Category Archives: Charles Moore

Of Bugs, Boils, and Bards

There are few tasks in this life that I both do well, and love doing well.  For instance, I love extracting, from a pot, a basket of crawfish, stuffed to the brim. I struggle to lift the forty, or more, pounds — shoulders creaking, eyes squinting from the pungent spices, mouth watering as those bright red mud bugs slowly drain off.

There is a moment, basket balanced precariously on the edge of the large stainless steel pot, where I can’t bear to hold back my insatiable desire to sample. And yet, I have no choice but to wait, for the crawfish are far too hot to eat as they sit steaming.

Even a few moments later, as I spread the bounty from that stainless steel cornucopia across the table, I have to hold back, the little critters far too toasty to consume. And then, after another few moments pass, finally, I get that payoff; that sweet meat, seasoned perfectly, carefully separated from its shell. Cooking, then eating, crawfish can be an exercise in self control.

But, at least for me, cooking crawfish for my friends, family, and myself, is not about the result, but about the process. While I love the colors and flavors, the wooden paddle swirling the rue in the stainless steel pot, it’s the approving grunts, the crack that the shells make when they pop perfectly, that keep me cooking. I boil crawfish for myself, and also for others, kind of like writing.

Indeed, the audience must be considered.  My wife likes her bugs somewhat spicy.  My mother-in-law, maybe a little less so.  My sister-in-law, wants the seasoning so heavy it melts off your face.  I can’t hit all those marks, but I can try.

In mud bugs, like in writing, I don’t have a recipe.   I don’t have a thermometer. I don’t use measuring cups or scales.  To get that perfect crawfish consuming experience, I play it by heart.  How much seasoning should I add to the boiling water before the crawdads cry? A lot.  How many lemons should go in? A few.  How long should I wait to cut the heat after they come back to a boil? Not long.   While there is only a little toil and a pinch of trouble, bringing together a dozen ingredients to build this brew requires some magic and a little bit of instinct. Nothing is absolute, nothing written down, nothing is the same from one boil to the next.

Where did I learn to write, er…boil? From the best boilers I know.  Fellow crawfish connoisseurs let me watch them work, ask questions, pushed me to try new things and constantly discussed ideas that might make our boils even better.  Mentors, in other words…

I’ve learned to love the process of boiling, uh…writing.  I’m trying to get better at sharing that process with my students.  That’s kind of my point.  I don’t think I can “teach writing.” I can share my process and invite the kids to explore theirs. I can share mentor texts and moves, encourage their own search, but writing is different for each of us.  My writer’s voice is constantly changing and evolving, staying out, just a little, past the reach of my finger tips, making me work for each word.

That struggle is one I want to continue to capture, whether in crawfish or in writing.


Charles Moore spent Sunday morning traveling from Lafayette back to League City.  On the way he passed acres and acres of crawfish farms and his mind couldn’t help but wonder at the deliciousness, crackling like potential energy, yet to be unleashed. He’s wondering if it’s too early in the year to decide if this is his greatest year ever in this profession.  He’s pretty sure that’s how the jury will vote. Check out his twitter @ctcoach, which wavers between pie-in-the-sky idealism and passive aggressive suggestions.

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.”

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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 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. 

2019 New Year’s Resolutions!!!

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Happy New Year!!!

I’m so excited to enjoy the next six days of our winter break. So much love and laughter to be enjoyed along with morning daughter cuddles, football galore watched with my son, knowing looks shared with my wife when the kids do or say something intentionally or unintentionally hilarious.

There is, however, still work to do.  The pool needs upkeep, trees need trimming, and there is that old corvette that needs an oil change and some drive time. I still need to prepare content for my presentation at TCTELA and dig my old lesson plan template out of the Google Docs mothballs.

Also, some forward looking introspection in order, as so many of us do, in the form of a few New Year’s Resolutions.

  • Lose Some Weight

The weight of my feelings about our educational system wears me down. It weighs on my like a heavy coat on a summer day.  More of my attention needs be directed towards variables I control not those controlled by others. Be gone ye negative thoughts.

  • Eat Better

Too much of what I consume lately comes from Youtube and Netflix. Instead, more of my content should come from Kittle, Gallagher, Beers and Probst, just to name a few.  My professional library is extensive and 2019 can be a year to dive back into the “classics” and remind myself of all the amazing knowledge and experience sitting on the shelves in my classroom.

  • Travel More

So often, I am content to bury myself in my classroom and the work that needs to be done there.  Literacy exploration is quickly becoming my life’s work, but I can’t stay cooped up in my self built museum, curating the practices I’ve mastered and going back to the well over and over.  Brilliant teachers litter my building, my twitter feed, and the conferences I am so lucky to attend.  2019 will be the year I

  • Meet Someone

Brilliant teachers litter my building, my twitter feed, and the conferences I am so lucky to attend.  2019 will be the year I reach out more than ever before to make connections with people that can make me a better teacher.

  • Get out of Debt

So much of my day is regimented and planned down to the second.  Alarms bleep and bells ring and then the day is over just as quickly as it began.  I always feel like I’m behind on grading, parent contacts, and lesson planning and constantly building debt.  I resolve that 2019 will see me get back to the intricate and intentional lesson planning that lets me bring intricate and intentional lessons to my kids.  I’ll make time to communicate with parents and stay ahead on my grading.


Charles Moore knows that he is terrible at following through on resolutions but he also knows you can’t reach goals that you don’t set.  He’s excited for his second semester of graduate school and his second semester at Clear Creek High School.  He’s so thankful for the caring co-workers who’ve supported him during the recent heath issues that have affected his family. He wishes each and every one of you a successful and prosperous 2019.

A Sneak Peek at the List I Sent to Santa

I’ve never had the winter break creep up on me like this.  Between coaching responsibilities, Student Council activities, and English IV team lead duties, I always kept an eye on finals week, not because I wished for the semester to be over, but because that week meant we were out of time and every minute up to that point better have been accounted for.

The changes in my responsibilities, duties, and campus freed me up, I’ve come to realize, to just flat-out teach. Thus, I find myself staring at one more week of school remaining in the semester, confident I’m living my best teacher-life.

So I thought I’d share a few items I sent to Santa in the hopes he’s thought I was a good boy this year.  I only included a few of the items from my list because I’ll probably just end up with a lump of coal:

Item #1 – A Really Nice Pair of Shoes

My wingtips are hand-me-downs and the soles are so bad that by the end of the day my knees and ankles feel like I’m almost forty years old. Wait…um…

Item #3 – Notebooks and Pens

I love notebooks and pens and after reading Amy’s list of teacher supplies, I’m hoping to see a Moleskin notebook or a pack of Flair pens in my stocking.

Item #7 – More Amazing Reading Experiences

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This is my book stack for the break.

I read a ton of books this semester, but most were assigned as required reading for my young adult literature class.  Since that class wrapped up, I’ve treated myself to Dry by Neil Shusterman and son, and I savored the immaculate The Poet X by Elizabeth Acevedo.  I also snuck in the guilty pleasure known as a Lee Child novel. Past Tense, like all Jack Reacher books, ended before I was ready for it to be finished. Currently, I’m bouncing back and forth between Nic Stone’s new book, Odd One Out, and A Very Large Expanse of Sea by Tahereh Mafi.  I love both of these books and will be talking about them in my classes in January.

Item #8 – More Amazing Reading, Writing, Thinking, Talking Experiences in My Classroom

Thursday, I whet their literacy palates with the first three pages from Dry before we looked at the pairing of this piece by Leonard Pitts and “The World is Too Much with Us” by William Wordsworth.  I should have an Elf on the Shelf in my classroom so that maybe Santa will catch wind of the amazing thinking, talking, reading and writing that the kids are doing in room D120.

Item #12 – Organic and Authentic Professional Learning

Maybe Santa can bring me more learning opportunities like this most recent adventure with the whole class novel.  A Novel Approach by Kate Roberts is a great resource and I’ve read Gena’s post at least three times, but I can’t say enough about how my colleagues facilitated my exploration of the shared reading experience in a workshop setting. They handed me a blueprint and I took it and ran…away from boring, disengaging, traditional teaching practices.

Item #15 – More Experiences like NCTE

Co-presenting with a team from Three Teachers Talk is going to be one of those “career highlights.”  I may never get the chance to speak on a stage like that again and I refuse to take it for granted. I can’t believe I’m so lucky. My batteries recharged from meeting Cornelius Minor, receiving a giant hug from Penny Kittle, sitting slack jawed absorbing the power of Christopher Emdin. I run on inspirational people and those were just a few of the men and women I look up to. I’m flying solo as a presenter at TCTELA, and my session is about research writing in the workshop setting.  Bring your popcorn because this sesh is gonna knock your socks off. It will be fun, and a growth experience. ILA, in the fall, is the next big conference for which I’m crossing my fingers and praying.

Item #19 –  A Dallas Cowboys Super Bowl Win

Is that too much to ask?


Charles Moore loves watching college and professional football with his son, but he hates losing to his mother-in-law in fantasy football.  Maybe the third time will be a charm as they face off again this week in the playoff semifinals.  Perhaps an upset is brewing.  He’s so proud of his daughter’s Snowy Christmas Tree and his son’s tenacious love of reading.  

Whole Class Struggle (Novel)

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I could tell something was wrong.  I stood up from my seat like somehow that fruitless movement would clarify the mystery.  I could see my son, across the arena, furiously working the controller, yelling something to his team mates, feeling the frustration rise in him.

Three months, hundreds of hours, dozens of late nights, early Saturday morning stops at Shipley’s and his one chance to truly measure himself against the best robot drivers in the state, overwhelmingly high school students, the non-human factor reared its ugly head.

Later, as he told my wife and me the story and filled us in on the narrative, I realized how important this whole process had been. In the moment, when all that effort and energy drifted away, Colton (11 years old) reached back to the lessons he’d learned about keeping his cool from his robotics mentors, the thirty-two other students in that program, and the experiences along the way.

The interesting part for me was that, instead of being disappointing or feeling like he let his team down, he glowed with the confidence that he did all he could do to make the best of that situation and scored several hundred points with a broken robot.  This is the type of lesson I hope he learns from experiences like this one.

He knew, no matter the circumstance, that his peers and coaches would be there for him and that knowledge empowered his confidence, filled his spirit, and kept him grounded in the moment, grinding for the team.

img_4947This is the type of lesson we can teach when we bring whole class novels into our classrooms.  The “shared experience” of reading a text is a phrase that I’ve heard from and seen written by the smartest people I know.  It’s the same lesson that my son and his peers experienced with their robotics team this year.

Our students will need these lessons and, certainly, we can teach them through targeted mentor texts and the skills we ask them to explore.  At some point, though, a somewhat more difficult, shared, experience might be effective.

This is a lesson you can’t possibly learn in a “worksheet” class; one filled with blanks, multiple choices, and compliance.

That’s the idea that I started our whole class novel unit with last week.  The team I have the pleasure of learning from this year knows it all too well.  They know to start with the end in mind.  They showed me the importance of planning for “the struggle.”

I used to know how to “teach a novel” and every time I tried in the past, I failed. This failure, as I’ve learned, was due to me teaching the “novel” and not teaching kids. This team of teachers is showing me how to take those lessons students learn from being on teams, and move that into my classroom.

I’m still growing. And most importantly, so are my students.

It will be hard, on them, and on me.  We will all need preparedness and grit, but the growth goal is paramount.

Teachers, I want you to know how important your work is.  You hold the future in your hands.  Please listen to the brilliant teachers around you. Let yourself be the student and then take those lessons back to your classroom.

Charles Moore is excited to continue his work with freshmen, although their excitement might be harder to quantify.  He loves watching his son compete against his own inner expectations and he loves watching his daughter dance (compete) against her own inner expectations.  He hopes to his students can learn to dance and judge themselves against their own expectations.  He hopes those expectations are high, because his students are beautiful and brilliant.

NCTE 2019 Pregame- Gearing up our Action Plan!!!

Why am I so nervous?

The lights and the stage don’t scare me.  The topic of our presentation is something I’ve lived, day in and day out, for a few years now.  The faces in the crowd, the silence begging to be filled, the words I’ve rehearsed over and over…none of that scares me.

Is it because I want so badly for ears to hear our message? Is it because I’ve been afforded this massively important opportunity to share this message?

Late this afternoon, at the NCTE Conference, I will share the stage with some very important teachers.  These women, like me, believe that inclusivity is something that we must address intentionally.

I’ll spend every second of my allotted time sharing how I’m moving my classroom library from something that reflects traditional, mainstream texts to one that is more inclusive.  One that invites students to read books that give them a better opportunity to see themselves on the pages and a better opportunity to see themselves in this world.

Please join us this afternoon at 4:15 in 361 C.

NCTE 2018- shared slides

Humans of League City

I work with a team of freshman teachers who are experienced, passionate, knowledgeable and, luckily for me, functional.  We collaborate in the creation of lesson plans, lesson cycles, the unending search for mentor texts, and grade calibration. Our collaboration doesn’t just benefit the teaching team; the students are the true beneficiaries of our functionality.

Consider the following:

Our goal was to take the hard work and struggle that our kids overcame as they learned about expository writing and literary analysis and have them turn that lens back onto themselves.

We spent the last forever working on pulling issues, claims, and evidence from the writing of others, how could we do turn that around and invest it in ourselves?

Enter: Humans of New York, an idea brought up by colleague, Austin,  at our team planning day. The idea was that we would work through the exploration of expository writing by having students interview and then write about a human in their life.

Lesson Cycle 1

Lesson Focus: I want you to know that writers use specifically selected issues to support their claim.

  1. Reading
  2. Dear World Video
  3. Respond to the video- Write for three minutes. I wanted them to get the emotional response out and onto the page because it’s important, but not the focus of our lesson.
  4. Question 1 – Why do issues matter?
    • Take one lap around your group sharing your response.
    • Write for three minutes, sharing your response.
  5. Question 2 – Why is it important that we identify issues important to us?
    • Take one lap around your group sharing your response.
    • Write for three minutes, sharing your response.
  6. Seed writing: Tell me about issue you care about enough to write on your skin. This is an extending time for writing, something in which I strongly believe.

Lesson Cycle 2

Lesson Focus: I want you to know that writers use craft to strengthen their expository argument.

  1. Reading
  2. Poet moment, I wanted to get their minds set.
  3. Read two HONY examples, look for issues, claims, and evidence and think about how those the author expresses those ideas.
  4. Seed Writing – Tell me about a human you know along the same lines as what you saw in the Humans of New York mentor texts.

Lesson Cycle 3

Lesson Focus: I want you to know that writers use stories to advocate.

  1. Reading
  2. Euripides Excerpt (7 minutes total)
    • Read and show your thinking.
    • Respond using the sentence stem: This piece is really about…
  3. Read two more HONY examples, look for issues, claims, and evidence.
  4. Seed Writing – Tell me about: A different human than yesterday, a different story about the same human as yesterday, or yourself.

Honestly, these lessons look a lot like most of the lessons that find their way into my classroom.  These are the structures with which my students have become accustomed.  If you look closely, in three days, the kids wrote for over an hour, experienced five mentor texts (and a video) and talked… a lot!

Oh, and throughout these three days, I hardly sat down.  I made it around to every student at least once and worked beside them through the process.

This doesn’t just happen “sometimes” in my classroom.  Truthfully, the functionality of the team I get to be a part of promotes this level of complexity because none of us are going at this alone.  We work together, and as a result, the kids win.  I love watching kids win.

Charles Moore likes learning about humans, even if they don’t love the Dallas Cowboys.  He loves moving students through moves that unveil their literacy. He’s pretty worn out from the multiple Robotics practices he helps supervise, but he’s learned exactly how much work he can complete in three hours. He’s excited to co-present at NCTE and to receive his first solo invitation to present at TCTELA in 2019.

Guest Post by Amanda Penney: The Workshop Classroom and YOU!!!

Note: This post signifies quite a milestone for the ELA 1 team I had the privilege of joining this year.  As of this morning, and thanks to the graciousness of this blog’s creators, the entire team has now published on this site.  To see a post by our department chair Megan, click here. Austin posted this summer, here. Sarah, our team lead posted a few weeks back, and my one year anniversary as a regular contributor is in January. This agency affords us power.  It gives us a voice in our fight for literacy.  To the creators of this blog, Thank You.

The workshop classroom is undoubtedly overwhelming to embrace at first. It is difficult to find information on how to properly implement this pedagogy, and there are many misconceptions of what workshop actually looks, for instance, on sites like TeachersPayTeachers. It’s a lot of work to be a workshop classroom. You actually have to read and write yourself if you want your students to benefit from this structure. You need to learn how to identify a solid mentor text from a variety of works and know what you can do with them successfully.

But the work pays off. It gives you, the teacher, so much more than you could ever have imagined. To keep your students engaged in their choice reading, you have to keep up with the never-ending influx of newly published works. You are forced to venture into genres of writing that you would not normally reach. For instance, I read Matt de la Pena’s We Were Here, and I can assure you, it is not historical fiction (my typical go-to). My students were writing about their foster care experiences and retelling their mishaps that placed them in alternate schools. Matt de la Pena provided an avenue for me to better understand these students, who in turn, helped broaden my reading interests.

For me, this shift has been monumental. As a workshop teacher, I actually get to read what I want to read and have picked up books I wouldn’t normally and enjoyed them! I get excited when I stumble upon a passage that might as well jump off the page and into my computer, so I can begin identifying my mini lesson and therein construct my fantastic lesson cycle. It is fun and exciting, and I have such a unique opportunity in my profession to be creative each and every day.

Writing has been the most exciting shift for me personally. I had lost a lot of confidence in my abilities as a writer when I entered college. I will never forget attending Texas A&M’s orientation for new students and the very blunt speech we were given. Simply put, the speaker stated that the five-paragraph-essay would lead to nothing more than a failing grade, so we better learn something new now or “See you later!” I was terrified, of course, because I had been taught nothing other than the five-paragraph-essay. The only piece I had ever written that did not follow that god-awful structure was my college admissions essay. Little had I known, I had “workshopped” my most proud piece of high school writing to which my first line stated “I am crazy.” However, one piece did not shake the terror I felt upon beginning my first day of classes the following week.

As a transfer student my sophomore year, I took an Advanced Composition course and a Shakespeare course. I held a solid A in my Advanced Composition class with helpful pointers and typically positive feedback from my professor. Yet, I could barely hold a low C in my Shakespeare class where I was regularly criticized for my writing style. I spent most of my time in the writing center, and at one point, the graduate assistant was so baffled by my C- paper over Shylock’s speech “I am a Jew” that he asked for the opinion of his “boss” who returned with a shrug and said, “I’m sorry, I don’t know why you got a C…. it looks like he just dislikes how you write and is grading you accordingly. Good luck.”

I spent the rest of my English degree pursuit frustrated and confused. I concluded that writing was a painful process, which would typically yield disappointment from my readers. I would never truly be able to improve because I, unfortunately, did not and would not inherit the mutant skill of mind-reading from Professor Xavier or Gene Grey.

Then, I began to teach. My first year, our campus did not have workshop at all, and teaching was painful day in and day out. My students really did not benefit from The Odyssey or the tragedy of Romeo and Juliet, and to be honest, neither did I. My second year began with the introduction of workshop, which was difficult to understand, considering I not only had never taught this way with my meager one-year experience under my belt, but I also had not learned this way. So, I struggled through what I learned and still could not get my students to engage. They always referred to their “I give up” phrase of “I don’t know what to write about,” and it left me frustrated and exhausted each day.

I had heard about writing along with my students, but I was afraid to do this. I did not identify as a writer and had long since decided I wasn’t very good at it. My students could never know this of course… But I was getting nowhere, and it was time for a shift.

So, one day, half-way through my second year of teaching, I tried something new. I chose to write with my students. I had been flipping through the pages of Kelly Gallagher’s Write Like This and stumbled upon his “1 to 18 Topics” lesson cycle. I embraced my fears of writing with my students and took the dive head-first the next day.

I started safe with soccer and intended to choose a new topic to expand each class period. To my astonishment, every single student had their pens to their papers and were scribbling madly as if they had been starved of this freedom for too long. Conferring revealed a vulnerability I had not anticipated, and I became inspired to show my own vulnerability as the day continued. I realized I had a lot to say, and I wanted to “say” it through my writing. I had starved myself of this freedom for far too long, and I was eager to continue writing.

My third-year of teaching is when workshop really kicked off in my classroom. I was searching for an engaging mentor text that utilized simple sentences as my students struggled (and still do) with sentence boundaries.  An excerpt from Dune stood out to me and I was eager to write beside it with my students in class. The excerpt is as follows:

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Each student wrote for 10 minutes and were asked to begin their piece with “I must not __.” We then pulled a Penny Kittle and revised it to ensure it was only constructed of simple sentences. My students wrote some incredible pieces, and I am convinced their success is a result of my own enthusiasm for the lesson itself. Their writing inspired my writing and in turn began to reconstruct my identity as both a writer and teacher. I was embracing myself as a writer, and my students, in turn, began to embrace themselves as writers.

Workshop has transformed my perspective of writing and provided a unique platform for me to embrace myself as a writer. It has exposed a variety of genres to read but also has provided a variety of genres I can choose to write.

Prior to workshop, I used to hate poetry. Yes. I used the word “hate” … as an English major and teacher…. It was this daunting task and an awful entity that lurked in the dreary school hallways. My teachers never taught me to write beside a poem and always found the most difficult poetry to “interpret” in class. In Ohio, my freshman English teacher appeared to enjoy watching us squirm in confusion and insisted we leave his classroom never ever knowing what the author’s message actually was. I despised poetry’s very existence because of this and determined its purpose was a cruel joke on the reader.

Workshop completely shifted this perspective of poetry for me. I would never had guessed in a million years that I would currently be reading not one, not two, but THREE poetry books at once. The thought of writing my own poetry was a complete joke as well. Yet, here I am, writing beside poetry in my classroom and encouraging my students to do the same. It has a completely different purpose now than it ever did before. Its purpose is no longer to torment my being but to excite my creativity and provide an avenue for expression I never would have known existed if it wasn’t for workshop. The first poem I wrote beside was a Rudy Francisco piece and it looks like this:

Mentor Text:

When people ask how I’m doing

I want to say,

my depression is an angry deity, a jealous god

a thirsty shadow that wrings my joy like a dishrag

and makes juice out of my smile.

I want to say,

getting out of bed has become a magic trick.

I am probably the worst magician I know.

I want to say,

this sadness is the only clean shirt I have left

and my washing machine has been broken for months,

but I’d rather not ruin someone’s day with my tragic honesty

so instead I treat my face like a pumpkin.

I pretend that it’s Halloween.

I carve it into something acceptable.

I laugh and I say,

“I’m doing alright.”

-Rudy Francisco, Helium


My Version:

When people ask how I’m doing

I want to say,

leave me alone, please, now and forever while

my anxiety leaps and jumps throughout my body

and makes me cringe.

I want to say,

standing here is an allusion of sanity,

a trick I feel I will never truly perfect.

I want to say,

this fear is my only possession I have ever had

and I want someone to destroy it so it cannot return,

but I’d rather not burden someone’s day with the demon that encircles me

so instead I treat my face like a canvas.

I paint with bright colors.

I create something mundane.

I smile and I say,

“I’m doing alright.”

-Ms. Penney


I felt so freed of my previous misconceptions with this one piece, and as a result, my class and I enjoy our daily “Poet Moments” inspired by my colleague Charles Moore. I revel in this peace and tranquility and am grateful for workshop with each and every poem I have the privilege to write with my students. This joy has completely altered my initial definition of poetry, and I will forever be indebted to workshop and this genre of writing.

Workshop has given me the opportunity to grow as a reader and writer. It has given me a purpose and a drive to find new and exciting ways to engage not only my students but myself. I no longer feel as if writing is a painful process and the nagging frustration of how my invisible readers expect me to write has long since passed. I have a voice and a means of expressing that voice, as do you, every single day.

Amanda Penney is a bit of a perfectionist and is grateful for the patience that her colleague, Charles Moore, has for her and her ever-changing blog post. She plays soccer whenever she can and loves exploring nature with her only child (her dog who she considers her child) Shanti. She is a complete nerd when it comes to anything comic book oriented and is currently exploring the possibilities of her favorite series, The Uncanny X-Men from the late 1960’s, becoming an exciting and invigorating mentor text. She hopes this will be the topic of her next guest post, that is of course, if Charles is willing to embrace another bought of Penney and her procrastinating-perfectionism.

Lesson Cycle: How to Teach Collaboration

When I wrote several weeks ago about how we went about building a reader/writer workshop, one of the traits we focuses on was “Collaboration.” Our Lesson focus for that day was, “I want you to know that members of this workshop community…”

We started our 55 minute class with reading, briefly visited a poet moment, and then dove into three practical rotations with texts where we explored ways collaboration can help us be better readers and writers. We used three short excerpts that we had already explored in building other parts of our workshop.

First Rotation: Talking is rehearsal for writing.

Text: You Don’t Know Me excerpt from Sherman Alexie

1st Move: Read the following excerpt and think about what the author does that you don’t do.

2nd Move: Starting with desk 1, take one lap around your group, sharing what you noticed.

3rd Move: Find a place in your notebook near this piece and write about what you shared with your group.

4th Move: Think about how hearing from others before you write serves as rehearsal for your writing. 1 or 2 students share out to the class.

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A poet moment from one of the texts

Second Rotation: Writing is a rehearsal for talking.

Text: If I Were in Charge of the World

1st Move: Read the following poem and think about something in it that surprised you.

2nd Move: Find a place in your notebook near this piece and write about what you noticed in this poem that surprised you.

3rd Move: Starting with desk #2, take one lap around your group sharing the ideas about which you wrote.

4th Move: Think about how writing about something serves as a rehearsal for you to share. 1 or 2 students share out to the class.

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A different poet moment

3rd Rotation

Text: Ready Player One excerpt

1st Move: Read the following excerpt and think about how the last line of the third paragraph makes you feel.

2nd Move: Starting with desk #3, take one lap around your group sharing how the words in the third paragraph affected your feelings in relation to the piece.  Share in the opposite direction this time.

3rd Move: As a group, construct a sentence using Earnest Cline’s sentence as a model, that mimics the complexity of the feelings.IMG_4626

4th Move: Think about how working together can take us further than we can go by working alone.

 

Quick Write:

Write about how you can use collaboration to support your growth as a reader and writer.  Write so fast that your inner critic can’t slow you down.

This lesson cycle was all about teaching the students about collaborating, a crucial skill in a workshop.  Eight weeks later, they can zip around their groups, sharing their thoughts, asking questions, blessing each other’s writing, and they do so effectively and efficiently. This may not be the best way to accomplish our goal, but it worked for us.

Please comment below if you’ve had success teaching collaboration or if you just want to chat.

Charles Moore loves working with his students in their reader’s/writer’s workshop.  His divides his time between school, home, and his son’s robotics practices which are three days a week for a total of 11 hours.  He is currently doing a terrible job keeping his grass cut and his pool pristine.  He promises to work harder.  If you’d like to see his somewhat nicely written book reviews check out his book review blog and if you want to see his numerous and random tweets, check out his twitter.

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