Iowa Council of Teachers of English We facilitate deep connections & professional learning for ELA teachers. Thu, 15 Aug 2019 14:25:22 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Two Poems: “The Family Farm” and “Students” Thu, 15 Aug 2019 14:25:22 +0000

Because I was born and raised on a family farm in northeast Iowa, there is still a strong attachment to this beginning.  Farmers do truly supper the world and yet most are humble in doing so.”

— Poet Jan Luton

The Family Farm

A place of tranquility
   cradled in the country.

A nurturing nest
   that houses good beginnings.

A chameleon patch in a quilt
  with seasonal changes.

An entertainment
  with business of production.

A checkerboard of seasons
  white, brown, green and gold.

A grocery sack
   that suppers the table of man.

A place to rest.


Having taught 5-year-olds through seniors in college, I have enjoyed the variety of human beings that we have in our schools and colleges. Over forty years of teaching has given me great joy and satisfaction…and faith in our young people! ”

— Poet Jan Luton


Students are like jellybeans
Whose school is like the jar.
Their bodies are physically here
But their minds can travel afar.

Some are licorice, blue or gold
Pink and orange and even green.
Yellow and red and purple too
With flavors in between.

A student may not want to learn,
Just  fill a vacant space.
Another loves the work and challenge
To rightfully earn an “A”ce.

Grades are just a temporary label
That cause both heartache and joy,
No difference who has earned them
A reluctant girl or a bombastic boy.

Each personality reflects a being,
A loving person or another who’s cruel;
They laugh and learn and are themselves,
A human being in school.

Many are in the colorful mix
Which broadens one and all,
There’s joy and justice in all of them,
Just as we recall.




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Jan Luton Thu, 15 Aug 2019 14:23:17 +0000 Jan Luton is currently teaching 12th graders at Assumption High School. Yes, after 40-some years of teaching, she still loves to teach!

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Practice What You Preach: Start with Brainstorming Wed, 31 Jul 2019 16:02:44 +0000 I try my best to practice what I preach – as a mother, a Christian, a teacher. This summer, in fact, I had every intention of practicing what I preach – or in this case teach: writing.

My writing was going to work in tandem with my 30+ year family photo collection which I was going to organize into an iPhoto book in which I would then write sweet, humorous narratives to memorialize the childhoods of my three grown children.

I haven’t yet practiced what I preach. I haven’t written.”

Well… June was stolen by a landscaping project, July was gladly given to the birth of my first grandbaby, and now my last month of summer vacation is staring me in the face, reminding me that I haven’t yet practiced what I preach.

I haven’t written.

Sigh. Roll my eyes. Slump my shoulders. Look at my phone. Go to the fridge. Peruse Facebook. Fight with myself internally about my inabilities. Sigh… again.

Suddenly, I realize I am practicing a perfect performance of my typical reluctant high school writers and then hear clearly running through my head: “Practice what you preach. Start with brainstorming.”

“Just start. Remember that you have lots of valuable ideas floating around in your head that you may not even realize are there. But you must start; get your writing momentum going. Try an idea dump: time yourself for 3-5 minutes and spit out everything that’s in your head. Force yourself to continue writing the entire time. See where your ideas go. Writing forces us to organize all those great thoughts we already have while also generating more ideas.”

So I’ll practice what I preach and start with brainstorming.

Students actually writing on their desks is freeing, strengthening the “dump” idea.”

As a writing teacher, I’m big on brainstorming and facilitate numerous brainstorming techniques throughout the school year. So I decide to start with an idea dump. In the classroom, this is something I like to do with dry erase markers on desktops, but it can be done on paper or computer. However, students actually writing on their desks (then taking a picture of it with their phones if they’d like) is  more freeing, strengthening the “dump” idea. They are able to randomly and quickly write or draw all the ideas they discover in their heads onto their desks however they come to their minds. Then they can organize those ideas by looking for patterns, similarities, and writing direction.

Once they’ve analyzed their idea dump, I oftentimes move to timed writing. This is one of my favorite brainstorming techniques because I’ve never seen it fail to show writing momentum – a key element of brainstorming and the writing process.

In timed writings, I either give students a prompt or direct them to choose one of their idea-dump categories. Then I put the timer on for two to four minutes during which writers are to continue writing the entire time. When the timer stops, they stop, draw a line, and count their words. Then we chart the number of words each student wrote. It sounds like, “OK, how many wrote 11-20 words? 21-30? How many with 31-40?” I chart the number of students who wrote X number of words. Then we start the timer again with either a new prompt, a continuation of the previous prompt, or an idea found in their previous timed writing (sometimes called looping). When the timer goes off, we count, chart the second timed writing, and start the process again for another two or three rounds. Inevitably, students see the trend line moving to the upper right corner of the chart, clearly demonstrating writing momentum.

The writing energy in the classroom is palpable”

Experiencing (individually and collectively) an increasing writing energy makes students and their ideas flourish. They seem driven by the timer. For one thing, it’s do-able – two measly minutes. Then when I have them count their words and start another two minutes of writing, their competition kicks in. Those who balk or stutter to start on the first round soon find their fingers clicking furiously on their keyboards, whether in competition with themselves or others. The writing energy in the classroom is palpable when students see our class word count climb higher with each consecutive timed writing – tangible proof that they’ve all got ideas in their heads that can be produced in writing, a fact I never miss pointing out.  

Despite the fact that some of the most reluctant writers may use what they’ve just written as their baseline draft before assigned revisions, these writers did experience writing momentum, a necessary element in writing growth, and they’re now at least able to participate in class-wide revisions and peer reviews. Pleasantly, however, most writers will use this brainstorming as a solid launch pad for further content, organization, and revision on their own. And the more mature and motivated writers will use these texts as discovery drafts, analyzing them in order to spur on deeper idea generation, organization, and explorative revision.

Either way, brainstorming is vital to experiencing the writing momentum necessary to move writers into the next stages of the writing process. And it’s a good feeling to have practiced what I preach about writing and to have experienced for myself the energy produced by a number of different brainstorming techniques

Hartwig’s students chart their word count in two-minute rounds of timed writing.

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Jennifer Hartwig Wed, 31 Jul 2019 13:51:24 +0000 Jennifer Hartwig is a literacy teacher at ACGC High School in Guthrie Center. She also just began a new role as grandmother in which she is reflecting her love of reading by  joyously starting her own “Grandma’s Book of the Month Club” for her new grandbaby.

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#10: English Alumni Roundtable on Podcasting (UNI) Wed, 24 Jul 2019 19:25:42 +0000 #10: English Alumni Roundtable on Podcasting (UNI)

In this episode, the finale of Season 2 of the podcast, the English Alumni Roundtable on Podcasting presented by the University of Northern Iowa (specifically sponsored by the UNI Department of Languages & Literatures, English Club, and UNI Council of Teachers of English). This conversation was recorded on March 29, 2019 and is being published on behalf of ICTE with the permission of Jim O’Loughlin and the University of Northern Iowa.

Special thanks to Jim O’Loughlin, John Toenjes, Lucy Fitzgerald, and UNI for their contributions to this episode. Music for this episode from the Free Music Archive by the artist Steve Combs.

Please support my fellow podcasters by checking out their work.

The This Is Not For You podcast, a page-per-episode analysis of the cult novel, House of Leaves, is hosted by John Toenjes. The Wine & Crime podcast is co-hosted by Lucy Fitzgerald is a true crime / comedy podcast that has been named one of the best true crime podcasts by New York magazine. Both can be found on Apple podcasts and other podcatchers.

Thanks for listening. Please rate, review, and subscribe.

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ICTE Welcomes You! Tue, 23 Jul 2019 17:03:01 +0000 The Iowa Council of Teachers of English is the volunteer organization that facilitates deep connections and professional learning face-to-face and online for English/language arts teachers of all stages.

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ICTE Podcasts Tue, 23 Jul 2019 17:01:09 +0000 Listen to the next episode today!

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Submit your writing! Tue, 23 Jul 2019 17:00:41 +0000 We want to hear from the experts in our own organization! We are looking for pieces 200-600 words in length, reflecting on classroom experiences, teaching strategies, and/or life in the classroom.

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News & Notes Tue, 23 Jul 2019 16:59:37 +0000 Notes and news from around the council!

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The Fifth Chair Flute Sun, 26 May 2019 12:49:12 +0000 I was not a great flautist, but I loved band for the music that was attempted, for the camaraderie the attempt instilled, and for the friends that resulted. This is a story about the friend I did not make…. Not even that… This is a story about the absence of a friend I never made.

Early in the fall of 1975, I was a sophomore in high school band and eager not to be last chair flute. Second to last, okay, but just not last. After a sketchy audition that involved no shortage of wrong notes and confused rhythms, I was granted the privilege of sitting in the position of sixth chair. Out of how many? I do not know, and it does not matter. I was not first and I was not last. Good enough. I only needed a position to save face; I was a social band member, not a serious musician. My good friend, Deb, sat to my right, and Dixie sat to my left.

Dixie was the fifth chair. Dixie was a mountainous girl with a homely face. (At least this is how my 15-year-old self remembers her.) She was abnormally quiet and utterly friendless. She moved grandly and slowly into the band room amid the screaming, laughing, pushing, shoving, good-natured name-calling. She seemed proud and sad and still. Her size and silence rebuked any would-be teasers and harassers. Dixie was left alone.

Since Deb sat to my right, we talked…a lot. We laughed and giggled at tuba notes that sounded like flatulence. We laughed and giggled when Mr. Heinz became so impassioned that spittle flew from his lips, spraying the cowering bandsters in the first row. We laughed and giggled because we did not practice and did not play the correct notes. We laughed and giggled because Bruce Usher wore short, tight baby-blue polyester pants. Band was hilarious.

Sometimes, Deb was absent. And that it the only time I noticed that Dixie was there. She was just…there. Methodically playing her music, serious and impassive, not a great musician but a serious girl. She annoyed me. Her mere presence impinged on my space (and my fun); she sat tall, her plentiful hips and thighs spilled over the side of the metal chair. When she raised her flute, the flab of her arms swayed repugnantly close to me; my face was near her armpit. I hated the way she made her presence known. No laughter or giggling, only a stoic approach and impressive use of space. Dixie was not fun. And her name was weird.

One day, the fifth flute chair was empty. And another day. And another day. And another day. Mr. Heinz called her name off the attendance sheet, scanned the boisterous band room, called her name one more time, and then moved to the next name on the list. Her absence persisted. Her absence had no effect on the band (or on any individual that I knew of). I was glad to have the extra arm and leg space to my left. And Deb and I could carry on with our exclusive revelry.

And then one morning Mr. Heinz unsuccessfully tried to get the attention of the entire band. As he stood on his podium waving his arms and scanning the room full of band members who were talking, gesticulating, popping open instrument cases, spitting into mouth pieces, licking reeds, and tooting out various notes, he told us that Dixie had died of leukemia.

Candace Berkley has been teaching Language Arts classes for 23 years at Dallas Center-Grimes High School. She was the 2018 ICTE Iowa High School Teacher of Excellence.

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