Archive for the ‘teachery stuff’ Category

the lonely writer

Writing is a solitary hobby. Endless hours sitting at that blasted blinking cursor, in a quiet room, waiting for inspiration to filter through our fingertips, onto the keyboard, and onto the screen. Loving everything we write, and the next day, as if awaking from a hangover, regretting every word combination we ever created. And yet there’s something intensely desirable about it. We all can’t be masochists. So what helps us get by?


I meet with an incredibly talented group of writers once a week, our own personal Writers Guild. One of our best community builders this fall, NaNoWriMo, allowed us to pursue a common goal and cheer one another along, regardless of our place in the journey. We celebrated our progress with an epic hall display, moving our viking ships through the word count sea. Writers would stop by almost every day with an update. Together, we wrote 187,383 words during the month of November. Not too shabby for something they didn’t have to do.

In addition to moving viking ships, we decided to also use a badge system for demonstrating proficiency in each of the major elements of fiction: plot, dialogue, conflict, theme, characterization, point of view, and setting. Writers also earned badges for meeting writing milestones (weekly word count goal, 25K, 50K), plus additional badges for participating in write-ins. Lockers all over the building displayed these badges, affirming yes, I am a writer, and I have a story to tell.

Due to the success of the November NaNo, our writers decided to also participate in Camp NaNo, held annually in April. Instead of earning shield-shaped achievement badges, writers will build their own totem pole with hand-cut (and glued!) animals. Each totem pole will be different, since our writers work at their own pace and determine when they are ready to earn each badge. If writers earn all of the badges, their totem pole will be the same height as their lockers. Plus, it will look pretty awesome, too.

And if you’re wondering what their word count markers will be, they will have both canoes and backpacks, depending on the terrain. More pics and updates to follow.



If teaching AP has, in turn, taught me anything, it’s to pay attention to word choice– connotation, denotation, contranyms (my new favorite teacher geek word this year), homonyms. I love to pick apart language and hyper-analyze what people say, find interesting connections between language and meaning.

project (noun) 

  1. something that is contemplated, devised, or planned; plan; scheme.
  2. a large or major undertaking, especially one involving considerable money, personnel, and equipment.
  3. a specific task of investigation, especially in scholarship.
  4. Education. a supplementary, long-term educational assignment necessitating personal initiative, undertaken by an individual student or a group of students.

project (verb)

  1. to propose, contemplate, or plan.
  2. to throw, cast, or impel forward or onward.
  3. to set forth or calculate (some future thing): They projected the building costs for the next five years.
  4. to throw or cause to fall upon a surface or into space, as a ray of light or a shadow.
  5. to cause (a figure or image) to appear, as on a background.
  6. to regard (something within the mind, as a feeling, thought, or attitude) as having some form of reality outside the mind: He projected a thrilling picture of the party’s future.
  7. to cause to jut out or protrude. | source

One might, in this case, project a project. My five advanced creative writing kiddos did this today. Nine-week projects, self-designed with five checkpoints. The big goals for each are, in essence:

  • a collection of LGBTQIA short stories, all geared toward self-discovery and identity (5-15K words per story)
  • a MG high fantasy novel (30-50K total words)
  • a YA mainstream revision / novel completion (50K+30K=80K+ total words)
  • a YA fantasy / sci-fi novel and a play (12K+20K = 30K+) + (?)
  • two to three completed and revised short stories, ready to submit for publication (5-10K per story)

I am so dorkily excited about these projects because these kiddos are friggin amazing.

killing trees

I’m really trying to go paperless, let me just say that up front.

I really am.

But I’ve learned, especially with my students, that one of the skills they sometimes lack is a sense of organization, which is why I allow them to keep their class folders in my room.  Maybe I’m an enabler.  Maybe.  But there’s something to be said about modeling correct behavior, and if I help them to maintain a neat folder with all of their information, handouts, and graded papers, maybe–just maybe–they’ll do it on their own in other classes or in later grades.

In previous years, my co-teacher and I provided them with a spiral-bound notebook.  This worked great for keeping things from getting lost but didn’t do much for containing loose-leaf papers.  At the end of last year, I picked the brain of my astute student teacher and we began developing a folder template, which is still a work in progress.  If you plan to mimic the folder, feel free–share and share alike–but I would suggest including everything you needed as early on in the process as possible.  This weekend I spent hours organizing one class’s folders, taking handouts from one pocket and placing them in another, opening and closing the prongs to add in loose leaf paper. Oy.  But! they’re nice and neat and grading will be SO much easier when students know that if they want me to grade something, they’ll place it in the left-side pocket.

Photo Aug 25, 2 36 43 PM Photo Aug 25, 2 36 47 PM

Photo Aug 25, 2 36 55 PM

I bought the folders with the prongs because I wanted to be able to include important handouts that the students couldn’t claim to have lost or never received.  Handouts = killing trees, I know, but there are some things that as teacher I need to be able to justify students having received.  You know.

So, here’s the front of the folder.  I use the 5160 Avery mailing label templates.  I use a blank one for their name and then a “Please put all handouts & bellwork in the prongs.”  I actually had some who asked what this means.  Demonstration is everything.  Now, all of their handouts are in the prongs with the bellwork.  I’m still trying to decide if I want their notebook paper in there first or the handouts first (since one of the handouts is about how I would like for them to format their bellwork.)  I will probably have an update on this preference when they have several pages of bellwork and whether or not the other pages get in the way of the grading and writing.  The stickers that follow are ones my co-teacher and I developed last year for their notebooks.  We wallpaper the front of their folders with these stickers because we always had to flip back and forth to record their scores.  This keeps the labels on the same side of the folder as their names and also has a place for us to record notes scores.  The last little circle (or stars, actually for this year) are their True Colors results.  If you’ve never done this personality / learning style survey, you should really check it out.  Not only does it tell you their learning preferences, it provides you with information about how best to interact with them, signs they’re having a bad day, and working styles.  It tells you how other people misread their personality eccentricities and what message they’re really trying to get across.  Great stuff.  There are plenty of variations out there on the Internet, you just have to find the one that works best for you.  We’re going to mark their folders in times when we want them to work in groups; we may  have all of the “like” colors working together on one project, while other projects may call for one representative from each learning style.  Originally, we were going to have the whole folders be the color of the learning style, but we wanted to have the folders before students arrived and we had no way to anticipate how many we would need for each one.  We actually have our folders the same color of the crates in the back of the room that keep them organized, so students who have the red folders should file them away in the red crate.

Photo Aug 25, 2 37 25 PM

Photo Aug 25, 2 37 32 PMHere are the insides of the folders (for now.)  As a department, we opted to provide students with two hall passes per 9-week grading period.  These are transferable to bonus points for that grading period only at 10 points per pass if unused.  I urged students to write their names, in ink, on the passes and then stapled them inside the folders.  They must exchange these coupons for hall passes–it says that on the ticket.  I don’t want them waving it around the hallway saying it’s their hall pass.  On the other side, the Oops passes are another department-wide policy.  Students receive 3 Oops passes per 18-week semester.  This allows them to avoid the late penalty for submitting assignments 1 day late.  These are also transferable for bonus points at 5 points each.  They may be submitted during either grading period for the bonus points.  In the middle, I have a “Ready for Grading” label so students know this is where they “turn in” items that are not personally collected by me.  If something is missing or I believe they misplaced an item (I saw them working on it in class but it is not in the folder), I write them a little message on a sticky note.  This has worked INCREDIBLY well so far.  The next time I look at their folders, the sticky note is usually gone and the missing work is in the pocket.

The right side of the folder has more organizational stickers.  The label “Graded Items” lets them know that I’ve already graded and recorded that work.  They can either leave it in the folder or take it home.  One label allows them to record their Achieve3000 Lexile levels.  This is a program our corporation has adopted to help students improve their reading comprehension in non-fiction.  Last year, almost all of my students raised their Lexile levels.  In order to help them see and be part of their own improvement, I want them to record their Lexile levels at grading period marks.  The last piece of information on the remaining labels involves their Acuity login and scores.  Acuity is a program that, after testing students, identifies their deficits and assigns work that specifically targets those areas of concern.  Acuity testing takes place three times a year:  once in October/November, January/February, and April/May.

I’ll continue to update the folder template as well as post about my attempts in my elective to do paperless bellwork with Google docs, but that’s an entirely different post, and it’s a school night.

Until next time.

Nuances of Character

In my SAT-ACT prep class, I tried to design a well-rounded curriculum, and this week one of the items on our to-learn list involves Nuances of Character.  Here’s my KidBlog post for their first short written response.

Today, we’re looking at nuances and attitudes of character.  According to Google, a nuance is “a subtle difference in or shade of meaning, expression, or sound.”  Sometimes characters fall into stock categories (the knight, the princess in distress, the wise mentor.)  These are called archetypes.  Nuances can be small things about characters that make them stand out from other characters.  Let’s look at Fiona from Shrek.

Princess_FionaFiona does not represent the stock character of the “princess in distress” for several reasons.  Although she is apparently in distress, she can definitely fend for herself, unlike other stock princesses.  And while she wants a handsome prince to rescue her from her tower, she eventually accepts her fate that her prince is Shrek who doesn’t fit the fantasy she had planned for so many years.  She hides a deep secret about herself and her past which is sometimes revealed when she fights the robbers in the woods, sings and explodes a bird, or belches after breakfast.  These are all subtle nuances that make her different than other princesses in distress.

Write about 100 words about a character from a book, television show, film, or cartoon that displays subtle nuances of being different than other stock characters.  For reference, the above paragraph is a little over 100 words.  Obviously, don’t use Fiona as your example as that’s already been taken.

collage writing assignment

Since my AP students will use KidBlog this year and it’s not viewable to the public, here’s their first writing assignment.  Feel free to borrow / revise for your own classes.  I would always appreciate a backlink or a shout-out through Twitter @missyfeller.


Think of collages you’ve made in middle school or even high school.  You page through magazines already picked over by earlier scavengers, looking for the perfect images to illustrate your point.  Even though you’ve selected a random mix of words and letters, photos and illustrations, some unifying element, often unspoken, exists.  These things, though seemingly disconnected, belong together.

Such is the case with collage writing.

Although collage writing represents one final piece, it is composed of several short selections from disconnected prompts linked together by an underlying theme–one you may identify outright or leave for the reader to discover.

During our first day together, we watched, took notes over, and discussed Riding the Rails, a PBS documentary about the teens of the Great Depression who sought adventure, work, and escape by illegally jumping freight trains and traveling cross-country.  The PBS website has plenty of information connected to this documentary for further study, such as Added Obstacles for African AmericansRailroads and their Musical Heritage, a timeline of the Great Depression, and a transcript for the film.  I would recommend you check out at least one of these additional articles for your first writing assignment.  For your prompts, I’ll pull from the Teacher’s Guide for this documentary.

In addition, I would like for you to read and process “Homeless” by Anna Quindlen.  I will refer to some of the prompts from this link in this writing assignment.

After the selection by Anna Quindlen, we’re going to read a selection from last year’s Imagery.  We’ll look at that together during class.

I also need you to understand, as we discussed last year, that writing is a process.  While creating the product, whether it is an essay, story, poem, song,etc., we must also acknowledge and respect the stages our writing must go through in order to move toward a more comprehensive, “finished” piece.  You should never create only one draft of a piece of writing and submit that as the “final” piece.  For one, it is probably so glutted with mistakes you’d be embarrassed to claim it as your own.  As AP students, that is inexcusable.  And while looking at what other people have written is okay as a starting point, you should never commit the ultimate sin of writing by stealing their words unless you would like to live in infamy or go through a whole lot of hassle.  Consider yourself warned.

When we finish this unit, you’ll have a collage with over ten sections all unified by a theme or tone you determine. (In case you forgot, the theme of this first grading period is “I could never obtain the one thing I always wanted.”)

During your initial drafts of the first few sections, you’ll have about 5 minutes to gather your thoughts and record them on the screen (or on paper, if you prefer).  At this point, do not worry about grammar, spelling, punctuation.  Focus on the topic, the emotion, the essence of what you’re trying to convey.  The rest (yes–I do want you to correct your grammar, spelling, and punctuation mistakes) will come later.  I’ll deliver these topics to you one by one and I want for you to write.  Write.  Don’t sit there looking at the blank screen with the excuse that you have no idea what to write.  And don’t waste your and my time writing things like “I have no idea what to write.”  Do the work.  You’re in AP for a reason–prove it.  Aim for at least a paragraph per prompt–you can always go back and add more later (and by the way, I want for you to do this.  Writing is a process, remember?)

Prompt 1:  What do you know about homelessness today? What are the reasons for homelessness? Why do you think people were homeless in the 1930s?

Prompt 2:  Write a diary entry or letter from the point of view of a teenager during the 1930s who has run away to ride the rails. Explain why you left and what you are experiencing. What are your hopes? What are your fears?

Prompt 3: What are your plans for college?  Where will you live?  Explain your choice.  Or, if you do not plan to attend college, what are your plans for after high school?

Prompt 4:  Compose a reflective paragraph collecting your thoughts about one of the supplementary resources from the PBS site.

Prompt 5: Do some preliminary research about hobos online.  Write about the most interesting thing you find.

Prompt 6: Which facts or opinions in Quindlen’s essay did you find most important or significant or disturbing?

Prompt 7: What do you think Quindlen wants the reader to do or to believe when she says, “It has been customary to take people’s pain and lessen our own participation in it by turning it into an issue, not a collection of human beings”?

Prompt 8: Quindlen believes that homelessness is a major problem. Her source is a series of interviews. Do you think interviews are a credible source? Are they enough, or are statistics also necessary? Give your reasons.

Prompt 9: Respond to the student’s piece about homelessness. What is your reaction?

Prompt 10: Compose a persuasive paragraph proposing a realistic, doable action you and your peers could do to help address homelessness in Evansville.

Once you’ve written your first drafts for each of these prompts, begin the process of selecting FIVE of them to edit and revise.  Editing involves spelling, grammar, punctuation whereas revision means looking at the paper as a whole, deciding what works, what to throw out, what to rewrite completely.  If your first draft looks identical (or really, really close) to the next draft you submit to me, you will lose some if not all points for the first draft.  Separate the sections with ***.  They should not be presented as one, fluid composition.Yet.

NOTE: This essay will be viewed by other students in this class.  Peer editing and discussion will be part of your grade.

You’re going to post your five (or more, if you choose) in your own blog (do NOT reply to this post with your collage.  Reply with questions ONLY!).  From the dashboard, control panel, or course blog home page, selectcreate a new post.  Then, I would like for you to post your most recent draft (the best one you have).  Comment to your own post with your original, first draft.  If you do not post the original, first draft, you will be docked points.  Give your post a title, tag with #collagewriting #homelessness #greatdepression and any other relevant (school appropriate) hashtags you would like to use.  If you use a picture (you don’t have to but most blogs use them), make sure it is free to use under creative commons and include a backlink to the image source.  You can also use hyperlinks with the text to make your writing more dynamic and interactive for the reader.  Imagine that this may end up on a public blog for student voices, or that you might turn this into a podcast.  Keep that imagined audience in mind.

If you can’t figure out KidBlog, here is a tutorial video from the student dashboard.

Here’s the point break-down:

  • rough draft (10 sections complete, posted on time, different than most recent copy) –> 10 points
  • first revision (5 sections edited and revised, posted on time, professional with few errors) –> 20 points
  • followed instructions (title, tags, picture cited if used, posted in correct place, commented with original draft in correct place) –> 5 points

This collage essay will undergo many more stages within this unit.  This part of it–the rough draft and the first revision–will be due on or before our next meeting which will be Tuesday, August 20.  If you do not have it on that day, you may turn it in on Thursday, August 22 for 20% off, but after that day, it will not be accepted.  You may still want to complete the essay since you’ll be submitted a second revision in the next week after we read Of Mice and Men.

Any questions, you know where to find me.  Reply to this post with questions, message me via MyBigCampus, send me an email, or request (from me) a pass to visit during enrichment.

I look forward to reading your first essays.