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Teachable Moments, Think Tanks, and the National Writing Project by Mary Buckelew


Inspired by the most recent National Writing Project (2018) conference in St. Louis, I was reminded of a story that illustrates just one of the many reasons the National Writing Project and its 200 sites continues to thrive and provide the best professional development opportunities for teachers across the nation and internationally. First, NWP is not a program to be bought – it is not a one size fits all curriculum. It is a philosophy of teaching writing and learning that is thoughtfully shared in Writing Institutes across the country. Teachers immerse themselves in writing, thinking, reading and talking about writing and learning so that they can better work with the students in their local cultures and contexts to teach writing. Just as important, the philosophy allows teachers to effectively work with and tailor programs and curriculums that their districts may purchase to seemingly meet the needs of their students.

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Reflection: The Neglected R of the Writer’s Workshop

By Brian Kissel


I have taught Writer’s Workshop for over 20 years now and I’ve always had a nagging feeling that something was missing from my daily routine.  I had a set routine: a short lesson, gave big chunks of time to write, weekly conferences with writers, and time for writers to get feedback from peers in the Author’s Chair.  But I knew there was a gap in my instructional routine.  So, I began to wonder: How often do I have writers think about their learning?  Am I asking writers to articulate what they’ve learned beyond showing it through a written product?  How often do I ask students to self-reflect?

These questions haunted me because I already knew the answers: Reflection was the neglected R in my Writer’s Workshop.

Reflection is an essential act for our students if they are to grow as learners.  Carol Dweck (2007) found that students’ perceptions of themselves as learners play a big role in their success at school.  Students who use self-reflection to recognize their continued growth as learners see knowledge as something that can be obtained.  Rather than viewing intelligence as a fixed quality, students perceive intelligence as something they can gain through learning (Yeager and Dweck, 2012).

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From the Classroom: Response to Literature

This month’s “From the Classroom” column features a lesson from Brian Kelley, PAWLP Fellow and 8th grade language arts teacher. If you feel inspired after reading Brian’s post, please consider sharing your own favorite lesson here on the blog! To learn more about contributing, please click here.

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Tools of the Trade: Formative Assessment

by Rita Sorrentino
On Tuesday’s Election Ballot in Pennsylvania, voters had an opportunity to decide on a constitutional change to provide property tax relief. Although the choices were simply a YES or a NO, the issue certainly needs conversation for clarification and details for deliverance. For adults, paying taxes is not high on a to-do list. And for students, test taking is an often-dreaded part of the learning process. Interestingly, both of these unpopular activities have their roots in the Latin, assidere, “to sit beside.” Used originally as a function of an assistant-judge whose task it was “to sit with counsel or office” in the context of taxes and fines, it later evolved as the act of judging value. In the early part of the 20th Century, the American university system and the American military were in favor of using assessment as their evaluation/judgment protocol to deal with large numbers of people for whom they needed a way to sort according to intelligence and ability. During World War I, the Army relied on standardized testing to identify who might be suitable for officer training and who would be best suited for the trenches. The “multiple choice” design was deemed objective, scientific and efficient. Over time, our school systems incorporated this type of exam to measure intelligence, knowledge and reading comprehension. The development of technology propelled the practices of “quickly assessing” what students know, and educators used the data to determine who was above or below the established norm and, subsequently, could sort students according to their tested ability. As both a student-taker and teacher-administrator of standardized testing, I can relate to the flaws, overemphasis, and consequences of using only these types of tests. Understanding is more than a multiple choice, Yes/No or T/F response.  Read more

Books on the Blog: Overcoming Hardships and Loss

By Lynne R. Dorfman

TIn Salt to the Sea by Ruta Sepetys four teen’s lives converge in hopes of escape as Russians advancing through East Prussia during 1945. The story brings to life the little known story of the sinking of the German ship Wilhelm Gustloff by Russian torpedoes. The historical fiction novel is told in alternating voices of the Lithuanian nurse Joana, Polish Emilia, Prussian forger Florian, and German soldier Alfred (the only one who is unlikable as a self-delusional Hitler worshipper and sympathizer). Thrown together, the main characters struggle to survive, hardly trusting one another to even use their real names. Each has secrets that haunt anyone who has lived through war, flight, and deprivation. As the group escapes the brutalities of the Red Army, ultimately some of them will perish.

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Teacher-to-Teacher: Balancing Act By Janice Ewing

In a recent grad class, we were attempting to synthesize knowledge from a variety of texts, including The Book Whisperer by Donalyn Miller and Readicide by Kelly Gallagher, along with two texts about the core standards and strategies to support and implement them. The use of multiple sources of information, with different viewpoints, is of course a component of the core standards, and is a practice that most of us commonly use to make decisions. So why were we struggling with reconciling the points we were taking from the various texts?


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