Making the Most of Summer

If you’re anything like me, based on the fact that August is just around the corner, your computer screen probably looks something like this:

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Those 10 or so tabs contain articles, blogs, book recommendations, and more for me to mine for ideas.  Once I’m done perusing those, I’ll return to my very full writer’s notebook to sift through the myriad of quotes, lessons, and resources I’ve jotted down while attending various classes this summer.  After that, it all comes down to remembering what I learned and actually applying it in my freshly-waxed classroom.

Honestly, that’s always been somewhat of a struggle for me–managing to sift through those summer lessons and remember all of them well enough to apply them.  So, in order to make the most of this summer, I’ve decided to boil down the biggest takeaways of my three workshops here.

Takeaway from UNH Literacy Institute – “I am the sum of my mentors.”

For two years now, I’ve learned most of my daily classroom practices from Penny Kittle.  However, what I’ve really begun to pay attention to is that by reading Penny’s writings and taking her classes, I’m not just learning from her.  I’m learning from Don Murray, Don Graves, Kelly Gallagher, Louise Rosenblatt, Katie Wood Ray, Tom Romano, Teri Lesesne, Donalyn Miller, Alfie Kohn, Nancie Atwell, and many more.  Penny has expertly absorbed the ideas of all of those other teacher-writers, and seamlessly integrated them into her own philosophy and craft.  That is my goal–not to mimic Penny or any of those other teaching geniuses, but to meld all of their research findings into my own practice; to become the sum of my mentors, as Meenoo Rami says.  Of course, that’s easier said than done, but definitely worth the attempt–and the hefty credit card bill that comes after a Heinemann ordering spree.


With that being said, there is one idea of Penny’s I’d really like to integrate into my classes this year–storyboarding.  This visual way to process a story’s plot is a gateway into analysis and evaluation.  If talk is rehearsal for writing, then to Penny, so is storyboarding–sketching out little comic-strip squares of events.  This was something that I couldn’t really wrap my mind around how to execute after just reading Book Love, but now that I’ve seen Penny do it, it makes perfect sense, and I can’t wait to try it out.

Another lesson for me came from the fact that I couldn’t grasp the concept of storyboarding without seeing it modeled.  That was another weighty reminder of the importance of my serving as a writing mentor, modeling process for my students.  If I am the sum of my mentors, so are my students–and I am perhaps their only mentor when it comes to being a good reader and writer.  This big responsibility reinforces the importance of staying informed on current research–without great mentors, I can never be a great teacher.  I need those teacher-writers to help me help my students.

Takeaway from Balfour Yearbook Advisers Workshop – “There are two kinds of writers–good writers and quitters.”

In addition to teaching English, I also teach Journalism and Yearbook.  I traveled to Dallas this summer for what I thought would be a boring jaunt through yearbook software and technology, but I was pleasantly surprised by being surrounded by amazing teacher mentors to learn from.  Lori Oglesbee, a Texas teacher and our keynote speaker, spoke about the fact that great journalism comes from strong writing.  She preached that all students, no matter what, can be great writers if we lead them to it.  Lori then proceeded to show us many examples of award-winning yearbook writing, and I grinned–here were mentor texts again!  I really saw the relevance of mentor texts across all disciplines.

Takeaway from ASNE-Reynolds Journalism Institute – “Good writing comes by studying good writing–period.”


This lesson came in the form of an irreverent lecture by the delightful journalist and author of Radical WriteBobby Hawthorne.  An advocate of “writing for the reader, not the rubric,” Bobby spoke to us about the general lack of quality in student journalism writing.  School newspapers across the land are plagued with crappy writing, he preached!  (I learned that journalism, until very recently, was still laboring under pre-Graves and pre-Murray delusions about writing–no I, no emotion, no personality, no rule-breaking.)  Bobby advocated for throwing out all of our old notions about how to teach journalistic writing and just getting our students to find a story hidden in an event and tell it.  He felt strongly about the power of the narrative form, reminding me of more of Penny’s ideas from Write Beside Them.  And in fact, she agreed with him:

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Bobby wasn’t the only speaker at the two-week Institute to urge we teachers of journalism to simply teach our students to find and tell stories.  I heard that message over and over again, from photographers to journalists to writers to teachers.  The power is in the story, they urged.  Find it, and good writing will come naturally.

So, I’ll approach this year with those takeaways in mind.  I’m excited to try the workshop model out on my journalism students, who will be starting a newspaper this year.  I’m curious about how my teaching of the reading and writing workshop will change in its second year.  And, I’m optimistic about having so many new mentors to act as the sum of my teaching.  I hope I’ll make the most of my summer and transform my teaching, as I do every year, by putting my writing and reflecting to work.

Cultural Literacy on the Front Porch

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So this weekend we hosted a block party on our street. While it was great fun, I’d be remiss if I didn’t take the event and apply it in some way to education. ;-)

Here we are sitting in front of my house chowing down hotdogs, wishing away the summer heat when I thought to myself, “Well, this certainly doesn’t compare to one of Gatsby’s parties, but we sure are having a nice time!” WAIT – no I actually thought, “If Bradbury could just see us now! All these people hanging out together and not one of them mindlessly on a technological device! We sure are showing him!” WAIT – no, as I looked upon the diverse ethnicities of those represented in my yard I thought, “Man tolerance like this certainly didn’t exist for Atticus and even Scout growing up. What a shame.” And what is more embarrassing is that I know that had I verbalized my thoughts not one of my party goers would have known what I was talking about. – Such a shame!


Not one of those things even remotely crossed my mind for a second! And even if they had would it seriously have mattered if no one knew what I was talking about because they themselves hadn’t read The Great Gatsby?

For over the last year much of my time has been spent in conversation around trying to get a real handle on cultural literacy. One sticking point teacher proponents of teaching the classics keep coming back to is that they want to equip their learners with key literary references so that as adults, they can be “in the know” when such references organically come up in social situations.

Let me just say, for over three hours we laughed, talked, told stories at the party and not once was a book quoted or referenced – directly or indirectly. In this case, not one hour that I had spent reading all those books of Cliffs Notes  about the classics in high school paid off.

But now, let me tell you what would have come in handy:

1. More geographic, economic, and cultural awareness of other countries. 

One lady and her husband had recently moved from the Dominican Republic. I hardly known where that is much less anything worthy to contribute to the conversation. I wish I had more context about her culture in order to find out from her what it was like growing up there.

2. The current state of American currency. 

One gentleman is a passionate coin collector and the only thing I could think to contribute to the conversation was some shallow joke about collecting the 50 stated quarters when I was a kid.

3. Anything about cats. 

I can’t say that I like cats, but learned that one of my neighbors is the crazy cat lady on the block. She has 10 cats! And while she wanted to talk to me about the importance of getting your animals spaded and neutered, I honestly had nothing of substance to contribute. The only thing I could think about was no wonder there are so many cats loitering around my house!

In all of these situations I was the one that felt uncultured and uneducated and I just couldn’t help but think that there is so much more to life than a classic piece of literature. Don’t get me wrong, there is a lot to learn from a classic text or any text for that matter, but if your only real reason for picking a classic text to teach is so that your students will have that experience in their back pocket for a “just in case opportunity,” you might want to have them read something else.

Sharing What We Know and Do

I’d like to introduce you to my friends who have validated my thinking and taught me how to think more clearly. They are my zen when I need support or encouragement or recommendations for books. They are classmates from the past two courses I’ve taken from Penny Kittle at the University of New Hampshire Literacy Institute. We bonded again this year over Book Love.

How often do we feel like we are an island? Not just on an island but the island itself? We understand what it means to be a workshop teacher, to allow and encourage students to choose what they read and what they write about, to build classroom libraries that rival the ones down the hall, to spent our own money on books because “It might be the right one for (boy/girl name) this time.”

Often we are alone. Alone on our campus, in our grade-level teams, during our planning time. Alone because while we admire many of our colleagues, they just don’t get it.

#UNHLIT14 Book Love

Erika, Samantha, Shana, Amy, Jackie, Penny

Shana Karnes, Erika Bogdany, and Jackie Catcher get it, and Heather and I invite them to be regular contributors to our blog. They each have unique stories of how they run their workshop classrooms and how this pedagogy works with their students. While Shana and Erika contributed last year, like me, they know that the learning to ‘get it right’ never ends.

Workshop takes practice, and it take patience. Having friends to share with, and blogging about what we learn, is a way we’ve found to be the reflective, thoughtful, writers we hope to inspire our students to be. (See the About page for more on our bios.)

Thanks for reading.

Oh, and if you’ve been following along for a while and would like to be a guest blogger, send me a message. We’d like to read about how workshop works for you and your students.

Writing as Imitation

Before you go judging me for referencing Weird Al in a sophisticated professional blog, please stick with me till the end – then you can judge me.

So, I’m sure most of you have seen the latest parody of Robin Thicke’s Blurred Lines by Weird Al. If not here it is for your viewing pleasure.



Clearly, it is nerdy English teacher humor (as my husband would call it). And although it was funny, what actually intrigued me was a video of Weird Al that I stumbled upon after viewing his latest parody. The video was an interview that centered around his motivation as an artist and how he goes about composing his work. As I watched the video there was a brief part that struck me. See if you hear the same thing I noticed. (hint fast forward to 53 seconds into the clip)


See if you heard the same things I heard:

  • “It is sort of an exercise”
  • “I pretend like I’m them (the musicians) and I study their body of work.”
  • I pick it (the music) a part musically and figure out what are the little idiosyncrasies that make them tick stylistically.”

I know for many students the fear of the blank page is paralyzing. Just a thought, but what if we had learners imitate the writing of other great writers – even just as, “sort of an exercise.” I know I sure would be elated if I had learners carefully picking a part piece of writing in order to study stylistic elements and then turn around and try to use those same elements in their own writing. There is no question that Weird Al had to put a lot of work and thought into making the lyrics of his song parody work together just like the actual song and I’m confident that we would be pretty impressed with what our learners came up with if given the opportunity.

Not sure where to start? Don Killgallon has a great resource for any grade level that just might be what you need to try it out!


Sentence Composing for Elementary School

Sentence Composing for Middle School

Sentence Composing for High School




Why Workshop? It’s All Very Simple

Attending the University of New Hampshire Literacy Institute for the past two summers has been one of the best blessings in my teaching career. I’ve remembered what it means to be a student, replete with pages and pages of reading assignments, almost nightly research papers, and the expectation that I will participate in class.

Sure, I earned graduate credit, but more importantly, I sat as a student. I remembered what it feels like to have a teacher present a task, encourage a discussion, require I read something. I remembered what it means to be the pupil. And I wanted to learn.

I think all students want to learn. I also think that many of them do not know how.

Last week I met with my new friend Holly. We shared ideas about our plans for August and how we will more fully implement readers/writers workshop in our classrooms. We discussed what it means to struggle as a student in an English class where English is not our first language, and reading books is a new idea, and the lack of food in our home is just one component of the lack of security we feel every single day. We talked about what it must feel like to these children to fail state tests year after year. Because they do. Holly will be teaching 10th grade for the first time, and her ESL background will benefit her students immensely. I will be teaching AP English Language, and all my students will be in the AVID program. I am convinced the AVID philosophy is one every teacher should embrace:

Hold students accountable to the highest standards,
    provide academic and social support,
 and they will rise to the challenge.

It’s a philosophy every good teacher I know applies in his classroom. It’s also why so many of us choose the pedagogy of Readers and Writers Workshop. Our high standards might be the same for all students, but the support we must give them to help them rise to the various challenges with reading and writing must be individualized. Their needs are different; therefore, we must differentiate. One-on-one reading and writing conferences become daily events. We encourage, and nudge, and teach the skills that a student needs at that moment, during that task. This is authentic instruction. And it invites authentic learning.

As I think about this new school year on a new campus in a new district with new colleagues, new administrators, and new schedules (block days versus the traditional eight period days), I want to remember what it feels like from the student perspective.

“I need you to notice me, support me, show me how to learn.”

I had a colleague ask me recently, “Which is harder to plan:  teaching the traditional way with teachers making choices, or your way with students making the choices?” I should have said, “Is that really the right question?” which would have been a better response than the one I gave him.

It is hard work being a teacher in a workshop classroom. I have to know my students. I have to talk with them and know what they do with their time outside of school, who their friends are, what their dreams are for after high school. I have to be a reader, and I often have to read books I’d never read except to try to match the right book with a student who hates reading. I have to allow choice in topics, and get used to feeling uncomfortable. I have to give up control, and let teens be real in an environment that invites their opinions, and sometimes their scorn. I have to write in front of them and show my vulnerability. They have to see me struggle because all writers do. I have to love moving students as readers and writers because ultimately, if I am their English teacher, and I am not moving readers and writers, I am not doing my job.

Is it hard? Absolutely.

But here’s the thing: It’s really not a have to as much as it’s a get to.

“Simple can be harder than complex: You have to work hard to get your thinking clean to make it simple. But it’s worth it in the end because once you get there, you can move mountains.”  ~Steve Jobs

“It’s all very simple. But maybe because it’s so simple, it’s also hard.” ~Natuski Takay

My AP Scores are Down, Now What???

The comment on my post said: “I have been book talking, conferring, doing mini lessons, and incorporated the workshop approach, yet my AP Literature scores went down dramatically. Now what???”

My initial response sounded something very Donalyn Miller-like when she said to me a few years ago:  “It’s not all about the test, is it?” At the time, I thought it was, and her remark stung.

Now, I know better.

The letter below is how I responded to this very dedicated teacher who is doing her best to help her students be successful, not just on an exam, but in life. I can feel her earnest desires in first this comment and then in an email message. Chin up, my new friend, you are doing right by students because you are taking them beyond test prep and into adult learning. I applaud you.

I feel your pain. I thought my students would do much better than they did, but then again — I think that every year.
Right after exam scores were released, I got a message from my colleague:  “My AP Lit scores are the worst they have ever been.” Although she is a good teacher, and I trust her ability to educate teenagers, she is not a workshop teacher. She allows little choice, and students only do the kind of writing in her class that they will do on the AP exam. My advice to her:  Choice Reading.
Now, I hear from you, and you say your scores plummeted. You have been doing elements of workshop, and my advice is the same but more:  More choice reading.
While I guess my voice is emerging as ‘an expert’ — probably because I post and talk about this so much, I must tell you:  I cannot base my expertise with readers/writers workshop in advanced classes on qualifying exam scores. I can only base it on my research on reading and on the personal experiences I’ve had with moving my students as readers and writers and preparing them for the kinds of reading and writing they will have to do in college. My evidence is the growth of my students, and that cannot always be measure by an exam — it rarely can.
I am used to teaching at a high poverty school that embraces the College Board’s Open Enrollment with no prerequisites. Pretty much any student who says she wants to take an AP class can — and does. I agree that every child should have the opportunity to take advanced classes, but I also think we do them a disservice by allowing them to attend a class when they do not have either 1) the reading and writing skills to engage in the learning, or 2) they do not have the work ethic to push themselves into engaging in the learning. Skill and will sit on that scale so precariously.
I know you know this already:  the AP exam represents one day of the student learning journey for that whole year. Students might be hot or cold or sitting in a luke-warm bath on exam day. I know that the majority of my students enter that room and take that exam as confident writers because I’ve seen them move from sometimes a -1 to a 5, or even a 6, on the writing rubric. But I cannot get non-readers to read the complex texts they must in order to get at least 50% correct on the multiple choice part of that exam. Of course, I cannot be certain because the score report does not show the break down between the essays and the multiple choice, but I know in my gut (and from what I’ve seen on mock tests), that my students who do poorly on the exam do so because they bomb the reading portion.
That is the basis of where I am coming from when I share with you what I think. It’s hard not to compare my scores with my colleagues’, but I have to remember:  it’s the luck of the draw which students end up in which sections with which teacher. It is rarely a fair balance of students’ abilities prior to them ever walking in my door.
Please know that I trust you are a fine educator. If you were not, you would not be seeking help to improve. And I will be honest, you have more years experience teaching AP English than I do.
I am going into my sixth year teaching AP, but I can tell you, I had disengaged kids, and I never moved more than a few readers and writers in those first couple of years. I made the choices, and most of them faked their way through the classic texts I selected. I just re-read the journal article “Not Reading: the 800-pound Mockingbird in the Classroom” by William J. Broz, and I wonder why I allowed those students to pass my English class. Broz says, “Not reading should mean that those students fail the course because they have no assignments to turn in.” I get that now.
Like you, I am a fan of Penny Kittle. For the past two years I have gone to the University of New Hampshire and taken a graduate course that she’s taught. This year she had us study reading theory. It was hard. But I am even more confident that allowing students choice in what they read and what they write is more important that the scores on the AP exam. That thinking takes a little getting used to, especially if you are used to getting high scores. We have to remember that the change in students’ lives, primarily because of their use of technology, has changed their willingness to engage with a book, and often their willingness to even attempt deep thinking, homework, and the like. Mark Prensky and Alan November’s work supports this. Prensky even asserts that students brains may be wired differently. I think I might believe that.
If you have not read the essays of Louis Rosenblatt, especially one titled “The Acid Test for Literature Teaching,” it will reinforce why you’ve tried to model Penny’s pedagogy to begin with — because you ‘get it’. At the end of her essay Rosenblatt asks these questions (the acid test):
Does this practice or approach hinder or foster a sense that literature exists as a form of personally meaningful experience?
Is the pupil’s interaction with the literary work itself the center from which all else radiates?
Is the student being being helped to grow into a relationship of integrity to language and literature?
Is he building a lifetime habit of significant reading?
I say that if we can answer with an honest yes to these questions — how much do our exam scores really matter?
The pedagogy of a readers/writers workshop classroom is in constant motion, continually fluctuating, because we plan and teach and move around the needs of our students. It is hard work because it is differentiation at mach speed. In her class Penny reminded me of a several things that I need to do better. I went through my notebook and made this list. Maybe this will help you, too (in no specific order of importance):
1. The pedagogy in a workshop classroom is 1/3 teacher talk and 2/3 student talk. Am I talking too much, or am I creating opportunities for students to think and debate and discover meaning with one another?
2. “Process is as important, or more important, than our product.” –the theory of Don Graves & Don Murray, UNH. How can I focus more on the process that students undergo to become writers than the writing itself? Do I talk with them as writers, or do I talk with them about their writing?
3. Have students think and analyze their process. “My process changes with genre.” Penny Kittle. If hers does, and mine does, then my students’ should. How do I help them understand why thinking about their process will lead to more accomplished writing?
4. One effective strategy when students say they “do not know”: Define yourself by what you are not. (This is a form of argument, taking on the counterargument from the get-go.)
5. “The hardest part of the writing process is figuring out what to say — when we give kids prompts we take away the hardest part.” Penny Kittle. How can I create a better balance of exposing students to AP essay prompts and free writing and quick writes that generates thinking for essays about topics students want to write about?
6. “Vocabulary from SAT word lists is a waste of time. The SAT draws from a bank of over 5, 000 words, even 25 words a week that you make kids memorize will never get them there.” PK. How can I help students create their own dictionaries, based on the ‘hard words’ they discover in their choice reading books? PK has her students find four a week.
7. Richard Allington’s research says that volume matters for struggling readers. He suggests that they should be reading at least 25 books a year. If that is true for struggling readers, how many books should college-bound students be reading?
8. Multi-tasking has been proven to be a myth. At least 10 minutes of silent reading time per day stills the silence, and a. helps students learn to focus, b. shows students that reading can become a habit.
9. Workshop classrooms are grounded in “Transactional Experience” theory. How do we invite students to have an aesthetic experience with a text?
10. “The success of our teaching is the willingness of kids to engage when we aren’t with them.” PK. How can I set up the learning expectations better so students know the end-goals more clearly? If colleges require 200-600 pages of independent reading a week, and most of my students will go to college, how can I help them engage in the practices that will help them do that now? [This year a group of students practically rebelled. They actually accused me of wasting their time because I refused to do test prep every day.]
11. “No amount of explicit skill instruction can replace the experiences of hearing, reading, learning, and living in a great number of stories.” Ariel Sacks. How can I helps students read like writers so they discover the explicit skills writers use on their own or in small groups? More talk.
12. “Independent reading should deepen thinking for writing.” PK This is where I fell short this year:  I didn’t have my students write about their reading. I didn’t make the learning connected enough. I need to have students write informal responses to their reading occasionally in their notebooks, and then they may choose one response to write into a more formal paper. What specific skills can I model as students write their formal responses? Remember Pk’s strategy with quotes across the board and how as students we made connections and then wrote about them. This was synthesis.
13. Mentor texts matter. What additional mentor texts can I have students study prior to major writing tasks? Need maybe 3-5 per genre– or more.
14. With each writing task, students must know the ‘end game.’ The end game is for them to demonstrate their learning. It’s about growth, so even the best writers must show growth, even those who come in my door as A-student readers and writers. How can I score more on process rather than product?
15. There are three types of conferences:  1. monitor the student’s reading life, 2. teach reading strategies, 3. challenge/increase complexity. I do #1 well. How can I improve the other two? If I can focus more on #3, I believe I can move readers into becoming the kind of thinkers they must be on the AP exam.
16. To analyze a text, we must read like writers. How can I teach over comprehension and get students to read as writers regularly? I must model what this means more clearly. This is where regular text studies with short passages matter.
17. “Students should talk regularly about their thinking both before and after writing. They will hear the thinking of others and this will help them extend their own.” PK.  How can I work more time for this talk into my daily lesson plans? Scripted questions?
18. “Model your writing. Let students see your struggles.” PK. I need to do this more. Idea from Penny:  project two run-on sentences from famous books on the board, i.e. The Goldfinch & ?. Ask:  These authors knew better. What was their intent in writing these run-on sentences? This will inspire thinking and talk, then students may write about their thinking. Better than writing “run-on” on their side of their papers.
19. Storyboards can be used to map a chapter, to read it rhetorically, not just for planning a narrative. How can I use storyboards to help students deconstruct a chapter? Then assessment is only looking for evidence of rhetorical reading (how &why).
20. “Put structures in their heads, so they read like writers.” PK. I just need to talk about this a lot more!
21. Ask:  “What have you learned about living from this book?” Leads students into reader’s response. This will tie into the human condition and the work as a whole that is needed for the AP exam.
22. Writing conferences. Writers control the conference; they say what they want help with. How can I get students to take ownership of this time to talk with me about their craft? “If you don’t leave a conference wanting to write more, there’s a problem with the feedback.” Don Murray
I hope you find these thoughts and questions helpful. Like you, I am always looking to improve. Every year I hope to open that webpage with exam scores and see all 3, 4, and 5’s. So far, those are a bit spotty, but I admit I am pretty proud of my 2’s. They’ve grown as readers and writers, and I’m okay with having some of my students just College Ready.

More about Readers/Writers Workshop

(See my post yesterday for the backstory of all this, if you missed it, and you’re interested.)

More on my exchange with Holly who is dedicated to moving readers and writers in her new workshop classroom. I am so impressed with her questions and reflection on her practice!

Her: I am slightly fearful but I’m trying to put “the test” out if my mind and work on creating readers and writers. Then the test will take care of its self. I hope!

Me (My heart singing because she gets it! It is not about a test; it never should be.): The first  year I jumped ship and swam my way in Workshop was scary. I didn’t do much that year except get kids writing more. That was the autumn after I did my Invitational Summer Institute with North Star of TX Writing Project. I know I didn’t hurt my students, but I didn’t help them become better readers and writers, although they did do a lot of writing. I’ve learned more about balance since then.

Her: My classroom library is in pretty good shape, but I could always use more. I’ll take advantage of for part of my overall plan that I need help with. 

Me:  Your library looks lovely; however, how do students know which books to choose?

One idea I got from a friend:   if you will label the shelves, organize by topic or theme, turn some of the titles out — then students will treat your shelves like a library.  Also, I just got new “favorite YA books” from some of my classmates at UNH. I will [post] that list in another message.

Her: This is my work in progress…. Begin with 15 minutes of SSR. 2-4 Book talk or students share an interesting part of what they are reading to encourage others. . . .

Me:  15 minutes is a good idea; however, it is a LONG time for students who are not readers — yet. I am sure you know that already. I learned from my experiences that I cannot push too hard too fast, until everyone is matched with a book.

Her:  I also want to incorporate reading logs to have a functional use to teach literary terms and have students be responsible for adding 5 words a week to their own vocabulary journal.

Me:  Reading logs? What do you mean by that exactly? The research by Krashen, Allington, and others shows that readers who are able to read without a lot of demands will read more and move faster than those who have to document their reading all the time. Holding regular reading conferences with students and asking them about what they are reading about is formative assessment without them feeling bogged down about having to justify their reading in logs.

Do students need to write about what they are reading? Yes, sometimes. But we do not want to kill the love of just reading. (Thank God I do not have to log my reading life.)

Yes! to students creating their own vocabulary journal. I call them Personal Dictionaries. Same idea. Penny Kittle has kids find four words a week (she requires 2 hours of reading homework per week, based on each student’s individual reading rate). I am changing to this model.

Her:  Then I want to read aloud a chapter from an engaging YA novel or a piece of poetry everyday. (I’m struggling to think of novels to use. The ones that I have success with are being used in reading.) 

Me:  Besides the research-based benefits of reading aloud to students at all levels, WHY do you want to devote time to this? If you can answer that question, you will be able to find what to read.

Have you thought of doing craft studies with poems and short passages? Every book I read I watch for passages that strike me with their beauty. Every time, these passages are loaded with some kind of literary or rhetorical devices I can use for mini-lessons. Sometimes students and I read these passages together and discover how the author crafted the meaning. Sometimes we write written responses to the meaning/ or what strikes us as meaningful to the passage. Sometimes students model the passage.

Her:  Mechanically inclined lesson on Mondays and Tuesdays (We have an A/B day) mini lesson 10-20

Me:  I know students often lack grammar instruction, but is there a way to include these lessons within your writing workshop time so they do not look like grammar lessons, and they look like “Here’s-what-good-writers-do lessons?” If students see them this way, they are more apt to apply the skills they learn into their own writing. We have to be purposeful in helping them make those connections. Again, I know you know that.

Her:  Wednesday and Thursday direct instruction or modeling writing 10-20 [and] Workshop writing time 

Writing Genres 
1. Narrative 3 weeks 
2. Expository 6 weeks 
3. Persuasive and editorial 9 
4. Test taking 3 weeks before [state exam]
5. Last 6 weeks multi-genre project 
My goal is to incorporate  students sharing 1 published piece every 3 weeks in a read around and other real audiences with persuasive and editorials. 

Me:  Sharing published pieces is AWESOME. Once students feel successful as writers, they will write more — and better.  Love your genres list.

Her:  I don’t know if this will work or not. What I feel like I need help with the most is logistics and how do I incorporate curriculum reading? 

[Isn't this always the BIG QUESTION?]

Me:  Why do you need to? Does the district require that you read specific texts? I thought not. If the answer is yes, then (I got this from my friend Tim who does workshop in IB classes) you focus on readers/writers workshop first, and then you do the “required” reading.

Here’s what I’d do:  select passages from the required texts in which you can model specific skills. Read and study those passages together as a class. Watch a few film clips and discuss those for content and scripts, etc — that kind of learning. Then challenge students to read the rest of the text as their SSR book.  If your principal has already given you permission to veer away from the standard curriculum, take it. He’s essentially already said you do not “have” to do any required texts. Hurrah!

And here’s the most important part of anything I’ve said to my friend Holly thus far:

You’ve got more thinking in these messages you’ve sent me than many educators I know who have been teaching for years. Seriously!

Note to all:  If you have not read the article “Not Reading: The 800-Pound Mockingbird in the Classroom” by William J. Broz, well, you should. It might be just the thing to give those of us like Holly, who want so badly to do right by our students, the strength to keep powering on toward moving readers and writers in our workshop classrooms.

Holly and I are meeting in person to talk shop next week. I’m sure another post will follow.


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