As ELA teachers, we always care about instilling a love of reading and writing for our students. If we can also create opportunities for building confidence in their reading and writing skills, even better. This blog post will show how you can do exactly that by using one specific program available to all KATE members.
Diego Garcia is a quiet student, usually respectful but not always engaged. “I’m not good at English,” he claimed on his first day in class. A quick check of his grades confirmed his self-image. He barely passed his freshman year ELA class.
Then, something happened his sophomore year that forced a reconsideration of his self-image. It really wasn’t anything out of the ordinary, but it was life changing all the same.
After studying To Kill a Mockingbird, my sophomores decided to write their own personal narratives. Scout Finch’s authentic, no-punches-pulled childhood confessions perfectly inspire students to harvest meaningful moments from their own younger days. Diego brainstormed several ideas, but there was one that stood out as a life-lesson occasion, perfect for including in a personal narrative essay.
Diego was born with hearing loss.
That hearing loss led to a speech impediment and hearing aids. Being “different” led to some very uncomfortable situations for him, even some bullying episodes. I don’t need to tell you his story, though. You can read about it for yourself because his teacher submitted his essay, “I Can’t Hear You”, to the 2019 edition of Voices of Kansas, the KATE student academic journal.
When I asked Diego if I could submit his essay, he agreed, but laughed it off. Remember, he’d been convinced he “wasn’t good at English.” I’ll never forget the look on his face when I announced to the class that his essay had been accepted. He had earned a publication credit. Weeks later, it was obvious he’d earned so much more than that. He approached reading and writing with increased curiosity, willingness, and confidence. He began to offer help to other students. I never again heard him say that he wasn’t “good at English.”
The next year, when Diego had graduated to another teacher’s class, I often saw him after school in the school commons area working on homework. Sometimes he was with a tutor, and sometimes he was alone. “I want to get it done before I go home and get distracted,” he told me. He had become the confident, curious student he hadn’t believed he could be.
A magical thing happens when students have an authentic audience for their writing. Suddenly, format and punctuation matter. Proper citation matters. Feedback and revision matters. How often have you experienced students brushing off assignments because they don’t understand the relevance? An authentic audience helps create relevancy. The inherit competitive nature of the submission process can help, too. (Not everyone who submits is automatically accepted. There is a true vetting process.) Receiving feedback from an editor is also powerful.
Wait, did I not mention the editorial feedback that comes with submitting student work to Voices of Kansas? I didn't? Okay, let’s back up, and I’ll explain how the whole process works.
Step 1: You must be a KATE member to submit student work.
Step 2: You must read and follow the submission guidelines found here. The Fall 2022 submission deadline is October 31st.
Step 3: Determine your entries. You can choose from assignments or projects students complete outside of school. Categories include creative writing and literary non-fiction, perspectives and literary criticism, poetry, and visual art. Grade groupings are young voices, grades 3 to 7 and older voices, grades 8 - 12.
Step 4: Help students create their best work. Use the link on KansasEnglish.org to submit. This must be done by a KATE member teacher.
Step 5: Editors will vet the submissions, offering constructive feedback for all entries, even the ones not accepted for publication.
Step 6: Help students incorporate feedback and return the edited version.
Step 7: Celebrate!
It’s really that simple, and it really can make a big impact on students. One other thing you should know. When you submit student work, you agree to be part of the double-blind review and selection process. Don’t let this scare you away. It’s very simple and organized. Everything is delivered to your email and managed through Google Forms. The process can usually be completed in less than an hour.
You might be wondering about the students whose work is not accepted. My experience with rejected students has always been positive because of the feedback element. Students understand how their writing needs to improve. Honestly, students are often more eager to read editorial feedback than they are teacher feedback. And because all of the feedback comes to the student through the teacher, coachable moments happen. Students are often encouraged to try submitting again.
Another opportunity the journal offers is the Editor’s Choice Award. The editor chooses one exceptional submission from each category. Voices of Kansas will create and publish a lesson centered around each award winner. It’s an amazing prize. When winners learn that students across the state might be reading and learning from their work–talk about building confidence!
A good way to create interest for your students might be to use some of those lesson plans from past editions. Some of my favorites include the following:
In today’s classroom, students challenge teachers for relevance and authenticity. It’s a requirement for student engagement. Submitting student work to Voices of Kansas is a simple and effective way to meet that challenge.
You can find the submission guidelines and the submission link on the KATE website. If you have any questions, please leave them in the comments below, or you can ask in our Facebook group. We look forward to reading all the wonderful writings of your students.
PS. Another way to create an interest in writing is by modeling the habit of writing yourself. During November, National Novel Writing Month, KATE will host a series of writing sprints for our members. The sprints will happen via zoom on November 6, 13, 20, and 27 at 7:00 pm. We’ll provide optional prompts. And, no, you don’t need to be writing a novel to join. Check our Facebook group for more registration.
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