Super Teacher's Job is Never Done!

Super Teacher's Job is Never Done!
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Teaching is the profession that teaches all the other professions. ~ Author Unknown

My goal is to reveal one teacher's humble journey of self-reflection, critical analysis, and endless questioning about my craft of teaching and learning alongside my middle school students.

"The dream begins with a teacher who believes in you, who tugs and pushes and leads you to the next plateau, sometimes poking you with a sharp stick called 'truth'." ~ Dan Rather

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

How can we better motivate students to write?

Getting students excited about writing IS still possible! Here are some great ways to get started, especially with your secondary school students:

Sparking Students’ Enthusiasm for Writing 
in the Secondary Classroom—Yes, It’s Possible 
Adapted from Lawrence Baines and Anthony Kunkel’s Going Bohemian: How to Teach Writing Like You Mean It (2nd ed.) 
Using bohemian writing 
lessons that incorporate 
unconventional strategies 
can invigorate your writing 
instruction and get your 
students interested in writing. 
What Does It Mean 
to Use Bohemian 
Writing Lessons? 
We all know that students learn how 
to write by writing—and writing 
often. But how do we get students 
to want to write? Bohemian writing 
lessons allow you to incorporate 
unconventional strategies, art and 
multimedia, competitive games, 
and indirect approaches in your 
writing lessons so students want 
to participate and you can engage 
them in practice, practice, and more 
Following are two lessons 
that help students learn technique: 
Performance Art Poetry and The 
Delicate Art of Sarcasm. These 
lessons can be 
used with all 
students including 
reluctant writers, 
learners, and 
gifted students. 
Performance Art Poetry 
Performance Art Poetry provides 
some structure for students who 
otherwise might not participate 
fully in writing poetry or selecting 
vibrant, descriptive words. 
Pen and paper, and copies of the 
Hometown Instructions handout 
(see p. 247). If you choose to pursue 
the Enrichment activity, which is 
highly recommended, then other 
supplies, such as a computer, may 
come into play. 
Begin class by asking students 
informally about where they grew 
up. You might want to ask for 
a show of hands on how many 
students were born and grew up in 
the city or town 
in which they 
are living now. 
Allow students to 
reminisce and tell 
stories. The idea 
is to get words 
flowing. Discuss good aspects and 
drawbacks about where they are 
Tell students that they are going 
to write a poem about their 
hometowns. This particular exercise 
involves you offering a verbal 
prompt and students responding 
in writing. Before beginning 
the activity, however, emphasize 
that poetry should be expressive, 
descriptive, and streamlined. 
Encourage the use of precise, 
descriptive words and discourage the 
use of nondescriptive words, such as 
big, the, this, it, there. 
Then, distribute and go 
through the Hometown Instructions 
handout, one line at a time, and 
allow students sufficient time to 
think about a response and write. 
After students have completed 
their initial drafts, have them go 
back over their poems to identify 
and replace nondescriptive words. 
During the editing stage, students 
may also decide to rework their 
lines so that they rhyme (as in the 
following student sample), but 
rhyming is not necessary. 
Dallas burns 
Skyscraper like missile turns 
Meat with salsa on the side 
Journal of Adolescent & Adult Literacy 55(3) 
November 2011 
© 2011 International Reading Association 
(pp. 244–247) 
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Sparking Students’ Enthusiasm for Writing 
in the Secondary Classroom— 
Yes, It’s Possible (continued) 
Jackhammer overwhelms echoes, 
  “hail the mighty state” inside 
Homeless guy holds cardboard sign, 
   pretend cowboy and frantic 
Single mom eight months pregnant 
   lost, stranded ’neath the crazy 
August moon 
Suddenly here now suddenly gone, 
  graceless kiss somehow slithered 
away too soon 
Room without windows, paralyzed 
 face down on the floor 
White hair, wrinkled trembling 
 hands, smile behind the door 
Never give up, never give up 
Sunburn, sweat, and tough 
Goes without saying, Dallas plays 
 it rough 
Once the poem has been written, 
you may want to have students 
link the words in the poem with 
photographs, music, drawings, or 
other sensory stimuli. Students can 
compile everything into a slide 
show (using PowerPoint or the free 
version available through www or film. 
The Delicate Art 
of Sarcasm 
A 16-year-old once wrote in an 
essay for class, “In high school, 
sarcasm is God.” Although somewhat 
overstated, the point is that sarcasm 
is a currency with which adolescents 
are intimately familiar. Students live 
and breathe sarcasm every day, yet 
most use it clumsily and ineffectively. 
Sarcasm used ineffectively or with 
harmful intent inevitably reflects 
poorly on the speaker/writer, but 
sarcasm used effectively can cause an 
immediate sea change in sentiment 
about an issue. 
Print works by writers who write 
with tasteful, sarcastic wit. 
Have selections from a wide variety 
of writers who use sarcasm, such as 
P.J. O’Rourke (almost every piece of 
writing), Ralph Wiley (most pieces), 
Dave Eggers (some pieces), William 
Buckley (some pieces), literary critic 
John Simon (some pieces), and film 
critic Roger Ebert (who indulges in 
sarcasm infrequently, but is masterly 
when he does). Comedians such as 
Chris Rock, Robin Williams, and the 
late Rodney Dangerfield use sarcasm 
frequently, although not always in 
ways that are suitable for classroom 
use. Choose wisely. Sarcasm can be 
a devastating rhetorical tool, but you 
will not be able to teach it if you 
offend half of your class in the process. 
Students silently read a selection 
from P.J. O’Rourke (2007) on 
growing up in Toledo, Ohio. Then, 
the selection is read aloud. Ask 
students to identify where sarcasm 
is used effectively in the piece and 
underline the appropriate passages, 
for example, in the first paragraph: 
I grew up in Toledo, if up is the 
word. Northwest Ohio is flat. 
There isn’t much up. The land is 
so flat that a child from Toledo 
is under the impression that 
the direction hills go is down. 
Sledding is done from street level 
into creek beds and road cuts. In 
Toledo people grow out—out to 
the suburbs, out to the parts of 
America where the economy is 
more vigorous, and, all too often, 
out to a 48-inch waistband. But no 
Toledoan would ever say that he or 
she had “out-grown” Toledo. We 
are too level-headed for that. 
Explain to students that one 
brand of sarcasm comes from playing 
with words and twisting them to new 
meanings, as O’Rourke demonstrates 
later in the passage with phrases such 
as “there isn’t much up” and “people 
grow out—out to the suburbs...out 
to a 48-inch waistband.” Perhaps the 
most common use of sarcasm is in 
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Sparking Students’ Enthusiasm for Writing 
in the Secondary Classroom— 
Yes, It’s Possible (continued) 
Digging Deeper 
Check out these additional resources to get your 
students writing: 
  Ann Kelly Cox, “Ekphrasis: Using Art to Inspire 
  “Diamante Poems,” 
  Sheri R. Parris, Douglas Fisher, Kathy Headley, 
Eds., Adolescent Literacy, Field Tested: Effective 
Solutions for Every Classroom, International 
Reading Association 
  Leigh Van Horn, Reading Photographs to Write 
With Meaning and Purpose, Grades 4–12, 
International Reading Association 
connection with overgeneralization. 
O’Rourke overgeneralizes in several 
places later in this essay—claiming 
“there is no horizon in Toledo,” that 
no one ever teased a friend about his 
German name (“Don Eggenschwiler”), 
and that everyone in Toledo owns 
“above-ground pools, riding 
lawnmowers and golf clubs.” Obviously, 
none of those statements are true, 
but O’Rourke writes them to make 
a point about the “feel” of the city. 
Understatement is another 
instrument in the sarcasm toolkit. In 
Act 3, Scene 1 of Shakespeare’s play 
Romeo and Juliet, when Mercutio is 
slain by Tibalt, Mercutio says, “Ay, ay, a 
scratch, a scratch; marry, ’tis enough,” 
although he is mortally wounded. As 
he is dying, Mercutio utters, “No, 
’tis not so deep as a well, nor so wide 
as a church door; but ’tis enough, 
’twill serve. Ask for me tomorrow, 
and you shall find me a 
grave man.” 
The Delicate Art of Sarcasm is 
most effective when you define the 
boundaries of the playing field. Fair 
game are politics, current events, 
popular culture, local interest, cities, 
hometowns, and school policies. Off 
limits are teachers, students, family, 
neighborhoods, and religions. After 
some discussion of the key points of 
effective sarcasm, have students write 
a sarcastic essay about their hometown 
using the train of thought provided 
by O’Rourke. The following excerpt 
was written by a student from Grand 
Junction, Colorado: 
I grew up in Grand Junction, 
where the desert meets the 
mountains. Colorado is half 
mountains; the other half consists 
of roads leading to mountains. 
Snow often blankets the peaks 
surrounding the city, though it 
rarely snows in town. The land is 
so arid that most plants stay 
permanently wilted all year. There 
is probably some grass in Grand 
Junction somewhere, though it 
exists mostly in surreal patches 
of green on golf courses, which 
are continually irrigated, and look 
conspicuously out of place. In Grand 
Junction, everyone is an athlete– 
golf, baseball, track, mountain 
biking, hiking, skiing–though no 
one makes a big deal out of it. A 
resident of Grand Junction would 
never say, “I am an athlete,” though 
they might enter a marathon 
on Friday, kayak on Saturday, 
mountain bike on Sunday, and ski 
on Monday. It is normal to play 
around outdoors; it is weird to 
stay inside. 
The scenery of Grand Junction is 
more beautiful than New Hampshire 
and more exotic than Hawaii but 
without the attitude or tourist 
traps. After years of living in 
crowded, polluted cities where the 
rain never stops, newcomers to 
Grand Junction may think the city 
has nothing to offer and they 
are right. Grand Junction has no 
crowds, no pollution, and few 
rainy days. 
Baines, L., & Kunkel, A. (2010). Going bo- 
hemian: How to teach writing like you mean 
it (2nd ed.). Newark, DE: International 
Reading Association. 
O’Rourke, P.J. (2007, April 13). Why it’s 
good to come from nowhere. Toledo Free 
Press. Retrieved December 1, 2009, from 
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Hometown Instructions 
Write your poem following these guidelines: 
Line 1: The place where you grew up and a verb (2 words) 
Line 2: The landscape with analogy (4 words) 
Line 3: The smell or taste of your hometown (6 words) 
Line 4: Music, song, or sounds that remind you of your hometown (8 words) 
Line 5: The kind of people who live there (10 words) 
Line 6: An important event in your life (12 words) 
Line 7: An important event in your life (12 words; You may repeat the above line or write a new 
Line 8: A dream or nightmare (10 words) 
Line 9: Physical traits of an influential person (8 words) 
Line 10: The specific advice or truth someone once gave you (6 words; Perhaps you heard it 
from the person mentioned above. Try to write out their advice specifically, then delete the 
quotation marks.) 
Line 11: Effects of the weather (4 words) 
Line 12: An analogy for your hometown plus a verb and whatever else you feel like throwing in 
for a last line (2–10 words) 
From Going Bohemian: How to Teach Writing Like You Mean It (2nd ed.), by Lawrence Baines and Anthony Kunkel. Copyright 2010 by the 
International Reading Association. 
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