Category: Research

A Creative Writing Rap

As the research saga for my writing project inquiry unfolds, it is producing several unexpected cool things. For one, I got to talk in person with Kelly Gallagher at a wonderful workshop based on his book Write Like This, hosted at Port Washington High School on June 28th, and got a lot of unexpected insight on my research topic in the process! [P.s. If you don’t already, you should probably be following Kelly Gallagher on Twitter. He retweets a lot of amazing resources, and he himself is an amazing resource. Buy his books–they are immediately useful in your writing classroom.]

Another cool thing, which happened today, is that I had a breakthrough associated with the way I want to facilitate the interactive part of my Writing Project workshop on day one of the summer institute. Since it will deal in part with writing rap lyrics for informational and argumentative purposes, I wrote one of my own as a model. The lyrics, and a link to the actual track, are below. (Yes, that’s me rapping as well.) Why not take risks? As Gallagher says, “I go, you go.” Enjoy! 🙂

Young teacher, just comin’ up: stand up, say your name, get attendance done
I had a class of kids who trusted in me to show them things about the world that they never had seen
I taught writing, putting ideas on paper and screen, how to make what you say match up what you mean
I saw young women tell stories, young men discover poetry—saw words sing like winds that
brush the leaves of birch trees.
And it would overcome me, the importance of that career choice
Even a child without a house can find a home in his voice, you know?
The power of art, resilient truth of the heart,creative visions strong enough to tear self-doubt apart:
These things are vital. They fulfill a human need—to say, “Hey, these thoughts? They come from within me.”
Wielding fiction to become an intellectual force. It means more than simply analyzing a source.
To really know how to write, you need to know how to fight—cause a motion, emotion, make words take flight.
And you would know that, if you spent time in a high school every day.
The room is filled with secret poets who have something unique to say.
After I taught for a few years more, the state adopted this idea called the Common Core,
where certain standards are set, skills that students should learn, and teachers must abide if they
expect to earn.
Looking through, I wondered where creativity went; the amount of literary writing dropped to twenty
percent, and Poetry no longer is ever required. This country’s writing curriculum is being rewired.
The guy who wrote it actually gave as his reasoning: “No one gives a shit about how you feel.”
He said that writing stories won’t lead to jobs that are real.
So what are we to do about a poverty of fiction? Trying to uphold the right to use imagination?
Discuss and debate, knowing students need to create, backing up our techniques with research done by big names.
And what’s more, we can’t be scared of what the core offers; it’s our job to skillfully train our young authors.
There are notes in the standards about teacher discretion, and it’s there where we can find the space to
alter our lessons to preserve the tradition of creating rhymes, and storytelling just like Homer in the ancient times, because words unfurled are the way to connect with the world. You know?
Informational writers might one day work at Wikipedia, but it’s the storytellers who create the new media.
A writer who makes us see through his mind’s eye is gonna be the “check out my Pulitzer Prize” guy
But even those who put literature aside after high school are smarter knowing how to use narrative as a
tool: Sell me a boat, or convince me to vote, inform my health and my views, help me relate to the news.
You need stories to do that, to touch the cares of people, to define cultural ideals about good and evil.
Listen, turn the page, press play, that’s how the themes of our era were made.
I want to put a notebook in every kid’s hand with a cover that says “make us understand.”
Using writing rich in metaphor, real life knocking down the door, getting yourself unstuck, whatever you
can drum up. Show me love or heroism, show me visions of the future.
Uncap the joy of sunlight or the pain of ripping out a suture.
Create an image, tied to a message, tied to life.
I give you freedom to actually learn how to write, where what’s real and imagined combine.
Make possibilities that you are the one to define.
You are the one to define

*

Listen by clicking here: Creative Writing

Beats provided by The Passion HiFi ~ Thank you!

Saving Creative Writing: A Writing Project Inquiry Proposal

I am extremely proud and happy to return to this year’s Invitational Summer Institute at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee  affiliate of the National Writing Project. Three years ago, I participated as a teacher consultant. This year, I’m serving as a facilitator. I’m excited to get a second go-round at this transformational, career-changing piece of professional development, this time as a guide and coach for other educators who are having their very first Writing Project experience.

The point of the Writing Project ISI is to develop teachers as researchers, experts on the teaching of writing, and as writers themselves. When I participated in 2010, the latter was the aspect of the experience that rejuvenated my soul. Having the time, the space, and the reason to write creatively brought me back, mentally, to why I first had the idea to become an English teacher–writing sustains me. Something about making thoughts permanent, making words into art, and giving strength and structure to my imagination makes writing one of the most fulfilling things in my life. For me, becoming a storyteller was always the most thrilling part of being an English student; and being in charge of the training of young storytellers, poets, and philosophers was what I had in mind when I applied to the School of Education in my undergrad years. Creating fiction, in my opinion, is a vital task for the development of creative thinking in students. 

Even though I’m a facilitator this summer, I’m still going to be conducting new research of my own, and creating a new Teacher Inquiry Workshop to demonstrate my findings as they are applicable to the classroom. And I’ve decided to let my strong feelings about the importance of creative writing guide my study. Since Wisconsin adopted the Common Core State Standards, it seems that less and less space is being afforded for the literary arts while argumentative, informative, and research writing take center stage. In fact, nowhere in the  Common Core State Standards for high school language arts does it overtly require a high school student to write a single poem, play, or story during any of the four years. It seems to suggest that creative writing is superfluous fluff. Personally, I feel that this view is a disservice to the minds and hearts of our students, who need experience in creating something altogether new in order to know how to envision solutions to problems. More than that, they deserve a chance to tell stories, let their voices off a tether, and explore the power of their own generative imaginations.

I believe that the teaching of creative writing in high school is crucial to the development of young writers. And I want to prove that teachers can address the writing standards–even as overtly geared toward non-fiction as they are–through the teaching of creative writing.

The following are my working inquiry questions:

1. How can the teaching of creative writing (such as poetry, fictitious prose, and drama) be used to directly address and fulfill the Common Core State Standards for Writing in the high school classroom?

2. What are the benefits of teaching creative writing–as far as student motivation, learning outcomes, marketability, and critical thinking–that cannot be addressed by non-fiction writing alone?

As the summer goes on, I’ll be posting more about what I discover, in an effort to provide other educators with the justification that they need to keep creative writing alive in the classroom. Also, in an effort to practice what I preach, I’ve started an online collection of some of my own creative writing, which I hope to add to throughout the summer.

SAVE  CREATIVE WRITING IN OUR SCHOOLS! Comment below or “like” the Universe as Text Facebook page to join the conversation.

Design Thinking and the Classroom of the Future

I recently joined my district’s ReDesign team, a group of teachers and administrators who meet once a month to share ideas about design thinking, and work together to find ways to start applying it in our classrooms. Especially considering the project-based senior English class taught by myself and Ms. J, I felt that this would be an important group to take part in. At the first meeting I attended, our facilitator led the returning and new members in a design thinking challenge, to get us acquainted with what design thinking really means. Since design thinking involves a process based on interaction and problem solving, learning by doing was ideal. Our fearless leader, Mr. L, used materials from Stanford University’s Institute of Design (known as the d. school) to train us–I am quickly learning that the d. school has many invaluable, free resources available for those who want to learn more about design thinking. To get an idea of what it’s all about, and what kinds of things we examine on our ReDesign team, check out the Stanford Virtual Crash Course in Design Thinking.

My first ReDesign meeting was a little over a month ago, and two very cool things have come out of it–one practical, and one a little more imaginative. I’d like to share both quickly in this post.

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First, the practical example. As mentioned above, design thinking is a natural extension of the work we’ve started with our seniors in English 12. (For more on our course design, see this post.) Now that our students have finished their inquiry-driven academic research papers, we are officially transitioning into the most design-heavy portion of the course, where students design, produce, and promote a project that relates to their area of research. Before we set the students loose solo, however, we decided to do a mini project with a little bit of guidance to get them used to this way of thinking and learning. This was an excellent time to share what I learned about design thinking directly with my students. (Here’s a version of the presentation that we shared with students, while mentoring them on a small scale project that spanned about a week from conceptualization to distribution: Design Thinking) Ms. J and I look forward to seeing what our kids can do when it comes to their independent projects… I am already solidly impressed with how much they have grown in their ability to work together, respond to feedback, iterate freely,  and think about the logistics of a final product with a specific audience in mind. We’ve since moved on to the initial prototyping for their individual senior projects, and it’s so exciting watching the students struggle but succeed through the problem solving process of finding the correct solution to a pertinent real-world problem or need associated with their topic. (Here’s our expectations guide that we’ve used to help students develop and frame their project/process plans: The English 12 Senior Project Expectations Guide) They are currently overwhelmed by the possibilities and the vastness of the task, but they are starting to trust the process, and that will guide each student to the right place in the end, even if that means that hundreds of different places are the right one!

The second cool thing that has already come out of my involvement with the ReDesign team has been the chance to imagine a little bit. During the first workshop, I was partnered with my colleague Mr. M, and we were tasked with envisioning a product that could help address a specific need within our classrooms. As we discussed the needs that we feel as teachers, many different things came up: better ways of communicating with students, ways to streamline and combine the many emerging classroom technologies that we already use, better ways to collect, assess, and archive student work in a meaningful fashion… So, since our challenge was on an imaginary unlimited budget, Mr. M and I designed the ultimate technological tool: smart desks with touchscreen surfaces that would instantly customize for each student. The desktop would contain the content and student work for all classes throughout a student’s career, allowing for archiving and review by teachers, students, and parents. Messaging capabilities would allow teachers to send quick reminders or notes to students. Students could type, speak, or write with a stylus to complete their work, which would be stored in the cloud and accessible from anywhere. Videochat and live workspaces would enable collaboration across classes and even schools. Media editing and learning software would be customizable and built-in. There would even be a mood indicator light on the side, so that teachers could know at a glance if a student was compromised or energized by emotion on that particular day. Students could touch and share, or group their assignments with a flick of the hand or the touch of a button. How cool would that be?!  We gloried in the freedom to ideate without limits and wondered how much money it would take to really bring the smart desk to life. But the most staggering thing was the realization that we came to: this kind of thing *will* be a reality in the years to come. In fact, as our friend Mrs. D tipped us off to, there are many others out there who are way ahead of us in envisioning the classroom of the future: Click here…

Adults often start to forget this, but really, anything that we can imagine, can be. By the time they turn 18, our students should believe that more than they did in kindergarten, not less. Because it’s possible and true.  Here’s to design thinking, and the wonder it brings.

Project-Based English 12–Semester One

project-based-learning

What is English 12?

That’s the question my colleague Ms. J and I found ourselves asking last summer, as we prepared to roll out a brand new version of senior language arts. Our department had found a need for a new way of looking at things as the new Common Core State Standards were being presented, 21st century skills were becoming the most touted measuring stick for student achievement post-high school, and voices in our community were calling for graduates who were more professionally savvy. Our previous English 12 courses were very traditional literature-based classes, with no real identity to ground them as anything other than a basic senior English course. Our vision was to completely revamp the curriculum: Align curriculum to the standards. Create a project-based course that gives freedom and ownership to the students. Find ways to constantly connect learning to the community and to real life experiences. We hoped to see higher student engagement/buy-in, higher achievement, and an emerging professional demeanor in our students.

Here’s what we came up with:What’s English 12? Infographic

As the year unfolded, the students were occasionally mystified or daunted by the new, challenging things we were asking of them. The largest of these is the senior research proposal, paper, and project. Students are asked to select a defining topic that pertains to their interests, skills, or future plans. Throughout the year, they develop research on that topic which eventually results in a project, of their own design, that the students display for the community at the end of the year showcase. During semester one, we’ve planted the seeds for this epic undertaking in several special ways. I’ve given a snapshot below.

September – October: Introduced “big picture” of course, linking to Tony Wagner’s idea of Passion, Play, and Purpose as the most important cornerstones of learning that creates innovation and creativity. Students were asked to begin considering their topic choices, keeping these ideas in mind.

Early November: Over 30 local professionals from many different fields were our guests at the Professional Symposium, an event designed for students to learn more about the real expectations of the different corners of the work world. Each professional had a table where they brought in things related to their career (like a model of a human spine, a laptop video display, architectural drafts, plants…). The students, who were required to dress professionally, then circulated and asked both prepared and impromptu interview questions to prompt conversations. Students also had important roles in the event, such as being in charge of lighting/sound and giving the closing address. This experience offered important insight, and helped several students select a topic.

Late November: Students were required to select their topics by this time. (True to the student-ownership goal, these ranged from the history of comics to Spina Bifida awareness to Bigfoot to sports medicine.) We took the students on a research field trip to the Golda Meir Library at UW-Milwaukee. The staff worked amazingly well with our massive group of students. During this experience, our rural students got to see what a respected university library is like, and they had access to a nearly-endless collection of both digital and print resources to inform their topic. They spent the day taking resource-specific notes and refining their topic choices.

December: In class, we offered instruction on specialized research skills, like how to conduct an email interview, using electronic databases, how to take notes, and choosing what to read in a lengthy  source. During this unit, students wrote a detailed annotated bibliography of 20+ credible sources related to their topics. Students were expected to give periodic reports to the full class about their reading and discoveries.

January: For the semester exam, students were asked to write a formal proposal for their researchEnglish 12 Research Proposal. I was so impressed with my students’ overall excitement and true scholarship associated with their topics. I found myself reading things like…

  • “Philosophy does not get the respect and credit it well deserves. Few people in the world today realize how much philosophy has impacted society and the human race. My stance on this is that philosophy is an invaluable and irreplaceable building block to modern knowledge.” Alex L.
  • “I would say that modern comics are stepping away from old ideas and greeting new ones more openly as well as [showing a] more true step into maturity, unlike the hollow, pandering “maturity” of the 90’s. This is evident in things like superhero comics becoming somewhat less popular, indie and comics that deal with much different subject matters than the mainstream seeing much more popularity, the early 2000’s seeing the abandoning of the comics code almost altogether, and the far more respectful portrayal of modern war and tragic events like 9/11.” Stephen P.

  • “The juvenile system has flourished over time and helps create life saving opportunities for adolescents. Continuing over each generation adolescents will do bad things, but it is the system’s job to help save their lives, and create a better tomorrow. I arrived at my stance through trial and error. First I wanted to research the history of juvenile justice, but then I decided I want to find out what the juvenile system can offer adolescents. What can the system do for kids whose families have given up on them? Samantha S.

Our students have already grown so much in intellectual and professional maturity throughout this process, and I can tell that they are feeling proud to call this class their own. I’m looking forward to second semester, to see what happens as more and more responsibility is released over to them, and they are enabled and empowered to do interesting, contributive things. Students light up when you ask them about the right things–we’re channeling the power of those right things in order to activate remarkable learning.

Things I’ve already observed during semester one of English 12:

-Project-based learning is just as powerful as all the research claims it us! It targets a comprehensive skill set dealing with academics, technology, and professional demeanor.

-Project-based learning is absolutely achieveable in a public school environment, with all levels of students, though those who need to grow in their ability to self-direct have the most work to do to succeed. This type of format requires educators who are able to and interested in keeping close tabs on the progress/development of each individual.

-Project-based learning helps students, even those prone to “senioritis” remember how much they actually do love to learn.

Things I’m still wondering:

-How does project-based learning look in other senior classes around the state and country? Do you teach one or know of one? Please share! Examples have not been the easiest to find.

-What are the best assessment techniques for such a wide variety of outcomes? While many aspects of student acheivement are observable in this format, measuring it objectively and accurately may become a challenge. Are there any educators out there with ideas about this?