Celebrate: Engagement in Literacy

This week, I had the honor of spending four days in a room full of teachers learning with Cornelius Minor. Cornelius for 45 minutes is astounding, life-changing learning. Four days you can’t imagine. I suspect I’ll be mulling over my notes the whole school year. Today I want to celebrate and reflect on five pieces of learning.

First Lesson:

A lot of what makes a writer is what’s in the heart. Start where the heart is.  Consider the highs and lows in the writing life. Sketch the emotional EKG. The highs come from personal choice, feedback from someone you respect, and public acknowledgement. The lows come when personhood is denied, from personal tragedy, collective tragedy; when attention is only for grading.

As I look back on my school life, one class stands out.  In that class I wrote.  I spoke, I acted out dramatic scenes. I discovered I liked reading.  In that class, my ideas were heard and considered valuable. The writing we did was our choice and shared among our peers. That high school short story class gave me confidence, and the knowledge that reading and writing could be good. It was possible. Sadly, that was the first and last class. But the good news is that it took. Because of that class, I began a journey towards writing and reading. How does this inform my teaching decisions? If an environment exists that allows for confidence and engagement, the work will become a part of that student. The belief will live in them and fuel them as their abilities increase and through times when they hit bumps in their reading and writing lives.

Mastery is not the outcome engagement is.

Second Lesson:

Commit to the writing process in that it is a process. A lot of what we create is left on the cutting room floor. Create more cognition by repurposing what kids have to say. Create room for critical thinking – A place where kids are doing work around ideas before they write. Lead kids to be entrepreneurial in the work.

Classroom writing instruction should actively create spaces that produce thinking. How might that look? Gathering ideas for writing should include experiences of “text” that exists throughout our lives. The intent of this work is to relive or live experiences that conjure emotions. The sharing of story, read aloud,  pictures,  videos, music can create opportunities to talk, think and write a little about feelings and ideas.  Next, stretch students’ muscles by considering text with a shifted lens or filter it through another text. Allow students to practice the possibility that more than one idea can live in a text or can grow with exposure to another text. The idea is to get an idea. Not a “what happened” but a reaction to what happened. Stories and ideas live in emotions. Thinking can start by finding what we feel and then asking what does that make us think. Experiencing this process is empowering.

The writing workshop should trigger emotion.

Third Lesson:

Set high expectations. What you write today is the best thing that you have written in this class. If the draft is the best thing you’ve written to date, you are lifting the level in the end.

Too often students spend their time in their past learning. It’s a comfortable place to be. Working up to what students can do is a waste of their time and stops them from moving to what they need to do. How does this inform my instruction? The realization that every time you produce a draft it had better be the best thing you have ever produced is a cultural shift. Students’ energy builds in a unit and by the end, they produce a piece that shows growth. But strangely as we start the next unit, the draft is a notch lower than where they left off. That has been an expectation. And students have met it. And it needs to change.

“Students look at what you have just written, is it as good or better than your last piece? It needs to be. That’s the expectation.”

Fourth Lesson:

Conferences can be the most powerful tool in your teacher arsenal. A conference is your shot at being your kid’s favorite teacher. Sometimes even when I don’t have anything to teach I still use it.

Connecting to students is the most important part of the work. The challenge is to create the systems and maintain the energy around this with fidelity.  Data should direct effort. How might this look? Utilize technology to record conferences. Involve students in the record keeping, “would you take a picture of your work we’re talking about.” This will help me and get students to take a collaborative stance in our conferences. Create simple, written systems to make sure all students are covered. Reflect on data (checklists, conferences) with students throughout units. Create “go to” conferences that can be customized.

  • Writers develop stories around an object. You could do this by choosing an object, telling your story and right before the end, reflect. . . if it weren’t for this object . . .
  • Writers consider structure, one way to change up a story is to start with the outcome
  • Writers revisit a story by asking what other issues could be in this story. Could this story also be about . . .

Fifth Lesson:

This is not THE way it is A way to meet student needs.

Students are at the center. Their needs drive the work, and we adjust accordingly.  The goal is to build student confidence around cognition and literacy. Mastery is not the outcome. Lifelong engagement in literacy is. celebrate link up

Thank you, Ruth Ayers, for a place to share our weekly celebrations at Discover Play Build.

Slice of Life Day 22: Celebration of End Points and Realizations

11454297503_e27946e4ff_h   celebrate link up

This post serves a dual purpose:  1) celebrating the week with Ruth Ayres’ Celebration link up and 2) the Slice of Life Challenge hosted by Two Writing TeachersThanks to Ruth,, Stacey, Betsy, Anna, Tara, Beth, and Dana for sponsoring these opportunities.

One.  By this time every year things start to snowball. The anticipation of approaching “end points” are all  of a sudden here.  One of those endings, Open House, is now over. I’m celebrating that is it done, and off my plate, but at the same time, it is kind of sad.  This event marks the beginning of the end  Which means my students won’t be mine for much longer. Bittersweet.

Two. Open House was put together by my students. Call me exhausted, but after a serious discussion with myself, I felt this is their show.  It’s their work, let them show it.  They cleaned up the room, straightened the library,  set up stations for parents to interact with,

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put up their work

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decided which charts should be shown (many of my charts are only pulled out when we use them)

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and made sure all iPads were fully charged. It wasn’t something I’d post on Pinterest, but it was ours. Fourth grade students came with their parents to check out their future. My current students explained the world of fifth grade. I did not organize this or tell students to do this, they just did. Families came, talked, and seemed to enjoy the low stress, student created and explained environment.

Three. I made QR codes for the classroom blog.  I’ve been meaning to do this FOREVER, I just kept forgetting to do it. Such a great thing. I put them out, parents took. No more not being able to get to the site. Why I didn’t do this sooner? This was one of the many side benefits of Open House. It forced me to do it! Next year I’ll do this at the beginning of the year.


Four. I have strengths and weaknesses as a teacher, and it’s ok for me not to be excellent in all areas (think really cute charts). It gives me room to learn from those folks (going to get better markers) who are and honor them for their strengths, but at the same time, not beat myself up for not being them.  I’m celebrating the differences that help me grow.

Five. I put two and two together. Friday afternoon, students were discussing their books, club talk. Effort was  less than what I wanted.. Pressed for time, wanting to complete the task in the little time we had, I was less than the teacher I want to be.  I gave them a lecture.. Most took it in silence. Two reacted negatively. Completely predictable. It’s not that the students’ performance shouldn’t be examined, it’s my reaction to it that I’m most irritated with. I lost sight of what was a reasonable expectation and instead of accepting it and turning it to a positive, I pushed and stepped backward. Negative never gets positive. I know this, but the moment got me.

Here’s to the weekend to recover, rethink and recharge. Happy Saturday.