Tag Archives: professional development

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?

Screening and Progress Monitoring

I’m back filling data off RenLearn tracking six rounds of focus groups,

marshaling them into a tidy Excel format.  But this task is getting tedious.  Screening sounds more like screaming

and progress mumbling and my entire year keeps passing by my eyes.

And faces of kids

with each name appear and roll by my mind

wondering if I did enough

and who did I miss? fearing there’s a kid who dropped off the map.

Old barn

My brain is tired and my neck and shoulders beyond weary.

I think I’d better back off the report

for the sake of having a bit of style and smile for the full day tomorrow.

The data will make it to my principal for Friday’s review.



trusses for gutters
Trusses for roof rain gutters and soffets

When I bought my 1917 bungalow in historic downtown, the necessity for a new roof was apparent.  What was not so obvious, until I delved into the matter with my contractor, was that the new rain gutters could not be applied nor the rotten soffets repaired until the perimeter of the roof was trussed.  So we know when students are failing.

What does this have to do with writing?  Today I’ve been looking broadly and deeply at school data for ELA, monitoring those struggling students who arrived in the next grade level far below basic in performance.  What we don’t know is how to design our classroom for effective brain performance, instead of around textbooks and worksheet examples. The photo shows several of the 50 trusses made to finish the roof renewal.

A great deal of what I believe and try to do as an intervention teacher comes down to those trusses.  Kids need feedback.  Right away. We know from research that the best learning happens in one-on-one tutoring, even on a computer.  Giving the feedback for each response…item by item.  And student brains figure it out!  Additionally, sometimes writing is the best formative assessment, costing little to administer and yielding abundant information for the teacher, yet the least often trusted and selected.

Our students experience a windstorm of new information and the ELL’s a hailstorm of language demands with little attention to accurate, helpful feedback along the way.  Saying “You got a 65.” on a multiple choice test does not qualify as feedback.  Students take a district benchmark and either seldom hear how they did or merely see a score on a report card.  The state standards assessments are even less timely.  Sometime in the summer they get a cut score ranking in the mail.

Do we believe anymore that the human brain can learn from having its correct answers confirmed and its mistakes pointed out?

Some students are fortunate to be with teachers who are listening, assessing and giving the maximum immediate individual feedback humanly possible in a classroom full of young people. However, some are just going on, talking and introducing more and more, like a rainstorm without gutters. An obvious problem is that, as the grade levels progress, the sheer amount of content increases so much that it is difficult to give students specific feedback and teach.  Then that enemy of excellence creeps in, “Coverage.”

But those moments when teachers slow down and give real feedback are applying trusses.  Each will hold up the next bit of learning.  Feedback and feedback and feedback is like a row of trusses, fifty of them going all around the perimeter.  Then my roof could support rain gutters and soffets.  So I’m going into my next cycle of intervention with a contractor’s eye and doing some carpentry on my lesson delivery that will create trusses.