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064: A Beginner's Guide to Writing Workshop with Amanda Werner

In today's episode of The Spark Creativity Teacher Podcast, you're going to hear from Amanda Werner, experienced workshop teacher, blogger at Amanda Write Now, and host of The Workshop Teacher Podcast.

In this episode, discover how to structure a successful writing workshop, what a workshop mini lesson is, and how to trouble shoot common issues that come up. By the end of the show, you should be ready to give this stellar strategy a spin in your classroom. 

Four Ways to Celebrate Earth Day in ELA

Guess who's got the same birthday as our earth? This girl! Yep, that's right. Every year on the day we turn our eyes towards our planet, I also eat cake. (As much cake as possible, preferably with caramel frosting).

But seriously, maybe because it's my birthday, but I have always been pretty aware of Earth day. It's easy to let it come and go - no school off, no gifts to exchange, no cards to mail - but we don't have to. We can pause and consider the meaning of this day. We can bring the earth into our classrooms, even if it's just for an hour.

In today's post, I want to share with you a few different meaningful activities you could try, either on earth day or in the weeks surrounding it, to take some time to talk about our earth and what it means to us all. Many great writers, poets, speakers, and film makers have put their focus on nature and the environment over the years, so it's not hard to tap into the skills of ELA when focusing on our earth.

Confronting Hate and Talking about Equity in our Classrooms

Last weekend my family and I arrived at our favorite trailhead, a local section of the Appalachian Trail, bags full of Scooby Doo gummies, grapes, and leftover pizza. We couldn't wait to step into the spring sunshine and head up the mountain together. 

As I helped my three-year-old out of the car, I saw a bold yellow splash of color covering the whole middle of the marking lot. I looked closer, then quickly ushered her and her older brother across the sidewalk and up the rocky steps leading to the trail, distracting them from the paint. 

A huge swastika filled the lot. 

This week I've been thinking a lot about what we can do in our English classrooms to take a stand against hate. To teach our students about equity. To open up more dialogue, more understanding, more compassion, more empowerment. To inspire our students to use their voices to make a difference in the world.

It's not a small subject. It can't really be summed up in a quick blog post like "Top 10 Ways to Stop Hate" or "5 Colorful Activities to Bring Equity to America." 

You know what I mean. 

This is a big, weighty subject. A scary subject for many. We've all been told we must never use our positions of authority in the classroom to project our views - political or religious - onto our students. It's not fair to them.

Perhaps you, like me, have tried to approach these issues in class before and encountered real difficulties. You've felt unprepared for the emotion and anger that can come up. You haven't known what to say. What you're allowed to say. What you can say that will help and not hurt. 

It's hard. Really hard. 

But does that mean we can't talk about what's going on in our country? Even if it affects our students? Gun violence? The incarceration of youth? The Black Lives Matter movement? The chaos and agony at the borders? 

8 Station Ideas for Secondary ELA

A few weeks ago Angela Watson interviewed me for her podcast, Truth for Teachers, about my journey as an introverted teacher. And it got me thinking back to my first week of teaching, when I realized I was NOT going to want to stand up front with all eyes on me.

It only took one endless, devastating day of lecturing to show me that I wouldn't be teaching that way ever again.

The first idea I came up back then for shining the spotlight away from me and onto my students was stations. As I thought about how to keep them actively engaged and interested, and keep myself as more of a coach who mingles and guides, I designed an activity that involved the students moving around to various posters on the wall, learning and adjusting their writing as they went.

Each poster had a different "Writing Commandment" - yeah, I was trying to add a little humor - and the kids explored them all through the class, reading the commandments and working on new drafts of their summer reading essays.

For an introverted teacher who had just discovered that lecture was pure torture, it was bliss.

But it also seemed to work well for the students.

These days I know a bit more about stations - what they are, how to structure them, and what they might be used for. So in this post I'm going to share a bunch of ideas with you for how to build them into your curriculum. But first, let's talk quickly about how to set up a station activity.

Of course, you could do it many ways. But here are some basics.

062: When Students choose their Assessments, with David Rickert

In today's episode of The Spark Creativity Teacher Podcast, you're going to hear from David Rickert, veteran teacher, illustrator, and blogger.

We're focusing in on student-choice assessment. By the end of the episode you'll know how to get students started in creating their own assessments, how to structure your class unit, how to grade this epic project, and a few tips and tricks to make it all go smoothly. 

Take back your TIME: 40 Tips for Grading Less, Better

Buried under a mountain of grading? Feeling like your fat folder of papers is a ball and chain you take with you to every meeting, appointment, and even family vacation just in case you get a chance to make a dent? When was the last time you watched a little Netflix WITHOUT a blanket of papers to keep you company?!

I get it.

In all my time in the classroom, no one ever gave me any advice to help me deal with grading. I suffered through my marathon three a.m. grading sessions, thinking there was no other way. I made rubrics to explain my grades, but they didn't save me much time. I tried to make grading more fun by sitting at my favorite bakery, but I would finish my cider and espresso brownie only to discover I was through only three papers. Just sixty-seven more to go...

It was the worst. I wanted to spend all my time creating amazing fun lesson plans and projects, not falling asleep on top of vocabulary quizzes, identify portfolios and in-class essays. I think my students tolerated the endless wait time to get their papers back because they liked me and they enjoyed all our creative activities. They knew grading was my Achilles heel.

Now I know it didn't have to be that way. There are sooooo many strategies that can help you get out of the grading hole and see the light again. You DO NOT HAVE TO FEEL GUILTY about taking a stand for yourself and choosing some strategies that will minimize your grading while maximizing its effectiveness.

In this blog post, I'm rolling out every single strategy I've learned in the last ten years to help you make a positive change in your grading load.  At the end you can sign up for the printable PDF with ten of the top strategies to print out so you don't forget to go ahead and change your life.

061: Using Podcasts Successfully in ELA

In today's episode of The Spark Creativity Teacher Podcast, you're going to hear from the always creative Amanda from Engaging and Effective. She's my first ever repeat guest, and if you missed our first conversation, you might want to go back and listen because it's definitely one of the most popular episodes ever.

Episode 031: 3 Engaging Lessons (Murder Mysteries, SNL Clips and Ted Talks)

In this episode, we're going to dive into all things podcast for the classroom: which podcasts she likes to use, how she helps students stay focused during listening periods, using QR codes to give students access to episodes, and a great creative activity you can use with the NPR show, How I Built This (so good!). 
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