(Practice) Publishing, Authentic(ish) Audiences

If you delve into the teaching of writing, you find all manner of high-minded advice about “writing for authentic audiences.” Students shouldn’t, the experts admonish, just write for their teachers.

The problem is that, if we’re going to be totally honest here, there isn’t a huge, ravenous audience for kids’ (or even, usually, teenagers’) writing. We, as teachers, are left to come up with situations in which our students can write for someone other than ourselves, their parents, or classmates. The dirty little secret is that these authentic writing tasks are often more contrived than just saying, “write me a personal narrative.”

I mean, yeah, you can have your students write something and then “publish” it… but let’s be honest, here. They’re writing something because you told them to, and the act of publishing is pretty much just putting together your final draft and adding some finishing touches. You can “share it with your audience,” but for the most part, that audience isn’t an organic, natural audience. From the student’s perspective, it’s usually still the equivalent of taking your writing home and making mom and dad read it.

Students are smart, teachers. They know (or many of them know, anyway) that their audience is reading their writing piece because they were asked to. They didn’t wake up and think, Huh. You know what I want to read today? A fourth-grader’s essay explaining the plant cycle. We owe students a certain amount of honesty. These aren’t organic audiences. They’re audiences we’ve hunted down and set up in the name of teaching young people to be better writers… and that’s not a bad thing.
Continue reading


The Simpsons Did it First

…and by “The Simpsons,” I mean “Jennifer Gonzalez of Cult of Pedagogy

One weekday night, in a (futile? hopeless? naive?) attempt to get my house into shape the other day, I opened my podcast app for the first time in months (don’t judge) and caught up on a few favorites while I did some light housework disaster remediation.

I worked my way back to this podcast, titled 4 Things I’ve Learned About Teaching from CrossFit. I immediately swore upon hearing the title.

No, I’m not a CrossFit hater. It’s not for me for various reasons, but I appreciate what I perceive to be a welcoming, empowering fitness community. I swore because, gollygoshdarnit*, I had a blog post all written out in my mind** about how starting an athletic endeavor as an adult  has made me a better and more empathetic teacher.

It’s probably for the best that she got to it first. She has, like, an audience and stuff. Still, I have thoughts in my brain… thoughts that echo a whole bunch of what said, and a few that go off in my own direction.

Without further adieu, then, allow me to present the post I was going to write, but never got around to writing because *insert excuses valid reasons here*:

What Roller Derby Taught Me About Teaching English as a Second Language

A Post I Swear I Didn’t Rip Off from Cult of Pedagogy

Continue reading

Stand Up and Do Your Work

This semester, two new pieces of furniture are causing quite the stir in room 004. OK, they’re not new. They’re what can euphemistically be described as vintage. I won’t say they’re as old as the WPA-era building I call home, but let’s not kid ourselves into thinking new furniture is in the budget.

Go ahead and ignore the completely blank bulletin board in the background. It’s a work in progress. For the past year or so. Stop judging me.

I’ve succumbed to the craze that swept through corporate America something approximately ten years ago (I’m not a trend-setter) and introduced standing desks to my classroom.

Standing desks have found a home in elementary schools; I’ve seen them in action. I haven’t, however, seen standing desks at the secondary level outside of special education resource rooms. I can only venture a guess as to why. Preliminary studies hint at potential cognitive (and possibly academic) benefits in adolescents, but in my experience and observations, the concept hasn’t made its way to the standard 7th-12th grade learning environment just yet.

Continue reading

Reading for (Fun and) Profit

The other day, one of my more, shall we say, challenging students proclaimed that he hates reading, and doesn’t read, and doesn’t want to read, and… you get the picture. This wasn’t a huge revelation to me; he throws this out into the world semi-regularly, just so we all remember.

Possibly, also, just to see what kind of reaction he’ll get. How better to get the attention of a teacher of literacy and lover of books than by proclaiming your hatred of the thing she’s putting in front of you, day in and day out. Not that adolescents ever do things just to get a reaction.

In any case, he’s what we call a “reluctant reader,” a tidy educational euphemism for “kid who hates reading, never reads unless forced to, and stands a high chance of rarely cracking a book after high school.” How to reach these students is a big deal in education these days… as it has been for decades.

I’m going to go out on a limb and say that we’re looking at this from the wrong angle. A student who can’t/won’t/doesn’t read is likely a student who doesn’t see the act of reading as profitable.

Continue reading

In Defense of Not Reading Young Adult Literature

You caught me. I’m a junior high language arts (Well, ESL, but… sort of the same thing, right? Kind of? In some ways?) and I generally do not read young adult literature. I don’t, and I’m not at all ashamed, or I’m working on not being ashamed, anyway.

But Mrs. MacShibby, you implore, you must read young adult literature, because how else can you ask your students to read it?

Thank you for asking, gentle soul. In response, what if I said that I don’t care what my students read?

Continue reading

Why is Formative Assessment so Important for English Language Learners?

One of my personal professional goals this year is to more effectively (read: quickly and consistently) use formative assessments to better guide my instruction.

Formative assessments, for those of you non-educator types who have somehow (???) stumbled onto this site, are all those little things you make students that help you answer the question “Are they actually getting this?”

Gone are the days (supposedly) where a teacher bestowed knowledge upon his/her students, and if they got it, they got it. In the 21st century (supposedly), teachers frequently check in with students ensuring that they are truly getting it. Nowadays, we (supposedly) don’t assess students until we’re sure they’re at a level at which they could possibly demonstrate mastery.

Did I say supposedly? I feel like I said supposedly a bunch.

Continue reading