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Quarterbacks, writers, and resisters: Fostering a growth mindset in the writing workshop (Guest Post)

by Mark Overmeyer

Living in Denver means Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning is on the front page of the paper more often than anyone else. One story that emerged this summer is about Manning’s work ethic – what teachers would undoubtedly call a “growth mindset.” Manning spends time every year with his former college football coach. He isn’t there to visit, but to learn. Manning says his college coach knows more about his throw than anyone else in his life, so he needs his advice in order to improve. Peyton Manning makes millions of dollars a year, but he knows he is never “done”:  he understands the importance of feedback from someone who knows him well.

I often shy away from sports metaphors when thinking of effective instruction, but Manning’s story is a perfect fit with our work as teachers of writing. Manning’s coach knows him best. More than any other subject we teach, writing helps us to know our students in the same way Manning’s coach knows him.  Read more

From the Classroom: Notes from PCTELA

By Tricia Ebarvia

pctela“What conference is it again?”

Pic TELL ah,” I said more slowly.

“Really? That’s not a real conference,” my colleague teased.

All I could do was smile.

To the uninitiated, PCTELA―short for the Pennsylvania Council of Teachers of English Language Arts―might sound like something you would make up. Or, at the very least, just another one of the many educational acronyms in our lives: SAT, ACT, PVAAS, IEP, GIEP, RTI. I have to admit that until a few years ago, I had never heard of PCTELA either. In fact, when I first started teaching in 2001, I don’t think I had heard of many professional teacher organizations, if any. Or, if I did, they didn’t register with me. I was probably too busy just trying to stay afloat in the happy chaos of teaching.

Soon enough—and thankfully—other acronyms became part of my teaching life. NCTE, NWP, PAWLP—these were the acronyms that mattered. And now, of course, I can add PCTELA to that list.  Read more

Tools of the Trade: Words

By Rita Sorrentino

toolsMy father kept his tools in the front corner of our cellar. With an old table and a makeshift pegboard, he organized, cared for, and generously shared the items in his mini hardware store. He was fond of telling us that it was important to have the right tool for the task, and with better tools, you could do a better job. My mother loved words. Having quit school during the Depression, she continued to educate herself through reading, studying words, and engaging in conversation. She loved dictionaries, crossword puzzles, and meaningful quotations. She would write out favorite quotes and important words and meanings on scraps of paper and place them around the house for us to find and learn. From both parents, I came to understand how tools reshape our physical space, and words, the tools of language, shape and reshape our thoughts, beliefs, and social interactions. Read more

Teacher to Teacher: A Bridge to Diversity

By Janice Ewing

In a recent post on this blog, guest poster Stacey Shubitz talked about the values of mirrors and windows’ in children’s books, specifically in relation to their use as mentor texts. Stacey also expressed the view that books dealing with diverse characters and families should not be reserved for special months. I strongly agree, although I also feel that there can be value in highlighting particular groups at certain times, especially if it gives us, as teachers, the motivation to explore new texts, authors, or genres. Stacey also shared a list of excellent titles that may provide mirrors to some, windows to others, great readalouds/mentor texts for many. 

So here’s something I’ve been thinking about what are some strategies for the teacher who wants to embed more diversity into the classroom library, readaloud, and/or writers’ workshop, but has concerns about taking the leap into topics that might be controversial or out of his/her comfort zone? For most teachers in today’s climate, I would think (hope) that books featuring racial or religious diversity would not be cause for concern, other than that they portray authentic portraits, without stereotypes or tokenism. Can we say the same for books that portray non-traditional families, or explore sexual orientation? I think for many teachers, these are more complicated issues. 

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