Welcome to the blog site of the PA Writing and Literature Project (PAWLP), one of the oldest and largest sites of the National Writing Project (NWP). Together with our network of teachers, local and nationwide, we work to improve the teaching of writing and learning in schools.
Like many teachers I spend time in the fall getting to know my students as readers. I try to learn as much as I can about their reading habits, interests, triggers, opinions, and self-perceptions. Up until a few years ago I gathered this early information by administering reading surveys. Students quietly and individually answered questions about their reading habits that I collected, reviewed, and filed away for reference during future conversations.
However, I realized the questions I was asking should be asked and explored publicly. It isn’t only beneficial for me to get to know my students as readers, but it is also essential for them to get to know each other as readers. So I took that individualized reader’s interest survey and made it visible with a poster walk/discussion.
Now students, armed with a Sharpie marker, spend time meandering around the classroom posting their responses to a variety of prompts. I encourage discussion as they visit posters headed with open-ended questions such as why do you (or should you) read and what topics are you most interested in reading about. I ask them to circle around a second time to notice trends in response to yes or no questions such as do you read for fun and do you enjoy being read to. I give them an opportunity to learn each other’s reading preferences and resources by inviting them to mark their favorite genres and indicate the top sources for their reading materials.
After we spend time posting, noticing, and discussing our reading habits as a class, I ask students to study and hypothesize about some nationwide data on the declining reading habits of adolescents over time. Since their own class data is visible on the walls around them, they are able to situate themselves into the national data and engage in more meaningful and productive conversations. When I meet with readers for conferences in the future I’m able to use this activity and their reflections as a starting point for our conversations. Moreover, students have taken a vital step towards developing stronger literacy habits – they’ve begun to engage in meaningful and thoughtful reading discussions with their peers.
How do you get to know your students as readers at the beginning of the year? What other types of literacy discussions do you have with your classes?
As new technologies, new staff, and new initiatives cycle through every district’s education system, change is inevitable. While teachers and administrators are approached with changes, appropriate response is vital for successful implementation. Choosing to respond rather than reacting to change will enhance the success of any endeavor. When you react, it is easy to feel helpless and frustrated, but if you respond to change, then you accept what is and choose to let it affect you positively. Three rules that will help create a positive experience with change are:
1. Be clear on how you want to handle change.
2. Set realistic goals for change.
3. Let change open new doors and point us in new directions.
As a writer, one of the most difficult parts of my process is time. There’s never enough of it! How do I finish my never-ending to-do list, both at work and at home, and find the time to write?
When I first started getting serious about my writing, I thought my time had to be spent, well, writing. Butt in chair, fingers on the keyboard. If I wasn’t writing—filling that white space with little black letters, watching my word count rise—then I felt like I hadn’t been productive.
I had taken what I’d learned from the corporate world and applied it to the writing process. In one of my jobs at an Internet startup, I had to log everything I did each day in fifteen intervals. I was constantly on the clock, trying to achieve measurable results.
When I started working on my first novel, part of me felt like writing was supposed to be that way, too. That I had to work fast and be efficient. But then one day my husband brought home a book by Brenda Ueland called If You Want to Write. In it she said, “The imagination needs moodling–long, inefficient, happy idling, dawdling and puttering.”
Dawdling? Puttering? Moodling? Did I really have permission to do that?
Writing, like life itself, is a voyage of discovery.
In the beginning…It’s important to begin to know who we are as writers! As we return to classrooms at summer’s end, think about your own writing identity as teacher writers. Writing to help us discover our identity as writers. The writing community needs a teacher who is willing to take risks and write in front of their students. The core belief we must articulate to our students, our colleagues, and to ourselves is that we are teachers of writers who write. Spandel tells us, “Almost nothing does more to sustain a culture of writing than a teacher who writes with students, thereby underscoring the importance of writing and allowing students to see the process – one writer’s version of it – as it unfolds.” (The Rights of Every Writer. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann. 42-43).
We must commit to a writerly life to provide the high-quality support our students need to move forward as writers. Writing for our students allows us to make our thinking visible – to explain the thinking behind the choices that we make. When we write ourselves, we engage in the same struggles as our students, so we are better problem solvers and better at conferring and feedback. When students see teachers as fellow writers. They are more open to suggestions and more open to explain their thinking in greater detail. The conference is not teacher to student but writer to writer. According to Regie Routman: “Take the plunge: They will appreciate your risk taking, and you will have a much clearer idea of what you are actually asking them to do.” (Writing Essentials: Raising Expectationsand Result While Simplifying Teaching. 2005, 25).
When we write our own stories, poems, and memoirs and share them with our students, we learn to enjoy writing, and at the same time, we become more real to our students. Modeling must begin by sharing ourselves and what our interests are. We write to capture our lives, and that’s what our students need to see, how who we are translates into what we write. In Mentor Texts: Teaching Writing Through Children’s Literature (2017), co-author and PAWLP fellow Rose Cappelli and I explain that writing is not a spectator sport – you must jump in and play the game! We believe, “To treat our students like genuine authors, respect their abilities, and understand their struggles, we need to write so that we can call ourselves ‘author.’”
Throughout the school year I have the ability to push my students across that threshold on a regular basis. We visit the school library at least monthly and since I line my classroom walls with bookshelves, they literally walk into a library every school day. However, as the end of the school year looms, I grow increasingly concerned for their literary lives over the summer. To ease my worries, and to nudge students to cross that magic threshold on their own, I take the time to introduce my students to their local library.
On June 1st and 2nd, I had the opportunity to attend workshops facilitated by representatives of Teaching Tolerance, a project of the Southern Poverty Law Center. There were a few other PAWLPers in attendance for one or both days – Liz Mathews, Tricia Ebarvia , and Brian Kelley. A group of us at PAWLP are in the midst of organizing a Social Justice/Anti-Bias Study Group, and much of what we learned and experienced will help us to move forward with our shared inquiry. I also reconnected with former grad students and colleagues, and got to know many new people as well.