Posts Tagged ‘Writing’

Why Did the Poet Do That?—The Case for Teaching Author’s Craft

Thursday, January 23rd, 2014

Authors: Janet Hester and Lenicia Gordon, Literacy Specialists

We know that we are growing beyond the old classroom paradigm of drilling printed lists of terminology and moving toward providing authentic reading and writing experiences for our students.  Contemporary research affirms the need for students to be interested in their reading and writing tasks. Student choice of reading text is critical for engagement. An authentic purpose for reading is paramount. An onus to write and a responsibility to communicate will promote true participation in learning the skills of writing.  Students are no longer interested in jumping through hoops. But they will create their own diversions—if we could only harness their individual interests.

Yes, we all agree on the need for authenticity and student ownership of knowledge. But then it seems TEKS and STAAR mandates box us in—how can we teach the power and art of language when we are beholden to the State of Texas?


TEA Agrees with Best Practices

It turns out that our mandates and best practice are not far apart at all. In fact, if we only looked closely at our state curriculum and assessments, took a deep breath, believed in our students’ ability, took another deep breath, and trusted that daily reading and writing would improve their language skills, the kids might just be all right.


TEKS Ask Students to Read Like Writers




The TEKS reveal that students should be reading like writers and writing like—well—true writers.

For example, the student expectations in poetry ask students to “analyze how poets use sound effect to reinforce meaning” and “analyze the importance of graphical elements on the meaning of a poem” in the 5th and 7th grade, respectively. Now, harkening to those old classrooms, it would be tempting as a teacher to get caught up in the technical definitions of “sound effects” or “graphical elements”: to create a vocabulary list of these terms, drill our students, and arrest student learning at a Depth of Knowledge Level 1 or a Bloom’s Category of Remembering.

Yet, we are charged with teaching more than the terms, and we must extend student learning to include analyzing the effect of the terms. We should be teaching students the power of words and asking our students to analyze all the trouble a writer goes through to communicate.


STAAR Asks Students to Read Like Writers

Beyond the language of the TEKS themselves, released STAAR reading items from 2011 and 2013 elucidate this responsibility.

See an example of a 2013 English I released question:


A student answering this question correctly needn’t recite all the technical information she knows about analogies in poems; she must instead be familiar with interpreting poetic meaning. This item is dual-coded as 3/Fig.19(B), or as the overarching Knowledge and Skills statement of poetry (3) and the reading comprehension skill Figure 19(B). The skills assessed, according to the dual-coding, are to “make inferences . . . about the . . . elements of poetry” and “make complex inferences about text,” from the poetry Knowledge and Skills statement and  Figure 19(B) comprehension standard. For this question in particular, making inferences about the elements of poetry means interpreting what the analogy means in the context of the poem—reading the poem as a poet and determining the author’s intent of the analogy (not the technical terminology of “analogy”).




Here’s another example from the Grade 7 2013 Released items:



Again, the question does not assess the level of understanding of the term, imagery, but of the term’s use. It assumes understanding of the term itself. This question is dual-coded as well, as 8/Fig. 19 (D), or the overarching Knowledge and Skills statement of Sensory Language (8) and the reading comprehension skill, Figure 19(D). The skills assessed, according to the dual-coding, are to “make inferences . . . about how an author’s sensory language creates imagery in literary text” and “make complex inferences about text.”   Essentially, to answer this question, students must read poetic language and determine the intended purpose of the imagery used.  Students should be reading poems and learning how to ask themselves this question, again and again, “Why did the writer do that?”  Students should be reading like poets. In other words, in order to understand why poets and authors do what they do, students must be charged with making these same types of deliberate decisions in their own writing…..


The Learning Model—Reading and Writing Like Writers

So, how does a student get comfortable with reading poetry like a poet? Not by memorizing terms. We’ve written about this process before, and we will do so again. Jeff Anderson has written extensively in 10 Things Every Writer Should Know about flooding students with text so that they might inductively learn author’s craft and strategies.

  1. Teachers should flood students with text by exposing them to massive classroom libraries.  Newspapers.  Magazines and blogs. Students should be reading text of their choice. There should be so much text, kids have no option but to find that book about bulldogs—their own personal passion—and settle down to read.
  2. After reading independently, teachers should pull powerful mentor texts and engage the class in reading and discover for themselves the characteristics of the genre. There should be a controlled groundswell of Noticing these characteristics. The teacher should scribe these noticings on class anchor charts for easy reference throughout the year.
  3. Then, the teacher should divert the groundswell by creating opportunities for partner, small group and class discussion. By Interacting, students should discover the text features of expository text, and realize that they serve a function for the reader. The writer placed them there on purpose.
  4. The students should then Name those characteristics as the academic term and as their own definition.
  5. Teachers should provide students with opportunities to Experiment using those characteristics in their own writing and revision processes.
  6. Reflecting and metacognition—students should reflect upon the knowledge they learned and how it fits into their own schema. Allowing time for reflection allows students to make the learning about reading and writing their own.

This method may be used over and over again, so that students develop a habit of reading and noticing, become experts at interacting with the text, develop an intuition for naming strategies they encounter, and, finally, become proficient in employing these strategies as a writer of the genre.  See the diagram below.




To understand author’s craft in any genre, students must see examples of the genre, discover their own examples, and ask the question over and over, “Why did the writer do that?”  Ultimately, writing their own arguments, explanations, and poetry worthy of interpretation will extend the learning.

As it turns out, the TEKS and STAAR’s interpretations of the TEKS call for students to be able to interpret the effect of writers using their tools. And STAAR assesses this zealously, with the help of the dual-coding of Knowledge and Skills statements and Figure 19.  This is a good thing. It means we do not have to teach static lists of terms. The state charges us with teaching authentic reading and writing. How fortunate, because this is precisely what is best for students.

Meaningful, Challenging Writing Opportunities for Young Children

Thursday, October 24th, 2013

Author:  School Ready Team

Writing in many early childhood classrooms is limited to:

  • Copying words
  • Name writing
  • Helping the teacher compose a Morning Message
  • Practicing correct letter formation
  • Whole group journal writing on assigned topics


While these practices are part of Pre-K writing instruction, much is missing! Opportunities to learn Pre-K Guideline IV.B.1 (Child independently uses letters or symbols to make words or parts of words-phonetic spelling) are often particularly lacking.


Example of phonetic spelling:



A high quality Pre-K program offers a balance of meaningful teacher-led and student-led writing opportunities that include all of these 5 components.



Throughout the week in a high quality Pre-K program, the teacher and students compose lists, letters and other forms of writing through shared or interactive writing.

During Center time, students are invited to write in various centers (e.g., food orders in a Dramatic Play restaurant and observational drawings in Science Center).


Children make books regularly or engage in Writing Workshop, composing their own texts.   Name writing occurs naturally throughout the day as students sign a wait list for a popular center, answer a survey or record their names on art work.

Rather than copying their names or isolated letters over and over again, young children need meaningful reasons to write. In Real Life Reasons to Write, Louis Mark Romei offers a short list of ten compelling ways to prompt young writers:

Questions to Consider:

  • How can you challenge and support Pre-K teachers to gradually begin offering comprehensive writing instruction that includes all 5 components?
  • How can you ensure rigorous, meaningful writing instruction including opportunities to develop phonetic spelling?

Word on the Street: Bigger Is Not Better…..when it comes to Mentor Texts for Literacy Skill Instruction

Friday, September 20th, 2013

Authors: Lenicia Gordon, Susan Diaz, and Janet Hester

Most contemporary researchers in literacy agree on at least this one fact:  Short, complex texts are the most effective and most critical foundation of the modern lesson cycle in high impact reading and writing instruction.  This is not to say that there is not a place for our favorite novels and short stories but when honing in on specific reading skills like understanding an author’s craft or purpose, making inferences, summarizing or making connections between texts, short rich texts (purposefully chosen for illustrative properties of the chosen skill to be taught) are the keystone.  This same paradigm is true for writing instruction as well.

The use of mentor texts and mini-lessons for skills, strategies, and revision is the common thread of advice from literacy experts we have been reading and engaging with this past year.  The other clear message is the importance of truly engaging all four processes: reading, speaking, listening, and writing embedded in each lesson cycle.

Steve Graham and Dolores Perin boil it down to three simple actions – Read, Emulate, Analyze when referring to anchoring learning about writing through the immersion in quality mentor texts – in their report “Writing Next for The Alliance for Excellent Education”.  To download the entire free PDF guide, “Writing Next: Effective Strategies to Improve Writing of Adolescents in Middle and High School”, visit Kelly Gallagher reiterates the importance of this three step process and adds that teachers need to “model, model, model!”  He also believes students need to be immersed in opportunities to read and analyze great fiction and write fiction.  The pendulum swing away from fiction and towards only nonfiction is a mistake in his mind that needs to be returned to balance.

Here are his five practical guiding questions which he suggests educators ask themselves before designing a reading lesson:

1)      What support do my students need before they begin reading a text?

2)      What strategies will assist them to read the text with purpose and clarity?

3)      How can I encourage a second-draft reading to facilitate deeper meaning?

4)      Which collaborative activities will help deepen their comprehension?

5)      How can I help students see the relevance this text plays in their world?

(Gallagher, Kelly. Deeper Reading: Comprehending Challenging Texts, 4-12. Portland, Me.: Stenhouse, 2004)

Jeff Anderson likens the process to the scientific method (Observe, Question, Hypothesize, Test, and Conclude). Anderson’s Analysis Process involves five steps: Noticing, Interacting, Naming, Experimenting, and Reflecting. In the Noticing phase, students read the mentor text independently and use annotating techniques to mark anything in the text they like or find interesting that the writer is doing. The next phase is called Interacting.  The teacher guides the students’ noticings to the focused skill of the writing lesson: for example, the thesis or imagery, etc. The Naming phase is when the teacher will bring in academic vocabulary and make broad generalizations about the genre of the writing: for example, cause/effect structure or “it’s called foreshadowing when an author does that”. Experimenting is a time for kids to play with language, patterns, and structures in their own writing that is connected to the instructional objective or skill.  Finally, the class Reflects. Students need a moment to consider if adding the element improves or detracts from the meaning of their essay and explain why they think so.  They can do their reflections through a quickwrite such as an exit ticket or a think/pair/share. (Anderson, Jeff. Ten Things Every Writer Needs to Know. Portland, Me.: Stenhouse, 2011)

Fountas and Pinnell outline the reading process through the study of genre with the foundation still being mentor text study, as such, a) Interactive read-aloud, b) Readers’ workshop, which includes book talks, a mini-lesson, conferences, independent reading, guided reading, literature discussion (book clubs), writing about reading, and group share, c) Writers’ workshop, which includes writers’ talks, a mini-lesson, conferences, independent writing, guided writing, and group share.

For an overview of their Six Step process to teaching an inquiry-based genre study check out this one-page reference sheet: Genre Study: Steps in the Inquiry Process:

(Fountas, Irene C., and Gay Su Pinnell. Genre Study: Teaching with Fiction and Nonfiction Books: Grades K-8. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann, 2012.)

Stephanie Harvey contributes to this short mentor text movement by adding her twist, STOP, THINK, and REACT (Remember) when referring to the instructional process. “We teach kids to think so they can acquire and actively use knowledge.” Her primary “take home points” are: a) We need to be providing kids at ALL reading levels with COMPLEX texts and that this means complicated ideas, not necessarily lexile level. b) Annotating text is critical to close reading and close VIEWING of nonfiction features deepens understanding of expository texts. c) Students need to, “Stop, Think, and React (REMEMBER)…..STR!” and be provided ample opportunities to practice this with quality complex mentor texts. d) Students should skip the things they don’t understand in the FIRST read and make sense of what they DO know. Then in the SECOND read, they should focus on the things they don’t know and then try and understand. (Notes from 2013 IRA Conference, San Antonio, TX – Harvey, Stephanie, and Anne Goudvis. Strategies That Work: Teaching Comprehension for Understanding and Engagement. Portland, Me.: Stenhouse, 2007)

Harvey “Smokey” Daniels points out the critical importance of pairing students to read, discuss and analyze texts and providing them compelling higher order questions to guide their discussions. Smokey reiterates the value of what students learn from each other through guided discourse.  They provide each other background and context, as well as the opportunity to engage in the entire literacy process of reading, writing, speaking, and listening so that they truly internalize content, strategies, and metacognition.  He shared some specific reading strategies such as finding the “Golden Nugget Sentence” in a selection among many others. “Smokey” Daniels will be presenting during our Distinguished Speakers Series here at Region 13 on Friday, December 6th! (Notes from 2013 IRA Conference, San Antonio, TX  – Daniels, Harvey, and Marilyn Bizar. Teaching the Best Practice Way: Methods That Matter, K-12. Portland, Me.: Stenhouse, 2005.)

Sara Holbrook and Michael Salinger suggest many strategies for using POETRY to support READING skills and CONTENT learning across the curriculum.  Sara and Michael are leaders in the writing to learn movement in literacy instruction. They support ideas like using Haikus as a way to SUMMMARIZE content information. Due to the fact that Haiku requires such precise and carefully chosen words, it would be an excellent way to summarize, for example, a lesson about Abraham Lincoln, the food web, attributes of a geometric solid, etc.  They posit that poetry can support learning across the curriculum using poetic structures of Found Poems, Questioning Poems, Summary Poems, Refrain Poems, and List Poems. (Notes from 2013 IRA Conference, San Antonio, TX – Holbrook, Sara, and Michael Salinger. Outspoken!: How to Improve Writing and Speaking Skills through Poetry Performance. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann, 2006.)

*Some of these distinguished speakers will be presenting at Region 13 in the near future. Visit our website to register!


Jeff Anderson-November 8th

Harvey “Smokey” Daniels- December 6th

Kelly Gallagher-January 10th


Writing Across the Content Areas

Thursday, January 24th, 2013

Author: Susan Diaz, Education Specialist, Secondary ELAR


“If students are to make knowledge their own, they must struggle with the details, wrestle with the facts, and rework raw information and dimly understood concepts into language they can communicate to someone else. In short, if students are to learn, they must write.” –The College Board and the National Commission on Writing

I hear that students might be learning in classes other than just English/Language Arts!  Ergo, if this rumor is true, students need to write in ALL their subjects.  Still skeptical?  The Michigan Department of Education says… “Writing is used to initiate discussion, reinforce content and model the method of inquiry common to the field.  Writing can help students discover new knowledge–to sort through previous understandings, draw conclusions and uncover new ideas as they write.”  And in the report, “The Neglected R”, the National Commission on Writing for America’s Families, Schools, and Colleges argues that writing has been pushed to the side in the school reform movement over the past twenty years and must now receive the attention it deserves. The National Commission on Writing goes on to talk about how students have difficulty producing writing at the high levels of skill, maturity, and sophistication that is required in our complex, modern economy.  Basically, if we want our students to be college AND/OR career ready, they must be proficient writers.  The Commission’s solution to this dilemma?  Double the amount of writing by incorporating it in all content areas.

We’re not asking you to know the ins and outs of dangling participles or the STAAR rubric.  We’re talking about giving students the time to practice and hone their writing.  It’s kind of like driving a car or playing a sport—the more you do it, the better you get!

There are lots of easy ways to incorporate writing into your classrooms.  It could be as simple as an Entry Slip that asks them to summarize their homework reading or recall learning from yesterday’s class.   Giving students a few minutes to write at the beginning of class allows them to collect their thoughts and activate prior knowledge.  It also helps students see that learning is connected from day to day rather than a series of isolated events.  You can end class with an Exit Ticket asking students to write a letter to a classmate who was absent explaining what was learned that day or students can reflect on their participation in class for the day.  The Exit Slip helps students summarize their learning for the day and gives them closure.  The simple step of adding in Entry Slips and Exit Tickets to our lesson cycle can make a profound impact on student learning—it is the E in engage and the E in evaluate that frames our teaching and solidifies knowledge for kids.  Give it a try!

Strategic Note-Taking in Secondary Content Classrooms

Thursday, January 24th, 2013

Author: Tonia Miller,  Education Specialist, ESL Instructional Coach

Perhaps when many of us were in high school, or even college, we learned to take notes out of sheer necessity. We were lucky if the teacher paused for a moment to write a word or two on the chalk board. However, this is not the case for students in today’s classrooms. Luckily for them, 21st century learners have grown up in more student-centered environments, where oftentimes technology is used as an interactive tool for discovery learning. Given this, many students in secondary schools do not perceive note-taking skills as fundamental to their success in content area classes.


Why Should I Take Notes?

Contrary to student perception, research shows that note-taking skills are still necessary both to survive and excel in today’s classroom. Note-taking serves two very important functions for learners: 1) external storage of information, and 2) cognitive encoding of information (Boyle, 2011). While it is obvious to most students that note-taking is a way to keep record of important information they might forget, few students realize the power the act of writing notes has to jump-start the cognitive processing of information in their brains. While note-taking, students begin to learn and memorize content. Additionally, students will retain and recall more when notes are self-generated. Ultimately, the combination of both functions makes note-taking a critical component of successful learning. For the purposes of this article, we will focus on one researched-based strategy intended to be used during lectures: strategic note-taking (SN).


Strategic Note-Taking

The intention of strategic note-taking is to help students filter and organize incoming information during lectures so that it is converted into notes that can be comprehended and reviewed at a later time. The strategy also focuses on inciting students to mentally process and record information while listening. Strategic note-taking paper accompanies the strategy to prompt students to make notes through five main metacognitive cues: link prior knowledge, cluster main ideas, summarize like ideas, recognize key vocabulary, and review main lecture points (Boyle, 2011).

To help students remember all of the skills necessary for SN, the first letter mnemonic device CUES is used. See an abbreviated version of the SN paper and for a description of what students are doing at each step of CUES below:





Some of the findings of a study of SN show that, in contrast to students using traditional note-taking, students using strategic note-taking recorded more total lecture points as well as twice as many words, had greater long-term recall, and performed better on tests (Boyle, 2012, Boyle, 2010).


How Do I Implement Strategic Note-Taking?

Students will need to be explicitly taught SN, just as they would any other new content-related skill.  Providing the student with a description of the strategy, in addition to why they are being asked to develop this skill, is a good place to start. See the following list for some teacher tips for implementation of strategic note-taking:

  • Prior to the lecture, make your own set of strategic notes as “model notes”.
  • Use your “model notes” during the lecture to stay on topic.
  • Stress important lecture content by repeating or restating.
  • Slow down the pace of the lesson.
  • Use purposeful pause procedures (e.g., a long pause should indicate students need to record what was just said).
  • Categorize or provide a title for an upcoming list of items.
  • Monitor students’ usage of the strategy.
  • Teach students to abbreviate.
  • Teach students to identify main points & summarize big ideas.
  • Provide emphasis cues (e.g., “It is important to remember that . . .).
  • Provide organization cues (e.g., “the four main types of a cloud are . . .).
  • Use nonverbal cues such as gestures to provide emphasis.
  • Write important notes & vocabulary on the board.
  • Provide students time at the end of class to review notes.
  • Allow students to compare their notes to the “model notes”.
  • Encourage students to share notes with a partner and fill in any missing information.
  • Evaluate students’ notes (self-assessment, peer assessment and teacher assessment).
  • Gradually increase the pace of lecture as students become more competent.

(Boyle, 2012, Boyle, 2011, & Boyle, 2010)


How do I Assess Students’ Note-Taking Skills?

Ongoing assessment of students’ note-taking skills is an important part of both skill development and learner accountability. Just as with academic skills, it is important to find individual student gaps in note-taking skills. The figure below depicts a form that has been used as a formative assessment of students’ note-taking skills as compared to teachers’  “model notes.”





The key to ongoing assessment of note-taking is to show students that it is a cyclical, reflective process intended to help develop metacognitive study skills so that they may effectively monitor their own learning.


How Do I Justify the Time Required to Teach Note-Taking?

Note-taking falls under the larger umbrella of study skills necessary for students to be successful learners, and techniques, like strategic note-taking, can be incorporated into content-area curriculum. Although teachers may feel pressed to primarily lecture in order to cover all necessary content, it is important to include other activities (i.e., hands-on activities, peer conversations and various other student demonstrations of understanding) to reinforce concepts from lectures. However, note-taking is a valuable skill that becomes essential for students as they take on greater responsibility for their own learning. Consequently, the time invested by teachers initially in teaching students note-taking skills pays off by propelling students towards the ultimate goal:  to be both college and career-ready citizens.

References (APA)

Boyle, J. R. (2012). Note-Taking and Secondary Students with Learning Disabilities: Challenges and Solutions. Learning Disabilities Research & Practice, 27(2), 90-101.

BOYLE, J. R. (2011). THINKING STRATEGICALLY TO RECORD NOTES IN CONTENT CLASSES. American Secondary Education, 40(1), 51-66.

Boyle, J. R. (2010). Strategic Note-Taking for Middle-School Students with Learning Disabilities in Science Classes. Learning Disability Quarterly, 33(2), 93-109.

Score Point 2: The “Evolution” from Somewhat Effective to Basic

Friday, November 2nd, 2012

Author: Susan Diaz, Secondary Literacy Education Specialist

This past week, I presented a workshop on expository writing in which I used the scoring guides released by T.E.A. to do anchoring and range-finding with participants.  After combing through several of the score point 2 essays, one of my participants had an epiphany:  “These 2’s aren’t very good!  Why are they scoring so high?!”  Another participant pointed out to her that on the STAAR a 2 is considered a “Basic” writing performance, so her observation was quite accurate: while a 2 on TAKS was deemed “Somewhat Effective” and passing, a 2 on STAAR is something completely different. There is no gate-keeper essay on STAAR, meaning scoring a 1 or 2 doesn’t mean the student will automatically fail, but considering the weight of writing on the test (52% of the overall score), and if the goal is to truly make students college and career ready, a 2 isn’t what we should aim for.


Let’s look at an excerpt of the Score Point 2 STAAR EOC Rubric for English I Expository Writing, under “Development of Ideas.”The essay reflects little or no thoughtfulness. The writer’s response to the prompt is sometimes formulaic. The writer develops the essay in a manner that demonstrates only a limited understanding of the expository writing task.The rubric highlights two important issues to consider for STAAR expository writing: thoughtfulness and formulas.  In Elizabeth Rorschach’s article “The Five-Paragraph Theme Redux,” she argues that “standardized writing exams encourage teachers to focus on format and correctness, with little concern for content.”  I whole-heartedly agree with her!  Down with the test!  It’s ruining writing!  Down with the, WAIT!  What did that rubric say?  Thoughtfulness (i.e., “content”) = good.  Formula (i.e., “format”) = bad.  After repeatedly looking at the released essays from this past year’s English I EOC, I realized that kids were being rewarded for original ideas and for creative yet appropriate organizational structures.  Often when we are confronted with high-stakes writing tests, we fall back on formulas as tried and true ways of assisting our struggling students.  As Rorschach states, when we focus first on prefabricated text structures (formulas), we limit our students’ thinking.  Instead of finding text structures that fit their ideas, students force ideas to fit within the structures.  Most importantly, Rorschach warns us, “When teachers’ attention is focused on structure…they cease to be real readers who need to be engaged by interesting ideas.”  So, first, let us value our students’ ideas by becoming real readers or real listeners.  And, then, let us assist our students in finding their own ways to organize their fresh ideas into original packages.



“The Five-Paragraph Theme Redux,” Elizabeth Rorschach, accessed October 1, 2012,

Writing in the Science Class: Lab Conclusions

Friday, August 24th, 2012

Author: Kristen Hillert, Secondary Science Specialist


Conclusions are a powerful way to assess students’ mastery of the objectives of lab investigations.  But how do you teach students to write conclusions?  Here, science teachers can learn from our colleagues in the English department.

Although scientific writing is a unique style with a set of rules different from the writing students traditionally do in English classes, strategies used to teach writing work across genres.  Before asking students to turn in their first lab report, try one of these strategies and see if the writing of your students improves.

  • Mentor text. Show students examples of what a “good” lab conclusion looks like.
  • For younger students, this might mean writing a few examples yourself or sharing student conclusions from the previous years.
  • Older students should see real examples of conclusions from peer reviewed journal articles.
  • Students could do a gallery walk around the room reading the sample mentor texts and making observations about what they all have in common.
  • Finally, students use their observations about the structure of a strong conclusion to guide their own writing.
    • Sentence Stems. Help students know how to start the conclusion by suggesting sentence stems they can use.
    • _________ was used to _________ in this lab.
    • The data shows the relationship between _________ and _________ is _________because_________.
    • The evidence for _________ was that _________.
      • Class Examples.  Type up conclusions written by your own students (be sure to keep them anonymous!) and share them with the students to evaluate.
      • Mix examples of strong and weak conclusions (no more 10 total).
      • Review the examples one at a time.
      • Have students identify the strength(s)/weakness(es) of each conclusion.
      • Have students work together to generalize their comments and form them into a checklist they can use to evaluate their own conclusions before submitting them to you.

Lab investigations are an important part of science throughout all grade levels.  The conclusion is the part of the lab report that allows students to assimilate the information gained from the hands on-experiences with the theory of the content.  Empowering students to fully express all they have learned through the investigation will not only improve their understanding of the content as they work through all the ideas as they write them out, but it also provides you, the teacher, an excellent form of evaluation of mastery.

To learn more about how to incorporate writing into your science class, check out the TRC Modules: Writing in Science in Project Share.  They’re free and a great resource for creative ideas of teaching through writing!

And still, outside of school, people wrote…

Friday, August 24th, 2012

Author: Susan Diaz, Secondary Literary Specialist

In grad school, one of my professors assigned an article for us to read by Kathleen Blake Yancey, the former president of NCTE, entitled “Writing in the 21st Century.” (To read this article, go to  I distinctly remember falling in love with this article for several reasons: her writing style is AMAZING, she succinctly summarizes a history of composition in a mere few paragraphs, she reminds readers of the social nature of writing, she asserts that technology has allowed everyone to become writers and that these writers who embrace technology “want to compose and do” for each other, a real and defined audience.

I would like to focus specifically on Yancey’s views on the role of audience and the social nature of writing that has become more prominent because of technology.  Everywhere we look, we see examples of students writing—Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, blogs, text messages.  Deborah Brandt, professor emerita of English at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, calls this self-sponsored writing, “a writing that belongs to the writer, not to an institution” (Yancey 4).   In these platforms, our students mix text and media effortlessly and WILLINGLY in order “to share, to encourage dialogue, to participate” (Yancey 5).  Writers, and just as importantly, AUDIENCES are everywhere.  Our students dive into this digital environment yet they seem reluctant to write for us in the classroom.  We stick to the traditional model of literacy with pen and paper first, then the computer, and, finally, if at all, the networked computer.  We limit the power of the computer by only using it as a word processor.  We limit our students’ creativity and interest when we ignore how they “naturally” communicate through the writing.

Yancey ends her article with the idea that writing throughout history has mostly been for a public audience. “If this is so, we need to find a place for it both in our models of writing and in our teaching of writing.” (7). And this is exactly why our students write outside of school—because of an audience.  Shouldn’t we encourage this?


Yancey, Kathleen Blake, Writing in the 21st Century. NCTE Web,  31 July 2012.

STAAR Writing: A short story in 26 lines or less with an interesting plot and engaging characters…. REALLY??

Monday, February 13th, 2012

“For sale: baby shoes, never worn.”

A very short, short story by Ernest Hemingway

I have a 9th grader (a boy no less)!  While some boys may enjoy “the inner music that words make,” mine does not.  So when I learned that he would have to write a short story, with an interesting plot and engaging characters in 26 LINES OR LESS I panicked!  I began looking for mentor text that would support his STAAR endeavors!  I didn’t find any short stories in textbooks; well, not short stories that were less than 26 lines.  I found lots of excerpts, but no mentor texts.  Then I turned to the ‘un-academic’ database…..GOOGLE.  That’s where I found my answer:  micro-fiction or flash-fiction. I wasn’t concerned about whether it is called micro or flash fiction; I was just thrilled that there was a genre out there that modeled for my son (and his other 9th grade counterparts) of what they were supposed to write!

Flash fiction is a genre of short story writing that presents “a singular moment, a slice of life, a sketch” in 55 to 1000 lines.   In an information age of Twitter and hyperlinks, flash fiction is a way to engage our reluctant students in the elements of short story writing.  Even if we take the Hemingway story as an example of flash-flash fiction, we can see that there are characters (some implied), there’s a plot, there’s conflict—in just 6 words! Imagine the fun kids could have with 50 to 900 more?!

At the latest TCTELA conference, Harvey Daniels used an example of flash fiction for literature circles.  He examined a work titled “Waiting,” by Peggy McNally that came from Jerome Stern’s Micro Fiction.  Let’s examine how many short story elements McNally used in just 255 mere words:

[click sample for a larger view]

So, is writing a fully developed short story in 26 lines (or less) a bit daunting?  YES!!!  But it is comforting that this is neither a new task nor a new genre.  It’s a genre that is published and, therefore, there are mentor texts for my son to digest.  On June 22, ESC XIII will offer a workshop on the topic of short story writing with David Rice, a world-renowned author (workshop # SU1223130).  He will share strategies that will prepare students for the STAAR literary composition.   Until then, you may want to access some of these resources:

Books Micro Fiction: An Anthology of Fifty Really Short Stories, edited by Jerome SternFlash Fiction Forward, edited by James Thomas and Robert ShapardSudden Fiction: American Short Stories, edited by Robert Shapard and James ThomasField Guide to Writing Flash Fiction, edited by Tara L. Masih



Masih, T.L. Field Guide to Writing Flash Fiction. Brookline: The Rose Metal Press, 2009.

Stern, Jerome, ed. Micro Fiction: An Anthology of Fifty Really Short Stories. New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 1996.

Thomas, James, and Robert Shapard. Flash Fiction Forward. New York: W. W. Norton, 2006.