About this episode
Welcome to POPCAST, Episode 10! In this episode, Jeff and Travis interview coordinator and ELA teacher at Stevenson Middle School in New York City, NY, Jodi Ramos, about the important work she is doing with the New York Times Teaching Project.
Meet Jeff and Travis
For over thirty years, Jeff Anderson has inspired writers and teachers of grades K-8 with the power and joy of the writing and grammar. He has written eight books for Stenhouse Publishers. He also writes middle-grade novels. Travis Leech is currently a middle school instructional coach in Northside Independent School District in San Antonio, TX. He has thirteen years of experience in education, including teaching middle school English Language Arts and as a gifted and talented specialist. Follow Jeff and Travis on Twitter.
Read the transcript
Travis: 00:04 Welcome to Popcast, a Patterns of Power podcast.
Jeff: 00:09 Discussing grammar in the context of reading and writing connections...
Travis: 00:13 I'm Travis Leech.
Jeff: 00:14 And I'm Jeff Anderson.
Travis: 00:15 And we're today's hosts for Episode 10.
Jeff: 00:19 Our special guest is going to be Jodi Ramos.
Travis: 00:22 She is a published author...
Jeff: 00:24 A seasoned presenter...
Travis: 00:26 A writing project trainer...
Jeff: 00:27 A Northside ISD teacher. Oh my gosh, the crowd's going crazy here for Jodi. They must really love her. And today, we're going to talk to her about being a New York Times Teaching Project consultant. So we're really... Come on! Calm down, she's here.
Travis: 00:41 Yeah. It's all right.
Jeff: 00:42 Travis is spinning her in circles. Okay, okay. Guys, it's good. It's good. Grammar, New York Times. We get it, you're excited. Okay, calm down. No, I mean it. I mean it. Calm down. There you go. All right.
Jeff: 01:04 So we're so excited to have a conversation with you today, Jodi.
Travis: 01:08 Yeah, hi, welcome.
Jodi: 01:09 Welcome to both of you.
Travis: 01:10 Yay. We wanted to talk about your work with the New York Times Teaching Project, and we thought it might make sense for you to just start out by telling us a little bit about the project and your work with it.
Jodi: 01:23 All right. Thank you so much. Well currently, I am the coordinator and ELA teacher at Stevenson Middle School. But in 2019, I was supposed to have one course of English, sixth grade. And then one of my teachers received notice that she was ill and probably wouldn't make it through the year.
Jodi: 01:42 So they changed my schedule to do intervention that year. And on September 29th, I took over eighth grade classes, and I was super nervous about taking those over. But I remember the New York Times Learning Network had an argumentative unit, and I started doing it. And since I started doing that unit, I guess somewhere they found out that I was using the New York Times. So I received an email that said they were going to do this new cohort, and we would be the first one, the inaugural cohort from 2020 to 2021. They'd fly us, all expenses paid, to New York City.
Jeff: 02:15 Nice, oh, wow!
Jodi: 02:15 We would have to fly there. So we had to do an interview, all of this stuff. I never thought they would choose me, and the fact that I know I love to teach, but I've only taught middle school like two years out of my 33, so I was worried about that. But it went really pretty well, I thought, but I wasn't sure.
Jodi: 02:33 And then the pandemic hit, and they said they were no longer going to fly us up to New York, and they didn't even know if they were going to have the project, but at the last minute, they decided to, and it would be all online starting in the summer in July, and they would let us know. And they chose 60 people, and I was one of them. There's one of six middle school teachers.
Jeff: 02:50 What an honor! And I just want to tell everybody, this is going to be linked in the show notes. So just so you know, if we talk about anything that's available online, it'll be linked in the show notes. So you wrote an article called Sentences That Matter, Mentor, and Motivate. I heard there's a bank of nonfiction sentences there. Can you tell me about that?
Jodi: 03:11 Yes, we had to do a project that year. And so I had pitched that I was going to do sentence imitation. I saw someone named Jeff Anderson, I think gosh, it must be like 28 years ago, Jeff Anderson, when you were going to become a writing trainer.
Jeff: 03:26 We're old.
Jodi: 03:26 Yes, we are old. And you were teaching in a portable either seventh grade middle school, I didn't even know who you were, but you were going to become a trainer. And I watched you. And you taught sentence imitation. I didn't really know what it was, but I saw you and I went, "That's the way to go," and I threw at the DOL, and I did that. So I wanted to show the New York Times people that I could take their articles and use those for imitation. And so I pitched that in an elevator pitch, and then Blake Buckhold from Utah, high school teacher-
Jeff: 03:55 Oh, Blake!
Jodi: 03:55 Also met you. He picked you up in a minivan.
Jeff: 04:00 Yeah, he's very cool because he's got a minivan. Do you have a minivan?
Jodi: 04:02 Not any more.
Jeff: 04:03 Right, so now you're not cool anymore, Jodi. Sorry.
Jodi: 04:06 Not cool anymore. So he said, "I want to do it with you." And I said, "Great!" So when we pitched it, the New York Times said, "Hey, we want to publish that." So there's 60 of us, only three of us have been published in the Times.
Jeff: 04:18 Congratulations. I didn't know that.
Jodi: 04:20 Thank you. And I was like, "Whoa, so great!" So of course, I had to give you credit and Gretchen Bernebei and Abydos training too. So we started finding, we culled the New York Times articles and found different sentences based on the grammatical structures that are most common.
Jeff: 04:37 Okay, so in this article, at the bottom of the article, there's a link. When you find the article Sentences That Matter, Mentor, and Motivate by Jodi Ramos, at the bottom of that article, there's going to be a link.
Jeff: 04:49 And it will invite you to look at these couple of sentence patterns, like simple, compound, complex, compound-complex. It'll tell you what they are, and then it'll list some examples of those kinds of sentences found in the New York Times and then challenge the kids to do it. And we think that's a wonderful resource that you have out there. So we're so excited that the kids are going to be able to do that.
Jodi: 05:10 Yeah, pretty impressed with the whole process of working with editors in the New York Times. I mean, it was amazing to have copy editors.
Jeff: 05:18 Oh, yeah!
Jodi: 05:18 They correct everything for you, because that's not my forte. I'm the creative side. Blake was a little bit more of the [imitates machine] side.
Jeff: 05:25 Well, he's a high school English teacher, right?
Jodi: 05:27 Yeah. And-
Jeff: 05:28 So the articles are set up, it's paired. There's a high school English teacher article in the news, and a middle school English teacher article, right?
Jodi: 05:34 Yeah. How he does sentence imitation, which is a little twist from what you do, and how I do sentence imitation, which is another twist of what you do.
Jeff: 05:42 So basically what I'm hearing is that writers who use the Patterns of Power middle school edition or younger edition or high school edition, they can always look at the newspapers for sources of mentor sentences. As long as we have newspapers around. I guess the New York Times wouldn't like me saying that. What do you think, Travis?
Travis: 06:03 No, I love that. And especially the idea of getting into nonfiction and looking at that, because it seems like a lot of times, we think about fiction as the first go-to, right?
Jodi: 06:15 Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Travis: 06:15 But for you to have curated all these sentences in that nonfiction realm, I just love the choice that it adds to teacher's plates when they're thinking about grammar instruction.
Jodi: 06:26 And I think nonfiction is the hardest to read, so it was nice to look at the article as a reader, then look at it as a writer, then look at it as a speaker, and go back and forth.
Jeff: 06:35 Well, there you go. There's that meshing of the reading and writing process as being connected, the conventions or grammar, activating meaning.
Jodi: 06:43 Everything.
Jeff: 06:44 And it helps you as a reader, and it helps you as a writer. It helps you both ways, right?
Jodi: 06:47 Big time. I see it in kids every day.
Jeff: 06:50 What was one of the best moments that you remember about this project for you?
Jodi: 06:55 Probably being published in the New York Times. You know?
Jeff: 06:59 Yeah, it's still a huge deal for me that you mentioned my name with a hyperlink to my book, during the pandemic. So thank you, Jodi Ramos. That's not the reason we had you here. We had you here because you're a very talented teacher in Northside Independent School District. You go around, you share with people, all over the United States, about all the wonderful stuff you're doing in your classroom.
Travis: 07:19 Yeah, we appreciate it. Talk to us about the New York Times Project in the future. If people are interested in it, is there an easy way for them to access, sign up, be considered for it?
Jodi: 07:32 It's already closed this year, and they've already chosen the next 60, and unfortunately, we couldn't apply. Because I wanted to, because I really think it has helped me through the pandemic. I don't think I would have made it to be honest. We meet once a month, and you're with 60 educators who are brilliant and very passionate.
Jodi: 07:49 I mean, they might have had horrible lives this year, but they didn't show it. So they can't this year, and they're hoping the next year, they would do it again. Which would be the application comes out in January. It's due in February. A video, your principal recommendation and another recommendation, and then lessons that you've done using the Times, with pictures and stuff.
Jeff: 08:09 Wow.
Jodi: 08:10 Hundreds will apply. Probably thousands.
Travis: 08:12 Yeah, in your experience with the other people in the project with you, were there any other lessons or ideas that really stood out to you as you were talking with other people that you thought, "Wow, this is something great," that you maybe have used or that you're thinking about maybe using?
Jodi: 08:28 Yeah, most of them, Travis and Jeff, are high school teachers. And they teach AP. They're six of us who are middle school.
Jeff: 08:37 Really? Only six?
Jodi: 08:37 Only six got chosen.
Jeff: 08:38 Oh, okay. So...
Jodi: 08:41 Because I think not as many middle school applied, or not what they wanted in the middle school maybe. So Kim Butterfield from Wisconsin actually-
Jeff: 08:50 Oh, [crosstalk 00:08:50].
Jodi: 08:50 ... did something on diversity-
Jeff: 08:52 Wisconsin, y'all!
Jodi: 08:53 Wisconsin.
Jeff: 08:53 Cheese head.
Jodi: 08:57 Shout out! Big-time cheese head. Go Packers! So it was diversity and politics, because it was right around the election, at the same time. And she used TikTok, which I thought was really neat.
Jeff: 09:08 Wow.
Jodi: 09:08 And then there's another teacher from Atlanta, Georgia. She's called @I'mThatTeacher, and she does short grammar lessons. Not necessarily sentence imitation, but all on TikTok, she has I think 100,000 followers. Does that seem like a crazy amount? @I'mThatTeacher is her name.
Jodi: 09:23 And she does like affect, effect, your, you're. She's pretty snazzy on that. And then there's a lot of AP teachers that did great projects with Antigone, things like that. Things that I won't necessarily use, but if you're looking for AP, that's what I would go to those projects. And it's all posted online, all free.
Travis: 09:43 And that's all accessed through the New York Times-
Jodi: 09:45 Learning Network.
Travis: 09:46 Learning Network.
Jeff: 09:47 Okay, so the New York Times Learning Network, the New York Times Teaching Project, we'll have links in the show notes. I wanted to ask another question to you. So what's the easiest way to get kids to imitate, do you think? What gets them into the frame of mind where they actually will try out another author's pattern?
Travis: 10:08 Mm-hmm (affirmative), choice reading. Self-selected reading every single day. I read aloud to my sixth graders every day, and if I don't, they kill me. I start with a book, and then they have self-selected reading for 20 minutes, and they're hooked in a book.
Jeff: 10:21 It's brilliant, because a lot of people don't realize that every time you read, it's a grammar lesson. Every time you-
Jodi: 10:26 Every time.
Jeff: 10:27 ... and when you read out loud, you're giving them a syntactical flow lesson.
Jodi: 10:30 Every time.
Jeff: 10:31 Which sounds really complicated, but syntactical flow is just the way our language fits together, and when you know that, then that's how it comes out on the piece of paper. It's a beautiful thing.
Jodi: 10:41 Their syntactic maturity has grown, just from using the New York Times articles. Because look at that syntactic maturity.
Jeff: 10:48 That's still written at an eighth grade level I thought. Is that wrong?
Jodi: 10:50 Higher.
Jeff: 10:51 Higher? Well, I guess I should read some more.
Jodi: 10:54 No, it probably is eighth grade, but it's scary high sometimes.
Jeff: 10:57 Well, we all know what they think in eighth grade should be able to do, and those are big, wide voids sometimes.
Travis: 11:06 When I've been in your classroom, I've seen some great publishing of writing in really cool, creative ways. Is there anything that you'd like to share as far as how you celebrate, or maybe some suggestions for celebrating writers with this process?
Jodi: 11:22 It's been really hard this year having roomers and Zoomers. So I teach about half of the students on Zoom, half the students in my room.
Jeff: 11:30 Roomers and Zoomers. I had never heard it that way. Oh my gosh.
Jodi: 11:31 Roomers and Zoomers.
Jeff: 11:35 To make it twice as hard.
Jodi: 11:35 It is really hard. So we've been celebrating a lot in breakout rooms. They get to share their writing there. I share with other classes sometimes. It has been nice, because I can share with some of my New York Times cohorts. They can share across the wave that way. Not quite the same as being in the classroom all in the room, sharing them on the walls.
Jeff: 11:53 Yes, yes.
Jodi: 11:53 My room is usually covered with writing. It's not this year. It's been hard. But they do get excited about their pieces, get excited about sharing the sentences. Also finding the sentences in their books. "Ms. Ramos, there's a compound comma!"
Jeff: 12:07 So even though it didn't necessarily happen exactly the way it had happened before when you were in your classroom with all your kids and didn't have other kids on the computer, you still found that you were able to make that work for kids that were not in your classroom?
Jodi: 12:22 Yes.
Jeff: 12:22 You could make the sentence imitation work?
Jodi: 12:24 Oh, big time. Now, it's a lot harder. A lot harder, and a lot more work. Not finding the sentences, but making sure they're getting the grammatical concept, because across the waves, that short mini-lesson is hard. It's hard. And so maybe I would do complex sentences say, in three weeks. Three different sentences, now I'm doing it in 20,000, all through the year. Going back to it, recursive, recursive, recursive.
Travis: 12:48 Recursive, recursive. Wow, the power of that.
Jeff: 12:50 Yeah, go ahead.
Travis: 12:52 No, I was going to say, the power of that recursive, coming back to building on, adding some complexity to it.
Jeff: 12:58 We don't get it all at once. I mean, I know grammar better. I can say my age, because I think I know it. I'm 55, or 54. Something like that. And I know grammar better than I did when I was 50, and I know grammar better than I did when I was 45. What do you think that is? Jodi's pointing with her finger. Me too, and Travis is saying, "Me too." So why is that? Why is it that we're better at grammar the older we get?
Jodi: 13:26 Because we read more, and we write more, and we think more. But I think what's bad now, Jeff, is that grammar's changing. Like Google's a verb, right? That wasn't a verb when you and I were out. Think about how all the sentence patterns are changing. When I tell the kids, "This is how you do a dash," and then they see it different in another book, or they see that this person doesn't do a comma with a coordinating conjunction in a compound sentence. Why do they get away with it?
Jeff: 13:49 And we have that great, brilliant discussion of author's choice, like what effect is he going for? Because grammar's not about right or wrong. It's about meaning and effect, and that pulls us back, that discussion you're talking about. Which you need to be together to have, because it's very nuanced. It's not that simple.
Jeff: 14:08 And is it effective? If you leave out the coordinating conjunction or the compound sentence, what does it do to the sentence? If you put a period there instead, what does it do? Why did the author choose not to put the coordinating conjunction there? Those conversations are almost just as valuable as the ones about where they are.
Jodi: 14:27 More!
Jeff: 14:27 When they ask. I remember, I used to, when kids would come up to me and say, "Oh, but I found this one!" And I'd be like, "Well, don't show anybody else." You know what I mean? And now I'm like, "No, this is an opportunity. We get to come together. We get to talk about this. We get to make meaning, beautiful meaning together."
Jeff: 14:42 And that's the glorious thing about the Patterns of Power process, which thank you for giving us credit for that in your article and hopefully, some other people will become a part of Patterns of Power or a part of the New York Times Teaching Project and the Learning Network, because you've been exposed little bits a day. I hear our music coming up, Travis.
Travis: 15:03 Yep, it is about that time.
Jodi: 15:06 Whoo-hoo!
Travis: 15:06 Yeah, Jodi, thank you so much for being with us, and I think we're going to maybe have some more conversations with Jodi later on, as well.
Jeff: 15:14 Yeah, about some leadership and some other things. So we're really glad that you're here with us. Thank you to Stenhouse Publishers for sponsoring this.
Travis: 15:22 Yeah, that's S-T-E-N-H-O-U-S-E.com.
Jeff: 15:26 And we will see you in a couple of weeks. Thanks, guys.
Jodi: 15:29 Thank you.