The soundtrack to the end of any school year for me includes musical bytes of all kinds looping through my brain. This year, cue the part of Twenty One Pilots’ “Ride” when they repeat “I’ve been thinking too much.” Big facts, Tyler Joseph, big facts.
I’ve been thinking about (as I’m sure we all do) what I could, would, should have done. What I can, shall, will do next year to make it all better, to rectify all that went wrong or undone. The end of each year benevolently gifts the space to sit and interrogate our year, ask it questions, contemplate its potential answers, revel in the hope of possibility of its wisdom.
In the Secondary Readers-Writers Workshop world, there is a LOT to think about and…I’ve definitely been thinking too much (help me.) In all of this thinking, I’ve been asking myself a seemingly simple question — What is working on a micro level, something that emerged spontaneously, that can be applied for macro impact, becoming a part of my larger set of routines and systems?
I (and my students) use mixtapes often in our Writer’s Notebooks. Here, for example, is a class-created model we made together for our class read of Alexie’s Absolutely True Diary of a Part Time Indian after a visit to our local Tomaquag Museum. We use them to make connections to theme & character, across time & literature, with each other & our own selves–but no matter how we use them, they help us to analyze and to reflect.
So, in the spirit of mixtapes, here is my Spotify mixtape of songs and ideas of what works in small ways in other parts of my practice to make a big impact in the workshop model–I invite you to listen as you read…
- “[Writing Into the Day Mini Lessons] Feels So Good” by Leon Bridges — In my Creative Writing elective course, instead of writing into day (read here about one teacher’s powerful experience) then doing formal mini lessons, I evolved a practice that took a stealth approach and yielded a better process and product (here are a few examples from May). When I took away the heavy seriousness of “mini lesson” chiseled into its intimidating section in our notebooks, it opened us up to low stakes, playful levity and deeper learning. As Bridges reminds us, “We don’t have to act so serious/Be like nobody’s watchin’/Only us.” I am thinking how might I breathe in this organic approach and apply it to my other workshop spaces?
- “Patience [with Meeting Ourselves Where We Are]” by Tame Impala–-I meet kids where they are. It’s part of my daily teacher mindfulness practice, my ability to zoom out to look at the whole learner, my understanding that these kids (like all of us) are “Just growin’ up in stages[…]Livin’ life in phases.” But sometimes the weight of learning objectives, success criteria, and common assessments threatens the integrity and philosophy of the Workshop model. I find myself wondering–How can I more intentionally balance living in both worlds in order to ensure that I honor my meet-ourselves-where-we-are-right-now across all workshop spaces?
- “Go [Explore Unique Spaces to Write]” by The Black Keys–Participating in and facilitating the Rhode Island Writing Project’s Open Air Institute and listening to David Whyte’s discussion of genius loci on his On Being interview in 2016 helped me grow my practice of place-based writing in Creative Writing by encouraging something as simple as facing the window, occupying a stairwell, sitting somewhere else in class, writing somewhere on campus. The power of writing in new spaces is something I have come to understand profoundly myself and hope to share it, but I’m left wondering: How can I heed the advice of the Black Keys and remind myself, “You gotta go” explore new spaces so all students can experience the transformative nature of “place”?
- “Missed Connections [Within Writer’s Notebooks]” by The Head and the Heart I love connections. They’re the stuff of learning. I encourage them through my Barnhart Brownie Points system which creates class to class, class to self, class to whatever connections (check out my system here), but I cannot help but imagine (and “I get the feeling [some of] you’ve been here before/From a missed connection” like I have) what impact they might have within our own Writer’s Notebooks themselves. How might I leverage more purposefully and systematically how students engage with their entire body of work to look for connections in theme, in craft, in insight?
Feel free to reach out via social media or email (see bio below) to help me explore my questions, but really I want to end with a little remix of John Dewey and propose this:
“To be playful and serious at the same time is possible, and it defines the ideal [Writers Workshop space]” — What is one song and question that would play from your mixtape? What micro moves that you already do could make a macro impact with your ever-evolving Workshop model?
Tweet it out, tag @3TeachersTalk #3TTWorkshop, and continue the conversation!
Together, we’ll get by because, like Mavis Staples and Ben Harper sing, “We get by with help from our kin/We get by through thick and through thin.”
Anne Barnhart spends her school years facilitating learning of and learning alongside some amazing Rhode Island teenagers at Westerly High School and some amazing Rhode Island educators through The Center for Leadership and Educational Equity. Summers? She spends reading, writing, and growing with the Rhode Island Writing Project. Follow her @Ms_Barnhart on Twitter or contact her firstname.lastname@example.org with suggestions, questions, or resources.