If you’re anything like me, based on the fact that August is just around the corner, your computer screen probably looks something like this:
Those 10 or so tabs contain articles, blogs, book recommendations, and more for me to mine for ideas. Once I’m done perusing those, I’ll return to my very full writer’s notebook to sift through the myriad of quotes, lessons, and resources I’ve jotted down while attending various classes this summer. After that, it all comes down to remembering what I learned and actually applying it in my freshly-waxed classroom.
Honestly, that’s always been somewhat of a struggle for me–managing to sift through those summer lessons and remember all of them well enough to apply them. So, in order to make the most of this summer, I’ve decided to boil down the biggest takeaways of my three workshops here.
Takeaway from UNH Literacy Institute – “I am the sum of my mentors.”
For two years now, I’ve learned most of my daily classroom practices from Penny Kittle. However, what I’ve really begun to pay attention to is that by reading Penny’s writings and taking her classes, I’m not just learning from her. I’m learning from Don Murray, Don Graves, Kelly Gallagher, Louise Rosenblatt, Katie Wood Ray, Tom Romano, Teri Lesesne, Donalyn Miller, Alfie Kohn, Nancie Atwell, and many more. Penny has expertly absorbed the ideas of all of those other teacher-writers, and seamlessly integrated them into her own philosophy and craft. That is my goal–not to mimic Penny or any of those other teaching geniuses, but to meld all of their research findings into my own practice; to become the sum of my mentors, as Meenoo Rami says. Of course, that’s easier said than done, but definitely worth the attempt–and the hefty credit card bill that comes after a Heinemann ordering spree.
With that being said, there is one idea of Penny’s I’d really like to integrate into my classes this year–storyboarding. This visual way to process a story’s plot is a gateway into analysis and evaluation. If talk is rehearsal for writing, then to Penny, so is storyboarding–sketching out little comic-strip squares of events. This was something that I couldn’t really wrap my mind around how to execute after just reading Book Love, but now that I’ve seen Penny do it, it makes perfect sense, and I can’t wait to try it out.
Another lesson for me came from the fact that I couldn’t grasp the concept of storyboarding without seeing it modeled. That was another weighty reminder of the importance of my serving as a writing mentor, modeling process for my students. If I am the sum of my mentors, so are my students–and I am perhaps their only mentor when it comes to being a good reader and writer. This big responsibility reinforces the importance of staying informed on current research–without great mentors, I can never be a great teacher. I need those teacher-writers to help me help my students.
Takeaway from Balfour Yearbook Advisers Workshop – “There are two kinds of writers–good writers and quitters.”
In addition to teaching English, I also teach Journalism and Yearbook. I traveled to Dallas this summer for what I thought would be a boring jaunt through yearbook software and technology, but I was pleasantly surprised by being surrounded by amazing teacher mentors to learn from. Lori Oglesbee, a Texas teacher and our keynote speaker, spoke about the fact that great journalism comes from strong writing. She preached that all students, no matter what, can be great writers if we lead them to it. Lori then proceeded to show us many examples of award-winning yearbook writing, and I grinned–here were mentor texts again! I really saw the relevance of mentor texts across all disciplines.
Takeaway from ASNE-Reynolds Journalism Institute – “Good writing comes by studying good writing–period.”
This lesson came in the form of an irreverent lecture by the delightful journalist and author of Radical Write, Bobby Hawthorne. An advocate of “writing for the reader, not the rubric,” Bobby spoke to us about the general lack of quality in student journalism writing. School newspapers across the land are plagued with crappy writing, he preached! (I learned that journalism, until very recently, was still laboring under pre-Graves and pre-Murray delusions about writing–no I, no emotion, no personality, no rule-breaking.) Bobby advocated for throwing out all of our old notions about how to teach journalistic writing and just getting our students to find a story hidden in an event and tell it. He felt strongly about the power of the narrative form, reminding me of more of Penny’s ideas from Write Beside Them. And in fact, she agreed with him:
Bobby wasn’t the only speaker at the two-week Institute to urge we teachers of journalism to simply teach our students to find and tell stories. I heard that message over and over again, from photographers to journalists to writers to teachers. The power is in the story, they urged. Find it, and good writing will come naturally.
So, I’ll approach this year with those takeaways in mind. I’m excited to try the workshop model out on my journalism students, who will be starting a newspaper this year. I’m curious about how my teaching of the reading and writing workshop will change in its second year. And, I’m optimistic about having so many new mentors to act as the sum of my teaching. I hope I’ll make the most of my summer and transform my teaching, as I do every year, by putting my writing and reflecting to work.