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Posts from the ‘PAWLP’ Category

The End of the School Year Approaches By Janice Ewing

            The approaching end of the school year is often a time for reflection. For many teachers, this has been and continues to be a year filled with local, national, and world events that challenge our basic understanding of humanity and of our role as teachers. In this context, I believe that reflection is of more value than ever, as we pause to look back and ahead.  We might consider:

What worked well, what we would do differently?

 What new opportunities and challenges might the new school year bring?

 What elements of change are within our control?

 For goals that don’t seem to be in our control, what are our options to attain them, or work around them?

 If we’re advocating for change, at any level, what form can that take?

 In that spirit, here are some areas of reflection that educators might want to explore, individually or within partnerships or groups:

Physical arrangement of classroom

How did the layout of my classroom work for my students and for me? If you made changes to the physical organization of your space during the  school year, what effects did they have? What do you want to keep the same for the next school year? What do you want to change, and what do you need to do to accomplish that?

Relationships with students

What were some positive aspects of your students’ interactions with you and with each other? What did not go well? Did you make changes to increase the quality and quantity of interaction with and among students during the school year? What were the effects of those changes? What are your goals for next year in this area?

Relationships with faculty and staff

Did you have supportive, collegial or mentoring partnerships with other adults at your school? If so, how can you deepen those relationships? How might you begin to develop them if they were lacking, or look to a larger educational community for sustenance?

Relationships with parents and larger community

How did you connect with the adults in your students’ lives? What have you learned about the community in which you teach? How might you learn more, or interact more authentically?

Curriculum and teaching strategies

What aspects of your content, strategies, and pacing were most and least effective this year? What would you like to do differently next year? What can you do to bring about those changes?

Reflection on practice

Were you able to reflect on your practice in a way that was helpful and sustainable? If so, how might you deepen that practice? If not, consider how reflection might be of value, and what might be a realistic way to integrate it into your day or week.

Overall sense of agency and integrity as a teacher

Whatever your specific challenges were, to what degree did you feel that you were the author of your teaching story? How closely were you able to align your teaching with your beliefs about education?

What patterns are emerging as you reflect on these questions? You might want to do some journaling or graphic representation about what you see. Then perhaps continue with goal-setting for next year. Who can serve as a mentor, coach, or supportive colleague? What resources might you want to explore over the summer? What actions do you need to take? What types of experiences do you want to have over the summer to replenish your spirit? Picture yourself on the first day of the new school year. Who do you want to be? How do you want to be? What do you need to do to move closer to that goal?

Janice Ewing is a 2004 Fellow of the Pennsylvania Writing and Literature Project, now the West Chester Writing Project, and a current member of the advisory board. Her interests include teacher inquiry, collaboration, and mentoring. She and her colleague Dr. Mary Buckelew, are the authors of Action Research for English Language Arts Teachers: Invitation to Inquiry (Routledge, 2019).

Teacher to Teacher: The Importance of Being a Mentor

by Lynne R. Dorfman

From Oxford Languages dictionary

men·tor    /ˈmenˌtôr,ˈmenˌtər/


noun: mentor; plural noun: mentors

  1. an experienced and trusted adviser.

“he was her friend and mentor until his death in 1915”

Similar: adviser, guide, confidant, counselor, consultant, guru

  • an experienced person in a company, college, or school who trains and counsels new employees or students.

“regular meetings between mentor and trainee help guide young engineers through their early years”

Similar: trainer, teacher, tutor, coach

  1. instructor

Years ago I read a book called A Hope in the Unseen: An American Odyssey from the Inner City to the Ivy League by Ron Suskind. I must admit, the title immediately drew me in. The author followed Cedric Jennings, an intelligent and determined honor student at a high school in one of Washington D.C.’s most dangerous neighborhoods, where the dropout rate was well into double digits, to his years at Brown University. Cedric Jennings’s driving ambition was to attend a top college.

The idea that stood out to me was the way Cedric seemed to know when he needed another mentor in his life. His strong mother, his pastor Bishop Long, a high school teacher, and his sponsor, Dr. Donald Korb all served as mentors for him in his journey to achieve his goal. In September 1995, after years of struggles and dedication, he realized his dream when he began as a freshman at Brown University. When I finished reading the book, I could not help but think that today’s teachers might be able to turn the tide around and provide some hope to more of our children in what is unseen now.

Students need mentoring relationships to grow and flourish. I thought about Allyn and Morrell’s Every Child a Super Reader: 7 Strengths to Open a World of Possible and how the authors address hope as a strength of a “super reader.”  These books have been important to me and have nurtured the idea of mentorship being key to our success as students and as capable, productive citizens. 

It’s important to have mentors in our lives; essential, really. Some of our mentors stay with us for a long time and continue to help us grow, push forward, and evolve. My grandfather was an important mentor. I think he modeled for me what is meant by the Golden Rule. I still try to live my life by his example. He is always with me. Often, if we are lucky, our parents and grandparents stay with us as mentors for a very long time. Other mentors may be short-term such as a grade school, a secondary school teacher, or a university professor. Coaches such as a basketball or Little League coach, or a gymnastics or dance coach can provide years of mentorship.

New teachers are often assigned a mentor who is a support, a guide, and a counselor during a three-to-five-year induction program. Often, the bond created here goes well beyond the program. In my case, the last mentor relationship I was assigned to in my district blossomed into a lifelong friendship. I read at Karen’s wedding and she was a bridesmaid at my wedding. We celebrate our birthdays and often, holidays. We email, talk and text; sort out problems, provide advice and support, laugh together, sharing bits and pieces of our lives. What joy it brings me to continue this mentor relationship past my retirement from Upper Moreland nine years ago!

Mentors encourage and enable another person’s professional or personal development. A mentor can help focus their efforts by setting goals and giving feedback.  A mentor’s knowledge can create a high-quality and productive workforce. Employees appreciate workplaces that encourage development, as it can demonstrate that their employer values them and wants to see them grow. A mentor can help their mentee set personal or professional development goals and help their mentee be accountable for accomplishing those goals.  When mentees find themselves struggling to perform their job or reach a goal, they can turn to their mentor for support. This encouragement can motivate them to keep moving forward despite challenges. A mentor can also identify and express their mentee’s strengths to instill confidence in them. Having a strong sense of confidence can make the mentee less likely to give up on their goals.

A mentor can serve as a resource to discuss new goals or problems that arise. The mentor can provide unbiased advice or opinions using their relevant knowledge and experience. With these insights, the mentee can better understand what steps to take and whether to pursue the idea or walk away. Similarly, a mentor can also listen and advise them on daily concerns, such as workplace conflicts. A mentor provides valuable, honest feedback. By establishing trust, the mentee understands that constructive criticism aims to build their professional growth. Both mentor and mentee improve their interpersonal skills as a result of their relationship. Being a mentor offers many rewards.

Becoming a mentor has many benefits. Mentors build leadership skills and confidence, grow networks, and provide a sense of fulfillment. Being a mentor reminds us of what we enjoy about our profession, fostering renewed engagement. Knowing that you made a positive impact on someone’s life or career is a reward beyond monetary compensation.  Thinking about the mentors in our lives can spur us on to be a mentor to family members, students, or colleagues at work. It can offer an opportunity to pay it forward, and how great is that!  And who knows? One day, you may serve as inspiration for your mentee to do the same for someone else.

Lynne R. Dorfman is a 1989 Writing Project fellow and serves on the advisory board for the West Chester Writing Project. She loves to garden, write poetry and short stories, and spend time with her three goddaughters. Lynne is working on a new book for Stenhouse Publishers with Brenda Krupp, Succesful Readers: Creating Scaffolds, Structures, & Routines That Help All Students.

Memoir, Anyone?

Main Entry: mem·oir

Pronunciation: \ˈmem-ˌwär, -ˌwȯr\

Function: noun

Etymology: Middle French memoire, from memoire memory, from Latin memoria

Date: 1571

1 : an official note or report : memorandum
2 a : a narrative composed from personal experience b : autobiography —usually used in plural c : biography
3 a : an account of something noteworthy : report b plural : the record of the proceedings of a learned society

— mem·oir·ist \-ist\ noun

  • an account of the author’s personal experiences
  • an essay on a scientific or scholarly topic


  • It focuses and reflects on the relationship between the writer and a particular
  • person, place, animal, or object.
  • It explains the significance of the relationship.
  • It leaves the reader with one impression of the subject of the memoir.
  • It is limited to a particular phase, time period, place, or recurring behavior in
  • order to develop the focus fully.
  • It makes the subject of the memoir come alive.
  • It maintains a first-person point of view.

According to J. A. Cuddon, “An autobiography may be largely fictional. Few can recall clear details of their early life and are therefore dependent on other people’s impressions, of necessity equally unreliable. Morever, everyone tends to remember what he wants to remember. Disagreeable facts are sometimes glossed over or repressed ….” Cuddon, J. A. The Penguin Dictionary of Literary Terms and Literary Theory, 1991. The English novelist Anthony Powell said, “Memoirs can never be wholly true, since they cannot include every conceivable circumstance of what happened. The novel can do that.”


To write memoir, the writer should be able to:

  • narrow topic and focus.
  • identify audience and purpose.
  • use an individual voice.
  • develop characters through thoughts, characters, words.
  • use dialogue effectively.
  • use sensory details.
  • choose language appropriate to audience and purpose.
  • write a lead which engages the reader and sets the context for reading.
  • create a single impression of the subject of the memoir.
  • place ideas and details of the memoir in meaningful order.
  • focus on the purpose of relating the significance of the relationship between the writer and the subject of the memoir.

To write a memoir, begin by brainstorming on paper all the events you can remember from your life that were either very important to you in a positive way, or very important to you in a negative way. Talk to other members of your family to get ideas, help you remember events from when you were small, and to help fill in the details that might have been forgotten. Select the event, or series of related events, that seems most interesting to you right now. Brainstorm again but in more detail, trying to recall names, places, descriptions, voices, conversations, things, and all the other details that will make this turn into an interesting memoir. Work at this notetaking stage for a few days, until you feel you’ve got it all down on paper. Then begin to write. You will be surprised to see that even more details begin to appear once you start to write. For your first draft, write quickly to get all your ideas down from beginning to end. Don’t worry about editing. Before you revise, share your first draft with someone in the family. Consider their response but go with what feels right. Rewrite, and then start editing as needed. Good memoirs are about everyday things, but they are interesting, sometimes just as interesting to read as a good novel. Remember, a memoir is supposed to be true, so be careful not to exaggerate or embellish the truth.

Memoir is a form of autobiographical writing dealing usually with the recollections of one who has been a part of or has witnessed significant events, a slice of the author’s life, one centered on specific events. The memoir has the same characteristics of a fictional story: memorable characters, conflict or an obstacle to overcome, and movement of the protagonist to overcome the obstacle. Memoir is differentiated from autobiography which is a recounting of the events of the author’s life. Usually, we are pulled through an autobiography less by conflict and its resolution and more by our interest in the author because she/he is famous or familiar.  It must be true to life as the author experienced them.  In memoir, we consciously omit things and people that do not relate to the particular slice of life on which we are focused. We can add not events but sensory details that enhance the scene. We can also create dialogue as long as it is true to the event and the person speaking. Care should be taken, however, not to create someone else’s thoughts or motivations. All we know of another’s behavior is our own interpretation. While we can report on what we think or what we have thought of their thoughts and motivations; we cannot report them as their thoughts and motivations. Fictionalizing our lives provides a good alternative to memoir. Reasons to fictionalize our stories abound. We can protect identities. We can gain distance on people, so that we can truly see them as characters caught in their own dilemmas rather than people we assume we know. This distance allows us to see ourselves and our role in the drama in new and deeper ways. 

Memoir writing, anyone?

Lynne R. Dorfman is a 1989 Writing Project fellow and a co-editor for PAReads: Journal of the Keystone State Literacy Association. She loves to take walks with her three Corgis and read mystery stories and poetry.

Book-banning: Some Questions By Janice Ewing

            As we begin to see some indications that Covid numbers are receding, we are surrounded by another epidemic. Every day, it seems, we’re seeing more fanning of the flames of book-banning.  As a corollary, we see restrictive policies and proposed laws arising to prevent teachers from fostering critical thinking, respect for others, and an understanding of the complexity of our history. It seems that texts and curriculum are to be designed to prevent discomfort, to present a sanitized view of history, and to include characters that represent a limited view of human behavior. There are no easy answers to any of this, but I thought it might be helpful to share some questions; they might be of use for reflection as individuals or discussion in partnerships or groups. On the issue of book-banning, these are some question that I thought might be helpful to consider:

What do we know about the history of book-banning?

What groups have used it in the past? For what purposes?

What groups are using it now? For what purposes?

What do we see happening?

What might be happening that we do not see?

What is our role as individuals? As classroom teachers, teacher educators, librarians, authors, book-sellers, publishers?

What is our role in the communities of which we are members?

What do we need to learn?

From whom can we learn?

Where can we find support?

What is surprising us about others?

What is surprising us about ourselves?

            I am hoping that these questions can serve as place to begin or to deepen our understanding of where we are, how we got here, and how to move forward. There are no easy answers. What other questions are you asking? Please share your thoughts.

Janice Ewing is a 2004 Fellow of the Pennsylvania Writing and Literature Project, now the West Chester Writing Project, and a current member of the advisory board. Her interests include teacher inquiry, collaboration, and mentoring. She and her colleague Dr. Mary Buckelew, are the authors of Action Research for English Language Arts Teachers: Invitation to Inquiry (Routledge, 2019).

Teacher to Teacher: A New Year’s Resolution…Be a Reader

by Lynne R. Dorfman

We know that one of the ways we can help our students become lifelong readers is to provide choice and book titles that are engaging. A wide variety of genres and authors that are housed within our classroom collection for quick and easy access is important – absolutely essential. But perhaps the most important factor is the teacher. More specifically, the teacher as reader. In our classrooms we need to demonstrate our own reading processes – the strategies and skills that good readers rely on to make sense of a text, to deepen their understanding and appreciation of the author’s craft. When we examine our own processes, we can start to understand the complexity of the reading process and the reading difficulties our students may encounter. Only then can we begin to appreciate the hard work their students do every day to grow as readers.

As we share our own reading journals or logs, or as we share tidbits from an article in the latest Atlantic or National Geographic or a moving description about the weather in Newfoundland from The Shipping News by E. Annie Proulx, our students have proof that we are readers outside of the school day. We are models of what we are asking our students to do – not because they are offered extrinsic motivators such as a pizza party or some other prize for reading so many pages each night for a period of time as part of some contest – but to read to learn more about ourselves and our world, to travel to places we can only visit through the pages of a book, to complete us intellectually, emotionally, and even socially, and to deliver through story an  unparalleled ability to foster empathy. When we share what we are reading with our students, we are demonstrating what it means to have a true reading identity.

Having a reading identity means we are motivated to read and learn new things. We view reading as an activity we can choose as recreation. We view reading as a social activity – we want to talk about the books we’ve read with others – share what we’ve enjoyed and talk about what we found to be confusing, surprising, and even disturbing. When we keep our book or several reading books in a prominent spot so students can view them such as a corner of our desk, we are quietly whispering, “I am a reader.” When we share our invisible reading process to make an inference, draw a conclusion, or clarify the new information that has been presented and make the necessary accommodations to fit that new learning with pre-existing schema, then we are demonstrating to our students that we are readers – and we sometimes struggle to make meaning out of a text. After all, reading is hard work, but the payoff is enormous!

When we let our students learn about us as readers, they learn about our likes and dislikes, reading fears, reading loves, where we like to read, when we read, our reading goals. In order to share with others, we may have to track several weeks of our readerly lives – record what we are reading and the places and times of day when we engage in reading. We may start to look at the kinds of reading we are doing – perhaps mainly historical fiction, picture and chapter books, and gardening magazines. In Literacy Essentials (2018, p. 195) Routman tells us it is important to be a model for a reading life because we (teachers) may be the only reading role models some of our students have. She advises us to begin or renew our readerly life and that it is never too late! Tackling shorter books, poetry, and picture books may be a good place to start. As readers, we find ways to present our reading lives in both reading and writing workshops and across the day. For example, when my fourth graders were creating a dinosaur museum and learning about archeology in science and social studies, I had the good fortune of finding several newspaper and magazine articles about recent dinosaur digs and discoveries such as the sinosauropteryx discovery in China in 1996. Reading those articles to the students and posting them on the bulletin board in plastic bags for students to take to their seats to read with their partner or by themselves was one way I shared my “outside-of-school” reading life.  

Being a reader is part of being a leader.  Teddy Roosevelt consumed books, reading a minimum of one book a day — history, poetry, philosophy, novels — as well as newspapers and magazines. (  Some United States presidents have been writers, too, such as John F. Kennedy, Barack Obama, Jimmy Carter, and Teddy Roosevelt. But today more than ever, we need to read to understand the diverse populations that comprise our global society, to stay on top of new trends, new technologies, new research (for example, the newest brain research related to the teaching of reading and human development) and the best teaching practices. I urge my graduate students to be prepared to answer the question, “What are you reading?” during a job interview. Recently, a friend’s son came to his first interview armed with current children’s books that could serve as mirrors and windows for children in elementary school (see the work of Dr. Rudine Sims Bishop) and educational journals he had just finished or was in the process of reading. He was called back for a second interview and then hired for a teaching position at one of the elementary schools. I believe that sharing his reading life was an important factor in securing a teaching job.

In Literacy Essentials, Routman lists things we can do to take action to become a role model for a readerly life (p. 195-199). I have created a list and hope you will consider some of these actions as you find your way back to reading or as you try to fit reading into your busy teacher life throughout the school year.  

  • Know yourself as reader; your successes and limitations.
  • Don’t always play it safe – take risks and try new authors and genres such as young adult literature, a graphic novel, a collection of essays.
  • Recommend books to your students so they can see you reading and that you have a reading life.
  • Bring in the book YOU are currently reading and post it on a “What are you reading?” sign outside your door that includes what you are reading as a read aloud to your class and what you are reading outside of school.
  • Share a new goal you have set for yourself. My goal for 2022 is to start each day with some reading. To that end, I have a stack of books I can always depend on for a quick five to fifteen-minute read each morning. Here are some of my choices: Flying Lessons and Other Stories edited by Ellen Oh, Garden Poems selected and edited by John Hollander, Natural Meditation: Refreshing Your Spirit Through Nature by Barbara Ann Kipfer (can be less than a three-minute read), A Suitcase of Seaweed & MORE  by Janet Wong, and Live This Day: A Guided Journal to Inspire Positivity and Intention (some writing here as well) by Miriam Hathaway.

Read professional books about your craft.

Reference your reading life to your students when it is appropriate in a conference, a minilesson, or a class meeting.

Read magazines and newspapers.

Be a reader of books you will use in your classroom: wordless books, picture books, early chapter books, upper elementary/middle school, YA literature, poetry, essays, plays.

Try listening to books while you are in the car – audiobooks are on the rise!

Follow and establish GoodReads accounts.

Recommend books on amazon.

Keep a reader’s notebook.

Suggest a place in the school (perhaps a special shelf in the librarian’s office or in the copy room) where your colleagues can place books they’ve read so teachers can borrow to read and return when they are finished.

Create a “mailbox” in a local park. In Upper Moreland Township in Pennsylvania, “Little Free Libraries” dot the walking trail, so not only can you exercise your body, you can come away with a book to exercise your brain!).

Ask your school and local librarian for suggestions for read alouds and book clubs.

Talk about your readerly life by sharing when you decided to abandon a book, personal connections you made with a book, or sharing an excerpt where the words made you laugh out loud, shed a tear, or take action in some way.

Keep current – know what new books are being published. Follow Donalyn Miller’s blog or follow her on Twitter and Facebook. Mr. John Schumacher, Colby Sharp, Cindy Minnich, and Nerdy Book Club posts are wonderful educators to follow in order to learn what is available for you.

It is important for us to demonstrate that we are yearlong readers. Even though we may be reading for graduate courses or for a school committee, we cannot afford to designate the summer months as the only months we read recreationally. It is possible to do this. Strategize to succeed in this endeavor. I save longer, more complex reads like The World Is Flat: A Brief History of the Twenty-first Century by Thomas L. Friedman that analyzes globalization in the early 21st century for summer or holiday reading. During busy months I find comfortable reads like a Mary Higgins Clark mystery and The No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency series of novels by Alexander McCall Smith or a favorite author like Elizabeth Berg, Toni Morrison, Delia Owens, or Anne Tyler.

A New Year’s Resolution: Live the readerly life we want our students to develop. Our good reading habits will help us continue to develop into the expert we want to be. Reading daily will bring us into the inner classroom circle – being part of the reading community we establish with our students is crucial to our successes as reading teachers. What are your students reading? What are you reading?

Lynne R. Dorfman is a 1989 Writing Project fellow. She continues to serve on the West Chester Writing Project’s advisory board and highly recommends the invitational summer writing institute. In her spare time, Lynne writes professional books and posts for MiddleWeb and her own blog and remains a co-editor for PAReads: The Journal of Keystone State Literacy Association.

Teacher to Teacher: Writers’ Decisions By Janice Ewing

            As teachers, when we encourage our students to use the writing process, we are often referring to the acts of brainstorming, drafting, revising, editing, and publishing. The more teachers engage in writing of their own, the clearer it becomes that these components, while helpful to identify, are not necessarily sequential; they will interact differently for different writers and/or with different pieces of writing. For example, if you’re a writer who tends to make changes as you compose, you would not want a critique partner to remind you that we’re not “in revision” yet. Similarly, you would not appreciate a partner looking over your shoulder to point out needed edits while your ideas are flowing. I think it’s helpful to ask ourselves if we’re doing this with our students, either directly or by suggestion.

            I also think that there is a broader frame of reference that it’s helpful for us to reflect upon — the importance of the myriad decisions a writer makes in crafting their work. For students, the scope of their decisions will vary, depending in large part on the belief systems and resources that provide the foundation for writing in their classroom, school, or school district. For example, if they are following a highly structured and prescribed writing curriculum, the emphasis might be more on correctness and adherence to a formula than to making thoughtful choices. In a setting with no restrictions, but minimal guidance, students might have the freedom to make decisions but lack the opportunities to grow and learn from other writers.

            My view is that in an authentic reading/writing workshop model, one of the lenses that students read through is that of reading like a writer. In my experience, I have seen this start as early as kindergarten, where students might read different versions of a fairy tale, for example, and discuss which one they preferred, based on features such as the beginning or ending, the way the story made them feel, the illustrations, or other relevant factors. In higher grades, this lens might provide insight into any number of features, such as point of view, genre, format, time span, tone, perhaps viewing multiple texts on the same topic crafted in a variety of ways, depending on decisions that the writer has made. A related authentic step is for students to try out some of these “noticings” in their own writing; this is how we frequently use mentor texts. There is great value in using a shared text to highlight a writing feature, but the goal of course is for students to develop this lens on their own, so that reading like a writer becomes a natural part of their experience of interacting with text.

            As reflective teachers, coaches, administrators, or teachers of teachers, here are some questions we might ask ourselves:

            *What is our own comfort level with reading as writers and making decisions about our own writing?

            *What degree of agency do our students have in making decisions about their writing — topic, genre, format, point of view, etc.?

            *Do we have writer-to-writer conversations and conferences with our students, rather than assuming an assigner, time-keeper, and assessor role?

            *Have our students, from the earliest grades, had experiences with texts that encourage them to include reading like a writer in their approach to reading?

            *Are we supporting our students in the process of expanding their toolbox of approaches that they might use to enhance their writing?

            Ultimately, we want students to find their own voices, their own strengths and interests, their unique writing identities. Along the way, how can we create the conditions that will give them the experience and agency to make their own decisions as writers? You’re invited to share your thoughts in the comments section.

Janice Ewing is a 2004 Fellow of the Pennsylvania Writing and Literature Project, now the West Chester Writing Project, and a current member of the advisory board. Her interests include teacher inquiry, collaboration, and mentoring. She and her colleague Dr. Mary Buckelew, are the authors of Action Research for English Language Arts Teachers: Invitation to Inquiry (Routledge, 2019).