The 3rd, 4th and 5th grade teachers from three schools in a nearby district met with me for the final of four 2-hour sessions on Common Core writing anchor 1, opinion writing. We reviewed the goals they set for themselves as writing teachers last month and reported to grade levels where they are now. I asked them to look at the opinion learning progression and talk about what they want to see their students do more and do less of…
I had only planned a few minutes on the agenda for this goal conversation, but as I listened to each table group I let it go longer. I could feel in the room the value of what they were sharing. I was struck by how teachers often need to talk, in a purposeful way. Like this conversational, informative and helpful tone in the library. It was a similar discovery to one I made with my fifth grade writing classroom. (Back before I became an intervention specialist.) My writers needed more time to talk about what they were envisioning, doing and evaluating. Back then I had to trust and give up some of my control agenda filled with lessons, points, activities, etc.
So the “do more” and “do less” take away for me was, do let teachers talk together more, especially when 3 campuses are convening. And sometimes “do less” means don’t put too many things on an agenda. In the previous sessions, we had already done much analysis and I had given much input. We had looked closely at student work to design instruction. I wanted our last session to be a strong writing experience, a call to deeply connect reading and writing — and to do book making as another way to elevate the importance of students’ writing — and celebrate it.
Today I gave the teachers more time and honored their discussion. Then we started writing on a self-assigned topic, using the tried and true “Conversational Prompts to Push Our Thinking.” My intent was for colleagues to experience a discovery draft on their topic and see that students, too, often find out what they think by writing.
After a short exercise on reading nonfiction, I planned to return to our writing but not until after a book making activity: Folding and assembling pages for an “origami’ book that opens like a starry concertina. I prepared the covers the night before to save time, but demonstrated brevity of instruction in the process, “Watch me. Catch up with me. Watch me now. Catch up with me.” I underscore this part: Brevity is the mother of good instructions. The teachers were delighted to be learning a new skill and making something.
I was a bit nervous since talk time had taken us off my agenda. I intended for the teachers to revise and transfer portions of their opinion discovery draft into the book they made. There was just enough time, maybe.
They unanimously decried the very idea. “What? You don’t want your text in the book?” I asked amazed.
They certainly did not. Some essays were kid-friendly topics, but as I questioned their reasoning more, they were clear they loved the artifact and example of the blank books and didn’t want to touch them. Some even prized them. So much for worrying about not having time to transcribe their best parts of the discovery draft.
That unexpected turn of events gave me time to leisurely summarize my points about workshop with some student photos and their captions as testimonial.
As the presenter, I represented my local writing project. We are dedicated to PD with the idea that teachers teaching teachers is the best model. It has been my experience that teachers in PD are usually expected to receive a great deal input, do a bit with it, and move on to the next thing.
I saw today that they sometimes need a context and time for professional conversations about what they are doing. Like my writers needed.