Tag Archives: Writer’s Notebooks

The Power of Our Notebooks

This is the third week away from my students and classroom, and it feels like three months. I miss my kids. I miss our daily conversations. I miss seeing that little spark in their eyes when that light bulb goes on. I miss just…well…everything. “Teaching” from home, though better than nothing, just isn’t the same.

Back on March 16th, I didn’t know where to begin. Sure, I had begun planning for this in my head, but my ideas were a jumbled mess. The two things I knew my kids needed? Daily reading and writing. I’ve read countless studies–like this one–that prove the volume students read and write has everything to do with their gains. Like with any sport, they need that daily practice to improve. We let our children choose the sports they want to play so they will practice more. The same should go for reading and writing.

As I continued my planning and searching, I found help in two very likely sources: Penny Kittle and Kelly Gallagher. They put on paper what I had been trying to organize in my head. They also started daily “digital conversations” with one another that they shared via Twitter. (Click here to view the padlet that Penny put together.)

Once I had my idea, I pushed it out to my students, along with the beginning of my own notebook work. I was hesitant to do this at first, but, yes, I’m putting my own notebook on display. Though I have shared many entries with them in the past, I have never given them complete access to my notebook. This is a different time though. My students need me to be brave, courageous, bold. They need to see my struggles and mistakes, as well as all that I am proud of. More than anything else, I want them to feel like I am still there with them, for I am, but in a much different way.

So, after giving my students time to peruse through the guidelines, I posted photos of all my daily notebook entries, along with my “Reading Record” (pictured above) that shows them what, and for how long, I was reading. My students had a lot of questions. (I was ready for that.) They asked how I got my ideas. (I was ready for that too.) We even had a virtual chat so we could catch up, and I had a “think aloud” about what I do when I have writer’s block. (We all get stuck sometimes.)

Are there still kinks we need to work out? Sure. Are there students who I am still trying to connect with? Yes. There are so many road blocks in this very new process, but over time those blocks will begin to flatten. All we can do is keep trying.

Sarah Krajewski teaches 9th and 12th grade English and Journalism near Buffalo, New York.  She is currently in her 18th year of teaching, and is always looking for new, creative ways to help her students enjoy learning, reading, and writing.  You can follow Sarah on Twitter @shkrajewski and her blog can be viewed at http://skrajewski.wordpress.com/.

Try It Tuesday: 7 Ways to Shake Up Notebooks

October is nearing its end, and you know what that means…’tis the season of needing inspiration! The back-to-school spark of fierce, creative lesson planning has ended, and now we’re all just praying Thanksgiving gets here ASAP.

So, if you’re getting a little worn out from reading the same-old same-old genres in your writer’s notebooks, try these seven ways to shake them up.

Write down the language you hear around you.  From quotes in independent reading books to funny things our friends say, the act of noticing language helps us think like writers and expand our linguistic repertoires.

img_5205

Annotate a booktalk.  Instead of a focused craft study, or a question-and-response to a booktalk, try just taping it into your notebook and noting what stands out.  This, too, helps build the skill of reading like writers.

img_5200

Write in someone else’s notebook.  Shake up page after page of your own handwriting by switching notebooks with someone else when responding to a prompt.  Here, my friend Bethany wrote in my notebook as we wrote about invoking wonder.

img_5211

Try beautiful note-taking.  Sometime, somewhere, everyone needs to just jot down some notes…whether it’s in for readings from a class or in a staff meeting, try to beautify those notes with some doodles or colors.

img_5203

Attempt some literary analysis.  I love the classics, and I bet many of you do too–but sometimes we beat their beauty to death when we spend hour after hour analyzing them with our students.  Try pasting in a page of whatever you’re reading and just responding to how amazing the writing is.

img_5201

Jot down fun vocabulary words.  I love to note down both words that I don’t know and words that I just love, with no pressure to define them or use them in a sentence.  It helps me notice wordplay and attempt it myself.

img_5206

Paste in things you’d like to remember.  It’s too easy to throw keepsakes in boxes or delete emails that flatter us…so glue them into your notebook and flip back through when you need a lift.

img_5199

Shaking up notebooks in these seven ways will help your students curate a scrapbook of sorts–a place to return to and look back at long after it’s been filled up and the year has ended.  A notebook is a wonderful place to practice reading and writing skills, but it becomes most effective when it’s an authentic placeholder for growth, play, and memory.

How do you shake up notebook time with unconventional genres and prompts? Please share in the comments!

Mini-Lesson Monday: Developing Social Imagination by Making Connections

imgresI’ve been reading Peter Johnston’s excellent Opening Minds with my preservice teachers, and it’s a must-read.  One of the skills Johnston says the most open-minded students possess is that of social imagination, or being able to understand “what others are feeling, to read people’s faces and expressions, to imagine different perspectives, to make sense of abstract ideas, and to reason through this.”  In other words–empathy on all levels.  It strikes me that this is both a reading skill and a life skill.

To have your students practice social imagination, as well as grapple with a complex issue, try the following mini-lesson–which I believe I’d stretch out over two class periods.

ObjectivesDistinguish the differences between meaningfulness and happiness according to the article; Connect the concepts of meaningfulness and happiness to yourself, the characters in your independent reading books, and people in the world.

Lesson: First, I’ll emphatically booktalk Viktor Frankl’s 1946 classic, Man’s Search for Meaning.  This book, written in just seven days while Frankl was imprisoned in Auschwitz, argues that life is always worth living as long as one feels they have a purpose.

Next, I’ll distribute copies of The Atlantic‘s article “There’s More to Life than Happiness,” which pairs Frankl’s book with current research on happiness vs. meaningfulness.  To give students a purpose for reading, I’ll ask them to read the article with a pen in hand, noting the differences between a happy life and a meaningful life.  

To get kids synthesizing the information, I’ll ask, “Once you’ve finished the article, answer this in your notebook for a quickwrite: which do you think is more valuable–a happy life or a meaningful life?”

The article is lengthy, and I’ll allot 30 minutes for students to read and respond in writing before we debrief.  As a whole class, we’ll have a discussion in which we focus on what the article argues, what the students believe, and how culture may have nudged us to believe those things.

imgres-1The next day in class, we’ll refer back to the article before beginning independent reading time.  “As you read today, pay attention to the characters in your book–are their lives more happy, or more meaningful?”

When we wrap up silent reading time, I’ll ask students to turn to a neighbor and tell about the characters in their book, and whether they’re happier or more purpose-driven.  This time will double as peer book recommendations as well as a quick assessment of the text-to-text connection.

After asking students to share out any really great characters they heard about (to give the class more reading recommendations), I’ll ask students to open their notebooks and quickwrite about a text-to-self connection–“is your life right now filled with happiness or meaning?  Or both?  What do you want for the future–happiness or meaningfulness?  Freewrite about this issue in general.  These responses will stay private.”

After writing, I’ll ask students to grab a post-it note and make a text-to-world connection–from their parents to friends to public figures to entire communities, countries, or cultures.  I’ll collect the post-its for a quick assessment.

Follow-Up: I’d like to return to the idea of meaningfulness vs. happiness with a reading or writing unit on the issue.  We could collaboratively study almost any novel, poem, story, or article in reading workshop through the lens of identifying purpose vs. happiness, or explore the issue further in a writing workshop geared toward either narrative, informative, or argumentative pieces.

How might you have your students consider the issue of meaningfulness vs. happiness?

 

Try It Tuesday: Notebook Write-Arounds

Tom Romano calls writer’s notebooks “playgrounds, workshops, repositories” in Write What Matters.  As such, the writer’s notebook employed in a workshop classroom is much more than a place to store drafts, brainstorm ideas, or take notes.  It becomes a sacred space that is personal, meaningful, and enjoyable.  To fill it with writing and wordplay that spurs a love of language, I like to write around various artifacts in my notebooks, and urge my students to do so too.

img_4597

I cheated and wrote around a poem and a picture here

Write around a poem – In this lesson, inspired by advice from Penny Kittle (she told me her writing got more beautiful when she read poems more intentionally), I ask students to cut out a poem and glue it into their notebooks.  This activity can change with its purpose–sometimes students can respond to the language in a poem, sometimes they can write from a line, and sometimes they can work to analyze the text for literary devices and figurative elements.  The act, though, of gluing a poem into our notebooks keeps beautiful language at the center of our work, made visible when we flip backwards through our pages.

Write around a picture – Like Amy, I like to see my students’ notebooks full of pictures.  I ask students to bring in or print photos of any sort, then write descriptions, craft imagined dialogue, or narrate a memory the photo evokes.  In addition to being personal and meaningful, these quickwrite activities often serve as jumping off points for longer pieces of writing.

img_4595

Lisa sent me flowers, and I wrote around her note

Write around a note – My friends and I are big note-writers, and I’ve always had the compulsion to write “thank you for your thank you note” notes (maybe that’s just me, but Lisa is a dork so she might do it too!).  Because that’s socially awkward, I like to glue notes into my notebook and respond to them that way.  I also have students glue in their Bless, Press, Address responses from other students, or my own written feedback (like Amy’s Silent Sticky Notes), and respond to it in their notebooks.

Write around an object – Whenever I unearth something meaningful from the depths of my glove box, I like to glue it into my notebook and write around it.  I have Starbucks

img_4598

I’ve memorized my library card number, so I no longer need to carry it in my wallet…

sleeves, library cards, ticket stubs, and even an old necklace glued into my notebook, surrounded by writing.  In this era of electronic communication, I think it’s important for students to put physical objects into their notebooks–I still have shoeboxes full of notes from my friends in high school, and I like their tangible power more than just a series of saved text messages.

Write around an idea – A written version of the Four Corners activity, students write down a statement in the center of a page and then exercise some critical thinking around the statement.  The top left corner represents the “strongly agree” perspective, the top right is “agree,” bottom left is “disagree,” and bottom right is “strongly disagree.”  I’ve also experimented with just having students respond to the statement in general, but I like the Four Corners because it forces them to consider multiple perspectives.  Mostly recently, I asked my preservice teachers to respond to the idea that “Teachers are responsible for 100% of their students’ learning” using the Four Corners method–I can’t wait to see their responses when I collect notebooks next week.

What ideas or artifacts might you have your students write around? Please share in the comments!

Try it Tuesday: 3 Easy Ways to Get to Know One Another

“I’m pretty sure my students are going to know I’m a dork,” I said to my husband last weekend, “from day one.” 

I had been working on updating the pictures I include on my “Getting to Know Mrs. Dennis” PowerPoint (dork alert), and noticed how having a child has really brought out the dork I think I once tried to suppress. I’m sure my daughter, now only three, will delight in that fact someday.

I’d be lying to you if I said that I’ve lost my cool over the years. That becoming a mom turned me from Audrey Hepburn into Jill Taylor (90’s sitcom references only serve to solidify my dorkdom).  To be honest, I never really had the cool. I had the kind, the careful, the detail-oriented, the poofy hair, and the braces, but not the cool.

But cool isn’t me. Watching Stranger Things with a bowl of pretzels and a glass of milk is me. Reading The Nightingale at stoplights because I can’t put it down is me. Pretending to be a bear at the zoo to make my kid smile is me.

And this week, at school, I’ve been introducing my students to the real, dorky, punny, excitable, overly-optimistic me, and it’s going really, really well.

As I told one of my classes on our very first day together, “I’m going to push you all year to share yourself with this class, on paper, in discussions, through conferences. We need to build community in here so we all feel safe enough to share things that actually matter to us. And I’d be a hypocrite

photo6

Gentetically linked dorks. Poor kid.

if I preached that to you, but didn’t clue you in to the deeply dorkish, flawed, silly, person I am. I’ll be endlessly dedicated and passionate to our growth as readers and writers this year, and I’ll be looking for the same from you. To start, we need to get to know each other. I’m Mrs. Dennis and I promise to be real with you.”

Building community is why I teach. I want my students to feel that self expression can help make them more comfortable in their own lives and thereby help them connect to others, regardless of the differences they once perceived. In building community, it’s so terribly important to be honest (though considerate) and real (though appropriate), that I spend several class periods at the start of the year working to make that possible for my students.

Here are a few of the first day activities that have my students learning about this new community we’ve just created. I tell them on the first day that our class is about the study of what it means to be human, so we start with getting to know the humans around us, as understanding breeds trust and comfort (key components to any successful group, but especially in a workshop classroom).

  • Share Parts of Who You Are: Last week, I introduced myself to students with the PowerPoint linked here. It includes plenty of pictures, a few policies and expectations, and a lot of who I am. I try to incorporate the people I love, the fun I had over the summer, and some of the background that supports the joy I find in the classroom. I encourage students to ask questions, and this year we had a few laughs over the antics of my summer with a precocious three year old. Horribly embarrassing public tantrums are hilarious in the retelling, thankfully.

  • Encourage Students to Start Sharing Who They Are: I also took Amy’s advice and made time for decorating our writer’s notebooks. I shared some of the pictures and song lyrics I used to decorate mine. We discussed the power of making something their own and turning an ordinary notebook into something that they would hopefully look forward to writing in. I took song requests for work time, students laughed about my complete lack of artistic ability, and we had fun. Rigorous, no. Important, yes. But we followed up that activity with a quick write where students chose to respond to either a quote about conformity from Marcus Aurelius or a quote about the origins of cruelty from Lucius Seneca. They supported their viewpoints with an example from something they’ve read and current events. Boom. 

  • Keep Learning and Sharing Well Into the New Year: Over the years, I’ve done countless ‘get to know you’ activities. Three Truths and a Lie. Interview Questionnaires. Find a Friend. Scavenger Hunts (See below. It’s not pretty). This year, I combined a traditional questionnaire, a twist from a colleague, and a plan to use a little time each class period talking with kids about some silly things that make them tick. On day one, I wanted to get students writing. We have only 18 minute class periods that day, so time is precious. I had kids turn in summer work and get down to a quick write in their notebooks and chat with their classmates after drafting. To take attendance, I had students write their first names (as they would like me to call them) and last names on an index card. I collected the cards and then handed them back the next day to test my knowledge of students names. But I wanted more. I now plan to use the cards to learn about my kids and share some fun with them too. I had them flip the cards over and write:
    • Personal anthems (songs that capture your soul)
    • Spirit animal
    • Dream job when you were 5 and today
    • Book that speaks to your heart
    • Extracurricular passions

So far, I’m seeing smiles and enthusiasm, and hearing lots of discussion. Students are already talking about themselves as readers and writers. 

Not always so. In my first year of teaching, a colleague had me take my five classes of freshmen through a textbook scavenger hunt. They sat silently at their desks (model students) and searched their new textbooks for answers to the questions on the worksheet I’d run off for them on “fun” green paper. I’m bored just typing about it.

Thank the heavens and Fitzwilliam Darcy (Pride and Prejudice and Dorks – my forthcoming novel), I’ve grown to trust myself and the value I see in learning about my students and building relationships. The energy it brings to the start of the year has been incredible.

 

 

 

Writing With Mentors: A Nonnegotiable of Writers Workshop

41dIMvzIynL._SX395_BO1,204,203,200_

WRITING WITH MENTORS by Allison Marchetti & Rebekah O’Dell

Reading Allison Marchetti and Rebekah O’Dell‘s Writing With Mentors is reminding me of the summer, three years ago, that I committed to making the move to readers and writers workshop.  Like my new friends in Franklin, Wisconsin, I already had many of the structures of workshop in place–I just didn’t know how to fit them all together.

As I read and wrote and thought beside the likes of Penny Kittle, Amy, Jackie, Erika, and my other UNH friends, I learned quickly which parts of my instruction to keep and tweak, and which parts to flat-out jettison.  While I felt like my reading workshop practices were solid, I knew I needed to completely rethink the way I designed writing instruction.

I wish I’d had Writing With Mentors that summer.

That summer, I learned that I shouldn’t be designing lessons around a staid form like a persuasive essay or a literary analysis.  I needed to begin thinking about having my students write authentic, interesting pieces on topics of their choice–but I didn’t know how.

img_0791

I immediately saw Gregory Pardlo’s DIGEST, full of prose poems, as a mentor text.

I learned how to read like a writer, how to look at the craft and structure of my favorite authors’ works.  I began to see mentor texts everywhere, and in fact too many places–I was exhausted by trying to keep track of everything I wanted to share with my students, and even resolved to read less as a teacher.  I wanted to offer a variety of rich mentor texts to my students without losing my mind–but I didn’t know how.

I learned that my writing process was as unique as my handwriting, and that process has value just as much as a written product does.  I wanted to restructure my unit planning, my gradebook, and my classroom routines to reflect that–but again, I didn’t know how.

Over three years, through trial and error, I’ve figured out how to reckon with a lot of those issues, but I would have known instantly had I read Writing With Mentors then.  This book succinctly showed me great writing units and products, how to plan for them, and how to select and organize current, engaging mentor texts.

img_0480

Books are at the center of my writing instruction–literally.

It reminded me that when we read–even to study the craft moves of a mentor author–we must read as readers first, for the “pleasures of story time” and to “hear the rhythms of good writing” (65).

It affirmed my habit of designing new units each year, complete with brand new mentor texts, to meet the needs of my current students and the sociopolitical climate in which we live and read and write.

It helped me cement mentor texts, alongside the writer’s notebook, conferring, and authenticity, as nonnegotiables of a successful writers workshop–because, in Allison and Rebekah’s words, “mentor texts enable complete creativity and individuality to emerge in student writing and writing instruction” (3).

And it reminded me that when students leave our classrooms, “mentor texts will always be present” (167).  When we teach students to write with mentors, they remain capable of reading like writers as they engage with print and media and other real-world texts.   Since getting my students to become lifelong readers and writers is my ultimate goal, this book is now an important mentor to me.

Writing With Mentors is the book to pick up when you put the textbook down, toss out your binders of writing rubrics, or throw up your hands when you read your 94th crappy plagiarized paper in a row.  If you’re seeking to rejuvenate, organize, and revamp your writing instruction, don’t undergo three years of trial and error like I did…let Allison and Rebekah help you write, more happily, successfully, and authentically, with mentors.

Have you read Writing With Mentors?  Share your feedback in the comments!

 

Integrating Reading & Writing Instruction: Craft Studies & Mentor Texts

This is a continuation of our post from yesterday.

#3TTWorkshopWhat are you reading now, and/or what are your latest finds that could be strong mentor texts?  

Jackie:  For fun, I am currently reading Ready Player One by Ernest Cline, and for AP Literature, I am currently reading Othello.  I read Ready Player One as a departure from my typical YA reads.  I was never a gamer or 80s enthusiast, so I wanted to “challenge” myself by choosing a new genre.  Ernest Cline brilliantly writes action pieces.  Somehow he manages to translate the video game structure into a novel AND make it interesting for non-gamers like me; I am planning to use an excerpt to discuss movement of time either when we work on our multi-genre project this year or our fictional writing next year.  

Most recently, my CP freshmen read the picture book The Promise by Nicola Davies as a mentor for our narrative fiction unit.  In my academic freshman classes, we recently completed process papers based on The Compound by S.A. Bodeen.  Mentors for these included “What you will need in class today” by Matthew Foley and “Instructions for a bad day” by Shane Koyczan.  Students used each as a mentor text by which to craft their own poems and then eventually built them into unique survival guides ranging from “How to survive a zombie apocalypse” to “How to survive a friend’s breakup.”  As Shana said yesterday, I like pairing professional work with my own to show them the messy process of writing, so prior to class I get a head start on my own piece and then I continue developing it while projecting my writer’s notebook on the board at the beginning of workshop time.    

img_1056-1Shana:  I just finished the beautiful Everything, Everything by Nicola Yoon.  I love it as a mentor text because it’s a bit multigenre, and it’s an engaging YA love story, AND it’s gorgeously written.  With tons of parallel structure and a short-chapter format, it’s a quick read but one that lends itself to lots of frequent re-reading.  I’ll use this text for craft studies at the sentence and paragraph level to teach things like repetition, parallel structure, and varied sentence structure.

Another book I just read was Caitlin Doughty’s memoir Smoke Gets In Your Eyes, and Other Lessons from the Crematory, which I usually booktalk with Mary Roach’s Stiff.  This tale of Caitlin’s experiences working in a crematory will be useful for my students to analyze at the chapter level, during which she employs narrative to blend her adult experiences in the crematory with the formative experiences of her youth in order to make a claim about the nature of human life and death.  It’s a powerful example of the use of narrative within nonfiction.

I also recently read Memoirs of a Teenage Amnesiac by Gabrielle Zevin, which tells the story of a high school senior who falls and loses all memory of everything after sixth grade.  As a result, most of her life story is revealed through dialogue with other characters, so this will be a fantastic mentor text at the whole-text level–how can we craft a short story that uses dialogue to reveal movement through time, a character’s background, or a character’s personality traits–all without that dialogue being spoken by that character?

 

How will you integrate your current reads into your practice?

Shana:  I like to share this article about noticing beautiful writing with my students.  We use it as the basis for two sections in our notebook–“Quotes & Craft Study” and “Wondrous Words.”  I like to break down with my students why a particular line or paragraph or chapter in a piece of writing is so powerful–at the word level, the structural level, the punctuation level.  When we read like writers, we can notice all of those details and begin to imitate them in our own writing.  

img_1057My students asked for more craft study and grammar instruction in their midterm exams.  With our new notebook setups, I’m hoping to create a routine for the wordplay we’ll need to constantly return to in order to strengthen our use of punctuation, specific diction, sentence structures, and other craft moves.  I want to employ more “triple-plays,” as Penny Kittle calls them–books that act as a booktalk, a quickwrite, and a craft study mini-lesson.  For example, I’ll take the chunk of Everything, Everything pictured at right and make copies of it for my students to glue into their notebooks.  Beneath it, we’ll imitate the parallel structure of the sentences, and the exercise will serve to teach parallelism, talk up the book itself, and be a quickwrite we’ll call “it could be.”

Jackie:  Inspired by a course we took this summer with Tom Newkirk, my colleague and I are putting together a superhero unit for our academic Freshman English classes.  The unit will involve both a persuasive essay and a comic strip students make about a hero in their life.  In turn, I’ve been skimming comics and graphic novels to find inspiration for students.  

In this unit, students will practice storyboarding their own comics while studying the use of craft like onomatopoeia, movement of time, and internal and external dialogue.  My hope is that these building blocks will provide a foundation for us to further discuss the use of colors to portray goodness and evil within a comic (or novel) as well as the use of framing or perspective in the pieces as well.

Please join the conversation–how do you approach the study of craft with your student writers?

Mini-Lesson Monday: Setting Up New Notebooks

img_0966

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.

img_0959

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.

img_0961

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.

10 Pedagogical Must-Reads for Workshop Teachers

IMG_0650I met with my new student teacher a few weeks ago, and he asked me to borrow any books that might help him get going on the readers-writers workshop–the “theory” version of Jackie’s starter kit.  He’s been in my classroom before, so he knows the general routine and character of our work, but he wanted to know the ins and outs of how I thought and planned and conceptualized the whole thing.

I sat at my desk and looked at all of the titles I had on hand, remembering how influential reading them for the first time had been.  As a result, it was hard not to just dump my entire professional bookshelf onto a cart for him, but I managed to pick out a few titles that have guided me most adeptly in one aspect or another of my current classroom practice.

  1. Book Love by Penny Kittle – This was the book that helped to solidify my vision of an ideal classroom.  Before I read it, I had already been doing many of the best practices Penny mentions–writer’s notebooks, choice reading, personalized writing.  But I didn’t know how to bring it all together until Book Love.  As such, this is my #1 recommendation for any teacher looking to jump-start their individualized workshop curriculum.
  2. Write Beside Them by Penny Kittle – This book introduced me to the concepts of mentor texts, reading like a writer, and best draft/publication of writing.  I learned about quickwrites, constant revision, writing conferences, and a great deal more of what are now standard routines in my classroom.  This is the book for anyone curious about the big picture of writing instruction.
  3. Finding the Heart of Nonfiction by Georgia Heard – I was raised in the tradition of literature as containing mostly fiction and poetry, but Penny’s books helped me see the great value of nonfiction.  I wanted to know how to integrate it well into my thematic units, and this book helped me do that.  Georgia’s book is full of wisdom about finding the soul of good nonfiction writing and matching it to your students’ needs.
  4. Choice Words by Peter Johnston – This book taught me how to talk to students.  It is my #1 recommendation for anyone looking to address those pesky Speaking and Listening standards in the Common Core–this book teaches you about the delicate, volatile power of a few choice words between you and your students.  I re-read it every year, and it might be the most important book in this stack.
  5. Holding On to Good Ideas in a Time of Bad Ones by Tom Newkirk – This book is subtitled “Six Literacy Principles Worth Fighting For,” and Tom Newkirk certainly made me want to engage some of my former teachers in fisticuffs when I finished it.  This text is full of common-sense brilliance that will transform the way you think about why we teach reading and what kinds of texts we teach.
  6. Boy Writers by Ralph Fletcher – Why do my students keep writing about violent gun battles?  Why do they always ask if they can swear in their writing?  What’s up with the complete unwillingness of my boys to be vulnerable?  If you’ve asked yourself these questions…this book is for you.  Ralph writes about everything you ever wondered about boy writers and how to move them forward in their writing.
  7. Readicide by Kelly Gallagher – Schools have been killing reading for many years, Kelly argues, and then presents ways you can stop the slaughter.  He fires away at pop quizzes, assigned chapters, multiple-choice tests, and all the practices that steer our students toward SparkNotes.  Then he reveals ways to get students authentically engaging in literature in a way that doesn’t kill their love of reading.
  8. Falling in Love with Close Reading by Chris Lehman and Kate Roberts – After finishing Readicide and wanting to abandon the eight or so whole-class novels I once felt chained to, I wasn’t sure how to teach close reading skills.  This book answered that question for me, and more.  Chris and Kate reveal how to use poems, articles, short stories, and selections from novels to get kids interacting with the beauty and power of language in all kinds of texts.
  9. Reading Ladders by Teri Lesesne – When all of your students have finally found a book they will actually read–then what?  Teri Lesesne taught me how to help students climb a reading ladder of text complexity with this book.  It’s a tough battle to get all kids reading, but it’s even tougher to get them to all challenge themselves once they are.  Reading ladders are the solution to the increasing complexity question–now they’re a consistent part of my instruction.
  10. Revision Decisions by Jeff Anderson and Deborah Dean – After reading the first nine books on this list, I still wasn’t sure where grammar instruction fit in.  I knew to have students read like writers and learn from language and sentence structures that way, but I wasn’t sure how to structure my mini-lessons, until I read this book.  Jeff and Deborah helped me find strong craft study lessons and bring them into the classroom in a way that appealed to students and also benefited them immediately in their writing.

This is by no means an exhaustive list–That Workshop Book by Stephanie Harvey, Read Write Teach by Linda Rief, The Book Whisperer by Donalyn Miller, and many other integral titles were simply not on my shelf when I gave this stack to Mike.  But these top ten are ones I wouldn’t be the same teacher without.

What other titles are essential to your practice?  Please share in the comments!

Update:  Here are must-read folks that readers have suggested via Twitter and Facebook, as well as in the comments:

  1. Lucy Calkins
  2. Nancie Atwell
  3. Linda Rief
  4. Katie Wood Ray
  5. Donalyn Miller
  6. Don Graves
  7. Donald Murray
  8. Peter Elbow
  9. Ariel Sacks
  10. James Moffett
  11. Louise Rosenblatt

Mini-Lesson Monday: Mining Memories to Begin a Writing Unit

Narrative is, to me, the most powerful genre of writing one can do.  Whether the narrative rests in a fictional or true story, or acts as an anecdote within an argumentative text, or helps to illustrate a concept in an informative one, story is central to great writing.  Students know and live this, and are natural storytellers once they get going…but sometimes knowing what story to tell is easier said than done.

I find that stories students have rehearsed well through talk or reflection are the best stories to get them to write.  As a result, we mine our memories to harness our most powerful topics for writing all narratives.

Objectives — Using the language of the Depth of Knowledge Levels:  Identify memories that are rich with complexity to write from. Or, from the Common Core:  Write narratives to develop real or imagined experiences or events using effective technique, well-chosen details, and well-structured event sequences.

Lesson — My students in West Virginia are well familiar with the concept of a mine.  For them, a mine is “an abundant source of something,” while to mine means “delve into (an abundant source) to extract something of value, especially information or skill.”  Using this metaphor for brainstorming topics is comforting for them, since they know we’re digging for existing ideas and knowledge–not crafting something new.

img_0728

My scars maps

One of my favorite activities for mining memories came from Tom Romano, which he simply calls “Scars.”

I begin by drawing a stick figure on the board and then turning to my students.  I point to my knee, then draw a small dot on my stick-figure knee.  “When I was about eight,” I begin, “I really thought I could jump down a whole flight of stairs and land on my feet.”  I get them laughing as I tell them the story of how I got that particular scar.  Then I draw a little dot on my left stick-figure eye, and tell them the story of how I got chicken pox so badly that it went into my eyeballs.  They cringe in horror, so then I draw a little dot on my left wrist and tell them about how my new kitten just really won’t stop using my arm as a scratching post.

We laugh together.

“All scars have a great story behind them.  Draw a stick figure in your notebook and label your own scars.”

They do this, unable to keep silent as they show their neighbor their stick figures and begin to tell their stories in brief.

After a few minutes, I draw their attention back to the board and draw a large heart.

“All scars have stories, but not all scars are visible.  Sometimes we carry scars on our hearts, where no others can see.”  The classroom always gets eerily quiet at this point.  I write the name “MeMe” in my heart on the board, and tell about my awesome Tennesseean grandmother and her fabulous Southern drawl and feisty persona, and how she passed away on my very first day of teaching.

“It was basically impossible to get through my very first day of this career that I so love,” I share.

Then, I write the word “miscarriage” in my heart, and tell about that worldview-shifting event in my life.

“Go ahead and draw your own hearts and label your own heart scars.  We all have them.  Don’t be scared.  This is just for your notebook, for now.  It will stay private.”

img_0729

My scars story

The classroom falls silent and I open my notebook under the document camera while they scrawl, not telling any stories to neighbors this time.

“Beneath your stick figure and your heart, let’s take eight minutes to write about any one of these scars.  Tell the story of how it came to be.  It could be a funny story, or a sad one, or a scary one.  But tell the truth and tell it well.”

We write together, revisiting a routine that has become commonplace in our classroom–I model not just the act of writing, but the act of vulnerability, and my students dive headfirst into the tough stuff as a result.  This is just one practice that builds a strong community of readers and writers.

Follow-Up — After we write, we revise briefly, then elect whether or not to share at our tables only.

The next class, we mine another set of memories by creating a map of our childhood homes, then telling the story of one of the places on the map–a Penny Kittle gem.

Another day, we go through our playlists, choose a song that is the soundtrack of our life, then tell the story that made it so.

We continue with five seed prompts in a row, five class periods in a row.  Then we select one of those stories to refine and workshop into a narrative.  I teach a mini-lesson each day about a narrative skill, so that by the time we’ve really committed to a topic, students are well-versed in pacing, dialogue, descriptive detail, and the like.  We confer and workshop and revise.

I’ll employ this routine when we return from break, focusing on reflection and rejuvenation and resolutions in the new year, working to craft multimodal “This I Believe” essays as we read Siddhartha together.

How do you get your students to come up with meaningful topics for writing?

%d bloggers like this: