Tag Archives: writer’s workshop

Lollipop Moment Thank You

Tonight, I re-watched Drew Dudley’s TED Talk entitled “Everyday Leadership.” In it, he talks about a girl who thanked him four years later for a moment that forever changed her life. She was scared about going to university, but when he came up to her wearing a goofy hat and passing out lollipops, she knew everything would be okay. She could do this.

In his talk, Drew asks, “How many of you guys have a lollipop moment, a moment where someone said or did something that you feel fundamentally made your life better?” He goes on to ask if we’ve told that person that they had an impact on our life. It got me thinking about people in my life who’ve been instrumental in a big way.

My lollipop moment was in 2006. I was beginning my third year as a teacher, in that shaky period where you feel like you sort of know what you’re doing, but you’re still second-guessing most of your decisions. I had spent my student teaching placement, as well as my first two years of full-time teaching, as a Grade 4 Math & Science teacher in a two-way split. Math was my jam. Always had been. I felt comfortable with numbers, with the one right answer aspect of it. Sure, there are many ways to get there, and I celebrated those, but at the end of the day, there’s only one right answer. Science was full of experiments, therefore it was equally exciting and engaging to teach (and for students to learn). I was comfortable in my niche, and I didn’t want it to to change.

Of course, as I’m sure you’ve predicted, it changed. With a reduction in students and staffing, my teaching partner was moved to a new campus. With no one to be my switch teacher, I was told I’d be a self-contained teacher. Gone were the days of teaching only Math and Science. I would now add Reading, Writing, and Social Studies to the mix. To say I was scared and upset would be an understatement. A major one. I was freaking out. I can’t teach reading and writing!!! I have never taught anyone to read! I have no idea how to even begin teaching someone to write! You’ve got the wrong person! I can’t do this! All those insecurities of not being good enough surfaced. To top it off, that year was the year that my district was embracing reading and writing workshop, a brand-new concept to all of us. No more basal. No more teaching stand-alone grammar lessons and form writing based on the 6 Traits. (Just to be clear, I despise basals and teaching writing and grammar inauthentically, but these new initiatives meant there was no one on my grade level to go to for help. It was new to them, too!)

During this freak-out moment, Debbie Johnson came to talk to me. Debbie had been teaching Grade 2, and while I knew her from seeing her around the building and in faculty meetings, we weren’t really acquainted and weren’t yet friends. But that year, Debbie had been appointed to the newly-created position of Literacy Coach on our campus. She approached me, trying to assuage my literacy fears. Her idea was simple. I didn’t know how to be a reading and writing teacher. She didn’t know how to be a Literacy Coach (she didn’t even have a job description!). But what she did know was how to teach reading and writing well. Really well, in fact. So she proposed a plan. She’d come in everyday and teach alongside me, mentoring me through this newness in which I suddenly found myself.

I’m not dumb, and I know a good thing when I see it. Through my tears, I took her up on her offer on the spot. Debbie and I began spending a lot of time together, planning, observing, teaching, assessing, reflecting, and crying (mostly me!). Using the gradual release of responsibility method, she held my hand as I launched reader’s and writer’s workshops in my classroom. She was in my room everyday for my entire afternoon (120 minutes) for at least a month. We used the First 20 Days by Fountas and Pinnell to guide us through reader’s workshop and Lucy Calkins’s Units of Study to establish writer’s workshop. She taught me how to teach guided reading, how to confer with my readers and writers, and how to take documentation on my students so that I knew them better as readers and writers. I learned to read and write alongside my students, using my writing and my struggles and triumphs as teaching tools.

Following that first month of hand-holding, Debbie and I met regularly to plan and reflect. She continued to observe and coach, and she remained that steady person I could rely on. I was in her office nearly everyday, sharing successes and failures, worrying over my abilities, talking about my kids, and problem-solving. We forged an unbreakable bond. What we had was why Literacy Coaches exist. They are there to help and guide, listen and offer advice, nudge, but not judge. Debbie was all of that– and more. Sometime during that year, Debbie became my friend, my confidant. She knew more about me (professionally and personally) than most people did. I could trust her completely. We shared secrets. We laughed. We gave each other books that the other just had to read.

That first year was hard work. I doubted myself. A lot. But you know what, I did it. Through the mini-lessons that flopped, the late nights spent planning, the tears shed, and the stress of planning and teaching 5 subjects everyday, I grew. I reflected often, refined my craft, and vowed to be better each and every day.

The biggest lesson Debbie taught me was that to be a good reading and writing teacher, I just had to be a reader and a writer. I already possessed those skills. In my free time, I was a reader and occasionally a writer. I thought like a reader and a writer. I was passionate about it. All I had to do was show it to my budding readers and writers. All I had to do was be myself, letting my love of literacy and my passion shine through. Most of the battle is getting your students to love reading and writing. Once you’ve done that, anything is possible. My beliefs around literacy are rooted in that authentic work of readers and writers. Reading and writing should be life work, not school work. And this is how I approached it with my students.

In 2006, Debbie Johnson was my lollipop moment. She met me where I was and coached me forward. In the years after, I went on to become a stellar literacy teacher, one whom teachers and administrators around the district came to observe. I was the teacher who ignited the writing flame in even the most stubborn of kids. The writing club I created for struggling writers was something every kid wanted to be a part of. In China, I created a Literacy Coach position and was a coach for 2 years, eventually becoming principal. I shared my passion of literacy with others, and I made a difference. Looking back, I’m not sure my life would have turned out this way had it not been for Debbie Johnson. So Debbie, from the bottom of my heart, I thank you.

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Talkin’ Shop #sol16 30 of 31

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Tonight’s plan was to head to The Montrose for some Mexican food (I was totally craving it!), do a bit of work, blog, and come home early-ish. The atmosphere at The Montrose is laid back and very conducive to writing, which I was hoping would get the creative juices flowing. After scarfing down my quesadilla, I got to work on some paperwork for school. I was taking a break from work, trying to think about what I wanted to write, when a colleague and friend of mine walked in the door.

He walked over, and I invited him to join me. He and I started talking about blogging, and I shared my experiences with the SOL challenge over the years. This led to discussions about teaching, specifically reading and writing. He happens to teach middle school language and literature, so it was right up his alley. Being a primary-only experienced educator, I was unfamiliar with what reading and writing looks like in middle school. My only assumption was that it typically looked quite different from primary. Shortly into our conversation, however, he mentioned that he taught using reading and writing workshops. Say what?!? My ears perked up, and my literacy hat came on!

From there, he and I discussed the learning happening in his classroom, the energy for writing palpable. What followed was a back and forth exchange of ideas, comparing writing workshop in primary to how it’s done in secondary. His students just finished a memoir unit (swoon!), and have just begun a persuasive writing unit. I jumped in, telling him I have some teaching resources (that just so happen to be for grades 3-8) that I can lend him. “Bring it on!” he said. That discussion led to his last unit of the school year, which is poetry. We have a shared philosophy for teaching poetry, in that we both believe it’s not effective to teach form poetry, but rather provide students with ample mentor texts to learn from and tools to use in their own writing. At this point, I shared a few mentor poems as well as my own poetry from my blog, and we realized that we’d both had the privilege of attending PD from Sara Holbrook and Michael Salinger. Small world!

Anyway, our conversation continued for hours, meandering from swapping teaching ideas to ways in which we document our travels to other school stuff to travel plans in the future. Despite getting home 3 hours after I had planned, and just now getting to blogging, I am so grateful that he walked in the door. It’s been a long time since I’ve geeked out about literacy, and I was so energized by it! Spontaneous shop talks are always welcome. 🙂

The Importance of Talk #sol16 11 of 31

Natasha, the Early Years teacher at my school, and I have been reading Engaging Young Writers by Matt Glover in our curriculum planning meetings, as she is new to writing workshop, especially with 3 and 4 year olds. I absolutely love Matt, and have had the privilege of seeing him speak at the Literacy Institute in Hong Kong three times. He is so inspiring, and I always leave learning something I didn’t know, rethinking my stance on teaching writing, and feeling motivated to try out a new technique or strategy with my teachers and/or students. That being said, I knew this would be a great book study for us and would encourage much discussion.

Tuesday’s meeting began with a discussion of our reading that we completed at home. I shared that I was particularly moved by the section entitled “The Importance of Talk,” in which Matt says “Basically anything that a child can talk about is something she can write about. If they can talk about it, they can write it because for young children, talk is an important form of prewriting. The reverse is true as well: if a child can’t talk about a potential writing topic, then it’s likely that she’ll have much more difficulty writing about it. It’s also important to remember that in most cases children’s talk is going to be much more detailed than their writing. In fact for many authors, the challenge of writing is the attempt to narrow down talk and ideas into written text.” We both had a rich discussion about how this could play out in the classroom, and how it made sense, since young children are much more verbal than they are with writing or drawing.

During this discussion, I began reflecting on my own writing for the Slice of Life. I shared with Natasha that I have wanted to write the story of meeting Maurice in Rome, and my wonderful experience, but despite having orally told that story half a dozen times, I worried that my written version wouldn’t come close to capturing the essence of my day. “Oh, yeah, you’ve told me that story! It’s a great one!” Natasha said. I know it is, but again, I felt like writing it would take much more time, and the story might lose its charm. Thinking aloud, I wondered, “But what if I said my story aloud right before writing it? I could record myself telling the story, then write it, and then listen to my recording to see if I missed anything.” Suddenly I had a plan for how I would write my story.

Last night, I tried it out. I recorded myself telling the story of my 18 hours in Rome. My recording lasted 18:36. And I talk fast! Energized, I got to work, putting my thoughts into words. I revised as I wrote, taking out the parts that weren’t essential to the story (the fact that I was ripped off my the taxi driver on the way to my hotel and that my first Italian pizza experience was rubbish). My slice was just over 1,000 words. Over 18 minutes of talking turned into only 1,000 words. I reread my writing, made a few minor revisions, and hit publish. I was proud of my story. I had done it justice and captured its essence. I contemplated listening to my recording, as I had planned, but I didn’t need to. The act of orally telling my story before putting it into writing was the important bit. I didn’t need to find missing parts and add them in. I was happy with it just as it was.

The next time I am having difficulty putting my thoughts into writing, I’m going to try out this strategy. Maybe you can, too.

Writing Can Change the World- SOL #9

It doesn’t matter how many times I watch this video, I fall in love with it every time.

Lucy Calkins, one of the most inspirational and influential writers and writing teachers of our time, shares some nuggets of wisdom with writers the world over. She reminds us to read our writing like it’s gold. What a difference that makes. Honoring our words by reading them like they’re gold really does make the difference. Finding the parts that work and keeping them, and reworking the parts that need a little tweaking is how we improve our writing. And writing can change the world. Words carry so much meaning and depth and they have the power to move mountains. It makes me wonder how I will choose my words carefully, how I will change the world with my words.

As I participate in the Two Writing Teachers Slice of Life Challenge, I am reminded again that writing can change the world, and that when we write, we share a little piece of who we are. So, no matter how rushed we might be when we write, no matter how much we think we could have done better, we must read our writing like it’s gold. All of us deserve to honor our own writing and the writing of others.

This writing community has been just what I’ve needed this month, during what has proven to be the most difficult time of my life thus far. Thank you all for your comments. They may not have changed the world, but they have changed me, and I truly appreciate it!

Writing Under the Influence- SOL #27

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Last month I attended the Literacy Institute in Hong Kong where I got to rub elbows with and learn from Kathy Collins, Matt Glover, and Carl Anderson. I know, I know…I’m a pretty lucky girl! I wanted to share a little bit of what I learned from Carl about the power of mentor texts. We all know mentor texts are important because they can give us some background on a new genre or style of writing, and we all know how important they are to writing workshop. A phrase I love that Carl used was “writing under the influence,” and I think it’s really important that we not only learn from and use mentor texts in our own writing, but teach our students to write under the influence as well.

As an engagement activity, Carl gave us 1 minute to write a poem about anything at all. I’m not joking! We had to write a poem in 1 minute! That’s a tough task, especially when you don’t have a topic, but we just had to go for it. Scrambling to think of a topic, my brain immediately went to goat cheese. Here’s my first draft of my poem (now, don’t laugh…it’s not that good!):

Goat cheese
tangy
creamy
warm or
cold
on bread
pasta
salad
pizza
in a quiche
wrap
sandwich
any way
any day
I love it

After our initial poems, we were given a poem to read– first like a reader, then like a writer. The poem was entitled “Red” by Lilian Moore. After reading like a writer, we brainstormed things we noticed about how Lilian crafted her poem. We talked about things we liked, didn’t like, have seen before in other mentor texts, and so on. Next, we were given another minute to write a second poem about the same topic, only this time we were to write it under the influence of the mentor text, “Red.” Here’s my second draft (a little better, but not quite there):

Any way
you serve it–
whether on bread, pasta, or pizza
that tangy
creamy
distinct taste
envelopes me
in love.

We shared our poems with our table, noting how it felt the second time around, when we had a mentor text to guide our writing. Most of us found it easier. I didn’t love “Red,” so I thought it was a little bit difficult, but it was definitely easier than the first draft when we didn’t have a mentor text at all. Next we were shown “Knoxville, TN” by Nikki Giovanni, a list poem that I related to as both a reader and a writer. Many of us were able to connect to the content and feel of the poem, which told a story of a church picnic through a list. After sharing what we noticed about the author’s writing, we were ready to write. For our final draft, we were given 2 minutes to write under the influence of Nikki’s poem. Here’s my final draft (the one I’m most proud of):

I haven’t always loved
goat cheese–
but once I got that
first taste,
I was hooked.
Goat cheese bruschetta,
on toasted bread–
the crunchiness of the toast
coupled with the warm
pillowy goat cheese
drizzled with honey
and topped with roasted capsicums–
was heaven in my
mouth.

What I got out of this learning engagement was the power of writing under the influence and how very important using engaging mentor texts is in writing workshop. The level of my writing was elevated by being exposed to quality texts, being able to discuss the things I noticed with my peers, and being given a time and space to write and play around with words.

What successes or challenges have you had with using mentor texts in writing workshop? How much time do you generally devote to reading mentor texts and discussing them with your students?

Conferences that Nudge Writers Forward- SOL #17

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Here’s yet another post where I share what I learned from “The Art of Teaching Literacy” workshop in Hong Kong. This session was presented by Matt Glover and it was called “Conferences that Nudge Writers Forward.” Matt Glover is an author and presenter who focuses primarily on teaching our youngest writers, grades preschool to first grade, how to write. If you missed the other posts, you can check them out here and here.

– “Conferences are in the moment teaching.” ~Matt Glover

-Nudge vs. Push

  • It’s your job to find out what they can already do to determine the next small step.
  • A nudge is something they can do that is within their zone of proximal development.

-Writing Conference Structure

  • Research– ask questions to figure out what you need to teach, this is where you decide what the student needs, allows you to differentiate
  • Name Strength– identify what they are doing well as a writer
  • Decide on ONE Teaching Point
    • You many see many things that the writer needs to improve upon, but it’s important to narrow it down to just one teaching point.
    • Choose between a focus on composition or conventions, not both.
    • Teach
      • “What can I teach you that will help you down the road?”
      • Teaching means I’m going to show you how to do something that you don’t know how to do.
      • Don’t confuse reminders, telling, or correcting with teaching.
      • Tools to have with you during your conferences:
        • Mentor texts (picture books mainly)
        • Your own writing
        • Another child’s writing
        • Matt carries around mentor texts and notes in a folder to make it easier to confer.

-Conference Viewing Form: A form to use when observing a conference or watching a video of a conference.

  • Conference length- suggested time 5-7 min, increase efficiency
  • Research- Look at types of questions asked (open-ended, filler, shifting ownership, positive presupposition, questions I already know the answer to), how many questions
  • Strengths- identify and name students’ strengths
  • Decisions- teach to their strengths or areas of need
  • Teaching Point
    • Generating a teaching point
    • Narrowing down to a teaching point
    • Sticking to a teaching point
    • Generate both composition and conventions teaching points
    • Which mentor texts to use and why
    • Do I teach to the minilesson or something else?
    • Invitational or directional teaching point?
    • Tone, language, and word choice in a conference

– Conference Tips:

  • Say “book” not “story” because when you call their writing a “story” you are implying that they are writing a story when they may be writing an informational text, list book, etc.
  • Need more time to decide on a teaching point? It’s helpful to slow down the conference by asking more questions to figure out more information.
  • Use writing samples and videos to improve skills at conferring.
  • Conferring notes should include:
    • Name/Date
    • Strengths
    • Teaching point
    • Next steps
    • Take notes AFTER the conference so the kids aren’t distracted during the conference.
    • You’ll never know if your teaching point was the best one to teach or not. You only have once chance to teach. Then you can reflect and get better next time. So don’t beat yourself up about it.

-Book recommendation- Sit Down and Teach Up by Katie Wood Ray and Matt Glover- an ebook that contains videos of 15 conferences with preschool, kindergarten, and first grade students as well as notes, charts, and explanations of their thinking. You can purchase it on iBooks or download a PDF version from Heinemann’s website.

I love learning from Matt Glover. Even though he makes conferring seem effortless, when he’s presenting, he slows down the process for us, revealing his thoughts and reasoning behind the choices he made. If you haven’t read his work, you should definitely check it out! Engaging Young Writers and Already Ready (co-written with Katie Wood Ray) are great reads for teachers of young writers. And if you ever get the chance to see him present, jump at the opportunity! You will not be disappointed!

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Matt and I at the conference. I was a little starstruck! 

What Can Happen When You’re Vulnerable- SOL

Earlier this week, TWT posted a quote that resonated with me. I immediately pulled out my writer’s notebook and scribbled it down under “Quotes I Love.” For today’s slice, I thought I’d write in response to it and see where it takes me.

“To write something, you have to risk making a fool out of yourself.” by: Anne Rice

In writer’s workshop, you have to be a risk-taker. When a writer writes, he bares his soul for others to see. Opens himself up. Becomes vulnerable. It can be scary to do that, especially if you don’t feel comfortable with your classmates. If you’re worried about being made fun of or called stupid, you’re less likely to do real writing and far less likely to share your writing with others.

OK, so how can you get past this hurdle? How can you make your classroom a place where students feel comfortable to write and share their true feelings? One way is by modeling. Being authentic and genuine in front of your students. Have you ever truly been your authentic self in your classroom? Have you allowed your students to see the “real” you, not the “teacher version” of you? If you allowed yourself to be open, and showed a bit more of you, you’d be surprised by how the authenticity will spread through your students. Now does this mean you have to reveal your deepest, darkest secrets? No, of course not, but it does mean that you what you write shows who you are. If you’re afraid to write or share your writing with your students, how can you expect them to risk doing it?

As a teacher of writing, it’s important to carve out time to write. To nurture and grow yourself as a writer. I know it’s hard. I know there isn’t always time. I don’t always do it, but when I do, magical things begin to happen. My students value their own writing more, they become more willing to try out new things, and they begin to see writing as life work rather than school work. That’s the point of writer’s workshop, isn’t it?

Sometimes I make a fool out of myself in front of my students. Sometimes this is when I’m sharing my writing, but in doing so, I’m actually showing them that it’s OK. It’s OK to make a fool out of yourself. We all do it. No one’s going to laugh at or ridicule you. We’re a community and we care about and support one another.

Writing about writing and being able to be vulnerable in front of others got me thinking about the value of being vulnerable in other areas of my life. It’s risky to open your heart and show others both your strengths and weaknesses, but the dividends that result from living this kind of authentic life are worth it! I strive to be authentic. I strive to be genuine. I strive to be vulnerable.