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Tools of the Trade: Passwords

 

by Rita Sorrentino

Confession. I never really get the point of the Progressive commercials. There never seems to be a correlation between the vignettes and the benefits of the product. But a recent Progressive commercial caught my attention. In trying to gain access to the insurance center HQX to compare options, Flo and Jamie make several attempts to guess the password. After some frustration with pumpernickel, staccato and triceratops to name a few, along comes a cheery employee who both greets them and gains access with “hey guys.” The simplicity of the correct password dumbfounds the pair who seemingly abandon their intent to enter. Not sure what the takeaway message was supposed to be from Flo’s perky personality. But it did give me pause to think about password.

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How do we spend the limited time we are given to teach our writers?

By Lynne R. Dorfman

The world is changing so quickly, and kids are changing, too!  Everywhere, kids walk with iPhones and iPads in hand. Neighborhoods are quiet outside – no jump rope rhymes crying out into the air, no kickball games, no hula hoops twirling, games of hide-‘n-seek,  or pogo sticks bouncing up and down.  We all worry that perhaps technology has lured our children away like the Pied Piper – to some place that is not visible to us – where our children have been captured by the magic of the screen and all its imagination.  But what about the imagination of our children?   Are they losing the ability to imagine and create something brand new?

We want our students to be independent and empowered readers, writers, and thinkers. We want them to be able to listen keenly, revise their thinking, take risks and try new strategies and new avenues.  How can we do this? We know our kids aren’t reading and writing enough. Some years ago, at Millersville University’s Summer Institute, I heard Lester Laminack caution us that we are dangerously close to losing the imagination of our children.  Listening closely to our students’ needs and figuring out ways to respond to those needs through the work we do in our classrooms is crucial. We must bring joy and passion into our classrooms. Fletcher’s newest book, Joy Write: Cultivating High-Impact, Low-Stakes Writing, talks about how we can do this within our writing workshops. Writing helps students imagine and create something new, experimenting with forms and genres.

When we ask teachers what is their biggest obstacle in teaching writing, they often say “Time!”  Indeed, the time to fit everything in and do a good job with writing workshop is our greatest challenge.  There is no way to remove this obstacle from our daily challenges, so we must, as Rudyard Kipling tells us in his poem “If”,  fill the “unforgiving minutes with sixty second worth of distance run…”  Perhaps the best way to do this is to begin with a set of questions we can ask ourselves as teachers of writers: Read more

From the Classroom: How do we challenge students as readers—and ourselves?

Like most English teachers, one of the things I love most about the summer is time to read for pleasure. While my favorite reading spot in the winter is that comfy corner on my sofa, in the summer, nothing beats sitting poolside, the sun warming my face as I escape into another world.

I know many of my students feel the same way, which is why giving students opportunities to read for pleasure during the school year and during the summer is so valuable. Choice matters. There are too many books in the world for students to be limited by the choices their teachers make for them.

Now, to be clear, I’m not suggesting that teachers are trying to limit students’ experiences. After all, the foundation of our work is to broaden our students’ horizons. And when we assign this book or that, it’s usually because we believe that the texts we choose will do exactly that—broaden their experiencesespecially if it’s a text students might not otherwise choose for themselves.

But what if, instead of choosing a specific title for students to read, what if we encouraged them to broaden their horizons by making choices for themselves. Read more

Writing Teachers Must Write

By Kristin Ackerman and Jennifer McDonough

Let’s begin with the dirty little secret that nobody wants to talk about… most teachers of  writing are not writing. Yep, we said it…out loud… it’s true!  Now, in their defense, these teachers have a lot of reasons that they do not write and several are very legitimate reasons.

To name a few…

  • Teachers are busy. Many are juggling multiple subjects and multiple classes.
  • Our schools are constantly adopting new programs so we often feel bogged down by all of the new things we need to learn.
  • We are drowning in grading, parent emails, faculty meetings, fire drill procedures etc.
  • Testing, testing, testing…need we say more.
  • There are little to no existing classes on teaching young children to write offered to teachers in college programs. Reading, math? Yes!  Writing?

As two teachers who are in the trenches we completely understand that it is not only challenging to make time to write but most of you reading this will have no idea where to even start to get the training and background on how to learn yourself.  Here are a few tips on how to make time to write, where to find mentors and why it will benefit your teaching.

  • Delegate drafting days in class. Sit with your students and write as if you were another student in the room.
  • Set aside one planning block a week for writing so that you are prepared to teach authentically.
  • Think about you’re drafts during the rare times that you have a few moments to yourself. When you go for a walk or when you’re getting ready for work. That thinking time is crucial for generating ideas. We like to jot our ideas down in a little mini notebook that we keep in our purses so that when we have time to write we can refer to our notebook to remember our ideas.
  • Get involved with other writing teachers and meet for coffee or wine to share different ways that you are squeezing in time to write and what you’re learning.
  • Find every professional resource you can on how to help kids become better writers. There are so many great professional texts out there to get you started.
  • Read, Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott or Writing Towards Home by Georgia Heard to inspire you to begin your own writing journey.
  • Start a personal journal of thoughts and ideas.
  • Create a personal or professional blog to try out your writing for others. Audience is everything and will keep you accountable but also give you purpose.

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Tools of the Trade: Summer Reading

by Kelly Virgin

In a recent blog post titled A Letter to Teachers as Summer Begins, Kylene Beers writes, “I hope you each find time this summer to walk some, nap some, and read some. Actually, I hope you read a lot. Read something – lots of somethings – for pure escape, and read lots of things to learn a lot.”

If you are anything like me, you have a mountain of unread somethings that you have earnestly accumulated throughout the school year with every intention but no time to read. A few of the books in my pile that will be going home with me this summer include Mentor Texts, Second Edition, Teaching Writing Through Children’s Literature, K-6 by Lynne Dorfman and Rose Capelli, Disrupting Thinking: Why How We Read Matters by Kylene Beers and Robert Probst, and The Hate You Give by Angie Thomas. With these books in hand, I hope to learn and grow as a teacher of writing, a teacher of reading, and a teacher of students living in the real world.

Mentor Texts 2nd Edition.jpgSomething on Writing: Mentor Texts

When the first edition of Mentor Texts came out ten years ago, it completely changed the way I approached writing instruction in my highschool classroom. I went from separating reading and writing instruction, to seamlessly blending the two. The result of this “aha” transformation in my teaching was immediate and inspiring. Not only did my students start to recognize a clear connection between the literature we read and the writing we crafted, they also started to explore and experiment with their writing in new and exciting ways. So my excitement was palpable when I discovered Lynne and Rose put out a second, expanded edition of this cornerstone text. Read more

Teacher to Teacher: Work in Progress

By Janice Ewing

I’ve been thinking about the phrase ‘work in progress’ lately, in a couple of ways. Being fortunate to find myself in the company of many teacher writers, through PAWLP, grad classes, and other networks, I often hear people comparing notes on their works in progress, or WIPs. I think it’s a great place to be in one’s writing. After all, it means that you’ve started something, or several somethings, but they’re still in progress, by definition, so there’s no expectation of completeness, perfection, or even ‘done for now.’ Instead, there is possibility – for improvement, expansion, compression, refinement, more or less of whatever is needed. There will be feedback along the way, some helpful, some not so much, triumphs, mistakes, epiphanies, and doubt. At a monthly writing group of PAWLPers, for example, we share children’s books, memoirs, science fiction, realistic fiction, and poetry. We learn so much from each other as we exercise our writing and critiquing muscles.

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