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Posts from the ‘Tools of the Trade’ Category

Tools of the Trade: Poetry (Reading) Out Loud

by Kelly Virgin

This week my students and I are celebrating National Poetry Month by reading poetry the way I believe it is meant to be read – out loud. Using the Poetry Out Loud recitation competition for inspiration, we are enjoying our own poetry reading competition (I removed the added pressure of memorizing the poems).

Our week started by finding inspiration in poetry recitations. We spent a class period watching, noticing, and discussing past Poetry Out Loud winners and finalists. Presenters such as John Uzodinma  and Cennemi Diaz showed us how to alter our voices, change our expressions, and use our gestures to communicate the deep and varied emotions found in poems such as “Sympathy” by Paul Laurence Dunbar and “Cartoon Physics, part 1” by Nick Flynn.

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Next, we spent time sifting through some of the resources available on the Poetry Out Loud website. After investigating in pairs, students reported out on the resources they found most helpful: the online anthlogy of poems, the tips on physical presence, voice, and articulation, and the collection of recordings of actors and poets discussing and reading poetry were mentioned several times. Read more

Tools of the Trade: Kindness in our Digital and Physical Spaces

Rita Sorrentino

R.J. Palacio’s award-winning children’s novel Wonder and the recent major motion picture of the same name shed light on tender topics for the tween-targeted audience. In the book and movie, kindness, acceptance and friendship triumph over bullying, exclusion and peer pressure. Readers/viewers of all ages can undoubtedly connect with feelings and emotions of the characters in identifying empathy as an important and vital skill for social and emotional growth.

As we begin this New Year, perhaps a companion book, 365 Days of Wonder: Mr. Browne’s Book of Precepts offers us an alternative to traditional resolutions, that for the most part, decrease significantly as the months of the New Year unfold. Read more

Tools of the Trade: Gratitude 

Gratitude is the golden frame through which we see the meaning of life. -Brendon Burchard

img_1611.pngThis past Thanksgiving my husband posted these words to his Instagram account along with this picture of our happy family. As you can see from the photo, I have a lot to be grateful for in my personal life this year. However, at the time I read this post I had just returned to school and was feeling the strain of balancing my work and home life along with missing my daughter and trying to play catch up with my classes. Needless to say I was forgetting to look through this golden frame in my professional life.

My husband’s post reminded me of a project I undertook with my students last school year and inspired me to attempt it again this year. Around Thanksgiving time I showed them a TEDx titled “Unlimited Gratitude” by Brian Doyle. In this talk, a young man describes a near death experience that awakened him to the realization that he needed to express his gratitude to the people in his life; not just once a year, but everyday. So he BD.PNGcreated a year-long project in which he set out to personally thank a different person every single day. At the end of his talk he issues a call to action to his audience: “I want to call on us to think about these people in our lives that we appreciate. Those that we have gratitude for. Those that we’re thankful for… And let’s not stop there. Let’s say it. Let’s tell them before it’s too late.” Read more

Tools of the Trade: C3WP

by Kelly Virgin

Late this past March I spent two beautiful spring days holed up in a conference room in D.C. feeling both overwhelmed and excited by four letters: CRWP (now known as C3WP). The College, Career, and Community Writers Program is a National Writing Project initiative aimed at providing teachers across the nation with resources needed to help their students critically read and analyze multiple points of view in an attempt to responsibly enter the civic dialogue. As their website explains, the program “answers the contemporary call for respectful argumentative discourse.” In an attempt to reach this lofty, yet vital goal, NWP has gathered and created an impressive stockpile of mini-units complete with suggested text-sets, graphic organizers, audio and visual materials, formative and summative assessments, and suggested extension activities.


In the months following my brief introduction to this program, I spent numerous hours mining the provided resources in an attempt to meaningfully pass the information along to fourteen teacher-leaders through PAWLP’s Advanced Institute. While I still feel slightly overwhelmed by all the possibilities of the program, the three intensive days I spent locked away this summer with a group of thoughtful and inquisitive teachers helped me boil it down to three essential elements: time, access to multiple perspectives, and the freedom to choose. With these three key elements in mind, any teacher can start to meaningfully engage his or her students in thoughtful, thought-provoking, and responsible argument writing. Read more

Tools of the Trade: Summer Reading

by Kelly Virgin

In a recent blog post titled A Letter to Teachers as Summer Begins, Kylene Beers writes, “I hope you each find time this summer to walk some, nap some, and read some. Actually, I hope you read a lot. Read something – lots of somethings – for pure escape, and read lots of things to learn a lot.”

If you are anything like me, you have a mountain of unread somethings that you have earnestly accumulated throughout the school year with every intention but no time to read. A few of the books in my pile that will be going home with me this summer include Mentor Texts, Second Edition, Teaching Writing Through Children’s Literature, K-6 by Lynne Dorfman and Rose Capelli, Disrupting Thinking: Why How We Read Matters by Kylene Beers and Robert Probst, and The Hate You Give by Angie Thomas. With these books in hand, I hope to learn and grow as a teacher of writing, a teacher of reading, and a teacher of students living in the real world.

Mentor Texts 2nd Edition.jpgSomething on Writing: Mentor Texts

When the first edition of Mentor Texts came out ten years ago, it completely changed the way I approached writing instruction in my highschool classroom. I went from separating reading and writing instruction, to seamlessly blending the two. The result of this “aha” transformation in my teaching was immediate and inspiring. Not only did my students start to recognize a clear connection between the literature we read and the writing we crafted, they also started to explore and experiment with their writing in new and exciting ways. So my excitement was palpable when I discovered Lynne and Rose put out a second, expanded edition of this cornerstone text. Read more

Tools of the Trade: Literacy and Beyond

by Rita Sorrentino

Print vs. digital. Handwriting vs. keyboarding. Bound books vs. eBooks. There are writing-vs-typing.jpgproponents of each side of these ongoing debates. For some, keyboarding is the new handwriting. For others, handwriting is a crucial cognitive skill that stimulates the brain, aids acquisition of language skills in young learners, and well – it’s nostalgic.  

The philosophers Socrates and Plato were no strangers to the pros and cons of written communication long before its digital debut. As they argued, elements of loss and gain would result as paradigms shifted. Socrates believed that writing would create forgetfulness in the learner; Plato envisioned the intellectual benefits that the alphabet would bring to civilization. Undoubtedly, as teachers and learners, we value the contributions of all systems of communication and incorporate all types of reading and writing into our practices to heighten consciousness of ourselves and the world.

I certainly agree with the Greek philosophers that voice intonations, facial expressions, and hand gestures enhance communication and actively engage the audience. Additionally, knowledge through dialogue and learning through inquiry popularized by Socrates remain powerful teaching methods to this day. Jump through the centuries and ponder if Socrates would find today’s social media a suitable space for dialogue and communication… Would today’s digital doings add to his fear that writing would roam about indiscriminately causing chaos and danger for the masses? Or would he value the potential for dialogue and convenient connectivity to create deeper bonds between writers and readers?  Read more