Friday Five: Teacher To-Do List for the Summer

So now that you’re done with school, the time to decompress and recharge has arrived. Whether you’re at year 3 or year 30, teachers need the summer to relax and build up that energy reservoir for the next year. Summer professional development is important and useful, and I know many of you will do training, meet with teachers, attend conferences, and read professional books (I will, too). But here’s a summer to-do list for teachers that will help you really relax and recharge so you can return to school ready for students.

1. Binge watch that one show all you students were talking about. Especially if you wouldn’t normally watch it. Even if you just watch 3 episodes in a row, you’ll at least know the characters and the basics when you see your students next. (Pro tip: ask students via social media like twitter which show to binge watch). My high school students recommended, among other shows, both Orange is the New Black and 13 Reasons Why.

2. Stay in your pajamas all day and do not cook one meal. Pretend you’re back in college and do not be productive for one entire day. If you have kids, they probably won’t mind pjs and cereal all day. Allow yourself one full day with no responsibilities. This can be hard for us, since we’re so used to getting things done, and the summer is time to get things done you can’t do during the school year.  However, you need to take a full 24 hours off from doing things. Order in, or just eat from your cupboards. Ask your significant other or kids to make food. If you’re not sure how to *not* do things all day, try #1.

3. Leave your computer and phone and go outside all day. We’re so connected, even during the summer. Whether you’re checking the news, finding summer PD, or trying to work on curriculum, give yourself a day without any screens. No TV, no computer, no phone. Go enjoy the natural world. This will allow you, as Thoreau says, to “maintain a little bit of summer, even in the middle of winter.” Recharge your nature batteries, whether it is at the beach, on a hike, or in your backyard. Just don’t forget the sunblock.

4. Call a non-teacher friend and go out to lunch. You should go out with teacher buddies, too, but this one is important. If you go out to lunch with a non-teacher, it means you will probably not talk about school, lessons, administration, students, parents, or curriculum.  It means you’ll have conversations about family, the news, movies, or the food you’re eating.  Enjoy a full conversation and meal without being a teacher, you’ll just be a friend.

5. Freewrite about what you never have time for and then do it. OK, so this is kind of an assignment. Take out a piece of paper and a pen. Freewrite for five minutes without stopping on this prompt: What do you feel you never have time to do, but really want to do? I did this and was surprised. I thought I would discover I wanted to write more. You know what? Deep down, I want to cook more elaborate meals, and in the summer, I have time to do that: time to chop veggies, simmer, prepare complex dishes that normally would not happen when I come home from school. Freewrite until you figure out what you actually wish you were doing. Then take some time this summer to do it!  In the meantime, I’m headed to the grocery store to buy ingredients and start cooking.

Happy Summer!

Posted by Kate, Blog Editor and Book Reviewer for PCTELA

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Friday Five: Teacher To-Do List for the Summer

Author Breakfast Lineup for our Fall Conference

Join us on Saturday October 21 at our annual author’s breakfast portion of our PCTELA conference for food, professional camaraderie, and friendly dialogue.

Our PCTELA Conference this year is being held at the DoubleTree by Hilton Green Tree (Pittsburgh). Our featured speaker this year is Laurie Halse Anderson, and we also have a spectacular line-up for our annual author’s breakfast on Saturday morning.

Free teacher-swag to each person who registers for the Author’s Breakfast! Registration details can be found on our website at www.pctela.org.

Here is who we have confirmed so far, and we will be selecting 1-2 more authors before too long.

Cat Bruno

Pittsburgh-based, bestselling fantasy author Cat Bruno creates superhero-like protagonists and complex villains in her mythology-laced series, Pathway of the Chosen. Midwest Book Review praised Ms. Bruno’s debut novel, The Girl from the North, as “Exceptional entertainment with deftly created characters and unexpected plot twists.” A year later, Ms. Bruno continued the story of her strong female protagonist with the second book in the series, Daughter of the Wolf. In October, the third book and the author’s favorite, Queen of Stars and Shadows, was released and quickly entered the bestseller’s list in epic fantasy. For those looking for diversity in literature and atypical fantasy characters, Ms. Bruno offers an engaging read with uncommon voices, especially ones that areunderrepresented in genre fiction. With a focus on blending historical accuracy into her fantasy world, Ms. Bruno explores and examines the scope and role of women with a modern, feminist angle.

Sherrie Flick

Fiction. Food. Freelance. Sherrie Flick is the author of the novel RECONSIDERING HAPPINESS, the flash fiction chapbook I CALL THIS FLIRTING, and the short story collection WHISKEY, ETC, a finalist for the Eric Hoffer Book Award and the Foreword INDIES Book of the Year for Short Stories. Her work has appeared in THE WALL STREET JOURNAL, PLOUGHSHARES, and W.W. Norton’s anthologies FLASH FICTION FORWARD and NEW SUDDEN FICTION. She has received fellowships from PA Council on the Arts, PA Partners in the Arts, Creative Nonfiction, the Ucross Foundation, and Atlantic Center for the Arts. She teaches in the Food Studies and MFA programs at Chatham University and serves as co-director of the Chautauqua Writers’ Festival. In Fall 2018, Autumn House Press will publish a new collection of stories and In Fact Books will publish a book of creative nonfiction.

Catherine Dawgert

Through writing and illustration I hope to express the sense of wonder, humor and compassion I feel in this strange and beautiful world. Picture books are one of the most exciting forms of narrative to me because of the way illustrations and words work together to create multiple layers and multiple stories within one book.

Publications to date include the picture books ABC Disgusting, winner of the 2015 Moonbeam Award for best illustrator; Even in My Monster Hat; and The Dinglebeast Needs to Sleep, chosen as an Inkspokes Select Book Award 2017. The People on the Bus is forthcoming in 2017.

Author Breakfast Lineup for our Fall Conference

Using Diagrams & Infographics in Synthesis Essays

Using Diagrams & Infographics in Synthesis Essays

Last year, one student was struggling to formulate her topic for her final synthesis essay (I ask students to use at least 4 texts and combine them in a larger argument about some element of being human).  She stayed after class one day and I asked her if she could somehow graph out what she wanted to say about making decisions.  We talked for almost an hour, and she drew a number of different iterations of a graph.  This was one of the final ones she designed, and it ended up in her paper:

decisions graph

What adding this graph allowed her to do was then explain how it applied to each of the four books she analyzed.  It was a remarkable moment for both of us, as we both understood how the image allow her thinking to crystalize.

This year, as students began to draft synthesis essays, after they all thought they had solid topics, I asked them to draw an image that depicted their topic. It could be a spectrum, a graph, or some other kind of image.  For a few students, it served the same purpose as my student last year: it helped crystalize their thinking.

One student realized the more characters desired something, the more insane they seemed:

Another student made a gradient for what she termed “consumption,” and whether there was an obsessive element to the consumption. This helped her decide where to place different characters (like Hamlet, Ahab, or Frankenstein)  and allowed her to craft her essay around this concept. 

Another student used a graph to show the different kinds of archetypal figures he saw in the texts we read.

While not every student used these graphs in their papers, at least 20% of them did find them useful enough to incorporate into their final paper. As a reader, I also found them useful to refer to as I read their arguments.

So the next time you ask students to write an essay, consider having them translate it into an image. The act might help clarify their thinking and improve their writing.

Posted by Kate, Blog Editor and Book Reviewer for PCTELA

Using Diagrams & Infographics in Synthesis Essays

Friday Five: Five Reasons to Join the Pennsylvania Poetry Society

Five Reasons to Join the Pennsylvania Poetry Society (or at least check out what they’re doing).

I have been a member of the Pennsylvania Poetry Society for three years, but only recently attended a spring meeting.  This was such a fun experience, it prompted me to write this post, with 5 reasons to join PPS, Inc.

  1. The Pennsylvania Poetry Society holds two meetings each year with workshops for developing your inner poet.  These workshops provide time to talk with other poets, share work, and work with poets from throughout the state. The most recent workshop featured Dana Sauers. 
  2. Meeting people who are also interested in reading and writing poetry. From their twitter page: “Founded in 1949, the PPS assists its members in the development of their craft and fosters an intelligent appreciation of poetry.”
  3. The PPS also runs an annual contest with 17 categories.  Members have the opportunity to enter 3 of those 17 that non-members cannot. The winning poems are published each year.
  4. Joining this group allows can give you notice about many other contests, which they share on Facebook and Twitter.
  5. Joining this group will help you if you’re trying to work on your own writing. Each newsletter (produced four times a year) provides a challenge for writing poetry, and there’s also an online publication each month, called Pennessence. There are plenty of opportunities to challenge yourself and publish your writing.

Posted by Kate, Blog Editor and Book Reviewer for PCTELA

Friday Five: Five Reasons to Join the Pennsylvania Poetry Society

The Value of Asking Students to Re-Write Hamlet’s To Be or Not To Be Soliloquy

The Value of Asking Students to Re-Write Hamlet’s Soliloquy

This year, when teaching Hamlet, I offered a choice for students: they could write a traditional homework exploration, or they could rewrite the To Be or Not to soliloquy in III.i and also write a reflection about the process of writing it.

This came about because last year, a student included her own version in her final synthesis paper:

For the reader’s pleasure: Un Soliloque en Pointe

To dance or not to dance—that is the question:
Whether ‘tis nobler in the mind to suffer
The pain and aching of outrageous footwear,
Or to take arms against ballet tradition
And, by opposing, end it. To spring, to bend—
No more—and by a satin shoe to end
The bunions and the thousand shocks
A dancer’s foot is heir to—’tis an effectuation
Devoutly to be wished. To jump, to point—
To point, perchance with ease. Ay, there’s the rub,
For in shoes soft and dead what blisters come,
When we have shuffled off this marked sprung floor,
Must give us pause. There’s the misalignment
That makes arthritis of so long life.

The results this year were impressive, and based on reflections, I will be requiring it for students next year.Here’s why:

1. Students had to choose a decision they were thinking about and write about it, thereby putting themselves in Hamlet’s mindset. Now, there were a number of silly versions, but even in those, students had to consider both sides of the argument. Some wrote about the decision to go away to college, some wrote about taking a nap.

2. Rewriting it helped students really understand what Hamlet was saying–better than just reading and taking notes on it. Here’s one student’s thoughts: “Writing this version of Hamlet’s soliloquy gave me a better insight into what he was really saying. It’s easy to glance over something once and not understand it, but going through line by line to see what fit while making my own version really helped comprehension. I noticed while reading over it when I was finished that Shakespeare really did write in a way allowing natural breathing techniques for those delivering his lines, which made it easy to replace the words and still have it make sense.”

3. They were fun to read and also gave me insight into how much students understood about how the passage was composed as well as what they were currently struggling with in their own lives.

I also think this activity––having students rewrite a soliloquy from Shakespeare–could be transferable to other plays like Macbeth or Julius Caesar, or really any instance where a character has a solo where they’re trying to make a decision. Although only about half of my students chose to do this option this year, I’ll be having all of them doing it (with more guidance and deliberate teaching from me) next year.

Posted by Kate, Blog Editor and Book Reviewer for PCTELA

The Value of Asking Students to Re-Write Hamlet’s To Be or Not To Be Soliloquy

Students: submit poems by March 15

The National Federation of State Poetry Societies will be closing their student contest in 3 days on March 15, but there’s still time to submit to this free contest.

From their website:

No entry fee required.  Open only to students in grades 9 through 12.
Sponsored by Kay Kinnaman Sims and Nancy Baass.
Subject: Any
Form: Any
32 line limit.
1st Prize: $50. 2nd Prize: $30. 3rd Prize: $20
For contest rules head here.
As we’ve posted about before, having a real, live audience can encourage students to produce their best work. And having a cash prize doesn’t hurt, either!
Students: submit poems by March 15

Book Review: Steve Peha’s Be a Better Writer

Book Review: Steve Peha’s Be a Better Writer
Kate Walker

Half the fun of the NCTE conference is the spontaneous conversations that occur over meals, at the sessions, in the exhibition hall. One conversation happened when I was at the Norton booth chatting with Jim Burke and a gentleman with a pin that said “optimism.” That gentleman was Steve Peha, and not only did he gift me an optimism pin of my own, we had a great conversation about teaching, metaphor, and writing.  We exchanged cards and went on our way.

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Lo and behold, a month later Steve’s book Be A Better Writer arrived in the mail for me, and while it took me a bit to read it (end of the marking period, you know how it is) I am so glad I did. Be a Better Writer has the kind of voice and approach that balances knowledge with concrete activities, and a bit of fun mixed in. Although the cover says “for school, for fun, for anyone ages 10-16” these techniques are useful for any beginning writer. I particularly appreciated the checklists before each chapter, as they served to let me know what the chapter would be about–better than a chapter table of contents. My favorite might have been #9 for chapter 2: “There are things that need to be said in the world. You might be the only person who can say them.” Great advice.

Be A Better Writer also gives teachers a way to teach strong writing with concrete approaches. For example, writing memoir can sometimes be hard to teach, but Peha gives us 3 ways to start an essay that could even be combined to create a strong introduction to a memoir. Using a thought, a description, and a question together, and you’ve got a powerhouse introduction. unnamedI found myself noting useful portions of the book with sticky notes, and now the book seems to have a pink sticky-note mane encompassing it.  I have to admit, though, seeing Peha reference Moby Dick when writing about punctuation might have been my favorite portion (I am a bit of a Moby Dick-head, as Stephen Colbert has said).

So if you’re a new teacher, a new writer, or even an experienced teacher or writer, this book is worth the read.And I also didn’t mention yet Margot Carmichael Lester, journalist and founder of the Word Factory, weighs in on each of the chapters with her views, too. Well organized, with strong content (I didn’t even mention the author interviews, the writing samples, and the vast lists of activities and ideas), this book should be on every teacher and student’s shelf of writing advice. So if you see a nice guy at NCTE next year walking around with an optimism button, stop him for a conversation, you won’t be sorry.

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Posted by Kate, Blog Editor and Book Reviewer for PCTELA

Book Review: Steve Peha’s Be a Better Writer