Tag Archives: writing instruction

I cried this morning

21 Dec

Darn that Patricia Polacco! She knows how to make me cry.

I sat down this morning and read An A from Miss Keller, her latest book about the influence a teacher had on her.

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Publisher’s Summary: How did Patricia Polacco become a writer?

A perfect companion to the classic Thank You, Mr. FalkerThe Art of Miss Chew, and Mr. Wayne’s Masterpiece, this book celebrates a teacher who inspired a young Patricia Polacco to become the writer and storyteller she is today.

Trisha is nervous about being chosen for Miss Keller’s writing class. “Killer Keller” demands that her students dazzle her with their writing, and rumor has it that she has never given an A. The rumors turn out to be all too true—there’s just no pleasing Miss Keller. Then an unexpected loss leaves Trisha heartbroken. Thoughts of teachers and grades forgotten, she pours out her soul in a personal narrative. And when Miss Keller reads it, she tells Trisha, “You’ve given your words wings.”

I received a lot of cards from students in the last week of school. Most kids just signed their name. Some added a holiday greeting, but a few of them wrote very kind words and commented on how much better they’ve become as a writer. I got a little terry-eyed.

I don’t want to be Miss Keller, but I would love to be as inspirational as she is.

Stamina and Heart: A Slice of Life Story

29 Sep

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I was at the beach this weekend with my friends and laughed hard as we swapped stories from our classrooms.

I acted out how I talk to the kids about my heart books and getting to the heart of their stories by gently hitting my chest with fist, in that “mea culpa” motion. I even did that at Back to School Night and the parents nodded as if they understood.  One of my beach friends asked me if I ever got bruised. Not yet, but I am monitoring it these days, now that it is on my radar.

In class we are working on building our writing stamina. I have really great kids who work hard, but a few still haven’t figured out that writing time means we write the WHOLE time, not just for a bit, then pick up a book. They are writing longer and better after a few weeks of writer’s workshop.

Apparently, I need to work on my stamina, too.

Back to School Night was Thursday evening and it went well. I had to get up Friday morning, drop the dogs at Sniff Dog Hotel, then drive to the beach for the retreat. I got up just fine, because I am a morning person, but I just couldn’t get it together. Somehow, morning person me ended up arriving an hour late to the 9 a.m. meeting. I felt as though I had a hangover…did I get dehydrated because I sweat so much at Back to School Night? I felt better after lunch, where I drank a lot of water and did better at the afternoon portion of our meeting.

When evening rolled around, some former colleagues arrived and we had dinner together and spent a little time on the beach where the bonfire we’d hoped for had been canceled due to a fire ban. I had a lovely room with a balcony & fireplace overlooking the beach so I invited people back.

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I was alright at first, conversing with my friends. But then it caught up to me. Instead of sitting on my bed, I found myself laying down. My eyes were closed but I was trying hard to follow the conversation. Eventually I heard someone say “We should go. Adrienne is tired.”.

I guess I need to work on my stamina, too.

I survived BTSN

25 Sep

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Back to school night is over! It was a full house and reactions were positive, even though I’m sure I looked a fool talking super fast and sweating like a roasting pig. Parents were nodding while I was talking and laughing at the appropriate place.  Many came up to me afterwards to tell me how much their child loved me already.

I don’t say that to toot my own horn. I have been teaching my heart out these last few weeks and then I send them of to another class. It is tougher to build rapport with students in middle school because we see them for such a short time. I guess that is one of many wonderful perks of being the writing teacher: I can get to know my kids through their writing even if we don’t get to spend a lot of time together.

I had a moment yesterday during class that almost brought me to tears. I shared this with some parents who  lingered after my presentation to talk. I told them that their son almost made me cry yesterday. They looked shocked and I chuckled. I told them that the kids were working hard, trying to write 4 different leads to the “seed idea” they’d chosen to take to publication. I looked up for a moment and saw their son, standing at the poster we’d made during our mini-lesson, really analyzing what it said. Then he turned, went back to his seat, and continued writing. I almost wept. It was a small moment, but it let me know that the kids were hearing what I was saying and our posters weren’t just decorative.

It was a good way to end a long night.

 

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?

Good PD…and there was homework!

18 Aug

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I am easing out of summer and back into work.

The teachers who read my blog know that this is both practical ( there’s no way to get the room ready during inservice week) and metaphysical ( I need to radically shift my  sense of being, knowing, substance, cause, identity, time, and space).

This week, I am helping myself with the transition by attending a four day training. Many people groaned when this offer was made, and I might have grumbled a little. After signing up, I found out that we’d have trainers from the Teachers College Reading & Writing Project and I was thrilled. The group of middle school teachers who signed up are basically getting a summer Writing Institute here in our own district.

Kate Roberts, one of the authors of the book I used for last year’s teacher book club, Falling in Love With Close Reading,  is our most famous presenter.

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She is funny and inspiring and talked to us about the Silent Standard: sharing our love with kids, making them laugh and cry because when we do this, they really listen.

Yes, there was homework and I really struggled to get the story on paper last night. I couldn’t find the rhythm of the story I wanted to tell. When I finally found it, after taking a knitting break to clear my head, the story practically wrote itself.

We also had to read a story (poem in prose?) by Naomi Shihab Nye, Gate 4A. I can hardly wait to see what we do with them today.

The beginning of the end

6 Aug

I have a meeting at my new school today. I am excited, but also a  little sad to know that summer holidays are almost over. Today’s  half day meeting is for teachers who will be new to the school. It will give me a chance to start really thinking about what the coming school year will look like because, I really haven’t been able to do much yet to get ready. Tomorrow I have a full day presentation by Kelly Gallagher. I am super excited about this because he is the author of Readicide: How Schools are Killing reading and What You Can Do About It.

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Publisher’s Summary:Read-i-cide n: The systematic killing of the love of reading, often exacerbated by the inane, mind-numbing practices found in schools.

Reading is dying in our schools. Educators are familiar with many of the factors that have contributed to the decline — poverty, second-language issues, and the ever-expanding choices of electronic entertainment. In this provocative new book, Kelly Gallagher suggests, however, that it is time to recognize a new and significant contributor to the death of reading: our schools. In Readicide, Kelly argues that American schools are actively (though unwittingly) furthering the decline of reading. Specifically, he contends that the standard instructional practices used in most schools are killing reading by:

  • valuing the development of test-takers over the development of lifelong readers;
  • mandating breadth over depth in instruction;
  • requiring students to read difficult texts without proper instructional support;
  • insisting that students focus solely on academic texts;
  • drowning great books with sticky notes, double-entry journals, and marginalia;
  • ignoring the importance of developing recreational reading;
  • and losing sight of authentic instruction in the shadow of political pressures.

Kelly doesn’t settle for only identifying the problems. Readicide provides teachers, literacy coaches, and administrators with specific steps to reverse the downward spiral in reading—steps that will help prevent the loss of another generation of readers.

He is the author of several other books on Reading and writing instruction.

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Peril and Perseverance

22 Jul

As most of you know, I will be moving to a new school in the Fall, teaching 6th grade in a program for the highly gifted. This is quite a shift from teaching 4th grade at a Title I school, but I am excited about the challenge and adventure this new job presents.

In two weeks, I will go to the first of 3 workshops I need to attend before school begins. Although this will be my first official foray back into middle school  I have been thinking about it. As with any grade change, it is important to know what to expect in terms of curriculum, but also in terms of what kids should be able to do.

A friend of mine has a daughter who was in 6th grade last year at Jackson Middle School.. She told me throughout the year about the longterm Biomes project her daughter was doing in class. It was complex and multifaceted, culminating in fiction and non-fiction writing. Her teacher was so impressed with the student’s results, he got in touch with a local publisher and had his students’ work published. Alive and Well. Mostly. is a collection of the fiction that these 6th graders wrote.

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From the Publisher: Alive and Well. Mostly. Animal Tales of Peril and Perseverance for Young Readers by Young Writers, illustrated by Colin Adams and edited by David A. Wierth is a collection of imaginative short stories about animals in their native biomes. Migrate through the ocean with an adventurous narwhal, defeat a badger army with the king of the owls, befriend a firefly with a vengeful howler monkey, or navigate complex social dynamics with an arctic wolf. Each story is sure to draw you in: friendship, family, predators, betrayal–this book has it all.

As I read the first story, I laughed, because I could picture the writer. And this feeling continued throughout the book. These are excellent stories, written by 11 and 12 year olds. Their stories reflect their age, but they also reflect a lot of research and editing. The result is an excellent volume that I will add to my classroom library once I get around to setting it up.

You can find out a little more about it on the publisher’s website. If you have a young person who loves to write, they might enjoy reading this delightful collection, and it might inspire them to write their own stories.

Tools for writers

25 Feb

Last year, I tried to get a writing group going for teachers at my school, but it didn’t work out. My simple premise for the group was that teachers of writing should write and we were going to explore that. Oh well.

One of my favorite resources, which I revisit from time to time is  Bird by Bird  by Anne Lamott.

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Its subtitle is  Some Instructions on Writing and Life and it truly is. It is a great collection of essays on being a writer. Not necessarily a professional writer, but a writer who writes about life. It is funny, wise and cranky, just like me! And, it is empowering. If you haven’t read it I highly recommend it, even if you have no aspirations as a writer. maybe it will give you some.

Recently I found  Writer to Writer: From Ink to Think by Gail Carson Levine.

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This is a kids’ guide to writing fiction and walks them through the process very neatly, but would be helpful to adults as well. This book is also humorous and wise. Fortunately, given the audience, it isn’t cranky. This book is a companion to her previous book about writing, Writing magic: Creating Stories that Fly.

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 Both books have exercises for writers to try, which really help get the creative writing juices flowing. And she has an important piece of advice at the end of each chapter of Writer to Writer: 

Have fun, and save what you write!

To Dare Mighty Things

12 Feb

Our 4th graders have pretty much wrapped up the research for their biographies. Before the storm I co-taught a lesson on introductions. We’ve taught this before, but it never hurts to review it , and put it in the context of writing a biography. I used several books to show examples of how other authors began their biographies. The kids loved my Elvis impersonation as I read the opening paragraph of Who was Elvis Presley by Geoff Edgers.

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Here it is:

“He was called “The King”. That’s because Elvis Presley ruled rock and roll. There were other         singers in the 1950’s. But nobody like Elvis. He Looked different. He greased up his black hair and grew long sideburns. He wore whatever he wanted. Even pink pants with black stripes looked cool on Elvis. And, boy, could he dance.”

It’s hard to read that aloud without doing an Elvis lip curl, let me tell you. So I did one.

Another thing we talked about was using a quote. Some kids have found a few. The boy researching Robert Oppenheimer found Oppenheimer’s most famous quote, “I am become death, the destroyer of worlds.” He’s using it as his opening line.

A new book about Teddy Roosevelt, To Dare Mighty Things: The Life of Theodore Roosevelt written by Doreen  Rappaport, and illustrated by C. F. Payne is filled with TR quotes.

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The book opens with this quote of the front flyleaf, “It is not what we have that will make us a great nation; it is the way in which we use it.”

One ting we’ve found in teaching the 4th graders to research  the impact a person has, they don’t always understand what type of evidence to look for. This is a great book to read to them to give them examples of impact. The mixture of informational text, quotes from TR, and the excellent illustrations by Payne, help the reader and researcher discover and understand TR.

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It gives us insight into TR as a boy, a father, a presidents and an environmentalist.

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All around, an excellent book for beginning researchers.

Something old, something new

24 Dec

I’ve been dipping into a couple of professional books lately. I don’t always read these cover to cover. Sometimes I do, but often I just open and read a chapter , paragraph, a section.

I’ve been thinking about reading of course, but also about being a better writing teacher. I am fascinated by the National Writing Project and I often think I’d like to do the Oregon Writing Project. One book I’ perusing these days is

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It was published in 2003, but still has lots of interesting things to say about writing and the teaching of writing:

..all students can learn to write and that writing is the most visible expression not only of what their students know but also of how well they have learned it.”

“A key element in such systemic change is finding a core group of teachers who write and are enthusiastic about teaching it.”

“…teacher qualifications account for 40 percent of the difference in overall student performance and that teacher quality is more powerful than a student’s socioeconomic background in student learning.”

There is a lot more in there. I just need the time to dig more deeply.

I’ve waited a while for Donalyn Miller’s new book

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Here is her essential question: How can we encourage our students to become independent readers after they leave our class? It mass me wish I was back in the library or teaching middle school Language Arts again.Reading in the Wild is a companion to Miller’s previous book, The Book Whisperer. It explores whether or not we are truly instilling lifelong reading habits in our students and provides practical strategies for teaching “wild” reading.

If your new year’s resolution is to make some sort of change in your professional practice, either or both of these would be excellent resources to help you on your journey.

Randy Ribay

YA author, teacher, nerd

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