If you’re anything like me, you probably have students who are very reluctant to do any journal or creative writing. I have to confess, at times, I fall into the category of reluctant writer as well. But, never mind. That discussion is for another time.

Over the years, I’ve tried different strategies to motivate my reluctant writers. There’re a couple of strategies that I combine that make my students less reluctant to do their journal entries or their creative writing assignments. Perhaps these two strategies combined will work for you too.

First, I provide my students with photo writing prompts such as the one below that I found on Pinterest.

Writing prompt from Pinterest

Pinterest is a great resource for photo writing prompts. I especially like the combination of the photo and the written prompts. There are lots  of photo prompts with written prompts on Pinterest.   I simply choose a few photo writing prompts on a given day and then upload them onto our class site, or when I’m lucky enough to have a document camera I use it to project the photo writing prompts onto the screen. Then my students choose a photo writing prompt that appeals to them. I also have some emergency photo writing prompts printed off and available in case the computer isn’t working. I’ve learned the hard way to be prepared.

Having my students choose a photo writing  prompt is the first part of my strategy. The second part is to have my students do a 5 minute writing sprint. My students like the fact that there is a time limit to their writing. I used to use an actual timer in class but I’ve found that using an  on-line timer that I  project onto the screen is better. My students  can look up at the projected timer and see when the agony is over. Surprisingly, most of my  students enjoy using the photo writing prompts and doing the five minute sprint. It’s fun to see them so engaged by the photo writing prompts. The Internet is such a wonderful resource.






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I’ve been talking and talking and talking  about writing a book based on my blog but that’s all I’ve been doing is talking about writing my book. Writing’s not a problem. I did a lot of writing while completing my MEd and liked it. I did a lot of writing for my blog over the eight years and liked it. Well, to be honest, I haven’t been writing many blog posts lately. It’s not writing that’s the problem.  The problem is I just can’t seem to get started.

When I was really busy teaching in the classroom, I used to set aside a time to write my blog and respond to comments. No problem getting the writing done. But now, that I have more time I can’t seem to get to writing my blog, never mind my book. There’s that  old adage that goes something like “if you want to get something done, give it to a busy person”, well  I didn’t fully appreciate the message until recently. I’m not busy, and I’m not getting things done.

I was reading a tweet my son, Chris Hartjes, recently wrote . I follow his tweets just because I’m his Mom and have to know. He’s been encouraging me to write this book for a while. Chris is  super busy at work and with family responsibilities and yet he’s writing his third book as well as speaking at conferences and doing  video-casts. People are always asking him how does he find the time to do all that he does when he’s so busy all the time. His answer to that question is ” Use your calendar to block out time for tasks and only do them during that time”.>

Use my calendar to block out time to write my book? I think I can do that. I will do that, and I’ll let you know how it goes.



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For me. living an authentic life is living a life that honours what I value. Shakespseare said it best when he said ” Know thyself and to thine self be true”.

By now, I have a pretty good idea what I value in life. I also know that if I do not live my life according to what I value, life soon starts to suck.

For the most part, I love teaching. But, every once in a while I start to hate it. When I realize I’m starting to hate teaching, I’m always surprised.  I love teaching, especially teaching the academically at risk students I usually teach, so why am I starting to hate it?

I’ve learned to ask myself what is it about teaching my students that I love, and am I doing that? Invariably, the answer is that I am not teaching according to what I value. By not honouring what I value in my teaching practice, I’m  disconnecting  myself from my teaching practice and from my students. Once disconnected from my teaching practice and my students, life starts to suck. Once I realize there’s a problem, I start to reconnect to my teaching practice and to my students. I’ll do this  by asking  myself what it is  that I value about my students, and what is it at I value about my teaching practice. Once I’ve identified what I’m doing that doesn’t honour my values, I can change what I’m doing and start to be more authentic.  Soon, life  becomes good again.

Just a thought here: Can someone be more authentic or is being authentic one of those absolute states wherein you are authentic or you are not authentic- there’s no more or less.











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What’s it take for good teaching to happen?   I think good teaching happens when teachers connect to their students and when teachers get their students to connect to the subject matter (Parker J. Palmer, 2007). For me my best teaching moments happen when my students and I connect on a person to person level. Let me explain what I mean.

As some of you might know, I’ve been a special ed teacher for a long, long, long time- some days it seems longer than others.  Quite a few semesters ago I had these two young lads (I’ll call them Sam and Dwayne)  in my grade nine learning strategies class who were extremely proud of their reputation for being bad. The first few days of the semester, as we were getting to know one another,  Sam and Dwayne told me they had been the best of friends since kindergarten and that they were proud of their reputation for were really bad. They  enthusiastically shared all kinds of stories of what they had done to teachers in the past. Scary, to say the least. Oh, did I mention they told me hated teachers and school?

The first three weeks of the semester did not go well. I  realized Sam and Dwayne could make this class this semester a living hell for me if I didn’t do something fast. They were a very dynamic duo, let me tell you.  I figured although they hated teachers maybe if they got to know me as a person who is a teacher (emphasis on person), things might not go so badly. I often tell my students that teachers are just people who teach. I don’t want them to lose track of the person in the teacher, and I try not to lose track of the person in the student.  I knew I needed to connect to Sam and Dwayne on a person to person level fast.

When I was thinking about strategies I could use to help make that person to person connection between Sam and Dwayne and myself,  the word Scrabble popped into my head. So I took out the Scrabble game, and I sat down at a table between the two of them  and started to set up the Scrabble  game. Sam told me he didn’t play any games with teachers. Oh, great ! Now what.  I just ignored what Sam said, mainly because I didn’t know what else to do. Pretending not to hear what Sam had said, I continued to set up the Scrabble game and surprisingly, to me at least, both boys proceeded to play Scrabble with me. I think I told them that day any words they made that were verbs got double points, another day the bonus words might be adjectives or adverbs. I liked using Scrabble to help my student  improve their vocabulary and grammar  skills. We played Scrabble together for part of each class for about eight days and got to know one another as people as we talked about “whatever” during the games. To my relief,  Sam and Dwayne became more and more cooperative in class and d hardly  disruptwd the class. We continued to play Scrabble from time to time throughout the semester because,  as it turned out,  they did like to play Scrabble with a teacher.

Although, I used playing Scrabble to help me make a positive connection with Sam and Dwayne, there are countless other  ways to make positive connections with students. It all depends on the teacher and the students. I like playing Scrabble, so I used playing Scrabble.  I was able to play Scrabble in my learning strategies class because the learning strategy class it isn’t really content driven like my math classes are. If Sam and Dwayne had been in my math class, I would have had to come up with another strategy to use to help me make a positive connection with them.  Making that the positive connection is the important thing. There isn’t just one way to create that positive connection.

From time to time, Sam and Dwayne came back to visit me after graduation  to tell me about the positive things that were going on in their lives now.  I had to chuckle when Dwayne told me during one of these visits  “Miss, I remember one day  in grade nine you just changed  and everything was better after that”. That day was the Day of Scrabble. That day was the day I made a positive connection with Sam and Dwayne.


I’ve found Parker J. Palmer’s book The Courage to Teach  (1998) very useful in helping me to continue to refine my philosophy of teaching.


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