There you are, beginning to implement some great strategy you’ve been considering, and in the back of your head is some nagging question. It could be about the pedagogy behind the work, or how something addresses the TEKS. Or maybe something came up in a conversation, and you’d like to compare notes. We will share thoughts about some of the most-often asked questions.

For basic knowledge, it’s so helpful to read the words of some of the leaders in our profession. You might share some of your own favorite pedagogy or lead book studies, focusing on the work of our giants like Donald Graves, Don Murray, Peter Elbow, James Moffett, Dan Kirby, Jim Burke. Review the “Writing Next” report and the foundation beliefs of the National Writing Projects. Get them involved in the ongoing professional conversations, even if they just start as listeners, reading the professional journals of ILA and NCTE. It won’t be long before they evolve from consumers to participants in the professional conversations. The TEKS are not really that different from instructional standards across the country.

Most publishers are not taking chances on unknown writers because publishing businesses are struggling. But it’s easier than ever to get known. Present at conferences (like TCTELA and NCTE). These don’t pay, but if your ideas are useful, teachers will shout for more. Publish your own version online, the way I posed a free video about “the truism braid.” Submit an article to Voices from the Middle or the English Journal. (Check their calls for manuscripts on ncte.org.) You don’t have to persuade anyone your book would sell if your ideas are already spreading. If publishers think you have something teachers want, they’re looking for you. Smart editors are watching presentations at conferences, scouting for new talent.

I do. Part of keeping yourself sane is knowing that there will NEVER be enough instructional time to do everything you need. You have to prioritize and let go of some things. Imagine your teaching closet filled, and do what Marie Kondo would do: if it doesn’t spark joy, toss it. Thoreau said, “Our lives are frittered away by detail. Simplify. Simplify.

You and I must go way, way back! The visual prompts on the CD are still so useful, but technology has changed so rapidly! I remember when I first created the CD, it was a novel idea — we had been using overhead transparencies with those images. And now, most computers don’t even have a CD drive on them!

So I decided to put all of the content on my web site, downloadable for free. We separated the slides into different collections. Several of the collections are here, and all of the “major works” collections are here. That way, you can download, take screen shots, share at will. The only think I ask people not to do is re-sell them on TpT.

Let me know if you have any trouble with this. I still love them.

I do. In a nutshell, here’s the sequence of what I do:

Teaching them How To Answer a Question (not in writing, but out loud)

1. Have the students practice answering questions about themselves, NOT about stories or written text, using the dialogue Q&A format.  Do these out loud.  Have fun with them. I do two a day (just you and a volunteer at the front of the class, in front of everyone, you using the QA1234345 script and the other person answering the questions) at the beginning of class, and don’t tell students that it’s even related to testing.

Teaching Them To Answer A Question About a Story They Already Know (they prepare it in writing so they can “perform” the dialogue out loud)

2. Have students write questions about movies they’ve all seen, using the generic question stems.

3. Have them write QA12345 scripts to answer their questions, using the dialogue format, and then act out their questions and dialogues.

Teaching Them How To Answer A Question From a Story They Just Read (they prepare it in writing so they can perform the dialogue out loud)

4. Have them write questions about stories they read, using the same generic question stems.

5. Have them write answers to these questions, and on #1 and #3, use ONLY quotations of text from the stories.

That’s what I do.  We don’t even try to make them insightful or global, just shoot for an answer with evidence.  The above will get passing scores if they just do that with the questions from the test.  In fact, for questions involving only one text, they can use QA125 and do well.  I advise all of my students to do this, NOT to write tiny little essays.  Go for a 2 and move on, saving all that energy for something else, like their composition or lunch.

Teaching Them How To Craft Their Answer Better

6. Do sentence-combining exercises.  Prepare for this by getting one of your own students’ released answers from any recent tests and breaking it down into sentence-combining exercises.

7. Hand them out and ask students to combine the sentences into stronger writing.

8. Compare answers.

9. Look at the student’s original answer together.

10. Repeat this process with another high-scoring response, readied for a sentence-combining exercise.

11. Repeat this process with a high-scoring released response.

For “rewriting” their answer, we like to use different things. For instance, you could play with rephrasing the answer as short choppy sentences, then letting groups play with ways to combing the sentences in different ways.

Or you could use the “intensity scale” to practice finding stronger words or phrases to replace the ones in their introductions.

Or add a truism to the ending.

We’ll really know better when we see a whole lot of high-scoring essays, to get a look at what TEA considered the best. I hear that this year’s essays won’t be returned until September, but then we’ll scrutinize the daylights out of them, and we’ll ferret out a whole lot of the unwritten rules that TEA is using to score the essays.