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Amy Rasmussen

Amy Rasmussen

Amy Rasmussen teaches AP English Language and Composition at a large suburban high school in north Texas. She fosters a love of reading by offering choice through readers and writers workshop in her advanced English classes. Amy advocates for change in the traditional literature-based English course. Research shows that when teachers make all the choices about the books that students must read, many students begin to disengage with reading (Allington, Krashen, Miller). Few students actually read the assigned texts in high school English classes, and many come to dislike the classic literature we revere so much (Broz, Kittle, Pruzinski). Many teachers and administrators are changing this. They are moving to readers and writers workshop because they know when students read they are better thinkers and better writers. Amy is an engaging teacher and presenter, and she loves working with and supporting schools and districts as they make this move. Memberships and Organizations: National Council of Teachers of English Texas Council of Teachers of English Language Arts North Texas Council of Teachers of English Language Arts, President-Elect, 2015 North Star of Texas Writing Project, Teaching Consultant Find Amy on Twitter @AmyRass Host of the new #PoetryChat -- Join us the first Monday of the month at 8 pm ET

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I read Learning by Teaching by Donald Murray this summer, and I finally understand the importance of using student writing as the main text in my writing class. While I’ve believed students can learn fromI lurked on this chat. Many positive examples of learning from student wrting. While I believe students can learn from reading one another’s work, and I’ve often asked them to read and give feedback — on drafts and published pieces — I’ve never thought to actually use the text to teach a concept. I don’t know why. I supposed I’ve always relied on mentor texts by The Pros for that.

I am changing my tune. Here’s a bit of a lesson that worked better than I could have imagined.

Objectives:  Using the language of the Depth of Knowledge levels, students will write about their lives, and share their writing. They will recognize a wide variety of sentence structures. They will identifypatterns, devices, and/or figurative language and discuss its effectiveness in creating meaning. They willrevise their writing, formulate their own sentences, and apply their understanding to future writing assignments.

Lesson: Project the image, and ask students to write in their writer’s notebooks one sentence that answers the question. Remind them about what they know about various sentence structures and how punctuation works within a sentence.

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The Attention. Every child needs one-on-one conversations with an adult as often as possible.  Adolescents, by nature of their age, struggle with identity, fairness, stress, and a slew of other issues that contribute to all kinds of problems. The National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse (CASA) at Columbia University. reports that “9 out of 10 Americans who meet the medical criteria for addiction started smoking, drinking, or using other drugs before age 18.” This is not surprising since according to this study, “75% of all high school students have used addictive substances, including tobacco, alcohol, marijuana, or cocaine.”

I know there are many reasons for teenagers to partake in these substances. I also know that many students think that adults do not care, or will not notice, if they are in class, participating in class, or lucid in class. One way to show our adolescent students that we care is to talk with them. And face-to-face conversations about books and reading is a pretty safe way to do so, not to mention that we model authentic conversations about reading when we do.

Try questions like:

  • How’s it going? (Thanks, Carl Anderson)
  • Why did you choose this book?
  • Do you know anyone else who has read this book? What’d she think?
  • How’d you find the time to read this week?
  • What’s standing in the way of your reading time?

The Relationship. Once students know they can trust us, they will tell us things about their lives, their struggles, and their hopes beyond high school. According to the Zur Institute, teen internet and video game addictions, violence in the media, online bullying, and violence in the home top the charts as some of the major influencers of teen behavior. On the Zur website, there’s a section titled “What You Can Do.” We find language that mirrors the words and phrases that lead to the most effective reading conferences, like “learn what [it] means to your children by talking with them about it,” and “be genuinely curious about what draws them to [whatever it is],” and “discuss balance,” and “keep the conversation active.”

We hear so much talk in education circles about engagement. Engagement comes as a result of relationships. When we talk to our students about their lives and the things that matter to them, and we help them see that somewhere in some book a character has experienced similar situations, conflicts, and heartaches, we show our students that literature is a living breathing source of hope. ThisPsychology Today post explains it clearly:  “Books are friends we can choose without restriction,” believed John Ruskin, an English art critic of the 19 Century who influenced Marcel Proust “who developed the idea of a novel that was not just a friend, but a friend who enables us to become intimate both with other minds and with our own.” Proust called readers of his own work “a sort of magnifying glass … by which I could give them the means to read within themselves.”

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Posted by on in Education Resources

Today we start a fun two weeks. State exams and AP exams dual for the attention and time of most every student and teacher in the building.

Two weeks of juggling tests with students in and out of classrooms. Teachers putting on hats as proctors and hall monitors, shuffling to teach in different rooms so students can test in theirs. Stress can make cranky even the calmest souls.

Two weeks until the end of school after that. June 6 is our last day. Some days that sounds like the equivalent of enduring 12 long winters.

I must make the choice daily to be optimistic, to see the possible in all the end-of-year chaos.

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