Fabulous Friday

Last Friday I was lucky enough to have the opportunity to go to King of Prussia to hear Dr. Richard Allington speak about “Summer slide”. To say it was a fabulous Friday morning is not nearly enough, what a treat.
Dr. Allington is one of the most practical, straight talking researchers in education. He spends his career researching and proving the effectiveness of practices that should be considered common sense. Give kids books that they want to read, give them time and support to read, and talk to them about their reading. Wouldn’t we all love to be in a place where that could happen everyday…kids could choose from a massive variety of high interest books, have the time to sit and read them, and then have an adult or group of peers to talk to about the book. If some kids were not reading “on level” there would be books that they were able to read and those books would be just as interesting as any other book. No one would be in a “program”, or working on skill and drill practice so that one day they would be able to read the books.
Dr. Allington’s message on Friday left me with a smile on my face and the motivation to keep on the path, we are working to do the right thing for kids and there are quite a few of us out there who know it.

Senior Year English- Can’t Wait

When you look back on your high school year was senior year English a real highlight for you?  Probably not.  I remember vocabulary workbooks, weekly themes, reading a whole-class novel (or not reading it) and talking it to death during class.  I am certain that there was not much happening that connected to “real life”.  Thankfully for some of next years seniors that will not be the scenario….

I just read a new curriculum for 12th grade english, written by a highschool english teacher in my school district and it is so exciting I want to go back to highschool and take the course!  The title is Literature and Media Literacy and the class will examine just that; how literature, current issues and the media interact to effect society.  Mentor text will be used and the teacher will model her own thinking about an issue.  Reading, research and writing will be constant as students examine literature and various types of media pertaining to an issue of interest to them. 

Imagine, giving high school seniors the respect and responsibility to develop their own research questions, there own purpose for reading….I think there are a lot of lucky seniors out there who will have much better memories of their English class.

Teacher on Vacation

I spent this past week with my family at my parent’s beach house.  It was time filled with the expected beach activities; boogie-boarding, paddle ball, ice cream cones, and all of the rest.  We also did something a little bit different, something that I told my kids not every kid is lucky enough to do on their summer vacations, we wrote in our notebooks!  You know by now that my 11 year old eats this up, she would write for hours each night, so time to sit and have everyone write is her beach dream.  The seven and three year old go along because this is just what their zany mom does, my eight year old nephew took some convincing.  He is a very typical, active, fast moving, eight year old boy who feels that summer means “No School Stuff”.  Now didn’t he know he was with Aunt Stacy?

I had so many generating ideas from my few days with Mark Overmeyer I couildn’t wait to try them out, and what better place to gather your ideas than at the beach.  I told the more resistant members of the family that they were going to help me with some school “experiments” (eight year old boys love the word experiment, they think something may blow up!).  We started the first night with drawing a map of one place you had been that day.  Everyone got into this, comparing their maps and what they remembered about the same places.  From there we pied one item or place on the map and talked about what we remembered about it, the talk then became what you write about. 

 It was great!  The kids were talking, sharing ideas, getting excited to write their memories from the day.  I set the timer to write for 5 minutes, long enough to get some ideas down but not so long that a certain eight year old would be able to yell “I’m done” !  The pens, pencils, and crayons were moving like crazy, when the timer went off I even heard “wait, I need another minute”.  Everyone wanted to share what they wrote, what a special thing to watch, kids sharing their beach memories from that day, with huge smiles. 

Shouldn’t that be what every writing workshop in school is like?  Talking, sharing, writing, more talking, more writing, more sharing, all done with the smiles and enthusiasm of kids at the beach in the summer.  The past week of “writing experiments” is what I am going to keep in mind next year when I help teachers set up their writing workshop.  I want all kids to feel like writing can be “a day at the beach” (I know it is corny but I couldn’t help it)

Dean’s Institute

I have just finished my second day of The Dean’s Institute at Kutztown University (ok, so it isn’t Columbia in NYC)  My first two days have been with Mark Overmeyer talking about writing workshop.  If you haven’t heard of Mark yet, find out where he will be speaking and go to see him.  If you are looking for a lot of bells and whistles with his presentation you won’t get them (thank goodness!), what you will get is a down to earth, honest, extremely talented teacher of writing sharing what he has learned through years of working with teachers and students.  It feels so good to sit in a room with an “expert” presenter and practicioner and feel like he is a kindred spirit, I have had a smile on my face the whole time.  Just to throw you a few examples of his message:

  • If they can’t talk it they can’t write it- students need to talk about their writing before they write anything
  • Write everyday, no matter what, if they learn that writing is something we are all welcome to do they will not fear it.
  • It doesn’t matter the level of the student, they all deserve an opportinuty to be a better writer.
  • The only student who you can’t help with writing is a student who has a blank page.
  • If students are behind their peers they need to do more writing, not less.
  • Accelerate not decelerate
  • When looking at student writing, if you go straight to evaluation you miss many opportunities to learn from the student, admire their writing first and foremost.

I told you he was great!  The simple message I hope for all  teachers to take from Mark is to ADMIRE student writing, start from what they can do and move forward from there…what a different world of writers we would be growing if everyone truly lived this.

Reflections

Slept in, check.  Went to the beach, check.  Read a mindless book, check.  The first week of summer to do list is done, now that I have recharged it is time to look back on the last, frantic weeks of school…

Celebration, that is the word that comes to mind when I think about the end of the school year.  The celebrating that went on in our school was different this year, it wasn’t about “yeah, we made it”, it was about “Look at what we did!!”.   What they did was some amazing writing and those of us who were lucky enough to celebrate along with these writers will forever be touched by their words.

It started with Twenty:5, an unforgettable evening of magical words, but it didn’t end there.  The last two weeks of school my appointment calendar was filled with celebration invitations.  The celebration format varied from “open house” type classroom galleries to formal readings of personal anecdotes to a coffee house of poets, but each one was the same in that it truly celebrated the satudents and their words.  The pride that was pulsing through our school was unmistakable, it could be felt the minute you walked down a hall.

How did this happen?  What took us from one gallery to a school full of writing celebrations?  Some say it came from reading Writing Gems, a book that can change how a teacher looks at writing.  Maybe, but I think it came from amazing teachers.  Teachers who let their guard down, who let their students lead the way and teach them about how to teach writing, teachers who were willing to take the risk that they were asking their students to take.  No matter how it happened, the results will forever change the students who sit in one of these classrooms and that is all that matters.

Writing Therapy

Just the other night my fifth grade daughter reminded me of the importance of writing as therapy.  Bridget is and always has been VERY afraid of tornadoes.  An otherwise rational 11 year old can become hysterical and dive for cover if the word is mentioned by a weather forecaster.  The rash of horrible tornadoes in the southeast recently has been troubling to her, to say the least.  The other night, after catching a quick glimpse of a report on the news, she quietly went upstairs.  What she later brought down to me to read was the reminder that writing is therapy.  She had written a beautiful poem expressing her awe at the power of the storms but also the strength of the people who will rebuild their homes and their lives.  Bridget did what I wish all of our students would do, she reached down to her true feelings, her fears, and used writing to sort those feelings out and make sense of them.  She used writing as her therapy, her way of making things ok. 

As you go into your classroom tomorrow think about the kids sitting there.  Do they have fears, worries, concerns that they may not know how to deal with.  Maybe if we show them how to write them down writing can be their therapy too.  Next time you want to tell your students what to write about think of Bridget and tornadoes, what is your students’ tornado?

Writer’s Block

I have had a serious case of writer’s block. Everytime I sat at my computer to begin a new blog entry my mind was spinning, I had a lot of ideas but they would not come out. It has been frustrating, exhausting, and discouraging. I help kids write, I help teachers to help kids to write, and I can’t write! My block seemed to dissolve today with a simple visit from my writing teacher friend Rachel. She just popped into my office filled with excitement over the new web site and the .org and suddenly I was ready to write. Was it her excitement? the new platform? or just seeing a colleague who shares my passion for teaching that inspired me to go forward? I am not sure which it was but it worked and I could not wait for a spare second to sit at my computer to write.
This got me thinking about our students. You know the ones who sit there and stare at a blank page with “nothing to write”. You give them encourgement, seed ideas, threats, and none of it works. None of those things worked for me either. It took time and a spontaneous visit from a friend. We have to give those students time and happy visits to their desk, checking in, sharing our excitement over our own writing, reading them some great lines from books. Who knows what will work but take it from me, something will, you just can’t plan on when.
Hopefully you can give those students a happy face and the time and space they need to get over their block (I know with days left in the school year the time thing may not be so easy…). I am glad my block is gone! Now let the dreaming begin!!

Hidden Gems

Good morning Hidden Gems readers…for today’s book club comment with something affirming that you read and something new you are going to try.  If you have more to say please say it!  Just cliock on comment and add your thoughts to the conversation.  Happy blogging…

Looking for Mentor Texts

Wouldn’t it be great to have a place to go and find a great selection of mentor text for all of your needs?  The list would be never-ending but imagine the possibilities! 

Let’s start the list here…post all of the great mentor texts you have used and a brief description of what you were using them to “notice”.  If we all work together we will have the Ultimate Mentor List.

Enjoy the Spring Break!  Off to fill Easter Baskets…

A Happy Week for a Happy Teacher…

This past week was a reminder of why I am a teacher…becasue it makes me happy.  Here is a rundown of a happy week…

Monday- Found out that student writing from the various “writing galleries” held in our school was going to be put on display in the school board meeting room!  The kids are going to love it!

Some amazing 8th grade writers and their inspiring teacher are taking their next gallery to the big time.  A Saturday evening gallery at a local restaurant, this will be an unforgettable experience for those writers.

Tuesday- Conferences with a few 5th grade readers who have come so far in their appreciation of books.  Their comments and connections brought a week long smile to my face.

Wednesday– Rubric writing workshop with Jay McTighe.  He has a way of explaining things in a matter-of-fact, practical manner that lets you know you can do this.  If you ever have a chance to attend one of his workshops definitely go!

Thursday– Curriculum writing witht hte most talented, hardworking team of teacher I have ever worked with.  The passion and knowledge these teachers bring to their work is what makes our school such a great place to be.

Friday– Time with a good friend and colleague who is willing to help with ANYTHING!  Thanks Rachel.

A week in the life of a happy teacher….