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Category Archives: Shana Karnes

We Remember Our Students; They Remember Us, Too

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Bryce photobombing me in 2014

Sometimes I go months without seeing any of my former students. Then, I’ll venture to the grocery store at 5 pm on a Tuesday and see six of them in 15 minutes.

Sometimes I worry about the ones I never bump into. How are they doing? Are they okay? I wonder.

Bryce is one of those students I worry and wonder about. I had him for two years, and he made incredible progress from a squirrelly junior who couldn’t sit still in his desk, to a serious senior who devoured first graphic novels, then dystopian classics. He wrote pages of essays I couldn’t get him to care about, then progressed to delivering measured country wisdom.

Bryce, along with his class, wasn’t a kid you could easily forget–he was part of my MTEC crew, the rowdy country boys who attended our high school for half a day and worked on their vocational certifications for the rest. Bryce and his pals Troy and Bull leapt at the chance to build my bookshelves rather than read books, give my husband advice on how to fix up the ’92 Bronco he bought rather than write poetry, or sneak their dip spit into Gatorade bottles rather than revise an essay.

So, when my husband, a spine surgeon, saw Bryce come into the ER one evening, he knew who he was. He knew his face from his visits to my classroom; he knew his personality from my stories over the dinner table; he knew my frustration as I lamented over trying to find him a book to read. He knew what that kid meant to me, and he also knew he wasn’t allowed to tell me about the horrific car crash it was evident Bryce had just been in.

But the news was all over social media–Bryce had flipped his Jeep over an embankment, rolled down a hill, and broken his spine in several places. I knew that since my husband was on call, he’d be the one taking care of Bryce, fixing his shattered bones. I also knew that Bryce wouldn’t be returning to school this year, that he’d be assigned to homebound instruction, and that not just anyone would be able to shepherd him through his classes.

So I was worried right away–worried that for all of Bryce’s progress, this accident outside the classroom would erase the growth he’d achieved so painfully, in an equally painful way. Would he walk again? Would he be himself after rolling his prized Jeep down one of our state’s famous country roads? Would he finish his junior year classes successfully and stay on track to graduate?

Since I had an in with his doctor, I got to visit Bryce in the hospital the day after his surgery. He wasn’t paralyzed, but he’d have a long road to recovery–and to a successful finish to his school year.

A week later, Bryce was at home, in a back brace, scars all over his body, and his face still bruised and battered. I was there too, my arms filled with binders full of his assignments from all six of his classes. His mom, whom I’d met when I visited the hospital, brewed me coffee in the kitchen and sorted out the pills Bryce needed to take every afternoon. He blushed when she had to help him use the restroom, or nagged him to get out of his recliner and take a walk, or shuffled the thick stack of hospital bills I saw on their kitchen counter.

For three months, this was our routine–I’d arrive at Bryce’s house two afternoons per week with all of his homework and gently prod him through it. I’d bring him Gatorade and Cheetos from the gas station on the way to his house to help bribe him through the math and history assignments he hated. Science, he enjoyed, and his vocational class homework never failed to bring a smile to his face. But it took him twice as long to finish all of his required work–between his concussion and injuries, his fear about getting hurt again if he were to return to school, and the exhaustion brought on by physical therapy and trauma, it was no wonder he had trouble concentrating.

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Bryce included a photo of his totaled Jeep in his MGP

But I knew that English would be a tough subject to approach. I wanted Bryce reading and writing meaningfully–frequently and deeply enough for the acts to be therapeutic.  Outside the workshop community of our classroom, it was harder to guide him toward this kind of cathartic literacy, but we got there.

By the end of the semester, he’d read nine books with damaged protagonists, written poetry about how his accident had created new gratitude for his mother and sister, and crafted a multigenre paper about his accident called “Anything With Wheels Will Cost You.”

 

My Jeep is my peace keeper. It’s the thing to let me get rid of reality. Some people have books, walks, or something else, and I have riding. No one is able to get ahold of you and all it is, is you and the woods and the roads.

After reading that line from his MGP, I knew he’d get another fast car, and he did. By the next year, he had new wheels and a new attitude. I got to have him in class again. He was a different kid–subdued, quiet, focused. He worked just as hard in class as he did outside of school, holding down two jobs to be able to buy a new vehicle so he could feel like his old self again. He flew largely under the radar in my 28-person class, graduated in the spring, and finished his vocational certification.

img_2433.pngI hadn’t seen Bryce in over a year, but had wondered what became of him. Then, last week, I spied him pulling out of a gas station. He was easy to spot, driving a truly West Virginia tricked-out truck, complete with lift kit, muddin’ tires, and chrome roll bars. His hair was longer, and he was smoking a cigarette. I pulled out my phone, wondering if I still had his number, and I did.

His reply to my message makes me continue to worry and wonder about him, perhaps more than I did before I’d seen him.

Life after high school isn’t easy for any of our students. When they leave our classrooms and we continue to worry about them, it’s for good reason–the transition from a “much simpler” time to the responsibilities of adulthood is tough for anyone.

But they remember what we teach. Maybe they don’t remember things like apostrophe use, but they remember that we care, that our concern for them goes beyond whether they can read and write well, and into whether they can live well beyond our classrooms.

I know you have kids you’ll never forget, too. And I know they haven’t forgotten you, either. We remember them; they remember us. Let’s teach them what’s worth remembering.

Shana Karnes is mom to 1.5 spunky little girls and wife to a hardworking surgical resident.  She teaches practicing and preservice English teachers at West Virginia University and is fueled by coffee, Reese Puffs (this week), and a real obsession with all things reading and writing.  Follow Shana on Twitter at @litreader or read more of her writing on the WVCTE Best Practices blog.

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4 Ways to Get Kids Talking…To Each Other

af115350d91f58bfb8c402b3b6159935--changes-in-life-quotes-change-your-life-quotes.jpgToday is a day worth talking about.

For one, it’s been 16 years since the Twin Towers fell. Sixteen years.

For two, much of Florida is waking up to the terror of Hurricane Irma, probably in the dark, without power–but not without hope. And Texas is still recovering from Harvey’s rage. But they’re Texas, so they’re tough.

Days like today should never become routine. And these are the things we should be talking about in our English classrooms. But to have the heavy talks, of course, we need to be able to listen.

“English teachers have rare opportunities to get to the deep, real work of an education,” Mitch Nobis writes. Yes, we do.

We have a multitude of opportunities for important, valuable, world-changing talk to happen in our schools. Before these kinds of conversations can happen, we need to be comfortable being vulnerable, truly listening to one another, and confidently articulating our thoughts–and then revising them.

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We make time for talk in my college classroom every day

Reasons like these are why I make talk a priority in my classroom every day. In such a digital world, it’s not as easy to get kids making noise as it used to be. Where early in my teaching career I had to work to settle down a chatty room, now I have to exhort myself to hear the sweet sounds of uncertain arguments and not the click of a quickly-locked iPhone.

Like all other skills we want our students to master, thoughtful speaking and listening is something we must teach. Rather than being frustrated by our students’ silence, we need strategies for helping kids close their apps and open their hearts and minds to one another. Here are four of the most effective I’ve used this year:

img_2223.pngQuickwrites that make us vulnerable – Getting to the heart of our wonders and fears and hopes and dreams in our writer’s notebooks builds community, sets a precedent for the type of writing we’ll be doing, and gets down on paper what’s really important: who we are, and how hard it can be to say that definitively. Strong mentor texts that invite this vulnerability are essential–imitating Mari Andrew’s illustrations is a great place to start. Writing about our scars is another favorite early-year activity. These first pages in notebooks don’t often get shared, but they get kids to do the early scaffolding work of honest thinking that leads to honest talk.

Turn and talk and LISTEN – The “turn and talk” directive is a common one in ELA classrooms, I hope, but I kind of want to change it to “look at your partner and LISTEN.” I tell students before a turn and talk that we’ll be sharing what we hear, so the purpose shifts from drafting their thinking through talk to expanding their understanding through listening. After the chatter has subsided, I ask students, “Who heard something great? Share with us what you learned from your partner.” This is a subtle shift, but one that cues students to turn their ears away from their own voices and toward their peers’.

On the record strategyWritten feedback is amazing, but if I’ve learned anything from doing a million reading and writing conferences over the years, it’s that the power of talking with someone about your thinking is incredible. For this reason, when I ask students to conduct peer writing conferences, I ask them to record themselves. Using apps on their phones, kids begin this practice by simply talking about the student’s writing they’re reading, but gradually progress to leaving one another specific, recorded feedback to be replayed at home. While “on the record,” I find that students become much more deliberate, thoughtful, and thorough in their feedback by simply slowing down their thinking.

Silent discussion – An early mentor of mine used this strategy to scaffold his students up to sophisticated Socratic seminars, and I still love using it. Students bring in a written response to a question, or a draft of a piece we’re working on, or a favorite quote from their independent reading book they want to mine. We hang these nameless papers all around the classroom, then kids get their earbuds, a stack of post-its, and a pen and progress into a silent discussion. The classroom is magically quiet–almost sacred. This is my favorite part.

First, they circle the classroom, writing lengthy responses to their peers’ thinking on large post-its. Each student receives two responses this way. Then, we do a counter-clockwise circle with small post-its where more feedback is offered in the form of short remarks or questions. Each paper receives three additional comments in this round. The following day, I redistribute the papers to their original writers and watch students drink up the feedback, which is made all the more valuable because it didn’t come from me.


I hope these four strategies for student talk make your classroom a little more conversation-friendly this week. Please share with us how you get your teens talking in the comments, on Facebook, or via Twitter!

Shana Karnes is mom to 1.5 spunky little girls and wife to a sleepy surgical resident.  She teaches practicing and preservice English teachers at West Virginia University and is fueled by coffee, no-bake cocoa oatmeal cookies (this week), and a real obsession with all things reading and writing.  Follow Shana on Twitter at @litreader or read more of her writing on the WVCTE Best Practices blog.

Alternatives to Reading Logs

c5e2590b7277d0516b78e67e6021b540Ahhh, Labor Day weekend–that first glorious three-day respite from back to school, or the last vestiges of freedom before it begins.  Whatever this weekend is for you, I hope you’re using it to relax and recharge before we see bright, smiling faces (or sleepy ones) tomorrow.

I bet you’re using a book or two to help you enjoy this weekend–what are you reading?  I’m reading little bits of Bill Bryson’s The Mother Tongue whenever I can squeeze it in (usually as I fall asleep).  In longer chunks, I’m reading Scaachi Koul’s memoir, One Day We’ll All Be Dead and None of This Will Matter, which is a perfectly-sized series of essays for my busy days.

In quiet moments on long weekends like these, I wonder what our students are doing.  Do their reading lives mirror mine?  If the answer is no…what can I do to help them become readers?

And, more pressingly–is there something I’m doing that’s preventing them from becoming readers?

Reading homework, requirements, levels; book reports, assignments, due dates.  None of these are what I’m tying to the books I’m reading this weekend.

But is that true for our students?

This article from School Library Journal talks about the work done by librarians to match a person to a book.  They call it readers’ advisory.  Then, they lament that so many classrooms discourage the important work of “talking with a child, observing body language for clues, and walking together through the stacks while offering suggestions” and rely on leveled bins, assigned texts, or assessment-bound reading units to get kids to read.

How much of what goes on in my classroom is readers’ advisory–and how much damages that work?

Slide2I’ve been thinking since last May about how we should stop grading independent reading.  The best and brightest in our teacher hive give us their advice and wisdom in books, blogs, and articles, with quotes like this one from Donalyn Miller.  Books, time, encouragement–these are themes we see repeated in what students need to blossom as independent readers.  Nowhere do we see that we need to measure, assess, or grade them.

 

To be sure, our kids need our instruction and guidance to grow as real readers.  Conferences, follow-up activities, book clubs, goal-setting, talk, and self-assessment are powerful tools to help move students forward.  How can we prioritize those things instead of more measurable (and infinitely less revealing, rewarding, or authentic) methods like reading logs, records, and quizzes?

Well, we really want to know.

Please share with us:  what are your alternatives to reading logs?  How do you approach a gradebook that must be filled, and fill it with meaningful activities tied to reading?


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In that Google Doc, we’ll work to compile a series of alternatives to reading logs, and share them here for everyone to benefit from.  You can also leave a comment on this post, write on our Facebook page, or tweet to us.  Together, we can create a repository of ideas and strategies for approaching independent reading in a way that’s authentic and helpful this school year.

Shana Karnes is mom to 1.5 spunky little girls and wife to a sleepy surgical resident.  She teaches practicing and preservice English teachers at West Virginia University and is fueled by coffee, chocolate (this week), and a real obsession with all things reading and writing.  Follow Shana on Twitter at @litreader or read more of her writing on the WVCTE Best Practices blog.

A Reader’s Manifesto

After a hectic summer of being well behind my fellow Book Love Book Club readers, I finally finished Kylene Beers and Bob Probst’s latest book, Disrupting Thinking.

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Yay for me!

Its ideas had been disrupting my thinking since page one.  I loved its premise, which centered around two questions the authors returned to again and again–what needs to change?  And in order to make those changes, what assumptions need to be challenged?

These questions are as good an acid test for our teaching as Louise Rosenblatt’s 1956 article of the same name.  Too much of education today rests on the status quo.  To disrupt that status quo, “good teaching sometimes feels like a rebellion,” as Penny Kittle wrote in our book club chat this summer.

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Sharon’s slide on transactional reading

Rebelling has always come naturally to me in teaching.  It’s no different now that I teach at the college level, but I’m lucky to have many like-minded peers to work alongside at WVU.

In our collaborative planning meeting last week, my friend Sharon shared her thinking about a different kind of reading and writing she really wanted our preservice teachers doing–the work of transacting.

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The BHH framework from Disrupting Thinking

“It’s from a book I read this summer,” she explained, and I exclaimed, “Yes!  I read it too!  I was just wondering how we could bring Book, Head, Heart into our weekly readings!”

Our students are proficient readers and writers, and it’s easy to assume that they don’t “need” a technique like BHH to help them interact with a text.  But to me, helping students of all skill levels become responsible, responsive, compassionate readers is the point of teaching reading.  Who cares about comprehension without understanding?  What’s the point of decoding if we don’t connect to the ink on the page?

Sometimes my college students forget that reading is more than a means to an end.  During my whole reading of Disrupting Thinking, I wondered how I could remind them about the aesthetic rather than the efferent purposes of reading from Rosenblatt’s transactional theory.

Because the truth is, the book, head, heart framework–or the aesthetic stance, or helping readers become responsible, responsive, and compassionate, or whatever you’d like to call it–is more than a guideline for students just learning to be strong readers.  It’s a manifesto for all readers.

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My notebook jots on the book

We’ve gotten away from teaching kids WHY we read and focus too often on simply HOW to read.

And that’s the problem–how to read is too simple a standard.  Yes, learning how to read is difficult.  Teaching kids how to read is hard, too.  But how to read, like so many standards we must adhere to, can be measured.  There’s a formula, an algorithm, a process:  first you decode, then you do the mental work of meaning-making, and sometimes in there you need some fix-up strategies to help you scaffold the story into your schema.  Just employ all those buzzwords and voila!  You’re a reader!

But when I shirk a pile of grading on a Sunday afternoon to finish a book, it’s not because I’m all about practicing my phonemic awareness.  And I didn’t spend an hour googling “Hurricane Harvey” at 4:00 this morning because I wanted to try out my word recognition skills, either.

Our highest standard is to help our students become real readers and writers.

It’s a standard that’s difficult to measure, but so are all of our most important, difficult goals–and it’s scary to teach all day, all week, all year, and feel like you can’t prove on paper that you’re making a difference.  The fear that we might be asked to offer evidence of our effectiveness might be what keeps teachers teaching novels and prevents them from teaching readers.  It might be why teachers persist in teaching essays instead of teaching writers.

Any good self-assessment will give you all the data in the world about how important and effective your instruction is, so if that’s what you need, again I say voila.  But if you’re searching for a way to make reading meaningful and engaging for your students, check out Disrupting Thinking, the book-head-heart framework, and their roots in Louise Rosenblatt’s work.  You’ll find a reader’s manifesto that truly shows you that why we read matters most–at every level, in every grade, across every content area.

How will you frame reading in your classroom this year?  Please share your strategies and ideas for helping students become engaged, authentic readers in the comments, on our Facebook page, or on Twitter!

Shana Karnes is mom to 1.5 spunky little girls and wife to a somehow-energetic surgical resident.  She teaches practicing and preservice English teachers at West Virginia University and is fueled by coffee, sugar, and a real obsession with all things reading and writing.  Follow Shana on Twitter at @litreader or read more of her writing on the WVCTE Best Practices blog.

First Days of School: Listening Leads to Learning

‘Tis the season of back to school–that time of year that is ripe with fresh school supplies, empty notebooks, and an as-yet-un-ransacked classroom library.  This time of year always delights me, and I got to experience it early because today marks week two of having students for me.  I hope you’re one of the lucky ones who hasn’t seen students yet, but if not, cheers to being back already!

Untitled presentationI’ve been thinking carefully about what tone I’d like to set in the first days of school.  I didn’t want to leap into things with a review of the syllabus, a distribution of the many forms my preservice teachers will need to fill out, or a review of the big tests that loom large for them at the end of this school year.

I wanted to start with something, instead, that would build our community into one of support and anticipation, rather than one of anxiety and pressure.

Naturally, we began with writing.  I asked students to brainstorm four questions they’d like every teacher to be able to answer.  We spent some time in our writer’s notebooks writing, then paired off to ask one another a few of our questions.

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After a few minutes of talk, which is always invaluable, I asked students this question to elicit some sharing:

Who heard a good response they’d like to share?

Students began their replies with, “I loved what Sara said,” or “I thought Sean made a great point,” or “Jake had an interesting answer.”  As many of our responses touched on the importance of building communities that were inclusive, we noted how simply shifting the way we shared responses to focus on listening rather than talking emphasized the former.

As we moved through our day, I returned again and again to this theme:  we selected critical friends to partner with who would read our work and provide feedback; we read an article about student-faculty partnerships before setting professional development goals we’d work toward in teams; we set up a Google Drive folder to encourage collaboration and negotiated feedback protocols and submission guidelines; we did some yoga to encourage the notion of disequilibrium and read an excerpt from Pose, Wobble, Flow about being teacher-writers.

My first day of school thinking around listening hearkens back to my work with the C3WP Institute I led through NWP this summer, which is focused on argument writing and how we can encourage students to consume, create, and negotiate real-world arguments more skillfully.

It also reminds me of a passage I read about compassionate readers in Disrupting Thinking this morning (a book I refer to as Interrupting Thinking, thanks to a certain 16-month-old in my life):

Compassion should sharpen the readers’ ability to see other points of view, other perspectives, and to imagine the feelings of those who hold them.  It should enable readers to take, if only momentarily, the perspective of someone else and thus understand motivations and thinking.

But to be willing to take on another’s perspective…you must be willing to enter into a dialogue with the text, to interact and not merely extract.  And through these transactions with texts, we might learn how to better enter into conversations with those in the real world who offer us another perspective.   (45-46, emphasis mine)

AAEAAQAAAAAAAAUQAAAAJDI2MTU1ZjY0LTdhNzgtNDdjNy04MmZiLTc4ZmNjY2YzMTczZQ.pngFar too much of the reading, writing, speaking, and listening that our students do is for the purpose of extraction, and not interaction.  Of course it is–what can be extracted is easier to measure than what can be inferred, experienced, or connected with.  We’ve taught students to read in order to answer a question; to listen in order to reply.

As a result, in our schools and in our self- and social media-saturated society, our students are all too practiced at speaking, and out of practice at listening.  If we want our students to learn, to engage with texts and peers and the world in a more authentic, dialogic way, we must teach them to listen.

This year, I will ask students to more thoughtfully listen to and engage with the ideas of others.  The teachers they’re observing, the authors they’re reading, the students with whom they’re working, all have notions my students will agree and disagree with–but they will learn nothing if they don’t slow down to listen.

How will you encourage your students to learn by listening on the first days of school, and beyond?  Please share in the comments, on our Facebook page, or with us via Twitter!

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

What’s in a Notebook?

It’s that magical time of year when my writer’s notebook is almost full, and I get to start a new one.  I love setting up my notebook, personalizing it, giving it value.  But I love, nearly as much, to look back at a full notebook–and today I want to share mine with you.

I’ll preface this overload of snapshots with a caveat that my sharing is unusual in terms of the writer’s notebook.  Whether we ask our students to use these tools as playgrounds, workshops, or repositories, notebooks belong to students.  Ownership is key if our students are to take on the identities of writers.  This means that for some, a notebook is private, while for others, sharing is essential.

So, with that said, let’s take a walk through my notebook–and, so we can see many other examples, please share what your notebook is full of on Twitter with #whatsinanotebook!

First, personalization and inspiration are key.

The first few pages of my notebook always contain photos, a tracing of my hand with some goals, a heart map, or some other kind of writing territory or prompt.  Whenever I’m stumped about what to write, I return to these first few pages to remind myself of the topics I need to mine.

From there, the variety begins.

I always write beside my students, so my notebook is generally peppered with quickwrites or “write into the days” from NWP.

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These are often the roughest drafts of posts that land on TTT, like this page, which morphed into this post.  For my students, quickwrites are often seed prompts that lead to longer compositions.  Just as often, though, they remain untouched:  an essential part of building fluency and stamina and the identity of a writer with many starts and stops.

My notebook is also full of poetry that I write beside or around.

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I get my poems every day via email from the Writer’s Almanac.  In addition to just being inspiring and enjoyable to do, this active reading of poetry makes me more aware of wordplay, themes in literature and in my life, and a new perspective.

I also write in response to quotes from books, TED talks, poems, or anywhere.

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This helps me to unpack a quote that strikes me for its craft, content, or both–students, too.

Gluing in artifacts to write beside is also powerful for me.


These serve not just as reminders of who and what is important to me, but a lovely time capsule to show me what was happening in my life at the time when I return to look at my notebook in future years.

There are also things I’m attempting to make connections between, but perhaps never do…

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(This might go under “things I abandon.”)

Rants that should probably be left in the dark…

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(You can tell by my handwriting that I was ticked, here.)

Things I abandon

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Sometimes I mean to write a bit more, and never do, so I add some squiggles and doodles to fill up the white space.

It’s important to remind students that it’s okay to abandon pieces of writing…we abandon books, don’t we?

…and random doodles, drawings, and in-the-moment jots and notes.

The last spread of my notebook is always my what-to-read page…

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(I keep my lengthy read, currently reading, and TBR list on GoodReads, so this page functions more as a ThriftBooks shopping list.)

…and the very last page is always my list of words and phrases that strike me as unusual.

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I jot these as I find them in books, poetry, or conversation.  Sometimes I look up definitions of these words; sometimes I already know what they mean, but just like them.  I ask students to keep this page, and twice monthly we visit it and do something with our lists.


As you can see, there’s really no “order” to my notebook–no sections other than those crucial first and last pages–but that’s just what works for me.  I taught seniors most recently, and found that they didn’t require the structure of a multi-sectioned writer’s notebook, but when I worked with 8th graders, they most definitely needed a little guidance.

This is just a guide, an inspiration, and an invitation–to not judge me for my wonders about the woes of motherhood, my consternation about teaching topics, or my completely unhealthy obsession with expensive writing utensils (Precise V5 pens…thanks, Amy…and PaperMate Flair markers are my top picks).

Please use this to help you craft a vision for the possibilities notebooks afford in helping us build fluency, gain confidence, and take on the identity of WRITER, and feel free to reach out to any of us with questions or wonders you have about the magic of writer’s notebooks.

Share with us, please, what your notebook looks like on Twitter using #whatsinanotebook!

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

Rewriting Our Definition of Writing

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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