Tag Archives: teaching

Why Authors Write–According to Certain 10th Graders

Understanding an author’s purpose—why writers write—is one of the many things students are taught in middle school and high school. The CAPT, taken in 10thgrade, has lots of questions related to author’s purpose. So, instead of asking students to identify the metaphor in paragraph 2, the test may ask, “Why did the author include this metaphor in paragraph 2?”

When teaching author’s purpose, I start with these trusty reasons: to describe, to explain, to persuade, to entertain. These cover many types of writing: poetry, anything expository, advertisements, editorials, and narrative fiction.

On a test, of course, you have to give students some leeway and partial credit (at least I do) if they don’t remember them exactly, but they get the gist. For example, if the student lists “to get his point across” or “to convince others to agree with her,” I’ll take it.

Then, there are answers that make you think, scratch your head, or laugh out loud.

Question: Why does an author write? Think about the reasons we covered when talking about author’s purpose.

Answer #1: Free speech.

So, yes, we have freedom of speech and freedom of the press in the U.S. So, is this student saying an author writes because she can? Maybe. In some countries, journalists and other writers are killed because of their work. Had the student tried to convince me this is what he meant, I might have given him partial credit.

Answer #2: Their own amusement.

Love this one! When I first read this, I envisioned an author chucking aside a bad review, declaring, “I write to amuse myself. Reader be damned.” Then, I thought, this is true. I’m sure most, if not all, writers enjoy it. We write because we like to, so I guess that is for our own amusement.

Answer #3: To make money.

Yes, of course. Alas, according to all of the blogs I’ve been reading most authors will not get rich. Most will be like the musician who plays out for extra money but keeps his day job. Still, even this type of writer makes some money, so I would agree many of us write with the hope of earning some cash.

Answer #4: Bad to good or vis versu

????? I have no idea what’s going on here. No credit.

Answer #5: To help people fall asleep.

HA!! Love it!! Reading, especially at night after a long day, may lead to closed eyelids and well-deserved rest, but I doubt that was the author’s purpose. “I write so that I can put you to sleep.” Wait a minute…unless, of course, it’s a self-hypnosis type of book or a guided meditation audiobook. Hmmm….maybe this student has a point.


If you’re a writer, tell me, why do you write?

Thank You Patrick Carman

This past school year, I walked into a teaching position that’s relatively new for the high school. Because of this, the program and its curriculum are still developing. While this can be interesting and exciting  for a teacher, it can also be a little nerve-wracking. After all, my students were showing up every day expecting me to, well you know, have a plan. So, being the veteran teacher that I am, I figured, this is a reading class, let’s read. Brilliant, I know. But what to read? That was the big question.

I decided to let my students have a say, and after a full period of previewing books, they decided on SKELETON CREEK by Patrick Carman, a creepy ghost-story mystery that requires the reader to go online every few chapters to watch a video that complements the written story. For those of you old-school types who like to sit on the couch and read, sorry, you really do have to see the videos to understand the story. So, you’ll have to read on the couch with your smartphone nearby.

The video aspect of the story hooked my students from the start. It was different for them to see a book with a video component, and some of the videos were yell-and-jump scary, so they were sold.

Before I knew it, my students wanted to read. This is a big deal because all of my students are struggling and/or reluctant readers. They do not like to read. They do not read, unless they have to, and even then, they might not. Yet, once we started SKELETON CREEK, they often asked, “Are we going to read today?” as soon as they walked through the door. If we had something else to do first, like practice finding the main idea in a nonfiction passage, they would groan. When we did read, they flipped through the pages to see how far we needed to go until we reached the next video. I’ll admit, this bothered me a little at first, thinking they were only interested in the videos. But, we weren’t skipping anything to get there, so each video was like a carrot leading them through the words.

And when we finished the first book, guess what?

They wanted to read the next one.

Yes, I’m repeating it: They wanted to read the next one!

Did I mention my students don’t like to read? Well, these same non-readers often asked me, “Can’t we just read the entire period?” Ah, sweet music to my ears.

And when we finished the second one, GHOST IN THE MACHINE, guess what? They wanted to read the third one, THE CROSSBONES, and then the fourth one, THE RAVEN, which I had to pre-order to make sure we got it and were able to read it before school ended.

For many of my students, reading has never been fun. This past year, they wanted to read. They enjoyed it. They looked forward to it.

And for that, I thank you, Patrick Carman.

Why I Suddenly Love Blake Shelton

Those of you who know me know that Dora, Diego, Blue, and the Backyardigans rule my TV. The only viewing I squeeze in are a half-hour of NBC Nightly News with Brian Williams (love), and a half-hour of Extra. This way, I get a healthy mix of serious world news and not-at-all-serious Hollywood news.

The one other show I have been making a point to watch is The Voice, and last week I found myself suddenly in love with Blake Shelton. I am not a country music fan, and I must confess that I had no idea who he was when the show started. He’s instantly likeable and fits in well with the panel, so even though I didn’t know him, I liked him and loved the show.

Last week is when I became a huge fan. Here’s why: viewers voted to save one person from Blake’s team. That person was Dia Frampton, who sang a version of Kanye West’s “Heartless” the week before. Now, Blake had to save one person from elimination. He chose Xenia, a 16-year-old girl with little singing experience who did a version of Jessie J’s “Price Tag” the week before. Both Dia and Xenia broke into iTunes top 100 with their performances. Even still, many people were surprised that he picked Xenia.

I wasn’t. His fatherly affection for her is obvious if you are watching the show. His reason for saving her is what made my heart swell. The night he made his decision, he told the audience he could not “affect change with Jared or Patrick like I can with Xenia.” In other words, he wants to teach her. Yes, this is a competition, and, trust me, the girl can sing. Surely they both want to win, but his comment made it clear that he is taking his role of “coach” seriously. I’m not saying the other coaches aren’t, but Frenchie Davis has been on Broadway and Javier Colon has had a record contract. Many of the contestants have lots of professional experience. Xenia is just getting started.

Blake wants to affect change–to coach and teach her, and make her better, even if she doesn’t win. As a teacher, I get that. I haven’t always bonded with the smartest student in my class or the one who has read more books than I have. Sometimes, I connect most with the student who has the ability, isn’t where he or she should be for a number of reasons, and wants my help to improve. And when that student does improve? What an awesome thing, for the student mostly, of course, but also for the teacher because at that moment, you feel as a parent does: proud of them and hopeful for them.

So, Blake Shelton gets a big gold star and a piece of my teacher heart for saving Xenia, the young girl with the cool voice and lots of potential. I can’t wait to see her next performance and where her career goes from here.

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