Category Archives: Writers Workshop

Enhancing Student Writing: Framing Editing as Choice

I am adding to the trend on the blog this week:  Editing!

I was inspired to re-read Everyday Editing and Mechanically Inclined by Jeff Anderson after Charles wrote about inviting students to notice, note, and imitate last month and earlier this week.  His philosophy influenced what I wanted my students to take away from crafting their final narrative piece–choice.  Anderson argues that telling students what or how to edit isn’t always helpful as it may not be internalized–students may seek a check-list for what to edit versus considering choices and playing with language as a writer. Anderson explains, “We want students to make choices and decisions that create meaning. Not because they’re afraid of making an error. Not because of crapshoot-fifty-fifty chances, but because they are thinking.  We want them to have ways to reason through what’s in front of them, what they see, what it sounds like looks like, means. A thought process” (10). All writing starts with merely getting your ideas out, but revision and editing happen when a writer begins to examine the choices they are or are not making. Choice is ownership in writing and far more rigorous than editing from a checklist.

In American Literature, we restarted our school year with a focus on narrative–we dug back into choice reading and ran through numerous laps of narrative writing, studying the choices authors made in mentor texts and our choice novels. Based on the narratives we had been studying together, students came up with a running list of moves we referenced as we wrote, revised, and conferenced. These core components, which students deemed essential moves of storytelling, formed what their final narrative would be assessed on:

  • Interesting Structure of Scenes within a Larger Story
  • Dialogue or Internal Thinking to Reveal Character
  • Dynamic Shift or Growth that Illustrates a “So What?”
  • Writer’s Craft Language that Shows vs. Tells
  • Variety of Sentence Structure and Word Variety

For me, one of the most challenging practices to get my students in the habit of is revisiting and re-crafting their writing. We live in an instant society which I believe programs students to complete tasks versus sit and whittle away or tinker with their thinking. Hence, “Enhancement Rotations” were born (I didn’t want to call the rotations “edits,” but I have yet to come up with a better name, suggestions?). I asked students to bring in what they thought was their final draft–little did they know they would be producing a “new” final draft! My goal was for students to notice the impactful choices they had already made, but to stretch themselves to make more. To not edit grammar errors, but to re-craft with intention.

In summary, Enhancement Rotations consist of student drafts circulating the classroom and their peer experts suggesting ways to re-craft the outlined aspects of the writing assignment or genre (we used the list above), while also complimenting the elements present in the draft already. Students decide what component they want to be an expert on from our list, then spend the time suggesting and complimenting that element only. Once the draft has visited a group of expert Enhancers, the draft rotates to the next group. Eventually, all selections rotate to different experts and gain not only suggestions and perspective but a holistic, paper-based conference.

Here are my suggested steps in more detail:

  1. After students have worked the writing process, have them print at least two copies of their piece.  Having more drafts than students allows the Enhancers to move through the drafts at their own pace because no one is waiting on them to finish to have a piece to edit. I prefer students have hard copies of their piece without names.
  2. Divide your “look fors,” essential elements, rubric, etc. into sections or chunks where students can be the peer experts–invite students to select what aspect they feel confident in providing advice and suggestions about. Organize one element at one station of desks or tables.  I suggest color coding each element, as it helps Enhancers know what draft has already been to their station. Asking students to narrow their focus helps them move through more of their peers’ drafts, thus seeing even more samples of writing and voice, especially of peers they did not conference with or may not often select as a partner.
  3. Let the editing begin!  Similar student experts sit together and use the same color marker or pen to suggest directly on their peers’ drafts (I do ask that students write their name and focus at the bottom of the draft for Step 4). Before starting, we reviewed each key move of storytelling and recalled mentor texts.
  4. Towards the end of class, students retrieve their drafts and silently reviewed the suggestions and considerations for a few minutes.  The final 10 minutes are for conferencing with one another about the feedback, further questions, and of course, compliments.  I then charge students with creating yet another draft!

Paola’s draft when from a removed retelling to showing, including a fake iMessage text feature from the suggestion of a peer.

Abbey expanding on her feelings and emotions, moving her draft from a retelling a common experience to one that was more personal, adding depth to the experience and purpose.

Inviting writers to notice and note the choices their peers are making serve to strengthen their writing, too, as we know more exposure leads to more thinking and understanding. My writers are beginning to notice the craft and creativity writing offers. Additionally, sharing writing and conferences continues to build the community of writers, and revisers, we are striving to become.

Maggie Lopez teaches American Literature and AP Literature in Salt Lake City, UT. She started reading Educated on her snow day last week, the first in 30 years, alongside Everyday Editing. You can find her on Twitter @meg_lopez0.

Revising and Editing with Jeff Anderson Part II

If you haven’t had the chance to see Jeff Anderson in person, and hear him deliver the gospel of editing instruction, be prepared…he’s very tall.  He’s also funny, charismatic, and passionate. He has an ability to take something very difficult and make it seem accessible, even to an old ball coach like me. Also, he got me to say, “AAAWWUBBIS.”

img_5011

In my post a month back, I outlined how Jeff Anderson describes the first three parts of inviting students into the editing process.

  • Invitation to Notice
  • Invitation to Imitate
  • Invitation to Celebrate

The next three parts are how we take what we’ve noticed and start putting those skills into practice.

Invitation to Collect

Those of us whose students spend most of their time in a notebook might have a dedicated section where we collect “sentence gems.”  These are beautiful examples of sentence construction that we want to hold on to, and maybe one day, imitate.  Anderson points out that he starts this practice with mentor texts that are “controlled.” In other words, he puts specific texts in front of the kids that contain sentences that he wants to help them find.  Once they’ve got an idea about what it means to “collect beautiful sentences, he lets them loose to find sentences in, for instance, their self-selected reading.  Mini-lessons are another place where we can examine well constructed sentences even if our lesson focus is somewhere else.  Many times I’ve paused a mini-lesson to point out a beautifully constructed sentence or a familiar pattern even when it wasn’t a sentence that related to our lesson focus.

Invitation to Write

Putting our skills into practice is the step that might need the strongest shove forward. Whether we use sentence strips, foldables, or just a blank page in our notebooks, we have to sit in the chair and explore these moves in authentic ways.  I think we can all agree that the true internalization of a writing move is most effectively solidified through our hands-on practice with that move.  After that, its up to the writer to use those moves in places where it will increase the effectiveness of a piece.

Invitation to Combine

Anderson writes about how practice with combining sentences helps “develop students’ sentence sense.”  This idea shows us that we can help students understand that they should be “thinking analytically about meaning.” Um…that sounds like effective and engaging instruction and it sounds like the highest level of thinking to me?

Anderson uses a sentence from Lois Lowry’s Gooney Bird Greene (2002) to help us understand that students might learn about combining sentences by working backwards.

Lowry’s sentence: When the class was quiet, Gooney Bird began her Monday story.

Uncombined:

The class was quiet.

Gooney Bird began her story.

Gooney Bird’s story was a Monday story.

 

Anderson goes on to suggest how separate groups could work to combine and uncombine sentences alternately.  Some teachers might see this as too elementary for our secondary classrooms, but I would argue that the writing my students produce tells me this type of practice is still very necessary.

If Anderson’s sentence wouldn’t present much of a challenge, take a look at this one from Nic Stone’s Odd One Out (2018):

She’s probably got Jupe by an inch or so height-wise, but completely opposite body type: slim, kind of willowy. 

I think there is enough there to start a conversation about how sentences can be combined.

Now we can use…

  • Invitation to Edit
  • Extending the Invitation
  • Open Invitation

Anderson’s methods speak to me in that they are intentional and specific.  My growth in literacy instruction leans more towards writing instruction recently, and Anderson makes this type of instruction easy for me to understand.  The greater my understanding, the better chance my students have of understanding, and growing, and exploring their place in this world.


Everyday, Charles Moore hides behind a narrow tree in his front yard waiting for his daughter to walk the three house distance from the bus stop.  She sees him the whole time, but he pretends to jump out from behind the tree and scare her before they run giggling into the house. He’s interested to know if anyone else collects beautiful sentences and if so, what are they?

A Day in the Life: Re-Starting with Narratives

The start of the second semester has been refreshing–maybe it was the two-week break that felt indulgent and a shuffling of students, or the fresh snow that sweeps over the Wasatch mountains weekly, perhaps the feeling that it is “August” in room 104 and we creating a rhythm with new workshop routines.

After attempting a balanced approach in a new school, giving students only glimpses and tastes of workshop, I have fully shifted gears for the second semester now that I know this school wants the creation of readers and writers, not compliance or approval seekers.  This semester, I plan to take laps around narrative, informational, and multigenre writing, and although each genre study will be faster than ideal, it is better than sticking to the old ways. 

Starting with narrative in a new year, several quick writes and write besides in our notebooks invited students to notice the rich source of their own lives.  As a “first lap,” as Penny Kittle and Kelly Gallagher term craft study in 180 Days, with narrative, I asked students to craft or select a picture that symbolizes their lives as second-semester juniors. I asked, “What is your life like now?  Who are you today, a junior in 2019?” Students are at a transitional time in their lives– they are looking ahead to the next step, making choices about what direction to go and who to be. I want them to show, tell, explain, and reflect.

My students needed a change.  My logic, like so many of you exploring and diving into workshop, was this:

Discussions as Readers x Discussions as Writers / Mentor Texts = Authentic Writing

  • We need to get back into our notebooks.  As we explore narratives, taking “laps” around mentor texts and reading like writers, students will write beside these texts. Rooting into what students know, themselves, will offer an access point to workshop writing.

Years of traditional English classroom expectations + My misguided start to the first-semester x The 3 by 5 Paragraph Essay = Is this what you wanted?

  • My students need to be challenged with choices and the decision-making process.  Majority of students see writing as an English-only endeavor and are hesitant to break from “Is this what you want?” to “I made this decision here because ___,” putting their choices and ideas at the center.

Required Curriculum + Low Classroom Investment = Disengaged Environment

  • Asking students to select a picture that reflects who they are in this moment, their fears, challenges, what makes them feel successful and unique, is another way to connect to students, as well as create space for student voice and individuality. The task mirrors notebook writing “beside” or “around” a picture, poem, or mentor text, which we spent time doing sporadically last semester and daily this semester and challenges students to be the creator and curator, making editorial decisions as an artist, then explaining as a writer.

As we have drafted, revised, and share I have learned more about my students and they are finding a cathartic release.

screen-shot-2019-01-16-at-8.38.27-am.png

Abraham reflected on the importance of animals to his culture:  I also love farm animals and horses. These are important not only to me but also to my parents because they grew up with farm animals and they helped nourished them and their families. All these animals have become a major part of our culture, specifically the horse used for work or transportations and rodeos. Then we have other farm animals that shape our traditional dishes.

screen-shot-2019-01-16-at-8.38.14-am.png

Ronata’s picture showed the importance of art in her life: I like to think that justice is an art. A piece so beautiful and unique, it is impossible to recreate. I’ve been taught about justice all my life, that it’s about people being treated equally. BSU has helped me realize how unjust the world’s ways are, and what ways I can help people understand that everyone needs to be treated with the same respect. Everyone has the same rights, yet society makes it seem as though people of color’s rights have no meaning at all.

screen-shot-2019-01-16-at-8.38.54-am.png

Katherine is seeking balance: The presence of my phone indicates a contrast between stereotypical adolescent behavior and my reality. As many teenagers utilize their iPhones and Macs to pursue recreational avenues such as social media or Netflix, I spend the majority of my time enveloped in the educational bubble. Rather than Snapchat or Instagram, my school email is open. Each unopened tab represents something I have to do.  This chaotic nature is indicative of my own thoughts, in which I endeavor to maintain a semblance of control.

(portions of pictures used with permission)

 

So my life now? A desk full of post-it notes with mentor texts, a dog-earred copy of 180 Days that is being read for the umpteenth time, a continuously revised calendar, a check list of students I have conferenced with, all next to a coffee cup.  We are off to a great “re-start” with workshop.

Maggie Lopez is enjoying ski weekends in Utah while pretending it is August in her classroom.  She just finished Killers of the Flower Moon and is currently reading Beautiful Boy to convince a student that it will not be “boring” compared to Tweak. You can follow her at @meg_lopez0.

Keeping It Real As a Teacher of Writers

I have taken up watercolor. It’s been ages since I tried a new hobby, and I find the challenge pretty intense. Prone to put perfectionistic pressure on myself, my need to “get it right” limits my ability to play. This is problematic. And pretty stupid.

I will never get better if I do not take risks — with brushes or pigment or with the water.

For a long while now, I’ve followed my friend Laura’s work with watercolors. Her talent paints.jpgpiqued my desire to give painting a try, so I sent her a message asking advice on beginner supplies. She was gracious and encouraging in her response.

Then, I bought not three brushes but nine, not one medium-grade paint set but five, not one pad of paper but seven — in a variety of sizes. And I saved over 48 watercolor tutorials on Pinterest, plus, watercolor images of flowers, people, trees, waves, birds, landscapes, gardens. . .and pigs; and followed 18 watercolor artists on Instagram.

Because it seemed a lot easier to get ready to learn to paint than it did to try and fail.

Kind of like writing.

If you’ve read this blog awhile, you know I’ve been thinking about writing a book almost since starting 3TT. I’ve outlined three now. But I think and talk and read what others say about writing much more than I write. Like my hesitation about painting, this is problematic.

Of course it is.

And it reminds me of many of my student writers — the fear of getting it wrong or not making the grade, the vulnerability it takes to put ideas out there.

It’s real, and sometimes it’s stifling.

As I’ve worked to conquer my fear of learning to watercolor, practicing lessons on Skillshare (which has a plethora of lessons on multitudes of topics — check it out if you haven’t), trying new brushes and different washes and color combinations, and, finally, just relaxing into my art, I’ve discovered what I hope all young writers discover:

Writers must write for themselves. They write because they feel the tug of it, the need to express thoughts and ideas and meaning. Because they want to. Just as I paint for myself –the joy of it, the adventure in seeing if I can, the peace it brings me.

Recently, 3TT was asked this question on Twitter:  How often do you think MS and HS writers should publish? and I responded–

3tt tweet

I’ve thought about this exchange a lot since, and my thinking has led to more questions than answers:  How can we help our writers set personal goals for their writing? Which comes first:  the personal goal or the desire to write? If there’s no desire, can writers still write well? Does it matter if students write well?

Of course it does.

But just like every watercolorist finds her style, every writer must find his. All too often, school writing means prompts and formulaic structures, word counts and rubrics that restrict meaning-making more than they invite it.

So what can we do to open spaces that invite writers into the vulnerable places needed to grow? The best way I know is to keep it real.

Here’s a short list of what real means to me as I teach writers.

  1. Design Lessons based on what real writers do. For example, they don’t use standardized prompts — they come up with ideas they want to explore, creating their own prompts. Try quickwrites that inspire students to think about their lives and the world around them. Plan time for them to talk to their peers in ways that expands their thinking. Plan time for them to explore topics that interest them or challenge their thinking. Don’t just ask students to write about what they know. Ask them to write about what they notice.
  2. Make your writing life visible. Our writers need to see our thinking as we organize our thoughts into words on a page. They need to see us clarify, discover, and make meaning. They need to see that revision leads to improvement. Revision is not just a one-and-done step in the writing process. It’s not a strategy. Revision is a living breathing move writers make, and they make it often. Model all of the moves you do as a thinker, reader, and writer.
  3. Talk about everything related to writing and writers. “Writing floats on a sea of talk” (James Britton). Our writers need to share their ideas with one another — and with us as writing coaches in conferences. Often, we wait to invite writers to talk about their writing in peer feedback groups or in conferring sessions after they have penned their drafts. Real writers talk throughout their writing processes — from idea to draft into revision and on to redrafting. Talk leads to clarity and discovery, and in my experience, purposeful talk is the best resource teachers have for helping all students grow in confidence as writers.
  4. Immerse writers in beautiful language, clever word play, effective and powerful stories, essays, and poetry. Mentor texts that show students the impact of word choice, figurative language, and everything else from how an author creates believable characters to using dialogue to propel a plot forward are valuable teaching tools. Studying mentor texts helps students internalize what writers do. They come to recognize organizational patterns and structures they may choose to use in their own writing. Before I write pretty much anything of import, I study mentors. Don’t you?
  5. Make writing personal and purposeful. When we write about things we care about for readers we care about, we make deliberate choices as writers. Too often, and I am guilty of this myself, our writers only write for their teacher. Now, maybe your students differ from mine, but I’ve taught many a writer who didn’t care that I was her reader, and it showed. However, when I removed myself as my students’ primary audience and worked to build a community of writers where they wrote for one another, almost every student (sadly, there’s often a few hold outs) began to take greater care and ownership of their writing. They knew they had readers other than me. Of course, we can also help students determine outside-of-class purposes and audiences for their writing, and I encourage it; however, I’ve found that sharing our writing within our own classroom community is just as effective.

By no means do I claim to know it all when it comes to teaching writers. The puzzle working with adolescents is as real as my desire to help them grow as writers — and my newfound desire to learn to watercolor. I do know authenticity matters. When we make choices about literacy instruction, steeped in the authentic practices of what real readers and writers do as they read and write, more students engage in the tasks we ask of them. They take more risks. They more often than not rise to the occasion. And they shine as writers in their own right.

If you’ve made it to the end of this post with me, I appreciate you. And while I am not super confident in my watercolor abilities, and I have a ton to learn about the art of it all, I do have a stack of 20 bookmarks I’ve painted — mostly of birds because they make me smile. If you’d like one, share this post, follow me on Twitter @AmyRass (if you aren’t already), and send me a direct message with your name and address. (First 20 only. I’ve got a book to write.)

 

Amy Rasmussen has decided she loves teaching writers more than she loves to write, but she’s working on a balance of that as she attempts to discipline herself to “get ‘er done.” She has also decided that watercolor painting is harder than it looks. Amy’s currently on a “gap year” from the high school English class as she works on a book about authentic literacy instruction and facilitates professional development as an independent literacy consultant. She misses kids. A lot.

A Friendly Resource for Revising and Editing

The current version of my instructional practices, philosophies, and beliefs was born a couple of years ago. Word spread that our new curriculum coordinator was a “workshop” guy and, coincidentally, I was in a place where change was on my mind.

Traditional “drill and kill” methods heavily supplemented with canonical whole class novels and their hip-tied reading guides left me unfulfilled in my “teacher feels” and I knew there had to be a better way.

Serendipity through reader’s/writer’s workshop…

Much of the credit for the strengthening of my instructional practice can be attributed to the people I’ve met who provided me the opportunity to explore and improve my craft. Teaching next to brilliant people and participating in our Literacy Institute are invaluable experiences. Much of my improvement can be traced to those teachable moments.  Other sources of wisdom came in the form of “Hey, have you read anything by [insert important name here]?”

That spring, many quiet lunch periods were spent hunkered over a professional text, sweating from having just walked off the football field, highlighting brilliant thoughts, taking notes, absorbing as much knowledge as I possibly could.

Lucky for me, one of the first places I visited was Everyday Editing by Jeff Anderson.img_5011

Our upcoming (and ongoing) revising and editing emphasis leads me back into one of my favorite books over and over.  I just can’t stay away from the wisdom contained in this book and the lessons it possesses beyond writing instruction.  This book outlines a path for exploring any skill that students need, and I found that the wisdom contained there-in reaches across the areas of emphasis in our workshop.

I love so much about this book.  Not just the content, but the craft, as well, is brilliant. Anderson breaks the teaching cycle down into nine parts, and, while at first wrapping my head around that many ideas felt daunting, eventually, this book helped polish my teaching methods to a point where I felt very comfortable.

The idea that I need to “invite” my students to join the process of editing is, I think, what this book is really about.  This shift in focus, from teacher to student, is one that proves difficult for many teachers, myself included.  Anderson explains, “I invite students to notice, to read like writers, to come into the world of editing – a friendly place rather than a punishing place, a creational facility rather than a correctional one.”

This right there!!! That sentiment that we can let the students tell us where they are with their understanding and where they need support is what left me gobsmacked.

Anderson repeats this idea over an over using several editing lessons. He takes the reader through the instruction of serial commas, appositives, paragraphs and dialogue.  We learn about using colons, apostrophes, and several other skills. But really, we learn that giving students the space and encouragement to explore their own learning is the best way we can build writers.

He breaks the process down into nine parts and they are so fully explained that even a football coach like me can employ them in a writing workshop. They are:

  1. Invitation to Notice
  2. Invitation to Imitate
  3. Invitation to Celebrate
  4. Invitation to Collect
  5. Invitation to Write
  6. Invitation to Combine
  7. Invitation to Edit
  8. Extending the Invitation
  9. Open Invitation

The first part, invitation to notice, provides us the opportunity for formative assessment right at the jump, and saves time in the lesson cycle. Too often, our assessment focuses on where they are in their learning at the end of the lesson and not on the growth in their understanding.  How can I optimize my instruction if I don’t measure how far they move in the time we work together?  I can’t, and if I don’t, then I’m just throwing out lessons and moving through lesson cycles robotically without any opportunity for the students’ powerful voices to be heard. Also, if I allow them to show me what they notice, I might learn something from them.  A scary thought.

The second part, invitation to imitate, teaches the writers to hang their own ideas on someone else’s frame.  I’m an old man and, more than ever before, I look at texts as mentors not just in content, but in craft.  Our students need that experience as well.  If we show them that mentors are everywhere, we open them up to worlds outside the four edges of a text and the four walls of our classroom.  So much of what we learn about life comes from the people we see and hear. That sentiment should inform our writing instruction as well.

The third part, invitation to celebrate, is one I didn’t understand well, even after reading this book. This one required a great deal of thinking for me to fully understand its importance.  Anderson makes it clear that correcting the writing of our students doesn’t make them better writers. He tells us, “In fact, correction may even stifle, crush and suffocate celebration” (32).  Instead of tearing our writers down, we should share in the joy of the successful writing experience.

Just those first three moves are incredibly important in our work. I’ll write about the next three parts in two weeks. Until then…


Charles Moore is blown away by how quickly the students in his classroom jumped back into their routines this semester and their joy in learning about reading and writing together.  He loves seeing their faces scrunched as they struggle through revising with purpose.  He loves this work and is massively thankful that he has the opportunity to share in the growth his students are experiencing. 

Gifts of Writing

It’s that time of year where the kids are restless, teachers are exhausted, and gift-giving season looms. What if I told you we could use our writer’s workshop time to help us in all three areas?

Whether you have some days this upcoming week with students where you’re still not sure what you’re doing, or if you’re looking for ways to ease back into the routine once we get back from winter break, today I want to invite you to think about ways we can encourage students to use their writing as gifts for the people in their life.

The Important Book

Screen Shot 2018-12-14 at 8.08.38 PM.pngI love Margaret Wise Brown’s The Important Book and how versatile it is as a mentor text. From the imitable structure to the crisp imagery to the simple illustrations, this book consistently inspires some of the best writing all year.

A few years ago we used this book as a thank you for my son’s first grade teacher. Each child wrote a “Important” poem about her, which a parent compiled into a keepsake book. I’ve written Important poems about my children at different ages, including this one about my daughter Emma. A colleague writes Important poems about each of her students at the end of the year, giving it to them as a farewell gift.

How might students craft their own Important poems?

How to Live

I was first introduced to Charles Harper Webb’s poem a dozen years ago in a class taught by Tom Romano (note: that’s where about 90% of any good ideas I ever have originated — in a class with Tom Romano).

I think students have so much advice for the people in their life, and they are so often not asked for advice. How great it is to invite them into the conversation about how they think we can live our best lives? And how else might we complete the rest of “How to…”? Imagine the possibilities as students practice procedural writing in a non-traditional way.

Odes

Did you see this tweet from @jessica_salfia last week? It instantly instigated so much thinking and I have been itching to try it with students.Screen Shot 2018-12-14 at 7.49.09 PM.png

I love the idea of writing odes about unconventional items. After seeing this tweet, I was getting ready to work with a group of elementary teachers. As I was trying to think of how to adapt the content of this tweet for younger students, I remembered my most favorite book of last year, Crown: Ode to a Fresh Cut by Derrick Barnes, illustrated by Gordon C. James. Screen Shot 2018-12-14 at 8.14.12 PMThis book is such a beautiful way to take an ordinary moment in life and to expand on what these small moments mean to our lives.

What would happen if we invited our students to write unconventional odes? I might write an ode to a tradition in my family, or to a special memory. What would you write about?

Poetry Anthology

When I first taught honors 10th graders 13 years ago, I borrowed an idea from my colleague Leah Naumann and asked students to create a poetry anthology for a person in their life. Students were required to find a variety of poems and in a letter to the recipient, they wrote about the ways that each poem reminded them of their intended audience.

It was some of the best writing and most thoughtful analysis I read all year. Students read dozens of poems, thinking critically about how these poems might fit a person. They naturally thought about themes and symbolism. They read poems for deeper meaning in ways I had never managed to teach. It was inspiring. Then they compiled the poems and letters into a book form, gifting it to their person.

I knew this was a gift of writing in so many ways when a few years later a former student reached out to me. His mom had recently passed away after a long battle with cancer that had begun the year he was in my class. He told me that through creating that anthology, he found a way to express things to his mother that he hadn’t been able to articulate in words. He found peace in that after she was gone. What more could we ever ask for our writing but to help us to all find peace in this world.

How will you find ways to encourage your students to see the their writing as the gift it is?

Angela Faulhaber lives in Cincinnati, OH. When she’s not freaking out over Christmas lists and to-do checklists, she’s trying to focus on enjoying the small moments with her family. And to avoid all the germs that are floating around. She first heard about the idea of Gifts of Writing from Nancie Atwell and has loved the idea of creating space for students to envision a life for their writing beyond the classroom. 

Finding a Book to Crawl Into

I’m feeling a bit chaotic lately. The holidays are fast approaching on the personal front, but seemingly retreating on the professional front (we have how many days left until break?!). My reunion tour with freshmen requires more planning and more patience than I fear I have capacity for. My only child status is rearing its ugly head as my Dad prepares to have surgery today for that emperor of all maladies, and my mind is flying to all sorts of outcomes I can’t imagine dealing with right now. Additionally, I’ve decided that with no time and little energy, I’m going to commit myself to the madness that is Orange Theory Fitness and complete workouts that leave my aging limbs in such agony I’m walking down the stairs sideways. I needed the elderly assistance bar in the restroom the other day, friends. It’s been quite a season.

Needless to say, I need some solace (and a full body heating pad). No surprise, I’ve found it recently in books. Here are a few texts that have me feeling beautifully nostalgic, contemplative, and remembering the joy of learning as I try and hold it together on the outside, but not so secretly disappear into books.


Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird, Some Instructions on Writing and Life, an accessible text on turning your writing ambitions into a practice that will bring both joy and fulfillment, has me laughing out loud, recommitting to my own writing life (her recommendation to 3tt5remember the power of short writing assignments make it all seem so…doable!), and finding pearl after pearl to share with my students about moving their own writing forward, specifically memoir.

For example, I can picture several of my students benefiting from Lamott’s advice to remember that perfectionism, both in writing and in life,  “is based on the obsessive belief that if you run carefully enough, hitting each stepping-stone just right, you won’t have to die. The truth is that you will die anyway and that a lot of people who aren’t even looking at their feet are going to do a whole lot better than you, and have a lot more fun while they’re doing it.” Sometimes we all have such struggles letting go, we can’t even get started. We must be willing to release not only the formulas, structures, and sentence starters of writing, but also give ourselves permission to write in a way that brings us joy and releases pain without judgement from inner critics that can crush our work before it begins.

I also can’t let go of what Lamott suggests in being brave enough to write about those experiences that carry weight in our lives. Those memories that crush us beneath the wheels of remembering and try to halt all progress we can make toward a path of personal growth. Far too many of our students have such experiences, and writing about them can help some to process and release.

With a nod to the fears and reluctance that students in her own classes have when it comes to writing about what really matters to them, Lamont suggests that we:

Remember that you own what happened to you. If your childhood was less than ideal, you may have been raised thinking that if you told the truth about what really went on in your family, a long bony white finger would emerge from a cloud and point to you, while a chilling voice thundered, “We *told* you not to tell.” But that was then. Just put down on paper everything you can remember now about your parents and siblings and relatives and neighbors, and we will deal with libel later on. (Lamott)

Lamott is witty, clever, and real. I plan to pull some sections from this book as mentors for both style and content. This text is a “warm, generous and hilarious guide through the writer’s world and its treacherous swamps,” said the Los Angeles Times. I could not agree more.


My love of Anne Shirley was actually born through Canadian actress, Megan Follows. 3tt3The 1985 mini series on the trials and triumphs of fiery tempered Anne was a favorite of my grandmother, and we watched her two tape VHS version together until it literary broke.

Fast forward to today (I couldn’t help myself) when at NCTE in Houston a few weeks back, I found a copy of Sarah McCoy’s recent publication Marilla of Green Gables. I love a good backstory, so to see McCoy’s ideas around how the sometimes prickly Marilla Cuthbert came to be, made me smile. The text takes it’s liberties, and expands on some character traits that reach a bit from who these classic characters were in my mind, but overall it was a nostalgically tender read that took me back to a story I’ve loved since I was a girl. Having found a few Anne fans in my own classes, this is a great text to recommend.


 

Ruth Sepetys Salt to the Sea had me researching the World War II civilian tragedy of the Wilhelm Gustloff and sharing with my students the power of stories we don’t often hear, because history is too often told only by the voices of the winners.

The Tattooist of Auschwitz by Heather Morris has become an audiobook I can’t hit pause on.

Sold on a Monday by Kristina McMorris is where I’m heading next.

Which books are you escaping into these days? Please share in the comments below! 


Lisa Dennis spends her school days teaching AP Language and English 9, while also leading the fearless English department at Franklin High School, just outside Milwaukee, Wisconsin where she lives with her husband Nick, daughter Ellie, and beagle Scout.  She is a firm believer that a youthful spirit, a kind heart, a big smile, and a good book can ease most of life’s more troublesome quarrels. Follow Lisa on Twitter @LDennibaum.

%d bloggers like this: