Search This Blog

Tuesday, November 1, 2022

Scholastic Art & Writing Awards


The North Dakota region is offering cash prizes and scholarships again this year, and we’re looking forward to reading your students’ creative works! Students can create an account and ENTER WRITING HERE.


Whether your students are still in the planning and brainstorming phase, or have writing that they are already developing and polishing for this year’s Scholastic Writing Awards, encourage them to join the FREE WRITING WORKSHOPS, led by NDSU Creative Writing Instructor, Jamee Larson!


Saturday, November 5th from 11:00 am - 1:00 pm on ZOOM (link below)

Sunday, December 4th from 4:00 - 6:00 pm on ZOOM (link below)


And let students know about Jamee’s writing group, “WORD HERD,” that meets every Monday from 7:00 pm – 8:00 pm on ZOOM (same link below). Word Herd is an informal, social gathering for teen writers to play writing games, work on writing, share writing and get feedback (if you want), and sometimes just talk about writing and life! Word Herd is a free community group, open to all teens, and they’re welcome to show up any Monday that works!




The FREE writing group and writing workshops are held on Zoom using the same Zoom link:


Thank you for supporting student writing and encouraging them to enter their brilliant and creative work in the Scholastic Writing Awards! The Scholastic poster and “How to Enter” link is attached. Entries must be complete and submitted by December 14th at 11:00PM.


Or just Click HERE to enter the Scholastic Awards and submit work!

Wednesday, May 4, 2022

Summer Conferences: NDCTE and NWP Midwest!

Check out the request for proposals for this summer's National Writing Project Midwest Conference in Chicago! Hosted by our friends at the @illinoisstatewritingproject July 15 & 16! 

Hope to see you there! Call for proposals HERE


And don't forget to join us for NDCTE (North Dakota Council of Teachers of English), in Mandan, July 19 & 20! 

Information and registration HERE!


Monday, April 25, 2022

Involvement in the Writing Project Can Change Your Life

By Erika Dyk


I was in my second year of teaching and a postcard showed up in my school mailbox, a postcard advertising the Northern Plains Writing Project Summer Institute from Minot State University with an option to participate in a cohort in Bismarck. My friend, roommate, and fellow second-year English teacher received the same postcard. We signed up. I had no clue what a life-giving experience it would be.

For a few weeks, we began the day writing and sharing our writing together. We shared our best teaching moves, learned together, and most importantly supported each other. 

On the page, I met thinkers like Penny Kittle, Kelly Gallagher, Jeff Anderson, and Nancy Atwell. In the classroom, I met teachers from across North Dakota.

I walked into the experience not fully believing I was a writer; I walked out not just knowing I was one, but also inspired and equipped to help my students find their writer selves as well. To this day, the word writer has opened up so many doors of understanding and enjoyment.


I was a first-year graduate student in the English Department at North Dakota State University. My TA office was down the hall from Dr. Kelly Sassi, Director of the Red River Valley Writing Project, and next to the RRVWP library. I was adopted into the RRVWP and a few writing retreats, writing marathons, and writing groups later, I not only had refined my writing game, but had made some deep friendships. 

I walked into those writing experiences knowing I was a writer; I walked away with a rich writing community. To this day, whenever I see an opportunity for a writing project--whether it is the Northern Plains Writing Project or the Red River Valley Writing Project--I know to pay attention. Because those experiences, they might just change your life.  

If you are interested in experiencing a summer institute, apply below.

Apply Here by May 1st:


$500 participant stipend. 3 credits. In-person on NDSU campus (June 11, June 20-23, and June 27-30).


NDSU campus housing available for $38/day for out of town participants.

Tuesday, April 12, 2022

The Conference That Changed Me: My NDCTE Journey

By Angela Hase

It snowed again. Even though we are in April. And I already put away my winter jacket. The white flakes coating the ground are making me moony for summer. I am ready for rest and revitalization. One of my favorite summer teacher events to get this much-needed reset for the new school year is the North Dakota Council of Teachers of English Conference. When I think about all of the memories I have made over the years, it is easy to see how important this event is in my routine: 

In 2013, Ryan Goble, author of Making Curriculum Pop, modeled what an effective inquiry-based lesson using collaboration would look like. At that moment in my teaching career, it was eye-opening. I understood what questions to ask students and how to structure group work to help them have purposeful discourse instead of just mindless talk. I still use his graphic organizers in my classroom. 

In 2015, Penny Kittle led a morning writing group that I was fortunate enough to attend. She picked a prompt, wrote beside us, and shared her work. I wasn’t expecting her to actually read what she had written because it was just a rough draft jotted down in 10 minutes. I remember being impressed at her willingness to be vulnerable. The stakes were higher for her to share. She was the professional, after all. I thanked her for giving us that moment with her, and it inspired me to share more of my rough work in front of my students, a practice I continue today.

2017: Swimming around in new ideas with Erika Dyk

In 2018, Erika Dyk strummed the music of Aladdin's “A Whole New World” while she and I sang our teacher parody (“We Can Open the Doors”) to a room full of our professional peers. They stared at us in amazement and bewilderment. Eventually, they joined in and sang along. It was all things embarrassing and silly and heartfelt. Together, in this big ballroom, as we all laughed and sang and swayed to the plucky sounds of ukulele, I added to my community.

2019: Ready to take flight with Lisa Gusewelle

Last year, I arrived in great need. We were all emerging from isolation and drained from the online schooling world. I reconnected with teachers from across North Dakota, people I only see once a year, at this conference. Over the years, they have become my friends. We laughed and commiserated about the last COVID years. Surrounded by teachers sacrificing summer days, I found joy and passion. I left excited and refreshed.

These few examples do not begin to describe everything I have learned or taken from this conference. Nor have they even dived into the quality of speakers this conference books. I have learned from Kelly Gallagher, Jeff Wilhelm, Harvey Daniels, Donalyn Miller, and more.

2019: Meeting my professional idol, Kelly Gallagher

This year's conference is set to be another great one. It features three keynote speakers: 

I will be there, hopefully glowing from the summer sun, ready to learn and ready to reset. 

If you’re interested in joining me, check out the registration information on NDCTE’s website.

Monday, January 24, 2022

2022 Summer Institute: "Many Stories"

We all need meaningful community, interaction, and connection with each other as colleagues and fellow human beings—now, more than ever. The RRVWP’s Summer Institute offers a meaningful community like no other professional development that I’ve encountered. Many of us can attest to the lasting connections and personal growth that it has nurtured in our hearts and minds. This year’s focus will be on writing stories, and using stories to connect and understand. Together we will hone our approaches to teaching narrative writing, and our own capacities as story-tellers.


Teachers can earn 3 CEUs and receive a $500 stipend by participating in professional development for 45 hours (over 9 days) on June 11, June 20-23, and June 27-30. Space is limited to 7 participants. Applications due Saturday, April 23rd. Notification of acceptance by Sunday, May 1st.  The institute will be led by RRVWP co-directors Angela Hase and Benjamin Melby. 


Apply Here:


Please forward this blog and application link to your fellow committed teachers and instructional coaches!


2022 Summer Institute/Many Stories


Instruction Mode: in-person, Minard Hall, NDSU campus

Course Description:

The RRVWP’s Summer Institute offers participants a place to read, discuss, share, and grow--as writers and as teachers of writing. Outstanding local teachers share best teaching practices through hands-on teaching demonstrations, book discussions, and writing groups. Readings, writings, and teaching demos will cover best practices for teaching narrative writing, analyzing stories, and using stories to improve equity in writing instruction. 


  • learn and apply the current best practices for teaching and engaging students in the process of narrative writing and the analysis of narratives.
  • learn and apply the current best practices for a more equitable classroom: teaching that enables marginalized voices to tell their many stories, encourages a more complete understanding of the world, and works toward social justice.
  • grow in the understanding of teaching and learning writing through engaging in our own writing practice, reading current research and theory, reflecting upon our own writing processes and workshop experiences, and learning from other experienced teachers. 
  • demonstrate growth in giving response to writers by modeling responses in class and by describing appropriate classroom strategies.
  • become familiar with a wide range of print and on-line resources for teacher development and instructional use, including the materials from the National Writing Project network.
  • develop leadership capacity in teaching writing and using writing to help students learn.
  • create teaching demonstrations (after seeing teaching demonstrations by RRWP teacher consultants) which will be aligned with and exceed the Common Core State Standards.  


Texts & Readings:


So, What's the Story?: Teaching Narrative to Understand Ourselves, Others, and the World

(Fredricksen, Wilhelm, and Smith)



Monday, December 13, 2021

How Writing Project Leaders Change the Way Teachers Lead

 A profile of RRVWP co-director and C3WP teacher-leader, Angela Hase

BY Lisa Gusewelle

Angela Hase (Credit: Angela Hase)


I was in my second semester of my Master’s program at North Dakota State University when my advisor and Red River Valley Writing Project director Kelly Sassi introduced me to both an extraordinary leader and an extraordinary opportunity. I can tell you that through my experience in many different teacher organizations (National Council of Teachers of Mathematics, National Math + Science Initiative, North Dakota and National Council of Teachers of English, North Dakota + International Literacy Association) that none of those organizations took the time to develop me as both a leader and a teacher. Within those other organizations, I was a filled chair in an audience of listeners hoping to take the inspiration of an hour or so lecture and turn it into inspiration for a full school year.


All of these organizations are high quality and share a great deal of valuable information with teachers like me. They offer me a chance to hear from some of the greatest educators in the United States where I otherwise wouldn’t have that chance. Yet, why did I still feel alone in my teaching career? Why did I still struggle year after year and never feel satisfied at the end of a teaching year? Was I not meant to be a teacher?


So What Did the Writing Project Do Differently?


In 2016, Angela Hase led me through the introductory workshop of the National Writing Project’s College, Career, and Community Writers Program. It was exhausting.

She had me and the other teachers

  • Writing
  • Reading
  • Speaking
  • Listening 
  • Thinking


These were not fun and cute tasks either. They required me to have to go back and re-examine my thoughts, words, writing, and the text, and then forced me into conversations with people who thought differently while challenging me to truly listen and respond.


I was a trained English teacher! Yet I found each of the three 8-hour sessions of that introductory workshop incredibly difficult. This was my supposed specialty. Should I really have found it so hard?


What I started to learn about my career through Angela Hase is that a true professional in a career is not finished with training at the end of their bachelor’s, master’s, or doctorate degree. Knowledge and success in teaching are not simply gained by years of teaching experience or attending featured speaker sessions (though, those are fun!).


Knowledge and Success are Gained Through Conversations with Others and Hard Work!


I recall the awe of watching Hase lead teachers in sessions for the next 3 years as both a participant and a co-facilitator. She held control over the full session and organized the activities we completed, yet participants in her sessions were developed as leaders and asked to lead as well through small discussion activities to offering questions of other participants to even leading a session within the workshop.

I was not a body filling a chair surrounded by other bodies filling chairs. I was an active participant and was an active leader within a group of professionals who were also active participants and leaders.

It was my first time that I …

  • Felt respected in my career
  • Respected other teachers in my career who didn’t have published books and featured lectures
  • Thought I was being listened to as a teacher
  • Was openly willing to admit my faults and struggles in front of other professionals
  • Was willing to struggle in front of others
  • Made friends with other teachers
  • Valued myself as a growing professional and leader and evaluated myself honestly and without fear
  • Read the books of those featured speakers at the conferences that I attended
  • Was given the time, practice, and feedback to become a better teacher and leader


Prior to the C3WP, I overvalued being able to do hard things without support. This showed up in both my personal and professional life. What I was not considering when I refused help was how I was actively preventing my growth as a person and teacher. This inaccurate thinking began to be deconstructed as I listened to peers who shared many of the same experiences as me and as I began to admit that in order for me to become the teacher that I wanted to be that I needed to look for resources to help and that I needed to be humble.


So How Do Angela Hase and Other Writing Project Leaders Create This Learning Experience?

  • Offers Accountability and Opportunity for Hard Work
    • The Writing Project and its participants don’t only have you learn in the summer and then expect you to implement such major changes by yourself. Each month teachers get to share with the people they met in the summer about the changes they’re implementing and hold themselves responsible for goal setting throughout the school year.
  • Offers Guidance and Listens to Guidance
    • Because both leader and participants are open about struggles and asking questions on how to solve problems in their classrooms, everyone gets the opportunity to share insight and gain insight.
  • Asks Hard Questions
    • Most of the questions asked of me at professional development sessions (and let’s be honest: questions I asked my students) were to verify if students had heard and understood what I or the text was saying. Hard questions allow for speculation, interpretation, and adding in one’s personal experiences. I remember completing a difficult activity and wanting to first share what I created during the activity, but then being set back on my heels with the question: How would you approach doing this activity in your classroom? Woah! That’s right. I am not simply there to be the learner, but I am there to lead activities, and I need to be mindful of how to do that.
  • Allows Teachers to Practice
    • It sounds strange to practice reading, writing, speaking, listening, thinking, and teaching, yet that is what we did or had the opportunity to do at each session.
      • With reading, I had not realized how much my abilities had suffered after not reading and discussing books for so long with other adults.
      • With writing, I had not realized how much anxiety I had developed over getting started and sharing my work.
      • With speaking and listening, I had not realized how absent I was during conversations with others.
      • With thinking, I had not realized that I would frequently go with my gut reaction and not question or challenge myself.
      • With teaching, I had not realized how much I benefitted from hearing encouraging words and critical feedback.
    • Supports Teachers through Difficulty
      • There were many times throughout Hase’s College, Career, and Community Writers Program that I considered quitting. I was making teacher moves that I was not used to. I was not succeeding as fast as I had planned. I was not excited about showing my or my students’ weaknesses around other teachers. Yet Hase and the teachers that she helped me to cultivate relationships with during the initial institute and throughout the year somehow kept me going despite the struggles and failures and misunderstandings and fear.
      • If Hase had judged me based on how I began or allowed other teachers to judge me based on my very beginnings, it would have been what I had become accustomed to, and I very likely would have faded into the background and quietly gave up. Instead, they helped me see that even where I found failure, there were places of great success.
    • Provide Agency and Opportunity to Teachers
      • Hase and the program she led us in provided us with activities that were meaningful and relevant to us. We each had a place at the table where we were treated as respected equals, who were there to grow through a challenging and worthwhile program like the College, Career, and Community Writers Program. Not only that, but we were given opportunities to lead what we learned amongst other teachers in a quote commonly referred to by writing project people as “teachers teaching teachers.” It was strange to think that I and not some hired company could help lead other teachers like Hase led me. It was strange that I was encouraged to do so!


Writing Project and The College, Career, and Community Writers Program (C3WP)


Exciting possibilities lay ahead as we learn how leaders like Angela Hase and programs like the C3WP can affect teacher efficacy. By recognizing how these effective teachers lead, we contribute to enhancing cognitive restructuring of teachers which contributes to their increased self-esteem and by providing them with meaningful relationships and professional development.


So if you’re at a place in your teaching career that you feel alone and unheard, if you’re looking to become a better teacher, if you want the opportunity to become a great leader, look up your local writing project site. I know that I will always be indebted to Kelly Sassi and Angela Hase of the Red River Valley Writing Project in North Dakota for giving me the opportunity to develop and shine as a teacher.


Take care, fellow teachers!


Tuesday, November 30, 2021

Scholastic Art & Writing Awards: Over $2000 in Cash Prizes!

The Red River Valley Writing Project at NDSU and Plains Art Museum announce over $2,000 in cash prizes for teen artists and writers who win Gold Key, Silver Key, and honorable mention awards in this year’s Scholastic Art & Writing Awards. Gold Key winners at the state level are automatically forwarded on to the national level for adjudication. National winners are recognized at Carnegie Hall in New York City and eligible for many more awards and scholarships. 

Why Students Should Enter...


Entries are due December 8th. Students must be in grades 7-12 and 13 years or older. Learn how to enter here:

This year’s cash prizes are thanks to a donor who will be recognized at the ND Awards ceremony on Saturday, March 5th from 5-7:30 at Plains Art Museum. All Gold Key, Silver Key, and Honorable Mention award-winning works will be on display at the Plains Art Museum’s Starion Gallery from February-March 5th. The winners of North Dakota State University’s new scholarships in art and writing will also be announced at the ceremony.



Wednesday, December 8th Submission deadline
Thursday, February 17th 5-7pm Reading at Plains Art Museum
Saturday, March 5th 5-7:30 STATE CEREMONY at Plains Art Museum
We are going to have some really great food and drink this year, thanks to our generous donor! 



Presented by the nonprofit organization the Alliance for Young Artists & Writers, the Scholastic Art & Writing Awards are the country's longest-running and most prestigious scholarship and recognition program for creative students in grades 7–12. Since the program’s founding in 1923, the Awards have fostered the creativity and talent of millions of students, including renowned alumni who have gone on to become leaders in their fields, including Andy Warhol, Truman Capote, Richard Avedon, Philip Pearlstein, and Sylvia Plath. More recently, Stephen King, Zac Posen, Lena Dunham, and Amanda Gorman received Scholastic Art & Writing Awards when they were teens.

Monday, November 15, 2021

Learning to Let Go: Putting Kelly Gallagher’s Ideas into Practice

By Angela Hase, RRVWP co-director and Moorhead Public Schools Teacher

About a month ago, I went to the Minnesota Council of Teachers of English Conference (MCTE) to listen to Kelly Gallagher talk about his new book Four Essential Studies: Beliefs and Practices to Reclaim Student Agency that he co-authored with Penny Kittle. Gallagher talked about student agency. He argued that teachers are doing too much of the thinking and making too many decisions for students.

In order to achieve greater student agency, Gallagher advocates for teachers to give more responsibility to students by asking more open-ended questions that give students the opportunity to make decisions. One specific way this can be achieved is through book clubs. Instead of giving chapter questions, ask these four simple questions throughout the reading process:

This was intriguing to me because my American Literature class was just finishing a literature circle unit. For the literature circles, students had four book options to choose from. The students gravitated towards two of them: All American Boy by Jason Reynolds and Brandon Kiely and If I Ever Get Out of Here by Eric Gansworth. So, the conference could not have come at a better time. Literally, the day after the conference, I was going to introduce the final writing project. As a teacher, I was now faced with a significant and difficult choice. Before the conference, I was thinking about how I could give options. I was thinking that I might tell them to pick from theme, character development, symbolism, or plot development. This would have given them some choice.

While I was listening to Gallagher, though, I realized that even in that type of a prompt, I am doing the thinking. I knew I would think through each prompt for the students. I would prompt them to tell me about events from the book, to explain how the topic affected the character, to explain how the topic affected the plot. This is exactly what Gallagher is telling me not to do. I was about to do most of the thinking for the students.

At that moment, I decided to take a risk.

The next day, I went back to my classroom ready to pose the first question from Gallagher’s weekly questions: What is worth talking about.

Did I think this would blow up in my face? Yes.

But, I thought I need to do it, so I know how to do it better next time. The first time doing anything is nerve-wracking. It is full of the unknown and it requires the ability to be okay with everything feeling a bit squishy. It requires us to let go of the familiar. For teachers, it is even more difficult because we have an entire room full of students holding us accountable. But, I want this change, so I went for it.

Here is everything I did:

1. Create a List

First, I just wrote the question on the board: What is worth talking about in this book? I told students that they were going to write a paper that answers that question. It needed to be a full essay with an introduction, body paragraphs, and a conclusion, and it needed to have word-for-word textual evidence. And that was it. That is all I said.

They stared at me. In silence. While I cursed Kelly Gallagher.

Then, I pulled myself together and put them in their reading circle groups. In their groups, I told them to create a list of the things they thought were important in the book or that stood out to them as being something that was worth talking about.

2. Create Claim Statements

After students created their lists, the next step was for them to take their own word lists and use them to write claim statements. At first students just wanted to write sentences that literally answered the question:
  • Racism is worth talking about in the book.
  • Quinn (a character from the book) is worth talking about in the book.
When I think about what a claim is, I think that it not only previews what the essay will be about, but it makes a small argument within the sentence. It should have a topic, an opinion, and sometimes even reasons are included. So, technically, these are claim statements. They are arguing that a certain topic is important in the context of the book; however, they weren’t saying much else. So, I directed students to think about what the author was saying about the topic. What was the author saying about racism or a certain character? What did the author want the reader to understand about these topics?

Then, I started to get statements like this:
  • Lewis gains confidence by the friendships he made.
  • Fitting in is not the most important thing in life.
  • Spoony did the right thing about sending the pictures to the news.
  • Do what you think is right even if it goes against your family.
  • Protesting works and has been proven throughout history.
I walked around the room and wrote down one claim statement from each group and put them under the document camera. Here, I gave feedback on what a statement like that would mean for a paper:

After giving them feedback on their claims, students revised their other statements to ensure they would be effective.

3. Chunk the Paper

Next, they needed to decide how to organize their paper. The first decision that needed to be made was how to chunk their paper. Whenever we write in class, we talk about the chunks of our paper instead of paragraphs. This helps students think beyond a five-paragraph essay because a chunk can be any number of paragraphs and a student can have any number of chunks in their paper.

To determine the chunks, students need to look at their claim. The claim will tell students how to break up their paper. Using one of the student-generated claims (Quinn has the most character development in the book), I modeled how to create chunks. I used sticky notes and wrote the name of each chunk on it. This way I could move them around later to decide the order I wanted them to go in. My modeling went something like this:

Me: I can see that I will have to prove that Quinn had character development and when I think about what that means I think it means that he changed the most throughout the story. So how will I prove that? I will probably have to show what Quinn was like at the beginning of the book. (Takes sticky note and writes Beginning of Book.) Now, I can’t just have that one chunk. That won’t show growth through the book, so what other chunks should I have?

Student 1: The middle

Me: (Takes a new sticky note and writes Middle of Book.) Ok, what else?

Student 2: End

Me: (Takes third sticky note and writes End.) So, now I have three chunks. I don’t know how many paragraphs I will need under each one of these chunks yet. I will think about that in a minute. I want to check and see if these three chunks are enough to prove my claim. My claim says that Quinn develops throughout the book. Showing his progress and how he changes in the beginning, middle, and end does prove that. But, that is not all my claim says. My claim says that he has the most character development. How will I prove that his character development is “the most”?

Student 1: Prove that is more than the other characters.

Me: Quinn is a main character, so it is pretty obvious that he will have more character development over someone like Jill or Paul. So, I could easily prove that he has a bigger character arc than a side character like these. But is there a different character that I would want to pay special attention to?

Student 3: Rashad

Me: Both Quinn and Rashad are main characters. If my claim says that Quinn develops the most then I need to have a chunk that compares it to how much Rashad develops and why Quinn’s is more. Otherwise, I am just saying that Quinn changes throughout the text. If I want the word “most” in the claim, then I have to prove it. (Takes fourth sticky notes and writes Compare to Rashad on it.)

After I modeled how to create the chunks, students used sticky notes to create theirs.

4. Add Paragraphs to Chunks

At this point, students have created their own claim and thought through how to chunk out their essay. Next, they needed to decide how many paragraphs they will need to prove each chunk. There is a general push in ELA classrooms to move away from the 5-paragraph essay because it is too constricting. In order to help students think beyond this structure, having them think about chunks and then paragraphs within those chunks removes the pressure from students to produce an essay in that format.

To help students understand how to think about paragraphs, I continued to model. It went something like this:

Me: Now that I know my chunks, I need to go back and think about what events I want to talk about to prove my chunks. Let’s look at my first chunk. It just says “Beginning of Book”. Before I can even think about what events I want to use, I need to identify what Quinn was like in the beginning of the book. What was Quinn like?

Student 1: He was scared. 

Me: Yes, he was. I remember that when he saw Paul beat Rashad he just froze. Okay, I think to really help me organize, I am going to use a second sticky note to write down what my points will be under each chunk and possible paragraphs.  (Writes P1. Scared on second sticky note). I also already know that I will want to use the scene when Quinn watches Paul beat Rashad. I am going to write that down. I think that will be one paragraph. I will prove that he was scared and my evidence will be that he froze. (Under P1. Scared writes Reaction During Attack). I’m thinking to myself: Is that enough to show that he was scared? I think so. But, I don’t think that is enough to show where Quinn’s mind was in the beginning of the book. Because yes, anyone watching what happened would be scared. That could be anyone. What is Quinn thinking about what happened at the beginning? I need to identify and prove that. What did he think about the incident in the beginning?

Student 2: He was on Paul’s side. 

Me: Yes, he was. Okay, I am going to write that down on my sticky note as a second paragraph idea. (Writes P2. Paul’s side on sticky note). Is this enough? Will I have proven Quinn’s starting point with these two points? Can you think of any other events or things Quinn was thinking that might be important enough to go into this chunk??

Class: Silence.

Me: I can’t think of anything either…

From here, I let students work on thinking through points and paragraphs for their chunks. By handing over the organization to the students, it allowed them to make an essay that was their own and it gave them the opportunity to make decisions about structure and organization. 
Check out some student examples here.

5. Write

Did some students write five-paragraph essays? Yes. Did some of the students use my model to start their own thinking? Yes.

But, through this process, the students were making the choices that fit with what they wanted to say. In their conversations, they asked each other how many paragraphs they were going to write and routinely students talked about what they needed to do under each chunk of their essay. They said things like “well, I think I am going to need two to prove that Quinn changed in the end because I want to write about the protest and I want to write about him meeting Rashad” or “I’m not sure how many total but I know that I want this one point under the first part.” This type of discourse showed me that they were not trying to fit their ideas into one structure (5 paragraphs). Instead, they were thinking about how best to prove their points.

In the end, they produced essays that were unique to their own vision. They picked their topic, created their claim, organized their paper, and decided on the amount of evidence needed to prove their points.

Most importantly, they did it with limited help from me.

6. Reflect

When I reflect back on this process, I have to admit that Kelly Gallagher might think that I overtaught this paper. He might even say that “completing teacher-generated step-by-step work is not learning; it masquerades as learning.” He might even be right. Even though students made more decisions than they previously would have, I still walked them through the thinking. I came ready and prepared to change the prompt of my assignment, but not ready to change my teaching. When my students froze in the beginning, I should have been prepared to give them models, but I wasn’t.

Next time, I can dedicate more time to looking at model essays that show a variety of ways to write an essay like this. In class, we could read essays like the following.
We can create anchor charts of what to include in an essay like this. They can brainstorm with classmates to figure out their plans. So, instead of walking them through a step-by-step process on how to create a claim and organize their essay, they can use the models and each other as inspiration.

I am committed to changing my practice. That will take time. It will take multiple attempts. It will take honest reflection on my part.

But, I am determined to get there. So, I’ll keep taking these risks, taking these small steps, and soon enough, I will learn how to let go.