Day Eleven–All about Revision

What We Did to Prepare for Today

For today’s class, we were supposed to read two pieces on revision—one by Elbow and another essay by Straub—both of which can be found on Blackboard under Readings for Week 5. Additionally, we were to provide feedback on our group’s TIB essay, using the concepts from both articles, and post them to our group’s Google docs before the start of class.

Snacks make for a productive (and happy) class!

What Happened in Class

Dr. Benko gently reminded us to set aside time to work on our midterms and to use the suggested schedule on Blackboard as a guide; she suggested we work on the task and the outline and that the rubric would not be as time consuming.

Then we opened today’s google doc and did a quick write reflecting on our feedback and how it related to the readings we did for today’s class. We wrote for about five minutes and then moved on to partner work. We used Google docs to brainstorm the typical words that come to mind when it comes to traditional teacher feedback and then we thought about the kind of feedback that Straub and Elbow advocate for.

Here’s a link to the Google Doc:

Also, here’s the link to the Google folder with our revisions:

Things we noticed about the readings (heavily paraphrased):

  • Benji noted that students should have ownership of their work–teachers should not spell out everything for students when it comes to revising papers, students should learn to revise their own work.
  • Erin agreed with Elbow that teachers should read students’ entire essays before making comments or suggestions–instead of marking as we go.
  • Cassie mentioned that it is up to the teacher to create an easy going environment where students see the teacher as a reader and not just the person determining the grade.
  • There was some disagreement between Brittany and Emily about whether teachers should mark on students’ papers. On one hand, it seems disrespectful to write all over the paper. On the other hand, it is physically easier to mark on the paper when giving feedback.
  • Kayla really liked the point about asking students to interpret the feedback the teacher gives; it helps the teacher improve their feedback.
  • We also noticed that comments written by teachers on papers can be confusing or unclear. Dr. Benko suggested audio feedback as a way to respect students’ work and to make their feedback clear. This approach allows the teacher to speak to students as a reader of their work and to give the students an idea of their thinking process.
  • Finally, Kaleb made the point that revision needs to be a balance of both the facilitative and directive approach, arguing that students need to know about grammar and mechanics.
  • Dr Benko made the point that we need to revise for both grammar and ideas. She argued that there is a big difference between revision and editing. Revision is a way to re-see the content or the ideas in the writing. Editing is all the grammar and mechanics. Editing has no place in first drafts of writing because it may scare away reluctant writers.


Our Wordles

Next up, we discussed the common words we used when describing teacher feedback. Rachel used our words to create a Wordle:

Words associated with traditional teacher feedback


Our other Wordle on what Srauss and Elbow advocate for:

Feedback Straub and Elbow advocate for


Final Tasks

We then talked a little about the word clouds and the differences we noticed between the two. The big difference was the word collaborative: this goes back to the idea in Strauss and Elbow articles that the ownership of the work belongs to the student and it is the teacher and student collaborating. Traditionally, the teacher is usually seen as the person who judges the writing and gives out the grade.

Dr. Benko made a good point about scaffolding and its connection to creating an environment where there is a peer dynamic between the student and the teacher. The teacher should have the right demeanor in order for students to feel comfortable approaching the teacher for feedback and suggestions.

We also had a short discussion on using word clouds (Wordles) in our classrooms. It is easier to see the words and similarities and this is a tool that helps with discussion. They are good for summary or synthesis. There are settings within the tool to correct for different uses of case.

Finally, we got into our writing groups and read our feedback for our This I Believe essays. We then filled out a chart using examples of helpful feedback and then connected that feedback to ideas in the readings for today. We also talked in our groups about our drafts and discussed any questions we had about their feedback.

After we did this, Dr. Benko talked about a few of her observations about our revisions. She noticed that we had some different approaches: some of us made comments at the beginning of the drafts, or the end, some highlighted texts and made comments on the side, while others wrote notes to the authors. Overall, she noticed that our comments were both nice and filled with useful suggestions for the author. On a practical level, it may not be possible to leave detailed feedback on every assignment. Students can help with feedback by working together in groups and the teacher can limit in-depth feedback to one draft.

Additional Revision Information:

Here’s an article I found on Edutopia about “Glossing” which is another revision method for students:

More tips for student revision (also from Edutopia):


Looking Ahead for Next Time:

  • For Day 12, Please read Chapters 1 & 2 in Crafting Digital Writing by Troy Hicks. This is one of our textbooks and won’t be available online!
  • Also read “No longer a luxury: Digital Literacy can’t wait” from Hicks and Turner. This is available on Blackboard under Readings, week 6.
  • This I believe essay and Podcast is due October 6th!
  • Continue to work on Midterm drafts. Please keep in mind that Dr. Benko will be “off the grid” over Fall Break, so go to her early if you have questions!









Day 7–What are we building?

I don’t know about the rest of you, but I have a horrible sense of direction.  To get from point A to point B, even if I’ve been there before, even if it’s in my hometown or in Muncie, I need step by step directions. My friends make fun of me for how clueless I am and I’ve  gotten hopelessly lost too many times to count just for turning the wrong way out of the parking lot.  Needless to say, my phone is always in my cupholder giving step by step directions in its obnoxiously fake voice.

But recently I’ve noticed that when the GPS is giving directions to a familiar place,  I can anticipate what it’s going to say. I still need the support in case I turn left instead of right or miss a street and get confused, but I don’t fully lean on that crutch as much as I did the first time I went there. For many places in my hometown I leave the GPS off altogether, no longer dependent on it.  My engineer dad, who can navigate his own hometown 30-some years later, rarely uses a GPS at all.

This is obviously an imperfect example but my own learning to drive and the external support I need to do that (a GPS) reminds me of students learning to write, and the external support we provide them to do that: Scaffolding.

For class today we did two readings: Chapter 2 of Smagorinsky, in which he explains his own Structured Process Approach to teaching writing and gives an example assignment. We also read a piece about the importance of scaffolding by our very own Dr. Benko.

We began the class in groups deepening our understanding of both readings and finding connections between the two. Here are some highlights of what we discussed:

  • Scaffolding is a beneficial process when combined with other tools/methods. (Beth, Cassie, and Makayla)
  • Teachers highlight elements of a task that might be confusing or difficult and teaches mini-lessons (one-on-one, small group, or whole class) focuses on that particular element.   (Me, Brittany, and Alyssa)
  • Not just the tools are important in scaffolding, but it is the useful and thoughtful utilization of those tools. (Benji, Kaleb, and Kayla)
  • makayla
  • Smag’s assignment to write a letter to the couple recommending which restaurant would best meet their family’s needs and wants for their desired budget–and the need to prioritize some of those factors over others–demands a level of critical thinking that many writing assignments don’t have.  It reminded me of brain teasers you’d see in a children’s magazine.
  • kayla1 Math isn’t scary! (Just kidding it definitely still totally is)
  • Student ownership allows them to be more invested in their own learning
  • Individualized attention for students. Teachers should be mindful of their own attitude and processes, and be willing to tweak their teaching in order for students to “get it”
  • Models serve as a demonstration of the writing process and as a reference to help achieve the final process.  Models can be work by other students, work by the teacher, or professional authors. 
  • Brittany, Alyssa, Dr. Benko, and I debated about the authenticity of Smag’s assignment: A fake list of people with needs and wants, a fake audience (the couple the letter is going to), random restaurants.  After some back and forth, we concluded that while we could tweak this assignment (using local restaurants or writing the letter directly to the teacher instead of a fake couple), not every single assignment is going to be totally authentic and personal to the students. It’s just not possible. But the logic and group work aspects of this task are so stellar, it’s still a worthwhile assignment. For me, this conversation was a good reminder that not every element of a writing task (intellectual merit, purpose, audience, ownership) has to be “High” for it to be a great task.


We also took a few minutes to discuss some questions related to scaffolding.  


How does modeling fit into Smag’s process? (Several of us were surprised and even a little upset that he said “Models for students to follow in their writing are minimized or discarded.” –page 23)

Beth expressed concern that models may lead to students copying the style of the author too closely and not finding their own voice.  In our small group, Alyssa recognized that too many models can be overwhelming–leading to information overload.  This goes back to the idea of models and scaffolding being used alongside other tools. As Benko pointed out, as we all nodded along, any of the elements of scaffolding in isolation is not scaffolding.

Alivia and I pointed out that the genre of the work matters:  It’s a problem if all creative writing pieces sound the same, but resumes and letters have a set structures and similar language.

We discussed that sometimes working closely with a text can be a helpful starting point or exercise. Dr. Benko shared that while studying abroad in England as an undergrad, she wrote a poem in the style of Dr. Seuss, paying attention to his unique rhyme and rhythm. I’d love to read that!

We established that in general, the role of models is to start close and then move away.


How much influence did the teacher actually have in Smag’s task?

At first, many people reacted to this question with “The book doesn’t tell us how this task worked in practice. We can’t guess or assume.”    Kaleb then clarified that they were asking how much teacher involvement we might typically see Smag’s structured process approach, not necessarily for the restaurant task specifically.  

We realized we couldn’t know very much about the teacher’s role in Smag’s model, but Dr. Benko said something thought provoking about a teacher’s role in a the classroom more generally:

Peek into any middle school or high school classroom and notice just one thing: How are all of the desks arranged?  

Is the teacher the ultimate giver of knowledge, with their desk taking up the front of the room, students in rows listening to the information being delivered? Are student desks in small groups so they can interact and share with each other, with the teacher acting more as a facilitator of learning than a deliverer of information? Are all the desks–Teacher included–in a circle to promote discussion and a level playing field?  

Classroom culture and the physical classroom environment is important.

No one really commented on this idea in class, but on Twitter, we exploded in appreciation for student empowerment.


Since we all seemed pumped about this idea of classroom design relating to student ownership, here’s a neat article with all kinds of resources and information about how the physical environment of a classroom affects our relationship with students and their relationships with each other:

As promised, we had a fun activity involving drawing. We tried to represent how scaffolding, SPA, and writing tasks in pictures.  More on that next class!

This was my group. We’re so creative we drew literal scaffolding to represent scaffolding.  We also have the Meta roof: Asking questions about like why did you do this? how did you do you this? what was hard? what was easy? what’s your favorite part?  As a creative writing minor, I almost always have to reflect on drafts I turn in. It’s the best and worst part for the same reason: it makes me think long and hard about what I put on the page.


I love how many different ways we chose to represent these ideas.


Some friendly reminders:

  • Tweaked schedule: Rachel is leading class Thursday so Dr. Benko can celebrate her kid’s awesomeness. Looks like we’ll be doing an activity based on Smag chapter 3 “Teaching Fictional Narrative” so get your imaginations warmed up.  
  • Coffee does not equal food
  • Have y’all read this article by NCTE? Really funny and timely with what we’ve been talking about  “My Anti-Five Paragraph Essay Five Paragraph Essay” 
  • This weekend–Saturday September 17th–is the Indiana Teachers of Writing Conference at Marion University in Indianapolis. Inexpensive for students, lunch included, a great opportunity to meet real life teachers doing really cool things with real students,  and Dr. Jones is presenting about teaching writers on the Autism Spectrum.  And your Ball State friends will be there.
    Check it out  here:


And a question!


What are you writing this week? How’s it going?


Day 5 – A Matter of Habit

Homework for Tuesday 9/6: 

Housekeeping for Tuesday 9/6:

  • All the This I Believe emails have been returned to their senders with some notes from Dr. Benko. No further communication about the project is necessary unless you need any extra help or support with your project; don’t hesitate to email or meet with Dr. Benko during office hours if you have any further questions!
  • A hard copy of our first drafts for the This I Believe projects is due tomorrow (Thursday 9/8) in class. Make sure you get them printed off tonight!
  • Next week’s readings (days 7 and 8 on the schedule) are going to be flipped: if you’re working ahead, make sure you’re reading Smagorinksy Chapter 2 and Dr. Benko’s article on Tuesday and Martin’s Not Every Sentence on Thursday.
  • Upcoming Assignment Alert! Twitter reflection papers are due on Thursday 9/15 (day 8).
  • Bonus housekeeping: Ask Dr. Benko why Katherine got in trouble over Labor Day weekend.

Let’s Form Some Good Habits 

In class we discussed the Frameworks for Success reading and broke into partners to discuss and decide which habits of mind (curiosity, openness, engagement, creativity, persistence, responsibility, metacognition, and flexibility) and experiences with reading, writing, and critical analysis we thought were most important for postsecondary writers. Every group chose either flexible writing processes or critical thinking as their most valued experience. Persistence, metacognition, curiosity, and responsibility were all listed as important habits to instill in our students.

During our discussion, we talked about how these were framed as “habits of mind” instead of “skills”. Dr. Benko highlighted how we were teaching our students “ways of being” instead of life skills. Emily loved the article and spoke to how she believed, “writing can be taught, and those skills are important, but more than that, writing is such a creative and personal thing.” Cassie commented that instead of just teaching new habits, we were “breaking bad habits” as well. Beth added that writing through the lends presented in the article provided a way of becoming a more “well rounded” student and adult. Kaleb built off the idea of personal responsibility and stated that “you have to set yourself up to succeed” and coined a solid phrase of using the habits as a way of “mental conditioning” for our students to build off of. We then started a brief conversation on critical thinking, in which Kayla gave a great quote from her COMM220 class. Her professor told her class that, “critical thinking is taking all available evidence from all perspectives and looking at it.”

So How Can We Use This?

“Erin, you’re throwing a lot of information and quotes from class at me right now, but why should I care?” As future teachers, we can use this framework to help our students form good habits to use for the rest of their writing lives. As a class, we discussed the implications for these frameworks in the classroom and what commitments we must make to our future students.
Brittany stated it was important to continue our education as teachers and to make sure that (through scaffolding) we were breaking apart huge projects into “manageable chunks.”
Emily, Alivia, and Kaleb all spoke on their own experiences in the classroom: teachers writing while narrating their writing process highlighted metacognition, peer evaluation using an “I wonder…” model to address areas of writing that could use more development, and teachers letting students write before going through an editing process.

Resources for continued teacher education:

A Standard Fit?

Our last discussion stemmed from our reading on the Indiana State Standards. The class as a whole seemed to have some questions on creating connections between the reading and writing standards as well as knowing exactly what to teach. Alyssa finally spoke up (stop keeping your good ideas quiet) and commented that she viewed the standards as a list of productivity-methodsskills students needed to possess before going into the next grade, but that, as teachers, we should “be slippery” and treat standards as a sugar cookie we can embellish upon.  In this discussion, we hit the important point that the standards are written for teachers, not for our students. As such, we need to look for ways to sell English to our students as relevant, interesting, and important. Dr. Benko then spoke to how the standards give us the “WHAT?“, but not the “WHY?” or “HOW?“. Those questions are open to our own interpretation and decoration using the habits of mind.

Moving Forward and Finishing Up

There have been advances in federal education standards after the repeal and subsequent replacement of No Child Left Behind, but Indiana led the way to creating individual standards in states that adopted the Common Core standards in 2010. While the new standards are still under some scrutiny by some educators and politicians, many agree that the new standards are better suited to educators and student needs. Using these standards in our classrooms clears the way to dispose of the old “cookie cutter” ways of teaching, and to adopt newer, more open models of teaching in our classroom. Remember, using the standards as your code of conduct is a dangerous game – follow them lightly and utilize your own interpretation!

Finally, we had a long and cyclical discussion on students who can’t versus students who won’t. Some key points are as follows:

  • Some students have a lot going on! It’s not our responsibility as teachers, but as human beings to try to find out what they may be and to help.
  • Blame cannot always be placed somewhere. If it’s not you as the teacher, it may not be the parents or the student either. Sometimes it may just be circumstances.

Taking the time to consider and investigate cultural differences in education and the value our global community places on education today can also grant us a more complete and deeper understanding of students who may not be motivated in the classroom. For further reading in this area, I’ve linked to an article on using encouragement in the classroom as a motivator as well as a blog post on how student engagement and motivation has an impact on learning and behavior.

Afterward this last discussion, the class broke the last few minutes of our time together down for individual time to fill out another exit ticket about our future teacher commitments before heading out for the day.

Due for Thursday 9/8:

(If you’d like some bonus reading; Anne Whitney’s essay on the schoolishness of school is not required, but comes highly recommended by our own Dr. Benko.)


Have a great day!

– Erin

Day 21 – Visual Scaffolding and Identifying Grammar Errors

Hey squad! Here’s the post for 3/29.

Prior to class, you had to read chapter 4 and Section 1 of Part 1: The Sentence from Anderson’s text.

At the start of class, we talked about the blog. We are changing a few things. First, blogs posts will be for extra credit. Second, the post will be written with a partner. Instead of emailing us a draft, you should collaborate together. On that note, please sign up for the blog! The sign up link is on Blackboard under the materials/agenda for today.

The first activity we did was a small group discussion about the Anderson readings. These focused on the use of visual scaffolding (Wall-Charts) and on the structure of Anderson’s grammar lessons.

Visual Scaffold

We focused on the positives and negatives of wall charts. For negative, we worried about if students truly learn from the charts and if this was age appropriate. When Anderson states that students often look to walls to recreate the chart in their minds, we felt that some students would actually be hoping the teacher forgot to take the poster down. So, instead of referencing the chat, the students grow dependent on the visual and don’t truly learn. The other concern was that wall charts weren’t appropriate for older learners. Charts would be lots of work, but would have little value. The task would be annoying, ineffective, or boring. Some felt there were better strategies for older learners.

However, we also found some possible solutions and other positive aspects to wall charts. I think the benefits were really highlighted by Katie when she explained how to scaffold the wall chart. Visuals are great when students first enter the Zone of Proximal Development. They need to be taught the information and need the assistance of a teacher. To move through the zone, the scaffolding needs to be slowly removed. The next step would be for students to rely on charts without the teacher. Then they would need to internalized the concept and be able to apply it without the chart. If used right, students will reference the chart until they are able to understand the concept unassisted. This also emphasizes repeated practice. Students need to be coming back to these charts. If integrated into the daily class agenda, students would grown more independent. This would help older students.

The last things about wall charts that we touched on were ownership, authenticity, and mentor texts.

The Sentence

We talked about how Anderson breaks down his lessons and gives a lot of credit to his students. He always recognizes a student’s pseudo-concept, prior knowledge, and interests. These are seen in the mentor texts (they are authentic or student-selected) and activities (students are engaged, play games, add their own work). These ideas connected well with Smagorinsky’s structured process approach, Straub and Elbow’s feedback readings, and the “Not Every Sentence Can Be Great” article.

Student Examples

After our discussion, we put our understanding of Anderson’s chapter into practice. We looked an example of student work and:

  • identified a grammar error
  • defined the error
  • explained the student’s pseudo concept
  • wrote an example mentor sentence for the student

This is practice for when you write your reflection paper about the student papers in your groups. You will actually be doing these same steps! If it helps, you can find an example of the final paper here. Also, below is an example that the table I worked with did. It’s a little messy, but on the right you have a list of errors that we saw. At the top is the Pseudo-Concept (PC). Below that is a definition and mentor text that could be used.


Looking ahead…

  • due tomorrow (4/1) :twitter reflection, read essays and annotate

Group 1 (student B2) Seth, Troi, Ryan, Katie

Group 2 (student C2) Everyone reads

Group 3 (student A1) Haley, Hannah, Maverick, Cate

Group 4 (student B3)  Cammie, Jacob, Christian, Jill

  • due Tuesday: final reflection about student writing due

The essays are available in Box.

To help, I recommend the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s Writing Center checklist. It defines the 12 mistakes we learned about and give an example of an incorrect and correct sentence. This would be good to print out and reference, especially if some of these concepts are still confusing.

I also think Gustavus Adolphos College proofreading guide. It is intended for students who are self-editing, but the same strategies can be used in this assignment.


February 16: Hicks and Turner

Hey friends, it’s Christian this time, and I’m going to recount what we did in class on Tuesday, February 16.

But first, housekeeping:

In case you missed it, the Twitter Reflections were due by class time. If you accidentally emailed Dr. Benko your reflection—that’s OK, but take the time to upload it in Box now.

We talked briefly about revising our TIBs. Continue to work on these, and incorporate revisions based on feedback you have so far. The next step will be creating podcasts, which we’ll work on next week. Dr. Benko reminded us that, though we’re about to start our midterms (more on this in a minute), we’ll soon be done juggling these TIBs.

Finally, in preparation for today’s discussion (and pop quiz), we needed to read Chapters 1 and 2 of Crafting Digital Writing, by Troy Hicks (one of those other books we bought for this class) and “No Longer a Luxury: Digital Literacy Can’t Wait” by Hicks and Turner (available on BB).

The Midterm

“Get ready, we’re going to start working our faces off”—reassuring words from Dr. Benko concerning the midtermGif2

We took over half of our class time to review the assignment and discuss Dr. Benko’s expectations. The assignment is split into four parts, listed in depth as follows:

1. Create a standards based writing task:

This task will be inspired by the tasks presented in the Smagorinsky chapter we are each assigned (see Who’s Reading What). We should look at Smagorinsky’s tasks for inspiration, but ultimately, we are creating our own writing task. This assignment should be (1) geared towards 6-12 grader, (2) very clearly relate to specific standards, (3) be inspired by your Smagorinsky chapter, and (4) meet the four criteria of good task design (purpose, audience, rigorous intellectual work, and opportunities for ownership).

2. Draft a Rubric:

9efd21499399b5143d737f7cec67dfd9876334ebaac218ff0cebed43ac280795Dr. Benko wants us to craft our own rubric from scratch in this assignment; in other words we can’t use Rubistar or other rubric generators. When crafting our rubrics she suggests asking ourselves these questions: What does it mean to meet my expectations? What are my expectations? What does a good rubric do? What are the five points of this assignment that I value most—these are the categories that should be included.

3. An outline of activity:

54497413This is not a full on lesson plan. Dr. Benko wants us to think about how we would scaffold this writing task and create an outline to map that process. Questions we should ask ourselves when thinking about activities that could accompany our writing task include: What is the task that I’m doing? What activities do the students need to do to be prepared for this task? What mentor text could accompany this task? How can I incorporate technology? What kind of grammatical lessons can be incorporated in this lesson? This should include enough detail so that Dr. Benko understands our intentions, but is not a detailed unit plan. It should definitely include the utilization of a mentor text and technology.

4. A short paper

This short paper is actually longer than what you’re thinking, Dr. Benko says, but we can talk about length later. The point is that this paper connects our task with all of the readings we’ve done so far, so “quote like crazy”. Also, the blog is going to become more helpful as we reflect on what we’ve already talked about and tie it into this short paper.

Things to remember when crafting this task:

Begin with the end in mind. What do I want students to do at the end of this task? Is it a paper, project, etc.? (Remember, it doesn’t have to be a traditional academic paper.) What do I want them to learn? By starting at the end, we are designing this topic with our goal in mind.

Dr. Benko recommended gearing this assignment toward middle school students because we can’t make the same assumptions about their prior knowledge, like we can about high school students. Word of warning: do not gear this toward 12th grade AP students. Dr. Benko isn’t sugar coating the reality; those aren’t going to be our students for a looooong time.

Most important: this is a writing task. Students are producing something written. Oral presentations and group work can be part scaffolding and included in the outline, but the final assessment should be individual and written.

The final is a going to be a revision of this midterm. Dr. Benko promises that this will be helpful in our construction of lessons in the future.

“Don’t be discouraged” Emilie says, “I really loved this task!”

Emilie created an assignment around building evidence for a crime in her Clue-based assignment, which is a great example of not being tied to creating that traditional argumentative assignment.

Who’s Reading What:

Chapter 4 (personal narrative) Hailey, Christian, Cammie, Cate

Chapter 5 (argumentation) Katie, Jacob, Ryan, Hannah

Chapter 8 (research) Troi, Jill, Maverick, Seth

To Do List:

  • cat-to-do-listRead your chapter for next time (see Who’s Reading What)
  • Set up a thirty minute one-on-one with Emilie before Spring Break (3/7-11!!) here; this should be set up after you have made a decision about your midterm writing task and have an idea about your outline.
  • Entire draft due for peer review on 3/15
  • Final draft due the Thursday after spring break, 3/17.

 Finally, Hicks and Turner

With not too much time left in class, we turned to our readings for the day. Ultimately, we determined that only two of us were confident about how to define craft, so Dr. Benko split us into groups to create a definition. We looked at “The 7 Lessons Every Writer Must Learn” and tables 2.1 and 2.2 in Creating Digital Writing. My group talked about how the Huff Post article’s definition of craft was centered on narrative writing. From this, Jill R. articulated that craft consists of the little things that go into making writing unique, be it narrative, argumentative, or research-based. With no time for a combined group discussion, Dr. Benko asked us to tweet our definitions of craft:

Screen Shot 2016-02-16 at 10.57.12 PMScreen Shot 2016-02-16 at 10.56.51 PMScreen Shot 2016-02-16 at 10.57.32 PMScreen Shot 2016-02-16 at 10.58.09 PM

One Final Note:

We talked briefly about Cathy Day’s Middletown project as a researched story; I found her blog and the Middletown project. It’s a really interesting crossover genre of narrative fiction and research-based composition, and worth looking into for some creative inspiration. Additionally, I was talking to one of my teacher-coworkers at the high school about this unit plan, and she told me that she likes to use Teachers Pay Teachers when she has to create a unit on material she’s never taught. While we can’t use this for our midterm assignment, it looks like a really valuable resource for our future classrooms; the material is reasonably priced (think $3-$15 for reproducible pdfs), it supports actual teachers, and if you come up with something phenomenal, you can sell it, too.

Don’t forget to work on your TIB revisions and read your Smagorinsky chapter. See you Thursday!

Christian S.


February 9th, Narrative Fiction

This blog is brought to you by Cate!


I’m excited to talk to you today about our class on February 9th, which was about my favorite part of teaching writing, narrative fiction!


Here’s the Low Down:

We prepared for today’s class by reading Smagorinsky Chapter 3: Teaching Fictional Narratives, starring a lesson plan by Ms. Alva.

We were broken down into groups of four, and in these groups we discussed what occurred at each stage of MS. Alva’s lesson plan, we were asked to state what the teacher was doing, what the student was doing, and what the entire goal of that stage was. please see the charts we created below:




As you can see, while there were technically six stages to the lesson plan, 4 out of 6 of the stages were broken down even further into smaller parts/steps. I have attached the images in the order that the actual lesson plan occurred. Each group did a good job of breaking the steps down and explaining what happened during each one while also articulating what the goal of the stage was.

In this lesson plan, MS. Alva prepares her students for the heavy work of writing a narrative fiction by doing MANY things…

  • They read narrative fiction examples from other students
  • They compared them to break down possible processes and similarities
  • They decided what they thought were important elements of a fictional narrative in groups and as individuals by discussing common occurrences/trends
  • They practiced how dialogue was to be used in narrative
  • They listened to suspenseful sounds while looking at a matching image to set the scene and tone for their paper
  • They discussed the impact of verbs on their tone
  • They made drafts
  • They were taught how to give feedback, and then they gave peer feedback
  • They published their work to be seen by a broad audience
  • Finally, they practiced metacognition by analyzing their learning process and how they came to finish their papers


After we broke down MS. Alva’s plan into parts, we rotated tables and started to analyze the stages (the stages another group wrote down) and how they utilized the properties of a Structured Process Approach. We circled the numbers of the identified property next to each stage where we thought a quality of SPA was apparent. Please see the image below if you don’t have your text handy, it will show you what each number on the white boards was referring to. This is from page 21 of the text.



This is important because if we are to utilize structured process approach, then we need to be sure we can identify tasks that coincide with the values of said approach.

We also discussed things we liked about SPA and possible limitations. One limitation we brought up was that with limited degrees of freedom, students may find themselves contained or restricted by your examples, be sure to show them that your way isn’t the only way. We also discussed the value of manipulative materials such as the menus from our earlier lesson plan, MS. Alva’s music and haunting imagery, or even setting up a mock debate. This is a great addition to a lesson plan centered around Structured Process Approach.

Fictional Narrative Resources:

Here is one article I read the other day that I LOVED. This is more for you as writers than for your students, although I think if you think about your phrasing/syntax/voice in this manner then it will also help you as a teacher! I think this article merges our Chapter 3 reading with the “Not every sentence can be great” reading.

Night of the Living Syntax

Check out some of the writing prompts I created for my class last semester of 7th and 8th graders (these were not involved with big papers, only a short 3 page one, but I think after this lesson they could have been!). I will list three of the top chosen prompts, I encourage you to let me know how you would have applied this to SPA or even how you could model this according to the lesson plan we broke down. As a teacher who was thrown into comp without this lovely course, I gave them a lot of creative liberties. I definitely know that in the future i’ll make some changes. I think it will be fun if you talk about this either in class or in the comments and how you would also have added to this prompt or developed upon it. Please feel free to use these prompts in any future teaching if they interest you, just not in your assignments where you may be asked to come up with your own original work (as I worked hard on them!)

  • You were playing a video game when all of a sudden the lights went out. The next thing you know you are in both unfamiliar and familiar territory… You are in the game. This is your life now. What is it like? What game are you in? What will you do?
  • This morning when you woke up you discovered that you now have the ability to morph reality to your will. Anything that you want to be true is. What do you do with this power? Do you use it for good? Do you use it for evil? What is good and evil anyway?
  • You have found a time machine, but it only goes to the past, not your future. You are able to use it just once to go back in time, and then you must stay there for three days at least before it has a charge to take you back. What happens? Consider the social lives of others with your race or gender at this time period and how that would affect your experience.


Looking Ahead!

Furthest away: We had a very important glimpse of what our Midterm was going to consist of, please gloss over the chapters in SMAG about Research, Persuasion, and Personal Narrative. Your lesson plan will have to be centered around SPA and one of these types of writing!

Next furthest away: The twitter reflections are due on Tuesday (one week after the ninth). If you need to remember how to do a screen grab of your tweets, on a mac it is command/shift/4.

For Thursday the 11th: Read Elbow and Straub, then utilize those readings about feedback in order to give the three other members of your group helpful assistance in working on their TIB Essays!

For our next class, we discuss the art of giving feedback! Take it away Winston:



Day 7 – Scaffolding

Hey guys,

So, here’s the recap for Tuesday, February 2nd.

Required reading: Smagorinsky Ch. 2 and Benko “Scaffolding: An Ongoing Process to Support Adolescent Writing Developement”

Class started off a little rocky. Some of us got the email about the flipped schedule; some of us didn’t. So, to kick off class, we split into two groups: those who got through the correct reading and those who did not.

Those who hadn’t had a chance to read the new piece were able to do so.

Those who had already read the pieces discussed the worksheet that would have been a quiz.

In the discussion (from group 2):

To start off the discussion about the readings we looked at the components of Smagorinsky’s approach to scaffolding in teaching writing (a shortened list of these are available in your text on page 21).


Components #14 and #15 talk about modeling. As a group we talked about the fact that modeling is a good thing, but modeling a process rather than a form is the best. When modeling, we aren’t just modeling what we want our students’ work to look like, but how we want our students thought process to go. According to Smagorinsky, ideas and content should come before modeling. For instance, a student should know the basic form of a haiku and what you are expecting to see when they write one before you show them examples of traditional haikus. We also made it clear that modeling can be very vulnerable moments for teachers (especially us new teachers), because when we model for our students we are modeling our thought process. Our models are not the work that we produce for our students, but the thoughts that we go through as we do it. Understanding that line can be a hard thing to get.

Components #5 and #7 deal with students sharing their work. According to Smagorinsky’s approach, students should share with each other often. In order to facilitate this, the teacher “orchestrates” activities for students to do together without being led too much. Guided questions can be used to keep students on track, but generally it helps if the teacher is as hands-off as possible. As Benko put it, “The person doing the work is the person doing the learning.”

Benko Piece:

The main takeaway from this piece was that scaffolding does not equal helping. Helping is when we simply show our students how to do what we want them to do and give them assistance when they can’t do it. Scaffolding is when we see a student strugling and we give them the tools to succeed, but we don’t necessarily give them a right or wrong answer. For scaffolding to be done the way Benko describes it, the student must eventually be able to do it by themselves. One good way that this can be done is by giving students increasing degrees of freedom with each task and occasionally demonstrating possible ways to complete the task. Overall, the Benko piece showed us how scaffolding is not just a method of teaching, but it’s an approach to thinking of the different ways we can help our students succeed. The picture below is straight out of the reading, and it describes the process of scaffolding.  2016-02-02 (1)

For image source, please visit:

Benko, Susanna L. “Scaffolding: An Ongoing Process to Support Adolescent Writing Development.” Journal of Adolescent & Adult Literacy 56.4 (2012): 291-300. Web



After discussing the texts we were asked to create a visual illustration to demonstrate our thinking about the relationship between these things:

  1. Tasks
  2. Structured Process Approach to teaching writing
  3. Scaffolding through the writing process

We will discuss these visuals in class Thursday. Till then, here they are with no additional context.


Looking ahead:

For Thursday, please read Not Every Sentence Can be Great but Every Sentence Must be Good by Cynthia Martin, and bring back the three This I Believe essays that we read for class. Our first drafts of our own essays should be returned then.

Also don’t forget your 5 tweets for the week.


Some other good blog pages and resources :

For more information (in a slightly less academic format) check out this blog post by Rebecca Alber titled 6 Scaffolding Strategies to Use with Your Students.

And also, here are a few more examples of This I Believe essays. I found these ones interesting because the first has to do with a dedication to education, and the second has to do with reading (which I think we all enjoy, to an extent). If you’re interested, I would recommend browsing the website a bit. I also included a link to the topic section titled education and knowledge. Quite a few of those essays are worth a read.

Standing Up for Our Children (a This I Believe essay)

The Joy and Enthusiasm of Reading (a This I Believe essay)

Education & Knowledge section


Thanks for reading guys.

Until next time,

Katie E.