Tag Archives: Presentations

Samples of our PD work.

Your Words Can Change the World

Be bold -- not kind of bold.

Young writers in after school classes at my local ES are writing strong opinion speeches, letters and essays. Five brave teachers are learning the writing workshop, process approach as we adapt the best of grades 3 and 4 from Lucy Calkins UOS for Common Core writing into one unit.


Our work features the workshop strategies EL writers that best support them.

Working with “down drafts” in which they write “fast and furiously” frees the students from worrying too much about correct written English while they get their thinking on paper.  We are excited to see the volume of writing they are already producing with the shift from error correction mode.  (Later we will revise and edit.)


The principal gave our opening session a huge boost, by asking teachers their opinion about a school change she know would matter to the students.  What do you think of the idea of allowing students to wear jeans with their spirit shirts on Fridays? 

 Teachers are modeling “boxes and bullets” to give students oral strategies for exploring their opinions and support, and showing them the basic structure that essayists and speech writers use to plan while they think. Students “write in the air” and rehearse aloud with a partner.  The great thing about these strategies is that students do a lot of front end revision before they’ve even written the first draft.

Boxes and bullets is part of “essay boot camp” in the UOS, designed to teach the general structure of essays, without forcing student writing with formulaic lessons.  Students write personal essays on topics that matter to them and learn to revise them to persuasive arguments.


Students enjoy the social interaction and the creative, club-like atmosphere teachers have established. 

 Students are collecting their own ideas and being encouraged to write “flash drafts” from their basic box-and-bullets plans.  They have looked at their school through two lenses:  what is broken that I’d like to suggest fixing — and what is beautiful that I’d like to call attention to.  Giving students choice gets buy in.

Teachers are brave and bold as they read new curriculum and try out new strategies every Monday and Thursday, in addition to their busy regular classroom assignments.  Teachers are introducing student checklists, (student facing rubrics) to show students how to set goals for their own work and move themselves up the continuum of the Common Core learning progression for opinion writing.

We’ll find out on Monday if the principal was persuaded by the video speeches and written essays.

Next post, we’ll continue to build build stamina and volume with free writing. Students will be exploring addressing their audience, categorizing their reasons, balancing support, revising while writing, and creating powerful introductions and conclusions.





ELD Writing Club

IMG_0032My writing group of second and third graders who are learning English meets two more times.  We are making the origami fold books, a favorite vehicle of mine for all kinds of writing and study.

IMG_0034Our club begins with a timed free write.  Write fast, no erasing, keep writing.  When the timer goes off we count words.  Some writers this month have gone from a count of 14 or 19 to 49 and 56.  Some wrote much more fluently and all have upped their score consistently.  We write the word count at the top, then re-read the piece, and circle any words, phrases, or sentences that surprised or interested us.

Then we move on.

Gathering memories of a pet around a theme has been fun and it helps the students to write with focus.

IMG_0036We’ve got stories going about Smoky the cat who came in with a huge splinter, two birds who escaped from their cage rescued right before the dog ate them, finding a newborn puppy in the trash bin, a funny bunny who scares the family dog, playing with Goldy – a fish, a dog named Bella who picks a strange place to poddy, and getting Rainbow, a cute fish.

We have worked a bit with style and sentence fluency.  Writers use verbs to convey images.  I read aloud I Am the Dog, I Am the Cat to get us started and we list actions dogs or cats do that prove they are dependent or independent.  This starts a great deal of discussion about the children’s experiences, too.

IMG_0050_2 IMG_0049_2

So the grammar understanding is to get the use of conjunctions — and how to make complex sentences.  A “cat clause” (independent) plus a “dog clause” (dependent) is when it gets interesting (and complex).

But the really fun piece is starting the paper folding and attaching the pages to a cover for our custom book.  These origami books can be flipped over to do an “On the other hand” writing piece.  One one side all the wonderful attributes of a pet or person are shown with descriptive mini-stories.

IMG_0046Then, when you flip the book, “On the other hand, Fifi can really sometimes be a pest.  You get the idea.

I love the paper folding routine because it is pure demonstration with very few words.  It is “watch me,” then “catch up with me.”

IMG_0039One fold, then open into a V and say “valley.”  Then fold valley to valley.

Open the double valley up and turn over.  It is a “mountain.”  Squish the center of the mountain to flatten it. (FUN!)


Turn the corners to point up and down on your desk, and fold the bottom corner to the top, keeping a finger on the center.  This is folding your “napkin.”

IMG_0041_2It’s tricky if kids try to pick it up.  Model a proper tea, pinky finger keeping napkin neat on desk.

The next stage is magic.  It involves picking up the “napkin,” opening it and reaching UNDERNEATH to the center. 

Pop the center up.  Not only does the mountain reappear, it now has two little valleys.


(Really we could do this all day.)

Now the two little valleys on the side are going to become “feet” or “legs” and walk them in together.  The top, which is the center can be pinched to keep it neat.

IMG_0043This walking in the two sides makes it possible to lay the folded paper down and flatten it.  It is now one fourth of the page.  (We began with a square, 8.5 X 8.5 inches)

Each page will be corner glued to the next.  Kids get how to do this complex fold after two examples.  I do.  You do.  Then they teach others who are less sure.

The secret of assembling the pages is to imagine them each as a bird.
The center fold is the beak and the diagonal is the tail.
Glue the corners beak to tail.
Press down a moment to soak in glue stick, then open gently to check.
IMG_0044Monday we’ll make cover art on finger paint paper, because it’s glossy.  I have made paste paper covers with combs, but that is a huge art project.  The covers get cut out and glued over book cardboard.  When attached to the folded pages they look very cool.

IMG_0037It has been a pleasure having a writing class after school, thanks to the Family Literacy Grant via NWP and the Kellogg’s Foundation.  For me, since my instructional day is all Fountas & Pinnell leveled literacy groups, I’m so glad to be able to teach writing.

I have learned not to underestimate the power of story telling and to see children’s experiences with pets and animals as a wonderful source of motivation and feeling for their writing.  They are writing about what they really know and yet they have a great deal of choice, too.  Having a book project honors the effort they have put in, and to celebrate I’ll put the books out for Open House Night.

I Really Need to Stop Taking Photos of Kids Writing

IMG_0018Saturday Seminars at San Jose Area Writing Project today included the Young Writers – a morning workshop for students from grades 3-10.

What is it about seeing young people thinking, writing, imagining?  It must be the communicator genes in me, glad to see the craft going on to the next generation.  And, I don’t always see this kind of artistic, social space for students writing at school.  That’s also aesthetic.

IMG_2652The Sweeney Hall auditorium isn’t much of a classroom, but the space was used well for groups and activities this morning.  A mentor study was going on here on the stage.

IMG_0023Other students were bunched around some posters and were cartooning their stories.

IMG_0015Imaginative activities, like looking through the keyhole into Cinderella’s attic and picturing the theme of a beloved children’s book engaged young writers around the room.

IMG_0004 IMG_2670I also love seeing parents work with their children.

The tone of the room included “try it” and “let’s see what happens…” I think some of my photos caught the feel of the workshop.

IMG_0017It does this writing teacher good to see students come out to write on a Saturday.  I am grateful that the Writing Project work makes this available.  I hope to see some of these young writers in our summer programs.

Writing Changes Your Teaching

NWP gave me a wonderful opportunity  to join other SEED grant coordinators and spend 5 days writing instruments to assist teacher consultants who will be coordinating future grants for professional development in writing.

What follows here is a shorter version for presenting the idea to administrators and staff when making a proposal. 

Slide01 Slide02I have worked and talked with talented teacher presenters who tell me that their workshop time cannot include teachers writing, because there is so much content to include.  In other words, the pd model becomes direct teaching with modeling some moves a teacher might make.  This is useful for teachers who need new strategies, however, for teachers who teach writing it is not likely to improve the teacher’s ability to write.

Slide04Slide05In addition to the time issue for delivering professional development in writing, with the belief that what teachers need and want is more strategies, there is the obvious (though often overlooked) point that practitioners of any other craft or profession do not attempt to teach what they don’t know how to do well.  Imagine:  Dentist who dabbled in dentistry in college, now going to work on your teeth.  Tennis teacher who doesn’t play tennis, willing to teach you for a fee.  Fireman who knows a lot of theory about fires but has never put one out, rushing in on your stove fire.

Slide03The first challenge is to believe that all students deserve high-quality, authentic writing instruction and not succumb to the “talent” model that supposes that only a select few of the class can and will write well.  21st C learning demands the high level thinking that is built by thoughtful literacy instruction though out a student’s learning career.

Slide06 Slide07 Slide08One of the features necessary to a writers workshop (and good classroom instruction) is a warm, caring community in which risk taking and honesty are available.  Great teachers instinctively build these environments.  However, the atmosphere in professional development sessions, especially those which are selected by admin and not by teachers, is often not a learning community. And, these pd sessions are seldom about writing instruction!

Perhaps there is an “ice breaker” or a little warm up to soften the crowd, some of who clearly do not want to be there, and then the presenter launches into hours worth of content.  It is a direct teaching model, even when there are turnouts for table activities.  And the teachers leave with a packet and some notes scribbled on slides.

Slide09 Slide10 Slide11 Slide12My experience of writing groups that work comes from the Writing Project.  In the Intensive Summer Institute, the first provocations to write center on getting to know the voices and people in the room.  The resources for these activities will be in another blog post.

Listening is the key to our literacy instruction in the classroom.  Likewise, it is the key to building a caring community of learners.  The facilitators or teacher leaders model listening and emphasize it as a skill from the outset.  It will flourish and then so will the sharing of writing and ideas.

Slide13 Slide14 Slide15 Slide16Teachers come into pd with negative experiences of staff development and they also often have to teach in situations in which they have little agency.  Their capacity to make decisions for their instruction is often overridden by mandates or programatic directives from “above” them.  One of the most imporant pieces in developing great writing pd is to establish the agency of each teacher.  This is similar to the writing workshop philosophy and practice that aims to create independent writers, the style of instruction that allows students to be in charge of their own writing.  Not just to make choices of topics, but to decide when to revise or not.

Slide17 Slide18 Slide19 Slide20 Slide21 Slide22The teachers in my district who participated in afternoon writing groups after school reported that the thing that made the most difference in their teaching was to take the “Prompt Pledge.”  They valued the Moonlight University instruction and the teacher consultants who came in and worked in classrooms, and found working on their own writing helpful, but posting and honoring the prompt pledge to “walk a mile in your students’ moccasins” made the most impact.

Slide1For decades the writing workshop process model has helped teachers shift from assign/grade in an error correction model to one that facilitates student learning and teacher savvy in writing instruction.  However, even teachers who structure writing classrooms as a workshop, and who teach short clear craft moves in minilessons –often ask their students to take writing benchmarks from the district, or tests, or to write assigned pieces — without writing to the prompt themselves.

In addition, time-pressed teachers often limit their “reflection” on practice to sighs and comments in the staff room with their peers.  They don’t get the advantage of the discovery draft that reveals their thinking to them, because they are not given and do not take time to write reflectively on their practice.  (Not after an M.A. program, anyway)

Slide23 Slide24 Slide25While changing our teaching to a proven workshop model will immediately improve student writing, real growth can be measured over time.  Teachers are people too, and growth takes time.  Writing develops.  Writing, as composing, rather than formulaic writing instruction, will take time to gain skill in all the aspects.

Slide26 Slide27 Slide28I think that promoting authentic writing instruction is similar to advocating for the arts in schools.  Both composing and design can be demystified.  Students can learn to write multigenre pieces and for real world purposes just the same as they can learn to design and produce posters, digital pieces and high-quality visual communications.

It goes back to what we believe.  What is your credo for writing?  What do you believe about writing instruction in schools?

As a educator, would it change your teaching to write with other teachers in a workshop?  Would it matter to write along with your students, not just to produce a model or example, but to join a community of thinkers?

The Wine-taster’s Approach to Writing

OChateauxAt OChateaux, the first wine translates, “far from the eye” — grapes grown in the shade.  Its fragrance is lemony like magnolias, its taste tangy. I liken this delicacy to the phrases and lines that arise from recent memories, from the writer’s private, poetic joy in nature, flowers and solitude.

The Chablis is clean, a clear accent over goat cheese, very smooth, no bite. The taste of directly rendered, simple experience without qualifying, without impressing an audience.  My moments are valuable, some more so than others, and what I have to say is worth the while of writing.

The Clos Hermitage smells like fresh spring rain in the morning, complex.  It pairs nicely with sheep cheese. Some writing times are filled with creativity, unbidden, to be enjoyed momentarily.  Some rich overlap of ideas and experience get into words on a page and revised with craft and care.  Because these lovely tastes are not daily fare does not mean I should not write.

Le Prieuré 2009 smells smoky offering a rich woodsy flavor of raspberry.  It has a filmic quality like Florence; pairs with brie with truffles. A mysterious ferment to write, some appellation that I cannot remember, brings me back to blog, to send notes to loved ones, but mainly to meet myself.  One way that I taste life is by swirling it in a glass, noting its color and composing.