Tag Archives: Tom Romano

Try It Tuesday: Red Thread Notebooks

img_3173-1So much of a workshop philosophy centers on the assumption that reading and writing are forever intertwined.  Vocabulary, grammar, poetry–they’re all pieces of the puzzle that make up literacy and a passion for words, too.  It was with this in mind that I created Red Thread Notebooks.

The idea came from two places–one was Penny Kittle’s “big idea books” (found on page 8-9 of those handouts), which are reading response notebooks  centered around themes in literature.  The other was Tom Romano‘s “red thread” assignment, in which teachers had to write about which parts of our teaching philosophy would run through all of our teaching, like a red thread.

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This student booktalks The Selection in the “STRUGGLE” notebook.

So, when composition notebooks are just a nickel in the summer, I buy 60 of them each year.  My students and I begin the year by brainstorming themes and topics that are important to us–love, cell phones, faith, music, family, video games, death, high school, forgiveness, four wheelers.  We label our notebooks and use them all year long.

There are a variety of ways I invite students to write in these notebooks:

  • Vocabulary practice: list related words, synonyms, word associations, etc. similar to the notebook title
  • Skill practice: write dialogue, revise sentence structure, practice figurative language, craft descriptive writing, about the notebook’s title
  • Book talks: write about how the book you’re currently reading might add to a conversation about the notebook’s title
  • Grammar instruction: revise a sentence, imitate a paragraph, tinker with style, while writing about the notebook title
  • Free writing: write your thoughts and musings on the notebook title
  • Poetry: find an existing poem, craft your own poem, or create a found poem about the notebook’s title
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Hailey and Ryan practice dialogue in the “VIDEO GAMES” notebook after I teach a mini-lesson on its conventions.

Because these are shared notebooks, I ask students to refrain from using profanity in them or writing about any of their peers.  I don’t require names, but many students like to sign their writing.  Those are the only rules.

Once the notebooks have begun to fill up, students can refer to them to find book recommendations, writing topic ideas, or vocabulary words to add to their personal dictionaries.  They can also look for examples of skills practice, craft studies, or grammar lessons that we’ve done for additional guidance.  One year students even selected multigenre topics based on our red thread notebooks.

These notebooks are a lovely way to make permanent a yearlong conversation about literacy.  The topics change every year–Michael Jackson had his own notebook my first year of teaching, and this year Lebron James had one–but the opportunities to write, reflect, and make connections remain the same.

Do you think you’ll try Red Thread Notebooks next year?  Do you do something similar?  Please share in the comments!

Mini-Lesson Monday: Setting Up New Notebooks

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Our first semester notebook sections

My students and I have filled up one notebook thus far this school year, and as the second quarter comes to a close, we’re going to buy new ones and decorate, personalize, and organize them together.

At the beginning of the year, I asked my students to create quite a few sections in our notebooks.  This helped us stay organized at first, but as the year went on and sections filled up, the variety of sections caused more stress than they relieved.

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Brand new notebook! I love this one by “Punctuate” from Barnes & Noble.

Over break, our friend Erika shared an excellent article about the health benefits of journaling.  Amy said this about the article: “I wish composition notebooks were cheap right now. I’d get new ones for my students, read this piece, and start over when we get back to school. We’ve got notebooks, but we are not as into them as I would like. Could be a jump start.”

I feel the same way Amy does.  Our notebooks have turned more into workspaces and less into journals.  I want to change that as we begin the second semester.

Objectives — Using the language of the Depth of Knowledge Levels:  Formulate ideas about topics during quickwrite time; Construct language that reflects beliefs and ideas. Or, from the Common Core: Write routinely over extended time frames (time for research, reflection, and revision) and shorter time frames (a single sitting or a day or two) for a range of tasks and purposes.

Lesson — I’ll begin by telling students this story:  “I read Tom Romano’s Write What Matters again over break, looking for ideas for meaningful notebook activities.  From his chapter titled “Notebook: Playground, Workshop, Repository,” Tom gives this advice about journals:

“Buy one. Write in it every day. You’ll strengthen your writing muscles and keep them supple. You’ll learn to accept words your mind offers. You’ll consolidate writing skills you’re developing. You’ll sharpen your perceptions, live more alertly. You’ll expand your vocabulary, too.

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My first page of all my notebooks–a photo and a tracing of my hand, inspired by Penny Kittle and Sarah Kay’s poem “Hands.”

“This quote resonates with me.  It reminds me why I write, and why we should all write often.  Why do you find value in writing?”

We’ll have a conversation about the meaningfulness of writing, then set up our notebooks together.

“Last semester felt hectic when all of our sections filled up.  This semester I want to keep it simple.”  I’ll put the following guidelines on the board:

  • What-to-read list goes on very last page
  • Vocab words go on the page before that (see our posts here and here to know how we “do” vocab)
  • Quotes go on the page before that (craft studies usually go here)
  • Small section for heart books at the very end

“And that’s it.  I want to just write in chronological order every day, keeping just a few pages in the back for our usual routines.”

We’ll spend the remainder of class setting up our sections and collage-ing our notebooks to personalize them, as Jackie describes here.  I’ll do this alongside my students, adding ultrasound pictures and magazine cutouts to represent the upcoming year of change that’s in store for me.

Over the coming weeks, we’ll focus on using mini-lessons from Write What Matters–ones that involve drawing, writing therapeutically, and telling the narratives of our writing places and experiences.  I’ll hope to jump start, in Amy’s words, my students’ passion for writing with new notebooks and new notebook routines.

What routines will you change as the first semester ends?  What elements of your teaching will you revise?  Please share 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.

#NCTE14 J.44 Nonnegotiables Across the Landscape of Workshop

Jackie, Erika, Amy and I are excited to present at NCTE in Washington, D.C. on Saturday at 2:45 pm. Penny Kittle is our Chair. We are session J.44. Join us!

“I am the sum of my mentors,” writes Meenoo Rami in Thrive.  As a student at Miami University in 2005, I had no idea how fortunate I was to have Tom Romano as one of my mentors.  As a leader in educational writing, a teacher with his thumb on the pulse of research, and the giant who first introduced me to NCTE, Romano has always been my single biggest mentor.

As I thought for months about what I wanted to share with teachers regarding the readers-writers workshop at NCTE, I was reminded of an assignment I’d done in Romano’s class–to find the “red thread” of my teaching…my nonnegotiables regarding our profession.  I dug for it in the depths of my hard drive.

Re-reading it, I laughed as I always do at my older writing, but then I smiled.  Many of my nonnegotiables remain unchanged: sustained silent reading.  Craft informed by research.  Authenticity.  Engagement is central.  Model, model, model.

Tom Romano obviously did a damn good job as a mentor.

IMG_5031Those simple principles–plus my genuine passion for reading, and writing, and the joy I believe they can bring everyone–inform my practice day in and day out.  They are supported by the research of Penny Kittle, Katie Wood Ray, Tom Newkirk, Kelly Gallagher, Donalyn Miller, Linda Rief, and more.  I am the sum of those mentors, and in this season of giving thanks, I’m so grateful that I am.  My students have found incredible success because I stand on the shoulders of those giants, and I can’t wait to share their stories at our session in Washington, D.C.

Christmas Miracles

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December has traditionally been my least favorite month of the school year.  Something about it bogged me down, without fail, every winter–the dark, sunless days…the mountains of papers to grade…the looming specter of exams–to write, administer, and grade.  I hated my job in December.  From old journals, I know that I was consistently unhappy in the twelfth month of the year, and I wanted to quit teaching every time it rolled around.

This December, though, things couldn’t be more different.  I am LOVING my job!!  Last week, I found myself completely caught up on grading–something that literally hasn’t happened yet this school year.  Somehow, I had plenty of time to plan great lessons, confer with students with no back-of-the-brain worries, AND reorganize my classroom library.  I was a productivity machine–and it didn’t stop at school.  At home, I found the energy to assemble Christmas cards, decorate my apartment, and make some holiday crafts.  As I type this, my fingers are still sticky with powdered sugar from the big batch of cookies I baked this morning.  What’s with the freakish perfection, you ask?  One little, made-up, three-week-old, hashtag of a word:  #nerdlution.

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Teachers across the country made nerdy resolutions that would be kept for 50 days.  They could be anything–write every day, exercise, a more robust reading life.  A Thanksgiving day Twitter chat gave rise to that wonderful idea, which I hope will become an annual tradition.  Still riding my NCTE13 high, I resolved (nerdsolved? nerdluted?) to spread professional ideas about English teaching any way that I could, every day.

IMG_1036I started by leading an epic two-hour workshop for my English department.  We book-passed (a la Penny Kittle) the entire contents of my professional library, shared best practices in a “gift exchange” of ideas, and made our own heart books (a la Linda Rief) of things we wanted to try.  Afterward, Kristine, a 20-year veteran with a reputation for pessimism, approached me.  “I used to have your energy,” she said.  “I don’t know what happened, but I haven’t had it…for years.”  She teared up, then borrowed Blending Genre, Altering Voice by Tom Romano, a balm for her troubled teaching soul.  Other books from my NCTE haul were checked out, too–Georgia Heard’s brand new Finding the Heart of Nonfiction was battled over by two first-year teachers, Penny Kittle’s incredibly dog-eared and highlighted Book Love and Write Beside Them were taken by veterans, and Tom Newkirk’s well-loved Holding On To Good Ideas in a Time of Bad Ones was checked out by our department head, who has held his position since 1972 (I’ll let you do the math on that one).

I was elated, and my colleagues’ willingness to try new ideas didn’t stop there.  The next day, a friend came and talked through some ideas about having her students do mini multigenre projects on Greek gods.  Enthused, I told her I couldn’t wait to see the results.  The following morning, Kristine, the tired veteran who’d borrowed Tom Romano’s book, stopped me in the hall.  “I came to school every day this week with a new attitude.  I feel the spark again,” she told me.  I nearly cried after we went our separate ways.

IMG_1313The following week, it all seemed to be coming together–our entire English department was on board for trying something new, especially the workshop model.  They wanted to see it in action.  In five days, I was observed eight times by fellow teachers, and they saw my students doing amazing things.  With heads down and pens on paper, their extended narratives were growing to eight…twelve…twenty-six pages long.  They were BEAUTIFULLY written, and on an incredible variety of topics–hunting, car crashes, detectives, breakups, death.  One male student wrote a narrative about rape from a woman’s point of view after hearing me booktalk Speak.

IMG_1314As my colleagues listened in, my students conferred with me about their writing like the confident, thoughtful, reflective authors they are:  “I want it to read like a Rick Riordan story,” Kenneth told me.  “Do you think the pace is too slow?” Nora asked.  “I just need to zoom in a little more on this,” Tevin realized.  “I’ve resorted to writing in my vocab section because the rest of my notebook is full,” Adam admitted with a giggle.  I ended every class with a smile and a feeling of pride threatening to burst out of my chest.  My colleagues were stupefied.  “How are you getting them to read so much?  To write so much?  To work on this stuff in study halls and for homework?”  They were flabbergasted, but all I had to do was point them toward that professional bookshelf, full to bursting (but with more and more empty spaces!!) with the brainchildren of so many of my teaching heroes.

So, my #nerdlution, as well as this little workshop experiment that Emily, Erika, Amy, and I have been trying out, is going beautifully.  The two are combining to bring me the most peace I’ve felt during the holiday hustle and bustle in a long time–and that, for me, is a Christmas miracle.

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