Wednesday, June 29, 2011

"The Power of Small"

So, in the pantheon of life is it really the big picture that matters most?  Or, is it the innumerable small...yet memorable blips on the radar which serve those around us best?

At the All-Write!!! Institute last week, Debbie Miller referenced The Power of Small by Linda Kaplan Thaler and Robin Koval when detailing the powerful reading instruction we can provide by actually taking the time to learn, examine, notice the leaves.  (BTW: the exact inverse of  the proverbial "forest for the trees" scenario!)  The book's subtitle, Why Little Things Make All the Difference speaks volumes to us as educators, colleagues, family us as people first.  Its impact is far broader than reading instruction, as you may well suspect, and grasps firmly at the strongholds of writing workshop.

We grow writers whom we laud and respect.  We specialize (hopefully) in taking the time to experience student work through meaningful conversations...writer to writer and student to student, small group work, and of course, share and celebration.

We listen, but do we really hear?  Is our laud and respect flimsy or capable of paragraphing? (Thank you, Lucy!)

The Power of Small would applaud the type of rich listening we owe our writers.  After all, we like that type of attention ourselves...and feel honored to receive it whether from loved ones or colleagues.  We beam and glow when affirmed; students too.  Start small with attention.  Build into connection.  Grow community through worthwhile praise that is specific and timely.  Accept.  Bond.  Students will thrive (and guess what---you will too!).

How could The Power of Small impact your life?  Your listening?  Your teaching?   
(It may just rock your world...embrace the blips!)

Write on,

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

My first slice-of-life story...

I've been inspired...thanks, Ruth! :)  Here is my launch into the SOLS community on the Two Writing Teachers' blog.  If you've never been there, do check it out!  It is nothing short of thought-provoking...  
Summer sickness!?!
trike rides,
walks through tree-covered streets,
an appetite.

throbbing back pain,
perpetually pesky headache,
burning throat,
a reason to nap.

Yes, ice cream will make it allllllllll better!

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Writers learn from other writers...

Imagine this...two days, hundreds of writing teachers, awesome presenters like Katie Wood Ray and Ruth Ayres, and a spirit of community and learning that was almost palpable.  Sound fabulous?!?  For a self-described literacy geek, it was pure magic!

This week, I attended the All Write!!! Summer Institute in Warsaw, Indiana hosted by All Write!!! Consortium (composed of coaches and teachers in northern Indiana).  Few places rival learning at Columbia University's Teachers College, but All Write!!! offered many similar elements.

1. Knowledgeable Speakers: All Write!!! nailed it by providing these top-drawer experts we could learn from in a wide variety of hour-long sessions...
  • Katie Wood Ray --- writing with detail
  • Georgia Heard --- poetry and nonfiction writing
  • Ruth Ayres --- learning about writing workshop from watching swimming lessons
  • Debbie Miller --- reading workshop and comprehension instruction
  • Terry Thompson --- graphica (my first learning opportunity!)
  • Jeff Anderson --- making grammar fun
2. A sense of connectedness: The speakers, the attendees, the small town hosting...all cohesively provided an atmosphere of inclusion, excitement, exploration, and challenge.   It was nearly contagious!  (I think if my husband, a beam designer, would've been there he would've experienced it too...)

3. Construction zone: We made things together...things we could think about together (like graphic organizers, units of study, conferring aids) and take back to our respective classrooms to try out.  Rich talk, rich thought, rich take-away.

So, what is the rich take-away?  Here are several ideas I'm thinking about now. 

Slow down and simplify.  We don't achieve much with cluttered workshops.  After all, the point of a genuine workshop is to allow kids time to independently try out what's been taught and make it their own through scaffolded experiences, practice, talk, and conferring.  Don't get sucked in to how cool the worksheet is you just designed; authentic opportunities to share learning are more powerful.

Write.  Write some more.  Write about everything.  We teach writing better, stronger, and with more nuanced understanding when we do it ourselves. 

Start at the very beginning...  Make kids fall in love with reading by sharing our favorite books to immerse them in a reading lifestyle.  Don't wait to confer either; after all, we want to get to know our new students...and this is an excellent vehicle to do so and develop our community.

Make teacher-friends.  Share resources.  Talk shop.  Learn from each others' experiences.  My professional life is much deeper by creating friendships with colleagues in other districts. 

In Jeff Anderson's keynote, he likened students growth as readers and writers to circles in a tree trunk.  Scientists can tell exactly what happened and when by reading these tell-tale circles.  When was the drought?  The significant rains?  Students' learning lives lay themselves out similarly.  Where was the strong instruction in reading and writing?  The weaker experiences? What mark will you leave on your students' learning lives next year? 

Thanks, All Write!!!, for your incredibly thought-provoking institute!!!! :)

Write on,

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Are you a teacher-writer?

We teach we read ourselves. We teach we notice it in our everyday lives. We teach we practice in our kitchens, checkbooks, and home improvement tasks. But, when we teach writing, do we give it the same attention?       

Anais Nin says, "Writers touch life twice."    You know, there's something special about writing. It is personal...serving as a timely reflection of the author. It is creative...taking moves we love from our favorite craftspeople and making them our own. It is beautiful...celebrating the spirit of all we notice, name, and hold dear.       

Teachers who love writing themselves do one thing above all others: they nurture student writers. A community is built centered around the stories they, as individuals, have to share. The talk of writers echos beyond workshop time and whispers with passion --- we ALL are writers. And so, the spirit extends into homes, playgrounds, coffee shops, and teacher workrooms. Identities develop, skills bloom, confidence grows.    We ALL are writers. If we aren't, how will our students ever notice the tangle and swirl of words...of ideas...of creating a piece that is pure magic because it conveys passion? Students are what we show them in ourselves.      

Teacher-writers, what will you work on this summer for next year's writing workshop?  How will your writing grow your students'?

Write on,