Deepening my bag of tricks with Kelly Gallagher

5 Aug

Is Kelly Gallagher a celebrity? Judging by my colleague chasing him around to take his picture, yes.

Is Kelly Gallagher a world-class English teacher? No doubt about it.

Is Kelly Gallagher a magician? Although his powers seem to be nearing supernatural, he is, in fact, human.

And the best part about him being human is that his strategies, ideas, and philosophies can be adapted and integrated into my own classroom very easily. His book Readicide: How Schools Are Killing Reading and What You Can Do About It has been a great resource to me, especially in terms of reinforcing my belief in the importance of fostering a love of reading. And Teaching Adolescent Writers has helped me with the feedback and instruction that is necessary in a writing classroom.

But hearing him speak in person helped me to make even more connections between what I do, what I want to do, and what I can do. He made the North Dakota Council of Teachers of English Conference completely worth it on his own. I’ll share some of the concepts and strategies that I plan to implement with you today.

Assigning writing is easy. Teaching writing is hard.

The study of models in writing is one strategy that made so much sense to me, but not just to read a model or two then go write. The study of models, including students copying the format and inserting their own words. When students read, analyze, and emulate model pieces of writing, they become better writers.

There should be a heavy dose of approved plagiarism in our classrooms. 

By closely analyzing what the author is doing here, here, and here, students are able to understand how they can do the same things in their writing. Gallagher suggests using a mentor text that students read and analyze on their own, noting what the author is doing. The class discussion that follows creates notes that help all students to see the same things. By the end of the class discussion, everyone’s notes are the same. This gives the students a map of how to create a piece. And if a student asks how long the assignment is supposed to be, it is a clear indication that they have not seen enough mentor texts.

I felt supported in the idea that narrative writing is a medium that deserves to be valued. It helps students to learn to write, and it is also a tool that can be used for persuasive and informative writing.

To create seeds for future writings as well as to make it easy for students to begin, Gallagher suggested starting with six-word memoirs. Here are a few examples, but check out the link for more.

  • Adulthood. I miss myself so much.
  • Collect your thoughts then edit them.

Go from there to creating a tweet of 14o characters or less.

Encyclopedia of an Ordinary Life could serve as another mentor text. The author uses each letter to tell a small part of her story, usually with humor included.

LIFE

The same two words, albeit in reverse order, sum it all up:

Home nursing
Nursing home

Essays from This I Believe are also a great way for students to follow the pattern of a mentor text and create something that has meaning for them and to their classmates. Discussions on whether to start with the claim or finish with it, how to illustrate the point the best, and things like that are important classroom discussions after analyzing the piece.

And the last small writing piece that I’ll share is to explain a photograph. What is happening in these people’s lives? Do a short minilesson on first vs. third person, then students write for four minutes. Pass the paper to the next person at the table, and write for four more minutes. When you’re done, the group chooses the piece with the most potential and revises it as a group. This gives students a chance to collaborate and make decisions as a group. Lots of learning potential here!

Here are a few more things that I just have to share that stood out to me.

Gallagher’s comment to teachers who think teaching students to write the five-paragraph essay in order to learn to write:

Teach kids to write authentically, then if it is required by the school, teach to write inauthentically just before it is needed.

Kids understand that the five-paragraph essay written for a teacher’s eyes only is not important! Show students a meaningful mentor text and it allows students to help find their places in the world.

You can break the rules if you understand the rules.

Go ahead and use fragments to illustrate your point better! Good writers do things like this all the time. It. Is. Effective.

Here is another piece to analyze by Leonard Pitts Jr. entitled “Sometimes, the earth is cruel.” I’ll be taking the sentence stem “Sometimes, _________ is cruel” and using it as a writing prompt for my students this year.

Or how about this mentor text that can be emulated for analyzing a mistake? It’s called “A mistake that should last a lifetime.” Students see how the author introduces the mistake, tells the story of the mistake, then reflects on the mistake.

Whew! I have a lot of great things to do this year in helping my students become better writers!

So Is Kelly Gallagher a magician? Well if he is, I think I may have stolen his tricks.

Is he famous? Absolutely, and I even got a picture with him!

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