell in your intro because it really helps me understand how she is feeling.”
  • “I love how you made a connection to your real life with your family and Judah 🙂 I also like your choice of words and detail because you can really picture your story.”
  • “There were some pleasing turns in this story that I really enjoyed!”

Students love getting comments from their peers, and when the feedback is positive, I see them more excited to write and to revise their writing. I can still leave private comments about things that need fixing (spelling is my #1) or I can have a one-on-one conference if there are larger issues.

My students let me know if I am behind on approving comments because they love to see their names in print in an “editor” mode. It also allows for good conversation if I choose not to publish a comment. Usually it is because they either were critical or forgot to comment about the writing. Keeping their focus on what the author did well as a writer helps them leave meaningful feedback and also shifts their mindset for their own writing.

The biggest benefit from intentional commenting is that it has made my writers more aware of their own use of craft and more aware of good writing as they read. Students are coming up to me to show me good passages in books. Some are starting to notice when stories are not well written. This is something I could not teach and if I tried, I probably could not achieve.

I am excited to see how commenting will continue with this group this year. I may experiment with allowing them to add craft suggestions and see what evolves. I’ll keep you posted!

beth croppedBeth Rogers is a fifth grade teacher for Clarkston Community Schools, where she has been teaching full time since 2006.  She is  blessed to teach Language Arts and Social Studies for her class and her teaching partner’s class, while her partner  teaches all of their math and science. This enables them  to focus on their passions and do the best they can for kids. Beth was chosen as Teacher of the Year for 2013-2014 in her district. She earned a B.S. in Education at Kent State University and a Master’s in Educational Technology at Michigan State University.