About Amber Parks

Posts by Amber Parks:

5 Surefire Writing Strategies You Can Borrow from Social Media Right Now

Somewhere, someplace… there’s an essay due. And there’s a student (maybe even you!) who is staring at a blank page. Even after all the in-class lessons and maybe even tutoring for writing, the time has come… but the words won’t spring forward. Maybe the essay is due soon, and you need a solution. Maybe you’ve even made an outline and have plenty of research notes, but aren’t sure what to do next.

“Why does this have to be so hard?” You think as you bring up your Facebook or Instagram app and comment on a friend’s post. “Why can’t it be as easy as my social media feed?”

It can beCaptivating Instagram Writing. Whether we’ve noticed it or not, millions of students across the world are writing, each and every day. They’re posting their reviews of their favorite movies, adding their opinions in the comment sections of blogs, even sharing ideas that interest them deeply! Why, it’s a writing revolution!

So if writing on social media comes so naturally, why does our essay have to be so difficult? Is there anything we can learn from all the writing taking place on social media that can make it easier?

Yes! Let’s take a look at some writing strategies borrowed right from the writing habits you use every single day.

1. Consider Your Audience – It’s all about captivating them

It’s probably pretty obvious whenever you post to social media: you’re considering how your friends and family will interpret what you’ve said. But it goes much further than that: you want to capture your audience’s attention, not bore them to tears. The same goes for your essay audience. In many cases, your audience is the same friends and acquaintances (plus your teacher!) that you interact with on social media. What would interest them about your topic? What would convince them about your argument?

2. Build Your Network – Think of citations like a friends list

Whenever you tag a friend in a photo or give them a shout out on a comment, what are you really doing? Drawing attention to how awesome they are and giving them a little credit. Citations and quotations are exactly the same. By including quotes from other authors, you’re showing how your ideas, reasoning, and even your values are supported by people you respect (and who are respected by others). You even give credit by “tagging” the author so your audience can connect with them if they want! Citing your sources is a way to show how vast your intellectual network is. Don’t be afraid to show it off.

3. Share Something You Find Interesting – Connect the dots between facts & ideas

You don’t just post or share anything on your social media network; you share what you find interesting or are passionate about. Once you’ve thought about what will captivate your audience, share with them what you find most fascinating about your subject or topic. Is it weird that the character in the book you’ve read was driven by their past? Have you considered how your topic might impact the world for people your age? This is your chance to tell your readers, more formally, what you think. Connect those dots!

4. Apply Those Filters – Put ideas through a new lens to show multiple perspectives

Just like vintage filters make images look like they’re from another era or a vignette might focus in on one part of a photo, multiple perspectives give you the opportunity to play with ideas exactly like photos. In previous essays, your teacher may even have asked you to respond to possible criticism of your main writing points. Basically, you were considering multiple perspectives on the same topic and highlighting just how different the same topic can be to different people. Well, a neat trick is to use this technique all the time, the same way you would use multiple photo filters on Instagram to make a beautiful collage of images. Analyze your points from different perspectives to fully illuminate it.

5. Add Your Hashtags – Organizing the points you’re making… #awesome

While you can’t use hashtags in your essay (I know, I know!), that doesn’t mean that your main points don’t act in a very similar way. Hashtags come in all shapes and sizes, essentially letting you (and the online world) pull together and organize many photos, videos, and posts. Your essay’s main points are like the hashtags sprinkled throughout your feed. By using them again, you return to and remind your audience of what you find important about your subject. Best of all, your essay will be organized around the central points and ideas that guide your audience through what you’re thinking. Like with our other techniques here, you have the chance to play around and have a little fun, so your writing is a reflection of your own customized voice and thoughts.

Put Down the Red Pen

20081203_RedPensLet’s be honest with each other: Revision is the most dreaded step in the writing process, both for students and teachers. Why? To be blunt, often times it is a colossal waste of time, because it usually consists of students receiving back their writing with markings all over it, only to mindlessly rewrite it a second time, with maybe (if we’re lucky) some of the corrections added in. When this is the revision process, writing ceases to be a creative process and instead becomes a rote, dreaded hand-cramping task.

As educators, it is important to remember that the hand making the corrections is attached to the brain doing the learning. Thus, when students’ writing is returned already corrected for them, whether they’re 5 or 15 or 45, one of the most important processes: the refinement of their written thoughts, becomes pacified and a message of “I know better” is conveyed.
More importantly, a student’s written piece must be revered as the work of art (and heart) that it is. Few things feel more vulnerable than expressing one’s thoughts, feelings, and new-found knowledge on paper to be analyzed and critiqued. Just as we would object to art teachers painting on work in students’ portfolios or piano teachers interrupting performers to play the sonata better, so, too, must we question the underlying message teachers send when they return writing covered in red ink.

So what are teachers to do? It’s simple but oh so difficult to do; it’s remembering the answer to this question, “Who, ultimately, is the only person who can improve student performance?”

The answer: The student.

Indeed, teachers can begin to transform the revision process by putting down their correcting pens and instead engaging students in lessons and activities that will show them how to critique and augment their own writing.

Through future blogs, we’ll offer specific ways to enhance and upgrade the revision process to make it the respected and vital element of writing it is intended to be, all the while remembering it’s our job as educators to provide the tools and resources for revision and model using them so that students can then use them as they revise their own writing.

But for now, put down the red

But I wrote FOUR pages!

Excited school girlFrom my teaching career, there is one defining moment that continues to guide the mission of Writing with Design. Early in the school year, Cheyenne, a third grade student eagerly brought me her writing one morning. “Look what I wrote, Mrs. Parks!” she exclaimed. “I wrote FOUR pages!” I matched her enthusiasm as I told her I would read her story during lunch. 

Her story began: One day I walked up to my friend and I said, “Hi.” She said, “Hey.” I said “What do you want to play at recess today?” She said, “I don’t know.” So I said, “Do you want to meet at the swings?” She said, “Sure.”

The dialogue continued on to page two, three, and four. The entire piece was nothing but questions and answers, exchanged between third grade BFF’s.

As Cheyenne and I conferenced about her writing, it became clear to me that she knew the quality wasn’t great. She knew her piece wasn’t very exciting or interesting. What she was proud of was that she had written FOUR pages. She thought that would impress me “But, Mrs. Parks, I wrote FOUR pages!” she said with a confused brow.

It was in that moment that I realized how important it is for students to understand quality and length of writing are not synonymous. There is no status gained from being able to write a certain length, if quality is not present.

Fast-forward seven years, I continually observe many Cheyenne’s in classrooms across this country. Length is still very much the focal point for many students as they either proudly showcase their extra long pieces of writing, or as I hear them begrudgingly ask, “How long does it have to be?” Whether it’s with Cheyenne’s enthusiasm that they show off the length they were able to write, or want to know the length requirement so they can meet the bare minimum, the focus is on the wrong component of writing.

Writing with Design focuses on strength before length, on quality before quantity. Otherwise, writing is a waste of time for students to produce and teachers, fellow students, (you, me!) to read.

There is a process to great writing. There are steps and structures that allow for students to truly find their voice and tell a story worth telling.

Indeed, there is nothing more satisfying than seeing the Cheyenne’s of America’s classrooms grasp the notion that writing is not about filling up a sheet of paper; that the process, not just the product, is to be revered.

If You Give Students Sophisticated Word Choice

hp-009_1zInspired by one of our favorite children’s books, we know if you give students Sophisticated Word Choice, they’ll want to use them in a sentence.
When they use them in a sentence, they learn the power of vivid language.
When they understand the power of vivid language, they’ll want to learn more interesting words.
When they learn more interesting words, they’ll want to make their sentence a Power Sentence.
When they write a Power Sentence, they’ll want to write another.
When they write another, they’ll be amazed at their own abilities.
When they’re amazed at their own abilities, they will want to write more and share it with their peers and families. When they want to write more and share it with their peers and families, they’re ready for the next Level of Writing!

Righting Writing in Middle and High School

3339783Lately, during sessions with middle and high school teachers, one question continues to be asked. “How often do you recommend that students write in my classroom?” Our response, “Daily.”
This might just be one sentence, but still, writing is happening daily, in every class. If you guided students through writing one high quality sentence per day, each week you’d have a powerful paragraph, and each month you’d have a Level 9 piece of sensational writing. Just imagine if you wrote 2 sentences some days… maybe even three! World, watch out!
To be frank, writing across the curriculum isn’t a luxury; it’s a necessity. Writing, Common Core style, is a true team effort. This is not an ELA thing. It’s an every department, every teacher, every student thing. Writing can be time intensive, and at times, we will design it to be in every class, but generally, on a daily basis, writing can be a quick yet powerful task.
Our request of you: make writing a priority, a daily priority. Have high expectations. Use Writing with Design’s Rubrics to explain what those high expectations are. Use the rubric software to track growth (it will happen and it will be amazing!). Model great writing. Guide students through great writing. Work on transitions. Work on sophisticated word choice. Work on closings. In a word, write.
So, let’s get writing. What do you say?

 

The Power of Post-It Notes

post-it notesTo ensure that students’ writing stays sacred, stays full theirs, when reviewing writing, put any comments for revision or editing on post-it notes or a separate sheet of paper. It’s important to remember as teachers that full ownership of the writing belongs to the student, whether they are 5 or 25. Thus, keeping all suggestions for improvement separate ensures they maintain ownership and the power to enhance their writing.

In addition, having the comments on the post-it, means students must transfer the changes to their paper, keeping them as the active learner and reviser, instead of the passive fixer. In other words, the hand that’s doing the writing is connected to the brain that’s doing the learning. So, give them clues and suggestions as to what changes would improve their writing. However, keep all the comments off the original work.

This small transfer of power and gesture of respect leads students to be tremendously more independent and confident in their writing because they see you, their teacher, as their guide instead of their corrector.

A 2nd Grader Wrote THAT?

Just last week, I shared with middle school teachers writings created by a 2nd grade class. The middle school teachers were floored, “2nd graders wrote that?!? It’s better than most of what my 8th graders could do!”

It wasn’t the length that was impressive about the 2nd graders’ work. In fact, their writings were only 2-3 sentences long. What made the writng so impressive?
Two things: sophisticated word choice and sentence structure.
The 2nd grade teacher focuses solely on the quality of writing, not length. Without question, making length the integral foundation of writing sets students up to write more fluff than substance. Length will come naturally when students are ready, when they are confident, when they understand how language works and how to structure incredible sentences.

Top 10 Ideas about Writing I Learned or Had Reaffirmed This Week

  1. Writing with Design allows students’ brilliance to shine.
  2. Mind Designs structure and focus writing in a way nothing else can.4545336
  3. It’s transformative to watch a student gain confidence as a writer during a lesson on how to use search engines to find powerful synonyms.
  4. There is nothing more affirming than hearing 3rd grade boys comment, “This is so cool! Writing is fun!”
  5. Writing with Design gives teachers the confidence and the tools to cultivate incredible writing skills in their students.
  6. Without a doubt, transitions add sophistication to every piece, every time. Indeed!
  7. Narratives are about creating experiences for the reader, not telling the procedural actions (then…and then…and then…).
  8. Posting the Mind Designs students create as they plan their writing  along with the high quality draft is critical to show that great writing doesn’t just happen. It’s planned.It’s reworked. It’s revised.
  9. If the Mind Designs teachers and students created to plan their writing aren’t messy, something still needs to be revised!
  10.  Teachers make all the difference and 30+ % increases in state writing test scores are possible. Just ask Holly. Her story is coming soon. Be prepared to be inspired.

Thoughts on Sandy Hook’s Heroes

2733026

What occurred in an elementary school last week is inescapable. It resonates with every indivdual who has learned of the event. As a classroom teacher and now as director for TLP, I can only hope I would have been as brave and selfless as Principal Hochsprung, Mrs. Sherlach, Miss Soto, Miss Rousseau, Mrs. Murphy, and Miss D’Avino.

I struggle with whether this senseless killing should be national news with nonstop media coverage magnifying the suffering. Knowing the specific timeline of the morning does not help with healing, only vivifies the nightmare.

Instead, what should be national news every day are profiles of the phenomenal women and men across this country who welcome students into their classrooms, who teach children to write and read, think and create; who spend their own money to make their classrooms incredible places; who worry about the wellbeing of “their kids;” who put in long hours long after the dismissal bell to tutor, prepare tomorrow’s experiment, and run the arts club. I have the honor of working with them across this grand country.

The teachers and administrators at Sandy Hook Elementary are heroes. And I know thousands more teachers and administrators who would have acted with the same selfless bravery. To every teacher and administrator, The Learning Project salutes you.

I encourage us all to spend more time celebrating, thanking, and supporting the phenomenal educators in this country than watching media coverage about this senseless act. Check out Donor’s Choose to be inspired and support teachers across this country. Read this. Follow #26acts, #20acts, and #SHES on Twitter to see how others are honoring the spirits of the amazing women and children who lost their lives last week.

Schools are safe places. Teachers work tirelessly to educate and cultivate young minds. Our country is an amazing place full of compassionate people. I find solace in remembering that every act of compassion counts far more than any awful act.

While there is much to process and learn from this horrific event, there is no doubt about the incredible work educators perform every day, all day.

 

Mind the Gap! Understanding the spectrum of skill development

 

When it comes to cultivation of student skills, I usually hear, “That’s too difficult for students,” or “They should already know how to do this!” Does anyone else see the gap in logic here? For example, transitions words and phrases are an elusive component to writing that add impressive sophistication to any piece. In our research, we’ve concluded that most high scoring pieces contain about a transition word or phrase per sentence.

As part of Writing with Design, we begin teaching transitions words in kindergarten! In kindergarten! Why? Well, why not? Writing is a development of skills, skills that contain a spectrum of sophistication. Certainly, the transitions we expose kindergarteners and 1st graders to are more concrete and straightforward than the transitions we expose 4th or 9th graders to. However, the key is they are exposed to transitions. They experiment with them. They learn how to bring transitions into their writing. And guess what? Their writing sounds even more amazing!

By seeing every skill within writing as a part of every grade level’s focus, just at different points on the spectrum, the gap in logic between “that’s too difficult” and “they should already know this” is eliminated. The focus, rather, becomes “Where are they on the spectrum? What’s the next step?”

 

Follow

Get every new post on this blog delivered to your Inbox.

Join other followers: