• Classroom Life,  Instruction,  Process,  Six Words,  Students' Words,  Writing

    From Every Book…. Learning the Pleasures of Being Literate {Slice of Life}

    I wonder:    Who taught you the pleasures of reading and writing?  Did you discover them in high school? Earlier? Later?

    High school student writing at his desk

    In my high school Intensive Reading/Critical Thinking class, it takes a while to get students to ‘buy into’ reading for pleasure.  It’s not uncommon to hear, “You want us to read???” followed by:  Do we get a grade??

    My classes are a mix of AP and Honors students who don’t use strategies (because they ‘know how to read’) and are insulted that they’re in my class, thinking they most certainly do not need to be, and struggling and reluctant readers who haven’t read for pleasure in years and have limited knowledge and nearly no use of reading skills and strategies or critical thinking.  They’re also insulted, because in spite of their limited skills and strategies, they’ll tell you they can read just fine and WILL graduate.

    You can imagine how much fun the first six – nine weeks of each school year are for me.

    Call me persistent. I plug away at showing them how ‘normal’ reading and writing really are.

    I demonstrate the ‘naturalness’ of reading and writing every day. I share how I stumble on to new words in most things I read, I talk about current writing projects, and I find ways to tie the two together.  I tell them, “We’re always readers and writers. This is not about school. This is about life.”

    I am Chief Learner, right beside them, never assuming to know it all, willing to show what I don’t know, and genuinely excited to learn new stuff……

    This seems to alleviate some anxiety for some students, once they trust me.  But it’s a slooooow process.

    Trust me.    Really.Slow.

    In August, my reluctant and struggling juniors and seniors look at me like I’ve lost my mind, have three heads, am speaking a foreign language. Their eyebrows furrow, their arms cross defiantly across their chest, and an unknown power seems to pull some of them lower and lower and lower in the chair ~ as if swallowing them up so they don’t have to hear this nonsense.

    You can almost hear inside some of their heads, (but thankfully, not!), “What is up with this lady? Has she lost her mind, talking about reading and writing like it’s something people do, something she expects US to do!?”

    The AP and Honors students typically take out a book to read the first opportunity they get.  They seem to be thinking, “This might be the one saving grace to this class!”  The reluctant and struggling readers find this odd or just plain stupid.

    Then September arrives. A few more books and magazines are evident on Wednesdays.

    By October, most students have found something to read, even if it’s ONLY for the 30 minutes each week.


    Girl on desk, reading
    I encourage my HS readers to get comfortable…..

    Sometime after October, though, the magic begins……

    • Mrs. Kyle, I’ve got a book on my phone. Is that okay?
    • Mrs. Kyle, I got a new magazine. Can I bring it Wednesday?
    • Mrs. Kyle, my friend told me about a book. Can I go pick it up from the Media Center?
    • Mrs. Kyle, can I borrow this book to take home and read?
    • Mrs. Kyle, I brought my e-Reader. Check out this book!

    Finally, even the most reluctant readers find that treasure that makes me them sit still and just…. disappear for 30 minutes…..

    Reluctant reader settles in for independent reading

    With little time to read for pleasure and wanting so much for my kiddos to find that pleasure, I’m thrilled when all students, even the reluctant ones, find the sweet spot… that book or magazine that works just.for.them.

    No longer do I have to babysit or ‘police’ Wednesday Reading.  I can actually sit back, enjoy my own books (while keeping half an eye on kiddos… just in case), and model my own love of reading, my own literacy. I often notice kids glancing up at me, as if to see if I’m really reading, too.

    During a recent Wednesday Reading Day, as fifth period was coming to an end (and I closed my fifth book ~ I’m a grazing nonfiction reader) this thought popped into my head for Six-Word Wednesday….


    Six Word: From Every Book....


    I quickly jotted it down and in the last eight minutes of class, I shared it on the doc cam/screen.

    I showed my kiddos where this thought came from:  the five books I had sampled that day ~ two books on my iPad/Kindle and three print books I brought to school, telling students, “When I get bored or distracted or interested in some other topic, I change books.”

    Puzzled faces.

    I often tell them, “As a nonfiction reader, it’s okay to close one (book, Web tab, magazine, etc….) and open another when things get…… well, boring.  “And, as a writer, I’m always finding interesting things in everything I read.”

    I showed my Kindle library on the big screen and held up the three books I had been reading/annotating, flipping through pages so the highlights and margin notes were evident.  I explained that, as a writer examining other writers’ work, I liked the content of one, but not the writer’s voice and that I liked the layout of another, but not the content.  Students listened intently.

    I pointed to my reading motto on the wall:   Life is too short to read boring stuff.   Read.Good.Stuff!  

    A senior then asked, “Is Kindle free? How do you get it?” while another asked, “What’s the difference between fiction and nonfiction?”

    Me {in my head}:  I’ve talked about – and demonstrated – the difference several times this school year, but apparently, you weren’t ready to hear the message. Today is your Need to Know Day.  Welcome to the Literacy Club.

    Aloud, I once again briefly mention the differences.

    “Thanks!” he cheerfully replies. “That helps.”

    It’s amazing what we learn when we don’t assume what kids know and we teach them the pleasure of reading and writing… even when they’re 18 and 19 years old.

    Join us every Tuesday and share a slice of your life at TWT.
  • Classroom Life,  Instruction,  Life,  Students' Words,  Writing

    When Dads Walk Away…. {Slice of Life}


    Slice of Life hosted at Two Writing Teachers. Join in and share a slice of your life.

    What happens when dads walk away?

    As a ‘dad-less’ daughter, I know kids are left behind to wonder why. Why did he go? Why didn’t he want me? What did I do wrong? Why didn’t he want to be around? What could I have done differently to make him stay?

    Or, worse yet, kids left behind think mom pushed dad away, and surely, if mom had done things differently, then dad would’ve stayed. It’s her fault.

    As a teacher, I see the fall-out, too. Sometimes it’s subtle, sometimes blatant. Always painful.

    Last month, I asked my juniors and seniors to develop a written piece for National Day On Writing (#NDOW).  I provided three photos and asked students to choose one (or more) and write about it/them. The piece could be fiction or nonfiction, personal or not, metaphorical or literal.  As always, my kiddos did not disappoint!  Heads dropped. Pens and pencils began moving. The room was silent. The feeling, intense.

    They wrote with focused purpose until the bell rang. They came back the next day and insisted we continue without interruption. We revised and edited (this was tougher to get them to do, but required).

    By day three, we shared at our own comfort level. If a piece was too personal, a student did not have to share the content, but everyone had to discuss the process with his/her partners.  What an amazing three days!

    Students DiscussingNDOW_Discussions2

    During the writing process, emotions were raw for several students.

    One young man, an accomplished football player and struggling student, was stuck during the first day of writing. When I asked him how I could help, he was speechless. I ventured carefully, asking which photo he chose. The dark, stormy one. I wasn’t surprised, based on his expression. Then I suggested he create a bubble map to organize his thoughts. Several students were creating their own that day:


    Graphic Organizer


    Tears began to fill his dark eyes. He hastily brushed them away. I backed off.

    A few minutes later, when I came back around, I noticed a few words on his paper:  dad, confused, success, failure. He looked up, met my eyes, and said nothing. I quietly moved on and left him to reflect and write.

    By the third day (sharing day), my student had written a brief piece and discussed the process with his partners. His content was his.  His process, he was ready to discuss … mostly.

    Fast-forward a month, to this past week. 

    My students have been honing their ability to identify and interpret figurative language and author’s tone in print and non-print text, and assess the impact of each on a reader/viewer.   As I worked with small groups, various students had interesting, funny, and thoughtful ideas, examples, and questions to share. Then came the group with the young writer.

    As we finished our small-group discussion and began to clean up before the bell, my young football player-turned-writer said, “Mrs. Kyle, I want to show you something,” as he took out his phone. I get a kick out of this line from students, because I never know what I’m about to see! 😉

    As he swiped through his phone and found what he wanted to share with me, he mentioned Will Smith, and said, “I have this video clip that you just reminded me of, when we were talking about tone.  Watch all of the emotions Will Smith goes through and how his tone changes.”  With that, he hit play. The video clip was in his SAVED YouTube list.

    As we watched the clip together, leaned in over his phone at the conference table in our classroom – his back to his classmates – I could feel other students looking on, but no one interrupted. My young writer watched my face for reaction as we watched the clip together. Tears filled my eyes. I looked up and saw they filled his, too.


    As the clip ended, he said softly, “This makes me cry every time I watch it.”

    I replied quietly, “It made me cry, too. My dad left when I was very little. I always wondered why. Thank you for sharing it with me.”

    He nodded and the bell rang.

  • Classroom Life,  Six Words,  Students' Words,  Writing

    Dear Teacher… {Six-Word Wednesday}

    I recently shared six-word stories, one of my favorite writing forms, with my high school students, on a day we could actually breathe a little.

     Any more, these days are few and far between.  No observers.  No guests.  No testing.

     Just time to write. Creatively.

    Makes me miss (even more!) the days when Reading/Writing Workshop was the foundation of my then-middle and later-high school reading classes.

    After a brief intro to six-word stories that included my collection of nearly 1,000 six-word stories written by my HS students the past three years and showing the Smith Mag web site, my kiddos were ready to dive in.  I made it an optional writing activity, since it was really our Independent Reading/SSR day ~ a rarity this year, scheduled for 1st and 3rd Wednesdays, and any extra day I can build in.

    Within five minutes, the basket of blank index cards was empty and students were asking for more.  I collected a little over 100 six-word stories that day!  And every day since last week, I find more six-word stories in the designated basket near my desk. 

    Found this one yesterday, from a student who said last week, “I can’t stop writing six-word stories in my head!”


    Lindsey's message to all of us...
    Lindsey’s message to all of us… (in 6)
    Thanks, Lindsey! I promised to pass it along… 🙂   Let’s hope they’re listening.


    p.s. ~ For Orange is the New Black fans, there’s an interesting connection between Piper Kerman’s memoir and this writing form. You can read about it [here]. Might have to do a little research …..


  • Classroom Life,  Humor,  Process,  Students' Words,  Writing

    Creative Chaos?!?!

    I took this picture yesterday ….

    Home Office Desk
    What?! I can’t hear you over the noise on my desk…

    I’d love to tell you it was a few minutes of messiness, but that would be a BIG, FAT, l.i.e.

    Can you relate?

    Or, are you shrieking as you look at the cacophony that threatens to swallow my desk in its discord?

    One day last week, as 1st period was getting underway, one of my HS students suddenly proclaimed, “You must be really organized in your home office!”  Another student enthusiastically agreed, “Yea!!”

    I don’t remember what spurred this revelation, but it was clear in that moment that my students have met Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, and don’t even know it.  🙂

    They (my students, not Jekyll and Hyde) know I’m a blogger/writer, have a home office, and don’t have kiddos under foot.  They also know our classroom is organized; everything has its place and everything is labeled.

    I smiled and thought, “If only you knew!” Before I could fess up, morning announcements began. *Saved by the Pledge of Allegiance. Phew!

    Truth is, my classroom and my home office are polar opposites. It would be easy to think the spaces belong to two different people. Enter Jekyll and Hyde….

    It’s kind of weird, really.

    Or is it??

    I’m pretty sure I get the whole J/H thing….

    At home, my creativity gets to run rampant … and it shows. I often say my home office space (aka my Creative Space) is a reflection of my mind…. Holy Messy, Batman!!!!  A gazillion ideas compete for my attention. Constantly. Relentlessly. Ruthlessly.


    Piles of books, magazines, and newspapers – on my desk, on the floor, on a table, on shelves, on each other!

    But Wait...
    Source: cringely.com

    Sticky notes hang precariously from most surfaces – of quotes overheard, lists to do, and ideas in progress.  A 4′ x 5′ whiteboard covered with scribbled notes – snippets of ideas waiting to be developed – hangs above my desk – for inspiration and to not forget(!)  Did I mention all this STUFF in my head contributes (I think) to my forgetfulness.  Sigh…..

    Then …. there are the half-finished projects of all sorts – writing, crafts, school-related, gifts, you name it.

    My husband, a neatnik, has become comfortably numb to the situation, no doubt his coping mechanism.  😉

    So, what’s up with this messiness?  In my surfing, ummm…..  reading on this and that, I’ve run across a few things…

    Creativity is chaotic, so say some.

    Seems several have quoted John Briggs and F. David Peat from their book, Seven Life Lessons of Chaos, in which they suggest, “Chaos is evolving from a scientific theory into a cultural metaphor. As a metaphor it allows us to query some of our most cherished assumptions and encourages us to ask fresh questions about reality.”

    Well, it’s clear my reality involves piles of ideas, still under construction.  I find comfort in the messiness.  Usually.

    In the academic arena, there’s talk [here] that suggests, “Tidiness and academic work just don’t go together…” an idea explained by the piles of books, articles, and student papers often found in college profs’ offices.

    Source:  http://thevanwinkleproject.blogspot.com/2011/05/van-winkle-cleans-his-office.html
    Source: http://thevanwinkleproject.blogspot.com/2011/05/van-winkle-cleans-his-office.html


    So why are my spaces so different?  My answer, in a recent post, is [here].  Short version?  Structure gives my high school students (and me) stability in our learning environment.  Our writing is messy. Our thinking is messy. But our classroom is organized…. so WE can be messy.  Win-win.  They are, after all, teenagers, and well, messy.  Their teacher-mom helps them put things in order…

    Want to know more?  Check out this great article over at Fast Company.  Several of my favorite ‘creatives’ talk about connecting the dots, visually explained by cartoonist Hugh MacLeod, aka The Napkin Guy.  Definitely check him out!

    Turns out ~ all those piles, unfinished projects, snippets, and bookmarked sites are my dots. They are my flow, as I disappear into my writing world for hours on end, content and focused, blissful inside the messy chaos.

    Mostly, they’ll stay scattered throughout my space, but every now and again, my brain yearns for quiet and order…. and all the dots must line up neatly and wait their turn.

    Source: nomensa.com
    Are you creatively chaotic?

    Or do you prefer the organization described by Roy Peter Clark (one of my favorite writing instructors) in Writing Tools

    Writing Tools

    Save String, he advises (#44).

    While he suggests this system for larger projects, I immediately saw its usefulness for gathering all writing ideas when I first read his book. It speaks to my organized side to help connect all those dots…. maybe in the future I’ll adopt that approach more often?


    But for now, who’s with me?
    Messy or methodical?  Where do you fall?
  • Classroom Life,  Lists,  Process,  Students' Words

    Why I Teach: Ten (Important) Reasons

    1. Students
    2. Students
    3. Students
    4. Students
    5. Students
    6. Students
    7. Students
    8. Students
    9. Students
    10. Students


    Oftentimes, when I tell people I’m a high school teacher, I get this response (or a slight variation), “Oh, wow!  I could never do that! Teenagers these days….”

    Truth is, the teenagers have been the only reason I keep coming back to the K-12 classroom.  Let’s be clear ~ some are a royal pain in the buttola:  mouthy, lazy, disrespectful, not interested in anything an adult (especially a teacher) has to say, and well, just teenagers.  Increasingly, they have no boundaries and an overdeveloped sense of entitlement… products of our changing culture/society.

    If you’re a parent, grandparent, aunt, uncle, big brother/sister, fellow teacher, remember being a teenager, or have the ‘pleasure’ of interacting with any teenager, anywhere, then you KNOW what I’m talking about.

    Interestingly, though (and many of you have probably discovered this, too)…. get them by themselves, away from their peers, and they’re generally pretty awesome monsters, ummm… kids. 😉

    My response to incredulous people, “Teenagers are awesome. Give them a chance to show you who they are, and they just might surprise you.”

    And to my high school students, I say, “I love working with you guys. You teach me new things every day!” … and THAT is a true statement.

    So really, my title is ‘teacher,’ but the truth is, I’m Chief Learner in my classroom. Students are the reasons I teach. Check out a few real-life reasons below….  *NOTE:  Passing the reading portion of one of three standardized tests is required to meet the FL graduation requirement (FCAT, ACT, or SAT). Students in my classes are juniors or seniors who have not met that requirement yet and are working toward passing one of the three.

    Notes from students, unedited ….


    1.   From a senior who struggled all the way through my class:      “I have good news to share with you Mrs. kyle, I forgot to tell you that I got accepted to Valencia college and got the Bridges to Success Scholarship. I wanted to tell you this because you helped me with my first essay which was one of the hardest essay I had to write because it was so personal to me. Thank you for helping me and believing in me.”


    2.   From star bowler and college-bound kiddo, Justin T:      Ms.Kyle I passed FCAT!!!! Thank you 🙂


    3.   From a grieving classmate who knew I was grieving, too ~ Victoria B:     Ms.Kyle I don’t know if you have heard Brandie has passed away

    4.   From military-bound, JROTC student, Michael M:     inspection went okay. I did mess up a little though.


    5.   From star football player and college-bound student (Auburn!) Chandler C:      Mrs. Kyle I got a 21 on my reading part of ACT!!!  Thank you so much!!! I’m so excited too!!!! Tell Mr.Kyle I also said thank you so much too! I couldn’t of done it without you!! See you tomorrow!
     6.   From always-cheerful Sherbria G, a super-neat kiddo:      Last day of school , I enjoyed you and I want to thank you because you really changed me and also I felt loved and cared for when I walked inside your class , and that made my day because it was many times I really didn’t want to be in school . Thank you so much <3
    Selfies with students
    Selfies with students
  • Life,  Process,  Students' Words,  Writing

    Helping Teens Handle Life. And Death.

    Being a high school teacher affords me many opportunities to help teens handle life. And loss.  It is at once:  enlightening, encouraging, painful, and honest. Emotions are raw, understanding often limited, and nearly all experiences are ‘firsts.’ Sadly, some, like birth and death, become second- and third-time experiences for a few.  Being there, with a shoulder, a safe place to cry, or a place to celebrate, makes my job a special one.

    This year, like many, has seen our share of experiences, but this year, we’ve lost more classmates than a typical year – to car accidents, cancer, and other tragedies.  Each is felt deeply.  Each teaches lessons.  Each helps our teens grow into the people they become.

    Peyton, an old soul in her own right and typically outspoken and colorful, was dealing with our most recent loss, Brandie, a beautiful young lady killed tragically on her way home from Spring Break, just a week ago.

    In Peytons’s words….

    Friend's death is felt with a heavy heart
    Friend’s death, felt with a heavy heart – blackout poetry provides a way to share teen’s darkest moment….

    Protected happiness begins to shine through again.....
    One week later: Protected happiness begins to shine through again…..