Monthly Archives: January 2015

Earlier this school year, I accomplished one of my longtime career goals–submitting an article for publication in an professional academic journal. The Wisconsin English Journal ran the article that I wrote this past summer, which was based on the work I did with the UW-Milwaukee Writing Project in 2013. For anyone who’d like to read it, here’s the link to the table of contents for Vol. 56, No. 2. You’ll see the link to the .pdf of my article entitled “Crucial Creativity: Addressing State Standards While Fostering Creative Student Authorship” toward the bottom of the page. In her letter from the editor, Mary Louise Gomez previews the article as such:

“Amy Harter provides a strong
argument against a perceived call of the
Wisconsin Common Core State Standards
(CCSS) for more non-fiction writing and less
creative writing. Harter argues that creative
writing is indeed a powerful and engaging
genre into which students can be inducted.
This author presents powerful arguments for
the writing of poetry, plays, song lyrics, and
other so-called “creative writing” that also
are key ways to form arguments and affect
one’s audiences.”

 Words cannot explain how proud I am to have my first journal article publication under my belt. It not only represents many, many hours of impassioned research, writing, revising, talking-out, and polishing, but it also represents a step toward “making it” as a professional who contributes meaningfully to the academic side of our profession.

Isn’t it strange that, as educators, we still sometimes have a hard time viewing ourselves as academics? For me, seeing my name in print brought me to tears–it gave me a soaring feeling of professional validation. And  it cannot be overstated how important professional validation is for teachers–for the many of us who were asked back in college to justify why on earth we’d choose this career over others of greater promise, for the many of us who have been casually scoffed at for our small salaries, for the many of us who wonder how we might hope to be viewed as professionals in a culture that doesn’t always respect or understand what we do. For us, a sense of validation and celebration of our research, ideas, and achievements, is huge.

Here’s the thing about that–writing is the path that allows us to explore, define, and share our ideas about our profession. For this reason, I think far greater numbers of practicing K-12 teachers need to be lending their voices to the field of education through professional writing. Maybe it’s an article for a journal. Maybe it’s a conference or workshop session proposal. Maybe it’s an editorial or letter to a public official. Maybe it’s a piece of original curriculum. Or, hey, maybe it’s a blog! 🙂

The message is this, fellow teachers: You can, and should, do it.


Because teachers deserve to learn about things in their field from others who are currently practicing within it.

Because you already do action research in your classroom every day as you introduce new teaching techniques and observe their effects on your students. You are, by virtue of your position, making observations and tracking data. Teacher = researcher.

Because the expertise lent by your experience in the classroom, especially when put in the context of current educational research, is invaluable.

Because you are a professional, and have the capacity to influence and lead in your profession.

Because it can give a meaningful focus and purpose to your professional reading.

Because it is a way to earn the validation that you deserve as a professional educator. 

Because you already have the support you need to write and publish a piece of professional writing, even if you don’t know it yet. Talk to your peers, talk to presenters at conferences, get involved in a National Writing Project site near you, or send an email of inquiry to a publication you’d like to submit to. Many of them have very responsive editing staffs who, even if they don’t accept your piece, will send you a response with suggestions to make your future writing more successful.

There are many, many opportunities out there for teachers to offer their voices to the conversations surrounding what education can and will look like in the future. Consider offering yours. If I can do it, so can you. 🙂

One of the most difficult things for my AP Literature students to do is to write specifically about author language use and how it contributes to meaning. Sure, they can identify terms with the best of ’em, recount the happenings of a story in detail, and offer insightful connections to the themes of the reading… but they have a very hard time getting out of their own heads and into the author’s head. This poses a problem when students are required to write an analysis of merit, since term-dropping and opinion-posing will only get them so far. This year, I took notice of the same comments popping up yet again in my feedback to students: “Yes, but what is the author doing here?” “Why might the author have made this choice that you refer to?” “What message does the author reinforce here?”

I started noticing that when I pushed these questions into my students’ hands in conferences or discussions, I’d be met mainly with quizzical expressions, even from very bright kids. They’d scramble weakly with questioning voices: “Uh… giving details? Imagery! Um… definitely foreshadowing, you know… like we know maybe something bad might happen later?” I’d then try to push a little bit to get them to think in a more nuanced way, but this process always ends the same way–with me finally giving up and saying something like, “Ok, well, this is what I see here” and explaining the passage away, examining all these little language nuances I’m picking up on and watching the students scribble down exactly what I’ve said in their notebooks.

This is not awesome teaching. I know this. But what can you do when your students can’t find the answer independently? Especially with my AP students, it is absolutely imperative that they learn to speak and write in a sophisticated way  about language use without my hand-holding. By May at the very latest, they need to work independently of my guidance. So I started pondering, and I kept coming back to those same (bad) answers I always get to my “What’s the author doing?” question: Foreshadowing! Building suspense! Painting a picture in the reader’s head! Setting the scene! The more I thought about it, the more clearly I realized that these phrases probably all showed up in a middle school language arts workbook word bank at some point, and my students were still hanging on to them because their writer’s craft vocabulary had never evolved past that point. I thought to myself,You know what? They just don’t have the vocabulary. They don’t know what the author is doing because they literally don’t know what to call it. They don’t have the tools to build what I’m asking them to build.”

Then I thought: Internet to the rescue! I need a list of things that authors “do” in literature… moves that authors make which add up to meaning! It was my vision to use this list to help train my students with new, more writerly vocabulary so they could analyze with a much more informed dexterity. Alas, Google did not provide, so GUESS WHAT? I made my own. And I’m sharing it with you that you might find a use for it, or adaptation of it, with your own students.

WHAT IS THE AUTHOR DOING? Here are some ways to answer that question…

  • Drawing comparisons
  • Establishing or developing character
  • Revealing the nature of a relationship
  • Creating atmosphere
  • Providing social commentary
  • Being metaphorical
  • Using irony
  • Working with a symbol
  • Complicating the plot situation
  • Building emotional tension or conflict
  • Genre-blurring
  • Exploring the workings of the mind
  • Writing in dream time/sense
  • Playing on nostalgia
  • Philosophizing
  • Making an allusion
  • Moralizing
  • Presenting a paradox
  • Romanticizing
  • Breaking the fourth wall
  • Shifting perspective
  • Presenting a cosmic view of man/universe
  • Reflecting religious or spiritual beliefs
  • Echoing a previously established motif or theme
  • Employing humor for effect
  • Satirizing
  • Highlighting injustice
  • Using an unreliable narrator
  • Paying homage to someone or something
  • Downplaying/Understating
  • Making a political statement
  • Building on archetypes and mythology
  • Shifting perspectives
  • Incorporating dialect or other cultural elements
  • Using evocative/visceral description
  • Questioning cultural norms
  • Witholding detail/using opaque narration
  • Creating contrast
  • Justifying
  • Using and/or breaking conventions intentionally
  • Utilizing structure to reinforce meaning
  • Overemphasizing/Hyperbolizing


Here’s the link to my first assignment using the list: WhatisDickensDoing. We’ll see how it goes! I’m excited to observe how using the list helps my students grow in their literary analysis skills. Every day, I ask them to traverse new intellectual territory. It makes sense to give them a phrasebook as they start with translation and move toward fluency.