Category Archives: Writing

Visiting Author: Ralph Fletcher

At the end of last month, we had Ralph Fletcher visit for a week. It was the first time we have had a visiting author whose books were all over my shelves: novels, poetry, and professional development books- he writes them all!

He had a session with each classroom and held the attention of students from grades KA-5 with ease. Ralph shared with students some of his original writing in his notebook and talked about the process of moving ideas from the notebook into publication. He helped students see the connection between the events in his own life and how those events show up in his writing.

He also captivated an audience of over 100 parents and children on Family Night.

He shared tips for supporting young writers, including letting children write about what they feel is important, responding first to the idea and intention of the writing, and not correcting every last error we see.

One idea he offered that resonated is that as teachers and parents, we want to help children develop a sense of identity. We want them to say “I’m good at soccer” or “I love to draw”, not because someday they will be famous soccer players or artists. We want them to develop skills and confidence in these areas, and they are more likely to do so if they see themselves in that role.

For this reason, we want students to think of themselves as writers for as long as possible. The longer they hold on to the idea that they are an author, the more confident they will be at expressing themselves in writing, and the more willing they will be to develop their skills.

Cultivating this idea in children is one of the reasons I love to use the writer’s workshop model to teach writing. At its core, the workshop is promoting the idea that all children are writers. Ralph’s visit really reinforced this idea for children, parents and teachers throughout the week.

Above all that, Ralph was a delight to hang out with for the week. He was warm and funny, very approachable, and a lot of fun.

Ralph at the Shilin Night Market

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That’s What It’s All About

It was a proud moment for me when I read this in my son’s spring portfolio. As a first grader who has enjoyed almost one year of writer’s workshop, he knows the satisfaction that comes from having an authentic audience and purpose for his writing.

Purpose

Years ago, we bought a bread maker and it sat collecting dust. We never made bread in it. Ever. We live by this amazing bakery where we buy fresh, delicious bread every few days. Nothing I was going to make in that bread maker was going to take the place of that great bread! I didn’t see the purpose in having the bread maker. Then, one day my husband and I decided that we wanted to make pizza. But where to get the dough? Suddenly the bread maker became a purposeful tool in our lives. It turns out beautiful dough for us almost every Sunday afternoon.

How is this like teaching? Generally, people don’t want to use something they don’t see the purpose in or have a purpose for. Let’s take book boxes for example. Until you make it a priority to be able to easily research your readers, to scaffold them in choosing books that they can read with accuracy and fluency, to monitor the length of time they spend reading, to match them to books of various genres, book boxes might just be something cluttering up your room.

Reading logs are another example. Are they just a form of busy work you feel like you are making kids keep up? If so, it’s probably time to examine the purpose behind them. Reading logs are a way to help students understand themselves better as readers. They should not turn reading into drudgery. Nor should they be an onerous writing exercise. The reading log should be crafted so it gives you and the student information about their reading habits. The reading log will not be useful to a student unless they are taught how to use it, how to analyze the data, how to use what they find to make adjustments in their reading lives and to set goals for themselves.

When our school started thinking deeply about our Writing Workshops, I began by focusing our professional development efforts around the structure of the workshop. One year ago, I opened our first In House Institute with a talk called “A Little Structure Goes a Long Way”. You can imagine how it went: minilessons should have a connection, teaching point, active engagement, and send off. There should be independent work time. There should be a share.

People that already used this structure probably viewed this whole talk as both validating and boring. And for those people who had yet to embrace this structure, I can’t imagine I swayed their thinking because I didn’t make clear the purpose of each piece of the structure, especially the pieces of the mini lesson.

So when we organized our In House Institute this time, I really wanted the focus to be purpose, purpose, purpose. Each of the essential agreements we have outlined as a Language Arts committee serves a purpose. Everything from the structure of the minilesson to the kind of paper we give students to write on, to the way we organize our classroom libraries and the way we organize the charts on our wall-each thing serves a specific purpose that contributes to the big goals of workshop teaching: critical thinking and independence in readers and writers. I want all our conversations to be focused on student learning and the purposeful teaching strategies we use to help students become passionate readers and writers.

Pencil to Paper… Handwriting is Still Important

This year, I’ve noticed more and more teachers are having students hand write final drafts in the upper grades- moving away from the time consuming practice of typing stories and essays on to a word processing program.

Is it good?  Is it bad?  There are pros and cons to both methods of publishing.  Typing a story makes it easier to read, edit, and revise.  But it also takes the focus off of the actual craft of writing and places it on data entry, effectively taking the writing out of writing workshop for days, sometimes weeks at a time.

Here are a couple of interesting posts that talk about the benifits of putting pen to paper, even in this techno day and age.

Why You Learn More Effectively By Writing Than Typing @ Lifehacker

How Handwriting Trains the Brain @ WSJ.com

Real Writer's Revise- A LOT! Part 2

My last posting of one writer’s revision was part 1.

Grace Lin posted this photo on her blog a few weeks back of all the revisions she did for her Newbery  Honor winning book Where the Mountain Meets the Moon.

It’s a stunning picture, one worth sharing with our students.  Is there anything harder than writing?

TCRWP Coming to TAS!

Yes, you read correctly.  What this means is that we are trying to get staff developers from the Teachers College Reading and Writing Project to come and work with us at TAS next year.  Click the link for a full explanation of what this could entail.

Ideally, we will get one K-2 person and one 3-5 senior staff developer to come for a week in the fall and a week in the spring next year.  On the first visit, they will work with us on improving the quality of our Reading Workshops and on the second visit they will work with us on our Writing Workshops.  If we can’t get them here for 2 weeks next year, we will try for one week in 2011-12 and for one week in 2012-13.

This is a golden opportunity for all of our faculty members to have PD of the quality that those who have gone to the summer institutes have received.  So far we are in the pre-planning stages- trying to get dates to align between our school and the TCRWP people- but the important thing is that we have the support for this initiative all the way up the admin chain here at TAS.

As the saying goes, where there’s a will, there’s a way.  And there is a will.

Incidentally, the TCRWP website has recently undergone a complete renovation.  Check it out!

Real Writers Revise- A LOT!

Obama Speech

President Obama goes over some changes in his speech.

Click here if you want to download a copy of this photo to use with students in your Writer’s Workshop.