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“Writing to Learn” Can Be Sketchy by Paula Bourque

For many of us in our content area classrooms, we are encouraging more writing to learn.  We want our students to research and explore topics and concepts through writing.  I truly believe writing not only reflects our thinking, but it can shape our thinking as well.  As we choose the words we will put to paper we can often discover new threads of thought, more questions to explore, ideas we hadn’t emphasized before.  Sometimes the piece we started writing bears little resemblance to our final product.

 However we all know students in our classrooms who tend to copy down information verbatim, without analysis or interpretation.  They struggle to rephrase the words to avoid plagiarism rather than to reframe it into their own thoughts. They have difficulty determining importance and visualizing the information they are reading or researching. We need to find ways to help these students connect with what they are reading in order to learn more effectively. One approach may be a different kind of writing to learn…sketchnotes. Read more

Tools of the Trade: Voice Recorders

by Kelly Virgin

For years, as a part of my regular classroom writing revision routine, I have instructed students to read their writing out loud. They do this with partners; they do this with me; they do this in corners of my classroom with themselves. I have even acquired a few Toobaloos (a semi-circular tube that students can hold up to their head like a telephone), and when my students aren’t fake phoning each other across the classroom, they are mesmerized by how up close the sound of their own voices become.Image.jpg

But this year I have taken it a step further. This year I have my students record themselves reading their writing out loud. This allows them to actually experience their writing as the audience of their writing. The effect has been noticeable. Just today, I had a student who is a regular work dodger, ask to come back during lunch to make some changes to his writing and then to rerecord to see if it “sounds better.” I regularly notice students cringe when they hear a stumble in their writing and then see them return to the piece, without prompting, to revise. On a few occasions, I’ve even noticed students playing excerpts of their writing out loud for each other. With the help of some simple technology, these recorded writings have seamlessly blended into our writing workshop routine. Read more

Advocacy Comes Home

By Janice Ewing

Many of us have experienced strong emotional reactions to the election and current political climate, including for some of us, grief. My experiences at the NWP and NCTE conferences have helped me to understand that we can and must move on to action, even in the midst of that grief. I came to that realization through listening and engaging with others in critical conversations, sharing of stories from our teaching lives, communal interactions with literature, time for fellowship over food and wine, and something that had been almost forgotten – laughter.

There is much to process from all this, and some of us shared conference highlights in an earlier post, but for now, my biggest takeaway is that all of those experiences that we had as teachers at these conferences can and should be the fabric of our students’ experience as well. We can’t all get on a plane with our students to immerse ourselves in days of intense learning and bonding, so how can we bring this sense of agency and connection to our daily learning spaces? Here are some thoughts:  Read more

Books on the Blog: The Cheshire Cheese Cat

Searching for a Multi-Purpose Mentor Text

by Linda Walker

During the summer I co-teach a specialty course for young writers. I am always searching for texts I can use to show writing craft. Katie Wood Ray’s Wondrous Words gives two tenets about craft; story structure and ways with words.  So I keep that forefront when I visit a book store or a library; discover an interesting book which will appeal to young readers sh1.jpgowing an author’s craft structure and word use. But I also want a book urging readers to move beyond the story in search of answers to questions about the places, events and people within the pages of the book. Could the characters be based on real life people? Could I visit the places cited in the book online or in person? Did the events and daily living of the time period really happen? I want to show young writers how an author can weave snippets of fact into a satisfying fiction tale.  In short I want to multi-purpose the book. I found this unique package in The Cheshire Cheese Cat :A Dickens of a Tale by Carmen Agra Deedy and Randall Wright.

So begins the tale of Skilley. HE WAS THE BEST OF TOMS. He was the worst of toms. Tired of London’s seedy back alleys and fighting off Pinch, an evil tomcat, Skilley prowls the streets for a safe place to call home. As luck would have it, the innkeeper of the renown Cheshire Cheese tavern is looking for an expert mouser to eradicate cheese stealing rodents overrunning his establishment. Now mice are not Skilley’s preferred delicacy but he’ll do anything to secure a place at The Cheshire.  And so he forms an unheard of alliance with Pip, a resident mouse at the esteemed inn which attracts the famous writer and word lover, Charles Dickens (an onlooker and commentator throughout the story). There is much intrigue between Skilley and Pip as they try to hide private secrets and fears from one another and attempt to return Maldwyn, one of Queen Victoria’s prized ravens, to The Tower. Read more