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Tools of the Trade: Gratitude 

Gratitude is the golden frame through which we see the meaning of life. -Brendon Burchard

img_1611.pngThis past Thanksgiving my husband posted these words to his Instagram account along with this picture of our happy family. As you can see from the photo, I have a lot to be grateful for in my personal life this year. However, at the time I read this post I had just returned to school and was feeling the strain of balancing my work and home life along with missing my daughter and trying to play catch up with my classes. Needless to say I was forgetting to look through this golden frame in my professional life.

My husband’s post reminded me of a project I undertook with my students last school year and inspired me to attempt it again this year. Around Thanksgiving time I showed them a TEDx titled “Unlimited Gratitude” by Brian Doyle. In this talk, a young man describes a near death experience that awakened him to the realization that he needed to express his gratitude to the people in his life; not just once a year, but everyday. So he BD.PNGcreated a year-long project in which he set out to personally thank a different person every single day. At the end of his talk he issues a call to action to his audience: “I want to call on us to think about these people in our lives that we appreciate. Those that we have gratitude for. Those that we’re thankful for… And let’s not stop there. Let’s say it. Let’s tell them before it’s too late.” Read more

Teacher to Teacher: What We Need to Know and Be Able to Do

By Lynne R. Dorfman


Teaching today looks very different than it did when I started teaching in the 70s. We closed our doors and we were alone, for the most part. We didn’t have opportunities to share our thinking with others. We spent a great deal of classroom time delivering the content. Our principals, our rating officers, were often management leaders but not always instructional leaders.

Times have changed. Today, teachers must develop a collective teacher efficacy by going to conferences, reading professional journals, belonging to groups such as PCTELA (Pennsylvania Council of Teachers of English Language Arts) and Keystone State Reading Association, an organization that includes membership in a local council. Becoming a fellow of the National Writing Project by attending the graduate level course for the invitational summer writing institute is a path to continuing staff development by participating in events such as Continuity Days and PAWLPdays, offered by our site, the Pennsylvania Writing and Literature Project. From these conferences, courses, and readings, teachers need to take back information to their colleagues, talk about it, implement it, and decide what worked and what didn’t work. Ongoing collaboration through study groups, grade level meetings, and district professional development keep us honest, current, and cutting edge.

Three leading questions help us guide the work we do with our students. These questions are appropriate for both teachers and their students:

  • What am I learning today? (content)
  • Why am I learning this? (relevance)
  • How will I know that I have learned it? (criteria for success)

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Books on the Blog: What are you reading this winter?

By Lynne R. Dorfman

41zViPrzzyL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_.jpgBooked by Kwame Alexander is a great read for fifth through ninth grade students. Nick Hall, the main character, is a bright eighth grader who loves soccer and spends time dreaming about upcoming soccer tournaments in school as well as a girl he likes. His best friend Coby shares his passion for soccer. This perfectly crafted story is told in verse and deals with the stress of separation and the eventual divorce of Nick’s parents. When Nick ends up in the hospital to have his appendix removed, he turns to books he has avoided with his soccer dreams temporarily on hold. He is surprised to find more than he expected there – a good message for middle school readers! A reflective narrative with a likable protagonist, Booked brings to life very solid teen and adult characters. It includes vivid soccer scenes, great wordplay, and a clear picture of some of the challenges (including bullying) that young people face. A satisfying, winning read! Read more

Teachable Moments, Think Tanks, and the National Writing Project by Mary Buckelew


Inspired by the most recent National Writing Project (2018) conference in St. Louis, I was reminded of a story that illustrates just one of the many reasons the National Writing Project and its 200 sites continues to thrive and provide the best professional development opportunities for teachers across the nation and internationally. First, NWP is not a program to be bought – it is not a one size fits all curriculum. It is a philosophy of teaching writing and learning that is thoughtfully shared in Writing Institutes across the country. Teachers immerse themselves in writing, thinking, reading and talking about writing and learning so that they can better work with the students in their local cultures and contexts to teach writing. Just as important, the philosophy allows teachers to effectively work with and tailor programs and curriculums that their districts may purchase to seemingly meet the needs of their students.

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Reflection: The Neglected R of the Writer’s Workshop

By Brian Kissel


I have taught Writer’s Workshop for over 20 years now and I’ve always had a nagging feeling that something was missing from my daily routine.  I had a set routine: a short lesson, gave big chunks of time to write, weekly conferences with writers, and time for writers to get feedback from peers in the Author’s Chair.  But I knew there was a gap in my instructional routine.  So, I began to wonder: How often do I have writers think about their learning?  Am I asking writers to articulate what they’ve learned beyond showing it through a written product?  How often do I ask students to self-reflect?

These questions haunted me because I already knew the answers: Reflection was the neglected R in my Writer’s Workshop.

Reflection is an essential act for our students if they are to grow as learners.  Carol Dweck (2007) found that students’ perceptions of themselves as learners play a big role in their success at school.  Students who use self-reflection to recognize their continued growth as learners see knowledge as something that can be obtained.  Rather than viewing intelligence as a fixed quality, students perceive intelligence as something they can gain through learning (Yeager and Dweck, 2012).

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From the Classroom: Response to Literature

This month’s “From the Classroom” column features a lesson from Brian Kelley, PAWLP Fellow and 8th grade language arts teacher. If you feel inspired after reading Brian’s post, please consider sharing your own favorite lesson here on the blog! To learn more about contributing, please click here.

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