Five Ideas that Beat the Dread

A few years ago I stopped reviewing class rules and smacking down my syllabus on the first day of school. I had been doing some research on chronic stress (mostly my own) and read extensively about the fight, flight, freeze response. One description glared at me and gave me pause:  “You have a sense of dread.”

I remembered what I had been taught as a first year teacher:  Set yourself up as the authority figure. Be kind but firm. Establish norms quickly so students know what you will and will not tolerate in your classroom.

Then, almost in the same breathe, I was told:  Develop relationships. Learn students’ names. Let them help develop class rules.

And I muddled through doing a combination of both the best I knew how. Those first few days of my first few years were rocky to say the least. And in hindsight, it’s clear:  there was dread. Lots of dread.

So when I read up on the fight, flight, and freeze response, I realized a big part of my problem:  With my seemingly simple attempt at outlining classroom expectations and detailing how ‘my class would run, chemicals danced a jig in students’ brains: fight, flight, or freeze. Now, I know my syllabus is not on the scale of major life trauma most often associated with this fff response theory, but many of my juniors and seniors didn’t want to be in school anyway. Why was I compounding it?

I learned a better way.

Wait.

Let every other teacher lay down the law. Lay out their plans. Run through the rules.

On the first day of school — maybe even the first five days of school — just write. And talk. Let students drive the discussion. Let them ask questions. Give them a chance to be seen and heard and welcomed.

“Community before curriculum” Angela wrote in her last post, and I love her thinking there. I also think we can merge the two on the first day of school and lay a firm foundation for thinking and talking every day thereafter. We can jump start community and begin our curriculum as we put pen to the page and write.

Here’s my top five sources that beg a response and invite students to write on the first day of school (or at least the first week or so):

  1. To This Day by Shane Koyczan.

Give every student a notecard and ask them to watch and listen and then respond to the poem as a whole or to a line they particularly like or relate to. (I’ve learned some pretty heavy stuff from students over the years. So many of them can relate to the themes in this poem.)

  1. How poetry can help kids turn a fear of literature into love by Jason Reynolds on PBS.

Give every student a sticky note and ask them to think about their reading lives. Then after they listen to Mr. Reynolds talk about reading, ask students to rate themselves. Are they readers eager for the pit bulls or for the puppies? Why? (I quickly find who my readers are and with whom I need to take on the challenge of helping them want to read.) Then for a little more of a challenge, on the flip side of the sticky, ask them to describe in poetic form their feelings about poetry. (You’ll learn even more.)

  1. Possibilities by Wislawa Szymborska. Or the version here where Amanda Palmer reads the poem.

Give every student a copy of the poem. Then read the poem aloud and ask students to write their own list of possibilities. Their list can be straightforward, funny, or interesting things they want the class to know. (I wrote about how I used this poem to practice imitation a couple of years ago. It’s a great lesson and a great poem to revisit.)

  1. Three poems:

“My Name Is,” an excerpt from Jason Reynolds’ book Long Way Down. (If you haven’t read this book, oh, my goodness. It’s amazing!)

My Name Is by Jason Reynolds

“Instructions” by Rudy Francisco.

Instructions by Rudy Francisco

“Like You” by Roque Dalton, translated by Jack Hirschman

Give students copies of all three poems and a notecard or piece of paper. Read them aloud. Ask students to read them again and then to write a response. They can respond to just one of the poems, a line from a poem, or anything the poems make them think or feel. There is no right or wrong. Just write your thinking. (This is always an interesting response, and it tells me a lot about how to help my students. Many of them will begin to write an analysis of one of the poems — or all three. Others understand that I am asking for a different kind of thinking, one that leads them into ideas for their own poems, stories, or essays.)

  1. Author Bios!

Give students access to books that have clever, witty, or interesting author bios. YA authors like Julie Murphy, Jeff Zentner, Chris Crutcher, Libba Bray, and Gina Damico are great ones, but there are many with a bit of quirk that will draw students in and spark their interest in reading these author’s books. Ask students to explore the author bios and then make a list of the books they think they’d like to explore this semester. Have them write the author’s names on sticky notes for you to put in your conferring notes.

If you want to take this author bio idea further — (this is my favorite):

Read several professional author bios aloud. Ask students what information is shared and make a T-chart that lists the what on the left, e.g., name, personal hobbies, awards won, where the author lives, who the author lives with, etc. Then, ask students to describe how this information is shared and add these craft moves to the right. This is the how. For example, short and sometimes incomplete sentences, lists, 3rd person, the author’s name is first, witty word choice, etc. Finally, ask students to write their own author bio while you write yours as a model. Encourage them to try to craft their bio to include ideas from both the what and the how side of the T-chart. Below are two of my students’ bios from this past year.

Stephany author bio

Tomias author bio

(The author bio idea is Lisa’s baby, and she wrote about it here after I wrote about it here. It’s still the best idea I have ever heard to begin students on their journey into developing their identities as readers and as writers. I’ve used this idea in a model lesson for every workshop I’ve facilitated this summer, so if you were there, feel free to share the author bio you wrote this summer in the comments. My newest one is below.)

I wish you happy reading and writing with your students this year. Please share your go to ideas for inviting students to write and build your community.

 

Amy Rasmussen loves books, pretending to garden, adolescents, and coconut cream pie — not necessarily in that order. She lives in North Texas with her dashing husband of 33 years, their twin-terror Shelties Mac and Des, and a not so loving love bird named Colonel Brandon. Amy spent the summer leading professional development in several districts across Texas and has grown especially fond of the Houston area. If only she could move… Follow her on Twitter @amyrass — and if you are not already, please follow this blog.

3 Ways This Year Will be the Best Ever!!!

Can you feel it coming?  Do you smell new books and old desks?  Are you imagining the sounds of students shouldering their way through the halls and into your classroom like bees through long un-mown grass? (I’m a huge Oscar Wilde fanboy!)

Are you ready to hear a deep breath or quiet giggle interrupt a totally silent self-selected reading segment? Are you ready to mop up tears in buckets and heal emotional wounds with book bandages?

If not, you better get ready.  You may be starting school today, or maybe next week.  It doesn’t matter; time to get your mind right.

I’m ready to launch from the best summer of my life into the best teaching year of my life.  Happiness breeds happiness.

So here are three thoughts I have that will help me be the best teacher I’ve ever been.

  1. Book Talk like my teaching life depends on it…because it does.

If the number one tool in my belt is my classroom library, my number two is my ability to “sell” books.  We all know that we need to be able to sell books both informally and formally.

Informally, we confer with readers and talk about books with individual kids (and adults!) who are in the market for their next reading relationship.  This is the easy back and forth that comes with being a reader and contributing to a literacy rich classroom culture.

The formal moments, in my mind, are those points in time you carve out to stand in front of your class, or some group, and give them the hard sell on a book you’ve decided was worthy of their attention.

To me, these two different bookish scenarios require different thought processes and the latter is example is the one to which I plead my case.

Obviously we have to consider “how” we present the key information that we think will engender interest in deserving books.

But also, we have a massive burden to present books that offer a cultural variety of information that will allow our readers the “windows, mirrors, and doors” that Rudine Sims Bishop wrote about all the way back in 1990.

I took a step forward on the Sunday of the ILA conference and chose to attend a session featuring LGBTQ writers and their books.

Over and over, the panelists describe the point in their lives when they first encountered a character in whom they saw themselves.  Ashley Herring Blake, a primary grade teacher and middle grade writer from Tennessee talked about how she was 32 when it happened to her.  We have to be more pro-active when it comes to offering students windows, mirrors and doors.  Book talks are an opportunity in which we can’t afford to play it safe.

2. Love the kids like their learning lives depend on it…because it does.

I said it before: I will be 100% this year in telling my classes I love them before sending them out the door each period.  I’ve already been practicing with the Student Council kids that I hung out with at Fish Camp.  It was our first time to work together and as the day ended, I told them too. You never get a second chance to make a first impression.

But I’m not just going to say it to their backs as they sprint out of the room.  I’m going to say it to their faces as they enter and I’m going to write it on their papers.  Reading and writing culture revolves around love: of texts, but more importantly the readers and writers.

3. Empower the students to read and write in a massive volume like our world depends on it…because it does.

We know how important volume is in a student’s growth.  We have to let them read and write more than we can ever think about grading.

Also, we have to give them room to read and write in ways that let them explore their place in the world. Anything less than this, and I’ve failed. I will not fail.

Charles Moore will, for the first time in many years, teach Freshman English this year. His bleeding heart required him to volunteer to sponsor Student Council at this new school. You can follow his antics on twitter at @ctcoach

 

 

 

 

Independent Reading and Accountability: a Paradox

The paradox persists, every year. Here are some basic principles of my sophomore RWW course last year with independent reading:

  • Students were allowed complete choice in their independent reading.
  • Part of their writer’s notebooks were connected to their independent reading: Writer’s Craft and vocabulary
  • Students kept their own track of page progress.
  • I conferenced as much as teacherly possible.

Like many teachers I know, I tend to dwell on what didn’t work. So, here it is:

  • A few students chose to not read or to fake read, all year.
  • As a result, these same students either did not complete or faked their notebooks.
  • It’s not hard to keep track of zero.
  • Conferences became predictable: repeated proclamations of non-readerhood followed by a polite acceptance of yet another suggestion for a book, which would yet again be not- or fake-read.

Struggling yet again with this issue as we plan for next year, my colleagues and I find ourselves in the waters between the unstable shore of no grades and the concrete ledge of grading, that deep roiling vortex between theory and practice. In this post, Shana cites Pernille Ripp and Janice Pilgreen and translates some of their basic principles into a RWW model. We all believe in these principles and are committed to exercising them every day in our classrooms. Regarding practice, at the end of our most recent meeting we had been focusing on this one: a lack of graded formative assessment and an emphasis on summative assessments for learning, not of learning.” We even got down to the tools we might use to do so: Padlet, Flipgrid, video book trailers, even good old-fashioned book reviews and “live” book talks. We even discussed scaffolding these summative assessments to support growth toward the formal speech that is a requirement for fourth quarter.

Yay. Right?

Still, won’t there still be students who remain entrenched in — even empowered by — their non-reader status?

Last year, I had students who were able to earn a B- in the course while never reading a single word. They participated in the writing process. They faked their way through the reading-based components of their writer’s notebook. They even wrote about their non-reading in their “quarterly reading reflection.” This consequence of the grading policies of the course is not enough for me to revert to grading independent reading, but I can’t help but be preoccupied by it.

bbbSo, readers, I’ll leave you with these question: Is it realistic to expect 100% participation in independent reading? Must we accept that there will inevitably be non- and fake-readers among us? And if so, is success for the majority — when it includes those students who may not have succeeded with assigned reading — enough?

ILA 2018 Conference Run-down!!! (and an epiphany!)

Am I the only person who feels super awkward meeting new people?

So I’m standing in the “New to ILA!!!” section of the Austin Convention Center early Saturday morning.  Several well spoken women and men address the throng of newbies and supply us with important information about the conference.  Remarks concluded and we are encouraged to visit with those around us, meet new people, and hang out.

I’m there by myself waiting for Gretchen Meyer, my fellow literacy advocate, to arrive. She shared this conference experience with me and I couldn’t ask for a better guide.

IMG_4479

Can you imagine a more awkwardly handsome face?

So I’m scanning the crowd looking for familiar faces, assuming there won’t be one.  I’m an award winning people-watcher and for those of you who aren’t, teachers can be incredibly fun to observe.  Anyways, Marcie, an incredibly nice women with a bright smile introduced herself to me and we talked about the conference and how excited we were to listen to the speakers at the General Meeting that was to begin shortly.

Both of us, my new ILA friend and I, massively underestimated the level of brilliance that was about to wash over me.  I listened to Adan Gonzalez talk about his success in the face of poverty and bigotry and how he works to fight those demons today.  Nadia Lopez blew the crowd away with the statement, “I opened a school to close a prison.”  So…um…wow.  If that wasn’t enough, we got to experience the passion of Cornelius Minor and his charge to consider, “How can we not stand for our children…when the traumas of the world weigh them down in our classrooms?”

I had to pinch myself.  Was the rest of the conference going to be this amazing? (It was.) Was this euphoria and uplifting feeling of being re-energized going to fade as I left this hall and moved on to the other presentations? (It didn’t.) Was I ever going to see my new friend, Marcie, again? (I did, on the big screen, at the end of the general meeting.)

Marcie

Meet Marcie Post, the Executive Director of the ILA.

Even now, back in League City, I can’t stop reflecting on the lessons I soaked in at ILA.  Maybe the biggest realization I came to, and there were many, wasn’t about books or kids or literacy.  This realization encompassed all those ideas, but was really about me.

I realized that above all else, I’m a “culture” guy.

I’ve identified myself by so many labels over the years: Football guy, Coach that can teach, Book Lover, Literacy Advocate, Student First Teacher… all those things. But, when its all said and done, after 16 years in the classroom, culture means everything to me. The culture in my classroom is, obviously, important. Just as important, perhaps, and, for the most part out of my control, is the culture of the people around me.  I want to be around teachers that are happy people.  I want to feel like we are all in this together and that the kids will be the big winners in this world.

I think this seed might have been planted by this blog post by Lauren Ambeau, an intermediate school principal in my school district that posts on her own blog. Or it might reach all the way back to my first two principals, Marlene Skiba and Deanna Daws; two women that made me feel confident and valued in my teaching role.

I think, also, the people I learned from at my most recent, and longest, stay had a lot to do with it.  I have the honor of presenting with the brilliant Jenna Zucha next week and this woman took time out of her summer, twice actually, to visit with me about our upcoming opportunity to present about writing to the leaders and stake-holders of our district.  She guest posted on this blog back in May.  What’s funny about our second meeting, is that one of my best friends happened to be at the very same Starbucks. He’s a genius, and famous.  You might have heard of him… Ashton Kutcher thinks he’s cool.

bro

This summer’s Literacy Institute, our own sort of ILA, comes to mind as well.  Billy Eastman and Amy Rasmussen build a culture of respect, trust, and love that I try to recreate in my classroom.  The huge win came from spending three weeks with the beautiful souls whose teaching team I’m so looking forward to joining.   We laughed enough to get stares from the other groups and cried buckets on the last day as we bared our souls through our writing.  Sarah Roy guest posted about that process just two weeks ago and then Austin Darrow guest posted for Amy the next day!!!  Amanda Penny is one of the most fun loving people I’ve ever met. Looks like the culture I’m joining at my new place is strong, and, having gotten the opportunity to interact with the instructional leaders there, I know this is by design.

Kylene Beers, Sunday afternoon, said, “Our democracy requires that we hold onto our own literacy and not turn it over to a few pundits on this network or that one.”  This statement reminded me that I posted about this very same idea back in February.  Thus I’m reminded further that this blog, this digital workshop, is a culturally supportive space for teachers like me.

There is so much more to write about.  I plan to sprinkle those tidbits through my posts this year.

Understand this: I’ll fight for culture.  I’ll seek out good people and happy teachers for the rest of my teaching career.  The kids deserve it.

Charles Moore has his pool looking as clear as crystal.  He’s done a horrible job being a reader this summer. His kids spend most nights sleeping in a blanket fort in the boy’s room (thick as thieves, those two.)  He’s looking forward to sharing the experience of discovering a new school with the incoming 9th graders at Clear Creek High School.

I Survived: Subbing the Last Three Weeks of School (with 140 freshmen)!

I am a literacy coach. That means I spend my days supporting teachers: teaching mini-lessons, co-planning, developing (hopefully) high-quality PD. I adore my job, though sometimes a little voice niggles in the back of my mind, a voice leftover from my classroom days, the teacher voice that’s always a little skeptical of anyone who’s not currently in a classroom:

Do these ideas (still) really work?

Yeah, but you’re not in a classroom anymore…

This sounds great … but what about kids who [insert reality here].

When a long-term sub position opened up for the last three weeks of school, teaching freshman English in a district where I had been coaching, I jumped. I was excited, energized, eager to get in there. Sure, I’d be spending my days with 140 freshman. For the last 21 days of school. I got this. I felt like I could get some answers for that niggling voice.

Plus, I can do anything for three weeks, right?

The first day was hard. Like, haaaaarrrrrdddd. I texted my husband, a 20-year veteran high school math teacher.

8:45 am

IMG_1675

10:15 am

IMG_1673 2

2:45 pm

IMG_1674 2

It was so good for me to be back with students, to spend even just three weeks in the shoes of a teacher. I think it’s something folks who support teachers should carve time out for on a regular basis.

Day two was much better (read: I instituted seating charts — rookie mistake! And used my “deep voice” as needed.). We spent the last days of the school year immersed in a writing unit using writing workshop principles to structure our time. (We studied multigenre writing, which you can read more about here and here and here.)

One of the best parts of those three weeks was that I left affirmed in the work we do as writing workshop teachers. While I was reminded how challenging teaching is, it also confirmed how powerful it is when we carve space for students to explore their thinking. Students grew as writers in those three weeks. It didn’t happen by magic, though. There are intentional choices that workshop teachers make along the way.

Belief 1: Community (before curriculum)

Many of us are great at building communities within our classrooms. We start the year with narrative writing, or getting to know you writing, poems about our lives. We fill the space with student writing and take time to really get to know our students. We all have fresh notebooks and sharpened pencils.

How many of us, though, have been guilty of still having those early products hanging up at Thanksgiving break? If you’re like me, by the time January rolls around, the idea of community building is a distant memory as you begin to feel the pressure of testing season roll around.

It doesn’t have to be that way. In workshop, community is the catalyst for success, and building that community is never finished. In my time with students, I was reminded that before I can move into teaching the curriculum, I need to make sure that students feel safe and seen. We do that in lots of ways. Our favorite was using quickwrites (check out Linda Rief’s new book The Quickwrite Handbook) to launch workshop time. Then we’d share, sometimes with partners, sometimes whole group, sometimes just a line from our own writing. I noticed a community growing (in some cases one had already been in place, but in other classes not). From there, kids were more willing to take risks.

They wrote about brave and honest topics. One student wrote about his childhood spent playing in the woods. Another girl wrote about coming out and how she felt like nobody believed her. Other students wrote about church camp, horse camp, and The Office. Some kids designed google sites, others published in booklet form. They were brave because they felt like they were part of a community of writers and they had something to say.

Belief 2: Choice is crucial

We know from our own experiences how powerful it can be to make choices as writers, especially beyond choosing a topic. Writers make choices about all kinds of things — length, genre, tone, craft, font. We know, though, that often giving kids choice leaves them feeling paralyzed, crippled with self-doubt (or lack of motivation). I remembered that kids need to be taught how to make choices.

I started small. I was amazed at how powerful it was to let them choose how to store their pesky phones. They resisted turning them into me, but had no argument when I let them charge them at a makeshift charging station. I noticed too that when I let kids decide where to sit, even if just on the floor by the window, they were more willing to dig into the writing.

This led us to be able to have discussions about their most often asked questions, like how long? am I done? is that what you wanted? It’s tempting to just give them the checklist, to create a template and let them fill in the blanks (I’ve done it, okay? It was awful for all of us!). Instead, though, we worked towards empowerment so students could make choices that made their writing their own.

Belief 3: Teacher is the heart

If students are the life blood of a writing workshop classroom, then the teacher is the heart, pumping, motivating, breathing life into the space. That’s not to say we’re at the center, of course. But we are busy making sure we do our share so that all the other systems can keep working.

I noticed that when I wrote right in front of kids, they leaned in. They referenced my writing. I noticed that when I conferenced with them, they were more willing to share later. I noticed that when I asked them questions, they would think about their responses. Conversely, I noticed when I sat at my desk and tried to get caught up on grading or emails, well, they tuned out too. I set the tempo.

Writers need us in the background, nudging, nurturing (sometimes nagging). They need our steadiness.

Caveat

This is not to say that every kid dug in. There were several who chose to spend the last three weeks with their heads down. A few showed up every single day yet still ended the year with a staggering 25%. Writing workshop isn’t magical, after all. We invite students, show them the possibilities. They choose what to do next. But every day, we invite them. I’d say to one student, “I’m happy to see you today.” To another I might whisper, “you’re always invited to the writing table.” Out of the 15 or so kids across the day who refused to work, I was thrilled when one of them, Will, finally decided it was easier to write than to sit there every day. I’ll take it.

Conclusion

I am energized after my three weeks with students (6 weeks of summer has helped with that). I’m more committed than ever to the principles of writing workshop and to supporting teachers as we carve out space in our curriculum for students to grow as writers. I know that my time was short, but look at all they accomplished in just three weeks! If we can make this happen in just 1/12 of a school year, think of all we can do throughout a year!

Angela Faulhaber is a literacy coach in the Cincinnati area. She’s currently trying to get through the stack of books she hoped to read this summer, while also squeezing in pool days with her three kids, and maybe a nap or two before school starts. 

 

 

Assigned Reading Works as well as Assigned Flossing

Every few months, I notice a meme recirculate with some variation of “Judging teachers on their students’ test scores makes as much sense as judging farmers on their crops without accounting for drought, freezes, or disease.” Still reflecting on my students’ lackluster AP scores as I sat down in the dentist’s chair this morning, I considered this meme. Then, like most teachers I know, I still wracked my brain trying to figure out what I could do differently to help my students score higher on that exam. As I mused, and chastised myself for taking their scores harder than I should, I endeavored to distract myself a bit by trying to remember the other meme out there that connected the professions of dentistry and teaching based on clients’ results. Ultimately, I looked it up when I got home, and it reads: “We don’t blame dentists when we don’t brush properly and we get a cavity. So why do we blame teachers when kids don’t pass because they don’t study?” Or read enough prior to twelfth grade, I thought.

Screen Shot 2018-07-24 at 1.57.38 PMMy cleaning ensued – painfully, I might add, as my technician was unnecessarily rough, and I wanted to ask her if she remembered that a person was attached to those teeth, but I found it too difficult to ask such questions with someone’s hands in my mouth. I waited for the post-cleaning check-up with the dentist, knowing the only question I had for him was about the dark staining I’ve been experiencing lately despite my careful brushing and (sometimes) flossing regimen.

During the 3 minutes he spent with me (I see why he earns the big bucks compared to me, I thought cynically) he responded to my question with one of his own.

“Do you drink a lot of tea?”

“Well, I guess so. I gave up soft drinks a couple of years ago, and tea became my go-to beverage.”

“Well then, that’s why your teeth are stained. You should expect that if you drink tea. It’s the worst thing you can do to stain your teeth. It’s worse than drinking coffee for stains.”

I didn’t hear the rest of what he said because it devolved into chastisement. I didn’t Screen Shot 2018-07-24 at 1.55.01 PMexpect him to congratulate me on the steps I’d taken for my overall health in giving up on sodas, and I didn’t expect him to have sympathy for how hard that habit must have been to break, and I didn’t even expect him to think logically about how much less acid was wearing away at my enamel now that I don’t drink soft drinks, but I also didn’t expect to feel as though I had done something so very wrong.

That’s when my English teacher brain went back to thinking about what we do (or fail to do) for our students. I thought about how many students have been made to feel “less than” when they want to read a YA book instead of a classic text. Just as my dentist was so set on his vision of how I should live solely focused on the effects on my teeth that he forgot about the person attached to them, how many well-meaning English teachers are so hyper-focused on their well-chosen texts that they forget about their students’ needs? How many forget or do not understand what can be gained with YA or self-selected books?

Screen Shot 2018-07-24 at 1.58.46 PMMy teeth will continue to stain, I guess. I’ll brush with baking soda once a week to combat that. But I’ve gained better health and energy. I’ve lost the migraines I used to get when I drank colas all the time. And if we allow our students to read what they want and need to read, they might lose content knowledge of some of the classics that we read (or fake-read) in high school, but they will gain an authentic love of reading. They will find connections with characters in their books. They will connect with each other as they enthusiastically discuss their books. They will feel empowered and in control of their lives as readers. Their reading levels will improve. And yes, the test scores will follow.

Prescribing all the texts our students read, even when doing so comes from a place of good intentions, works as well as prescribing flossing. Everyone does that at least twice a day, right?

Amber Counts teaches AP English Literature & Composition and Academic Decathlon at Lewisville High School. She believes in the power of choice and promotes thinking at every opportunity. She is married to her high school sweetheart and knows love is what makes the world go around. Someday she will write her story. Follow Amber @mrscounts.

Analog Mind in a Digital World

Last year in my AP Lang & Comp classes, we read “Is Google Making Us Stupid?” by Nicholas Carr, published in The Atlantic in 2008. Many students were set off just by the title and took Carr’s argument personally, even though the “us” of Carr’s title includes himself and his highly-educated colleagues. Carr argues that the tools we use influence the way we think, and he speculates on the impact of a tool as powerful as Google to direct our thinking. Most students vehemently defended technology as wholly beneficial to their everyday experience, even arguing that a shortened attention span is not necessarily a detriment and even a worthy sacrifice for the breadth of information to be gained. However, many had trouble distinguishing between “information” and “knowledge.”

1*8P_dPIZZ-9aKVz2Ji4nOtgWe discuss and experiment with so many ideas for students to develop the habits of a writer, even down to the practical tools — both “analog” and digital — for doing so. And we all have our own. One of my most prolific students keeps everything on her phone, including her award-winning spoken-word poetry complete from draft through final version (although she dutifully complied with the traditional notebook requirements of the course). Mariana swears by the Notes app on her phone in addition to her written notebook. I’ll use my Notes app when it’s the only tool I have, but I always forget about it.

I’ve always been a napkin scribbler. Even my notebook is an assemblage of scraps, some of which do lose context when I return to them. Still, most of the scraps elicit entire experiences or trains of thought because of the legibility of my scrawl or the color of the ink. When I use the insights from Roxane Gay’s talk in my teaching, I’ll always picture the orange ink bleeding through that napkin and the way I had to write around the grease spots. And I’ll remember the event, being there with Mariana, drinking wine, listening to Roxane Gay’s lovely, distinctive voice as she talked about the power of our stories (more on Gay’s insights in a future post). For me, indistinct lines of digital type on the same tool I use to pay bills and order takeout becomes more like information rather than inspiration. But I can’t help but feel outdated and outpaced.

And this is to say nothing about the role of the digital world in our students’ reading flower_-_analog_vs_digitallives, which Amy discusses here. Maybe it’s inevitable that physical books and paper notebooks will go the way of snail mail and brick-and-mortar. For the near future (i.e., next year), I’m holding to the requirement of a physical book for independent reading and a physical notebook for quick writes and writer’s craft lessons.

Has anyone made the switch to a fully digital reading-writing workshop? I’d love to hear about your experience. What is lost and what is gained? 

 

 

%d bloggers like this: