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Teacher-to-Teacher: Clearing Space By Janice Ewing

“Is this the Marie Kondo thing?” my husband asked, as he saw the grocery bags

filled with recycled paper, the clothes packed for Goodwill, the books en route to possible

sale at the local used bookstore.

“Not really,” was my response. It’s more of a refocusing.”

He looked uncertain, but moved on to more practical matters. “Those bags

won’t all fit in the recycling can, and it’s going to be too windy to put them out like that.”

I paused, calm in my Zen-like decluttering trance. “We’ll work it out. We can put a couple of bags out each week.” Letting go of things, after all, is not to be rushed.


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Live This Day: A Teacher to Teacher Post

by Lynne R. Dorfman

Watch the stars and see yourself running with them. ~Marcus Aurelius

When you surround yourself with positive people, do you feel more positive yourself?  Who are the positive people in your life?  I know that one of the reasons I get up early on a Saturday morning  and travel the 50 minutes to the Writing Project for Continuity Days is to feel the energy and be surrounded by “rays of light.”  It sounds like I am exaggerating, but really – I assure you I am not. These Writing Project fellows are my support group – always encouraging, challenging, validating my accomplishments and my goals. They love coming together and sharing. There is an easiness, a feeling of home.

As I walk into Room 200 in Main Hall on the West Chester University campus, I think about my good intentions and my commitment to the Project and our goals. As I participate through writing and talking and listening and sharing, I nurture my mind with great thoughts. I am reminded of all the wonderful PAWLP gatherings for spring and summer and look forward to PAWLP events like the unbook club – where you can participate without reading the book first and then consider if you want to read it. How cool is that!  Or the March 2nd PAWLPDAY that will feature Matthew Kay, Writing Project fellows, and an author panel. Taking turns to tweet for PAWLP, attending courses, or teaching for the Young Writers and Readers summer program for students – there are always possibilities!

It’s good to wish for and look forward to the wondrous things in life. ~Mary Smart

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Tools of the Trade: Using Objects to Spark Memory Writing

by Kelly Virgin

In Wilfrid Gordon McDonald Partridge by Mem Fox and Julie Vivas a little boy literally interprets explanations of memories and brings a collection of objects to his aging neighbor. At first the neighbor, Miss Nancy Allison Delacort Cooper, thinks the boy is strange, but then as she handles each object she begins to remember…

This story of friendship proves how powerful objects can be in provoking strong and vivid memories. With this in mind, my students and I spent a week observing the tangible in hopes of triggering the intangible.

My life is like…

Students spent some time twisting and bending a piece of wire into a shape that is representative of them or significant to them in some way. Once everyone had shaped their wire, we studied a quick mentor text titled “My Life has Been like a Basketball Game.” Finally, students wrote about how their life has been like their shape. Students conjured up memories to explain and make connections to musical instruments, game controllers, pets, vehicles, etc.

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Tools of the Trade: Creating Student Bloggers in 5 Easy-To-Follow Steps

By Kelly Virgin

It is estimated that 2 million blog posts are written everyday. That is over 10 million per week.

The sheer amount of content makes learning about and teaching this writing task daunting. Nevertheless, my students and I faced this challenge head on as we worked together to craft and publish the first of what will hopefully be many posts on our new blog – The following is the step-by-step approach we used to get comfortable and confident with blogging.

Step 1: Write!

Before I introduced the blogging writing task, I wanted students to have a wealth of ideas to pull from for their first posts. So, we spent a few class periods writing to gather ideas. First, we curated expert lists. Students had five minutes to list as many topics they considered themselves “experts” on. After we listed and discussed some of our expertise, we returned to the items and brainstormed types of writing we could do on the different topics. For example, one student who considers himself an expert on backpacking realized he could write a how-to guide or keep a journal of his backpacking trips.

Another list we created Read more

Teacher-to-Teacher: Transition By Janice Ewing

“Write down three words that come into your mind when you hear the word ‘transition’.” This is how we opened our first PAWLP Continuity session of the fall season. (You might want to list your three words now.) The follow-up suggestion was to simply share the three words with a partner. What naturally emerged, though, were extended and rich conversations about the reasons and feelings behind the words that were listed. We then asked participants to highlight the one word from their list they would be most likely to write more about. This encouraged everyone to reflect on which of the words held the most energy, significance, or tension for them. (If you have written down your three words, you might want to highlight one now.)


In our whole group sharing, people thoughtfully shared a variety of reactions to the idea of transition. One way of looking at the responses is that they could be categorized according to a binary of positive, e.g. exciting, new, opportunities, and negative, e.g. uncertain, overwhelming, scary. I’m wondering how else we might organize them, though.

Some people highlighted the word that seemed to encompass the others on their list. Others chose the one that stood out for one of the reasons mentioned above. Each of the words that was shared, whether it was the highlighted one or not, represented a story, or multiple stories, waiting to be revealed. Within the layers of those stories are questions waiting to be explored. (Look at your highlighted word again. What is the story behind it? What question or questions does it raise?)

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Tools of the Trade: Poster Walk the Reader’s Interest Inventory

By Kelly Virgin

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?