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PAWLP Social Justice/Anti-Bias Study Group: Our Story Continues By Janice Ewing

             Our December meeting was a time to celebrate endings and to look ahead to new beginnings. We started by checking in with ourselves in the present moment, prompted by the suggestion that we each reflect on and share one word that expressed our current mood or mindset. The words shared included: Exhausted (twice), Grateful (twice), Saturday, Balance, Believing, Courageous, and Ready. We recognized that the words speak to our multiple identities as educators, colleagues, and members of a learning community.

            Following that, we turned our attention to completing our fall discussion of Gholdy Muhammad’s Cultivating Genius: An Equity Framework for Culturally and Historically Responsive Literacy, which we had finished reading. We shared both overall and specific reactions to and takeaways from the book. Of course, we’re never really “finished with” a book, nor do we want to be, so Muhammad’s ideas will stay with us and find expression in a variety of ways. One specific goal that we set for ourselves, based on the book, is to adopt the idea of a preamble. Muhammad connects preambles to the practices of Black literacy societies throughout the 19th century” (127), and describes them as  “powerful statements of intention and objective” (128). We are each planning to bring a draft of a preamble for our group to our next meeting. Our thinking is that the reflection and sharing of that work will help us to hone our sense of purpose and actions moving forward. We have many issues to explore, including how to bring our learning to life in our families, schools, and communities; how to determine what is and is not in our sphere of influence; how to share our work with a larger audience; how our various areas of study within social justice intersect; how to persevere in the face of the frustrations and obstacles that we encounter along the way.

            At our next meeting, on January 16th, we will share our preambles to see the patterns that emerge, where our ideas align and where we need further clarity of our common purpose. We also plan to share the independent reading and reflection that we have been engaged in, to help expand our thinking and growth, to explore how our various social justice learning paths intersect, and to guide us in selecting our next shared text. Along with these goals, we are also exploring ways to incorporate our story into the larger story of PAWLP as a whole. We are looking forward to our virtual PAWLP Day on March 6th, at which Tiana Silvas will be our keynote speaker, with the theme of “Decolonizing Your Classroom Library.”

            We ended our meeting by revisiting the concept of gratitude, from our opening activity. Together, we expressed gratitude for the community that we have created and are working to sustain, and the opportunity it affords us to grow together, with humility, vulnerability, and openness to learning. We are a work in progress.

            This is the second in a series of posts about our group. You can read the first one here. We welcome comments or questions about ideas that resonate from these posts, or about the group overall. Thank you for following our story.


Muhammad, Gholdy. Cultivating genius: An equity framework for culturally and historically responsive literacy. Scholastic, 2020

Janice Ewing has been a reading specialist and literacy coach, and an adjunct instructor in the Reading Specialist Program at Cabrini University. She currently serves on the Advisory Board of the Pennsylvania Writing and Literature Project, of which she is a 2004 fellow. Her interests include teacher inquiry, collaboration, and mentoring. She and her colleague, Mary Buckelew, are the authors of Action Research for English Language Arts Teachers: Invitation to Inquiry (Routledge, 2019).

Teacher to Teacher: Continuity Sessions Offer Surprises, Support, and Serendipity

By Lynne R. Dorfman

Saturdays are busy days for teachers, right?  They are catch-up days for sleep, chores, reading and writing time, and quality time spent with spouses, children, friends, and relatives. Regardless, there are certain Saturdays – the first Saturday of every month – where we carve out time to join our PAWLP friends in a comfortable hour or so to participate in a Continuity Session.

We all have networking opportunities written within our school and district, but often these are limited to our grade level team or faculty. It is possible that kindergarten teachers will have little contact with fifth grade teachers unless special partnerships are formed that pair their students for reading and writing purposes. Many schools have greatly reduced the number of teachers who can attend conferences, and this means that strategies, procedures, and resources are reduced to what the district has to offer.

The Pennsylvania Writing and Literature Project is a K through university network of educators offering limitless possibilities of ideas and support in the form of feedback – group and individual. Consider the first Saturday in October when PAWLPer Chris Coyne Kehan shared an extensive list of new and noteworthy books that she divided into categories or themes. Her enthusiastic endorsements and annotations sent many of us to bookstores – online or otherwise – to purchase her suggestions. What a wealth of books to add to our classroom and personal libraries!  Author/educator Frank Murphy also joined us to talk about his experiences co-authoring his newest book, A Girl Like You, with his wife Carla.  Frank, also a PAWLPer, has a new book coming out this spring, A Teacher Like You. It was wonderful to feel his energy. For Writing Project fellows who dream of publishing a book one day, Frank is proof that hard work, determination, and belief in your idea can materialize into something quite wonderful!

 Poetry is a favorite way to experience literature – whether it is writing it, reading it, or hearing it performed. Terrence Sanders, guest speaker on the first Saturday in November, is changing his name to Poet in the near future. He shared one of his poems with us called, “I want to be a writer.” It was a beautiful spoken word that was quite mesmerizing and inspirational to hear. I think that hearing his poem performed in that way brought life to the words and the language that might not have been as apparent if we were reading the poem silently. 

The focus of Poet’s slide share and talk was about writer archetypes. We learned about what each of the archetypes were, their guiding principles, and selected which one(s) we identify with the most. Poet explained that you may not just be one single archetype, but a mix of a few as well. Later, we discussed how we, as writers, could take on the characteristics of a certain archetype and experiment with that writing style as well. For teachers of writers, this idea would be very insightful work with students to develop and practice their writing style. The archetypes were: the Chimera, the Lover, the Artist, the Warrior, and the Shamanist.  

Archetypes I identified with the most were the Shamanist and the Artist. Our next task was some writing and could choose from any of the prompts for other archetypes as well as the one we identified with and use that. The Shamanist is described as “A complex wounded witness whose work attends both to the conscious and to the unconscious unhealed hurts of humans– the literal and personified.” The Artist is someone coupled with intense feelings and longs to paint pictures with poetry or prose. The Artist is often the most rebellious archetype, caring more for writer’s craft than publishing for mass audiences. The prompt for Artist was, ”How and what can you write to bring more beauty into the word?”

Here is Chris Kehan’s booklist. Enjoy, and please join Catherine, Warren, Pauline, and me every first Saturday at ten a.m. for Continuity. Check our website at West Chester University for Pennsylvania Writing & Literature Project and scroll down the page for Continuity Sessions for the link.

Books about being true to yourself:

All Because You Matter by Tami Charles Be You! by Peter Reynolds

Fantastic You by Danielle Dufayet

I Am Enough by Grace Byers

I Am Every Good Thing by Derrick Barnes I Believe I Can by Grace Byers

My Heart by Corinna Luyken

Rock What Ya Got by Samantha Berger Sometimes You Fly by Katherine Applegate What If by Samantha Berger

When You Need Wings by Lita Judge You Are a Beautiful Beginning by Nina Laden

Books about kindness:

All Are Welcome by Alexandra Penfold Because of You by B.G. Hennessy

Dictionary for a Better World by Irene Latham & Charles Waters

Good People Everywhere by Lynea Gillen I Am Love: A Book of Compassion by Susan   Verde

Love the World by Todd Parr

Most People by Michael Leannah

Tomorrow I’ll Be Kind by Jessica Hische Chapter Books 

Books in Verse:

All He Knew by Helen Frost

All of Me by Chris Baron

Before the Ever After by Jacqueline Woodson

The Canyon’s Edge by Dusti Bowling

Catching a Story Fish by Janice Harrington

The Colors of the Rain by R.L. Toalson

Garvey’s Choice by Nikki Grimes

Forget Me Not by Ellie Terry

Lifeboat 12 by Susan Hood

Other Words for Home by Jasmine Warga

Planet Middle School by Nikki Grimes

The Red Pencil by Andrea Davis Pinkney

Serafina’s Promise by Ann E. Burg

Swing by Kwame Alexander

This Promise of Change by Jo Ann Allen Boyce   & Debbie Levey

Books about emotions:

I’m Worried by Michael Ian Black

Love by Matt de la Peña

The Magical Yet by Angela DiTerlizzi

A Place Inside of Me: A Poem to Heal the Heart by Zetta Elliott

Today I Feel by Madalena Moniz

Tomorrow I’ll Be Brave by Jessica Hische

The Whatifs by Emily Kilgore

When You Are Brave by Pat Zietlow Miller

You Are Your Strong by Danielle Dufayet

Books about in the moment:

Daniel’s Good Day by Micha Archer

Happy Right Now by Julie Berry

Here and Now by Julia Denos

I Am One: A Book of Action by Susan Verde

I Will Be Fierce by Bea Birdsong

I Promise by LeBron James

If You Come to Earth by Sophie Blackall

Someday by Eileen Spinelli

That’s Life! by Ame Dyckman

Books That Stay with You:

Amal Unbound by Aisha Saeed

Black Brother, Black Brother by Jewell Parker Rhodes

Blended by Sharon Draper

The Bridge Home by Padma Venkatraman

Harbor Me by Jacqueline Woodson

Look Both Waysby Jason Reynolds

 Prairie Lotus by Linda Sue Park

The Remarkable Journey of Coyote Sunrise by Dan Gemeinhart

Show Me a Sign by Ann Clare LeZotte

Stay by Bobbie Pyron

Sweep: The Story of a Girl & Her Monster by Jonathan Auxier

What Lane by Torrey Maldonado

Wink by Rob Harrell

Lynne R. Dorfman is a 1989 PAWLP fellow. She recently co-authored Welcome to Writing Workshop with Stacey Shubitz. Lynne and PAWLPer Brenda Krupp have written a manuscript called Welcome to Reading Workshop for Stenhouse Publishers and hope to engage in revision and editing work in the coming months. Happy writing! See you this Saturday for Continuity!

Giving Thanks

With Thanksgiving each year, I do take time to pause and reflect both personally and professionally. In my professional world right now, the second marking period has started, and I am perusing my students’ feedback forms from the middle of November. I am in the midst of teaching a new unit on the interaction of community and the individual with Romeo and Juliet as my core text. And, the fall semester at West Chester University is almost over; I just need to finish my final paper. Despite some constants and best laid plans, there is much I have no control over. Will we remain hybrid or go virtual? Will my technology work during my lesson? Will Internet issues prevent students from attending class? At times, the questions seem endless. Yet, even though there is uncertainty in my classroom and the teaching profession, I search for the people and moments I am grateful for.

I am thankful for my students. It is a joy to work with them every day even with the struggles of hybrid learning, mask wearing, and unanswered questions. Their patience, technical support, and feedback make our class a better place. I also appreciate them laughing–even at my horrible jokes.

I am thankful for my colleagues and mentors. Although we might be meeting virtually, technology is connecting us in ways pre-Covid meetings could not. Everyone is sharing materials and ideas to help one another out. There are check-ins and how are you doings both online and in person. Even though you cannot see someone’s smile underneath their mask, you know it is there. There is an unsaid understanding of what we are all going through.

I am thankful for my principals and English supervisor who are sounding blocks during meetings, who allow us to voice our concerns and classroom insight. They recognize the crazy times we are teaching in. I feel their support.

I am thankful for reading Laura Rendón’s Sentipensante Pedagogy with Dr. Craig this semester. Rendón’s agreements have reminded me to take time each day to replenish my mind, body, and soul. I have been walking–in the sunshine and rain (as long as it is not a downpour). The fresh air in my lungs and the sun on my face is rejuvenating.

With the long weekend, I am taking time to reflect, rejuvenate, and be thankful–not only for the blessings in my personal life but also in my professional world. I wish the same for you.

PAWLP Anti-Bias/Social Justice Study Group: Our Story By Janice Ewing

How We Got Started

            On the third Saturday of each month, a group of PAWLP TCs and friends meet, now via Zoom, for our social justice study group. This group grew out of an interest and need that emerged during our Saturday Continuity sessions, which also take place once a month.  Our Continuity sessions have the broad goals of carving out a time and space to share questions or concerns about our teaching and related inquiries, writing or presentations in progress, or other collegial sharing. The guiding principles that undergird our sessions are based on the NWP’s ( overall philosophy of teachers teaching teachers, and more specifically the NWP Social Practices of Write, Go Public with our Practice, Learn/Engage the Profession, Collaborate/Respond, Lead, and Advocate. We are also guided by our PAWLP mission and vision statements, and the Teaching Tolerance ( standards of Identity Diversity, Justice, and Action, which we intentionally integrate into all our practices.

            Although issues of advocacy and social justice were interwoven through our work together, some of us felt the need for more focused exploration of these topics. One of our participants, Tricia Ebarvia, suggested that we start a group that would be specifically dedicated to the issues of advocacy and social justice, with the goal of educating ourselves more deeply, individually and together, and working to transform our learning into action in our schools and communities.

What We Do

            We decided to use a study group format to give us specific texts to serve as a focal point for our work. We started with So You Want to Talk About Race by Ijeoma Oluo.  Since then, we’ve read several other books, including The Racial Healing Handbook by Annaliese A. Singh, How to Be an AntiRacist by Ibram X. Kendi and the graphic memoir Good Talk by Mira Jacob. We are currently reading Gholdy Mohammad’s Cultivating Genius: An Equity Framework for Culturally and Historically Responsive Literacy. Through our reading, reflection, and discussion we have explored our own identities as well as school and community cultures, and looked at racism through historical lenses and case studies; our inquiry framework had guided us to identify specific goals to pursue in our anti-bias/social justice work. Most of our reading has been of shared texts, but we have also taken time to explore individually-selected books, articles, poetry, and art and share our takeaways with the group. We also maintain a Google doc where participants post additional resources in a variety of media and formats, as well as inquiry questions that these texts have raised or amplified.

Where We Are Now

            Many of our Saturday morning meetings have started with a shared acknowledgement of a recent tragedy or trauma, in our local community or beyond. We also acknowledge the ongoing traumas and challenges that we live amidst, which are not always as startling, but always present and corrosive. When we turn our focus to our study and our ongoing work, there is progress and growth to acknowledge as well, and always, the strength that we find in a shared community. This week, we will meet on Thursday evening. This is a session that Liz Mathews, our facilitator, and Pauline Schmidt, our PAWLP director, have set up to provide a space to reflect and respond together about the recent tragic killing of Walter Wallace, Jr. in Philadelphia, and the aftermath of the election, whatever that will be at that time. With our texts as a focal point, we share the insights and experiences we’re gaining on our inquiry journeys. We share struggles and evolving questions. Then, we each strive in our own ways to bring our learning to action in our families, schools, and communities. This is ongoing work.

            Our regular meetings continue to be held on the third Saturday of each month, but we’re leaving space in November for participation in the NCTE ( conference and related NWP events, so our next regular meeting will be on Saturday, December 19th. Our meeting dates and agendas are posted at In future posts, we’re looking forward to hearing perspectives from other participants in our group. Questions or thoughts are welcome in the comments section below.

Janice Ewing is a 2004 fellow of the PA Writing and Literature Project and currently serves on the advisory board. She is also an active member of the Keystone State Literacy Association, the KSLA Delaware Valley Reading Council and other professional organizations. She and Dr. Mary Buckelew are the authors of Action Research for English Language Arts Teachers: Invitation to Inquiry (Routledge, 2019).

Treading Water During Online Conversations

by Lauren Heimlich Foley

Five years ago, I made a poster with James Britton’s famous words: “reading and writing float along a sea of talk.” I whole-heartedly believe this statement as a reader, writer, and teacher. Today, I wish I could talk with him—share the difficulties my students and I face to simply have a conversation. I am trying my best to foster meaningful conversations when masks physically silence my students’ voices and technology digitally mutes them. I never realized how much of my writing-reading workshop hinged on students being together and talking with one another until now.

Struggling to move beyond what was and what is drives me to continually re-see how I can best implement breakout rooms and discussion boards. Although Teams and Canvas cannot come close to the authentic and immediate conversations that occurred in my brick and mortar classroom, I am grateful to have the technology.

What I share below are some of the Band-Aids I am experimenting with for student-teacher conferences and student conversations.

Student-Teacher Conferences: Since I cannot pull up a stool and chat with a student or table group, I started weekly small-group Teams conferences based on our hybrid schedule. I am able to meet with all students once per week to discuss their books and/or writing pieces. It’s not ideal (I previously engaged in many more conversations throughout a class period and week), but I have to re-imagine my student-teacher conferences. I invite online students to lower the volume and I use headphones so as to not disturb the students physically in the room; however, I am still available to answer questions for all students. Below is a chart, showing how I separated my conference groups by hybrid 1, online only, and hybrid 2 students. We meet during workshop time. For some meetings, I break students into smaller groups and assign them different times to meet with me.

Hybrid 1 physically in school  

Meet with 4-6 Hybrid 2 students in Teams
Hybrid 1 physically in school  

Meet with another 4-6 Hybrid 2 students in Teams
Meet with 4-6 online only studentsHybrid 2 physically in school  

Meet with 4-6 Hybrid 1 students in Teams
Hybrid 2 physically in school  

Meet with another 4-6 Hybrid 1 students in Teams

Table-Group Breakout Rooms and Discussion Boards: Students selected the “table groups” they wanted to work with through a Forms, regardless of their schedule: hybrid 1, hybrid 2, and online only. The first time we tried this breakout room, students in school experienced terrible audio feedback and echoing. To remedy this problem, students in school used headphones or group members sat in nearby desks, so only one person in our physical classroom needed to join the Teams call. Even so, the way the breakout rooms work is ongoing and ever-changing as I learn more about my students and my students get to know one another.

For example, each period is set up a little differently. In 2nd and 5th period, students across the different schedules meet digitally. In 4th period, my students and I worked to regroup students by schedule, so hybrid 1 students work together, hybrid 2 students work together, and the online only students are interspersed throughout. This is helping them stay more focused in our brick and mortar classroom. 7th period is a combination of what I mentioned above. I needed to be flexible in order to meet everyone’s needs. Particularly for a group of three students who work really well together. They all have a different schedule, but they meet to work in Teams throughout the week.

Additional Breakout Rooms: In addition to the Wednesday “table group” breakout rooms, students, who are physically in school, turn and talk from their desks while remaining 6 feet apart. Online students join breakout rooms.

Going into this year, I knew online and hybrid learning would challenge the routines of my brick and mortar writing-reading workshop. Re-thinking conferences and group work is a continual focus of mine. I miss the roar of my students’ voices coming to life after reading their independent reading books or completing a quick write. My students miss the opportunity to easily and naturally chat with peers and friends. Through it all, I remind myself to stay present, breathe often, tinker with technology, and trust that my students’ voices will float whether online or in person.

I would love to hear how you are conferring with students and creating opportunities for students to talk and collaborate.

Teacher to Teacher: How Teachers & Students Use Independent Writing Time

By Lynne R. Dorfman

If we want our students to grow as writers, we need to give them ample time to refine their writing skills by flexing their writing muscles during uninterrupted periods of independent writing. This writing time, if at all possible, should occur daily.

Before you send your students off to write, they need a plan of action or a goal – what do they hope to accomplish today during independent writing time? They may focus on a teaching point from the mini-lesson, but they may also have another goal or problem to solve.

While they are writing, teachers observe and offer roving conferences, actively teaching their students in highly individualized ways. During the first 5 – 10 minutes, you can be a kidwatcher. Everyone is writing. There are no conferences, trips to the bathroom or pencil sharpener, or questions for the teacher. During this short period of time, teachers can observe writerly behaviors:

  • Observe posture, focus on the writing piece, where his eyes look in the classroom
  • Does she reread pages from his writer’s notebook?
  • Does the writer appear to be distracted? Is she focused on her writing piece or looking around the room or perhaps out the window?
  • Are there some topics or a writing type that the writer prefers (has more confidence) than others?
  • Does the writer spend most of his time writing or drawing?  Planning or drafting?
  • Does the writer look at the anchor chart from the mini-lesson?

Take some notes. Does the student create or use a memory chain, add to her expert list, or create a neighborhood map or heart map? Does he illustrate a notebook entry or add details to a drawing for his piece of writing?  Perhaps he is writing an annotation for an artifact in his portfolio or conducting research for an opinion piece he is writing. When she drafts, is she skipping every other line to make revision easier?  The notes you take during the first ten minutes of writing time help you learn more about your writers. Circulate around the room to observe who is getting the concept, skill, or strategy, find suggestions for future topics for mini-lessons, or gather information to place students in small groups for focused instruction.

During independent writing, you may offer a tip from a student in the form of a mid-workshop interruption. As you rove you may see a student doing something extraordinary that could be shared with the writing community. These mid-workshop interruptions boost confidence and self-esteem in the writer you choose to highlight and serve as an inspiration to other writers.

During independent writing time, students can meet in a peer conference or return to a previous piece of writing to rewrite in another format – a poem, perhaps. They can reread notebook entries to look for a new topic or even consider abandoning the piece of writing they are currently working on in favor of a different topic. There are many reasons to abandon a piece of writing. Make it the topic of one of your mini-lessons and create an anchor chart with the students. It may look something like this:


  • When it feels like a chore.
  • You have no passion for the topic – you are no longer having fun writing this piece. 
  • You are thinking about other story ideas.
  • You cannot visualize your characters.
  • You realize you do not have enough background – need to research and read more to be able to write this.
  • You are not the best person to write this piece.
  • It is someone else’s story (your mom’s or dad’s).
  • Rewrites/revision does not improve the piece.
  • The writing lacks energy.  It does not sound new/original or inviting.
  • It is not a topic for the target audience.

Fletcher (2017) would argue that the most important part of writing workshop is the daily independent writing time, not our mini-lesson. That’s why it’s so important to keep our direct instruction short – about ten minutes. If we plan wisely, we can deliver important explicit instruction and still give our students the gift of large periods of writing time each day.

Lynne R. Dorfman is a 1989 Writing Project fellow of the PA Writing & Literature Project. She is currently working on Welcome to Reading Workshop with Brenda Krupp. Lynne serves as an adjunct professor for Arcadia University and is co-president of KSLA Brandywine Valley Forge, her local reading council. Last Saturday she spent the morning in PAWLP’s writing group and the Continuity session. She looks forward to attending both groups on Nov. 7th. Look for the links on the Pennsylvania Writing & Literature Project page of West Chester University. Here is the link for the page: