Tag Archives: WRITERS’ WORKSHOP

The Case of the Anonymous Commenter

25 Apr

They don’t teach handwriting analysis or crime scene investigation in teachers college. Those are skills good teachers just pick up along the way.

I had to call on these superpowers last week in The Case of the Anonymous Commenter.

You see, we have a classroom tradition. At the end of a writing unit everyone displays their finished product and students wander the classroom, take a seat and read a person;s paper. When they have finished reading they make a positive comment that acknowledges a move the writer has made. After reading and commenting on one piece, they get to take two cookies.

We like to splurge when we celebrate writing.

The kids know the rules: Sign your actual name. Comment on the moves. No ‘suggestions’ or criticism.

Well, last Tuesday, we celebrated the end of our sci-fi mini unit. The room had a minty scent because I bought mint Oreos. What I really wanted to buy was alien head cookies at a bakery, but, with 600 6th graders in two classes, that was not in the budget. Minty Oreos, green like alien heads, were. In any case, students were milling around absorbed in the creativity of their peers, munching their Oreos. It was good. All too soon, it was time to wrap things up.

“When you finish the story you are reading,” I announced in my best Lt. Uhura voice, “please return to your seat and take a few minutes to look over the comments you have received. When you have finished reading the comment, staple them to you paper, turn it into the basket, and take your break. ”

I looked around the room monitoring student behavior. A quiet girl came up to me, her paper in hand.

“Someone didn’t sign their name,” she said, concern in her voice.” They just put anonymous.”

I looked at the paper. Indeed, someone had signed something other than their name, for written on the line for a name, was  “anonomous”. Interestingly, the comment was actually quite complimentary. It turned out she was not the only recipient of  an anonymous comment.

Break buzzed with the mystery of who the anonymous commenter might be. I overheard a conversation and knew which papers to start with to solve the mystery.

When the students returned from break, they got started on their Social Studies project while I got to work sleuthing. I took the stack of papers from the basket and found the ones with Anonomous’ comments. All in the same handwriting. Then, I looked through the others, paying special attention to the one belonging to the name I’d overheard at break. Sure enough, there was a match. In fact, he used some of the same words in his comments, anonymous and signed. I had him. The funny thing was, all of his comments were kind and supportive. I didn’t really understand why he hadn’t signed his name.

While the class worked, I sauntered over to his table feeling like Miss Marple must, just before cracking a case. I crouched beside the boy and simply asked, “Are you Anonymous?”

He reddened and spluttered, “Yes, but…. I….” and didn’t really know how to excuse his crime. I complimented him on his comments, reminded him that he should always sign his own name, then I slipped him a sticky note.

“By the way, ” I said, a smile on my face. “This is the correct way to spell anonymous.

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Plague!

17 Apr

In October 2015, a teenage Oregonian was diagnosed with bubonic plague. Seriously.

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That week, we did some reading about it and the history of the plague in the every-other-day Reading Enrichment class I taught. The kids were fascinated and horrified, just as I’d hoped they’d be.

A few months later, when I was at the ALA Midwinter Meeting in Boston, I picked up an arc of Gail Jarrow’s  Bubonic Panic: When Plague Invaded America.

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I shared my arc with my students and added it to my classroom collection. It has been out a lot! The final book was published earlier this month and has already received starred reviews from School Library Journal and  Kirkus Reviews, and is a Junior Library Guild selection.

Chapter one opens with a personification of the disease.

The killer was a master of stealth. It moved undetected, sneaking from victim to victim and always catching its targets by surprise.

Their end usually came after three or four horrific days of suffering. For a few – the ones spared that agony – life drained away in hours.

Jarrow is a superb storyteller and the rest of the book reads like a medical thriller. The book includes disturbingly fascinating photos and  drawings that will have readers of all ages turning pages quickly, then rubbernecking to learn more.

Writer’s workshop these last few months have been about informational writing and we’ve spent a lot of time discussing text features and the layout of modern informational texts. Bubonic Panic incorporates the best of these, without becoming distracting.

There is ample back matter, including  a glossary, timeline, further resources, author’s note, bibliography, source notes, picture credits,and index, all of which will lead to further investigation.

Publisher’s Summary: In March 1900, San Francisco’s health department investigated a strange and horrible death in Chinatown. A man had died of bubonic plague, one of the world’s deadliest diseases. But how could that be possible? Bubonic Panic tells the true story of America’s first plague epidemic—the public health doctors who desperately fought to end it, the political leaders who tried to keep it hidden, and the brave scientists who uncovered the plague’s secrets. Once again, acclaimed author and scientific expert Gail Jarrow brings the history of a medical mystery to life in vivid and exciting detail for young readers.

 

What do you call it?: A Slice of Life Story

22 Sep

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Two weeks before teachers had to go back to school, the middle school humanities teachers had a 4 day writing workshop put on my TCRWP. I can honestly say that it was one of the best professional development events I have ever participated in. The middle schools have adopted the writing Units of Study and my 6th grade PLC (professional learning community) is currently implementing the first 6th grade unit. But we are left with a burning question:

WRITER’S WORKSHOP OR WRITERS’ WORKSHOP?

I was wrestling with this dilemma on day when a teacher came in and asked me that very question. It felt good to know I wasn’t alone.

What do you call it? When I say it, it makes no difference. I can see WRITER’S WORKSHOP because each kid is working on their own stories, techniques and pace. I can also see a case for WRITERS’ WORKSHOP because it is a group of writers simultaneously working on their own stories, techniques and pace. I get around it by writing WRITING WORKSHOP on the board, but saying WRITERS WORKSHOP aloud and letting kids insert the apostrophe wherever their minds want to.

So, I would love to know: what do you call it?

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