Argumentative Writing


Each and I every day, I get to say, “I am a teacher.”  What an amazing gift.  I have a job that has potential to change the world.  Today, however, my students changed me.

I had the privilege to sit down with groups of students today as they discussed argumentative research topics.  I put my students at the forefront of their learning — and guess what!  They thrived. They sat in groups and discussed the pros and cons of artificial sweeteners, evolution vs. creationism, plea bargaining, immigration law, year-round schooling, and more.  Instead of me informing them, they informed each other — and me.  🙂

I was able to meet educational standards WHILE forming relationships with my students.  I feel that they left my classroom today knowing that I care about them and will truly listen to what they have to say.  Plus, instead of leaving with three possible topics to research, many of them left with 4 or 5.  They couldn’t decide because so many of the topics had intrigued them.  Having the chance to just sit and discuss these topics (and their many subtopics) gave them a chance to share and learn without the “pressure” of proving it.

It is no secret that students remember the teachers who cared for them — who took an interest in them as human beings, not just educational commodities. Sadly, as the demands and pressures of standardized testing have increased, the time I have spent over the years building relationships with my students has dwindled.   Today, even though I had a headache from all the impassioned debating, I have begun correcting that major error.  They taught me a lot about themselves and their day-to-day pressures.  I assure you, I will be listening to my students a whole lot more often from here on out.

What have your students taught you?  How will that knowledge change how you teach?


“The most important story we will ever write in life is our own — not with ink, but with our daily choices.”

Richard Paul Evans


1, 2, 3, 4, 5 Challenge

I started blogging for the first time about 7 weeks ago.  I was pretty good about adding one post per week, but then I got busy…you know, grading, lesson planning, communicating with parents, etc.  As quickly as I had started, I had stopped.

So… I am back and doing so by completing the 5, 4, 3, 2, 1 Challenge.

  1.  What has been your ONE biggest struggle this school year?

It is interesting how different each school year is from the next.  Sometimes I think that the struggles come from “more.”  This year, we are in the first of a three year process of curriculum mapping grades 6-12.  I am really struggling with this process as it looks like so much of what I do as a teacher, those things that make me…me, are being removed.  I see a lot of potential with this new format, but I feel like I am losing “me” in the process.  I have shed a few tears along the way, but I keep hoping that I will be able to incorporate my style into this new format.  There is significant research to back this thematic style of teaching (I teach 8th grade Language Arts), but I am struggling with appropriateness of thematic units (and nothing but thematic units) for middle school.  Middle school students are not just small high school students.  They learn differently, partly because of the changes in their hormones.  I look forward to trying this new format, but am fearful that my students are not developmentally ready.

2. Name TWO accomplishments that you are proud of this year.

This one is easier to answer.  🙂

–The first accomplishment is that I have improved my technology use in the classroom this year. I have watched colleagues incorporate technology in their lessons for years, but I just felt that I lacked the knowledge to use it myself.  The extent of my classroom technology use had been Microsoft Word.  So I dove into Google (Slides, Docs, Forms, etc.) and Twitter.  I even started a class Twitter account (thanks to my new assistant principal).  I have enjoyed learning new technology — and learning A TON from my students in the process.

After ISTEP is over next week, I plan to turn the classroom Twitter page (@HoeppnerWMS) over to my students.  I am eager to have more parent followers as they watch for their child’s posts.

–My second accomplishment is more personal.  As an avid reader, I am passionate about helping my students find passion in reading as well.  I have so many students who have found a love of reading this year and who go home and recommend books to their parents and siblings.  I had one young man write me a thank you note for exposing to him to poetry (elegies in particular) because writing poetry gave him an outlet to grieve the loss of his mother.  Needless to say, I cried like a baby when reading his thank you letter.  This is a memory I will hold with me always.

3.  What are THREE things you wish to accomplish before the end of the school year?

–I want to see my school Twitter account blow up!  🙂  I want to see my students become reflective writers as part of this Twitter account.  So often, students turn in work that is less than their best because they know I (the teacher) am the only one reading it.  I am hoping that by tweeting posts that a vast audience will read, they will be more motivated to do their best work.

–I want to help my students become better writers.  I started thematic notebooks last year (thank you Nancy Atwell).  This is a great way for students to write frequently while about a topic in which they are personally interested.  I am looking for more ways to incorporate writing into my lessons (aside from the traditional standards).


–I want to teach my first thematic unit.  I teach a Holocaust unit each year with Night by Elie Weisel.  I plan to incorporate short stories, picture books, poetry, and music into this unit in an attempt to make it more memorable for the students.  I am open to ideas.  🙂

4.  Give FOUR reasons why you remain in education in today’s rough culture.

–Students:  they keep me young. I sometimes go home overwhelmed, tired, and unsure.  But, when I think about each one of my students (past and present), I can think of no better profession than education.

–The future:  I still have this Utopian view that I might make the world a better place by educating our future.

–Love of learning:  I can always learn.  I am amazed how much motivation and energy I get from reading professional development (books, Twitter, etc.).  I know I am still in education because I still get energized by new ideas and strategies for classroom instruction.

–Passion for pedagogy:  I cannot get enough strategy.  Kylene Beers, Bob Probst, Nancy Atwell, Donalyn Miller and more have renewed my passion for teaching and teaching Language Arts. Kids can and do enjoy reading.  I have seen it.  🙂

5.  Which FIVE people do you hope will take the challenge of answering these questions.

–All teachers.  I have read others’ blogs for years but never felt I had anything to offer that others would want to read.  I want to see all teachers share their day-to-day experiences.  Perhaps then, we can truly develop plans and strategies that will meet the needs of ALL students.

–I would love to see Rachel Storer (@rstorer23) write a  blog.  Her wit and humor are perfect, and her knowledge of Special Education is remarkable.  I learn something new from her every day.  She could teach all General Education teachers a lot!





The Power of Reflection


brain image has many definitions for reflection. I found one most interesting — “an unfavorable remark or observation.”  What an odd definition for such a powerful tool.  I have been asking my students to reflect on their work for years — knowing that through reflection we grow in our understanding of both ourselves and the content we are learning. As I further pondered this definition, I began to see some truth in it.  Through reflection, we see how things (life, love, teaching, etc.) could have been done differently.  I guess if it could have been done differently, that means I failed the first time, right?

I think (no, I know) that it is this fear of failure that has kept me from blogging.  I have read, commented, and even tweeted, but blogging seemed too far out of my comfort zone — what on Earth do I have to say that someone else would be interested in  reading?

Now, I have always been a reflective thinker.  I reflect on each day’s lesson, pouring over the details, wondering why the same lesson worked with some classes and not others.  My reflective process, however, often involved post-it notes and “to-do” lists.  Blogging, not so much.

Today marks my 4th post, and as I write, I am finally realizing the cathartic nature of reflecting…reflecting for others to see.  This is no private journal.  I am letting the world experience my successes and failures because an authentic audience adds purpose.  Yes, I reflected on my teaching, but now others can reflect on it as well.  What better way to grow than to let others in and take part in your growth?

I feel today how I have always hoped my students would feel as they reflected on their own work — stronger.  I fear that probably has not been the case.  What was their authentic audience?  I had not given them one — an audience of one may not be enough.  Tomorrow starts a new day, a day in which I engage my students in writing beyond just me as the reader.  Here’s to tomorrow.

What ways do you bring authenticity into the classroom?  

Why teachers can’t sleep.

It’s 12:30 a.m. and I am wide awake.  I don’t want to be awake, but I have all these things weighing on my mind.

  1.  I am taking my mom to the hospital tomorrow morning at 6:00 a.m. for surgery.  Of course I’m worried.  That’s why I’m awake.
  2. It is unbearably cold here in Indiana right now and most area districts have called for a 2-hr delay in the morning in hopes that the temperatures will rise.  My district has not.  Here is why I am worried.  Will my district opt to cancel school tomorrow altogether and make it an e- learning day?

Are you seeing my dilemma?  I took the day off.  I went in on Sunday and made sub plans in order to be with my mom.

If school cancels, I am going to be creating e-lessons on a computer that has only 1/2 battery power remaining.  Creating lessons that both educate and inspire my students…without me.  This is so much easier said than done .

Then, somehow between carting my mom to and from her surgery and taking care of her while she is home, I must be at my computer available to my students.

Yep.  This is why I am not sleeping.  I know you hard working teachers out there understand my fears all too well.

You, too, are probably up still grading, lesson planning, copying, creating , etc for your amazing students tomorrow.

If you do get some rest, don’t oversleep.  🙂





Close Reading Strategies

I have been an English teacher for 16 years, and like most other educators, I rarely teach things in the same way twice — there are always ways to improve.    I am constantly reading books, journals, and articles for new ways to make my teaching better.  And while I always knew I could be a better teacher, I never knew by how much, until I was introduced to Notice and Note by Kylene Beers and Bob Probst.

Mind blower!  🙂  I HIGHLY recommend attending a conference and buying the book.

It isn’t often I go to a conference and want to immediately begin implementing what I learned…I hadn’t even read the book.

Beers and Probst introduced what they call the “signposts” — the 6 components that appear in ALL fiction writing.  They taught us a lot, and even let us try a few strategies ourselves.

Beers also introduced us to a Facebook Page about Notice and Note.  This page became a vital piece in my own attempt to try Notice and Note in the classroom.  The teachers who have joined this page are AMAZING!  Everyone in the group is implementing Notice and Note (k-12) and sharing their successes, failures, and lessons (with attachments).  🙂 I have never met a more dedicated group of teachers (from all around the world) who are willing to share their ideas in order to improve learning for students everywhere.

Two years ago, my district adopted Fahrenheit 451 as an 8th grade text. I was overwhelmed at the thought of teaching this very complex text to 8th graders.  Enter Notice and Note.

I used a signpost bookmark (taken from the Notice and Note Facebook page) and bought a ton of post-it notes in matching colors, and off I went.  I never knew how brilliant students were.  These signposts gave students a strategy for what to notice in text.

In the past I had always been the guide.  I had always told students what to look for and then asked them to explain.  With Notice and Note, you give students a toolkit and THEY find the examples.  And trust me, they will.  My students absolutely blew my mind.

Was it still difficult?  Of course.  This is Fahrenheit 451.  But, my students learned so much more about the text than I could have ever expected — or would have if I had stuck to the whole “study guide” idea.

The best part of Notice and Note?  Differentiation!!!  Because the signposts are a toolkit and not a guide to the “right answers,” the students are able to find examples based on their own understanding of the text.  I did not have to change my lessons for Honors and Academic classes.  Because the students create the signposts, they guide the discussions…thus the differentiation.

I had students with elementary grade lexiles reading AND participating in discussion on Fahrenheit 451.  Students who had never before spoken in class had the confidence to offer their findings.

I am a hard-core advocate of Notice and Note.  I am attending another Beers and Probst conference in February for the Nonfiction signposts.  CAN’T WAIT!

Give it a try.  You won’t be disappointed.


New Year, New Start

Here I am, on the evening on January 5, 2016, beginning to fulfill this year’s New Year’s resolution – write a blog.

I was inspired to start blogging when my assistant principal connected me with Twitter last fall (yes, I am just slightly behind).  J  I thought Twitter was simply a pop culture medium where teenagers and celebrities shared momentous events in their lives.  I had no idea that Twitter is a place for professionals to share thoughts, educational best practices, and advice on teaching.

I went to Twitter a few times just trying to understand the ins and outs.  It was clear when I entered my first educational chat that I had no idea what I was doing.  I didn’t understand the acronyms (PLN, Ss, Ts, etc.), and yes, I Googled them.  Before long, I was participating in chats.  The wealth of knowledge was astounding.  Twitter had opened my eyes to a world of education I had never known.

In these chats, educators from around the world offer strategies and tips for teachers and administrators to take back and use in their own schools.  There is no “show-boating.”  There is no “hiding the good stuff” – everybody who participates in these chats has one very common goal – “do what’s best for kids.”

So why did it take me so long to join the ranks of Twitter and blogs?  I had shied away mostly because I thought I was too busy.  We all know teaching is a serious time commitment, and I thought these mediums would inhibit productivity.  I was so very wrong.  Twitter has inspired me in ways few other professional development opportunities have.

Thanks to Twitter leaders and bloggers Pernille Ripp (@pernilleripp), Starr Sackstein (@mssackstein), Alice Keeler (@alicekeeler), and others.  You have empowered me as an educator.  You have pushed me to try new things in the classroom …things that have directly benefited my students.  In just the last four months, I have researched, created, and applied so many new instructional strategies with my 8th graders.

So, why am I blogging here today?  In addition to the blogs and Tweets that inspired me to try new things, some were reminiscent of my own views and experiences in education.  I read some posts that I felt had been written about my own classroom.  I had never blogged because I didn’t feel that I had anything to say that other educators would want to read. (What unique things do I implement in the classroom that is worthwhile to anyone else?)  But, when I repeatedly read blogs that I felt like I could have written, I began pondering my role in the blogging universe.

So…here it is.  My first blog. I hope I can inspire others as so many of you have inspired me.

Thanks for reading,

Sara Hoeppner

“The most important story we will ever write in life is our own – not with ink, but with our daily choices.”

-Richard Paul Evans