Tag Archives: teaching writing

The Teacher, the Story-teller, the Writer: Guest Post by Milree Latimer

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by author-educator Milree Latimer

Teaching might be the greatest of the arts since the medium is the human mind and spirit.

John Steinbeck

To write fiction, one needs a whole series of inspirations about people in an actual environment, and then a whole lot of work on the basis of those inspirations.

Aldous Huxley

Some days when I reflect upon my years as teacher, then as an elementary school principal, a high school vice- principal, and a professor of education–I see a thread. As William Stafford writes in his poem The Way It Is “There’s a thread you follow. It goes among/things that change. But it doesn’t change…/While you hold it you can’t get lost…/You never let go of the thread.”

There has been a thread throughout my teaching days, one that has manifested itself in my life now as a writer and published author. It’s been there all the time. A long gaze back reveals how I have grounded myself, the children and the teachers with whom I’ve worked, in the flow of story. There is a natural quality in the life of teaching that feeds the story-teller.

The narratives and chronicles of the educator’s life fed my yearning to write.

•••••

“Come, tell me your stories.” I said. The children in my kindergarten class and I gathered on the carpet. We told stories to one another: made-up tales of adventure, show-and tell chronicles of the life of a five year old, once-upon-a-time boldness.  It was 1963.

“Whenever I’m asked what advice I have for young writers, I always say that the first thing is to read, and to read a lot. The second thing is to write. And the third thing, which I think is absolutely vital, is to tell stories and listen closely to the stories you’re being told.”

~John Green

••••

“Let’s find a story together, draw it, write it, tell it.” I said.  I set my over-sized journal on the classroom easel. One by one they talked about what their story might be that morning – there’d been a snowstorm, white drifts were accumulating at the windows. Together we thought aloud. “A weather report for school announcements!”  They wrote, they drew, they told their stories. It was 1967. It was first grade.

••••

“You had the ball in your hands, Mark with few seconds on the clock–Tell us what that was like” I said.  It was 1974. Mark was an eighth grader.

“Anyone who is going to be a writer knows enough at 15 to write several novels.”
~May Sarton

••••

“Tell me what you hope for. Tell me what happens in your classroom that astonishes you. Tell me how you came to this, to be a teacher. Begin your educator’s biography this morning, write the last chapter when you retire.” A class of soon-to-be teachers at a Faculty of Education. September 1990.

•••••

The Graduate class was entitled “Reflective Practice.” The assignment: “What do you do; why do you do it the way you do; what do you hope for? A philosophical and personal portrait.”

A student’s response moved me. He wrote from a deep place within himself.  His was a narrative revealing his journey, his was a reflective piece of writing that inspired.

What truly set the path to my personal exploration was a question asked of me in one of my first courses taken at the Master’s level. When asked ‘who are you,’ my immediate response was ‘a wandering soul searching for answers.’ That answer came from somewhere deep inside…. I realize that there are many aspects of my life that I need to connect…I have to reflect on what it is that I actually do and the reasons surrounding that. (Tyrone Perreira, June 2004)

••••41n7v0p5fxl

Four characters in my novel THOSE WE LEFT BEHIND, are a composite of graduate education students with whom I worked from 1996 till 2004.

I held the images of those students as I wrote the story of Casey MacMillan, Professor of Education. The conversations that wove throughout the chapters represented some I may have had with my Master of Education students.

Casey gave air and space to her words. She believed that spoken thoughts and responses needed time to establish their own significance rather than being run over by too-hasty support or worse, ill-considered questions.

 As the author of Casey’s story, I discovered my experiences engendered a quality of truth within the story.

Professor Casey, the main protagonist taught about love, loss and the human condition. Even though she locked away her emotions within her life, her teaching bore a wisdom that connected her with her students.

When I wrote Casey’s story there was a direct line between myself as teacher and myself as author. A conversation between Professor MacMillan and her doctoral student Rob exemplifies this link:

Rob opened his briefcase reached in and pulled out a manuscript–his thesis. Her hope for all her advisees and her grad students was that they discover their own energy of possibility.

“Here’s what I really want you to see.” Rob said. He leaned forward and slid a page across the smooth mahogany table.

When she finished reading the page, she placed it on the table slowly, carefully–Resting her chin on her hand she began: “It’s a radical approach to tell your own story as your thesis. Saying that, it’s not impossible…difficult yes. (P. 99 Those We Left Behind)

••••

“Capturing shards of memory, writing specific scenes, I began to discover…” (Floyd Skoot, 2008).

There is a thread that I hold. Writing is my inner life moving me into the open a passage to the page where I am exploring, imagining, and remembering. I connect to my experiences, I hold the thread, I never let go.

Writing is a coming home. Like Toko-pa Turner (2017), I remember myself home.

Resources:

Skoot, Floyd, (2017). The Wink of the Zenith. The Shaping of a Writer’s Life. University of Nebraska Press.

Turner, Toko-pa, ( 2017). Belonging. Remembering Ourselves Home.

Her Own Room Press. Salt Spring Island, British Columbia.

Milree Latimer is a writer who spent most of her life as an educator and professor. She has an undergraduate degree from McMaster University, a Masters of Education from The Ontario Institute For Studies In Education, and a Doctoral degree in Education from Penn State University. An expat Canadian, she lives among the mountains in the Pacific Northwest of the United States with her husband Jerry and their three cats. She is currently at work on her next novel.

#FridayReads: Required Reading “Our Students Want to Write”

Confession:  I buy a ton of pedagogy books. I rarely read them all the way through. I blame it on my blossoming OCD. I can only take in so many ideas before I run out of space in my head to hold them all long enough to use them.

412bcpby4iol-_sx326_bo1204203200_That is not the case with this classic, suggested to me by my friend and mentor Penny Kittle, Learning by Teaching by Donald Murray.

I remember when Penny recommended it. She was in the DFW metroplex teaching a workshop, and I’d asked if we could meet up and talk about my writing. She graciously agreed, and we met at a Starbucks inside a Target. As always, Penny radiated positive energy. She told me about the work she was doing with Kelly Gallagher. I told her about my struggle trying to write a book, a book I am still trying to write.

I still cannot believe I had a writing conference — yet again — with Penny Kittle! (My first was during her class at The University of New Hampshire Literacy Institute the summer of 2013.)

At one point in our conversation, Penny paused and asked if I had read Don Murray’s book Learning by Teaching. I said no. At the time I hadn’t read any of his books, but I’d heard Penny talk about Murray with such affection, quoting him often. I knew this was a book I need to not just purchase, but one I needed to read. I’ve read and re-read and marked page after page.

Don Murray validates the moves I make in my workshop classroom, the moves I make

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My thinking while reading the essay “The Process of Writing” by Donald M. Murray

 

when planning instruction for my AP Language and Composition course. I have learned from those who learned from Murray, and his work reminds me again and again why teaching with student choice in mind works. Every time I feel like I fail, every time I get frustrated with the way an assignment flopped, or I didn’t reach a certain student what I’d hope to teach him, I turn back to this book of essays by Murray. (I did this recently after most of my students bombed an assignment, which was mostly my fault.)

Here’s an excerpt from Murray’s essay titled “Our Students Will Write –If We Let Them” published in North Carolin English Teacher, Fall, 1977. I probably break a copyright law by sharing, but I’ll risk it if it means freeing more writers. (See more about freeing writers in Penny Kittle’s piece “What We Learn When We Free Writers.”)

Our students want to write — but not what we want them to write.

Our students want to write of death and love and hate and fear and loyalty and disloyalty; they want to write the themes of literature in those forms — poetry, narrative, drama — which have survived the centuries. They want to write literature, and we assign them papers of literary analysis, comparison and contrast, argumentation based on subjects on which they are not informed and for which they have no concern.

We should see that their desire to write proves the vitality and importance of literature and literature-making in each generation, that language is central to the human experience, not just as a communications skill but as the best way to recall and understand experience. We tell our students the unexamined life is not worth living, yet we seldom allow those students to examine their lives firsthand through what is termed creative writing.

It is time that we, as a profession, not only support the reading of literature but the making of literature; that we encourage our students to write what they want to write and realize that what they want to write is more intellectually demanding, more linguistically challenging, more rhetorically difficult than the writing we usually require in the English class.

The biggest problem in the teaching of writing is ourselves. We do not encourage, allow, or respond to our students’ desire to write. We do not believe that our students can write anything worth reading, and they prove our prediction. Conditions will not improve until we realize that what we face is a teacher problem, not a student problem.

There are many important reasons to consider taking what is usually tolerated, at best, in the elective creative writing course and placing it at the center of the writing curriculum. Some of them are:

  • Writing about individual human experience motivates both the gifted and those we often consider disadvantaged. In fact, we may find that the disadvantaged aren’t in terms of experiences which can be explored through writing. Students who are not motivated by our lectures on the need for writing skills–they know the need does not exist in the lives they expect to live–still share the human hunger to record and examine experience. Students who are bored with papers of literary analysis or even incapable of writing such a paper at this state in their development may be able to write extraordinary papers based on first-person experience.
  • Students discover…that they have a voice, they have a way of looking at their own life through their own language. They discover and learn to respect their own individuality.
  • Through writing, the student increases his or her awareness of the world, and then works to order that awareness.
  • As students follow language towards meaning they extend and stretch their linguistic skills.
  • The experience-centered, doing nature of the writing curriculum will reach many students who are not comfortable with the analytical passive-receptive nature of the typical academic curriculum.
  • Creative writing gives students a new insight to literature. The study of literature is no longer entirely a spectator sport, but an activity which they can experience and appreciate.
  • The creative writing class may be the place where some students learn to read. Test results in many community colleges and other colleges of the second chance show that many students who test as not being able to read are also the best writers. They are able to read their own words and to perform the complex, evaluative techniques essential to revision. They learn to read by writing.
  • Students and teachers of creative writing rediscover the fun of writing. Art is, at the center, play, and perhaps that is the reason it is so little tolerated in the school. If it is fun can it be learning? Yes.
  • Finally, we should teach creative writing because it is more intellectually demanding than the study of literature or language as they are usually taught in the English class. This runs directly counter to the stereotype believe by most English teachers. IT is easier to complete a workbook on grammar, easier to tell the teacher what the teacher wants to know about a story than it is to use language to make meaning out of experience. The writing course is a thinking course, and it should be central to the curriculum in any school.

There is more. I believe Murray’s writing, like Penny’s books Write Beside Them and Book Love, should be required reading for every English teacher. I wish they would have been required reading in my education classes. For the first few years of my career, I struggled like many teachers I know with student engagement and learning while I taught literature instead of readers and writers. (Someday I’ll write about the Dickens I subjected my 9th graders to. It’s a sad sad tale of student, and teacher, woe.)

And someday I’ll finish this book I’m trying to write. I think Don Murray would want me to.

What books do you think should be required reading for all English teachers? I’d love to read your suggestion in the comments.

 

#FridayReads: Learning to WRITE WHAT MATTERS with Tom Romano

IMG_9890With the release of his newest book, Write What Matters, this year marks the tenth year I’ve been reading and writing beside the words of Tom Romano.  If you’ve not discovered his wisdom on injecting writing voice into student work, his guidance about writing to discover, or his brilliance in coining multigenre…you’re missing out.

This summer, at the UNH Literacy Institutes, Tom Newkirk talked at length about the guts it took for Tom Romano to publish Clearing the Way in 1987–the first “teacher book” of its kind.  Guided by the research of Donald Graves and his contemporaries, Romano explains the text’s origins to his reader:

“This book is born out of my own struggles to write well and fourteen years of working hard with teenage writers.  Both the writing and the working have been worth it.  They are fine passions.

Thus began my pedagogical education–I read Clearing the Way in my very first English methods course in 2005.  Chapters like “The Crucial Role of Conferencing,” “A Creative Current,” and “Literary Warnings” showed me the possibilities if I created a classroom full of passion and verve and real writers.

IMG_9889Next I happened upon Crafting Authentic Voice, in Romano’s own writing methods class at Miami University in 2007.  A quote from page five of this book hangs prominently in my classroom to this day: “Voice is the writer’s presence on the page, the writer’s DNA.”  I point to those words when I endeavor to help students develop voice.  Chapters like “Enter Craft,” “The Five-Paragraph-You-Know-What,” and “Imitation” have guided my teaching of writing, and I see in those topics the work of Katie Wood Ray, Penny Kittle, and Georgia Heard.

Blending Genre, Altering Style I read in my Master’s level writing methods course, again with Romano himself.  This book helped me flesh out the nuts and bolts of teaching multigenre, which remains to this day both the most effective, enriching work I do with my students, and their very favorite thing.  Reading and writing about chapters like “The Many Ways of Poems,” “Genres Answered,” and the practical “Evaluation and Grading” led me to present with Romano on the many possibilities offered by multigenre at NCTE13.

I’d been teaching five years and was already living in West Virginia when I read Fearless Writing, seeking more guidance about teaching writing.  Practical chapters like “Easing into Poetry Through Imitation,” “Crafting Narrative,” and “Self-Assessment: Raising the Blinds” pushed me to take my teaching of many genres to new heights, with wonderful student results.

Last year, thrashing in the throes of a difficult PhD program, I sought wisdom from Romano in Zigzag, where his chapter “Meltdown” showed me empathy, peace, and guidance.  “I’d never been more at peace with a big decision,” Romano writes of leaving his own doctoral program.  I did the same, and I’m at peace too.

Now, as I prepare to welcome my first child into the world, I’m contemplating where my career will take me.  I’ve long known I don’t want to try to sustain my level of involvement with teaching high schoolers while trying to be a mom.  But I don’t want to leave the amazing, sustaining, nurturing community of teachers and writers and thinkers I engage with here at TTT, or at NCTE, or on Twitter.  I don’t want to leave my tribe, as Penny Kittle says.

Screen Shot 2015-10-23 at 5.34.59 AMAnd, again, Romano is here to guide me through my next steps–Write What Matters: For Yourself, For Others is lately ordered from Amazon and on its way to me.  I know that chapters like “Trust the Gush,” “Risk and All,” and “Who Are You to Presume to Write?” will guide me as I wonder about my future teacher-writer identity.  I know that this book is what I need right now:

Many want to write. But sometimes they lose heart. They are cowed in the face of so many fine writers of fiction, memoir, poetry, columns, and creative nonfiction. Their confidence wanes. If you want to write, but are hesitant, let Tom Romano lift your confidence. In Write What Matters you will find discussions of writing processes that make sense, demonstrations of effective strategies to try, advice about developing productive habits to get your writing done, and examples of illuminating writing from fearless writers, both professional and novice. Your voice, your vision, your way with words matter. They are tied to your identity. You know that you are more alive when you put words on paper. Accept that you not only want to write. You need to write. Write What Matters will help you learn to dwell in your written words and craft them into writing worth reading by others.

Pick up Write What Matters, or any of Tom’s many other works of wisdom and power.  Let Tom Romano lift your confidence–in your writing, your teaching, and your passion.  His words, and he, have been my single most reliable, important mentors as I seek to be a teacher of writing, a teacher-writer, and a plain old Saturday-morning-notebook-storyteller.

Mini-Lesson Monday: Sentence Boundaries and Adding Some Variety

Sorry, I forgot to record the book’s title.

Even the students in my AP English class struggle with correct punctuation and varying their sentences. In one-on-one conferences, I’ve started to remind them more often to pay attention to how the author of their self-selected books craft meaning. I used to get glossy-eyed blank stares, but students are beginning to understand that writers make intentional moves to draw us in, and keep us within, the pages of their books.

“As a writer, you must do that, too,” I remind them.

This lesson grew out of a conferring conversation with a student who told me:  “I just do not understand all the comma and semicolon stuff, but I have a pretty good idea of what I want to say in my writing.”

Objective:  Using the language of the Depth of Knowledge levels, students will recognize the sentence boundaries and the variety of sentence structures in their self-selected books. They will make observations about the author’s use of punctuation in these sentences, assessing the writer’s effectiveness in crafting meaning. Students will then use their author as a mentor as they apply their knowledge of sentence boundaries and sentence variety and create, revise, and rewrite sentences in their own pieces of writing. Finally, through peer-to-peer conferring, students will evaluate the accuracy and effectiveness of one another’s sentences.

Lesson:  Every student needs their independent reading book. If a student is reading a book of poems, or a graphic novel without many sentences, you will want to supply a stand in book for this lesson or ask the student to find a book she’s previously read.

Tell students that you’ve noticed in their writing that they are ready to make their sentences more sophisticated. Correctness is one way to do this. Varying the length of sentences is another way. Instruct students to turn to a random page in their books, say page 51. Ask them to read the page in search of one long sentence and one short sentence. Give students sentence stips or blank paper and have them write out the sentences they find in their books. They should spell and punctuate the sentences exactly like the author does.

sentence boundaries lessonNext, in small groups, ask students to discuss with one another the structure of the sentences. They might put all the short sentences together and compare them. Then they might put the long sentences together and look at how the authors use commas to separate ideas. Some students will know more about grammatical terms than others, and that is okay. The idea is to get students noticing how writers compose within the boundaries of standard English and to get them to understand how punctuation works to craft meaning. Ask questions that help them discover why boundaries and variety work to produce effective writing.

You may choose to have students imitate the sentences they chose from their books. Imitation is a useful tool for many writers.

Using self-selected books, not just to practice wide reading, but to teach students to read like writers, adds an important element to the workshop classroom. Our writing improves when we take the time to notice and apply the skills of professional writers.

Follow up:  Have students review a piece of their own writing. The writing can be in any stage of the writing process. They should study their writing to evaluate their use of sentence boundaries and variety. Encourage students to revise their writing as necessary, remembering to use the author of their books as their mentors.

Extension:  This lesson works to have students study leads, similar to what Jackie wrote about in the mini-lesson Pick up Lines and Leads. It also works to have students search their books for sentences that include imagery.

 

©Amy Rasmussen, 2011 – 2015

Mini-lesson Monday: Exploring a Page’s White Space in the Writer’s Workshop

PrintCircling the room, I hand out books in preparation for book speed dating. I place Ellen Hopkins’ Crank on a student’s desk.

“There’s no way I’m reading this,” she mutters to her friend. “This thing is huge.”

“Open it up.” I turn towards her, waiting for her to crack the book. She flips to a page and realizes the entire book is in verse. She flips again and again, every page has a minimalist feel, the text spread out, placing emphasis on each word within the sea of white. The sheer length of the book disappears and she is sucked into Hopkins’ narrative.

The more time I spend with teenagers, the more I value the use of that essential “white space.” I love book talking Patricia McCormick’s Sold or Jonathan Safran Foer’s Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close; despite their complex and emotional content, the books are instantly more accessible simply because of their unique structure.

This is why when we discuss paragraph breaks in writing and aesthetics and structure in reading, we also discuss the glory of giving the reader’s eye a break.

Objectives: Using the language of the Depth of Knowledge levels, students will recognize the use of white space within a piece of writing. They will make observations about the author’s use of this tactic, assessing the writer’s effectiveness in employing the use of white space. Finally, use choice reading and whole class examples as mentor texts, they will practice using white space within their own writing by formulating paragraphs at various lengths, revising these paragraphs through peer conferencing, and applying this craft in future writing assignments.

Lesson: Divide students into groups of three or four and have them open up their independent reading books to any page. Ask them to brainstorm what they see based on the page—tell them not to look at content, but instead the structure of the page—the text, paragraph breaks, and length. Have them compare their pages to each other, noting the similarities and differences. Once they have completed this, bring them back together into a whole class discussion. While they discuss their observations, compile a list on the board of what they noticed.

I love to breathe life into authors and remind students that a writer consciously makes decisions on the craft of their pieces. In turn, I have them to return to the structure of their page, focusing mostly on the line breaks, white space, and the spacing and formatting of the text in general. They reflect on this in their writer’s notebook, asking themselves: why do you think the author made this decision? What did they want the reader to think and/or experience?

IMG_2906Following their reflection, we return to discuss their individual pages as a class. Students volunteer to share why their author might have made the stylistic or structural decisions they did, which in turn, inspires other students to reflect further on their own page choices.

We discuss “one sentence paragraphs” and how they stand out surrounded by the white space of heavier paragraphs. They explore how white space can frame longer paragraphs and why exactly writers might use longer paragraphs to convey their point or tell a denser story. We notice how the white space of line breaks can show the passing of time and why it is important for readers to visually have a moment to internalize this time lapse. And finally, as readers, we share how we respond to cramped passages versus double spaced books.

The process of using choice books paired with class discussion helps students recognize the value of their role as a reader as well as how they can utilize these methods within their own writing.

Following our discussion, I take a few minutes to reinforce the points we’ve made either on the white board or through a prepared PowerPoint. These slides provide visual examples from books I am currently reading as well as some tips for applying this knowledge to our own writing.

Follow-Up: At the beginning of the year, students complete a snapshot narrative followed by a longer personal narrative. Using the mentor examples as well as the examples from our choice reading, we look at how we can integrate white space into our own pieces either through line breaks, diverse paragraph lengths, or one-sentence paragraphs. Based on this mini-lesson, they can also trade narratives and provide peer feedback to one another.

What are some mini-lessons you use to help students analyzing the structure of books? How do you help them integrate these observations into their own writing?

I’m Teaching Writing to the Whole 5th Grade — Now What?!

I received this note in a Facebook message:  I had big changes in my classroom assignment this year… moved from 2nd grade to 5th… turns out… after getting there I got the assignment of teaching writing to the entire 5th grade…. not what I really signed up for…. I have not only NEVER formally taught writing (as a process) beyond complete sentences… and moving toward paragraphs…. but I never even had a class in in it in college….. any suggestions on where to start and where to go with it? I will have 4 units of 12 days each during the year with each of the 5th grade classes….. suggestions?

Say you had to analyze the tone, what adjective would you use? concerned? riled? desperate? beseeching?

Let’s look at the clues:  “big changes,” “turns out,” “entire,” “not what I really signed up for,” “NEVER,” and all those “…..”

I could write an entire post on why the kind of changes this teacher has had thrust upon her is so disrespectful to her as an educator, as a professional. But I won’t. I just needed to say that.

Of course, I answered, and I will offer support and help any way I can. You would, too.

Maybe others have similar experiences and are new at teaching writing. Here’s how I answered my friend:

Yes, I have suggestions! Haha. Tons of them. You know I teach AP Language and Composition, right? Just writeThat’s juniors in high school, but good writing is good writing. Your instruction with your 5th graders can look very similar to mine. (And I hope it will.)

Here’s the non-negotiables in my writing class:

Writer’s notebooks. I use the black composition notebooks. Students cover them, personalize them, and make them mean something other than just a notebook for school. We write in them every day as a way to explore our thinking. I might give a prompt, or read a poem, or watch a news clip…whatever, and then I ask students to think and respond. These quickwrites become places to mine for ideas for topics we might develop into more formal pieces. Writer’s notebooks are required and loved in writing classes where students have choice and autonomy, two important components of effective writing instruction.

Mentor Texts. Mentors are texts that look like the writing I want students to practice. For example, if we are writing narrative, I want students to read good narrative writing. If we are writing book reviews, we need to study the structure of book reviews, etc. The authors of these mentors become our “writing coaches.” We study the moves the writers make, and then we try to make those moves in our own writing. Students learn from good models. They do not learn from poor, fix-the-grammar-and-punctuation worksheets or anything of that ilk. Research on that is plentiful.

Choice. When students have choice in the topics they write about, they are more apt to take ownership and care about their writing. Just like you and me — we do not want told what books we have to read, TV shows we have to watch, or essays we must write that show we learned something from pd. Topics matter so much to the effort students will put into their writing. We have to let students choose what they want to spend their time focusing on. Sometimes we need to nudge them. Sometimes we need to help them narrow the topic. But they need to always have a choice if we want to really teach them anything about writing. Save the formal test-like prompts for practice after students learn how to mine for ideas and develop those ideas in writing they want to do. Test writing can serve as a genre in itself later.

Time. Schedule time within the school day for kids to write. Let them know you are there to help. When they write with us, 1) we know they are writing and not a friend or parent, 2) we see their process and know where the struggles are.

Conferences. Meet with writers throughout the writing process, beginning, middle, and end. Ask questions that provoke their thinking. Let them talk about their ideas. Avoid giving advice, rather validate the students’ ideas and speak to them as writers. (Focus on the writer and his needs over the writing and what it needs — avoid the red pen at all costs.)

Modeling. Write in front of your students. This is probably the most effective instructional tool you have. Students need to see the messiness of the writing process. They need to know it is hard — even for a teacher. I try to write every assignment I ask my students to write. I start writing in front of them and let them see my thinking, my errors, my revision, my re-organization, all of it. Too many student writers think they should be able to write well in a one shot in the dark deal. That’s why they refuse to revise. We have to show them that writing is difficult and confusing and time consuming. We have to give them opportunities to see the struggle, so we can convince them that the work is worth it when we’ve finally been able to say what we want and need to say in our writing.

Talking. “Writing floats on a sea of talk,” I heard Penny Kittle say. Talk with students about their ideas, their process, their everything concerning writing. Encourage them to talk with one another. Talk and Write. Read and Talk and Write. Talking works to stimulate thinking and provoke the pen to action.

Celebrating. Feedback matters, even at the sentence level. Invite students to share their writing. This can be a sentence or a complete piece. Celebrating good writing along the way is a more effective feedback tool than a grade at the end of publication. Whips Around the Room that invite all students to share a favorite sentence or passage, Author’s Chairs that invite students to read a best draft, Posting on Blogs and inviting students to read one another’s work and leave comments, are all ways to celebrate writing — and help students understand the importance of audience.
Some of my favorite RESOURCES:

National Writing Project — Resources page

Read Write Reflect — Katherine  Sokolowski’s blog — the reflective practices inside a 5th grade classroom

The Nerdy Book Club — a community of readers (and teachers of readers) — read about books, reading, writing, and more!

Two Writing Teachers blog — more tips on teaching young writers that you can digest in one sitting

Moving Writers blog — Rachel and Allison show they are the best mentor text finders on the planet

And of course, my own blog: Three Teachers Talk where we write about Readers and Writers Workshop

Lucy Calkins quoteBOOKS you will consider life savers:

In the Middle by Nancie Atwell

Read Write Teach by Linda Reif
Write Beside Them by Penny Kittle

And I haven’t read this one yet, but who doesn’t want to be unstoppable? The Unstoppable Writing Teacher by Colleen Cruz
I imagine you are overwhelmed. No, I cannot really imagine. I do know that you are smart though, and you love children and teaching. You will do a wonderful job inspiring students to write — that is half the battle.

The learning comes from doing. Get your students writing. The more they write the better they will write. I see it every year.

Best blessings,

Amy

Did I leave anything out? What advice do you have for this emerging writing teacher?

©Amy Rasmussen, 2011 – 2015

A Book Talk and A Writing Lesson in One Easy Go

Since I try super hard to not work on the weekends, I wasn’t sure how I was going to be completely prepared for my lesson on Monday. I locked my classroom door on Friday, knowing I was short a mentor text.

Then, while sitting by the lake, enjoying the breeze and this novel a friend recommended, the text blurred my eyes, and I did the unthinkable: I crimped down the corner. Then I did it again and again and again.

I love it when the stars align, and the tools I need to teach writing appear in my own independent reading. I notice things and want to share them with students. And I know that they will see what I want them to see and understand why it matters because they see my passion in the discovery of something I want to show them. Studying author’s craft becomes easy when I share from the books I am currently reading.

Here’s a slice from Night Film by Marisha Pessl, a hauntingly beautiful book that’s written in multi-genre. (You want to check it out. I promise.)

The sagging green couch along the far wall was covered with an old blue comforter where someone had recently crashed–maybe literally. In a plate on the coffee table there was an outbreak of cigarette butts; next to that, rolling papers, a packet of Golden Virginia tobacco, an open package of Chips Ahoy!, a mangled copy of Interview, some emaciated starlet on the floor along with a white sweatshirt and some other clothes. (As if to expressly avoid this pile, a woman’s pair of black pantyhose clung for dear life to the back of the other beach chair.) A girl had kissed one wall while wearing black lipstick. An acoustic guitar was propped in the corner beside an old hiker’s backpack, the faded red nylon covered with handwriting.

I stepped over to read some of it: If this gets lost return it with all contents to Hopper C. Cole, 90 Todd Street, Mission, South Dakota 57555.

Hopper Cole from South Dakota. He was a hell of a long way from home.

Scribbled above that, beside a woman named Jade’s 310 phone number and hand-drawn Egyptian eye, were the words: “But now I smell the rain, and with it pain, and it’s heading my way. Sometimes I grow so tired. But I know I’ve got one thing I got to do. Ramble on.”

So he was a Led Zeppelin fan.

Oh, the details, the description, the diction, the syntax. You can see it, too, right?

If I want my students to become effective writers, I have to show them effective models. It’s as simple as that. It’s even simpler when I can show them models from books I’m reading. Then they get a book talk and a writing lesson in one easy go.

I love it when that happens.

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