Reimagining School Writing

I love this. One of my favorite things to do is to come up with writing prompts that are meaningful, creative, fun, and purposeful. I tell my students that this is the art of teaching.


Printing Press-Read, Write, Think

This is a great resource for students to use.  It allows them to publish their writing in a variety of formats including newspapers and brochures.  I have included the directions I wrote for my students because I didn’t see clear directions about how to save their work in order to work on it at a later time.

Newspaper Directions blog

Great for writing in the content areas!

Professional Learning: The Use of a Lens to Focus Instruction

For several years, I have thought about how I use lenses to focus my instruction.  I started off thinking about different lenses that I could use to attack an individual lesson using a text or writing assignment with my students.  For instance, I might tell my students that we are going to look at the short story “Charles” through the lens of relationships.  I did this to focus attention to a narrow idea so that we didn’t get distracted with all of the other things that come to mind when 11 and 12 year olds read.  Yes, there are times when these distractions are valuable and even beautiful, but there are times when they really are just distractions.

Then, my journey with lenses moved to developing units around broad-based themes that act as lenses.  This process changed my teaching.  I found it freeing and challenging.  I believe my teaching deepened and became more creative.  My students were pushed to deepen their own thinking and to be more creative themselves. For instance, I can take the lens of courage and can apply it to a myriad of texts, paintings, songs, etc.  However, these same texts, paintings, songs, etc. can also be examined through a different lens.  We might read Martin Luther King, Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech and analyze it through the lens of courage.  Later in the year or even in a different grade, we might analyze it through the lens of change.  How we attack the exact same words and what we come away with will be totally different.  The students’ understanding of “I Have a Dream” will be all the richer because they were able to really dive into the words multiple times while using more than one lens.  We could use Norman Rockwell’s painting “The Problem We All Live With” as part of the same two discussions.  Or The Byrds’ song “Turn, Turn, Turn.” Or articles about Malala Yousafzai.

The possibilities are endless. Now, I get to spend some time putting this into practice as I design lessons for next week…

Here are a couple of things I have come across about lenses.

The Power of a Conceptual Lens by Lynn Erickson

The Thinking Classroom

Reading Through Different Lenses: Making Text Connections Across the Curriculum – A Lesson Plan for Gr. 6-8

Professional Learning: “Writing Next: Effective Strategies to Improve writing of Adolescents in Middle and High Schools”

“Writing Next:  Effective Strategies to Improve writing of Adolescents in Middle and High Schools”  This is a PDF of the report.


“Writing well is not just an option for young people—it is a necessity.  Along with reading comprehension, writing skill is a predictor of academic success and a basic requirement for participation in civic life and in the global economy.” (11)

As schools become more and more focused STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math), I have often wondered what the impact this focus will have on the other subjects including social studies, the arts, reading, and writing.  If the above quote is correct, how is writing instruction provided in meaningful and effective ways?  “Writing Next” provides Eleven Elements of Effective Adolescent Writing Instruction.

So, which of these elements am I as an English teacher responsible for?  Does any responsibility fall on teachers of other subject areas?  If so, how are those teachers supposed to know who to teach writing?

Reflection:  Think about these elements for a minute or two.  Which of them do you implement in your classroom?  Which of them do you see fitting into your work with students in the future?  How can you go about implementing more of the elements into your classroom?


Eleven Elements of Effective Adolescent Writing Instruction from “Writing Next:  Effective Strategies to Improve writing of Adolescents in Middle and High Schools”

1. Writing Strategies, which involves teaching students strategies for planning, revising, and editing their compositions

2. Summarization, which involves explicitly and systematically teaching students how to summarize texts

3. Collaborative Writing, which uses instructional arrangements in which adolescents work together to plan, draft, revise, and edit their compositions

4. Specific Product Goals, which assigns students specific, reachable goals for the writing they are to complete

5. Word Processing, which uses computers and word processors as instructional supports for writing assignments

6. Sentence Combining, which involves teaching students to construct more complex, sophisticated sentences

7. Prewriting, which engages students in activities designed to help them generate or organize ideas for their composition

8. Inquiry Activities, which engages students in analyzing immediate, concrete data to help them develop ideas and content for a particular writing task

9. Process Writing Approach, which interweaves a number of writing instructional activities in a workshop environment that stresses extended writing opportunities, writing for authentic audiences, personalized instruction, and cycles of writing

10. Study of Models, which provides students with opportunities to read, analyze, and emulate models of good writing

11. Writing for Content Learning, which uses writing as a tool for learning content material