Archives For NYTimes Learning Network

One of my favorite cartoons features a young woman, obviously nervous, seated next to a white-suited, white-haired caricature of Samuel Clemens. Above her head floats a thought bubble,“‘I want to be a writer,’ she thought, mused, considered, said aloud, to no one, to herself, giving voice to the idea passion she had always had in her heart but had only recently discovered in her hand head.”

I also always wanted to be a writer, but the responsibility of writing stopped me. Writing was a task that I took very seriously. I had to write papers for courses I took. I had to write letters-personal and professional- and I had to write memos for work. Writing was a product that needed to be perfect. As a result, my writing duties had stifled my writing passion.

However, sixteen months ago I started this blog to share the ways I had increased the number of books in school classrooms. During the first month of entries, I wondered if I would have enough materials to write about on a blog about used books in class.

I am almost embarrassed to admit that what I have discovered is that writing is less product and more thinking. Sadly, I was an English teacher who required writing and encouraged students to write regularly in class, but who did not cognitively understand that writing is really a recording of thinking. I was always interested developing (and assigning) the prompt and collecting (and correcting) the final product. I did not fully understand the necessity of thinking as the most critical part of the writing until I began to write myself.

Now, as a convert to writing as thinking, I am using this post to encourage others to write in order to think.

October 19-20th, 2012 will be the National Day of Writing. The National Writing Project (NWP) is encouraging people to contribute to “What I Write” on their website:

What do you write or compose? Blog posts? Poems? Videos? Grocery lists, computer code, or song lyrics? Whatever you write, on Friday, October 19, use the hashtag #whatiwrite to share your compositions with the world as part of this year’s National Day on Writing.

National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE) has  links on their blog for people to read what authors say about why they write. The NYTimes Learning Network also has a page on their blog asking, “Post what, you ask? Well, could be…

  • Thoughts about what you write, whether it’s poetry, short stories, school essays, computer code, love notes, song lyrics or Facebook updates.
  • A link to some writing you want to show others.
  • A photo or drawing that illustrates something about writing, or illustrates something you’ve written.
  • Thoughts about things you’d like to write someday.
  • Notes on your writing process.
  • Thoughts on the role of writing in your life in general.
  • Advice about writing.
  • Links to good pieces about writers or writing

So, on Friday, October 19th, I will have my students create lists of topics they want to “think” about, topics* they want to explore in writing over the course of the year. We will collaborate on a master list using a Google doc that we can revisit over the course of the school year. I want my students to learn how to write, but more importantly, I want my students to learn how to write so they can think. I want they to feel free to write without constant assessment. I want them to write and read what they write to understand what they think. Hopefully, in this process they will discover that writing is not an academic responsibility, and that good writing is really good thinking. And I will imagine  thought bubbles over their heads as they write.

Share the hashtag #whatIwrite.

*Topic list created 10/18/2012

Wamogo High School (Region 6)  in Connecticut finished four days of teacher driven professional development. There were a few “requested sessions” which were organized to address concerns about the upcoming block schedule; we are moving from a sequence of 38-45 minute periods to alternating days of 80 minute blocks. The question came up, “What plans can a teacher leave a substitute teacher for this length of time?”

I suggested that a lesson plan that incorporates film is easy to prepare in advance, so I organized the following links that teachers can use to prepare a substitute lesson that incorporates film.

The substitute teacher may have students who think they have the “day off”, but a film lesson organized with a written reflection can be an effective way to promote new learning.

Film lessons are popular with substitute teachers. They are usually engaging, and they are easy to implement as long as the substitute can access the video online or operate the hardware to run a hard copy of the video.

Video/film lessons also meet many of the Common Core Standards as stated in the Overview for the ELA Standards: “Just as media and technology are integrated in school and life in the twenty-first century, skills related to media use (both critical analysis and production of media) are integrated throughout the standards.”

Our school has a subscription to Discovery Education which is jammed packed with digital content: film clips and prepared lesson plans are available for every grade level. However, other school systems may not have this resource.

The following free websites were reviewed in the presentation for teachers to use in order to find videos, lesson plans to use with videos, and/or worksheets that can be completed by students watching videos.

One major source to start looking for all video materials is the updated Edudemic 100 Video Sites on the website.This website is organized with sub-headings General; Teacher Training; Science Math & Technology; History, Arts and Social Sciences; Lesson Planning; Video Tools and true to its name there are 100 sites, each rich with links to videos of all lengths in all subjects.

To accompany a selected film or video, I strongly recommend students have a writing assignment. The writing assignment can be in a variety of formats: notes, critical analysis, or reflection. I am not a fan of the worksheet, but substitutes benefit from a well-designed worksheet that students can complete and turn in at the end of class. For that reason, I located a number of websites that can be used to either develop a worksheet or websites that have worksheets already prepared:

Video documentaries are also popular; since these are often shorter than a feature length film, many can be run during one block period. A note of caution: several of these videos will need to be vetted to assure content appropriate materials are used. Many of the video clips on these sites are current and can be associated with news articles to use to supplement the viewing as a comparison or a contrast. 

The website offers a generic documentary worksheet. This prepared sheet is organized around political discourse, but the sheet has questions that can be used with any documentary. 

The Ted Talks website describes the numerous video presentations as “Ideas Worth Spreading.” TED began in 1984 as a “conference bringing together people from three worlds: Technology, Entertainment, Design.” There are very entertaining videos on every subject, but most recently, there has been a new category devoted to education TED-ED. These short film clips at are offered with interactive quizzes and writing prompts.

My Film and Literature class used many of the lessons off the Film English blog devoted to film and English Language Learners (ELL) The lesson plans are very detailed and involve critical thinking skills that can be used outside of the ELL classroom as well.

Our English Department has been phasing out the department’s DVD library; so many DVDs were scratched or went missing during the school year. We now use commercial “instant streaming” websites where we can purchase videos for safekeeping “in the cloud”. Unfortunately, this means that one of the best features used for showing a film, the closed-captioning feature, is not available. If we cannot locate a film through an “instant streaming” service, we check with which has hundreds of movies available. Some are subtitled in English; most are classic films. Suppose the DVD case is empty? Teachers can check here to see if the film is available for free on this site.

Finally, the “motherlode” of film lesson plans is on the NYTimes Learning Network website. This is a one stop shopping for plans website (no subscription required) with lessons written by “[freelance] educators with deep and broad experience in the classroom and in curriculum development. They work with the editors, Katherine Schulten and Holly Ojalvo, who are also longtime educators, to develop the lessons.” The lessons are thorough, tied to standards, and so easy to follow that a sick teacher need only browse for a few minutes to find a lesson, film or otherwise, that can connect to a discipline.

This year, the 80 minute time block is new for our school and for our substitutes, and this longer class period demands even more attention to preparation. No teacher or administrator wants to lose 80 minutes (X) times the number of students in the classroom; do the math- 20 students in a class X 80 mins = 1600 educable minutes! A film/video lesson should not be offered as babysitting, but rather a lesson that extends learning in another medium. This quick presentation of information was designed to help teachers design lessons that can be easily implemented by a substitute teacher and meaningful for the students.  A well-designed film lesson can be effective even if the classroom teacher is not the one clicking the “play” button.