The Transformative Power of the Writer’s Notebook

Over the course of this past academic year, I tasked my students with writing 150 entries–at least 150 words per entry–in their Writer’s Notebooks. I assigned specific topics, theme-weeks, story starters, and a lot of free writing over the span of those entries. I collected their work every three weeks (calling these due dates “checkpoints”), checked up on their writing, and gave it right back so they could keep going.

For the final checkpoint, I was burnt out and recently spent almost all my energy grading big inquiry-based argumentative essays and co-creating a live action role playing game inspired by Fahrenheit 451 (This will definitely be a post later on). I didn’t plan anything special for their final submission, so it was unassigned free-writing. But I received quite a gift from a few of my students! On their final entries, many of my students decided to treat it like a yearbook and leave me notes of appreciation, some thanking me for making them do all that writing.

Don’t take it from me, let’s hear from Robert:
Continue reading “The Transformative Power of the Writer’s Notebook”

4 Signs Your Development as a Teacher May Be Delayed

Yep. That’s me. Coming from behind. The Professional Development (PD) that I have been offered over the course of my career has been marked by a few hits and many misses. I would like to blame the principal, the site, the district, lawmakers, or anyone but me. In fact, I used to blame them. A lot.

Overtime I began to see that the my lack of development wasn’t my school’s or district’s problem, it was something that I needed to take ownership for. I was an adult who knew how to do learning on his own. But there’s good news! Things are better, and I’m getting caught up. And there has never been a better time for a teacher like me to get answers to the burning questions they have.

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Low-Stakes Writing: 4 Reasons This Practice Makes Your Students Better Writers

It’s that time of the year when most ELA teachers are looking to get serious about writing instruction. Maybe this is point where you start thinking about assigning a capstone-like writing project. And in the coming months you plan to block out a significant portion of your calendar to get your students ready.

But your beginning to feel a creeping anxiety as the time approaches. You remember all the missteps the students have taken in recent years. And though you have improved your writing instruction over time, the progress your students have made really hasn’t been as quick or as transformative as you had hoped. Continue reading “Low-Stakes Writing: 4 Reasons This Practice Makes Your Students Better Writers”

4 Ways To Beat the Cheat

“This paper doesn’t read like his other writing. It’s good. A little too good.”

If you have read student writing long enough, occasionally you come across a student who takes a big step up in skill and content. When this happens with my students, the first thing I do is search key phrases on Google. Usually, within minutes, I find the website they plagiarized. But on some occasions, I am stumped.

I know their writing, and I know this piece they turned in is not theirs. But the Google machine isn’t finding it no matter how hard I try.

Then I start to wonder.

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Make Them Process It

Let me introduce you to your step-by-step guide to get your students to write more while you grade less.

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Founded on the Writer’s Notebook practice introduced in Kelly Gallagher’s Teaching Adolescent Writers and Aimee Buckner’s Notebook Know How, and drawing on over decade of teaching experience, I present a convenient way to set up and run the Writer’s Notebook in the secondary classroom.

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To start, you will find tips about how to:

  • Prompt student writing,
  • Coach students to generate their own topics, and
  • Create ways to keep writing fresh for the entire school year.

But more than just providing a teacher’s guide for prompting students to fill a notebook with first-draft writing, you will walk through a step-by-step guide to help students:

  • Plan for revision,
  • Compose markedly improved second drafts,
  • Host conversations about their improved writing,
  • Add style to their writing through grammar instruction, and
  • Master the mental moves necessary to produce better drafts.

Out of Jeffery’s failures and successes over the past 13 years, he has put together a straightforward, “no nonsense” approach to teaching writing with The Writer’s Notebook.

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Teaching Revision: The One Change You Need to Make Right Away

My students used to scoff, sneer, or ignore my efforts to make them revise their writing. And almost every one of my attempts at getting students to take a second look at their own writing usually ended in discouragement.

For me, not too long ago, lightening struck. I made a change. I started to get my students to approach revision in a fresh way, and their attitudes completely changed. They spent real, invested time making their writing better. They stopped complaining about revision. And, wouldn’t you know it, their drafts got better. Many students even started inquiring, on their own, how to adjust their first draft writing to avoid making their usual first draft mistakes.

What did I do? The answer was surprisingly simple. Actually, anyone can do it. And it only requires a little extra energy to make it happen in your classroom. All you have to do is change one little thing and prepare for dramatic results. Continue reading “Teaching Revision: The One Change You Need to Make Right Away”

3 Rules and Guidelines for the Writer’s Notebook

The centerpiece of writing instruction in my classroom is the Writer’s Notebook. And that begins with the students getting a composition book at the store at the start of the school year.

More specifically, I make them get a 100 page composition book. Not 70, not 80. 100. Since I have the students do a lot of writing, and a fairly decent amount of writing about writing, they need quite a bit of space for their words. I also want them to feel comfortable with all of the composing they will be doing, so I make sure to tell them to get wide-ruled–college-ruled is too tight, and doesn’t allow room for students to take notes in planning their revisions.

I also make sure that the Writer’s Notebook stays simple. One of the key features of the the notebook is that the writing is low-stakes. I will never put pressure on my students to write according to a rubric or scoring guide. They just need to write. Thus, I only give them 3 rules and guidelines. Continue reading “3 Rules and Guidelines for the Writer’s Notebook”