Category Archives: Summer Snapshots

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.

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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.)

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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.

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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.

Guest Post: The Authentic Writing Process

Writing is one of the biggest struggles among the students who visit my classroom each year, much like many classrooms across America. The traditional, sterile way students are taught to write stifles the authenticity of what writing is naturally. The writing process is often the most confusing because the students are told they can only write one way through a certain formulaic expectation. Instead of teaching a formula and using a one-size-fits-all graphic organizer, we need to teach students how to write authentically; teach them the process of writing, not the product. By teaching a student how to master the process of writing we teach them how to overcome the struggle that so many of our students experience.

This summer I excitedly attended the Summer Institute with some of my fellow Clear Creek ISD English teachers and was able to really absorb and practice the writing process through Reader Writer Workshop.

The writing process began when the class was tasked with mimicking a mentor text. Students need to see the moves that writers are making in their own pieces and use what they have seen and learned to inspire their own writing craft. Using mentor texts is a great way to help students improve their writing through reading. We read a few texts, responded with writing about those texts and then briefly discussed in our groups what we had written, then moved on to our writing task. We were given about 8 minutes and told to respond in writing to a piece we felt a connection with, to not worry about the way we began, but just to write. I chose to write alongside The Poem Mami Will Never Read from The Poet X by Elizabeth Acevedo. Something about the way she wrote the poem for someone who, for one reason or another, would never read it, really spoke to me. For the last two years I have been dealing with grief over the death of one of my best friends, so I decided to write a poem to him that he would never read.

I began by mimicking the line from the poem, “You will never read this poem that…” and took it from there. I poured my heart onto this page in my notebook revealing all the pent-up emotions I have been pushing to the back of my mind and ignoring in my heart for two years. Quite possibly, it could just be that it took this long for my heart and mind to process the shock and grief that came with his death. I wrote about a page and a half before the class moved on and I was able to come up for air and let the poem be. Having permission through the process to just write without a formula is what gave my piece the ability to become something great.

The next class day we were given time to draft more on our piece. I began by reading back through what I had written and began adding to it. At the end of the writing period we were encouraged to share with a peer at our table what we had written so far. Fear surged through me, I could feel my heart begin to beat so quickly I was sure everyone at my table cold hear it or see my shirt move up and down with each beat. I reminded myself that as a teacher, I will ask my students to do this. How can I ask my students to share their vulnerable hearts with me, if I do not do the same. At the beginning of Summer Institute, I vowed to dive in 100% with the Workshop process and way of teaching, so I shared my piece with a partner at my table. I immediately felt fear but also a feeling I didn’t expect; liberation. Handing him my notebook, with my heart on the page, was like handing the emotions over and validating that they are real; my first step to find healing within myself, and my first big leap in the writing process.

I remember feeling anxiety begin to pour into every crevice in my body as I watched him read every word on the page and begin to make notes about my writing, my feelings, my emotions. I remember being scared as he handed back my notebook with a look I could not discern on his face. As I read through the notes I began to feel empowered, my writing was validated by my partner and friend as a touching and creative. He pushed me to write more specifically and pour more of myself into this piece. Sharing became a significant and empowering tool in my writing process. By seeing what others thought and how readers read my writing, I was able to revise and edit my piece in a way that ensures my readers hear what I am wanting them to hear and learn what I want them to learn.

I intentionally took a day away from my piece after sharing and revising for a bit. I think this is one of the most important things I did in the process. It allowed me to step back and process my feelings and thoughts and let the piece breath for a bit before I dove back in. I felt refreshed and was able to refocus when I came back to the piece. I worked on this piece for another three or four days before sharing again to learn more about what was lacking in my piece for my reader and continuing in the process of writing.

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During my revision of my third draft, I heard the terrifying words, “Let’s all share with our groups our best lines.” I had to remind myself that I committed to fully experience this process; what I ask my students to do each day in my classroom. I shared. I cried. I kept writing. My face flushed with heat and my voice shook as the words were spoken aloud for the first time, in front of other people. It felt as if the world stopped and all eyes were peeking into my soul. I hated it. But loved it at the same time. I loved it because I saw the process working. I didn’t stop writing, in fact, I wrote six more pages. Six. More. Pages. Imagine if we model with our students with as much vulnerability and dedication as we ask them to share. Imagine if we give ourselves over to this process, as scary as it might be for some. Change is never easy but almost always, in my experience, worth it.

On the last day I was to present my piece. When it was my turn in the circle I pulled on my memory of the last three weeks and the process I took to get to get this “final” piece. I channeled the empowerment I felt through sharing and after about 60 seconds of steady tears and intentional calm breathing, I read my whole piece aloud for the first time.

I sobbed as I read, remembering how death stole from me. I shook at the overwhelming feeling of grief’s grasp on my heart. I breathed through the memories of never getting to say goodbye to someone I loved so dearly for more than 16 years. Each exhale taking with it another line from the poem, another piece of my shattered heart. I painted a picture with words of my precious best friend’s soul, smile and life that I never thought I would be able to. At the end, when I was done, the room was silent for a many long seconds and I remember feeling the weight and shackles of grief release in the slightest bit. A start to more healing; therapy through writing.

My experience this summer was messy, beautiful, difficult, liberating, scary, healing and most of all empowering. Reader Writer Workshop allowed me to experience the writing process in a way that renewed my love of writing and freed my creative mind previously bound by the limits of traditional, templated writing curriculum. The whole writing process gave me so much confidence in myself and my writing and I can’t wait to instill this same confidence in my students next year.

A few things I took away from my time as a Workshop student about the writing process:

  1. The writing process needs to be authentic and organic. It is different for each writer.

  2. Being a reader is so important. Reading as a writer is what helps the writer find their voice and authentic process of their own writing.

  3. The writing process is not a one size fits all formula. It is far from that, so throw away your essay outline template and let your students follow your lead on becoming a true writer. The writing process is something that happens naturally, authentically, differently, for each writer.

  4. Authentic writing is not a formula. I have found that I don’t really “brainstorm” or “pre-write” or make webs and charts… I just write. Whatever it is I feel, whatever it is I want to say – or sometimes what I don’t want to say.

  5. My first draft is often messy and there is so much beauty in that mess. It is often unorganized, drowning in imperfect sentences and awful cheesy metaphors, and that is okay. Our students need to know this as well, that as writers, we are never going to get it on the first try. That is why this is called the Writing PROCESS. There are many steps to writing an essay, a story, anything at all, and if we are to do it well we need to be 100% committed to the Workshop Process.

  6. Sharing is necessary. This was the most difficult part for me and my writing piece this summer. Letting others read my scorched and broken heart on a page was not something I was immediately ready to let happen, but without it, I would not have gone through the writing process and created my piece with the depth I did. The piece I wrote is raw and full of anguish. It was, and still is, terrifying to share but more therapeutic than I could have imagined. Hearing what my friends and peers had to say was encouraging and gave me confidence that what I was writing and what I was writing about was important to more than just my healing, but others’ as well. Knowing this is what made the tear stained pages a little easier to share.

  7. Revision is a balance. Knowing when to resurface before diving back into the emotions and write more, write with deeper purpose and meaning is essential to a successful writing process.

  8. Writing is never really done. I read my “final” piece aloud in our read around on the last day of this class and I still find myself wanting, needing to dive back in a make it more than it was.

Although a piece may never feel “finished”, knowing when to leave well enough alone is important.

  1. The writing process gave me power and bravery to keep writing. I feel like more of my heart is ready to pour out into this one piece, but maybe that means there is another piece lying within me. This is the beauty of this process, seeing clearly what the purpose is of each piece and moving on to another when you need to.

  2. Our students need to experience this each and every day in our classrooms.

This next year I will continue my growth as a writer alongside my students in the Reader Writer Workshop classroom by modeling what true writers do. I will be sharing my experience with the writing process and encouraging my students daily to find their voice through this beautiful, necessary process. Yes, it is less conventional, but so are our students. I hope to free them from the traditional approach to writing and watch them create and find empowerment in their creations. It is up to us, their teachers, to model and write alongside them vulnerably and intentionally, showing them what real writers and readers do. They deserve the chance to learn in a way that will empower them for the rest of their life. Imagine the writing we can experience from our students if we let them find their writing process.

Sarah Roy is a mother to three amazing, energetic, creative little boys and wife to a Marine turned Texas State Trooper who is braver and more selfless than anyone she has ever known. She is a Disney addict and is excited to surprise her sweet boys with a trip to Disney World in 10 days. Her passion for reading and writing overflows into her students each year and she loves watching them grow on their journey to be readers and writers.

Rewriting Our Definition of Writing

9780874216424I really don’t think there’s anything more invigorating than learning with other teachers, and this week, I’m doing just that.

I’m feeling lucky to be encamped in the mountains of southern West Virginia at Pipestem State Park, working with National Writing Project teachers on the College Ready Writers Program.  This isn’t my first NWP workshop, but it’s my first time leading one, and the thinking and planning and writing that have surrounded our work has been absolutely energizing.

(“You’re like a wind-up toy,” my co-leader remarked yesterday as we planned over dinner.  “You just never stop!”)

It’s true–all week, I haven’t stopped thinking, connecting, writing, reading, and wondering about our course topic, which is argument writing.  One of our central reads, Joseph Harris’ Rewriting: How to do Things with Texts, has been inspiring and informative.  Harris has gotten me to revise how I think of writing and its purpose in a classroom.

Writing, in my experience, is a process of discovery.  We write to learn, to help us grow into ways of thinking.

When we frame writing this way for our students, the entire writing process as we usually approach it must be revised.  There can be no more, “brainstorm an idea, then write a draft, then revise it, then turn in a final draft.

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Make sure you show me you can do ______ throughout.”

Instead, the process needs to become one of starts and stops, of constant learning and revision of thinking, and a process that is never completely independent of other learning.  What I mean by this is that we can never just write for writing’s sake–we will always be writing to learn about our topic: the reading we’re writing about, the questions we’re asking, or the craft moves we’re making.

Writing is never separate from its subject.  It is always both art and craft, both structure and content, both phrasing and approach.  When we rewrite our notions of what writing is, we see that the way we approach, assess, and value the writing process must reflect those beliefs.

Harris asserts that students are often asked to assume the roles of disciples as they write, adopting the moves and beliefs of another thinker (often the teacher or the author of whatever text they’re studying) rather than adapting them.  “Little new knowledge is created.  Instead the disciple simply shows that the master is correct,” (74) in this type of teaching.  I’ve seen, and experienced, this kind of writing in classrooms.

How many of our students’ writing experiences have stifled their voices?

Just one is too many.  Our students do enough of this posturing.  They’re teens, for crying out loud, constantly adopting the moves and beliefs of others.  We need to help them find their voices, and not just their writing voices–a voice in which to sing a song of themselves.

All this thinking only reaffirms my belief in a writers workshop approach:  one in which a community of students can safely take risks, engage in high volumes of low-stakes, choice-driven, mentor-text-rich, craft-study-laden writing, confer with a practiced writer about their growth, and take on the identity of a writer themselves.

If you’re interested in working toward a classroom that values this kind of writing, I highly recommend reading Joseph Harris’ Rewriting, and continuing along with us on our readers-writers workshop journey here at Three Teachers Talk.

How might your classroom look this fall if you rewrite your definition of writing to match Harris’?  Please leave us a comment and share!

Shana Karnes teaches sophomore, junior, and senior preservice teachers at West Virginia University.  She finds joy in all things learning, love, and literature as she teaches, mothers, and sings her way through life.  Follow Shana on Twitter at @litreader or read more of her writing on the WVCTE Best Practices blog.

Summer Snapshots

Happy Summer, teachers!

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We’re looking forward to a season of rest, rejuvenation, inspiration, and ideas just as much as you are!

We hope to start a conversation this summer about ideas and best practices and inspiration through posts here, on the Facebook page, our Instagram feed, and on Twitter about a variety of topics:

  • What’s in our notebooks
  • What we’re reading
  • A shelfie from our home or school library
  • Favorite poems
  • Professional literature we’re reading
  • Plans we’re making for classes in the fall
  • Summer learning/teaching/PD that we’re doing

To put a bit of a multigenre spin on our writing, we’re hoping to just share photos and short written snapshots of these pieces of our summer thinking–and we’d love to see yours, too!

We hope you’ll let us know what you’re engaging in for a reflective summer, and how you might use what we all share to inform your practice beginning in the fall.

Until then, please ENJOY a wonderful season of hitting the pause button so we’re all ready to start strong in August!

Our best,

The Three Teachers Talk Summer Team
Amy Rasmussen, Lisa Dennis, Shana Karnes, & Jessica Paxson

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