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Category Archives: Reading

Thank You, Thoughtful Teachers

I’ve been really delighted this summer to see a great deal of teacher engagement in a variety of places.  From the participants in my National Writing Project summer institute, to the enthusiastic readers in the Book Love Summer Book Club, to the still-hashtagging tweeters on various ed chats, I love seeing so many teachers interested in refining their practice outside the school year.

I’m especially thankful for you, our thoughtful readers, for continuing to read and comment and engage with us in the summertime.  I love that you’re on this journey with us as teacher-writers, constantly reflecting on our practice, striving to improve it.

You deserve a thank-you gift!  How about some free books?

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Yes, those are Eric Carle pajamas…

Ruthie and I are excited to give away another big box (or two or three!) of books to add to your classroom library.  You all helped me reduce my shelf load last year with a big book giveaway, but there’s still some more #booklove to dole out.

To enter to win, please help us engage more thoughtful teachers by spreading the word about the community we’re working to build here at Three Teachers Talk.  First, make sure you’ve subscribed to receive emails from us by signing up on the home page:

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Just click on the “Give Me More Posts Like This” button to get signed up.

Next, make sure you’ve liked our Facebook page, which you can do directly through Facebook or on the TTT home page as well:

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Next, follow us on Twitter at our official TTT account, @3teacherstalk, and consider finding us on our individual accounts, too:

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If you’ve already subscribed, liked, and followed, please invite others to do the same.  You can do this through a tweet, a Facebook post, or however you want.  Just help us grow this amazing community of thoughtful, engaged teachers!

Once you’ve done so, please leave a comment on this post that tells why you’re thankful for teachers, plus one way for me to contact you to get your mailing address if you win!

Best of luck winning books, and happy sharing!

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The books I’ll give away, with Ruthie for scale, of course

Happy Summer,

Shana

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Every Teacher a Reader. Every Teacher a Writer.

Do any of you follow the Middle and High School Secondary ELA group on Facebook?

Now, I am not trying to pick any fights, but I’m just going to say it:  Some of the comments drive me straight over a rocky cliff. Honestly, I tend to get a little snarky if I spend too much time there. (Sorry, not sorry.)

Today an ELA teacher posted “Writing sucks.” What?! I sure hope a student never hears her say that. Yesterday a teacher posted this question:

“Silent reading…have you built it into your routine? For how long? Do you find your struggling readers or non-readers (at home) love this time? I currently have built it in for the first 15 minutes since I know many of my 6th grade sts do not read at home. I think it works, but just brainstorming other ways to do things for next year. Just curious what you all do! I would be curious if HS teachers still give time to silent read, too.”

I had a hard time reading the thread with comments like “They won’t read, or forget their books… It turns into wasted time.”

Of course it does, if teachers do not establish the all out importance of reading, the benefits of reading, the time commitment to grow as readers; if teachers do not walk the talk of readers, share their reading lives, promote books and match books to kids and beat the drum of reading. Every. Single Day. We have to help students value reading.

The same holds true for writing. We have to help students value writing. We have to help students value the struggle of writing well.

Are we teacher-writers who model the difficult task of writing? Do we share the struggle of getting thoughtful ideas on the page and revising and revising and revising to convey the meaning we intend to the audience we intend? Writing well means we make intentional choices and we develop the habits of writers. Read Donald Murray’s “Habits of Writing,” and then internalize his last line: “Consider my habits of writing, but develop your own by studying what you did when the writing went well, and make what you discover your own writing habits.” (If you really want to build your writer-mojo, I suggest Murray’s books, The Essential Don Murray:  Lessons from America’s Greatest Writing Teacher, and Learning by Teaching.)

We can learn to write well. We can learn to teach writing well as we discover our own writing habits and guide students into developing their own. But this will never happen if we do not write.

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I’ve written about walking our talk before — and I believe it more every day. I think we owe it to our students to be actively engaged in the learning process the same way we ask them to be actively engaged. I can never be a good enough reader. I can never be a good enough writer.

So, this summer I commit to keep working on my craft. I will read. I will write.

If you are reading this post, I know I am preaching to the choir. I know you already share at least some of my beliefs about reading and writing. Thank you for that!

I invite you to share your reading and your writing, to amplify our collective voices as teachers who read and write, and walk our talk — even during the summer. Shana posted our summer posting plans yesterday. I hope you’ll join us on our Facebook page, our Instagram feed, and on Twitter. And as Austin Kleon famously asserts:  Show your Work!

Let’s spread it far and wide!

Amy Rasmussen lives in north Texas and teaches AP English Language and English 4 (new prep in ’17. She loves talking books, daughters’ weddings (two this year), and grandbabies (five). She also loves facilitating PD for other teachers making the move into a workshop pedagogy. Amy adheres to the words of Emerson: “We aim above the mark to hit the mark,” and Jesus: “Love one another.” Imagine a world if we all aim higher. Follow Amy on Twitter @amyrass. And she really hopes you will follow this blog!

We are Magnificently Confused and other names for book shelves

I have a lot of bookshelves and a lot of books. I have a relationship with my classroom

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some of my current shelves

library like many drivers have with their cars. I shine it up and keep it running smoothly. I love the new book smell.

Quite often someone asks about how I organize my library. Very carefully. When I know which shelves hold which books, I can more easily match books to readers. Shelf labels matter.

The labels on my shelves do a couple of things:  They help me know what holds what, but more importantly, these labels serve to pique curiosity and press readers to explore.

When you get to know a lot of books, you realize that most books may sit comfortably on several shelves, especially if we sort them by topic or theme and not just genre.  Sometimes I group the same copies of specific books together, and sometimes I break the sets a part to put on separate shelves.

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sports and war books need a taller shelf

When school returns in August, I will be in a new classroom. A different classroom. That means that my hundreds of books had to move down the stairs and down the hall. Now those boxes wait for when I have time. I’m going to need a lot of time.

I am thinking about how I want to organize my shelves in this new learning space — maybe two reading nooks instead of one, fewer books on the lowest shelves? more intriguing labels on more shelves with the hope of inviting more readers?

I’m thinking for sure on that last one:  changing up the category labels on the shelves. I could use your help here. I think it would be fun to be clever, but clever is hard for me.

So far, I’ve read through a ton of quotes on books and reading, and pulled phrases for shelf labels I think will work for most of the books in my library.

Here’s what I have so far:

Born into Chaos

Clapping for the Wrong Reasons

Burning Bridges

Gracefully Insane (or Close to It)

Black Sheep Own the World

You Cant Just Get Over It

Holding Close My Secrets

Making Myself into a Hero

Stop Reminding Me I Need a Life

Do You Kiss with Eyes Open or Closed?

You Just Can’t Get Over It

The Present Hides the Past

History is Herstory, too

History:  Echoes Heard & Unheard

The Edge of Possibility

Foul Play (and other sports stories)

A Likely Story

Detecto Mysterioso

It’s Going to Break Your Heart

Using My Life as a Lesson

We are Magnificently Confused

What labels would you add?

And the question of the hour:  What high-interest books would you put on these shelves?

 

Amy Rasmussen lives in north Texas and teaches AP English Language and English 4 (new prep in the fall). She loves talking books, daughters’ weddings (two this year), and grandbabies. She also loves facilitating PD for other teachers making the move into a workshop pedagogy because it keeps her focused on her own improvement. Amy adheres to the words of Emerson: “We aim above the mark to hit the mark,” and Jesus: “Love one another.” Imagine a world if we all aim higher. Follow Amy on Twitter @amyrass. And she’d love it if you follow this blog!

A Call for Real Opportunities to Learn — Not More Test Prep

Natl Literacy Trust Survey 2016

Of course, this data caught my eye.

My friend Gary Anderson posted it on Facebook with this link to the National Literacy Trust Findings from their Annual Literacy Survey 2016: Celebrating Reading for Enjoyment.

I had just spent the day working with teachers in Clear Creek ISD as they launched their two week STAAR Academy, a series of summer school-like classes designed to immerse students in authentic reading and writing — not the typical mode of tutorials often offered in the hope of helping students pass their state mandated English exams.

Billy Eastman, Clear Creek ISD High School ELA and World Languages Coordinator, is a visionary who believes in his teachers and in the students they serve. He knows that when students choose books they want to read, experience learning in an environment that validates their personal lives and learning journeys, and are given space and instruction that allows them to write about the topics that matter to them, students grow. They grow in confidence, and they grow in ability.

Thirty-five teachers met with me in a two hour institute this morning. We read and talked and wrote and talked. We built a community of teacher-readers and writers. We engaged in learning — all with a central goal:  How can we create a space for all students to advance as readers and writers?

Then, teachers planned. In teams they designed lessons intent on engaging students as real readers and writers — not just students reading and writing for a test.

After lunch, teachers facilitated similar community building activities with the roughly 250 students attending the academy.

With generous funding by his district, Mr. Eastman was able to provide books, lots of new high-interest YA literature, in which students could choose a book they want to read. This is the first step in “celebrating reading for enjoyment” and all the benefits that come with it.

As I visited the 12 classrooms this afternoon, I witnessed students writing and talking about their reading lives.

“I like stories okay,” one boy said, “but I don’t like to read.”

“I’m not really into reading,” said another.

“Reading isn’t my thing,” another boy said.

I asked one young man if he liked to read, and he told me: “Yes, I read a lot.” He had just selected Scythe, the new book by Neil Shusterman, and I could tell he was eager to get started reading it. He’d already read Unwind and quickly told me how much he enjoyed that series. The other three students in this boy’s small group were less enthusiastic about reading anything, but they were willing to try. One chose Still Life with Tornado by A.S. King, another Boy 21 by Matthew Quick, and the other Out of Darkness by Ashley Hope Perez.

As I observed every classroom this afternoon, I noticed a few things:

  • The ratio of boys to girls in most every classroom was at least 4 to 1.
  • Boys want to read books that look “tough.” The cover has to captivate them.
  • Girls will choose books with male protagonists more often than boys will choose books with female protagonists.
  • Few students choose historical fiction — they seem drawn to realistic fiction and dystopian.
  • Many students chose books teachers might deem too difficult for them. (One of the most popular book choices offered today was All the Light We Cannot See, which won the Pulitzer Prize in 2015.)

For the next nine weekdays, students will read their chosen books and spend time engaged in their community of learners. They will practice the moves of real readers and writers as teachers practice the routines of readers-writers workshop and read and write beside their students. Besides the obvious benefit for students, teachers will engage in the kind of professional development that truly matters, the kind that gives hands-on experience with students as they practice the art and craft of teaching.

I am excited for the outcome. I am excited that teachers are excited. I am honored to be a part of Mr. Eastman’s vision for his district.

So what does this have to do with the National Literacy Trusts’ Annual Survey? A lot.

As I read through the report this evening, I found nothing startling or surprising. Of course, there are advantages to reading for enjoyment.

But then I shifted my thinking and began questioning the why and the what. Why does the data say what it does? Why are their gaps in enjoyment between boys and girls? Why are their gaps between age groups? What is happening in schools that might be causing these gaps? What is happening in students’ lives that might be causing these gaps? What can change if we approach reading and writing instruction differently? What should change?

I challenge you to read the report and ask yourself similar questions. Then, I challenge you to take the next step:  follow Billy Eastman’s lead. Whatever your sphere of influence, how can you allow a space for reading for enjoyment? And if you haven’t done so yet: How can you change the model of instruction in your classroom, in your school, or in your district so all students have the chance to become real readers and writers who enjoy what they read and write?

Don’t all students deserve similar opportunities to learn — not more test prep?

Amy Rasmussen lives in north Texas and teaches AP English Language and English 4 (new prep in the fall). She loves talking books, daughters’ weddings (two this year), and grandbabies. She also loves facilitating PD for other teachers making the move into a workshop pedagogy because it keeps her focused on her own improvement. Amy adheres to the words of Emerson: “We aim above the mark to hit the mark,” and Jesus: “Love one another.” Imagine a world if we all aim higher. Follow Amy on Twitter @amyrass. And she’d love it if you follow this blog!

Summer Reads to Stay Up Late With

Teachers, we are SO close.

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The end of the school year is nigh.  Perhaps it’s this week, maybe it’s next, but either way, it’s nearly time to treat yo’self with what all teachers love to do in the summertime:

Take 84 naps, and then start binge reading.

This is what I did when my school year ended a few weeks ago, and after several days of excessive sleep, I started staying up late to finish books guilt-free.

Please forgive me for what I’m about to do to your Amazon carts while I gush over the titles that’ve kept me up until the wee hours, and their friends on my TBR list:

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The Circle by Dave Eggers – This book was so plausible that it creeped me out.  It’s the tale of an ambitious college grad who lands a job at one of the tech industry’s premier companies, The Circle, who so slowly ingratiate their surveillance, social sharing, and health-tracking apps into her life (and others’) that it seems like no big deal at all–until it is a big deal.  This one kept me in suspense until 2 am, when I breathlessly finished it.  Similar titles on my TBR include The Handmaid’s Tale, Dark Matter, and The Dinner.  Creeptastic!

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A Twist in Time by Julie McElwain – I’ve been anxiously awaiting this title since I read the first book in the series, A Murder in Time.  Now that it’s here, I’ve already devoured half of its 600-page bulk, most of that on my wedding anniversary, no less.  Kendra Donovan is a modern day FBI agent, a genetically-engineered genius who’s an outcast even amongst her fellow elite criminal profilers…or so she thinks, until she’s transported through time to the 1800s and really feels like an outcast.  Now, she’s stuck there solving murders without the help of forensic equipment and techniques readily available to her in the 21st century…or any hope of getting home.

I think McElwain’s writing is a great blend of period-accurate details and modern, funny asides, and the story only further serves to suck me in.  If you, too, find yourself craving a tale of time-traveling modern women, check out Outlander or the National Book Award finalist News of the World.

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Textbook by Amy Krouse Rosenthal – I’ve been wanting to read this book since I read Encyclopedia of an Ordinary Life, but then got even more desperate to do so when I read Rosenthal’s heartbreaking essay in the New York Times, and then about her subsequent death.  It’s impossible not to read this book through those lenses, and while it’s amazing on its own, it’s even more powerful as a magnum opus.  I also want to check out similar memoirs like The Rules Do Not Apply, Hallelujah Anyway, and Strangers Tend to Tell Me Things

 

 

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Goodbye Days by Jeff Zentzler – I read this one in two days over Memorial Day weekend, largely ignoring our company to finish it that Sunday.  I was sucked in on page one by the beautiful writing and the premise–a teen dealing with the fact that he sent a text message that led to the deaths of all three of his best friends–and I asked my friends if they’d read it.  “I did,” Amy volunteered.  “It ripped my guts.”  And boy, did it.  This was one of the first YA reads I’ve picked up lately that I really just couldn’t put down.  I’d love to see how The Inexplicable Logic of My Life, A List of Cages, and The First Time She Drowned can measure up to this book.

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Disrupting Thinking by Kylene Beers & Bob Probst – Lisa has been so effusive about this book that I just had to go ahead and start reading it, even though I’ve been trying to wait until everyone else in the Book Love Summer Book Club dives in.  But it’s so darn readable, and such a great refresher of a lot of the research I’ve read and loved.  I always enjoy Beers and Probst for helping synthesize their wide reading into a crucible of new ideas.  Other fabulous pedagogical reads on my TBR list this summer are Joy Write, No More Telling as Teaching, and Write What Matters.

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When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi – This book hit home for me, and at quite a short length, I read it in one day–about half of it while on a treadmill!  It’s the memoir of a neurosurgical resident who, near the end of his grueling training, finds out he has advanced stage cancer.  My husband is entering his fourth year of orthopedic residency, so I read this book with a blend of horror at its possibilities and admiration for its author’s poise and eloquence.  My gushing over it led to lots of our resident friends reading it with similar amounts of waterfall-like tears.  After reading it in an afternoon, my hubby asked for some more books like it, so I ordered him Being Mortal, The House of God, and The Buddha and the Borderline.

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The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas – I listened to this now-famous (in teacher circles, anyway) book on audio, and found myself driving or walking in circles so I could hear more faster.  What impressed me most about this book wasn’t its nuanced treatment of the topic of police shootings, or its awesome one-liners, or its many layers of issues faced by its narrator, Starr.  No, what impressed me most was how authentic to Angie’s life and personal history it seemed.  After reading Between the World and Me, I learned a great deal about the roots of African-American empowerment and efforts for equality.  Malcolm X, the Black Panthers, James Baldwin, and more had been strangers to me before that book, but I saw them come up again and again in The Hate U Give.  

This terrific book definitely broadened my worldview, and to help it grow more, I’d also like to read American Street, All-American Boys, and Allegedly.

What’s kept you up late reading lately?  What’s next on your TBR?  Please share in the comments…so we can all go broke buying books!!

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…and in the new knowledge that she has ANOTHER baby girl on the way!!  Follow Shana on Twitter at @litreader.

Stop Teaching. I’m reading.

SCENE: My classroom

 

AMY is holding onto a clipboard and attempting to drink from a thermos of coffee while still Looking Important.  She surveys the room of readers and stops at a student who has read an uncharacteristically large amount from the past day.  She stops at the student’s desk.

 

AMY: How’d you do that?

 

STUDENT looks up from book.

 

STUDENT: Do what?

 

AMY: You know, how did you read 50 pages since the last time I saw you?

 

STUDENT (shrugs): I don’t know.  I just did.

 

STUDENT returns to book.

 

Some teachers might find exchanges like these evidence of an unsuccessful conference with an uncommunicative student. Some teachers might want to go into further questioning: “Well, when did start reading?  How long did you read?  Where were you? Are you on your way to achieving a reading goal?” but it’s easy for that kind of reading conference to quickly turn into an episode of Law and Order: Minors After Midnight pretty quickly.

 

Instead, I tend to find conferences like these home run victories.  This student is looking to end this conversation so that he can get back into reading.  Isn’t that the best compliment of all?

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Granted, if every interaction with the student went like the above, I’d probe further.  However, I look for three key ingredients when I evaluate these kinds of exchanges:

  1. Is this student reading at an increased volume than he or she usually does?  
  2. What’s the student’s body language like before the conference?  Is it a “please don’t talk to me right now” vibe?
  3. Does the student act unsurprised by the idea that he or she read a lot?  

 

If the answer to the three above questions is “yes,” I score that conference as a major reading victory, because:

  1. I already de-incentivize book volume and page count.  Students gain no reward for claiming they have read 20 pages when really they have read 2.  This way, I trust when I see students reading more that that reading is their honest performance.
  2. Students should like reading more than they like talking to us.
  3. The student might not be able to accurately recall his or her extended reading period because he or she entered a state of flow.  I don’t know how I managed to watch three episodes back-to-back of Survivor over the weekend.   Students who don’t know how they managed to read a lot might not know because they entered a state of flow.

 

Okay, so where do you teach this reader in future conferences?  They can’t all be this non-verbal.

 

  1. Use this book as a benchmark of reading excellence for that student.  Ask that student in a few months, “How does the book you are in right now compare to your experience of reading book XYZ?”
  2. Help the student find more books like it using tools like Amazon.com, goodreads, or by talking to other readers. I am always amazed at how few students know how to look up another book by the same author.
  3. Ask the student what mattered to them most about the experience of reading the book.  Ask about the book, but ask about their feelings while reading, too.  Keep in mind that for some readers a distinctive literary pattern emerges across their reading — say, books about kids with cancer, books about troubled homes, books about the apocalypse, books with strong female characters battling high school drama.   For others, it might be about feelings — they liked or disliked a character, they enjoyed the world the author built for them, etc.

Amy Estersohn is a middle school English teacher in New York and a 2016 recipient of the NCTE Gallo Grant.  And she hates being interrupted in the middle of a good book.  Follow her on twitter @HMX_MsE.

5 Lessons from Public Teaching

51A2WRYQAZL._SX312_BO1,204,203,200_.jpgThis week I tackled a title that’s long been on my to-read list:  Public Teaching: One Kid at a Time by Penny Kittle.  Published in 2003, it’s Penny’s first book, and has a foreword by Don Graves and an afterword by Don Murray.

(Yeesh…no pressure for when the rest of us thinking about writing our first books, right?!)

I loved this book, a collection of short essays plus an interview with Penny at the end.  It was readable, honest, and spectacularly well-written, as everything by Penny is.  I smiled as I read every page–except for the pages where I was crying.  Even in those essays I found myself impressed by the cleverness of Penny’s craft, both in her teaching and writing.

I bookmarked lots of pages and quotes to share with my preservice teachers this fall, but here are five lessons I took away from the reading that I believe are relevant to teachers of all content areas.

 

No one is perfect.

Penny begins her book with several amusing essays on mishaps from murderous crickets to accidentally-transparent skirts.  She eases us into the notion that even she, the great Penny Kittle, has had some missteps in her career, then launches into a few gut-wrenching essays on what she reflects on as her more weighty teaching failures:  a student we never say the right thing to, one we lose patience with, one we never teach to love learning or reading or writing.

We all have memories of those students, and Penny honors this with her writing.  I loved these vulnerable, humble essays that remind me we all ride a rollercoaster of success when it comes to our teaching.

Classroom management is a myth.

Penny tells the story of a novice teacher, struggling to manage her classroom, making wrong turn after wrong turn as a battle with her students escalates.  She has this to offer:

“Classroom management is really about the management of the heart and soul of your students.  The only ‘technique’ that works is a full-hearted human response to their lives, and to the conditions of school.  In some schools students sit in rows and listen, then rush to their next class, to sit and listen even more.  Try to understand the conditions in your particular school and view the entire day through their eyes. … You aren’t bad.  Your students are children, preoccupied with myriad distractions.  It is a natural state.  School is often the unnatural one.”

This advice was so much better, for me, than the age-old wisdom I got from mentors when I first began teaching and a lesson would crash and burn:  “don’t take it personally.”  I did take it personally, and still do, when I lose a class’s attention or a lesson falls flat.  When I learned the lesson Penny teaches here–“You must teach the students, not the content.  I want every student in my class to know that he or she is more important than what I am teaching”–I had far fewer of those flat moments and many more roundly satisfying ones.

Novice teachers need mentors, not critics.

We’ve all heard the statistics that half our teachers will leave the profession within three years.  As Penny says, “teaching, like marriage, is best when you make it past the courtship.”  The first few years are hard, and what makes them easier is exactly what improves my marriage:  talk.  As a young teacher simultaneously full of ambition and anxiety, I became more even-keeled when I found mentors.  I talked with them, they empathized, they advised.  I felt more prepared for my work, but I also felt less alone when I found a group of peers to encourage and support me.  “We have to mentor new teachers, listen to them, and I guess, hold hands once in a while,” Penny remarks.

Less is more.

“Somehow we decided that four short stories is better than one rewritten four times, and it’s a huge mistake.”

Penny’s assertion about the way many teachers conceive of writing is so true to my own learning experience, and as a result, my own early teaching experience.  I’ve been interested in the idea of simplifying my instruction for a while, and of course, Penny helped me see more clearly how to do it–with revision.

“I needed to have them linger longer over less,” she says, then backs it up with stories about an entire day’s work spent on fragments, the slow process of discovery learning, the work and power of weeks of revision on one genre of writing.  We have to jettison some things if we really want students learning, to keep it simple, to remember that less is more.

Teachers need to write.

By joining a writer’s group of teachers at her school, writing an essay for the local paper with her students, and carving out the time from motherhood to write, Penny learned to be a much better teacher by writing.  Her peer and student readers, as well as her editors, taught her to “be positive.  Encouragement works; criticism hurts.  Be careful with words.”

It’s hard to learn this lesson if you’re not a writer yourself, and Penny shows us her journey to becoming one throughout her essays.  She describes the early days of her writing group this way:

“Their criticism stung.  I didn’t like it.  You have to be careful when you’re correcting someone’s work.  I don’t think I was careful enough with my students all those years before.  It was so easy to just tell them what wasn’t working and think that was helping.  In writers’ group I learned quickly that compliments showed me what I could do and gave me confidence, criticism confirmed my fears and left me frustrated.  When I confidently approached a piece to revise it, I was playful.  When I went back to one in frustration, I usually made it worse.”

We become better teachers when we do what we’re asking our students to do–it’s only then that we can really know what we’re asking of them.  I highly recommend reading Public Teaching, doing some writing (how about with us?), and reflecting on your teaching by doing both.

43ccacd3aa51c2341980e1e34e34cba6.jpgAs we near the end of the school year, I hope you can find truth in one of Penny’s final statements:  “In my experience, it isn’t the stress that’s left the greatest mark, it is the joy.”

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.

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