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A Writerly Life: Words of Wisdom from Donald Graves

After an amazing week of learning from and listening to many unique voices in Grammar Matters, I am reminded how important it is to keep sharing what we have to say with others. I’m eager to continue to hear what these unique voices have to offer. 

-Kelly Virgin (2017 Grammar Matters Co-Facilitator)

First Impressions

by Maria Walther

Today is the first day of my summer break (Woo hoo!) and, like many of you, I’m reflecting on the past year and already rethinking things for fall. What do I want to change, tweak, or keep the same? If you find yourself in the same mindset, I thought I’d offer a few ideas to ponder as you set up your classroom and plan the first days with students.

Take a Peek

Even after 31 years of teaching, I still rearrange my classroom to create the most kid-friendly learning environment. A few years ago, I noticed that the first thing my kids saw when they walked into my classroom was the trash can. Hmmmm! What message does that send? How could I fix that? I did a little rearranging and was able to change the view. Now, the first thing children (and adults) see when they peek into my classroom is an A-frame shelf filled with books—covers facing out. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

If you know someone handy with a hammer and a saw, my husband drew up the plans for this easy-to-make shelf and you can access them here. 

I realize that not everyone has enough room in their teaching space for a bookshelf inside the door. If this is the case, here are some other ways to place books up front. Set up an easel or small shelf outside your door, or simply display book covers of your (or your students’ favorite books) on the door.  Read more

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