Tuesday, March 28, 2017

CRWP Success Story: Cadie Olson

About Cadie Olson
Cadi Olson is a special education teacher at Moorhead High School.  She is always looking for new ways to improve her students' learning. This year she's learning how to better prepare her students' writing by collaborating with area teachers and sharing some mini lessons with her students from the College-Ready Writers Program.

CRWP Success Story

My first mini-unit is where my success story begins.  I started the school year with the Writing into the Day mini-unit.  I had picked three articles with a hero theme.  The students read each article and focused on hero characteristics, which they journaled about and shared with the class.  From this discussion, the students picked the three characteristics they felt were the most necessary for all heroes as the topic for an essay. They included textual evidence while writing their essays.

The students I work with are seniors in a pull-out special education English course.  Their exposure to making a claim, supporting a claim, and using textual evidence is limited to none, and my experience teaching students to write an argumentative essay using text evidence was also limited, as I’m generally teaching basic writing skills. I knew I had to break the process down and use graphic organizers to help students through the process, but knowing where to start or what to focus on first was a bit more difficult.  Just like my students, I was feeling a bit overwhelmed.

When we finished the essay, I was pleasantly surprised.  My students were able to make a claim and were able to use text evidence to illustrate their points quite well.  It also gave me a direction to go when teaching argumentative writing.  My biggest takeaway was that my students completed their writing and felt pride in what they had accomplished and enjoyed the discussion.  I also felt more confident in my teaching this style of writing.  

Monday, March 27, 2017

CRWP Success Story: Tanya Neumiller

About Tanya Neumiller
Tanya Lunde Neumiller is currently teaching English 11 and Dual Credit Composition/English 12 in Kindred, ND.  Tanya has a degree in elementary education and secondary English and a master's degree in Secondary Studies.  Before teaching in Kindred, Tanya worked at the Department of Public Instruction.  Tanya's favorite professional authors are Kelly Gallagher and Penny Kittle. 


CRWP Success Story

    At this point I have focused on two aspects of the college-ready writing program.  First, I have my juniors writing and thinking about argumentation with two text sets, one on tuition-free college and the other on the issue of Colin Kaepernik not standing during the national anthem.
    For both texts sets, I followed the process suggested in the mini-unit on “Writing into the Day to Jumpstart Argument.”  Students read a different article each day and identified the main claim each author was making.  They then identified what they thought was the author’s most convincing evidence.  Each day they were required to record their own thoughts and opinions after reading the point of view introduced that day.  Finally, students were to put together their own argument with a main claim and utilizing at least one source that we’d read for evidence.  The essays were good in that they all had a main claim, but I felt the students overlooked some of the key evidence.  This then led me to turn to the resource provided by the course, Jennifer Fletcher’s Teaching Arguments: Rhetorical Comprehension, Critique, and Response.
    After reading Fletcher’s book, I felt that my students would benefit from “playing” The Believing Game and The Doubting Game, a technique developed by Peter Elbow.  I modeled how to do both, and had students complete the checklist that Fletcher provides as a resource.  After doing both, the students then wrote an argument essay explaining where they stood on the issue of contradiction (we read “The Olympic Contradiction” as Fletcher does in her book).  I also had the students write a response to playing The Believing Game and The Doubting Game.  I felt my students really gained a lot from this exercise.  Many wrote that they felt playing the believing game was harder for them, but at the same time it allowed them to look at all aspects of the author’s argument.  I asked them to use this process of reading for our next mini unit.
    We are now moving to the “Making Informal Arguments” text set.  While working through the various texts, we are also going to use Fletcher’s text to understand occasion and audience, the next chapters in her text.  We will also be using the resource provided in the “Making Informal Arguments” mini unit entitled “Moves Writers Make When They Organize an Opinion.”  I feel that this will allow the writers to experiment with the variety of ways they can set up the argument.
    One of the aspects that I have found most helpful in this program is when I used the formative assessment tool to review the student essays completed at the end of the “Writing into the Day” mini unit.  The tool was VERY effective in helping me identify the areas where students are struggling.  In addition, I thought it was especially beneficial to complete this assessment with a peer as we were able to do as part of our participation in the College-Ready Writers program.  I am looking forward to using the tool again when the students have completed this next mini-unit.  I know that I need to focus on effectively using evidence more, based on my first results, so that will also be a part of the next Mini Unit.

Saturday, March 25, 2017

Weekend Writing Prompt

You drive to an ATM machine expecting to withdraw a small amount of money for weekend fun. But a few seconds in to the transaction, the screen announces that you have no money in your account and you need to find out why. Narrate your experience.

Friday, March 24, 2017

Scholastic Spotlight: Alison Gaarsland

Gold Key Award winner Ali Gaarsland at the North Dakota Ceremony
Today our Scholastic Spotlight features one of North Dakota's National Award Winners. As a state level Gold Key winner, Alison Gaarsland's work was forwarded to the national competition in New York City, where she won a gold medal AND the New York Life Award for her poem, To Dad." The latter award comes with a $1,000 cash prize.

Alison Gaarsland's bio

I have always been interested in writing. In elementary school, I would write stories, and English was my favorite subject. I got into poetry after I took a creative writing class my sophomore year.  We had a poetry project where we had to write 10 poems, and I remember telling my teacher,  I can't write poems, I don't know how to rhyme!"   During this time, I was living by myself at the Youth Works Shelter. This was an extremely difficult time in my life. I stayed up till two in the morning almost every night with the staff and they would help me think of words that rhymed with what I was trying to say. After practice, it became an easy flow. That summer I went on a lot of church trips. To pass time on the bus, I would listen to music and write.  Someone special to me once said, “I just love watching you write.” That has always stuck with me. That was about a year ago, and since then I have filled almost two journals.

I have been through different challenging situations in my life, After my dad died in 2015, our lives kinda fell apart. Through family members struggling, living in a shelter, and switching schools, writing was something that really helped me through my grieving process. My dad was someone who I

Thursday, March 23, 2017

CRWP Success Story: Nancy Gourde

About  Nancy Gourde
                  For the past twenty-three years, Nancy Gourde has been a teacher of English and Spanish at the secondary level, currently teaching English I and AP literature and composition. She graduated from UND in December of 1973, before the National Writing Project’s inception, and Nancy is so thankful that she has had the opportunity to take part in two of the Red River Valley Writing Project’s Summer Institutes. Those weeks in 2010 and 2016 profoundly affected her view of the teaching of writing, and she is always quick to say that they were the best thing she could have ever done for herself professionally. Since the institutes, Nancy has felt even more sympathetic toward those who struggle with the writing process and uses research-based strategies to make the composition of written text a more comfortable experience.  She enrolled in the College Ready Writers Project at the suggestion of Dr. Kelly Sassi, and this experience is reflected daily in her classroom and her approach to the teaching of writing.

                  Nancy’s personal interests include watching baseball, doing the New York Times Sunday crossword, power walking, reading nonfiction, and coloring with her grandchildren. You can see her at the monthly meeting of the RRVWP reading group at Dunn Brothers on 13th  Avenue .

Successes in the Classroom Thus Far
All of my students, whether in English I or AP Literature and Composition, understand and express the Poses, Wobbles, and Flows taking place in the classroom. They let me know through formative assessment and shared conversation when they wobble (and to what extent) and when they are ready to flow into the next pose. I have heard such comments as “Mrs. Gourde, I am wobbling real bad, real bad” and “Let’s go. We can flow.”  
For the freshmen, there is a realization of what rhetoric and the art of argument are. They know that to be effective, one has to recognize logos, pathos, ethos, and kairos in order to put forth one’s opinions, concerns, and ideas in a clear and appropriate manner. One success I have witnessed is the concerted effort to include credible sources in their arguments. They are aware that the sources need to work to bolster their claims and not just stand there in the work so that they can earn a good grade in that category of assessment. Though there are still wobbles in terms of finding the most credible sources and solid information, they are aware that evidence that is warranted is a vital part of the process.
Also, the ninth-graders know that evidence can be interpreted differently—which is exactly what defense attorneys and prosecutors do. This has helped the freshmen recognize that people read and interpret literature differently. For example, no one in the class disputes that Tom Robinson is the mockingbird, but what are the various “cages” that hold him? What are the cages that hold the populace of Maycomb, Alabama?  Discussion has helped to alleviate the fear that an interpretation is wrong; however, they know that evidence from the text must support their analyses. This realization and the practice of citing evidence from the text source has shown signs of success, though still needing reinforcement and practice.
The AP Lit. students have had to unlearn some aspects of their writing, which they find to be somewhat challenging. They are so used to expository writing that having to recognize counterclaims and disagreements has exasperated them at times, but being the driven and conscientious students that they are, they continue to work rhetoric into their writing. They have been successful in reading and annotating the work of other critics and literary analysts and responding to them with their own claims. The inclusion of these sources through the use of the They Say, I Say templates has made their papers more college ready, though not without some expression of frustration. The AP students benefit from the Burkean parlor--in this class, the saying goes “Life is a Burkean parlor”--and they consistently ask for discussion time to provoke their thoughts and act as a catalyst for their pre-writing. Though they balk at the change in thinking at times, they have shown a shift toward more college-ready writing. They are on their way.

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

CRWP Success Story: Lisa Gusewelle



Lisa Gusewelle, left, with NHS student volunteer at the Scholastic Awards ceremony
About Lisa Gusewelle
Lisa Gusewelle is a proud middle school educator at Hazen Middle School in Hazen, North Dakota. While embarking on her quest to become a teacher with a master’s degree, her profound graduate advisor wisely recommended that Gusewelle choose to add the College Ready Writer’s Program to her class choice list.

Since becoming an enterprising teacher consultant of the National Writing Project, she has been warmly greeted by other teachers similar to herself. That in and of itself is reward enough, but her teaching practice has also been amped up in quality and intensity as well.

Her students are most likely the most thankful participants of the program as they are churning out great writing and speech examples like pioneers churned butter; however, their parents may be the least thankful of indirect participants since they now have to combat smaller versions of Steven Colbert and John Stewart. Parenting, am I right?


Though Gusewelle may seem like her only interests are teaching, she also has began learning to play chess. Her most notable match was against a tenacious fourth grader. During the heated match, the fourth grader barely managed to win within the first 15 moves.  This has strengthened Gusewelle’s resolve to win and to eventually play against this fourth grader again in the future. Meanwhile, she enjoys taking her dog Richard to the Bark Park in Bismarck, coaching theater students in the art of lying, feuding with her cat over the cat’s new diet, and swatting off her husband’s multiple please for more new guns. Isn’t 8 enough?

Success! My Experience with CRWP
           In the past years, I have had a difficult time having all of my students turn in their writing pieces. Typically, my less enthusiastic students don’t participate in the writing process at all and turn in a shabby rough draft a week after the writing project is due.
           However! This school year I had 100% participation with 90 students who were actively involved during the entire writing process when we worked on Letters 2 the Next President. Were all of their writing pieces perfect or at grade level? Of course not! More importantly, though, is the fact that each of the students tried and participated and gained more confidence and more skill than they

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

CRWP Success Story: Tammy Linn

Professional Biography of Tammy A. Linn, M.Ed.
Tammy Linn teaches middle school English/Writing at Discovery Middle School, Fargo, North Dakota.  Previously, she taught high school career development, marketing, and character education in another state.  She earned a master’s degree in elementary education and an undergraduate degree in mass communications. In addition, she was a national trainer for the Josephson Institute of Ethics CHARACTER COUNTS! where she trained over 11,000 teachers and wrote many published articles on character education and development.

Tammy brings a different and unique perspective to writing because she spent over 25 years in business and marketing prior to education.  Because of this background she understands that writing is critical to be successful in school and work life.  During her time in business, she wrote hundreds of published articles, brochures, annual reports, speeches, radio, and television commercials.  She also co-authored two books on marketing and customer service.

Critical Thinking and Creativity with the CRWP

     Students at Discovery Middle School in Fargo, North Dakota have enjoyed several new and innovative writing strategies because of the College Ready Writing Project (CRWP).  Not only have they enjoyed the new strategies, but the students have also developed more critical thinking skills and more creativity in their word choices.
     One new strategy that I implemented was the use of the “Writing Sprint” in lieu of their regular bell work, which was to answer a journal question.  The objective of the “Sprint” is to develop a student’s critical thinking skills by analyzing a statement.   Students are asked to write their opinion or belief/disbelief about a comment or statement.  I start by saying, “on your mark, get set, write” and

Monday, March 20, 2017

CRWP Success Story: Becky Fisher



 About Becky Fisher, M.Ed

Becky Fisher is a middle school English teacher at Discovery Middle School in Fargo, North Dakota. She earned a Master’s of Teaching and Technology from Valley City State and two  degrees from the University of Houston:  Bachelor of Science in Interdisciplinary Studies, specializing in Reading and Math, and Bachelor of Business Administration (Finance).  Her classroom experience has also included elementary, middle school science, gifted and talented, and Starlab.  She enjoys reading and writing with her students.  Prior to her teaching career, Becky worked in the financial industry and brings her business perspective to her classroom.
CRWP Success Story
            Attending the National Writing Project Summer Institute changed my writing practice.  When the advanced institute Creating College-Ready Writers (CRWP) was offered, I wanted to attend, even though I teach at the sixth grade level.  Our school motto is “Building a Foundation for Success.”  I am helping to build a foundation for success by providing English instruction to the newest class of our school that can be built on by my peers to help prepare our students for the writing rigor of high school and college.
            The biggest change to my classroom has been in the sequence of my instruction.  Prior to the CRWP, argumentative writing was delegated to a unit at the end of the school year, which was

Saturday, March 18, 2017

Friday, March 17, 2017

Scholastic Spotlight: Lenora Combs


The Inmate

Combs, Lenora

Grade:  11
School:  Divide County High School, Crosby ND
Educator:  Richard Norton
AWARD:  Silver Key, Flash Fiction


Norman awoke to a dank, musty smell that invaded his nostrils. His arms and chest felt overly warm and he could hardly move them, as if he were bundled tightly under several sheets. It was no pile of blankets, however. He could tell that without having to open his eyes. Whatever it was that held him so tightly was not nearly soft enough, or comforting enough, to be blankets. And his bedroom, his apartment, had never smelled so repugnant.
Questions raced through his head at break-neck speed.
Why had he been sleeping sitting up? What was so hard and cold against the back and side of his