Skip to content

Posts from the ‘PAWLP’ Category

Teaching Kindness

Some of you may be too young to remember, others may be old enough to “never forget” the events of September 11, 2001. In the years since that fateful day, I have marked the tragedy in my middle school ELA classes by showing a video, engaging in reading and writing activities, and having a class discussion. While we touch on the sequence of events of 9/11, I like to spend most of the time sharing the things that happened on 9/12. The American people were united; they were kind to one another – friends and strangers alike.

https://www.ihatestevensinger.com/

Why does it take the worst to bring out our best? This question has been on my mind a great deal recently. Lately, the climate in America is definitely not like the days following 9/11. I have been thinking that I need to do more to nurture kindness. With this in mind, I have started curating a list of reading and writing activities to share with my 7th-graders. Below is an outline of my thinking. Hopefully, you will find something you can use with your students no matter what grade level you teach.

What is kindness?

  • Begin with a focused-free write – have students answer this question in their writer’s notebook
  • Turn and talk – then class discussion
  • Solicit examples of kindness from the students
  • Craft a class definition of kindness; then compare to a dictionary definition

kind·ness/ˈkīn(d)nəs/noun

the quality of being friendly, generous, and considerate.

Reading About Kindness – Below are a list of a few of the books on my list to use this year with my students.

Picture Books (all grades)

Books for 4-8 Students

https://www.wishtreebook.com/resources

Writing About Kindness – Below are some writing activities I am exploring to use with my classes.

Classcraft

5 activities for teaching kindness in class https://www.classcraft.com/blog/awesome-teaching-kindness-activities/

  • Send kindness postcards
  • Take gratitude brain breaks
  • Make it rain kindness cards 
  • Start your class with a Random Event
  • Play kindness bingo

A place to find “good news” articles to read and respond to.

EDUTOPIA https://www.edutopia.org/blog/kindness-lesson-plan-rebecca-alber

This site includes the activities listed below for writing and speaking along with other kindness resources.

  •  Good Things
  • The Write Around
  • Shout-outs
  • Appreciation Box
  • Temperature Check
  • Buddy Up
  • Community Circle

By no means do I think kindness is dead, but I think the 20th anniversary of 911 gives us the perfect opportunity to remind students that being kind can make a huge difference in others’ lives. Please share a book or resource about kindness that you like to use in your classroom. I would love to add to my lists.

Rita DiCarne is a 2000 PAWLP Writing Fellow.  She teaches 7th grade ELA at Our Lady of Mercy Regional Catholic School in Maple Glen, PA.  Rita married her high school sweetheart 41 years ago and with him she shares two wonderful children, their fabulous spouses, and four fantastic grandchildren!

Ending the Summer with an Old Friend: A Poetic Inquiry By Janice Ewing

            During the month of August, I felt myself drawn to reread Mary Oliver’s A Poetry Handbook: A Prose Guide to Understanding and Writing Poetry (1994). If you’re not familiar with it, it’s a short, but rich text in which, as the title suggests, Oliver takes the reader inside of her writing process and shares what she sees as the core elements of poetry. If you’re not familiar with Mary Oliver, she was a prolific poet who has left a legacy of numerous collections of mostly poetry and some prose. Much if not all of her work is centered on her intertwining passions for nature and language.

  I found that although I had read the book before, even annotated it, much of the content felt new to me. I don’t know if this was simply an issue of memory, or of approaching the book from a different perspective; it was probably a combination of both  of those and more. As an aside, I wonder if others have had the experience of seeing what your “previous self” chose to highlight, as if you were looking over someone else’s shoulder at their notes. I was particularly struck, this time, by Oliver’s emphasis on the poet’s need for diligence, patience, a balance of solitude and community (mostly solitude), and the often long road from inspiration to revisions to completion.

             After reading and reflecting on this book, I felt inspired to reread some of Oliver’s poetry, partly for the sheer joy and peacefulness of it, but also to read through the lens of seeing her craft moves and decisions more clearly than I had before. Whatever trail had brought me back to Mary Oliver was becoming a journey of inquiry into the relationship between the poet and the poetry. I chose to reread her collection Why I Wake Early (2004). That is the title of the book and of the first poem in the collection. This time, some of poems that stood out as favorites were different from ones I might have selected before, maybe because of more appreciation of intentional uses of craft. I noticed how she frequently spoke directly, conversationally, to the reader. I paid close attention, as she did, to the very specific natural elements that took on a fuller meaning as the poem unfolded.

            Then, I decided to continue my inquiry by going back to Oliver’s Upstream: Selected Essays (2016). I had received this book as a gift, several years ago, from a family member who knew of my love for Oliver’s work. I had read a few of the essays, and then put the book back on the shelf for another time. This was the time. Revisiting the book, I was reminded of how Oliver’s love of nature, reading, and eventually writing were refuges through an often unhappy childhood. She treasured these passions early on, and went on to live her life with a clear sense of purpose and intention, making choices that fit with her true self. She had many writing mentors, seeing them as friends she had never met; foremost among them was Walt Whitman. In addition to the content, I was also interested in exploring how the craft techniques that I had read about and seen exemplified were or were not evident in her prose. I found that Oliver’s use of imagery and reverential description were employed throughout the book. I heard poetry in her prose.

             Like most inquires, this experience left me with much to reflect on, and more questions to pursue. I’m wondering about the connection between the deliberate and definitive choices Oliver made in her life and her dedication to choosing the apt word, the precise image, in her writing. I’m contemplating the  craft elements that I can aspire to in my own writing, both poetry and prose.   Of the greatest value, perhaps, was the joy of reconnecting with an old friend, one that I had never met.

            I invite the readers of this blog to reflect on any connections you might make to your own reading, writing, or inquiry practices, and/or those of your students. Responses are welcome in the comments section below.

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).

The Top Ten Reasons to Belong to WCWP

By Lynne R. Dorfman

The Pennsylvania Writing & Literature Project will take on a new name this fall. Welcome to West Chester Writing Project! We are excited to meet new challenges and new educators in the 2021-2022 school year. We are thrilled to have the continued support of our past teacher leaders and new writing institute graduates! The Writing Project offers many opportunities to grow and learn together, including our Teacher as Writer course this fall with facilitator Dr. Mary Buckelew. Our social justice group meets on the third Saturday of each month. We will meet on August 14th for our virtual writing group. Please join us. New dates for our continuity sessions and writing group will be announced soon. We look forward to reconnecting with you this school year. Please bring a friend to our events. There are many reasons to be part of our community. Here are the top ten reasons for you to stay connected or join us for the first time:

10. To belong to a group of like-minded educators to share the journey with and to imagine,
       dream, act, and achieve professional goals together.

9. To be able to receive graduate credit and/or a master’s degree with a concentration in
     writing from West Chester State University.

8. To receive our newsletter and be able to contribute to our literary magazine, Around the
     Table
, and to our blog, write.share.connect.

7. To support teachers across school districts and grade levels to reach their goals and provide
     support for activities to improve writing skills for all students in ELA classes and across the
     content areas.

6. To bond with educators at the local and national levels and create lifelong friendships and
     networks.

5. To be able to participate in monthly virtual and face-to-face discussions and writing sessions
    and receive valuable feedback and ongoing support.

4. To be able to participate in Writing Project events such as our speaker series and social
     justice group.

3. To be able to participate in committee work to support literacy endeavors in our
    community and across the world.

2. To acquire mentors and confidants as guides and resources to broaden your horizons and
     help you achieve your professional goals.

1. To open a dialogue to address positive ways to reinforce actions to embrace
     diversity.

Be sure to visit pawlp.org for information and remember to look for updates about our new website, coming soon!

Lynne R. Dorfman is a 1989 PAWLP fellow and a member of the advisory board. Lynne blogs for write.share.connect throughout the year and enjoys participating in as many Writing Project offerings as possible. Currently, Lynne works as an adjunct professor for Arcadia University and as a co-editor for PAReads: The Journal of Keystone State Literacy Association. She regularly blogs for MiddleWeb and is finishing a book, Welcome to Reading Workshop, with Brenda Krupp for Stenhouse Publishers. Lynne and her husband just acquired a new Corgi puppy, Rosie. She joins their Corgis, Arthur and Merrill, as welcomed additions to their home.

PAWLP’s Summer Institute: A Fresh Look By Janice Ewing

            This year, our Summer Institute has a new configuration. We met on four Saturdays during May and June for virtual sessions and will meet for two weeks face-to-face later in July. Pauline Schmidt and Jen Greene are the co-facilitators, and I have a coaching role, supporting participants as they design their projects.

             The Institute started with an activity in which the three of us, along with the other participants, introduced ourselves via a slide show, using pictures and text to share aspects of our professional and personal lives. We also used Jamboard to share other aspects of our background experiences, consuming issues, and wonderings about the Institute itself. These experiences furthered community-building as well as planting seeds for narrative topics. Participants wrote their narratives during May and June, outside of class time, but there were opportunities for reflection and feedback within the sessions. For example, in response to PAWLP TC Abigail Turley’s presentation about sentence fluency, writers identified short lines that stood out in their pieces, exchanged them with a partner, and then wrote pantoums with each other’s lines. This process provided feedback to each writer as to how their partner interpreted the focus of their piece, highlighted by the inherent repetition of the pantoum format. In another small group feedback session, participants exchanged comments and questions via a “Warm and Cool Feedback” protocol, in which partners offered specific comments about what was working in the piece, and well as “what-if questions” for the writer to consider.

            The virtual sessions were also enriched by presentations from TC Melissa Keer, about writers’ notebooks, and from Matthew Kruger-Ross, a recent TC and Pauline’s podcasting partner, who shared authentic strategies to enhance speaking and listening in the classroom and beyond.

            By the end of the four sessions, participants had decided on topics for their teaching demonstrations and had joined coaching groups based on related topics. In the time period between the last virtual session and the beginning of the face-to-face portion, participants are designing their demos and multigenre projects in collaboration with their groups and coaches.  Those meetings are taking place in whatever format and on whatever schedule meets the needs of the group.

            When we meet face-to-face, the first week will provide workshop time for the demos as well as multigenre and other projects, additional demo presentations from other PAWLP T.C.’s, and a variety of other reading, writing, and sharing experiences. The second week will include presentations of the new demos and book talks, and will culminate in a writing marathon in the West Chester area. Following the two-week session, participants will have additional time on their own to work on other reflections, including a “Letter to Self,” and we’ll meet again at the Institute Celebration in September.

            What will our Summer Institute look like in the future? This is a question that we’ll be exploring this year. In the fall, with feedback from our participants, our observations as facilitators and coach, and input from our larger PAWLP community, we’ll reflect on the outcomes of this year’s format, and look ahead to possible configurations for next year. There is much to consider – the needs and interests of potential SI participants, the essential elements of the program, the variety of options for using time and space, and the readiness to make adjustments as needed.

             In many ways, the pandemic has strengthened our concepts of flexibility and paring down to what is most essential. For our Summer Institute, that includes immersion in writing and reading experiences that promote growth as writers and teachers of writing; building a community that honors all voices; creating conditions that encourage risk-taking and ventures into new topics, formats, and ways of collaborating. What would you add to this list? What does your Summer Institute look like this year? What has changed and what has remained the same?

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

Teacher to Teacher: Advice for Writers

By Lynne R. Dorfman

I think the best advice I can give you is to find and honor your process (which may be different from a writing partner or the peers in your class). I am good at thinking on my feet and getting my thoughts down in just the right way the first time. Several of my writing partners prefer time to think things through and let thoughts smolder awhile. (They often jot them down in their writer’s notebook before the fire goes out!) I often use my notebook as a prewrite: “Think before you write!”  My notebook is filled with lists, sketches, graphic organizers, explanations, and examples. Lots of pages have examples taken from a mentor text, an explanation from me as to why I think the author chose a particular craft move, and my examples of imitation – closely imitating in the first attempt, and then moving away from the lines I lifted from the book by making it my own in some small way.

When Rose Cappelli and I wrote the books about mentor texts for Stenhouse Publishers, we collaborated by sitting at the table in her sunroom. At first, we did some writing separately, but as time went on, we did more and more together. We just found that collaborating on ideas helped us better say what we thought teachers needed to hear. Rose and I seemed to fall into a comfortable rhythm, and I think actually created a new process for working together. However, there were still parts that we worked on separately. That’s where the notebook came in handy. We set aside some days we would write together and then before we left we decided on the part each would work on, whether it be writing, gathering books, collecting student samples, or even just thinking. We would write this all down in a sort of checklist so we knew what we needed to do. We always were jotting down thoughts and ideas. 

When I am composing, I do a lot of oral rehearsals, writing a narrative, poem, or speech in my head and even saying the words aloud before I even pick up my pen. And yes, I like to draft with a pen, preferably a pen with purple, green, or even pink ink before I go to the computer. The movement of my hand as I half-print/half-write the words seems to kick my brain in gear. It’s magic – once I am engaged and have written something on a page of my notebook, I am on my way to working hard until I finish my initial draft. Of course, if I need to establish a stronger foundation of background knowledge, I do tons of reading and research before I get started.

Of course, if you’re not making the time to write, no other advice can help you. Writers have to be preoccupied with time-management. Carve out a time for writing every day – even if it is only ten to fifteen minutes to begin with. You must make a commitment to writing – like it is your job – and try to stay true to your schedule just as you would do for feeding and walking the dog, exercising, arriving to work on time. No excuses!  Daily writing will help you maintain the flow – get into the writing zone where distractions are not noticed and time moves quickly.

Find the joy within your work, even if that means looking in the most unexpected places. Find the joy within your process and the joy of finishing a piece and finding the perfect audience to share it with. Find joy in elevating yourself to a conscious level of “I am a writer.”

Lynne R. Dorfman is a 1989 fellow of the Pennsylvania Writing & Literature Project, a stop on June 15th at 5:00 p.m. Eastern in the Write Across America writing marathon offered by NWP. Use this link to register for this free writing experience and plan to participate whenever you are able: https://lead.nwp.org/writeacrossamerica-a-virtual-writing-marathon/

Lynne loves to write poems, read mysteries, and garden. Right now, pink roses fill vases in her home, cut from a section of her garden. Lynne visits Longwood Gardens regularly to walk and take photos of the blooms and trees that make the grounds a magical place to visit. Often, Lynne takes her writer’s notebook along. The garden’s beauty inspires her to write.

PAWLP Social Justice Group – Time for Reflection

By Janice Ewing

            This school year has amplified ongoing challenges and created unique ones as well. Now, as the end of the school year approaches, many teachers do not know what the fall will look like. More than ever, teachers need supportive communities in which to learn, grow and refuel. One such community is PAWLP’s social justice study group. As we’ve shared in previous posts, this group challenges us to examine our biases and assumptions, to place them in a larger historical context, and to translate our new understanding into action within our schools and communities. Along the way, we find that a corollary to learning and growth is discomfort. The willingness to sit with discomfort has led us to a deeper refueling, based less on restoring equilibrium than on finding new ways to see and to navigate the world around us, personally and professionally.

            Our social justice study group continues to meet on the third Saturday of each month. When we meet on May 15th, we will finish our discussion of This Bridge Called My Back: Writings of Radical Women of Color, edited by Cherrie Moraga & Gloria Anzaldua. Of course we are never really finished with a book, because the ideas and reflections that we have shared from and in response to the book are ongoing.  Still, each book that we complete offers a natural stopping point for reflection, and that process leads into the selection of the next shared text. In the past, we have also used the summer months as a time for members to choose individual texts and share their new learning with the group. We’ll talk that through and make that decision at our May meeting as well.

Along with This Bridge Called My Back, we have also been reading The Tradition by Jericho Brown. One of the reasons that we chose to read this poetry collection is that it is as the One Book/One Philadelphia selection this year. This led us to set up a collaborative book talk session with the Philadelphia Writing Project (philwp.gse.upenn.edu), which will be held virtually on May 12th (You can find details about this event and our study group at pawlp.org).

            In a year that was filled with challenges at all levels, this group has provided a valuable space. Some of the participants have commented that they didn’t know what to expect from meeting virtually, whether the atmosphere of sharing and trust that we had been cultivating as a group would flourish. We were gratified to find that it did. In spite of some people feeling over-Zoomed from their weekday schedules, this group flourished as a time and place for growth. In addition, as in many groups, our experience was enriched by the participation of members from other geographical areas, who would not have been able to join us face-to-face. We’re grateful for these new relationships and hope they will continue.

            I invite you to reflect on the groups or communities that have sustained you this year.  How have they provided sustenance?  Have they also opened the door to discomfort and struggle? How have you changed? Thoughts are welcome in the comments section below.            

Janice Ewing is a 2004 Fellow of the Pennsylvania Writing and Literature 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).