Teacher Toolkit Party!

Conferrinimg_2394g is one of the most important parts of our class period. Research is overwhelming on the benefits of real time feedback. And while I believe in the power of research, I was really sold on conferencing when I saw the difference it made my students. It is one of the most powerful moves I can make to help my students grow in reading and writing.

As I’ve learned more about conferring, I’ve come to understand that the teacher and student tools I use must be purposeful and strategic. After professional development opportunities–particularly with Teacher’s College, some friends and I decided we needed timcwsb2jowaaao0l3e to build the tools together.  So our district organized a 6-12 grade teacher toolkit party!

The goal of this party was to gather resources for teacher tools and give time for teachers to work together building toolkits.  We had around 30 teachers join together on a Wednesday from 3:30-5:00 pm to work together.  It was amazing!

We were particularly grateful to Jennifer Serravallo and Kate and Maggie Roberts for not only all their published resources, which are without a doubt some of the best out there, but also for taking time to send us some advice for our party.

cwsnauuxyaarh3fSince our main goal at the party was to create tools and toolkits, I did not give as much introduction to conferring and the use of tools.  Teachers were all in varying places with conferring work, so I’ve added more information for those who would like it.  Below is what we used at our party, as well as the additional resources (with links!) for conferring work.  Or you can view the informational Sway.

I would love share ideas from others who do something similar to toolkit parties.

Conferring Toolkit Basics

“Conferring is not the icing on the cake; it is the cake.” -Carl Anderson, aka Conferring Carl

“Real time feedback is the number one thing that is going to close the achievement gap.” Cris Tovani

Why confer?

  • Conferring with students is the heart of workshop.
  • It allows teachers to give timely feedback to students.
  • It allows teachers to build relationships with the readers and writers in their classrooms.
  • It builds community in the classroom among students.
  • It helps give students the tools they need to lift the level of their reading and writing immediately.

Types of Conferences:

  • One-on-one (teacher and student)
  • Partnership (teacher and two students or student and student)
  • Table (teacher and students sitting together in one group)
  • Small Group (teacher and strategically pulled group of students)

Conferring Resources:

What is a teaching tool?

Tools …

  • improve our students’ work*
  • help our students build agency and independence*
  • make teaching clear by answering:  how do readers and writers actually do that?*
  • help organize and bring clarity to the strategies in your classroom*
  • keeps strategies front and center and allows students to refer to them even after the lesson is over*
  • they help learning stick*

Tools …

  • are visual*
  • make the abstract concrete*
  • encourage repeated practice*

Tools are not …

  • simply handouts
  • worksheets
  • too wordy

*taken from Kate Roberts & Maggie Roberts, DIY Literacy

Types of effective teaching tools…

  • Charts
  • Demonstration Notebooks
  • Micro-progressions of skills
  • Bookmarks
  • Model Notebooks
  • Mentor texts
  • Student writing
  • Tips/strategies to leave with student
  • Mini-charts
  • Student tools

**Some of these overlap and some can be housed within notebooks.

Teaching Tools Resources:

What is a toolkit?

A toolkit is where you house your teaching tools. Teacher toolkits will have different tools depending on the teacher’s goals. There is also a lot of flexibility in how the teacher decides to house the tools.

Another toolkit that might be used is a student toolkit. This would be where you house tools for students so they can easily access them.

What might go in your toolkit?

  • Color code (with sticky notes) a page of text to know what to use or lenses (green—sentence structure; pink—craft moves; yellow—structure of text; blue—example of a try it)
  • Color code an essay (green—structure; purple—craft; black—grammar)
  • Craft cards in bags
  • Prompts to leave behind
  • Checklists
  • Progressions—broken into sections like leads, elaboration, evidence, etc—points with a sticky note of examples
  • Marked up mentor texts (student text, professional text, teacher text)
  • Demo writing at different level
  • Mini-charts
  • Leave-behinds (prompts, reminders…)
  • If/then pages
  • Assessment items (rubrics, checklists, etc)
  • My reader/writer notebook
  • Sticky notes, highlighters, markers, etc.
  • Anchor texts

How could a toolkit be organized?

  • Categories—Structure, elaboration, craft, conventions
  • Writing Process Stages—generating, developing, drafting, revising, editing
  • Folder system, binder with page protectors, sketch book, pony folders

**Tools can be housed electronically, as well. Suggested resources: Evernote or OneNote

Toolkit Resources:

We will be posting examples we’ve made on Twitter and Instagram with the hashtags #hocoela #toolkit — keep checking to see if your toolkit or tool has been featured!

Twitter: @hocoela and @WallChristie

Instagram: @elacoachwall

I could have written a better paper

2015-12-02 15.15.29I’m in the middle of grading 152 literary analysis papers. As I’m reading these papers, I’m proud. Not because they are perfect—they aren’t. This isn’t even the best set of literary analysis papers I’ve received from 10th graders during my teaching career.

No, the best literary analysis papers I’ve ever received may have been from those students years ago who I heavily guided (probably somewhat mercilessly) with preselected text, a thesis developed by the class and then tweaked by me, and a plan I had constructed for them to flesh out the predetermined structure. But why shouldn’t they have been the best? I was the best writer in the room, and I did most of the thinking work in writing the paper.

There are numerous problems with this teaching practice, which I have worked relentlessly to change over the years.

Chris Lehmann, the founding principal of the Science Leadership Academy, says, “If you assign a project and get back 30 of the exact same thing, that’s not a project, it’s a recipe.” I think the same is true for student writing. We can’t keep giving our students all the ingredients and the recipe for their work. They don’t have to think, or at least not a lot, 51yvxpuquxl-_sx258_bo1204203200_when we do this.

Right now our ELA department is doing a book study on Reading and Writing Project Staff Developer Christopher Lehman’s Energize Research Reading and Writing. He talks about research being “messy and exciting” (9) and says that

“handing students topics and preselected sources removes a natural and important step of learning to do anything: making errors. If we are developing students to be creative, flexible, independent learners, then we cannot scrub away opportunities for mistakes to be made and corrections to be learned” (10, emphasis added).

While literary analysis may not be considered traditional research, Lehman’s challenge here was at the heart of designing this unit. (For more on this unit, see literary analysis post and writing boot camp post.)

Students had almost complete control over their choice of short story to analyze. While during the reading part of the unit I gave students many lenses on how to analyze a text, they decided which ones they wanted to 2015-11-16 09.52.08use in their writing. We looked at tons of mentor theme statements and practiced finding themes, but they developed their own theme statements for their papers. They were never locked in—several students completely changed their story and many changed their lenses as they began to work out their thinking in their writing. One student remarked, “I have to go back to my text because now that I’m writing I realize none of evidence I collected really works.”

This type of learning takes courage—for me and for my students.

I’m not a parent, but I imagine the feeling of not wanting to see your own child fail is similar to the feeling I have about my students. It was hard not to jump in and tell them that I thought they were going to have a hard time with a particular story, or lens, or the evidence gathered. It was a bit scary having students write in such a formal manner about stories that I had not read.

It took courage for the students to work as hard as they did on 2015-11-18 13.40.32independent reading and writing. They were brave in the way they rehearsed their thinking and changed their ideas about the literature and their writing as they went through the process. There were no right or wrong answers to make them feel safe.

So as I sit here grading the 152 literary analysis papers that I could have done a better job writing, I am beaming with pride. I have that “mama pride.” I see their authentic work, their own thinking and voice coming alive on the paper, their depth of understanding that went so much further than when asked to simply plug and play. Not to mention, I was not bored by reading the exact same thing over and over in slightly different words.

Most 2015-12-01 16.20.30importantly, though, my students are proud. Many have said they are turning in their best paper they’ve ever written. Some commented on how they finally figured out how to write about literature. One student, who I’m often lucky if I ever get his work by the due date, turned in his paper on time proudly, saying he even skipped playing basketball to work on his writing.

There is power in giving students choice and ownership. There is power in allowing students the freedom to make mistakes. There is power in students finding their voice through independent writing.

Bonus Read: If you are like me and could not attend NCTE this year (or even if you did and you want to relive it), there are lots of blogs worth checking out. Sarah Zerwin’s daily NCTE blog with an additional top takeaway post is a great place to start. Thank you, Elizabeth, for introducing me to this blog on your Links I Loved Last Week.  Also, check out her Top Ten List about NCTE15. To Make a Prairie gives thanks to NCTE with a beautiful post of inspiration and challenges.

I survived writing boot camp!

2015-11-16 09.48.58This week all my students are participating in writing boot camp during class. What makes writing boot camp different than just a week of writing instruction? It’s very focused. It’s intense. It’s about the mindset.

Doing a little internet research, I found several keys to running a successful fitness boot camp. I think these apply to an academic writing boot camp as well.

  1. Research: Spend time finding out what skills students need additional focus and which ones they already know how to do.
  2. Start with good management: Figure out how to divide the skills across the week, how much time to spend on the skills, and what resources are needed.
  3. Craft the boot camp so it offers something new or different: This week 2015-11-16 10.47.31has to feel different from the other weeks in class; it has to be special. It may be that students are allowed to bring in snacks/drinks or spread out on the floor. It may be that all instruction is focused on this type of writing. It may be that music will be playing while they write.
  4. Focus on quality class structure: Students have to buy in to the boot camp. The first day is the most important. They have to feel like they really accomplish something and are encouraged to do the hard work in the days to come.
  5. Invest in marketing: Build it up in the weeks prior to the boot camp. They should know a challenge is coming but feel excited to meet the challenge.
  6. Invest in resources: Make sure there are mentor texts, access to writing materials, and other handouts for quick teaching of a skill.
  7. Start small: Students have to feel that they have accomplished something (as do you!), so start with something small on the first day that they can use to build on the rest of the week.
  8. Time class properly: Boot camp has to be structured. Time every part of it so that the pace is consistent. Use phrases like, “You have 10 minutes! Ready! Set! Go!” It should feel like a mental workout!
  9. Create a feeling of camaraderie: This is a group experience. The teacher should be walking around reading, encouraging, guiding, gently correctly. The class should celebrate each others work and 2015-11-16 10.02.12improvements.
  10. Structure class like group personal training: Make class adjustments for each class period: change length of times, resources, or focus skills as necessary. Give as much personal and small group attention as possible. Reflect not only on each day but each period.
  11. Reward: Make a big deal about completing boot camp and the accomplishments/growth made during the week.

This is a general overview of our writing boot camp.

We have 50-minute class periods (except Wednesday which is 45 minutes).

Previous to Boot Camp (see more about this in last week’s post):

  • Read three short stories (of your choice, must be approved) and write journal entries on each.
  • Choose one short story and complete close reading lens analysis with six lenses.
  • Establish a theme statement for the short story.
  • Write a 100-words on author bio, context, and summary of short story.
*The minutes indicate quiet student work time and do not include the instruction time in between.

2015-11-18 13.00.27Monday
1. Collect and review all previous work, data, evidence. (2 minutes)
2. Write a flash draft (or quick write) about theme in the short story. (5 minutes)
3. Revise or reword theme statements, as needed. (5 minutes)
4. Deciding on best lenses to prove development of theme (all analysis is a form of argument). Choose three out of the 6. (5 minutes)
5. Write a thesis statement; focus on active verb. (7 minutes)
6. Gather information for context in the introduction. (5 minutes)
7. Write a working introduction (subject to change). (10 minutes)

1. Finish introduction– make it tight. (3 minutes)
2. Focus on one lens and gather appropriate evidence. (10 minutes)
3. To use a quote or not to quote? Summary, paraphrase, and quotations (mid-workshop teaching point)
4. Flash draft for first lens. (5 minutes, 1 minute break, 6 minutes, 1 minute break)
5. Writing partner review. (10 minutes)
6. Brag about something your partner did.

1. Look at mentor text for writer’s craft moves for literary analysis. Chart.2015-11-18 13.02.24
2. Discuss possible structure of body paragraphs (write about each lens separately or blending lenses).
3. Work on body paragraphs (7 minutes, 1 minute break, 10 minutes, 1 minute break, 12 minutes)
4. Share out best sentence.

1. Discuss strategies for conclusions.
2. Continue writing paper—work on whatever is needed. (10 minutes, 1 minute break)
3. Work with a writing partner to discuss writing and trouble shoot problem areas. (10 minutes)
4. Continue writing. (15 minutes)
5. Make a goal list for final boot camp day.

2015-11-18 13.40.32Friday
1. Discuss revision and proofreading strategies.
2. Write independently. (10 minutes)
3. Work with peers and conference on final touches. (30 minutes)
4. Reflect on boot camp and name the one thing you are most proud of from this week.


What my students said:

Overall, students appreciated the experience, even if they didn’t all love it. Some really struggled with the timed parts. Next time, I will be clearer of how they can use their time and that they can finish later what they don’t finish in that timed session. However, I will not change using timed writing sessions. Our students have to practice timed writing and many of students will take AP the following year. It’s good practice for them, and I believe it kept my students more focused and productive.

Another concern several students raised was that they felt unsure about what they were supposed to be writing. I think this came from not being given a formula to follow. I will not give a formula, but I may do more small group sessions during some of the time writing stages or offer small groups before or after school for more direction, in the future.

As for the positives, I’ll let you hear their voices:

  • I loved that it pushed me to do more in my writing than I ever thought I could.
  • I liked the examples and text given to us in order to aid in our writing.
  • I liked how it pushed me to think faster and write more thoroughly.
  • I’m learning to fix mistakes that I habitually make in my writing.2015-11-16 10.48.04
  • I liked having the option of asking any question right when I had the problem in my writing.
  • I am most proud that I have been about to identify errors in my own paper and identify good things in my own paper.
  • I liked that we had the opportunity to revise our papers as we were writing them.
  • I have learned to weave lenses into my writing the correct and efficient way.
  • The fact that I was able to write for a long time made me happy.
  • I liked the freedom of choice.
  • Writing boot camp has helped me know how to analyze a piece of text.
  • Writing boot camp helped me realize that I could do a lot better.
  • Writing boot camp has helped me understand my strengths and weaknesses in writing. It has also helped me learn to pull information from text.
  • I think writing boot camp was great! At first, I thought it would be just terrible, but it turned out to be really fun and challenging in a good way. I love that we had a chance to really analyze a story.

I think this idea is a keeper. Now just to get some “I survived writing boot camp” t-shirts…

Bonus Read: I really liked Katy’s post (Not) Going Fishing on the Turn and Talk Blog.  One, I am just a Katy fan, and I really liked her voice in this blog.  But most importantly, this post challenged me to think about how and when and why I question in the class.  One thing I learned through this writing boot camp process was how much time I actually do have in the classroom.  Now that we are finished with boot camp, I want to make sure I keep maximizing my time.  Becoming effective with questioning is a way to do that.  Effective questioning is purposeful.  Thanks Katy for the fun metaphorical reminder!

This class is real life

As a student was leaving my class the other day, she remarked, “This class is real life.”

“Reading and writing is life,” I quipped back.

She smiled. “You know what I mean. Classes aren’t always like real life.”

And I know she is right. So many times what we do in class is in a bubble—it’s things that we deem important but have little or no direct connection to students’ present lives, nor their future lives outside our four walls. (By the way, Justin Tarte has an excellent post on why we should stop using the term “real life.”)

I’ve made a very concerted effort this year to make class more reflective of life. I want my class to be an extension of life, a space to examine life, and a safe place to try out our ideas about life.

Below are 5 examples of what we’ve been up to in Room 2414. Some ways I’ve tried to doFacebook Page 3 this are new this year; others have been tweaked or changed from previous years.

Social Action: Three years ago, I was challenged to have my students use reading, writing, and speaking to do something to selfless to impact their world. Mary Ehrenworth says, “We have to teach toward social justice & personal empowerment or there would be no reason to teach at all.”

So I developed a multi step social action performance task that my sopho2014-12-09 12.27.43mores complete throughout the course of the year. You can see an overview of the assignment here.

If you are wanting to implement something of this nature, I suggest using the following books as references: Randy Bomer and Katherine Bomer’s For a Better World: Reading and Writing for Social Action; Linda Christensen’s Teaching for Joy and Justice; and Barbara Lewis’s The Teen Guide to Global Action. I’ve also posted other resources on my Pinterest Social Issue & Justice board.

Each year I am so moved by the comments students make in their final reflection. A few of their comments are below. I also included three of the culminating videos from former students (Domestic Abuse and Feeding the Hungry video links are here). I agree with Mary; this is why we teach.

  • In my opinion, most projects are just for a grade to be put in, but this was more about opening yourself up to the truth in life. I think it was about finding out who you really are and how to use your positive traits to make a difference.
  • I realize that the point of this project was not only to help benefit those in need, or to change how people view an issue. It was so much more than that. The project was to show those in our class that we are all people, we all have feelings, and all of us go through struggles, both big and small. It helped me realize that I’m not the only one who has struggled with their self-image and that even when I thought I was alone, there will always be people, somewhere, willing to listen.
  • Probably about a week ago, we were setting a date and time to go drop our donations off at Loaves and Fishes and I had a sort of epiphany. I realized that what we’re doing really does matter and even though it may not seem like we’re doing a lot, we are. We can’t just sit back and wait for the next guy to do it just because we aren’t the president or Senate. We aren’t even eighteen yet and we can still take action!
  • When we asked people at our school to leave an encouraging message for someone with suicidal thoughts, I honestly was expecting crazy messages. In high school, you always have those people who are going to have immature and rude things to say regardless of the purpose, but shockingly most of our messages were so sweet and inspirational. These messages included bible verses, inspirational sayings, and even personal experiences sharing their own suicidal thoughts and how they were overcome. It really opened my eyes to know that some of my fellow [students], people I might see in the hallway five days a week, actually shared some of the same concerns we discovered in our research.

Relevant application text: We’ve been working on argument this unit. I’m a HUGE fan of George Hillocks’s Teaching Argument Writing. The book (you can get a sample chapter here) gives several ways to teach argument through progression of relevant texts and situations. My students have been engaged in learning, have a deeper understanding of arguments (and the importance of each part of argument), and are more effective in developing and analyzing arguments.

In his foundation chapters, Hillocks discusses how crime shows and court cases exhibit the work we are teaching students. I took two of the texts he mentioned, CSI (season 1, episode 3) and the Supreme Court Case Scott v. Harris, and created extension lessons. You can access the transcript online, or you can use a condensed version (with instructions) I created for my classes.

Students loved using what they we had learned about argument in analyzing these text. There was much rich discussion about claims, evidence, warrants, counterclaims, rebuttals. Both of these text provided complex, rigorous examples that required the students too look closely, go back to the text, and think about the way claims were made and evidence presented. They learned so much more than if they had looked at an artificial text that neatly displayed each element of argument. And, dare I say, they had fun doing it.

Other texts we have used in the argument unit can be found on my Pinterest Argument Text Set board.  More to be added here as we continue through this unit.

Audience: I find providing an authentic audience for my students is hard sometimes, but I also feel it is incredibly important. It is something that I am working hard to do in my class this year. After we completed our memoirs, I had students share their memoirs with an adult and asked the adult to share some written comments with them. I wasn’t sure how this would turn out, but I have been pleasantly surprised. Students asked a variety of adults, including parents, grandparents, former teachers, and even administrators. The adult feedback has been meaningful, instructive, and even humorous at times.

File Sep 23, 1 28 46 PMOne of my favorites was when a student shared her story about an ambulance ride. The student had leukemia when she was very young, but she doesn’t tell people. She doesn’t want to be seen as a victim or have people treat her differently. She asked for a former teacher to read and comment on her story. When she got his comments back, she immediately came to my room, crying. She was so moved by the support she received and realized she could be a support for others.

With this type of response, I don’t know how I could ever go back to being the only audience for their work. I will be exploring ideas and ways to connect students with authentic audiences throughout the year.

Article of the Week: I totally took this idea from one of my heroes, Kelly Gallagher. He very clearly articulates the power behind using an article of the week on his website. He also posts links to the articles he uses. I use this website, Newsela (which allows you to change the Lexile level of the same article), and other articles that I come across. I post articles I use to my Pinterest Articles board.

At the beginning of the year, students often struggle with sharing their thoughts on the subjects. We learn how to talk, to support or disagree respectfully, to listen, and how to dig deeper on topics. I am often surprised at how little my students know about the world around them, and I feel this is an excellent way to connect world events with what we are studying and to help them become more educated citizens of the world.

Choice in reading: I’ve written about this in a previous post, so I won’t say a lot here. It is just so important for students to have authentic reading experience—not forced, shallow responses, made up logs, or artificial conversation. If I want my students to be lifelong readers, then I have to help them establish habits of a reader.

Bonus Read: If you read my last post, you know I am a huge Kylene Beers fan. Her blog post about Rigor and Talk Checklist for Nonfiction text is very timely. In this post she responds to a teacher’s question:

“How do you know if they are talking at a surface level or really digging deeper?”

She even includes a checklist that will be in her and Probst’s new Reading Nonfiction Notice and Note book that is coming soon.

Lifting the level of writing through mentor text

I’ve been thinking a lot about how work is done in my class. I love the time I have with my students when we meet in the middle to learn a new skill or new strategy. I love listening during work sessions when they are trying out their skills and strategies in their work. I love conferencing with students and having meaningful conversations about their struggles and celebrations in their reading and writing. These are all necessary and vital parts of my classroom.

But I also love when students discover learning on their own with only gentle nudges from me. This was the type of thinking and learning we focused on this week.

We are writing narratives, more specifically memoirs. Students have worked hard to get their ideas down on paper and write a complete draft. And they have done this more or less successfully. Let’s be honest, this is not the first narrative they’ve ever written. I wouldn’t be surprised if some of them are recycling that token memory they’ve used in several previous grades for narrative work.

But I wanted them to lift the level of their writing.

So here’s how we went about it:
I made copies of an excerpt from the first chapter of Geoffrey Canada’s Fist Stick Knife Gun and the lyrics to Macklemore’s Wings. (Full disclosure: I was introduced to both of these texts through Mary Ehrenworth, one of my heroes in life, during a Teacher’s College workshop. There are so many uses for these texts!) I did a read aloud of Fist Stick Knife Gun. We talked briefly (really briefly) about this text and how it fit our definition of memoir. Then I asked students what craft moves did Canada make that really worked well in his writing?

I would love to tell you that my students were shouting out ideas so fast I couldn’t keep up as I furiously jotted on our anchor chart. But that didn’t happen. It was quiet. Silent, actually.

I waited.

A student finally said, “I really liked this part when they were talking.”

“I like that part too! But what did Canada do in his writing, what craft move did he make, that makes us, the reader, like this part?” I responded. And then waited some more.

“He uses dialogue that sounds like a kid. His words are more like that of small kids, so you know he is telling it from that perspective,” another student chimed in.

“Is this a move we could try out in our writing? Making sure our dialogue is authentic?”

We worked through a few more craft moves with this piece in the same manner—asking the students to think about the writer’s craft and the impact of the craft. 2015-08-19 12.32.57We watched Wings and talked about what visual craft moves we could mimic in our writing as well, listing these on chart paper.

Then I gave students a text set with more memoirs (the texts that I used are listed at the bottom of the blog). They worked together to read through these memoirs (they had been exposed to several of these already) and added craft moves they found to our chart paper. The next day I posted the charts from all the classes on the wall and asked students to select two moves they wanted to try out in their writing.

Later in the week, we repeated a version of this with leads and conclusions. Instead of just taking a few notes on leads and conclusions, students developed their own list of craft moves for effective leads and conclusions. Then they decided what might2015-08-19 14.40.51 work for their memoir.

Here’s what I liked about this:

  1. Students were engaged with many mentor texts that they could use as references.
  2. Students were reading like a writer.
  3. Students were learning to talk the expert language of writers.
  4. Students took ownership of the craft moves they wanted to try in their writing.
  5. Students’ writing was lifted through the work in a meaningful way.
  6. Students discovered way more craft moves than I could have shown them in a mini-lesson.
  7. Students were self-assessing their writing using the mentor texts.

I was most pleased with the conversations I overheard during their work sessions or when the students met with me for writing conferences.

2015-08-19 12.09.55Here’s a few of my favorites:

  • Brenden: My dialogue is trash. It’s not real at all. I’m going to go back and rework it.
  • Samareia: I tried changing my point of view to when I was a kid, but I didn’t like it. I think it made it confusing, so I’m going to tell it in flashback.
  • Darrell: I think I used the same word like 50 times in here. I need stronger words.
  • Savannah: I realized I wrote too much about other stuff that wasn’t important. I want to zoom in on the small moment and elaborate more.
  • Audrey: I really liked how powerful the use of repetition was. I want to try that out. I’m going to do several small moments and use repetition to tie it together.

A note about wait time:  This wouldn’t have been as effective if I had jumped in during the silence.  Students need wait time to process, to think, to formulate responses–especially when doing new or rigorous work.  Silence is okay.  Let the moment hang there to give students time to work through the question.  If we, as teachers, always give the answers after a few seconds of quiet, students will learn they don’t have to process or think, they just have to wait out the teacher.

Bonus Read: So many feels when I read Amy’s My Classes are Only 45 Minutes—How Do I Do Workshop? post on the Three Teacher’s Talk blog. Like Amy, this is a question that I wish I had an answer to many years ago. I’ve done a lot of trial and error (and still do) to find the right balance in my 50-minute class period. This post provides much wisdom and many resources. I recommend this post to all teachers in all stages (even haven’t started) of workshop.  There is something for everyone here.

“When I was first trying to figure it out, the best advice I got was from Penny Kittle. She told me: ‘You choose to do this, which means you choose not to do that.’” I recommend this read for any teacher at any stage (even not started) of the workshop integration.

Memoir Text Set (in no particular order):

**Many of these texts and other great ones can be found in The Moment: Wild, Poignant, Life-Changing Stories from 125 Writers and Artists Famous & Obscure, edited by Larry Smith.

**Some texts were edited for classroom use

What I learned when I did the work I gave my students

It was Friday afternoon, our first week with students completed. It was a great week, but I was exhausted and ready to go home. As I was tidying up and trying to figure out what I needed to take home with me, I kept thinking about our memoir unit. Something was bothering me. I walked down the hall to Laura’s room. We 2015-08-11 11.46.10debriefed for a moment about a narrative mapping brainstorm activity she had learned at our district’s Teacher’s College (TC) Home Grown this year. The activity turned out really well, but I shared with her that I wasn’t sure my students were finding those significant moments.

She responded: When we were at Home Grown this summer, the thing that really lifted our level of writing was that Carla (TC Staff Developer, follow her on Twitter) had a powerful memoir of her own to share.

Laura’s response stayed with me.

Just the day before, Elizabeth had shared a powerful tweet from TC Staff Developer Katy (follow her on Twitter and her and her colleague’s blog) :


Both these moments reminded me of a question another TC Staff Developer,  Cornelius (follow him on Twitter and his blog), asked me. I had told him I was struggling with what skills were needed, how to articulate those skills, and when to teach those skills.

He responded: Christie, have your written the essay? It’s really powerful to do the work we want our students to do. How do we know what to teach without knowing what it takes to master the standard or skill ourselves?

Then, there was the part in one of my favorite books, Cris Tovani’s So What Do They Really Know?

“Most kids want to be successful, so when they aren’t, it’s my job to find out why. I ask these questions:  Have I done the assignment myself? What hurdles did I face that my students might be experiencing?  Have I modeled how to negotiate the hurdles? …”  (2011, p. 142).

I realized maybe what I needed was to stop, look at what I had sketched out for my students to do the following week, and do it myself. So I did. And here is what I learned.

What I planned: On Friday, we had spent time doing the narrative map and closed by writing for a few minutes on one small moment from their map. For Monday, I had planned to have them write about two more small moments, giving them the opportunity to “try on” a few more ideas before beginning a draft.

When I did it: I did the narrative map with my students on Friday. I chose to do the Ely Market from when I lived in England. Although there were lots of small moments from my trips to the Ely Market, there wasn’t really three moments that I wanted to write about. I felt a bit frustrated with having to make three ideas work.

What I changed: I decided I wanted to give my students a few more opportunities to brainstorm in different ways. I pulled out my writer’s notebook from Home Grown 2014. TC Staff Developer Gerrit (follow him on Twitter)  had given five different ways to brainstorm, whereas I 2015-08-11 11.56.41had only given my students one. So we will spent time thinking of important people in our lives, doing a personal timeline, and listing turning points in our lives. Also, I asked students to “write in the air” about several ideas. I think talking out their idea with a partner who has purposeful questions to ask helped them think through their ideas before we start flash drafting. (Side note:  I teach six classes, so I made the brainstorming charts once and then used sticky notes to model each class period.)

What I planned: I wanted students to get their ideas out on paper, and I wanted to work on writing stamina. At this point, I wasn’t really concerned about how it sounded or looked. To get them to do this, I was going to have them write without stopping in two different segments with pointed instructions to talk to a partner in-between writing session.2015-08-11 11.58.31

When I did it: I knew I needed to write the memoir myself all day, but I kept putting it off.  I planned out what I needed for another class, checked my email, cooked dinner, and washed dishes instead.  As I placed the last plate in the dishwasher, an idea on how to start my memoir came to me.  I realized I had been putting off (I mean seriously, I was doing dishes) the writing because I didn’t know how I wanted to start.  I set my timer for 8 minutes and began to write.  When the time was up, I wanted to keep going.  I did not want to stop and talk about it yet.  I continued to time myself, writing in another 9-minute and then 10-minute increment.  After I was done I called my sister to get feedback.

What I changed:  I began the class by sharing my memoir I had written the night before and some of my struggles.  I think it made students feel safe because I too was a writer who had to work through struggles, it gave students a model of writing and expectations, and it made us all a part of the community of writers, not just them.  Instead of having students immediately begin writing, I gave them 5-minutes to get ready to write.  This meant looking through their brainstorming pages, browsing pictures they brought, trying out first sentences, or finding a place to spread out.  No matter the process, they were ready to write after the five-minutes.  I still had them write in increments (8, 9, and 10 minutes), but I didn’t have them share and talk until the end.  I liked breaking it up because it made them feel more successful as we were building stamina.  The 30-second stretch breaks betw2015-08-11 12.52.17een writing was all they needed to keep writing.  After the last writing increment, I gave them the choice to keep writing or to meet in the middle to share and get feedback about their writing.

Bonus Read:  This week I am absolutely loving Katy’s blog post, “How I Joined the World of Whitewater Rafters and Learned that We’re All Just Between Swims.” I’ve been working on my dissertation which focuses on disciplinary literacy and the vocabulary of experts.  Katy’s post is exactly what the research says, in a more organic, practical, and fun way.  I love that she gives examples and tips on how to work expert language into our instruction.  I’m definitely going to work on the intentional use of expert language in my classroom.